[Guest Post] Keeping Writing Interesting

One of the major reasons I have done NaNoWriMo for the past three years is that it keeps my life interesting. NaNoWriMo is a time to focus on writing, push through those slogging difficult days, and keep searching for those magical days. Which is why, when I say ‘keeping writing interesting’, I am not talking about tips to make your writing interesting to your readers, but rather how to keep the act of writing interesting for you as the writer.

For my first NaNoWriMo, there was enough excitement, as it was my first time attempting to write a novel, to help push me through. There were a number of other things that I found worked for me, that are still helping me through November my third time doing NaNoWriMo, and could possibly help you as well.

  1. Word Sprints: I find that if I write in short quick bursts I get more done than sitting at the computer all day with no breaks. That’s why I have a kitchen timer sitting next to me now, keeping me focused and typing.
  2. Accountability: I tell friends that I am doing NaNoWriMo, so they will ask about my progress. Having writing buddies on the NaNoWriMo website works as well. Outside of November, I use the same tactic with other projects so that the constant reminder of friends asking about my project reminds me to get working. It also adds a bit of guilt if I haven’t really been working on it.
  3. Talking to other writers: I used to be afraid of other writers stealing my ideas. I’ve found that the opposite has been true of my writing friends. What they want most are my ideas to help improve their story, and in return they give ideas for mine. Just talking about a story out loud helps me start to put pieces together and realize elements of my story that typing just doesn’t.
  4. Taking risks: This is especially true during the rough draft. I enjoy having the ability to tell a dream sequence, overly describe a setting, or add ninjas if I want at any given moment. I do this knowing that if the ninjas kill off too many characters, in the revision they don’t need to reappear. If the writing feels boring, it’s because I don’t know where I’m going, and I won’t find out without a bit of risk.

It is for that reason that I’ve added a couple extra challenges to myself this year for NaNoWriMo. I’ve written the 50,000 the last 2 years, so I wanted to make my writing experience more interesting this year.

I decided to blog about the project daily. This allows my friends that agreed to try writing this year, and those that didn’t, to know about all the joys and disappointments that I go through this month.

The second challenge is that I decided to take a dare a day from a rotation of genre forums on the NaNoWriMo website. I would take the most recent dare in a thread, despite the ridiculousness or difficulty, and add it to my novel. I’ve had to add a character obsessed with rubber ducks, an artificially intelligent gun, a murder involving twins, and a person paralyzed but unaware of it. It has been challenging, frustrating, and incredibly entertaining all at the same time.

The dares have led to a risk that I had not planned for. I normally write a story from beginning to end, and learn about the characters and a lot of the plot as time goes on. To get all the varied dares in, I’ve started skipping ahead to the good parts this year. This means that I will likely have many plot holes, multiple scenes thrown together without logic, a bit of deus ex machina, and moods swinging wildly from comedy to great depression. Writing in this way is scary. However, this could turn out to be the best thing I could’ve done to improve my writing. It is a risk. It is what keeps my writing interesting for me. 

Justin McKibben has an undergraduate degree in English from the Ohio State University and a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Antioch-McGregor University. This is his third time participating in NaNoWriMo. Having won the previous two years, he hopes to keep the streak going. You can follow his blog at: nanowrimodarenovel.blogspot.com.

[Guest Post] Writing Utter Crap

We writers tend to tie ourselves up in knots. We know that the first draft doesn’t need to be perfect, but we still manage to act like it does. We have a hard time giving ourselves permission to write utter crap. We forget how freeing it is to not be perfect. An icon I found on LiveJournal years ago sums this up succinctly: Writing was so much easier when I sucked at it.

I don’t know about you, but when I was young and unaware of all the rules about writing and what makes good writing, it came easy. There was no stifling self-criticism. There was no paralyzing need for perfection. There was nothing but me and the words. I could immerse myself in story for hours at a time, without a single thought about grammar, plot, characterization, or any of the other trappings of good writing. I’ve looked back at some of the stories I had written back in my school years, and the poems — oh, the dreadful poems! It is all utterly unpublishable crap.

