I knew, when I started this summertime NaNoWriMo challenge, that it was going to be time-consuming. I mean, it takes a long time to write 50,000 words, especially when you’re making a story up as you go along.
So far, things are going pretty well. Today I passed the 10,000 word mark, and I’m sitting pretty on 10,302 words six days into the challenge. I’ve been writing every day, with the exception of this past Saturday and Sunday. I managed to not do any writing either of those days, so come Monday I had to write 4,000 words to catch up. Luckily, I don’t work Mondays and I was holed up at my boyfriend’s house while he borrowed my car (his was in the shop), so I had a lot of time to get that writing done.
Over the past couple of days, I’ve started to develop a routine, and a set of–well, I guess you could call them tricks. Just things to help me stay on track.
1. Plan ahead. The first thing I did when I decided to start this was figure out the bare minimum number of words I had to write a day in order to finish by June 30th. That number was 1,666 (I’ve cut it down now to 1,588). That way, I knew to give myself at least an hour of writing time. I also outline by writing brief chapter synopses. This helps me remember where I’m headed with the story, and also prevents moments of panic when I finish a chapter with 1,000 words to go for the day and blank on what to write next. By planning ahead a little, I can immediately start the next chapter.
2. Take breaks and change your scenery. I knew this past Monday was going to be rough. 4,000 words is a huge chunk. That’s about eight single-spaced pages in Microsoft Word. It may not sound like much; if it doesn’t, you’ve never tried to write eight pages in one day regardless of how inspired you are. So because I knew it was going to be hard, I started early to give myself some wiggle room and make sure I’d have time to finish and still stay sane. I’d write a couple hundred words, then stop, get up, stretch, snack, watch an episode of Bones, and start writing again.
When that was no longer enough, in the last 1,500 words of the day, I got up and took a walk. When I got back I decided that it was too nice outside to go back in quite yet, so I took my laptop out onto the roof. My boyfriend’s apartment is cool enough to have a big flat expanse of roof just outside the door. His building is weirdly shaped. Anyway. I finished my writing for the day out there with relative ease, all thanks to a little change of scenery, a refreshing breeze, and the threat of rain on the horizon.
3. Provide rewards and incentives. This is a huge one. When you write 2,000 words a day because you have to write 2,000 words a day, it feels like a chore. It feels like those dumb one-page response papers your lit professors gave you because half of the class couldn’t be counted on to read the assignments otherwise. But! If you write 2,000 words a day because you get a Peppermint Pattie afterwards, or because you get to watch your favorite TV show afterwards, or because you get to go play with the kitties at the local pet shop–then you have a tangible, tasty, entertaining, fluffy reward waiting for you!
I like small rewards for a day-to-day basis, but big rewards are also nice. For example, some of you may have heard of this writing program called Scrivener. It’s a word processor that also includes tons of features to help you organize, plan, and edit your work. And what’s really cool is that Scrivener is offering discounts to NaNoWriMo participants: 20% for everyone, and a whopping 50% off to those who actually make it to 50,000 words! Now, the program is only $40, so it’s not too bad normally; but everyone loves discounts, especially half-off discounts. I probably would have passed over buying the program before, content to stick to my real-world notecards and corkboards. Now, I’m gunning for 50,000 words so I can get a nifty program for $20.
4. Make yourself accountable to others. It’s all well and good to talk about self-discipline, but this past weekend taught me (again) that it is often difficult to turn down opportunities to hang out with friends and family during your free time in order to write so many words a day. The solution to that is to get your friends and family on board. If my boyfriend brings work home, or has reading to catch up on (he’s resolved to read ALL THE INTERNETS), it doesn’t ruin our evening together. I mean, it wouldn’t anyway; but this way we’re both able to get stuff done. Get your friends to nag you. If they see you pulling up the Netflix, they should poke you and remind you that you don’t need to watch another episode ofSwitched at Birth when the next YA bestseller needs writing.
Seriously, I’m going to make a t-shirt or something that says “Ask me how much I’ve written today.” The guilt when I say “nothing” or “only a couple hundred words” will overwhelm me and send me flying to my laptop.
I also obviously have this blog, and the Camp NaNoWriMo website. Having the internet hold me accountable worked really well during the poetry challenge. Also, the Camp website does this scary thing where if you don’t update your word count every day it immediately alters your projected finishing date to tell you that you’re going to fail. Before I updated with my 2,041 words today, it told me at the rate I was going I wasn’t going to finish until July 7th and I panicked.
5. Remember, there’s this thing called editing. Editing means coming back to a text after it’s been written and making it better. This is where I struggle the most after just getting myself to start writing. I agonize. I want to write it perfectly the first time. Maybe I’m just lazy. Maybe it’s just because editing your own work is really difficult. There are small things, yeah. Those you can handle. But it’s really easy to lose sight of the big picture, especially when you’re scrambling to fill chapters with insignificant details to meet word count. So it’s good to remember that you can edit, because it takes some of the pressure off. It’s also good to get yourself at least one editing partner.
NaNoWriMo is not designed to produce a finished, polished masterpiece. It’s meant to give you a block of material to work with, a rough draft, or just to get you in the habit of writing. Obviously, being a writer doesn’t always need to be quite this frenzied. But I gutted 69 pages from my manuscript and I’ve replaced 36 of those in six days. I’d say it’s definitely worthwhile.