I’m eighteen days into NaNoWriMo 2015, a writing challenge to help aspiring authors to finish the first draft of a long form novel in one thirty days. And I’m going to finish tonight. Even though a real novel is closer to seventy to eighty thousand words or more, the goal here is a mere fifty thousand. It’s more like a healthy novella length. I’ve got over forty-eight thousand words committed to my first draft now, and my story is nearing its end.
But still, that’s a pretty healthy sized project to commit to. One would have to average almost seventeen hundred words per day and write every single day to reach the finish line in time.
When I sit down to write, I tend to be a little more prolific than that, and current statistics have me clocking in at over twenty-eight hundred words per day. Not too bad, considering I’m holding down a full-time job and I’m a parent to three kids.
Looking at my number now, I’ve got fewer than eighteen hundred words remaining to “win” NaNoWriMo this year. Chances are, the amount of writing I have left to do on my novel is a lighter burden than this casual stream of consciousness blog that you’re now reading.
I’ve tried writing novels and novellas before, but I never got far until now. And yet this time, it doesn’t seem a burden at all. If anything, the only frustration I have is not having enough time dedicated to crafting stories. So what’s changed between then and now?
Time. As frustrated as I am about time, I’m now dedicating far more of it to writing than I have before. Every man, woman, and child on this earth is given the same twenty-four hours every day, and it can’t be saved, so it must be spent immediately. Write off a third of your allotment every day for sleep. The same amount over again for the day job, and a bit more on top of that for commuting, meals, basic hygiene, etc. That leaves a precious few hours every day for many of us to spend on the important things that remain.
My problem before was trying to do too much with too little time. I’d watch TV, go see a movie, or perhaps hang out with friends for drinks. There were art projects, and sometimes even art shows. There was even some podcasting and Hollywood movie making stuck between the cracks. It felt like I’d been living two or three lives.
So I simplified. I’m actually retired from art photography now. I spend almost no idle time hanging out socially. I get a little TV time in, but with shows like Penny Dreadful, Gotham, and The Flash on the air, can you blame me?
Things started changing gradually. My relationships at home improved. I was reading (and finishing) books more regularly. Sleeping was happening pretty regularly, and for normal durations. And some terrible creative monster in me wanted to write. This is the same beast that prodded me to get involved in art photography, but I think it’s having more fun with writing.
Writing, unlike the sort of photography I was involved with, has no dependency on other people living up to their commitments in order for you as a writer to be successful in yours. As my routine started to settle in, I could sit down every day and count on anywhere from two thousand to seven thousand words (or more) coming forth.
More typically, I’d write about two thousand words on a bad day, twenty-five hundred on a typical day, and I’d stop myself in most cases if I got past three thousand words because I am very cautious about overdoing it and burning out while I’m still finding my cadence.
How do I get this kind of word count every day? Here are some thoughts on things that have worked for me that may work for you:
- Sleep. I write more effectively when my mind has rested. I don’t spend as much time waiting for that next word to become clear. The words just flow, and I write them down at a steady pace.
- Take breaks. Two hundred words here, five hundred there, and another thousand if you’re really feeling on fire. That’s all it takes. Do that several times a day and it adds up quickly. It won’t even feel like work.
- Have writing tools. I invested in a tiny Macbook Air 11″ laptop and it’s the best! It’s small enough to go with me to work. I will often eat lunch at my desk, or in an unbooked conference room, and write a thousand words or so on my lunch break. If traffic is really bad on the way home, I pull off and find the nearest coffee shop and bang out another thousand before heading home. Having my writing tools with me wherever I go has been crucial.
- Read. The creative process isn’t just about output. Your brain is connecting things that it has consumed from other places. Reading books is like a buffet for the brain. Fiction is especially nourishing.
- People matter. A lot of us feel like we’re terrible socially. I know I sure feel that way. But if you’re writing about fictional people, you need your readers to connect with them and feel that they are real. The only way you’re going to convincingly do that is to connect with real people and observe everything you can about them without creeping them out.
- Write down your random thoughts and ideas. You never really understand a thing until you can successfully explain it to somebody else. Writing it down is a way of explaining it to yourself. It’s amazing how these little thoughts can grow and mature just through the act of writing them down. And sometimes they have a funny way of finding new purpose in your greater writing project.
- A little planning goes a long way. Writer’s block? What’s that? I never hit it. Not once on this project. But I’d spent a little time before I started writing thinking about the characters, the places they’d visit, and what interactions they’d have to drive the story home.
- Make time. I’m going to repeat myself, but only because it’s important. If writing is important to you, it’s just a matter of making time. If you have the time to write, and you’re inclined to be a writer, there’s no magic incantation to cast, no class to take. You’re just going to write. It might be crap. It probably will be crap. Honing your craft is a whole different adventure, and one that I’m only just getting started on myself.
In the time I took to write this blog, I could have finished the first draft of my novel. I’ll do that next. This was written for the pure joy of writing it, and also as a selfish act. You see, while some of you may benefit from reading this, I was practicing my own advice here and writing down my thoughts to better explain it to myself. This is an act of retrospection. Or, if you’ve been to one of my talks or worked on one of my teams, this is a hansei. I’m looking back and understanding, learning from the changes I’ve made in my life, and my next writing project is going to be better off for it.
Hopefully yours will be, too. I wish you success in your writing endeavors!