Rough Draft

Tips For Surviving NaNoWriMo

As we all know, National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, is just around the corner (though considering it’s done all over the world these days, it might need a name change). If you are not familiar with the tradition, it’s basically that every year authors try to write a novel in the course of a single month, usually one that’s around fifty-thousand words, and always in November. Of the authors that choose to participate each year, some do it independently, while others do it through an international organization that can hook them up with other participating writers in their region and even let them know about local events centered on helping authors during the month.

I’m on the fence on whether or not I’ll be participating this year. I’ve three other books at various stages of editing and I have to decide if one of those books needs to be rewritten (if so, then I’m participating because that’s basically starting from scratch). Even so, I thought I’d serve the writing community and do my civic duty by posting some notes on how to survive and get through NaNoWriMo with all your fingers still attached to you and your sanity somewhat intact.

Because let’s face it, writing fifty-thousand words in thirty days? I don’t know about the rest of you, but normally that many words takes me six to eight months. Cramming all that work into a month, we need all the help and advice we can get.

So first off, don’t get stressed about the word count. To get fifty-thousand words written in thirty days, you’d have to write approximately 1,667 words, or about 6.7 pages per day.* I know for a lot of writers it’s difficult to get that much out in a single day. The thing to remember is not to feel upset if you can’t force yourself to get that many words out per day. Remember, all good stories take time, and there’s no prizes for meeting daily quotas (the NaNoWriMo organization hands out badges, but they’re like the ones from Audible, nice to have when you get them but they don’t make much of a difference after you get them) or getting the full fifty-thousand words written out besides bragging rights. Besides, if you have to force yourself to put out words when your heart is not in them or just to meet a quota, your first draft might not turn out so well.

That’s another thing: remember that this is a first draft. And a rushed one, too. So if you look at what you’ve written and wonder what the heck you were thinking, that’s a normal reaction to a first draft. They’re supposed to be full of errors and passages that make no sense to you upon the second read-through. It’s during that second read-through that you touch it up and get it closer to the gem that you know it’s going to be.

Now that we’ve gotten the tips that’ll keep you in a good frame of mind out of the way, let’s cover how we actually survive NaNoWriMo:

Prior to November, research and prepare. We’ve still got twenty-two days till NaNoWriMo kicks off. During that time, it might help for you to get an idea of what you’re working on, where it might be heading, and maybe learn a bit more about the subject matter you’re writing, especially if it’s a topic you don’t know very well (like a murder mystery in Tang China or a coming-of-age story set in an ROTC unit). Now I know a lot of you might like to write by the seat of your pants, but just doing a little bit of prep can be helpful, especially if it means you don’t have to stop midway through writing because you realized you don’t know a thing about car maintenance and you lose four days because you got a car maintenance manual and needed to cram all that info in.

It also helps to prepare so that you can make plans in case you have to stop writing for any reason. Whether you need to attend a wedding midway through the month or you have to put the metaphorical quill down because you have a Poli Sci exam coming up you need to study for, having a contingency plan in case that happens can work wonders.

Speaking of which, while it is important to get out as much writing as possible, make sure not to neglect your life just to write. Many of us have day jobs, school, families, friends, and a variety of other things that require our attention. While it is important to write and maybe give up a few social obligations or fun outings to work, don’t neglect the real world entirely. I find the real world can not only give me great ideas for stories, but also reenergize me so that when I sit down to write, I’m not restless and looking for a distraction or yearning to go out and see the latest horror movie or something.

And while you’re working so hard, remember to take care of your health. In some ways, NaNoWriMo is like the last three weeks of a college semester: you’ve got a ton of work to do, only so much time to do it, and you’re willing to get maybe four hours a night of sleep and eat ramen noodles three times a day if that’s what it takes to get through it on top. I’m advising against that. There are no consequences to not getting out the full fifty-thousand words, so your health shouldn’t be a consequence of trying to. Get plenty of sleep each night, eat healthy meals, and get some exercise too if you can, even if it’s just going for a walk. You’ll find you’ll have more energy for writing if you do, believe me.

