Greetings, programs! It’s time for another wonderful post on all the things you can be doing to prepare for this year’s National Novel Writing Month, even if you’re going to make up the entire thing as you go. We’ve already discussed strategies for figuring out all of the things that you can’t do in November because you’re too busy writing a novel. But a schedule is like a diet: the more restrictive it is, the more likely you are to crack and blow the whole thing off. So today, we’re discussing a point that’s very important to remember: rewarding yourself. Winning NaNoWriMo earns you some pretty sweet bragging rights, along with a draft of a novel that didn’t exist before. That’s not nothing, but sometimes it’s not enough on its own. Here are a few ways to refill your motivation tank.
Don’t drop everything fun in your schedule
The previous posts have talked a lot about all of the different things you can cut out to make time for writing, and taken altogether it can seem like that means cutting out everything. That’s not really feasible, and unless you need a lot more time than average to draft (or fall really far behind), it’s just not necessary. Your dealbreakers, the things that you absolutely can’t drop no matter what, don’t need to just be the work stuff.
For me, I meet up once a week with some friends for some pen-and-paper roleplaying. That still continues during November, because it’s an important part of my week (and because being down a player can really throw a wrench into the story, which isn’t fair to everyone else). I build my writing schedule around knowing that I’m not going to get any work done on Friday nights, and I frequently go into my Saturday writing refreshed because I got to step away from the story for a bit.
This is also where the balance we talked about last week comes in. It may seem easier to simply not watch any TV or completely avoid social media during November than to mess with the day job and housework, but by the second half of the month, it’s going to get really tempting just to pull them up and peek at what you’ve been missing, and then to get totally immersed and fall behind on word count. Building in a limited amount of time for the fun stuff holds off that withdrawal. You can also make adjustments to make it easier to cut down on the time you spend, like doing some circle maintenance on G+ to turn down the volume and create smaller circles of people whose posts you don’t want to miss (so you can safely ignore everyone else). For Twitter, you can utilize something like Tweetdeck to focus on limited lists and hashtags rather than visiting your main feed.
Bribe your way across the finish line
One of the reasons I don’t do so hot with the marathon sessions is that I’m very easily distracted. I have trouble focusing, and I can get completely derailed by a tangent. So I treat my muse like the spoiled little four-year-old that it is, and get things done by means of a system of petty bribery.
It goes something like this: before I settle in to my comfy chair at the coffee shop, I buy myself a drink and a tasty treat. (This, by the by, is standard etiquette for writing in public: If you’re camping out somewhere that sells something, you need to be a customer.) I’ll drink freely, but I’ll ration out the snack, holding out for as long as I can and then only getting a bite every 200 words. If I need a refill or need to get up to use the bathroom, I’ll make myself wait until the next nice round number in the word count to get up. Silly? Sure. Effective? Absolutely.
You don’t need to go quite so micro as all that. Set stretch goals that are still attainable (like an extra 500 words per day, or pushing through to the next even thousand if you’re close) and then reward yourself with something fun when you meet them. Find a way to celebrate milestones like passing the halfway point or working through a difficult scene. Reward yourself for an especially productive session with some solid goof-off time–just use a timer if you need to get back to work afterwards! Tying the fun stuff to your word count can give you a little bit of extra push to get through, and can help you feel less guilty about taking breaks because, hey, you earned it.
Big accomplishments deserve big rewards
As mentioned above, there’s not really a prize for finishing NaNoWriMo. So I like to get myself one.
Since 50,000 words isn’t really a novel, I split this in two. Once I cross that finish line, we go out to a nice dinner to celebrate. Then I promise myself something for when I actually finish the first draft, ideally something I’ve been wanting that’s beyond my normal impulse buy limit, but still within my means. It’s tempting to say that I’ll just go on a mini shopping spree and get myself a bunch of books or DVDs, but I like having one tangible thing that reminds me of what I accomplished.
It’s also tempting to make this reward something big I’m intending to get myself anyway; I’ve been saving up to replace my creaky old iPad, and hey, a new iPad is a heck of a reward! But the issue there is that if I fail, I’m still going to get the iPad, so it doesn’t really mean as much. The key with using rewards as motivation is the ability to withhold them if you don’t meet the self-imposed requirements. If it’s stuff you’re going to do or get anyway, it doesn’t really drive your word count forward.
Most of this stuff isn’t really “prep,” because it mainly involves little decisions you’re going to make in the trenches. But it’s useful to start figuring out some options, and you should definitely pick out your “prize” and make sure to start saving your pennies for it. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you’re in it for bragging rights, the Scrivener discount, a Doctor Who box set, or a hundred brownies a bite at a time. If you leverage it well, it all gets you to a first draft.
Come back on Wednesday for my final installment in this series, where things will get loud. Sort of.