We’re just about halfway through December, and I am still working on finishing up the first draft of the novel I was working on for NaNoWriMo. I’m down to the final two chapters, and I’m dragging my feet about finishing them. Seemed like a good time to recap what I learned from this year’s NaNoWriMo.
I’m breaking this post into three parts. Part one includes the new things I tried to incorporate into my writing process in November that worked better than I thought they would. Part two is the stuff that did not work as well as I thought it would. And part three are the things I have carried over into December.
Things I tried this month that worked better than I expected
- At least one sprint “first thing” in the morning — This was possibly the one thing that worked best for me and made me the most productive. By “first thing” I don’t mean that I got up at 5am to write. I’m not naturally a morning writer, and the 5am writers’ club has never really worked for me, even when I worked full time. I can exercise early in the morning, but it takes a while for my brain to wake up. This month, I decided to let myself wake up at a normal time for me. I ate my breakfast and drank my tea like I usually do. But instead of letting the morning get away from me, I tried to get into my office to write at least one sprint by 9am. I didn’t always succeed, but the days that I did, it was so much better. At some point, I realized that the longer I wait to write during the day the harder it is for me to sit my butt down and get it done. The resistance builds to the point where I start to think “meh, I’ll just do more tomorrow.” But if I write for even just thirty minutes right after breakfast, even if I ignore my project for the rest of the day, it’s so much easier to go back to it in the evening and finish my sprints. I have no idea why this works, but it does, and it’s become my new thing.
- Alarm on my phone — I set an alarm for weekdays at 9am to remind me to get my butt out to my office and get to work. This allowed me to relax a bit more while I ate breakfast, checked my email, read, or listened to a podcast. I knew I could rely on my alarm to remind me to get to work (more so than a calendar reminder, which did NOT work).
- Reprioritizing my “to-do” list — This goes along with writing “first thing” in the morning. Normally, I have all these little tasks that fill up my to-do list that I think are only going to take a few minutes and end up taking an hour or more. Since I like the satisfaction of checking things off my list, I do them first, even though I know I shouldn’t. Giving myself permission to basically ignore all that until December (or at least until I got my writing done for the day) was magic. All of a sudden I was doing what was important to me first instead of doing a bunch of admin stuff that was not time sensitive. And, I still got the satisfaction of checking things off my list because of the next two items.
- Sprint log — I have never used one of these before, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to use it, but I thought I’d give it a try. It turns out that I found it super motivating to have a place to jot down my word count after each sprint! I don’t even care what the number was. Just the act of being able to write it down (and color in the box on my sprint summary log), gave me that boost of “yay! I did a thing! Let’s do it again!”
- Word count progress chart — When I set this up, I thought maybe this was overkill, but I ended up really liking the visual progress tracker aspect of being able to color in boxes for each 1k words written. The stuff in the middle was a little redundant and unnecessary, but the progress chart was really helpful.
- Limiting social media and other online distractions — I do this by using the digital health controls on my phone and allowing myself only five minutes (each) on Instagram and Twitter. Those are the only two social apps on my phone. I don’t log into any social apps on the computer in my office. Limiting the amount of time I could spend on an app made it so that I knew I could check it whenever, but I couldn’t get lost in the infinite scroll. Once my five minutes were up, they were gone for the day and it was time to get to work.
Things I tried that didn’t really work for me
- Scheduling time to write on Google calendar — I thought this was going to help, but I didn’t even look at these time blocks once during the month. This method of time management just does not work for me.
- Having consistent rules about what distractions were allowed and when they were allowed — I had this idea that I was going to outlaw all social media and gaming until after my writing was done for the day. That didn’t really work. I found that I was much more productive when I allowed myself to play some MtG Arena, or watch a YouTube video (or three), or even watch a full episode of a serial between writing sprints. Sure it delayed how long it took me to get my writing done for the day, but it also made it so that I never really felt like my creative well was going dry. This refueling became especially important on some of those days leading up to 50k when I only had to do two thirty minute writing sprints, but I was already pretty drained from writing so much in such a short amount of time. Honestly, this is the least burnt out I’ve felt after a NaNoWriMo, and I think that flexing this rule is why.
- Crockpot meals — This one surprised me. I love crockpot meals. But unless the recipe was just “dump these four ingredients into the crockpot and turn it on,” preparing a crockpot meal used up valuable morning hours just to free up less valuable pre-dinner hours. Since getting out to my office and getting at least one sprint in turned out to be the most important thing I needed to do each day in order to get my writing done, I realized it was a lot easier to pick recipes that allowed me to do all the cooking in the evening.
- Any cooking that required a lot of steps or prep — This one I underestimated. I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal, but we have this one recipe that we eat all the time, and it’s pretty easy to prepare, but it involves a LOT of vegetable prep time. I had already purchased the veggies and they were going to rot if I didn’t use them, so I went ahead with my meal plan. But, after that first week, I decided that this recipe is not for NaNoWriMo, or at least not for days when I need to get a LOT of writing done.
What I’m doing for December (since I’m still finishing this draft)
I’m still using my spreadsheet to manage and tweak my daily word count goals, but I’ve combined what I think were the most useful and motivating parts of my various trackers into one layout. I’ve got the progress bar on the outside like last time, but this time I moved the daily word count and sprint tracker to the inside. The calendar is a Midori blank calendar sticker. The little unicorn sticker is from Procrastiplanner. The little arrows were supposed to mark reward milestones, but I decided not to do rewards this month. Each day, I’m putting my daily word count above the little line in the calendar box, and putting stars for sprints below the line. One star is equal to one sprint, or thirty minutes of writing.
I’m still using the sprint log to jot down when I’m writing and how many words I wrote in my thirty minute sprints. It’s become a bit less important now that I’m really only trying to get two sprints in per day instead of three or more like I was doing during NaNoWriMo. For that reason, I’m not sure if I’ll keep using this outside of periods like NaNoWriMo where I’m making a focused push to fast draft a first draft.
As you can see from the picture, I’ve changed quite a bit of the pre-printed tracker from Sarra Cannon’s NaNoWriMo Prep workbook. I’ve adapted it to fit better with what I actually want to track. Specifically, what time did I start the sprint, how many words did I write, and what’s my new total word count. If I decide to use a sprint tracker again, I’ll probably just make my own and either draw it directly into my notebook or make something that will fit the page better when I paste it in. That way I don’t have to keep cutting out headers and Frankensteining together the cut up bits of the original tracker.
I have big writing plans for next year that include a lot more fast drafting, but I’ll talk about that more when I do a post on 2022 goals. So we’ll see how much of this new process stuff sticks in the New Year. In the meantime, let me know in the comments how your NaNoWriMo went. Did you learn anything new about what does and doesn’t work for your writing process?