Preparing for NaNoWriMo: How to be a Plantser

It’s almost here. In a matter of days, the one month countdown until NaNoWriMo begins….there are generally two basic strategies used to tackle writing 50,000 words in 30 days, being a planner/plotter or a pantser.nanowrimo

As the names suggest, a planner spends time plotting out and planning to write their novel; this often includes research, flushing out characters, testing out plot points, and more. Pantsers, on the other hand, fly by the seat of their pants, going in with minimal to no planning on November 1st, perhaps only the a stray idea they plan to turn into a novel.

As mentioned in this post from last year, my first attempt at NaNoWriMo was very much attempted as a pantser. I went in with a vague description of a character and pieced together a direction to go during the first week. It was incredibly difficult for me. I spent so much of my time trying to figure out the other characters I needed to form and write into the story, as well as creating setting and a plot to follow as I went, that it was maddening trying to write a story that I would want to read.

It was obvious that being a full on pantser did not work for me.

The next time I gave NaNoWriMo a real chance, which I count as last year, I found what approach works best for me; the plantser approach, or the planner/pantser combination.

What does it mean to be a plantser?

Well, it could take any form that works for you, but generally it uses both approaches, and I plan to use it again this year; which is why October is a month of planning and preparing.

In my opinion, the best thing about being a plantser is the fact that I have more of a foundation going into my WIP, which means it’s a lot easier to make things happen in the story. With that in mind, there’s no reason at all not to go off in another direction, if it suits the story, and factor that in as you move forward.

Essentially, that’s why a combination works best for me, and many others, because it’s also individualized. You can do as much or as little preparation as you wish, becoming only as detailed as suits you. For instance, I had copious amounts of jots and notes about various characters, or facts about the novel, some of which didn’t necessarily need to be included in the novel, but helped in the writing of it.

It works best when you know what details you need to weave the story together while you’re writing it, and get those down during the planning period.

The best details to plan include:

  • Character details and descriptions- birthdays, graduation dates, degrees, school names, family names, nick names, relevant history that makes them who they are in the novel, their motivations, etc.
  • Setting details- major settings (or at least one) might be good to establish, especially if dealing in fantasy or other worlds that need more context and description; perhaps you need to research real places first and make specific references to make the setting come to life, etc.
  • Some major and sub plot points- making a note of major things that need to happen throughout your novel is a good idea, it helps you link your beginning and end, and it can help you from getting too stuck in the middle; noting subplot points you want to weave in are also good to note, and you can always change or add as you write
  • Essentials timeline- this becomes more important dependent depending on the kind of novel you’re writing and how many things need to happen in particular order, but a timeline of big happenings or significant dates to characters can save a lot of time later, both in writing and in revising

I personally found these helpful last year and helped me keep to my word count a lot easier since there was less time scrambling for important details. Instead, all I had to do was scan my notes and I was off again. If I decided to make a change, I could easily enough by looking at my notes and doing so.

I definitely strayed from the plot points I originally wrote in October, adding, switching, and altering as needed along the way. For instance, I noted a plot point as simply “vibes and feelings” in relation to another character and just saying “next vision,” leaving the details to come to me in the moment or to be thought on until that time.

In the end, everyone finds what works for them, falling in and out of their stride and, as long as they don’t give up, find themselves winners of NaNoWriMo and novel writers. You do what works for you, and for me, it’s a combination approach. Having a flexible plan is usually what works best for me.

What about you? What’s your style?

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A Novel Update and How to get from Here to Published

It’s been about a month and a half since NaNoWriMo 2015. Some people began to edit and revise instantly after hitting their total word count whether or not they hit the 50,000 mark while in November. Some have not touched their manuscript since that final strike of the keypad signifying victory, and good on those giving themselves a rest, goodness knows so many deserve it. There are others who are staring around unsure what to do now, as if they’ve never put thought into the steps after finishing a novel. So, it’s about time for an update.

