Beautiful Books 2017, NaNo in Progress

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If you don’t know what “Beautiful Books” is, click the above picture to find out!

1. Overall, how is your mental state, and how is your novel going?
I have been having a lot of fun writing so far! After a year and a half away from writing, just getting back into my story world and back to these characters has been so much fun. Because of that, my novel isn’t progressing very quickly.

For one thing, this novel takes place after five other plotlines that involve mostly the same characters, and are already either drafted or at least solidly planned. As the story goes on, various events that happened in other stories come up. And one character has been away for over five years, so he wants to know about those events, and the other characters tell him the story. (In some cases, he’s the one who was involved in the story and gets to share with others.)

So at least half of my words so far have been telling these stories. I know for certain that it won’t stay in the story when it’s edited someday, because this book would come after the others, so readers should already know all of this already. It will be redundant. But boy, has it been fun reminiscing with them.

2. What’s your first sentence (or paragraph)?
When my brother went on his first date, he asked me for advice. I’m more than a year younger than him, and had no experience with things like dating, but then, neither did he. It may have been because I’m friends with the girl he was taking out. It may have been because he frankly didn’t have much knowledge about the country outside of his town and the capital city. Or it may have been because he was simply nervous. Either way, I think I helped him come up with quite the wonderful first date.

3. Who’s your current favorite character in your novel?
It’s definitely Naolin. In my last Beautiful Books post, I said the thing I was most looking forward to about writing this was getting to write about Naolin again. And I have loved it.

4. What do you love about your novel so far?
I suppose I already explained that above. I’m coming to the end of stories that they can tell, and will have to really start into the plot. But I think that, after 1.5 years away from writing, this was a great way to start NaNo.

5. Have you made any hilarious typos or other mistakes?
I have so many typos. It’s how I’m able to write so much in the amount of time I do.
But there was this gem: Aeldrim’s face held a look of quizzicality(?) for a brief moment, and then he recognized his once-unit underling.
I realized as I was writing the word “quizzicality” that it wasn’t a word, and I had no idea what word might replace it. So I just typed in the question mark and moved on. I’ll fix it in editing!

I also wrote: “There is more drama here than in a soap opera,” the author interjected. Everyone ignored her.
That was during one particularly high-drama story that started going even further into emo-town than I wanted. I wrote this line, at first thinking to attribute it to one of the characters, but soap operas don’t exist in their world, so…I just put myself in.

6. What is your favorite to write: beginning, middle, or end — and why?
Hmm, I’m not sure I’ve really thought about this before, but I think the end. I really like the climax, as it’s usually something I’ve been planning and looking forward to for a while. Sometimes I think that my excitement about the final scenes leads me to write them in a way that feels rushed, so that may be a down side. But I try to fix that in editing.

7. What are your writing habits? Is there a specific snack you eat? Do you listen to music? What time of day do you write best? Feel free to show us a picture of your writing space!
I write best at night. Sometime between 8pm and 3am. It’s quieter and my responsibilities are asleep. I sometimes listen to music, but the most consistent audible tool that I use is some kind of white background noise like from Coffitivity. As for snacks, during NaNo I tend to consume an unhealthy amount of day-after-Halloween-sale candy. Outside of November, I can’t keep up that habit due to both expense and it’s so unhealthy.

8. How private are you about your novel while you’re writing? Do you need a cheer squad or do you work alone (like, ahem, Batman)?
Sort of both. I would share every day’s writing with people if I could. But I know that anyone who is interested in knowing the story is better off reading it start to finish after it’s done. However, I have often used my husband as a sounding board when I’m stuck, or shared exciting break-throughs with him.

9. What keeps you writing even when it’s hard?
The knowledge that if I don’t keep going, I will never be able to share my stories with anyone else. I’m not looking to be a bestselling novelist; my aim is to find an audience, whatever size that might be, who will enjoy the complex and exciting plots I’ve weaved together as much as I do. But that will never happen if I don’t get them out (and then get them revised).

10. What are your top 3 pieces of writing advice?
Oooh, three? I’ve been happy in the past to come up with one. Let’s see here…
– “Write every day” is a nice goal to shoot for, but it can’t be something that you let rule you. If you have other full-time endeavors, whether that’s a job, kids to raise, or whatever else it might be, you have to write in your spare time. And sometimes spare time is hard to find. If you miss a day or two here or there, but don’t let it break your overall habit, you’re still making progress.
– Keep everything. As soon as you change a word in your first draft, save it as draft 2. If you take out an entire chunk while in the middle of a draft, consider saving it in a different file. You never know what you might wish you’d kept, what you might be thinking about later and wish you could remember what you’d written. Save it all.
– All of those writing tips and “rules” you’ve read? They don’t mean anything. They can be helpful, and if some of them work for you, then great! But don’t force yourself to stick to anything that doesn’t feel right or makes writing less fun. They’re not rules. They’re tips and helpful hints.


