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The Unoffical NaNoWriMo Survival Guide for Writers: Part 1

Well writers, the time has come. October is coming to an abrupt halt. November is just days away. (When did this happen!?) For most this doesn’t mean much except tearing down the spiders and witches to make room for the turkeys and pilgrims or shifting our sweet tooth gears from store bought candy to home made pumpkin pie. But for all of us writers out there, we know better. As the Jack o’ lanterns rot and the costumes, wigs, and Halloween décor are packed away for another year, we are haunted – and not by ghosts and ghouls. Oh no, we are haunted by the ominous (yet exciting) fact that NanoWriMo is in our close and impending future. Yes, my friends, it is less than two short days away and I’m sure that they mixture of anticipation and apprehension has set in as you try to prepare yourselves for the grueling month ahead of you.

Fear not though, fellow writer, fear not. Because while I am no expert and I do not claim to have all (if any!) of the answers, I have come up with some tips for getting you through the next thirty or so days in one by and large happy and productive piece. (There will be more to come! I’ve included five suggestions here, but this is only the first installment – something to get us started.)

So read on before you write on. (And stay tune for more blog entries this next month to keep you encouraged, motivated, and remembering that we are all in this together.)

Rylie’s Short and Unofficial Guide for Surviving NanoWriMo (Part 1)

1. Get comfortable and stay comfortable.

Your mind can’t work unless your body is at ease. I suggest finding a place where you feel safe and relaxed. Whether it be a cozy corner of your living room where you can curl up next to a fire in your fuzziest pair of pajamas, in the dim-lighted coffee shop down the street, or even perched on a bar stool with in front of an open beer and open lap top, settle in. (These spots aren’t mutually exclusive either! I know that I can’t stay in one spot for too long. Allow yourself to get up, relocate, and re-situate.)

2. Give yourself regular breaks … you deserve them.

I know that the we feel we must write, write, write. Make the most of our time. Not a second to waste. The tic-tocking of the clock will be reverberating ceaselessly in our ears this month. It’s inevitable. But make sure you allot time to give your body (and your mind!!) some rest. I’m not telling you to quit in the midst of a surge of creative energy, but don’t be afraid of those moments when motivation doesn’t seem to strike. Try to keep writing. We know the process isn’t all fun, games, and gaiety. It is often brutally discouraging. So, in the moments when you honestly just can’t write, instead of cursing your muse, take it as a sign to step away from the page and dedicate your attention to something else for a little while. Take the dog for a walk (this might also save time by avoiding cleaning up a puddle or pile later). Call a friend (if only to let them know you are still alive and haven’t suffocated underneath piles of drafts). Or, God forbid, take a nap! (Make up for the sleep you’ve lost waking up in the middle of the night to jot down ideas.)

3. Keep yourself stocked.

Let’s face it, we’re in for the long haul here. The last thing we need is to reach for a fresh pencil while writing furiously and realize they have all been reduced to useless nubs. What a shame it would be to settle down for what we intend to be a productive writing session and find that we have run out of our favorite caffeinated, carbonated, and/or alcoholic beverage. When the growls in our stomachs grow louder than the voices in our heads, we cannot go to the cupboards only to discover that we have forgotten to go grocery shopping. So, with November 1st closing in quickly, stock up on anything and everything you think you’ll need. No this isn’t the Apocalypse, nor is there a forecast indicating some Nor’easter is going to rear its ugly head (although this is November in Rochester we’re talking about here…), but none of us want to inconvenience ourselves by having to make a distracting errand that could have been prevented. Make a list and get plenty of everything you think you’ll need. Pens, pencils, ink cartridges, notebooks, printing paper. Coffee grounds, tea bags, soda liters, wine bottles, beer cans. Microwave dinners and non-perishables. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to make an irritating run out later.

4. Make a schedule and stick to it … or don’t.

I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve never been the type of writer who keeps a rigid schedule or one who must write at this time and never at that time. If you are one of those writers, then good for you, and I don’t mean that with even a hint of sarcasm. If you know your writing habits and have established them, then I commend you. (Although that’s not to say that you shouldn’t consider the possibility of abandoning old ones and/or establishing new ones.) But for those of us who haven’t found our personal writing equation (and even for those of you who have) it might be a good idea to create a schedule that works for you, especially given the sense of urgency that accompanies the nature of this month. Make it as strict or as loose as you deem fit, just make sure it yours and not anyone else’s. Find a method that works for you. There are plenty of “rules” out there for writers. There are so many in fact, that they become cumbersome, intimidating, and thus ultimately unhelpful. I know that I can’t help but feel defeated and as though I’m not a “real” writer if I don’t apply these rules to my own writing practices. It’s important to remember these are just suggestions for productivity, not formulas for success (this list included!). Every person/writer is different so it only makes sense that every person/writer will have a different routine. Try to find yours and once you do, commit yourself to it. BUT DON’T (yes, capitalization intended here) beat yourself up when and if you happen not to stick to it each and every moment of each and every day. If you happen to sleep in an hour later than you intended or skip an afternoon writing session for a spontaneous lunch with a friend, don’t fret. Your characters will forgive you, so you should forgive yourself. Besides, that little break might ultimately do you and your creativity energy some good (see suggestion #2).

5. Keep your head down and your chin up.
Conundrum? Juxtaposition? Oxymoron? Only if taken literally. Do your best to keep your eyes on your work and your pen to the paper (or fingers to the keyboard). Distractions (unnecessary ones anyway) are pesky, irritating, and down-right infuriating. Try to steer clear of them, if you can. Also, we are all most likely schooled enough writers to have learned that the idealistic, romantic notion our stories will just “come to us” or “flow through us” and magically appear on the page and/or computer screen is a fallacy. Writing takes work. Hard work…and lots of it. Dedication is important, especially in those inevitable and unpreventable moments when the motivation and inspiration isn’t coming easily. It feels great when it is, but reality is that most of the time it won’t. This month you will inexorably be faced with moments (or minutes or hours or even days) when your characters seem one dimensional, your plot seems flat, and/or that word just won’t come. Try to keep writing. This may seem like an utter contradiction of #2 (and I admit, it’s pretty close), but while breaks and rest are important it is also important to push through the tougher moments of writing, if you are able to do so. While you do, stay positive. If you’re anything like me, you’re your own worst enemy, your harshest critic. We’re writers. It’s in our nature. But instead of tearing up our drafts, throwing up our hands, and convincing ourselves that all is for not, let’s try to maintain perspective and keep up our spirits. Take a deep breath (or have a good cry, if that’s what you need), and then after you do, get back to work. Remember, head down, chin up.

And so my friends, there you have Part 1 of my humble suggestions. Take them or ditch them. They aren’t proven. Hell, they aren’t even soundly tested. But they are written with my genuine hope that they offer some sort of support and encouragement as we start this seemingly long (but far too short) journey together.

Finally, if none of these unofficial tips help you in any way, perhaps organized events will. If that is the case, then there are plenty of opportunities for you to meet face to face with writers who are in the same boat and sailing the same seas as yourself.

Check out the following events held at Writers & Books this month, each one free and open to all:
NanoWriMo Kick-off: Friday, November 1st, 6:00-10:00 p.m.
“How’s It Going?” Mixer: Friday, November 15th, 7:00-9:00 p.m.
The End is Near: Saturday, November 23rd, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Cheers, fellow writers. Happy writing.