Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo – you reached 50k, now what?

There are only 7 days left until the end of NaNoWrimo, and some of you can almost see the finish line. I know I can. Sitting at 43k after Sunday’s writing session, that finish line finally seems within reach.

Winner 2014

This will be my last NaNo-related post for 2014, so I wanted to talk about what to do AFTER you have done your victory dance, gotten your cool NaNoWriMo winner certificate, and took advantage of winner discounts with various sponsors (Scrivener is definitely worth buying by the way, especially at 50% discount).

So this post will be about the Do’s and Don’ts of life after November 30.

DON’T stop writing. Unless you are writing for the young adult or middle grade market, your novel is probably not finished at 50k words. The standard length for a novel is anywhere between 80 and 120k. Or maybe you’re the next George R. R. Martin and your novel will be more in the vicinity of 300k. The point is – don’t stop now. Keep on putting your story on paper until you reach THE END.

DON’T self-publish or send your draft to agents on December 1st. You have finished your story. It’s a big accomplishment. But trust me when I tell you that your story is far from being publishable. This is your first draft. It’s only half-baked. It needs to rest in a dark corner before being put through the fires of editing and revision.

Blue blood on the page!
Blue blood on the page!

DON’T start editing your draft on December 1. You are too close to your draft right now, too involved. You are still living in the story. Put it aside. Let it rest. Forget about it for a month or two. Come back to it with fresh eyes. Read it as if you weren’t the one who put those words on the page in the first place.

DO take time to celebrate. Congratulations! You wrote 50k words in 30 days – that’s a huge accomplishment! So go and celebrate. Pop that champagne bottle, open that box of chocolates you’ve been saving, go party with your friends. You have earned it.

champagne

DO keep writing. You don’t have to continue careening at the mad speed of 1667 words a day anymore, but don’t stop writing just because NaNo is over. Finish your story. Put it aside. Then start a new one. And another one. And the one after that.

DO take the time to edit your novel. The road from the first draft to the published novel is long and difficult. There will be many revisions and rewritings before the monster you created is ready to be unleashed on the unsuspecting public. Take your time. It will take as long as it needs to. Better make sure that you made your novel as good as it will get than hurry up and published a half-baked product and deal with negative reviews.

Not over

These are some of the advice I took from the people on NaNo forums after NaNoWriMo 2013, and they served me right. So I thought I would pass them on to my readers. But the most important advice  have is:

NEVER STOP DREAMING.

If you want to pursue this crazy career, then go for it. Write, write, write, and write some more. Love the process, with both its easy and its painful days.

And be proud of yourself- you survived NaNoWriMo!

NaNoWriMo – we are halfway done!

pen-and-paper

We have officially rounded the bend on this year’s NaNo challenge. It’s all downhill from now on. Some of you might be doing great and rushing through that word count with the finish line getting closer and closer at NASCAR speed. But for some, this is the most treacherous part of the journey, when the fatigue sets up and motivation flags down.

You have been plodding along, struggling to meet your word count for over two weeks now. Sometimes you were successful, sometimes not so much. And if you are behind on your word count for some reason, the realization that the number of days you have to catch up is limited can be extremely demotivating.

Or you could be experiencing another symptom: you suddenly feel like what you wrote is utter useless crap. Your writing is flat, your characters are not interesting, or worse, your story is not worth telling. I know that feeling. I’ve experienced it last year. I even wrote a panicked post about it.  It got so bad that I was about to toss everything into the trash and call it quits.

PanicAttack

My NaNo novel and my writing career was saved by one of my writing buddies who told me that this feeling was totally normal, and that all writers experience it at one point or another of their first draft. She also send me the link to a pep talk Neil Gaiman wrote for NaNoWriMo back in 2007 and told me to read it before I did anything drastic like pressing DELETE on my computer and tossing my writing dreams out of the window.

