#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?