Stacy Claflin, author of four book series, shares with us her advice on what to do when you get stuck in the midst of your novel–just the Pep Talk we need for the middle of JuNoWriMo!
Do you ever get stuck at some point when writing a novel? Sometimes that middle-ish point can be the most challenging. The beginning is fun because you come in with all these ideas, and it’s exciting. The end is full action, and the writing sometimes seems to happen by itself.
Really, though, any point of the story can give the writer problems.
When you’re in the thick of it and things slow down, a lot of different variables can leave you feeling stumped. Maybe the story has gone in a different direction than you planned. You’re not sure if you need to map out a different ending or maybe look for a new path to the end you have in mind.
Or it could be that the story is right where it should be, but doubt has crept in. You know what I mean. Do I have enough material to get to the end and have it long enough? Is this as good as it could be? What if it sucks and I just can’t see it? Or maybe you feel like it is horrible, and you don’t know whether to go on or not.
That valley between the exciting peaks can feel like a wasteland.
This week, Katharine Grubb offers advice on how to rescue your work in progress (WIP). Katharine’s blog is about the “Confessions of a Busy Mom Who Became an Independent Novelist.”
So it’s JuNoWriMo and you’ve hit the second week!
You’re like um, I have how many words to go?
You thought you could do this. You had ideas! You had characters! You had a plot! I mean you kind of have a plot but now it kind of feels like a plod. You had a vision for the perfect story in this genre! But then you realize that maybe this contemporary romance might do better on Mars? Maybe your heroine needs fangs? Maybe you could kill everyone off, call it a dystopian and be done with it?
Mat Morris comes to us as a veteran of the 30-day novel challenge–and not only a veteran, but a wizard, having completed 50,000 words in 24 hours. Enjoy his Pep Talk; we know it’ll fire you up for the challenge ahead!
Greetings, fellow Dream Warriors. Welcome to the beginning of the end.
Most of you don’t know me, and that’s fine. This isn’t about me. It’s about you.
You see, you’re about to embark on a journey that will change your life. You’re about to do something that most only fantasize about. You’re going to take that little voice whispering in your ear, and you’re going to set it free. And I’m going to share with you a dirty little secret that will let you do it.
Everyone has a story to tell.
Now, you might be wondering why I called you a Dream Warrior. And we’ll come back to that. Promise.
More importantly, you might be wondering why someone you’ve never heard of was asked to impress upon you some words of inspiration. Honestly, as I sit here on the night of my deadline, writing what amounts to my third attempt at arranging my thoughts into something coherent, I’m wondering the very same thing.
So, a short bit about me—the current voice in your head.
You see, I was asked to write this because of my past successes in completing these little word challenges. Technically, I’ve completed the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a single month on more occasions than I’ve actually counted. But what seems to impress (read: stupefy) people the most is that, on four occasions, I’ve completed it within a 24 hour period.
This week’s pep talk is written by novelist and interactive fiction writer, Alana Joli Abbott.
There are few things that make me more stressed than being late. Whether this is being behind on a writing deadline or just running late to drop off my daughter at school, the result is the same. I feel frustrated that I can’t move things along faster, or that I made the choice to check the weather (or worse, Facebook) online instead of getting stuff done. And I’ve discovered that sometimes I have the absolutely worst coping mechanism for dealing with being late.
This week’s pep talk is by JuNoWriMo co-founder Becca Campbell.
Howdy, hard-working overachievers and unmotivated procrastinators! Whichever of the two you are, you are awesome—did you know that? You’re writing a book, and that’s no small thing! Whether you’re ahead or behind on word count, the point is, you are out there getting it done—something that many will never even attempt, let alone try to do in thirty days. Give yourself a pat on the back: you deserve it.
Plan a Sweet Reward
Right now I want you to stop worrying about schedules and whether or not you’ll be able to hit 50K by the end of the month. Put that out of your mind and instead dwell on something more pleasant for a moment: how will you reward yourself when you do win?
This week’s pep talk is brought to you by JuNoWriMo crew member Margaret McNellis.
When you feel like 50,000 words is an impossible goal, follow these three methods for building word count in mind and in practice.
Word Wars for the Win
Word wars saved me during my first novel challenge, and again during each and every novel challenge I’ve taken on since. A word war is when, given a pre-set amount of time, you write against the clock and fellow challengers–in a cafe, online, or anywhere you put pen to paper or fingers to keys. Word wars are immensely useful in that they provide support and friendly competition. There’s something about racing against the clock that keeps the words pouring out onto the page.
