Why All Writers Should Do #NaNoWriMo

writersnanowrimo

Maybe you’re stuck with a little writer’s block. Maybe a new plot is toying with you, asking to be written soon, or the spark of an idea needs some serious love if it’s going to be for real. For whatever reason, you need to get a jumpstart into a certain story. This is where NaNoWriMo comes in. You’ve got the entire month of November to push yourself, probably harder than usual in some cases (guilty), and really accomplish something special. Trust me – this intensive writing process is going to hurt, but you’ll come away as a stronger writer because of it.

Spend the last weekend of October – or the prior week(s), however long it takes you – to outline the proposed story. Sketch out your characters, the setting, how you want things to begin and end. Fill in the middle as best you can, but don’t worry if you prefer to let it unroll during the process. Totally up to you as every writer is different with their prep (pantser vs plotter!). When it’s finally November, game on. Write thousands of words in a few days, write hundreds over the weeks, whatever that means to you, just get to 50,000 words. Ass in chair, people. You write 50K words for breakfast, right?

Now, granted you could do this every month (I don’t recommend it for sanity reasons), but what is it about NaNoWriMo that makes it different?

Of course the big thing is you get your story down on paper. Whether you finish or it’s a giant chunk, you’re one step closer to completing a huge goal. The difference is the community. At any given time in this National Novel Writing Month, you’re practically guaranteed to feel involved. Not only will having writing buddies (both in real life and online) encourage you to keep going, but it’ll hold you accountable (something that I personally need to get a project done).

Chat up those writing buddies through the #NaNoWriMo tags and encourage each other to keep going; set up competitive word sprints or share funny memes during the mini-breaks. Chat about it on Twitter, keep up with the NaNoWriMo advice on their social media, or see how others are doing with their goals (though don’t compare their daily word counts to yours; another sanity suggestion).

I’m giving it a go again this year with a little idea that came up last month. I prefer to start fresh rather than work on the others in the queue, since I tend to get caught up in self-edits on work that’s already been done. (It’s great that I have 35K of one already written, but that means bits and pieces are already done, which requires my going through every chapter to make sure the new parts make sense; a clean slate keeps the pauses to a minimum and I get to see if the idea is worth a damn – what do I have to lose besides 30 days when I’m between releases, anyway?)

It’s been a couple years since I participated, but I managed to “win” in 2012 and 2013 with Witch Hearts and A Reaper Made. I made sure to follow all those things I listed above – outlined the stories first, wrote the first scenes that came to mind as fast as I could, and filled in the blanks as they came to me. Now, each story wound up at around 75,000 words, so obviously those first 50K acted as a foundation. Should you have a lower word count goal such as a novella, you’re in the right area.

Now, of course this is just a first draft. I would never want to publish the first draft of anything (and strongly suggest you heed that advice, too), but getting the words on paper is usually the hardest part. Once you have something to work with, the edits are easier: you take time to develop every chapter; the scenes become clearer and characters grow depth. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to get that ish done. No excuses, no whining, just forcing yourself on the path you want to be on anyway. Even if it’s half of the novel (hopefully epic high fantasy because whoa), you’ve made progress.

Sleep will be lost. Family dinners forgotten. Spouses neglected. Sweatpants covered in chip dust because you were too busy typing to use a napkin. And at the end of it, you have the ability to say you did it, and hopefully have a future book release on your hands. Sounds like a win to me.

See you kids on the other side. Feel free to become my “buddy” on NaNoWriMo here. We’ll celebrate on December 1!

Writer’s Relief: Getting Through Writer’s Block

As a writer, is there anything better than finally breaking through your stubborn mind blocks during writing? That sigh of relief that comes with a villain’s new plot twist, the weight that leaves your shoulders when characters start jabbering again…there’s no better feeling than of accomplishment and for writers, that equals words.

While working on my superhero WIP (that we’ll tentatively call SuperNova), I’d been having some writer’s block. Usually my problem is plain ol’ laziness and while I’ve had some of that lately, too, it hasn’t been the entire reason behind the slow progress.

