Outwitting the Clock: Time for NaNoWriMo & Writing

Time Strategies for NaNoWriMo—

A Group Deadline That Could Change Your Writing Life

by Sabine Berlin

November. The Thankful Month. It’s coming up, and as I compile my list of everything for which I’m thankful (yes, both chocolate and indoor plumbing make the list), I can’t help but let my writer mind pop up and shout out some thanks as well. So here are a few items on my writer thankful list: I am thankful for the feel of paper and the fresh smell of newly printed books. I am thankful for spell-check but not for AutoCorrect. I am thankful for Card and Koontz and Cabot and Marillier and all the other great writers who inspire me to improve every day. And I am thankful for November, the one time of the year I can assure myself that I’m not the only crazy person talking to her characters, screaming at her screens, and investing in large amounts of caffeinated beverages. (Remind me again why I thought this would be a good time to give up Dr Pepper?)

Yes, I am thankful for November because it is National Novel Writers Month. Thirty days. Fifty thousand words. One book. It’s time to step up to the plate and do what you have been saying you would for the last eleven months: write your novel!

If you haven’t seen my post where I share some tips on finding time to write, check that out now because apparently, I’m not the only one searching for that elusive extra hour. Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, has a great book to help you get ready, and it includes a whole section on finding time to write. Why not give this method a try? After all, his way includes treats, so what could go wrong?

The Time-Finder Method

1. Every night for one week, before you go to bed, write down your day in half-hour portions.  Only track your waking hours. Don’t take away precious sleep time! So, yesterday my day went like this:

6–6:30—Wake up and check my email, social media, whatever
7–7:30—Make breakfast, home lunches, and prep anything I need for dinner
7:30–8—Get myself and kids ready
8–8:30—Take kids to school and go to work
8:30–12:30—Work (lumped together because it’s one uninterrupted chunk)
12:30–1—Eat lunch
1–1:30—Internet surf
1:30–5:30—Work some more
5:30–6—Get kids from soccer
6–6:30—Make dinner
6:30–7—Clean up from dinner
7–7:30—Help kids with homework
7:30–8—More homework
8–8:30—Catch up on shows
8:30–9—More TV time
9–9:30—Family time
9:30–10—Family time

Go ahead and write your day and then you can reward yourself with a treat. (You have permission to break into the Halloween goods—there should be plenty left over!) You’ll want to average 1,650 to 1,700 words a day if you’re writing every day, so keep that in mind and adjust for your calendar’s writing spots when you make your battle plan.

2. Circle required activities in red. These would include things like work, buying groceries, eating. Circle all your absolute must-do’s—and yes, that includes showering!

3. Circle your highly desired activities in blue. These are things that you can go without for maybe a few weeks, or maybe even the whole month of November, but no longer—unless you’re planning on becoming a hermit, irritating your spouse, or failing at other important goals/priorities. For most people, this includes stuff like social engagements, working out, hanging out with friends, hobbies, cleaning out the garage so you can actually park in it, dinner with your mother-in-law…

4. Finally, circle in yellow activities you can definitely  live without (or whatever other color you could find in that kitchen junk drawer—yeah, cleaning that out is one of those to-do’s you can go without for a month). These are items like checking social media and watching your favorite binge-worthy shows.  These are the items that give you your time. Say good-bye to them. My list would include that combined hour of Internet surfing and the hour of TV watching.

Have you said your good-byes? Made your peace? Found your time? Great! If you’re one of those people that has to dip into the other categories—because you haven’t balanced your life with nonsurvival-essentials yet—you’ll need to carefully schedule your time and assess what other strategies you can use to create some time. And you’ll have to decide if sacrificing a few fairly important things for one  month is worth achieving this one huge goal. If you don’t even have options to sacrifice, then I suggest you take a long look at what you’re living for and if you should take on some help or simplify. If writing a novel really is a legitimate priority for your life right now, at the very least, you can use NaNo as a motivation to start your novel, even if you can’t realistically fit it all into one month. Support and momentum are key. Your dreams are worth the effort!

Now Do This

1. Sign up for NaNoWriMo. Yes, go to the website and sign up. Don’t just say  you are going to write for the month of November. There are lots of benefits to actually signing up, from weekly encouragement emails to word-count trackers to support groups. Plus, if you don’t sign up you can’t get your nifty certificate at the end of the month!
2. If you need more help, find other websites or apps that will make sure you get your daily word count in. A couple of favorites are:

  • 750 Words All they ask is that you write three pages a day and record that you did it.
  • Write or Die This is a terrific motivator—if you pause too long during your writing session, the site begins to erase your words, forcing you to keep writing or else!

