Countdown To Nano…

With three days, and counting, until NaNoWriMo kicks off it’s time for all of us lollygaggers to get our collective act together. Whether you have a few things left to nail down, or you’re entirely unprepared – do not stress!

I’ve got your back, guys, and together we can get off to a flying start this NaNoWriMo. So, what should you be doing? Well, that depends on who you are!

 

The Newbie

Bless your heart – you’re excited, you’re full of enthusiasm… you have no idea what’s coming your way. If this is your very first NaNoWriMo, welcome! Whether you know what you want to write or not there are a few things you should do to make sure that your first NaNo is everything you want it to be;

1) Make A NaNoWriMo Account; 

This one may be obvious, but make an account, enter the details of your novel, no matter how basic, and get yourself all set up before November 1st.

2) Gather Your People

If you have writing friends who are participating add them to your profile so you can encourage and track each other. Alternatively join a writing group on Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr and find people who you can talk with about the stresses and joys of this writerly season.

3) Pick An Idea

The most common thing I hear people say when they are new to NaNo is that they have “so many” ideas; these people inevitably become conflicted about whether they’re following the right one! Develop your ideas and then pick the one that takes your fancy most. Remember you’re not abandoning all the others for good; you’re picking which one you want to work on first.

4) Set Reasonable Goals

If you’ve never participated in something like this before it’s normal to expect that you’ll be able to keep up a break-neck pace all month. You won’t; this is a marathon, not a sprint and so consistency and endurance are key. Set a low goal which you are confident you could meet on a bad day; if you exceed it you’ll feel great. If you set a goal which requires too much from you every single day you’ll fall behind and become demotivated!

 

The Last Minute Entrant

Image result for kylo ren slide gif

So, you’ve skidded onto the scene with less than a week to go – you know the ropes, you’ve done it before… you just didn’t think you were going to do it this year. Alas the pull of NaNo was too strong, and now you’re scrambling to get ready.

So, what can you do?

1) Plot Some Shit

Look, I know you have nine billion ideas floating around; pick one, develop it, and create a loose structure. You’ve done this before – pick a genre and get ready to pants this shit.

2) Prepare Your Work Space

If you’re not as prepared as you would like, sorting out your work space is key; set up your writing station in a place you know will be relaxed and relatively undisturbed so that you can focus while you work.

You could even stash some treats and supplies nearby. Think cans of energy juice, your coffee maker, a blanket, some protein bars, or, hell, even a scented candle. Whatever you need to keep your arse in that seat while you write.

3) Inform Your Friends And Family

You know, so they don’t worry when you drop off the face of the earth for a month.

 

Perpetually Prepared Plotter

Piss off, you don’t need my help;

Go have a drink and be awesome until it all kicks off.

 

Everyone!

  • Create your ultimate writing playlist
  • Organise your notes
  • Treat Yo Self (*read: get yourself something nice to alleviate the stress*)
  • Look out your dictionary and thesaurus

 

And, finally, enjoy it!

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Ready, Set, NaNo

November is peak season for writers; when NaNoWriMo rolls around we’re all ready to power through novels that we’ve pushed back and back and back all year long. Every year the story is the same for thousands of people:

You start well, you beat your targets for the first few days, and then… something goes wrong. Somewhere down the line you lose motivation or you meet a blockage that you just can’t work around.

You fall further and further behind, and sure maybe you write until the last day, but you never meet the target. You never finish it.

 

Or maybe you just give up altogether.

 

I’d love to be your hero (baby) and take away the pain…

 

But I can’t… All I can do is help you to prepare for NaNoWriMo so that you can up your chances of success. Here are some things to keep in mind as we go on:

1) It’s a marathon, not a sprint;

Yes there are some truly terrifying individuals who can crank out ten thousand words (or more) in the first day, but I’d bet you that many of them burn out somewhere in the second week.

Nano is a test of endurance, planning, and determination. In essence it’s a microcosm for the experience of a writing career – it teaches you skill you should apply to every day life if you want to take this on full time.