Any time I sat in front of the computer to write, I’d allow myself to be distracted by countless other things. I’d stare blankly at my Scrivener page, begging words to come to me, but when they didn’t, I’d wander away to watch TV or read (the Game of Thrones series really takes up every waking second some days). It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write–when driving around town or between work activities, I’d think up different conversations or scenes that needed to take place. When it came to getting them down on paper, however, the words wouldn’t come. I knew what should be done, but when I sat down to do it, I got nothin’ but white noise.

I know some writers recommend what I like to call the push it, push it real good method (Bam! You’re welcome for the old school Salt n’ Pepa jam now stuck in your head).

With this method, you basically glue your ass to your chair and start writing. You force yourself to get the words out, whether it’s in a word race, a special treat at the end of a session, or photos of puppies after hitting so many words. For some, this is a great method. By writing whatever comes to mind (the good, the bad, and the ugly), you’re at least guaranteeing hundreds of new words in your WIP.

But because I’m a jerk, that method doesn’t work for me–I’m an edit-as-I-go writer. I’m sure I’ll get some of you shaking your head at that process and I’m not saying it works for everyone (it rarely works for anyone from what I hear), but that’s just how I roll. I do a lot of rereading as I add new material to make sure it all matches up, that I catch typos or weird grammar, etc. I try to do this because I write whatever scenes come to me first, regardless of the order, so when I have to go back and connect the dots, I need to make sure it all flows. This saves me time down the road when I’m figuring out how the hell my hero made it from one point to another. For me, this means edit-as-I-go.

The way I get over myself is the same each and every time; I’ve only begun to notice this habit recently. I have to write to want to write. Make sense? Yeah, I know how stupid it sounds. Lemme ‘splain:

Last night after work, I was flipping through my pages (and pages and pages) of notes and caught a paragraph I’d written in terms of Nova (my protagonist) and her father. I decided to create an important conversation between them and suddenly, my fingers were on fire over the keyboard. Inspiration had hit me and I couldn’t be stopped. When JLo came home for our evening bike ride, I had to practically tear myself away from the desk. Even with a not-quite-finished-yet scene, it got my thoughts flowing in how to wrap up the scene, make sure it fits with the rest of the chapter, give character development to them and their relationship, and further establish the plot.

Once bike riding, all I could think about was what came next. I went home and wrote some more. I’ve spent half my work day wanting to write tonight, so I know I’m on a roll when my fingers feel itchy for the WIP. If I let too much time pass between writing, I lose momentum. Once I get over that first hurdle, I can go for miles. The problem is to keep going because if I pause too long, I’m right back in the same rut as before.

Right now I feel all the things that make me feel good about being a writer. I feel inspired, creative, like I can conquer any writer’s block as though it were my own personal villain. My brain is whirring with ideas, plot twists, and other ways to keep the reader engaged and liking the characters. And my subconscious is still working overtime for me–a decision I’d made about my villain, a small detail that might not ever make it into the books yet gives me insight to his character, actually mirrored my main character and turns out it works extremely well that way. It shows that opposition of hero vs. villain and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it earlier. Besides being incredibly impressed with myself (I’m nothing if not humble), I really liked it from a reader perspective because it gave me so much more to look at with my villain. Which, in turn, makes me want to write even more because I get excited about seeing where the story is headed. Writer’s block, you’ve officially been conquered for now!

How do you jump over the writer’s block? Do you have any strange methods to get the ideas flowing?

Writing Characters: Layer ‘Em Like an Onion

When it comes to writing my characters, I’m all about layers. Occasionally, I’ll dive in and start writing scenes, especially ones I’ve been excited to write, but I like knowing my characters and how they’d react in their situation. One of the main reasons Lucy of Gifted is 21 years old is because I knew I couldn’t make her under 21–specifically because Lucy would never have the balls to sneak into a bar and drink underage. Lucy is brave, but not reckless (not usually, anyway) and is all about abiding rules and laws. It’s how she and her family stayed safe as gifted out in the human world for all those years.

https://i2.wp.com/www.digitalmediafx.com/Shrek/Images/Shrek10big.jpg

Shrek, the original onion layer, agrees that layers make a character.

