Hi, yes, hello again. It’s been a while.
I’ve been absent from the blog (though not anywhere else) for far too long. So now that it’s my favorite time of year, NaNoWriMo (it is a time, don’t question it), I figured it was also time to return to you, and with a much-needed update on how the month is going. Here is the quick and dirty version:
- Writing a new genre this year, sci-fi. It is much harder than anticipated.
- A Municipal Liaison for my region. It is fantastic and a little more time consuming than anticipated.
- Daily vlogging my experience over on YouTube. It is alsdkvja;wljg;a than anticipated.
That being said, one of the responsibilities of Municipal Liaisons (or MLs for short) is writing pep talks for our Wrimos. And while I do address our region at the beginning, I hope the content will be helpful for you too!
Copied below, in full:
Day 4, “Writing Superheroes & Double Up Donation Day”:
Welcome to Week 1, InSANoWriMos!
This year, the theme is Superheroes. Which is very fitting, because as writers, we’re up against a lot of Dangerous Foes. We have a hard path set before us to create a world and characters that exist only within our imagination. We must overcome Crippling Doubt, the Distractions of the Internet, and the dreaded Interactions of Family and Friends, all to write a novel within one month. It’s a hard challenge, but I think you’re up to the task.
I hope the first three days have been smooth-sailing, but if they haven’t, just remember that your story is one worth telling. Lots of times we can lose the battle to Crippling Doubt. We can convince ourselves that someone else has already done it, and better, or that we’re not capable, that we’re not worthy. It’s during NaNoWriMo that we throw that doubt aside. We lean on our fellow writing superheroes to reassure us, to motivate us, and to congratulate us when we succeed. Every word written is one you didn’t have before and no one can ever write a story like you will.
Whether you’ve already hit 50,000, are just typing your first word, or somewhere in between, I want to say that the fact that you’re participating in NaNoWriMo alone is AWESOME. You’re helping to cultivate a community that celebrates the craft and love of writing, gives back to writers in need, and applauds the hard work of others.
In that spirit, I want to remind everyone that TODAY NaNoWriMo HQ is running a day-long writing and fundraising marathon. There will be virtual write-ins, Twitter shenanigans, and a special treat for anyone who donates $25 or more today.
NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit and this fundraising push helps ensure the programs can continue year-over-year. Your support helps cover the cost of sending materials to Young Writers Program classrooms around the world, bringing the power of creativity to thousands of children and youth. It also helps keep our programs and websites alive to continue making NaNoWriMo happen every November!
Hop online to take a look at the schedule of events and track our worldwide word-count goal during the day!
– Your ML
Day 15, “Stuck In The Middle With You…”:
We’ve made it halfway, InSANoWriMos!
All of the pep talks recently have been talking about the Dreaded Second Third slump and this will be no different.
I won’t mince words. This is the hardest part of NaNoWriMo.
By now, the newness has worn off. We have fifteen days separating us and the kick-off, plenty of time for our excitement to dwindle. If it feels like your story is beating you, like you don’t know where to go, or that you do know but you don’t know how to get there, if NaNoWriMo is slowly eating your soul, I just want to be here to say: I hear you. I get it. This part sucks. Days 11 – 20 lack the fun and fanfare of the other twenty days, and include the beginnings of Thanksgiving stress. Not only that, but this is the part where our novels can be toughest too. We’re past the beginning, past the set-up and the introduction, but we’re not yet at the big ending. We’re somewhere else, slogging through chapters, hoping that we can do justice to the image in our head. It. Is. Hard.
But here’s the awesome part: You’ve written the words, you’ve put in the hours, and your story is forming. Something that once was only an idea in your mind is becoming a fully-fledged novel. You’ve gotten halfway. You’ve done it once, now you just need to do it one more time. You have all the support of your fellow InSANoWriMos, you have the forums and the Facebook, participants ready to encourage you in-person and online. You aren’t going through this alone. And you can do this.
