The Return to Slow, Steady Writing: A NaNo Wrap Up

After NaNoWriMo, it can be difficult to remember that slow, steady writing should be the norm. NaNo provides participants with a fun month of frantic output, a crazy goal that might seem less crazy by month’s end. But most people cannot sustain that writing pace. Even a full-time writer, with an output goal of 2,000 words per day, won’t generally keep that up every day, month after month. Writers need to take days off. If they maintain a daily writing habit, they still build in a “day of rest” or breaks between projects. Everyone finds themselves working overtime to hit a deadline on occasion, but it’s important to limit those situations.

If you’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo, you might be nearing the finish line: 50,000 words. Or, you may not. Plenty of writers fail to hit that goal, but still find they’ve achieved a lot of words in a month. Other writers never intended to hit 50k, but used NaNo to motivate their work. However you approached the challenge, the key takeaway now that the end is near should be that words add up. Whether you write for an hour a day or five, the words you craft in that time build, day in, day out. There will be days you only write a little bit, days you rewrite and end up with fewer words than when you began. But over time, words add up. Writers write, words add up, and yes, you can do this.

slow-steady-writing

Many of you already know how this works. A good number of you even follow the idea up with action. Plenty of people refuse to join NaNoWriMo each year because they have no wish to push themselves to write fast. They prefer to show up every day and put their words on paper or pixel, until they get where they’re going. But whatever your feelings about NaNo, there is a great deal to be said for the momentum it helps develop. While the challenge emphasizes output, it encourages work ethic.

In a few days, I’ll kick off my annual December Writing Challenge here on the blog. I’ll post the complete details later in the week, but the basic thrust of the challenge is to write every day in December. Keep going with that NaNo novel. Start a short story. Work on your next contracted project. Play around with a few different things. You don’t have to write for a set time, although at least 30 minutes a day makes a great goal. There’s no minimum word count involved, just slow, steady writing. So as you wind up your NaNo projects, or just continue your typical writing routine, mark your calendars for Friday. You’re going to write your way steadily into the new year.

Motivation vs. Discipline: Keeping Your Writing on Track

(c) Can Stock Photo/stevanovicigor
(c) Can Stock Photo/stevanovicigor

Are you a writer? Do you aspire to be one? Whatever your current status and goals, you have a set of motivations that drive you. Perhaps you’ve loved telling stories since childhood and the ideas are piled up inside your brain, pushing you to let them out into the world. Maybe you’re a wordsmith who enjoys crafting sentences and creating a beautiful flow of text. Or maybe your motivations are a combination of things, such as a love for storytelling, a fascination with research, and a  driving need to work a flexible job that you can perform at home or while traveling.

Whatever your reasons for becoming a writer, you likely have a list of things that motivate you — large and small — to sit down at your computer and work on your manuscript. There’s the bigger picture — which includes your desire to be a writer in general — and the smaller one, as well — which might be a combination of a challenging scene you’re dying to write and a deadline looming on the horizon. These things join forces to motivate you, to make you want to get down to the actual work of writing.

But what happens on days you don’t want to write? Days when you don’t feel like it? Maybe you’re not quite sure what comes next in the story, or you had a late night and just the thought of being creative makes your head throb. Or it’s possible your day job requires you to put in some extra hours this week, and the only way you can squeeze in your writing time is to stay up an extra hour before going to bed each night. And you really don’t want to do that.

It happens. No matter how much you love to write, no matter how strong your desire to succeed, you are only human, and it’s impossible for a human being to be highly motivated about something every hour of every day. This is where discipline comes into play.

Discipline gets a bad wrap in terms of the words we use. It tends to have more of a negative connotation these days, bringing to mind parents who believe in spankings, or long prison sentences. But somewhere among those numbered dictionary definitions is the one I need, meaning self-control, or orderly or prescribed conduct. Discipline is the thing that gets you to the keyboard when you’d rather not get out of bed in the morning.

People have two basic modes of conscious behavior: Things they do automatically, and things they think about before deciding whether or not to move forward. The things that come automatically didn’t always do so. Your parents reminded you to brush your teeth for years, most likely, before you truly adopted the habit. It probably took a few years of your childhood for you to get out of bed without prompting and get ready for school, but that habit helped train you for getting ready for work later on.

As an adult, you’ve developed your own set of routines, and it probably took a certain amount of discipline to put them in place. You may not always feel like hitting the gym, but you make yourself go because your health and fitness are important to you and because you understand the dangers of breaking that habit. Likewise, you don’t always wake feeling excited about going to your day job, but you go because you’re a responsible person who needs to pay their bills, and because your coworkers count on you. So where does writing fit on your scale? Is it something you do daily, automatically? Or is it something you think about and then decide to move forward, or not?

If you wish to make writing your career, if you want to be serious and professional about it, you need to treat it as you would any other important, nonnegotiable aspect of your life. Behave like a professional writer from the moment you determine that’s your ultimate goal. You don’t write because you happen to feel like it that day; you commit to writing because it’s important and you set the time to do it. Then you show up and do the work. Don’t wait to feel inspired. Don’t take time off simply because you’re feeling less motivated that day. You need to treat writing as a job if you wish it to become one.