The Ridiculous Writing Cleanse

When was the last time you wrote something absolutely silly? What was the last story or article that you wrote which, from the get-go, you knew was so ridiculous you couldn’t image posting/publishing (let alone finishing) it?

For me, that was yesterday. I wrote a flash fiction piece so unbelievably NOT ME, that I couldn’t believe I was spending time on it. It was so far from my typical flowery-prose-poetry-literary style of writing, that I felt uncomfortable writing it.

But that’s just the point of this post: it’s important to occasionally write something that is foreign to you. Something outside your comfort zone. Something that challenges you. Something silly.

I starting writing silly pieces of fiction and goofy articles a while back – things meant to break writers block and that were for my eyes only. And having seen the positives that come along with letting go and writing something ridiculous, I now make it a point to write something silly at least once a month.

So I challenge you to do a Ridiculous Writing Cleanse. Writing something silly (or something outside your typical genre, style, etc.) is hugely beneficial. Whether you intend to publish or burn your silly writings, there are tons of reasons to do a Ridiculous Writing Cleanse.

The perks of The Ridiculous Writing Cleanse:
– Gets your creativity going
– Allows you to let go of perfection and have fun with your writing
– Busts through writers block
– Clears out the ridiculous ideas you have bouncing around your head and distracting you from your other writing projects
– Challenges you to write something different and makes you a stronger writer
– May even turn into a useable piece of writing

So if you’re in a writing rut or want to give yourself a challenge, give writing something silly a shot! It’s weird and a little counterintuitive (why write something you know you’re likely going to end up throwing away). But it’s fun and it reminds you to shut off your inner-editor and just write. Give it a try and let us know how it goes!

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What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever written? Let us know 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!

5 of the Biggest Threats to Your Writing (and How to Overcome Them)

As writers, we face a ridiculous amount of obstacles when it comes to getting words on the page. From internal issues to external pressures, we are constantly battling to do what we love: write. Here are five common threats to your writing – and the one thing you can do to overcome them (spoiler: it’s word sprinting).

Your Inner Editor
We all know it – that voice inside your head that is constantly criticizing what you write AS you write it. “No, change that cliche”, “that’s a horrible idea, this would never happen in real life”, “you need more dialogue”, “this whole paragraph is a mess, just delete it.”

But when we’re writing, especially when we’re writing a first draft, it’s alright to produce something messy. A draft is, after all, a draft; it’s something that is meant to be revised later. LATER. Not while it is being written. If writers let their inner editors run wild during the initial draft, the story would take double the amount of time to get done.

So how do you turn it off? Well, you learn to ignore it. But what’s the easiest way to do that? To do a word sprint. When you’re doing a word sprint, you’re aiming to get as many words as you can. It’s one of the few times in life that quantity is better than quality. Who cares if that isn’t the right Elizabethan terminology? What does it matter if there’s too much description? These are all things that can be revisited later during the revision phase. During a word sprint, you give yourself permission to write crap, as long as you’re writing.

Time (or lack thereof)
We’ve all said it at some point or another during our love affair with writing: “I don’t have enough time to write today/this week/ever.”

I get it, life is hectic and full of other responsibilities. How can we justify delving into an imaginary world we’ve created in our heads when the bills need paying, the kids need dinner, the dog needs to be walked, and our day jobs need our energy? The answer is that we justify it because we love it. But sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes we need to push ourselves to make writing a priority. The easiest way to do this is with a word sprint. If you make an effort to join in a word sprint (or host your own), every day for only 20 minutes, and really switch off your inner editor and WRITE for those 20 minutes, you’ll come out with at least a few hundred words every day. And hey, within a week, that’ll be well over 1,000 words. Pretty good for someone who had no time for writing at all, right?

Also, if you want to hold yourself accountable for daily writing practice, considering joining Faye’s Write Chain Challenge.

