NaNoWriMo Day 29

The Words: 854 words written today. I realized this evening that I was only writing because I felt like I had to. I had set myself a goal for 100,000 words by the end of the month, and I felt like a failure if I couldn’t reach it. I’m still not thrilled about the idea of letting that goal go, and I may drive myself crazy tomorrow telling myself I should be writing. Maybe I’ll really push for it tomorrow, but I had to make the decision today that I’d only do that if I felt like it, not because I thought I had to. It’s an arbitrary goal, and I’ve already won NaNo whether I make that or not. But it’s been making me feel stressed because things have been more hectic than usual lately with special activities to do, holidays (though that was planned for in advance at least) and a sick kid. So I’m giving myself permission to fall short.

My main goal is to try to get the climax written completely, so I don’t leave that hanging at least (and yes, I jumped to the climax, though I wasn’t actually there in my writing yet).

The Story: Jonathan is confronting the person who is behind everything that’s been going on. He’s starting to realize how much this person has pulled strings for years now. He doesn’t know why yet. (I have no idea how Jonathan got out of jail, but I know he needs to.)

Total word count: 92,385

Don’t forget to check out today’s NaNoToons if you haven’t already: 2015 – November 29th

NaNoWriMo Day 28

The Words: 2252 words written today. This was written a few hours after midnight, when my daughter finally went to sleep. I tried to salvage the night’s writing, especially since I knew I’d be busy today. We spent the afternoon decorating the tree, and then went to an escape room this evening. It was one my husband and I had done alone last weekend, but we got others from my family (Mom, Dad, 2 sisters, one sister’s boyfriend, and our own 13-year-old son) to go do the same room. Then the owner let us back into the control room to watch them solve the room! Then afterward, we went out to eat and sat and talked about the room for a while. It was so much fun! Not so good for the last few days of NaNo, but fun! And fun is nice right now.

I have two days left to try to reach my goal of 100,000 words. I will be frustrated if I come this close and fail, but of course it’s not a necessary goal. 4200 each of the next two days will get me there, but we’ll see how they go. My daughter’s still been holding a  low fever today, so she’s a little needy.

The Story: Missy and her husband have been discussing the situation with Jonathan further. Missy gave him a history lesson of how Jonathan and Lark met and fell in love, since he didn’t know all of them at that time. Still more fishing by me, and soon I’m going to have to move on. I may go ahead and dive into the climax tomorrow. I’m just not sure where the players will be at the start of the climax. But I might be able to make it vague enough. Maybe doing that will give me a better idea of where to go next further back in the story.

Total word count: 91,530

day 28

Don’t forget to check out today’s NaNoToons if you haven’t already: 2015 – November 28th    This comic… this one is brilliant. However, if you haven’t been keeping up with them, you should maybe read this one first. This is the very spirit of what makes NaNo so amazing.

NaNoWriMo Day 27

The Words: 2009 words written today. I had planned to write a lot between 10 pm and 2 am. But it was not to be. My 5-year-old daughter started feeling unwell around 7 pm, and it escalated throughout the night. I got a couple of 15-minute sprints in before I had to just go lie on the bed with her watching cartoons. It was only ever a fever and headache, which were both mostly gone when she finally went to bed. So she’s okay for now, and we’ll see how she’s doing tomorrow.

Now I go on to get more words in for Saturday, since I have a somewhat busy day ahead, and I don’t actually know what my writing time will look like.

The Story: Continuing on with what I started yesterday, Jonathan has been sitting in his cell thinking through the entire situation. That has turned into some brief recaps of certain storylines from “Pithea.” This is what happens when I start pantsing and don’t know where I’m going.

Total word count: 89,278

day 27

Don’t forget to check out today’s NaNoToons if you haven’t already: 2015 – November 27th

If You’re Struggling With NaNo…

This video might help. I know some people didn’t have the first day of NaNo they were hoping for. I also know that seeing excitement and high numbers from others isn’t necessarily the most helpful encouragement. I wanted to share ‘Manda Whitney’s vlog about her first day trouble, because she totally gets it!

The important thing is not to give up. This is just the beginning!

Tips for NaNoWriMo, Part 4

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbThis is a continuation of the list I posted last week. Today’s tips are more specific to the words and reaching the word count. This will (probably) be the last post I made about how to prepare for NaNoWriMo, or how to make it through the month. It will not be my last post this year about NaNo, though. Oh no…not even close.

So without further ado, the rest of my suggestions for how to survive (and thrive in) NaNoWriMo:

1. Do not edit.
I used to think this was an understood “rule” of NaNo, but last year, I found out how wrong I was. Not only do some people not follow this guideline, some don’t even know about it.

This works on multiple levels. If your plot starts to go awry and you don’t want to follow it (which is sometimes the thing to do), don’t delete anything. Figure out where you want to pick it up again and start there. The rest of the text that you don’t want to use, use strikethrough on it, make the text white, or just copy and paste it to the bottom of the document to get it out of the way.

But it’s not just big changes like this that fall under this tip. If you’re typing and you realize the last two sentences aren’t what you really wanted to say, or you simply started the sentence wrong, you can just ignore it and keep going. Fix it in editing, right? That may be the smarter way to go, but it drives me crazy to finish a sentence that I know I don’t like, or leave something in I know is going to be deleted. But I don’t get rid of them. I just flag them so that I can find them later. For this kind of thing, some people may use strikethrough again. I prefer to put a bracket on the end of it. To use strikethrough, I’d have to highlight what I want to flag and click the strikethrough button. In other words, I’d have to take my hands off the keyboard. It breaks the flow. To type a bracket, I just hit the key with my right pinky and keep going. It looks like this:

“The militia members warned Lex and Leahna to be careful, and to contact them if she showed up, or if they had any way of knowing what she] where they could possibly find her.

This might not work for everyone, because it doesn’t provide a flag for the beginning of what needs changed. So when it’s time to edit later, it does probably take me a bit more work than if I had just used strikethrough on the whole thing. But it saves time during NaNo, and that’s the key here. Oh, and since I do 95% of my writing with Write or Die, strikethrough isn’t an option during the writing anyway, so I’d have to remember to flag it after I’d copied and pasted the text into my word processor. Not really helpful overall.

One more thing for this first tip (which will be the longest one, I promise). Don’t fix typos like misspelled words, accidental capitals (or lack thereof) or whatever other things we usually quickly backspace and delete. Fixing those doesn’t lose you words, but it does lose you time. The time it takes to go back and fix, but also the lost flow of writing. It can be very difficult to train yourself not to fix these things, and I often will still do it out of habit, but as much as I can, I just ignore it and keep going.

too many errors

I still love this error. MS Word yelled at me a lot near the end of NaNo. Not when I tried to use spell-check, even (because why would I do that during NaNo?), but just randomly on its own. It was too overwhelmed to even show all of the red squiggly underlines that my mistakes produced.

2. Don’t go back and read.
The temptation may be high to go back and read through some of what you’ve written on previous days, but fight it. If you can’t remember something you established earlier and you need to know it in today’s writing, do your best to bluff your way through it for now. If you can’t remember the name you gave a town or person who hasn’t shown up since then, put in a placeholder name for now (see next tip). If you just want to remember what you’ve written…don’t. If you start reading back, not only will you use up time you could be writing, you may find things you want to fix, and that’s just a bad path to start down before December.

3. Use placeholder words.
Don’t take time thinking of details, if they don’t come to you quickly. For example, names for unplanned characters, towns, organizations, whatever. Previous years, I often gave characters names like Bill or Steve, though they didn’t fit in the fantasy-esque world, just so I could keep going. Or for a town, I’ll write “TOWN NAME” to keep moving (yes, every time that town name comes up). The same idea applies to time elements. If you can’t remember for sure how long ago two characters met when they’re reminiscing later, don’t go back and look it up. Not yet. Instead do something like, “Do you remember when we first saw each other SO MANY MONTHS ago?” Or for distance, if you’re not sure how far away or far apart you want something to be–“The party was SO MANY MILES out of town, so…” The caps is so it’ll stick out when you’re editing and you’ll be sure to fix it later.

Anything like this that comes up, if you don’t have a plan or can’t come up with something you’re sure about on the fly, stick a placeholder in, make it clear you need to fix it still, and move on.

4. Take notes of things to fix later.
As I’ve already said at least once, though it’s not wise to delete or fix as you go, if you’re hoping to go back and fix your draft up some day, it might be a good idea to keep a list somewhere of things to fix later. I don’t mean things like typos or even the above things. I mean bigger things.

Last year there were several times that I would be days away from a certain scene, and it would hit me that I forgot to include something crucial. Or I forgot a character that actually needed to be in the scene. Now, if I’d gone back when I realized it, yeah, I probably would’ve added more words to the scene. I may have upped my word count. But since it would most likely involve some rewriting of what was there, and some thinking of how to make what I’d forgotten fit in, it wasn’t worth doing. I kept a list in a notebook of things I wanted to remember to address later.

The same can go for plot holes you find along the way, discrepancies in timeline, or if a character changes in your mind so much by the time you’re 15 days into NaNo that the way they acted at the beginning is just all wrong now (not referring to a character who changes within the context of the story).

5. Stop in the middle of a scene
Sitting down to start writing often takes a lot of willpower. There are a lot of things out there that beckon us, because they’re easier on the brain or because we’re tired or whatever other reason. Once you sit down, the best thing you can do is just start writing. But if you ended your last writing session at the end of a scene, it can be difficult to figure out where to start this one.

That’s why any time you can, end your writing session in the middle of a scene, even the middle of a paragraph. Some people say middle of a sentence or word, but I can’t do that. It would drive me nuts.

So, say you’re approaching your planned word count goal for the day, whether that be 500, 1667, 2000, or even 5000 words, don’t let yourself get to anything that feels like a stopping point. Stop short, and you can dive back in so much more easily the next time.

6. Don’t be afraid to go off-script.

This is where planners can take a cue from pantsers. No matter how detailed or sketchy your outline is, if the writing takes you in a new direction, it’s okay to follow it. If you really don’t care for that new direction, it doesn’t feel right, it’s too different from what you want, by all means, go back to the outline. But if the new direction intrigues you–whether it be a plot twist you’d never anticipated, a character throwing a wrench in your plans, or a plethora of other things–follow it. If you can get back to the outline, great. If not, don’t be afraid to throw it out. Or fix it to follow the new direction.

The outline is just a guideline. Don’t let it feel like a noose.

7. Don’t use contractions (or do).
Not using contractions during the entire month is just one of the dirty tricks that some Wrimos use. I will give you both sides of this tip, because it has its pros and cons. On the pro side, it can pad your word count; it’s not a whole lot, but it can be enough to be worth it when you’re struggling to make the daily goal. On the con side, it makes editing a chore.

I did this trick in 2013, and one of the first things I did when I started into revision was to do a find & replace on every contraction pairing I could think of–I am, I have, she is, he is, we are, they are, do not, have not…and on and on. It took a long time, and I still didn’t get them all. The rest I found and fixed manually in my first revision read-through. Not to mention the ones that had been changed by the replace function that shouldn’t have, like, “You may not be excited, but I’m.”

Anyway, hopefully you get the picture. Again, if you’re writing for fun and know for sure you’re not going to want to fix up the draft you end up with, the downside isn’t much of one. If you have any desire to go further with it, just keep this in mind.

This goes the same for any other dirty tricks out there–they may pad your word count for now, but be sure to consider if they’ll be difficult to clear out of your draft later.


I can’t believe NaNo starts in one week. I feel like I’ve been waiting months–maybe because I started posting about it in September! I’ve spent these last few months reading others’ posts about NaNo to bolster my own enthusiasm. And I’ve been doing my best to share as much advice for NaNoWriMo as I can think of.

Here’s one more I just thought of: Two years ago, I had a really detailed outline, but didn’t know how to open the novel. I sat for long enough thinking about it after midnight came that I finally started with the narrator giving sort of a pep talk to the other characters. It was ridiculous, really, and was only about a paragraph. It was enough to get my creative juices flowing, and I was ready to dive into the actual story!

In the end, the best advice I can give is that when November 1st comes, you just start writing. Whether you’re a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between, make sure you know how the story will begin so that when you sit down for your first writing session you don’t freeze up.

Are you as excited for NaNo to start as I am? Are you prepared? Do you have any more tips or tricks to add that I’ve forgotten?

Outlining for NaNoWriMo

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbIf you’re just coming across this now, at the beginning of October, there’s still plenty of time to plan a story from scratch. Here is a list of posts I’ve made about NaNo, which includes starting with story seeds and beginning to develop a plot. I’m not finished with that series of posts, as I wanted to give people time to work on the various steps. Personally, I’m still in the “take a nugget of a plot and see what you can flesh out of it” stage myself. However, I think this is a good time to talk about outlining, in case anyone is ready for that step.

