Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

What is NaNoWriMo and why bother with it? #amwriting

As most of you know by now, I regularly participate in the annual writing rumble known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m a rebel in that I usually scratch out as many short stories as I am able in those thirty days.

I participate every year because for 30 precious days, writing is the only thing I “have” to do.

My friends and family all know that November, in our house, is referred to “National Pot Pie Month,” so if you drop by expecting a hot meal from Grandma, it will probably emerge from the microwave in the form of a formerly frozen hockey puck.

I usually have my “winners’ certificate” by the day they become available, but I continue writing every day through the 30th and update my word count daily.

NaNoWriMo is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have your word count validated through the national website you ‘win.’ But it is not a contest in any other way as there are no huge prizes or great amounts of acclaim for those winners, only a PDF winner’s certificate that you can fill out and print to hang on your wall.

It is simply a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel.

Now let’s face it–a novel of only 50,000 words is not a very long novel. It’s a good length for YA or romance, but for epic fantasy or literary fiction it’s only half a novel. But regardless of the proposed length of their finished novel, a dedicated author can get the rough draft–the basic structure and story-line of a novel–down in those thirty days simply by sitting down for an hour or two each day and writing a minimum of 1667 words per day.

With a simple outline to keep you on track, that isn’t too hard. In this age of word processors, most authors can double or triple that. As always, there is a downside to this intense month of stream-of-consciousness writing. Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you can write a novel that others want to read.

Every year many cheap or free eBooks will emerge testifying to that fundamental truth.

The good thing is, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy the act of writing and are fired to learn the craft. They will find that for them this month of madness was not about getting a certain number of words written by a certain date, although that goal was important. For them, it is about embarking on a creative journey and learning a craft with a dual reputation that difficult to live up to. Depending on the cocktail party, authors are either disregarded as lazy ne’er-do-wells or given far more respect than we deserve.

As I said in my previous post on NaNoWriMo, more people do this during November than you would think–about half the NaNo Writers in my regional area devote this time journaling or writing college papers.

For a very few people, participating in NaNoWriMo will give them the confidence to admit that an author lives in their soul and is demanding to get out. In their case, NaNoWriMo is about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for all their lives.

These are the people who will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing. Whether they pursue formal educations or not, these authors will take the time and make an effort to learn writing conventions (practices). They will attend seminars, they will develop the skills needed to take a story and make it a novel with a proper beginning, a great middle, and an incredible end.

They will properly polish their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it. They will have it professionally edited. These are books I will want to read.

The life of an artist or author is not one of constant accolades and fetes. After you have downloaded the PDF Winners’ Certificate from www.NaNoWriMo.org, you will rarely receive an award to show for your labors. Yes, some people will love and admire what we have created, but other times what we hear back from our beta readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear.

The smart authors haul themselves to a corner, lick their wounds, and persevere. They pull up their socks and keep to the path and don’t expect or demand overnight success.

When we write something that a reader loves—that is a feeling that can’t be described. That moment makes the months of intense work and financial sacrifice worth it.

And whether we go indie or the traditional route, writing is a career that will require financial sacrifice.

Most authors must keep their day jobs because success as an author can’t always be measured in cash or visibility in the New York Times bestsellers list. For most authors, success can only be measured in the satisfaction you as an author get out of your work. Traditionally published authors see a smaller percentage of their royalties than the more successful indies, but if they are among the lucky few, they can sell more books and earn more because of that.

The fact your book has been picked up by a traditional publisher does not guarantee they will put a lot of effort into pushing the first novel by an unknown author. You will have to do all the social media footwork yourself, tweeting, getting an Instagram account, getting a website, etc. You may even have to arrange your own book signing events, just as if you were an indie.

This is time-consuming, and you will feel as if you need a personal assistant to handle these things—indeed, some people rely on the services of hourly personal assistants to help navigate the rough waters of being your own publicist.

Every year, participating in NaNoWriMo will inspire many discussions about becoming an author. Going full-time or keeping the day job, going indie or aiming for a traditional contract—these are conundrums many new authors will be considering after they have finished the chaotic month of NaNoWriMo. While few of us have the luxury to go indie and write full-time (my husband has a good job), many authors will struggle to decide their publishing path.

However, if you don’t sit down and write that story, you aren’t an author. You won’t have to worry about it. With that in mind, November and NaNoWriMo would be a great time to put that idea on paper and see if you really do have a novel lurking in your future.

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Who should participate in #NaNoWriMo #amwriting

As summer ends and fall approaches, those of us who are regular NaNoWriMo writers begin to plan for November, our month of committed writing. We are making notes to and jotting down ideas as they occur to us. Some of us are making brief outlines which we may or may not follow.

Some years I start with the idea for a novel. The first draft of Huw the Bard was written during NaNoWriMo 2011, although he wasn’t published until 2014.

