NaNoWriMo Prep: Testing the Waters


If you’re not flat-out pantsing NaNo this next year (and I’m a fan of not pantsing the first finish, but I know that everyone is different), how do you get the plot from point A (the beginning) to point Z (the end) without writing it all out?

One way is linear. Use the old outlining method to just plug from beginning to the end with as much detail as you find necessary. It would look like this:
I. Part I
A. Chapter One
1. Kitty sees the mouse.
2. Mouse gets away.
B. Chapter Two
1. Mouse taunts kitty
2. Kitty plots mouse’s death
II. Part II

Okay, yes, it sucks. Do you really think I’m going to waste my plotting powers on a blog post? I mean, I like you… no, that’s not true. I don’t know you. What are you doing on my site?

I may need more sleep. The grump is gone. Back to plotting.

Another way is notecards. Write each major plot point on a notecard and just move them around until they make sense to you.

Another way is mind mapping. Now, I’m a Figment, so my mind is a bit of a nebulous construct in the first place, but you can find some good tools for mind mapping in this Lifehacker post. It also gives a general idea how to do it. Very general.

There’s also something called the Snowflake Method. Again, I don’t have much familiarity with snowflakes, so I have to rely on someone else’s guidelines, found here.

Finally, I have a major writer’s crush on Joanna Penn, so she’s my go-to for most writing things. She has a great post here. (Note that it’s a writer’s crush. I’m not stalking her. That would be creepy.)

Now, why are you still here? Either you’re a pantser and you’re bored or you’ve got work to do. Either way, you shouldn’t be wasting time reading my words any longer. Go make your own.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Step Three, Plotting Characters


I’m going to get to the character part, but first I’m going to take a quick side step. What have you not prepped for that has nothing to do with writing in November?

  • You have told family and friends that you will not be socializing unless it’s at a write-in
  • You have told family and friends you can manage fifteen minutes of socializing at a time IF they bring food and caffeine
  • You have stocked up on foodstuffs, either freezer meals, pre-made dinners, cash for eating out, or family/friends bribery
  • You are prepared to do one very good, deep housecleaning on the week of November 1st and then to just to touch-ups during breaks for an entire month
  • You have shunted laundry duty to the spousal unit, children, or paid person. Or parental unit. Barring that, you have figured out how to do laundry between sprints.
  • You know how to ninja write at the table while socializing during Thanksgiving.
  • You already purchased Christmas presents (or you can deal with the “after Thanksgiving” rush)
  • You figured out how to write on your phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and (if necessary) regular paper and will be carrying as many items of mass wordage on you as possible at all times.

Okay, now that we’re past all that, let’s talk character stuff.

There are, largely, two types of people when it comes to characters: there are those who write plot-driven stories and the characters are revealed by how they interact with the plot or there are those who write character-driven stories and the plot is revealed by how the characters would naturally behave in a situation. My theory is that plotters tend to be the former and pantsers tend to be the latter, but it’s not a hard and fast line.

If you are the former, you may not need to do a lot of character set-up ahead of time (which amuses me, since these are the plotters). Names. Rough character sheet. The rest will come to you.

If you are the latter, you may have detailed character sheets for each person who shows up in your novel. You may know more about your MC than a good stalker, maybe more than a good diary.

I have to admit, I’m a plot-driven writer. I learn about characters as I write, rather than making them up ahead of time. So I can’t help much with character development. But here are some sheets for those of you who like to have a handle on your characters before you write the first word.

However you choose to get to know your characters, at least get a name list and rough description list ahead of time.

Really. You’ll thank me later. Or send chocolate. Or books. Money would be fine. But… I’ll settle for thanks.

NaNoWriMo Prep: The Importance of Planning, Even for Pantsers


Dear Pantsers:

I know every instinct is screaming for you to run for the hills. Stick with me. It’s worth it.


It is entirely possible to start NaNoWriMo on November 1st (or later) with no preparation. You can win with a late start. It’s also possible to scale Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen. If you’re a professional with the right physiology and a little luck, you can even survive it.