The Great Debate

This isn’t a new topic. Even I have discussed the debate between panters and planners more than once before. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about others’ NaNo prep on WordPress in the last month, and have come to a few conclusions about pantsing and planning: Most pantsers actually do some planning, but not enough to consider themselves planners. Most planners leave room to pants along the way, but still find that they need to have a certain amount of stuff planned in advance.

So basically, there are extreme panters–all they know at the beginning of NaNo is a basic idea like, “It’s set on Mars and involves werewolves.” Or more of a plot point like, “Everywhere she goes, Sarah hears voices. She thinks she’s schizophrenic until the things the voices say start coming true.” With no more than that basic idea, they start writing on November 1st and just let the words flow out of them.

There are extreme planners–they have a 10,000-word outline, detailed character sheets for everyone down to the MC’s hairdresser, and a notebook full of notes about the world they’ve built.

Most of us fall somewhere in between these extremes–plan a little and wing most of it, or plan a lot but still let the story change itself. And I’ve noticed that many panters think that having an outline before starting to write the story means you’re locked into what is in that outline.

The Case for Outlining

Let me just say right now that most planners do give themselves room to follow the story or characters in unexpected directions. Sometimes, I write 2/3 of an outline, then start writing, knowing that I’ll veer off the outline before I get to the end anyway. Or I’ll change the outline to suit the new direction, or throw it out completely. Not too long ago I took a little offense at a blogger who implied that pantsing was creative, and writing from an outline wasn’t. Don’t take my tone to be too severe here, but I’d just like to state that writing fiction is creating, no matter what way you go about it. Simply because I do more of my creating before I start the actual writing by no means makes it less creative.

And let me just put this out there–the more you plan before you write, the more intricate your story can be. You can weave subplots together, work in foreshadowing more easily, and find plot holes before you’ve written them into the story. Outlining doesn’t make your story perfect, but I do believe it adds more potential for depth.

One more reason that I find planning to be important is that if I don’t write down ideas as I have them, and get them into place in the story, I will simply forget them. Even for this post, when I was falling asleep last night, I had an idea for a random plot point for the example up above. I really liked it, even if it was just an illustration. By this evening, I’d forgotten it completely.

Types of Outlines

1.) Perhaps the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they hear the word “outline” is the formal outline. You know the kind–with the roman numerals and indentation and such. outlineThey provide some scene organization and truly, if this works for you, great! Though they always made writing research projects easier, I still disliked making these in school. And a few years ago, I tried to make one for my NaNo project anyway. About 1/4 of the way through the outline, I decided it was more difficult than it was worth and switched to my normal way of outlining.

outline2.) My outlines usually look like this. Actually, they’re normally handwritten, but this one I typed was easier to share. I simply write plot point after plot point, events as I want them to happen. Sometimes a single line in the outline is so broad that it takes several pages to write that plot point. Sometimes the story flows quickly through several pages of outline. The important thing is that I’m getting down, in order, what I want the story to look like. And sometimes the details don’t require much extra thought during the writing (which, by the way, can be really helpful during NaNo…less slowing down to think of what else should happen means I get the words out faster). But sometimes the outline only tells me that “MC grows up after the important thing happens at the beginning of the story,” and I end up spending several thousand words making up things that happened to him while he was growing up.

3.) I recently learned about worksheets and templates for outlining. I knew of them for characters, so it makes sense that they’d exist for outlining too. If you think you’d benefit from having a template, you may try doing a web search for one that works for you. From what I can tell, there are those that give you lines to fill in an introduction, several plot points with supporting material, a climax, and a conclusion. Or there are some that show the image of a story (sort of like a mountain) and tell you to fill in the points along the way. If you’re new to fiction writing or even just new to outlining, perhaps the structure would help.

4.) Another way of outlining or plotting I have heard of, but never tried, is making a plot board. Some sort of board on which you place individual cards, post-its, whatever, each one of which is a different plot point or detail. You can color code it (which to my thinking would come in handy to show different subplots), see it all at a glance, and move points around as you need to. Something like this can probably be done on different mediums, and there are probably online that you can find better information on this than I can provide.

I personally plan to try outlining in Scrivener this year. I still have the free trial, though it won’t last all through November. But I’m still testing out different aspects of the program to decide if it’s worth buying. Since you can create a new scene for each outline point and then write directly into the scene space, thus organizing your story as you write, it seems like a nice tool…I’m just not sure how it will work for me in practice.

