Tag Archive: noveling



Happy second week in the trenches!

8579377205_54a29c5cfb_zLook at you, halfway through National Novel Writing Month. You’ve made it this far, you can stick with it for sixteen more days. Don’t worry about being behind. Don’t worry about Thanksgiving robbing you of writing time. Write what you can, when you can. Remember, NaNoWriMo exists to kick you into action. If you need let your NaNo project bleed into December or January or February, let it.

Just don’t give up.

Before we get started, here’s my Week 2 NaNoWriMo 2015 update:

Project #1: edited to page 98

Project #2: 19,299 words written

Not quite where I’d like to be, but further than I was on October 31st. That’s what I love about NaNoWriMo, it gives you a standard to measure against…and it gives you a whole bunch of buddies working toward the same (or similar) goals.

And Margaret needs goals.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a planner. A list maker. A tracker. I love writing goals down and checking them off. It’s great. Fools people into thinking I’m far more organized than I am. You whip out a planner, start checking things off, and people who don’t know better assume you have it all together—that you know what you’re doing.

For me, it varies.

Some days, I’m really good about sticking to the list. I write all the words, edit all the pages, and get all the stickers (more on that in a moment). Other days, I write the list, consider it and then decide to burn it. Most days are in between—for various reasons. You know, life intrudes. Other ideas happen. The newest chapter of that fic you’re really into comes out.

Writing down your goals is important–whether they’re goals for the day, the week, the month, or the year. They become tangible. The words make them real. It’s one thing to think, “Hey, I should do NaNoWriMo this year”, but open that planner or that writing journal or even just pull out a piece of paper and write “50,000 words by November 30” and it develops substance.

I’m not really one for five year plans or ten year plans—too much can change too easily for me to get on that train. I’d get all wrapped up in what needs to happen and what’s not happening and end up upset and frustrated (I know this works for some people, I just have a hard time seeing that far ahead). I like to tackle my stuff in less mind-boggling bites. Break it down. I focus on the 4,000 words I need to write today to stay on track, instead of getting caught up in how far behind I am.

While some of my goals stretch out into next (get my own place, be able to run a 5k, attend a writer’s conference next year, survive this season of Once Upon a Time, etc.), I work best with monthly and daily goals.

At the beginning of the month, I figure out what I want/need to accomplish writing-wise over the next four weeks or so. That way I have targets to aim for. For instance, this blog. Currently, I’m aiming for one post a week, with a Saturday deadline. Will my world end if I don’t publish a post every Saturday? Technically, no. But that list with four slots reading “Blog post” is powerful motivation. And it feel good to check off that little box. Just that one action leaves me as satisfied as a good jog does.

Those monthly goals get printed out and glued in the back of my planner (I haven’t always been a consistent planner girl, the blank pages in my current planner attests that I’m still not some weeks). When I plan out my week—writing time is always easier to find when you know what else needs your time—I refer to that list. And I refer to it when I sit down to plan my day. Going back to the blog, I see that blank space next to “11/14” and I plan time to write a blog post—this post, actually.

I do my best to keep my goals specific. “Write today” could mean anything, but “Work on WIP #2” gives me some direction. I don’t stop there though, after all, that leaves so much wiggle room. One sentence technically meets that goal.

So I give myself something to measure against. “Work on WIP #2” becomes “Write 1k words for WIP #2” and now I have something to reach for, something to achieve.

Of course, there’s common sense mixed in there too. After all, if I only have an hour to write, one thousand words is a reasonable goal. It gives me just enough time to warm up and find my writing groove. To try writing three thousand words, though? Even I’m not that delusional. I know my limits.

And now, to impart my most reliable secret to staying on task:

STICKERS!

Yes, I know, I sound like a five-year old. (Though, at least I don’t plaster them to every flat surface in the house anymore. You’re welcome, Mom).

