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. 🙂 )
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…)