“There is no ‘right’ way to write. Do whatever feels best for you. Try working on whatever section you’re most excited about at the moment—I’ve found that it leads to my best writing.”
—Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. She currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She was once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out. American Pandais her debut novel, and Misaligned is forthcoming fall 2019. Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at gloriachao.wordpress.com and find her on Twitter and Instagram @gloriacchao.
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How are your Camp NaNoWriMo projects going, writers? Are you on par with your goal, blasting ahead, or feel like you’re lagging behind? Today, Camper Shay Duchaine shares a few words of wisdom about the importance of having your goals help rather than hinder you:
It’s that time of year, folks, and we have found ourselves in the middle of another Camp NaNoWriMo season. Some of us are already deeply involved in our projects, while some (like me) are getting a little bit of a late start. Regardless of where you stand, be proud that you have decided to embark on this wonderful adventure.
When a new NaNo session starts, or when I am working on a new project, I like to set personal goals for myself so that I can monitor my progress. I love feeling that sense of triumph when I hit a word count or hear the ding of my alarm after writing for an uninterrupted amount of time. However, I’ve noticed that sometimes when I’m trying to achieve large accomplishments, I can turn personal goals into expectations. When these expectations have gone unmet, for any reason, it can be easy to become self-critical.
As authors, we all have moments of being hard on ourselves. It makes sense, especially when the writing we produce is so personal and highly valued. But what happens when unmet goals start becoming personal barriers between us and our effectiveness in the execution of our pieces? What has started as a method of trying to achieve our best can halt creativity and progress.
Sometimes we can fall into what is an ‘I should have’ complex. I have heard the phrases all too many times, “I should have been able to meet my wordcount,” or “I could’ve gotten a lot more done than I did.” I’ve fallen victim to this sort of mentality more times than I can remember. When sitting down for a writing session starts becoming associated with anxiety, it can negatively affect our motivation. Working on rewriting our inner narrative can assist us in thriving as authors, unrestricted from the negativity which has held us back.
“What happens when unmet goals start becoming personal barriers between us and our effectiveness in the execution of our pieces? What has started as a method of trying to achieve our best can halt creativity and progress.”
Imagine how large the boost of self-confidence can be if we make the conscious effort to replace negative statements with what we have been able to accomplish, rather than what we haven’t? Saying “look at how many words that I have been able to get down today,” or noting, “I made the time to sit down and work on my project,” are ways to highlight tasks we can genuinely be excited about! It may seem unnatural to consciously replace the old statements with the new, but with time and practice, this will start to become the norm. You deserve to feel like the amazing author that you are!
For me, trying different writing exercises helps when I am struggling with my work. If you are having trouble deciding where your story should go next, or are trying to connect with your characters more, take some time to visit @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter and work through some of their unique prompts. I have been able to create some great, unexpected material for my novel by taking part in these sprints and by watching the virtual write-in sessions that are hosted on YouTube.
NaNoWriMo has been an extremely fun and positive experience for so many of us who partake in the challenge. Never lose sight of the reason why you are participating! You are not alone in this process. Feel free to reach out to other writers who are participating, especially the members of your assigned cabin. Don’t forget about the other members of your support system; I’m sure they would love to give you encouragement. Good luck with the remainder of this session, I know you are going to do fantastic things during Camp NaNoWriMo!
Shay Duchaine is a writer and Massachusetts native. Her work primarily consists of fiction and poetry. When she isn’t playing video games or reading a good book, she often frequents local coffee shops and cafes. She is an alumna of Bridgewater State University, where she majored in English with a writing studies concentration, and Psychology. Follow her on Twitter or check out her website.
Top image licensed under Creative Commons from VTDarkStar on Flickr.
Camp NaNoWriMo is nothing without you, our incredible participants. Today, Camp NaNoWriMo participant Juliana Xavier offers you some advice for your second week of Camp:
Dear Wrimos of NaNo past, present and future,
As we continue the second session of Camp this year, many of us are already freaking out at what’s to come. Heck, I’m currently writing this from the not so distant past (July 1st, in fact), and already I want to scurry back to bed to sleep away the winter (I’m in Brazil).
It’s a lot of pressure to keep yourself working non-stop for a month of creative endeavors… and on top of that, you definitely didn’t set up a bunch of unrealistic expectations, right?
But according to popular belief, unrealistic expectations (among other anxiety- and depression-inducing things) are exactly how content creators should create. “Suffer for your art,” they say!
