writing

What I Learned During Week One of NaNoWriMo

When I first had the idea to write this post series, it was because I was switching my blog over to a wordpress.com site. As I was switching things over I was rereading all of my blog posts from NaNoWriMo last year. A lot of that time was spent cringing because of all grammar and spelling mistakes I made.  I guess I have to give myself grace though because a lot of the posts were written after midnight in like ten minutes. But the time that wasn’t spent holding back winces, was spent in nostalgia and a little bit of awe at the wisdom my sleep-deprived was able to articulate.

I planned to expand on those weekly motivational posts this summer for Camp NaNoWriMo, but that never happened because of life, so this October I figured it’d be the perfect way to count down to NaNoWriMo and here we are.

The first word of advice I ever gave, last year, was ‘hydrate yourself’. So, as you read my post this is also your reminder to go grab a cup of water now. Instill good habits  in yourself before the crazy month begins.

 

NaNoWriMo is about getting you started.

The most important thing I learned my first NaNoWriMo was how to get started and how to be persistent in chasing after that goal. NaNoWriMo gave me the tools, resources, and the community to get me on the right track with where I wanted to be, the only thing I regret is I didn’t continue the habit after NaNoWriMo ended. I would recommend y’all continue the habit, it doesn’t have to be a continued monthly goal of 50k (Please, don’t wear yourself out like that.) but it is important to continue writing every day, even if that writing is just a couple hundred words. The writing you do every single day doesn’t have to all be part of a big story, you just have to write.

In the long run, I think writing daily not only strengths your mind, but it reduces stress as you’re not stressed about writing, and you’re letting go of things that keep tumbling around in your head, night after night, disrupting your sleep schedule.

If you work with the process and the flow, NaNoWriMo will get you started.  It’ll help you change that ‘aspiring writer’ to an ‘actual real-life writer who writes’ but you have to personally put in the elbow grease. And you have to choose to let that elbow grease, that hard work become a habit for your life. I didn’t personally and it is something I vastly regret, but this year coming into NaNoWriMo, it’s something I am working towards.

My elbow grease will be going towards setting off my future in storytelling (Even though, I am going into the film industry as an editor, the skills that I will have to use for writing consistently will shape me into the type of storyteller I want to be in editing.) by learning a level of creative persistence and perseverance that I wasn’t able to reach last year.

 

Let. It. Suck.

One of the biggest truths you will ever learn in writing is that your writing will suck, can suck, and will continue to suck in future story’s first drafts.

An awesome story concept is cool.

A professional book cover is cool.

Having dreams of being published is cool.

None of that matters if you do not have a story.

 

I’m a film editor. I work with graphics, text, and, most importantly, footage. The footage doesn’t look like much before it gets to me. Sometimes the colors are off, it’s all out of order, the sound is messed up in places, and there is scene after scene where the actors mess up or something goes wrong. That is the first draft of a movie or film. A first draft I can work with because it actually exists.

If that story never made it past a concept or a movie poster, I’d never be able to shape it into something for audience’s to see. I’d never be able to splice together two shots that don’t work quite right on their own or tie scenes together. The story wouldn’t exist.

Likewise, the end project you see will seem effortless. You know intellectually that hundreds of hours went into the movie, and hundreds of pieces were instrumental in the making, but visually you see a two-hour masterpiece. You don’t see the frustration, retakes, and the engineering that the story took.

You wouldn’t be able to watch that movie if it never made it to a folder of not so awesome looking shots on my computer. If people only dreamed instead of also putting in the hard work, you wouldn’t have that entertainment.

The same is true with your story. Until you put down a base, a first draft, you don’t have a story. When you get started and you let it suck, and you write it down, you have something you can work with. You have scenes you can rearrange and splice. You have characters you can expand and build on. You have sentences you can restructure, and that dream you’ve been dreaming is in the process of happening. It’s no longer just a concept, it’s a reality.

 

The little word counts add up.

Sometimes you only have the time or the energy to write twenty words or one hundred words. But over time, if you continue writing little bits of story here and there, those word counts rise into the thousands.

