oday I got the oil changed in my car, made a decent dent in the Christmas shopping, replenished every conceivable household toiletry item, got my annual eye exam, met friends for drinks and wrote this blog post. All on top of my usual work and family obligations.
What caused this fit of hyper-efficiency and productivity? Why, it’s now December. Which is to say that it is no longer November, when all spare time and energy were dedicated to National Novel Writing Month.
NaNo is a worldwide effort to write a 50,000-word novel between Nov. 1 and 30. This year was my fourth time participating and second “win.” According to the NaNo organizers, less than 15 percent of the more than 300,000 writers who started Nov. 1 actually hit the 50,0000-word finish line. So I’m offering the following NaNo lessons for the next time writer’s block strikes, any time of year.
Write in the cloud. Technology was not my friend in my last NaNo, in 2010, when I went through three thumb drives and was e-mailing myself backup copies every day. This time, I wrote my entire novel on my SkyDrive account, a Microsoft cloud computing system similar to Google Drive. That made it possible to write on any device with a keyboard and an Internet connection. On the last few days when I needed every single second of peace and quiet, I even ricocheted between the desktop in my basement office and my husband’s laptop on the second floor, depending on where the kids were in the house. Never had to worry about forgetting or losing a thumb drive or if I had emailed the very latest version or if a file would get corrupted. Such peace of mind equals more creative flow.
Speaking of flow. Go with it. NaNo requires a fast pace, averaging out to 1,667 words per day. (If you fall behind, like I did, that can rise dramatically. I wound up writing an average of 2,500 words Nov. 22-30 because I didn’t
keep up the pace initially.) Writing at that clip sometimes your characters get ahead of your story, or your story ahead of your characters. That’s OK. Trust that the dialogue you’ve been spinning out for four pages will lead you to a serendipitous plot point. That the character who you intended to keep minor but who keeps popping up will become instrumental to resolving the conflict. That despite choosing a setting where you’ve never been (check), or a cultural background you know nothing about (check), that you can fake it enough to make it to December, when you’ll have time to flesh out the story with actual research.
Find comrades. Facebook made this easy. Some others in my town had already formed what amounts to a virtual accountability enforcement squad. We held a handful of in-person write-ins which were fun, but the nightly Facebook check-ins were crucial. It’s tempting to collapse on the couch myself after the kids are in bed. Knowing my fellow TC Wrimos would be posting their word counts every half hour kept me off the couch and at my desk, typing along with them. Some members of this group have now created post-November goals and plan to stay in touch, to extend the NaNo mojo.
Create habits. Even with the momentum imposed by a tough deadline and the cheers of comrades-in-word-count, you still need to figure out when you’ll be BIC – butt in chair—and then show up. For a lot of would-be novelists with day jobs and families, these times tend to fall in the later evening and early morning hours. I found the combo of an hour to 90 minutes in the evening plus 45 minutes to an hour in the morning worked best. If I pushed the evening session too late, I couldn’t get up for the morning. Admittedly I didn’t follow through every single day, but having that framework also helped me when I needed to catch up.
Stop in the middle. Never get up after you finish a scene or a conversation or a chapter. You want to make it as easy as possible to resume when you start again, so pause in the middle of something. I had learned the wisdom of this trick during NaNo 2010, but I met an author in November who took the idea even further, to the point of stopping mid-sentence. She also advocated writing a few notes to yourself, about where you intend to take the scene or the action. I found that after I shut things down on the computer, I would often have an idea while I brushed my teeth. So I would scribble a note to myself on a post-it and leave it by the coffee pot, ready to jog my brain the next morning.
Skip, postpone or delegate all nonessential commitments. I made just two evening social events the entire month of November, one being Thanksgiving dinner. I was sorry to miss several, which included volunteer nonprofit service, my book club and my kids’ PTO benefit auction. But on Nov. 30, it was worth it. Plus, going out now feel deliciously indulgent, and I’m attacking my lengthy to-do lists with extra energy. I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days. I can do anything.
Can’t wait til Nov. 1, 2014? NaNo can be done any month of the year.
Need more enthusiasm? Thanks to Brad Aspey of Interlochen Public Radio for his piece on the TC Wrimos.