NaNoWriMo Survival Guide

So you signed up for Nanowrimo… good job!

 

There are a lot of guides out there, so I’m just going to tell you what works for me, take of it what you will.

First things first – Nano isn’t hard… for a vetran writer.  Stephen King says write 2k a day, well you only have to write 1667 for Nano.

 

And you can do that two ways;

Panster – someone who just sits and writes as it comes to them

Plotter – someone who outlines what they are going to write before they do it

 

Generally, I’m a panster but I’ve normally seen the 3D movie version of the story inside my head beforehand… well, at least the scenes that would make it to the trailer for the film.

But for Nano I do a bit of plotting, and its because Nano day in day out can get hard. I normally ask for a week of leave off work just to do it. When you work full time that leave is precious, and I cant think of anywhere I’d rather spend it! This year I can’t do it, so I’m plotting. That way, when I sit at a computer to write, I know exactly what I should be working on.

 

How do you plot Nano?

It devolves down to outlines. I write novellas for Nano. 50k words on a novella is great, and with a prologue and epilogue it leaves me with 16 chapters at 3k a chapter (18 if you aren’t a fan of the prologue epilogue). If you like smaller chapters you can break it down further. So a table for those feeling intimidated;

34 Chapters @ 1500 words per chapter

25 Chapters @ 2000 words per chapter

18 Chapters @ 3000 words per chapter

Anything longer than this can get intimidating and basically be a bit of a time suck that doesn’t evolve into anything useful. You want to keep the general story short, punchy and interesting enough so you can rewrite the scenes with more detail when its done.

 

How do you keep going?

ITS ONLY 1667 WORDS A DAY!

Break it down.

Make it up.

Stretch it out.

Fill it up.

 

Nano is about writing on weekends and busting out 10, 15, 20k words over a weekend. Its about writing 500 words at lunch, first thing before work in the morning, and putting aside TV/gaming binge time to write. With an outline, you put on the write tunes (ahaha… I’m so punny), and you write as much of the scene as possible. That’s what its there for, it’s a guide, and then a ladder, and then when you invariably fall off, (we all do), a crutch towards the end of the month. Sure the story might deviate, but it does keep you focused on writing.

 

But I have writers block!

No, you don’t.

Writers block is a big fat self-doubt lie!

Realistically, characters only have a couple of choices. Think of your story, if you will, as a choose your own adventure book. If you were watching a movie, and someone paused it, and asked you what happened next, you’d probably take a stab in the dark about it, wouldn’t you? Well, getting past writers block is the same. Take a stab at it… literally or figuratively, whataever works for you.

Here is another cool way to do, to make the outcome random, fun and interesting!

Work out what the choices are, and the make one even and one odd, and then roll a dice. Trust me, this works. If you aren’t certain, treat the dice (even/odd) like an eight ball;

“Do they go down the passage? Even = yes, odd = no.”

Even.

“When they get to the end of the passage, do the get lost (odd) or find their way (even)?”

Odd.

“If they are lost, do they figure a way out (even), or do the need to be rescued (odd)?”

Odd.

“If they are rescued, is it by an ally (odd), or a enemy (even)?”

Even.

This may not work exactly the way you had it in mind… but it does promise to at least shake the story up enough for you to keep going.

 

I am finding it hard to find time to write…

 

No you aren’t, you aren’t making time to write.

Sit down and schedule your day.

What time do you get up?

Can you get up earlier?

What are you doing at lunch? Can you type or write in a notebook?

What do you do when you get home?

IS there an activity you are doing which is basically a brain reset, like gaming or watching TV?

Doing those “relaxing” activities are fine, but break it up. So do half an hour of writing, 15 mins of TV or gaming, and pace yourself. All of a sudden you have your daily quota, and you can spend the rest of the time relaxing for the day.

 

Other options

You can make up writing time but also give yourself credit!

Some people don’t count, but if you’re dead set on 50k words then do count, but only at the end of the day, last thing before bed.

If you’re happy and making plans don’t worry.

If you aren’t, ask yourself this; did I do all I could to make writing time, and if the answer is yes, then do me a favour. Congratulate yourself. Finding time to write while working full time, especially with kids, absolutely sucks. If you can do it you are an amazingly hard working writer.

If you’ve given up for the day, and fallen a little behind schedule, make it up over the weekend.

But most importantly, if you love writing, and want to prove that you can do this, for yourself, make time to just do one very important thing.

