Encouragement to not change your NaNoWriMo story concept mid-month

We’re roughly halfway through NaNoWriMo and, if everything is going according to plan for us, we’re also roughly halfway through reaching our 50,000 word count goal of our first draft.

In reality, many of us are stuck.  We feel our characters are flat.  Or maybe we’ve written a series of scenes, but when strung together they don’t resemble a cohesive story.  And now, we’re desperate – ready to change our story concept or throw in the towel entirely!

I want to try and convince you why it’s a good idea to stick with your original NaNoWriMo story idea instead of changing to that newer, better idea that came to mind yesterday while sipping lattes and listening to smooth jazz at the local coffee shop.

First thing, take a deep breath.  Let’s look at what you’ve learned so far.  Go ahead and make a short list, and maybe it’ll look something like this:

  • I thought I had a clear idea in my mind of what I’d write.
  • I thought writing by the seat of my pants would be easy.
  • I thought writing based on an outline would be easy.

There’s a great quote attributed to author Mark Twain that summarizes the NaNoWriMo experience:

“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.”

NaNoWriMo is a bit like that.  You can read other peoples’ posts all you want about how challenging it’s going to be, how beat up and battered you’re going to get, but it’s not real for you until you learn it for yourself.

While it may be tempting to change story concept mid-month, I want to suggest that you don’t.  In reality, you’re going to run into the same challenges as you did with your original concept.  You’ll question your creativity every time, I promise!  So why not embrace this struggle and push through it now?

Imagine if you will that you were being paid to write this novel.  Maybe you stepped in to finish a novel for someone else, or perhaps you’re paid to write a screenplay for a major motion picture studio.  You wouldn’t necessarily have the freedom to change your romance story to that of a sci-fi novel.  Therefore, you should stick it out with your original story concept.  Plus, it’s only a month.  So look at it from the angle of taking with you for life the lessons you learned from this experience.

So how can you recover and make the most of NaNoWriMo 2013?

What I like to do is take a step back and revisit my story concept at the highest level.  I’ve been known to do this daily.  Maybe it can be summarized in simple bullet points like:

  • It’s a love story.
  • Boy and girl meet in summer at the beach.
  • Boy and girl risk losing each other when the summer ends.

I then look at what I’ve written as part of my story so far.  Have I deviated from these bullet point objective?  If yes, let me put myself back on course.  If not, then I am reassured I’m still on track.

See, that part is pretty easy to do.  Now take it a step further and write a dozen or so bullet points that show progress and setbacks.  These can be used for chapter breaks:

  • Boy and girl make eye contact as one is getting onto a bus.
  • Boy or girl talk to their friend about the missed opportunity.
  • Boy or girl goes on a hunt to find the other.
  • Boy and girl meet.
  • Boy and girl schedule a date; spend afternoon strolling the beach.
  • Boy or girl seen talking to another; other becomes jealous and suspicious.
  • Boy and girl work through the misunderstanding.
  • Boy or girl has to tell other that they are leaving earlier than expected.

Now I look at the rising and falling action of these bullet points against what I’ve written so far with my novel.  Is there alignment?  If yes, perfect.  I’m still on track.  If not, then I push my existing chapters to the bottom of my document and start fleshing out new chapters.

Now I have a clearer picture of my structure.  This is where I go ahead and start filling in details, jumping around and writing the details of chapters out of sequence.

I promise you if you take these actions every day, in a few short days you’ll find yourself no longer questioning the validity or merit of your story and you’ll find yourself feeling back on track.

Happy noveling!

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Any knucklehead can write a stage play

Earlier this month I was paid a heartfelt compliment on my writing—a compliment authors everywhere aspire to hear from one of their devoted fans.

“You inspired me to write a stage play,” the gentleman said before breaking into a smile.  “I figure if a knucklehead like you can do it, I should be able to write one, too!”

I shot my fan a thoughtful, dramatic pause while I formulated my reply.  “Knucklehead?” I questioned him in my best Mo Howard impersonation.  “So you’re a wise guy, eh?  BONK!”

Truth be told, the gentleman’s statement is 100% accurate.  Any knucklehead can write a stage play!

If you’re just starting out exploring the craft of creative writing—particularly fiction writing—then starting with a stage play may be a good first step because you’ll focus on two key building blocks of other forms of writing: plot and dialogue.

