Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

Starting the New Year Off On the Write Foot

What can I say? The end of 2012 was not good for my novel writing. It was good for all sorts of other things, including a short story submitted to a big competition and good non-fiction writing, but not for my novel.

I spent December making all these things for my nieces, which cut into my writing time substantially.

I spent December making all these things for my nieces, which cut into my writing time substantially.

I want to finish The Red Oak (there, I said it – it has a working title) in time to start something new for NaNoWriMo 2013. Given that I need a couple of months of planning and pre-writing to go into NaNoWriMo ready to generate a complete first draft of an MG  or YA book, that means wrapping up the next draft of The Red Oak by the end of February. I have a lot of things I want to add to the next draft, complete sections, scenes, characters, etc. Things I need to write from scratch. Big changes, not small changes.

I want to get back to writing 1,000-1,500 words a day of completely new material.

It would be easy to give myself today, the New Year’s Day holiday, off. My husband has the day off work. My kids are home. I am sick. But, I need to reestablish habits that I let go of during the fall. And that means no excuses.

And so, to prove to myself that I am serious about this goal, I wrote. 1,000 words.

I believe that the choice of the New Year as a starting point is arbitrary. Different cultures have marked time in different cycles and counted the beginning of each year around the sun from different points. January 1 is only meaningful because we made it so. But, given that we live in a world that turns the year on this day, I see no reason not piggyback personal rituals on it. I don’t believe in traditional New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe that a culturally signified date can be a marker to pin a personal shift to, as long as you hold it lightly and hold yourself with compassion if you should falter – because we all falter.

Have you done something today because it is a practice you want to develop in 2013?


Beyond Word Counts: How Do You Measure Progress on Your Novel?

It is November. The annual explosion of bad first drafts, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, is rushing towards its end.

NaNoWriMo is a great tool for folks who need to get past the hurdle of getting a large number of words on paper.

But, what if you want to get past the first draft phase? When you undertake the process of revision, tracking progress is harder.

A novel is a major undertaking. For a novice writer making time to write around a day job and a family, it can take years. A writer without an agent or a contract must  claim small victories to sustain enthusiasm and commitment through-out the process.

What progress can a novelist celebrate during the process?

  • Daily time at work
  • A successful scene
  • Creation of a timeline/an outline/a map or other support material
  • A thematic element repeated throughout the book to create a stream of unity
  • A comprehensive plot that holds together
  • A complete manuscript sent to beta readers
  • Revisions suggested by beta readers incorporated
  • Each time a revision is sent out for feedback and comments are responded to
  • First time pitching the novel
  • Each time pitching the novel
  • Each time the manuscript is sent to an editor or agent
  • Each rejection letter
  • Getting an agent
  • Getting a publishing contract

Some of these milestones are not in the writer’s control, but many of them are. Each incremental step forward should be acknowledged, and preferably celebrated. The small steps are what lead to the finish.

Am I missing any milestones that you celebrate? Let me know in the comments.

When Summer Is the Hardest Time to Write

For several summers in a row, I have had difficulty putting words together. July and August have been writing dead zones. Each year, I have inadvertently taken a complete writing hiatus in July and come back slowly in August – writing blog posts, but not making progress on my novel.

When the weather cools, the days shorten, and the kids go back to school, I get more writing done.

But I don’t like the break. There is always a little voice in the back of my head telling me I should be writing more. And the further I get into the summer, the louder that voice gets.

Next year, I think I will actively take a break from blogging in July – line up a few posts in advance and relax about the blog. I might even take a vacation from trying to produce new work as well. I could treat it as a mini-sabbatical, a prolonged period of feeding my muse rather than asking her to produce.

In the meantime, I am trying to turn August into a productive writing month. I started well with a post over at An Intense Life about getting ready for new schools for all my kids in September. And, I have devised a little project for myself.

I am a Camp NaNoWriMo Rebel. If you haven’t heard, the people who bring you NaNoWriMo in November started a pared-down version that happens in June and August last summer. I thought about participating last year, but I didn’t want to start a new project and my work-in-progress was in a stage of revision that didn’t fit with the goal of writing 50,000 words in a month. So, I skipped it.

This summer, however, I have a lot of first draft writing I want to do. In my class this winter, I did a lot of work sketching out more plot elements and discovering weaknesses in my characterization. I pruned heavily after that class, leaving gaping holes that need filling with new text.

And, NaNo is a great motivator for me to write a lot of new text. So, I am a NaNo Rebel, a NaNo participant who is not following the rules in some crucial way. Some NaNo Rebels write something other than a novel, some work on a work in progress, some work on several pieces; all break the rules but shoot for the 50,000 word count.

I believe in using writing challenges to serve your project. If the challenge doesn’t quite fit, modify it. So I am using the word count challenge as a challenge to generate material to fill the holes in my manuscript. At the end of July, I wrote a list of 31 things to write that will enrich my novel and I will work through those prompts as August continues.

So far, I have followed these prompts:

  • A detailed physical description of the antagonist and the prison from which he escapes (character development)
  • The story of the initial capture of the antagonist (backstory)
  • A phone call between the protagonist and her mother after the first scene of the novel (character development)
  • The first manifestation of the protagonist’s magical powers (backstory)
  • Diary entries in which the protagonist writes about the five kids at school who most impact her life (backstory and character development)

I am not sure how these bits of writing will fit into the next draft of the novel, but it is clear they are going to enrich it. The phone call between the protagonist and her mother is going to go right where the prompt says it should – but the way it turned out means that I will need to add another scene later about how the protagonist and her grandmother respond to the call.

