Don’t Let Mental Monsters Stand in the Way of Your Goals

NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-SquareI ran 70 miles during the month of November. I also wrote 50,000 words of a novel. Both of those numbers are HUGE when you think about the average amount of running and writing I normally do. No, I don’t have super powers suddenly. I didn’t do it all at once. I took it a day at a time, followed a prescribed regimen, and when I wanted to quit I  didn’t allow myself any wiggle room.

November is National Novel Writing Month. I used the momentum and accountability of that group event to propel me through my writing goals. I made sure to meet or exceed expectations every day because I’d made a public commitment that I wanted to uphold. But more than that, I’d committed to myself and to my characters to tell their story and I didn’t want to let myself or my characters down.

Does it always come easily? No! Do I ever have days where I want to just give up and go back to my old habits? Yes!

Old habits die hard

With both my running and my writing, I have days when I wake up and think “Oh god, I just want to stay in bed.” Those are the days when I need the running and the writing the most. The mental monster, the one that’s telling me I’m too tired to run or too boring to have any good ideas to share in my writing, that’s the one that I confront with my schedule, with my commitment, with my determination.

When I let that monster win I feel terrible. My self-esteem and self-talk go down a dark, even abusive path. I hate how I feel when I allow myself to shirk my goals, when I give in to the monster talk and let another day go by without working toward my dreams.

But!! Every day that I get up and refuse to listen to that monster telling me to shut up and stay in bed, I kick that monster’s ass again. It doesn’t get easier over time. Every time I have to fight that mental battle, it sucks and it’s painful and I want to cry before I finally convince myself to do the hard thing, to do what I committed to do.

And yet, the more I choose to fight for what I want for my life, the less often that monster speaks up.

Take that first step

My running is another story but it follows a very similar mental track. Who knows why I decided that November, when I started my most intensive month of writing, was a good time to kick off a half-marathon training program? Maybe the timing wasn’t ideal, but then maybe it was. I have a larger goal with my running. Before I turn 40 I want to run a marathon.

And as with writing, I have to start if I ever want to finish. I know that if I want to reach my goal of 26.2 miles, I have to step out the door. And if I ever want to see my name in print on a novel that I’ve written, I have to write the first words. And then the next words, and the next step, until I get to the finish line.

There are bound to be set-backs along the way, but just because I know I will fail sometime, does that mean I should never start? No! I cling to my dreams and push myself forward, pick myself up when I fall down, and start again.

So why am I telling you all this?

I know I’m not the only one who goes through this daily ritual of talking down the monsters, of putting the fears aside and taking a risk to achieve my dream. And I want you to know that you CAN do this. You’re not crazy. That dream you have of publishing (or of running a marathon), it’s yours. You should cherish it, commit to it, and show up every day to prove how much it means to you.

It helps if you can find your tribe. The encouragement and accountability you get from people with similar goals, or even just people who unquestionably believe in you–that’s solid gold. When you find it, never let it go.

But sometimes you have to go it alone. Sometimes you have to acknowledge that your goals are for you, and that even if no one else understands why you’re doing what you do, you have to commit to them. That’s not an easy place to be, but it’s no excuse to quit. You owe it to yourself to follow your heart, to reach for your dreams and never give up.

So… Show up. Even when it hurts. Even when you’d rather not. Even when it seems like the finish line is so far away. Every step you take, every word you write, brings you closer to achieving your dreams.

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Why NaNoWriMo is a great cure for writer’s block

NaNoWriMo
National Novel Writing Month

It’s no secret. I’m a HUGE fan of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo). The event takes place in the month of November. Participants commit to writing a 50,000 new words of a novel in 30 days. In those 30 days, literary madness ensues, fast friendships are forged, barriers are broken, dreams are made realities.

As we get closer to November, more and more posts begin to pop up giving you advice on how to get the most out of your NaNo experience, how to plot or pants with the best of them. (Don’t know what I mean by plotting or pantsing? Click here.)

Some posts, however, argue that NaNo makes worse literature, that NaNo is bad for writing, that it’s a fad diet that won’t keep the pounds off when you get back to daily life.

