The Scariest Time of Year… #NaNoWriMo

Halloween is just two days away, which, for me, is pretty awesome instead of scary. What is far scarier for most writers is three days away…

NaNoWriMo!!!

I don’t think I need to explain this to most of our readers, but just in case, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s awesome and terrifying and overwhelming and satisfying all at once. This is the month that many writers wait all year for – that push to get 50,000 words done in just 30 short days.

Most people realize, unless you’re writing a Middle Grade book, 50k does not make a novel, but it is a damn good start. Hell, it’s one half to two thirds of a book. So it’s a pretty incredible feeling when you “win” NaNo. I, myself, have won NaNo 3 times. The first book in my Matilda Kavanagh Novels was my first NaNo win and I’ve gone on to write five sequels to that book alone.

Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

Nano really is magical. You build writing friendships and habits that you can take with you to build your writing career. But I know it can be really scary and overwhelming. So I though I would share a couple of my tricks to winning.

Outline your story. Obviously there are split camps when it comes to outlines and pantsing. Some people lose the momentum to tell a story once they’ve written an outline, but I really think it’s good to have a loose road map so you know where you’re going when you sit down to write. A lot of writing time can be lost when you’re sitting there trying to think, “what next?” Even if you just take 30-60 mins in the morning to outline the next chapter so you know what you’re going to write that day, it’ll help you get that 1,667 words for the day.

Join the NaNo community on Twitter. If you don’t know anyone IRL who writes or wants to do NaNo with you and this is your first time, doing it on your own can be difficult. Word counts seem impossible and it’s lonely. On Twitter look for #nano and #nanowrimo and you’ll find people doing this too and you can try to write with them, or meet up for write-ins, where a group of you convene at a coffee shop or library and write for a few hours.

Use sprints. Writing sprints are where you set a clock for a specific amount of time and you try to write as much as you can in that small amount of time. For me, I don’t like to do anything less than 20 mins, but at the same time I don’t like 60 mins either because that’s just too long. But 15-30 mins is easy to ignore the internet and your phone and just try to beat your last sprint. And sprint with friends or other NaNo’ers. It will tap into your competitive spirit and you’ll have people to cheer you on and cheer on yourself as you and your friends write more and more with each sprint.

Take breaks between sprints. If you’ve done three 20 mins sprints, you’ve been writing for an hour. Be sure to take 5-10 mins between those sprints to look away from your manuscript, but after a group of sprints, walk away from your computer. Stretch, go for a walk, eat something. Just move around. If you can get 500-600 words a sprint, you can hit your daily goal in just three sprints. And, chances are, by the end of the month, you’ll be typing faster and faster and might win NaNo with a few days to spare.

Stop when you want to keep going. If you’ve hit your daily goal but know what happens next, walk away. That’ll give you a great springboard for tomorrow.

If you’re on a roll and you naturally get more words than you need, go with it. I know this contradicts my last point, but that’s writing for you. Every day is different. But a surplus of words gives you a cushion in case something happens and you miss a day or you can’t make it to the minimum word count.

So that’s it! Good luck! Make sure you keep it fun because, while writing is hard work, you should be enjoying it!

Looking back at my Words in 2014

If you’ve been following along with my writing updates this year, you know I was pretty slammed with projects even though I promised myself I wouldn’t over do it like I did last year.

Last year I posted about how many words/projects I set as goals to finish through the year. You can check it here. But tl;dr is this:

January: 80,123
February: 75,011
March: 35,170
April: 27,351
May: 30,005
June: 46,289
July: 4,054
August: 27,077
September: 0
October: 30,002
November: 50,000 – won NaNoWriMo WOOT!
December: 8,250

Total words for 2013: 413,332

Novels: 4; Novellas: 4.

That was a ridiculous year. At the end I felt drained and tapped out. So I told myself I wouldn’t do that to myself in 2014. This year I would take my time with projects and write at my pace and allow myself to take time out if I needed it. But, keep in mind, I am a full-time writer. So here is 2014 at a glance (I rounded down this time):

January: 30,050
February: 30,050
March: 40,240
April: 10,000
May: 0 (editing)
June: 17,775
July: 57,250
August: 14,300
September: 55,700
October: 15,000
November: 50,050 – won NaNoWriMo WOOT!
December: 35,000

Total words for 2014: 355,415

Novels: 4; Novellas: 0.

