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Push Yourself to New Heights or Explore the Depths

October 12, 2014 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified October 12, 2014

I haven’t written an article of encouragement recently, but since the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo) is next month, I thought I’d take a few minutes to encourage you to begin a new project, maybe push yourself into trying a new genre or writing style, if only as an exercise and only for 30 days.

I also needed a break from the article on misplaced modifiers I was working on. The examples and explanations were getting a bit tedious, so I figured a break was in order. I’ll get back to that article sometime later this week.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of NaNo, but if not, check out the good folks that put on this very public and very fun challenge to write at least 50,000 words toward a new novel in 30 days. They’re at NaNoWriMo.org.

There is no financial cost to participate, but there is an investment of time. If you’ve never written more than a couple hundred words a day, you’ll be surprised to find that you need to average 1,667 words a day for the month to “win” NaNo. Other than a badge you can display on your own website or blog, you don’t actually win anything tangible. But you can earn bragging rights. You may also lay the solid foundations of a new novel. Your efforts may see you break through writer’s block on another project. You may surprise yourself by succeeding at a genre new to you, maybe succeed at writing scenes in a point of view different from one you normally use or find success with a different narrative tense.

I wholly support NaNo and believe every writer should try it at least once. (I tried three times, but only won the first year. Still, I eventually finished the manuscript I started, my first shot at a genre I’d never attempted.)

The discipline of writing every day may be very different from your normal writing practice, but that’s a plus; different approaches produce different results. You can push yourself to write more than 200 or 300 words a day.

Because of the relatively high word count, you’ll have to turn off your inner editor and censor and simply write, a marvelous way to get into the creative flow. If you’re a deliberate writer, writing one exact word at a time, writing with freedom may not only help you create some very free passages, but the approach may get you out of a rut.

I’m not saying that writing this way will ultimately work for every writer, but it is worth exploring by every writer. It is worth your exploration.

And I’m not saying that you’ll have perfect prose at the end of the month—you may have only the vaguest kernel of a story or the basics for plot or character—but it’s likely you’ll produce some text you can use or you’ll have learned a new way to write freely without censoring every word choice.

And you may actually start a story that will ultimately be published—dozens of novels begun in NaNo have been published traditionally, while others have been self-published.

Whether or not you try NaNo this year, do consider trying something new in the next weeks or months—a different style, a different approach, a different type of protagonist. Push yourself to explore the craft in a way you’ve never done.

If you always write a detailed outline, try beginning a new story with only the briefest of outlines. If you never outline, take the next few weeks and outline a new story so that you’re ready to begin at midnight on November first.

If you’re not ready to write, not ready to begin a new project, or don’t have the time to do so in November, commit to something else.

Read a new grammar book

Work through all the exercises in a writing book

Join a writing group and learn to critique

Spend the month going in-depth with one or two of the fiction elements, preferably elements you either have trouble with or know nothing about—subtext? theme? mood?

Force yourself out of your comfort zone and make yourself uncomfortable with some writing element (saturate yourself with grammar rules) until you become proficient with it

Read at least five to ten novels in a genre you don’t normally read or have never read

Take an online writing course and participate in the discussion groups and forums

Find a critique partner

Submit a finished manuscript to at least five agents or publishers

If you’re one who’s always online visiting writing groups and forums instead of actually writing, cut your Internet time and write instead—yes, I know this may be the most difficult suggestion of the group

If you’re one who never visits online writing sites and forums and have no idea what’s going on in the wider writing community, find a few sites and engage with writers already there

Write some poetry

Write a three-page synopsis or two for each of your completed manuscripts

I could go on and on with suggestions, but you get the picture—do something different and challenging. If your stories need an infusion, give them one by breaking out of whatever is commonplace and normal for you and try something else. Give yourself permission to try something radically different from your normal practices. Write at a different time of day. Go without lunch every day and give that time over to writing. Just try something different. Shake up normal and see what develops from doing so.

When you make a discovery, positive or negative, push beyond that single discovery and see what else you can discover. Don’t be satisfied with one revelation—search for more.

If you can try NaNo, do. If you succeed even partially, you’ll feel the success and it will spur you to try more.

There’s plenty of support for those who commit to NaNo. The NaNo website has forums where you can find encouragement as well as writing tips. There are groups online you can join, or you can physically meet up with groups in many countries around the world.

You can join groups where NaNo “teams” challenge other teams to word counts. Some groups even meet for writing sessions—they get together at cafes or libraries and have write-ins.

You can do this—I promise that you can. You may need help from a spouse or others in terms of logistics, but this is only one month out of a lifetime of months, a few hours a day—go for it. Push yourself to try something new. Push yourself beyond your long-held expectations.

If you don’t succeed, don’t write 50,000 words in one month, so what? There’s no shame in not meeting the goal. It’s a benchmark, not a do-or-die finish line. Try it. See what you can do. See what you can learn about writing, about yourself, about your stories and your style.

Press deep and stop settling for surface successes. There’s more inside you than surface-level discoveries. There are deeper emotions and more evocative phrases. There’s depth and strength and power. There is light and darkness. There are twists and calm seas and surprises. There are stories and characters and worlds that no one else can write.