For anyone out there who is participating in NaNoWriMo, feel free to check out my series of tips and tricks for the month, and also to add me as a writing buddy! (Let me know you came from here, and I’ll add you back!)

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Tips for NaNoWriMo, Part 5

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

Earlier this month, I picked out some of my favorite NaNoPrep tips and boiled them down into a single post, and then I promised a post with tips about the actual writing. However, this time, I don’t want to re-hash my old tips, since I do actually have a few more to add to the list.

I will at least list the headers from 2 posts with tips about how to survive–and thrive–during NaNoWriMo, and suggest that if you want to read the details about any of them, you click the links that will take you to the two posts in which I first gave these tips:

Post 1
Break up the words.
Write in sprints.
Reward yourself.
Stay hydrated.
Back up your work.
Limit your time on the forums (and other online activities).
Don’t expect too much.

Post 2
DO NOT EDIT. (I can never stress this one enough)
Don’t go back and read.
Use placeholder words.
Take notes of things to fix later.
Stop in the middle of a scene.
Don’t be afraid to go off-script.
Dirty tricks to pad your word count (are not always a good idea).

Now to add a few more to those:

1. Don’t stop at 1667.
Sometimes my tips are a little hypocritical, but hear me out. If you reach the daily goal (1667 if you’re going the traditional route), but you still have some time left during whatever writing time you’ve carved out for yourself, don’t stop. Keep going until you have to make supper, go to bed, go to work, or whatever your end cap is. Those extra words will most likely be needed later in the month, and even if they’re not, hitting 50k early can be a lot of fun! Or who knows, maybe you’ll writing more than 50k this month!

In a similar vein, if you do write extra one day, don’t let that cause you to stop short the next day. I try to take each day as its own word count. No matter what my total is, I try to write 1667 each day (unless I’m behind, then I try to write more). Again, if you can build up a buffer, it will very likely come in handy later.

2. Plan your writing days & daily word counts.
Your daily goal does not have to be 1667 words. You don’t have to write every single day. Yes, that’s part of the benefit–using NaNo to build a daily writing habit. But for some people, despite all of the “rules” out there stating to write every day (yes, I have a series with that title, but I definitely don’t call it a rule, and…I definitely can’t always do that myself), it’s just not an option. So before November starts, figure out what days you don’t think you’ll be able to write. Are Saturdays always full of family time? Does a full work week always leave you drained, so you know you won’t write on Fridays? Do you want to try to write more on weekends, and less during the week?

Whatever your days off need to be, or even your overall pattern of writing, do the math and alter your daily word count. Print out a calendar and have those daily goals where you can see them. Make the month work for you.

3. Don’t panic if you get behind.
If you get off-track, don’t panic and think that means you have to write double for a few days to catch up. Figure out how many total words you have left, and divide that out by how many days there are left. That will up your daily amount by a little every day, rather than a lot for a few days. (If you keep your word count updated on the NaNo site, it will do this math for you.)

4. Check your official word count.
You can update your word count on the NaNo site by typing the number into the field at the top of the page. I would suggest that every so often, you actually go ahead and check your official word count. I do this at the end of every day, because if I’m 100 words lower than I’d thought, I want to know as soon as possible. The reason for this is that different word processors count words differently, and the NaNo site counts them differently than some of those word processors. By the end of the month, you could be even up to a thousand or more words off, and if you’re just barely getting to 50k, you don’t want to suddenly find out at 11:50 pm on Nov. 30 that you’re 1000 words shy. So just copy & paste your whole novel into the field that comes up when you click on “Check my official word count” under the “update” button.

5. Find helpful ways to procrastinate.
Is there such a thing? My favorite example is the NaNoMusical. Created by WETangent in 2012, it is a brilliant 6-part video series with themes and situations familiar to any Wrimo. The music is catchy and fun, and…well, you should watch it. Watch the first episode, and if you enjoy it, use the rest of the episodes as rewards for a certain amount of words written.

By the end, you'll either want to punch Rick or love him to pieces!

“It’s November 1st, thousands of people madly writing….I hope you’re up for crazy, ’cause NaNoWriMo has begun!”

There are many other helpful ways to procrastinate though. Go for a walk, read something pointless, take a nap (because odds are you could use the sleep)…you probably have your own ideas. The point is something that is light-hearted and gets your mind off of that novel that might be stressing you out.

