Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

4 Writing Tips to Boost Your NaNoWriMo and Other Writing Projects

Congratulations, NaNoWriMo participants! You’re halfway to your deadline!

But what if you’re a little behind on your goals? What if it’s even worse — you’re a little behind and starting to dread writing? What if you feel — gasp! — blocked?

Most projects reach a point when the writing, or the writer, seems to  go a bit stale.

1. Party On, Dude!

Writing is essentially a solo art. Even if you are working with someone, at some point it comes down to a person composing the words. This can be especially difficult if you are under the pressure of a deadline and spending all of your spare time alone at your keyboard. Take yourself off to a NaNoWriMo Write-in or writer’s group where you can at least be tapping away in the company of others and at some point socialize when you all take a break.

Don’t have a Write-in scheduled in your area? Organize one! Post a notice on your NaNoWriMo Regional Board with a date, time, & location, or ask if anyone else would like to meet up and work out the details from there. If your not a NaNoWriMo Participant, post some notices at your local library, coffee shop, or other bulletin boards, or use social networking board like Meet-Up or Twitter to spread the word. It only takes one other person for a meet-up. I do recommend that you set up some ground rules starting with a requirement that there’s at least 1-hour of silent writing time before socializing. That way you get some real work done — and have something to talk about!

And don’t forget that there’s no reason you can’t keep meeting as a writing support group after NaNoWriMo ends. There’s always the excuse of a Holiday “Party.”

2. Run Away from Home

If it’s hard to arrange a social gathering, at least change your scenery. Go somewhere different to work — the library, a coffee house (remember J.K. Rowling and The Elephant House?), a cafe (Think of Paris in the 20’s) or even just moving from your office to the back porch.  A new perspective will give you a fresh perspective.

The first two years I did NaNoWriMo I’d make Sundays “Catch-Up Day” and hie myself off to a favorite coffeehouse for at least 3-4 hours of intense effort, trying to make up for lost word count from a hectic week. Sometimes, when I was really far behind, I spend the morning in one coffee house and then move to another and continue to work in the afternoon. Other times I bustle down to the library early to tuck myself into my favorite nook with a garden view. I once discovered that the three other people working there were also doing NaNoWriMo!

The point is to get a change in atmosphere and view. Research shows that a change in the environment often stimulates creative thought. It definitely stimulates new neuron pathways in the brain and often produces boosts in endorphins and dopamine. 

But remember your headphones or ear buds so you don’t get too distracted!

3. Give Yourself a Carrot — and a Stick

Behavioral research has shown that the carrot (a reward) works better for some while a stick (a punishment) works better for others, but the combination seems to work best. So think of a reasonable reward for getting a reasonable and doable writing goal done, like 15-minutes or 200 words, and then a reasonable punishment, such as no sweets for the day, for failing to meet the goal.

Now if you really want to boost the impact, go public! Tell a reliable friend (the one who will remind you of your pledges if you start to cheat), family, or even post it on your social media. By going public with our goals, and the consequences for success or failure, we greatly increase our commitment to them. It’s one of the reasons why Write-ins work — public peer pressure.

Keep the goals, as well as the rewards and punishments, reasonable and attainable. The purpose is to get those fingers on the keyboard, not negative reinforcement for persistent failure to reach outlandish goals. I once promised to watch a certain truly reprehensible “reality” show with a friend if I missed my personal Write-in time. (I loathe “reality” shows!) After one episode I never missed my Write-ins again!

4. Write Whatever the Heck You Want

Sometimes the problem is that we don’t want to write what we’re supposed to be writing. Possibly the scene isn’t working for us or the dialog sounds flat. Forget about it! Write whatever you want — in or about the project, no wasting the writing time tweeting about Benedict Cumberbatch or Jennifer Lawrence, no messaging or checking Facebook.

