Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Keeping up the Momentum

It may be hard to believe it, but the end of the month is coming soon. Some of you may be right on schedule, some will be ahead and some will be behind. Wherever you are standing (or sitting for that matter) at this moment don’t give up. Don’t stop. Why you might ask?
For those of you that are ahead - Keep the flow going and get that story on the page. Just because you have hit or exceeded your goal for the month doesn’t mean you can pat yourself on the back and ice your wrists (as nice as that would be). Set a new goal and see if you can blow that one out of the water as well. A part of NaNoWriMo is to challenge yourself so do just that - challenge yourself and accept that challenge.
For those of you that are right on schedule - I’m impressed. No, seriously, I am. Most people have days where they write less and days where they write more.To stay on track in spite of this is an incredible feat. However, we have today and tomorrow to do something unexpected - challenge yourself to write just a little bit more. Even if it is only 5 extra words a day. Besides, every program counts words differently, it never hurts to have a buffer for the times that the NaNoWriMo word counter seems to come up short. And won’t it feel nice to look at the official count and go “I didn’t just do it, I blew that goal out of the water.”
For those of you that are behind - Take a moment and look at your word count. When was the last time you wrote that many words in such a short amount of time. Have you even written that many words in all the preceding months this year? For most of you the answer to that question is no. So, take this moment and be proud of those words. You wrote them and hope is not yet lost. I’ve seen miracles in the month of November. People who have come up from so far behind to just blow us all out of the water. And even if you don’t have that in you, who cares? Look at what you have done. It’s incredible.
For everyone, the most important point is that no matter where you are in your writing - just keep writing. In the end, NaNoWriMo has never truly been about the number of words you write or even how good your story is; it’s about challenging yourself and delving into your creative depths to bring forth something that may not have otherwise existed. This story, however much you’ve been able to write this month, is your creation. You made that - no one else did. And that is an amazing thing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Writing is a Journey

Believe it or not we are three weeks into this crazy journey together. Some of you will be well ahead of your goal and ecstatic at how well things have been going for you, but I will hazard a guess that the rest of you are starting to lag a bit. That tends to happen around this time of the month.
In many ways, the act of writing is a journey all by itself. When you start a great adventure, something new, shiny, and exciting your energy is high, you’re feeling on top of the world and you can conquer it all. You are ready to face this brave new world, but as the reality and struggles of your world start weighing you down each step becomes harder.
If you were a character in a story this is the point where things are starting to look bleak. You may not even be sure that you’ll even make it all the way to the end. However, you may not realize something very important at this point. You are the hero. And one way or another you will realize that the journey will be over soon. You will have succeeded simply because you have probably written more this month than any other month this year.
This is a truth that I realize each year that I do NaNoWriMo.
Each year it gets easier for me to find the strength and will to carry on in my story because I have accepted that this is a part of every journey. I just need to take it one word at a time. I can look back to my word graphs of almost any year that I have participated and identify that week three slump.
This is the time where you need to fall back on those tips from a couple of weeks ago. However, the end is in sight. You are almost there. We are almost there.
Even if riches and accolades are not waiting for you at the end of this particular journey you will have something more important. You will have a novel.
Now get back to writing. Climb that word mountain. Before you know it the sun will be shining on the other side.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

They Did WHAT?

I am not going to lie to you. If you did a really good job of developing your character they will take on a life of their own. It makes no difference if you are a planner or pantser at some point this is going to happen to you - if it hasn’t happened already.
As a pantser, this can be great - so long as you keep your end goal in mind when you’re writing. Characters that take over are a blessing if you can stay out of their way long enough to be able to document their adventures. Sometimes you may have to poke them and prod them a bit to keep the story heading more or less in the right directions, but never try to force a character like this to do something that they do not want to do. Generally, if your character has taken on a life of their own then trust them to act in the story’s best interest.
However, you can run into trouble if your characters try to take over, but aren’t well developed enough to really hold their own or they are a Mary Sue. I’ll write more about Mary Sues in a bit.
As a planner, this can be terrifying - especially when you’ve spent all this time plotting out your novel just to have your characters hijack the story and take it somewhere unexpected. If they are behaving (more or less) - congrats! You probably considered who your characters were prior to planning your novels. Of course, that doesn’t prevent any new characters from just popping up and demanding your attention.
If you do have a character trying to derail your novel the most important thing to remember is that sometimes you need to follow that muse. The worst thing that could happen is that you end up with a terrible dead end side story that you can delete when you edit. There is absolutely no reason why you can't go back to the point of derailment and follow the story down a different path this time. These are still words and, better yet, if you are drawn to write this, if it is easy to write that dead end path than do so because those are words you can count. And that best case scenario? You end up writing something even better than you had planned. Chances are, though, you will be somewhere between those two extremes.
What do you do about the Mary Sues?
We all end up with these at some point in our writing career. They do not make for the most interesting reading material, to be honest. If you are halfway through your novel and you are suddenly realizing that one of your main characters just might be a Mary Sue then you’re going to have to do some quick character fixes. (Unless, of course, your story is flowing just fine. Then by all means keep writing and fix that character later).
Keep in mind, that no one is perfect. People have flaws, mental and physical. We struggle, we debate, we worry, we get angry for what seems like no reason. Remember your character isn’t just a character - it’s a person. Make sure that this person you created has failings and flaws. Has things he/she/it struggles with and things that they are good at. Make them round and add a few flaws. If you have, after November, go back and fix that first part. Or if you are really mad at your story and nothing is working out for you there is no reason that you cannot ignore everything you’ve written until now and start back at the beginning with your now, more well-rounded character.
In the end, no matter where you stand, the point here is that sometimes you just have to follow the story, and your characters, where they take you. If you try to fight it you may all too often find yourself blocked in what to write next or just plain uninspired by your own story. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

