NaNoWriMo Prep: The Final Countdown

This is is, folks.  The last day before the madness, before the explosions of creativity, before you lose yourself to the stories already eating up your minds.

It’s time to make sure you have everything you could possibly need before NaNo begins.  Lucky for you, I made my own handy-dandy check list so feel free to use it and change it as you see fit.

Story-wise:

  • Outline and notes, if needed
  • Reliable typing machine
  • Reliable backup software/method
  • Writing warm up routine
  • Ideas
  • Time (if you can’t make it, steal it)

Person-wise:

  • Snacks
  • Drinks
  • Comfy writing space
  • Comfy writing clothes
  • Rewards
  • Near-inhuman excitement

That’s it, folks.  That’s all I’ve got.  I wish you all the luck and creativity the multi-verse has to offer and here’s to seeing you on the other side.  Just remember:

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NaNoWriMo Prep: Easter Eggs

The best thing you can give yourself when writing is Easter eggs.

No, not the chocolate ones, although if you have any tucked away in the freezer then yes, by all means, definitely treat yourself at some point when you deserve it next month.

Every writer has certain things they adore writing.  Certain tropes or situations or events just get you all excited and ready to jump in the middle of it.  I absolutely love writing snappy dialogue between sarcastic characters.  I also absolutely love infusing history with fantastical elements, which is why I eat up genres like steampunk.

In my outlining process I’ve added a new series of cards to my ring with Easter egg ideas.  Now, I won’t be able to use all of them, I’m sure, but there’s quite a few promising ones that I’m sure will jumpstart my imagination and make me excited to spice up scenes as I work through them.

Writing isn’t always glamorous work, and it’s easy to fall into ruts, fixated on where you think the story should be headed, but have zero motivation to get it there.  I’ve learned that when that happens I have lost interest.  No one is going to want to finish a book where the writer isn’t excited about the material, it bleeds right through the paper.  So I monitor my attention span.  If I start drifting or searching out distractions then it’s time to evaluate where the story is headed.

That’s time consuming work, and not productive when you’re in the middle of NaNo.  I take an afternoon or so and daydream about all the things that excite me to read and write.  How many of them will fit into a story?  It’s always more than I think.  So I put them on my notecards and stick them in the outline where they seem to fit.  This November as I work my way through the outline I’ll have plenty of prompts and inspiration to keep the momentum going.

When the goal is 50k you need a lot of steady momentum.  It’s not worth pushing through unless you’re writing what you love.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Word Count

I am not a runner.  I am not a jogger.  I’m not even a power walker unless I am in a grocery store trying to get what I need and get out because there are too many people and I am peopled the hell out.  Which is, like, always, and also why I prefer human contact through a computer screen, but that’s neither here nor there.

In order to run or jog it’s important to warm up and practice before doing a marathon, otherwise, you run the risk of doing yourself serious damage.  Writing is no different.  You may be sitting in one place, but your fingers and your mind sure aren’t.  So October is a great month to warm up to the word count you want to accomplish during November.

A good method that I like is word sprints.  The NaNo boards have great threads for this where you can check in with other people who are doing the same thing and they can offer encouragement and camaraderie.  If you aren’t used to writing much start off with 200 – 300 words.  Find a prompt that sparks something for you.  Or, if you prefer, write to a time limit, like 15 minutes.  If you can, keep going, if not take a break and then do it again in ten minutes or so.  Carve out a little time a couple times a day to practice sprinting.  That will train your fingers and your brain to take off and go, and you can build up your endurance along the way.

I write year round, but I also write inconsistently.  Due to day job constraints, health, and real life with all its un-lovely curveballs, I may go a couple weeks or a month without writing much.  Other times I may work steadily for weeks.  That comes with its own price tag, namely stiff fingers and sore wrists, as well as mental exhaustion.  This fall I have been making myself work nearly every day on my writing, though much of that has been revision and editing, which require different warm-ups than straight writing.  That consistency has helped better me by training my mind to get into focus when I need it, rather than when it feels like it.

