National Novel Writing Month – You’ve Begun! How Do You Keep Going?
Fourteen-time NaNoWriMo winner Nita Sweeney offers motivation for your National Novel Writing Month adventure.
Congratulations! You’ve taken the huge step of signing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and you’re in the throes of writing your novel. But what happens if (when?) the exuberant exhilaration wears off? How do you keep going?
Don’t panic! Whether it’s your first Nano or your fifteenth, time-tested methods will help you keep going once that initial excitement wanes.
For the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month is an annual challenge in which writers all over the world attempt to write 50,000 words of fiction (1,667 words a day) during the 30 days of November. Other writers (like me) aka “rebels,” write in other genres, revise, or add to existing works.
Regardless of which challenge you have chosen, the following tips can help you keep up your momentum and cross that finish line strong.
Candy Bar Scenes
Coined by author and writing teacher Holly Lisle, the term “candy bar scene” refers to any scene you are eager to write. Writing such a scene is a reward. You get words down and you enjoy it.
If you feel stuck, take a few minutes to make a list of scenes you know must happen in the story. Bonus points if these scenes excite you and make you eager to write, i.e. candy bar scenes. Don’t worry if any of these scenes occur late in the book or even at what you believe to be the end of the story. Don’t worry about writing out of order. Especially if you use writing software like Scrivener or yWriter, but even with word, you can cut and paste or drag and drop scenes into the correct order later. Organization is what December is for!
Make the list. Then, whenever you feel blocked, grab one of those scenes and dive in. Often we’re only fighting inertia. Use one of these “delicious” scenes to entice you back into the work.
Community for NaNoWriMo Motivation
I’m writing this during the pandemic. For safety issues, NaNoWriMo cannot allow in-person events this year. In the before times (and hopefully in the very soon after times), write-ins allowed wrimos (people participating in NaNoWriMo) to gather and write side-by-side in small groups. The pandemic prevents that fun, but it can’t keep us from gathering online!
Be sure to join your local region. Municipal Liaisons (regional leaders) and other wrimos host activities on Discord and Zoom or other chat rooms and video conferencing platforms. Word wars and word sprints or just camaraderie to write together will help you meet your daily goal.
The NaNoWriMo forums may also help you get the work done. Stumped with your plot? Go to the borrow a plot thread. Trouble naming your character? Let someone else name her for you. Don’t know what the name of that thingie your villian uses to kill people? Head to the experts forum. Someone there surely knows.
A word of warning, however. Time you spend in any of these communities takes away from the time you have to write. Beware of time sucks and rabbit holes. Perhaps set a timer to limit how long you spend scrolling through the interesting forum threads. You have words to write!
I hope you’re already well stocked with writing “fuel” (books and snacks). Chocolate and meditation books are my favorites right now and I also need coffee and tea. But we also need to eat healthy foods. Remember to eat a vegetable once in awhile and some protein too.
Friends and family can help here. If they want to support your efforts, invite them to bring you snacks! Promise them you’ll help with the dishes . . . in December. Boundaries are your friends in November (and always).
Maintaining Your Writing “Machine”
In addition to eating a few vitamin-rich foods (or taking some vitamin tablets) during November, don’t miss out on other ways of keeping your writing “machine” in top shape. By “machine” I mean your body.
If you exercise regularly, do your best to keep that up. Exercise benefits mood and mind health and great character arc ideas might pop into your head when you’re out jogging with the pupperina.
If you don’t have a fitness routine, add a walk around the block or a stretching session between writing bursts. Who knows! The habit might stick beyond November.
Your emotions can use a strength session too. Five minutes of meditation or a ten-minute writing practice session can refresh you during the month. No need to complicate it. The simplest thing can have a great benefit.
Structure is Your Friend
Those write-ins I mentioned? That’s a structure. A ten-minute timer, another structure. Word sprints and word wars, yet another way to structure your time and get the words down.
Make It Your Own
Some people write best first thing in the morning. Others are night owls. Another group loves to sneak in a writing session on a lunch break. And you’ll find still another bunch writing in their cars in the parking lot while waiting for their kids to get out of school.
Find the time and the place and the mode that works best for you. Make no apologies. Part of the lure of NaNoWriMo is experimentation. It’s a safe space to figure out your best writing practices. Lean into those, and don’t let anyone dissuade you.
Share Your Tips
I’ve offered some of my best motivation tips. I’d love to hear yours. Comment here or buddy me on the website. I’m willwrite4chocolate. And check out my other NaNoWriMo blog posts. I’ll see you around the forums!
