NaNoWriMo Prep: Manage Your Time

What’s this? A second week dedicated to planning? Sounds right to me. After all, half the battle is finding the time to get the words on the page. Even when you are absolutely not in the mood to write. Probably especially then.

As a reminder, the schedule for NaNoWriMo prep is as follows:

  1. Develop a Story Idea (September 12-18) — Click Here to Read This Post
  2. Create Complex Characters (September 19-25) — Click Here to Read This Post
  3. Construct a Detailed Plot or Outline (September 26 – October 2) — Click Here to Read This Post
  4. Build a Strong World (October 3-7) — Click Here to Read This Post
  5. Organize Your Life for Writing! (October 10-16) — Click Here to Read This Post
  6. Find and Manage Your Time (October 18-24) <— You Are Here

Last week I talked a little about how I try to identify all the tasks and projects that might distract or derail me from my writing. Once I’ve rescheduled, canceled, or delegated everything that I possibly can, it’s time to sit down with my calendar and figure out when exactly I’m going to get my writing done.

For the first part of this exercise, I used a printout of the calendar from Sarra Cannon’s Preptober workbook to create an overview of the month. This way, I can quickly see which days it is going to be challenging to find time to write, and which days I may be able to squeeze in some extra writing time.

In general, I’m adding only the big, out of the ordinary events to this calendar. I’m assuming that, unless otherwise noted, I just have my usual daily schedule to work around. The first thing I add are my conflicts, anything I couldn’t cancel or reschedule when I was organizing my time for November. Then I add my write-ins. Those may end up being my only dedicated writing time for the day (if it’s an already busy day), or they could represent possible extra writing time, if I also have time to fit in my usual writing sprints on my own.

Once I finish my calendar overview, I transfer those notes over to my word count spreadsheet. You can see a sample of what that looks like here and make a copy of the sheet for yourself to use, if you like. In the sample, I added my write-ins over in the “notes” column in green, and I added conflicts like Thanksgiving in red. On my actual spreadsheet there are more items, but the sample gives you an idea of what I’m doing.

Next, it’s time to do some math and figure out my daily word count goal. But first, let’s pause to talk about word count goals for a minute. Word count is not always the best measure of progress on a project, and it can be really demotivating to hear how many words others can write in a day when you are struggling to even get any writing done. However, when your goal is to “banish the inner editor” and get words (ideas) onto the page so that you can finish the whole draft before going back to make everything better, I think word count is a pretty good metric.

But if you find watching your word count to be completely demotivating, then time working on a project can be a good alternative. Pages or chapters written is another method. Marking milestones by acts or other major plot beats can be a good option. I use and like all these. The key is that you have a good idea of what conversion rate to use (words per page on average, words per hour on average, etc.) so that you have some idea if you’re on track to hitting your goal.

I’m using word count for my daily NaNoWriMo goal, but I’m also doing a conversion on that daily goal so I can estimate how many hours I need to set aside for writing each day. This is where the spreadsheet (or a calculator) really comes in handy.

There are two main strategies for establishing your NaNoWriMo daily word count goal. The first is what I like to call the “peanut butter” method, where you take the word count goal and divide by the total number of writing days to come up with a daily average that you spread evenly across the month (like peanut butter on bread, assuming you’re not allergic to either of those things). This is the traditional 1667 words per day NaNoWriMo target.

The other method tries to capitalize on the fact that you have the most motivation at the start of the month (and probably also the least number of schedule conflicts, if you celebrate the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving). This method is called “reverse NaNoWriMo.” I didn’t invent it, but I think it’s brilliant. Since I stumbled across it on the internet, it’s been what I try to do most years when I participate in NaNoWriMo.

You’ll find both the traditional “peanut butter” method and the “reverse NaNoWriMo” method in my spreadsheet. I’ve also added a third set of columns which is what I use when I customize my word count goal for each day. I use the custom column to adjust my daily goal for the days where I have conflicts that are going to restrict my writing time. That’s why I put all those events in the “notes” column.

Because of how my schedule is shaping up this year, I am planning on starting with the “reverse NaNoWriMo” word count goals to capitalize on that early motivation. Then when my holiday guests arrive, I’m planning on shifting down to a word count goal that is more like what I can reliably write in one thirty minute sprint. This is where that conversation rate stuff comes in handy.

