Perhaps a chair coated with glue?
October 22, 2009 3:09 PM   Subscribe

With NaNoWriMo looming ever nearer, I would like to hear your best tips, tricks, habits, and techniques for staying chained to the keyboard.

Realizing that the point is to get 50,000 words written, I've jettisoned all illusions of producing quality, publishable prose. My only goal is to finish without having to copypaste "All work and no play makes BOP a dull boy" five thousand times. I have a (rather vague) outline, I have some preliminary character sketches, and I have every expectation that the first ten thousand words will flow fairly quickly. But. I suck at follow-through. I have the attention span of the common housefly. So, writers: how do I stick with it, fight through discouragment and ennui, and produce 50,000 reasonably coherent words?

Note: I'm not looking for tips like "prepare moar" or "work your plan". I'm looking for how to stay motivated when the fun stuff stops and the hard work begins.
posted by BitterOldPunk to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Create a nice table in Excel or OpenOffice that charts your progress - cumulative total, words per day, words to target, etc. It's lovely to see the graph creep ever upwards.

My NaNovel was episodic, which helped a lot. Tired of a scene? Wrap it up and move on to the next idea. It was also very restricted (two main characters, only one location) - juggling too many elements can drag you down.
posted by Paragon at 3:16 PM on October 22, 2009

My first time I did a "benchmark" and found out how long it took me to get to X words for the day, so when I inevitably fell behind I knew just how much I needed to get ahead. I would typically set aside 2 hours a day for writing.

Don't be afraid to completely change something to explore an idea, which is what I ended up doing many times, when the current scene I had was getting boring. Stream of conscious writing is pretty much standard.

It also helped that I had a jump drive with my novel and portable apps installed, so I could type on any computer, even coffee shop internet kiosks. I would also take my laptop to Starbucks, so I couldn't connect to the internet and get distracted.

Lastly: Catch up on the weekends. Thanksgiving break is a last-chance power drive.
posted by hellojed at 3:19 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

This works for me!

1) Unplug the modem. No, don't use LeechBlock. @#$% that. It's too easy to turn off. Unplug the mofo.

2) When you get to the boring parts, tell the story like you're explaining it to somebody else. So, instead of, "He lovingly caressed the lip of the envelope with his tongue as if it were a woman and not his past-due payment to Los Angeles Water & Power" you could say "Bob paid his electric bill, and it was totally late. Also, he couldn't get a woman if he tried, and that's why was a serial killer." (If you're a few words short of your daily limit, you can always add, "Am I right?" at the end of any sentence.) You'd be surprised at how many hurdles you can jump by taking the focus off how it sounds. Hey, the story's still written. It's just not perfect. And perfect isn't the point of NaNo anyway. Also, when you go back later to edit (if you do), it's worlds easier.

3) Lets say you want to get through 1666 words a day. Break that down into smaller increments. If you're sitting down at 7pm, tell yourself, "By 8pm, I'm going to have written X many." And then do it. When you've successfully completed one increment, run around your computer chair with your arms in the air and go, "WOOOOO! YEAH!" But sit back down immediately.

4) Find some music that puts you in the same mood you want your novel to evoke. It's better if there are no lyrics. Like classical music, or movie soundtracks, or the karaoke version of Barry White's Greatest Hits.
posted by katillathehun at 3:25 PM on October 22, 2009 [7 favorites]

Prepare your plan and work moar.

Treat it like a temp part time job. You have 10 hours a week (or whatever) to work on the novel, no matter what.

What motivates you in other situations like this, where you have to X, but you have trouble following through? Do that here.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:27 PM on October 22, 2009

Most of the stuff that works for me is pretty much just common sense: write every day (I write in the morning), avoid the internet and other distractions when writing, and just keep typing even if it sucks. If you're in area that has organized write-ins, give those a try. I didn't think I'd like them but they turned out to be a lot of fun and my most productive days. Something about sitting and writing with a bunch of other people doing the same thing made me feel more creative.
posted by maurice at 3:44 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

First: make sure what you're writing is fun. You're going to be living with this monster for a month; if you don't actively like writing it, you're in for a hell of a slog. Keep in mind that since nobody is ever going to see this thing, it's your perfect time to be ridiculously self-indulgent. Write that swashbuckling space-pirate farce you've been mulling over. Tell the story of how you became a god to the people of Earth. If you don't giggle at least once per writing session, how are you going to convince yourself to sit down and do the next one?

