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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.

Until.

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.

Stop it.

Don’t.

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!

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Mushy Middle: The Mid-Month NaNo Slump

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.

NaNoWriMo: Do blog posts count?

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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.

Or something.

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?

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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.

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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…

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Included because it’s one of the coolest stories from last night’s World Series win. I’m a romance writer, so for me, this is what victory looks like. 🙂

 

 

 

 

You Can Take a Break; You’re Still a Writer

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.

On Being Stuck

The subtitle of this post should be: thoughts on how to regain forward motion.

Here’s the thing. In the last year, I’ve finished two books with my co-writer Irene Preston and a novella set in that same world. Before I edited this paragraph, the line read “I’ve only finished…” but I took the “only” out, because a novel and two novellas are definite accomplishments. In fact, you’re probably thinking I should be happy with three completed projects, and I am.

It’s just that I could have done more.

 

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In between the finished novel/novellas, I sliced and diced an old project, trying to make it work better, and began two other stories, only to stall out every time.

That’s a lot of crap, lemme check Facebook to see if I can shake something loose.

Those stories I fizzled out on? One is almost 200 pages long, and the other is just over 100 pages. (That’s double spaced, 12-font TNR, ~ 300 words a page.) The old project I fiddled with is even longer. My point is, I’ve invested a fair amount of time, creativity, and emotion into each of these and I don’t want to see all that energy go to waste.

Any time you’re doing something creative, false starts are part of the game. I’ll get an idea, slap it down on the page, and see what comes of it. I’ve got several of those; two or three thousand words sketching out a main character along with some bullet points regarding the plot, the kind of thing I can throw together in an afternoon, then set aside to see if anything roots.

But you figure if – at best – I write 5000 words a week, it probably took me 3 months to get to 200 pages. That’s too much for me to toss aside, and while I’m one of those writers who loves the process of editing, I can’t fix what isn’t on the page.

So now you know a couple of my dirty secrets. I give up too easily and then whine about it.

Oh, and to complicate matters, I’m doing Camp NaNo this month, the abbreviated spring version of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I committed to writing 20,000 words in the month of April. I’m at 17,600 words with three days left, which means I need to get one of these projects moving again.

 

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Basically I made this post in the hopes I’d find a way out of this pickle.  I did a google search for “how to get unstuck fiction writing”, and in the interest of helping others in the same situation, I want to share some of what I learned.

The author of an article on The Center for Fiction website said her blocks usually come from not knowing the characters well enough. She recommended doing some free writing from the main character’s point of view, asking them why they’re so pissed off. (That’s not as crazy as it might sound. Jump HERE for the full post.)

An article on the website thinkitcreative.com also recommended focusing on the characters to move the plot forward. The author here suggested working on the backstory to get insights into what could happen next. One of their ideas involved going to an online dating site to get a list of questions for the characters to answer, which kind of cracks me up, but just might work. (Jump HERE for the complete post.)

I also liked an article on the Writers Digest website, because it recommended brainstorming “what could happen next”, then choosing the option the reader is least likely to expect. The article’s second bullet point was even more succinct:

Kill someone.

Heh. Yeah. That’d definitely shake things up.

Finally, they suggested meditation, to let your mind go quiet and see what ideas wander in.  “Stillness is the native language of creativity, yet it’s astonishing how we try to avoid silence.” (Jump HERE for the full article.)

So yeah, maybe I’m not really stuck. Maybe I’m just giving my ideas more time to blossom.

Or maybe I should spend less time on Facebook, and more time exploring. I’m going to go walk the dogs and see what I can come up with. If you’ve got ideas for how to move through a block, share them in the comments. Would love to learn from you!

 

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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.

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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!

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?

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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?

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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

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