Unlike short stories, novellas or novels, you generally won’t incorporate some of the more challenging elements of writing into your stage play—like tapping into the readers’ five senses—that otherwise are mandatory for good reading.  Your stage play is meant to be visualized by an audience.  If your story is western-themed and set in the 1800s, there’s generally no need to describe the aroma of burning horse flesh as it’s pressed with the red-hot cast iron brand from a cattle rancher.  That is, of course, unless it’s instrumental to your story and then needs to be spoken by one of your characters.  Most likely, you’ll just substitute a few stage directions that instruct the actor to pull a branding iron from the fire and jab it at the rear-end of your on-stage horse.  But, the process of writing stage directions will start training your mind on how you would indeed tap into your readers’ senses if you were writing a short story or novel.

No doubt about it, you’re already familiar with dialogue.  You already know how to be witty, coy, sarcastic, and evasive.  As humans, we do it every day.  It’s like we’re all born to be playwrights!  But don’t be fooled, it’s not necessarily easy to write good, realistic, smoothly-spoken dialogue.  It takes some practice.

As you begin to read your stage play dialogue you’ll come to learn what realistic dialogue sounds like versus forced dialogue.  When you’re writing your first draft and you realize a character says something like, “Okay, I’m leaving the house now, goodbye,” remember this article and remind yourself that you’ll come back later to fix that line in your next revision.

So, what exactly does burning horse flesh smell like, anyway?

Just Keep Writing

As we launch this site, I am trying to find my lost passion for writing. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to write, I still want to write and I still need to write. But writing simply never bubbles to the top of the to-do list anymore.

And this needs to change.

When I was a little boy–even before I was old enough to write–I’d wake up in the morning and stay in the bed for a while. Not just for the sake of lingering–even back then I saw sleep as an unfortunate-but-necessary evil and wanted to do as little of it as I possibly could.  Rather than just enjoying a lazy moment or two with nothing to do, I would lie there and imagine.  I’d imagine what the day ahead held for me. I’d imagine what the day might be like if the last little bits of what I could remember of my dreams were somehow to be real. It was truly exciting to imagine the world in so many different ways.

Once I was old enough to write, I continued the pattern of waking up and imagining, only now I would put the imaginings on paper.  It was exciting to build worlds and characters every day. I would end my days the same way, often writing until I fell asleep at night, sometimes continuing sentences as I was in the process of falling asleep (you can imagine the crazy things that got to the page in that state of consciousness).  Back then, the point wasn’t the quality of the words that made it to the page or the neatness of the handwriting—it was the pure joy and excitement of the act of getting them to the page.

Fast forward to today, some 35 years into the future and it’s a different story.  I still wake up early and still hate that I have to sleep.  When I wake up, I imagine what the day holds for me, just like I did when I was little.  But now the imaginings are of bills, deadlines, kids’ schedules, the day job to which I am enslaved and many other things that are simply not as pleasant.  I no longer drift off to sleep with a pen in my hand nor do I wake up and reach for one.  Somewhere along the way the passion for writing was lost.  And I want to find it again.

Here at Today’s Author you will find many writers in various stages of their writing careers. Some of us are published, some are not; some of us have major works-in-progress that are underway or nearly complete, others are between projects.  But all of us share the love of writing and a desire to inspire and support writers in every stage of their writing life.  Whether you’re a lifelong-hobbyist, an emerging professional author or a first time writer just trying to find out how to get started, we’ve got you covered.  Here you will find articles about the technical aspects of writing.  There will be articles about our favorite tools of the trade (there are as many different ways to write as there are writers!).  We will have articles talking about our own journeys through the creative landscape and our own plans for our futures as writers.  We’ll have articles focusing on how to participate in – and win—NaNoWriMo.  Are you looking for regular chances to write but you lack ideas for getting started?  We’ll have several writing prompts here every week.  And if you are simply looking for a place to read what other people are writing, we’ll have that for you too!

Writing today is different from what it was for me 35 years ago when I started scribbling words in whatever crayon or pencil I had laying around. The world provides today’s authors with many more distractions and excuses to take us away from writing.  Yet, it also provides us with so many more opportunities to create our worlds and share them with each other.  Our mission here at Today’s Author is to foster a community of writers, a community in which we encourage each other to be creative and ultimately just keep writing.  We are glad to have you join us.