The Essential NaNoWriMo Prep, Part 1: Getting Your Life in Order

Here’s a rundown of everything you need to write your novel in November…

This post is the first in a series I’ll be writing in honor of National Novel-Writing Month. If you aren’t participating in NaNoWriMo this year, you should. I have a free workbook available for download on the home page that will guide you through the process in a fun and accessible way.

If you’re abstaining this year, never fear. These posts will help you write better no matter what you’re working on.

For “The Essential NaNoWriMo Prep,” I decided to write this post in two parts: the first dealing with getting your “life stuff” in order; the second dealing with “book stuff.”

For most people, the prospect of writing 50,000 words in 30 days sounds daunting — and it is. Even those of us who have written novels before tend to get a little anxious staring at a blank screen. If we let it, life stuff gets in the way. We move or we have a baby or we decide to build a house on 40 acres.

And yet no matter what crazy things are happening in your life, it is still completely possible to find the time to write. (And if writing is your passion, you simply must find time to write.)

NaNoWriMo is wonderful for busy people because it presents a challenge. Challenges help us push through our own self-limiting beliefs and shape us into the type of people we want to become. Most of all, participating in the challenge provides a sense of camaraderie. You are not alone.

If this is your first novel, you need to start November with all your ducks in a row. You need to be organized. You need to be ready. This is where I come in.

In my experience, gearing up to write a novel requires prep in two distinct categories: “life stuff” and “book stuff.” Book stuff includes the obvious components you need to write a novel: the “big idea,” the genre, the plot, the characters, etc. “Life stuff” includes both the mental work of committing to the challenge and the practical aspects of finding time to write, getting the support from friends and family, and actually showing up at the page.

For many people, getting the life stuff together is the biggest challenge. “I don’t have time to write” is probably the No. 1 excuse I hear for why people aren’t writing. But the truth is that we all make time for what we find important. And why shouldn’t you view your writing as important?

Look at it this way. If you feel that it’s selfish to take time to yourself to write, consider how much more pleasant you’ll be to your family if you get the quiet writing time that you crave.

Julia Cameron says it best:

For an artist, withdrawal is necessary. Without it, the artist in us feels vexed, angry, out of sorts. If such deprivation continues, our artist becomes sullen, depressed, hostile. We eventually become like cornered animals, snarling at our family and friends to leave us alone and stop making unreasonable demands. We are the ones making unreasonable demands. We expect our artist to be able to function without giving it what it needs to do so.

In order to create, you must get used to carving out time to write. But even once you make this commitment, there are still practical considerations. We do live in a world with jobs, children, spouses, friends, and demanding but adorable dogs.

Here are some ways to get your “life stuff” in order so you can think about book stuff:

Step 1: Find your “writing windows.”

I talk about this in my NaNoWriMo workbook (which you can get for free). Writing windows are simply uninterrupted periods of time when you are able to write. They can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as two hours. (I don’t recommend for writing much longer than two hours at a time, because, scientifically speaking, your brain turns to mush.)

A writing window can be time you normally spend sitting on the train, waiting to pick up the kids from school, or scrolling through Facebook on your lunch break. (I wrote quite a bit of my first book between classes and waiting for the bus.) If your week is really busy, think about getting to the café for two hours every Saturday before your family gets out of bed. Once you identify your writing windows, put them on the calendar, and treat them as the most important appointments of your life.

Step 2: Share your plans with friends and family.

If your family understands that you have a goal (and that your breakneck pace is only for a month), they will be much more likely to give you your space during your designated writing windows. Kids especially find the idea of writing a book “cool,” so they can become your best cheerleaders. Head off any “Okay, but, just so you know, November is when we…” statements from your partner by emphasizing that this is really, really important to you.

Step 3: Trade time.

It can be incredibly difficult juggling work, family life, and social obligations even when you aren’t trying to birth a novel. To free up some kid-free time, try alternating weeks to host a play-date with another busy parent. Ask your spouse to cook dinner a couple extra nights, or trade turns getting the kids out of the house so the other can have some quiet time. You may even want to eat out one or two nights a week to free up an hour you would normally spend cooking.

Step 4: For November, think “easy.

I don’t know why, but sometimes I make things hard for no reason at all. I’ll decide to make two dishes for dinner at a friend’s house instead of the one she asked for. I’ll decide today’s the day I’m going to clean out the hall closet. I’ll decide to roast a chicken and make bone broth when I have a million other things to do. Do these things sound insane to you? That’s because they are. I’m a chronic overachiever, which leads to the occasional panic that I’m not “doing enough” — which can manifest in any area of my life (usually cooking or compulsive tidying).

While you’re trying to do big things with your writing during NaNoWriMo, go easy on yourself in other areas. Don’t beat yourself up if the house isn’t clean or if you have to grab a meal out when you’re trying to cook at home more often. Accept help when it’s offered, and ask for help when it’s not.

Step 5: Consolidate errands.

During the week, if it’s not at the grocery store, I usually don’t buy it. I fill up my car with gas at the grocery store. We used to be fancy and buy locally roasted coffee at a place that was only open at odd times; now I buy whole-bean coffee at King Soopers. Would some things be cheaper if I went to Wal-Mart or Costco? Probably, but my time is worth more than what I’d save.

If you have to go to the post office, buy stamps — whether you need them or not. If your partner drives past the bank on the way home from work, ask him/her to deposit any checks. The idea is not to create any extra errands for yourself.

Step 6: Find a creative oasis.

Our lives are tied to home, and sometimes life/home is too hectic to focus on writing. I recommend finding a creative oasis outside the house if you can. Make it a place really close by that you can retreat to if you need focused time to escape into your writing. It can be a coffee shop, a public library, even a diner or a deli with understanding employees. I used to write at a bagel shop five minutes from my house that made the most disgusting Hershey’s syrup mochas. But it had a comfy booth with an outlet, and I wrote a lot of books there.

If you start getting your life in order now, by November you’ll find that you’ve created more time and mental space to devote to your writing. Check back Wednesday for NaNoWriMo prep part two — “book stuff” — and stay tuned for new content all October and November to help guide you on your journey.  (I completed my personal NaNoWriMo early, so I’m here to help all through November.)

Have questions? Leave me a comment, or shoot me an email at writewithtarah@gmail.com.

Photo by Jon Tyson

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