Seeing the fruit of my labors is difficult when everything lives on my computer. I don’t get to watch a notebook get all warped as I fill the pages up. Instead, I wait until it’s time to print the draft and start lugging it around. To combat this, I use stickers—which serve as both progress markers and little mini rewards. Each sticker has a value. For every thousand words I write, I get a star. Did I edit five pages? Great, I get a big heart. What if it was only two pages? I get a smaller star. Read a book? I have a sticker for that. Publish a blog? Yep, sticker for that. Finish a draft? Oh, you bet I have a sticker for that. Nice big, shiny, adorable owl stickers.

Every time I earn one of these stickers, I slap that thing into my planner with pride. Especially when I can look back at the stickers I earned the day before (or the lack there of, let me tell you that’s motivation itself). It’s a great way to keep track of what I’ve done and it’s portable, which is important since my office is whatever Starbucks or library I’ve ended up in that day. I can’t claim credit for this idea. I stole it from my friend, Dot, who stole it from author Victoria Schwab (Vicious, A Darker Shade of Magic) who probably stole it from some elementary school teacher. Feel free to steal from me, or come up with your own method. But find a way.

Give yourself something to accomplish and then go after it. Don’t let anything stop you. You can do it.

Question of the Week:

What are some of the writing goals you’d like to accomplish by year’s end?


Image: Inspiring moleskine by cathredfern, CC BY-NC 2.0


9322492135_1814439892_zHappy first week of NaNoWriMo 2015.

If it’s going well for you: Huzzah! Pat yourself on the back.

If you’re struggling: Don’t give up! You may want to throw in the towel, but it’s only November 7th—every word that you write is a word you didn’t have yesterday.

Regardless: KEEP WRITING! You have a whole twenty-three days of NaNo left, think about everything you can accomplish in those twenty-three days.

And because you guys keep me accountable, here’s my NaNo 2015 weekly update:

Project #1: edited to page 77

Project #2: 10,028 words written

I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on two projects this November. (In case you’re wondering, the original plan involved only one project, but I procrastinated with Project #1, so here we are.) Whether or not I should walk around with a “Hi, my name is Overachiever” nametag, only time will tell. No matter my expectations, NaNo motivates me. The hype inspires focus that I often lack. Someday, I hope to be this driven all year long, but for now, I’m going to make the most of the power of NaNo

Project #1 is the one people are used to hearing me gripe about. You know, the one that was kicking my butt in this post. Written last spring, it still needs work, but if Rick Riordan’s first novel (Big Red Tequila) needed fourteen drafts before it was ready to shop around, I can go through at least half as many before I shelve it (or trunk it).

Project #2 is brand new project…sort of. I might have stolen the premise from a (unpublished) fanfic I wrote last March. Before you name me E.L. James 2.0 (don’t…just don’t), you should know that I’ve done more than change the names. By the time I’m done with this, you shouldn’t even be able to tell what fandom inspiried the original story from (Everything but the premise has been scrapped). No, I won’t tell you which fandom. I’m so excited to finally be taking a swing at this idea. You can’t see me grinning, but I’m grinning.

Now that that’s out of the way, time for today’s topic: the first draft. Specifically, NaNoWriMo first drafts. I know people that think NaNo is crazy—churning out fifty thousand words in thirty will only result in trash.

To those people I’d say: All first drafts are trash.

No matter what, your book will need at least one edit. Likely several. The grand picture in your head always gets a little lost in translation. Don’t worry about that now, especially if you’re trying to NaNo. Believe me, I know your fingers itch to pick at the chapter you wrote yesterday, to start hacking it apart and turn it into a piece of fine literature. I used to do that too, but not  anymore. Why? I found that when I pause to backtrack, I lose sight of the story. I used to get stuck going over what I’d already written, leaving the rest of the story to stagnate. There are writers who work this way. Published writers. Published writers who tell you that you have to have every sentence perfect before you move on to the next one.

I’m here to tell you: You don’t have to do it that way.

And if you want to win at NaNo this year, may I suggest that you put that thinking aside. At least for November. You don’t have time to edit. (If you’re like me, you barely have time to write.) The typos will still be there in twenty-four days, the story might not be. Turn down your inner editor. Give yourself permission to get lost in the writing.

