3 Things to try during NaNo

So we’re deeper into NaNo, and you’ve hopefully found a way to stay motivated. That’s awesome, and you should absolutely keep it up! However, you might be feeling a different kind of burnout. The kind that comes not from working too hard, but from doing the same thing every day, and feeling yourself getting tired of the repetitive nature of the work. Maybe you’re starting to stall on the main storyline, or maybe you’re just getting tired of sitting at the keyboard and typing.

If you’re struggling with that, or you’re just looking for a way to shake things up, here are three things you can try during NaNo:

1) Voice typing (using apps, the Google Doc function, etc)

The average person can type between thirty and forty words per minute. If you’re doing this professionally, or just write regularly you’re probably a bit faster; the average skilled typist can go at close to seventy words per minute. For me, when doing a sprint, I usually come in at forty to fifty words per minute, which includes time to stop and think and consider what I’m doing next. (The world record is a little over two hundred words per minute, for those of you who enjoy trivia.)

Why do I talk so much about words per minute? Because the average person speaks at closer to one hundred and twenty to one hundred and fifty words per minute. If you can get skilled at voice typing, you’ll be able to churn out almost ten thousand words in an hour. It’s the absolute fastest way to get words on paper (well, on screen).

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No fancy microphone in a dark-lit room required!

It’s worth getting used to, because it does offer other benefits. Voice typing really shines when writing dialogue. You speak like a human being (assuming you aren’t an android or alien) so doing voice typing can be a great way to get dialogue that flows naturally and organically. It’ll also help you develop a stronger voice for your characters, since you’ll deliberately be thinking and speaking as them when you do it.

Voice typing also keeps your hands free to do mindless tasks when you’re writing. For me, this is amazing when I want to write, but Loki wants my attention. I can pet or play with him while writing, which means I have a happy kitty and I get to be productive! Another writer I know voice typing while she cleans her kitchen or folds laundry, doubling down on productivity.

Now, I’ll admit there are two downsides. While you’re getting used to it, non-dialogue can sound a bit too informal, a bit to relaxed, or not have the right tone – especially if you’re writing third person omniscient, which is not a natural way to speak. It also means that, yes, you’ll have to edit it later (machines aren’t perfect, and sometimes there are some funny errors), but again, that’s later. We’re doing NaNo here, so everything needs to be edited anyway.

2) Characterization through objects

Using objects to characterize is a great way to establish a character’s personality, motivation, or history without clunky exposition. Instead, you have a physical object in the story to attach the description to. If nothing else, this is a fairly simple exercise to get into your character’s head. You don’t need to have some precious heirloom or obscure relic to use this technique (although you can); it can work with a simple and inconsequential item.

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See this pen? This is the pen of foreshadowing. Don’t worry, it’ll make sense in a few paragraphs

If you’ve never tried this before, here’s an easy way to get into it. Let’s start by finding something in your house, or in a store, or online that you think a character would own. (Don’t let yourself spend too much time on this – go with the first thing you see that speaks to you.) Write a description of the item. We’re thinking about speed right now, so keep it fairly straightforward with minimal embellishments (those will come later.) Just keep in mind that you’re describing it as your character, so note the details they would be aware of.

Then decide where the object is. This has two components. First, where is it physically? Is it in the character’s house? Their car? The office? You pick, but try to make it somewhere that object would normally be. If you’ve chosen an exercise bike, for example, it probably won’t be in the character’s car – unless they’re taking it somewhere, of course. Then, decide where it is temporally – that is to say, how it enters the story. The character happens to see it, or goes looking for it, or is currently using it…Anything works as long as you can achor it to a moment in your story. (Sidenote – if you’re stuck on a scene, inserting this object could be a great way to get it moving.)

Finally, and most importantly, give the object a backstory. While the object doesn’t need to be incredibly significant, it should have some history. “Greg bought these post-its at Walmart” isn’t particularly interesting, but if Greg bought these post-its after a fight with his now ex-girlfriend about him forgetting things…suddenly it has a history, it has weight.

For an example of how this comes together, let’s take a pen. Allison is fidgeting with this pen while on a conference call at work. As her attention starts to drift, she remembers her mentor giving her the pen. That leads to her to wonder what her mentor would think about her current problem at work, and she even spends some time jotting down notes about exactly what her mentor would be saying if she could give advice right now.

Now, through the medium of a pen, we’ve established Allison had a mentor, and still would respect their advice. We’ve established that Allison is having problems at work, and what those problems are. We’ve made it clear that this conference call is boring, or that Allison is easily distracted. On top of that, we’ve established the mentor as a character, and established exactly what kind of advice Allison believes they would give. We’ve also probably written a few hundred,  if not a couple thousand words, all through the medium of “what’s the deal with this pen?”

3) Post It outlining

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Spoiler: you will never get this many smiling people to look at your post-it outline.

I’ve talked already about one way to outline an entire story. This is a different method, that I personally use most often if I get stuck on an event. However, it can work for an entire story. First, get a pack of Post Its. If you want to color code them, you can get a variety of colors. If you prefer not to color code, find other ways of distinguishing the topic of individual post its. You can also get a piece of poster board if you want, although I personally prefer to use a conveniently blank wall near my desk. (It makes me feel like a crazy person, in a fun way, and gives Loki something to pounce on.)

On the Post Its, write bits of events and plot points, character details, even snippets of dialogue. That’s where the colors or marks come in handy, so you can tell at a glance what’s on that Post It. Once you’ve written them, use that poster board or wall of crazy to organize them into a rough outline. This is really as simple as putting them in some kind of order, be it chronological or the order you want to write them or the order they’ll appear, and then you have an outline. You can move them around easily because they’re Post Its, and you’ll want to be moving them and adding more as you continue the project. Also, it’s good to use Post Its to keep track of questions you need to answer or problems you need to solve. Put them with the appropriate part of the outline, and don’t worry about them until you get there. It gets those stress points out of your head and onto paper, which often means they’ll weigh you down less.

Good luck with the rest of Nano!

Tried any of these before? Have some other suggestions? Want to share your Nano wordcount? Let me know in the comments below!

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