Tips for NaNoPrep

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In 2015, I wrote a series of posts about NaNoWriMo, covering things like tips for prep time, tips for November, help in the actual prep work, and even some of my favorite writing tools.

The problem now is that, though those things are all still helpful and relevant, there’s not a lot to add to them. I have picked up a few extra tips since then, sure, but those things I wrote about 2 years ago are still some of the most helpful advice I could give.

I could just reblog those posts throughout the month, but I don’t like that idea. Instead, I’m going to pick some of my favorite tips and share them in a few, boiled-down posts, while also suggesting that anyone who is interested in learning more visit the page where I’ve listed all of those posts from 2015.

1. Start writing now.
Take the next 2 1/2 weeks 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?

It doesn’t have to be the amount of time you will need to write 1667 words each day in November, but find maybe 15-20 minutes when you can sit down and write. For planners, work on the plot, characters, outline, or whatever you’re doing. For pantsers 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. In fact, free writing can be a great use of your time whether you’re a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between.

Try to write every day, which is a good habit to have even outside of NaNo, but also keep in mind that if you can’t get to it one day, it’s not the end of the world. Just remember that if you’re like most of us, the longer you let yourself stay away, the less likely it is that you’ll keep the habit you’ve developed.

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. Gather your NaNo necessities.
Whether this includes consumables, physical tools, or making sure your laptop is set up and ready to use, make sure you know what you want to have handy for NaNoWriMo now, and procure as much of it as you can. When November starts, you don’t want to find yourself lacking.

4. Involve other senses.
I touched on sound above, so we’ll start there. Some people create a playlist for every story. I’ve read about people who will find music that matches the theme of their story, make a playlist from it (even if just on YouTube), and listen to it all month. Then, when November is over and they want to go back later and either finish the novel or revise it, they can listen to that music again, and it will put them right back in the mood.

Whatever your taste in music is, an alternative to creating an audio scene for your story is creating an olfactory scene. Scent memory is said to be very powerful. Go to the store and smell all the candles or all the scented wax (if you have or are willing to buy the wax melter to go with it). Think of your story, what it’s about, where it’s set, who the main character(s) is/are. Is it a romance? Maybe something flowery or sensual. Is it set in a tropical location? Something with coconut or tropical fruit, perhaps. There are outdoor scents if your story involves a lot of forest or other outdoor scenes. Not every story lends itself easily to a scent, but pick something that smells right and have it burning/melting near you while you write all month. Then later, you may just be able to immerse yourself back into the book by activating that scent again.

Check out this post for some NaNo-related music, comic strips, and even a musical!

5. The midnight sprint.
NaNoWriMo begins at midnight on November 1. That falls in the middle of the week this year, but if you’re the kind who stays up late, or can make an exception for one night, you can start writing right at midnight and get some words under your belt before going to bed. It’s purely a mental trick, getting a jump start on the day’s word count, but many people love to do the midnight sprint.

When November looms closer, I will post tips about the writing itself, and how to survive–and even thrive–during NaNoWriMo. If you’re don’t want to wait, by all means, here’s the link again to the series of posts I made 2 years ago, from which I’ll probably be stealing some those tips.

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?

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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 make 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?

Tips for NaNoWriMo, Part 3

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbWe’re halfway through October and I still have so many tips I want to share for how to survive (and thrive in) NaNoWriMo. So far, I’ve given tips about how to get ready for NaNo–not just planning the story, but planning your space and getting your writing tools ready. There is certainly still plenty of time for those things.

But now I am going to start sharing my tips and tricks for how to make it through the event itself. I’ve split these into two posts of 7 tips each, so here are the first 7:

1. Break up the words.
50,000 words sounds like a lot (and it is). If you plan to write every day, it’s 1667 words per day. Because life can’t stop for NaNo, as much as we may want it to, there will be things that keep us from writing some days. If you know about these things in advance, you can count those days out of the total 30. Then you could divide 50,000 by the days you have left.