It’s exciting. The novel is moving. My muse is shouting at me; I’m having trouble keeping up.

This is the kick in the pants I needed to get me back to the computer on these beautiful summer days.

Self-Care for Creatives

Do what the dice say.

Whether we are paid for our creative work or not, creative people have stressors that are directly related to our work: the need to be productive and avoid procrastination, solving the problem at hand, self-doubt, finding time for subconscious creativity and for experiences that introduce new ideas and images to our thinking, etc.

There is a certain level of stress that helps prod us into action. Deadlines, for example, can be useful for some people. And other levels of stress push us into a state of overwhelm and meltdown. We must have tools to pull us back from the brink if our stress threatens to overwhelm us.

A Thought Experiment

What makes you feel the opposite of stressed?

If you don’t have an easy answer to that question, try this exercise: Take a few moments to imagine how your body feels when it is stressed. Then take a few moments to imagine what the opposite of that feeling is. Really feel it in your body. And then, try to recall the things that you have been doing when you have felt that way before.

So What?

What animal are you when you do them together?

There isn’t a particularly good word in English to describe how our bodies feel when we feel the opposite of stressed. Some people use flow or openness to describe the feeling. In InterPlay, we call that feeling grace. Notice that we are using grace to name a physical sensation.

We can choose grace for ourselves. We can notice the specific things that create grace in our bodies. And, choosing to do things that give our bodies that experience of grace is a powerful practice of self-care.

An Example

I was in a big rut this week.

I haven’t been writing. NaNoWriMo has started and my kids are moving forward at good paces, but I haven’t written anything beyond a few emails and now this blog post. I have been cranky about this.

My husband and I are preparing our house for sale, an interesting challenge with 4-year old triplets underfoot and while homeschooling our eldest child. We are buying a charming house about a mile away that has more land for the kids to play outside. And, despite the fact that this is an entirely voluntary move, the work involved is substantial. So, it is not surprising that I was tired and stressed.

Unfortunately, I was also losing my cool with my kids. Which was not cool.

I knew I needed to change things up.

When I waddle, I giggle.

Under normal circumstances, changing the dynamics with my kids is often as simple as playing with iMuseCubes, an iPhone app that shakes virtual dice and provides a movement and a sound for you to create simultaneously. 3 rounds of that usually shakes me out of a bad place. If the kids join me, it can go on for some time and become hysterical.

But this week, I knew iMuseCubes wasn’t going to be enough. I needed something that would create a deeper feeling of grace within my body. Something that was specific to my needs to loosen my stress associated with the house and to be more compassionate with my kids.

And, reflecting on my need, I found a tool. It was a song, On The Line by Cris Williamson and Tret Fure. This song always has a profound effect on me. In the lyrics, the changes in a family as children grow up and leave home and elders die are reflected in the laundry Mama hangs on the washing line. And, although I usually cry during the final verse when Mama has died and Daddy hangs his own clothes on the line for the first time, the rhythm and melody of the song are upbeat and get me dancing. Dancing and singing along, I remembered with my whole bodyspirit that my time with my children is short and that my love for them and my joy in their being is bigger than my frustration at any given moment. And I was able to reconnect with them from that place.

Sometimes, words alone can be a salve in our wounded times. Sometimes, creative movement can help us through the rough spots. But sometimes, we need both.

And our bodies know.

If we notice what happens in our bodies and make note of what makes us feel grace, we can use that knowledge to take care of ourselves. We can choose to give ourselves experiences of grace. And we should. Our bodyspirits will thank us for it.

How can you make a moment of grace for yourself today?

Using NaNoWriMo For Your Own Purposes

So you are thinking about NaNoWriMo.

You'll see a lot of your keyboard if you choose to embark on the roller-coaster they call NaNoWriMo.

You will spend hours with your keyboard if you choose to embark on the roller-coaster they call NaNoWriMo.


No, seriously. Why do you want to take part in this mad burst of writing frenzy?

Before you start, think about what you want to achieve.

If your goal is to prove that you can write 50,000 words in a month, you don’t need advice beyond what you can get from the NaNoWriMo website, but if you are interested in using the challenge to improve as a writer, it is worth setting more specific personal goals.

What could those goals be?

  • Write fast. Increasing your writing speed can help silence your Internal Editor, help you tap into your unconscious more strongly, or simply increase your output. If perfectionism is a problem for you, writing too fast for your editor to keep up is a great technique to develop.
  • Write a complete plot. This is easiest if you plan in October. A full-length novel is closer to 100,000 words than 50,000 words, so this goal could increase your word count substantially. I have a friend who sets this goal every year, doesn’t outline in advance, overwrites, and usually reaches 180,000 words to finish November with a complete story. I can’t make time to do that, but I can finish the first draft of a middle grade novel in 50,000 words.
  • Focus on a weakness in your writing. Maybe you could benefit from some deep exploration of setting, or you would like to focus on dialogue or plot or character development. Setting daily mini-foci could turn NaNoWriMo into a personalized writing course.
  • World-building. Speculative fiction requires deep world-building. You could do this in narrative form.

This year, I will be using NaNoWriMo to build the backstory of the world I am planning for my next novel. The novel requires a parallel fantasy universe that has been torn apart before the protagonist gets there. I’m planning to use NaNoWriMo to write the prequel. How did the world get so messed up that my hero needs to fix it? Maybe a novel in its own right, but certainly work I need to do for my next novel.

What are you going to do during NaNoWriMo to get more than simply 50,000 words out of the process?

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