November wrap-up: What I Read, What I Wrote and Some Other Stuff

Glass Sword, Six of Crows and A Darker Shade of Magic eBook

NaNoWriMo 2016 winner's badgeIn which I win NaNoWriMo

It’s not about the winning, of course. NaNoWriMo is about challenging yourself to do the seemingly impossible – write a novel in a month. Even if I hadn’t hit the target, I’d have a lot more words than I did at the start of November, and stuck to the discipline of writing every day, even if it’s only a little, to keep the word count climbing inexorably upwards.

But I’ve gotta admit, it’s nice to see the big winner banner come up on the screen!

This year was my second NaNoWriMo and though I didn’t beat last year’s total I did manage a respectable 57,954 words. Utterly failed to meet my personal goal, which was to get close to 100,000 words and the first draft complete. But then I always knew that one was going to be a challenge. So I’m still going on the draft, and now aiming to finish by the end of December.

It didn’t help that I was mid-revisions for Abriny when NaNo started. I couldn’t get it out of my head to start the new project fresh. I ended up writing about 6,000 words on Abriny when I should have been NaNo-ing. Some backstory, scenes for a new (not so much new as resurrected) POV character, notes on how the ending might go if I chop the last 50,000 words and move them to book 2. If I didn’t get it all out of my head and on to paper, they’d just clog up the space I should be using to think my way into The Hunt.

img_20161130_141936Three of the best books I’ve read this year

What, I had time to read during NaNoWriMo? I clearly wasn’t fully committed.

Reading has always been a huge part of my inspiration, so instead of getting stressed and fuzzy brained from staring at a stuck plot point for days on end, I figured it was a better use of my time. I think the occasional disengaging helped, on balance. Self-care, people. Writing is good, but not at the expense of your mental health.

Plus, you know, I read quick. But back to the books themselves.

Glass Sword is the sequel to Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard. It was a long time since I’d read book one, so while I remembered the plot, I wasn’t entirely ready for how the book would punch me in the feels. Repeatedly. It’s not a nice read. If you’re looking for something cosy and escapist and on balance happy, this is not it. But damn it’s good. No punches pulled. It’s hard to like Mare sometimes, but her reaction to everything that happened in Red Queen, and the direction she takes, were so well-written and believable. Oh, and it has an evil cliffhanger to end all evil cliffhangers. I’m dithering between 4 and 5 stars and I haven’t actually been able to formulate my thoughts into a proper review. I guess I might just have to re-read it.

A Darker Shade of Magic was my first V E Schwab book. Within a few chapters I was asking myself a) why and b) what took me so long? The storytelling is amazing, the plot never lets up, the worldbuilding is glorious. I’m completely in awe of how she manages such vivid characterisation (including the setting, which was a character in its own right) with every single word, sentence and paragraph. The characters are brilliantly flawed, believable and relateable, especially Kell, who’s too precious for words. In fact, if you remember me raving about Throne of Glass, ADSOM has not only gone straight onto my all-time favourites list but Kell and Rhy have replaced Chaol and Dorian as my favourite fictional friends/brothers. It was another one where I couldn’t get my thoughts in order for a review – 4-5 stars.

In any other month, ADSOM would have been my favourite read. But this month, I read Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Yeah. 5 stars. 5 million stars.

I actually couldn’t think of a single thing wrong with it. That has NEVER happened. If you don’t know (and why not?), it’s a fantasy heist story with six main characters who all have secrets and various reasons to mistrust each other. They’re morally dubious, complex, sometimes downright nasty, and despite all of it I still found myself rooting for every single one of them. Their individual voices are wonderfully distinct, even the ships are to die for. (I’m a fangirl at heart. So bite me.) It’s a deliciously dark, twisty, intricate plot, with multiple antagonists and there’s barely time to draw breath as plans within plans are revealed, disaster after disaster strikes the crew, and the the tension ratchets up. And despite all that, it’s still laugh out loud funny in places.

