NaNoWriMo Learnings

I decided in mid-October to join in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. It was time to do something about some of my longer writing ideas, and NaNoWriMo seemed like perfect timing.

Due to other commitments, I didn’t have time to plot out the idea that I was intending to write about. I had some vague thoughts about character development and some of the key characters involved, but not a definite idea as to how it might all play out. But I put these concerns aside and decided that it would be good to write and see where the story took me.

I kept my preparation simple. I watched a couple of videos about NaNoWriMo, specifically around time management. Advice that I adopted included turning off banner notifications on social media and hiding the apps that I tend to go to for a quick distraction fix.

I made sure that I had writing software Scrivener synchronised across my devices. I needed to be flexible and to be able to write wherever I was. For part of NaNoWriMo, I was travelling about and didn’t always have great mobile or WiFi reception. I was able to keep working on my phone or tablet as I went from place to place, and even in areas of indifferent reception, I was able to synchronise my work so I could pick it up again when needed. I found that I was writing in really small time slots. Waiting for a couple of minutes? Time enough to tap out a line or two, or make a note as to where the next thread of the story was to go. It helped to keep me connected to the story and feel that no time was wasted.

One of the things that made the biggest impact was using the Pomodoro Technique. This involves working for 25-minute blocks with short breaks. This can be repeated for a set number of cycles before there is a longer break. I started using this on a Sunday afternoon when I really wanted to nap rather than write. But I could sit for 25 minutes and write a word or two, surely? When the ideas were flowing, I was surprised to see that I could type about 1200 words in a 25-minute block. Over time this averaged out around 1000 words and it showed me that I could write effectively in short blocks. This tapped into writing under time pressure, and knowing that I only expected myself to concentrate and ignore everything else for less than half an hour made it much easier to adopt this approach.

From the outset, I knew that whether I hit the word target or not, I would have written more by the end of the November than if I hadn’t participated in NaNoWriMo. This was certainly the case. What I didn’t expect was to be able to sharpen my writing approach in ways that provide confidence for the future. I can use some of these learnings to maintain my writing practice, and many of my preconceived notions of obstacles to writing have been satisfactorily undermined. It was well worth the effort to discover this!

When did you last participate in a creative challenge, and what surprised you?

[Photo: old typewriter]

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When will there be time to write?

Recently I listened to an interesting TED talk by Laura Vanderkam about gaining control of your free time. As a renowned expert on time management, Vanderkam is sometimes invited to contribute articles on effective time management to various publications, and she provided some examples given by others on how to save time. This included being guided by the minimum timeframe when heating up meals in the microwave – if the range is 7 to 9 minutes, take it out after 7 minutes and potentially save yourself two whole minutes! Whilst I’ve often felt rushed and time-poor, I’m thankful that I haven’t become quite so literal about it. Yet.

My key takeaway from this talk was something simple but powerful. We all have the same about of time. 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week. It is what we do with this time that matters. There was an example of a successful, extremely busy woman who ran a business and had a family and multiple other commitments. During a time management study to help understand how she managed to cope with all of these demands, a water heater flooded creating chaos and mess. It required hours of liaising with tradespeople and cleaning up and getting things back to normal, time that was already earmarked for other things. Time didn’t stop ticking, but there is an elasticity in time in that it will shift to incorporate what is necessary. The water heater had to be fixed, and life and all of its associated commitments had to be flexible enough to be prioritised and slotted in around it.

Like most people I go through periods of time when work, family and the basic requirements of living (grocery shopping, washing, cleaning, sleeping) seem to take every available moment in the day. I catch myself moaning about not having the time to sit down to finish the last draft of the short story I’ve been working on, or tease out an idea that came to me on the cusp of consciousness. But if I’m honest and realistic, I can find the time to spend on something that brings me so much pleasure.

It might mean being less pedantic about certain things, or even something basic like getting up when I’ve had a meal rather than lingering with a sense of weariness. I know if I do get up and keep moving I feel motivated and far more likely to make use of the extra few minutes snatched here and there.

How do you find time for what matters most in your creative life?

[Photo: detail of red typewriter spotted in an op shop]