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The Write Life: Prepping October

October is always a busy month for me because it’s all about the NaNoWriMo Prep. As a Municipal Liaison for my local region, I spend less time prepping myself and my project, and more time prepping events and social media posts and coordinating with local writing groups. One of the biggest events I handle in October is the NaNOrlando Writers Conference.

This is the third year I’ve put on this conference with the help of the Orange County Library System and generous writers who have willingly let me bully them into donating their time and experience to teach wrimos about quick drafting, preparing their characters and world, and using conflict and inspiration to fuel their novel throughout the month. (I’m mostly kidding about the bullying. If you ask a writer to talk about writing, it’s harder to get them to stop talking.)

Since this year was a virtual event, I reached beyond our usual stable of local writers and drew in my friend Karen Osborne (whose awesome science fiction novel debuted in August) and Pitch Wars mentors Sofiya Pasternack and Emily Colin. I loved getting to have a few new ideas about writing conflict and approaching world building, and Emily tackled a topic on inspiration that has been on my wish list for a while. Joining our distanced instructors were Jenny Broom (Developing Your Main Character), Elle E. Ire & José Iriarte (Finishing Your First Draft), and Jennie Jarvis (Basic Plot Structures). With these six workshops we covered pretty much every basic element of storytelling and every trick to help writers get through a 50,000-word draft of a novel in a month.

I took a lot of notes throughout the conference, tweeting some of the best quotes and advice to our NaNOrlando Twitter account (some of which also appeared on our Facebook and Instagram), but I figure the best way for me to talk about the conference is to leave you with some of my favorite quotes. So, here’s what I learned or was reminded of during the 2020 NaNOrlando Writers Conference:

  • Considering why was a recurring theme in developing worlds and characters.
    Sofiya suggested that every time we answer a question about the world, ask
    why to learn more about the underlying structure of the world.
    Jenny also reminded us that the
    why of a character’s choices says a lot about the character.

  • Karen compared story conflict to a three-lane highway, with the story-car weaving in and out of these lanes to switch between conflict with the self, conflict with others, and conflict with the environment. Considering that I always think of story threads as braiding, this description really appealed to me.

  • I’ve heard José and Elle talk about writer XP in other presentations, but I always love this quote from them, “You don’t get those points until you finish writing the book.” I think about this every time I leave a story half-finished, or when an outline stops without an ending. I have to keep going if I want to level up!

  • Emily reminded us to revisit what first excited us about our projects when we feel blocked or bored. José also noted that when he feels blocked, it means his subconscious knows what he planned doesn’t make sense. Both thoughts made me feel better about going back to planning in the middle of drafting—sometimes you have to go backward to go forward.
“Aristotle believed that the whole reason we engage in stories to begin with is because we’re able to experience something vicariously that we can’t experience in our own life.” — Jennie Jarvis
“We write to get into a story, so even if you don’t use it, it helped you get into the story.” — Jenny Broom
“Nano is a hot mess while it’s happening, but you get words on the page and you can turn it into awesome stuff.” — Sofiya Pasternack
“The things that make you feel bad about sitting down to write are the killers. Forgive yourself for what you did not do yesterday. Every day is a clean slate.” — José Iriarte

 

 

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The Write Life: November 2019

November means National Novel Writing Month. Instead of talking about word counts or impressive sprints and slogs to writing 50,000 words, I want to share a little about the various activities I participated in during the month because even though I was sick and homebound for a week, it was still a lot.

Weekly Write-Ins
My writing group once again opened its doors to welcome NaNOrlando writers to join us for our weekly write-in. The Central Florida Inklings is currently at capacity, but we figure for one month out of the year we can uncomfortably cram a few extra laptops at a table or spread out to fully take over our usual Starbucks. Every year a few extra writers join us, and we love having them for the month—it’s good to meet new people.