I have to say that I’ve never had a NaNoWriMo experience quite like this one, and despite the challenges that arose, I can only hope that in the future, this same experience is repeated each time I sit down to novel writing. There were definitely some incredibly difficult and trying moments, everyone has, but even still, I’ve never had over 65,000 words result in a full length novel that I didn’t want to burn or delete, that I could even say I was a bit proud of, my first draft of my first completed novel….

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I finished my novel originally at 65033 a bit under two weeks after November, or more simply December 12th. The actual plan and “outline” for my novel was constructed the last two weeks or so of October when I officially decided to go for NaNoWriMo 2015. The original idea caught me about two years ago, but it’s become a very different story than the original, and all the stronger for it. I did my first edit and revision within a couple of days and by the 15th I had something worthy of calling a novel. Current word count is 65,626, but I have one more edit and revision before I will feel it’s ready.

Halfway through writing it, the name of this book finally caught up with me: The Foretelling Spark. Given the response I’ve received so far, it seems to be a title gaining some interest, which is definitely great to hear.

So, what now?

That big scary question that arises once you’ve conquered the first mountain on your way to that far off land…of a published novel…Depending on which route you decide to take for publishing your labor of love, the next step is finding the people that will care and giving them a reason to invest their time and energy into your novel.

Three recommendations:

  1. Research– Whether it’s looking up your publishing options, figuring out what shelves your current or future books belong on, or what agents to consider sending queries to, research is a great place to start. Don’t waste yours, and especially not an agent, editor, or publisher’s time by pitching a clear YA Fantasy to a Mystery/Thriller market. You can easily refrain from making this mistake by being thorough in your research of who you plan to send your book to on the road to publishing.
  2. Query– A query is important in regards to finding an agent if you want to go the traditional publishing route, mainly because it’s supposed to get their attention and make them want to invest their time, and eventually their energy, into getting your novel published. I have finally written a passable synopsis, which means querying became that much easier, though I will fully admit to still audibly gulping while trying to form these reader grabbing and sometimes self-trumpeting introductions (don’t ask how many times I’ve rewritten these so far..). There are many articles on query writing, but here is one that I found helpful.
  3. Writing Conferences and Workshops– Another way to further your knowledge, network, and possibly have the chance to pitch to an agent is through attending writing conferences and workshops. I am fortunate enough to be attending a writing workshop that is being held in Atlanta in February of this year (thanks to my generous and supportive mother and stepdad, early Christmas present). It’s the Atlanta Writing Workshop and it is all about getting published; there are multiple workshops as well as opportunities to get 10 minute pitch sessions with agents. I find myself, again, thankful to my mother to have secured such an opportunity (I’m equal parts excited and terrified). I would encourage anyone in the area or able to travel to it to sign up now, or soon! Or find one in your area! The closer it gets the quicker spots disappear, and there is a limit, so it’s best to sign up early. If you click here  and scroll down a bit, you will see a list of some other writing conferences in 2016.

Of course, if you are self-publishing, you do not really need an agent. For now, however, this is my chosen path, but there are definitely other options out there if you are so inclined.

I’m nervous and excited about what happens from here, how about you? How are you doing with your NaNoWriMo 2015 project?

 

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Slay the Monster: 10 Things to Try When You Want to Cry from Writer’s Block

There’s a bit less than two weeks left before the final day of NaNoWriMo, the day you enter your final word count, and take a well-deserved break…but right now, you’re probably still doing what I’m doing if you too have taken on the challenge: alternating between maniacally typing out pages of work, then desperately preventing myself from deleting more than 2/3’s of them, only to once again believe that maybe I do have talent for this writing thing, and return again to banging my head against the keyboard begging the words to come out, or essentially, this feeling:

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Now that we’re nearing the home stretch, one of two possibilities usually arises: a mad dash to finish off those last 10,000 in a night because you downed all the peppermint flavoring mixed with all coffee you could find and now feel colors through your ears as you pound out one word after another…..or you meet that boogeyman of every writer’s nightmares, writer’s block.

