Lessons from NaNoWriMo + Novel Plotting Spreadsheet (Downloadable)

downloadWhew! Did you make it past the goal line? If you didn’t, did you write more than you did in October? What things did you learn from the experience? This is my third year participating and my third year winning, finishing two days early!

This year was different for me as it’s the first one I’ve done since I’ve started taking my writing seriously and the first one since I participated in FastDrafting with Candace Havens (in which you have to write twice as much in half the time). My first NaNo in 2009 was an historical mystery and is accreting dust balls under my bed (it really is, I looked the other day when I swept my room). But, it did teach me that I could complete a novel-length project. I was so scared to participate, thinking there was no way I could write that much in that amount of time. In 2010 I still didn’t know what I was doing, and with a premise and a vague sense of what was going to happen, I wrote what became MUST LOVE BREECHES. Took me almost two years to learn even more about my craft and what things needed fixing with that manuscript, but I finally got it in shape and have hopes for it finding a home next year.

In May, I took an even scarier plunge and participated in Fast Draft and wrote 56K in 14 days (STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY). BUT, this time I’d spent a month plotting out my story and getting to know my characters’ GMCs. That experience taught me several things which I realized at the time, but several things came to light only when I participated in NaNoWriMo this past month.

I’m a Plotser

What’s a plotser? A cross between a pantser and a plotter, with maybe a wee bit more emphasis on the pre-plotting. With Hurricane Sandy and other circumstances, my new agent (signed only on Oct 4) and I weren’t able to coordinate on what direction to take for a sequel to MUST LOVE BREECHES. So for most of October, I wasn’t even sure if I was participating in NaNoWriMo. Then at the end of the month, I decided to take up a premise that had nothing to do with BREECHES so I wouldn’t waste my time writing a sequel she didn’t want. However, that meant I’d not spent time plotting at all. I had what I thought was a fun premise and a sense of who the H/h were and so started one day late on November 2. I caught up with everyone over the weekend and was doing swimmingly until about Day 5, then my word count dribbled downward and things ground to a halt. I had no idea where I was going with this and I didn’t like feeling that way. This wasn’t the normal ‘what I’m writing is drivel’ feeling, I really felt like all my characters were just spinning their wheels waiting for something to happen. Like the plot. Ugh. A local writer friend sagely advised me to take a break for a week, two weeks, to figure out the plot and then do a FastDraft blitz at the end. So I did! I ended up creating a spreadsheet to help myself stay focused on what I needed to discover, and I’m going to share it with you at the end of this post.

Confidence

Her advice was great, because I knew from my experience with FastDraft how much I could write in a day if I really pushed. So I took four days off and just brainstormed (and created the spreadsheet) and I didn’t feel panicked that I was getting behind.  I knew I could write 3500-4000 words in a day if I had to and so I took as many days as I needed. I kept an eye on the NaNo ticker of how much I’d need to write in a day to finish and when it got a  little past 2K and I felt good about my plot and characters, I dived back in.

My goal

The reason I didn’t wait until 3500? Before I started, I’d decided to see if I could do NaNo without interrupting my normal life of seeing friends and watching the few TV shows I follow, etc. I didn’t want it to be all consuming. And it worked. Thanksgiving wasn’t harried at all as far as my writing went. I took off Thursday and had enough words banked where I could write below 1667 for Friday and Saturday (and just snatched an hour during the day to do it), and on Sunday I did my word goal in the morning before I had breakfast with my brother and sister-in-law and hit the road to head home.

The spreadsheet

Since I didn’t have the leisurely month to pre-plot and sit in front of my physical storyboard with sticky notes brainstorming scenes, I was searching for something to help me kick start this premise into a story. The storyboard/sticky note was too detailed of a process and I needed something more high level than that, but not as high level as the one sheet beat sheet created by Blake Snyder in Save the Cat. So this spreadsheet I created during that 4-day hiatus of plot brainstorming.

storyengineeringworksheet

The genesis of the spreadsheet is from Jami Gold. I took her spreadsheet, which is a beat sheet for your plot all on one page, but I added to it as I worked through what I needed to discover and there were also other plotting devices I wanted on there. So after a lot of fiddling, I came up with a Story Engineering Worksheet. It takes a page for each Act/Part (four total) and is based heavily on Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, with spaces for you to scribble in the H/h’s default third dimension of character and what the new third dimension will be at the end (their character arc). I’m also heavily influenced by Alexandra Sokoloff‘s Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II and so I created spaces for you to write in the thematic words/image system you want to use for each act. The guts of it, however, comes from Jami Gold and her beat sheet, which pulls from Elizabeth Davis’ Save the Cat Beat Sheet. Thanks you two!

