Lesson 4 – Writing Under Pressure
It's nearly that time of year again, folks. No, not Christmas; it's only October. Don't get ahead of yourself. No, I'm talking about NaNoWriMo – or, for the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month. It's a wonderful month-long annual celebration of writing and creativity, but more than that, it is a personal challenge to the writer in every one of us. The aim is to write a whopping fifty thousand words in just thirty days, which averages out to around 1,667 words a day. For some people, this is easy. For others, it's nearly impossible. But whatever your ability to bang out the words, there is something daunting about writing to a deadline. Moreover, it's something you will be expected to do if you want to get a job as an author, freelance writer or journalist. Even if you don't plan to follow a writing-based career, these are transferable skills that will be really useful no matter what you do.
So basically, I thought I'd make this month's Academy focused on how to write under restraints like time and word count. Whether you're doing NaNoWriMo next month or not, you are probably going to find yourself in a similar position at some point. Heck, there's a good chance you'll have to write an essay in school or university. Two thousand words in a week on the importance of trade relations with the Middle East? Not a problem! So here goes nothing: how do we manage pressure as writers?
1. Set goals. Be aware of where you're going and how you're going to get there. It might be fifty thousand words in a month. In that case, break it down into manageable chunks: 1,667 words a day, 12,000 words a week. Don't look at it as a whole, because it feels like a mountain of work. Focus on the milestones you can reach throughout your journey, and go for each one in turn. Make sure you have a clear aim in mind, and don't let yourself deviate. Some people work better with a rigid schedule, while others prefer a little more flexibility. Find a pattern that works for you and run with it.
2. Don't stress. I cannot emphasise this enough. Letting the pressure get to you right off the bat shuts down your brain and forces you into a state of panic where you won't be able to write anything much. If you find yourself feeling like the walls are closing in, step away from the computer and take a few deep breaths. Remind yourself of where you're going; look at the goals you made and realise that you can make it. If you need to, go for a walk. Unwind. Play a video game. It might seem counterproductive when you're on a tight schedule, but a bit of relaxation does wonders for your productivity.
3. Stay motivated. Why are you doing this? What do you get out of it? Personal gratification? A paycheck? An A+? Much like the 'set goals' point, this involves looking at where you're going and why you're going there. I do NaNoWriMo because I love writing, because I am never happier than when I am sitting behind my keyboard. Even writing this guide up for you guys now is giving me an immense feeling of serenity and fulfilment. So don't lose sight of your raison d'être.
4. Enjoy yourself. For a lot of us, this is directly linked to all three of the above points. Having fun might be the goal, a way of avoiding stress, or a way to stay motivated. Whichever way you see it, writers often forget to enjoy what they're doing, and this makes it harder to get to the end. Just remember what Confucius said: 'Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.' Writers who take the NaNoWrMo challenge tend to see it as a task, an onerous slog through a boggy mire of penmonkeying. It shouldn't be. Writing is a way of expressing yourself, and chances are it's something you enjoy. So remember that. Hold onto it, and don't let it go. Let it inspire you, let it push you to where you're going.
So what do you do when writing to a deadline? Do you have any tips and tricks for dealing with stress and pressure? Everyone has their own little methods, so speak up and share. I'll talk about some of my own later, but for now, I'm turning the class over to the users. What works for you?
NaNoWriMo pep talks – Motivation and tips from famous writers, straight from NaNoWriMo.
RainyMood – Rain makes everything better, in my opinion. Fantastic writing background.
National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo's main site, for information and FAQ.
Write Or Die – A 'motivation tool' that works for a lot of people.
My Tomatoes – It sounds silly, but this really helped me in my marathon 127,640-word NaNo in 2010.
More to be added! If you have any to suggest, fire away.