writing tips

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.

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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.

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.

November 6: Speaker Tim Applegate

Monday, November 6, 2018, author Tim Applegate will be speak at our Monday morning workshop from 9AM-11AM at the Forest Grove Senior and Community Center in Forest Grove, Oregon. This is a free, regular workshop event and all are welcome to join us. Bring pen and paper and an open mind as usual.

Tim Applegate will be speaking about publishing submission acceptance and rejections. He is the author of the novel Fever Tree and three books of poetry. A commercial contractor specializing in furniture and wood restoration for the hotel and cruise ship industry, he retired in 2015 to dedicate the next part of his life to writing full-time. He is the co-winner of the Tillie Olsen award for Creative Writing, and his work has been published in the Florida Review, The South Dakota Review, Lake Effect, The Briar Cliff Review, and others. He currently lives in the foothills of the Coast Range in Oregon.

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.

Using Scrivener for Poetry

The Scrivener Basics Workshop by Writers in the Grove begins September 21, 2017, Thursday at 6:30Pm at the Forest Grove Senior and Community Center in Forest Grove, Oregon. There is still space available.

Scrivener isn’t just for writing and publishing fiction or non-fiction. Many successful poets use the power of Scrivener to not just create their poetry books, but also to track poetry submissions to contests, magazines, and other publishing media.

Here are some resources to learn more about how poets are using Scrivener for their own poetry books and for anthologies.

Writing Tips: Raise or Rise Up!

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Gretchen Keefer.

Raise or rise up? While both of these verbs indicate upwards motion, the difference is in “what” is going up.

Rise, rose, risen: No objects go up. The subject of the sentence is the only thing moving towards the ceiling or sky. The action stays with the subject only.

Gary rose slowly from the recliner and left the room.

Heat rises.

The sun and moon rise daily.

Joe has risen through the ranks to make CFO at a young age.

Raise, raised, raised: Now, something is going up! “Raise” needs an object to lift or nurture, as in the case of children, crops, and animals. Ask the question “Raise what?” and fill in the blank.

  • Raise your hand.
  • Bettina raised her eyes toward the heavens and shouted in hallelujah!
  • Allison raises horses.
  • Mark’s construction crew raised the new building in record time. (Not to be confused with “raze,” which means taking the building down.)

Writing Tips: Will Everyone Please Sit/Set Down!

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Gretchen Keefer.

Which do you do?

Set, set, set: This verb is so busy placing objects in various locations, it has no time to alter its tenses.

“Set” wants something to do. There is always a “what” after “set” such as set the table, set your hair, set goals.

After setting her purse on the table, Joan read the mail.

Have you set a date with that cute guy yet?

Set down the knife and raise your hands.

Sit, sat, sat, not standing. Actually, not doing anything. There is no “what” after sit, just a rest from working. No motion, nothing is going anywhere or doing anything. There could be another verb in “-ing” form, and you may use adjectives to describe the length, location, or style of the sit, but no objects follow “sit.”

Gary did not sit long on Janice’s couch. He preferred sitting in the recliner. While sitting there, he fell asleep. Janice sat thinking about Gary. How often has he sat on her recliner sleeping? He never would set a wedding date. Obviously this relationship is going nowhere–

Writing Tips: Is There Dessert in the Desert?

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Gretchen Keefer.

Dessert is luscious, and often “sickeningly sweet” — hence the two “ss” in dessert.

The desert is too dry to support more than one “s.”

Shift the accent on desert – the place – and you have desert, the action.

The legionnaire de-SER-ted his post in the DES-ert.