Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Becoming a "Finisher:" Using a Deadline to Silence the Inner Critic

Knowing I'd be one of the last TeachingAuthors to blog about first draft fears brought its own fears: would I have anything left to share that my brilliant co-bloggers hadn't already discussed? Jeanne Marie kicked off the series by sharing four specific ways she deals with her own tendency to be "a serial starter." Esther gave us a whole slew of ways to get to THE END, along with some inspiring quotes to tack up in our workspace. Joanne talked about her love of first drafts and her sneaky way of getting past her inner critic. And Mary Ann reminded us that first drafts are supposed to "stink." Having low expectations can be a great tool. :-)

I hope my co-bloogers' posts have already given you, our readers, encouragement and inspiration. However, I'm relieved to see that none of them shared one of my tricks for overcoming first draft fears:  A DEADLINE.

I've found that deadlines work best for me when there's some sort of associated accountability and/or consequences for not meeting them. One of the reasons I was so productive during my two years at Vermont College had to do with the monthly deadlines. I might never have finished Rosa, Sola without them. But out here in the real world, it's sometimes difficult to create deadlines with real sting. Fortunately for us novelists, there's a deadline-oriented opportunity just around the corner: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Every November, writers around the world take on the challenge of completing a 50,000-word first draft in 30 days. NaNoWriMo isn't for everyone; last year I heard some negative buzz about it, everything from "no one can write anything good that way" to "real writers don't need gimmicks." Despite the negative hype, there have been a number of NaNoWriMo success stories, including bestselling novels that started as NaNoWriMo projects. One of the most recent is the adult novel The Night Circus (Doubleday) by Erin Morgenstern. The book was released less than a month ago (on September 13), and according to the NaNoWriMo blog of September 28, it had already made it to the New York Times bestseller list. The Night Circus has also garnered an impressive list of starred reviews, (you can read excerpts of those reviews on the book's Indiebound page) and has sold foreign rights to over 30 countries.

Morgenstern talks a little about her NaNoWriMo experience in an interview at Writers Unboxed, saying:
"I started doing National Novel Writing Month in 2003. I failed miserably that first attempt but reached 50k in 30 days the next year, and it became a really good exercise for me — writing without stopping to be overly self-critical and having the magical pressure of a deadline."
I'm not surprised Morgenstern was helped by NaNoWriMo--it offers lots of structure, feedback, support, and accountability via a website, forums, and live events. However, since November is a bad time for me, I've never actually participated. Instead, I created my own pseudo-NaNoWriMo events, first with a group of my fellow writers, and then later on my own. I blogged about those activities here before. They were key to my finally finishing my young adult historical novel last month.

By the way, if you're a picture book writer, there are some comparable events for you, such as Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo), which, like NaNoWriMo, takes place in November, and National Picture Book Writing Week (NaPiBoWriWee).

I don't have plans for any marathon writing sessions any time soon, but I continue to be inspired by weekly deadlines I set with my writing buddy. If you missed my post about that process, I encourage you to check it out here.

And be assured, this isn't our "final word" on the subject of silencing the inner critic. Last but not least, April will close out the topic on Friday. I'm looking forward to reading what she'll add to the discussion. If you have any tips to share, please post them as comments below or email them to us at: teachingauthors at gmail dot com.

Finally, I just found out that today is World Teacher's Day. Hurray for teachers everywhere!

Happy writing!

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