Skip to content

#NaNo2018 Half-Month Check-In | #NaNoWriMo #amwriting

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Hey, fellow NaNo-ers!

Believe it or not, November is already half over. How are you doing on your goal(s)?

As of yesterday (14 November), I was 2/3 of the way to my personal goal of 15,000 words.

I’ve actually been able to use a lot of the “awful” stuff I wrote years ago, the last two times I tried to write this story. That’s one of the main reasons I printed it all out before I started, so I could do this:

Which turned into this:

Even on days like today, when I know I have some old stuff to copy/paste over into a new document and revise/rewrite into my current draft, it’s still hard to make myself sit down at the computer to do it. And then that makes me sad, because I shouldn’t have to make myself write—I should want to write. And then when I do, I know that it’s not very good and so I get caught up in a negative loop of self-doubt and anxiety.

And then I remind myself that I’m already making so much progress because of the tiny bit of work I did four or five years ago on this story. So if I work through it now, figure out the characters and conflict as I go and get an entire draft finished, then—in the NEXT draft—I’ll have a whole lotta stuff already written that I can use. And I have learned that I do prefer the revision process to the writing process most of the time anyway. So I have to give myself something to work with!

How is your writing going this month?

Happy #NaNoWriMo Day! Let’s Start Writing! | #NaNo2018 #amwriting

Thursday, November 1, 2018

It’s here! November 1! NaNo month blew into Clarksville, Tennessee, with pouring rain and strong winds; and every time I look out a window today, I’ve been humming Stacey Kent’s “‘Tis Autumn,” as there’s just something about the gray rainy chill that makes me happy this time of year. (Give me a few months of this, though, and it’ll be a different story!)

I read a great post this morning by Chuck Wendig on “…How You NaNoWriMo…” This portion struck me as particularly motivational:

You have a choice —

You can leave the page as is, open, unscathed, unmarked, a snowy expanse after a fresh winter storm.

Or you can ruin it.

You can start putting crass LANGUAGE MARKS across it: clumsy, dirty scrawl denoting the gabble-gibber of humantongue. You can write words into sentences into paragraphs. You can stomp your muddy boots all over the damn thing. You can shit it all up. What once was an innocent tract of unbroken order is now a landfill of chaos.

So, that’s your choice.

Keep it perfect and pure.

Or ruin it. . . .

Today, you’re going to ruin one page. You’re going to fill it with words. Some will be amazing words. Some will be brutally inefficient. You will string them together and when read aloud, they will make music just as often as they make the sound of a tuba kicked down a set of steps. And you’re not going to care, because that is what it takes: the willingness to do a thing poorly, the eagerness to ruin an uninterrupted space, the sheer bloody-minded delight of carving your ideas down into rock even though the only desire of the rock is to be left the hell alone.

Chuck Wendig, “Here Is How You NaNoWriMo, You Ruinous Monster, You.” From http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2018/11/01/here-is-how-you-nanowrimo-you-ruinous-monster-you/

As I’ve already mentioned in a previous post, something that’s very important for completing a writing marathon is setting and sticking to a schedule.

Scheduling My NaNo Success
In order to start “ruining” pages with “language marks,” I sat down last week with my calendar and blocked off writing time on all of the days of the month on which I know I’ll have time to write. I even built in extra blocks of time on the weekends, just in case.

But there’s another block of time that I’ve appended to the writing block each time, as well:

Because I have a tendency to spend so much time on the computer, ether working (I work from home, though I do have a separate work-provided laptop) or for entertainment (watching YouTube subscriptions, reading newsletters/websites/blogs, playing games, engaging in social media, etc.), it’s difficult to make the mental transition from “regular” computer time to “writing” time—even if I’m planning to write longhand and not on the computer.

What Does “Preparing to Write” Entail?

