Lessons learned from writing a novel in a month
Yesterday, I completed the novel I was writing for National Novel Writing Month. I had 30 days to write a 50,000 word novel. I had no doubt I would finish the novel in time—this is the 3rd one I’ve written over the last ten years, so I knew I had it in me. (I do it in five-year increments.) But it still feels really good.
I was much busier with work this year than I was in 2004 and 2009, so writing my novel required me to get up an hour early to squeeze in my words.
I got to thinking this morning about some of the lessons I learned from this year’s experience. Here they are:
- Strive for imperfect. By embracing imperfection with this novel, I took the pressure off myself. For me, it was about achieving the goal of completing the novel, not about writing something amazing.
- I can find an extra hour in the day. It took me about an hour each day to write my word quota. I almost always did it at the beginning of the day, which meant I just got up early. If I can do that to write a novel, I can do it for other activities like, say, exercising. (“I’m too busy” is feeling like a lame excuse not to exercise.)
- Short term goals are easier to achieve. If I’d set out to write a novel in a year, I probably would have quit after a fairly short time. Knowing I had to do this for only 30 days made it a lot easier to start. I think this applies to all sorts of habit-creation goals. If I tell myself I’ll do something daily for a week (or even two days), I’m a lot more likely to be successful than if I set a one-month or six-month goal.
- Setting interim goals and tracking progress is really helpful. 50,000 divided by 30 is 1667. So I knew my daily word quota. And, thanks to the awesome spreadsheet my friend Shannon Wilkinson created for us in 2009 when we were working on a NaNoWriMo novel, I knew exactly where I stood each day. Filling in my word count every day and seeing if I was above or below my daily goal and my running goal for the month was really rewarding. It felt much more powerful than just keeping an eye on my total word count of the book.
- Slow and steady wins the race. I talk with my clients all the time about how if they work on decluttering or organizing just 15 minutes a day, they’ll eventually get it done. I wrote this novel 1667 words at a time. On my biggest writing day I wrote 2053 words and on my most challenging day, I wrote 976, in an airport, waiting for my flight. But generally I wrote between 1600 and 1700 words each day.
- Getting the big task done first thing in the morning can be powerful. I would not have wanted my words hanging over my head all day. If I hadn’t been able to write first thing in the morning, I bet I would not have finished this novel. (There were some days where I couldn’t get all my words in before leaving the house and I finished them at the end of the day. But every day I at least started.) A couple of months ago, I decided to blog every morning before doing anything else and that has really helped me get my blogging done. For me, anyway, the eat that frog theory of non-procrastination is very powerful.
I don’t feel the need to prove to myself every year that I can do this, because, frankly, writing a novel in a month isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. But every five years I seem to get the itch. I’ll have to start thinking about what other seemingly impossible month-long activities I might try in the alternate years!
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