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?
Mapping out your novel can help you avoid lulls in production. Check out tips from Larry Brooks on how to plan ahead and give your novel a “jump-start.”
According to the “rules” of National Novel Writing Month – no matter what month you undertake the work – there is nothing that prevents you from planning your novel out in advance. Doing so – solidifying your concept and premise, and laying out the narrative expositional sequence itself – is perhaps the most useful and functional NaNoWriMo tip you can find.
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.
At some point, someone is going to ask you, “What’s your novel about?” If not in those exact words, you’re sure to field the question in some form. Do you have an answer? Sure, your novel is complex, full of characters, intricacies, histories, motivations, breakups, and makeups, but what would you write on the back cover of your published novel? What could you say in under 60 seconds to sell your story?
You need a premise. It’s key to staying on task, reminding yourself what you’re doing all month long, and letting others know what’s got you so focused/frazzled/frenzied.
What is a premise?
A premise is a one or two sentence (25-35 word) introduction to your character, his/her conflict, and the hook. It’s the foundation of your story. It works double time. You can use it to keep you on track, or as an elevator pitch to sell your completed novel.
Two ways to write your premise:
1. A present-tense statement. <— Best for planners
2. A “what-if”question. <— Best for pantsers
Whether you use the first or the second is completely up to you. The first option gives a much clearer guideline to follow while the second raises a question, but offers no answers. How open-ended would you like it to be? How much wiggle room would you like to have as you work on your novel? That will determine the best premise style for you.
What are the benefits of writing a premise?
1. A clear idea of what your novel is about. It forces you to break your idea down to its basic components, and ensures that you have the ever-important element that sets your novel apart from any other – the hook. 2. A guideline to refer to at any time during your novel writing process. As you write, many scenes will come to mind, and you will probably fall in love with most of them. Are they all relevant? Probably not. How will you know which ones are worth using? Your premise will make it painfully (or delightfully) obvious which scenes are necessary and which scenes can hit the road. 3. Takes less time and knowledge of the details than writing a summary. To write a summary, you need to know exactly what happens in your story. For a premise, you only need the bones. No meat necessary. 4. Less strict than a summary, leaving lots of room to move around. If you write your novel based on a summary, you will probably feel locked into some ideas and scenes that are present in the summary. There are specific occurrences that you’ll allude to in a summary. In a premise, again, it’s just the bones. You can dress it up however you want. 5. Having an elevator pitch ready. There’s no faster way to say what your novel is about. This is what agents, publishers, and readers are interested in. What is the purpose of your story?
Here are examples of premises using The Hunger Games:
1. Katniss takes her younger sister’s place as tribute in a fight-to-the-death reality television show. She not only fights her competitors, but herself, to win sponsor support, and stay alive.
2. What if 24 children are forced to leave their families to participate in a fight-to-the-death reality television show, only one coming out alive, to entertain the people of their world?
With a few planning days left before the 30 days of writing begin, it’s a great time to write your premise. Remember, you only need to know three things to do it. They are: 1. Your main character 2. Your character’s conflict. 3. The hook – What makes it different.
If you’re not quite ready to write your own premise, I highly recommend writing premises for your favourite books and movies. This will give you great practice in breaking hundred of pages or 2 hours down to their bare bones. For each premise your write, include the character, conflict, and hook, and stay between 25 and 35 words. Once you’ve done this for four or five books/movies, you should be ready to do it for your JuNoWriMo novel.
JuNoWriMo is just around the corner! Wow. April really flew right by us, and May is for all the planning, excitement, and preparation we like. Hopefully, you’re ready and feeling good about getting prepared. Here’s what you should get in place this month:
Premise – Who is your main character? What does he/she want? What stands in the way? Boil your entire novel down to one sentence.
Milestones – Know the turning points in your story.
Get to know your characters – You can search the internet for their faces, role play and take personality quizzes as them, and interview them. Be sure to figure out what they want, what they like and dislike, where they spend most of their time, where they live, how they react to various things, who they like and dislike, and what they look like.
Writing space – Choose nice, comfortable places where you are likely to feel inspired and be productive. Now is a good time to stake out those coffee shops, delis, libraries, and bookstores in your neighborhood to see which have the right noise-quiet balance, availability of writing fuel, and comfort.
