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Wednesday, November 30, 2011


“It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.” Vaclav Havel

For those of you who participated in NaNo – congrats. Whether or not you made it to 50,000 words, it’s a big step to aim for that goal. If you didn’t make it this year, use what you learned to make it next year.

For those of you who didn’t participate in NaNo for one reason or another, consider signing up next year.

For anyone who wants to write, there is something to be learned from NaNoWriMo – take that first step, and then the next one, and the next. Instead of saying “someday I want to write a novel”, start now. Start by writing for 5 minutes each day. Whatever your final goal, break it down into daily goals. One giant leap seems impossible, but individual steps can get you there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Finish Line

“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

About 36 hours left to go in NaNoWriMo . . . is the finish line in sight? Even if you don’t think you can make it to the finish line on time, keep going, like a marathon. It isn’t about being the first, it’s about crossing the finish line. Walk if you have to, but don’t stop until you finish.

Whether you’re doing NaNo, a novel, a memoir, or a dissertation, don’t let yourself become discouraged because you can’t sprint the distance. Pace yourself, remember to refuel, walk when you have to; just don’t give up.

Monday, November 28, 2011

One Day At A Time

“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all that I can permit myself to contemplate.”—John Steinbeck

For four weeks now, most of my posts have been on the NaNoWriMo theme. How many of you thought about participating, then decided not to because how could you ever in a million years write 50,000 words in a month? Especially with a big ol’ holiday in the middle of it?

Have you ever thought: “I want to write a book.” Then sat down at your computer to start, and after a few minutes realized there is no way you could ever hope to write 400 pages. It’s too long. Too hard. ‘Real’ writers must have something I don’t.

Without dissecting the term ‘real writer’, they have one thing you may not – short-term goals. Even greats like Steinbeck needed interim goals because the main goal (completing a novel) is just too overwhelming to hold on to while you’re trudging through the trenches of daily life.
Completing NaNo probably seemed impossible to many, right up until they did the math and realized that you can reach that goal by writing only 1,667 words a day. If you single-space, that’s less than three pages of text.

Try it. Every time you feel overwhelmed, remind yourself, the only goal that counts is today. Worry about tomorrow’s goal when tomorrow gets here. (This actually works pretty well to manage stress and worry, too, but that’s another blog . . .)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Duct Tape

"One of the commonest mistakes and one of the costliest is thinking that success is due to some genius, some magic - something or other which we do not possess. Success is generally due to holding on, and failure to letting go. You decide to learn a language, study music, take a course of reading, train yourself physically. Will it be success or failure? It depends upon how much pluck and perseverance that word "decide" contains. The decision that nothing can overrule, the grip that nothing can detach will bring success." Maltbie Davenport Babcock

I’ll never let go.”
Stick to it.
It takes gumption (that is fortitude and determination).
According to Dave Barry, duct tape is one of the six fundamental forces of the universe.

Motivation is a decision and duct tape is the habit that keeps you on course. Remember the purpose you wrote down yesterday? Put a piece of duct tape on it as a reminder to stick to it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

“A habit is defined as the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire. Knowledge is understanding what to do and why to do it; skill is knowing how to do it; desire is the motivation or wanting to do it. To make habits, we need to develop all three components.”—Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People

What motivated you to start writing?
What motivated you to sign up for NaNoWriMo?
What motivates you?
Think about it.

The thing that motivates you is not always the thing that can keep you going once the novelty wears off, once the ‘hard’ part starts. Motivation is an emotion, and like any emotion it can wax and wane, and be eclipsed by other, stronger emotions. Motivation is the ‘desire’ part of the diagram above. To be a successful writer (and here I define successful as meeting your personal goals as a writer, NOT whether you publish or not) . . . To be a successful writer, you need to turn your desires into habits. Habits are behaviors. Habits are actions.

I’ve met many people who want to have written. Many of them have the knowledge to do it. Most of them have the skills or the wherewithal to attain the skills. The biggest difference between them and you is the habit of regularly putting words on the page. BICHOK.

What motivates you to write?
Keep that purpose in mind. Write it down and post it somewhere visible where you work. That motivation is a reminder of why your habit brought you to the keyboard.

