EDITED on 02/11/15 – I was at it again this year and posted thirty NEW days of writing tips. Go check out this year’s tips on my Facebook page.
Here are my 2013 tips:
I love National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. It’s one of the few times that the solitary act of writing feels social. It’s the water cooler of the writing world and I love to stand around talking about my work. This year, my second year to “win”, I decided to post daily writing advice on my Facebook page based on what I was thinking about as I wrote that day. I am really going to miss my little daily advice giving, and the forced self awareness necessary to do it! I thought I’d post my advice here.
Let me know what you’re best writing advice is. We can all always learn from each other!
I’m ready! Every inkling of an idea related to my new story, which for the past year has been scribbled on the back of a receipts, written in tens of notepads I keep everywhere I go, emailed to myself or otherwise codified, is now officially organized. It’s NaNoWriMo time baby! (National Novel Writing Month) And in case you know the rules and are wondering, I’ve counted every one of those 4857 words and will exclude them from my final word count. It’s been years since I’ve done this and I can’t wait for the fun and camaraderie as I draft my first YA contemporary story. Get organized and get writing.
There’s so many little bits of research involved in writing a contemporary story. I like my sci fis when I can make up government structures or school curriculum or anything else I need. But I must say that I really like some of what I wrote today. Some of it NaNoWriMo advice for today- if you need to do research, make a list and then when you’re taking a break from writing to, say watch the kids at the park, you can crank out simple answers.
NaNaWriMo advice for today – Sometimes it is best not to start in the beginning.I usually write what I call the hinge chapter or chapters first – the chapter/s that the plot hinges on. It anchors the story for me so I know where everyone has to get and then when I go beyond that chapter I make sure that it informs the characters future decisions. Plus putting the important stuff on paper slows me down so I’m not rushing the writing to get to the big exciting moment. I usually write the first chapter late in the game, if not last because my characters lives feel real and I don’t always know where to start telling the reader about them.
NaNo advice for today (and yeah, I’m totally planning on doing this every day for the month ) – take the time to format and summarize as you go!There’s a tendency when the clock is ticking to want to get to the storywriting. Trust me, it’s worth the extra minute or so you spend to change the text on your chapter numbers to “Heading 1” if you’re using Word. That way when you scroll the chapter numbers will come up and you can find your way around your book quickly. Also, after each chapter number write a one sentence summary of what happens in that chapter. It’ll keep you clear on plotting, help with a synopsis 4 months from now when you’re wrapping up your first round of edits (yep…writing the story is only step 1 and Nov is the beginning) and help you find facts you think you won’t use again but discover later are important to your character. It seems easy to find stuff now, but when you’re 30K words in and you can’t find the name you gave someone’s best friend’s mom who turns out to be the informant in your pile of post-its, you’ll thank me.
Today’s NaNo advice- Let go!Today I was the story writer for my girls’ classes, which means I write down the stories that the kids come up with for them. We should all channel our inner 4 year old. Those guys told some great stories because they had no boundaries. Already have a T-Rex? Adding a boa constrictor is no problem. Stuck? Add a new character, especially an evil villain and see where it takes you. Let go and have fun with it!
I’m kinda getting into this advice thing Today’s NaNo advice- Remember that you are only telling a small part of someone’s story.The first thing that makes a story fall flat to me is if the characters feel like, well, characters. Whether you tell their story from birth to death or not, remember that they have that whole tale.My 4-yr-old yesterday told me a story about a princess who battles a T-rex, then a boa constrictor, saves a price trapped in a hole, gets caught in a volcano and finally escapes it all and gets married. She ended the story like this:
“They wanted to live happily ever after. But then there was another volcano. The End.” I asked her why she stopped there and she said “The story of the princess getting married was over. Stuff still happens, just not in this story.” She’s right. If you remember that your characters (fictionally) lived before and will live after the story, they will feel 3D to you and your readers.
NaNo tip for today – find a way to stay motivated. Think about what made you want to write in the first place and post it somewhere to keep you motivated.I keep this quote from the Serendipity Literary Agency website on my wall – “A precious idea is never arbitrarily unearthed. It spurts forth from effort and creativity, finally uncovered as brillance.” It gets me pumped to think that it is all the hard work I’m putting in now that’s going to make my book speak to someone I’ll never meet one day. These crazy hours WILL pay off. Keep writing!
