Camp NaNoWriteMo in April

Writing in the woods.
Photo by Doug Robichaud

You probably already know about National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. It’s all about writing a novel in a month. But twice a year, in April and July, there’s a version of NaNoWriMo called Camp NaNoWriMo. The basic idea behind the April Camp NaNo is that you spend the month of April working on a specific writing project, one that can be anything from 30,000 to 999,999 words, hours, lines, or pages for your project.

What’s more,  “project” doesn’t have to mean “novel.” In the official Camp NaNoWriMo FAQ regarding What genres can I write in? Can I write non-fiction or poetry? it says that Camp NaNoWriMo welcomes

open-ended writing, including scripts, poems, and more! You can specify the category of your work on your Project Info page.

People write novels, memoirs, humor, scripts, poetry, outlines . . . pretty much anything. You set your own goals for your own project, and can track them via the NaNoWritMo Camp website.

Another thing that differentiates Camp from NaNoWriMo is that participants are assigned to a “cabin”: a group of up to 20 other writers who serve as a mini community to cheer you on (and commiserate). Think of cabins as an online writers’ group; you can even create your own private cabin for you and your Camp participating friends. Cabins include a small message board for cabin members only.

You can join Camp NaNoWriMo here. Right now is a great time to start thinking (and planning) what you’re going to write about during NaNoWriMo Camp. You can jot down random idea, write a detailed outline, start gathering inspiration in the form of pictures and character descriptions . . . If you look at the list of resources compiled by the Camp NaNoWriMo staff (scroll way down to the section under Non-Novel projects and you’ll see that people have taken advantage of NaNoWriMo Camp to write all sorts of things. There’s even a resource guide for people writing non-fiction during Camp NaNoWriMo.  Some people use NaNoWriMo Camp to research and plan, with the goal of writing a detailed outline.

I’m thinking hard about giving Camp a try, since non-fiction is OK. It’ll be my first time at NaNoWriMo Camp, so feel free to offer suggestions. Any one else planning on camp next month? I know there’s a thread about Camp NaNoWriMo at the Absolute Write NaNoWriMo forum.

Bullet Journals for Writers

There’s a high probability that you already know what a Bullet Journal is, in which case you can skip ahead. If you think a bullet journal is for gun enthusiasts, read on.

What’s A Bullet Journal?

Image credit: Mike Rohde

As originally designed, the Bullet Journal is a minimalist system relying on a notebook and numbered pages. You use short codes to tag kinds of data and tasks. You create your own pages to suit your personal needs and style. A bullet journal (BuJo for short) is an efficient way to track your time and goals, and other data that you use for short-range and long-range planning.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with the concept, a place to start is the original bullet journal video Bullet Journal – YouTube by Ryder Carroll. I’ve also linked to some useful pieces about how to create, customize and use a bullet journal in the Resources section below.

Bullet Journals for Writers: The Basics

Because a bullet journal is so very flexible, many writers use a BuJo just for managing their writing time and tasks. I find a bullet journal especially useful in terms of tracking multiple projects and deadlines.

The Index

The first thing to do when you start using a bullet journal is to number the pages. (Some notebooks have pre-numbered pages, like the Leuchtturm1917 notebook, but it takes mere minutes to do it by hand).

The second thing to do is reserve the first three or four pages of your notebook for your Index. The Index is a list of pages and what’s on them; it makes finding your information very quick.

Tobias Bucknell, SF/F author, has written a helpful post about his experience creating, using, and customizing a BuJo for use by a writer This is how I Bullet Journal | Tobias Buckell. Bucknell says that for him the Index was a key point in making a Bullet Journal personally useful:

But creating an index, that was interesting. Because now I suddenly, like a light bulb going off, realized I could create not only daily to-dos, but project to-dos, and flip back and forth. Even better, while I used a variety of to-dos via digital software, some projects of mine were getting so complex that I needed a way to glance at the 30,000 foot view quickly.

Bucknell’s post provides a wealth of information about customizing the basic concepts and practices behind bullet journals with lots of specific suggestions about how writers might want to use a bullet journal.

There are lots of writers of every sort using bullet journals; some of your peers are likely using bullet journals, and may very well have some specific tips. In the meantime, here are some suggestions about ways to use bullet journaling as a writer.

The Key

Image credit: Mario Valdez

One of the primary techniques behind bullet journaling is what Ryder Carroll calls “rapid logging.” It means making brief notes about tasks, events and ideas, marked with identifying symbols to make it possible to tell what kind of a note you’ve made, and whether it’s a completed task or event or re-scheduled, at a glance. There’s an “official” Bullet Journal key; it looks like the image to the right. People customize the symbols they use all the time.