 

Love the story, fall into its arms.

Let yourself go and see where the muse’s hand takes you.

You never know how far you’ll go…

I’ve written a book, what now?

So you got it, you filtered through all those inspiring ideas and mad illusions, you found the time to put pen to paper (lol, no way, I mean fingers to keyboard), and came up with a great story that you think other people would want to read too.

Congratulations, because that is freakin’ awesome. Doing that part is sometimes the hardest of all.

Now you want to share it, but what do you do? Send your manuscript to get rejected with millions of others and give up? Do the risky, time-consuming self-publishing option? I’ve followed the latter, so it’s hard for me to advocate the former, but I can tell you this: Do the former, the worst that will happen is you’re rejected. Especially if you have a genre. If you can say to me: I wrote a Sci-Fi book! Then send it to a Sci-Fi publisher.

I didn’t.

I wrote a book that’s been called Star-Trek crossed with the Mummy, another called it Indiana Jones meets Victorian Goth. I call it a steam flavoured fantasy with a suspenseful horror twist. What a mouthful.

And I instinctively knew from online research I was going to have a really hard time selling it to a publishing firm that was going to look past my pitch in the first place. So I took the risk and self published.

If you are going to self publish, here is what I have learned so far, and I wanted to share it, and kudos to a cocktail loving friend of mine who wanted to pick my brain on how to go about it, and inspired this month’s blog post.

 

  1. Edit.

This takes the top priority, there is NOTHING more annoying to ANY form of reader than bad editing. Don’t ask me about the hours I spend at the computer or printed works looking for faults, I still miss them, and my editor is human and he misses them too. I’ve seen professional authors with publishers ask readers for editing mistakes before the book is republished. We ALL make mistakes, the more you can find the better. Get an editor, get beta readers, get friends and family to find them… and slaughter every one!!

*cough* I mean fix, fix every one.

When you are ready to publish I recommend Pronoun. They publish to Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Googleplay, they are super helpful and have made this much easier for me than I thought it could be.

 

  1. Get a good cover.

I think this is the most critical of your $$ spending. I am reading a fantastic book as part of a review club, and I cannot believe it doesn’t have heaps of reviews. I decided to review it because it had none, and while the blurb put me off a little, and needs an edit, I read the sample on Amazon and was quickly messaging the author screaming “GIVE IT TO ME!!!”

As the author was quick to let me know, he couldn’t believe something so insubstantial was of any importance, but we are fickle human beings, and are quick to judge books on their covers, despite what we say.

 

  1. Social media platforms

Have them. Work on them. Send out random tweets, update your FB page three times a week, get programs to help you do it if your time conscious. I have sold books based on my social networking, not many, but it’s a start. People know I exist, I have my own domain and website, if people try to look for me, they will find me. If they don’t know who I am and stumble upon me and like what I have to say then perhaps I’ve found someone who will read my book and love it as much as I do.

 

  1. Advertise

I see a lot of authors complaining their book isn’t selling but they aren’t willing to invest a little in smart advertising. And I do mean smart advertising. Don’t sell your dystopian Sci-Fi thriller to a contemporary romance e-magazine. Look up what other people are doing in your genre, and where their books are being displayed. I looked up “Steampunk e-newsletters” and found a group for fantasy/scifi fans and for a very small sum sold more books than with another enewsletter group wanting three times the price for a very generic readers group more interested in popular fiction i.e. romance.

I don’t have a romance…. Yet. Watch this space.

Or maybe not this pace but this website? Let’s stick with that.

 

  1. Get reviews

This is the hardest. Shouldn’t be right? But it is. How often when checking out a local restaurant do you see it only had 3 stars and after reading the mediocre reviews, give it a miss? Tripadvisor is a pinnacle of this, when I travel I check out the worst review and see if I can live with whatever warranted the poor review.

Now the tricky part. Don’t get friends and family to buy a copy, not read it, and say on Amazon: “This is better than Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings combined! Five stars! Buy this book!” People are going to look at those reviews and squint at them for being peculiar.

Join a readers group. Offer the book for free for honest reviews on your social media platforms. I can really recommend the Books Go Social Team, and their facebook groups. It’s a kind supportive and caring community and troll free (weird right? Yeah, completely troll free, indie authors don’t have time for that….)