2) Failure is an option, but it doesn’t define you;

You can do it all right and still not finish. You can finish and dislike the product. Hell, you can finish and like your book and still not get published; this is not a reflection on your potential, but on THIS project and your CURRENT skill.

Learn how to say “I’m not ready YET”.

3) This is not an excuse to neglect your body and life

I’ll say it again, NaNoWriMo is an intense and limited example of what it means to take on a writing career; you should be continuing your life as usual, but finding time to write. This may mean sacrificing small pleasures such as an extra hour in bed or gaming time – what it DOESN’T mean is not washing, sleeping, eating, or socialising and skipping school or work.

If you take the time to learn how to juggle you will build good habits that will increase your productivity in the long run. This is a worthy goal, even if you fail the word count goal first time round.

 

Preparing For NaNoWriMo

Your preparation doesn’t need to begin now, but I would recommend that you start it soon. There are three steps to preparing for Nano, and depending on what book you want to write you may already have completed the first two.

1) Idea and Plot Development:

If you want to make your life as easy as possible during Nano it’s advisable to develop your idea and basic plot before you start to write; this will minimise the likelihood of severe writers block.

Idea development is a topic I have discussed before in detail, so if you’re unsure about it check out the link provided. If you’re having trouble getting an idea at all, however, checkout some prompts and methods. 

Once you have your idea it’s time to make a basic plot and some characters. This booklet might be of use to you*. When you have a an idea, plot, and main character(s) you’ll find you can get off to a flying start.

 

2) Research and Pre-Writing

Once you have the basic outline of a story and your characters, you need to flesh out their world and experiences. This is the time to gather knowledge and understanding of any topics on which you’re unversed.

You should consider what genre your story will fall into, in broad terms, and look into the main tropes, cliches, and plot devices used in that genre. Worldbuilding might be on the agenda; if you find it hard to flesh out the tricky details consider these world-building questions to help you get the gears turning. If you’re working with in the ‘real’ world, but in a historic setting you should brush up on your historical research skills to make the most of what you read. Most of all remember that when you research for fiction you are focusing on the major events of the time, and the minutia of life for your characters.

i.e. in a story surrounding a weavers daughter there is very little reason why the reader needs to know about the intricacies of courtly life, even in the country in which the book is set, unless she must become immersed in them herself!

Pre-writing, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is the process of writing what I would call the “scaffolding” which will prop up your first draft. Think family trees, histories of towns and conflicts, personal histories, relationship development plans, and political information for your characters and your world. Your reader will probably never see any of this, but it will help you immensely (trust me!).

 

3) Real World Preparations

Ultimately this is the part that will make or break your attempt; you need to make time in your life for NaNoWriMo.

This can be done in a number of ways:

  1. Tell your friends and family you will be participating so that they can give you space and support.
  2. Create a workspace for yourself somewhere quiet and relatively undisturbed.
  3. Figure out the best time for you to write e.g. mornings, evenings etc.
  4. Begin building habits, e.g. if mornings are your time begin the process of gradually waking up earlier than usual. Set an alarm half and hour earlier than usual for one week, for example, and then move it back another half hour after you are used to this.
  5. Set a routine, build a habit; start sitting down to write, plan, or pre-write once or twice a week. Try to have a set time, and ensure that people know to leave you be (unless it’s an emergency) in that hour or two. Setting this habit early will help greatly when November bares its teeth.

 

Once you’ve done all of this you’ll be ready to give NaNoWriMo hell!

 

 

 

 

 

*This booklet is entirely free, but if you want to enable me to keep updating it (as well as producing more articles and resources) you could consider supporting me through Kofi.

 

 

Idea To Realisation; How To Write A Novel

PART ONE; DEVELOPING THE IDEA

A while ago I put out a tweet on my account asking if anyone, anyone at all, would be interested in live updates about what the process of writing a novel looks like start to finish.