Second: Outline. Get some sort of outline down before you start, so that you'll know what you're shooting for when you sit down to write. It doesn't have to be detailed. Here are a couple of tips on possible basic structures. Pick one, fill it out before you start, and be prepared to abandon it when it becomes necessary.

Third: The best tip I got when I was writing my first one back in 2006: When in doubt, just add ninjas.

I never did add any ninjas, but knowing that I had that ace up my sleeve kept me barreling along. I went back and re-read that sucker just last week, and you could tell I was having a complete blast when I wrote it.

Fourth: Get used to being overly wordy early on. For instance, when you post to your favorite discussion board to expound upon whatever subject you enjoy expounding upon, give yourself license to get a bit carried away. Like, for instance, writing a four-part opus on how to crank out a NaNovel.

Or maybe that one is just me.
posted by MrVisible at 4:00 PM on October 22, 2009 [8 favorites]

It's 50,000 words, right? I did it two years ago. It was awful--for me and my husband--but I did it. This is what worked for me:

Set a goal of 1700 words/day. If you're behind one day, make it up the next day. Don't plan to make up lots of words on the weekends, but rather plan to use the weekends to get ahead, and stay ahead.

Don't make lots of evening or weekend plans. Assume you will end up neglecting your partner, job, house cleaning, etc.

When you're writing, if you're stuck at a scene, move on. Skip it. Go the next part. Don't feel like you have to write things in order. Don't feel like every scene has to be done or finished before you move on. If you don't finish it, add a star or some symbol like and a quick summary of what needs to get written, like [*Joe jumps off the cliff and plunges 1000 feet into the canyon. Rescue operations begin, which is when we meet Sheriff Smith and his trusty rescue dog River.].

Write crappy description and don't delete it.

If you change your mind about something you've written, or the direction something should take, don't erase what you've written. Just skip a few lines and start the new text, even though it means you have two conflicting scenes. It doesn't matter. I had about ten or fifteen pages that ended up making so sense when I took things in a different direction, but I just left them and moved on.

Good luck! I hope this helps.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:02 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Bribe yourself, if you can. Another 500 words before dinner, 1,000 before that delicious candybar, etc.

Join your local group (if you have one). Compete with them.

Do word wars if you can. If you aren't unplugging your modem, there are usually a few NaNo word war chatrooms. If you are unplugging, do word wars with your playlist-- make 10 minute playlists and try to do 500 words in that time, or 15 minutes and go for 600-750.

More than that: You'll likely fall over and want to die during week 2. You might get behind. KEEP GOING. It gets a LOT easier from then on out. If are able to, get a head start when you're still motivated at the beginning and make a buffer for that week.

Tell everyone what you're doing. Brag about it if you're doing well. Demand sympathy if you're doing poorly. If you're on Twitter, post about it there. Excerpts on blogs are good too. The more peer pressure you have going on you the better you'll do.

(I'm at 5 NaNoWriMo wins + 1 Summer NaNo win + 1 failure because I gave myself tendinitis playing too much Rock Band drums and writing 4,000 words a day and the doctor made me stop. Don't do that.)
posted by NoraReed at 4:07 PM on October 22, 2009

Write or Die. Set it on kamikaze mode and it'll start deleting what you write if you stop for too long.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:27 PM on October 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

This is what you have to remember, every time you sit down: it's not that hard. The words don't have to be good, the plot doesn't have to make sense, the characters don't have to be good, you just have to type (or write and transcribe, if you must). Every year I get really irritated at the *hand to forehead* angst that some people so joyfully indulge in (I guess because it creates a community feeling, but if you want to do that, do it with the joy of writing like a crazy person rather than bitching). It wastes time.

