Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's Writing Time: Nano Tip # 3

So, last night I had planned to write a blog post on ways to set aside writing time for your novel during NANO. I had the time allotted in my schedule (9-10pm) – Then I got unexpectedly called in to work.

(Yep – the day job triumphs again!)

It’s an excellent example of how “real life” can affect our writing plans on any given day.

So, how do we write our way through a novel – especially one being written in the span of 30 days?

1.) Consistency
2.) Creativity
3.) Caffeine : )

In order to complete 50,000 words in 30 days some people just divide up 50,000 by 30 days. They write 1670 words daily, no matter what happens in their lives that day, and they get to 50,000 words – tired, but happy. (For those interested in how full-time writers do this, Steven King shares in his “non-autobiography” that he gets up in the morning and writes 10 pages every day. He stays at his desk until those 10 pages are done, whether that’s 11am or 2pm on that particular day.)

For others of us, some days allow for lots of writing and other days of our week just don’t. For me, last year, I did 3000 words/day on my 2 “days off” per week, and tried to sneak just 500 in on my work days. This is where the creativity comes in. Can you jot notes, planning out your next chapter’s plot in a notebook, when you’re ten minutes early to work, or on your lunch break, or at your son’s after school soccer game? Of course you can! Nano-novelers need to use any scrap of time available if we want to get to 50,000 by November 30th!

It’s important to know what is your best writing time too, and to try to use that to your advantage. I do best late at night (10pm-1am) or early in the morning when I first get up. Afternoons make me want to take a nap. SO, it’s important to write when your energy and creativity are at their peak if possible. And if your peak hours are after the kids are tucked in and the last of the dishes are done, then a tall latte can really come in handy to keep you typing!

Whatever your system is, stick to it. Setting aside time for writing is important to every writer. The more consistency AND creativity you can use, the more likely you are to get through your novel writing endeavor successfully.

So, what time is your best time for writing? And do you have a system worked out that you believe will get you through 50,000 words in one month? If so, you’re way ahead of the game already!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Raleigh Book Signing This Saturday!

This week's NANO-Noveling Post will go up on Monday evening (as it will every week in November) here on Writermorphosis.

But first I wanted to take a moment today to give a quick shout-out to a very creative Middle Grade & Picture Book Author/Illustrator coming to Raleigh this Saturday, NOV 1st, 2008, for a book signing at Quail Ridge Books.

ADAM REX is coming to Raleigh! We celebrated Adam’s GREAT 2007 Cybils Award Winning middle grade novel The True Meaning of Smekday here on Writermorphosis earlier this year. Adam very sweetly stopped by this blog to say hello. Now he’ll be at Quail Ridge, at 3pm, Saturday, November 1st, to sign his newest picture book: Frankenstein Takes the Cake.

If his book signings are as fun as his cool and wacky books (ack – no pressure, Adam!) than this will be an event you’re sure to want to bring your children to! Barring interference from the "day job" I hope to be there myself. Come on out to support and meet this great children’s author.

Also, check out the Quail Ridge Website for two other children’s book signings: November 2nd, 2008 (Tomie De Paola) and November 3rd (Jan Brett). Like the Quail Ridge Website says, this weekend may just be a great time for those who love children’s books to camp out at Quail Ridge!

Back to Adam Rex again: if you are trying to figure out how to create an interactive website for the fans of the children’s books that YOU write – or if you just want to see a great sample of how cool such websites can be -- check out Adam's website. It's an example we can all drool over!

And hey, while you’re at it, check out the interactive children’s website orchestrated by my friend and fellow SCBWI NC writer Ian Sands - Also VERY cool.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Know Your Characters: Nano Tip # 2

There are many famous characters in the world: There's the red-haired orphan girl who'd rather take a foolish dare than look like a wimp -- even if it means walking the ridgepole of a barn in dress shoes; The boy with the lightening-shaped scar on his forhead who often feels alone in the world even though his two best friends are standing firmly right beside him; the thin, pathetic shell of a creature who stole a magic ring from a sorcerer and had it eat up his soul and now has no hope, no care, no motivation in the world other than getting that ring back from the poor little hobbit who took it from him...
Yes, these are characters we all know. Whether it's Anne of Green Gables (or Pipi Longstocking -- she had similar character traits,) Harry Potter, or Gollum from the Lord of the Rings... A strong character will act like him or herself at all times. That character will lead the author like a guide, through the pages of a book.
If the author throws a problem at that character, both the author and the reader know how that character will most likley react.