I don’t yet have a set idea for what I’m going to do during that 30-minute block of time. I know I’m going to make sure that my writing space is set up with everything I need—in addition to my writing tools and story information, I’ll need something to drink and maybe a snack; a comfortable, clean writing space; music ready to go; and so on. There is one thing, however, that I know I want to try to do, at least tonight, being the first night—I want to spend at least 10 minutes meditating on why I deserve to write this month. Why I need to write this month. Why writing is joyful. Why writing is healthy. Why writing frees me to be who I really am.

I might journal this, or I might just do this as a mental exercise. But because of the lingering anxiety I have from my bad experiences at the end of my previous publishing experience, there are a lot of mental blocks that have kept me from writing for the last five or six years. Therefore, putting myself in a positive frame of mind and preparing myself to find enjoyment and contentment in the act of writing, rather than stress and anxiety is going to be vital for my success.

What does your schedule for finding writing time for the next 30 days look like? Do you have time to build even just a few “Prepare to Write” minutes into that schedule?

#NaNoWriMo Prep: Take Your Characters on a Road Trip | #amwriting #NaNo2018

Monday, October 29, 2018

Instead of filling out charts and questionnaires and mindmaps and GMC lists, there are many other ways to figure out things about our characters (and, by extension, our stories) that may actually be more creatively fulfilling. One of the things I’m a big proponent of is putting characters in a mundane situation and seeing what happens. And this can happen before the writing begins or when that “stuck” feeling happens in the middle of writing the story.

When I’m writing a contemporary setting, I send the characters to the grocery store to see what they buy, how they go about it (up and down each aisle? with or without a list? impulse buyer?), and whom they might run into. But there’s an even better exercise that I did this weekend that would work for pretty much every genre—and that’s taking the characters on a road trip. There are actually two different ways to do this, and I recommend both of them!

Taking a Literal Road Trip

If you’re like me, sometimes it gets really hard to be creative when you’re staring at the same four walls in the same house for hour after hour. Autumn is my favorite season, and in my area (northern Middle Tennessee), it’s gray and/or rainy a lot. So when I heard that we were supposed to have a rare sunny day yesterday, I knew I had to get out and make the most of it. I’m about a 45-minute drive from Paris Landing State Park and the Land Between the Lakes area, so it seemed like the perfect place to go to enjoy a beautiful fall day. So I loaded the dog up in the car (which isn’t hard—she only weighs 13.5 lbs) and took a drive.

But I didn’t want to lose any time preparing for NaNo, either. So while listening to my characters’ music, I purposely set out to brainstorm about my characters. I knew I’d be stopping frequently enough (to take photos) that if I had any great ideas, I’d have the opportunity to jot them down (mostly using voice notes) on the phone.

Because my characters are coming into this romance story as two people who grew up together and have dated each other off and on their entire teen/adult lives, there’s a lot of history between them that I don’t know yet. Exactly how many times have they dated, what did that entail, how long did it last, how did they get together, how did they break up, etc.? What lingering artifacts/mementos do each of them still have? What are the differences in how each of them remember things that happened in their relationship? Did they go to prom together? Homecoming? And so on. I didn’t come up with a whole lot of definitive answers, but now that I’m thinking along those lines, I’m sure the characters will reveal answers to me once I start writing.

They did, however, reveal one very important thing to me—about which I won’t go into detail, but do have a teaser image:

Taking a Figurative Road Trip

If you don’t have the time or opportunity (or desire) to drive out into the country for a couple of hours, then send your characters out on the road. There’s a reason why there are so many scenes in books and TV/movies that involve the characters being stuck together in a car, carriage, escape pod, scary forest, etc.—because it creates a setup for conflict to happen. The rebooted Hawaii Five-0 TV show even coined a term for the many (many) scenes featuring Danny and Steve in this exact situation: carguments.

