Tackling NaNoWriMo While in School (and as a Post Grad)

The last time I participated in NaNoWriMo as was back in 2009 when I was a sophomore in college, justing getting the hang of the full college experience: extracurricular clubs, nights out, homework, and class. It’s already a lot to fit on your plate, and what’s more, November is right around that magical time when finals are creeping up and term papers are coming due.

I remember thinking how ridiculous it was for me to try and tackle NaNoWriMo on top of all that. That’s probably the reason I didn’t participate for the next three years–I knew what it involved and school kept getting harder.

But now, on my second real attempt, I am in a very different situation–graduated and working a professional part-time with my weekends and weeknights completely free.

Shouldn’t this mean NaNoWriMo 2012 will be easier? Logically, yes, it should. And the fact that I believe this is what worries me. The upside is that when I inevitably fall behind due to inflated sense of ease, I will have more time (presumably) to catch up. It also helps that I’m old enough to buy wine this time around.

But back to being a student: when it comes to trying to fit NaNoWriMo into the busiest November, there are some distinct tips I remember being very helpful for me. And while my situation is different now, I’d love to pass them along to those who still need them.

1) Knock out at least a few hundred words just after midnight on November 1st. It’s terribly inconvenient that NaNoWriMo starts while you’re still out celebrating halloween, but if you can come back from the party and manage to stay awake for a little while, just start writing. If you have had a few drinks, you won’t even think about your first sentence. You are completely uninhibited and can just start writing. I got about 300 words written before I was too tried to continue, but it made me excited to get up the next morning and I already had something to start with so there was no blank-page lag.

2) Write during every pocket of time you can find. This is hard because you (presumably) work hard at everything you do in school and feel like you deserve a break, but not during November. You need to use those breaks between class to get work done. Bring your computer (or whatever you’re writing on) everywhere you go. You never know when you can knock out a few hundred words and they can really add up.

3) Write during class (if you can). I probably shouldn’t suggest this, but it’s definitely part of how I was able to finish NaNo ’09. I had to prioritize my classes–which ones I had to pay attention in and which ones could I spend writing. Now, it worked out well for me because of the pick of classes I had that semester, but do not put yourself behind or in a bad situation just because of NaNo. There are other times to write besides in class and you will find them. But if you are already zoning out in a class, why not use that time to get some writing done?

4) Plan your breaks. You need mental breaks to keep going in such a stressful time. Watch tv during meals, write more during the week so you can take weekends off, etc. If you think you’ll just “make it up at the end,” you will be very upset with yourself when you’re rushing like crazy while your family is stuffing themselves with turkey. Plan your breaks.

5) It’s all about pacing. Always stay ahead of the word count in case something comes up–a big project or a rescheduled meeting–and make sure you just keep with it. Stick to your planned breaks and stick to your daily minimums. This is really not negotiable. Trust me. The minute you fall behind and have to make up three days of writing in addition to a 5-10 page essay for class, you will simply quit. Don’t put yourself in that situation.

When I participated, I finished the night I got home on Thanksgiving break after knocking out about 8,000 words sitting in the airport. I was able to enjoy the entire break at home with my family and bask in the glory of my victory. Ahhh success.


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