However, for the last four years, I have written short stories and novellas during NaNoWriMo, because I have several fantasy novels in progress and what I really need are literary fiction short stories for submitting to contests and magazines.

I always enter November with my literary guns blazing. I have a list of ideas for plots and hit the keyboard at 12:01 a.m. on November 1st by attending a virtual midnight write in.

Many people have heard of NaNoWriMo, but think the month is only dedicated to novel writing. People are always glad to learn that many people with no desire to be published authors use this month to create 50,000 word manuscripts.

  • Family historians
  • Dedicated diarists
  • People working on their PhD
  • people writing cookbooks

Anyone who wants or needs a month dedicated to getting a particular thing written will do so in November.

More people do this during November than you would think–about half the NaNo Writers in my regional area are journaling or writing college papers. The support of our online group gives the graduate student an added incentive to stay focused on writing their thesis.

This support group offers moral support to diarists and encourages them to write more about their world, their thoughts, and their philosophies.

I’ve been asked many times what I see as the differences between journaling and noveling. (Sorry, word-nazis—”noveling” is a word. I invented it several years ago for a blog post and still use it regularly.)

Anyway, journaling is keeping a personal diary with an eye to stress management.  As a self-exploration tool, journaling works best when done consistently. You write on a daily basis, or at least frequently.

According to the website, Very Well Mind: Journaling allows people to clarify their thoughts and feelings, thereby gaining valuable self-knowledge. It’s also a good problem-solving tool; oftentimes, one can hash out a problem and come up with solutions more easily on paper.

Diarists detail their lives, the world around them, and how the larger events of society affect them. A famous diarist was Samuel Pepys, whose diary details the Great Fire of London and include many tidbits about the famous people he knew.

From the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia: The detailed private diary that Pepys kept from 1660 until 1669 was first published in the 19th century and is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period. It provides a combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War, and the Great Fire of London.

Noveling is telling lies, keeping them straight, and making the world believe it until the last page.

When I first began with NaNoWriMo, I spent some time lurking on the various threads on the national website. To my utter surprise, I discovered a contingent of writers who were not trying to write a book that could be published. For them, this was a game they wanted to win at any cost, and their goal was to see how high their word count could get.

One suggestion from them for increasing your word count was to use no contractions.

Let’s be clear: I do NOT recommend this. If you ever want to publish your manuscript, you will have a lot of work ahead of you to make it readable if you do that.

Whether you are journaling or noveling, participating in NaNoWriMo helps you develop the discipline of writing daily. Write for as long as you can when you can, and that will build your ‘writing’ muscles.

As a novelist, if I dedicate 3 hours of every day in November to just writing stream of conscious, I will chunk out 2500 to 3000 words a day, half of which are miskeyed and misspelled. No one is perfect.

When I can’t find a word to express a thought, I invent one. In reality, some words I invent, and some words invent me.

If you should choose to enter this highly addictive adrenaline rush of a month-long activity, go to www.nanowrimo.org and sign up! Pick your name, get your author profile started, and look up dragon_fangirl (that’s me). Add me as your writing buddy, and I will be part of your writing posse, cheering you on when you need a morale boost.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Samuel Pepys,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Samuel_Pepys&oldid=854824642 (accessed September 4, 2018).

Quote from Journaling for Stress Management, by Elizabeth Scott, MS for Very Well Mind, https://www.verywellmind.com/the-benefits-of-journaling-for-stress-management-3144611, Ⓒ 2018 About, Inc. (Dotdash) — All rights reserved (accessed September 4, 2018).

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

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Works in Progress Update #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

I don’t write quickly, as some of the authors I know do. Some write well in the first draft and can turn out a good book every six months but not me. It takes me several drafts to get a manuscript to a publishable form. I have a mind like a grasshopper in the sun, hopping around in the first draft of a manuscript with each new thought that occurs to me. While the initial outline I made for the novel is linear and details the important points of a complete story arc, the way I put the story on paper is not.

During the initial writing process, I have a friend who is a structural editor who points out plot holes and places where a story arc has flatlined. He sees the larger picture. The final draft goes to my editor, who line-edits and gets into the smaller issues of usage and style.

For me, taking a novel from concept to publication takes about four years. This is because after I finish writing each scene, I have to decide how I want to proceed with what I know must happen the next.

So, I work on something else until I get that flash of inspiration that kickstarts my brain again. The plots and characters of all my works in progress are lurking in the back of my mind at all times, which is why I always have several manuscripts in various stages of the process.

The manuscript that is currently closest to completion is in third draft form and just came back from my beta readers. I have some large changes to make, but thanks to their input this will go much more quickly than the previous drafts. I still expect to publish it next summer.

I am still working on the first draft of a new duology (2 novels) set in the world of Neveyah, a prequel to Tower of Bones. That manuscript is at the ¾ mark for the first novel and the first draft of book 1 will possibly be completed by Christmas.

