Ready To Meet The NaNoWriMo Challenge? These 9 Tips Will Get You There.

typing fast to meet the NaNoWriMo challenge

Taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge might require some creative end-arounds from your typical writing process. These tips will help you keep the words and creativity flowing.

It’s that time of year when hopeful writers unite in the challenge and online community known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The ambitious endeavor of writing 50,000 words in one month — enough content to complete a novel — begins November 1st.

Indeed, big challenges can inspire and kick us into gear if we’ve procrastinated. Raising the bar on productivity expectations is sometimes all one needs when they’ve been watching dust collect on pages waiting to be completed.

I believe in you! I believe in how badly you’ve been wanting to write. In my time working with hundreds of clients as an intuitive book coach, I’ve used several writing exercises and invitations to get writers out of their heads and into motion.

Here are nine actionable ideas to help when you get stuck, feel overwhelmed, or if you’re struggling with where to begin.

1. Identify your North Star

Do you already have an idea for your story? Your characters? Are you looking to start and see where things go? Oftentimes, writers already have ideas — plots, places, themes — that have been churning inside their brains for some time. Perhaps there’s a “sense” of something brewing. I typically suggest that writers get out a huge sheet of paper and place their central concept, what I call their “North Star,” in the middle of the page.

For instance, in my book, Me, My Selfie & Eye, my North Star was confronting midlife transitions, recognizing them as grief, and confronting all the ways they showed up in my life. From there, I identified exactly what those transitions were — job losses, divorce, the death of a grandparent, getting a disease diagnosis… I wrote them around the core concept, and these became the loose outlines for chapters to work on.

If you’re writing a novel, what is the core story? Could you condense it to one sentence? Is it a theme, such as love, loss, or discovery? Who’s story is it? What are they hoping to see, become, or achieve? It helps to see the heart of your idea in a condensed way and to associate the ideas that surround it in a single circle on a page.

2. Strive for progress, not perfection!

Don’t overthink what you want to write — analysis can truly be paralysis. Overthinking what to write and demanding perfection from yourself will stifle creative flow. If you don’t know what to write, just start writing your character’s name. I write in columns if the words aren’t flowing. I just write fragments, words, and things I associate with a character or a plot point. I don’t worry if my ideas are in sentences, how they’re formatted, or even fret over spelling. Lack of perfection may agitate some writers, but the idea is to keep moving. When we’re trying to create and stay in motion, there is no perfection. There is no gold standard. Stopping to ensure that every shirt is meticulously folded might mean the laundry piles up!

3. Don’t worry if what you’re writing makes sense

When we’re looking to create a grand parade of words, sometimes we need to address the front of the line and other times we need to attend to the back. The idea is to see the entire parade walking down the boulevard and pick the thing that inspires you at the moment. When you’re done, you’ll have created the feeling of how grand a parade is when all the marching bands, floats, horses, and baton twirlers are in harmony.

All this analogy is meant to illustrate is that you should write as the pieces of a story capture you. Horses here, floats there. Follow your inspiration and flashes of clarity. You don’t have to write in chronological order because, sometimes, that’s not how creativity works. You can always go back and reassign places in a parade line.

4. Don’t edit as you write, save that for December!

If you try to correct every element of punctuation, or ensure all the pieces fall into place as you write, that may stop the flow. Saving editing for later may be a big ask for some of you who are perfectionists, but this obstruction might be the number one thing that keeps you from actually moving forward. If you want a different outcome, how you write may require a different approach.

5. Everything is a prompt

When you get stuck and don’t know where to go in a story, what a character needs to say, or what their motivation is, remember: everything is a prompt. Look around the room. Pick a specific object — a pencil, a stapler, a picture of your child, a fork, a hair tie, a coffee mug — examine the object, and free-write about what the object is, how it works, who could hold it, what would it say if it could talk to you… whatever moves you. Imagine it in the setting of your character’s home or imagine they are looking at that object. See what action, or phrase, or circumstance organically arises.

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6. Change your environment

This tip produces some of the most successful writing outcomes with my clients. The minute you feel blocked or stuck, don’t sit there and fight it. Get up and go outside. Bring a notepad and pen so you can jot down whatever comes up. Go to your backyard. Walk down the street. Go to a coffee shop. Sit on a park bench. Go to another room. Remove yourself from the place you normally sit when you write. It’s amazing how effective changing the environment works.

7. Try repetition

When I’m stuck, I use the technique of repetition. I take a line or a word, start a sentence with it, and just repeat it at the front of a sentence 10, 20, even 30 times. For instance, I’ll write, “He is…” and write whatever follows, sentence after sentence after sentence. “He is dark. He is on a mission. He is afraid to lose. He is someone who travels alone. He is a warrior in his mind…” And so on. The sentences can be “You will…” or “They say…” or “It is believed…” Use a single prompt that evokes open-ended responses. This truly frees up the flow!

8. If you’re stuck on what a character would say or do, make them an object

Let’s say you have a character who is in conflict with his spouse. You’re not sure how he will express how angry he is. Instead of looking at the character as a person with feelings, or the potential repercussions from writing what they may have to say, make them an object.

5 Steps to Self-PublishingFor instance, one of my clients was angry at her father over how he remained emotionally absent when she was a child. He was always focused on work. She wanted to make her character angry at the father and was stuck on how to write it. So rather than addressing her father, she addressed a golf club instead. “I’m so disappointed, golf club, that you weren’t there for me. Why, golf club, couldn’t you be there at my school functions, instead of work?”

It may seem like a silly exercise, but try it. I’ve seen remarkable results. Particularly in situations where you are addressing real scenarios from your life and are trying to address real feelings of vulnerability, anger, or pain, make the person a thing and see if that makes it easier to say what you have to say.

9. Find something you really loved when you read it, and read it again

Is there a paragraph out of a book or a poem that speaks to you? Pull it off the shelf, read it a few times, and, without thinking, write in that same style. Emulate what you’ve read in your own words in a paragraph, a sentence — anything that feels similar in tone or style. Don’t get hung up that you’re “copying” anything.

I used to get hung up that every word I produced had to be so original, every paragraph a masterpiece. But there are reasons why I’d read certain authors or certain passages; the style, word choices, or images inspired me. And isn’t inspiration the point? Get over the idea that every sentence and every passage has to be of ultimate originality and revisit the words of others who evoke your creativity.

Stay NaNo-positive

If you’re going to embark on NaNoWriMo, I wish you all the inspiration and motivation needed to be successful. I hope these productivity tips keep you moving toward fulfilling your writing goals. And, if the word count falls short, it’s truly OK. Your words are still here, waiting for you to greet them, no matter if it’s November or December or January; 1,000, 5,000, or 49,999… You’re still winning in your own creative writing journey!

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