31 October: Current Progress

Happy Halloween!

As I gear up for NaNoWriMo with the rest of the UT Writer’s Guild, I’m wrapping up a few of my long-term projects before November.  Most of them will start over again in December.

  • I’ve decided to work on a new, as-of-now untitled screenplay project.  All I can really tell you is that it’s related to The TECH Project and my first attempt at Script Frenzy in 2009.  And that it’ll be much better than both of those things.
  • This month, I’ve been making some excellent progress on my novel The Final Experiment, which is a direct sequel to The TECH Project and takes place one year after TTP’s conclusion.  I’m more than three-fourths of the way finished transcribing the novel, but I also have to write two full scenes – including an intense battle scene – and there’s a lot of editing to do before I can do anything else with the manuscript.
  • I’m also working on Knitting, a prompt for my Screenwriting class that’s growing into a slightly larger story.  It may go on to do bigger and better things, but for now it’s a 10-minute short film.

And now on to NaNoWriMo!  Here’s what you can look forward to as I update with fair regularity about my progress:

Augustine is a little old-fashioned.  His whole apartment is decorated in neo-Victorian style – but he’s felt for some time now that something’s missing.  He finds that missing element in a back-alley antique store: an ornate brass-framed mirror, faintly scratched.  Thrilled with his find, Augustine hauls it home only to find himself sucked inside – into a strange, almost Victorian world filled with oil-driven and steam-powered machines.

That’s just a brief summary – I have much more outlined!

You can also see in my current sidebar a NaNoWriMo widget.  I’ll keep my word count updated there, too, so you can check my progress as I make it.  I plan to win NaNo for the first time this year!

Will you be participating in National Novel Writing Month this year?  If so, add me as a friend!  You can find me under the username xxfourthelement or in the Toledo regional forums.

NaNoWriMo: Support the Office of Letters and Light in 2011

National Novel Writing Month is a 30-day challenge to complete a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. This November, I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo as a writer and as a facilitator for my campus writing group’s NaNo activities.

This year, members of the UT Writer’s Guild will be participating in NaNoWriMo through contests, fundraisers, and events held on- and off-campus.  We hope to raise awareness of ourselves as a group as well as awareness for NaNo and the Office of Letters and Light, the non-profit organization that sponsors NaNo.

Each year, the Office of Letters and Light sponsors the Young Writers Program, a writing and educational program for kids and teens to encourage them not only to participate in NaNo but also to become better writers overall.  The Office helps educators participate by offering free educational kits to those who apply for classroom NaNo kits.

But we all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

In order to keep the educational kits – and the NaNo website – completely free, the Office of Letters and Light runs almost exclusively on donations.  This year, I’m helping raise money to support the Young Writers Program as an individual and as a UT Writer’s Guild officer.

Please help support my campaign for the Office of Letters and Light – and, through them, their Young Writers Program campaign – by checkout out and donating to my fundraising page.  You can donate in any amount, from $1 up.

Thank you for considering sponsoring OLL on my behalf.  Know that if you participate, you’re helping writers across the world reach their dreams.

Your PNP, Part Two: Planning & Outlining

Now that you’ve finished the first part of your Pre-NaNo Plan, you’re feeling confident and prepared for National Novel Writing Month.  You know exactly how much time you have to write and you know that you’ll have time to finish your novel.

But do you know what you’ll be writing next month?

The Pitch

Your first step in planning and outlining will be to create a pitch, a very short concept for your NaNo.  Usually, before I start any project, I begin with a pitch.  The concept can change later, but having a pitch to begin with is always a great idea.

Here’s my example pitch for this year’s NaNo, which can be found on my Novel Info page on NaNoWriMo.org:

A slightly eccentric college student buys a mirror at an antique/secondhand store only to find himself sucked in and caught in a strange Victorian-esque world where he most certainly does NOT belong…

The pitch is a one-sentence summary of the entire novel.  While there’s a lot more to this story – for example, the “slightly eccentric college student” has a name and quite a lot of backstory – the pitch is the bare bones of the thing.  It’s also fairly open-ended: ten authors could write ten different novels based on this pitch and come up with ten totally different ideas.

The Outline

Here’s the funny thing about outlines: not all writers need them.

That’s probably a funny way to start this section, but it’s true.  Not all writers need outlines.  Some writers do perfectly fine just going with the flow.  But for those of you who do need to, let’s get down to business.

Your best bet is to make a very general outline of the events of the novel and flesh it out slowly.  What are the major plot arcs?  From there, you can figure out smaller details, such as scenes and subplots.

You can outline as much or as little as you like – there’s no limit and no “right way” to do it.  Personally, I like having a decent-sized outline so I know where I’m going with my plot, especially during NaNo.  Having an outline usually helps me write efficiently, and writing efficiently is pretty much everything during NaNo.

If you don’t like outlines, though, there are indeed alternatives – including the alternative I picked this year.

The Summary

Instead of an outline with bullets and numbers, you may opt instead to write a summary of the novel with all the main plot points explained.  My summary is two hand-written notebook pages long and covers the main body of the story, although it leaves the ending (and quite a bit of detail) for me to flesh out as I write.

Summaries are better for the literary-inclined, as a bulleted or numbered outline will be more visual and less wordy.

Conclusion

The second part of y our PNP focuses on helping you build a skeleton for your NaNo novel.  Once you have a skeleton finished before November begins, you can get to work fleshing it out when you start marathon-writing on November 1.

Writing a pitch, outline, and/or summary can help you reach these goals faster – and you’re less likely to get 100% stuck if you have a loose plan.  Of course, always remain open to change: During NaNo, anything can happen.

Is there anything else writers should do to prepare for National Novel Writing Month?  Leave your ideas and advice below!

