What do baking and writing have in common? More than you might think!
In this video, NaNoWriMo staffers explore the similarities between baking and writing as they cook up some delicious desserts (and try to resolve a lengthy debate at NaNoWriMo HQ about whether madeleines are cakes or cookies.):
1. In both baking and writing, you might be a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between.
2. Even if you’re prepared, you may encounter unexpected obstacles.
3. Conditions won’t always be optimal. Go for it anyway!
4. Sometimes, working with friends can help you meet your goals.
5. Whatever your creative style, the important part is making something that you like!
We all face different challenges as writers, so of course there are many different strategies you can try to bring your story to completion. If you’re a writer with ADHD, NaNoWriMo participant Lila Krishna has a few tips and tricks you can try to stay focused:
As a teenager, I’d begin a new novel once every few months. By 20, I had under my belt 17 different first chapters, around 8 second chapters—and little else. A decade later, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Shocker, I know.
While ADHD is one of the most well-documented mental health issues, a task like writing brings with it some unique challenges. Its unstructured nature is both a blessing and a curse for those of us who are neuro-atypical.
Here are some common problems I came across in my journey as a writer with ADHD. These issues are some that are common across the writing community, but those of us with ADHD often need to go above and beyond commonly-offered answers to find long-lasting and sustainable solutions that make writing an easier, less-frustrating, and more productive hobby.
Problem: Help! I go down internet rabbit holes a lot while writing!
This is a problem all of us doing any kind of desk job face. However, when interrupted, the ADHD mind requires more time and energy to context-switch. Recovering from interruptions takes us much longer, and we are less effective for several minutes after an interruption. We also find it harder to resist temptations, or switch back to working after a bout of TVTropes.com.
Solution 1: Turn off the internet while writing. It’s difficult at first, but after a few times, it’s not as bad. There’s several browser extensions, like StayFocusd, and apps like AppBlock which can automate periods of internet-free writing. Using these, you don’t need to make those decisions in the moment, which frees up significant cognitive energy.
Power through moments where you need to research something with filler words and descriptions. I like marking these with < and > symbols, like <insert phrase a shocked Russian grandma would say>. Then, you can go through each of these when you get back your internet access to research and fill in each of these.
Solution 2: Use an app like StayOnTask, which checks up on you at random times to see if you’re staying on task. Often, in our web surfing reverie, we need such an interruption o tell us to ‘Get back to work right away!’.
Solution 3: Whenever you stop writing, quickly jot down the time and the reason you stopped. Also include a brain dump of what you were trying to complete, and the ideas you had. This way, when you finally get your child’s diaper changed, or get off the phone with that telemarketer, you can jump right back in without as big an effort.
Solution 4: Sometimes, these steps aren’t sufficient. For a radical solution, have a ‘body double’ with you, whose presence or words serve as a reminder to stay the course. My husband isn’t a writer, but I began shouting out to him each time I stopped writing with the reason for my interruption, and that by itself helped me stay accountable and return to my writing.
Problem: Help! I get bored with my ideas, and never see them through to completion!
Apparently I’m not the only one with First Chapter Syndrome. There’s something about the zillion interesting possibilities that a first chapter brings with it that gets my pulse racing. That same something also makes me want to abandon those zillion possibilities the moment I hit a roadblock, like a week of deadlines at work, or getting stuck on a plot point, or when I come across another idea with its own zillion interesting possibilities.
With ADHD, new ideas are always tempting and distracting me, which means I’ll rarely come back to an old, stale idea. Each idea only can sustain me for a limited time horizon, which often isn’t long enough to see the idea through.
Solution: Set clear goals, and shorten your time horizon.
Let’s say you want to write a short story. Set your word limit to be, say, 3,000 words, and then set a short time horizon, say, a week, to complete it. Put that week on your calendar.
Or if it’s a novel you have in mind, set your word limit to be, say, 50,000 words, and then set a short time horizon, like a month, to complete it in. Then schedule that month on your calendar, in, say, November.
For the duration of this short time horizon, make this goal IMPORTANT!!! Buy yourself a new notebook, or a new pen, or a Scrivener subscription, or heck, a cake, to make this goal seem special, and stand out in your mind for you.
This keeps the exciting distraction of a new idea away, because your goal is very much within reach, and what’s more, IT’S SPECIAL!!!
