Monday, October 15, 2012

Guest Post - What I Learned from doing NaNoWriMo

It is my delight to welcome Rochelle Melander as the second HTWF Guest Blogger. Rochelle is the author of ten books, including the National Novel Writing Month guide—Write-A-Thon: WriteYour Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It). She is also a speaker, and certified professional coach.

Rochelle teaches professionals how to write good books fast, use writing to transform their lives, navigate the publishing world, and get published. For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at

What I Learned from doing NaNoWriMo: Five Tools to Help You Write Faster
By Rochelle Melander

Chris Baty founded National Novel Writing Month in 1999 to give himself and other would-be novelists the one thing he believed stood between them and a finished novel: a deadline. In 2011, more than 250,000 people took the challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November, and more than 35,000 people accomplished that feat. Wow.

Before I’d ever heard of National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been writing books fast. My husband and I completed our first book in less than six weeks. In 2004, tempted by a sweet paycheck, a friend and I wrote a book together in just 9 days. The whole process—researching, writing and editing—took just two weeks and happened over the Thanksgiving holiday. In 2009, I wrote Write-A-Thon, a book about how to write books fast, in 26 days during National Novel Writing Month.

Over the years (and because of challenges like National Novel Writing Month), I’ve learned a few tricks for writing fast. Here are five of my favorite tools:

1. Write during your peak writing time. According to scientific research, our bodies peak for physical, social, and intellectual tasks at specific times of day. Researchers offer broad suggestions about when we do best at various activities. For example , many of us do well at intellectual tasks during the late morning while we excel at creativity in the evening when we are a bit more tired and open to new ideas. (See "A Peak Time for Everything.") But even scientists admit that peak working times are different for each of us. Track your energy levels for a few weeks and find your optimal writing time. Once you know when you write best, schedule your writing in those time slots and do your other work (yeah, your day job) at other times of the day.

2. Write More. When my children were babies, I used to worry that if they napped in the afternoon, they wouldn’t sleep at night. Not so! The more they slept, the more they slept. It’s the same with writing. The more you write, the more you will be able to write. During National Novel Writing Month and other big projects, I often add a three-page journaling time to my schedule. It gives me a place to dump all of my fears and concerns about writing and life. And, it strengthens my writing muscles so that when I get to my project, I’m already warmed up. And, as you’ll see from the next tip (#3): this journaling time can also help you with your big important project.

3. Never face a blank page. I’ve been working as a professional writer for fifteen years, and still panic at the site of a blank page. When I trained with the National Writing Project, I learned that teachers support fearful students by giving them prewriting exercises—charts and tools to help them sketch out their ideas before they write. At the end of a writing session, decide what you will write about during your next writing session. (If you appreciate having a choice, list more than one topic to choose from.) Create a short list of ideas for the topic. I’ve done this using both computer documents and a regular notebook. Both work just fine. Often, I’ll also use my daily journaling time (see #2 above) to write about what I will write about next. When I arrive at the computer for my next session, I am calm. Between the notes I jotted in the document and my scribbles in my journal, I have plenty to write about!

4. Find a structure that works. Early in my writing career, I heard author Anne Lamott talk about how much she loved writing short essays. For her, that structure fit her writing style and energy level. Over the years, I’ve learned that a clear structure helps me write faster. When I design a book or brainstorm an article, I spend some time thinking about a structure that will help me convey my ideas. For this article I chose to offer five tools. For another article, I might simply present a problem, a story that illustrates the solution, and a final paragraph about what I’ve learned. Spend some time checking out the structures of chapters in your favorite books or how your favorite bloggers structure their posts. Then decide what structures work best for you and your topic. I’m betting you’ll write faster.

5. Boost Your Energy. Most of us depend on coffee or a bit of sugar to boost our energy when we struggle to write. But while coffee and sugar do increase our energy for a short time, they both lead to energy crashes. Thankfully, there are better ways. Researchers have just discovered that looking at photos of cute baby animals can increase our focus and help us to get more writing done. (See "I Can Haz Productivity?") If you’re not into baby animals, try taking a ten-minute walk, eating a healthy snack, or doing something repetitive like washing the dishes or folding clothes. The time away from your computer will give your brain a much-needed break, and you’ll return to the page ready to write!

Your turn: What tools have you used to write faster?

1 comment:

  1. Great tips! I need to return to journaling. I used to do it every day, but I let it go. Perhaps I should try it again, and see if it ups my productivity.