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 Two, Developing the Plot


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.

Publishing a NaNoWriMo Book: Saving All the Bits

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I’ve heard it a million times: “I have this great idea. I can’t wait until it’s time to write.”

“Did you write it down somewhere?”

“Oh, no. I’ll remember this. It’s good.”

Two days later… “I forgot what it was!”

I have read that the great Stephanos Reyes (known in your world as Stephen King) does not write down his ideas. If they’re good enough, he’ll remember them when it’s time. While I respect his creative genius and his productivity, most of us need to write things down to remember them. Also, if you’re new to this, having little notes to jar your memory may be what gets you to two thousand words that day instead of petering out at fifty.

When I wrote Veneri Verbum, I had little notes on everything everywhere. Okay, my notes were sometimes actual Figments I created, but we’ll work with your world. When you get a great idea, write it down. When you sit to write, put all your great ideas next to you. If you get stuck, pull one of the great ideas. If you have a lot of them, pick the one that works best. If you only have one, toss that baby in there and see what it grows up into.

If you are trying to write two thousand words a day (two hours of work each day or more), you do not want to get stuck staring at a blank screen and drooling on your keyboard. There are enough other reasons to get a Writer into therapy.

Your homework today even if you’re a Pantser is to brainstorm a list of ideas. Don’t write. Don’t plot. Just idea. Give yourself a reserve to pull from in November.


Publishing a NaNoWriMo Book: Fleshing Out the Characters

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She lay there, a formless mass of bones, muscles, and blood, not yet a real Character. It was his job, as a Writer, to flesh her out. Adding some flesh to cover up the gore would be a good start.

It can be tricky business making the Figments from your imagination into real, flesh-and-blood Characters. There are a lot of ways to go about it, too. I recommend picking one to keep your Characters straight unless you want  to end up with  Tweedledee-Tweedledum confusion.

Pantsing It– Completely

If you think your memory is good enough, just put your Character out there and wing it. No notes. No planning. Don’t blame me if she turns out like Chris in Veneri Verbum and never quite solidifies into a solid Character. Also don’t blame me if she’s homicidal. It’s a lot of stress when you don’t have an Id.

Pantsing It– With Style

If you want to pants it, I recommend making notes. Use notecards, Scrivener, sticky notes, or tattoos, but make notes of every important feature about your Characters.  If he has brown hair in chapter one and red hair in chapter three, a Reader will eventually notice.  Don’t forget to add character traits.

Plotting It

You’ll have to pick your own method. Some people spend more time creating their Characters than I spend writing books. Others, including yours truly, borrow from the gaming world and create a Character sheet with the basics. I’ve even rolled a Character before.

However you decide to do it, be willing to alter your pre-planning, because something you planned won’t work out for that particular Character. As Christopher discovered:

“Didn’t I describe you as slender, too?” He was pretty sure she wasn’t a size two. Maybe a size ten.

“You described me as curvy and sexy,” she grumbled… “There’s nothing wrong with a size ten or any other size.”

… “Did I make you a feminist? I don’t think I’d be very comfortable writing a feminist.”

Your Character will inevitably develop some traits you didn’t plan. Run with it. This is what makes them real.

You only have homework this time if you want to plot your characters. If you do, you have a lot of homework. Get to it.

Publishing a NaNoWriMo Book: What About Publicity?

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First, a disclaimer: this is not one of my stronger areas.  I’m a Figment. We don’t have social media. We once burned Writers at the stake (and, accidentally, at the steak). I’m so bad at this that I hired a social reality person.  (Which reminds me that I need to fire her and hire someone else, but that’s not part of this post.)

A lot of first-time writers don’t start publicity for their books until after they’ve published. At the very least, they wait until release week and spam everyone with their excitement. Excitement-flavored potted meat is not nearly as tasty if you’re not the one who created it.

You really need to start setting up your social media before you ever start writing. The real trick, you see, is that social media is about connection, not about potted meat. If you start connecting with people before you get excited about your book, they will get excited with you because you have a connection. If you toss it out there before they know you, you’re a telemarketer. Even telemarketers don’t like telemarketers.

Now that you’re caught up on your homework (you are caught up, right?), here’s your next assignment: get your social media in order.  Lucky for you, I have a handy dandy guide.

