NaNoWriMo: Day 8 (59,787)- The Healthy Edition

NaNoWriMo2016I kept running into that wall yesterday, so I finally cut myself a little slack. I went and played four miles of Pokémon and watched football (and was quite disappointed that only a couple of players seemed to use their feet) and went to bed early instead of obsessing about word counts. I’m behind… and that’s okay.

When I committed myself to crazy word counts for this NaNoWriMo season, I promised I would also practice self-care. I wanted a real body– to be a Real Person– I was certainly going to take care of it.

That’s harder than you would think when every instinct you have says to sit in the chair for 12-14 hours a day.

But I have mostly been managing it, other than being a little behind on cardio exercise. It helped that I started with a plan:

  • Every morning I get up, make a big cup of tea (I cheated once and had coffee instead and felt less hydrated all day). I take a probiotic, a multi-vitamin high on Omega-3s, and (because I’m a Figment trying to turn real), a special vitamin for skin, hair and nails. (You have no idea how funny you look without those three things until you don’t have them).
  • Most mornings (I have been lax at times), I then do fifteen minutes of yoga or strength training, followed by five minutes of meditation.
  • Then I do this blog.

What does this do? Well, I start off hydrated and, by holding off my caffeine (and sugar), I don’t head toward an energy crash until later in the day. The vitamins help make up for those times when, instead of eating a real lunch, I grab a pastry from the coffee shop (where I’m having my coffee with too much sweet stuff). Starting out with exercise stretches out all the kinks from the day before and means I’ll get some exercise no matter how distracted I get by all the glorious words flowing from my fingertips. The meditation and blog get my mind in the right place to have a good, productive day.

I also throw in a few other things, already planned for:

  • I’m rather addicted to Pokémon Go, so I get in some walking on a daily basis. Unfortunately, it’s often slow walking, as our area is inundated with gyms, poke stops, and creatures, so it doesn’t count as true cardio, but it does count as exercise.
  • Other than lunches, my meals are planned out and healthy. I have a pre-planned grocery list for each week. I really don’t have to think about what I’m going to eat, so I eat what I should.
  • I have no snack/ junk food in my place of residence. This does not stop the siren call of num-nums when I’m out at a write-in or escaping the construction ninjas, but it still helps.
  • I use this wonderful stuff called Arnicare Gel to massage my hands daily. I’m sure just the massage does wonder (as do breaks),  but the gel works well for me. Don’t take just my word for it, though. WebMD says: “Early research shows that using an arnica gel product (A. Vogel Arnica Gel, Bioforce AG, Switzerland) twice daily for 3 weeks reduces pain and stiffness and improves function in people with osteoarthritis in the hand or knee. Other research shows that using the same gel works as well as the painkiller ibuprofen in reducing pain and improving function in the hands.”
  • I use a Pomodoro-style timer (25 minutes work, 5 minutes break) or word crawls to do my writing. Yes, it’s hard sometimes to stop mid-creative flow, but the frequent breaks give my eyes and hands a boost. I also find that stopping mid-thought sometimes makes it easier to start up again.
  • I’ve planned on down-time/ social time. Sometimes this is just going to the local write-in. Sometimes it’s taking a walk (see Pokémon). Sometimes I even let myself watch one (just one!) episode of television.

Even if you haven’t already been taking care of yourself, it’s not too late to start. Remember, the words will be there whether you write them in November or January. If you damage your body– assuming you’re not a Figment– you’re stuck with that damage forever.

How do you care for yourself?

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.

Feature Friday: Writing the First Chapter

Chess Board - TwitterThere are some who find the last chapter to be the most difficult. There are a few who struggle through the middle. For most, however, the first chapter is the hardest to get out there. There’s good reason for this. The first chapter is what draws, drags, or defers. Either it is so clever that the reader must read; it is acceptable enough that the reader chooses to read; or it is so bad that the reader refuses to read.

But no pressure. Really.

See, the nice things about first chapters (and first lines) is that you have the most time to get them right. You have the entire time you’re writing the book through the editing process through just before publication. That’s a lot of time. (Longer for some, say, whose last name is Martin, than some others.)

“I don’t edit while I’m writing.”  Very smart of you. Really. Just try this with me for one work, though. Edit that first chapter.

Here’s why: if your first chapter does what it should (set up the story), then you have an easier task ahead of you. Instead of dragging the story uphill to get to the first plot point, your first chapter has already set it on the right path.

I’ve discovered I cannot write well until I’m happy with the first chapter. Oh, I can write. I go on putting words to paper anyway. But each time I open that document, I edit the first chapter until something clicks. For some works, this happens before I get out of the second chapter. For others, it may not happen until I’m frantically trying to fix things for publication. But it always happens because it’s important.

What does a first chapter need?

  • The protagonist
  • The antagonist
  • Possibly one or more support characters
  • The setting for the “normal” world (the world in that millisecond before the story starts)
  • The reason why the reader should care about any of this

If, by the end of your first chapter, the reader doesn’t at least know a little bit about your main character, where he is, why they should care about her, etc., you’ve failed.

Yes, I know there are books that manage to get away with breaking the rules. You can break the rules, too, if you know them well enough to do it well. Otherwise, stick to the guidelines. They exist because they work, oddly enough.

So, your homework (and mine) is to go back to your first chapter. Read it first. Just read it. Does it grab you? Does it repulse you? Then go back with whatever form of red pen you use and mark it up. Do you have a lot of unnecessary exposition? Bye-bye! Does your main character go nameless and descriptionless for most of the chapter? Fix it. Do you, being honest, not really care about this chapter? Maybe you need to toss it entirely and start with the second chapter.

