This week sees the beggining of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo,) where thousands of people (including Lifehacker's Australian editor)challenge themselves to write a 50,000 word, 175-page novel before the end of November. It's a huge task for even seasoned writers, but writing that much does more than just hone your writing skills. Sitting down to write every day can also serve to clear your mind, get the creative juices flowing, and add a little meditative respite to your day that may otherwise be missing.
Photo by Erin Kohlenberg.
According to NaNoWriMo.org, over 200,000 people signed up to participate in the challenge last year, and more than 30,000 of them hit the 50,000 word goal by the end of the month. The vast majority of them aren't professional writers. That's the beauty of NaNoWriMo: You don't have to be a writer to participate, all you have to do is be willing to sit down every day and put your thoughts on paper. Once you get started, the rewards of writing on a regular basis will come to you quickly.
How Can Writing Regularly Help Me?
Even if you're not aiming for the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal—and we think you should, if for no other reason than it gives you something to shoot for — making time to write every day has other benefits. Whether you're writing free-form or you're advancing a plot or outline, writing keeps your creative juices flowing, and that creativity can spread to other aspects of your life. It forces you to make new logical connections between your thoughts, and forces you to dig deep to come up with new ideas. It helps you be creative in a way that you can't be just by thinking or daydreaming. Photo by Pete O'Shea.
Since writing also makes you take those ideas out of your head and put them into real words, it also challenges you to think about how you can communicate those ideas to others in a way that makes sense. You'll have to turn your abstract ideas into something that's concrete and understandable by others, and it'll challenge you to grow and develop the language and communications skills required to get those ideas across. Even if you deal in facts and figures, creative writing can help you learn to communicate complex ideas more effectively.
Don't worry if you don't get it right: it won't happen overnight. The other great thing about NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to tolerate yourself and make mistakes. All of your misfired ideas, horrible typos, and other mistakes will be right there on paper for you to review and scrutinize later, and that's okay: part of tackling a challenge like this is that you have to learn to forgive yourself and keep plugging away until you're finished. You'll learn to edit your work, refine your thoughts after you've gotten them out of your head, and fine tune your language skills.
Writing regularly also has meditative benefits. The clarity of mind that comes with getting into "the zone" when writing is a wonderful thing, and you only get there by plugging away. The only way to be a better writer is to write as often as possible.
Don't worry if you don't make the deadline either. What's important it that you give it a try. You never know, you might get to the finish line sooner than you think. You may give up halfway through, or something may come up that distracts you from the challenge. That's okay: the deadline isn't quite as important as the fact that you gave it a good try, or that you kept working until you were finished. Keep writing, and you'll keep reaping the benefits. Photo by Eduardo.
We've discussed how keeping a personal journal also supports personal development, and keeping a work diary encourages professional growth. Expressive writing has been proven therapeutic benefits. Even blogging can be good for you. It's more important that you write, and that you keep writing, than that you hit a specific word count in the allotted time. Still, strive for that goal and work hard to get there—you never know what you might accomplish.
How Will I Find the Time?
As with all things, if you make writing a priority, you'll find time to do it. Long before I joined the Lifehacker team, I had a full-time job that had nothing to do with writing, but I made sure I found time to make writing part of my day, every day. I liked to start my day with a few words, and then finish my workday with a few more. You should find some regular time that works for you as well. Whenever that time is, block it off on your calendar. You need to make time to bring your ideas to life.
If you're going to get started with NaNoWriMo, setting aside the time to participate is important, and you'll definitely need dedicated time get it done. Everyone approaches NaNoWriMo differently. Some people look at the 50,000 word goal and break it into 30 equal daily portions. That would mean you'd have to pen close to 1700 words every day for the month of November to get to your goal. Others break it into week-sized chunks and approach it that way. If those methods help you get started, run with them. What's important is that you find a method that works for you.
How Do I Get Started?
If you want to use NaNoWriMo to get started writing regularly, the NaNoWriMo site also has a number of tools and tips to help you outline your ideas and get started. Register an account and poke around the forums. All of the writers participating in NaNoWriMo want each other to succeed, so you'll find great tips and encouragement there.
Aside from that, there's little you have to do except put your pen to paper or your fingers to the keyboard. We're big fans of the previously mentioned webapp 750 Words, a tool that challenges you to write 750 words every day, will remind you to start writing at a time you choose, and will keep track of your word count as you write. Each day you successfully write 750 words, you get points and earn badges. The tool is completely private, so while you get the benefit of a clean and distraction-free writing environment, it also automatically saves your work so you can come back to it later. You can also look back at any time to see how well you've been doing. Photo by Cas.
You can also check out the previously mentioned Penzu as another private journaling service, or our five best distraction-free writing tools to help you get in the zone and focus. Pick something that works for you — even if it's old fashioned pen and paper — and just start writing. It'll do you a world of good.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you done it in the past? What are some of your tips for new writers, and how has writing regularly helped you grow as a person? Share your experiences in the comments below.