In November 2006, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time. Writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days seemed like an attainable goal. I had a great idea and plenty of time on my hands, so I went into this challenge with literary vigor. Every weekend in November – with the exception of the Thanksgiving holiday – I flew to Texas and locked myself in a hotel room with my laptop, a chapter list and a mental storyline. No distractions. No additional commitments…just me and my words. I breezed through NaNoWriMo and completed a contemporary love story about a jazz musician and new age painter.
The following year, I couldn’t wait to start NaNoWriMo this year and I spent most of October getting psyched up for the opportunity to produce yet another novel. A lot had changed since the first time I took on the 50K challenge. I had gained a wife and two stepchildren, which dramatically changed my lifestyle. There were plenty of distractions, a myriad of new commitments and disappearing with my laptop for hours on end just wasn’t happening.
I crashed and burned that year as November 30th came and I had barely 10,000 words to show for it.
I was determined to find the learning experience in my failure. I spent the first week of December 2007 assessing where I went wrong. There were thousands of successful NaNoWriMo participants, who balanced work and family, and managed to churn out their novels. I realized that my first mistake was that I implemented the same formula (of writing on my laptop exclusively) into a more complicated lifestyle (of being a husband and father managing a home).
While researching the NaNoWriMo message boards and uncovered the secrets of staying on task when writing a novel. I extracted the best elements and created a modern day “writer’s toolkit” – a list of things that go beyond MSWord and notebooks to help you finish your masterpiece when time is of the essence:
- Paper and writing utensils – from G2 pens and moleskines to #2 pencils and spiral notebooks.
- Audio messages – some people use voice recorders while I prefer my cell phone (and voicemail).
- Email to Self – our literary mind is a totally different person, why not email your ideas to her/him?
- Dropbox – a GREAT application to keep your work/ideas omnipresent.
- Word Processing Program – not just MSWord, but whatever works (e.g., Scrivener, Storyist).
- Support System – family, friends (online and off), fellow writers…whoever has positive energy to spare.
- Time Recess – small increments of time (30 min -1 hour) that add up to a great novel; because sometimes you can’t disappear for a weekend.
Not only can this toolkit be helpful during NaNoWriMo, but it can be instrumental for any deadline driven writing project. The Support System is one of the most integral parts of a multi-tasking writer. My mistake was that I didn’t manage my new support system in a way where it helped. I looked at my loving family, household projects, parenting responsibilities, social media contacts, etc. as a liability to my writing efforts instead of an asset. Being immersed in an intense social environment means being surrounded by new thoughts and character traits. Having online programs and capturing incremental dreams can easily compile themselves to a wonderful story. Whether it’s NaNoWriMo or a publisher’s deadline…I believe this “toolkit” is the way of the future for 21st century writers.