50,000 words in 30 days? Check!
I know. I’m crazy. But as stressful as the last month was, I managed to have a lot of fun as well. As I’m wrapping up NaNo 2018, I thought I’d reflect on the experience and share a few things I learned along the way.
Some of these lessons serve as great pieces of advice to writers, and even non-writers.
1. Learn to be SMART.
I don’t mean actual intelligence. In this case, I’m referring to a type of goal-setting known as SMART. It’s an acronym to help remember what a good goal should be.
I found myself following this strategy unconsciously during the last month. The NaNo website, which tracks your progress, has a daily goal of 1,667 words per day, but that can seem a little overwhelming when you’re staring a screen, trying to write words.
So I started setting hourly goals each night. Usually, by the time I got home from work and settled in to start writing, I had about 4 or 5 hours to do so. I’d take my current word count and plan to write 500, 750, or even 1,000 words in the next hour. The goal would largely depend on how much I’d gotten done already that day and how well the ideas were flowing that day.
2. Build in distractions.
I suppose I could just as easily call this point “Find how you work best”, but for me, it was building in distractions. A lot of writers block out all possible distractions in order to get their writing done: TV, music, social media, etc.
I’ve actually found that if I get rid of every possible distraction, I’m not quite as productive. I spend so thought on my distractions and trying not to pay attention to them that I waste time. Whereas if I build in some distractions (a TV show I know well playing in the background, 5 or 10 minutes on my phone each hour), I can focus on my writing when I’m writing.
But like I said, that’s just me. Every person is different, so find the way that works best for you.
3. Write whatever.
One of the nice things about NaNo is the lack of pressure. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, because the idea of writing 50,000 words in 30 days sounds like a TON of pressure. And don’t get me wrong, it is.
But the pressure isn’t to write 50,000 good words. In fact, it’s sort of understood that there will be less than stellar writing involved.
I counted everything toward my word count: chapter outlines, notes to myself for when I’m editing later, even placeholder names for characters or places like “insert name of town I have no time to come up with.”
There’s something sort of freeing about writing without expectations, just putting thoughts down on paper. Obviously it won’t turn into anything good without some help, but it’s a start.
4. Expect speed bumps and detours.
Sometimes, things don’t go how you expect.
The same goes for stories. There were so many times that I got on a roll, only to find myself in the middle of a scene that I had no idea existed. Or there were elements that I had planned out that I never got to use.
5. Surround yourself with supportive people.
I have the best roommates and friends.
I told pretty much anyone I speak to on a regular basis that I was embarking on this crazy journey and everyone I talked to was so supportive. The support was often mixed awe, disbelief, and just a bit of “are you sure that’s a good idea?”
But no matter their questions about my sanity, everyone was incredibly supportive. They asked about my word count, which helped keep me accountable, and celebrated milestones with me (see point 6).
I also had a few friends who let me bounce ideas off them and helped me brainstorm, which was super helpful. After 20 days of working intently on a single story, you get a bit of tunnel vision and outside opinions are quite welcome.
6. Celebrate wins and milestones.
One of the reasons I broke up my writing into smaller goals was to give myself the satisfaction of crossing things off a list. It made it feel much more like I was accomplishing something. And that’s important.
It’s especially helpful to celebrate milestones with such a large goal. It’s encouraging and emphasizes the progress you’ve made instead of just dwelling on how much you have left.
And I don’t know about you, but ice cream is an excellent motivator for me.
7. We get good at things by doing them.
One of the first things a writer learns is that first drafts are invariably bad.
But that should never stop us from trying. One of my friends and fellow writers, Chandler Birch, wrote this in a Facebook post to encourage writers to try NaNo: “We get good at things by doing them.”
Writing is like any other skill. You have to practice to get better and this was good practice for me. I wrote good scenes and bad scenes. I wrote things I’m proud of and things I will happily delete and never think of again.
But the important thing is that I wrote.
Thanks for sharing this journey with me! Until next time, word nerds!