Before embarking on a journey of writing 50,000 words as part of National Novel Writing Month, there are a number of logistical steps I like to take to help myself log big word counts during the month. In more than ten years of participating in, and successfully completing, NaNoWriMo, here are five of my tips on the logistical side of writing prep.
1. Launch your official profile/book page
If you haven’t already, sign-up for an account with NaNoWriMo and create your profile. Even if you’re a past WriMo, go and check out the newly launched website. Heads up: they’re still working out a few glitches. (Exp. It says I’ve won 10 years, but my streak is only six, which has my reward-focused self a little twitchy. But I’m learning to be chill and patient until it’s fixed. Ha!) Familiarize yourself with the site and share a little about yourself by personalizing the page. (Most of the old info didn’t transfer, so we’re all getting a fresh start.)
You can also click “Announce New Project” to build your book’s page. I’m semi-superstitious (but not fully, because it’s bad luck to be superstitious) so I only share a few details. I’m actually getting a little crazy and sharing the working title for my NaNoWriMo project, but I’ve used stand-ins or acronyms before.
And, hey, if you want to build your Buddy List, please go ahead and add me. My user name is LauraChapmanBooks.
2. Create a writing schedule
If you’re not someone who already writes every day (or you’re someone who wants to write even more a day) schedule in time to make sure this happens. I start by printing out a calendar for the month of November. I write in times when I know I won’t be able to write (like from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays I’m at work or a Saturday I have a book signing or RWA meeting).
Then, I look to see when my best time(s) of each day will be to write. I also check for local write-ins and if they work with my schedule. I add these times into my Google calendar and set notifications. While I will likely do more writing at other times throughout the month, but I like reserving an hour or more every day when I know I’ll write.
Once I create this calendar, I’m protective of that time. If someone asks me to do something that conflicts, I’ll tell them busy unless it’s really important. Because I am busy working.
3. Set mini goals
Let’s face it: 50,000 words feels like a lot to do in one month. And if you’re here in the U.S., we have Thanksgiving, which usually means a few days unavailable for writing while you hang out with the family.
To counteract that feeling, I set smaller goals for myself to accomplish throughout the month. Looking at my writing schedule, I’ll set daily and weekly word count goals based on how much time I have at my disposal for writing. I tend to set the biggest word counts earlier in the month. While writing 1,667 words a day will get you to the finish line by November 30, I find that I’ll do my biggest word counts early on when everything is exciting and new.
I have friends who will also give themselves rewards for meeting these mini goals. They’ll get a manicure or go see a movie. Those kinds of rewards don’t usually work for me. (If I really want something, I’ll just get it or go do it.) Instead, I use a sticker chart to reward myself for meeting goals. I give myself one sticker every time I write 1,000 words.
If you’re a goals/rewards person too, try coming up with something you’ll find both inspiring and helpful.
4. Build in one or two full days to write
This might be one of the trickier tips on this list, but it’s been one of my favorite must-do practices. For the past couple of years, I pick one full day in November to set aside for writing. I let people know not to contact me unless there’s a major emergency (football games don’t count as emergencies). I try to stay offline. I don’t turn on my TV (until the very end of the day), and in some instances, I won’t even make my own meals for the day. (I am strange. Somehow even turning on my stove signifies to me that it’s time to clean, and before I know it, I’ve lost several hours of writing time.)
For one full day, it’s just me and my words. Last November, I wrote almost 8,000 words, which was a personal record for me. I did another one in June, and I wrote more than 10,000 words. It wasn’t easy. And I was in prime fighting/writing condition. And having done it, I’ll tell you, there is very little more gratifying than seeing you’ve written a huge chunk of your book or story.
(I’ll also note that I am lucky and privileged to have a job that allows me to take time off when needed and to have full weekends in most cases, which is when I tend to plan these days. I also live alone, which cuts out on distractions. But even if you can take half a day and declare it a “DO NOT BOTHER ME OR ELSE” you can put up some good word counts.)
5. Plan a writing adventure
Apart from the one day of the month I like to set aside for a full day of writing at home, I also like to schedule myself a writing adventure each November. The idea for this just came to me one Saturday morning several Novembers ago (while I was writing Going for Two).
Here’s how it works: I create a list of four or five of my favorite writing locations around town. This usually includes a coffee shop (where I begin the day), a bookstore, a cafe (for lunch break), and a library. I set a word count goal for each location, and once I hit it, I move on to the next. So, say I want to write 6,000 words in the day. I’ll stay in a location until I reach at least 1,500 words.
To make it even more interesting, I’ll sometimes ask readers or friends to give me a couple of “challenges” to work into my story. Think of it like the NaNoWriMo dares. For example, a couple years ago, a reader suggested I use the phrase “painted me like a Picasso” somewhere in my story. And so I worked it into the book. (Does anyone know which one?)
Now, holding a writing adventure might sound impossible during times of physical distancing. But anything is possible. I’ve actually held a couple of at-home writing adventures during quarantine. Instead of leaving the house, I arrange to work in several parts of my home. For example, my first writing session might be in bed (first thing in the morning). Then, I’ll do my next session in my office. The third will be in the kitchen. And I’ll finish out the day on my couch. To make it more interesting for yourself, challenge a friend to join you. Hold check-ins before each of the writing sessions via Zoom or a phone call. This can also give you a chance to pick each other’s brains if you want a second opinion on something happening in your story. The best part about doing an at-home writing adventure? Pants are totally optional.
I typically do my writing adventure halfway through the month or when I can feel myself losing a bit of interest. Not only does it spark some more fun into my story, but it usually gives me some solid word counts.
You can actually download a copy of the worksheet I use to plan my adventures (and track my writing process) here on my website at https://laurachapmanbooks.com/for-writers/. Just scroll down to “Free Downloads from Me to You.”