write. play. repeat.

from joy to joy to joy

Day 11 – A No-Guilt Zone

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

Have you had a really bad day yet?  One where you didn’t come anywhere close to your word count, or worse yet, didn’t manage to write anything at all?   It’s OK.  Take some deep breaths and let it go.  This day is a new day, and you can start from where you are.

Yes, it’s important to try to keep up with your daily goals so you aren’t pulling all-nighters at the end of the month, but beating yourself up about missing the mark won’t help you catch up.  In fact, guilt and panic over being behind could just trigger a downward spiral and get you even further behind.

So, if you’ve screwed up here and there, it’s going to be fine.  Instead of feeling ashamed and berating yourself, just take this moment to re-commit to the project.   I don’t know any successful people who will say they have never failed at anything – only that they decided to continue even after failing.

Day 10 – Who's On the Other Side?

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

It’s Day 10 and you’re halfway through your second week. Can you believe you’ve made it this far?  You’re 30% of the way there!

Today I’d like you to think about the person you ultimately imagine reading your novel.  This person can be someone you really know or know of, or it can be a totally imaginary dude or dudette. We’re going to refer to this person as your very own Dear Reader.

What do they look like? How old are they?  What sorts of things are they interested in?

Get a really good picture in your mind of your Dear Reader.  Once you can practically reach out and (gently) poke them in the nose, get to work.  Write the next few chapters specifically with this Dear Reader in mind.  Create some references just for them, like little inside jokes between the two of you.  Write a scene in a place you think they’d like.  Elaborate on that character you know they love to hate.

The more you get to know your Dear Reader, the more effortless your voice will be.  You know who you’re writing for, so you know how to communicate with them.  Don’t be afraid to be specific – this isn’t really about demographics.  Some of the things I’ve written that seem almost too particular to me end up being the ones that get the most universal response from audiences and readers.  Make clear choices, be specific, and talk to that Dear Reader as though they’re in the room.  Eventually, your real readers will thank you for it.

Day 9 – Keep Tabs On 'Em

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

You may notice at this point that your plot is thickening, along with your cast.  Avoid getting things too tangled up (and thus the need to go back and check on things) by keeping a system of notes about who’s who and what’s what.  Character names & details, major plot points, relationships and time lines may be easier to keep track of with notes in place.

I’ve seen this done with plain legal pads, elaborate wall charts, whiteboards, and even a color-coded post-it note system.  Use whatever works for you.  I do recommend using a system that can be easily changed, since we never quite know where a story might take us.

If you keep everything online (as I tend to) you should check out Evernote.  It’s a fantastic tool to grab inspiration from multiple websites and media.  The iPhone app lets you record voice memos, too, which are great for those “Oh-my-gosh-that’s-fantastic-but-I’m-in-the-middle-of-traffic” moments.

Do you have a system that works really well for you?  Tell us about it in the comments!

Day 8 – Stop Counting

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

Today’s tip is something you probably won’t agree with, but I’m going to say it anyway:  Stop obsessing over your word count.


Well, yes and no. Yes, the idea is to write 50,000 words, but no, it isn’t productive to update your word count on the site every time you write a paragraph.  Wondering why the site is so slow? I guarantee you thousands of people obsessively updating their word counts all day long are a part of it.

If you’re updating your word count online more than once per day, cut it out.  It’s a) likely just another way to procrastinate and b) probably going to make you feel more angst about meeting your daily goals than is necessary.  Just write and write until you feel like you’re “done” for the day.  If you are lucky enough to have more than one writing session per day, add up the totals for the day once you’re all done rather than entering your word count each time you write.

There isn’t something magical about 50,000 words.  You won’t “become a writer” by getting to that point.  You are becoming a writer right now by writing, not by counting.

Day 7 – Set the Soundtrack

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

I don’t know about you, but I need to be in the right “mood” to write certain types of things. By now, you probably have a good feel for the type of mood your novel needs, so why not have some fun with it?

Make a couple of mixes on iTunes or select some CDs that fit the storyline and feel of your novel.   You can use these mixes to help get you in the right headspace for your story and drop you right into the plot where you left off. You might even create mixes for scenes with particular characters to help get you there.   Does your hero rock out to heavy metal?  Do the lovers need some jazz standards to dance to? Or is an eerie, instrumental piece best for your supernatural thriller?

Selecting some music to write by can help you sit down for a session even when you “don’t feel like it”.   Set the mood to make your work more effortless.

Day 6 – Spruce Up Your Space

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

Happy Saturday!  Hopefully, today has provided you with some extra time to catch up if you’re behind, and maybe get a little ahead of the target word count in preparation for a busy week.

The weekend is a great chance to take a look at your at-home writing space and see what you can do to make it easier for you to work.  Do you have a better lamp you could stick over there?  Do you need a more comfortable chair?   No need to go out to the office furniture store and buy all new stuff – you probably have something around the house that will do just fine.