For whatever reason, Gifted sort of simply came together for me. I mean, I worked hard on it and edited thousands of times to tie up all my loose ends, but sometimes it simply wrote itself through my fingers, my subconscious secretly piecing things together without my even realizing it. More importantly, the characters were almost a no-brainer. I knew almost immediately who they were, their roles in the story, what they looked like, and how their relationships with Lucy would evolve. I knew exactly how each person would react in any given situation. They were already old friends of mine and they nearly jumped off the page for me. I only had one major change with the characters–Renata, the Earthshaker we see a handful of times throughout, was actually a main player. I decided there were already lots of characters, so I scooted her to the background (though I kept in her big moment during a fight scene). After a while (like after the 2nd draft), I finally wrote everything down about the characters–their families, tics and habits, all of it. I made sure I knew those guys inside and out. And it took several layers that even led me to their secrets I might not have found otherwise had I not dug a little deeper.

When I say layer a character, I mean that’s my method of writing. I’d been having some difficulties with the WIP lately. When working on SuperNova, I couldn’t figure out why I was having such a blasted hard time with the characters. I could picture them in my mind, but I didn’t know them yet. Every scene I wrote sounded flat because despite my physical movements and settings, the voices were simply neutral. I could’ve traded them in for anyone. The last thing I want is Nova getting confused for Lucy. So last week, I took a step back and realized I’d skipped a step that I didn’t really have to do for my Gifted characters right away. I’d been so worried about getting the story out on paper that I didn’t take a good look at my characters, didn’t interview them or consider their thoughts and feelings.

Once I sit down to write characters, I spend pages and pages with them. Unless I’m acknowledging a relationship with another character in the book (brother/sister, love interest of, etc), the sole focus is that one person. I don’t just write about their appearance or how they react to things; I write about their fears, their insecurities, what makes them happy, their hopes and dreams, the tiny scar they have on their knee from 5th grade baseball, and so much more. I round out possible scenarios that I’ve outlined for the story and as I ask questions, I answer them along the way, cleaning up the loose ends that might be somewhere in the manuscript. For example, when writing about a new character, Penelope:

“Penelope Warner [age, physical description, role in story]…She’s younger, so more prone to jealousy and childishness…she’s bored and wants to stir up action…if [situation] occurred, she would [action]. When she first meets Nova, she thinks [thought]. How does she see her brother? When they are together [she acts this way], but if [character/situation] were to happen, maybe she’s [action].”

Sorry, I know that’s like the world’s worst Mad Lib, but you probably get the general idea (plus I know all the answers to those questions and I refuse to give spoilers before the first draft is even done!) 🙂 Once I’m done with the first layer, realizing who they are, I can move on to the next: placing them in scenes. Because I’ve already set up everything, I add in specifics, such as their facial expressions (reactions), tics (like Lucy’s finger tapping), or emotional reactions (Delia’s cookie problem). I also get little ideas within those scenes on how to move forward. Sometimes I get thrown for a loop, but often it leads to a helpful dose of detail later on in the book.

I have no doubt that layering sounds a little strange to some, just as other techniques might baffle me. However, it’s working for me in this strange little system. It’s like I’ve put all the ingredients together and now it’s time to bake the cake (I’ve got dessert on the brain). The point is, no matter how a writer composes their story, it’s important for us to know our characters inside and out. When they talk to you, write everything down! It doesn’t matter if family history or a random event in their life doesn’t make the cut–it makes the characters who they are. Those ideas shape them just as any of our pasts shape us. Brainstorming is fun and you’ll put all the pieces together eventually. Even if the details don’t make it into the story, it helps us to create our world and its people.