Looking for Balance

BalanceI’m not sure I’ve ever heard NaNoWriMo (in the running for the clumsiest acronym ever) spoken aloud. But each year from October 1 through December 7 (or so) it’s nearly impossible to be part of the online writing community without wading, hip-deep, into the NaNo fray.

Will you or won’t you? Does it work, or is it just a gimmick?

I’m a bit of a NaNo moderate. I see the appeal, and I see the usefulness, but I’ve never felt it’s the right tool for me. I’ve never been able to focus on word counts as a way of motivation. Rather, I’m the type to play around with different sparks of inspiration, accepting the fact that some days I’ll write 11 words and some days I’ll write 11,000. I’ve done NaNo 3 times, officially, and won all 3 (unless you don’t count the time where I did 4 small projects to make up my 50k. And I’ve done smaller scale NaNo once or twice–where I set a smaller goal, and don’t officially participate.

I’ve never used much of what I’ve written, but the Decembers that have followed my NaNos have been very productive. But then, that’s what Nano’s about…finding what works for you to get yourself writing.

This year, I’ve not yet decided if I’ll participate at all. I have a rather big event happening on NaNoWriMo Eve, and while I won’t say what that event is, I’ll be travelling for the first 9 days of NaNo on a vacation that traditionally comes right after this event. Combine that with the normal November holidays, and I’ll lose half the month. So 50k, is nothing more than a dream.

And to any of you, looking at your crowded November calendar, who say, There is just no way

That’s OK!

Personally I’ve never heard or felt any peer pressure to join NaNo, but I’ve always felt self-pressure. Like I’m selling out my writing dreams if I don’t do it. Even as I write this post I feel like I’m making excuses.

Trust me–down that path, madness lies.

So I bargain with myself. When I return from vacation, I will try to write 25k through November. But I will not sign up, and I will not obsessively check my word counts.

I also won’t beat myself up for not joining. And if I miss my goal, I won’t beat myself up over that, either.

No NaNoWriMo is OK.

There’s always December.

Using NaNoWriMo to Kickstart a Novel

I’m the newest member of the Today’s Author team. I live in Tucson, AZ where the weather is shifting to my favorite time of year- when I can read a book in my backyard without bursting into flames.

I thought by way of introduction, I’d share my own experiences with NaNoWriMo, since that’s what’s on everyone’s mind lately. For more of the nitty-gritty, check out my bio.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo in years past and it has always been a great experience. I used to do it as a “NaNoRebel”, but I’ve heard they loosened the rules.

The stated goal – writing 50,000 words in 30 days – was never what I was after. I enjoy the community aspect. It really helps to feel like we’re all in this together. The NaNoWriMo site has forums you can chat in for moral support and it holds write-ins at libraries and coffee shops around the country.

Each day, you add your word count on the site and a little progress bar fills. They tell you how many words to write each day to stay on target. It’s easy to get obsessed with daily word count achievements and I tried to resist this. For me, the point was to set aside time to write every single day, to make it a priority.

I’m an edit-as-you-go writer and I’m okay with that. A lot of people participate in NaNoWriMo to learn how to turn their inner editor off, but that wasn’t my goal. When I found myself trying too hard to meet my daily word count – all the scenes in the book were fast paced dialogue – I forced myself to take a break. This usually happened during the third week.

I’m not participating this year because I’ve recently finished the book I started in NaNoWriMo last year. I used that month to really kickstart the process. You can too!

What is NaNoWriMo and 11 Reasons You Might Want to Join

nanowrimoDo you hear that? A mix of jungle drums and Jaws music, equal parts menace and madness? It starts every October, in your fingers as a tingle, travels up your arms, into your belly, and washes over your five senses like hot lava from Krakatoa.You try to fight it, act like there’s nothing wrong, but that only makes it worse. It’s as contagious as typhoid, as addictive as smoking, and as lethal to your well-planned life as a canyon wildfire. Your brain becomes a suggestion box rather than the finely-tuned instrument that speeds you through your day like the Tokyo bullet train. Now, everything is weighed against writing.

“I’ll go to the movies if I write a thousand more words…”

If it was a pet, it’d be a coral snake. If it was a vacation, it would be hell.

It’s called NaNoWriMo. Every November, over 300,000 people join together online with a personal goal of each writing a 50,000-word novel in one month.It has been variously called “worse than a rampant computer virus” and “better than a long walk without a shadow”. It has either the charm of a dirty needle or the excitement of a new love. Once you catch the bug, nothing can cure you. Luckily, it ends November 30th at midnight. Then, you can breathe without gasping, eat without shoveling, and talk without typing.

