Tuesday, November 23, 2010

WriteBrain Report by Cathy Dilts: Tickling the Muse: Tips and Tricks for Getting Unstuck

How do people make time to write 50,000 words in a month? That’s a daunting 1,667 words per day. Now add a full time job, or school, or a family. Maybe you list all of the above, and then some. Those of us attempting NaNoWriMo, or the PPW version, NaNoTRYMo, need all the help we can get to stay motivated.

Last Tuesday evening, we took over the Borders bookstore coffee shop and listened as Pikes Peak Writers president Chris Mandeville presented “TICKLING THE MUSE: Tips and Tricks for Getting Unstuck.” A crowd of 20 writers attended this Write Brain session. Curious shoppers paused to listen, and a few even stayed.

Setting the frenzied writing pace required for NaNo success presents a situation not of “writer’s block,” according to Chris, but of “a life road block.” She said that your number one priority is to “give yourself the freedom to write.”

That may sound silly, but I have known many wannabe writers over the years who could not pass this first hurdle. They let an endless list of “shoulds” keep them from writing. Chris suggested writing down your “shoulds”: Cleaning the house, doing the laundry, grocery shopping. There - you’ve committed it to paper. You won’t forget any of your “shoulds” later. Now write!

If you think you could get so absorbed in your work that you'll forget those absolutely have-to obligations, like picking the kids up from school or going to work, set an alarm to remind yourself.

Chris recommends having a dedicated time and space for your writing. This works best for people whose lives are more organized than mine. I have my “space,” but I will write anywhere and any chance I get. I have learned to keep a notepad and pencil with me at all times. If your writing is contingent on being in your special place and time, let’s face it, you may never finish that 50,000 words.

Chris also talked about getting permission to write from the people in your life. NaNoWriMo is excellent for this purpose. You tell your family and friends that you will be unavailable for the next month, while you write a novel. People can handle a time-limited loss of a loved one. Chris also recommended bribery, such as, “After I reach my word count, I’ll cook dinner.”

Next, Chris recommended establishing a ritual. Maybe your writing ritual is to get a cup of coffee and turn on your computer. Perhaps it is more time-consuming, such as doing yoga or going for a walk. I don’t use ritual. If it’s time to write, I just plunge in.

NaNoWriMo is the time for writing, not editing, Chris reminded us. Don’t re-read and don’t re-write. If you are stuck, Chris gave us lots of ideas for getting unstuck:

• Stuck character? Accessorize your character! Give them a quirk, or a hobby.
• Stuck plot? Create a plotting grid, like a calendar page, but using each “day” as a chapter. I’ve done this using sticky notes and poster board.
• Generally stuck? Take a shower. Go for a walk. Write something different, such as journaling. Try improv writing. Chris is right. Doing something else, while keeping your story at the edges of your thoughts, often allows those subconscious ideas to rise to the surface. I’ve gotten some of my best ideas at work, while mindlessly entering data in a spreadsheet. Keep that notebook and pencil close at hand, though, or those break-through ideas will evaporate like the morning mist.

One final bit of advice that Chris gave us really rang true for me. If you can plan your life around your writing for one month out of the year, why not try doing it year 'round?

This Write Brain session was what I needed. I’m energized, and ready to tackle the final days of NaNoWriMo. At the rate I’m going, I may even have time to take a break for Thanksgiving dinner.

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