11/25/2014

Writing is Rewriting


Excuse the language (or don't), but his words are true ... for me at least.

My first drafts are written quickly, and just for myself and my beta-reader. I tend to know my stories so well by the time I begin writing that I leave out chunks that readers will need; leading to fixed/rewritten/finished products that are longer than my first drafts. Other writers (like Stephen King) often go the other way, writing too much in first drafts, and ending with stories that are much shorter than the rough drafts initially were.

First drafts are messy incomplete and certainly lacking in polish, but they serve a number of important purposes.




I write my first drafts as fast as possible, on purpose. In the summer I write my novels over the course of a month, during either July or August; during the school year, I carve out chunks of time to write novellas and other, shorter, works during short bursts of frenzied typing.

Before my fingers get to work on the keyboard of my laptop, I will have been working on my plans for the story over the course of weeks or months ... mapping things out, and getting to know the characters and setting and story arc.

Once I begin typing, I try to let my knowledge of the story carry me along, and when things are working perfectly, am just listening to the characters tell me what happens.

When the rough draft is finished, my fingers are tired, my brain is fried, and I'm left with a mess of words ... exposition and dialogue jumbled together, with too much in some places and not enough in others.

The important thing is that I've told myself the story ... I can/will/do polish it later.




It sounds trite, but the worst novel sitting on your desk, printed and red-markered and post-it-ed to death, is a thousand times better than the novel that exists only in your dreams. Once you've written something - anything - you can set it aside for a bit, share it with a trusted reader, take look at it yourself, and then try to figure out what you need to do to the monstority in your hands to get it from where it is to where you want it to be ... what you want it to say/mean/evoke.

If you can write it, you can fix it and eventually make it great. If you're brave enough to write, and share, and look at, and edit your own stuff, then you can produce quality writing ... you cannot, however, skip the first, crappy, draft, in the process.

So write, even knowing that it may be, will be, horrible the first time ... write!




Rewriting your stuff is hard work at every step.

I am so happy with, and proud of, my first drafts, seeing my ideas enter the world for the first time is magical; then my beta-reader points out their shortfalls and deficiencies, and I wonder why I bothered. A bit of time to lick my psychic wounds, along with some honest reflection (and a read-through of the story) always ends up with me agreeing with the beta-reader. I then work, sometimes with her, sometimes on my own, to try and figure out how best to share the story and feelings in my head with readers.

I chop and prune and graft and add words/sections here and there throughout the story, and give it back to my reader to see if we're getting closer. I often have to 'fix' sections of my stories multiple times before it reads the way that I imagined it to my beta-reader and me.

It can be intensely frustrating, to feel your work, out there, just over the horizon, needing something to land it as a successful story, but that's the job.

"Writing" isn't just writing ... it's writing and sharing and reading and troubleshooting and rewriting and rereading and analyzing and rewriting and polishing and trimming and editing.

Mostly, writing is rewriting.

Thanks,

Jamie

11/18/2014

Story Drift in Process

I'm in the middle of writing a short story for an anthology to be published by a group of Indie writers I hang out (hide) with in a private group on Facebook. It's different, experimental even, and loads of fun to write.

The setting and characters and conflict and story-arc are radically different from the style and stuff that I usually write, which is part (most) of the point for me. Writing in under 10k words is much tighter than I'm used to, meta-fiction is a whole new thing for me, and I'm purposely coloring outside of the lines as regards my regular process.

The cool thing (or one of them) is that it's working ... the story is coming together in an interesting way, I'm enjoying the unusual and somewhat unlikable cast of scoundrels, and it all feels as though things are working together in a way that will make people scratch their heads, look up at the ceiling, and think (in a good way).




The surprise for me is that although I had envisioned a story with some reversals and twists, the words and scenes coming out on my laptop are not what I saw when looking down the road ahead of my flying fingers. The story is changing as the characters grow to fill, and then escape the corrals in which I originally housed them.





This story (which I hope to finish this week through the application of a few stolen hours here and there), is schooling me on what the writing process actually is, and what my role is in the creative process.

When complete, my hope is that the story will imply more than it tells, suggest more than it states, and leave readers peeking around the corner of the final page ... hoping to see what comes next for Richard and Pepper.

