Prepare for NaNoWriMo: Get Ready to Write

With just two weeks left in October, it’s time to prepare for NaNoWriMo, otherwise knows as National Novel Writing Month. Every November, thousands and thousands of writers around the world attempt to write a novel in 30 days. No prize awaits them. There’s no guarantee of publication. But writers still churn out hundreds of words each day, hoping to hit the goal of 50,000 by November 30th.

Why do people challenge themselves to write so much in a short period? Some do it for fun. NaNoWriMo has become something of a party over the years. Writers gather with other local participants to write in coffee shops or bookstores. Online forums provide a way to reach out and chat about your work-in-progress. Others use the energy of the event to force themselves to finish a first draft. Professional writers often join in, working on current projects or starting new ones. Writers with thoughts of publication know that 50,000 runs a bit short for a traditional novel, but NaNoWriMo still offers great motivation to get to work.

prepare for NaNoWriMo

Are you a plotter or pantser?

Plenty of writers just open up a new Word doc on November 1st and start typing at random. It can be entertaining to see where your imagination takes you. But if you prefer to plot, or you want to make sure the words flow daily, it’s a good idea to prep for NaNoWriMo. If you have at least some idea of where you’d like your story to go, it will help you build your word count and avoid facing a nasty bout of writer’s block.

How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

Technically, you’re not supposed to start writing until November 1st, but you can still put together some notes.

  • Determine your major characters. Figure out who your protagonist is and what they want. Name some people. Give them jobs and relationships.
  • Do you at least have an idea for your book? If you do, dream up a few scenes you’re really looking forward to writing and sketch out a few short notes about them. (Not the scenes themselves, of course. That would be cheating.)
  • Get some research done. If you have to do some leg work or reading about your setting, the time period, characters’ careers, etc., now is the time to do it. Plus all that wonderful detail and vocabulary you dig up will help you increase your word count.

There’s nothing wrong with deciding to use NaNoWriMo as a time to play. But if you plan to use it to work, just a little bit of prep will help you make the most of your experience. And don’t forget: the manuscript you finish on November 30th will be a first draft. So don’t waste time editing while you write. Plenty of time for that later.

Good luck to everyone participating this year!

Friday Links: Finding the Best Way to Frame Your Story

Happy Friday, all! I hope you’ve had a wonderful week with some productive writing time and maybe a good book on your nightstand. Heading into the weekend, I’ve some lovely links for you all, and in particular I’d like you to consider how you frame your stories. I don’t just mean the ones you’re writing, but the ones you tell about yourself, your life, your experiences, your daily frustrations.

While not everyone is a writer, we’re all storytellers, so that’s something to think about when you look at the things that might be getting you down. The story is yours to tell, yours to sell, and that includes what you’re telling yourself. A series of rejection letters can be terribly disheartening, but you can also consider them a countdown to an eventual sale.

Without further ado, here are this week’s Friday Links. Enjoy, and happy writing!

How Writing Let Me Take Control of My Own Story – One writer’s disconnect between her writing and her life.

This Is Going to Be about Heroes – Author Maggie Stiefvater on heroism and finding the right way to tell a story.

When Reading Isn’t Enough: Book-Adjacent Hobbies – For book fanatics who love all the bookish things.

The Book-Lovers Guide to Publishing, Part 1: Publishing Ephemera – The first in a series of publishing-related blog posts from Penguin Books.

So You’ve Decided to Write: The Best Way to Deal with Rejection – Some tips on how to move past ‘No’.

My Own Kind of Beautiful: How Geography Affects the Writing Process – One writer’s take on how travel affects his work and what it means to be ready to write about a place.

$5,000 Grants for Writers and Artists with Children: Applications Open until 31 August – 20 grants are available this year for writers and artists with children, to be used for child care, new equipment, or any other number of things.