If you haven’t read any of these books, you need to! And some of the things on this worksheet will not make as much sense without having read them. If you have, then this worksheet will help pull all that knowledge into one spot and remind you what you need for each phase of the story.

Hope you like it! Please feel free to ask me any questions you might have!

So what incidental goals did you have for NaNo? What things did you learn about yourself and your writing process?

 

Writing Update – NaNoWriMo and More

NaNoWriMo

Wow, Day 28 already?! If you’re also doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) like me you’ve only got today through Friday to reach 50,000 words. I’m on track so far with just over 45K written as of last night for my new novel (my fourth full-length novel) NOT ANOTHER DARCY, which is a meta fiction romance where literary characters come to life. I’m having a lot of fun with it, but I’m going to keep this post short, because, you know, need to get in the wordage this morning before I head to work.

I’ll post next week about the experience and some things I learned, plus a new spreadsheet I created for plotting, but right now I wanted to touch base with everyone and see how you’re doing with NaNoWriMo? Are you on track? Have you already hit the magic number? If you’re struggling, don’t look at the final number you need to get, try to instead focus on how many words you can write in an hour and try to clear blocks of time with no distractions and hit that goal. And keep going for another block of time. I can’t recommend the Twitter hashtag #1k1hr enough–it’s saved my bacon a number of times! By focusing on smaller goals, you reduce the amount of stress/freakout you’re experiencing with the number of words needed to finish. Good luck!

Writing Updates

Some of you have been asking about MUST LOVE BREECHES and what’s happening with it now that I have an agent. Unfortunately, our plans to submit Nov 1 were derailed due to Hurricane Sandy, so we’re going to submit in early 2013.

My first release, BEER AND GROPING IN LAS VEGAS, is still on track to be released on December 19th with Secret Cravings! Right now you can add it to your Goodreads shelf until it becomes available for pre-order on the Publisher’s site. Sadly, it probably won’t make it to Amazon’s database until after Christmas. Does anyone have any tips for me on pimping it? Still learning the ropes. Thought I’d make a postcard of the cover with a QR Code on back for buying…

How about you?

This is an open thread to pimp your upcoming release, or to share how you’re doing on NaNoWriMo!

ALSO, TAKE A FEW MINUTES TO BACK UP YOUR PROJECT! I’ve heard horror stories, just saying…

So you want to NaNoWriMo? Plotting and Fast-Drafting

This was prepared by me as a presentation for this month’s Mobile Writer’s Guild monthly meeting and cross-posted on their website. I thought it could be useful to those outside their reach, so thought I’d post it here too.

First: What is NaNoWriMo? It’s an acronym for National Novel Writing Month, which is a project spearheaded by the Office of Letters and Light and happens every November. It’s fun, it’s crazy, and it’s a great way to get you unstuck from the dreaded writer’s block. You pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

This is compiled from my experiences in participating and “winning” NaNoWriMo both years that I participated, as well as from taking Candace Havens’ FastDraft class, which aims to write more than 50,000 words in just 14 days.

On board? Here’s what you can do ahead of time to help you succeed:

In October:

Plot (Yes, plot. Keep reading)

Use October to plot as much as you can stand. I pantsed my way through NaNoWriMo, but there were definite moments, er, days, of panic when I wasn’t contributing to my wordcount because I was stuck. For FastDraft, I plotted out as much as I could the month prior and boy did that make a difference. I’d conceived my idea and then started storyboarding it. Even if you believe down to your very tippy toes that you are not a plotter, try it. You might be surprised how much you can stomach. You might find that you fall somewhere in between, where you can come up with your turning points and some scenes all the way to the end, but that conducting character interviews is going too far. That’s okay. Experiment and push to see how far your muse will let you dabble in plotting before it protests.