I've been having a blast, and as is true for every word I write, I feel that working on this story makes me a better/stronger writer regardless of the actual final product I'll serve up to readers sometime early in the new year.

Thanks,

Jamie




11/14/2014

Seeing my writing from another person's point of view

 I love talking with, or hearing from, people who have read my writing ... and not just to feed my massive ego either (although, to be honest, that's a part of it).

I love hearing about their experience with my words and thoughts and the people and place who live and exist in my stories.

 
I am continually fascinated by the complex interplay between reader and writer and story. Having only switched from the reading side of the equation pretty recently, I am always fascinated by the way readers interface/interact with my stories, and to hear their reactions to the things that happen between the covers.


I write to let the words and stories out, to share how I feel with the world (or at least the small portion of the world that reads my stuff), and to imagine worlds and people and problems that otherwise would only exist in my mind. In this manner, I get to experience life twice, but when talking with someone who has read my work, I get a third crack at life ... albeit from a slightly different angle.


When you stop to think about it, reading and writing and the sharing of stories is magic, but it is so often seen that we take it for granted ... like the agility and grace and beauty of grey squirrels in the park.


I have a special feeling every time a piece of my writing is released into the world, knowing that whatever I had in mind for it, the story is now in the hands of readers who will experience it differently ... each of them from the others, and all of them from me.



This morning, I listened to the first 20 minutes of my first novel, "Here Be Monsters" as an audiobook, and it felt entirely new to me (although I've read the book a number of times since first writing/publishing it). The voice talent is superb, and breathes a new and different life into the story with his spectacular reading of Tyler Cunningham's first full-length mystery.

This actor's superpower is to transport the audience (in this instance, just me, but in a few months, hopefully many more people as well, I hope) with his reading. 

My superpower (and it's relatively unimportant how super it is) is to change thoughts into words, which can later be turned back into thoughts and dreams.

Your superpower, as reader (or listener), is to take the written (or spoken) word, and transform it into spectacular picture shows in your mind's eye.

Thanks,

Jamie


11/10/2014

My 7 Rules for Writing

I finished writing and editing my third full-length novel this weekend, so it may well be time to throw my hat in the ring as regards a set of rules for writing. 

In the last three years I've written and polished hundreds of thousands of words of fiction in novels, novellas, short stories, and poems; so I feel comfortable offering my rules for writing ... that is not to say that they'll work for you, but they have, and continue to work for me (so read on, or click elsewhere). 


W. Somerset Maugham was at once right and wrong, joking and serious, in his assertion ... nevertheless, there are many lists of rules that have worked for great writers, and over the years I've come up with a similar set that seem to work for me.


As the pirate said ... take anybody's rules, including (especially?) mine with as much salt as you feel will help your writing.


Rule #1: Read lots of great stuff

The biggest contributor to my being a writer is a lifetime of reading. I have always read anything that grabbed my eye, and make a point of reading everyday (I think this is more important than writing everyday). Fill your brain with great books and articles and novellas and poems and textbooks.

Rule #2: Write the kind of stories that you want to read

If you can picture yourself as a willing and enthusiastic audience for the stories you're writing, you're halfway to success (well, not really halfway, but it's a good start). Assuming that you're a lifelong and voracious and discriminating reader (see Rule#1, above), you'll have a good target audience.

Rule #3: Write fast, edit slow

I'm a big believer in writing a first draft as fast as you can, without worrying about getting it right the first time through. The first draft is telling the story to yourself (and your first reader). There will be plenty of time to take plenty of time when you are fixing and polishing the story in later drafts, but the first draft is a good place to hurry.

Rule #4: Keep your dialogue simple & direct & spare

What the characters are saying should carry the dialogue in your writing, not how the writer says it ... to that end, you should generally use 'said' when characters said something, and try not to modify 'said' with an adverb describing how they said something (let what they said speak for itself).


Rule #5: When in doubt, use less description

I think nothing bogs a good (or even a great) story down like too much detail. It's important for you, as the writer, to know everything about the scene, setting, and every single character in the story ... but it's your job not to burden readers with all of those details; only the ones absolutely needed to advance the story.

