How to Use Nanowrimo to Change Your Life

You might think that the only thing you’re going to get from writing a novel this month is a horrible first draft, some pretty web graphics, a cramp in your neck and a high caffeine tolerance. Of course, taken at face value and used in the most basic way, this might be all you get from Nanowrimo. But used properly, Nanowrimo can change your whole life in ways you might never have imagined.

So how can you use Nanowrimo to change your life? Well, for starters now you can call yourself a novelist, which should give your ego a nice boost. But the changes I’m talking about here are deeper changes. Nanowrimo, used properly, can be a tool to teach yourself discipline, discover what you really want in life, and create a happier future for yourself. Today I’m going to show you how.

Discipline. Nanowrimo is all about meeting goals. For the next 30 days you plan to force yourself to write 1, 667 words per day or whatever is required to meet your goal. Even if you’re more like me and you plan bigger writing days specifically so you can take days off, you’re still focused on meeting goals. For me, daily goals fluctuate due to scheduling and tendonitis, but my weekly goals don’t change. And every week–even if it means staying up until three in the morning on the last day of the week–I meet that goal.

The discipline it takes to write a novel in a month can be carried over to your life in December. Let’s see how this works with the most obvious example, your non-Nanowrimo writing and editing goals. If you know you normally don’t spend enough time writing, but during Nanowrimo you spend so much time writing you alienate friends and family, your goal for December should be to find a happy medium. Say regularly you spend only a half hour writing every day, but during Nanowrimo you spend three hours writing every day. That’s still enough time to get a fair bit of work done, and it shouldn’t cut into your other duties so much.

Why does Nanowrimo help with this? First off, it gives you an idea of what you can accomplish in three hours. Second, it gives you the momentum you’ll need to continue writing every day. Third, your family’s grown accustomed to losing three hours, so an hour and a half won’t seem like such a big deal. And it doesn’t have to be writing–you can allocate the now freed Nanowrimo time to anything you’ve been neglecting, like art projects or exercise. After all, you’ve already started forcing yourself to be productive every day, so why not keep going?

Discovering Priorities. If you pay attention to how you feel throughout the month of November, you’ll learn a lot about what really matters to you. You’ll discover whether or not you care enough to maintain a strict writing routine every day. You’ll also discover which things you missed when you sacrificed them to devote yourself to Nanowrimo, and which you didn’t. I bet, if you’re really paying attention, there’s at least one TV show you never really loved that much–which gives you at least half an hour of free time.

As you sit and reflect on what you do miss and what you don’t miss about regular life, you can figure out what things were missing from your regular life. If you’ve decided to give up that one TV show for good, what will you do with the time you gain? Maybe you want to read more. Maybe you want to keep that as writing time. Maybe there’s another long lost passion that you want to explore again, like sewing or running.

As the month wears on, seriously consider your new schedule. What about it do you like? What about it don’t you like? How could you adjust your post-Nano days so you get the most out of each one? Your intense focus on writing during the month should help clarify what you really want out of life.

A happier future. Over the course of this month you’ve given yourself a strict routine and become more disciplined. You’ve also written a novel–no small feat–and discovered what truly makes you happy–or at least what doesn’t. The important thing now is to take your new found knowledge and discipline and put them towards creating a better life for yourself.

What does that look like? Well, it’s different for everyone. For me, it looks like re-evaluating my writing goals and deciding how much time I can really afford to give each project. For some, it looks like taking a class in something like yoga or dance. For others, it means returning to their passion for art. December first might even be when some people realize that they’re dissatisfied with their life as a whole and decide to tear up their roots and start over someplace else.

Creating a better life looks different for everyone, because everyone has a different idea of what that better life will look like. But no matter what your better life looks like, you’ll never get there if you aren’t disciplined and constantly re-assessing what you truly want and how to get it.

If you take anything other than tendonitis and a horrible novel away from this experience, I hope you’ll walk away knowing that anything is possible if you try hard enough, and that there’s never a better moment than now to get disciplined and create a better life for yourself.