Yesterday was the start of one of my favorite-and-least-favorite months of the year. It’s now November, which means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, as you may have heard it called) has officially begun. For anyone not familiar with this challenge, writers around the world will be spending the next 30 days attempting to write 50,000 words, roughly the length of a novel. As someone who has won NaNoWriMo a few times before, I wanted to share a few of my tips and tricks.
1. Make your NaNo experience yours.
It can be hard to motivate yourself to write if you aren’t going into it with a clear goal about what you want to get out of the challenge. NaNoWriMo is a set challenge – 50,000 words in 30 days – but it’s also an entirely flexible framework. You can take advantage of all the excitement of the month and the tremendous support NaNo writers get, even if you aren’t attacking the challenge directly. Maybe it would be more meaningful to you to try something different. Let me give you some examples – my own experience.
The first time I did NaNoWriMo, it was just because it seemed like a really exciting challenge to me. I wrote a book in 30 days and managed it quite well; at the end, I did have a complete book. However, when I decided to attack this process for the second time, four years later, I realized that I didn’t need to write a first draft of a novel in a month. What I did instead was devote myself to a more challenging month – 65,000 words split up over working on and wrapping up three or four projects I’d been working on for years. I got a lot out of both of these experiences, even though I didn’t technically achieve what the goal of the program was.
Last year, my third NaNo win, I decided that my writing pace had gotten to the point where 50,000 words wasn’t going to be enough to constitute a real challenge. I’m a pretty disciplined person, so I stuck myself with 75,000 words towards a new project. This was a welcome break from my primary novel project, which I’ve been slaving over for years, but looking back, I only have about half a book out of that project. Even though I hit my word limit – 75,000 words – I don’t have a complete project yet, and the story has sat untouched in my Dropbox for a year now.
This year, therefore, I’m prepping myself for a writing challenge that will really address my goals at this precise moment. Instead of NaNoWriMo, I’m tackling “NaNoEdMo,” aka the month I edit 10-11 pages of my novel per day. I don’t need to generate new material; I need to work more diligently with the material I already have.
The point is this: NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a fun and challenging exercise that helps you grow as a writer. Whatever that may mean to you is an entirely personal process; don’t feel like you have to do the same thing as everybody else.
2. Get some support.
The NaNoWriMo website (http://nanowrimo.org/) has lots of opportunities built into it that can help you find some people in your area also attempting NaNo this year, or you can just designate a friend who will help motivate you throughout. Having some sort of group message that you can just rant your NaNo problems to can be extremely relieving, and you get to celebrate together when you’re done.
It’s also really important to make it clear to your family and friends the challenge you’ve set yourself up for. I’ve been preparing for NaNoWriMo for about two weeks now by working through some writing exercises every day and by telling everybody around me that I’m doing NaNoWriMo. Your family will thank you when they have an explanation for your stress over Thanksgiving, too!
3. Forget "inspiration" - just write.
Every writer can cite a time when writing has seemed like the hardest thing in the world. Dispel the myth right now that a writing burst or mood will just “come to you,” because maybe inspiration can work like that sometimes, but you don’t have to wait on a magical sparkle of divine energy in NaNoWriMo. My advice in this situation (and in general) is just to sit down, take a deep breath, set yourself up with music or snacks or whatever you need, and write. Write until your fingers bleed and you can’t look at the words on the page anymore (or you hit your wordcount, whatever comes first).
And have a backup if you really get stuck. Last year, my 75,000 word story for NaNoWriMo was about pirates. I cannot tell you how many times I got slightly stuck and sent my main character walking across the deck talking to various other characters until I found a place to go with the story. Have one of these types of “when-in-doubt” cards you can play. If even that doesn’t work, you can always just break the fourth wall and start writing about how awful this whole writing thing is; you’ll probably hit your word count eventually.
4. But what if I really need inspiration?
Check out these resources, which may help to get your brain up and going in that writing mood again or can guide your interests and stories!
http://fantasy-faction.com/ (for fantasy)
http://www.springhole.net/index.html (articles about writing, also a whole bunch of random generators for names, objects, settings, everything you can think of)
http://www.charlottedillon.com/characters.html (character development documents)
http://alyssahollingsworth.com/2015/08/06/100-questions-for-character-couples/ (if you’re trying to develop a realistic romance)
http://100-prompts.livejournal.com/692.html (a whole bunch of prompts)
And, if you want your writing inspiration in small doses:
Good luck, NaNoWriMo community! Happy writing!
