NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month as it is otherwise known, is an event where hundreds of thousands of people across the globe embark on the journey of writing 50,000 words of a novel. It's tough work, but it can be very rewarding!
I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, too much real life stuff on my plate right now, but I thought I would join you in spirit by dedicating a Hunting The Muse post to those participants who might be stuck wondering what to write next.
I can tell you from personal experience, from my efforts in previous years, that one of the hardest things for NaNoWriMo participants is the running tally of words as days go by. One slip up, one momentary lapse in dedication, or one real-life emergency can turn the world on end. Before you know it, you're thousands of words behind schedule and the stress starts piling up.
What can you do when you find yourself in that kind of situation?
First things first. Take a breath. Worrying about word count will never do as much good as we might expect. Conversely. you can't just throw dedication to the wind. You've got to stick to it, but you also have to allow yourself the freedom to get back into the flow. That might mean you've got to sit and stare at the screen for a while. It most certainly means you shouldn't be messing around on Facebook or Twitter while waiting for inspiration.
Here are some tips to help you bait the muse so you can get back to it and work more effectively toward accomplishing your goals.
1. Prepare your work environment.
Having a messy work environment can restrict the free flow of ideas. Your work space doesn't need to be spotless, but there shouldn't be excessive materials, papers, or objects that might interfere with your focus.
2. Establish a routine.
Much like meditation, approaching writing by performing a series of simple tasks can help alert your mind and body that a routine creative endeavor is about to take place. These tasks will be very specific to you and your needs. You might take out your writing notebook, open a special document, or OneNote notebook with ideas or pictures, whatever. Establishing a routine is about performing whatever warm-up activities you need in order to build a pattern in your mind: this is WRITING time.
3. Find visual inspiration.
What inspires you visually? Thematic wall art such as posters, photographs, or paintings (to include reprints), can help some writers visualize the world they're writing in. You might also have a sketch of a scene or your characters. This visual queue should help bring you back into the writing task and should not serve as a distraction.
4. Find audio inspiration.
Some authors enjoy writing to a soundtrack or playlist while they pound keys. If this isn't you, helpful meditative sounds might do the trick. Do you enjoy listening to the sound of rain and thunderstorms? If so, there are countless YouTube videos which can be played in the background for free. How about the sound of sitting on a beach or listening to the mellow sounds of a pan flute? Those are also freely available, you need only determine what works best for you.
Does that just sound like a bunch of noise to you? Try a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones to help enjoy silence while you write.
5. Avoid distractions.
This one is obvious. As writers who love to write, we often find ourselves fostering counter-productive habits and behaviors. Trust me, you won't find inspiration by browsing Facebook. Hopping on Twitter to see what other writers have for word count won't help either. Pinterest, as fun as eye-candy pins can be, probably won't put more words on the page either. Remember, you want to be a writer.
You can do this. Don't let silly detours eat up your writing time! There are tools and utilities you can use to help limit your virtual work space if you find yourself lacking self control.
Some tools highlighted in this LifeHacker article might help:
(None of these links are affiliate links, to my knowledge.)
- FocusWriter (Windows, Mac, Linux) [FREE]
- WriteMonkey (Windows) [FREE]
- OmmWriter (Mac) [Basic: FREE; Premium: Donationware]
- Q10 (Windows) [FREE]
- WriteRoom (Mac) [Mac: $24.99; iOS: $4.99 ]
And, of course, you can't forget about Scrivener (Official sponsor of NaNoWriMo!)
I personally love Scrivener and it includes a beautiful full screen mode. It also has a handy name generator, word count tally (and even session-based word count), and allows you to store your notes and inspirations alongside your writing with easy compilation features to generate formats for specific markets. It's awesome, even if there is a bit of a learning curve for some of the more advanced features (which you don't need to use at all for the software to prove worthwhile).
Literature and Latte, the makers of Scrivener, provide a lengthy tutorial and helpful videos to dive into once you've hit that word count. If you're looking for some more advanced training, third party Scrivener users have put together some amazing paid Scrivener training resources.
It isn't necessary, but it might prove helpful if you really want to sit down and learn all the ins and outs and special tricks once NaNoWriMo is complete. (This is an affiliate link, though most users will find the program's basic functionality far exceeds many other products on the market and the additional paid training by third-party users isn't required.)