So I’m planning on participating in next month’s NaNoWriMo contest. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, National Novel Writing Month is a challenge that hundreds of thousands of people around the globe participate in every November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I’m hoping this year I will actually get to the end without bailing in the first week. In years past, November has always been the month of prepping for final exams and getting final writing projects complete for class. And naturally, I found excuses not to finish NaNo.

Image credit: Thanakrit Gu

One thing that’s contributed to my failure is ignoring any form of a writing schedule. Over the past year, I have worked on keeping a consistent schedule and I feel I have had better success as a writer. I write more with more regularity. But it takes time. If you’re looking to complete NaNoWriMo, take some advice from a veteran- don’t spend the next week worrying about what you’re going to write. Work on creating a schedule.

Showing up to the page on a regular basis is important. Writing only “when inspiration strikes” will get you nowhere. (Not to mention that after working in fits and starts, I doubt many writers are inspired to edit.)  I have noticed that the more consistent I am with my schedule, the more my body retains the muscle memory of that schedule. I swear once I started to keep the schedule, I actually felt compelled to write. And guess what? It was easy! If I missed my appointment with writing, my body felt the effects – it was as if I was ignoring my stomach telling me to eat.

While you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo (or even if you’re not), here are five ways to work on your writer’s schedule:

1. Pick a specific time of day and stick with it

Find the time of day that works best for you. When are you your most alert and creative? I have noticed I work really well in the morning and I get a second wind around five in the evening. Anything else in-between feels like sluggish nap-time.

In my undergrad, I would write every Sunday. It was the only time I had to write. If I didn’t write on Sunday, I felt anxious and like I was missing something. So stick to these times. Even if you write two words of crap in these time slots, you are slowly training your brain to work for you when you want it to.

Image credit: Lori C

2. Return to the same location(s)

Location is also really important. I can’t work anywhere in my house. I associate the house with sleep, reading, relaxing, and chilling with my dogs and cats. If I try to write or work there, something will distract me. And thankfully I refuse to get Internet in the house, so when I leave the house I know I am going to work.

Pick a place or places you like. For me, it’s the local library or my favorite coffee shop. If you can work in your house, make it work for you. Separate your writing from other aspects of your house if you can. Only work and write there—don’t let anything else into that space.  Feng shui has helped me to create spaces that work for me. It may be helpful for you.

3. Prime yourself

Ritual is important to writers. Or for me, anyway. I need to get all the junk and distraction out of my work space. Before I actually write I’ll get all my emails out of the way, talk to friends on Facebook, do my random internet searches. I’ll set up my workspace, get my coffee and pastry, and just stare at the screen for a little bit to get used to it. I’m a little OCD about these things: if I can get my paper and pens all lined up in a particular way, I feel a little more comfortable with the world and I feel like I can get my writing done. What’s your ritual? What is it you need to do in order to get writing?

4. Turn off the distractions

Internet and cell phones have killed our concentration. Maybe you can work though all the texts and IMs, but they just scatter my brain and send me down several avenues of distractions. I have gotten used to silencing my phone and turning off any internet sounds. I haven’t been successful in turning everything off completely, but I’ve noticed if I turn off computer sounds I’m less likely to succumb to the time-suck that is the Internet.

Image credit: hobvias sudoneighm

5. Show up every time all the time (no excuses)

You will never get into the rhythm if you continually change the day and time you are writing. Believe me, I know it can be downright painful sticking to a schedule. You can feel your body resist and ache and your mind wanting to wander. I understand. But if you show up each and every time, you’ll begin to notice your writing comes out and the process becomes easier and less painful. It might not be much, but at least you’ll have words on paper.

For the next week, try out creating a schedule as you’re getting ready for NaNoWriMo. Play with what times work for you and make you feel creative. Not only will this help you in your writing, it will help you successfully finish those 50,000 words in 30 days.

What are you doing to get ready for NaNoWriMo? What do you do to make sure you’re writing on a consistent basis? I would love to hear your thoughts.