Sometimes, 50,000 words might be too much or too far away a goal, so shorten it to 30,000 or even 20,000 words. The focus is on regular, easy wins, which can keep the momentum going.
For July’s Camp NaNoWriMo, I set a goal of 20,000 words on my new novel idea. I not only achieved my goal, but also exceeded it by 5,000 words. I now have 17 chapters of a novel written, and now I’m invested and confident enough that I can easily do 25,000 more and see this project through to completion!
For the creative person with ADHD, writing can be a great way to see through at least a few of the gazillion ideas that run through our mind. All we need is a little bit of creative problem solving to make it a more fulfilling and productive practice.
Lila Krishna is a San Francisco-based writer and programmer, with an abiding interest in tailoring productivity strategies for those with mental health issues. She writes fiction at the intersection of tech, women, and society, with a focus on the experience of Indians in America. She tweets at @lilastories and blogs at www.medium.com/@lilastories
NaNoWriMo is coming up in November, so this September, we want to help you prep for the months ahead and develop your novel idea with our annual month-long #InstaWrimo challenge. We designed a month of photo prompts (both concrete and abstract) to get you thinking about characters, setting, and story. All you need to join in is an Instagram account!
Participating in our Instagram Challenge will also give you a sneak peek into this year’s theme! Can you guess what it is from the prompts? We’re officially launching our NaNo Prep activities (and our brand-new website!) the week of September 10, so you can find out more then! To join the Challenge, follow these steps:
Use the 30 photo prompts listed in the graphic above to start thinking about your novel. We’ll post the full challenge prompt on Instagram, but it will also be available in this post if you need to refer back to it.
These prompts are just suggestions—you can interpret them as literally or as whimsically as you like. You can post a photo for each of the prompts, or choose just a few. You can post one every day, or all at once. There aren’t any strict rules—the most important part is having fun!
Make sure to tag any posts with the #InstaWrimo hashtag so we can find them. We’ll pick photos from the challenge to feature on our own Instagram account throughout the month. Follow the hashtag to see what our awesome community is up to, and to get inspired. You can also tag a friend you think would like to join you in the challenge!
Use your imagination, get creative, and get ready to write!
IMG: A graphic labeled “It’s NaNo Prep Time! An #InstaWrimo challenge from @nanowrimo”, and featuring the following prompts:
1. Past/Future 2. Shelfie 3. Writing friends 4. Baby photo (future novelist) 5. Flights of fancy 6. NaNo fuel 7. If your novel were a meme 8. Come as your character 9. Oops! 10. Outline/novel sketch 11. Fur buddy 12. New nanowrimo.org profile screenshot 13. Time piece 14. Cover design 15. Plot twist! 16. Noveling music 17. Cast your main character 18. Cast your villain 19. Cast a supporting character 20. The sands of time 21. Novel dedication 22. Banned book 23. Cliffhanger 24. Living literature 25. NaNo swag 26. Paradox 27. Where/when in the world? 28. Fresh air 29. Suddenly… 30. Time to write!
Sometimes, it just feels like the words won’t flow. But it’s important to remember that writer’s block is something that will pass. Today, we have a few tips from Young Writers Program participant Cassidy Pry on how to make writer’s block pass more quickly:
It’s important to keep working on your project even after a hectic event like NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo ends. You wouldn’t want a full month of hard work to end up in your “abandoned writing” folder! However, we know the real antagonist in your project all too well—that’s right. Writer’s block! Here are some tips on defeating writer’s block once and for all.
Some days are just better than others when it comes to writing. You might not always be overflowing with ideas to put in your project. Instead of beating yourself up for not knowing what to write, take a break and give yourself a high-five for everything you’ve already written! Pretty soon, an excellent idea will spark and you’ll be back to writing like there’s no tomorrow!
2. Try a word sprint.
Did you know that NaNoWriMo has a “word sprint” feature? Yup. Also known as a “word war,” this feature allows you to set a word count goal and time yourself to see if you can beat the clock and meet your goal! You could write 100 words in 5 minutes to give yourself a boost and take it from there, or go for 600 words in a half-hour and call it a day. Even if whatever you write makes no sense at all, you’d be surprised by the ideas that might come from what you end up with. You can also follow @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter for round-the-clock word sprinting with other Wrimos during event months.
