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Need for Speed

I’m going to date myself by admitting that Top Gun was a huge hit when I was in high school.  I had a friend who always quoted the title of this entry as we did the high and low five.

I’m feeling the need for speed.  Aren’t you?

Since NaNoWriMo is just around the corner and I’m slowly working my way back up to my 1K min in my Dark & Early session, I thought I’d do a quick checklist for myself as much as you on ways to get and keep the word production up.

1. Set clear, attainable, incremental goals.  Something like “I want to write 1K in 1 hour” is good, where “I want to write 5K today” may not be as manageable unless you define a careful strategy to reach that goal.  Can you actually write 5K in a single day?  Do you actually have all day?  Goal setting is a whole nother blog post, so I won’t go into endless detail, but I do feel strongly that setting goals is an important strategy for increasing speed.

Side note:  Don’t let your overachiever out when setting goals.  I’m the worst at setting pie-in-the-sky impossible goals.  (e.g. I want to finish Revision Xibalba in a single month!)  It’s much better to build your ego and confidence with small goals that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt you can reach.  Plus, then you earn rewards!  Which leads to:

2. Plan simple rewards for hitting each mini and daily goal.  For example, I have a goal that says I don’t get to read my blog feeds in the morning until I write 1K.  I need my Paperback Writer fix!

3. Plan your schedule to meet your goals.  It doesn’t do any good to say “I want to write 1K today” if you don’t know when or how you’ll actually be able to write. 

  • Do what works for you and schedule the time for yourself. 
  • Do as much as you can to enable yourself. 

For me, that means laying out all my clothes the night before in the bathroom so I don’t wake up That Man.  I also prep my coffee pot and set out my favorite coffee cup.  I have an inspiring playlist (that varies by project) on Napster that I simply bring up and play.  Lastly but the most important for me personally, is a plan to “meet” my accountability partner online.  If I know she’s going to be up and wondering where the heck I am, then that helps me get up when the alarm goes off Dark & Early.

3. Take breaks.  This might seem counter-intuitive, and I sheepishly admit this is one I try to weasle out of if given half the chance.  When I’m in the flow, the last thing I want to do is take a break.  However, my wrists and shoulders certainly thank me, even if I just pause for 5 minutes to refill my cup and do a few stretches.

4. Eliminate distractions.  Don’t bring up your e-mail, because then if it dings or you notice you have an unread message, well, duh, you’ll want to read it.  Work with your family and friends so they know your scheduled writing time is important and sacred.  (That’s why I get up Dark & Early — no one else is up.)

5.  Use a notebook.  This is something I learned from Fast Draft (link below).  A notebook helps me avoid endless time sinks. 

Don’t fall into the trap of Googling something “quick” while writing, because it’s super easy to get sucked into way too much internet time.  Nothing ticks me off more in the morning than making that mistake and looking up to see that it’s time to go to work or get the family up — my writing time has simply disappeared.

  • Write down research notes, questions, things you want to address later. 
  • In your file, make a note to yourself if needed and then move on.  I make [notes to myself] like this all the time.  Or you could do *** note fix this! ***.  Whatever — just make it something you can easily search for later.
  • Prep for the next day’s session.  After your current writing session is over, jot a few notes about what you still need to do or where you should go from here.  This is helpful immediately after your session is over, but you could also jot notes at any time.  e.g. 10 minutes while waiting at school to pick up the monsters or 5 minutes while the coffee brews.

For me personally, the writing by hand is very important.  It frees me from the computer and helps tap into another area of my brain. 

6. Don’t stall yourself.  If a scene isn’t going well, make a note and skip it.  There’s no law of the universe that says you have to get every scene fully perfect first.  Little things can mess up a perfectionist, like struggling to find the right word, the best opening line, the perfect end-of-chapter hook.  Don’t!  Don’t stress out about being “perfect.”  That’s what [notes to yourself] and the notebook are for, like:

  • [word choice]
  • [something pithy here]
  • [stuck, skipping ahead to next scene, try to show…blah blah blah]
  • [what is the character’s motivation?]
  • [where the hell is the CONFLICT???]
  • [what happened to the backpack?]

These are all examples of notes I’ve written to myself and MOVED ON.

You can fix ANYTHING.  Later.  Nobody is going to see this draft unless you choose to send it to them.  If it’s a mess, who cares?  The most important thing is to finish.  Get the story down.  It’s a given assumption that you will have to revise.  However, it does not make sense to revise a story that is not finished.

7. Take care of yourself.  Don’t only drink your favorite caffeinated beverage — make sure you’re getting enough fluids.  Sometimes I want to graze while I write — hello, low fat microwave popcorn instead of chips.  The new thing I’m doing this year is to plan a walk, even if it’s only 20 minutes, every day.  When I’m working the Evil Day Job, I don’t always make it (meetings, urgent issues), but I have 9 vacation days planned in Nov. and there’s no excuse.  I *will* walk those days.

Helpful Links:

Do any of you have recommendations for meeting your need for speed and increasing your writing production?  Please share in comments!

4 thoughts on “Need for Speed

  1. I’m the worst. These are great tips to think about. My problem is the unmanageable goals. I did get my AlphaSmart out and have my WIP on it. If I’m going to be anywhere for a length of time, I have it handy.

    I’m far more focused in November and actually impose more restrictions on myself. Not sure why I can in November. Maybe it is the whole writing collective or a writing Borg which influences me.

  2. Thanks, I needed that! These are things I know, but that are way too easy to forget…

    But, the “where’s the CONFLICT?” tag had me laughing. I need to use this way more often than I do – usually, I’ll stare at the scene trying to find the conflict rather than just moving on and worrying about it later.

  3. >>Top Gun was a huge hit when I was in high school.

    Oh dear… me too… (how old am I???) 😯

    And the “where’s the CONFLICT” tag was a lightbulb over the head for me! The other things in your list there are things I can make a note of somewhere and move on toward finishing. But when I notice things like “OMG, this scene has no conflict and SUCKS”, I am stopped cold in my tracks because it seems so BIG. Which it is, I suppose, but it’s good to realize that it can be treated like any other perfectionist speed bump!

    Excellent and very insightful post! 🙂

  4. 😯 Hey, I am doing NaNo! This list is great, I printed it off. What
    I need to remember is to exercise and not eat while writing! Laughing.
    Good luck. I’ll be posting my progress. Grandbaby is coming!

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