Friday Links: The Writing Goals Review Edition

Six months down, six months to go. We’re officially halfway through 2017. Have you checked in with your writing goals lately? As we head into the weekend, it’s the perfect time to set aside an hour or so and review the goals you made earlier this year. Figure out if you’re on track, if you’ve veered way off the path, if some of your goals need to be revised because your aspirations have shifted or circumstances make it necessary.

It’s important to have a plan, to know where you want to go with your career. Yes, there’s always room for new ideas and for spontaneous shifts when great opportunities come up, but overall, you should know what you’re aiming to achieve, and the steps you need to take to do so. So look back and see what you’ve done well, and where you’ve fallen down on the job. More than anything, be honest with yourself; don’t beat yourself up for failures, but also acknowledge when you might have worked harder, said no to a few more nights out when you should have been writing, or allowed a shiny idea to lure you away from a work in progress.

Then look forward. Where do you want to be at the end of December? Do you have smaller goals you can finish by summer’s end? By late September? Before the holidays hit? Stagger your self-imposed deadlines and make sure you have some more managable tasks that you can check off your goal list on the road to your more major accomplishments.

As for this week’s links, I like to think everything I dig up has the potential to help you along your path to goal fulfillment. You knw the steps you need to take: read, write, revise, and educate yourself about the writing business. So on the cusp of this long Independence Day weekend here in the U.S., I wish you all the inspiration and motivation you need to meet your goals head-on. Enjoy, and happy writing!

The American Experience in 737 Novels – This resource feels appropriate as we commemorate the birth of our nation.

22 of Your Favorite Writers on What to Read This Summer – Recommendations from some amazing authors.

Deal or No Deal: Why Being a Literary Agent Doesn’t Make it Easier to Write a Book – Some advice from the other side of the desk.

20 Magical Tattoos for 20 Years of Harry Potter – Some fun body art in honor of the Boy Who Lived’s anniversary.

25 Books for Teens Written by Black Women Writers to Rock Your 2017 – A great list to help round out your TBR pile.

M.L. Rio’s 5 Best Novels Inspired by Shakespeare – So many great books take their cues from classics. Here Rio shares some of her favorites based on the works of the Bard.

How to Keep Writing (Even if You Have a Day Job): 5 Tips from Novelist Jennifer Close – Some useful advice to keep the words flowing.

Friday Links: Summer Reads to Inspire Your Writing

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’ve all had a great week and that you have some time set aside this weekend for reading and writerly things. With all the end-of-school and graduation talk the last few weeks, plus the chatter of summer vacation plans, it’s easy to slack off on your writing goals. But remember, by the end of this month we’ll be halfway through 2017, so if you had some grand aspirations for the year — things you wanted to accomplish or milestones to hit — be sure to schedule a little work time along with the fun.

That said, I do have some great reading recs in this week’s Friday Links, along with everything else, so I hope you find something inspiring and/or informative that will keep your own creativity pumping along. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Our Story – There’s a brand new app on the way to help you find diverse books to read. It launches online on June 15th, with mobile apps on the way as well.

Jennifer Weiner: From Small-Town Beat Reporter to Big-City Columnist – A peek at the author’s journalistic background and how she got her start.

These Are the Essential Comics to Read after You’ve Watched Wonder Woman – A great roundup of both classics and newer runs to help you get your Wonder Woman fix.

New York Today: A City Library on the Subway – Learn how to access free ebooks from the New York Public Library for the next six weeks on a special New York subway car (and also in the stations).

100 Must-Read Novels Set in London – You may not be able to zip off to London to show your support for the city in the wake of the latest terrorist attack, but you can always grab one of these great titles to visit in spirit.

Amita Trasi and Cecilia Galante on Writing Young Characters – Two authors share their thoughts on the importance of writing from a younger perspective.

