Friday, October 25, 2013

Throw a Ninja at it

We're one week away from the beginning of National Novel Writing Month so by now you're doing one of two things: sitting back and waiting impatiently or freaking the HECK out. If you're sitting back and waiting impatiently then I congratulate you. I (like a good handful of others) and freaking the HECK out.

Why? I'm not quite ready yet. I've still got to answer a bunch of questions for my first novel, type out the planning I have for novels two, three and four, get new tires for my car, do some laundry (it lasts a month. Yes I have THAT much clothing), clean the house, and help a friend move during the first three days of November. Yeah. I'm not in a good place but here I am sitting around online. I'm special like that.

ANYWAY. Enough about me and the woes that if I buckle down would only take a day or two to complete but I probably won't because I'm easily distracted and a huge procrastinator. Deep breath, there we go, ready? Good. This is supposed to be about ninjas. Ninjas are fun and your biggest friend during NaNo.

Why ninjas and why are they your biggest friend? Well, for one, ninjas are freaking awesome. For two, er, there is no two. One is enough. It should be noted that when I say ninja I don't just mean this guy:

I've always wanted to include ninjas in this blog
That guy can be included, don't get me wrong. But ninja also means a random and unexpected plot point, character, sub-plot, scene, place or basically anything else you didn't plan when writing your novel. Those ninjas are sneaky, aren't they?

Ninjas are meant to be these shadowy beings that tip-toe around in the dark then BAM! Attack. It's a good thing. Well, it's a good thing for you as a writer so long as you're not actually walking around in the dark and get attacked.

A ninja means that you're adding word count and (hopefully) another layer to your story that without said ninja would not exist. It might not make sense when you write it but later on you could have hit upon something that tied up a loose end without you realizing it. And if it really doesn't make sense then you can edit it out.

Basically, in order to fully utilize the ninja, you have to get to a writing Zen. My best writing is done when I'm not thinking about what happens next and I'm going with the flow of the story. I call it subconscious writing, or throwing ninjas at it. It's the writing that happens when you let the story come out of its own free will instead of forcing into some cookie-cutter you plotted out for a year.

Now, you can write successfully without a ninja. It's not as fun but it can happen. And depending on the type of writer you are (go check out this blog post for tips on that) you might not even need a ninja.

But for those of you who are truly stuck, panicking and have no idea what you're going to do for NaNo: throw a ninja or two at it. Heck, toss a whole ninja clan at it if you need to. Don't be afraid to open up a new document (or notebook if you're handwriting) and just start writing. It'll come. It might take a while and a lot of ninjas but you'll end up with something that could turn out to be really cool.

And for those of you that do have a plot in mind but still find yourself stuck: ninja. It doesn't mean that you have to veer away from your plan. BUT, if you find yourself so stuck that you can't continue on the nice, neat little path you've got set out: it might mean your characters/story subconsciously wants to go in a different (most time better) direction and you should follow the ninja.

In short: Ninjas are freaking awesome and you should follow them more often. Let your story go where it wants and learn to write subconsciously. Remembering: you're telling a story, not forcing it. Until next time: comments, questions, rants, rage and everything in between can be directed to the comments.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Writer's Block and Reaching 50K

When NaNo rolls around there are a lot of people generally asking one of two things: 1) How do I deal with writer's block and 2) how do I reach 50K/how do I know if my novel is going to be 50K?

There is no right or wrong answer for either. The boon and bane about being individuals is what works for me might not work for you. Regardless, in the spirit of NaNo and all that is writing I decided to organize some tips and tricks for writer's block and reaching 50K. Cuz I'm nice like that. I'm actually procrastinating on finishing my WIP because I'm about to kill off a main but that has to do with "writer's block" so hey, it works.

Writer's Block

Writer's block is defined as "a condition in which an author loses the ability to produce." There are plenty of causes, one for everyone who writes and it would take more than this blog to explain them all. The main ones are as follows.

Lack of inspiration: This is probably one of the most common forms of writer's block. You just can't think of what to write, how to write it, or why your characters are doing the things they're doing. Solution: Move around. Take a walk, change your writing spot, change your writing position, vent to a friend or even a stuffed animal. Sometimes a change of pace can clear your head and let your muse back in.