ADSOM and Six of Crows are also excellent for diverse rep – both have PoC & LGBTQIA+ rep in the main characters, and in Six of Crows one of the main characters is disabled.

So in summary, if ADSOM and Six of Crows aren’t already on your TBR, they need to be added right away. At the top.

Bookstagram is insanely addictive

Did you know I have an Instagram account? I do sometimes post about my writing life on there, but I’ve got sucked into bookstagram. The whole bookstagram community is lovely and welcoming, and let’s face it, who doesn’t like to look at pictures of pretty books being pretty? So in November I decided to do a couple of monthly challenges, which means posting at least once daily, and I am officially addicted. My family think I’ve lost it. The kids like to get in the pictures, but on the plus side they also help tidy up, cos let me tell you, doing a photo shoot to set myself up for several days of posting means books and props strewn EVERYWHERE.

And for some reason in December I’ve decided to do not one or two monthly challenges but FIVE of them. Eeep. ADSOM and Six of Crows crop up a lot, funnily enough.

And finally some musical inspiration.

So my NaNo novel this year was a YA fantasy called The Hunt. About three days in, I discovered it did not want to be written to the general epic writing soundtrack I’ve always used. Because, you know, even an unwritten first draft defies me.

So I had to pull together a book-specific playlist at short notice. It’s still not got many songs on it, but here are a couple that sum up the tone I’m aiming for very nicely.

Bones by MS MR

Ender’s War (from Ender’s Game) by Steve Jablonsky

Happy reading, writing and holidaying, people. Thanks for stopping by & though it’s not time for New Year’s Resolutions yet, I promise to try harder to keep this blog updated.

Anyone else still working on finishing their NaNoWriMo novel? Let’s chat in the comments.

Advertisements

Writing inspiration for April

Notebook saying Inspire Me April 2016

Notebook saying Inspire Me April 2016April has been another busy month – I did my first Camp NaNoWriMo and churned out 66,653 words of Abriny‘s first draft. That’s the best monthly word count since I started monitoring, only 350 short of my total from NaNoWriMo last September. So I’m pretty chuffed.

And now the end is in sight. I’m coming into the last few chapters, hiking up the action (and romance) towards its conclusion.

And it’s utterly terrifying. Because once I’ve written those fateful words “THE END” I’ll have to take a long hard look at what I’ve accomplished and decide whether it’s any good. Gulp.

In the meantime, here’s the soundtrack, reading-track and art-track to my successful month of drafting. And if you’re interested in the Camp NaNoWriMo experience and how it was for a newbie, sign up for blog notifications or follow me on Twitter as it’s going to be my topic for the next few posts.

Music

This has become my go-to piece when I want to create a moody, creepy atmosphere, a sense of impending doom or a character having to make choices they are intensely uncomfortable with. And there’s one particular character who’s generally on the receiving end, bless him. I do like to make my favourites suffer – doesn’t everyone?

It’s Decepticons, from the Transformers soundtrack – I actually remember seeing this in the cinema, aeons ago before kids and the attendant lack of time, money and energy cancelled my entire social life. Hey, more writing time, right?

And some romance for a change – there’s been a lot of romantic scenes this month, and trying to do heartfelt moments to a soundtrack of frantic action doesn’t work out the best. We’re still in the bittersweet, trying and failing to reach out to each other stage, so Falling Slowly from the musical Once creates the perfect mood. Here’s the full version of the song, from the soundtrack:

But I actually fell in love with the song when I saw Jay and Aliona’s rumba to it on Strictly Come Dancing last year. It was so damn beautiful, even though I’m not usually a fan of the rumba, and I’m so glad they won. (I digress, but, you know. It’s Strictly. And the emotion they put in the dance, when you consider Jay isn’t an actor and how shy he was at the beginning of the show… You’ll just have to excuse the gushing).

