A friend who is also writing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) got in touch on Tuesday with the news 'I have a bad case of the Week Twos'. Week Two is about the time that, whether your novel has been going well up to that point or not, the whole enterprise can look impossible.
You may have fired off the first few chapters of your novel with reckless abandon but now characters are pulling the story in directions you don't want to go (she said that it was turning into a tween romance version of 1984 and she just didn't want to write that book), the plot is swiss-cheesed with holes, and you're probably mired down in a scene where your characters insist on having a long rambling conversation.
It's like a zombie apocalypse only without the excitement.
So now that the rapturous initial spill of words and ideas is churning around into the harder work of building the story and, like superglue, maybe hardening into shapes you don't want. What can you do to rescue your novel-writing mojo?
1. Don't Marry Your Words! Realize that this is your Rough Draft, ideas dancing naked on the page then trying on strange outfits. Everything is subject to the editing process later and even to sweeping revisions but you don't worry about that now. Your brain has to process the ideas somehow and when you're writing so quickly you've got to just let them flow. Hopefully you have a bare framework to arrange the ideas on. I didn't do nearly as much preplanning as I should have for this book but I did manage enough that I have another goal to choose and head for when I need it. I never ever forget, though, that I am not married to the words I'm writing now. I've heard that what you end up with at the end of NaNoWriMo is nothing more than a 50,000 word complex outline. From my experience last year, this is true.
2. Remember That Authors Can Time-Travel. The characters in your book may be bound to a timeline (unless you're writing a freaky time-travel story) but you, the author, are not. You've got the gods-eye view of your timeline and if you are writing a part that does absolutely nothing for your inspiration, if your characters are static and bored don't keep writing at that point in the timeline! Pick up your pen, figure what might happen hours, days, or weeks down the timeline and put your pen down there to begin writing again. This fast-forward can get you out of that quicksand scene that should probably have already ended.
3. Explore the Web. No, not the internet, the web of connections between your characters. Novels are long enough to not only have a plot but also to carry subplots. While you don't want to clutter your story with too many subplots, you might find that if you're stuck for what to write next you can look in on a different character and find out what they're doing and in what way their story intersects or will intersect with the one you're already writing. This year, when I've finished one character's scene and think 'what do I do next?' I figure out which character I haven't written about for a few scenes and go to see what they're doing. To begin with the connections were only that they lived in the same area and knew the same people or were related. Now those connections are helping to weave the plot together...and I always have something to write next.
4. Introduce the Odd Man Out. It's easy to keep creating characters we're comfortable with. When you're stuck, though, sometimes it is due to the fact that all the characters get along and are nodding politely at each other. It may be time to break the mold and bring in a character who is strange, argumentative, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, handicapped, confused, or belligerent. Allowing this character into the mix can stir things up right away, force the other characters to react and that can break that static plot up and get it moving again.
5. Flash Brainstorm. I am very fortunate to have nano buddies who know things that I don't. I'm thankful that Glitch is usually just an IM ping away and he's studied all kinds of interesting things that I need for my novel. He also happens to be the world's nicest guy so when I realize that I need to figure out some more details about the tech in my novel very quickly, he's willing to discuss how things like radio frequencies and encryption keys work. Likewise the NaNoWriMo site has a forum full of people who have learned things that you have not. I saw on the home page where Chris Baty was looking for anyone who could help him with what a painter's life is like. Don't go it alone if unknown facts are tripping you up, throw the question out there, brainstorm quickly with a friend, toss those still-gasping facts into your novel and keep going.
...and if all else fails Glitch recommends throwing in an explosion. It's a little dramatic, I admit, but if you're really desperate you could explode something, kill a character, toss an moose through the dining room window. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? In any case, soldier on Wrimos!
Would you believe that some crazy novel writers began their efforts in 'literary abandon' last night at midnight? Some even met up to do it. My tactic was a bit different and I hit the hay early to try and get rid of a persistent headache and to be up bright and early to write.
I don't know about bright but I was up earlier than usual and I did manage to get 1,091 words done (my goal today is 2,000) by 7:10 am when I had to get up and get the family sorted out for school and work.
Once again I am using the Secret Weapon for focusing on my writing: Write or Die (the online version)
Focusing with timed writing I can generally whip 500 words out in 15 minutes which really helps when I need to just get the words down for the day and move on!
Good Luck and happy writing fellow Wrimos!
This is a Wrimo alert! This is not a drill. Hey, just because I happen to stink at thinking ahead doesn't mean that I can't take a hint.