Procrastination
It took me a good hour to finally sit down and write this section since I was busy browsing social media and getting all excited for Camp NaNo next month! The irony of this does not escape me. But it’s not surprise, considering that out of nearly all the problems I face when writing, procrastination tends to be my biggest. It’s hard to collect yourself, put other real-life responsibilities aside, and get yourself in the right mindset to write. And about 60% of the time, when I say I’m going to “get some writing done”, I end up sitting at my computer, pinning clever quotes to my Pinterest boards or tweeting about how much I love wine (a lot – I love wine a lot).

More often than not, the key to beating procrastination lies in actually STARTING. Just typing a sentence or two usually pulls me out of whatever distraction I’m facing and puts me in writing mode. So what’s the easiest way to get yourself started? Any guesses? Of course: word sprints. When a word sprint starts, you better start writing, as fast as you can, to get your word counts up. There’s no room for distractions or procrastination. You only have X amount of time, so you better actually write.

Writer’s Block
Now, I wasn’t entirely certain if I should include this here since the term “writer’s block” is such a vague one. Are you blocked because of your inner editor preventing you from letting the words or ideas flow? Are you unable to get started because of procrastination? Or is it something deeper? The form that writer’s block assumes varies from person to person – and every writer has their own methods of overcoming it. But the one method I fall back on is word sprinting (surprise, surprise). It helps me shut down my self-doubt and gets me started. It helps me write, even when I think I have nothing left to say, because the worst-case scenario is that I end up staring at a blank screen for 30 minutes. But, without fail, my brain always gets tired of staring at a blank screen and starts coming up with words to put there. And just like that, my block crumbles.

Muggles (non-writers)
Before I get into this one, I want to throw something out there: It is important to have friends and loved ones who are not writers. Very important. It can be tempting to only surround yourself with other people who understand the challenges of being a writer, but our non-writer friends keep us grounded. They remind us that there is more to life than Scrivener, and they offer us chances to give ourselves much needed breaks from the craziness that is writing.

That being said, maintaining relationships with non-writers can be a challenge. Often, they won’t understand the discipline and dedication it takes to be a writer. They won’t understand that just because you don’t have any official deadline set for you, and that you may not be getting paid for your writing, you still need to treat it like a job. They might complain when you pass on plans to get dinner or drinks because you want to stay in to finish this latest chapter. They might even tell you that you’re foolish for chasing down your dreams (if that’s the case, then I suggest you have words with them or cut them from your life – nobody needs anyone who doesn’t support their passions).

While it’s important to make time for the people who matter in your life, it is equally important to make time for your writing. Sometimes that means passing up on certain social gatherings. But as long as you’re striking a kind of equilibrium, the people who deserve to be in your life will understand. But if they don’t? Introduce them to word sprints. Maybe they’ll want to join in the fun too. ;)

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Being a writer, what are some of the biggest obstacles you face? How have you dealt with the issues we tackled here? We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below! And make sure to join us for word sprint on our twitter account!

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And now – your next Story Shuffle prompt!

Character(s): A group of American college students in a study abroad programme
Setting: The frozen wastes of the Bahamas
Era: Future Wild West
Item of Interest: A dusty, out of tune piano

Have fun with this one, guys!

A (Writing) Lesson Learned: The Woes of a Lost #NaNoWager

So, I’d like to start this off with, yes, I did win NaNoWriMo. Don’t let the title of this post fool you. However, I DID make a #NaNoWager with Taylor and Faye—and that wager entailed that the one of us who didn’t win NaNo, OR got the lowest word count (if we all won or more than one of us didn’t), would share some embarrassing writing stories with you lovely readers.

Judging by the fact that my NaNoWriMo chart looks like a staircase with all its long plateaus of wordless days, it’s no shock that I came in last, especially since Taylor and Faye are word count machines. Still, although I now have to share this very embarrassing story (which, I’ll admit, I’ve had planned out since day one), I’m pretty proud of my success this year.

