Writing Tips

Reflection on NaNoWriMo: Snowflake vs Backwards Script Writing

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Colten Hendricks, on his recent NaNoWriMo month-long writing experience.

Beginning writers often flounder when presented with the time old advice of “just write.” What we end up writing are half-baked ideas, loose plot threads, and meandering messes all over our pages. We haven’t grasped the significance of our stories to even tell them yet so we “just write” only to end up with an unsatisfying book.

The solution is also deceptively simple: write an outline. Focus on writing the actual novel confident in what we are doing and where we are going by providing two simple and highly effective outlining models known as the Snowflake Method and Backwards Script Writing.

Novelist Randy Ingermanson is the creator of the Snowflake Method, constructing it with the belief that effective outlining looks much like a the structure of a snowflake snowflake; we start with a core idea and, from there, add details. Then we simultaneously take those details and expand them into further details allowing us to also always keep the parent ideas in mind and ensure continuity between cause and effect in our stories.

The process itself is broken into 10 easy to follow steps which follow closely to a traditional three act structure:

  1. Write a one-sentence summary of your novel.
  2. Expand the sentence into a full paragraph covering the setup, primary obstacles, and end.
  3. Write a one-page summary of your main characters which should include the character’s name, motivation, and a paragraph summary to their role in the story.
  4. Take each sentence in your novel summary paragraph and turn those into a paragraph each.
  5. Write a one-page synopsis of each major character and a half-page synopsis for each supporting character, preferably from their point of view.
  6. Expand each paragraph in the novel summary into a page.
  7. Fill in the details to your character profiles, from personal histories and family members to beliefs, flaws, and expected epiphanies.
  8. Take your book summary and make a list of scenes you will need, a line on what happens in them, and the POV character. Ingermanson recommends using a spreadsheet to do this step.
  9. As an optional step, return to your book outline and expand each scene into a paragraph. Most importantly, use this step to ask yourself if the scene is necessary and dramatic enough to justify its existence.
  10. Now write your book.

By step 10, we have everything we need to comfortably write with purpose. From then on, we need only go back and forth between our first draft and outline, scrapping out old ideas that we have decided will not work anymore, and adding new ideas when they arise.

Yoko Taro, a video game director known for his 2017 Nier: Automata, spoke at the 2014 Game Developers Conference on his process of Backwards Script Writing which diverges from the Snowflake Method in that instead of viewing the outlining tool as branching from a single, general idea, we instead focus on the end and the story’s emotional peak-the feelings and ideas the story is meant to invoke into your audience. Plot points provide the context for the emotional peak and are necessary in creating a reason for us to care for scenes which emotionally stir its audience. By starting with the emotional peak, we also need to ask ourselves whether a plot point contributes to that quintessential moment and, if not, should be discarded to save time for both ourselves and our readers.

Using Yoko’s example, if our emotional climax is that a girl dies and it is sad, then we need to ensure that our narrative also provide adequate reason for us to be sad when she dies. Perhaps it was her wedding day, she’s kind to everyone she meets, or the main character is in love with her. Additional emotional peaks may be added as well when needed, such as with the main character in love example since we would likely need to like our main character to empathize with him as well as sell the romance that they share.

Yoko’s Backwards Script Writing extends into worldbuilding. A lack of engagement from the audience in our worlds, whether they are fictional or not, is often due to meaningless details. Using our previous example of a girl dying and it being sad, an additional reason for us to care about the event is that the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which the earth is dying and all people have long since discarded values of love and cooperation. The girl becomes a beacon of hope, treasured, giving us a reason to care. When we care about the characters, we tend to care about the world in which they exist. The Snowflake Method ensures that the writing development process remains unbroken. Backwards Script Writing makes every detail matter, enriching the storytelling.

These methods help writers migrate from amateurs to professionals as they use the combination of Snowflake and Backwards Script Writing methodologies. Begin with an outline, make the details matter, and find yourself writing better, more powerful stories.

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A Justification for Writers

The following is by Writers in the Grove member Gretchen Keefer, and is based upon the prompt, “Writing in another’s skin.”

