Creating New Writing Routines

Since 2014, I've had a very particular routine when it comes to November. I sit down at my laptop before midnight, snacks and drinks ready if I need them. A specific playlist gets pulled up on Spotify. A website is opened and last minute details are finalized. And I wait for the clock to strike midnight on November first.

NaNoWriMo begins.

Every year, I start it the same way. It's part of a routine I've created for myself when it comes to NaNoWriMo. Why? Because it's worked in the past and I like the feeling of only being a few hours into the event and already having my words done for the day. It's gives me a strong start and sets the tone for the rest of the month.

But this year was different. This year, I've had to discover a new kind of writing routine.

Pretending this is me

NaNoWriMo 2020 is different for me in a lot of ways. For starters, I haven't been this unprepared since 2014. With only a few chapters of an outline and no character profiles, this year has been dedicated to re-discovering the love and joy of writing stories. It's something I really wanted to focus on because the majority of my writing over the past for years has either been for work or for school. The three NaNoWriMos I did in college were smushed in between all my other assignments, giving me little time to actually enjoy the process as I rushed to get words down each day.

And with everything that's already happened in 2020, I really shouldn't have been surprised when my writing routine got disrupted. Let me explain a little more.

I started off the month like I did in previous years. Vlog camera ready, I made sure I had the NaNoWriMo website pulled up and my Scrivener document for Project Bodyguard open. Spotify kindly waited for me to return to the playlist that I'm only allowed to listen to when I'm writing in one of my projects. The clock hit 12:00 a.m. and I began writing. After about 90 minutes, I had my first 1,759 words written and my first chapter complete. I was off to a good start.

downfall of the old routine

Then I struggled for the next four days. I've always said that I'm a "write anywhere" kind of writer. Under normal circumstances, I'd only need three things to get my words written - headphones, my NaNoWriMo playlist, and my laptop. I've written in coffeeshops, dining halls, youth group groups, even in several of my classes. As long as I have my basic necessities, I can write pretty much anywhere.

But it turns out that it's not true. Almost immediately this year, I learned that I have a space that I like to write in. Specifically, it's my desk. Being there during the first few days really helps me get into the routine of writing every day. Without that, I admit that I'm a little more lost.

I spent all of Day 2 and 3 in Virginia visiting my best friend, and half of Day 4 coming back to Maryland. Don't get me wrong, visiting people is great. It was good for me to get out of the apartment and see something different for the first time since September. I did enjoy my time there.

However, the part of me that had committed to NaNoWriMo was more than a little stressed out. This visit to my best friend had changed from a one-day thing to a three-day thing. I had words to write, but I also had two YouTube videos that needed to be edited and uploaded, plus a call with my writing group. I enjoyed spending time with my friends and doing something different, but a part of my brain was already panicking that I was behind on the second, third, fourth, and every day after. Even though I promised myself that this was the NaNoWriMo where I had fun with my story, being behind and not having my usual writing space created an insane amount of mental stress. Combining that with the election week... it was not a good time.

the search for something new (& motivational)

On Day 5, I decided to try something new - writing livestreams. It's a part of the online writing community I hadn't ventured into before because I've always been a rather solitary writer. It's fine with write with other people around as long as I have headphones on, but I've never tried really being part of a large group of people who are all writing at the same time in short sprints.

By themselves, sprints were what I relied on heavily in 2014 and 2015 to get my novels written. The lovely NaNoWord Sprints Twitter page does frequent sessions with different hosts throughout the day, usually along some kind of theme. I dropped out of using them in college because I spent most of my time squeezing in a hundred words in between or during classes as I managed everything else I had to do. And with how this year's writing was going, I knew that I'd have to do something different to at least start getting back on track.

As of right now, I've only tried Kate Cavanaugh and Cam Wolfe (Page Nomad)'s writing livestreams. Kate has done them pretty frequently since she started gaining popularity on YouTube and has also been hosting daily 2-hour streams on Twitch. I discovered Cam through one of Kate's videos and so far, I've really enjoyed his livestreams too.

What worked about trying these livestreams was having someone, even if only through a screen, keep me accountable. It usually starts with some chatting and updates, then writing sprint is set for anywhere between 10-30 minutes. During the sprint, everyone does their best to get words done. I turn on my writing playlist and keep that going until the sprint is over. And it really has helped bring my daily word count back up.

Day 5 ended with me writing 2,261 words, which meant I finally broke 5K after nearly a week. Sure, I was still behind, but this was more progress than I'd made before. Day 9 consisted of two old livestreams that put me at 2,930 words for the day and allowing me to break 10K. Finally, on Day 10, I managed to tune in to one of Kate's livestreams when it was actually live and knocked out 3,070 words for the day.

And wow, I've missed being able to talk more with a community of writers who know what it's like to fall behind and struggle to catch up. The most writing community I've had during most NaNoWriMos are friends and family asking how I'm doing, maybe with the occasional friend who is also participating. Being able to see hundreds of other people in the chats all talking about their stories and where they're getting stuck makes me feel a little better. Knowing that the election affect many other people at the start of the month also gives me some comfort.

the new 2020 routine

I can't see myself changing things for the rest of NaNoWriMo 2020. The writing livestreams have done wonders to make a difference in my word count and keep me from getting distracted. It's also just nice to have something to look forward to on weekdays that are already locked in. On weekends, I'll probably pull up an old livestream from Kate or Cam's channels, or maybe even try them on other writers' channels.

Some things haven't changed. I still use the same NaNoWriMo playlist because it works wonders and I can't listen to anything except for movie and TV scores when I write. Getting distracted by music is a major thing for me, so I stick to stuff that doesn't have words. Writing to scores also helps if I'm looking for a whole album that focuses heavily on a particular mood.

Need something happy? Monsters. Inc or Ratatouille.
Need melancholy music to match someone's sulking? Anne with an E or Soul Surfer.
Ambiguous action music? Avengers or X-Men.
And the music that inspires me when nothing else does? Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.

I will also never give up Scrivener because I love the way it helps me organize my story and keep everything in one place. Learning to back things up has also been helpful, as I'd like to keep from repeating my mistake from a few weeks ago.

Other than that, I think I've learned a lot from struggling through the first few days of NaNoWriMo and being forced to confront my comfort with routine. It's good to get out of routine and see what else works and push myself into something different so that I'm not stuck doing the same thing each year. I've felt more productive writing-wise over the past couple of days than I did at the beginning of the month. And it feels really good to incorporate something new into my life as a motivation and a community I don't often get.

If you're curious about the day-to-day parts of my NaNoWriMo journey, I am doing weekly vlogs on my YouTube channel. Currently, there are three videos in my NaNoWriMo 2020 playlist that you can watch. I really enjoy documenting my thoughts and feelings as I go through this experience. It gives me something to look back on in future years too. For those who want to see something more cringe-worthy, I also have vlogs from 2015 and 2017 that I've linked for your enjoyment.

(Can I actually call it enjoyment when you're probably just going to facepalm and cringe at it?)

For my fellow WriMos out there, I hope the month hasn't been treating you too terribly. We can all scold November and 2020 in general for being awful to us.

To my non-WriMo friends/family reading this, it's my assurance that I'm still alive and mostly sane during the beginning of the month. Can't promise the same for the end though.

And for anyone else struggling with writing in general, it's normal and it's okay. I really encourage you to try something new and to remember that most of us do this for fun. Keep enjoyment at the center of your projects and it will be easier to want to write too.

What's something new you've added to your writing routine recently?

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