Scrambling before NaNoWriMo… Author Toolbox

NaNoWriMo…

Gibberish, right? That’s not even a word. How do you say it? To writer’s, it is the month when the entire world ceases to exist… when life on Earth becomes a distant figment of our imagination… when we forget all the other hobbies we had if they don’t include a notebook, a pen, or a computer keyboard…

You may have already started to notice the writers in your life, or yourself, tuning down the radio of the world in order to plan for their WIP (work in progress). We’re scrambling to decide if NaNoWriMo is our mission this year, too.

NaNoWriMo
Image from NaNoWriMo web site

Why are we scrambling?

National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, will start November 1 and continue until November 30. NaNo is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people write that book they’ve always wanted to write.

The goal is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month, which estimates to writing about 1,667 words per day. Unless we rebel, which allows us to work on revising or editing projects instead. Or we can rebel and work on several different ideas.

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Before we can start writing, however, we have to know which WIP we’re going to work on…

  • the first draft of a shiny new idea (what you’re supposed to do)
  • the rest of the WIP from last November (oops)
  • the rest of the WIP from the November before that (double oops)
  • rebel and finish revisions on current WIP (they need to be finished)
  • rebel and draft two projects at once (they are both calling out)
  • rebel and work on revisions for one project while drafting another (what?!)

The scramble is happening now!

Preparation…

 What does preparation look like, then?

Getting ready for NaNo can take on many forms, but it all depends on the writer and the project… If a writer is starting a new project, then brainstorming of some kind is probably happening – at least for the planners.

However, how do you plan for NaNo when you are a rebel?

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For the rebels…

Your first step as a rebel is the same as everyone else’s: choose your project (or projects). What kind of rebel are you going to be? Set your goal.

My goal:

  • I will finish this round of revisions on my current WIP.
  • I will start the third draft, too.

Your second step is to determine how you will count your goal. Different writers have different ideas. Here are a few from a NaNoWriMo Rebel Thread:

  1. Count the same way: word=word — each word you revise goes toward your daily word count.
  2. Average: take the average words that you revise per hour and count that as your daily word count.
    • If you average 500 revised words per hour, and you revise for 4 hours in a day, then your word count that day would be 2000.
  3. A ratio: for every two words revised, count one toward your NaNo goal.
  4. A set count per hour: for every hour you write, it counts as ____ words.
  5. Chapters: each chapter’s word count that you revised goes toward your daily word count goal.

The tricky part here is choosing what works best for you. Rebels are already breaking the rules, so we may as well figure out how to break them in a way that works for us.

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Everyone…

Feel free to join us! Writing for NaNo is an adventure no matter if you follow the rules or rebel a bit. If you have a story on your heart, then you have a chance to jump in with other writers as we all paddle our way through the scary rapids that are NaNo.

Which path will you choose? Are you joining NaNo this November? Are you planning, pantsing, or rebelling? Share with me in the comments!

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

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Resources

5 Steps on the Journey to the First Draft — Author Tool Box

What can I share for this month’s Toolbox? What can I write about that could be even slightly helpful to other writers?

I’ve been trying to answer this question for a few weeks in preparation for this post, but I still didn’t have an answer until recently. Someone suggested I write a brainstorm about zombies… Well, zombies aren’t on the agenda this time; however, brainstorming was a great idea!

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This month’s toolbox will be dedicated to brainstorming, plotting, outlining, and all the little details that go into planning for a first draft — that is… if you’re not a pantser (someone who dives into the first draft without prior planning).

I’ll walk you through the planning process I took with my (yet to be published) first novel. Planning, like the writing process, is recursive — the appearance of linear steps doesn’t necessarily equal a fluid process, but a few steps do help…

1. Start with an idea.

No matter what your next step is, the first step is to have an idea. This idea can come from anywhere. You may have seen a cow while driving down the road or heard lyrics that spoke directly to your imagination. Maybe you were talking to your best friend during lunch and something at that moment stuck out to you.

Grab it! Take hold of that idea. See where it leads. My idea came from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poem asking a question.

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2. Take that idea and see what shape it takes…

That would make a great novel! I have an amazing story idea!

How many times have those words come out of your mouth? How many times have you remembered your idea over the next few days before it faded into the everyday world that is life, into the abyss?

Don’t waste any time! Write it down! Take that wonderful idea to your writer’s notebook, and see what you’ve got. Free-write as much as you can about all the possibilities swirling around in your mind at that moment. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous they sound — write them down.

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That is just what I did. On October 12, 2014, I wrote down the story idea that was zig-zagging its way around my brain.

Would I use everything I wrote on this page? No. I have no idea who “Darren” is anymore since he’s not part of the current round of revisions I’m on, but he was important at one time, which is all that matters. The idea is written.

3. Choose a direction… a path…

Now what?

Do you get stuck on this step? I did. I had never written a novel-length draft before, which meant that I had definitely not planned for one, either. How in the world was I supposed to do that? What was I supposed to do next?

Research.