Friday Links: Writing Stories from the Trenches

TGIF! We’re kicking off the Memorial Day weekend here, and that can mean travel, backyard cookouts, baseball games, beach time, or just a great excuse to hop in a hammock for some serious reading time. It also means I’ve got a bunch of work to finish up today so I can head out and actually do some of the above. So I’ll just leave this week’s Friday Links here for your entertainment, and wish you all a wonderful weekend, whether you’re celebrating the holiday or not. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Books to Breeze Through this Summer – A rather eclectic collection from The New York Times.

Get That Life: How I Became a Writer, Historian, and Activist – Great interview with Rebecca Solnit where she discusses the trajectory of her writing career.

The Literary World Says Goodbye to Denis Johnson – Short obit including social media clips expressing sadness at Johnson’s sudden death.

From Dark to Dark: Yes, Women Have Always Written Space Opera – Author Judith Tarr on women’s role in the subgenre.

Improve Your Writing: Become a Demanding Self-Editor – Some wonderful advice for any writer, regardless of genre, publishing goals, etc.

Story Structure: The Magic Bullet that Almost Killed Me – Author Matthew Quick shares his plot-point life lessons.

A Crash Course in YA Taught Me How to Write – Author Katherine Heiny talks about how she learned about plot and the discipline required to finish a book.

Friday Links: Write What You Want to Know

Happy Friday, all! I hope everyone’s had a wonderful week and is ready to kick off a creative weekend, because I’m here to talk to you about research and inspiration. The old adage “Write what you know” has long been criticized as being too limiting, and in a sense it is. If writers only took on topics familiar to them, we would soon find ourselves with a rather narrow field of stories. So I propose a small tweak: Write What You Want to Know.

Writing is about inspiration, imagination, and research. Whether you need to fill in a few facts or thoroughly immerse yourself in an entirely new industry or location, you’re going to need to put in some time to make sure your story is accurate and believable. Even fantasy writers, who may seem to have permission to invent entire worlds purely out of their heads, are subject to the rigors of research, because those fantasy worlds come across much more believable if they have their roots in at least a small measure of reality.

So today’s links offer up a wealth of inspiration and topics that I hope will spark your interest, whether with a topic to research or some writerly advice that sends you off in a fresh direction. Open your eyes wide and let yourself absorb some amazing new things this weekend. Check out the links, but then go to the library and explore a section you haven’t read from or hit a local museum or art exhibit. Find a cultural celebration within driving distance and go try some interesting new-to-you foods and listen to music. And no, this isn’t an invitation to appropriate someone else’s culture; but open yourself up to all the different facets of our world and see what ideas you cultivate. At the very least, the people you write about will feel more real.

Photographs Document Early Chinese Immigration – An interesting collection from the Library of Congress.

Why I Founded an Interdisciplinary Retreat for Artists and Writers – A great argument for cross-pollination of creative ideas.

Discovering Literature: Shakespeare and the Renaissance Writers – A useful resource for historical projects.

Jeff VanderMeer & Cory Doctorow Discuss the Future of Sci-Fi & the World – A great conversation between two smart, interesting writers who contribute greatly to the current sff landscape.

Stephanie Powell Watts on Writing Hard Times in Small Towns – This perspective might be especially interesting for anyone from a densely populated area.

The Masks We Wear: The Millions Interviews Edan Lepucki – A discussion of Lepucki’s new book and character identity.

Women Were Pirates, Too – While the men got most of the press (for good or ill), there were a number of female pirates sailing the seas as well.

25 of Your Favorite Nonfiction Books about Women’s History – An intriguing list. No descriptions included, but many of the titles will draw you in even so.

Maurice Sendak on Art and Art-Making – Five years after his death, the author/illustrator’s words of wisdom still offer up some great advice.

Why I Read: Ursula K. LeGuin – HarperCollins pulled together a collection of authors’ responses to the simple question of why they read, and LeGuin’s answer feels like it works very well with the theme of today’s links.

