Monday, October 28, 2013

10 Tips to help you make it through NaNoWriMo

So you've decided to take the plunge and go for NaNoWriMo this year. Good for you! Whether you win or not, you're challenging yourself and pushing your creative limits, and that earns you a hearty round of applause from me.

Now that we've got the pep and fanfare out of the way, let's look at what you can do to increase your writing productivity and stay motivated, whether it's in November (or, really, any month of the year).

1. Twitter sprints
Are you on Twitter? (If not, get thee to Twitter, Ophelia. There's a great writing community there just waiting to be all supportive, give you good publishing advice--indie or traditional, and also show you cute pictures of baby animals when you're down.)

It's true that the writers over there are pretty fab. What's also pretty fab about Twitter in November is the sheer amount of word sprints and sharing of prompts--whether it's word prompts, art, or music-- that goes on. You can find a word sprint, which is a timed interval during which you write like a crazy person and then tweet the number of words you wrote at the end of sprint, at almost any time of the day or night now. Here are a couple of accounts that I know do word sprints:

@FriNightWrites (keep an eye out for their event to help kick off Nano!)
@5amWritersClub (Secret Lifer Heather helps run this, so say hi!)

2. Wake up early, stay up late-- find your groove.
Make extra time for yourself to get your word count in. It's like having homework every day in November, which is great, but if you already have a lot of homework due in November, then sometimes it's hard to juggle another subject thrown in.

I tend to wake up about a half an hour earlier (or more if my sleep-deprived, grad student body can take it) to squeeze in some extra words before I have to start my day. Sometimes I make word count and sometimes I don't, but I at least can kick off the day creatively and I'm less worried when I get back home from school about making word count because I'll already have made a good start on it.

Find a time that works for you. Whether it's waking up to sprint at 5am on twitter, or holing yourself up in a coffee shop or library for an hour, or just taking time to yourself before sleeping, set aside time to do your writer thing. Try not to force yourself to fight for time to write-- you already have enough stress with the volume of work that you're expecting yourself to produce. 

3. Victoria Schwab and the Star Stickers: Adventures in Meeting Word Count
Okay, so I'm kind of a huge Victoria Schwab fan (read VICIOUS if you haven't already, by the way, it's ridiculously good). In the video below, she explains her method of giving herself stickers as rewards for meeting her word count goals, and this can easily be adapted to NaNoWriMo. Buy yourself a pack of stickers (and maybe some special, super rad looking ones, too, for those days when you have to bust some serious word count moves) and fill your calendar up with awesome.

4. Reread before you restart. 
Oldie, but a goodie. If you're stuck try rereading what you wrote the day before to get yourself back into the story. Especially if you're writing in dual POV, or have multiple narrators, I can guarantee that there will be times when you will forget what someone sounds like. And that's okay-- that's why we have revision. But if you're not entirely sure what you were thinking when you added in that side character who magically is now the Love Interest and also has his own POV, then skip back and reread his entrance again.

Chances are that you'll be thinking about your writing all throughout the day, but it's always helpful to ground yourself in a scene. 

5. Ernest Hemingway's Trick 
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.
Obviously, don't stop in the middle of a scene when you're on fire-- finish that sucker. But if you've just finished something that you're proud of and you have a good idea of what you want to happen next, leave it for tomorrow and let your subconscious figure out where the story ought to go from there. This is easily one of my favorite tricks.

Want some more writing tips from Hemingway? You got it.

6. Get your CPs into the game, or find a writing friend. 
Have a contest between your CPs, or just find them on the NaNo site and then bother them on gchat if they aren't keeping up with their word count. What makes NaNo work for me is that I know that there's a huge group of writers out there who will cheer/cajole/prod me into crossing the finish line. We did our Buddy Project match-ups earlier, so if you got a buddy from us, let us know how you guys weather NaNo! :)

7. Use writing prompts. 
I got into writing (and finishing!) longer stories in high school thanks to fan fiction and writing tables, like those at fanfic100. I'd know that I wanted to write stories about characters and have some vague ideas, but what really helped me nail down scenes was having prompts to fixate on. You can scour LJ for some great writing communities with cool prompts, or you can leaf through books of poetry or novels and pick out random phrases that inspire you.

Other prompts that are awesome are pictures and music. Pinterest is a great source of visual information. If you're an audiophile, then maybe consider writing a chapter inspired by each song from an album by your favorite band. Word sprint leaders will often throw out prompts of all kinds, too.

If you know what you want to write now, great! Think about all the scenes that get you revved up about starting this manuscript, then write brief sketches of them down on index cards or post-its, or in a notebook, and then save them for when you get stuck. Whenever you feel like your idea sucks and why on earth are you even bothering to write it, pull out those ideas and remember how excited you were to start this project. Then, maybe write one of those scenes. 

8. Go to a write-in.
Taking yourself to a cafe is awesome, so why not meet up at a cafe with fellow writers? Get excited about writing, meet people, and you might also score some sweet stickers from your ML. :) Find your home region on the NaNo forums and get to it!

9. Butt in chair, hands on keys.
Ultimately, making it through NaNoWriMo in one piece is a lot of BICHOK-- you just have to put the time in and write. Use prompts, use music, use whatever you have to to make it. One of my big strategies for getting through being stuck at this point is jumping around in time-- if I'm not inspired to write the scene that I'm writing, then I'll skip to one that I am inspired to write about and come back to what I was working on before later.

Still want some help with this? Check out Susan Dennard's excellent NaNo Boot Camp forums.

10. Enter writing contests.
Like ours!  The more writing you do, the better you're going to get. Give yourself a warm-up for NaNoWriMo by entering our Halloween contest and flexing your creative muscles.

Best of luck writing, and happy November, guys!

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

You can find her on Twitter @: alexyuschik
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4 secret replies:

  1. Great tips! I happen to love #5 as well—it definitely helps when you know what's going to happen in the next day (or week, or month's writing). Thanks for sharing, Alex!

    1. Agree! It's like inspiration bleed-over, and that's the best. Good luck with everything! :)

  2. Very good round-up. I've been reading as much advice as I can this time around. I like Nano for trying out different approaches to plotting and planning out my writing. If it doesn't work for me, then I don't do it again. I haven't done much with writing prompts outside of a class, so this is a really good suggestion.

    1. Thanks! I'm glad you liked it!

      And yeah, writing prompts worked wonders for me when I was writing fanfic. I usually just used tables and filled them out as I went. I remember loving working with this one: (scroll down to the "themes" part) -- see if it helps! :)

      Best of luck this year!