But if you want to write a dirty limerick about your protagonist instead of that fight scene, go for it! If you really want to write the backstory about the uncle but feel you shouldn’t because someone told you backstory slows down the narrative action, go ahead and write the backstory. It won’t be wasted time. You’ll have a better understanding of the character and who knows, you may be able to work it all in to the novel in revision. Maybe you want to write a series of texts or tweets between two of your characters about a third character? That is perfectly fine!

Take off whatever invisible handcuffs you’ve put on yourself about your project and forget about what you believe you should be writing and write whatever you want in any style or manner you want for at least 15-minutes.

Bonus Tip: Exercise!

Well yes, some physical exercise is good for stimulating the brain, boosting the spirits, and pumping up our confidence, so if you’ve been sitting too long in the same place, I do recommend getting up and doing something physical —  not throwing your laptop in frustration or anything, but positively physical like stretching, walking, cycling, dancing. Dancing freely and with abandon is one of the fastest ways to light up all the joy buttons in the brain, by the way, so don’t hesitate to crank up the volume and tempo and let loose.

But the other thing to try is a quick writing exercise. 

A quick writing exercise, especially when you can’t think what to write, can prime the mental pump. I’ve posted a few quick ones from previous Hugo House Write-o-Ramas here and here and here. Another one I haven’t posted yet based on the Donald Bathelme ‘s story “Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning.”

Spend 15-30 minutes writing brief in which other people tell something they remember or think about your character, or the character tells us something he, she or it thinks. For example, if the subject is the character Sherlock Holmes, you might write:

Mrs. Hudson: “You never know what you might find in his rooms. I once swept a hand — a severed hand! — out from under a chair.  Scared me half out of my wits, I don’t mind saying. Of course, it was scientific research but still, it ain’t easy. It did keep Mrs. O’Reilly’s second oldest boy from being hanged in the end. The research, not the sweeping. So I guess its all right, really. Still.”

John Wright, navvy: He’s the toff who bested Jim Sykes inna fight. Ain’t no one ever done that before. Beat Syke’s hand to a bloody pulp with ‘is own stick until it cracked. Funny bloke. He carried off the stick and the dog what Syke’s ‘ad beaten near death just before the fight. Smart though. Wrapped in both in Syke’s coat so’s not to get any blood on ‘is own. Don’t know why he wanted the stick and the dog, though. They’d both be useless after that.

Some Recommended Books for Writing Exercises:

Little girl writing

6 NaNoWriMo and Novel Project Development Techniques & Tools

Whether you are preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or simply working on your novel, here are 6 techniques — plus resources and tools — to help you reach your goal.

1.  Recommended Books

Since you are working on a book, I figure you also like to read them, so here are some titles I’ve found useful.

2.  My Guide to “Fast Writing”

Elsewhere I’ve created a compilation of the tips and techniques by other successful writers on novel writing preparation based largely on Rachel Aaron’s techniques for achieving 10,000 words per DAY(!). There’s also a handy PDF download to take with you.

3.  Plot Development Worksheets

Novel Storyboard Worksheet : A PDF storyboard for noting events and characters by chapter. 

Traditional Plot Development Storyboard : A PDF  storyboard that breaks down traditional fiction arc into the standard 20-chapters used by mass market paperbacks for decades.

Continue reading

NaNoWriMo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide

In preparation for NaNoWriMo,

I’ve created a comprehensive guide to novel plot development, character creation and writing preparation — and then I thought I’d share it with everyone else getting ready for NaNoWriMo. After reading Rachel Aaron’s posts on how she achieves 10,000 words per day when writing her novels as well as how she prepares to start a new novel writing project, I started collecting her recommendations and meshing them with other authors such as Holly Lisle, Bob Mayer, and Jim Butcher to create a new Novel Writing Plot Development and Project Worksheet below. I also have some recommended titles for those wanting even more.

Fast Writing Novel Plot Development, Character Creation, and Project Preparation

Sepia close-up of guy with black glasses

The PDF version of the Novel Writing Project Worksheets and Guide is below. Check back for the epub and mobi formats coming soon.

