Surviving Burnout! A Must-Read for the Holiday Season

As November winds down and brings NaNoWriMo to a close, it’s time to discuss an important subject that many writers face but don’t like to talk about: writer burnout. All of us have or will come across this dreaded feeling; it’s akin to a sailor being stranded in the doldrums. One minute you’re flying along on the giddy wings of inspiration, and your fingers can’t keep pace with your ideas. The next, you stumble and stare at a blank page. What was effortless a second ago is now a drudge. The words are there, but they jumble inside your mind and they won’t come out. Is it writer’s block or are you tired? This happens to us all. It’s unexpected, it’s not preventable, it’s frustrating and there is no way of knowing how long it’s going to last. The only cure is patience. Writer burnout can strike anyone at any time. So what can you do when it happens to you?

We’ve talked a lot about how to use strategies to overcome writer’s block, but burnout is different. The definition of burnout is: “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” It’s important to identify the events or times in your life in which you may be suffering high amounts of stress that could contribute to sudden and unexpected burnout. NaNoWriMo is a big culprit. The holidays are another. Tests, exam dates, family visiting, changes to a schedule … these are all valid reasons that one might suffer burnout, especially at this time of year.

But writing is how I combat stress in my life, you might say. I agree, as writers do. It can be a cathartic outlet and is a form of stress relief. So why then would one be burned out from doing the thing they love? It is when there is a schedule involved, such as writing for a deadline, editing a project, contributing to a literary journal, composing an academic paper, contributing to a competition or hosting a blog which one might find pressure building. This brings a different sort of expectation to the writing than one would have in writing for pleasure. Typically, writers take pride in their skill and they are so at ease in their craft that they are writing far more than they realize. They may craft a paper for school and discount that as “writing” because it was so easy for them. They may put out a quick blog post but not consider that “real writing.” Then when they come home to work on their novel, they don’t realize that they have been using their talents all day. It may not seem like much, and it may be enjoyable, but it is still writing and requires work. When we are under stress from different areas of our life, the words dry up and we are left wondering if they will ever return.

A big contributor to burnout is the holiday season. Whether you love it or hate it, it is tough on the life of a writer. Most cultures celebrate holidays of some kind, and no matter what time of year they fall, they tend to involve a disruption of schedule. Writers need time to practice their craft, and they require uninterrupted concentration. This is in short supply when relatives are visiting and the flow of the day is different due to celebration. Increased responsibility and attendance at festivities means that writing needs to take a backseat to whatever event—or events—are occurring. These events could be a day or even span the course of several weeks. Some families are accepting and accommodating of writers’ needs during this time, and others are less so. This can lead to frustration and guilt for the writer. This slurry of disrupted scheduling and emotional havoc is a major contributor to burnout.
What can be done? Be patient and forgiving of yourself, especially during a time of year when you expect to have increased responsibilities that will take away from your writing time. Plan when you can write and set aside those moments so that you can be assured to have time for yourself in the chaos of the holiday season, but know, too, that you might not be able to keep to your regular output. Understanding that beforehand will alleviate anxiety. Many people who participated in NaNoWriMo choose to take off the month of December. A pause is something to consider, and know that you may come back in January invigorated and refreshed.

Understanding that burnout doesn’t just happen to some—it happens to all—is a helpful point to remember. This is something that is stress-induced and can be managed, but in the end every writer has been in this position, and you are not alone. From Shakespeare to Virgina Woolf, if you wield a pen, at some point you will feel betrayed by your inspiration. It’s the badge that marks you as an author, and something only time and patience can cure. But by keeping in mind that you are in good company and you, too, will survive, hopefully your holidays will be a little less stressful to begin with.

You’re Not Alone: NaNoWriMo Support

Embarking on NaNoWriMo is daunting from the jump, but fear not! There are plenty of resources for everyone from first timers to seasoned vets, and there are more popping up each year. No matter how far along you are or what’s holding you up, there’s a solution out there to get you to the finish line.

NaNoWriMo.org

This is home base for NaNo warriors, chock full of resources that you may already be aware of, but there’s so much here that some of the essentials can get lost in the shuffle. Here are some direct links:

Pep Talks – Pep talks written by well-known authors delivered right to your inbox.
Regions – Meet other like-minded participants in your area to help each other through.
Word-Count Helpers – Track your progress and share milestones.
Forums – Everything from motivators to a place to unwind, be sure not to spend more time chatting than writing!

Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo is the very definition of community for NaNo participants, featuring counselors and coaches, forums, and badges to celebrate your milestones. Use your nanowrimo.org account to sign in!

@NaNoWordSprints

For something a little different, pop over to Twitter and join a scheduled word sprint run by NaNo volunteers.

The LetterWorks

While you’re here, we’ve written a handful of NaNo help guides on a variety of subjects:

November Events
Making The Most of NaNoWriMo
30 Days in the Trenches: Staying Motivated During NaNoWriMo
Writing Past the Wall
Let it Rest.

WikiWriMo

Have a question about anything NaNo related? Chances are you’ll find your answer here.

 

With these resources at your disposal, you can win NaNoWriMo!

Memoir vs. Autobiography: Does It Really Matter?

Happy November! For most of America, the transition from October to November heralds the end of trick-or-treating and pumpkins and the anticipation of Thanksgiving and the bigger winter holidays, whatever your family celebrates. For writers, however, November first means only one thing: the start of NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month! Our staff has covered this venerable tradition in the past, and we’ve got advice for you if you’re participating this year for everything on staying motivated  to the importance in staying connected with like-minded individuals to reviewing your work after the big rush . Here are some links to get you started:

This post is for the portion of our friends out there who swim in the autobiographical end of the writer’s pool or for those who are thinking about testing those waters this November. We are seeing more and more of a trend towards autobiographical submissions. This is becoming a very popular category of the nonfiction section, and why not? It’s easy to see why people might want to draw from their own personal histories to create an epic novel; there’s an endless source of inspiration to draw from. Anyone can do it, from celebrities to political figures to a person with a story to tell. But hold on a second: does anyone remember that moment in time back in 2006 when A Million Little Pieces was first hailed as a masterpiece then ultimately crucified as a work of fraud? Written by James Frey, the book was billed as a memoir, but on January 8, 2006, The Smoking Gun published an article exposing large portions of the book as fictionalized or gross exaggerations. Mr. Frey was interviewed by Larry King to defend his book three days later, but the real media storm happened on January 26 when Mr. Frey made an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He was confronted by her and admitted to fabricating many sections of his memoir, which he had previously stated had been fact-checked by his publisher. This ultimately caused an ensuing controversy in which Mr. Frey’s literary manager dropped him and his publisher broke a two-book, seven figure deal. A legal settlement for readers who felt defrauded was also reached, and people were entitled to a refund of their book. That’s a massive consequence for someone who embellished the truth a bit. So where’s the line? Should writers be expected to remember every conversation they’ve ever had when they are recording memories to the page? Is any creative license allowed, or are we in danger of being sued by some disgruntled cousin who doesn’t remember the family reunion going down the way we do? How can we sort through what is fact and what is reasonable fiction? Luckily, there’s an answer to these questions and more.
Everything on this list falls under the umbrella of non-fiction. If I think of writing as dessert, then autobiography is cake. Memoir, narrative nonfiction, personal essays and roman à clef are all just slices of the same cake. Let’s break it down:

Autobiography: An autobiography can be distinguished from the others on the list as the most factual of the bunch. It is told in a linear fashion and should relay all the major life events of the subject in a chronological order. It concerns itself with the entire scope of a person’s life and all of the events, people, places and subjects that relate to a person’s existence as they move forward through their life, not just a few key years, events, feelings or observations of the narrator.

Memoir: This form gives someone more creative license. It can cover a few short years or a major event. Examples might include how someone survived their time in a concentration camp or how they overcame an addiction. It doesn’t have to be harrowing, but it may just focus on one developmental stage and is more likely to reflect strong feelings. It is generally less factual and more emotional. It is far less encompassing in scope than an autobiography. It is generally less formal and may have a more literary feel.

Narrative non-fiction: Narrative or creative non-fiction is a somewhat new and emerging genre. It draws on real-life scenarios, usually something journalistic, but incorporates elements of fiction to become a readable novel. According to literary critic Barbara Lounsberry, there are four recognizable elements to narrative nonfiction: the topics and events must exist in the real world (not in the mind of the author), there must be exhaustive research, all scenes must be in context, and it should all be presented in a literary style. Some examples of narrative nonfiction are The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee and Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Personal essay: This is exactly what it sounds like: an essay that is personal to you. It is generally just a short memoir. A great example of a classic personal essayist is David Sedaris.