I also have a contemporary fiction novel in the works that has been pushed back, but whenever I have a flash of inspiration, I do pull it out and get a bit more done on it.

But September, October, and November are what I think of as Short Story Season.

The calendar is full of conventions and NaNoWriMo events. My ability to focus on a long project becomes fractured, so I use this time to write as many short stories as I can so that I have a backlog of work to submit to magazines and anthologies.

And on the short story front, I’ve received minor edit requests on work I submitted to two anthologies, which I will have resolved today.

By using the Submittable App, I have found three more anthologies that have interesting themes that I would like to write stories to. The final dates for submissions are still six months out on these so I may have something worth sending by then.

This will be my eighth year of participating in NaNoWriMo, and my seventh as a municipal liaison. That month of merry madness forces me to become disciplined, to lose the bad habits I slip into during the rest of the year. It forces me to ignore the inner editor, that unpleasant little voice that slows my productivity down and squashes my creativity.

Also, for this one month of the year, nothing comes before writing. Some years flu season has gotten in the way, and I was in bed for part of the time. Nevertheless, I was still writing and getting my wordcount when I was awake. Thank God for NyQuil.

My rules for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required) This takes me about 2 hours – I’m not fast at this.
  2. Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. Do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am to find the time and don’t let anything derail you.
  3. If you are stuck, write about how your day went and how you are feeling about things that are happening in your life, or write that grocery list. Use this time as a brainstorming session and just write about what you would like to see happen in your story. Change the color of the font so you can easily cut your ruminations out later.
  4. Check in on the national threads at http://www.NaNoWriMo.org and your regional thread to keep in contact with other writers.
  5. Attend a write-in if your region is having any, or join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.
  6. Delete nothing. Passages you want to delete later can be highlighted, and the font turned to red or blue, so you can easily separate them out later.
  7. Remember, not every story is a novel. If your story comes to an end and you are only at 7,000 words, start a new story in the same manuscript. Use a different font or a different color of font, and you can always separate the stories later. That way you won’t lose your word count.
  8. Validate your word count every day.

As writers, we tend to forget that output is important too. NaNoWriMo reminds us that if we don’t write a paragraph or two of new material every day we stagnate.  How unexciting it is to be stuck, going over and over the same stale passages, wondering why the book isn’t finished.

The act of sitting down and just writing whatever comes into your mind is liberating. Even if you don’t want the world to see what you write during the 30 days of NaNoWriMo, you have an outlet for your creative mind, a sounding board for your opinions and ideas.

Watching TV and playing video games all evening long doesn’t allow for creative thinking.  Your mind doesn’t get to rest from the daily grind. Creative thinking—assembling puzzles, quilting, writing, painting, building Lego cities—these activities are far more relaxing than vegetating in front of the TV. Assembling puzzles is a great way to sort out plot points.

If you have an obsession for a TV show that is interfering with your ability to find time to write, maybe this isn’t your time to be a writer.

My thought is that those shows will be available forever on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime and your favorite video games will be available too.

Something I have found  over the years is that by getting away from the TV for a while, your mind becomes sharper. By doing something different, you give your active mind a vacation. You rest better and your whole body benefits from having done something positive and restful with your free time.


Credits and Attributions

Underwood Standard Typewriter, PD|75 yrs image first published in the 1st (1876–1899), 2nd (1904–1926) or 3rd (1923–1937) edition of Nordisk familjebok.

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis [CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5), from Wikimedia Commons

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Fritz Leiber, Takuma Sato, and #NaNoWriMo #amwriting

My first NaNoWriMo novel, written in 2010, began with the idea of writing a book Fritz Leiber might write if he were still alive and if he had consumed several hallucinogenic mushrooms. I had just finished re-reading my collection of Fritz Leiber tales, and I had Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser on the brain. These two characters are scoundrels, living in a decadent world where a lack of scruples is a requirement for survival.

The book I produced had no resemblance to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and was nothing like anything Fritz would have written. But within the uneven plot and hokey, frequently overblown dialogue lay the bones of a good story.

My participation in NaNoWriMo began in 2010 when a young writer in the Philippines whom I had met through a gaming website mentioned he was going to do this writing challenge. I was intrigued, discovering it was a worldwide contest of sorts, where hundreds of thousands of people began writing a novel on November 1st with the intention of having it finished by November 30.

The catch was, you couldn’t start until 12:01 am on November 1st, and the finished book had to be at least 50,000 words long, but it could longer than that if you needed it to be. And, you had to have it validated by 11:59 PM on November 30th to “win” the coveted winner’s goodies.

Fear of failure had never stopped me from making my life more complicated, so when I signed up, I chose the handle dragon_fangirl.

