Okay, so in a fit of reckless enthusiasm I signed up for NaNoWriMo last night. I’ll probably be using the month to work on more than one story, because I’m near the end of one and poised ready to start another, but I’m hoping to manage the 50k target for the month.
Last time I did Nano (in 2012) I managed it, and since then I often try and draft ‘nano style’ — e.g. writing every day, setting word count targets and sticking to them, not letting myself get bogged down with self editing as I go. I’ve had varying degrees of success with this, but overall I know that this style of writing generally works for me.
So, in the run up to Nano 2014 I thought I’d remind myself of all the tips/tricks that I’ve found that help me to make those word count goals. Every writer is different, but I thought that some of these tips might work for others too, so I’m sharing them here in case they’re useful.
Do some preparation before you start
Even if you’re not the sort of person who likes to outline in detail, you can make life easier for yourself if you do at least some planning in advance of November. Jot down some stuff about your characters, plan your settings, have at least a vague story arc in mind. That will make it easier for you to keep writing once you start.
When it’s your writing time, start immediately!
Obviously we all have different time constraints, and it may be that evening is your writing time. But whatever time in the day you have set aside for writing, use it well. Procrastination is my biggest enemy. Writing time is not the time for planning, researching, tweeting about writing, doing your accounts/laundry. Writing time is for writing. Even if you aren’t in the mood, open that doc and write a sentence, then write another. I always find the first 100 words are the hardest every day.
Use tools to help keep you on task
On the subject of procrastination there are various tools that can help to keep you on track.
Write or Die: This is a little piece of software (plus a free web version), where you set a time limit and a word goal, and it ‘punishes’ you if you stop writing (punishments range from a polite reminder to vile noises–you can choose). Write or Die can be very helpful when I’m short on time, because it focuses me and stops me from mindfucking and self-editing as I write. I write almost twice as fast when I use this, but it can feel a little like someone holding a gun to your head–but some days I need that!
Leechblock or Stay Focused: These are productivity plug ins for Firefox and Chrome respectively. They block you from using specified websites during certain hours or the day, or limit your browsing time to a few minutes per hour during that time. I use them to keep me away from Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook during my writing time. They help a lot 🙂
Write with friends
I love writing with other people. A bit of friendly competition always helps to give me a push, plus it’s nice to have someone to give you a virtual pat on the back when you make that word count goal. Writing can be a lonely business, and writing with other writers (in g-chat or in a Facebook group if not face-to-face) can add a nice dash of camaraderie to the whole experience.
Stop mid scene
This is my number one top tip. I know it’s often tempting to finish a scene once you’re in the flow, but I find that if I leave a scene unfinished it’s much easier for me to get my head back into the story the next day. If I end up finishing a scene around about the time I meet my word goal for the day, then I write at least a few sentences of the next scene so that I know exactly where to pick it up when I come back to it tomorrow.
Plan ahead as you go
When I stop writing for the day, I leave myself a couple of sentences of notes to remind me where I’m going next. I also always try and make sure I have the next couple of scenes jotted down so that I never get to that horrible point of,“Fuck, what happens next?” I don’t need a detailed outline, but if I find myself staring at a blank page I tend to panic. So I try and stay one step ahead of myself.
Some days, despite doing all of the above I find myself staring at the document and losing the will to live. I can’t work out what should happen next and have no motivation or urge to write.
Things that help me with this are:
Re-reading the current scene, sometimes re-reading it out loud helps
Talking it through with a friend. If I can’t find a friend to talk to, I tell the cats about it. I’m a very verbal person, articulating stuff about the story helps the ideas start flowing again.
Doing something physical–running, walking, going to the gym. Being active seems to let my subconscious start working, and then the ideas start flowing again. Driving can work too.
Do you have any tips for how to stay focused when writing?
If so, please share them in a comment below. I always like hearing about what works for other writers.