Getting Into the Writing Zone

NaNoWriMo is officially halfway over! And I officially no longer have any idea what I’m writing about! But that’s the fun of it, right? I definitely think so. In fact, I’m starting to think that it’s my favorite thing about NaNo. Because normally, I would get stuck in a rut if I didn’t know where my story was going, but during NaNo, it feels good in an I-really-hate-my-writing sort of way to be able to see an entire book unfold right before your disbelieving eyes.

Anyways, the only reason I’ve actually survived NaNo this long is because I have found a foolproof way to trap that elusive fairy we all like to call The Writing Zone. No idea why I just used that strange metaphor there… but it fits. I have heard multiple people I like to call “experts” say that real writers don’t NEED to get into a writing zone to be able to write. Real writers should be able to write anytime, anywhere. In bed at midnight. In a crowded coffee shop. On a yacht stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At your desk at school when you’re supposed to be taking a science test.

I get why people say that, because, let’s face it: when you’re a bestselling novelist, you won’t always be able to crawl into an obscure corner of your room, put on your superhero cape, and pen your thoughts with your favorite purple pen. But hey, this is NaNoWriMo, and the point is to get the words written, no matter what it takes. And if you have to wear a superhero cape to be able to get into the writing zone, then I guess the experts will just have to rethink their philosophies.

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I have several things I do to get into my personal writing zone, and for each writer, it’s probably different. But I’ll share some things with you, because they’re general enough to be applied to everyone.

1. I always write on the floor, at the end of my bed. It’s less comfortable than sitting on my bed, and that’s important, because I might be tempted to curl up and fall asleep. I’ve written in bed before, and woken up at three in the morning with my light still on, and my notebook or laptop still open. More than once. So now, I rarely (if ever) write in bed, or in any place I might want to sleep.

2. Pray. I’m trying to get into the habit of praying before every writing session. It refocuses my mind and gets me thinking about why I’m writing at all. Rather than merely writing the story for the story’s own sake, or writing because I enjoy it, or even writing in order to complete the most well-known international writing challenge, I am writing for my Creator. He gets all the glory. Not me.

3. Here is where the real magic begins: music. I like to listen to the same song every single time, and do you know what that has done for me? It’s rewired my brain somehow, and now every time I hear that song, my brain instantly goes into its writing zone. You may be asking, “What is this magic song?” Well, it’s not just one… I actually have several, depending on what story I’m working on. Pick one that you like, one that inspires you, and most importantly, one that won’t distract you. I’m one of those crazy people who can actually write with lyrics in the background. Yes, sometimes I do end up accidentally writing the lyrics, but if it happens, that’s okay. What do you think the backspace key was invented for?

4. Drink tea. Drink lots and lots of tea. Tea is for me what coffee is for other writers. My mom and I have an entire hoard of tea sitting in the pantry in the kitchen. I could probably drink a cup a day for an entire month and never have the same kind twice. I like to sip on something hot while writing. I think it feeds me ideas. If you don’t like tea, don’t skip this step. Just substitute your favorite hot drink, like coffee or hot chocolate or cider or whatever you want. It’s November, and hot drinks make you feel all warm and cozy in your little writing zone.

5. Write in the dark. No idea why I like to do this. Maybe it eliminates all other possible distractions, like that Harry Potter book sitting so invitingly on my bookshelf, or my half-finished drawing of my side character’s brother’s girlfriend’s neighbor’s archenemy. I think the dark also helps me feel cozy and snug in some weird way. (I think I’m seeing a theme here.) I like how the only thing illuminated by my flashlight is my notebook in front of me.

6. Wear a bathrobe. It makes you feel warm and cozy, and it goes perfectly with your tea and the dark. I mean, you don’t have to wear a nice, warm, soft, fuzzy bathrobe, but Sherlock Holmes went around in his flat in his dressing gown, and he solved all his toughest cases that way. There may actually be some scientific facts behind this. I’ll have to look into it after NaNoWriMo’s over.

And that’s it. That’s how I get the day’s words written. Sometimes I change it up a bit, but if I’m running short on time and I NEED to get writing done, this is what I’ll do. Feel free to let me know about your writing routine in the comments!

Oh, and since we’re on the subject of NaNoWriMo, I’d like to take a moment and fill you in on the novel I’m writing. You can read about it extensively here, but if you’ve already done so, you know that the tentative title was Grandmother’s Secret. Today, I am pleased to announce the actual title: INFERNO’S MELODY. Don’t ask why I named it that. I just did. I’ve also updated the plot summary on my “Stories” page, so definitely give it a read!

