In the Spirit of NaNoWriMo

It’s NaNoWriMo Time again. My most productive writing month of the year.


National Novel Writing Month starts November 1 and lasts for thirty days. I simultaneously love it and loathe it because it forces me to push beyond my normal writing pace and out of my comfort zone.

Since 1999, November has become the sacred month for long form fiction when over three hundred thousand writers sit down with the lofty goal of producing a coherent fifty thousand word novel by the end of a single month.

Thousands of eager writers try. Many succeed, most don’t. On average, less than 20% complete the fifty thousand word challenge. I’ve tried it a couple of times - the first one in 2005 - and succeeded both times but I use the unusual method of organizing beats ahead of time and then dictating via Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Most participants don’t use voice recognition, to their detriment with such a huge mountain of words to climb. You might be a pretty good typist at 50 words per minute but you can easily dictate at twice that rate with the side benefit of avoiding hand and wrist problems.

If you have structured the main story beats ahead of time, you can really crank out the words using Dragon. I’ve easily achieved eighty thousand to ninety thousand words during the month.

Although fifty thousand words a month seems a lot, there are many indie genre series authors self-publishing on Amazon who put out four full length books of that length or more over the course of year. It’s a matter of organization and practice. And they have the grit to keep their butts in their chairs no matter what.    And if they use dictation, they can regularly achieve rates of 3,000 words an hour. 

While I don’t officially participate in NaNo any longer, I treat the month of November as if I’d actually signed up. The idea is to achieve a dramatic increase in output for those thirty days. The kind of output a successful ‘NaNo-er’ needs to make their word goal.

This year I’ve saved November for the final rewrite of Blood Stakes —  a Morningstar and McBride thriller series novel —  and will attempt to complete the rewriting process entirely by the end of the month. I think it’s really going to be a push because rewriting to an editor's comments is not as dictation friendly, but that’s the whole point. Completing Nano successfully can prove to yourself that you can accomplish more than you’d ever imagined if you can stick to a plan and maintain focus. It's about having grit as much as anything else. No grit. No glory.

My strategy is to put in a solid 4 to 6 hours every day,  seven days a week,  for the entire month. Of course life happens so a maintaining a chain of 30 consecutive days at sprinter's pace never seems to actually happen, but if most days are solid and you put in a little extra time to make up, you can attain the goal. It's a stretch. But possible.

My approach is to set aside five to six fifty-minute writing periods with absolutely no interruption allowed during the sprint. After each fifty minute sprint, I'll take a ten or fifteen minute walking break and go after it again. Mid-day I'll do my main physical exercise for the day and then, in the afterglow of blowing off the morning's stress aerobically, start my afternoon sessions and continue until I've reached the magic number.

This method — often referred to as the Pomodoro method — works well for me, and the fifty minute uninterrupted work cycle followed by a ten minute break is scientifically proven to be the best work/break combination. Fifty minutes seems to be the longest I can maintain intense focus anyway so this already is my usual approach. I'll just add more cycles during NaNo.

 No blogging during November. See you in a month.