[Guest Post] A NaNo Strategy to Help You Win NaNoWriMo

Hi Feliza, thanks for having me! Now that NaNoWriMo is over for another year, it’s time to start planning for next year. (Tongue in cheek.)

I first heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) through Chris Baty’s book No Plot, No Problem and I was hooked. I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2007 – and won. I did it again in 2008 – and I won. 2009 & 2010? Won/Won. My strategy, if you will, for winning NaNoWriMo every year (knock on wood) is that I stick with the same series. No matter what I write throughout the rest of the year, come November, I’m writing the next Westin book in the Masked Rider series.

This technique helps so much, I keep believing I’ll meet the 50,000 word goal in November each year and am waiting for the inevitable downfall of someone who gets a little too cocky! But I work hard and I plan a bit and focus my energies.

I’ve built the world my characters live in and I know how everyone fits in. I know how my characters think, what they believe and why they act the way they do. I also have a clear idea of the theme of the book and its unique flow. Year after 50,000-word year I know all of this going in.

If you adopt this strategy, or already use it to your advantage, then you know how much deeper you get to work. If it sounds like it’s boring, trust me, it’s not. Since the groundwork is laid out, you get to delve into other areas; dialogue, background, character motives, red herrings and so on. You can make non-regulars fully fleshed out. Instead of being stuck developing and learning about your main characters, you can do that work with the one-offs. It’s especially useful with mysteries – I get to have a whole new set of suspects with each book and I round them out with great care.

(It worked so well for me that I fully fleshed out my characters’ unknown grandparents and came up with the Ella Westin Mysteries, which I started publishing in January. I just got Masked Rider: Origins back from my editor and am hoping to have it done and published this upcoming January!)

Another fun thing you can do with a series is introduce a character briefly in one book and have him be a suspect in a later one. Sharp-eyed readers get a kick out of it and those that don’t see it will still enjoy the depth and richness you provide.

Thorough work shows.

It’s win-win-win: author, reader, NaNoWriMo’er.

I know there are a load of NaNo-strategies out there, and I’d love to hear yours and I thank you for reading mine.

Thank you, Feliza, for inviting me to your blog and being such a wonderful host.

Jennifer Oberth is the author of the Ella Westin Mysteries and has published Married To Murder (Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble) & Honeymoon Homicide (Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble). You can reach her at NaNoWriMo, her blog, Twitter, and her Facebook Page.

*Editor’s Note: As of the date of this posting, Jennifer has become a NaNoWriMo Winner for 2011! Congrats, Jennifer!

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30 November: NaNo Wrap-Up

It’s the end of another season of NaNo, and it’s time for another monthly wrap-up – special edition!

So how did you do this year, Feliza?

Well… for the first time ever, I won!  I ended up with just a little over 50,000 words basically at the last minute, though I do have about five hours left in November now that I’m done…  My procrastinating ways have not left me.

What did you learn?

I actually learned a lot about England, actually.  Much of Victorious takes place in an alternate-universe version of London, so I had to learn a lot of things about London and about England in general.

Here are a few of the things I learned:

  • Parliament is housed in Westminster Palace, which is divided into two primary parts: The Chamber of Lords and the Chamber of Commons (possibly just Lords Chamber and Commons Chamber, but that was a little vague.)
  • (Also, the Big Ben clock tower is connected to Westminster.)
  • There are at least four streets in London called “Wentworth Road.”
  • There is a Portland in England, and the title for the nobility that resides there is the “Earl of Portland.”  How cool.

In terms of writing, I learned it’s much nicer to chip away chunks of 200 or 400 words at a time when I’m stuck.  Writer’s block is something I usually don’t have to deal with (as I said in this guest post) but I did this month, since NaNo competed with multiple papers and my job.

Most of all, I learned that being stubborn (which some people call “being determined”) is possibly one of my better traits.  Without that stubbornness and determination, I never could have done this.

What changed while you wrote?

Everything.

Just kidding.  But a lot of things did change.  When I started writing Victorious, I had a few primary characters: the protagonist, Augustine Allen, the several-greats grandson of the first black lawyer in America; Victoria, a college journalist in the alternate universe Augustine gets sucked into; Victor, Victoria’s twin brother and a mechanics/science prodigy; and the Duke and Duchess of Wales, Andrew and Mina.

My first day of writing Victorious, though, I added a new major character: Beth Nguyen, Augustine’s best friend in his own world.  She spent the rest of the novel doing a bunch of random things – usually when I was bored, needed to word-pad, or even when I was hungry.

I also spent more time talking about and developing Prince Andrew, Duke of Wales, and Mina, Duchess of Wales, than I originally expected.  While I can’t really tell you too much without giving away the plot, I can tell you that Andrew became a much more interesting prince and Mina went from forward-thinking royalty to working journalist and college instructor.

What would you recommend I do if I want to write a novel?

If you want to write a novel, the first thing you need to do is try to do it.  There are so many ways to do this, even if you think you don’t have time.  Take fifteen minutes normally reserved for Twitter or Facebook and pour it into writing even 100 words of a story.

I’d encourage everyone who wants to write a novel to try NaNoWriMo, but I personally believe aspiring NaNos should try Script Frenzy first.  It’s still hard, but it’s not as hard as NaNo – plus, it’s coming up in April, and you won’t be able to NaNo the regular way until Camp NaNoWriMo in July and August.

