NaNoWriMo Tips – How To Deal With Deadlines

I know I have shared this post before, but I wanted to share it again now that everyone is in the thick of NaNoWriMo: How To Deal with Deadlines. We all have our different methods of madness. These are some of mine when it comes to managing time and reaching goals. Hopefully one or two of them will help you achieve your own goals.

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Besides NaNoWriMo, I have dealt with a variety of writing challenges, all with tough deadlines. Some of those deadlines were enforced by other people (agents, producers, PR reps, competition organizations, etc.), while others have been self-enforced–or rather, self-inflicted. Case and point:

Last spring an agent requested my full manuscript. She ended up passing, but she liked it enough to recommended it to two other agents. So, I eagerly sent them my query letter. Less than ten minutes after I pushed the send button I realized I’d made a fatal mistake. It suddenly struck me that I didn’t like the first half of my book. In fact, I hated it. And I was petrified the two agents I’d just sent my query letters to would hate it as well. So–in a hyperventilating panic–I began chopping and revising my manuscript, all the while watching my inbox, certain one of those agents was going to ruin everything by requesting my now torn up material (such a major faux pas, I know, I know). Even so, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Faster and faster and faster…

Two months later, I had a completely updated book (100,000 words worth).

And zero requests. Zero!

Neither of those two agents ever contacted me. Go figure.

These disappointing and exhausting experiences have taught me some important lessons about writing projects that are herded by deadlines. And I’d like to share some of those lessons with you. Hopefully they can help you during your tumultuous NaNoWriMo journey. (Or whatever deadline-driven trek you might be on.)

Chop out all distractions

imagesI know this sounds obvious, but it’s the most important part of the process. And it’s the hardest. Distractions are addicting, fun, and bring us joy, so why would we want to chop them out of our lives? I don’t know how many times I’ve had to turn down going to the movies with a friend, or shopping with my sister, or visiting the Colorado Railroad Museum with my beloved nephews (trust me, if you saw their “WHOA!” expressions, you’d understand). And all because I needed to stay home and work on my manuscript instead.

And on that note…

Accept your loner status

alone-in-a-crowd.jpg.scaled.1000We’ve all heard writing is a lonely job. And it is. Even if you’re writing in a coffee shop, a library, or a park, you’re separated from the rest of the world. It’s like an invisible barrier is erected between you and those around you, including your friends and family. The only people to keep you company are the characters in your head (and, let’s face it, those guys can get a little crazy sometimes ;-)). Personally, I think this is why a lot of writers get distracted so easily. We have an innate need to return to planet earth–to reconnect with our fellow humans–to remind ourselves we live here, and not in the fictitious other world we’ve created.

Unfortunately, when writing on a deadline, you don’t have the luxury of time to constantly re-root yourself in reality. If you want to make it to the finish line on time, then you gotta stick it out in that lonely other world with those real-but-not-real characters. And you must be able to cope with feeling disconnected, because you will.

My advice? During your darkest, loneliest moments, firmly remind yourself you’re not alone. Remind yourself that there are thousands of other writers cut off from the rest of humanity with you. Maybe even find a few writing buddies who understand your situation and are there to support and encourage you to keep chugging along. I promise you won’t feel so alone anymore.

Commit at least ONE FULL day/week to writing

1197089396151240572hawk88_Calendar.svg.medNearly everyone in my life knows Saturday is “Don’t Talk to Jenna Day”. Saturdays are my think tank’s refueling station–the precious oil to my creative cogs. Saturday is THE day I write. From sun up to sun down I sit in front of my computer, writing and writing, until my eyes can’t stay open and my fingers start to cramp.

It’s intense, and it’s not always fun, but it’s vital to my production output. And not just because I get a ton done in one day, but because I get pumped up to do even more the following days. By dedicating a full day to writing, I find it a lot harder to turn off my imagination the rest of the week. No matter how tired I am, or how busy I get, I will find the energy and time to sit down and pour my thoughts onto paper. They’re just too warm and alive to coldly bury in my subconscious until the next weekend.

There’s no crying in writing

Okay, okay. There’s lots of crying in writing. And trust me, when you’re writing with a deadline in mind, you’ll probably cry even more. Mostly from exhaustion. And also the occasional–or not so occasional–bout of angry frustration. But you know what? You gotta suck it up and push through the emotional breakdowns. Just go grab a piece of chocolate, watch an episode of 30 Rock, and maybe listen to Journey’s, “Don’t Stop Believin'” a few times. Then get back to work. Go. Do. It. Now!