Yesterday on Writing Forums.com someone mentioned getting ready for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) over the summer. That took me off guard because who is thinking about November when it's barely the end of April?
Glitch, that's who. This morning he popped onto IM with some similar thoughts as the person on the forum yesterday regarding plotting ahead for NaNoWriMo.
No Spare Time to Think
One of the main things that I discovered about trying to write 50,000 words in a month is that there is no time to think about background information. I had rudimentary character sketches, a general idea where the story would take place, a handful of plot goals (I'm allergic to outlines) and a heady sense of freedom. Gonna write a novel, nobody to stop me, whoohooo!
It wasn't enough.
Yes, I got 50,000 words pounded out onto the page but I went far afield of what I envisioned the story to be and not in a good way. If I'm going to put my time and energy into this again I'd like to end up with something a lot closer to a manuscript than a wordy, wandering outline, right?
So I know Glitch is brainstorming ideas for his NaNo Novel and I know I will be, too, if I decide to go with it this year. If I do, I want to know my characters and the world cold before November 1st. I want to have any research done, cool tech designed if the book calls for it, and the plot pretty well mapped out.
I still can't say 'outlined' I just can't. Goals, though, yeah. I'll have goals. In order. Sorta.
Any other Wrimos out there? Do you hear the Wrimo alert? Are you brainstorming your novel for November? Comment and share the love! Or the pain...whatever works.
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Wicked of Write or Die fame. Write or Die is a software application inspired by Dr. Wicked's own NaNoWriMo experience. I tried the online application and was so impressed by the increase in my own productivity brought about by focused attention that I asked Dr. Wicked for a bit of background so that I could share this with others.
First, thank you for allowing us a peek into your dungeon laboratory, Dr. Wicked. I imagine that this place is teeming with nefarious ideas and, of course, dark plotting of all kinds. We're discussing your software applications that, as the Write or Die website promises, are "Putting the 'prod' into 'productivity'", something that writers need to keep themselves from staring at their own fingers, counting ceiling tiles, or blowing themselves up in sad attempts to play Minesweeper.
I'd like to start off with asking you for a brief description of your website and the software applications that you've written to chisel writer's block out of a writer's head. What is in Dr Wicked’s dispensary?
Write or Die is a productivity program for writers, perhaps the most procrastination-prone creatures on God’s green earth. The central idea is to provide consequences for procrastination. As long as you keep typing, nothing will happen, but if you stop typing to check your e-mail, Google something or refresh ICanHasCheezburger, punishment will ensue. First the screen will turn red as a warning and then one of three things happens: in Gentle mode you get a mom-like reminder to keep typing, in Normal mode an annoying noise is played at you, and in Kamikaze mode your words will be deleted one by one until you resume writing. It might sound scary but, in my mind, it’s less frightening than all that time wasted staring at a blank page. The online version is free and the desktop edition is $10 with lots of added functionality.
What inspired the 'Write or Die' application and the Word Wars software?
As an aspiring writer, I like reading the advice of published writers regarding creative process. I went to several writer’s conventions looking for practical advice on the nuts and bolts of getting more writing done. I was looking for a mindhack that would help me get past procrastination. Often times, when you get down to it, the advice is “Just write”. This always struck me as annoyingly pithy. I also read a Stephen King story called “The End of the Whole Mess”, where a writer is struggling to compose a memoir, which is also an apology for helping bring about the end of humanity. I won’t spoil the story but his motivation is to finish writing before he dies. Thus was born Write or Die.
Has the software come together quickly or has it been a long process of development?
I’m a bit like Sherlock Holmes without the opium when it comes to creative endeavors, I have periods of manic productivity which punctuate long stretches of inaction. The online version of Write or Die didn’t exist in September 2008 and was finished by October 25th, 2008. The same goes for the desktop edition, that came together in October 2009. It will likely be the same way for the iPad version I intend to write. Everything’s been finished just in time for NaNoWriMo. I need to be right up against a deadline to have any hope of finishing anything. I expect I’m not alone in this.
You’ve mentioned that you’re an aspiring writer and a confirmed procrastinator, how has Write or Die affected your own productivity?
The irony is that, despite creating this thing meant to increase productivity, I am not very productive in my writing. I’m like the doctor that can’t quit smoking. I think in some ways everything else I do, creating new projects, coming up with new ideas, even creative work at my day job, is procrastination from writing. I think part of the reason is because I haven’t yet had a vision for a story as a whole, I have a great many beginnings but the vision of a story as a functional whole has not yet come to me. My secret fear is that I’m actually a lapsed exploratory writer and the story will only come once I write it. We shall see.
