Today marks the halfway point of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This November, writers from all around the world have been racing to complete a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days.
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, maybe you’re one of those writers who’s already finished their novel or is right on track to have it completed by November 30. If so, congratulations! But maybe you’re like me: terribly behind in your word count and feeling a bit overwhelmed.
I jumped into the challenge excited to begin working on a new story. But soon my schedule became busy. I kept writing when I could, but I started to fall behind in my target daily word count. Today when I checked my stats, I realized I was over 10,000 words behind.
When you’re working on a huge writing project and start falling behind, it’s easy to feel frustrated and even consider giving up. That’s how I’ve felt at times, but I’ve kept moving forward, thanks in part to some wonderful advice from John Steinbeck.
Steinbeck was an expert at finishing long writing projects. The Grapes of Wrath is over 500 pages long while his marvelous epic East of Eden (one of my favorite novels) runs about six hundred pages. In a 1962 letter to his friend Robert Wallsten, Steinbeck shared his six strategies for successfully making it through the first draft of a book.
Whether you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, writing a nonfiction or fiction book on your own, or just tackling a huge writing project, John Steinbeck’s six tips can help you get back on track to bringing your project through to completion.
I’ve taken his tips and presented them in a helpful infographic. Check it out below.
6 Writing Tips From John Steinbeck
Here is the text from the above image below:
- Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
- Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
- Forget your generalised audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theatre, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
- If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
- Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
- If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
John Steinbeck’s six tips are relevant for both fiction and nonfiction writing. In fact, they make an excellent guide to follow even if you’re working on smaller writing projects like a blog post or a short story.
Steinbeck’s first tip focuses on the importance of not obsessing over the length of your project. When you fall behind and start calculating how many pages are left to write, you will only discourage yourself and might even be tempted to quit. Instead, break your project down into smaller, daily goals. Focus on the words that need to be written today.
The second and fourth tip will help you avoid writer’s block and perfectionism. That’s something I found out the hard way. One day, instead of pressing forward with my story, I decided to try and go back and edit several scenes. Just as Steinbeck observed in tip #2, this ended up interfering with the flow and rhythm of my writing. The next day, I slammed straight into writer’s block.
I’ve found this also happens when I try to edit my blog posts as I’m writing them. From now on, I’m going to try to save all my editing until after I have all my words on the page. Of course, Steinbeck reminds us in tip #5 that editing is still essential, and we should never become too attached to any part of our writing that we may later need to cut.
I love Steinbeck’s third tip to write to a single reader. It is exhausting and intimidating to try to write a story or a blog post that will please everybody. There will inevitably be someone who doesn’t like the fantasy genre or the thriller genre or whatever type of story you are writing.
Instead, when you write to a single person, it gives you a sense of purpose and direction. I also find it motivating since I am now eager to share my completed work with that person.
Finally, in his sixth tip, Steinbeck urges us to read our work aloud. I find this is an important step not only for dialogue but for the entire piece. It is an excellent method to use to catch typos and awkwardly worded sentences.
(Want more writing advice from John Steinbeck? Make sure to check out Steinbeck’s advice on overcoming self-doubt in my post here.)
My Bonus Tip
I’ll be following Steinbeck’s six tips as I race to complete the rest of my story. I hope you will find them helpful as well! However, there is one tip I’d love to add to Steinbeck’s list. When you are working on the first draft of a book or any kind of intense writing project, make sure you have an accountability partner.
One of the reasons I haven’t given up on NaNoWriMo is because of the wonderful, encouraging writing community in our Facebook group. Being surrounded by other writers who are all working towards their writing goals is incredibly inspiring. Thank you so much to all of you!
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo too or just working on a writing project, please come join us. I’d love to see you there.
What do you think of John Steinbeck’s six writing tips? Is there any tip you would add? If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment and share with someone you would like to inspire.