Today’s NaNo tip – Any time can be writing time.Today my kids don’t have school so I worried about getting any writing done. But then the kids wanted a bath (vs a shower) and I hauled my laptop upstairs and sat in the bathroom and wrote while they splashed and giggled and scrubbed away. Did I get a ton written? Nope. But I got something done and my computer is on standby for other such small but productive minutes today. You don’t need to carve out a large chunk of time (though if you can, that’s ideal). You can keep working on your book in stolen minutes of time and either way, you’ll get there.
Today’s NaNo tip – You aren’t tied to your initial outline. Follow your characters rather than forcing your characters.By now my characters have started to take on a life of their own. Some of them like the path I’ve laid out for them (or rather, go with it – I doubt that most of them would “like” what the future holds for them), but one very important character is stubbornly refusing to go where I wanted him to go. Today I’m deleting his plotline and character profile and rewriting them.Plotting is like mapping out a roadtrip. Once you get going someone you are with is going to end up needing something you didn’t anticipate and you’re going to have to get off of your path and go find it for them. Even if it’s scary to delete your original map, don’t be afraid to let your characters take the wheel once in a while. You’ll get where you’re going on an even better road.
Today’s NaNo tip – Don’t forget to let your characters have fun.Week two of NaNoWriMo begins today and hopefully we’re all far enough into our stories that some conflict is arising. It is tempting to dive deep into the meat of the conflict and never come up for breath, but remember that your reader doesn’t want to feel like they are drowning. Once in a while you need a break from car chases, friend fights, shoot outs, mental breakdowns, or whatever the drama looks like in your story. It’s the highs that make readers feel those lows. So come up this week and let your characters have a bit of fun.
NaNo tip for Nov 11th- If it’s too easy, it’s probably boring.When you find plot holes, or incomplete characters, or action with frustratingly lacking motivation in your first draft it is because you now have a meaty story and it’s making you think. Congratulations. As your story gets more complicated you will find, and fix, those problems. So don’t despair. Just remember that if your story is too easy to write, it’s probably boring. And if by the time you’ve gotten halfway into your story you haven’t been concerned about any part of the story, either you’re a genius – and then send me your tips! – or your story isn’t complex enough.
Nov 12th NaNo tip – The metaphor can be your best friend if you do more than throw it into a sentence and move on. Use them to infuse the whole paragraph/page/story.I was writing today and started in on a metaphor about molting your skin. At first I hated that using it meant I needed to take a second look at all of my verbs and adjectives in that paragraph again (this is what I think should be done any time a metaphor is added), especially with the NaNoWriMo word count lurking. But in the end, when the past snakes out of my characters, molts and is left behind the whole scene is taken to a new level. And to think I was just going to say that the kids got in the car and left school.
Nov 13th NaNo Tip – Don’t be afraid to talk about it.I love to share my finished work with pretty much anyone who asks. My finished, edited, poured over, thought about work. My unedited work is another story. Last night I read one sentence – yes, just one sentence – aloud in my NaNoWriMo writing group and then read it again to my husband when I got home in a fit of insecurity. My husband wanted more background and when I shared with him what had just happened in the scene and why it was so important to the character, I got really clear on what I needed to say next and today’s writing has been flying. So sometimes sharing your ideas early can help you work out exactly what you’re trying to say. Of course, be careful early on to keep only your voice in your head, but even if you have to talk to the walls, when you hear your ideas out loud, sometimes you get clarity.
Nov 14th NaNo Tip – Take some time to smell the ink drying.Because I passed the halfway point of 25,000 words last night, I will tell you guys this. You may feel stressed, pressured, exhausted, and mentally taxed, but you are having fun. Remember those college all nighters that felt like they sucked the life out of you at the time? Now (assuming you’ve graduated) you look back and think only about how awesome it was to be able to stay up until 2am with your friends all around. That’s NaNoWriMo. You will look back on this in a few months like that too. Take some time to realize that this crazy thing you are doing is fun. It is fueled by your passion. It has hopefully introduced you to a few new people that may become critique buddies or query trench buddies later. You are feeling the pressure, but you are also feeling your heart in your chest. You are writing and you love it. And so do I. I did NaNoWriMo again this year to get this feeling back. It stayed for about 2 years after my first time and I want everyone to take time today to remember what this month feels like so it can fuel you to continue with this passion long after the month is over. <3
Still writing? You’re halfway in now. You’re committed (by both meanings of the word ) It’s the 15th!Nov 15th NaNo Tip – Periodically, try to use sentence structures that push your mind to new places.I use ‘in spite of’ a lot so that I can think in spite of this obviously emotion, what? That ‘what’ is what stays when I delete the in spite of part. ‘As much as’ works well too. Like I’m feeling badly as much for this obvious reason as for… that next word or phrase is the new thought that I would have never gotten to in favor of the obvious thought that preceeded it. In addition to, and even the standby if/then statements, work too. Having multiple emotions or motivations will make your characters deeper and your plot thicker.
