Friday, November 3, 2017

Just Keep Swimming - by Janet Halpin

So, you’ve decided this year you’re going to do it. You’ve stocked up on coffee, jotted some notes to guide you, joined a Facebook group, and committed to recording your daily word count. You are going all in on NaNoWriMo.

As a NaNo veteran, I know what you’re feeling. Scared, a bit nauseated. The thought of banging out 20, 30, 50 thousand words in one month is daunting. You’re wondering, now that you’ve decided to dive in to NaNo, how do you stay dove in for the long haul?

My advice, just keep swimming. A simple (and probably copyrighted) phrase that’s hard to put into practice. Distractions abound—both on the page and in the real world—tempting you to stop. And when you stop, it’s hard to get going again.

Here’s a few dos and don’ts to keep you swimming, starting with the DON’Ts (in no particular order):

No matter how tempted you are to go back and read the pages you wrote this morning--DON’T. Believe me, it won’t be pretty. NaNo is basically vomiting words onto the page and it’s going to look just like that – a discouraging mess. There will be gems in those pages you’ll suss out when you have more time to suss, but for now, you’ll probably only see the mess.

The above goes double for revision. No matter how much you want to revise that flat scene where the hero and heroine first meet, DON’T. If you think of a clever bit of dialogue that’ll help, just drop it in the appropriate space and get back in the swim.  
DON’T sweat the small stuff. Typos, stray apostrophes, misplaced modifiers, dangling participles are like pimples. They’re annoying and ugly, but don’t fatally detract from your true beauty. Plus, they clear up eventually, and so will those grammar zits when you do your second draft (okay, maybe going a bit overboard on the metaphors here).

DON’T waste time on Google. Research can wait. Unless you absolutely need a bit of historical info or the name of a killer poison to put Lady Whosywahtsit out of her misery, put an XXX or a blank space or D’oh, or something to mark the space and keep swimming.

DON’T waste even more time on social media. That #amwriting tweet or Instagram or Facebook post of cute kittens or equally adorable puppies can wait.

Now, lest you think I’m a total buzzkill and only about the negatives, here’s some DOs for your NaNo swim: 

DO remember that life will intervene. Something will yank you out of your NaNo haze. School, work, a dog needing to be walked, trash needing to be taken out, and relatives who demand you get your head out of your fictional world this instant, your turkey and stuffing is getting cold!

DO take a break. Exercise, take a shower, get up and move. That’ll get your blood moving and re-energize your brain.

Do keep this one word in mind--BICHOK. Okay, that’s not a word, it’s really an acronym and it stands for Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. That’s the real key to success, with NaNoWriMo or any other month or week or day or the one hour you can carve out for yourself each day to write.

And for my final DO, I'll repeat the mantra of the wisest fish I know:

You may not hit your goal, just keep swimming toward that goal. You can’t fix a blank page, some smarter and better writer than me once said, and that’s the absolute truth. Each word you write, each sentence and page and chapter you complete is a victory over that blank page. 

So dive in, and have a great swim!


  1. "Just keep swimming" is how I feel about ALL first drafts!

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