Whether you’ve tackled NaNoWriMo before, this is your first time, or you simply do a lot of writing on your own, you might need some assistance to get focused or some tools for productivity during the rough spots. I say this only because I need these badly.
Let me share with you what I’ve learned.
First of all, just plunge into writing. You can’t crank out a perfect novel or a reasonable draft on your first attempt. I’ll call up once again Anne Lamott’s concept of the “shitty first draft”—give yourself permission to write it. Seriously! Let yourself off the hook! No one’s going to die if you misspell a word or wedge a thought into clumsy thoughts. Just puke all your words out at a breakneck pace, get it all out there, and trust that December, January, and the following months can be devoted to revision.
Next: booze. I like it. It loosens me up, it lowers the obstacles to truly free speech, and it helps me make syntactic connections that wouldn’t have occurred to me, cold sober. Find a drink you like (not a prestigious drink, not the drink of your favorite authors, not a brand you’ll brag about on social media) and let it loosen up your muscles and open your heart.
Music is very important. Instrumental music is recommended because you can crank out your words without listening to someone else’s. I like downtempo—one of my friends makes astounding electronica so I tune into their Soundcloud page and just zone right out. Otherwise, find a band you like on Google Play: Music and explore their curated station there. They do a great job of recommendations. For writing, I like old jazz like Horace Silver or Bill Evans, anything Vince Guaraldi’s done. They’re very atmospheric, inspirational in this sense in that they take you to another time and place and you can ride that wave to create.
If you’re using Scrivener to compose, and you should (though Google Docs is pretty freeing), here’s a good way to build a distraction-blocking environment. Go into View > Full Screen Backdrop (Choose), and select a nice blurry, dark image upon which a pale overlay of text will look nice. If you’re clever, do an image search for a bokeh rainy street scene, then search for an ambient rain loop file and listen to that while writing over your lovely fullscreen image to help you focus and shed all distracting thoughts. This also works with a nice fireplace setting/sound, too.
Now, while you’re writing, here are some tools to help you along.
- NoTengoEnie—A map of special characters. Click on the one you want and it’s in your clipboard: paste it in any document you’re working in.
- Memidex—Not sure what a word means? Cross-reference it in several legitimate dictionaries at once.
- Common Errors—If you’re kinda sure you know what a word or phrase means, or you’re suddenly questioning your usage, look it up here. This is a pretty comprehensive list written with a good sense of humor.
- Random Name Generator—This pulls from the US Census and offers three categories of ordinary to rare names for men or women. Draw up a list of 50 and make it easy on yourself.
- Noisli—Wonderful noise generator/mixer for ambient aural distraction. Sign up for free and save your custom audioscape combinations.
HipsterNoise used to offer a low-frills word processor with their selection of ambient noises, but now it looks like they did away with the writing option and added some tweaks to their sounds. A Soft Murmur works (and looks) like Noisli with a couple novel sounds, and Coffivity specializes in cafés in various parts of the world.