Rule #6: Trust your beta reader ... and yourself

When the first draft is finished, give it to someone you respect and trust (and think is at least as smart as you are) to read. They'll be able to see through the crapiness of your rough work to the framework/skeleton of your story. Trust them to know what works and what doesn't, what you need to expand and prune and move/graft; just don't trust them to know how to fix it ... that's your job, and is author-magic.

Rule #7: Work hard at writing, but know when to walk away from the table

Writing fiction is hard work ... anyone who tells you otherwise is promoting their course or book or simply hasn't done it. The way you become a better writer is to write and write and write. The flip side of that is knowing, as a writer, when you are heading towards burnout and brain-melt ... that's the time to take the dogs for a walk, watch a movie with your kid, start a new book/article, or go camping for a couple of days.


Bonus Material!!!
Rule #8: Start, keep writing, and finish your writing

Rule #8 is a combination of the previous seven rules, but is worth mentioning anyway ....


My rules for writing can help you produce a great book, but only if you start, keep writing, and push through to finish your book.

You have to be willing to take a chance on making a fool of yourself, writing crap, and disappointing your mom ... if you can live with those things, and just keep putting one word after another, you'll eventually get to:

THE END

11/04/2014

9 Super Ways to Jumpstart Your Writing!

Everybody, every writer, has days (or weeks ... sometimes months) when the words and ideas just don't want to come, or flow. A sane person might take this as a sign that they should find some other calling, but writers are driven to get past the slump/block/lull.

I have a bunch of tricks that I use to force myself through the tough stretches, and figured that roughly a week into NaNoWriMo is the perfect time to share them. Explore, enjoy, and feel free to ignore any of them that either don't work for you, or don't appeal (although why not give it a shot, if I you're bogged down).



If I can't write something worth reading, I try to get up and out and do something worth writing about ... a walk in the woods with my dogs, a paddle on a quiet pond with my son, winter-camping with friends, or exploring a ghost-town with dogs/boy/buddies ... all of these make worthwhile breaks from failing at writing, as well as providing good fodder for future fiction.




I have an idea book, and also an app on my iPhone, and I try to have one or both of them with me wherever I go (and whatever I do), just in case an idea strikes and I (wisely) decide not to trust myself to remember it.

I also use them for journaling when I'm having trouble getting my writing started ... this may seem funny (it does to me, and it's me), that I write to help my writing when I can't write, but it's true. I start by writing about my day, my plans for the weekend, the shopping list for recipes that I want to try, and before long a creative thought wanders into my brain and (sometimes) onto the paper, priming the pump for less list-y writing.




I'm generally too much the introvert to be much good in/at face-to-face creative writing classes, but I do enjoy finding this sort of group online, and spend a fair amount of time talking with the people in them for the simple reason that they're crazy in many of the same ways that I am. Sharing my thoughts and problems and hopes and dreams and ideas and plans with a population in similar circumstances is a great way to keep my writing output 'regular' and/or act as a healthy dose of creative-writing fiber (to push the metaphor just slightly too far) to get my head/writing unplugged. 




If your significant other comes home, or your parents call, and they find you asleep on the couch, feel free to tell them that I said it was OK ... it won't help, but might give you time to think of something better to say.

I often find that if I run into a roadblock in my writing, that taking a break, sometimes in the form of a short nap, gives the minions in the back of my head the time they needed to figure things out ... this will often allow me to start writing again much more productively than I could have before my nap.

I don't think that it has anything to do with being tired, but is much more about focus and relaxation in problem-solving.




When all else fails, I read. Reading has been a constant source of comfort and refuge and inspiration for me, since long before I became a writer. I generally have a number of books going at any one time, and switch back and forth between them as the mood strikes me.

Besides offering your brain a chance to disconnect from the stress of creative output, reading also (hopefully) provides good exemplars for the sort of work you'll focus on once you're done reading.




I drink coffee when I write ... lots of coffee. I don't do this because I'm tired, lacking sleep, or need to wake up; I do it because the stimulation, the altered state of my consciousness, helps my writing process. 