That doesn’t make it a good idea if you have any other choice. And you, my little writers, do.

But I’m a pantser! I don’t do prep!

And you can choose not to. But why not make something that’s already an incredible feat a little bit easier?

Today, let’s talk about the bare minimum of what you really should have to write a semi-coherent novel by the end of November:

  • A very basic plot. This doesn’t mean: Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. This means: Boy meets girl at club when he’s with another girl. Boy is intrigued by girl and has a friend get in contact with her. Boy convinces girl to date him. Girl finds out boy is technically dating someone else and didn’t tell her… oh, you get the picture.   “A man died. A woman died.” isn’t a plot. “A man died. His wife died of heartbreak.” is.
  • An MC (that’s main character) you know reasonably well. If you took the MC out to eat, what would he order? If you went shopping together, what would she do? The more you know, the more naturally the story will flow.
  • A chosen form of recording your story. Notebook and pen. Computer with Scrivener. Tablet with a notepad app. Dictation machine. A combination of the above. Make sure you have your tools ready.
  • Support. You can find support groups online, in the NaNo forums, or in-person groups. If you’re still at a loss, get one friend to be your accountability partner.
  • A reason. Know why you’re doing it. If you’re just doing it because it sounded like a cool thing to do, then you may do fine. You may also crumble if things go wrong. If you’re doing it because you need to finish a novel (finally?), then you’ll know that you might be putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Knowing the reasons ahead of time can help motivate you when it gets hard.

That’s all you really need. Here’s a few more things that might help:

  • A title. Some books don’t get a title until just before production. Some get a working title. Some titles are intrinsic to the book.
  • A cover. While it’s not necessary, a cover helps motivate. It’s like being able to see the course before you run the race. It doesn’t need to be a professional cover. In fact, it shouldn’t be. But having something visual that means your book to you is a nice motivator.
  • Supporting characters. Again, the better you know your characters, the better your plot can flow.
  • An outline. Unless you are of a very particular mindset and know you can hold the bones of a book in your head, putting something on paper keeps the words flowing. Outlining also serves to let you try out ideas without having to write all 50k words before you figure out that you wrote yourself into a corner.

And, with this, we’re done with generalities. Tomorrow’s post will start on the specifics of working out your plot.

See, pantsers? That wasn’t so painful.

NaNoWriMo Prep: When Life Throws a Curve Ball in November


It invariably happens every single year in November: I see a frantic online post about how something urgent has come up that might interfere with finishing NaNo.

First, let’s take a look at the big issue here: NaNoWriMo is a game, a challenge. It is not life. It should not be a substitute for life. Yes, take the challenge seriously. Follow the rules of the game as closely as you’re able and try to score a win. But it’s not life. When actual life things come up, give them precedence. Don’t mourn that you won’t finish NaNo because you had to run your neighbor to the hospital and ended up staying for three days. Rejoice that you were able to help out your neighbor. Priorities, people!

Second, be prepared to roll with the punches. I unexpectedly got to leave my place of hiding for a new place of hiding this weekend. Unfortunately, there was nothing resembling internet, even if I’d had time, so I’m now three blog posts behind on my NaNo Prep series. But that’s okay because, as much as I love waxing philosophical about how to have a perfect NaNo, the trip was more important. (Please don’t get your tighty-whiteys in a bunch over this. I still adore you most of the time.) So I rolled with the punches. I’ll double up on blog posts, one morning, one evening, until I catch up and life will move on. Do the same thing during your NaNo time. If you have a pipe burst and have to spend your normal writing time dealing with a plumber, divide 1667 by the number of days you have left and just add it on. If your child wins a “very special award” and you go to school for the award ceremony, only to find that every child won a “very special award” and you’ll be there for three hours– not writing– adjust and sneak in some notes on your phone while you wait.

It’s all about perspective. NaNo is not life. NaNo is a fun game that pushes you to do something pretty amazing.  If you’re like me, however, you may forget that in the heat of the moment. Create a few “inspire me” cards and have them ready. When life dumps spaghetti in your lap, you’ll have a bleach pen ready to get out the stains.