Collections are Powerful
A bullet journal Collection is a collection of data; that data can be lists or images or mind-maps or sketches, or trackers (more about trackers later). These are some possible Collections for a writer

  • Backstory and plot notes
  • Character notes (and sketches)
  • Setting notes (and sketches!)
  • Scene or Chapter breakdowns
  • Brainstorming—ask yourself questions about your WIP (why does Whitney go to the barn? What does Simon need? What does Simon want?)
  • Inspirational Quotes (See Tobias Bucknell’s post on starting with a motivational quotation)
  • A list of those words, you know, the ones you can’t spell without having to look them up.
  • List special character and place names, or special spellings of standard words, archaic words, idioms or invented words that you’ll want to submit to your editor so they won’t get changed.
  • Your personal style sheet; leading and trailing spaces before and after em-dashes, or not; spaces before and after ellipses, or not; preferred spellings of words that have options. Sure your editor and publisher may have different opinions, but if you standardize the way you do it, they’ll be much easier to change later, if it’s necessary.
  • Patricia Wrede has some great questions for fantasy world building that are useful to answer in a bullet journal as part of your backstory.

Trackers

Trackers are a visual method of tracking repeated events or habits. They’re often used for things like tracking sleep or miles walked, or water imbibed, or pages read, or words written. Technically, trackers are a subset of Collections in official Bullet Journal terms, but they’re endlessly flexible.

  1. Trackers can be as simple as M T W Th F S S to represent a week.Draw a line through the letter to mark the days on which you met your daily goals.
  2. Use a row of boxes with numbers for tracking monthly goals. Cross off or fill in the boxes on the days you met your goal.
  3. If you want to track multiple daily habits for a month, create a simple graph; habits or tasks across the top of a two-page spread, and numbers for the days of the month down the side of the left-hand leaf. Use a filled- in square or dot or X to mark the task (or habit) you completed under the column across the top. (Here’s a tracker example from Heather Haft).

You can get colorful of course, and there’s lots of advice and models about using trackers in your bullet journal. See for instance Bullet Journal Habit Trackers from Productive & Pretty. Lots of people use trackers to track good habits and health.

Migration

Migration in bullet journal terms refers to an event or task that wasn’t completed when you planned, so you migrate it to another day. In other words, you move it from Tuesday the 6th to Friday the 9th (or whenever). The official Bullet Journal Symbol for migrating something is >; lots of people use other symbols. Part of the point of migration is that you have to write the thing down again every time you migrate; if you find yourself doing this repeatedly, it’s an indication that you really don’t want to do the thing, or, that maybe, it doesn’t really need doing. As Ryder Carroll, the inventor of the Bullet Journal says:

You can reduce the amount of things you have to do by transferring things by hand. If a task isn’t worth the time to rewrite it, it’s probably not important. Spend time with things that are important and be mindful of how you spend your time.

Plan to Write

As writers, we all struggle with time management; with finding time to write. One way that a bullet journal habit can help with that is that you can plan not only the time but what you’re actually going to write.

By reducing the time we spend in non-writing activity in our writing time, we can actually get writing done. Those collections with questions, and character notes, and plot points can be springboards, specific starting points for your daily, nightly or weekly writing time.

Tip: A particularly useful technique in terms of tracking your narrative and writing progress, is to make a note when you end a session about where to start the next session

Bullet Journals are Analog

We’ve got Google Calendar, and iCal and all sorts of ways to sync data between our phones, our computers and our tablets. I’m still using them. But there are some advantages to writing by hand on paper.

  1. Handwriting aids retention.
  2. Handwriting allows us to use the parts of our brain that we don’t when we keyboard; there’s a thing that happens when we’re doodling or brainstorming with a pen in our hand where we solve problems, whether of plot, narration or character motivation, or planning. Some of it is perhaps not conscious, but as we write, we formulate a solution.
  3. Because of the way we concentrate on what we are doing and because it is slower than a keyboard, writing by hand gives us time to think.
  4. There’s something to be said for having a single place to track our time and ideas, especially when we write on a digital screen. Think of the journal as a portable extra screen, one that doesn’t require switching windows or apps.

A Note On Aesthetics

Lots of people spend a great deal of effort on prettifying their bullet journal; if you’ve got the time and skill that’s great. There are some incredibly beautiful BuJo’s out there. Me, I have neither time nor talent. I started my bullet journal in stumbled-upon blank page notebook, using a mechanical pencil and my travel fountain pen.

Bullet Journal Resources

Getting Started
There’s the video that Ryder Carroll made, of course, but these are some particularly useful guides to getting started using and customizing a bullet journal to suit you.