So then you have 1667 (or however many you come up with) words to write per day. Even that can seem like a lot, especially if your day is really busy. That’s when you divide the words even further. 500 words isn’t so much, right? That might take you 20-30 minutes to write. So three times throughout the day, take 20-30 minutes  (or less if you’re in a groove) to write 500 words. The extra 167 words may be made up during those times, if you write a bit over 500, or you could just make sure to get them in before you go to bed.

If you have a whole chunk of time, maybe an hour or two, to write, you may not need to break the words down further. But if you’re finding yourself overwhelmed by the daily word count, this might just be a useful tip for you.

2. Write in sprints.
A continuation of the previous tip, this one can be useful whether you’re writing in smaller session throughout the day, or all at once. I’ve found that I run up against a mental block when I sit down at 9 pm and think, “Okay, time to write my words for today.” Rather than just diving in and going for 1667, I will write in sprints.

All that means is that I set a time (usually 20 minutes) and write until the time is up. No stopping to check Facebook/email/whatever, no alt-tabbing to look something up, no stopping for a snack, or getting up at all. Then I take a short break, get a drink, visit the bathroom, stretch, glance at Facebook or the NaNo forums, or whatever, before starting another sprint. Single sprints can fit into work breaks, doctor visit waits, or other smallish amounts of downtime. Just set your time limit accordingly.

I strongly recommend checking out https://twitter.com/NaNoWordSprints. Throughout November (not necessarily 24/7) volunteers tweet word sprints that anyone can take part in. They announce the start time and the time limit, and sometimes a theme or prompt you can use if you need inspiration. Between sprints, people are often invited to tweet their word count for the recent sprint and maybe a sentence you liked.

Word wars are also a super effective tool for NaNo. Two or more participants agree on a start time and time limit, then write as many words for their novel as they can. Afterwards they compare word counts to see who won. I’ve seen first-hand how doing word wars throughout November can breed high word counts and/or early wins. If you can get to a write-in for your region, that’s the best way to do word wars. You can also do them online with writing buddies, or find people to war against on the forums.

I use the website writeordie.com (technically I still use the old version of the web app) for my sprints and word wars. I posted about that site yesterday, so I won’t say more about it here.

3. Reward yourself.
A helpful trick for NaNo is to set smaller milestones throughout a week, a day, or even one writing session, and find ways to reward yourself when you’ve reached them. For example, you could decide that if from Monday through Friday of one week, you wrote 10,000 words, you’d take Saturday off and relax (watching a movie, go outside) during your normal writing time. Or it could be as simple as having a pile of candy just out of reach and only letting yourself have one or two after each 20-minute writing sprint.

I will sometimes decide that once I’ve written 1667 words for the day, I’ll stop and watch 30 minutes of TV. Then I’ll see how much more I can get done before bedtime. Figure out what works for you and let that motivate you to get the words out.

4. Stay hydrated.
This one might seem unnecessary, but I know sometimes I can forget to make sure to drink plenty of water on a normal day when I have lots to do. During NaNo, especially when I have a day in which I have more time than usual to write, I can get so caught up in the sprints or wars that I forget to stop and refuel.

Snacks, coffee, and other caffeinated drinks are fuel for Wrimos, but just make sure you’re drinking plenty of water too.

5. Back up your work.
I don’t always remember this one myself, and I’ve had some scares. If you write with pencil & paper, it’s not as crucial, but we all know how fickle computers can be. Make sure you’re keeping a copy of your novel in more than one place. Some people back it up to the cloud (with Google drive, for example), while others may keep a copy on a thumb drive. Some keep several copies in every way they can think of. The key is to make sure you don’t have just the one copy.

6. Limit your time on the forums (and other online activities).
Have you been to the NaNo forums? The whole place is just this giant black hole of time sink on par with TV Tropes or Pinterest. There are boards for the genre you’re writing, for your age group, for almost any type of advice you may need…and so much more. And they are crazy busy during November.

