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NaNoWriMo 101: How to Make the Most of Your Minutes

Ask any writer and they’ll tell you how difficult it can be to find time to write. Knocking out all those words isn’t easy, especially when you’re trying to hit 50,000 for NaNoWriMo. (Or any time of the year, let’s be honest.) Here’s some tips you can try to maximize your productivity and make every available minute count.

Set a Timer

I like to use the Pomodoro technique, where you focus for a set amount of time, and then allow yourself small breaks when the timer is up. You might think taking breaks is unnecessary, but science actually proves how essential breaks are. Focused sessions help keep your mind from wandering, and knowing a break is waiting at the end makes it easier to push through when the writing gets hard. The traditional Pomodoro technique uses sessions of 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break, but feel free to experiment and find the groove that works best for you. Personally, I like to write for 45 minutes and then reward myself with a 10-minute break.

Eliminate Interruptions

I turn off all the notifications on my phone, and if I’m really feeling desperate, I’ll turn off the Wi-Fi and put everything in Do Not Disturb mode. Sometimes I still feel the urge to check on things that aren’t important, so when that urge hits, I resort to apps like Freedom because I know I have no self-control. There are lots of others out there, but Freedom is a program that lets you blacklist certain sites (or whitelist others) for blocks of time, essentially forcing you to get your work done. If you’re doing the Pomodoro technique I mentioned above, you can set your Freedom sessions to match. You might not think it’s a big deal to answer that one email, but your mind takes longer to adjust after the interruption, so try to avoid distractions whenever possible.

Leave Things Unfinished

Personally, if I end a chapter and then finish writing for a day, I lose my momentum when I return to my project the next day. That’s why I like to leave things unfinished even if I know what happens next, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence. That way, when I start my next writing session, I don’t have to take long to figure out where things are going, I just jump right in. If leaving things unsaid like that makes you antsy, you could also try finishing things up and then writing a few reminders to yourself before you close things down about where you’d like things to go next.

Report Back

Whether it’s a critique partner, significant other, or random person you just met on the NaNoWriMo forums—have someone you’re accountable to. Tell them your goals and give them status updates. Scientifically, speaking our goals out loud makes us that much more likely to accomplish them, plus, it helps to have someone cheering you on when things get tough.

Reward Yourself

Hit your word count for the day? Give yourself a little reward. Hit it for the week? You get something even bigger. Think of actionable, realistic goals, and then think of things you can do to reward yourself. They can be something like a cookie (mmm, my weakness), watching your favorite television show, or going out with friends. If you give yourself something to look forward to, you’re more likely to hit your target.


Being a writer isn’t always easy. Time isn’t readily available. If you want to get that book done, you’re going to have to do something about it—namely, sit down and put in the work. Hopefully these tips help you make the most of your time so you can be more productive than ever.

If you have any tips for managing your time, please share!

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Tiana Smith

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