Posts tagged with: NaNoWriMo

Goals: Do You NaNo?

It’s the end of the month, which means it’s time to talk goals moving into November!  And as many writers know, November is NaNo Month.

One of the questions you get asked a lot as a writer is how you do it.  How do you finish the book, how do you get published, how do you find people to read your stuff who aren’t biologically related to you… And one of my standard answers to question number one (how do you finish) is that you just do it.  But I’ve found the best way to do that–to keep my momentum going and make it all the way to The End is to have 1) deadlines and 2) community.  National Novel Writing Month provides both of those.  (As does the Ruby Winter Writing Festival in January/February, but NaNo starts THIS WEEK so we’ll focus on that one.)

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo as it is commonly called by the writerly set, is an online, one-month challenge to write a book (or at least 50,000 words of one) in 30 days – specifically the calendar month of November.  You can set up a profile at their website (HERE), track your progress, and connect with other writers who are in the trenches with you, also working frantically to hit their wordcount goals.  If you win, you get bragging rights – and even if you don’t win (by hitting 50K before Dec 1st) you still have FAR more words on your novel than you did before you started.  And hopefully some writer-friends you picked up along the way.  Total win/win.

Since I’m using the end of each month to talk about goals, motivation and self-care, NaNo seemed like the perfect place to start, as it has a built-in goal structure and provides one of the things that can bolster a writer more than anything–community! 

I’ll be joining NaNo this month as I’m staring down a deadline.  So my questions for you…

Will you be doing NaNo this year?  If so, have you picked out your project?  Are you ready for launch?

Have you done NaNo in the past?  Any tips for those who are about to leap into the breach?

Last Minute Tips for Finishing NaNo, a.k.a., YOU CAN STILL DO IT!!

If you hit a few speed bumps on your NaNo road this year, and you’re down more words than you reasonably think you can make up before Wednesday at midnight, I’m here to tell you:

YES YOU CAN write 10,000 or 12,000 or 15,000 words or maybe even 20,000 words over the course of the next 72 hours.

Here are some tips–mostly the same ones I gave a couple years ago when I blazed through to a nail-biter NaNo win–for racking up major word counts in the next couple days:

1.Utter crap is fine! Victories depend on it!

Shutting up that pesky inner editor is hard, I know, but get out the duct tape or tranquilizer darts, or just tell her about that fantabulous deal you heard about over at Best Buy so she’ll spend her day in hand-to-hand consumer combat. You just need WORDS on the page. Nobody said they had to be good ones. Spew ’em out. (And, you know what? When you come back and read them later, they’ll probably be a lot better than you think.)

2. Use your built in Word word counter:

If you use Microsoft Word, look down at the bottom of your screen, slightly to the left of middle. It keeps a running count of your words even as you type. Before I start a session, I write down my current word count, then decide how many words I’m challenging myself to write by the end of an hour. I write that number down on a Post-It and stick it at the bottom of my screen. It’s surprising how fast the Word word counter whirs upwards if you just keep typing. It really helps me stay on task.

3. Buddy up:

I should be spending a goodly chunk of today in a chat room with my sister (who’s on the opposite coast) doing writing sprints. We chat briefly, then set each other a word goal, and go off on our own and let our fingers fly over the keyboard for 45 minutes, then check back in. If she meets her goal, I email her a glorious picture of Richard Armitage. If I meet my goal, she sends me Benedict Cumberbatch. (Okay, a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch. But a girl can imagine.)

4. Really, truly tune out the family for the next few days:

I always say I’m going to do this, but I’m terrible at it. But with the countdown to the NaNo deadline ticking away, I’m really, really, REALLY doing it. Earphones help. If music distracts you, I highly recommend, which lets you listen to a wonderful thunderstorm and/or background noise from a café. The kids will not starve, I promise. They know where the snacks are.

