Today sees the beginning of NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. I have seen a lot of articles flying around the internet lately about how to win. So I thought I would throw in my two cents. These principles can easily apply to any time of the year, so if you missed November, no worries, don your pantser t-shirt and dive in.
As you can see from the title, I write 2,000 words a day consistently, usually within a two- hour window, and have completed four NaNo* style first drafts this year alone. The word counts range between 54k to 64k. I usually take a week or two in-between novels to recharge my imagination before setting out on my next adventure. I have gone back-to-back on projects, but to be honest, I think it burns me out. A rest in between novels works well for me. Before beginning NaNo this month, I decided to take a break to do some serious edits on one of said novels. I am very excited about where that manuscript stands and I am ready to plunge deep back into the river of writing every day, where my heart beats faster and I hold my breath in anticipation of what lies around the next bend.
*NaNo style equates to 50,000 words in 30 days.
Coming from a coaching background, I have developed many strategies over the years to help people install successful habits and achieve their goals. Now being a fiction writer myself, I apply these strategies to my own writing and have found them to be highly successful.
On a side note:
I am not here to argue what is better, pantsing or plotting, you do what works for you! I know many people that are a combination of both. So you choose the path that works best. To be honest, part of me loves the idea of plotting and sitting down and strategically planning out my novel. I am a bit OCD so I would have thought plotting would have been perfect for me, but I have tried potting several times and my imagination and passion shrivel up in front of my eyes–when I try such techniques, the story stops dead in its tracks. So I have found for me, that the story flows more freely from my fingers when I fly by the seat of my pants. Not always and not perfectly, but that is why I have set strategies in place to get the creative juicing flowing again when the story decides to slow.
If you’re reading this article, then I am guessing you are looking for tips and strategies on how to pump out those elusive words as fast as your fingers will type.
So with no further ado, here are my top tips for kicking some word crunching butt!
Time to get serious
It’s Do or Die time – Make a Decision
The truth is, if you want to get serious about your writing and writing 2,000 words a day is a pretty serious commitment, then you have to make a decision to put your writing at the top of your list of priorities, or at least very close to the top.
If it’s not taking one of those top spots, then anyone of a number of things in your day will come along and hijack your writing time – 9 times out of 10 – because if you’re not taking your writing seriously then why should anyone else.
Consistency is the key, carve out the best time of the day for you to write and stick with it. Sure, things are going to come along and try to rob you of that time, but the first step on the ladder to your success is making that commitment. Make your writing time sacred, it comes first, then you rearrange the rest of your life to make time for the other priorities in your life. You must choose to allocate time to what is most important to you in life, it’s the only way to get results and move forward on your dreams and goals.
Now we all know as soon as you make a decision to commit to something, all hell breaks loose, it’s Murphy’s law, so don’t get mad, life happens and stuff is going to get in the way. There’s a great article here about how to commit to your writing and stay open and flexible too.
Set some writing goals.
Write down what work you want to produce and by what day. For instance, my goal for 2015 is to produce six 1st draft novels and have one completed manuscript ready to begin querying come January. Set a daily word count and cast it in stone. Commit to how many words you will write every day. Or at least on the days you have set aside for writing. For instance, I like to take one rest day a week, that’s what works for me. If I have committed to 2,000 words a day, on my writing days, then I hold my feet to the fire, no matter how painful till I get those words out. 9 times out of 10 I hit the mark, occasionally something overwhelming happens and I may have to miss for that day, it’s okay, be gentle with yourself, as long as you’re hitting your word goals consistently, you are making progress.
Don’t think, write
I know this sounds crazy but it’s true, your imagination and intuition already know the story you want to write. The only thing that stops the words from getting on the page is your thinking mind, analyzing everything, questioning everything. You are a storyteller that is why you are drawn to writing. So the stories are already lying dormant within you somewhere, your job is to tickle them awake and get them into the world, without that sneaky inner editor trying to strangle the life out of them.
The first word that shows up is right
Nearly a hundred percent of the time, the word that shows up first, is the right word, so throw that sucker on the page, doesn’t matter if you want to tweak it, tweak it later. Throw it on the paper. Let’s get going.
Never look at a blank page
It’s like looking into the abyss and it will swallow you whole, as soon as you sit down, WRITE, let nothing stop you or get in your way, just write. If you feel stuck, the first thing that pops in your head, throw it on the page and you’re off. I use visual cues a lot to get me going. The first thing I see, a bird flies past my window, my character sees it and boom, I use that as a trigger to jump straight back into the story and were off running again. Write and write fast, doesn’t matter what comes out, just go, go, go! Remember, you’re wearing your big red t-shirt that says ‘I’m a total pantser’ on it, this is what living the life of a pantser looks like, so rock on!
