Five Things I've Learned from NaNoWriMo

In six days that glorious month starts. The month of Thanksgiving, of celebration, of pumpkin-flavored everything, of shopping and of pre-holiday excitement. But nothing is more exciting than the biggest month for writers everywhere. The one time a year where writers open up about their projects and their progress and unite in a 30-day maddash to write 50k words.

Yes, I'm talking about NaNoWriMo.

National Novel Writing Month, whether you are a supporter or not, is upon us. This will be my third year participating, and it's an event I look forward to all year. (There's something about watching that little bar on the website get bigger that always keeps me motivated.) This year I'm really excited because I get to work on the sequel. In year one, I wrote FMTD; in year two, I re-wrote it. So, it's pretty cool, and I feel like I've come full circle after a lot of hard work.

If you are doing NaNo, you should find me! I love having new friends and people to cheer on. I'm DanielleEWrites there, so it shouldn't be difficult. (Plus, I linked it!)

I've participated in NaNo twice and "won" both years, so I want to pass on some of the things I've learned.

1. Have a plan.

You've probably heard this, but it's so much easier when you go into each writing session knowing what you're going to do. I'm not saying you have to outline, but you should definitely have a goal beyond the 1,700 words. The goal can be that your character goes here, or does this, or this scene happens and moves you to this point. It doesn't matter. Just make sure you know what you want to do each day--or each week--and do your best to stick to it. Obviously, things will change, but it's good to have a plan. It makes 50k seem less daunting, and you don't waste time.

On the wasting time note, you should always leave your story in a stopping point that isn't resolved, because I have found (personally) that when I have to think about how something will start, it takes so much longer than if I had left a small outline or a few notes or written a paragraph before I quit the night before.

One more thing--have a plan for the holidays or that weekend that you're out of town and you know you won't write. You can double up a few days to get ahead. Planning for events during NaNo and being proactive so you don't get behind will work to your benefit, and keep your stress level down.

2. Be flexible!!! 

Not every day will be the same. Some days, writing will be so easy, and others you'll want to shoot yourself in the foot. This is probably the biggest thing that I've learned from NaNo. You have to be flexible. I know I just said to set a goal and have a plan, but sometimes those change as you go along. You need to be able to roll with the punches and do whatever the story is telling you.

Another thing about being flexible, and seriously, if you only take away one thing from this post make it this: Be easy on yourself. Writing is hard. Writing 50k in a month? Even harder.

Obviously, your goal is about 1,700 words every single day. Now, November is crazy month--especially if you think about Thanksgiving and Black Friday and all the prep for everything that comes with it. The one thing that no one ever, ever told me is that some days you won't have energy or brainpower or time to hit that number. Go easy on yourself.

If you know that you have a weekend when you are out of town, pre-write. Maybe you double up a couple of days (whether on accident or on purpose) and that's great. If you write 3k in one day, then you're allowed to have a day off. Or if you miss a day, you can be a little behind and catch up when the story allows you. And seriously, if you need to take a night off, no one will yell at you. You can do that. 50k is an end destination--not necessarily a rule. 

Be flexible and realize you are a human, not a machine, so go easy on yourself. (See how I brought all that around?)

3. Don't quit. 

There are good days and there are bad days. Don't quit.  Write.

Even if the scene is complete crap, write. Even if the story isn't doing what you thought, write. Even if ten pages have nothing but dialogue---hey, those are words, too--so write.

Don't quit.

Even when there's a week left and you're only at 30k, keep going. At the end if you've only written 30k, that's 30k more than you wrote before.

Don't quit. Don't quit. Don't quit.

4. Celebrate
Find small milestones and celebrate them. I like to write a post every time I hit 10k, because that is an accomplishment to be proud of.

When that character does that one thing that  changes everything, celebrate. When the story comes together, celebrate. When your NaNo buddy succeeds, celebrate.

And when you finish, when the month is over--whether you have hit 50k and "won" or hit 30k---celebrate. The month is about writing, and if you are writing, then you are winning.

So, always, always enjoy that and celebrate.

At the end of the month, you will need it.

5. Revise & Edit

If November is "writing month" then December and January and February and March should be "editing months" because there is no one that I have ever met who wrote a book and succeeded without revising that book.

When you finish your MS, you need to revise. 

Don't query until you've read that thing and revised like a crazy person. Seriously. It's the most important part of NaNo and no one really talks about it. But writing a first draft is only a small, small portion of writing a novel. So, write it and then take time to revise. Get into crit groups, ask your NaNo buddies to read, find people who can help you revise your book.

As an editor, I can tell you first hand that the month after NaNo is really scary. We get these unedited manuscripts in our slush piles--and all that does is make us mad because we've wasted our time and make you look back for not editing. You want yours to stand out. It won't do that if you don't edit. Take your time and don't rush. We're not going anywhere, and neither is your book.