It is really easy to go check out the forums at the beginning of your writing time and then realize half an hour has gone by. That’s why it’s important to put some sort of limit on how long you browse the forums. And really, this same thing can be said for any online time sink you may be inclined toward.

If you’re like me, your writing time may also be the first time all (or most of) the day that you’ve even had a chance to be at a computer. You may have email to check, Facebook to peruse, blog posts to read… But you have to set a limit, even if you use a timer to do so, or you’ll lose a lot of your writing time. It can also help if you can find other times during the day, time that you have at the computer (or with a mobile device) that isn’t really long enough to write. Do some of your normal online activities then, and save the rest for when your daily word count is done. Or December.

7. Don’t expect too much.
I’ve heard from people recently who were disappointed after their first NaNo, because they’d expected to end the month with a manuscript all ready to send off to publishers. That is not going to happen. Don’t go into this thinking you’re going to speed-write a novel, and it’s going to be great. I won’t rule out that possibility, but I’m sure it is super rare.

This may not be the first time you’ve heard this, but the focus during NaNo is on quantity, not quality. That right there is why many people think NaNo is pointless. If they’re expecting to end the month with 50,000 words of crap, why bother? Well, for one thing, it may not be pure crap. You may have a lot of unneeded filler, mistakes, and scenes that just didn’t work out. But you also may have the beginnings of a great novel. Perhaps it needs a complete rewrite, or maybe just a good round of revisions. But you’d have nothing if you hadn’t pushed yourself to write 50k words in a month.


Since there are still 2 weeks before November start, I’ll finish this post with another reminder to be writing every day, even now. It’s not necessary to success, but it sure can’t hurt, especially if you’re new to NaNo or haven’t been able to finish one yet. Starting cold with 1667 words on day 1 can be a real shock and even mental stumbling block. Whatever time of day you expect to be using for NaNo, start using that time now for pre-writing for your novel or (especially if you’re a pantser) simple freewriting about anything.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? How are you preparing? Do you have any tips or tricks for getting through the month?

Tools for NaNoWriMo: Write or Die

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbI came across Write or Die for the first time a few years ago. I believe my region’s ML posted it in a list of other tools for writers. I was hooked as soon as I tried it out.

The idea behind Write or Die is that an immediate consequence for not writing is more effective than a far-off reward for writing. The biggest benefit for me is that using Write or Die helps me avoid distractions while I’m writing.

There is a downloadable software that you can buy, or you can use the web app. I’ve only ever used the web app, not because I don’t think it’d be worth buying, but because my family’s budget hasn’t afforded me the ability to buy the software yet. For that matter, I prefer the older web version to Write or Die 2. The older version is what I’ll be using to explain the tool further.

writeordieThe above is what you see when you go to the link for the web app. There are four choices to make: word goal, time goal, consequences, and grace period. The first two are self-explanatory. You choose how long you want to write–sprint for 10-20 minutes, go for hours, etc. I usually set my word count goal higher than my average for the time I’m choosing, so I don’t quit early. (Edit: I recently discovered that if you leave the word goal at 0, the program won’t let you quit until you reach the time limit. So if you’re wanting to time your sprint, and just get as many words as you get, that’s the way to go.)

Once you start typing, if you stop to think about what to write next, you will start to incur the consequences. There are four modes for consequences: gentle, where a box pops up to remind you to keep writing if you stop for a while; normal, where some sort of obnoxious noise plays if you stop writing for a while; and kamikaze, where your words begin to be deleted if you stop writing for a while. (I’ll let you figure out the electric shock setting for yourself.)

After a few seconds of inactivity, the screen will begin to turn red in increasing shades. The amount of time you can pause in your writing before your chosen consequence kicks in is determined by the grace period you choose.