Recently a writer colleague commented on her experience describing her novel to an agent. As she listed the difficulties her black heroine faced, the agent stopped her and asked, “Have you had a black person read this?” (For “read” see “approve”.) Apparently this agent felt a white woman could not write about a black woman. Can she?

Whatever my characters may look like physically, one or another of them is expressing my point of view, my opinions, and my philosophy. That is what I know and that is why I am writing. There is something that needs to be said and I feel prompted to say it, however I can.

Most of my characters are women, of course. I haven’t assigned them a color or ethnicity (except maybe in fantasy stories). It helps that my stories are short and often the events depicted are more important that any physical description of the characters. I think actors of any ethnicity could portray my characters.

I admit I do not know about prejudice or abuse first hand. I have never personally lived through a fire, earthquake or other natural disaster that destroys all my worldly possessions. I haven’t had an amputation or been raped. Does that mean I cannot write about these types of experiences? There is a wealth of information available to provide background color while focusing on resilience, forgiveness, redemption, family unity, courage and love.

In my collage literature classes we were taught that “great” or “good” literature that stood the test of time was written around universal themes – themes that appealed to a majority of people across cultures. That is why these pieces are still read and studied long after the authors are dead. Shakespeare borrowed many stories from the Italian Renaissance, yet his plays are translated and performed around the world. So what if Olivier played Othello in black makeup? Were there any classical black actors in Britain in the 1950’s? Denzel Washington, a black actor, played the (Italian) duke in a recent film version of As You Like It, with no comments about looking different from the other actors.

The play (or other story) is the thing to capture the mind (paraphrasing Hamlet). The story is what counts, not what color the characters may be.

So I say to my colleague, and to all writers, “You go girl!”

Write what you need to write, however it works out.

How Well-Written Prose Elicits Emotions and Draws Out Passion

Erik Armitage paid tribute on Montana Public Radio to author, James Welch, and the lessons he learned through his universities studies readying the author specializing in Montana history and storytelling.

Taking a writing class at UM seemed like a good idea for someone who likes to read, especially someone who likes to read about Montana history. Maybe I’d even learn how to write something meaningful. Lord knows I’ve tried. I wasn’t attempting to write a best seller, just trying to chronicle some of my own family history on paper. “How hard can it be to just tell a story the way it happened?” I told myself after reading my own drivel. I was reminded of my wife telling me to make white chicken chili. “How do I do that?” I said. “All the ingredients are on the counter. Do this, this and this. I’ll be home at 6:00”. Ok, simple enough. When it was done it tasted like dishwater. After doing the dishes. Writing is the same way. I have all the ingredients; Pen, paper, an ability to read. I’ve read dozens and dozens of non-fiction books so I should have some grasp of at least being able to form a sentence, right? Dirty dishwater.

Armitage wrote about the ethos Welch brought to his writing, telling stories of “sadness heaped on sadness,” and how the author connected with the reader through emotion. He summed it up with:

It is an incredible thing to form words together to elicit emotion and draw out passion. To make you laugh or cry, to make you smell gun smoke. To make you want to talk to your dead grandmother just one more time.

Each Monday (and the second Saturday of the month), Writers in the Grove members struggle with a new prompt by exploring emotions to elicit passions in others in their 15 minute creative writing ventures. We explore sadness, relationships, loss, happiness, joy, mystery, self-examination, doubt, wonder, curiosity, jealousy, anger, regret, and every emotional state to help tell our stories.

We’ve learned to show not tell as we write in a hurry before the countdown ends. We’ve learned to create characters easily recognized, and tap into storytelling techniques that connect with readers, sweeping them into our stories.

If we don’t connect with our emotions as we write, it’s all dishwater. We have the ingredients, so why do we tend to write dishwater.