Distraction: One more YouTube video. Oh, NaNo forums. One more episode. Been there, done that. The internet is the most distracting thing for anyone, never mind a writer who may or may not be procrastinating on finishing their novel. Solution: Get rid of the distraction. I'm not saying cut off the internet completely, just use something to block it for a while. This right here is what's stopping me from finishing my WIP and moving onto planning things for NaNo.

Pressure: This can be anything. You just broke up with your significant other, you lost your job, someone close to you has died, or you're being forced to write in a way you're not used to. Solution: Time. I know, it sucks, but sometimes you just have to wait it out. It takes time to get over death, rejection, and other things and sometimes you have to concentrate on "fixing" that problem before you can move on. Take the time and effort to make yourself happy again before trying to write. On the opposite spectrum you can try to use this time in your life to simply write about what's making you feel so horrible. Perhaps once your thoughts are on the page you might feel unblocked.

Intimidation: This can go one of two ways. 1) You've written something so great that you don't think you can write something else as great. 2) You've been a victim of the cruel reviewer. Solution: For one: well, there isn't one writer out there who's ever written their "last novel" because everything else after will suck. No novel truly sucks and what might make your best work great will shine through in any novel you write. You can only get better, not worse. For two: Sometimes that bad review can do you some good. No really. It can point out any mistakes you may have made and then you can fix them. Feel free to feel bad, but take a look at the review objectively afterwards. Is that person right in what they're saying? If so don't be depressed about it. Fix it. You'll become a better writer by reading those bad reviews with a clear and unemotional head.

Reaching 50K

There's actually a whole forum dedicated to this on NaNo. What you're going to see below are the things I do to not only reach 50K, but go above and beyond, not only in Nov. but for every month for about a year.

1) Wrist Position: This is a biggie. If your hands and wrists aren't aligned properly for typing (or simple hand-writing) then you're going to be in a world of hurt, especially if this is your first time writing anything of length. Keep your wrists flat with your keyboard and give yourself a break every now and again to rotate, flex and rest them. Last NaNo I was starting to think I couldn't participate because in Oct, my wrists began hurting something fierce. I got a wireless keyboard which put my arms, fingers and wrists into proper position and now I can write again. You'll have a longer writing career if you take care of your hands.

2) The Idea Shuffle: How do you go about picking one? Easy. Put them all in a hat (I put them face down on a dart board) and pick one. I can almost guarantee that the idea you pick won't be the one you write. Why? Because once you're "forced" to pick one, the one you really want to work on will kick you in the face. Why is this important? You won't hit the 50K on an idea you're not excited about.

3) Character Love: Just like you won't reach 50K on an idea you don't like, you won't reach 50K with a cast you hate. If you don't have one redeemable character, one that you like (even if he's evil) then your best plots will go bad. If you find yourself hating them all change them or tweak them a bit until you do like them. Yes, in the middle of the story if you must. People do change you know. ;)

4) Thoughts, description, etc: So there was this thread about Chuck Palahniuk saying to eliminate all thought from your novel. Basically he said to stop using "Andy knew Carol liked him" and instead show how Carol liked Andy. It came down to the basic of "show, don't tell." It's fine and dandy, really, but NOT ALL THE TIME. Yes it can help pad your word count but when I tried to read Haunted I couldn't make it through the first chapter because of the insane amount of "showing" and description. And yes, even Guts (as much as I like it) is somewhat over described. You have to have a balance between showing and telling. And for gosh sakes if a character likes another character they will not "roll their eyes, shove off on one foot, and walk away." That means they're mad. That's the other reason for not "over showing": some people react different than others in situations and some people's life experiences make them read body language differently.

5) The Muse: Never and I mean NEVER ignore your muse and by extension your characters. If they want to go somewhere that you don't have planned, just go with it and follow. If you force them you'll start suffering from writer's block. Trust me. I've tried and it doesn't end well.

6) Stick to your style: No matter what anyone says about how they get to 50K (including me) stick with what YOU know works for you. Don't go switching up things because that is a sure-fire way to NOT get your 50K

7) Participate in forums/discussions: when you can. The community is great if you're stuck on where to go, how to get there and if everything is just a mass of frustration you have to let out or implode. There's a forum for every kind of writing problem and there is always a willing writer or dozen who will help. So don't be afraid to take a few minutes and ask a question or rant where applicable.