I don’t even know how I did that. I didn’t even set word or book goals for myself. I told myself this year would be slower, easier on me. But I still managed to keep writing the same number of novels. The first was written from Jan-March (Time of Ruin). April was the first 10k of a novella that I shelved because I wasn’t digging it – see! Giving myself a break! June through August was the second novel (Yuletide). The third novel was written from August-September, which is where I started to lose steam, so I took the first half of October off to recharge and outline the fourth book I wrote this year from the end of October to mid-December. But telling myself to take time off only meant that I had about a 60k word difference from 2013-2014.

But I suppose that’s what forming a habit breeds. I write full-time. When I take too much time off, I start to feel guilty about not writing and when a particularly difficult book is looming, like the last book I wrote this year, I start to get nightmares. Very vivid nightmares. The monsters need to get out and if it’s not on the page then they’ll take my sleep.

But I finished writing the last book on December 8th. Somehow I wrote 30k words in less than a week (5k was adding to the third book after I took a break). On the last day I wrote over 12k words and walked away from my desk a little glassy-eyed and manic. Then I refused to do anything for 7 days. I watched holiday specials and Christmas movies. I wrapped presents and listened to carols. I went to parties and spent time with friends and family. I lit a fire on the Solstice. I didn’t have anything to write or edit. I didn’t even really read that much that week. Then, knowing that my deadline for my third book was looming and the book was 5-10k too short, I felt good enough to add those missing 5k words in 2 days and make my deadline days ahead of time. And you know what? I haven’t done anything since. This is the most I’ve written since sending that project off to my editor.

I’m going to start beta reading a book this week. And next Monday I’ll start going over the rough draft of that fourth book I wrote. But taking these three weeks off has been amazing. I had no idea how much work I’d done because, though it seems all back-to-back, I take weekends off and plan outlines. So, the other night, we were driving home from seeing The Hobbit, and a song came on the radio and a new character burst into my mind like Athena from Zeus’s head – fully formed and ready for her story to be written.

She is still a glimmer, not much more than an idea right now, but because I’ve taken time off, finished one trilogy, I know I am ready to start again in the new year. I’ll give myself the same break I gave myself in 2014 because it obviously worked well. I was almost as productive as 2013 without finishing the year feeling burnt out. Maybe it was a good thing I didn’t get any goals for myself. Maybe I won’t set any for 2015 either and just see what happens.

So take your time. Let your projects form organically, but don’t dismiss the need for discipline and goals. You’d be amazed at what you can accomplish too.

NaNo’s over. Now what?

Well, hello my darlings! Welcome back, I hope you had a wonderful holiday and not too many of you died to become a Tale of Black Friday. I do hope some of you participated in Small Business Saturday – and remember, you can keep that up just by buying books because authors are small businesses. Even if our books are sold on big retailers, we ourselves are small businesses. Like me, my royalties pay my bills, allow me to hire my editor, Cassie, who is an independent editor, and allows me to pay my proof reader, and to pay my cover artist. See? Me plus three people, that’s a small business.

Before I dive into the crux of this post I’d like to say “Welcome!” to our newest Scribe, Brian O’conor, and tell him what a fantastic job he did with his first post. If you have read it yet, I hope you’ll pop over and read it (after mine of course).

So, I thought, this first week of December, it would be good to talk about what to do now that NaNoWriMo is over.

You won NaNoWriMo, now what? Or maybe, you failed at NaNoWrimo, now what? Or maybe still, you were too scared or intimidated to try to attempt NaNoWriMo, now what?

All valid questions.