I shout back, “Nay!” We need not suffer to create great things.
Let’s backtrack: During last November’s NaNo session, I wrote the novel that I want to nurture and carry to full term in the next 9 months (sure, let’s go with that analogy). With that in mind, I decided to use April and July’s session as a way to work on a second and third draft of said novel.
I’ve been away from Camp since 2013 and was pleasantly surprised to discover the new ways I could track progress; through the classic word count or via hours, minutes, or even lines or pages (this is important).
Thing is, right before April’s camp session, my life became a bit of a Greek tragedy. Desperately looking for a way to not let myself fall apart, I dove head first into writing, fully expecting to hit pavement instead of water. Thankfully, it was the latter, and I clocked a whooping 164 hours of writing in April.
If you think that’s excessive, so do I.
By mid-April I was already starting to burn out with writing. Because past me was too lazy to deal with my mental health properly, present me is now so desperate that everything seems dire.
Unrealistic expectations for July’s camp: Third draft go!
Reality: *internally screaming* Deadlines are imminent! Death is imminent! A terrible draft is imminent, give up now!
In my desperation to return to April’s peak productivity, I’ve started badgering my friends for multivitamins as if that was some sort of cure for burnout. Speaking of, got any vitamin D tablets on ya?
How am I supposed to rise like a phoenix for a second month of writing, when I feel so unmotivated to push through the gross death ashes of my ongoing burnout?
Well… that’s why Camp is so important:
“Small steps and tiny progress is still progress.”
Tracking my progress in hours instead of word count allows me to see my progress even if I originally wouldn’t count it as such. Time you spend fleshing out characters, unraveling messy plot lines and world building? It all matters.
Sure, I leveraged my pain to create; but maybe I could have had two good months of writing, instead of an excessive one in April, and what’s so far shaping up to be an anxiety-inducing one in July.
Sometimes we are just not all there, and it’s ok not to be hyper productive all the time. If you shoulder the weight of the world, you’ll only add more to your pain. What feels great now might be terrible for you later on. Small steps and tiny progress is still progress.
Rome wasn’t built in a day! G.R.R. Martin didn’t write all of The Winds of Winter in a month! In fact, it’s not even done yet. If he can take years to write his story, so can you. (And remember that you can change your goal during Camp if it doesn’t feel right for you!)
Take care of your health and do what’s write (ha) for you.
Your friendly neighborhood Wrimo participant.
Juliana Xavier is a writer, illustrator and sequential artist. SCAD alumna, all about that kid lit. Brazilian born but partially American grown. Works as a freelance artist and would love to draw your fantasy maps and book covers. Coffee is ok (gasp!) but Thai bubble tea is the real MVP. You can find her on her portfolio website, twitter, patreon, and ko-fi page. For inquiries, feel free to e-mail her at email@example.com
Top image licensed under Creative Commons from postscapes on Flickr.
This week for our #NaNoFlashback fundraising drive, we’re looking back at important moments of NaNoWriMo history. In 2006, we finally felt like a household name when we got our first New York Times crossword shout-out. Feeling inspired by that event, we’ve created our own NaNoWriMo crossword puzzle!
1. Inner _____ 4. Place to find writing advice articles 9. A writer’s athletic challenge 11. The most-associated month 14. Place for kids’ novels, for short 16. You! (A NaNo participant) 18. Online group noveling hour, for short 21. A trip down memory lane: #_____ 22. A helpful writing dinosaur (and something of a YouTube star) 23. The month it all started in 1999 25. Inspiring missives from authors
1. East Bay _____: 2001 NaNoWriMo article publication 2. 122 _____: The original “Nat’l Novel Writing Mo.” clue in the Times 3. Writing prompt challenge 4. Chris _____, founder of NaNoWriMo 5. Virtual writing group 6. Chief features on NaNoWriMo headgear 7. Number of participants the first year of NaNoWriMo 8. Traditional # of words needed to “win” 10. New, distracting novel idea 12. Places to chat with fellow writers 13. _____ NaNoWriMo: a place to play 15. Laptop adornments 17. “No plot? No _____!” 19. Mr. Ian _____ 20. NaNo HQ, originally 24. Leaders of regions, for short
Camp NaNoWriMo has begun, and you may be feeling the pressure to complete your project. One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re writing is making sure that your work doesn’t adversely affect your mental health. Today, author and participant Cass Morris shares a few tips to help manage mental chaos:
”Chin up princess, or the crown slips.” That meme, right there? That explains a lot about who I am.
