The Power of Write-A-Thons

For NaNoWriMo participants, the word “write-a-thon” tends to mean a few different things. It can either mean that you plan to plot out a bunch of chapters, set a daily goal and write your heart out until you hit that goal, or join an insane write-in event where you are surrounded by people who all plan to write a certain amount of words in a set period of time and will stop at nothing to get there. These options can all come with varying stress levels, but the common denominator is that you are setting a goal and not stopping until you write your way there.

Write-a-thons can be an amazing tool for people who find themselves procrastinating or falling behind in word count or who are just more goal driven. I personally do write-a-thons on a weekly basis during NaNo, and this year I plan on doing at least two 10,000 word days.

There are a few important things to plan before you sit yourself down for a day of intense writing, so here are my fool-proof tips to surviving a write-a-thon:

  1. Schedule your sprints and breaks. Do the math ahead of time and calculate your average word count within a set time. Then figure out how many sprints of that length you will need to do to get to your goal.
  2. With that information, you are going to want to set aside some time just for your write-a-thon and make sure that you won’t have any long-term interruptions. It is really easy to lose momentum when you are writing for a long period of time.
  3. If you need to be held accountable for your word count, pick a writing buddy or tweet your goal. I find that as soon as I put my goal on my social media or tell someone about it, it helps me hold myself accountable and push myself there.
  4. Race a friend! This will be a great motivation if you are a competitive person. (Co-founder note: Check out our past posts on NaNoWagers for inspiration!)
  5. Take 5 to 10 minute breaks in between each sprint. Make sure you are staying hydrated and snacking frequently. Stand up, walk around, and get the blood flowing!
  6. Reward yourself at the end or per sprint. If you are sitting down to write 5000 or 10,000 words you are more than deserving of a reward or two! I find guilt-free video game time or Netflix time to be a great reward so far this year.

I really hope that these tips help you a bit when getting ready for a write-a-thon and I hope that you consider trying it out. If you are used to writing the suggested daily goal of 1667 words, I would really recommend you try a 3k day or a 5k day—they are so rewarding and really can boost your NaNoWriMo spirit!

If you have any other tips for having a successful write-a-thon, please leave your tips in the comment below, and feel free to add me as a writing buddy on the NaNoWriMo website (username is DaisyforMazie)!


Mazie-Bishop

Mazie Bishop is a fiery 23 year-old writer and journalism graduate from
Canada. She is self-published and also has several poems and short fiction pieces published in various anthologies and magazines. 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.

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!

How To Stay Motivated During NaNoWriMo

A writer’s relationship with motivation is a tenuous one. One day we’re filled with the creative spirit, the next we never want to look at another word again—and that’s during a normal month. During NaNoWriMo, everything is intensified: our word count goals, our love-hate relationship with our stories, and the natural fluctuation of our creativity and motivation.

How do we keep our motivation going when we’ve been going all out for half a month already? Here are a few tricks I’ve tried out to boost my motivation levels and get me through the mid-NaNoWriMo blues.

1. Writing Buddies

Whether they’re people you know personally or virtually, get yourself a writing buddy who can hold you accountable. I have my fellow co-founders, Cristina and Taylor, to keep me going, plus a host of other writers on Twitter who are there to cheer me on (and give me a butt-kicking when I start slacking). If you don’t have a writing buddy already or want to find more, look no further.

2. Incentive

Besides being brilliant cheerleaders and stern coaches, your writing buddies can also offer a great incentive to write more. One way is to make a #NaNoWager with them. A NaNoWager, quite simply, is an agreement that you’ll do something embarrassing or unpleasant if you don’t reach 50,000 words (or your own target) by the end of the month.

I have a couple of NaNoWagers and, boy, do they motivate me to write. Let’s put it this way: if I don’t reach 50k by November 30th, I’ll be wearing some very embarrassing clothes for the week afterwards and posting pictures to Twitter, along with some excerpts of my awful early writing attempts on the Sprint Shack.

3. Story Upheaval

Sometimes our motivation to write leaves us because we lose interest in our stories, encounter writer’s block or write ourselves into tight corners. The story is causing us a problem, which makes the prospect of writing as attractive as being trapped in a cage with a man-eating llama.

When this happens, sometimes the only thing that can save us is a story upheaval. Your story’s lost your interest? Introduce an element that spices things back up! Use a writing dare or maybe a writing prompt to spark your imagination, reignite your plot, and rekindle your love of your story. Same for writer’s block—throw something unexpected into the story and watch as your imagination grinds back into gear as it tries to deal with its implications.

What happens if you’ve written yourself into an untenable corner? Write yourself out. Now, that could be through coming up with a creative solution, but if that eludes you and time is running out, there are a couple of options: 1) jump on ahead and figure out the ‘how’ later, or 2) backtrack to the point where the story last worked and rewrite from there.

If you do rewrite, it doesn’t mean everything you’re cutting out should be deleted. Keep hold of it, include it in your NaNoWriMo word count if you want (because, hey, you still wrote it during November, even if it doesn’t make the final cut), and maybe take the good bits from it to use in your new rewrite. Then carry on writing from there.

4. Mix Things Up

Our interest and motivation may turn stale when our writing days are monotonous. If your sessions follow the same routine, try shaking things up a bit. Dedicate a whole day to writing if you can and give yourself an ambitious, yet achievable goal. Take part in some word sprints. Go to a write-in. Sometimes varying your writing routine is all you need to revive your dying motivation to write.

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How do you deal with loss of motivation? Tell us your motivation-resurrection stories in the comments below!

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.

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