But great characters don't create themselves. First the author must invent them-- in basic form. Then he or she must sit with the characters awhile, and ask them some questions to really get to know them. What are their likes and dislikes? Who are their best friends (and why)? What are they most afraid of? What is their biggest goal in life? Do they have hobbies?
If you want to avoid the problem that I had with my first novel-- a problem of having one of my characters fall completely flat -- it's important to get to know your characters (main and secondary) in some approximation BEFORE you begin writing your novel. : )

That task may seem daunting -- but there are lots of fun ways to do this.
Here are some tips.

1.) Know the answers to the questions (listed 2 paragraphs above) about each of your main /secondary characters.

2.) Know enough about Your characters' appearances so that you can picture them in your head. Some authors actually peruse magazine photos to find their characters.

3.) Know the basics about your characters' socio-economic and educational status, their favorite type of clothing (personal style), and what type of people drive them crazy.

4.) If you have time, fill out a meme for your main characters. This will show you how well you actually know them! Meme's are also great exercises for getting your right-brain working again if you run out of steam in the middle of your novel!

5.) Here are some other great Character Building resources on the web:

a.) "Inspiration For Writers" has a GREAT, very detailed Character Traits form you can fill in. It's the perfect place to start!

b.) "Personality Page for Writers" allows you to find your character's myers-briggs type and all kinds of other fun ways to peg who your character really is.

c.) Montgomery Schools' provides a helpful List of character traits

d.) Fiction Factor has a moderately helpful article on Characters' Physical Traits: What to include in your story and what to, maybe, leave out.

Now, of course, you may not have time to do all of these "character building" activities. Pick and choose what works for you.

The main thing when writing a character is to know enough about their inner wants and needs, and their outer appearance, actions, and relationships, to make them appear real on the page.

We want our characters to be so real that readers around the world will know exactly who others are talking about when they say "what's that kid's name? You know, not that wizard kid with the scar whose parents were murdered, but his friend, the blonde girl who they all thought was stuck up, and who is almost too smart for her own good?"

Yep -- the whole world knows Hermione... and Ron, Harry, Anne, Pippi, Gollum, Gandalf, Hamlet, Clark Kent, Charlotte the Spider -- and many of us also know silly little Clover sitting on Levin Thump's shoulder, above.

So let's all have fun learning about our own characters and making them similarly unique and engaging!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Basics of Plotting: Nano Tip # 1

Yes, despite Nano-Creator Chris Baty’s delightful book, “No Plot, No Problem,” the facts of novel-writing outweigh the "no plot needed" philosophy. (Of course, I'm still a huge fan of Chris Baty - he's witty, and I've just ordered his newest book!)

But nevertheless, creating at least a brief plot outline in October is essential for any successful Nano noveler! (Trust me -- I’ve done this 3 times!) With no plot, you’ll get stuck in the middle of your novel around November 12th, and flounder, losing valuable forward-motion on your word-count. Any successful noveler must be able to answer these three questions from day one:

1.) Where are your character(s) starting from?
2.) Where are they are going to end up (at least in some approximation)
3.) What types of problems are they going to have to get themselves through in order to arrive at the end in one piece?

For some people, that’s all they need: A 3-STEP PLOT
Here's one for the Lord of the Rings:

1.) Hobbit Frodo Baggins has just inherited a magic ring that will destroy the world if not destroyed itself. The ring’s evil creator is looking for the ring.
2.) Frodo will, in the end, destroy the ring in a volcano where it was created, destroying the evil ring-creator, and thus saving the world.
3.) But to get there he must travel across many lands with a group of international folks (elves, dwarves, human sons of kings,) who don’t get along with each other due to long-term ethnic enmity; He must avoid the evil ring-creator’s minions who are trying to capture him and the ring, and must also avoid various wars that are taking place in the lands through which he travels. Above all, he must have the courage to continue on the journey despite the fact that the ring’s power over him grows continuously, causing him to have low energy, emotional problems, and difficulty trusting friends who are trying to help him.

SO – there you go. A nano plot! (Or a plot for any novel at any time of the year). You know where you’re coming from, where you’re going, and what the character has to get through and survive in order to get to the end of the book successfully.

Now, if you’re as bad at plotting as I am, you might want to also do a ‘chapter outline.” This helps you, (the writer) know exactly where you (and your characters) are going, every step of the way.

Ex: Chapter Outline

1.) Bilbo’s Birthday party. Bilbo disappears. Frodo inherits dangerous ring.
2.) At Wizard Gandalf’s direction Frodo and Sam leave home to begin the journey to keep the ring away from the enemy. They encounter Pippin and Merry and flee the black riders.
3.) At the Inn at Bree the hobbits meet Aragorn. The inn is attacked by the evil black riders who attempt, but fail, to kill Frodo.
4.) Chapter 4...ETC.

This is the option I usually use. I need a lot of direction, you see...
But brief or intricate, as long as you have a plot ready to go before November 1st, your Nano (or your noveling experience during any other time of year, for that matter,) will go much more smoothly!
So how do you do your plotting?
And have you already sketched out your basic plot for Nano 2008?

Saturday, October 11, 2008


The leaves are changing, the weather's getting cooler, and thousands of people around the world are gearing up to write 50,000 word novels during National Novel Writing Month this November.

I've participated in Nanowrimo for the past 3 years and I highly recommend it to both professional and first time writers. I'm thrilled to report that quite a few nano books have been published, and at least one has become a New York Times Best Seller! Two of my own nano novels -- even -- were awarded "honorable mentions" in the 2007 Writer's Digest Annual Fiction Awards. So Nano is for serious writers. Check out http://www.nanowrimo.org/ and sign up today!
I'm "tolk" on the nano site, so feel free to let me know who you are at nano too!

Over the next 2 months THIS BLOG will discuss HOW TO PREPARE FOR AND SURVIVE NANOWRIMO.

We'll discuss NANO PLOTTING on 10/14/2008
and we'll continue with the pep rallies and tips after that!

But first...


We're having a Nano give-away here at writermorphosis!

When people write 50,000 words during Nanowrimo they WIN a cool certificate from the Nano site. It's an amazing and exhilarating feeling -- you've accomplished the impossible! But it took me 3 years of trying before I finally reached that all important 50,000 in the 30 days of November. So sad...

So for those of you who, like me during my first 2 years, write strenuously, get no sleep, drink much coffee, leave your children standing at the the bus stop because you're noveling...but due to unexpected circumstances don't QUITE make it to 50,000 this year, DON'T BE SAD!

If you reach 40,000 words in November that's still enough for a MG novel, and you deserve an award too!

So, I'll enter your name in our "40,000 word" give-away for Chris Baty's fun book: The Nanoland Chronicles: Bedtime Stories for Wrimos!

Anyone who writes 40,000 words or more in November can stop by here and post your name and your w0rd-count over 40,000, on 12/1/08, to be entered in the random drawing. The book (and another writerly surprise) will be awarded here and mailed to the winner on 12/5/08. Hooray! Let me know if you're jumping in!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Writing Life: Solitary or Solidarity?

There were many great presentations at the SCBWI Carolinas 15th Annual Fall Conference, on Sept 19-21st. But the thing that struck me most during the conference was the way that being a part of the writing and illustrating community strengthens each individual writer/illustrator.

Many people perceive literary artisans as solitary types who write alone for hours at coffee shops, (which of course, is what I’m doing right now). And certainly the quiet, working time is an important part of the writing life. (Ah, it’s a labor-intensive, and yet wonderful life!) But, without the writing community I doubt that many writers would succeed. We need each other. This was clear from the small groups of writers chatting earnestly about plot, structure, queries, and characters during every down-time moment at our great September event. And when we filed into workshops with notebooks and pens in hand, we stopped to hug friends who we hadn’t seen since last year's conference, but who had read our blogs, and critiqued our work via the internet, and called to say “I wish I could take you out for coffee” when we reached a writing or personal slump.

There are so many things that the writing community gives to writers, and I’ll list a few that I observed at this year’s conference. (If you noticed others, I’d love to hear about them!)

1.) Encouragement and Support:

2.) Kindred Spirits and Camaraderie:
Here, no one thinks writing a novel is “crazy,” and everyone will tell you “you can do it!

Martha Mihalick signs Ian Sands' Goal Stick.

If there had been a prize for the most creative way to remember the many writer/illustrator-friends, editors and speakers joining him on this publishing journey, it would go to Ian!

3.) Education, Feedback and Resources:
Our speakers were great! What wonderful tips!
Thanks: Anita Silvey, Alyssa Henkin, Martha Mihalick, Karen Lee, Leslie Staub, Pam Zollman, Mark Johnson, Carol Baldwin, Bonnie Adamson, Samantha Bell, Stephanie Greene, John Claude Bemis, Eleanora Tate, Alan Gratz, Teresa Fannin and Jo Hackl!

So, here's a salute to a great conference of networking, support, education, revision and affirmation. And here are kudos to all the writers and illustrators of SCBWI Carolinas. I’m so thrilled to be part of such great group of writers/illustrators – such a great group of Friends! May our solidarity keep us writing, resourced and refreshed. Onward and Upward. We will lift each other over the publishing hump! Many hands, hearts and minds make the work an inspiration.