How is NaNoWriMo going? Do you have a specific writing routine you like to go through?

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#NaNoPrep: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome + Giveaway!!

Hi everyone! Today I have a very special post as part of the Writers Persevere event that authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are running for the next few days to celebrate their newest book, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma. This book looks at the difficult experiences embedded in our character’s backstory which will shape their motivation and behavior afterward.

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To help them celebrate this release, many of us are posting stories about some of the obstacles we’ve overcome as writers. (I also posted about this on Sunday… if you haven’t had a chance to read about overcoming fears, you can do so here.) As we all know, this isn’t an easy path. Writing is hard and as writers we tend to struggle with doubt. Sometimes too, we don’t always get the support we need to follow our passion, or we have added challenges that make writing more difficult. Because people are sharing their stories this week about how they worked through these challenges to keep writing, I wanted to post about it too.

When it comes to a character’s past (which The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is all about), there is a common problem: the character can’t seem to move past it and change. Ironically, we as writers are prone to the same problem. We feel like we don’t know what we’re doing, and that we’ll never move past the difficult stage we’re in right now. In other words, we feel like impostors. We are constantly presenting our identities as writers to the world for it to see, but when it comes down to it, do we really know what we’re doing?

I realized something yesterday (and I’ve realized it before, but yesterday it really hit me hard). In the three years or so that I’ve been seriously pursuing writing, I have grown. A lot. I laugh every time I remember writing the beginnings of my first novel. I barely knew how to structure a plot, much less map out a character’s growth. I remember getting frustrated because my characters weren’t complex enough to make that neat little chart that shows the steps of a character arc. That feeling lasted for a long time, too. I felt like I couldn’t move past it. 

And now? Character development is my favorite! For my WIP, my main character’s journey was practically the thing that made me want to write the story in the first place.

I also remember my first time trying to edit a draft of a novel as a whole, rather than fixing specific things as I spotted them here and there. I got so bogged down. And now? Now I’m nearly finished with the official second draft of Twelve, and it will be complete by Christmas break. At least, that’s my plan. My deadlines tend to get pushed back.

I have found that the cure for Impostor Syndrome is to just keep writing. You will improve, trust me. But you won’t be able to see any improvement unless you compare where you are now to where you were sometime in the past. So don’t get hung up on what you don’t know now. Instead, look at the things you didn’t know a year ago. And keep writing.

I’d like to give a huge shout-out to Angela and Becca, because I have been following their blog and reading their books for three years now, and they have taught me so much about writing. Like I said a minute ago, you have to keep writing in order to improve your craft. That’s not the only thing you can do, however. You can also learn from professionals – people who have been where you are now, and know exactly what you need to learn.

I highly recommend all of their thesauruses (thesauri?), but The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is by far my favorite. And that is saying a lot. It has taught me much of what I know about character development. You can use it throughout all stages of the writing process, too. If you’re just starting to plan out a character’s journey, it has tons of tips and ideas to get you started. And if you already know everything about your character’s journey, this book will help you go deeper still.

As you can probably tell, I’m really excited about the release of this book, so please join me in celebrating! Do you have a story to share, or some advice for others? You can join Becca and Angela at Writers Helping Writers from October 25-27th, where we are celebrating writers and their stories of perseverance. Stop in, and tell them about a challenge or struggle your faced, or if you like, write a post on your own blog and share it using the hashtag #writerspersevere. Let’s fill social media with your strength and let other writers know that it’s okay to question and have doubts but we shouldn’t let that stop us.

Giveaway Alert!!

There’s a prize vault filled with items that can give your writing career a boost at Writers Helping Writers.

I would love for one of you to win something that will help you get closer to your goal!

The giveaway is only from October 25-27th, so enter asap. And don’t forget to share this using the #writerspersevere hashtag so more prizes will be awarded!

Do you have a story to share, or advice for others?

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#NaNoPrep: Overcoming Obstacles as a Writer

“What have I gotten myself into?”

That’s the question I asked myself last year after I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I was kind of like all of my characters at the beginning of the book, you know? They all just kind of got involved in this humongous plot thinking it would be a fun adventure. Nope. Right before their would-be adventure started, they had second thoughts. But it was too late to back out. Either that, or they were there for a purpose, and their purpose was greater than their fears.

That’s what I want to talk about today. What to do when you hit obstacles (and this doesn’t have to apply only to NaNoWriMo). Not so much the physical obstacles, but the mental obstacles. When you doubt yourself. When your goals are too big to keep pursuing. When you realize you’ve set yourself up for certain failure.