Roman à clef: Roman à clef is from the French, meaning “novel with a key.” It began as a way for people to write an expose of famous social and political figures without the risk of reprieve. It is truth with an overlay of fiction. Names or identifying situations can be changed to avoid persecution, but the general public could still understand and enjoy the jab. This could be done for protection of the author or for satirical purposes. The Marquis de Sade often employed the roman à clef to skewer prominent religious and political figures of his day. Today, the roman à clef is still in use for various reasons, including satire, but it can also be used when you’d like to write a memoir but perhaps you would like a bit more creative license than your own story affords you. This is where certain authors—cough, Mr. Frey, cough—could simply have stated his work was inspired by real events. That little disclaimer would have saved him seven figures plus and a whole lot of embarrassment.

These are all just guidelines. Most of them bleed into each other. The important thing to remember is if you have a story to tell that you don’t fret which category you bill it as, but that you get it all down on paper, especially this November! A good editor can help you decide how your memories and your story fit together and what you’d like to call it. Happy writing!

November Events

While I’m sure everyone is excited for Halloween next week, it’s never too early to start planning for all the cool writing events you’ll be attending this November! As it is officially NaNoWriMo, there will be a lot of events this month that revolve around it! Hopefully you can find the perfect event to help you reach your goal! As usual, all of these events are free to attend! Happy writing everyone!

2nd – Tom VanHaaren- “The Road to Ann Arbor” – Ann Arbor

Tom VanHaaren will be at the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor to discuss and sign copies of his book; “The Road to Ann Arbor”! While there isn’t a lot of information on this event, it’s sure to be great! More Info through the link!

https://www.triumphbooks.com/tom-vanhaaren—the-road-to-ann-arbor–event-3443.php

3rd –  ‘5th Annual ‘A Gathering of Writers’ Fall Writing Conference’ – Ionia

This conference is jam packed with a variety of workshops and authors, all willing to teach you new skills! There are 5 workshops overall, each offering different tips and tricks about all aspects of writing! Click the link to see descriptions of the workshops, get more information and register!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/5th-annual-a-gathering-of-writers-fall-writing-conference-tickets-50442754637?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

8th – Lecture: Dr. David Dark – Holland

This lecture will certainty be interesting as Dr. David Dark will be discussing the points of post-apocalyptic novels, and how they challenge our morals. He will also be discussing Emily St. John Mandel’s ‘Station Eleven’ novel in a similar fashion! Click here to register and read more!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lecture-dr-david-dark-author-of-lifes-too-short-to-pretend-tickets-50455115609?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

9th – 10th – NaNoWriMo Write or DIE Library Lock-in – Traverse City

Contrary to the title, you will not die! This is an 18+ event held at the Traverse City Library, and participants will spend the night locked in the library to try to meet their NaNoWriMo goals! An interesting event indeed! Don’t forget to register and check out more information through the link!

NaNoWriMo Write or DIE Library Lock-In

10th – Motown Writers Monthly Meetup – Detroit

This group has been meeting since 2000, and is filled with all sorts of writers! A great opportunity to network with other writers and share opinions! Click the link for more information, and to see there other meetups!

Motown Writers Meetup Group

Detroit, MI
2,934 Writers

Hi everyone. This is a group for everyone in the Detroit Area (and Michigan area) who like to write. Whether it’s a novel, short story, poem, autobiography, or any other gener…

Next Meetup

#MotownWriters Monthly @Meetup

Saturday, Nov 10, 2018, 10:00 AM
4 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →

15th – NaNoWriMo Write in – Lansing

This is just one of many of the NaNoWriMo Write ins that are available in Lansing, the link contains the full list,  and other NaNoWriMo events that they will be hosting!

https://nanowrimo.org/regions/usa-michigan-lansing

18th – Detroit Public Library Welcomes Author David Baldacci – Detroit

Usually I try not to have any of the events in the same locations, but this event was too good to pass up! Possibly a once in a lifetime experience, David Baldacci will be at the Detroit Public Library to sign copies of his new book, ‘Long Road to Mercy’! Here’s the link to register!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/detroit-public-library-welcomes-author-david-baldacci-tickets-51486421272?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

26th – Barbara Oakley: Learning How to Learn – Port Huron

While this event isn’t directly linked to writing, Barbara Oakley will address how to handle procrastination, learning new material, and bad memory, all of which can cause you to put off writing! Registration and full description of the topics through the link!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/an-evening-with-author-barbara-oakley-learning-how-to-learn-tickets-51106888078?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