Written by Erika S.
Need a way to unwind? Looking for a new way to procrastinate? Have no fear--The List App is here! Created by B.J. Novak and Dev Flaherty in 2015, “The List App” is a quirky new social media platform that I have been spending way too much time on lately.
Made up of a ridiculously vibrant and positive community, the List App is a place to share your experiences, opinions and expertise about anything and everything. The best part? It has to be in bullet form.
Leading voices in TV, film, music, sports, comedy and fashion have already hopped on the bandwagon, sharing lists about a whole plethora of topics like “Memorable Bad Dates,” “Von Trapp Children, Ranked by Sass” and “Pictures of Barack Obama Eating Hot Dogs.”
The app’s FAQ page states, “Human beings are innately inclined towards structuring information; it’s one of our primary means of understanding. Lists are simple, powerful; the gold standard of sorting and sharing information for thousands of years.”
The structure of the app resembles other social media apps we already know and love—a news feed tab, a search function, a notifications tab and your own profile. Lists can be about anything, but the app offers a few suggestions to get you started, including “Go-to karaoke songs,” “Things that will improve the world, according to me,” “Misconceptions I had as a child,” and “Three happy moments from today.” Lists can be liked, re-listed, and commented on. You can even suggest additions to other lists, which the creator can approve and give you credit for (low key fangirled when BJ Novak added my idea to his list!).
Included below are some of my favorite lists!
If Parks and Rec Characters Wrote Autobiographies
Days of the Week, Ranked, According to “Friday I’m in Love”
Grey; break my heart; heart attack; stay in bed (Note: Wednesday is identical to Tuesday but worse because it is the second straight day)
Grey; break my heart; heart attack; stay in bed
I don’t care about you; doesn’t even start; never looking back; watch the walls instead
Blue; you can fall apart; black; you can hold your head
Always comes too late
I’m in love
By @elliemix (yours truly)
7 Tips I Use to Spark my Creativity
2. Follow my interests.
Instead of focusing on what I “ought” to be doing, I allow myself to wander—by buying an odd book, poking around the internet, or exploring an unusual place.
3. Buy supplies.
I encourage myself to make an occasional creativity-supporting purchase.
4. Draw an idea-map.
This is a process of writing down ideas in a way that helps you see new relationships and possibilities.
5. Enjoy the fun of failure.
Telling myself I can enjoy the “the fun of failure” has made me (somewhat) more light-hearted about taking risks.
6. Read random magazines.
7. Indulge in my magpie impulses.
When I have the urge to collect materials, articles or information, I now indulge it. Although I generally fight against any stuff that could become clutter, I find find that these collected materials help spur my creativity.
Have a great week! Happy listing!
Written by Ellie Mix (Class of '20)
Since the beginning of time, creative writers have been divided into two camps: Plotters and Pantsers. Plotters carefully plan their pieces and stick to outlines. Pantsers write on the fly, “by the seat of their pants” so-to-speak, letting the story flow naturally. Neither group quite understands the other.
My fellow Plotters believe that writing means research-- lots of research. It means meticulous plotting sessions, careful outlines, decisions on where the story is going before even sitting down to write. Plotting is a useful way to creatively explore a world or a scene before even beginning to write.
And yet, sometimes I enviously glance over to the other side. There, the Pantsers live, crafting stories on a whim. They discover the plot as it comes to them, making decisions in the moment. Pantser-land seems like a magical place, but I know it comes with its own struggles.
George R.R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, identifies these two groups using different terms. He characterizes Plotters as architects and Pantsers as gardeners, saying:
“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they're going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there's going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don't know how many branches it's going to have, they find out as it grows.”
Initially, it does seem like this is a divide that can’t be breached. But it really just comes down to how you best create. There’s no right or wrong way to write; there’s only what works for you. After all, we all have the same goal: staving off writer’s block as long as possible. Be you Plotter or Pantser, architect or gardener, I wish you well in your quest.
Written by Megan G. ('19)
I share my body with an angel / of light who sunbursts / on my horizons at dusk
- Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton