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Preparing for NaNoWriMo, or How to Write Stupid Fast

According to the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) web site, I've participated every year since 1999. I have yet to "win" -- defined as completing a 50,000-word story within the confines of a single November. So, disclaimer up front here: I may not be the best person to give advice for writing fast.

I did, however, write two books in 8 months last year. So even though only 38,781 of the words (of the second of those books) happened in November, I did learn a few things that might be helpful for folks looking to challenge themselves with a NaNo attempt this year.

1,667 (words a day) is an evil number

The NaNo site advises participants to write 1,667, rounded up, words a day. Doing so slides you into home base with 50k on November 30th. And of course you hear all the time about how writing some-arbitrary-number-of-words every day will somehow magically create a book. I do believe that process works for some folks. I believe that it anti-works for others.

I'm an anti.

I've tried to complete daily word count targets and then put the writing aside and go do, like, laundry or something, flush with the feeling that I've completed my allotted work for the day. Only, that has never worked for me. Not even once.

See, I bake stories. In my brain. So, technically, I can be laundering and writing at the same time. I know: bendy! But really it works like this: I'm deep-diving into story world whilst folding dryer-warm knickers, blanking everything real-world out and allowing the repetitive task of my hands to keep my blood flowing into the story-baking brain. So, I go about two days with zero words, then one with 5,000 words. Average it out, and you still get the story. It sounds mystical, but it totally works.

So even if you have a zero-word day, don't beat yourself up. Just bake your brain.

Social media, even the awesome NaNo support network: also evil

One of the things I love about NaNo is the support mechanism. I mean, dozens of friends targeting the same goal! Together! What could be awesomer! Except, um, no. While I'm happy to cheer folks on once a day during November, I personally need to unplug the rest of the time.

Yes, even Twitter. Even Facebook. Having a really vintage laptop that won't run a browser window and a Word window at the same time with anything like speed has kept me disciplined in the past, but I wouldn't recommend that strategy for, really, anyone. I hear good things about this app called Freedom,which can help minimize distractions. I might need to try it out, as my amazing partner got me a newer, faster, shinier computer as a present and it is the best pressie ever, way better than diamonds.

Focusing mechanisms that actually do help

For those seeking atonement for the social media evils, I offer my personal phone-app holy trinity of wordmaking: Brain Wave, Pomodoro, and Habitica.

  1. Be Focused Pro is a phone app that uses the Pomodoro technique of brain-training sprints. Basically, it's a timer. You write for, say, 25 minutes without stopping. You don't scroll up to edit or do anything remotely un-writey. When the timer goes off, then you can breathe. Some of these pomodoro-method timers even let you collect cute little tomatoes as rewards for finishing your sprints. I've used this app/method to get into a groove, but frankly, once I get grooving, I don't need the timer anymore.
  2. What I do need is Brain Wave. Once upon a time, I made up music playlists for each story and looped those to build the mood while I was writing. That still works, but what works better and faster is Brain Wave, another phone app. This one lays relaxing nature sounds like rain storms or tropical jungle birdsong over a low pulse intended to affect brain theta waves. I use the Medium Rain and Euphoria settings for writing and the Positive Mood Boost for editing. If I were stranded on a deserted island with a broken phone that would run only one app, this would be the one.
  3. I just started using Habitica, a list-making app, but what I really like is the gentle reinforcement for doing self-care things that, when I'm power-writing, I do sort of need reminders for. Like, um, eating. Flossing. Drinking water. Standing up. I know these all seem like automatic tasks, but when I'm really in a must-make-all-the-words-RIGHT-NOW fugue, they aren't a given. Habitica lets you customize an avatar and gives you points for checking off to-do items (er, the eating and such), and you can use those points to "purchase" backgrounds and fun hair colors and weapons and all sorts of cute things for your avatar.

But the one main thing to do... kindness. To yourself. Writing stories is grand, but we're talking November here. In the U.S., that means football and family and thankfulness and PIE. So, indulge where you need to in order to feel human, okay? The story is going to happen--or not--no matter what the calendar says.

Take time to take care of you. And to eat the pie.

Oh! And if you want to buddy up with me on NaNo, this is me. I'll buddy you back.

Also, the first of those two books I wrote last year comes out November 7th. It's called Perfect Gravity, and writing it was one of the great sleep-deprived thrills of my life.