Don’t Think, Just Write

This post is sort of a mix of a pep talk thing to those participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month as well as¬†some advice for first draft writing. (So, if you’re not doing a first draft for Camp NaNo, you may not find this very helpful…but too bad. You can read it anyway. ūüôā )

Recently, I’ve noticed a bit of an increase in my typing speed as I’m writing, and I think I’ve finally figured out why. It mostly came one night at dinner when we happened to bring up the subject of NaNoWriMo.

“Doesn’t NaNoWriMo just encourage people¬†to use a lot of words instead of an actual story?” said my mom. “It would just¬†make¬†people write things like, ‘I went to the store. When I got there, I couldn’t decide whether or not I should buy peanuts or cashews. Hmmm. The peanuts, or the cashews? Finally, I decided on buying the peanuts instead of the cashews, because they were cheaper.'”

I thought about this for a moment¬†and¬†said, “Yes, but they’d have more of the story than they started with.”

That’s the whole point of NaNoWriMo–not to write words, sometimes not even to write a novel, but to write¬†more than you had before. In the example my mom gave, yes, the writing is pretty terrible. Yes, the conflict is also terrible. But you have¬†more. If those 42 words hadn’t been written, you wouldn’t have anything about your character visiting the store, and who knows, maybe the cashew/peanut debate will¬†become important later on!¬†Although, the decision should be obvious.¬†Always¬†go for¬†the cashews. Always.

So you may be looking at your unfinished manuscript¬†right now, thinking that this is wildly out of character, or it doesn’t even make sense,¬†or¬†why are there evil talking cats¬†this isn’t supposed to be happening.¬†Maybe you’re horribly behind on your word count and the few thousand–or even the few hundred–you’ve managed to write just don’t seem good enough.

The amazing thing is that¬†you’ve already written more than you had before. No matter how horrible, how confusing, or how small the writing has been, there’s more story than there was before, and that’s something¬†that you should be proud of.

I’ve found that the best way to write more, and faster, is this simple motto/phrase/whatever-you-want-to-call-it: don’t think, just write. Stop worrying about whether what you’re writing is good or bad, whether it goes with the story and fits with the outline. Stop thinking that this description is taking way too long or this chapter should have finished already or where did this character come from or why on earth are these characters being shippy.¬†Just write.

Yes, it’s hard not to stop and try to figure out what’s going on, especially when you want this novel to be as good as your original idea for it was, especially when that one word you used¬†really¬†doesn’t seem right, especially when this wasn’t in the outline at all. Usually, I have to find some way to force myself into this frame of mind. Two ways that I do it are:

  • Word wars or word sprints with other people. I find that competition really helps me want to win and I don’t go back to fix things or stop to think because¬†I want to win.
  • Timed goals with myself. (Ex. “I’m going to try to write 700 words in 15 minutes.”) It’s especially helpful if you choose goals you’ve never achieved before, because it encourages you to really push yourself as hard as you can, with no stopping.

The key is to not stop to think. (Again, don’t think, just write.) If you think about what you’re writing, you’re inevitably going to¬†realize that it’s bad writing, and you’re going to want to fix it.¬†Don’t think. The trick is to trick ourselves into writing without thinking, to keep our fingers moving even when the sentences start to sound like, “Then I met a guy named Bob. Bob was weird. He had weird hair that I can’t describe right now. He liked to eat cake.”

People will tell you to not go back to revise, because you’ll take up time and delete words. The fact is that stopping to think about what to write next will take up just as much time, and the time you waste will cost you just as many words anyway. (Well, maybe not just as many, but still.)

So if you’re struggling with whatever writing you’re working on, all you have to do is remember these four words: don’t think, just write. Actually, don’t even think about not thinking. Don’t think about purple elephants…too late.

And remember, even if you feel completely stuck and at a loss for what to write,¬†you’ve written more than you had before. Be proud, pat yourself on the back, because that really is¬†the most important thing.

How¬†is Camp NaNo¬†going for all of you who are doing it,¬†and how close are you to your goals? Do you have any other¬†tips or tricks on how you get yourself to write? And, most importantly, cashews or peanuts? (Or you can just tell me your favorite kind of nut; that works too.¬†I bet you can’t guess mine…)

Zel Update: Entering the Unknown

Lately I’ve been procrastinating from my Zel novel, which is a problem. While I’ve written just over 7,000 words already, and I’m really proud of those three chapters, over the past few days, I just haven’t been able to get myself to start writing Chapter Four.

It’s in part because I have no idea what’s going to happen next. But that’s never stopped me before. I’ve written plenty of words and chapters and scenes that are absolutely meaningless because I didn’t have a single idea about what to do next.

The other part of my problem is that my first three chapters turned out great. I planned them, and they actually turned out well. And that’s set a precedent for the rest of my chapters, when that’s not what I should be worried about.

What I really should be worried about is just writing down some¬†“first draft bilge”, as my dad calls it.

Yes, it’s good to have high goals. But it’s not good to have goals that are so high you can’t ever achieve them, or that you’ll feel like a complete and utter failure if you don’t reach them.

It’s like my grades at school. I’m a straight A student, and that’s what’s expected from me. Not just from other people, but most of all from myself. I’ve told myself over and over again that I’m an A student, and the sad thing is that I would probably go way overboard with emotional stuff if I got a B in a class.

But it goes beyond just the grades. I can’t turn an assignment in late–I just can’t. So even on projects when I have absolutely no time to get anything done because of this and that going on, as well as my procrastination, and so on and so forth, I¬†have to finish them the night before. So I stay up late and work as hard as I can just so that I can know it’s in on time, even in classes where late work is accepted.

Tests,¬†oral reports, quizzes, whatever it is, I worry and stress over it¬†way more than is needed. Yeah, grades are important, school is good, but it shouldn’t completely take over my life.

My writing of this novel is starting to go in that direction. I’m starting to feel like this chapter¬†has¬†to be good, and¬†that thought has stopped¬†me from writing it. I don’t want to mess up what I’ve already done and make the story terrible.

But what good is a story that isn’t told?

Everyone makes mistakes, in every aspect of life. It’s not something we can stop or change, and it extends even to writing.

I’m going to write Chapter Four, even if I have absolutely no idea what to write it about, because I don’t want to get stuck in this thought process that it all has to be good. Maybe it’ll turn out bland, but that’s okay. I’m supposed to enjoy and love this experience of writing, and I want to tell this story.

So I will.