What do you need to make it as a writer? Talent? Ambition? Discipline? An enormous trust fund that allows you to quit your day job? Sure, you need those things (okay, not the last one, but it couldn’t hurt). But whether your version of “making it” is getting through your 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo this year, getting a six-figure book deal, or anything in between, you definitely need good habits, because without them, none of the rest of these things will matter.
What I love about NaNoWriMo is that its very concept dispenses with any precious notions of what it means to write a book. NaNo does not concern itself with airy-fairy visions of the muse alighting on your shoulder and inspiring greatness; the only goal is to reach the word count. Technically this means that you could write the sentence “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” five thousand times in a row and complete the NaNoWriMo challenge, though we all know that doesn’t end well for the author. (On a related note, if you ever find yourself saying, “You know, if only I could get somewhere really isolated and quiet where I didn’t have any other responsibilities, I could definitely get my novel done,” you should probably watch The Shining.)
We can safely assume that most NaNoWriMo participants are not taking a sabbatical from their jobs to write their drafts. They are also, presumably, still eating, sleeping, and attending to their children, pets, and anyone else whose survival depends on them. But for a month, they are making time in their everyday lives to write. And a month is long enough to build some really good habits. No one is suggesting that you keep up the pace of 50K per month, but think of November as boot camp for the rest of your writing life. You’re doing something to break yourself in that will bolster you for years to come.
I write for an hour a day, a not terribly unmanageable or impressive amount really. The hard thing is the “every day” part of the equation. That’s the part that gets the words on the page and that carries me through the crappy days and into the one where the muses do decide to show up. It’s the part that keeps the story fresh in my mind so that dialogue comes to me while I’m walking my dog, characters reveal themselves as I’m in the shower (not literally, thank god), and plot twists occur to me just as I’m falling asleep.
For years I’ve been writing in the mornings before I go to work. I do this so I don’t have to decide to write. I’m just on autopilot: coffee, breakfast, some fiancée and dog snuggling, and then butt in chair for one hour. I’m not some kind of madwoman who just likes getting up early, but over the years I’ve come to enjoy this little habit around which my life revolves. The first thing I do every day is something that is mine. The earlier hours are the easiest to control. Once you are on e-mail and out in the world in those post-8:00 a.m. hours, anyone can make a demand for your time and attention.
Maybe mornings won’t work for you—perhaps it’s your lunch hour or the hours before bed that will serve you best. Whatever you do, find something that will stick. You may be able to get through November on sheer adrenaline (and coffee and bourbon), but when the calendar turns to December, your habits are what will keep you going.
Don’t forget to enter GFP’s NaNo Contest! Details here.