First, apologies that this episode is a day late. I try to post on Mondays, but my weekend went by in a blur! I hope you enjoy this video and that it inspires you and helps you win NaNoWriMo if you are participating this year.
Jade Young was kind enough to invite me to write a guest post on her blog, The Educated Writer. Hop on over to her site to check it out and read my post on “10 Ways to Meet Your Daily Word Count for NaNoWriMo.”
Please join me in welcoming guest blogger Janell E. Robisch to The Educated Writer! So, you’ve decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month. You’ve committed to writing 50,000 words in thirty days. If writing every day is new to you, you may quickly find yourself overwhelmed.
National Novel Writing Month, known among the in crowd as NaNoWriMo or just NaNo, starts November 1. Does writing a whole book (a.k.a. 50,000 words!) in thirty days sound tempting? Does it intrigue you?
Maybe instead it overwhelms you. You like the idea of completing a book that fast but are not sure how you can get everything else done and write 1667 words a day (1667 × 30 = 50,010 words).
Fortunately, although you need to write each of those fifty thousand words in November to officially win NaNoWriMo, there are plenty of things you can do now to get ready.
1. Sign Up
Go to nanowrimo.org and create your account. Then, create your novel (oh, if it were only that easy!). Fill in your title, synopsis, and genre and add a nice cover. This makes your project real, and you can jump right in on November 1 with actual words!
Your tribe is everything! Accountability is everything!
Fortunately, finding your NaNoWriMo tribe is just a few clicks away.
Ask your writing friends if they are doing NaNoWriMo. You’ll be surprised at how many of them have been doing it under your nose for years! Poll your followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Get these authors’ NaNoWriMo usernames and use the search bar on your NaNoWriMo dashboard to find their pages. Then, simply click Add as Buddy. Don’t forget to ask them to add you as well. You might even find local groups to meet with in person for NaNoWriMo write-ins.
The NaNoWriMo website also has community forums—a built-in tribe—and there are also plenty of NaNoWriMo groups you can join on Facebook and thousands of people tweeting about NaNoWriMo. Try searching the hashtags #NaNoWriMo2017, #nanoprep, #preptober, or simply #NaNoWriMo.
3. Write an Outline and/or Pick a Story Structure
Preparation can make or break an author during NaNoWriMo. Sure, you’re high on excitement for the first week with a new book, new characters, and so many possibilities.
Then, week 2 comes, and you’re stuck in the murky, muddy middle. This is when your preparation comes into play and keeps you going.
Your outline can be as basic or as complicated as you want, but if you have a roadmap, signs telling you at each stage where you’re going next, your chances of giving up midmonth because you’ve run out of ideas decrease dramatically!
If you’re not a big outliner, I’ll let you in on a little secret. On October 31 of last year, I decided to do NaNoWriMo for the first time. No time to outline a whole novel, right?
My solution? I picked out a well-known story structure, the hero’s journey. It covered each of the steps I would need to get my hero from her ordinary world, through her journey, and back home again.
Once you’ve got an outline or story structure, open up Scrivener, Word, or your favorite word processor. Then, go ahead and enter your chapter or scene titles.
With the hero’s journey last year, I entered different scenes into Scrivener, such as “Call to Adventure” and “Refusal of the Call.”
Every day, when you sit down to write, your map and landmarks will already be there on the page, waiting to guide you.
As an added bonus, this makes it much easier to write out of order if that is how you roll. Write your ending first? Stuck in Act 2? Got a perfect idea for a foil at the beginning of Act 3? No problem. Skip ahead or go back. The map is still there, so you can fill in the rest later.
5. Build Your Characters
Use your favorite method to create some sheets or profiles for your main and secondary characters. Nail down their backgrounds and, most essentially, their motivations.
What do they want and what are they willing to do to get it? If you know the answer to this question, it will help you every time you get stuck wondering what happens next.
6. Build Your World
Don’t wait to name your characters, establish your settings, and draw your fantasy maps. Do it now, before NaNoWriMo. Again, the bigger the foundation you have in place under the water, the easier it will be to finish the tip of that iceberg.
7. Do Your Research
In the same vein, once you have an outline or structure in place and have ideas for your settings and characters, you’ll know what information you’re missing. So, do your research now and take notes instead of getting stuck down a research rabbit hole and falling behind on your word count in November.
Preparing for NaNoWriMo will make it easier for you to get those words in every day.