It’s also healthy to take an occasional break. We all need time to recharge and let our brains focus. So if you feel approaching burnout or writer’s block, or if you can’t figure out where your story should go next, or if you’re just so tired of writing about a princess trying to cover up her father’s murder so she doesn’t have to marry against her will, then maybe a trip out to the movies or to the bar with your friends or some fun family time or an all-night Mario Kart tournament with your roommates might be what you need. Studies actually show that ideas come more easily to you if you’re distracted, so there’s even more reason to take a break right there.

And if you need a little motivation to keep you going, reward yourself for certain milestones. For every five-thousand words or so you put out, reward yourself with something fun. This could be a favorite dessert, watching Netflix for a little while, whatever you want. Give yourself something extra special when you reach fifty-thousand words and/or finish the book (I suggest some wine, some celebration music, and later a good movie with a friend). You’ll find it much easier to write if you have something to look forward to after all your hard work.

And let’s not forget to build a support network around yourself. The NaNoWriMo organization attempts to do this by putting you in touch with other participants in your area and with community events, but whether or not you decide to participate in these events, you should still have people around you encouraging and cheering you on. Friends, family, lovers, authors you’re friends with online or offline, they should all be there for you. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have people cheering me on and willing to read my work every time I publish during the rest of the year. Imagine how motivating it’ll be when you know there’s a group of people standing behind you when you do the writing equivalent of a 5K.

Finally, take a long break when you’re done. Not just from writing so you can get your creative juices to recharge, but also take a break from whatever novel you were working on once you’re done. I always feel that a month or more between drafts allows for writers to come back to their first drafts with fresh eyes so they can see where they made mistakes in the first draft and correct them. If you start editing immediately after finishing the first draft, you can only see it as the baby you just poured so much time and energy into and miss quite a lot. Better to take a break and let it lie until you’re ready to look again.

I’d like to wrap it up here and wish everyone participating next month good luck. Whatever you do to make the month of November one of the most productive and crazy of the year, I hope you found these tips helpful and that you have fun trying to get a full novel out in thirty days.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

What tips do you have for getting through the month and writing as much as you can in so little time?

*That’s if you write like I do, which is Times New Roman, 12 point font, and double spaced on 8.5” x 11” paper. Otherwise it varies.

Categories: General Writing, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Rough Draft, Schedules & Routines | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How To Write By The Seat of Your Pants

If anyone out there outlines (and succeeds by this method), please leave a comment below because I would love to feature a guest post on the plotting method.

There is no one method that works for everyone.  You need to write in whatever way will get the book finished.  Some of us write by the seat of our pants, others need to plot everything out ahead of time, and others fall somewhere in between.  Today, I want to talk about writing by the seat of your pants because I am that type of writer.

Now for the post…

1. It all begins with knowing your genre.

And when I say “an idea”, I mean that is pretty much it.  There is not much more to it than that.  I write romances, so I know a couple of things going into any book.  I know there is a hero and heroine, there will be some obstacle they will have to face, and there will be a happy ending.  I’m sure other genres have their general rules of thumbs as well–some basic elements that must be in the story.  So that’s where you start.  What are the core components in your genre?

2.  Pick a plot.

This is the funnest part of it.  You get to select whatever plot you want to have, and this plot can be boiled to one sentence.  For example, I want to write a story about a hero who rescues a heroine from a stagecoach robbery.

3.  Pick your setting.

This is where your story takes place.  What country does this story happen in?  What year is it?  What month is it?  Etc.

4.  Pick your characters.

This is another fun part.  You get to select what your characters.  Since this is a “seat of your pants” style, characters can change their personalities within the first couple pages of the book, so I would be very broad.  I’d name them, describe their physical attributes, and give them free rein to develop as they will.  You can have an idea of how acts before you go in, but it’s not until they’re being written do you truly get to know them.

5.  Pick your opening scene.

This is where it all begins, and besides this scene, you won’t have much else in mind when you begin writing.  You might have snippets of other scenes that you “hope” get included but they can change or never see the light of day.  What you might also know is the end.  In romance, this is pretty easy.  The hero and heroine are happy.   But as a general rule, I don’t know how the hero and heroine end up happy or what the final scene is like.  I just know they’re happy.  So if all you really have is a vague idea of what the first scene is like, you’re right on track for this method of writing.

6.  Start writing.

Steps 1-5 take all of a couple minutes, but they are usually thought out well in advance, usually while you’re away from the computer and let your mind wander.

This step is where the real work begins.  Most of the time, it all boils down to writing down the first sentence.  I know that sounds like it won’t go anywhere, but I find as soon as I get that first sentence down, the next one flows along and then the next and so on.

7.  The first three chapters.

I consider these to be the most important ones because these are the ones that let me know who my characters are and I start to figure out how the story is going to go.  The characters are pretty much fleshed out (their motives, their personalities, their fears, etc) by the end of chapter three.  The rest of the story is not fleshed out, but there is usually an idea of where it’s headed and what twists and turns might pop up along the way.  However, it’s not uncommon for those plot ideas to change as you keep writing.

8.  The most important thing to do is to keep writing.

There is no sense in looking back to edit.  Light edits (such as changing someone’s hair color or favorite song) are okay to change, but extensive edits or proofing don’t work well until after the book is finished.  Why?  Because there might be a scene coming up in the book that will change something you already wrote.  Character A might decide they aren’t the villain after all, which means you will have to go back and change a couple of things they said or did to make them more sympathetic.  But the problem is, you won’t know what changes will pop up until you’re writing them.

So my advice, make a note on things that change but keep on moving forward with the story.

I will make an exception to this, though.  If the twist that a character throws at you is so big that it changes everything else that comes later in the story, go ahead and do some light revisions, rewriting, or move scenes around.  If you feel that your characters are falling in love way too soon (that there needs to be more build up to that moment), then by all means, go back and write some extra scenes in.  If you figure scene A would be better after scene B, then switch them around.  But I would not do any cleaning up (polishing the content) until after the first draft is done.

9.  Add more than you think you’ll need.

And as a rule of thumb, it’s easier to delete things than to add them later.  So if you find you are repeating yourself or adding things in that might not make the final cut, go ahead and put them all in.  You can always cut them out later.  I’m the kind of write who hates writing additional scenes after I finish the first draft, so I will throw in more stuff than I’ll need later.  I typically throw out about 3,000 or more words during the second draft process.  I rarely ever add word count to my book once the first draft is done.

Also, with repetition, maybe something is stronger to write in at scene D but weak in scene F.  Well, all you have to do is delete that repetitive thing from scene F and your problem is resolved.  So in first draft mode, repeat your little heart out.  You just don’t know how things will work out until the story is all done.

10.  Don’t sweat the word usage.

Too many adverbs, adjectives, using the same words over and over again, etc?  During the first draft, the goal is to write the story.  So if you say the same word five times in one paragraph, that’s okay.  If everything is “magical” in a chapter, that’s okay, too.  If the hero is always grinning on a page, let him.  Trying to figure out the right word to use or a way to reword a sentence at this stage of the game isn’t necessary.  You can always do this when you’re working on the second draft.  The last thing you want to do in “seat of the pants” writing is to stop writing to figure out the right word for the way the heroine is walking.  In the first draft, she just walks.  In the second draft, she can stroll.

11.  Don’t question the characters.

This is hard but I’ve learned if the characters are changing the plot on me (and most of the time they do), then I need to trust they know what they’re doing and let them lead me along.  Whenever I have fought them on it, I end up getting stuck in the story or the story ends up with serious rewrites.  So when your characters do something unexpected, go with it.  Part of the fun of writing by the seat of your pants is that you get to be surprised.

