nanowrimo writing tips

NaNoWriMo Tips: Time Management

In “What I Learned Doing NaNoWriMo for the First Time” by Patrick Allen on Lifehacker, he describes the lessons he’s learned this year from participating in the annual writer’s challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Most importantly, though, I learned that there is always time to create things. No matter how busy I was—with my full-time job, other writing projects, multiple weekend trips to San Diego, business trips to New York, running tables at multi-day conventions—there was always a little time to sit down and spill out some words for my story. I even managed to write on my birthday. Eat your heart out, Stephen King. NaNoWriMo, more than any other creative endeavor I’ve undertaken, gave me a serious lesson in time management. I knew that “finding” the time was never going to work. You don’t find time, you “make” time. But this challenge proved that concept for me tenfold, especially as the month dragged on and staying on track got harder and harder. Falling behind a little every day means being behind a lot near the end. If I didn’t write enough one day, I knew I’d have to make it up later, and that really became apparent in the second half of the month. There’s no doubt in my mind this lesson would not have sunk in the way it did for me had I given up after 10 days. You need the whole month.

We know this. This isn’t new, but the delivery system that is NaNoWriMo slams this lesson home in everyone who participates, no matter what happens, to complete the month.

Among those in Writers in the Grove who participated, even if for a week or so, it was fascinating to hear their excuses for not continuing on. For our group, members could participate in NaNoWriMo with the goal of 50,000 words, or 30 hours, one hour of writing a day. We have many writers who are poets and write by hand, so we changed the word count to a minimum one hour a day to create the same challenge as the word count.

  • It was just too much to ask of myself.
  • I couldn’t concentrate on just one thing.
  • I had too much to do.
  • It was intimidating.
  • I had too much to write about and couldn’t get started.
  • I fell behind the second week and knew I couldn’t keep up, so I stopped.

For those who kept going until the end of the month, they reported:

  • It was fascinating to set a writing schedule for myself. I loved it.
  • I found I could break up the hour (or word count) through out the day, 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there.
  • I learned to write better and faster by turning off my internal editor.
  • When I let it happen, I found my story going off in new, fascinating directions.
  • I found myself loving that I was making and keeping an appointment with myself every day.
  • As I got closer to the end of the month, I’d have bursts of energy and write two and three days worth in a single day.

Fascinating to compare these statements with the lesson in time management learned by Patrick Allen. It really boils down to the fact that you don’t find time, you make time. You make a commitment to yourself and you keep it.

Either way, for our members, there is no right or wrong. There are the lessons learned, and this is one of them. Whatever gets in your way during November’s NaNoWriMo challenge are the things that get in your way the rest of the year. That’s the real lesson.

What gets in your way? NaNoWriMo’s methodology is a great way to test your self-sabotaging techniques in a condensed month-long process. I’m the expert in self-sabotage when it comes to creative writing. Over the years of participating in NaNoWriMo, I’ve met many of my ghosts and demons and survived my personal mental torture chamber of self-doubt, and lived to tell about it. Surviving makes me a better writer, there is no doubt, but finishing makes me a better finisher.

Don’t despair because you didn’t finish or didn’t participate this year. You can NaNoWriMo any time, any month, or even across a single week. Set a goal. Keep it. And whatever you do, don’t stop writing.

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NaNoWriMo Tips: Take a Mini-Vacation from Your Muddy Middle Mess

We are on day 22 of 30 in this year’s NaNoWriMo. Thanksgiving is this week, a great interrupter to the writing process and habit you should have formed by now. Stay focused and stay writing, but give yourself a little break during this crazy holiday time, too. Then get back to writing. Only eight days left. You can do it.

Painting - Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life, 1842, National Gallery of Art.

In the latest pep talk letter from NaNoWriMo, author Grant Faulkner offered excellent advice for all writers, participating or not.

When I was a boy, I watched a lot of old movies on TV, especially westerns. In nearly every western, there was a crucial moment when a character would accidentally step into quicksand. They’d try to lift their feet, but each time they did so, they’d sink deeper. They’d start to panic and flail all about, but the more they’d try to escape, the deeper they would sink.

I grew up thinking that the world was filled with random patches of quicksand. Fortunately, my worldview was inaccurate. Quicksand is a rarity in the world, and I never stepped into it… until I wrote a novel, that is.