There is a pause button in the top, right corner. If you push it, a dialog box pops up and gives you as much time as you need to stop writing with no consequences (though sometimes when you unpause, the consequence is going off, so you just need to type something quickly to make it stop). You get one pause per session, so use it wisely. I save them for when my time is interrupted by a family member, or when I spill my water on my lap. I try very hard not to pause it just to think of the next thing I want to write.

When your time is up or your word count is reached, make sure you copy and paste your words to a file in a word processing program. Write or Die does not save your work. There will be a reminder before you leave the page, so it’s not something you should be extremely worried about, unless you tend to have bad luck with this sort of thing.

I love Write or Die when I’m writing on my own, or especially for word wars. The time set by fellow Wrimos can be set in the app, and I can see my time going down and words going up. I use this during almost all of NaNo, only writing without it when I have to write in a notebook for some reason, when I’m warming up for word wars, or when I am just so into what I’m writing, I nothing could possibly distract me anyway.

The newer version has its merits, but I like the old version, I’m used to it, and it suits what I need it for well enough to not need to mess with the new one. If you have any interest in using Write or Die for your writing, during NaNo or any time of the year, you can play around with the features, and both versions, and figure out what works best for you, or if it works for you at all.

Tools for NaNoWriMo: Coffitivity

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When I was in high school, I remember realizing that to be able to concentrate on my homework, I needed complete silence. Though I tried to convince my mom (and myself) that I could study in front of the TV, she never bought it, and really, neither did I.

Fast forward to now, and things have changed a little. What I’d like to do is listen to music while I’m writing, plotting, or revising, but that’s usually a bad idea. The only time it really works is when I’m doing something that doesn’t require as much focus, like transferring edits I made on my hard copy into the computer (which, frankly, barely counts as writing work anyway, but it has to be done now and then).

The lyrics are the main reason music is a problem for me. I start singing along, even in my head, and I lose what I’m doing. Music without lyrics would work–I know people who like to write to sound tracks from epic movies about adventure and magic. I don’t listen to that kind of music normally, so it would really just take too long trying to track down a playlist that I like or fits the mood of my story.

So I stay away from music most of the time, but I don’t like absolute silence either.

That’s why I use Coffitivity. I just found out about this website sometime earlier this year, but I use it almost every time I sit down to do any kind of writing work.  It’s basically just the sound of a coffee house or diner. On a loop. There are three options (or more, if you want to pay), though I honestly don’t see how any one is better than the others.

This doesn’t work as well for people who write with the internet turned off to avoid distractions, but for the rest of us, it could be a crucial part of our writing environment. If you’re not sure if you need silence, noise, music, or something else, try it out now, during NaNoPrep season while you plan your novel.

Tools for NaNoWriMo: Aeon Timeline

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Years ago, when I was writing fanfiction, I struggled to create a timeline for my large group of stories that stretched across many years and contained a lot of the same characters. I started on paper, and eventually tried to make something with Excel. I did end up with a format that I have since used for other writing, but it was still a pain to use and especially to make edits.

timeline

It gets really messy when the events of the story pick up.

A few years ago, at the end of NaNoWriMo, I noticed amongst the winner goodies a discount for a program called Aeon Timeline. I downloaded the free trial and spent a few days putting several stories worth of information into it. I discovered very quickly that it was exactly what I needed.

There are many settings you can play with, including having the timeline stretch out over thousands of years, or one single day. If you choose the latter, the timeline will show much more detail than with the former. I’ve read that a user can create their own calendar system in the program too, which would be useful for fantasy writers, though I haven’t used the feature myself.

You can have individual sections for different stories, different story arcs, or whatever else you may need. You can also toggle those individual arcs on or off to your liking.

Aeon arcs

“Arcs” are shown along the left.

And one of my favorite things about the program is that you can add in all of your characters and attach them to the entries. If you set up a birth date, it will even tell you how old the character is at the time of that entry. The feature is called “Entities,” because it pertains to more than just characters too. I used it to remind myself of when a particular device (listed in the picture below as “com-disc”) was introduced into my story world, because I was having a hard time remembering when it was available to be used by characters.

