NaNoWriMo when you’re busy

YIP Day 6 - Study
Image by Auntie P via Flickr

I’ve been rolling along pretty nicely this November, having, as of last night, pulled together slightly less than 30,000 words.  My writing buddies are doing similarly well:  Two friends have broken 8,000 words and another four are well past 10,000 words (two of those are hovering around 15,000 words right now).  Many of my friends are staying at or above the daily average of 1,667 words required to finish NaNoWriMo on time.  They are rocking right along.  Yet so many fellow WriMos have expressed how difficult it is keep up with the word count, and indeed, this pressure to pound out words each day does make NaNoWriMo so difficult.  I have a slightly easier job of it because I’m writing full time, while many of my fellow WriMos are squeezing in their words after work, during their kids’ naps, on their lunch breaks, whenever they can grab a few minutes.

My current notebook, open to some of the writing I've done for my NaNoWriMo novel.

One of my fellow WriMos, who lives up in Dubai, a few hours away from me, commented that she is going old-school and writing her 50,000 words out longhand (a heroic effort!), and that she actually does most of her writing on the new Dubai metro, during her commute to work.  Which got me thinking about all the other ways we can write during NaNoWriMo.

I’m an self-confessed addict to the keyboard, a condition I’ve written about elsewhere, and so I find I do my fastest (if not my best) work while typing on the laptop.  But thinking about my WriMo buddy and her pen and paper on the metro, I realized that I’ve been writing a lot this November off the laptop.  I take my little writing notebook with me pretty much everywhere these days, so I can scribble ideas or even whole scenes in the taxi to the store or at a coffee shop.  I don’t get a lot of work done in that little notebook, but I’ve written a surprising amount there already.

My cell phone, with a text I sent myself regarding a new character.

And that’s not all. On those occasions when I forget my notebook, I have resorted to whipping out my cell phone and texting myself ideas.  Usually they’re just character names or ideas for a scene–I have about as basic a phone as you can get, with no QWERTY keypad and almost no fancy texting features–but once in a while I’ll get carried away.  Not long ago, I actually texted myself a 120-word scene of dialogue.

There are other tools, too.  This past summer, my wife bought a small digital voice recorder so her could interview her parents for a cultural heritage project here in the United Arab Emirates (her parents lived in Dubai in the `70s).  Once she’d finished her interviews, she loaned me the recorder and I’ve been using it to talk out story ideas and narrate scenes all this fall.  It’s a strange sensation, talking out a story as though dictating it, but it’s been fantastically useful because, even more than writing with pen and paper, it removes the possibility of editing on the fly.  I just talk a story out, and unless I want to bother with deleting the recorded file and starting over, I have to talk through the mistakes or changes I make–I have to keep moving.  That is, in many ways, the essence of NaNoWriMo, and it leads to some fascinating and surprising ideas I probably would have nixed in second-guessing before I ever typed them out.

Our digital voice recorder, which I often plug into a headset-microphone so I can record handsfree while doing other jobs (like cleaning the house or cooking dinner).

A couple of my non-WriMo friends have mentioned that they’d like to participate but don’t know when they’d find the time.  But our days are full of time.  If you’re willing carry along a notebook, or break your thumbs texting, or talk to yourself in public, you can actually get a lot of writing done on the way from the car to your office, while you’re eating dinner or drinking coffee, while you’re waiting on the bus, while you’re at a friend’s house, while you’re doing yard work.  You’ll have to find the time to transcribe the writing later (unless you have one of those fancy phones that let you text your own e-mail address, or one of those awesome voice-recognition programs that can transcribe your dictation for you), but in the meantime, you’re inching closer and closer to your 50,000-word goal.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

6 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo when you’re busy

  1. While I’m a keyboardist, I’ve found that it’s best to sit down to the keyboard with something ready to be typed. So, I do a lot of pondering and thinking while moving through daily life. I’m that person who sings in the car on the commute, so during NaNo I turn off the radio and talk to myself instead. Or, sometimes, I’ll listen to the radio and ~really~ listen, hearing lyrics that I’ve been singing to, but haven’t heard, in decades. It’s amazing how many story ideas can be pulled from music. None of this is written down or recorded at the time, but it helps generate forward momentum with the story so that by the time I get a few minutes with a keyboard, I’m itching to type.

    1. And it’s Wendy for the win! This is awesome. You’ve seen my recent posts on music and my own NaNoWriMo novel? I’m totally on board with your process.

      Also, I’ve loved the idea of composing mentally since I learned, way back in college, that the Romantics rarely composed their poetry in the moment, purely from inspiration, as they claimed, but in fact more likely (and in some cases admittedly) took long walks and composed–and revised–their works mentally, then transcribed their thoughts later, after much reflection. True or not, that tidbit changed the way I approached my craft, and I started taking long walks and doing a lot of mental composing myself. It improved the way I write. I’m still a bit of a panicky coward, of course, and I have more than once whipped a car to the side of the road to dig out a receipt or a napkin to jot down whatever idea I was toying with while driving. But I toy a little longer these days before giving in to the urge to write.

      Thanks for the comment, Wendy! This was fantastic. 🙂

      1. You’ve seen my recent posts on music and my own NaNoWriMo novel?

        Of course. I read most of your blog entries. Usually I don’t have anything to add. But, since I’m one of those people who are trying to NaNo on top of a full time job, child, marriage, etc., I thought I’d chime in.

  2. Hey there I’m the friend who’s going old school…but not TOO old school as I’m not using quill and ink…ugh can you imagine the ink blots all over the page and all over your hands and face or worse words imprinted on your head as you fall asleep on the paper……
    Last year when fully typing mine I was thinking who in their right mind would actaully suffer using pen and ink!?!?! It is sooo slow. I’m a fast writer ven with pen and paper cuz that has been my fav medium for ages, but not fast enough for Nano. I would be around 25K if i were typing. But with the typing comes the itch to correct. Those squiggly red and green lines all over your Word Doc suck and I’m always trying to get rid of them and thus GASP sometimes editing!!!!!! AND THE TYPOS!!!! OMG!!!! i have a fast typing problem of “the” loking like “t he” or “hte” and in a 50,000 word novel can you imagine how many times that word is used?

    ANyways the point of your post is awesome and I’m honored you included me. My aunt (writer) also gave me a recorder to record my plot ideas, but hey I was 14, and it was a lot more fun to record hour long conversations of me laughing hysterically then play them zoomed fast or slow to my friends then record them laughing…… then it broke…nuf said….
    with tech comes responsability.

    I once did use my phone to make a note of a sequal poem idea, but the idea of texting anything longer than that is like torture… much easier perhaps to leave yourself a voice message… Ohhh I just remebered my phone has a recorder built in….Muahaha now i can laugh again….erm i mean collect my plot better…..

    and napkins…ah napkins….. the medium of my youth….. how many poems I’ve written on napkins….. I’m always touched that JKRowling started off on napkins too. I hope she saved those, they’ll be worth a fortune.

    My final thought though is that without technology (which can break or run out of battery juice) you’re left with a writing utensil and a writing surface….and pray the first doesn’t run out of juice (ink/lead) or the later become full….

    1. Awesome comment, Brandy! Thanks for posting here!

      Sometimes I miss napkins, and receipts, and paper bags…. One of my first jobs in high school was carrying groceries to cars for customers, and I often would stop in the parking lot or at the payphone outside, on my way back into the store, to scribble ideas onto old paper grocery bags or the receipts our customers left behind. These days, my favorite notebooks are the ones with pockets, because I’m still scribbling on scrap paper and can always tuck those extra notes into the notebook!

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