And time is the key. In Novembers, I don't make plans. I do a lot of my bulk-writing on weekends, but something always happens, even before Thanksgiving, and I need weeknights to make sure I stay on track.

And I do use markers to indicate where I just wrote some whole scene that, two days later, turns out to be entirely wrong. Delete NOTHING, no matter how much you want to. Indulge yourself in extravagant character studies. Don't shame-delete when your characters run off and have totally plot-inappropriate sex. Don't spend three days researching the introductions on small-town medical practice, just bracket it [Doctor arrives with penicillin, it might be two years too early, fuck it] and worry about it in the second draft.

Go nuts, enjoy it, use the month to teach yourself how to make the time for writing. Warn your spouse, load up on takeout menus, and I'm considering setting up an IRC channel for mefites to share their "joy" when a distraction is absolutely necessary, if it comes to that.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:38 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, hey, cool, I'm doing Nanowrimo this year (again), too.

I've done it twice before, once hammering out about forty pages, and once getting within 5,000 words of the goal. This year, I'm pretty convinced that I have what it takes to win (famous last words!), because I've finished a 50,000 word novella and have banged out about 60,000 words of a novel draft in the past year. I've learned something about producing substantial drafts, at least, which is this:

-Time goals don't work for me. If I tell myself that I'm going to write for an hour, a good portion of that hour will often be spent dawdling, and I'll hardly write a thing.

-However, minimum daily word counts do work. Seconding that if you get behind one day, you write the same amount plus the deficit the next. Treat your word count as a job. I like to remind myself that Stephen King writes this way (and at a Nanowrimo-ish four pages a day); it makes me feel like I'm in good, or at least successful, company.

-Short term deadlines in addition to the word count also help. If you have a desk job where you sometimes have downtime, that last hour of work is a great time to force writing in--tell yourself you're not allowed to leave until you get within sight of your daily goal. You'd be surprised at what a great motivator that is.

-Always, always, always know what you're going to write the next day. This might mean ending in the middle of a thought or sentence. That's okay. You'll have the hardest time motivating yourself to start days when you don't know what you're going to say next. And the big danger isn't getting halfway to your word goal and then stopping, but rather deciding that you can take a day off.

-Personally, I don't really do any prewriting at all, but might have a few scenes in mind. I like to let writing those scenes--seeing my thoughts actualized for the first time--be its own reward. To add to this, I also write linearly. Even if a scene feels really juicy, I make myself slog through whatever needs to come first so that I can reward myself with plot points later. This gives me forward momentum. I have friends who write the opposite way--piecing scenes together--but the year I came close to winning Nano previously was one where I wrote that way, and by the last week I felt like I had an unworkable mess that wasn't worth finishing.

-Turning off the internet actually slows me down, because then I have to get up and get a dictionary if I really want to look up a word, and end up just sitting there and staring at the screen. It might help you, but be aware that lack-of-internet can be used as a means of procrastination, too.

Also, I like this advice on novel writing from mystery writer Lawrence Block:
Isn't it harder to write a novel than a short story?

No. Novels aren't harder. What they are is longer.

That may be a very obvious answer, but that doesn't make it any less true. It's the sheer length of a novel that the beginning writer is apt to find intimidating [. . .] Each day's stint at the typewriter is simply that--one day's work. And that's every bit as true whether you're writing short stories or an epic trilogy. If you're writing three or six or ten pages a day, you'll get a certain amount of work accomplished in a certain span of time--whatever it is you're working on.