Aeon entities

The lines go up to entries. The dots indicate that the character was a participant in that event (the one that’s not colored in indicates “observer” rather than “participant”).

Not every story needs a timeline. Sometimes events only happen over the course of a few days. The story I’m planning for NaNo this year will cover 9 days. I still plan to make a timeline for it as I plan this month. Even if in the end it turns out to be unnecessary, I know I’d rather have it anyway.

Though I’ve been mocked (all in fun, I assure you) for how meticulous I am with my timeline, it is crucial for keeping track of things for my group of stories that include “Pithea,” “Pursuit of Power,” “Outcast,” and other plans that will take place before, after, and during the others. There is so much to keep straight–character’s ages, how long ago a certain event happened, how long a certain event lasted, etc. So whether your writing is as complicated as mine or not, if you’ve ever felt the need for a timeline for your stories, Aeon Timeline is worth checking out.

How about you? Have you ever used Aeon Timeline before? Do you have a program you use for keeping track of a timeline?

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, Part 2

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Happy October! For those of us who are planning to participate in NaNoWriMo, October should be a very important month. (And I see by the WordPress Reader under the tag of NaNoWriMo that I am not alone in this thinking. Seriously, for the last month, I’ve been obsessively reading every post on WordPress that has been tagged as such, and it really exploded today!) There is a lot to prepare in advance, and I don’t just mean the story. Let’s face it, planning a story is only part of what one should to do prepare for NaNo.

Today, I’m going to share some more tips for what you could do throughout this month to make sure you’re ready to write on November 1st.

A few weeks ago, I shared some ideas for these pre-NaNo months that could help anyone who was planning to participate get ready. All of those tips still work for this month too. Honestly, if you’re new to NaNoWriMo especially, I suggest you learn what works for you now, because you’re not going to want to spend your first few days of writing trying to figure out where the best place is to write, or when you can get to it, or other things like that.

1. Consumables
NaNoWriMo is not the time for sleep. Caffeine can be a crucial ingredient for the month, so make sure you’re stocked up on your favorite poison. I don’t care for coffee, so I usually drink cappuccino (the kind from a powder). I drink iced tea, even in cold months, but it’s normally decaf. Last year someone suggested switching to regular tea for November, so I may try that too. But for my birthday this year, I got a Keurig machine. Strange for someone who doesn’t like coffee, I know, but since I discovered that I rather enjoy flavored coffees, I’ve gone kind of crazy for it. So I have a lot of that stocked up for November.

More than beverages, though, many people find that they want to snack more during NaNoWriMo. I know not everyone is as self-indulgent as I, so if you’re more health conscious, you may want to skip the chocolate. Personally, though, I have plans to go to some stores on November 1 in the afternoon and buy up a bunch of post-Halloween-sale candy. Chips are also a staple for some, or any other snack-type foods you like.

2. Writing Tools
This may seem kind of obvious, but there are plenty of things that you may assume you’d remember, or you’d have available, but won’t be able to find when the time comes. Make sure you have any notebooks you may need, pens or pencils, binders, planners, whatever physical items you use for writing. Put them all in one place and even contained in a transportable bag, box, etc. if your location for writing tends to change (either within the house or to coffee shops, library, or friend’s house). I would advise that even if you are a true computer writer and don’t use pen/paper for any stage of writing that you still carry a notebook and pen or pencil with you during November. It’s a good back up in case anything goes wrong with electronic devices, and this is not a time to risk that.

In the virtual sense, make sure you know what programs or apps you want to use and have them on any computers or devices you may use. If you’ve heard a lot about a program but haven’t tried it yet (like Scrivener or Evernote), download it now and play around with it before November. During NaNoWriMo is no time to be trying to learn a new software. I have some more virtual tools that I use for writing that I’ll share during the rest of this month too.

