So you decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo’s writing marathon? But now it’s getting down to the wire, and you’re nowhere near 50,000 words. You’re starting to think that either you were overly ambitious or insane. Don’t despair. Participants as ambitious and/or insane as you have been doing it since before the millennium (well, barely – since 1999) and have made it to the finish line. You can too.
On NaNoWriMo’s blog, they outline the two extremes of writers that sign up for this crazy feat. The planners and the “pantsers” (which is short for “fly by the seat of your pants”). The winning combo, however, is to be a bit of both. The trick is being able to recognize which one you need right now.
If you’re a planner your biggest strength is, well, planning. You take your time to think, plot, analyze, outline, research. Your pencils are sharpened and t’s are crossed. Ok. That’s great. But now it’s time for a little action, take a cue from the pantsers.
Maybe you’re all planning and no writing? Are you getting stuck taking notes on plot schemes but not able to commit to any of them? Are you spending hours surfing the web to find the perfect haircut for one of your characters? Consider the following advice:
1) Stop thinking and start writing. Stop planning. Write. You have enough information and outlines to write three novels. Write. The characters are about to jump off a ledge if you don’t do something with them and even that would be better than what you’re doing which is nothing. Write.
2) Change your scenery. If you’re sitting down at your desk every morning at the exact same time and coming up against the exact same blockages, that’s normal. That’s part of writing. But you’re on a deadline and you might need to change things up a little. Sometimes the world inside your head needs stimulation from the outside world. Go to a cafe or a bar to write. Look at people. Listen to them. Explore other kinds of art – see a film, read a poem, go to a museum, go to a concert or a dance performance. Do any of those things yourself. See if it jogs your imagination, then use it.
3) Freewrite. Sit down and spit it out. Most writers are familiar with the freewriting technique: just sit down and let whatever comes out of your brain flow. Write it all down. Don’t erase and don’t stop for at least 10 minutes. Somewhere in the back of your subconscious your characters are doing interesting things, taking unexpected turns. Keep the words coming until you happen across something that strikes you as workable. And then work it.
4) Make math your friend. Do the math. How far behind are you on the word count? Divide that number by the number of days you have left, but leave 3 days of your equation to give yourself a little cushion just in case. Then write like hell. The NaNoWriMo run does not promote normal writing habits. It forces you to break through your wall, your weaknesses and your excuses in order to succeed. It’s hardcore and it’s supposed to be. Ever see someone cross the finish line of a marathon? It’s ugly and glorious at the same time. Think about that. That’s going to be you. But you have to run the miles. As your mother might say, they don’t run themselves.
If you’re a pantser, your biggest strength is running on adrenaline. This is an awesome productivity booster. You’re the one that works under pressure and comes up with incredible stuff overnight that no one else thought of during an entire week of planning. Keep that going but heed a little advice from the planners to make it to the finish line.
Maybe you pushed to the limit, sprinting through the first few miles of the marathon with no training and no idea what you were up against. Now you’re thinking you were in over your head and it’s best to back out before you hurt yourself. Don’t quit. Just take your pace down a few clips and look at the big picture. Here’s how to do that:
1) Write an outline. You’re not a planner, so you probably didn’t do this before. You just started writing and now you don’t know where you’re supposed to go next. Whatever jumbled concoction of characters and plots you’ve come up with, so far can be clarified if you map it out with an outline. Continue the outline past what you’ve already written by planning what you want to write next. For tips on how to write an outline, check out this site.
2) Answer some important questions. Take the time to really think about what this book is about. Is it character-driven or plot-driven? Or both? What happens? Who are the characters? Why is this an important story to tell? What’s the next step? How is that next step going to move the plot forward? After answering those questions, write one sentence that summarizes what the novel is about. Refer to it constantly when you’re thinking of where to go next.
3) Try a little discipline. Create a schedule. Commit to writing for a certain number of hours per day. Choose a specific place to write every day. Create the environment where you will dedicate yourself to serious writing: sometimes routine can help keep you grounded.
4) Make math your friend. See #4 above.
Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, the best outlook for anyone aiming to complete the NaNoWriMo is that this is an opportunity for you to push yourself out of your writing comfort zone. You’ll come out a stronger writer for sure. There’s no room (or time) for perfectionism here and being forced to break that bad habit is a blessing to any writer.
And for a little inspiration, in case you forgot why you ever even wanted to write in the first place, check out this great collection of quotes about writing. And then get back to work.