Nano Prep #5: Mindset

Previous posts in this series: Let’s Half-Ass Nanowrimo Together, Nano Prep #1: The Idea, Nano Prep #2: Structure, Nano Prep #3: Character, POV & Setting, Nano Prep #4: Beat Sheets

Hey, Nano preppers! We’re just a few days away from the big event, so I’ll wrap up this Nanowrimo prep series with some tips about mindset. How should we think about our writing? And what attitudes should we adopt in order to complete our projects well? I’ve got a few suggestions, which I’ve listed below in the form of beliefs.  Do you agree with these beliefs, and if so, are you ready to adopt them?

Belief #1: Writing requires time and effort, so I’ve made space in my life to do it.

Writing is work, right? It’s work in the same way that going to your day job is work. If you put in the time and make an effort, you’ll make it through and you’ll improve your skills over time. And because we learn by writing, not by worrying about our writing, action is what matters.

That begins by making time, space, and energy available for your November writing project.

Cheri glaring with a golden crown on her head.
Hast thou set aside enough writing time for November? If not, make it so!

Belief #2: I’m writing a first draft. Later, I’ll improve it.

Writing a first draft is about telling the story to yourself. You can trust your future-self to edit your story, and focus now on the first task which is getting the whole story down so you can look at it. Nanowrimo isn’t the time to perfect your “first page hook” or obsess about comma placement.

That being said, you’re not required to write a shitty first draft!  I’d rather see you produce the best work you can, right now, given your current skill level. Let’s talk for a moment about the notion of the happy medium, when it comes to the quality of your first draft.

Finding the Happy Medium

I’ll just write shit because that’s what a first draft is.”  Nah. Why on Earth would you intentionally write shit?

I won’t start chapter two until chapter one is AMAZING.”  Nope! You’re being too rigid. First drafts aren’t amazing. You’ll be stuck in a perfectionist loop!

I’ll write this scene to the best of my current ability. Then I’ll move on to the next, because this is FIRST DRAFT TIME, baby!”  Perfect! You’ve found the happy medium.

Seek out that happy medium, okay?

Belief #3: It’s time to listen to my gut and heart. Not the experts.

You’ve probably internalized a lot of advice from other writers, right? Stephen King hates adverbs. Others advise against prologues. Your high school English teacher yelled at you for using sentence fragments, or starting a sentence with and. Yadda Yadda. Taken in context, writing advice can be useful. But for a beginner, all this advice becomes an extra voice of criticism, making you second-guess your natural style as you start writing.

Tip: You’re fine. Just write! Use the voice that comes naturally to you. Fix any excesses in editing, and stop worrying about what the experts think. It’s not their story. It’s yours!

Belief #4: Progress matters, but progress is not linear.

You might have this idealized notion that you’ll write X words per day during Nanowrimo. And goals can be motivating sometimes. But in reality, writing is far more… lumpy than you might expect. You might have a day where you squeak out 200 words during lunch, and another day when you write four chapters because the words won’t stop flowing. It’s okay to have general targets in mind, but don’t flip out if you’re not producing equal numbers of words.

Keep it simple. Every time you write, move your story forward. And try to set aside enough hours in the month to reach your overall goal. That’s really all you can do.

Belief #5: No one is forcing me to do this.

Write because you love it. Or because it challenges you. Or because you’re curious to see if you can. Write because you’ve got a story to tell, or because you’ve admired authors forever and books still feel like magic.

But if writing is making you miserable, or if you hate it, it’s okay to stop. Don’t turn a story into an ego contest with yourself. Remember, no one is forcing you to do it. Proceed with the intention that you’ll enjoy yourself, and see how it goes.

Belief #6: I’ll decide what to do with this story later.

You might publish your story, or not. You might give it to friends to read, or not. But my point is, you don’t need to worry about any of that now. Get the draft down, edit it later, and then you can decide what to do.

Your story is a squalling little baby made of words. It’s red-faced and shouty and it has no career plans or life goals. So put away the college pamphlets and let it grow up a little. Let your story exist for its own sake! Don’t squash it under all your bossy expectations.

And that leads me to my most important belief, which is this:

Belief #7: I’m a writer.

If you write, you’re a writer. There’s no secret-handshake, certification, or permission slip required. Drop the word “aspiring” from your vocabulary and flush your impostor syndrome down the toilet. Once you accept the reality that you’re a writer, you can stop being all angsty about labels and do your damn job.

You can write.

Nanowrimo might be the start of something lasting, or perhaps just a fun month to try something new. Either answer is fine, but time spent worrying about labels is wasted time. Imagine me smacking you upside the head with THE OFFICIAL SCEPTER OF ALL WRITERS. Boom. You’re a writer! Now get to work.

This concludes my Nanowrimo prep series, and I hope you’ve found it helpful. Good luck with your story, and feel free to drop me a comment during the month of November to tell me how your project is going. And if you’d like some in-person camaraderie during the month of November, there are plenty of local meetup groups being organized on the official Nanowrimo website right now.

Happy writing!