For a quick intro see Buzzfeed’s WTF Is A Bullet Journal And Why Should You Start One? An Explainer

It’s worth signing up to the once-a-month newsletter at Ryder Carroll’s  official bulletjournal.com site to download a copy of the free .pdf starter guide. It’s a cheat sheet for getting started with a bullet journal.

The best starter guide (full of practical suggestions for customizing) is How To Bullet Journal: The Absolute Ultimate Guide from the Lazy Genius Collective. Lots of useful pictures, and down-to-Earth advice.

Kim at Tinyrayofsunshine.com has an excellent Thorough Guide to the Bullet Journal System. Her pictures are very helpful and there are some excellig ideas about simplifying and customizing.

Bullet Journals for Writers

Writer’s Edit’s The Complete Guide to Bullet Journaling for Writers has some excellent suggestions about getting started, tracking submissions and using a bullet journal to plan and to manage NanoWriMo.

Victoria of Something Delicious has more specific tips for writers using bullet journals in Bullet Journaling for Fiction Writers. (Scroll down past the introduction to bullet journaling to see specific tips for writers).

Belle Cooper has some great practical suggestions for using a bullet journal to track freelance writing.

Supplies

There’s a section in the Absolute Write Amazon Store for Bullet Journal supplies; but you might want to try bullet journaling first before making an investment in pens and notebooks.

According to Bullet Journal inventor Ryder Carroll “All you need is a notebook and a pen . . . ” Consider using something you already have to start with (I did!). If you don’t have a blank page notebook (notebook paper isn’t really suitable) consider something like this Amazon Basics Classic Notebook, in either blank or “squared” (graph paper lines).

If you’re sure you’re game, consider using a notebook that has either a square grid (like graph paper) or a dot grid; they’re easier to use for charts, and they make it easier to write legibly.

If you already use a BuJo, let us know how you use it. What tips do you have for those just starting out? What do you suggest in terms of bullet journaling for writers?

Interview: Marko Kloos

Marko Kloos is the author of the Frontlines series of military Science Fiction and a member of George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards consortium.

Born and raised in Germany, Marko now lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children. Their compound, Castle Frostbite, is patrolled by a roving pack of dachshunds. Marko Kloos has a website. His latest novel Fields of Fire (Frontlines Book 5) is due February 28, 2017 from 47North. 

Why did you self-publish initially?

I used to be dead set against self-publishing, but when I finally went that route with Terms of Enlistment, it was sort of a measure of last resort. I had pinged every agent and publisher on my list, and run out of places to send the manuscript. At that point, I was tired of the submission/query treadmill and figured that if I don’t put it out there myself, nobody would ever read it. So I published the novel through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. I figured I’d see how it would go, and move on to other projects in the meantime.

Did you handle the book production yourself when you self-pubbed?

Yes, but it wasn’t very difficult. I bought a commercial license for cover art I wanted to use and uploaded the ebook to KDP and iBooks. My writing software, Scrivener, can compile ebook formats, but in KDP’s case, it wasn’t even needed because you can upload the book as a Word document and let the Amazon software handle the conversion. (I did compile the book in all current ebook formats to have on hand for direct sales.)

Did you plan to involve the Lankies (aliens) at the start or was that something that occurred to you later?

I didn’t have the idea for the Lankies until I was in the middle of writing Terms of Enlistment. But once I knew I needed aliens to fuel a conflict for more than one novel, I wanted to subvert the “bug war” trope and make humanity the bugs, so I knew I would need unusual and formidable aliens, vastly bigger and stronger than individual humans. Everything else just came out of that requirement.

How do you track the back story data (i.e. weaponry and station names, etc.)?

I keep a whiteboard in my office with data for the current novel in progress. I also have notebooks for all the ancillary data that comes with writing novels in a military SF environment: ship classes, hull numbers, lists of names for key unit members, and so on. And I still contradict myself and list the same ship in different books with two different hull numbers. (It has only happened once, and the copyeditor caught it, but it was definitely a “d’oh!” moment. Keep detailed lists and refer to them often, kids.)

Did you have a playlist for Fields of Fire?

I did! I have a playlist for every book. For Fields Of Fire, it was a lot of video game soundtracks, particularly the Halo series, and the soundtrack for Mad Max: Fury Road. (Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure were written to the Battlestar Galactica soundtracks from the first few seasons. Angles of Attack was written to the M83 soundtrack for Oblivion and other assorted electronica.)

I know you’re going to be writing for George R. R. Martin’s Wild Card consortium. Can you tell us a little about that?

