Prepare Yourself! NaNoWriMo 2013

It’s that time of year again: NaNoWriMo is almost upon us.  Writing and literacy are some of my most passionate topics, and NaNoWriMo (hosted by the nonprofit Office of Letters and Light) brings those things together to make something bigger and brighter.

In my five years participating in NaNoWriMo and its siblings, Camp NaNoWriMo and the now-defunct Script Frenzy, I’ve picked up on a few lessons that helped make each event more fun, more engaging, and overall a better experience, and I think it’s time to share those.

#1: Write What You Can

As a graduate student (and a person who has been in school every single year of NaNo, Camp NaNo, and Script Frenzy participation), I can say that one of the most important parts of NaNoWriMo is to write what you can and not to neglect the rest of your life. It’s so tempting to ignore that homework or call out a day from your job to fit in more time to write – but putting off real-world things like your education and earning money probably won’t help you in the long run.

The first lesson for NaNoWriMo I’ve learned over the years is to write what you can, when you can.  If that means only 250 words fit into half an hour before you head to work in the morning, that’s what it means.  If it means alternating between that horrendous term paper and your novel, that’s what it means.

While I’ve been participating in different events every year since 2008, I sometimes drop out in the middle of the month or set a low word count goal for myself in order to do what needs to be done.  And that’s okay.  NaNoWriMo is about creating better writing habits and making new friends – and that’s something I always manage to do.

#2: Push Yourself

Of course, by “write what you can,” I don’t mean “write only in your comfort zone.”

NaNoWriMo is itself about breaking free of your comfort zone: it’s a special person indeed who can say they’re COMFORTABLE writing 50,000 words in a single month. But NaNoWriMo isn’t just about writing lots of words: it’s about pushing yourself as a writer and as a creative individual.

Sometimes that means creating an annoying, despicable protagonist or a misguided-good-guy antagonist. Maybe it means writing a genre you’re not familiar with, or experimenting with formats outside the standard prose novel: a novel in verse, an epistolary novel, or maybe a transition to a script for a graphic novel.

Don’t forget to go beyond the boundaries you set for yourself this year during NaNoWriMo.  What are you doing different this year?

#3: Find a Community

You can make some fantastic friends and connections by engaging with the NaNoWriMo community, which has grown bigger over time. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo since 2008 and am going on my 5th year – since then, I’ve been able to meet some really cool people, like Mike and Elizabeth.

There are a few ways to join the community. First is the community on the NaNoWriMo forums. While there are more than enough forums to occupy all of your November, try and focus on the communities you appreciate best. Sometimes that’s your Home Region’s forums; other times, it may work better for you to get involved in discussions for your age group or in the genre you’re writing in.

Another great way to join a NaNo community is to check out physical locations or location-based groups near you hosting write-ins or other events. Several colleges and universities host events, and many a Barnes & Noble has write-ins. Other times, you can find indie bookstores or coffee shops that sponsor events. (Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find NaNo groups outside major cities at times.)

If you have your own circle of local NaNo friends, that’s fine, too! You can always host your own write-in or kickoff party, and if you’re interested in other events, you could even host your own Night of Writing Dangerously.

What events will you be hosting, organizing, or attending this year? Have you made any friends through NaNoWriMo?

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NaNoWriMo 2012 Launches

Dear Readers,

Welcome to my second year hosting NaNoWriMo articles and advice!  You can check out last year’s NaNo posts to give you a taste of what may be coming up this month.

National Novel Writing Month is a 30-day challenge to write a 50,000-word novel.  Participants often enjoy get-togethers in their region, healthy and friendly competition with friends, and plenty of coffee.  Winners, on the other hand, enjoy other perks – not the least of which being the satisfaction of completing a novel.

I plan to participate this year, but I may have to quit midway through due to the whole graduate school thing.  (I love NaNoWriMo, but I also love not failing classes.)  Along the way, I’ll be posting links and advice from myself and others.

