NaNoWriMo Tips – Don’t Compare Yourself To Other Writers

A couple of days ago, I officially “won” NaNoWriMo.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.11.48 PMAfter I did a happy dance, I went online and skimmed through posts and Tweets about NaNoWriMo. As I did, a sense of unease overcame me. So many writers were acting discouraged and defeated because their word counts weren’t as high as others. It made me wonder:

Do early winners kill the motivation of other writers?

I decided to ask a handful of writing buddies this question. Some declared early winners inspire them because it proves NaNo can be done. Others admitted early winners make them feel overwhelmed, panicked, and even resentful.

Okay, okay, I’ll admit it myself: during the last NaNo I signed up for, early winners irritated me more than they inspired me. While they declared themselves finished, I continued digging myself out of the 10K word hole I’d  fallen into…It wasn’t a fun or happy time.

So, today I thought I’d offer some encouragement to anyone out there who might be feeling overwhelmed, panicked, and/or resentful by early NaNo winners (or anyone with a higher word count). First off, let me assure you, writing 50K words in less than two weeks isn’t normal! It’s crazy.

Second, a variety of factors play into how fast people finish NaNo. To finish in ten days or less, I discovered you need to:

  1. Have ample time. Life is calm, work is slow, sleep is futile, etc. Writers who finish NaNo early tend to have plenty of time on their hands. Personally, my life was abnormally peaceful the past ten days. The only thing that prevented me from writing all day, every day was my job, and even that happened to be calm and stress-free.
  2. Be extremely focused. I made NaNoWriMo my main priority the past two weeks. I passed on invitations to events, turned down requests from family and friends, and resisted blogging and working on other non-essential projects. If it didn’t have to do with my manuscript, I ignored it. (Hermit, party of one!)
  3. Act like a competitive overachiever. Early NaNo winners can deny it all they want, but the majority of us are competitive overachievers. That doesn’t mean we’re trying to beat other writers. Not at all! It means we’re trying to beat ourselves. We have to match or do better than we did the day before. It’s a natural compulsion we can’t control.
  4. Experience creative energy overload. All writers experience creative highs and lows. Sometimes the words have to be ripped out of us, and sometimes they tumble out faster than we can type. During NaNo, some of us get lucky and experience a high. We get in an amazing groove and can’t stop writing even when our eyes hurt and our fingers cramp. It’s a blessing, and it’s a blessing that needs to be embraced before it disappears.
  5. Word vomit. A lot. I’m usually a sucker for revising as I write, but this time during NaNo, I refused–absolutely refused–to revise anything. I word vomited all over my pages and didn’t care about the giant mess I made. If I had a new idea or discovered a plot hole, I jotted it down in my notebook and kept going. I never went back to fix things. Never.

unnamedAnd if I didn’t like the direction I was taking my story, I added a few spaces between my paragraphs, wrote “SWITCHING GEARS” , and carried on as though I’d made the change. Nothing stopped me from writing, writing, writing.

Bottom line: It takes a magical combination of luck and hard work to finish NaNoWriMo early. Time, inspiration, and determination play key factors in propelling some to the 50K mark in the blink of an eye.

But, that’s them.

And you are you!

You can’t look at another writer’s stats and then question your own. You can’t! I learned that during my first NaNo when I kept comparing myself to those who finished early. Their amazing success didn’t inspire me. It hurt me and it made my journey harder.

So, if you’re like me and get dragged down rather than lifted up by early winners, here’s my advice:

Tell yourself everyone handles NaNoWriMo differently, and a million factors influence how fast people reach the finish line. Some writers are able to sprint, others must jog, and others are forced to walk. The truth is, the pace doesn’t matter. What matters is you achieve your goal. If that goal takes two weeks, one month, or an entire year, then so be it.

Just keep writing!

Take it one day at a time. Don’t think about how far you still have to go, or how much work you will need to do in the future. Think about today. Today is all that matters in the land of writing.

Keep up the good work, everyone. You can do this!

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NaNoWriMo Tips – Time is of the Essence

The countdown is officially on. NaNoWriMo is less than a week away.

Okay, perhaps the idea of writing 50,000 words in one month doesn’t freak you out. But, for many of us (including those who’ve “won” NaNo) the endeavor is terrifying. That’s a lot–a lot–of work in a small–a small–amount of time. And, no matter how prepared you feel, I can promise you one thing:

You won’t succeed if you don’t manage your time.