One of my besties sent me this yesterday.My Nov 16th NaNo tip is just what the picture says – Tell your story.People never realize how hard it is to tell a story that means something until they sit down and try. The logistics of writing are difficult enough, but expected – no one prepares you for the emotional impact. As soon as your story gets real you are putting part of yourself out there. I don’t always agree with the decisions or viewpoints of all of my characters, but every book I write has my ideologies or beliefs or life story somewhere in it. Those parts, especially with my NaNoWriMo book which is very much of my life, though it is fiction, are the hardest to write because I can’t help but think, “What would my dad or my friends or especially my kids when they are old enough, think about me saying that?” In all honesty, writing this book has left me bawling for days for my characters and it’s not the first time or the last that a book will do that to me. It’s also left me a little nervous about how it will be perceived by my friends and family because it deals with serious issues head on versus masked in a world of sci-fi. But if you want to be a writer you have to tell your story anyway. You were bold enough to step up and decide that the world wants to read what you write. Don’t chicken out now. Write it.
Nov 17th NaNo tip – Don’t forget recovery time.Yesterday I told you to go there. Today I’ll tell you to stay there. It’s tempting to have something terrible happen to your characters and then immediately showcase their resultant enlightenment. Consider that sometimes there’s a time lag between the two. Don’t pack your bags for a glorious ending too fast. Give your characters time to recover and process what has happened to them before they move on and figure out what they’ve learned from it.
Today I’m working on my character descriptions, having gotten the bulk of the plotting done. So the Nov 18th NaNo tip is this- Tie your descriptions into the text, don’t just list them.It’s very boring to read that “the tall, thin girl with long, wavy blond hair, blue eyes and pink lips walks into the room with a tall, filled bookshelf on the left and vertical red and green striped lines of wallpaper on the right. Other things in the room include…and the girls is wearing…” Split all of those descriptions up. In the fictional example above you could say, “With her hands wrapped around her slender hips (and by the way you don’t actually need the word slender because it’s implied in her ability to wrap her hands around them), she tries to select a book from the floor to ceiling bookshelf. She stops on the spine of a book as blue as her eyes.” Not a well written example, but hopefully you get the point. And spread your descriptions out. Notice that in the example I never mentioned her hair or the wallpaper. You can add those details later, as her hair falls over her shoulders as she reads, or she stares at the wallpaper trying to comprehend what she’s read, for example.
Nov 19th NaNo tip – There is no such thing as writer’s block. Don’t let that urban myth get into your head.Everyone worries about getting writer’s block at some point. Let me be the Mythbuster on that one. There is no such thing. There are times when your imagination is overflowing and times when it is not. The key to whizzing by the times that it is not are few:1) Don’t call it writer’s block. It gets in your head and creates useless and unnecessary stress.
2) Write anyway. When, like yesterday, I could not see a first chapter, I go and beef up character descriptions. As you get to know your characters better, they will tell you where to go (and yesterday, boy did they, though it took a good thirty minutes of writing now deleted garbage to get there). Other times I’ve filled in scenery or rewritten a chapter that was a little bit off to me. Once I get my mind wholly in the story, my little light of inspiration turns itself back on. I’ve even, quite literally, written from my characters point of view, “My life is pointless. I have so many problems and no clue what to do about them.” And you know what? That part of introspection actually stayed in one of my stories and a scene where my character despairs and starts writing down everything going on and sees something she hadn’t before was born. Usually I delete it though.
3) Don’t write, but stay in your story. Do #1 and #2 first, but if you still feel stuck, don’t fret, there’s a #3- do things for your story that aren’t writing. Find pictures of your characters online (tip within a tip: don’t search for red haired teen girl, search for long curly hairstyles or something…the internet can bring up some crazy stuff otherwise). Look for pics of your location. Do some research. As long as you stay in your story, you will be ready to write again in no time.
