2016’s NaNoWriMo is behind us. Officially, I wrote 56K words, slightly under the 57K I wrote in July (that was a I-need-to-finish-this-book project rather than an off-month NaNo draft). Writing at such a speed requires a different type of discipline. Here are 17 writing tips I learned that made the process easier:
- Create a writing ritual. Trick your mind into thinking of writing and only writing by creating a fixed environment in which to write. Whether it’s a coffee shop, a desk, or a favorite chair, always sit in the same place. Play the same music or soundtrack. Drink the same beverage. Create a bubble of little habits to train your brain so that when all is in place, there is no resistance. I sit in a big white chair in my “studio” (aka room where all my stuff is kept), play the same meditation music and close my eyes. Why closed eyes? It robs my inner editor of any excuses to interfere. My brain knows this is writing time, and that’s what I do.
2. Write. Anything. If you’ve written yourself into a corner or fallen down a plot hole, write, even if it’s garbage. Write, “I don’t know where to go from here. If _insert main character___hadn’t done__this stupid thing__, then __this amazing thing will happen__, and he could _save the universe____.” Get your imagination working. Prime your creativity with stream-of-conscious rambling. Something will click and send you down the right road.
3. Walk away. Recharge. Your mind won’t stop creating when you wander into the kitchen or take a short walk.
4. Set a timer. Tagging onto point #3, give your brain a break at the 45 or 60 minute mark. All work and no breaks makes Jack a dull boy. If you’re having trouble getting started for the day, set a timer for 10 minutes. You can write for ten minutes, can’t you? It’s not daunting. Once the words start flowing, you’ll be in the zone when the timer goes off.
5. Know your words per hour count. I write about 600 words per hour. That includes staring off into space time and where-did-I-file-that-note time. The average 1,667 words per day required by NaNoWriMo means I have to dedicate almost three hours per day to writing to stay on track.
6. Keep a spreadsheet of your daily word count. Unless you’re writing on one MSWord document, which keeps track for you. I use Scrivener and open a new document for each scene. I mark my spreadsheet columns with date written, scene number, scene description, word count, POV character, and story day. A quick glance tells me the past event I want to reference in the current conversation took place two weeks earlier. I don’t have to stop and search through the manuscript. Less wasted time=more writing time.
7. Keep notes of future edits. These can include research to be done; a list of secondary characters (was the housekeeper’s name Mrs. Hill or Mrs. Hunt?); character traits (why didn’t he use magic until chapter 29?); and anything else that you need to address in the editing stage.
8. Create an avatar for the main characters. I pick celebrities as avatars for my characters and set a thumbnail on my desktop. A quick glance helps me determine their next move, a gesture, an internal thought.
9. Front load word count. The sagging middle will happen. Plot holes will yawn. There will be days when you don’t feel like writing. Use the enthusiasm of the first few chapters to build word count.
10. Don’t expect to leave your creativity at the bedroom door. The muse is a fickle creature. It will evaporate when you sit down at the keyboard during the day, then arrive like an Easter parade the minute your head hits the pillow.
11. Always have a pen and paper nearby. The answer to that thorny problem always pops up at the most awkward time. Write it down. You think you’ll remember, but, believe me, you won’t.
12. Have faith in the process. You’ve read hundreds of books. Your subconscious knows the genre inside out. Tying up loose threads and finding the perfect ending might seem unobtainable, but something deep down inside you will know the answer and cough it up.
13. Have an accountability partner. Knowing I had to enter my daily word count on NaNoWriMo’s site AND to my Facebook partner spurned me to write when I didn’t want to.
14. Don’t backspace, don’t delete. Every word counts. If you can’t find the perfect word, write words close to what you want to express /signify /convey, separated by a space and slash. (see what I did there?) You can use a thesaurus later.
15. Leave research and editing for another day. It’s the whole left brain, right brain argument. You can’t create if you’re correcting. The first draft is going to be a hot mess. Go with the flow and get the ideas down. Edit the hell out of it later. I use various placeholders when I write.
a. XXX is awesome to use as a placeholder. Don’t know villager number two’s name? Write xxxvillager2. Simple, easy, no brain drain.
b. An * after a word means I don’t like the word and there’s a better one, but I don’t want to stop the flow* to look it up.
c. * * * means there should be more to the action, description, dialogue, please fill it in later.
d. ? (checkmark) (Mac alt+V) is an indicator? to indicate? you’re using an echo word. Check the thesaurus later.
16. Give yourself permission to write dreck. My old writing group called the first draft the “vomit” draft. Throw up on the page and clean it up later. First drafts are not pretty. Mine look as if a war has been committed. I can write pretty, but it takes too long. I know my writing style. I need deadlines to stay motivated. Other, prettier ideas sparkle and lure me away. If I write fast and ugly, the first draft gets done. Then I can turn my analytical mind loose and immerse myself in the sweet world of edits.
17. Enjoy. Celebrate. Many, many people say, “I’d like to write a book someday”. You’re actually doing it. You’re finishing the damn book. Yay, you! You are fierce. You are amazing. Use these tips to speed through the first draft, let it sit, polish the hell out of it, send it to beta-readers and editors and proofreaders, order a cover and PUBLISH THE DAMN BOOK. Then start over.
I hope these tips help you on your writing journey. They work for me. They might not work for you. Find out what does. Every good product starts with a design. Find your writing design and create your very best.
I wish you all the luck in the world!