Schedule – Some people have to juggle things around and/or squeeze in writing time here and there, 15 minutes at a time. That’s fine, but if possible, it’s nice to set a time to write every day. Routine is good!
Develop a plan for the worst – You may decide you don’t like your novel any more. You may get bogged down at work. You may question your ability to write a novel. You may get off track and end up writing something that’s not quite what you planned. You may not hit the daily goals you set for yourself. What would you do? All of those things can be scary/discouraging when they happen, but they can all be overcome with [cue dun-dun-dunnn] a plan! Make a list of your three worst JuNoWriMo nightmares, and decide how you’d deal with them. They won’t be so scary after that!
Research – If there’s anything you’re not sure of, look into it. If some parts of your novel absolutely must be factual, do the work now. Research can be quite the time-suck, especially when you’re just looking for a way to procrastinate. Protect your writing time. Keep June research-free by getting the facts in May.
Writing tools – Computer, netbook, Alphasmart, notebooks, binders, pens, pencils… Make sure they’re there and ready with lots of space/ink/storage for your word avalanche.
Support system – You need people in your corner! Tell people what you’re doing, but only the people who will encourage you and be positive about the challenge you’ve chosen to take on.
Meal planning – We highly recommend cooking lots of freezable meals or cutting deals with spouses. You probably won’t have much time for meal preparations, and when you have some, you’ll want to spend it writing, or in the forums.
Well, that about covers it! If you manage to get those things all sorted this month, you’ll be well on your way to a successful JuNoWriMo season. Be sure to look out for more blog posts which will help you out with accomplish some of the tasks mentioned 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.
I am a quitter. There, I said it. I tried to teach myself how to play the guitar, and I quit. I did the same with the piano, and I quit. For twenty years, I set out to write a book, my lifelong dream, and I quit every single time. It was so much easier to go find a distraction than to push through the callous-building phase and get good at something. Abandoning my dreams was far simpler than realizing them.
The reason I was so good at quitting was because I never knew what the reward for success felt like. I had never finished a novel, so how could I convince myself that the goal was worth the work required? I couldn’t. No one can know. So let me attempt for a moment to convince you. Because I don’t want you to quit writing until you’ve reached the end of your story.
Forget about what comes after: the revisions and the edits and the challenge of finding readers. Right now, at this very moment, a unique story exists in your head – a book lives and breathes only in your imagination – and whether or not it survives is completely up to you. If you push through that next scene, meet your word count goals, and make sacrifices, a new work will exist for all of time. And it won’t matter if anyone reads it. All that matters is that you accomplished your goal.
When I finished my first novel, I experienced a high like no other. It was like reaching the top of a mountain and finding oneself exhausted, exhilarated, and with the satisfaction of knowing that there wasn’t another step to take. I had done it. As an avid reader, I had always wanted to write a novel, and now I had. I went to dinner that night with my wife, my mother, and my sister. We celebrated. My novel sat on the dinner table in a thumb drive, and nothing else mattered. I had written a book.
Every story I complete fills me with the same sense of satisfaction. As a lifelong quitter, I am now addicted to the feeling of completing my goals. And my goals remain simple: Write every day. Write because I love it. Make my works available to whoever might care to read them.
Many of you have completed previous NaNos and know what I’m talking about. Maybe you feel the same urge I do to tell complete strangers that I just finished a novel. I want to shout it to the heavens when I wrap up a story. It’s that euphoria that we chase as we start our next work. But for any of you who have given up or haven’t had this buzz – take it from someone who regrets the years I wasted. It is completely worth the sacrifice and the heartache that writing a novel requires. It’s one of the most satisfying feelings you’ll ever enjoy. To believe me, you’ll need to feel it for yourself. So what are you waiting for? Stop what you’re doing and go write. And keep writing until you get to the end.
Hugh Howey is the New York Times bestselling author of WOOL and SHIFT. He worked for a decade as a yacht captain before falling in love with a girl and following her into the mountains of North Carolina. There, he pursued a lifelong dream of writing a novel. He’s been writing ever since.