5. Don’t trust NaNo’s “words per day to finish” count:

It will lull you into a very false sense of security. Not understanding how it worked foiled my NaNo plans one year, since I trusted it and planned my writing goals accordingly. But on the NaNo site, “words per day to finish” thing ALWAYS INCLUDES THE DAY YOU’RE STILL IN, EVEN IF IT’S FIVE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT AND YOU JUST UPDATED YOUR WORD COUNT FOR THAT DAY.

I.e., if you updated your word count last night, and it says you still have to write 10,000 words per day to finish, that doesn’t mean writing 10,000 Friday and 10,000 Saturday will do it. Nope, NaNo thinks you’re going to write 10,000 more words in that next five minutes. Assuming you don’t have magical powers, you would actually have to write 15,000 words each day on Friday and Saturday.

6. Don’t stop!!!!!

Even if you don’t make that 50,000 word goal by Wednesday night, if you focus for the next three days (or even just the next three evenings), you’ll still have THOUSANDS of words written that you didn’t have before.

Come back here December 1st and let us know if you made it across the finish line!!

It’s Confession Time: NaNo 2015!

I don’t know about you, but December 1 felt like a crash landing. Head down. In an unfamiliar dumpster.

November’s over already? Another NaNoWriMo has come and gone?

If you’ve been around the Ruby blog awhile, you probably know I have a complicated relationship to the wild ride that is NaNo.

I LOVE NaNo always, unambiguously, in a frenzied “we’re going to the amusement park and I’m gonna get on all the roller-coasters and stuff my face with all the cotton candy and win a seven-foot-tall stuffed crocodile at Skee-Ball and throw up on the car-ride home and it’s gonna be FREAKIN’ AWESOME!!!!!!!” kind of way. 

But, in addition to exhilarating wins, I’ve had humiliating losses, and even a bone-headed year when I accidentally fell asleep on the last night while putting my daughter to bed, and woke up just a couple thousand words short of the goal.

At  my mid-point check-in, I told you November 2015 has been an especially challenging month for me, with my high-school-senior daughter having an emergency appendectomy at the end of week one.

But after things finally settled down, I vowed to get back in the saddle and see what I could pull out in the remaining two weeks.

Traditionally, I don’t reveal whether I won or lost until after the jump… click that button now……



If you’ve been here the last couple of years, you’re probably waiting for me to burst into maniacal laughter and tell you I won….

But, nope. The roller coaster just didn’t swerve that way this year.

Here’s my final progress chart:

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 8.12.24 PMAnd you know what? I’m just fine with that.

As of Thanksgiving, I realized I could crank out 5,000 words a day if I ignored everything else and focused, and I’d “win” for the third year in a row. But on this go-round, that didn’t feel right. In fact, I took the night of November 30 off entirely, and watched the Warriors game with my family. (Which was AMAZING. Steph Curry is a demi-god at the very least.)

So–I’ll call this the NaNo of Moderation.

My daughter’s healthy again. I got my new middle schooler through a month of crazy-hefty homework. I took good care of my students while they were getting their college apps in. And I still have 35,000 new words in the bank. (FYI: I noticed I was just a few words short of 35,000 on the night of Nov 29, and added the phrase “And then what happened was….” to roll the odometer to that nice round number. Yeah, I can edit later.)

Next year, of course, I’ll be back in the frenzy again, gobbling cotton candy and waving my roller coaster ticket. And hopefully I’ll win.

But I’m feeling pretty content right now.

How about you? If you did NaNo, how did your November turn out?

NaNoWriMo 2015 Has Begun!

WOOOT!!!! It’s that wonderful time of year again, when over 300,000 writers around the world make a crazy pledge to each write 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November!

“Winning” NaNo ( means averaging 1667 new words every day, which isn’t easy if you have pesky things like a day job or a house or family to worry about at the same time. But it CAN BE DONE!!

This will be my SEVENTH NaNo, and–with a little help from my Muse–stands to be my 5th “win.” And, trust me, my day job is crazy as can be, and my kids need a lot from me. My life doesn’t include “free time.”

Once again, I’m sharing a few strategies that have helped me in the past:

-Banish your inner Martha Stewart.

