writing advice

Get Ready Now: NaNoWriMo is Six Months Away

NaNoWriMo is in November, barely six months away. For some, that’s a long time. For others, it comes too soon. Either way, it’s time to start thinking about how you will spend your November churning out 50,000 words, or an hour a day, of writing.

We’ve featured many articles and tips for NaNoWriMo on this site over the past few years, so your first task should be to dive into that great content to warm up your creative juices.

Do you have a topic to write about, a plot for a novel, your memoir, a technical how-to book? Maybe you want to finish that book you’ve barely started, or rewrite one that went no where the first time. It is never too early to start planning what you will be writing.

There are three times of writers in NaNoWriMo. There are the plotters, those who plot and outline everything out before the event begins. The pantsers write by the seat of their pants, trusting their muse to find the words daily. The plotsters or plantsers are the ones who did a little of both, plot out a rough outline, have a sense of where they are going, then let the muse take them where their fingers and imagination goes.

We also recommend you take time to get Scrivener, the writing studio software, to hold your outline, notes, research, and to write in and keep track of your writing during the month-long event. New to Scrivener? Check out our tips on using Scrivener, especially during NaNoWriMo, and watch this site for an announcement soon on a 4-week workshop on Scrivener Basics at the Forest Grove Community and Senior Center in Forest Grove, Oregon, in September, just in time for NaNoWriMo.

Here are some more tips to help you get ready for NaNoWriMo, and for writing any time.

  • Make an appointment with yourself – and keep it. Protect your writing time. Your muse works best when you show up at the same time every day, or train it to work for spontaneous 10 or 15 minute segments through the day. Either way, set writing time on your schedule and don’t miss an appointment.
  • Write what you know. It is true that it is best to write about what you know, but lean into this even more. Use characters you know, inside and out, from your own life, compilations of a variety of people, or a specific person from your childhood or present. Put your characters in a place familiar to you, your childhood community, or where you lived for many years and know all the back streets. Give your characters jobs you’ve held. Play with the rest, but use what you know. There is something special about reading a book where you just know the author loves the characters and places where the events take place.
  • Trust yourself. Trust yourself to write a great story. Trust yourself to know what to write. Trust yourself to let your characters lead you. Trust that you know how to do this, because you do. You wouldn’t be doing this unless you knew you could. Trust yourself to do it.
  • The first draft of everything is shit. Hemingway is supposed to have said that often, and it is true. First drafts don’t sell. They aren’t published. The magic comes in the second, third, possibly even the twentieth draft. Just write. Get it all down and fix it later.
  • Writing is about storytelling. Never forget, you are telling a story. You are taking the reader on an adventure, a journey, teaching them about how your characters see the world around them, and how they behave within it. The best stories are written not with the best grammar, but the best storytelling techniques.
  • Journal and note your ideas now. As you make your way toward November, jot down the ideas that come to you in the oddest of moments. You never know where one might lead, or if you may need it later when the well starts to run dry. Some people take a while to let their imagination simmer, so be ready to catch whatever floats to the top and preserve it.
  • Show don’t tell. Pay attention to everything around you over the next few months. See a beautiful sunrise, or the sun bursting forth through storm clouds? Write down what it looked like, but focus on how you felt in the moment. Look at people around you. How are they walking? Talking? Sitting? Moving in and out of the crowd. Takes notes on what you see and how they moved emotionally, with determination, courage, faith, pain, misery, depression, joy…show us how they moved. The next few months have two seasons, possibly three, in them, and you have an opportunity to view people in cold, wet, and rain, and bright sunshine, possibly even extreme heat conditions. How are their bodies responding to the environment?
  • Listen. Over the next few months, listen deeply to the voices all around you. At the store, at work, at meetings, social events, listen and take notes. How do they speak? What are they saying? Would your characters say that? How would they say the same things? The best characters are like real people, so pay attention to all the ways real people talk, to themselves and to each other, and take notes.
  • Put conflict in every sentence, paragraph, page. There are seven types of conflict in storytelling and writing. There is man vs. self, man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, etc. These struggles, elements of conflict, are the core in any good story. We need heroes. We need anti-heroes. We need villains. We need to have our characters tortured by their circumstances. Think about all the ways you could bring your characters to their knees and test their spirits, and put that in your story plans.
  • Pay attention to the news. Right now, the United States, and the world, are in teetering on the edge. The edge shifts from day-to-day, or could be all of everything, global warming, politics, pollution, economy, fake news, malware attacks, prejudice, even war. How does it feel? How do others feel? How are they responding? Are they hoarding food or money, just in case? Protesting? Apathetic? Terrified? An ostrich, head in the sand, disconnected from the world around them? Take note of all these attitudes, behaviors, and responses to the world around you and them. It’s all good fodder for the characters in your book.
  • Look for stories, and stories within stories. A well-written book doesn’t have one plot. It often has several plots, sub-plots, stories within stories with the same or different characters. Maeve Binchy specialized in writing about characters, each with their own plot lines, weaving them in and out, until they merged together at the end, surprising the reader. Look at all the stories around you, little stories like the man who forgot his wallet and realized it at the grocery checkout, and breaks down in tears not because he forgot his money but because he wife died a week ago and this is the first time in 30 years he’s shopped for himself. Or big stories of a cheerleader a month from graduation at the top of her class, who finds out she has cancer, two weeks after her mother died of cancer, and her father dies of a heart attack two days later, and she has to go on. Every moment is a moment for story, and within every story is another story, maybe three or four.