But I enjoyed every minute of writing it. I never entertained a single critical thought about any of it. And the words flowed with abandon.

That is what we need. Permission to write with the abandon of youth. Permission to suck. Permission to write utter crap.

Break the Rules

If you’re feeling stuck with your NaNoWriMo novel, or with anything else you’re writing, don’t just give yourself permission to write crap — demand it.

Sit down and write the most imperfect prose you can imagine. Break every rule in the Turkey City Lexicon. Fill your word count with adverbs and Tom Swifties. Don’t bother plotting or organizing your thoughts. While you’re busy telling (and not showing) your story, something amazing can happen. You may find the story suddenly coming to life in wonderful and unexpected ways.

Keep Moving Forward

The trick to winning NaNoWriMo all comes down to this: Keep writing forward. Don’t stop for anything. Here are a few tricks to help you keep the momentum moving forward if you feel stuck:

1) Summarize. Summarzing my get you through a rough spot, or a boring spot, or a creative block. After a few hundred words of summary, you may be surprised to find yourself struck with inspiration again. Keep the pen moving across the paper. Keep your fingers moving across the keyboard. Don’t wait for inspiration — make yourself an environment conducive for inspiration instead.

2) Complain. If you can’t even come up with a summary, write anyway. Even if the first words you write are “I don’t know what to write.” Be careful not to focus on that thought too much though. Think your way around the problem on paper or on-screen. The act of writing itself while you’re thinking about the problem may shake some inspiration loose for you.

3) Skip around. If you feel stuck on what comes next, skip it. If you know what the final battle needs to look like, but you don’t know how to get there, write the final battle anyway. Take Jonathan Lethem‘s advice and skip the transitions. Don’t even bother with writing a linear story. Write what inspires and excites you. The act of writing those scenes may even jostle out some ideas for how to get there. I wrote an entire short story consisting only of the good parts. No transitions. No summary. Nothing but the scenes that inspired me. It inspired an editor enough that she paid me for it and published it.

4) Shoot it all. Wakefield Mahon said it perfectly on Twitter: Shoot it all, edit later. Ignore Jonathan Lethem’s advice and write every opening door and every cup of tea if that’s what it takes to keep the creative momentum moving.

5) Make notes. If you decide that something needs to be changed do not go back and edit. I learned this trick from Holly Lisle. Any time you feel the urge to go back and edit, make a note instead, then keep moving forward as if you had already made the changes. I make notes in my writing by using brackets [like this]. Don’t waste time looking for the perfect word or going back to change anything you’ve already written. Note it, then move forward. You can go back and edit when you’re done.

Once you get the steam going — don’t stop. Don’t look back. Don’t become the literary equivalent of Lot’s Wife. If you look back, you risk turning your creative momentum into a self-critical pillar of salt. Keep your creative momentum moving forward.

Kimberly lives in a rural village near Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, two daughters, and a cat. She is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader and enjoys making money by reading books. Every now and then she even reads one just for fun. Her NaNoWriMo novel is The Hunter’s Daughters, a story about mothers, daughters, magic, rebellion, lovers, lost dreams, and … zombies.

[Guest Post] Writing as an Endurance Sport

“You’re doing WHAT?”

That’s the typical response when you tell someone you’re participating in an event to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The second response is “What do you get if you win?” For most people the idea of writing a novel in a month is, at best, a foolish waste of time. After all, don’t you know how few people actually manage to get published? The world of writing is a mysterious world indeed, and one that seems crazy to outsiders.

So what do we get out of it? Well, for some it is an endurance sport. Some people choose to test their boundaries by running marathons, or climbing mountains. And to these people the same questions could be asked. “You’re running 25k? Why? What do you get if you win?” The knowledge that you’ve won. It doesn’t seem like much, but humans thrive on competition. The act of winning is enough to spur us on towards greater heights.

But there’s more to it. You see, we’re not just in competition – we’re in community. There’s something about the experience of shared hardship that brings people together. Nobody runs a marathon by themselves, you run it with other people. Those other people give you competition (I’m ahead of two thirds of the other runners!) and they give you community (we’re in this together!) Both are necessary to reach your goals.