Books

Despite the heavy drafting month, I got through a lot of reading in April. Again, mainly on the library’s eBook system. Including the entire Divergent trilogy, Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch and The Shepherd’s Crown – Terry Pratchett’s very last Discworld book (sob).

e6d71434558c16c27b6e1f00575b490c
Divergent trilogy by Veroncia Roth.

None of them really grabbed me. You have no idea how sorry I am to say so; I love reading, I love books, and usually I can find something to be enthused about. It takes a lot for me to actively dislike a book, and I wouldn’t say it’s the case for any of these, but… Yeah. Can’t really claim any of them have inspired me.

I’m wondering if the more I write, the more picky I get in my reading. It’s as if problems which wouldn’t have bothered me before – hell, wouldn’t have been problems at all – can no longer escape my writer’s spider-senses. At least I’m not the only one with this problem – Gail Carriger’s blog this months features a post on exactly the same inability to turn off the editor’s red pen.

Divergent is worth reading despite its problems – it was well-written and fast-paced and pulls no punches. You probably already have, though, right? I mean, I’m sure I must be the only YA-reading person on the planet who hadn’t actually got round to it yet.

Ice Like Fire – I really wanted to like this one. I like the characters, I like the action, and I LOVE Mather, but I just couldn’t get into it. Maybe it’s middle book syndrome – I’ll still be going back for Frost Like Night when it’s published to find out how it all ends.

Pinterest

I’ve talked before about characters taking over. I’m sure it happens to every author. And all the non-authors all think we’re crazy, but we know better.

Closing in on the end of the book is really a bit late for one to be playing up. Only he is. He’s always been one of the most important secondary characters, but he seems to have decided that

a) I haven’t shown enough appreciation of how awesome he actually is, and

b) I haven’t even begun to realise the amount of trouble he can get himself (and consequently his best friend, my MMC) into. Yes, the same MMC whose soundtrack is comprised of creepy Decepticons music. He suffers.

So this month’s Pinterest inspiration is dedicated to a couple of Pins that reflect his new, irritatingly well-developed personality:

 

As always, if you come across anything inspiring (especially music – I’m always collecting new tracks) please share in the comments.

Writing inspiration for March

Monthly inspiration blog series - March 2016So, it’s the beginning of April. When the hell did that happen?

I have been very lax, this March, posted hardly anything. My only excuse (I’ll let you decide whether it’s a good one or not) is that I have been writing. Quite a lot, actually; 54,700 more words on Abriny’s draft (more if you count the lost words from the tiny bit of editing I allow myself mid-draft). It’s like NaNoWriMo all over again.

Actually, it is NaNoWriMo all over again, because April is Camp NaNoWriMo. Like last November’s NaNo, it’s the first time I’ve signed up, but that’s a whole other post. I’ve got a target for another 50,000 words this month but I’ll try and fit a bit more reliable blogging around it.

So, without any further waffling, here are some snippets of the inspiration behind my March wordcount – I hope they give you a boost like mine.

Music

Instead of a Spotify discovery or something picked from someone else’s playlist, my top soundtrack this month is one I found from actually watching a film. I know, right? When did I find the time to do that?

I cheated. I’ve been sneakily persuading my kids to watch the animated films I like, instead of Frozen for the fifteen-millionth time or whatever Nickelodean spin-off is flavour of the month. So, from How to Train Your Dragon:

I actually love the whole soundtrack to this film, and I’ve saved half of it on various playlists. But this one, Test Drive, is my favourite. It’s epic and uplifting and glorious and when it came on during the film when Hiccup and Toothless make their first real flight together, I knew I had to go hunt it down.

You may recall last month’s raving about the Throne of Glass books, and particularly no. 2, Crown of Midnight. Well, it so happens that Sarah J Maas posted her playlist for CoM on Spotify this month (cue over-excited fangirl screaming) and I found this:

And finally some non-soundtrack music by Fall Out Boy, which I stumbled across completely by accident.