During October

Wherever you may be in your NaNo prep, I strongly advise that you start gearing up for NaNo now (if you haven’t already been). It’s not that it’s impossible to dive right in on Nov. 1 and win, but there are certainly ways to make it easier. As I’ve mentioned before, making writing part of every day now will make needing to do that in November easier. Even if you only spend 15 minutes per day free writing or working on novel planning, you can start building the habit now.

Are you gearing up for NaNo too? Do you have a different style of outlining?

Tips for NaNoWriMo

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Before I share another list of story seed ideas, I’m going to take today to discuss NaNoWriMo itself a bit more. 50,000 words in a month is a lot of work for each day, and it often takes not only pre-planning, but also a variety of tricks for Wrimos to prevail with their sanity intact.

Before November, I will share various things I have learned about how to survive–no, how to thrive during the potentially harsh conditions of NaNoWriMo. For now, I am going to focus on tips that you can start doing right now, while you’re still planning out your novel weeks in advance.

1. Give it time.
In a previous blog post, I suggested using the next several weeks as practice for NaNoWriMo in the area of finding and making daily writing time. Whether you are using my activities or doing pre-writing of your own, commit to working on it daily. Find or make some time in your day when you are able to sit down and work on the plot, characters, outline, or whatever you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be the amount of time you will need to write 1667 words each day in November, but maybe 15-20 minutes.

Take this time to learn what works best for you, so that by November, you know how to make the most of your writing time. Do you require absolute silence? If yes, when can you find that? Is your ideal time late at night when others are asleep? During your lunch break? First thing in the morning? Figure that out while also developing the actual content of your novel. (For pantsers, the real hardcore ones, who are doing absolutely no planning before November 1, you can still make time every day to free write in anticipation of daily writing in November.)

2. Find your space.
In a similar vein as figuring what when you work best, it can also be good to know in advance where and how you work best. Do you need a comfy spot? Maybe you work better at a desk or table with a straight-backed chair.  Where can you go to have the solitude you need? Or do you prefer some noise? Give coffitivity.com a try for a steady coffee shop background noise available anywhere you happen to be. Sometimes a little noise is good, but too much (people in the room, or even music with lyrics) can be bad.

Use your planning time to try out different locations and environments and see what works best. Do some work with pen/pencil and paper and some with a computer. Do you enjoy the tactile feel of writing by hand? Do you prefer the speed that typing can provide? This is the time to find out!

3. Write every day.
It is easier said than done, I know. However, it can make all the difference. If I don’t do some sort of writing work every day, it’s that much easier to fall into a fit of laziness and do nothing for weeks at a time. Pushing myself to work on my revision every night that I am not too busy keeps me going forward.

During NaNo, words can add up fast. But so can lack of words. One missed day means you’re 1667 words behind. Two missed days means you’re 3333 words behind. It can be stressful to start building that gap. I know not everyone is able to make writing a part of every day, but it is important to make a solid effort to do so. So instead of thinking of this planning time as less important, start getting used to making yourself do at least some work every day. There’s always something that can be done, because even if your plot is fully outlined before November 1, you can free write for practice. It can make you a better writer, and it also helps build good habits.

4. Make it official.
If you’re new to NaNoWriMo, make sure you sign up on the site. Find your home region and see if there are already events planned. Introduce yourself sometime between now and November. Check out the forums (try not to get too overwhelmed), fill out your profile, look for writing buddies, and enter your novel info once you have one to enter. Get familiar with the site and where you will need to update your word count and validate your win near the end of the month.

And lastly, tell everyone you know that you plan to write a novel during November. Explain to them why you may be tired, moody, or unavailable a lot during that month. (Or invite them to join you!) Friends and family members are often good at cheering us on during the month. Sometimes, just knowing that you’ve announced to people that you’re planning to undertake a big challenge makes you work that much harder to accomplish it.

Whether you’re new to NaNoWriMo or a veteran, if you’re not currently in the habit of writing regularly, November 1st can come as quite a shock. 1667 words may flow out of you in 20 minutes, but more likely, it will take more time than that. Easing into it now may keep you from hitting a wall very early in the month.

What about you? How are you preparing for NaNoWriMo? If you’ve done this all before, do you have any tips on how to get ready?

Time for NaNoWriMo

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We want YOU to join us this year!