Sending your character(s) on a road trip immediately creates a bunch of questions to write the answers to:

  • What’s the mode of transportation? (car, carriage, by foot, etc.)
  • Who’s traveling with the character? (friend, foe, romantic interest, enemy, strangers?)
  • Do they have a specific destination in mind?
  • Do they have a deadline to get where they’re going?
  • Do they know how to get where they’re going?
  • How long will it take to get there?
  • Does this trip put the character in a good mood, bad mood, or are they neutral about it?
  • What could go wrong to send this road trip off track?
  • What sounds do they hear (are they listening to music? wagon wheels rattling? beeping of electronic sensors?)
  • Go into all five senses—sight, smell, sound, touch, taste—yes, even taste!
  • And so on…

This is a really good exercise for a writing marathon such as NaNoWriMo, because it’s something you can do if you sit down for your designated writing time but can’t think of anything to write. Sending your characters on a road trip gives you a kickstart to a scene that, even if you don’t end up using it in your final product, should teach you something about your character.

Assignment: If you don’t take an actual road trip, sit down and imagine your characters on a road trip. What can you learn about them that way?

#NaNoWriMo Prep: Preparing for Old-Fashioned Writing by Hand | #amwriting #NaNo2018

Sunday, October 28, 2018

NaNoWhen I was writing books under contract, I did it mainly on the computer—whether at the desk or with a laptop in bed or out at a coffee shop or library. But when I first started writing—and when I would get creatively stuck—I always turned to pen and paper. Getting away from the computer (and, by extension, all the distractions on the computer and Internet), enables me to tap into my creative side in a way that typing doesn’t.

Preparing to Write without Technology

One thing I really want to do during November is take the time at least a couple of times each week to write remotely—away from home. But I don’t want to have to feel obligated to take the laptop with me. Instead, I’d rather take a notebook to write in—but if I do that, I wouldn’t have access to things like the characters’ backstories, the list of locations/businesses in my fictional setting, my hand-drawn map of the city, and so on.

One of the first things I did was pull up the final manuscripts of the three previous novels in the Bonneterre series. I searched for Jenn’s and Clay’s names and copied/pasted the lines or scenes in which they were mentioned or appeared into a new document. I then printed everything I’d written last time I tried working on their story. I went back into the archived folder from back then and put together a couple of collages of ’shopped photos in which I put the two templates together and pulled up the fake book cover I created (I use Corel PaintShop Pro) and printed those. Then, I printed and filled in my calendars.

Putting My Longhand Writing Notebook Together

I put everything together in a three-ring binder, along with plenty of blank college-ruled notebook paper. Then I started adding all the pieces:

Month-at-a-glance calendar for tracking words

Week-at-a-glance schedules (and the fake book cover)

A collage of my templates and the story summary I posted on the NaNo site, followed by everything that I pulled from when I tried writing this story five years ago. And, yes, I printed everything in a handwriting-style font on regular notebook paper.

My hand-drawn map of Bonneterre and list of business/setting names.

Background info for the characters (from my story bible).

All mentions and scenes from Stand-In Groom, Menu for Romance, and A Case for Love.

Assignment: What kind of “kit” can you put together that will help you to write without the assistance of technology?

#NaNoWriMo Prep: Soundtracks and Soundscapes for Your Characters, Story, and Imagination | #amwriting #NaNo2018

Friday, October 26, 2018

NaNoIt’s Friday, so it’s time to focus on some of the more fun and creative aspects of prepping for NaNo—and that’s the music and soundscapes for our characters, story, and writing time—to spur our imagination.

In my years of experience hanging out with both published authors and unpublished writers, it’s not unusual to hear writers talking about the “soundtracks” of their stories—the music they listen to to help them get into the world of their stories.

After all . . . there’s a reason TV shows and movies have music.

Music helps set a mood, evoke emotion, and recall imagery.

The Soundtrack Songs Work Their Way into the Story

It’s no secret that when I was writing Stand-In Groom, I had a very specific soundtrack that I listened to to get “in the mood” to write—and very specific songs I listened to over and over as I crafted certain scenes (most especially Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” and “Return to Me”—and if you’ve read the book, you know which scenes I’m talking about!). These songs became so indelibly linked with Anne and George that they’re mentioned by name in the book. I even still have a playlist featuring all thirteen that are mentioned (if you are an Amazon Prime member, you should be able to listen to it).