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”—Jim Rohn

Friday, November 25, 2011

Objects in the Mirror . . .

“Don't look back until you've written an entire draft, just begin each day from the last sentence you wrote the preceding day. This prevents those cringing feelings, and means that you have a substantial body of work before you get down to the real work which is all in... The edit.”-Will Self

Looking back slows you down.

Looking back distracts you from your forward progress.

Looking back might be deceiving.

This is one of those times when what you don’t know can’t hurt you.

Maybe what looks like a T-Rex when you glance in your rearview mirror is actually the Muse having a bad hair day.

So yeah, don’t look over your shoulder until you’ve come to a full and complete stop. Time enough then to do a makeover.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey Day

(I’m posting this a day early so those who subscribe to my blog via email will get this in their inbox tomorrow morning instead of Friday, after the festivities are over.)

“Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence. “--Erma Bombeck

Erma Bombeck is one of my writing heroes. I grew up reading her column and her books long before I understood the irony in her portrayal of suburban home life. She not only influenced my writing (I regularly wrote letters to friends and family turning mishaps with the kids into Bombeck-esque essays), she also helped shaped my sense of humor and ability to find something funny about even awful things like the entire family being stricken with the stomach flu at the same time.

Take a break from NaNoWriMo today and write something fun. (Notice I didn’t say ‘take a break from writing’ —I still encourage you to find time to write for at least five minutes.) Write from the point of view of the turkey as my sister and I did years ago. Write about cooking your Thanksgiving dinner as if Chef Ramsey were calling the play by play. Write about your holiday as if your family were guests on Jerry Springer or a new reality show. Write about it from your dog’s point of view.

If you’re willing, I’d love for you to post your Thanksgiving essay here. I will do the same.

Happy Holidays!

Just Right

“The goal you set must be challenging. At the same time, it should be realistic and attainable, not impossible to reach. It should be challenging enough to make you stretch, but not so far that you break.”—Rick Hansen

The trick to setting goals is if we set them too low, they don’t seem worth the effort. “Anybody could do that.” If we set them too high, we don’t bother trying. “I could never do that.” We have to be like Goldilocks and set the goal just right. High enough that we have to stretch to reach it. NaNoWriMo does that. Once you break it down into daily goals, it seems doable, though you know you’ll have to plan and work hard to make it.

When you set goals, make them S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Constrained. You can do that with most anything, and writing is no exception.

A page a day = A novel in a year

Now. Go. Write.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bad Novel

“[Be] willing to write really badly. It won't hurt you to do that. I think there is this fear of writing badly, something primal about it, like: "This bad stuff is coming out of me…" Forget it! Let it float away and the good stuff follows. For me, the bad beginning is just something to build on. It's no big deal. You have to give yourself permission to do that because you can't expect to write regularly and always write well. That's when people get into the habit of waiting for the good moments, and that is where I think writer's block comes from. Like: It's not happening. Well, maybe good writing isn't happening, but let some bad writing happen... When I was writing "The Keep," my writing was so terrible. It was God-awful. My working title for that first draft was, A Short Bad Novel. I thought: "How can I disappoint?"—Jennifer Eagan

The root of writer’s block debunked. I wholeheartedly agree with Jennifer Eagan. If we allow ourselves to write pure garbage for a first draft, just for the sake of getting some words on the page, it becomes so much easier to write. Try writing the most awful opening paragraph you can think of. Or consider entering the Bulwer-Litton contest – A “yearly challenge "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels". At the very least, wander over and read some of the winners. How often has a bad novel been inspiration to write? “I could do better than that blindfolded and with one hand tied behind my back.” Right? As soon as we become aware of rules and guidelines and plot and structure and characterization, writing begins to seem really really hard. Like math. Or sit-ups.