You’re just not going to be a domestic goddess this month, and that’s okay. Dinner means anything you can microwave in under five minutes. Follow through on those threats to let the dirty dishes and laundry stack up until the kids take care of it themselves. Vacuuming is for boring people who don’t write 1667 words a day.

-Stay on target with the daily word count….but if you can’t, BINGE.

With a full-time teaching job and two kids, I have a LOT of fires to put out, and I can’t always make it to the keyboard. Last year, I aced the slow and steady approach, but the year before that, I only managed to write on 15 out of the 30 NaNo days (which I don’t recommend…it just happened.) But, even then, I didn’t despair. I just wrote like a demon on the days I could write, and I made it to 50,000. Self-recrimination is for suckers.

-Write a summary.

Even if you’re not coming in with a planned-out book, I bet you’ve got some general idea of key events that might happen, so build up some of your word-count early on by writing quick synopses of potential scenes or chapters. Then on days when the muse isn’t singing, you at least have the kernel of an idea to flesh out. (Writing in chunks like that would work well in Scrivener—and those guys have a free trial period that lines up with NaNo!! Check ‘em out at

-Try out one of those “keep your danged hands on the keyboard” programs.

Mac Freedom. Write or Die. Or, heck, just tune in to and let the sounds of a rainstorm help you tune out the rest of the world.


Lots of you have made great writing progress by sprinting with us during the Winter Writing Festival, and we’ll have the chat room over at open for NaNo. We don’t have any set chat times lined up just yet, but grab a friend and jump in anytime.

Ready to go, writers? I know I am!!!!!!

I’ll be back to check in about my progress, midway through the month and in the final days, and I’ll publicly reveal whether I won or lost in early December.

How about you?

Are you going to NaNo this year?


NaNo Mid-Point Check In

I’m going to keep this short ‘cause it’s been a long day (as I sit down to write this), and lots of us need to get right straight back to our NaNo writing for November 15.

I said I’d check in at the midpoint of November, so here I am (and THANK YOU for helping me stay motivated by giving me the specter of public shame if I failed to get any NaNo writing done!!! I can’t tell you how important that is to me).

So what’s the scoop?

Well, I’m not quite at NaNo par, which is 25,000 words—well, technically 23,333, since I’m writing this on November 14 and will write more words tomorrow.

But I’ve written 17,785, which is a thousand or so above what I’ve had at the midpoint for the past two years. And it’s one hell of a lot more writing than I’ve gotten done in any 15 day period since school started. (Um…my writing total since school started? Coincidentally, it’s 17,785 words.)

Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 10.22.02 PM


And it’s been challenging to get there.

Have I ever mentioned (like more than a thousand times, since I’m pretty sure the first thousand times don’t count) how incredibly exhausting it is to be a teacher?

I’m rushing here to write this after a long day in the classroom getting my kids through Chaucer and Shakespeare, then spending four hours after school finishing a lecture on the history of Petrarchan poetry. (It’s actually very entertaining!! It even includes Intellectually Relevant Allusions to Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball!! You should come!! 8 a.m. tomorrow, my classroom. I’ll bring the coffee!!)

My marking period grades are due next Wednesday. And, as always seems to happen in November, college applications are due, and I’ve got piles of letters of recommendation to write, and at least three different kids each day begging for help with their college essays (at least I never have to eat lunch alone! Sigh.).

I won’t even mention all the committee meetings and parent meetings and sweet adorable wonderful Creative Writing students who appreciated my comments on their first chapter so much COULD I PLEASE PLEASE READ THE NEXT SEVEN CHAPTERS….because then I might actually cry. (I do love those kids, though. Seriously. They are so amazing.)

As for my iron determination to make my family give me total writer space for an hour a night during November….well, my children’s powers of emotional manipulation run circles around mine.

 Typical conversation with the nine year old:

 9 year old:  “Mommy, can you make me some waffles?”

Me (standing strong): “Not right now, Honey. Ask Daddy to make you waffles.”

9 year old:  “But I want YOU to make me waffles.”

Me (still standing strong): “It doesn’t have to be me. Daddy can successfully provide you with sufficient nourishment to survive the next hour, I promise.”