To those people I say, get out of the way and let people create in whatever way they choose. It’s fine if NaNo doesn’t fit your process. If you need to create in a different way from NaNo, you go right ahead. You do you. But don’t rain on our parade!

Now I agree that 50,000 words does not a novel make, but who ever said that the draft you create during NaNo was supposed to be perfect and publishable? Sure there will be problems with sentence structure, plot holes galore, and overused adverbs in those “winning” NaNo manuscripts. That’s what revision is for!

NaNo provides inspiration and opportunity for all. People who have always wanted to try writing a novel find motivation, encouragement, moral support, and success through NaNo. You can’t edit what you haven’t written yet, right?

Why NaNo is a great cure for writer’s block

I think it’s easy for some people to get so hung up on choosing the right words or expressing their idea in the perfect way that they freeze and can’t write a thing. NaNo can fix that problem. If you have to write 1,667 words a day, you can’t freeze and worry about finding the right words, you just have to write. And spending 30 days regularly meeting a certain word count, whether or not your muse wants to come with you, can unlock your voice in a way that no Creative Writing course could ever do.

What better way to get past writer’s block? So you can’t think of what should happen next in your story, but you have 1,667 words to write that day? Grab a writing prompt, a weird little plot bunny that takes you in a completely different direction for the day. Even if you end up not using that day’s words in your final draft, you will have shown that writer’s block that you’re the boss of your writing.

NaNo is the perfect time to tell your internal editor to take a hike and make yourself sit down and write every day. The best part is, when you get to the end, you can decide whether the NaNo process does or does not work for you and adjust your writing habits accordingly. But if you’ve been telling yourself that there’s no way you could write every day, much less 1,667 words or more a day, NaNoWriMo is your chance to challenge yourself.

At the end of November you might decide to pursue the manuscript and keep working on it, or you might decide to shelve those words and never look at them again. But no words are wasted words! It takes a lot of bad writing to get to the good writing. So pour it all out onto the page and don’t worry. You can edit in December.

4 Reasons Writing Short Stories Will Make You a Better Novelist

bestshortstorywriter4November is National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo), and it’s just around the corner. If you’ve never written a novel but you’ve always wanted to try, I highly recommend this incredible event as your moment to go for the glory. If you’re already planning to join the fun, I’ll see you there!

People prepare for the madness of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days in different ways. Whether you’re a planner or pantser, you can benefit from practicing during the next 5 weeks. And short stories are the perfect way to practice. You might be thinking that writing short stories will drain your creativity tank before you’re ready and that you need those ideas to make your novel work. But writing short stories adds more to your craft than it takes away.

Still not sure? Here are 4 reasons writing short stories will make you a better novelist right now.

  1. They’re less than novel length.
    It kind of goes without saying, but less than novel length is a point in favor of short stories. You don’t have to keep track of as many moving pieces, or fill as much blank space, or go into as much detail as you do with a novel. You can sit down and write a short story in a day. Can you do that with a novel?
  2. They’ll inform your novel-writing process.
    You learn a lot from carrying a story from start to finish. Making sure all your series or story arcs or character arcs round out the way they should and with the correct timing can be really challenging with a full-length novel. A short story gives you all the elements of story telling in a snapshot form that’s easier to manage.
  3. They give you a chance to focus on just one thing.
    Because short stories are, well, short, you don’t have time to add too many elements to them. So you can choose to work on a plot element you’ve been wanting to experiment with, or a character sketch, or your world-building, without getting distracted.
  4. You get to write “The End” sooner.
    Never underestimate the power of completing a project. The emotional and mental payoff you get from writing “The End” gives you motivation to move on to the next project. And, most importantly, once you’ve written “The End” there’s nothing holding you back from putting your story out into the world to get feedback so that you can start the whole process over again and write an even better story.

Sometimes writing a story set in the world of your novel but with a side character can enhance the main manuscript. But not every idea is a novel-length idea. Give those other ideas room to grow and see what happens. The more stories you write, the more ideas you will have. Short stories, far from taking away from your creative potential, only add fuel to the fire.