8) Will it be 50K? No one really knows if the novel they're planning will be 50K or not. There is no way to be 100% sure. For example: Chosen Ones of the Forbidden Object, my NaNo12 project was supposed to be 200K. It's 152K and had to be stretched. I thought Changed, the WIP I'm stalling on (I've got a case of the distractions), was going to be 100K. It just hit 60K and I've only got about 4K to go. Seer was supposed to be about 70K. It's 92K. Heck, the Cara Series was supposed to be one book and morphed into four. Again, just go with it. If you find yourself under don't worry because it's easier to add a subplot or a bit more description then to take stuff out.

9) Social life: The thing that enables me to write as much as I do is that I don't have a social life. No really. I have two really good friends who both work weekends and nights when I'm free. We get together twice a month, sometimes more, but communicate by texting. I'm also a bit anti-social and a hermit so that helps. I'm not saying cut everyone out but you may have to reduce some time with friends/family/etc if you want the 50K. It depends on your typing speed and motivation.

10) Motivation: Even if you feel like crap you have to write. Forcing something onto the page can sometimes break the writer's block and if you're sick it can make you feel better. But, DO know when to give up. If you're almost in tears because you just can't find the right word then stop. Take a break. Take a walk, vent or whatever, then try again after you've cleared your head. Just don't let the head clearing take too long.

11) Write every day: this is a given but if you make a habit of it in November, why stop? Keep going through the year and by next Nov you'll have increased your typing speed, smoothed out your style, figured out how you write effectively and the 50K will be a breeze.

Final words: No matter what happens during NaNo (or during any writing project), remember: YOU HAVE NOT FAILED. Even if you only manage 5K, it's 5K more than what you had going into this thing.

Until next time: comments, questions, rants, rage and out-right insults can be directed to the comments.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

NaNo Prep

October is half over so Nation Novel Writing Month 2013 is creeping closer. For the veterans (those who have done at least one NaNo event) we know what we've got to do. For newbies, not so much. So I've made a list (or something) of what a newbie (or veteran) can do to prepare in the coming days. Of course this is based mostly on my writing style and it might not work for everyone. Also these tips appear in the order I thought them in, not necessarily the order they have to be done in. Lists make things easy to read. Anyway, here we go:

1) Know what you're doing: Kind of obvious right? I mean you can't do anything until you know what you're going to write. Is it romance? Fantasy? Sci-fi? Crime fiction? None of the Above? All of the above? Some made-up genre that combines other genres? Figure out what your story is and it'll help you with a lot of the other stuff you'll need to do.

2) Who are you? I mean this in two ways: who are you as a writer and who are your characters. Let's do the characters first, okay? You need to know the goals, challenges, weaknesses and strengths of any major character including good guys and bad guys. Don't worry too much about description right now (unless they're missing an eye which is a weakness) but concentrate more on who your character is and what they want to achieve in the story.
As for you: What kind of writer are you? Are you someone who can write for hours on end (welcome to the club) or are you someone who writes for 15 minutes, breaks for five, writes for 15, etc? Can you pump out 10K or more in a day or are you limited to the bare minimum? Knowing how you write is important during NaNo because along with planning out your novel you've got to be able to plan out how you're going to reach the 50K.

3) So this happens, then this: Start planning out what happens in your novel. This is where the pansters mainly go "ah heck with it" because they usually only have a vague idea in mind, sometimes not even an ending. The planners will start making chapter by chapter play by plays depending how much they plan. THIS IS TOTALLY DEPENDANT ON YOU AS AN AUTHOR AND NO ONE IS RIGHT OR WRONG. Yes it had to be shouted and yes it's dependant on the tip above.
I fall in between: I NEED to know my ending but I don't need to know every detail before I write anything. Most of the time my characters will lead me along and fill me in with subplots. The only time they didn't was in Testing Grounds and I coulda killed 'em.

4) Organize: make sure that along with your story work-book (or Word Doc) you've got somewhere to jot down some notes. You need to remember who's dating who, what your character looks like and all the subplots going on at one time. It's a lot to remember so don't feel bad or whatever if you can't remember it all. Make sure everything is organized in a system that works for you and easily accessible whenever you're writing.