I’ve got what some people call “high-functioning” anxiety, the kind that makes you a constantly over-wound spring but determined not to let anyone know that you’re screaming internally. I am a Slytherin, driven to achieve and to do so publicly—because if other people don’t know about it, does it even count? And if I’m not doing my best, if I’m not meeting all my goals and checking everything off my list, aren’t I just a lazy failure? Aren’t I letting myself down, and thus letting down literally everyone I’ve ever met?
Well, of course not. But the demon in my head doesn’t know that.
If any of that is sounding familiar, my sympathies. I know how rough it is. Here are a few things I keep in mind to help manage the mental chaos:
1. Block off time for things that are not writing.
This is hard especially when you’re on a deadline or trying to meet a daily NaNo goal, but it’s a crucial thing to learn. Anxiety and stress quite literally fray your nerves, neurologically speaking. Your brain needs breaks, but if you’re like me, it’s tough to give your brain that permission.
Lately, I’ve been using my bullet journal’s habit tracker to make sure I do things like read for pleasure, tend to my spirituality, and not fall asleep with my phone clutched in my hand. Checking things off on the habit tracker feels like achievement, which assuages the sense of “but if you’re not constantly working, you’re an unproductive loser”. I’m trying to redefine my broken brain’s perception of what productivity is—sometimes it has to be those things which feed your soul and keep you sane. That’s not an indulgence. It’s keeping yourself in top working order by giving your nerves a chance to rest and heal.
2. Celebrate the small victories.
If anxiety is something that makes you super goal-oriented, learn to find some smaller benchmarks in addition to the biggies. Your end goal might be finishing your NaNo project, getting published, hitting the bestseller list—but quite apart from the aspects of those things which are outside of your immediate control, those goals are also always going to be delayed gratification. That can make the day-to-day grind a frustrating endeavor.
Give you brain a nice dopamine hit by finding things to celebrate more often: hitting a sprint goal, writing a smashing paragraph, learning a new word. Finding things to take pride and joy in on a more regular basis has really helped me to remember that the major goals do not have to eat my entire life or define my sense of self.
3. If you need more help, get it.
Whatever form that help takes—medications, therapy, changes to your life. I wish I had done so much, much earlier. Instead, I struggled for fifteen years, unable to figure out why every so often, my life just seemed to spiral apart beyond my ability to cope with circumstances. Finally seeing a psychiatrist and getting prescriptions to help with anxiety, depression, and insomnia helped immeasurably. They didn’t change who I am—but they dialed the trouble down to a level I could actually manage. That, in turn, made it much easier to actually write. Needing help does not make you weak. Seeking it out is not an indulgence. Accepting it will not dull your creativity.
This anxiety is always going to be a part of me, and in some ways, I’m okay with that. I like being driven to achieve. But I’m also really glad that I’m learning ways to keep it from counterproductively destroying my ability to function. It’s an ongoing process, to be sure! But then, so am I. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Cass Morris lives and works in central Virginia and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. From Unseen Fire (DAW Books, Apr 2018) is her debut novel, currently available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. Visit her on her website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Patreon.
Camp NaNoWriMo is nothing without you, our incredible participants. Today, Camp NaNoWriMo participant Amanda Truscott offers you some advice for your first week of Camp:
Hi there, Writer Friends.
I have a trick for doing your best and most prolific work: pretend you’re a radio. All you have to do is tune into the right station. Now, if this sounds too “woo-woo” for you, that’s cool; I’m only asking you to humor me and give it a try. See what happens. Here’s how you do it:
Sit down with your computer or notebook and become aware of your breathing.
At this point, you might think something like, “I can’t think of anything! It’s not working! This is stupid.” Ignore those thoughts.
Tell yourself, “I’m just playing. This is just a game. This isn’t work. All I have to do is show up and play with my book like a kid playing with a ball or blocks. I’m just experimenting. Trying things. That’s all this is.” The above is a mental game I play with myself even when I’m writing something “serious” because it lowers the stakes enough to take Fear out of the equation—or at least to hobble it so it’s easier to outrun.
Breathe. Do your best to sit up straight and keep your shoulders relaxed. Our minds respond to what our bodies do, and slouching makes us feel scared and inadequate, as does shallow breathing. So keep breathing in and out, inhaling and exhaling deeply through your nose. Words will begin to suggest themselves.