Do you prepare for NaNoWriMo or just jump in head first on November 1? If you plan, what are some of your favorite steps? Tell me in the comments! I’d love to hear about them.
I have this bad habit of jumping into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) experiences at the last minute. Last Halloween, I decided to do my first NaNoWriMo, which started November 1, without any real preparation and only an idea. Then, I went and did it again for this April’s Camp NaNoWriMo when some Twitter friends asked me to join their cabin (What Are Cabins?).
I was already working on a rewrite of my urban fantasy novel, Blood Mastery, so I figured I could just add another tracking form to my month and get some extra support in the meanwhile. It didn’t turn out to be that easy, and here I’ll discuss why.
Camp NaNoWriMo: Failures
1. I didn’t write as many words as I did in November.
Camp NaNoWriMo is not set up the same as November’s NaNoWriMo. To win regular NaNoWriMo, you must write at least 50,000 words within the 30-day month of November. With Camp NaNoWriMo, you set your own goal.
In the end, although I technically won, I had written only 20,184 words on Blood Mastery in April versus the 52,359 words I wrote on my other novel in November.
2. I had to lower my goal part way through the month.
I started out with a goal of 25,000 words. It quickly became clear that I wouldn’t be able to write that many, at least not on my novel. Before April 20, when people were allowed to start validating their writing for a “win,” I was allowed to change my goal in Camp NaNoWriMo, and that’s what I did, although I didn’t feel so hot about it.
3. I felt stretched completely thin.
I ended up feeling more scattered and stressed during Camp NaNoWriMo that I had during NaNoWriMo, even though my goal was lower. The reason was that during November’s NaNoWriMo, I was working on a single project, one novel. By the time April rolled around, I was working on several projects, each of which needed my attention.
In addition to my novel, I was writing and editing four weekly blog posts, a one-act play, and a nonfiction booklet for authors. Because I couldn’t put any of them off, my 20k words for Camp NaNoWriMo had to be done on top of all these other things.
4. I got slowed down by poor planning.
Although I had a rough outline for my book, by about the middle of the month, I realized that my rewrite wasn’t going to be long enough to qualify as a novel. I was quickly approaching the climax, and I was only about 25,000 words in.
I had a brainstorming session with my cabin mates, and I was able to come up with some ideas. I would add more conflict and subplots to my book. However, obsessive that I am, I went back to the beginning and edited the book right away before going any further. Of course, that slowed my writing speed down a lot.
5. I lost a complete day because of unforeseen events.
One of my children injured her foot at gymnastics, and we had to go to multiple appointments to make sure that it wasn’t broken. Life happens, and I don’t regret taking the time out to see to it, but it wasn’t any good for my Camp NaNoWriMo progress.
Camp NaNoWriMo: Successes
1. I wrote twice as many words for my novel in April as I had the month before.
The extra incentive that Camp NaNoWriMo provided helped me to write 20,184 words of my novel in April. Even with my small goal of 500 words a day, I had added only 10,432 words in March, even with the same extra projects. That’s almost double.
2. At the beginning of the month, my goal was flexible.
As I mentioned before, I reduced my goal part way through the month. That flexibility was an advantage, even though I didn’t feel good about using it. Camp NaNoWriMo lets you set your own goal, and before winning begins, you can adjust it up or down.
You can’t do that with regular NaNoWriMo: it’s 50,000 words no matter what. It’s more about proving to yourself that you can write a novel than meeting your own personal goals, although those two interests might intersect.
3. The support was phenomenal.
Our cabin, the little group of writers that was my community during Camp NaNoWriMo, came mostly from people I know on Twitter and the monthly writing challenge. However, in this new forum, we were able to share and support one another more deeply than we normally can with the limited 140 characters or less per post allowed on Twitter.
There were questions and conversations about general writing topics but also real, nitty-gritty problem solving and feedback that helped us all keep moving forward. The one-thread forum format was a little difficult to navigate, but we managed.
4. I wrote 10% of my goal on each of the last two days.
By about halfway through the month, I had pretty much given up any hope of winning Camp NaNoWriMo. My distractions—a.k.a. my other projects—were taking away too much of my attention. However, as the last week rolled around, I realized that I was now in a place to put them aside for at least a week and work only on the novel. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded since I was out of town on two of those days for a kid-related activity.
Despite all that, I ended up writing more than 2000 words on each of the last two days of Camp NaNoWriMo, just barely clearing my goal. One of those days, I dictated them, and on the other, I typed them in a hotel room with two of my children playing nearby.