But why do we do this? Surely writing a novel in a year is the same outcome as writing a novel in a month? Why push ourselves? Because we have to. You see, there’s a vicious and evil monster that plagues writers worldwide. It’s called the inner editor. It’s that voice that says “That sentence sucks.” It’s a useful tool, in some settings, but in novel writing it is crippling. Such a high word count in such a low amount of time allows you to force the inner editor into a closet and lock it away. it means you don’t have time to spend three hours agonizing whether that comma sound be a comma, a semi-colon or a new sentence. You just don’t have the time.

So you write, and you write, and you write. And of course that first draft is rubbish. It’s ok. That is the most important thing that NaNoWriMo teaches. That it’s OK to write rubbish. You have a whole community of people, writing rubbish alongside you. And so you press on, desperate to get to that word count. And you finish the story. And yes, it’s crap. But that’s OK. it’s easy to edit something into shape once it’s written. But editing it before you even have it on paper is novelist suicide.

And so at the end of the month, if you have the dedication and the ambition, you have a novel. A crappy, un-edited novel. A crappy, un-edited novel you can then take your time the rest of the year and shape into the story you actually wanted to tell. You can polish it, and make it actually make sense.

But not in November. November is for the writing. At about 10,000 words, your inner editor comes screaming out of whatever hole you’ve buried it in and begins picking your novel apart. This is normal, and it’s funny to watch the NaNowriMo forums at this time. Everyone goes from “this is the best novel ever!’ to “I suck as a writer and am going to go be a fry cook now, that’s all I’m good for!”

But the people who have done NaNo for a few years come in and assure everyone that this too shall pass. And we all keep writing. Because it’s what we do. We’re writers. Even if you’ve only ever written school assignments, or fan fiction. You’re a writer. And writers keep on writing.

So if you’re thinking of doing NaNoWriMo, be prepared. It’s hard. You will curse the decision to join. But you will find companionship, support, and sympathy. A whole bunch of people crazy enough to take on the challenge with you.

Ki Vick is a freelance ghostwriter and novel writer. She is halfway through her first NaNoWriMo novel and is hoping to polish it up in time for publication early next year. She has been a writer for 6 years and lives with her husband in a tiny apartment in Dayton, Ohio.

[Guest Post] Micro-Goals; or How Word Sprints Save Your Sanity

NaNoWriMo is a beast: a 50,000-word minimum juggernaut that’s defeated far more seasoned writers than myself… and if, like me,  you’re  trying to tackle the dragon for the first time, it might be beginning to seem rather like an epic quest in nature. The daily climb to 1,667 begins to look like a repetitive trek up a literary Mount Everest—but there are ways to make the journey easier. Heck, there are ways to make NaNoWriMo look like a walk in the park.

The best tip that I’ve discovered so far? Micro-goals. Forget 50,000, forget 1,667; just concentrate on writing as many words as you can 1 hour, 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 15 minutes, even 10 minutes at a time. It doesn’t only help your word count, it may also save your sanity.

There are hundreds, even thousands of writers who are tackling the challenge and triumphing over the world-wide writing marathon one quarter hour at a time. Don’t have a stop watch? Doesn’t matter. Don’t have friends willing to take the plunge with you? You will soon.

If you haven’t already, go to NaNoWriMo.org, sign up, then look under the Tab ‘NaNo Near You’ and Find Your Region. Select the city nearest you, then scan the forum for write-ins, meet-ups, and other events for the chance to join up with other local writers write, celebrate, write, lend each other support, keep each other sane—and participate in the face-to-face version of the motivational micro-miracle ‘word sprints’.