I’ve found my Novembers tend to start off explosive because I’m excited and ready to create, but if I haven’t warmed up properly beforehand I tend to slack off around the middle of the month and then struggle to catch up by the end.  I’ve always managed to by sheer force of will and absolute pig-headedness, but that’s not a good habit to stick with.  It doesn’t help me outside of November, and it doesn’t better my work ethic.

With seven days left until NaNo starts, there’s really no better time to start practicing so you’re ready to take off from the start line and keep yourself on track all the way to the finish.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Characters

I debated on whether or not to do a post about characters for my NaNo prep since every writer and all their imaginary friends have written blog posts on creating characters, but I decided to do one anyway.  Because I honestly love talking about characters and all their many layers, so why not?

I usually don’t set out to create a new character unless I need a side or supporting character to perform a necessary function.  My main characters tend to find me, so it’s just the rest of the cast that I struggle to sketch in as I expand the world and the storyline.  Sometimes the side characters become more important than I intended, sometimes they just fill the role I needed.  I don’t try to predict which one will happen, but I use the same method to create them.

I start with a name.  My go-to site is behindthename.com, and it is a treasure trove of names and meanings as well as links to its sister surname site, a highly customizable name generator, and lists of name themes.  I decide what nationality I want the character to be if that will have any bearing on the story and then I go searching through that language link.  Sometimes I choose a name because of it’s meaning and how it pertains to the character, other times it’s whatever sounds right.  I like the name combinations to roll off the tongue.  If it’s a name that sounds easy for a parent to shout at a misbehaving child I find it’s usually easy to write out as well as read.

Once I have a name I jot down some initial details as to what they look like, where they’re from, what they are doing, how they serve the story, etc.  If the character ends up sticking around for any length of time I will then summarize a backstory just so I have a uniform set of details to expand from and to give the character more weight.

Every character on the page has to have a reason for being there, but they also have to have their own agenda.  One of my weak spots is not fully shaping a side character who ends up being a wooden puppet feeding the main character ideas and lines without any other purpose, and I work hard to fix it in my revisions.  I’m learning that if I do the homework as soon as I know I need a new character then the story itself doesn’t snag on the flat new presence.

Also, if I do that homework well enough, and the character ends up not working for their intended purpose, I then have a decent character I can save back for something else whether it be a different part of the same story or maybe a new story of their own if they’re interesting enough.  No work you do on your writing is ever wasted.  Everything can be repurposed.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Outlining

I never used to be an outliner.  The most I probably did was sketch out a couple vague scenes I really wanted to write and figure out my main characters before I started NaNo or any project.  But after 11 years of doing NaNo and about 20 years writing total, I’ve got to admit that not having an outline screws me every time.

I get distracted.  I get bored.  I get stuck.   Those guys are the wretches and goblins that work so hard to keep me from achieving my goals.  So instead of getting overwhelmed by them, I’ve started to fight back with an outline.

Honestly, it shouldn’t have taken me this long to realize that’s what I need.  I use an outline at work all the time.  That one tends to be a running list of things that need to be done during my eight-hour shift, but it’s an outline none the less and it keeps me on track when phone calls, customers, and unexpected side missions happen.  Because they always happen.

So, my outlining method is pretty malleable.  I’m still figuring out what works because each project has different needs and so do I on different days.

This NaNo I am using a note card ring for a lot of my outlining, you’ll remember this picture from my last post:

I’ve been getting my note cards written out and in order, and so far this is what I have for each chapter:

  • Complete list of characters
  • Complete list of places
  • Short background bio on each character
  • Defining characteristics of locations, history tidbits tied to it, etc.
  • General summary of each chapter
  • Key scenes
  • Emotional journey in the chapter
  • Information on key objects pertaining to chapter events

This is enough to give me an idea of where I’m going in each chapter, and I add as little or as much information to each thing as I feel I need.  I like to have some room to improvise if the mood strikes me, but I also need a general line of sight to keep my goal in view to avoid following tangents into the wild blue yonder.