NaNoWriMo Is…

National Novel Writing Month is an event that takes place every year during the month of November. The basic idea behind it is that participants attempt to write a 50,000-word novel (first draft) during that month. The website provides a place to record progress, inspiration throughout the month, and social interaction with other participants.

day 7

I LOVE watching that bar fill up!

I love NaNoWriMo. It’s a huge part of my life. I wrote 80% my very first finished novel draft during NaNo in 2013, and all of my second novel’s first draft during last year’s event. The focus on quantity over quality, the support and accountability, and the overall excitement of the month really spur me on.

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And never underestimate the value of competition.

I believe that NaNo can be for anyone–not just those hoping to publish a novel, or make a career of writing. Not even just people who like to write as a hobby. Anyone who has ever dreamed of writing a novel (or long story, or any lengthy work…heck, even just several short stories) can benefit from NaNoWriMo.

NaNo, however, isn’t necessarily for everyone. By that, I mean that I realize that there are people who don’t work well under the pressure that NaNo can bring. Or who do write (as a hobby or otherwise) already on a regular basis and wouldn’t benefit from the intensity of the event.

Fear of Failure

I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2007. It wasn’t as wide-spread as it is now, and I didn’t have a local region close enough to even attempt to join in local events. I loved participating, and I loved the results of my month of frenzy. Then I skipped the next year because I didn’t have any idea for something to write. After that, I proceeded to skip 2 other years–2010 and 2011. I made the excuse that having a new baby at home made it impossible to try. However, looking back, I think it was just as much that I hadn’t been randomly inspired by a story idea.

Not participating those years boils down to one reason: fear of failure. If I think I don’t have a reasonable chance of completing NaNoWriMo, I would rather not participate. However, since I spent every one of those Novembers agonizing over the fact that I wasn’t writing, and thinking, “If I start now, I may still be able to win,” I do sometimes feel like I actually participated those years, and simply lost. I lost by not trying.

Last year, as November approached, more than one family member told me they had considered or were considering participating in NaNoWriMo. Apparently my enthusiasm had finally spread! However, one of them said he didn’t know if he would, because he might not have an idea in time. Another said she was pretty sure she simply wouldn’t have time.

If someone considers participating in NaNo, but chooses not to, what is the reason for their decision? It’s most often fear of failure, as near as I can tell. Without that looming deadline, that possibility of “losing,” there wouldn’t be as much reason not to jump in and try. However, that looming deadline is exactly what makes the event so fun, exciting, and helpful to many of us.

So, as a NaNo veteran (my qualifications include 5 years of actual participation), I want to do what I can to help those who are considering NaNoWriMo this year, but don’t think they have what it takes.

Finding or Making Time

NaNoWriMo is almost two months away, which is plenty of time to develop a plot and create some characters. It also gives time for a hopeful Wrimo to work out how they will find the time for NaNoWriMo. While it is one of the first things many people who are considering NaNo wonder about, it doesn’t have to be a reason not to participate.

One of the reasons NaNo works so well is that it only lasts a month. One month. 30 days out of 365, during which we tell ourselves, our families, or our friends that we’re going to disappear, slack off in our duties, or ask for extra help. It’s not always; it’s only for one month.

I’m a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom with two kids. My prime writing time is from around 9 pm until maybe 2 am. The house is quiet, and I’m a night owl anyway. Sometimes I’m able to slip away for twenty minutes here and there during the afternoon. On weekends with no plans for the family, I really go nuts, because my husband is home to take care of the kids.

The key, though, is to make NaNoWriMo a priority. Don’t schedule unnecessary events during November, give up some TV or computer time in the evening, and give NaNo the time and attention it needs.  How much time it needs will vary on the person, but I tend to believe that the more planning is done on a story, the less time the writer will take to get the words out.

2013 NaNo Participant FB Profile

One running joke among Wrimos is that our novels are built on inspiration, hard work, and caffeine.

My plan is to make more posts between now and November that could help someone plan out a NaNoNovel from scratch. I’m not a professional writer, a creative writing teacher, or even very experienced at this sort of intensive planning. I’m simply someone who wants to share the joy and creativity of NaNoWriMo with everyone.

Start Here

If you’re ready to start planning your story, don’t let me hold you back. You can probably search the internet for ways to generate ideas for a novel and find help from people much more qualified than I. But if you come back next week, I’ll post some of my own suggestions for sparking ideas. As daunting as the end goal may seem, it all starts with a tiny seed.