It’s all well and good to know how many words you want to write in a day. But how long is it going to take you to write those words, on average? My conversion rate is based on how many words I can usually write in one thirty minute sprint. For me, that is somewhere between 300 and 500 words. So I like to use 400 as an average word count estimate for one sprint. There’s a spot in my spreadsheet where I plug in my average words per sprint, and it will calculate how many sprints I need each day to hit that day’s word count goal.

Let’s take the first day of November as an example because that’s the day when I am scheduled to write the most words (my goal = 3335 words). My spreadsheet says that is going to take me about 8.3 sprints (or just over 4 hours). I know I have a write-in that evening, and we usually get in about two and a half sprints during that write-in. That leaves another 6 sprints (3 hours of writing, not counting breaks) I need to find time for earlier in the day. If I can’t find time in my schedule, then I need to adjust my word count target to something more realistic.

This year, I’m actually scheduling writing sprint blocks on my Google calendar so that I know how many hours I need to be writing each day in order to hit that day’s word count goal. Normally, I don’t bother to block out chunks of writing time. I just keep track of my word count goal and squeeze in writing time between other activities after doing a lot of procrastinating. You can guess how well that works.

I’ll probably end up moving those writing blocks around as needed, but I think that having the one or two hour blocks of time sitting there on my schedule will be a good reminder that, even if I put off writing, I’m still going to need at least an hour to write 1000 words. So, it’s probably better to get it done early because I’m not going to find more time in the day.

Once I have all this figured out, I may be feeling slightly overwhelmed. So, it’s time to get out my notebook and pens and draw myself a motivational tracker for my bullet journal. Spreadsheets are good for math, but coloring in progress in my notebook is much more satisfying that plugging numbers into a spreadsheet.

As you can see in the picture, I was going to the word count tracker from Sarra Cannon’s Preptober workbook. I printed it out and cut it to paste into my bullet journal and everything. But the daily word count goals in that tracker were already printed on each day. So I ended up drawing my own tracker in my bullet journal, modeled after the one from the workbook. I still need to spruce it up a bit and add milestone markers and daily word count goals, but I’ll save the final version for a future post.

And that’s it. Can you believe it? This is the last of my NaNoWriMo prep posts. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. I know I’ve enjoyed writing them.

If there’s more writing-related content that you’d like me to post about, let me know in the comments. Otherwise, see you back here again next week when it’s time to set up my reading journal for November! Until then, happy writing!

NaNoWriMo Prep: Organize Your Life

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m a total planner geek. So, bust out your bullet journal or planner and let’s make our NaNo Prep checklist!

As a reminder, the schedule for NaNoWriMo prep is as follows:

  1. Develop a Story Idea (September 12-18) — Click Here to Read This Post
  2. Create Complex Characters (September 19-25) — Click Here to Read This Post
  3. Construct a Detailed Plot or Outline (September 26 – October 2) — Click Here to Read This Post
  4. Build a Strong World (October 3-7) — Click Here to Read This Post
  5. Organize Your Life for Writing! (October 10-16) <— You Are Here
  6. Find and Manage Your Time (October 18-24)

When it comes time to get organized for writing, I start by making a series of lists.

For the first list, I turn to a fresh, blank page in my bullet journal and title it something like “Task/Project Brain Dump.” Then I make a list of all the chores and tasks and other administrative stuff that I know I’m going to have to deal with between now and the end of November. These are things like planning meals, grocery shopping, paying bills, feeding my sourdough starter, cleaning the house, and finishing all the various home improvement projects that are currently important but not urgent but may become urgent before the end of November.

I try to capture everything I can think of in that one place. Sometimes this means going and checking my email for things I’ve snoozed that are going to pop up with a reminder (subscriptions to renew or cancel, emails I need to reply to, events I said I’d schedule and need to follow up on, etc.). One thing I know from experience that always comes up and causes a huge distraction and potential time suck during November is holiday gift planning. So that goes on the list as well.

Once I have my list, I start going through it to see what can be done early (now) and what can be delayed until after November. For example, I may have to wait to clean the house closer to when my guests are arriving, but I can make a meal plan and stock up on groceries now so I don’t have to go shopping as often in November. Similarly, I can come up with a plan for gift giving and/or holiday cards that does not require me spending days researching the perfect book to give each of my niblings when I should be writing. (Yes, I am the aunt who gives books for holidays and birthdays.)

