For some writers, the most difficult thing about writing is just getting started. For myself, I can’t think of anything more intimidating than a blank word document. I spend so much time trying to construct the perfect sentence that it no longer feels like writing. I analyze every word choice. That’s unhealthy.
Many of our NaNoWriMo experts suffer from the same thing. There’s a real difficulty in getting started the right way. And maybe that’s the heart of the issue—it’s not about starting the right way, but just starting in general. Just write. Don’t analyze or think. That can (and will) come later.
And until then, hopefully you can learn a thing or two from our experts. All of them have something important to stay, whether they’ve hit a homerun on their first swing or are still stuck in the mud, waiting to get started.
As always, feel free to respond to our question in the comments below! Maybe you have a trick to getting started and staying motivated that our writers haven’t yet shared.
[Note: If you missed the first part of our NaNoWriMo blogging series, you can find an introductory post from each of our contributors, here.]
Question: Do you find it easy or hard to get started writing? What was your motivation for getting NaNoWriMo kicked off?
Natania Barron: For the most part, I found it pretty easy to meet my word count. Life is very different than it was when I first started doing this every November, but just because I have less time doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more difficult. I find that structuring time and making sure that I keep to the schedule means that I don’t miss out on my word count.
My motivation was a little bit of South American wine, and a quiet room with the music turned up.
Rachael Herron: This is my ninth NaNoWriMo, so I can say with some confidence that for me, writing a lot in November means writing even more than I predict I will.
When I was a kid, I had a ham radio. I could spend hours each night turning that hair-trigger tuner, a fraction of a millimeter at a time. Most stations came in fuzzy and scratchy, but then I’d hit exactly the right sweet spot, and I’d be listening to New Zealand—a whole world away—coming loud and clear into my attic bedroom. After that, it didn’t take much extra effort to lie there and listen until I fell asleep, the words streaming into my ears. That’s what NaNo feels like to me. I’ve found that I write more blog posts than normal in November. I write longer, more detailed emails to family and friends. And it’s not even a method of procrastination (I swear—I’m writing this post only after finishing my words for the day). It’s just what happens.
It’s like I tune in to something that was already there. I tune in every day, without fail, and the words flow (not without difficulty, mind. Never trust a person who says all the words come to him easily, that he’s channeling a muse. He’s lying to you. Words come at a price, but if you’re tuned in to the right frequency, they don’t have to cost so much). The words that flow onto my page in November are not the good words or the right ones; my sentences are not even remotely anything like the polished ones I’ll be proud of later, but that’s okay. I know that now. I don’t pause to fix a single sentence because I trust my ear. What sounds wrong now (so much!) will sound wrong again in exactly the same way when I’m revising, and then I’ll bring a different skill set to the work to fix it.
Don’t worry, though: you don’t need that skill set now. For November, you just need to write. That’s it. You don’t even need a plot. That will come as you write. By doing nothing more than showing up and writing every day, you tun in to the station that plays the words you’re looking for, the words that you put onto the page in black and white, the words that get you closer, every day, to a finished first draft.
Nikki Hyson: I usually find myself teetering on the edge of wild excitement and paralyzing fear before every new writing project. NaNoWriMo has never changed that for me, but it has prevented me from lingering there for too long. Minutes and hours spent wondering if an idea is any good isn’t lifting my word count.
Regina Kammer: By November 1st, I’ve been thinking about my NaNoWriMo story for so long, I cannot wait to get it down! I find it very easy to start and usually my first day is pretty productive. Halloween is really quiet at our house, so I don’t burn out—I stay up until midnight then start writing. Even if it’s only a little bit, that’s okay. I wake up later on November 1st having some words under my writing belt!
But the first days of NaNoWriMo 2014—a weekend—were challenging because I had a mini-family reunion scheduled, so I had to get as many words down as possible in those wee hours after midnight November 1st. At one point that weekend, though, my doggy and I sat in the sun (yes, we traveled to a sunny place) and I wrote a few hundred words while she slept.
Kathy Kitts: Usually starting is easy for me, but not this time. I couldn’t get my inner critic shoved in his box for the duration. Allow me to explain.
During one of my region’s pre-NaNo events, we passed out Chinese takeout boxes on card stock. We drew or cut out of magazines something that resembled our inner critics. We crumpled them up, shoved them in our boxes, sealed them in, and promised to not open the boxes until December 1. Unfortunately, I was traveling for work and missed that event. So, I said to myself, “I don’t need no stinkin’ box, I’m a veteran. I’ve done this eleven times already. I can handle my inner critic.”
He handed me my butt and them made nasty comments on its size, shape and amount of cellulite.
On day one, after leading a workshop on NaNoWriMo for fifteen new wrimos, I sat down to write, and it took me twice as long to get to 800 words as it usually takes to make the daily word count. It was almost midnight. I had to post my anemic word count. Ah the chagrin!
So [Sunday] morning (day two), I used felt pens to draw the little [expletive deleted] and shoved him in his box. I kicked out 2,000 words in no time. (For a PDF of the foldable Chinese takeout box I made to share, click here.)
Moral of the story? I need NaNoWriMo and I still need to be reminded that you can’t edit what you don’t write.
[As for my motivation,] I was giving a workshop on NaNoWriMo and Writer’s Digest is profiling me. No pressure.
The November/December 2014 issue of Writer’s Digest
is geared towards making sure you are ready to meet your
goal of 50,000 words during the month of November.