When you find yourself stuck, give yourself permission to write crap. Like Anne Lamott calls it, the shitty first draft. It’s a long-revered concept in the world of writing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lion Tamer

A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight... it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, ‘Simba!’”—Annie Dillard

Not that it isn’t possible to skip a day, it is, but it takes more energy to get moving again. An object in motion and all that stuff. If you leave off in the middle of something you are ready to dive in the next day without dinking around looking for an opening. If you are away for a few days, weeks, or God forbid, months, that WIP will be feral and it will take you precious time to tame it to a point where you can start making progress again.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Relay Race

“COMMIT. That means not even doubling back to check something. I mean it. If you forget a character's name, who cares? Make up a new one and fix it later. (In fact, that's REALLY easy to fix. Find/replace, anyone?) If you double back, even if it's just for a few minutes, you will mess up your momentum. (Probably.)”—Veronica Ruth

This is good advice whenever you’re generating a first draft, and especially important during NaNoWriMo. The point isn’t just to flail away at words to reach an arbitrary (or not-so-arbitrary goal). The point is to keep up your momentum and capture the story while it’s fresh, to gain some distance between you and the words you’ve written, so you can come back to edit with a clear idea of The Big Picture and enough objectivity to recognize what’s good and what’s not so good.
If you struggle with this, console your inner editor with a cup of tea and some cookies and let him know his services are very much needed, but that just now he’s earned a well deserved break. Think relay race. You, the Muse, and the editor.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Good Day's Work

“Treat writing as a job. Be disciplined. Lots of writers get a bit OCD-ish about this. Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words a day. Jean Plaidy managed 5,000 before lunch, then spent the afternoon answering fan mail. My minimum is 1,000 words a day – which is sometimes easy to achieve, and is sometimes, frankly, like shitting a brick, but I will make myself stay at my desk until I've got there, because I know that by doing that I am inching the book forward. Those 1,000 words might well be rubbish – they often are. But then, it is always easier to return to rubbish words at a later date and make them better.”—Sarah Waters

Five hundred words a day, five thousand, one thousand – it’s not the number of words on the page (unless you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, in which case the magic number is 1,667), it’s the consistency and self discipline. Treat it like a job and keep at it until the whistle blows, even when it’s not a good day. If you need to, get dressed for work when you sit down to write. Inspiration will strike more often and more predictably when you consistently show up at the page ready to work.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dream Big

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.”—Pamela Vaull Starr

Don’t be afraid to dream big. Set smaller goals that will get you there, and measure your progress. Even if you don’t quite reach the dream, you’ll get closer than you could without setting goals.

Visualize success. The more clearly you can see yourself succeeding, reaching your goals, achieving your dream, the more likely you are to reach it. Positive visualization changes how you feel about yourself, which translates into action. If you believe it, you can achieve it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


“Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There's plenty of movement, but you never know if it's going to be forward, backwards, or sideways.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Setting clear goals will keep you moving forward. If you’re a plotter, your goals will look like an outline and a daily word count. If you’re a pantster, your goals may be a daily word count, which you then plug into your outline.

Keep research and editing tasks separate from word count. Set time limits to prevent being sucked into Wikipedia and sidetracked by all sorts of interesting information which has nothing to do with your WIP. When you’re writing, you are writing. If you come across something to research, bracket it and move on. If you think you need to edit, make a note somewhere about what you think you need to address, and keep writing. Come back later to edit, preferably after the first draft is complete.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dumbo's Feather

"People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don't know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to." George E. Allen

In my writing workshops, I talk about writing talismans. The official definition of a talisman (at least in this context) is a repository of magical energy, sort of like a battery. For writers, this ‘magical energy’ is inspiration, often credited to the Muse. I encourage participants in my workshops to find a talisman – something that holds creative energy for them; something that resonates inside them and inspires ideas. One person suggested it was similar to Dumbo’s feather.

In context with today’s quote, I hereby bequeath you with your own feather which will give you the ability to ‘fly’: It will provide confidence when yours lags, inspiration when the Muse is on vacation, the ability to achieve outstanding success through perseverance, and unflagging self discipline to BICHOK (one of the classic writer’s poses – ‘Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard).

If you should drop or lose your feather, go watch Dumbo, then hold the BICHOK pose daily.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


"If I had to select one quality, one personal characteristic that I regard as being most highly correlated with success, whatever the field, I would pick the trait of persistence. Determination. The will to endure to the end, to get knocked down seventy times and get up off the floor saying. "Here comes number seventy-one!" Richard M. Devos

Persistence. Determination. The will to endure.