3. Writing Buddies
I’ve mentioned before that now is the time to be finding your home region on the NaNoWriMo website. More than that, this is a good time to start scheduling your month for local events, if you can make it to those. I won’t say that it’s a necessity to attend, as I would be a hypocrite if I did. I’ve never been to a write-in, just the last few years’ kick-off parties. Write-ins are usually 45 minutes away, and I’m a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, so it’s hard to get away. This year, though, my local library, which is about 5 minutes away, is going to have weekly write-ins, so I’m working out plans to at least go to the first one and see how it goes.

Whether you go to in-person events or not, it can be nice to connect with others in your area, even if only online. Introduce yourself in the forums, see if there is an online chat you can join in on, and just be part of the community. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the community if you let yourself, which is why I mostly stick to my region’s forums, and don’t venture much into the main forums.

Something else to be thinking about now is how you might best go about doing some word wars once November starts. (Word wars are where you and at least one other person agree on a set amount of time, usually 10-15 minutes, start writing at the same time, and compare your word count at the end.) Last year I was part of my first word wars, and let me tell you, they are very motivating. They were all virtual, taking place over Skype in a group some people from my region created. Almost every day there were word wars going on in the evening, and most of the Wrimos who were there regularly finished NaNo at least a week early, citing word wars as the reason why.

If you know people in person who are also doing NaNo, they’d be the obvious choice for word war competitors. However, you can usually find someone to go head-to-head with in your region, at write-ins esp, or if all else fails, there’s a forum for that: http://nanowrimo.org/forums/word-wars-prompts-sprints

4. Involve Other Senses
So number 1 kind of covered taste, but that’s not really what I mean. I’ve mentioned in a previous post about how the time leading up to November is a great time to discover what kind of writing atmosphere you need (if you don’t already know). Do you require absolute silence? Some kind of white noise? Music? The last one is what I’m referring to right now.

Some people create a playlist for every story. I’ve read about people who will find music that matches the theme of their story, make a playlist from it (even if just on YouTube), and listen to it all month. Then, when November is over and they want to go back later and either finish the novel or revise it, they can listen to that music again, and it will put them right back in the mood. I’ve never done this, I think because music doesn’t work that way in my head. Or maybe it’s because I’m too lazy to spend time tracking down what music would fit my novel (though this year, I may just have the perfect music, given the subject matter).

One year, I did spend the whole month going back and forth between these two playlists: D&E NaNo songs, NaNoMusical songs

Whatever your taste in music is, an alternative to creating an audio scene for your story is creating an olfactory scene. Scent memory is said to be very powerful. Go to the store and smell all the candles or all the scented wax (if you have or are willing to buy the wax melter to go with it). Think of your story, what it’s about, where it’s set, who the main character(s) is/are. Is it a romance? Maybe something flowery or sensual. Is it set in a tropical location? Something with coconut or tropical fruit, perhaps. There are outdoor scents if your story involves a lot of forest or other outdoor scenes. Not every story lends itself easily to a scent, but pick something that smells right and have it burning/melting near you while you write all month. Then later, you may just be able to immerse yourself back into the book by activating that scent again.

5. To Sprint or Not To Sprint
NaNoWriMo begins at midnight on November 1. This year, that falls on Saturday night/Sunday morning. If you’re the kind who stays up late, or can make an exception for one night, you can start writing right at midnight and get some words under your belt before going to bed. It’s purely a mental trick, getting a jump start on the day’s word count, but many people love to do the midnight sprint.


If you read my first Tips post, hopefully you have been getting used to how you like to write–what format you prefer, what items you’ll need, what kind of writing environment you desire. If not, there is still time to do that. The best advice I can give is to start writing every day right now. Whether that writing is pre-writing for your NaNoNovel (brainstorming, outlining, character creation) or just free writing to get in the habit, it’s a great idea to warm up before November starts, and not jump in cold.

Are you considering NaNoWriMo? Give me a shout if you’re participating, and share what you do in October to get ready. Feel free to add me as a buddy on the site, though let me know you came from here somehow.