So what am I doing the day after finishing the core of my NaNo book? Writing of course. What else is there?!Nov 20th NaNo tip- In case, like me, your happiness with your writing only lasts until the rereading and you are wondering if anyone ever does anything with this crazy book they wrote in a month, I found a blog for you. According to Barnes & Noble there at least 8 best sellers, including Night Circus by Eric Morgenstern, Water for Elephant by Sara Gruen and Cinder by Marissa Meyer, that started out as NaNo books.Just remember their writing didn’t stop on the last day of November or when the core of their story was flushed out. They got up the next morning and kept playing with those words.http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/8-best-sellers-started-during-national-novel-writing-month/
Nov 21st NaNo tip – sometimes you have to act it out.I’m incredibly clumsy in real life and body parts moving baffles my imagination as well. Somehow I always end up having people in lounge chairs with a wall on right then grab something off of an adjacent table with their right hands. If you don’t see the problem there, act it out. Lay against a wall pinning your right arm and grab a cup of water from the floor on the left (water cups can’t be on the wall or hovering in most worlds). Do you reach over your body with your right or grab with your left? Probably the left.It may seem not to be crucial, but what if your character is on the ledge of a building and grabs with the wrong hand. Then she might fall to her death. These types of details, if not done well, take the reader out of the story as they try to figure out how that’s possible. For that reason writing about movements is tricky. If hands are full you can’t then wave. Watch for expressions or metaphors too. You can drag your feet down the street, but not if you are already downhill skiing, then you may v or shift your feet to slow down, but if you’re just trying to say that they are moving slower than everyone else, dragging their feet may not be the best expression. A book is only as good as the details are. Just something to keep in mind as your characters move through their days.
This is the best piece of advice for writing a first chapter that I have ever gotten, so today’s tip is courtesy of a talk given by Chuck Sambuchino a few years ago that has stuck with me.Nov 22nd NaNo tip – Start a book with your character, not the setting or situation.Here’s what Chuck said. In the movies you see the sky and from there the camera pans to a forest far away. You zoom in and see a frozen lake in the middle of the forest, then a crack in the lake, and then a hand comes shooting out through the crack in the frozen lake. In a book, you start with the hand and pan out to get the other details later. Readers have to care that your character is breaking through something, then that it is ice, then that they are in a forest somewhere on Earth. And with that advice in my head, the third version of my first chapter bites the dust (technically it becomes chapter 2 and my story now starts the night prior). V4 is a keeper and I’m moving on. One of the great things about NaNoWriMo is that push forward. I’d be rewriting this chapter for a month without the rest of the story flushed out without this time pressure. Hope you guys are all getting close. One more crazy week!
Nov 23rd NaNo tip – Every little thing does not need to be wrapped up at the end of your story.One of my parents favorite stories about me is when I wrote my first “book” in 1st or 2nd grade. The book ended with “Oh yeah, they had a dog. Well, the dog died too” because I felt the need to tie a bow (or a noose apparently) on every character’s storyline. It’s okay to let readers make up their own endings for some of the non-essential side stories and decide for themselves what happens to the main character’s dog.Some may argue that you can even leave a bit of mystery in what happens next to the main characters, but I’d caution that too much of a cliffhanger, even if you’re planning on a series, will most likely not be well received. If you plan to end on a big cliffhanger, make sure you tie up the main plot of the book and then establish a new potential plot as the cliffhanger/ lead in to a sequel. I do that most of the time just to remind the reader that the characters’ story goes on, even if I’m not planning a sequel.
Nov 24th NaNo tip – Don’t quit now!! The only thing keeping you from being a writer is the writing. Your first, or fourth, or eighteen novel is started. Finish it!There’s only one more week. I’ll leave you with what screamed in my ears as I wrote until 1am last night, which is crazy late for me to be up.To quote my old volleyball coach, “If you feel pain, you know you’re still alive.”
Nov 25th NaNo tip – Every time you enter a new setting, pick one thing in the room and fill it.In the kitchen? Name everything in the refrigerator. In the car? What’s in the dashboard? In the mall? What’s in her purse or his wallet? I sat down and did this for every space my main character goes in throughout the book last night in prep for editing. Please do not use every item in your story, but you might pick one relevant thing to point out. Even if you don’t use any of the items you’ve listed, the decisions you are making to fill those spaces will help define who your character is.Today’s my last big writing day of NaNoWriMo due to Thanksgiving entertaining. 3000 words or bust! I’m fearing bust, but I’ve already warned my family that I may be ducking into my home office sporadically if need be. How are you guys doing?
