How to Utilize NaNoWriMo When You Aren’t Participating

UntitledEvery November, we flood The Sprint Shack’s blog and Twitter with NaNoWriMo advice. And while that advice is helpful for the many writers who do partake in the annual challenge, what about those of us who don’t? Thankfully, the lessons learned during NaNoWriMo apply to writing throughout the year—first draft writing, at least. And the tenacity, dedication, and supportive camaraderie displayed throughout the month is always a source of inspiration.

I, personally, decided not to do NaNoWriMo this November. When Faye, Taylor, and I posted our kickoff post, I had every intention of participating. I sat down, started writing, almost hit my word count goal for the first day… and immediately stopped. I had no love for the story I was attempting to write and very little time to spend working on one that I did enjoy. I knew starting out that this would not be an optimal time for me to attempt such a large goal, but I wanted to at least try. And while I don’t consider giving up after the first day a real concerted effort, I knew that I was making the right decision for myself this year.

That, however, doesn’t mean that I don’t intend to write at all this month. I still plan on being productive, only on a much smaller scale. So what if you’re like me and aren’t participating in NaNoWriMo, for whatever reasons you may have? What if you’re in the middle of editing rather than penning a new draft? Try using these tips to feed off the NaNoWriMo vibe to still stay productive, even if you aren’t aiming for that 50,000 by November 30th:

1. Read the pep talk emails. One of my favorite things about NaNoWriMo is the regular pep talk emails they send from various NaNoWriMo staff and acclaimed authors. Having your own personal cheering squad can be incredibly exciting, not to mention those who are writing the pep talk emails often have great advice that applies to all stages of writing.

2. Scroll through the forums. Don’t do this while you’re writing, of course, but take a few minutes in your spare time to peruse the NaNoWriMo forums. This can be especially helpful if you have writer’s block since many generous wrimos will often drop unneeded characters, settings, prompts, and entire plots into the Adoption Society for anyone who needs some fresh ideas.

3. Watch your friends closely. If you don’t have any “writing buddies” on the site, now’s the time to get some (the forums mentioned above are a great place to start). Watching everyone else’s word counts climb steadily throughout the month can be incredibly inspiring and can often kick your muse into action.

Of course, these are also great tips for those of you who are participating in NaNoWriMo and are struggling with those second week blues. For more on that, check out Taylor’s last post on getting back on track!


Are you choosing to participate in NaNoWriMo this year? If not, what are you working on instead and how are you staying focused? Let us know!


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Guest Post: Sara Letourneau – Seven Keys to Maintaining Your Writerly Well-Being

Our healGuest Post Template(1)th and wellness are two of the most important “possessions” we have. Yet as writers, sometimes we take them for granted. If we’re too engrossed in our work and lose track of time, or a crucial deadline on a blog post or a round of rewrites is looming, we might feel tempted to ignore sleep, hunger, and other needs.

Here’s what I can tell you from personal experience: It’s not worth it. In fact, it’s essential for us to step away from our craft now and then so we can take care of ourselves. And by remembering to balance creativity with self-care, we can be productive, happy, and healthy.

So, how can you maintain your well-being without sacrificing too much of your writing? Here are seven keys that focus on all-around areas of physical, emotional, and mental wellness.

Key #1: Hydration

Staying hydrated isn’t limited to physical exercise. Drinking enough beneficial liquids during the day can improve energy levels, mood, and concentration – all of which are crucial for writers. So, don’t wait until you’re thirsty. (It’s a sign that you’re already dehydrated.) Have a cup of water, coffee, tea, or other beverage of choice ready when you sit down to write and use your breaks to get refills.

Key #2: Nutrition

Do you find it impossible to write when you’re hungry? (I do!) Not only does hunger lead to a distracting sensation in one’s stomach, but it also throws the brain “off-balance” by forcing the hypothalamus (which regulates a body’s homeostasis) to work overtime. As a result, the body’s focus shifts to finding food. Malnutrition, or the state of not getting enough food or enough of the right foods, can also affect memory, sleep patterns, mood – even motor skills such as writing manually or typing.

