Writing a novel takes time – even if you’re a pantser (a NaNoWriMo term meaning someone who writes by the seat of their pants), it is still a process: drafting, developmental edits, line edits, and that’s not even considering critiques and re-reading it yourself.
Today I want to talk to you about pacing, burnout, and progress.
The Writer and The Rose has an excellent article titled, “Novel Writing – What It Really Takes to Get to ‘The End’.” One of the images for the article is a runner on a starting line.
As a teen when I was writing mostly short stories, a fellow writer told me that the best advice they had received was to never write everything they had in mind. Always leave one part unfinished while drafting so you have something to think about for your next writing session.
Everyone’s writing process is different. Our circumstances and time available for writing are different. This might not work for you.
In the past when I’ve attempted NaNo, I haven’t always followed that advice, and I regret it (mildly … I’m kinda over it).
When sprinting we throw all our energy into pushing forward as soon as possible. Some writers have “sprints” where they are competing against another writer for a set time to see who can write the most. That doesn’t really motivate me.
I’m in this for the long haul. I know it’s going to take a long time. Keeping that one bit in mind means that there are days where I could write more, but it might take away from my flow for the next day. It might dry up my creative well.
This is the way I’ve written for most of my life now, certainly my writing life, so I’ve had to learn to respect that limitation of myself and pace myself instead of sprinting forward without direction. Sprints are great if I still have a good picture of where to go, but not so much if they make me feel lost.
Which leads me to …
Runners after a while “hit a wall”. They feel like they can’t push forward. The same happens for writers. It’s easy to feel stuck writing. Self-doubt creeps in. The vines of self-editing start choking the blossoming creative process. Exhaustion sets in.
It happens to all of us. On Twitter there was a great thread in the Writing Community with different ideas of what to do when stuck.
What do you do when you hit a wall in your writing?
— bobby casto – author (@BobbyCasto) November 19, 2019
Reading helps me recharge, but maybe meditation or video games would help you more.
Here’s a few more ideas based of Enneagram personality types, but I believe they can work for most people.
There’s no shame in burnout. Whether it stems from Imposter Syndrome, Real Life Stress™, writer’s block, or any other reason, burnout happens to the best of us.
For me, burnout means that I need to rejuvenate myself in some way. During this NaNoWriMo season I made a point to keep reading. Reading and listening to audiobooksI really helped me feel better about NaNoWriMo. I’ve been working on reading Sarah J. Mass’s Kingdom of Ash. I haven’t finished it yet, but … I’m working on it.
Keeping a slow, steady pace might work better for you to avoid burnout. Some people can do sprints and write impressive word counts in rapid succession. I prize quality over quantity, and my quality goes down if I write too much. One subsection of the Twitter Writing Community is #TurtleWriters – writers who use a slow and steady wins the race kind of pace. Just like running, we’re racing ourselves most of the time and not other people. It’s about improving ourselves.
Bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith wrote in Heinlein’s Rules: 5 Simple Business Rules for Writing that he writes about 400-600 words, re-reads it, and then proceeds- he calls this cyclical writing. When my writing count didn’t have to be as frantic, this was more practical for me. Right now I’ve had to adjust my process so that I’m putting out as much as I can, and then fixing mistakes later.
Hemingway said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”
Sometimes with copywriting I used to psych myself out a bit. There would be a min/max word count, a subject, product pictures, facts, a tone, and keywords that were required to be used. I’d have to take a deep breath, and get out of my head and just write. I’d write a true sentence, and then keep pushing myself from there.
I encourage you to try different approaches and see what works for you. Keep in mind – it may change.
The metrics for measuring progress in writing should not be confined to winning NaNoWriMo.
Writing progress isn’t just quantity – it’s quality. Quality encompasses improving things like story structure, character development, dialogue realism, and world development. In short, writing progress isn’t just numbers, it’s refinement. If you’re editing, your word count may even go down.
In conclusion: we must learn to run before we attempt a marathon. I believe that the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to teach us to run (even if it’s a sprinting pace), so that we may be able to complete marathons (novels).
As long as you became a better writer than you were before NaNoWriMo, then in my eyes you’re a winner.
In the past, NaNoWriMo has been tough for me. It comes at a busy time of year. I’ve had times where I was working or in school or recovering from surgeries. This year I succeeded, but with less stress than previous attempts. Part of it may be my life circumstances have changed, or that NaNoWriMo seems like small potatoes. Part of it may be that I’ve de-ritualized my writing process, and learned to write faster.
Another key might be that this book was just easier to write. There’s more exposition than in previous due to writing first person present tense versus third person past.
There’s so much more to writing a book than NaNoWriMo. In Drafting those many drafts: The 10 revision phases, Jessica Stiller says:
What’s important to remember is that creating a novel takes time beyond just its writing. Just like you didn’t know how awesome and complicated and weird your best friend or lover was until you spent a meaningful amount of time with them, your novel will grow, change, and show you things about itself the more time you spend with it. So be prepared to spend – and enjoy – that time writing drafts.
A lot of writing is re-writing, and that’s progress too.
In the near future, I’ll be working on re-writing – honestly most of what I’ve accomplished in 2019 is rewriting.