George asked me to join the consortium in late 2015, and I was both elated and terrified at the same time to be invited into such an experienced and talented group of writers. My apprentice piece, if you will, was a novella called Stripes, which will be part of a Wild Cards novel called Low Chicago, out next year from Tor Books. Since then, I’ve played with more ideas for characters and storylines, and I’ll be contributing more stories to the Wild Cards universe in future books. Wild Cards is out of my usual wheelhouse, but it’s a really fun world to play in, and having to work with the constraints of someone else’s sandbox is a great creative challenge.

What’s your writing environment like (your work area and tools of choice)?

I have an office in the back of the house, between my kids’ bedrooms. It has just enough space for a chair, a big desk that can be turned into a standing desk with a button push, a bookshelf, and some whiteboards, brag trophies, and movie props on the walls. (I rented an office in town for a year, but it didn’t work out as well as I thought it would, so I moved back into my home office last year. It’s much easier to get up and running in the morning if you don’t have a 40-minute commute.)

I wrote the first two Frontlines books in longhand with a fountain pen, but the current publication schedule means that I only write longhand occasionally now—a chapter here and there, just to mix things up. But most of the time, I write directly into Scrivener on the laptop. For the longest time, I used a Macbook Pro, but the latest iteration had me underwhelmed. The current laptop is a Surface Book, which has a detachable screen that serves as a tablet in a pinch. For software, however, it’s always Scrivener, whether I write on the PC or the Mac. It’s an indispensable tool for me when it comes to structuring a novel and keeping track of the flow and beats of the story.

I know you used to have full-time munchkin wrangling duties; any suggestions about time management for writing parents?

Writing while parenting full-time is rough. To be able to be productive in that sort of setting, you need to let go of ritual and forget about writing when you’re “in a creative mood.” Kiddo goes down for a nap, you have an hour or two to crank out as many words as you can, even if you feel like taking a nap yourself. No special setups or circumstances allowed—it takes too long to get your special writing tea and fill your special writing pen with your special writing ink. I’ve written hundreds of pages on playground benches while the kid was running around and playing on the swings. Get a notebook and a pen, something that doesn’t need a charged battery or a power cord, something you can stuff into the diaper bag on the way out of the house. Writing while parenting will teach you how to make the absolute most of your limited time, and you will learn to be able to write anywhere with any tool at hand.

Why dachshunds?

Because they are a lot of dog in a low-slung package. Smart, stubborn, tenacious, ferocious little killers, admirable in their single-minded pursuit of small prey and kitchen scraps. Of all the dog breeds I’ve ever owned, dachshunds have the most distinctive individual personalities.

What have you read lately (in the last year or so) that you really liked?

The two novels that stick out in my head immediately are N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth books—The Obelisk Gate. It’s a fiercely inventive fantasy/SF mix with terrific world building and believable character and social dynamics.

I’ve also been on a bit of a YA binge. I read Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall and then tackled her entire backlist. And Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake blew my socks off—it’s an apocalyptic narrative taking place during the Norman invasion of England in 1066, and it’s written in a sort of “shadow tongue” that mimics Old English. The first few pages will seem bewildering, but then you get into it, and it’s a mind-bender. (The audiobook is considerably easier to get into, because the narrator already parses the spelling for you.)

Do you have any particular favorite books about writing?

My favorite books about writing aren’t so much about technique and nuts-and-bolts stuff as they are about general mindset. Stephen King’s On Writing is great, of course. But the best “How To” writing books I’ve read are Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, and Spider, Spin Me A Web.

Is there a question that you’ve never been asked that you’d really like to answer?

“Which dessert is best?”, to which I would have to answer, “Crème Brulee. Always Crème Brulee. It’s the perfect union of texture and flavor.” (Although a good tiramisu is a close second.)

What’s your favorite charity?

I have a lot of fans who are in the military or not too long out of it, so the charity I’ve picked for my own fundraising efforts in the past is called the Semper Fi Fund. It assists wounded, critically ill, and injured service members and their families. They do much-needed work, their administrative expenses are low, and their accountability and transparency ratings are very high.

As of this posting, Marko Kloos first four Frontlines books are on sale for Kindle in anticipation of the Fields of Fire release. I read the entire series over the course of a week, and enjoyed them for their characterization as much as for the story. 

Handwriting: Is it Part of Your Process?