When they do, you might think, “What? That’s stupid. I’m not writing that.” Ignore those thoughts too. Write the words.
Keep writing. Repeat steps 1-5 as needed. You’ll find the more willing you are to believe you’re “just playing”, indifferent to the quality of your transmissions (radios, after all, claim no responsibility for Taylor Swift, Limp Bizkit or Chopin), the more easily and joyfully the words will flow through you.
And the more easily and joyfully you write, the better and more plentiful your words will be.
But please don’t think about that part. Thinking about quality is a trap, and it loosens the hobbles on Fear’s ankles so it can catch up and take you down, whispering in your ear with its meaty breath, “The quality of what you do is important. It’s how people will judge you. It’s the proof of your worth as a human, and we already know you’re worthless. Do you want the rest of the world to know it too?”
At which point you can elbow it in the ribs with this thought: “This isn’t work. I’m just playing. It doesn’t matter what I write. It’s just a game. I’m just a radio.”
Breathe in and breathe out. Fear will roll off you, clutching its side.
You will get up. And you will write. And you will cross the finish line, victorious.
And now my own Inner Critic pipes up and says, “You’re mixing too many metaphors, Amanda. You need to be consistent.” So I tell it, “Shut up. I’ll mix as many metaphors as I want. This is my game, and I make up the rules.”
With love and hopes for the wings of your words,
Amanda Truscott is the author of Creative Unblocking: Bypass Self-Doubt, Tap your Genius, and Complete Your Best Work. Her current novel is an urban fantasy about a Pomeranian shapeshifter who has to save her people from a cannibal that mixes their blood into a beauty cream. You can find her online at creativeunblocking.com, or offline playing in the wilds of British Columbia.
Want to add a little extra oomph into your story? Or need someone to help get your main character out of a bind? Use your name and birthday to find out what new character you should introduce into your current work in progress!
And don’t forget to update your Camp NaNoWriMo projects—it’s not to late to start!
Camp NaNoWriMo has officially begun! A lot of writers feel like they struggle against writer’s block, so how do you overcome that when it overwhelms you? Today, participant Stefanie McAuley shares a tip for getting past those moments of doubt:
I sit at my desk, eyes glazed over. Why can’t my mind go this blank when I attempt to meditate? On my screen it’s just there staring back at me. Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink. How can something so small and controllable be so taunting? And yet, right now I can’t think of a single thing more jeering than the flashing cursor of writer’s block.
“You’ve got this…?” I whisper to myself in what’s intended as a pep-talk but comes out like a question. Inhale. Exhale.
Of course, this usually happens to writers when a deadline is looming—for school, or a paid piece, or a goal set by an over-achieving mind. We must, so we can’t. We freeze under the pressure.
I’m sure you, too, have an arsenal of tricks to get your brain to stop buffering and start flowing. Crowd favorites include a quick walk around the block, wire framing your story arch and filling in the spaces, and my usual choice: the scream-into-a-pillow. While they can be cathartic I’ve found these methods are still too cognitive. Nothing stifles a piece more than muscling your way through the creative process. Even if I manage to hit the deadline, I’m rarely happy with the outcome. What’s worse, I’ve had a really rough day of writing—isn’t this supposed to be fun?—and I’m left deflated, uninspired, and disappointed in my final work.
I needed a better strategy. My poor throw pillows.
“Find an outlet that triggers your creativity and allows you to drop your inhibitions. The time will not be wasted, it’s a simple reset into your creative mindset.”
It wasn’t until one day I was driving home from a dance class that it struck me: creativity breeds creativity. After an hour of being lost in the movement and music, my neurons were firing. Stagnant pieces of my storyline were developing into clear, humorous bridges. I blew through my apartment door, barely taking off my shoes, to frantically write everything down before it escaped me.
Yes. Writing is really fun.
Since then, I have a new lease on my writing life. The eleventh-hour used to freak me out—I had no time to waste! Now, I lean into burning time on non-writing. I crank up a killer playlist with a similar tone to the piece I’m writing, and slide my coffee table out of the way. When I’m stuck, I feel like a jammed record player and the end of the last sentence I’ve typed just repeats over, and over, and over, like it’s trying to knock the next one out. That’s not an option when the music is blaring and I’m letting the lyrics flow through me. There’s just me, my body, and the 90s pop diva du jour.
One side-effect of a catchy song is having those lyrics stuck in your head. Make room for your own word flow by setting back to work with some white noise on in your headphones. This proves an effective way to ward off an earworm.
