NaNo Thoughts #2: NaNo and the 40-hour work week

dickensIt would be great to have the ability to stay at home all November and just focus on writing. Hell, it’d be nice to focus on writing as a career any month of the year. However, many writers are -by necessity- required to find a balance between writing and having a part or full time career. That doesn’t even include the responsibilities inherent in being married or having kids. When your life is already full of jobs and kids and spouses, how to do you find time to devote to a writing contest where you have to shoe-horn in a 30-day period of dedicated uber-writing? From experience, I can say that it is not easy. However, here are some of the things I’ve learned that can make it as painless as possible.

1. Talk with your family. Seriously, before you even think about doing NaNoWriMo, you should speak with your family / spouse. Writing 50,000 words in a month is hard enough. Writing it when your family is not completely behind you makes it nearly impossible. Bare in mind this is not an indictment of your family, but of you as the writer. If you are working a 40 hr work week and have a family, you have already made two decisions about the priorities you have. In the cosmic scheme of things: Family is #1, Work is #2, and writing in NaNoWriMo falls somewhere after those. If you are lucky it is #3. Writing 1600+ words a day is a serious task and will take at least an hour or two depending on how dedicated and efficient you are. Devoting that time to NaNo means you’re sacrificing that time from something else, work or family or whatever other obligations you have. You can’t just decide: I’m a writer and now live a writer’s life. You’re not and you can’t. Period. Forget that illusion. You’re an employee or an entrepreneur. You’re a father /mother, husband/wife. If you want to be something else, something extra, then you better talk about it with the people who matter the most to you, because they can make or break your efforts. Tread on them and diminish their importance at your own peril.

Now, if you are honest and you do discuss this with your family then there should be no reason you can’t take an hour every night to write some. I’ll say this again: ignore the 50k word goal. That’s so insignificant in the scheme of being a writer it is ludicrous. It’s a fun challenge and nothing more. More important is finding a reasonable pace and sticking with it. Slow or fast, you will get there. Just make sure you work with those who love you to make it easier for yourself to so so.

2. Set your expectations wisely. If you work full time, it’s unlikely you’ll write 6000 words a day consistently. It’s also unlikely you’ll be able to come home, work till 2am and then go to bed, get up and go to work the next day, repeating the exact same process the next day, every day, ad nauseum. At this point in your career, that is beyond your ability. Either your writing will suffer or your family and/or career will suffer. You must treat writing seriously, but realistically. Set some guidelines with your loved ones (see point #1) and then set some kind of expected writing process for yourself. Set a minimum and optimal word count (I use 1200 and 2500). Set a certain amount of time (a minimum) that you’ll write or otherwise work on your novel. Mine is 90 minutes on work nights, three hours on weekends. I set realistic minimums and optimistic optimals because that way I have to meet a certain goal, but I also have something else to shoot for. If I can at least meet my minimums, I’m happy. If I hit my optimal metrics, then I can feel pride in my work that day. Just set a goal and then modify it based upon your successful (or not-so-successful) results.

3. Keep in mind it’s not all writing. Ideally, you’ll be writing X amount of words a day. However (and this will most likely cause some other writers to scream bloody murder), I don’t ‘write’ every day, at least not directly on my novel. Sometimes I write on my blog for my word count (not on NaNo though). Sometimes I will research and write out notes. Other times I’m working on a summary or outline. A novel does spring fully formed from a writer’s mind. It takes revisions and outlines and a million other things. Performing those administrative duties is every bit as much a part of writing as actually writing.

4. Take off your Pants and get out your Plot. It’s a popular conceit that writers come in two flavors: Pantsers and Plotters. Pantsers just look at a blank piece of paper and disgorge a torrent of goopy words that they later come back to clean up. By contrast, Plotters plan their novel in depth before every writing a word. While I disagree that authors so polar in their methods, I will say that having a full-time career and successfully writing a novel almost necessitates that you are more Plotter than Pantser, at least if you desire to be consistently productive. Having a guideline, a roadmap, on what to write gives you so many excellent ways to organize your writing and make efficient use of your time.

5. Maximize Your Time. Clearly, we cannot write all of the time. if you have a job, most employers frown upon you working on your novel on the job. That’s understandable; you’re there to do a job, not increase your word count. Likewise, whipping out your laptop and writing during Thanksgiving Dinner is equally not appreciated; on that I can speak from experience. Still there’s a number of things that I’ve found can provide you your creative outlet while remaining a good worker or good family member. First of all, I make use of every spare minute I have. I get 45 minutes of breaks a day and I’m writing during each of those. Lunch? Yeah, write then too. Of course, if work has been stressful, I’ll frequently devote some time to simply detoxifying. However, writing often does that for me, so sometimes scribbling words down eases the stress as well. Also, keep a small notepad and pen on hand. Don’t write a thesis on it but if you get a random inspiration then jot that down in your own personal shorthand. If your work allows it, use an app on your phone for the same purpose. Yarny was a great choice (and supposedly are about to be reborne), as is Evernote. I personally use ZoHo Writer and Dropbox, so my notes and my novel get shared across both desktop and laptop. This is more important during NaNoWriMo, but it’s a great habit in general that I’ve gotten into over the last few years. Anything that allows you to squeeze some writing/creation into a block of time that you normally can’t write during is great.

6. Push away the Green-Eyed Demon. We call are always envious of successful writers and those that have the freedom or success to write for a living. I personally would love to be able to wake up and write for a living. But that’s not the life I currently live. One day perhaps, but not now. Lamenting that fact or becoming angry or bitter will not help you to gain that freedom, nor will it make your life now any enjoyable. Quite the opposite. Be proud that you work, have a family AND still manage to write. Your craft is so important to you that you work twice as hard to achieve what you want.

In the long run, the best advice I can give is to simply find equilibrium in your life. Carve out a place and a time to write, be respectful of those in your life and make sure that they are respectful of your dreams. Don’t let your despite to be a writer cloud your judgement or force you into situations that undermine your life or your efforts. Working a full work week and having a family is the foundation that my life as a write is built upon. I honor that foundation in everything I do so that my goals as a writer have a firm basis and proper support. It may seem hard and the road to success may be longer, but the thrill of victory will taste that much sweeter for it. With hints of salted caramel. Everything tastes better with a bit of caramel.

Any other hard working writers juggling work and craft? Share your thoughts!


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