Here are a few examples:

  • If you divide 1667 words by 30 days, you only have to write 55.3 words. You’re fine. You’ve got this.
  • Emergency writing prompt: add an elephant to your story. In a tutu.
  • There are several billion people in the world who are not writing a novel. You aren’t one of them. That makes you special. Go write!
  • Reward challenge: write for two 30-minute sprints and you can watch an episode of [your favorite binge show]

What are your favorite go to emergency fixes during NaNo?

NaNoWriMo Prep: Prepping for THOSE Days


I don’t feel like adulting today. In fact, I don’t feel like humaning. Maybe cat or dragoning. I could maybe deal with that.

Here’s the thing: you will have a day like this during NaNo. Either the weather will be too nice and you’ll want to go out or the weather will be too bad and you’ll want to stay in (but curled up with a book) or the computer won’t work right or you won’t feel right or your characters won’t be talking to you or you’re just having a bad day…

Yeah, it happens.

One thing I do appreciate about NaNoWriMo is that it teaches you to write when you don’t feel like it. Getting behind on 1,667 words/day is a big deal if you do it a few times. Trust me. I have the 10k makeup days to prove it.  If you have depression, family events (Thanksgiving, anyone?), or other things come up, though, you may have to deal with making up for those days.

Prep for them ahead of time and you’ll deal with them better.

  1. Know what you’re going to write about. Sometimes it helps to jot a note about where the story is going before you stop for the night. Then you have something to give you a little push the next day when you won’t be in the same zone.
  2. Give yourself permission to just write for 30 minutes. Sometimes this means you’ll only get in 250 words (or less) for the day, but that’s 250 words you didn’t have before. Sometimes, though, it means that you get started writing and you go ahead and hit that 1,667 words before you realize it.
  3. Download some word crawls to get you motivated. While I find that they actually slow down my writing speed, they are great for getting things going, so if you can’t find motivation any other way, use one of them. There’s the list on the NaNoWriMo boards here and a bunch of popular ones archived by Wikiwrimo here.

Let’s say you do get behind. What are some things you can do to catch up?

  1. Plan a longer writing day on one of your days off. I plan these from the very beginning, because I prefer to get ahead. At some point, I know I’ll need it.
  2. Give up something to write. Yes, I know it’s big TV season, but you probably have a DVR or Hulu or something. You can watch your shows when NaNo season is over.
  3. Tempt yourself with a reward. We’re partial to chocolate, but that leads to needing more workout time, so you may want to change it up. New shoes. Tickets to a music/ sporting/ art event. Getting to watch one of those shows we just talked about.
  4. Pull a random writing prompt and throw it in there. Since I like to publish what I write with the minimum amount of editing, this doesn’t work for me, but it might for you. Don’t worry about continuity. Write about Uncle Joe at the Thanksgiving dinner yesterday and later you can replace it with dinosaurs invading your four-course fantasy meal.
  5. Add a little more to your word counts for the next few days. Yeah, 1,667 is a lot of words, but, really, you can make it up. Add 330-ish words a day for a week and you have it pretty much taken care of (that’s an even 2k words, for those of you who don’t math).

So, there you have it. Now you’re prepared for those days when you don’t feel like dealing– and I managed to adult a little today after all.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Routines


I promised you that today we would go over setting up routines (and we will!), but I just wanted to bring up one more thing related to priorities first.

I’m a runner. I’ve watched Zombieland; cardio is important if you want to survive the end of the world. I’ve learned almost any healthy person can do a 5k (that’s 3.1 miles for the metrically-challenged). Yeah, you might walk a lot, but even if you walk, that’s, what, at most an hour out of your life? Bump it up to the half-marathon (13.1 miles), though, and you start weeding out the committed from the casual. Go all the way to the marathon (26.2 miles) and you find the true crazy people.

