It’s NaNoWriMo time and a lot of people are asking about writing tips. Here are a few I dropped in the NaNo forums when talking about how to push yourself to reach your goals.
Separate Research Time from Writing Time
First, most people get stumped on the details – you’re not sure what to call that new side character so you spend 2 hours and get distracted trying to choose his name, you can’t remember the model of that car you wanted to write in, or whatever. I have learned to skip right past these little (or big) things when they come up and go back to them later.
I notate something in its place like [look up car make/model here] or [name this goofy one-horse town] and then when my draft is done for the day, I go back and fill in the blanks. Usually I get to those blanks within the first couple of days of creating them, but when the story is really flowing, I don’t bother.
I once wrote a 50K word novel without naming my characters until the end. I was writing based on no notes or plotting and I just let the story take me. It made more sense for that one anyway, because by the end, I knew enough about their personalities to name them better. So, for the entire first draft, they were [female main character] which I shortened to [FMC] and [FMC best friend], and [FMC love interest], etc. At the end, I decided their names and then did find+replace to add in the names.
Don’t get stuck on a small detail for your entire writing session. Just finish a scene!
Write First, Edit Later
NaNo is intentionally structured to facilitate this but some people just naturally want to edit as they go. If you’re one of those people, you need to consciously train your brain not to. A typo is one thing, but heavy editing or fact-checking does not need to happen at this phase. You need words on paper (or screen) before you can start redlining and chopping them up.
Write When and Where You Can
Sometimes you just gotta squeeze those words in anywhere. I use a tool now that has a mobile functionality but for 21 years, I used Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Both allow mobile access and cloud storage, meaning you can have your NaNo draft on your smartphone, tablet, etc. If you’re riding a bus or train for 20 minutes, sitting at a doctor’s appointment, or waiting in the school pickup line, you can get some words in. The more flexible you can be about when and where you write and how you turn your writing brain on, the more you can write.
Some people need to be at their desk, on their main computer, with the perfect lighting, with ambient noise streaming in the background, with no distractions, in comfortable clothes, and in the perfect “mood” in order to write. If that’s you, know that your writing time will be limited. I’ve worked on novels standing in line at the pharmacy. Sure, I prefer the perfect setting, but when creating a first draft, you just need to get those words out however you can.
Personally, I love the timer method! I set a timer for 60 minutes, but you can do any amount of time. If long sessions are hard, do five minutes to start, then increase it to 10, etc. And if you can’t get more than 20 minutes of uninterrupted time, then 20 minutes is going to be your cap. Change the number of minutes based on your needs, but don’t do more than 60.
- Get prepared to write and be sure you will not be interrupted
- Set your timer
- Begin writing and “freewrite” until the timer goes off
- Do not stop to look something up
- Do not stop to edit
- Skip over or put a blank line or [notation] if you’re unsure of something
- Just keep going
- Stop when the timer goes off
BAM! Now you have words. Again, if you’re new, try just 5 minute segments. What can you do in just 5 minute blocks of uninterrupted, focused writing?
Want to add me as a NaNo buddy? I’m here.