Also, my boyfriend and I discussed this a lot during the challenge: you must, must, must read.  If you’re not reading, you can’t write – because you never learn style, good dialogue, or what to look for in a story.

The Hard Facts

Total Words Written: 50,186

Completed?: Not by a long shot.  There’s plenty of adventure left for Augustine and Victoria.  At least the remaining chapters are outlined.

Won?:  YES!

[Guest Post] Romancing the Tome – or “You and Me Could Write a Bad Romance”

This is my fifth NaNoWriMo. Twice, I finished over 50K.  Both times it was with mystery novels. Once, I changed ideas around mid-November.

I advise against this. Okay, sure, I could have kept everything I wrote the first half of the month and uploaded some kind of Frankenstein manuscript for the final count, but I wanted to be honest in my attempt. So I started from scratch.  Needless to say, it didn’t go anywhere. On the other two attempts, the stories were contemporary romance.

One went out with a bored sigh. Don’t get me wrong – I liked the characters and I thought the concept was decent. But it just didn’t have any zest. Sorry, honey, but I don’t think we should see each other anymore. It’s not you – it’s me.

The other one is in progress… as of this writing, 9,000 words behind the curve. But NaNo love is worth fighting for.

I enjoy romance novels – from Silhouette Love-inspired to Taming the Highlander-type bodice rippers. The first contemporary romance I ever read was Susan Andersen’s Baby, Don’t Go. It had spark. It was feisty. I wrote a fan letter to the author. And I decided I wanted to write contemporary romances too. I even bought Romance Writing for Dummies (don’t laugh – it’s a great reference for writers of any genre).

Writing romance that isn’t page after page of clichés is hard, and I’m developing new respect for the writers who do it all the time and make it engaging. My concerns may just stem from my own insecurities about writing in general. Maybe you can relate.  But here’s what I’ve confronted so far.

  • “Overexposure”:  Once the main characters have had their roll in the hay, or quickie in the broom closet, or whatever…I reread it and think, “Sweet biscuits, if anyone finds out I wrote this, I’ll never be able to show my face in public!”  Is it too much? Is it too goofy? Is it even doable? Maybe I need more research. I don’t seem to have a problem writing it; publishing it might be another story (so to speak). Well, this is NaNoWriMo. It’s about first drafts. On rewrite, I might opt for a more controlled burn… or a good pen name.
  • Fantasy versus Real World: I can’t relate to being swept off my feet by the chiseled rancher next door, and Alpha Males irritate me. But I like the self-employed guy with the nice smile who lives down the street. And I like the courage of the woman reinventing herself after a debilitating accident. My NaNo hero has a disability. The heroine is about to get everything she ever wanted, but runs away because she’s afraid she’s wrong. Things happen. Choices are made. Every day. Sometimes our responses are truly heroic.
  • Too much romance, not enough challenge: granted, I’m less than halfway through the word count – and I’m skipping around, not writing chronologically – but I feel like these two haven’t struggled enough. Hang on, kids. I’m about to make your lives miserable – and you’ll love me for it. No ninja pirates, but… well, you’ll have to wait and see.

Conundrums aside, I’m happy with the mechanics of the story; I believe there’s a good balance of dialogue and narrative. It’s all about the word play, as Jason Mraz would say, and getting fifty-thousand words closer to a romance novel I can love.

Elizabeth Irwin is an independent word contractor, which is a fancy way of saying freelance editor and writer, living in Sylvania, Ohio. She coordinates the Write Brain Workshop for the Northwest Ohio Writers Forum, teaches writing-related classes at Owens Community College, and writes everything from articles to flash fiction to memoir. You can find her blog “I Face the Sun” here.

[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.

Fun Lines from NaNoWriMo

When you’re trying to reach 50,000 words, it stands to reason that you’d have some very, very strange phrases that will later be edited out or replaced with “real” writing when you go about doing a “real” draft of your NaNo novel.

Here are some of the strange lines and phrases from “Victorious” I wrote this November.

  • “With the caution of a terrified bunny rabbit…”
  • ” ‘I didn’t say “Bridget,” I said “Bridges,”‘ Victoria said impatiently.  ‘You know.  A bridge just sort of sits there stupidly while everything useful either passes over it or under it.’ “
  • “ ‘So you’re saying all people in your United States get one vote?’ she asked eagerly.  ‘It’s not one vote for the working class, two votes for the merchant class, three for the academic class, and four for the noble class?’ “
  • ” Without moving from her nestled, protected spot, Mina suggested Duke Ammon do something that really wasn’t fit for discussion in mixed company.”
  • “As the session broke up, he could at least console himself with the thought of resting in peace, finally, without any sort of royal humdiggery.”
  • “Everyone with at least half a brain knew the Duchess of Leicester was, to put it politely, a total control freak; to put it less politely, she was a territorial dictator when it came to social functions and her own household.”
  • “An explosion of artery-clogging goodness burst into his mouth.”

What are your best and funniest lines from this year’s NaNo draft?  The more ridiculous, the better!  (Especially jokes that look weird out of context.  I love those.)

[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.