3. Look for writing prompts.
There are many places all over the internet where you can find writing prompts to help you get around writer’s block. In fact, you can tune into NaNoWriMo’s live Virtual Write-Ins that include writing prompts to help you out! So if you haven’t seen those yet, you can go to NaNoWriMo’s YouTube channel and watch them.
4. Think about real life.
What’s on your mind right now? What are some things that have happened to you or someone you know recently? Real life is an amazing source of inspiration for what to write in your stories. Reflect what’s going on in your own life in your stories and maybe you’ll come up with something awesome!
Has anyone ever told you that the more you read the better you write? It’s true. Reading helps you become a better writer and it can also give you inspiration for your own writing. If you’ve hit writer’s block, maybe reading something of the same genre or topic that you’re writing about will help you find ideas of what to put in your writing.
6. Ask the Dare Machine.
Of all NaNoWriMo’s cool features, this one is probably my favorite. Did you know that this exclusive Young Writers Program feature will give you tons of ideas on what to write? Maybe your character finds something unexpected in between the couch cushions or a chapter in your book is told through the perspective of an animal. Your writing is your laboratory, experiment with ideas until the results are just right!
7. Have Fun!
Don’t act like writing is a dreaded chore. Having fun is part of what writing is all about! Of course, there will be struggles and obstacles and days when you feel like quitting. However, if you stick to it and let your creative juices flow, you will more than likely end up with something wonderful that you will love and cherish forever!
Cassidy Pry is a tech-savvy 13-year-old who loves writing and is also a professional actress. Her favorite things to write are poems and novels but she likes writing short stories as well. Aside from writing and acting, Cassidy enjoys arts and crafts, reading, magic, playing violin and piano, dancing, singing, taking photographs, learning languages, traveling, watching YouTube, and hanging out with her friends.
Sometimes, the editing process can be more intimidating than writing a novel! It’s hard to shoulder the pressure of making your writing better. Today, Young Writers Program participant Ashton Kay shares a few tips for making editing a little bit easier:
You’ve created some quirky characters to keep the story flowing, constructed a world that your characters dwell in, and you’re finally done with torturing the protagonists through a countless number of hardships and conflicts. Guess what? You’ve finished writing the rough draft!
If you’re internally (or perhaps, externally) screaming, ‘Aaah! Editing!’ it could mean two things; you’re either eager and excited to start editing, or you’re simply dreading to go back to your draft.
Good for you if you’re getting urges to make the rough draft better! But fear not if you’re the in the latter situation. Even if it seems like your first draft is already perfect and ready for publishing, that’s almost always never the case. There’s some room for improvement at all times. Now, stop procrastinating, and get your hands onto the keyboard. I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve that you might happen to find helpful.
1. Take a break.
I told you to ‘get your hands onto the keyboard’—I guess I lied. Sorry about that. Get your hands off the keyboard. Now’s the time to pat yourself on the back and take a break. Free yourself from the stress of writing, and feel proud that you’ve finished the first draft. The important fact, though, is that taking a break is essential for you to obtain an objective view of your writing. A week or two is a reasonable length of time, but it’s up to you to decide how long you want your break session to last.
2. Get a big picture of your story.
Once you’re ready to start typing again, read through your story and get a generic, big picture of it. Search for any plot holes that you might have missed, and review your story arc. Think about how the protagonist and antagonist’s motives clash, and make sure that their actions are led by the motives.
3. Add in some foreshadowing.
Foreshadowing’s actually pretty fun to add in, now that you have a detailed and certain idea of how your characters are going to end up. It’s important for you to have enough foreshadowing so that the ending doesn’t seem too sudden and abrupt. Glue your readers’ eyes on the pages with some hints of what’s going to happen later on in the story!
4. Adjust your story pacing.
It’s time for you to adjust the pace of the scenes and actions. Make the dramatic scenes slower-paced, and get rid of any events that contribute very little to the story, or that are unimportant. It can be painful to delete a large chunk of writing that you’ve written, but if that’s what makes your writing better as a whole, it’s probably something that’s worth gnashing your teeth through.