 

Most of all? Don’t give up. I frequently wonder if getting up at 6am and staying awake till midnight is worth it, spending every spare second not at my full time job trying to squeeze in whatever task awaits next be it feeding the bottomless pit of twitter or facebook, checking reviews, editing, writing even, when I get to it. If you gave up writing on the keyboard then you will give up here. Don’t.

If you have a story you know you want to tell the world don’t give up. Don’t give in. Take a breath and realise what I did; that even though a year after publishing my first novella I’m not J.K. Rowling, but I have set out and achieved what I wanted, I started this, and by gods I’m going to finish it. If you really want this you’ll keep going too.

5 Tips for Writer’s Block on your Project

I decided that it’s been a while since I posted anything since there is all this background work happening at the moment and it’s taking up so much of my time! But it’s all very critical and exciting and can’t be revealed just yet.

I’ve recently received a lot of admiration from fellow writers for my ability to keep tackling my project even through writer’s block. It is difficult to sit and write things when you know what’s going to happen, and when the outcome is predictable because you’ve been mulling and thinking over it, it can be less fun to write.

One of the problems is that when you hit writer’s block a lot of the inspirational advice you can find in articles and online directs you down to starting something new.

This isn’t helpful when you need to work on the project you are currently on, and if you are anything like me, you hate skipping ahead to write the next scene, or even further down the story track to the more climactic moments. Sometimes by the time I get there the story has adjusted so much that most of the content isn’t as usable as when I was originally writing it.

So when writer’s block strikes there is a couple of things that I do as an author to change things up (forgive me but a couple of these are geared towards rpg/tabletop gaming, because I love it);

 

  1.     Roll your character decision!

Bear with me on this one. If you’ve ever heard of Dungeons and Dragons chances are you know what roleplaying is, and is commonly referred to as role playing games (RPG). There are a host of other systems out there, I notably play Cthulhu, based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Edge of the Empire, a Star Wars themed RPG, and I’m dipping my toe into Vampire the Masquerade. There are a heap of other systems based in different worlds with different themes, anything for a table top gamer to fancy.

Everyone (usually four to six people) sit around a table with a blank character sheet, and a collection of multifaceted dice, and a Dungeon Master (DM), or Game Master (GM), helps them create a character, and verbally walks them through a story or plot based in one of the above settings. Some of these are filled with fighting dragons and searching through dungeons, others are investigating paranormal occurrences in the 1920s, exploring the edge of the Star Wars universe, or even playing a newly turned vampire experiencing the Masquerade.

You tend to play for a few hours, and then have a break for a week before resuming again. I like to call these sessions, but have been referred to as chapters or episodes as well.

So if you’ve followed me this far, keep going because this is where it helps my writing.

When I run these games for my players I have a host of non-player characters, (NPCs), people I pretend to be as characters in the game I am running. And I like to keep the decisions they make as chaotic and arbitrary as possible, so they aren’t predictable. Quite often, when an NPC is faced with a decision, I will get out a random dice (ranging from a six sided die (D6) to two ten sided die (to make a D100), and roll them. Before I roll I’ll ask myself the necessary parameters of the situation and this is where I have a good example from my Star Wars game.

An NPC was going to give away the location of my players for a very large bounty. But the players had recently found an underground bunker that the NPC very badly wanted. So which was more important? The bounty or the bunker? I rolled a twelve sided dice (D12), because it wasn’t a large range of choices, merely a matter of how greedy the NPC was. If I rolled high he wanted the bounty, and he rolled low he wanted the bunker. It turned out he was more interested in the bunker than handing over the players. This then lead to an ongoing relationship and several favours the players now owe the NPC for later in the game, creating new content and a debt that will hang over the players heads.

Other times the decision can be more complex, this one is again from my Star Wars group.

I have an NPC who has been travelling with the group for some time (the players have Rebel sympathies) but the NPC is warring between the Dark and Light forces within herself, and losing to the Dark side. I rolled a D100 to work out how far she was descending to the Dark side after a bad altercation from the previous session, under 50 being Dark, over 50 being Light. I rolled a 15, meaning she was very dark indeed on the scale of things. This actually doesn’t work with the sympathetic Rebel players, and I warred with just making her Light to suit the players, but it does make things interesting because now she’s keeping a secret about how Dark she is from them. This creates a level of distrust and intrigue among the players as they decide whether they like her as a person regardless of her alignment.

