Ink-Stained Scribe

Beating the Loss of NaNoWriMomentum

Cross-posted from Double Shot of Lauren

We writers seem to be forever forcing ourselves to the page. Actually, I think it's more a matter of forcing the page to bend to our will and coming up bruised, bloodied, and over-caffinated. Not to mention, having only an unsatisfying draft full of stubborn sentences, dripping with adverbs, to show for it. Last week, I posted about how pressure and accountability help me write. What I failed to mention in is that the output of forcing myself to write is not always my best work. It's often horrible.

But that's okay.

The beauty of writing is that we always have the power to erase and pretend like that awful scene where the two MCs end up in a cave, soaking wet, and have to dry their clothes by the fire never happened. Our inner perfectionists may cringe, our inner hipster may scream that the method is inauthentic. You know what? They can get a room. They can have lots of OCD, skinny-jeans-wearing babies who complain about authenticity (or lack thereof) and never get as far as submitting. Like sketches and mock-ups, a first draft is a place to make mistakes. Stories don't spill from our pens in well-edited prose, pre-sifted for all those little golden nuggets of perfect, poignant detail.

And if yours does, get the hell out of my webspace.

The point is, I need to write those bad scenes, because I need something to get me to the good ones. You know how NBC used to air "Friends" and then some other show, and then "Seinfeld"? Those awful scenes are my "some other show" between the good ones--the scenes that are going to need a lot more attention and work before they're able to stand on their own. The scenes that might just never work at all.

But it's hard to get through something when you know it sucks more than Mega Maid.


You might notice another post I linked in a later entry, where an author on the Writer on Fire blog discussed writing without inspiration. His post was a well-written and succinct explanation of the practices necessary to keep ourselves going during inspiration's bleak winter season. There was a point, however, where I thought a little expansion would have been helpful, and that was where he spoke about "Momentum".

"While inspiration is strong, the experienced writer gets to work creating outline or summary. Once you have all of the main points down on 'paper' you can complete the work whether you're inspired or not."

As any first-year physics student knows, momentum is mass*velocity. In writing terms, that roughly equates to idea*wordcount. Basically, it's our ability to get words on the page at a certain rate. Sometimes, we've got to push to get a scene started, but that push gives us the start we need to carry on until the scene catches, and we're golden. Sometimes that's because it's a day of inspiration and creative clarity. Other days, it's sheer momentum. Those days when creative clarity and writing momentum work in tandem are the double-rainbow of writing, as glorious as they are rare. Those are the 7,000-word days, the days when writing makes me forget to eat or sleep.

But building momentum is something that I think must be learned for someone to be successful as a writer. It's why a lot of authors have daily word-count goals. Sometimes, it's the starting that's hard. It's slogging through a desert, heading for that next little oasis of a plot-point shimmering in the distance. I tend to hit my stride somewhere between 300 and 500 words, before the scene takes hold.


NaNoWriMo offers the pressure necessary to get to the 50,000 word goal. One thing I've noticed, however, is that a lot of people get to the 50,000 word goal and lose momentum almost immediately after that goal is reached. The pressure, competition, and companionship of NaNoWriMo are invigorating, because you can see the thousands of people racing through the sands along with you, and they make it fun. They make it fierce. They egg you on.

Then, on December 1st, they all disappear.

Some of them have accomplished what they set out to do--finished their own personal races. If you, however, are one of those people who is 50,000ish words through a more-than-likely-130,000-word manuscript, that desert can get to looking pretty lonely and intimidating. Fast.

Especially when the 50,000 word-point tends to be where plotting gets tricky, where you have to start juggling geese and playing with fire while singing the alphabet backwards to get everything to that shining ending (which you may not even have planned yet).

It was like that for me. I'd spent November in a topsy-turvy writing state, and as soon as December 1st hit, I closed my laptop and gave myself a well-deserved break. I watched Korean Dramas all week and didn't even open the word document. Which is fine. Everyone needs a break once in a while, to give their brains time to cool off. But then there were the holidays; time spent with family; then all the shopping, cleaning, and loosing all that weight after the holidays. Then a wedding...

It's was so easy to get distracted by the mirage of busyness, to knowingly let it trick me away from the page, once that NaNoWriMomentum was gone.

It's February 9th, and I'm one of the lucky ones. I didn't stop writing entirely. I'm at 80,000 words (I was at 60,000 by the end of NaNoWriMo). My speed has diminished to a sixth of what it was when I had that NaNoWriMomentum, but maybe that's okay too. I know the point of NaNoWriMo is to get as many words on the page as possible, even if they're not amazing. Even if they're tangential. Even if they suck.

So how do you get that momentum back?

I'm still coming to the page almost every day and getting words down. Not every day, and I don't always write a lot of words. Since the end of January, I've been doing it a lot better. I wrote over 55,000 words last week, and I hope to write at least 50,000 more this week.

How? I don't pretend to have the definitive answer to that, but I can at least tell you what I've done.

I've made sure that other people know what my goals are. If you don't keep your goals private, I believe the likelihood that you will reach them increases. Speaking your desires out loud brings results, whether it's because it helps you visualize them clearly, because it helps your inner competitor to know that people are watching (or at least aware of) your goals, or because you believe that if you ask, you shall receive.

Another good way to bring freshness to a work you're probably convinced is falling apart is to revise your outline. This is why I love the notecarding method Holly Lisle teaches on her blog, because it allows my outline flexibility. By the time I get to 70,000 words, I've usually figure out what the hell I'm writing about. I've usually planned some revisions for earlier parts of the story. I usually stare at my outline, thinking--this isn't going to work how I thought it would. With notecards, revising is easy. I needed to take out a perspective and make what I had a lot shorter. (The pace of the story doesn't lend itself to 120,000 words) So I took out a perspective and ended up combining most of the scenes with other ones to give me a tighter story focusing on my heroine. I also, suddenly, got some insight on the main character's love interest. He finally opened up to me, reticent as he is, and spilled his guts and rather sad--though isn't everybody's, from some angle--backstory.

The next important step for me was not to go back and revise yet. I know all the new info on Lover Boy is going to change the depth of his character, the meaning behind some of his actions, and how he feels about them. I need to go back and change the perspective of all the scenes that aren't from my heroine's POV. But I need to wait until the draft is finished. If I start going back now, I could get caught in the quicksand of the endless revise.

So there you have it. Advice, from someone who knows only what works for me.

1. Tell other people your goals, so they can hold you accountable.

2. Revise your outline to incorporate all the things you know, now that you know what you're writing about.

3. DO NOT start revising the beginning. Keep going forward. You can revise later, when you will probably have thought of several more things you'll need to change anyway.