10 Writing Tips I’ve Discovered

50K-words

One week from today is November 1, the start of the NaNoWriMo event, so it is exciting and still a little scary. As I posted to Facebook, I just completed over 50,000 words on my current work-in-progress, “O’Ceagan’s Legacy”  in 23 days and I am only two chapters away now from completing it. I am targeting the end of this weekend to try to wrap up the first draft. So I feel pretty good about that. Apart from wanting to get the book completed before I start on the new book on November 1, I wanted to see if I could write at the pace it would take for NaNo. Now I have proven to myself that I can do it. But here’s 10 other things I learned while doing this:

One  

Set aside the time to write in the morning or early afternoon and stick to it. Plan on additional writing in the late afternoon or evening. I even try to write for a short while after I turn off the TV set at night. After a couple of weeks, you’re beginning to get conditioned to this. It is sort of like training for a marathon, but not as physically tiring. You make up for it in mental exhaustion.

Two

Having a plan is really important for me. How do the pantsers do it? I like having an outline and knowing where my story is going and how it is going to get there. Not that I don’t have detours along the route and sometimes we go to an entirely different place than I planned, but that’s all right.

Three

Scrivener has been an amazing tool with the notes and scene planning and I wonder how I managed without it before. Oh, yes, I had those stacks of index cards with scribbled notes that I kept shuffling around. That worked well… not! So easy to adjust the scenes and move them around with this program.

Four

Take breaks while writing. Get up and move around, shake out the tension in your shoulders and put the book out of your mind for a little while. I like to play a video game for about 30 minutes to distract me and let my subconscious work.

Five

Don’t stop to edit. I’ve heard this from many people and it is something I have to work on. I still see the red squiggles under misspelled words and go back to correct them. So you noticed that you used the same word in the second sentence that you used in the first. Let it go. You’ll correct it in the next draft.

Six

Yes, this section really sucks and it feels flat, but once again, the story is the important thing now. The art of the words comes with subsequent drafts.

Seven

Holy cow! Is that a plot hole or what? Well, yes, your spaceship just flew through it, but make a note and you’ll fix it on the rewrite. This kind of includes things like this is more technical that I actually know, but research on those troublesome items can also come with the second draft.

Eight

Never mind that your main character thinks she suckered you in. You want to hear from your characters, as many as possible, because the mind works in a very strange way and those character viewpoints help you make the whole darn thing work. If you can hear and see them, then your story is coming alive and writing goes much more smoothly.

Nine

Stumped with something in the story and nothing is coming to mind to put on the paper? It’s not really writer’s block, not when you know what has to happen. I have two options to get around this.

• One is to write a different scene, either the next one or one in a different part of the story. Often other scenes are clearer in my mind, so skipping to one is a quick way to get the brain going again.  It sometimes helps to work out the details for the scene I’m having trouble with.

• This other technique has worked for me for many years. Pick up a pen and paper and write it out in longhand.  Because I did technical writing as well as article writing for many years, I tend to engage the logical side of the brain more when I’m on the computer. But I started writing stories as a child and I wrote them out on paper before I typed them with a typewriter. When you have to keep typing the whole book over for edits, you do tend to edit when typing. So, it seems that picking up the pen signals the creative side of my brain that we can relax and let the ideas flow.

Ten 

Take time to pet the cats and don’t get too upset with them when they decide that you’ve typed enough and the keyboard is in the way of their grooming on your lap. This is really important, especially to the cats. They help you to relax and sometimes that helps bring the story out. Besides if you ignore them, they will simply lie on your keyboard and put all kinds of unwanted cat words into the book… or worse.

These techniques may not work for everyone, but if the last 24 days have been an example for me, then they may be keys to my success next month. I am certainly hoping that’s the case.

Got some other tips for NaNoWriMo? Let me know in the comments. I need all the help I can get!

