Three weeks into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I’m seeing a lot of people on social media say they’ve hit a wall when it comes to their work in progress (WIP). Let’s face it, churning out 2,000 or more words a day every day for weeks on end is a challenging pace.
When I’m stuck with a WIP, I ask myself what kind of inspiration I need. Sometimes, I do not understand a character. The way that I’m describing them is flat, they have poor dialogue, and they’re doing things mechanically and clinically. To get inspired, I watch a movie or two or three on a related theme that I’m writing on. Sometimes I’m trying to write something funny, so I watch a comedy in a setting that’s related to my books. If I’m stuck on a military character, then I pick a movie appropriate to the period of time I’m writing and focused on the rank that I’m writing (foot soldiers versus from Caesar’s perspective). I watch their body language and jot down notes to see how I can incorporate some of that into my characterisations.
If I need to brainstorm more realistic interactions, then I pick an appropriate public spot, and people watch for a while. I’ll sit in a café and watch two friends interact, or go to a restaurant that is family friendly to see how families with younger children communicate differently than those with older children.
Even though I use an outline for the main plot points and a few character moments, I do sometimes write myself into a corner or get stuck on the next logical step to get my character from A to B. One thing that really helps me is to jot thoughts down. (I have so many notebooks I had to get new shelves installed). I brainstorm a few words or plot points, I draw a relationship map between the characters, I write down a few motivations and goals for the characters involved in the scene, and I’ll even sketch the movement in a battle. I find that writing pen to paper uses a different brain mechanism than typing. Things pry loose from the corners of my mind, and I can continue with my scene.
If the words aren’t coming to me, I write an outline for another short story or book. I’m still working on my craft and moving my projects forward, without working on my word count. I feel productive and satisfied at the end of the day.
One of the most underrated things to do when you’re stuck is to do something else. Go for a walk. Exercise. Read a book. Take a course to improve your writing skills. Play a computer game. Visit a friend. Do anything else except writing, and it will give your brain a break.
When we read how well others are writing, their astronomical word counts, and the staggering pace at which they release books, remind yourself that they too get stuck. All writers face similar structural and characterisation issues, all writers have written themselves into corners and have had to find ways out. Getting stuck is part of the craft, and with persistence, everyone can get unstuck.
I wear many hats, and in one of my non-writing hats, I’ve had a burnout that took me years to recover from. So when I saw a lot of people on social media become piles of frayed nerves about their word count for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I thought I’d write this post.
I’m going to keep things simple and define burnout as working too hard for too long until you can’t do it anymore. Sometimes you fall into a depression, sometimes everything physically hurts, other times you’re a ball of anxiety. The list goes on and on. Basically, you’re falling apart.
Not only is burnout demanding on physical and mental health, but it also takes a toll on the person’s willingness to work in that field again. Which is a huge problem for writers who started writing because they love writing, they enjoy creating. If they have a burnout from writing, it’s unlikely they’ll heal enough to return to writing.
Just like anything else that you’re passionate about, you have to pace yourself and recognise that there are other aspects of your life and health that need attention. The professional athlete who over-trains risks injury. The lawyer who is on top of their game working 120 hours a week will likely miss the warning signs their partner is thinking of a divorce.
A key factor in preventing burnout is to have realistic expectations. I have goals for my businesses, and I have goals for my writing career. And as ambitious as they are, I rein myself in to compare my time frame with my resources. I can write a best-selling novel. I know I can, just not in this current draft. I can take every course I can find on editing and writing, function (barely) on five hours’ sleep a night until the novel is of sufficient quality to publish it. But then, will I have the energy to write another novel?
It’s hard to have a career in writing if you’ve only ever written one book.
And it’s hard to access the resources to further your writing career when you’re struggling to maintain a paying job because you’re not sleeping enough, you catch every cold and flu out there because you’re run down, and you fall into a depression because you never see your family or friends.
Your brain needs a break. My advice for writers is to schedule time for social activities not centered around writing. Have strong social relationships outside of work helps people destress.
Your body wasn’t meant to be moulded to a chair. Even taking a fifteen-minute walk around the block helps stretch muscles and gets you away from a computer screen.
