How I Survived NaNoWriMo (and Won!)
When I last left you, I was still questioning whether or not I would be participating in National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. As you can see from the title of this post, I did. What a rush! There is nothing like racing against the clock for those thirty days, trying to hit that lofty goal of writing FIFTY THOUSAND WORDS. And yeah, that deserves to be in all caps, because its a heck of a lot of writing.
And boy, was it. The reason this blog has gone dark for a little over a month is because I was so focused on writing my novel, that I simply didn't have the time or the energy for any extra words. I don't think I made so much as a grocery list during all of November. Every little bit I had went into that book, and it paid off. I won by hitting 50,300 words on November 27th, the day before Thanksgiving and three days ahead of schedule. I had actually planned to continue after taking off that Thursday to celebrate the holiday with my family, but a stomach flu swept straight through my family, one after another, like picking ducks off a log (is that a saying? Who knows. Words are still hard, post-NaNo.) Needless to say, I did not get back to the writing for more than a week. But now, here I am, happy and healthy again, ready to share my tips with you.
This was my third year participating in NaNoWriMo, and my third year of hitting that 50K, but I have to say, this was my best one yet. Not according to word count, if you go by that, it was actually the least of the three. But just due to the ease of writing. Almost every morning I woke up excited to get back to my story and looked forward to it all day, waiting for the quiet hours in the evening where I could type my little fingers to the bone. There were only one or two days that I kind of felt a teeny bit burned out and the words were more of a struggle. Maybe that old saying "Third time's a charm," really has something to it. Or maybe it just took me that long to figure out what worked for me.
Tip 1: Work in short bursts
In the past, it took me approximately two to two and a half hours to complete the daily word count of 1,667, which is what is needed to stay on track and finish on Day 30. But there is something about a ticking timer that really brings out the competitor in me. Even if the only person I'm competing with is myself. At first, I thought I would try doing word sprints in varying lengths of time, but I soon discovered that five minutes wasn't long enough -- I was just getting into my groove when the timer went off. Fifteen minutes was too long. By around minute 12 or 13 I would catch myself glancing at my phone to see how much time I had left. My magic number was 10. For those ten minutes, I would let my fingers fly as fast as they could, and I could usually get somewhere in the realm of 500-600 words. I got so much done, because I was much too busy typing to listen to my inner editor, so I made zero corrections other than spelling errors. I'd take a quick minute or two break to sip some tea and reset the timer. In three to four word sprints, I would hit my goal and then some. That meant that I was doing my entire word count, with breaks, in approximately 45 minutes! Big difference from the two to two and a half hours it took me the previous two years! Figure out what time frame works best for you, and stick to it.
Tip 2: Attend a write-in
The sound of clicking keyboards gets me so motivated! In my local area, we had many write-ins that you could attend. The ones that worked best for my schedule were on Friday and Saturday evenings from 7-9pm. I went to every one. We had fun games that you could opt into for points, like the dictionary challenge, where you were given three randomly selected words to incorporate into your draft, a Potluck challenge, where you were given a setting, character, or plot twist to use, and we did lots and lots of word sprints. On average, I wrote an extra 50-100 words per ten minute sprint at every write-in. The creative energy in the room was just incredible. Plus it was fun to hang out with other writers and make new friends. At the end of the month, the top three point earners got some fun prizes donated by our host. Any guesses who came in first? ;)
3. Incorporate self-care into your writing ritual
Let's face it. Planting your butt in a chair for thirty days takes its toll. Your eyes get blurry from staring at the computer screen so much, your fingers start to ache. And being that it's November when all this is going on means the air is dry from the heater, especially if where you live gets as cold as it does where I do. You're going to be tired and cranky, so don't make writing one of the things on your To Do list, or I guarantee you're going to not feel like doing it for very many days. Instead, make self-care a part of your writing ritual. Take a glass of water or tea with you so you stay hydrated. Slather your hands in a lotion that you love -- just make sure to rub it in well so your fingers don't slide off the keys! Put on some lip balm. Light a candle to create some ambiance. Make writing time ME time. You're stealing away an hour or two for yourself to pursue your dreams of becoming an author. Make it something you look forward to so you can zen out and get right to the writing. Also, don't forget to look away from the screen from time to time and get up and stretch.
4. Reward yourself for a job well done
There's a lot of debate about whether or not you should reward yourself or if the writing should be the reward. I say, life is short. And rewards can be a great motivator. It doesn't have to be much. Any child who has ever gotten a gold star on their test from a teacher can tell you that the reward doesn't have to be huge for it to have a huge impact on your psyche. You could do something as simple as keeping a bullet journal and putting a little check in the box next to each word count goal that you complete. You could go back to your childhood roots and give yourself an actual gold star, or better yet -- a scratch and sniff sticker! If you want to go a little bigger, you could create (or purchase) a little advent calendar with thirty days of tiny treats tucked inside, or maybe you just want to celebrate each time you add another ten thousand words. Get your spouse or your kids or a friend involved and have them wrap up five little gifts, or motivational notes, or drawings, or chocolates for you to open each time you hit that big milestone. I, personally, kept it super simple. I set a little treat out next to my mug of green tea, usually a Pepperidge Farm Shortbread Cookie (so good!), and each time I completed a ten-minute word sprint, I could take a small bite. Whatever you decide, remember that its all about making NaNo an enjoyable experience.
5. Work ahead to finish strong
My last tip is to work ahead. As I said in the beginning, the daily word count that you need to reach 50K in 30 Days is 1,667. I told myself that it was actually 1,800. Adding a little more on top each day will eventually amass to a good chunk of extra words that you can use as a buffer should anything happen. You may have a rough day and have nothing left at the end to bring to your manuscript. You may get sick, or as in my case, the entire family, and spend so much time caring for them that writing falls by the wayside. You may just want to finish early, as I did, so you can do a 5K (walk, not write) at 8:30am on Thanksgiving morning and enjoy the rest of the day or the entire weekend. Doing a little extra each day ensures that no matter what unexpected or expected thing strikes, you'll still be able to hit that ultimate word count and win.
So that's it! All my tips for surviving -- and winning -- National Novel Writing Month. It's a shame that a whole year has to roll around before you'd be able to implement them, but at least you'll know where to find them when it does.
I'd love to hear from you! Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? Did you win? What tips would you add to my list?