What I’ve Learned From NaNoWriMo: Part Two

Hello and happy Wednesday!

Yet another week in November has rushed by. Can you believe next week is Thanksgiving already? It’s hard for me to believe we have a meager six weeks left in 2020.

Something else I have trouble believing is that fellow NaNo authors are – probably – about halfway through their manuscripts now! If that’s you, keep up the good work! And if you’re not quite there, don’t give up! Every word you write is progress.

It’s been another productive week for me. By typical NaNo standards, I’m actually far ahead of the game, with about 41,000 words/6 chapters as of Sunday. Though my family doesn’t seem to be surprised, I never realized I was quite this wordy, haha. I knew from the beginning that this would be a longer rough draft however, so I’m pretty much on-track with my own goals – and glad to be!

Last week, I shared three of the things that have been helpful to me while writing. You can find that post here. Today, I’m back with three more tips, this time focused on staying inspired and immersed in your story. I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me!

1. Find Mood Music

For years, I resisted suggestions to write with music. I’d tried it several times to some upbeat songs and disliked it. Too distracting (I just wanted to sing along), and it kept pulling me from the story.

A couple of months ago it seemed like this tip was everywhere. “It will quicken your writing process, inspire you, and help with productivity,” people said. Who wouldn’t want those benefits? So, despite my skepticism, I tried it again for NaNo.

Now, I’m hooked.

The key, I’ve found, lies in finding music that fits your story. Maybe that sounds obvious to you, but I thought any music would help as long as I consistently listened to it while writing. Not so.

Preferences vary by person as far as songs with words or without, but I’ve discovered that I write best listening to instrumentals. Thankfully, there are thousands of instrumentals out there! For my current work-in-progress (a pirate novel), I discovered a nearly two-hour compilation of the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks 1, and it has been incredible for setting the mood.

After listening to it while writing for two and a half weeks now, the moment my brain hears those first notes, it’s off and running – or should I say, sailing. I’m amazed by how immersed in the story I become while listening to it. There’s nothing quite like writing a shark attack scene with suspenseful Kraken soundtrack in the background.

Though I could talk a long time about why I love my particular writing music right now, this applies to any music that fits your story. The more emotion in it, the better, which is one reason soundtracks seem to work perfectly.

No matter what genre you’re writing in, you can find music that fits it. Some people even like to create playlists for certain moods inside that genre; for sad scenes, tense scenes, comical scenes, etc. You can get as fancy as you like, but something simple can work just as well.

And if you just don’t like listening to music while writing? That’s okay! Some people truly do work best in quiet. But if you can’t stand listening while you write, and still want to try using music to get into the mood of your story, try listening to a song or two before you start writing. It might help immerse you in your story world and get that creativity flowing!

2. Collect Visual Inspiration

We just talked about using audio to immerse ourselves in our stories, but what about visually? Staring at a black and white document for hours on end is not very conducive to creativity, but it’s the reality for most writers, whether you use a computer or a notebook. And no, I don’t recommend colorful pens or fonts to remedy that unless your focus is much stronger than mine.

What I do recommend is collecting visual inspiration for your story. This can be in the form of photographs, maps, drawings, figurines – whatever relates to your story and will help immerse you in it.

On my computer, next to my manuscript document, I keep a folder full of images I’ve saved. For this particular novel, I’ve filled it with maps of my story locations, and sketches, paintings, and pictures of anything else I write about in the book. People I imagine my characters to resemble, buildings they might find, weapons they might carry, clothing they might wear, ships they might sail…

Though it’s convenient for me to have these things on my computer, tangible inspiration items can be helpful too. For example, when writing descriptions about pirate ships, I like to look at a 3-D model of one that my brother made. Something about being able to turn it around and study the decks, sails, and flag right in front of me, not just on my computer screen, makes writing about it easier.

And that’s the idea. To be able to look at and study the things you’re writing about, either while you’re writing about them, or beforehand. Words and ideas flow much faster when you can describe something right in front of you, or glance at a map and pick one of the towns displayed, without having to stop and think about what a camel looks like, or what towns used to be in 17th century Spain.

Now, I collected these things in preparation for NaNo, before I started writing. If you don’t have them collected before you sit down to write, it’s still faster to jot down a note, move on, and come back to add more descriptions or fix details later. But the next time you’re not writing, and happen across something you think would be helpful to your story, save it!

And if you’re not sure you’ll end up writing about it? If it inspires you, or helps immerse you in your story, its accomplished its purpose, even if you never do mention that specific town, item of clothing, or animal in your finished book. Better to be prepared, as you never know where your novel will take you!

3. Never Stop at a “Good Place”

This is yet another tip that I certainly didn’t invent, but I’m glad I discovered it! Basically, take off your writing cap for a moment and think of how you like to read books. As we can’t often pick up a book and read the whole thing in one sitting (no matter how much we want to), we tend to look for those “good places to stop”.

Ends of chapters are the most common ones, though if the chapters are really long, scene breaks or time skips work well, too. As writers, we also tend to look for those places. Once we’re ready to stop writing, we don’t usually stop in the middle of a sentence. We look for somewhere to stop that feels complete.

Again, the ends of chapters, scenes, paragraphs, or at least sentences work well. We feel content completing that section, and then move on with our day, planning to start the next chapter or scene the next writing session.

But that completion can actually hinder the creative process and invite procrastination. It’s always harder to start something than to continue, isn’t it? That blank first page is the writer’s greatest enemy (second only to the murky middle of any given novel). And it’s always easier to start new chapters or scenes when our creativity is already flowing.

Not when we’re just sitting down to write again, still uninspired and not yet immersed in our stories. That situation tends to lead to a lot of time spent staring at a blank document, wracking our brains and thinking that pulling our own hair out sounds more enjoyable than trying – and failing – to write a story that won’t come.

At least that’s how it usually works for me.

Recently, however, I was given the suggestion to never stop when it feels like a good place to do so. Never end a writing session at the end of a chapter, or anywhere it feels comfortable. Anywhere it feels like all the tension and loose ends have been wrapped up for that section.

Write one sentence further.

Write that first sentence of the next chapter, or scene, or paragraph, while your creativity is still flowing. While you’re still inspired by and immersed in the story. It may sound silly, but the effects have been incredible for me.

It’s as if that one sentence is a springboard for my imagination. When I sit down and read it, my brain is reminded where I was headed with the next section and continues from there, with much less effort than if I was starting “from scratch”. I don’t have to come up with the idea for the section. I just have to continue with the one already there.

I was skeptical at first, and it does feel strange for a while. But a “good place to stop” for a reader is not a good place for the writer (and of course, writers try not to leave any good places for readers either, right?).

Many writers stop their writing sessions in the middle of a sentence. That way, your brain is not intimidated. After all, it’s just one sentence. When the easy task of finishing it is done, your imagination is awake again and ready to keep on writing.

I’ve also heard of writers who stop in the middle of a word, and though my fussy brain has never allowed me to go that route, who knows? It works for them, and may work for you!

So, experiment and find what makes it easiest for your imagination to spark. Then, be sure to leave yourself that springboard for the next writing session. Your brain – and your hair – will thank you.

Those are three more of the tactics I’ve been using during my NaNo journey so far. I hope you find them helpful, too! If you do, be sure to check in next week, when I’ll be back with three more hopefully-helpful writing tips. For now, back to the writing board!

What’s something you’ve found helpful while writing? Have you tried any of the ideas I mentioned? What did you think? Please leave your favorite tips and strategies in the comments below. I’d love to hear your advice!

1. My current (pirate) writing music can be found here.

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