I still like writing by hand. Normally I do a first draft using pen and paper, and then do my first edit when I type it onto my computer. For some reason, I much prefer writing with a black pen than a blue one, and in a perfect world I’d always use “narrow feint” writing paper. — J. K. Rowling 

Image credit: Petar Milošević

I prefer to take notes by hand because I’m actively listening when I write, in ways that I’m not when I’m typing. Sometimes I choose to handwrite because being able to write with paper and a pen or pencil and a convenient light source makes it possible to write in places where even a Chromebook or iPad are cumbersome.

The primary reason I choose to write by hand that my brain works differently with pen (or pencil) and paper. I’m less distracted by aesthetics (typography, for instance, is not an issue). I often turn to pen and paper (or pencil) when I get stuck, particularly on when I’m writing books, or lengthy research articles. Often, I’ll draft in long hand, then edit in longhand, then keyboard it and edit again before I submit.

Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of other writers also choosing to write in longhand, or print, even when they could use a keyboard. I was surprised by how many of my favorite novelists are prefer pens and paper for drafts.

When you’re writing with pen and paper, you’re working in the same direct mode you use to tell a story to children, and for a first draft, that’s maybe not a bad thing. — Joe Hill  

J. K. Rowling deliberately chooses to write by hand, though as she notes, she prefers narrow-ruled paper and black pens. Neal Stephenson, in a now defunct interview for Barnes and Noble (quoted here) notes that he started writing his novels with a fountain pen with Quicksilver, the first volume of his Baroque Cycle. Stephenson said

What I was noticing was that I’ve become such a fast typist that I could slam out great big blocks of text quite rapidly — anything that came into my head, it would just dribble out of my fingers onto the screen. That includes bad stuff as well as good stuff. Once it’s out there on the screen, of course, you can edit it and you can fix the bad stuff, but it’s far better not to ever write down the bad stuff at all. With the fountain pen, which is a slower output device, the material stays in the buffer of your head for a longer period. So during that amount of time, you can fix it, you can make it better, you can even decide not to write it down at all — you can think better of writing it.

I think that’s true. I noticed that the amount of time it takes for me to formulate a thought into a sentence, because it’s slower to read the paper than the screen, often means that I realize that it’s not something I want to write, that the idea or sentence isn’t ready for committing to paper. ItÆ’s less a matter of the internal editor interfering, than one of my “inner ear” noticing that those aren’t quite the words I want, In the time it takes to hesitate before committing the words to paper, my brain supplies other, better words. In other words, there’s less to edit or delete. Stephenson comments on that too, observing that the process of editing is often easier with pen and paper:

Editing, strangely enough, is quicker and easier with a pen. Because drawing a line through a word is just faster than any sequence of grabbing your mouse and highlighting the word and hitting the eject key. That act of editing leaves behind a visible trace of the word that you decided to change, and sometimes that’s useful; you may want to go back and change your mind about that. Finally, I find that writing with a pen is a physically healthier activity. There’s actually more range of movement involved with it than there is sitting with your fingers on the keys for hours at a time. So I just physically felt better when I was using the pen rather than typing.

Jonathan Carroll, famous for his contemporary fantasy and slipstream novels, notes that:

Handwriting anything makes me think hard about what I really want to keep or throw out. Because the process is generally slow, I’m thinking all the time while my hand moves across the page. While using any kind of keyboard device, my fingers are whizzing much faster than my mind can think and that is a dangerous thing if you want to write it right.

I find that the experiences of novelists in terms of their writing process, is true of my much less interesting process as well, when I’m writing scholarly or academic pieces or even when I’m writing pieces that I know are destined for Web publications; I think differently, and write differently with a pen in hand. As Joe Hill says:

Finally, in a notebook, you’re stuck with yourself. You’re cut off from your games, the internet, Twitter, Facebook. The only thing you have to entertain you is your own imagination.

What about you? Do you write by hand? Have you ever tried switching to pen-and-paper (or a pencil!) when you’re stuck? Is handwriting part of your process? If not, consider trying it.

