The excitement is building; the nervous energy is palpable. In the writing community, we are about to begin the extreme sport of our art, the “Ironman of the Word”.
It’s an interesting phenomenon: thousands of writers, many of whom explore how they struggle to write during the other eleven months of the year, willingly jump into an event in which they must write 50,000 words in 30 days. At this point, only two days before it all starts, blog posts, YouTube videos, and tweets abound. As more writers join in, more of us follow; it reminds me of the lemmings who follow each other over the edge of a cliff. I’m say this with a smile of course, because I am one of those lemmings.
Why do we do it?
People look at me like I’ve lost it, and follow that up with a comment about how this will effectively remove me from all society until December. To that I say, “of course not!”, as I secretly wonder if I can really pull it all off.
Their support is a little precarious, but I don’t blame them. They don’t have the full picture, and how could they? Writing isn’t a sport like biking or swimming. Let’s face it, if I was trying to run a marathon, there would be a little more cheering. Who thinks of cheering when they think of a writer hunched over a keyboard?
But, at the NaNoWriMo site, I’ve connected with some pretty great writers as I get ready to go, and that’s where you do find the cheering and the camaraderie.
Community with your fellow writers is a huge draw. We’re in the buzz, and it’s good!
However, you’re still facing a lot of solitude in November, so here are 10 more tips that will keep you going:
Tip #1: Love the deadline.
The work ethic kicks in; the one that most of us have had for all of our working life, but not necessarily when it came to our own writing. It’s the one that keeps us pushing forward on a project, even when we’re tired and all we want to do is curl up and watch our favorite sitcom reruns. We know we can’t stop because there’s a deadline and we can’t miss it without losing face, or maybe even our job.
You either step up or you leave the party.
Tip #2: Get in the zone.
We don’t like stress. In fact, we rant and rave at the damage that it causes us. If we don’t, someone else is doing it for us so that we’re duly frightened about the damage we’re inflicting on ourselves when ever we’re stressed. It’s all so stressful!
And yet, sprinkle a little stress over a project and bam! We’re moving. We’re getting it done.
There is a zone, and it does exist beyond the days of essay due dates and all-nighters. I thought it was lost in the mists of time, but you can find it again. Good stress brings good adrenaline and the clouds part—you’re back in the zone.
Tip #3: View your book as a project.
Have you noticed? I’ve used the word project a couple of times already. That’s how it dawned on me.
I used to work in software development and good project management was key. There are a lot of moving parts coordinated behind the scenes, well before the final product hits the shelves. Each part is just as important as the other; they depend on each other.
And so it is with a book, only now you’re the one that not only manages all of the moving parts, but you also builds them. It can get pretty overwhelming, until you step back enough to see the steps. Once you see them clearly and you understand how one depends on the other, you can execute.
Step by step.
Tip #4: Get organized.
Last year, I failed NaNoWriMo big time. I think I lasted a week, if that. In turns out, I’m not alone; I was surprised to learn this week that only 18% manage to finish, on average.
There’s something strangely romantic about the notion of inspiration. Images of a muse hovering nearby and waiting for us to call upon her to feed us extraordinary prose and fuel our fingers as they dance over the keyboard. It sounds magical, and it’s probably one of the reasons why only 18% manage to finish.
So, I got organized this year. Everyone will find their own unique way to get organized, and you need to find what works for you. Rather than seeing it as an either/or thing (as in ‘pantser’ or ‘plotter’), see it more like a spectrum in which you position yourself based on what you need for success.
Find your own way to get clear about the steps in your process.
Tip #5: Get messy.
Many, many articles on writing tell you to cut it out — your drive to perfection will be your writing downfall. You nod knowingly. It makes total sense. And then you go back to your perfectionist ways, and the writing? Well, it never gets finished.
So I’m going to tell you again: whatever you write, whatever you plan, it’s okay if it gets messy.
The work you’re doing is for November, not for ever. December will come and that’s when you can change, fix, add, or delete. And this is the case for any writing project, not just NaNoWriMo.
It’s just the beginning.
Tip #6: Say ‘Yes’.
Say ‘yes’ to more than just the commitment to write (though that is the most important one!). Also say ‘yes’ to the support of your partner, family, and friends. And say ‘yes’ to having fun; fun with your writing, your loved ones, your social network … what ever it is in your life that brings you joy. You’ve committed yourself to writing a novel, not to a nunnery.
Really, the more exuberant and joyful your ‘yes’ and the more you have fun and laugh in that deep “all-of-your-body” way, the more the positive energy will fuel you. And you need fuel to get to the finish line.
Tip #7: Say ‘No’.
This can be a lot harder than saying ‘yes’, but you have to learn to say ‘no’ to more than just your self-doubt. It’s a subtle art, knowing when to say it for the sake of your writing. Truthfully, you have to hold your writing in high enough esteem that saying ‘no’ actually seems justified.
It used to be easy to say ‘no’ when I couldn’t do things because of my job. It wasn’t my choice. I had someone else calling the shots. When you tell someone ‘no’ because of your job, there are no further questions. It’s respected. But, just because you’re not on someone else’s clock doesn’t mean your not on your own clock.
And, to be clear, you need to understand this just as much as everyone else. When you create clear boundaries of time and space for your writing, everyone else will see them too.
Tip #8: Excuses be gone.
Time has always been the biggest one for me. I can’t even count how many times I’ve said I don’t have the time.
Notice how many of my above points have to do with time? I admit it, I’m still battling the demon. And it gets trickier as we get older, perhaps because the ‘excuse roots’ have had more time to grow strong and get a good grip on our perspective.
We can always find a good excuse if we look hard enough, and we can be pretty creative about it when we set our minds to it. When I was a smoker there was always a reason why I couldn’t quit, why there was a better time on the horizon, and it always seemed perfectly reasonable.
But really, you create your own reality. If you make a reality of excuses, that’s what you’ll get.
I’ve even started to notice how much time and energy it takes to create the excuses.
Tip #9: There’s enough time … really, there is.
No matter what you’ve got going on in your life, there’s time. If you’re honest with yourself, the problem is not really about time, it’s more about whether you’re ready to write.
This may sound harsh, but someone has to say it and it might as well be someone who has overused that excuse for most of her life.
I’ve read countless stories of writers stealing 15 minutes in the car between jobs and errands, or getting up at 4 instead of 5 in the morning, just so that they can write. I didn’t do those things.
But recently, I sat down for a 2-hour block of time and just wrote my heart out. I wrote my protagonist’s backstory, which had been fermenting in my head for days, and ended up with 2,000 words of good, solid story. Imagine doing that. And then think about how you could find that extra hour or two each day.
Now I see it. There was time. I just wasn’t ready to write.
No judgment. There’s still time, because it’s never too late.
Tip #10: Just do it.
All of the things I’ve listed have one thing in common as of today: they became more real to me in the doing.
I’ve read variations of them in advice books and articles for years, and I believed them to be true, but something happens when you start doing it, instead of just thinking about it.
The words become your own; the ideas integrate into your own practice.
Are you ready?
NaNoWriMo 2014 starts in two days, and the butterflies are fluttering. It’s so exciting! Having already learned so much before the writing even begins, I can only imagine what’s to come.
Are you going for it too? Add me as a buddy so we can share the journey and give each other a cheer when we need it.