6 Tips to Maximize Your Writing Sessions

How are we feeling future WriMos? We’re just a couple weeks away from the big month, and I don’t know about you, but I’m a mix of excitement and nerves at the prospect of getting 50,000 words done in a month. Even after nine years of doing this, it’s always the same for me: hope and a bit of worry. If you’re in the same boat, don’t worry. The good news: You’re not alone. The bad news: It doesn’t totally go away. But here’s another bit of good news: You can use that to work for you.
Today, let’s focus on some of the things you can do from a writing standpoint to get yourself in fighting condition by November 1.

1. Learn your writing style

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Does it take you several minutes to get into a story, or can you pick it up in short writing spurts throughout the day?

While I believe your preferred writing schedule can change over time (either by life circumstances or through training) it’s good to know where you are today as a writer.

If you don’t already know, now is a great time to find out. Try writing at different times of the day, for different amounts of time, and track your results. If possible do this for a week or two and see when you find your sweetest spot. If possible, try to plan your NaNoWriMo writing schedule accordingly so you can make the most of your word counts during every writing session.

2. Do practice sprints

One of my tried and true ways to get a lot of words down during November is to do a series of writing sprints every day. Sprints are just that: short timed writing sessions aimed at getting words done in bursts instead of during long periods of time sitting at your computer. (Actually. You can do sprints during the long periods too.) I typically try to do two or three sprints of 15 to 20 minutes, with five-minute breaks in between, when I sit down for a writing session.

But something I’ve noticed is that the number of words I write during these sprints gets bigger as the month progresses. The reason? I’m in better writing shape. If you think about writing a book as a marathon, it makes sense that the more you do it (and the more consistently you do it) the better the process will go for you.

I suggest conditioning yourself to get big word counts in November by doing practice writing sprints in the days or even weeks leading up to November 1. Try varying the lengths of time for your sprints and see if there’s a specific sweet spot that works best for you. You can do a couple of practice scenes that won’t necessarily go into your story (or will if you’re a NaNo Rebel who isn’t starting at 0 words in your story on November 1). If you’re still working on your character sketches or outline, you can work on writing those during your sprints too. Just do something that exercises the writing portion of your brain.

3. Practice turning off your internal editor

You’re going to hear people suggest you ignore your internal editor a lot during the month of NaNoWriMo, and they’re right. While both writing and editing require analytical skills, your internal editor is much more rigid than your internal writer. It’s difficult to write freely when you’re worrying about every word you write down. More, it can be paralyzing: the fear of screwing up.

This is where I’m going to share a tip I received from Jennifer Probst‘s Write Naked. She has a Post-it note next to her desk with the phrase “permission to suck” written on it. I’ve borrowed this for myself (and even made a little cross-stitch that’s hanging prominently). All too often, we worry about being perfect and perfection is a tough goal.

So like conditioning yourself to write every day with sprints, practice free-writing without worrying about if the sentences are perfectly structured or you have the exact word correct. Just write with abandon and remember you can edit it all later.

And as a way to keep writing without stopping, remember it’s okay to write fake words in place of names or words that you’re struggling with. I read a blog post or article by Lauren Layne a couple of years ago where she mentioned using “TK” whenever she was stuck. It was a reminder to her, during editing, that she needed to look up the name of the minor character or to add a little more color or information. But at the time, she left it at “TK” to avoid losing the flow. I’ve been doing that ever since, and it works great.

4. Create a space for writing

While I’m a big fan of shaking up my writing location by hanging out on my couch (or even my bed or bathtub at home) or going to a coffee shop to get in some words, I also like to have a place that serves as my home base. This is where you can keep your notes and supplies as well as do some (or all) of your daily writing.

It doesn’t have to be a big space. I’ve read that Jennifer Weiner has a desk set up in her closet, a carryover from when she was living in a tiny apartment. While I’m lucky to have a lovely office now, when I was in my own apartment days, I carved out a corner of a room to place my desk and a board where I could post ideas or bits of inspiration.

My writing space is where I go when I’m starting my day and where I like to finish out. I use it as a place to organize my thoughts about what I’ll be writing. It also creates a daily habit that turns on a switch in my brain that says “it’s time to think about writing.”

5. Clear your “social” calendar

If you have an active social media following, pre-creating and scheduling content for your various channels can bee one of the nicest gifts your current self can give to your future self. While I try to do this year-round, I take extra pains to schedule out content before November.

This helps for a couple of reasons. 1) I don’t have to put on my marketing hat as often, which means I can leave on my writing hat. 2) It’s one less distraction to have in November.

That second point is my biggest issue. While I’m definitely an achiever, I’m also a procrastinator. I find it all too easy to say “I’m not going to write my book right now, but look, I’m creating Facebook posts, which means I’m still being productive.” I mean, I’m not totally wrong here. My social channels are important ways for me to keep in touch with my readers. But during November, I need to keep most of my attention on my book when possible.

To schedule out advanced content, I start by looking at the calendar and brainstorming what can go on each day. Sometimes I’ll go with themes (Monday Motivation, Teaser Tuesday, etc.). Others might be geared toward a specific story that needs to be marketed. From there, I pull or create the content (such as graphics, images, and texts) and I go through and schedule day by day.

Pro tip: Start with one post for each week. That way, if you don’t get all the way through your list, you’ll still have content up at least once a week instead of completely fizzling out mid-month.

6. Organize your writing supplies

Raise your hands if you’re a writing supply junkie. [raises hand] Hello and welcome. You’ve found your crew. If you’re like me, then there was nothing more exciting than picking out new notebooks, pens, and folders as you were heading back to school.

I like to do the same for NaNoWriMo. I make sure to have a full supply of the pens and graph paper I like to use for writing. I’ll also pick up some extra candles, because they’re part of the writing ritual I often set for myself.

Not only is it nice to know you’ll have the supplies you like for writing on hand, but it’s also a way to get yourself thinking about and excited for the month. Writing 50,000 words in a month isn’t easy. Every chance you can take to add some enthusiasm and energy to the process helps.