4 life hacks for winning NaNoWriMo
I always get excited for this time of year, and no, it’s not because of Halloween (although I do love fun-sized candy). It’s because of the impending start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short)!
In a blog post last year, I wrote about why you should consider participating in National Novel Writing Month, and this year I’m sharing 4 tricks (and treats is one of them) for setting up your life for success while you reach for the absolutely attainable goal of writing 50,000 words in just 30 days. So pull up your Google calendar, put out a call to your writerly friends, and read on.
1. Reach out for connection
The first few years I did NaNoWriMo during the summer, and it was hard to stay motivated. When I switched to November, it became significantly easier. Why? Community. Hundreds of thousands of people participate every year, and feeling a part of that helps you accomplish your goal. Having a local community? Even better.
Sign up for an account on the official website, haunt the forums (even if you don’t post), and most importantly, convince some friends to do it. You’d be surprised at how many of them have a secret novel lurking inside. Caveat: don’t pressure anyone into doing it. If they’re not really excited about it, they’ll be more of a drain than a source of support and energy.
If you’re someone who can write in a coffeeshop, set writing dates. Do a kickoff at the start of the month and weekly check-ins. Start a text chain where you can share successes and doubts.
Don’t know anyone participating? Get on the NaNo website or Meetup.com and find other writers in your town. One year, I even made a bunch of new local NaNo friends through Twitter, and we still meet many Tuesdays to write together. Speaking of, keep an eyes on the #NaNoCoach Twitter hashtag for motivation and group writing sprints.
2. Get your tools in place
The good news: you already have everything you need to win NaNoWriMo! Don’t use a lack of fancy software or hardware as an excuse to not do it. Download Microsoft Word, or free versions like Bean or Google Docs (however—if you’re easily distracted by the internet, you might not want to write on a cloud-based platform).
That being said, there are some other tools that can help. A few that I’ll be using this year:
AlphaSmart Neo II: This is my first year using this word processor. It’s very simple; it looks kind of like an eighties typewriter and only shows you a few lines of text at a time. Best of all, it’s not connected to the Internet in any way. To load words into your computer, just plug it in and press a button to “send” the text to your document. Get your own for ~$25 on eBay.
Freedom: A web-blocking application that stops you from that maddening habit of unconsciously clicking to other websites when you’re on the computer (you can get 7 sessions for free). No more habitually checking your email or Twitter while you’re supposed to be writing! You can hook your phone up to it too.
Pacemaker: I’m a graph and writing-tracker junkie. I have to see myself making regular progress (and/or watch myself fall behind) in order to stay motivated. The NaNo website has its own, but I like Pacemaker because you can set different patterns, like higher word count goals on the weekends. There’s a free version.
Scrivener: Download a free trial of Scrivener and try out this amazing writing software. I love being able to organize my novel into different files that I can move around—it helps me break it down into more manageable chunks.
3. Mentally prepare yourself (and your calendar)
Making space in your life (both physically and mentally) is one of the best things you can do. Designate a spot in your home (preferably quiet and private) where you’re going to be writing. Get rid of any clutter. You could even put words of encouragement or quotes on sticky notes around your workspace.
In the past, I’ve been guilty of assuming that I can do both my normal amount of activity AND NaNoWriMo. Don’t do it! Block off hours in your calendar for writing; carving out time and creating a habit is paramount. Try different times of day and figure out what works best for you.
Not every week is the same—I’ve found that after the excitement of the first week has worn off, the second week is the hardest, when you hit the dreaded middle act of the book. Know that hitting your word count that week might take a bit more time.
Lastly, writing 1,667 words every day is hard. Plan for some catch-up time, especially around Thanksgiving. Even the most diligent will probably have some days where they just can’t make it to the page.
4. Embrace self-care and bribes
Try to make time for other routines like exercise—taking a break from the screen can get the creative juices flowing. And if you can’t, don’t judge yourself! You’re writing a book, after all. Strike a balance between doing things (like ordering takeout) that make your life easier, but don’t do it so much that you feel crappy.
Self-administered rewards can take many forms, and can be very effective. Book yourself a massage for the end of the month, buy your favorite treat (yes, I’ve resorted to bribing myself with one Sour Patch Kid for every 200 words), or unwind with a TV show after hitting your daily goal. It could even be crossing a day off on a physical calendar or Bullet Journal. Anything that helps you to feel like you’re making progress.
With a little bit of preparation in the days leading up to November, you can set yourself up for success! Be forgiving of yourself, and don’t forget to enjoy it. When the calendar turns to December 1st, you’re going to have an entire novel that wasn’t there before. And that’s pretty impressive.