For Menu for Romance, it was less about specific music and more about specific movies—and all about one specific song from one specific John Wayne movie.

With A Case for Love, it was all about the Waltzit’s one-two-three, one-two-three, Forbes.

While I was almost always listening to music while writing the Matchmakers series, it was more just to have something in the background that matched the mood of the scenes I was writing—predominantly instrumental, usually movie soundtracks.

Music that Evokes Setting, Time Period, and Story

For my historical series, especially The Ransome Trilogy, I set out to find music I knew would evoke the setting and characters I was writing about. I started with movie soundtracks I already owned, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Jane Austen adaptation movies, and the classical pieces used in Master and Commander.

From those, Amazon suggested a whole host of other music that fit into the same general sounds, including soundtracks from the age of the swashbuckler movies (Captain Blood and The Seahawk, among many more). Again, here’s the playlist listened to while writing The Ransome Trilogy.

For the Great Exhibition series, it was a little harder to find soundtrack music that fits. The tracks from the Austen film adaptations were okay—though they did call to mind the empire-waisted white gowns of the early 19th century and not the bell-shaped skirts and long, pointed waistlines of 1851. The two I listened to the most were the soundtracks of The Young Victoria and North & South. Follow the Heart was the first book I wrote for which I chose theme songs for each character and for the book itself. I also researched the music that would have been popular at a country-house ball. You can read more about it in the post FOLLOW THE HEART: The “Soundtrack”. As you’ll see, I didn’t limit myself to music written in the era or for something about the era. I chose music based on what inspired my imagination.

Evocative Soundscapes

In researching this prep series, I’ve come across a whole lot of new-to-me technologies that today’s young writers are using to spur their creativity and expedite their writing. Most of them aren’t things I’d find helpful—I’d spend more time trying to learn how to use them than I would writing.

But one website that I’ve now heard mentioned several times is Ambient Mixer. This site is all about sounds—not music. For example, here’s a soundscape I wish I’d had when writing The Ransome Trilogy:
https://ship.ambient-mixer.com/sailing-ship-with-ship-squeak

There’s also one of a Victorian street in the rain, which might have been helpful for me with writing certain scenes in the Great Exhibition series. I highly recommend checking it out!

Assignment:Spend some time this weekend choosing the theme songs, soundtrack, and/or soundscape(s) for your characters and story—and create a playlist that will inspire you to as you write.

#NaNoWriMo Prep: Set Your Word Count Goal and Writing Schedule | #amwriting #NaNo2018

Thursday, October 25, 2018

NaNoWe are one week away from the start of National Novel Writing Month.

Do you feel ready to start?

Because writing a first draft in thirty days is not a normal level of writing that any of us do on a regular basis, it’s important to start thinking now about how you’re going to schedule time to write every day.

Setting Word-Count Goals
From the NaNoWriMo website:

Why 50,000 words? And how do you define “novel”?

Our experiences since 1999 show that 50,000 words is a challenging but achievable goal, even for people with full-time jobs and children. This is about the length of The Great Gatsby. We don’t use the word “novella” because it doesn’t seem to impress people the way “novel” does.

We define a novel as “a lengthy work of fiction.” Beyond that, we let you decide whether what you’re writing falls under the heading of “novel.” In short: If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel, too.

The thing about this being a voluntary contest is that you don’t have to commit to 50,000 words if you don’t want to. In order to figure out how long your manuscript needs to be, you need to know what type of manuscript you’re writing:

Novella: 20,000 to 25,000 words

Novelette/Category Romance: 40,000 to 65,000 words

Single Title/Mass Market/Trade Fiction: 75,000–120,000 words

Epic: 125,000+ words

Obviously, depending on what you’re writing, you may or may not be able to write the entire thing in 30 days. Or you might be able to write two novellas or multiple short stories. It really is up to you.

