If you want to finish NaNo, if you really want those 50K words (or more), and if you want to truly learn what it takes to complete a novel, this post is a good start. It also has nothing to do with planning a novel. Because there’s a lot to cover here, I’m going to be more straightforward in explaining the precautions to take to help prevent (most) of the unexpected.
This will be my 8th NaNoWriMo. I’ve won the seven previous times. Personally, while I concede that finishing is a win, I’ve never thought about it that way. My intent is to better learn my craft and complete a novel. Everyone’s motivation is different, as are life circumstances. Feel free to adapt my advice.
My extremes span my 1st NaNo when I planned neither my life, nor the novel. I struggled. A lot. Still, I finished with 65K and learned from my mistakes. Last year, I drafted a fantasy novel, finishing with over 140K words. Every NaNo has been different, with different challenges, from illness, to the pandemic, to working.
Everyone believes they fully comprehend the harsh reality of NaNoWriMo. Time. Some do. Many don’t.
30 days. To make it, you have to write 1,667 words per day on average. The first few days may tempt you to believe it isn’t that hard. Then, you enter Week2 and are blindsided. Novel writing is challenging enough without life intruding. So, here we go. The following list is a combination of what I’ve learned the hard way and reasons others drop out. Obviously, you can’t foresee everything (I’m looking at you, 2016 illness), but that’s a different matter.
We’ll start easy. The calendar. This is both your enemy (it’s limited) and your friend (you can plan). I’ll use the US as an example because that’s where I am. Here, the huge monster at the end of the month is Thanksgiving, but any holiday qualifies as—from a writing perspective—a time suck. There’s planning and cooking. There’s cleaning, family, and friends. People might stay for days. Children are off from school. There’s post holiday exhaustion. It also comes at the end of the month.
Yet, it’s common for people to not allow for holidays or even taking a vacation. I’m serious. Someone posted once that they forgot they’d be gone for a week. There may be other personal events. You need to allow for them.
That brings us to the math. There’s a reason NaNo provides charts and graphs. NaNo, though, doesn’t know about your life. Base your needed daily average on the number of days you CAN write. Not maybe. Not you hope so. I also recommend being ahead a day to cover the unexpected. Keep in mind, if you miss writing on the 3rd you have all month to catch up. Miss writing on the 25th and you have less than a week. I dislike math, but this is simple math. It’s your friend if you use it.
So, you’re going to write a novel. When and where? Seriously. What’s your plan? Do you have a space at home? What about noise? What about interruptions? Are you someone who must work elsewhere? What’s your plan for accessing that location? What are your alternatives? If you require ambiance, YouTube has background for every situation you can imagine. Depending on your hemisphere, you might be dealing with cold or heat extremes.
A huge time suck that most people don’t consider is meals. Do you prepare your own? I do, and it’s time consuming, especially if I want to eat healthy. Do you go out? Okay, with Covid the bigger question might be, can you go out? Regardless, you need to have a plan. My approach is to freeze a lot of meals in late October. It won’t carry me all the way through the month, but eases the burden. It also keeps me from living on pizza, though pizza is always an option.
It’s time for the issue of cooperation. If you have family, a roommate(s), or anyone else in your life who could impact your efforts you need to know how you’re going to handle that. They need to understand what you’re doing and what you need. Others in the household can be a drain on your time, but they can also help you out a lot. If you’re a I have to do everything for everyone person you’re in for a long month.
That takes us to what’re you willing to sacrifice? I’m not talking about skipping holidays or making your kids eat food scraps all month. I’m talking about excessive binge watching, for instance. What can you skip or delay? Moderation is the key word here. This is the self-discipline side of NaNo.
Finally, there’s self-care, which is also tied to self-discipline. Your body is the primary tool you need for creating a novel. Treat it well. For me, there’s meditation, walking, yoga, and my desk adapts for standing. Part of the reason I freeze meals is to maintain a healthy diet. Thirty days is a lot of time and you don’t want to be sick by mid month or suffering from strain.
What so much of this comes down to is awareness and thinking ahead. This post was about making it as easy on yourself as humanly possible—so you can write a novel, and enjoy doing it. I absolutely love to write, which is why I set myself up to succeed and, above all, have fun.