If you read my last post you’ll know that November was spent attempting to achieve a life long ambition of mine to write a novel. I decided to do this as part of the annual NaNoWriMo event (National Novel Writing Month), in which participants sign up to write 50,000 words during the thirty days of November. When I signed up for this challenge back at the end of 2011, I had no idea where in the world I would be and what I would be doing. As it turns out, this November goes down as my busiest month this year, both in terms of work and socialising.

At around 8.30pm on Friday 30th November, I wrote my 50059th word and promptly collapsed in an exhausted heap. The plan had been to write around 1666 words a day for 30 days to finish with a 50,000-word manuscript, however plans change. Life got in the way and rather than write it in thirty days, I ended up writing it in nine days instead. If you want to see the stats of my writing endeavours in graph form then take a look at my NaNoWriMo profile but if graphs aren’t your thing then let me break it down for you in words, this is how I did it:

Day 1: I wrote 1,666 words (good start I thought)

Day 2: I wrote 1,667 words bringing my total to 3,333 words. (Sticking to the plan so far…)

Day 3: I wrote 29 words bring my total to 3,362 words. (Not so great)

Days 4 – 10: I wrote nothing, zero, zilch, nada.  (Oh dear!)

Day 11: I wrote 1,087 words bringing my total to 4,449 words. (Getting back on track?)

Days 12 – 25: I wrote nothing, zero, zilch, nada. (It seems I forgot I was supposed to be writing a novel)

Day 26: I wrote 3,107 words bringing my total to 7,556 words. (Attempting to get back on track)

Day 27: I wrote 6,447 words bringing my total to 14,003 words. (Not too shabby)

Day 28: I wrote 9,676 words bringing my total to 23,679 words. (Better)

Day 29: I wrote 11,417 words bringing my total to 35,096 words. (This is the point at which life as I knew it stopped and writing like a demon started)

Day 30: I wrote 14,963 words bringing my total to 50,059 words and the achievement of winner status!

Days 23 and 24 had seen me spending the day at a Balloon Festival and Lantern Festival (Yi Peng) and after a day to recover from all that fun, day 26 became a turning point for me. I had no idea if it was even physically possible at such a late date to catch up and achieve the target of 50,000 words by midnight on the 30th November, but on that day I made a promise to myself that I would spend the next five days trying.

Over those five days, I didn’t see my friends, I only left my apartment to get food and I missed out on five days of Loi Krathong celebrations in Chiang Mai. As I sat and typed at my desk, the night sky over the city filled with lanterns and fireworks. I declined every invitation from friends to celebrate the festival and instead I entered the world inside my novel. I took a short 15-30 minute break every hour, also needing to find time to do other work (actual work that I get paid for!).

It was intense, my hands and back ached, I had a headache from staring at the screen so much and for the last three days I was writing for between 10 and 15 hours a day, starting at 9am and finishing around 2am the following morning. I had no idea that I had it in me to accomplish this. The idea that I could write 45,610 in five days was sort of hilarious to me at the start of day 26, but as the hours passed by and my word count climbed, I started to realise that I just might be able to do it.

What confirmed that I could do it was something I did on the morning of day 29 with over 25,000 words still to write. I sat down and wrote a plan. I worked out exactly how many hours of writing I would need to do each day in order to reach my goal of 50,000 words and then I scheduled my day from 9.30am until 2am the following day allowing one hour per 1000 words (based on what I’d managed on previous days) and allowing for short breaks or work periods. I became a machine. I followed that schedule to the letter because I knew that if I did and then followed a similar albeit slightly tougher schedule the next day then I could do it.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

I attribute my success to this plan. Knowing exactly what I had to do each hour of the day meant I didn’t need to waste time wondering what if. I knew that if I fell behind at any point, it would be impossible to catch up, so I stuck to that plan like glue. Had I not done the planning, I firmly believe that doubt would have got the better of me. The thought of writing nearly 15,000 words in one day was only possible because I’d worked out exactly how I would do it. Had I not, I think the temptation to dismiss it as an impossible task, would have been too great to resist.

Normally I have a fairly casual approach to plans. The actual act of planning I’m meticulous about, but following the plan once it’s created, less so. The reason for this is that for me the gold is in the planning not the plan. The planning tells me what is possible and the resulting plan is there to follow or not depending on how things go.

Effective planning affords me options, because when I am fully aware of what’s possible then I have a choice about what to do next. On this occasion, the choice boiled down to following the plan and writing for 10-15 hours a day to achieve my goal or sack it off and go and watch some fireworks. Either would have been cool but on this occasion I’m chuffed that I chose to stick to the plan.

With a renewed enthusiasm for the power of planning, I will be spending the next three weeks in December reviewing my annual plan from 2012 and writing my annual plan for 2013. You’ll see when I publish my 2012 review that I have no problem deviating from the plan but I hope that this post has demonstrated just how beneficial planning can be.

Have you had a think yet about what you might want to do with your year in 2013? If not, why not spend some time planning? The resulting plan needn’t feel like a straight jacket but you might find that the act of planning opens up your eyes to just what is possible. If you enjoyed this post please do share it using one of the buttons below.