I also did note cards for the following:

  • Defining events
  • Twists
  • Theme
  • Histories and world building notes
  • Checks and balances
  • Beginning, Middle, End
  • Overall summary

Out of all these, I think the checks and balances cards are the most important for me.  My world has magic so I need clear rules of what magic can do and what it can’t do so I don’t stray off into the realm of Deux ex Machina midway through November.  The second most important would be the Beginning, Middle, and End, which gives a framework to where the story is actually going.

I don’t treat any of my note cards as written in stone unless it’s a fundamental foundation of my worldbuilding.  I keep myself open to inspiration and allow certain changes during the writing process because sometimes the best ideas happen when you’re in the thick of it all.  Outlines are more guidelines, after all.

NaNoWriMo Prep Time

Another year, another October and you know what that means: National Novel Writing Month is almost upon us!  Every year writers all around the world flock to nanowrimo.org to participate in the 50k word event during the month of November.  This will be my 11th year to participate and I wanted to kick off these last few weeks of October with some tips and tricks that I’ve tested out myself and found helpful.

With two and a half weeks left until the starting gate there is still plenty of time to get ready for NaNo whether you’re starting on something fresh or, like me, using it to finish something you’re already working on.

For this post I wanted to share some of the tools and methods I use for bare basic prep.

First, I write all my material in Scrivener.  I like that program best because it gives me a ton of tools and options to customize every project I work on.  I also like the fact that I can break up a project into files and folders and rearrange at will without risking damage to the overall piece.  My typical template set up looks something like this:

Nothing too fancy, just the generic Novel With Parts template Scrivener comes with.  I will write myself notes on each chapter or scene on the note cards to keep them straight and start importing research from the web so I have all the info I need in one place and I’m not tempted to break during a writing session to look up the count of Jim Bowie’s nose hairs or what date the telegraph was invented.

I don’t personally utilize the Character and Places folders, though.  I found I need a more physical means of keeping those straight so I’ve made myself a note card ring:

I’ll put a hole punch through the top left hand corner and add to the ring as I get information written out.  I find it helpful to break from the computer during the planning stages because it cuts down on distractions and sometimes just the act of writing with a pen helps the ideas flow better.  I seem to retain the information I write down better as opposed to typing as well.

One of the last bits of prep I like to do is my goal setting.  I am capable of writing 2000 words a day as a baseline, but I know from experience that the first two weeks are crucial in getting as far ahead as I can so there is a word count cushion for the end of the month when things inevitably get crazy.  There are the holidays and mandatory family gatherings, of course, but also business at work that saps my energy and the occasional cold that loves to pop up when it’s least convinient.

So this year my goal is to write 5000 words every other day and strive for 10-12k on the weekends.  That would put me halfway done by the second week.  If that is a pace I can sustain then I will finish my 50k well before the month is over, leaving me free to either write more or take a break and then get into revision.

I haven’t set it up yet, but I am going to create a calendar with my goals penciled into each date and hang it on the wall next to my bed so I can see that goal whenever I need a boost or a reminder.  Reminders, with me, are key.  It’s easy to lose focus if I don’t define my steps.

Last, but not least, an encouragement.  I found this little wall banner on sale at a crafts store today and knew it was just perfect for me.  I hung it by the door across from my bed so I will see it every time I look up from my computer:

 

Stay tuned for more NaNoWriMo tips and remember, be epic in whatever you do.

Flash Fiction: Into the Abyss

“That’s just unnatural,” Taz muttered, eyeing the dark liquid inside the cup.  “What do you suppose it is?”

I tilted the cup around in my hand, so the liquid swirled around.  There was no way to see the bottom of the cup.  The liquid was thicker than water, but not so thick as molasses.  There was no reflection on it, either.  Just a tiny sheen of white as the setting sun light skimmed the edges.

“I would say coffee but even the sludge Mama used to make wasn’t like this.”

My heart twinged at the memory of Mama, but I pushed it aside.  Another day, I promised myself.  When all this crap was over I would let myself mourn.  Though, to be fair, there wasn’t much of a chance I’d live long enough for that.