Whatever you do, stop putting the pressure on yourself. While Whitney into a hairbrush mic isn’t for everyone, find an outlet that triggers your creativity and allows you to drop your inhibitions. The time will not be wasted, it’s a simple reset into your creative mindset.
Have fun with it—isn’t that what it’s all about?
As a writer and marketing specialist, global brands call on Stefanie McAuley for thoughtful strategic-planning and effective creative writing. Not one to sit still, Stef has lived on three continents and traveled to fifty countries. Inspired by her travels and life lessons, she started sharing stories on her blog, Broad World. And, her time living in Ghana inspired the work of her first novel—coming soon! Check out her blog, Instagram, & Twitter.
Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Jeremy Keith on Flickr.
Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner! One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re writing is making sure that finishing your project doesn’t adversely affect your mental health. Today, participant Lanie Goodell shares how she balances writing and mental health needs:
When I was first offered the opportunity to write this blog post, the topic of mental health and writing goals jumped out at me. After all, I’m a writer with both an AAS (Associate of Applied Science) and a BA in psychology. What a great fit! But then I got started writing and I stared at the blank page. The deadline loomed and the page remained blank. I realized that this was a prime example of how I stress myself with writing goals.
As I started writing, my day job got in the way. I had to fly out to the other side of the state for a site visit and ride-along inspection. During that flight, what I thought was a slight cold turned into something worse, resulting in thickening of the lungs and a severe asthmatic reaction. And my writing goals were once again put on hold. In addition, the day before the flight, my 12-year-old son spent the day in the emergency room. He’d caught his foot on the metal post of his bed and broke his foot. This taller-than-me, pretty much a teenage boy, needed his momma. His now-sick momma.
All of my writing goals had been shoved aside for the daily life events that so often overtake our goals. My frustration was evident in my lack of ability to put words on paper. My anxiety over missing a deadline I very much wanted to meet emphasized the white paper in front of me, the curser blinking a taunting rhythm.
The past week has taught me so much more about mental health and writing goals than I could have imagined. I’m sitting on developmental edits of my novel, until today I had this blog post pending, and I have a new novel started with a notebook full of plot twists and research. But I’m not meeting any of these goals. I haven’t written. I’m stressed—and that’s poor mental health.
“I realized that the best way to meet my goals, to stay mentally healthy while still writing, was to ease up on myself… My revelation has helped me realize that my writing suffers when I’m too hard on myself.”
As writers we are our toughest critics. We’re harder on ourselves than anyone else in our lives. This is detrimental to our mental health. We suffer depression, frustration, anger at the blank page. We set goals for ourselves that we’re sure we can meet. We make those goals smaller when we realize we’ve bitten off more than we can chew.
I did all of these things in the past few weeks. I set goals that I didn’t meet. I chewed myself out mentally for not finding the time to work on my writing. I got angry with myself for not having the discipline to write. But a great thing happened when I sat down to work on this article. I realized that the best way to meet my goals, to stay mentally healthy while still writing, was to ease up on myself.
I sat and made a list of the things I wanted to accomplish. I ranked them in order of priority. And then I told myself whatever I could manage would be a success. What’s the saying? Life is what happens while we’re making plans. Goals are important. They’re essential. You need to have a plan for what you want the end goal to be. But one of the things we have to remember is that we’re human. Life happens. I’m late submitting this article. I spent yesterday in Urgent Care and I’m finally starting to feel better, ten days after getting sick. Words are no longer the enemy. I have stopped beating myself up for not meeting all of my self-imposed goals.
My revelation has helped me realize that my writing suffers when I’m too hard on myself. I lose my excitement, wrapped up in the drive to write instead of the passion that makes my writing interesting. Today, I feel free. I feel like I can accomplish my end goal… as long as I remember I cannot control the smaller details. Today, I have found my passion again.
Lanie Goodell has been writing since she learned to spell. She recently finished her first adult novel and looks forward to the day she can write full time. She has been published in three anthologies and has a children’s story pending publication in the inaugural issue of Prickly Pear Kids. A former teacher, Lanie loves crafting new worlds through words, creating written stories that play like movies as you read. For more about Lanie, visit www.meligoodell.com.
Top image licensed under Creative Commons from ChristinaMina on Flickr.
Want to start a new writing project during Camp NaNoWriMo this July but feeling a little nervous to try? Join our Young Writers Program Director Marya and Communications Manager Katharine to learn some tips sourced from veteran Wrimos.