9 year old: “But I like the special way you make waffles!”

Me (secretly touched by the praise, but trying not to waver):  “Honey, they’re frozen waffles. Daddy can work the toaster.”

9 year old: “But when you make waffles, they are PERFECT!”

Me (crumbling pathetically): “Okay, I will make the waffles.”


So, two things I’ve confirmed about my life:

1) teaching is #$@%*!! hard.

2) I have no backbone.

 BUT I still have 17,785 new words….and I’ll have all 50,000 by November 30.

 We have all of Thanksgiving week off of school this year, and I will be writing like a demon!! (Not making waffles. No.)

(Okay, maybe a few waffles.)

How are the rest of you WriMos doing?


Start Your Engines: It’s NaNo Time!

It’s NaNo Time! It’s NaNo Time!!

It’s like Christmas for writers, only more productive.

(If for some reason you’re new to NaNoWriMo—the yearly epic international challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days–bop over to their website to learn more.)

I look forward to NaNo every year, and I’m so so soooooo ready for it now. After winning NaNo twice in the past, I came in with a wee bit too much hubris last year (witness hubris post here) and then got sick and fell short.

I’m not going to be so hubristic this year. I’m admitting I’m human. I’m admitting I have no superpowers. I’m admitting I could fail. (See? That’s healthy, right? Admitting flaws? Somebody who admits flaws shouldn’t be punished by the Fates, right? You listening, Fates?)

I’m still doing all I can to prepare. As in past years, I’ve informed my family of the following:

-Get used to frozen dinners. And I mean frozen, as in “I don’t even promise to get them in the microwave.”

-Mommy has temporary amnesia around how to do laundry, dishes, and “cleaning up after the dog.” Take care of it yourselves. Consider it a character-growth opportunity.

-I love you, but leave me alone for an hour every evening while I’m writing. You can find your own socks / Nintendo 3DS / calculator / bowling shoes if you look hard enough, I promise. And, no, much as I adore you, I don’t want to watch that hilarious YouTube video about sloths.

 This year, though, I have one trick up my sleeve I’ve never had before:  A PLAN.

I have always been an Arch-Pantser, but thanks to the brilliance of my darling sister and CP, Eileen Emerson, I’m coming into this NaNo with AN OUTLINE. Okay, well, a list of chapter numbers, most of which have a few words after them with vague suggestions of things that might happen.

It may not impress those of you who do all the spreadsheets and flowcharts and post-it notes and gorgeous spreads of character images from magazines, but it’s more than I’ve ever had before when starting a book, and I’m proud.

That’s about all I’m saying for now.

Me and my plan are diving in, headlong and ready to rumble.

I’ll be back to check in about my progress, though, midway through the month and in the final days, and I’ll publicly reveal whether I won or lost in early December.

How about you?

Are you going to NaNo this year?


Are You Ready to NaNo? (2013 edition)

I am here to give myself a very stern talking to.

One month from today, I’ll be starting NaNoWriMo. If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a  challenge to complete 50,000 words of a novel in just 30 days, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever found for maximizing productivity as a writer. I’ve written about NaNo here before.  I’ve even been cocky enough to give advice on how to survive it.

But here’s the thing: I’ve done NaNo four times now, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

2009 and 2010, I totally nailed it.

2011 and 2012, not so much. You can read my tales of woeful failure here and here.

I think I can avoid the specific pitfalls that derailed me the last two years:  I’m healthy again, so I’m not expecting any trips to the ER (*madly knocks wood with every available appendage*). And my youngest now goes to sleep without me cuddling him, so I don’t think I’ll fall asleep on the final night this year with just 4,000 words left to go.

[I have gotten a call to jury duty for October 24, but I AM COMPLETELY IN DENIAL ABOUT THAT RIGHT NOW.]

Regardless, my absurd little life crises aren’t the point.

The point is, this year I am GOING TO HAVE A PLAN.

NaNo Midway Check-In (and the NEW Golden Heart Rules!!)