What if your main character tells you her eyes are blue instead of brown? Or switches the point of view from a third person past tense to first person present tense Jot down a quick note, maybe fantasize about what you’d do to her if you didn’t need them, and then keep going as though you wrote it that way from the start. Sure, that leaves you with forty thousand words that you have to go back and edit later, but you’ll have finished the story. I cannot stress the importance of finishing enough. Giving up is much easier at forty thousand words than it is at ninety thousand.

Don’t worry about your novel being perfect. It won’t be. Not even after it’s gone through you, your mother, your three best friends, your other writer friends, your agent AND your editor, you will find something you missed. NaNoWriMo isn’t about producing Tolkein level prose (The Lord of the Rings alone took him twelve years), it’s about creating something you can shape. It’s about digging the raw material out of the folds of your brain and so you can sculpt your David.

My challenge to you between today and November 30th is this: Keep your eyes on the road. And if that inner editor of yours tries back seat driving? Stick a sock in their mouth, wrap them in ducktape, and throw them in the back of your car until you reach the end.

Good luck in your NaNoWriMo endeavors this week, I’d love to hear about them, either here or through Twitter or tumblr.

If you need to, please revisit my writing advice disclaimer.

Question of the week:

Outside of November, do you prefer to write straight through your first draft or do you edit as you go?


Image: Don’t Stop Me Now by K.G.Hawes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


22144212210_be0977d417Tomorrow is November 1st. Tomorrow, National Novel Writing Month begins.

Last week, I gave the non-writers a quick rundown about NaNoWriMo. This week, it’s the writers turn.

If you haven’t committed to NaNoWriMo yet, it’s not too late. We’re barely at the beginning. Yes, fifty thousand words sounds like a lot, but you can do it. This year, thousands of people will reach that goal, just like last year and the year before that. You could be one of them. I can’t guarantee that you’ll reach fifty thousand words this year, but I do know is that if you don’t try, you haven’t got a chance.

This won’t be my first NaNo rodeo (a look at my blog history tells you that much). I go into NaNo in 2012. I didn’t “win”, but I did manage to get very close. My second go around was last year and I managed to pop out the necessary fifty thousand words. This year, I’ll be participating in NaNo again, on top of re-establishing this blog and working through draft four of my other work-in-progress. If that seems ambitious, that’s because it is. But I’m not going into it unprepared and neither should you. Here are seven tips for a NaNoWriMo win in 2015:

  1. Have a plan– Listen to the pansters squirm. Don’t worry, this isn’t a sermon on the virtues of outlining. I’m talking about setting writing goals. You might be planning on a traditional NaNo, but maybe you’re a parent or you have rehearsal for a Christmas production or you work a job that works you extra hard over the holidays. That’s fine. Feel free to tailor your goals to your life (but also, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself a little). Make sure to write those goals down! Whether writing fifty thousand words is your goal or you’re aiming to work through Draft #X of your WIP, write it down. I can’t reference any studies to prove how important this is (though I’m sure they are out there), I just know that writing down specific goals is much more effective than keep an amorphous list in my head.
  2. Break it down– Fifty thousand words looks like a lot because it is a lot, like trying to leap a tall building in a single bound. Outside of Superman, I don’t know anyone capable of jumping over skyscrapers. So take the building one floor at a time. Focus on how much you need to write today. If you’ve read anything about NaNo (or read last week’s post), you know that the “magical” daily number is 1,667. Still a little daunting, but more manageable than 50,000. If you don’t have enough writing time every day to meet that goal, don’t worry. Work with the time you do have. Plan a day or two where you can slam out several thousand words in one sitting. After all, ten five thousand word days gets you to fifty thousand.
  3. Get away– This is a tip I use year round, but it’s crucial during NaNoWriMo. You don’t have to go far. It means spending a couple of hours at the library/Starbucks/Panera/etc. Or maybe heading to your brother’s room to use the desk you two share. The key is removing yourself from the familiar things that distract you: your bed, your laundry, your Netflix subscription…you know all things that sound like a better idea than writing right now. I’ve found that I get far more done when I’m somewhere other than my own room (the closest I have to an office is said brother’s room and sometimes he likes his privacy).
  4. Simplify– Life is crazy. You might be juggling school, job, family, health issues, social life, and more on a regular basis. NaNoWriMo is your excuse to put more focus on your writing. Work deals with your spouse/parents/friends to get a couple of kid free hours during the week. Eat at your desk so you can spend your lunch break writing. Get up a little earlier or stay up a half hour later. Tell your friends you love them and you’ll see them when November ends. Cut out your favorite TV show (there’s plenty of time to get caught up in time to the mid-season break). Be creative as you find ways to trim your schedule and free up the time you’ll need to complete NaNo.
  5. Keep a schedule– The word schedule just gave some of you shivers, but I’m telling you it helps. Even if it’s just for the month of November, get a little planner and use it to keep track of your time. Finding time to write is much easier when you have all the other things you need to do recorded in one place. My most productive writing days are usually the ones I sit down and plan.
  6. Get plugged in– Go to NaNoWriMo’s official page and register and then look to see what’s going on in your region. It’s nice to have other people around you working toward the same goal—especially since they’ll fuss if you get distracted for too long. Find write-ins or other events thrown by your municipal liaison and get to know your fellow WriMos.
  7. Commit to finishing– Even if you can’t do the whole fifty thousand within November—even if you can—commit to finishing the story. Don’t let “losing” or reaching the end of November stop you. Fifty thousand words is a very short novel (Unless you’re writing for middle grade), you may find your story needs another ten or twenty thousand words. Finishing the blasted thing is the important part. Once you’ve finished one novel, finishing the next is that much easier, because you know you can do it. The whole point of NaNo is completion, taking you one step closer to something publishable. This novel may not be it. That’s okay. The next one might be.

