Tag Archives: writing life

You Won NaNoWriMo, Now What?

I’m a big believer in the power of finishing things. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual writing adventure challenging writers of all skill levels to write 50,000 words in the space of thirty days – this is an average of 1,667 words per day. For most of us, this is a challenge. As a multiple year winner of NaNoWriMo, I can tell you that typing those last words on a manuscript is a great feeling but I can also tell you that “The End” is just the beginning. So, you’ve won – what next?

First Things First

Celebrate. Kick back on December 1st and relax a bit. You’re a NaNoWriMo winner! Be sure to upload your novel text and get your official word count verified. Be sure to look for the emails about the winner’s prizes (and there are usually some great deals). Post your success and get virtual high fives on social media. Take a little time to enjoy your success, but don’t be surprised if the urge to get back into your manuscript is there gnawing at you. What do you do?

Resist!

Do not open that NaNoWriMo manuscript for at least a month – six weeks is best. Your goal right now, Winner, is to forget that you wrote that book. Yes, there are things you need to fix. Yes, you have a passive voice problem or a comma splice problem. Yes, you have a character that explicably vanishes from the story in Chapter 3. I got it. Your mind is whirling with all of the “I should fix this immediately” things. If you’re really scared you’ll forget them, write them all down on a piece of paper but do not open that manuscript. At the end of that six weeks, sit down with a notebook and a pen/pencil alongside your manuscript. You’ll see immediately that you’re reading with fresh eyes. Again, though, resist the urge to make corrections. Read your manuscript as a reader would and see what pieces of the story develop as you go. You’ll see holes and find things that seem out of place – make a note and move on. When you’re done with the read-through, close your notes, and give it a few days to percolate. Now you’re probably thinking that this is a lot of time when you’re doing nothing on this manuscript – and you’re right. What should you be doing with your new disciplined approach to writing every day?

Write Something Else

If you want to write on December 1st or 2nd, open up a new file and start typing something else. Make it something different than your manuscript. Different characters, different settings – everything in this new piece should be different. If you wrote fantasy during NaNoWriMo, write science fiction. You get the idea. Write something that you’d never be caught dead writing. I’ve messed around with a romance novel idea, a zombie apocalypse story, and a few other things that may never see the light of day in this phase. Think of it as cleansing your writing palate. When the six weeks described is up, you’ll be ready to jump back into your NaNoWriMo winner and edit it from start to finish. But what if I want to keep writing that new project? Do it. Adjust your writing goals and expectations, though – you’re trying to get your NaNoWriMo winner in shape to send out into the world.

After Edits – The Next Step

I can’t stress hard enough that you really need to run through your manuscript at least once before you look for potential first readers. Gaining insights from others is a huge piece of this step. You cannot write in a vacuum and expect to put a rough manuscript into consideration for publication or start the mechanics for self-publication. Take the time to get it read, reviewed, and even professionally edited. Trust me, it’s worth your time to do this even before you submit it to a publisher or do it yourself.

NaNoWriMo is a race to 50,000 words. It’s a challenge that teaches you self-discipline and creates a habit of writing daily. Publishing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take time to get it right. There are times it will seem like glaciers move faster than your manuscript through the process. Keep writing other things and do not, under any circumstances, get caught up in any one novel project. Keep moving forward. That’s really what NaNoWriMo is all about. Starting a project, finishing it, and moving on to the next one. And the next one after that.

That’s how you win NaNoWriMo, folks. Keep moving forward.

What Does It Take To Perform Under Fire?

I’ve been involved in the Martial Arts for over ten years. I have a black belt, and if I hadn’t become a writer on top of my day job I would be a second degree. But I got distracted by writing, and that’s that.

Belt tests are some of my least favorite parts of the martial arts. I love class. I love my lessons. I love punching and kicking and knife techniques and sparring and sometimes I pretend to love forms. But belt tests are a different animal.