To start off, here’s a list of character archetypes to play with:

  • The Femme Fatale.  Though the idea of a femme fatale is a little – how do I put it – sexist, there are plenty of ways to change the femme fatale as a character archetype to make her more interesting.  What if the femme fatale in your noir-style novel isn’t a secondary character but the narrator?
  • The strong, dark, silent type.  Overdone.  A million times overdone.  Find a way to save it or make it fresh, and I’ll give you a cookie.
  • The damsel in distress.  Also along the lines of sexist – but what if the damsel in question is a man being saved by a woman?  A man being saved by a man?  A man being saved by his trusty dog?

If you’ve got your own suggestions, leave them in the comments – I’m sure it would help all of us.  And if you’re doing a new twist on an old character, be sure to tell us what it is and how you’re making it new.

Remember: you need to write 1,667 words per day to reach that 50,000-word goal.  With new twists on old character types or stereotyped settings, I’m sure you’ll be able to reach 50,000!

Happy writing!

Feliza

[Guest Post] NaNoPlaMo

That’s right, folks, it’s October, aka National Novel Planning Month. For the common Nanoer that is, not for me – I’ve had a chapter-by-chapter outline done for this year’s Nano since the end of September.

(Don’t feel bad. It’s only because I finished a second draft of this novel in June and spent all summer brainstorming the plot-holes out of it until I had a workable plot line.)

But I still have some planning ahead of me, because I am the official-unofficial Nano Planner for the University of Toledo Writer’s Guild. Admittedly, that doesn’t require as much work as would befall, say, a regional ML (municipal liaison), but still: Between five classes, three jobs, a boatload of homework, and this being my first year as any sort of coordinator for Nano events, I’m swamped.

What is a Nano event, you ask? Well, the primary event would be a write-in, but in all there are three basic things that happen around Nanowrimo:

  1. Kick-off parties
  2. Write-ins
  3. End parties, aka “thank God it’s over” parties

Kick-off parties might take place before November, to let everyone touch base, meet, and hang out before their month of shared insanity, or they might take place right at the beginning of November. The Toledo-area kick-off, for example, was a week ago, whereas the Writer’s Guild kick-off will be on the first Friday of November.

Because our UTWG kick-off will be after NaNo has started, it will really be a big write-in. “Big” in our case meaning “this is the first write-in of the month, so come in and kick-start your novel before school, work, and those annoying people you live with start to bog you down,” not meaning “a lot of people will be there.” Considering we’ve had an average meeting attendance of about four students, I’m guessing a lot of people will not be there, but it’ll be fun and it’ll be productive, and if a couple of new people happen to come join us, awesome.

Our write-in will actually be a write-in, in that we’ll while away the hours by sitting at a table with our laptops or notebooks and write with that burst of speed that always accompanies the beginning of the month.

In contrast, Toledo-area write-ins are really fun, but they’re not very productive. When someone asks what we do at a write-in, I say, “Well, supposedly we’re writing all together, but really it’s more like we’re helping each other procrastinate.” Not to cast disparagement on these write-ins – I love going to them. It’s how I made friends in Toledo last year. But the only time I got any real writing done was the day before Thanksgiving: I arrived late, after work, to find that the few people who had showed up were gone. Sitting alone at the Starbucks in Barnes & Noble, I managed to get 2500 words written in just a couple of hours.

But normally I just talked to people.

At the end of the month is the traditional “thank God it’s over party,” at which you congratulate the people who won and celebrate the fact that you can stop freaking out about word-count, start spending more time with your significant other and less with your cat (who was your only company for the month, as he, unlike your boyfriend, simply slept on the table while you typed away, rather than complaining about your lack of attention), and otherwise return to a state of sanity.

I have our kick-off party and write-ins worked out for the month, but I’m not sure about our end-party. November 30th falls on a Friday, which would be perfect since that’s UTWG’s normal meeting day…but I don’t want to alienate anyone who’s still racing the clock, desperately trying to get to that fifty-thousandth word before the laptop strikes midnight.

Maybe the following Monday at Biggby. We’ll see.

Happy Nanoing to all, and to all a good novel!

