Obligatory pre-NaNoWriMo Post


I think I’m going to be a rebel today and actually sit down to write out a post. Be forewarned, however, that I write so often and at such a high volume that my word count sometimes gets out of control. For this reason, I use headers to divide up my posts, so if you hate what I’m saying you can just skip on down to the next part! You’re welcome!

Today I’m going to talk about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and how to write your first novel!

What is NaNoWriMo?

Today was October 29, which means November starts this weekend. For those of you who still only know it as a rumor, November is National Novel Writing Month. For the month of November, writers everywhere have challenged themselves to commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days or less. How much is 50,000 words? A typical printed novel page is approximately 250 words, so 50,000 words is a roughly 200-page novel. That’s a respectable amount, though typically not the length of the novels you’re used to reading. For most, NaNoWriMo provides a deadline and a community. It’s an environment that tells you, “You can do this,” and empowers you to take the first crucial step towards publishing.

I’m writing this post to reach out to the would-be writers. Maybe you used to write for fun, and stopped for some reason, like I did during college. Maybe you’ve always thought about it, but since you’re not a student anymore, you don’t believe you’d be any good. Maybe you do write, but you’ve never finished anything. Or maybe you’ve written 100 drafts and you hate every single one. Maybe you’ve just given up. Whatever the reason, I’m talking to you. If you harbor that tiny seed of inspiration that wants to be a novel, but something is between YOU and THAT.

The Obstacles

I’ve heard most of the excuses, and yes, they are legitimate ones. Family obligations, lack of time, too easily distracted, heavy work schedule, school, etc. The creative process is fragile and needy. You have to feed your demon all the time to keep it alive, so it can be hard to be inspired at the moment you need to be. All this truly means, though, is that you’re probably not going to be kicking out five books a year. You. Can. Do. This. How do I know?

Because writers do this all the time. A lot of writers have jobs. A lot of writers have families. They don’t always schedule writing time, and they don’t work on their novels for hours every day. I struggle with commitments myself–I have a FT job that often requires my time even off the clock, I have pets and a husband and a family, and I have other hobbies. And yet, last year I wrote 50,000 words in 10 days (I shocked myself, in all honesty). You can do it, too. If you sit down, right now, and write for the next 30 minutes without getting distracted, I bet you can net 800 words no problem.

Try it.

If you can’t get 800 words… read this next section.

You Don’t Need to Write It to Write It

What the heck does that even mean?

Anyone who has ever written a story will tell you that some days, the words just happen like voodoo on paper. The vocabulary is rockin’ it, your characters came to work today, and it’s a good day. Some days, you’re up against a wall and nothing happens. You open the file and stare at the screen and your brain just goes to mush. If you’ve only got an hour to write today, this is very bad.

I tell everyone that most of my writing actually takes place when I am not in front of my computer. When I’m at work, when I’m in the car, when I’m at the grocery store… everywhere I go, I’m plotting my novel. I’m asking myself questions about my characters (Why is she afraid of him? Where are they going next? What’s a good reconnaissance mission for them to train on? How does she die? What’s a good name for an ocelot?). Sometimes, I spend much of the day just thinking about the opening scene of the next chapter (Do I want to start there? Does this line grab attention?). To be honest, my storytelling habit happened while I was a bored child in church. I made up stories in my mind to entertain myself, and it’s a habit that comes in handy.

Writing time is elusive. It’s probably going to happen when you aren’t expecting it to, so you want to be prepared. Have a plan for the next time you’re going to sit down to write, that way you don’t waste it when you finally have it.

But I’m Terrible

You have my permission to suck at writing. Honestly, how long have you been a serious writer? And by serious I mean you’re making an effort to sit down and write on a regular basis. Good writers practice. A lot. If you haven’t been practicing, then you’re going to suck. That’s fine. You’re not going to get any better at it until you start practicing. And practicing. And… you get the idea. If you want to learn how to dramatically tell a story, it’s going to take repetition, and until you get that first one out of your brainpipes, it’s clogging up the path to your masterpiece. You have to write it down.

You don’t have to share it with anyone.

Give yourself permission to be terrible. It’s an attempt. The next one will be better. You’re never going to be perfect. You will improve. Explore your ability and just marvel a bit at where it will take you. Just like with any talent, you need to hone your skills.

What do I write about?

Having an idea worth writing is both the easy part and the hard part. Regular writers are plagued by Plot Bunnies, which are shiny new ideas that hop on through your mind and try to distract you from whatever you’re working on. Ideas are always most exciting at the beginning. When you get to the 25,000th word, it’s more like work, and shiny new ideas are dangerous.

But if you don’t have any ideas, it’s awful.