And there you have it. That’s the short list of how I’m surviving NaNo 2015. Granted, I don’t have kids, I’m single, and my work hours leave plenty of time for writing, but even though you are probably ten times busier than I will be this month I encourage you to apply some of these tips. Just a little extra effort and planning can make a drastic difference.

Question of the Week:

What challenges will you be facing during NaNoWriMo 2015?


Image: NaNoWriMo 2015 by Rachel K, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


9355090806_80b6faabc7_cIt’s almost that time of year again.

As of this post, Halloween is one week away and a scant twenty-four hours later November descends upon us.

And the madness begins.

“So it begins,” some of you murmur, nodding your heads. You refer to the frantic, cinnamon-infused, fifty-five day explosion known as the Holidays. However, I speak of the much briefer (though no less frantic) span of days known as NaNoWriMo. In English, that translates to National Novel Writing Month. Non-writers call it November.

You may be vaguely aware of NaNoWriMo. You’ve seen your writer friends post about it on Twitter, tumblr, and Facebook. You heard them crying about it last. But for those of you going, “Margaret, I have no idea what you’re talking about”, I will explain:

On November 1st  many ambitious writers commit to writing a 50,000 novel by November 30th. How long is a 50,000 word novel, you ask. Think The Great Gatsby. NaNoWriMo challenges a writer to slam down 1,667 words every day for a month. Do you remember college? And term papers? That’s about how long each day’s work needs to be, or you end up playing catch-up. Some writers find that easy, others don’t. Either way, it’s stressful and more than a few writers spend November ripping their hair out. That’s totally normal (and hyperbolic, if your writer starts ripping their hair out, please intervene).

Now that we’re all on the same page, here are some ways that you—the ever supportive non-writer—can help:

