A Neurodivergent Guide to NaNoWriMo

In September I mentioned that I am going to participate in NaNoWriMo this November. October would therefore be my preparation month. And those preparations are well on their way. Since this is the first year I’m going to participate in NaNoWriMo I wanted to make it sort of easy for myself, I didn’t want to dive into a story without first going through the plot at least once, and no hard deadlines. I don’t do well with hard deadlines.

Writing 50.000 words in one month is kind of a big deal and it takes a lot of determination. Therefore, I have been scouring the internet for guides and advice from previous participants, to help me on my first journey. Most of them were really helpful and thoroughly thought out but still I felt like those were all tailored to a specific audience. An audience that seemed to have more spare time than me. And one that had more control over their time spend on or at work or other obligations compared to my situation. On top of that, most of the advice I found all had one main goal in mind, writing the full 50.000 words in November to win NaNoWriMo. I mean that is kind of the goal, isn’t it?

Not to be dramatic or anything, but how on earth would I have time to write at least 1667 words every single day for 30 days straight? I am a single mother working a full-time job. My daughter has started school this year, so in the mornings I make her lunch and we eat breakfast, I get her ready and then we walk to school. Easy enough. I work most days till 17:15 and some days till 18:00, I than need to pick up my daughter, make dinner, get her ready for bed and by then it’s somewhere between 20:00 and 21:00. Effectively I have 4-5 hours a day for myself and admin stuff around the house before I really need to get to bed. If I opted for a “normal” sleeping schedule I would want to be in bed by 22:30, leaving me with only 2-3 hours for all this stuff.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my life and wouldn’t change it for the world! But yes, this whole ordeal is very tiring. And to be honest, most nights all I want to do is lay on the sofa and watch a show of movie. That is my “me-time”. Of course we have something like weekends (thank god for that!) but mine are mostly filled with choirs. On Saturday I do have a few hours completely for myself and I do take advantage of that time. The rest of the weekend I try to spend as much of it with my girl. A novel can be written in short fragments over the course of years. But time spend with my daughter will forever be the most precious to me.

All of that said I thought why not make my own NaNoWriMo guide; one specifically tailored for me. A guide for all my neurodivergent people out there who really struggle with deadlines and always feel like there are not enough hours in a day. And not to overwhelm anyone, including myself, this guide is comprised of only 3 objectives. Yes, you read that correctly, I said 3. Not steps, objectives. So here we go:

1) What exactly is your goal?

Be honest with yourself. Is your goal writing a whole novel in November or 50.000 words? These two things are not – in fact – always the same. Let me clarify; depending on the genre that you are writing and taking into account the demographic for your novel, the total word count varies greatly. If you are writing a middle-grade novel, 50.000 is about the word count you want to go for. But if you are writing a young adult fantasy, like me, you want to have your word count to be somewhere between 70.000 and 90.000 words. Are you going for an adult high-fantasy you are most likely looking at a total word count of 100.000-120.000 words. This changed my perspective of the NaNoWriMo goal of 50.000 words immensely!

If you’re like me and have never written a novel before, you probably are not writing a novel but a first draft during NaNoWriMo. Or maybe even a zero draft. There will be a lot of editing involved after you have finished writing your personal mess of 50.000 words. You are going to rewrite and cut so much of it before you even think about querying it to agents, if you go the traditional route that is. Or you can self-publish, but still, you need editing and revisions. Your total words count can and will change during these times.

So ask yourself honestly; what exactly is your goal for NaNoWriMo? For me it is this: Write a first draft of 30.000+ words. And you might think “That is not the 50.000 words everyone during NaNoWriMo strives for. You can’t even call that a novel” and to that I say “Correct. But first of, this is my project not anyone else’s. Secondly, I said draft – not novel. And thirdly, 30.000 is not my final goal. My final goal is 80.000 words – after revisions.” So yes, my NaNoWriMo goal is not what you would expect. Of course I will still strife to reach 50.000 words in one month! But I am being very realistic towards myself and will not tear myself down over possibly not reaching 50.000 words.

2) What is your approach?

Once you’ve set your goal there is still a matter of actually writing the needed words and achieving your goal. How are you going to approach this? Are you going to write the minimum required word count every single day in classical NaNoWriMo fashion? Or are you planning on using the Reverse NaNoWriMo method; where you start of strong and as the month goes by write less and less? Are you taking into account days where writing just isn’t happening? How are you going to catch up if you fall behind? And what if you do manage to have the best first week and doubled the needed word count to be on track? Effectively you are ahead of your daily goal but does this give you space to slack off? Speaking of daily goals, are you setting daily goals or weekly goals to keep on track?

This all seems farfetched but I know how my brain works and I can already see so many pitfalls with having multiple goals within the ultimate goal of “winning” NaNoWriMo. Do whatever works for you, but here is what I am going to do: I am going to write (most of) my first chapter before November first. This way I won’t be overwhelmed by the dreaded empty page on day one with the finish line already staring in my face. You might call it cheating, I call it planning and thinking ahead.

Other than that, my goal is to write the minimum word count of 1667 words every day. But I’m not going to stress myself if I don’t make it some days. My ultimate goal is not to “win” NaNoWriMo but to have my first draft well on its way. 30.000+ words remember? I know that during the work-week I will struggle to put down the minimum required word count to reach 50.000 words by the end of November. But I also know that weekends are my free moments and that’s when most of my writing will happen.

3) Plan your story

No matter if you are a planner or not, for your own empowerment, plan your story! And truly it doesn’t matter how much you plan or how little. Even if you have a rough idea of the start – middle – ending of your novel, you can write it. But please, write your plan down. If you ever get stuck during NaNoWriMo (and I am expecting this to happen for myself), you will have something to fall back on.

I have planned my novel from start to finish and everything in between. I have bullet point for every chapter that I want to write, some more elaborated than others but I have my main outline ready to go. Without it I will be daunted by the whole idea of writing a novel. This way I will (hopefully) not face the dreaded writers-bock. If I’m stuck I can look back at my outline and read what I wanted to include in that chapter. My writing doesn’t have to be pretty but I will keep moving forwards.

To summarize

I have 3 objectives in my Neurodivergent Guide to NaNoWriMo:

  1. What exactly is your goal?
  2. What is your approach?
  3. Plan your story

These are objectives and not steps for one simple reason: these are suggestions to help you succeed, not a plan or step-by-step guide which I always find to precise. And most often they don’t line up with how my brain works.

So here you go. If you are going to participate in NaNoWriMo remember one simple think: Have fun, you are doing this for you. Not for anyone else. Let me know what you think of this guide and if you are going to participate.

Take care and keep on writing!


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