If a decision doesn’t feel right there are plenty of random choices, so work out what your character choices actually are, find the parameters of their decision and roll to see what the outcome might be. Sometimes a random decision takes things on a new tangent you didn’t see coming and really invigorates the character development and plot!

 

  1.     Protagonist Birthday

This one is completely off topic, but imagine if right at his moment, your main character remembers it’s their birthday. Do they celebrate? Mourn? Try to make the most of it or cover it up and have the other characters remember for them? Is it someone else’s birthday?

Birthdays tend to be very universal, and often change the perspective of the day in most eyes; you automatically wish someone the best on their birthday.

But they can be traumatic times too; when you realise it would have been the birthday of protagonist’s partner, but they are no longer there. Or that everyone forgets their birthday completely. Or even better yet, bring the antagonist’s birthday into play, does it change the way the protagonist treats them?

Sometimes it only takes a page, but it spins a new light on the current circumstances and makes you rethink what they are experiencing from another perspective.

 

  1.     POV change up

This is difficult because I normally write from one point of view in my current project, and I don’t deviate at all. However I recently wanted to better understand the antagonist’s reasoning for a book I am writing in the future but needed to flesh out for the series. I wrote down what he was going through and how it was changing the way he thought about the world.

This POV change doesn’t have to be set where your writers block is, but it can help give you a better understanding and grasp of the motivations of your characters, particularly when your protagonists thinks what the antagonist is doing is wrong, but your antagonist thinks it’s right. Why do they think it’s right? What has brought them to that reasoning? What experiences have they had to make them who they are now?

It didn’t take me long, it was simply two pages worth of writing, but it gave me a much better understanding of the character, and what had happened to him the past that made him the way he was. So when it became time to write the protagonist’s view of the antagonist’s actions, there was a difference in conviction. He had become not just the bad guy, but one motivated by reasons that made sense, making him a much more believable character than one motivated solely by greed.

 

4.    Change the setting – COMPLETELY!

So for me this is easy because I spend a fair chunk of my spare time roleplaying, and it is a big suggestion to writers, especially of science fiction and fantasy, that if you haven’t ever roleplayed try to find a local group and give it a go, because for character development its fascinating.

In my games I have repeatedly put characters from my novels into my role playing games as NPCs in order to see how my players would treat them. This is an excellent trial by fire for a lot of characters; if you’re players aren’t going to believe or engage them, why should your readers?

Normally these NPCs are smaller than the main characters, just roles within a story, but if you take the general shape of them and their motivations, and give it to your players to see what they make of it, it enables you to better see how your characters will react to the player’s machinations. They aren’t aware that this character is any different from any of your regular NPC characters, and so will just treat it as another NPC.

I understand that not all of you are probably GM’s (though I recommend it highly for your story telling abilities), then the other way this is helpful is if you have a main character in a story you can role play them in a game someone else is running. If the environment suits your character (you should keep categories consistent, for example put a fantasy character in a Dungeons & Dragons world), they should come across unforeseen circumstances that are completely different from what you envisioned for them in your story. What makes this particularly interesting is when they fail or succeed at certain situations you, as an author, have no control over the outcome, because the game is in the GM’s hands.

It enables you to have a better sense of conviction for your characters, an aspect of their personality you weren’t aware they had; a good humorous side, or a bad temper that isn’t to be trifled with.  

You don’t have to play the specifically as to how they’d act in your story, but it certainly gives you a broader appreciation for them as a person.

 

  1.     Write

You’ll hate me for this one but its true. Sometimes I’ll just sit down and write through the scene to get it over with, and I got caught out doing this by my editor a couple of months ago. I just didn’t know what to do with the particular aspect of the story and I ended up committing the cardinal sin of *telling* and not showing.

This was actually a positive experience for two reasons.

The first was that I actually wrote through those scenes when they were stuck with me so I could move on to the more exciting ones, and therefore just got them over and done with.

The second was that when it was pointed out to me what I had done, I had to go through a massive rewrite of that particular part, and it ended up adding so much more character depth and reader engagement, and I am very pleased with how those scenes have now panned out.

So the rule here is get through the scene, and then maybe use your writing group, friends or family to review it and get feedback on what they think. For the scenes I was working on I had to change key plot points but when I had a beta reader go through the revised version there was a much better response.

Sometimes we just need to fill in the blanks and come back to the work, and with first drafts that happens over and over again and you should in no way feel bad for that.

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