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Nanowrimo officially ended last week, and whether you won or not, I hope you took a break over this weekend. Nanowrimo is a massive challenge with a lot of pressure, and it’s as exhausting as it is fun. You earned a weekend off, and you needed it if you want to avoid burnout (if you didn’t take this past weekend off, take the coming weekend off instead).
But the weekend is gone, and if you take any more days off you will lose the momentum you built during Nanowrimo. So today I’m asking you to get back to work, and to set a new goal for December: create a regular writing habit you can maintain year round.
What do I mean by a regular writing habit?
A regular writing habit can be writing 1,667 words a day, or it can be writing a sentence every day. It doesn’t even have to be every day–but it does have to be at least once a week.
It definitely doesn’t have to be a novel, short story, article, or blog post. It can be pages in your journal. The only thing that matters is that you’re writing on a regular basis.
Pro Tip: You don’t have to maintain a daily writing habit forever, but it’s easier if you start writing every day. You’ll fall into the habit more easily. When you eventually do need to take a few days off, you’ll be itching to get back to your writing.
Why is a regular writing habit so important?
Most people could benefit from a regular writing habit. Journalling provides an excellent emotional and creative release. It can even help people re-evaluate their lives and commit to improving them. If you’re already making changes, a journal can track how those changes affect your life on a daily basis. It’s a private place where you can be completely honest about your thoughts and your life. Nobody will judge you, because nobody will ever read it.
Fiction can serve many of these same benefits. There’s something cathartic about examining humanity through a fictional lens. I work hard to avoid blatant self inserts, but my characters do live through some of the same struggles I have. Helping them conquer those struggles shows me how to conquer my own. When I reread my own work I can see how my own trauma influenced those words, for better and for worse. And if I write something a little too cathartic I don’t ever need to share it.
In other words, a regular writing habit is good for the soul.
For those of us who want to become successful authors, it’s also something more: the foundation of our careers. You might be able to write a single great book without one, but it will take a lot longer. And a single book doesn’t make a successful career, even if you sell a million copies. So you need to develop habits that will see you through not just one book, but many books.
Those habits must also be built around your normal life, because you can’t expect to quit your day job any time soon. It is possible to make a living as a writer, but it’s not easy, and it’s not a quick process.
The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll achieve the career of your dreams.
How to use Nanowrimo to build a permanent writing habit
One of the greatest things about Nanowrimo is that it forces you to write regularly. A lot of people can miss a few days and still hit 50K, but it’s not possible for everyone. If you miss more than a few days catching up becomes a near-impossible task.
When Nanowrimo ends the pressure dissipates and people return to their normal lives, but you can keep the momentum going. Now that it’s December, you can even change the pace to something that fits around your regular life (and the upcoming holidays) better.
Use these strategies to keep writing through December–and beyond:
1. Use the time you already had scheduled for writing during Nanowrimo
You’ve already scheduled time for writing on a daily basis for one month. The people you live with already know not to bother you during that time. Keeping this time for writing is much easier than trying to carve a new chunk out of your schedule.
That said, this should be done within reason. Nanowrimo requires a significant time commitment, one that might not be feasible for you to maintain through all twelve months of the year. If that’s the case, reduce the amount of time, but keep it at roughly the same time every day. This trains your brain to want to write at that time of day, every day. It also makes it easier to train any pesky relatives (or roommates) to stay away while you’re writing. Unless they’re cats. If they’re cats, you just have to learn how to type one handed. No biggie.
2. Adapt the Nanowrimo goal to fit your regular life
One of the reasons why Nanowrimo works for so many people is that it provides a concrete goal and a deadline to meet that goal in, but 50,000 words a month is an insane pace for most people to maintain beyond November. I’ve tried to aim for 50K every month, and it always ended up in burnout and disappointment–even though I’ve written 50,000 words in three days before.
So take the Nanowrimo goal of 50,000 and adjust it. I usually recommend people start with 1,000 a day. That’s slightly less commitment than Nanowrimo, but still a significant amount. Most novels are also around 80-90K, so this means your novel will be done at the end of December or in early January. That’s an entire manuscript written in under three months, a good pace for any writer.
Pro Tip: Set aside half an hour, once a month, to evaluate your progress. If you find your goals are stressing you out, consider lowering them. If you’re finding them too easy, set the bar higher.
3. Develop a steady stream of ideas
I’ve been writing semi-consistently for 13 years and very consistently for the past seven. Ideas haven’t been a problem for me in six of those years. In fact, I’ve got so many novel ideas lying around that I could spend the rest of my life working on books I’ve already thought up.
Eventually you’ll reach this point too, but at first finding ideas can be difficult. You need to find them wherever you can: prompt generators and blogs, the Nanowrimo adoption society, or even shamelessly stolen from other stories. And you need to be ready to record an idea whenever it comes along. So get comfortable taking notes with your phone or buy a notebook and pen you can keep handy. Hell, do both so you’ll still have something to write with/on if your phone dies. The important thing is that you build a backlog of ideas so you always have something to work on.
Bonus Blog Tip: Work on multiple projects at once
Want to know my OTHER bonus tip? Watch the video above and skip to
Keeping multiple projects on the go gives you something to jump to when you get stuck on one project. It’s also a valuable skill to develop for a writing career, because you need to be able to switch gears quickly when you receive edits with a tight deadline. Several of the most successful authors I know have anywhere from two to five novels on the go at any given time.
I personally can’t work on more than one novel at a time without mixing up the details, but I still have other projects. When I get stuck on my novel I work on a blog post, or one of the non-fiction books I’m writing. Switching between fiction and non-fiction puts my brain on a completely different track, making it easier to get into my creative flow. It also means that I can always fill my writing time with actual writing, even if I’m stuck on one project. This is one aspect of my productive procrastination technique.
Does this sound overwhelming? You can do something similar but on a much smaller scale using a journal. If you’re stuck on your novel, free write in your journal. You might even figure out why you’re stuck, and be able to return to your novel before the writing session ends.