Whether you’re getting ready for a writing routine like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a weekend retreat or – like me – a summer break from university, I find I get a lot more done during the allotted time if I’ve taken a moment to look at the big picture. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantster, a little advance planning can go a long way to ensuring maximum success.
What must be done before the push?
I’m going on a weekend writing retreat with my writer’s group at the end of the month. One of the first things I do when preparing for an event is check my calendar. Australian taxes are due that weekend so I need to make sure I’ve mailed them before then. If I have any blogs due around that period, I’ll write them earlier and set them to post on the correct day.
In order to focus on getting the most amount of writing done that weekend, we’re planning some very easy meals – bagged salad, baked chicken, apples and nuts for snacks. Because I’m the primary grocery shopper at home, and because John is having a Guy’s Xbox Party while I’m gone, I’ve already started buying things that are on sale (cookies this week! Okay, so it won’t be all nutritious snacks!) that I think we’ll need for our weekend events. The day I get home is a birthday party, so I’ll make sure the card and gift are ready, too. This is all shopping I’ll have to finish at least a day or two before I leave. (And I have to keep up with all my homework, too!)
Also, if there’s time, I’ll try to get some brainstorming done, get my work for the weekend organized, etc. Too often, this ends up being the first thing I do during my writing push because I was doing all those other things to get ready to leave. 🙂
What must be done during the push?
It’s easier to decide how I feel about a weekend or week or NaNo if I know what I’m aiming for. Sometimes, just writing every day is a success. Other times, I want to get a certain number of words written, or get to a certain point in the project. When I make a goal, even a range (for example, aim for 50,000 words during NaNo, choose to be happy if I hit 35,000), it gives me a better idea of whether I think I did well, or whether I need to change how I do things in order to get more done next time.
Let me encourage you to make your goals your own. If you don’t write 50,000 words during NaNo or you don’t write a book in a week (BIAW), it’s only a problem if you think it is. There are plenty of ways to choose your goal – a certain number of words or chapters written, a certain amount of editing, finish a section or the project, write a synopsis, write flat out without stopping to think about your choices (this can be fun), write for a certain number or minutes or hours per day or per week, or anything else you can come up with. Be as risky or as safe as you want.
There are some things that need to be done – avoiding distractions – that are more like “things not to do.” Consider using an email vacation reply if your writing push is short enough like a week or a weekend. You could choose not to look at and/or answer email at all until your writing day is over. You could give yourself a one-hour lunch break every day when you can do anything you want – including email. I think you can see now that I think email is the biggest distraction! 🙂 I bought a downloadable program called Freedom that disables my Internet connection for a user-determined number of minutes. That also keeps me from too much Internet research when I want to be writing.
What might you plan to do after?
Depending on the length of the push – a weekend or a month – you may feel nearly overwhelmed by the catch-up work that comes later. I’ve found that sometimes the number of things I put off in November to hit my 50,000-word target have kept me in catch-up mode into January because Christmas takes away most of my “free” time in December. I haven’t always thought NaNo worth it come January. By then I feel so behind, and I often haven’t written much on the project that I just spent a whole month straight working on – so I’ve lost momentum, too.
But if I can plan some time into my calendar for catch-up work, the strain is less. Consider blocking out some time in the first week back for extra email time, laundry, shopping, extra family time, and to organize what you did during the push so that you lose the least amount of momentum. I’ve heard too many friends say they hate taking a vacation because coming back to work after a week or two is punishing. They are overwhelmed at how behind they are or feel they are. Other friends spend a grueling amount of time at work in the week before to try to offset the pain in coming back. It doesn’t matter how you handle it, but if you think about it before you even leave, you may find there are ways to lessen the burden.
I hope this gives you some food for thought as you prepare for your next writing push. If you’re going to do NaNoWriMo this year, some of these ideas may help you get more accomplished without running yourself ragged. I’m going to use these principles for my 3-day writing retreat in a few weeks, and then again for my 3-month summer break from university starting mid-November. I’ll have to adjust the planning for a very short period and for a very long period.
If you have any planning methods that help you during NaNo or BIAW or any other writing push, share them here. It’s always fun to find new ways to get more writing done!
Note: If you’re interested in more on this topic, I’ll be teaching an online class on goal-setting and time management in January for OCC. Check back for more details in the next couple months!
Kitty Bucholtz is the co-founder of Routines for Writers, a web site dedicated to helping writers write more. She writes romance novels, light urban fantasy novels for adults and young adults, and magazine articles. She is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Creative Writing program at University of Technology, Sydney.