Writing Advice: On NaNoWriMo


Though I have written many times about the topic contained in today’s post, I know in my heart of hearts that some of you will never attempt it. I know that it sounds insane and that it actually doesn’t make sense to some people. Some people consider this to be anathema to their way of writing. Some people consider it to be a ploy to get first-time writers to believe they can write something good in a short space of time. Well, you’re free to think all of that. But personally, I adore the 30-day insanity that is National Novel Writing Month.

Because it is now October, I feel somewhat obligated to write this pitch yet again. National Novel Writing Month is a dare that you give to yourself. When you sign up for the website and decide to undertake the challenge, you’re essentially daring yourself that you can write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. That’s the goal and that’s what everyone on the website is working toward. Once you’ve written those 50,000 words and have had them verified before midnight on November 30, you have the first draft a novel that you can do anything you like with. You can chuck it in the garbage, you can laugh about how horrible it is, you can share it with friends and family, and you can lock it away in a cupboard. Or you can revise it and make it into something you’re proud of.

In any case, NaNoWriMo — as it is abbreviated — is not for the faint of heart. Well, actually it is. NaNoWriMo is basically for everyone. You can try it out and quit after a few days. You can try it out, get busy in the middle of the month, and stop writing. The only thing forcing you to keep writing to reach that 50,000-word goal is that dare that you gave yourself earlier. No one is going to hunt you down if you don’t finish, and no one is going to scold you for not finishing. Everything about NaNoWriMo is entirely up to you.

Of course, it helps to have friends. You’re able to find a home “region” on the website and those folks will likely set up meetings to write and discuss NaNoWriMo “in real life.” Having that support group can be really helpful if you’re trying to get your word count for the day finished (1,667 words, by the way) or if you just want to be around like-minded people who are just as crazy as you are.

NaNoWriMo is, by all accounts, an insane pursuit. But it’s also incredibly fun. And what is writing if not one big risk? Why not add in something truly insane that really isn’t a risk to you at all? I love NaNoWriMo and I encourage you all to give it a try, if you’re willing and able. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the craziness on their website.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Connections


As I’ve said on the blog many times, characters are an integral part of any writing project. But it can be difficult to keep track of everyone involved in your story, and how they all connect. There are certain genres — fantasy, for instance — in which stories contain large casts of characters. If you write within these genres and have a highly populated story, you might find it helpful to use a technique or tool to keep all your character connections straight, and to perhaps create some new ones.

My first suggestion comes from author Marie Lu, which she offered in her pep talk for National Novel Writing Month. Marie said, “Write a long list of all your characters. Then, start drawing random lines connecting random characters to each other. Don’t think—just connect. Afterward, look down at your page. Try to figure out a connection between each of the two random characters you just linked—something scandalous, maybe, or something sweet. Something three-dimensional and unexpected. Some explosive scene that throws the two together.”

If you’re looking for some new character connections that will spice up your story or banish your writers’ block, then Marie Lu’s suggestion is a great one. Seeing a visual reminder of who is involved in your story, and creating actual, visual connections between them can be just what you need to discover where your story should go next. This is also a great exercise if you’re feeling blocked and need to find a new direction for your writing.

Secondly, I’d like to suggest a website called CharaHub. The purpose of this website is to catalog the characters in your story, describe their traits and backstories, and then connect them all in one handy place. The site is free to join and you can keep all of your character profiles private if you don’t want to share with others. CharaHub is a great way to stay organized, and it’s a helpful repository for ideas that you can return to whenever you need to. I have found the site to be really helpful with my recent writing project, which has a lot of characters with different, intricate connections.

Characters can invade writers’ brains sometimes, and that can be just as helpful as it is maddening. When you have so many different people to think about all at once, it can be difficult to keep things straight! Hopefully these tools will help you out. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Discuss: Step Away or Dive In


Good morning, blog readers. Today I want to talk about what to do when you’ve reached a huge milestone in your writing. As I mentioned yesterday, I have just recently reached the 50,000 word goal that comes along with National Novel Writing Month. I’ve done this almost every year for the past seven years. But each time it still feels amazing and it’s fun to look back at the first draft I’ve created.

This time around, I ran a tight ship, so to speak, on my story. I had an outline and I was able to advance the story pretty well while still making my daily word counts. This is a story I would like to finish and bring to a conclusive “the end” moment, which is something I haven’t done since my second NaNo. I really feel like I could finish and edit this one. The way I see it, I could go one of two ways here. I could step away from it for a while to gain some perspective, or I could dive right back in.

