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6 Tips for Writing a Novel… and Living Greener

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Writing a novel has surprising similarities to living sustainably. 

Every year around this time, I get the urge to write the Great American Novel. Why? Because it’s NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. This movement was started in 1999 and has since evolved into a nonprofit that encourages and inspires children and adults alike to find and maximize their creative potential. Each year, during the month of November, aspiring writers work towards writing 50,000 words of a novel by midnight, November 30. Last year there were more than 310,000 participants, and 89,500 students and educators participated in the sister Young Writers Program.


While I can’t promise that I’ll tackle that novel this year, I’ve come to realize that the tips and advice for writing a novel in a month can also apply to folks who want to live a greener lifestyle. Here’s how:


1.Make a commitment: When you sign on to NaNoWriMo, the first step is to announce your novel and make a commitment, both to yourself and to the program, that you’re going to do what it takes to achieve your goal. Similarly, when you decide you want to reduce your environmental footprint, find ways to pledge your commitment to the environment, whether it’s just telling your friends and family them that you’re planning to incorporate green habits into your life, or taking some of Recyclebank’s daily pledges. Another option to show your commitment: if you can commute by bike, look to see if your community or employer has some sort of organization that rewards people who pledge to ride their bikes. Here in Atlanta, the organization is Georgia Commute Options.


2.Track your progress: At NaNoWriMo, a word-count tracker keeps a running tally of the participants’ progress, and gives them a sense of achievement and a visual way of keeping track of how close they are from their goal. You can keep track of your green progress a few ways:


  • Try turning off the lights and unplugging electronics, then watch how your electricity bill decreases month to month.
  • See if you can decrease the number of garbage bags you fill each week by recycling or composting more.
  • Monitor how much gas you use in your cars and try to decrease it by using public transportation or walking and biking.


3.Do a little every day: Obviously 50,000 words isn’t achieved in a day, and neither is a greener lifestyle. Achieving a goal takes a little bit of work every day. Each day, try to work on small habits such as going around the house and turning off unnecessary lights; adjusting the thermostat so you’ll use less heat or air conditioning; or shopping more environmentally responsible brands. These small acts every day will add up, just like writing a few pages each day will result in a novel by the time a month is over.


4.Buddy up: The organizers of NaNoWriMo encourage participants to use social media like Twitter and Facebook to connect with fellow writers, so that they can motivate and encourage one another. Likewise, there are plenty of green habits that are more fun with a buddy. One of my friends has a standing Monday morning date with some girlfriends to pick up trash in the park behind her daughter’s school, for instance. Join forces with friends to do environmental volunteer work, find a neighbor who works near you to be bike-commuting buddies, or run errands with a friend so that you can conserve gas.


5.Get inspired: Each year, NaNoWriMo works with a group of well-known published authors who provide advice, inspiration, and encouragement to participants. These authors, some of whom got their start by participating in NaNoWriMo in previous years, are great role models for up-and-coming writers. Who is your eco-role model? Seek out someone to emulate, whether it’s a well-known public figure or someone in your community who is committed to living a greener life. Need some suggestions? A few months ago I wrote about six sustainability heroes to watch.


6.Reap the rewards: At NaNoWriMo, meeting that 50,000-word goal means you’ve won – and you’re eligible for prizes. Being green is its own reward, in the way of knowing you’re improving the environment for future generations, but you might also get some swag along the way. Don’t forget that the points you earn through Recyclebank can be traded in for fabulous rewards. My husband’s bike-commute program sends him gift cards when he hits certain milestones, plus he gets a free gym membership at his office in exchange for giving up his parking spot. Look out for other ways you can get freebies and benefits for recycling and other green habits—in addition to lower utility bills, paying less for gas, and feeling healthier by walking or biking.

What are your best tips for being greener? Share them in the comments below — bonus points if the tips can also apply to writing a novel!  

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more