Writing Wednesday: Character Interviews

32571395._sy475_

This is my first Insecure Writer’s Support Group post, and I’m very excited! It is also a post for my own weekly feature that I call Writing Wednesday. So let’s get to it!

WW

In my writing past, I remember hearing other writers talk about their characters haranguing them. Complaining about their lack of page time, about unpleasant things that happened to them, or about who knows what else…but they always seemed to be complaining. I remember always being a mixture of jealous and certain that those writers were making it all up. While I didn’t believe that it was very likely that their characters just jumped into their thoughts out of nowhere to start talking to them, now I can see the plausibility—the writer might have been thinking about their story at that time, or just letting their mind wander in general. And now, I have seen the amazing benefits of talking to my characters.

There are likely many different ways people refer to this phenomenon. For me, it usually involves a discussion that is led along by me asking questions of my characters. Thus, I use the term “character interview.” And understand that the way I go about having these discussions with my characters are by no means the only way to do it. It is what works best for me, and you should definitely figure out what works for you (if this method works for you at all).

I will dispense with the history of how I came to utilize this technique in my writing, and just explain how helpful it can be. In the different stages of writing (which I would break down into dreaming, planning, writing, and revising), character interviews have been most useful to me during planning and revising stages. During the dreaming phase, you likely wouldn’t even have characters very clearly in mind. If you have enough to start talking to your characters about, you might be more in the planning stage. During the writing stage, well…you’re writing. Unless you run into a block and decide to stop and hash it out, you won’t likely be stopping the prose to have a chat.

So now you may be wondering how to start. Or what kinds of things to talk to or ask your characters about. Usually at the point that I decide it’s time to start one of these discussions, I am struggling with some kind of plot hole, or a question about how to proceed in a scene, how to get something to happen that I really want to see happen in the story, how to fill out a story, or even which character should actually be the protagonist or main character in a story. And then I literally just pose these questions to the characters I think can help me the most, and go from there.

The next question might be how you know which character(s) would be the best to talk to for the questions you have in mind. Sometimes it’s obvious, but sometimes it requires thinking outside the box. Earlier this year, I was struggling to rework the plot of one of my books, which has a murder-mystery element to it, and when I wrote the first draft, it came out incredibly weak. I had a long conversation with the main character of that book, but still couldn’t figure out what I was missing in the middle of that story. I was considering setting it aside for a while, but decided to talk to a different character instead first—the antagonist. By the time I was done (a week and a half later), I had not only filled in that saggy middle, but realized that this person was not the main antagonist. Such a productive interview!

Now for the tangible question—where/how to conduct the interview. I’ve done them multiple ways—all in my head, recording myself audibly in some way, typing the conversation on a computer or my Neo, and writing it in a notebook. I don’t recommend doing it only in your head unless you have a great memory; I prefer to be able to look back on it somehow later. I recorded myself with a headset and Audacity one time, but decided that listening to the conversation later was just too weird, so I’m not doing that again. Typing it out works, as long as you make sure to clearly designate who is saying what. My preferred method is to write the conversations out longhand, though, and even a step further, I like to use a different color pen for each person talking (including myself). It makes it so much easier to read over again later, which I do a lot. Plus, I really like the tactile element of writing by hand.

A few more tips about conducting these interviews:

  • Give yourself the freedom to explore without worrying about accuracy. I have had interviews where, by the time I got to the end, things we discussed at the beginning were obsolete, because the plot took a turn during the discussion. That’s okay.
  • I use the term “interview,” but often I don’t ask questions for a while, instead just carrying on an actual conversation. But since the basic idea behind this (for me, at least) is that the characters know more about their story than I do, because it’s their story, I am generally coaxing the truth out of them.
  • If you have more than one character involved, they might start talking to each other, instead of you, and that’s okay too.
  • Don’t get too caught up in the nebulous world your characters are inhabiting for these interviews. They are outside of the time and space bubble of their stories. And yet, I find that it helps me to think of the times that I interact with them as a continuation of time in itself, and even reference back to previous discussions (like having one character say I’d just yell at him again if he told me his theory about something in particular, because yes, I’d gotten frustrated with him in a previous interview).
  • It might feel weird at first to do this, because of course you know these characters aren’t real, but they really can feel real. And in truth, if you don’t think of your characters as their own people (rather than just part of you), then maybe they won’t come across as real to the reader.

If you think talking to your characters might help you with your own writing, but still aren’t sure how to start, pick a character that you think might have some helpful insight, and just start out by asking, “What do you think of the story so far?” or “What would you change if you could?” You might be surprised what comes out.

In case anyone is interested in what most of my interviews looks like, below is a picture of the beginning of one of them, the one I mentioned above with the antagonist of the murder-mystery story (and an example of one where what I wrote at the beginning became incorrect by the time I was done). Purple is me, red is the antagonist. It took me to the end of the page to get past her refusal to help (which was totally true to her character), but after that, I immediately started to gain insight into the story. I’ve blocked out a few spots due to possible spoilers. Also, I use erasable pens, which are just amazing!

character interview

IWSG Blog Hop, Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view other blogs in the IWSG…

Writing Wednesday: Aesthetics

WW

Something that can be helpful and fun during any stage of writing (whether you’re dreaming up ideas, planning a specific story, doing the actual writing, or revising a draft) is creating an aesthetic for the story. Also called a mood board, this can be anything from a collage of images to a collection of words or quotes.

Creating an aesthetic forces you to think of the feelings, themes, or even settings in the story in a broad, boiled-down sense. It can give you the ability to see the story at a glance, and it might show you that you have a lack of focus, or that you’re going a direction you didn’t intend to go. Maybe you’ll realize that everything on your mood board is dark and depressing, but you didn’t intend the story to be so dark. Maybe you’ll realize that a subplot took over the board, and that maybe you’re focusing on it too much, or that it should actually be the main plot. An aesthetic can be shared with others before you even have a synopsis that you can share, if you’re still in earlier stages of writing a story.

