A Camp NaNo Lesson: “Showing Up” For Your Writing

Untitled“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” – Woody Allen

Gather ‘round, Camp WriMos, and sit by the fire. Have you checked in to your cabin yet? Kept up with your word count? Whether you have or haven’t—or aren’t partaking in Camp NaNoWriMo at all this month—it’s time to face a solid writing fact. Woody Allen says it best, above, but I’ll word it another way: if you want your writing to go somewhere, you need to show up at your destination first. Then, it’ll follow you.

What do I mean by this? Simply that, if you have a goal in mind for your writing (such as getting a novel published or being recognized for your short fiction), you need to think and act as if you have already achieved that goal. This can be done in a number of ways, and all are heavily encouraged: showing up to your writing space every day at the same time, creating a professional brand or image for yourself and your writing, developing a pitch for your novel before even writing it, etc. In fact, there have been a number of discussions on the idea that action precedes emotion and motivation, such as the study that proved forcing a smile actually helps relieve stress. Simply, acting professional will eventually make you feel professional and give you the spark you need to do the work.

This applies not only to writing but to any goals you may have. However, it’s the cardinal rule of writing: if you want to be a writer, you must first write. And that’s what NaNoWriMo and its smaller cousin challenges are about.

Now that we’re halfway through the month, you’re expected to be tired. Frustrated. Whether your word count goal was 10,000 words or 100,000, chances are, the task now seems more daunting than it did on July 1st. It’s a case of those nasty mid-month boogie monsters we talked about last Camp NaNoWriMo, but you aren’t going to let them snatch your plot bunnies this time, are you?

The number one roadblock most people face at this point in the challenge is that their story isn’t working out the way they expected. Either a plot is taking a turn for the worse, or a character is running totally off the outline, or the words simply aren’t coming. That’s okay. It happens, and that’s why this is called a challenge. But the important thing to remember is to show up every day anyway, ready to carve out the next part of your story. Even if you only get a fraction of your daily word count done and don’t manage to hit your ultimate goal for the month, you’ll have walked away with something even more valuable than a fancy badge or certificate: you’ll have taught yourself perseverance.

That’s the real goal of NaNoWriMo. Not to silence your inner editor, not to force out a mess of a story—although those are two big parts of it. It’s to teach you the habits that will ultimately make you a successful writer, because they’re the habits already successful writers have already formed. Even NaNoWriMo’s worst critics admit that, all contempt for the practice of speed writing aside, the challenge teaches its participants the most important lesson in writing: to show up, without fail, even when nothing seems to be happening. Because eventually, something will.

Have you found NaNoWriMo to be helpful in forming good writing habits? Have you discovered that simply showing up is often enough to get the juices flowing? Let us know; we’re always interested in hearing everyone’s creative processes!

Harnessing the Power of Camp NaNoWriMo

I’m starting this post off with an apology.  To my fellow word sprinters and writers: I’m sorry I’ve been so absent over the last month! If you haven’t noticed my radio silence, it’s because Skye and Cristina have done some a wonderful job of keeping the site and word sprints running while I’ve been MIA.

Now, I have a hundred excuses as to why I haven’t written a Sprint Shack post or hosted any word sprints in the last few weeks, but none of them are really good enough. When you love writing, you shouldn’t let anything get in the way. So I wanted to return to Sprint Shack with a short post about the power of Camp NaNoWriMo and getting yourself back into the writing game.

Over the last month, I’ve managed to barely keep myself on track with the short fiction posts for my personal site and meet my Write Chain goal each day.

But because of all the other things that were happening in my life, I began to resent the fact that I was sitting down every day to write. I had a million and three things to do – I couldn’t afford to be sitting around for an hour each day, writing a bunch of fiction.

So my writing suffered. My heart wasn’t in it, and I could see that my stories were forced, my writing unimaginative. I missed loving to write. I wanted to look forward to that hour of writing like I used to. But I didn’t know how. And the more mediocre my writing became, the more unmotivated I was to write, and the more my writing suffered. It was a vicious circle.

When the end of June rolled around and I began to see tweets about Camp NaNoWriMo, I wondered if I should even bother signing up. But after some contemplation, I realized that if I gave up on Camp NaNo, I may as well give up on my writing.

