I love NaNoWriMo. I love the challenge, and being part of the writing community. I love seeing the incredible progress of my word count, and I love being able to write from the seat of my pants and see where my creativity takes me.
But I do NOT love the fact that writing a novel in one month can take an incredible toll on a writer, mentally, physically and especially creatively.
As someone who usually obsesses over my word choice and narrative flow, powering through my first draft is a great way to help me shove aside my inner critic, and actually get some words on the page. But trying to write 50,000 words in one month is a lot, and it’s easy to see why so many people feel burnt out and overwhelmed far before the month’s end. That’s how I’m feeling right now.
And so, because of that, I thought I would share some of the ways that help me to keep writing and keep trying to hit that massive word count goal, even when I really don’t want to.
Hopefully it can help you (and me) to make it through.
The Top Seven Ways I Stay Productive During NaNoWriMo
1. Make an Epic Playlist
This is something I try to start as soon as I have a basic story in mind, but its helpful no matter where you are in your writing process. Playlists are what help me stay inspired, and equally, help drive me forward. Having music specifically associated with writing times actually helps me to get into the right mindset faster. As soon as I sit down and turn up the volume, I’m in the zone. Or at least it helps drown out the rest of the world for an hour or so.
My preference is instrumentals and soundtracks – video game music in particular is fantastic for both atmosphere and concentration (more science!) – but of course you can use whatever you find the most useful. And this doesn’t have to be limited to your writing time. Make a playlist that reminds you of your characters, or the setting, or a scene in your mind that you really want to get to in the next few chapters. You can even make a playlist of all the songs you want to include in the epic film adaptation of your novel. It could happen!
Make whatever you like, as long it inspires you (and let’s you dream big).
2. Take a Break
Okay, hear me out on this one.
I know it sounds like I’m telling everyone to just take a night off and stop trying to reach that daily word count if you don’t feel like writing. No, do not do that. In fact, if at all possible, you should absolutely try to meet and even exceed your word count – write in your sleep if you have to! But you can, and absolutely should, give yourself a break when you need it.
If you’ve been staring at the screen for hours and the words just won’t come, its okay to step back and take a minute. I usually wander off for about twenty minutes, because it’s just long enough for me to relax, but not so long that I feel like I’ve wasted all my precious time. Personally, I love going for walks on the forest trail near my house, but it can be anything works for you: go out and grab a coffee, take a nap, pet your dog, or watch something dumb on TV. Whatever you need to give your mind some time to reset and recharge.
And then get back to work. (Sorry.)
3. Never (EVER) Look Back
If ever you feel discouraged, or lose faith in your incredible idea (and it is incredible, don’t let your inner critic fool you) it can be tempting to look back over your previous days work. Maybe if you just tweak a few sentences, or paragraphs, you’ll be able to close up a few plotholes, resolve the romance subplot, or finally nail your character motivations. Just a little editing can’t hurt, right?
As someone who’s been there many, many times before, I can tell you with complete confidence and one hundred percent certainty, that you should absolutely not do that.
Literally any other month of the year, from December to 11:59P.M. on October 31st, is a great time for edits, revisions, or rewritings of any kind. But not November. This is the month of writing a novel, and you’ll never make it to the end if you keep going back and to try and make every proceeding section perfect. First drafts are never perfect – they don’t even have to be good – they just have to be written.
So charge forward and write until you have a (very, very, very, very) rough draft. You can make it look beautiful in the next one.
4. [Use Square brackets]
There’s nothing worse than trying to write a scene and the words simply will not come, no matter how relaxing your mini-break was, or how much awesome music you listen too. You know generally what you want to happen in this scene, but for the life of you you’re drawing a complete blank. And when that happens, the best solution I’ve found is to use a square bracket.
Having a hard time with description or witty dialogue? Use a square bracket and [insert description here] with [witty dialogue that shocks people here]. Stuck on trying to write that epic fight scene? [insert action packed throw down here] and move on. This may not add as much to your word count, but it will help you to move past whatever has you stuck on so you can move on and keep your momentum going. You can go back and fill them in for tomorrow’s word count, or leave them until it’s time for revisions after the end of the month, whatever works best for you.
It might not be a perfect solution, but it does [something really clever and insightful] and that really means something.
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