A Tale of Two Camp NaNoWriMos: Victory vs. “Failure”

With only three days left to go in July, you know where you are: you’ve either set yourself up for success, and you’re going to meet your word goal, or, you’re like me, and there’s no way that’s going to happen. This post is for both situations.

If victory is in sight…

Congrats! You’re so close to accomplishing your goal. No matter how many more words you have – 1,000, 5,000, 9,000 – you can do it! Now is not the time to give up. Now’s the time to push forward and pump those words out. Write on your lunch break. Write as soon as you get home from school or work. Write for at least an hour tonight, no matter what your plans are. Your goal is within sight – go grab it!

If you’re staring at a very, very small status bar that seems to be taunting you…

It’s okay. Really. You’re not going to meet your word goal. Maybe you’re 15,000 words behind or 30,000 words behind, but it’s not going to happen. And that’s fine. Maybe the well of inspiration ran dry. Maybe you got distracted. Maybe you’re like me, and you had some unusual, time consuming personal matters (both good and bad) pop up unexpectedly. Your writing career doesn’t end on July 31. If it’s been awhile since you’ve written, maybe open up your Scrivener doc tonight and write 500 words. Ease yourself back into it. If your project isn’t working, switch to something new – or old.

I realized about halfway through the month that I wasn’t going to make it this year. Despite my earlier post that insisted that you can always find time to write, things came up that prevented me from following my own advice. Once I got out of the habit of writing every day, my creativity faded, and I found myself with no urge to write. There were times when I wished I could write, but I didn’t have/couldn’t have my computer with me.

But, oh well. August is a new month. The project that I was working on during July isn’t bad, but I think I want to go back and finish one of my older projects. It’ll be tough to get back in a routine, but I’m a big believer in routine. Perhaps I’ll start tonight.

How did you fare during July, fellow writers? Did you hit your word count goals?

Advertisements

Camp NaNoWriMo: Tackling Writer’s Block

So, it turns out that this month has not exactly gone the way I anticipated. I’m behind on my word count, and I’ve missed a lot of writing days. I wish I could chalk this up to some easy excuse–working more than usual, personal stress, etc.–but it’s a combination of stress, exhaustion, and just not wanting to write. I’m beginning to wonder if my idea really has the teeth to make it to 50,000 words. So far, I’ve hit a little over 20,000, and I’m not entirely sure where it’s going. That can be good, but I don’t know here. Also, it’s a horror story, and quite frankly, it’s just not scary enough. I need to amp up the fear factor.

That being said, I wanted to take on a common problem for writers: writer’s block. I know some people will try to convince you that writer’s block isn’t real, but I am not one of those people. Sometimes, the well runs dry. You can look at a blank page and just have no idea what comes next. There’s no way around it: this sucks. But it happens to everyone. The trick is figuring out a method that works for you to combat the block. Here’s a list of things that I have found help me:

1. Write something else. If you have a blog, write a blog post. If you have another work in progress, switch over to that for an hour or so. If the block is specific to your current project, “breaking the ice” on something else can be all that it takes for ideas to flow again.

2. Read something. Basking in the creativity of other people can be a huge help. For me, it helps to read something else in my genre. I get motivated by reading great stories by other people. It makes me want to write an equally great story.

3. Create a Pinterest board for your story. I know, this might sound silly. Hear me out: I like to do this anyway, but if you’re having trouble with inspiration, a little visualization can go a long way. Cast your story. Research the city where it’s set. If it’s a science fiction/fantasy story, and it’s not a real place, search for artwork on Pinterest. Finding pictures that match the tone of your story can help get you back in the mindset you need to write.

4. Create your story’s soundtrack. Go back through what you’ve written so far, and imagine what songs would be playing in the background if this was a movie. Or if your reader wanted a recommendation for what to listen to while reading, what would you suggest? Music is critical to my writing. I have a giant playlist full of instrumental music that I use while writing, and I would encourage you to do the same, if you like listening to music while you write. Another musical option is to pick out your story’s “trailer music” – again, imagine it like a movie and think of what the trailer would look like. What are your key scenes?

5. Work on character development. If you google “character development questionnaires,” you will find a plethora of resources. Fill out one of these for each of your main characters. Even if it doesn’t actually inspire you to go back to the project right away, it’ll give you more information on your characters.

6. Take a walk. The world is full of inspiration, and sometimes, the best thing to do is to get out of your house. This is especially true if you’ve been staring at a computer screen for hours. Take a walk. Get a cup of coffee. Engage in some quality people-watching. Keep your mind as clear as possible, and you might be surprised what ideas jump in.