In the meantime, start using the next two months to prepare your schedule. Figure out ways you can make more time in your day, or decide what you can cut out for a month. And use this time to practice. It doesn’t have to be as intensive as November will be, but take some free time here or there, time that might normally be spent reading, watching TV, or whatever, and work on your pre-writing during that time. Get the feel of what time of day is best for you to do writing work. And always be thinking toward November.

distracted by internet

You’re on your own with this one…

Plan Every Day: Those With Whom We Spend Most of Our Time

dream plan write

Character creation is an important part of developing a story. It’s one of the key elements of fiction, right up there with plot and setting. A unique character can make a stale plot seem new again. Alternatively, an overused character type can drag down a brilliant plot. So what do we do? We plan. We carefully craft our characters before we start to write. Sometimes, before we even start to outline.

(Obviously not all characters are planned in advance–you’re not always able to plan for everything that may come up as you’re writing. And maybe pantsters don’t have any characters figured out before they start. Is that a thing? I don’t even know. If so, though, at some point, I would think they’d have to slow down and flesh out the characters that came as they wrote.)

For me, character creation can sometimes go hand-in-hand with the outlining. As I’m weaving the plot, the characters are being defined by what the story needs. Sometimes, an idea for a character is sharp in my head before I’ve even figure out what may ever happen to that character.

In my early writing, I wasn’t great at making various characters have their own distinctness. That doesn’t mean there were 5 of the same person, but with different names and genders, wandering around interacting and moving the plot forward. Rather, I seemed to have a general nice, friendly type of character and a general crabby, anti-social type of character. I noticed that a lot of my side characters almost mirrored the main character.

In the time since then, I’ve been more careful to give each character their own sense of being. It has been an important part of my current revision of “Pithea” to flesh out side characters who are actual people in my head, but don’t get a lot of “screen time,” so to speak. Just because they have small parts doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be as much themselves as I can make them in those parts.

There can be a question, though, of how to really craft your character into a real person. Character sheets are an obvious answer, and you can find different forms of those all over the place. I’ve tried that before, but I’ve realized I don’t care for them. For a while, I thought that if I couldn’t answer a question like, “What is your character’s philosophy on death?” it was because my characters weren’t deep enough. Obviously I needed to answer that to have a really good character. But the truth is, now matter how I answered, it felt silly. It felt forced. It just didn’t work for me. (Character sheets or profiles can be a great tool if it works for you. I’d never discourage anyone from doing it. I may even try it again someday. Maybe I just need the right template.)

To get to know my characters, give them their own voice, or discover why they are who they are, my favorite method is just writing. Write a scene unrelated to the plot, centered around the character in question, maybe even from the point-of-view of that character, even if the main story isn’t. Writing prompts can come in handy for something like this, if an idea doesn’t readily present itself. But the general idea is to write out a scene and let that character shine in their uniqueness, and it gives you a better feel for that character.

As I’ve been working on “Pithea” with my sisters, one of them defended a character that was meant to be disliked by other characters and readers alike. My sister said, “He’s tactless, but everything he says makes sense. Why does everyone else always jump on him? They’re all really mean to him.” I was shocked and confused. He was a bully! Rude! Horrible! But as I read through his parts in the story, I realized that she was right. He wasn’t the nicest guy, but the other characters reacted to the man I saw in my head, not the one on the page.

So I spent some time getting to know him. I started with the personality I wanted him to have and asked what in his life could have led him to be that way. Then I wrote out important points about his early life. Over the course of a couple days, I did some writing practice from his perspective. None of this would ever make it into the story, but it was important to me. I shared it with my editing-partner sisters so that they could understand how I saw him. Then I changed some of his parts in the story, based on the deeper understanding I have of him now.

One more thing–while I don’t fill out a pre-made character sheet, I do make sure to write down traits or other important notes about my characters that I realize along the way.

Plan for yourself: Think about any characters you may have that you feel are not very well developed. Or that you feel have confusing motivations. Consider why they are in the story in the first place, and what specific personality or outlook on life their role would require of them. Then go backwards from there and think through why that personality might develop in them. Does he look down on women because he had three older sisters who treated him harshly? Did she become a nurse because when she was younger, she remembered how her sick grandfather’s nurse had brightened his stay in the hospital?