When in Doubt, Blow Something Up

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we hit a point in our novel where we don’t know what to do next or we find our enthusiasm waning or any of the myriad of things that can happen to slow down our word count. These are the moments where you sit there and stare at the page in horror as the minutes tick by.
So what do you do when you are blocked? When the words just won’t come?
The same solution won’t work for everyone, or even every time, but to help you out here are some of the things that I and others have done to help us get those words going again.
Keep moving. And not just the words. Get up and go for a walk or run. Do any activity that allows your mind to wander. Do the dishes, bake the cookies. Yeah, it may seem like procrastination, but sometimes not thinking about your story is when you do your best thinking. Your brain can just try to work on it in the background without your own thoughts interrupting it.
Or just take a break. You are not a machine. Take a break. Have a bubble bath. Take a shower. Give in to your need for that nap. Sometimes, sometimes all you need is to step away from your story and give your brain a break. After all, you’ve been working really hard.  
Change the view. If you can, take your computer to a new location. I often find that when I write at home, I will write less than if I went to a coffee shop or during my lunch break at the office. Sometimes all you need to do is go somewhere different to get the gears moving again. Not to mention that the people and things in your environment can be added to your story. Snippets of conversation can inspire a page of dialogue.
Blow it up. Not literally. There will always be times when you have no idea what you are going to do next in your story. Something needs to happen, but you don’t know what. If it works with your story, blow something up. Have ninjas or pirates attack or just simply ask yourself ‘what is the worst possible thing that could happen in my story right now?’ and write it. If something needs to happen then make something happen. If need be, kill someone (not literally* - just in your story).
Free write. Just write a whole new scene. It doesn’t have to be a part of your novel. Change the text colour to red or white, but leave it as part of your word count. Free writing is just letting the words flow out of you - they don’t have to be about your story at all. Just start rambling away in text until something pops up and you scream “EUREKA!” because you have finally figured out what you need to write. Or stick your protagonist and antagonist in a room and see what happens. Just get some words out and sometimes you’ll be surprised at what shows up when you aren’t trying to control the flow of your story.
Talk it out. Find a good friend or a family member or another writer and just start talking about your story. Talk about what you want to write next. Talk about how you want the story to end. Talk about that one thing (or more!) that’s really been bothering you about your plot or your characters or anything. Just let it and one of two things will most likely happen - you suddenly realize what you need to do or the person you are talking to will ask you that one question or state that one thing that brings it all together for you.
And if you have no one to talk to? Then write out the conversation. Ask yourself the hard questions. Why did it have to happen this way? What if….?
I am sure there is way more that I could write here, but these are the ones that I find tend to work for most people from published authors to first time writers. Find the ones that work for you and use them. And, of course, if you have a great writer’s block breaking technique that works for you, share it!
*unless you can get away with it, but don't blame me if you get caught. It was your decision after all. I had nothing to do with it. Murder is not a recommended outside fictional, literary worlds..

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Progress not Perfection

I know for many people that blank page can be daunting. It looms before you begging the question - Are my words going to be good enough? Can I tell the story I want to tell?
There is only one piece of advice I can give you - Don’t even worry about it.
An adage in the writing world applies very much to NaNoWriMo. You can’t edit what you haven’t written.What you are starting today isn’t a first draft. Nope. It’s Draft 0. This is where, good or bad, all you are obligated to do is get the story out of your head and onto the paper (or screen).
Bulky prose. Awkward dialogue. Passive voice.
All those things that you want to avoid writing? Write them. This is not about perfection. This isn’t about telling your story in the best way you can. This is just about telling the story in any way you can.
When it’s all said and done, you can go back and edit to your hearts content. Refine the prose, smooth out the dialogue and make the voice active! But that, as I said, is for later. When you are finished and well recovered from the rush of NaNoWriMo..
Sometimes, you may find that you need to make notes to yourself like [technical word for X] or [research this later] and that is fine! Don’t worry about it. These things happen. Make a note, move on. You can research those things later.
There will be times when you just do not have the words to write the scene you want to write You’re stuck. What now? Once again this is about progress, not perfection. No first draft is ever that good and draft 0 is going to be worse than that. So feel free to write. [I am having a hard time writing this scene. I will come back to it later. Here is what happens in this scene].
Do what it takes to keep moving forward. One of the biggest keys to success at this point is to keep moving forward. Keep the words flowing. Just keep writing.
And, never fear, you can fix that later.