Because I’m trying to relearn the joy of storytelling and writing books, I’m challenging myself but not in a way that should prove to be too stressful.

My goal is to write an average of at least 500 words per day on my story, for a total of 15,000 words for the month. It doesn’t seem like a whole lot—especially given that I’ve just said above that even a novella (novellette) should be at least 20k words. But as someone who’s been creatively stifled and experiences anxiety whenever I think about sitting down to write, I feel like 500 words per day (2 to 3 pages—or less than half the length of one of my average blog posts) is more than enough to be going on with.

To write 50k in 30 days, you need to average 1,667 words per day. Which sounds like a whole lot . . . unless you look at it more like getting in a full day’s worth of calories. In addition to breaking down your full word-count to a daily average, you can break down the words needed per day into smaller chunks to be done at designated times per day. For example, waking up a little early to write 500 words before the day starts. Trying to get in 800 to 1,000 words at lunch, and then finishing up the rest of it in an hour or so in the evening.

Assignment 1: Determine the word-count you’d like to reach at the end of this challenge. Then calculate what you’ll need to average daily to reach your goals.

Set Your Writing Schedule for the Entire Month of November

Don’t take this lightly. If you’re really serious about this, you need to sit down with your calendar (and if you’re scheduling around a spouse/partner and/or kids, then you need to grab every calendar in the house) and really look at what you have coming up November 1–30.

Look at the word-count goals that you set (overall and daily average). Think about how long it takes you to write 1,000 words. Have you ever timed yourself? If you never have and you don’t know how productive you can be in a certain amount of time, then you need to allow more time than you think you’ll need. Don’t short-change yourself.

To paraphrase Master Yoda: Guess not. Know, or know not. There is no guess.

And if you’re working around the schedules of other people in your household, now is a great time to start talking to them about this challenge and about how, in November, you’re going to need their understanding and support as you pour most of your focus and energy into your story. Get them on board. Start planning schedules of who’s responsible for meals and other things you usually take care of now, rather than waiting until November 1 and then announcing that things must change.

For those in the United States, something to keep in mind is that you may struggle the week of November 18–24 to get your writing time scheduled, between cleaning and cooking, Thanksgiving festivities, football games (or Black Friday shopping), travel, etc. So be sure to build in some extra time in the other three weeks of the month to get ahead/catch up with what you may not have time for that week.

Assignment 2: In order to reach your word-count goal for the challenge, set “writing time” appointments for yourself one each day of the month that you know you’ll need to write. If you know—or even just suspect—you’re not going to have time to write on certain days, build in contingency writing-time appointments on other days so you can get your word-count in when you have the time.

If you need more advice, hints, or tips on how to manage your time for a month-long writing marathon, check out this video from NaNoWriMo:

#NaNoWriMo Prep: Site Your Settings | #amwriting #NaNo2018

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

What Do You Already Know about Your Settings?
One of the sections I suggested when creating your NaNo project story bible was for setting.

So you don’t have to go back and read the original post:

If you’re writing a world-building genre—like fantasy, science fiction, or historical—you’re going to have a relatively large section for your setting—large enough that you may want to create a subgroup (basically giving you a notebook within a notebook) or a separate notebook just for world-building. But even when writing contemporaries set in places we’re familiar with (like for me when I was writing the Matchmakers series, set in Nashville), we’re going to need a place to keep information about our settings. What do your characters’ homes or workplaces look like? Where are things located geographically? What’s the topography or weather like?

Again, because I’m returning to a previously created fictional setting, I was able to go ahead and start adding pages (all of them blank right now except for this one—and this one has info because I already had it in another OneNote Notebook).

Setting is where I tend to split things up a bit. I’ll keep the research/development part of my setting information (text) in OneNote, but I’ll collect setting images in Pinterest. It’s so much easier, and it doesn’t take up space on my computer.