Hogsmeade Write-In
Early in the month, I lead a write-in at one of my favorite places to write: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Five other writers joined me behind The Three Broomsticks to write some truly magical words and reap some butterbeer-flavored rewards. It was a completely gorgeous (and mercifully cooler) day in which we each wrote about 2,000 words. One family incredulously asked us, “You pay to come into the parks to stare at your computers?” Sometimes the benefits of an annual pass (or Universal employment) are difficult to explain to others.

Write Around Disney World
Right in the center of the month was the pièce de résistance concerning the NaNOrlando events. On November 16, I and the other Orlando region MLs lead 40+ writers around Disney property on boats, buses, and monorails to resort lobbies and cafeterias to write as many words as we could on this traveling write-in. 

This event is my favorite every year because it’s so unusual, so fun, and so big.

Descending on and taking over the lobbies at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian makes me happy. I love threading between tourists and seeing so many writers on their laptops, focus firmly attached to their novels. It’s also a great opportunity to say hello to writers I only hang out with once a year and also to meet new friendly faces. This year we even had someone come down from Atlanta just for the event!

Brad Shreffler and I have been working together to build the NaNOrlando region for the last four years, and while Write Around Disney World is a tradition on its own, Brad and I have another tradition that we partook in this year: our annual picture writing at the kids table. When NaNoWriMo tells you that you can write anywhere, they mean it.

Even though I was sick for a week, out of town for a few days, and had relatives visiting, I still managed to get to ten write-ins. Which is more than I would have thought given that crammed schedule. But my commitment to attending write-ins during November is a testament to how much I believe writing with people increases my productivity and fulfills an important need in my writing life. Writing is all too often a solitary endeavor, and I believe it’s important to connect to a community and remember that through all the private, quiet struggles I might be having with my word count, revisions, or confidence, I’m not alone.

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The Write Life: October 2019

October is NaNo-prep for many people. The last few years I’ve been working on the same novel, so prep usually consisted of me spending the month re-reading what I’d already written, taking notes on what was missing, and tweaking the outline. But this year that novel gets a break and I’m using NaNoWriMo for a major rebellion.

The main project I’m working on is drafting three to four sample chapters of a nonfiction book on writing communities. The outline was mostly complete before October, but I spent a little time cleaning up and refining the outline and confirming exactly which chapters I wanted to write during November. (I’m actually really excited about five chapters, so I might draft all five just to get them out of my head.)

A handful of chapters won’t get me to the NaNoWriMo 50K (also I’m in a challenge to write at least 100 words of SFF every day this year), so I needed to figure out what else I could write during the month to hit that final word count.

I’ve been playing with short stories on and off this year, and decided at least one thing I could do was put ends to some of the beginnings I have. I went through my collection of WIPs and picked which ones I wanted to work on during the month. I jotted some thoughts about where these stories were going and how many words it would take to get me there. In the end, I picked seven short stories, which should net me around 20,000 words.

(I also picked a handful of prompts from The Short Story Starter so if I feel inspired to start something new, I have a place to start from.)

Lastly, I have a blog project I’ve been wanting to draft in one fell swoop, which should be somewhere around 10,000 words. If I’m short on the 50K word count, or if I stall out on one of these projects, I’ll start writing character sketches and scenes to help me understand the world and characters of the next novel I’m planning to write. Will this material make it to a novel? No way! Except in the iceberg sense of novel writing, wherein I know 90% more than what I’m showing the reader, but it’s work I need to do in order to understand the characters and how they interact in their world. (Also it’s words for NaNoWriMo!)

So that’s my NaNo Plan-o. A little more complicated than in previous years, but extremely flexible in terms of what I’ll be working on day to day and how I’m actually breaking down my 50K words.

Are you writing for NaNoWriMo? What are you writing?

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The Write Life: September 2019

You might think The Write Life is up a little later this month because of the absolute insanity that was my life in September (revisions, editing projects, falls, and escaped cats, oh my!), but it was really so I could wait and post about the NaNOrlando Writers Conference.

In 2017, I hoofed it to the Orlando Public Library each week for a weekly NaNoWriMo prep session. The sessions were great, the participants beautiful, but the turnout was relatively low and the time and stress on me was intense. And then I thought, there must be a better way.

Last year I reimagined our weekly workshop series into a half-day writing conference. This year we grew that conference to include twelve local authors, editors, and professors to prepare writers for National Novel Writing Month. Our panels included strategies for finishing a first draft, developing characters and their arcs, basic plot structures, worldbuilding and more. We offered nine workshops in total, spread across three meeting rooms, and afterwards offered one-on-one sessions for about twenty writers.

Aside from making sure everything ran smoothly, I was responsible for speaking at NaNoWriMo 101 as one of the region’s three Municipal Liaisons, and moderating the panel Rebels: Not Writing a Novel, for anyone, y’know, not writing a novel for NaNo. (Which this year I am not writing a novel—ask me about my other projects!)

We had sixty-three NaNOrlando writers come out to participate, asking great questions and confidently sharing their story ideas and problems. NaNaWriMo is a huge undertaking, and even the Orlando region is pretty large, so I love getting to connect more personally to local authors, help them through a problem, and generally support them in completing their novel. Having such a great turnout for this event makes me feel particularly good about the time I spend investing in my writing community. ❤️

I want to take a moment to publicly thank all the instructors and OCLS staff who helped make the NaNOrlando Writing Conference happen—

Sarah Fisk from OCLS
Racquel Henry, L.E. Perez, and Arielle Haughee from Writer’s Atelier
Elle E. Ire & José Iriarte
Ella Martin
Jenny Broom
Catherine Carson
Jennie Jarvis
And of course my co-MLs, Brad Shreffler and Nicole Dennis

Many thanks to Aly for letting me use one of her photos after I completely forgot to take any.

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

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Why NaNoWriMo Works for Me (And Might Not for You)

The day after NaNoWriMo 2017 I saw a conversation from someone saying they haven’t been able to win since the November they were unemployed. I also saw confessions from people who gave up or from people who never started. Being a Municipal Liaison, it’s easy to forget that NaNoWriMo isn’t for everyone, that—in fact—writing 50,000 words in a month with everyone watching might be unhealthy for some people.

So before you sign up for NaNoWriMo 2018, consider these ways in which NaNoWriMo works for me, but may not work for you.

I’m a Plantser

Plantsing is the combination of planning and “pantsing” (writing by the seat of your pants). While I normally write with a planned structure and outline, I’m flexible enough in my plans to let inspiration take me off course.

This combo can save me if I get stuck in my outline or am having difficulty with a character or a scene. Because I have a plan, I can skip ahead and write a later scene that isn’t giving me trouble. Conversely, because I’m flexible, I can get “distracted” by an interesting minor character, or wind up inventing a new subplot because of something I discovered about the characters. Since I have flexibility, I don’t feel restrained by my outline, and since I have a plan, I’m not a slave to the muse. I can write forward by either following my plan or by following my inspiration. The ability to shift back and forth between those writing methodologies helps keep me writing throughout the month.

I Hate Writing First Drafts

I really hate writing first drafts. There’s a reason I’m an editor, and it’s because I like improving content that’s already written. Revising makes sense to me because it’s like untangling a ball of yarn. But writing a first draft is making the knot, and I’ve always liked creating order rather than chaos.

NaNoWriMo forces me to write the first draft as quickly as possible, and it forces me to keep working on the draft. While I could potentially spend November rewriting the same scene multiple times until it’s perfect, it’s difficult to hit 1,667 words a day if you’re only tweaking text. NaNoWriMo is full steam ahead on the first draft, which is a gift for me because otherwise I will relentlessly avoid writing a first draft. (Case in point: I’ve been working on the same first draft the past three NaNos because, without a deadline, I struggle with forcing myself to write it at other times of the year.)

