Posts Tagged ‘National Novel Writing Month’

Planning For Successful Writing

PlanningI just realized yesterday that in less than two weeks it’s October. Holy crap, where did September go? I love this magical time of the year. The heat is finally releasing its miserable hold, leaves are starting to turn vibrant fall colors, and my muse is jumping up and down with anticipation for November and National Novel Writing Month.

I’ve already started looking around at what I can do in advance to lighten my load in November. A few Christmas presents have found their way into the office for storage. Yes, I know it’s early, but I can’t help myself. November is so busy with writing and Thanksgiving, and when December comes, I want to relax, bake like a maniac, and enjoy the season.

I don’t want to run around overcrowded stores trying to find one last tchotchke

But I kind of feel like I’ve got a leg up this year. Last year I wrote a book of suspense with a sort of open ending. My readers immediately responded asking when the sequel would be out. Sequel? Huh, yeah, I’m gonna write a sequel. That’s what I intended all along…heh heh. So now I’m thinking of which characters to develop, where the storyline will go, and whether there will be a book three.

Hey, if you’re going to write two, you may as well write three. Right?

But that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing. There are still outlines to write, characters to name and assign back-stories to, and pretend cities to map out. Yes, I do draw out my pretend cities. Doesn’t everybody? When you’re writing a whole book in thirty days, you need to have things right there at your fingertips. I don’t want to have to scroll back to remind myself where a landmark was or at which corner my protagonist lives. That’s just proper planning.

So here I am, less than two weeks from October, planning month. I will look for things that can be completed now and not worried about again until December. There will be plenty of food in the cupboards and freezers, deep cleaning will be done, and writing tools will be ready.

Because November only comes once a year.


Not Giving Up the Ghost

Ghost TreeWhether or not we want to admit it, I think most writers enjoy the recognition from others for a piece well done. It’s nice to have someone tell you that they read your article, story, or book and that it meant something to them. It’s exhilarating and a bit humbling all at the same time.

So why wouldn’t you put your name on something you’ve written?

When I embarked on my write-a-book-in-a-month journey last year, I fully intended to write, edit, and publish the book myself. But when I got into the actual writing of it, I found some things that made me slightly uneasy. I worried that if certain people (read family and judgy neighbors) saw it, they would think differently of me.

No, I’m not writing anything bad, per se, but sometimes my mind wanders into a direction that may…frighten some people. (Luckily the Hub is a confident and trusting person. Not many guys could help you enact a murder scene in the living room to get the rights and lefts down just so.) And if I discuss some of these topics with people who don’t know me as well, they get a little quiet around me. So I’d rather that only those I’m really close to know my true identity and everyone else sees a pen name.

At other times I ghostwrite. It’s like being a secret weapon in some ways. It gives me the opportunity to write things that I may feel very deeply about, but don’t have to take the heat for the article. That is very freeing.

Especially when it’s a political piece. I’m lucky enough to write for a candidate with whom I share most political views. I’ve done a pretty good job at capturing his tone of voice for all the pieces I do for him. It’s like some kind of weird synergy that we have. And it makes my job quite easy when the articles practically write themselves after the research is done.

Maybe someday there’ll be a whole book with my name on it. But for now, I’ll stay a ghost and a secret.

Many of you will thank me.

When Your Muse Goes Missing

Sunset Fishing in the BDub

Sometimes you sit down to write and the words just don’t come. Oh sure, you can force it and maybe eke out a page or two, but is it quality work? Probably not, because if your muse is hiding, it’s simply not going to work.

That is kind of where I’ve been at lately. You know the drill—you have so many things going on, and it’s already crazy because it’s summer, that you just can’t get anything completely done to your liking. So you decide to take a break, maybe a vacation, and you encourage your muse to join you. You figure you’ll get away together and things will be like the good old days, when you were always inspired and words leapt onto the page as your fingers flew across the keyboard.

But your muse wouldn’t go. Nope. She never showed her face once. Ouch.