PANTSERS: See if you can do any of these beforehand:

  • Write your logline. Can you boil your characters and conflict into one sentence? See if you can fill this out (from author Holly Bodger): “When [MAIN CHARACTER] [INCITING INCIDENT], s/he [CONFLICT]. And if s/he doesn’t [GOAL] s/he will [CONSEQUENCES].” This is not the only way to construct a logline, but you must have character, goal and conflict and hopefully a dash of irony. This will come in handy when you’re ready to pitch your story. For more on this, see Kristin Lamb’s Structure Part 5–Keeping Focused & Nailing the Pitch–Understand Your “Seed Idea”
  • Write your main characters’ GMCs (Goals, Motivations and Conflict). See if you can fill out the following for each character (especially your main character(s)).  ___________ (name) wants ______________________(goal) because __________________(motivation) but _____________________________(conflict). And see if you can do it for their internal and external GMCs! (Internal is emotional and external is the external plot—external is what the character thinks they want and internal is what they really need.) For more information, Debra Dixon wrote an excellent book (don’t pay the exorbitant price on Amazon, go here). And here’s a blog post that goes into more detail.
  • Identify your opening scene, first major turning point, second major turning point, dark moment and resolution.
  • Brainstorm scenes that could fill in between these
  • Write a two page synopsis that covers the main turning points and ending.
  • See if you can identify your theme (it’s okay if you don’t, sometimes this happens organically)

Of course you plotters do WAY more than this, so this isn’t geared to you. You already have your system ;) Pantsers, keep experimenting with how far toward the plotter end of the spectrum you can push yourself. It will save time during revisions and make your first draft go much smoother. It will enable you to write faster because you already know where you need to go.

With me so far?

Prep your physical and mental space

Okay, in between running around getting Halloween costumes and candy, see if you can clear the decks as much as possible. By that I mean, alert your friends that you might not be around so much, stock up on food and snacks, clean your desk and get whatever you need ready.

Do you write to music? Make your playlist! I have a playlist called “NaNoWriMo” actually.

For FastDraft, I was using Scrivener and so I entered in all my scene cards that I had mapped out.

Another important step is to get prepared mentally:

  • Believe in yourself. Here’s what Candace Havens says, “You have to throw out all those preconceived notions about how fast you write. This is different. NEGATIVITY in any form is not allowed. Let go of the past and move forward with your writing. We are thinking positive. We are thinking how cool it will when we have a first draft done [in thirty days]“
  • You have no time to polish. Give yourself permission to write crap. Yes, crap. You’d be surprised at how much more creative you are when you’re not censuring your words as you type.

Don’t forget to actually join NaNoWriMo. Go to NaNoWriMo.org and sign up. It’s free. You’ll find lots of support in their forums, but during November, don’t get lolled into the forums too much! But it’s a great way to ask quick questions and find other participants in your area. Mobile might have a team you can join and meet with them for “write-ins.” Having other people share in your journey is a great motivator.

November

All right. So November 1st dawns. What do you do? Here’s some tips:

Tip #1 – Think in pages, not words.

I’m going to adapt the FastDraft method here. For NaNoWriMo, you must write 1667 words a day to meet your goal. I remember thinking that it sounded so unattainable (I’d been struggling to write a novel for almost a year at this point and had only written five chapters.) The idea of writing that amount EVERY DAY scared me. So I signed up precisely because it did. I never dreamed I’d actually do it. But I remember both years pulling words out almost one at a time and looking at that word count and thinking I had SO MUCH more work to do to get to that number. I’d write a little and check my word count. Only 55 words? Ugh, I still have 1279 to go!! But I’d update my wordcount on the NaNoWriMo so I could see the daily goal line go up infinitesimally. But with FastDraft, Candace asked us to make the number of pages we write a day our goal. I committed to 15 a day. And did it. That’s 3000-4000 words a day! And you know what? I found it easier to push myself to write another page (roughly equal to 250 words) and another, and see that hey, I just wrote 8 pages I only have 7 more to go. Seemed somehow more attainable. So for NaNoWriMo, make your daily page goal 8 pages double-spaced and then when you’ve written that, tally up the word count and you probably either made it or gone over! And going over is great, as you’ve now banked those words for when you might not be able to make your daily goal.

