NanoWrimo begins tomorrow at midnight. Technically, the day after tomorrow at midnight. Did I get that right? Whatever – you know what I mean.
The anxiety is weighing heavy on me. You know, that crushing, asphyxiating feeling of what-if-I-can’t-write-1600-words-per-day? What if I have to resort to writing out the phone book, like Strom Thurmond filibustering the Civil Rights Act? What if I have to… cheat? Copy and paste a few thousand words to meet the quota?
So, I’ve been considering all of my little tricks to get myself writing again, which I will share with you because, well, why not? And I’m writing, so it’s good practice. (By the way, as I write this, I imagine the voice of Norm Sherman narrating it and I’m just transcribing. This is the creepiest, strangest post I’ve ever written. Thanks, Norm.)
Here’s the list:
1.) Stop caring. If you’ve read Anne Lamott‘s Bird by Bird (and if you haven’t, you should) you’ll know that no one writes a perfect first draft.
Except for Tim. He’s an asshole. We don’t like Tim much and we’re pretty sure that he doesn’t have any friends and he cries himself to sleep. Don’t be like Tim. Write bad first drafts and sleep well at night.
2.) Write it like a play. I’m stealing this, again, from Stephen King’s On Writing. I like writing plays, and so it’s more like cheating for me, but there’s a point here. Scripts strip everything down to dialogue and action. If you’re stuck, you can remove yourself from internality, put yourself in the audience’s seat and think “What do I want to happen?” Go wild. It’s drama, after all.
One suggestion, though, is to abbreviate characters to single letters so that you don’t have to write out the names every line. It gets annoying.
3.) If you’re writing a play, now, and still aren’t getting anywhere, write an impossible stage direction. This is one of my favorite prompts because it forces you to go against instinct. If someone said, “I dare you to write something that no one could do in live-action theatre,” what would you write? This sort of goes along with my whole belief that speculative fiction has more to offer than the Pulitzer Prize committee is willing to admit, but that’s a post of a different color.
4.) Set a timer. No, really. Get out the egg timer and give yourself fifteen minutes and then write for every second of it. There are plenty of websites and widgets out there that will help and I’m too lazy to find them and collect them all here for you. Trust me, they’re out there. Nothing demands inspiration like last-minute inspiration.
5.) Set smaller goals. Sort of an iteration on the first piece of advice. Instead of trying to write 1600 words, try 50. Or just a sentence. In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway writes that after that first sentence is done everything is easier from there.
He may have been a misogynist asshole, but some of his advice is useful.
6.) Get drunk. Exactly what I said. You should need no more inspiration – just discipline.
7.) Drink a lot of coffee. Sometimes, you just need to mess with your body chemistry. Any dietitian, doctor, or person possessing common sense would argue with the previous two pieces of advice and well they should. It’s bad advice. But the whole list is comprised of bad advice and you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t desperate so I won’t judge if you don’t.
8.) Write an outline and follow it. This is my favorite, and the one I follow most often. It doesn’t have to be a formal outline – it could just be a sentence or two saying where you’re going with the story. But it does help. It gives you a map to follow, and any fool who found buried treasure can tell you that’s worth the while.
9.) Walk away. Writing is my profession. Sometimes when I get frustrated by a sentence, or a paragraph, or whatever, I just have to walk around the house, the building, the city, to think it through before I can proceed. There’s no shame in giving up. Temporarily.
10.) Whatever you think you shouldn’t write, you should. More on this later. The gist of it is, if there is something you feel you shouldn’t write, whether it be because you haven’t gotten to that part of the plot or because you are too embarrassed to put it down, write it.
That’s it. Nano’s soon. Godspeed.