Beginning and even intermediate writers often struggle with the writing lifestyle, by which I mean things like keeping a disciplined writing schedule, finding and enjoying a community of similarly ambitious creatives, and meeting self-imposed deadlines to keep producing new work (also known as the “I’m Writing a Book—Yes, the Same Book I’ve Been Writing for Years” syndrome).
There are dozens if not hundreds of programs out there dedicated to goal-setting and motivation for everyone from business owners to fitness geeks. So where’s the program for writers?
Enter National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. In their own words, NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit that believes your story matters—“valuing enthusiasm, determining, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”
As a big fan of NaNoWriMo (I’ve officially participated four times and won once, though I came really, really close the last time), I try to encourage more writers to give it a try each fall. Fact is, NaNoWriMo is an excellent opportunity to strengthen some key writerly muscles and pick up some great new habits for goal-setting and motivation. And even if you aren’t writing fiction, you can make a similar structure work for you. Here’s how.
Setting a Goal and Sticking to It
People in the business world talk a lot about goal-setting, but it isn’t a topic that comes up too often among creative sets. That’s too bad, because all humans can benefit from a structured approach to achieving specific goals—it’s the main way we get anything important done!
When you’ve committed to SMART goals, it follows that you need to set up a plan for accomplishing your milestones along the way to success. In the case of writing a book, this usually means you’ve set a deadline with a word count, but it could also mean you have an outline for chapters and subtopics that you want to flesh out. Or maybe you’re revising and you have a list of issues you need to address.
With NaNoWriMo, the goal is simple: Write a novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30. Period. It doesn’t have to be—and rarely is—excellent prose or even make a lot of sense. You just have to write it. Some Wrimos divide their overall target word count into big weekend-oriented bursts, while others doggedly churn out a couple thousand words each day (1,667 to be exact for a 30-day, 50,000 word count goal). Figure out your own goals and then break them down into micro goals—bite sized goals that, when accumulated, will get you to your main goal.
It might seem romantic to talk about Muses and writer’s block, but the fact is, if you don’t finish writing your book, and if you don’t finish revising your draft, you will never publish it.
Surrounding Yourself with the Right People
There’s an old saying that “it’s difficult to soar with the eagles when you’re scratching with the turkeys.” In fact there are several versions of this idea, but the point is this: If you want to be a successful writer, you need to hang out with other motivated, smart, dedicated writers.
Spending time in a critique group where people are more intent on belittling each other than helping each other improve won’t get you anywhere. Going to local writers’ club meetings where everyone whines about how hard it is to get published or how no one will buy their books will just depress you. You can’t learn from people who don’t know what they’re doing wrong and you can’t improve your experiences based on the advice of people who haven’t had any.
NaNoWriMo offers a ton of online community-building through very active forums, Twitter hashtag conversations, even a Facebook Group. Offline, their website features an extensive list of volunteer coordinators who organize events locally for people to come together and write, commiserate, and at the end of November to celebrate their successes. Imagine sitting in a room of ambitious writers with fingers poised above their keyboards as they prepare to start a word sprint, especially when there are prizes involved—these local write-ins are a lot of fun!
So take stock of who you’re surrounding yourself with these days and consider this: Some say you are a composite of the five people you spend the most time with. So where does that leave you? If you spend a lot of time alone, seek out a group whose goals match yours. If your current group isn’t regularly inspiring you and motivating you, find a new one, stat.
Building a Routine for Regular Results
Try reading a few interviews with your favorite successfully published authors and you’ll notice none of them talk about sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike. I have yet to meet a successful author who does not have a writing routine; even the most experienced writers who don’t need the discipline of butt-in-chair each day to get their creative juices flowing still used routines in the earlier part of their career. This was one of my personal favorite experiences from doing NaNoWriMo—having the structure of the event forced me to commit to writing daily, and more importantly, to set aside time to work on my novel (as opposed to the million other things I write each day).
One theory is that the very act of sitting down in the same place at the same time each day preps your brain for writing and makes it easier for the work to flow. We humans often rely on cues to shift our mindset and even our behavior—just think about how it is when you’re preparing to go to a party, or for an important meeting. So it makes sense that having a writing routine would help shift you into a more creative and productive space.
If you want to see regular results, you simply must have a regular routine for working. Consider how your goals break down into mini goals and then create the routine you’ll need to knock down each one in a timely manner. You’ll never find the time to write if you don’t make it first.
Have you tried NaNoWriMo before? What did you learn from your experiences? Tell us in the Comments section below!
And don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list to receive the details of our special offer just for NaNoWriMo winners—details coming before the end of November!
Missing Pieces? Find Out!
- Learn the nine steps every successful book project goes through.
- Find out if you're ready to compete on the (virtual and physical) shelves.
- Identify which pieces you may be missing.
- Get tips on how to check items off your list.