Tip #2 – Blanks are your friend

If I didn’t know something and couldn’t find the answer in two minutes of Google-Fu, I just typed in brackets things like [look up how they did this] or [describe this better] or even used _____ for place names or names of things I didn’t know yet, and kept typing. I also used the Document Notes in Scrivener for each scene and typed out things I’d need to look up in revision for that scene.

Tip #3 – Use Twitter’s #1k1hr

Seriously this hashtag on Twitter I owe a serious debt to. I made many new friends that way too. I think almost every hour I wrote I used this tag. It really helped me focus and cut down a ton on my compulsion to check out what’s happening on the web. I knew that when that hour was up, I had to say my word count, and I really wanted it to be over 1000 so it made me push. One time I wrote 1858 words in one hour, but typically I averaged around 1200-1500. So for NaNoWriMo, you could possibly make your goal with just ONE HOUR of writing! At the most, two.

Tip #4 – Choke Your Inner Editor

We covered this earlier in how to mentally prepare, but it’s worth repeating here because it WILL haunt you in the beginning. If you’re not making your goal, it’s because of your inner editor who is sitting on your shoulder telling you the words you’re typing are crap, that the plot is crap, that the characters are crap. Take it by the throat and say, “Yep, it is! Got a problem with that?!” and then mentally shut it up somehow. At the end of the month, when you go to reread, cringing with dread about what a big stinking pile of poo you created, you’ll actually be pleasantly surprised at how bad it wasn’t. You can fix ALL OF IT in revisions. That’s when you can invite your inner editor back. But at least you’ve got the bones of the story down and you can flesh it out and decorate it in revisions.

Tip #5 – Make Time

Don’t have a solid hour or two to make your goal? Do it in 15 minute increments. Get out your pad and pen while waiting at the doctor’s office. You can write in many more places than you think you can.

Tip #6 – Keep Going Forward

In FastDraft, Candace was way more strict than you need to be for NaNo. She didn’t allow you to reread or edit ANY previous day’s writing! However, when I was doing NaNo, I found that if I just went back to the previous day’s writing and quickly read it to put myself in scene again and flesh out sparse description, I could add 100-300 words easy. The trick is not to let your editor start rewriting sentences. DO NOT DELETE ANYTHING. If you can’t resist, and it’s just really bugging you that something is there, use your Strikethru button in Word so that it’s “deleted” but not really. Any words you write during NaNo on your story contribute to your word goal, so this way those “deleted” words still count. In December you can then delete them. Many who do NaNo as well as FastDraft recommend ending the day mid scene so it’s easy to pick up because you know what’s happening next. I was afraid I might forget some new idea, so I made sure to jot notes down at the end of my session so I wouldn’t forget the next day.

Tip #7 – Pair up with others

In this instance, peer pressure is great. Make it work for you. Get others you know to join you and cheer each other on.

Resources:

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? I’m not sure yet if I am, it all depends on what happens in the next week or so with my agent and what she wants me to do. Have you participated before? Do you have tips to share?

To NaNo or Not to NaNo – Help!

Lord, I’m such a waffler! In my last post My NaNoWriMo Dilemma (Oct 5), I’d laid out my dilemma with NaNoWriMo. Well, I reached the goal I’d set out in that post (to have my third draft of my current WIP done and sent to Betas) but I still hesitated committing. I felt like I was still burning hot with enthusiasm for this current WIP and if I just worked hard enough with it, I’d have a chance to get it picked up (one can dream, right?). Stopping to do NaNo will distract my feeble brain like a shiny trinket, and I might not regain my enthusiasm for this current WIP.

So, after much deliberation, I decided not to do NaNo this year. It was tough, especially as I know more writers this time around and NaNo is being talked about more than ever, I just know it’ll be even more fun this year.

But, now I’m at that cooling off stage for my current WIP as I wait for feedback from my Betas and I feel like I’m spinning wheels. I’d established good writing/revising habits over the summer and now that time is being sucked up by building my author platform. Don’t get me wrong, that’s important too, but I suspect I’ll be able to find a nice balance pretty soon and I might then drop my current schedule and start sleeping in, etc. Anyway, this is all to say I’m now having second thoughts about NaNo. Maybe I should do it? But I don’t even have an idea yet! Perhaps I could do a sequel to my current WIP so that I’m still in that story world.

