Preparing for NaNoWriMo? Thrive with Step 5: Plan now to chill

Table with awls, scissors, weights, thread and paper to stitch together a booklet.
Stitching up the middle. Bookbinding workshop at the Frankfurt Book Fair. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

This is the fifth post in a short series on preparing for (and thriving during) National Novel Writing Month. The first post collects story ingredients here , the second finds the core of your story here , the third cuts the story up into manageable portion sizes here, and the fourth clarifies the story soup here. Happy Writing!

We’re half-way through November. How’s the middle of your story going for you?

At the Frankfurt Book Fair, I went to a bookbinding workshop for kids sponsored by Colonia Leather and the second year students of Frankfurt’s Gutenbergschule. The students taught us how to do a double figure-eight stitch for the binding. You start in the middle and work your way around. Make sure you tie the final knot on top of the thread so the knot doesn’t pull through the hole.

Doesn’t this look suspiciously like turning points in a character arc or the novelist’s determined pursuit of a live story? When we draft, we keep on finding places to come back to earlier scenes, characters, and details in the story.

Diagram of double figure eight stitch for five-hole binding.
Bring the threaded needle up through the center hole and follow the arrows around to create the binding. Making a book involves lots of twists and turns. Let it settle. © Laurel Decher, 2016

Nice metaphor, you say, (because you’re polite) but I’m a little busy writing a novel.

Have you ever thought of what you really wanted to say after the meeting? Or after you hit send?

From deep in the story, it’s hard to see. When you set a story aside, your subconscious finishes drawing it while you take the rest of your mind somewhere else for a while.

Plan now to chill your #nanowrimo story for three months. After NaNo, your well of words will be low or even dry. Mark your calendar for February 28th, 2016 or 3 months from the day you finish drafting. Back up your file. 🙂

Fill yourself up for three months with all the love, celebration, books, hikes, music, and activism you can find. Make some new shoeboxes for the next project. Pretend the meeting’s over and the e-mail’s sent. Act heartless.

Because a story is like a rubber band. If you keep stretching it, it either breaks or loses its shape. But you if you let it go: It flies.

Happy Writing!

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Thrive during NaNoWriMo. Step 4: Story Soup

Lentil soup with a slice of hot dog that looks like a smiley face with a mustard smile and two lentil eyes.
You can turn your story soup into comfort food. © Laurel Decher, 2016

This is the fourth post in a short series on preparing for (and thriving during) National Novel Writing Month. You can find the first post about collecting ingredients here and the second post about finding the core of your story here and the third post about cutting the story up into manageable portion sizes here. Happy Writing!

It’s Day 7 of National Novel Writing Month and by now your story might be turning into a confusing soup.

No worries. Set aside today’s freshly whipped up words and let’s check the “recipe.”

The recipe a.k.a. “The Hollywood Formula.”

Writing Excuses comes to our rescue with “The Hollywood Formula.” Listen to the 20 minute episode here while you do lifesaving work like hanging up laundry or cooking something for dinner.

Then make up some answers to these questions* about your story:

  • Who’s the hero or heroine in your story?
  • What does s/he want?

If you need help with either of these questions, I recommend the Reverse Backstory Tool. It’s like an engine for your story. You can also try asking: Who’s the absolute worst person to handle this situation?

  • Who’s the antagonist?

The antagonist is defined as the person who STOPS the hero/heroine. This seems really obvious, but it’s very easy to pick the wrong person as the antagonist *cough* and then wonder why you’re story isn’t moving.

  • What’s the (simplest) theme? What’s your story about?

Love? Hope? Immigration? The challenges of everyday life? Whatever it is will help you brainstorm more scene ideas that actually have something to do with the rest of the story. If you get something you like, write it down and steer your story by it.

*You’ll notice these questions are awfully similar to “A Pinch of Story Structure.” When you write a novel, there’s no shame in asking the same questions over again. 🙂 As the story grows, the answers sort themselves out: Trust the draft.

Don’t fuss. It’s time for broad strokes. “Hit it and get out” is the order of the day. You’ve got more words to write.

You’re a writer.

Happy writing!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

 

 

 

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Preparing for NaNoWriMo? Step 3: Cutting your story into squares

1000-year-old brick paving in a herringbone pattern.
If you can’t see which way your story is pointing, maybe you need some building blocks. Byzantine brick paving. Ravenna, Italy. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

This is the third post in a short series on preparing for National Novel Writing Month. You can find the first post about collecting ingredients here and the second post about finding the core of your story here. Happy Writing!