I personally ran into quicksand last week, realizing that I was in what Faulkner called the “muddy middle,” the place where novels die. I knew the beginning, I knew the main plot points, and I have a fairly good vision of the end of my novel, but now I’m swimming with no sign of the shore, unsure of where to go next.

As he predicted, the ghosts and demons started peaking out from under the carpet, behind the curtains, under my desk, slowly moving to sit out where I could see them, cross-legged on the lamp over the desk, posing in the mirror above the sink, dancing across the floor with high-pitched giggles of delight that I’d invited them in with my self-doubt and loss of momentum.

I swatted one and another bit my big toe. I kicked it, but more of them started coming out of the woodwork, telling me that I’m wasting my time, I’ll never get this done, I’m not good enough, I can’t do it, and my favorite, “Who do you think you are to even consider taking on a novel?” (more…)

NaNoWriMo 2017 Guide and Preparation

NaNoWriMo logoIt’s NaNoWriMo time again, National Novel Writing Month. Get out your spreadsheet word trackers and timers and dust them off. The fun begins at midnight October 31 as you plow through toward your 50,000 words or 50 hour goal of writing every day for thirty days.

For Writers in the Grove, here are our rules for November’s NaNoWriMo writing event.

  • Write daily from November 1-30 by either committing to write:
    1. 50,000 words (1,667 a day)
    2. Or one hour a day minimum.

You may write however, whenever, whatever you wish. Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • You do not have to write a “book,” whatever “book” means to you.
  • You may write short stories, world building material, character sketches, technical guides, whatever you wish, though working on fiction is the goal of NaNoWriMo, as long as you commit to write toward your end month goal, writing is writing.
  • Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. Plotters write from an outline or plot. Plotsers or Plantsers write a little of both, found to be the most common technique for NaNoWriMo.
  • This isn’t a word game, though it is played like one. It is a head game. Get your head in the writing game and keep writing. If something jumps in your path, either kick it to the curb or confront and deal, but don’t let it stop you writing.
  • You can write anywhere and at any time. If you like writing in a social space, there are a wide range of NaNoWriMo events held around the world, including in Washington and Multnomah Counties of Oregon. There are meetups, write-ins, lock-ins, and a variety of social events to help you write better, longer, and faster, all adding up to the word count or hour tracking goals. If you like writing in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning or before you go to bed in the quiet of your home or office, write then. Are you a commuter? Write while you commute using voice recognition, a tablet, or phone, but only voice while driving, and do so with care.
  • Want to participate but don’t have anything to write about? Writers in the Grove will be releasing a NaNoWriMo prompt of the day during November. We have some great NaNoWriMo prompts from previous years, and years of weekly prompts from our creative writing group meetings for you to find something to get you writing.

Want to join us? Here is how to participate, and each step, other than the writing, is optional.

  • Commit to one hour a day or 50,000 words a day. Pick one.
  • Go to NaNoWriMo. Registration is free. Create a profile, announce your project (make it up if you don’t have one), and read the instructions on how to proceed starting November 1.
  • Set up your writing environment, be it on your computer, tablet, phone, or a location in your home or office.
  • Set up your writing experience. It could be Scrivener (we have a list of great NaNoWriMo project templates and are introducing our own), Word, Pages, a text editor, voice recognition software, whatever you write in. Clean off the keyboard, your mouse, computer monitor screen, your desk, your office, your space. Remove all distractions and leave only inspiration in your writing space.
  • Prepare by creating or working on your outline, collecting prompts, bookmarking creative writing prompt sites (like Writers in the Grove), and/or collecting all the material you need for inspiration.
  • Check out our NaNoWriMo Survival Guide with tips, techniques, lists, inspiration, techniques, prompts, Scrivener project templates, and word tracker spreadsheets.
  • Explore the various Scrivener project templates for NaNoWriMo, including our new one. Select one and set it up with notes, outline, research, and whatever material you nee to keep writing.
  • NaNoWriMo Writers in the Grove Spreadsheet for Word TrackingSelect a word tracker spreadsheet from our list of NaNoWriMo word trackers and spreadsheets. We have a new Writers in the Grove word and hour tracker spreadsheet, and a list of other word trackers.
  • Set your ground rules. Most participants are successful when they set the following ground rules during November:
    • Write only. No editing. None. Zilch. Not even a spell check. N.O. E.D.I.T.I.N.G. PERIOD.
    • No research or a 2-5 minute limit on research per day. Trust yourself. It’s all in your head. Pull it out. Put it down.
    • Keep daily appointments with yourself to write. Block out the times on your calendar and keep them, like a doctor or dentist appointment. Show up even if you don’t want to.
    • Learn how to turn off your phone and internet, and keep it off during your writing appointment time. Seriously.
    • Tell friends, family, and pets that you are not to be disturbed unless guts or bones are exposed to the air. This is an excellent time to teach your family and friends how to live without you for an hour or two a day. If you have to, lock them up before you start. The pets.
  • Create a backup plan. What are you going to write if your brain locks up on what you are writing? Make a list of world building, character sketches, place sketches, experience sketches, subplots, stories within stories, background information, historical timelines, and other material to help you write the stories that aren’t in your story that help define your story. Include a backup list of prompts and completely off topic subjects to write about to help you step away mentally from your story for a breather, then dive right back in again.
  • Find loyal supporters and ass-kickers. We have some great ass-kickers in our Writers in the Grove group, but you need your own if you aren’t a member of a writing group. Tap into your friends, close and long distance, and ask them for a weekly nag or check-in to help you keep going. Find a local or genre group on the NaNoWriMo groups list and introduce yourself.
  • Learn how to add your daily word count to NaNoWriMo. You add the update of your total word count for the month so far, not your daily word count, to the NaNoWriMo word count total.

