Over the course of 2014, I’ve written 50K in a month more than once, but this comes after a decade of trying and usually failing to do #NaNoWriMo and I thought it might be helpful if I used my experience to talk about why I failed to meet my goals in the past, and what I’m doing differently these days. I’m going to share what works for me, but remember, each person is different and your path to success may look very different. FIND YOUR PROCESS AND ROCK THE HECK OUT OF IT.
- Set High Daily Word Count Goals. For years, I did the whole “Divide 50k by 30 days” thing every November. And every Thanksgiving, I found myself way behind and giving up on the whole enterprise. These days, I set a weekly goal of 10k (October had 5 weeks! Bonus words!), but more importantly, I set a daily goal of 3k. That sounds like a lot, but as long as I hit that goal four days a week, I stay ahead of my weekly goal. This is important because life has a way of mucking up word count goals–writing as much as you can on quiet days gives you a cushion for the crazy days when you get 250 words and call it a success.
- Write Every Day. Those 250 word days? They’re essential to the process of keeping the creative channel flowing. I keep a notebook with me at all times–half a scene scribbled while my kid is at swimming practice or in the car while my husband drives is still forward progress. On crazy days, the only words I might get is the rough outline of a scene before I fall asleep, but those words can set me up for a big word count day the next morning.
- Make words your priority. Get the document open before you do anything else with your day. Try to knock that first 500 words out of the way before your coffee, before checking social media or email. The first 1,000 words of the day are ALWAYS the hardest. Always. Get them done early and the rest of the words will come that much easier.
- Sprint. Do #1k1hr or Write or Die or one of the Sprint Groups on Facebook or simply just push yourself against the clock. If you only have 15 minutes, challenge yourself to 15 minutes. Don’t wait for a 1 hour block if that’s not how your life works. The key is to get the words down without stopping to edit or second-guess yourself.
- Plot and keep plotting. This is particular to me, but every hour I spend plotting saves me weeks of struggle. It took me years to find a plotting method that works for me, so don’t give up if you want to plot but haven’t found your method yet. Re-access your plot constantly. Always know what your next scene will be before you fall asleep for the day. If writing out of order works for you, try that. It doesn’t work for me, so I always have to stay on top of what comes next. The key is to not lose momentum.
- Reward yourself daily, weekly, and monthly. You need to be proud of what you accomplish, even when you fall short of big goals. If you meet a smaller goal, celebrate that. Give yourself little rewards like a new book, extra reading time, permission to watch a movie, painted nails, a fancy coffee, or whatever works for you.
- Decide what you can sacrifice & do it. You can’t do it all. I made this mistake many a November. It’s really, really hard to slide 1-3k words in on top of everything else you have going on in your life. For myself, I’ve almost completely given up TV, news reading, and my knitting time is limited to car trips and waiting rooms. For someone else, maybe social media is the thing that needs to go or maybe you can eat out less, rely more on packaged meals, give up your morning paper–whatever trade-offs are realistic for YOU.
- Don’t skimp on self-care. You want to be able to do this more than once right? You want to not burn out! Don’t sacrifice sleep, regular meals, healthy choices, or exercise. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Re-arrange your life as needed, but make it long-term sustainable changes and don’t sacrifice your well-being.
- When you get stuck, keep going, but change it up. You WILL hit a wall where the words don’t seem to want to come. It’s your designated writing time, but the muse seems to be on vacation. You MUST push through this lull even if you only manage 100 words in an hour. Some of my rut busters: Take a shower or a long bath, brainstorming in the water. Go for a walk, focusing on the plot problem. Move your laptop to a different room in the house. Go to a coffee house. Talk the problem out with a friend. Free write by hand. Re-read what you recently wrote. Keep your focus on writing, but don’t be afraid to try new things. BONUS TIP: Have a theme song or signature image for your story. When you get stuck, play the theme song, look at the images you’ve collected. See if that helps.
- Find your zone & set out to duplicate it. Spend a few minutes thinking about the days when you have gotten the most words ever. What was happening? Were you listening to music? What kind? Did you have a plot? Were you writing sexy/scary/angsty/funny scenes? What did you eat that day? Where were you? What time of day was it? Figure out what makes YOU tick. If you write the most per hour late at night in bed while drinking hot chocolate and writing smutty scenes and listening to 80s music, embrace that. Don’t try to force yourself to write first thing in the morning if that’s not your peak time. Instead, figure out how to get more of the good stuff in your life. Take a nap so you can stay up later, or if your peak time is early in the morning, go to bed earlier. And really think about what can happen in your story to make you love writing it more. If you hate writing long descriptive passages, DON’T WRITE THEM. Worry about adding more description in your edits. If you love writing love scenes, ADD MORE LOVE SCENES. You can always cut some later, but write the story YOU WANT and the words WILL come.
This is what works for me. What works for YOU? Whatever you do, I wish you the best of luck and lots of WORDS!