That was the case with my last trip. I’d been so overwhelmed with work, writing jobs, and day-to-day stuff, I thought everything would reset on our annual camping trip. But no, the notebook and pen never saw the light of day. Sigh.

I pouted to myself, slightly miffed at my complete lack of creativity in such a beautiful setting. How could it be that nothing, nothing came to me? I began to doubt myself, questioning my ability to continue to produce and wondering if I would pull myself out of my funk. Alas, it was not to be. I felt sorry for myself and moped like a petulant child.

And then a week later I got up one morning for work, stiff and a bit groggy from an extra glass of wine the night before. I strapped on my running shoes and hit the trail. With no races to train for, pace was of no importance. It was just me and the sunrise.

After about ten minutes I passed rabbits, cows, and horses along the soft rocky trail. My mind cleared as I examined the cluttered mess of trees uprooted from the nearby tornado earlier in the week. I watched a lone horse standing on a hill in the meadow; tall and majestic in his silhouette. Some of the horses watched as I ran past, but they paid little attention before returning to their breakfast.

Less than fifteen minutes in I heard a rattle in the bushes. I knew it was my muse, finally returning to take her place in my newly cleared head. I wondered where she’d been, but focused more on where she was going. For the remainder of my run we had a little conversation, after which I accepted her apology for her absence.

She can be a fickle b…

Now that we’re friends again, I anticipate some further cooperation. After all, I think we’re really in this together. I hope. In any case, I’m just happy she’s back.

When Content Trumps Mechanics

LettersThe other day I read an amazing story written by someone I know. The content of the story was gut-wrenching. The mechanics, however, were painful.

As a writer, I find it very difficult to turn off my internal editor.  When I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month, it comes down to writing as fast as possible and typos be damned.  The only thing that could hamper your effort is when your brain starts dictating faster than your fingers can fly across the keyboard.

Yes, that happens.

But in day-to-day writing I typically edit as I go, doing a couple checks after it’s finished and before it’s published.  However, not everyone has that same anal-retentive need to scour pages for typos.  Hey, I get it; some people can let it go.  Me? Not so much.

The story I mentioned was so filled with passion and emotion that I found myself nearly speed-reading to see what would happen next.  Where would they go?  Would he find more trouble?  It’s that kind of “super-content” that lets me push that internal editor out the window and just enjoy the story.  Know what I mean?

Those are the kinds of stories that I really love.  When you’re just so enthralled and into the story that you feel like you’re almost a part of it; you’re sad when you reach the end.  You don’t care if there’s punctuation other than an occasional period involved, let alone worry about an Oxford comma or semicolon.  You’ve shut off the inner monologue, put down your always-at-the-ready red editing pen, and settled in for the sheer joy of the story.

Yep, that’s when you know the content trumps the mechanics.  Cheers to those who write.  And don’t fret, there’s always spell-check.

A Final Tip to Win the NaNoWriMo Challenge

Rise and ShineHere we are, the last few days of October. Soon you’ll see writers everywhere wandering around, mumbling to ourselves, as we try to work through a scene or come up with just the right word. Beginning at midnight Friday, hundreds of thousands of writers embark on their quest to write 50,000 words in thirty days.  So here is my final tip to win the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge in November.

Find your zone. Yep, that’s the tip.  Seems simple and obvious, no?  Yes.  But not everyone can figure that out.  To me it means find out what time(s) of the day your creative muse likes to appear.  She is a fickle little minx, isn’t she?  For me she pops by first thing in the morning and then intermittently throughout the day.  I try to write as early in the day as possible for this very reason.  If she pops in and lightning strikes while I’m doing something (often the case) I try to jot down a note in my notepad app or in the “real notebook” I usually carry with me. Because even though she pops in, it doesn’t mean she’ll stay long or that you’ll remember the visit!

Normally I write in the same location every day. I believe that is referred to as being locus dependent.  But if you find yourself stuck with a case of writer’s block, a change of venue can do wonders.  Hit the road and go write at the library, a coffee shop, on a bench at the mall…you get the point.  Sometimes that change of scenery brings about a creative change as well.  I know I always make up stories about the folks I see when I’m out people-watching.  Sometimes they may make it into a story or a character may take on a certain trait.  That’s the fun of writing.