Every writer knows it, fears it, and has or will experience it in their lives, though that is of little comfort when within its clutches. Knowing that you will eventually be able to put words to page again doesn’t help when it’s hours or days since the last time you typed out a paltry “the” or have yet to do even that, and that’s not including dealing with a deadline. Sometimes it’s hard not to pout in your pajamas before your computer screen wishing your imaginary friends would come back.

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You could Google all day till your finger’s fall off and you would still see new articles and ideas for how to beat writer’s block…and this post shall be added among them. Perhaps you currently do or have used some of these before, but hopefully at least one will be something new to try for when the words just aren’t meeting paper the way you hoped or intended. Some are best used to keep the spectre at bay, while others when navigating the murky depths, but here are 10 things you can do to move past your writer’s block:

  1. Take a walk – A change of scenery (and hopefully you get a chance to enjoy some nice weather), a chance to find a new place to read or picnic, the chance to breathe some fresh air. get your body moving, and your idea generator generating. Truly the wonders a simple walk can do cannot be expounded upon enough. I must admit I, personally, have trouble with this one, not having the energy I used to and needing to avoid the Sun, but on an overcast day, or if the weather is right and the area is shaded, I too can stretch my legs and enjoy a walk outside. There are really no downsides here, and if you’re an artist too, use the chance to soak up some more inspiration, or bring your art supplies and enjoy!
  2. Exercise– Yes, technically you could put these two together, but I see them as separate things. When I’m going for a walk, it’s to enjoy a walk, not generally to exercise. For exercise, I do things like yoga, hula-hooping, or 4-minute workouts. I choose these, a) because my body is less likely to throw a royal hissy fit,  b) they’re simple to do just about anywhere (…okay maybe not hula-hooping, but it’s still worth it!) and c) they all get your blood pumping and your body moving, not only in some way, but each in different ways. Ideas can only be generated to a brain that’s effectively functioning, and there is tons of research reporting the benefits of exercise on the brain, including creativity stimulation! You don’t need to commit 30 minutes to a treadmill or gym, just take 10 minutes and do a few stretches, jumping jacks, or pushups, dance around to a fun song, let your cat control the red dot for once…whatever your choose, let it be what works best for YOU!
  3. Coloring books– You read that right. Coloring books. Load yourself up with them, grab some color pencils, markers, or crayons and let yourself loose! All of those that proclaim lack of artistic talent can still enjoy adding tint to some of the fantastical coloring books out there, and some even specifically for adults. You would be amazed ata709ce4b8789f4b7426a48051a082253 what 20 minutes of coloring can do for your creativity, not to mention your stress…plus…it’s fun! Also, it gives you a solid reason to build a blanket fort to color in. I don’t care how I old I get, blanket forts are cool, but I digress. Anyway! Coloring books! Who says no to an excuse to color? A few minutes of color a day can boost your creativity, and if I am able to find the article I read supporting this, I will be sure to include it.
  4. Change of scenery– Take your laptop, notebook, sketchbook, whatever have you, and go somewhere different to write. Try some new outdoor scenery (I like to sit on my balcony), or go to the cliché coffee shop (just because it’s cliché doesn’t mean it doesn’t work), or a bookstore, anywhere that you don’t see every day, or haven’t been sitting in the last 10 hours straight. Even if it’s a room in your house you never use, give it a try, sometimes the shift in scenery in your peripheral can start generating some new ideas.
