National Novel Writing Month: Prep is KEY (unless you don’t have time)

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Each November begins the literary mayhem known internationally as National Novel Writing Month–affectionately referred to as NaNoWriMo. Aspiring novelists throughout the world take the challenge to write a 50,000 word rough draft novel. The rules are simple: you can’t start the actual prose before midnight on the first of the month; you must finish by midnight on the thirtieth; and the plot should have a beginning, middle, and end.  Of course, you could always participate as a NaNoWriMo Rebel, which lots of people do, in order to ride the creative energy of all the writers working through November.

All you need to do is sign up to be a participant at the NaNoWriMo site and enter your wordcount each day. In return, you get access to chatrooms, fun writing tools to keep track of your word count and how close you are to your goal, and (if you “win”) some prizes donated by site sponsors! One of the prizes this year is three months of free Evernote!

So, you could be a plotter (someone who likes to plan out their novel) or a pantser (someone who writes without an outline–seat of the pants) or someone firmly in the middle. I tend to like a loose outline so I don’t lose track of where I’m going, but there’s no firm rule. Just do whatever works for you.

And remember, the goal is to write a ROUGH DRAFT NOVEL. So the main goal is QUANTITY over QUALITY. After all, the idea is to stop procrastinating whatever story you want to write and just get it down, because you can’t edit a blank page. Editing is for AFTER November. So give yourself permission to write badly, let loose those creative spider monkeys, and see what they turn up!

Every year I have participated, I have completed my goal, so I thought I would share my strategy. It might work for you. If it doesn’t, feel free to do your own thing!

  1. Plan out your daily wordcount goal.  There are thirty days in November, but I know that it’s much harder for me to write on weekends than weekdays, so I plan to write only on weekdays. This translates to writing 2,300 words each weekday (instead of 1,667 every single day). This way, if I get sick or fall behind, I have a nice buffer; plus anything I write on weekends is a bonus! I plan to write every day, but it’s nice to have a break when/if I need one.
  2. Back up your writing OFTEN, at least once a day. You can do this by copying and pasting into emails or saving on two different online places; I use Evernote and GDocs. Some people even write their novels out by hand or print each night. Whatever works best for you is the right thing.
  3. Have an outline. I’m not talking about a huge deal, just maybe a sentence for each chapter you plan to write. I usually plan one thing for each day I’m writing. This year, there are twenty-two weekdays so I am creating a loose outline with twenty-two bullet points. I have a beginning, put something in the middle, and the end, and then I fill in the points between.
  4. Don’t be married to the outline. Be prepared to shift your goal as your characters and plot do things you didn’t expect. You can always tweak the outline and make small notes so you don’t forget important plot points, but really–just have fun with it. Being surprised by what your brain puts on the page is half the fun!
  5. Learn to be okay with writing badly. Hemingway said that the first draft of anything is shit. That said, this is only a first draft. If you love it, you can edit it AFTER November. If you don’t, maybe you can salvage something from it for other stories. No matter what happens, you’ve stirred up your creative juices, and that’s a GOOD thing!

Have fun this month, and happy noveling! If you want to follow my progress and be writing buddies on the NaNoWriMo site, my alias is ganymeder. Good luck!

 

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Current Events: Writers’ Con Season is Upon Us!

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2016 view of Eastman Reading Garden at the Main Branch of Cleveland Public Library

Literary Cleveland’s INKubator conference takes place tomorrow, Saturday the 29th, from 8:30 am – 5 pm, at the Main Branch of the Cleveland Public Library. If you are interested in going to this completely free writers’ conference, there’s still time to register for craft talks and workshops. Instruction is given by experienced writers in different genres, in everything ranging from poetry and comics to researching nonfiction books. Since this is an all day conference, you may want to pack a lunch to eat in the library’s lovely Eastman Reading Garden. Between events you may also want to stop at the library’s Superman exhibit, basically the closest thing there is to a Superman museum, since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman while living in this great city.

There’s always plenty of smaller writing events taking place in Northeast Ohio as well, such as the bi-monthly Poetry Workshop, another free event at the Cleveland Main Library. The next meeting will be on Saturday, August 12th, from 10:30 am to 12:30pm. If you’d like to get the most out of the experience, be sure to bring about a dozen copies of a poem you would like to get feedback on–although if you’d like to just sit in, that’s perfectly welcome as well. Either way, you’ll be sure to learn more about the craft!

And it’s still early, so you have plenty of time to get ready for the annual Western Reserve Writers’ Conference on Saturday, September the 23rd. It’s another completely free writers’ conference, this time hosted by the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch of Cuyahoga Library!

Also, I’d like to leave you with a friendly reminder to check your local libraries as well as the Literary Cleveland website for more free (and sometimes not) writing events in the Northeast Ohio area. Even if you are not blessed to live near two of the top ten library systems in the entire country, chances are your local library will do everything they can to support their writers–so take advantage of every opportunity.

