Perhaps you haven’t been writing as often as you’d like lately, or you haven’t written anything at all in years.
Perhaps you even think that signing up for NaNo next month is just what you need to get back on track.
Well, hold on, sport. Trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days when you haven’t written that much in a year is like trying to run a marathon when you can’t even run a mile.
There’s training involved. You have to flex those creative muscles first, get them warmed up and firing. Does this mean you have to glue yourself to a desk and write for hours on end? Hell no! Chances are you probably wouldn’t even make it to the chair if you thought that.
What you need to start with is consistency. Don’t worry about how long your sessions will have to be to write the obligatory 1,667 words a day during NaNo. For now, just focus on writing something every day. Sounds doable, right?
Writing consistently, without specifying a time limit, will reduce anxiety, especially if you fail to meet your minute mark because something else came up. Life happens. No one’s perfect. Not even you. But you can probably manage a sentence or two every day.
Writing consistently will also help you form a sustainable habit like brushing your teeth. It will just become something you do without any dreadful thoughts about how sucky you are at it. I mean, how often have you said to yourself, “Wow, I could have brushed that right incisor better.”
And if you haven’t been writing consistently, you probably do have some nagging thoughts in your head about how sucky you are. You might even think, “I’ll never be able to write anything ever again.”
Let me just put that fear right out of your head. You have not suddenly forgotten how to hold a pen or pencil and form words on a piece of paper, or forgotten how to open Word or Google Docs and type. And you probably have written something in the past 10 minutes, be it an email, text, or grocery list. So I don’t believe it when you say you can’t write. What you’re really scared of is not being as creative as you used to be.
To that I say, consistency will train the creativity muscle. The more you show up for your muse, the more your muse will show up for you. She might even have to sleep over because she’s sick of driving back and forth every day. Just think, muse on demand.
The trick to being consistently creative is to start out by writing something inconsequential. Don’t try working on the next Great American Novel, even if it’s only for 10 minutes a day. That’s too much pressure. Instead, work on quick writing prompts. Remember, this is a warm-up, not the long haul. Wait until your muscles are sufficiently fired up before diving into that important project.
So for the next month, I’m going to supply you with a new exercise each week. You don’t have to set a time limit, but if you want, start with something small like 10 minutes. Literally set a timer. When it dings, you stop. Or you continue. Either way, you win.
NaNo Warm-Up Part 1:
I’m sure this exercise has origins elsewhere, but I found it in Lawrence Block’s Write For Your Life: The Home Seminar for Writers. This is not a craft book or how-to write anything specific book. It’s about how to write more often, despite fear and procrastination, not about how to write better.
Here’s the two-part exercise.
- First (and you can use this as one of your daily sessions), you will have to come up with 50 to 100 sentences you can use as the opening line of a story
- Then type the list double- or triple-spaced, print it out, and cut each sentence into slips; or write each one on its own index card
- Secondly, every day, randomly select one of the sentences (set your timer for 10 minutes if you choose) and continue the story without stopping until the timer goes off or you have run out of steam
- If you come up with 365 sentences, you can have a different prompt every day of the year
Easy peasy. Now to help you get started, I’ll share some of the opening sentences I’ve come up with. Feel free to add these to your collection or use them as a jumping off point. If it would help, you also might want to come up with prompts in your genre of choosing. For instance, I tend toward murder mysteries, so a lot of my sentences were geared toward them. However, once you get the wheels turning, you might want to try coming up with prompts in a genre you are unfamiliar with. This will flex those muscles even more.
- When the weather turned cool, so did his emotions.
- She only had time to pack one evening dress, and it wasn’t even her best one.
- Another year, another dead body.
- If she knew how to read tea leaves, hers would say, “Death.”
- Backpacking across Europe sounded like a great idea until he did it.
- It wasn’t just the tights that turned him off from being a superhero.
- Baby Jesus hung upside down in a tree.
- Open a random book to page 52 (or any page number you prefer)
- Choose the second sentence (or any number sentence) on the page (even if it’s just one word) and use that as the opening line for your daily prompt
- Continue as above
Do not worry about grammar, punctuation, or if what you’re writing even makes sense. Do not try to work these prompts into something you are already writing or want to write. Let the ideas flow without restricting them. If you can’t think of anything to write, write, “I can’t think of anything to write,” over and over again until you can think of something or the timer runs out.
The only way you can fail at this exercise is to not do it.
Good luck and let me know how you did or share some of your opening sentences too!