Steady day-in-day-out work on a book keeps you in the book from start to finish, and keeps the book very much in your mind during those hours you're at the typewriter and during those hours you're doing something else--playing, reading, sleeping. [. . .]"A novelist," Herbert Gold says, "has to think/dream his story every day. Poets and story writers can go for the inspired midnight with quill dipped in ink-filled skull." And Joseph Hansen adds, "I have made a number of young novelists angry by saying that writing is something you do when you get up in the morning, like eating breakfast or brushing yoru teeth. And it is. Or it had better be."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:16 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, also, dropbox. Now, you have no excuse not to work on your novel anywhere where you've got internet and a word processor.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:19 PM on October 22, 2009

Ego. Ego! The only thing that keeps me going (won in '05 and '06, lost in '07, won last year) is raging, unchecked narcissism. Feed the beast!
posted by Neofelis at 6:24 PM on October 22, 2009

Set up your profile, tell everyone you know, assign yourself to a region, and attend your local ML-sponsored writing events. Having other people know what you are doing is a real motivator.

I am a two-time winner and this will be my third year. The fact you have an idea and a outline puts you ahead of me (ever).

Also, donate! That bit of financial investment may make it harder for you to allow yourself to fail. Plus, that halo looks real good by your user name.
posted by ilikecookies at 6:28 PM on October 22, 2009

I did it three years ago. Stick to your daily totals as much as you can, even if your characters start sending emails and you write out their incredibly long subject lines as your word total.

I gave my characters incredibly long names, too, so that upped my word count a lot.
posted by vickyverky at 6:47 PM on October 22, 2009

Go to the write-ins. That's the only way I've ever been able to win.

Also, it helps if you're really okay with writing whatever you feel like, regardless of whether it's good or coherent, or if you might even be cheating. At one point I named a character NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM for the word boost.
posted by hishtafel at 7:38 PM on October 22, 2009

I use a distraction free text editor (Q10) which is freeware and can be put on a thumbdrive along with the novel so I can sneak in a few words wherever. I tell everyone that I'm doing it, even going so far as to ask one of the graphic designers at work to do a cover for my free proof copy. I also changed my desktop wallpaper to a NaNo daily word count calender to guilt trip myself whenever I booted up.
posted by MikeMc at 7:50 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: There is much good stuff here. I will summarize and digest it later. Like, tomorrow, when I expect to be way less drunk. In the interim, though, I'll piggyback: I plan on using Scrivener. Good move, bad move? Indifferent? Better Mac options?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:42 AM on October 23, 2009

I love Scrivener to the very depths of my soul and even tho I have not completed a novel in the three years since I purchased it, I have written more songs, poetry, short stories and well-researched articles than in the years before. The way it lets me organize ideas really gives me a boost - I like it so much I sometimes rearrange stuff I've already finished just to play with it.
posted by annathea at 1:39 AM on October 23, 2009

I would suggest WriteRoom. It's goal is create a distraction free environment, which allows you to write, while Scrivener seems more about project organization. Plus WriteRoom has an iPhone app which allows you to write anywhere (15 minute break at work? Write!) sync online or with your computer.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:49 AM on October 23, 2009

I think the two can work together, Brandon Blatcher. I downloaded the trial of Scrivener tonight, and it looks *amazing* and I can't wait to begin using it. I'm working my way through the tutorial at the moment, then will start planning my NaNoWriMo work, and do my final essay using it.

Get it, BOP. I think you'll like it. It's got good support, and I love the way you can rearrange things and plan / plot things out. It's very very very cool.
posted by jonathanstrange at 3:20 AM on October 23, 2009

also: I didn't see this until just then, which is annoying, but there is a special NaNoWriMo trial version of Scrivener available. Instead of the normal 30 day trial, this one lasts until Dec 7, and if you win NaNoWriMo you get a 50% discount. Very useful!
posted by jonathanstrange at 3:58 AM on October 23, 2009

Go to the write-ins in your area (I'm assuming you don't live on an island or something). Other people in your presence writing, while you're not at home with all the usual distractions, helps a lot.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:14 PM on October 23, 2009

I've never even come close to winning - so maybe you shouldn't listen to me. But my best results, such as they were, depended on using a full-screen writing environment - so I second BB's recommendation of WriteRoom. For Windows, I love Q10.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:37 AM on October 28, 2009

I tried to download Q10, but it doesn't work in Windows 7 apparently.
posted by Kimberly at 1:20 PM on October 31, 2009

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