Posts Tagged With: authors

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Trip in a Police Cruiser, Got me Thinking

Last week my husband and I trekked to Grand Island, Neb., to attend the state fair. Little did we know that day would end with a ride inside a police cruiser.

No, we did not do anything wrong. In fact, the policeman took pity on us. Let me explain.

Every year my husband and I travel to Grand Island so I can sell my novels at the Nebraska Writers Guild booth. Authors take turns selling their books and in exchange we tell attendees (interested in writing) of the benefits of joining the guild.

I always park at a certain place when we attend. However, when you sell your wares, you have to bring your own books. My husband and I had two luggage bags. I pulled one and he the other. As we were making our long walk to the 4-H/FFA building, a fair volunteer, who drove a golf cart, approached us. “Would you like a ride?”

“Yes,” we answered. We both gave a large sigh of relief. It was a long ways to that building and her assistance was a Godsend. However, who would know that this action would later cause us a lot of grief.

How you ask? The simple answer is one word, b e a r i n g s.

I lost my bearings. If we had walked, I would have remembered landmarks to get us to the right entrance/exit gates. But since I did not, we ended up at the wrong exit.

A group of policemen were directing drivers into a parking lot. I yelled at one of the officers, asking if the road in front of us was Stollely Street. He came over to us and pointed toward a street at least a mile from where we stood. He looked us over, seeing our luggage. “That’s a long walk,” he finally said.

I could not believe we had walked around a host of fair exhibits and buildings only to travel in the wrong direction. I was dumbfounded. I could not even come up with the side street where we parked until the officer uttered the name, Roush Street. “That’s where we parked.”

He left and in a few minutes returned with his police cruiser. We got in. He joked, “You won’t be able to kiss in here.” He was right as my husband slide into the tiny space between the plastic glass and the door. If you never have been inside a police vehicle (which we had not), do not itch to do so if you are overweight because you will be squashed. The policeman opened the door for me. I sat down beside my husband, and yes there was no way to kiss with Plexiglas dividing us. However, who would be in the mood when you were riding in a police car?

The officer drove us to our car and helped unload our bags and place them into my vehicle. We shook his hand in gratitude for taking pity on a couple of stupid idiots.

However, this got me thinking about writers, and how we too can lose our bearings. We forget to focus on our next undertaking and not fret about a past mistake or pet project, which did not do as well as expected.

As literary agents will tell you, what is the next hottest story type in publishing? Is it a paranormal, a graphic romance trilogy or what? Answer is no one knows. If they cannot figure it out, how can you? Thus, the best thing to do is to move on with your next idea, leave the past behind you and do not give up.

Experts say the worst mistake many authors make is to give up after weeks or months of disappointing sales. What about the movie, “Wizard of Oz?” Did you know it flopped in theaters at the time? What revived this enduring classic? When it ran on television screens years later so your work also could be that sleeper. My hope, though, it does not take decades for you to achieve that success.

So keep your powder dry, get involved in your next venture and do not worry about the past. And as always I will end with a God bless.

Categories: General Writing | Tags: , ,

Writer’s Block – Guest Post

Today I have a great guest post from Terry Compton (a fellow Ink Slinger’s Anthology author – look for that to be released October first).


Writer’s Block

Or maybe just a slight impediment

writer’s block can feel like a brick wall

That blank computer screen just sits there and stares back at you.  Words flit through your brain but not words that will make your next scene come alive.  What do you do to break this?  I’d like to share a couple of ideas that work for me and then see what others do.

I usually have two sorts of blocks; too many possibilities or the transition from the scene I’ve just finished to the new one in my head.  I should tell you that I’m a seat of the pants writer.  You know, the one who has an opening scene and a vague idea of where you want the story to go.  The characters then drag you around in their big adventure.  I don’t know if these techniques will help those who outline their story but anything is worth a shot if you’re not getting words down.

I’d like start off by saying that I learned these tricks at the local authors’ group.  I don’t know a dangling participle from a dangling worm.  Oh, wait, one of them has to do with fishing.  I do know about that, but back to the subject.  One of the members of the group has been involved in screen writing and other types of writing for over twenty-five years.  He says there is only one cardinal rule in writing:  DON’T BORE YOUR READER.  Now let’s look at my two problems with that in mind.

How can too many possibilities be a block?  Sometimes after your protagonist (or even your antagonist) has finished a task in your latest scene, it will seem like they stand at a crossroads with five or six different paths ahead.  Which path do you choose?  Should they go to the beautiful beach to improve their sun tan?  Maybe press ahead to the next task in their adventure, or do they need to meet the latest heart throb?  And so on and so on.

What I’ve learned is to go back to your storyline.  Where is your character going?  What is their driving goal?  Are they too exhausted and beat up to continue?  Do they need to go to that beach to recuperate?  I’m trying to look through the DBYR filter more.  My sub-conscious sometimes quits throwing ideas out and I suddenly realize its saying, “Ho hummm.  Borrrring.”  Consequency, it’s time to go back and move your character in the most direct route along the storyline to the end goal.

Unless you’re adding a twist.  Then maybe they need to go to that beach to get such a bad sunburn that they will be handicapped in the next part of their adventure.  Or step on that poisonous jelly fish that will leave them hopping on one leg as they continue.

Go back a few pages and look at where they have been and what they were doing.  Come up with something that threatens or impedes them but keep them striving for the goal they need to reach.  Look through the DBYR filter and follow what your sub-conscious is saying.

But what about that transition scene between completing the dangerous task and getting to the character’s big wedding two days from now?  How do you bridge scenes like that which are so completely different?

Look at your character.  What have they been doing?  What is their state of mind?  Are they totally exhausted and beat six ways from Sunday.  Maybe they need the rest but maybe not all they’ll need.  Maybe they find out there’s a general transportation strike that will keep them from their destination.  How can they make it?  Or go back to the jelly fish and sunburn.  How will they ever be able to function at the wedding without being able to wear clothes or hopping on one foot?

Are they exuberant and ready to go?  Then it’s time to add trials and tribulation to their lives.  Readers want to worry about your characters.  Can they make the wedding or is the former suiter going to lock the church so your character can’t get in?  During the transition, keep your character under duress and stress.  If they aren’t, put them there.  A reader (or your sub-conscious) worrying about your character won’t get bored.

DBYR can be a great filter for any sort of block.  Look at how many obstacles your antagonist, weather, outside forces or even character flaws can put in the way.  Make sure the character is trying their best to go in the most direct route to their goal.  Unless they need a side trip to add a twist to the plot, then make sure there is a logical cause for these things to happen.  If the character is going to the beach after stopping the bank robbery, why?  Did their boss send them away?  Did they get a reward?

If you’re blocked, think of a list of obstacles.  Keep adding to them each day and then put your character through the wringer.  Good-bye block, hello happy reader and sub-conscious.

What do you do to overcome your block?


Terry Compton has raced stock cars, rode horses across the Scapegoat Wilderness, fished and hunted most of his adult life while working at several different jobs. He is an Air Force veteran and served in the Air National Guard for several years. He is currently the owner, chief welder and installer for an ornamental iron business where he has made several award winning metal creations and is now turning this creativity to writing.

Terry loves to read science fiction, westerns and mystery stories. Some of his favorite authors are Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, Robert Heinlein, Louie L’Amour, Zane Grey and Anne McCaffery. He is currently learning about ‘indie’ authors who are publishing e-books.

Terry currently lives in Montana with his wife and a dog who thinks she is a short furry people.

Categories: Writer's Block & Burnout | Tags: , ,

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