As Neil said in his pep talk the other day, it’s just about putting “one word after another.” So whether you’re preferred method is slow and steady, fast and frenzied, or somewhere in between, we only have fifteen days left. We can do this!
– Your ML
I’ll make sure to update this space with the next pep talk I write in its own, separate post.
If you’re looking for daily NaNo updates (ranging from honest talks on creativity to milestone words to writing slumps to random things about my characters), check out my NaNoWriMo 2017 playlist here:
Questions for youuuuu:
What are you writing this year? And now that we’re a little beyond the halfway mark, are you still as excited (or more?!) about your idea as you were at the start?
What would Lord of the Rings be without Mordor or the Shire? Harry Potter without Hogwarts? Wall Street without NYC? The Originals without New Orleans? Friday Night Lights without Texas? Ocean’s Eleven without Vegas?
Point is, these settings are iconic. In some cases, even more so than the characters that traverse them.
There are hundreds of world-building questionnaires online, but the absolute best thing you can do to learn how to create unique and iconic settings is travel. (Me, recommending traveling? Shocking!)
And although travel unfortunately doesn’t allow you to actually live at Hogwarts (though you can try your best in Orlando!), it does let you experience some of the most extraordinary places the real world has to offer.
Dedicated research can tell you a lot about a city, but culture begs to be felt and experienced. Google Maps can show you the street view of a location, Yelp can show you the menus of the city’s best restaurant, and Instagram can show you the pictures the locals take. But that’s all they can do: show. TV, books, and the internet can’t help you taste the food, can’t let you smell the air, touch the water or the grass, or talk with the people. They don’t allow you to form your own opinions or make your own judgments through experience.
So, then, what shapes culture? Food, music, weather, religious and political views, racial and sexual diversity, history, architecture, language and dialect, customs, wealth disparity, fashion, urban vs. rural, work and industry, leisure and entertainment, sports, arts, lifestyle. On and on and on it can go.
But you don’t have to travel far and away. Just the next state over, the next city, the next town, down the road. If none of that works, look at where you live. Pretend it’s your first time ever seeing the architecture and the landscape. The first time you tried a local restaurant or coffee shop. The language spoken and their accents. Is it busy or quiet, quaint or hustling? Do the people smile, are they in a hurry, do they keep their heads down? What would you tell someone visiting for the first time, in order to truly experience where you live? What makes your home special? What do you see, smell, hear, taste, and feel? What’s something you’d have to live there to know, that a day-trip alone can’t explain?
It’s easy to become blind to the places we live, to take for granted its specialness, its beauty (and, sometimes, its ugliness). Travel allows us to escape this pitfall. To write unbiased and honestly and to create.
Mark Twain once said there were only four unique cities in the U.S.: Boston, New Orleans, San Antonio, and San Francisco. While I think travel anywhere positively influences writing, and while some may debate Twain’s four cities, there’s a reason some places are more iconic than others. (Re: Hogwarts. Also, please, send me my letter, JKR, I don’t mind that it’s fourteen years late.)
While part of world-building focuses on realism, creating a city just like your own doesn’t necessarily make it iconic.
Here, too, travel helps.
It helps you distinguish between ordinary and extraordinary. Between the things worth noticing and the items worth stopping for. To quote Mark Hertsgaard: “Travel is like knowledge. The more you see, the more you know you haven’t seen.”
And that allows imaginations to run wild.
So go forth and travel and explore, and create worlds all your own.
It’s that time of year! The month before Camp NaNoWriMo (Round 2!).
March, June, and October (and sometimes September because I’m always too excited) are for prep. And we’re here!
My usual prep consists of outlining. First identifying the three main acts, then Freytag’s Pyramid, and eventually a chapter-by-chapter outline. Ideally, I have this done before I start writing.
My best writer friends prep a different way – using character bio questionnaires.
I tend to enjoy character-driven stories the most, both in reading and writing. Characters usually jump into my head mostly formed, and I make stories based around those characters. Because of this, I actually need the most help when it comes to plot. (Thus, my detailed chapter outline.)