3. Check out my article for more unique tips on finding time to write.
4. Plan for disaster. Do as much as you can do when you have the time to do it, because as the weeks roll by you may find days where even finding five minutes is stretching it. So get it done when you can!

Is this your first experience with NaNoWriMo or are you a pro?  Tell us why you’re excited or thankful for NaNoWriMo and your best time-finding strategy!

Awesome resources are at your fingertips.


  1. Shari

    I don’t do NaNo – it’s just not the method that works best for me – but I so admire everyone who does. Finding the time to write, write, write during such a busy month is NOT easy. I’ll be cheering you all on! 😀

    • Angela

      Yes, I find it interesting that the founder set it up for the holidays! I read his book and it seemed like it was on a lark–I didn’t get the idea that he considered November and holidays–but it wasn’t for a mass audience at first. It was just a personal bet and then grew grass-roots/organically into what it is now. (If I’m recalling correctly, anyway.) So it seems like it just became a tradition at that time because it was the anniversary of the first event. I think he might have been single, which can uncomplicate that season a bit–or give one more control over obligations. (I know this doesn’t apply to every single person…) At the same time, I’ve learned from painful experience that there’s nothing like an uncompromising life schedule to make you really assess priorities and learn to live lean when it comes to the time you spend on things.

      • Angela

        Ah-ha! So I am filing a correction. Nano started in July, but the founder moved it to November after awhile to fully take advantage of the miserable weather. I’m still voting for January, which is more miserable than November! And excited to say that Bruce and Adrienne have decided to do Nano this year. Yay, converts!

  2. Caryn Caldwell

    Wow, Sabine! What a fantastic method! I remember hearing about it before, but I’ve never been motivated to try it. Now that you’ve laid it out, though, I’m starting to think I should do it. (Well, not NaNoWriMo, since I’m still editing my WIP, but the list of how I use my time.)

    And I agree with Angela and Shari. November is a weird month for it. Such a busy time. I wish they did January instead. It’s a quieter month, and people are stuck inside because of the weather. It’s kicked off by New Year’s Eve/Day, during which many people resolve to finally write that novel. Plus it has 31 days. (Hey, that’s a difference of 54 words a day!)

    • Sabine

      Caryn, 54 words a day could make a huge difference! I’m not doing NaNo this year either, well I am but it is my current novel that I already have 35K words for so I am just going to do a mini NaNo and write 1000 words a day. Good luck with your WIP edits!

  3. Janelle Youngstrom

    I am doing Nanowrimo this year. I am always looking for ways to push myself to the next level and gosh darn it, I need to get this story out of my head! I love the ideas you give about how to schedule out time. I did a lot of this while self-employed and reaching a new level in my business. It worked for me every time. This is a great reminder on practical ways of getting big things done in my writing business as well.

    • Sabine

      Janelle, Good luck with NaNo. I did it in full two years ago and loved it. It is a push but what a great feeling to have it done!

  4. Bruce

    I keep debating if I’m going to do Nanowrimo this year. Today I’ve been leaning more and more, “Ok, I’ll try it.” If I don’t do it, I appreciate learning about the 750 reminder website. When you don’t have time for a writer’s group, it is helpful to find other ways to prod you to keep writing.

    • Sabine

      Bruce, I understand about not having time to go to a writer’s group, but if you need motivation you may try on online group. I am a member of an online group on Facebook and all we do is post if we wrote for the day, or if we have a question, or if we need encouragement. It has been the best thing because it takes maybe ten minutes a day, and I feel like I am being held responsible for my writing. I wish you the best of luck if you do NaNo. It is hard, but worth it.

  5. Heather

    Wonderful article Sabine. Thanks for breaking it down and inspiring me at the same time. Your articles are always hilarious and insightful.

  6. Heidi Brockbank

    I’ve never done NaNoWriMo before, but I like the idea of having a focused (and limited) chunk of time to really give some definition to your writing goals. Thanks for the great reminders in your article of why I want to try this. I figure, even if I don’t hit anywhere near my goal, I’ll still be way ahead of where I currently am in my word count.

  7. Nicole Trionfo

    I feel compelled to point out that November is also national moustache month. Boys? Handlebar? Fu Manchu?

    • Angela

      So clearly someone needs to invent the national please-shave-your-moustache-off month…


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