Books

I’ve been making use of my library’s eBook system. Well, trying to. Irritatingly enough, a lot of things I particularly want to read they don’t seem to have *pouts unattractively*. But, I did manage to get The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare. If anything I enjoyed them better than her original The Mortal Instruments series, which is what the current Shadowhunters TV series is based on.

The Infernal Devices
The Infernal Devices books by Cassandra Clare

TID is set almost 100 years earlier, in London. As usual with Cassandra Clare, the romance is beautiful, so well written, and somehow the different era seems to suit it perfectly, making it a sweeping backdrop to the demon-killing action. And if you have been enjoying Shadowhunters, you’ll find a few familiar characters popping up…

Pinterest

I use Pinterest to storyboard. It’s been a bit of a quieter month in March – and a lot of the Pins I have found are not for Abriny but for later books in the series or completely unrelated ideas. This one, though, is for a specific scene I haven’t got to yet:

 

As always, if you come across anything inspiring (especially music – I’m always collecting new tracks) please share in the comments.

When the characters take over

When characters take over blogI’m sure I’m not the only author this happens to. You’re getting along nicely with your WIP, progressing from one plot point to another, by way of some juicy conflicts. Then all of sudden, the words flowing onto the page are not what you expected. Your character grabbed the plot in both hands and ran in a totally different direction with it. Or took one look at what was coming and turned themselves into a living(ish) embodiment of writer’s block.

Uh-huh. You must be crazy; there’s no way I’d do that.

giphy (2)

Yeah. In any other walk of life, we’d be quietly ushered away to see a specialist. But for an author, the voices in our head sometimes just… take over.

What do I do?

There are several options, and I’ve tried most of them at some point:

  1. Cry. And/or beat your head repeatedly against a convenient flat surface.
  2. Force the characters to do what you want. You created them, dammit; they will succumb to your will no matter how much they plead it’s out of character. Write anything from a couple of paragraphs to several pages of stilted, awkward story until you realise this isn’t going to work.
  3. Realise this is not necessarily a bad thing, and roll with it.

Embrace the character who takes over

This may seem a little counter-intuitive, but bear with me.

While it can throw a bit of a spanner in the works, and probably will take a bit of thinking to resolve, the fact your character is playing fast and loose with your story plan is actually a good thing.

Because it means they’re a well-developed character. They have a personality, with flaws and strengths and goals and dreams. If there’s something in your original idea which simply doesn’t work for the personality you have developed, trying to write it regardless will not work for your story (hence option 2). It will come off as unbelievable, or poorly thought out. In fact, out of character. You may have heard that all good stories should be character-driven; it may not be 100% true, as characters and plot depend on each other to make a decent story (and yes, there are always exceptions). But even in a book where plot is given greater importance, consistent and believable characterisation is only going to improve the end product.

So, when your story’s events don’t work with the character and they twist out of shape as a result, well, that’s character-driven writing happening right there on your page. Instead of beating yourself up about it, congratulate yourself!

giphy (3)

Which is all very well, but still leaves you with a yawning gap between what you intended to happen in the story and what is now going on.

How to bridge the gap

Now, a lot of this will depend on how much detail you had the story plotted in. I’m a bit of an obsessive planner; for Abriny I had a detailed scene-by-scene spreadsheet to keep track of what all the characters were doing and how the various plot lines tied together. I say “had” because it’s been getting progressively more useless for the last 60,000 words or so, since the characters became the driving force. The choices they make, actions they take, even what comes out of their mouths, make sense for them in the situations I’ve put them in, but doesn’t always match up with what I planned all those months ago before I really got to know them.

So it does leave me floundering a bit. If I’d not had such a detailed plan to begin with, I might have been able to follow where the characters took me without nearly so much panic, head-scratching and re-thinking. Of course, as any pantser will tell you, seeing where the writing takes you does lead to more extensive rewriting and revision, but its a perfectly valid way of coming up with a story.