Here’s the thing: NaNoWriMo is a marathon with a time limit. It’s one thing to do a marathon if you’ve been running every day. Yeah, it might hurt a bit if you have to do more than you’re used to, but at least you’ve been running. If you do a couch-to-marathon-in-a-month plan, though, you’re likely to follow that up with a marathon-to-hospital-in-a-day plan.

The same thing happens with NaNo, and it’s one of those things no one talks about. If you have not been writing, you have not developed the training for doing 1,667 words per day. You really need a plan.

  • Try to write in short chunks: 30-60 minutes
  • Schedule breaks for food, exercise, social life, and rest
  • Give yourself some sort of a road map, even if you’re a pantser. You haven’t taken this trip before; there’s no shame in having a road map. You can choose which scenery you stop and visit once you know where you’re going.

Another way you can help yourself out is by making the rest of your life into a routine, just for the 30 days. When I ran my first half-marathon, my big trick was to walk during the verses of songs on my headphones and run during the choruses. Little tricks get you to the end.

Take 15-60 minutes today and figure out the following routines:

  1. Your wake-up routine. What do you do for the first hour in the morning? Do you workout? (Put out your clothing the night before.) Shower? (Put out your clothing the night before.) Eat? (Put out your clothing– er, food– the night before.) Hopefully you’re getting the idea.
  2. Your lunchtime routine. Most of us have a fairly set time for lunch. Figure out what your routine is (and how you can fit a writing sprint in there, if you can).
  3. Your “after work/school but before dinner” routine. I write an hour, throw in 15 minutes of housework, then write 30 minutes. Then I eat.
  4. Your bedtime routine. Remember all those things you were going to put out the night before? Make that part of your bedtime routine. It will also help you fall asleep faster if you have a routine.
  5. Your writing routine. Do the same thing every time you sit down to write and your brain will start to switch on the neural pathways for creativity before you ever write a word. That’s science. Get your favorite drink (if it has a specific scent, like peppermint tea or hot coffee, that’s a bonus trigger), turn on the same song or soundtrack every time, and do the exact same thing. For me, that’s grab a mocha, turn on the book’s theme song/ soundtrack, and reread what I wrote last. By the time I finish it, I’m already writing.

Where else can you set up routines? What kind of routines do you have?

NaNoWriMo Prep: Learning to Prioritize


I have let you down, dear Readers. I am late. But I’m not going to apologize because, as much as I adore my adoring public, I had my priorities straight this time.

You see, I have a deadline that has to be met by tomorrow, so I was up late, burning the 2 am electricity, trying to get closer to that deadline while the inspiration was burning hot. I knew what my priority was, and that’s what I put first.

And that’s what the prep post is about today: learning to prioritize.

Any other time in the year, it makes perfect sense to squeeze writing in here and there (unless you are  Professional Writer ™, in which case you squeeze everything else in). During November, however, you have to learn to make writing your top priority.

I am not saying to neglect Real Life. If you have small spawnage, a Day Job, or educational pursuits, those have to come first. It just means you have to work even harder to make sure that other pursuits are neglected during November.

Here’s what I mean: apparently, Real People must eat and sleep regularly. Showering and other self-care is advised. But there are a large number of people who manage these things without giving up dream pursuit. They do not have more hours than everyone else, even though it seems like they might. Instead, they learned how to prioritize.

So I’m going to give you a (very-mini) course in prioritizing for November. This is going to feel a little like work. Congratulations. You just learned one of the hard things in writing. It’s not always pursuing your Muse over fields of deepest violet. Sometimes it’s plain, boring work.

Sit down with a free fifteen minutes or more. Don’t rush this. List out your hourly obligations for each day of the week. Then fill in the things that normally take up the rest of the time. Be honest with yourself. Do you spend 16.2 hours on Facebook while calling it “writing”? Put “Facebook” on the page.

Now go through and highlight the things that you cannot change. Job time. Eating. Sleeping. Physical activity.

Rewrite your schedule and only put in the highlighted things. See everything else? This is where you put writing time.

