Tomorrow is November 1, and for tons of writers out there that means it’s the start of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Writers round the world gird their loins and get ready to crank out fifty thousand words in thirty days. It’s a ton of work, and there’s a lot of prep that goes into it if you want to succeed. I came across a blog this morning by author Katherine Bogle with some tips to help with the NaNo prepping, which I thought was really useful.
But it got me thinking. What about people like me, people who love the idea of NaNoWriMo but aren’t writers?
I used to do NaNoWriMo, but a few years ago I decided to do a switch on the traditional focus, and instead applied it to my photography business. Basically, I wanted to crank and produce in November still, but in a way that was really beneficial to me. The idea of NaNo is that you override the judgmental sensor and produce content. You finally create the thing you’ve been wanting to do but have been putting off for various reasons. It’s a marathon work month, and I’ve found that, even switching focus, I look forward to November and the volume of stuff I’ll have under my belt by the time December rolls around.
I am writing this post because I think every single person can benefit from the concept of NaNoWriMo, if you apply it to you in a way that fits. Maybe you’re buried in boxes in your basement and you just can’t seem to find the time to go through them. Maybe you want to try your hand at sketching, but can’t seem to make the practice a priority. Maybe you want to start doing videos, but the voice inside your head keeps telling you you’re not good enough and no one would ever want to watch them. OR maybe you’re like me, weighed down by so many photo shoots that need editing that it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are a million and one things you can do in November and apply NaNo to.
Here are my top five tips to figure out what to do this November and how to be successful at it:
1- Figure out what you want to focus on
Think about the things in your life. What would feel SO GOOD if it got finished? What would lift a weight off your shoulders? What is something you’ve always wanted to try, but keep talking yourself out of? These are the things you want to pick your November focus from. The point is about producing a result, overriding the internal judgement, and just crank. I have a friend who isn’t writing a novel, but she wants to work on writing blog posts. I know another person who wants to get back into their art, something they loved but haven’t managed to make a priority. Take some time to look at the different things bouncing around in your head and in your life. What do you think you can tackle and not dread doing every day for a month? That’s a good place to start.
2- Set boundaries that push you and yet are doable
The way the NaNoWriMo goals breaks down is to 1667 words written every single day for thirty days. Ideally you’d write every day, but realistically I don’t think that ever happens. So you have to write a little more on other days to make up for what you’ve missed. You focus on both the end outcome of 50K words written and the daily work needed to get there. These are the things I thought about when I started stepping away from traditional NaNo. Basically, my thoughts went like this: “If I’m managing to write 1667 words a day, on average, how long am I writing? I know when I’m in a good writing place I can usually write about 1000 words in an hour. So … maybe up to 2 hours a day working on whatever my focus is.”
You need to set a goal that both challenges you, and yet isn’t overwhelming on a daily basis, or even if you miss some days and have to stack stuff up. My goal this year is to do both 90 mins of work every day, and at least three photos edited. I’m slow at editing, so this is a good goal for me. And basically, it gets me working well. If I edit three photos in an hour, I’ll still have to work for 30 more minutes. If 90 minutes has passed and I’ve only done two photos, I have to do at least one more. I figure, that’s something that will push me and yet seems doable. At the end of the day, if I fall behind, numbers of photos edited is the end goal, so that’s what I’ll focus on, but I’m going to try and focus on both number edited and time working. I’m also planning on posting a photo a day to instagram, to help me have a physical thing I’m doing to be accountable to the larger world.
3- Find people in your circle who want to crank too
I think part of the reason I can succeed at this every November is having people in my life who are also on the crazy NaNo journey. Most of the people I know who tackle it are writers, but it honestly doesn’t matter, as long as we’re focused and working and making it a priority. It helps so much to be able to have someone to check in with, even if it’s a quick text saying you’re done, or having weekly work dates where you all focus on your goals. It makes a world of difference.
4- Be clear with your goal so you don’t get sidetracked
I know for a fact that once I’m in the edits I’m going to think of a ton of other things I can/want/should be doing. And they’re probably also really important, honestly. But what I will do is keep a notebook handy and jot down any ideas or nudges that feel urgent so that I don’t forget, but then stay true to the path. Here’s an example. I want to send each shoot I edit to the stock site I am a part of. I will want to update my website with them. Submit them to magazines. And yes, all of this is stuff that’s important and that I want to do, but I won’t put my overall goal aside to get these things done, and then justify it by saying well, it’s still sort of similar, and I did work on them sort of today, so that counts. No, it doesn’t. I set my goals and that’s what I’m focusing on. If I have extra time in the day to do these things, awesome. But first priority will be what I decided, and I am determined not to let the new shiny idea sidetrack me. There will be days the work feels like it’s in the trenches, for sure, so I need to remember the end goal to keep me focused and remind myself that it’s worth it.
5- Look at your schedule
You are committing to yourself with this NaNo project. And so often we are the first to fall by the wayside when other things come along. But you’re worth committing to, and so to help with success take a look at your schedule during November and help set yourself up for success. When can you do your daily work? Is there a time that will be most productive to you? What about days when there are other important things happening (Thanksgiving, anyone?), how will you be sure to do what needs done then? I’m not saying you shouldn’t skip a day here or there when you need to, but you do need to make sure this is and remains a priority in November, and that means putting it towards the top of the list. Maybe you have to cook all day on Thanksgiving. Well, then, do a bit extra the day before and a bit extra the weekend after. Plan for the breaks and you’ll be way less likely to get overwhelmed and more likely to complete the goal you set out for yourself.
I hope this little list helps! I really do think the time and energy commitment of a NaNoWriMo project is totally worth it, and I encourage everyone to try it. The feeling of getting so much done is so good for your psyche, and you can really be proud of what you’ve accomplished. I’d love to hear what you’re interested in focusing on, and please keep in touch! I’ll be on my Instagram, probably hashtag #photonano or something like that, and of course on my business facebook page. I am wishing you all the best of luck cranking this November!