 

On Writing: Habitica–Gamify your Life!

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Who knew that creating a productivity tool that is essentially a video game would be so effective? Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) helps you establish good habits and eradicate bad ones by giving you in-game rewards for completing real life tasks.

My first experience with a game-based productivity tool was Life RPG, suggested by my teenage son since he’s really into video games. I tried it, and initially found it somewhat helpful–although I was frustrated by the lack of customer support. When I had issues, I tried contacting the developers through the app store and twitter to no avail. Their twitter account hasn’t been updated since 2014, and while their reviews in the Android app store were overwhelmingly favorable, I could never get them to respond when I had a question.  Customer service and response times are important to me, since I am not tech savvy.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have only used Habitica during the current week. However, in that time I’ve already had more positive feedback and interaction through the site than I ever did using Life RPG. I think part of the reason is Habitica’s strong open-source community. There is a Tavern that can be visited via the app or site, where Habiticians can hang out casually or ask general questions. People who use Habitica are encouraged to be helpful to others, positivity is promoted, and everyone (as far as I have seen) is incredibly polite and considerate.

Habitica has a webpage online that you can log into each day to check off or add tasks, as well as an app for your cell phone or tablet device. I mainly use the app, but I try to check into the website at least once a day since I find typing on the laptop easier.

The first thing you do as a new user is create an avatar, with certain free options such as hair color or body type. As you complete your tasks, you gain health, experience, gold, and other rewards that let you buy things for your avatar. As you progress in the game, you gain levels and start to acquire pets that may become mounts in the proper circumstances, as well as other things–such as food for your stable animals, potions to regain health, armor, etc. There are also Guilds and Challenges for social opportunities as well as chances to gain extra rewards such as gems.

After you create your avatar you set up your real world tasks: Habits, Dailies, and To-Dos.  Habits should be things you would like to do every day (or every week, month, etc). Dailies are things that you should do every day (month, etc), and To-Dos are things that may (or may not) have a set-time limit. You gain rewards for everything you accomplish, but you lose points only if you miss your Dailies. In addition to the virtual game rewards offered, you may also assign yourself real life rewards, such as “Watching a movie” or “Eating a cookie” that may cost x-amount of gold. There are also other features that allow you to join parties and partner with other people, but you share the rewards or punishments when you do so.

An example of a Habit would be Stretching. I don’t remember to do my stretches every day, so this gives me extra points when I remember. A Daily would be Eat Lunch, since I often forget to eat, even after preparing lunch for my son. A To-Do would be Fix the Banister; I used the option to set a due time (end of this month) since I’ve put off this simple chore for several months. I have also set myself additional real life rewards, such as watching a movie for 25 gold coins.

The Guilds offer users a way to interact with other Habiticians that share similar interests. Guilds often offer Challenges to members, which promote Guild interests. For example, there are multiple writing Guilds that offer Challenges with set editing and publishing goals.

While it may not seem to tie-in to writing as a craft, using a productivity tool like Habitica can obviously help you establish a writing routine that increases your output. My life has become progressively more hectic over the past several weeks, but in the past week I’ve accomplished more of my writing goals than I have all month. I’ve reestablished a more productive daily routine, and I actually look forward to greater rewards for tasks I would otherwise put off.

If you tend to procrastinate or get overwhelmed with daily tasks, try Habitica. Signing up costs nothing but a little of your time, and the investment more than pays for itself.

Current Events: April is National Poetry Month!

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April was set aside as National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets to highlight poets, as well as encourage the reading and writing of poetry. Their extensive website has resources for anyone looking to celebrate poetry during the thirty days of April.

However, Ohio is triply blessed to be home to the Literary Cleveland writers’ group as well as two of the greatest library systems in the United States: Cleveland Library and Cuyahoga County Library. If you have not already signed up for Cuyahoga Library’s 30 Days of Poetry, please do so now; you will receive daily emails with a poem to read, a poetry prompt, and a poetry book recommendation.* You won’t regret it.

And if you don’t have plans yet for Saturday the eighth, Literary Cleveland is having another free poetry workshop. This one will be hosted by Damien Ware, a local activist with multiple degrees–as well as many public performances, open mics, and creative writing workshops under his belt. If you’d like to attend, the workshop takes place at the Cleveland Main Library from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Don’t forget to bring several copies of a poem you would like to work on.

Lastly, in the spirit of National Poetry Month, I would like to share a poem I wrote last April to one of the Cuyahoga Library’s daily prompts. I hope you enjoy it.

 

FOUR

This month’s showers

usher in Fools and flowers–

hightop Converse sneakers

crushing petals beneath scampering feet,

whoopee cushions and pranks

abound, thanks

to day one

anyone

can give themselves permission

to clown around.

