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!

Why Write-Ins Are Awesome (And Why You Should Be Attending Them)

You’re probably tired of hearing (reading?) me say it by now, but the main reason I participate in NaNoWriMo—and blogs, and word sprints, and basically any other writing activity that involves more than just myself—is community. My biggest obstacle to productive writing is loneliness; even if I stay in for the night, I could be playing online games with friends, or watching a movie with family, or webcamming with the boyfriend instead of writing.  Anything that doesn’t involve me being completely alone. Even if I’m just trolling Reddit, hunkered down in a snuggie and working my way through an unforgivable amount of pizza, I’m still interacting with people, which is more than can be said for shutting the world out and honing in on an imaginary world (and, no, my characters don’t count).

So it only makes sense that NaNoWriMo write-ins are the highlight of my November experience. While I highly advocate having a writing space outside your home–something I’ll be talking about in a future post–I’ve tried the coffee shop thing, and being alone with my laptop in a Starbucks frankly makes me feel pretty pretentious. It’s also pretty tempting to look up from my laptop, observe the people around me, stare longingly at the pastries in the case… you get the idea. But when I’m at a write-in, I get that companionship I desire, the focus I need, and the support I thrive off of to form that perfect trifecta of writing stamina.

Write-Ins are awesome meetups organized by region, where NaNoWriMo participants who live in the area gather to write and encourage each other. They’re a great mix of writing at your own pace and sprinting to the death (of your inner editor, that is!) in WordScrims. In my experience, they usually start off with a bit of chatting, setting up, and maybe even a few introductions. Then attendees write at their own pace, pausing occasionally to chat if they desire, sharing ideas and plots and feats of NaNos past.

Now, doing only that would slow you down, and that’s where the Municipal Liaisons (MLs)— event planners for each NaNoWriMo region—come in. Eventually, at any write-in you attend, you can expect to hear your ML announce a sprint or scrim. Some even bring fun prizes, like plot bunny stickers, to give out to the winners with the most words!

This is especially helpful for those who are looking to catch up on their word counts, but even those who are well on track could benefit. Let’s say you’re well into November—in the second or third week—and you’re running out of steam. You’re on track, but you fear that won’t be the case for long. Maybe you hate your main character. Maybe the narrative is bubbling with the pressure of plot holes and inconsistencies, and you’re sure it’s about to explode, much like that whistling tea kettle in the kitchen you’ve been ignoring for far too long. Maybe you’re just wondering if this book really needs to be written after all.

Either way, I can promise you this: going to a write-in will pick your spirits, and maybe even your word count, way up. At the very least, it’ll get you out of your house and force you to pull a comb through your hair—although, arguably, one of the best things about going to a write-in is that you’re meeting up with harried writers just as frazzled as you are. Regardless, you’re bound to have a good time and get some writing done in the process.

Have you ever been to a write-in? What are your experiences with fellow NaNo-ers like? Let us know!

My NaNoWriMo Experience: Taylor Eaton

I love November. The weather is cooling off, it’s the start of the holidays, and I’m steadily gaining weight from all the leftover Halloween candy and Thanksgiving practice cooking. (What? You don’t bake pies weeks before the actual holiday just to make sure you’re doing it right? Well you should. It’s delicious.)

But you all know the real reason I love November so much. You know. My friends and family know. The cashier at the grocery store knows. Everyone knows (and is sick of it) because I can’t shut up about it: NaNoWriMo.

But why do I put myself through this grueling writing marathon? And how do I go about approaching it? Here’s my NaNoWriMo confessional.

Why I NaNo
Did you guys know that I only found out about NaNoWriMo a year ago? Actually, I discovered it on November 4, 2012. Yup. My first ever NaNoWriMo and I started four days late. That meant no time for planning, no time for outlining, no time for mental preparation (which is terrifying to a compulsive planner like myself).

Four days late. That equates to 6,668 words behind schedule. But I wanted to write a novel, dammit! And while I knew that 50,000 words was not technically a full-length novel, it was far more than the 800 words I’d been obsessing over for the last three months.

I poked around the NaNo site, taking in the forums, the thousands of participants, …the winner’s shirt. Then I read something that made me fall in love with NaNoWriMo. Somewhere on the site, there was the explanation that NaNo wasn’t about writing a near-perfect novel. It wasn’t about quality at all. It was about quantity. About turning your inner-editor off and getting your words down.

