Writing Better … by Not Writing

In case you haven’t realized, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) started yesterday! Wo0t!

NaNoWriMo has a special place in my fiction writing career, because winning it in 2009 was what restarted my creative writing brain.

I had just graduated college, just gotten married, and just gotten my first post-college job at a Kmart for the holiday season. Not super-impressive for a Summa Cum Laude graduate, but it helped pay the bills on our tiny apartment with an overabundance of mice tenants from the nearby dumpsters.

I had taken a hiatus from creative writing due to a mild addiction to daydreaming, and the demands of my senior year of college. But in November 2009, stretched out on a secondhand couch, I prayed and decided that if God wanted me to write fiction, then I’d manage to hack out 50,000 words.

The rest, as they say, is history. Since then I’ve pursued quite a few creative endeavors, endured more than a few failures, and made many friends along the way. I’ve never seriously attempted NaNoWriMo again, because I’ve really never stopped writing.

As my husband mentioned last week, “how is NaNoWriMo going to be any different?” and also, the entirely legitimate, “how are you going to make this commitment when you’re teaching?”

Here’s my secret: I’m not writing all the time.

I’ve set aside a certain word count for every day and a certain amount of time to complete it. And once I’ve achieved the word count? Done. Stop mid sentence. No matter if I could write more, or want to write more. Hands off the plate, just like in cooking competitions, and I’m onto grading or lesson planning or even washing dishes. Things that need to be done, because they are part of Life and Responsibilities and Joys. While I’m working on these other tasks, my brain is percolating and turning the ideas over in my head, so that when I sit down the next time? I’m ready to go.

Sometimes the secret to writing better is not writing. (Click to Tweet)

Live your life. Even though it’s fun to joke, please don’t neglect important stuff just to hit your word count. But do be sensitive to every moment for ideas. Think things and feel things and let your every experience sink deep into your soul. And then put your fingers to keyboard, your pen to paper, or your spoken words to your preferred voice recorder.

And go for it. If you don’t finish? You tried your best and were faithful to all parts of your life. Besides, there’s always December. 😉

write better

  • Consider whatever you’re doing. Whether it’s making supper, running an errand, reading a book, cleaning up after the dog, etc, try to imagine how your characters would each approach the same task. Would they do it slower? Quicker? Use a superpower or magic? Make their servant do it?
  • Keep sharp for ordinary humor. As I mentioned in my humor-writing article, sometimes the best inspiration can come from awkward, odd, or downright disastrous moments in your life. After you deal with the embarrassment, shame, or emotional turmoil, think how you can mine that sucker for plot interest.
  • Test out dialogue by talking to yourself. Now, I only do this when I’m alone, because my students think I’m crazy enough as it is. 😉 However, if you want to go around muttering to yourself in public? I’m not there. I won’t stop you.
  • Get ideas from unlikely sources. TV commercials. Billboard ads. Children’s books–yes, even the ones you’ve read a hundred times over. The reasons those commercials are being aired and those books are well-read are that they are apparently reaching some kind of audience. Think about who they are reaching, and how they do it.

How about you? Any other tips out there?


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