7. Don’t writeThis may seem counter-intuitive, but if you really can’t break the block, just walk away for awhile. A lot of writers say that you just need to power through it, put some words, any words, on paper, but that’s not always healthy. Sometimes you just stare at the screen. There’s just nothing coming out. The longer you sit at your desk, the worse you’re going to feel about yourself. With every passing moment, you start to doubt and criticize yourself. If you know that you’re not going to be productive, take a step back. The project will be there tomorrow. Take the time to recharge yourself.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are simply a few things that I’ve used in the past that help me. Writers, how do you battle writer’s block? 

Camp NaNoWriMo: Routine is your friend

We’re on Day 8 of Camp NaNoWriMo. At this point, you’ve probably exhausted the initial “Weeee, this idea is great!” feeling, and you’re starting to get into the weeds of your character development and plot. This is a treacherous time for a story, because if you’re not careful, this is when you fall into bad habits. The worst of these habits is, obviously, not writing. When a story is new and exciting, you want to write as much as you can and as often as you can. But once that initial glow is gone, we start to make excuses about why we can’t write anymore, and the most common excuse is, of course: “I don’t have time to write.”

That is a lie. You know it. I know it.

You think you don’t have time to write. Or you’re not making time to write. But believe me – the time is there. The question is, how do you find it? The key to setting yourself up for success during a writing challenge month is to establish a routine from the beginning. Here are four tips to help you establish your writing routine:

Work at the same time every day:  This is going to largely depend on your personal preference. Do you like to write first thing in the morning? Are you a night owl? Do you go into work in the afternoon, so your morning is free? No matter what you’re doing for work, you have some time somewhere. I’m not good in the mornings, and I’m definitely not good at waking up early, so I know that’s out. I get a lunch break, sometimes, but not always, so that’s out. That leaves me with the evenings. I generally block off 9 pm – 11 pm as writing time. I hit my stride around 10 pm. And as long as I’m home, I write during that time period, no matter what. I plan my whole evening to make sure that I have that time free later in the evening – I’ll do my errands, go to the gym, etc all before 9, so I know I have those two hours free. Sure, sometimes life happens, and I don’t end up actually writing until 9:30 or so, but I always make sure I sit down and do it.

Figure out how much time you need, and then work backward: How much time do you need? Well, again, that depends on you. Look at your writing patterns from the last week. How long does it take you to hit 1,613 (the magic “words per day” number you want to hit if you’re aiming for 50,000)? If I’m incredibly focused, I could hit that in an hour. If I’m zoning in and out, it’s going to be closer to two hours. Maybe you can write that in 30 minutes. Maybe you need three hours. If you find that you need so much time that you can’t block off a chunk of time, split it up! Write for 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes on your lunch break, 30 minutes on your train ride home, and so on.

Tell your family and friends what you’re doing: Two hours of writing time is a lot. That’s time that you’re not spending with your friends or family, and some of them might be a little confused about why you don’t want to watch television/go out/etc. Tell people what you’re doing, especially the people living with you, and ask for their support. This is especially important if you don’t have a dedicated writing space, like me. I have a rule with my husband that when my headphones go on, even if I’m in the living room, that’s the Writing Signal, and distractions need to cease. Let your people know what your goals are and how important they are to you.

Make it a pleasant experience: If you’re doing a writing challenge, chances are that you love writing. In other words, writing should be fun. What can you add into your daily routine to make it better? If you’re working in the morning, buy some really good coffee and tell yourself that’s your writing coffee. If you’re writing at night, have a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Find music that you love and make a writing playlist (I’ll talk about this in more detail in a later post). This shouldn’t be torturous – this should be a time for you to follow your passion.

Writers, what other advice would you give on forming a routine? Is routine important to your writing, or do you just write whenever you feel like it? I’d love to hear about your patterns!

Camp NaNoWriMo: It doesn’t have to be good (right now)

It’s Day 3 of Camp NaNoWriMo. I hope that if you’re participating this month, that your projects are going well. This month, I’m going to be writing a series of posts about the NaNoWriMo experience and how to stay motivated.

The biggest criticism I hear about NaNoWriMo, and other writing challenges, is that it produces crap. These critics love to dismiss the work put in during the single month, waving it off as poorly written garbage.

And actually… they’re kind of right.

But that’s okay!

Let me back up. If you’re going to write 50,000 words in a month, it’s not going to be perfect. Finishing an entire story in a month is a daunting task, and it requires a commitment to write nearly every single day. There are some writers out there who can miraculously produce 10,000 words in a day, and sure, those people only need to write for a few days of the month. But for the rest of us, that 50,000 word count gets met by writing consistently. NaNoWriMo doesn’t give you the luxury of reflecting. This isn’t the time to take a couple of days to think about your characters or envision your settings. This is the time to sit down at your computer and just pound out words. Inevitably, some of what you write will be crap.

That’s fine. It’s a first draft. All first drafts have problems. Whether you take one month or six months (or six years) to write your story, your finished product will not be perfect. Even famous, respected authors would have to agree with that. Your story needs to be revised and edited.

