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How NaNoWriMo Helps Creativity Soar

I’m 10,000 feet in the air. I’m in an airplane. I hate to fly, but I’m not paying much attention to that. I’m much more consumed with what’s waiting on my laptop.


Because NaNoWriMo. I have over 10,000 words to write in the next five days.

Disclaimer: There are strong feelings on both sides about NaNoWriMo. I say that because I’d like you to keep reading regardless of how you feel about it. This post is about writing constraints and creativity and about how sometimes creativity can be forced, but it uses NaNoWriMo to get there. 

Meanwhile, I’m still 10,000 feet in the air, but only for another hour. It’s a short hop, Baltimore to Portland, Maine. Only 40 minutes between ascent and descent. The second the captain announces it’s okay to use electronics, I pull out my laptop, feeling pressured, and as my fingers touch the keys, I’m suddenly afraid I can’t produce at all. I mean, I’m already anxious about flying, every air pocket and thermal making me jump. Now I’m anxious about writing, too.

Not the ideal set up.

I read the last sentences I’ve written in my WIP, type some tentative words, then a few more, and after several minutes I’m already feeling freer in my writing. A little while longer and the words flow. In the end, I’ve written about 500 words.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, and the last time wasn’t at 10,000 feet. A few days before, I had an even shorter time to write. I was at a relative’s house, waiting for everyone to be ready to go somewhere. I had about half an hour, and I decided to use the time for a writing burst. I wanted to see if forcing myself to write could inspire creativity. Open me up to writing ideas I might not have had otherwise, like it did quite by accident a few years ago during NaNoWriMo.

That time, 2014, I was writing a scene in which my main character, a teen who couldn’t yet drive, needed to get from Point A to Point B. It was at night, and she was stranded. That time, I wrote a hair-raising scene—well over 1000 words—with my character accepting a ride from a man who both fascinated yet terrified her. It was as though my adrenaline fueled more terror for hers. It was a scene I might not have written if I wasn’t feeling that time pressure or adrenaline rush.

This time, I was starting a scene in my current WIP when two women are running away from someone. I wasn’t sure where they were going or what they were going to do (and I wasn’t sure where I was going or what I was going to do, either, and I had zero control), but by the end of my writing session, I had my two characters breaking into a friend’s house as a place to hide from someone who was chasing them, and I was on my way for a walk in the woods. It was an infusion of my own feelings into my work: of being somewhat out of control and staying in a (relatively) unknown place as a house guest. I went with it.

And again, the feeling of pressured time freed me up to write things I might not have written.

The first time I wrote under the influence (of timed adrenaline rush… what did you think I meant?) was in journalism school, my first newswriting class. Everything I had to write in that class was a timed practice news story. We’d be given twenty minutes, a set of facts we previously knew nothing about, and would have to write a complete story. It was hell while it lasted, but it did create a flood of writing ideas and helped me learn how to write under time constraints and know that I could. During a veritable panic of writing. No time to think if I wanted to include something, just going on pure gut instinct, relying on strokes of inspiration. Which always arrived, resulting in a flood of adrenaline while writing, my fingers flying on the keyboard.

I now apply these same measures to fiction, finding that not only can I write faster (sometimes up to five thousand words a day), but I also feel more creative. My mind feels freer after an initial feeling of panic and anxiety, afraid I might not have what it takes to succeed—for the given time period let alone for the month.

It’s as though I’ve found a way to tap into my subconscious mind, past the part of my brain that weighs the pros and cons of ideas to allow my words to flow unencumbered, the words carrying the freed ideas through the trajectory of my novel.

How about you? Do time constraints help or hinder your writing creativity? Do they impact how quickly or how slowly you write?

About Julia Munroe Martin [1]

Julia Munroe Martin [2] (@jmunroemartin [3]) is a writer and blogger who lives in an old house in southern coastal Maine. Julia's other passion is photography, and if she's not writing at the dining room table or a local coffeeshop, you'll likely find her on the beach or dock taking photos. Julia writes The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series as J. M. Maison.