In any case, I impressed myself a little. It’s not that I’ve never written 2000 words in a day, but it’s pretty rare for me. This full-time editor thing, homeschooling my kids, etc., keep me pretty busy.
Would I Do Camp NaNoWriMo Again?
I honestly don’t know if I will take part in Camp NaNoWriMo again or even in NaNoWriMo in November. I will just have to see where I am at that point with each of my projects.
Despite my lack of preparation, last November turned out to be the perfect time to start a new novel. I had just finished the first draft of Blood Mastery. I really needed to put it aside, and working on a new novel was the best distraction.
If I do either NaNoWriMo event in the future, I will not only start with a rough outline but also clear my schedule as much as possible. I’ll write and schedule extra blog posts the month before and move other writing projects around as necessary. The extra stress from those extra projects was just a little too much, and I wouldn’t want to repeat that experience.
I want to say thanks to the writers in my cabin for all the great support! And congratulations for accomplishing the impossible!
Did you do Camp NaNoWriMo this year? What was your experience like? Will you do it again?
Faster? Yes, please. All of my outlining was starting to feel like a way avoid actually writing. However, I didn’t want to just pants the book thing again and end up where I’d started. I also knew that the first draft of Flight of the Ceo San, which I’d written with a bare-bones structure, was in way better shape than that of Strange Bedfellows.
Take Off Your Pants, a short 108 pages, turned out to be just what I needed. Hawker’s three-legged story structure and five-element story core made sense to me, but more than that, after she explains her theory, she shows step by step how she used her formula to outline her own novel. Her explanation of pacing helped to explain the structure of a scene to me in a way that clicked and that turns out to naturally fit with other Goal/Conflict/Disaster structures that I’ve read about.
Her elements, in the form of thwarts and displaying flaws, made sense for me in a way that plot points and pinch points don’t, even though they could be defined as the same thing. Pinch points can be easy to spot once their written, but telling myself to write a pinch point, a scene in which “everything changes for the character,” just seemed vague. “Show your character’s flaw in action,” as paraphrased from Take Off Your Pants—THAT I can do.
I outlined the Strange Bedfellows rewrite as I read Hawker’s book and finished over the course of two or three one-and-a-half-hour writing sessions. My outline was short, only 807 words.
Things really began to come together after that. Using my shiny new outline, I moved on to writing scenes on index cards, a la Rachael Stephen, complete with the Conflict/Motive/Effect plus Setting on each one. All the while, the information I had learned from my character interviews was swimming around in my head, making them tangible entities. So, after spending most of January and more than half of February on this whole process, I was ready to write again. It was a glorious feeling.
My paranormal romance is now a solid urban fantasy with lots of series potential that it didn’t have before. It has a new name: Blood Mastery. The characters are still there, but it is a completely different novel. The second protagonist has taken a backseat to the first and has changed so much that I renamed her. The story went from third person point of view to first person.
What I learned is that for me, less is more. I do need to at least dig deeply into my main characters to give them their own unique voices, but I get impatient with too much outlining, and when I get impatient, I start to lose my motivation for writing—not good.
So for me, outlining is good as long as there is not too much of it. My new method makes sense for me personally, and I’ll likely continue to use it in the future. The Hero’s Journey structure was extremely helpful, but not every novel I write will be a hero’s journey.
With my scene cards, I have a brief road map to get me started writing every day. I have pacing and Motive/Conflict/Effect to consider after I write each scene to make sure that I have hit all of the relevant points. No more staring at the screen, going What was I thinking there? Now, what am I supposed to write?
Will it pay off? I will know for sure only when this draft is finished and I send it to some readers, but I have a good feeling.
Lessons for You
What I’m not saying is that you should forget all of the other advice and run out and buy Take Off Your Pants. You can if you want to, but what I’m really saying is do your research. Put in the time learning, but when something clearly isn’t working for you and starts to feel like nothing but a grind, try something else.
Like any experience, you can learn what works for you only if you go through the process and try new things. Like that little slider on an old-fashioned standing scale, slide back and forth between pantsing and plotting until you reach your own personal balance. Just as your weight changes, that balance may change from book to book and along your writing journey. Wherever you end up, you will take bits from each path that you have explored and mix them with your own authorly instincts to create a unique voice and a unique method, forging a new path that is just different enough to be yours alone.
Explore, learn, do well, and keep writing.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? What tricks have you used to find your balance?