Don’t let an empty stomach derail your ability to think or write. Instead, have a snack handy for when those familiar pangs pay a visit. Some healthy choices include fresh vegetables, dried fruit, cheese or peanut butter with crackers, or nuts and seeds. And when it comes to meals, take a break from writing to feed and refresh yourself, or set a deadline so you can wrap up your session at a reasonable time.

Key #3: Exercise

Not only is exercise good for your physical health, but it also has emotional and creative benefits. It can enhance your mood, improve energy levels, and boost self-esteem. It can also put your brain in a relaxed state that opens the spontaneous pathway, which happens during free association and idea-generation. (In other words, those “a-ha” moments that happen when you’re away from writing? Your spontaneous pathway is open then!)

Since every writer’s schedule differs, it’s important to fit in exercise when it works best for you. And whether you prefer cardio (aerobics, swimming), toning (yoga, pilates), or strength conditioning (weights, indoor rock climbing), there’s no shortage of activities to try. Also, have a journal or recording device ready for when your spontaneous pathway opens. If I’m outside walking, I take my cellphone with me for safety reasons – and for saving “text messages” when inspiration strikes.

Key #4: Rest

Some writers have no trouble sacrificing sleep for their craft’s sake. A few even advocate that insomnia boosts creativity. Not me. I’ve learned first-hand that sleep deprivation can hinder concentration, disrupt the ability to fight stress, and make you super-cranky. And when the cycle goes on for too long, it can force your body to shut down.

If this happens to you, listen to your body. Ensure you get enough sleep by going to bed and getting up at times that work for you. You’ll feel refreshed as well as mentally and emotionally prepared for your next writing session.

Key #5: Relaxation

One of the perks of being a writer is using our craft as a form of stress relief. When something troubles you, journaling can often help you find a solution. Not only does journaling allow you to acknowledge your current emotions, fears, or worries, but the act of writing by hand can also put you in a meditative state by slowing your breathing, relaxing your muscles, and clarifying your thoughts. I’ve kept a journal off and on for years, and it’s been a savior for problem-solving and for calming my (sometimes) anxious mind.

However, what about the times when a journal isn’t available? Try listening to new age music or guided meditations that can reduce stress and anxiety. Practice yoga, which promotes relaxation by combining stretching exercises with focused breathing. Other artsy hobbies such as knitting, painting, and adult coloring books can also help.

Key #6: Social Life

As much as we love writing, we shouldn’t let our passion turn us into hermits. ;) Take some time to meet up with friends, attend events that appeal to your interests, or volunteer for meaningful charities and causes. It nurtures your current relationships and helps you build new ones. And on a wellness level, it can buoy your energy and self-confidence.

Key #7: The Occasional Reward

Did you recently finish a draft? Or hit an important word count milestone? You should celebrate! A chocolate bar, a dinner at your favorite restaurant, a shopping trip, or a day at the beach – whatever brings you euphoria or peace, give yourself permission to indulge in it for the moment. Then, when you go back to writing, you’ll feel satisfied with your progress so far and even more motivated to reach for the next goal.

What are some of your tips for maintaining your “writerly well-being”? Is there one particular area you want or are trying to improve on?


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Sara Letourneau is a Massachusetts-based writer who practices joy and versatility in her work. In addition to revising a YA fantasy novel tentatively titled THE KEEPER’S CURSE, she reviews tea at A Bibliophile’s Reverie and contributes to the writing resource site DIY MFA. Her poetry has been published in The Curry Arts Journal, Soul-Lit, The Eunoia Review, Underground Voices, and two anthologies. Learn more about Sara at her website / blog, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Use Cues to Make Writing a Habit

How can you use cues in your writing environment to make writing a habit? Using this one simple technique. | www.sprintshack.wordpress.comSo you want to make writing a habit. What’s the best way to do that? Write on a regular basis—every day, if possible.

That’s easier said than done though. Writing every day is hard work—there’s no getting away from that—but if there’s something you can do to make it that little bit easier, then you should take advantage of that, right? Today’s post features a technique that’s simple, quick and can save your writing streak when your will to write is sorely tested.

Have you heard of the when-then phrase? I first came across this trick in Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander (which I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys NaNoWriMo). A when-then phrase involves using cues in your environment to direct you towards a goal-oriented action.

For example, your computer or notebook are cues in your environment. A goal-oriented action is writing. Put them together in a when-then phrase and you get:

When I sit down with my computer/notebook, then I will write [x amount of] words.