Your PNP (Pre-NaNo Plan), Part 1

National Novel Writing Month is coming up fast!  This annual event, held throughout November and sponsored by California-based nonprofit The Office of Letters and Light, challenges writers of all ages to complete a 50,000 word novel – or 50,000 words of a novel – in 30 days or less.

I know what you’re thinking – you don’t have time to write a novel, even though you always said you would, or maybe you’ve tried before and never managed to do 50,000 words.  Yet that’s not necessarily true.  It’s entirely possible to find both the time and motivation to complete a novel for NaNoWriMo – but you may need a PNP: Pre-NaNo Plan.

Examining your schedule

The first step of building your PNP will require you to take a look at your schedule and start sorting things out.  When do you have time each day to sit down and write?

This might be the hardest part of the PNP, especially for students.  There’s that big exam on December 2 that you need to study for the entire week beforehand.  And of course there’s the 8-hour (one-way) drive home for Thanksgiving.  And the on-campus club activity meetings every week.  And you work 30 hours each week.

Maybe, with all those things on your plate, you need to start to rearrange your schedule.

First, think about how long it takes you to type a single page in manuscript format – standard-sized printer paper, one-inch margins, double-spaced – which amounts to approximately 250 words each.  During NaNo, your goal of words per day will need to be at least 1,667.

What does this mean for you?  For starters, it means that, if you’re counting each double-spaced page as 250 words, you need to write at least six and a half manuscript pages per day to accommodate your NaNo goal of 50,000 words.

From there, you can plan accordingly.  Here’s an example: I know that if I’m really on a roll, it takes me about 10 minutes to write a single manuscript page, but more often it takes me 15 to 30 minutes to write that much, or about 22 minutes on average.  Therefore, I need to dedicate about one hour and 15 minutes per day in November to working on my manuscript – bare minimum – in order to reach my goal.

For a college student, dedicating an hour and 15 minutes every day can seem pretty steep, and I know I’m a bit of a fast writer based on my typing speed and pre-planning.  However, there are ways to get around this.  If you know there’s one day per week you really can’t work on a manuscript, take that day off – just add that hour and 15 minutes to another writing day.

You may also be interested in participating in regional NaNo writing events, which take place over the course of several hours and gives participants plenty of time to write and have fun together – which brings us to our next point in building a PNP.

Finding enemies allies

When building your PNP, you want to include time to build and meet with a writing group.  Finding a writing partner or joining a group is a great way to keep you motivated – especially if you keep it competitive.

Get a friend to be your NaNo partner and compete for first finish.  Your partner needs to be as dedicated as you are!  In the end, you may want to have a reward of sorts for the winner: for example, the loser has to buy a grilled feta sandwich for the winner.

You can also utilize the NaNo website to find your allies.  Check out the forum section of the NaNo site – and make sure you mark your region in your information!  Joining a region allows you to check out your regional forum, where you can meet up with new people in your area.

NaNo’s regional forums can really help you out when it comes to allies – several Municipal Liasons, also called MLs, organize write-ins, meetups, and other NaNo events at local bookstores and coffee shops.  You can also use the forums to suggest your own meetups or write-ins as well.

Conclusion

Part One of your PNP should focus on actually finding time and motivation to complete those 50,000 words in November.  Once you’ve figured out whether or not you have time to do it – and/or rearranged your schedule accordingly – you’ll be able to work on the PNP Part Two: Brainstorming Your NaNo.  Check back later for Part Two, coming soon!

Did you find this article helpful?  Please let me know in the comments below!  You can also follow me on Twitter or Like my page on Facebook.

Writing Tips: Keeping Focused

In the media-filled world we live in now, it’s amazing that anyone manages to get any serious writing work finished.  Between sites like Facebook and Twitter, the constant ringing and buzzing of cell phones, and everything else going on, there’s little time to think and breathe – let alone work on that novel.

Somehow, I’ve managed to find a few ways to sit and focus, even for only 30 minutes at a time to work on my blog.  (You have to start somewhere, right?)  Here are my personal tips on finding ways to focus on writing.

  • Put yourself in a “foreign” environment.  I do most of my good thinking and writing when I’m not at my house, where I have easy and convenient access to my biggest distraction, The Refrigerator.  Moving to a different location – usually someplace on-campus or at a coffee shop – always helps me focus a little more.
  • Pick your reward and stick to it.  Usually, I do this when I’m having an ongoing text message conversation.  Withhold yourself from doing something – like sending a text or getting a drink of water – until you have reached a goal, such as writing a full page of script or editing one poem.  If you have an immediate benefit, you’re more likely to push yourself to finish rather than stopping mid-thought, which is never a benefit at all.
  • Compete with a friend.  This works particularly well with models like National Novel Writing Month and Script Frenzy.  Set a goal with a friend and see who can reach it first.  That might mean finishing a short story in a week or 500 pages in one month.  Keep in contact with your friend via e-mail or text, letting him or her know how far you are.  When they tell you that they’re ten pages ahead, you’ll feel more motivated to catch up.  Especially when there’s a DQ Blizzard for the victor.
  • Join a group.  This has helped me over the past few months: since I’m vice president of an on-campus writing group, I feel like I need to actually get stuff done – especially when we have our meetings and workshops.

Everyone has their own way to focus on writing.  My favorite is to plug in to Secondhand Serenade while I’m working: the music calms me down, and since the transitions between songs are not harsh, it’s not distracting and it helps mask other (unwanted) noises.

Experiment with different things to find your own.  Maybe you need your favorite movie playing in the background.  Maybe you need to be in a study room at the library by yourself.  Whatever it is, find your zone.  That’s the best way to focus I could share with you.