Okay, first a little progress report. I’m within 1200 words of reaching today’s goal of 25K, the dreaded halfway point. Now, I say dreaded because it can go really one of two ways. First, you can pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done and get right back to writing until you’ve finished the second half. Or secondly, you can pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done and look back at just how much time and effort and hair pulling went into writing the first half and completely freak yourself out over the prospect of having to do it all over again. In the knitting world (yes, I knit. Quiet, you) we call this “second sock syndrome.” You finish knitting one sock then become disheartened at the idea of having to do another before you have a complete set. To be honest, when I reach 25K this evening, I can’t be certain which way things will progress from there. I have succumbed to second sock syndrome countless times in both knitting and writing. But I’ve also overcome it just as often. So who knows? I’m pretty charged up about this series I’m writing, so it may be enough to get me over the hump and remain on pace to the end.
Now, on to my amateur tips for daily writing. I hope you find them helpful. Let me know if they work for you!
Tip #1: Offer yourself distractions
I have never read anything on how to write that included having distractions. Most people will tell you to hole up in a quiet room, disconnect your internet, turn of the television, set your phone to vibrate, etc. And some of that advice is valid. I personally cannot write when there are other people in the room. I just can’t. Their very presence is off-putting. I likewise can’t have the TV on. Outside conversation draws me away from my work and forces me to follow along with whatever is being said. I also try to avoid music with lyrics for the same reason (I prefer instrumental film and television soundtracks when I write). However, I am a firm believer in having certain distractions handy.
For example, this, right here, is a distraction. I’m not finished with my writing today and yet here I am, blogging. I’m also constantly checking my Facebook, Tumblr, email, and YouTube. And texting. I’m always texting. And yet I have managed to write nearly 25,000 words in 7 days despite yesterday being election day and me barely writing anything. My word count was only about half of normal.
I find that I cannot sit at my laptop and just write for solid hours on end. I wish I could, but I can’t. My brain doesn’t work that way no matter how well thought out my story is. I get bored, my mind starts to wander. Sure, I have strokes of creative fire that allow me to pound out seven or eight pages over the course of a straight hour or two, but those are rare. I do my writing in sprints, not marathons. I write several hundred words until I feel myself getting bored. I stop and I distract myself, sometimes just for five minutes or less. Updating my word count on the NaNo website is a perfect distraction. Then I go back to my writing and I write a little more. Lather, rinse, and repeat all day until I’ve got my word count goal. Now, that may not work for everyone. In fact, I’m positive it won’t. But if you’re having a hard time writing for more than a half hour or so at a time, I highly suggest trying this. Give your brain mini-breaks of a few minutes each every half hour to an hour and you may find yourself more productive than you thought possible.
Tip#2: Set a daily goal
The thing that makes NaNoWriMo possible for a lot of people is their website’s immensely convenient word count progress chart. You update your word count and it shows you your average daily count, your total for that day, what day you’ll reach 50K at your current pace, and how many words per day you need to write minimum to hit your goal by the end of the month. If only they made this feature available year-round!
Last year was my first NaNo and I hit 50K on November 18th. I ended the month with a total of 60,666 words. I wrote like crazy every day. But come December 1st, my drive was GONE. I no longer had a deadline or a goal to meet. I couldn’t update my word count and see all my stats. That book still sits half-written on my computer, sad and forgotten. But this year, I vowed to do something different and so far, it has worked stupendously. Every night, before I go to bed but after I’ve updated my NaNo word count for the final time, I decide upon a goal to reach for the next day. And then I write the next day with that goal in mind. Suddenly, the 50K at the end of the tunnel didn’t seem so important, only whatever goal I’d set for myself on that day. Setting a daily goal for yourself doesn’t require you to think in terms of the project’s total word count, so there’s no loss of drive or motivation at any point because you’ve always got that carrot on a stick right in front of your face, distracting you from what lies further ahead. So long as you work to reach whatever goal you set for yourself that day, you can write a book of 50K or 500K words without losing your momentum. It’s all about one step at a time.
Tip#3: Know when it’s time to quit
Every writer knows that there are some days when the words just refuse to come. It may be because the characters aren’t speaking to you or the setting isn’t one you’re overly familiar with or feel comfortable writing about or maybe you just have a plain old creative block that day. It happens. Even if you’ve been writing like a demon all day, you can still hit a creative wall and just stop dead in your tracks. When that happens, sometimes, it’s best not to fight it but to just give it a rest. Anything you try to force yourself to write will be rubbish and will only take extra effort later to fix. So if the words just aren’t coming to you anymore, take some time off. Go watch a movie or take a nap. Or maybe even set it aside for a few days or weeks and work on a different project. I guarantee, when you come back to it with fresh eyes, you will know the next words to write. Sometimes your brain just needs to see other stories for a while.