NaNoWriMo 2014 – that month-long frenzy of key-bashing goodness that can bring me to my knees in tears, make me mumble to myself while walking in circles, take extra-long showers, cause excited jumping around the room and then leave me with a messy pile of 50,000 words that needs a lot of revision to make any sense.
As a past winner, I’ve learned there are a few essentials you need to get through the month with as few bumps and bruises as possible. Here is my list and why I’m stocking my WriMo closet now.
6 Things You Need to Thrive During NaNoWriMo 2014
Chocolate and Coffee
If you’re feeling anxious about meeting your word counts, have a bar of dark chocolate on hand to calm those nerves. In a study done at an Australian university, they found that the polyphenols in chocolate can calm people and make them feel less anxious because they attach themselves to brain receptors associated with anxiety. Matthew Pase, one of the authors of the study said, “This clinical trial is perhaps the first to scientifically demonstrate the positive effects of cocoa polyphenols on mood.”
If you want those words to flow during Wrimo you might want to grab a bar or two of dark chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the more polyphenols it has). Since the cocoa polyphenols in dark chocolate stem anxiety, and anxiety turns on that internal editor and keeps your ideas from flowing, you could infer that eating dark chocolate can help keep your word counts up because your ideas will be flowing faster!
Coffee is a given for me for Wrimo, but I have to be careful that I don’t drink too much throughout my writing session or I’ll get all jittery and crash.
It’s said that Balzac drank up to 50 cups a day. He describes what he calls a “horrible, rather brutal method” of preparing coffee using “finely pulverized, dense coffee, cold and anhydrous, consumed on an empty stomach.” In The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee Balzac describes the effect drinking this concoction will have on you.
“From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink – for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.”
If you continue to drink too much coffee, though, even Balzac knew that it would cause you to “fall into horrible sweats, suffer feebleness of the nerves, and undergo episodes of severe drowsiness.” So be careful with your intake of this useful medicine.
If you need some creative ways to serve up your favorite caffeinated beverage, check out this great article on Lifehack.org about other ways to prepare coffee.
A Writing Totem
A writing totem is an object that can help keep you inspired or in a writing-state-of-mind. Some people use articles of clothing like the WriMo t-shirts and Viking helmets. Other WriMos like to have an object like a stuffed-animal, a small figurine, or a special pen that they keep close by.
By placing the totem near your writing space, it gives you the power to keep going. It reminds you of what you are trying to accomplish during WriMo.
Totems can also let others know that you aren’t just surfing the internet, but are in full-on WriMo mode, dwelling in what NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty calls the “shadowy realm of the novel.” They’ll look at you and say, “Uh-oh, the Viking hat is on. Better stay clear.”
Since I’m an actor as well as a writer, I find that dressing up in some way can definitely put me in a different mood and allows new ideas to flow. Dress rehearsal always adds a new element to any performance and the clothing you wear gives you a sense of who you are and how you move in the created world of the play. I have certain hats I like to wear when writing. (I also like having a framed inspirational quote from Writing Quote Wednesday nearby.)
Please leave a comment to let us know what kind of writing totems you use for NaNoWriMo.
Your Writing Plan
Start now on figuring out what kind of book you want to write. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, is often credited with saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
I highly recommend that you start figuring out the basics of the novel you want to work on during WriMo. Starting on the first day with no planning is possible. I did it and won. But the resulting messy pile of words is going to be really tough to revise.
In the article I wrote about 8 Best-Selling Novels Written During NaNoWriMo, most of the authors said they had more success in the years when they did some pre-planning before WriMo began.
At the very least decide what kind of book you want to write. Then start thinking about characters and what they want from each other. The more specific you can be about your characters, the more details you can write about them. Sometimes I cast the characters with photos of actors (or random people online) to get a sense of the type of person they are.
It really helps to know your ending because you can drive your word count to that ending. Think about it. If I told you to come and visit me but didn’t give you my address, you could be driving for years before you find out where I am. By knowing where you’re going, you can plan on how to get there. You can take lots of side trips to look at interesting things, but knowing where you’ll stop gives you a direction and a plan to get there.
When I figure out where my characters are going, I start to think about what kind of fun situations I can put the characters in. I like to come up with short summaries of each chapter with ideas for scenes within those chapters. These are often called “beats.”
I have nothing against pantsing – writing a novel with no plan by the seat of your pants – but if you want to write faster, having a plan really helps. You’re always free to change the plan as you go. I often find that I thought the story was going one way and the characters decided to take it another. Most people find that they combine pansting and plotting throughout their writing process.
Writing is difficult, and frustrating, but if you can’t find joy in some aspect of it, something is wrong. When this happens, you might be writing the story you feel you SHOULD write and not the story you WANT to write.
Take some time before WriMo starts and think about what brings you JOY.
Ask yourself, “What would I do even if I wasn’t being paid to do it?”
There might be something in what brings you joy that can become a focus for your book. It might be something a main character does. It might be a theme you’ve wanted to explore. By thinking about the joy, you can write about the struggles your main character goes through when the joy isn’t there.
Another way to look at this is to figure out what you LOSE YOURSELF in.
What is the thing you do that you start at a certain time and when you stop and look at the clock you realize several hours have passed and it feels like minutes? How can writing be like that for you if it isn’t right now?
As you’re prepping for WriMo, what figure out what EXCITES you about the characters, scenes, the novel itself? If it’s not exciting to you, WHY?
You want to turn off that internal editor while you’re writing in November and let the ideas flow. You want to get the first draft on the page. To do this more powerfully, look for the JOY. Be a “listening” for what is joyful about the process. If you are a listening for something, you’ll be amazed at how it shows up in your life.
People who are a listening for what can go wrong often find themselves in situations where things go horribly wrong. People who are a listening for what they can learn from a situation end up learning something. People who are a listening for joy often find it in the tiniest of accomplishments.
You made your word count for the day. JOY! (Why? You set a goal and kept it.)
You didn’t make your word count for the day. JOY! (Why? It gives you a chance to be a hero tomorrow. Plus, it probably means you need to do more thinking about your story.)
You went way over your word count and discovered something new about a character. JOY! (Why? Because that is really cool and you are AWESOME.)
Read: Connect with Joy Instead of Searching for Joy by TIny Buddha
This is a big one. I know. I think about it a lot. How do we reserve the time to get the writing done?
I think joy and planning (and chocolate and coffee) help us find the time.
What activity are you doing every day that you can do less of during WriMo?
Bingeing on Netflix? Remember, Netflix will be there at the end of November. (How to Overcome a Binge-watching Addiction from the Wall Street Journal)
Like to sleep in? Is it possible to get up a little earlier? How about going to bed a little later? (How to Wake Up Early by Jeff Goins)
Kids keeping you distracted? NOW is the time to introduce them to the wonders of reading a book quietly. (How to Get Work Done With Kids at Home)
What about your friends and significant others? Some people find that telling them you are working on WriMo and that it’s important is a good step and others like to keep WriMo a secret.
If you have an app like Evernote on your phone or tablet, you can feed the word count beast on your lunch break and then dump the words into the manuscript when you have the time.
The main thing to do is to start writing. As the prolific author Louis L’Amour says, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
Please comment on your favorite ways of finding the time to get your words down.
Keep an eye out for more NaNoWriMo posts coming out soon! During WriMo I’m planning on writing a novel based on my steampunk fantasy short story, My Strength Will Ease Your Sorrow. It’s set in the world of The Dream Engine written by the guys over at Sterling and Stone. See you in the Winner’s Circle!