As my favorite Indycar Driver, Takuma Sato says, “No attack, no chance.” At 6:30 a.m. on November 1, 2010, I looked at my laptop and had no idea what to do. Then it came to me: Just write the first line:

There was a cabin in the woods.

It wasn’t exactly literary brilliance, but it wasn’t too terrible, and it gave my idea little more form. I just began telling the story as it fell out of my mind. To my surprise, I discovered my word count averaged 2,500 to 3,000 words a day. By day fifteen I knew I would have no trouble getting the 50,000, and by November 21 I had attained the winning number of words.

At the 68,000-word point, I had completed my rollicking tale of snark and medieval derring-do. Of course, it was completely unpublishable, but I didn’t know that until later.

What I did know, was that I had written a complete novel, and told a story that I would have wanted to read. Three years later I realized all it needed was rewriting, editing, revising, rewriting, and putting in a drawer, never to be seen again.

Out of the wreckage of that book came the novel, Huw the Bard.

One rule they tell you at NaNoWriMo is “never delete,” and “don’t self-edit” as you go along. This is all strictly stream-of-consciousness, write it the way you think it. That was hard for me, but I did get into the swing of things eventually.

When I was out lurking on the various threads on the national website, I discovered a contingent of writers who were not trying to write a book that could be published. For them, this was a game they wanted to win at any cost, and their goal was to see how high their word count could get.

One suggestion from them for increasing your word count was to use no contractions.

Let’s be clear: I do NOT recommend this. If you ever want to publish your manuscript, you will have a lot of work ahead of you to make it readable if you do that.

My rules for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required) This takes me about 2 hours – I’m not fast at this.
  2. Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. Do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am to find the time and don’t let anything derail you. If you are stuck, write about how your day went and how you are feeling about things that are happening in your life, or write that grocery list. Just write, and think about where you want to take your real story. Write about what you would like to see happen in that story.
  3. Check in on the national threads and your regional thread to keep in contact with other writers.
  4. Attend a write-in if your region is having any, or join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.
  5. Delete nothing. Passages you want to delete later can be highlighted, and the font turned to red or blue, so you can easily separate them out later.
  6. Remember, not every story is a novel. If your story comes to an end, start a new story in the same manuscript. Use a different font or a different color of font, and you can always separate the stories later. That way you won’t lose your word count.
  7. Validate your word count every day.

This year, I have so far written over 80,000 words. I’ve made headway on a manuscript, set in the world of Neveyah, five-hundred years before Tower of Bones. I have also worked on several short stories, trying to flesh them out and discover who the protagonists are as people. I’ve written some poetic doggerel and a great many words that will never see the light of day. But buried deep within the rubbish are some good words, words that will one day become a novel.

Participating in NaNoWriMo forces me to become disciplined, and forces me to ignore the inner editor, the little voice that slows my productivity down and squashes my creativity.

For those two reasons alone, I will most likely always “do” NaNoWriMo, even when I am no longer able to be a Municipal Liaison.

I love the rush, the thrill of having written something for myself, something that I alone will see and enjoy. But more than that, I love knowing that some of what I have written is good, and is worthy of submission elsewhere. Perhaps one or more of these short stories I have begun fleshing out will be accepted by a contest or magazine.

As Takuma Sato says, “No attack, no chance.”


Credits and Attributions

Cover art from Swords and Deviltry by Fritz LeiberAce Books, 1970. Fair Use. Wikipedia contributors. “Swords and Deviltry.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 May. 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2017.

Takuma Sato May 28 2017 Indy 500 by Jonathan Mauer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Motivation, the Character’s Quest #amwriting

The rough draft is called ‘rough’ for a multitude of reasons. This earliest of manuscripts is where we are thinking out loud, finding the true story, so it is bumpy, uneven. We begin with an idea, a ‘what if,’ and as we write, an awesome cast of characters leap onto the page.

Sometimes the side characters are so great, they overshadow the person we originally thought was the protagonist. What do you do if you have chosen a protagonist, but another character suddenly seems to have a more intriguing way about him? You must make a decision–who will be the central character?

If, as you are writing, a different character than the one you originally thought was the protagonist comes to the fore, consider rewriting your beginning to reflect that change. If you are participating in NaNoWriMo and you are 26,000 words into it, don’t scrap it–simply continue forward, but insert a note to go back and change the beginning once November has passed. You wrote those words, and even though they will change in the next draft, they were hard-earned and count toward your official wordcount.

When you have a group of great characters, all with strong storylines, determining who makes the most compelling protagonist can be difficult. Sometimes you must write half a novel before you realize which character has the most opportunity to take full advantage of all the possibilities.

For whatever reason, this never happens in my fantasy work. It is when I am writing contemporary fiction that the story sometimes shifts in a direction I hadn’t planned and identifying just whose journey I am following is easier said than done. As the rough draft progresses, I have to keep in mind that motivation is the key to discovering both who the protagonist is, and who is the villain of the piece. Motivation is the character’s quest to fulfill his/her deepest needs.