If the flow of my writing is blocked or slow, I generally stop to stretch and make another cup of coffee (maybe two).

I have worked over the years to perfect the proper level of caffeination ... too little and the words stumble over my conscious self on the way out of my brain, too much, and I'm jittery and the writing comes out fast and loose and messy. 

I will switch to Coca-Cola on hot days, although the sweetness bothers me in the quantities I like/need to drink. 

Sometimes during extreme word-stoppages or when I'm almost done with writing for the day I adulterate my coffee (or coke) with bourbon, which gives both my writing and my caffeinated beverage an interesting flavor.




Writers tend to spend most of their time in one camp of the other when it comes to pre-writing and organization ... I'm an architect, a planner, I like working off of a general plan or roadmap. When I get stuck or stopped in my writing, though, I will often take a hard turn off the map and into the unknown.

The shift will generally jog whatever was jammed loose, and eventually allow me to get back to the story I had planned to tell. Similarly, I would recommend that someone who tends to write by the seat of their pants, but finds themselves temporarily without either seat or pants should try laying out the next few scenes that they want to write in meticulous detail ... whether or not you/they follow through is unimportant, when compared to the hoped-for benefit to your writing of the forced shift in procedure.




During the last few years of writing, I've found a couple of tricks that work for me to help 'tip myself over and let the beautiful stuff out' (as Ray Bradbury puts it). I noticed them working by accident, and while these particular ones may or may not work for you, if you pay attention over time, you'll learn the things that let you tip yourself over.

Going for a drive the window open enough to fill my car with the smell of the world passing by is one. Another is walking with a camera in my hand, looking for pretty things to take pictures of. Experimental cooking (exploring new/weird foods/flavors from the market or the depths of my pantry) also seems to tweak whatever is needed to jostle my brain enough to let spill some of the good stuff when creative writing is tough to do.




The tips above mostly deal with things that I do (to) myself in order to get things moving in a creative sense, but sometimes I can take a hand in things by forcing a change in the story I'm working on. 

Everyone knows that 'bad decisions make good stories', but perhaps even more important and interesting is the lesson learned from (or at least offered in) the quote above. 

Have a character in your story exhibit bad (even horrific) judgment in some instance that takes place within or outside of the context of your story. The events surrounding their poor judgment will often make for an interesting sidebar, and may even help you understand/form/develop the character (and/or your story) in ways you hadn't imagined previously.

I hope that these tips can help you to climb out of a writing slump, and to keep pushing through to your writing goals for the day/week/month/year!

Thanks,

Jamie

10/31/2014

13 ways that continuously writing continuously changes you

Writing three novels, four novellas, and a fair amount of shorter material in the last three years has changed my life, my outlook, and my world; my writing has changed, improved, no doubt, but there's much more to it than that ... the process of writing so much and so often has affected significant changes in who I am, and how I interact with the world.


To become a writer, you have to shed the fear of exposing yourself to ridicule (at least partly). Working on lots of different creative projects, and sharing them with the world forces you to relax when it comes to fearing the judgement of others.




When you make a habit of writing, your brain and outlook alters. I was terrified of not being able to produce a full-length novel at the beginning of my first NaNoWriMo, but now am fearful of not having enough writing time for all of the ideas vying for space in my head.




Time is fleeting, the life of a man is short, but something you've written can be around forever (as long as people keep reading); there's a magical glow that I feel whenever I finish a project ... and the desire to start the next one (and the next, after that).




I am reasonably sure that I haven't sent my books around to agents and publishers because I enjoy the freedom of being an independent author and publisher. I write what I want, when I want, and how I want. Doing this for days and weeks and months and years is cumulatively empowering in a way that I love and cherish.




The longer I write, the more I recognize writing as therapy ... at least for me. The things I'm stressed by, worried about, bothered because of, all seem less important when I can exorcise them through writing, and explore their greater meaning on the page.




I came across this idea of Hemingway's one day, and fell in love with it instantly. I can feel my writing get better, stronger, faster, and more precise (to finally climb away from Steve Austin-ish language) with each day, each page, I write, but there's a freedom in knowing that there's no final stopping point when I'll be good enough ... I look forward to my writing improving until the day that I can no longer put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.