  5. Watch where you stop for the night– You’re trying furiously to make word count, and you tell yourself you can be done for the night if you just finish this chapter…which you do, because you’re awesome, and you pack up for the night and head to bed. This is exactly what you shouldn’t be doing, or at least some people shouldn’t. Nothing is harder than diving back into a novel when you’ve rounded off whatever you were in the middle of. Essentially, it can feel like starting on the first word of the first page again when returning to a project only to need to start off the next chapter. If you stop, however, when you’re excited about a scene and have ideas of what to do next (by all means jot them down, I keep a running notes document for mine, personally…until I utilize Scrivener properly, but that’s another story), so that when you wake up, your mind has been marinating in your ideas all night; sometimes you wake up with the exact line of dialogue or a great segue to the next plot point delivery; the point is, you aren’t cutting your legs off the night before every time you stop, you’re giving yourself a spring board to dive back in.
  6. Different project- It seems counterintuitive to put time and effort into a different project than the one you’ve been working on that has a deadline, but if you’re in the midst of writer’s block, sometimes redirecting your focus on something else (oh, say a blog entry *cough cough*, or an article, an email asking for an interview, etc.) can do wonders. If you happen to have a mind like mine, just because you’re working actively on another project doesn’t mean ideas for your main project aren’t just soaking until your return to them…because that’s definitely what happens with me, I just sometimes forget this works. So switch gears and try getting some other work done, still being productive, and it may help more than you think.
  7. Try a different scene- Maybe you’ve written yourself into a corner and just don’t know how to get out of this particular situation. You have ideas for the next scene, next chapter, the ending, whatever have you, just not the scene you’ve been staring at the last 45 minutes. Now, doing things out of order may naturally work for some people, but it can seriously mess with the wiring in my brain pan, however, I cannot deny the fact that sometimes, if you’re feeling a different scene, you should just go ahead and write it down, it’s still progress, and if you’re inspired to write, then do it! Who knows, maybe while you’re finishing off that resolution, the dialogue you’ve been practically weeping in frustration over may suddenly come to you. Just have to try.
  8. Take a break- It’s a duh, but it needs to be said to stubborn you refusing to take a break when you HAVE to get at least another *insert word count* done. Maybe you’ll feel like this is a horrible idea since you might as well have been on a break all day since you got nothing done. That is not a break, that is hours of you berating yourself for not magically finding the words today. A break involves being away from your writing, perhaps your computer, maybe even your home, but you need to get away from your project. When you fight, sometimes you need space to breathe, it’s no less true of a writer and their craft.
  9. Movie homework- If you really feel weird about taking a break, tell yourself its movie homework instead. How many times have you had an amazing idea while watching a movie? Not to mention, if you’re just finding yourself in a bit of a bog with your setting, characters, or story, find some movies that make you think of a character or a feel you’re trying to present in your book. What things do or don’t work for the movie, what elements may be used in application to your novel? Possibilities abound!
  10. Read-I saved the best for last because it’s my favorite pastime and go-to suggestion to most of life’s issues…regardless of the fact that it rarely helps solve them, reading makes me incredibly happy and puts my anxiety at ease. Reading is inspiring, thrilling, and it can teach you a lot about your own writing voice; questioning something you may have done differently, or if you would had a character behave differently than the author. Do I really need to go further? You can never go wrong with reading.

