April 11, 2013

Writing Under Pressure

This April is the first time I've ever taken on the Nano challenge--which, for those of you who are like whaa?, is a month-long novel-writing challenge wherein you partner with other writers and harass each other to produce enough words to qualify as a novel in ONE MONTH. Yes, that is a crazy idea. But for lots of writers, writing under pressure works.

I sort of unofficially Nano-ed last November, which is when National Novel Writing Month occurs each year. I happened to be writing my MG novel at that time, and so I tagged onto other people's writing sprints and enjoyed the company. During April, the same organizers run CampNano, a more flexible version of November's challenge, wherein you can set any goal, and my fabulous critique group decided to sign up together.


I wondered what it would be like to write under pressure. Would I enjoy having other people know exactly how much I wrote each day? Would I get crushed by a mountain of guilt if I skipped a day? Would I feel guilty if I wrote TOO quickly?

Today is Day 11 of the CampNano challenge, and I can say that without a doubt, writing with friends is the best. Even if you skip a day, someone else in your group rocks the words, and you feel better. When you hop on Twitter looking for motivation, it's pretty much a guarantee that someone else in your group will also be looking for a sprint.

And let's face it--I'm a sucker for charts.


And Camp Nano makes some pretty wicked charts of your progress, which appeals to the OCD writer in me who shouts, I MUST REACH THIS BULLS-EYE!


What's the key to enjoying this process? To actually getting something other than a boatload of disappointment out of a challenge like writing 50K words in one month? Here are a few tips on what has helped me so far:

  • Pre-planning: I'm writing the second half of my YA space western, so for me it was key to plan out the wa-zoo. I have rough outlines, but I also have a hundred pages of journal material ready for reference if I get stuck. Sometimes, just reading my notes about a character spurs a scene that's moving too slowly.
  • Scheduling time: My writing time varies. I have two little nuggets at home, plus travel for spring break to contend with, so it's been crucial to pick a writing time the night before each new day and stick to it. This involves being honest with family and friends about the crazy thing you are doing.
  • Writing one word at a time: Even with most of the story planned out, I still hit transitions where I'm like, AND THEN WHAT, MELANIE? Well, I try to step back for a second and say, what else could happen here? Is there a character we have not seen for a while who would change the course of this scene? Is there another challenge or surprise I could pile on top of my MC? These are the moments when you can't worry about the outline too much. Follow the interesting words, wherever they lead. Sometimes these unexpected moments turn out to be the best thing ever.
  • Cheering everyone on: As a designer, I competed with other creatives in a pretty cut-throat environment. It's taken me a year to believe that writers are NOT like that. The more I cheer, the more you cheer--for reals! It never fails. Even at a low moment, someone random will pop up on Twitter, cheering for the words I've cobbled together, and that's just plain wonderful. And I find that celebrating someone else's good news always brings a smile to my face--and often times, sends me racing to the keyboard.

16 comments:

  1. I'm cheering for the bull's eye! Honestly, I'm impressed you're pulling this through. (Plus, I've been dying to see this MS when it's done :) )

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  2. Wow you are rocking this fer sure, Mel. So proud. And you do love your charts and organization ;-) I look forward to hearing at the end of Camp Nano that you've finished your ms :-)

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    1. Thanks, Rachel! I think everyone's going to hit their targets, so that makes me all kinds of happy.

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  3. Good luck! I always like learning about your process. You are so damn organized.

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  4. YAY, Mel and Team! Love those charts. So there is a bit of planning behind the madness. I want to climb on board for November--have two simultaneous WIPs now to get through.
    Rah rah!!--celebrations at the end of April!! :D

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  5. I'm so thrilled to be on this journey with you. Your awesome word count has motivated me to push my own word count forward, especially when the words get hard.

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    1. Seriously. Would NOT be possible without you guys!

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  6. I always thought doing this in April would be much better than November when every holiday known to man is around the corner. GO YOU!

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  7. Melanie, I love your chart-love because I'm a chart-lover myself. But mostly, I just adore your posts. Keep up the awesome writing work, and lots of luck for Camp Nano!

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