I Can Write 1K in 30 Minutes

When I’m on my game, I can write 1,000 words in about thirty minutes. It’s a valuable skill for NaNoWriMo, to be sure. It means I can hit the pace-goal of 1,667 words in less than an hour. Since I don’t write at that pace year-round, I have to work to get myself back into that kind of writing shape (I typically start November around 700 words in thirty minutes), but once I’m into the stride of things, it’s something I can rely on to make NaNo easier. Spending less time physically writing means I’m more likely to fit writing 1,667 words into my day every day.

Healthy Competition Keeps Me Motivated

A little healthy competition keeps me writing. Most days I’m just competing with myself and the pace bar in the word count graph, but sometimes my co-ML and I pit our word counts against each other. Nothing got me writing more than when Brad was going to beat me! We kept all our battles lighthearted, which is the key to competition being a positive motivator.

I’ve had plenty of NaNos in which I knew I wouldn’t meet the 50K, so I used the month to write as much as I could without adding on the pressure of “winning,” But every time I’ve set out to win NaNoWriMo, I’m one of those writers who will kill myself to win. I find deadlines invigorating. They’re stressful and tiring, too, but pushing myself electrifies me and helps me actually finish. I thrive on that, and it’s a big reason why NaNoWriMo works for me.

 

Those are some aspects of my writing life that make NaNoWriMo a good match for me, but since all writers are different, it’s easy to see that the 30-day deadline or the suggested pace count or the feeling of falling behind could easily stress out or intimidate another writer. It’s sometimes hard to say no to NaNo, especially if it seems like all your friends are signing up, but if you know the challenge doesn’t work for you, keep this in mind: writing is hard enough without the added stress. Keep writing and keep working on a process that works for you.

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Camp NaNo: The Kinder, Gentler NaNoWriMo

April marks the first Camp NaNo of 2018. If you’ve been intimidated by National Novel Writing Month, or just had the misfortune of having a busy November, Camp NaNo is an opportunity to commit to your writing with less stress and greater control.

In addition to not being set right before holiday season, Camp NaNo allows participants to set their own goals. Writing 50,000 words in one month is a challenge even the most successful writers may skip. But the customizable goal during Camp NaNo allows you to set your own word count goal, or pledge to work on a certain number of pages or lines (welcome, poets) or even for a certain number of hours or minutes. That flexibility allows writers who are revising or who are juggling other responsibilities to also participate. It also allows you to factor in what is actually the most productive accountability for you. Does tracking words stress you out? Are you more interested in making sure you write for 30 hours over the month? Then Camp NaNo may be the NaNo for you.

Goal flexibility also means that if you are more successful when you’re ahead, you can arrange to be ahead and stay motivated. Surpassing my goal is highly motivating, so even if I think I’ll write 25K during the month, I tend to aim lower, maybe 18K, so I can feel that boost of accomplishment for hitting the initial goal early. Without the 50K pressure, I feel much more motivated to extend beyond my goal, and—if it turns out I misjudged my available time—I have a buffer to still be successful.

Camp NaNo is also a closer, more intimate environment. Instead of the massive forums and regional groups, Camp is organized around “cabins,” which are private chats with up to twelve writers. You can be assigned to a random cabin, or create a private cabin, accessible via invite. Personally, I go the private route, cultivating a cabin of positivity and productivity among like-minded friends and colleagues. We take turns asking, “Have you written yet? What are you working on?” which makes for a nice daily check-in about our writing. It’s also encouraging to see our small group combine to hit our target goals.

Because there isn’t as much outside activity around Camp NaNo as there is during NaNoWriMo—there aren’t daily tweets and blog posts about composing a novel in a month, maintaining motivation, or dealing with writing anxiety—it’s easier to forget about the event or to let check-ins slide. NaNoWriMo is a little like being in a big city, with eye-catching advertisements directing you to write, but Camp NaNo is like taking a breath in the woods and recharging creative energies. It requires a little more mindfulness to check-in daily, but it is peaceful in comparison to the chaos of November. If that sounds like the kind of thing your writing life needs, sign-ups for Camp NaNo are currently open. Camp runs in April and in July. Use your NaNoWriMo username, if you have one, or create a new account. I wish you many productive hours of writing.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Wrap-Up

Words Written: 50,926

Chapters Written: ?????