So while I’d seen various character bios floating around the internet for years, I never truly felt the push to use one until I started co-writing a story with one of those friends. The other friend is an avid D&D player, so character creation (and world building) is paramount.
Needless to say, they had a lot to teach me.
The point of character bios are to help you learn more about your characters (duh) and, use that extra knowledge during your story. This is important because I think people who use character bios religiously tend to fall into 2 categories: those who actually end up writing their stories (aided by the bios) and those who never actually write their story (consistently telling themselves they just need more prep and the bio grows pages while the story document is never created).
Don’t fall into the second category. Don’t do that. Not to your precious story! Don’t be sucked in! It deserves to be told.
Okay, so now that you’ve promised yourself not to fall down the rabbit hole, if you’re anything like me, you’re asking yourself, “why the eff does it matter if the character’s mother was born in June or July?” I’ve found that while not all of the questions are useful, they compound to give you more insight. Typically at least 2 -3 questions, and their respective answers, prompt an event or catalyst felt directly in my story. To me, this is the greatest win. And why character bios can be worthwhile.
Filling one out also means you won’t end up writing an entire story without knowing the main character’s name and solely referring to them as FMC for Female Main Character. (I speak from experience…)
If it’s your first time filling out a character bio, and 40+ questions just seems like too much, here are the five I’ve repeatedly found helpful (from the links above, with a few notes in parenthesis):
- What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting? (This can be great for weaving throughout the story or as a subplot.)
- What about this character will readers like? What will they dislike? (Good to have one of each, at least.)
- If your character was suddenly challenged, would they rather run away or stay and fight? (Does this change based on the challenge presented? How?)
- What kind of person does your character wish he or she could be? What is stopping him or her?
- Does your character think the future is hopeful? Why? (Works for all settings, but especially fantasy.)
All in all, the answer to if questionnaires are worth it is personal. To both the writer and the individual story. Basically, you do you. Just don’t get sucked in and only work on the bio, and don’t do so little character work that you never learn their names.
Do you use character bios? What’s your favorite questions to answer? Let me know!
Ideal Day: Wake up like the glorious writer/princess I am. Have doves dress me. Their feathers inspire an entire series, probably a future Bestseller.
7:00 – 7:30
Have a breakfast full of protein, and carbs that are actually good for me, to power an entire day of writing.
Snooze. Snooze. Snooze.
7:30 – 9:00
With hot coffee in hand, I begin refreshing my memory of yesterday’s writings. Think, “wow, I’m a genius, but there are some very small changes that will be super easy to implement to make me even more of a genius.” Write for 1.5 hours without getting distracted by Twitter or Instagram, because I have a laser-like focus.
Snooze until 8:00. Wait, I was supposed to be awake an hour ago? Why did I think I could do that when I stayed up all night watching YouTube videos? Decide to cook eggs while rereading yesterday’s writings. Repeat firstdraftsaresupposedtosuck firstdraftsaresupposedtosuck until I believe it. Accidentally spill coffee on keyboard.
9:00 – 9:30
Take a small break, but only to reference an award-winning non-fiction book pertinent to my current WIP. Find exactly what I need with little effort, as if magic.
Frantically search Google for the answer to my random “what if?” question that will never come up in my story. Find semi-appropriate article on Wikipedia.
9:30 – 11:00
Back to writing. 1000 words of beautiful prose appear on my manuscript. I have somehow found the answer to the age old question “how do I make a believable YA love story when the novel spans only a week and they just met?”
Wikipedia has taken over my life, I have somehow ended up on a page about Mouse Rat, a band from the show Parks and Rec. Think, “wow, I should really rewatch that, I wonder if I have time to start today (but only from Season 2, because Season 1 is the worst).” Look at clock. Realize I have wasted an hour of precious writing time in a Wikipedia spiral. Gaze longingly at TV, promising myself an episode if I write for the next half hour.