On November 1st, it’s an invasion and your body has been well and truly snatched. All you can think about is writing.

It doesn’t matter if you work as a retail clerk or the CEO of a billion dollar company. No one is exempt and no doctor can make it go away. In fact, the only cure is to write–scribble, type, claw, bleed–until you’ve beaten back that thirst, drowned it in words, filled your soul with a new story. Only then can you put down your pencil and move away from the notebook.

As frightening as this sounds, there are reasons you might want to participate:

  1. The act of writing lessens the sense of panic that you will never get your plot figured out.
  2. It keeps you out of therapy.
  3. If your characters have the depth of a stick figure (I stole that line from my friend, Marla Miller‘s Deadly Little Secrets–great book, btw), take a month to fix them.
  4. How hard can it be to write? Hemingway did it. Anonymous did it. A bunch of authors do it who aren’t even alive anymore (I won’t name names).
  5. Coffee helps. Anything that goes with coffee is worth doing.
  6. You can skip the house cleaning. You won’t have time.
  7. There’s a certain peace to knowing what you’ll be doing for a month.
  8. There’s a beauty to being able to turn hope to despair, idealists into Machievellians, all with the clack of computer keys and a few thousand well-chosen words
  9. You don’t have to write a prize-winning book. You just have to write 50,000 words. How hard can that be?
  10. There are hundreds of reason why your mother is right–you are the best writer on the planet–but finishing your novel isn’t one of them. NaNoWriMo will make you finish your novel.
  11. Remember the last time you read a really bad book, and knew like you know bow ties should all be clip-ons that you could do better than that published author? Here’s your chance.

Inspired? Ready? Here is Chuck Wendig’s list of 25 things you should know before starting. And how about BloggingPro‘s reasons why you should write it on WordPress (that’s a tough sell).

More on NaNoWriMo:

23 Reasons I’m NOT Doing NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo — Oh No


Jacqui Murray is the author of dozens of books (on technology in education) as well as the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

Follow me.

The Writers Circle: NaNoWriMo Poll 2014

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

With the calendar saying it has already flipped over to October, thoughts for many thousands of people around the world have also flipped over to National Novel Writing Month.  So given our wide community we’d like to know what your thoughts are about NaNoWriMo this year. 

After taking our unscientific poll, leave a comment to discuss NaNoWriMo:  Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? What have you learned or gained from it?  Will you do it again?  If you haven’t done NaNoWriMo, are there reasons you would or would not consider it in the future?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

Write healthy in preparation for NaNoWriMo

Like adopting a healthy lifestyle, adopting a healthy attitude towards NaNoWriMo is integral to your ongoing success. For many, NaNowriMo represents a pressure cooker environment of little sleep, bad food choices and too much caffeine. The results of this type of lifestyle, even for a week, is not conducive for free flowing creativity or low stress.

To keep the creative juices flowing, with both stress and energy at an acceptable level with minimal sleep, a western diet and its thought processes are not going to fuel the lifestyle required to juggle normal life and the pressures of NaNoWriMo and continue to the finish line without something breaking down.

As someone who has battled eating disorders, depression, weight issues and health challenges, I know only too well the power of attitude, focus and proper nutrition to support the body.  For those who are seeking balance or a healthier way of surviving NaNoWriMo, perhaps some of these tips will assist. Its never too soon to start these good habits either, so don’t wait till the 1st of November to test them out. 

Attitude

Your attitude will make or break you before you type the first word on Nov 1. Be clear with your goals and the reasons you are participating in NaNoWriMo.

Every day we make dozens of small decisions which ultimately spell out the difference between success in our goals, or failure. As soon as you get up or home from work, did you spend twenty minutes on the couch watching telly or goofing around on Facebook or spend that twenty minutes on a super charged word hit; typing as quickly as you can without editing? Small changes can add up to huge results.

There are some great programs available specifically for NaNoWriMo to push and challenge writers with procrastination issues; from timers with loud alarms which sound when you stop typing, to the cruel one that eats your words if you stop typing. Do a Google search or check out the official NaNoWriMo site and forums for suggestions.