Write-Ins Attended: 9

Date Finished: Nov 29

Days Written: 30

Hours Written: ~28

 

Ultimately this NaNoWriMo was a success for me. 50,926 words marks the most words I have written during a NaNo (and therefore the most words I have ever written in a month), and this is the first year I’ve ever finished early. Hurray for new landmarks and successes!

The first draft of my new novel is still unfinished and what I have is sort of a mess, but I feel pretty good about the mess. I learned a lot about the story during the month, accidentally created a few new characters and a new subplot, and figured out how to condense some of the story beats. I like some of what I’ve written (even though I have plenty of first draft clichés and placeholders), and I’m feeling better about this whole idea than I did at the beginning of the month (or even in the middle of the month).

I built myself back up to banging out a thousand words (or more) in a half hour, slapped away writer’s block, and kept myself going even when I really wanted to push the story aside. As cool as it is to have finished a day early or to have written the most I’ve ever written, it’s these in-the-trench successes that really have me smiling. The mechanical aspect of writing, the unstoppable Terminator aspect of NaNo, is part of what I love the most about participating in NaNo. Even though I write every day, I don’t write 1,000 words every day. NaNoWriMo is a challenge to push myself beyond my normal routines and write that 1,667 words a day (or 2,000 words when I fell behind). It’s a yearly reminder that I still have room to grow and that I can achieve the seemingly impossible.

I still have a lot of work ahead of me on this novel, but, thanks to NaNoWriMo, I’m feeling better about that work and I’ve got a decent start.

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One Day More

I have one last day of sanity before the writing madness that is NaNoWriMo takes over my life. That might sound dramatic, but I know the precipice on which I stand, ready to dive into my novel. I know the increased hours I’ll spend pounding away at my first draft or worrying that I made the wrong decision about how to write a scene or say a line. I know the temptation I’ll face to start revising now, to scrap the last chapter, or to throw it all away because it’s just not right. I know the times I’ll go to my friends, desperately needing a pep talk, and feeling like I’m taking up their time because they’re working on their novels too.

It’s scary to be a day out from starting a new novel, but it’s also exciting. I know the characters and the world, the details that make them real and the weak places to prod. I know the plot—I have it in an outline that I can follow if I get stuck, or discard if I get a better idea. I know if I write like crap, if I can’t get it right, if I lose my way, that I can fix it all in revision. I know that this is the start of a book, and that six months or a year from now I’ll have something finished and polished and ready to send out into the world. I know that NaNoWriMo is just the beginning, and that by the end of the month I’m going to have more work to do, but it’s all work I love.

I know that despite the frustration and the anxiety and the inevitable doubt, this month devoted to my novel will be worth it.

I wish all writers the best as they start their NaNoWriMo projects. If you need a few words of encouragement or support during the month, feel free to tweet me.

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NaNoWriMo Lessons: Community

Writing is often a solitary pursuit. After all, usually you’re the only one working on your book! Even though writing is a solo venture, that doesn’t mean it has to be a lonely venture.

Last year was the tenth year I signed up for National Novel Writing Month, but the first time I really embraced the community aspects of the challenge. As an assistant to the Municipal Liaison (our region leader), I ran the majority of the social media, offering encouragement and congratulations to participants using our #NaNOrlando hashtag. I also attended more write-ins than I ever had before. By the end of the month—after going to my usual weekly write-ins, write-ins at Writer’s Atelier, leading a write-in at Universal, and joining the NaNo Orlando group for the annual Write Around the (Disney) World event—I finally felt like I was part of a local writing community.