When did you first participate in NaNoWriMo and what were some of the initial ideas you had for boosting your own productivity?
I think my first stab at NaNoWriMo was in 2005. It was a fantastic experience even though I didn’t finish (to date I’ve not been a NaNo winner, shame on me, I blame my Write or Die duties, though deep in my heart I know that’s a cop-out). One of my favorite little hacks that I came up with is to open up a document and before you start writing, change the font to Symbol or Wingdings--something unreadable--and then type. If I can’t see the words I’ve just written there’s no temptation to go back and fix things and I just keep writing forward, I also can’t beat myself up if I’ve written something silly or stupid, which, let’s face it, is likely when you’re churning out 1,667 words a day.
The process of productivity can be painful, hence your motto 'putting the prod into productivity' (which I like very much by the way), but all alliteration aside, do you have your sights set on anything that will help with editing and revising? I know that's another area where I have difficulty getting the lead out.
I definitely want to figure out some way to deal with the “macro” perspective of the writing process. Where Write or Die has a “micro” focus on the business of writing itself, I’d also like to create something that deals with the difficult aspects before and after writing, respectively, getting one’s butt in the chair in the first place, and editing the work created whilst in that chair. As it happens, while I’ve been procrastinating from finishing this interview I wrote a little program that helps out with some of the tedium involved with editing, it’s called EditMinion and its job is to find adverbs, weak words, and other things worth eliminating from your writing. I also have plans to create tools to help writers create meaningful connections with other writers, having someone looking forward to your next chapter is a huge aspect of keeping on track.
What genre(s) do you like to write?
The people who inspire me to write are Douglas Adams, Neal Stephenson, H.P. Lovecraft and P.G. Wodehouse, so I view my writing more as an exercise in style and language than genre. If I were to finish a book I suspect it would be categorized as fantasy because it is imaginative literature but not science fiction. I also have an immense capacity for silliness so I would like to write a children’s book in a similar vein to Dr Seuss or Edward Gorey, men I greatly admire.
Do you believe that writer's block exists?
Oh, it exists; beyond any shadow of a doubt. It is an affliction not unlike a disease of the body. However, much like a disease, using it as a crutch is an ignoble thing to do. Every creative person has forces arrayed against them, most of which come from our own heads. The struggle against these forces doesn’t make you a special, it just means you’re a creative person. Writer’s Block is a brick wall, not a prison cell, it’s not about fighting your way out, it’s about finding a way around. My goal for Write or Die is to convince more people to go around instead of stubbornly trying to fight their way through. For a brilliant discourse on creative resistance, I cannot recommend highly enough Stephen Pressfield’s book The War of Art. On another note, I’d like to go back in time and show Write or Die to James Joyce, a famous writer’s block sufferer, and see what would happen.
In some ways I find is easier to write code because I’m a very puzzle-oriented, geekish type. Coding for me is a huge amount of trial and error because I am first a puzzle-solver and second a coder. I end up learning just enough code to solve the problem I have and no more. So it’s: change a bit, test, change another bit, test again, Google, change a bit, test, repeat until functional. I also find that code is simpler than a story in some ways because it has a definite desired functionality, which means it has a clear beginning, middle and end. I’d like to figure out a mindhack that makes writing a story more like solving a puzzle but I have yet to crack that nut.
Could you describe what makes a comfortable workspace for an evil genius such as yourself?
I find that, for me, it’s not so much the space for writing as the time. My most productive time was when I was commuting to college and I had two sets of classes separated by 3 hours. It wasn’t a long enough period of time to make it worth it to drive home and back so I ended up spending those hours every week holed up in a coffee shop being extremely productive. So if you can find a way to turn inconvenience into writing time, I highly recommend it.
Thank you for your insights and your time, Dr. Wicked, it's been a pleasure meeting you. We'll keep an eye on EditMinion and your other efforts. Here's hoping that we all can beat the dreaded forces of procrastination...Write or Die certainly helps!
Bear with me just a moment, dear blog readers, this is a day to celebrate! Well, okay, yesterday was a day to celebrate but I was busy doing it, not writing about it. Yesterday I finished the 50,000 word challenge of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to write those 50,000 words in 30 days.
Writing as 'Fox_in_Socks' on the NaNo website, I managed it in 29 days which is amazing considering that I had a very difficult month, was down for almost a week with strep throat and had to deal with it it in my family, too. And yet, somehow, I've crossed the finish line.