12.  Highlight and go back to things you question.

While I do my first draft, I don’t search for things I’m not sure about unless I can do it in a minute or so.  If it’s something quick, like “what was South Dakota called before it became a state?”, I’ll take the time to search.  But if it’s taking a couple minutes, I highlight the word I have a question about and go back to it during my second draft where I’ll do the research I need to make sure I’m right.  Once you stop to research something, it hinders the “flow” of your writing.

13.  If you get stuck, jump ahead to a scene you are sure will fit in the story.

Usually, the tricky period in a first draft is somewhere in the middle.  I find the beginning and ending to be the easiest parts of a book to write, but I do get stuck at some point between 20,000 to 35,000 words.  I think it’s because I need to connect the beginning to the ending but want to make sure there’s a point to each scene I put in there.  Every scene must have a purpose.  So when I find myself in the “what the heck comes after this scene?” mode, I jump ahead and work on a scene I know is coming up.  (And by 20,000 words, I do have a couple of scenes I know will be coming.)  So if you know a scene is coming up, and you’re stuck on the place you’re at, go ahead and write that future scene.

14.  If you can, write more than one book at a time.  (Works best for multi-taskers.)

Sometimes when I am stuck and truly don’t know what to write, I work on another book.  I have an easier time when I work on 3-4 books at a time because I can switch to another story if one isn’t progressing as nicely as I’d like.  This method doesn’t work for everyone, but it works great for me.  It’s very common for me to take ten minutes to write in one book then switch to another one for five or ten minutes until I know what I want to write in the first one.  Why this method works for me, I don’t know.  But I am the type of person who can’t sit and do just one thing at a time.  It just drives me crazy.  Usually, I listen to music while I write or do housework because I’m doing two things at once.  So I think writing more than one book at a time works best for people who are multi-taskers.

15.  End the daily writing in the middle of a scene.

Some writers hate this idea, but I love it.  If I stop in the middle of a scene and I already know how it ends, I am in a much better position to pick up writing the next day than I am if I finish the scene.  The reason for this is because when I get back to my story the next day, I already know what I’m going to start off writing.  This helps me move forward so I can get an idea for the next scene because I usually figure out what the next scene will be by the time I end the one I’m currently on.

This doesn’t work for everyone.  It depends on what your style is.  I have a friend who would go crazy leaving a scene hanging.


Final thought

Those are my tips for writing by the seat of your pants.  If you write by the seat of your pants and have a way of writing that I didn’t mention or is different from how I do it, please comment.  We all have our own way of writing, and the best way you should write is the way that works for you.  Don’t let anyone tell you there is only one way to do it or that you need to do it their way.  Whatever gets you to finish the book is how you should do it.

Categories: General Writing, Rough Draft | Tags: , , ,

Author Joleene Naylor’s Writing/Publishing Process

Everyone writes a book differently and each author swears by their own methods.  As far as I see it, the only wrong way is the way that doesn’t work for you. That said, I’m going to share my bizarre way of novel creation.