1. You won NaNoWriMo, now what?

Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

That all depends. Is you book finished? I mean really? Most 50k word books are middle grade or lower – unless your goal was to write a Novella and in that case you are done. Novels (YA and older) really tend to be 75k and higher, so if you’re finished at 50k, make sure you’re in the right age group. If 50k isn’t a reasonable word count, the answer to that question is: KEEP GOING! Keep up the momentum and habits that got you this far and finish. If you keep up your pace, you should be done before the holiday and it’ll be like a wonderful present for yourself. If you started your book before Nov 1st and you really are really done for real, then your next step is to take a break. Yes. Close the document (AFTER SAVING AND BACKING IT UP AT LEAST 2 DIFFERENT WAYS) and walk away from it for at least a week. Really, two weeks would be better, or even a month is good. Then you can come back to it with pen and paper and read the whole thing over and start fixing it. What you just finished was a rough draft, it is not ready for submission or publication by any means, I don’t care if you’re a 10x NYT Best Seller. That puppy needs revision. Probably more than one. Some writers start each revision with different goals in mind. One revision will be to look for plot holes. The next, typos, and so on and so on. It’s not uncommon to need 3-5 revisions before you give it to someone else to help revise, like an editor or a beta/critique partner.

2. You failed at NaNoWrimo, now what?

Supernatural, prophet, Chuck

Never fear! Did you write something? Good! That’s the real goal of Nano – to get words down you might not have gotten without the momentum of NaNo. Keep going, keep writing. That community of people you found through NaNo is still out there, people are still writing, still need sprinting partners, still need all the support you need, too. You’re not alone and there’s no shame in not winning NaNo. It’s not for everyone. Not everyone can fast draft and sometimes you don’t know if you can until you try. I do highly recommend Camp NaNo in the summer. In Camp NaNo you pick your own writing goal, so if 50k was too much for you, you could make a goal of 35k or 25k or even just 15k. Sometimes you just need a win, sometimes you need to build up your ability to fast draft. When I first started out I just asked myself to write 1k words a day five days a week. That’s not bad with a full time job. That was 5k a week, which was about a chapter a week. So in 20 weeks I had a full book written. That’s a book in 5 months – with weekends off! That’s not bad at all. Then I built up from there and now I can win NaNo and then some when I put my mind to it. It’s just like any thing else that you need to practice at to get better, stronger, faster. Typing, running, weight lifting, reading. The more you do it the faster you’ll become. Or not. We’re all different.

3. You were too scared or intimidated to try to attempt NaNoWriMo, now what?

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That’s perfectly okay. Like I said in #2, not everyone can fast draft, but you won’t know until you try and maybe 50k was too much for you to try the first time. So, again, I recommend Camp NaNo and set your own goal for the month. But, maybe you’re just itching to try writing this month, or next, and don’t want to wait that long. Good! Don’t wait! Set out a goal. Maybe just 500 words a day. If you write every day, don’t take weekends off, you’ll write 15,500 words in December. Or, if you think you can do 1k, you’ll get 31,000 words. THAT’S HUGE! Then you’ve started a habit and maybe next month you can convince yourself you could do 1.5k a day and in January you’ll write an additional 46,500 words, add that to your 31k from December and you’ll have 77,500 words. And you know what? That’s a novel, yo!

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It doesn’t matter if you won, if you fell short, or if you were too intimidated to do NaNo. All that matters is you don’t give yourself excuses to stop now. Keep going. Even 100 words a day is more than zero and you’ll never write that book you’ve always wanted to write if you never try. And remember, that first draft is crap. Doesn’t matter who you are or how much practice you have at it or how good it might actually be, compared to what it will be when you polish and revise it is crap, but that’s okay. You need the clay to mold into that really awesome sculpture. You need something to start with. Keep going.

And for a little shameless self-promotion. I actually finished the first Matilda Kavanagh Novel, Wytchcraft, during Nano ’12. And now, the third book in the series, Yuletide is up for pre-order! If you’d like a non-traditional holiday story for a little escape, pre-order your copy now!

Amazon/Barnes and Noble/iTunes/Kobo

Yuletide PB

 

When NaNoWriMo Eats Your Soul

Since it seems like several of us Scribes are participating in NaNoWriMo, and hopefully by now we’ve all crossed the halfway point and entered the OH NO WHAT COMES NEXT danger zone, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about what happens when the words turn on you and NOTHING comes next.

