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Episode 023 | Nano Prep: Making Time & Space for Writing

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National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) is almost here! (Cue confetti sound.) All this month I’ll be focused on getting you ready for NaNo.

For those of you who haven’t already heard of it, the gist is this: Write 50,000 words (the length of a 200-ish page novel) in the 30 days of November. If you finish, you win! (And honestly, I would argue that even if you don’t cross the 50,000-word line, but you establish a solid writing habit, you still win.)

There are always a variety of articles about this time every year touting the benefits of NaNo (e.g. sending the inner critic on a month-long vacation!) and testimonials about how NaNo was a game-changer for that person. I absolutely advise you to go seek some of these out. Communications from the NaNo organization itself will be full of these sorts of resources. Google some or head on over to the NaNoWriMo site and skim a few. They’re fun reads! Enjoy!

And there are about 47 million different podcasts, YouTube videos, classes, blogs, and books that will walk you through exercises to test your premise, help you develop your character, and flesh out an outline with sufficient detail to send you off on November 1st with a clear picture in mind. You should absolutely take advantage of these resources! If you’re in the Bloomington, IN Area, you can even come to my classes.

But this is primarily a writing productivity podcast, so we’re going to focus on the tools and systems you need to set up to keep track of all these brilliant insights on character and all those mind-blowing twists you’ve dreamed up for your plot.

If you’ve been listening to the show for a while, you may remember Episode 015 | 5 Essential Systems for Writers. In that episode, I gave an overview of the kinds of things a writer will need to track. This month, however, we’ll be getting into the brass tacks, discussing some specific tools helpful for tracking your time, your ideas and research, and your actual manuscript drafts. Here we go!

We’re going to start with the foundation of every writing project ever: making space and time for your writing.

1Find Your Writing ZoneWhere you write can make a huge difference in how productive you are. How much do you know about your writing preferences? Are you working with or against your own instincts?

Which of the following descriptions do you think best describes you? Choose any and all answers that you think best apply to you. I prefer to write…

  1. In the following locations:

  2. Wherever I find myself

  3. At a designated/usual spot

  4. At home

  5. Anywhere BUT home

  6. Outside

  7. Inside

  8. With the following conditions:

  9. With people I know

  10. With people I don’t know

  11. Alone

  12. With sound

  13. In silence

  14. Using the following methods:

  15. Longhand

  16. On a computer

  17. Using dictation

  18. Using an app on my phone

  19. Using a typewriter or wordprocessor

Now test these out! Do a writing session in the circumstances you think you write best in and note how many words you got down. Then try something different. Tweak one thing or a multiple of things (we’re not going to hold your feet to the highest standards of scientific analysis here). Then note your word count again. How do the different locations and/or tools compare? Did you find that you always thought you wrote faster one way, but were surprised to learn that it wasn’t the case?

If you find that you really do write best alone and at home, then carve out a space that’s yours — even if it’s only for the month of November. If you find that. you really do write best out in the world, have a “Go Bag” ready to roll with all of the tools, supplies, and research notes/materials you need to be able to write anywhere.

2 Assess How You’re Already Spending Your Time – While you’re figuring out where you write best, also pay attention to when you’re going to write. The quickest and easiest way to start this process is to do the thing you don’t really want to do, but will be sooooo glad you did. (Zenni Abdon mentioned to me recently that she went kicking and screaming into this exercise but that it changed her writing life.) And that is to do a time map. Think of this as the baseline.

Time Mapping:

  1. Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hour Challenge

  2. Digital Versions: Daily Time Tracking (Program) / Toggl

3 Figure Out How Much Time You’ll Actually Need – This exercise provides a critical piece of information. And it’s a two-parter.

Part One: How Fast Do You Write? To find out, do this exercise at least a few times to give yourself the best understanding of your speed at different times and under different conditions.

  1. Set a timer (recommended time: between 10 and 25 minutes).

  2. Either open a new document or note the word count in the existing file you’re working on.

  3. Now write like the wind! Or, you know, at whatever pace you’ll likely write.

  4. Count the words. If you’re using a computer program, this is easy. Simply locate your word counter. If you write longhand, sample a few lines to get an average number of words per line and then multiply it by the number of lines you wrote for a reasonable estimate.

  5. Divide the total number of words you wrote by the number of minutes you wrote. This gives you your words per minute for that session.

  6. Log it somewhere, perhaps in a spreadsheet like this one.

  7. Note both your range and your averages.

Part Two: To win NaNoWriMo, you’ll need to write 50,000 words over the course of the month (or 1,667 per day on average). How much time do you need to accomplish this goal? Divide 1,667 by your words per minute average. That’s the magic number you should be aiming for if you write every day.

HOWEVER, most people will have at least a day or two in November (ahem, the holidays), that is damn near impossible to write. Figure out how many days you think you’ll be able to write in November. Dividing 50,000 by that number is an even smarter bet. Now, divide your new daily number by your average words per minute and voila! You have a solid ballpark guestimate at the number of minutes you need to write every day to cross the finish line on or before November 30th.

4 Figure Out How To Find that Time In Your Schedule – Now that you know how much time you’ll need, go find it! You’ll get lots and lots of people telling you to get up an hour earlier than usual or to stay up an hour later, but I’m an advocate of keeping your usual schedule. I want this to be the beginning of a sustainable writing habit for you, not a self-care smashing blitz that leaves you crashing into December facing the holidays and new year with your tank empty and relieved to be “done with writing.”

So how to do that? I’ve covered a few tips and tricks already, and I would refer you specifically to the following episodes (in this order):

  1. Episode 009 | A Good IDEA for Finding More Time to Write

  2. Episode 013 | Zuck Your Life: Decision Fatigue & Self-Care

  3. Episode 011 | The Perfect Time to Write

Here’s a quick summary of the advice contained in the episodes above:

  1. Figure out what in your schedule can be:

  2. Ignored (or at least given far less attention than usual) in November

  3. Delegated to someone else for a month

  4. Eliminated altogether, giving you more time in November and beyond!

  5. Automated – even just having a meal plan for November can make life easier (especially if you pre-stock the freezer with soups, casseroles, meat for the crockpot, etc.)

  6. Reduced – (You know I have to say it -) less TV and/or social media time

  7. Simplified – Just for November, maybe you can dial back something you usually give the full treatment (I’m looking at you, Holiday Decorations.)

  8. Reduce your decision fatigue (and save time!) by eating the same breakfast and/or lunch every day, wearing basically the same type of clothes every day, etc.

  9. Fit in writing in your little free pockets of time

Next week I’ll give you some tricks, apps, and resources to help you make the most of the writing time you do have to get those words down a little quicker and easier!

Until then, happy writing. people!



  1. What’s the best NaNoWriMo schedule for you? – NaNoWriMo Quiz

  2. How to Write When You Don’t Feel Like It – Heartbreathings Video

  3. Make Time for Writing – Laura Vanderkam

#writingtime #NaNoPrep #TimeMap #Toggl #writingspaces #IDEA #writingpreferences #NaNoWriMo

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