30th –  You Wrote a Novel… Now What? – Ann Arbor

This is a NaNoWriMo wrap up event that will have Brigit Young as a guest speaker! A great way to learn about publishing and celebrate your NaNoWriMo accomplishments! Click the link for more information and other NaNoWriMo events!

https://nanowrimo.org/regions/usa-michigan-ann-arbor

 

I hope you all enjoy these events! Don’t forget to let us know if you go to these events, or others not mentioned, by commenting on this article! We can’t wait to hear from you! Happy November everybody!

30 Days in the Trenches: Staying Motivated During NaNoWriMo by Josh Smith

Now that we’re a few days into NaNoWriMo, you may be starting to question whether or not you can actually pull this off. You may not have even started yet if you plan on word-sprinting through the weekends, but that fear might already linger. Make no mistake, this is a massive undertaking, but it is far from impossible. The first step is preparation. At this point, you should have a game plan, but if you still need some pointers, Melissa has you covered right here: Making the Most of NaNoWriMo.

Once you have yourself sequestered in your sacred writer’s cave with a head full of characters and a clear direction you’ll lead them in, nothing can stop you, right? Well … you’re going to experience some fatigue. It may not be today, tomorrow, or even next week, but your brain is going through the wringer this month and you need to stay limber if you’re going to reach the finish line. Here are some insights from previous NaNo participants to keep the words flowing!

Set Goals, stay on schedule
The 50,000 word finish line can easily be broken down into manageable chunks, such as 2,000 per day or 12,500 per weekend. These regular goals can be tailored to your schedule, and when you keep track of your word counts at https://nanowrimo.org, you will earn badges that act not only as trail markers but confidence boosters as well! There will likely be times that you fall behind, but as long as you don’t stray too far from your target, you’ll be able to catch up without exhausting yourself.

Remember why you’re participating
Those word count gaps can strike terror into the heart of even the most seasoned NaNo vet, so when that fear creeps into your periphery, when your text isn’t living up to your expectations, or if you’re just flat out tired and unable to focus, remember why you signed on in the first place. Whether you feel like this is an important step in growing as a writer, or you’ve always wanted to complete a novel, or maybe you just want to prove to yourself that you can do it. As long as you honestly care about your motivation, it will be an effective fuel!

Don’t let you physical or mental health slip
There’s a good chance you’ll notice a boost in your caffeine intake and a decrease in your physical activity and non-workplace human interactions. The quality of your meals might deteriorate as you hijack every possible minute to reach your goals. These situations may be unavoidable for most, but try to strike a balance. Your health is very important to both creativity and productivity, so it’s worth sacrificing a little time to go outside and enjoy the brisk autumn air, play a game with friends or family, or get a little exercise. Sometimes these short breaks can even clear your mind of clutter and help you work through troublesome patches in the novel. However, hunkering down over the leftover Halloween candy and seeing how much sugar you can pack into your body in one sitting is not an ideal break. You’re going to need snacks, and while a little candy here and there can be a nice treat, you should stock up on trail mix, fruits, or even energy bars. I’m not saying you need to go to Whole Foods and go wild on chia seeds and dried kale (unless that’s what you like), but be mindful of your snacking and try to take it easy on the caffeine. If you need a break from coffee, try brewed cocoa or new flavors of tea and always have water nearby!

Remember: 50,000 raw words
Don’t stop to edit yourself or second guess a decision. If you start questioning what’s hitting the page, make a note and write through it. There will be plenty of time to edit later. When your writing begins to feel sluggish, go wild! Use these moments as opportunities to explore situations you wouldn’t typically consider. Use your instincts and let the characters guide you. If you need to catapult someone into the sun or reveal that someone’s been an agent of the antagonist the whole time to get the pace of the story back on track, so be it. You have plenty of time to edit once NaNo ends, so don’t let any second-guessing throw you off track. You are a warrior, this is your battle, so get in there and slay that word count!

Special thanks to NaNo vets Nancy Moran, Judy Hopkins, and our own Melissa Heiselt for all the excellent info that went into this post. Be sure to check out next week’s NaNo blog as Melissa squares off with THE WALL!

