So you don’t want to write 50K words…alternative ways to rock NaNoWriMo

As many writers are well aware, November is National Novel Writing Month, which was started right here, in my Second City-second home, Chicago.  The challenge is to write 50,000 words in one month, the length of a very short novel (more or less).  There are write-ins, online forums, parties, and lots and lots of chatter on the Interwebz about the virtues and pitfalls of NaNoWriMo.

I’m neither a NaNo-vangelist, nor a NaNo-grinch.  Word count goals have never been my jam, I find that they cause more anxiety than productivity for me.  However, I do like setting writing goals and I love creating writing communities, which NaNoWriMo does in spades.  So, for the past five years, I’ve used November as my personal “writing goal month” and taken advantage of the energy and organization of NaNoWriMo.  Here are five ways I’ve made NaNo fit me:

  1.  Write every. single. day. for a month.  Consistency is the key to writing for me.  If I don’t write regularly I feel guilty and nervous about starting up again and avoid writing, which makes me feel even guiltier and so forth.  It’s not logical, but that’s what happens. So, setting a consistency goal is a great way for me to spend November.
  2. Write a new draft every week.  One of the goals of NaNoWriMo is to get writers out of crippling perfectionism and encourage them to write a shitty first draft.  As one of my writing buddies says, “You can’t edit non-existent crap.” One year, I set the goal of writing a short story draft every week.  Not all of them ended up being pieces I wanted to continue working on, but a few did–and writing all of those stories helped clear out brain space for new ideas.
  3. Go to a write-in every week.  Organizing a writing group is time-consuming.  But during NaNoWriMo lots of people organize write-ins and all you have to do is check your regional forum page and show up at whatever write-in is nearest to you.  And if you’ve been wanting to start a writing group, November gives you the perfect opportunity.
  4. Set a goal for a piece in progress.  Maybe you need to go over editing notes from a bunch of workshops.  Maybe you want to finish Act Three of your novel.  Maybe you want to polish a draft of a live lit piece so you can finally submit it to a reading series.  Use November as the month you do that.
  5. Start (or re-commit to) morning pages.  I may not be a NaNo-vangelist, but I do believe that morning pages are useful for a lot of people.  I fell off doing morning pages during my busy October and I’ve committed to doing them again this November.  Try out morning pages for a month and see if they help your creative process. And if you’ve already experimented with morning pages and don’t like them, have a go at another writing habit you’ve been meaning to  try.  Writing long-hand instead of typing?  Using novel-writing software like Scrivener?  Making a writing playlist?  Going for walks before writing?  Writing in the morning?  Writing at night?  Carrying a notebook around?  Getting some new books at the library for inspiration?  The overarching idea of NaNoWriMo is to push yourself as a writer and there’s million ways to do that.

This year, my goals are to do my morning pages, finish a section of the long piece I’m working on, and to write every single day this month.  I’ve already failed my goals (forgot to write yesterday) but I’ve written more this past week than I did in the last two weeks, and setting goals has re-energized me.  And that friends, is the spirit of NaNoWriMo.

Happy writing!