You know that feeling. You’re staring at the blank white page and suddenly it starts staring back at you. Maybe you have an outline, maybe you don’t, but you find yourself wondering how on earth to get your character from doom and gloom to heroic cat-saving antics. Maybe you’re wondering why you thought anyone would ever find this protagonist funny or sexy or impressive. Every sentence you’ve ever written seems like crap, and you realize you have absolutely no idea how to word any more.

You, my friend, have had your soul eaten by NaNoWriMo.

Hey, it happens. And sometimes there are legitimate reasons for the implosion: you got sick, you got busy, life got in the way. But other times, it’s just the fear talking, the gaping hole where your sanity used to be leering up at you like an oozing, sulfurous hellmouth that leads only to self-doubt and despair.

Whoa. Maybe NaNoWriMo ate MY soul.

So how do you get past it?

Clearly Buffy failed NaNoWriMo.
Clearly Buffy failed NaNoWriMo.

If you want to win NaNo and pave over that terrible stress-ripped maw in your psyche with shiny new feelings of confidence and glorious creativity, you have to learn to grapple the formless, ever-expanding fear that eats away at your ability to write. While there are loads of ways to do it and not everything works for everyone—and this particular writer has fallen victim to the soul-eating fear and doubt more than once—a few simple tricks seem to help most people.

1. Pursue another creative endeavor. Draw, paint, sculpt, knit, create papier mache dolls and sew little outfits for them, do what you need to do. Hell, grab a coloring book and some crayons and just color out your feelings, man. Sometimes occupying the lower (higher?) functions of your brain with a creative hands-on task can free up your mind to work out plot kinks or even just rest. It’s like yoga for your brain. I knit like a madwoman, and every time I pick up my needles, I feel like each stitch sews a piece of my exhausted mind back into place. Try it.

2. Give yourself an actual day off. This means actually taking mental time off from writing: don’t think about how you’re not writing, don’t recalculate how many words per day you’ll need to finish. Go do something completely different, and let yourself feel no guilt about taking some personal time. You’ll feel rested and refreshed when you return to the keys the next day, and I promise that will help you leap across the hellmouth of doubt.

3. Read something you love. Read something new. Read anything with a plot and characters. Read poetry! Read. Read. Read. Genius inspires genius, and there’s no scenario in which reading someone else’s words doesn’t help. Go read.

4. If you absolutely must write, try something completely different in your work: change your angle of approach. What’s the worst thing that could happen to your characters? Figure that out, and make it happen. What’s hanging you up about where you’re currently at? Can you skip it, and go on to another scene? Sometimes we just get into a rut, especially when working on a long, intensive project like a novel. Shake up your creative process by making things happen. (Bonus: if you’re bored, there’s a good chance your readers would be bored, too. Explosions are always an acceptable plot device.)

5. Change your scenery. Some of my most productive days happen when I go write at my library or a coffee shop. Taking your work out into the world means the world gets to influence it. Maybe that cute girl with the nose ring will be an extra in your next scene. Maybe the gorgeous old building across the street will be the scene of a crime. Maybe staring blankly at a different wall will inspire you in ways the walls in your house can’t. Be a part of the world, and let the world be a part of your work.

So there you have it: tips for fighting your soul-eating, word-blocking demons. What do you do when the great black hole of doubt threatens to consume your creative existence?

I’m a cheater at NaNo because I write my way

So on Tuesday I had a 5,000 word day. I know some writers who do this pretty often. I am not one of them, though a lot of my writing friends think I am because I do tend to knock out pretty decent word counts when I get down to business.

Dean Winchester, Supernatural, smile

Starting next week I am joining my writerly friends and participating in Camp NaNo. Yep, NaNo in July. All the same rules as NaNo in November, just with sunshine. But it got me thinking about the rules of NaNo that really cheesed me off and I thought I’d share some insight with you about my writing process and the right and wrong way to write.