Character Building and Inspiration

Monument at Lady of the Snows Catholic Cemetery, Reno NV -Photo by R. Averett

A little under two weeks until the start of NaNoWriMo on November 1st and novel prep is underway.  I will be writing the first book in, what I plan to be a series, called Funeral Singer: A Song for Marielle.  It’s a paranormal mystery, think a Ghost Whisperer type of story.  I am so excited about writing this story and I have the plot worked out, although stories do tend to take side excursions on me as I am writing.

Character

This past week was spent with the characters more and getting the background for them worked out.  I am still adding to them, but most of them have names and histories and are beginning to “come to life” in my brain.  You know you’re succeeding when they start talking to you.  I think I am getting close to at least my main character speaking up.  That’s always a fun time in the writing process.

Even though my NaNo Reno group met on Friday to work on plot and characters, we didn’t really plot much or do much character building, but did get better acquainted and talked quite a bit about writing.  Two of us had signed up for the webinar on using Scrivener for NaNo that was presented by  author Joanna Penn and Joseph Michael, who offers training on the program.  I have been using the program about a month now and absolutely love it for any writing project.  But this webinar showed us quite a few tricks and learning how Joanna has used it during NaNoWriMo was a bonus.  So, we talked a little about the cool features in the program and how much more there is to learn about it.

Inspiration

Grave monument at Old Hillside Cemetery, Reno NV – Photo by R. Averett

Yesterday, I went out with the roomie looking for a little inspiration in, of all places, cemeteries.  I also wanted to get a renewed sense of the feeling in the mausoleums, chapels and along the rows of graves, new and old.  As I was taking a few photos, I had the feeling that I was intruding at times.  I found myself offering prayers and well wishes to any ghosts that might still haunt these areas.

I went to the Old Hillside Cemetery near the University of Nevada Reno campus.  Graves in it date back to the Civil War era, but it is a sad-looking place.  Fences surround the various sections of it to prevent vandalism.  Oddly, there were a few newer-looking gravestones for very old graves so the families of these people are trying to maintain those graves.  I’ve heard that there are some who wish to move the graves to a new location so that this area might be used for student housing.  Stories relate that there are at least two ghosts who haunt this graveyard and possibly more.  I am not prone to seeing ghosts, but there are times that I do feel a presence.  I also believe that moving the grave will not move the ghost with it.

One of the cemeteries was the Catholic one at the north of town. I stood among the graves of the innocents, the babies that had died, some not even one day old and yet offerings of flowers showed that they were still remembered and loved.  One grave of a 12-year-old girl, who died several years ago, had a freshly carved pumpkin and autumn flowers on it.  Very touching.  I want to remember all of this when I begin writing my book in November.

Getting Into Shape for NaNoWriMo

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In some ways preparing for the write-a-thon that is NaNoWriMo is a bit like preparing for an important race, like a marathon.  Not that you’d find me out running every day, but with a target number of words a day around 1,700, you do need to prepare for the race if you haven’t been doing it all along.  And I haven’t.

I started trying to discipline myself to write every day and work on the word count.  Let me start by saying, I do write every day, just not on my novel.  I have written something just about every day of my life from age eight on.  I’ve written short stories, poetry, newsletters, articles, training manuals, and business proposals.  If you count getting paid to write manuals, regulations and training modules as professional writing, then I am a professional writer.  It’s the creative writing that has lagged behind over the years.

When trying to write over a thousand words a day, the trick may be to turn off the internal editor that wants to polish the writing, choose just the right words and linger over the phrasing.  It may be to allow the purely creative force to freely let the words flow to capture the framework of your story.  So much easier said than done.  Just for example, I paused and changed three words in what I just typed there before continuing to the next sentence.  I stopped to re-read what I had just written, looking to see if it could be written better.