  • Learn how to verify your final word count to help you complete your goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. Achieve your goal on the NaNoWriMo site and win some great prizes and discounts.

Before you get too overwhelmed, we’ve created a NaNoWriMo Guide featuring all the tutorials, tips, techniques, and prompts we’ve published here on participating in NaNoWriMo. Enjoy.

After NaNoWriMo 2016

Congrats on surviving NaNoWriMo 2016. Whether you reached your 50K goal or not, you are a winner because you give it your all. You wrote. You set up a system to deal with your internal editor, schedule writing time, and find a support system, such as this site, to keep you on track and going forward, no matter how war you got. You did it.

Now what?

Thanks to the fantastic and creative work of past NaNoWriMo participants, we have access to tons of answers to that question.

Fist, NaNoWriMo doesn’t end just because the month of November is over. There are many events in your areas and online. NaNoWroMi offers “The ‘Now What?’ Months to help you keep going and staying on track from January through to the next NaNoWriMo in November. They have extensive archives of tips and pep talks to keep you going as well.

There is an active NaNoWriMo forum called Life After NaNoWriMo to help others to keep going afterwards.

If you are ready to publish, you can share your published entry on the Published Wrimos list.

Beth Cato wrote a great article on “Beginning After NaNoWriMo” tp take you step-by-step through the process. Here are some other great tips and resources:

If these aren’t enough, here is a collection of Pinterest finds for life after NaNoWriMo.

The one piece of advice that all of these people have in common is to keep going. You’ve created something here. Good, bad, or ugly, it is a gem in the rough and it is time now to start to hone it, chipping away the junk rock to find the beauty within, and polish it to make it shine.

There is no bad writing. There is potential in what you wrote. Keep working on it.

Don’t stop writing.

If you arrived late to this series to support NaNoWriMo participants, check out our writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Writing Tips: Last Day

Woman triumphant at sunriseYou never thought the day would come, did you, but it is here. This is the last day, the last few hours, minutes, and this year’s NaNoWriMo event is over.

Here are some last tips for this year’s event.

Verify: The first thing you need to do this morning is verify your word count. This is critical. While your word tracker maybe telling you that you are at 51,245, NaNoWriMo’s official word count verifier may count words differently and come up with 49,394. Check it to confirm how close or over you are to meet your goals.

If you are over and do not wish to copy and paste your manuscript into NaNoWriMo’s official word count verifier, then use one of the alternative methods with a random text generator.

Be a Winner: Submit your word count for the day to NaNoWriMo’s tracker, verify it, then check all the great prizes you win as a winner of NaNoWriMo.

Backup everything. You should be keeping backups all along the way, but take a moment now as you’ve reached the 50K goal to backup, backup, backup.

Tell All: Let the world know that you won NaNoWriMo. Even if you didn’t, whatever you did is more than you would have done otherwise, so celebrate that with friends, family, and social media networks.

Relax, but not too much: Drink a ton of water, go to bed and catch up on the sleep you missed, and wake up the next morning to continue writing or to start editing your fantastic and creative work.