Most of the time success in writing is being like the tortoise: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Write every day for a period of time you can sustain barring only a major crisis. It builds a habit that will carry you through the rough days. Your writing will be more consistent. You won’t burn out as easily as you can on a weekend writing binge.

Although NaNoWriMo may feel like a month-long binge, 1600 words a day isn’t an excessive amount for anyone who writes to publish. Think of NaNo as tortoise boot camp. The key is to write every day. If you do, by the end of the month you will have established a habit that will continue, even if your word count during ‘normal’ times isn’t as high.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Short Cut

"Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of "Lincoln's Melancholy" I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly."—Joshua Wolf Shenk

So, you’re slogging thru NaNoWriMo, falling short of word count some days, not sure what the point is, if all you end up with at the end is 50k of garbage.

A change in perspective might help.

NaNo is an exercise, a lesson in pushing thru, in hammering out a discovery draft with which you can craft a great story. Consider NaNo as boot camp, perhaps. (I can put on that drill instructor hat if it will help.) Instead of writing and editing and waffling and wondering and researching, you are pushing yourself to generate only new words.

I’ve experienced exactly what the quote above talks about. I spent three years working editing a story, believing that if I could just get that first part 'right', I'd be able to write the rest. After three years, a writing mentor suggested I consider that the scene I thought was my opening might just be the climax.

Suddenly the heavens opened up, light poured down, and angels sang. The story wrote itself. (Well, not quite, but it did unlock the unproductive spiral I’d tangled myself in.) If only I had signed up for NaNo, I might have discovered the story in 3 weeks instead of 3 years.

So scribble away with purpose. You are taking the short cut this month.

Now. Go. Write.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


“I have forced myself to begin writing when I've been utterly exhausted, when I've felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes... and somehow the activity of writing changes everything. Or appears to do so.”—Joyce Carol Oates

Sometimes we lose heart. Life has handed us a basketful of lemons, circumstances have worn our endurance thin, we’ve been disappointed or broken-hearted . . .Events conspire to derail our writing.

It is in those times it can be helpful to revisit your writing vows – the ‘for better or worse’ part, or possibly the ‘til death do us part’ bit. Even when it’s not easy, it’s good to write. The act of writing can help carry us over a difficult time.

Be kind to yourself, set easy to reach writing goals for each day, but do write each day. Journal, write an article or essay to vent some of the feelings, write a scene that has no connection to your current WIP. But keep facing the page. Because once that habit is broken, it takes a lot of strength and effort to reinstate it.

Think of writing in the hard times as making lemonade out of the lemons you’ve been given. Or, as a very good friend of mind says, “Spin the shit into gold.”

Saturday, November 12, 2011


“Write everything, everything that comes to mind, even if it's just pieces of different scenes. You can finish them later. You can even write, in brackets, [in this scene, Main Character has a food fight in the cafeteria with Childhood Foe, involving some applesauce in the eye] if you don't feel like actually writing out that scene. Then keep going as if you had written it. It helps.” —Veronica Ruth

This is great advice for anyone writing a first draft, but especially for anyone participating in NaNoWriMo. In fact, it’s the only way to reach your word count each day. Use brackets for scenes when you’re not sure of the details. Use brackets to help separate your research time from your writing time. It’s too easy to be writing along and decide you need to find out what particular native wildflowers bloom in Minnesota in the spring and get sucked into a never-ending quest for the ‘right’ answer. Just put [flower] in brackets and keep on writing. When your scheduled research time comes around, you can search for '[' in your MS, and find everything you need more information on.

Just. Keep. Writing.

Friday, November 11, 2011


“Don't look behind you. NaNoWriMo is a sprint-- a SPRINT, I tell you. It is full throttle, as many words as you can muster, every single day. You don't get to stop for water-- you have to throw water into your mouth as you run, and if you end up splashing yourself in the ear, SO BE IT.

