Ready, Set, NANO . . .

fall colorsTomorrow begins National Novel Writing Month, a time-honored tradition for hundreds of thousands of writers. Last week I dealt with preparations; this week, goals shift to the forefront.

The scariest part of embarking on writing 50,000 words in a month (1600+ a day) is the stress you force on yourself and the guilt if you do not meet those self-imposed goals.

Forget the Word-Count-Goal

The best possible result engineered during the month of November is this: Write Every Day.

Writers discuss the importance of writing every day, debate whether the premise is necessary or just another self-imposed stress builder. I set up my tent in the camp that writing each day is imperative. Of course, take a day off occasionally, take a vacation; no problem, but other than those rare instances, create each day—it helps keep the muse busy producing, and that’s exactly what you want. The caveat of writing each day is not necessarily the number of words produced, but the improvement that is the natural outpouring of daily creation.

If you currently write every day, TERRIFIC—set your goals at increasing your daily output. Sadly, many writers do not even schedule the necessary time for writing.

For those who do not write every day, make doing so your only goal. It doesn’t matter if you write 300 words, 500, or a 1,000 words a day—just sit at the keyboard and pound out words each day in November. Do not beat yourself up that you only dredged up 212 words; it’s okay as long as you write something other than a grocery list each of November’s 30 days.

A Word of Warning

Much of your writing will be crap. That’s okay, and expected. Do Not be concerned, and most importantly, DO NOT EDIT during November—that will come later. I believe that revision is the key to producing publishable copy, whether a novel or short story, or anything for that matter. I also believe that the first draft’s purpose is to draw from your head the ideas, characters, and plot of the story, and turn those into something tangible, either on paper or a file on the computer. You cannot make writing better until it is in story-form that you can see.

So, during November, just write. While I’m in my first draft and I come to a problem or question, I type
(TR)
and keep typing. This tells me I need something here (often a transition between scenes), or I will type **Research** if I need to look up information to add credibility to a particular facet of the novel. In the same way, I use underlines ( _________ ) if a character appears that does not have a name; each of these markings are easily identifiable when I sit down to revise.

I promise this: If you develop the habit of writing each day during November, you will improve your skills while producing a body of work you would not have ordinarily completed. If you love writing (and you better because it is hard work), this is the best gift you can give yourself, and don’t let anybody discourage you.

Tomorrow, begin anew and start the habit—a hundred stories await your telling.

See you on the next page,

Rick


This Week’s Writing Quote:

“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” ┬áZadie Smith

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Novel-Writing-Month Preparations

bald eagle and crow

Every year, tens of thousands of writers join NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) with the sole purpose of finishing the first draft of a novel. Actually, the goal is to write 50,000 words during November, which is not enough for even a genre novel, but still a solid start and a daunting goal. 50,000 words in a month averages 1,666 words a day, every day, for each calendar day—no day off. The organizers operate a complete network to help you reach your goal through the inherent struggle.

Last year was the first year I participated and managed 30,000 words; a decent beginning (approximately a quarter of my proposed length) and 1,000 words a day. Contented with my output, this year my goal is to build on the number. I don’t stress about not hitting 50k. A thousand words a day is a realistic goal, and still enough to challenge me; normally, I average between 500-750 words pinched between the full-time job and family life.

The Prep Work:

Just like dicing and slicing vegetables for a proposed soup or stew, the preparation for November can help eclipse the writing goals. The last couple of weeks I have set aside time to plan what I want to do.

To outline or not? Writers debate this constantly and say there are two types, the Outliner and the Non-Outliner.

There exist fanatical Outliners that map out each scene and plot nuance before sitting down to actually weave the prose. Lists and research folders bulge with ideas, events, and concepts for the proposed books. Some make elaborate time-lines, endless lists of clothing types, props, character sketches, calendars, and anything else they think might be needed during the writing process. These are the types of people that plan every hotel room, rental car, plane flight, tourist attraction before starting a vacation—they do not want any surprises along the way. Guess What? No matter how well you plan a trip, things will happen that were never anticipated, and those moments are some of the best-remembered occurrences when a trip is over.

Some writers sit down to write with no idea where their story will go. Maybe they only have an ill-defined character or plot, and to them the joy of writing is the journey. You got it; these are the same people that purchase a one-way ticket and let life lead the way, where lodging, food, or transportation is garnered at the time of need. The experience is the key, not the planning.

I am a little bit of both. I love the mysteries that lie ahead, twitch excitedly when a new character or plot twist shows itself from the thrust of the scene I am writing. I also want to know where the story is headed, though not necessarily every path or diversion my travels may take. For this reason, I have a basic outline in mind.

First, I know how the lives of my protagonist and antagonist intertwine, along with what motivates each toward their individual goal.

I know where the story takes place, whether an ancient city or one of my imaginings, a time long ago or one that never existed, or perhaps even an altered present.

I have a skeleton plot by chapter, at least the first dozen or so, and also have the major plot points encompassing certain things I want to happen. All of this is speculative, though, and a lot of the fun of writing comes from the breaks from the original plot flow. Still, it gives me guideposts to shoot for; inevitably some will disappear and be replaced by events that are better suited while cascading through the ebb and flow of a story.

What are you doing to prepare for National Novel Writing Month?

See you on the next page,

Rick


This Week’s Writing Quote:
“I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977

Collection of Rejection

Hello, Friends:

My apologies for being a day late to post: my nephew received orders to report to Kuwait, and the family had an early Thanksgiving—his favorite holiday—before he ships out.

