Productivity Tips for NaNoWriMo (and Other Writing)

Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.

Photo by mpclemens

Today is the day my fifth National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts. This insanity challenge requires me to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

It’s a great way to get a first draft done, because it requires me to put aside the inner editor and just get the words out.

That being said, it’s still not an easy task, and requires a great deal of effort. Here are some of the productivity tricks I have learned over the past four NaNoWriMos, which will also be applied to this year.

Knock Out Distractions

Any type of distraction, to me, is deadly. I will very happily get distracted, only to realize later that I have set myself back. Because of that, I try to limit my distractions in the four main areas:

Get Rid Of Immediate Distractions

These are the distractions that can physically occupy you. I’m talking about children, spouses, family and pets.

The easiest way to control these distractions is to preempt them. Feed the pets, walk the dog, ask if there is anything pressing of your spouse, tell your mother you’ll call her back. Then make it clear that you are not to be disturbed until whatever time unless there is fire, blood or a missing limb.

An alternative to this is to write when no one else is awake. First thing in the morning or late at night can work in your favor.

Cleanse The Environment

Environmental distractions, those within your sight or awareness can also prevent working. Make sure the trash is out of your working area, and that any pressing things like a sink full of dirty dishes have been dealt with.

This does not mean that it is time to scrub the grout in the bathroom with a toothbrush, though. This is only 30 days, and if you have put off the task for that long already, it can wait.

Take Computer Distractions Offline

Since I do almost all of my writing on my computer, I need to make sure that I am not distracted by the computer. That means that I keep all programs closed unless I am actively using them. No social media, no instant messaging, no email, and no browser. In fact, I even will go so far as to turn off my internet connection to make sure I am not temped.

Glam Down Your Word Processor

I used to love Word Perfect for DOS. Yes, you read that right. Black screen, green letters, no buttons, tool bars or fancy doodads to distract me.

I have two ways to duplicate that with modern writing software. First of all, if I am using Microsoft Word, I can take off all the doodads and foobahs and make it like the Word Perfect screen. I even made a macro (see the bottom of the this article for the Word 2003 Macro).

The other thing I did was start using specialized writing software. The package I have used for several years is called PageFour. I like this instead of a standard word processor because it lets me do a word count across multiple documents, and it does automatic archiving.

Don’t Put It Off

Procrastination is deadly to word count. So for every time I feel the least resistance to writing, I pull out my kitchen timer (or my software timer). If I can get started, I can usually keep going.

Use A Buddy

This was new to me last year. A friend of mine decided to do NaNoWriMo, and we “buddied”. And whenever I didn’t feel like writing, I would look at his word count and get writing, just for the purpose of getting more words that him.

This year I have buddied a few more people, and I expect that this will keep me going.

Just Keep Writing

The point of NaNoWriMo is to get the words down — not to get the perfect words down. Being productive is as simple as just writing, not matter what you are writing.

During my first year, I had no outline or idea of where the story was going, and I ran smack into the blank wall of writer’s block. But I kept on writing. I wrote down all the sordid details of a co-worker’s divorce…he shared an office with me and another and persisted in telling us everything in spite of repeated entreaties not to…so I wrote him in. Turns out I got some great ideas from that, and was able to keep the story going.

It really doesn’t matter what you write. As long as you keep writing.

Back Up Your Writing!

Nothing is as disheartening as losing work. And it’s really heartbreaking to lose your book midway through the month. So rather than worry about it, back up the book. It could be as simple as emailing it to yourself every day, or putting it in the cloud. But back up!

'Word 2007 Macro to turn into Word Perfect for DOS
Sub WP()
    With Selection.font
        .Name = "Courier New"
        .Color = wdColorBrightGreen
        .Size = 12
    End With
    ActiveDocument.background.Fill.ForeColor.RGB = RGB(255, 255, 255)
    ActiveDocument.background.Fill.Visible = msoTrue
    ActiveDocument.background.Fill.ForeColor.RGB = RGB(0, 0, 0)
    ActiveDocument.background.Fill.Visible = msoTrue
    Selection.HomeKey Unit:=wdStory
    ActiveWindow.View.FullScreen = Not ActiveWindow.View.FullScreen
End Sub
Sub UnWP()
    ActiveWindow.View.FullScreen = Not ActiveWindow.View.FullScreen
       ActiveDocument.background.Fill.ForeColor.RGB = RGB(255, 255, 255)
    ActiveDocument.background.Fill.Visible = msoTrue

    With Selection.font
        .Name = "Arial"
        .Color = wdColorAutomatic
        .Size = 10
    End With
End Sub

What sort of techniques do you have to be productive on large writing projects?

Photo by mpclemens


  1. says

    Hi !
    Nice tips!
    I definitely find the idea of having a challenge is great to stimulate. Having a buddy doing the same thing is a great idea!
    Thanks, I will definitely come back to check out your blog!