Write Now Columbus – November 2020
I’m not going to talk about it. We’ve heard enough already, and we’ll hear more later tonight and in the days (weeks, years?) to come.
Take a breath. I’ll take one with you.
Instead, I’ll remind us all that our local literary organizations, especially our beloved Thurber House, desperately need support. Attendance is down and expenses are not. I donated. I hope you will too. PLEASE DONATE.
Between the event I’m not talking about and Thanksgiving, writing events have slowed. The Write Now Columbus calendar shows 18 events. If I missed any, please let me know.
If you began right now (this was originally written on the 3rd of November,) you would only have to write 1,786 words a day to complete the 50,000 word challenge by the end of November. I’m teaching a free NaNoWriMo workshop, “Now that You’ve Begun, How Do You Keep Going?” hosted by WNBA-SF on Wednesday, November 11th at 3pm. I hope you’ll join me. Registration is required.
For those of you trying to avoid buying books from the big “A,” check out bookshop.org. Aiming to keep independent bookstores alive, the founder is taking aim at the big “A.” Bookshop.org even offers affiliate opportunities. I set up a store to support Write Now Columbus (we do have expenses) so perhaps you’ll consider purchasing books there.
I continue to post author interviews on my blog. Here are the two most recent with Cheryl Leutjen, author of Love Earth Now, and Marlena Fiol, author of Nothing Bad Between Us.
My most recent project is a Facebook group for mind and mood health called “Mind, Mood & Movement.” I’m posting daily “practices” in mindfulness, writing, and movement as well as memes, surveys, and eventually challenges. If you need a lift, check us out. It’s a private group, but all are welcome.
And if you would like to hear more from me beyond what I offer in these Write Now Columbus updates, please sign up for my author newsletter using the form on the homepage.
No matter the outcome of the event I’m not mentioning, you know what to do. You’re a writer. What do writers do? Writers write.
Please follow me on your favorite channel.
Write Now Columbus – October 2020
With colleges back in session and groups and bookstores figuring out how to host online events, the central Ohio writing event scene is abundant. I posted 43 events on the calendar. Much of the world has headed to zoom. This makes competition for attendees greater than ever. I hope you’ll continue to “attend” central Ohio events.
I don’t usually post contests, but as a board member of the Women’s National Book Association of San Francisco, I’m honor bound to tell you about the Effie Lee Morris Literary Contest. Submissions are open. I wrote a bit here about how contests are a sometimes overlooked path to publication.
If you’re not (yet) following me on your favorite social media channel, you won’t know that I’ve begun to post writing-related information and articles at 7pm every evening. Here’s a sample of recent posts:
“Getting in The Right Zone To Write” by Greta Solomon
New podcast! Word Matters | Merriam-Webster – NEPM Podcasts
The Anonymous Lawyer Behind @nyttypos
Artist Relief Organization Extends COVID-19 Grants to End of 2020
Each day at noon on my social media channels, I continue to post a writing prompt using the hashtag #tenminutesgo. Here are a few from last month:
A time when everything mattered . . .
A time when nothing mattered . . .
My big dream . . .
A time I stayed quiet . . .
This time I’m going tell the truth . . .
If you write fiction, write these from the point of view of one of your characters. Set that timer, “Ten minutes. Go!”
Speaking of fiction, it’s October which makes it #NaNoPrepMo, time to prepare for National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo.) I’ve written about my love of NaNoWriMo on my blog. I’ll spare you a repeat. For those of you not aware, it’s a writing challenge that begins November 1st. Like most things, it will be virtual this year. So no write-ins at Colin’s Coffee. *sadface* But the challenge lives. We plan now. In November, we write like mad!
If you know of a college student looking for an internship, my intern graduated and I could use a new one! The lucky candidate can add “intern to award-winning author” to her LinkedIn profile. Reply to this email for details.
This month has been lovely busy with many “featured ins” which you can find here, and several workshops.
I was also surprised and honored to be invited to join this panel on “How To Improve as A Writer” on The Writing Cooperative’s “This Week in Writing” podcast.
Thursday I’m giving a webinar at the Columbus Bar Association. It is open to anyone, but there is a fee. Lawyers are eligible for CLE. I’m always grateful for these opportunities.
I’ll close with some much-needed levity from this piece in McSweeney’s, “An English Major In the Afterlife.”
Thank you for subscribing to Write Now Columbus. Please tell your friends!
