7 Ways to Keep Writing During NaNo When You Only Want to Watch Football

You’re all geared up for National Novel Writing Month. You’re excited, you’re prepared (you did read last week’s post on preparation, right?). Your story is so ready to be written that it’s practically exploding out of you. But then November 1st rolls around, and . . . wow, how about that? Wouldn’t you know it would be a Sunday–and your football team just happens to be playing a mega-important game. What do you do: be a good NaNo-er and keep writing during NaNo–or be a good fan and steal three measly hours to watch your team crush the opposition?

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably resolving right here and now to be a better writer than you are a fan come November 1st–just like Buckeyes fan Alexa on Twitter:

(And, yeah, I have to admit that one of the reasons I decided to post on this subject was just because I really, really wanted to use that awesome title.)

Motivation: You Can’t Write Without It, So Where Can You Get Some?

As anyone who has been writing for more than two days knows, motivation is something writers struggle with the whole year through, not just during NaNo. The pressure, however, is more intense when you’ve committed to a public goal of 50k words in 30 days–during football season. And Thanksgiving season. And Black Friday season. And whatever else that’s shiny and interesting that crosses your path in November.

That’s why it’s so important to approach this project–and every other book you write during the rest of your life–with a specific plan to squash procrastination urges and keep you writing during NaNo. “How to keep writing” is a question I’m asked frequently, and while there are no easy answers, there are at least seven specific things I do to keep myself writing every single day. Ready to implement them in your own writing life?

7 Motivators Every Writer Should Be Using

1. Shame: You’ll Feel Terrible if You Don’t Write

Let’s start with the obvious one. It’s also arguably the least healthy one, but let’s face it: it’s ridiculously effective. After all, if you were okay with not writing, this whole writing vs. football competition wouldn’t even be a question. It’s the feelings of guilt and shame when we fail to live up to our personal commitments that scare into wanting to be motivated.

For better or worse, fear is a pretty strong motivator. So use it! When your attention starts drifting to the roar of the football crowd on the TV in the other room, take a moment to center yourself and deliberately focus on how you’ll feel if you exchange your writing for the comfy couch and a bowl of salsa.

Is that feeling really worth the brief release of tension you’ll feel in freeing yourself from your writing and the temporary pleasures of a good game? Only you can answer that question, and don’t take the answer for granted. But if you know you’re going to be angry with yourself after the game, use that feeling to keep you doing what you’re supposed to be doing: writing.

2. Satisfaction: You’ll Feel Great if You Do Write

At the same time as you’re deliberately exploring how bad you’ll feel if you don’t write, consciously embrace how good it will feel when you do. Think about applying yourself diligently to your goals, resisting the temptation for instant self-gratification, and powering through to the end of a difficult job. When does that ever not feel good? Is the temporary distraction of a football game–or whatever–really going to feel better than that?

But there’s more! This positive effect only compounds with time. As great as a one-time resistance to being a lazy bum feels, imagine the personal rewards when you have not just one day’s writing victory under your belt–but two in a row, a whole week, a whole month, a whole book! You’ll probably forget who won that game in less than a year. But you’ll never lose your satisfaction in the writing you’ve disciplined yourself to create.

3. Grit: Just Do It

This is what motivation is all about. Sure, it’s a bit of a head game, as the previous two motivators prove. But, ultimately, motivation, or the lack thereof, is powerless in the face of actual action. You’re a writer. You don’t care that the football fan inside of you is sitting on his pompoms, pouting. You don’t care that your fingertips are bleeding from all that ferocious typing. You don’t care that your stomach is growling, your throat is parched, and you really, really have to go the bathroom.

There’s no whining here, soldier. There’s no dithering. There’s no procrastinating. There’s no, Well, I just don’t feel like writing today.

Here, there’s only grit, determination, and writing. Lots and lots of writing. Fifty thousand words of writing.


Feeling pumped yet? I am! And the great part of this is that the more you exercise your “grit it out” muscle, the stronger it gets. Use it every day, and you’ll never have to worry about whether or not you’re motivated.


4. Focus: Ignore the Inconsequential

Staying focused is like walking a tightrope. You can’t think about too much, and you definitely don’t want to look down. One of my brain’s annoying little tricks is trying over and over to “check in” and monitor my motivation level. It’s like the cuckoo bird popping out of the clock house: “Are you still motivated? Are you still motivated? Are you still motivated?”

Needless to say, this constant pulse-checking is one of the quickest ways to bring conscious awareness to all the ways you’re perhaps not motivated and, as a result, throw off your groove. Don’t be OCD about your motivation or how you feel about your writing today.

The Emperor's New Groove You Threw Off My Groove Man

The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Walt Disney Pictures.

