A project manager’s approach to NaNoWriMo

Strategy AcrosticI thought I would take a project manager’s perspective on NaNoWriMo; it can clearly be thought of as a project – it has a deadline and a specific deliverable with a resource.

Thinking of it is a project what strategies make sense to maximise the chances of success?

Project perspectives

Scope: 50,000 words of a novel’s first draft (or more if you take into account the actual size of most novels – see Is NaNoWriMo a Good Idea?)

Timetable: Commence as early as you want on the 1st November and finish no later than midnight 30th November

Resource: You the writer

Quality: no specific metric; this is a first draft so no in-flight edits or re-writer so relatively low compared to a finish novel

Budget: not limited

Risks: friends and family think you’ve become a hermit and you alienate them by your dedication to the task. Progress slips and demoralisation occurs as a backlog develops.

Options Analysis

If you stick to the rules (and that is the point) then you can’t change the level of resource or the delivery timetable.

There are things you can still do:

  1. Get a good outline produced in advance – this will make a difference to efficiency
  2. Find out just how fast you can write – is it 750 words and hour or 1,250?
  3. Having done (2) work on how to improve your rate – no advice in this article;-(
  4. Map out how much time you actually expect to have in November. Find ways to make more time – no advice in this article;-(
  5. Warn those close to you about what you intend to do in November so that they can make some (reasonable) allowances
  6. Set daily targets

I explore targets in the next section

Daily Targets and Strategy

To avoid the risk of failure I suggest that the best strategy should include working harder at the start of the month than at the end – this will allow for some slippage as the later part of the month will require less writing. This is known as building up contingency.

You should also aim to finish before the 30th – again this builds contingency.

To avoid risk of burn-out / insanity / loved-ones walking out on you I suggest that you build down-days into your schedule. These will allow you to recharge batteries, live a normal life and in the worst case give you more contingency.

These strategic choices are all predicated on the theory that you can become more productive and actually do 50,000 (or even more) in much less than the 30 days working a bit every day.

I think there are two schedules worth considering in detail:

  1. A 5:2 approach
  2. Big weekends

A 5:2 approach

This approach says take two days off every week and also finish on the 28th. If we take the advice to start working harder than we finish, then week by week the targets (for 50,000 words) could be:

Week Total Words Pattern (Sat – Fri) (1000s)
1 15,000 4 / 4 / 0 / 3 / 2 / 2 / 0
2 15,000 4 / 4 / 0 / 3 / 2 / 2 / 0
3 10,000 3 / 3 / 0 / 2 / 1 / 1 / 0
4 10,000 3 / 3 / 0 / 2 / 1 / 1 / 0

This gives a chunk for weekends (assuming you have a Mon – Fri day job) and a day off either side of the weekend.

Big Weekends

This is a more extreme for of the above and assumes you can work hard for the weekend but you get lots of down-time. It is almost a 2:5 patter but not quite that extreme.

Week Total Words Pattern (Sat – Fri) (1000s)
1 15,000 5 / 5 / 0 / 3 / 2 / 0 / 0
2 15,000 5 / 5 / 0 / 3 / 2 / 0 / 0
3 10,000 4 / 4 / 0 / 2 / 0 / 0 / 0
4 10,000 4 / 4 / 0 / 2 / 0 / 0 / 0

It is easy to see how this pattern builds a lot of contingency into producing 50,000 words!

If you do decide to aim higher this type of pattern is much easier to grow and still retain some free days.

Comments Welcome

So over to you – aim I making sense or am I missing something. How do you intend to tackle NaNoWriMo?

Do let me know



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