The NaNoWriMo site considers this 'winning' NaNoWriMo, meaning simply that I've beaten my own expectations, that I've managed to meet the challenge. It's not a matter of beating anyone else, in fact, I've celebrated with my writing buddies who have also made it across the line, as happy that they made it as I am that I made it to the finish!
I have learned a heck of a lot this month:
- Not to be turned off by the initial alphabet soup of my ideas
- Alphabet soup, like primordial soup, will eventually evolve into a story and like the things that primordial soup is said to give forth, it will be ugly
- If I am not writing at least 500 words in 15 minutes in 'just-get-it-on-the-page' mode...I'm not really trying.
- A pair of dedicated writing socks helps
- There is a lot of time for focused productivity if I can get up even 45 minutes before I have to get my daughter up for school (Yes, I try to get up an hour before but it takes me about 15 minutes to persuade myself to actually get out of bed, etc.)
- It takes about three weeks of hammering on a novel like this before it starts to get fun. It's only been in the last 15,000 words or so that connections have been made that allow me to write the suspenseful fun stuff that I'm writing now.
- There is nothing that can't be changed later. In fact, huge chunks of the story will be changed later. Don't sweat it, just write it.
- It is still more fun to 'have written' than it is to write, but you can't have one without the other so get the lead out.
- Writing is always more fun with a little competition and/or social interaction to spice it up...of course, to a roleplay game writer like me this isn't really new. I've always enjoyed collaborative story writing even if there is no other real return than the pleasure of creating a story while having fun with other people. But!...
- I CAN write a novel on my own. Long fiction. Before this I thought 1,000 or 1,500 words was an awful lot to write. I got bored. Now I know I can get past that if i really want to. In fact, 1,000 words in a day on a rough draft is small potatoes, I like to get at least 1,600-2,000+ done to feel like I've had a decent day. At one point, when I had fallen behind, I despaired and said that it would take about 4,000 words that day to really catch up and there was no way I could do that. The most I'd written in a day up to that point was 3,333. However, out of sheer pique, not liking to be left behind, I wrote 4,000...then I shocked myself by writing 1,000 more. All in all I wrote 5,010 words that day.
Now I have to finish writing this novel and edit it, probably totally restructuring it, re-thinking it, and revising it some more until it's actually good. I've heard that the real magic is in the editing process and I have to admit that in my short stories this has been so. Rough drafts are raw ideas and some of the good ones make the final cut. Whether this novel 'Before I Wake' will ever see print, I have no idea but it sure has a better shot now that it's written than if I hadn't done it at all.
Don't be afraid of taking a shot at your dreams.
Any other Wrimos reading this, leave me a shout out in my comments! And let's do it again next year.
National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel (0r at least get that far on one) in thirty days. I'm doing it while Glitch is busy doing something else called 'earning an income' and I can't blame him for that.
I've tried NaNoWriMo before and failed miserably, washing out somewhere around the 2,000 word mark with no clear idea where I was going next. I'm usually not a big fan of outlines and figured that I'd stick with short stories and flash fiction for a while. I was happy. Yet, this year, I had a laptop and therefore no longer had the excuse that I've used before for not once again attempting NaNo. This time, I decided would be different.
That it is!
I am currently at the halfway point, just about where I should be with two weeks elapsed. I'll be honest, the writing that NaNoWriMo requires is an all-in don't-look-back dash toward the finish. Ready or not there is nothing to do but press on to the finish, no time for editing, researching, or lollygagging. I can't believe I've come this far and I fully intend to finish 50,000 words on time unless I can do it faster.
This time I did throw together a loose outline first, and promised myself that I'd look at it as blazes in a trail, something to shoot for if I started to get lost. This perspective helps me to avoid that 'trapped' feeling. At least that was the idea and it does seem to be working.
Because the sad truth is, I know that I'm info-dumping, changing tenses in mid-paragraph, and hunting for my character's motives, background, and, of course, the plot as I go and it's easy to feel like the blank page is a trackless snow field. That's when I use the outline to reorient myself, even if I have to change the outline a bit. It gives me a frantically waving little red flag in the snowfield to head for when I'm lost.
When I'm done with this it won't be a novel, it'll be a more messy complicated outline but the book will be there in the embryonic state. The real challenge will be to see if I can edit it and rewrite it to make it good.
For now, though, the challenge of reaching 50,000 words is enough to go on. I'm at 26,640 words and counting. Hopefully I can manage not to kill my main character out of sheer irritation with the guy before it's all over.