Take care and please, for the future of us all, wear a mask!
(c)Nita Sweeney, 2020, all rights reserved
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How to Win National Novel Writing Month
Just how do you win National Novel Writing Month?
Write 50,000 words of fiction during the 30 days of November. No problem, right?
Okay. Maybe it’s not that simple, but thousands have done it.
The single most effective way to win National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is not what you might think.
It is not writing every day although that will certainly help, and forming a daily writing habit is one of the long-term benefits NaNoWriMo can provide.
It’s not getting ahead early although that too will boost your word count and may carry you through Thanksgiving and Black Friday which have derailed many a wrimo.
It is not having a fully developed plot by mid-October and, frankly, it’s way too late to worry too much about your plot now.
Its not filling your cupboard with snacks. But hey. Snacks! No one’s going to turn those down.
It’s not buying the winner shirt ahead of time or donating so you get that laurel wreath but that helps nanowrimo.org stay afloat.
It is not having a massage therapist on speed dial. But most folks wouldn’t turn one of those away either.
It is also not having the perfect writing space or the perfect writing tools or the perfect writing music. Nopety. Nope.
What is the single most effective method to win NaNoWriMo?
Go to the Write-Ins!!
During November, attend as many write-ins as you can possibly manage. Wrimos who attend write-ins usually achieve their November goal.
What is a write-in?
It’s a bit like study hall, but with snacks. It’s similar to co-working, except the “boss” is friendly and may use stickers to cheer you on. It may resemble the library (or even be at the library) except you can talk . . . a little . . . and everyone brings their own laptop (or typewriter or notebook or tattoo needle or chisel) instead of using the library computers.
What should you expect at a write-in?
A write-in offers a sweet blend of camaraderie and peer pressure. The room is quiet. Eventually, one brave soul begins to type. Then, another takes to the keyboard. Then, a third. Soon, you’ll be the only one left not pounding the keys. When this happens, either a soothing swell of creative energy will lift you into the ocean of writing or a tidal wave of shame will smash you toward the keys. Either way, words will soon appear on your screen.
At some write-ins, a word war or word sprint may break out. Join in! The Municipal Liaison (ML) or a fellow wrimo will set a timer and off you’ll go to either see how many words you can write in a given time or see how long it takes you to write a chosen number of words. The winner might win a prize – usually a sticker or a snack!
Expect random giggling as a wrimo cracks herself up with her own wit or a gasp as someone makes a lightning flash connection that sets their novel on fire. People might ask questions or answer yours. But most of all, the group will be together, flailing away at this nearly impossible task. You’ll realize you’re not alone. That will carry you through.
No matter where you live, every region offers write-ins for your pleasure. On the NaNoWriMo site, click “Find a Region” under the “Community” tab and either allow the site to find your location or use the map to locate the closest region. By joining a region, you’ll get the latest news from your ML and learn about these magical word-generating parties!
Now get to work!
But How Do You Start?
When someone asks HOW to start writing, what they often want to know is WHERE to start writing, as in, “Where should my story begin?”
If it is November and they are participating in National Novel Writing Month, the annual challenge to write 50,000 words of fiction during the thirty days of November, about which I’ve written many times, the person’s question is premature.
Come to think of it, regardless of whether or not it is November or whether or not they are participating in NaNoWriMo, the question is still premature. In order to begin, a writer, new or otherwise, doesn’t need to know what words will follow the heading “Chapter One.” They just need to start writing.
But let me add a caveat. I write from my gut. I feel my way through. Not everyone is like this. Some people need to think a piece through or draft an outline. They may need extensive notes and research, especially for longer works. All that is fine, of course. But at some point, they just have to dive in.
That’s where writing practice saves me.
Decades of doing timed writing with no agenda except to put words on the page sidesteps the potentially paralyzing question of where the story should start. I figure it out by writing. I get in there and wallow around. Research or plotting or planning I’ve done ahead of time only serves me once my fingers are hammering the keyboard. I have to turn on the spigot and then, once the water is flowing, I’ll see what crevices it naturally wants to enter.
What is writing practice? It’s what I learned from best-selling author Natalie Goldberg. Timed writing. Set a timer and go. No thought. Don’t cross out or back space. Do not wonder if what I just wrote makes any sense. No stopping until the timer dings. It’s freeing and terrifying and the only way I know how to work. It’s the engine beneath everything I write.
And, it is just my way. I would love to hear about other ways in the comments.