You can download the more stylish version below, but here’s a quick summary of the process. I’ll be breaking it down in more detail with individual posts from time to time, but with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) coming up, I thought I’d better get the short version up for us all. I’ll keep revising and updating as I find more relevant techniques, tips and suggestions. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo: Theme, Character and Plot Development Preparation

I’m about to confess to a horrible crime (at least in some people’s minds), but first let me say I’m doing a bit of a Dance of Joy because while driving to pick up bird and wildlife food, the theme of my NaNoWriMo project finally came to me today .

Asian Woman Head TiltedFor me, theme is like my destination in a cross-country trip. If I don’t know my theme, I don’t know where I’m going. Now I know some of you are saying, “Carolyn, you ignorant slug! (to paraphrase SNL) You’re climax is where you’re going.”

Sure, my climax is my ultimate destination, but if I don’t know my theme, I don’t know my route. I don’t know How I’m going to get to my climax because I don’t know Why I’m taking this trip. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo Prep: Novel Writing Plot Development and Project Worksheet

Howdy! We’ve Updated this Page Recently.

All of this information and worksheets were updated in 2013 and can now be found here and herePlease head to the latest posts for the New and Improved Novel Writing Plot Development Guide and Worksheets. Thank you!

 

NaNoWriMo Prep: Plot Development and Profile Worksheets, Visualizing Collage, and More

guy-w-black-glasses-960While everyone else is carving pumpkins and hunting for a black turtle neck and New Balance sneakers, in between desperately trying to finish my house repairs before freezing temperatures arrive, I’m preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).In the Seattle area, the NaNoWriMo fans filled not one, but two plot development workshops in a few short hours of registration. So I thought I’d put up some NaNoWriMo Preparation Tips and ideas for those of us who didn’t get to attend.

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Write-O-Rama at Richard Hugo House Begins

The Write-O-Rama is a full-day smorgsbord of 1-hour workshops run as fundraiser for the Richard Hugo House. I arrived early. You never know about traffic and ferries coming from the Olympic Peninsula. Whenever I’m confident I’ll make a specific ferry that’s when I end up behind a caravan of RVs driven by near-sighted 80-year old sightseers. There’s a great group of volunteers at the Richard Hugo but couldn’t help but notice they were all female ranging from young teen to Baby Boomer but mostly 20’s & 30’s under the auspices of Chris & Kate. Registration went smoothly and people kept poring in.

For your minimum $45US donation, food is included. Vast quantities of food.  Lots of Costco food for breakfast which meant muffins the size of melons. If you ever get a chance to participate in a Write-O-Rama, it’s well worth it. If this is any example of their regular writer’s workshops, they are worth every penny and I signing up as soon as my husband gets a new job. They’re a writing non-profit that gives a lot back to the creative community.

I’d worn  jeans and boutique designer, black-brown,  sweater with a black coat. I should have worn the black, urban hiking boots. Black is still the new black in Seattle, apparently. There were lots of NaNoWriMo alumni in attendance. NaNoWriMo was a more popular topic than local real estate or the economic meltdown. I’m amazed that there are writers who still Don‘t know about NaNoWriMo.

My first workshop choice on Nature Writing was canceled when the teacher was stuck in traffic. So keeping with my “Medieval in P.A.” theme (see Being Medieval in P.A. About Write-O-Rama), I decided to try a literary workshop that hadn’t initially appealed.

Next up “Pare It Down” with Anne Leigh Parrish — a workshop on choosing strong words!

Writing Critiques and Reading Like A Writer

The plan was to spend January completing the first draft of a memoir and then going back to work on the NaNoWriMo novel revisions. That was the plan.

I did, however, get to work tangentially on writing. A friend asked me to be a beta reader on the first draft of her first novel. She’s published some short things but this was her first complete, 90K word novel. I was honored.

Unfortunately, it’s in a genre I don’t often read outside of a small, narrow group of authors. So this required some research. I firmly believe that you have review things in context. Each genre or category has certain unique needs beyond the basics of good writing. Seriously, would you complain that “King Lear” didn’t have enough jokes? Or that there wasn’t enough romance in Carrie?

