Would you believe that I won NaNoWriMo 2011 with five days to spare? I mention this in hopes of inspiring you to not just cross the 50,000 word finish line but to have the words “The End” typed out as your last two. The accomplishment continues to surprise me, too, since I never went far beyond four thousand words in a single day. How did I avoid any exhausting sprints? You can find a link to my NaNoWriMo Prep Worksheet near the end of this post, but the full explanations for its items lie below.
Endurance made all of the difference. That came from winning NaNoWriMo four times prior, but none of those victories came out of thin air, either. Back at my first year of participation, in fact, I had to bribe myself into succeeding. In a very conscious invocation of Pavlov’s salivating dogs, I made a point of stocking up on my favorite treats at the time; Milano cookies. Though a bit expensive in terms of cost and calories, I knew that I needed as high-quality of an incentive as I could budget in order to keep myself sitting in front of that keyboard. I created a training regimen before the first day of November.
This author and his growling tummy only found sugary satisfaction on those nights that I wrote at least two thousand words. This meant a fair share of late nights out on a cold porch, warmed only by a single blanket, and the excess heat of a netbook, but it worked. My first complete novel draft, Planet Oz, crested into its final stopping point with time to spare. The cookies worked. With any luck, they would also work next November.
And they did. I lightened up on the sweets over the years but that slow weening sufficed. By the time that the fall of 2011 rolled around, if I recall correctly, the draft for Digital Whispers arrived on my keyboard free of cookie crumbs. Instead, I could hold out with a one-time reward set to arrive only after passing the 50,000 word mark (the latest Legend of Zelda game). I even found myself having to force a break before my ongoing eagerness to write could turn into burn-out (a break that prepared me for a full-length novel outside of NaNoWriMo). However, the cookies represent just the most obvious enhancement that you, future novelist, can apply to your environment.
Do you have a comfortable seat? As far more prolific writers like Mur Lafferty espouse, you have to get your butt in the chair and write to count yourself as a writer, so you might as well have a place where you want to park your behind for hours at a time (not to mention a desk for your arms). If you can set that chair up in its own, sacrosanct space, then all the better. We form unconscious associations between what we do and where we do it, so the couch in front of the television provides the perfect negative example. Having a back porch or a coffee shop where I only wrote made a huge difference in the long term. We also have to consider what to exclude from our special space, though. The objects and activities left too accessible in your Sanctum Scriptorum can pre-decide whether or not you can win at NaNoWriMo.
Still have television, cable or satellite (or Hulu, for that matter)? I haven’t subscribed to such services for years. By the time I picked up a NetFlix subscription again, I had so fallen out of that media habit that I soon canceled it for a lack of use. I never expected NaNoWriMo to save me money every month but I enjoy the surprise. Skipping one or two shows a day, by itself, frees up perhaps half the time you will need for writing.
Do you watch or read a lot of news? Your RSS feeds and time-insensitive emails will wait for you to check only after each writing session. You may even find that you don’t miss much of what those sources have to say after the fact. Radio or television news not only sucks away time itself but also your very attention and focus; the world will keep turning for the month that you spend writing and that break could free you from addictions to the relentless pumping of adrenaline through mainstream news and their pseudo-emergencies (as distinguished from a nearby tornado or the like). I deign to name a particular media personality in an example because they could fall out of the spotlight before you even read this, never mind manage to require action on your part. How did your day change based on the latest gossip from Hollywood? Compare that to how you can chat about finishing a novel at every party you attend until the end of time. The topic of small-talk reminds me of another tiny but perhaps quite important contribution that you can make to your daily word count.
Each Step Forward Counts
You can keep an eye out for opportunities to snatch up mere moments of writing. I always block my time out in chunks, but someone with children or other such commitments may find their calendar chopped up in itty-bitty pieces. One host of The Dead Robots’ Society, Terry Mixon provides a (paraphrased) tip: those five minutes spent waiting in the car could net you another fifty or a hundred words of novel typed out on your smartphone or tablet. With enough such small delays in your day, never mind back-to-back traffic that allows for safer dictations, you could meet your quota without even setting aside specific time to write. You will remember that one fight scene you typed out at the bus stop for far longer than you will recall that morning’s Twitter feed, after all, and I hope that you found value in all of this advice. I have one more such item for you, dear reader.
As promised, you can download the Prep Worksheet and start laying the foundation for your novel success right away! Please thank the Functional Nerds for hosting this give-back to the community, too.
If you want to read tips on the after-NaNoWriMo writing life, the kind folks at Dead Robots’ Society just put up my guest post on the absolute necessity of taking breaks. I listen to their podcast, too, so check them out!