I used to be careful about what I said and thought and wrote, but the more that I write, the more I enjoy exploring subjects and people that scare and intimidate and fascinate me; cracking a topic or a new and interesting character open in front of the world (or simply in my writing journals/exercises) takes the power away from it/them, and gives it back to me.




Writing all the time forces your brain to grow in seemingly disparate ways, simultaneously. As your comfort with writing grows, you find yourself more easily able to embrace the apparent contradiction of the free flow of ideas in an organized manner ... of relaxing while concentrating, of giving your sub-conscious free rein while maintaining structure on a conscious level, of precisely controlled chaos. It's an exquisite feeling, and one of the great gifts a frequent writer gives to himself,





Over the years of writing, I've grown more than comfortable with the idea of walking through this world with multiple occupants in my head. Some of them characters in my books, others are just voices and opinions that rattle around in there; I like having all of them inside of, and contributing to, me. Bits and pieces of some of them end up in my stories, others never get out of my skull except for the exercise-yard of the occasional writing prompt. Over time though, my writing has rendered me more comfortable with all of them (what I think of as my extended, internal, family). ;)




Related to some of the items mentioned above, but there's something additional, worth noting, that happens with frequent and repeated and longterm writing ... I have found that while I still enjoy my earlier works, I couldn't write them now. I've grown and changed in the process of writing hundreds of thousands of words, and my writing and thinking and worldview aren't those of the person who wrote my earlier works any longer. I cherish this concrete (to me) evidence of change over time.




Writing is a hard and lonely and tiring and boring and stressful process, and if you're able to complete your writing projects, particularly again and again and again, you're doing something remarkable ... something that deserves celebration and notice. It took me years to comfortably accept this idea, and now that I've finally embraced this idea, I've been able to extend it to other things and people in my life ... finding reasons to celebrate peoples' unique and exciting achievements.




The goal of writing my first novel was important to me personally, but not in any greater sense (either to me, or the world at large), but the fact that I was able to complete writing the rough draft in a month was magical on a number of levels. It gave me, and it will give you, the power that comes from the knowledge that you have set, and met, seriously challenging goals for yourself, and that you can go on to bigger and better and greater things form there..





Doing 'the impossible' (which writing and publishing multiple pieces of work over a number of years, while maintaining most of your sanity, arguably is) has a cumulative and ongoing effect, in that you aren't scared to reach ... even, possibly particularly, reaching for beyond-rational goals. The fear of failure diminishes, and without that fear, you are able to do greater and greater things (you may fail occasionally, but so what? People fail at things all the time ... how wonderful a luxury to fail at something spectacularly).

Thanks,

Jamie

10/28/2014

The woods through their eyes ... and noses, and ears, and pads, and tongues.


My dogs are always exhausted at this time of year. 

 It's their absolute favorite time of year ... 
except for first snow, they love running/rolling around in that
oh, and when the ice goes out, so they can swim like polar bears, they love that
oh, and summer, when my parents come up and spoil them with treats, they love that

This time of year is a treat due to the sensual smörgåsbord our woods become to them, 
I try to leave my human self behind, in the house, and walk the woods the way they do.

The smells of fallen leaves rotting,
mostly maple and beech and birch in our woods,
sour and rich and musky.

Poplar leaves drop last of all,
after maple and birch and beech trees shed their leaves to dry and crumble,
the poplars seem oily (maybe waterproof, even) and slip/slide a bit under my feet,
while the other leaves just feel slightly spongy underfoot, doing their 'dust to dust' thing.

The tamaracks are narrow pillars of fire this week,
soon they'll drop their needles into the salad on the forest floor.
(everyone says dogs see in B&W,
but lacking direct evidence, I don't believe ...
Puck and Miles won't say)

The woods sound different as the seasons shift, and beasts prepare for the coming cold,
there's a businesslike feel, a sense of purpose missing during the indolent summer months;
the naked trees also clear out the woods, making it easier to hear over distance,
and crispy/crunchy leaves betray movement beyond our sight.

