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!

Writing Tip: Save Your Character Names

What’s in a name? A lot, actually.

All writers want their characters to stand out from the rest; names are important, not just to define your characters, but to engage the reader. Names mean a lot to writers, as we grow attached and know everything about them, even if only a few details make it in the actual books.

For example, did you notice my main character, Lucy, complements her father’s name, Lenny? It was Lucy’s mother’s suggestion after she gave birth.

I bet you didn’t know that the name Keegan is Gaelic for “Fire” and his name was the first I picked after Lucy’s. Gabriel’s name also came to me pretty quick, my gifted spin on a fallen angel trying to work his way back into good graces. Coincidentally Gabriel hates his last name – Knight – because he hates what it could imply (a reluctant hero move?).

Sheffield Donovan…Delia Stavros…Brooklyn…Bianca…Nikolas…Finley. I like to think you don’t meet too many of these names in your lifetime. Hopefully that means when a reader sees these names, they’ll remember them, be able to at least associate and discern your characters – and eventually their voices. With each character name comes a personality and I’m excited for readers to learn more in the second Donovan Circus book about who these names are.

I’m so close to finishing my first draft that I can almost taste it. Naturally, this means I’ll use any excuse to procrastinate, which includes a determined search for another desk lamp in the house since mine’s busted. I rooted around in the attic some  and was surprised to find a notebook I’d been using for GIFTED when I first began tinkering with the idea back in Nashville, long before any first draft. No desk lamp, but what I found inside that notebook was pure gold: Character Names.

A two column list of names were scribbled on that page and I could’ve kicked myself for not finding it sooner. I’d forgotten all about it and have managed to come up with plenty of other names without it, but all the same, I was elated to remember several names I’d long forgotten. There were also names of characters in the story that I wrote in, then edited out when I had to cut scenes from the fourth draft of GIFTED.

I mean, how great is the name Viviana for a circus acrobat/contortionist?

When you think of a name, write it down. Paper is fine (I keep different journals for each project), but I always recommend several places, including online. Keep a nice Excel file (or whatever program works for you) of not just characters and their traits, characteristics, gifts, etc., but also a list of names you like that could be used for your stories. It’s so easy to name characters when you have a list at the ready.

Upload that file to Google docs where you can access it anytime, especially if you happened to lose work. Or Dropbox or whatever system is best for you. Whether you’re creating names within that particular world or you just jot down names you happen to come across and would like to consider, it’s a great way to have a list ready when the need strikes. You can always change it later if it doesn’t fit, but when you have a great name, write it down.

You know how we are – saying “I don’t need to write that down” is a curse on ourselves. Three days and maybe a few drinks later, you’re sitting there, straining every brain cell to remember that awesome name you came up with. Write that ish down, yo!

Now, give me some good name tips. Besides Googling “baby names”, how else do you find name inspiration? Or do you come up with a character and let the name come to you? What are some of the favorite character names you’ve come across?

The Best Writing Advice Ever: Write What You Want to Read

We can all be picky readers. We know what we like, what genres we prefer, and are often cautious when picking up a new book outside the realm of our usual pages. I know what kinds of plots I love or what sort of romances drive me up the wall.

Four years ago, I set out to read a story that would stick with me.

I wanted to read a story about a strong girl who didn’t need to be rescued, who put logic ahead of emotion and thought things through. I wanted to read about a supernatural group of misfits who weren’t necessarily vampires or werewolves. I wanted a story full of mystery, one that would confuse and worry me as much as the main character when she discovers the information. And I wanted a little bit of romance, but not so much that it takes away from the plot or consumes the heroine’s thoughts.

I couldn’t find a story like that, not one that I truly thought had all those parts. So you know what I did?

I wrote it.

When I wanted to read a story with witches and murder and raise the hairs on the back of my neck, I bet you can guess what I did.

Yep. I wrote it.

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever read was to write what you want to read. I know – it sounds simple. But really, isn’t that why we set out to write the story we did?

With my stories, I knew that these were the kinds of books that I would pick up in a bookstore for a closer look at the cover, that the back cover blurb would be enough to draw me in and at least make me give it a chance. And right now you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking I’m only saying these things because I’m the author, but hand to heaven, these are the kind of books I’d read. But since they’re not out there, I took matters into my own hands.

If you think you’ve got a story full of interesting characters and a dynamic plot, WRITE IT. Short story, flash fiction, full on novel, whatever – readers who are tired of the same old thing will  want to read it. A few of my key compliments to GIFTED was that it was “a breath of fresh air” and a “unique story” because it’s unlike anything else on the market.

