How to Thrive During NaNoWriMo

Today is the day writers all around the world take part in National Novel Writing Month, an annual event that challenges them to write 50,000 words all within the glorious (or grueling) 30 days of November. Whether they are glorious and/or grueling is completely up to you. I know this from experience.

I’m not going to pretend I have an on going track record with NaNoWriMo as I have only done it once last year when I rewrote my YA novel, It Starts at Home, completely from scratch a third time in a row. My advice is drawn more from the past decade of novel writing, things I’ve observed about myself, that in turn I hope you can relate to and glean some value from.

So without further adieu, here is how I learned not to beat my head against the wall during NaNoWriMo:

1. Remember Your Why

Amidst the commotion of trying to write 1667 words a day, remind yourself why you write in the first place. Perhaps there are some injustices you want to expose through your fiction, or you simply want to entertain. Whatever your reason, it has value because you want to provide value through it or at least have something burning inside you, urging you to express it. Let the call to adventure ring loud and clear. Make it more about the message than about reaching a quota.

2. Don’t Make it About Word Count

Sure, it’s important, as it is a measurable guage of how much you’ve done, but don’t sweat it if you can’t reach 1667 a day or the 50,000 at the end of November. Word count is important, but it shouldn’t take precendence over expressing yourself and possibly spreading your message. Especially if you have controversial topics to cover in your book, accept that it’s not going to be easy, and the fun is in the challenge of finding ways to convey your philosophy through fiction.

3. Don’t Find Time, Make Time For Writing

This is something I hear often from working parents with children, and anybody else with very busy working schedules. It’s important to know that no matter what obligations you’ve got going for you in life, whether you show up or not is completely up to you and it is your life to manage. No one else’s. Don’t find time to write, make time to write. Make it a priority. You don’t have to do a million things in your life. Yes, pay bills. Yes, feed your children. But if you have the free time to sit around and play Candy Crush, maybe make time to write and see that as your leisure time. Scratch that. Writing is leisure time, no matter how difficult it gets at times.

4. Keep a Progress Journal

Give yourself 10-30 minutes a day to free write about your book, detailing all your progress and intetions with it before every session. You gotta warm yourself up to writing and what could help is giving yourself the opportunity to write whatever’s on your mind will free up space in your brain to focus on the narrative. This works especially if you’re stuck at certain points. The more stuck you are, the longer the progress journaling session should be. Progress journals are also where you can remind yourself of your why in a more concrete way than just repeating the mantra in your head.

5. Let Yourself Write

This is a no brainer, but basically what I mean is to not get caught up in syntax and style. If you have trippy sci-fi or fantastical fantasy concepts in your story, that’s fine, but don’t let all your wordiness get in the way of simply telling a story. And who cares if it doesn’t make any sense or if it isn’t eloquent? This is most likely just another draft to be improved on later. So let yourself write to your heart’s content and kick perfectionism to the curb where it belongs!

6. Write in Tiny Bursts

If you can’t stomach 1667 in one 20-60 minute writing session, do little by little throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be done all in one sitting. Do 500-600 in the morning, another 500-600 in the afternoon, and the final 500-600 at night. Before you know it, you’ll reach the daily quota without burning yourself out from one intense writing session in the day.

7. Let Yourself Fall Behind

It could happen. In fact it happens to a lot of writers, even published ones. Let yourself fall behind and be okay with it. Despite what I said about making time to write, sometimes life gets in the way, or worse, our egoes prevent us from putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). If and when that happens, accept it with grace and don’t let it deter you from getting back into the groove. You never know, you just might write 3500 words in one day to catch back up with the daily average.

8. Exercise

Writing is a very physically limiting activity where you are confined to a chair all slouched over and giving your mind a massive work out. Don’t forget to give your body a work out, too! Exercise can help release some muscle tension as well as clear your mind when you focus on the sensations your body goes through during exercise. Go for a run, lift some weights, or do some yoga. There’s an endless amount of options for physical activity, and often times it is due to physical stagnance that our minds also refuse to work, so go and create a little communion between body and mind.

9. Write a Crappy Story on the Side

More often than not, the novel you choose to write for NaNoWriMo is “The Big One,” and that’s all well and good. However, with that comes the pressure to make sure it’s done right, even if you follow tip #5. In addition to letting yourelf write, I propose you let yourself write crap. Yeah, if you feel stuck with your main work in progress, go start a side story that you write for the express purpose of writing as poorly as possible. This is a sure fire way to pump out 3000 meaningless words before hunkering down and writing your finely honed 1667 main manuscript words for the day.

10. Reward Yourself

When it’s all said and done, be sure to reward yourself. The time it takes to write may seem like a huge price to pay with little to no tangible, immediate return on investments, so it’s best to make one for yourself. This can be treating yourself to a bath, a Netflix binging hour (or five), or if you’re a gamer like me, a gaming session could feel incredibly better after having written. In the wise words of my cousin, after all your hard work you gotta “treat yoself!”

