We're in the NaNoWriMo home stretch. Whatever your NaNo has been like, it's nearly over. In a few days, it will be December.
If you're desperately trying to stay focused on your November 30 deadline and keep the words flowing, you may not want to read this just yet. Come back to it when you're ready (though I do recommend reading it before the end of November). But I'm sure I'm not the only one who's already looking ahead—sometimes, let's be honest, as a way of procrastinating—and thinking about how to use the things I've learned and the habits I've built in November to improve my writing and increase my output in December and beyond.
As I've mentioned, my NaNo goal was to do at least one 20-minute sprint a day (except for work crunch days), and to track wordcount but not stress it. In 22 writing days I've written over 16,000 words, split almost evenly between fiction and blogging, averaging over 700 words a day. I've probably written that much in other months—when I was a full-time journalist, when I was in my mid-20s and keeping a personal journal at great length—but I've never tracked it before, and it's amazing to see those numbers adding up. It's like the writing equivalent of those ads about saving a few pennies and ending up with millions, except I actually did it and it actually worked. Obviously I want to keep that momentum going.
Right now, while we're still in the midst of NaNo and can observe it directly rather than in hindsight, is a great time to write down some thoughts about how it's going and what you can learn from it. I hope you're all doing as well with your goals, but if you're not, your experiences can still provide useful data. Here are some questions to get you started.
- What time(s) of day were you most productive, in wordcount terms? What time(s) of day did you have the easiest time getting started or getting into the zone?
- What writing setup—tools, location, music playing or not, with other writers or alone, internet on or off, etc.—made writing easiest for you? What got in your way?
- What arrangements did you make that successfully reduced or prevented interruptions?
- What did you think was going to be useful that turned out not to be useful at all? What was a happy surprise?
- What habits have you built over the course of NaNo that feel sustainable? What did you do that felt okay for a sprint but not sustainable for the long term?
- Which social aspects of NaNo have been useful, and which ones have been detrimental? Which individual people have been most helpful to you during NaNo, and how?
- Divide your wordcount by the number of days when you did at least a little active writing. What's that average? Does that feel like a sustainable average when you're not under NaNo deadline pressure? Ignore maximums; you can't be maximally productive every day. Instead, aim for gradually bringing your average up.
- If you tracked your wordcount during timed writing sprints, what was your average? Estimates are fine.
- What's your current sense of your minimum writing time unit? What's the shortest amount of time that you spent writing and felt productive? What's the longest amount of time you spent writing without burning out? Again, estimates are fine.
- When did you write the words that you were the most proud of or felt the best about, and what were the circumstances like?
- On the days when writing felt easiest, what was going on? What about on the days when writing felt hardest?
- If you felt blocked or distracted, how did you handle that?
- What inspired you and got you excited? What made you feel bad about yourself or your project?
- How did your physical and mental health affect your writing and vice versa?
- What else feels worth making note of?
Don't be afraid to get trivial, or to be very bluntly honest. No one will ever see this questionnaire but you. Treat it like writing in your diary.
Especially make sure to write down the things that you didn't predict or expect. My writing productivity took a hit when my washing machine broke; I had no idea how much of my writing routine relied on regular breaks to stand up, move around, and do a fairly mindless and soothing order-from-chaos task, but it turns out that I really need something like that or I burn out much faster. (I switched to getting a glass of water and writing holiday cards.) I really should have predicted that any writing sprint begun around the time my partners go to bed would be interrupted by saying goodnight, and yet I keep doing that thing, so I need to adjust my expectations from "I can start writing at 10 because my partners go to bed around 10" to "I can start writing after my partners have said goodnight and gone to bed, which sometimes happens later than 10 or starts at 10 but takes a while."
Right now, you don't need to do any goal-setting or other explicit planning for December. You've got your NaNo goal to keep front and center, and after the month is done you will probably want to take a short break from writing and catch your breath. But during that break, before it stretches too long and you lose your momentum, analyze your November data and make a plan for, say, December 7 onward. Resting on your laurels is great; so is striving ahead to the next big goal, ideally at a pace that you can maintain for a good long time.
Thanks again to my Patreon patrons for funding this series, and best of luck to all the NaNo writers out there! Every word is a win and you are all amazing.