This extends to your physical surroundings as well. Resist the urge to make sure everything is perfect. That’s the fast track to procrastination. I always have to resist my admittedly OCD tendencies: the background pic in Scrivener‘s full-screen mode doesn’t have to perfectly reflect the scene I’m writing, my desk doesn’t have to be completely cleared of clutter, all the emails in my inbox don’t have to be checked.

Surrender the need for perfection: it will only get the way of your motivation.

5. Prioritize: Get Your Writing Done First

Just as you’re taking the initiative in using October to plan and outline your story, take the initiative every single day in lining up your daily priorities and composing your schedule. I often say schedules are my secret weapon. This may be glib, but it’s no joke. If you don’t take the time to anticipate each day’s events to the best of your abilities and devise a plan of attack for navigating all them in an effective way, then your writing is just as likely to end up on the bottom of the pile as it is the top. More likely, in fact.

Prioritizing isn’t just a matter of putting your writing on your schedule, it’s a matter of choosing where to put it. For pretty much all of my writing life, I’ve scheduled my writing from 4-6PM, on the theory that I was saving the best for last. But as my schedule got more and more crammed, that writing time at the end of the day began getting encroached upon more and more.

This year, I started the habit of making writing the first thing I do when I sit down at the computer in the morning. And guess what? My writing sessions have been way more consistent and productive. If you want to make certain your writing happens, do it first thing. That way, whatever else may collide with your day, at least your writing is already checked off the list.

6. Be Proactive: Kill Distractions

Some distractions you can’t anticipate or avoid: your kid throwing up all over his bed, a flat tire on the way to the grocery store, a driveway full of snow that has to be shoveled before work. But most of the distractions that interfere with your writing are things you can probably rattle off in a list right now:

  • The Internet
  • Phone calls
  • Household chores
  • Interruptive family members

Because you can anticipate all of these things, you have it in your power to mitigate–or even eliminate–their effect.

  • If at all possible, turn off the Internet–or work from a device with no connectivity such as an AlphaSmart Neo or maybe even a good old pad of paper.
  • Turn off your phone and put it in another room to keep you from checking messages.
  • If there are household chores you can take care of the night before (laundry, dirty dishes, etc.), do them. If not, put them out of sight and out of mind until after you’ve finished your writing session.


  • Save research questions for after writing, so you don’t get derailed looking for the answers.
  • Go over what you’ll be writing tomorrow, so you can anticipate any inspirational images or research facts you’ll need before then.

In short, wherever possible, look ahead to tomorrow’s writing session and do everything you can to eliminate the distractions you already know about. When it comes to the distractions you don’t know about, you’ll need to revert to Motivator #3: Grit–and just power through them.

7. Bribe: Write First, Watch Football Later

Nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned bribe. Who says you can’t watch that football game? Promise yourself a reward, but only if you accomplish your writing goals first. If you think you won’t be able to discipline yourself to withhold the reward if you fail in your goals, give the TV remote to someone else and make them promise to keep it out of reach until you’ve proven you deserve a little shouting at the TV in exchange for your hard work and discipline.

Motivation is largely a mind game, and as such it can be difficult to come up with concrete ways to manage it. But if you can enforce all seven of these motivators in your writing life, they’re guaranteed to spur you to keep writing during NaNo and beyond!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What do you do to keep writing during NaNo–or any other time of the year? Tell me in the comments!

7 Ways to Keep Writing During NaNo When You Only Want to Watch Football

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I had to do #7 yesterday. I really wanted to go watch football, but I knew I’d never get any writing done if I “saved it for later.” So I cranked out my daily average and then went to go watch the games. 😉 I have yet to do NaNo, but these posts have definitely been helpful for writing in general.

  2. After paying little mind to the season for years, I have returned to the fold all thanks to a resurgence of interest and fantasy football. This year’s NaNo will be a true challenge, but I know I can get it done. Scores can be checked between bathroom and tea breaks.

  3. Suzan Robertson says

    I love my AlphaSmart! Great post. I haven’t decided on whether to do NaNo yet, but this post is helpful. (I’m not into sports. My distraction is family drama…)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I love mine as well! I haven’t used it as much I thought I would, but when I do, it’s great.

  4. Loving #7! I find I work well under reward based training, haha! But I also have to applaud strategic scheduling. I’m trying to write from 7-9am, which is working great… until my reward football game doesn’t start till 8:25pm.
    Bye sleep. See you after the Super Bowl.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ouch. That’s the advantage of living in Mountain Standard Time–the games are always reasonably timed.

