Posts Tagged ‘writing tips’

Brace yourself for one final post that draws analogies between writing and running….

When the dust settled on National Novel Writing Month, approximately 13.4% of NaNoWriMo participants had “won” the challenge by writing at least 50,000 words of a novel in the allotted 30 days of November 2013 (41,940 winners out of over 312,000 registered novelists). As one of the winners, I would like to share some tips for NaNoWriMo success.

1. Understand and embrace the commitment. When you sign up for the challenge, you commit yourself to writing for approximately three hours per day, every day, seven days a week, 30 days of November. Maybe you can write faster one day, maybe it takes you longer another day, but my average settled at three hours per day to meet the goal of 1,667 words per day. Three hours per day is — do the math — 21 hours per week. That’s like taking on a part-time job in addition to your other responsibilities. Ask yourself how you are going to make the time. Will you write in the morning before work or before the rest of your household wakes up? After everyone goes to bed? In pieces throughout the day on your commute, during your lunch break, or while waiting to pick up a child from an activity?

1a. Get your support crew on board too. Explain to those around you what your commitment will be. It helped to talk things over with my husband so we were both on the same page about what our priorities were. I also expected more of my children during the month (and continue to do so, since they rose to the challenge well!) My kids are old enough that they can be expected to help sort and put away their own clean laundry, or pitch in with the cooking.

    Marathon analogy:

When I sign up for a full marathon, I know that I am committing myself to training approximately seven hours per week (running, biking, swimming and strength training). It is NOT fun to run a race undertrained and underprepared. You’ve got to dedicate the time and energy for weeks of training in order to enjoy the race and come out uninjured on the other side.

2. Use October to your full advantage.

2a. Do the writing groundwork in advance. Official NaNoWriMo rules state that you cannot write any of your novel during October, but you may outline your novel and brainstorm character histories and plot lines. Do it! You cannot afford to waste any precious time in November deciding on a storyline.

2b. Cook and clean. Freeze some meals in advance to save time on writing days. Make double batches of soup for dinner and freeze the second batch for later. Get your living (and writing) space in order so that it requires the least amount of maintenance during the month of November.

    Marathon analogy:

Use your training rest days to cook and clean. During taper as you cut back on mileage and find yourself with nervous energy, tackle that drawer of papers waiting to be filed, or clean out your sock drawer.

3. Do not waste time beating yourself up. Save that time and energy for writing. I discovered that I did not enjoy writing first thing in the morning. I value sleep too much to get up extra early to write, and I had too much to do to get three kids dressed, fed, and driven to school to spend any time writing at the start of my day. By the time I sat down to write (sometimes not until 8 in the evening!), I often felt like I was already behind for the day. I had to silence the inner critic that tried to chastise myself for not getting to it sooner. I quickly realized the obvious: the less time I spent worrying about not having written, the more time I had to actually write!

    Marathon analogy:

If you miss a training day, don’t waste any energy beating yourself up, just get out there and run the next day! For some people, missing a day makes it “easier” to miss two days, then three and so on and the training program completely falls off the rails. Or maybe you get sick or injured and you have to miss several days of training. There’s no shame in adjusting the training plan to get back on track. Instead of beating yourself up over lost time, applaud yourself for re-dedicating yourself to your training!

4. Put some words in the bank. It is way more fun to write 3,000 words one day to get a little ahead than to have to write 3,000 words to catch up (although if you have to do that, then DO IT. See number 3 above. Don’t beat yourself up. Catch up!) I wrote a little bit each day, and banked some words on days that I found myself particularly inspired or with extra time to write. That gave me a break on days that I just wasn’t feeling it or I had unexpected things come up.

    Marathon analogy:

There’s no sense in overtraining for a race, but there’s a lot of sense in exercising on days when you know you have the time and energy, and not taking your rest day(s) early. I can count too many times when I thought, “Oh, I could run today but I think I’ll take a rest day to do XYZ and then run tomorrow” and when tomorrow came around, I woke up not feeling well, or had a child stay home sick from school. I never regret doing a workout, but I often regret not doing a workout.

