Four Ways to Keep Your Writing Habit After NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo is such a wonderful time of year!
However, as with all good things, it has to come to an end eventually... Right?
Well, perhaps not. You see, too often writers put all of their energy into NaNoWriMo, only to lose momentum once November ends. It can be even harder to continue writing if you “failed” NaNoWriMo’s ambitious 50k word count.
I myself have struggled with this (and still do some years!) After my first year taking part in NaNoWriMo, I stalled out by the time December came around and didn’t write anything else for the next two months.
Yep, you heard me right. Nada. Zip. Nothing! I didn’t even look at the story I had just spent 30 days writing for weeks afterwards and it ruined the great writing habits I had built up during November.
That’s the biggest danger this time of year. You create these habits, writing every week if not every day, only to lose them in the buzz of Christmas and New Year’s. As with any habit, keeping up with it is key to making it stick, and writing is no different!
So how can you keep your momentum going after NaNoWriMo and develop the habits you need to write successfully?
Stick to Your NaNoWriMo Goals
A good place to start is with your NaNoWriMo goals!
Why give up after November? Why not keep pushing yourself to meet these word counts each week?
Now I know what you’re going to say; there are a ton of reasons not to push yourself to write 50,000 words each month, burnout being chief among them. And you’re right; if you want to develop a consistent writing practice, setting a measured, steady pace is important.
However, the principle of NaNoWriMo stays the same even after November ends, and you can still take advantage of it!
Over the next few days, sit down with a calendar and look at your average week. How busy are you? What was your most productive writing time during November? Armed with some answers, you should be able to decide how much time you want to spend writing each week, and how much you can realistically finish in that time.
Be generous here though. As I’m sure you know by now, things come up, scenes don’t pan out the way you planned, and setting overly ambitious goals is a surefire way to disappoint yourself. With realistic goals in place (be it a monthly word count or a set of hours each week) you can harness the habits you developed during November and run with them until they feel like second nature!
Create a Writing Sanctuary
Of course, it’ll be easier to meet your goals if you have a writing sanctuary to call home.
I’ve written about the importance of setting up a personal writing sanctuary in the past, but suffice it to say, this is easy to create and equally easy to overlook.
Your writing sanctuary might be a desk pushed into a corner of your home office, a sunny window bay with a comfy chair, or even just your kitchen table. The only requirements are that it’s comfortable for you to write in and quiet enough that you can work without distraction!
What makes this sanctuary so important is that it not only provides you with a place to keep all the tools of your craft (mostly books…), but it also encourages your brain to enter writing mode whenever you sit down.
It’s no different from brushing your teeth or buckling your seatbelt; by repeating the same things over and over in a designated space, you train your brain to complete these tasks by default.
This is hugely beneficial if you suffer from writer’s block, one of the biggest momentum killers in the writing world. If your goal was to write 500 words today, but you spent half of your writing time staring at a blank screen, you probably didn’t meet that goal.
On the other hand, if you harness the combined power of having clear goals and a designated writing sanctuary, you start each day one step ahead of your writer’s block, making you much more likely to stick with it through the weeks and months ahead.
Develop a Plan
Now, with goals in mind and a writing sanctuary to work in, you need a game plan to guide you as you go forward.
This is similar to the outline you might create for your story, except this one focuses on how you'll make time to complete that story!
As with setting goals, this is all about finding what works for you, your lifestyle, and your preferences, though there are a few elements you probably want to include in your game plan;
What is the premise of the story you want to write?
When do you want to be finished with your first draft?
How much time do you want to dedicate to writing each day or week?
How many chapters/scenes/paragraphs do you hope to finish each writing session?
Of course, you can get very specific with these questions, down to exactly which scenes you want to write each day. While I wouldn’t do it that way personally, go with what feels right for you. Essentially, this game plan is there to act as a schedule and keep you on track with your larger goal of completing your novel.
To give you an example of how I write my own game plans, let me show you a sample of one for my current sci-fi novel Wolfdog;
December/Week 1: Write the first draft of the Midpoint, roughly outline the following scenes.
December/ Week 2: Write the 3-4 scenes between the Midpoint and the Second Pinch Point.
December/Week 3: Roughly outline the final scenes of Act 2, including the Third Plot Point.
December/Week 4: Write as much as possible, trying to finish at least one scene throughout the week.
Notice how I front-loaded my writing earlier in the month. The last two weeks of December will be hectic between traveling for the holidays and end-of-year business tasks, so I know I won’t have a ton of writing time to spare.
That’s the key to this game plan; make it work around your preexisting schedule so you have a realistic idea of what you can get done each month and what goals to strive for!
Don’t Sweat It
Finally, for our last step on this list, it’s all about self-care.
If you remember, I opened this post talking about how hard it can be to continue your writing habits once NaNoWriMo ends. A big part of that is the disappointment that comes with “failing” NaNoWriMo.
This failure is different for everyone; some people are overjoyed just to reach 50k, while others are unsatisfied unless their NaNoWriMo novel is publication worthy on the first draft. And many, many people never reach 50k at all (spoiler alert, that’s totally ok!)
What makes you a successful writer isn’t how many words you write in a specific month, or how perfect your prose is on the first try. What makes you a writer is your willingness to keep writing even when life gets in the way, to work slowly and steadily towards your ultimate goal; finishing your novel!
So don’t stress about other people’s word counts, or even about your own.
Even if you sit down for only fifteen or thirty minutes each day and write just a handful of words, before you know it you’ll have a finished story on your hands. Best of all, you’ll get to enjoy the process of writing that story!
I hope you give all of these steps a try and start creating writing habits that’ll last far beyond this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge. A big part of becoming a better and more confident writer is learning from the people who came before you.
In that regard, you’re already one step ahead; there are tons of great resources on Writely Me for you to explore, and you’re always welcome to come visit The Novel Smithy as well! Let us know your thoughts, ask us any questions you have, and soon we’ll be reading your finished novel ourselves.
So how do you plan to create a writing habit this December? Do you have any tips I left out? Leave a comment below!
Lewis Jorstad is a book coach, editor, and certifiable history nerd who teaches others how to tell compelling, memorable stories over at The Novel Smithy. When he isn’t working on his sci-fi adventure novel Wolfdog, you can find him playing old Gameboy games or reading about the nuances of Feudal Japan. You can also check out his free ebook, The Character Creation Workbook, and grab a copy for yourself!