In short, the instructors—who are usually cool people—turn into demons that are there to push you until you’re teetering on the edge of your endurance and sanity. I can do techniques all day long, but make me run around the building or scale a wall and I go to pieces. Other people lose it if they have to do defense techniques quickly, or spar more than one person. (Most people don’t do well with that, by the way.) Whatever it is, the instructors will find it. And then, once you’re barely standing and thinking about quitting, they ask you to do a form. Or spar. Or defend yourself from them.

On some level it’s awesome. Especially after you’re at the end looking back. There’s nothing like knowing that you did every single Defense Maneuver you have flawlessly against guys taller and stronger than you. Or that you didn’t get stabbed when they brought the fake knives out.

But in the middle of it, there isn’t time to think, and if you do think, it’s usually about how much some part of your body hurts. Sometimes that includes your brain.

I’m short and round and don’t look much like a black belt, but when I’m in practice, I’m pretty darn good.

And that’s the key to passing a test. Being in practice. Because if you’re in practice, then when a fist is coming straight for your face, no matter how tired you are, you will do something. It might even be the right thing. Either way, you won’t get hit, and the next moment the other guy will be on the ground and you’ll think, “Hey, that really works. Oh crap, there’s another guy coming.”

I feel like this relates to writing. Lately I’ve been extremely busy, and my writing has been suffering. It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve thought about the fact that I’m out of practice. I work part time and write part time, but I haven’t been consistently writing. I work on marketing or editing or blogging or putting together a newsletter or a giveaway. I pour words onto the page when there is a deadline looming, but not every day. I’m out of practice. Which is silly, because I know how important it is to write each day, and yet I’m not doing it.

So that’s my suggestion. Write each day, even if it is just 200 or 500 words. Write something. Stay in practice. Get a list of writing prompts off the web if you don’t have any ideas on what to write about or you don’t want to work on your current work in process. That way, when the pressure comes, and it will come, you can crack your knuckles and go for it.

Pre-Writing and Screenwriting

Until 2012, I was a pantser. Truth be told, I still write short fiction without a plan sometimes, but I’ve been fully converted over to outlining. It’s a long story, but it’s worth the effort. The very first novel I wrote, RUNS IN THE FAMILY, took me 18 months to write. Without a roadmap, I would write all the little ideas and delete troves of words before latching onto another idea and doing the same thing over and over again. It was a slog and I hardly remember finishing it. When I had the idea that became my debut novel SLEEPER PROTOCOL, I vowed that I wouldn’t do that whole awful process again. I determined that I was going to figure out how to write a novel. I’ll cut off some of the story here, but a book on screenwriting changed the way that I write. That book was “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story” by Jeffrey Alan Schecter. It’s a quick, easy read that gives you insights into character development, story pacing, and a structure that resonates with your reader.

Schecter’s book impressed the folks at Mariner Software enough that they built a screenwriting program called Contour that follows his method to the letter. When I found out about Contour, I quickly downloaded the free demo. From there, I ended up purchasing the program. It’s a part of my pre-writing process, which is the theme of the month, so let me break down how I get ready to write a novel.

Let’s say I have an idea already pretty formed in my head. Chances are that I’ve started gathering some notes on that idea in a notebook (yes, I have a notebook problem – there are never enough). I take that pretty formed idea in my head and start to make sure I can craft it into some of the key notions that Schecter teaches about character development. The takeaway here is that without good characters, your story doesn’t live to tell the tale. Forget to develop your protagonist and your book never reaches the end of Act One because there’s nothing to change them. Fail to develop a solid antagonist and your story dies in Act Two. By building the character development first, even before I start the plotting pieces and exercises, I have a solid idea of where the story is going to go based on the goals of my characters. From there, I go through Contour’s beats and guide sheets to develop a “straw” outline – that’s my first pass entirely through Contour. I come back and add more detail to the areas that need it – thanks to big text boxes and the like. Once I’ve done that, it’s time to open Scrivener, my writing software.