Since quitting my job in 2014 I have struggled with loneliness. I hadn’t realized how much I depended on the social nature of working in an office. Because I needed social interaction, but also needed to write, NaNoWriMo write-ins were the perfect place for me to fulfill both needs. Just like being at work, during a write-in writers work on their own projects and then take short breaks to socialize. At an event like Write Around the (Disney) World, most of those breaks came in the form of transportation between writing locations. Last year we started in Disney Springs and then took the boat to Port Orleans Riverside. We chatted on the boat and as we walked to our destination, and then everyone sat down and got to work. Similarly we chatted on the bus and monorail when traveling to our next two stops of the day. Between each round of traveling and chatting, we got to work, writing for about an hour at each stop. I got so much writing done, and I ended the day by knowing more writers in the Orlando area.

Since then, I’ve made attending local writing events a priority, and have felt more confident branching out and going to events outside of my comfort zone. It’s gotten easier the more I’ve thought about writers as colleagues. Colleagues understand the troubles you’re going through in your work life, can offer advice, and can learn from your experiences. Having a local writing community reminded me that while I might be in a career geared to solitary work, I’m not working in solitude.

 

NaNoWriMo is a month full of writing challenges and writing lessons. I’m a better writer for having participated in NaNo because it allowed me to learn things about my writing life and process I may not have discovered without the pressure. NaNo has also helped introduce me to the rich and wonderful community of local writers, and it has helped me get more involved. This is my first year working as a Municipal Liaison with NaNoWriMo, and I’m excited to get out there to help motivate writers to write. If you’re a writer, consider signing up for the challenge, even if you don’t finish the 50,000 words, you still might learn something about yourself.

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NaNoWriMo Lessons: To Sprint Or…?

My first attempt at National Novel Writing Month began with my hard drive crashing two days into the challenge. Sometimes NaNoWriMo is like that—full of obstacles and challenges and complications. I wasn’t very motivated to write while my computer was sent off for repairs, so when I got it back on November 18th, I had a decision to make: was I done with NaNo or did I try to write 43,000 words in twelve days?

Everyone who signs up for NaNo surely has a moment in which they think they’re crazy. It’s a huge goal to accomplish on a tight deadline, and it takes some serious determination to finish, even in the best circumstances. In 2005 I was not looking at the best circumstances. But I didn’t want to throw in the towel.

I started by changing my expectations. I knew I couldn’t blow through a novel that quickly, so even though it would be a rebellious act in my first NaNo, I decided to work on short stories and not worry about connectivity or using the same characters or even following the same ideas. I was going to write 50,000 words of something and not worry too much about what I was writing, so long as I was writing.

That still left me writing 43,000 words in just twelve days. I wasn’t the steady writer then that I am now, but I was very good at sprinting. The first two days of my attempt to catch up had me writing about 8,000 words. It took me four more days to write another 10,000 words because—as it turns out—sprinting can leave you creatively exhausted. I learned to be motivated by count downs (“just 400 more words to go!”). I honed in on ideas that were easier to write and I clung to inspiration. Ultimately I did it. I wrote 43,000 words in twelve days. I’m proud of that accomplishment—amazed­ by it, honestly—and it’s something I never want to do again.

Even though I could binge write my way to 50K, I discovered it wasn’t the healthiest thing for me to do. The act of churning out so much in a single day left me drained, and it was much harder to preform the next day. In the last year and a half of writing every day I’ve discovered exactly how much I value consistency over high word counts. Knowing that I will write every day without it being a struggle is more important to me than writing 6,000 words in a day.

NaNo is still a sprint—I don’t normally write 50,000 words in a month—but pacing myself for the 1,667 words a day is a lot easier than stumbling to catch up at the end. Even if I get behind (which I have many times in past years), keeping the gap small is a good way to keep the NaNo goal in sight. After my first year, catching up 10,000 words could look like a breeze, but I know better. Sprinting is possible, but pacing myself is healthier.

NaNoWriMo is on my mind this month as I’m preparing for this year’s challenge. Stick with me to check out a series of posts on the writing lessons you can learn by participating in NaNo. If you’re a writer, you should really consider signing up.