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Now That You’re Writing, Keep Going

11/09/2010

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, or even if you’re just trying to write a book on your own, you may already be noticing how the excitement of getting started begins to slip away. That first week may have the thrill of any new beginning, but by the middle of Week 2, it may already start to feel a little tedious, or less important than it did at the beginning of the month.  

Writing is a habit like any other. Like exercise or any other discipline, it takes some time for it to become part of your routine. The experts say it takes about a month for a good habit to take root, which is another reason I see value in NaNoWriMo: if you’re really doing it, by the end of November, you should have formed the habit of writing.  
 
So here are four more pieces of advice to keep your momentum going.
 
1. No e-mail! In order to write you really need to get into the zone, and to get into the zone you need to be distraction-free. E-mail interrupts our attention span and scatters our concentration. I love e-mail, but it’s the enemy — so I ration myself. When I’m writing, I’ll check email at scheduled intervals. I police myself with a computer program called Freedom, which blocks Internet access for periods of time up to eight hours. If you don’t want to download another computer program, use an hourglass or a kitchen timer, if the ticking doesn’t drive you crazy. But do whatever you have to in order to get yourself at least 30-60 minutes of uninterrupted, undistracted writing time at a sitting.
 
2. Set interim goals. While NaNoWriMo’s target is a “short novel” of 50,000 words, a full-length novel can be anywhere from 75,000 to 150,000 words, or even longer. You can’t think about writing 150,000 words (400 pages); you’ll panic and paralyze yourself. But if you write 1,000 words a day, you can finish the first draft of a 200-page novel in less than three months, even if you take some weekend days off.
 
3. Work toward a deadline. NaNoWriMo’s deadline is November 30, but even if you’re not participating, you’ll see that your life presents natural deadlines: the end of the year, your next birthday, your 25th high school reunion, etc. Everyone needs deadlines.
 
4. Reward yourself. One of the biggest challenges of writing is turning off the internal critic, the part of your brain that second-guesses everything you’re doing, or harps on all that stuff you’re not doing while you’re writing. Override those voices by promising yourself rewards for getting work done. “When I hit 5,000 words, I’m going to the movies,” or even, “When I finish this paragraph, I can have another cup of coffee.” It worked in kindergarten and it works for me now.
 
And I’ll add this, while I’m handing out advice: more quickly than you might expect, you’ll figure out what works for you. Every writer I know has his or her own way of getting the job done, whether it’s scheduling cups of coffee or doling out M&Ms as a reward for meeting word count targets. There is no right or wrong here, as long as your word count continues to rise. Good luck!