But I have a plan. I know what needs to happen to get the story where it needs to go. And now I have to find a different way of getting there. It’s still not necessarily a bad thing, but it will require a bit of flexibility. The perfectionist in me is still working on that.

But this is what I have come up with so far:

  • I’ve broken down my overall plot outline into very brief chapter summaries. Literally, one or two lines, to fit onto the little notecards on Scrivener’s corkboard. These may not correlate to the chapters in the finished product, but they break the story down into episodes linked by the stage of the story. For example, one chapter might be about setting things in motion for an impending disaster, the next about the disaster unfolding, and the next about the characters struggling with its consequences.
  • Then, as I come to each chapter in turn, I do the same for each scene, based on what has happened in the last few scenes for each character. These outlines are a little more detailed. And to come up with them, I often need to resort to pen and paper and my favourite question “what if” until I’ve come up with something which flows logically from the previous action, and still advances the plot in broadly the right direction.
  • I also plot out each scene in a little more detail just before I write it. That’s more to do with productivity and not losing sight of the conflict – I have a tendency to waffle when I don’t have a clear scene goal – but again if something unexpected happened in the previous scene it helps me to focus on the consequences.

I’ve seen this referred to as “headlights planning” – like driving at night, you can see just as far as the car’s headlights, and that’s far enough to keep going. So far it’s working out pretty well for me. Letting the characters have their heads is also turning out better than I could have hoped – just like real people, they rarely come up with the right answer, so their little bouts of free will are if anything, upping the tension and stakes of the story, and making their own lives all the more difficult.

And don’t we all love making things difficult for our darlings?

If you’re a writer, tell me in the comments about times when your characters have done something unexpected – and whether it turned out good or bad. And if you’re a reader – what do you think when you find a character acting in a way you don’t think they would, for the sake of the story? Is it enough to make you put the book down?

Writing inspiration for February

Writing inspiration for February 2016

Writing inspiration for February 2016I actually meant to write this at the end of January, but what with health and family issues, it didn’t happen. So, not a neat New Year’s start to this monthly series of posts, but better late than never. Right?

A lot of my inspiration I find because others have shared, whether that’s music, images or their own writing. So in a way, I’m trying to return the favour. Enjoy!

Music

I can’t write without music. I am also rubbish at finding new music. Spotify has become my new best friend. More to the point, authors who make their own playlists public on Spotify are my literary version of avenging angels. I’ve found an extraordinary amount of new, inspiring tracks this way.

I tend towards the seriously dramatic in my writing soundtracks. Since this is the inaugural post in my inspiration series, I can’t pass over Two Steps From Hell, even though they’re not exactly a new discovery this month. I’m not sure I can pick a favourite, since they probably make up over half of my Playlist of Epicness and in fact anything they have ever written fits the bill. So I will go with this:

It’s called Heart of Courage and if you think you’ve heard it before, you probably have. It’s been used in adverts, on TV sports coverage, all over the place. I first found Two Steps From Hell because I heard this track during the snooker World Championship (yes, my hobbies are that glamourous) and had to go look it up. Since it quickly got me hooked on them, it seemed a good choice for this month’s inspiration.

And here’s a track I’m just a teensy bit obsessed with at the moment, Anumati by E.S. Posthumus. This one actually is a new discovery:

And for something completely different, a little teaser for Abriny. Something I Need by One Republic sums up a particular relationship from the book so absolutely perfectly I almost cried:

I’m not denying the video’s a bit wierd, though!

Books

I’m spoilt for choice here. I got a good haul of books this Christmas, plus I’ve been re-reading some of my favourites. For this first post, I’ll go with the re-reads; the book/series which really rekindled my enthusiasm for writing after a long, long time of tinkering around the edges, and gave me the kick up the backside to get on with my current project.

The series is Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas. It’s young adult fantasy, four books and a collection of novellas published so far with another two to come, and it is AMAZING. So amazing that if I was to try and explain how good it is, this post would run to novel-length itself.

