How NaNoWriMo Changed My Writing Habit

I read a fascinating article in the New York Times Sunday magazine about how Target goes to great lengths to pinpoint our buying habits.

What really stayed with me was the research about how our habits develop. It made me wonder if I could apply that information to understand why my writing habit changed after the NaNoWriMo challenge last November.

I wrote 2,000-plus words a day for a month during the nano challenge. Before that, I could be distracted by anything, even housework. It took me two years to write the 90,000-word mystery novel I’m finishing now, and about forty-five days to write 85,000 words of a new mystery using the nano schedule.

The Times article offered insight in the form of a three-step formula for creating a habit. Cue, Routine, Reward. And the author even put it in terms I could relate to by using an example of a chocolate-seeking rat.

I applied that formula to explain what happened to my writing output during nano. My cue: open my laptop; my routine: write until I hit the daily number; and my reward: watch the total number of words substantially increase each day. Deeply satisfying.

Beginner’s Mind

Beginner’s mind is what I loved about the NaNoWriMo process. It reminded me of my first mystery. I wrote it in a few months and had fun with it. I rarely stopped to edit, simply enjoying getting the story and characters on the page. But my novel didn’t attract any agents. This was before the self-publishing and eBook phenomenon. I put it in a drawer and tried again.

The next time I made sure all the parts fit before moving on to the next what if. I edited as I went. I agonized over every word, toggling between the creative mind and editor’s mind. No wonder it took so long. Now it’s being reviewed by colleagues. So far, I’ve had good feedback so the effort was worth it even though I did it the hard way.

I’m excited about digging back into my nano rough draft. Granted, writing the nano way is probably easier if you’re working with a series as I am. I already knew my core characters and setting.

How did the Nano cue, routine, reward process change my writing habit long-term?

Every day, I open my laptop, I get my writing done, and I feel good about it. Everything else is secondary. Keeping track of words might seem mechanical, but having a goal keeps me going and when I run out of ideas generated by my brain, my inner self speaks. That’s when my best writing happens.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on what influences your writing habit.

9 thoughts on “How NaNoWriMo Changed My Writing Habit

  1. NaNo did the same for me. BN (Before Nano), I would spend hours getting annoyed with myself because something didn’t sound quite right and I’d go back over and over to try and fix it. Once I got into NaNo, it suddenly seemed pointless to be so caught up in whether things fit together perfectly on the first try, I was too busy trying to keep the word count up!

    It’s good to know I’m not the only one who learned from Nano 🙂

  2. Great post! The sequence of cue, response, reward makes so much sense to me (although I have to admit, like the featured rat, my first idea of reward was CHOCOLATE). Uh oh. I’m wondering if you are still setting a specific word or page count as a daily goal for yourself? I’ve never done NaNo, but I do know that writing first thing in the morning is a way of declaring to the universe what I’m putting first. And that beginner’s mind is one of the keys that unlocks creativity whether I’m writing fiction or poetry. Great to be so eloquently reminded! Thanks.

    • Thanks for commenting! Now that I’m editing my ms, I set a goal to complete a certain number of pages each day. Oh, and chocolate is a major part of my formula. It goes like this: cue + chocolate, response + chocolate and reward + chocolate!

  3. Well, how disturbing was that Target article?! I guess I knew how much my spending habits are analyzed by stores, but still….geez. Still good info about habits. I’ve been doing the 750 words website. I write 750 words every day. Some of it is drivel. Most of it is drivel. But it’s three pages of writing every single day, and I think has helped build up a habit for other kinds of writing that I want to do, and have been doing.

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