Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Amanda Wells of FLOW STL Helps Writers Prepare for the Journey of NaNoWriMo

Article by Lauren Miller

On a brisk November day, writers prepared for the journey of NaNoWriMo with a camp session led by Amanda Wells, who taught them how to "Survive the Hike and Plan the Aftermath" of writing 50,000 words in a month. Wells joined writers from FLOW STL, which specializes in nurturing creative individuals in the art of storytelling, and she led interactive exercises on writing self-care and self-awareness for attendees.

Kicking off the first step of preparations, Wells asked writers to ask themselves the question, "What's in it for me?" when contemplating an ambitious writing project. Wells explained, "When we set out on a large project about writing and plotting, we sometimes forget why we're doing it," she said. By focusing on what we benefit from attempting and completing this project from its outset, we can reflect back upon those reasons like a compass when we feel like we have lost our way. From your answer, draw forth three words that are your central motivations, like a constellation of stars, and hang them in your writing space to remind you of the reasons why you set out on this journey in the first place. What are these motivational words?

The second stage is to make sure you have packed everything you will need. Wells instructed writers to think about the rituals of writing, both of famous writers like Hemingway--he would straighten all of the pictures in his home--and those habits you may do without thinking--like reaching for your favorite coffee cup. So, ask yourself, what are your writing rituals? By taking a few minutes to set up your space with all of your essentials, you will help yourself remove some of the distractions that may get in the way of the writing flow (no pun intended). Next, write down three signposts for personal development that you want to grow into along the way. Perhaps this is researching a specific time period or getting better at writing dialogue or using fewer gerunds. How will you measure your personal growth -- what does success look like for you?

"Writing is about more than storytelling. It's important that you establish things outside of this that remind you of why you are doing this, for yourself. […] You have to prepare to embrace a bigger idea than the 50,000 words you're committing to," Wells said. So, what are your writing goals? Maybe it is committing to writing 30 minutes a day, no matter what. Perhaps you'd rather focus on a daily or weekly or monthly word count goal. More than likely, your goals may emerge from those original motivations you established earlier, and that's okay, too. The purpose should be growth for you as a writer, beyond the success (or failure) of this individual NaNoWriMo project.
 "How do I feel about what I just accomplished today and why?"
At the end of each writing session, before you put away your keyboard or pen/pencil, ask yourself the following question, "How do I feel about what I just accomplished today and why?" This kind of self-reflection and awareness practice can enable writers to remember to take care of themselves, be attuned to their own needs, and keep the storytelling continuing. Draw from the answers to these questions to remind yourself why you are doing this when the temptation to put off writing for a coffee date or a holiday party comes your way or when you are discouraged and want to give up.

After NaNoWriMo, Wells suggested that writers should write a letter to themselves for next year. "Get in your favorite place, without your manuscript, just with a journal. Think about those questions you've asked yourself before. […] What do I absolutely love that I did over the last month? Was it a specific moment, a particular piece of research, a compliment from someone?" This is you cheering your future self on, so after you've written this letter, seal it, and don't open it until November 1 next year. You'll have a wonderfully personalized letter of encouragement from the person who knows you best (you!). By incorporating these questions of self-awareness and making time out to focus on self-care to nurture yourself as a writer, you will be taking positive steps to set yourself up for a lifetime journey of storytelling.

Speaker Bio
Amanda Wells is a writer, scholar, and community builder. She was awarded the first ever stARTup grant from the Arts & Education Council of St. Louis, and is joyously busy building FLOW, a community-based literary arts center, at Centene Center for the Arts. Wells is a member of the traveling poetry collective Liminal Women, who claim the vocation of "aiding and abetting women on the threshold." She has a Masters in English Composition from the University of Missouri - St. Louis and has featured on various stages around the country, including Kranzberg Center for the Arts, The Focal Point, The Stage at KDHX, Prohibition Hall, and even a rundown truck stop in Tennessee. Her work has been printed in The 2River View, Bellerive, UMSL’s Litmag, Flood Stage: An Anthology of Saint Louis Poets (which she also edited), and elsewhere. She plans to put more miles on her Nissan in pursuit of liberation and magic, however those may find her.

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