Anyway, I guess I have to get on with this. No more procrastinating. And I’m even going to round this out with a writing moral at the end, so try to stick through the cringe-worthy awkwardness.

I used to write fanfiction.

No, not the cool kind. Not like, Harry Potter/Resident Evil crossovers where Voldemort is actually a zombie (does that exist? Please tell me that exists). I’m talking about EMBARRASSING fanfiction, aka Choose Your Own Adventure anime fanfics when I was a tween and guy on guy fanfiction regarding my favorite band when I was a teenager. Yeah, I didn’t have many friends in those periods of my life.

I truly, genuinely wish I had a snippet of my first anime fanfiction to share with you. It was horribly written, even for a twelve year-old, in second person. I do remember one line in particular, pretty much verbatim:

I mean, Hiei was the hottest guy in your math class. And now you had a date with him!

Are you shunning me yet?

Because I’m pretty sure not a word of it is PG, I’m not going to post a snippet of my My Chemical Romance fanfic (yup) from when I was an awkward, fangirlish teenager. But let your imagination run wild. And if you REALLY want to get an idea of what some of my old original writing looked like, here’s a hint—do enough clicking around on my Twitter/blog/etc. and you may just stumble upon some. Any links that could possibly lead to the MCR fanfic (which, yes, is still on Fanfiction.net) have since been scrubbed clean from my profiles.

However, as much as I’m seriously fighting off the urge to delete this whole post in shame right now, I’m grateful for one thing: that all the support I received from my equally fangirlish peers on Fanfiction.net and Fictionpress.com gave me the motivation to keep writing. And it’s those types of communities that eventually led me to NaNoWriMo, and then Twitter, and then, eventually, the creation of Sprint Shack! And all the support in these communities has all but shaped me as a writer these past few months.

So I’ve learned a lesson from all the bad writing, and that’s that the most cliché of all writing rules is, indeed, true: practice makes perfect. I consider myself a decent writer these days, and if I listened to my own doubts—or the few flames that I did get—I wouldn’t be here now.

And that’s the lesson that NaNoWriMo reinforces in me every year. If at first you don’t succeed, flip your inner editor off and continue on anyway.

What about you? What’s some of your most embarrassing writing? Don’t leave me out on my own, here!

Keeping Up Your Pace (It’s Called “Sprinting” For a Reason!)

So you’ve finally taken the plunge. You’ve committed to NaNoWriMo, maybe popped open a bottle of wine (I’m looking at you, Taylor Eaton!), and it’s now Week Three. You’re almost there! You decide to partake in a few word sprints to give yourself a kick in the butt. Always an excellent choice.

But if you open your word document and start tapping away, only to find the words aren’t coming as quickly as you’d like… then what? Chances are, the last sprint’s tallies came in a variety, like they always do: many in the hundreds, some in the thousands, some in only the double digits due to a distraction or a sprint spent editing. You want to be one of those in the higher-ups, right? So what do you do?

First and foremost, block out all distractions. Close your door, shut off your phone, warn your family of imminent death if they disturb you within the next X number of minutes. That may sound excessive, but words need to be written, people! You’re not going to get much down if you hear your phone buzzing away or have to stop every five minutes to respond to your spouse’s inquiries about whether or not you fed the dog. When I’m in the zone, I can write upwards of 1,500 words in a half hour. When I’m distracted, I’ve been guilty of writing less than 150. That’s ten times less productive because I’m distracted. So if you want to make your sprinting time count, get things done beforehand and block out that chunk of time to everything but your thoughts and your preferred medium.

Once you have that taken care of, be sure to have a plan. Do you know what the number one killer of productive sprints is? Thinking. Letting that little cursor on the screen blink for more than a few seconds at a time. You need to be prepared so that at any given time, you know what’s coming next—or, at least, a possible route with which you can get there. The key to successful, high-output sprinting is to just write. Which is why you could also…

Treat it as a free-writing session. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, freewriting is writing without pausing; in extreme cases, writing “blahblahblah wkemfomfwklf” until you can think of something coherent to put down. While I don’t think that writing gibberish is the most honest way to add to your word count, the practice does have some merit: it keeps you writing, not allowing your brain to pause, and pressures you into coming up with something so you can stop typing crap and subsequently stop feeling ridiculous.

