Warning: participating in NaNoWriMo may result in writers blowing off the real world in favor of fine-tuning that masterpiece they’ve been meaning to write.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” ― Rudyard Kipling

It’s not just fun to say; NaNoWriMo is a website, a nonprofit organization, a widespread writing community, and a challenge all rolled into one. It started in 1999 with a simple directive. All participants were encouraged to write 50,000 words of a brand-new novel by the end of the month. That one rule has become more fluid for those of us who want to use the challenge as a kick in the ass to slay some words from our WIPs rather than create fresh ones, or to add onto said WIPs, but the underlying idea remains the same. Thirty days of writing. Easy, right?

Well, it would be if the real world didn’t keep trying to butt in. The fact is that you don’t always have the luxury of time or the right environment in which to write your magnum opus―or even just something that doesn’t downright suck. So whether you’re writing a new story or madly editing one you already have in the works, take these pro tips from a seasoned word nerd and workaholic to heart.

Learn to say “no”

As in most aspects of our lives, every writer needs to know his or her limits. And when it comes to making time or taking space to write, “no” should be your new favorite word. Even if it’s only to secure an hour each day, it’s okay to tell someone you need a little “me time” and that what they’re asking for will just have to wait. Selfish? Maybe, but you’ll never get past setting the scene if you let everyone else dictate how you divide up your day.

So, while there are certain circumstances that require you to be a responsible, fully present adult, don’t be afraid to put your foot down every once in a while. Outside of normal working hours and barring an emergency, your boss’s email can wait. As long as you’re all caught up on your tasks, maybe ease up on the overachiever routine long enough to put in some work on your passion project. No, you don’t have to help coordinate the next office holiday festivities. No, you don’t have to be the only one in your house doing the dishes. The more you use it, the more you’ll find that “no” really is a wonderful word.

Pencil in writing time

It doesn’t work for everyone, and we all know that just because you outline it on your calendar doesn’t mean that everything will fall into place on a given day, but there’s something to be said for scheduling a designated block of time to write. Not only does it feed into that concept of saying “no” that we just covered, but it makes it that much harder for you to ignore what you’ve committed to doing. In this case, seeing to it that your novel doesn’t fall by the wayside.

Early in the morning, late at night: whatever works best for you. And, if you need to rearrange things, treat writing time like any other appointment on your calendar and move it around accordingly. There’s no shame in rescheduling, as long as you do get around to it at some point. I’m a firm believer in using Google Calendar and color-coding it like a stained glass mosaic, so I have it installed on my phone with notifications and reminders to help keep me on track throughout the day. It’s like your alarm clock; sure, hit snooze if you need a few minutes. Just don’t ignore that annoying little chime noise forever.

Throw down the gauntlet

If you’re like me, you’re deadline-driven, and being told what to do or not do is basically like watching someone wave a red flag in front of a bull. So if you’re finding it difficult to stay on task, or feel that the inherent challenge of NaNoWriMo isn’t enough to keep you motivated, it’s time to bring out the big guns.

In case it’s not clear, yes, I mean you. Only you can know what will light a fire under you and get you moving in a positive direction. Maybe you need a pep talk, or to be chewed out. Maybe you need a reward system other than the implied benefits of moving forward in your novel. Maybe you need some kind of penalty to keep you in line. Does twenty push-ups for a missed opportunity to write seem fair? Whatever it is you need to do in order to stay the course, it’s time you took matters into your own hands and issued a challenge that you won’t be able to ignore―NaNoWriMo be damned.

Respect the bubble

That goes for other people and you, by the way. If you can’t respect your own workspace, who will? In this case, a workspace is anywhere you feel most comfortable writing. Your desk at home, a cubicle in the library, that awesome chair at your favorite coffee shop―hell, stretched out on the floor sometimes works for me (to quote a certain cartoon lion, “Bad back, you know.”). Wherever you find it easier to slip into that magical trance that enables us to get into the zone, that’s your bubble. And because you now know the beauty of the word “no,” not to mention the importance of making time for writing, you can prevent it from being popped.

Think of it in terms of setting the right mood or tone for a chapter in your manuscript. Just like you need to learn to show vs. tell on the page, you need to learn how to supplement all that talk in the previous section with a little demonstration of your commitment. By establishing your space and reinforcing its limits both to yourself and to anyone who might be tempted to intrude, you’re creating a certain vibe that will hopefully give you a clearer head for making with the words and things. Of course, I don’t mean you should be super bitchy to anyone who happens to interrupt you; your roommate doesn’t have to walk on eggshells in his or her own home, and the poor barista who asked you if you wanted a refill doesn’t deserve to have his or her head bitten off. For those you know, come up with a system; my husband actually suggested we choose a safe word for when I need him to pretend I don’t exist and let me play god with my characters for a while. Find whatever works to keep your bubble safe during writing time, and I guarantee your NaNoWriMo experience will be that much more productive this time around.

There are so many ways to get a leg up on this particular challenge, but the best advice I could give is both the easiest and the most difficult to comply with; just do the damn thing. We can talk and plan and prep all day long, but when it comes down to it, accepting the NaNoWriMo challenge is more about giving yourself a reason to reinforce better writing habits and integrate them in your everyday routine. And this doesn’t have to end in November, although we all know that they sometimes go the way of New Year’s resolutions once the challenge is technically over.

So, never let it end. Take the idea of NaNoWriMo and act as if it lasts all year long. Who knows how many words you can write, slash, or even recycle and breathe new life into if you just take the opportunity and make the time?

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