  • Who among these people has the most to lose?
  • Which character do you find the most interesting?
  • Whose personal story inspired this tale in the first place?
  • Who will be best suited to take full advantage of all this plot’s possibilities?

The character who best answers those questions must become the protagonist. If necessary, the story will have to be rewritten to reflect that change.

Most of us remember the “five Ws” of journalism. These five words that begin with the letter ‘W’ form the core of every story. Who did what? When and where did it happen?

Why did they do it?

As a reader, I dislike discovering the author is at a loss as to why their protagonist wants to do the task set before them. Random events inserted to keep things interesting don’t advance the story but motivation does.

Suppose we have a protagonist who realizes her marriage is failing. Anna is a well-educated, professional woman, a writer of paranormal fantasy. She is married to another writer, David.

What motivates her? David is strong, charismatic, egocentric, and brilliant. There is nothing he doesn’t feel entitled to, and he will do anything to achieve his goals. Although she is a best-selling author of popular fiction and is the person paying the bills, Anna has made a habit of catering to his needs.

At first, Anna wants to keep her marriage together and presents herself as whatever she thinks David wants her to be. She feels as if she casts no shadow of her own.

Once we know what the characters desire we know who the protagonist is and also we know who will be the best antagonist.

Now, let’s see who the other characters are:

Anna and David rent a secluded house on the wild Washington coast for the summer. They invite 3 companions to join them for the summer, as a working retreat. All five characters have deadlines, and that is their official reason for accepting Anna’s invitation. However, the four other characters each have their own agendas. Other than Anna, they each have strong personalities, are charismatic, and are used to a certain amount of privilege. At first, although it is subtle, each of them uses and manipulates Anna for their own purposes.

Every member of the cast has a secret, including Anna. With the revelation of each secret to the reader, the motivations for subsequent actions become clear.

Unless each character’s desires and needs are clearly defined, the events won’t make any sense. Without clear motivations, all you have are a bunch of drama queens cooped up in a house by the gloomy Washington North Pacific coast.

Once we know who has the most to lose and what motivates each character, we know which of them has the most compelling story. At that point, we have our protagonist. The second draft will be much easier to write.

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Day 8, #NaNoWriMo2017: The Detour

When I was planning my manuscript for NaNoWriMo and the month of November, I had intended to write nothing but short stories.

Unfortunately, the inspiration I had lacked for the rough draft of my current novel-in-progress (set in the Tower of Bones world of Neveyah) struck me at 2:30 a.m. on November 1st, taking us to the mid-point crisis in that story.

As a result, I have written the entire second quarter of that epic fantasy proto-novel, nearly 22,000 words in total over the last six days. But that is how NaNoWriMo sometimes goes for me. I plan to be a rebel, and end up following the rules.

On December 1st, I will copy those new chapters from my NaNo Manuscript and paste them into my original rough draft. Once that is done, the new words will bring the total up to around 60,000 words.

If all goes as planned, I will spend the rest of this month writing short stories, and won’t get back to that story until December 1st.

But as you may have noticed, things don’t always go as planned. When inspiration strikes, you must write, as some stories simply burn to be written. Write when you feel the passion, and you will have done your best work.

The creative process is different, from person to person. I use daydreaming and visual art to fire up the creative muse. With these prompts, I have little trouble getting submerged in my work.

As every writer knows, sometimes finding inspiration for what I am supposed to be working on can be elusive. But some random image or phrase will trigger my imagination. At that point I switch gears and write whatever that story is.

During most of the year, I usually have three manuscripts in various stages: one unfinished first draft, one in the second draft stage, and one near the finish line.  Every day I write new words on my rough draft first thing in the morning, unless I have an editing contract. By ten a.m. I move on to work on the others. Focusing on my rough draft first allows me to come to the more finished stories with a different, less biased eye.

At the end of the day, when my creative mind is tired, I find myself alternating between playing my game and adding a few words here and there to my rough draft.

But during November, my writing time is wholly devoted to writing new words. By the end of the day, my brain is fried, and my creative genius has died an untidy death.

As a result, some of my NaNoWriMo ramblings are brilliant—just ask me and I will tell you so. However, the majority of them not so much.

But every word I write can and will be recycled into something better, something useable, and something worth reading. In writing this stream-of-consciousness prose, I’m getting the ideas down before I forget them.

In 2015 and 2016, the manuscript I patched together for NaNoWriMo was like a quilt made up of short stories. This year’s manuscript will be a patchwork too. It will be made up of scenes and vignettes, parts of stories mingled with complete stories.

This jumble is like a bank, but instead of a place to keep money, it’s a depository of ideas and concepts for short stories, flash fictions, and essays. I will come back to this convoluted mish-mash of genres and prose again and again, whenever I need the core of a new story.