  1. Understand– Writing over a thousand words a day (or several thousand every few days if that’s how your writer works) takes a lot of time. If you know someone who is attempting NaNoWriMo, they will be writing at every opportunity. Writing cuts away from the time your writer has for food, sleep, work, friends, family, personal hygeine, and any other diversions that life offers. Be aware of that. Please understand when they’re more forgetful or messier or less emotionally stable than usual. Know that it’s only for 30 days. Appreciate every moment they give you for the sacrifice it is.
  2. Help them focus– It’s the little things that eat away at writing time. After all, the laundry still needs to be done and you don’t stop loving your kids just because you’re writing a novel. The writer’s brain is easily distracted by all the things we SHOULD be doing, the things that NEED doing. Right now. If you live with a writer, even the smallest gestures help. Like doing the dishes or the laundry or giving them an hour without the kids or making sure they don’t have to worry about dinner on Thursdays.
  3. Encourage them– Writing can often feel like a waste of time—especially for your writer. It feels awkward to call it a job when you’re not getting paid, but you can’t get published (and make money) if you have no book. Remind your writer that it’s not a waste. Cheer them on. Whether or not a NaNo novel gets published isn’t the point. The point is finished the dumb thing.
  4. Treat it seriously– If your writer commits to NaNoWriMo this November, please don’t trivialize that. Under any circumstances, writing to fifty thousand words is a huge undertaking…and a HUGE achievement. Setting out to write that many words in just thirty days straddles completely crazy and definitely daunting. Writers have it hard enough finding time to write, please don’t make it harder by scoffing or dismissing our writing as a hobby. Respect the time your brave writer sets aside for NaNo. Respect their efforts. And do what you can to help them stick to that goal.
  5. Bribe them– If you’re so inclined and in the position to reward your writer for reaching fifty thousand words, go for it. Give them that extra incentive to push towards the goal. You don’t need to be extravagant (although, if you anyone wants to reward me with a trip to see Aladdin on Broadway, I won’t say no). It could be simple: a movie night with their favorite movie, taking them to dinner or ice cream, or promising to buy that book they’ve been ogling on Amazon for weeks.

Writers participate in NaNoWriMo for many reasons. Some writers use it to jump into their newest (or their first) novel. Other writers participate for the comradery. Or a change of pace. Every writer will give you a different answer. Every writer is different, but I’ll stress again, effort is the important thing about NaNo. If that idea stays in your writer’s head, it never gets published. By encouraging your writer (this holds true all year long), you are helping them get one step closer to a finished first draft and a finished first draft is one step closer to a published novel (though it might not be that particular novel).

Question of the week:

How do you encourage your writer? (Writers: How do your family/friends encourage you?)

Disclaimer: This is in no way aimed at anyone in my immediate circle. You are all wonderfully supportive of my writing. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. I’m blessed to have each and every one of you supporting me.


Image: diary writing by Fredrik Rubensson, CC BY-SA 2.0


2200500024_e93db99b61_mOnce upon a time, I thought the most difficult question you could ask a writer was the infamous “What are you writing?” After all, people don’t want you spill the whole book word-for-word, so you have fit your current obsession into a few sentences (the fewer the better). Cue long, excruciating pause, stuttering, backtracking, and general frustration.

Then a new writer friend asked me this doozy: “Are you a good writer?”

It took me a minute, but I said that yes eventually.

The question still hasn’t let me go though.

Am I a good writer?

If you asked my mother, the answer would be yes.

I’m not as sure. Am I capable of objectively answering that question? I am not a published writer–newsflash, I know–the only person to read my current novel is me. My only feedback is my own judgment. Is it possible for someone to be truly unbiased about their own work? I know I’m not.

But I also dislike the idea that the only writers able to write well are those that hate every word they write. In my mind, being too critical is just as ineffective as not being critical enough .

Isn’t it better to have the ability to recognize the golden nuggets in a current work? To look at a draft and say, “I think I might be on to something here, but that other thing there and all of Chapter 15 need a lot of work”?

That’s the kind of writer that I try to be.

A lot of my current project is kind of…meh, but the more I chip away at it, the more I wash and sift and refine it, the more gold I find. Or at least, I hope it’s gold I’m finding. There are good parts in this draft. There might even be brilliant parts in this draft. Only patience and effort will tell.

What I think matters is that I’m recognizing some problems. I know (and feedback on past projects has shown) that I’m WAY too close to this project to see all the problems, but I don’t think that my novel is perfect.

I don’t think it’s crap either.

I think it could turn into something.

At the end of the day, I’d rather believe in myself.

So I (at the risk of sounding narcissistic) think I’ll stick with my original answer.

Yes, I am a good writer. Or at least, I’m on my way to being one.


Image: Question mark sign by Colin Kinner, CC BY 2.0

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