I read Neil’s pep talk and I found it very motivating. The words that resonated with me the most were these:

That’s how novels get written.

You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

So I gritted my teeth and kept on writing, no matter how much I hated my manuscript by that point. And you know what? It got better. I wrote a few scenes I thought were rather good; I got excited about my story; the characters started speaking to me again; and I managed to get to the finish line. The result  was the first draft Of Broken Things, which is far from being perfect and still needs a ton of editing, but at least it’s finished.

Hemingway

So I want to do the same thing my writing buddy did for me last year and motivate you today. If you feel like tossing your novel into the trash and giving up – don’t. Go read through the wonderful pep talks we have on the NaNoWriMo site. Talk to your writing buddies and ask for support. Stop by the forums and share your doubts. But more importantly, stick around for a day or two more, write a few more words, start that scene you had been looking forward to write, even if it doesn’t happen until several chapters later. Or introduce a brand new character, or lead your story in a completely different direction.

I am convinced that you will get your mojo back and actually looking forward to the few days we have left before the end of November and NaNoWriMo.

And finally, let me leave you with this post by Chuck Wendig called On the Detestation of your Manuscript: an Expedition into the Dark, Tumultuous Heart of Authorial Self-Hatred. Be warned that Chuck uses a lot of naughty language, but his stuff is usually very funny and motivating.

And with that, write on, wrimos!

NaNoWriMo – things I’ve learned after week one.

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

We have officially survived the first week of NaNoWrimo and (hopefully) even managed to put some words on paper! This is a big first step and if you are still hanging on (and still writing), a small celebration is definitely in order. This is the first important milestone in our NaNo journey.

For me, this NaNoWriMo is not really about discovering whether I can write 50k words in a month. I know I can, because I have already done that last year.

NaNo 2013 was all about  nervous excitement at the challenge laced with a lot of doubts and “oh my god, what was I thinking when I decided to do that, and 1667 words per day is impossible!” moments. NaNo 2014 is more about refining my writing process and discovering what methods allow me to be more efficient when writing my first draft. So, this year I try to pay attention not only to what I write, but also how I write it, and note things that help me write faster and those that hinder me.

So here are a few conclusions I came up with after week one.

  1. Detailed outlines are a lifesaver.

During NaNo 2013, I had a general outline of my novel, arbitrarily separated into 3 parts. I had only put down some major points and decided to fill out the blanks as I went. As a result, my first draft contained a lot of backstory, side stories, and meaningless wanderings. I never got stuck per se, but there were days when I meandered through the story with no clear idea how to get to the next big plot point on my list.

Original by nord_modular on Flickr
Original by nord_modular on Flickr

I can tell you that editing that first draft is an absolute nightmare. I have only managed to wade through Part 1 and started on Part 2, and I have rewritten 90% of the draft.

This year, I spent the whole month of October writing several outlines for my NaNo 2014 project. I had a general plot outline, I had my characters bios and backstories and I had a chapter by chapter outline. Yup, I have written a 15k words, very detailed outline of my whole book.

The result is rather impressive – my WIP is has broken the 20k milestone today, and I haven’t been stuck even once so far. I also find it easier to get into the writing mood each day when I know exactly what scenes I will have to write.

2. Practice might not make everything perfect, but it certainly makes things better.

When I foolishly decided to participate in NaNo 2013, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I had never tried to write consistently for any prolonged period of time. So of course I struggled! Some days coming up with that daily 1667 word goal seemed almost impossible. The most I could manage in one sitting was between 500-600 words, after which my brain would go into meltdown and need a few hours to recuperate.

WordCount

I have been writing every day for the past year and building up my “literary” muscles, so to speak. So now my brain can produce 1000-1400 words in one session before the critical meltdown, which makes meeting the daily goal suddenly so much easier.

Plus whenever I feel like slaking off, this annoying little voice in my head starts nagging at me, “You managed to meet your word count last year, even if you had to struggle for it. You can do better than that this year!” Maybe I should try to lock her in the basement along with my inner editor next time?