Dan Wells’ 7 Point Structure video lectures are helping me so much that I’m squeezing in an extra blog post to help writers getting ready for National Novel Writing Month. Dan’s five lectures are only ten minutes each and well worth watching. If you watch them first, this post will probably make more sense.

Or feel free to get a taste of why I got excited about these videos by reading my post first. NaNoWriMo season is all about finding out whatever works for your writing process. Take your time playing with this. A little bit here and there is perfect. Enjoy!

Step 0: Optional. Markers and real index cards work too. I’ve got a little present for you: A plotting template. Yay! Read the files in Word or import them into Scrivener for future use (see bottom of post for how to). Download the files from Dropbox here.

Note: You don’t need a Dropbox account. Just click on the tiny blue print that says “No thanks” and Dropbox will give you the files.

Step 1: Import or type up the 7 Point Structure in Scrivener or in your software of choice. A simple table will work fine. The numbers on each card are the order Dan uses in the video to figure out the plot points. The letters on each card are the order the plot points occur in the story. I typed up his tips on each card to help myself through the process.

How to use the index cards: Start with the ending of the story (RESOLUTION). The RESOLUTION isn’t the wrap-up here, it’s the thrilling final victory or defeat.

The opposite of the RESOLUTION is the beginning (HOOK). The MIDPOINT is the half-way point in the story between the HOOK and the RESOLUTION. After that, it’s a repeated cutting the story in half, like cutting brownies in a pan.

7 index cards on corkboard background.
Scrivener Index Cards for the 7 Point Structure described by Dan Wells.

Congratulations! Now you have an overall shape for your story. That will help a lot during NaNoWriMo, even if it changes while you write. If you’re anything like me, it will. Feel free to stop here. Letting your story grow in your subconscious makes it much easier to get the words later on.

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-12-19-52-pm
7 Point Structure Index Cards going down the page with 4 Story Threads going across: CHARACTER, ACTION, FRIENDSHIP, BETRAYAL. Based on Dan Wells’ video series.

Step 2: If you’ve got more story ideas that need a home, you can repeat the process above for each story thread. Dan Wells’ video uses CHARACTER, ACTION, FRIENDSHIP, BETRAYAL. (I changed the ROMANCE category to FRIENDSHIP because I write Middle Grade.) I put a few key words under each thread to jog my memory. It’s easier to do this across all the threads, i.e. the RESOLUTION for each thread, followed by the HOOK.

Cut and paste the different threads from your overarching 7 Point Index Cards and add more where you need it. Remember that all the HOOKs don’t have to happen simultaneously.

Be gentle with yourself. If you’ve got blank spaces or you can’t figure it all out at once, go away and come back later. You’ve got a whole month to play with this. Joy is key.

Step 3: If November still hasn’t arrived (or if it has and you’re taking a break from the words), you can sort your index cards into chronological order. Now you have a handy scene list to write from. Since 7 x 4 is 28 :), you now have an index card for each day in NaNoWriMo. And two “free days” for catching up. Well done!

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-12-21-32-pm
Index Cards for 7 Point Structure sorted into chronological story order.

Step 4: Try/Fail Cycles for Extra credit. Dan Wells talked about the power of Try/Fail Cycles. Add some to the middle of your story, right around the PLOT TURN 2, and get your readers to cheer for your characters.

If you’ve got fifteen minutes, listen to Writing Excuses’ great tips for how to succeed at Try/Fail Cycles.

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-12-21-50-pm
Pump up the middle of your story with Try/Fail Cycles and get your readers cheering for your characters.

How did it go? Did you try Dan Wells’ 7 Point Story Structure? Do you have a good feeling for your story now?

Happy writing!

Download the templates files from Dropbox here. The Template Sheets folder in Scrivener is inside your current project. Drag the files into the folder and they magically become Template sheets. Look down at the bottom of the Binder and you should see something like this:

Screen shot of Template Sheets folder in Scrivener's Binder showing location right above Trash.
Screen shot of Template Sheets folder in Scrivener’s Binder showing location right above Trash.

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Preparing for NaNoWriMo? Step 2: A pinch of story structure

Grapes on the vine that are so ripe they are almost black.
Let your story ripen and sweeten. Ahr valley vineyard. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

Here’s the second post in a short series on preparing for National Novel Writing Month. You can find the first post here.

Mom always said there were two secrets to pie crust: “Be firm and don’t fuss.” For your novel’s first draft, structure works the same way.

Tinker all you want with the outline and with the revisions (LATER ON), but for now, pick a direction and write on!