*  *

Anyway, those are five things that I have learned from NaNoWriMo. Do you have anything that you want to add? NaNo is a fun time, but it's a lot of work.

Find me, be my buddy on NaNo and let's WRITE.


Trust Your Gut

It didn't FEEL right...and that's where it all started.

Well, actually, it all started with October. This has been the crappiest, most challenging month EVER. Seriously. I don't know how I'm still breathing and really, all I want to do is curl up in a ball and disappear. Or sell all my belongings and go live on a street corner in London. (but that option seems less safe as winter approaches.)

I won't go on a rant about all the ways life has been slowly plucking away at my sanity (just know there are many) and instead I will say: I get to re-start book two. This really should be no surprise, but gosh does it suck.

I had some of my CPs read it, and they liked it, but the four hours I would spend staring at the screen and trying to write a single sentence, well, that was my first warning that something was wrong. When a story is right it flows. Sure, there are rough spots, but it's natural. Rule of thumb: if you have to force your story then you are telling it wrong, or doing something the character doesn't like/wouldn't do.

Anyway, I'm almost at 20k and really proud, when I realize something is wrong. The story isn't flowing. And while I couldn't tell anyone what was wrong--which is always the worst, worst, worst part of it--I felt it. I felt it when I talked about the story. When I tried to write. When I read it. It was WRONG.

Then I had people ask me some hard questions. And I really had to think about what I'd always planned for this story to be--not just the arc of this book, but the character arc. And I cried. (A LOT, as goes my October.) I took notes. I asked questions. I really thought about what I wanted to do, and not how the hell I was going to fix it. I mean, I had the whole book plotted and I like it, on paper, so what is the problem? I should be able to do this. Simple: something felt wrong.

I asked twitter what to do when it felt wrong. Jessica Spotswood  said "I go back to the last place it felt RIGHT and make different choices. Usually, I took a wrong turn somewhere."

ding ding ding!!

I thought about it, and I don't think it ever felt "RIGHT." Now, yes, some pieces of the story felt like the could still work, but the whole overarching story arc--that was never any good. I couldn't pinpoint anything about it that felt like my story. So, therein lie the problem. I don't think I was telling the story I wanted to tell, the story my MC wanted to tell, and it wasn't working. It felt wrong.

What did feel right?

Well, I'm still not entirely sure. I have some ideas, all of which center around my MC and her journey, but I have no idea what the rest of the picture is. I don't know. I'm still figuring it out. But the funny part is even though I don't have the answer, I know that stopping and changing direction is good because it feels right. 

Change is hard. Especially when you have a deadline and pressure and you have a beautiful wall full of multi-colored post-it notes. But when something is wrong, trust it. Starting over after 20k sucks. Rewriting seven times sucks even more. Telling the story that you don't want to tell would suck worse than that.  Obviously, I'm still working on telling the right story. But, despite all my angst and all the tears and stress over the last couple days, I can tell I will find it. Somehow. Some way.

Writing is hard. Life is hard. "Everything will work out," is the cliche I'm clinging to in both scenarios.


Meet Carter

Over on Tangled Up in Words, we're interviewing our characters! 

If you go over now, you can meet Carter. He's my lovely boy MC from Hotboyalicious (not real title). 

It's his first interview, his first public appearance, and he was pretty excited. I think his answers are embarrassing, but that's Carter. 

I'd love if you went to meet him.

He'd love it too. 



On My Method of Plotting

The problem with plotting occurs when I don't. 


I am apparently that writer now, at least to an extent, who has to plot. Which is really funny because I don't know how that happened. (Actually, I do know how that happened. It was during FMTD when Patricia and I were trying to replot a story line and she was like, "I have markers; let's draw it out.)  I had an "outline" (though I hate that word. I need a new one if anyone has a suggestion!) for Hotboyalicious, and one for the contemp I started before the book deal.

Somehow my brain has reprogrammed! But, in all honesty, I have been procrastinating because I don't want to be a plotter. It feels like so much work, even though it's less time to write things out than it is to stare a blank screen over and over and over again. The great thing about plotting, for me, is that I have direction. I don't waste time staring at that stupid blank screen and analyzing what happens next. I just get to write--and I write a lot faster because of it.

I was talking to Crystal on twitter, who is one of my TV show friends, when we started talking about plotting. I was explaining to her my method and it literally got me so excited that I ran downstairs to grab my plotting goodies. AND, since I had already started this post, it seemed like a good opportunity to show yall how I plot. Or, how I try to plot. Maybe it will help you find a way to navigate through your story the way it helps me.

*please note, these are pictures from my own plotting. One is the sequel and one is another book. Please be respectful or I *will* take them down.*

Step 1: The Tools (For me: Markers and Really Big Paper)
I like markers because they are FUN. And let's be honest: anything to make it fun is better.

