The first week of the National Novel Writing Month Challenge, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, has passed. For you writers who have accepted the challenge:
How are you doing?
I said I would check in and let you know about my experience thus far. This is my first time participating. My overall feeling is that I am pleasantly surprised.
I have had a hard time getting into a groove, because this first week has really been more about breaking habits and skewering perfectionism than the writing itself. I’ve discovered (again) this is the main thing that holds me back from writing. Sometimes I am so conscious of wanting to do the writing ‘just right’ that I am paralyzed into doing no writing at all. It’s become a vicious circle at times.
With NaNoWriMo, there is no time for fretting over minutiae, and the internal editor, that killer of artistic flow, must be silent. Revision will come later.
It’s okay to follow a rabbit trail, or go with the flow of how a character is reacting, even if I didn’t ‘plan’ it that way. The freedom to make mistakes, the freedom to listen to the muse, has enabled me to write more this last week than I have at any other time. And I’ve written good words. Good paragraphs. Good character development.
Not great yet. That is for the rock tumbler later, otherwise known as revision. Not where you HAVE to fix things, but you GET to polish and polish your novel to make it shine for the reader.
What about your word count, Kristin?
I knew someone would ask about that.
My attitude has been slow and steady wins the race. I have had a daily goal of 1667, the word count the NaNoWriMo site advises will get you to the final goal of 50,000 words at the end of November. My daily average has been 1,479, so some days I’ve done more, some days less, but I am generally on target. I passed the 10k mark yesterday.
As I interact in social media with those who are on the NaNoWriMo journey this year, I’m noticing a lot of the complaints boil down to resistance.
People are sputtering, not able to start, or already deciding they are not going to make it because of job/kids/spouse/Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D might get cancelled/haven’t decided to start yet/never made a plan. I think it’s nothing more or less than resistance. Which is not to dismiss its power, but whatever form it’s coming in, it’s Resistance.
Resistance according to Steven Pressfield in Do The Work is ‘fear, self-doubt, procrastination, addiction, distraction, timidity, ego and narcissism, self-loathing, perfectionism, etc.‘ and ‘Resistance is a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.‘
“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify, seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you.” – Steven Pressfield, Do The Work
I’ve fought the inner demons of Resistance – fear, self-doubt, and perfectionism – for a long time. With NaNoWriMo, I may not have won the war, but I’ve had some pretty good Kenjutsu sword fights and come out the victor. The war will continue. But I will not quit. Even if I don’t ‘win’ NaNoWriMo, I won’t quit.
As I’ve gotten some freedom from inner conflicts that hold me back from writing, it seems external conflicts have been waiting in the wings to take up arms against me as well.
Family conflicts have come to a head and drain me emotionally. I can’t write when my emotions are in a knot. I need them for the writing. Phone calls and errands that MUST be taken care of have mysteriously appeared to disarm me. Financial circumstances and the need for a job take energy from me. And the daily flotsam of life, things like laundry, toilet scrubbing, filing paperwork, or cooking dinner, sing their siren calls all the louder. Other hobbies have been put to the side for the month and stick their lips at me like pouting, neglected children. Just a few minutes spent with this one. Create one item with that one. And those precious minutes I swore to give to writing float away like morning mist.
Take some time to consider what ways Resistance may be thwarting you if you are in the midst of NaNo-ing. If you’re not doing NaNo, Resistance affects every creative. Become proactive about keeping it at bay in your creative life.
Giving into the pressure from Resistance that whispers in your ear ‘ Will it be good enough?’ ‘Will I be able to finish?’ ‘Do I have enough words in me?’ can be bad. But pressure isn’t all bad.
Some of the good pressure about NaNoWriMo is the structure to accomplish the challenge, and the accountability that people are watching. I know I always tend to give it more effort when I have an audience. I sometimes worry about letting them down. Wouldn’t it be funny if we worried more about letting ourselves and our dreams down instead of other people and their opinions?
Having cheerleaders in the audience helps even more. Share your progress with those who you know will be truly happy for you. Get some NaNo buddies. Why open yourself to the discouragement from the NaNo naysayers that seem to come out of the woodwork each November slamming all those ‘amateur’ pen jockeys who are daring enough to TRY.
As one of my Twitter buddies so eloquently put it: “Why the hell would anyone go out of their way to stop other people from writing?” Good question. Really makes no sense, does it? So stay focused on your goals and don’t choose to take on the negative energy of those you already know are not in your corner for whatever reason.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
As for specific positive actions I’ve taken to help me with NaNoWriMo, I’ll list them here. Maybe you’ll be inspired to come up with your own. If you already have some, please share in the comments.
My NaNoWriMo Action Tips:
I wear my hat.
I have a hat that has the word ‘Writer’ embroidered on it. Kind of reminds me of Richard Castle and his ‘Writer’ flak jacket. Suited up. Armor on. Ready to write. My family knows when the hat is on, back away from the writer slowly. If interrupted she may bite.
I listen to my characters’ theme songs.
I listen to my characters’ theme songs over and over. Each of my central characters has one, and I also found a song that embodies the theme of my novel. I listen to that, too. Don’t have theme songs for your characters? That’s okay. Find some good movie themes and let them carry you into the story. I recommend movie soundtracks composed by Hans Zimmer or James Horner.
