Applying what over a decade of non-fiction deadlines taught me

Tomorrow I start my first ever NaNoWriMo.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, takes place every November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and the prize is the feeling of success, plus the bonus of completing 50,000 words on my next novel.

While I may not have done NaNoWriMo before, this won’t be the first time I have completed a major writing project within a set period. Over a decade of non-fiction deadlines taught me how to prepare and take care of myself while completing projects.

Here are some of the things that I will be doing each week in November to support myself:


I learned in college that if my living spaces are not clean, I can’t focus on intense work. I used to set aside Thursday evenings to clean my apartment while watching television. It was almost the only time I watched tv in college (except for Star Trek re-runs — there was always time for Star Trek re-runs).

I have come to appreciate vacuuming because it not only results in a clean house, but it also allows me time to think, ponder, and ruminate. I get great ideas while vacuuming (washing dishes works well, too), and it helps me resolve creative blocks when I am not certain where to go next on projects.

The vacuum is positioned right outside my office door, ready to help with writer’s block and dust bunnies.

Slow Cooking

I don’t like to cook, and that is usually not a problem because my breakfast of choice is easy to make (two fried eggs), and my spouse and I tend to cook dinner together. Making Blue Apron over a glass of wine talking about our days is a little slice of heaven for me.

It is lunch time that gets me. I am usually deep in work in the middle of the day and the last thing I want to do is fix something to eat. I end up rummaging around the kitchen and walk away with the worst possible choices because they are easy.

Enter the slow cooker. I can throw things in at breakfast and by lunch time a nice meal can be had. Plus the leftovers are easy to heat. No thinking, no rummaging, no junk food.

This week it is onion soup and rice pudding. Next week a spicy sweet potato soup and bread pudding.


Once I am in the zone, it doesn’t matter whether I have music on the background or not.

But to get into the zone and get back into the zone, I need music. Specifically, instrumental music — nothing with lyrics. I found a great resource online called “Music Map” which allows me to “map” musical artists similar to artists I already like. It is a terrific way to pad up a playlist with similar kinds of music, depending on my mood.

I have a playlist for Celtic-style music, like Brunuhville; I have a playlist for epic music such as Thomas Bergersen; and a playlist for movie composers, like Hans Zimmer.


One last thing: Meditation is one of the single-most important things that helps me stay focused.

I was always intimidated by meditation, thinking it required some huge mental process that I was not sure I wanted to add to my already maxed-out cognitive load.

I was wrong — for me it is really the opposite.

I started doing meditation regularly after I lost a parent. I was exhausted from the weight of processing my grief and I discovered that meditation gave me respite. It gave me a chance to rejuvenate and find the strength to tackle the ongoing emotional demands of grief. It made a huge difference for me.

Similarly, meditation offers me a mental break during intense projects like NaNoWriMo, and I have reduced stress, greater patience and calm. I use an app called “Sip and Om” to guide my meditations, and I really love it.

Good luck to all those who are taking on the challenge of NaNoWriMo. It is my sincere hope that it is an invigorating and educational experience for all.

To learn more about my works in progress, please visit my website.

Photo from Pixabay