Writing Challenges for 2017

Sometimes we all benefit from writing something other than our WIP, or writing with a goal other than Finish the Book, something that provides a bit of structure, and maybe, a supportive community of sufferers writers. A writing challenge is a great way to encourage yourself to write regularly, or as a warm up exercise before you hit the pages for your WIP. And this is a great time to start participating in one! Journaling is a habit that many writers have found useful. It can be a way to “break the ice” for the day before you begin work on your WIP. This site offers a list of 365 daily prompts. Ray Bradbury’s 52 week short story challenge to aspiring writers A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80)describes itself as “the writing challenge that knows you have a life.” There are four “rounds” every year; each round lasts 80 days. Your goal can be anything you like as long as it is measurable (e.g. number of words/pages, specified amount of time to spend on writing per day/week, number of pages edited, etc.). Once you have settled on a goal, you write it up on your blog and link to it on the Goals Post in the  ROW80 Facebook Grroup. Then you “check in” on the following Wednesday and Sunday via your blog and the Facebook group. 750 words a day is about writing 750 words a day, every day. It’s a great way to start your writing session. The Writing Cooperative has a flexible 52-week writing challenge with one rule: you commit to writing a thing (anything!) each week. It can be anything, but you’ll be part of a supportive community of other writers also writing a thing a week. If a weekly challenge is a bit much for you, consider a monthly writing challenge to write a short story in response to a prompt. If you’re a book reviewer, consider the 2017 Review Writing Challenge. Set a personal goal for how many reviews you want to write in 2017, post ’em on your blog or Good Reads or Amazon or wherever and track your progress. Or you can make up your own challenge; maybe you want to write a blog post a week, or send a postcard a week or write a journal entry, or 1000 words . . . what’s your writing challenge?

Alternatives to NaNoWriMo

Not everyone wants to write 50K words of fiction in November, the basic requirement for NaNoWriMo. That works out to 1,667 words a day, every day, for thirty days. Not all of us are writers of fiction, or have the time and space to write that much every day (more or less).

But there are alternatives.

NaNo Rebels is for people who are writing fiction, even in script form, but includes people who are starting mid-novel, or possibly writing 50K worth of short stories. NaNo Rebels are officially part of NaNoWriMo; you can read this thread to find out if you’re a NaNo Rebel or not.

National Non Fiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo) also known as Write Non Fiction in November (WNFIN) is an alternative for people who don’t write fiction. You can register here if you want to have a community of your own while you write non-fiction in November.

AcWriMo or Academic Writing Month was founded by academic Charlotte Frost of PdD2Published in 2011 as a way to encourage academics and scholars to produce a 20K word (or more) academic monograph during November. Currently the rules stipulate that you set your own goal (hours, words, or another milestone) and join. It’s a great opportunity for thesis and dissertation writers, people who want to draft a journal article or academic writers with a book idea. There’s an active AcWriMo Facebook Group and a Twitter hashtag #AcWriMo.

NaNoBloPo is a challenge to write a blog post for every day in November. The challenge actually runs for all twelve months of the year, but November is the biggest month in terms of  participation. There’s no length requirement, and that pictures count. While NaNoBloPo assigns a theme for each month, and also offers daily writing prompts, these are optional. You can write about anything you’d like. NaNoBloPo is now sponsored by BlogHer, and while there’s a Facebook Group, I’m not seeing anything recent; that said, there’s no reason you can’t do it yourself. You might find the WordPress.com daily post prompts helpful.

750 words a day runs all year, but they feature a special November challenge. The challenge is designed to motivate people to start a daily private journaling habit. The challenge starts at midnight on Nov 01, 2016 and ends at 11:59pm on Nov 30, 2016. Write (at least) 750 words every day for this month. The words can be anything, as long as they add up to 750 of them.

Are you engaging in an alternative writing challenge for November? Possibly a personal challenge? We’d love to hear about it the comments.

NaNoWriMo & the Power of Positive Peer Pressure

Guest Post by Eldon Hughes

P to the 4th power? P-Diddlying? Whatever.

It’s what doing NaNoWriMo successfully is all about, taking advantage of the power of positive peer pressure.

Every year since 1999 a growing horde of strangers and friends get together in groups, online and face to face, all over the world. At the end of the month, many of them will claim the prize — the title of Author of a book more than 50,000 words long.

NaNo crestYears ago I was the first Municipal Liaison for the (Southern) Illinois – Elsewhere group. Yeah, “Elsewhere.” That was my second NaNo. I ML’d a couple more years and then passed it on to others who lived closer to the neighborhood. I’ve won every year I’ve attempted NaNo (7-8? times.) If you’re interested, you can read one of my NaNo Novels, Willie & Frank, here. Even better, you can get Dust to Dust, Book Two of the Poison and Wine Series, here.  It was written over a NaNo. Some would suggest that that’s cheating, since it was written by two people.  I would point out that the first draft, written during NaNo, topped 100K.

Sometimes NaNoing involved being cheered on by and cheering on others. Sometimes it was challenging myself against people online. Sometimes it was sitting, face to face, in a room full of people just as enchanted by the magic of words as I am. People who share our particular brand of crazy.   I can tell you that about half of Willie & Frank came from dares or challenges that year’s local NaNo group gave me.

Rounding the numbers, last year 690,000 people announced their own start in the novel attempt. 310,000 of them reported crossing the 50,000 word mark. Less than half is about normal. My guess is, some of those who didn’t make it started the month more in love with the idea of being a writer than they were with words. (We’ve all met folks that.) My bet? Most of the rest, who didn’t finish, didn’t take advantage of the power of positive peer pressure.