So I think the sprint-race advice of, don't look back to see how close your opponent is, it will slow you down and you might lose, is applicable here. Except this time, your opponent is not another person, it's your own draft, chasing you with its sloppiness.”—Veronica Ruth

The hardest thing to doing NaNoWriMo is to commit to writing every single day. The second hardest thing is not editing. I think editing is sometimes a coping mechanism. If I try to write and feel blocked or uninspired, instead of forcing myself to write less than great stuff, I edit what I’ve previously written, somehow convincing myself that it is a virtuous chore that exonerates me from producing new words.

Besides producing the rough draft of a novel, NaNo helps us learn the self discipline necessary to complete a novel and not get mired in eternal edits in an attempt for perfection.

"Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another." –Walter Elliott

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Spinning Silk

"With time and patience, the mulberry leaf becomes satin. With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown." –Chinese Proverb

This month, you’re eating leaves. Or, er . . . spinning silk . . .

I could let myself get carried away with analogies because I do love a good analogy, but I’ll restrain myself.

While I harp on discipline and writing every day, consider it as spinning the cocoon from which the silk fiber comes. You can’t harvest the silk fibers until the cocoon is done being spun. So as you’re writing during NaNo, you’re spinning a cocoon. On December 1 you can start unwinding the silk filament and editing it into the silk thread and turning it into a. . . um . . . silk novel. Or possibly . . . uh . . .making a silk novel out of a sow’s ear.

(This analogy may bear some editing of its own before it’s silky enough to make sense.)

In any case, just keep writing. Save the editing for next month.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Just Keep Swimming

"Remember, amateurs built the Ark, professionals built the Titanic"—Mark Lowery

You know that feeling when you’re not particularly inspired but you’re being faithful to your commitment, and then you hear that little voice whisper that if you were any sort of good writer, you wouldn’t have to force yourself to sit here and write. If you were a professional, you wouldn’t be writing garbage. If you were a talented writer, you would write this NaNo novel without having to do much editing.

Ain’t true. Not a word of it. I know published writers who have just as hard a time facing the page as anyone else. There is no antidote other than to follow Dory’s advice (only put ‘writing’ in place of ‘swimming’:

“Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.”—Dory

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan, 'press on' has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race." –Calvin Coolidge

Press on. With NaNo, with any writing goal (with any goal in life). Focus on baby steps and press on. Don’t think about how many days or how many pages in the finished project. Just focus on today’s goal. The words don’t have to be great. They just have to be on the page. The only thing that will get them there is persistence. No excuses.

No ‘trying’, as my teenager tells me in the morning when he isn’t up for school and is laying buried in his blankets. “I’m trying.” Like I tell him, trying looks like action. Action in writing means words on the page.

Now get busy writing those 1600 words before I have to put on my drill instructor hat . . .

“Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability.” – Roy L. Smith

Monday, November 07, 2011

"In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins- not through strength but by perseverance."—H. Jackson Brown

One word after the other . . . not a river of gold, but a stream of plain water. So are canyons carved. Single drops of water create stalactites that become underground works of art. Think of your daily word count goal as drops of water. 1,666 drops of water today create one stalactite. 1,666 words tomorrow create another.

"Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance." –Dr. Samuel Johnson

Sunday, November 06, 2011

"All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man has taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first." –Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you want to write a novel (especially if you’re participating in NaNo), set daily goals and focus on those. Don’t look up at the mountain in front of you. If you look at the pinnacle, you may feel overwhelmed, you may feel you are not up to the challenge. But if you look only at the trail in front of you, and the scenery immediately to your right and your left, you are able to focus only on the step you need to take today. Tomorrow you can focus on the step you need to take tomorrow. In this way, the steepest trail can be completed.

Each day you meet your daily word count is a day closer to your goal.

Remind yourself every day you can do it.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

"I want to be creating new things, but the only way to create new things is to throw yourself into a situation where you're flailing and frightened." -David Usher

Hopefully NaNoWriMo doesn’t have you feeling frightened. Challenged maybe, anxious perhaps. Flailing definitely. If you feel that way, you’re doing it right.

Emotions are not a good indicator of the quality of your writing. Some days it may feel impossible, but on those days you lean into the harness and keep writing on faith. Resist the urge to read what you’ve written , especially on the difficult days. Keep your eyes on the goal and keep putting words on the page. If you’ve fallen behind, take a few minutes to calculate how many words you need to reach 50,000. Divide that by the number of days left in the month. It’s still early, you have plenty of time to catch up and meet your goal.