If you add in a ‘so that I can…’ phrase at the end, it becomes an even stronger motivational tool. For instance..

When I sit down with my computer/notebook, then I will write [x amount of] words, so that I can achieve my goal of writing every day.

When-then phrases are very handy when it comes to steering you away from distractions and temptations too. Try modifying these when-then phrases to best suit you and the common difficulties you face:

1. When I feel like surfing the Internet, then I will first write 100 words, so that I can achieve my writing goal for the day.

2. When something unavoidable pulls me away from my writing time, then I will take a notebook with me to write in, so that I can achieve my goal of forging a writing streak.

3. When I don’t want to write, then I will set a timer for 10 minutes and write down as much as I can, so that I can achieve my goal of an unbroken writing streak.

The beauty of this technique is how it creates an association between the cue (the ‘when’) and the action (the ‘then’). Over time, whenever you encounter the cue, the action will become an automatic response. And habits are basically automatic behaviours, right?

Start making writing an automatic behaviour today. Create a few when-then phrases of your own, write them down and put them somewhere easy to see.

Why not share your when-then phrases with us too? Let us know in the comments section below!

Finding Your Writing Niche (Plus, A Challenge!)

More often than not, when I am writing, I find myself questioning my choice in genre. It can be half way through a project or sometimes even in the middle of a novel, but when it hits, there is nothing more confusing. I haven’t managed to pinpoint the exact thing that triggers my indecision but I think it could be the fact that I, like many other writers, haven’t explored other genres.

I read a wide range of genres and have studied all of the different components that make a genre what it is, but I haven’t used that knowledge as a writer yet. Imagine an ice cream parlour, full of new flavours you could try: you can guess what they all taste like, but you have only tried butterscotch. So you play it safe, and just stick to what you know, but there are so many other possibilities for new favourites out there.

I mainly stick to contemporary fiction or fantasy/warfare but there are so many other genres I want to try my hand at. So that is why I have decided to dedicate this next couple of months to tasting some new genres. I will be exploring many genres as well as some sub-genres in the form of short stories.

I encourage all writers to join in on this challenge, no matter how many genres you have tried your hand at. Especially if you are feeling confused about where you stand as a writer.

Since I am familiar with poetry, contemporary and fantasy, I am not going to include those in my list of genres to conquer, but if you haven’t tried them yet, add those to your list for sure.

Here is my list of genres to try:

  • Sci-Fi
  • Romance
  • Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Adventure
  • YA
  • Paranormal
  • Slice of Life
  • Crime
  • Comedy
  • Satire

Everyone’s lists are going to vary, because all of our interests are different. For example, I didn’t choose Horror because I can barely watch or read anything in that genre. I have a pretty crazy imagination and it wouldn’t be good for anyone if I tried to write horror, but I’m going to push myself and try to write a thriller!

Challenge time! Let’s find our niches together.

Since this is going to vary so much from writer to writer, it would be difficult to formalize an actual schedule for everyone to stick to. There are 11 genres on my list, but someone else could only have a few, so I think that this would work better if everyone wrote at their own pace.

To stay connected throughout our journeys in genre, we will be using the hashtag #findyourniche. Whenever you write a post about your challenge or try a new genre, or even if you have some questions, please tweet using that hashtag and also mention @TheSprintShack to be sure we see it, since others use the hashtag for tweets not relating to our challenge.

I look forward to seeing how everyone decides to challenge themselves, and I can’t wait to hear about all of your adventures into the worlds of new genres! Let me know in the comments below what genres you are going to try out and if you have ever felt unsure about your genre choices. Time to go exploring!
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Mazie-Bishop

Mazie Bishop is a fiery 22 year-old writer and journalism student from Canada. She is self-published and also has several poems and short fiction pieces published in various anthologies and magazines. She is a big dreamer who 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, read her work, and gander at her photos on www.theselittlepieces.com.

The Importance of Editors, Beta-Readers, and Proofreaders

The Importance ofNote: this piece is geared toward writers interested in self-publishing. Find other pieces on self-publishing here.