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

First of all, there’s no such thing as certain failure. Even when you’re a little hobbit carrying an evil ring into Mordor all by yourself. So, tip #1: Stop telling yourself you’ll fail.

You never know what you’re capable of until you try things. Seriously. Think about it. Say you’re a slow writer (like me). Say you’re a perfectionist (also like me). These two things by themselves are not all bad, but when both of them apply to you, it can take forever to get just the first draft written. Statistically, it’s actually impossible for you to write 50,000 words in one month. How are you going to do it?

Boundaries are key. If you’re anything like me as a writer, you’re constantly setting boundaries for yourself. Just to name a few, you say you can’t write a certain type of story. You say you can’t write enough words in enough time. You say that writing one book is hard enough, so how are you ever going to write a sequel to it?

Most of the time, these boundaries are flimsy walls that you’ve set up unknowingly. And you don’t find that out until you try to break them down. Speaking in terms of NaNoWriMo, if you don’t manage to write fast enough, who cares? You’re still writing! And chances are, you’re a better writer than you were when you started! And that is a reason to risk failure.

But wait. There are more obstacles out there. What about that other looming fear? The fear of rejection? After you get past your initial fear of failure and decide you’re going to try anyway, you run straight into another fear. What if no one else likes what you wrote?

Take J.K. Rowling, for example. Everyone knows who she is. I didn’t even have to tell you what book she wrote. It’s a little-known fact, but multiple (not just one) publishers rejected her manuscript before she finally got it published. And look at Harry Potter now. You may think that everyone loves it because it’s so popular, but that isn’t true. There are crazy people out there who don’t like it. (If you’re one of those people, no offense was meant.) The moral of the story is, even if you’re J.K. Rowling, you still have critics who don’t like your writing. There’s just no way to please everyone. 

For me, the fear of rejection is way harder to deal with than the fear of failure. In fact, I’m so afraid of rejection, that I hesitate to share much of the story I’m writing with anyone, even with my close friends and family. However… I did do something brave and create a new page for my blog dedicated entirely to all of my writing projects.

I’ve found that the best way to combat the fear of rejection is by just letting people read it. Stop editing to make it perfect and just let people read it. (Yes, hello to all the people I’ve promised to let read my manuscript: I will follow my own advice. My manuscript has a few holes in it, and unless you want to be really confused, you don’t want to read it yet.) Until you’re ready to query an agent or to self-publish, your manuscript does not have to be perfect. And, let’s face it. Even when it is published, it won’t be completely perfect.

I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to obstacles in writing, and there’s no way I can address all of them in one post. Besides NaNoPrep, I had another reason for posting this today. On Wednesday, I will have a very special postThis one serves as sort of an introduction, a prelude. I won’t be talking specifically about fears, but the topic will be similar. So stay tuned! I will also make sure to announce it on Facebook when I do post it. In the meantime, let’s talk about obstacles.

What’s the biggest obstacle you face while writing? Do you have any experience dealing with fear?

 

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#NaNoPrep: Fantastic Words and Where to Find Them

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with Newt Scamander or his magical beasts.

One of the biggest issues all writers have during NaNoWriMo is… yep, you guessed it, writing. Duh. If you do the math, 50,000 words divided by 30 days is approximately 1,667 words per day. That may seem feasible, but you’re going to be writing nearly 2,000 words every. single. day. for thirty whole days. It’s definitely possible, but is it easy?

Um… no. It is not easy.  What will you do when writer’s block strikes (and, unless I’m wrong, writer’s block is a part of every writing project)? What will you do when you get bogged down and the story is barely moving at all? Where are you going to find these elusive, magical words?

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

Unfortunately, you probably will experience writer’s block at some point during NaNoWriMo. Writing prompts are a great place to start. Pinterest has literally thousands of them, and the NaNoWriMo site also has some. But everybody suggests writing prompts, and sometimes, they’re not that helpful.

Here’s a list of ideas to get you started. If you have anything to add to it, definitely let me know!

Write backstories. Last year, my novel featured twelve characters who were either main characters or main supporting characters. I still don’t have all of their backstories. NaNoWriMo is a great time to explore your characters’ histories. Write detailed, extensive scenes from the past. And even if it doesn’t end up in your final manuscript, it counts, because it’s a part of your first draft.