Like training for a sporting competition, or reshaping your body, its how you spend  98% of your the time rather than being obsessed with the trip-ups which are realistically going to happen. It does not serve you, nor is it healthy to focus on the 2% of your time you spend on negativity, binge eating or  procrastinating.  What will normally happen is that you will beat yourself up and then give up… all for 2%.

Remember that consistency is important in achieving your goal. Just as when you are reshaping your body, if you only make healthy choices when you feel like it, then you won’t see much progress on the scales or in the mirror. Make the right choice even when it’s hard and you are tired. In most cases, you will find an extra burst of energy once you start to write and that by pushing through that resistance, you strengthen your resolve and it will be easier next time to fire up your laptop and punch out a few paragraphs.

Treat yourself with gifts or treats after you cross small milestones. This will motivate you to continue. Don’t wait for the 50K mark to pop the cork of a champagne bottle or a new fountain pen. After years of teaching people from preschool to adults, there aren’t many students who are immune to bribery in the way of a sticker chart and treats! Work out beforehand what your treats are.  They don’t need to be sugary or junk foods either – though to be honest, that works too. Treats may include a walk in the sunshine with no shoes on, a delicious hot bath filled with aromatherapy oils, a foot massage – its up to you how extravagant or simple you make them. For the sake of simplicity, make a chart or a pick list and when you achieve a goal – go straight over and choose something… and DO IT!

Focus

The NaNoWriMo word count can be likened to the bathroom scales used to measure one’s weight.  Just like those on their initial weeks of weight loss, many writers become obsessed with the numbers. Similarly, there are going to be days where those scales tip favourably and others when no matter what effort you put in, they remain stable.

Yes, NaNoWriMo is about setting those targets, hitting the daily word count and putting yourself under pressure to perform. However, make your plans to write realistically fit around your life, not the other way around. 30 undisturbed days to write would be nice, but unless you hang out in the mountains alone, its unlikely to happen. Sometimes circumstances change suddenly – a new job, a family crisis, moving house – and your planned routine doesn’t work. The trick is to be flexible and know when it’s time to tweak your methods.

Focus on what is important to you with your NaNoWriMo project.  Is it really to dish out 50K of hasty words, or 30K of thoughtful, considered ones? Is it to start your journey as a novelist or give you material for an anthology? Perhaps NaNoWriMo is really about proving to your family you are serious about your writing. There may be other ways to achieve these goals rather than focusing solely on the word count.

Proper Nutrition

No doubt we all “know” what to do and eat; however especially during NaNoWriMo, we don’t. This is when the body takes over and forces you to stop when you get cramps, fevers, sore throats and sniffles; resulting in more stress as your word count drops as you are too sick to concentrate or write.

Get your 5 vegetables and 3 fruit servings a day over and done with at breakfast. Explore green smoothies and juicing to boost your nutrition and vitamin intake. (see below for more information on these)  It will supercharge your metabolism and allow you to cheat a little on the sleep.

Cheat on Sleep

Don’t kid yourself. No-one gets enough sleep during NaNoWriMo. An important fact you may not know about good quality sleep is achieved when you are in the Delta Phase. For most people who sleep 8 – 10 hours they only actually ‘get’ to Delta for around 30 – 45 minutes. The trick, therefore, is to get yourself to delta as quickly as you can and stay there for as long as you can. Learn some deep relaxation techniques to assist you in getting to this state – or look into the Pzizz. I’ve had an earphone unit for years and when really sleep deprived, they work a wonder as they bring your brain waves into a delta state within moments. There is a software based program which can be used for a 10 min power nap while you sit at your desk in front of your pc. The iPhone has a fantastic App (big smiles!!) for it. Choose a method which will support you and try it. Your body will love you for it.

Sufficient pure water

Not sweetened fizzy drinks or caffeinated drinks – pure, unadulterated water. If you are sitting inside, you will need about 8 glasses. Keep a water bottle by your laptop and every time you pause to think, it’s a signal you are getting dehydrated – so take a sip.

If you are seriously needing a fizzy drink, try sparkling water; or go and buy a ‘soda stream’ ( a kitchen utensil that carbonates water).

Coffee drinkers?  (I am the worst offender here). For every cup of coffee or caffeinated drink you imbibe – you *ought* to flush it away and out of your system with two glasses of water. The positive thing about this is that often the best thoughts and ideas are hatched while..errmmm… sitting…

Supplements

Forget the 5 servings of fruits and vegetables. The way the toxic farming industry is going, our produce lacks proper nutrition. Source either organic produce, or quality plant based supplements to support the stress NaNoWriMo will put on your body… and make sure you either eat them or take them!