You can find the nearest NaNo Groups to you, on the NaNo website. Not every group is right for every writer. If there are several, find the one that works for you. Some of them are more motivated by the word wars than the words themselves. Some are more interested in chatting and talking about the writing they are doing when they aren’t together than actually writing at the gatherings. Some are a smile, a wave and a “how many words have you got?” Then they are heads down over keyboards or paper and pen, back at the writing. — A quiet acknowledgement of the shared madness, if you will.

None of those are wrong, per se. But which one is right for you? Maybe you aren’t a face to face kind of person. I hope you will at least try it and find out first, but maybe your group is on Facebook? Or Twitter? Or the NaNo site?

If there’s not a group anywhere near you? Start your own.  NaNo prefers that their Municipal Liaisons be past NaNo Winners. They also prefer that they apply for this unpaid, volunteer position by July.  But they love to hear from motivated writers who want to volunteer.

For that matter, go rogue. Go wild.  If you’re writing in the middle of nowhere, like I am these days, slap up some “contact me” cards at any area coffee shop, library, craft shops or anywhere used books are sold. Basically, the kinds of places you like. You’re a writer, makes sense other writers like those places, too, yeah? Make a few like minded contacts and shazam, you’re in a group of writers.  Just remember, even if we all share the “writer crazy”– we still aren’t all the same.  What works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa.  Remember, NaNoWriMo is about writing, not editing. So, no critics allowed. Just muses and writers.  Find the group that motivates your writing. The group you feel good about encouraging.

Then go write.

One bit of repeat here — NO EDITING. Save editing until next year. Literally, next year. November is for writing. Write with abandon. Write hard. Write.

And, when you cross the 50K mark? Come back here, to the comments, and crow about it! Shout it from a rooftop. Tell strangers. A lovely writer friend of mine put the period to the sentence where she crossed 50K and then stood on her chair, waved her arms like wings and sang like an angel. The whole room cheered and applauded. We were in a Barnes & Noble at the time. It was hysterical, it was beautiful, it was glorious. She deserved glorious.  So will you. Because you will have earned it, and no one can ever take it away from you. Go. Write. I’ll meet you back here in November.

Eldon Hughes
“Williebee” (NaNo & AW)
@Williebee
www.ifoundaknife.com

 

Four Steps to Becoming a God(dess) of Literary Elements

Guest Post by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

The Art of Floating cover image
The Art of Floating

When I was in grad school working on my MFA degree, fellow writers and I hashed out the symbolic power of Janie’s hair in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, argued about whether or not Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to” was a statement against the growing materialism of American culture, and bowed to the importance of hunger in Richard Wright’s Black Boyhunger for food, books, individuality, equality, voice, and more. We lauded Alice Walker’s use of opposites in The Color Purple to characterize Celie—most especially Shug’s mighty sexuality and Sofia’s sassy attitude. “Wow,” we repeated again and again, “it all seems so darn seamless.”

And it is…now. But I assure you that when Hurston, Melville, Wright, and Walker reread their first drafts, nothing was seamless—especially those literary elements that pop, zing, and grab your attention. Those brilliants icons of American literature groaned, moaned, and dropped heads to desks, just like you, when faced with the task of weaving metaphors, allusion, epithet, and other devices into their novels and short stories.

So rest easy in the knowledge that you’re not alone in this challenge, and follow these four steps to create the kind of story about which readers will wow, sigh, and say, “It’s all so darn seamless.”

Step #1 — Story First

As you write the first drafts of a novel or short story, don’t think about literary elements. Don’t think, what does this tree symbolize? Is this statement ironic? Does this scene need to be foreshadowed? Should I include an allusion here? Does this flashback work? Instead, just tell your story. Tell it fully. Create a compelling setting and characters. Figure out the plot. Get the dialogue moving. Establish tension. Follow the story through to an ending (even if the ending changes over time).

Step #2 — Read & Review

When you’ve got a solid draft with concrete characters, a strong sense of place, and, yes, a plot, read through that draft. As you do, you’ll notice that without consciously trying (because you adhered to Step #1), you’ve embedded a number of literary elements in your story. Good storytellers quite naturally incorporate this kind of stuff into their work; we use figurative language to describe a scene, hyperbole to make a point, and symbols to convey meaning. We do it even when giving directions to a bus stop or teaching our children to make chutney.