 

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Hopefully you’ve taken yourself a breather and are ready to jump back into the fray! One of the hardest things to remember when you’re frustrated with writer’s block is that you will eventually be able to move past it, even if you don’t believe it right now. Now get to work (or take a break), you can do it!!!! (And here is a compilation of some other NaNoWriMo resources and help from Kat McCormick! Thank you Kat!)

Some Resources and Things to Remember about NaNoWriMo

For those that may not know, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. During this month, should you participate in NaNoWriMo, you are challenged as an author to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. You can practically hear the pencils etching, pens scribbling, and fingers typing furiously across the world since the challenge began four days ago. You can find the official NaNoWriMo site here.
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No matter what way you dice it 50,000 words is one daunting goal to hit in thirty days. The average necessary word count per day is 1,667, and your average 5-page college paper is roughly 1500 words or less, if that puts it into any perspective for you. Since I graduated this past May, I still vividly remember late night paper writing sessions where I cranked out each every one of a 1500+ word paper in a night…so it’s that experience multiplied by thirty, and unfortunately, the only way you will be able to have a day off or enjoy the Holiday is to plan ahead and have a few days where you double your word count, if not more…As I said, daunting, but absolutely possible.

My first try at NaNoWriMo is, ironically, the only time I’ve won so far, and I honestly wasn’t particularly thrilled with my last 30-40,000 words, to the point where I still have trouble saying that I “won” anything that year other than entry into the awesome existence of NaNoWriMo, which I can live with. Anyway, that was in 2010 or 2011. I vainly tried again in 2013, and truly I say vainly because it was appalling timing. November is a hot month for school papers and my attention was sorely split and well, I had money riding on getting a degree so NaNo lost that one.

So finally, this year, I am giving NaNoWriMo a more planned and prepared go. My profile can be found here and I’m welcome to having more writing buddies! At four days in I’ve already managed to stumble into a veritable writing bog that I’ve been slowly wading through so I must redouble my efforts to push ahead.

Even though we’re a few day in, it’s never too late to start and definitely never too late to find some new resources. An excellent source I found is a compilation of indexes from Writer’s Digest, which I utilized to help get some of the more important aspects of my novel-to-be down, and so far they’ve been infinitely useful; those can be found here. If you haven’t ever utilized worksheets like this, you should do yourself a favor and give them a shot. At the very least they can help get your brain moving in the right direction. A complete copy of how to write your novel in 30 days can be found here.

I learned a lot from the last two times I’ve tried NaNoWriMo and I’m sure I’ll learn even more this time. Going forward though, here are a few things that I think are important to know and to remember about NaNoWriMo:

  1. Plan ahead– from the obvious suggestion to strategize and outline character sketches and plot points, to letting your family and friends know what you are attempting so they don’t get worried when you disappear for the better part of a month, planning goes a long way in your bag of tools for completing this challenge and your novel. Especially since November includes a holiday for those in the US, planning ahead can be your rescue.
  2. You’re probably going to fall behind, at least for a little bit– That first rush of words to page is exhilarating!! And you should absolutely celebrate every goal you set for yourself and meet. It gives you encouragement and a feeling of accomplishment. However, don’t let it distress and depress you when you find yourself six, eight, twelve hours later and only four miserable words further in count. At some point, this is probably going to happen. Even when you have a fantastic idea you’re excited about, chances are a time will come when you’re not making as much progress. It can be really disheartening, but you have to remember that if you keep at it (after giving yourself a break), you’ll make it through and start racking up the words again.
  3. This is part one on the path to a complete and ready to publish novel- You are going to be over the moon once you hit that 50,000 word mark, even more so when you reach whatever is the magic number you end your tale on, and you should!! You will need to before you return to your lair and begin the next harrowing process which is a first read through, edit and revision, so you can do it all again till it’s THE story you want to put out there. Don’t rush it.
  4. It’s never too late to start– Yes, technically if you just hear about NaNoWriMo on the 29th of November and decide you want to do it *right now*, you probably aren’t going to hit 50,000 words in one 24-hour period (if by some strange cosmic event you manage it….I’d like to chat…). But really, it doesn’t, or shouldn’t, matter if you’re coming in a bit late to the game. The point really is that you want to be here and are willing to try, and that’s AMAZING! The best part is that, while you can always wait till next year and regroup with writing buddies and soldier forth the next time NaNoWriMo comes along, you can, and that’s awesome! But you can also take what you learn from the experience and use it *any* month, including one that gives you an extra day 😛
  5. Have fun and give yourself some credit- This is particularly important for so many reasons. If your inner voice can be anything as cruel as mine (and I’m sure there are some contenders), you need to remember that, while this is a challenge, you should be trying to enjoy yourself. Be proud of what you are able to do, and don’t be too hard on yourself for anything you don’t manage. You can always keep trying, and that makes all the difference.

NaNoWriMo is one hell of a challenge, but with a good attitude, an idea you’re passionate about, and especially with a good, supportive writing community, you can make it happen! Now get to work!

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