If I had to go for one book out of the series, it would be the second, Crown of Midnight. I tend to turn into a gibbering, hyperventilating wreck when I try to tell people why they need to read it. Whatever you want, this book has it: Action! Intrigue! Kick-ass heroine! Romance – oh my God the romance! Magic! Cliffhangers! Did I mention the romance?

You see? Gibbering wreck. Just GO READ IT. Now.

Pinterest

I use Pinterest to storyboard and I collect a fair amount of new images every month. Here’s my favourite from January – a bit more abstract than most I Pin, but a perfect visualisation of what one of my characters is going through and the mood I’m trying to create for her scenes.

And one from February:

I just love this one; it’s got the exact feel I want for Abriny, down to the run-down-ness of a city struggling through its fifth month of siege.

 

So, I hope some of that has given you a burst of your own inspiration. Look out for the next instalment at the end of March. And if you come across anything inspiring (especially music – I’m always collecting new tracks) let me know in the comments.

Why you should take part in Pitchapalooza with NaNoWriMo

Why enter Pitchapalooza
Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo

Another NaNoWriMo related post for you this week. Pitchapalooza is a regular fixture of the NaNo calendar, part of the Now What? months.

If you’ve never done NaNo or you’re a newbie like me, right now you’re probably scratching your head and thinking pitch-a-what?

Allow me to explain. Pitchapalooza is part lottery, part competition, giving you 250 words to pitch your novel to industry experts The Book Doctors.  Trust me, until you’ve tried to summarise a 100,000 word epic fantasy novel in 250 words, you don’t appreciate how tight a target that is!

So, several thousand aspiring writers submit their pitches by the end of February. 25 are drawn at random (the lottery bit) and then judged (the competition bit). And the prize is an introduction to a suitable agent – cue over-excited squealing and uncoordinated dancing round the room.

Why should you enter Pitchapalooza?

I had absolutely no plans to enter Pitchapalooza. Mainly due to the minor detail of the novel not being finished yet. But as the deadline crept nearer, the doubts started setting in. Was this too good an opportunity to pass up, even though the chances of getting into the final 25 must be pretty slim? If I want to make it as a published author, don’t I have to grab even slim chances with both hands? Certainly I’m not going to get anywhere by being a shy, retiring type who can’t face sharing any writing until it’s absolutely perfect.

Plus, I signed up to NaNoWriMo on a last minute whim (and with only half a plot), so why not this as well?

The deadline is 29 February. That’s right, next Monday. Well, who doesn’t like a challenge? I’ve drafted and re-drafted my 250 word pitch until it’s in a shape I’m broadly happy with. Now I’ve just got to polish it within an inch of it’s life so it’s ready to submit. Simple, right?

And this is why Pitchapalooza is worth entering, despite the long odds. It forces you to practice these skills, ones which will be essential if you want to move on to querying and publishing your work. It forces you to come up with a killer pitch and to really pare your story down to its essence. And perhaps easily overlooked but just as important, you’re putting yourself and your writing out there, learning to take risks with something that’s probably very personal to you – I know mine is to me.

But I don’t know how to write a pitch!

Me neither.

All joking aside, writing a pitch is a whole different skill set to writing a novel. With such a tight word limit, every word has to work hard as it possibly can. And there’s a precarious balance to find, between giving the reader a flavour your writing style, really selling the story, and making sure they know what’s happening while leaving them wanting more. The Book Doctors have given some tips on writing a pitch here (where you can also find the official information on the Pitchapalooza process).

More general, but very useful, is this podcast on query letters from Pub(lishing) Crawl. The pitch forms the main body and most important part of a query letter, the part that actually convinces (or not) an agent to request your manuscript. Amongst the advice in the podcast, they say your plot summary should be around 250 – 400 words. You might notice that’s not far off the Pitchapalooza word limit.

Good luck!

If you do decide to go ahead and enter the draw, then good luck! Let us know in the comments, and feel free to share any other experience you may have with pitching a novel.