  1. Figure out your pen name. You will want to use this across social media, so get it right. Even though I’ve considered changing my name to Sniggly Tanbottom Jr. (it’s shorter), I will stick with Zanzibar because this is who my readers know. Play around with it until you’re happy. Try signing a few autographs, too.
  2. Find a picture of yourself that looks good in thumbnail, in profile pictures, and blown up on a page.  Crop that thing down; no one needs to see Aunt Edna getting drunk in the background. What you want to be left with is a picture that encapsulates you. Think of it as your personal blurb/summary. When people see your picture, do you want them to think: he sure takes a lot of selfies or wish I lived by an industrial waste plant- what inspiration!?  I like people to think about bright colors. I’d stick with a facial or upper body shot if you’re not a Figment.
  3. Figure out what your social media type is.
      • Instagram/ Flickr/ Picasa/ Pinterest: You think a picture is worth a thousand words (might want to consider a career change). You take photos all the time and you love to  doctor them up.  Note: this is good for writers revealing book covers, art, maps, etc.
      • LinkedIn: You want someone to hire you to write. If you don’t, I would update your profile to include “Writer” and leave it at that.
      • Meerkat/ Periscope/ Vimeo/ YouTube: You like to use videos to tell your story or you want to vlog. It’s not an area heavily used by writers, so you could get a lot of mileage out of this one if you’re good at it.
      • Facebook/ Google +: Very similar and very different. Facebook is almost a must for a writer, but Google has better groups.  Play around to see which you like better or use both. I’m all for polysociality.
      • Twitter: If you like to be chatty and very in-the-moment in your social media and if you can compress your thoughts to 140 characters or less, this is for you. Strength is its immediacy.
      • Blogging platform of your choice: Here’s a tip- only blog if you’re going to do it regularly. If you only blog once a month, but you always blog once a month, you won’t disappoint your readers as much as someone (like me) who publishes daily for a couple of weeks and then vanishes. Hey, you’d be quiet, too, if The Conductor was in the next room. Do this if you like to “journal” and you have something to say. There’s nothing worse than a writer who can’t blog well. I assume they can’t write well, either. I also judge books by their covers. It’s fun.
      • Email Media: Works best in conjunction with something else, because no one wants you sending them email they didn’t sign up for.
      • Goodreads: Every Writer should be on Goodreads. It links Writers to Readers. Go on there first as a Reader and get active on message boards. (Another reminder to fire my social reality person.) Set up a Writer page. Do giveaways. I cannot stress the love for Goodreads. Really I can’t. It’s in the restraining order.

You can sign up for any or all of the above, but it’s best to keep it down to one or two to start. If you get comfy and feel like sharing the warm fuzzies, move on to the next one.

4. Set up an identical or near-identical profile on every site you use. Create your user profile once and reuse it. Again, this is a “you” blurb. Be consistent.

5. Start using social media regularly. Be active on groups. Make friends. Make connections.

When you get around to  publishing and start to sell potted meat, everyone will like you and they’ll buy, even if they don’t particularly like potted meat.

Plenty of homework here. Don’t come back until you’ve done it. Okay, come back, but lie to me.  It’s your writing career.


Publishing a NaNoWriMo Book: Making a Schedule


I’ve been told many of you have lives outside of Writing. Apparently these involve things like Work, Family, and School. I have none of these things, but I’m going to help you plan for November as if I do.

First, the big secret to winning NaNo is to know what you have to do to win. If you have a job and a family, you know that you need to write fast and hard (even if you don’t write erotica). If you have lots of free time, you may need motivation. My trick would be to plot your life the way you plot a book.  (Pantsers, this even means you.)

1. Figure out your life

Find or make yourself a calendar. November starts on a Sunday this year, which is very helpful. Make four weekly calendars (like above) and one with just two days. You have November.

Now, fill in the things you cannot clear off your schedule. Apparently taking a month off to write is frowned upon at most jobs and places of education, so enter those first. Don’t forget commute time. If you’re not a Figment, you have to travel the slow way.

Next, figure out family and social commitments. Missing your mate’s birthday because of NaNo is a bit short-sighted.  You may still want people to talk to you if you don’t become world-famous.

If you’re not a Figment (and I believe I’m the only Figment Writer who does NaNo), put in time for things like eating and sleeping. Even if you are a Figment, don’t forget to include time for overpriced coffee. Writers need caffeine.

Once you have all the must do of life in there, see if you can cut anything out. Can you write during lunch? How about during your commute (only if you use public transportation, please)?  If you’ve blocked in television shows but you don’t have a lot of free time, you do realise most shows can be saved for later, right? This is NaNo. Make some sacrifices for your art.

2. Figure out how much time you need

Well before November, take the time to do some writing sprints. You either need to know how many words you write per sprint (twenty out of thirty minute chunks) or how long it takes you to write 500 words.

Do math.  Sorry; there’s no way around this one. If you average 500 words in 30 minutes or less, I would just round it to 500. If you do 212, round it down (very important).

You need to write 2000 words per day. Trust me on this. None of this namby-pamby 1,667 words. Yes, that will get you to 50,000, but it won’t finish a book. You’ll have bad days and appreciate me pushing you.

Trust me.