The last two years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo and have “won” by accomplishing the task of writing 50,000 words in the month of November. The first year I did it I felt pretty good about it and challenged myself try harder. So, in January of last year, I finished the MS I’d started in November and wrote the first third of another book, giving me a monthly total of 80k. I was on such a role that I finished that next book in Feb by writing 75k. It was insane. But kind of awesome because I knew I could do it.

a5dd6-mostwonderfulstorybellegif

But how did I do it? Did I start a brand new project? No. Did I write every day? No. Did I use an outline? Yes. These three things means I was actually a cheater when it came to NaNo. In the last year or so NaNo has finally changed their “rules” about how to accomplish the 50k in one month. When I first did NaNo the FAQ’s said that you had to start a new project to participate (though there was no way for them to know this either way), and that you shouldn’t use an outline.

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I called bullshit on both those things and did it my way. I mean the only goal was to hit 50k new words in one month. Does it really matter if those 50k words started at chapter 1 or chapter 10 or 30? What if you were 30k words into a manuscript that was just kicking your ass and you knew if you participated in NaNo you would have the motivation to actually finish that MS? Why should you have to start something new if you had something that needs finishing?

Supernatural, prophet, Chuck

And no outline? Eff that. Some people write with outlines. Some don’t. Some plot out with 3×5 cards plastered to a wall or the floor of their office. Some map out a book like a screenplay with acts. How can anyone running a site that is supposed to encourage writers to hit a goal tell them they’re doing it wrong?

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But, like I said, they’ve changed the rules. Now they say:

We think NaNoWriMo works best when you start a brand-new project. However, what’s most important is being excited about what you’re writing. If you want to work on a pre-existing project, you have our full support!

Outlines, character sketches, and other planning steps are encouraged. Just be sure to only count words written during the month.

About damn time you got on the reality train, NaNo.

Crowley, cookie, Supernatural

I was so upset when I first won NaNo only to find out I was kind of a cheater with my outline and unfinished MS waiting to be finished. But whatevs, I’m not going to change my process for anyone but me and the particular book I’m working on.

So that’s the big secret folks, no one piece of writing advice will work for everyone. And believe it or not, there’s a good chance your process will change over time.

 

I wrote Earth, Air, Water, and the first two thirds of Fire without an outline. As a pantser. Then I hit a wall with Fire. Maybe because it was the first time I was going to kill a major character. Maybe because it was the first emotionally charged book I’d written yet. Maybe I was afraid to finish it. Whatever it was, I was stuck. I knew what the last scene looked like, but I didn’t know how to get there. So I broke my cardinal rule of no outlines and I outlined that last third. And then I managed to write faster than I had in months.

Merida, excited, gif, Brave

I used to be a nighttime writer. Now I write with my first cuppa in the morning. Now I can’t pants a book. I need an outline. It was thanks to my well detailed outline of chapter 2 that I managed to write 5,000 words on Tuesday. But you know what? When I tried to write my very first book, I outlined that sucker to the T. And I never finished it. I figured out that I’d lost the momentum, the urgency, to tell the story because, in my novice mind, I’d already told it in the outline.

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So see? You change. If you need writing advice, seek it out. Someone might say something that resonates with you and unlocks a secret to get you writing. But if someone says something that doesn’t work for you, ignore it. No one has the magic spell, the perfect balance of ingredients that will work for every writer.

For me, writing Monday through Friday, in the mornings, with an outline, works for me. But it works now. Maybe I’ll be a different writer in two years, who knows? It certainly didn’t work for me ten years ago.

So, don’t let rules tell you you aren’t doing it right. Are you writing? Then you’re doing it right, whatever gets the words on the page is the right way. Be a cheater like me, who cares? Screw ’em!

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2013 New Year’s Resolution in Review

Happy New Year everyone! Kristin wrote the obligatory 2014 resolution post, so I’m going to write the obligatory “resolution in review” post and see how I did for 2013.

Last year I posted my New Year’s resolution for writing in this post.

For the tl;dr version here was my list at a glance:

Novels planned: 3-4
Completed: 1
Novellas Planned: 3
Completed: 1
Short stories Planned: 1
Completed: 0

I posted this list at the end of January so I had already started on the projects by the time the post went up. The novel that was completed was my 2012 NaNo project, so I just had to finish it, which let me write a Novella in January as well.