The trick here is that I have to keep in mind that some tasks that I decide really need to be done later (like gift buying, because deals!), are absolutely going to take longer than I think they are going to take, and they have the potential to make me completely lose a day of writing. When the middle of November rolls around, and I’m convinced that everything I’m writing is garbage and words are hard, book browsing is going to be much more fun than book writing, and there goes my word count. This totally happens every year, so I try to keep that in mind and keep those sorts of distractions to a minimum by getting as much done early as possible.

One resource for getting organized that I used last year and am using again this year is Sarra Cannon’s excellent Preptober workbook. It has tips for meal planning as well as worksheets to help you calculate how much writing time you should plan for each day (which I’ll talk more about in next week’s post). I definitely recommend checking out this video which walks you through all of it over on her Heart Breathings YouTube channel.

In addition to my tasks and projects list, I also have a list dedicated to the NaNo Prep tasks that I want to try to complete before I start writing. This year’s list looks like this:

Strategic post-it pad placement to cover up the story-specific tasks.

The third list I make is for my writing rewards. I usually have two types of rewards. The first type is either a “you can’t do X until you get Y words written” or a “you can do Z after you’ve hit your daily word count goal” type of goal. Usually it’s a combination of the two that’s geared toward trying to trick myself into getting my words for the day written and complete as early as possible in the day. The second type is the more traditional (and usually bigger) milestone rewards which I usually assign for 10k, 25k, 40k, and 50k words written, plus “first draft done” which is usually around 60-70k for me.

For the first type of reward, I basically go into what I (who don’t have kids) think of as “parent mode” and come up with a set of daily rules to live by that encourage me to prioritize my writing. For example: “you can’t watch any YouTube videos until after you’ve written 500 words.” The key here is figuring out what carrots are going to be the sweetest (metaphorically) when it comes time to write and using those as the incentive.

In the past, I tried using reading time as an incentive, but I eventually realized that doesn’t work for me. It basically ends in me both not writing and not reading. I just find other (admin/chore) things to do that feed my need to procrastinate, then I (at best) squeeze in my word count at the last possible minute of the day and have no time left for what was supposed to be my fun reward. This may be because reading (for me) is more of a relaxing escape from the world than it is an activity that I’m going to be frustrated by not being able to do (unless I’m in the middle of a fast paced book, but those don’t last long enough to work as rewards for a 30-day writing challenge).

Instead, it seems to work better if I use things like social media, YouTube, and casual gaming as a reward because those are the things that I usually don’t want to delay until later. I want to do them when I want to do them. So, if I have to get some number of words in first, I am much more likely to stop procrastinating and make that happen. This means that my rules usually look more like:

  • No Twitter or Instagram until after I’ve met my daily word count goal. (I usually just log out of Facebook completely whenever I’m trying to focus on writing because it almost never “sparks joy” and almost always leads to pointless negative feelings and/or frustrated rage at humanity, and who has time for that, really?)
  • I can watch one YouTube video or play one Magic the Gathering Arena game for every 500 words I write, then I can watch as many videos or play as many games as I want after I’ve hit my daily word count goal.

The second type of goal (milestone rewards) are a lot harder for me. I hesitate to use buying things as a reward for writing words. Similarly, I’m reluctant to use food as a reward. That makes it really hard to come up with good milestone rewards. Usually I just make it up as I go along, or completely neglect this step of my writing prep process. But rewards are important, so I am determined to do better. Right now, I’m on the hunt for good ideas for milestone rewards. If you have any, please let me know in the comments.

All of these lists and rules are a really important part of my planning process, but my favorite part of getting organized to write is setting up my Scrivener file. If I haven’t created it already (back when I was working on plot or character, for example), then I save a new file using a Scrivener template I’ve created that aligns with the beat sheet I talked about back in the post on plotting. This file has descriptions of each beat in the notes section of each chapter. It also has target word counts for each scene/chapter that tally up to my target total word count. Once I’ve saved a copy, I load it up with all the character and world and plot stuff that I’ve been working on, copying over and organizing things based on the notes I made in my notebook.

I can easily lose hours on setting up Scrivener, but having a template with beats and word count targets already set up makes it so much faster to get going. So even if everything isn’t copied over from my notebook perfectly before the first of November, I have the bare bones of what I need to get started writing. This is good because making these lists reminded me how much more I have to do before NaNoWriMo starts. In just over two weeks! Yikes! This month is flying by, and my to-do list has just doubled in size. Time to get back to work. Happy planning!