What a concept! Up until that point, I had been editing AS I had been writing – never able to let a passage go untended if it wasn’t concise or if the wording was a bit awkward. Hence the three pages of novel that I’d been sitting on for nearly a quarter of a year. But NaNo made so much sense to me – I needed to give myself the permission to just suck at writing. To really, truly, write something hideous. But something that I could, nonetheless, edit later on.

So, with the sense that I was making a very stupid decision that would mar my social life for all of November, I signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo 2012.

And by November 30th, I had 50k words. In fact, I hit my 50K a couple days early.

It turns out I just needed to put myself in the right frame of mind. I needed to tell myself: “You’re not a bad writer – but in November, be a bad writer.” I mixed metaphors, jumped tenses, and threw in an ugly amount of cliches. But it was okay. It was all in the name of NaNo. And at the end of the month, I had 50,000 words of a novel written.

For the last year since NaNo, I’ve continued to embrace crappy first drafts. In doing so, I’ve since been able to launch a site for my short fiction, co-found the Sprint Shack, and work on various other writing projects. That’s 99.9% more writing than I was doing pre-NaNo 2012!

And now that it’s November again, NaNo is in full swing and I’m loving it. I’d be lying if I said it’s all rainbows and lollipops. It’s only day five and there’s already been a couple instances of horrible procrastination. But I’m getting there – slowly inching toward November 30th and my 50k. And at least I didn’t start four days late!

How I NaNo
Since this is my second NaNo (not counting the 2013 Camp NaNo sessions), I spent the entire last year gearing up for NaNo 2013. In the months leading up to November I: did word sprints, participated in Faye’s Write Chain Challenge, and kept a running streak of 250+ days of consecutive writing on 750words.com. I trained up and increased my stamina. I was the Rocky Balboa of NaNoWriMo prep. And on November 1st – I. Was. READY.

At the time of this post, I’ve already reached the 15,000 word mark. That puts me ahead of pace for day 5. But I can feel the procrastination forcing its way in. Now that the initial adrenaline of NaNo has worn off (Don’t you guys get a physical rush from NaNo? No? I’m the only one?), I find myself much more easily distracted from my writing.

But remember how I said I’d been preparing for NaNo? Well, I also prepared for these times of extreme procrastination. One of the things I did was to start making #NaNoWagers. I made various bets with other WriMo’s that, should I fail to finish my 50k during November, will result in me doing a variety of embarrassing things. And remember how I said that I couldn’t shut up about NaNo in the months preceding it? Remember how everyone in my life is sick of hearing about it? I do that for a reason. I broadcast the fact that I am, most definitely, going to be participating in NaNoWriMo and I will certainly win it.

That’s what keeps me going, really. That’s what snaps me out of my procrastination and forces me to get the words down – the accountability. The bragging rights. I love winning (who doesn’t?) and, inversely, I HATE losing. I hate losing more than I love winning. So all those months of talking about NaNo and making #NaNoWagers – that’s part of the preparation too. It plants that seed of expectation in everyone else’s mind – and mine – that I will finish November with those 50,000 words completed.

~

Why do YOU NaNo? And how do you approach it? Leave a comment below! And happy NaNo-ing!!

Guest Post: August Evrard – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wordsprint

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Word Sprint: August Evrard talks writer's block, a runaway imagination, and how the word sprint can keep them in check.Okay, so I’m cribbing heavily from Kubrick here. But the cold war is a pretty good analogy, and Kubrick’s interpretation especially so, of many writers’ internal dialogues.

Here you are on the one side, awakening from an inspiring dream:

“Man, what if you could like, surf, in space. Surfing in space sounds pretty radical. I should write a story that has that.”

Yes, there you are living in the land of the free, the brave, the realm of dreamers. 1950s America, with all her whitewashed glory. Everything is perfect.

But then, an internal voice thinks, hey, hey, hold on a second. Surfing in space is stupid. Nobody wants to read about kids surfing in space. How do you even do that, anyways? It’s not hard core and gritty and realistic or whatever. That’s what everyone’s into these days, that and dystopian romances. Plus, the 50s were horrible.

That’s the Joseph McCarthy of your brain, telling you that the Soviets (e.g. other people) are going to murder us in our sleep, and that they’re living right next to you. Maybe it’s more a problem for me, this whole shame&fear combo, but to me it was an important realization that my imagination’s opinion of what others will think of my ideas is not what people are going to think.