Momentum is the power of NaNoWriMo. Go with it. 🙂

That said, 50,000 words can get unwieldy. A sentence on an index card can be a lifesaver.

If your raw ingredients are coming together, try creating a pitch: Who’s the main character? What does s/he want? What stands in his/her way? Why does it matter? More on pitches here.

It helps if you treat a pitch as a puzzle. Work on it for ten minutes and let it rest for a day or two. Then play with it a bit more. Collect some more stuff. Jiggle it around and see what shakes out. Write like you mean it and then leave it to chill.

Have fun and let me know how it’s going!

_______________

If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Today on The Winged Pen, I’m sharing what I learned this weekend: 3 Ways to Find Out about Your Readers from the Frankfurt Book Fair 2016.

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Preparing for NaNoWriMo? Step 1: Clear the Decks and Collect Ingredients

Ingredients set out to be transformed into imaginative cakes and tortes. Poppelsdorfer Schloss café, Bonn, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2016.
Ingredients set out to be transformed into imaginative cakes and tortes. Poppelsdorfer Schloss café, Bonn, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

A friend (waving to Jane!) asked me how to prepare for National Novel Writing Month and after I sent her the third e-mail, suggested I write a blog post since November 1st is coming right up.

This is the first post in a short series on preparing for National Novel Writing Month. You can find the second post about finding the core of your story here and the third post about organizing your story bits and pieces into a winning shape here. Happy Writing!

Jane had lots of good ways to clear the decks:

  1. Read Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem!
  2. Freeze a few extra dinners.
  3. Set up to write. Get the writing set-up organized, whether that means lots of spiral notebooks or Scrivener on your computer or iPad.
  4. Plan your time. Block out writing-free days in November. Set up word-count targets in Scrivener or use the free online Pacemaker.

I had a few more ideas about the actual writing prep. It looks a little different depending on the kind of inspiration you’ve got for this project, but it’s all about putting it where you can find it again.

  1. No inspiration? Then set up virtual or physical shoeboxes*, go out into your world with all your senses active and find some. The things that appeal to you personally give your book that unique voice people are always talking about. Don’t skimp here.
  2. Idea for a character? Try the brilliant and deceptively simple Reverse Backstory Tool to nail down your character’s wants and needs.
  3. Idea for a setting? Go to the library and get a pile of photo books or picture books that give you visuals. When you get stuck writing, dip into a book and whatever you see, goes into the story. If you’ve got a contemporary, realistic story in mind, you could try the Urban Setting Thesaurus or the Rural Setting Thesaurus.
  4. Idea for some part of a story? Try this fascinating Day by Day Outline for NaNoWriMo. This list could save you when it’s 10 PM and you’re sleeping on the keyboard, but you want another 1,000 words.

*Virtual shoeboxes can be anything from a Word file with a long, alphabetized list of ideas of all kinds, a private blog that lets you search for that elusive link, a Pinterest board, or a nifty app on your smartphone. Pick something fun and easy to use.

Have favorite ways to get ready for NaNoWriMo? Share your tips for success in the comments below.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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The Olympic Games Blues: 9 Ways to Juice Up Your Writing Life

Building with glass dome with gold figure on top
The local name for this building is Zitronenpresse or the “lemon juicer.” What do you do when your writing life is squeezed dry? © Laurel Decher, 2016.

When my older brother and I were 8 or 10 or 12 years old, Mom would turn off the Olympic Games because we got so down in the dumps about how little we had achieved in our lives.

These days, it’s even easier to see what everyone else is achieving. Don’t misunderstand: I love to see writer friends achieve challenging milestones! It gives me hope that it can be done.

Over time, I’ve collected a lot of friends who write and publish, so there are more and more milestones to celebrate. This is wonderful! It’s thrilling to see hard work rewarded and see good work in the hands of readers who enjoy it.

The problem comes when I look at my current projects and measure them against the goalposts of all my writer friends simultaneously.

I start wondering if my pumpkins will EVER bloom into coaches and drive away to the palace. It’s a kind of ambition sickness that makes me dissatisfied with my work and leaves me hopelessly unproductive.