Friday, November 04, 2011

"How many pages have I produced? I don't care. Are they any good? I don't even think about it. All that matters is I've put in my time and hit it with all I've got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance." –Steven Pressfield

How many words can you crank out in an hour if you’re not editing? If you’re just putting words on the page as fast as you can think them? A thousand? Two thousand?

Try this: Sit down at your desk with your writing implements – computer or pen and paper—and look at the clock. Crack your knuckles, flex your fingers, yawn, take a drink of water, and look at the clock again. Ready? Set the timer for fifteen minutes and start writing. Don't stop to think, to ponder, to craft some great metaphor, just fling words at the page as fast as you can type. If you run into something you need to research, make brackets around a generalization and plan to come back later when you’re allowed to think. If you don’t know what happens next, skip a few lines and start writing what you can see no matter where it is in the story.

When the timer dings, count your words. If you’re using a computer it’s easy to check the word count. If you’re writing longhand, count the number of words in 5 random lines (not sentences, lines). Find the average. Then count the number of lines you filled during your timed writing and do the math. Close enough is good enough. How many words were you able to write during that time? Now do the math again to find out how long it will take you to write 1666 words.

Every day during NaNo, set the timer for the amount of time you know it will take to write 1700 words, then get busy meeting your deadline. If you know how long it takes to get your word count, you won’t be thinking about editing until the timer dings. Now you don’t have to worry about how many pages or if they’re any good. Just go with the timer. Once a week check your word count and maybe do a bonus session if you need to stay on target.

Overcome resistance. You can do it.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

“There's an old folk saying that goes: whenever you delete a sentence from your NaNoWriMo novel, a NaNoWriMo angel loses its wings and plummets, screaming, to the ground. Where it will likely require medical attention.” –Chris Baty

Resist the urge to edit. I know it’s tempting. I know you think you can control it, that just a word or two won’t hurt. But beside injuring a poor innocent writing angel, it shifts your energy from creating to judging. From writing to editing. There is a time and place for judging the quality of a word or sentence or image, a time to edit that image, but NaNoWriMo is not that time.

Focus on fresh words, on forward momentum. Every time you slow down to edit, you lose momentum. I bet you didn’t know it, but NaNoWriMo makes use of Newton’s first law of motion: An object in motion tends to stay in motion. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. Which means it takes more energy to start something moving than it does to keep it moving.

Writing is motion. Editing is not.

Once you are writing, it is easier to keep writing. Once you stop to edit, you will have to exert more energy to start writing again. The point of NaNoWriMo is the harness the power of the first law of motion and use it to complete the first draft of a novel.

Now get into motion and stay in motion. A NaNoWriMo angel somewhere will thank you for it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

“You can't do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.”—John Singer Sargent

Although this advice comes from an artist, writing is painting with words. Sketches are small pieces—writing practice. Writing sketches is a time to play with ideas and characters and description. If it’s outside the boundaries of a WIP, there is less risk. Write about people you see during the day. Don’t be hampered by lack of facts. Make stuff up. Draw assumptions and weave a story. You’re not writing about the person standing in front of you in line at Walmart. You’re merely inspired by them to write about a fictional character with only a surface resemblance (and even that is subject to change once you start writing).

Sketch characters, settings, ideas, descriptions, bits of dialogue, whatever captures your fancy. Think of it as a scrapbook you can draw ideas from.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

“Convince yourself that you are working in clay, not marble, on paper not eternal bronze: Let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes." –Jacques Barzun

Here’s another NaNoWriMo mantra for you. If you find yourself caught up agonizing over a word, a piece of dialogue, a scene, remind yourself that anything you write during this free-for-all counts and it can be changed later. Chances are, when you come back to read it, the words won’t seem half so terrible as you first thought, plus you’ll probably have a much clearer view of what needs fixing. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If Hemingway threw away 91 of every 92 pages, and Faulkner allowed himself to write ‘bad’ stuff, what better argument do you need to allow yourself to write the story as it unreels in your head and fix it later?

Just Do It.