The first 22,000 words of this year have been different from the previous two years, in that my work has been a continuation of an established work-in-progress. However, I have now come to a stopping place.

Now I am experimenting with point of view through short stories. I thought of the perfect plot in which to use the little flâneur that lurks in all of us. Yes, I am leaving the fantasy genre for a brief stint in literary fiction. Besides the flâneur, I have an idea for the story of a woman, navigating the shoals of social ostracization because of her husband’s conviction for embezzlement.

Once those are done,  I will return to fantasy with an installment of Bleakbourne on Heath, and a short story set in Neveyah, the world where Tower of Bones is set.

As my homage to paranormal fantasy, I have the idea for another Dan Dragonsworthy story, set in the Drunken Sasquatch, the neighborhood tavern favored by Seattle’s ‘alternate’ population.

If I have time, Astorica, my gender-bent alternate universe, may see another flash fiction.

I have so many ideas and this month of madness is the time for me to get them all down. In fact, I’ve been talking to you long enough—I have to get back to writing!

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Developing Discipline #NaNoPrep #NaNoWriMo2017

Every author knows that writing is about so much more than merely laying words down on a page.  Most people with a minimal education can do that, and can even whack out a creditable paragraph or two. However, sustaining the momentum and carrying that vision through an entire novel is quite another thing.

Over the years, I’ve seen disparaging articles where people have expressed their scorn and disdain of authors who participate in Nation Novel Writing Month, mocking the notion of a “competition,” deriding both the authors and work that emerges from this month of madness and frozen pot pies.

They’re missing one important point: to write a novel one must begin a novel and make the time to complete it. It takes discipline to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Most people don’t have what it takes to commit to that kind of regimen. Participating in NaNoWriMo forces the author to sit and write a minimum of 1,667 new words every day. If the participant does only that, they will have completed a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I generally manage between 2,000 and 4,000 words a day during NaNoWriMo.

So, to the naysayers, I say, “Fine. If it takes a special month of writing and a group frenzy to get some people fired up about an idea they’ve had rolling around in their heads, who am I to complain?” I am a reader as much as I am an author. The more books that are written, the merrier I will be.

Here’s a short list of well-known novels to emerge from NaNoWriMo particpants:

  1. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. On the best-seller lists for over a year, turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, started as a NaNo novel.
  2. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. What eventually became The Night Circus began life in 2004, seven years before it was finally published, started as a NaNo novel.
  3. Wool, by Hugh Howey. Howey’s dystopian sci-fi novel is one of those credited with putting self-publishing on the map, started as a NaNo novel.

Authors all begin knowing very little about how to write something another person would want to read. But if you maintain the dedication you develop in November, you can learn how to express what your heart feels. Work at learning the craft as hard as you worked to get your wordcount, and you will develop that talent for storytelling.

I think of the many authors to come who will gain both discipline and love of the craft through participating in NaNoWriMo. Many truly talented people are now embarking on learning a craft, committing their time and resources to educating themselves about how to write a novel that others will want to read. Several years down the road, who knows what wonderful works of fiction will have emerged from this year’s madness?

I only know that I am always looking for a good book, and so I will be first in line, hoping to be impressed by a fresh, new work of art. Therefore, I volunteer as a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo. Every year we have new, young writers, with fresh, amazing ideas. But we also have many new older people who are writing their first novel, embarking on a dream they always had but never thought they could do.

The fact is, most people who begin a novel in November do not reach their goal of 50,000 words and never finish those novels. They do not have the discipline to sit down every day and dedicate a portion of their time to this project.

A great number of NaNo authors discover that doing NaNoWriMo is just like doing karaoke. They love to read, and they want to write the next Gone with the Wind, but their work reads as pleasantly as a tone-deaf drunk singing Wind Beneath my Wings. They are not talented writers, and their work isn’t stellar. Just because the rough draft was finished in thirty days and the author got the winner’s certificate of completion, it doesn’t mean that what they wrote was good. It just means they had the discipline to write it.

But despite the high number of would-be authors who fail to finish their novel, a few writers in each age group will continue writing after the month of madness is over. They will embark on the process of educating themselves in the craft.

These authors see the goal and are filled with the desire to finish what they started, knowing they will have to rewrite, edit, revise, and edit again to truly finish their book. When I talk to them and hear how fired up and passionate they are, I am proud to have been a part of their writing life.

Whatever gets a writer fired up and writing is fine by me, and we are all the better for the experience.

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Writing to a Theme #NaNoWriMo2017 #amwriting

November 1st begins the merry month of madness known as NaNoWriMo. Once again, as I have for the last seven years, I will spend the thirty days of November on an intensive writing binge.