That’s the secret sauce for writers shifting from just writing to true storytelling. The recipe before us is the same stuff available to everyone. It’s your passion for the final result that makes your main entree a success, and makes the writing not taste like dishwater.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Time Management

In “What I Learned Doing NaNoWriMo for the First Time” by Patrick Allen on Lifehacker, he describes the lessons he’s learned this year from participating in the annual writer’s challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Most importantly, though, I learned that there is always time to create things. No matter how busy I was—with my full-time job, other writing projects, multiple weekend trips to San Diego, business trips to New York, running tables at multi-day conventions—there was always a little time to sit down and spill out some words for my story. I even managed to write on my birthday. Eat your heart out, Stephen King. NaNoWriMo, more than any other creative endeavor I’ve undertaken, gave me a serious lesson in time management. I knew that “finding” the time was never going to work. You don’t find time, you “make” time. But this challenge proved that concept for me tenfold, especially as the month dragged on and staying on track got harder and harder. Falling behind a little every day means being behind a lot near the end. If I didn’t write enough one day, I knew I’d have to make it up later, and that really became apparent in the second half of the month. There’s no doubt in my mind this lesson would not have sunk in the way it did for me had I given up after 10 days. You need the whole month.

We know this. This isn’t new, but the delivery system that is NaNoWriMo slams this lesson home in everyone who participates, no matter what happens, to complete the month.

Among those in Writers in the Grove who participated, even if for a week or so, it was fascinating to hear their excuses for not continuing on. For our group, members could participate in NaNoWriMo with the goal of 50,000 words, or 30 hours, one hour of writing a day. We have many writers who are poets and write by hand, so we changed the word count to a minimum one hour a day to create the same challenge as the word count.

  • It was just too much to ask of myself.
  • I couldn’t concentrate on just one thing.
  • I had too much to do.
  • It was intimidating.
  • I had too much to write about and couldn’t get started.
  • I fell behind the second week and knew I couldn’t keep up, so I stopped.

For those who kept going until the end of the month, they reported:

  • It was fascinating to set a writing schedule for myself. I loved it.
  • I found I could break up the hour (or word count) through out the day, 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there.
  • I learned to write better and faster by turning off my internal editor.
  • When I let it happen, I found my story going off in new, fascinating directions.
  • I found myself loving that I was making and keeping an appointment with myself every day.
  • As I got closer to the end of the month, I’d have bursts of energy and write two and three days worth in a single day.

Fascinating to compare these statements with the lesson in time management learned by Patrick Allen. It really boils down to the fact that you don’t find time, you make time. You make a commitment to yourself and you keep it.

Either way, for our members, there is no right or wrong. There are the lessons learned, and this is one of them. Whatever gets in your way during November’s NaNoWriMo challenge are the things that get in your way the rest of the year. That’s the real lesson.

What gets in your way? NaNoWriMo’s methodology is a great way to test your self-sabotaging techniques in a condensed month-long process. I’m the expert in self-sabotage when it comes to creative writing. Over the years of participating in NaNoWriMo, I’ve met many of my ghosts and demons and survived my personal mental torture chamber of self-doubt, and lived to tell about it. Surviving makes me a better writer, there is no doubt, but finishing makes me a better finisher.

Don’t despair because you didn’t finish or didn’t participate this year. You can NaNoWriMo any time, any month, or even across a single week. Set a goal. Keep it. And whatever you do, don’t stop writing.

What We Learned from Harry Potter

In “Twenty years of Harry Potter – the 20 things we have learned” in The Guardian, Sam Leith listed factoids that tell a fascinating story of one of the most successful book stories in history.

Harry Potter - Hogwarts at Florida Disney World - Wikipedia

These are also great lessons for authors. A few highlights included:

  • Only 500 hardback copies were originally published in 1997. Three hundred went to libraries. Today, these may be worth tens of thousands of dollars and expected to increase in value.
  • Writer and editing errors made in the original published book were changed in later editions. So there is hope for fixing our published errors.
  • Rowling aged her characters in each book, growing more and more adult right along with the aging process of her readers, something rarely done in children and young adult series that keep the age of the character the same through multiple books.
  • Rowling wrote not just for children and young adults, but for parents and adults. To accommodate the every-growing adult customer, the covers were redesigned to look more “adult” with somber designed covers.
  • There are now degree programs and classes using Harry Potter for academic studies.
  • Harry Potter books were burned in the southern United States as witchcraft and satanic, thus a threat to children. Really? Still, any publicity is good publicity.
  • A reviewer in the New York Times dissed the first book, earning angry responses from fans. Sometimes even critics can get trashed by fans.
  • Rowling and her publishers set up an environment for fan fiction to allow it to thrive while retaining control and rights by not allowing settings inside Hogwarts (outside is fine), and no smut nor commercial publishing. The fan fiction community for Harry Potter represents hundreds of thousands of amateur writers today.
  • If you play the game right, book merchandise licensing can generate great income for the publishers and author, as well as attorneys protecting those rights.