Also, sometimes reading the last paragraph can help, but if you do, do it fast and move on, no fixing!
Write as fast as you can, faster than your inner editor, outrun him!
The secret to writing fast, is writing faster than you can think, then you don’t have time to sit around and mull over the words, for instance, deciding on the color of a character’s shirt. Take the first idea that pops in your head, boom, throw it down on the page. If you feel yourself slowing down, try chanting a little, run run run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man 🙂 !
Believe it or not you will be able to read your own mess when you come back to it, so punctuation forget it, periods who needs them, add it later, you’re going to be editing this sucker till you want to kill yourself anyway, so there is pleeeenty of time to fix those suckers later. In fact, you’ll probably enjoy those simple fixes as a light reprieve from the madness you spewed out on the page on your first go around, so get going. Write now, edit later.
I personally love to time myself and try to kick my own butt by out doing my own word counts. In my opinion sprinting is a lot of fun, especially if you’re highly competitive, this works for me. It’s not for the faint of heart, so be warned. 😉
Write like no one’s watching
This is your time, your special covert, ‘I’m never showing these words to another being on the planet time. This is my story and further down the line, I get to decide if I want anyone else to take a peek.’ So write with wild abandon and with tears streaming down your face if need be and put all that wild crazy stuff down on the page. Then later you can decide what and if you want to share it with the world.
To quote Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”
Capture those Distraction Monkeys and put ’em in a cage
Distraction capture device
Write down distractions, anything that needs researching put it on a piece of paper, those little distraction monkeys are going to come and steal your precious time and end up stealing your story. Put those distractions on a piece of paper or in your phone, (or other electronic device, if you can trust yourself to resist Facebook and the myriad of other time sucking sites available online). Jot it down and keep going, relax that piece of paper ain’t going anywhere, so you can come back to it later. If I know I need to expand an idea, I usually write something like ‘come back to later’, or ‘research’ in my draft, if I’m going to need more information to complete that scene.
Same with those sneaky brilliant ideas that always seem to show up, at just the wrong moment. Believe me, those little distraction monkeys are in the background rubbing their grubby little hands together, it’s just another sneaky ploy! Capture ideas briefly in a notebook and move on!
Eliminate all distractions – turn off the internet! I have five children ages two through fifteen and I homeschool, so being distracted is a full-time occupation for me, but if it’s important enough and you have made it a priority, then you’ll find away.
Take a Break
Get up and move
Feel stuck, slowing down, get up and move, I usually get up every twenty-five minutes and move for five minutes whether it’s stretching or dancing or whatever the heck I want to do, I get up and move move move, then I jump back in the hot seat and get my fingers flying again.
Music is your friend and inspiration
Now I’m the sort of person that likes to write in utter silence, I even write on my iPad because the sound of my own typing can drive me crazy. So I do not write with music blasting in my head, though I know some people do and love it. Usually the only thing I hear are children trying to kill each other in another room somewhere in the house, so I get up and have a good scream at them, then sit back down and get to work.
But if I’m feeling really sludgy or bogged down, or I’m getting ready to write a completely epic scene, I get up and I crank that music. I love to dance, so I let the music infuse me and take me anywhere it wants to go. I am deep in my imagination and let the music guide me and show me scenes. I have had whole epic scenes play out in my head during times like this, where moments before I had felt completely stuck and unsure of where to go next. So do not underestimate the power of music, it is a phenomenal weapon to kick some serious scene writing butt.
Eat a quick snack, or have a tea or coffee
I usually have something ready to go, or something that takes under five minutes to fetch and consume.
Get in the Zone
Finally I pray, right before I write, I know that may seem weird to some, but I don’t truly think I’m all the clever. Sometimes these crazy stories just show up out of the ether. I do not take responsibility for them, which actually takes the pressure off whether they’re good or bad. I step back, bow my head and let someone greater than little old me, take the reins. I’m not here to tell you what to believe, I’m just sharing what works for me.
There is a great Ted talk here about taking the spotlight off you, I thought it was very helpful.
And lastly if I had one piece of advice to give to my fellow would-be pantsers it would be this… Just Begin… there is wisdom in this… you want to write don’t you, so write!
A Great Adventure Awaits You.
These thoughts, skills and techniques are my own. They are what work for me. So if you have strategies that work great for you, then awesome! Why don’t you share them in the comments box below, along with any other ideas or suggestions, or anything else you would like to share, I’d love to hear from you!
What works for you?
Follow me on twitter @sk_lamont
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