  5. If I get up early (and being a night owl, it doesn’t happen that often) I’m not distracted by kids or husband in the morning and can get some writing done before the hustle-and-bustle of the day. Otherwise, I shut off the internet, plug in my earbuds, and crank up the tunes while putting Scrivener on full-screen mode. My biggest problem lately is fact-checking. I’m near the end of my novel, and while not true research per se, I still have to double-check against something said or done in an earlier chapter, then it takes me time to find it. Case in point: I was looking for a piece of information earlier, and discovered that within a couple scenes, I’d labeled my male MC’s mother as both 75 and nearly to her 75th birthday within a short section. So I had to fix that (because I’ve already established she’s 75 and will be 76 later that year!)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Those are the sort of details I’m (slowly) training myself to ignore during the drafting process. If it’s a detail that isn’t actually going to affect how the scene plays out, I bold it, leave it, and keep writing. The only time I stop to fact check is when the detail is going to affect how I actually write the scene.

      • In this case, the first instance was extremely pertinent–I needed to know whether my MC had told her captain a piece of information (she had–but there was some doubt that she had.)

  6. Not a football fan by any stretch of the imagination,although since I’m from Nebraska I pretend to be sometimes :), but this is a great post. And you can easily swap out the word “football” with “horror movies” and make it work. The key is shut out the distractions, close the door, and just get the work done.

    Happy pre-NaNo to all!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yeah, as a Nebraskan who doesn’t pay attention to college ball, I know exactly where you’re coming from. 😉

  7. I modify #7, using what I call my “delayed gratification device.” Normal people call it a PVR, but who wants to be normal? I’ve heard it is highly overrated.

  8. Linda Freeto says

    I am not a big football fan, but when it comes to the holidays my family always looks forward to Mom’s cooking, snacks, and football. I get a great deal of pleasure out of these events. I am not ready to do NaNo yet, but I think that other distractions do get in the way of my writing. My plan for holiday football games — schedule cooking prep times earlier in the week (get turkey and stuffing ready the day before and put in refrigerator to pop into the oven when I get up on Thanksgiving morning — then write while it cooks); including others in prep for dinners and snacks (of course I will cook the turkey and stuffing); and writing earlier in the day — probably have to get up earlier than ususal (It also takes hours for a turkey to cook, and someone else can set up football trays in the livingroom to watch the game and eat — waaalaaa.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      We talk about planning ahead when it comes to our writing, but really it’s valuable for just about anything. Better planning always equals more time–for writing or family or whatever. Smart plan!

  9. Lucky me, I’m not interested in football (I’ll watch it if it’s on, but really … commercials every five minutes? Ridiculous!); actually I hardly know any of the rules of the game, but it’s still fun to cheer someone on to a touchdown 🙂
    Anyways, my big distraction is the internet (of course) and knitting. This November I’m going to reward myself with knitting, instead of putting off writing to knit; wow that’ll be tough. I’ll need some true grit for sure 😀

  10. I will keep this post to keep myself motivated. Thank you.

  11. Someone wrote that the single best trick for success is to plan your day, in other words plan tomorrow’s activities.

    Of course if tomorrow’s activity list consists of “1. write” then it’s hard to make a specific plan. But it could be “1. write scene A, 2. write scene B”

  12. Notice when you’re procrastinating;

    label it and name what is happening (“I am procrastinating” or “This is procrastination”);

    then redirect (“Now I’m writing.”)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Very smart. Sometimes fixing a problem is all about bringing conscious awareness to it (i.e., “first admit you have a problem).

  13. For me it’s more about distraction elimination than motivation in particular. My biggest things are headphones with rain sounds playing to block out extraneous distracting sounds (I use rainymood.com) and putting myself on a timer. I set a timer for 30 minutes and while I’m on the timer I’m not allowed to do other random things. Just write. I can usually get 700-800 words in those 30 mins. Then I can take a break and do research, check social media, whatever. Then another 30 minute timed session. Two 30 minute sessions a day would give me pretty close to the daily word count to hit 50k at the end of a month.

  14. Kinza Sheikh says

    My biggest procrastination method is; I think this story wasn’t ready yet. 😉

    But I want to get over it, the prove is my taking NaNos.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s *totally* possible for this to be a procrastination method. I hear from many authors who get hung up on the outlining phase and are unable to get themselves to move on to actually writing. But it’s definitely worthwhile to consider that there’s the always the possibility that this feeling that the “story isn’t ready” *may* be accurate. You don’t want to use prep work as a delaying tactic, but you don’t want to neglect it either.

  15. Bribes and guilt got me through last year! It will be nice to try out some of your other suggestions, maybe move into a cave!

  16. Shame, yep, that works for me.

  17. I don’t write on Sundays. When I set my word goal at the beginning of November, I calculate in that I won’t be working on Sunday. Scrivener even lets you pick which days of the week you write when setting a goal.

    But I don’t watch football, either…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I talk a lot about “writing everyday.” But truthfully, I think it’s extremely important to give yourself a day off every week–for a lot of reasons, including just giving your brain space to reboot. So that’s smart!

  18. I replaced “football” with “sleeping in.” I’m not anti-morning, but I struggle to rise and get out of bed. Thank you very much for these helpful tips, I think I’ll be using all of them!

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