Then in December I could let that WIP cool, and pick this one back up?

Experienced authors, what do you think? I’m really close to the stage of querying my current WIP. Should I stay with it and not get distracted by NaNo? Or would it be good to start a new project at this stage?

Third Draft Finished

writingI set myself a deadline of last night to finish up my third draft, and I made it! I had a three-day weekend to help matters, and I mainly stayed inside in my jammies and worked on it. Sunday I felt like I needed to see the whole thing printed out, so I started printing the 359 page print job and ran out of ink. Got dressed and ran to Office Depot and got black ink and more paper (cuz I think ahead) and came back. Then 24 pages shy of being done, I ran out of black ink a-gain. Got some eyebrows cocked returning to Office Depot.

Anyway, did a quick polishing, big picture read through and finished that yesterday afternoon and then input some last-minute critiques I received at critiquecircle.com (my ending still needed work!) and got those typed in.

I had a severe crisis of faith reading it though. The This-is-crap feeling. I think I’ve just been too close to it for too long and now I’ve lost all objectivity. Tonight it will get formatted and sent to my beta readers, so maybe NaNoWriMo is coming at a good time to give me the space I need from this piece.

Anyone else go through a love-hate swing during revision?

Photo by Rae Grimm (bloodylery)

My NaNoWriMo Dilemma

It’s October! There’s a chill in the air (yes, even down here in the Kingdom of Mobile) and I’m starting to get anxious as this means the craziness that is NaNoWriMo is looming closer.

I owe a lot to NaNoWriMo. Up until 2009, I’d tried writing, but I was so paralyzed by my inner editor I could only go in tiny spurts and then abandon projects. I was so self-conscious at the keyboard my creativity had shriveled up into a little ball of whimpering goo. Until about a couple of weeks before November 1, 2009 when some fellow Jane Austen fan fiction writers asked me if I was doing NaNoWriMo, and I’m like “NaNooWhat?”

I went to the site and thought it would be impossible to do. I’d never even come close to that kind of word count in one day, much less strung together. I also had nothing to lose. No one was going to come hunt me down and put me out of my miserable existence if I didn’t finish.

So I did it. And 30 days later, I finished! I’d actually done it! It was a great sense of accomplishment, but more importantly, it taught me tons about writing that has stayed with me. Lessons like making your creativity come to the fore and making your inner editor be the one in a little ball of whimpering goo. Take that Inner Editor! Seriously, I think that’s the biggest benefit of doing NaNoWriMo for a new writer.

Of course I had to do it again, so during October I let some ideas simmer and this time I finished my goal 3 days early and so kept writing to the end of the 30 days and past until I finished the first draft. This is the project I’m still revising.

Hence my dilemma. I had planned to participate again, no question. I had planned to have my current draft done by October so that I’d have a whole month to think of and plan out my new novel. I’d purposely been squishing any curiosity about what it would be about, afraid to interfere with my current work. But, I haven’t finished this draft. This is why I have a dilemma, because I have that type of personality that gets enthusiastic about something to the point where I’ll ignore other things. Right now, that energy is on my current project. I know that if I even start teasing apart a kernel of an idea, it would be like Pandora’s Box and I could kiss my enthusiasm for my current one goodbye. I’m really close to finishing, but I’ve been saying that since July.

Okay, am putting it down here, that I have until Monday night to finish. That will still leave me more time than I’ve had the last two years. And maybe I’m more of a pantser than I thought I was. I hadn’t planned out anything before, so why this year? I guess I thought I’d experiment and see if it’d make my first draft a little more manageable on the first go.

Perhaps I also need some distance from this project so that after November is done I can come back to it objectively and in a business-like manner. I could then spend December on it while the new novel sits percolating, ready for me to pick it back up again in January. Sounds like a plan.

Anyone else in the same position with NaNoWriMo? Do you like to take October to prepare, or like I’ve done the last two, come up with the idea days before and just run with it?