I’m officially here to give you my mid-way check-in on NaNoWriMo, but since November 15 is now the OPENING DAY for entering Golden Heart (see all the official wording here), I’m going to start with a quick run-down of the rule changes:

 1. As of this year, you MUST be an RWA member in good standing to enter the contest.

(If your membership lapses during the period of the contest, they’ll let you re-up your membership rather than disqualifying you.)

 2. The categories have changed, going from nine to seven. 

Novel with Strong Romantic Elements is gone for good.  Regency has been eliminated as a separate category, though you may enter Regencies romances under the Historical category. (And yes, many of us are still crying in our teacups over that.) The definition for YA has changed significantly, as discussed in Amanda Brice’s recent post here.

 3. The due dates are different.

The contest officially opens today, and final versions of manuscripts are due Jan 2 at 5:00. Lots of folks have been asking if you could in effect “reserve” a spot and keep polishing until the final deadline, asi n the past. The answer is yes. Here’s the word straight from Carol Ritter in response to an email I sent:

“You will need to enter, pay and upload an entry, BUT you can return to the entry site and replace/edit anything that you upload up until the 5:00 PM deadline on January 2, 2013.  We’re hoping that this will resolve one of the problems that has occurred in the past, where an entrant enters that contest, pays the fee and then never sends in the actual entry.  We have around 70-100 entrants that pay, but never send in their entry every year.”

That’s good news for those who are drafting during NaNo and planning to use December to polish!

4. The rules have been clarified on whether indie publishing disqualifies you (i.e., it does, if any book you’ve self-pubbed is 20,000 words or more).

Here’s what they now say: “The Golden Heart contest is open to RWA members who have not accepted a publishing offer for, or Self-Published, a work of original fictional narrative prose of 20,000 words or more by January 2, 2013.”

No more ambiguity about that.

 5. Your Golden Heart book CANNOT be available for sale in any form until AFTER the winners are announced.

The official rules say, “Entered works must not be published as long as they are under consideration for the Award.” That left some people wondering if that meant you couldn’t even sell the book, but Carol Ritter has clarified that as well:

“The rule means that if an entry reaches the final round it may not be made commercially available through publication, self, digital or traditional.  A finalist may still accept a contract, as long as the publisher understands that the book may not be be published until the winners have been announced on Saturday, July 20, 2013.”

Just to clarify: Your book cannot be available for sale until AFTER Nationals. You cannot e-publish your Golden Heart book in any form until AFTER the awards ceremony, or you’re disqualified.

Once January 2nd has passed, though, (but not before) you can accept a publishing CONTRACT for this book, or self-publish a DIFFERENT book and your current Golden Heart entry still remains eligible.

6. Judging will be different.

From what I saw when I signed up to judge, judges will now get manuscripts from a variety of categories. You can opt out of any two of the seven categories, but entries from any of the other five may arrive in your email inbox.

Plus we’ll be using the new scoring system, based on a 50 point total with four sub-categories, as described in this scoring overview:

The Romance: Between 1 and 20 points, with 1 being the lowest (poor) and 20 being the highest (excellent)

The Plot/Story: Between 1 and 10 points, with 1 being the lowest (poor) and 10 being the highest (excellent)

The Writing: Between 1 and 10 points, with 1 being the lowest (poor) and 10 being the highest (excellent)

The Characters: Between 1 and 10 points with 1 being the lowest (poor) and 10 being the highest (excellent)

7. One thing that hasn’t changed:

The contest is still limited to 1200 entries—and I have a sneaking suspicion the change to electronic submissions will significantly increase the number of people who decide to enter. So don’t wait!!!



 And now for a little NaNoWriMo check-in:

Well, cowpokes, I reckon it’s time to put my cards on the table. If you happened on my post from a month ago as I was headin’ towards that November 1 showdown, you know I was headin’ into NaNo with my guns a-blazin’.

And it’s goin’ purty well so far. Cain’t say I’m quite on target, but I’m not quittin’ either.