Go off on tangents. Do you have a random scene stuck in your head that won’t fit anywhere in the manuscript? Go ahead and write it. Do you know about the history some ancient dark lord that used to rule your fantasy land? Go ahead and explain it, even if it has nothing to do with the present moment. Do you know the names of all the plants growing by the side of the road? Go ahead and name them all.

Write up a ridiculously detailed acknowledgements page. I did this last year, because I was desperate, and ended up not counting it because it felt like cheating. It’s not cheating, because it’s a part of your first draft, but I’m such a perfectionist that it felt like it. In your acknowledgements, name all the people you can think of, even fictional characters who have inspired you. While you’re at it, write up other front matter… a table of contents, a copyright page… anything and everything you can think of.

Have a couple of scenes lingering in the back of your mind and save them for a rainy day. I found this technique immensely helpful. I am a pantser, so I don’t do much planning before I start writing. But I do plan the basics. I tend to mull over my story in my head and watch scenes as if I were watching a movie. Because of this, I ended up writing a couple of detailed scenes, without actually writing them down. It’s very reassuring to have that. If you sit down to write one day and realize the words won’t come, you’ll still have those mental scenes to whip out at a moment’s notice.

Utilize NaNoWriMo’s word sprint tool. Maybe you already do. Word sprints are the best! You set a timer and see how many words you can write before the time runs out. You can either race against yourself, or get other people involved and race against them. Last year, I actually set a personal record for how many words I could write in half an hour. It was because of a word sprint. Use them! They help!

If you know any other helpful tips, definitely let me know because I may actually add it to this post.

What are you writing for NaNoWriMo this year? Do you have a personal experience you’d like to share?

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#NaNoPrep: The Do’s and Don’ts of NaNoWriMo

I hate lists of do’s and don’t’s. In fact, I hate writing rules in general. So it seemed logical for me to type up a list of rules about what to do and what not to do during NaNoWriMo.

Actually, I had a lot of fun writing this. Every item on this list is something I’ve learned from personal experience. If you’re considering participating in NaNoWriMo this year (especially if it’s your first time), it might be just what you need.

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

DO look at your schedule sometime before the first of November, and make sure you have enough time to get writing done. Note any holidays, etc., when you won’t have as much time on your hands. Be sure to be practical when making time to write… if your brain doesn’t begin functioning until lunchtime (like mine, ahem), then getting up early to give yourself time to write is NOT a good idea.

DON’T try to do it on your own. In other words, don’t just assign 50,000 words to yourself as a personal, private challenge. Last year I considered doing this because I was afraid to officially commit to it. Luckily, one of my friends encouraged me otherwise. Make yourself an account on the official NaNoWriMo website. It is much more motivating. Even if you don’t win, you’ll get some pretty awesome prizes.

DO spend time with your family. It’s important. And when you do, try to talk about something other than the novel you’re working on.

DON’T stay up late to write on a school night. (I have to put this here to encourage responsible behavior. Whether or not you actually take my advice is up to you.)

DO make time to spend with God. This should be #1 on the list. It should be your first priority, the most important thing on your schedule (even during the other eleven months of the year). He is your sovereign Creator, and he deserves your worship. Consider asking Him how to let whatever you’re writing glorify Him. After all, whatever you do should be done for His glory.

DON’T obsess over word-count goals. If you’re constantly checking your word count while you write, you won’t be as productive. Did you know that Microsoft Word has a feature that enables you to turn off your word count?

DO make sure you know what you’re writing before November hits (that’s why October is NaNo Prep Month – unless you’re a die-hard pantser), but:

DON’T wait for inspiration to strike every day. It won’t. Sometimes (okay, probably twenty-eight out of the thirty days), you’ll just have to sit down and make yourself start writing. It’s painful sometimes, because even as you’re writing them, the words sound like squeaky chalk on a chalkboard. Write them anyway. You’ll fix them later.

DO pick up a copy of No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. He walks you through NaNoWriMo, week-by-week, and has a lot of great tips to offer. I checked it out from the library last year and had it for the entire month of November. This year I’m considering buying my own copy.

DON’T forget practical things like eating, sleeping, and exercising. Eating and sleeping are no-brainers, but exercise is just as important. Sitting in front of a computer makes muscles stiff and eyes sore (not to mention wrists and fingers from all that typing).

DO make sure you have your own computer (or notebook, or typewriter, or Morse code machine, or whatever you prefer to write books with). This one seems obvious. But I didn’t have my own laptop until after NaNoWriMo last year, and certain anonymous members of my family got annoyed and thought I was hogging the computer. Which, of course, is impossible to do if you’re writing 50,000 words in a month.

DON’T give your family hourly updates on your word count. Trust me on this one.