Your weekly (or daily– I’m not judging) binge with the Winchester brothers? Save it for December. The 43 minutes you spend playing Video Slot Dice in Hell RPGs? Get it out of there. If you spend two hours getting dressed in the morning (I might be judging a little here), figure out a routine that lets you cut it down to 1.5 hours.

Look at your schedule. Can you double-up anywhere? Maybe you commute on mass transit. Write while you commute. Even if you only get in ten words while commuting, that’s ten words you didn’t have before. List it on your schedule. Just make it one of those things you do. Lunch break? How about 15 minutes to eat and 15 minutes for a word sprint?

You get the idea.

That’s all for today. Just set your priorities. Tomorrow, we’ll go over how to set up some routines and shortcuts (I’m looking at you, two-hours-to-get-ready people) to make daily things a little easier.

Trust me. You’ll thank me for this later.

NaNoWriMo Prep: What You Need to Know


Yesterday, I started my yearly discussion about NaNo Prep. But maybe you’re really new to all this, so I dropped you into a discussion where the wind-speed of a laden RPG was mixed in a MOOC with OMG results and everything was pretty FUBAR. (That’s “funnied up beyond all recognition”, for those who don’t humor.)

So, baby steps.

What is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, and it happens in November every year. It started back in 1999, in July. I guess they hadn’t capitalized on the fun of the “No” in both “novel” and “November” yet. They fixed that by the next year and threw in some “rules” (which people still break every year and call themselves “rebels”). If you haven’t read their history, you really should. It reminds me that big things start small, sometimes have a few really stinky poopy diapers, get a rebellious teenager phase, and then grow up (hopefully) into something we can be proud of. It also remind me why Figments shouldn’t be parents.

NaNoWriMo is also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which means they went from twelve people just having fun to being, you know, real. Sounds like a success story for a Figment.

Why Should I Care About NaNoWriMo?
Even if you never try writing a novel (and, hey, I’m never going to knit a darn thing, so I’m not pushing), you should care about NaNo because it produces great works of fiction. And books by me.

I do 90% of my preliminary writing during NaNo events. Then I spend the rest of the year doing rewriting, editing, publishing, and whining. A little cheesing.

Also, NaNoWriMo supports great literacy projects, like the Young Writers Program. And some not-literary things like throwing out word vomit for a month. It’s a balancing act. With Viking hats.

If I Don’t Write, What Can I Do About NaNo?
Well, you could donate to my fundraiser. Or you can just send me coffee and sugary goodness to fuel my journey.

If I Do Write, What Can I Do About NaNo?
Go sign up! Join me in the crazy adventure, keep me up to date on your progress, and share the crazy. Then follow along here as I (hopefully), help inspire you with some prep ideas and other moments of insanity. Or, you know, just share insanity. We love company.

So who’s with me? Let’s storm the castle!




It’s Here. Again. NaNoWriMo Prep Time.


It’s here. Again.

I don’t know why it surprises me when it comes around every year. Supposedly, this is my ninth NaNoWriMo. No, I haven’t contracted some strange disease and I do not have an alien in suspenders hiding out in my home. NaNoWriMo, the brain-child of The Office of Letters and Light, stands for “National Novel Writing Month”. In other translations, it stands for “Naturally, No Writer’s Motivated”.

This is that time of year when, for 30 days, all writers, aspiring retires, supposedly-retired writers, and a hoard of eager children try to write 50k (that’s fifty thousand) words. In the same book. In, as closely as possible, novel format.

Yes. It’s basically one month of group insanity.

However, NaNoWriMo has turned out to be a boon to me. I first started in 2009. I merrily failed every year until 2013. Suddenly something clicked and I barreled through all fifty thousand words just under the wire.

Well. That was easy. I can do this again.

In 2014, I decided to take it a step further. I hadn’t really written much since 2013, so I committed myself to not only writing the book but, in my wisdom, to publishing it. By January 15th. Of the following years.

For those of you who have problems grasping acts of insanity, this means 2 1/2 months, from first word to “Now Available on Amazon”.