You have to start paying attention and asking critical questions. Watch a good movie and look for plot holes. Ask yourself what might have happened before and after the storyline that’s on screen. When you start to ask yourself these questions, you will begin to see the glimmers of ideas. Keep reaching. Keep looking. Keep thinking. And when you find one that might even be only sort of worth investigating, write it down. The internet is also full of “Plot Bunnies.” You can always go snag one of those.

What Not to Write (Disclaimer: You should always write whatever you want if it makes you happy. BUT, if you want to publish and sell anything, you might want to avoid these)

  • Cliches
  • Tropes–Tropes are like archetypes. They refer to things that have been done and redone to death and people are basically sick of them. Don’t write something that no one wants to read.
  • Plagiarism–Don’t copy an existing franchise. Examples: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Star Wars. Not only will you label yourself as unoriginal, chances are good that whoever did it before you did it a lot better, so you’re not going to be very successful.
  • Predictable Plots–If your reader can pretty easily figure out what’s going to happen, they won’t feel compelled to continue.
  • Boring title, Boring names, Boring places–Be memorable. If your brand doesn’t evoke imagery from your story and makes a reader have to think too hard to figure it out, you’ve failed.
  • Offensive material–Don’t hate on any group of people. Don’t insert your personal opinion into your plot. Don’t dis another person’s work in your work. Don’t write a story if you know it’s going to upset someone.

What to Write

Incorporate what you are obsessed with, right now. It will make it easier to write about. Start there and expand outwards. Make sure you have a clear beginning and a clear end. Make sure you have a clear conflict that makes sense. Make sure all of your major characters experience some kind of characterization progression throughout your story. Your novel needs progression, movement, and resolution.

Don’t Do This Alone!

Have someone in your corner cheering you on. Make a writing buddy. There are tons of them out there that need one just as badly! Having someone that holds you accountable to your commitment by asking you what’s going on in your story land today will keep you focused. It also helps to have someone to offer quick feedback (“What do you think of this name?” or “Does this even make sense?”) and bounce ideas off of–or just to listen to you vent about your frustrations. Writers need a good support system!

My Secret Weapon

…is absolutely the characters. Your characters, properly developed, will practically write the story for you. I cannot stress this enough. Put most of your effort into developing complete, complex characters. Focus on their likes and dislikes, their fears and their dreams. What motivates your character? What quirks do they have? Why do they behave the way that they behave? Free write some background stories. Take your character on a field trip. Put them in situations to find out how they would handle them. You should not attempt to write a story until your characters are ready to live. 

My favorite example is my character Heike. I love her. I don’t think I can ever create a character who is quite as awesome as she is. Who is Heike? She’s a war captain in my novel Achillea. She’s afraid of silence, loves the snow, dislikes cheese, and collects weapons, which she will lovingly sharpen at any given moment. She has a bad attitude (and not in a good way) about a lot of things. She’s super critical of everyone around her and is singularly focused on war and who the enemy is. She is amused by pissing off others, and likes to give nicknames to people who she knows hate them. She can outdrink most anyone and prefers whiskey. She has more knowledge of poisons than anyone alive. She has been harboring a secret, agonizing love interest for most of her life and lives with that by telling him in a code he can’t understand. Despite her love for that man, she does not restrict her interests in anyone else, preferring to live in the moment, since any day she could die. She is abrasive and aggressive, won’t back down from a challenge, and doesn’t know how to shut up or behave. She is protective of her subordinates but won’t get too close because she can’t handle losing people she cares about. If she were one of the Seven Deadly Sins, she would be Pride.

You can ask me anything about Heike, and I will know how to answer it. And because of that, her character is ready for anything I throw at her. I know instantly how she is going to react.

I’m Nervous, But… Maybe?

If at any point throughout this post, you started to believe you might be able to do it (even if you freaked out again by the end of this post), then GOOD! If you have any questions or need any help, reach out! Find a friend!

Of course, you are more than welcome to ask one of us. I actually have a Q&A page now on Wiselike! Ask me anything. No question is too basic, really. I solemnly swear not to make you feel dumb.

Here it is:

Sam’s Wiselike Q&A for Writing Assistance

Thanks for reading! And if you’re going to do this November Insanity with me, GOOD LUCK!


About oneofthedragons

Samantha K. Balk and F. R. Donaldson met on An Archive of Our Own, one of the many fanfiction sites online, when Sam asked Frankie to illustrate the fanfiction that would one day lead to Sam's first novel. They've been friends ever since! This blog was created as a way to share the oftentimes difficult journey any new author experiences on the uncomfortable quest of an introvert for attention to his or her most personal work. It is meant to remind you that authors don't just appear fully fledged like a George R. R. Martin, that all of us start out unsure and feeling inadequate. Feel free to ask us anything. Sam: sammykaye9@gmail.com Frankie: reluctant.fraggle@gmail.com

Posted on October 30, 2015, in Information and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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