Nov 26th NaNo tip – Remember that you are just telling a story and then just tell it.I love words. Very few things in life capture my heart like a well spun sentence or a good pun. So I’d love to wordsmith my story into a divine web of oration that would trap the hearts and minds of everyone who reads it. And that’s all great and fancy for me.Readers want a good story. And it’s not a good story if they can’t understand it. As you write, remember that big words may look and sound pretty but if you string too many together you might lose your reader and obfuscate the true meaning of what you’re trying to say in that scene. And Yes, the use of obfuscate was on purpose 😉 Most times, a simple sentence is the most powerful one.
Nov 27th NaNo tip – Don’t forget to live…when you’re not writing.Everything you do, every interaction you have, and everything you see infuses your writing. Staying holed up in your favorite writing space may seem productive, but it’s also shutting you off from the world which is the worst thing you can do as a writer long term. To describe the experience of life you have to live it.I think of myself as a method actor – I take on new personality traits, hobbies, and sometimes even hairstyles to get into the mind of my characters. It’s fun. I don’t want to be a professional spelunker, but doing all of the research and going once was a blast and I draw on that when I’m writing about spelunkers, but also when I’m writing about claustrophobia or nomads or even the fear and anticipation of starting at a new school. A million things really. So feel justified writing for a shorter period of time for the next few days (or…gasp…taking a few days off). Just think of the mine of interpersonal relationship research can be happening over Thanksgiving dinner with the family. Just don’t forget a notepad!!
Family members – you’ve been warned 😉
Nov 28th NaNo tip – Writing is rewriting. We’ve all heard that. Writing a first draft is giving birth – simultaneously natural and amazing.Get that baby out of you. You can brush its hair and put on a cute little outfit after the cleansing bath that is rereading, but today you are just giving birth to a first draft. Don’t worry about the rules. If those -ly words follow your every verb that’s fine right now. If you need 215 exclamation points to get that baby out, stamp them all over the place like a guttural scream. These are editing problems. Don’t worry about what your best friend or your worst enemy will say. Just be honest, and let you mind do what it was made to do – create new life on paper. Stay in love with your baby and push it out. Two more days. Happy Thanksgiving!
Nov 29th NaNo tip – Think about who you are writing for.No, I don’t mean that in the ethereal sense. The answer is not, “I’m writing for me,” because you are, but you aren’t. Even if you don’t plan to actually share your book with the world, you should at least consider who would read it if you were to. Are you writing for kids? Then you should probably skip out on the bad words. Are you writing for a teen girl? Maybe you should consider (not necessarily have, but consider) a love interest.I like to get more specific than those generalizations though. E.g. What type of teen girl are you writing for? What does she like? Hate? Do? Etc. When I write I usually have the image of someone who is reading, relating to, and loving my book in the back of my mind – a specific profile of a person, but not a specific person I know because that is creatively distracting for me. For my NaNoWriMo book it is a middle to upper middle class black teenage girl who goes to a private school in the South and is moderately popular, and her whole group of mostly white friends who will never talk about the content of the book other than to say they loved it and pass the book around. I hope that tons of other people of all types will one day read, relate to, and love Bleached, but I write it for that girl and her friends. Knowing that helps keep my story rooted, so I don’t get too carried away with side stories or anything else. I continually ask myself if she’s still with me.Do any of you guys have actual readers in mind for your NaNo stories?
Nov 30th NaNo tip – Hold on tight to this month and everything you’ve done and learned in it.You’ve been places. You haven’t slept. You’ve battled yourself and your antagonists. And the rest of the world had the nerve to just call it November.
Remember this feeling. The exhilaration, the confidence, the comraderie of writers, and above all, the hard work. This is what you really take away from NaNoWriMo – whether you got to 50K words or not. You now have the discipline to put your butt in that chair and write.
I’m really going to miss coming up with daily writing tips, but I hope you enjoyed reading them and got something out of one of them along the way. I’ve posted them all on my website for posterity.
So what are your writing tips and tricks? I’d love to hear them!