Before your next writing session, take 15 minutes (no more!*) to spruce up the part of the house you’ll be writing in.   Lay out your notes in an organized way and get rid of any stray bits of paper that don’t pertain to the day’s work.

As I write this post, my home office is littered with boxes that need to go out to the recycling bin and stray items that need to “find a home.”  I’m planning on tackling that right after I hit “publish” because I absolutely can’t stand working in a really messy place.    It’s messy enough inside my head – I don’t need the environment to match it!


* I know lots of creative folks who get a sudden, uncontrollable urge to clean everything whenever they’re about to work.  This is called procrastination.  Limit yourself to 15 minutes and use a timer if you must.

Day 5 – Shut Out Distractions

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

If you’re using a computer to work on your novel, as I imagine most of you are,  I’m sure you’ve been distracted during writing sessions by the siren call of Google Reader, Twitter, news feeds, or Facebook by now.   I’m guilty of checking Facebook six hundred times in a row just so I don’t have to get back to what I’m supposed to be doing — it’s a perfect timesink.  Luckily, there are remedies for people like me.

During your writing time, make a commitment to not browse the web or check email.  Turn off any program that gives you pop-up notifications so you won’t be tempted to take a look.   You can even use something like LeechBlock (a Firefox Add-on) to block certain sites for a set period of time.

Another great tool is a simple writing environment that’s designed to be used in fullscreen. I use Ommwriter but WriteRoom is another good one.   There’s also DarkRoom for Windows users. These programs can block out any other distracting windows and leave you with just your words.

Turn off the phone, shut down the wi-fi, and put on your headphones.  It’s time to work!

Day 4 – Use the Buddy System

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

Believe it or not, some folks have an easier time keeping up with a writing schedule during the week because their schedule is fairly structured.  Juggling weekly work and responsibilities requires that writing time be scheduled and kept up with if you want to meet your word count goals.  While the idea of having a whole bunch of extra free time on the weekend may lead you to believe it’s easier to catch up then, many people find that the lack of structure breeds procrastination.

As you approach the weekend, you may want to consider finding a friend or fellow participant to be your accountability buddy.

See if you can find someone to check in with each day this month (or maybe just on the weekends, if that’s when you need it most).  Set up a time to call or email each other just to say, “Hey, have you written today?”  or “I’m planning to write from 3pm – 5:30pm and then break for dinner.  I will call you when I’m done.” If your “buddy” is local, you could schedule meet-ups and go pound out some pages at a local coffee shop together.

Sometimes, just knowing you have someone expecting you to give them a progress report can help you meet your daily goals.  You’ll also have someone you can vent to or lean on when your energy is flagging.

If you’re looking for an Accountability Buddy, feel free to use the comments section here to find someone!

Day 3 – Resist the Urge

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

Right about now, you may be starting to feel it.  It starts as a tickle at the back of your mind, then perhaps a twitch in your left eye.  You get up for a cup of tea and find that the feeling isn’t going away.   I wonder if that’s the exact name I gave the coffee shop in the first chapter?  Does Ralph limp on his left side or his right?

Your hand moves to the mouse to click back a few pages, just to be sure…  Don’t do it!

This is not the time to edit things you wrote two days ago.  Actually, the time to edit won’t even be on December 1st.  Going back to “fix” everything you just did will only keep you on a writing hamster wheel — putting in a lot of effort, but not getting anywhere.   Today, try to resist the urge to repair and check up on details or plot lines you established at the start of the week.

If your story is going completely off the rails, you can gently nudge it back on course or choose to follow one of the wacky tangents that have come up without going backwards and retrofitting.   If you end up in a different place than you started, you can always edit the start of your novel to fit the new plot… later.  Much, much later.

At this point, trying to correct as you go along is just another form of procrastination.  Let the desire for perfection go and keep plugging away at the task ahead.  Onward!

Day 2 – Establish your habits

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

Congratulations on beginning this project!  You’ve taken a step that, whether driven by a plan or by sudden impulse, is often the hardest for people.  You’ve started and managed to churn out a few (or a lot) of words onto the screen.

I want to encourage you very early on to establish habits and a routine for your NaNoWriMo efforts.  Decide today to schedule your writing sessions in advance.A project like this requires daily writing for most people, and if you have obligations other than writing you absolutely need to decide ahead of time when you will be able to work.

If you can’t pick a specific time, that’s ok.  Something like, “Every evening after dinner” or “Right when I wake up, after walking the dog” is ok if you know you will be able to stick to it.

As you’re getting started, you may not need the extra motivation to sit down and write – the excitement and newness of the project drives you to it with little effort.   However, when week 3 rolls around, you may find that your days have filled up with a lot of activity and you’re struggling to work in time at the desk.   Prevent that now by using tools to help you plan (Google Calendar and TeuxDeux are two of my best friends) and setting a routine you can stick with.

Wishing you good work and happy writing!