So in the course of a couple of weeks I re-read a half dozen titles that were successful financially and/or I considered some of the best of the genre as well as alternating between skimming and scanning about a dozen that were typical. I even plowed through as much as I could stand of the book that had sent me fleeing the fantasy aisle many years ago. (It didn’t get better with age — its or mine.)

I spent the better part of an hour randomly opening paperbacks from the rack at the grocery store. After the first six, I was about to write to my friend apologizing that I was totally unsuited to critique her book because I simply could not read more than a few paragraphs of the standard titles in her genre, when I picked up one last title, opened it at random — and found a delightful bit of good writing. I’m at the library right now, where I found the first of the author’s titles to check out and try. (Sorry, but unless a title or author is recommended by someone I completely trust or has multiple reviews that make it compelling, I always try new authors via the library first. This way I can keep affording to buy new releases, including hard copies, by the good authors.)

The point of all of this, is that I’ve spent the better part of the two months reading as a writer instead of a reader. When I read like a writer, I focus on things like the structure of the plot, how the characterization is handled, the development of tone and style. There are many times I’ve read something as a reader, completely lost in the story and characters, swept along by the pros; and then, I read the story again, this time as a writer noting how the author managed to capture me.

Some writers can write a plot that’s intrigues so completely, I ignore the less than perfect prose (My “potato chip” reads are mysteries). Others create characters that are such lively, fascinating companions, I myopically overlook plot holes — unless I fall in one. Then there are writers who voices are so witty and charming, I’m completely seduced. Often awaking to find a note on my beside table and my wallet emptied. And finally, there are the writers whose prose is so beautiful and graceful, I feel as if my own efforts resemble the first steps of a gawky teenager amongst the corps de ballet.


Periodically, when I feel I need a refresher course in how to read as a writer, I pull out my copy of Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want To Write Them. While Ms. Prose (Isn’t that a wonderful name for a writer? I wonder if it’s too late to have mine legally changed?) targets the future M.F.A. candidate and completely eschews anything so plebian as “genre” authors, she does teach me how to read, both my own work and others, critically. And by “critically,” I mean objectively with a discerning eye and ear.

Here’s how she opens her book:

Can creative writing be taught?
…I answer by recalling my own valuable experience, not as a teacher but as a student in one of the few fiction workshops I took… Its generous teacher showed me, among other things, how to line edit my work. For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, and, especially, cut, is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical and sharp.

Here’s an example from her chapter on “Narration”:

… this device enabled me to overcome one of the obstacles confronting the novice writer. This hurdle disguises itself as the question of voice and of who is telling the story (should the narrator be first or third person, close or omniscient?) when in fact the truly problematic question is: Who is listening? On what occasion is the story being told, and why? Is the protagonist projecting this heartfelt confession out into the ozone, and, if so, what is the proper tone to assume when the ozone is one’s audience?

I had always assumed that I was alone in having discerned that the identity of the listener was a more vexing problem than the voice of the storyteller until I heard a writer say that what enabled him to write a novel from the point of view of a rather complicated middle-aged woman was by pretending that she was telling her story to close male friend, and that he, the writer, was that friend.

Ms. Prose goes on to examine and dissect successful examples of narration ranging from Wuthering Heights to Anna Karenina, from Philip Carver to Isabel Walker to Mark Twain to Diane Johnson (Le Divorce, a book alas I didn’t finish because I was simply in the wrong mood. My mood is something else I have to keep in mind when critiquing my own or someone else’s work). I got more out of one trip through Reading Like A Writer than I did from an entire semester of writing class. If nothing else, I learned how a master writes a compound, complex sentence.

After a couple of months of reading like a writer, I’m ready to start writing for myself again. I’m encouraged by how badly some published authors write, humbled by how well some do and greatly inspired by the realization that I can improve my own initial drafts by applying some firm, disciplined manuscript critique.

To the keyboards! Tally Ho!