Despite promising myself 2013 would be the last time, I’ve decided to do it. I’m tackling NaNoWriMo again.
Last year I started off reasonably well. I managed to get out about 12,000 words before work got in the way and I fell too far behind. I spent the last two weeks being tortured by those daily NaNo email updates and I couldn’t even look at my word stats.
This year, I’m putting much less pressure on myself, because I know the same thing will probably happen again. I’m not aiming for 50,000 new words – instead, I’m working on an existing draft.
The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write without inhibition, to get as much down as you can without any self-editing. I don’t think it matters how many words you write as long as you take advantage of that mindset to work towards a goal.
And there are some fantastic resources available to help you get there. Here are some of the ones I plan to use.
Write-Ins and Social Events
I’m normally not a social writer. I find other people distracting, and I tend to work best when I isolate myself in the library or at home. But I think being around people who are committed and inspired makes a huge difference when I have a specific goal to work towards. And sometimes I need to chat about my project to get excited about it again.
There are a lot of social events happening around Melbourne this year and I’m going to try and head along to a few.
The first Writers Bloc Write Here event happens to coincide with the start of NaNoWriMo. It’s set to take place from 11am at Thousand Pound Bend (361 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne) on Saturday November 1. It’s a chance to get together with likeminded writers for a few hours, put your head down and get to work. There’s no pressure to workshop; it’s just a supportive place to meet other writers.
The following Saturday (November 8) the Nanowriters Meetup Group will be hosting a write-in session at Thousand Pound Bend. This one kicks off at 3pm and involves some workshopping and writing exercises, but at the end there’s a get to know you session (and since you’re already in a pub, you might as well have a drink). It runs every week until the end of November, and then every second week if you want to keep up with it after that.
I’ve also joined the official NaNoWriMo Melbourne group. They’re running a ton of events throughout the month, including weekly drinks at the Colonial Hotel (corner of King and Lonsdale Streets in the CBD), a Night of Manuscripting Madly at Complete Post (12 Thistlethwaite Street, South Melbourne), and The Second Annual Great Train Write-In.
If you check the NaNoWriMo forums for your region, I’m sure you’ll find similar events in your area.
Online Writing Sprints
Since we might as well be in on all of this madness together, Ricochet Magazine will be running weekly write-ins over on Facebook.
Our first one will be on Sunday November 2 from 11am AEST (use this time zone converter if you’d like to know what time that will be in your city). We’ll write non-stop for one hour, and we’ll have a few prompts to get you started, so if you want to join in just head over to our Facebook page, where you can post about how well you’re doing or chime in if you need some support.
I’m also going to keep an eye on the NaNoWriMo Twitter page, which runs daily writing sprints.
I always turn to writing exercises when I want to work out a character problem. Even calling something a writing exercise helps take the pressure off, and it often ends up being better than anything else I’ve produced that day.
There’s a fantastic workbook called Ready, Set, Novel! which was put together by the NaNoWriMo creators. It’s full of activities and tips to help you brainstorm, plan out your plot, create your characters and your setting. I’ve already scribbled all over it in preparation for November 1, but I think it will be especially helpful when I hit those inevitable brick walls.
If you’d prefer not to buy a workbook, there’s nothing stopping you from putting together your own list of activities or finding some online. The NaNoWriMo forums are an excellent place to start. UK website Writing Exercises lets you generate random images, words, character traits and story titles to aid freewriting.
Some people set themselves a big reward for the end of the month, while others prefer to give themselves small daily incentives. Since I’m very easily distracted by TV, I thought I might as well incorporate it into my routine. The sooner I write my 1,600 words for the day, the sooner I’m allowed to watch The Walking Dead. Sounds foolproof, right? (Right?)
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Share your survival tips!
While I like writing to music, I hate writing to anything with lyrics. It doesn’t take me long to start singing and bopping along and then I forget all about what I’m actually supposed to be doing.
As a compromise I prefer film scores, because they create a perfect ambiance without dominating my attention.
From the languid, haunting melodies that define The Returned to the unforgettably thrilling 28 Days Later score, here are some of my favourite soundtracks to write to, broken down by genre. Hopefully you’ll find something that suits your own writing.
Literary: Requiem for a Dream
Requiem for a Dream is best known for the sweeping ‘Lux Aeterna’, which you’ve probably heard remixed on movie trailers for Lord of the Rings and The Da Vinci Code. But every track juxtaposes violent beats with a plaintive violin symphony, which is just perfect for a moody piece of literary fiction.
I’m finding myself in a bit of a creative slump at the moment. And I know this happens to everyone, but the more I dwell on it and the more I try to force something out, the less it feels like I’m ever going to be able to get out of my uninspired little hole.