There’s really no wrong way to create an aesthetic or mood board. If you’re not sure where to start, try searching for key words related to your book’s themes, feelings, etc. on a site like pexels.com, pixabay.com, or unsplash.com. Gather some images, and then use something like canva.com to put those pictures together in some way.

Remember that the aesthetic doesn’t even have to be all pictures (or any pictures), despite how it might seem to go against the meaning of the word “aesthetic.” Again, there’s no right or wrong here, just a tool to inspire, discover, or boost creativity.

Here are some examples of mood boards, including one that is a board on Pinterest:

Settings that get progressively darker
Steampunk theme
Astronomy theme
Ballet & royal settings
My aesthetic for “Protector”

Do you make aesthetics for your stories? Feel free to share yours, or your own tips for making a mood board!

Writing Wednesday: Joy of Discovery (or A Cure for Writer’s Block)

WW Joy of Discovery

Some time in the last couple of years, even as I struggled to maintain a writing habit (and for a while, failed completely), I have realize something that I didn’t know in my first 10 years of writing–at least not consciously: the joy of discovery is my absolute favorite thing about writing. I’ve also found discovery in writing to be the exact opposite, and in some ways the cure, for writer’s block.

Discovery, at least to me, is when things click or become more clear. A character pops up that wasn’t planned, but is clearly the answer to everything. You come up with a backstory that actually makes the character’s current actions make sense. You figure out how to fill in the saggy middle with actual, interesting plot. These are just some examples of those moments that can be exhilarating, exciting, and can even cause a rush of adrenaline.

Some people call this a “Eureka moment” or an “‘Aha!’ moment.” I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t bring up NaNoWriMo and mention that they have a badge that participants can award themselves if this happens during their writing in November.

aha

This is my favorite badge…

Why is this my favorite thing about writing? Probably because of how often it comes when I’m at a particularly low point in my writing. This is not always the case, but more often than not, the biggest, or at least most exhilarating moments of discovery come when I’m experiencing what most would consider “writer’s block.”

I have discovered that writer’s block most often happens when I’m struggling to break through a confusing, uncertain, or even boring section of a story. This can happen during any stage of writing–dreaming, planning, writing, or even revising. When that happens, I turn to a variety of tricks to try to figure out what I’m missing. Sometimes it leads to an “Aha!” moment, sometimes just a calmer, more basic answer to my question so I can move on. And to be clear, the joy of discovery is not only relegated to the exciting moments. Though discovery is almost always at least a little exciting to me.

Before I close, I’ll mention a few tricks that I use to try to coax those moments of discovery. I’ll address some more in-depth in future Writing Wednesday posts, but here are a few that don’t require as much explanation:

  • freewrite (especially with a prompt)
  • change your writing medium (for example, from computer/device to handwriting, or vice versa)
  • change your writing environment
  • listen to some music that reminds you of what you’re writing
  • read
  • keep asking yourself the questions you need to answer while going about the rest of your day
  • don’t decide to give up and come back when “inspiration strikes”

What about you? What tricks do you use to break through when you’re stuck? Have you had your own “Aha!” moments? What is your favorite thing about writing?

Writing Wednesday: Prompt

WW Prompt

I’ll try to be brief in my explanation, but I’m pretty terrible at brief (today’s prompt is near the bottom if “brief” is just too long). In the past, I have really enjoyed the times that I am able to do more than just post my daily writing check-ins. With 15 years of writing experience, I’m no professional, but I know I have advice to offer. I do have some new ideas for a couple of posts in my old “Write Every Day” series of posts, but I’d like to do something regular, and those posts have never really been regular (plus it’s been almost 4 years since I last posted one).

I’m starting this series of posts on Wednesdays that I will call “Writing Wednesday.” I will post something that might help others in their pursuit of writing. Now and then, this will be a post with some sort of thoughts or advice about writing. Most often, the post will simply be some kind of prompt.

Recently I have remembered how fun and helpful it can be to do some writing practice on a semi-regular basis, no matter what stage of working on a book/story/whatever I might be on. Writing practice for me usually entails starting with some kind of prompt and writing anywhere from 50 to 500 words (or more if I’m really into it) based on it. Whether the writing is directly related to the prompt, or just inspired by it, the trick is just to see what comes out.

I really enjoy doing this as often as I can, especially when I’m waist-deep in revision, but it’s really helpful any time I’m not actively writing, and instead am working on another stage of writing. Thus, I want to share prompts that have inspired me, or some of my own.

These might be single-word prompts, phrases, sentences, questions, word lists, or even visual prompts (or whatever else I may come up with). You can write from your own perspective, from the perspective of a character in a story of yours, or make up something completely unrelated to anything you’ve created. There may be specific directions that go with the prompt, to draw out the ideas, but you can always dismiss those and just go with whatever the prompt inspires. There are no rules in writing practice.

I’ll start with a prompt that has become a classic to me, one that inspired a scene I loved. Here’s the first Writing Wednesday Prompt:

You encounter an omnipotent being who says they will answer any one question.

If you write something from this prompt that you want to share, by all means let me know! And if you have any favorite prompts (or prompt collections) of your own, feel free to share!

Beautiful Books 2017, NaNo in Progress

bb-redone

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’m pretty sure it actually is a word though…it just seemed wrong to me at the time.

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!)

Tips for NaNoWriMo, Part 5

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb
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 end up 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

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb

(Disclaimer: Just like 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 he came through.

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 (if the cord doesn’t come with the Neo, it can be purchased separately). 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. Some shortcuts and commands are on the underside 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

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb
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?