Novel Tips for a Sustainable #NaNoWriMo

IMG_3476 NaNoWriMo is the phenomenon that encourages people to put 50,000 words on the page in the month of November. I’ve completed it before and blogged about it. (I’ll post some links at the end) My experiences have ranged from joyful completion and the ultimate self-publishing of a comedy feelgood novel about saving the universe to a frantic splurging of words for a more literary novel that led to a subsequent year of forensic untangling to make the story coherent. I have learned that

·       deadlines and quotas help me actually put fingers to keyboard (pen to paper had a much nicer ring to it!) and write all those thoughts down – thoughts that otherwise float away on the wind unrecorded

·        (to use a mining analogy) if I can hit upon a seam rich with material/access memories, the subconscious, something I’m passionate about, a vivid place or character, the words can come very quickly

·        I have very little idea how to hit upon the seam other than ideas here about taking time out to fuel your imagination, doing the counter intuitive thing of not writing, going on a walk, reading a book etc. Or put it another way writing is not usually like turning on a tap so don’t beat yourself up.

·        Every project is different and you have to respect that. One will be closer to your heart/have had more preparation/be technically easier to do/require more or less research than another

·        a sustainable approach may work best and is the one I am favouring this year

What is sustainable approach for NaNoWriMo? What I have learned this year is that I am very good at doing everything that is not NaNoWriMo. For example, here I am writing a blogpost, I have also checked on the US election count (who hasn’t), gone for a walk, made a dental appointment, planned some fruit pies and found out how to renew my driver’s licence online. I have also completed the third workout in the couch to 5k challenge that my workplace is organising. This year is also different in that, every other year, I’ve been very rule-bound about getting the 1667 words on the page each day. This year I am already well behind and some days I haven’t written anything. After wresting with ‘shoulds’ and questioning my entire identity as a writer and whether I ‘should’ give up trying to write books, I decided to put things into perspective and show some self-compassion and self-respect. I decided that I needed to balance out the desire to ‘produce’ and ‘succeed’ with an acknowledgment and acceptance of my circumstances (family and work alongside writing) and  the true stage and state of my project. This is where the sustainable comes in. I want to be true to my values and circumstances . This means I want this project to be feasible, possible, not to cause harm, not to deplete my resources, not to make life hard, not to be about suffering and self-flagellation but about finding the joy in the book, being true to what I want to say, producing only writing that is satisfying to the project and not just thrown down to make the wordcount. (That is not to say that some work will turn out not to be right and will be cut later and I’m not saying that I can’t take flights of fancy or try out sections/characters/plots just for the hell of it). I want to go at the pace for which I’m able while building up my momentum and resources. I’ve learned a few key lessons from completing the couch to 5k exercise challenge before and renewing it now: Achieving small goals and building up strength and stamina over time works brilliantly and a sense of camaraderie and connection with others doing the challenge can be very motivating. For me, sustainable means working within my current limits and taking time to develop and stretch myself without overdoing it.

·        It means building up the structure first – warming up, thinking, daydreaming, writing a scene list, reading an article or book related to the project.

·        It means starting with lower wordcounts and not fretting over it.

·        It means writing sections that I’m more sure about first and working from there

·        It means staying true to the shape of the project and what is needed to bring it forward whether that means more research, more daydreaming, spending time on character and story development and plotting (you CAN ‘cheat’ and add this explorative work to your wordcount if you wish)

·        It means getting enough rest, minding my physical and mental health through other activities

·        It means planning to fail if failing means not ‘winning’ NaNoWriMo but winning my true aim of writing something that means a lot to me and that I’m happy with.

I think this is a lesson for modern times. How can we live in a way that nurtures ourselves, our loved ones, the world? Instead of producing for the sake of it, consuming and disposing, how can we create work that is meaningful, entertaining, enriching and is made with love and joy rather than worry and angst?

Is NaNoWriMo for you?

I look at the Monumental Challenge of NaNoWriMo and give pointers as to whether this challenge is right for you at this time in your Writing life.

How to do NaNoWriMo when you don’t have the time

This very popular post from the archive gives you tips and tricks to help your productivity and rally support when your life is really too busy to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge.

Ten Ways to Ace NaNoWriMo

Ten sure-fire ways to keep yourself motivated and productive during your 50,000 word marathon.

Personal experience

Running for my writing Life. The ups and downs during the 2009 NaNoWriMo session

NaNoWriMo – Now it’s all over would I do it again?

Realistic pluses and minuses of using NaNoWriMo to work on your novel


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