…Okay, that was my version of a tough love pep talk. Did it help? No? Whatever, go eat some more chocolate. GO!

Don’t be Miss Congeniality

misscongeniality-still8I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time saying no to people. Need a babysitter tonight? Sure, I’m there. Need a hundred cupcakes for that party next week? Of course, I’ll make them. Need someone to proof that business proposal? No problem, I’m happy to help. However, when it comes to writing on a deadline, I must stifle the urge to be Miss Congeniality and focus on doing what’s best for ME. I know, it sounds horrible. But when you’re on a deadline, you have to lace up the ol’ selfish boots and keep them on until the job is done. You have to constantly repeat to yourself, “Me. Me. Me…”, while telling others, “No, no, no…”.

Again, horrible, I know. But, unfortunately, necessary.

To lessen my guilt about this, I always give my acquaintances, friends and family a heads up: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to be crazy busy with writing the next month (or two), so I won’t be as accessible as usual. Sorry, sorry, sorry. See you on the flip side!”

Get it? Got it? Good!

Even when you’re not chugging, keep chugging

Concrete_sleeper_1638Okay, so maybe you can’t be a complete self-serving hermit during NaNoWriMo. There’s work, the gym, the kids, hundreds of errands, special events…No matter how hard you try to avoid or hide from life’s daily necessities, you can’t. The refrigerator isn’t going to restock itself. The bills aren’t going to be paid by the mythical money tree. The wedding of your best friend isn’t going to happen again (well, hopefully). But, don’t panic. It’s okay! You can keep chugging along on your project even when you’re not sitting at a computer or hovering over a notebook.

Example: Every day during my hour plus commute to and from work, I listen to a playlist I made for my book. As I listen to the inspiring songs I’ve collected, I strategize my next scene, or create a new character, or discover a plot hole. This way when I finally do get to a computer, I’m already primed and ready to translate everything I’ve “written” in the car.

Even so, I highly recommend keeping a small notepad on you at all times. That way if you come up with an idea and you’re terrified you’re going to forget it, you can quickly jot it down (because, as fun as scribbling on your hand or a paper napkin can be, chances are those won’t make it home–you know, because you accidentally wash your hands, or someone uses your inscribed napkin to wipe the pizza grease off their face!).

Just keep swimming…

This is the most important lesson of all: Just keep swimming. Just keep trying. Just keep writing! Swim, swim, swim. Try, try, try. Write, write, write!

Writing a book on a deadline is like running a marathon–exhausting, difficult and seemingly endless. But it will come to an end. Trust me. Just remember to keep your eye on the finish line and you’ll get there. Breathe. Focus. And push through the pain! You can do it!

Good luck everyone!

Related Articles: 

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A Writer’s Guide to NaNoWriMo- Part 2!

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Jen’s Top 10 NaNoWriMo Tips

Lately, a lot of people have been asking me if I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year. The answer, unfortunately, is no. Since I’m in the middle of editing my current WIP, I don’t have the time to join in. However, I wanted to offer up some advice to those of you who have accepted the daunting task of writing 50K words in one month.

Jen’s Top 10 NaNoWriMo Tips

1. Decide why you are participating

“I signed up just because.”

No, no, no! Don’t say this when people ask you why you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Give a valid, reliable, motivating reason to participate:

“I’ve been slacking lately and need a kick in the butt.”

“I have a great idea for a novel.”

“People say NaNo’s impossible. I’m gonna prove them wrong!”

Whatever your personal motive, make sure you have one. Don’t sign up for NaNoWriMo just to sign up. If you do, I can almost guarantee failure. You’ll inevitably hit a rough patch and and think, “Ugh, why am I even doing this? Forget it. I’m done.”

2. Just write! 

NaNoWriMo is a great way to start or finish the first draft of a novel, or to completely rewrite an old one. It’s not a great way to revise or edit a novel. And it’s definitely not a way to write a masterpiece that’s ready to be published on December 1st. Nope, sorry.

So stop stressing about making things perfect. Resist the temptation to edit or revise, and don’t get upset about your watered down plot or 2D characters. Just write. Close your eyes, and tap, tap, tap away at that keyboard. And remember this is a rough draft. You won’t be showing it off to many (if any) people. So let the words flow and don’t stop to question them too much. If you do, you’ll never make it to 50K words by November 30th.

3. Don’t skip days and fall behind schedule

Last November, I missed the first three days of NaNoWriMo because I was in a writing contest. And after that, I missed a few more days because, well, I missed them. Life happened. I didn’t feel like writing. I was tired. I had better things to do. Etc., etc.