This is my main character’s theme song. Fallen by Sarah McLachlan.
You can tell just from the song she’s a complicated and conflicted character.
I do my writing work in Evernote.
This has helped me tremendously. I have separate ‘notebooks’ for my outline, all my chapters, information, sensory details, bits, pieces, and throwaway lines that don’t work where I originally put them but may work somewhere else. Evernote has no word count, so I am free to write without the burden (IMO) of watching the number ticker. I think looking at the word count could possibly influence me to add extraneous words just to ‘make the count’.
Then I do a quick ‘copy and paste’ into a Word document to see how far I’ve made it when I’m ready for a break. I’m almost always surprised at how many words I’ve actually written. Add another copy in the cloud and that makes three separate copies of my work so I shouldn’t lose anything except in the case of the zombie apocalypse and Skynet becoming aware at the exact same moment. I think I’m okay, but you never can tell.
I already had an outline.
What’s that, you say? You have an outline? Isn’t that cheating? Aren’t you just supposed to write a novel out of thin air? Well, I suppose you can if you choose to, but even NaNoWriMo suggests in their ‘tips’ section you may put together a basic outline.
You can make the outline as detailed or as freeform as you like.
“Zombie monsters go to ninja hideout in the Himalayas to learn secret martial arts, then decide to assassinate Justin Bieber before he becomes the leader of the free world.”
or “A story about depression”
I drew my own outline as a circle on a piece of butcher paper, then I moved it to 3×5 cards, then a white board, and now it’s tucked away in some digital ‘notebooks’ on Evernote. This week I stuck with my basic outline, but my characters decided to do some things and say some things I hadn’t planned. The basic story continues to move forward.
I am definitely a plotter rather than a pantser, but even if you like to write by the seat of your trousers, just having a very small idea of what you want to do with your story may help keep you on track. Check out the book Story Engineering by Larry Brooks for more information on outlining and story structure, but for some quickie help in getting an outline together as you’re NaNo-ing, check out these posts:
- NaNoWriMo Writing Tip#2: Create An Outline from Galley Cat
- Outlining Archives from KM Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors
I reward myself when I reach what I consider a milestone.
Yes, I know there are people who already cranked out 20,000 words by the end of the first weekend. More power to them. As I said, I’m more of the ilk that ‘slow and steady wins the race’. So when my plodding ways reach what I consider a big deal, I celebrate my accomplishment. Last night I reached 10k words. I was so excited. That was a big deal for me. So I announced it with a tweet in the #NaNoWriMo hashtag. I got some Twitter high fives in return. I try to give virtual high fives to anyone who does the same. It makes a difference knowing you’re not alone.
Also, Keeper Hubby, who is an expert in the encouragement department, knew just what to do when I walked out of my office to announce my feat. He was off in a flash to my favorite ice cream spot for a chocolate ice cream cone dipped in chocolate and almonds. (Did I say there was chocolate involved?) Small rewards keep you motivated.
I announce to everyone every time I am going to write.
Maybe you live alone and this doesn’t really apply. You should do it anyway. Announce it to your cat or yell it through the air vents to your neighbors. You are declaring your intentions. You will be more likely to fulfill them.
If you do live with family members, they may weary of your constant declarations, but they will see how much work you are doing, that this is something that is important to you, and there are no misunderstandings as to why their underwear has not been removed from the dryer. Bonus: They might even do it themselves!
I’m exercising again.
I started doing my elliptical workouts again, which I have slacked off on for a long time. I know a lot of ‘experts’ advise only making one new habit at a time, but it all feels like the start of a new lifestyle. Healthy workout, healthy writing workout. I make myself exercise before I dive into my WIP, so there’s another level of accountability for both habits. Plus getting oxygenated blood flowing for thirty minutes helps me have focus and energy for all the sitting and thinking I will do the rest of the day.
Maybe you don’t have an elliptical. Take a short walk. Step outside and take some deep breaths. Make it more like a pre-writing ritual each time and you will mentally prepare yourself to write since your mind will be expecting it.
I incorporate the Pomodoro method in my writing times.
I trade off between lots of small spurts with big breaks, and the Pomodoro technique, a productivity technique that uses a timer and completing a task during a set amount of time (the technique uses 25 minute increments but you could adapt it to any time period).
Hey, you didn’t get that fancy smartphone for nuttin’! Use the timer on it to challenge yourself to sprint writing for 15, 20, 25, or 30 minutes. Keep the pen going that entire time. Then take a break before you set the timer and do it again. My writer friend and I do up to 45 and 60 minute sprints on occasion. It’s a great challenge.
I got lots of buddies.
Don’t be shy! Especially in social media. If you can’t go to an in-person NaNo write-in or it’s too painful as an introvert to go meet with a bunch of new people, let alone write with them, join all the online socializing. It’s very encouraging.
Big shout out to my NaNo writing buddies I’ve met so far on the journey. Where to find NaNo buddies? Start on the NaNo website, but check out Twitter hashtags #NaNoWriMo and #NaNoPrep as well.
“Yeah, all this sounds good for you, Kristin, but it’s not my style. I just need a good kick in my pantsing pants.”
I’ve got just the thing. Check out these two pep talks from two authors who let YOU set your own rules. Sort of.
Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds (always NSFW)