Mossy River

Rejection. As humans, we are rejected every day (friends, family, co-workers, that driver who lifts a finger to show his displeasure), but writers, especially, have an intimate relationship with rejection; writers are steeped in wrestling rejection and confidence, even the best wordsmiths. Rejected Writers is a list of now famous writers whose first novel was rejected several times before finding a buyer. You will recognize most, if not all the names: J.K Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham, Isaac Asimov, and the list goes on—as a matter of fact, the reality is that every writer gets rejected.

In a previous post, Failure, the Path to Success, I wrote that in order to succeed as a writer, your writing must first be sent to agents, editors, or publishers, and inevitably be rejected. Sending out your creation is a form of success, and I grip that thought as a lifeline to make sense of this thing I do.

As to success and failure, there are different degrees; a writer’s group loves your gritty tale about a young boy overcoming a schoolyard bully, only to have your in-box filled with, “Sorry, but it does not fit our needs at this time.”

What’s wrong with the story? Perhaps nothing. Maybe the timing is off, or the editor just bought a similar story, or (heaven forbid) you sent the story to the wrong publication.

A personal example detailing the emotional roller-coaster every writer rides: Friday I received the first critiques of Lesson 1 from the Iowa University “How Writers Write Fiction,” of which all four were glowing reports saying they loved the 500-word beginning of my short story, Nychelle’s Gate, and that they wanted to see more. There is elation and great satisfaction when one’s words touches a reader.

Two hours later, an agent responded to the query for my fantasy novel, The Returning: “Though I think you have an interesting story here, I didn’t quite fall in love with it in the way that I need to in order to request more. In this subjective industry, I’m sure another agent will feel differently, and I wish you the best of luck on your writing journey.”

Heart sinking, I grasped for any vine dangling over piranha-infested waters:

  1. Personalized; not a form rejection letter (email).
  2. The story concept is interesting.
  3. The agent is sure another will love the idea.

Silver linings, pros and cons, hopes and dreams; all appear, along with those other sensations, you know, the ones that send you to the bathroom to run your wrists under cold water to stop the sweating, the deep breaths to slow the racing heartbeat, the dry mouth that water will not satisfy.

Deep sigh. This is why I have a framed copy of the check and acceptance letter for my short story, The Accomplice, next to my desk reminding me that somebody did think enough of my writing to buy it. Although the money is long spent on who-knows-what, the By-Line is forever.

As my file “Collections of Rejections” continues to bulge, I push aside the angst, glance at the framed letter, and start typing.

See you on the next page,

Rick


This Week’s Writing Quote:
“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” James Michener

Fleshing Out Characters

fall-forest-path-sunbursts-trees-31873958

The Iowa writer’s class, How Writers Write Fiction, has begun. Appropriately, the first lesson deals with a character in the midst of conflict. This is the beginning of every story, and ironically, my topic last week. Believable characters are the heart of every story, and though I have discussed it many times, the point deserves repetition: without character, there is no story.

So, how does one develop a multi-faceted character that, like real people, is unique? I start with a list of basic attributes: age, gender, height and weight, education, upbringing (orphan, only child, or with a half dozen siblings?), occupation (career or just a job), favorite things, etc. Much of what I list will not enter the story, but it is important as creator that I know these essentials.

Having determined the first glimpses of my character, I start digging into their thoughts. All people are a combination of experiences, emotions, loves and hates, and a varying tolerance level for different things life throws at them.

An example of the questions are:

What is my character afraid of?

What does he/she want? This is the beginning of the character’s inner and outward conflicts.

What stands in the way of the character getting what they want? A plot-type question.

How does my character get dressed? I put on one sock and shoe before the other; many people put on both socks (left or right first?) and then the shoes. Small items such as how one combs their hair, their degree of tidiness (or not), thoughts on local or world events will tell the reader how the character feels, and this is the beginning of rounding out a character’s fullness. Used sparingly, these small insights into a character’s habits will go long on fleshing out the “it” that makes a character tick.

How analytical is my character? Crucial to detective stories as they are expected to deduce small clues and piece them together into a case.

Next I put my character into a situation to see how they react. Spurned love, losing a job, attacked physically, injured and alone. More times than not, I will not write these scenes but view them as if viewing a movie. If appropriate, I will write a short 500-word scene if I need to “see” it more clearly or if the particular scene may play a part in my story.

Is my character quick to anger or temperate? How does that impact his dealings with the other characters populating the story?

Can my character be trusted? What would make him leave behind his moral leanings and embark on a journey counter to his self-ness?

What are the lies my character tells himself? We all have a bit of self-deception, and this perception can be put to good use in our stories.

What, if anything, would my character die for? Family, friends, honor?

How does my character view his failures? His successes?

What is my character willing to do to get what he wants? Lie, cheat, deceive? If so, how does he justify it to himself?

As I ask (and answer) these questions about my character, the skeleton is layered with the flesh of diversity, and the blood of contradiction begins flowing through their veins—they take on life.

That is what I do with my protagonist; then I do the same thing with my antagonist, and then finally the secondary characters, but perhaps to a lesser degree.

The more you search out your character’s wants and desires, the richer your character will become, and thereby, the better story and happier readers you will have.

Please share how you develop your characters; others would like to know. It’s okay; writers open themselves up, and we are all friends here.

See you on the next page,

Rick

P.S. It’s not too late to join the Iowa writing class. Learn more and sign up here. Try it and you will learn more about your craft, guaranteed.


This Week’s Writing Quote:
“A writer is someone who can make a riddle out of an answer.” Karl Kraus