In the past, I’ve also done things like hand-draw a map of my fictional city of Bonneterre, Louisiana, and hang it on the wall for easy reference. (And then I took a digital picture of it and put it in my folder of images in my cloud drive so I could access it anytime I needed it—yes, that’s it in the image from OneNote above.)

In addition to just the general location of where your story is set (for me, that’s my fictional city of Bonneterre, Louisiana), knowing at least some of the specific locales within your setting before the marathon writing starts will be a good idea.

Assignment 1: If you don’t already have a section for Settings in your story bible, create one. Then add whatever you already know about your settings.

Get More Specific with Your Setting
This is one of the few times in this prep cycle that I’m suggesting that we dive a little deeper into figuring things out ahead of time. That’s because if we’re already familiar with where the scenes we’re going to write can take place, it’ll make writing easier.

  1. Does your setting have a unique culture (traditions, observances, taboos, quirks, etiquette) that can play a role in your story?
    #FirstDraft60 Day 24: Getting Specific with Your Setting | KayeDacus.comThink of places that have cultures that are unique to them: Santa Fe, Greece, Louisiana, Las Vegas, the Deep South, Hawaii, a small fishing town on the coast of Ireland, a ship of the line in the 19th century Royal Navy, etc. What are the unique elements of a setting that you can incorporate into your characters’ background/mannerisms/behavior and into how your story unfolds?
  2. What are the elements of the culture you need to make sure you get absolutely right?
    If you’ve read my Bonneterre books, you know I don’t have people walking around calling each other cher or babbling in Cajun French. If you live somewhere with a unique culture and watch movies/TV shows set there, what are the things that they get wrong that drive you crazy? How can you make sure you get those elements right?
  3. What are some specific locations and/or events you can incorporate into your story?
    day-24-frothy-monkeyIn the Matchmakers series, set in Nashville, I have my girls meet for coffee on Sunday afternoons at The Frothy Monkey in the 12 South neighborhood. In the Bonneterre series, with my fictional setting, I created Beignets S’il Vous Plait, a beignets-and-coffee shop reminiscent of Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans or Coffee Call in Baton Rouge. Use specific locations, but have a reason for using those locations. Don’t just “name drop.”
  4. How can your setting affect how your story plays out?
    For example, if you’re writing suspense and your characters are on the run outdoors, they’re going to run into much different conflicts in a mountainous area than in a desert than in a jungle. Is it cold and snowy? hot and humid? Does your character have environmental allergies that could affect whether or not he’s able to do the physical activities required of him in the plot? Is he a sailor who suffers from seasickness? Someone who works in mountain search and rescue who suddenly gets a bad case of vertigo?

Assignment 2: Take about 10–15 minutes to write down your answers to each of these questions. If you need to look things up and/or find images to help, feel free. Just don’t spend too much time on this—getting that specific can wait until the first round of revisions.

Setting the Mood
Think about the cliche of the gothic novel being set in a creepy, dark, old castle with a labyrinth of hallways, tunnels, and dungeons. There’s a reason why it’s become cliche—because it works. One of my favorite YA novels from childhood is a gothic, but it’s set in a recently built Victorian mansion in Northern California in the late 1800s. The author uses the house, and the fog that envelops it daily, to great effect.

Although we don’t want to get caught up in the whole idea of making sure we’re choosing exactly the “right word” when we’re marathon writing, If you know ahead of time what mood you’re trying to invoke, it can help you as you write—so that you don’t feel stuck, searching for the “right word.”

Assignment 3: Think about how the weather, the landscape, the culture, etc., of your setting can affect and effect the mood of your story. Create a Mood Words page in your Settings section and take 10-15 minutes to free-write a list of words (adjectives, nouns, verbs) that evoke the tone you want. Use a thesaurus if you must in order to kickstart your brainstorming, but don’t rely on it to find words that don’t naturally come to mind.

%d bloggers like this: