Today’s post is going to be short(ish) because it’s NaNoWriMo and I have words to write. For those of you who haven’t seen the acronym before, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, when writers of all levels all over the world set a goal for the month of November. Traditionally the goal is 50,000 words, which will give people who’ve always wanted to write a novel a good start on one.
It’s also fantastic for those of us who’ve written more than one book but just need a little (or a large) push to crank out the next one.
You can set any goal for the month, and there’s a bajillion ways to connect with other authors while you’re working to meet that goal. That’s the thing that makes NaNo fun! There are groups you can join through the NaNoWriMo website, or you can connect with people through the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on twitter and pretty much any other social media platform.
So how is all this like yoga?
For those of us who’ve committed to the 50k word goal, that works out to a little over 1600 words a day. Every day. All month long. I find that even when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about what I will be writing or what I’ve just written and how those pieces fit together. I find that the process of living and breathing the story forces me to get out of my own way.
And that’s how I connected it to yoga.
I took my first yoga class in about 1990, and have practiced off and on ever since. Since the pandemic started, though, I’ve been practicing much more regularly, mostly by streaming classes from Sun Yoga in Honolulu. In a recent class, the teacher said something that really resonated with me. She said that part of yoga was learning to breathe in uncomfortable positions. For me, that idea highlighted how, at its essence, yoga is about developing a connection to the breath. (Even when you’re curled in a ball trying to get your forehead to your knee.)
Yoga is about the process, and NaNoWriMo is about the process. Yoga connects you to your breath, and writing regularly is a way of developing a connection to the words (or to your creativity, or fill in whatever concept works for you.) And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a couple thousand words to write.
Hang on…as long as I’m here, I figure I’ll share the links to a couple of promos I’m involved with….
Over 40 great holiday romances by some of the best in the business! And they’re all ON SALE!
Welp, here we are: the first week of Nano! Tomorrow is obviously the first full week, but we post on Thursdays so deal with it.
So. How’s it going, boo boo?
At this point, this morning, to be on par you should have
hit that all-important 10k word milestone yesterday, looking at hitting 11,669
by the end of the day. But if you haven’t, don’t despair; there is still time.
And, honestly, as long as you’re writing, it doesn’t matter if you hit par or
if you “win” at the end of the month.
Nano doesn’t work for everyone, but I personally love it. I’ve been participating in Nano or Camp Nano since 2012 when I wrote my first Matilda Kavanagh novel that month, well, the first half of it anyway.
And that’s one of the reasons I love Nano, I love the jump start it gives me on a project. I’ve used it many a time for the push I needed to get into writing.
Take this year for example: I took most of the year off from
writing, since about February, and was terrified I wouldn’t get back into the
groove of writing again and be back at square one. But the pressure of Nano
mounted for me in October and I managed to get thirteen chapters outlined
before November first so I had something to start with when the big day came.
And, so far, I am slightly over par.
“I don’t need time, I need a deadline.” – Duke Ellington. I
feel you man. This is so me.
I like to write more than I need if I can on a given day so when I come up on days like today yesterday, and I can’t quite write the 1633 words I need, I’m still okay on the overall word count.
How do I do it, you ask? Well, henny, sit back and Auntie Shauna
will give you a few tips and tricks that work for me.
As I mentioned above, I love an outline. When I was a baby
writer, I didn’t outline and that led to meandering, massive manuscripts (say
that three times fast) that needed 4-5 rounds edits before they were decent. With
an outline I have a map I’m following to help me focus and leads to much
cleaner and tighter manuscripts at the end. Yes, I deviate, and that’s okay,
but the next page in the outline helps me remember where to pull back on
course. Like, this story for example? My MC was giving me serious Carrie in the
Library vibes as I was writing, but not when I was outlining. So, it’s in the
story now and I’ll adjust as I go along. You can add things that weren’t in the
outline to begin with, it’s fun to discover things you hadn’t thought of. So don’t
look at an outline as set in stone, look at it as Google Maps that keeps “recalculating”
as you turn down this road and that to see different attractions or get a
I also need a soundtrack.
I like to curate a playlist for every book/story, but I also have a playlist that is just soundtrack scores if I need that kind of big, fast energy without lyrics. It helps me tune everything out and zone in on the writing. Some people need silence and that’s hard to come by, so maybe just put your headphones in but with nothing playing and the soft electronic buzz might help.
