3 Easy Ways to Make NaNoWriMo (Practically) Stress Free

As the temperature outside creeps downward and autumn winds swirl leaves from the trees, writers around the world shiver in anticipation. The season approacheth: NANOWRIMO IS ALMOST HERE! Oooooh…so exciting! And daunting :). Exciting AND daunting–but worth it, and with a little advance prep, you can totally rock this 50K-words-in-30-days thing. Let me show you how! But first, in case you haven’t heard of NaNo… NANOWRIMO Survival Guide

What’s NaNoWriMo?

Here’s the quick-and-simple definition:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing…. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.” —NaNoWriMo, “About”

What’s the Point?

I love NaNoWriMo for many reasons. Here are a few:

  1. It encourages writers of all stripes to make a month-long commitment to creativity. Do you suffer from “Someday I’ll write that book…” syndrome? NaNoWriMo helps you conquer it!
  2. It helps writers establish a writing practice. Have you been meaning to write more, or write more regularly? Nothing like making a public commitment to help you make the change!
  3. With its ambitious word count goals, it pushes writers to accomplish more than they might otherwise. You know that feeling you get when you reach a seemingly impossible goal? It’s fantabulous–and it will provide you writing energy and enthusiasm for months to come!
  4. It inspires writers with a sense of community. When you aren’t the only one working on a difficult task–writing a novel–that sense of community can often provide that little extra something you need to keep going.
  5. It inspires writers with regular pep talks and encouraging emails from published authors. I love the author lineups they’ve put together for previous years–and the diversity of encouragement and advice they’ve offered.
  6. It helps writers practice writing without letting that inner critic interfere…an essential skill for any would-be prolific and productive writer. Anyone else fight with perfectionism? NaNoWriMo is the (perfect) antidote!

This video sums up the “WHY” of NaNoWriMo:

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Why NaNoWriMo?

What Insane Person Tries to Write 50K Words in 30 Days?

One who wants to improve their ability to create!

This quick video explains why NaNoWriMo is worth doing and what you’ll gain from the experience.

This is for you if

  • You’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and want to know more
  • Your friend / classmate / significant other is participating in NaNoWriMo and you think they’re crazy
  • YOU are participating in NaNoWriMo…and you’re wondering if YOU are crazy
  • You know you thought this book-in-a-month thing was a good idea, but you can’t seem to remember why
  • You just need a good excuse to procrastinate because you don’t want to write :)

If you enjoy, please share!

This is also available as a Prezi (below) if you prefer to go through it without the narration.

Five Sure-Fire Ways to Beat the NaNoWriMo Blues

Only 1667 words

Participant-2014-Web-BannerYou’ve outlined — plus created character sketches, researched settings and historical context, and honed the details of your magic system.

Your freezer is filled with prepared foods — buying you more time at the page, time in which to pen (or type) those words every day, come what may.

You’re determined — just 1667 words a day and by November 30, you’ll have a NOVEL, 50,000 words strong.

Your plans are beautiful…except for one, small problem.

It’s now day 3 (or 5, or 17 — insert your day # here), and your plans aren’t going quite as anticipated.

Perhaps you’ve been at your computer for an hour already today. Maybe more. You’ve cranked out a measly, what — 500? 200? 150? — words. You’re never going to meet your day’s word count goal at this rate!

Worse, as panic sets in, that pathetic trickle of words threatens to dry up completely. Your stress is mounting, and stress is not a friend of flow.

Before you sink into despair — before you give up this crazy affair known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated) — take heart, take a deep breath, and take a look at the tips that follow.

You might have forgotten to prepare your most important #NaNoWriMo asset: your mindset.

Prepare Your NaNoWriMo Mindset

It’s easy to overlook this most important tool for  NaNoWriMo success: a winning mindset. Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell you to give yourself a Rah-Rah, Go Team! pep talk. I’m not even going to tell you to think positive and banish those pessimistic “I can’t” thoughts from your vocabulary.

