It’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated). My word counts this year aren’t that great. In fact, I don’t think I’ve quite hit 10k words this month, but I’m close to that, and I think my total time investment is only around 6 hours. So I’m at well over 1000 words an hour. 🙂 Maybe that’s good, maybe not. But, sometimes the hardest part is getting started. So, I thought I’d share some of the tips that have set me free to write in years past. Without further ado, here’s my top 8 tips to get you writing, right now:
- Write now, fix later. I know. I want the perfect word too. But I can come back and put in the perfect word when I’m editing. When I’m trying to get the story down on the page, I have to stop worrying about the fact that I just used the word “resolved” four times in the previous paragraph, or that “empty” isn’t quite as good as “hollow.” For now, focus on getting the ideas onto the page. You can clean up the mess later.
- Hold it loosely. It’s your baby. Every word is pure gold — even though you’re writing quickly and not choosing the right words. For me, I’m a discovery writer. So I run down roads and pathways that go nowhere. I love them. But they still will often need to hit the cutting room floor. So don’t be afraid to just start throwing words on the page and see what happens.
- Make a backup so you can wreck it. Sometimes, I’m afraid to add, to change, to do the next thing because it might be worse than what I already have. When I feel that way, and even when I don’t, I just make a backup and keep going. I always know that backup is there, and if I really make a mess of things, I can return to it.
- Structure is good. One of the great lessons of screenwriting is how critical structure is to good story telling. When I’m constrained to a tight limit of minutes, I have to be incredibly precise in when and how the dramatic arc of the story builds and lands. While a novel is a vastly different bird, it’s not particularly different in this regard. You may not need to chart out every moment of the story before you start — I would never get a word written if I did that — but it helps a lot to have a loose map of the story before you start. I actually break the main events of my story into three acts.
- Use good tools. Sometimes you do get hung up on a word or a phrase. See point one and keep going. But if you can’t, grab a thesaurus or a reverse dictionary. Get the word you need and keep going. Also, Word and Google Docs aren’t ideal for long form documents like novels (or heavily formatted ones like screenplays). Personally, I love Scrivener. It provides me all the critical data I need, allows me to easily format and organize my writing, my research — everything I need. I wish I could get a commission every time I tell someone about it. 🙂
- Write somewhere else. You’ve got your favorite work spaces, the places where you do your day job, or you pay the bills at the house, maybe where you play a computer game or your favorite living room chair. When it’s time to get serious writing done, go somewhere else. All those places have a host of built in distractions, ties to all those other activities. So go somewhere that doesn’t, and enjoy all the new mental focus you can find there. Now don’t mess it up and bring in of those other activities into you new space!
- Protect your writing time. If you’ve set aside time to write, it can feel impossible sometimes to get started. That’s okay. Write garbage if you have to, but start writing. If you absolutely can’t write, do some research for your writing project. (Even if you’re writing a work of fiction that takes place in it’s own universe there are stories from history, bits of science, traits of human psychology that you’ll want to carry into your world.) Or, read some writing tips. The internet is filled with suggestions from excellent writers that will help you be better. If you can’t get anything accomplished in service of your project, at least use the time to become a better writer.
- WWcD? What would <your character> do? I know, you’ve got important plot points to hit, but this is a novel. The straight line is almost never the right call. So, at this moment in the story, instead of worrying about what needs to happen next, work on what your character would do. I may want him to give some vital exposition, or take a stand against the bad guy. Or maybe, I want him to be nice and do the right thing, but… the circumstances don’t make that likely. Let your character lead you on a merry chase, and see where it takes you. Worst case scenario, you can always fall back on number 2.