Beth Cato is not only an excellent author of alt-history fantasy, but she bakes the most AMAZING cookies. I met her at Gen Con this year, where I heard her speak on several panels about all aspects of writing and the writing life. She was also part of our live Gen Con podcast. Here, she gives some guidance to writers who are about to embark on their NaNoWriMo journey!
NaNoWriMo motivated me to start writing again as an adult and provided me with good training for writing novels as a career. Now that I function under deadlines set by Harper Voyager, the pressure is really on. Legally binding contracts are very motivating... and can lead to very unhealthy behaviors. I wrote the 88,000-word first draft of my alt-history novel Call of Fire in 27 days. Quite honestly, I don't remember much about that month. My husband says I was "rather scary" throughout that period. He won't go into detail.
Don't follow my example in that way, but DO utilize these four positive strategies that helped me to achieve that quick draft. As stressful as writing binges are, they would be a lot more stressful if I didn't follow these tips.
Triage Your Life
What do you NEED to do this month? Prioritize that. The other things can wait. If I'm working on a book, I try not to schedule appointments or take trips during that time... emphasis on try. Some appointments can't be moved, but I can use that waiting room time to mull over my next plot point or use a book or my phone to investigate some detail for research. Social media can offer brief respites to recharge, but it also can suck you in. A lot of writers use apps that will actually block sites like Facebook and Twitter for set lengths of time.
And here's a major part of the triage process: practice saying "no" to people or tasks that will rob you of your precious writing time. Do you need to do All the Things? Can this wait task until December, or later? Can you delegate?
Eat, Drink, and Sleep
Nanowrimo may feel like it will break your brain at times, but it can break your body, too. You have to take care of yourself physically and mentally.
Let's start with food. Plan out meals that require little or no prep. Frozen meals, whether of the store-bought variety or the Once A Month Meals kind (Google it!), can be a godsend. Me, I love to use the crock pot; it makes enough food to last for multiple meals. (Psst, check out the "crock pot" tag on BethCato.com.) Energy bars and granola bars can be great to eat in a pinch, too.
I need to emphasize the need for HEALTHY meals. Digging into a bag of cookies might provide a brief sugar high, but sugar crashes will impact your word count and your body in a bad way.
Make sure you're drinking lots of water, even if you're relying on a steady drip of caffeine. Know the limits of your body. How late in the day can you ingest caffeine without it harming your ability to fall asleep? It's easy to joke "Write drunk, edit sober," but alcohol in excess could be disastrous (deleting by accident, forgetting to save, etc) and a hangover won't get tomorrow off to a good start.
And yeah. Sleep. You need it. Try to get enough at night... and if your word count is going well and you have opportunity, treat yourself to a nap! Writers are a lot like cats. We need petting, naps, and clean litter boxes.
One more thing: if you're an American who needs to cook for Thanksgiving, prepare before NaNo or after a good writing day, if you can. That includes shopping, prep work, and baking. Things like cookie dough and baked cookies often freeze well, as do dinner rolls.
Find Your People
I have already mentioned social media as a distraction, but it's also vital for motivation. Writing is hard. You need cheerleaders who understand that mucking through the last 200 words for the day can feel like pulling teeth. Family and friends can be supportive, but unless they are writers as well, they may not completely get it.
The official NaNoWriMo forums can offer lots of support and opportunities for regional meet-ups. Twitter has very active hashtags like #Nanowrimo and #Nanowrimo2017, as well as year-round ones like #amwriting. Look for groups on Facebook or anywhere else writers congregate!
Along the lines of finding your people, also feel free to shun toxic people who sabotage, distract, and demean you. Yeah, that's easier said than done sometimes if family or co-workers are being nasty, but if you CAN mute and block them, do it. Nanowrimo is hard enough when you're battling yourself; you don't need someone else's negativity.
Daily rewards can be simple, like getting to watch a TV show that you love. Maybe a weekly reward can be a dinner out or some other splurge--like a nap. If you complete your 50K? Go all out! Pop open the bubbly, or gift yourself with a Black Friday sales deal, or reward yourself by simply escaping the house for a lovely hike after weeks of confinement at the computer. But make it special. Make it memorable. Show it off. Scream your triumph in all caps, for all the world to see!
Even if you only do 500 words total for the month, that is still something to celebrate! After all, that is more than you had at the start of November. Keep writing, into December and beyond. NaNoWriMo's pace is not for everyone. Life happens. You are still a writer. Keep writing!
Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the new Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager. Her newest novel is CALL OF FIRE. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.