Before November 1st, which marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I had an idea for a character whose arc would take the length of a novel, not a short story. I carried this character around for a year or two, but did I work on that novel idea? NO.

I was scared to start a fiction project. Ten years earlier I worked on endless versions of two manuscripts for several years before letting them collect proverbial dust on a hard drive somewhere in laptop purgatory. I played with a few more novels when I started my blog in 2010, but blogging and submitting essays to other sites soon became my priority. Why would I want to spend so much time on yet another novel that might never amount to anything?

I have no good answers to why I finally felt ready to work on a long project again, but I decided to use the collective energy around National Novel Writing Month to make a dent in a first draft. While I’m plugging away slower than the official NaNoWriMo pace, which would get a writer to 50,000 words by the end of the November, I’m happy with my pace of about 1000 words a day. Every day when I open my document, I’m shocked to see words where on October 31 there were none.

So do I like NaNoWriMo? YES! I love it! I credit the NaNo push with getting me to write without the constant critic on my shoulder and to experiment with fiction again. I created a Facebook group for accountability, and the conversations and check-ins there are helping so much. (Just ask me if you want IN.) While I did create the group with the idea of dissolving it in early December, I’m starting to see how much these check-ins help me. I will probably keep it. (And for those of you in it now, NO hard feelings AT ALL if you decide to leave at the end of NaNo. I did say it was a one-month group!)

What I’ve learned about working on a long project again after EIGHT years of essays, short stories, and blog posts:

  • My work setup is awful and needs to change ASAP. The other day I went to an ergonomic speciality store and ordered a standing desk, a separate keyboard, a rolling mouse to sit in front of the keyboard, and a stand for my laptop so I’m not looking down. I’m still in pain on my left side (a recurring problem for many years), but I’m hoping the new positioning will cure me. Sadly, the equipment won’t be in for two more weeks.
  • Early in November I saw somebody write on Facebook that quantity matters more than quality during this draft. That advice has been my constant mantra.
  • Place holders work well instead of delving into a research hole. I’ve written things like hairdo realistic in 1966 or last name. Must. Push. Ahead.
  • I sadly had to give up TV, at least my previous habits. Since November 1st, I’ve watched two episodes of This is Us and one of Scandal, and only watched them while making Shabbat dinner a few different weeks. Maybe that sounds like a lot of TV to some. It’s less than three hours (no commercials) over a two-week period. As someone who binge watched six seasons of Game of Thrones in about a month–I consider that basically NOTHING.
  • I happily gave up grocery shopping. Instacart has freed up HOURS. They bring me things from Costco, Whole Foods, Target, and even Lakewinds Co-op while I write, write, write. It is the best service ever as far as I’m concerned.
  • I’m working out significantly less. This is not a good thing. I hope to get the sitting/moving ratio in better balance.
  • I still have time to read. There is always time to read.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? How’s it going for you?

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Nina Badzin is a freelance writer, a writing workshop leader at ModernWell in Minneapolis, ModernWell's book club host, and the friendship columnist at The HerStories Project. She reviews 50 books a year on her blog and writes essays, short stories, and articles for other sites and print magazines. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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