Friday Link: A Mish-Mash of Writing Inspiration

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m currently winging my way to Seattle for a conference, but as always, I’ve made sure to leave you with this week’s assortment of links for your enjoyment. It’s something of a hodgepodge — pretty much how things go when I’m on one of these conference runs — but I still think there’s some great stuff for everyone. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Five Writing Retreats to Attend This Summer – Interested in doing a retreat? Think it’s too late? Here are a few places with late deadlines or rolling admissions that might fit the bill.

Colson Whitehead Leads the Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist – An interesting profile, plus the rest of the list so you can catch up on your reading.

As Jane Austen a “Secret Radical”? – A peek at the new, somewhat controversial book offering a fresh (mostly) take on the author.

Why Doesn’t Ancient Literature Talk About Feelings? – A look at changes in our expectations of what we read.

How the Federal Government Saved Literature in Tennessee – Why the NEH and NEA are important.

Warner Bros. Is Seeking New Writers – Worth checking out if screenwriting is  your thing.

9 Signs You May Have Over-Edited Your Work – It’s possible to overdo it.

Want to Be an Author? Finish Something

Writers write, but authors publish. If you want to go from writer to author, the first step is to finish something, then go back and rewrite it until it is ready for submission. But finishing that first draft really is key. It’s impossible to edit a blank page, and equally impossible to sell something without an ending.

Most writers starting out have written plenty of beginnings. They get an idea and sit down to write. They rush through those first pages filled with excitement, developing cool characters and describing the setting and sending everyone off on their adventure brimming with conflict. But then something happens around page fifty. Maybe page 100 if they are lucky and have plenty of momentum. The writing starts to slow down. That initial idea is no longer sufficient to carry the action forward. More is required, and the beginning writer isn’t sure just what that more entails.

And then comes the shiny new idea.

Everyone’s had them, sometimes even while staring at the computer screen, willing the current idea to shape up and get marching. That niggling thought — a weird new hero, a fantastic scenario, a compelling situation, a snippet of dialogue in the back of the brain — that sounds like the answer to everything. Because this new shiny idea feels so much better than the work in progress. It’s new! It’s shiny! It’s so much more exciting! And it lures you away from the current project that hasn’t been behaving and into its shiny clutches.

Before you knows what’s happened, you have a stockpile of beginnings. Partial novels that have never even made it to the half-way point. Because there is always a shiny new idea lurking around the corner, looking to distract you. The more ideas you have, the more ideas you get. It’s the way creativity seems to work. But there are several problems with this.

  • Shiny new ideas are not actually always good ideas. Sometimes they’re just plain ordinary ideas that, if given time, will fade completely from your mind and go unmissed.
  • Chasing shiny new ideas means setting aside current projects and never finishing anything. And you can’t sell something that’s not finished.
  • Writing the middle and the end of a story requires different skills than writing beginnings, and you can’t get better at writing middles and ends if you never actually write them. You want to hone all your skills as a writer, not just some of them.

Shiny new ideas will always pop up and wave at you, but it is vital that you set them aside and continue with whatever project is currently on your plate. That doesn’t mean forget them entirely. Jot down notes in your journal, start a computer file for the potential new project, and then get back to business. Consider that shiny idea on the to-do pile. Maybe you’ll get back to it in a year and find it’s percolated into something wonderful, or maybe you’ll wonder what the hell you where thinking. Either way, it gets its due eventually, and you get to push through and finish the project at hand.

But what about the argument that the new idea is better or more interesting than the one you’re writing? Of course it seems that way. The new idea is a mystery. You’ve spent virtually no time thinking about it, which leaves it wide open to play with. The current idea, on the other hand, is starting to come together. You understand the characters more than you did at the beginning, you’ve begun to piece together the plot, and things have moved forward. The easy thinking has been accomplished, and you need to dig deeper. Further the conflict, ask tough questions, maybe backtrack on a couple of points. You are past all the surface material and mining for treasure, and that’s work. Hard work. Of course the idea of something new and shiny appeals. That doesn’t make it better.