Keep a Writing Schedule
Your novel is important, or else you wouldn’t bother writing it–so make sure you give yourself the time to write. For some people, the morning is best–others are night owls. If you’re having trouble writing, try switching to a different time of day. Give yourself 15-30 minutes (or more) of uninterrupted writing time each day. Schedule it into your tablet if you must; enable the “do not disturb” on your smartphone, and breathe life into your story. Maximize your word processor or avoid electronics and other distractions if you like to write by hand.
Set Realistic Goals
If this is your first novel-writing challenge, don’t promise yourself that you’re going to write 200,000 words. The goal of 50,000 words is suggested because it means you only have to write 1,667 words each day to stay on track. That’s only a little more than 1,500, or about 4 pages single-spaced in most word processors. Don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to write 10,000 words in the first day–you may find yourself burnt out by June 15th. The true success of a novel-writing challenge isn’t to create a perfectly polished manuscript ready for a publisher in 30 days. The true success is to break the barriers set by the inner editor, self-doubt, and sometimes, writer’s block. The true success is to develop consistent writing habits that can eventually lead to a beautifully polished manuscript ready to share with the world. Slow and steady wins the race.
Of course, nothing horrible will happen to you if you don’t reach the 50,000 word mark by midnight on June 30. Your computer won’t turn into a pumpkin. Your notebook(s) won’t self-destruct. If and when writer’s block does settle upon your shoulders, skip to a different part of your story, write a foil character for your protagonist, or jump head first into a word war.
In addition to being a writer, I’m a martial artist. Winning a novel-writing challenge is much like a black belt test–it’s all about attitude and perseverance. When a student tests for his/her black belt, the rank is there for the taking. They just have to finish the test with a good attitude–an attitude that’s unwilling to quit just because something is difficult. If you write daily, whether you write 1,667 words per day or 200, at the end of the month you will have a product you can be proud of. You will have developed the habit of writing every day, and you will have started the process of writing a complete novel.
People often talk about when they can go from being aspiring writers to writers. When I was new to writing fiction, I had the pleasure of meeting Carol Higgins Clark. I asked her this question–this equivalent of “What is the meaning of life?” for writers–she smiled and succinctly replied, “Writers write, so start writing.”
Margaret McNellis first participated in a novel-writing challenge in 2008. In 2010, she became a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo–a post she held for three years. In 2013, Margaret joined the JuNoWriMo team, helping to run word wars and sprints via Twitter. Margaret began writing fiction in 2006 and, after completing coursework with the Long Ridge Writers Group, Margaret enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University, where she is currently pursuing her Masters in English and Creative Writing with a Concentration in Fiction. Her story “A King’s Life” appeared in the premier issue of Fictitious Magazine, and she has published articles in regional magazines and news sources. For seven years following her graduation from Southern Connecticut State University with a BA in Art History, she worked as a freelance writer, covering art shows, literary events, book releases and more. You can find Margaret online here.
When you’ve worked on your novel intensely for three weeks, your brain may feel like it’s been boil-washed and tumble-dried. However hard you wring it, you can’t squeeze another drop of creative juice from the shrunken, crumpled rag.
Here’s an instant fix: go for a walk.
I find walking does miracles – and I’m not alone. Many writers observe that the steady rhythmic movement clears stress from the brain and makes room for creative ideas.
After twenty minutes, ideas pour into my mind: solutions to plot problems, insights about my characters, and little details to flesh out the current scene.
The thoughts flow faster and faster, and after forty-five minutes of walking I need to pause and write them down lest I forget. For this, I always carry a hardback notebook and a supply of pens (and sometimes an Alphasmart) in my backpack. Then I sit on a park bench, on the sandy beach or in a coffeeshop, and write for a while until it’s time to walk again.
On sunny days, I walk and write for hours. My favourite routes are through fields and meadows from the village of Newenden to Bodiam Castle along the meandering River Rother, and from Hastings to Bexhill along the seafront – the latter has the advantage of several nice cafés along the way, and in summer the chance to swim and sunbathe on the beach.
When it rains – which happens often here in England – my walks tend to be shorter, though I still walk half an hour at least.
If you’ve reached a point where the creativity has dried up, where the fun has evaporated, when you’re bored with your writing or you’re stuck with a plot problem, put on comfortable shoes and the right clothes for the weather, and just walk. Don’t think consciously about your novel at first, and don’t torment your brain with demands. Wait for the dam to burst naturally, which for you may be earlier or later than the twenty-minute mark.
Once it happens, direct your creativity to the book. Don’t waste it on designing the quilt you may make next year, or mentally redecorating your bathroom. A gentle prod in the direction of your story is all your subconscious needs, and the creative thoughts will come gushing.
The rhythmic exercise of walking also eases the tightness in your shoulders and the stiffness in your neck, and at the same time, it burns up calories.
The only time it doesn’t work so well is immediately after a meal, because the digestive process reduces the brain’s activity. However, walking can help with the digestion, so if you plan to write after dinner, consider going for a short walk first.
