We’re so close to Thanksgiving, which means we’re mere days away from the end of NaNoWriMo 2019! How’re you doing, writers?
I’m not officially participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I’m not unofficially participating either. But I applaud the spirit of the event, and I definitely see the benefits of sitting your butt down at the computer every chance you get and pounding out words, come hell or high water. Or early snow, which we had here in East Tennessee.
I tend to give myself writing goals that are both ambitious and forgiving, like finishing my next novel’s first draft by the end of the decade. (Which is the end of this year.) Here we come, roaring twenties! Anyway, that means I have to sit down and write something every day, if I’m going to get to my 80,000-ish word goal by December 31! I guess you could say I’m always in an extended state of NaNoWriMo … ?
If you’ve made it this far down the NaNoWriMo rabbit hole, you’ve probably been forced to come up with your own productivity routines. I’ve tried other people’s over the years, starting with the Master himself: Stephen King, who is notorious for advising writers to sit down and pound out 1,000 words every day. Sometimes I stick with that. Sometimes I write 300 words and enjoy the progress. Sometimes I write nothing, and devote some hours to getting my mind right. And sometimes, I struggle and have to find a completely new solution to the writer’s most universal problem: How to Get the Damned Thing Written. So, here’s a discussion of three tricks I’ve developed over the years to actually get down to the work of writing. Enjoy!
1. Befriending procrastination.
Since college, I’ve known that I (as most writers do) have a knack for pulling out adequate work at the eleventh hour. Notice I said adequate: this is the kind of stuff that got me decent grades, but nothing I ever procrastinated to write ever turned out really, really good. Honestly. But even as I was learning to let the words flow at midnight for the paper due at 8 am, I started gaming the procrastination system. Want to know how?
I would take a handful of things I really, really didn’t want to do–because I had a mental block about them, because I’d rather listen to Old Crow Medicine Show while dancing around in my living room, because I’d be distracted by something–anything–shiny.
And then I would create a hierarchy of Things to Procrastinate. Apartment cleaning, exercising and various homework assignments all featured on the list. So I would win by putting off organic chemistry, for example, by cleaning the bathroom. And then I would do my organic while pushing back researching for my Shakespeare paper. And so on. Truthfully, it worked, and it works to this day. I avoid housework with writing the next scene of my novel. I avoid my novel with a blog I need to write for a freelancing client. Eventually, it all gets done, especially when I deploy …
2. Giving myself treats for being a good girl!
That’s right, I reward my own good behavior. Because, why not? A lovely walk in the fall air, a few minutes watching reruns of New Girl when the kids are off at their grandmother’s. Even–yes–a piece of chocolate. But beware: don’t overindulge the snacks for rewards, because that’s the path to feeling overweight and unhealthy, and spiraling down into depression. NOT speaking for a friend, here. Writers are indeed prone to this, and I believe it’s because our occupation is so singularly lonely.
We spend a lot of time with ourselves. So I make it a point to be kind to myself, and make healthy choices for myself.
Celebrate the little wins: first drafts, second/third/fourth … eighth drafts. Each deserves its own toast. The first/second/third/fortieth rejection email from literary agents. Collect those. Really. It will be the digital pile you metaphorically stand on when you let loose your blood-curdling scream of victory: “YES! MY DEBUT NOVEL IS MUTHA-F***ING FORTHCOMING!”
There’s a flip side, too: don’t let yourself fall down a well of despair with every day you didn’t meet your word count, or each time somebody doesn’t like or get your writing. Keep at it. Get better. It’s the only way.
3. Write shit.
I know, that’s a little aggressive to read partway down a post that’s supposed to be inspirational.
When I say write shit, I mean it in the casual sense, like stuff. But I also mean that sometimes I write in the full knowledge that the words I’m pounding out are actually terrible. Sometimes I make a game of it: how insipid can I be? How cliche? How generally terrible by every available measuring stick? Just get it written. It’s just throwing clay down on the wheel for now. You’ll get to shaping and trimming, then glazing and firing later on. Maybe. You might throw the whole mess back in the slurry bucket and start over. It’s ok. Keep writing. Get better.
I hope my view on productivity gives you some new inspiration for your own writing routine, or anti-routine … whatever actually works!