To try to unleash this creative process, I started trying to write every day on my current work in progress, O’Ceagan’s Legacy with an eye to getting as much done on it as I can before starting the new novel on November 1st.  I also wanted to see if I can actually write 1,700 words in a day consistently over the month.  So far, it’s been up and down.  I have done and exceeded the word count several times in the last 10 days, but I have also missed dismally, clocking in with a paltry 368 words one day, but topping out with 3,299 on another day.  The average is good overall and if I can do that while in the challenge, I should be able to make that 50,000 word count goal.

Are all the words good?  No, of course not.  Sometimes you just want to get down the thoughts and the flow of the scenes and not let that editor slide in to search for just the right phrasing.  That will come in the second and third edits.

What you actually write during this kind of writing isn’t a polished novel, but a very rough first draft that will be refined over the next few months to one that will be worthy of being published.  At least, that’s the goal.

If you’re like me and writing a novel has taken over a year for the first draft, then learning to give the creative side the freedom to flow for even 1,500 words a day is a big breakthrough in your writing.

Getting ready for NaNoWriMo

keyboard

I only heard about NaNoWriMo, the big writer challenge where authors attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in one month, about two years ago when a friend of mine did it.  Then over the summer,  during one of the writing classes I took, the subject came up again.  While talking about it, I began mulling over the idea of joining in this November.  NaNoWriMo is a condensed form of National November Writers Month and is a widely spread campaign to encourage writing.

For the most part, I don’t produce a lot of words a day.  If I did, that novel would be getting completed much sooner than it is.  I am also not a consistent writer, so I thought that maybe, just maybe, this challenge might lead me to form a better writing habit.  And if I succeed, the next novel I have in mind will be completed in first draft form.

If you do the math on this, the challenge is to write an average of 1,667 words a day, give or take.  It really doesn’t sound like much until you sit down to write and those words take a while to add up.  One of my biggest hurdles is turning off the self-editor when I write.  I can spend more time deciding which word I want to use than actually writing a paragraph of story.  Those word choices, action changes and other items that take a good story to a great (or at least better) story can wait until the editing phase, but it’s hard to tell myself that when I’m writing.  And re-reading what is already written will also trigger the self-editor and waste more time plus stifle the creativity somewhat.  At least, it does with me.

So I am gathering information and tips, and  I have an online seminar on the subject coming up later this month, to help me form a battle plan to achieve my goal.  A terrific resource, I think, is our local NaNoWriMo group that is scheduling group writes where we can meet with other writers, chat a bit and write like crazy for three hours.  We’ll see how that goes.  And I’ll report back here on my activities leading up to the write-a-thon as well the various writing events that occur during the month.

Of course, in the middle of all of this writing in November is the Reno Comic Con, so I’ll have to come up with a strategy to get the writing in on those three days of convention-going.  Sleep?  Who needs sleep?!

A “Legacy” Grows

I have been working on the new novel, O’Ceagan’s Legacy,  and it is coming along pretty well.  Not as fast as I’d like, but at least progressing.  It took its first deviation from my original plan yesterday, which is a good thing.  It means the characters are becoming real in my mind and making choices that I didn’t expect.  This is what makes writing fun!

What exactly is a legacy?  The Merriam Webster Dictionary gives two definitions for  it:

1) a gift by will especially of money or other personal property: bequest.

2) something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past: Example: the legacy of the ancient philosophers

In my novel, the “legacy” is acting on more than one level.  It also stretches those definitions to something more than what they might seem.  But, as food for thought, a legacy can consist of more than money that is inherited.  It can be a house or land or family jewelry.  The value may be intrinsic or for the history.   It can be practically worthless monetarily, yet worth a fortune in knowledge or sentimental value.  How will this play into O’Ceagan’s Legacy?  Quite interestingly, I believe.

So working on chapter 7 now and lots to go yet, but feeling that this tale will be a pretty good read down the road.  Not quite ready to put up a blurb about it, but it will be coming soon along with an excerpt from the prologue.   I will tell you that it has roots in Celtic mythology and it is set in the far future.  And there is a space freighter involved called “Mo Croidhe”, which is Irish for “my heart”.
Until next time…
Lily