Don’t feel like heading out? No problem, you can also participate online. Go to Twitter, follow @NaNoWordSprints (the official NaNoWriMo profile for word sprints) and get ready to rock your NaNovel like a hurricane. @NaNoWordSprints is run in shifts by different volunteers worldwide, so no matter where in the world you are, you’re never very far from a wordsprint — and if you don’t feel like going through official channels, trying searching for #NaNoWriMo or #wordsprint to see when random users worldwide are gearing up for a sprint—or add those hashtags to your own tweets along with an invitation to join a wordsprint at :00, :15, :20, :30, ect…

Once a sprint starts, write like the wind for its duration, then take stock & add up the words you’ve set down. Chances are you’ll be surprised. Only a handful of sprints and you’ll reach your daily quota. If you’re inspired to keep writing beyond that, you could well surpass it.

For example, I participated in a 20-minute word sprint on Twitter. I wrote 604 words. I didn’t come in first in the sprint, but I won something else: inspiration. I kept writing. Reached 1,364 words, took a break to eat dinner, then participated in another word sprint — this one was 30min long.

By the end of it, I was up to 2,017 words. I really felt like I was hitting my stride. By the time I was done, I’d cranked out 4,746 words in one sitting—and before you think I’m some sort of NaNo rockstar or ringer, I’m a noob.

This is my first shot at NaNoWriMo and I still hunt & peck because I never learned to keyboard. My daily word count on for the three days prior to the wordsprint was 342, 0, and 564 respectively. I’ll be the first to admit that staring a screen, wondering how I’m going to crank out 1,667 words much less 50,000, makes me cringe. But writing my heart out for 20 minutes? Now that I can handle. Heck, it’s painless, it’s fun, and there’s no masochism involved in going back for more.

Word sprints, or micro-goals, are fantastic ways to tame the beast, to take NaNoWriMo and break it into something much easier to handle, to find your way to the finish line with some semblance of sanity, and create your NaNovel one quarter hour at a time. They are awesome at giving you a running start before NaNoWriMo runs you over; try them and see!

Eryn Lockhart is an independent romance author whose debut novel, After Midnight, was released earlier this year. She’s also an unrepentant chocoholic, bookworm, Rockband addict, and movie-hound.  You can find her online at her blog, on Goodreads, on Facebook, and at her homepage.

[Guest Post] Eradicating Excuses and Silencing the Inner Critic

I hear a lot of excuses for not participating in National Novel Writing Month, more commonly known as NaNoWriMo. That sounds like something a tired novelist says at the end of a month-long, novel-writing marathon: “Naaah, no wri’ mo’…” just before conking out over the keyboard.

The only valid excuses, really, are “I have no desire to write a novel right now,” and being quadriplegic. With today’s assistive technologies, even the latter is questionable in its validity, provided you really want to write a novel.

In fact, this year marks my tenth NaNoWriMo. I’ve only “won” once, and that’s fine by me. I had something to prove – to myself. Until then, the longest story I’d ever written fell just short of 6000 words. I was still making excuses – “I’m busy” being one of the big ones. It was true, too. I had a full-time job, and the company I work for had just gone through a major merger. My kids were thirteen and five, and though loathe to admit in public, needed me. My mom was critically ill, in the hospital, a thousand miles from her home or mine. I traveled a lot that year. And then, there was September. 9/11. Need I say more?

They tell us, “Write what you know.” And we have to live, to experience, to get out into the world to have things to write about. But sometimes, it all seems too too real and somehow taboo to write about our own experiences or to say out loud the things we know.

I’d suggest that you edit “Write what you know” to “Write from what you know” – draw from the well of reality to craft fiction. You don’t have to know and certainly don’t have to understand  everything. Sometimes, by writing from what you know, a new sort of clarity begins to emerge and it starts to make more sense to you and, if you’re lucky, to your readers. It’s all grist for the mill; the trick to writing entertaining fiction, I think, lies in the ability to lie like a rug and be scrupulously honest, all at the same time.

I’m the first to debunk the notion that artists’ and writers’ creativity demands the infertile soil of hardship and deprivation to thrive. I don’t write well at all when I’m worried about things like paying the bills or feeding my kids. But the truth is, we writers do seem to have two gears: procrastination mode and deadline mode. And at no time is the old adage “If you want something done quickly, ask a busy person to do it” truer than during November and NaNoWriMo.

