Each year, thousands of wannabe writers get themselves hyped up about NANOWRIMO—“National Novel Writing Month.” A worldwide literary celebration that takes place every November, NANOWRIMOers’ mission, as it transparently describes, is to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days (or 1,667 words per day). In 2011 there were 256,618 participants, yet only 14% of those writers succeeded.
It’s not difficult to imagine the reasons for failure (or the “absence of success”).
It probably looks a lot like that new diet plan you thought would become a “lifestyle”—you know, the one you start by going to Whole Foods and buying nothing but kale, feta cheese, and raw protein for your week’s meals only to find yourself downing your second package of Little Debbie’s Swiss Cake Rolls halfway through day three. Yeah, I bet for the 86% who failed, NANOWRIMO probably looked a lot like that.
So how do you change the cycle of FAILURE?!
1) Have the end in mind.
I’m not talking about the end of the book, I’m talking about your life as an author. You’ve got to decide you’re an author, and this is what you do. It’s your second full-time job, and there’s no one to fill in for you if you’re sick. You’re sick? Too bad. Make time to write, even a little. While you’re laying in bed, coughing, sneezing, and shivering, think about your book. Talk to your characters. What are they whispering? Keep a notebook by your bed so you don’t lose those brilliant ideas that come to you in your groggy, hallucinatory state of too much Sudafed and not enough sleep. The point is, you need to think of it as a real gig. The real deal.
2) Stop judging yourself.
You can’t afford to care about the words—you’ve got one month to get them all out. You can organize them later. You can revise them later. You can throw all but a single paragraph out later if you want, but you’ll never have anything to revise or throw out if you don’t get them on the page in the first place. Don’t grant yourself a moment of critical assessment—it will make you fail! It’s probably what has made you fail every other time. Don’t read. Just write.
3) When you’re on a roll, keep rolling with it.
When you hit your 1,667 words for the day and feel like you can keep going, DO IT! You’ve got to take advantage of those times you’re really, really inspired. Remember, though—it doesn’t get you off the hook for those times you’re not inspired. The deal is AT LEAST 1,667 words a day until you hit 50,000 words. If you make it early, you can go back and edit, like you soooo want to do the whole time you’re writing.
4) Have a friend in it with you.
If you need to, designate a friend to be your “boss”—someone who will yell at you to buckle down if you feel like slacking. Better yet, get another NANOWRIMOer to make a deal with you—the first one to 50,000 words gets $100. Just make sure it’s someone who will celebrate your successes, not your failures. Don’t get into it with someone who’s comfortable with the idea that they might not make it. Get into it with someone who wants to win. Period.
5) Get out of the house.
Don’t write at home—go somewhere with coffee, and don’t let yourself leave until you’ve met a goal. It’s so much easier to get off track at home, with laundry and dishes piling up (hopefully not in the same pile) and millions of other things that need to “get done”—not to mention those brilliant guilty-pleasure distractions! The TV, the ice cream, the bacon . . . err . . . you know what I mean. Get away from it. Buckle down, and cut out the distractions. Remember, this is your second JOB!