Elizabeth Anderson is an education major at the University of Toledo. She works at the Learning Club of Toledo, the Toledo Botanical Gardens, and Lane Bryant and writes the UTWG newsletter. Her blog, Inkwell, can be found here, or follow her on Twitter.

The University of Toledo Writer’s Guild is open to all UT students and alumni as well as high-school students who would like to be honorary members. Any high-school or college-aged students from any schools in the Toledo area are welcome at UTWG’s Nano events.

Kick-off party: UT Student Union, room 1507 on Friday, November 2, from 3-5p.m. and 7-9p.m.

Meetings: Every Friday in UT SU 1507 from 5-7p.m.

Write-ins: Every Monday at Biggby Coffee on W. Central Ave. from 7-9p.m.

The UTWG blog can be found here. You can also check out the UTWG Nano thread.

Toledo-area write-ins are on Thursdays at the Barnes & Noble on Monroe St. from 6-10p.m. or whenever you get there. There will be no write-in on Thanksgiving.

Gearing Up: NaNoWriMo 2012

As some of you may know, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) will be launching again in just a few short weeks.  Last year, I participated in the 50,000-word challenge and won for the first time, though my first time participating was in 2008.

This year, I’ll be participating again – but I don’t have high hopes of winning.  (Grad school is a bit more pressing at the moment.)  While I won’t be posting (or hosting guests) as much as I did last year, you’ll still find a few helpful resources on my site between now and December.

I’m aiming to post something each Thursday, starting with a guest post by my friend Elizabeth this week.  You can look forward to learning about NaNoPlaMo from her.  You can also look forward to some other NaNoWriMo-related goodies, mainly encouraging pep talks and fun/distracting links.

For now, tell me a little bit about your NaNoWriMo project.  You’ll be learning a bit more about mine when November arrives.

[Guest Post] Survival of the Easiest

As a veteran Nano and first-time Screnzier, I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between National Novel Writing Month and Script Frenzy. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about which is easier.

As a seasoned Nanoer, you’d expect me to go with Nanowrimo. After all, I’ve never even written a script before (barring a few five-minute skits I wrote for high school theatre class), while I have roughly half a dozen half-finished novels floating around my bedroom and ideas for at least half a dozen more.  On the Script Frenzy site there’s a forum for Nano-turned-Screnziers, where novelists share the woes of trying to write a script.

Most of these woes have to do with formatting, but I think that’s just silly. Sure, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but that’s what the free version of Celtx is for. Admittedly I still sometimes have questions about how to imbed a flashback in a scene or how to cut away from one room to another room to show simultaneous events, but generally speaking, formatting is pretty easy if you don’t try to do it yourself.

(I did do it myself in class one day when I was handwriting more of my script rather than paying attention to “Death of a Salesman,” but by then I had been using Celtx for a few days and knew what the script should look like. Later that night I brought the paper to Biggby for our write-in, and it made Feliza’s diaphragm contort in hilarity.)

(For those of you who don’t know, that’s the pseudo-scientific way of saying it amused her.)

And then a lot of Nanoers say they have trouble keeping in their head that it’s page-count, not word-count, that matters in Screnzy. To me, that means these people just like doing things the hard way. I mean, come on: 50,000 words (roughly 175 double-spaced pages filled with writing) vs. 100 pages (with lots of space due to formatting). Being the lazy bastard I am, I’ve had no trouble at all thinking in terms of pages instead of words. Consider the difference, here. If you write five words during Nano, you look like this:

Whereas if you write five pages during Screnzy, you look more like this…

Remember: Pages > words.

The only real problem I’m having with Screnzy is the writing itself. The reason being that when I write a novel, I usually have at least most of the scenes and dialogue planned out. Not in a wrote-a-detailed-outline way, but in a daydreamed-about-it-in-my-head way. I visualize while doing the dishes at work or driving. But with this script, I have done very little visualizing, which is probably a bad thing since scripts are extremely visual. So I keep getting stuck because, although I know what’s happening, I don’t know how it’s happening – I don’t have a clear idea of what the setting looks like, how the characters are interacting, or what the characters are saying. But I think that’s a personal problem.

