NaNoWriMo Prep: Step Two, Developing the Plot

NaNoWriMo2016

You can go into NaNoWriMo cold, with nothing. You can. I can’t. I break out in a cold sweat thinking about staring at that screen, knowing I have to write a minimum of 1,667 words that day, hoping something will come to me.

No, thanks. I’m going into NaNo prepped. Those of you hardy souls who do not, I salute you. From far away. With a full CDC virus-protection suit on, just in case the insanity is contagious.

Instead, I’ll be doing some exercises over the next few weeks to get my stories into a rough sort of shape. Note that I’m not a hardcore planner. I only get the map set up. I let the story determine where I travel on that map.

Yesterday, if you did your homework, you came up with a number of potential plots. Now you need to spend some time developing them into a working thesis, so to speak. Or type. Or… whatever. Let’s move along.

There are lots of ways to do this. One is just to take the general idea and plug it into various genres and see what it gives you.

Idea: Husband and wife are traveling 2000 miles to get to ailing mother’s house

Yeah, it’s kind of vague. That’s okay. This is where the brainstorming comes in.

  • Romance: Husband and wife, marriage on the rocks, need to travel cross-country to get to ailing mother-of-wife’s house. Wife can’t fly due to some illness (do research). Husband begrudgingly drives. Fighting happens, which leads to talking about their problems, which leads to making up, which leads to romance repaired by the time they get to granny’s house. (Yeah, I’m not going to step into the romance field any time soon. Relax.)
  • Fantasy: Husband and wife start on the journey to mother-of-whoever’s house. They decide to drive for reasons (brainstorm). On the way there, they pass through a portal and find themselves in a fantasy land where they have to battle monsters and still travel (although via horseback) to get to the castle in order to complete the journey and head back home. Since I write humor/fantasy, I’d throw in a yellow knobold (check to verify name) to assist them and… well, something else. This isn’t my story, so I’m saving the plot energy for the real thing. You get the idea, though.
  • Horror: Husband and wife start on journey because mother-of needs a kidney/ liver/ blood transfusion and wife is a rare match (research blood typing and donations). Wife has fear of flying, so they drive. They stop one night at a hotel. Freaky scariness ensues. I can’t even write about writing about it, because horror is scary and I don’t have anyone here to hold me after I’m traumatized. But… horror.
  • SF: H & W start on a spaceship to mother-of. Spaceship has issues. AI systems go haywire. Must get there. Blah blah.

You get it, right?

Notice there’s no outlining. There’s really no plotting, you scaredy-cat pantsers. There’s just a little bit of a map of where the story could go.

Go. Take one of your ideas from yesterday (or all of them) and just plug them into various genres. Go mainstream and figure out something literary. One-up EL James and do erotica. Make it an action-adventure ala Romancing the Stone. Whatever you do… go make a story map.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Step One, The Plot

NaNoWriMo2016

Alright, you’re set for the realities of NaNo. It’s hard. You should be ready. But you still don’t have a story.

I’ve known some writers to say that any writer who doesn’t have a plot isn’t a writer, but sometimes they’re just not trained in what they need to know to find plots. Because, you see, the plots are out there. They’re evil little bunnies with vicious teeth and sharp claws, and they… ahem. Sorry. Anyway, you just have to learn to look for the plot bunnies. Because they’re everywhere. Everywhere.

Okay, took a few minutes to get out of the hug-me jacket, but I’m back. Let’s get to specifics.

You can start with story prompts, but that’s so… generic. So if you want story prompts, you might want to go look at another blog. I’m going to try to teach you how to find plot ideas yourself.

  1. Go watch people. Every person has a story.  No, you shouldn’t go up to total strangers and pepper them with questions. You’ll get some interesting responses, but it’s hard to promote your novel from jail. Instead, make up their stories. Who are they? How did they get here?
  2. Listen to music. The tune, the title, the lyrics– any of those can spawn a story. Don’t plagiarize, but do use inspiration.
  3. Read some good books. Again, totally not promoting plagiarizing, but good writing builds on other writing? Don’t believe me? Go check out Shakespeare.
  4. Watch television. You may even be able to publish fanfiction on Amazon Kindle Worlds. Just (again) don’t try to publish something that you’ve borrowed from elsewhere.
  5. Brainstorm with other writers (or just other people). Write down everything, however absurd. Then harvest what you can use. Except organs. We frown on organ harvesting. So does the law.
  6. Look at artwork. What’s the story behind the picture? Can you make it into more than a story? Is it an entire book?
  7. Go for a run/ exercise of your choice. Exercise produces the good hormones that stimulate creativity.
  8. Keep a journal, diary, or a stack of sticky notes (I’m a fan of the stack of sticky notes). Write down every creative idea you ever have. All of them. Ruffle through them occasionally and see if something inspires you.

Go. Get thee some paper and a writing instrument (or clay and stylus) and start sketching out ideas. Do not stop until you have at least five, however crazy you think they are.

We’ll get to developing ideas in the next post. For now, just get them.

Shoo! Go write.

NaNoWriMo Prep: The Importance of Planning, Even for Pantsers

NaNoWriMo2016

Dear Pantsers:

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

-Z

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

NaNoWriMo2016

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

NaNoWriMo2016

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

NaNoWriMo2016

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

NaNoWriMo2016

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

NaNoWriMo2016

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!

 

 

NaNoWriMo2016

It’s Here. Again. NaNoWriMo Prep Time.

NaNoWriMo2016

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 Wicked Witch of Whatever

Cover Reveal: The Wicked Witch of Whatever AND New Contest!

The Wicked Witch of WhateverYes, it’s that time. Another cover has reared its not-so-ugly head and is ready to be revealed to the world. I give you The Wicked Witch of Whatever.

This YA paranormal/ urban fantasy (still trying to figure out that exact niche) is set at Cawdor High School for the (Magical) Arts. I don’t have a blurb yet. Are you nuts? I’m still rewriting. What if I rewrite something that gives me the perfect blurb? All you need to know is that Macbeth meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead meets me. And maybe a heavy dose of teen pop culture thrown in for seasoning.

The Wicked Witch of Whatever is slated to be released on Halloween, which is my favorite holiday of the year. When else can I get away with dressing like one of my own characters without someone questioning my sanity?

In honor of its release, I’m throwing a little picture party. Dress up like your favorite INDIE character for Halloween, snap a photo, and send it to me. Seven lucky winners will win an ebook copy of The Wicked Witch of Whatever. Three lucky winners will get to have a character named after them in an upcoming book. One really lucky winner will get a copy of the paperback.

Where should you send it? I’m so many places:

  • Comment here (that’s zanzibar7.com in case you got lost along the way)
  • Comment on my page on Facebook
  • Post it on Twitter and tag me: @Zanzibar7Writer
  • Put it up on your Instagram and either inbox it to me or tag me. I’m still new to Instagram, so I’m assuming it can be done. (@Zanzibar7Writer)
  • If you’re feeling really shy, email it to me directly at zanzibar7schwarznegger@gmail.com

The fine print (but I’ll keep it large enough to read because I’m nice like that):

  • Contest is open from now until November 7, 2016
  • Since I haven’t read every indie book out there, please identify the character, book, and author for your costume
  • Yeah, it does have to be an indie book character. Sorry. Must uphold some standards.
  • Kissing up and using one of my characters won’t improve your chances, but I might like you better.
  • Winners will be announced via all platforms on November 11th. It’s NaNo month. I may be a little busy.

Any questions?