And may the odds be ever in your favour. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

Writing a novel – How to get through the tough bits

Getting through the tough bits of your first draft

Getting through the tough bits of your first draftThere are times when writing is a joy. When the words come pouring out, the plot ticks along nicely, and the characters stay in character and almost write the thing for you.

There are also times (sometimes a lot of them) when writing is nothing at all like that. When it’s a struggle to find the next sentence to move the story along, let alone the whole next scene. When you wonder if you’re cut out for this whole business of authoring.

Perhaps the idea you had for what happens next no longer seems like something your character would do. Or your plot has veered in an unexpected direction and you actually have no idea what should or could happen next. Or you’ve come to a scene that you know needs to happen, but you just don’t want to write it.

In my opinion, dealing with the tough bits is the difference between wanting to be a writer and actually being one. If you want to finish a book, a short story, whatever it might be, you have to get through the tough bits.

Of course, knowing that doesn’t make it any easier! And while it might come down to BICHOK (Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard) at the end of the day, sometimes we all need a bit of extra help. So here are my tips on how to push through when the words just aren’t coming:

Magic cookies

This is a way to get around the scenes you know you have to write, but really don’t want to. Best of all, you do it by turning them into scenes you do want to write!

Both the term and the process have been shamelessly borrowed from Susan Dennard, so I’ll let her explain how magic cookies work.

I only discovered this a couple of months ago when I signed up for Susan’s Misfits and Daydreamers newsletter (seriously, you should do that!) but I’ve already used it a few times and it’s made so much difference!

Word sprints

A word sprint is a very simple but very effective trick. You set a timer – usually between 15 and 30 minutes – and try to get as many words down in that time as possible.

But Jamie, you say – isn’t that what we’re doing every time we write anyway? Well, yes, to a point, but having a deadline does focus the mind. The idea is that in order to meet the challenge, you have to stop thinking so much, and just write whatever comes into your head. Choosing the perfect word, deleting a line of dialogue that sounds a little clunky, and so on, all take a back seat to getting the next word out.

This comes into its own in NaNoWriMo season, when Twitter, the NaNo forums and any writers’ social media group you care to mention are packed full of people ready to compare sprint wordcounts to give them the impetus to meet the daily wordcount requirements. But you can make it work for you all year round, especially if you’ve got writing buddies or an encouraging friend. Or just a crazy competitive streak; I’ve had some pretty good sessions simply trying to beat my own personal best.

If you need a little more of a push, there are programs like Write Or Die which take the pressure of a word sprint to a whole new level, punishing you if you stop typing for too long with flashing screens, unpleasant noises and even randomly deleting words. You can even adjust the settings and goals to make it realistic – or as challenging as you like – for your own typing and thinking speed.

Bribes

Otherwise known as rewards, but hey, let’s call a spade a spade.

I’ve been known to bribe myself with anything from turning off RescueTime so I can aimlessly browse the Internet for half an hour, to a bar of chocolate to a new notebook and pen (hey, I am a writer!), if I meet an immediate writing goal. It could be reaching my daily wordcount or slogging through a scene that’s been troubling me for a while.

Notebooks in Paperchase Tottenham Court Road
My idea of heaven

Of course, this only works if you’ve got the willpower to hold out and not just give yourself the reward anyway. After all, that chocolate bar probably looks like exactly what you need to deal with the frustration of writing that’s not going so well…

Take a break

If all else fails – give yourself permission to come back later. Make some notes about what should be happening, then do something completely different. Take a walk, do some gardening, call a friend for tea and a chat. Sometimes it helps to leave the problem scene stewing for a while and go write a scene that wants to be written. Then at least you’ll be back in a writing frame of mind.

Come back with a fresh pair of eyes a few days later and your notes (combined with any of the tips above) should get you going.

 

If these tips helped you out of a sticky spot – or if you’ve got other ideas for getting through the tough bits – please share in the comments!