11. Sleep!

And as a bonus tip: sleep! We live in an unhealthy culture that rewards and promotes the notion that “sleep is for the weak,” and busy bodies often proclaim that they’ll sleep when they’re dead. I sure as hell hope you don’t buy into mythology, as sleep is a very important human function. Yes, it sucks that eats away the time we could be doing more more more with our lives, but deal with it, sleep is a fact of life. You need to recharge your batteries in order to operate better than you would hopped up on caffeine and a single muffin.

What all these tips come down to is: treat yourself kindly.

Happy writing!

 

How Being a Wallflower Improves Your Writing

It is a common stereotype that writers are quiet people, and often feel isolated even in a crowd of people out in public. While this is a generalization, and I know that there are some charismatic and extroverted writers out there, their introverted counterparts and extroverted writers themselves can benefit from being wallflowers.

Wikipedia defines it as: “A wallflower is someone with an introverted personality type (or in more extreme cases, social anxiety) who will attend parties and social gatherings, but will usually distance themselves from the crowd and actively avoid being in the limelight.”

Wikipedia goes on to explain how wallflowers would much rather observe a social setting than engage in it, and this is where today’s writing tip comes in. You don’t have to suffer from social anxiety or introversion–as if it’s something to “suffer” from, as most people come to believe–in order to utilize today’s writing tip.

Whenever you find yourself out in public in a moment of silence, take note of how people behave and what the setting looks like. You can either write this down in the notepad of your mind, in an actual travel sized notebook, or even on the notepad app on your smartphone if you have one.

What this will do is give you a myriad of ingredients you can use in future writing. Even if some details never make it on the pages of a manuscript, it still helps to get the mental exercise flowing in order to sharpen your ability to observe and absorb. Here is a list of things to pay attention to and take note of:

For People

  • How do they express themselves physically? Do they use grand hand gestures and speak loudly, or do they move minimally with hushed tones?
  • What are they talking about with their conversation partner? How excited or bored are they in engaging in this conversation?
  • Take note of the contrast of these two “characters,” if there are any.
  • What kinds of clothes are they wearing and are their wardrobes congruent or juxtapositional to their behaviour? Maybe they’re wearing fancy bowties and suits while swearing like sailors, or sporting some baggy low riding pants and talking like gangsters.
  • Pay attention to physical and verbal ticks. What kinds of words do they use often and what noticable movements do they make? Maybe they like to say “like,” a lot like it was like a comma. Or maybe they tend to rub their eyes with the heel of their palm whenever they are disagreed with in conversation.

Just remember to keep in mind that you shouldn’t watch too hard or they’ll find it creepy. Best to use your peripheral vision and pretend not to be listening. Since it’s none of your business what they’re talking about, you don’t want to eavesdrop too much. Just enough  to notice a few patterns.

For Settings:

  • Inspect the architecture of your surroundings. Is it all brand new and recently constructed, or has this place existed for quite some time? What are some details that give away its age? This can range from burn marks in the cement from too many smokers having step foot upon it, to smooth and undented walls.
  • How does it feel to be there emotionally and physically? Is it cold or warm? Do you feel comfortable or uncomfortable?
  • Are there any noticable scents or odours pervading the air? If you’re at a restaurant, perhaps the aroma of fried chicken triggers your gut to hunger for it, or if you’re in a warehouse the stench of dirt makes it hard to breathe to the point of even tasting the duskiness of the environment.
  • And here’s my favourite: close your eyes and pay attention to the sounds that surround the environment. Is it noisy or quiet, or even somewhere in between? If you’re at a mall, pay attention to how assaulted you are with different radio stations playing different types of music as you move from store to store. Or if you’re at a cafe, notice the low hum of patrons conversing or that university student’s fingers click clacking against their laptop keyboard as they rush to finish an overdue paper.

And as my last point was about to do there, a story then begins to take place. Whether it’s a story you’re inventing in your head or a story that is unfolding right before your very eyes, noticing all these details will help you craft more detailed scenes in your writing. We don’t notice details until they go missing, and the mark of good writing is incorporating them in a way that integrate into the scene without drawing too much attention to itself, rather they help embellish the main focus of a story which is human interaction.

Being a wallflower has its perks (no pun intended in reference to the YA novel). Chances are people around you will leave you to your own devices and you can take the opportunity to jot down details of your environment in order to build your vocabulary and the wide range of possible ideas you can use in your writing.

Have you ever paused and taken a social situation in as a silent observer?

What kinds of details and sensations have you gleaned for doing so?

If you haven’t been in wallflower mode before, how does this whole suggestion feel to you? Let me know in the comments below!