It only takes a few missed days during NaNoWriMo to fall behind schedule. And it only takes a few more missed days to make catching up near impossible. So, managing your time and keeping your focus is vital. Today, I’d like to share some of my personal tips on how to do this.

Not only have these methods helped me win NaNoWriMo, but they’ve also helped me whip out revised manuscripts for agents within three weeks, and submit stories for contests with deadlines as short as 24-hours. I’ll admit, most of these strategies aren’t fun or pretty, but if you want to meet a tight deadline, then I’d recommend giving one or all of them a shot.

Chop Out Distractions

Duh, right?

But, as obvious as this one is, it’s the most important. It’s also the hardest. Although many distractions are unavoidable (working a full-time job, taking care of your family, paying bills, etc.), there are many you can avoid: Going to the movies. Playing games on the internet. Texting and IM’ing friends. Watching TV…You have to chop out these activities when you’re on a deadline. It stinks, but if want to reach the finish line, then you need to dedicate all of your free time to writing.

And on that note…

Accept Your Loner Status

We’ve all heard writing is a lonely job. Well, 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. People can’t see what you see, or feel what you feel. It can be isolating and, well, a little depressing at times. Thankfully, on a regular writing schedule, you’re able to take frequent breaks to reconnect with humanity and remind yourself you live here, not in the fictitious other world you’ve created.

However, when you’re on a deadline, you don’t have the luxury of time to constantly re-root yourself in reality. You have to stay connected to that lonely other world for longer periods of time. You can’t hop on Facebook every thirty minutes, or text your bestie every hour. You have to live and breathe your story for as long as possible. Keep writing until you forget who and where you are. Keep seeing and feeling everything your characters see and feel. Keep going until you fear you might be losing your mind.

Then stop and take a break. Go eat dinner. Call a friend. IM a writing buddy. Reconnect with the real world.

…And then get back to work.

Commit One FULL Day EACH Week to Writing

4a8b505cd84f1d0bcd7db17f17b2a584Nearly everyone in my life knows Saturday is my writing day. AKA, “Don’t Talk to Jenna Day”. From sun up to sun down, I write. It’s intense and it’s not always fun, but it’s vital to my production output.

And I bet it would be vital to yours as well.

By dedicating a full day to writing each week, you’ll not only give yourself a major word count boost, but you’ll give yourself a major motivation boost. It won’t matter how tired or busy you get during the rest of the week, you’ll want to keep your story moving along. You’ll want to finish that last chapter, or start the next one, or rewrite an old one to match the new one you wrote on your writing day, or…The list goes on and on.

There’s No Crying in Writing

Okay, okay. There’s lots of crying in writing. And trust me, when you’re writing under deadline, you’ll probably cry even more.

But you know what? You gotta suck it up and push through the emotional breakdowns. Go grab a piece of chocolate, watch an episode of your favorite TV show, and listen to Journey’s, “Don’t Stop Believin'”. Then get back to work.

Go. Do. It. Now!

…That was my version of tough love. Did it help? No? Whatever. Go eat some more chocolate. GO!

Don’t Be Miss Congeniality

Confession: I have a horrible time saying no to people. Horrible! Whether it’s babysitting for a friend, making a hundred cupcakes for a birthday party, or proofing someone’s work, I always say yes. However, when I’m on a deadline, I have to stifle my Miss Congeniality urge and say no.

No, no, no!

And if you’re a “yes” person like me, then you need to do the same thing. It’s terrible, I know, but you have to be selfish when you’re trying to reach a deadline. You have to put yourself first. You have to!

To help ease your guilt, give your acquaintances, friends, and family members a heads up. Tell them you’re going to be crazy busy for the next month and you can’t help them a ton. If they know and respect you, they’ll leave you alone.

Even When You’re Not Chugging, Keep Chugging

Okay, fine. Maybe you can’t be a complete self-serving hermit during NaNoWriMo. You’ve got work, the gym, the kids, hundreds of errands, special events…

It’s okay!

If you can’t physically sit down to write, you can still keep chugging along. For example: Every day during my hour commute to and from work, I listen to a playlist I created for my WIP. 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. That way when I’m finally able to sit down and write, I’m ready to go.

Of course, carrying a small notepad with you is a smart idea. That way if you come up with an idea, you can jot it down so you won’t forget it. And if you don’t have a notebook, use your phone. Most have apps now that allow you to take notes.

Just Keep Swimming

Just keep swimming. Just keep working. Just keep writing!

Swim, swim, swim. Work, work, work. Write, write, write!

