How To Write Your Novel
If you’ve got “write a novel” on your bucket list, but haven’t ever done it, NaNoWriMo– National Novel Writing Month— in November of each year is an opportunity for you to change that. It’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants global event with the goal of writing a 50,000 (or more) word novel in 30 days or less (by the end of November).
“But I’m a lowly/ tired/ overworked/ underpaid/ busy/ overwhelmed/ barely-keeping-it-together stay-at-home-mom,” you might say. Maybe you’re the mom of toddlers. Maybe you’re a homeschool mom. Perhaps you have multiple preschoolers clamoring for your attention (phrases like “color with me” and “help me go potty, mommy” fill your days).
All of these are truly challenging, you’ll get no argument from me about that. I’ve been in each of those scenarios, multiple times over, and– trust me– I get it.
Nonetheless, here I am, encouraging you to consider participating in NaNoWriMo.
WHO SHOULD PARTICIPATE?
A few caveats, first:
(1) If you have a newborn, please don’t think I’m aiming this at you. Snuggle in and nurse your newborn and take in these irreplaceable moments, and don’t feel the least bit guilty for resting and bonding and sleeping and barely-keeping-your-head-above-water for as long as you need to.
(2) If you’re not a writer— and by that I mean something akin to this quote by Sylvia Plath, “I write only because there is a voice within me that will not be still”– there is no shame in just being who you are and not taking on extra commitments and guilt for something that’s not how God created you to be. Please don’t think I’m aiming this at you.
(3) If this isn’t the right season of life for you to participate (and only you can be the judge of this– I passed by a half dozen years of NaNoWriMo before the time came for me to participate), please don’t take on a lick of guilt. Pass right on by this article and seriously, don’t make this part of the cacophany of voices making you feel guilty for not doing or being enough.
To all of you, I say: Go in peace.
But for the rest of you…
To the stay-at-home mom who has been bursting to get a story out onto paper, the woman who used to write but hasn’t lately and feels the loss of it, the gal who wonders if she can do it, the girl who loves a good gauntlet thrown down and feels the adrenaline rushing the minute there’s a goal to achieve… whoever you are, and whatever your reasons are for participating, you may be wondering, Can I really do it?
Read on, sister.
WHAT SHOULD I WRITE?
While some people use NaNoWriMo to propel them forward in their short story or poetic writings, the main thrust of NaNoWriMo is novel writing (thus the “No”– standing for novel).
Never written a novel before?
Neither had I. Until NaNoWriMo 2012. With 5 kids in tow (and our 6th in utero), I jumped in with both feet, wrote like crazy, and got to 53,000 words in the month of November.
But (in Cat-In-the-Hat phrasing), that wasn’t all, oh no, that wasn’t all.
Because I was a NaNoWriMo finalist (meaning, I reached that 50,000 word goal), I earned the right to receive 5 professionally-printed copies of my novel from CreateSpace (an incredible prize!). But though I’d written 50,000+ words, I hadn’t actually *FINISHED* my novel. So in June 2013, I took time to finish up my novel (bringing it near 75,000 words) and then ordered my printed copies.
What a wonderful prize!
And even though I knew they were coming, it was utterly delightful, and overwhelming, to hold a copy of my novel. I couldn’t stop smiling. I’d done it. What’s more, I knew I wanted to do it again.
In 2013, I did it again. Despite a computer crash, ER-level migraines that kept me from writing for 5 days, my husband losing his job, and having to move out of our home because of water damage, I made it JUST past the 50,000 mark on the afternoon of November 30th, 2013. I can’t wait to hold this one in my hands too!
So, my advice to you this: WRITE. YOUR. NOVEL. It’s the one only you can write.
WHEN CAN I WRITE?
Here’s a list of ideas specifically crafted for the busy stay-at-home-mom to participate in NaNoWriMo:
- Wake up an hour or two (or even three) before the kids wake up. Write like the dickens, or write like Dickens. Either way works.
- Write while they eat. Choose & prepare easy things for you (power bars, salads prepped the night before that you can just pull from a plastic tupperware in the fridge) so that while the kids are eating, you can use that 20-40 minute time slot to write like mad.
- Write while they nap. If your kids don’t nap, implement a one or two hour quiet time each day where looking at/reading books or quiet drawing/coloring are the only options. They’ll be the better for it, and your novel will be the better for it.
- Write while they play. Set them up with toys near you (within 5-10 feet of you) each on a separate blanket, or in a separate spot, and let them play with one toy set at a time. You could even set a timer, where they can trade out to a new set every 20 minutes or so. Then, write as much as you can while they play independently.
- Write while they run around in the backyard or at the park. Let them run out their craziness while you write seated nearby. If you’re at the park, you’ll only want to do this if you’re the only one at the park at that particular time, but in your backyard, shut the fence and let them run like wild banshees while you crank out a few scenes.
- Write after they go to bed. Get them in bed by 8. Even the sleepiest among us can afford to stay up until 10 to get in two hours of writing. Or, you could stay up until 1 or 2 and get a crazy-huge amount of writing in.