Your body needs real food. I eat junk food. I drink beer. I don’t live off of junk food and beer. Making sure you have reasonably balanced diet and are hydrated helps your health in so many beautiful ways and helps protect against the effects of stress.
You can take a vacation and not feel guilty about it. A change of pace a few times a year is a good thing. Don’t be ashamed to go to the cottage, visit family and friends in another city, or travel.
The worst part about burnout is that right up to the point of collapse, writers are on top of their game. They are writing the best prose, the most interesting characters and the strongest plots of their careers. Until one morning they wake up and they can’t do it anymore.
Take care of yourself first, lay the foundations for a healthy and balanced life, and then watch your writing flourish.
If you are in any kind of author circles, even on the edge of one, there is no doubt that you know what time of year it is. Many people are designing costumes and decorating their homes for Halloween. They’re preparing what films they’ll watch and how much chocolate they’ll eat.
But for a certain few, there is no Halloween. There is no turkey prep. There may be chocolate, but that chocolate is fuel…
For National Novel Writing Month, the November challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.
Deciding whether or not to participate in this challenge is the first big step, but a second question hovers just behind: If I do decide to write, what the heck am I going to work on?
With a few weeks to go, now is a good time to figure that out.
I, for one, am in just such a struggle. I recently released the first book in a planned trilogy. The second is drafted and about to start the revision process so the obvious choice would be to use NaNoWriMo to write the third, right? No?
The problem is this bright new shiny book hovering in the corner of my eye. An urban fantasy that is sexy and devious and full of such good fun. So there’s the dilemma: the logical next step or the fun detour? The one readers will be waiting for or the one that has hooked its claws in my brain and won’t let go?
The rest of the year, I’m able to avoid being distracted by said bright shiny detour by sticking to my schedule. I use websites like Trello and a hand-written agenda like my bullet journal to keep me on track to make sure each book actually reaches the end. November is different. It’s a time when you can allow yourself to play a little more.
Maybe you’re simply stuck between Idea A that you’ve been outlining since May and are finally ready to start writing vs. Idea B that only jumped into your head last month and is barely more than a glimpse at a set of characters—but those characters have really taken on a life of their own.
Or maybe you have a book that you need to write, but you’re playing with the idea of moving into the shadows and pantsing something entirely new just to see what comes of it.
The nightmare of lots of NaNoWriMo participants is that they’re going to get partway through the month and get bored, or get lost, and therefore not be able to keep going.
This will be my 6th NaNoWriMo (plus a few CampNaNoWriMos in between [CampNaNoWriMo if you haven’t heard of it, takes place in April and July. You choose your own word count goal and get assigned to a cabin—or build one with your writing mates. It’s low-key, very relaxed, and a great chance to finish/catch up on/revise your work in progress]), and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of these challenges: if you want to see them through to the end, you have to write what excites you.
The other eleven months of the year are there for you to work on what you need to write, but NaNoWriMo is all about the sheer rush of sitting down to write words on the paper. It’s challenging, it’s fun, it can be competitive if you want it to, and it’s an opportunity to lose yourself in the sheer joy of creating. For me, after fourteen publications, I find it important to use NaNoWriMo to remember what I love about writing. For me, it’s the sense of adventure and escape, of not knowing what’s around the corner when you start on that first draft, whether you’ve outlined or not. Stuck on this point? Try taking a break and running the story through your head like a film. Remember what scenes or characters made you sit down in the first place.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t outline, and, heck, if what you need to write is what gets you out of bed in the morning then huzzah! Easy choice! But no matter what process you choose, or what project, let it be something that gets you talking about it. Let it be a book that, when your friends ask you how you’re spending your month, you can’t shut up, until they’re just as excited as you are (and likely beyond that when they’ve gone all glazed-eyed, and you’re still describing your world’s social structure).
Choose the project you want. This month is all about you, your characters, your ideas. Have fun with it.
So… with all that in mind, I think I’ve made my choice.
See you on November 1, urban fantasy.
Like many authors, Krista Walsh has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pen. At eight years old, she wrote three one-page ghost stories that she still feels are her best work. From plays and short stories through to fanfiction and novels, stories have always buzzed around in her head. After her first publication in April 2012, a short story in a dark fantasy anthology, Krista made her way through various collaborations and anthologies until she founded the self-publishing brand of Raven’s Quill Press.
