1. DO THE MATH
50k is a hella lotta words, y’all. Broken down to 1,666 average words per day? Not so much. If you type at an average speed, say 30 wpm, that’s about an hour’s worth of work.
For the record, I wrote just shy of 72k words by writing about 2500 words a day in 90-minute increments using Write Or Die.
2. DO THE HOMEWORK
That being said, the writing went fast because I largely knew what I was going to write. You can drive a lot faster and more efficiently if you know where you’re going, right? I had a road map, knew my characters, had a plan. There’s a widely-spread misconception that planning stifles creativity. Um, not really. Having at least a road map of plot points makes the work go a LOT smoother, and let’s not be coy here–this IS work.
Remember, we’re talking 50k words in a month. Courting the Muse means preparation ahead of time. It’s different if you don’t have deadlines, or want to take a serious, professional go at this, or if you’ve already written so many books you’re cozy with your own process. People point to Stephen King as the model to follow for success, but let ‘s be honest (while we’re not being coy), and remember he’s been doing this for decades. DECADES. He knows what he’s doing. His Muse is locked up in a cage and threatened with all manner of frightening things, because Stephen King.
(I, however, do no prescribe to the idea you have to write a certain amount of words every day to be successful. I do believe you have to understand your process, implement said process, and stick to it. If writing every day doesn’t work for you, then for Elder Gods’ Sake, DON’T DO IT. Find your sweet spot, and then practice that regularly, so it becomes a habit.)
3. YOU ARE CAPABLE OF MORE THAN YOU THOUGHT (NO REALLY)
I didn’t think I had it in mean to write more than a 1,000 words a day. I have a full time day-job, and by the time I get home I’m generally drained, mental energy wise. But it turns out that while I’m a high-level Accountamancer at the day job (with a specialty in Arithomancy and Excellism), I’ve found that writing is something like a sanctuary for my brain, which pretty much needs a break from all the numbers and logistical cogitating.
Once I realized this, it was easy to cut WAY down on the Netflix, which has a serious hold on me. I LOVE to be entertained, probably more than I like entertaining if I’m honest. Instead I got my storytelling fix by opening Write Or Die and spilling all the voices clamoring in my brain onto the page. 90 minutes later, I felt revitalized instead of drained.
4. BE FEARLESS (AKA PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF DONE)
Write Or Die doesn’t give you much room (hardly any) to hem and haw over word placement/choices. It starts a timer, and then you have to type like a maddened banshee to get the words in before time’s up.
This switches something off in your brain, the thing that second guesses you at every turn. That voice is invaluable when it comes to revisions, but is kryptonite when it comes to drafting. Only when you spill the words out on to the page like escaped marbles can you see what you have. Then you can edit and rearrange and organize. But first, you have to spill the marbles.
I honestly don’t know if any of the 70k words I spilled are any good. I won’t know that until revisions. But the same holds true whether I wrote 100 careful words that day, 1,000 not-so-careful words, or a crazed avalanche of 5,000 (because it was Saturday, and pjs and caffeine was involved).
Forget what you know, or you think you know, about writing, and just WRITE.
5. IT’S OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP
There’s another misconception out there, also widely spread, that writing must be a solitary endeavor. But I couldn’t have blew through 70k words on my own. I told my husband I was doing NaNoWriMo, and after I explained what that was, and he looked at me as though I’d grown a second head, we agreed to cut the TV watching down to a day a week for our current shows on Hulu, and he went and played Fallout 4 the rest of the time, leaving me to tender mercies of Write Or Die and Scrivener. He also made sure there was plenty of wine in the house, which was much appreciated (believe me).
And there was my fellow community of writers, checking in with them, cheering on and doing whatever we could to help one another out when the writing wasn’t going quite as well as we hoped. Non-writers don’t generally know what the work is like, no matter how much they might sympathize. Writers, however, are only too happy to discuss plot knots and process and their tips and tricks.
6. IT’S OKAY TO TAKE A BREAK
Your brain is a muscle. Like any muscle, it needs to rest lest it goes all woogy and starts dribbling out your ears. This is especially important after a big word count or a frustrating scene has got you all turned about. Walk away. Run, if you have to. Do a load a dishes, take a walk, bake cookies. Read a book. Anything. The beauty of the brain is that even after you stop writing, the subconscious is frantically working behind the scenes so it can download new information into the creative part.
7. WARMING UP IS KEY
The other, and final, misconception I want to touch on is that writers have to simply sit down at ye olde laptop and start pounding at the keyboard, already primed and ready to go. Why? Musicians warm up before they play, artists do quick sketches to warm up their hands, athletes stretch.
It’s a LOT easier to start if you warm up first. Make note of what scene or scenes you have to complete for the day. What purpose, or purposes, does that scene have to accomplish? Brainstorm ideas for action, imagery, dialogue. Make note of the scene’s location, and imagine what the temperature’s like, what objects are there, and describe them not only in context of shape and color, but texture and even smell. Practice using your five senses. Organize your thoughts and put your head in the game.
In other words, get the hands moving on smaller, simpler tasks before you start on the larger one. It takes between ten and fifteen minutes. Only when your creative mind is buzzing along at a nice clip is it time to draft. Then that hour or ninety minutes you put aside will just fly by, and before you know it, you’re done. Heck, you may not want to stop. Listen to your brain, and the story. It will let you know when it’s time to stop for the day.
So there you go–seven things I learned (or re-learned) while burning through NaNoWriMo. Did you participate? What did you learn?