(Article first appeared today in Writing.com’s Drama Newsletter, of which I am a contributing editor.)
NaNoWriMo will come to a close tonight for another year. Though I won't have a badge to display, saying I "won" by reaching the contest benchmark of 50,000 words in the month of November, I DO have a 25,000-word start to a brand-new novel that I'm very excited about. What's more important, I learned a lot about penning a first draft by taking part during the NaNo insanity.
NaNo is good for a writer like me. Typically, I brood over and revise each sentence before moving on to the next. My over-enthusiastic inner editor would argue that that approach is fine. And I tend to agree, when we're talking about writing short fiction. But when staring down the dark tunnel of novel writing, when only a pinprick of light is visible at its end, I'm the first to recognize that my painstaking approach to writing won't work. NaNo promotes writing fast drafts that force your focus forward. To win NaNo, you have to embrace the absolute separation between writing and revising.
There are a couple strategies I learned during NaNo to help a writer silence her inner editor and just write -- fast and furious -- with the intention of getting the first draft, in all its messy and creative glory, down on paper. And these ideas are not necessary for barfing out a first draft in one month. I will use these strategies throughout the year, no matter how long it takes me to write a draft.
Get outside your regular writing routine. If you write at a desk, try sitting on the floor. If you have a laptop, go outdoors to a park or a coffee house - someplace where you've never written before. I usually need quiet to write, but I tried playing Christmas music softly in the background one day. It made me feel instantly happy and relaxed, and I eked out an extra 700 words during that writing session.
Have your writing totem with you for every writing session. A writing toten is an object which inspires you or imbues you with inspired energy. It can be a figurine, a stuffed animal, a hat you wear, a picture or photo - anything! My writing totem is a small, solid brass figurine that looks a lot like Pumba from The Lion King. I bought him at a copper and brass artisan shop in France about ten years ago. It just looks happy and reminds me of good times. "Pumba" is small enough to sit on my laptop keyboard near where the top and bottom hinges together. When I feel stumped and want to stop writing, I look at him and remember my goals for the writing session. And his jolly belly and goofy stance remind me to have fun while I'm at it!
Challenge yourself to writing sprints. A writing sprint is a set short amount of time during which you refuse to let your fingers stop tapping those keys or your pen to lift from the paper. My favorite sprints are fifteen minutes long. (I find these are great practice for Leger~ 's "15 for 15 Contest " ) I am also a big fan of 1K-in-1Hr sprints (1000 words in an hour).
Find friends with which to stage write-ins. I did my first write-in a week and a half ago, and it was fabulous! Summer Frey lives a half hour from my house, and we get together every few weeks to hang out and talk writing-and-blogging shop. Since we were both doing NaNo this year, we decided to meet in a funky local coffee house for a five-hour write-in. We'd wish each other luck and hit the keys, for a while. At some point, one of us would need another cup of coffee or a bathroom break, and we'd stop for ten or fifteen minutes. We tweeted from our couches and updated our Facebook statuses, and laughed a lot. And I wrote 5000 words that day. 5000!
My inner editor feels like she's back from the spa, relaxed and muscle-knot-free. I may not have won NaNoWriMo, but the benefits I reaped from playing along this November made every minute of the crazy chaos worth it. I'll use these and other strategies while I finish my WiP, and for future drafts too.
What's your favorite strategy for powering through the first draft? Maybe you wear a certain shirt or pair of socks? Do you dangle reward-carrots in front of yourself for motivation? Something else?