 Dog tongues fall or leak or leap slip out of their mouths for any, or no, reason,
lapping the air, a puddle, a mossy rock, dripping leaves/needles, me, and each other;
I sample drops on the end of leaves, rich green moss, a clean looking puddle
(wondering if the clean puddle is an oxymoron ... if I am a garden-variety moron)
with a fingertip to my tongue, perhaps to keep some distance from the dogs' world.
(it all tastes like finger with a hint of dirty water to me ... must be more to them)

 I love walking with my boys in the cold and wet woods,
sharing their excitement for the season and the onslaught of new sensations;
they love walking with me in the cold and wet woods,
explaining the things I miss to me and each other ...
and because I'm Dad (and they love me).

These walks, perhaps most at this time of year,
give me a glimpse into the corners of our world I don't know about,
can't know about,
owing to my particular limitations;
these weeks (and walks) in magical October make me want to be a dog ...
a Puck or a Miles or someone else, I can't say,
but I can feel the wanting, when I'm out there in the cold and wet woods...

10/26/2014

3 brilliant tricks to writing better characters

My belief is that the effectiveness of any piece of fiction begins and ends with its characters. A story with characters I'm interested in, can believe in, and feel and empathize with, will draw me in and carry me along and teach/transport me, almost regardless of plot or setting or genre.


The characters in my stories are not me; if they were, I wouldn't be too interested in them, as I don't find myself very interesting. One of the things I love most about writing (and reading) is taking vacations from myself while wearing the personas of people not me for the duration of my experience with the various interesting/unusual characters one encounters in stories.

Writing compelling characters is important for writers, and their readers, because the characters in a story are the lens through which the action happens and rendered relevant. I have three tricks that I use to develop characters for my stories that people love and hate and wonder about and write letters to and ask me questions.


1) Build characters out of people you know and feel strongly about

Each of us knows hundreds, even thousands, of people; the ones you can make into characters in your stories are the ones whose names or pictures evoke the strongest response in you. They could be people you went to school with, friends of your parents or children, people you've seen on the news or in movies or read about in books ... for some reason, they grabbed, and continue to grab your attention.

When I start planning a story (be it novel or novella or short story), I think about the protagonist, and other major/minor characters, trying to picture them and who they are. I'll write a list of people that compose each character, like a list of ingredients in descending order of their prevalence in the character for my story (see an example below, with the primary 'ingredient' circled).
Richard is a character in one of my stories, primarily composed/based on five people that I know/knew in real life or books or the news; Toph is circled because he's the main ingredient in my imagining of Richard.

This method continues to work for me,yielding great places to start with characters who inhabit my stories because, and only because, I have strong feelings for, and familiarity with, the people/ingredients who are the constituent elements in my characters.


2) Know much more about your characters than you need to

Once I have a picture in my mind of who the character is, I work backwards to fill in the gaps, getting to know the character even better by exploring their background. There are lots of lists of questions available on the internet and in books designed to help authors explore their characters' backgrounds; I use the one below (You can right-click to expand it ... please feel free to use/modify it if it helps):

The purpose of this is not to make an exhaustive list of details that I'll include in a story, but so that when I finally get around to writing the story, I have such a clear picture of the character(s) that I'm writing about someone I know.
This is close to what I'm talking about ... if you know the character well enough before you start writing, you don't have to include all of the details of their past to infuse your writing of them with the feel of their past.


3) Climb inside your characters for a ride, but let them drive

It takes me a while to get to know my characters, so I often take them out for a test-drive with a writing prompt or jump to a scene that I know they'll be easy to write in (and/or they'll have have fun with), in the story I'm planning. 

By this point in our relationship, I can generally picture them quite easily, and hear their voice and tones when they engage in action or dialogue.


You know you're making progress when your characters surprise you. I always plan/map my stories out well ahead of time, but am forced to adjust the storyline in every one, when a major or minor character acts in ways that I hadn't envisioned when planning the story.

A great example of this in my writing is Barry, a minor character in my stories who died in my first novel, but surprised me by turning a cameo in my second novel into an ongoing and important character ... I was done with Barry, but he wasn't done with me.

If you have developed your characters properly, they should move beyond automatons, and become living and independent people in the world that you have built as a stage for your story ... when this happens, they'll surprise you (in a good way).