On one hand, stepping away from this project for a month would mean some time to breathe and escape the crazy deadlines I’ve been dealing with throughout November. People always say that it’s good to gain some space from your piece of writing, but I think that holds true more for editing than for writing more. In this case, I fear that stepping back and taking some time away would mean forgetting the characters, their motivations, and the plot that I’m trying to weave.

So, for me, I’m going to take just one week to bask in the glow of no writing responsibilities, and then I’m going to get back on the horse. My daily word count won’t be as steep (aiming for 800), but I’m hoping I can carry on that routine of writing every day to finish this story.

What about you guys? When you hit a huge moment in your story or in your writing life, do you like to take a step back or dive back in and get back to work? Share in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: The 10 Steps


Sometimes people just want some straightforward advice about getting some writing on the page. People also seem to like lists. This great quote from Brian Clark combines both of those things and I think he does it in a very good way. The next time someone asks you for advice on writing, simply point to this list:

10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer

Write more.
Write even more.
Write even more than that.
Write when you don’t want to.
Write when you do.
Write when you have something to say.
Write when you don’t.
Write every day.
Keep writing.”   ― Brian Clark

Having just finished National Novel Writing Month this past Saturday, and having passed the 50,000 word mark a day early, I cannot condone this advice enough. Just write! If you’re sitting around waiting for something, stop waiting and write! The only way you’ll ever have a finished product or something to edit is to first write it down. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be good. Just get the words down and then you can go from there. Give yourself some kind of incentive, reward, or punishment to keep yourself on track. Make realistic goals and create deadlines for yourself. Whatever it takes, just sit down and write that thing you’ve been wanting to write.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: On Goals


This week, on Saturday, National Novel Writing Month comes to an end! I plan on finishing on time, that is I mean to reach the 50,000 word count by the final day. The month has been a whirlwind, but it has been amazing and I’ve really enjoyed living within the world of this story that I’m writing. This year I hope to continue writing to finish the story even past the end of November.

NaNoWriMo is one of my favorite writing challenges throughout the year and, for me, it is a realistic goal. I’ve proven in the past that I can make it to this word goal within a month, so I know that it’s realistic for me to attempt it each year. However, for some of you, this might not be a realistic goal. Some of you may have read my NaNo-related posts this year and thought, “this sounds insane!” And that’s totally fine! Not everyone is comfortable with a goal like the one that NaNo sets forth. What’s important is that you find some realistic goals that you can set for yourself when writing.

A while back, Chuck Wendig — master of blogging about writing that he is — posted 25 Ways to Be a Happy Writer. I found all of them very intriguing and helpful, but I thought the most relevant one at the moment was number 7 on his list, set realistic goals. Wendig writes:

“I’m going to write this book. It’s going to earn me a seven-figure advance. It’s going to climb all the bestseller charts like that giant ape climbing whatever that really tall building is, and I’m going to win all the awards and then I’ll sell the film rights for another seven figures and the protagonist will be played by Baby Goose himself, THE RYAN GOSLING.” Unrealistically high goals just mean a long fall when you miss a ledge or a foothold crumbles beneath you.

That last line is what’s key for me. If you set really high goals that you cannot meet, you’re going to feel discouraged when you don’t meet them. Setting unrealistic goals basically sets you up for failure. Instead of shooting for those crazy, unrealistic dreams right away, save them for later and set some goals for yourself that you know you can meet in the short-term.

Think about some of the goals you have for your writing. Are they realistic? Try listing your writing goals and evaluating them. And happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: On Inspiration


One of the really great and supportive things that the National Novel Writing Month website offers members throughout November is pep talks from famous authors. These authors span many different genres and are from all different walks of the writing life. A recent pep talk by author Malinda Lo caught my eye this week. The pep talk was all about inspiration, which is something that authors often talk about in very lofty terms. I understand the hype of inspiration, absolutely, but I don’t really like to rely on it for writing. I like getting excited about a new idea, certainly but that excitement is not going to stick around. I think we all know that. And Malinda Lo had something to say about this topic, too.

In her pep talk, Malinda Lo said that “inspiration isn’t what gets your book written. Discipline is. However, inspiration does sometimes pop by for an unexpected visit.”

This spoke to me so much because it’s how I feel about writing. Discipline is what is going to make you sit down in front of your computer every evening and crank out 1,000 words. Discipline is what pulls you away from distractions that demand your attention and make you focus on your story. Inspiration is seductive, as Malinda Lo also mentions, but it’s not going to stick around. Inspiration may plant the seed in your head for a story, but it’s not going to stay and help you write it. For that, you’re going to need discipline.

