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!

 

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Blooper Reels and Humility

woopsI don’t know about you, but I personally love watching blooper reels from TV shows and movies. It’s nice to see the imperfections in performances before the piece gets polished up into consumable perfection. But while it is enjoyable to watch highly skilled and highly paid actors mess up their lines, break character, and fumble over their words, it is often hard to look at our own mistakes with the same amusement.

Why is that? I think I’m starting figure out what it is about blooper reels that make them so appealing, and before I shed my thoughts on that that, allow me to share the process that sparked my revelation.

Today, I am trying to edit my BSBS Review for The Girl on the Train and the whole recording process took about an hour and a half to do last night. This includes me gaining momentum in delivering my point, only to lose steam, delete the recording, and start all over again. The more I record, the more I have to edit, and I often fear that process.

It’s the same almost every time; I feel like I need to get it right the first time or I shouldn’t keep the recording. Then I eventually  tell myself that this is what I have editing software for! To cut through the awkward pauses between my points and compress them together in a deliverable format. Even then, it’s a battle between getting it perfect and getting it done.

When it comes time to editing, that’s where the real fun begins. That’s where I can create the illusion that I am a coherent speaker who can stay on point and deliver my message clearly and concisely–when in reality, everything that happened in between some of the cuts is anything but concise, clear, or coherent.

The more mistakes there are, the more shame I feel about it. I have all these thoughts and opinions about a story locked up in my head, all begging to be expressed or it’s going to bug me for not being able to share it. Having difficulty in conveying my thoughts adds to the pressure of wondering if it’s even worth doing these reviews considering that my videos have had hit or miss engagement in terms of viewership, comments, and likes.

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Did I Really Just Say That?!

After an hour or two of editing the initial recording and cringing at my mistakes, I eventually start laughing at myself for not only the bloopers, but also laughing at how stressed out I get from them. I know it’s horrible, but I often compare my moments of impeded speech to the way that Jimmy Valmer kid from South Park stutters when he speaks. Sometimes to the point of taking a whole minute to say a simple five word sentence. And Jimmy has it worse!

When I’m finally done experiencing all this creative mania, I relax and decide to just get the job done.

It’s not about the viewership, the likes, or even the comments–though of course, these are things I would greatly appreciate. It’s more about me having fun with reading these books and giving myself the treat of watching it all play out on the big screen. Not to mention  the chance to goof off on camera and deliver my thoughts in a place that doesn’t remain stuck in my head are huge pluses.

Sometimes…

  • The first recording gets edited to completion and uploaded anyway. I realize it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
  • The first recording gets edited to completion, but it still sucks despite my attempts at polishing it up. I see it as a rough draft/rehearsal to show me where I can improve in the re-recording.
  • Right away, I see how horrible it’s going to be. At least I don’t have to fear messing up THAT badly again, and I can jump back into the studio with much more confidence! I know I can do better, so I’ll do better.

Cut! Action! Print!

movie-production-clapper-board_249x201I’ve been doing BSBS Reviews for 9 months now and this is how it’s been for me. Today, I resolve to accept it as all part of the process. As much as I would like to get it all right the first time, it is incredibly rare for me to record a 15 minute video with not much editing required vs the usual 30-60+ messy minute mania.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to deliver my point without any editing and master this lip flapping, tongue slapping, noise making device installed in my face. Until then, I’ll keep practising and polishing up my craft.  I will accept that this may be my process for now or forever.

This is what made me realize why blooper reels are so fun to watch. There’s humility in showcasing some of the mistakes actors have made before post-production. It’s to show that they’re human too and just trying to find their way through the scene.

After all the missed cue lines and involuntary laughter, they eventually get it done. And more importantly, even though there is work to be done, the production can still have fun in the process. It’s nice to hear laughter erupting in the background from the people who are off screen, along with the ones on screen, because that signals to us that it’s okay to make mistakes and try again.

We just have to keep working at it until we get it right. If we care enough about what we want to create in our lives, we push through all the difficulty and learn from our mistakes. After all, every expert out there was once an awkward novice. No one is born skilled. Talented maybe, but I agree with Will Smith when he says talents are useless until you practise to turn them into skills.

The final product may be close to perfect, but the process doesn’t have to be. Creation is usually a messy experience, but that’s where the fun is at!