- Write once your husband gets home from work. Assuming he’s on board with this thing, ask him to pitch in extra during this one month a year and take over for you once he gets home. You hop on back to your bed and write like mad.
- Write while they read/color/listen to audiobook/watch a movie. I’m loathe to suggest that last option. TV-watching/movie is not something you want to make a habit of, and yes, I realize I’m talking to moms living in a crazy screen-addicted nation. Nonethless, NaNoWriMo may be a good reason to allow a little extra TV viewing. (And there are EXCELLENT programs like The Magic School Bus, National Geographic videos about animals, MathTacular!, and Liberty’s Kids that would actually be beneficial.)
WHERE CAN I WRITE?
Of course, I just gave you a slew of ideas. Here’s a few more:
- Seated on a stool at the kitchen counter.
- At the dining table while the family eats.
- On your couch while they play around you.
- Propped up in your bed while your husband snores.
- At your local coffee shop (although this is too distracting for me, some people find it productive)
- While you take one kid to play rehearsal/music lesson/sports practice
HOW CAN I WRITE?
This one usually pertains to, “I’m so busy”, “the kids are so wild”, “the house will be a wreck”, “what will we eat?” sort of reasons.
- Let the house go to pot. Yes, this is particular meant for you, house-cleaning-nazi mom (this would not be me). For you, you have permission to let the house go a little haywire for a month. It could mean the difference between holding a lovely printed copy of your novel in your own hands, and not.
- CUT BACK on things that will make more work for you. Let the kids wear pajamas all day to cut back on laundry. Use paper plates. For the month of November, don’t buy the granola bars that have the little bits of oats that the kids inevitably spill all over the floor. Structure your life with more intentional simplicity this month.
- CONVENIENCE FOOD. This doesn’t have to mean no nutrition, mind you. But your food choices need to be faster and more leftover-friendly this month. Consider meals like: a big pot of soup that can last for 2-3 meals, frozen pizza stashed away to use in a pinch, salad & fixings that can be prepped all at once and left in the fridge to grab and use for the next 3-5 days, etc.
- STOP the Candy-crushing. STOP the Pinning. STOP the mindless habitual Facebook browsing. STOP the blog-hopping. Cut out the unnecessary and unhelpful. Don’t even go there. Exercise a massive amount of self-discipline and don’t even go there. OR, set a daily goal with these things as your “carrot” for reaching the goal (i.e., “Every time I reach an increment of 5,000 in my word count, I can browse Pinterest for an hour.”).
- STOP using the internet function on your computer. This is another means of disciplined self-control. You can turn off your wi-fi or just not open your web browser. It only takes a few days for your habits to shift & you’ll be off and writing!
- Get your spouse on board. You’ll get so much more accomplished if they agree that this is a fruitful use of your extra time for the month of November, and agree to help out more than normal. Ask for their support in not griping about the house going to pot and the meals being less fancy, and perhaps even for some full-time solo parenting while you write in solitude.
- If you’re a homeschool mom, consider not schooling for the month of November, or at least doing less schooling. Perhaps you’re in a state that requires you to do it. Fine, no problem– get after it! And write at other times. Or, assign work they can do independently, and take a break from read-alouds with mom during this month. Older students can join you in the Young Writer’s Program of NaNoWriMo as part of their writing/language subject matter. Last year, I started schooling in July so taking a break in November was no big deal. There were still days when they asked to do it, and so I went ahead and put together their work so that they could be productive in school while I was productively writing. But at least consider how you can creatively shift their schooling around to allow for your writing to be most productive.
- Keep your Thanksgiving plans in a tight box. It doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate, but don’t let it consume days and days and days of your time. If it’s important to you, treat it like a weekend “off”: set aside a day to cook, and a day to celebrate, but then GET BACK to writing.
- Jump on my NaNoWriMo Pinterest board, get yourself a quick visual peptalk, and then get back to writing!
- Set goals. Goals help you along. On the NaNoWriMo user dashboard, there’s a wonderful little bar chart that lets you visually track your progress toward the 50k wordcount goal. Use it. Set daily goals. “Before I go to sleep tonight, I’ll hit 6,000.” “I’m going to crank out two scenes before I go get groceries.” And set overarching goals. “I’m going to write 5 days a week and each day I’m going to write at least 2,000 words.” “If I fall behind one day, I’m going to work to get ahead the next day.” Goals will help you make forward progress, and ultimately make you a NaNoWriMo finalist.
I’m publishing this in time for you to clear your calendar, talk it over with your spouse, and ready yourself for a crazy-fun crazy-fast month of November.
Write because you can’t NOT write.
Write because the story is inside you and keeps churning until it spills itself out on the page. Write because you have a perspective on life, the world, God, family, adventure, or love that only you can tell. Write because you have always said you would, and now’s your chance to try. Write because you are an interesting gal who takes risks and loves the challenge. Write because you need to.
Write for your own reasons.
But, my friend, write.
Will you be joining me for NaNoWriMo this year? Check out my NaNoWriMo Pinterest board. And please share your thoughts, excitement, feedback, or literary successes in the comments below.
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