I am one saddle-sore gunslinger, though. The first few days were a bit cantankerous—I had letters o’ recommendations to write for my students, an’ my quarter grades were due (damn fool I was , choosin’ to be a schoolmarm)—and then I was too dad-blamed tuckered out to do much the next coupla days.

But I got lucky—my sister drove up in her wagon, handed me a big jot mug o’ joe, and we started sprintin’ together. If ya check out my latest NaNo progress chart, I’m a-gainin’ momentum, and I’ll catch up soon fer sure.


And that’s all I got to say fer now.

Well, fella NaNo-ers, how’s it going’ for you?

The Magnificent Thirty (Days): NaNoWriMo’s A-Comin’, and I’m Madder’n a Scorpion with a Sunburn

See the tumbleweeds rollin’ down the street, and the sun glintin’ off my spurs?

All the decent folks done run indoors and locked their shutters, Clint Eastwood’s whistlin’ the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and my writin’ hand’s twitchin’ by my holster, ready to draw in the wink of an eye.

‘Cause NaNoWriMo’s about to blow into town, and it’s showdown time.

Those of you’ve met NaNo yourselves know it’s one loco critter, intoxicatin’ as moonshine one minute, mean as a rattlesnake the next. It comes looking for writers, gets up toe to toe with ‘em, spits in the dirt by their boot-heels, and says, “Hey, there, cowboy, bet ya can’t write 50,000 words of a novel in just 30 days, starting November 1 and ending at midnight on November 30th.”

And you know it’s just the most damned fool idea anybody’s ever had, but there’s somethin’ in the crazy glint in NaNo’s eyes gets you thinkin’, “Hell, yeah, I can. I’m gonna write me them 50,000 new words in one month. Or I’m a-gonna die tryin’.”

And after that, there’s no turnin’ back.

Me and NaNo met three times before, in the Novembers of 2009, 2010, and 2011. First two times, I showed NaNo who’s boss, wrote my fifty-one thousand words, and they carried NaNoWriMo outta town on a stretcher. I got pretty cocky, I’ll admit it. Even wrote a couple blog posts givin’ people advice (here and here)  on how to beat NaNo for theirselves.

But last year, that loco critter got the better of me.

I got hit with a bad case of anemia, and the day-job had me pullin’ all-nighters, and though I made it to 44,479 words by November 29 and thought I saw my way clear to another victory on that last evenin’….I just plain fell asleep on November 30 instead of stayin’ up and writin’ them final 5,000-somethin’ words.  (Yeah, it was humiliatin’. You can read all about it here.)

Well, dagnabit.

But now I’m fightin’ mad, and NaNoWriMo better watch its back. Ain’t gonna be no unauthorized sleepin’ on my watch this time. 50,000 words in 30 days, you’re mine. My laptop’s primed and loaded and I’m brewin’ a pot o’ coffee big as the Rio Grande.

Who’s with me? I say that NaNo sucker’s going down in 2012. (Sign yerself up at An’ grab yer coffee mug, ’cause if ya leave a comment sayin’ yer gonna sign up, I’ll put ya in a random drawin’ to win a $10 Starbucks gift card.)

NaNoWriMo Survival Tips

What I Learned Last NaNoWriMo

Suggestions for Surviving the Month and Meeting Your Goals Without Losing Your Mind

It’s about to be November, and we all know what that means: for writers, at least, it’s time to test our limits, to roll up our sleeves, and turn that idea that’s been burning a hole in our brains into a novel!  For some, the time pressure and the shared challenge of the official NaNoWriMo experience is an incentive to get that first novel down on paper, to demystify the process of novel writing so that they can finally go from saying “someday” to having a real draft in their hands to work on.  For others, it’s this year’s (or this season’s) way of powering through a slump, and reminding themselves that writing is always better than not writing, even if they have real doubts about the genius of this November’s project.  For still others, it’s just one more month in the life of a writer, made up of thirty more days of keeping a schedule, meeting word-count goals, and getting stuff done.  (We love those people.  We admire them.  We want to be them when we grow up, even though many of them are younger than us…)

But whichever category you fall into, you have a big job ahead of you in the next month.  And you probably have a life, involving other people, work and family, and pesky little chores like the need to eat, sleep, and bathe on a semi-regular basis.  So how do you fit all of that and writing at least 50,000 words into only thirty days?  It’s going to be tight–let me warn you about that right now.  Last year was my first time doing the NaNo thing, and I can’t say that I found the experience relaxing.  But I did find it incredibly rewarding.  By the end of the four weeks I marked on my calendar, I had a first draft I loved, totaling 72,000 words.  I had set and broken my own record for the most words I had ever written in one day multiple times.  And I hadn’t given myself a single migraine.