Malinda closes her pep talk by saying: “Enjoy that inspiration while it’s there. Enjoy it thoroughly because it is rare and precious. Just don’t expect it to show up every day. The only thing that needs to show up every day is yourself—and your determination to see this through to the end. You can do it.”

I guess the main thing to remember is that inspiration is a flight mistress, and discipline is more like a long-time partner. You can’t rely on the fact that you’re going to feel inspired and completely excited every day when you go to write. But you can rely on your own sense of discipline and determination — if it’s good — to get the writing done.

— Jet Fuel Review Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Discuss: NaNoWriMo


On Friday of this week I will begin my seventh National Novel Writing Month endeavor. Yes, that’s right, for seven years now I’ve spent the month of November writing like a crazy person (although I did skip 2008 for various reasons). For those who don’t know, National Novel Writing Month (or, NaNoWriMo), is a writing challenge that began as a web-based community. It still is, largely, a web-based community, but you can also find writers in your area to become “affiliated” with. Anyway, the main objective of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November. Does it sounds insane? Yes, of course it does. But, is it doable? It absolutely is. I’ve won every time I’ve attempted the challenge, and winning just means you made it to 50,000 words by the end of the month.

While I understand that NaNoWriMo is not for everyone, I can’t help but give a stump speech for it every time November rolls around. The arguments against this type of thing are understandable, but I still consider it to be an amazingly fun challenge to undertake. There are some who say a novel is not written in 30 days. I completely agree! A first draft, however, can most certainly be written in 30 days. The goal is not to write a masterpiece on the first try. It is simply to write 50,000 words of a cogent story that you’re passionate about. Technically speaking, it doesn’t even have to be cogent; you can write whatever you like. But it’s more helpful to you if you write something that can be used as a first draft.

If you are not at all interested in trying out NaNoWriMo, I totally respect that and you can stop pretending to pay attention to this post. If, however, you are interested in this endeavor, I have some tips for you:

Firstly — find a group to join. The NaNoWriMo website is a great facilitator of writing communities and allows you to affiliate with a region geographically close to you. A group of like-minded individuals all trying out this crazy thing together is far stronger than one person giving it a go.

Secondly — Once you have that community, try to attend their “write-in” events. These consist of sitting in a room with other writers and just writing for at least 3-4 hours. I can’t tell you how immensely helpful these have been to me during past NaNoWriMos.

Finally — just have fun! Yes, you want to have a workable first draft at the end of the month, but you also want to have a good time, right? Let loose, write something you’ve always wanted to write, and take the plot and characters to crazy places. Writing should be enjoyable, so let it be!

What do you think about NaNoWriMo? Have you ever tried it? Does it sound like something you would try? Or are you completely and totally opposed to the idea? All opinions welcome in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Seat of Your Pants


Welcome to Monday, dear blog readers. I hope your week has gotten off to a good start so far. Today is the final Monday in the month of October, and so it’s the last Monday on which I will be talking about planning a story. On the past few Mondays, I’ve discussed Planning Tentpoles, the Beat Sheet, and Index Cards. To give credit where credit is most positively due, all of these planning and plotting tips have come from Chuck Wendig and his amazing blog. Today, we turn again to Mr. Wendig’s 25 Ways to Plot, Plan, and Prep Your Story and we focus on number 25: flying by the seat of your pants.

Within the NaNoWriMo community, there is a term for writers who choose not to plan, but rather to just jump headfirst into writing. These folks are known as pantsers. As in, they fly by the seat of their pants when writing. A more respectful term would probably be “discovery writers,” but no one I’ve spoken to has been offended by the “pantser” moniker.

In his blog post, Wendig says, “All this plotting and scheming just isn’t working for you, so go ahead and pants the hell out of it….Sometimes trying to wrestle your story into even the biggest box is just an exercise in frustration, so do what works for you and what doesn’t. Once again, however, I’ll exhort you to at least learn the skill of outlining — because eventually, someone’s going to ask for a demonstration of your ability.”

He’s right — planning can sometimes be a bear to deal with when all you want to do is get started on the actual act of writing. I totally understand that and sometimes I just dive in as well. But I always end up coming back and outlining some once I know what I’m writing about and who I’m writing about. There’s nothing wrong with “pantsing” it, but it’s good to have a framework for where you’re headed.

I hope this post, and the other Writing Advice posts this month, have been helpful for you! Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan