Category Archives: Sean Golden

Game on! Making writing fun 

It’s NaNoWriMo time.

As I said last month, I’m not really a NaNoWriMo participant. I do watch from the sidelines though. It’s interesting to watch writers push themselves to achieve word count goals. I do believe that the hardest part of writing is finishing a story, and anything that gets people to complete a project is probably a good thing.

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But I do worry about people putting ridiculous amounts of pressure on themselves to complete a project. Creating an artificial pressure-packed environment can make writing a chore, and that can give writers a bad taste in their mouths which can lead to less motivation, not more.

So how do you keep writing fun when the pressure is on?

Honestly, that’s a very hard question to answer. Sometimes writing really can be a chore. And if you’re trying to make a living at it, then it’s a chore that you have to do, just as much as if you were a pastry chef getting up at 4am for the umpteenth time and dragging yourself into work.

Here are a few things that might take the drudgery out of your writing as you try to maintain that 1,500 words per day goal that will get you close to a NaNoWriMo success.

  • Remove a significant character, and replace them with a completely different one. You don’t have to go all George R. R. Martin here, you don’t have to kill them. Maybe they just had to move away. Maybe your protagonist got into an argument with them, and they decided it was time to move on. Whatever the cause, this will force you to think about your characters’ personalities and give you a chance to explore how your protagonist deals with adversity.
  • Introduce some weather into your narrative. I can’t even think of the number of books I’ve read where it apparently never even rains, much less storms. Let nature become an obstacle to your characters’ goals. This is a great opportunity to paint a memorable scene.
  • It is apparently very difficult in a novel to get sick. Nobody ever seems to. I’ve read eight book series and the main characters never even get the sniffles. Your macho he-man hero type may be able to stare down a raging fire-breathing dragon, but how well does he handle a migraine?
  • Throw a party. In real life people go to parties all the time. Unless a party is part of the plot, characters in novels never seem to be invited to do anything. I’m writing this the day after Halloween. Maybe your main characters get invited to a costume party. What would they dress as? What would that reveal about their personalities that might not come out otherwise?

These are all things that can reveal new and interesting things about your character, while giving you something interesting and new to write. That’s when your mind is open to new ideas, and when your story can take interesting twists and turns that you didn’t anticipate. And if you didn’t anticipate them, it’s a good bet that your readers won’t either.

NanoWriMo Neophyte

Before getting into the meat of this post, I have three admissions to make.

  1. I have never participated in NanoWriMo.
  2. I won’t be participating in NanoWriMo this year.
  3. I may never participate in NanoWriMo.

Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t think NanoWriMo can be a very valuable activity. It’s just that my own circumstances never seem to align with NanoWriMo. For example, right now I am 65,000 words into a probably 90,000-word novel that I intend to submit for publication as soon as it’s done. By the time NanoWriMo kicks off, I hope to be pretty close to wrapping up that novel, and will be working on the other things that are required for a book to be publishable, including editing, drawing maps, getting cover art, etc.

By the time I get all that done, it might be Christmas. Hard to say. That mostly depends on how much editing is needed.

If I weren’t in the middle of writing a novel, NanoWriMo might make sense. But it is my current intention to be in the middle of writing a novel as long as I can put eyes to screen and fingers to keyboard.

Having said that, I do have some thoughts about NanoWriMo for those who do participate, from the perspective of moving a story forward.

The main advice I would have is to get an outline done before you start writing. The biggest thing that delays my writing is when I reach a point where I’m not entirely certain which direction the narrative needs to go. I’m not completely an outliner, I have a fair bit of “pantsing” in my writing, but having a map to follow generally makes it much easier to keep moving, and NanoWriMo is all about keeping moving.

To reach 50,000 words in a 30-day month, you need to average 1,667 words per day. That’s a manageable number of words to write, even if you have a full-time job and, say, a family or something. But it’s a lot more manageable if you aren’t having to figure out your next paragraph in the middle of your current paragraph.

The next bit of advice is good advice whether you are doing NanoWriMo or just writing in general, and that is to try not to worry that much about the quality of your writing while you’re hammering the story out. The most important part of writing is getting the basic story on paper so that you have something you can edit into something readable.

If you do manage to complete NanoWriMo and end up with 50,000 words, don’t let them just sit on your computer. Put a plan together to get that effort honed and polished into something you can submit to an editor. Get your work out there. Make all that effort worthwhile. Even if you don’t get it published, you will learn a lot from the experience, and every time you do, you’ll get a little closer to your goal.

Working the floor…

This month I’m afraid I don’t have much experience to draw on for my blog post. I’ve attended exactly one writing related convention in my life. And that was Denver ComicCon in 2015. I was invited to participate because of my Superstars Writing Seminars attendance in February of 2015, and at the time I was living on a separation package from being laid off, so I had time to kill. I agreed, even though I had no books to sell and would mostly be doing the grunt work of hauling books, selling other author’s books and trying to get the public to buy books.

