Getting the thing written the NaNoWriMo way

Having just emerged from 26 days of NaNoWriMo, (National Novel Writing Month), like a mole, appearing from its burrow, blinking at what passes for sunlight at this time of the year, I’m still not sure how I managed to write 50,000 words.

You see, I am inherently lazy and lack the self-discipline that other, less work-shy novelists seem to have. You know the ones I mean – they’re on to their thirteenth, fourteenth or fifteenth book and from time to time, feature in the lifestyle section of the weekend newspapers. When I read a piece about the prolific Alexander McCall Smith, who, on a good day, can write 10,000 words, my first reaction, I am afraid to say is, I wish he wouldn’t! Call me shallow, but that seems to me to be super human!
I’d far rather read about a writer that faces the same struggles that I do, like Jennifer Saunders, who admitted in a piece in The Observer that she too finds that there are too many other distractions: ‘even if it is only watering the geraniums or taking the dog for a walk.’ Her solution is to keep work and home separated and has an office where she goes to write. Even if I could afford to rent one, I can’t see it working for me: I know I would invent any number of procrastinating excuses not to go there. Or, perhaps because I escaped a demanding day job in television, but I’ve always thought that the words ‘office’ and ‘creativity’ never went together.

I would be worried that when I got to my office I would feel that I was under pressure – that I had paid to rent the space and was there ‘to write.’ But what would I do if once I got there, I found I had nothing to write about? If there’s one thing I have learned from the NaNoWriMo experience it is that if you are consciously thinking about writing instead of writing, trying to squeeze out the words is exquisite torture.

On those (rare) days where I was able to somehow transport myself into that trance-like state where the words just seemed to flow, where once I would have knocked off when I’d reached that day’s target, I kept going for as long as the zen-like state lasted. “Just another 100 words’ became my mantra. And the funny thing is, if you do it for long enough, soon 100 words turns into 1000 and before you know it, you are one step closer to the finish line.

On the bad days, when I wasn’t able to shut out the rest of the world, I would cheer myself up by planning all the things I would do once I’d hit my target – even if they were as banal as taking the car to the car wash. In a previous post I told you that it was the first weekend where I really struggled. I did manage to tell that negative voice in my head to shut up and go away and did manage to increase my word count target – to 2000 words a day. I wrote when I was tired; I wrote with a fuzzy head; I wrote with tennis elbow; I wrote with a cold; I wrote in my office at home; I wrote on the train; I wrote on the sofa; I wrote on the kitchen table; I even wrote in a spare ten minutes in the changing rooms at the gym.

Yet here I am, 26 days later, still none the wiser on why, on some days it’s a joy to write when on others, it’s as though the words were stuck together with treacle and I had to laboriously lift each letter out, one by one and rearrange them. One thing’s for sure, if I ever do unlock the secret of achieving that zen-like state of mind, where writing, rather than procrastination gets done, I’ll bottle it and sell it!

I decided to tell others that I was taking part in NaNoWriMo, in the way that someone taking part in a marathon might do. It’s a good trick, as when you do that, getting to the finish line becomes a matter of pride. You could argue that the fear of looking foolish is essentially a negative motivating force but, negative or not, it worked for me. And the other external motivators were very simple ones: the NaNoWriMo word count and the end of November deadline. And for no other reason than I had a lot on, I decided that instead of the end of November, I would try to finish by the middle of the third week.

So to sum up – my advice to anyone who wants to get anything done – whether that is writing a novel, screenplay, report, or even painting your house, and that is to give yourself external motivators: Tell everyone you are doing it and to give yourself a deadline.
By the way, if you have any other tips on how to get more done – whether it’s writing related or not, I’d love to hear them!

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