So, how should we do this?  Everyone’s life is different, as are each person’s reactions to stress, so there’s a lot we each will have to figure out for ourselves. I will be writing along with you this NaNoWriMo, still a relative newcomer to this process myself, figuring out new tricks and tactics as I go.  I can’t claim to have all the answers, but here are a few things I figured out along the way last year that really, really helped with my particular batch of challenges, obstacles, and excuses.

1) Find ways to get put your creative brain in gear.

I used to think I had to be in the mood to write.  I remember thinking (and probably saying–oh, the shame) things like “I can’t force myself to write; it has to happen naturally.”  Ummm…yes, you can.  For a start, if you want inspiration to strike, it helps to meet the muse half-way.  I started writing during my last year of law school, when I was desperate for an escape from a career path I had begun to suspect was wrong for me.  When the alternative was sorting out the intricacies of administrative law, thinking about writing felt like the ultimate mental vacation.  I had trouble keeping my mind off writing.  The thought of sitting down to work on my first novel was beyond exhilarating, and the ideas flowed like water.  It’s funny, isn’t it, how quickly fun things begin to seem like work  under the slightest pressure to do them?  But all that excitement and inspiration is still in there somewhere.  So, give it a chance.  Sit down to it, clear away distractions, and think about your story.  Think about your characters and what you love about them.  Chances are, you’ll be hearing violins and getting dreamy eyes about the whole project again in short order.  If it doesn’t happen right away, keep trying.  Don’t make me get up on a ladder outside your house with a violin.  That would be dangerous.  And creepy.

2) Identify your distractions.

To really clear the decks and get down to business, it helps to first identify the things most likely to make you turn away from your NaNo manuscript, and try to come up with ways of pushing the snooze button on them, at least temporarily.  It’s obvious that you’re in danger of derailment when the phone rings while you’re writing, or someone suggests an ice cream run.  But what harm could an innocent little thing like a web browser do, right?  Don’t listen to that voice!  Here’s my rule: I’m not actually “writing” unless the web browser and the email are closed.  If they are open, I will turn to them every time I hit the slightest snag on the page, and the next thing I know, a solid hour of writing time has been whittled down to seventeen and a half minutes, divided in five useless installments.  The rest of the hour has been gobbled up by deleting spam, and catching up on all those crucially important things that my google news gadget thinks I need to know about, like who got voted off whichever reality show last night.  Do you want to write a novel, or don’t you?  (The correct answer is “yes.”)  Close the browser.  Close the email.  Close everything except the word processor you are using to write your novel.  Turn off the radio and the TV.  Your life demands enough multi-tasking as it is–don’t build in any more unnecessarily.

3) Don’t actually glue your butt to the chair.

I’ve been known to say things like “I really need to glue my butt to the chair and get this done.”  And I always mean it.  Sort of.  It’s true that good, old-fashioned, butt-in-chair time is usually necessary to productivity for writers.  But it can have some unfortunate side effects, when done in excess.  When you find body parts are starting to fall asleep, freeze up, or hurt, it may be a clue that you’ve been holding still for too long.  For me, the ultimate example of this is when getting up from a long session at the keyboard brings on an immediately visible migraine aura.