So I set my word count goal low and spent the first week of Camp NaNo putting off actually starting my new novel.

After 7 days of no progress with my Camp NaNo project, things were looking bleak.

But then I logged into my NaNo account and checked out all the messages left in my cabin’s chat section.

These people were so excited. They were writing and loving it! They were complaining about blocks and joking about ways to get over them. They were supporting one another and giving updates on milestones that they’d reached with their projects.

It was infectious! I couldn’t help but want to join in. And so I did – I began writing. And not out of a sense of obligation, but from a place of curiosity. I wanted to see what I could do. Even if it ended up being horrible, I wanted to write the story that had been taking up space in my head for weeks.

Since then, I haven’t been able to stop. I’ve been writing like crazy and loving it.

I realize that what I was missing was the camaraderie. I’d used the excuse of being too busy and then sequestered myself off from the freedom of word sprints and encouragement that comes from interacting with the wonderful community of writers that I used to be so involved in.

All I needed was to realize that I wasn’t alone. Everyone feels this way about their writing at times. Everyone thinks they’re no good and that they don’t have time to spend writing below-par stories. Yes, writing is inherently a solitary pursuit. But it doesn’t mean we have to go it alone.

I’m feeding off this positive energy of other writers during Camp NaNo and using it to fuel my own writing.

If you’re in a writing rut, I recommend jumping into Camp NaNo or joining in on some of our Twitter word sprints. Let go of the excuses and enjoy writing again.

~

Are you guys participating in Camp NaNo this month? Tell me why you’re NaNo-ing in the comments below!

“Silencing” vs. “Shelving” Your Inner Editor

It’s that time of year again—the time when NaNoWriMo addicts set a goal, cozy up to our cabin mates, and block out the real world for the warmth of our figurative campfires. I’m talking, of course, about Camp NaNoWriMo—July edition!

 

Camp NaNoWriMo takes place twice per year and this is our second time around for 2014. So in the spirit of this frantic, exciting time, we’re going to address an idea that’s synonymous with NaNoWriMo: silencing your inner editor.

 

The point of NaNoWriMo is to quiet that little voice—the one that insists you fix that error, whether it be as small as a typo or as large and gaping as a major plot hole—before continuing on to the rest of your story. It’s a practice that’s helped many a writer muscle through the tangles of a first draft, despite the crippling desire to spend an entire month on page one alone. It helps a story form its barest foundation, to be bricked and mortared and painted later on in the process. However, there’s a problem that many critics of NaNoWriMo point to with this practice: silencing your inner editor can be a dangerous habit to get into.

 

For this reason, it’s best to think of this challenge as a time to shelve, rather than silence, that voice. Should you routinely silence your inner editor—which, it’s important to note, is different from the trash-talking bully we all possess that insists with zero supporting evidence that our work is garbage—you may get into the bad habit of not listening to it at any point. And since the inner editor is typically alerting you to a problem that does need to be addressed, whether in draft one or sixteen, this could be a damaging habit to get into.

 

Here are some instances in which shelving, rather than silencing, your inner editor can help you work your way through your first draft—without slowing you down:

 

1) You’re writing along when you realize your story could benefit from an extra transitional scene in between your last and your current. Silencing your inner editor by ignoring the instinct could cause you to miss a potential improvement to your story or forget about it altogether. Shelving it by making an immediate note in the document, to be addressed in revisions, will allow you to continue with your current flow without risking any omissions on your part later.

 

2) A major plot hole appears! You have two choices: silence your inner editor by shrugging it off and expecting to remember it later, or shelve it by making a note somewhere you know you won’t miss it—or directly into the text itself—and correcting your current flow to compensate.

 

3) Similarly, your characters seem to be out of character, and your inner editor perks up. You can silence it by continuing their character arcs as they are, or shelve it by starting to correct the issue in your current writing—not by going back and fixing what was already there. For example, if John and Jane were previously in a rocky relationship and the scene you’re writing seems to completely dismiss that, make note of that as soon as you notice the discrepancy and start introducing an element of tension that makes more sense given their situation. If the tension seems to spring out of nowhere upon a future read, you’ll have your note there to remind you why and point out what needs to be fixed.