5) The Inner Editor: MOST people will tell you to shut off the Inner Editor. I'm simply going to say this: if you've learned to work with it then don't shut it off. If you can't work with your Inner Editor then shut it off. I mention this because there's still two weeks before NaNo. This is the time you should be using to learn how to write without the editor if you have to and getting their den ready so they don't bug you if you can't work with them. AGAIN: TOTALLY DEPENDANT ON YOU. This is where knowing who you are as a writer helps.

6) Research: anything that you need to research this way you don't have to go to Google in the middle of a writing session to figure out how many police officers are in a certain city so you can make your made-up city seem more realistic. I just did that during the writing session before this blog post. ;)

7) Have a plan: and I don't mean just for your novel. Plan out when you're going to write, where, and for how long. This goes back to number 2 because you can't figure out where, when and for how long if you don't know what kind of writer you are. For me I know I can only write weeknights. On the weekends I'm planning to write all day from 8AM to about mid-night. So I've informed the people who might bug me not to bug me. They'll message me sure, but they won't expect a quick response.

8) Make sure that everything is done: As in if you know you've got a paper due in the beginning of Nov., get it DONE before November. If you know you're moving, pack the things that can be packed away before November. If you've got family coming, pencil them in at a time you don't normally write (that's reasonable). If you've got a trip planned (right here), make sure you've prepared as much as you can before the trip so you're not scrambling the day or two before. Less things to do = less stress = more writing.

9) Go with it: Don't be afraid to change your writing times, your plot or anything else if something comes up. Life happens, characters want to go in a different direction, and we don't have complete control over everything no matter how much we think we do. Just go with it especially if it can't be helped. Try to make the best of it.

10) Have fun: NaNo isn't about killing your hands/wrists/brain and exhausting yourself to get 50K. It's about having fun while writing. So don't think it's the end of the world if you "lose" because really everyone who writes anything when they haven't before (or even if they have) is a winner. If you can't make the 50K then you've got whatever you did get when you didn't have it before.
Unless you're used to writing huge amounts of words in a short time don't try to tackle OVER 50K. It won't end well. BUT if you find yourself over 50K with more story and some days left in the month feel free to keep going. And welcome to the "overachievers" club...which brings me to my next point.

11) Overachievers and you: For the love of all that is NaNo DO NOT be afraid, intimidated, jealous, mean towards, etc, the overachievers. We're all writers working towards a goal. There's no need to call someone who's "won" NaNo in week 1 (or day 1) a cheater. And just because someone has "won" NaNo doesn't mean that they're immune to plot/character/novel problems.
I understand jealously (heck I'm jealous of the people who can get a million in a month but I still like them), I understand the intimidation, and all that other stuff but none of it is an excuse to make someone feel bad about getting over 50K. None of it is an excuse to make your regional overachiever leave the region because of stress. It's happened, I saw it happen to someone I know well(ish) and it's not fair for anyone.
It will make the overachievers reluctant to help you if you need help (I know I am once the bar is full) and that's bad for everyone involved. The overachievers are likely some of the best motivators in NaNo: they know what it takes to get 50K, they know how to get 50K and they're willing to help you get 50K if you're not insulting them or making them feel bad for being over 50K.
On that same token if you are ahead of the game it's no excuse to make fun of someone who might be struggling. You motivate, you help, and you cheer. You don't bring down, tease, and ignore. NaNo is not a competition against other people. It's a competition for yourself. You're "competing" to force yourself to write more, faster. NaNo is not around to bully people who are ahead or behind you.

12) Know the rules: of the forum. Take a brief look over them and make sure you're not posting things in the wrong place or breaking some other rule. If you're not sure go for the best place that you can think of. Ask a moderator: they're nice and they don't bite. Also make sure you know how the site works so you won't be struggling to find something or someone during the month. This is the time to do it so don't be afraid to do it. We were all there once so we're not going to think you're stupid for asking something that's obvious to us.

That's all I can think of right now. I'm always willing and free to chat so if you find me on the NaNo forums don't hesitate to PM me, reply to a post or generally chat. I might take a while to respond and PM'ing is probably the best way to get a hold of me. My name on the forums is Dairenna and this is my avatar:
I'll see you all there and until next time comments, questions, rants and generally anything else can be directed to the comments.