 

And for those who, like me, are Shakespeare-obsessed,

though Touchstone or Bottom the Weaver might jest,

this twenty-third day celebrates best

the birth of the Bard who was foolishly blessed.

 

And another one is designated

to gaming, for those who appreciate it, not across a TV screen–

but with dice and boards, cards and caffeine,

strategy,  role-playing too.

No matter what your revenue,

Tabletop Day is celebrated–

among family and friends, it’s highly rated.

 

Set aside seven days

to honor libraries

a celebration

of book fairs, classes and classic

literature,  graphic

novels to check out

throughout

each community center;

just enter

and explore.

Can’t get there?  It’s fine. Online

there’s still more.

 

Yet thirty days of dedication

are given to poetry–versification,

meter and internal rhyme,

writing programs, slams,

and readings from every sunrise til sunset

ordinary people find the time

to access their inner poet.

 

A month of inspiration,

linguistic medication

for a world of weary souls.

If laughter,

perhaps inspired by those first Fools,

is the best cure for sickness,

witness

what a month of words and wisdom,

merriment and mirth,

can do to soothe

a world that aches for play

and poetry.

 

#

Thank you for your time. Go forth to read and write to your heart’s content, and remember that polite feedback is always welcome and appreciated!

 

*Since this is an email digest, I don’t believe you need to be an Ohioan to sign up for this free service. However, posts will naturally feature Ohio poets.

**image provided by kind permission of BigFoto.com

 

On Writing: Life After NaNoWriMo

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Now that the November madness of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is over, many marathon wordsmiths experience post-coital letdowns from the month-long literary high. After writing so many words, crafting stories, getting sidetracked into other plots and misbehaving characters, what’s next? If you’ve “won,” you’ve already proved you have the chops to keep with a crazy writing schedule and complete the task you set for yourself. And if you didn’t hit 50,000 words? You still won–because you wrote something you wouldn’t have otherwise done. In the immortal words of Hamlet, “Words, words, words.” You wrote a hell of a lot of them last month; what will you do now?

You have several choices.

  1. Do nothing.

Take a well-deserved break, work on something else or nothing else, and just enjoy the holiday season. Maybe bake yourself a treat like cookies or a nice chocolate cake.

  1. Edit your Nano novel.

If you are that gung-ho, by all means you can start editing right away. You can try to keep your November momentum going into the new year. And I wish you all the best of luck. But you would benefit from distancing yourself from what you wrote before you attempt to edit.

If you take the month off, you can look at your manuscript with fresh eyes; misspellings and typos will jump out at you, making the entire editing process go more smoothly.

  1. Work on something else.

Did you have another writing project that you postponed until after November? Now is the time to pick it up. You can still cash in on some of your residual writing energy by creating an entirely new story, blogging, or doing some other creative endeavour such as podcasting. One of the greatest things about participating in NaNoWriMo is that you get a fresh infusion of inspiration and energy that often spills over into other aspects of your life. I’ve found that during November, even though I’m racing to write more words, I also have more energy to do things like housework. I’m happier and don’t mind other chores so much. Who would have thought that writing 50,000 words in a month would result in cleaner dishes and a more organized craft room?

So, those are your basic choices. Nothing earth-shattering, I know, but sometimes it helps to have the obvious stated in clear and simple terms. Remember, you’ve written a rough draft novel!  Sometimes I let things sit for awhile, sometimes I work on other things, and sometimes I try something new. My last NaNo-novel I converted into a weekly serial on my blog before editing it back into a single book. The point is, do whatever feels right for you and makes you happy. Life is too short to waste being anything else.

Thanks for visiting, and have a lovely week!

 

NaNoWriMo 2016 – Week THREE: Passing the Halfway Mark!

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For the month of November, I am participating in NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. This is a world-wide writing challenge where each participant attempts to write a 50,000 word rough-draft novel during the thirty days of November. There is a website with helpful information, resources, and forums for writers to connect with each other; they answer questions, make suggestions, and even joke around if they manage to find extra time! It’s really fun and exciting and a great way to get those creative juices flowing. The main idea behind NaNoWriMo is that when pressed by a looming deadline, writers can free themselves to write badly. It’s a first draft, after all, and in the immortal words of Hemingway, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

I’m not normally that crude, but the quote is too perfect to resist.

Now that the Sophomore Slump is behind us, this is the week that all those things that went wrong last week begin to right themselves. Plot holes close up, characters’ actions start making sense, and–now that we’ve passed the halfway point–the end is in sight!

This might even be the week some of you begin hitting your deadlines. If you guys need any additional motivations, remember there’s tons of stuff to do on the actual NaNoWriMo site, as well as word wars on twitter, podcasts to listen to, and–in the spirit of shameless self promotion–blogs to read! You might want to use competition with your writing buddies as motivation to boost your wordcount. And remember, for this month, it’s not about quality but QUANTITY.

