November is National Novel Writing Month, and if you signed up to do the NaNoWriMo competition, which starts on November 1, I bow to you. I’ve done it four times. Each time I learned something new about myself, my writing, and the patience of my loved ones.

November is probably the worst month of the year to write a novel. Sure, 50,000 words is a rather short novel (most of mine hover around 100,000 words), but it’s still a lot of writing and a lot of time away from November–oriented activities, like visiting family and food preparation for Thanksgiving. Guarantee that if Chris Baty, the outgoing founder of NaNoWriMo, were a woman, he’d have picked a different month. Like March. March is a good month to write a novel. It’s blustery and cold outside. There aren’t any major holidays. And bonus, it’s got 31 days! Twenty-four extra hours to get in that word count and let the dishes pile up in the sink.

The first time I did NaNo, in 2004, I think I was out of my mind to even sign up. I had no business writing a novel. I was already writing a novel. I was also working 50-hour weeks on a major project at work. And just for kicks, I had family coming to visit during Thanksgiving. I would wake up at 5:30 every morning, snort some coffee, write for about an hour and a half, go to work, come home and collapse. On weekends, I wrote as much as possible, banking away word count to spot me on those days I would need to cook and be a good hostess and go to the hospital to visit my mother-in-law, who was ill at the time. But I finished. Despite everything. Despite unexpected demands on my time, despite loved ones who needed my attention. Despite even working on someone else’s computer when I had to be away from home for a couple of days.

I was so proud of myself. I loved watching my word count rise, I loved sitting down to my computer every morning, wondering where these characters would take me. It seemed that story was just flowing out of me, and I couldn’t stop it if I wanted to. Even now (mainly because this is the manuscript I’m currently editing for a shot at publication), I remember where I was when I wrote which part. I remember the part I wrote when I woke up the morning after Election Day and my husband told me that once again there was no clear winner. I remember the first morning, when I closed my eyes in front of the keyboard and just started typing. (It’s a trick I use to defeat the blank page.)

You’ll be proud of yourself, too. Just a few tips for planning ahead:

1. Set a daily quota. This is the Mother of All NaNo Rules, or at least it is for me. Take that 50,000 words and divide it by the number of days you will realistically be able to work on it during the 30 days of November. (Could be worse. Baty could have picked February.) Put that quota on a sticky note in a prominent place. If you can write more, great. Maybe you’ll even be able to take Black Friday off to go shopping.

2. Get some healthy food in the house. This is not the time to live off Doritos and Red Bull. Make some meals in advance and freeze them. When you do cook, think leftovers. I make triple batches of stuff. And have healthy but substantial snacks around, like almonds and dried fruit. The last thing you want to do is eat crap all month long and wake up sick on December 1. That’s a lousy time to be sick.

3. Lower your standards for household cleanliness. A little dust and a few spiderwebs never killed anybody. The dishes in the sink aren’t going anywhere. You are not a failure because you don’t have clean underwear or you’re slurping coffee out of a soup bowl. If your family members are so indignant, let them take up a sponge and have at it.

4. Don’t skimp on sleep. It’s tempting to cheat a bit out of those eight hours to up your word count. But a tired writer is an unfocused writer. It’s also bad for your health, especially if you are ignoring point #2 and living on Doritos and Red Bull.

Good luck, back up your work, and have fun!