Every day I will sit and write at least 1,667 NEW words on my current work in progress. If I do only that, I will have 50,000 words by Nov. 30th, which will bring the rough draft of that book nearly to completion.

But I generally manage between 2,000 and 4,000 words a day, and I work on several different projects. This year, while I WILL work on the rough draft of my current work-in-progress, my official project is another collection of short stories, poems, and flash fictions, all of which will be written to a variety of different themes.

The reason I need to build the backlog with a wide variety of themes is that most anthologies and many publications will call for submissions based around a central idea–such as  redemption, bridges, asylum–a large concept that  unifies the disparate stories.

So, my plan is to write to as many different themes as I can think of. Hopefully, if an opportunity presents itself later, I will have the perfect story ready, one that will only need some revising and editing.

One question I hear often is “how do I identify the theme of my story?” I have discussed this before, but it bears mentioning again. Theme is what the story is about on a deeper level than what is seen on the surface. It’s the big meaning, a thread that is woven through the entire story, and often it’s a moral. Love, honor, family, redemption, and revenge are all common, underlying themes.

Sometimes it’s difficult to write a short story unless you start out with a theme in mind. The same can be said for novels, although the theme can emerge more slowly than in short stories. For me, writing to a theme makes the process easier because half the work is done—I know what I’m writing about.

Several of the stories I will be working on are for themed anthologies with open calls for submission, but whose closing dates are rapidly approaching. When I made my list of proposed stories, I searched Submittable for open calls, so I know the desirable themes in advance. Some publications have submission dates that are quite a ways out, some have short deadlines.

Knowing the trending themes publishers are asking for is crucial to building your backlog with salable stories, so if you don’t have a Submittable account, you should get one.

What I hope to do in each story is to layer character studies, allegory, and imagery to emphasize the central theme and support the story arc. Sometimes I am successful, other times, not so much, but I still keep trying.

Most of my books are based around the hero’s journey, and how the events my protagonists experience shape their reactions and personal growth. The hero’s journey allows me to employ the theme of good vs. evil and the sub-themes of brotherhood, and love of family.

These concepts are important to me on a personal level, and so they find their way into my writing.

What themes are important to you? When you look for a book, what catches your interest? I am not talking genre here, I am speaking of the deeper story. When you look at it from a distance, what do all the stories you love best have in common?

Political thrillers: Set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. Political corruption, terrorism, and warfare are common themes.

Romance Novel: Two people as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship. Both the conflict and the climax of the novel are directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters’ romantic love.

Literary fiction focuses on the protagonist of the narrative, creating introspective. These are in-depth character studies featuring interesting, complex and developed characters. Action and setting are not the primary drivers of the story arc here. Instead, action and setting are carefully developed in such a way they frame the character, and provide a visual perspective. Allegory is a featured motif in many literary fiction novels.

Science Fiction: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method. Science and technology are a dominant theme but based on current reality. Characters are still subject to sub-themes such as morality and love, but setting and science are the main themes.

Fantasy: Often set in alternate Earths, medieval times, or ancient worlds, the common themes are good vs. evil, hero’s journey, coming of age, morality, romantic love. Can also be set in urban settings with paranormal tropes.

On the surface, these types of books look widely different but all have one thing in common–they have protagonists and side-characters. These imaginary people will all have to deal with and react to the underlying theme of the book.

Morality, love, coming of age–these ideas can be found in nearly every book on my shelves or in my Kindle. These are the themes that were most powerfully depicted in the books that rocked my early reading world and are the sort I still seek out.

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The Stranded Novel #amwriting

Good first lines are critical. They have a singular duty, to involve the reader and kidnap them for the length of the book. For that reason, first lines and the opening chapters frequently become all that is ever written of a would-be author’s novel. Yet the authors of those few chapters have the entire book locked in their head.

Participating in NaNoWriMo teaches authors to write the entire book before they begin editing.

In your first draft, DON’T OBSESS over the small things and the finer details as these will derail your work. You will never get past the first chapter if all you can focus on is writing a brilliant opener. Write the entire story as quickly as you can, let it sit for a month or two while you do something completely different, THEN come back to it and focus on shaping the prose. Once you have the entire structure of the novel laid down on paper, you won’t be left wondering where to go next, writing and rewriting the same first chapter.

So, let’s assume the rough draft has been completed, and you are pleased with the way it ends. But you are looking at your early chapters, and they feel lackluster. Now is the time to shape the words, to write them so they are the words you would want to read if you were looking for a book to purchase.  The second draft is when you should obsess about your first lines.

One of the best first lines ever: George Eliot’s Middlemarch starts, “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” That line makes one want to know Miss Brooke and the reader wonders who the observer is who chronicles this. It is a novel, but if it had been a short story, it would still have hooked the reader.

