Thrive During NaNoWriMo with the Magnificent Step Seven: “Give it one more try”

Passageway that turns right into a passage you can't yet see. Towering interior walls of a fortress in Koblenz block your view in all directions..
When you can’t quite see the way out of your story. Ehrenbreitstein fortress, Koblenz, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

This is the seventh (and final!) 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, the fourth clarifies the story soup here, the fifth looks ahead to life after NaNoWriMo, the sixth collects what you’ve learned about how you write best. Happy Writing!

This post is about the last push. Maybe you’re coming down the home stretch of your manuscript and you can taste that 50K.

If so, what are you doing here? 😉 Go write. See you later!

Or maybe you’re having one of those moments where the phrase “word count” makes you feel nauseous. If so, this post is for you.

Story 1: One of my first paid jobs was as a dishwasher in a chemistry research lab. The “dishes” already looked clean before I washed them, but I had to wash and rinse each tiny glass piece six times to make sure nothing would interfere with the experiments. One day, nothing went right. I might have broken a tiny flask. At any rate, I packed up to go home and stopped by my mom’s lab next door on my way out.

“Give it one more try,” she said.

Because, moms.

I was positive I couldn’t do another 15 minutes, but I went back and somehow found my dishwashing mojo. The rhythm of the work took hold. By the end of the day, things were better in dishwashing land. And hey, when you get paid by the hour, every little bit helps.

Story 2: Last night, story strands were all over the place–leaking out of notebooks and laptops and phones and index cards. The chapter-in-progress was overwhelming me.

I wrote in my notebook: “I have to stop thinking up cool ideas for this story. It’s bulging at the seams!!”

I wanted to pack it in and go to bed.

But the husband was chipping away at his lecture and, you know the drill:

“Give it one more try.”

I looked for the simplest thing I could do. A bulleted list of things a sidekick character was trying to convince my main character of. Then I shrugged and went to bed.

This morning, I found a whole new chapter buried in that list. You don’t have to be inspired to create. All you need is the rhythm of the work: Work it, let it rest, work it, let it rest. We’re back to the pie crust analogy.

A simple paradox: It doesn’t matter if you don’t get 50,000 words this year. It matters if you let the days go by without getting any words. Because writers don’t get paid by the hour, but if we don’t write words, nothing happens.

As Rachel Aaron writes in 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, Writing More of What You Love:

“[T]he single most efficient change you can make isn’t actually upping your daily word count, but eliminating the days where you are not writing. Also, you’ll be a lot happier. Personally, I’ve found there is no greater source of peace and contentment than that which comes from being happy with my stories.”

You’ve got until Wednesday for this year’s NaNoWriMo: So listen to mom’s advice and “Give it one more try.”

Happy writing!

Have you come up with ways to ease or entice yourself into the work? Share in the comments. I’d love to learn a few new tricks. 🙂

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Thrive During NaNoWriMo. Success with Step 6: What have you learned about cooking up words?

Construction site with wooden ladder leading out of hole dug for foundation of an apartment building.
Does your writing feel like you’re caged into a construction site? Get handy with a ladder to climb in and out. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

This is the sixth 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, the fourth clarifies the story soup here, and the fifth looks ahead to life after NaNoWriMo. Happy Writing!

In the U.S., Thanksgiving is approaching and that means:

  1. Lots of free time to write.
  2. Lots of other responsibilities.

Either way, a major holiday’s a valuable chance to find out how you work as a writer. In the midst of the flurry, take a moment to jot down what you learn. NaNoWriMo lets you prioritize writing and teaches you to fit it in around your life. A major holiday is a chance to figure out how to write and still have a life.

If the thought of writing in the midst of the frivolities gives you a headache, set your novel aside. Try this instead:

  • Fill yourself up with the conversations and atmosphere and gestures of the people you are with. What do people look like when they are happy or sad or tired or frustrated? You’ll have all kinds of opportunities for little details to bring your writing to life.
  • Study your life: What are you learning about yourself? What makes you happy, sad, tired, frustrated, thankful? What have you always thought was true?
  • Invite stories: What was your favorite Thanksgiving ever? Why? How did you meet? What’s your favorite memory of elementary school? The craft of writing teaches you to recognize a hidden story. Use your craft to deepen your relationships with the people near you.
  • Read a book that makes you happy. Relax your weary brain. You’ll be amazed at what pops up the next time you write.

If you spot a short window of writing opportunity, seize it. By now, you’re probably good at making yourself write no matter how you feel. If so, try this:

  • Go with the rhythm. You’ve been coming up with words regularly, so you know writing feels much more like chopping vegetables or raking leaves than floating on clouds while the muse feeds you grapes. It’s repetitive work. Notice how you feel about writing without giving your feelings weight.
  • Don’t force the words. Settle into them without judgement. Writers call this “turning off the internal editor.” But you can also think of it as having a neutral, encouraging sort of editor who is waiting for your words to appear. Without critique.
  • Try different muscles. Writing is mental work, but it’s also physical. Whether you type or dictate or scribble in notebooks, you have to go through the motions to get the words. Changing how you get words can help.

What’s NaNoWriMo showing you so far? Are you surprised about when you write most?

You may already think of yourself as a morning person or a night owl or an afternoon warrior. But your peak thinking time may be different than your peak imagining time. Or you may be full of brilliant ideas at night, but words show up more consistently in the morning.

In her book, 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, Rachel Aaron writes about the time/energy/knowledge triangle as the key to writing lots of words. She writes about her own surprise that her best time of day for writing was not when she expected it to be.

(Post NaNoWriMo note: It’s a smart book that doesn’t take long to read. Good points about revision too.)

If you haven’t noticed a pattern, try jotting down time, place, mood before you launch into your words.

If you have, I’d love to hear about your writing style. Are you surprised by what you found out?

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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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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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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!

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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.

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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