Bad idea.

Missing one day is okay. Not good, but not horrible. But after one day, the word count deficit starts to pile up fast. Within the first week of NaNo last year, I was behind schedule by 10,000 words. And the only way I was going to catch back up was to increase my daily word count–blerg! So, do yourself a favor and spit out those words every day, even if you don’t feel like it.

4. Be proactive. Get ahead!

Don’t live on the edge if you don’t have to. Give yourself a word count cushion.

After I climbed out of the deep dark word count hole last year, I decided to take the bull by the horns and get ahead of schedule. On days I had extra time, energy, and motivation, I blasted past my daily goal and kept writing. Why not? Who knew how I’d feel the next day, or if my life would blow up and I wouldn’t be able to sit down a write?

Because of this “get ahead” strategy, I was able to finish almost a week early last year.

5. Find an idea you love

When you hit those “ugh” moments, or you’re just flat out tired, it’ll be your passion and excitement for a story that gets you through. So make sure choose one you love. Find a plot you want to explore and a cast of characters you want to know better. They should have the power to enthrall and entice you, and keep you motivated on a daily basis.

I promise, if you feel “meh” about your story before you start it, you’ll feel “meh” about it the whole time. And sooner or later, you’ll throw in the towel.

6. Evolve with your idea

There is a very good chance the story you set out to write won’t be the story you end up writing. This is especially true for those of us who are “pantsters” rather than “plotters”. We assume we’re going to take a left turn at the fork in the road, but then we take a right instead.

That’s okay.

Remember: Just write!

Don’t add constraints or limit yourself just because the story “was supposed to go this way”. Go with the flow and see where things take you, even if they aren’t where you planned to go. After all, this isn’t a final draft. It’s an exploration of the story you will–hopefully–continue pursuing long on after the November 30th deadline.

7. Embrace a love-hate relationship

Even if you’re infatuated with your story, you’ll probably become infuriated with it at some point. You’ll have moments when you question your concept, or realize you despise a certain character, or fear you chose the wrong path back in chapter 5. It’s okay! First drafts aren’t meant to be perfect or 100% lovable. They’re ugly, troublesome, and, more often than not, a total nightmare.

So accept the inevitable love-hate relationship you’ll have with your story, remind yourself you’ll be able to revise those despicable spots in the future, and keep chugging along.

8. Lean on other writers for support

I often tell people, “Writers have their own language.” We naturally understand each other and can relate to each other’s writing woes. So why not invite some into your life, especially during the stress of NaNoWriMo?

The support you’ll get from other writers isn’t the same as the support you’ll get from the people in your everyday life. God bless them, but your friends and family just can’t relate to your roller coaster emotions, endless anxiety, and, well, general craziness. But other writers can.

Where do I find these so-called writing buddies, you ask? Well, obviously NaNoWriMo’s site allows you to network and make solid connections. Another place is Twitter. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve met on there and have created genuine, supportive friendships with.

9. Have fun! 

I mean it. Enjoy the experience. That’s what NaNoWriMo is all about: the experience. Yes, it’s stressful, insane, and a lot–a lot–of work. But nobody is forcing you to do it (well, I hope not). So why not have fun with it?

Last year, whenever I’d hit a low point, I’d sit back in my chair and laugh at the absurdity of writing 50K words in one month. Who does that? Seriously? Or I’d take a deep breath and embrace my accomplishments. I figured every word I wrote deserved a round of applause, even if it wasn’t the best word in the world.

10. Worst Case Scenario

The worst thing that can happen? You don’t reach the 50K goal by November 30th.

Big deal.

Okay, maybe it is a big deal and you want to focus on that goal to keep you motivated. But, in my opinion, the point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to barf out 50,000 words for the sake of barfing out 50,000 words. It’s to help writers focus and to kickstart a steady writing routine that carries them past the November 30th deadline…And to hopefully collect the ingredients for a novel they will want to fully develop.

So, even if you’re approaching the deadline, and you’re nowhere near the 50K word finish line, who cares? Keep. Going. Keep. Writing! The only true failure in NaNoWriMo is giving up completely.

Well, there you go. I hope you found at least one of my tips for NaNoWriMo useful. I have a few more (okay, many more), but I’ll save those for next time.

Good luck, everyone!

And remember: Just write!

Related articles:

NaNoWriMo Tips – How To Deal With Deadlines

My NaNoWriMo 2014 Survival Kit

A Writer’s Guide to NaNoWriMo Part 1

A GREAT QUOTE FOR NANOWRIMO

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