We live in an era where books can grow into television shows and movies, and become entire industries if the game is played right and the fans stay loyal. Luckily, we have a few great authors who’ve paved the path well for us to follow.

Want to learn more about publishing? We have the Writers in the Grove 2018 Authors Conference coming up in January. Register now to ensure a place as seating is limited.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Take a Mini-Vacation from Your Muddy Middle Mess

We are on day 22 of 30 in this year’s NaNoWriMo. Thanksgiving is this week, a great interrupter to the writing process and habit you should have formed by now. Stay focused and stay writing, but give yourself a little break during this crazy holiday time, too. Then get back to writing. Only eight days left. You can do it.

Painting - Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life, 1842, National Gallery of Art.

In the latest pep talk letter from NaNoWriMo, author Grant Faulkner offered excellent advice for all writers, participating or not.

When I was a boy, I watched a lot of old movies on TV, especially westerns. In nearly every western, there was a crucial moment when a character would accidentally step into quicksand. They’d try to lift their feet, but each time they did so, they’d sink deeper. They’d start to panic and flail all about, but the more they’d try to escape, the deeper they would sink.

I grew up thinking that the world was filled with random patches of quicksand. Fortunately, my worldview was inaccurate. Quicksand is a rarity in the world, and I never stepped into it… until I wrote a novel, that is.

I personally ran into quicksand last week, realizing that I was in what Faulkner called the “muddy middle,” the place where novels die. I knew the beginning, I knew the main plot points, and I have a fairly good vision of the end of my novel, but now I’m swimming with no sign of the shore, unsure of where to go next.

As he predicted, the ghosts and demons started peaking out from under the carpet, behind the curtains, under my desk, slowly moving to sit out where I could see them, cross-legged on the lamp over the desk, posing in the mirror above the sink, dancing across the floor with high-pitched giggles of delight that I’d invited them in with my self-doubt and loss of momentum.

I swatted one and another bit my big toe. I kicked it, but more of them started coming out of the woodwork, telling me that I’m wasting my time, I’ll never get this done, I’m not good enough, I can’t do it, and my favorite, “Who do you think you are to even consider taking on a novel?” (more…)

NaNoWriMo Tips for Writing with Scrivener – Taking Notes

The blog for Literature and Latte, the makers of the popular writing tool, Scrivener, offer tips for NaNoWriMo on inline annotations, notes, and keeping track of inspiration that hits during the month-month writing marathon.

Since the daily word count is the main goal of the project for most people, this is okay. However, if you are also working toward the goal of producing something worthy of publishing—or at the very least, something you can be proud of—you might wish to somehow mark passages of text that you do not feel happy with, without completely deleting them or excluding them from the total counted work. There are a few ways of doing this in Scrivener.

The tips highlight the many ways a writer can take notes during the writing process in a way that doesn’t interrupt the creative workflow too much. This applies to the writing workflow and process beyond the scope of NaNoWriMo as well.

Reverse Lookup for Words

…she stumbled and he caught her as she fell, sweeping her up in his – in his – what is that word? Darn it. You know the word. It means big, tough guy arms but not strong arms. Stereotype alert. What is that word? I had it a minute ago.

Happen to you?

It happens to everyone, especially writers. Sometimes I think our heads are so filled up with words, it’s like plunging your hand into an aquarium of tetras and hoping to catch just that one, you know, that one! The words slip right out of your brain.

The OneLook Reverse Dictionary and Thesaurus is here to help. It provides a free thesaurus and reverse dictionary look-up feature to help you overcome your brain farts, as we tend to call them.

I typed in the words “strong arms” and hit enter.

OneLook Reverse Dictionary - Stong Arms.