And I saw another aspect of my writing in which practice really makes a difference. Not only do I write faster now, but I also write cleaner. I have a clearer idea of what I want to put on the page, and I manage to come up with the words I need much quicker than a year ago. So hopefully, this will make the editing process much less painful later on.

  1. Planning ahead is essential.

NaNo 2013 was a success for my writing life, but a bit of a disaster in my everyday life. I was so absorbed in the writing process, that I didn’t have time for anything else. Between my day job and NaNo, the month of November 2013 went by in a blur. I think my family had started to forget how I looked like by the end of it, because I would come home from work, grunt an unintelligible greeting, and disappear behind my monitor, dead to the world.

This year, not only do I have a lot more responsibilities at work, which require more of my time and attention, but I also have to update this blog, providing new interesting content every week, and I have a novel to write.

So I have to plan ahead, use every free minute of my time to keep up with everything. I have succeeded so far, and I’m not even too frazzled yet. But it’s only been a week, so we will see if I’m still as organized and optimistic by the time Thanksgiving comes knocking at my door.

write

Conclusion:

One week down, three more to go. Keep on writing, wrimos and remember that it doesn’t matter if you are ahead on our word count, just on the money, or desperately behind. You are here, you are making an effort to put words on the page and to create something beautiful out of nothing. That in itself is already an accomplishment!

NaNoWriMo – lock your inner editor in the basement.

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

Well, NaNoWriMo 2014 has now officially started. How did everyone do during their first full weekend of furious writing? Did the words flow out of your head and into the blank page or computer screen? Did you write until you felt like your head was on fire, your brain had turned to mush, and your fingers were bleeding? Or perhaps you stared at that blank page and felt overwhelmed by all the whiteness?

No matter what you have achieved this weekend, I’m sure you have realized something very important. Something that all the seasoned writers know, but that comes as an unpleasant surprise for all of us who decide to put our stories on paper for the first time.  I am speaking about the huge difference between the story that exists in our head and the result that gets put on paper.

I remember the first time I came face to face with this dichotomy. I had this important scene to write, and in my mind it was witty, well-written, full of good dialogue and tension – in other words, absolutely perfect. What I vomited on the page was absolute and utter crap… I was heartbroken. I was horrified. I was ready to press the delete button on the whole sorry excuse for a novel and go back to my day job.

But I did no such thing, and do you know why? Because first drafts are supposed to be bad. They are supposed to be full of typos, and ramblings, purple prose, and bad dialogue. In other words, like Ernest Hemingway said:

Hemingway

Yes, you heard it. Even the great masters of the written word have to struggle through a horrible first draft before they create a masterpiece. The trick to accomplishing that is to accept that your first draft will suck. In other words, you need to bind, gag, and lock your inner editor in the basement for the whole month of November (and maybe December and January as well) until your first draft is done.

That means every time you hear that little voice in the back of your mind telling you that your description sucks, that your dialogue is weak, that your plot is boring… tune it out, crank the music up, put earplugs in your ears, or shout, “La-la-la, can’t hear you!!!!” And keep writing.

Powering through your doubts and writer’s block is the only way you will get a finished draft to show for your efforts. It doesn’t matter if your first 3-4 chapters are a polished work of art if your story isn’t finished. As Kristen Lamb says, the world rewards finishers, not perfectionists.

Inner Editor

And if your inner editor is having a mental breakdown and sobbing uncontrollably in a dark corner of that basement, you can always tell her that she will have free reign over your work once the editing process starts. She will be free to take a chainsaw to your first draft and dismantle it at her heart’s desire. If you hate the scene you just wrote, keep a notebook handy and jot down the chapter and page number and a few words about what doesn’t work for you. Once you are done with your draft, you can use those notes during the editing process.