What I tried to combat this last November–and it seemed to actually work–was keeping a kitchen timer next to my computer, and setting it for one hour every time I sat down to work.  Every time it went off, no matter what, I stopped writing wherever I was, got up and stretched thoroughly before getting back to work.  If you have a favorite workout video, try the warm-up section for guidance on safe stretching and ways to get your blood flowing again.  Taking your eyes off the screen now and then can be a good thing, too.  An ophthalmologist once told me to reduce the risk of eye strain by taking frequent breaks from work at the computer, and letting my eyes focus at different distances–near, middle, far, then find a blank wall and look into infinity.

So take a break on a regular basis.  Drink some water.  Run up and down the stairs a couple of times.  Whatever works for you.  Then get back to work.

4) Learn to squeeze an hour for all it’s worth!

This used to be at the top of my list of excuses.  “I only have an hour.  It takes me almost that long to get in a groove.  I can’t write anything worth reading in only one hour.”  Ummm…yes, you can.  This is another place where that one-hour timer can come in handy.  The average day is full of so many things that require our attention, many of which we can’t in good conscience put off for the entire length of a 2 to 4,000-word workday.  But you can put them off for an hour, can’t you?  Let’s practice!  The phone is ringing–what do you do?  Tell yourself “if it’s really important, they’ll leave a voicemail.”  Then, don’t check your voicemail!  …until the timer goes off at the end of the hour.  See how easy?

Here’s another one:  your smartphone is making that super-cute noise you picked as your email alert every five minutes, and you’re dying to know who’s emailing you.  What do you do?  Remind yourself that you will not actually die from this condition for at least an hour and a half, switch your phone to silent mode, and don’t check your email!  …until the timer goes off at the end of the hour.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve been working hard to develop the skills and stamina for this kind of serious procrastination for years.  Now’s your chance to put it to good use!  The point of this is not to shirk your non-writing-related responsibilities–just to find ways of keeping up with them while limiting their ability to intrude on your writing time, one hour at a time.  If you can really focus only on writing for one whole hour, you will be amazed at how much you can get done.  Better still, you’ll be eager to carve out one more hour to devote to writing.

5) Keep trying new things until you find the one that works for you.

One of the best things about this experience for me last year was realizing that there isn’t only one way for me to approach writing, and that trying something new can be valuable, even if it doesn’t become my tried-and-true, one-and-only, swear-by-it, go-to method for producing a decent manuscript.  I started my first novel writing very slowly and painstakingly, editing every sentence to within an inch of its life before moving on.  Last fall, when I forced myself to draft quickly for the first time to meet my NaNoWriMo goals, I found that it allowed me to focus more on big-picture stuff like plot arc, and the rhythm of the novel as a whole.  Of course word craft is always important, and I had a lot of self-editing to do at the end, but forcing myself to shift my priorities for the length of one project gave me the beginnings of some new insight I really needed about other aspects of my writing.  I don’t know yet where my habits will settle out on this front, but it’s good to know that there’s more than one tool in the belt, and when to reach for each one.

If you have trouble settling on a strategy that feels right for you, there are zillions of books out there about writing your novel in thirty days, sixty days, ninety days–you name it!  Try leafing through a couple of them, and see if anything strikes a chord.

6) Remember, there is always December.  And January.

Okay, I’m probably not supposed to say this, but it’s true.  It’s only an exercise.  If you don’t meet your goals for the month, it’s not the end of the world.  Maybe you were shooting for 60,000 words, and made it to 25,000.  That’s great!  Do you have any idea how many people there are out there who have thought about giving this a try and never gotten that far?  Or never tried at all because they didn’t think they could?  You wrote this month, however much you could manage, probably more than you otherwise would have, and that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.  If you’re trying to build a career as a writer, you know that it is destined to be about much more than just one month.  There will always be lean times in your writing.  And your family, your relationships, your health, and your solvency will all need your attention along the way.  If you come away from this November with a few more tricks up your sleeve for cramming some writing productivity into your busy schedule, then you’ve achieved something important, and gotten closer to your writing goals, and there is no downside to that.

Okay–now it’s your turn!  What are your favorite NaNoWriMo rituals?  Any favorite tricks or strategies that help you through it?  We want to hear them all!  Post a comment below to join the discussion!

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The Latest Comments

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