There are adventures and insights in your soul that no one else can uncover, that no one else has ever touched or seen or heard. There is power to create churning inside you, power that needs an outlet, that needs life, and only you can give life to that power, to the power that moves readers and opens their eyes to truths that only your heart understands. We—all the readers of the world—we need your gifts and your daring. We need you to be fearless. We need you to let out the stories that are roaring inside your soul.

Give the world your best—what good is only a percentage of your talent or your effort? What good is good enough when readers want passion and majesty and despair and victory over overwhelming odds? What good is so-so? What reader wants to spend time in a so-so world with so-so characters whose dilemmas don’t move that reader? That don’t offer hope? That don’t challenge? That don’t even entertain?

No reader wants a writer to hold back. No reader wants you to hold back. Readers want the full gamut of emotions and adventures that beset characters. They want the richness of every emotion expressed to the nth degree. They want to cry and laugh and rage and fear. They want to feel.

Give readers what they want. Give them what they come to fiction for. Write with power and passion. Push beyond the safe and explore what the deep places have to say.

Push yourself. Rise above the ordinary and press into the deep places. Give all and not only part. Write us something astonishing.

Write the story of your heart.

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Tags: ,     Posted in: A Writer's Life, Writing Tips

13 Responses to “Push Yourself to New Heights or Explore the Depths”

  1. Lamia says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever written a couple of hundred of pages in a day :)

    On a more serious note, NaNoWriMo is something I’m too afraid to try; I applaud anyone who sticks their hand up for it—whatever the outcome. Maybe one day.

  2. DJGonzalez says:

    Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!! I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna do NaNo! Just putting in writing gave me goosebumps!

  3. Thank you for the encouragement. I do want to try NaNo, at least I’m thinking about it. For me, the really important line in your message was to silence the inner editor and just write. Perfect advice, and scary/difficult. And I’m a bad editor at that. Talk about conflict! Still, I will try. Again. Thank you.

    • Anita, don’t let the prospect of silencing the editor and just going for it hold you back—no one has to see what you write. No one ever has to see the jumbled and problem-filled first and second drafts you create.

      Tell the inner you, the part that wants only perfection, that perfection takes time and work, and that writing with abandon and without censoring is only the first step toward writing captivating passages. Tell the inner editor that she’ll get her chance later, that the wild and unruly writer gets first crack at creation.

      Freeing yourself up to make mistakes—even outlandish mistakes that you’d imagine not even the worst writer would ever make—allows the creative part of you a place to flow and work. The creator in you needs unfettered freedom to try new ideas and processes, to make mistakes, to imagine the impossible. You can always fix the writing later. But if you don’t let yourself go, don’t let yourself explore, you’ll never find anything new. You’ll never grow.

      Let your inner writer create without interference from your inner editor.

      This practice gets easier with time and practice—once you see what you can create by allowing the writer freedom. And with practice, what your writer creates will also be stronger, more acceptable to the inner editor. That is, your writing and editing selves will begin to influence one another without interfering with each other, and your first drafts won’t be as abhorrent to your inner editor.

      I wish you great success at silencing the inner editor and at creating great fiction.

  4. Frank says:

    Excellent advice once again Beth.

    It’s funny actually, as I was recently revisiting a Nano attempt from 2011; my first one. Although I have never won, I have another project which runs in at nearly 26,000 words! Sorting that lot out is a challenge to say the least.

    I would recommend Nano to everyone; it’s good fun and a great writing community too. I would also recommend some kind of writing software. It may not be to everybody’s taste, but it is certainly helping me sort out very large projects into manageable chunks, something I probably couldn’t (wouldn’t) do in a programme like Word or OpenOffice. You can use trial versions for a fair length of time before parting with any money.

    It may not be necessary for Nano, but it is helping me to see the forest for the trees in the aftermath of creativity. The novel is still a mountain to climb, however.

    • Writing a novel is indeed a mountain to be climbed and conquered, Frank. But worth the experience.

      So . . . will you be trying NaNo again this year?

      • Frank says:

        My Nano impetus has somewhat faded I’m afraid. Although, I am still working on other projects, just without the deadline. Maybe next year…

        “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
        Douglas Adams.

  5. Amanda Stone says:

    Yay!!! This is so encouraging. I am committing to trying NaNo for the first time this year. I’ve meant to do it for several years, and I always had some excuse–usually that I didn’t have enough time. Not anymore! I still don’t have enough time, but I never will if I don’t MAKE enough time, so I’m going for it!

    I actually posted it on my blog that I will be doing NaNo so that it’s public, and I have to stick to my decision. That blog post got more likes than the rest of my posts combined, so I feel good about my decision. :)

    Thanks for all of the suggestions. It’s hard for me to silence my inner editor (since that’s what I do, and it’s what my blog is all about), but I’ve already told myself that I’m not going to try and write my novel in perfect sequence or even in chapters. I’m just going to do a *** for scene breaks, and that’s it. The organization will come later. I’m also reading some classics that will tie in to my story to help prepare.

    Thanks again!

    • My pleasure, Amanda. Congratulations on making the decision to tackle NaNo. I’ll be here to lend support if you need some during the month.

      And don’t feel guilty about telling your inner editor to hush for a while; she doesn’t have to take part in the creation process. To keep her satisfied, however, you may also want to make sure you have some editing projects lined up. I know that I’m most productive and content when I’m writing, editing, and reading. If I end up lopsided, I eventually start to feel it and I find myself out of whack or off balance.

      Here’s to a successful month for you.

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