“We have to make a decision,” Taz said.  “The sun is almost gone.  Do we want to take this chance?”

I swallowed against the sour taste in the back of my throat.

“Gonna have to.  No other way around it.”

“There’s always another way.”

Taz said it not to sway my decision, just as a reminder, but the sun was disappearing and the ash in the air clung to us like dirty snow.

“Yeah, but nothin’ we’d figure in time.”

Taz nodded, accepting and completely trusting.  I never used to question her faith in me.  I never had to, but that was before when I was a stupid child and taking things for granted was the way of things.  Taz didn’t have to be here.  She chose to be and chose to follow my lead, madness infecting my brain and all.

Before I could second guess myself, I upended the cup and drank half the strange liquid down.  It was cold, with a copper aftertaste and a squirmy sensation, like it was alive and worming its way into all my insides.  Taz took the cup as I gagged and finished it off.  She coughed and wiped her lips.  A dark smear went across her cheek.

Twilight fell on us and the world spun like a spindle, around and around.  The plains disappeared around us.  When it stopped we were back in that midnight desert, mountains shaped like sleeping giants in the distance and a set of footprints leading into the dark.

Writing, Behind The Scenes

Writers are not glamorous creatures.  I don’t know who started that particular rumor.

We can create entire species, countries, worlds, out of the gray squishy bits between our ears, sure.  We can bring characters to life with our imaginations, put them through hell, give them a chance at happiness, offer them roads of adventure and excitement that most people will never get a sniff of in their own lives.  We can understand and twist around the psyche to explore the hidden depths and drifts of the human mind.  We can even make people so invested in our creative ramblings that they forget the real world exists around them, if only for an hour or so.

But writers are not glamorous creatures.

Because while we are capable of doing everything listed above, we also find ourselves in certain situations most people are smart enough not to encounter.

Like leaving the house with your shirt on inside out (not even the first, second, or third time that’s happened) because you need coffee and coffee is across town and, honestly, most of you isn’t even present in your body because part of it is still in the dream from last night, another part is playing Fishdom puzzles, a slightly larger part is where you left off editing at 2am, and the rest of you can barely open your eyes because mornings are stupid and far too bright and 9am is waaaaay too early for functionality.

Writers are not glamorous creatures.  Sometimes it’s amazing we don’t set our houses on fire trying to make cereal.

Onward and upward and all that jazz

Editing time!  I wrote the last lines of the ending the other day, now it’s time to start cleaning house.  I have my fuel, my notebook, and in a minute I’ll start the cringe-worthy read through of my story collection.  The plan, as it stands now, is to do a full read from beginning to end and take extensive notes so I have a solid idea of what I’m up against before I go ripping into the meat of this strangely assembled beast.  I have a vague sense of missing character development in several parts, sudden character introductions at the end, and several missing KEY POINTS that were never set up.  So, figure out what needs axing, what just needs a prune, and what needs complete revision because I decided somewhere along the way to go completely off road and into the abyss.

It should be quite a wild ride.

Blue Alice

Chuck Wendig had another prompt that gave me some inspiration.  The prompt was ‘There is no exit.’  This is what I came up with.  I tried something different and wrote in 2nd person present tense.  I think it worked for this piece.

There are three things you know you can count on in your life.

1.  The world will always find a way to temper kindness with cruelty, lest you get the wrong idea of its nature.

2.  The wind will forever pull you back out to sea, and it has no qualms about stranding you.

3.  Blue Alice will always be in the corner of the pub, draining mugs of rum and ale, telling stories of past glory to anyone who will buy another round.

You used to pay her in mugs for her tales.  Cheeky little shit you were, attracted to the glory she spoke of like it was precious diamonds.  You wanted all she spoke of, adventures and treasure and the sheer unfettered freedom her kind of life could give someone if they only had the courage to pursue it.

Those stories taught you many things, but you learned more when you gave your courage full rein.  You’ll never be a quarter of the storyteller Blue Alice is, but you’ve seen your fair share of strangeness, of wonder, and black-hearted vileness.