My choices were divided into All, Verbs, Adverbs, Nouns, and Adjectives, each with multiple pages of suggestions. “Strong arms” matched with the definition of “enforce,” which made me realize that the web page service concluded I meant “strong-armed” rather than the description of a pair of strong arms. Still, there were words I could use. In Adjectives I found muscular, heavy-armed, solid, colossal, substantial, gigantic, healthy, great, heavy, heft, savage, and smothered. My favorite was bionic but it didn’t work in this instance. There were many other words that weren’t appropriate, but they did trigger more descriptive ideas such as blockading, huddled, swarming, and pressed.

Clicking the “More Definitions” button opened a new web page with variations on the word “enforce,” which wasn’t going in the right direction, but did show the capabilities of the service to help you track down the right word. It listed links to definitions on over 30 different alternative sources, giving me the opportunity to really dig into the meaning of a word.

OneLook isn’t the only reverse word lookup service on the web. Experiment with The Reverse Dictionary and Reverse Word Search-Lookup by Wordsmyth.

And good luck with those word slippages.

Tips for World Building in Fiction

I was surprised during our weekly Writers in the Grove free Monday workshop meeting that some of my fellow members didn’t know about the concept of world building in writing.

When you write fiction, you create a world, literally. It may represent the real world or a fantasy world. It consists of scenes, places where events occur in your story.

Your fictional world is made up of places, people, cultures, traditions, habits and routines, weather, geology, current events, and politics.

I’m working on a story that takes place in 1979. I begin my world building by researching historical events in 1979, then branch into newsworthy stories and topics, and even some trivia. If my story is concentrated solely in the United States, and specifically a location, say Seattle, then most of my research would focus on what happened in Seattle in and around 1979. Here are some of the results of my web search.

Sony Walkman - OriginalIn my research, I discover that the average income that year in the United States was $17,500, and the average monthly rent was $280, a far cry from today’s prices. A gallon of gas cost 86 cents, oil was $24 a barrel, and the Toyota Corolla was one of the most popular cars on the road and the $200 Sony Walkman was in demand by most teenagers and college students. Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” album won awards and played out of boomboxes everywhere, blasting “Y.M.C.A.” by The Village People off the charts. The daily news included updates on Voyager 1 as it made its closest pass by Jupiter, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Moral Majority religious movement by Jerry Falwell, 63 American hostages taken in Iran, and Saddam Hussein becoming president of Iraq. John McEnroe, Tracy Austin, Bjorn Borg, and Martinia Navratilova became household names as tennis champions. We watched MASH, The Jeffersons, The Dukes of Hazzard, One Day at a Time, and Three’s Company on television. The big screen played Alien, All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, Start Trek: The Motion Picture, Norma Rae, The China Syndrome, Being There, Life of Brian, Mad Max, and the Muppet Movie.

If you are writing about 1979, this is the world your characters lived in. They listened to that music, watched that news, those movies, and said funny things like quotes from movies and television such as “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins” (Brooke Shields ad for Calvin Klein), “Reach out and touch someone” (AT&T ad), “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” (Apocalypse Now), and “You need this for your rent, boy” (Richard Pryor).

Cultural stories might filter into conversations or even the thoughts of your characters such as when then-President Jimmy Carter explained how he almost tipped when an enraged swamp rabbit swam toward his fishing boat, or comment on the first time a milk carton featured a picture of a missing child. Or the fears that swept the globe as NASA’s Skylab fell to Earth, landing in Australia, made fun of afterwards by many when the Shire of Esperance in Western Australia fined NASA $400 for littering. Or maybe how Charles Manson sent a Monopoly “Get Out of Jail Free” card in a humorous attempt to be released by the parole board. Or maybe the dinner table discussion that night might be about the work of Mother Teresa after she won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Starbucks Coffee Store downtown SeattleThe world your characters live in influences their personalities, behaviors, even habits. A worker in 1979 living and/or working in downtown Seattle would have made sure they made a swing by Starbucks at 1912 Pike Place for a cup of their soon-to-be-famous coffee.

Now think about your characters and their relationship to this place and this time. Are all of your characters from here? Or maybe one or more of them are from different places, creating conflict when their worlds come together such as a white woman from Seattle falling in love with a black man from Mississippi in 1958, or the reverse. What about a new immigrant from Europe or Africa landing on the shores of the United States or Canada in the 1800s? Or maybe you have a person from Germany finding their way in Alabama in 1943 at the height of World War II? When we travel, we bring our worlds with us no matter where we go.