But first, it needs to be written.

I don’t like reading criticisms of NaNoWriMo that focus on the quality of writing. I think it’s a bad argument. You can’t write the next great novel in a month, so why bother?  That strikes me as short-sighted. No, you certainly can’t write the next great novel in one month, but maybe you can write the bare bones of it. Maybe you can get the idea onto paper and work from there.

If you’re serious about your writing, you know that the first draft is only the first step of many. There will be time later to fix your grammar and polish your prose. For now, you need to get your idea out there. It doesn’t have to be good right now. It just needs to get done.

Camp NaNoWriMo: April 2015 Winner!

Camp-Winner-2015-Web-Banner

Hooray! Look at that fancy Winner banner!

I’m happy to say that I hit my goal of 50,000 words this month. As of today, my word count is 52,540. My total word count for the project is around 65,000. Now that I’ve hit my word count goal, I don’t feel the need to writing like a crazy person every night, so I took it easy yesterday, and I may not write much over the next few days.

So, what’s next? Well, now my goal has shifted from just a word count to actually finishing the project. I still have a significant chunk of story to get through, so I can’t just sit around. In November, that’s exactly what happened. I wrote so much during NaNoWriMo that I basically burned out on the story, and then in December, I was just sick of it. I didn’t know where it was going, and I was tired of the characters invading my mind.

This month feels different. I still love my story and (most of) my characters, and I have a clear idea of where the story is going (not to say that there haven’t been a few surprises along the way). My end date for this project is June 30th. That gives me two months to write what will probably be another 50,000 words or so. That means I only have to write about 800 words per day to make that happen–so I have no excuses.

My other goal, moving forward, is to write a little bit every day. I’m giving myself a little bit of leeway here, because I may step away from the project for a few days, up to a week, just to get some distance and clarity. But once I jump back into it, I want to make sure that I put something on paper–even if it’s just one word–every day. I think this is a good practice in general, but I also think it’s crucial in the middle of a project. If I can finish this by the end of June, perhaps beta reading could take place in July and August, editing after that–who knows? Maybe it could be a polished final project by the end of the year (fingers crossed).

To those of you who are still working on your projects: don’t give up now! The finish line is so close, and even if you don’t meet your word count goals, it’s still worthwhile to keep putting words on paper. Good luck to everyone!

Camp NaNoWriMo: Day 24

The end is near.

It’s hard to believe that we only have 7 days left in the month of April. That means that you (yes, you) only have 7 more days to reach your Camp NaNoWriMo goals!

After an embarrassing lag, I came back strong this week. My word count is now 45,809. I hit two records this week: on Tuesday, I wrote 3,120, and yesterday, I wrote 4,450 words. Part of my spurt is due to wanting to hit 50K, but most of it is due to my story. I’ve just written a crucial turning point (that sparks the entire rest of the story), including a grisly scene where half of my characters are unexpectedly killed. It’s been great knowing you guys, but you need to get out of the story in order for this to properly move along.

My total word count on the project is about 56K at this point. As I keep writing, I think the final word count may be around 110K or 120K – those are absurd numbers to me. I’ve never written anything close to that. But I’m finding this time around that the more I write, the more ideas come into my head. As I’m writing a scene, my mind is finding ways to twist the plot to add more tension, set up more obstacles for my protagonists. I’m sure that this will all get narrowed down when I finally edit the completed version, but for now, it’s write, write, write.

I’ve accomplished a huge goal this month in that I think I’m finally letting go off my fear of writing. Sometimes, I’ll write a scene, and I know it’s not great. I know it probably won’t make the final cut. But I want to write it – I want to get those words out, even if they’re not perfect. Even during my first NaNoWriMo, I found myself editing during the writing process, fixing my verb tenses and taking out words that didn’t quite fit. Nope. Not anymore. A first draft should be an idea, fleshed out and on paper (well, on a Word document). It doesn’t need to be pretty.

How are your months going? Anyone else close to their goal? Anyone just giving up?

An apology to my NaNoWriMo project

Dear Camp NaNoWriMo Project,

I’m sorry. I know it feels like I abandoned you. We were going so strong, writing every day, and then, bam, nothing. I didn’t mean to ignore you for so long. I know that I promised you that I’d write a lot while I was away during the long weekend. I promised that I’d wake up early and knock out at least 1,667 words every day.

I did not do that.

But never fear, Project – we’re not out yet. At over 35,000 words, we’re still on track. 50,000 is not only attainable, it’s in sight. In fact, we might even hit 50K before the 30th.

More than that, I have plans for you. I know it might have seemed like I was a little sluggish. You haven’t seen a ton of action recently. But don’t worry – we’re just getting to the good part. You’re going to meet a couple new characters today and tomorrow, and I think it’s going to reenergize you.

So, once again, Project, I’m sorry for ignoring you. I promise I won’t do it again.