6 Steps for Nailing the First Week of NaNoWriMo

6 Tips for Nailing the First Week of NaNo

We’re on Day 3 of NaNo and I’m already behind! Shall we all gape for a moment in feigned surprise? The reality is, being behind doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s not that my creative juices aren’t flowing. It’s that I have classes, extracurricular stuff, a big test on Monday, freelance work to get moving on, and … you know, video games.

But my study of the psychology of creative writing, along with advice from experienced NaNite friends, has given me a few insights that I think will help me nail this first week—even with my late start. Are you in the same sticky position? Are you coming to NaNo late? Well, hopefully this plan will give you some useful next steps.

1. Donate to NaNo

OLL (the Office of Letters and Light, which runs NaNo) has done some studies on user trends. One of their findings was that people who donate to NaNo are more likely to finish.

Yeah, I understand your skepticism. “Giving us money makes you better!” is a line to take with more than a few grains of salt. Plus, there’s a degree to which the donation is more a signal of existing commitment as opposed to the source of a new drive. All that being said, it really does seem that those who donate to NaNo are giving themselves improved chances of finishing.

The phenomena is sometimes called “commitment bias.” Basically, when we’ve already said yes to an idea or project, we’re more likely to say yes again. Our brains review past actions when gauging what to do next; donating puts your brain in a position where it says, “Well, I donated ten bucks to this community, so I must actually give a damn.”

2. Go Public

The confirmation bias you get from donating is helped along nicely by making your participation in NaNo a public thing. There are dozens of ways to do this, but I recommend telling your real-life friends—so long as they’re the sort who will support you rather than just telling you that you’re crazy.

Beyond telling your meat-world friends, I recommend going public in the digital world by using your preferred social network. You can join the NaNo Participants Facebook Group or check out my Wrimo Twitter list with hundreds of fellow Nanites. Track your progress on your blog, or even blog your novel. My advice is to pick one major social outlet where you’re going to track your progress.

3. Join a Team

I highly recommend getting involved with some sort of NaNo team as well. My top recommendation is to find a regional write-in that works for your schedule. If you can’t find a write-in, then start one! And if you can’t find something in your area, or you just want to join with other members of the crew who are taking on NaNo, you can find a team in the NaNo forums.

In academia, strong social connections are one of the best predictors of success. As in education, so in NaNo. Plus, the community is awesome. If all you plan to get out of November is a novel, you’re cheating yourself.

4. Get Ahead

There are two really tough parts of NaNo. First, the very beginning. For those who haven’t spent October preparing, the beginning of a novel-length project is simply rough. The second choke point is at about the two-week mark. Even those who don’t get behind hit a wall in the second week: The exposition is done, the climax distant, and the massive chunk of story called the “middle” can look a whole lot like writer’s block.

I’ll give some tips next week on how to face down writer’s block, but there’s something you can do right now to maximize your chances: Get ahead. If you pick up momentum now and overshoot the weekly word goal by 5,000 words or more, you’ll be giving yourself a boost for the rest of the month. The very best way to get ahead is to get involved in word sprints and word wars, which you can do through various IRCs, forums, and Twitter hubs.

Yes, getting the extra words in will come at a cost, but you’ll be buying yourself extra mental energy for your upcoming encounter with the two-week blues and giving yourself some extra time to work out any tricky plot kinks.

5. Set Up a Writing Sequence & Fail-Safe

Studies on habit formation have found that extra willpower is almost never sufficient for getting a new habit to stick. What does seem to work is an intervention that looks like this:

  • Write out the details of what you want the new habit to be. (In your case, it’s going to be writing 1,667 words per day.)
  • Plan the details of how and where you will be engaging in the new habit. Be as concrete as you can be.
  • Plan a “trigger” for when you will start doing the new habit. How will you know it’s time to start writing? This can be a specific time, but I’ve found it’s better to choose a point in your normal daily routine where you can insert the new habit. (e.g., “After pouring coffee but before changing out of my PJs.)
  • Write a list of the pitfalls, detailing what’s most likely to go wrong. What’s prevented you from writing in the past? Did you get busy? Did you sleep in? Did you “feel uncreative”? Be honest with yourself, and get your normal traps and tribulations on the page.
  • Write a response plan for each pitfall. This can be something complex, but research has found that even simple response plans (e.g., “I’ll remind myself this is writing time and I can sleep in come December”) are astoundingly effective.

Beyond using this intervention on yourself, just keep adding to your list of pitfalls and response plans if you discover new issues worth addressing.

6. Use Rewards that Fuel Motivation

If I hit my goal of 17,500 words by the end of the day on November 7th, I’m going to give myself a day off of writing to design a fancy-shmancy cover for my book. Not a good cover, mind you. Just a fancy-shmancy one to put on my NaNo profile.

I’m pretty excited about my story. While White Silk will still see its regular weekly posts, the dystopian story I’m writing for NaNo is one I’ve wanted to work on for a long time. It’s called As the Ark Sank, and it feels like it deserves some fancy art. (I’ll share some details on the story a bit later.) Your story deserves fancy art too!

Whether it’s investing more in your story, buying yourself your favorite brand of coffee, or grabbing a new album to play as you write, you can use your rewards as a way to deepen your commitment rather than as a distraction.

I hope this helps everyone who read it (and, let’s be honest: I hope it helps me too!). Have your own tips for nailing the first week of NaNo? I’d love to hear them. Share your thoughts in the comments, below.

Write on,

Rob