I clearly underestimated how equally exhausting and exhilarating this project was going to be. I’ve been in the zone, hammering out word after word, making real progress. It is a strange combination of being drained emotionally and creatively, and also energized by the building sense of accomplishment. Section after section builds off of each other and before you know it, you’ve hammered out 10,000 words on the second night. You’re suddenly a week ahead already, but that doesn’t mean your mind will let you rest. It makes you stay up late and get up early. It is intoxicating.
What Makes this Year Different
In the few short days since the beginning of November, I have already completed more for this year’s NaNoWriMo than I have for all of the last three years combined. I attribute this to a couple of reasons. I think they are just a couple of things I have done a little differently this year, tiny things that anyone can do to help achieve more success with their NaNoWriMo, or any other writing project really.
Writing Every Day – All Year Long – 750 Words
This one is probably something that anyone who is attempting NaNoWriMo already knows, but the best way to learn to write a consistent 1700 words a day is to make sure you write 1700 words every day. For me, this really triggered when I started writing on 750words.com every day. I didn’t realize it until I began working on a serious writing project, but it helped me in two huge ways that I’d never thought of before:
- The more often I write, the better I become at doing so quickly.
- It got me used to looking at word counts and words per hour instead of nitpicking every word I put down.
A really important part of the writing process is just getting the story down in the first place. If you’re anything like me, you can get in your own way of getting that first draft out because you are spending too much time agonizing over every turn of phrase, trying desperately to create a final draft all at once. The reason that is a bad way to write is because it kills the flow of words coming out of your mind and takes you out of the zone. When you just focus on the task of telling your story, you will find that you’ve written way more and farther into it than you ever realized.
Outlines Have Power
I have never tried to write anything off of an outline before. I know that when I was doing debate in high school they taught us to use outlines to organize our thoughts for speeches, but I never really got into that. I put them together because I was supposed to and then sort of ignored them from there. I did the same basic thing with other writing projects, and it’s even a phenomenon we experience with the podcast. It was Chris, though, that really turned me on to how to use them properly. He uses outlines in almost all of his writing, and he is the reason our topics on Half Drunk are organized that way.
What I have learned, though, is that what makes outlines great for writing is the same thing that annoys Chris while we’re podcasting. You can skip all over them when you want to. As I write one part of my book, if I hit a roadblock there, I can switch my focus to a different part of the outline and work on it there. It might not be pretty, but it works amazingly to keep my productive. I never feel like I’m stuck working on something that isn’t flowing naturally. When I get to a barrier, I just jump to a different part of the book. Usually doing so will unlock my brain and let me go back to the other part with a clear, new idea.
Pen and Keyboard
Quite by accident I discovered a technique that keeps my mind running in high gear. I do quite a bit of writing at work, where I have a really crappy, old computer. After losing the first 600 words I had written for NaNoWriMo due to it’s crash-tendencies, I started writing my book directly into Google Docs. Google Docs has auto-save features and is running in the cloud, meaning I can work on my book from any computer connected to the internet, or even from my phone if I needed to. That didn’t stop the complete suck factor of my computer from slowing down my writing though. It would often freeze up if I typed too fast, and I would have to wait for it to work out the traffic jam and play catch up.
I started pulling out a little notebook each time that happened and continuing to write by hand. Handwriting is slower, but at the same time, the tactile experience of pen in hand squiggling away across paper has a potent value to it. Psychologist have even done research to indicate that the act of writing by hand actually increases the response levels in the creative sections of the human brain. Most importantly, it keeps me going even when my computer is seizing up.
When I come to a point where I finish a thought on the notebook, hit a writer’s block, or just need to give my wrist a break, I switch back to typing. I copy what I just wrote longhand into the document, and before I know it, I’ve hammered out even more words. It’s like the act of switching mediums refreshes my mind and gives me an ability to just keep going longer and faster.
You should give it a try.
Be sure to head over to the NaNoWriMo Site and sign up to participate, if you do, be sure to add me as a writing buddy. We can keep each other on track.