© Danielle Ellison 2012

Step 2: A List
Of what? Of things you need to explain in this book. Of questions. Of important moments. Of things that must be addressed in order to fill in the pieces or give backstory, or develop a character, etc. My list is still growing, but this is what I have at the moment.

© Danielle Ellison 2012

Step 3: Major Plot Points
What are the big events in your book? For me, plotting out the things I know HAVE TO HAPPEN make it fun. Then, it sort of becomes connect the dots, which is easier to do on paper than in your head.  I've found that knowing where I am going makes getting there easier.

© Danielle Ellison 2012

The great thing about this, too, is that the smaller things (step 4) can be left open if you want, or filled in as you think of them. Then, you aren't tied down to this has to happen next, which is what I always hated about outline. I'm a pantser at heart, so I need the freedom to let the story take life. BUT the story also has to stay where I need it to go next. It's a balance of knowledge and discover--sort of like science.

Step 4: Minor Things
© Danielle Ellison 2012
As I said above, when I know smaller scene-to-scene things, I write them out. When I don't, I leave them blank. If they come to me, It's good to have them.

Step 5: (optional) Move It Around
I keep a running list (usually on notecards or post-its. I draft in Scrivener so I keep them there as well) of scenes as they come to me if I don't know where they go in the story yet. Say, I know my character is going to react this way to something, and this reaction is going to spark her seeking out an answer--but I don't know what that something is yet. If I keep a record of them somewhere else, then I always have these little scenes to refer to. Step 2 and Step 5 are both handy little items to make sure that I'm aware of as I draft.

Step 6: Write!!! 

This may not work for you, but I've tried plotting a LOT of different ways and this is what came of it. I think it's all about taking techniques that you see and adjusting them to fit how you write. Every writer is different, so it makes sense that we all approach plotting--or not plotting--differently.

The great thing about plotting is that sometimes you learn what you planned doesn't work. Which is what happened when I started this post. That's a bummer to learn, but better to learn on the page before you write it.

If you plot, how do you do it? Why or why not? What have you learned? What other methods have you tried?


I'm Scared

I've been having a hell of a time figuring out what how to start FMTD2. I hate beginnings, which is a huge part of the problem, but this book is different. I see the large plot of the book very clearly (like how [___] is destroyed by [___] and how [___] happened) but the small details are not as obvious. I can't even create fake blanks for those.

After a week (or so) of trying to figure it out, I then determined that the problem with everything I was jotting down was that my MCs voice was wrong. I spent all day on Monday obsessing over how I was going to fix this, how I was going to find her again, and where the heck she went.

When I got home, my editor (who luckily or unluckily gets to double as BFF) says to me:
"The voice is fine. It's her at the end of the book, which is what you want. The problem is that you are scared that you'll mess this up and have to rewrite it eight times."

Glory, glory hallelujah. 

As you know, I wrote Follow Me Through Darkness eight times before I got it right. And while it's awesome that I kept at it, it sure did a number on me. I don't think I realized that until this week. Now, I have this crippling of fear of writing ALL my books eight times. And well, when you're working on the sequel to the book that caused all the fear, it can be pretty daunting.

No. Not daunting, terrifying. I'm terrified.

Not of the book (though there are missing pieces and I'm working with a MC who is NOT forthcoming at all) but because I don't want to fail. Guys, I don't want to re-write this book eight times. That worry is almost debilitating, and with FMTD2, it made me not know how to start and to question everything from my characters to my plot to myself.

With my last book, Hotboyalicious (not real title), I had this same fear--but it manifested in hatred. I was scared of that one because it was a different genre, character, voice, style. I guess, deep down, I was scared of writing it eight times. That was made pretty evident when I had to start over after 50k. But once I did, it was awesome. (I'll have to tell you more about this later.)

Once Patricia told me what was going on, once she pointed out the root problem was me and not my book, everything clicked. In two days (after a period of wallowing and ignoring life with tv shows and a little crying), I've written over 5k. It's small, but I'm feeling confident. I believe in my MC again, in this story, in this series, and I'm thrilled.

Does that mean I'm still not scared? No. I am. But I have a book to write--and I don't have a lot of time to do it. I wanted to tell this story, and I get to. And honestly, I'm bigger than my fears. Plus, if I want this to be a career then I have to get over myself.

Some authors rewrite, and maybe that's just the kind of author I am.  Maybe I finish this draft or make it halfway and need to start over. That would suck, a lot, but when I look at FMTD and how proud of that book I am, how hard I worked to make it fantastic, is re-writing the worst thing that can happen?

No, it's not.

I tell you all this because I am scared. I hope you don't hate my book(s). I'm scared I won't do the story justice. I'm scared everyone will hate my MC (even though she's stubborn and endearing.) I'm scared it won't strike a chord with anyone. I'm scared I won't succeed. But I am still writing.

Nothing I'm afraid of will stop me, so don't let it stop you.