5. Have some go-to plot lines in your pocket. By that I mean, when you’re under a time crunch or you simply don’t feel like writing the next scene in your novel, go to that “easier” plot line that you know you’ll enjoy writing. Maybe by the time you’re ready to go back and fill in the chronological gap in the novel, your brain will have worked out the block that made that scene more difficult.

    Marathon analogy:

Maybe you just can’t face that speed workout on your training calendar, but it’s a gorgeous day to get out on the bike. It’s okay to shake things up and trade days in the workout plan. In fact it’s often smart to listen to your body and your brain, and do what appeals to you that day, as long as you get all the workouts in eventually.

6. Silence your inner editor and critic. One of the great things about NaNoWriMo — that makes the whole experiment worth it — is that it frees you to write for the sake of writing, without having to worry so much about the quality of writing. It’s that worry that stops people from writing anything at all, or causes any writing progress to stall. Now I know it sounds strange, but I think that freeing myself from worrying about the quality actually led me to produce about the same quality that I would have if I had agonized over every word. As a new novelist anyway, I felt that the quality of writing would not have been better if I had been writing, say, 500 words a day rather than 1,667. I’m not saying the quality is great or not great — just that I do not think it would have been better had I taken four months rather than one. Freeing myself from my inner editor allowed me to see where the story would go without my forcing it, and sometimes it surprised me in a good way!

    Marathon analogy:

There will be tough training days where your legs feel like lead or your lungs burn. Instead of asking yourself why you’re so slow, congratulate yourself for getting out there and putting the time in. That workout was what your body needed and could handle that day (maybe you were starting to get sick and didn’t know it, or you had overtrained the day before). Beating yourself up over a bad workout (or a bad race, for that matter) isn’t going to serve any purpose other than to sabotage your fitness efforts.

Final thoughts on NaNoWriMo? I’m glad I participated. I’m glad I “won.” Whether or not I ever complete the novel (it has at least another 50,000 words to go, and I have yet to decide whether it merits investing the time and energy to complete it), I learned many wonderful and helpful things:

1. You are a writer if you sit down and write. (Just as you are a runner if you put one foot in front of the other no matter the running pace).

2. There is value in committing to a project and seeing it through. (My first marathon still ranks as one of my favorite races, even though it wasn’t my fastest — it was just thrilling to train properly and finish the race).

3. It’s okay to put a scary goal out there, to say it out loud in front of witnesses. It’s motivating to share your goals and dreams with others. There might be naysayers, or people who do not realize what that commitment means, but there’s power and momentum to be gained by putting it out there anyway. You might feel vulnerable and exposed, but you might just receive unexpected support and assistance.

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(Who has time for creative post titles during NaNoWriMo? Not me!) Novel word count at start of day 8: 13,040.

In week one, I learned lots of lessons from National Novel Writing Month. Here in week two I’ve learned plenty more (continuing the list):

7. You make time for what’s important to you. Do I have three free hours a day to write? No, I generally do not. But can I cut out watching (as much) television? Yes. Can I steal half an hour to write in my car while I wait to pick up my daughter from gymnastics? Yes. Can I steal another hour to write on a park bench while my youngest plays at the park across the street from her sisters’ tennis lessons? Yes. Can I throw a 15-minute meal in the crock pot on low and save 30 minutes cooking dinner later? Yes. VoilĂ ! Three hours.

8. Procrastination never feels as good as hitting your word count for the day. All things I have done to procrastinate writing: uploaded family photos and created our family holiday card; paid bills; sorted laundry; loaded the dishwasher; written a blog post (ahem). Did all of those need to be done? Well, yes, at some point. They’re certainly productive. But did they need to come before writing that day? No. It’s okay to be flexible (and sometimes guilt is a good motivator) but it feels a million times better to knock out the writing first and reward yourself with other things later. (I’m not sure the privilege of doing laundry and loading the dishwasher is a “reward” but you know what I mean!)