Turns out, other people are looking for those kinds of stories too. They’re giving me a chance because I wrote what I wanted to read. I’m proud to be an author of that kind of story. I think you will be, too.

My 5 Secrets to Being a Happy Author

Thanks to many friends – old and new – it’s been such a great last week and I can’t wait for what’s to come. I would say you have no idea of what this means to me, but most authors I know feel the same way. We’re overwhelmed by positive reception, warmed right down to the soul that our writing has kept your attention even after you’ve finished reading. In light of the warm fuzzies, I wanted to share my personal secrets for how I got so lucky. Here are 5 of suggestions on how to be a happy author.

1. Have a great writing space. It sounds simple, I know. I write a lot on the couch but I tend to get distracted by the TV or my husband’s video games. (Then there’s this photo to the left – as great as this looks, there’s a TV to my left; with the fire going, it’s too awesome and comfy. You need a non-distracting space.) Having your own space is important. I suggest keeping it clean and organized, but I’m also a bit of a neat freak (much like my Witch Hearts protagonist, Ruby!) – I dust my desk about once a week to keep my butt in the chair rather than random cleaning frenzies that prevent me from writing. If you have everything in its place so that you’re ready to write for extended periods of time, it will definitely make you happy.

Keep your favorite things on your desk – whether it’s superhero bobbleheads, chocolate treats, or a decanter of wine (yeah, I said it), things go smoothly when you’re happy to be at your desk. I have my nerdy figurines, my super powers poster for GIFTED inspiration (plus that photo on the right wall is of a Ferris Wheel), my writing journals lined up within easy reach, and I always keep my dry erase board handy for reminders and to-do lists. It’s organized, but still ME, which is important in staying focused.

2. Write what you want. I simply cannot stress this enough. If you force yourself to write a particular story, character, or even style, that isn’t something you love or are comfortable with, it’s going to show. I’m a firm believer in this! Write what you would want to read. It’s the best advice I can give. I’m an indie author and proud of it – I know GIFTED is unique, hard to place, but I wrote what I would want to read as a fantasy adventure fan, ya know? It’s still a fun story and I’m more confident of my decision every day.

3. It’s okay to take a short break. I totally understand how writers might balk at this, but hear me out. I’m not talking weeks or months. Think more like a few nights. In addition to our dream careers as authors, we juggle with having lives, families, and jobs. Sometimes you just have to decompress. (Now, I don’t have kids, so I have no say in how you get a night off. You’re on your own there.) It’s not necessarily about a mental block either, but rather sometimes don’t you just need to step away? I’m the Social Media Editor for Leisure Publishing, which means I handle several of the publications’ multiple social sites. I’m plugged in all day, everyday and I accept that it takes away from my writing. There are some nights I can’t do anything but eat dinner, watch a movie/TV with JLo, cuddle with my dog, and go to bed. I try to do most of my writing on the weekends which means I don’t feel so guilty with crashing after work. I can write if it hits me but maybe I just wanna watch Game of Thrones and paint my nails, okay?

4. Surround yourself with a support group. My dog knows the plot twists before anyone else, as I am constantly talking out loud to him as he plays  with Mr. Fox on the office floor. He’s my biggest cheerleader! My husband, mother, family, and friends are all my biggest fans. They swear it’s not because they know me, but all the same, it’s good to have them anyway. They respect the time I put into my hobby and maybe even appreciate that I’m achieving a dream goal. Then there’s the online community I’ve been welcomed in, from indie writers to book bloggers who have all so great to work with and know. That social media bit about building relationships? It’s true. But if they get to know you and then support you? You’ll have a friend and a reader for your entire career. And don’t forget about the friendships even as your support group grows. They got you where you are today.

5. Eat a good meal. You laugh now, but here’s my theory: every good meal serves as a writing tool. Think of the way you describe how the steak tastes, how smooth the sweet potatoes are, how the onions are perfectly caramelized. In my household, we go for quick pastas, frozen pizzas, and other things that aren’t hard on the budget. We like really good food, which means a really good steak is a wonderful treat. When my aunt gave me a Fresh Market gift card for Christmas, my husband made a meal so good I still look at the photo. That’s what I want my readers to do: pay attention to our stories and savor the details and characters even after they’ve finished reading. Small details keep a reader going, as well as keep your writing sharp. That, and you get a great meal when you decide to go all out one night. A delicious bonus.

There are my five suggestions on how to be a happy author! What are some of the ways you think we can be happier authors?