Guest Post by Andrew Newton, Find his blog at newtonandnewtoninc.wordpress.com
This past November, I embarked for the fourth time on a literary adventure of grand proportions. National Novel Writing Month (aka. NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo) is an annual challenge for writers of all ages to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Each time I strap myself into the literary lunacy of NaNo I learn a few things about writing and time management that I promptly manage to forget until the next year. This time, however, I’m not going to forget, because I’m writing them down here for us all to enjoy. This post is for anyone who has ever said, “I’d love to write, but I just don’t have the time.” Or anyone who has ever said, “I love lists of things that people learned doing strange, slightly nerdy writing events!”
Lesson 1: Everyone has time to write, even you.
So often, we look at our lives and say, “I’m so busy I never have time to write.” This would be problematic if it were true, but what we really mean is, “I have a lot of other things that I make a priority over writing.” The reality is we make time for the things that are truly a priority in our lives. Usually, this involves rearranging our list of priorities, or even removing things altogether.
For me, making time for writing during NaNo has required me to cut back or eliminate video games, movies/TV shows, recreational reading, and/or unnecessary internet use during the month. You have to decide what your priority is and allocate the time you need for that, even if it means taking time away from something else. (Spoiler alert: it always does.)
Lesson 2: Don’t be afraid to write crap – you have to write crap before you can get to the good stuff.
The whole premise of NaNo is to start with a blank page and write a rough draft from start to finish. The key word here is rough. The end result will not be literary gold – that’s not the point. The point is to write something that you can work with, add to, edit, and polish into a masterpiece. Does that always happen? No. Sometimes crap is just crap and there’s nothing you can do about it. Does that mean it’s a complete loss and you’re a terrible writer? No! It means you got some valuable practice, and some new ideas that may blossom into something great later on. As long as you’re writing, that’s a good thing.
The only year I lost NaNo was the year I started, got to 1,000 words, and gave up. Don’t give up, the stuff you write may not be great, but it’s better than not writing at all.
You can fix something bad you’ve written, but you can’t fix something you never wrote.
Lesson 3: Set concrete goals.
50,000 words in 30 days is easier said than done. Writing every day that’s only 1,667 words per day, but I think the only year that I came close to writing every day was back in 2010 when I had no life whatsoever (this may be a slight exaggeration, but not by much). All other years, I have had to make up for some hefty deficits in order to finish on time.
I realize that NaNo level goals aren’t always realistic, what’s important is to have a goal and work towards it. Maybe your goal is to write every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. Maybe your goal is to write 500 words a day. Whatever your goal is, do your best to stick to it, and before you know it, words and pages will be piling up, because consistency is the key to writing.
Lesson 4: Don’t be afraid to take breaks.
Sometimes you type something then immediately delete it, or you write something and cross it out, you just can’t get the words to come out right. Other times, you are simply exhausted and need to sleep for several decades. If you hit a wall, take a break. After an hour or so of writing I often need a break to let my creative batteries recharge. I make myself some tea, grab a snack, watch a couple YouTube videos or an episode of The Office, then get back to work.
That’s the important part, get back to work. The purpose of a break is to re-energize you to keep going. There is a difference between taking a break and binge-watching an entire season of Arrested Development for the third time (not that I’ve ever done that).
Breaks are good, because they let you keep going. If they don’t help you keep going, they aren’t real breaks.
So those are my observations after a crazy month of writing. I highly recommend NaNoWriMo to anyone who wants to write. Whether you’re an old pro or a newbie, it will help you improve your writing skills and your time management, not to mention the sense of accomplishment. Even if you’re not interested in writing, most of the lessons I’ve learned from NaNo are perfectly applicable to other areas of interest. Just go back and replace “writing” with “underwater basket weaving” or “poodle wrangling” or anything else you want to do, but don’t think you have the time.