Any Gravelle (left) and Renée Gendron CanCon 2018
Article disponible en français
In November 2018, I’ll have participated three times in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The purpose of the NaNoWriMo is to encourage participants to write 50,000 words in November. For full-time authors, this goal is easy to reach because it’s the length of a novel intended for teens and young adults. For other writers like me, NaNoWriMo gives me the motivation to write daily. The two manuscripts I wrote will never see the light of day, but NaNoWriMo allowed me to finish the projects.
To achieve 50,000 words in a month, you need to write 2,000 words daily. To accomplish that, you need to plan writing sessions, even if you’ve only got thirty minutes to spare. The point of NaNoWriMo is to write every day without getting sick of writing. In November, I concentrate on writing, and I gain twofold from this focus. At the same time, I tell people that the world doesn’t stop turning if you haven’t reached your 50,000-word target by the 30th of November.
If you’re stubborn like me, I advise you to plan your manuscript and to fill out a character sheet by the 1st of November. The more details you can plan, the more likely you’ll reach your goal. For motivation and support, it’s also a good thing to join one of the many groups at NaNoWriMo: https://nanowrimo.org/. I visit the site frequently, attend meetings, and review what others have written.
My day planner becomes my best friend in November. To ensure that I’m well organised, I pick the writing groups that are closest to where I live. If you live in Ottawa, Ontario, the meeting groups meet throughout the city. If the meetings are too far from where I live, I schedule writing time at home to avoid wasting time travelling.
I also give myself some slack. If my week is hectic, I give myself permission to slow down on the writing goals. I know that I’m busy in other areas of my life, and all I’ll do is sit down in front of the screen and not be able to type. During my first NaNoWriMo, I finished my manuscript and started editing it. It was there that I realised the work involved in producing a polished novel.
If you’re like me, then the slightest noise distracts you. It’s important to choose your writing groups wisely because many of them meet in cafés where there is a lot of background noise. To improve my productivity, I decided to work from the library or from home. While working, I’ve learned to put a wall around myself, to focus on the writing, but it’s not always easy ignoring everything that is happening around you. Despite my best efforts, I’ve had many lapses in concentration, and I wasn’t as productive as I would have liked.
During my second NaNoWriMo, I made the mistake of picking a subject I found interesting but didn’t know much about. I suggest that you write about something that you know well and are passionate about. If you’re writing about something you don’t know well, then I recommend you do your research before November.
For those who reach 50,000 words, I suggest that you put off sending it to beta-readers and an editor. It’s the first draft, and it will have to be reworked before you can share it. 50,000 words are about half of the length of a full-length novel targeted at adults, and you’ll still be writing your manuscript at the end of the month. I know that you’re eager to receive feedback on your work, but wait until you’ve improved it to the best of your abilities before sending it out. The first draft is just a draft. Editing takes twice as long as writing. It’s important to put yourself in the mindset of the readers when you’re editing, take into account how they see the book.
Above all, the first thing you need for NaNoWriMo is a passion for writing because during the month you'll, doubt yourself and your abilities. If you’re posting your manuscript online or just sharing it with your friends, you run the risk of rejection and negative feedback. There are many more that become discouraged when they realise just how much work goes into writing a finished book. There are countless times where I’ve been at tradeshows and fairs for up to six hours, and I didn’t sell one book. Keep in mind, not many readers are willing to pay full price for a book. It’s important to stay grounded and to keep your expectations realistic and to be cognizant of the effort required to produce a finished book. It helped me to join two professional writers associations and to discuss my challenges with them. It’s also good to surround yourself with people you know and trust.
I wish you a fantastic November full of adventures.
I fell in love with books when I was a child. At first, I wrote stories about the tv shows I watched, and I started to create my own characters in 2013. This is how I discovered what I want to do with my life. I wrote two short stories Alyson and un voyage interrompu, and one poem Les différences that have been published in an anthology in French called Plumes en liberté in 2017. Four other stories will be released in Au-delà des mots in 2019. Most of my stories are about relationships, and I often add a cute cowboy. I’m also a member of the Ottawa Romance Writers Association and of les auteurs et auteures de l’Outaouais.
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