During NaNoWriMo last year, I wasn’t always able to just sit down and write. I know a lot of you, between work and school, are also in the same boat. So those five minutes you were about to spend on Instagram, go write a few words. If you’re on public transportation on your way home from work or school, plug in your earphones and write out a few more hundred words. While you’re in the store, buying groceries, dictate bits of your story and write them out later. During your lunch break, write as you eat. When you’re on the toilet, type up some words (It’s not weird unless you make it weird.).

All those little instances during the day may not seem like much, but they add up to thousands and thousands of words. A lot of those words, especially during the beginning, will be a struggle to get out but if you continue one word after another, you’ll hit 50k before you know it.

My first week of NaNoWriMo I hit 15.4k. Some of that word count was painstakingly writing one word after another, having no idea where my story was going.  Those words added up. I completed NaNoWriMo last year, not because I was great at time management or writing but because I was consistent in my persistence, and I was stubborn in my perseverance.

Don’t be afraid to take breaks.

I suppose I should rephrase this a bit; don’t be afraid to take short breaks. Taking breaks renews your mind. It takes a lot of energy to create stories and worlds out of thin air so don’t be hard on yourself if you need to take a couple hours.

While taking a break, don’t idle, however. Spend that time getting other things done: school work, planning, etc. Spend time reading, watch a movie, listen to an invigorating soundtrack (I recommend Wonder Woman.) and work out. While you’re taking a break, treat yourself a bit: I recommend making some baked goods – like a dozen muffins or some cookies – at the beginning of the week (Don’t forget to hide them from family members!), to have on hand while you’re taking a break or later while you’re writing.

Make sure to take care of yourself. Keep yourself hydrated and eat at least three meals a day. I recommend adding some healthy fats to your diet too, it helps the proteins your brain needs to function. Making sure you have enough to eat and it’s what your body actually needs, goes a long way to keeping your mind healthy because everything that goes through your stomach makes it to cells to keep them going (this includes brain cells).

 

Listen to a lot of music.

I recommend making a couple of different playlists, music can cause different parts of your mind to light up which bleeds into the words you write. If you listen to something like ‘No Man’s Land (Wonder Woman Soundtrack)’ while writing an action scene, it will show in the words your mind selects and the way it places them, especially if you’re an auditory person.

My story last year held a very melancholy undertone so I listened to darker songs. The storyline started lighter and it ends really dark because it’s the middle book of a trilogy and it’s a negative growth plot. So I listened to songs like ‘Addict with a Pen’ by 21 pilots, ‘Broken Home’ by 5SOS, ‘This is Gospel’ P!ATD, ‘Hallelujah’ by Pentatonix and ‘Running with the Wolves’ by AURORA.

Some scenes were shaped entirely by songs like ‘Oh, Miss Believer’ by 21 Pilots, because I hadn’t personally had an experience like the one my character was experiencing but the song helped me feel the emotion I needed to portray through her character. ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story’ from the Hamilton Musical, was also a big one because a theme throughout the story was legacy, and what it means. What legacy do we want to leave for the future, because we’re all going to die someday?

Here’s last year’s playlist.

Pray.

I’m a Christian, so prayer was a huge part of my writing process. I’d recommend devoting a small amount of time before every session to a quick prayer.  It doesn’t have to be more than a sentence or two.

Asking for the ideas to flow and the distractions to fade into background noise was what I usually prayed about, along with an anointing over the words that came.

All you have to do is write.

The only thing that is expected of you, is that you write.

If you never start writing, you’ll never have the satisfaction of one day saying: ‘Hey, I did it! I finished it!’

NaNoWriMo is at its heart about writing together with other writers. So write.

It’s OK if you cry after you finish your story. You wrote, now you can change it.

It’s OK if you start six sentences in a row with ‘she’. You wrote, you can edit it.

It’s OK if you don’t meet your word count goals every single day. You wrote, you can make it up later.

You wrote, keep writing.

 

Video Editor & Writer. Currently participating in her third NaNoWriMo and a video editing intern at the Center for Creative Media.

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