Spend some time getting to know them. Fill out a character sheet if you like and haven’t already, but go further than that. Write more with them than you might plan to for your story. Write as them. How would they describe themselves? How do they see the world? What do they think of the main character? Put them into a conversation with someone else, about something important or just what to have for dinner. How do they talk, react, or move during the conversation?

Make sure to write down anything you learn about your character during this time, somewhere that you can easily refer back to it.

How do you get to know your characters? Do you have a character sheet template that you use for every one? Do you ever struggle to avoid copy+paste characters, or do you excel at creating unique individuals? How many times do the words “character” or “characters” appear in this post?

Plan Every Day: Our Frenemy, the Outline

dream plan write

Something else I learned in my high school creative writing class is that planning (or pre-writing) can be your friend. Thinking solely about research projects and essays, as much as I disliked doing them, writing an outline first always made the actual writing easier.

Cut to now, when I have no classroom to work in, no teacher to force me to do every tedious step of pre-writing, and no grade for my effort, or lack thereof. And you know what? I still do pre-writing, at least to some degree.

The debate of whether it’s better to be a plotter or a “pantser” rages on out there in cyber space. I’ve seen more than one comment of, “I’m not much of a planner. I write out broad plot points, but I have to give room for my story to go where it wants to go.” I have a response to that, but I’ve already ranted (jump to point 3) a little on that topic.

Planning might just help more than you expect. Don’t ever think that pre-writing locks you into anything. Very rarely do I even outline an entire story. Often, I outline to somewhere in the middle, then start writing. Sometimes when I get to the end of the outline, I’m on track. But more often than not, I derail before that point. Then I either just keep going or stop, regroup, and outline from there. Various sites call that a con to be a planner, but is it really that big of a deal? Most likely, if your story has gone off-track from your plans for it, then there’s a reason, and you’ll likely be happier following the new path. Yes, you might have to write a new outline, or you might just pants the rest of the story (it’s okay to be a hybrid planner/pantser).

Have you ever had a story or scene rolling around in your head, maybe even playing itself out? There have been times that I feel like I’ve written half of the story before I ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). But when I do sit down to write it out, one of the following things happens: I’ve forgotten many of the important parts; what was playing through quickly in my mind takes a lot longer to write out and I can’t get it all done in one, two, or even several sessions, leaving me again in danger of forgetting what I don’t get to for a while; or I simply can’t figure out how to start.

So instead of going directly to writing, I make an outline. Then I can get a lot of story out before I forget it. Even aside from potential forgetfulness, outlining a lot of the story at once can let you see how it will go from a distance, which sometimes lets you catch mistakes or fill in plot holes before they happen.

One last note I want to be clear about–don’t think that in order to make an outline, you have to use the formal format.

outline

You know the kind, with the Roman numerals and all the indentation.

That’s great if it works for you. I tried it once, but I didn’t care for it. Normally I just write broad plot points one line after another, sticking in details when I think of them and want to remember. Here is an example:

outline

Plan for yourself: It’s not easy to practice or try out planning or writing outlines, but I do have a few ideas. And keep in mind, I’m not trying to convince you that planning is better than pantsing. If you already know you work better without an outline or much forethought, then you should feel free to skip this whole thing. However, if you’ve never really given it a try, now’s your chance. If you’re like me, you have at least one story idea rattling around in your brain, waiting to be given form. Take some time now, even if you weren’t planning to write that story now or even soon, to start planning that story. Write out the key plot points, make a sketchy outline, and get it out on paper before it disappears into the void.

Another option, if you’ve written a story (or part of one), have characters you’ve created, and don’t have other ideas just now, is to take those characters and the world they live in and just think up a new situation for them. Something unrelated to the story they’re already in (or it can be related too), even something crazy that you know wouldn’t happen. Outline a scenario, long or short, and see how it feels. The idea is just to see how outlining can feel, with just a random scenario that doesn’t have to have any further purpose. Though who knows, maybe this will spark a more solid idea simply because you’re pushing yourself for a new idea. But even if not, get a feel for the outlining and see what you think. You may like it, you may not.

Of course, if you do write an outline for a story that interests you, the next step would be writing from that outline. You can’t fully evaluate whether you’re a planner, pantser, or hybrid, without going past the outline. But the actual writing is a subject for another post.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the great debate, or anything you produce from the above ideas that you’d like to share.