07 November 2012

“baby you can light my fire”: staying motivated to write during nanowrimo

Staying Motivated to Write During NaNoWriMo
Every year I’ve done NaNoWriMo I’ve set some stupid challenge for myself for the first weekend. For the past few years it’s just been to write 5,000 words in the first two days. This year, though, I went all out. The goal was to write 12,000 words by the end of the first weekend (November 4). The idea, I suppose, was that if for some reason the week got busy, I’d still have a week’s worth of writing done, and could be ahead for several days before I had to worry. My final word count as of 11:59 pm on November 4 was 12,093.

I’m not saying this to brag. I only mention it because this came after my Day 2 panic when I thought I was going to have to trash everything and start over. As soon as I said to myself, at some point on Day 2, “No, you can’t get rid of this … because your goal is now 12k by the fourth day!” I knew I had to keep going. And so I did. At that brings us to the point of today’s post: motivation.

Let’s face it: even if writing is what we love to do, I don’t know many writers who say it’s what they love to do. In a conversation with another writing friend, I came up with our new motto for the writing life: “Writing is who I am … so I’m allowed to hate myself sometimes.” All we meant was that despite writing being in our blood, it’s hard work, and it’s not always fun work. It’s hard to stay motivated when characters rebel or the right words don’t come or the plot that seemed like such a good idea suddenly sounds terrible. During NaNoWriMo, word vomit is one thing … motivated word vomit is another.

So how can you stay motivated while working your way through a novel? We know, going into National Novel Writing Month, that it’s not always easy to keep up with daily word count goals, let alone keep up with a plot that keeps shamelessly trying to run away from you. To help you (and, admittedly, help myself!) keep up with your novel-writing goals (or any writing goals, for that matter … I didn’t forget you, poets), here are a few tips to help you keep going:


I love word sprints. Setting a timer for 10 or 20 minutes and telling myself I have only that time to write in makes writing a game instead of a chore. It also forces me to shut off the part of my brain that says, “Okay, now, what should happen next?” and channel the part saying, “Oh yeah … this is happening.” When you pressure yourself with an immediate deadline, you’ll be amazed at what you can do! For a more group-oriented word sprint, check out the @NaNoWordSprints Twitter account, which offers tons of word sprints throughout the day! For a solo challenge with a kick, check out Write or Die, one of my favorite (yet strangely horrifying) ways to kick my writing in the butt.


Sometimes the biggest motivation killer is the feeling that you have to get everything done right now or it won’t get done. The fact is, you have 24 hours in a day to write … even with a good eight hours of sleep factored in, you’ve still got a good 16 hours. Take out your work day and you’ve got about eight hours to write. So let’s steal a couple more and say you only have five hours to write … to reach 1,667 words that day, you’d write about 334 words per hour. “That’s nothing,” you think to yourself, “I can write twice that in an hour!” And then, slowly, you begin to realize what that means. You have time. You don’t have to do it all at once. Take your time, break up your writing goals into smaller segments, and feel some of the stress melt away.


Almost every NaNoWriMo I’ll have someone ask me, “So what’s your novel about?” Without fail, by the time I’m finished answering that question, I have to excuse myself because there’s something I have to write down. Share what you’re writing with fellow writers, or anyone who’s curious about what you’re doing. And by share I don’t mean sit them down with your manuscript … just engage in the act of talking about your plot. You might be amazed at the new ideas that come to you as you think about how best to explain your storyline to someone else. Someone might ask you a question you haven’t thought about yet, which sends your mind reeling in a whole new direction. Your novel is your passion … and nothing serves as a better motivator than the chance to share one’s passion with someone else!


This might be the hardest motivator at all. The fact of the matter is, sometimes you need to just stop writing. As much as I love writing, sometimes the thought of having to sit and write one more word makes me want to sob … and that’s when I know it’s time for a break. I’m not talking about abandoning your novel. I’m talking about letting yourself take a break. Some people stop and have a mini dance party every few thousand words. Some set up food breaks during their writing time. Others will take full days off. One reason I aimed for 12k by Sunday was so that if I had a particularly stressful day between then and the end of this week, I could take a day off. If you have great ideas for your novel on your day off or during your break, fight the urge to break the write-fast … that painful urge to get back to the keyboard will keep you motivated when you’re finally “allowed” to return!

Stay motivated, and stay happy writing! Keep your fingers moving across those keyboard keys until you cross the finish line!

And remember … if you don’t, you’ll leave your character creations in a terrible limbo forever. (Who says guilt trips don’t work?)

What’s your favorite way to stay motivated while writing? What tips, tools, and tricks do you use to keep going? Share them in the comments below and borrow (aka steal) your favorites from other folks!


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