Now, more math. If you write 500 words in 30 minutes and you need 2000 words in a day, you need to write for two hours. Doesn’t have to be two hours straight, but you need two hours. If you write 200 words in 30 minutes, you need five hours. (I recommend typing classes.)

Schedule in your writing time around your existing schedule. If you find a day where you can’t write the full 2000 words, do extra on another day.  If you can’t schedule in enough time no matter what you do, then consider that you may be overbooked in your life and get a life coach. Or just ignore your other obligations for a month. Again, I’m not judging.

That’s all there is to it. You have planned your calendar for NaNoWriMo. Congratulations.
Next time, we’ll work on some little hacks to keep other things from interfering with your writing time.
Now go do your homework.


Publishing a NaNoWriMo Book: How to Prepare for November

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Last year I wrote a novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). No big deal; according to the site, 325,142 other Writers finished a book in 2014.  However, I wrote in November, edited in December, and published in January.

Most of you aren’t Figments. I believe you have to type or handwrite your words, rather than have them appear on the screen when you think them. But if you’re writing a book with the intention of publishing, there’s some NaNo prep you might want to do now that October is officially here.

1) Solidify your idea

Every pantser, gardener, and booper just cried out in pain. “We don’t plan! We run by the seat of our pants!” (Sounds painful, by the way.) If you’re writing just for fun, yes, pants away. (Please don’t take them off. That’s a verb, not a noun.) However, my studies show that the majority of traditionally published novelists plot to one degree or another. (My studies may or may not be other people’s studies that I’m using as an example.)  J.K. Rowling? Plotter.  Tolkein? Plotter. Even Stephen King, who treats plotting like adjectives, does at least get a good concept of his story ahead of time. Since I disagree with him about beautiful, insightful, useful adjectives, I’ll just treat him as an anomaly.

So, to one degree or another, you need a solid idea before you start November. If you’re writing fantasy or historical, you may want a good map. For science fiction, you may want to research the science. For me, it’s getting point A, a random concept and characters, and point Z. Then I make notes of whatever must happen to get me to point Z. It’s not perfect, but it does keep the story rolling. That’s what’s truly important in November: keeping the story rolling.

But, Z, I don’t even have an idea. Yes, you do. Everyone has ideas. Look out your window. If you don’t have a window, politely borrow one (I don’t advocate stealing). Write down the first person you see. It’s dark out my window, so I wrote “shadow”.  From there, I could write something mainstream about a girl with a phobia about shadows or I could write a Figment made up entirely of the shadows of others. More likely to be the latter for me, but I won’t fault you if you go mainstream.

If you’re still really uncertain, go to a site with writing prompts. No, there aren’t any links here. You’re a big Writer now. Learn to use Google. Searching “writing prompts” will likely be the least-triggering thing you’ll search today.

2) Give yourself a timeline

When I wrote Veneri Verbum, I figured out ahead of time how long I needed for hitting each milestone. The entire novel, by the way, had to be written by November 30th, not just 50k. If you want to be published, you need to do the same. Here’s a tip: however long you think anything past first draft stage will take, double it. This will prevent you from having a matching permanent bald spot on one side where you’ve pulled your hair out trying to meet your impossible deadlines. Not that I mind if you want to match with me, but we should at least get t-shirts or something.

My timeline for 2015 goes something like this:

  • October: plot, outline, and research The Big Con
  • November: write The Big Con (I have it broken down a bit more than this)
  • December: pre-edit The Big Con. There are many who will have an issue with this, but I literally forget what I wrote by the next day. I pre-edit early in the month, then I set the book aside for important festivities like the annual Moan About Snow and Wish for Heat Day.
  • January: re-edit The Big Con, which usually involves a rewrite for me. Then find beta readers. Then bribe beta readers with cookies because I didn’t wait for my beta readers when I wrote Veneri Verbum and it shows.
  • February: plot a new book and make more cookies. Wait on beta readers.
  • March: incorporate all changes from beta readers and re-write book again.  Now proofread or get a good Editor. Since Editors are rather evil in my world, I do this step myself, but I advise others to use someone else for their Editor. You may know one who isn’t evil.
  • April: start formatting. This is a necessary step if you are self-publishing. If you’re not, this is where you send off your book to some nebulous Publisher. If Moses could be left safely in a basket by his parents, I won’t judge you for this.
  • May: submit your book to wherever you like (Kindle, Smashwords, Goodreads, Createspace, Lulu). Some people get a proof copy and re-edit. I like to be as surprised by random typoes and color issues as anyone else.

There you have it. I will never again be publishing my book in less than three months; I can only afford to halve my life expectancy once and that was for the first book.

If you want more tips, I feel like making this into a series. Look for the next part eventually. I’m a little iffy on Time; Figment-time doesn’t work the same as people-time. No more than one week. I think I can manage that.

Go. Do your homework now.