Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

Ready, Set, NaNo

A Guest Post by Wayland Smith

It’s creeping on towards fall again, and that means it’s time to start thinking about NaNoWriMo (www.NaNoWriMo.org). I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve successfully complected it nine times, plus several CampNaNo successes. So I at least know what works for me, which I’m more than happy to share. Hopefully, some of this will work for you as well. If not, maybe it will spark some ideas that will.

While I try not to obsess over my word count, I do like to have an idea how I’m doing and where I need to be. I find the graph on the site a bit hard to read at times, especially if I’m staying up extra hours to write. So one thing I do is create a daily chart of my progress next to where I should be. It goes something like:

Day Target Actual Count
1 1667 2003 (If I wrote 2003 words that day)
2 3334 4107 (presuming 2104 that day) etc.

You get the idea. It’s simple, and I’m sure there are a lot of other ways it can be done, but I’m a big fan of simple. I set it up with the day and needed count for the whole month, and just fill in the right as I go.

With word count potentially under control, on to the next potential problem. One of the things that breaks my writing stride is names. I’ll be writing away and a new character, or place, or business, or whatever appears, and I’ll come to a screeching halt as I realize whatever it is needs a name. So as part of my preparation, I try to name as many characters, places, streets, businesses, and the like as I know about going in. It’s not writing in advance, so it doesn’t break the rules, it just smooths out a spot I know trips me up.

There’s a lot of talk about outlining vs not. Among writers it’s almost as bad as politics or religion. The two sides don’t get each other at all, and usually try to persuade the other that they’re wrong. I personally don’t outline. I have found it doesn’t work for me. Listening to professional writers talk, it seems to be split among them. I’ve found that favorites of mine are in both camps, and there’s no pattern that I can see. The right way to write is the one that works for you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise, especially if you’re just starting out.

The first year I tried NaNo, I sat down as Halloween ended, midnight rolled around, and November began. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea, no plot, no title, no outline. I managed the fifty, barely. That’s not a brag, that’s telling you it can happen, and not to get discouraged if you don’t everything set up in detail when you get ready to start.

What I use is a system I call landmarks. I don’t try to get the minute details worked out ahead of time, as my ideas, and even my characters, tend not to cooperate when I do that. But, if I know there’s an important plot point, I’ll jot down a few of those. “Hero gets to forest, goes through with monster fights,” “hero finds heroine, flirts, looks like idiot, she laughs,” whatever is appropriate. I’ll write down several of those in the rough order I think they should happen, and stay flexible. Some people use the term “pantser” which I find juvenile and annoying, truth be told. Dean Wesley Smith, a writer who certainly knows more about it than I do, calls it “Writing Into Darkness,” and I kind of like that term. Again, find what works for you. This theme will keep cropping up, because it’s important.

Where you write, and your environment, is totally up to you. Some people insist on absolute silence with just the right lighting. Louis L’Amour, one of the most successful and prolific Western writers, won a bet and proved a point by writing a story on the median strip of a major city street, with cars zipping by. Personally, I can write almost anywhere (I’ve never tried the street experiment and don’t really want to). I prefer some music when I write, often movie soundtracks and tv themes, since they tend to be instrumental pieces. Again, find what works for you.

The NaNo site gives you a chance to look into regions, and if you do that, you can find people from your area to chat with, share frustrations with, or look for mutual encouragement from. Often there are “write ins” where people get together and write. I’ve gone to a few of those, and I’ve enjoyed them, and gotten work done. As much fun as fellow writers might be, the goal is to get those 50,000 words minimum down, not make new friends or chat. If you’re taking a break, by all means, socialize a bit. But if you do that the whole time, you just managed to lose writing time. That’s a judgement call you need to make for yourself.

Breaks are important. You should occasionally stretch, eat, drink, shower, all that good stuff. Go ahead and laugh, but if you really get in the zone, you can lose track of those things. Trust me. Fortunately I have someone to throw things at me or say things like, “Save what you’re doing in the next few minutes, because I’m going to turn off your computer until you eat.”

Which is another point. Talk to your nearest and dearest and tell them what you’re trying to do. As a rule, they’ll be supportive, even if they don’t “get it.” But if you want to hit 50,000 in a month, you need time to write, which usually means less time for other things. You might have to let that favorite show go to DVR. You might need to not watch (or play) the game. If you give people warning ahead of time, they’ll generally understand when you say, “I can’t go out tonight, I have to hit my word count.” Plan your time, and remember Thanksgiving happens in November. If you have a big family gathering planned, you need to take that into account for your writing goals.

My last suggestion, which is a very strong one, is turn off your editor. The goal here is words on page. As many have said, “You can fix a bad page, you can’t fix a blank one.” As others have said, “Give yourself permission to suck.” Your first draft won’t be a publishable, salable story. It’s not supposed to be. It’s the base for making a good novel later. And it also might be that it’s not as bad as you think it is. Don’t reread what you just wrote, don’t go back and rewrite, keep going. You can polish it later, after November ends.

So there you go. Lay in the snacks, stock up your favorite liquids, clear your social calendar, and get ready. To paraphrase a wildly popular tv and book series, “November is Coming.” Give it a whirl, and remember: if you don’t finish, if you only get 1,000 words for the whole month, that’s still 1,000 more than you started with. Which is an accomplishment.

I write under the name Wayland Smith. My NaNo site name is Kingsmythe. Feel free to look me up. Good luck, follow your own path, and see what you can do. You just might surprise yourself.

Winning NaNoWriMo By The Seat Of Your Pants

A Guest Post by Jessica Guernsey 

Welcome to the insanity that is an entire month devoted to writing 50,000 words! You’ll notice I didn’t say you’re writing a book; you’re not. That word count is right around the novella marker for the adult genres. And I didn’t call it a rough draft, either. What you’ll get is much more raw, but it can be a great start to a novel.

Twelve years in a row, I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo, or I wrote 50,000 words during the 30 days of November. For the first 10, I’ve “pantsed” a new project for November, going into the month with little more than ideas in my head. There’s something freeing about not knowing where the story will take you. And there’s a whole lot that’s terrifying. But getting the words down is the essential part. I could paralyze myself for days over finding the “right” way to enter a scene or I could…just start writing. One of my favorite quotes is from Shannon Hale, multi-genre author and NYT bestseller: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” NaNoWriMo is like digging up all the sand that you want to build with and shoving it into the sandbox that will become your book. You might end up with a fairly decent base and maybe the east wing has a good start, but this is by no means a finished book.

No Plot? No Problem!

That title is from the founder of NaNoWriMo, Chris Baty, who believed in literary abandon and getting those hoarded words out onto paper so the real writing could begin. A few weeks before November, I’ll start jotting down ideas, character notes, maybe plot points. Some participants use a new notebook or start a file on their computer. Whatever works for you to get your ideas together. One year, all I had was a two-sentence idea for a magic system and nothing for the characters. That was the year I crossed the finish line four days early.

Sometimes, the story doesn’t turn out like I thought and that’s okay, too. Be flexible and follow where the words are flowing. My very first year, I attempted a historical novel. When I got stuck on the plot after the first week, I came up with an interesting tangent. That tangent changed everything about the story (including the genre) and ended up getting me the needed word count.

The Big Two

My two main rules for a successful month are “Do NOT delete” and “Let go of perfection.” I could write entire articles on just these. If you’ve done any research about the whole NaNo thing, chances are you’ve already come across tips for these. Along with my rules, the whole goal of writing in a caffeine-induced frenzy for a month is to write new words. Old outlines, short stories you played with months ago, or the character sheet from that workshop last year do not count. New words, written during the month of November. Those are the only words worth counting.

Don’t Stop Believing (or Writing)

National Novel Writing Month is not about writing the next bestseller. It’s not about winning a Hugo or some other accolade. Nope. NaNoWriMo is about getting the words down, writing massive amounts, and just letting it flow. So I don’t stress over having my character outlines in perfect order or knowing exactly when to hit certain beats. I can figure that out later, after November. Now, I’m digging in the sand.