Your story may begin in any time and place. The world existed for your characters before the start of your story, and they might survive your story. Reveal the world they live in, as well as the world of history and experiences they carry with them through your story, to your readers as they shake hands and get to know your characters.

Here are a list of questions to help you define the world in which your characters live.

  • Why are your characters here?
  • How did your characters get here?
  • Why here now?
  • What makes this place special to the character(s)?
  • What makes this time necessary to the character(s)?
  • What’s important in this place and time?
  • What is it about this place that welcomes your characters?
  • What is about this place that challenges your characters?
  • What is about this place that creates conflict in or between your characters?
  • How is this place different from other places, and how does it matter to your characters?
  • What’s the weather like? Now and seasonally?
  • What’s the landscape, geology, terrain?
  • Is it crowded with buildings, people, or things? Or wide open and spacious, distance between buildings, people, and things?
  • What does it sound like here?
  • What does it feel like here?
  • What does it smell like here?
  • Who comes here? Who stays away from here?
  • How many people live here?
  • What do they do?
  • How do they do it?
  • What are their rituals, habits, routines, traditions?
  • How do people live here?
  • Where do people live here?
  • What do they eat and drink? How is it grown? Where do they get their food?
  • Are there races, ethnic groups, or other signs of diversity?
  • Is there a class system? Social, justice, gender, ethnic, cultural, or economic? How do they interact and react to the world around them?
  • Who are the leaders?
  • What’s hot in the news and gossip columns here? What are people worried or talking about?
  • How do the people interact here? In the streets, cafes, plazas, town squares, virtually, meetings, social hours?
  • What are the laws? How do the laws impact the characters?
  • What happens when a law is broken?
  • Is this a stable society or one on the edge or dropped into chaos?
  • How was this place made? Immigration, governance, wars, etc.?
  • What’s the health of the place? Epidemics? Do the people have an active or inactive lifestyles?
  • How safe is the place?
  • What makes people feel safe or unsafe here? Why?
  • What are the philosophies that guide this society and community?
  • Is this community/society religious? How? Why?
  • How does this society’s infrastructure function? Are there roads? Who builds them? Garbage? Power? Housing?
  • What did it take to build this world?
  • If this world would come to an end, what would it take?

This is just a few of the questions to consider. Go through these, and the questions and suggestions offered in the resources below, then ask yourself: Could this scene happen anywhere else? How would it change? How would it change the characters? How would it change the story? See what happens.

Resources on World Building

One last bit of advice.

If you introduce something new to the world in which your characters live, ask yourself if this change their world. How does it? If it is magic or technology, does it impact only your characters or everyone in society? How? Why? Is it good, bad, or indifferent? How do they adapt to the change? is it good for everyone or just a few?

Remember, your characters live in the test tube of your imagination. Every twist or turn in the story may create a tsunami of change beyond the bubble that is your main characters. Let your readers see and feel the change.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Guide and Preparation

NaNoWriMo logoIt’s NaNoWriMo time again, National Novel Writing Month. Get out your spreadsheet word trackers and timers and dust them off. The fun begins at midnight October 31 as you plow through toward your 50,000 words or 50 hour goal of writing every day for thirty days.

For Writers in the Grove, here are our rules for November’s NaNoWriMo writing event.

  • Write daily from November 1-30 by either committing to write:
    1. 50,000 words (1,667 a day)
    2. Or one hour a day minimum.