It was also a chance to network with some actual published authors, which is valuable in itself.

There is some work to do pre-convention to set up the booth, but that’s about as interesting as it sounds. So I’ll focus instead on the activities on the actual convention floor.

The first thing I was asked to do was to distribute leaflets directing people to the booth itself. The meant walking the line of incoming attendees as they waited to get inside, and handing out the leaflets. For a natural introvert like me, that was stressful enough, but I managed to get through it.

Then I was back behind the booth, using an iPad with a card-reading device to take orders. That wasn’t too bad either. Then I was asked if I would be willing to “work the floor.” Which meant moving out from behind the booth, into the milling mass of feverish fandom. Right there with the cosplayers and the hardcore fan base.

So I waded in. Again, my natural introversion makes this sort of thing very difficult for me. On top of that, I tend to dislike being approached myself in such situations, so I felt more than a little hypocritical even attempting to engage with the public.

But I try my best to fulfill my obligations, so I buckled down and did my best.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I couldn’t help but notice your Star Wars T-shirt. Are you a fan? You are? That’s great, I remember standing in line for the first one back in 1977. Say, if you like Star Wars, you would probably really enjoy these books set in the Star Wars universe…”

Or

“Hi there, that’s an awesome steampunk outfit you’ve got there. Do you like steampunk novels? You do? Well, come on over here, because I think you’ll like this.”

Over and over, for hours. Sometimes you get the cold shoulder. Sometimes you get the “are you flirting with me” gaze, but mostly people are willing to check things out and over time, the sales accumulated. It was amazing to see how well it worked. But that’s mostly because the product I was selling, was a solid product. In many cases the author of the books I was directing people toward were behind the booth, so I could increase the effectiveness of the pitch with:

“Oh, you like the look of this one? Well, if you have any questions, the author happens to be right here, and I’ll be glad to introduce you.”

That leads to signed versions of books being sold, and that usually makes everyone happier.

I’d like to do more convention work. I’d like to sell my own books at a convention. Unfortunately I still haven’t been able to get away from the reality of a day job that is still paying the bills.

But someday. Hopefully soon. 🙂

Momentum in the Real World

This month is supposed to be all about how to build and keep momentum. But I must admit that right now I feel sort of like a phony talking about all my amazing momentum hints and tips. Because I’ve been pretty low on the momentum scale for the past year or so.

That’s because life.

Two years ago, I had crazy dreams of being a full-time writer. I had the luxury of living off a separation package that provided a good income for most of a year, and I used that time to hammer out my War Chronicles trilogy. Or most of it. It turns out that making a living as a writer isn’t something that I was able to just turn a key, and bang! I’m a successful writer!

Don’t get me wrong, I did very well with my trilogy. I got an audio publishing contract to go along with my self-published e-book, and between the two of them, I did quite well for a first-time author without a standard publishing contract. I’m proud of what I accomplished.

But in the end, I had to go back to work. Full time. With additional hours quite often. And that meant I had to learn the new job, and learn an entirely new sort of programming to go along with it. Which meant long evenings and weekends taking online programming classes and writing code to learn how it all actually worked. I am one of those who learns by doing, so I had to do it.

On top of that, we had just purchased a lot on a lake, and built a house. The house was finished about ten months ago. Well, “finished” is a relative term. The basement and landscaping weren’t finished. I had to do all that myself. Which meant lots of long nights and weekends focusing on house finishing tasks, which are still not completely done, and I am just now really getting into the landscaping side. So that’s also lots of long nights and weekends.

So, in the past ten months, I’ve managed to write only about 40,000 words on my current novel.

And you know what? That’s probably pretty good for the circumstances I’ve been in. Even if it does come out to roughly three hundred words a day. Because at the very least, I’ve kept at it. And what I have written, I think, shows a lot of growth from my previous writing. I learned a lot from my first experience as a writer.

But I can’t really call that “momentum” in the sense that most of these articles mean. But sometimes I think that “momentum” of the sort I’ve managed can be just as important as pounding out a thousand words a day, day after day, to the tune of three or four books a year.

Because I’ve never considered giving up on my dream. It’s just been prioritized against some other very important priorities, and I’ve made steady, if slow, progress.

I guess what I’m trying to say here, in the context of momentum, is that the most important aspect of momentum may not be how many words you write each day. It may be more important that you just maintain the dream, and even when it is incredibly difficult to find the time to write, you manage to carve out evenings or weekends when you pick up where you left off, dust off your keyboard, and pound out another scene. And another. My output may have been a trickle, instead of a flood, these last ten months, but that trickle has never dried up. I’ve never lost track of the story, and when I do find the time to write, it feels great to put another chapter behind me.

And that’s the thing that really matters. Writing, as important as it is to me, is not my entire life. Other things matter, and sometimes they matter more than writing. But as my time has become freer since completing some major projects, I’ve been improving my word count, and I feel like that will continue. I’ll get this story done. And another. And another. It just may not be as fast as I would like, that’s all.