I WILL tell you to check out your mindset: do you have any of the following unwanted assumptions tagging along?

These assumptions are common and easy to make. They’re easy to miss, if you aren’t looking for them. And, unchecked, they can seriously damage your ability to benefit from (and yes, meet your word count goals during) NaNoWriMo.

Are any of them directing your writing this November? If so, it’s time to kick ’em to the curb. You’ve got writing to do!

Assumption #1. I need to get the language perfect!

The pursuit of perfection — whether you’re trying to attain perfect language, perfect flow, perfect description, or something else — never fails to sabotage first draft writing efforts.

Truth is, you probably know about this stumbling block. You probably tell yourself not to strive for perfection yet, because you’re only writing a draft, and it’s okay for there to be mistakes or for the wording to be a little rough. You tell yourself these things. But do you listen? Or do you find yourself backtracking during the writing process, looking over previous paragraphs and letting your brain start pointing out flaws and edits that you need to make?

Watch out for that drive to be perfect! At best, it will slow down your NaNoWriMo writing productivity; at worst, it will slam your writing to a screeching halt.

Assumption #2. I need to write the story in order.

Most of us don’t necessarily feel the driving need to write a story in the same order in which events unfold but, until someone points out that there are other possibilities, most of us don’t consider that there are alternatives. I’m here to tell you that if you’re stuck on a scene, it’s perfectly okay to jump to a scene that occurs later in the story.

In fact, jumping to another scene often leads a writer to focus on writing the pivotal and climactic scenes first. Those are often the scenes that are clearest in the imagination. Writing them is often easier, even fun!

On top of that, writing any scene tends to reveal information about things like your plot, story world, and character motivations. The process of writing those compelling, “easier” scenes first often leaves you with a writing to-do list to inspire your next writing session.

Assumption #3. I have to finish this scene/chapter/whatever before moving on.

This is a variation on assumption #2. There can be many reasons for stalled writing. Read through the following list and — this is important — choose your best answer quickly, without taking in a lot of time to “logic” your way through them:

  1. Your brain is tired; you could probably take a break and come back to writing and it would go fine.
  2. The scene is a good idea; you’re just having a hard time finding your way through it.
  3. You don’t know enough (about the character’s motivation, the setting, etc.) to write the scene; you need to do more research.
  4. You have a feeling that this scene is going in the wrong direction, which is making it hard to write.
  5. The scene isn’t inspiring you and you’re not sure it ever will; deep down, you feel like there’s something irreparably wrong with it.

Sometimes, when you feel stuck, you just need to power through it. (My DH calls this the “beating your head against the wall” approach.)

However, that stuck feeling may be sending you information about some obstacle to writing flow. Identify the obstacle and you’ll solve your problem far more quickly than if you just try harder.

Assumption #4. I have to stick to my outline.

This one’s only relevant if you’re an outliner, not a seat-of-the-pants writer. It’s also an assumption I can speak to personally, since I tend to outline my stories in detail…and then resist getting off the outline’s planned track with all my might.

But if your muse is calling you to turn left when the outline says go right, then by all means check out that left-hand turn! You can always return to your outline if you don’t like where it takes you. Meanwhile, following your gut instinct (or intuition, or muse, or whatever you want to call it) is the best way to make unexpected creative connections.

Similarly, if following your outline makes you feel like you’re slogging through hip-deep mud, that can be a sign that you’re not heading in the right direction. Try asking “what if…?” questions.

  • What if your character cooperated with his abductor instead of fighting?
  • What if your antagonist felt unexpected sympathy for her victim?
  • What if that important message didn’t reach its destination?

What if your carefully planned story goes in the complete opposite direction of what you planned? You might be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Assumption #5. I shouldn’t write this scene, because I’m not sure it has a place in my final manuscript.

