Oh, I’ve neglected you, have I? Well, actually, no I haven’t. I was thinking about you all the way through November as I, you know, wrote my novel and stuff.
Yes, I did it.
I thought I was going to have another NaNoWriMo like last year where I started strong, but then had to ditch my writing ecstasy for the sake of work… but this year, I sacrificed a lot in order to take another step towards my dream. I learned about limits and how to crush them with discipline, terrible writing, and caffeine. And I learned about the necessity of support and not being too proud to use it. And I learned about a few other things, all neatly packaged in this handy HOW TO WIN AT NANOWRIMO guide:
1. Write like you’ve never written before
Change your technique. I’m a perfectionist – the rough definition of which is: I’ll never get anything done because there’s no such thing as perfect. Perfectionism is the enabler of procrastination (Tweet it, quote it, etc.), and procrastination doesn’t belong in NaNoWriMo. I ditched my own expectations of myself and just got those words on the page. It was a constant struggle to prioritise quantity over quality, but I am proud of my editing skills, so I promised myself that I would get much satisfaction from the editing phase… which I would never get to if I didn’t just write.
2. Don’t give up if you start slow
Here’s my progress chart:
Notice how everything kind of happened at the last minute. And yes, by Day 22, I was considering throwing in the towel because, damn, who recovers from a 10 000 word deficit? Me. Yes… me. And if I can, then you definitely can.
3. Social media is not your friend during November
Another crutch for the procrastinator: Facebook, Twitter, FML, and all the other boredom-fuelling websites that become the perfect excuse for not meeting word counts when they matter most. I get very socially creative when I have personal deadlines, but as with any bad habit, “just 5 minutes” is tough to break. However, when the rewards leave you feeling high on the glory like a rock star, social media’s instant gratification factor becomes that back-alley heroin shot between the toes. Just. Not. Worth. It.
4. Get people to hold you accountable
I made a chart and put it in a public place where almost 20 pairs of eyes kept tabs on me. The target word counts were visible and my actual word counts were highlighted in a hot-pink graph. Every day, between three and six different people would ask me, “How’s your book going?” Sometimes I bemoaned my progress and sometimes I had reason to celebrate, but nobody berated me for lagging behind for most of the month. They were rooting for me and I just couldn’t let them down. I cannot explain how much it helped to be accountable to others for my own goals. Do this, especially if you have a tendency to put others’ priorities before your own.
5. Sleep next month
Work, marriage, and writing. All three demand 100%, but can you imagine going at 300% for a full month? This looks like caffeine addiction (mildly balanced with some water and a sketchy exercise routine) and an average of 4,5 hours of sleep per night. Not sustainable, I know, but it certainly taught me about the value of sleep. I now prioritise sleep as something on my productivity list instead of seeing it as the enemy of productivity. However, that said, NaNoWriMo – and goal-chasing in general – is about sacrifice and a couple of hours a night for a month may make you look a little worse for wear, but the rewards are worth it.
All that heavy breathing, sweating, gnashing of teeth, pain, and crying associated with the natural birthing process… yup, that is a pretty accurate analogy for 50 000 words in a month. So no matter how long your book has been gestating in the belly of your mind (in my case, 8 years… although there are still sextuplets that need to emerge), it’s important to get at least one out… and it requires a fair amount of pushing, sweating, crying… and then relief.
7. Print what you write
And much like the proverbial baby that emerged in the point above, it’s important to see – physically – what you’ve written in order to feel that momentum and experience that pride of having produced that wet, squirmy thing that is draft one of your book. Halfway through November, I bought a binder. It was incredible how a simple thing like an office appliance was such a strong motivator. Print, bind, and celebrate the words you’ve produced.
Then get on with it and start the next one!