 

Have you ever noticed a difference between silencing and shelving your inner editor? The former can create a bad habit of dismissing the savvy writer in us, while the latter gives us room to complete our stories while learning how to prioritize our tasks. There are exceptions to every rule, of course: you may find that some mistakes need immediate fixing, and that others are best left alone until revision time. Either way, always remember the difference between your inner editor and your inner bully, and learn how to tune into their voices accordingly!

Do You Know Your Creative Cycle?

When you sit down to write, could you be unwittingly sabotaging your efforts? If you force yourself to write during a naturally sluggish part of the day, you could very well be.

Humans don’t run on full power constantly throughout the day. We have periods of energy highs and lows, and that applies to creativity as well. If certain points of the day are more conducive to writing, then pinpointing exactly when they are can make for much more productive writing sessions. How can we do that? Through tracking our creative cycle.

But first of all, why should we keep tabs on our creative ups and downs? Shouldn’t we just pick a time for writing and stick to it? Well, ask yourself this: would you rather struggle to write 200 words in the afternoon, because that’s when you’ve arbitrarily decided you’ll write, or speed on through to 1000 by writing on a morning, first thing after you wake up, when you’re still half in the dream world and feeling particularly creative? I know which one I’d rather do.

Everyone has periods when their energy and creativity are high during the day, just as they have periods of lows. Finding when you’re most energetic and creative and dedicating that time to writing could be just what you need to boost your progress on your WIP, make writing easier and produce better quality work. But how do you find out when this magical time is?

You may already have an idea of when you’re most creative and energetic, but we often have several points in the day when this is particularly the case. If you don’t know when they are for you, it’s worth trying out this method and pinpointing them all.

What will you need to do this? A notepad that you can keep on you all day and a pen.

Track Your Day

Draw up a chart or a table with 24 rows, one for each hour. When you do something that day, write it down in your chart. What time did you wake up? What did you eat for breakfast and when? Lunch? Dinner? And so on. Beside each activity you log, note your energy level after doing it. Did you feel more energised because of it or less?

Once you’ve done this for a few days, you’ll start to get a picture of when your natural energy highs and lows are, as well as the kind of things you do that boost and reduce your energy levels (e.g. after a walk, you may feel more active and creative, while after eating a dessert, you might feel sluggish). Your periods of energy ‘highs’ are prime spots for writing time.

Vary Your Day

Alongside this, try varying your writing time. If you always write on a night, try waking up an hour earlier than usual and write then. Write during your lunch break or after you get home from work/school or on a night, if you don’t usually. Keep track of your energy and creativity levels in your notebook, along with how you felt while writing. Did the words come easily? Did you feel more creative? It may well be that the words flow more easily at a time you had never considered before.

Now that you have an idea of when you feel most energised and creative, set aside that time for writing and build it into your daily routine. Alongside the natural energy high you get at that time, the act of writing then each day will promote focus, discipline and further creativity. There’ll be no stopping you.

~

When are your creative high points?

It’s Summer! Soak Up Some Inspiration

Writers, it’s summer! (Well, at least in the northern hemisphere, anyway.)

With the improvement in the weather, spending hours sitting inside writing may not look too appealing. But you don’t have to sacrifice writing to soak up the sun’s rays—take your writing outside and soak up some inspiration as well! Here are four ways you can take advantage of the good weather and use it to inspire your writing.

Take Walks to Reinvigorate Your Body and Mind

Take advantage of the fine weather, go for a stroll and let your imagination unfurl. While you’re walking, try out some of these muse kick-starters:

  • Could what you see as you walk be used as inspiration for a setting in your latest story?
  • What about any people you pass—could you use them as starting points for characters?
  • Listen out for snatches of conversation and make a mental note of them for use in a scene later. What might have been said before the parts you heard and what might have come afterwards?
  • Take in the sounds of nature around you. What might your characters infer about their setting if they could only hear these sounds?

Use Your Surroundings as Inspiration for a Scene or Story

Sit outside and use every sense at your disposal to describe your surroundings. What can you see? Hear? Taste? Smell? Feel? Now write a scene or short story set where you’re sitting.

Begin by describing the setting, then disturb one of the elements you just wrote about. If the birds are chirping cheerfully, let them fall eerily silent. If there’s a gentle breeze, turn it into a sudden, cold blast. If you can smell the subtle hints of flowers, introduce a touch of decay. What’s causing these unexpected disturbances and what will your character do about them?