For so many people, this is where they fail. They have to “get it right” during this first pass so they stress and flail and never end up reaching the goal line. Because they stopped writing. If I’m in the middle of a scene and I realize it’s not working, I hit the return key a few times or squeeze in a hashtag (because I can search for these during my editing phase) and write a little about how I got off track, where I want the scene to go, or maybe why it’s not really working for me at this point. Usually, “talking” it out leads to a breakthrough and I can re-enter the scene and keep writing. Also? Those words all count toward the end goal.

Use the Resources

NaNoWriMo has an extensive forum with all sorts of magical threads. If you’re stuck, scroll through the various Orphan threads and find a setting, character, or conflict that sparks new ideas. Accept a Dare from that thread and work that into your story. Attend write-ins with other real live, actual people. Brainstorm a dialogue with your region in the local chat rooms. All of these things are fantastic for keeping your story going.

My Secret Weapon

How have I won NaNoWriMo 12 years in a row? I have multiple projects. When I stall out on one, I switch to another where an idea itches, and keep writing. One year, I did a series of connected short stories and that was lots of fun. Only two characters existed at the start of the month but more kept wanting their own part of the story. Another time, I had a sort of angsty angels vs. demons story going along with a squeaky-clean, fluffy romance. Those two wouldn’t normally mix. When I fell flat on the big battle against the demons, I switched over and wrote a really dark chapter in the romance story that changed how I viewed the entire plot. It was much better with more struggle. Now, I intentionally match up projects from different genres for the month. This year, I’m working on the second half of YA contemporary and a couple ideas for short stories that are decidedly more thriller.

To cross the goal line, you need 50,000 new words, words that you strung together during that month alone. This includes any plotting you’ve done, character notes, even those false starts that fizzled out. It all adds up in the sandbox. And you need all the sand you can create. Once November ends, that’s when you can structure those castles to reach for the sky.

Jessica-Guernsey:

A Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo’s Utah::Elsewhere Region, Jessica Guernsey writes Urban Fantasy novels and short stories. A BYU alumna with a degree in Journalism, her work is published in magazines and anthologies. She is a manuscript evaluator for Covenant Communications and slush pile reader for Shadow Mountain, along with providing freelance feedback. Frequently, she can be found at writing conferences and isn’t difficult to spot. Just look for the extrovert with purple hair.

While she spent her teenage angst in Texas, she currently lives on a mountain in Utah with her husband, three kids, and a codependent mini schnauzer. Connect with her on Twitter @JessGuernsey

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.

Plotting and Planning Tips From a Million-Word NaNoWriMo Author

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun exercise for the professional writer as well as the dabbling beginning author wanna-be. The purpose of the event is not to hit 50K words, believe it or not. The real goal is to get people to start writing, to try to build up confidence, and to start a daily writing habit. That 50K word “goal” is just something more concrete for a beginning author to shoot for.

Personally, I think even writing one single word is a milestone since you’re now one word closer towards the completion of your novel. You’re further along than you were yesterday. It’s the effort that matters, and that’s where you should focus.

As of November 30, 2016, my total NaNoWriMo word count is 1,079,395 — over a million words. Here are some of the tips I use to get ready for the month.

Know Your November Schedule

It’s funny how many folks plan on participating in a month-long event without knowing what they’re in for. A good example to start with is Thanksgiving for those folks in the United States. Many families travel across the country to visit relatives. You may be the visitor, or you may be the destination. Understanding that you will be focused on a huge dinner with ten visitors at your table all ready to critique your interpretation of Grandma’s Super-Special Stuffing® will allow you to plan for no writing on the day before the holiday. For some crazy folks, going out the following day to battle crowds on Black Friday may be a tradition.

If you’re in college, perhaps there’s a major mid-term you will need to study for. Thinking about your day job, is there a huge project that will be due during November? You should take that into account.

Now that you have the major “distractions” identified, consider how many writing days you have left. Subtract two days for life emergencies. Now divide the number of days into 50K to see what your real daily writing goals are.

Start: 30 Days
-2 for emergencies
-3 for day job project
-1 for Black Friday sales
-2 for Thanksgiving dinner preparation and the ensuing coma from overeating
= 22 writing days

50,000 words / 22 days = 2273 words per writing day to “win” NaNoWriMo.