DO make sure you have enough chocolate to last you through the month. Chocolate is good for pretty much any circumstance you could possibly run across during NaNoWriMo… it’s there to comfort you when the words won’t come, it’s there to celebrate with you when you win, it’s there to melt in your mouth when you cry for your characters and the hardships you’re putting them through.

That’s all the tips I have today, but since NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, I will probably be doing a series of posts similar to this one.

Will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

Do you have any advice to add to the list?

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The Aftermath of NaNoWriMo

Okay, so like… weird title for the beginning of May? Actually not really. If you’re familiar at all with NaNoWriMo, you probably at least know about the one in April too. As if writers aren’t already weird enough to try to write a novel in a month once a year. No, we have to do it several times. Camp NaNo is a lot more laid back and a lot less intense – which probably explains why I failed this one. *sigh*

Oh well. Nevertheless, I wrote about 10,000 words last month, so I am happy about it. I also need to start blogging more often… I’m almost done with school, so hopefully by then I’ll be able to.

Anyway, I decided it was time to write a blog post again. I know, I know, I promised another Monthly Theme, but that would have taken a lot more brainpower, which is something I don’t have right now. (Chemistry tests really use a lot of brainpower, what with the transfer of energy to your brain cells, you know, and literally figuring out how energy is transferred in chemical reactions which takes a lot of brain cells which use a lot of energy and somehow this process is consistent with the second law of thermodynamics.)

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I wish this is what editing was like.

ANYWAY – I decided to write a post about NaNoWriMo and editing. That’s the only writing-related thing I’ve been able to think about lately. My goal last month was to finish my second draft. As it turned out, that was a MUCH bigger task than I originally thought. There was just so much that needed to be done to the manuscript, not to mention I somehow needed to add to the word count because it was too short (in my opinion, anyway). So I did a lot of worldbuilding and plot brainstorming. I’ve also gotten back into the habit of writing every day. That part is especially nice. I’ve missed it so much.

I feel like I should give you some sort of advice about editing here, but unfortunately, I don’t really know much about it. I’ve read a lot of articles that talk about it, so if there is one piece of advice I can give you, it’s this: don’t try to follow all the rules. It will only make it harder. Editing seems to be all about rules: grammar rules, puncuation rules, plot rules, dialogue rules, character rules, worldbuilding rules… and while some rules are good (like grammar), there are others that can be broken.

When you write your first draft, what are you doing? If you’re anything like me, you’re just trying to get the words down. Get the story out of your head and onto paper. (I wasn’t always like this, actually. I used to be a perfectionist and so my first drafts used to take FOREVER.) First drafts aren’t mean to be publishable. So, as a result, you usually end up ignoring most, if not all, of the rules.

I know I did. I have this weird quirk (and apparently it’s fairly common) where I have to write the first scene first. It sounds obvious, but I can’t write any other way. The first thing I EVER write has to be the first scene. Always. No exceptions. Anyway, because of that, my characters are all inconsistent. In the first few chapters, they are different than they are in the rest of the book, because I was still getting to know them.

My plot barely existed at all after the first draft. It too was full of logical inconsistencies (for example, one of my characters had lost something, but in the very next scene they had it again). The plot didn’t flow. My fantasy world also needed some work.

All of this serves two purposes: 1) I like writing about the writing process, and 2) I wanted to show you that first drafts almost never follow the rules.

My point is this: Editing is when you go back over your story and pay attention to the rules. I don’t know why, and I don’t know if this is a common problem or not, so hopefully you can relate to me, but for some reason writing rules always… unmotivate me. That’s not even a word. It’s like it blocks my creativity, somehow. I believe I figured out why – it’s because I am now writing for someone else. I am trying to make my book publishable, and so naturally I am no longer writing solely for my own enjoyment.

The moral: Don’t try to follow all the rules. Rules are good and they serve as guidelines (as long as we talk about writing rules), but if you try to follow all of them, you will get nowhere. I’ve read different articles about editing that completely contradicted each other.

beethoven-76652_640Writing subsequent drafts should be just as exciting as writing the first draft. You shouldn’t be writing just to please someone else and their rules they made up; you should be writing because your story is begging to be written.

I like to think of writing as this picture right here. It’s a music manuscript, but it isn’t complete yet. The composer has his primary notes down; he’s said what he has to say; the rest is just filling in the middle. Complementing the notes he’s already set forth. Writing a book is exactly like writing a symphony.

Did you do Camp NaNoWriMo this April?  Are you currently editing something?