Good luck, have fun, and breathe life into your characters, then let them loose in the world!

Jamie

10/21/2014

6 time-tested tips to "WINNING" NaNoWriMo this year (and every year)


At this time of year, I start seeing posts and updates and articles mentioning NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month ... the idea is to write a novel in a month!

The concept is incredible, but as crazy as it sounds, it's possible to do it ... I've tried and "won" (finished a first draft before the end of the month) the last three years, and the purpose of this blog is to share my top five tips so you can do the same thing.




1) Fully commit to the process and jump in the deep end before giving yourself a chance to think too much

Tell your family and friends that you will be participating in NaNoWriMo, and explain the process to them. They may think you're crazy, and that it's impossible (and they might even be right), but  many of them will be supportive and ask how they can help.

Sign up on the NaNoWriMo website as soon as you can. Don't worry if your title and synopsis and other details aren't set in stone; the important thing is to shout your intention to write a novel to the heavens.

Now is the time to decide when/where in your life you can carve out a couple of hours a day for the month you'll be NaNoWriMo-ing ... for a month, you can live without some combination of the stuff that makes up your normal life if it means writing your novel.



Give yourself permission to ask for help and time and absolution from some of your regular responsibilities at home and work ... you'd be surprised at how many people will give you a hand with other things to leave you more time/energy to focus on your writing (especially when they know it's just for a month).

Fully committing to the process was magic for me, and my writing. I'd always dreamed of writing a novel, but never made the space in my life for it. I was hooked the second I heard about NaNoWriMo, knowing that it would be the only way I'd ever get my novel written.



2) Know the story, characters, and setting ahead of time ... make a plan

I can't stress the importance of pre-writing enough; it was the key to my three-time success at NaNoWriMo. There are lots of people who take pride in being a "pantser" (someone who writes by the seat of their pants), and I will tell you that I hear lots more of them talking about their novels at the beginning of the month than at the end.

I like to start the planning months ahead, with notes and memos to myself, but only get serious about mapping out characters and the story arc in the month leading up to NaNoWriMo.


I get to know all of my main and secondary characters, writing down details of their lives, key motivational drives, and stuff about where they live as an opening exercise; I do this in a composition notebook or similar

The arc of the story is next ... I like to know where the story begins, where it ends, what the main (and secondary) conflicts will be (and how they'll be played out; I map this part out on a big sheet (or sheets) of construction paper.

Having a plan, even as simple as a what I've outlined above, gets me thinking about how the story will both start and play out. I think of these steps more as a general map than a recipe ... the guideposts along the way give me form, but also allow me to wander where the story wants to take me.




3) Set up your working environment & conditions to maximize efficiency and minimize distractions

Stephen King knows of what he speaks. You need to set up your NaNoWriMo time and space so as to give yourself privacy and quiet and space.

You should be writing in a place that is physically comfortable for you, and as distraction-free as you can manage.

Beyond that, you need to try and close the door on the rest of your life and relationships for the hours each day that you're writing for NaNoWriMo. Leave work and family matters on the other side of the door; at the end of your writing sessions, leave the story in the writing space (you'll be tempted to share details about the story ... resist, and instead keep your fans/supporters updated with generalities).

I like quiet classical music, Stephen King likes loud hard rock, you may like something in between or something entirely different. I alternate between writing at the kitchen table and at a standing desk, depending on my mood, the angle of the sun through the windows, and whatever else is going on in the house ... the important thing is to acknowledge what works for you and set up those conditions.





4) Tell your story, trust the process, JUST WRITE, don't edit

The important thing with NaNoWriMo, more than with any other writing process/project you've experienced before, is to find a way to start writing everyday, and get a couple of thousand words down before you stop.



The NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words works out to 1667 words per day, if you write every day during the month; I have never been able (or willing) to write every single day, so I aim for 2,500 words, so that if I miss a day I don't feel horrible/defeated.

My three years of NaNoWriMo, I have ended up writing 75,000, 90,000, and 85,000 words for my first drafts ... if the day is going well, I don't mind running through my goals and have produced as much as 7,500 words during a marathon writing day.