5. Get other people’s advice.
Ask your friends, teachers, relatives, or a friendly neighbor to read through your draft and give constructive criticism about it. They don’t necessarily have to be someone who enjoys writing, as long as they’re willing to give some advice to you. Readers are normal people, and it doesn’t take a writing expert to find out if a book’s compelling or not. Don’t get discouraged even if you get negative feedback. You still have a lot of time to go back and edit!
Editing is part of the writing journey that you’re on, and the journey cannot be complete without the process of editing. If you’ve enjoyed the thrill of writing the first draft, I’m sure you’ll find some fun in editing as well. Get a cup of hot chocolate with a marshmallow, and keep the writing vibes going!
Ashton Kay is an aspiring writer in her teens with a boundless passion for literature. She is usually buried under mountains of math worksheets, yet she magically manages to find some time to write. When she’s writing, she enjoys traveling through time and space, making risky deals with a villain, and fighting away mutant monsters with her characters. She is a possessor of a mind that buzzes with intriguing thoughts and ideas twenty-four-seven.
Sometimes, you just need a little reminder that you are a writer, what you’re creating is worthy, and that you should keep going! Today, Young Writers Program participant Dawnia Nosrek is here to give you that reminder:
If you asked a normal human being what they’re afraid of, chances are their response would be something other than “a blank page”. But it’s different for us writers. We are not normal human beings. We are extraordinary people, capable of snapping realities and plots and characters into existence by merely placing pen to paper.
Of course, if you’re anything like me, you’re terrified of the piece of paper in front of you. Of the wordless, empty blank page staring you down, scoffing at the very thought that you could produce anything worthwhile, credible, or even entertaining for any common reader.
But here’s the thing: just because you have a blank page doesn’t mean you’re fresh out of novel-worthy ideas. An idea is an idea even if it sounds dumb to you at first.
Don’t be encumbered by those destructive thoughts that plague the battlefield of your mind. That blank page is imposing. I know. But you have a world brimming with new ideas just waiting to come alive. Who cares if it sounds stupid? Who cares if it doesn’t exactly fit in the story line?
Right now, it’s yours. It’s your very own beautiful creation. Take pride in it. Own it. The point of writing is to write. Revising and making sure your sentences actually make sense will come later.
For now, close your eyes. Envision where you want your creation to go. Don’t worry about coherent sentences or shallow characters or plot holes or perfect punctuation or grammar or any of the fear that’s holding you back. Take charge and take off! Just go and write!
I believe in you.
You are a writer.
Dawnia Nosrek is a homeschooled senior whose entire life consists of writing, whether it be books, flash fiction, plays, poems, songs, soundtracks, or short stories. She loves to geek out about books and movies, and can be frequently found composing music on the piano, ukulele, or dulcimer. Her go-to snack food is Sour Patch Kids, and she consumes way too much Mountain Dew during NaNoWriMo. Her favorite series of all time is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Sometimes, the editing process can be more difficult than writing! It’s hard to take the things that you wrote and change or get rid of significant chunks. Today, NaNoWriMo participant Rosario Martinez reminds us that it’s ok to break apart what you’ve written:
You’re finished with your first draft, and you have no idea what you wrote. You just spent a month (several actually, but who’s really counting) writing this story, and now you feel like you can’t articulate what it is that you wrote.
This happens, and it’s okay. Take a breath, take a few days to relax and not think about what you wrote. Detach, but keep in mind a date you’ll like to return. Always keep in mind a date you will return to your story. What I find helps the most is using the calendar feature on my cell phone because I have it with me most of the time. No excuses, right? (Sort of.)
Don’t worry, you can do this. You wrote a story, your story. It’s done. Now you have to read and fix that story. But how?
This is the part where I tell you how you can fix your story. But actually, each story is different and will require different approaches to edit, revise, and rewrite. There is so much information about techniques on how to approach your first draft that just looking at ideas on where to start can be overwhelming. Just remember you already have words on the page.Words you can read and make better because these words already exist. This is just my suggestion on how you can begin to approach your novel edits.
1. Break your novel into parts.
What I’ve found most helpful is breaking your long, messy draft down into parts. It’s easier to manage visually and in terms of workload. You can divide your manuscript into the typical beginning, middle and end sections. Or simply into sets of equal number chapters—whatever helps you.