  1. Rough (bad) draft. Ideally, I like to do this in a month without an outline. I have vague ideas for some plot elements, or even a handful of scenes, but that’s about it. I also don’t research beforehand, but rather as I’m writing because I don’t know what I will need.
  2. I reread and fix anything major I notice. I won’t lie, this is often not a lot.
  3. It’s off the beta reader number one whose job is to find major typos. I have a lot of them because, yes, I’m a bit dyslexic. It means some extra work on the polishing end and that we have to go over it more times than some other authors need to, but it is as it is.
  4. At this stage it used to go to The Mighty Ed (alas I have lost her because of other commitments, though I have a new Ed in training). She would read through and point out scenes that needed cut, scenes that needed expanded, parts that didn’t mesh, places where the characters acted out of character etc. This step is absolutely vital to any book, and I can not reiterate enough the need for an “Ed” who respects you enough to tell you what needs fixed without being mean or lecturing you. It may also be hard to take said advice the first (few) times because essentially they tear your book to shreds and stomp on it – but hopefully in a nice way.
  5. Now comes rework. I  incorporate 99.9% of her suggestions, even if this means massive rewriting, which it has before. I prefer to go over the whole thing two times afterwards to make sure the changes flow.
  6. Beta number one tirelessly pours over it again for typos.
  7. Now it goes to beta number two. He corrects more typos and points out the flaws in my fight scenes and  suggests where I need more gore (or explosions). He’s also what I call an honest beta, in so far as he will flat out say “this sucks”. Again, this is very necessary.
  8. Another round of edits to incorporate his suggestions and probably some rewriting.
  9. Beta number one looks sad, but looks over it again.
  10. Now it goes to beta number three. She’s the romance expert but also makes suggestions on other scenes, catches typos and grammar and points out anything that might be confusing to a reader. This is invaluable.
  11. Another round of edits to incorporate her suggestions.
  12. Beta number one cries, I feel bad, and just send it on the beta number four.
  13. Beta four wades through it, fixes typos and some odd phrases and may or may not point out a handful of scenes that need to be redone.  For example, in book four I ended up doing some large chapter rewrites after he pointed out that  a pivotal scene just wasn’t working (if you’ve read the book, it was the truck stop scene.) He is also not a regular vampire fan, so he points out anything that non-vampire readers might find confusing. This is another super important person.
  14. I rewrite, re-edit, etc based on his suggestions. I also have several long plot arranging conversations with him, so he gets to be the sounding board, as have poor Mighty Ed  and betas one and two throughout the whole of this process.
  15. Then it  is off to beta number five. She is a whiz at catching typos/grammar, plot inconsistencies and things like magically changing hair color or magically clean clothes (these have both happened!)  etc. and, like The Mighty Ed, she understands the universe and the characters. This is something that is very hard to find and so, so important!
  16. Another round of edits and rewrites and then poor beta number one looks it over again. By now beta one and I have it memorized and are both sick of this book.
  17. Mighty Ed gets the final copy, which she double checks for punctuation (my commas are wild). With book four, Mighty Ed was pretty busy, so beta five got the final round. She did a fantastic job, as evidenced by the nice clean copy.
  18. Now I make a bunch of other changes. Beta number one sobs and threatens to beat her head into the keyboard. I moan and complain that this must be the worst book ever written. I would rather stab out my eyes than read it again.
  19. I format it and send it to Create Space. My paperback version arrives and I read it one more time (it reads differently in paperback). Then poor beta one looks at it again as does beta two. We draw circles, squares and chickens on the pages (beta two does the chicken art).
  20. I redo all of the marked things. On the last boo this was just typos and such, but on the others I have randomly added whole new scenes at this juncture.
  21. Ideally I get a second proof and go through it a final time, but not always.
  22. I publish the sucker and vow never to read it again because i would rather be stampeded to death by a herd of water buffalo than ever read another word of it!

As you can see, this process is a bit long. I need to try to streamline this because, as you can guess, it takes months and releasing only one book a year is not doing my career any favors. It’s occurred to me that a lot of time is spent polishing scenes that get deleted or changed after beta reader’s input, so with my current WIP (PATRICK) I am trying a different method. I sent out the initial bad draft (from step 4) and will compile the comments, notes, etc, and the do a BIG rewrite, thereby hopefully meshing steps 4-15 into only a couple of steps. Hopefully this will also save beta one’s sanity and keep me from completely hating the book by the time it’s published. Or maybe not.  Cutting out some of the rewrite steps may result in more typos slipping through, or more little bits that needed added but got missed. I don’t know, but I guess we’ll find out. That’s the beauty of indy publishing, you can try new things, make mistakes, learn from it and try something else if it doesn’t work.

Categories: General Writing, Rough Draft, Self-Publishing, The Writer & Author | Tags: , ,

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