So you have a manuscript and dream of making some money off it. Or at least you’re hoping to put your work out there for the world to enjoy. There’s a whole checklist of things you’ll need to tackle in your self-publishing adventure, but today I’m going to give you a brief overview on editors, beta-readers, and proofreaders. So let’s jump right in.

Editors
Who they are: The term “editors” is a very broad term. But for the sake of simplicity here, let’s just discuss developmental/substantive/continuity editors. These are professional, experienced editors that take your manuscript and help shape the voice, tone, storyline, etc. They’ll get deep into your story and help you to re-work it.

Where to find them: You can find these sorts of editors all over the place – there are professional editing companies, as well as freelance editors. Do your research (Google!) and find yourself someone good.

Cost: There is a wide range, but unless you’re friends with an editor who is willing to do you a favor, you’re most likely going to end up paying something. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, check out freelancing sites such as Elance or oDesk.

Beta-Readers
Who they are: Beta-readers are people who read your work and tell you what works, what doesn’t work, what’s confusing, and where that comma really should go. Ultimately, beta-readers are editors, but with less professional experience. Typically they’re well-read people with a good grasp on language and story-telling.

Where to find them: Anywhere! Usually beta-readers are friends, family, members of your writing critique group, fellow authors, etc. Whomever you ask, make sure they’re going to give you honest feedback. It may be great to hear your sister say she loves your book, but the whole point of beta-reading is to get feedback so that you can make your manuscript stronger.

Cost: Free! At least, beta-readers are usually free. More than likely, you know someone who would be willing to read over your manuscript and give you some feedback.

Proofreaders
Who they are: Proof-readers (sometimes also known as line-editors) are usually going to be the last stage of your editing process. Their job is to correct any grammatical/spelling errors. They’re there polishing things up.

Where to find them: Just like with editors, you can find them all over the internet. There’s a wide array of proofreading services and freelancers (again, check Elance, oDesk, Fiverr, or any similar sites for freelancers). However, if you have a friend who knows language and grammar thoroughly, give them a call. They might be able to do the proofreading for you.

Cost: Free (if you have a friend do this), affordable (if you go with freelancers), or a little pricey (if you go with professionals/services).

So why do you need Editors, Beta-Readers, and Proofreaders?

As much as we writers like to think we know how to best write our books, that’s not always the case. Sometimes we need a fresh set of eyes to look at our work objectively. By the time we finish a manuscript, we’re so involved with the story line and attached to the characters that we don’t want to change a thing. Or sometimes we know the story needs improvement, but can’t figure out how to do that.

You might not need beta-readers AND an editor. Maybe you’re really good at proofreading your own work. But you should always, ALWAYS have someone else look over your story before you publish it. It’s all about making your story as good as it can be and presenting a professional-quality product.

But always keep in mind that you, as the author, have the last word. You get to decide what goes and what stays in your manuscript. That’s the whole point of self-publishing: at the end of the day it’s YOUR story and YOU get to make the calls.

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Any questions about today’s post? Thoughts? Leave them in the comments below!

Guest Post: Amy Good – “Story Bandit:” Stealing Your Writer’s Block With Random Prompts & Dares!

Guest Post TemplateNo two writers work the same way. Some painstakingly labor over each word; others simply open a vein and bleed words onto the page. Some construct a catchy beginning and write on the fly from there; others write their endings first and work their way back. Some go through long bouts of writer’s block; others never take a break from writing, even for a day.

But all the writers I’ve met share one thing: we all want writing to be fun. Whether we consider writing a hobby, a part-time job, or a full-time profession, we want to enjoy ourselves.

For me personally, I relish when writing works like puzzle-solving. I delight in working my way towards a particular ending, or in connecting disparate pieces to make a story come together. Like most other writers, I detest it when the words don’t flow. And when taking a shower or a walk just won’t cut it, I turn to other methods to trick the words into flowing.

Writing dares are a favorite (and fun) trick of mine, so much so that I actually co-created a Twitter account and Windows app devoted to them: Story Bandit. Although the app has limitations in the kinds of prompts it can give users, the Twitter account affords me a wide latitude to create a variety of challenges, which my co-creator tweets out at random so that I can amuse myself by trying them out as well. The dares may include a word limit, a list of random words to incorporate into a poem or story, a setting or conversation to integrate into a story, or an opening or ending line. And so far, the dares are really catching on!