But for now, shhh, don’t listen to her, just write. Put one word on the page after another, no matter how bad does words seem. You can always edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.

So go on, wrimos, write your novels!

NaNoWriMo Prep – 10 useful links to stay motivated during the month of November.

nanowrimo1

NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, and I’m sure that most of you are excited about diving right in and getting a start on your novel. So I’m not going to bore you with another long post about how to prepare for NaNo, or what I learned from my past NaNo experience, blah, blah, blah.

The next month will be a wonderful, but also tiring experience for everyone trying to put 50k words on page in 30 days. There will be days when words fly faster than you can write them and you get 2k down in an hour with no visible effort. Then there would be days when writing even 100 words feels like a gargantuan effort, and every one of them feels like it was written with your own blood. There will be days when you will be motivated and days when you will feel like giving up.

So I thought about what had helped me stick through the worst moments of self-doubt and discouragement and motivated me to keep going last year. The answer was simple: encouragement from fellow writers.

That’s why I created a list of blog posts about NaNoWriMo that I found useful, funny and motivating. I would encourage you to bookmark them and reread them any time you feel like you need a pep talk during the cold month of November. I know I will be revisiting them frequently.

  1. First, a little bit of shameless self-promotion. Last year I had written a post about what helped me stick to my goals during NaNo. I would recommend reading it around week two, when the dreaded burnout starts – NaNoWriMo – 15 days to go.
  1. If you need a good laugh and also a boot in the butt advice to keep going, check out this older post by Chuck Wendig – 25 Things you should know about NaNoWriMo. I love Chuck for his humor, but be advised that the language he uses is definitely not PG-13.
  1. Now, if you need to go deeper into the nuts and bolts of writing your novel, here is a very good guest post by Piper Bayard on Kristen Lamb’s blog about backstory and how much the writer has to disclose and what to keep away from the reader – Backstory: The More You Know, The Less I have to.
  1. And speaking of writing that first draft, here is an excellent post by Kristen Lamb herself about turning off your inner editor during NaNo – Write Fast and Furious! Learning to Outrun “The ?Spock Brain.
  1. If you write your story from the point of view (POV) of several characters, here is a wonderful post by Jami Gold about which POVs we should use when and how to switch between them without confusing your reader – Ask Jami: Whose Point of View Should We Use?
  1. I try to stick to the advice of “show, not tell,” when I write. So this post by Amy McElroy about integrating all the five senses in our writing was very useful – Sensory Description: Deep Beyond the Five Senses We Learned in Preschool.
  1. We all love our protagonists (otherwise why would we want to write about them in the first place?), but we need to be careful not to make them too much like ourselves. So here is a good post by Anne R Allen about that – 5 Protagonists Riders Hate: Why Writers Shouldn’t Identify too Closely with a Main Character.
  1. And let’s not forget to stay healthy during November madness. So here is a nice infographic article by YogaDork – “Pose before Prose” Yoga for Writers.
  1. Since writing 50k words takes a lot of your free time, cleaning, cooking and having a social life will be next to impossible. So here is a nice link for Easy Recipes for NaNoWriMo on Pinterest.
  1. Last but not least, is the NaNoWriMo site. It’s full of useful resources, how-to guides, pep talks and most of all, all the other wonderful wrimos attempting this challenge with you. Browse, read, visit the forums, find writing buddies, but most importantly, communicate with others. They will be your best cheerleaders, your most devoted fans and a shoulder to cry on when you feel discouraged.

Here you go, I hope this list will be useful to you guys! Feel free to share more useful links in the comments. I’m always looking for good posts to motivate me and help me improve my craft.

NaNoWriMo Prep – Know your Story or the Importance of Outlines.

nanowrimo1

With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I wanted to share some of the advice I took out of my own experience with NaNoWriMo 2013. I learned a lot about writing in general and my own writing process last year, so hopefully this will also be useful to somebody else.

