I haven’t so much as looked at this blog since last Thanksgiving. Seriously??? That’s a travesty, though understandable. Writing is frustrating, solitary, and hard to talk about when it’s not going well. I’ve noticed that every NaNoWriMo/Camp NaNo I participate in is followed by a couple months of feeling creatively burnt out. Here it is, March, and I’m just now getting my writer-ly mojo back.
This Sunday, to my own surprise and with no preplanning whatsoever, I participated in The Sprint Shack’s 10kwritathon. After a few weeks of writing maybe a thousand words a day, this was a huge commitment to make on a whim — and a huge surprise when I was actually successful.
Cristina over on The Sprint Shack already made a post with what she learned during her first 10kwritathon, but I thought I’d include some of my own strategies—mostly to look back on the next time I get frustrated, burnt out, and feeling like I have all the creative capacity of a toaster strudel.
First of all: Don’t Expect Perfection
A 10,000-word writathon isn’t meant to beautifully, perfectly sculpt your manuscript into something publishable and award winning. It’s meant to make you commit your time to writing. You can free-write, you can outline, you can write the same scene over and over until you get it right… The point really isn’t to produce 10,000 perfect words. The point is to make yourself sit down and write.
okay we’re going to do this. we’re going to do something. I swear to god something is going to happen.
— the beginning of my #10kwritathon document. I was … warming up.
Try Writing Sprints.
If you sit down with your laptop or notebook and a huge stretch of undivided time with which to write, you’re going to get overwhelmed. Creativity prospers under constraint. (That’s why, two hours before a deadline, as the panic’s setting in, you might find yourself writing faster and more freely than you ever have before.) Writing in 15, 20, 30 minute sprints with breaks in between to stretch your legs (and massage your wrists) works. It especially works if you’re doing the sprints online, with other people, where you report your wordcount afterwards—because it holds you accountable. You’ve said you’re sprinting with this person, you’ve agreed to write for this amount of time, and you’re going to report how much you’ve written when the timer goes off. Sprints really make you focus on producing something, which is great.
Here are some great Twitters to follow for wordsprints: TheSprintShack (of course), FriNightWrites, GetWordies, and, during NaNoWriMo, NaNoWordSprints. (If you know of more sprinting twitters, please tell me, I’m always looking for more!)
Joseph was the kind of people that, this side of the Door
Joseph was the kind of person they said, this side of the Door, that
There was a saying this side of the Door for people like Joseph:
— From a wordsprint. A real Shakespeare, I am.
Also, Writing Exercises
When I was getting blocked, I opened a dictionary and picked random words to fit into sentences, then tried expanding those sentences into small scenes. Every writing exercise is going to glean you something, even if you never put it into the actual manuscript. The point is, again, to write and enjoy it. Try describing in exorbitant detail a meal your character is going to have, or write a coffee shop AU of your book, a PWP; spend an entire word sprint trying to make every sentence rhyme. It’s silly and pointless, maybe, but the point is to stretch out your brain, wiggle it’s brain-y muscles, make it do a few brain-sit ups and brain-jumping jacks to keep it in brain-shape. Writing something silly, be it a song, suddenly, or your hero and villain having a sex scene, pointlessly, or having each sentence start with the next letter of the alphabet, bizarrely, is the creative equivalent of slapping water on your face. It wakes you up, makes you think, and keeps you going.
Okay physical descriptions to get me to 300 words at the end of 8 minutes. come on let’s go.
Reggie has a shaved head no he doesn’t jesus fuck
— I’m crying. I don’t even remember writing this.
Let Yourself Take Breaks
I’ve finally come to learn that, if I’m doodling in my notebook instead of writing, if I’m inching towards Twitter instead of my word processor, it’s not that I’m unforgivably lazy – it’s that my brain needs a break. So even if you’re hell-bent on getting 10,000 words down in one day, that doesn’t mean you have to get them down in one sitting. Go walk your dog, or exercise, or make yourself a beautiful lunch and post pictures of it all over social media. I would suggest setting an alarm and committing to when you’d like to get back to work, though, just to make sure your break doesn’t devolve into six hours of video games.
Charley’s stomach did a gymnastic sort of squirm that couldn’t have been gastronomically recommended.
— thankfully, I improved after a couple of hours.
Switch Projects, Switch Scenes, Switch Mediums If You Have To
Moving around physically, changing up your routine as you’re writing helps you keep yourself awake and engaged. For example, I’ve NEVER written to music before, and yet for this writathon, I did! My dog was barking with such volume and vigor it felt like she was personally sabotaging me, so I put on my XBOX headset and, like an absolute nerd, listened to the hauntingly beautiful music that plays over the Dragon Age: Inquisition start screen. (Yup. Because I’m cool like that.) This was mostly because I really wanted to be playing Dragon Age and was trying to satiate myself, but it ended up working really well.
The same applies for getting up and moving within your writing. There’s no writ from on high saying you have to devote all 10,000 words to one single WIP. I’m writing a series, and so I benefit greatly from dropping one book and jumping into another when my work in one manuscript is feeling stifled and stale. Switch over to another story, a blog post, or a school essay you really need to get done. Just keep writing.
If you’d like to keep things in the realm of your project, at the very least let yourself switch to a new scene, a different chapter, or a different character; switch to outlining for a while, or write a synopsis of the coming chapters so you can work out the kinks. I spent a 10kwritathon once just writing an outline of the book I was working on—getting the entire story down in one sitting felt amazing, and allowed me to work out a lot of structural kinks I might not have noticed had I been piecing it together week by week.
If you’re not feeling a certain project, take a breath and let yourself move to something else. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to write it, it just means that for right now, you’re going to work on something else.
okay let’s just type some stuff.
— aaaaand then I went back to this
At the end of the day: Be kind to yourself.
You want to survive a 10kwritathon? Don’t make it about survival. Make it about spending a day hanging out with other writers, spending time with your characters, doing something that’s a little unhinged – writing as much as you possibly can in one day. If you don’t hit 10k, that’s fine. You still wrote! You still wrote LOTS. You still did something, and that’s huge.
What I’m trying to stress here is that a 10kwritathon isn’t really about the output. It’s about the commitment. Depending on how much you can write in an hour, you’re looking at anywhere between 5 and 10 hours you have, for one day, committed totally to writing. That’s good. That’s great. If at the end of the day you didn’t hit your word count, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you put in the time, you tried, you worked, and you had fun.
That’s it from me. I want to extend an immense amount of gratitude to the SprintShack and everyone who joined in on the #10kwritathon. It was so much fun, and I needed it so badly. What a great way to kick off the month! We should do it again real soon.
^ is this it?
— me, having just realized I’d successfully finished a scene I’ve been working on for two years, thanks to this writathon.