NaNoWriMo 2009: Prepare More Than Just Your Story

Part of the lure of NaNoWriMo is the freedom to focus on nothing but your story for thirty days, to let go of all your other obligations and surrender yourself to story.  It’s a lovely image, I’ll grant you–right up until the point where you realize there are three stacks of laundry, two children, and a day job in the way.  If it’s not one of those obstacles, it’s something else: even with the most understanding of families/employers, real life seldom has respect for the fact that you’re hunched over your keyboard climbing a personal mountain.  You can’t shield yourself against all possible detractions, but there’s nothing wrong with putting your house in order literally and metaphorically while you wait for November to get here.

Get your Donna Reed on.  Book a weekend or parse out as deep a housecleaning as you can manage between now and November 1, and don’t forget the closets.  Look ahead to the housekeeping chores that you hate most and would be the most likely to keep you from riding a word count high and do what you can to get them done now.  Laundry you probably can’t escape, but nothing says your bathroom can’t get a good scouring now and make do with nothing but a wipe-down around November 15.  Wash your sheets, air your kitchen: you’ll not only end up with less chores in November, but you’ll enter the month feeling very smug and prepared, and anything you can do to stoke your ego is a good thing.  For chores you’ll have to do in November, consider making a list so you don’t get caught off guard.  If you’re a casual housekeeper, give yourself a dedicated laundry day during the week at least for the duration of NaNoWriMo.  Anything you can do now to enable your work time in November is worth doing.

Fix it and forget it.  Food really is important, because it’s your fuel: if you spend the whole month eating takeout or whatever is handy, you’re going to be underperforming.  Make sure you’re getting some good protein and plenty of hearty carbs, because your brain can’t run without them.  Whether you’re cooking for one or ten, pre-planning your meals for November is a winning plan. You’ll need to keep in mind your personal budget, but there are lots of ways you can prepare meals now and have them ready for yourself in the month ahead.  Google "once-a-month-cooking" or "freezer meals" to introduce yourself to a treasure trove of meals you can prepare in advance and defrost as needed. (If you’re cooking for one or two, you can still use the freezer method: just make fewer meals and divide them into more meals.  You can deal with a few repeats in thirty days for one month. Just pretend it’s the school cafeteria.)  If this isn’t your thing, at least visit All Recipies, where you can at least print out/bookmark an arsenal of savory, easy to prepare meals. And for the record, you should at least suggest this option even if you’re not the household cook.  If you’re going to spend the month with your head down the rabbit hole, any nod you can give to your supporters that will help you pull your weight in advance is a Good Thing.  If you’re living near a NaNoWriMo buddy, you can do the freezer method and divide up your work.  And it should go without saying that in November, the slow cooker is possibly an even better friend than your computer.

Get up, get out, and get moving.  November isn’t the best time to add an hour on the elliptical machine to your daily routine, but you do need to consider your physical fitness during this month as much as if not more than usual.  Even something as simple as getting up and stretching every forty minutes can go a long way to keeping your shoulders from locking up.  Consider some simple arm and leg exercises, lifting small weights (or cans of soup) or using a pilates band.  Ten minutes a day of exercise won’t cost you much, but it could give you an extra half hour of work time later.

Use your lifelines.  You’re going to need emotional support, if you’re like most writers: if you don’t have local write-ins (or don’t want to attend them), find yourself an online support group in one of the NaNoWriMo forums, on twitter, or if you want, come join mine.  At the very least designate a cat or stuffed animal to spill your angst to, or plan to write a journal, private or public, to give yourself an outlet.  Writing a novel in a month is quite a ride.  Give yourself a place to vent your spleen or cry in your beer.

Give yourself a cookie, maybe literally.  If you’re one who responds well to rewards, plan out incentives in advance: if you can afford to let yourself buy something at every 10k increment, do that, but there are other things you can do, too.  Root through your book and DVD collection and set out some favorites to view/read when you get to a mile marker.  Even something as simple as listening to a celebratory song after reaching your goal can help boost your spirits and propel you further.  But even if you aren’t one who does the reward things, you may want to bake a batch of cookies or buy a bag of Oreos: what I mentioned earlier about your brain needing carbs is very true.  Even something as simple as a bag of chocolate chips could give you an edge when you’re working late at night and your brain is out of fuel.  Your brain can’t function without sugar; best case scenario of course is giving your body enough protein so it doesn’t have to rob your carbs, but if you’re asking more of your brain than usual, go ahead and have a regular Pepsi or a bagel on occasion.  You actually do need it this month. 

You need to do this prep work even if you don’t have a day job; maybe especially then.  The great social fallacy is that people who don’t work outside the home have all kinds of time on their hands; it’s true, our days in theory are more open.  However, those of us who list some version of "homemaker" on applications (god, that always makes me gag) know damn well that that openness usually results in a deluge of to-do lists.  If it’s your job to shuttle people to school and practice and get groceries and take the car to the shop and scoop the cat litter and do the dishes and the laundry and volunteer at school six hours a week or some version of this never-ending task list, you more than anyone need to sit down and block out writing time.  It’s okay to ask your partner and your children to pick up some of this stuff for thirty days.  It’s okay for people to wear that last dingy pair of underwear because you’re a little late this week on getting things out of the dryer.  And if the guilt ever gets to you, find me on Twitter, and I’ll be happy to give you permission to write 1000 more words instead of going to the PTA meeting.  Certainly they can live without you just this one time.

Very likely you can think of your own pre-NaNoWriMo preparations: did I miss anything?  Add it in the comments.  Whatever you do to prepare for November, I wish you the best of luck and look forward to seeing the WINNER! banner displayed next to your username.

Heidi’s NaNoWriMo page
Heidi’s website

Previous NaNoWriMo articles:
Prewriting, NaNo Style
Why I Love NaNoWriMo

9 Comments on “NaNoWriMo 2009: Prepare More Than Just Your Story

  1. I always hated putting “homemaker” for your occupation on the income taxes and felt that “substitute teacher” was MUCH better, even if it is a little bit Dorothy Zbornak.
    All that aside – you give the best advice, not just for writing but for life. Perhaps I am biased but who cares?

  2. These entries are killing me, Heidi. Killing. Me. The creative side of my brain is chomping at the bit, but there is just no time to commit to NANO. *sigh* I will be standing on the sidelines and cheering everyone on, though. 🙂

    • You know, you could do it and acknowledge that even getting to 25k would be a major victory. Maybe a creative outlet is just what you need . . . .

        • You’re right, I do need to do something creative. I’m tired of being a negative Nelly. Just 25K sounds scary though, especially since I’ll probably be living with my mother (and all the extra stuff that entails) during November, too.
          Maybe I’ll steal Dan’s idea. The blog post a day thing sounds like my best route to victory. No restrictions on content or length, just whatever comes to the forefront – be it recipe, deep thoughts on Stuff, link salad posts, or little story snippets. I don’t know. We shall see what happens on the parental front.

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