National “Not Writing a Novel” Month by Catherine Foster

National Novel Writing Month—or NaNoWriMo—kicks off on November first. The now-traditional exercise involves writing 50,000 words in thirty days. NaNoWriMo began in San Franscisco in July with a group of twenty-one people, and the movement has snowballed since then. Nearly half a million would-be novelists participated officially in 2013, and impressive statistics can be quoted involving municipal liaisons, keynote speakers on the topic, libraries that host write-ins and so on and so forth. NaNoWriMo has become such a part of writing culture that it it sometimes feels impossible not to participate. If you are a writer, you may experience a lot of pressure to join in the writing fun and frenzy.

But before you grab a stack of snacks to fortify you and hunker down to write for the next thirty days straight, perhaps you should take a step back from the crowd and consider if you want to take part. There are a lot of blogs that promote the benefits of NaNoWriMo, and I’m not here to knock any of those points, but there are a margin of writers that may not benefit from the style of gonzo writing. This is a list for you to think about this November while you decide if NaNoWriMo is for you:

 

Quality vs. Quantity: Quantity is important for novelists. Or is it? The benchmark for NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words, but what does that really mean in publishing terms? The following table represents the guidelines set by the Science Fiction Writers of America when they consider nominees for the Nebula awards:

  • Short fiction: under 7,500 words
  • Novelette: 7,500-17,500 words
  • Novella: 17,500-40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 words and up

However, Lori Perkins, of the L. Perkins Agency in New York, claims that the charts for what they see at their agency and are likely to publish look more like the following:

  • Short fiction: 1,500 to 30,000 words
  • Novella: 30,000-50,000 words
  • Novel from a first-time writer: 80,000-100,000 words
  • Novel from an established writer: 55,000-300,000 words

There are more charts out there, and while they all concur that novels are longer than short stories and novellas, no one can seem to agree on what constitutes a proper word count for a decent novel. The range is anywhere from 20,001 words to … well, infinity. Take the winner of 2011’s Man Booker prize, for instance. The Sense of an Ending            by Julian Barnes contained no more than 43,869 words, including page numbers, titles and other incidentals. If this “short novel” can be considered, indeed, enough of a novel to win one of the most illustrious prizes in literature, than we must understand that quantity is very much in question when we try to define what makes a novel.

This brings us to the topic of quality. If we need not settle for 50,000 words—or even quite 43,870—to establish a novel, then there is time enough to devote to quality. The quality of the writing is something that usually suffers when people are trying to compose so many words in a day or in a week. This is understandable if the point isn’t quality. The aim of NaNoWriMo is to get one inspired and to get most of the novel completed. It is to spark a fire and to get excited. What if, however, you were motivated to write during the other eleven months of the year? If you want to be a successful writer, daily writing habits are more important to cultivate than a rush of stimulation all at once. One hundred good words every single day of the year is far superior to fifty thousand words that are mostly gibberish and will sit, untouched, in a junk folder somewhere until next year when you will do it all over again. One hundred words a day? What good is that? you might scoff.  It’s great! The commitment to write and the time you set aside to do just that is sacrosanct, even if it is only fifteen minutes a day. If you can only commit a small bit at first, that’s all right. The point is that you do it. Those words will build and you will have something. A wild fever dream of words in November is entertaining, but the product of that fun will not amount to much.

Novels vs. Short Stories and Poems November can be a lot of amusement for people who love to get in the spirit of community writing. NaNoWriMo brings together a group of people who are, by trade, largely alone in their craft. Many writers don’t seek out solitude because they dislike others, but it happens that they fall into it naturally. The wonder of NaNoWriMo is that it breaks down these barriers and allows writers to join together. People who are normally alone can be part of a community and work towards a goal together.

What if you are one of the minority within a minority group, however? What if you are one of the few who isn’t storyboarding? What if you don’t live to plot out your characters’ story arcs or work out what’s going to happen at the end of your trilogy? When your writing group falls silent with the collective hush of NaNoWriMo fever, what can you do?

