Finding The Time; or How To Fit NaNoWriMo Into Your Life

(This posting originally appeared on The Melt-Ink Pot)

November is upon us, and I, like a lot of my friends, am involved in the frenzy that is NaNoWriMo.

This year’s story is going well. I’m already about 4K words ahead of the minimum pace needed to “win”, and while I know that at least some of what I’ve written during the past couple of days will eventually be edited out, I still feel pretty good about my progress. I definitely recommend writing Victorian-era stories for NaNoWriMo. All those long-winded descriptions, all that wordy dialogue … they really help pile up the word count. Heck, every new character you bring in is worth about 400 words just to make all the appropriate introductions! I’m feeling pretty confident about my chances for success this year.

The first time I did it, though, I was full of doubt. Where could I possibly come up with the time to churn out 1,667 words per day?

I soon learned that there are little bits of time scattered all through your day. The trick is finding them and using them.

Here are some of the places I found spare bits of time:


1) Watch less TV. In fact, give it up altogether if you can. At least for this month.

After all, isn’t that why God gave us TiVo?

I’ll be honest. My Beloved Husband and I don’t watch much television anyway. We’re too cheap to pay for cable, and for years we lived in a canyon of apartment buildings where, while we were less than three miles from downtown Denver, we couldn’t even get most of the Denver stations. So it was pretty easy for us to all but give up television. We mostly use our TV as a device on which to watch DVDs, but I’m even cutting back on that for November. (Season 2 of Rome notwithstanding.) So other than my one hour per week of network television viewing (Supernatural), I’ll mostly be staying away from my TV.

2) Cut back on social media.

Between this blog, two on-line critique groups, LJ, Facebook, and Twitter, it would be easy for me to spend hours on-line just being sociable. While I’m not cutting those things out altogether, I am making a conscious effort to scale back (though you probably couldn’t tell from my Tweet-fest last night…). Just check in once in a while and remind people that you’ve not dropped off the face of the Earth, and that you’ll be more sociable … later.

3) Be prepared to write anywhere, anytime.

I have a netbook, which is great as far as being able to pop it open and start pounding away on the keys at the drop of a hat. Other folks I know use their laptops and AlphaSmarts for the same purpose. But if you can’t afford any of those things, at least carry a little notebook and pencil along with you to capture those nifty turns of phrase that run through your head, or plot bunnies that crop up with new suggestions, or character sketches, or…

I write at work, at lunchtime (with varying degrees of success; my co-workers seem to have difficulty understanding “I’m at lunch right now,” and there is no break room to which I can retreat to show them that really, I’m NOT doing work stuff right now!). On a good day, I can grind out 500-700 words in 30 minutes; yesterday, it was more like 350 in a very scattered fifteen minutes.

Any time I think I will have more than five minutes of sitting still with nothing to do, I whip out the netbook. Waiting for take out pizza. Waiting for (and riding on) the bus. Waiting for the optician’s office to open so they can put the lens that fell out of my glasses last night back in place. Anywhere. Anytime.

4) Stretch the days.

Biological need usually wakes me up about an hour before the alarm goes off. And once I’ve gotten up and tended to that, I’m awake. So why not spend that time writing?

Having trouble falling asleep? Work on your NaNo for half an hour, then try again. Usually works for me, and with the added benefit of piling up a word count while fixing the insomnia problem.

5) Pre-visualize.

All those boring meetings you attend at work, all that time spent in line at the DMV, all the minutes wasted listening to your mother-in-law catalogue your shortcomings* … these all used to frustrate me during November, because I could be using that time to write, dammit! Then I figured out how to use the time to my advantage: Spend those stray minutes setting up your next scene in your head. Rehearse bits of dialogue, toy with different ways to describe your hero’s tumbling brown locks, plan the logistics of exactly how SuperSpy will steal those top secret plans from the underground bunker. Then when you *do* get to sit down and write, you have a far better idea of where you want to go.

6) Strategic Eating:

Now, I’m not saying that you have to eat out for the entire month. But sometimes, grabbing burgers on the way home really is the answer. Quick, cheap, fills the gap, keep going.

Alternatively, plan your meals out so that you can squeeze in a little writing while you’re waiting — like my take-out pizza example above. The guys at our favorite pizza joint are used to me coming in and ordering pizza to go and a Fat Tire for here, then plopping myself and my bottle at a table and working away for fifteen or twenty minutes.

If you really can’t afford to eat out, plan your meals so as to get the most bang for your buck. That big pot of chicken soup I made for Halloween is still feeding us; I just finished the leftover spaghetti that was also good for three meals.

Alternatively, look for good sales on microwaveable dinners, canned soups, and other prepared foods. Don’t neglect good nutrition, but save the gourmet cook-fests for December.


“But,” I can already hear you saying, “I can’t write in just five or ten minutes! I need an hour, maybe two, just to get warmed up!”

Actually, you’d be surprised. First, see #5 above. If you already have part of a scene pre-visualized and waiting to be written, you can usually get it down pretty quickly.

Another trick: Don’t stop at the end of a scene. Finish a scene, then force yourself to write the first couple of lines to the next scene. Then you’ll be in the middle of the action, and it’ll be easier to pick up again.

If all else fails, and you only have five minutes and are certain you can’t get anything done in that time, that’s an excellent time to read back over the last page or two that you wrote and see if there are any places you need to add in a description or clarify the action. At least, that way, when you have a few more minutes, you’ll be better organized.

So those are my tips — at least the ones I can think of right now. How do you squeeze more writing time into your day?

* No, my m-i-l doesn’t actually do this.


About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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