Don’t Dismiss Bad Weather—Use It As Story Fodder!

Speaking as someone from the rainy north of England, summer does not always mean good weather. In fact, often it means rain, and sometimes, massive thunderstorms. Don’t let an influx of poor weather get you down—use it as another opportunity for inspiration! Let the rain be your background music, land your characters in the middle of a downpour, or even go outside in one yourself and absorb every sensation to write about later. Before you know it, the pitter-patter of raindrops will have your muse stirred up and ready to write.

Use the Day Length As a Story Starter

Write a story about creatures (or characters) that only come out at night. How does the coming of summer and shorter nights affect them? Are they forced out during the day and, if so, what are the consequences?

Alternatively, maybe your characters are strengthened by the sun and summer allows them to do things they otherwise couldn’t. The summer solstice (today, if you’re reading this as it posts!) could mark the height of their power, and the start of their decline. Perhaps they’ll take steps to make sure they retain that power, despite the shortening days following midsummer?

~

Summer is an incredibly inspiring time of year, so take full advantage of that and use it to recharge your imagination’s batteries. Try out some of the suggestions and prompts mentioned in this post, watch your writing flourish and, above all, enjoy yourself!

What’s your favourite thing about summer?

Guest Post: Mazie Bishop – Finding Inspiration in the Most Unlikely of Places

A huge part of being a writer, no matter what your style is, is finding inspiration, for an uninspired work is uninspiring to read!

I can always tell when a writer is forcefully writing and when there is no actual passion behind their words. There are so many indicators that a work is not inspired and the best example would have to be directed to scientific or professional essay format. If there is anything that I have learned from my time in University, or English Lit for that manner it is that style is by no means a priority in essays (even though I really think it should be). This being said often times, at least when you are in school, essays are not written by choice, and it is often spelled in the style and lack of passion when reading. But you can always tell when an essay is written with interest behind it. Something keeps you reading, whether it be the writer’s blossoming interest and growing thoughts and opinions, or the excitement portrayed in the topic, there is most definitely inspiration displayed.

This concept carries over to any other style of writing as well, and that is why no matter where you are in the world, be it a quiet town or a busy city, you need to find inspiration to write.

I just so happened to have lived in both of the extremes. A tiny little village like hamlet with more cows than humans and a great big city full of working gears that can’t stop running. So here are some great tips that have been able to help me get inspired, wherever I am in the world.

1. People watch: Can’t find a character? Just so happens that humans exist outside of your four walls, and they are out there living. Pick up a pen and notebook and go sit on a bench or a curb and find someone to build off of. No, they don’t have to know, because you don’t actually know them, but for but a moment you can sure pretend to.

2.  Listen to EVERYTHING: Now this is a hobby of mine. I bring a notebook on the city bus, or I use my phone to be more discrete and I write down as much of the mismatched dialogue as I can. I call it bus poetry because everything is jumbled and it flows together surprisingly beautifully. I find it’s a lot easier when the weather is bad (raining or snowing) because people have way more to talk out loud about when there is something going on outside, in which they all have to deal with. This usually helps me get a handle on common communication, which can so easily be forgotten in fictional writing.

3. Descriptive Scene: Go outside, go to a mall, go to a school, go to a park, and just write that scene out as descriptively as you possibly can. And I mean I want you to make a blind man see this place, describe everything from blades of grass to cracks in pavement. This exercise will show you how easy it is to boost your readability and if needed, your word counts. If anything it will help you get the ball rolling, as scene building is huge in novel writing.

And lastly,

4. Read a whole bunch: Read some shorts, read some magazine articles, read about writing. HELL, read about inspiration! Read anything that could inspire you to write and work on what you are working on. If you need to write fantasy, go pick up some fantasy, if you are writing horror, then go get scared. Just read, read, read.

I sincerely hope that this helps you get inspired and I would be so interested in hear about how you get inspired when nothing else works! Leave your tips in the comments below or email me at mazie.bishop(at)gmail.com.

