How Not Writing a Novel During National Novel Writing Month Made Me A Better Writer

 I don’t write novels. Never have. Never will. But every year since 2011 I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, and I’ve won it 5 out of those 8 years.

This was a winning year. I validated last Friday and high-fived myself.

I do it mainly to increase my stamina and endurance as a writer. I think of it like treadmill running. It gets me in shape for winter, and the introspective writing months to come.

I hop on Scrivener, set my word goal, and just crank. I get winded, I stall out a lot, but I know I have to hit that 1667 daily word count daily, or else tomorrow there’ll be a deficit to make up.  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over 8 years of doing this crazy game, it’s that catch-up is a bitch.    

Doing NaNo has taught me tons about how I roll as a writer.

I have learned, for instance, that I am definitely not a coffee shop writer. (I lost the year I tried that.)

And that even though I’m entranced with fountain pens and Moleskines, they are not conducive to serious output, and positively discourage editing.

I have also learned that for me, the best soundtrack for writing is no soundtrack. I require silence to hear the music of my mind. One year I made a playlist on Spotify and I lost that year. And now, every time I hear any of those songs, I get slightly nauseous.

But I have also discovered how I do work best:

First, I need exercise. I do what I call my “Campus Scamper”—a brisk 3 mile hill and step-infested walk around campus.  

Next, I  buy or make a large Americano which I take up to my cozy lair, aka, my bedroom.

If it’s cold out, I turn on the little space heater. I need warmth to write.

I then fire up the diffuser with 4 drops of Eucalyptus Radiata and 4 drops of Helichrysm essential oils. This is my magic “brain blend.” As soon as I smell that, I want to write.

I sit down in my Space Chair and fire up Scrivener, the best writing app in the world, set my 1667 word goal, and crank for as long as it takes.  Ideally, all this goodness happens at the same time every day. For me that time is within 4 hours of getting up. Because after lunch my brain goes offline. 

I love and look forward to this ritual.

This year I called my not-a-novel The Yoga of Everything 2.0.  

Here are some of the things I wrote about:

I wrote about the yoga of boredom, and the yoga of dog training and the yoga of cleaning.  

I tried to figure out the artistry of Haruki Murakami, and I analyzed The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene. 

I pondered the point of blogging, and the point of, well, everything.

I beta tested a “metta” project where I telepathically sent a “May you be happy” message to every person I passed on my walk, and tracked the results.

I wrote about signals and all the ways people signal to one another. 

I wrote about paint colors for the dining room

 I asked myself “why?”with an obsession that bordered on neuroticism. 

So now I have 50 thousand words to mine in the coming months for little blog posts and essays. The brain dump is over, the resistance monster has been slain. I’m feeling strong and have honed my endurance. 

I feel in shape and ready for those long winter writing sessions.

I’m even looking forward to them. 

Another NaNoWriMo in the books.

Boo-yah.