Whatever you decide to do, go do your homework. Tear apart the first chapter. Let me know how it works out.

Want More? Try This Blog Post
Learn four possible ways to hook your reader in the opening. Try all four!
http://danmalakin.com/writing-great-story-opening-4-quick-tips-hook-reader/

 

 

How to Write a Book: Getting Ready

Chess Board - TwitterHow do you write a book? There are as many answers to that as there are books, really, but I’m going to attempt over the course of however long it takes to walk you through the process of writing and publishing an independent book. Your mileage may vary and please do try this at home.

NOTE: I believe everyone should write. I’m a huge fan of everyone writing. I do not believe everyone should publish a book, any more than I believe everyone should dance Swan Lake. The advice I’m giving here is for writers who want to publish, although parts can be used by anyone.

So what is the very first step to writing a book? Writing, right? Wrong. It’s not even outlining (if you’re a planner) or getting an idea.

The very first step to writing a book is learning how to write.

This idea may make this my most unpopular blog post.

“I’ve been through thirteen years of schooling, plus four years of college where they continued making me take English classes.” (Side note: if anyone had to make you take English classes, why do you want to put yourself through the hell of publishing a book, which is like a Masters Class in English??)

  • Going to school and taking generalized English classes will generally teach you just that: general English. Even if you took creative writing classes (bonus points to you), you may not be fully equipped, but we’ll get to that. The basic English taught at most school is just enough to get you through life. Trust me, we’ve read your business letters. It’s a close thing in many situations.

“I took every writing class offered at school. I wrote in a journal; I blog daily; writing is my LIFE.”

  • Hurrah for you… and you now have the first piece in place for being ready to write a book. You’ve learned to write regularly. That’s one piece.

“I took literature classes where I had to critique other novels and write papers on them.”

  • Now you’re getting somewhere. I’ve never understood how indie writers feel qualified to critique their own work when they’ve never had any practice in critiquing in the first place. There are plenty of writers who get away with this; I’m just suggesting it’s not the best choice.

“I read books.”

  • Writers should read books the same way they should write: regularly, if not daily. If you are not devouring books, both in the genre you want to write in and outside of it, on an almost-daily basis, you do not have the framework for writing one.

“I write real good.”

  • Take a grammar class. In fact, take more than one. A traditionally-published writer can possibly get away with never taking a grammar class. An indie writer needs to know how to properly put a sentence together and when you can break the rules (or not). Please don’t tell me that’s what your editor is for. How will you know your editor is any good if you don’t understand the basics of grammar? I’m not saying become an editor. Just understand how grammar works. Really, writers should take a grammar refresher once a year.

Alright, you’ve done all this. Now go take a writing class. If you don’t have money (starving writers, unite!), get a book. Take a class online (try Coursera or EdX). Make sure the class teaches structure (again, it’s better to know the rules before you try to break them) and, if possible, teaches the restrictions of your genre. It’s a lot different writing an epic fantasy than it is writing a hard-boiled detective novel.

Come back when you’ve taken the class (and only take the class if you’ve done all the other steps).

“But such-and-such famous writer never said they did this. In fact, they said they didn’t.”

There’s an exception to every rule. There are also people who win the lottery. Unless you feel your odds are up there with the lottery winners, I’d stop trying to be the exception and go about doing things the way that works. But that’s just me. I don’t want responsibility for feeding you or teaching you the facts of life, so you can take or leave this information. I’m just passing it along.

Where are you at? Need some advice for how to get to the next step? I love to hear from you. Except you, spammers. I like putting you in the time-out box.

How I Art Greatly (How to Be an Amazing Writer)

Okay, I don’t art greatly. I don’t even art modestly. But I  am a pretty amazing writer.

I tend to watch people a lot. For one thing, it’s funny and I like the free entertainment. For another, it gives me more things to write about. I’ve noticed lately, though, that people aren’t very kind to themselves about writing.

I want to write, but I always write garbage.

I thought I wrote something wonderful, but my readers told me I should keep my day job.

I get tempted to go explain the problem to them, but I have nineteen restraining orders in place, so I thought I’d just tell you all here: Everyone starts out writing garbage.  The good writers keep writing anyway.

I know, you see my writing and wonder how I got to be an amazing writer in such a short period of time. I’m a Figment! I was created with twenty years of writing experience in my backstory.  You’re human (I could be wrong), so you have to do things the hard way. You have to write words, words, and more words until you get twenty years under your belt the old-fashioned way.

Of course, even literary geniuses like myself have another secret up our sleeves: we edit.  Yep, there it is, free for the taking.  I can crank out a book in about thirty days, but I still need at least another thirty days (I did mention literary genius, right?) before it becomes a masterpiece. That’s with twenty years of experience. You may need three months to write your book and another year to edit it.  You may even write a few things that you can’t salvage. That’s okay.  Write anyway.

In fact, even if you normally think of yourself as just being a reader, go write something today.  Turn off the pretty moving pictures, close the book you were reading (unless it’s mine), and write something. Don’t know where to start? Here’s a little nudge:

The sun fell into the ocean.

Yes, I’m gifting you with a magical sentence you may use to write any genre, even icky touchy-feely chick lit.  Leave me a comment in the comments section with your masterpiece. Or don’t. But write anyway.

If you don’t, you may put a tear in the space-time-space continuum, and you know what happens after that.