A great ‘cheats’ snack is raw nuts.. Sorry – not the flavoured, salty or smoked ones. Walnuts and Almonds are especially fabulous for focus and prolonged concentration.

My secret weapon is Green Smoothies.

Since discovering them early last year, they have become a staple part of my day. Supercharged and full of pure, raw energy, they are the perfect breakfast for sleep deprived, nutritionally deficient NaNoWriMo participants, and particularly good afterward to wean those off all the caffeine and sugar many use to keep themselves going.

A good Green Smoothie is 60% fresh fruit blended with a high power processor with 40% green leafy vegetables and a little pure water. I’d suggest you start with a higher percentage of fruit until you get used to the ‘greeness’ . Also start with very bland greens such as baby spinach before you move on to silverbeet and kale.

If you are looking to get through NaNoWriMo without the assistance of junk foods and sugar, then seriously look at having a green smoothie a day. When your cells get what they need, and your brain, and emotions, and that desire for junk falls away one step at a time, you will find yourself buzzing with a new found energy – and perfect focus to write. For a step by step video and info on these click here

Again, these are the things I adopt on an ongoing basis to support my lifestyle, and may not suit everyone. However, I have a deep knowledge that without them, my emotional, physical and psychological health would be of a poorer state. No matter what you do, keep your NaNoWriMo in a healthy state until the end.  You owe it to your body (and your family), not to mention to the work in progress you are spending all this time and energy to create.

 

NaNoWriMo, Don’t Stop Now

or

What to do with your 50,000 words now that you’ve won NaNoWriMo

dont_stopCongratulations. You’ve survived a NaNoWriMo November. Not only that, you won. You kept a vigilant eye on that daily goal. And you met–or even exceeded–that goal enough days in the last month that you’ve emerged from the fray with 50,000 words. Now, it’s time to take a look at what you have.

You’ve got a bad, first draft. I’m not trying to tear you down. I’m just telling you what is, in all likelihood, the truth.

But that’s OK. NaNoWriMo, isn’t designed to get you to write a polished novel. It’s supposed to get you off the sofa and into your writing chair. And it did that. But NaNoWriMo is just a first step. And I’d like to give you a little advice on how to take the next step, and do something with what you just wrote.

1. Pause, Don’t Stop

Do you know how long it takes to break a bad habit? Or to create a good one? 28 days. If you do something for 28 days, you have changed YOU. You are now a more productive writer. So we don’t want to lose that. But it’s also important to acknowledge that the pace you’ve been holding yourself to isn’t sustainable–at least not if you have school or a job (or both). Plus, over the past month you’ve probably negelected a few things–maybe even an important person in your life.

So for a couple days it’s a good idea to calm down. Rregroup. Relax. Take your understanding sweetie out for a thank-you dinner. Catch up on a few deadlines and that pile of laundry.

And while you should NOT keep writing at the breakneck pace you’ve been pushing for, you should definitely keep writing. Every day. Even if it’s just a little. Unless your story ended at 50,000 words, just keep writing that. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes each day.

You’re not done, but yes, you deserve a break. A small one.

2. Evaluate

NaNoWriMo doesn’t really allow time to look over what you’ve written. That’s intentional. It’s real purpose is to show you what you can do if you turn off your internal editor. But now you need that annoying alter ego with the red pen. Reread your NaNoWriMo output with a critical eye.

If the story has held up, great. Highlight sections that might not be up to the quality you want. Move stuff around so it flows better. NaNoWriMo left you with a beautiful mound of clay that looks kind of like a story. But now it’s time for careful sculpting to bring out the details.

If your story didn’t hold up, that’s OK too. Because I guarantee you there are snipets of gold in that morass of 50,000 words. Now comes the time to find those hidden treasures and get rid of the rest (BTW, “get rid of” means move into a different document so you can look over it if you need to. It does NOT mean delete).

Which brings me to a question. At the end of NaNoWriMo was your story done? If so you can skip Step 3 and head directly to Step 4. But for the other 99.9%, Step 3 is for you.

3. Keep Writing the Story

Just because NaNoWriMo is over doesn’t mean your story is. Finish it. If the heavy word count is something that was working for you, then keep sprinting. Or, if the gaps in your plot were starting to bug you, but you couldn’t patch the cracks and still win, now is a great time to slow down and smooth over the rough spots. Do a little character backstory, or chart out your plot. Now that you’re not on a strict deadline, you can take a little time and proceed with a little more deliberation if that’s what you want.