Well, the answer was yes (as you can imagine, given you’re reading this now), and I’m a balls-to-the-wall kind of person…

 

So here it is; ground zero. That moment when you have an idea, and literally nothing else. For me that idea, that concept, consists of Four things;

  • Sound
  • Sight (an image in your mind, or in the real world)
  • Feeling
  • Texture

And it looks like this;

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I suspect I’m neither unique, or unusual in this, but I’ve never seen anyone talk about how to turn these things specifically into a workable plan for a novel or short story. Here’s how I begin; I write down that concept, the sight, sound, smell, and taste of it. Even if it makes little sense, even if it sounds like I’m describing a painting; I get it on paper. Sensory people, in my experience, have the most trouble with planning, and the easiest time when it comes to writing – so if you’re like me and this stage is hell, don’t worry it gets much, much easier.

This is the first step.

Then I add to that with working titles, genres, themes, potential plots and subplots. The end result is a messier version of this;

IMG_20180303_073859.jpg

From here I move on to what I call the “mini-snowflake”.

I’m sure you all know what the snowflake method is and so you probably have a good idea of what the mini-snowflake is, but I’ll explain anyway. The mini-snowflake is a replication of stage 2 of the full method applied with the idea of helping to create a concrete idea of how to progress before you start planning in earnest. Start with a single sentence which explains the premise of your starting point, then follow up with a paragraph which explains the rough trajectory of the middle, and then finish with a sentence that gives a rough shape to the end of your story. It could look like this;
IMG_20180303_073526.jpg

 

 

Now,  at this point most people would go into a full-blown snowflake, right? Well, not me amigos. If that would work better for you, and you’ve got what you need from my advice, then crack on, but I go to characters next. Stephen King once said that you’re either a planner or a pantser by nature, though most people have a little of both, and I’m a pantser. I fly by the seat of my character’s pants, though, not mine, and so I fill out my protagonist and antagonist, along with any main characters, before I do anything else. Now, this is where you might think it gets weird; my character sheets are reminiscent of D&D, but I promise you they work. Well, they work for me.

Interestingly enough this similarity predates my jump into D&D. If I’m honest it comes from playing RPG’s like Dragon Age: Origins, Oblivion, Skyrim, and, of course, older offerings. Here’s what my character sheets look like;

 

IMG_20180303_073044.jpg

 

The idea is to build a character type that can deal with the obstacles in their way, but not with consummate ease. By setting things like skills (for example research, literacy, two-handed weaponry… it all depends on your genre), feats (passive qualities which can be improved with work, e.g. strength, flexibility, intelligence) you can get an idea not only of how they will react but what they can do. Likewise, by setting things like their drive (the overall goal that pushes them through life), and their short-term goal (the thing motivating them through the story), as well as the overall ideal to which they subscribe you can begin to build a relationship with your character.

 

Once you have a cast of viable main characters return to your initial ideas sheet and ask yourself which of these ideas fit best with the characters in question. How would they react to each situation? Are the needed motivations realistic? Will there be enough tension?

Make a list of the top 3 ideas you have and note the pros, the cons, and the unique selling point for each of them because it’s time for idea development. In all honesty, you’re most likely to end up with an idea that combines aspects of all three, or even one of your top 3 with some of the disqualified contenders. Roll with it; all you need is a viable idea to work with. Think of this as a malleable hypothesis – it will change as you go through the stages of plotting, writing, rewriting, and editing.

All you need, at this point, is an idea that has 4  qualities;

  1. A HOOK
  2. TENSION/CONFLICT
  3. ROOM FOR GROWTH
  4. THE ABILITY TO EXCITE YOU

If you’re not excited and passionate about the idea, the novel is going to fizzle out. If you have these 4 things, you have a good foundation from which to kick off.

Resources for moving forward;

30 Story Starters

The Genres in Fiction

3 Mistakes To Avoid

3 Cardinal Sins of Writing

3 Ways to Level Up Your Prose