Besides the artificial deadline pressure, there was another factor driving me: A desperate need to escape reality. Most people would read a book, watch a movie, or veg out in front of the TV. But all of those activities were too passive to still the small, panicked voices in my head. We writers have learned to sublimate our craziness and call those clamoring cranial voices “characters.” It’s both frightening and exhilarating to realize, when you’re really in the writing groove, that you have given up trying to control those characters and have begun to simply take dictation as they tell you their stories.

There are other characters who must be silenced. I’m not talking about the victims in our murder mysteries – I’m talking about our inner critics.

Those insidious demons left over from our insecure, prepubescent years when we began to realize writing was work that involved skills we didn’t yet possess and somehow got the notion that our fantasies weren’t good enough to pass literary muster. The whole premise behind NaNoWriMo is to write so fast those characters can’t get a word in edgewise. But what if they do? What if, somehow, they manage to harangue us into believing their petty-minded nonsense? What else – we torment them on the page for fun and profit. One year, my half-finished NaNoNovel, Eradicating Edna, featured the inner critic as a character. Try it, if you feel your well of inspiration’s all tapped out. It’s wicked fun – and it might just serve as free therapy.

Eradicating Edna (Prologue)

“What was I thinking, to put such expectations on myself at a time like this, when all the  world’s gone mad around me?” I cried, throwing a forearm dramatically over my forehead and letting out a piteous wail. “I’ll do it!” I sprang to my feet, energized. It took less than a NaNoSecond forreality to sink in. “But I’m so far behind. All I have so far is three death scenes and an aborted suicide.”

You can imagine the withering look my Muse gave me. “That’s the spirit.”

My Inner Editor foamed at the mouth. Only, the foam came out her nose, since my Muse had had the foresight to bind up her mouth with duct tape.

“Look, you’re an overachiever, but you’re a burnt-out overachiever seriously in danger of looking like she’s got a bug up her butt. So write this one just for fun. And if you must compete, consider it your entry into the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest next year.” The Muse shrugged.

“That’s just supposed to be one sentence,” I said. I was pouting. I had my heart set on writing great lit-rah-chure.

“So write a novel that gives you nothing but hard choices as to which sentence you should enter.”

“There are multiple categories,” I said, warming to the idea. “I could have ’em all covered, by the time I’m done.”

“There you go. Enter in every category. Just be sure to win a ‘Dishonorable Mention’ for me.”

“I know that, Dear. It’s pretty pathetic, if you ask me.” She picked up my daughter’s TI-83 calculator and pushed some buttons at random. “Don’t think of it as ‘behind.’ Think of it as an adjustment, from 1667 words a day to 2800 words a day. You can do that, can’t you? I mean…if you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Can I use this conversation?” I asked. I was reluctant to admit it; it seemed so…puerile. But I was beginning to enjoy myself. Guilty pleasures are always the best kind.

“No.”

“Will you take that thing away?” I asked, pointing at the Inner Editor. The IE growled and struggled against the ropes that bound her to her ergonomically-correct office chair. Gleefully, I smacked her over the head with an ergonomic keyboard, breaking the device in two. I dumped it into her lap.

“Absolutely.” My Muse poured two glasses of cheap cream sherry and we raised them in a toast. “To fingering Bulwer-Lytton’s proboscis in April!”

“Here, here.”

“Isn’t that ‘hear, hear’?” squeaked the Inner Editor, who had managed to bite through the duct tape with her jagged fangs.

“Good lord. Does ‘anal-retentive’ have a hyphen?” sneered my Muse. Grabbing She-Who-Inspires-Writers-to-Write-Heinous-Scenes-of-Gruesome-Torture by the neck, my Muse saluted me and disappeared. The Evil One vanished, too, and I could breathe again.

Holly Jahangiri is a technical communicator, social media analyticator, children’s book author, blogger, happy wife and mom living in Houston, Texas. She would really appreciate it if you would read her post, Good Goals Gone Bad, on TheNextGoal.com.