Tiffany Luckey: It’s actually pretty easy for me to get started on NaNoWriMo. Finishing is what’s challenging. I’m actually doing a modified version of NaNoWriMo, where I’m writing three or four short stories instead of one 50,000-word novel. I’ve been wanting to get back to writing more short stories, so I’m using NaNoWriMo as motivation to do so. That’s how I roll.
Kristen Rudd: The one thing that seems to be marking my NaNoWriMo experience this year is that nothing is consistent. I mean, it’s only been two days so far, but whatever.
The words are either flowing easily, or I’m sitting there starting at that little flashing cursor, or I’m pecking away, bit by bit. I may or may not have spent the first hour “writing” my novel this year procrastinating putting the first words down by piddling around on the internet. This is normal, yes? Something about committing—there’s no turning back. It’s scary. It’s messy. And I don’t like messes. So I wrote two separate intros, which I have to say, is very good for the word count.
I’ve seen a lot of people online question whether they should do this. I say: DO IT. Just jump in. Whatever voice is nagging you to create something is bigger and better than the voice nagging you about all the reasons why you can’t. Shut that second voice up. Write.
EJ Runyon: For me, it’s power naps that motivate me. Strangely, I enjoy the idea of starting in right at midnight. I’m a night owl anyway. There’s a tool I’m using that figures out when you need to go to bed in order to wake refreshed, so I plugged in Midnight and worked backwards from there. Got in 105 minutes of shut-eye and when I woke up I was revved and bright-eyed, very motivated after the power nap. Getting started felt like a cinch!
Jessica Schley: It’s easy to get started for NaNo—it has a start like a gun. I always try to bang out a few hundred words just after midnight on 11/1 even if I’m tired. I find NaNo to be its own motivation, because all your friends are cheering each other on. Other times of the year it can be hard to get going, but that’s why I have a critique group to keep me going.
Brian Schwarz: Well, fellow Nanoers, two days have passed and I’m about 178 words into my masterpiece (which, by the way, is ahead of schedule from last year). Each year I tell myself the same things:
1) Don’t get behind schedule
2) Really Brian, don’t get behind schedule
But, unfortunately, there is no magic way to make room in your life for writing a book. Most of the time, this room comes in tiny slices, odds and ends that used to be reserved for naps or snacking or catching up on the latest episodes of your third and fourth favorite TV shows (I’m sorry, but no book will ever keep me from watching The Walking Dead or Dr. Who). If you’re anything like me, you’re probably feeling a great bit of despair right now, maybe even mixed with some anxious and gripping terror, but take a moment to take a deep breath and remember this—there are only 30 days in the month of November. For all the hair pulling and teeth grinding, the amount of physical time remains the same, and eventually it will pass and you will be staring at a really long word document. That’s how it happened for me last time, and you better believe that’s how it’s going to happen for me this time. I will write with reckless abandon. When I miss the first two days, well, that just means the next two are going to be more reckless; if I only catch up by one day, I’ll hang on to that 1,700 words and ensure I fit it into my schedule somehow. That’s the trick after all, isn’t it? Not giving in to the despair and the frustration. Not letting those negative can’t-do attitudes, the external voices or the internal voice win. Because you CAN do this.
Let me tell you what NaNo has been for me, so that hopefully you can use some of my hard-learned lessons to your own advantage.
I find it incredibly hard to get started writing for NaNoWriMo. I always start slow. Very slow. But once I’m moving, I stop counting words and struggling to hit a certain number and just start getting lost in my story. I want to get it out of me, because if I keep it inside I feel like it will never do anyone any good. And that’s what motivates me. I want to impact someone with the message that keeps burning a hole in me. But I feel like I need to get this out so that someone can hear it, find truth in it, and feel what my characters are feeling which is in part what I am feeling. In last year’s NaNo, I worked on a project (my first) that was 40,000 words in the making. It took me two years to get to 40,000 words. But after NaNo was over, I had 120,000 words, literally two times the length of what I wrote in two years. That’s why I love NaNoWriMo. It’s a great motivator (apparently it’s a better motivator of me than I am of me).
Jonathan Wood: I’ve been writing every week day, rain or shine for about 8 years now. It’s very routine for me. So getting started isn’t a huge problem. Also, Natania [Barron] and I did a lot of planning for this, which helps me a lot. I’ve got multiple bullet points outlining each chapter, so I know exactly what I need to be doing at each point in time. There’s no fretting about plot, just the act of exploring the character in the situations we’ve created.
As for my motivation—this was just the right project at the right time. I recently delivered book 4 of my Hero series to my publisher, and was casting around for a new project. I’ve known Natania for years and we’ve knocked around the idea of collaborating a few times before. But the timing has never worked out. This year it did. So far the experience has been awesome.
Everyone thinks about doing it, yet most people who do start a novel end up stalling out after a few chapters. Where do these would-be novelists go wrong? Are the characters dull and clichéd? Did the story arc collapse? Did they succumb to a dreaded bout of “writer’s block”? Or maybe it was all just taking too long?
These problems used to stop writers in their tracks, but nothing will get in your way after reading Write Your Novel in a Month. Author and instructor Jeff Gerke has created the perfect tool to show you how to prepare yourself to write your first draft in as little as 30 days. With Jeff’s help, you will learn how to organize your ideas, create dynamic stories, develop believable characters, and flesh out the ideal narrative for your novel—and not just for that rapid-fire first draft. Jeff walks you through the entire process, from initial idea to the important revision stage, and even explains what to do with your novel once you’re finished.
Cris Freese is the associate editor of Writer’s Digest Books.