If you are behind, you still have plenty of time. I know that Thanksgiving is coming up, but there’s no need to panic. Remember, any words you write this month, even if you don’t hit 50K, are words you wouldn’t have written otherwise. If you get a creative jolt from NaNoWriMo, than you’ve already won. But you might as well ride that inspiration wave as long as you can, right? So keep plugging away, and remember BICHOKButt in Chair, Hands On Keyboard.

I wish you all the best of luck! Next week I will be posting about WEEK FOUR. Until then, have a lovely week, and happy novelling!

UPDATE: My Writing Niche 2.0 podcast,  episode 3: NaNoWriMo Weeks 2-3!

Download HERE.

 

*NaNoWriMo image taken from here.

**My previous podcast several years ago, My Writing Niche, was edited and even had a musical theme. This time, it is more informal.

***Also in the spirit of saving time to write on my Nano novel, I will be shamelessly reusing my introductory paragraph in each post this month, as well as pre-writing this month’s posts. In other words, I wrote this in October!

NaNoWriMo 2016 – Week TWO: The Sophomore Slump

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_participant

For the month of November, I am participating in NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. This is a world-wide writing challenge where each participant attempts to write a 50,000 word rough-draft novel during the thirty days of November. There is a website with helpful information, resources, and forums for writers to connect with each other; in the forums, they answer questions, make suggestions, and even joke around if they have extra time. It’s really fun and exciting and a great way to get those creative juices flowing. The main idea behind NaNoWriMo is that when pressed by a looming deadline, writers stop procrastinating and free themselves to write badly. It’s a first draft, after all, and in the immortal words of Hemingway, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

I’m not normally that crude, but the quote is too perfect to resist.

So, week one started out great! You wrote a ton of words, some of them may have even made sense, and you (hopefully) used all that momentum to store up a nice buffer for…well, NOW. Week two is known as the Sophomore Slump, because it’s when budding November novelists such as yourself begin losing their momentum. You may run through your initial ideas earlier than expected, plot holes begin to gape and mock you, and that inner editor that you locked in the closet last week is clambering to get out. DON’T LET YOUR EDITOR OUT. You may want to slip that guy a cookie under the door though, because you’re going to need him in December.

Take a deep breath.

It’s okay.

Almost everyone goes through this. The number one thing you can do to get through this week is KEEP WRITING. In other terms, BICHOK–Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. It doesn’t matter if it’s terrible. It doesn’t matter if it’s off topic. Writing this week is like dumping all the contents of your brain onto the page so you can get to the stuff you actually want. Your characters may not be acting logically and the plot might be sticking its tongue out at you, but remember to keep going and eventually they will begin to make sense. Don’t worry about all the nonsense that comes out now. Sometimes you need to slog through the moat to get to the castle.

The next thing you need to remember is EDITING IS FOR DECEMBER.

NaNoWriMo is not about writing a perfect first draft. No one does. Even Hemingway admitted it. NaNoWriMo is about getting words on the page. THAT’S IT. If you edit this month, not only are you not putting words down, you are taking them away! I’m going to repeat my pre-nano suggestion here and tell you, if you’re stuck, write yourself a memorable editing note for later. I hate writing fight scenes (which consequently take me forever to write), so what I do is HIGHLIGHT ALL CAPS a note, such as . Then I move on. I don’t want to get bogged down and lose the momentum I’ve built up in the story and all the new ideas sloshing around in my head. This way, in December, I can easily find what I need to write and where to put it. Another method is to write an unusual word in front of an ALL CAPS notation, such as scrumpdillyicious; you can do a search on it later to find all your editing spots.

As an incentive during this week, the week when most people are likely to quit, I like to take a look at the prize I’ve bought myself for “winning.” As I’ve stated in a previous post, I do not allow myself to use my prize until I’ve met my NaNoWriMo writing goals for November. If I don’t finish, I give my beloved prize away. I can’t tell you how many times this has kept me going. You might want to employ a similar bribe/penalty to motivate yourself if/when your drive is at its lowest.

I wish you all the best of luck! Next week I will be posting about WEEK THREE. Until then, have a lovely week, and happy novelling!

UPDATE: My Writing Niche 2.0 podcast,  episode 3: NaNoWriMo Weeks 2-3!

Download HERE . 

 

 

 

*Due to a quirk of WordPress, I can’t highlight the text so I changed the color instead. But you get the idea.

**NaNoWriMo image taken from here.

***My previous podcast several years ago, My Writing Niche, was edited and even had a musical theme. This time, it is more informal.

****Also in the spirit of saving time to write on my Nano novel, I will be shamelessly reusing my introductory paragraph in each post this month, as well as pre-writing this month’s posts. In other words, I wrote this in October!