What you don’t want to do is set the 50,000 words aside and say, “I’ll get back to it later.” Too many NaNoWriMo novels have died because the author lost momentum. NaNoWriMo tries to make a habit of out writing now. Don’t settle back into the habit of writing later.

4. Edit

After your NaNoWriMo novel is written, you don’t have a finished book. You have a finished draft. So here’s the time when you go back over your work and tweak, rewrite, path, expound…whatever you need to do to turn a rough draft into a second draft, and eventually into a finished work.

How long did it take you to write your daily NaNoWriMo word count? 2 hours? Then set aside 2 hours each day to edit and revise your book. If that wasn’t a pace you could keep up, then make it one hour.

Wrapping it up

If you haven’t noticed the theme running through this post, let me sum up.

You’re not done. So don’t stop.

The Writers Circle: Editing

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

With NaNoWriMo 2013 coming quickly toward a close, thoughts for many writers will turn from churning out lots of words to editing them. Whether you participated in NaNoWriMo or not, let’s talk about your editing methods. What tools do you use? Do you have a specific strategy or process you use when editing? What works for you? What have you tried and found doesn’t work for you?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

What Have We Learned from Our Stories?

imageToday marks the 2/3rds point for NaNoWriMo.  Day 20. 33333 words. However you slice it, folks who are doing NaNoWriMo are in the final stretch of days for their 2013 novelling adventure. It seems to be as good a time as any to:

1. Backup your novel! (go do it right now, I’ll wait…)
2. Take a moment to see what we’ve learned from our current writing efforts.

This is my 8th year doing NaNoWriMo. I have won each year (my kids said the other day, “Winning NaNoWriMo is just what you do, Dad. Like breathing and eating.”) I lamented earlier this month that it wasn’t going well for me in the early stages this year. And it wasn’t going well. I started over about 10 times. I changed ideas and genres, then changed back, then changed again (and again). I was truly spinning my wheels. The advice I received on that post was tremendously helpful in terms of thinking about the next 50 words instead of the 50,000th word, or thinking about the current scene instead of the next or the last.

Ultimately, the problem really was that there was a different story that wanted to be written, one which I didn’t really feel like writing. When I finally threw my hands up in the air and stopped fighting it, the words started flowing.  I am now at 37,226 words (so far) for NaNoWriMo 2013.  The prose is choppy at best. The dialogue is stilted and quite likely predictable. But the framework for a decent novel is there. So, at the 2/3rds mark, I’d say I’m seeing at least some success with this novel.

As I mentioned, my kids say I always find a way to win this event.  And while that may be true (so far), there is always something I learn about my writing each time I participate in NaNoWriMo and, in fact, each time I write anything at all.  This year, I’m learning several things. One thing is that I can’t fight against the words that want to come out if I want any words to come out. NaNoWriMo 2013 has taught me that I need to recognize that if a story wants to be told, that’s the one I should write.  But another thing I’ve learned is that I am becoming more and more a character-based writer.  I come up with characters and let them create and participate in their own adventures.  If I try to force these characters into plot lines in which they don’t fit, the characters rebel. They proclaim that they are on strike, sit down stubbornly and refuse to do anything at all.

It has been remarkably true this year. For one scene in this novel, I needed my character to go into a political rally and essentially get riled up to the point that he decides to run for office.  Unfortunately, this character has absolutely no desire to run for office. None whatsoever.  As a result the scene stalled, even before it had a chance to start.  There was no way I could change this character into someone who could be driven to run for an office, no matter how bad I made the political situation he faced.  I ended up bringing in another character – his fiancé – who had a deep, repressed desire to have that kind of power and she was able to step into the role I needed. In addition to allowing me to finish the scene, this new character and relationship opened up new possibilities for storylines and conflict.

Writing is something I feel we never stop learning how to do. We can learn by reading, of course, and I believe we learn by writing. Whether you do NaNoWriMo or not isn’t the point – if you are writing, you can be learning from your stories and your characters.  So, what have you learned from your work-in-progress recently? Have your characters gone on strike as mine did, or are they more compliant and willing to work with you? Have you found yourself writing into a plot twist you didn’t expect? Have you backed yourself into a corner in your storyline and can’t find a way out?  What challenges are you facing with your writing this month and what have you learned as you’ve overcome them?

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!