Write up lessons learned: It was only 30 days out of your life, but many lessons, life lessons, writing lessons, creative lessons, psychological lessons, physical lessons, all types of lessons were faced and learned. Even if you have been keeping track, take time to write them down now. Whatever got in your way during November gets in your way throughout the year. Whatever struggles you faced with your writing, these are the things you need to learn more about and work on this year to improve your writing skills. Don’t wait on this list. Use it to make a plan going forward, and to keep you on track through the next 11 months.

Be proud: Not everyone makes it through NaNoWriMo, but everyone who makes the attempt is a winner. It means that even for a short while, they made writing a priority. Congrats!

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Reverse Things

Your character is afraid of their own shadow. They creep through life trying to never disturb the dust of living, yet life still happens to them.

Write a scene like that with your character.

Then, throw the whole scene into reverse.

Write the same scene with your a brave, fearless personality at play, loving life, embracing anything thrown their way.

Which is the true definition of the character you want in your story? Is it one of these extremes or a compromise between the two.

Use this technique to not only learn more about your character, especially to identify strengths and weakness, but also to mix things up. Sometimes a brave and tough character has moments of fear, when they feel helpless and out of control. What would it take to make them feel that way? Might be an interesting part of your story.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Move Once an Hour

I’ve set a digital clock on my computer and phone to ping at the top of every hour. This reminds me to stand up and move.

While I will work through it if I’m in the middle of a writing burst, when the idea is complete, and it is safe to walk away, I will do so for at least five minutes.

Scientific research as shown that sitting for long periods of time is just about as unhealthy as smoking. Writing for 60-90 minutes without moving for only 30 days won’t be the death of you if you are regularly active, but consider a little movement to keep the juices flowing inside your body as well as your mind.

Go make a cup of tea, go drink a glass of water, walk around the room, or to another room and back. Don’t let yourself be distracted by walking into the kitchen or laundry room and seeing something that needs doing. Just move around.

Some writers stand up and do jumping jacks or squats for a few minutes. Many will stretch. Do something upright for just a few minutes once an hour.

You will return to your writing with more energy, a better ability to focus, and possibly a new idea for your story.

You are in the final stretch, so keep stretching.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: A Reminder – No Editing

The key to NaNoWriMo is the word count. Meeting the goal of 50,000 words. The best way to get there is to not edit, to not fix spellings or grammar, but to just keep the words coming.

There is another good reason not to edit. It is a distraction.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the wavy red line under a word and I’ve paused to fix it – after all, it’s just a right click and select the right word – and lost my train of thought. It can happen that fast.

The mistakes will still be there when you come back to edit. Just keep writing. The world will not come to an end because you mizpelled a word or messed up a tense. Keep going. You’re almost done. Stay on pace, stay on track, you can do it.

Note: According to Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo and author of many books including No Plot? No Problem! Revised and Expanded Edition: A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, a good proportion of NaNoWriMo participants use procrastination to stall until the last four to six days of the month, then throw themselves into a frenzy to complete the 50K word count competition on overdrive. Even if you have been slacking, it is possible to write more than 10K words a day, if you stop editing and get out of your own way.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Point of View

NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing just one thing. It is also a time for experimentation, which can also spice up the chore of your 1,667 words a day. Try experimenting with point of view.

Write a scene told from the perspective of the main character, written in third person.

Write the scene as told from the perspective of an omnipotent narrator.

Write the scene as told from the perspective of one of the other characters.

Write the scene as told from the perspective of one of the animals nearby, a bird, cat, dog, snake.

Write the scene in first person.

Which works better? Should you change your story’s point of view? Or keep it? Either way, it mixes things up for a writing session, and helps you see your story from another perspective.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Where are Your Cliffhangers?

Cliffhanger movie 1993 screencap of man falling from landslide on cliffHave you included some cliffhangers in your story? Cliffhangers are the moments in a movie or television show when there is a cut-away from the action, often for a commercial, and the viewer is left hanging, anxious about what will happen to the hero.

Cliffhangers are common writing devices, but they work. In a novel, these are found between scenes and chapters, but also between paragraphs, pulling the reader through the story to find out what happens next.

Where are your cliffhangers? Are they critical plot points or have you thrown in a few throughout the story to keep the reader on edge, eagerly turning page after page?

If you don’t have any, start adding them. Write them in. They add tension, conflict, and drag the reader through the story.

The key to a good cliffhanger is how it draws the reader into the story. They are a part of the action. They want to know what happens. A successful cliffhanger is one written to make the reader a part of the story, so they feel like they are the ones pushing or chasing the story forward.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.