6. Don’t give up.
That is probably the most important thing I can tell you. Whether you’re writing for fun, a creative outlet, to relieve stress, or to have a finished project to do more with, NaNoWriMo is a wonderful event and can be a lot of fun. It doesn’t have to be stressful, but I know it can be to some. The stakes aren’t exactly high, and losing is not the end of the world. You shouldn’t dread your writing time, or worry about how badly your writing is going.

If you find your story is going a completely different route than you’d expect, just follow it and see what happens. Maybe a side character is becoming more interesting to you. Give them all the time they need. Your main story will still be there later. If your words are lagging so badly, you don’t see how you could get back on track, make a new track! Set a personal goal of less words, or plan to keep going after November (though frankly, that is easier said than done). Come back in April or July for Camp NaNoWriMo.  Just don’t quit.

I had more new tips than I thought! And there are more out there floating around on the internet! In fact, here’s one just on NaNo Etiquette! The most important tip, though, is that when November 1st comes…just write.

We’re in the last week of NaNoPrep now, and this pretty much sums up how I’m feeling:

Jen

If you don’t know about NaNoToons, you’re missing out!

What about you? Are you ready for November 1st? Are you new to NaNoWriMo, or do you have tips of your own you can share?

Tools for NaNoWriMo: Neo

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(Disclaimer: Just like all of most of my posts on my NaNoPrep tips page, this isn’t specific to NaNoWriMo; it’s just a good time to break out tips like this.) A few years ago I came across a crowd-funding campaign for a portable, electric typewriter called a Hemingwrite. It provided a way to connect to your computer and retrieve what you wrote, but while using it, you would be free of distractions, because there was just a little screen for the words to go into–no browser, no social media, nothing that might normally pull you away from your writing. I really liked the idea of it, but it was quite pricey.

I don’t remember exactly how I first came across Alphasmart. I may have read an article about alternatives to the Hemingwrite (by this time called the Freewrite). But I did a little research and found out that the Alphasmart Neo was everything I might want in a portable, distraction-free word processor. The research told me that Alphasmart no longer produced new items, but that used Neos (and other Alphasmart items) could be found for sale on places like Amazon. Sure enough, I found several for an average of $30 a piece.

I dropped the hint to my husband that it would make a great Christmas present (I think it was during November last year that all of this happened), and sure enough, he got one for me.

Neo
Just like the reviews said, this keyboard is exactly what I would want it to be! It can store separate files, saves as you go, has (from my experience so far) great battery life, and it runs on AA batteries. It has a small screen, which can be helpful in making sure you don’t see too much of your text at a time, distracting yourself while writing. But there are 5 options for font sizes so you can go from 6 lines with very small font all the way to 2 lines with really big font.

When you’re ready to transfer your writing to a computer, it’s a simple procedure. There’s a cable that plugs into the Neo, and then plugs into a USB port (the cable is important to make sure is included when buying it used). You open whatever program you want the text to go into–Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, etc–make sure you’re on the right file, and then push the “send” button. It’s not a simple file transfer; it “types” the text onto your computer. The more text you have in the file, the longer it takes. You definitely want to do this when you aren’t going to need your computer for a few minutes, because it transfers it to the active program. If you click away to something else, it will continue transferring, trying to type into that other program. That is one of only 2 downsides I’ve found with the Neo so far.

The other downside is that some of the keyboard shortcuts take a while to get used to. (Note: I’m a PC user, so I don’t know how this is for Mac users.) If you’re like me, and used to using “end” and “home” buttons to quickly navigate your text, you will have to relearn some new commands. “Home” takes you to the beginning of the entire document, not just the beginning of the line. To get to the beginning of the line, you have to hold down 3 buttons. Some shortcuts and commands are on the bottom of the keyboard, but I did end up looking up a manual online to find more (mine didn’t come with a manual).

Speaking of commands, the Neo has a built-in spell checker, word count function, find & replace, and other things that can be helpful for writers of all sorts.

I have plans to sew up a sleeve for it, because it will fit into my Handbag of Holding for when I want to take it places (or a laptop bag or tote bag), but I don’t want it to get dirty or hurt. I am really looking forward to seeing how it helps my NaNoWriMo next month; it’s already been of great use so far. I haven’t had much occasion to take the Neo away from home to write, mostly because it’s not as imperative to write wherever I am outside of NaNo. I have used it, though, for writing practice, outlining a story over the course of a couple of days, and I’m even writing this blog post on it. It’s more convenient than a laptop if I even just want to go sit on the couch to write, and as much as I enjoy writing by hand, it’s faster (I do still write by hand though).

How about you? What portable writing devices do you use–whether a laptop, tablet, paper & pencil, or anything else? Does the Neo look appealing to you?

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?

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?