Some writers who take on @StoryBandit’s dares find the challenge useful in combatting their writer’s block:

A few writers like that they’re pushed outside of their normal comfort zones:

Some are inspired by the dares to create poems or stories they otherwise wouldn’t have written:

And many of the writers simply have fun and enjoy the challenge:

I use writing dares for all of these reasons and more. Not only do they add inspiration, fun and challenge to my regular writing routine, but they can also be finished in a short writing sprint, usually in anywhere from ten to thirty minutes. So if you’re looking to add a new dimension to your own writing routine, why not give writing dares and @StoryBandit a try!

Amy Good

Amy Good is a U.S. writer in Dublin and the author of Rooted. She is the editor of RewritingMarySue.com, a website dedicated to highlighting compelling and unabridged female characters in fiction. She also manages @StoryBandit, a Twitter-based writing prompt generator. You can find out more about her at Amicgood.com and follow her on her personal Twitter account.

Revive Your Writing Resolutions with S.M.A.R.T. Goals!

UntitledIt’s that infamous time of year: the end of January and, for many, the well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions. Those of you who work out may notice that your gym is starting to empty out again as resolutioners lose their resolve, for example. Those who promised themselves a break from a bad habit like smoking may be falling back into their old routines. And, where writers like ourselves are involved, the countless resolutions made to write, edit, and/or publish our words are beginning to feel a bit ambitious.

But, thankfully, there’s one solid way to fix that lack of motivation and get you back on track (besides, of course, partaking in regular word sprints)! By making what are called “S.M.A.R.T. Goals”—or goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely—all of us can make those resolutions a habit and not only achieve our goals, but feel productive and successful in the process.

So how does a goal qualify as a S.M.A.R.T. Goal? Take your resolutions and hold them up to this standard to see if they’re up to par.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals are…

Specific

Any resolution that’s too broad or vague is sure to fall short of your expectations—often because you aren’t entirely sure what your expectations are. In order to achieve the next step, which is to make the goal measurable, you first have to have a goal in place that’s able to be measured. Here are some examples.

Vague goal: “Write more in 2015”
Specific goal: “Write a minimum of 200,000 words in 2015”

Measurable

This is where it’s helpful to create goals that can be broken down into smaller progressive segments, such as monthly or weekly tasks. For a goal to be measurable, we have to be able to pop in at a checkpoint and assess our progress without great effort or backtracking. If you’re trying to write more, for example, the above 200k goal can easily be broken down into a monthly word count target of approximately 16,667.

Here are two more examples:

Unmeasurable goal: Get a short story published (a vague and unmeasurable goal I made the mistake of making, myself, last year!)

Measurable goal: Dedicate 1/3 of the year each to writing, editing, and submitting a short story

Attainable & Realistic

The lines are blurred between these two, but essentially, your goals should be fathomable. It’s easy to look at a promisingly full 12 months an entire year in advance and make wild promises to ourselves—and there are unattainable and unrealistic goals that come much more disguised as the opposite than, say, determining that you’re going to be the next J.K. Rowling by 2016.

Unrealistic/unattainable goal: Write, edit, and (traditionally) publish your debut novel in one year

  • (Author’s Note: It can and has happened, I’m sure, but my guess is very rarely. This is not to dissuade anyone from achieving their goal of publication, but just to encourage you to take a step back and understand that traditional publication can often be a long and unpredictable process that you don’t always have complete control over).

Realistic/Attainable goal: Finish draft 1 of your novel by X date/month, send to beta readers by X date/month, and pursue publishing endeavors by X date/month (remember, you still have to keep it measurable).

Timely

Of course, the whole point of a New Year’s Resolution is that it can be completed and celebrated by the next year. All of the preceding examples have shown the difference between timely and untimely goals inherently by their being S.M.A.R.T. Goals, but here are two more if you need them:

Untimely goal: Write a collection of short stories

Timely goal: Write and edit one short story per week until December; take the month of December to comb through stories and decide what will be included in the collection and make any further edits

And that’s the basis of a S.M.A.R.T. Goal! Do your goals meet all the criteria? Or do they need to be revamped? Let us know, and—if you’re comfortable sharing your ambitions for the rest of the year—give us an idea of how you’re improving your resolutions!