Writers write, and if all you want to do is write, you can play with as many ideas as you wish. But published authors commit to finishing their projects and resist the distraction of every new idea that catches the light. Of course, occasionally there are projects you find just aren’t working and you decide to abandon them, but that’s a question of the project’s merit, not the distraction of a shiny new idea. So when the next little tidbit flits along and catches your eye, tuck it into a folder for future thought and get back to work.

Friday Links: Literary Inspiration for All Genres

Happy Friday! This week just flew by and I’m afraid I am a tad light on the links selection today as a result. But I do have a number of good ones so I hope they will suffice to offer up some encouragement and inspiration to you all. Never can tell what will set your imagination twitching.

This weekend is the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which I am sad not to be attending this year. I love this event and try to go whenever I can, but I’m out of the office the beginning of next week for the Futurescapes Workshop (which I’m very excited about), so I’m taking the weekend to get some things done beforehand. If you’re in the LA area, I highly recommend you swing by the USC campus to check out the book festival. It’s always a fabulous event.

With that, I’m going to move on to this week’s links. You’ll note a bit of an old school, literary bend this week, but I firmly believe that all good writing advice and all good reading applies to any type of writing efforts. Quality work is quality work, and you can always learn from it. I hope you find these interesting, and that whatever your plans for the weekend, you get in some good reading and/or writing time. Enjoy!

Ten Breathtaking Nature Poems – A little poetry in honor of National Poetry Month.

The Time I Spent the Night in Hamlet’s Castle – Author M.L. Rio shares how she won a contest, went to Denmark, and partied like it was 1599.

Charles Bock Recommends… – Tips on how to get back into the writing flow when you sit down at your desk each day.

The Notorious Legends and Dubious Stories of 10 Literary Deaths – Fanciful and odd aspects of the deaths of these famous writers.

David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing – Working on a play? Interested in adding dramatic tension to your work? Sign up for Mamet’s online master class.

Secrets of the Slush: An Interview with Editor and Author, Michael Nye – Some advice on how to get your writing to stand apart from the masses.

 

Friday Links: Intentional Writing in a Busy World

Happy Friday! This week, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about writing with intention. As much as I love the speed and convenience of the modern computer age, there are days I wish for a return to typewriters and handwritten letters, not because I’m any sort of luddite but because there’s a certain amount of thought that goes into putting down words when you cannot simply delete them with the stroke of a key. Engaging with paper, knowing you will need to physically recreate your work in order to change in, forces a level of planning ahead that I think has been lost.

There’s a sense of urgency in everything we do these days — not just writing. A need for constant connection, to be plugged in through smart phones and computers and streaming media and instant alerts. It makes it hard to argue that deliberation matters. That it’s important to take a moment to choose the right word or to consider the source of a piece of information or to make sure all the thoughts in your head have actually made it into your work. There’s a difference between a reader “knowing” what you meant, and you actually writing what you mean.

This week’s links are the usual blend of things reading and writing related, but I also think a few of them are thoughtful in a deeper way, and I hope they give you insight into your own writing process and maybe inspire you to consider your craft at a different level. Have a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!

Maggie Nelson Writes Books Like She’s Hosting a Party – A great interview with the author with a focus on her generous spirit.

The Language Wars – An insightful look at how words are being wielded in today’s world.

#ThanksForTyping: The Women Behind Famous Male Writers – A rather disturbing look at how many male writers were apparently above typing their own manuscripts.

The Inbox/Outbox Method: How I Whittled Down My TBR Pile – A really easy method for keeping your book-buying to a reasonable level while encouraging you to read those books you already own. Love this, and I’m giving it a try (seeing as how my book-buying bans always fail within weeks).

I or She: Rereading Hardwick, Adler, and Didion – Author Stephanie Danler talks about how rereading these strong women writers helped her fashion and stick to her beliefs regarding her own work and life.

Dani Shapiro: On Life, Marriage, and Creative Expression – A podcast featuring the author on her new memoir and her writing process.