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Mazie Bishop reveals the secret to inspiration at www.sprintshack.wordpress.com.ABOUT MAZIE

Mazie Bishop is a fiery 22 year-old writer and journalism student from Canada. Self-published as well as has several poems and short fiction pieces published in various anthologies and magazines. She is a big dreamer that hopes to be writing with the big guys some day and cannot wait for her career to start! Currently she is in the process of writing her second novel and is in the outlining stages of a quarter-life memoir. You can read about her little crafty adventures and read her work or gander at her photos on www.theselittlepieces.com.

Get Inspired! Surround Yourself With Writing

inspiredThere’s a lot of stuff out there for overcoming writer’s block, from advice to writing prompts to nifty tools like Write Or Die that outright punish you for not spitting out words. Some may work for you, some may not. But there’s one piece of advice that I think is pretty universal: if you’re having trouble writing (or even if you aren’t!), it’s important to surround yourself with writing and those who are continuously doing it.

One thing I’ve learned since I started writing more regularly is that our craft is much like a trail of dominoes: get one idea down and another will surely follow. Most ideas lead to another, but occasionally, there’s a moment when the dominoes stop falling. That’s okay, and all it takes is a bit of repositioning or a new setup to get them moving again! Ultimately, it seems that the more ideas you have, the more you’ll continue to have—because when forming these ideas and putting them down on paper, you’re actively engaging with your creativity. And surrounding yourself with others who do the same, professionally or otherwise, will help you continue to do so.

I recently experienced this, myself. One of my proverbial dominoes wasn’t spaced correctly early this year and I hit a blip in my writing. After an excitingly productive last half of 2013, I charged into the new year, writing resolutions clenched in my determined fist, and ran straight into a brick wall. A combination of a really busy outside life and sheer exhaustion from the writing marathon I was on for several months prior finally took its toll, and from January until now, I’ve barely written a (fictional) word. Thankfully, that’s starting to change, and it’s all because I finally submerged myself in the community again.

I started off by checking Twitter and updating a few small areas on the blog. Seeing all you word sprinters out there inspired me: “look at all the writers actually writing!” It was time to get back into the game, but I wasn’t sure where to begin. That’s when I saw an article on one of my recently “liked” writing-related Facebook pages: a list of free writing podcasts. I needed something new to listen to at work, so I figured I’d give them a try, and eventually stumbled upon Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses is an awesome resource for fiction writers—especially those of the Fantasy/Sci-Fi persuasion—in which four established, professional authors and countless guest speakers advise listeners on everything from plot structure to word counts to characters and world building. Each episode comes with a recommendation for book of the week, as well as a writing prompt for those who need an idea. I’ll get more into detail about Writing Excuses in a future post, but in the meantime, I highly recommend you check it out!

Point is, while listening to these episodes during the workday, I found myself coming up with countless ideas. Blog topics. Changes that had to be made to my fantasy WIP. Sudden realizations of what’s gone wrong in projects past and present. And while some of these ideas and epiphanies were direct results of the lessons or writing prompts provided by the podcasters, many of them were my own, springing out of my subconscious as if they were waiting for their perfect moment to pounce. I think spending so much time consuming it all has gotten me to a point where I’m ready to produce, which makes sense: to be a great producer, you first have to be a voracious consumer.

So in that vein, I’d like to give you a short list of some of my personal favorite writing resources. If you’re having a hard time writing—or simply want to get better as a writer!—spend some time flipping through these and absorbing their pure, writerly awesomeness. If you don’t get any direct ideas or help from them, you’ll at least feel inspired. I promise you.

  • Writing Excuses – because it’s too darn awesome not to mention again.
  • The Writer – the first writing-related magazine I ever picked up, and the publication that made me fall in love with writing… about writing.
  • Pub(lishing) Crawl – A fun, informative, honest blog on writing, publishing, and all the stages in-between.
  • Let The Words Flow – Pub(lishing) Crawl’s original blog, which I contributed to for a short period of time. Though the awesome ladies at LTWF have since moved to Pub(lishing) Crawl, they’ve left up all their content on the original blog, and there are a TON of great resources and information there in the back log. 

Hopefully some of these help you out in the future! Do you find the writing community to be a big catalyst of your work, or do you work better when isolated? Do you enjoy or try to avoid feeding off others’ inspiration? Let us know, and happy writing!