Survive and Thrive during NaNoWriMo (part 1)

2009 NaNoWriMo participant Okay, we all know that NaNoWriMo is all about the word counts. Whatever way you want to break it down–by day, hour, weekend–you know at the end of the month you have to make your 50,000 words. There are innumerable resources to help you figure out how best to do that (starting with itself).

However, as a seven-time winner, I am here to tell you that there is a lot more to surviving and thriving during NaNoWriMo than just making your word count. Unless you have the luxury of spending the month at a full-service writing retreat, you are going to have to deal with work, school, food, laundry, housework, childcare, etc. In fact, all of the stuff that you usually have to deal with anyway. Oh yeah, AND write your 50,000 words.

Don’t panic. Whether this is your first noveling-in-November attempt or you’re already a pro, I have some tips to help you survive–and yes, even thrive–during NaNoWriMo.

Keeping your family/roommate/significant others on your side
Today’s tips are specifically going to help those of you who are at-home or work-from-home parents, and anyone who is responsible for some or all of the housekeeping where you live. (And yes, if you live alone, it still applies. You could choose to just let everything slide during November, but your writing experience will be greatly enhanced if you are not living in a pigsty by mid-month, and you will purely hate having to clean it all up in December when you’re already depressed because NaNoWriMo is over.)

It’s important to have the support of your housemates during NaNoWriMo. They cannot write your novel for you, but they can damn well keep you from writing it or make your life a living hell while you try to write it. So keep them happy. This generally means that you’ll have to keep your living quarters reasonably clean and tidy, ditto clothes for yourself and your family, and you all have to eat. We’ll cover eating in tomorrow’s post.

You’re already carving out 1-2 hours a day to write, so you don’t have a lot of time left over for cleaning. This is not a month for painstaking dusting and immaculate floors. For November, it’s important to concentrate on three areas: kitchen, surfaces, and your writing area.

A few years back, I was judiciously following the tenets of Flylady to get my housekeeping life in order, and one of her truisms is that (I’m paraphrasing) the kitchen sets the tone for the rest of the house. It’s true. If your kitchen is a mess, that mess will gradually infect everything else. Whereas if your kitchen is clean and tidy, the rest of the place is much more likely to follow suit. Maybe it is an unwritten law of the universe, but I have found it to be true.

So promise yourself that you will take care of the kitchen this month. This also makes it much easier to follow the food advice I’m going to give you tomorrow, and make it much less likely that you’ll overspend on horrible takeout food that will make everyone cranky and you less creatively-inclined. Load the dishwasher or wash your dishes after every meal (bonus tip: washing dishes provides a great time to plan out that next scene of your novel), take out the garbage, keep the table clear of clutter, and spend ten minutes before you go to bed making sure the kitchen is generally tidy for the morning.

This is about keeping surfaces clear of clutter. You do not need to waste precious time this month searching for lost keys, misplaced bills, work or homework assignments, or your novel outline, in the huge piles of mail, newspapers, sweaters, books, plastic bags, toys, research materials, unsorted laundry, video games, pet accoutrements, half-finished projects and whatever else it is at your house that seems to spring into existence on every exposed surface overnight.

Put your own things away. Encourage others to put their own things away. Get your surfaces cleared this week and keep them cleared every day of the month. The ten or fifteen minutes this might take every day is well spent and will save you time in the long run. In addition, putting things away is mindless work, during which time you can plan out the next scene of your novel. (Starting to see a pattern here?)

Your writing area
Whether you have your own cozy little office, a corner of another room, or a space for your laptop at the kitchen table, you need to keep it tidy this month. Even if you are a person who usually thrives on “organized chaos,” there is no room in November for any chaos other than that which you are creating in your novel.

Clean it up this week, and take five minutes at the end of every writing day or before each new writing session to tidy away your notes, books, coffee cups, chocolate wrappers, other dirty dishes, and anything else that has accumulated. You will have a clearer mind with a clearer desk–and yes, use your tidying time to plan out the next scene of your novel.

We haven’t discussed laundry yet, but laundry is pretty simple. Do not let it pile up. Do a little each day to keep on top of it, because nothing is going to make your family less supportive of your writing than a dearth of clean underwear when they need it. You don’t have to do perfect laundry–all that sorting and folding and putting away is secondary to at least having a basket of clean items to root through.

Bribes Reward systems
Even if all of these things are usually part of your job description, they don’t have to be during NaNoWriMo. Recruit your family/roommates/significant others as helpers during November, and be shameless about offering bribes rewards. Keep a stash of candy or chocolate (apart from your personal cache, of course) to reward those who will leave you alone for a solid half-hour or take on one of your chores for a day. Offer special treats or rewards when you reach significant word count milestones. In other words, make it worth everyone else’s while for you to have writing time. Who knows, by the end of the month, you may have helped them develop some worthwhile skills and habits.

Let go of the guilt
You are not going to be a perfect housekeeper in November. You are not going to serve gourmet meals. You are going to send yourself and your family out of the house in wrinkled (though clean) clothes. Accept this, and let it go, and don’t let anyone else make you feel guilty about it. You’re writing a novel in a month, dammit. Let’s see them try it.

Next: You can do better than cold cereal for supper, even in November.

Survive and Thrive during NaNoWriMo (part 2)
Talkin' bout NaNoWriMo
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  1. What if you a generally a slob anyway?

  2. Whoo-hoo! you certainly got your *practice* word count in for today! Nice job, Sher!

    a 6 1/2* year winner

    *no. really. it wasn’t my fault that I didn’t win last year. I was kidnapped by a phalanx** of plot ninjas.
    **that’s twice today I used the word “phalanx.” It was a good day.

  3. Excellent tips, Sherry.

    You forgot to mention that you can use laundry folding/putting-away time as an opportunity to plan out your next scene. I’m sure it was just an oversight. :)

  4. John, if you are generally a slob anyway, this is a good opportunity to break those bad habits. ;)

    Nanc, I know you are going to get those words this year!

    Gary: Damn. You’re right. Totally missed that one!

  5. Good essay. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo but I AM planning a similarly intense rewrite of a novel I created during a BBC Scotland novel-in-a-month project. Very intense and very fun. Trying to figure out how to approach the mammoth rewrite is daunting. More so is figuring out how to “finish” everything else I have committed to do before or during this event. Had hoped to be done by now, but have not been well and my energy is quite low.

    Anyway, enjoy your writing, and see you on the other side.

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