Writers in the Grove features more writing tips and advice on writing for all your writing challenges as well as NaNoWriMo. Subscribe to our site by email or add us to your feed reader to keep us close as you tackle your next writing project.

If you are in the Portland, Oregon, area, please join us at our Monday morning workshops from 9-11:30 AM at the Forest Grove Community and Senior Center, and on the second Saturday of the month at the Forest Grove Library.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Your Writer’s Toolbox

Here on Writers on the Grove, we’ve been adding articles to help you add to your writer’s toolbox. A writer’s toolbox is a collection of reference material that helps the writer write.

Your writer’s toolbox could be digital, files stored in a folder on your computer. Or it could be in a file folder grouped by type of reference. Or in a notebook, the preferred method of many writers, with tabs segregating the various reference types.

Your writer’s toolbox isn’t limited to a single project, novel, or writing type. It is a reference guide to support your writing needs such as a list of common measurement conversions from metric to imperial, forms and templates for character and worldbuilding development, descriptions of genres and themes, cheat sheets, and whatever you need to keep you writing.

Whatever your method of storage, before, during, and after NaNoWriMo is the time to put that toolbox in order to help you write your stories.

What Goes Into Your Writer’s Toolbox

What goes into your writer’s toolbox? Anything that helps you write. Here are some examples:

  • Peter Halasz’s Writing Cheatsheet is a tightly packed collection of plot and character guides, specifics, and breakdowns.
  • Forms for character descriptions and personality traits.
  • Forms for place/location descriptions.
  • Forms for worldbuilding.
  • Plot and storyboarding guides and forms.
  • Notes from writing workshops and classes.
  • Pictures of places and characters.
  • Mind mapping forms.
  • Genre descriptions.
  • References that list reference material such as geometric shapes, how to describe and critic art, names and descriptions of shoe typing techniques, a reference guide for typical travel times for various forms of transportation, hair colors and hair style descriptions and names, measurement conversion charts, color names, whatever it is that you can flip to and glance at for the answer, and keep writing.

Some writers create a book for each project they are writing. Others keep one book as a reference guide and keep adding to it as they learn new writing techniques and find references.

It is your writer’s toolbox, and you get to choose whatever tools you need in your kit to keep you going through all your writing projects.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Battle Your Demons

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

George Orwell

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Don’t Censor Yourself

As you prepare and work through NaNoWriMo, don’t censor yourself. Write down all your ideas.

Sure, some of the ideas will be whoppers, out there, spinning around out of control, but one idea leads to another and another, and who knows where your thoughts will take you if you ignore your inner censor and editor and let your mind wander through the possibilities.

Write them all down. It might not make sense now, but in a few days or weeks, it might be THE idea that changes everything.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Tell the Story Only You Can Tell

One NaNoWriMo year I had a great idea for a novel. It was set in Northern Wisconsin, closely tied to my family history research. I started writing, so excited about the story, then realized I knew nothing about the geographic area, the time, the society, nothing beyond the basics of my genealogy research. I thought I could make it up but realized that the lack of information was getting in my way as every day of writing progressed. Frustrated, I whined to my husband and he gave me this wise advice that I’m sure you’ve never heard before: Write what you know.

What did I know? Or better yet, where did I know? I knew Seattle. I lead photo tours through Seattle for over a decade. I grew up there. I’ve researched the history, architecture, politics, and culture of the city on Elliott Bay. I’m fascinated with the wild west, logging and fishing world my family helped create once they left Wisconsin. As much as I wanted to tell the story closer to the truth, once I shifted the story to Seattle, it blossomed. I couldn’t stop writing. I was on fire. Memories were unlocked I hadn’t considered for more than thirty years about the place I call my home even though I haven’t lived there for twenty years.

I’d like to change the writing clique to better suit the advice from author Neil Gaiman:

Start telling the stories only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.

Put aside all the teaching, workshops, books, and myths you’ve heard about writing. Set aside your own preconceived notions about what you think you should write.

As you plow through NaNoWriMo, remember that you are the only you, and only you can tell the story your way, uniquely yours.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Unleash Your Descriptive Inner Voice

As you work your way through NaNoWriMo and your novel, memoir, or whatever writing you choose during the November writing sprint, unleash your inner descriptive voice and make your sentences more interesting by adding more descriptors. Look for words or phrases that paint a picture.

The ball hit the window.

The black and white soccer ball Bob kicked with all his might hit the Peterson’s large front picture window with a dull thud.

Close your eyes and picture the scene. Pay attention to all your senses. Can you hear the sound Bob might make as he kicked the ball? Can you hear the thud of the window rebounding from the collision? Can you see Bob? Is he dripping with sweat or have glowing red cheeks from the exertion?

Let your imagination become a paint brush with strokes that put us in the middle of the action, feeling everything you do in the moment.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Reverse the Writing Order

One of the challenges in NaNoWriMo is that you may have the start of your novel set, most of the plot points on an outline, but what about the ending? Do you know where this thing ends?

Write your ending first.

Why not? Take a writing session and write the last scene, chapter, or maybe the last two or three chapters. Take your story to the end to see what happens, then start from the beginning.

You might discover that the plot outline you carefully planned out needs to be shifted around, the journey changed as you’ve decided to take this in a new direction. Or that you will have to add characters or remove them, or change other parts of the story to make it tie up with the ending you’ve written.

You can always edit and change the ending later, but knowing your destination might help you get there sooner, and enjoy the journey better.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.