Writing Made Easy(er): Your guide to crushing NaNoWriMo
“I’ll just be here waiting for you to get back with some awesome writing on your mind… :)”
That’s what was written on the page before I started this article. It was today’s medicine, the way to try to assert a little bit of dominance over the blank page, my statement that I had at least that little bit of control — that I wouldn’t give the blank page the satisfaction of seeing me turn my back on it without at least smudging its pristine whiteness with a tiny bit of mediocre writing.
Hi, I’m Luís. I’m a writer, I’m a coach, and funnily enough, I’m a writing coach.
Writing is hard. I should know. I’ve been doing it since I was 14. I started writing about animé and manga. I started writing on forums, and my subject of choice slowly shifted from japanese stuff to video games. I was good enough that I got invited to write for some early gaming “websites”. Later, I got into med school, and I started writing about health, but never really stopped with video games. In fact, my video game writing helped out with college bills.
Finally, I started developing an interest in personal development and coaching, and eventually, as I took my first coaching course, I had already written several articles about the subject.
I eventually wrote a fantasy novel (I’d link to it, but, you know, it’s in Portuguese), and after it was published, people started commenting on how easy writing came to me. If only they knew.
Earlier this year, due to both burnout and the feeling that I was under-exploring my other passions, I decided to take a break from being a dental surgeon. This was greeted with some worry from friends and family, of course, but they relented somewhat when they noticed I wasn’t starving. I had taken to writing to pay the bills.
Guess what? It’s actually harder to write when you rely on it to put food in the table.
But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I know a lot of people struggle with writing. I know a lot of writers, both professional and amateur, that struggle with writing.
Maybe there are some blessed writers out there that don’t agonize over the blog post that’s due tomorrow and has gone through five drafts and still doesn’t feel right. If there are, I haven’t met them. The rest of us… Yeah. Writing is hard. Don’t worry. You’re not alone. It’s ok.
As I look back over the last page, I realize I am probably coming across as whiny. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I wonder what I would do if I lost the use of my hands, the first thought that comes to mind is if I would be able to write with my feet. Or my tongue. Or dictate to software. I love writing. After doing so much of it and with a generally positive reception, I’d even risk saying I have some small talent for it. But I won’t say it comes easily.
Writing a novel, in particular, is incredibly hard. And incredibly rewarding. As it happens, November is National Novel Writing Month ( NaNoWriMo ) in the U.S., and I know that several of my fellow writers are taking up the challenge.
My own novel started as a NaNoWriMo project, so I feel like now is the best time to give something back. What follows are, in no particular order, some tactics I use to get myself to write every day.
Decide on a writing goal
I said I would list these in no particular order, but if pressed, I’d say this is the most important thing. Anticlimactic to start with the best, isn’t it? But I aim to be useful. If your computer crashes and burns right now, you’ll have been left with the most important bit.
The goal can be either a word count or a set time. Both work great, and I’ve used them both, though I prefer the later. My problem with the word count is that on great days I finish it too quickly and then I feel like I’m cheating myself if I don’t stop, even though I feel I’m on a streak, and on bad days I keep stressing out because I’ll either have to break my promised word count or be late for appointments.
With the timer, there’s no remorse. I know the time I have allotted, and I know that my job is to sit in front of the page for that period of time. Writing is entirely optional, but I’m not allowed to do anything else. No, no polishing the white tennis shoe. No, no checking facebook or twitter. No, no research! Just write it wrong and correct when revising.
Writer’s block can’t survive an encounter with boredom.
My recommendation is: try both approaches and figure out what works best for you.
Write Anything, And Never Get Up Without Writing Something
See the top of this article? That’s legit. That’s exactly what I did — things were bad, so I decided to go do some cycling and take a warm shower (read below), but I would not allow the white page to sit there taunting me.
When you don’t know what to write, write anything. Write a conversation with the page, write what you had for lunch, write your to-do list for tomorrow… Just let the words flow.
Nine times out of ten, you’ll pick up the groove and pressed on. The one time out of ten? At least you’ll have written something. You didn’t give up. You’re a writer. Take THAT, blank page!
Move Your Body
The best and quickest way to charge up your creativity is to get up — stand up straight as an arrow — and walk away. Open your arms, stretch, shadow-punch the air a couple of times.
If you can, go hit a punching bag, or kick a soccer ball against a wall. Go out for a run. Failing all that, go play the Wii.
Sometimes we stress ourselves out, or we place too much pressure on ourselves, or maybe we’re just mad at the world in general or a specific part of it. Whatever the reason, stuff is happening inside our brain — chemical stuff, emotional stuff, the works — that doesn’t let us focus on writing.
Physical exercise works wonders. It cleanses your brain chemistry and has your body produce focus-boosting substances. It will also force you to breathe deeper and longer, further oxygenating your brain cells.
Take care of your body and it will take care of your writing.
Or, You Know, Relax and Have A Drink
Now, I wouldn’t suggest you develop a coffee habit — or even worse, a drinking habit — as a way to facilitate your writing. But if you already enjoy a nice cup of coffee and / or a vintage glass of wine, it will likely pay off to make it part of your writing ritual.
I know many writers that use a glass of Port to take the edge off their after-dinner writing sessions, and I know even more that feel that the world is a completely different place depending on whether or not they have their cup of coffee when they sit down to write in the morning.
Me? I’ll have my coffee in the morning, my tea in the afternoon, and my Muscat in the evenings. You won’t see me in front of the page without a drink.
Feed Your Mind Good Stuff
Inspiration won’t sprout from a barren mind. Reading a book, either a new one or an old favorite, is sure to help if the creative juices aren’t flowing. But that’s not the only thing that goes.
Feed your mind lots of diferent good stuff. Go watch a stand up comedy show. Play some video games. Go out to the movies. Sit through a lecture about a subject you don’t understand, and try to pay attention, to unravel that weird, alien concept you are paying witness to.
You don’t know where your next idea will come from, but it will likely be from a wonderful and strange mix of a physics lecture, a World of Warcraft quest, and a Danny DeVito scene.
Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Ann Pratchett’s “The Getaway Car” have been of tremendous importance to my craft. You will find therein amazing advice from legendary writers. You won’t — and should not — follow all of it, but you are sure to come into important insights of your own as you read them.
Setting a goal, keeping to it — that’s where the writing magic is born.