Columns > Published on November 1st, 2016

What I'm Doing Instead of NaNoWriMo

I've always been a big supporter of NaNoWriMo. I think it's a worthwhile endeavor that can teach writers a lot about style and habits. Over the years, I've participated to mixed success. Fast forward to today, however, and writing has become the way I pay the bills as a freelance columnist and newspaper stringer. I honestly don't have the time or desire to pump out 50,000 words for fun or practice, especially since it would draw energy away from the commercial writing that I rely on.

But I do still enjoy the structure and camaraderie of NaNo. So instead, I'm going to draft an alternate week-by-week calendar to make this the most career-centric November ever. While it's true that a NaNo manuscript may pay off big one day for those who follow through to publication, these are all exercises with the potential to benefit writers in a more immediate sense. Also, bear in mind that I'm primarily a non-fiction writer, which is another reason why NaNoWriMo isn't necessarily the best use of my time. While I've tried to create a schedule that could apply to a number of different forms of writing, you may want to individualize this calendar to better fit your own aspirations.

*Note* A big part of designing this alternate month plan was to avoid the burnout of trying to write so much on top of a full-time job. Because of this, I've left weekends off for relaxing.


Week One

M
I'm going to start out easy for the first day by taking some time to evaluate what I've already written that's just lying around. I'll do this by going through my laptop and file cabinets to weed out what looks promising from what deserves to stay in the bottom of the bin. Then I'll collect the winning ideas into a single, updated folder to work on throughout the month. 
T
Next, I'm going to focus on deadlines so I have the full month to work towards them. I'll start off by researching contests and promising residencies and jotting down application dates. The important thing here is to space activities out so they don't seem overwhelming, making this a research day only. For the rest of the month, Tuesday will be for finding new outlets and publications. I'll call it 'New Pub Day.'
W
Today, I'm going to pick something from the proverbial sock drawer of old ideas I've assembled and submit it somewhere. It can be to one of the contests I've researched or somewhere else. Maybe I just publish it to Medium or the personal blog I never update but always say I will. The main thing is to get it out into the world somewhere, and I'm going to repeat this step every Wednesday and call it 'Junk Drawer Submission Day.' 
T
Most good story ideas come from falling down a research wormhole of something you genuinely find fascinating. On this day, I'm going to pursue anything unexpected and intriguing and take careful notes. Maybe I get a lead through a Twitter comment, or I find a local twist to a broader, national issue. Perhaps I stumble on an eccentric character from history who just screams for a biography. Again, I'm going to repeat this step every Thursday and call it 'Research Wormhole Day.'
F
Fridays are going to be the day when the prep work comes together to form something new. That can be anything. For me, it probably means an article pitch, essay or blog post. But it could be the start of a short story based on whatever you researched on Thursday, or the first few pages of a script. It's up to you, but it has to be fresh material. Fridays are simply 'Write Day.'

Week Two

M
I'm going to take this Monday to update my digital presence. Last week I poured over my unpublished work, so this week I'm going to take a hard look at the pieces that have made it to print and find a better way to showcase them. This includes LinkedIn, personal site and social media makeovers. I'm also going to poke around a few other writer's sites and take a few notes on what they're doing well and how I can improve my own.
T
New Pub Day
W
Junk Drawer Submission Day.
T
Research Wormhole Day
F
Write Day

Week Three

M
I'm going to think of this Monday as a performance review day. I'll crunch some numbers to see how much I wrote this year and where my weakest areas were. It's also a chance to catch up on where I stand profit-wise so that I'm not taken aback at tax time. I do this periodically anyway, but this seems like a good chance to analyze the broader picture.
T
New Pub Day
W
Junk Drawer Submission Day
T
Research Wormhole Day
F
Write Day

Week Four

M
We're almost through the month already, so I'm going to make a plan for the future today. It's going to be comprised of two separate lists of 10 items each: dream publications and longterm writing career goals. My hope is that this month-long exercise will help cultivate good writing habits so that researching and pitching new content comes more naturally.
T
New Pub Day
W
Junk Drawer Submission Day
T
Research Wormhole Day
F
Write Day


So that's it, and we're through November! Do you have any writing rituals that help you keep your nose to the grindstone? Give us your comments, questions and suggestions in the comments. And whether you decide to follow this template or attempt the traditional NaNoWriMo, keep us posted with what you manage to accomplish.

About the author

Leah Dearborn is a Boston-based writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international relations from UMass Boston. She started writing for LitReactor in 2013 while paying her way through journalism school and hopping between bookstore jobs (R.I.P. Borders). In the years since, she’s written articles about everything from colonial poisoning plots to city council plans for using owls as pest control. If it’s a little strange, she’s probably interested.

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