If you have a hard time getting words down quickly, I suggest giving Write or Die a try. This is an awesome tool—you can turn up the settings so that it starts blasting annoying noises or even deleting your words if you don’t keep typing. Pause too long, and your word count starts dropping instead of rising or remaining stagnant. As someone who has way too much anxiety for that kind of thing, I personally can’t do it, but I can tell you from my one time trying it that it’s pretty darn effective.

Finally, keep a record. As I said above, I know my highs and my lows as well as my rough average. If you keep a record, you’ll be more motivated to push just a little harder past the burn and get those few more words down.

What are your sprinting techniques? Are you a freewriter? A shameless word-padder? Let us know in the comments below!

My NaNoWriMo Experience: Cristina R. Guarino

You know how I can tell it’s November? I spend more time calculating hours, minutes, and words than actually writing; I wear a wrist brace to bed every night; and I’m picking up my prescription of Restasis tomorrow for my dry, strained eyes. I spend my days either in a half-dozed state, a lazy smile on my face as I think about my luminous word count, or running around frantically while wondering how I’ll ever write a single word when I’m not even going to be home before midnight.

There are a lot of ways to tell I’m NaNo-ing, but why I do it, or even how, are stories in and of themselves.

And as writers, we love stories, right? So let’s dive in…

Why I NaNo

To write a book! No, seriously, it’s much more than that. NaNoWriMo was originally started for fun, for the sake of being able to say you’ve written a book in a month—or written a book at all—but it’s so much more than that for me. I NaNo for numerous reasons: the community, the inspiration, the motivation, the sense of achievement. The list goes on and on.

As of now, a little over 20k words in, I can easily say that I’m in this for the long run. And not so much for the reasons I used to be, like getting a first draft down quick so I can edit the everloving life out of it later, or being able to boast that I’d finally written a (hopefully coherent) novel  in a month. This time, I’m in it to make myself a better writer.

I’ve participated in NaNo three times before. I won in 2008, wrote 25k in 2010, and wrote 5k less than that in 2012. That was a whole (crappy) book the first year, and chunks of a still unfinished WIP the other two. In all three of those years, I pulled all kinds of dirty word count tricks you can find in the hypothetical NaNo book, from spelling out conjunctions to being unnecessarily wordy and descriptive. But this year, that hasn’t—and won’t be—the case.

I’m taking it step by step, trying to write as well as I can while still making the goal. Of course, I won’t stay stuck on a certain word or sentence or paragraph or idea for too long—I’ll eventually just write something, anything, that works and move on. But still, I’m doing my best, because I want this NaNo to really count.

And while trying to write an actually decent novel in a month is already nervewracking, on top of that, I’m writing a genre I’m not experienced in: Young Adult. So this is going to be (and has been) tough, but I think this is the most motivated I’ve ever been for a NaNoWriMo, so I’m pretty confident! Which brings me to…

How I NaNo

When I posted my Why I Sprint piece last month (which was a result of a complete deviation from my current writing topic during a sprint—for more on such creative detours during sprinting, see my post on the subject here), Taylor suggested we accompany our NaNoWriMo-themed posts with such personal pieces on Why and How we NaNo. It got me thinking, and I wasn’t quite sure how to answer those. I’ve participated in NaNo three times and crossed the finish line once. How do I NaNo?

Erratically.

See all those little red boxes? It’s how I write, period. I’m not great at setting daily goals and deadlines. Never have been. Just ask Faye, the official founder of the Write Chain Challenge! And while I do try my best to meet the daily 1,667 minimum during NaNo, I don’t always succeed. Instead, I’ll write nothing for a day or two, then sit down and push out 5k in one sitting and get ahead. Then I might meet my daily goal for a week, then drop off for another two to three days.

