Greetings, programs! So far in this series on the preparations for NaNoWriMo that have nothing to do with your novel, we’ve started to look at some of the things that will come up in November and methods for tackling them. Now, it’s time to get to the heart of the issue: making time to write. Make no mistake, this is the core of NaNoWriMo, and where many if not most will find themselves falling short. You can have the most detailed outline imaginable, but if you don’t have a reasonable plan for getting the wordage out, it’s just going to stay in your head.
As is my wont, I’ll start by asking you a question.
How long is this going to take, anyway?
If you’re going to clear space in your schedule, you need to make sure it’s the correct amount. Overestimating won’t hurt, but underestimating just how many hours your ass will have to be in a chair is death. Death!
Ahem. For NaNoWriMo, the magic number is 1667, the daily average you’ll need in order to hit 50,000 words in 30 days. Everyone writes at a different pace, so you need to start by figuring out yours. If you don’t already have a decent idea of this, take a couple of runs at a current WIP or nice warm-up short stories, and pay attention to the numbers. Personally, when I’m fully engaged with my word processor of choice and merrily typing away, I can produce roughly 1,000 words per hour. (Some compose significantly faster, some significantly slower. It’s all about your style.) So, in theory, it should take a little over 90 minutes for me to hit my daily quota, which is totally manageable.
In reality, 90 minutes of ass-in-chair does not equate to 90 minutes of productive typing. Depending on how distracted, tired, or stuck I am, it generally takes me 2-3 hours in front of my keyboard to hit the quota. Still not impossible, but if I’m only budgeting to clear 90 minutes from my schedule, I’m definitely going to come up short. Again, overestimate. If you finish the day’s quota early, it’s a great bonus.
The obvious candidates
Even the busiest of us are likely to have some time currently in our schedules where we’re not really doing anything productive. Playing video games, watching TV, golfing, bingeing on Buzzfeed… Leisure time, basically. It definitely seems like an easy way to cut things out to make time for writing, and in many ways, it is. You don’t have to cut out all the fun stuff, but for most people, this is where they’re going to start.
It also seems very easy to say you’ll just get up earlier and/or stay up later, but be careful of that. Sleep is a very important thing, especially if you want to end up with a coherent first draft and not stream-of-consciousness hallucinations. (Unless, you know, the hallucinations bit is what you’re going for, though I’m not sure I’d advocate going Method as a writer.) Remember, don’t sacrifice your health and well-being over a silly bragging rights contest.
This is probably the part where I’m supposed to provide some secret magic bullet, some secret guru tip that will be the previously unknown key to a successful career as a writer. Given my tone, you can probably guess that ain’t gonna happen. However, there are a few ways you may not have considered to increase your writing time, especially if this is your first NaNo.
There are really two kinds of writing sessions you can squeeze into your schedule: big chunks and little crumbs. Big chunks tend to be “instead of” time: write instead of watching TV tonight, instead of doing the yardwork this weekend, instead of going to the bar after work. They’re good for momentum and getting into a certain mindset and groove, and are probably where the bulk of your work is going to be done.
The little crumbs, on the other hand, tend to be “while” time. Rather than cutting out an activity in favor of writing, you multitask. This may not necessarily be the most productive output in terms of words per minute, especially if your attention is very divided. However, you’d be surprised how quickly a few sentences here and there can add up, and each and every word gets you closer to the finish line.
Essential to the little crumb sessions is portability: you need to be able to write wherever you find yourself with a spare moment. Technology is a beautiful thing, and there are several systems out there (Dropbox, Google Drive, My Writing Spot, Celtx, Yarny, etc) that allow you to work on the same document from whatever screen is handy, retaining your changes between sessions and devices. You wouldn’t think that writing on your phone is a good idea, but if you find yourself, say, unexpectedly sitting at the side of the road waiting for AAA without any of your other gear (which may be a thing that has happened to me), being able to sneak a few words in feels fantastic.
Perhaps you’re not a techie, or perhaps your writing solution of choice (::cough::Scrivener::cough::) leaves you tied helplessly to a single machine. But not to fret, you can still take advantage of those little writing crumbs. When I was in high school, in the pre-laptop, pre-mobile days, I used to keep a printed copy of my work in progress in a folder, and I’d handwrite additional material throughout the day. Then, when I got home, I would transcribe the day’s progress and keep writing. New pages got printed out the next morning and added to the folder. Not the prettiest or most eco-friendly solution, but man, was I productive. Even if keeping a running hard copy isn’t feasible, you can still keep a notebook on hand and jot down a few sentences as you find a spare moment.
Keeping your eye out for those spare moments is the trick. Waiting for the water to boil for dinner? Have your laptop fired up and ready to go. Boss running late to a meeting? Pull out the notebook. Take public transit to work? That’s solid writing time, baby. Some people even use dictation software so they can write while driving or at other times when they don’t have their hands free. Stay prepared for those opportunities, and it will be easier to take advantage of them.
Putting it all together
As I’ve been saying all along, your writing schedule is probably going to consist of combining several of these strategies, rather than taking one and running with it. All of this stuff is in your schedule for a reason: you want or need to do it, and a writing competition doesn’t change that. Remember, we’re supposed to be having fun, and sometimes having fun means taking breaks, too.
Also keep in mind that the daily 1667 is an average. If you find that writing during the week is simply impossible, it’s certainly a feasible strategy to do your entire week’s worth of words on the weekend; there are some people that can finish the entire shebang in just a couple of ridiculous marathon days. Just recognize that it’s going to be much, much harder. The further you fall behind, the more words you have to write every day to catch up.
I tend to find it’s better to front-load. There’s a tremendous amount of energy, support, and enthusiasm in the first 10 days of the month, as everyone is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. If you’re a plotter, you’re finally getting to write down words you’ve been mulling over for weeks, months, maybe years! Everything is new and exciting! You haven’t had a chance to start hating your characters or write yourself into a corner or just get bored! If you ride that push and aim high at the beginning (especially if you’re a more experienced writer and have a good idea of what you can manage), you give yourself a nice buffer later on in the month when the novel starts getting harder and the things you’ve been ignoring start calling out to you. Even if you don’t find yourself needing a lazy day or an entire day off, you can just finish early, which is pretty awesome.
My own strategy tends to be a couple of big writing sessions each day (one on my lunch break, one before bed). I occasionally supplement with crumbs, but only as the mood strikes me; I find those spare moments tend to be better for mulling things over and getting ready for the next session. When possible, I get out to a coffee shop or library, either as part of a write-in (more about those in a couple of weeks) or just on my own. Housework doesn’t usually get too bad, since it’s only the two of us and my husband is very supportive and generally awesome. The DVR tends to fill up, but I can stay caught up on The Daily Show and with my G+ and Feedly. Stuff for my Etsy shop and other crafting and painting probably suffers most, so I try to start early on stocking the shop for Christmas and just accept that my other projects will still be there when the draft is done.
Unless you’re trying to finish very early in the month (like if you know the latter part of November is just going to be impossible), it’s not necessary to be writing constantly. There’s still plenty of time for other things; though it seems daunting, 2-3 hours out of 24 isn’t that much. The trick to getting through NaNoWriMo, and to building a good writing habit in general, is ass in chair. Whether you’re in the mood or not, even when it’s hard, make it a priority. Writers write.
Since this one got a little long, next week’s post will be a little less stick and a little more carrot.