Don’t be afraid to write scenes, character descriptions, settings, and dialogues that probably won’t appear in the final story. Even if these are “only” backstory, if you feel drawn to write something — write it. In the long run, these writing side trips will help you create a richer story with greater depth.

Besides, you never know what will make its way into your final manuscript! Those scenes may end up appearing as memories, flashbacks, or daydreams that build character and provide additional story layers.

If you’re writing a story from a single point of view, you may be making this assumption unconsciously. Be open to the possibility of testing out key scenes with a different point-of-view narrator. Sometimes a different narrator can give your reader different insights into a story’s events. This technique can also be used to add narrative tension, provide critical backstory, or withhold information from your reader.

This isn’t a post on writing craft; if it were, I wouldn’t advise you to randomly change narrators during your story. However, during the first draft stage — which is what you’re writing during NaNoWriMo — experimenting with different narrative voices can be a powerful technique to help move your story forward.

Join the discussion: What hidden assumptions can sabotage YOUR first draft writing attempts?

P.S. For those of you working on NaNoWriMo this year, friend me! Username Cherylreif

Writing as an Act of Faith: A Case Study

I have to admit, over the past year writing fiction has been much more difficult that previously. Months ago, I thought I was days away from finishing my novel—only I couldn’t quite seem to get those last few scenes written. I wasn’t sure exactly how they would play out, which made it extremely difficult to actually sit down and write.

However, I promised my son I would do NaNoWriMo with him this year—which means I am sitting down to write for an hour every day whether or not I feel like I have anything to say.

As a result, I’ve rediscovered a truth about writing that I’d managed to forget during this past year: Writing is an act of faith. If you sit down at the page—even if you feel like you have nothing to give—nearly every time, your Muse will produce something remarkable.

Peru-teetertotter

Case in point: yesterday, I had a pen and notebook and was brainstorming a scene while waiting for a dentist appointment. I was early, so I knew I had some time, but I had ZERO inspiration. Nonetheless, I started writing:

Scene: in mine.

They go down the ramp and it’s all cool and exciting. Otto’s distracted; Elliot feels weird because he has the urge to shift. Maybe the SD is bearing down on Webb first and Elliot figures what the heck, if I have to shift, make it count… How do you write a good climax? Maybe the key is to have your theme pull it through—winning by conquering your inner demon blah blah blah.

At this point, I put down my pen, looked up at the ceiling, and said to myself, why am I bothering with this? I have nothing to give here. I’m writing worthless gobbledegook—what’s the point?

Because, another voice answered, writing is an act of faith. Every time you feel this way, if you just keep writing, you’re surprised at the result.

So, with a martyred sigh, I picked up my pen and kept writing whatever (stupid, I thought) words happened to come into my head.

1. Down ramp. 2. Seeing the mine. 3. Generator. 4….

And then—something shifted. I caught a snatch of conversation and the scene came alive in my head. My pen raced to capture the events I imagined unfolding.

“Oh, there’s something I should possibly have mentioned,” Otto says. “There might be some sort of Guardian down here.”

[He casts a spell to protect them from the approaching monster—an invisible sphere? Or maybe a wizard’s hedge like earlier]

“Where’s Webb?” Otto demands.

“He’s outside! You have to let him in!”

“I can’t,” he snaps. “Not without taking the entire thing down.”

And just like that, I had my answer to the scene problem. Okay, the prose isn’t beautiful, and the scene probably makes no sense whatsoever without context, but I’d been stuck there for quite some time with no idea how to get from Point A (the scene’s beginning) to Point B (the next planned event). Actually, I won’t be going to Point B because the writing process often takes you in unexpected directions, and in this case the unexpected direction is much better than the original plan.

Writing requires faith: faith that it’s worth it, faith to keep writing even when you’re sure you have nothing to say, and faith that the ugly prose that first hits the page will, someday and somehow, transform into a story worth telling. When I remember this, I keep writing.

What about you? Do you think writing requires a leap of faith?