You may write however, whenever, whatever you wish. Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • You do not have to write a “book,” whatever “book” means to you.
  • You may write short stories, world building material, character sketches, technical guides, whatever you wish, though working on fiction is the goal of NaNoWriMo, as long as you commit to write toward your end month goal, writing is writing.
  • Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. Plotters write from an outline or plot. Plotsers or Plantsers write a little of both, found to be the most common technique for NaNoWriMo.
  • This isn’t a word game, though it is played like one. It is a head game. Get your head in the writing game and keep writing. If something jumps in your path, either kick it to the curb or confront and deal, but don’t let it stop you writing.
  • You can write anywhere and at any time. If you like writing in a social space, there are a wide range of NaNoWriMo events held around the world, including in Washington and Multnomah Counties of Oregon. There are meetups, write-ins, lock-ins, and a variety of social events to help you write better, longer, and faster, all adding up to the word count or hour tracking goals. If you like writing in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning or before you go to bed in the quiet of your home or office, write then. Are you a commuter? Write while you commute using voice recognition, a tablet, or phone, but only voice while driving, and do so with care.
  • Want to participate but don’t have anything to write about? Writers in the Grove will be releasing a NaNoWriMo prompt of the day during November. We have some great NaNoWriMo prompts from previous years, and years of weekly prompts from our creative writing group meetings for you to find something to get you writing.

Want to join us? Here is how to participate, and each step, other than the writing, is optional.

  • Commit to one hour a day or 50,000 words a day. Pick one.
  • Go to NaNoWriMo. Registration is free. Create a profile, announce your project (make it up if you don’t have one), and read the instructions on how to proceed starting November 1.
  • Set up your writing environment, be it on your computer, tablet, phone, or a location in your home or office.
  • Set up your writing experience. It could be Scrivener (we have a list of great NaNoWriMo project templates and are introducing our own), Word, Pages, a text editor, voice recognition software, whatever you write in. Clean off the keyboard, your mouse, computer monitor screen, your desk, your office, your space. Remove all distractions and leave only inspiration in your writing space.
  • Prepare by creating or working on your outline, collecting prompts, bookmarking creative writing prompt sites (like Writers in the Grove), and/or collecting all the material you need for inspiration.
  • Check out our NaNoWriMo Survival Guide with tips, techniques, lists, inspiration, techniques, prompts, Scrivener project templates, and word tracker spreadsheets.
  • Explore the various Scrivener project templates for NaNoWriMo, including our new one. Select one and set it up with notes, outline, research, and whatever material you nee to keep writing.
  • NaNoWriMo Writers in the Grove Spreadsheet for Word TrackingSelect a word tracker spreadsheet from our list of NaNoWriMo word trackers and spreadsheets. We have a new Writers in the Grove word and hour tracker spreadsheet, and a list of other word trackers.
  • Set your ground rules. Most participants are successful when they set the following ground rules during November:
    • Write only. No editing. None. Zilch. Not even a spell check. N.O. E.D.I.T.I.N.G. PERIOD.
    • No research or a 2-5 minute limit on research per day. Trust yourself. It’s all in your head. Pull it out. Put it down.
    • Keep daily appointments with yourself to write. Block out the times on your calendar and keep them, like a doctor or dentist appointment. Show up even if you don’t want to.
    • Learn how to turn off your phone and internet, and keep it off during your writing appointment time. Seriously.
    • Tell friends, family, and pets that you are not to be disturbed unless guts or bones are exposed to the air. This is an excellent time to teach your family and friends how to live without you for an hour or two a day. If you have to, lock them up before you start. The pets.
  • Create a backup plan. What are you going to write if your brain locks up on what you are writing? Make a list of world building, character sketches, place sketches, experience sketches, subplots, stories within stories, background information, historical timelines, and other material to help you write the stories that aren’t in your story that help define your story. Include a backup list of prompts and completely off topic subjects to write about to help you step away mentally from your story for a breather, then dive right back in again.
  • Find loyal supporters and ass-kickers. We have some great ass-kickers in our Writers in the Grove group, but you need your own if you aren’t a member of a writing group. Tap into your friends, close and long distance, and ask them for a weekly nag or check-in to help you keep going. Find a local or genre group on the NaNoWriMo groups list and introduce yourself.
  • Learn how to add your daily word count to NaNoWriMo. You add the update of your total word count for the month so far, not your daily word count, to the NaNoWriMo word count total.

  • Learn how to verify your final word count to help you complete your goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. Achieve your goal on the NaNoWriMo site and win some great prizes and discounts.

Before you get too overwhelmed, we’ve created a NaNoWriMo Guide featuring all the tutorials, tips, techniques, and prompts we’ve published here on participating in NaNoWriMo. Enjoy.