Now to get the word counts. I’ve written quite a few books,
so the idea of getting 1633 words a day isn’t particularly daunting, but I do
NOT sit down and think, “Okay, I’m going to type until I hit 1600 words before
I stop.” Nope. That’s a recipe for failure for me. Now, I just might get that
many in a sprint/session, but I’m not doing it intentionally. I like to break
it into pieces. I’ll tell myself I’m gonna get 500 words and then take a break—which
might net more like 600 words. Or I’ll see that I have 20 mins before I have to
go do something, so I’ll just get what I get in that 20 and it just might be a
full 1k words. You decide if word goals or timed sessions work better for you.
Day-to-day, outside of Nano I may not go for multiple writing
sessions. If I have time in the morning and over the course of an hour or two,
if I get 1500-3000 words, I’ll call that good for the day and not come back in
the afternoon or evening. But during Nano? No. If I have time to get a second
session in, I will. Even if it is less than 30 mins. That’s how I stay over
par. That’s how you get 2-3k words a day when you don’t have a couple of hours
in the morning to do it all.
That’s also you hit par. If you get in your head that you
HAVE to get those 1633 words all at once, you may be creating a creative
blockage in your system. The anxiety, the pressure, that just steals the fun of
You’re writing with literally millions of other people. You’re
writing with me. You might be writing with your favorite author. Even if you’re
not sprinting actively with friends, if you’re doing this on your own, we’re
all doing this with you! It’s a fun, friendly competition where we all want to
win, but we’re excited to see you winning too! Nano is like the writer
community Great British Bake Off! We’re all clapping for you and saying “Well
done!” So don’t work yourself up thinking it all has to happen in one sitting.
I mean, look at this:
See that graph? So I “only” wrote 1334 today yesterday. And I did that in 2 sessions, not one. But I was just so tired and felt kinda grumpy all day; I didn’t have those 300 extra words in me. But I was already over par because of how many words I got the day before. Ups and downs are normal and there is always time to catch up. Do not kill yourself doing this. It’s meant to be encouraging and fun so try to keep that in mind.
You’re doing great. I promise!
One other thing I make sure I do is not end right after a
climax. If I wrote a particularly exciting scene, maybe a fight or something
intense and there’s a natural end to that scene, and I’ve hit my goal for the
day, I will still make sure I start the first couple hundred words or so of the
next scene. There’s something about starting a new chapter at the very
beginning that kind of feels like starting at the very beginning again and you
have to sort of find your momentum again and it can be a little hard. It may
eat some of your writing time figuring out how you meant to start the next
scene. But if you flow right into it and get a couple of paragraphs, you’re
setting yourself up to get right into it the next day. If you haven’t done this
before, try it, see if it helps.
One last piece of advice from Auntie Shauna. BACK UP YOUR WORK! Seriously. Email your manuscript to yourself every damn day. Do it after every session if you want—even if that means you have 3 or 4 emails in one day—I don’t care. JUST EMAIL IT. BACK IT UP. DO IT! DO IT NOW!
November 30th you logged into the NaNoWriMo website and verified your 50k words to win the damn thing. And it felt good, right? To see that massive word count concurred in just a few weeks. That was a great feeling, both of accomplishment and relief.
It hits you.
The book isn’t finished.
Now, if you went into NaNo with a couple tens of thousands of words, winning NaNo might’ve meant finishing your book. Or if you were writing a Middle Grade book, that sucker is probably done. But if you didn’t and if you weren’t, rest assured, that book ain’t done.
50k does not make most books, I’m sorry to say. You’d see far less writers ripping out their hair, staring dead-eyed at Twitter, and drowning in coffee if it did.
The one bad set up of NaNo is the holidays come right after. December is often a whirlwind for most folks, trying to get things done, seeing family more than ever, friends and food and stress and cold and all the things. And maybe you told yourself it was okay to take a short break after such a big accomplishment. And you told yourself that’s okay because look! You wrote so much and have far less to finish, so you can get back to it totes easy. No worries.
Then New Years comes along and you realize the date last modified on your manuscript is 11/30/18. And all those warm fuzzy feelings of accomplishment and relief are but a memory.
Trust me, kid, we’ve all been there.
But that doesn’t mean anything. It really doesn’t. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it doesn’t mean the book won’t ever get done, it doesn’t mean anything. It just means it’s time to pick back up where you left off and finish the damn thing. The good news (or maybe bad news?) is, there’s no countdown clock watching your progress now and you don’t have to do the next 50k or so words by January 30th. Of course, you now know you could, if you wanted.
So, cue up your playlist, fix yourself a nice cuppa, and put those fingers to the keys and hit your daily goal.
Now, for the rest of you. You know who you are: the ones who won your first NaNo, didn’t give up in December and finished your first draft and are so freaking ready to start querying this month.
Close that email and back away.
A first draft is never, ever ready for the slush. Do not burn bridges with agents by sending out queries premature. And if you’re going the self-publishing route, back away from KDP and BN Press and abort that upload. A first draft is not ready for that either.
When I finish a first draft I give myself a week at minimum and up to a month away from the book. I don’t look at it, I don’t print it, I don’t actively think about it (sometimes those thoughts sneak in though and usually for a good reason). Then I go back and read the whole thing from start to finish, making notes as I go, picking up on dropped plot threads, plot holes, inconsistencies, etc.
Then I make the changes I’ve noted. Or, worst case scenario, the total rewrite or massive edits.
Then I read it again. Yup, I get three drafts done before my editor or beta readers get it. And once they’re done, that means five drafts before I’ll call it finished. Sometimes more.
Your book isn’t ready. But it will be. You just can’t rush it. Rush that first draft, get that shit on the page, get it done. But now comes the work. Now comes the real book. Now comes the gold. Your work is worth the work. Do it.
Now comes the shameless self-promotion. If you’re a newbie writer and don’t have a circle of writer buddies you can go to for beta reading or content editing, I do offer both services and I do have some openings, so feel free to go to my website, have a browse, and hit me up. If you mention this post, I’ll give you 10% off!
I know you’ve probably read hundreds of NaNo blog posts, so, here’s another one! YAY!
So right now we’ve hit the middle of the month on this little experiment and you’ve been killing it. Hitting par every day, you’re watching those word counts go up and up. You’re feeling like a gotdamn writer. Right? And then BAM! You hit the middle wall.
The beginning of a book is exciting and fun, it’s something new with new characters and new worlds and new, made up words only you know the definitions to. It’s so pretty and shinning and new! And you totally know the end of the book, you know if the good guy or the bad guy wins. You know if the world ends or if your rag-tag bunch of misfits saves the world at the last minute. You know it so perfectly well that you can see it like the epic climax of a movie scene. It is seared into your brain. You just gotta get to that part of the book.
And what is between you and the exciting end? The middle.
I promise you, whether this is your first book or your fiftieth, the middle is The Worst for everyone. The action seems to slow, you’re starting to wonder if it’s any good, and if you can’t get through the writing of the middle, who in the world is going to be able to read it.
I can make you another promise: it’s not as bad as you think. The middle always feels terrible when you’re in it and writing it but when you go back and read it later, you’ll wonder why you hated it so much. Oh, it’s gonna need some work, it’s gonna need some rewrites and some editing, there’s no doubt, but you’ll find that you wrote what needed to be written. You’ll find some exciting bits that make the action rise and fall naturally–after all, it can’t all be rise. You just gotta get through it.
If you find yourself slugging through you can do a few things to make it easier. You can outline if you haven’t. A lot of people new to NaNo tend to pants their writing but when you get to the middle you realize you’re not sure where to go. Take sometime to plot out the next few pages, or even a full chapter so you have something to guide you for the next couple of days. If you’re really stuck, just skip to the end and write scenes out of order. The only thing you need to do to win NaNo is submit a full 50,000 words–the website doesn’t know if those words are in order, just get the words down and in December you can go back and fill in the middle.
That second option is a little scary, I know. When I get to a scene I don’t feel like writing I’ll just change the font and do this: AWESOME LOVE/FIGHT/ESCAPE SCENE HERE and then, when I come to it in review I can just add the scene in.
Just don’t give up. Remember, you’re not alone when you’re doing NaNo and you’re not the only one who totally believes the middle part of their book straight up sucks. It doesn’t, or at least, it won’t. Just put the words on the page and come back to it later.
Also, BACK UP YOUR WORK. I email myself at the end of every day so I don’t lose my work. Yesterday, I emailed myself twice because I had 2 large writing sessions. BACK UP YOUR WORK. I have lost work when my computer went into critical failure. I lost tens of thousands of words because it had been a couple of weeks since I emailed myself. NEVER AGAIN.
A quick note: Yes, you’re getting a Spellbound Scribes email on Monday instead of last Thursday. Life intervened. Sorry for the delay!
Recently a friend of mine tweeted a request for “favorite craft books”, which had me pawing through my kindle, looking for good books on writing. I came up with a couple, but her request made me realize I get as much writing-craft-related information from blogs and classes as I do from books.
*so many sources, so little time*
Since this is coming to you on 10/1/18, exactly one month before NaNoWriMo starts, I thought it might be helpful to make a post listing my favorite resources. Half of them are books, and the rest – with the exception of Margie Lawson’s classes – are blogs, so they’re free!
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder – This is sort of my bible, a concise strategy for building a plot. The author is a screenwriter, and the book focuses on developing a 110-page screenplay, but the principals absolutely apply to writing fiction. I love how he pulls from familiar books and movies to illustrate his points.
Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon – I need to re-read this one. And then maybe read it again. On the most basic level, Debra teaches how keep from writing scenes where nothing happens. She also – and this is where I still have trouble – gets into how to ground action in a character’s motivations. (True confessions: I’m forever solving plot problems with the equivalent of “let’s throw in a unicorn!” Yeah, that technique works about as well as you’d think.)
Romancing the Beat:Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes – Gwen is an experienced editor, and in this book she gives an overview of how to put together a romance novel. Now, the idea might make you bristle, because romance gets bashed for being “cookbook”, but I think there can be a lot of freedom in a set structure – jump here for my post on tropes. If you want to write romance, this book is a great starting point.
Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward – This is a timely, thought-provoking set of essays and exercises drawn from a workshop by the same name. (Here’s a link to their website, where you can find a list of current classes.) If your work reflects the real world, either contemporary or historic, you’ll write characters who are “other”, and it’s worthwhile to do some homework before you do.
Marge Lawson Academy – Margie’s a great teacher who focuses on the “micro” end of writing – how to use words, sentences, and paragraphs to keep readers engaged and entertained. Her instructors are all experienced, accomplished writers – I especially love classes by Rhay Christou – and I’ve learned a lot from them. Margie’s Immersion retreats are well worth the money, and a whole lot of fun!
Fiction University – This blog by Janice Hardy is my go-to for writing craft questions. Seriously, you can search her site for just about any keyword – query, plot, editing, whatever – and you’ll find a bunch of posts on the subject. The posts are meaty, so you don’t waste time with stuff you don’t necessarily need.
Real + Good Writing – This website and blog is a new discovery for me. Created by literary fiction writer Rachel Giesel, the site is full of good information. I especially liked her blog post Three Big Things to Know About Your Characters. I’ve signed up for her mailing list, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she has to offer.
Writers in the Storm – This blog is run by an accomplished group of authors and it frequently turns up on lists of the top websites for writers. They post daily, sometimes have guests, and they address a range of topics, from craft to promotion to writing life.
The Fussy Librarian – I mostly Fussy Librarian mostly as a site for book promotion, but they also have a weekly email for authors and boy howdy are they awesome. Whoever’s putting the newsletter together scans the web for writing-related posts and groups them by subject: writing, law, grammer, career, marketing, and industry. This has been a fairly recent change – I think – but now they’re near the top of my “most anticipated” lists of weekly emails.
So there you have it! Are you ready for NaNo now? If you don’t see *your* favorite writing resource on the list, feel free to post it in the comments. I’m always up for learning something new…
So my last couple of posts here have been heavy on the opinionating – here’s one and here’s the other – and while both of them were important to me, I don’t feel like I need to turn the world on its ear…today, anyway.
So if you were stopping by to catch up on the latest scandal, sorry!
It’s spring, you know? There are dogs to walk, and weeds to pull. And as always, there are WIPs to fiddle with. (WIP = work in progress.) In the interest of keeping things mellow, here’s a run-down of what I’ve got going…three things, maybe four…
Freshest in my mind is Haunts & Hoaxes 2, the second novella in an m/m romantic suspense series I’m working on with my writing partner Irene Preston. It’s a spin-off of our Hours of the Night series, but instead of vampires, this one’s more along the lines of Supernatural or maybe The X Files…but with naughty bits.
Another project is Benedictus, book 3 in the Hours of the Night series I write with Irene. This is technically our fourth book with these characters – we did a holiday novella, Bonfire, that’s #1.5 – and the plot is definitely thickening! We’re doing our best to tie up as many loose ends as we can, because we left the last book with a bit of a cliffhanger. Fun times!
If you haven’t read Vespers, book 1 in the series, and you like funny/sexy/scary stories, you can download the first few chapters HERE for FREE from Instafreebie.
A couple other things….last month I participated in Camp NaNo, a mini version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I set a goal of 50 hours work and while I didn’t win, I had fun trying. I started with one project (deets in a minute) then switched midstream to the sequel to The Clockwork Monk. Monk is a steam-lite novella available from Instafreebie. If you follow the link it’ll ask you to sign up for my mailing list, and I promise not to spam you if you do sign up!! I’ve been working on the Monk sequel for a couple years now, off and on, and am cautiously optimistic I’ll have it ready for beta readers by this summer.
I didn’t meet my 50 hours goal because I got bogged down with another project. I started April with this cool idea for a story set in 1962 Cuba. Here’s the elevator pitch…
On 10/17/62, President Kennedy is shown images of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba. On 10/18, a CIA agent is shown pictures of a rogue spy who could set off a nuclear war. The agent is sent to Havana to eliminate that threat, but the spy’s a man he fell hard for years ago.
Every time I read that pitch, it makes me smile, because I know the story can work. I just need to do ponder it some more. To that end, I downloaded a couple James Bond audio books from the library. I’m driving several hours south for a day-job-related conference tomorrow, so I’m going to multi-task. Research while driving ftw!
So that’s what’s going on with me. I hope you’re all well and working hard on whatever moves you. Take care!!
One more thing! Last week I enrolled Aqua Follies, my 1950s m/m romance, in Kindle Unlimited for the first time ever. If you KU, go HERE to grab a copy!!
NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Equal parts marathon and sprint, an artificial construct designed to help authors of all levels write a book.
Or most of a book.
The basic idea is that by committing to write 50,000 words in a month, all those people out there who think they would write a book, if only….. won’t have an excuse to put it off. They’ll have to take an idea and throw down an average of 1700 words a day for 30 days, and in the end they’ll have a solid start on that novel of their dreams.
But I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one. Let’s have a show of hands. Who’s doing NaNo this month?
Awesome! Because even those of us who have already figured out how to get words on the page can use a little boost sometimes. Some authors figure “every month is NaNo for me”, but I know quite a few who are using this challenge to jump-start a flagging project, meet a tricky deadline, or otherwise get back on schedule.
This’ll be my first try at the November challenge. I’ve done the spring and summer “Camp NaNo” events, mainly because it’s fun to join a cabin – a group of people who cheer each other on – and it’s nice to get a boost to the word count. In past years, I’ve always had big editing projects going on in November, so didn’t have the bandwidth for the real deal.
Now, though, I’ve got the space in my schedule, I’ve got a premise, and I’ve even got a bit of an outline. I’ve also spent a month researching the time period and place (1920 Paris) – though as the start date got closer, I became increasingly worried that all I’d done was learn how much I don’t know.
Wait. That’s my inner critic talking.
Shutting down that voice might actually might be the biggest benefit to NaNo, imho. By forcing myself to write 1700 words a day for 30 days, I won’t have time for second-guessing. The words will be on the page, safe in the knowledge I can edit them later. I’m curious to see what I come up with under those circumstances.
I also want to be able to say I did it.
I’m kinda laughing at myself, because when I initially considered what to put in this post, I thought I could discuss some of the resources I’m using. But… you know… word count. Gotta run.
If you’re participating in NaNo, happy words! And if you’re not, WHY NOT?! Everybody’s doing it…
I’ve found that one of the most crucial aspects of becoming and being a successful creative (successful in the sense that you actually create) is routine. That may seem incredibly counter-intuitive to some people, including myself when I first started out. “But Lyra,” you’re probably saying to yourself. “Didn’t P G Wodehouse famously say routine is the death of heroism? Didn’t you just look up a whole plethora of quotes by famous people to find that everyone agrees that routine is basically where creativity goes to die?” Yes, he did, and yes, I did. But bear with me for a second.