Good first lines make the reader beg to know what will happen next.  How about this first line from Ulysses, by the king of great one-liners, James Joyce: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

Or, take the first line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” 

Should your first lines be required to introduce your main character? I think not.

Dickens introduced an era in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, etc…” 

In his Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan frequently opened with a glimpse into the side of evil, illuminating the foes whom Rand Al Thor must somehow prevail against, and that always hooked me.

All of the above books were begun as great ideas and the manuscripts were finished, which is why they were published. Admittedly, Robert Jordan did pass away before the final books were completed, but he wrote 12 of the 15 books and left a complete story arc with enough notes that Brandon Sanderson could finish the job. Jordan left behind a complete story, not just a first chapter.

If you are serious about writing, it’s necessary to read, to see how other authors have completed their work. Of course, you must read works published in your chosen genre, but to become an educated reader/author, you should look outside your favorite genre. You don’t have to spend your precious book purchasing funds on books you believe you won’t enjoy. Do a little advance research via the internet and then borrow the books from the library.

Most importantly–published authors, whether Indie or traditionally published, have finished their work. Maybe they didn’t do as great a job as some people think they could have done, but they did finish the job.

Grand ideas about what you intend to write mean nothing if you don’t finish the job. If you want to lay claim to being an author, write the ENTIRE novel! Get that story arc down on paper before you begin rewriting the first chapter! If all you have ever written is the first chapter, over and over, and over… perhaps you need to set that idea aside and begin one that interests you enough to inspire you to write a complete novel.

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Jumpstart #NaNoWriMo2017 The Storyboard #amwriting

It’s mid-October and time for many writers to think about National Novel Writing Month—thirty days of dedicated writing where you take an idea for a novel, sit down and daily write at least 1,667 words of a rough draft. The goal of this month of concentrated writing time is to get the entire story down while the inspiration and ideas are flowing. At the end of the thirty days, you should have a novel-length story, hopefully with a complete story arc (beginning, middle, end).

Once that is done, the work really begins.

To succeed at completing a project with such an ambitious goal, it helps if you spend some time planning your novel.  To that end, I like to storyboard all my ideas. By making this effort when the idea is first in my head, if I become lost or find myself floundering in the writing process, I can come back to my original files and remind myself of what the original concept of the story actually was.

Many people use Scrivener for this, but I found the learning curve for that program to be too annoying, so I simply use a spreadsheet program, because all the important information is on the same line.

Scrivener costs $40.00which is not bad, but Google Drive has the free program, Google Sheets. This program is similar to Excel (which I use), so the principals I will be discussing are the same.

From Wikipedia:

Google DocsGoogle Sheets, and Google Slides are a word processor, a spreadsheet and a presentation program respectively, all part of a free, web-based software office suite offered by Google within its Google Drive service. The three apps are available as web applications, and as mobile apps for Android and iOS. The apps are compatible with Microsoft Office file formats. The suite also consists of Google Forms (survey software), Google Drawings (diagramming software) and Google Fusion Tables (database manager; experimental[8]).

The suite allows users to create and edit files online while collaborating with other users in real-time. Edits are tracked by user with a revision history presenting changes. An editor’s position is highlighted with an editor-specific color and cursor.

Admittedly, this program doesn’t do what Excel does but it is perfect for this if you don’t have Microsoft Office.

But you can do this any old way that makes you happy, even by drawing columns on a sheet of paper by hand. The point is to have a list of names and places with five pieces of information pertaining to the story all on the same line. I have so many ideas that I created a blank template that I fill in, retitle, and save in a new folder for each prospective story. I may make as many as five storyboards in a week, out of which I may not write any of them, lol. But the ideas are there for me to access when I want them.

The following is a screenshot of my blank storyboard template. Originally this began as a way to do short stories, but my novels begin with ideas storyboarded out this way too.

The storyboard for my ideas works this way:

At the Top: Working Title

If it’s an idea for a short story, the intended publication and closing date for submissions (not needed it it is for a novel)

Column A: Character Names: list the important characters by name, and also list the important places where the story will be set.

Column B: About: What their role is, a note about that person or place, a brief description of who and what they are.

Column C: The Problem: What is the core conflict?

Column D: What do they want? What does each character desire?

Column E: What will they do to get it? How far will they go to achieve their desire?

As I said, this plays directly to how a linear thinker like me works. It takes advantage of the ideas I have that might make a good story, makes a note of all the pertinent ideas I have at the outset, and offers me a jumping off point.

Feel free to take this idea and run with it. Design the storyboard that works for you!


Credits and Attributions

NaNoWriMo 2017 Municipal Liaison Badge, © 2017 www.nanowrimo.org, (limited use permitted for Municipal Liaisons on blogs and social media).

Wikipedia contributors, “Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Google_Docs,_Sheets,_and_Slides&oldid=805075002 (accessed October 15, 2017).

Screenshot of Blank Storyboard Template, © 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

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