When famous writers are asked about how they overcome writer’s block, they always say the same thing: write through the pain and the rest will follow. Don’t fold your hands and wait for inspiration to strike, because you’ll never produce anything. They’re right, of course, and intellectually, I know that, but it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t always force myself through my block. Trying to write when I’m that frustrated often just exacerbates the problem, making me more agitated than I was when I first sat down.
What I have to understand is this – I’m not blocked because I don’t have the ability to create something, I’m blocked because I’m thinking too much about what I haven’t already accomplished. I need to get back to a point where I can enjoy what I’m doing without putting ridiculous amounts of pressure on myself.
These are my strategies for getting there:
Take a break
I’m not going to call this procrastination, because I don’t think that’s very helpful psychologically – it just makes me feel guilty about not working, and then I get all anxious again.
I pretty much fail as badly as Stephen King when it comes to posting personal updates on Twitter.
But I’m still glued to my feed on and off all day, because a) I have some kind of internet addiction disorder, let’s be honest here, and b) it keeps me incredibly up-to-date with other writers, the publishing industry, competitions and job opportunities.
To that end, here are a few of my favourite handles:
It’s a great idea to follow the writers’ group in your state because their posts will be more relevant to your interests, but Writers Victoria are worth following regardless of your postcode. They post daily updates about Australia-wide publishing opportunities, grants, job openings and writing competitions. Follow them and you should have a general understanding of what’s happening in the industry on any given day.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be trawling through various social media platforms to find our favourite writers’ resources.
Our first stop was Tumblr; that bandwidth-killing rabbit hole that seems to bring out the fun and crazy in equal measure.
It’s often overlooked by literary bloggers because it’s so visual, but it’s being embraced by some for its layouts and interactive elements.
While it’s not always the easiest place to navigate if you don’t know where to go – the creative writing tag is a hotchpotch of motivational quotes and hilarious reaction gifs that will put you in such a good mood you’ll forget what you were searching for in the first place – there are some fantastic and comprehensive writing tools on there that other blogging platforms just can’t replicate.
For the Tumblr shy, “Fuck Yeah” blogs tend to be the ones to follow because they’re the most established and popular. This one is designed to get you thinking more deeply about your character’s basic personality traits, physical appearance and motivations. Writers are free to ask anonymous questions about how to tackle specific problems, while there are also writing challenges and prompts to get you thinking about how your character would react in certain situations.
Now that you’ve got the guts of your character down on paper, you might be having trouble picturing them in your head. Character Inspiration is simply an archive of images that you can use to give your protagonist a face.
This is a great reference blog for world building. Posts include information about dressing your characters for cold weather (complete with pictures and detailed descriptions about fabric), images of unusual places around the world that you can use to inspire your locations, and adjective lists you can use when describing character traits like speech.
This Tumblr is essentially an amalgamation of every possible resource you could use to write. Their posts range from basic writing tips on subjects like genre and character building, to ridiculously specific resource lists detailing everything from how a character can die to possible mental disorders. They even have icongraphics for things like military hand signals and ways to say “achoo!” in fifty different languages. If your character has a taste for something peculiar then you should be able to find out more about it here.
In addition to their thoughtful writing prompts, or Writer’s Blocks as they call them, you should also check out their Writer’s Toolbox page for a fantastic list of resources. Their posts are categorised according to the following subjects: plot, character, inspiration, formatting, language, style, industry, editing, resources, genre, planning, non-fiction, setting, poetry and theme. It’s a very sleek blog devoted to educating writers.
If you want to just immerse yourself in book appreciation for an hour, then this is the place to do it. Book Mania is curated by some passionate bibliophiles, from its reviews and interesting facts to its literary extracts. A highlight for me is the admired libraries section, where there are pictures of some of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
Sometimes you just need to pick yourself up with a quote about writing. Or you want to read something beautiful from an author you really admire. Quotes here are updated every three days.
Did we miss your favourite Tumblr about writing? Let us know in the comments!
“Have you ever had anything published?”
That seems to be the first question people ask when they find out you want be a writer. It’s such a frustrating question, because it whittles your passion and commitment down to a simple byline. And when you explain how hard it is to achieve the right combination of luck, talent and good timing when appealing to a literary journal or publisher, it sounds like you’re making excuses for yourself.
Then there are the writing mentorships and residencies. Sure, they’re targeted at fledgling writers looking to develop their craft, but there’s no denying they look favourably on applicants with an established history. Applying for one can seem a little like applying for those entry-level positions that ask for 1-3 years experience when you’re fresh out of uni. You need the experience to apply for the job, but you need the job for the experience.
It all depends on the kind of writer you want to be. If you intend to approach a publisher with your manuscript one day, it could help to have proof that you can engage readers. If writing is a hobby or a more personal passion, maybe you want to confirm to yourself that ‘yeah, I can do this!’ by seeing your name in print. Regardless of your reason, there are some approaches you can take to build your writerly portfolio.