In many aspects of my life, I am a pessimistic person, in my writing especially so. Who wants to read this garbage? I think, or this is crazy nonsense. Makes you not want to share, not even to write the words down. Your world becomes insular, your dream trapped inside your brain, you’re afraid to let it out, that the fatty bone sausages we call fingers will mar the essence of your glorious dream as they attempt to transcribe the divine onto plastic keys attached to electric screens. Or shredded wood and tortured stone onto pulped and dried wood, but it’s your choice of medium.

Hold on, brief thought here–does anyone write in squid ink? Please contact me immediately if you do so.

Russians, when you get to know most of them, are not very bad people. Yes, their country at the moment, and for much of history, is dominated by patriarchal alcoholics who hate everyone but themselves, but whose country isn’t? Mine sure seems to be. Russian people are fine, very passionate–they love music and taking walks and chatting and they hate talking on the phone. And they probably would love your novel about surfing in space if it came with a good plot and relatable characters.

My point is that you can’t know until you show it to someone else. And you can’t show it to someone else if you don’t write it. You have to let all that stuff go, to just think about the dream, that dream that’s just chemicals and sparks passing through neurons arranged in big wrinkly lumps, and make that dream travel from your brain to your fingers, from the fingers to the page, from the page to everyone else’s eyes and minds.

For which, I have to say, the best thing in my book is a #wordsprint. Can’t even write it without the hashtag. Social writing, consistent sharing, through hashtags like #LSW for Last Sentence Written or #amwriting, basically blows down the Berlin Wall we all erect in our minds between us and the outside world. Sometimes your sentences are just: “He opened the door.” Sometimes they’re huge flowery things like okay I can’t think of one right now alright?

Getting online, saying, “Let’s do a #wordsprint!” on twitter and getting a handful of responses is a huge motivator. Joining in on wordsprints run by others, like the Sprint Shack, so graciously inviting me to speak here, is a similarly inspiring experience. Everyone’s writing, everyone’s sharing what they’re working on, discussing the trade and their own problems and processes, and everyone shuts up and writes for good chunks of time. It’s like a social dinner party where you get work done.

And all that wondering about what those scary Russians thought of us, or what we thought of them, because we were too scared to talk, it all breaks down. You write your novel, you show it to the world. You become a #betabuddy and read someone else’s dream, still shifting about the edges with that eldritch musk of a recent transliteration, before it’s refined and polished and given to the masses to win awards and accolades.

The best part? You can do wordsprints by yourself. You write for thirty minutes, you get up, walk around, stretch, do a downward facing dog or shoulderstand and think while your body opens up. Return to work, sprint like the dickens. I promise you will write more. But I enjoy the social part, especially through Twitter. It all comes together in an atmosphere of mutual support and motivation that comes with no strings attached and for everyone from pros to shmos.

Remember, you make it perfect in the editing, not the writing. Nothing ever comes out great the first time through. I threw away a 276k word draft because it wasn’t good enough, and in doing so, the new version (already at that same wordcount+) is going to be something really magical. But I never would have written this much, this quickly, if it weren’t for wordsprints, and working online with everyone.

No matter where you are, no matter what you’re writing, probably someone, somewhere, is ready to do a wordsprint with you. @TheSprintShack itself covers three different timezones across two continents, which means they’re on pretty much all the time. If you’re doing #NaNoWriMo or just trying to write more on a day to day basis, I challenge you to try a #wordsprint with me. Remember, even if your dream is silly and crazy, even if it’s tropey and absurd, we all love those old 50s sci-fi movies. Even if they’re comedies now, instead of dramas.

Write what you love, write what you care about, but more importantly, friggen show your worlds to me so I can escape the flesh husk I call a body for even a single moment. Let the #wordsprint carry you away, and carry that draft to completion.

See you all on the racetrack soon.

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August Evrard

ABOUT AUGUST EVRARD

August Evrard works blue-collar jobs until he escapes somewhere else. Until then, he escapes with words and song. He writes novels and short fiction which has been featured in 365tommorows.com and elsewhere, but if you Google his name you will end up with his father nine times out of ten. He runs the @NaNoPals twitter account and a blog of the same name, and loves #wordsprints more than chocolate. But not more than robots.