There. I said it. This isn’t the kind of research you’d expect, though. It’s research into different planning processes for building up to your first draft. If you don’t know how to get there, the best thing to do is see how someone else did it. Right?

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So I did. There are so many different ways to plan a novel. Did you know that? Out of the numerous ways I found, I decided to choose Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method because it seemed the most straight-forward for a novice (and it was free…).

It took me quite a few tries with his first step, a one-sentence summary, because I couldn’t decide how old my MC (main character) was going to be.

More research.

Have I mentioned before how much I actually enjoy research? I really do! (Is that weird?)

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Around the time I was starting to plan, I’d read a new YA (young adult) dystopian novel, Rite of Rejection by Sarah Negovetich.  Because of this novel, I thought about my MC… Maybe she should be a young adult… Maybe she should live in a dystopian world… Maybe…

After my research, I decided Macy should be a teenager, but she wouldn’t live in a dystopian world. Instead, she would be the star of an epistolary novel, an idea that came to me during another free-write for ideas (see that recursive writing thing?).

I finally had “step one” of the Snowflake Method.

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4. Start outlining… possibly scene-by-scene…

The snowflake method will eventually lead you through meeting your characters, discovering their motives and end goals, and figuring out why each of them is important to your story.

I didn’t know most of this before I started plotting scenes, however.

Don’t tell, but that means that I didn’t follow this method to the letter. You should know, if you don’t already, that you are not obligated to follow anyone’s method verbatim. You are a writer, different from other writers, which makes your process unique to you. Keep that in mind as you continue.

I did keep a small chart of characters handy, though…

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Anyway, back on track… I did like the scene-by-scene outline. Randy suggested using a spreadsheet, which I love because it allows you to move things around in the future, but I didn’t. This particular time, I used my notebook.

And I started over several times when the story changed somewhere in the middle… See why the spreadsheet would’ve been helpful?

See how many times it changed in such a short amount of time? I even started color-coding after awhile for POV (point-of-view).

I have encountered writers who don’t like the scene-by-scene outline (or chapter-by-chapter as I’ve seen some others do) because they feel it inhibits creativity. I am of the opposite mindset. The scene detail only states what will happen. It doesn’t state the why or how of the situation.

The only downfall to this outline is when characters start changing your story (trust me, they will) — then you’ll find out just how important an editable outline truly is. But don’t worry about that now… This is only the planning stage.

5. Leave a little room for whatever comes along.

Even if you plan, the whole basis of the story could change if one ornery character decides he doesn’t like the backstory you gave him. Or, in my case, he doesn’t want to reveal his backstory to you until you are well into the first draft.

As stated above, characters will change your story for you. They will let you know when something is working or not as you’re drafting, so keep an open mind while you’re planning. Try not to get too specific.

Write down your thoughts as you come to them to see if they get answered during your first draft….

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A great help may even be to write down a list of all the questions you have about your idea: the characters, the main and sub-plots, the action, etc. Keep a running list of things that are important and things that could change.

Sometimes you can even take a break from planning and learn some new words that relate to your idea: MC’s job lingo, vocabulary related to setting, etc. Since my idea revolves around nightmares, I dove into a couple terms related to that, which may end up having nothing to do with my novel in the end, but they’re good to have anyway.

What if I get stuck?

Don’t worry! Is it writer’s block that has you worried? Or do you simply need some ideas to push you toward the next step? I don’t have all the answers, but I can offer you a few methods that could help:

  • make lots of lists: characters, plot bunnies, settings, conflicts, etc.
  • draw a plot diagram: where do you imagine the story going, where is one particular character’s story going, etc.
  • free-write: whatever comes to mind, a scene you’re eager to see on paper, a letter from your character to you, etc.

What about you? What do you do when you get stuck? How do you plan for a first draft? I’d love to see what your strategies are in the comments below!

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

Resources:

Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

“The 8 Habits of Highly Successful YA Fiction Authors” by Noal Feeny

Parental archetypes in YA fiction

Camp NaNoWriMo

Conquering the Writing Process in 7 Steps

The Writing Process.

We’ve all heard of it. We know what it is. We know why it’s used. We know that it’s often the bane of our existence. Why does the combination of those three words fill us with dread? Shouldn’t they excite us and fill us with wonder? They are here for us, the writers, after all.

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Not every writer follows the same process when writing. One writer may take different paths depending on the piece, as well. This is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution, by any means. I am simply going to show you my writing process – the same process that I teach my students. It works for me. It works for most of them. Your job is to grab your writer’s toolbox and find what works for you.

1. Prewriting

Prewriting is the best part of the writing process. (Although, some may argue that it’s the second or third best — we’ll get to those reasons later.) Why is it the best? This is the moment when you have an idea. This is the moment when you choose to take that idea and let it blossom into something glorious. This is your moment.

