Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How to keep NaNoWriMo from becoming NaNoOhNo by Christa Allan

Perhaps yesterday’s election will supercharge your NaNoWriMo (For those who think I’ve been reduced to babbling syllables, read Wendy Nelson Takunaga’s postpassion, and you will be blessed with endless streams of words.

Or not.

A few years ago, I attempted my first NaNoWriMo and stalled before the end of day five. When I started including writing grocery lists and song lyrics like, “Do dody doby do do doo de la da da da da ya” (Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night) to umph my word count, I surrendered. And I’m still waving the same white flag while standing on the sidelines to cheer all those brave laptop warriors.

For those of you who find yourselves at the end of week one today, and don’t know what to do when you don’t know what to do, I hope this tip helps you on your word journey.

Try journaling a la Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. For those of you familiar with Julia Cameron’s morning pages, this journaling is similar, minus two pages. I’ve journaled now for over fifteen years, and I continue to be awed by what this simple practice can crack open in my writing soul. In fact, the prologue for my debut novel began as a journal prompt.

So, without further blabbering and promoting for those of you eager to return to your NaNo, I’m listing the guidelines below. Some are non-negotiable. I’ve starred those.

1.     Write for at least ten minutes. Set a timer; do not depend on your inner clock.*
2.     Give yourself a prompt (or not).  When I’m stuck in novels, I journal to my characters, or as one of them, journal plot ideas, conflicts, settings, my frustration…whatever.
3.     Your pen/pencil must NOT leave the paper or your fingers should not leave the keyboard. Seriously. As soon as you lift the pen or stop your fingers, you are thinking, and thinking is not allowed during journaling. The point is to allow what’s in your brain to flow through your arms into your hands and onto the page.*
4.     Staying on topic is not important.
5.     Do not allow your internal editor a voice during these ten minutes. If you write about your friend’s bad breath, s/he will never know.*
6.     Don’t toss anything out. You never know what you can mine out of your journals.

Another quick tip is writing sprints. Challenge a friend to 1,000 words in a hour.  My oh-so-funny and talented friend Jenny B. Jones and I contact each other via g-chat. Some use  Twitter…whatever works. You set a time and then check in at the end of the hour.

Carry on brave NaNoWri-mers. You’re one-fourth of the way. Know there are tribes cheering you on.

(The photo above was made by one of my students after a writing exercise using Play-Doh.)

Christa Allan is the author of Walking on Broken GlassThe Edge of GraceLove Finds You in New Orleans and Threads of Hope (March 2013. You can find her at www.christaallan.comFacebook, and Twitter. When she's not frantically meeting deadlines, she teaches high school English. Christa and her husband recently moved to New Orleans to live in a home older than their combined ages. Their three neurotic cats are adjusting.


  1. LOVE that green Play-Doh hand!
    I appreciated your writing tips, Christa. I've never done NaNo officially, but I usually try to up my page count during November, so your ideas will help :).

  2. Thanks, Marilyn. Good idea about just upping the count.

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