Tips for Word Wars

After winning both word wars (or word sprints, if you prefer) at my very first write-in, I’ve decided to write up some tips of what works for me. Since no two people are the same, some of these may not work for you, but give them a try!

1. Don’t Write
This may sound counter-productive, but from the time a word war is announced until it begins, don’t write. Instead, use the time to think. Think about your characters, figure out what scene could come next in your story and try to plan some of it out. If you have an idea of where the scene is going to go, it’ll help keep you from stopping mid-word war to try and figure it out. Plus, this gives your hands a chance to rest before you give them a nice workout!

2. Mark It
When I first started doing word wars, I would open up a new document to type in for the duration and then copy and paste it into the ‘master’ one once it was over. I quickly came to realize that this took more time away from writing later on when I had to reformat it to my specifications. For the sake of a word war, I could forget all my usual ‘before I start writing’ needs, but once it was over, I couldn’t have one document with some passages formatted differently from the rest unless there was a legitimate reason (ie italics for dream sequences).

What I do now is, once a word war is announced, I type the word ‘start’ in all caps and, without adding a space, start writing at exactly that point once the word war officially begins. For example, one of my sentences this year might be something like STARTSid walked down the driveway to pick up the newspaper, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

This way I can easily go back and find the word ‘start’ once the word war is over and highlight everything I’ve written to find out my word war word count without worrying about accidentally including something I wrote prior. Just remember to get rid of the word ‘start’ once the word war is over – especially if there’s a chance you might be doing another one!

3. Have Fun
Tying in with #1 Don’t Write, my third tip is to have fun! Don’t use a word war to write a depressing scene (whether it’s a death, breakup or just something you’ve been dreading writing), write something fun and lighthearted! Spend the word war writing a crazy dream in which your characters are on a moon made of cheese, having cheese ball fights and attempting to grab cookie stars and brownie comets, or have them singing karaoke (drunk!). The object of the word war is to keep writing and write as much as you can, so sit back and enjoy yourself!

4. Dialogue
If having fun just doesn’t work for you, write the next best thing for your word count (and writing speed): dialogue! Having characters just talk to each other, or even have the first person narrator going off on a tangent in which they’re ranting at the reader, along with not worrying about descriptions or finding the best word to replace ‘said,’ can really boost your word count and keep you invested in your writing.

5. Stick to the Scene
In a word war, it’s best to focus on one scene and one scene only. Not in the sense that you forget everything that came before or is going to come after it, but in the sense that you spend the entire word war writing just one scene. If you follow #1 Don’t Write, it can really help to spend the time before a word war thinking about how you can make a scene last for the entire duration. It also helps to be somewhat flexible about jumping ahead in you’re story so if you’re five sentences away from finishing a scene, chapter, etc. before the word war starts, you don’t feel you have to finish it before you move on to a new scene. It can really slow you down, as I know from personal experience both during word wars and not, trying to figure out which scene comes next instead of just going with the flow of a brand new (and possibly incredibly long) scene.

6. Reward Yourself
Like many writers participating in NaNoWriMo, I have an incentive program in place. I don’t do ‘every (insert goal here), have a treat’ because usually I’m snacking as I’m writing. As I’ve told people before, I don’t buy Halloween candy, I buy NaNoWriMo candy. What I do is choose a few big milestones such as 10k, 25k and 50k and give myself material rewards that increase in size or price with each goal. I spend at least a few hours before November starts scouring my favorite websites and thinking about what I want, kind of like making a Christmas list only these will be things I will buy for myself. They can be anything, a new CD, a new DVD, etc. so long as I am specific (aka, don’t just decide on ‘a DVD’, actually choose the movie so it’s, for example, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man on DVD’) and know I will be able to afford all of my rewards. These can be helpful not just during word wars when you’re trying to reach or get closer to those goals but at any time throughout November when you may get those noveling blues – especially the dreaded Week 2!

Also, as a small bonus tip, if you are like me in the sense that you snack as your write or, unlike me, have a different incentive program in place (ie have a piece of candy after each paragraph), I recommend getting a lollipop in your favorite flavor and sucking on it throughout the entire word war. This keeps your hands free and you still get to have yourself a little treat!

7. Listen
Some writers like to block out sounds as they’re writing whether it’s all sounds or everything except one thing such as the music on their iPod. Instead, listen to the sound of your fellow writers typing (or the scratching of their pens, as the case may be). Since you can’t watch how fast they’re writing, listening is the next best thing to get those friendly competitive juices flowing. If you’re a video gamer, think back to all those times you played games like Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing. Remember doing your best to get into first place and then looking to see exactly where the other racers were so they wouldn’t overtake you? It is exactly like that, only instead of watching out for the driver in second place who could knock you back a place or the underdog in eighth place who might suddenly surprise everyone and win, you’re listening for the writer who will try and leave your word count in the dust.

8. Time Management
Be aware of how much time you have left, but not by looking at a clock. Instead listen for your word war moderator’s warnings of exactly how much time you have and do your best to write just a bit faster the closer you get to that final 30 or 5 second warning. Doing ward wars over the Internet, whether on Twitter, in chat rooms, or via IMs, I have found that I do worse than when I’m having a word war with someone in person. In this case I recommend setting a timer, either one of those more annoying ones that make a clicking sound every second, or the slightly more friendly ones that beep every five minutes. Going back to #7 Listen, it might also help to look online for audio of someone typing and have it playing during the word war.

9. Ignore, Ignore, Ignore
I know I sometimes have a hard time following this one, but one of the best things you can do is ignore any and all of those typos and factual and grammatical errors you may rack up during the word war. Not to mention checking on that word count of yours! If you follow my other tips, especially #7 Listen and #8 Time Management, however, you should be pretty good with not checking on your word count at least – especially if you have an older version of Microsoft Word (like 2003) or a program that requires you to do more than just look at the bottom of your screen to find out how much you’ve written. Ignoring any typos and errors, on the other hand, takes a lot of practice. My suggestion for easier things is to just write a place marker in all caps like EYECOLOR.

10. Celebrate
Even if you don’t win the word war, think about how many words you wrote in such a short period of time and give yourself a hand or a pat on the back! Most of the time, what I write during a 15 minute word war is the same as what I might write over the course of an hour or more (mostly due to over-thinking or procrastination) without that encouraging push and adrenaline pumping rush that a word war can provide. It may very well be the same for you, so remember to acknowledge it and then celebrate it!

So those are my top 10 tips for increasing your word output during word wars. I hope you’ll find them helpful whether you use them for your next word war or come up with your own strategies!

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