How to Try NaNoWriMo as a Full-Time Grad Student with a Full-Time Job

For most people, November is a month of autumnal magic, holiday planning, and cozy scarves. But for a writer, it is known as NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month. As the name implies, it is a month dedicated to the creation of novels, specifically by first-time novelists. The goal is to write as much as you can, with the number attached to that aim being 50,000 words. That isn’t a full novel (YA books tend to be around 80k, adult fiction aims for 90-100k, and genre fiction is even higher, with fantasy reaching 120k), but once you’ve written 50,000 words it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re on track to finishing your story. You’ve at least passed the halfway point for most fiction, which is the hardest part (or so I hear).

For those of you that don’t do a lot of writing, 50,000 words is a lot. Before NaNoWriMo, I started the month with 14,170 words, which equated to a dozen very short (and for the most part incomplete) chapters. This means that, in order to finish NaNoWriMo, I needed to end November with 64,170 words, writing an average of 1,667 words per day. I usually write about 1,000 words per hour when I sit down to pound it out, which means I would need to spend over an hour and a half on it each day.

For those of you who know my situation (which is probably everyone reading this blog, let’s be honest [hi mom]), you know that I have a full-time internship at HarperCollins, and I’m also getting my master’s in Creative Writing full-time. None of my class assignments relate to my novel either, so I’m spending countless hours already on the weekends working on short stories and essays for my classes, on top of the blog and social media content I’m writing and book proofs I’m editing for work.

Yeah, I know. This sounds like possibly the least conducive schedule to NaNoWriMo in the history of schedules. But I’ve never been the kind of person to worry about things like “what’s reasonable,” have I? (Mom and Danae both just sigh and say “nope.”)

So, against all hope of success, I’m doing NaNoWriMo anyway.

I made this decision last week under the influence of a gin & tonic (that devilish little temptress that makes me so confident in my ability to ward off tendencies for procrastination), making pacts with friends and signing up for a free online writing platform that would track my progress (it’s called Novlr and it’s kind of fantastic). I couldn’t very well go back to them with my tail between my legs, could I?! (Yes, Sam, be reasona-) NO! No I could not.

So when Sunday rolled around, I tackled NaNoWriMo head on. I made myself a nice big pot of tea, forced myself to sit at my desk instead of at my bed, and I wrote.

I wrote for seven hours, actually.

And it was all productive writing. I wasn’t twiddling my thumbs, scrolling through Facebook, or making food I didn’t need. I wasn’t pausing to story map as a way to get out of writing something I didn’t feel like addressing. I just powered through, getting words onto the page as quickly as possible.

Then I wrote again last night, this time for four hours.

Guys, I wasn’t even tempted to watch Netflix. Well, not tempted enough, anyway. It was crazy. And look at my progress:

nanowrimo progress
That’s in just 2 days!!!

I know, I know. This fire and this momentum will die down eventually. But for every marathon session I have, the average number of words I have to write each day goes down further and further, and I see that little bar move a little bit (or a lot) further to the right.

So, what does this have to do with anyone but me?

I think that the moral of my story so far (though we won’t call it a success story yet; it’s only November 3) is that if something is important to you then you will make time for it. Yes, I got less sleep both those nights. Yes, I spent an extra £2 on caffeinated beverages today. Yes, I will need to set it aside for a week while I get my story ready for workshop. But it was important to me this weekend.

And as I did it more and more, it became more and more important to me. I didn’t want to waste the progress I had made, so I poured more time and attention into it.

Obviously I don’t have the world’s most demanding schedule. I’m aware that there are people with more of a workload than what I have (though I do not envy those people). There are people with kids at home who have to cram every single personal and household task into the couple of hours between when their spawn goes to bed and when they inevitably crash on the couch. There are those who have to work multiple jobs and don’t get the luxury of spending an hour-long lunch break writing a blog post about how tough their schedules are.

All I’m saying is that passion breeds priority, and priority breeds more passion.

So if you’ve ever wanted to try NaNoWriMo, or if you’ve never heard of it but I’ve made it sound sooooo glamorous through the incredible, seductive power of my words, then you should check it out. You’ve only missed a couple of days. Make a conscious effort to prioritize it, and you may surprise yourself with how much you’re able to accomplish this month.


2 thoughts on “How to Try NaNoWriMo as a Full-Time Grad Student with a Full-Time Job

  1. Sam! I’m so jealous! I believe that if I sat down and belted this out I could finish my own book, but I find that I can’t write (anything worth keeping) without at least 3 hours of uninterrupted writing… which I can only manage once a week. What with this baby crawling around my ankles and begging me to play with her… I metaphorically wish you the productive writing sessions and literary brilliance I forego!


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