A Most Unexpected Motivation for Writing

  • 147: Pages of my memoir written
  • 46,321: Word count completed during NaNoWriMo
  • 65,645: Total word count completed

This post was originally published on Memoir Junkie Wannabe Author.

NaNoWriMo is nearly over and I was so excited about all the writing I had gotten done, I had to dedicate this week’s blog to the sheer motivation I’ve experienced this month. It’s been a surprisingly productive writing month and I’m nearly there for my NaNoWriMo goal—I have 3,679 words to go. 

If you missed last Monday’s blog and don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it’s a nonprofit organization that stands for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every year in November.

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First impressions of NaNoWriMo

I first heard of NaNoWriMo after listening to one of my favorite writing podcasts, Write-Minded, hosted by Brooke Warner and Grant Faulkner (Intimations: A Writer’s Discourse). Grant is the executive director of NaNoWriMo so, in the months leading up to November, he’d talk about virtual events or encourage listeners to join their local chapter. 

The goal is to write 50,000 words during the month, and in theory, finish an entire novel. It sounded herculean—just writing 1,200 words for my clients sometimes feels impossible. 

But at the time, I was in search of a writing community, both on and offline so I added this to my growing list of groups to explore. 

Conquering 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo

As they say, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. (Is that really a saying?) I can’t recall where I heard this from, and even though no one would ever eat Dumbo, the sentiment rings true. 

Writing 50,000 words breaks down to about 1,650 words a day. It’s a little more than the longest articles I write for some of my clients, so I thought ok, this isn’t impossible

I vowed to write in small chunks and do it first thing in the morning. I knew this would be the only way to get this done. I’m usually brain-dead after the first five hours of work in the morning. This is why getting back on my computer in the late afternoon is like mustering up the energy to go to Whole Foods at 5 pm and fight traffic, long lines at the check out, jerks who don’t see the 10 items or less sign…

I also made a commitment to use more of the weekends to spend time on my memoir too. As of now, writing first thing in the morning is winning.

I had zero expectations from NaNoWriMo

The site is pretty basic—you can add buddies and message them. You can also see events and messages from chapter leaders who organize Zoom and in-person writing events. 

The best thing about NaNoWriMo? The totally outdated-looking word count tool. You have to manually update it. The more words you write, you unlock various “badges” along the way that cheer you on. 

It’s just a word count tool, but it feels so magical

This word count tool has been an unexpected productivity godsend for me. I was so stumped by the power of this simple tool and the profound effect it had on my motivation to write each morning.

It gameified the daily chore of writing. I say “chore” because, when you’re writing about your life, not every day is all that great. I’d have to live through events that quite frankly, weren’t the happiest of memories. 

I realize this is all a part of the memoir-writing process, but still… rehashing parts of my life that are painful and sometimes filled with regret—nooooot the best way to start my mornings. But as I kept going, it actually became more cathartic and therapeutic. 

Each time I finished writing, I’d see the word count go up and feel the satisfaction of inching closer to 50,000. 

I also want to clarify that my motivation also had a lot to do with the recent writing class I completed. The class was incredibly helpful, giving me a solid base for my memoir structure and what story I wanted to tell. Without this class, I would just be aimlessly writing gobbly gook.

A new productivity hack I need to try

Recently, I started listening to a non-fiction book about work called “Do Over” by Jon Acuff. I expected nothing from it, as many of these books about how to live a better workday are a dime a dozen. But I actually thought this one was pretty insightful. He talks a lot about your “work savings account”—which entails how to build a strong network to serve as a safety net throughout your career. 

Acuff also shares little tricks that help him stay motivated when tackling projects that feel overwhelming (AKA, the elephant). Apparently, when people feel this way, it’s hard to just start. This is, without a doubt, why Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule has been adopted by millions and made her filthy rich.

Work backward from 100 hours

So, Acuff sets a goal of 100 hours for huge projects. Will it really take 100 hours? Who knows. It’s just a nice number to start with. 

Then, he works backward and removes hours and minutes from the 100 hours each time he works on the project. I suppose it’s the opposite of NaNoWriMo’s word counting tool, but it has the same idea behind it, which is to help you feel like you’re incrementally making progress.

I think I’ll have to try this when my manuscript is done and I’m in the editing phase. 

I used to be a fan of the Pomodoro Method

I’ve spent way too much time testing out various methods and figuring out how to be more productive, including how to run better meetings. I realize this is all time I could’ve spent actually getting real work done. 

If you’re interested in ways to stay productive, the one thing that I used in the past was the Pomodoro Method, which is to turn off all distractions and time yourself for ~ 25 minutes when you work.

Using this method, I’d write for 30 to 45 minutes straight. Then, take a break. Mine would usually last about 10 minutes. I’d use it to check my personal email.

This style of working was okay for a while but then I stopped, mostly because I never really had a problem staying focused. The part that I struggle with is getting started. I think too much about the elephant and then I feel a lot of resistance. 

Counting beyond November

For now, I really like the word count method and I will continue tracking it beyond November. At this rate, I may have my vomit draft by the end of Q1, 2023! 

When it comes to getting projects done, what are your favorite tips for motivation? Don’t be shy, leave me comments.

Looking for a writing community? Consider NaNoWriMo

If you’re a writer looking for a community of other writers or thinking about writing your first essay, book, or novela, you should seriously consider joining NaNoWriMo. It’s totally free. 

You can find your local chapter and partake in Zoom writing events or listen in on guest speakers. There are events happening year-round, not just in November. Take a peek at their calendar.