Characters for NaNoWriMo

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbIf you’ve been planning your NaNoNovel, hopefully you have a solid bead on a plot by now. The big questions–who, what, where, why, and how?–have been answered, or maybe you’re working on that now. This could be a good time to focus in on the who? of it all.

(If you’re still stalled on the basic plot, don’t give up yet! I haven’t hit on the idea I’m hoping for either. Keep generating ideas by free writing. There are a lot of options out there for prompts. I have a few posts from earlier this year about ways to dream up new ideas for stories that you can find here. Or, if you haven’t already, go through the activities in my “Seeds for NaNo” posts from the last few weeks, which are listed on this page. Write down every nugget of something that you could turn into a plot, or that you think you’d like to use as part of a bigger story. Keep trying to tie those thoughts together, and always ask questions: “Why would someone jump in the sewer dressed in a ball gown?” Crazy things like that, worked backwards, can lead to places you’ll never expect to end up.)

A lot of times, my characters really come into their own while I’m writing the actual story. However, there are things that we can do during the planning stages to flesh out the characters.

1. List:
First, it would be helpful to see all of the characters you already have in mind, all spread out somewhere. Making a list of each character is a good starting point. You can add to the list things like, “Guy who beat MC out of the job she wanted and rubs it in her face,” “Person Joe goes to, to find answers when he’s suspicious,” or other roles that you know you need to fill, but don’t have any specifics in mind for yet.

Then, give each character their own page in a notebook, their own note card, their own document file, or their own section within a file (Scrivener and other writing programs work well for this kind of thing). List everything you already know about that character–age, physical descriptions, personality, background, role in the story, where they’ll end up by the end of the story, even how they may change by the end of the story.

Some people like to use character sheets/templates, and that’s okay too. I’ve already expressed my thoughts on character sheets in the past, so I’ll just say I don’t use them. They don’t work for me. However, that doesn’t mean they’re bad, and if you’ve never used one, it certainly can’t hurt to do so. I would at least suggest not using the first one you find, though. Read through the fields that are there for you to fill in and find one with categories that will actually give you insight into your characters.

2. Write:
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.
(Disclaimer: the above paragraph was copied right from a previous post I made about character creation. In fact, it’s the post I linked to in #1 above. Clearly I feel this point deeply.)

3. Ask:
This is an odd one for me to include. You know those people who say their characters are always talking in their head? Complaining about what the writer has done to them, or begging to be let out if they’re still pent-up? Yeah, I’m not one of those people. It seems like every other writer out there is, but I’m not.

However, I did something similar once–initiated by me, not a disembodied voice in my head. I was working at a menial task for several hours, and had forgotten my iPod. I was faced with a nice long time of silence and boredom. In those types of situations, I often do try to think of what areas of my current writing need attention, so I can be thinking through an issue while I’m doing something else. This time, I decided to have a conversation with one of my main characters. His name is Naolin, and he gets a pretty raw deal in “Pithea.”

I started by asking, “What do you think of the story?” And then I imagined what his response would be, based on his character and what happens to him in the story. After a few snarky answers on his part, I decided to start at the beginning by asking him about the motivations for some of his actions when he first appears in the story. Though all of the questions and answers came from me, when digging deeper into his psyche in relation to the scenes in the story, I actually did gain some insight into a few of the things that he’d done simply because I said he’d done them. There was more of a why than I otherwise would have had.

Later, I tried to start over when I had a notebook to write it in. It never quite went as well as that first time. From now on, I’ll record the conversation the first time, somehow–either by writing/typing it or by saying it all out loud while I’m, say, doing the dishes and recording myself talk (though that’s only if necessary…I hate listening to myself afterward).

4. Voice:
The last thing I suggest for working on your characters in advance is to work out their voices. I’ve found it to be a difficult task in the past, but making sure that every one of your characters doesn’t talk in exactly the same manner (and moreso, that they don’t all talk exactly like you) is important. Deciding how a character should talk can go hand-in-hand with figuring out who they are.