This is your real writing goal if you decide you’d like to reach that elusive fifty thousand word goal. If you work with this number in mind instead of the 1,667 words it says on the NaNo website, you will be better prepared to make it.

Prepare More Than One Project

I never have issues with writers block because I’m always working on multiple projects at one time. If the words won’t flow for one of them, I understand my brain is working on something that needs to be solved before continuing. When that happens I can either switch to some other project or switch to a different section of the novel. For example, maybe I’m stuck with some aspect of worldbuilding and magic in a fantasy novel. Instead of just sitting there in front of a keyboard gathering dust, I can jump forward to where the protagonist runs across the fierce bandit ogre and defeats the beast, turning it into a loyal friend.

Then again, maybe that bit of magic is so important that I can’t continue for now. No worries! Your brain will be stewing on that issue for a bit, so perhaps switch over to a space marine science fiction story and begin to write the next scene. Should the solution to your magical quandary present itself, feel free to save the sci-fi mid-battle and swap back to the fantasy.

I prepare six novels for every NaNoWriMo, all in different genres. Each one is plotted out using Scrivener, my preferred large project word processor. I also write a paragraph for each chapter describing what should be covered at a minimum. Don’t worry! When the file is prepared, I check the total words and don’t use them towards my November word count.

Don’t Erase Stuff!

If I’m banging away on my keyboard and discover the last half of a chapter won’t work because of a gaping plot hole, I never delete the words I’ve produced. Instead, I make a sub-page off of my chapter page and copy/paste the parts that don’t work. I do this because those words do count unless you delete them. Never go backwards more than a single sentence. By hanging on to those homeless words, they will still count plus you may discover they actually work elsewhere in the novel. It’s terribly frustrating to discover that you wrote the perfect two paragraphs but you nuked them…and now you can’t remember the wording you used that made the two paragraphs stand out.

If it turns out that your saved snippets only help you once, you’ll be ecstatic that you saved them.

Remember, It’s a First Draft

This probably harms more authors than anything else. New authors in particular tend to see the perfect as the enemy of the good. They keep fiddling with a sentence to make it perfect instead of continuing on. It’s a form of writers block, in my opinion, and it’s self-inflicted. You must remember that NaNoWriMo doesn’t mean National Perfectly Edited Final Draft Novel Writing Month. This is a sloppy, rough first draft. You will have plenty of time to run through it a few more times before you even think to bring in an editor, publisher, or to even self-publish. You must give yourself permission to suck and to write crap. It will be cleaned up and polished later!

Get the overall words down on the blasted page and move on. I always include extensive notes in my first drafts, such as [Research how long it would take for an iron chest to rust through in salt water.] I enclose those notes in square brackets so I can just search for them and find the answers — after November 30th. November is a writing month and not a research month. Focus!

Sometimes a new character will suddenly appear, forcing themselves into the novel and you have no say-so. Cool! Just add notes: [Bob will be joining the group as they march towards certain doom. Give him a background and a decent name.] Then move on. If you’re spending an hour discovering the perfect name for your new character, stop wasting time. Call them Bob or Sally or James or Susan…something that won’t really fit in the finished novel. You can do a search-and-replace later.

What If I Don’t Wanna Write?

This does happen on occasion. Maybe those turkey leftovers are making you feel the tryptophan blahs. If this happens, go back and see what you need to research. Google those strange subjects that make law enforcement and the CIA think you’re a serial murderer who believes in magic and loves outer space. Then take paraphrased notes (by typing, not cut and paste!) and transfer them to your novel in square brackets. Yup, those words count. Most of the time you’ll find something that sparks your brain to fight off the tryptophan and before you know it you’re back to writing your novel.

But You Said Don’t Research in November!

Yeah, I did. And when you find you’re stuck and not building your word count, don’t be shackled to some “rules” because…there are no rules when you’re writing. Heck, you can even write using horrific grammar because this is only a first draft.

Now get your butt in that chair and start writing! Thanks for reading this post, and I hope you’re set to give it a go on November 1st. Best of luck!


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, MWG, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.