Last week I had talked about why I think everyone should do NaNo at least once. This week, I want to talk about outlines.

I know  people who approach who don’t plan or outline their stories; they just start writing on November 1st and see where the story will take them. They enjoy the process of discovering the story, of being surprised by the unexpected plot twists. In writer-speak, they are called pantsers, because they write “from the seat of their pants”. I know a lot of wrimos for whom this approach works wonders, and who can’t imaging writing their first draft any other way. I learned the hard way that I’m not part of that club.

Lost

I am a plotter. I need to be familiar with my story and my characters before I start writing my first draft or I will crash and burn somewhere around the 1/3 mark. So for all of the first time wrimos who had tried to pants it before and didn’t quite succeed, my answer would be – start outlining.

It doesn’t have to be an extensive outline. I know some writers who are happy with just knowing the ending and the general direction in which their story is going before starting to write the first draft.  Others don’t outline the plot, but do extensive profiles on all their characters, then let those character’s reactions decide which way the story is going.

My experience with outlining:

I have learned that if I want to win NaNo (and finish my first draft), I absolutely need to spend some time exploring my story beforehand.

I need detailed background stories and profiles on my main characters, including the so important antagonist. I tell you, in order to get this sucker right, you have to know his / her life story better than your own.

I also need to know the ending. I might only have a vague idea of how my story will progress and which road it will take to reach that ending, but if I don’t know how my story ends, I cannot write. Tried, failed, learned from the experience.

Wriring Of Broken Things for NaNo 2013 had been my first try at outlining beforehand. I had character bios and a brief outline of what I wanted to happen each of the three parts of the book. Oh, and the last scene of course. It worked like a charm – I wrote like my fingers were on fire, and there hadn’t been a single day where I felt stuck. Of course, a lot of the scenes changed and the story evolved in the process, and I took a few detours and alternative routes, but I never felt utterly lost, because I knew my final destination.

This year, I am picking it up a notch. I am applying the process I developed for writing my short stories to my NaNo preparation. When I brainstorm a short story, I write a detailed scene by scene outline. They I start writing the story, trying to follow that outline. Most of the time, it changes drastically during the first draft, but that process allows me to immerse myself in the story and explore several possible courses of action.

I took this process and adapted it to this year’s NaNo novel, but instead of doing a scene by scene outline, I did a chapter by chapter one. So now I have detailed character bios, a general outline of the entire plot, and a detailed outline of what will happen in each chapter. Now I am ready to finally start writing! Is it November 1st yet?

good-luck-road-sign

I want to finish this post with a word of caution though. Don’t consider your outline as something set in stone. It’s more of a roadmap with one route that would take you from point A (the beginning) to point B (the end), but there are a lot of roads and alternative routes. Feel free to take a different turn, stop in a small town, or to take the scenic route instead of the highway. Just keep your destination in mind and make sure you are progressing towards it no matter what road you take.

So how are you guys preparing for NaNo? Plotters or pantsers? How detailed are your outlines? I want to hear from you!

5 reasons everyone should do NaNoWriMo at least once.

nanowrimo1

We are now midway through October and thousands of writers across the world are frantically preparing for the biggest writing challenge of the year – the National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Since I had jumped into it head first last November, I read a lot of blog post and articles about NaNo on the web, and I realized that there are often opposite reactions to the event. Some like it, some don’t; some swear it’s the best thing that ever happened to them, while others think it’s worthless.

Personally, I think that if you think of yourself as a writer, even an aspiring or pre-published one, you should do NaNo at least once in your life. And below are the 5 most important reasons why you should do it.

  1. 50k words is an average a professional writer produces every month, not just in November.

Before I did my first NaNo, the idea of writing 50k words in 30 days seemed almost impossible to me. I could barely manage to write 300 to 400 words a day, and it was a good day when that happened.

