Pep Talk Week 1: Three Ways to Win by Margaret McNellis

This week’s pep talk is brought to you by JuNoWriMo crew member Margaret McNellis.

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When you feel like 50,000 words is an impossible goal, follow these three methods for building word count in mind and in practice.

Word Wars for the Win

Word wars saved me during my first novel challenge, and again during each and every novel challenge I’ve taken on since. A word war is when, given a pre-set amount of time, you write against the clock and fellow challengers–in a cafe, online, or anywhere you put pen to paper or fingers to keys. Word wars are immensely useful in that they provide support and friendly competition. There’s something about racing against the clock that keeps the words pouring out onto the page.

Keep a Writing Schedule

Your novel is important, or else you wouldn’t bother writing it–so make sure you give yourself the time to write. For some people, the morning is best–others are night owls. If you’re having trouble writing, try switching to a different time of day. Give yourself 15-30 minutes (or more) of uninterrupted writing time each day. Schedule it into your tablet if you must; enable the “do not disturb” on your smartphone, and breathe life into your story. Maximize your word processor or avoid electronics and other distractions if you like to write by hand.

Set Realistic Goals

If this is your first novel-writing challenge, don’t promise yourself that you’re going to write 200,000 words. The goal of 50,000 words is suggested because it means you only have to write 1,667 words each day to stay on track. That’s only a little more than 1,500, or about 4 pages single-spaced in most word processors. Don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to write 10,000 words in the first day–you may find yourself burnt out by June 15th. The true success of a novel-writing challenge isn’t to create a perfectly polished manuscript ready for a publisher in 30 days. The true success is to break the barriers set by the inner editor, self-doubt, and sometimes, writer’s block. The true success is to develop consistent writing habits that can eventually lead to a beautifully polished manuscript ready to share with the world. Slow and steady wins the race.

Of course, nothing horrible will happen to you if you don’t reach the 50,000 word mark by midnight on June 30. Your computer won’t turn into a pumpkin. Your notebook(s) won’t self-destruct. If and when writer’s block does settle upon your shoulders, skip to a different part of your story, write a foil character for your protagonist, or jump head first into a word war.

In addition to being a writer, I’m a martial artist. Winning a novel-writing challenge is much like a black belt test–it’s all about attitude and perseverance. When a student tests for his/her black belt, the rank is there for the taking. They just have to finish the test with a good attitude–an attitude that’s unwilling to quit just because something is difficult. If you write daily, whether you write 1,667 words per day or 200, at the end of the month you will have a product you can be proud of. You will have developed the habit of writing every day, and you will have started the process of writing a complete novel.

People often talk about when they can go from being aspiring writers to writers. When I was new to writing fiction, I had the pleasure of meeting Carol Higgins Clark. I asked her this question–this equivalent of “What is the meaning of life?” for writers–she smiled and succinctly replied, “Writers write, so start writing.”

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Margaret & NekoMargaret McNellis first participated in a novel-writing challenge in 2008. In 2010, she became a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo–a post she held for three years. In 2013, Margaret joined the JuNoWriMo team, helping to run word wars and sprints via Twitter. Margaret began writing fiction in 2006 and, after completing coursework with the Long Ridge Writers Group, Margaret enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University, where she is currently pursuing her Masters in English and Creative Writing with a Concentration in Fiction. Her story “A King’s Life” appeared in the premier issue of Fictitious Magazine, and she has published articles in regional magazines and news sources. For seven years following her graduation from Southern Connecticut State University with a BA in Art History, she worked as a freelance writer, covering art shows, literary events, book releases and more. You can find Margaret online here.

You might also be interested in:

Three Tips for Reaching Your JuNoWriMo Writing Goals

Three Tips for Reaching Your JuNoWriMo Writing Goals

When You Want to Quit by Hugh Howey

When You Want to Quit by Hugh Howey

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The Editwock Will Steal Your JuNoWriMo Soul

4 thoughts on “Pep Talk Week 1: Three Ways to Win by Margaret McNellis

  1. Profile photo of Debra

    Thanks for the pep talk. It really helps. I don’t feel as much pressure as I did this week. I’m striving for 50,000 words, but this is my first time to participate in a monthly writing challenge, so if I don’t make it I’m not going to be upset. I will just keep trying. 🙂

    Reply
  2. mmcnellis

    Hi Debra! That’s the most important thing–to keep trying. One year I wrote 13k on the last day–I was so behind. But I made it! I will have to play catch up next week, due to a research deadline. It’s okay to fall behind, so long as you don’t give up!

    Reply
    1. Profile photo of Debra

      Thanks for your encouraging words. I was able to write 3,039 words this morning. I now have over 10,000 words total, so I’m fairly pleased with that.

      Reply

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