How are you supposed to pre-write an idea? How are you supposed to take that seedling and help it bloom? I like to teach this in three steps (and you can keep all your ideas in your writer’s notebook):

  1. Idea: You have to start with an idea (of course). These ideas can come from anywhere: songs, quotes, signs, movies, books, newspapers, etc. Once you have that idea, write it down. Write down everything you can about it – all the pieces that are zooming around your brain.
  2. Brainstorm: Once you’ve written down as much as you can about your idea, you’ll add more with a brainstorm. Turn to a new page (or several new pages) and branch out from your idea. Are you struggling to do this step? Here are a few options:
    • Make a list– you choose how you want to order it.
    • Create a web– you know all about that bubble web they taught in elementary school, right?
    • Freewrite– don’t even think of a structure; instead, write whatever comes out.
    • Research– maybe your idea requires a bit more background knowledge than you have. There’s nothing wrong with doing a bit of research to help move your idea forward.
  3. Outline: This is where the structure finally starts to come in. Sometimes writers skip this step, eager to get on with the draft, but it can help point you in the right direction. You can use a plot map, scene-by-scene outline, paragraph builder outline, chart, etc. It doesn’t matter what style of outline you use as long as it works for you.

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Prewriting takes a lot of time, but the time you take is worth every second. It all leads to the next step…

2. First Draft

Whatever you do, don’t stop writing. If you search Google images for “first drafts,” you’ll see that the most important part of this stage is to keep writing. This isn’t the moment to research. This isn’t the time to fix mistakes.

If the point of view changes halfway through, it’s okay. If a character unexplainably comes back to life or goes missing, it’s okay. If the time period changes, it’s okay. Make a notation (a star, perhaps), then keep going!

Motivation for finishing your draft can be found in numerous places: Facebook and Twitter writing communities, word sprint hosts, NaNoWriMo (and Camp – coming up in July), etc. Find a place to keep you writing.

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It’s important to note that some writers (known as “pantsers” – as opposed to “planners”) start with this step. There is nothing wrong with that. I personally find it easier to prewrite first, but not everyone is the same. Each person’s process is different.

3. Revising

For the sake of my teaching and my life as a writer, revising is not the same as editing. Editing deals with elements of grammar, etc., but revising is all about the meat of your piece. This is your chance to add or delete details; move lines, sentences, or scenes around; improve word choice; find a consistent point of view and audience; find or eliminate characters or settings; etc.

Depending on what you’re writing, you may even find the recursive element to writing, which will take you all the way back to the first step or even through several drafts. There’s nothing wrong with having to brainstorm a bit more or having to delve deeper into research. Those are 100% perfect for this stage.

You may be stuck, though. What do you revise first? This question can be answered by so many different people in a variety of ways. I know that doesn’t help, but the goal of the writing process is to make it work for you.

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Even though I don’t count editing as revision, this pyramid is a pretty good start if you get stuck at this stage. Don’t try to revise too much at one time. You’ll only succeed in overwhelming yourself, which is never a good thing.

4. Second (or Millionth) Draft

After each round of revisions, it’s most helpful to write a new draft that incorporates all of your changes. Again, not every writer does this, so you’ll need to decide what works best for you. I recommend it (require it for my students) because you can’t edit a paper that has sentences written sideways and lines going in all sorts of directions. If you’ve ever marked up your story, then you know…

This is the stage where you’ll look for support: Critique Partners (CPs), Alpha Readers, or Beta Readers. Somewhere after one of your rewritten drafts, you can reach out to the writing community in order to have someone help you. Don’t let them see a draft with markings all over it – offer them a clean second (or millionth) draft to read, instead.

Writing is recursive – even though this step is after revising, you can always go back to fix more!

5. Editing

Punctuation, spelling, and grammar (oh my)! You’ve probably already been fixing some of these errors during the rest of the above mentioned process, which is perfectly fine, but this is the point where you focus on them.

By the time you get to this step, your piece should flow: smooth plot (sans plot holes), consistent point of view (or consistent point of view changes), relevant details, etc. You are no longer focused on those things. You are now focused on the nitty-gritty errors that are bound to make your eyes (and pen) bleed when you find them.

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Oh no! What if you don’t like editing? What if you’re not good at it? Don’t worry! Once you get to this stage you may feel overwhelmed by all the rules of grammar and mechanics. It’s normal. Fix what you can first, then have a professional take over. They get paid to make pens bleed, so let them!

6. Final Copy

Whether you choose to type it out or write it by hand, you must have a final copy. It will be free of marks and beautiful (it’s okay if you shed a few tears of joy at this point). For many, this is the last step (and best part) of the writing process. For others, it opens up a whole new step: publication…

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7. Publishing

Publishing? Is that truly a step in the writing process? Yes, of course! Many people would argue that this is the best step, too! Do you think you went through all those other steps for nothing? There are many avenues for publishing: novels, poetry journals, blogs, etc. Find the one you want, and learn how to make it happen.

The end?

Of course not! You only followed the writing process for one idea – pick another one, and start again! Happy writing!

Resources

This is by no means a comprehensive list of resources (as you can see, there aren’t many). Numerous resources are available to you. Be specific in your searches, and you should find the help you need!