There are a lot of short story writers and poets out there, and for you, NaNoWriMo may feel like the longest month of the year. It can feel as if you aren’t “real” authors because you aren’t participating in a novel writing challenge. Don’t fret; during November, keep to your own writing schedule and don’t let talk of writing marathons derail your own progress. If you are a poet, remember that April is your time to shine with APAD– A Poem A Day! If you are a short story writer or writer of a shorter form of fiction, you can also participate in your own adapted challenge amongst your novelist brethren by writing a micro-fiction a day or by keeping up with the same word count on multiple stories. You can also stay out of the challenge entirely and know that writing isn’t about how much or how fast you go; it’s about listening to you own voice and dictating your own pace. Keep in mind that the Nobel prize in Literature was won in 2013 by a short story writer, and some of the most incredible and humbling works we have to read were composed by poets. These were most certainly not written in haste; these were well crafted after much thought. There is a place for NaNoWriMo, but if it isn’t for you, that’s okay, too. It just may mean that they will be reading your works three hundred years in the future! Stay strong and get through this November with your passion to write intact. The important thing to remember is not what you wrote on November thirthieth but what you write on December first.

Stop Aspiring to be an Author by Amanda Wayne

Are you an aspiring author? It’s time to stop aspiring and start writing! We live in a busy world. There are only so many hours in the day, and life demands we fill those hours with such tedium as food, sleep, and social interaction. All of those obligations can really take a toll on the aspirations of an author. There are a lucky few people who have the resources to simply sit at a laptop for hours a day and just write with no distractions, no obligations, and no excuses. For the rest of us, there is laundry to fold, hours to work, children to raise, and any number of other things that demand our immediate attention. Fitting a thousand words a day into that can be quite difficult. As with any dream or resolution, achieving success is a matter of planning and execution.

In order to successfully write, you must have the discipline to schedule your keyboard time in around the rest of life. Then, of course, you have to follow through with that schedule. Having carved out those minutes or hours, you must protect them and treat them as a precious, necessary item. Perhaps you write best in the morning. Set your alarm for an hour earlier, pour yourself a large cup of coffee and write. If you thrive in the late hours of the night, put your house to rest and settle in for a few hours of uninterrupted writing time. If neither of those are an option, perhaps you could write during a morning carpool, on the bus, or on a lunch break. You could schedule a block of time every Saturday morning, Thursday during soccer practice, or Sunday after The Walking Dead. It bears repeating that you must protect that time. Don’t short yourself the time you need to be successful. If this is important to you, you must make it happen.

A support system is crucial for writing. There is a reason so many first novels are dedicated to children and spouses. Let your family know that you need their support and their tough love. It can be a powerful motivator to have a spouse who is willing to tell you that you should be writing instead of surfing social media for cute cats or funny videos. Have your children ask how many pages you wrote today and give them a truthful answer. Their excitement or disappointment can be critical. Let your friends into your literary world. Involve them as Alpha readers or bounce story ideas off of them. Not only will their advice be helpful, but it can also give you something new to discuss over coffee or wine.    A plot twist or character arc can really add some life into otherwise dull and rote conversations. Perhaps pick a friend’s brain about how they would handle the issues that your characters face. Inspiration can be found in the most unlikely places.

When writer’s block strikes and you simply cannot get yourself to express even a single sentence, it is time for something new. Change which story you are working on. Find a quick prompt to get the words flowing. Take your laptop to a coffee shop and journal about the patrons there. Try jotting phrases free hand instead of on your computer. Compose a poem about falling leaves or the scent of coffee. Construct a dating site profile for your main character. Blog about what you ate for dinner last night. The important part isn’t the words, it is the communication of ideas into something concrete. The act of writing gets your brain into the mindset of writing. Even if you keep nothing from these efforts, you still put pen to paper, and that is a far better use of your time than “liking” pictures of your best friend’s cat.

In the end, it is unlikely that anyone in the world cares about your dreams more than you do. If you can’t find the time or discipline to write, you will never be a writer. Your stories will suffocate in the dark of your mind. They will stay locked inside of that place in you where fictional characters live before they are born of ink and word.  Free them from the confines of “could have been”.  Make time to write. Make yourself accountable.  Be a writer. Not an aspiring writer.