It’s not the best tactic, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who already does well with daily goals, but it works for me—or, at least, it’s worked once. I’d like to tie my score this year with my second NaNoWriMo completed, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one!

During NaNoWriMo, I’m sure to keep my work in progress on me at all times to accommodate these random bursts of creativity. Whether I keep it on a flash drive or saved to a Gmail draft, or print out the last few pages and keep them with some scrap to jot down a few words in my spare time where no computer is available, I do my best to have my novel accessible at all times. My schedule is too hectic not to; especially since this will be my first year NaNo-ing with a full-time job.

Finally, when I do actually plan a sit-down writing session, I sprint. At home, from write-ins¸you name it. There’s just too little time and too many words to type at a lazy pace. I write much, much faster when I sprint because sprinting  forces me to be “in the zone.” And with a record of about 1,300 per half hour sprint, I could easily demolish that daily goal and then some without spending hours harping over a scene!

What about you? How do you NaNo?

NaNoWriMo: Quantity or Quality?

It’s that age-old writer conundrum: is it better to write only a few quality words or lots of less-than-stellar ones? There’s no definitive answer to that, but here’s my take on the matter. It starts with a quote from Louis D. Brandeis:

“There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.”

True quality comes in the editing and rewriting. But how can you edit something that hasn’t been written yet? Many writers struggle to get those initial words down because they’re paralysed—by the fear of not being good enough, by perfectionism and writer’s block and self-doubt.

Here’s the thing, though—you can’t write a good quality story if the words never make it onto the page. Once they’re written, you can work with them. That’s what NaNoWriMo is all about: getting words down. Even if they’re the worst words ever written, they’re better than words never written.

The funny thing is, the stuff you write during NaNoWriMo or word sprints is often a lot better than you think. When writing, have you ever felt as if you’re dragging words, kicking and screaming, across a field of broken glass and throwing their bloody, beaten bodies onto the page? What about tossing the words onto the page so fast they seem like ill-formed blobs of gibberish?

I know I felt that way during my first NaNoWriMo. I cringed as I wrote some scenes, thinking the words were as painful to read as they were to write. In other scenes, there was so much padding and fluff that I could fill enough mattresses to put the bed from the Princess and the Pea to shame.

Then, six months later, I opened up the file I’d buried deep within my computer and re-read my NaNo novel. And I was astonished. The words that had felt so terrible while writing them were actually good. Sure, there were places where they needed tightening up or rewriting slightly, but for the most part, they didn’t need much altering at all. The ideas I came up with were interesting, the characters quirky, and some of the lines were just golden. NaNoWriMo had not only helped me to write a big chunk of my novel, it had made my writing better in the process.

How is that possible? How can you write something good when you’re not even properly considering the words you use? How can your ideas be so fantastically thrilling and your characters so engrossing when they’re popping into your mind without warning? Doesn’t good quality writing need to be well thought out?

Well… no, not necessarily. When you write without inhibition, without restraint, without censoring your thoughts, your muse comes out to play. That creative part of your psyche that whispers your very best ideas to you in your dreams, both waking and sleeping, is easily silenced. Your inner editor—the critical voice at the back of your mind—is usually the culprit. Fortunately, NaNoWriMo has a strict ‘lock up the inner editor’ policy.

With that critical voice shut out for the month, you and your muse are free to frolic across the page. Because you’re uncensored, your word count soars and you produce some of the bravest, most imaginative stuff you’ve ever written. Just ask Rainbow Rowell. In this case, quantity and quality go hand-in-hand.

Cristina Guarino has written a brilliant article on how word sprinting can unleash your creative potential and sweep aside writer’s block. Try out her tips and see your NaNoWriMo word count sky-rocket!

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So do you still think that NaNoWriMo can’t let you produce quantity and quality? Let us know in the comments below or join the debate at @TheSprintShack!