Where is he from? Different regions of the world, and even of the same country, have different dialects. (In the US, would they say soda, pop, or sodapop?)

What kind of education does she have? If she’s an English major, she should have pretty good grammar. If she didn’t finish high school, she may (not necessarily, but could) have poor grammar.

Perhaps someone rarely uses contractions, or someone uses ridiculous similes a lot, or someone only speaks in one-word sentences. All of these things can distinguish characters from each other. That doesn’t mean that every single character has to have a distinct way of talking. That could slow the story down too. But keep these things in mind and you can make your characters more memorable. Also, try to avoid outright stereotypes, but sometimes it can help to start with a stereotype and back off a bit, or change it to give that character more depth.

One final note: plan your characters now, but never be afraid to let them develop differently than you had planned while you’re writing your first draft. When they really start to come alive, they may tell us things we don’t realize until we actually see them in action.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on my ramblings, your own tips, or any questions you may have along the way.

Tools for NaNoWriMo: Scapple

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I always say I learn something new every year of doing NaNoWriMo–something about myself as a writer, something about writing in general, or new tips or strategies for NaNoWriMo. This year, I’m already learning, and November hasn’t even arrived.

If you’ve been following my steps for preparing a story for NaNoWriMo from scratch, you may be doing the same thing I’m doing right now–trying to pull a plot together. I’m still in the early stages of that, and to be honest, I’m not sure that what I’m working on is going to be for NaNoWriMo.

I have maybe 2/3 of a completed outline for a story I was planning to write this year. But when I posted the first list of story seeds, I started thinking about how long it’s been since I’ve started a story from scratch. There can be a lot of joy in the discovery, and that’s something I haven’t had much lately. My current writing projects are all stories I started crafting years ago. Of course they’ve changed shape along the way, and plenty of new elements have been added recently. But that’s not quite the same as starting from scratch. Also, because I have two novels already written in the aforementioned story world, and both are still in revision stages, I figured there was no need to add another story that will just sit on the shelf for years while I finish the first two.

So I decided to take my own advice and do the activities in my own story seed posts, free writing in the hopes that a new idea would spark. After a few days of doing a few of those activities during my writing time, I realized that it was difficult to use my imagination on certain pictures in which I knew what was happening or who the people were. I still did my best, but I’m not sure it was as effective as it could have been. However, because of this issue, I went such an odd direction with one of the pictures that it just may have turned into something for me.

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This is the picture in question…all because I was trying not to make it about the storm that actually caused that.

But where I had hoped to come up with ideas for a story that isn’t even in the same world as my others, this one really just ended up being an idea for events that would happen 1000ish years before my other stories. I really don’t seem to be able to get away from Pithea and its world (not that I mind too much).

So back to my original point, before I lose anyone, I discovered a new tool yesterday that has come in handy during this early stage. I have all sorts of ideas that have started to flow out of me since writing about the picture above. So I decided to give Scapple a try. It’s a free-form idea mapping program made by the same people behind Scrivener. I started putting my thoughts into it, and I really liked it.

So in my last NaNo post, I said that I thought the laying out of ideas and starting to form them into something coherent was best done on paper. Now, only a few days later, I’m suggesting that people download the free trial of Scapple and try it that way. It’s not that you can’t do everything on paper that you can do in Scapple, but…well, putting notes into the computer has its advantages too. (For one thing, I’ve already had to move notes around a lot and connect them differently after putting them in, so in that way, Scapple is better than doing it by hand.)

Here is a screenshot of Scapple in use:

Scapple example

This is a slightly altered version of what I’ve been working on, with some things removed or changed to avoid spoilers.

How about you? Have you ever used Scapple before? Do you have other programs you use for organizing notes? Tools and tips are always helpful for writing in general, and NaNo in particular. Feel free to share your own.