If the weather is too awful to go out, or if you simply don’t fancy walking, try some other steady rhythmic exercise instead: aerobics with music, spinning, a spell on the climber or the cross-trainer, or low-intensity cardio. Your brain will reward you with refreshed creativity.
Try it and see how it works for you. I’d love to hear about your experiences, and also if you have other techniques to share. Leave a comment, and I’ll reply.
Rayne Hall has published more than forty books under different pen names with different publishers in different genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Recent books include Storm Dancer (dark epic fantasy novel), 13 British Horror Stories, Six Scary Tales Vol 1, 2, 3, 4 (creepy horror stories), Six Historical Tales (short stories), Six Quirky Tales (humorous fantasy stories), Writing Fight Scenes, The World-Loss Diet, Writing About Villains, Writing About Magic and Writing Scary Scenes (instructions for authors). She holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing. Currently, she edits the Ten Tales series of multi-author short story anthologies: Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Scared: Ten Tales of Horror, Cutlass: Ten Tales of Pirates, Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, Spells: Ten Tales of Magic, Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies and more.
Find her at: Rayne Hall’s Dark Fantasy Fiction
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Word documents. Word wars. Word mongering. Wordiness. WORD COUNTS!
If you’ve signed up for JuNoWriMo (and if you’re reading this, which you are, then that is exactly what you’ve done), then you’ve signed up to immerse yourself in words for the entire month of June. Some of you have done this before, either for last year’s JuNoWriMo or for its progenitor, NaNoWriMo. Some of you are doing this for the first time. But whether you’re an oldtimer or a newbie, you know that words are key to succeeding in this month of crazed noveling.
Well, duh. It’s kind of hard to write a novel without using words. I suppose you could try using music notes instead, but you’d probably end up with some kind of post-postmodern, Wagner-derivative opera suffering from an existential crisis, and I don’t think any of us want to hear that. And writing your novel using Morse code might be tedious. So, words it is.
But the thing about words is…they’re tricksy. They flit like pixies across your page or screen, all innocent-like with their serifs and curlicues…and then they just squat there. Brooding. Staring back at you from your work-in-progress and making you care about them. Making you want to change them. Daring you to change them.
If you change one, you’ll want to change others. You won’t be able to help it; editing when you’re not an editor is some kind of weird addiction. Once you start, you can’t stop. AND THE WORDS KNOW THIS, PEOPLE.
One minute, you’re writing merrily along, something about Our Heroine rescuing the doomed prophecy puppies and drinking the magic elixir in the nick of time. Next minute, you start editing, and before you know it, your Plot Point #3 has turned into Carrot Magnetic Demolition Force 7 and there’s really no turning back after that.
What I’m getting at here, y’all, is that while you’re JuNo-ing, you must avoid editing. The words will tempt you to edit. They will lift their lovely faces to the morning sun, open their lovely mouths, and give voice to lovely siren calls of editing bliss. Do not listen to them! “Beware the Editwock, my son! The affixes that bite, the compounds that catch!”
*ahem* Sorry. Slight Carrollian digression there. But you get the point. Editing and JuNo-ing don’t mix. If you let yourself edit, you’ll slow yourself down. 1667 words per day don’t write themselves, y’know. You gotta put in your butt-to-chair time, and if you take that time for editing instead of writing, you’re going to be hard-pressed to slog through the Week Two Blues or have the energy for the Finish Line Sprint.
Your best friend, dear writer, is the admonition emblazoned upon the JuNoWriMo homepage:
Don’t worry about the “mistakes” (better known as “happy little accidents,” right?). Don’t worry about the typos, the synonyms, the passive voice, the dangling participles. After June is over, you can give in to the sweet seduction and edit all you like. But for now, resist. Don’t worry, and just write.
You have a novel to finish. And the great news is, you can finish it and you will finish it. You’re sacrificing sleep to get there. You’re sacrificing time with friends and family. You’re sacrificing the calm that comes from not over-caffeinating 24/7. And yes, you’re sacrificing the luxury of poring over your own every word and tweaking each word to perfection.
But all this sacrifice is worth it. In the end, you’ll have a first draft in your hands — and editing it will be glorious. So just write, hon. That’s your only job this month, and you can do it.
Now stop reading this and get back to it. : )
Courtney Cantrell is the author of epic fantasy series Legends of the Light-Walkers, paranormal fantasy series Demons of Saltmarch, and several fantasy and sci-fi short stories. She’s also a 7-time NaNoWriMo winner. Her writing career began when she was 8 with “a Tiger that growld”; continued with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing; and most recently grew to encompass vorpal unicorn morphing powers. Those are real. She has the blog post to prove it.