During NaNoWriMo you have a short period of time to write an entire novel. Expectations are high. You’re probably thinking you need to sprint to the finish line and write for long periods of time during each writing session.
You could do that. I’d recommend not.
Instead, treat writing like you’re preparing for a run. If you take off sprinting, you’re going to burn out fast and won’t ultimately cover much ground. Start slow and steady within short clumps of time.
For instance, if you only have an hour to write, break up the hour into 15-minute writing segments followed by 5-minute breaks. During the writing segments, you’ll want to get as much down as humanly possible. It’s time to stretch those WPM skills. Once you hit your five-minute break, take a breath, meditate, cool down, and maybe think about what you want to do in the next writing segment.
Believe it or not, this will help you write more words down and you won’t burn out as fast. Once you’ve mastered this technique, you can tweak it to how you’re feeling. Maybe longer writing sessions followed by only two breaks or shorter breaks.
In tomorrows tip, I’ll cover some great tools you can use to time each session and know you’re not wasting time and staying on track.
If I could only give a young writer one tip for combating writer’s block and becoming a better writer, it’s giving yourself permission to have a bad first draft. For perfectionists, this is a tall order. The first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page will never be good enough. You’ll keep writing and re-writing in circles.
When I first started writing, I wrote a paragraph and erased it. Wrote it again and erased it. Rinse. Repeat. Like I said, I didn’t get anywhere. I never finished my stories and had nothing to show for the time I put into them.
Then, in a very deliberate and concerted way, I gave myself permission to have a bad first draft. I said, “It’s okay all of this is really bad. It’s going to suck. That’s okay.”
I embraced the bad first draft. Since then, I haven’t looked back and I actually complete my work.
You can, too.
For some, this might not take much effort. It might be second nature to just throw down words and not give a second thought. For others, it might mean saying out loud, “This will suck and I’m fine with that.”
Whatever it takes, it’s the best way to move forward. Otherwise, you’ll be a hamster in a NaNoWriMo wheel.
Break the wheel.
At first glance telling you to “just write” is an obvious statement. “Isn’t that the point of NaNoWriMo?” you say.
For some, writing is the singular most difficult to thing to do. Putting words down on paper feels to them like an impossible task. For others, of course, it’s as easy as spreading warm butter over bread.
Writing is also a past, present, and future experience wrapped into one process. Beginning writing for NaNoWriMo can be the largest hump while for others it could be to keep writing.
If you’re sitting in front of a blank word processor page for longer than five minutes and you haven’t written anything yet, just write.
If you’ve written over a thousand words but you got stuck at a certain point in the story and you’re criticizing your own work, just write.
Don’t worry about making the perfect first sentence. Don’t worry about details. Don’t worry about anything other than to write.
A helpful tip I read from Stephen King (Maybe you heard of him?) in his book On Writing was something he heard from his teacher. Write with the door closed and edit with the door open.
In other words, this is your first draft, so just write. Close the door literally and figuratively and write whatever comes out of that beautiful, colorful, and creative skull. There is no time for self-reflection. No time to critique your thoughts or your imagination.
Now is the time to play, be free, and just write.
So get to it, pendragon!
Is it weird I need to even mention this? NaNoWriMo isn’t supposed to make you a crazed killer ala. The Shining. If you’re writing, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” then you’ve got a problem.
Don’t be Jack Torrance. Have fun!
Writing is work but its also a ton of fun. It’s easy to let the work aspect get in the way.
But, frankly, writing isn’t supposed to be a chore. If you aren’t having fun while you’re writing, then maybe you’re in a bad mood or, honestly, hate to say it, but writing isn’t for you.
Most writers start because it’s a wicked good time. It feels good to create worlds, rules, stories, and characters and like reading it teleports you to another place. You get to feel and tap into emotions lying dormant. You get to be all these different people. Most of all, you have control.
Writing is the ultimate choose your own adventure. If that isn’t fun, I don’t know what is. So, if you’re stressing, stop it.
Allow yourself to hop in and enjoy the ride. Once you get loosey-goosey and you’re having fun, you’ll be so addicted to writing you won’t want to stop.
It’s almost a no-brainer to cut out all distractions when you write during NaNoWriMo. Yet, it’s sad how many writers make this simple mistake. They plop down in front of their television with food on the coffee table surrounded by family, friends, or a lonely pet, expecting to get something done.
The television will call your name. The video games will plea for quality time. And all your loved ones won’t care that you’re trying to get work done, they’ll bother you anyway.
To some degree, it’s a good skill to be able to write wherever, whenever. The writers who have perfected this skill have practiced a lot and are good at tuning people out and sticking to their word count goals. And let’s face it, sometimes we don’t have the luxury of running off to our hidey-hole, removed from the world.
However, for novices, I’d highly recommend finding a place removed from temptations. Once writer’s block kicks in, you’re tired and drained, but you know you should write another 1,000 words, the television will become as attractive as an oasis in a desert on a scorching hot day. Don’t let it.
Find your sanctuary. Maybe it’s at the library (My personal favorite). Maybe it’s at the coffee shop (Unless you’re a pro, this could become a distraction). Maybe you’ve got a nice dark and dank den in your basement to write a horror novel. Whatever it is, go there and write. You’ll be glad you did.