2. Determine the state of your draft.
Basically, assess the damage. Were you able to finish the story? Or did you only complete the word count? These are two different things. Different genres have different word counts, so let this be your first guide.
3. Read your novel.
Now that you’ve divvied up your story into parts, here comes the fun part: actually sitting down and reading it. This can be a difficult exercise because while we’re writing we have this epic—I repeat—EPIC idea of what our story is, and we often genuinely believe that is the way we wrote it. So, reading it for the first time is a bit of a rude awakening because, well… it’s not epic. Reading your first draft is the hardest, because it makes you realize how much work is still ahead. It’s okay to feel down and cry. (I don’t think we talk about this enough as writers.)
4. Come up with a plan for your story.
All things take time. Breathe. And come up with a plan to make your story like you imagined it. Whether you dive straight into editing, or you choose a particular thing to focus on first, make those marks on the page with your favorite pen or use your favorite editing software to fix mistakes.
5. Don’t be afraid to make changes.
Did you read something that was already somewhere else in the draft? Are you repeating a word or a phrase too much? Cross it out. Is your main character meeting a lot of other characters? Make a list and (for the love of your future self rereading your draft a third or fourth time) make notes on where and when these characters first appear.
Write in the margins, circle, highlight, correct, revise words or sentences that don’t make sense. Write neatly so that it’s legible when you come back for another round. Be as specific as you can when you’re making these notes. Accept that it might take more read-throughs before you feel comfortable having someone else read it.
6. Find the best editing process for you.
Research your favorite authors that write the same genre as you, and find out how they approach their drafts. You might discover something that will work with your own approach. Your approach to editing is your own, just like your story is your own. Only you will know what it needs and what it will take to get to the end each time. But whatever it is, take it bit by bit and you’ll make progress.
Rosario Martinez is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and their four sweet but demanding cats. She’s currently working on her debut YA fantasy novel. She has too many flannel things and believes a good bowl of nachos is life. To follow her journey to publication, visit her literary lifestyle blog or find her on Twitter @rosariomwrites and Instagram @rosariomwrites.
Just one week until our new book, Brave the Page, comes out! Here’s a snippet from author Jason Reynolds’ introduction.
“See, I know a little (just a little) about writing novels, and what I can tell you is that the process is just like moving from one home to the next. Your character are your boxes… Your job is to take them from a familiar place, a place where they feel they belong, and get them to the truck.”
5 Writing Dares (featuring the Traveling Shovel of Death)
Start writing NOW with these five dares, whether you’re in the middle of your project or looking for a way to begin. All dares provided by the Dare Machine on NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program website.
1. Your character discovers an inanimate object that laughs.
2. Create a human character based on your pet.
3. Make a character climb a tree.
4. Give one of your characters amnesia.
5. Have a character find an unlucky penny.
Plus one extra non-writing dare for us to watch out for!
Brave the Page, our brand new NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available for pre-order! Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, this is our go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Check out this Brave the Page excerpt on generating novel ideas:
Idea-Catching Mechanism #1: Mine Your Life
“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored,” author Neil Gaiman wrote. “The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”
When you mine your life, you look back through your past to extract sparkling sapphires as well as pieces of combustible coal. You dig deep to uncover experiences and emotions and memories and dreams, and then you gather them in a pile and watch as they ignite and spark story ideas.
The nuggets you mine from your past don’t need to be epic or amazing or tragic (though they can be). They can be simple moments or heated conversations or the smell of your favorite holiday. It can be tat time when you were three years old and used your mom’s lipstick as a crayon on the freshly painted wall. Or that feeling you got when you aced (or failed) your math test. Or the color of the sky after you saw your grandfather for the last time.
Your memories might lead to wild new ideas. Or they might serve as a foundation upon which you build your story, as with author Joyce Hansen’s book The Gift-Giver, which came out of her past experiences. “I recalled my own childhood as I created the story, so that underneath what seems to be a contemporary middle-grade novel is actually a nostalgic memory of my years growing up in a Bronx neighborhood in the late 1940s and early fifties.”
To get started on mining your life, take 10 minutes to write down (or draw) as many memories, experiences, and dreams as you can. Include a lot of details or a single word-whatever works for you. Do this every day for a week.
Here are a few prompts to guide you if mining memories from your whole life feels too big: