Co-authored by Dana Porter & Rita Mock-Pike
So many of us are “One Day Novelists.”
“One day when I have the perfect plot…” “One day when I am retired…” “One day when …” Just fill in the blank.
We find a plethora of excuses to give so that we can justify to ourselves about not taking the time to be creative. However, nothing happens without planning.
The Pyramids of Giza and the Great Wall of China were not the products of some haphazard late night planning. In the same way “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Great Gatsby” did not just happen overnight.
Writing is a process. And this process begins with creating a rough draft.
No matter your skill or experience level, November offers an event just for you: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
NaNoWriMo is a competition with yourself.
The stated goal is to write a rough draft of a minimum of 50 thousand words. For those who need a visual representation, this is a book that’s roughly the side of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.
NaNoWriMo is a way to get off of the sidelines and into the middle of the game. Instead of waiting around for inspiration to strike, you chase after your Muse and you demand that they get to work beside you.
And, somehow, it works.
Breaking it down, writing is roughly 5% talent, 15% having an amazing editor and 80% hard work.
So, instead of living life as a One Day Novelist, consider taking the plunge and discover what you never knew you could accomplish.
Preparing for the Insanity
So, after doing some soul searching, you decided that what you need to do is write a novel, and NaNoWriMo is how you want to do it.
Hooray! Congrats! Welcome to the club.
A healthy amount of chutzpah is needed for a venture like this but literary audacity isn’t the only ingredient required for a successful NaNoWriMo. Every venture needs a plan.
Every writer approaches things differently, the key is to find your strengths and work to it. However there are a number of practical considerations to be made:
- How do I balance my work life and this new novel writing?
- What am I going to write?
- How am I going to stay motivated?
- How do I write this?
How Do I Balance My Work Life and Novel Writing?
2020 has been a weird year for many reasons, but the biggest is how our social interactions have been turned upside down. Introverts have inherited the earth.
One of the plus sides of 2020, is that social distancing is the ethical thing to do. Since we aren’t able to spend time with friends in large groups, go to the cinema or concerts, there is now a lot of free time for writing.
While we all have obligations that need doing, this year is the perfect time to make time to sit down and write a story.
No matter your life situation, there is free time you can make in your schedule for writing. Get out a calendar and look at your obligations and instead of binging episodes make time for writing.
What Am I Going to Write?
A lot of people have a story or two they have had in their back of their minds for a long time. Other first time writers may have no clue what to write. For those who aren’t sure what to write on, the best place to look is at what you enjoy reading.
One of the ways that we learn how to write is by reading. The more a person reads, the easier it is to pick up on the natural rhythm and flow that makes up a story. One of the essential building blocks of fiction is genre.
Whatever you enjoy reading is something you will enjoy writing. Take your pick: cozy mystery, high fantasy, urban fiction are all legitimate genres.
The only person who can write the story you can tell is you.
How Do I Stay Motivated?
If you are joining in this November, you’ll need to write 1667 words per day to finish on time. If you are able to type at an average speed of at least 40 words per minute, it will only take a couple hours a day to reach this goal.
When you break NaNoWriMo down by numbers, it seems much more doable.
However, staying motivated for a whole month is hard.
Here are a few suggestions.
Write With A Community
Nanowrimo.org and social media both offer means of connecting with other writers. Having other writers can help because of the shared experience as well as being able to bounce ideas off of one another.
Writing during the time of COVID-19 can be a lonely experience. Finding a couple of writing buddies can make all the difference.
If you work while listening to music, picking or creating the right playlist can go a long ways to helping you reach your daily word count goal. Depending on the genre you are writing in, there are already dozens of custom playlists available on Youtube or Spotify.
I’m partial to writing to either soundtracks of upbeat instrumental music. The important thing is to experiment and find what will help you make your word count.
How Do I Write This?
Just as there is no single type of story, there is no single way to write. Writers can be broken down into those who plan versus those who plan as they go.
Planning for a novel can take on a variety of forms, no two books are the same and each can require a different approach to planning, research (if needed) and execution.
Fly By the Seat of Your Pants
This is for the writers who either have no idea or just want to see how their story unfolds. Having done this several times, I normally begin with a single idea, a line of dialogue or a scene. The end practical result is jumping in feet first and seeing where the current of the story takes you.
Write by an Outline
If you a more organized person, then an outline may appeal to you. This can be a simple three sentence outline that comprises the beginning, middle and end. Or your outline may be a break down of every chapter and every outline.
There is no wrong or right when it comes to making an outline. The important thing is that it makes sense to you and helps with your writing goals.
Research Ahead of Time
No matter which method you prefer, you can spend the weeks before NaNoWriMo doing research. This include watching movies or reading books in the same genre or convey an atmosphere you wish to capture with your writing.
When most people think of research, it’s for stories with a historical context. This could be a novel that plays with history while introducing fantastical elements like Diana Galbadon’s “Outlander series” or Stephen King’s “11/22/63.”
Other Tips to Help You Win NaNoWriMo This Year And Not Go Insane Trying
Beyond writing itself, you’ve got to do a few other things to prepare your life while you spend 30 days in this mad dash to 50,000 words.
Create the Right Workspace
It may not seem like much of an issue, but your workspace for NaNo can make all the difference in your ability to write the full word count goal this year. If you’re in a noisy, crowded, or messy space, you’ll find distraction a constant companion, rather than your muse.
Make Your Workspace Separate
If at all possible, make your NaNo space separate from your workspace if you work from home. This helps break the mentality of the “wrong” kind of work as you write. Personally, I require this as not only do I work from home, but I am a full-time writer. My NaNo experience needs to feel different from my everyday work life.
You should also do everything you can to make your writing space separate from the common areas shared by your family members and housemates. Again, distractions are easy to come by here and focus is not.
Apply the Concept of Koselig
This Norwegian concept is all about coziness in cold months. November isn’t cold everywhere, but for most of the Northern Hemisphere is, so at least half of the planet should be applying this to their writing spaces.
Coziness involves warmth, mood setting, thick soft blankets, hot beverages, and indulgence. While we don’t want to go overboard on any of these things — especially the indulgence — comfort is important for those extra hours behind a desk. Since you’re sacrificing other things that make life good — let’s face it, there’s not much time left each day to interact with people — you need to make sure that the sacrifice doesn’t mess with your head.
With this coziness and comfort, we also add a lot of candles (see my faux fireplace below!) colored Christmas lights, Christmas decor (yes, we decorate on Halloween since we won’t have time in November!), and warm yellow bulbs instead of bright white lights.
Keep It Clean
As the month flies by, collecting stuff in your workspace is going to be easier than not. Make sure you put those mugs away after each writing session. Put away sweaters instead of leaving them hanging on the back of a chair. Sweep the floor under your desk. Put electronics back in their keepers.
We also do a nightly reset in our house to make sure there’s less cleanup. In other words, we do the dishes after every meal and clean up anything leftover at night. We put pens back in their holders and books back on their shelves. This means we spend 10 minutes a night cleaning up rather than spending an hour every couple of nights to clean up.
Take Care of Your Body While You Write
When you sit all day for work already, your body isn’t too thrilled with you sitting more in the evenings and on weekends as you write those 50,000 words. Because of the health implications, you need to get up and move around while you write. Getting up and moving also helps your brain as you write.
Rita’s a former personal trainer and current health enthusiast, so here are her tips for your NaNoWriMo health and fitness regimen.
- Set timers for your writing sessions. If possible, set them for 25–30 minutes at a time. Get up, move around (pacing, jogging in place, climbing stairs, using a stationary cycle, or doing exercise reps) for 5 minutes. Then back to writing.
- Create your fitness plan before November 1 hits. Map out safe places and times to take a walk. Set some lofty fitness goals for yourself, like hitting 15,000 steps a day instead of your usual 12,000 or do 200 reps daily. The success as you stay on track for one goal can help fuel success in the other.
- Avoid eating junk food. Instead of stocking up on chips and candy before November strikes, cut up veggie sticks, bake some homemade garlic kale chips, or make some oatmeal peanut butter energy bites.
- Drink tea without sugar or milk. Avoiding sugar and extra calories can help as you add time on your rump while you’re writing all day.
- Keep track of your workouts, miles, food, and liquid intake. It only takes a few seconds each time with the right app, and can help keep you moving, drinking enough fluids, and not overeating too much.
Other Tips For Winning NaNoWriMo This Year
We wanted to add some other things that may help from our personal journeys over the years.
- Get some computer glasses. They help reduce the blue light on your computer screen, which helps your eyes feel better for longer.
- Write at the best time of day for you — there’s no wrong time. Just because someone else gets up at 4 am to start clacking away at the keyboard before work doesn’t mean you need to. If you’re a night owl, fit your writing in then instead.
- Dress for the occasion! Choose a specific accessory — like a hat, scarf, or jacket — that you always wear when you work on your NaNo novel. It can help put you in the mindset and signal to others that you’re not to be disturbed. Just make sure whatever it is exudes comfort!