Once in Scrivener, I use what’s in Contour to help flesh out a basic structure. I create the building blocks in various ways – either folders and chapters for scenes, the cork board function for random thoughts or unplaced ideas, and any references I need to consult as I write. With the data from Contour about specific plot points, character goals, and what the characters need to discover/solve/act upon, by the time I’ve laid out my pre-writing, I have a serious amount of data already in the program ready for me to use. Yes, it seems like a lot of work, but for me it’s better than trying to handle those dozens of notebooks and pieces of scratch paper. If I take the time to enter the ideas in Contour, it asks the questions for me and my answers further flesh out the plot. From there, writing is relatively easy.

How easy? At this point, I’ve invested several hours in building out Contour and laying out Scrivener the way I want it to. For me, the end result is that I write faster. Remember RUNS IN THE FAMILY? Eighteen months from start to finish? With the method I laid out above, I wrote SLEEPER PROTOCOL in seven weeks. I wrote the recently published sequel VENDETTA PROTOCOL in about nine weeks. It’s a much faster process when I know the route that I’m going to take. By laying out the entire novel, if a character decides to do something differently that I want them to, I can let that play out a little and still have a clear ending in mind. I can adjust things as I go, which is much easier than stopping and starting all over. With a full outline, I know where I have to get back to, and it makes a difference.

No two methods are the same, though. You have to figure out what works for you. For me, that intense planning and note taking process leads to big changes with my speed and productivity, but it may not work for you. There are a million ways to write a novel, but they don’t all require any prewriting. They do require writing, so get to it.

 

You’ll Never Know Until You Try It

The first time a member of my writing group told me about Nanowrimo, I thought they were joking. Then I thought they were insane. 50,000 words? That alone was daunting, but in a month? 30 days? Just under 1700 words a day? I don’t think I’d ever even used the word count feature in the old Microsoft Word. (This was back before the counter automatically came up in the bottom corner.)

I told my friend she was crazy and that I wasn’t doing it.

 

But it niggled at the back of my mind for a couple of weeks. Surely I could write a novel. I’d read enough epic fantasy stories that I could cobble one together. Right? Just go through the cliché’s like a checklist of groceries. Thief? Check. Rouge? Check. Prince? Check. Wizard? Check. Grouchy old guy? Check. Impossible quest? Check. Witty banter? Check. Riding horses? Check. Er, I mean. No. I’m not doing it!

I resisted. I didn’t plan. I ignored the little voice in my head…until three days before November.

I remember it clearly. I was in the doctor’s office. Waiting. I had a pen and paper and I pulled it out and wrote down a single line. My plot. I already had characters I could steal from a stupid story that a couple of friends and I made up. And they didn’t need backgrounds, because I would give them amnesia at the beginning of the story! But not normal amnesia, this is a curse, and they have to figure out who they are, but if they get to close to the truth, their heads will explode.

 

It was so bad I thought it just might work.

However, on the way home from the doctor’s office, I stopped by Barnes and Nobel and got the book, “No Plot? No Problem.” I read through it in the few days I had before November 1st. I psyched myself up, shoved my inner editor out onto the back porch for the month and started writing.

It was amazing. I found out that I could type 1700 words in forty five minutes. I totally used the mental list of clichés. I woke up on more than one morning more excited about what my characters were going to do that day than I was about anything else.

I hit 50,000 words three days early.

The experience really empowered me. I hadn’t planned. I hadn’t agonized. I didn’t even have a thumb drive to save the file on until after I’d started. And yet, at the end of twenty seven days, I had a novel. Sort of. It wasn’t finished, and it wasn’t good, but it was there.

It took me two more Nanowrimos to finish that first story, and since then I think I’ve done it five more times. None of them will ever see the light of day. Sometimes I do a detailed outline, and other times I have an idea in mind and I start to write.

If outlining works for you, do it. If it doesn’t, Nano is a great time to explore a story you’ve been thinking about. If you don’t think you can do it, think again. Toss that inner editor out for the month and start writing. If the story gets boring, find a cliché and use it. Ninja robot monkeys. Flying carpets. Self-braiding nose hairs. Skip whole sections and go to the part you want to write. Don’t stress about it, just do it.