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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4 Easy Tips to Sidestep Perfectionism and Rediscover Joy in Writing

We started talking about perfectionism–and how to bypass it–in last week’s post.

If you haven’t already read it, it takes a deep dive into Tip #1 – Reframe Writing as Playing. You’ll also hear a bit about how perfectionism has held me back from some types of writing (cough**picture books**cough) for waaaaaay too long.

Go take a look, then return here for tips 2 through 4!

Hillary Rettig quote

Tip #2: Remove Artificial Constraints

If you’re feeling stuck, it often helps to broaden your definition of what counts as “writing.”

  • Don’t feel like writing the next scene? Feel free to skip around in the narrative.
  • Not sure where your story is going? Try writing about your writing — journaling about the writing process.
  • Consider making lists to help you brainstorm. For example, list
    • Actions your character might take
    • Words that elicit a specific mood
    • Potential rhymes to serve as reference when stringing words together
  • Or simply select an intriguing entry from your idea log and start freewriting!

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Picture Book Inspiration from Dan Yaccarino – RMC-SCBWI 2015

I'm delighted to share (with DY's permission!) my Sketchnotes from the fabulous author/illustrator Dan Yaccarino. Dan  spoke about the journey from inspiration to publication at the Rocky Mountain chapter of SCBWI a few weeks back.

In this talk, he explained the difference between a protagonist and an antagonist in the world of picture books. He also covered a wealth of information on what makes a good story for young people...I wish I could transport you all back with me, so you could witness his enthusiasm and energy first-hand! Since I still lack those magical time-travel powers (alas), hopefully a little bit of Dan-style inspiration will come through these notes. Enjoy!  

Did you find this post helpful? You might also enjoy this month's subscriber-only download: 4 Easy Tips to Sidestep Perfectionism and Rediscover Joy in Writing. Click here to download your FREE PDF of tips to help YOU sidestep perfectionism and get rolling on your work-in-progress!

How to Sidestep Perfectionism and Rediscover Joy in Writing

I haven’t worked seriously on a picture book for years.

Although I do fine during the planning and conceptualization phases, perfectionism kicks in as soon as I actually start to try to write the text. My inner critic gets a front row seat, where she can peer over my shoulder, megaphone in hand, and shout warnings at me. “That rhyme is boring!” “The rhythm’s shaky!” “Your word choice isn’t original or evocative!” –and so on and so on.

If I slip up and give her any attention at all, my inner critic starts in on the big picture criticisms. Your story concept is unoriginal—you’re not really a picture book writer—you freeze up when you try to write poetry—so why are you wasting time here?

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But I figured out how to sidestep my inner critic and her megaphone. I don’t try to shut her out or argue or contradict her — I just smile and nod and keep on writing, because none of the criticisms actually apply. You see, I’m writing in pretty colors on unlined paper, which isn’t really writing. And I’m not writing a PICTURE BOOK; I’m simply playing with words, creating long lists and fitting together lines like so many puzzle pieces.

Besides, half the time I’m “working” in my PJs, curled up in bed with a cup of hot chai. How serious can it be?

By using this technique, and limiting the amount of time I’m “allowed” to work on my story, I’ve made it so that my mind can’t stop playing around with ideas. Phrases pop into my head while I’m walking the dog or relaxing in the hot tub. And despite two days when a virus pretty much knocked me out of commission, I’ve drafted half the story in the past week. Is it perfect? No! But it’s a solid start, the sort I might be able to revise into something actually worth submitting someday.

Does perfectionism get in your way when you’re trying to write?

It’s tempting to tackle perfectionism head on. We become self-analytical, searching for cognitive distortions and, when we find them, arguing about them with our perfectionistic alter egos.

I think that this sort of self-analysis and deep thinking can be helpful—but it can also create an unwanted distraction that prevents you from writing.

After all, if you’re journaling about cognitive distortions, black-and-white thinking, and unrealistic expectations, you’re not writing your story. If the “goal” of perfectionism is to avoid criticism or rejection, then doesn’t that mean perfectionism wins?

The unwritten story can’t be rejected…but it can’t be read, either.
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