Someone asked me this question:
Dear Zane. I’m participating in the NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. It’s so hard to find the time to write, especially when you have little children and a job. How do you do it?
It is a question that pops up every NaNoWriMo. Every writer has a period in his life when he asks himself this question: where do I find the time. Especially when you have a day job, whether that is your child(ren) or a job, or both.
The answer is simple. It can be hard. Especially for new NaNoWriMo’s. Last year I managed to rush through those 50.000 words by spending all my off-work time on writing. I hardly cooked, I neglected my child and spouse. I finished early, but it just wasn’t worth it. Last year I had a story I desperately wanted to tell. It was an accumulation of about 14 years not-writing. A dam broke at the start of November and I had to ride the flood wave in order to stay on top of it.
It may be for you like that, that’s fine. But you probably wouldn’t ask that question if it were like that.
I can tell you how I’m doing it this year.
I get up at my usual 05:00, but instead of making my breakfast and lunch and playing the piano, I use that hour to write (on my office-working days). On my way to the office, I buy my breakfast and lunch. That’s not as healthy as my home-made delicacies, but hey, it is only for one month. It gets me one hour of writing time, a precious hour because I’m still fresh.
During my lunch break I usually practice Tai Chi for half an hour. My colleagues and I eat at the computer and work through our lunch, and by taking that half hour away from work, I get a much-needed break from work during the day. This November I skip my Tai Chi and use those 30 minutes (and I will probably add 30 minutes of private time) to write. I bring my Transformer Prime tablet with keyboard dock and my Molekine reporter + fountain pen.
This way I have two hours to write without taking that time away from my loved ones.
For me it will probably be all the time I can spend on working days, because after work, groceries, cooking my brain is in an almost vegetative state and I’m glad if I can remember my name by then, let alone write a story.
For catching up, there’s the weekends. This year I’m so unfortunate to have an actual social life in November. Don’t know where that came from, it pounced on me, knowing it was the worst time of the year for me to have one. So I have responsibilities during the weekends. Responsibilities that keep me from *aargh* writing. But in theory, the weekends would be catch up time. And getting up an hour earlier than usual may still work.
So, what can you do?
Carry a little notebook with you and a pen or pencil.
Carry a voice recorder. Or your smartphone with a voice recorder app. Last winter I have often used a voice recorder because I wanted to write when my hands were occupied. My mouth wasn’t. Rather than learning to use a pen with my mouth, I used a voice recorder app. Talking to yourself felt very weird for the first minutes, but soon it was fun to do. I had to remind myself to stop doing it when I wasn’t recording. People were giving me funny looks. Bottom line, once you get used to it and overcome your awkwardness, it can work really well.
Notebooks are there for quick scribbles. Everyone can find a spare five minutes (or even one) to scribble something. Brainstorm. Jot down whatever you can think of.
Use your children (if you have them). Tell them little stories you make up on the spot. Brainstorm out loud with them. If they are old enough to actively participate, let them. Let them brainstorm, do it together and see where it takes you.
Point of all of this is to keep the creativity flowing. This will ferment you story in your head. The more creative moments you can feed it, the better. When you can finally sit down at your computer, let all those bottled up words burst out. Don’t try to find structure in them, just type them down. Or write them by hand, if you are a handwriting-person. Let it out. You will be amazed what will escape if you let it. Look at the empty screen or paper place your hands on your writing-medium of choice, close your eyes and start typing/writing.
You can’t do the NaNoWriMo without real motivation. Writing 50.000 words in 30 days is quite a chore for non-writers, so it takes more than a whim. You must be motivated to do it. That can take a bit of effort (or else you wouldn’t have asked me that question, now would you?).
Make yourself the promise that you will write every day. Doesn’t matter how much you will write. Doesn’t matter how long you will write. But you will sit down in your writing spot every day and write for some time.
Pledge this to yourself. Write it on a sheet of paper and tack it to the door. Alright, this doesn’t have to be the outside of your frontdoor, but any door you regularly see will do. That way, you remind yourself about it.
Schedule your fixed writing time in your calendar and set an alarm for that time. If you use a digital calendar and/or a smartphone, you can do that easily.
Get up an hour early or go to bed an hour late to give you that extra time. Two sessions of an hour may be more easy for you to schedule than one block of two hours. Or may you have only time for three sessions of half an hour. Most people need 45 minutes to really get into their writing zone. One hour of uninterrupted writing is therefore a good minimum duration for a session. But hey, if you don’t have the time, settle for less. It doesn’t matter. As long as you schedule at least one session every day. That creates a habit, and once you do this for several days that habit gets easier and easier.
Just stay true to your promise. Maybe you will skip a day. Because you get sick. Because your were kidnapped by an UFO and really couldn’t escape for a day. Maybe World War III broke out. That too doesn’t matter. You can skip a day. You really shouldn’t but it’s no biggy. Just pick up the next day. Don’t beat yourself on the head with it. Don’t think that you have failed. Those 50.000 words are just an arbitrary number you know. You don’t have to write all of those. NaNoWriMo is about writing recklessly, with abandon. Writing for writing’s sake. The number of words is really very trivial. As long as you strive to write every day. As long as you pick yourself up when you stumble and keep on writing.
Last: you don’t have to write one book for the NaNoWriMo. It can be parts of several stories. You can write lengthy blogposts about writing. You can write snippets or short stories. You can write one story, but skip through it, leaving out the scenes you don’t want to write (just yet).
For this month it is quantity that matters, not quality. And I don’t mean quantity as in: find the most words, fluff them up. No, quantity is about creating a habit. It is the writing that counts, not that it is a beautifully crafted story already at the first draft. Because really, even for published writers, it rare is. First drafts suck. The NaNoWriMo teaches you that it is okay. Polishing comes later. First, get those words out of your head and onto paper. Or screen. Just don’t write with a pen on your screen and blame me for it.
Now. Go write.