So, what’s to do? How do you cure the Olympic Games Blues? Here are some questions that help me. Maybe you’d like to try them:

  1. Am I writing regularly? When I see a bit of progress* in my creative work, I feel much happier about my projects. If it isn’t possible to write a LOT, make time to write a LITTLE, regularly. A bit of scribbling in a notebook scares away the imposter syndrome.
    *progress by any measure: word count, improved scene, dialogue, or understanding of character motivation etc.
  2. What creative work have I done this year? When I feel like I’m getting nowhere, it helps to widen the window. Bill Gates widens it even more: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
  3. What have I learned about writing recently? I don’t mean information about writing or publishing. I mean what have I experienced about writing or tested out in publishing. (Show Don’t Tell applies to more than the written page.)
  4. Am I taking risks in my writing and publishing? Risks can be queries, contests, workshops, whatever. Risks are scary to the lizard brain, but they fill the creative brain with hope. Something is about to happen!
  5. Whose work inspires me right now? Reading reminds me why I wanted to write in the first place. It also makes me happy and happiness makes the creativity flow. Reading books I love gives me the experience I want to give readers. That experience gives me ideas of things I want to try in my own writing.
  6. What’s the very next step? I had an advisor in graduate school who helped me so much during my dissertation research. He took time to meet with me, listened to what I was working on, and asked, “What’s next?” This question works wonders because it’s easy to get behind when you get ahead of yourself.
  7. Do something else. The elusive joy of writing sometimes shakes loose after we play hard to get for a while. Try gardening, long hikes, cooking, or whatever hits your reset button.
  8. Broaden your gaze. Put your work in perspective. Get involved in a charity auction, visit a prison and do a workshop on writing, or do an open mike with a girl scout troop. Figure out how your work can give something to others in another way. Take the pressure off the words.
  9. Lose a rule. What are you telling yourself about writing and publishing that might not be true? Try dropping a writing “rule” and see what happens.

Ambition puts the focus on an inflexible, predetermined, and probably inaccurate future. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, ambition is called a “grievous fault” and is connected with greed for power. Ambition is an attempt to steal the future.

Creativity happens in the present. It solves problems playfully, without worrying about the Olympic Gold. Persistence puts the focus on the creative work and not on the uncontrollable outcome.

What helps you when the bar seems too high? Feel free to share in the comments below. I’d love to know what you do to get your writing life back on track.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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The Joy of Exploring Your Writing Territory

Black peppermill like machine with sliders around the body and a crank on top
The first hand-held calculator was invented “after hours” in Buchenwald concentration camp by Curt Herzstark. If creativity kept him going there, what’s my excuse? Image: Arithmeum, Bonn.

I’ve been reading Susan Kaye Quinn‘s Indie Author Survival Guide (Second Edition) Crafting a Self-Publishing Career Book 1). In spite of the title, the book covers topics that are also interesting to traditional novelists. All writers struggle with figuring out a target audience, creative freedom, and how to keep from “stopping too soon.”

Susan Kaye Quinn highlights an especially intriguing idea about how to escape comparisonitis from Steven Pressfield:

There are many nuggets of inspiration in War of Art by Steven Pressfield (I highly recommend it), but I’m going to highlight the section where Pressfield describes dealing with writerly competition in Territory vs. Hierarchy (I’m paraphrasing):

We (as humans and writers) define our place in the world either by Hierarchy (a social pecking order) or by Territory (a turf or domain). For the artist/writer, Hierarchy is that destructive urge to compete against others, to evaluate our success by our rank within the hierarchy of writers, and to write based on the effect it produces on the hierarchy. Pressfield insists the writer must operate territorially: to do work for its own sake, inwardly focused. Territorial work provides sustenance—the writer puts work in and receives back well-being; similarly the territory of our creations can only be claimed by the work we put into it. The artist who commands their domain is satisfied by the creation itself; the work is its own reward.

This goes beyond the “work is its own reward” trope. Staying focused on working territorially keeps the debilitating effects of hierarchical thinking from beating you down.

The Arithmeum museum in Bonn has the world’s largest collection of “calculating machines” which honestly sounded a bit boring until I went on a tour there last week. Inventing a machine that could carry over to the next place (from 9 to 10 or from 999 to 1,000) is a work of the imagination.

Our mathematician and tour guide demonstrated a beautiful, grandfather clock-like calculator whose inventor, Poleni. It made a lovely ratcheting sound while it added up numbers. Unfortunately, Poleni committed suicide after a contemporary’s calculator achieved the next coveted milestone.

This second calculator apparently didn’t work reliably but was a great prestige object for the Viennese Emperor. Even in mathematics, there are many milestones and many ways to solve the same problem. To me, Poleni’s story looks like a classic case of stopping too soon.

Fiction has easily as much inventive territory to explore. We’ll never get through the possibilities of plot, narration, characterization, dialogue, structure, imagery, language, rhythm, or metaphor in our lifetimes.

There’s so much to discover. Let’s encourage each other to keep on keeping on.

Happy Writing!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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