Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Writing Alone Together

By: Deb McLeod

NaNoWriMo is mere weeks away. I use the annual contest as part of my process and I recommend it to all my clients, as long as they recognize it’s only a part of the process and not the end game. There will come a time in your writing life when you can write a pretty decent draft in thirty days, but unless you’ve been doing this for a while, you’re likely not there yet. But that’s fine. Because NaNoWriMo can create the foundation for your project, if you do it right.

Why NaNoWriMo works

There are a bunch of reasons why NaNoWriMo can work in your writing process. It works because it:
  • Gamifies writing
  • Provides a taste of the writer’s life
  • Grants a breather from the infernal internal editor
  • Is only 30 days long
  • Creates The Zero Draft (Chuck Wendig’s words for it)
Gamification works. I didn’t realize it until yesterday, but the online coaching environment I use with my clients gamifies writing. We don’t earn badges (though maybe that’s a good idea). What we do earn is a seat at the exclusive, invisible, real writer’s table and stories that get finished, along with these addicting daily green checkmarks. I knew what I was doing was working for my clients. I just didn’t realize it was called gamification.

Gamification motivates, rewards, produces results, gives competitors competition, gives self-competitors measurements, and shifts the participant’s attention to focus on the parts, while achieving the whole. In novel writing, I think the ability to focus on the parts rather than the whole is the key to the kingdom.

For writers, gamification works in part because most writers enjoy certain things that make up The Writer’s Lifestyle. Take this little quiz to see if you agree:
  • Did you enjoy (derive satisfaction from) starting and completing large assignments when you were a kid in school? Did you like getting those As on your papers? 
  • Do you like solitary working within a group? Like reading together with someone who’s also reading? Or, writing at a table alone but together at Starbucks? Does it bring you joy to take your laptop to the library to work? 
  • Do you like crossing things off your list? Are you someone who will write something down just so you can cross it off? 
  • Or are you (like me) a process person? A habit person? Do you break things down into their processes and check them off as you move through them? 
All these things are parts of a writer’s lifestyle. Setting goals. Finding a way to achieve those goals, daily, whether you feel like it or not so you can create something from nothing. If you have any of these traits you might be looking at ways to capitalize on them, if you want to write. Participating in NaNoWriMo every year can help.

NaNoWriMo offers a break from the internal editor

When you don’t have time to pay attention to the naysayer inside, can allow yourself the freedom to create, and know how to read what you’ve created properly, you can use your NaNoWriMo Zero Draft as the foundation for your project.

If you’re familiar with the process of freewriting, if you’ve tried and succeeded at it, you already understand there is a natural resistance to corralling your thoughts and getting them down. Freewriting works because the timer is ticking and if you’re doing it right (pen to paper and don’t stop writing until the timer goes off) you will push your way through those pockets of resistance, usually to find there are golden thoughts or images on the other side.

That freewriting resistance is the same resistance you might feel about getting to the chair every day. Only chair resistance is a whole lot bigger. And I contend it exists because you’re looking at the whole and not just a part.

Gamifying writing offers a tool to break resistance and get you to the chair and to get words on the page no matter the quality. When you participate in NaNoWriMo and your goal is 1667 words per day, you don’t have time for internal editors.

I know from working with my clients in the gamified environment I’ve created for them, that the more often you break through your internal editor’s clutch on your creative life, the less power the editor has over you. My clients report a shift in their relationship to resistance. My own writing has deepened, and speeded up considerably since I began to use this gamification method.

NaNoWriMo is only 30 days 

Writing for thirty days straight is a challenge to most people who haven’t yet made their writing a daily habit. Imagine if you wanted to compete in an athletic event and you had to get in the habit of training. If you could get through 30 days of training every single day, you might continue once the 30 days were up, wouldn’t you? Having come that far in training your body, would you quit after 30 days and become a couch potato again? Let’s say you did quit, well, you might not meet your overall goal, but having done those 30 days you’d know what it takes, wouldn’t you?


It’s the same with NaNoWriMo. Once you’ve gotten through the 30 days, whether you accumulated 50,000 words or not, by the time you reach November 30th, and if you gave it your best effort, you would know what it takes to really have the writer’s lifestyle.

And whether you win or not, you will walk away knowing you can do it. There will have been a measure of days you spent achieving your writing goals.

For this alone, if you want to write, you should consider doing NaNoWriMo.


The Zero Draft (Chuch Wendig’s expression to describe the NaNoWriMo draft)

If you focus on NaNoWriMo as a way to create a foundation draft, every November can become the month you carve a great big chunk out of the process. Both goal-oriented and process-oriented people will succeed at using NaNo as a tool to get the work done. Editor-less, the draft you produce during NaNoWriMo will hold the gold of your finished product. Just don’t be fooled that that draft is the finished product. It’s a giant step forward in the overall my-book-is-finished process.

Enemies of NaNoWriMo

These are the things that might make your experience misery:
  • Not making time every day
  • Not having a place to write
  • Not preparing your family
  • Facing a blank page
Break down how many words you’ll write every day. Know where you will write and when you will write. Talk to your family about it and get their support. Some families don’t support a long-term writing habit, but most families will support a writing contest that will take you away a few hours every day for only thirty days. And the contest-nature of the event usually gets everyone rooting for you.

The best way to approach NaNoWriMo

This will be my sixth year using the annual contest to create my zero draft. This year I will work on book two of my 90-day Romance project. My trick to making the most of NaNoWriMo every year is preparation.

But the most important advice I can give is to prepare before November starts. Use October as NaNo Prep month. The blank page will invoke your internal editor like nothing else. If you have something to write about, you can do 1667 words a day for 30 days. I’ve seen NaNoWriMo change a writer’s life, time and time again.

Note: to the end of helping writers succeed, I offer a free 14-day NaNo Prep Countdown in the two weeks before NaNoWriMo starts. You can check out the 14-day NaNo Prep Countdown here.

Note two: for those of you who were following my 90-day Romance challenge, I finished in 82 days. Stats are available here.

About the Author: Deb McLeod, MFA, practices novel research immersion. For her novel, The Train to Pescara, Deb journeyed to Sardinia to study ancient goddess worship and spent time in the Abruzzi village her great-grandparents left in 1905. Her metaphysical knowledge for the Angel Thriller, The Julia Set, culminates from four years of studying and teaching meditation, clairvoyance and chakra healing. For over fourteen years, Deb McLeod has been a creative writing coach helping other writers to embrace their passion and get their words on the page. For more, seewww.debmcleod.com.