A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post giving a few tips on how to plan for NaNoWriMo. Now as mid-month (25k words) approaches, I want to share seven tips for sticking it out and going the distance.
1. Grab your notebook and pen.
There are a lot of good reasons for writing by hand (like the ones noted in this recent article at Guardian UK Books). Your brain thinks differently when you’re writing with a pen than it does when you’re typing. Sometimes slapping the laptop closed and grabbing a pen can give you just the shake-up you need to get motivated. Also, having a portable notebook on your person at all times means never losing the thoughts you have when you’re away from your computer. Those precious thoughts might turn into entire scenes, but you have to remember them first, so jot them down!
2. Write morning, noon, and night.
This one is hard, but so rewarding if you can pull it off. If you work a day job like I do, you’re probably saving writing time for the evening — which just happens to be the time of the day you’re at your most tired! So I try to sneak in a few hundred words first thing in the morning with my first cup of coffee. When I’m in the zone, I’ll use my lunch break to sneak a few hundred more in. Not only does it cut down on the word count looming over me in the evenings, it keeps my head in the story and the characters. Even if you don’t work a day job, splitting up the load into different parts of the day makes some days so much easier to hit that word count.
3. At least something every day.
Speaking of keeping your head in the story and the characters: try your hardest to write a few paragraphs every day. There’s very little doubt for most of us that we’ll have days where we don’t get to 1,667 words. Sure, you’ll make that word count up on a different day (I know you can do it, because I did it!). But it’s ever so much easier if you at least get something down each day. Even a couple of hundred words is better than nothing. And it’s not just about the count: it’s about keeping your head in the story so when you come back to it, you don’t have to backtrack. Trust me — when NaNoWriMo is said and done, this is one of the lessons you come away with.
4. Leave yourself a clue.
This is probably one of the simplest and most effective tips on here. When you get done writing for the day, write one more sentence. It doesn’t have to be a real sentence — just a reminder to yourself about what’s going to happen next, or how a character is feeling, or anything like that. Just leave yourself a little clue so that when you come back the next day, your head is right back in the story. Why so many tips about keeping your head in the story? We live in a world of distractions. Our jobs, families, friends, homes, chores, pets, appliances: all are sources of distraction. Distraction is a fact of life. Learn to work around it instead of letting it defeat you. This tip is just a way to distract yourself from your daily distractions… by making you think about your story again when you sit down to write!
5. Recharge with reading!
Yes, read books! You’re writing a book! Part of the reason I make this suggestion has to do with my feelings about how badly television affects my writing, so when I’m in write-mode, my entertainment needs to be read-mode and not watch-TV-mode.
And to be honest, during a time of such intense writing, reading short stories might be even better than novels. You can pick and choose and get more variety of voice, style, genre, setting, character, etc. You won’t get hooked into losing several hours in a night because you’re reading some page-turner of a novel. And if you’re one of those types that’s always afraid your writing is going to come out just like the current novel you’re reading, well then short stories let you hop around from author to author, broadening the influence on your writer-brain.
6. Rewards are key.
Make procrastination work for you! Karen E. Peterson’s book Write: 10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period. talks about how writer’s block is more or less a result of the two halves of your brain working against each other (which just makes me think of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly). When you’re trying to take charge and sit down and write, sometimes your right brain is rebelling and saying, “No, let’s not write… let’s do X” (examples of X: watch TV, play video games, go to the bar, or even read something fun and distracting). So what can you do? One thing you do not want to do is say, “Okay, Righty — we’ll start with dessert and then after we do X we’ll get some writing done.” I think we all know how that story ends. So instead, we have to tell our right brain this is a work-reward situation. “Listen here, Righty — if we sit down and write for no more than an hour or a thousand words, whichever comes first, after that we get to go do X.” I can’t believe how well this works.
7. Change your environment, change your mind.
Go for a walk, go to a cafe, go to the library, heck, go to a bar. Some of these places are distracting, I know, but I truly believe that part of doing NaNo is learning how to write with distractions. Besides, sometimes your brain needs that chaos to wallow in; sitting in the middle of a cafe or bar while people are all around you socializing; if your brain can learn to be creative under those conditions, you’re going to feel invincible.
So there you go. Did I forget anything? What are your tips for surviving NaNoWriMo?