A Pantser in Need of a Plan

It’s day six of NaNoWriMo 2013. Things are not going real well for me so far.  There are several things that are causing this to be a struggle for me this year, some work-related, some life-related and some creativity-related. The work and life issues are “normal”, in a way at least.  But the creativity issues are new and different for me.

The issue is not a lack of ideas for what my 2013 masterpiece should be. Rather, I actually might have too many ideas. There are six brand new novels in my head at the moment, along with one or two “version 2.0” ideas for previous novels.  And they all want to come out all at once.  Which, as you might guess, means that none of them are coming out smoothly (or at all).  I have actually started three novels in the past few days. I got about 2200 words into the first, 1500 into the second and 1148 into the third (so far).  I haven’t yet figure out how to smoothly integrate these three vastly different stories into one so that I can count all of the words toward my 50,000 word goal, but perhaps a method of doing so will come to me soon. Is there a market for a sci-fi-mystery-steampunk-comedy-romance novel set in a fantastical world filled with magical creatures who like coffee and candy corn? Hmmm…

Anyway, the biggest issue for me with NaNoWriMo 2013 has actually been one I’ve never experienced before.  I’ve mentioned the fact that I am an unabashed “pantser” when it comes to writing.  I take a blank page and just start writing, never knowing exactly where I’m going (or even starting) until I get there. I have always written like this and have been successful with it. This strategy comes with a certain level of needing to trust that the “how’s” and the “why’s” of the plot will just kind of work themselves out. And again, they always seem to do that for me.  But for some reason, as I’ve sat down to write each day this month, I am finding my creative mind trying to proactively think about these “how’s”, “why’s” and “what’s”.  It goes something like this:

Me: Okay, so, there’s this awesomely powerful and evil wizard and he needs a sidekick/apprentice but doesn’t like any of the young wizards that are available to him. So he goes out to the real world and picks Sally to be his new minion and she will do his bidding just so that she can learn how to be a magician from him so that she can ultimately defeat her mentor.

The voice in my head: Okay, that’s great! But what is the evil bidding this wizard wants little Sally to do and how does Sally know he’s evil and why is he going outside of the magical realm and what will the end result be when Sally ultimately takes him on.  Oh, and isn’t this a bit too much like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” or “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” or something?

Or:

Me: So, the land is suddenly cast into complete and total darkness for 13 months, as has happened every 150 years for all of recorded history. The evil marauders from the northern Darklands invade, again, as they have done every 150 years… enslaving the good people of the southern lands, stealing their food supplies and drinking their treasured coffee.  The Chosen One among the good people of the south will rise up, as he or she has done each time this has happened, to push back the invaders and restore peace and harmony to the world.

The voice in my head:  Okay, but what causes this darkness and why does it repeat every few generations. If it repeats so often, wouldn’t the people of the south have, oh, you know, built up defenses against the invading forces? I mean, come on… they should be smart enough to anticipate that this is going to happen by now? And if they’re dumb enough not to anticipate it… well, maybe they don’t deserve the coffee they treasure so much. Oh, and, isn’t the premise of this just a little bit like “Nightfall”?  Just sayin’.

Or:

Me: Okay, so there’s this vampire and—

The voice in my head: Just stop there, dude… the world doesn’t need another vampire story right now.

I’m not saying that I think any of the ideas I have is necessarily destined for the best seller’s list any time soon, but this has never stopped me before. In fact, I’ve never really cared about that when I write.  So why is it that now – when the point is to get words on the page whatever they might be – why  am I now suddenly overthinking it and not just writing? I really don’t have an answer for this, but this feeling of doom is the reason why I do not plan my stories out in advance.  I’ve always felt that if I were to attempt to be a planner, I’d get to a point in my outline and get stuck, then abandon the project completely.  And that’s where I feel I am with these novels right now: stuck and ready to abandon them.  The trouble is that my mind is in this cycle now where it will not allow me to just start writing without thinking about the details of the inciting action or problem or the details of how or why it will be resolved.  Unfortunately, I don’t know how to actually think about these things in advance!

So that’s where I am and here’s where I ask for help:  I know a lot of writers are planners to the same extent that I am completely not a planner.  So, how do you do it? How do you look at your worlds/plots/characters and determine – before you really know them – what they will do and how they will react and why they will do things? Do you have any advice for someone who has never figured out the “how’s” and “why’s” in advance? I’d really like to hear from you about this. Also, if you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, how have your first 5 or 6 days gone so far?