By Naomi Jackson
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When I attempted my first NaNoWriMo challenge in November 2017, I was intimidated! Even though I wrote fairly consistently, I’d never written every day or tracked my word count before. Plus, I was dealing with a chronic disease that’s main symptoms are pain, brain fog, and fatigue.
Despite these obstacles, I succeeded. Not only did I write more than 50,000 words in November, I repeated the feat in December. My exact total was 119,901 between November first and December twenty-fourth.
I began investigating my results. Was my success just dumb luck? A perfect alignment of the writing stars? What had I done that was so effective? If I could dash off 100,000 words with my limitations, how could my experience help other authors who struggle to reach their writing goals?
Luckily, I compulsively compile data about my writing process. When I reviewed my notes, I could see my progress in real time and track the daily numbers. Below, dear readers, are the strategies I used throughout those two months.
1. I allowed myself to delete everything I’d written if it was garbage.
Seems harsh, doesn’t it? But we often stifle our creativity because we’re worried what the reader might think. Or worse, the critic. When you’re trying to push words onto paper, you don’t have time to edit or censor yourself. Accept that your first draft may be awful but the finished product will be polished. You might discover that this mindset helps you invent better storylines. If it doesn’t work and the story turns out terrible, then keep your promise to yourself. Restart the story or delete it. It’s all good practice in the end.
2. I went maverick on the NaNoWriMo schedule and planned for failure.
I realized that I wouldn’t be able to write every day because of my chronic illness, so I planned for failure. Maybe that sounds depressing or defeatist, but it was liberating. I rearranged the daily word counts so I could take every Sunday off and miss five weekdays of writing without ever needing to compensate. Examine your writing goals, personal habits, and potential areas of failure.
Planning is a great way to shore up your weaknesses. We tend to make plans as if we’ll never get sick, oversleep, or have other responsibilities interfere with our writing time. Unfortunately, we don’t live or write in a perfect world, and setbacks will happen. Building some slack into your plan will prevent you from becoming overwhelmed and discouraged.
3. I studied typing.
I was homeschooled, and touch typing wasn’t part of my school curriculum—probably because we didn’t have a home computer until after I graduated high school. When I purchased my laptop and began to treat writing as a career, I couldn’t type and keep up with my brain’s speed. Teaching myself to touch-type was hard but worth the effort.
What about you? Can you use all ten fingers on the keyboard? Is it time for a refresher course? The faster you can type, the more words you can get down in a short amount of time. Maybe you need to evaluate your technical skills in general. What skill could you improve to quicken the process?
4. I planned the next day’s writing the night before.
I have a confession: I hate plotting. I’ve never fully outlined a novel before I started it. I’ve finished ten full-length manuscripts though, and I always plot the next scene before I write it. As I go throughout my day, I’ll think up scenes, dialogue, and beats that need to occur for the story to work. Then, the next morning, ideas are waiting to flow out.
This tip could benefit anyone, even those who meticulously prep their novels. Ernest Hemingway was notorious for halting his writing sessions mid-sentence so that he would always know where to begin the next time. Even having one sentence fully formed and ready to go makes the words come more easily.
5. I learned my writing habits in advance.
I’m a morning person, and on a normal day I rise at 4:45 a.m. and write from 6 to 7 on the dot. Following this pattern during NaNoWriMo increased my productivity. I used to write in the afternoons, which was a horrible time for me, but it might be ideal for you. Figure out when you do your best writing—and be warned, it may not be when you expect. The timing may fluctuate as your schedule and obligations change as well.
I also discovered that I hate feeling behind. If I got bogged down and had to catch up, I would likely quit, and I was able to address that when I planned for failure.
Be aware of your creativity’s pace too. Full disclosure: I’m an ebber and a flower. After writing more than 100,000 words in two months, I was wiped. I’ve written around 20,000 words over the last three months, mostly in short bursts. Some people are more steady—they may only write 500 words a day, but they still complete the task.
I’m an all-in, get-the-project-done sort of person. Whatever I’m working on consumes a chunk of my energy, and due to my illness, I don’t have that much energy to expend. I have to focus on one writing project at a time. Releasing a novel in August 2018 means that new ideas must take a back seat. I don’t have much brain space right now for huge amounts of story. By acknowledging this and planning for it, I’m relieving the pressure to produce 50,000 words every month!
6. I knew what I wanted from the experience before I set any writing goals.
Writing 100,000 words is an impressive accomplishment. I deleted that sentence a couple times, because it sounds like bragging. But I kept it because it’s the truth. I just didn’t write all those words in a vacuum—my results were built on several years of observing my writing process and mapping out where I hope to be in the next several years.
If you leave with only one piece of advice, I hope it’s this one. Consider where you are in your writing journey and where you want to be, then set a goal that will lead you there. Maybe that’s a number of words, articles, or submissions. Maybe it’s not a number of anything at all. Honestly evaluating and pursuing your needs will be so much more satisfying than thousands of words gathering dust in a document.
No matter what kind of writing goal is right for you, these methods can help. Choosing your goal carefully, paying attention to your own writing habits, becoming more proficient at the technical aspects, and reducing pressure as much as possible are all easy strategies to implement. Maybe most importantly, they help make the process more fun. I expected NaNoWriMo to be a slog—like a diet or an exercise regime. But with the planning and mindset framework I put in place, I ended up enjoying it!
What are some ways that you’ve been able to reach your writing goals? I’d love to hear them in the comments!
Naomi Jackson lives in southern Florida with her parents, three sisters, two cats, and thirteen houseplants. She began writing short stories as a seven-year-old, sparking a passion for storytelling that led to the publication of her first novel, Hobo Stew, in April 2017. When Naomi is not writing, reading, or pulling her hair out due to editing, she can be found volunteering with the kids at her local church. You can find Naomi’s short stories and serialized novel on her website, naomijacksonwrites.com.