So there you have it, the last of my five tips to help you win NaNoWriMo. Peek back through October if you missed the other four tips.  Hey, we all can use some help, right?  To my fellow writers, stock your desk stash, brush off those fuzzy slippers, bribe the Hub/kids to help with extra chores for a month, and write with feverish, reckless abandon.  See you on the other side!



The Importance of First-Readers

First Reader

If you’re competing for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days, this is my fourth tip to help you be a winner. Ready?  Okay.  Get a first-reader, or even better, get several.  I know, I know a lot of people don’t like to share their stories while they’re writing them.  I do, and with good reason.

Normally when people ask someone to do a reading of a first draft they’re looking for plot issues, typos, and more detailed things. This isn’t what your first-readers will do.  When you’re writing a novel in a month things are different.  You’re focused on not stressing over typos or grammatical errors.  There’s no going back a few chapters to check a detail.  That is NaNo suicide.  Don’t do it.  You can’t stop once you start correcting.  This is a “shitty first draft”, warts and all.  Deal with it.

The best way to use a willing NaNo reader is to send them your writing every day. Yes, every day.  The hope is that they look forward to it.  It also helps to hold you accountable for daily writing, which is crucial to win this challenge.  Most likely it will only be a thousand or two thousand words a day, so it’s not a huge time commitment.  After they read it you’ll want feedback like:

  • Is it believable?
  • Does it hold your interest?
  • What do you think will happen next?

The last question is very important. You definitely don’t want a boring or predictable story where there are no surprises.  In fact, one of the best ways to get over writer’s block is to kill someone unexpectedly in your story.  Seriously.  Trust me, it works.  This is also why I like to leave wiggle room in my outlines.

So where can you find first-readers? I posted something on Facebook and got three volunteers right away.  If you don’t want to do this, or maybe you want someone you’re not that close to, check some online groups or forums of local writing groups.  There are probably more willing people than you think.  After all, it’s only for thirty days.

I do have one caution about readers, though. It’s a good idea to be up front about the topic of your book.  You may not want your ultra-religious neighbor to read your …ahem… romance novel, or someone who doesn’t like your genre at all to read it and critique.  That surely would not be fun for either of you.


Outline and Structure for Your Novel

NaNo Notebook

This week’s tip to win National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November is about outlining and structure. Since this challenge has an underlying goal of writing as fast as you can in thirty days, it will be very helpful if you know vaguely where you’re going.

Once you know what you want to write about, (look here for tips on where to find story ideas) start to break it down into sections.  The first section should be the longest.  This is where you’re introducing characters and leading up to the big climax of the story.  This is where you’ll use all that research and back story you worked so hard to come up with in October.  I would estimate this to be about half to two thirds of your book.

The middle section is the big bang, the climax of the book. This could be where a big cliff-hanger appears or maybe where a big “incident” occurs.  Whatever your story, this section is what you’ve been building up to, make sense?  But remember, it can’t be so revealing that the reader would be satisfied stopping there.  You want them to be excited to keep reading all the way to the end.

The last section is typically the shortest. It is here that questions are answered, mysteries revealed, loose ends tied up, etc.  The conclusion is where you will leave the reader either wishing for more or relieved it’s over, so wrap it up carefully.

Once you have the three main parts figured out, you can start a rough outline. Some people get very detailed, even crafting the first and last sentences for each chapter.  I like to leave a little more wiggle room.  After all, sometimes a twist will come to you out of nowhere in the middle of the night.  Or a particular opportunity for mischief may present itself, which leads off on a tangent.  Yes, good unexpected tangents are often hard to come by.  They cannot be easily dismissed.

I know some people don’t outline at all and use the seat-of-the-pants method. Unless you are an extremely imaginative person, I’d advise against this approach.  At least put some basics down on paper.  Really, you’ll thank me in November.