But consider that an novel is anywhere between 80k to 120k words. If a professional writer releases one of those a year, he has to go through all the steps (outlining, research, first draft, editing, beta readers, etc) in just 12 little months. That means  the first draft has to be put on paper pretty fast. So 50k words per month is actually not that farfetched.

So if you have a dream to one day become a professional writer, I think NaNo is a good training ground to see what it takes to do this for a living. Plus it’s always interesting (at least for me) to challenge myself and see if I can do this.

  1. NaNo helps you build a habit of writing consistently.

As I had mentioned in point 1, before NaNo, I was lucky to put 400 words on the page in a day, then spend a week or more without writing anything. After NaNo?  My average is about 1000 and I write every day. Or if I’m not working on my first draft, I edit, rewrite or outline something.

NaNoWriMo showed me that waiting for a muse to strike to sit down and write is just an excuse NOT to write. Inspiration can come to you, but it has to find you ready and already at work. I have a day job, I have a family and a social life, but NaNo showed me that I could find a way to balance all that and find time to put words on paper everyday if I wanted it badly enough. And if I managed to balance all that during the month of November and nobody died (and I still have my job), why not try to make a habit of it?

The results are staggering. Before NaNo, I had 3 attempted and abandoned novels. After NaNo, I have a published short story, a finished novel (still editing that one though), a novella, and 2 more short stories. I went from never finishing anything to consistently finishing all my projects.

  1. Lock your inner editor in the basement.

When you have to reach a daily goal of 1667 words, you don’t have time to stop and edit every sentence. Heck, sometimes you don’t even have time to go back and correct a typo. NaNo is about putting that first draft on paper, and even Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

Hemingway

NaNoWriMo teaches you how to tie you pesky inner editor up, gag her, and throw her in the basement. It allows you to write prose that looks like crap. A scene isn’t turning out quite to your liking? Don’t stop, write it down and move on. You are not quite sure where your character or story is going? Write on, your story might take you to a surprising and interesting turn.

Remember, that you can always go back and edit everything later, once you are done with your first draft, that’s what revisions are for.

  1. Discover which writing methods work for you.

Writing a novel is hard work. Writing one in 30 days is a feat. You need to be aware of all the tools in your writer’s toolbox and put them to good use if you want to achieve your goal. I look at NaNo as a big experiment to test different writing, outlining and time management techniques to determine which ones work for me. Those I keep for further use, the others I discard.

This is how I discovered that if I want to put my butt in the chair and type until my fingers bleed putting that first draft on paper, I need to do all my research and planning beforehand. I need to have a very good idea of what my story is and where it’s going or I get stuck and discouraged.

I didn’t outline any of my failed novel attempts, but for last year’s NaNo, I decided to change things up and wrote a 10 page outline of the whole project. It resulted in a finished draft. Lesson learned. Now I take the time to do extensive outlines on everything I write. This year I’m experimenting with chapter by chapter outlining.

5. Be part of a wonderful writing community.

Last year, over 600,000 people participated in the NaNo challenge. There is a lot to be said about being part of such a large community. Writing is a solitary act, but knowing that thousands of people around the globe are writing their own novels with you makes it considerably less so.

Plus the forums are full of useful resources for writers. There are always people happy to help you out if you are stuck, need help with your plot or character development, or just need some cheering up (or a kick in the butt to make you get off the internet and keep on writing). Browse the site, add some writing buddies, make friends, do some word sprints, and enjoy this special brand of November madness.

2013-Winner-Facebook-Cover

And to conclude this blog post, I wanted to point out that when you wrote your 50k words and won NaNoWriMo, you are still not done. Your novel is probably not finished. So stick with it. Make the commitment to continue writing through December (and January, if necessary) until you can finally put those two wonderful words at the bottom of the page: THE END. It’s a wonderful feeling, I tell you. Makes you forget all the blood and tears and frustration that went into writing that first (and bloody awful) draft. And if this feeling makes you want to do it all over again with a new story, then congratulations, you are a writer!