And I did it. Veneri Verbum published on January 16th (okay, I was off one day). It had a cover I liked, passable formatting, and very good editing.  (Yeah. I’ve gone back and fixed a lot of things since then, which just shows you what I knew.)

Well. That was easy. I can do this again. No. I can do better.

Last year, I committed to write five novels of 50k words in the 30 days. That’s 250k. 250,000 words. Pretty close to 10k per day.

It didn’t quite go to plan.

One novel mostly got finished and was published in January again. (Sanity has never been my strong suit.) A second novel was completely finished, but needed some rewriting, so it was published in February. A third was published in April, even though I really didn’t get it going until January.

The fourth novel was a crash and burn. The fifth? I’m finally finishing it up for publication at the end of this month.

However, if I hadn’t committed to writing five novels, I wouldn’t have published anything, let alone all five. NaNo is my caffeine: the burst of energy that pushes me through impossible projects as if they weren’t impossible.

So this year– why not try it again?

I’m again committing to write five novels of 50k or more in the 30 days:

  • The Voyage of the Pearl Diver: Water
  • Cheyna and the Doorway to Everland
  • Smells Like Teen Bobian
  • Of Spouses and Friends
  • LOL

Three of these are young adult. One is #3 in the Figments series. The fifth is a scary thing that I will probably not finish. But I won’t finish any of them without at least trying.

So… off to NaNo Prep. In honor of Prep Month, I will be giving up some of my tips and secrets as the month progresses. Hopefully, by November 1st, you’ll be joining me for this adventure. Just in case, bookmark the site.

See you soon.

The Self-Publishing Furor

Z7 Profile Pic

(This post originally appeared on the NaNoWriMo group on Facebook.)

My social reality person was actually good for a post today:
Write, don’t write. Publish, don’t publish. The furor.
It happens every year. Someone reposts the articles about why people should not write. Every year, there is a big fuss because every year there are new writers.
Those of us who have been writing for years and who self-publish LOVE new writers. We don’t fear competition because we don’t compete with each other. My biggest writing support comes from other writers. People like Jeffrey Cook, Renee Fournier, Ronnie Virdi, Erin Blair Roberts, and Ellie Mack (and so many more; I know I left names off!) have encouraged my writing journey and I try to encourage theirs. So when I see posts that say “You’re just afraid of competition when you tell us not to self-publish”, please understand that I was never competing in the first place. Indie writers work with each other, not against.
When I beg you not to publish before you’re ready, it’s not because I’m afraid someone will download your book and like it better than mine. Hurrah! Someone is reading and indie writers just got a new advocate. No, that’s the best case scenario. What I fear is someone will pay $2.99 for your work and you won’t have done enough work to justify that cost. They will read the book, hate it, and be prejudiced against indie authors because maybe, just maybe, we all don’t do our due diligence. I’m not worried about competition. I’m worried about the state of the industry in general.
There ARE a glut of books out there. There are books so truly terrible that I’m pretty sure my cat could write a better book, if she deigned to deal with such things. I’m not afraid of those books. Those books make me look FANTASTIC. However, maybe a lot of readers aren’t going to read my book– or Jeffrey’s– or Ronnie’s– or any other independent writer’s work because they just read $2.99 worth of vomit mixed with excrement.
Even if you’re doing this part-time (a lot of us have other jobs to pay the bills), be a professional. Use the Starbucks model, even if you don’t like Starbucks’ coffee. Expect to go in every day and relate to your customers. Expect to learn your product because, however many hours a week you put in at writing, you are a Professional Writer and should behave like one.
Anyone can– and SHOULD– write. Please write. Improve. Hone your craft if that’s what you want or just enjoy it as a hobby. But if you want to publish, please take the time to respect this profession for those of us who consider this more than a hobby.
Write away! Write with abandon! Then publish with an absolute sense of awe and wonder that you even have this right to foist your creation off on the world. Because if you don’t feel any of that responsibility, maybe it /doesn’t/ belong out in the great wide somewhere. Not yet.