Pep Talk Week 1: Three Ways to Win by Margaret McNellis

This week’s pep talk is brought to you by JuNoWriMo crew member Margaret McNellis.

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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.”

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Margaret & NekoMargaret 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.

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JuNoWriMo Featured Author: Margaret McNellis

Meet some of your fellow JuNo WriMos in our Featured Author series each Monday and Wednesday during June.

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Margaret McNellis
Margaret McNellis

I was so excited to find JuNoWriMo last year, even though NaNoWriMo was right around the corner. Unfortunately I won’t be able to participate in NaNo as I usually do because I will be training for my 2nd degree black belt test which will demand much of my free time…so June is really going to be my “write with wild abandon” month!

As for myself, I fell in love with writing fiction during my last semester of college. I started playing around with writing fanfiction but then got frustrated with not having complete creative ownership of the characters I was writing–along with all of the other story elements. I started writing my own stories, which mostly featured zombies as a main element. I didn’t particularly like writing the gory parts, but used the presence of the zombies as a catalyst by which to take a deeper look at the human condition.

In August of 2008, I started taking classes with the Long Ridge Writers Group. 2008 was also my first year participating in NaNoWriMo. I’ve won all years since then except 2009, when I was traveling in Turkey for half of November (though I did make an attempt, and got to about 25K). In 2010 I became an municipal liaison for the CT shoreline region, and remained in that role for three years. I really liked growing the region (we saw 150% growth in those years!) and adding pre-event writing workshops to the schedule.

In 2011 I began taking a course on novel writing with the Long Ridge Writers Group, which gave me the ability to dive into historical fiction, which I’ve fallen in love with (as it fits so nicely with my Art History degree). Since then, I’ve been working mostly in historical fiction, but have been mixing other genres into the mix since historical fiction lends so well to that.

The name of my JuNoWriMo novel is “The Price of Freedom” and it is also historical fiction. The basic synopsis is that it begins with the emigration of James Badcocke circa 1640 from England to Rhode Island, and follows through to his son and the founding of one of Rhode Island’s prominent colonies.

The back story for my book, I think, is pretty interesting. I was doing some genealogical research on my family and learned that, against the belief amongst most in my family, my ancestors did not arrive in the late 19th century–at least not for the first time. I traced my lineage back to the Badcocke/Babcock family, one of the more prominent New England families. I learned that James Badcocke Senior traveled from England to Rhode Island around 1640–and while there are records of him in England and records of him in New England, his name doesn’t exist on any ship manifest.

I decided to write a story based on his passage, on the presumption that he traveled under a pseudonym. From that, I created a fictional account wherein his brother, Sir Richard, forces him to take his family out of England and to the New World, because of a difference in religious beliefs. He learns later that his brother has actually murdered someone and used his disappearance to distract from the scandal of the murder (among other subplots).

I have started work on this novel. I worked on it for NaNo 2012 and while I reached the 50K mark, I estimate it needs at least another 50-100K to be finished, and would like to accomplish at least the 50K during the month of June.

Find Margaret online:

Twitter: @mmcnelliswrites

Facebook page: MMcNellisWrites

Blog: http://mmcnellisblog.com

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