writing help

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: My Favorite Things

Do you remember the song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music?

Raindrops on roses
And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles
And warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

Cream colored ponies
And crisp apple strudels
Door bells and sleigh bells
And schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Try this writing experiment:

  1. Number a piece of paper from 1 – 25.
  2. Set the timer for 6 minutes.
  3. Now, make a list of your favorite things – exclude spouse and children.

When done with the list, look at which of the five senses are predominant. Taste of food? Smell of weather?

Be aware of how you remember things, and incorporate those descriptions into your writing, remembering to expand your favorite things to include all the senses, too.

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

NaNoWriMo Tips: Writing Sessions

Writing 1,667 words generally takes 60-90 minutes depending upon how fast you type. If you are hand-writing, it may take even longer, but not much.

Do you need to sit down and write for the full 90 minutes?

No.

Consider splitting up your writing session times into two or more sessions throughout the day. Thirty minutes three times a day still gets the job done if you prepare yourself well.

NaNoWriMo fan and author, Ysenia Vargas offers the following advice:

Basically, for every hour of the day, from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed, you are responsible for writing 500 words an hour. After writing 500 words for that hour, you can do whatever you want until the next hour begins.

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

NaNoWriMo Tips: Locations

Where does your story take place? Does it happen in one place or many places?

Take time in NaNoWriMo to write extensive descriptions of each location in each scene in your story. In the editing phase, you might only use a small part of this, but by exploring the surrounds around your characters fully, you have a wealth of information to choose from.

It’s difficult to write about a place you’ve never experienced, though science fiction and fantasy authors do it all the time. If you are new to writing, write about a location you are familiar with, one you know well. You can always change or rename the location later during the editing stage.

Consider the following as you describe each location:

  • Where are they?
  • When are they? What time of day? What year? What month? Which day of the week?
  • Describe the ground.
  • Describe the building(s) outside.
  • Describe the building(s) inside.
  • What is the most predominate color?
  • What do you smell? One thing or many things? Which is dominant? Which is a hint of fragrance?
  • What are the sounds? Are there many or few? Which is loudest, drowning the rest? Which is softest, heard only when paying attention or in a moment of silence from the rest of the sounds?
  • What is the temperature?
  • Is it dry, humid, wet, damp, windy, hot, cold?
  • What does the character(s) feel on their skin? Is the sensation the same on top of the head as well as the feet?
  • Where is the sun? Can it be seen?
  • Describe textures, of walls, ceilings, furniture, floor, plants.
  • Is nature here? What kind of nature? What is it, what does it look like?
  • Does anything in the scene trigger stereotype reactions?
  • Does anything in the scene trigger an emotional or memory response to one or more characters?
  • Are there doors, paths, or exits?
  • Are there windows? Open, closed? What is visible through them?
  • Does the space feel open or closed, restricted, or free?
  • Are there landmarks, statues, artwork, elements that serve as markers or direction indicators?
  • Which way are the characters facing? North, east, west, south, etc.
  • Is the sun/moon in their face or behind them? Or not anywhere?
  • Are their vehicles? Furniture? What man made objects are near them? Do they interact with them?
  • Find one element in the scene and describe it. Is it important to the scene, or an accessory? Does it help the story or help define the characters?
  • Find another element, one that might be missed. Describe it. Why is it there?

This should start a series of your own questions specific to the location. Write those down and create your own list.

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

Writer’s Toolbox: Plot and Character Cheat Sheet

Peter Halasz of nowhitespace created a Writing Cheatsheet, a PDF document downloadable and printable that compresses just about all the bits and pieces you need to know about plot and character development.

On one side, the focus is on plot, outlining the hero’s journey, master plots, story structures, classic dramatic situations, myths, folktales, pacing…crammed together into the 8.5 x 11 inch space.

On the other side, it deals with character such as the basics, physical appearance, other people in the character’s life or circle, speech and language styles, soul searching, possessions, habits, personality and values, personality types, archetypes, personality factors, virtues and traits, and a wide variety of standard personality types, classes, phobias, and disorders.

The sources of the information are used in many Master of Fine Arts and writing programs such as Polti’s Thrity-Six Dramatic Situations, Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Pinker’s Relationship Types, Myers-Briggs Personality Classifications, Edelstein’s Personalities and Virtues, and more.

Whether using this to help you with NaNoWriMo or in general, this is a brilliant tool to add to your writer’s toolbox.

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

Writing Fiction Tips For May 2015

From time to time we may share links to writing tips we’ve found on the web to help us improve our writing. The majority of these are focused on fiction because our workshop motto is everything we write is fiction, whether or not it is. 😀

Five Essential Tips for Anyone Trying to Write A Book – Forbes: Brett Arends offers excellent tips that may seem simple but are really the things that get in our way and hold us back. These include practice writing, finding a writing space and time, planning your book, and so on. He also highlights how a writing group helped him, which is what we are here for! Come join us.

Writing tips by Paul Coelho: Hard to argue with a master and award-winning author. A favorite:

I write the book that wants to be written. Behind the first sentence is a threat that takes you to the last.

10 Writing Tips from Legendary Writing Teacher William Zinsser, May He Rest in Peace – Open Culture: The world of writing is a little smaller with the recent loss of William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, a staple of how to write since 1976. The article paying tribute to him selects some of the best writing tips he’s offered.

“A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

12 Writing Tips I’ve Learned After 20 Books and 3,000 Articles Over 20 Years – Inc.com: Inc’s Andrew Griffiths offers us some great tips that are not just about writing from a writer’s perspective, which they are, but also from an avid book reader. There is something to be said about good advice from those who love books such as:

I had the great pleasure of seeing Seth Godin in Sydney recently and he said something that really resonated with me: “If you are just writing to get ‘shares’ or ‘likes,’ you are writing too safe and too conservatively. If we really want to connect and engage our community, we have to be prepared to write content that is not popular, but it needs to be written.”

20 Writing Tips from Fiction Authors – iUniverse: This is a collection of quotes from modern writers, for the most part, on writing. There are some great ones in this collection including:

“The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’”
Helen Simpson

Writing tips from the CIA’s ruthless style manual – Quartz: Finding out that Struck and White were CIA sources – well, their writing styles were sourced by the US government in their style guide for writing “Intelligence Publications” – was fascinating, but the tips and advice in this collection of their tips celebrates their “crisp and pungent” language “devoid of jargon,” something that I’m not sure the US Government, or any government, practices much any more. Still a good set of tips for the rest of us to practice.

5 Writing Tips: Jane Smiley – Publishers Weekly: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Jane Smiley shared a few fantastic tips including:

Exhaust your own curiosity about your project before showing it to someone else. Let your own ideas play out without getting input from others, then, after you show them your work, use their responses as input to push you forward. It may take you several drafts and a long time to come to the end of your ability to tackle a given subject, and when you do, you might be satisfied or dissatisfied with your product. If you are dissatisfied, the input of others will give you ideas for how to shape your novel further. If you are satisfied, the input of others will let you know if your novel is readable and accessible.