NaNoWriMo 2018 and Writing Sprints

I love National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It’s a month dedicated to writing 50,000 words, which means an average of 1667 words a day. I have never “won” NaNoWriMo. In other words, I have never hit that 50K mark. Let’s face it. I’m just not that quick of a writer. It has nothing to do with typing speed or ideas or time. It’s all about focus. I find it near impossible to concentrate for long enough to get those darn words out. Music helps. Not being at home helps. But nothing works 100% of the time.

This NaNo, however, something’s changed. I’ve passed some sort of threshold in my writing career and find it much easier to get those words out. I’ve also discovered writing sprints. And by “discovered,” I mean like Columbus “discovered” the Americas. Lots of people already knew how awesome writing sprints were. I thought they were just a competition among writers to see who could get the most words out in a given time. I’m not competitive like that. I couldn’t see how that kind of pressure would help me.

Turns out, it’s not about the peer pressure of beating other writers in spitting out words. At least, that’s not how it works for me. I’ve found it allows me to concentrate for just a few minutes, fifteen seems to be ideal. For just those few minutes, I can block out the extra thoughts swirling around in my brain demanding my attention. My to-do list can wait fifteen minutes. I mean seriously, how important do I think I am? My anxiety about doing enough and being enough can stay quiet for fifteen minutes while I do what I always want to do when I don’t have the time: write.

It’s been freeing. I can accomplish 200-500 words in a fifteen minute sprint. I only need to do a few of these a day to reach my goals. Why the heck have I not be doing this forever?

Turns out a more disciplined version of writing sprints is called the Pomodoro Technique. You can use it for any task you’re trying to accomplish. I’m not quite there yet. I can quiet my mind for only so long and a five minute break isn’t long enough to get anything else done. Responsibilities build up in my mind until I have to do them or I will explode. I won’t be able to concentrate for one of the 25 minute sessions if the dishes are screaming at me or my inbox is flashing obnoxiously (in my mind).

For now, I’m leading two official write-ins a week at our local Starbucks where a few of us crazy NaNoers talk and then sprint and then drink coffee and then sprint and complaint about our protagonist and then sprint. It’s a mix of productivity and camaraderie and fuels my excitement for this yearly event.

I still might not “win” NaNoWriMo, but I’m certainly winning my writing career. The numbers for this month are on a nice, steady positive slope. I’ve written every day. Even that one where life tried to drown me and I couldn’t squeeze in a single sprint. I felt so accomplished by my writing every day that I had to sit down right before bed and get something in. A hundred words later, I called it a day. I know it’s a pathetic amount of words for a professional writer, but the fact that I refused to give in to the stress of that day and typed something into my WIP shows how motivating NaNoWriMo is.

And that’s the point. I’ve never reached 50,000 words for NaNo (or any other month for that matter). Yet, every novel I started during this writer holiday of sorts, I have fully drafted. The first one, Tarbin’s True Heir, is published and in the hands of readers (not to mention the recipient of a bronze medal in the 2018 IPPYs). 2015’s middle grade novel, The Innkeeper’s Daughter, is getting its final edit, then off to agents. 2016’s YA mystery, The Case of the Fallen Dragon, needs a rewrite, but I have a solid first draft. 2017’s Tarbin’s False Prophet is torturing my printer right now, ready for its first revision. It will be in the hands of readers in spring 2019. And this year, Tarbin’s Old Kingdom is getting a head start with a fresh NaNo and a motivated creator: me.

Who else is participating in National Novel Writing Month? It’s free. Give it a try.

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