Tag Archives: writing novels

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.

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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 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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R.I.P. Mass-Market Fiction Paperback

The New York Times has an interesting article on the decline in sales and marketing of the mass-market paperback. The industry experts in the article attribute the largest cause to the recession and e-readers and the release of hardcover titles as reduced price e-books faster than the release of the paperback. They also implicate the discounting of hardcover titles by chain, and now independent, booksellers.

All of these are certainly contributing factors, not the least of which is the recession and the increasing loss of the middle-class and its discretionary income. Add to this the decline in readership period and its clear that the mass-market paperback is becoming less profitable and therefore less viable.

But I think the article misses two key factors: Continue reading

Tips on Writing the First Chapter and Beyond

These are some more tips from romantic travel writer Janice MacDonald’s on First Chapters.

  • Don’t sweat it initially, it will change.
  • When you’re ready to return to it, consider the following:
    • start as close to the end without leaving out important information
    • open with action
    • quickly establish: who, what, where, when and why

These are some additional tips on writing first — and the rest of the chapters, Janice MacDonald received from one of her editors: Continue reading

No Shows and Catching Up

Well, no one showed up at the Itty-Bitty Buzz this morning from my region. So I NaNoWriMoed by myself for 2.5 hours. The place is now invaded by a couple of Boomer grandma’s gossiping at the tops of their lungs (you’d think they were on cell phones) about breast feeding and the inevitable conversation of this era — real estate.

Lopez Island MansionSpeaking of real estate, I was hunting for some info about the San Juan Islands and found the perfect place for my novel setting — and it’s such a bargain! As soon as I sell my NaNo novel for that big advance, I think I’ll buy it. 🙂

I keep having to remind myself that this is rough draft. I blocked in some notes for some earlier scenes and am plowing through the arrival of my MC at her new home. It reads awfully slow right now, but I’m repeating Baty’s mantra “it’s about quantity, not quality.” I figure a lot of this will be back story.

And don’t ask about setting the scene. I’m still uncertain whether I’ll be able to set this on the San Juan Islands or not. I certainly won’t get to do any physical research until after November, if I’m going to make the NaNo deadline.

I’m sorry no one else from my area showed up today. I find I need the privacy and isolation of writing but also need some human contact, preferably others who are or have experienced the peculiar tribulations of creating. I think Betsy Lerner caught the writer personality perfectly in her book, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers

I was reading Psychology Today at the library yesterday looking for characterization tips from an article on the tomcatting personality and came across another article on how thinking faster actually lifts your mood. It was further evidence of why caffeine is so popular in the Pacific Northwest and other areas where the sun disappears for long periods of time. My husband is reading  The Palace of the Snow Queen: Winter Travels in Lapland by Barbara Sjoholm and he pointed out how much coffee people living above the Arctic Circle drink daily.

All of this does much to explain why Starbuck’s does so well in creative areas. They’ve done as much as possible to become the new neighborhood bar where if everybody doesn’t exactly “know your name”, they know your drink. You can go there to be alone and yet with others, to do business in a social atmosphere or you can just hang hoping to hook up with another fast thinking caffeine junkie.

Now that they’ve uncovered the health benefits of non- and low-fat milk in reducing belly fat, I suspect there will soon be milk houses springing up. Or at least a lot more steamers sold at the coffeehouses.

Well, I’d better go move my car since I don’t know if the police are enforcing the parking time limit today. (Seems kind of foolish in the winter on a Sunday when the downtown so desperately needs tourists and local business, but hey, it’s the Greed era here and the city council would cut off it’s nose to spite it’s face rather than risk being accused of not taking every possible penny.)

Over 7,000 words and plans to put in another couple of hours today. I hope to break 10,000 before midnight.