Every writer and artist I know has a routine. These vary from setting a timer for 30 minutes before going to their day jobs to rolling out of bed and working straight through to bedtime. The routine is almost like the scaffolding of a house being built–it holds things in place so the building doesn’t collapse before it’s even started. And everyone’s is different. Write for two hours in the morning, then fingerpaint for the rest of the day? Awesome. Dance naked under the moonlight at midnight then scribble until dawn? You do you. Find a routine that works best for you, and your creative process. But find a routine.
But. (C’mon, you knew there would be a but.)
Routine can definitely get the better of you. My husband and I recently moved, and in order to combat the insane upheaval of lifestyle that inevitably causes, I’ve been clinging to other routines like nobody’s business. I try to write at designated times. I practice my instrument. I read books in my genre as work and I read frothy lighthearted books outside of it for pleasure. After dinner I watch a few episodes from a rotating selection of TV shows, or maybe a silly romcom.
But for some reason I’ve been blocked. It doesn’t help that most of my writing work recently has been copyedits, which is frankly a pretty banal slog. But for whatever reason, I’ve hit a wall. A few foundering short stories, a half-baked outline for a really ambitious space opera, and…that’s it. But the other night as I queued up yet another episode of Reign (don’t you judge me) I got a text from my sister. She was rewatching an old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie we used to love when we were kids, and was loving the costumes and snappy dialogue.
Now I used to watch a ton of old movies, either rented from the library or later–when my parents got cable–on TCM. But for the past few years, the combination of black and white film, square aspect, and casual sexism has made the genre feel a little inaccessible and undesirable to me. But I took a chance, jumped on Amazon, and rented it digitally. And a delightful hour and a half later–my head now full of gamine showgirls, mistaken identities, and a love-hate flirtation for the ages–I had a new idea for a book. Something wildly different from what I usually write, but something I’m excited about nonetheless. Nanowrimo–here I come!
So I’m just here to say this: don’t nail yourself to your desk. Read a book you think you’ll hate, watch a movie someone told you was boring, taste a dish you loathed when you were a kid. Because you never know where that shiny new idea might be hiding.
The other day a reader asked me if I ever wrote in long hand, much like Neil Gaiman is known to do. I do not–never. I hate the idea of writing something by hand knowing I’ll just have to type it again later, creating twice the work for me. But, I conceded, I do hand write my outlines, always. I tried to type one once because I always end up adding asides and run out of space on my papers, and I thought it would be nice to be able to just add in a line when I needed to but there was no magic in a typed outline.
So, always type a story, always hand write the outline.
But it got me thinking about the rituals of writing. Any art, really, but writing is my magic, so that’s what I’m focusing on now.
Any professional artist will tell you that you can’t wait for the Muses to speak to you, otherwise you’ll (almost) never get any work done. You have to make your Muses speak on days you just don’t feel like it. On days where you only have an hour, or less, to get the words done. You have to force the magic to make the art.
And there are ways to do this. There are ingredients to every spell and if you manage to figure them out, you can create the magic potion to get the art done even under the worst situations. A few years ago, I was stuck at jury duty for the full 8 hours. I got so much writing done that day, it must’ve been a record, all because I have my ritual to make the magic.
First, I outline. Now, if you’re a pantser, this part doesn’t apply to you. But for me, I allow myself at least a week to complete an outline before I ever start a new manuscript. You’ll have to figure out how detailed or loose your outline needs to be, that in of itself is its own magic spell. If too loose you leave yourself sitting at the keys, trying to figure out how to get from point D to point M. Too detailed you might feel like you’ve already written the story and lose your excitement to actually write it.
Secondly, if this is the start of a brand new book, not part of a series, I allow myself a day to start to curate a soundtrack for the book/main character. I know, this seems like one of those “I’m an artiste! I need my special music to write!” kinda things, but it’s not. For many, both reading and writing a book plays out like a movie in our heads and what is a movie without a soundtrack? You need the creepy notes that warn you the monster is coming. You need the pounding base to choreograph a fight and get your heart moving. You need the sweet strings of a romantic moment. But, I think, most importantly, it gives you the feel of the book or main character. This, for me, is what helps me get into the right headspace for a book, no matter where I am or what mood I am in. And with each book in a series, I add more and more songs to the list until it’s hours and hours long.
I also have a few universal playlists to help me with certain types of scenes. If I’m in the middle of fights or battles, I have strong lyric-less soundtracks from movies or video games to help me. If I’m trying to get into the head of a strong, angry female, I have a playlist of what I call “angry power” songs, only sung by strong female vocals.