This is what you have to keep telling yourself, especially when you get tempted to go back and fix something that you wrote the day before ... if I really can't get a fix out of my head, I'll either go back (if I know that it's the kind of thing I can change in a couple of minutes), or write my thoughts about it down on the back page of whatever notebook I'm working out of currently.


You will find, as you get immersed in the month-long writing process, that your writing becomes easier and faster, and that the 1667 words per day that once seemed so imposing has become an easy morning's work for you ... enjoy it while you can, some days it will still be tough to get going, so it's nice to have a cushion of words.


4a) Don't you dare upnplug during NaNoWriMo
Lots of writers will tell you to unplug completely while writing your NaNoWriMo novel ... I couldn't disagree with them more.

I send emails to friends and family during breaks with updates, sometimes begging off from dinner or pickup from camp. I always have 6-8 browser windows open on my laptop, so that I can access maps and facts and do some just-in-time research and look up moon and tide cycles and historical weather data and number nerdery. I recently posted a blog describing my favorite apps to use while writing, and often have my iphone playing music, while I'm working on two or more things on the ipad, and a bunch of windows vying for my attention on the laptop ... without my tech, all of my writing would take much longer, and being able to access it on the fly makes my NaNoWriMo work.



5) Have appropriate food and fuel ready and waiting for you, for both snacks and breaks

Writer often joke about our coffee addictions, but the truth is that I have a much easier time writing, especially for NaNoWriMo, if I'm gently wired on coffee; too much, and I become jittery and the writing gets harder again, so it is really a matter of finding the correct balance.


I also always keep a glass of cold water at hand, so I don't dehydrate, and sometimes switch Coke for coffee if the weather is warm enough that I think of it.

I've found that I can't write if I'm starving or stuffed, so during NaNoWriMo I work to stay in the sweet spot as much as is possible. I also like to avoid foods that are slow or messy, either to prepare or eat or clean up. I end up making/eating a lot of GORP (a mix of dried fruits and nuts, sometimes with jerky in it, or on the side), along with apples, bananas, hard-boiled eggs, and pasta from the night before during my writing days.

I always have food and drink next to me while I'm writing, and also make myself walk away from my writing to take a 20 minute 'lunch' break every three hours or so ... I find that getting away from the story for a bit every once in while helps keep me writing longer.





6) Feel free to skip chunks that don't come easily, you will have to fix it later anyway


One of the issues that I struggled with during my first NaNoWriMo was continuity of story and writing, while still maintaining forward momentum and my daily word-count numbers. I would be having difficulty writing a scene or some dialogue, and derail my writing flow/speed.

What I learned with time and practice was that I ended up with better results when running into this sort of trouble if I just wrote something like, "THIS SECTION NEEDS WORK!", and moved on to whatever was next in the story.

It felt like cheating the first few times I did it, but you end up having to chop and graft and prune and add so much to every piece of the story that it's really better to skip the tough part and come back to it later (either in the editing stage, or sometimes the fix would come to me during the night, and I could add it in the next morning).



Keep repeating this to yourself the whole time you're writing your NaNoWriMo novel ... that way if you have some gems mixed in with the crap, you'll have convinced yourself that you're a genius. The most important thing is to get the framework of the story out and onto the screen or paper, so that you can take it to the next level with your beta reader and editors.


One of the things that I love about NaNoWriMo, besides that it has helped me become a writer (which is a pretty big deal in and of itself), is that everyone who crosses the 50,000 word line can consider themselves a 'winner'. By any measure, a person who completes the first draft of their novel has won, because it changes your world forever.


Another fantastic thing about NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to rush headlong into a process that far too many people think far too much about before, or while, they do it ... writing.

The forced march of writing thousands of words each day for a month is a form madness with a spectacular method behind it ... it forces you to put your self-consciousness aside, to think less and write more (which is always good for your writing).

If you have laid the groundwork in your planning and preparations, have the environment and sustenance taken care of, have the support of friends and family, give yourself permission to write whatever comes, and skip what needs skipping the first time around, you'll have a pretty good chance fo being successful at NaNoWriMo this year ... and every year.