Now, the question remains, how did the rest of the list go? I called my resolution, “A Writing Frenzy” and I can tell you, it really was. It was a lofty goal, maybe even insane some would say, and really, at this point, I agree.

I reached a point where I was really burnt out and twice I had to take really long breaks to rejuvenate myself. I haven’t decided what my writing goals will be this year, but it won’t be anything near as insane as I did last year.

As a self-published writer, I am constantly burdened by the expectation of turning out work faster and faster to keep up with other successful self-pubbers who turn out a book every couple of months (or month depending on the writer). People think, to be successful in the self-pub world, you need quantity and quality. But the fact is, to make sure you have quality, sometimes it’s impossible to have the quantity.

I’ve tried to keep up with the numbers other self-pubbers turn out and I know it’s kind of impossible to keep up that rate and keep up the quality. There are a few things that go into that. One, and kind of an important one, is money. In order to make sure I put out quality work is putting in an investment in the project. That includes paying my editor and my cover artist. If I had to put out a book every couple of months, I would keep none of my profits and how can I keep working if I can’t pay my bills? Another is giving myself time to develop the project. If I just churn out project after project, I won’t have the time to polish the project, fix it, make it better.

Because of those two, very huge things I did not publish every project I finished this year. And, one other reason, I’ve decided to try to become a “hybrid author,” which means I hope to query one or  more of these projects for traditional publishing. So I’ll be both self and traditionally published. It may never happen, but I hope it does.

So, how did close did I come to my goals? Here you go:

Novels planned: 3-4
Completed: 4
Novellas Planned: 3
Completed: 4
Short stories Planned: 1
Completed: 0

You can see, I accomplished my novel goal, surpassed my novella goal, but fell short of the short story goal (merp, no pun intended). I think, if I hadn’t written that fourth novella, I would have gotten that short story. But, when I finished the fourth novel in the middle of December, I knew I just didn’t have anything left in the gas tank.

Here’s how my word counts broke down over the year in order to reach these goals:

January: 80,123
February: 75,011
March: 35,170
April: 27,351
May: 30,005
June: 46,289
July: 4,054
August: 27,077
September: 0
October: 30,002
November: 50,000 – won NaNoWriMo WOOT!
December: 8,250

Total words for 2013: 413,332

You can see in July, September, and December, I needed time off. How many of these titles did I publish? I published all four of the novellas under my pen name and I published one, yes, just one, of the novels. I know right? Two of the novels, including my NaNo project from 2012, I wrote just for fun. I may self-publish those because I like writing in that world, but it’s a saturated genre that most agents are weary of. The fourth book I wrote, the NaNo 2013 project I finished in December, that one I will be querying. The market is tough, but I’m going to give it a go anyway.

Like I said before, I don’t know what my goals are for this year, but I do plan to write the sequel to World of Ash, which was one of the novels I wrote in 2013.

Do you have writing goals this year? What are they?

Also, I am very happy to announce that we have a new Spellbound Scribe to welcome to the blog! Mandy P. Be sure to check in on Thursday for her inaugural post! You can also pre-stalk Mandy on her blog here or on Twitter here!

NaNoMotivation

NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month

All the cool kids are doing it. Well, except for me. I’m in the middle of a couple big projects, and trying to start something new might make my head explode. But I’m cheering from the sidelines, and taking advantage of all the opportunities to twitter sprint with friends who are cranking out the word count.

For those of you who haven’t heard of NaNo, you sign up and promise to draft a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

That’s all.

Just 50,000 words. They don’t have to be particularly good words. In fact, you should save any and all editing for later. Just put ’em down and count ’em up.

Now, when you take on a big project, it always helps to have a little musical motivation. To that end, I created a playlist, dedicated it to everyone who has signed up for NaNo. These are songs to get you pumped, excited, motivated, or – if you need a break from the laptop – just plain dancing around the room.

Jump here: NaNoWriMo Motivation
Seriously. Do it.

🙂

Enjoy the music, keep writing, and if you’re doing the NaNo thing, come find me on twitter – @LivRancourt. I’m a great cheerleader!

Best,
Liv