9. You will lose track of time. That is a good thing. You know you’re in the “writing zone” when you look up at the clock and realize an hour has passed when you could swear it only had been five minutes. I have to set alarms (I’m talking multiple alarms: stove, cellphone) to remember to pick up my kids at school on time. You might even lose days. One day it was Halloween and the next day it was November 8. True story.

10. You will lose sleep. That is not a good thing. Even if you don’t stay up late writing (but you will), your brain will churn with thoughts of plot lines. You’ll dream about (not) hitting your word counts, and wake up as tired as if you hadn’t slept at all. Coffee will be your friend. Don’t be surprised if, about a week in, you finally crash and sleep extra hard one night, and yet wake up with an odd sort of sleep hangover, your body’s way of saying, “Oh, so that’s what sleep is! I want more!”

11. Do yourself a big favor and leave a cliffhanger at the end of the day. What do I mean by cliffhanger? Leave yourself a clear jumping-off point for the next day. Taking a precious few extra minutes to outline the next piece of the plot will save you several agonizing minutes of writer’s block the next day. Write that one scene today of course, but leave yourself an unfinished thread as a starting point for tomorrow’s writing. You could even stop writing in the middle of a

(Hahahaha…. I crack myself up. Forgive me. It’s the sleep deprivation.)

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National Novel Writing Month Word Count as of midday, day 6: 10,584 words. I’m on track, people! I sat in front of the fireplace today and wrote for three hours. Every day I think I’ll take less time or write more words overall than the day before, but that’s pretty much how long it takes me every single day to crank out the necessary 1,667 words.

Having completed one-fifth of the National Novel Writing Month challenge of writing 50,000 words, I feel pre-eminently qualified (ha!) to write about what NaNoWriMo has taught me so far.

1. With writing just as with exercise, it’s a lot more fun to knock it out in the morning than to put it off until the end of the day. Mind you, that’s not saying it’s any easier to do the work then, just that it’s less pressure and more rewarding to complete it early in the day.

2. The words that flow the fastest are the ones that come from your own experience. You always hear the advice to “write what you know” and now I know why. I simply have to trust that I have a unique experience and a unique perspective to offer.

3. While I’m on the topic of inspirational advice, let’s go with “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” True for the beginning runner, true for the beginning writer. Do not fear the blank page.

4. You know those photos that circulate every once in a while — the ones that show what you think you look like when you run (a graceful Olympian) and what you really look like when you run (a flailing maniac)? That’s how I feel as I’m writing. I feel like a poser, wannabe writer who is sure to be found out as the flailing maniac she really is. But then I remind myself of lesson #3 above. Repeat to self: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Everyone has to start somewhere. I wouldn’t fault a beginning runner for not having perfect form at the start of her running journey. Why would I expect to be able to write perfect prose right out of the gate?

5. As a writer it’s hard to “show and not tell.” I tend toward very concise writing and speech, and my first instinct is to say, for example: “She worried what would come next” instead of “She hunched her shoulders and furrowed her brow in nervous anticipation.” When I worked as a lawyer, one seasoned paralegal offered me some advice on how to explain legal concepts to a client: “Write like you’re explaining the law to your grandmother.” I need to write for my grandmother. Set the scene. Describe the smells. Paint the characters. Don’t assume the reader sees any of what you see in your head.

6. Find your motivation. I know why I’m doing this, this mammoth marathon writing project. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at writing a novel and now is as good a time as any to do it. But that’s the big picture motivation. I find that the little picture motivation, for me, is the ability to log my word count for the day and see that blue progress line turn green when I’ve hit 1,667 for the day. It shouldn’t surprise me. After all, I log every mile that I swim, bike or run. Of course I take pleasure in logging every word written!

What lessons have you learned recently about running, about writing, about life? If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo and/or NaBloPoMo (please tell me you’re not doing both), how’s it going for you?

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