Written by Elaine K. Phillips
Especially during NaNoWriMo. Sometime this month, your draft will seem so bad that it deserves to be ingloriously crashed in a ditch; or your brain will go kaput, and you can’t summon the strength to get out and push. Don’t panic; this is normal. While writing my dissertation this summer, I saw burnout signs so many times I might’ve been stuck in a roundabout. And then everything just stopped. A week passed sans momentum. Then another. Finally, no matter how much I wanted to torch my manuscript and roast s’mores in the flames, I had to stumble out and push.
When you want to go pyro on your protagonist, resist the urge. Everyone who’s written a novel or dissertation knows how you feel. You’re not alone. But how, when it seems impossible, do you get out and push? To persevere through NaNoWriMo, don’t focus on your future product, but on your current process. Take these concrete steps to rethink why and how you write:
Find your values. Why exactly did you commit to NaNoWriMo? To write that story, sure. But what is it about this story, or the task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, that satisfies your personal values? Does this story explore ignored social issues? Will it force you to overcome a stylistic tick? Or make your little sister laugh to tears? Whatever it is, find it. Write a one-sentence value statement on your notebook, at the top of your Word doc, on your fridge, the bathroom mirror, everywhere. Focus on why your story matters, and you’ll want to write it.
Set small goals. Set an app like Howler Timer for 45 minutes and aim to write 550 words. While the clock ticks, no Tumblr, no Twitter, no Behind the Name. Just write. After 45 minutes, write one sentence about what comes next and stop. Drink water. Stretch. After 15 minutes, return to your laptop, reset the timer, and get going. By splitting your writing time into 45-minute segments, you’ll heighten your focus on your immediate goal—and actually get it done.
Take smart breaks. Jumpstart your motivation by using those fifteen minute breaks to tap into your personal values. Crave the writing community’s comaraderie? Tweet your new word count. Need to contribute to a cultural conversation? Watch the trailer for a film that discusses similar themes. [Tip: What motivates somebody else might drain you. An extrovert might read a friend the funniest line she just wrote, but if you’re an introvert, instead take a stroll while listening to a favorite audiobook.]
Use your happy feels. If you begin each writing session by rereading what you wrote the day before, stop: therein lies endless editing and much despair. Instead, harness the high of hitting 1,666 words: at the end of your writing day, open a new document, reset your timer, and spend 15 minutes writing the next scene’s first paragraph or the next chapter’s summary. Close every document except this one. Tomorrow, reread this paragraph or summary and go straight to work, building on today’s positive emotions.
By taking these steps to refocus on why and how you write, you’ll find that you can and will persevere until November’s last day—and your novel’s last word.
Elaine K. Phillips recently completed her M.A. in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University, having penned her dissertation on transmedia storytelling’s impact on fiction publishers. From lowly digital intern to lead magazine editor, Elaine has held diverse positions across the British and American publishing industries, but her greater passion is crafting thought-provoking adventure tales. She finished her first (bad, bad, bad) science-fiction novel at eleven and is currently writing an alternate history sci-fi novel about Henry VI. She’s obsessed with digital media theory, children’s media, and coffee, and would love to discuss any of the above with you on Twitter. Learn more about Elaine through her LinkedIn profile.