As of Day 10 I should be on page 33.3 (if my math is wrong I’ll use the excuse that all good English teachers use: I don’t teach math), but without any script-writing yet done today I’m on page 40. This is my deciding factor on whether Screnzy or Nano is easier: I am NEVER ahead on Nano. In fact, though I won Nano 2011, I spent most of November behind. I had days when I had to force myself to write at least 2500 words just so I could be almost caught up.

Whereas during Screnzy, most of my tweets are like this one:

I rest my case.

Elizabeth Anderson is an education major at the University of Toledo, specializing in language arts and sciences.  She is a two-time Nanowrimo participant, a first-year Screnzier.  In her spare time she likes to read, write, draw, sing, play piano, take walks, garden, and be generally weird and nerdy.  Check out her blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.

[Guest Post] Hit Fast Forward

It’s now December 1st and you’ve got a spanking new 50,000 word novel (or at least a substantial part of a novel).  What are you doing to do?

If the novel’s not complete, finish it.  You’ve got momentum coming out of NaNo, really good writing habits, and the ideas are still sunshiny fresh.  Besides, your friends haven’t seen you for a whole month.  They won’t miss you if you’re absent for several more days.

Then when the novel’s done, toss it into the bottom of your literal or figurative drawer and ignore it for at least a month.  Call your parents, remind your friends you’re still alive, apologize to your significant other for ignoring him/her/it for so long, and wrangle up a date for the Christmas party.

And then what?  What can you really do with that tangle of words conjured up in a single heady, highly-caffeinated month?

First, read it (and yes, it’s perfectly normal to cringe.)  In spite of all the tricks you used to inflate the word count, do you see in it the glimmer of a great story?  Do you want to go further with it?

Of course you do!

Last year, I took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time.  My 70,000-word partially complete NaNo novel hit 120,000 words by the time the first draft was done.  Seven major revisions later, it has 91,000 words.  The novel recently placed second in the Royal Palm Literary Awards for Science Fiction (unpublished), and the full manuscript is currently sitting on the desks of several literary agents, where I’m hopeful it will go further.

The key to getting your NaNo out of that bottom drawer is to edit, edit, edit.  Compared to writing, editing is slow and laborious.  The rewards aren’t immediately obvious; instead of seeing that word count climb, you’re likely to see it fall.  But it’s the only way that NaNo novel is going to go anywhere.

Join a critique group and find the guts to read your novel in front of other people.  (I’ll confess, I’m still trying to work up the nerve for this one.)  Beg your friends to read your novel.  Score double points if that friend is also a writer – they provide better feedback.  Take part in NaNoEdMo and commit to 50 hours of editing.  Invest in yourself.  ‘Writing the breakout novel’, by Maass, provides fantastic tips on creating a story that’s worth telling.   ‘Self-editing for fiction writers: How to edit yourself into print’ by Brown and King teaches you how to identify and correct stylistic problems.

Don’t be afraid to substantially edit your novel.  It’s not a baby (really, truly). Think of it as a bonsai.  Regular pruning is absolutely required for growth.  My writer friend told me that the last third of my novel sucked (yes, that is a technical term).  So, I ripped out about 40,000 words, and eventually replaced it with something much better.

Are you done editing?

Do it again.

Do it until it’s the absolute best you are sure you can do on your own.  And then, if you’re not the archetypal poor college student and can find $1,000 – $3,000 to spare, seek out a good professional editor (the key word here is ‘good’, not just ‘professional’), and get them to look over your work.  (Full disclosure: I didn’t even consider going down this path until after my novel won the award.  I figured a winner was probably worth a larger financial investment.)

Finding an agent and getting published is a whole other story, and it’s a path I’m just embarking on.  But you’ll never get there unless you edit that NaNo novel.  Good luck, happy writing and merry editing!

Jade Kerrion is a Science Fiction author.  GENESIS, the first book in her DOUBLE HELIX series, placed second in the Royal Palm Literary Awards, Science Fiction (unpublished) category.  Find her online at JadeKerrion.com.

[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!