You could be trapped in the middle seat of coach, on a full flight, but you put your headphones on and turn on the soundtrack of your book, and bam! Watch the words flow. I won NaNo last year in that exact situation because I had my music.
This also helps if you’re working on more than one project at a time. For example, I’m working on a witch book in my Matilda Kavanagh series and I’m working on a piece of flash fiction that is a spin off from my post-apocalyptic Ash & Ruin series. Neither MC is the same and both worlds are totally different. So, they have their own soundtracks to help me switch my brain depending on which one I want to write in.
Third, I always have something to drink. Usually it’s coffee, but sometimes just water. It’s a small thing, but it’s important. It adds to the level of comfort as you stare into that bright screen and create indents on your wrists as you pound away.
There are other things, like I try to write in the mornings, but if I miss that window, I don’t skip on writing unless it’s One Of Those Days. It’s always easy to make excuses to get out of writing, but unless you’re under a contractual deadline, you’re just letting yourself down by putting it off or treating it like a chore. I mean, some days, it does feel like a chore but when it’s done, damn that’s a good feeling.
Figuring out your rituals to help you get shit done is important. It’s not being a fussy artiste, it’s creating magic. Allow yourself the special combo of ingredients that will allow you to create art no matter what the situation. Make no excuses for doing what you need to get it done and give yourself no excuses to avoid it.
Speaking of… I have some words that need writing before dinner.
The last two posts have been about being stuck while working on a writing project. I’ve seen a lot of this lately; so many creatives are struggling to work in the climate we’re all facing.
When I was young, a teenager, I reveled in my dark, black moods to create my best work. I even did better writing term papers when I was unhappy. And some people stay that way their whole lives — they need that dark place to tap into their creative muse to get words or other art done.
But as I’ve grown older, as I’ve turned this into a job, I’ve found it much harder to work when I’m in a dark place or when life is being difficult. I don’t want to create magic and monsters and adventure. I want to curl up and be alone with my dogs and husband and shut out the world. Even if I’m working on something dark or difficult and it brings me down while I’m working, so much so, that when I leave my office I have to physically shake it off, I don’t need to first be in that place to write those words.
I participated in Camp NaNo in April. I set myself a goal of 40k words. In the beginning, it went like any NaNo usually does. I had my outline and was ready to get started and felt good about my daily word counts. But, as the month went on, and things in my life weren’t perfect and outside things started to drain away my energy, I found each word that much harder to type. When I finally hit my 40k word goal, I was relieved. I had one day to spare, but I did it. Obviously, that’s not the whole book. But with everything else going on outside of writing, my hubs and I agreed we needed a week to decompress. So I promised myself if I hit my NaNo goal, I was going to take a week off from writing to get my head right again.
That was last week. This week, these are the first words I’ve written. We planned our “take a break” week from everything but the bare minimum at just the right moment. We run a business together and we had an emergency happen last week that, had I been writing, would have taken any energy away from my daily goals. We’ve weathered the emergency and I think the ship is righted and we’re going to be okay, but I am so glad I gave myself permission to take a break from my book.
This book is from my favorite series and if I had continued to write while dealing with so much, I think it would have suffered and when the editing came around, it would have been a snarl of a headache to fix.
I used to say you had to write every day when you’re working on a project. Yeah, take the weekend off, or a day here or there if you like working on the weekend, but don’t abandon the project because you’ll lose momentum and the narration and it’ll be so much harder to pick back up. But I needed that break. It’s okay to take a break. The book will be there when you get back and if you’re serious about writing, you’ll go back to it.
I’m 40k words in, the beginning is always a huge hurdle and I’m almost half-way done, so there’s no reason for me to be scared that I can’t pick it back up.
We have to give ourselves permission to take a break when we need it. Burn outs and break downs are real and horrible and if you can see one coming before it hits, you should do whatever you have to to avoid it. We all need self-care and sometimes that means dealing with life while your imaginary friends take a seat and wait for you to come back.
Well. This isn’t quite where I thought this post was going to go, but there you have it. I’m nearly 20 books into the business, so I think I can safely say that each book is different, each book will ask different things of you and you just have to trust your gut with each one. Some will come hard and fast and you’ll never take a break because you’re just trying to keep up with the words yourself, and others will take their time and give you the space you need, you just have to let yourself take it.
It’s okay. You’re still a writer. Every book has its own process.