November 2017 marks my sixth NaNoWriMo, plus I’ve done so many Camp NaNoWriMo sessions in that time, I couldn’t even begin to guess how many I’ve participated in. And, of course, I wrote for several years before my first NaNo and I write year round, so in that decade and those hundreds of thousands of words, I’ve learned a lot about how I can be a successful writer. It took a lot of time, and the willingness to stop beating myself up for not doing what I thought I should be doing, but I think I’m finally settling into a writing routine that works for me. And it’s made a big difference.
So, what’s my routine and how does a writer start finding one? I think NaNo is actually a great place to start, and a new writer should probably start by doing NaNo by the rules—begin a brand new novel on November 1, try to write about 1,667 words a day, and finish up the month with a 50,000 word novel. Like so much in life, a writing routine can be easier to find if you learn the “rules” before you start breaking them (and becoming a NaNo “rebel”). And now that I’ve reached the point in my writing life that I’m willing to break the rules and find the routine that words for me, here are 7 habits I’ve formed that I think make me a more effective WriMo and writer in general.
1. I’ll write what I want snap
I’ve spent a lot of time not getting anything written, because I’m trying to force myself to write something I don’t actually want to be working on. I like to start something new for NaNo, but I’ve come to the conclusion that as long as I write 50K words in November, it’s OK if I’m continuing a project I’ve already started and being a rebel. The whole point of NaNo is to write, and I’ve spent a lot of time in past Novembers missing that point because I was struggling with a project that I thought I ought to be working on, rather than writing something I felt passionately about.
2. Days off
The simple fact is, I need days off. I can’t write 7 days a week for 4 weeks straight. Just can’t. I generally like one day a week off, and there are always a few days every month that I’m simply not up to writing. I’ve stopped giving myself grief over this, and embraced the rejuvenating nature of a little down time.
3. But stay near daily word count
But not too much down time. I took Thursday and Friday off this week, because they were two long days IRL, and I would have been forced to scrounge an hour here and an hour there either day. And it was fine that I just let myself take those days, but two days in a row is really the maximum. One, because that means to stay near the daily word count goal, I needed to write 3 days’ worth on Saturday, which is 5,000 words. That’s really the limit of what I can write in a day, and in reality, I managed 4,700 yesterday. Also, the longer I stay away from a WIP, the longer it takes me to catch back up mentally with the story and what I was doing, and getting up to speed can eat up a lot of time. So 2 days is really the limit.
4. Get out of the house
I love going to write ins. I honestly don’t see the point of NaNoWriMo without a local group to hang out and write with. I mean, I still write even in the months of the year I’m not writing with these folks, but I get so much joy from seeing my noveling buddies in person that write ins are my favorite part of November. And even outside of NaNo, I like doing a fair bit of café writing. It’s easier to find things other than writing to do at home, but I always feel guilty if I go somewhere specifically to write if I don’t then write. Also, Panera broccoli cheddar soup and baguettes are a good reasons to get out of bed in the morning.
5. Don’t waste time on a playlist
I’ve made some fancy writing playlists over the years to create very specific moods for my novels. And guess what? At the end of the day, I usually end up listening to Corelli, Bach, and Mendelssohn, as well as my Through Trial and Error I’ve Discovered These Songs Make Me Write Faster playlist. I know some people swear by specific playlists, and thinking about the songs can be useful for figuring out tone and character, but for me, some songs put me in a good headspace to write no matter what I’m writing, and it’s rare that I want something from outside my usuals.
6. Do spend time on character prep
So rather than spending time on a playlist, I find it more productive to know as much about my characters as possible. J and I have chatted about our character creation process, and where all that work really pays off is in November. Example: last night at a write in we were about to start a word sprint, and I was about to start writing a character for the first time. I could have panicked, and wondered what she looks like and what her voice is supposed to be, but instead I took 10 seconds to look those things up in our character file, and I was ready to go. No writing time wasted.
7. Remember, this is fun, dammit
Writing is supposed to be enjoyable, or what’s the point? J and I have said since we started writing that we are only going to do this as long as we’re having fun doing it. So I intend to have a good time.
Speaking of which, my novel calls, and doesn’t that sound lovely!