 

Making the Most of NaNoWriMo by Melissa Heiselt

Nothing gets a fire burning under you like a tight deadline. Ah, that alarming shock to your system that says you’ve got to move now or you will suffer humiliation at the hands of your friends, family, or coworkers! Which brings us to National Novel Writing Month, A.k.a. NaNoWriMo, where hundreds of writers dash in, determined to finish that novel! Or start that novel! Or crank out any novel! All in just those scant thirty days of November. Sound crazy? Well, yeah, it pretty much is, but it’s also a really fun way to make some serious headway on that one project that you love/fear the most, if you approach it the right way. Here are five steps to use this October to prepare for the greatest writer’s holiday ever this November:

        Get Your Head in the Game

Many authors decide to join the NaNoWriMo hype on a whim. I should do something amazing this month! I’m totally going to write a novel! There is nothing wrong with that if it’s just for kicks and you see no serious goals of publication in the future for your work, but it’s very hard to cross that finish line without a concrete goal. Get clear about your purpose here. Why are you doing it? Is this an intense writing exercise to get you over the mental hang-up of writing something as massive as a full novel? Is this to get your ideas fleshed out fully? Is this the major push to get your concept on the road to publication? Know where you want to go when you board the NaNoWriMo train, and you will reach your destination. At the same time, know this: thirty days isn’t enough time to complete a great novel. It can be enough time to complete a rough draft if you are committed. Don’t demand perfection in every word here. Revisions will be necessary, and that is okay. Even a draft that takes years to assemble will need many revisions and editing work. Just get it all on the page so you can see it take shape.

        Don’t Fly By the Seat of Your Pants.

I know, I know, I just quashed the creativity right out of you. Just hear me out. If you are using NaNoWriMo as a catalyst with a goal of publication, you will want to use this month wisely. If you want to actually write a novel instead of 50,000 random words, you will still need to plan. Before you write a novel you MUST KNOW your main characters. What drives them? What stands in their way? What scares them? You MUST KNOW the beginning, middle, and end of your plot. If you doubt this, just binge watch the TV series LOST. You guys, it could have been so good. Know your ending. That’s what enables you to foreshadow and create meaningful connections throughout that create that brilliant/ shocking/ satisfying ending. You MUST KNOW your landscape. Your readers will be as confused as you are about where things are happening. Make sure you aren’t disorganized. Strategies for outlining, storyboarding or however you like to organize your world are myriad, and I’m not going to delve into that here, but spend October planning for November. If you have a vague story idea you’ve never had time to really flesh out, this is a great time to give yourself a kick-start on bringing it to life!

         Create Space to Create.

Perhaps the greatest value of NanoWriMo for aspiring authors is that it forces you to commit deeply to your writing and to schedule fiercely guarded, uninterrupted writing time. After all, it’s only for a month! At least that’s what we tell our loved ones as we closet ourselves away for hours at a time writing hundreds or thousands of words each day. If you find your roommates cannot resist coming in during that sacred writing time, pick a different venue. The library. A coffee shop. Wherever will allow you to focus and stay on target. That act of carving out time and space for your creative work has the potential to become a deliciously self-perpetuating habit. Maybe you can’t keep that break-neck speed forever. Maybe you have bills to pay and actually like the people with whom you cohabitate. But that habit carries momentum that you just have to renegotiate to keep rolling at the pace that’s right for you. Begin now to set aside time each day to prepare for NaNoWriMo. Word count doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be hours. However, it needs to be consistent every day.  Use that time to get plot details hammered out. Get acquainted with your characters. Research relevant professions. Draw maps. It doesn’t even have to be writing, it just needs to be relevant to the project.

        Embrace the Cloud

Create a safe place to store your work. Nothing is worse than losing your nearly finished masterpiece-in-progress.  It’s sheer devastation. Plan ahead to find the place to save that’s right for you. Dropbox (unless you are incredibly prolific or use it for photos) and Googledocs both offer cloud services for free. Create some accountability for your writing with a word count widget, or commit to consistently updating your word count on the NaNoWriMo site once you begin. Find some way to see your progress visually. It will keep you motivated to keep driving this crazy train.

          Find a Writing Buddy

As antisocial as some of us may be, at our core we are social creatures. We perform better when there is accountability involved. Whether it’s your best friend you’ve roped into joining you on this ride or your local writer’s group or an online forum for NaNoWriMo inductees, find someone with whom you can commiserate. Writing fifty thousand words in thirty days is a huge undertaking; it’s the marathon of the writing world. Connecting with a writing buddy will give you a place to share strategies, encourage, and receive encouragement! Once you begin the race, you won’t want to waste your precious writing time trying to locate someone who really gets it and who understands your insatiable need for hot drinks and validation. Seek out connections beforehand and you will find yourself ahead of the game.

National Novel Writing Month is both a celebration of writing and a beastly challenge. Take some of the fire out of this dragon by preparing now, and you will be much more pleased with your completed novel on November 30th at 11:59pm.