The latter, perhaps, never so plain as when you catch a glimpse of your reflection.

Blue Alice accepts the rum and takes a deep swallow as if it might quench some long-suffering parch.  She licks her lips and sets the mug down, fingers still entwined in the handle.

“What tale may I offer ye today?  Something adventurous and daring?  Perhaps ye wish to hear about the cursed pearls that won back a war.  Or maybe something mysterious, such as the sirens who lurk at shipwrecks so they might pry a bargain from the lips of a desperate sailor in their blackest hour.”

You say nothing, for it occurs to you to look past Blue Alice’s words.  You notice her eyes.  They must have been striking, long ago, as the clearest blue this side of the Caribbean.  Now, yellowed and bloodshot, they’re just sick.  Her skin has gone sallow and discolored from drink and ruin.  Her facial scars, which once must have struck fear and dread into those who came against her, especially when she flashed a devilish grin containing no trace of mercy, now only paint her a sad and weary creature.

“No, none of those,” you say.  You drink your own rum for a moment and try to gather the words that scatter as a school of startled fish.

Blue Alice tilts her head and studies you.  You find it uncomfortable for the position to be switched.

“I heard tell you met yourself a genuine sea witch out there.  Mayhap you ought should be tellin’ the story this time.”

“I don’t want a story,” you say.  You wipe at your mouth and sigh, frustrated.  There’s still blood under your nails and on your coat.  Would that the last voyage had only been a tale.  “I want an ending.”

Blue Alice hums and swirls the run around the bottom of her mug.

“There is no exit,” she says.  “You stick around long enough, survive enough, you come to realize a few things.  One being that every ending is nothin’ more than another beginnin’ disguised up in magic or faith or solace.  Nothin’ truly ends.  It just becomes something else.”

“No.  There has to be an ending.  Otherwise, the concept wouldn’t even exist.  There has to be a way of getting out.  For good.”

“Why?”

So you tell her.

There’s no fanciful euphemisms or rousing prose.  You tell it as it happened.  The legend.  The voyage.  The map.  The island.  The witch.  And how everything you followed left out that the treasure was another kind of hell, one someone else fought and bled and wrecked themselves to contain.

“You lost someone.”

“Lost implies they might be found again,” you say.  “She’s not lost.  She’s ended, more or less.”

The magic of the hurricane saw to that.  It ripped her apart worse than any musket or cannon.  It tore at her until she was less than skin and blood, less than soul.  Whatever remained, if anything, was finer than strands of corn silk and left drifting in the ocean.

It should have been you.

“So don’t tell me there ain’t a way.  There was for her.  Now I need another.”

Blue Alice ruminates on that while more rum is poured.  You drink yours down, barely tasting the liquid scorch.  Time passes.  Music plays.  Someone starts a fight and someone else ends it.  But it’s just noise.  After the hurricane took her dying screams nothing sounds quite real.

“Maybe there is something,” Blue Alice says when the sun is down and the tide has come in.  She pulls a vial of black liquid from her vest.  “Drink this, and it shall give you what you seek.”

You take the vial and turn it over in your hands.  It’s dark as pitch with an oily residue.

“Poison?”

“Nay.  More akin to a wish, if you will.  Best to be sure, though.  Ye can’t be wishing yourself back.”

There’s never been anything sweeter fall upon your ears.  You uncork the vial at the table and down it in a single gulp.  You think, let it be a good ending.  The bar winks out around you, and then back again.

But you are not in your seat.  You’re in Blue Alice’s, looking back at yourself from her eyes, from her body.  She smiles using your mouth.  It looks stiff.  You’ve not smiled in many months.

“What is this?”

“A way to make as many endings as ye need.  Make them worthy.”

She leaves you alone with a full mug of rum.  You find yourself unable, or maybe unwilling, to follow.

Before long someone else arrives.  Young.  Impressionable.  Eyes too bright, ears too eager.  They fill another mug in front of you.

“Give us a tale, then, Alice.  Something full of adventure and daring.”

Blue Alice drinks her rum and opens her mouth.  Out comes a story with a fitting end.