Don’t. Give. Up!

Writing on a deadline is like running a marathon. It’s exhausting, difficult, and seemingly endless. But it will come to an end. Trust me. All you have to do is remember to keep your eyes on the finish line, breathe, and focus. If you do, you’ll make it. And you’ll make it on time!

So, there you go! Those are my tips for managing your time during NaNoWriMo (or with whatever project you might be working on with a deadline). I hope one or all of them help you meet your goals.

Good luck, everyone! If you’d like to add me as a buddy on the NaNoWriMo site, my username is jenspenden!

What about you? What are some of your time management strategies?

Speaking of deadlines, since I’m participating in NaNo this year, I probably won’t be posting much during November. But, fear not! There are plenty of other informative blogs to take advantage of. I recommend these ones:

Lit World Interviews

Kristen Lamb’s Blog

Sacha Black 

Carly Watters, Literary Agent

Newshound to Novelist: This blog has recently announced it will soon start a new feature called “Author Advice.” Sounds cool!

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Jen’s Top 10 NaNoWriMo Tips

Up until a few days ago, I hadn’t planned on participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I had planned on spending the month revising the latest draft of my current WIP. Unfortunately, my current WIP came to a grinding halt last week when I realized I’d made a fatal error:

I’d chosen the wrong narrator.

So, guess what? I have to rip up the majority of my first draft and start over.

*cue tears*

Okay, okay. Things aren’t that bad. Thanks to my methods of madness, I’ve already written a significant chunk of my new narrator’s backstory. Still, it’s going to be a lot of work. I need something–anything–to motivate me and push me to finish this new draft as quickly as possible.

After some hemming and hawing, I realized there’s no better motivator than NaNo. So, I’m signing up!

To prepare myself, and to help the rest of you who’ve accepted the daunting task of writing 50K words in one month, I’d like to share my top ten tips for surviving (er, “winning?”) NaNoWriMo.

Jen’s Top 10 NaNoWriMo Tips

1. Decide Why You’re Participating

“I dunno, 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 because.” If you do, you’ll likely fail. You’ll inevitably hit a rough patch 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 great 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 along the way, and don’t get upset about a watered down plot or 2D characters.

Just write.

Close your eyes, open your mind, and tap, tap, tap your fingers against your 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. If you do, you’ll never make it to 50K by November 30th.

3. Don’t Skip Days

The first time I participated in NaNo, I missed the first three days 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 one week of my first NaNo, 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–ack!

Do yourself a favor and spit out those words every day, even if you don’t feel like it.

4. Be Proactive

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 I’d fallen into, 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 and write?

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

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 at the fork, but end up taking a right instead. That’s okay.

Remember: Just write!

Don’t add constraints or limit yourself because the story “was supposed to go this way.” Go with the flow and see where things take you. After all, this isn’t a final draft. It’s an exploration of the story you will–hopefully–continue pursuing long 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 five.

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.” And, it’s true. We do. We naturally understand each other and are able to relate to each other’s woes. So, why not befriend a few? Trust me, you’ll need their cheers, pep talks, and internet hugs to survive the NaNoWriMo roller coaster.

If you aren’t sure where to find potential writing pals, here are a few suggestions:

  1. NaNoWriMo’s website. It allows you to network and make solid connections. If you’d like to add me as a buddy, my username is jenspenden.
  2. Twitter. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve met there and have created genuine, supportive friendships with. Be sure to check out hashtags like #NaNoWriMo, #NaNoWriMo2015, #NaNoPrep. And, of course, feel free to follow me (@jenspenden). I’ll happily follow you in return!
  3. Writing Blogs. Follow them, read them, and leave genuine comments on posts. If you do, you’ll naturally connect with other writers.
  4. Writing Contests. This one might sound strange, but some of my best writing friends have come from participating in writing contests, especially those that allow you to interact with other competitors (namely, NYC Midnight).

Whatever your method, I highly recommend you befriend other writers. Life becomes so much better once you do.

9. Have Fun! 

I mean it. Enjoy the experience. Yes, NaNo is 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?

Whenever I hit a low point during NaNo, I like to sit back in my chair and laugh at the absurdity of writing 50K words in one month. Who does that? Seriously? Or, I like to take a deep breath and embrace my accomplishments. I figure every word I write deserves 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. Great! However, 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 kick start a steady writing routine that carries them past the November 30th deadline.

So, 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’ll definitely be repeating them to myself when November 1st hits.

Good luck, everyone!

And remember: Just write!

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