4 Unconventional Tips To Flourish During NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is one of the greatest community writing challenges of all time.

But are you ready for it?

Are you going to crush it this year?

I’m talking no false starts, skipped days, or excuses.

This is the year you conquer NaNoWriMo.

If you’re committed to it, by now you’ve probably read a lot about it. You know this will take a lot of discipline.

You know you have to keep things simple.

And it will take up some time, but you can just take a break from watching tv: solved.

That pretty much sums up all the tips. Most of it is common sense mixed in with a positive mindset and slick technology hacks. That’s it.

So what I have for you here is slightly different.

I’m going to put a twist on some classic advice that will help you succeed.

Here are four tips that are absolutely essential for your success.

1. Prevent Distractions Automatically. Like my old karate teacher told me, the best way to block a punch is to not be there. Conventional wisdom will tell you to block all distractions, but that takes some will power. It’s better to remove distractions automatically so it’s a non-issue. Be proactive instead of reactive.

Obviously you want to block the internet, mobile devices, books, and interruptions from others. The internet seems to be the biggest problem. On your first draft, there is no need for it. You can work from an outline and come back to the research later. Luckily there are several tools to block your temptation to use the internet.

If you use Google’s Chrome browser, set up an extension called Stay Focusd to deploy before you wake up. I block any web browsing for the first three hours that I would be awake. You can add Allowed websites on this app in case you write using an online program: everything else is blocked.

In addition, the first thing I do in the morning is to manually start my Self Control app. I set it for three hours. Pre-loaded is a white list of the same websites from my browser. Now even if I wanted to get distracted by the internet I couldn’t.

That’s an early win. Now all I can to do is write.

2. Let Mornings Give You Momentum. A lot of people will tell you to write when your mind is at its optimal state — and it’s different for everyone. The problem with that is that your best writing times might not coincide with your busy work schedule. It’s better to write at the same time each day.

Anyone doing serious work knows that mornings are productive times for the brain. As the best-selling author Donald Miller points out, in the early morning your brain is full and ready to write. As the day progresses, our brain fatigues and it feels too full to carry on with things that require deep focus. (I couldn’t read a textbook after nine hours of work if I tried.) So it’s best to write as early as possible. When you meet your goal before lunch, it makes you feel accomplished and snowballing your writing becomes easier.

I used to write before work. I hated getting up earlier, but I hated my job more. NaNoWriMo actually made it more exciting to get up in the morning. That meant writing at 5:00 AM then driving to work at 7 AM. Since work began at 8am and I was there early to beat the morning traffic, I’d have about 45 more minutes to continue the writing from the first session. And still, sometimes I’d write even more when I got home around 5:00 PM.

I was always trying to find time to write just a few more sentences because momentum was built up from the morning.

3. Embrace the ebb and flow. An MVP in start-up lingo is the Minimum Viable Product, of course. It’s one of the most efficient and effective ways to produce a product. Excess time and energy is something we might not have, so it’s useful here. In writing, we have our MWC: Minimum Word Count. It’s the bare minimum we need to write each day. Most NaNoWriMo writers have a production schedule like the Pacemaker Planner.

But let’s do the math.

Say your MWC is 1,666 words a day (30 * 1,666 = almost 50,000 words). It would be nice if that were consistent, but it isn’t. On some days time will slip by and you’ll marvel over the fact that you have 3,000 words in front of you. Other days you’ll struggle just to get 300 words down. That’s the ebb and flow of writing.

Every day you start from zero and you can’t roll-over any words to the next day. You must stick to your daily — not average — MWC. If you come up short in your morning writing sprint, you gotta get back on the saddle later in the day to meet your MWC. This is really what you signed up for that will lead to your 50,000 words.

We know that writing this many words in a month is a respectable achievement. However, it’s not enough for a typical novel. Novels are usually in the 70,000–90,000 word range. People who want a more realistic-length novel will write the MWC plus encourage overflowing writing sessions. This, of course, is just tweaking your mindset — but it’s powerful.

Your ebb MWC will meet the NaNoWriMo challenge and the flow word count will add to a lengthier novel. In essence, you’ve just raised the standards for your writing. You only have to be consistent with the MWC. If the challenge was to write 70,000 words in a month, people wouldn’t try it.

4. Make writing a ritual, not a habit. Today, all the rage with productivity literature revolves around creating habits that stick. Hundreds of books and articles talk about the importance of habits — as if we had forgotten what Aristotle and a dozen others said about it 1,500 years ago. We didn’t.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” ~Aristotle, from the Nicomachean Ethics

Don’t get me wrong, habits are great and essential in life. The problem is that we can only make so many habits stick. Our time and values change over time. Our willpower comes and goes too. Most of us find worthy positive habits and stick to them.

But the truth is that the ones that we do passionately are more than habits, they’re much deeper and meaningful. Some would say deeper habits are even sacred, as if the very act of doing them was soulful.

I once knew a swimmer training for the Olympics. His daily practice was both brutal and graceful. When I watched some of his practices, I didn’t see a robotic daily habit. I saw someone who was strategically putting their mind, body, and soul into motion.

In a way, I like to think of writing like a religion.

It has sacred texts, interpretations, rules, dogma, criticism, and followers already built in. Not all types of writing are the same, so we have different “denominations” or genres to suit peoples’ needs. People form groups and clubs around each genre. Even then, they don’t always agree. But one thing is for certain about the writing religion: The serious ones are devoted disciples.

When I worship at the temple of writing by myself, I am challenged. I have grief and hope all pent up inside of me. I want to be good, but I frequently make transgressions. So I make it a point to master my understanding of writing by daily deliberate practice.

I make it more than a habit; I make it a sacred ritual.

I have a special sequence I do every morning that is too important to just call a routine or habit. Everyday I create my sacred space where no one will bother me. I honor the activity by only having the essentials nearby.

When I’m in doubt, I tell myself anything is possible if I believe. And after my writing session if I still have lingering doubts, I read something by one of the patron saints of the craft to be inspired.

Throughout the day I’m thinking about my writing, not as a habit, but as a part of me.

I wonder what my audience wants, what I want, and how writing is the neutral ground where we meet. Like all religions, it’s a part of you and yet it’s beyond you. There is so much to learn and experience. In fact, you might even need a daily devotional to cover important aspects or moments. A writer’s devotional is just called a journal.

The science says that habits are solidified somewhere around 67 days (University College London). So writing for thirty days during NaNoWriMo won’t make daily writing a new habit. We don’t get into the habit territory until the first week of January. Most of the serious writers I know don’t just write for challenges like NaNoWriMo. They are budding novelists. They are freelancers or bloggers. They write because something stirs their soul and they must get it out, even if no one ever reads it. And they write well beyond 30 or 67 days.

So what do you call a soulful habit that is taken beyond 67 days and is a part of your very being?

A ritual.

So there you have it. This is how you’ll make it through NaNoWriMo and beyond. Instead of a comprehensive and epic list of things to remember, just remember these four simple tips and you will be successful. See you at the top of the 50,000+ word mountain!


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