Step #3 — Heighten

Once you’ve noted the literary elements that quite naturally made their way into your story, decide which you’d like to sculpt and heighten. Then do so. If you need a bit of inspiration, think about Hurston

reading the first draft of Their Eyes Were Watching God in which Janie probably had a modest ponytail. Then consider Hurston scratching her head and thinking, “Hm, Janie’s hair. Yes, Janie’s hair seems to be saying something. Something about power and sexuality.” Then imagine her rewriting so that she ends up with this glittering gem:The men noticed her [Janie’s] firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye. The women took the faded shirt and muddy overalls and laid them away for remembrance. It was a weapon against her strength and if it turned out of no significance, still it was a hope that she might fall to their level some day.”

Step #4Back Off

Remember, first and foremost, your readers want a good story, not a litany of literary devices. So don’t overdo it. Don’t load up every paragraph with similes, motifs, irony, and whatnot. Tell your story. Use the elements that arise naturally. Heighten those. Then back off. Let the story do the work.

Write!

You’re now well on your way to becoming a god(dess) of literary elements. And if, along the journey, you find yourself tempted to overwork a metaphor, pop the reader in the face with a forced foil, or foreshadow nearly every event, stop, return to Step #1, and start again. You’ll be glad you did.

________________________

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is the author of the novels The Art of Floating (Penguin/Berkley, 2014) and Thirsty (Swallow Press, 2009). Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Poets & Writers Magazine, The Gettysburg Review, and Hypertext. She has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago and has been teaching writing for the past twenty years. Follow her on Twitter at @kbairokeeffe and visit www.kristinbairokeeffe.com.

Improv Writing

Welcome, AWers! Are you looking for a terrific way to inspire your imagination and make writing fresh and fun again? This week’s guest post by Eldon Hughes offers a creative approach that’s worked for him, maybe it’ll give you a fresh path to follow, as well! — Mac

Guest Post by Eldon Hughes

Improv writing.

Does it work?  I hope so.  C. H. Valentino and I have written two books, so far, this way.

The first one, Poison and Wine, came out in March and is available from the usual online places. Amazon – Nook (print and iBooks coming soon.)

It wasn’t planned that way. It was just a writing exercise that became a story and then grew a world of its own. But isn’t that how the best stories work?

“It’s like taking your imagination ice skating, or inviting someone else’s brain out on a playdate.”

Along the way we get exercise in active reading, active writing voice, scene setting and effective description from within the character’s points of view (because we want our partner to understand, without saying it out right, where we think the story might be going.)

So, here’s the premise. I’m going to ask you three questions, or maybe five, or maybe just one.  I’m going to pull the questions “out of thin air.”  They might be core character questions, or wild tangents:

  1. Good or Evil?
  2. Male or Female?
  3. What’s in your pocket?
  4. Painter or cook?
  5. Himalayas or Salton Sea?

You’re going to do the same thing for me.  The answers are a kick off point for our new characters.  There are NO wrong answers.  How we answer, and how we choose to interpret and act on those answers is up to us.

Then pick a place in the world. It helps if we both have at least a little bit of familiarity with it, or quick fingers and an understanding of how to use an internet search engine like Google.

It also helps if we can literally be on the same page.  And, we can. Google Drive (including Docs) is free for personal use, as well as for non-profits and schools.  Sign up for a free Gmail account and you have Google Docs. (Along with a lot of other really cool free tools.)

One of us creates a document, uses the blue “Share” button (you’ll see it) to share that document with the other, by email address.  We both open the document, and where ever we are online, we’re typing on the same page, at the same time.  The game, dear writer, is afoot.

You write your character. I’ll write mine.  Somewhere in the first couple of graphs they are going to meet, interact, conflict, compete, maybe even come together around a central theme.  It’s up to us and our skill as writers.

Most of the same basic rules apply as in acting improvs:

  • “Yes, and” — If you write, “Have you seen my elephant?” I accept the existence of an elephant, whether in view or not.  The response might be, “Yes, and he was quite tasty, thank you”  or a more complex version of the rule — the “no, but” — “No, have you seen my mouse?”  (I accept your elephant and imply there may be a fable happening just out of sight.)
  •  “Drive the scene toward the story” — I don’t remember who said it first, but every line either moves the story along or reveals something about the character.
  •  “You look better when both writers look good.” When we’re both writing well, the story gets better as well.
  •  “Don’t ask open ended (obvious) questions,” instead let the descriptions and the character’s words and actions reveal who they are and what they are up to.

One more thing? No quitting. Set a time limit or a word count as a goal and write until “the bell rings.”  “Writers write, right?”

Eldon Hughes is a writer, storyteller and education technologist.  His website is www.ifoundaknife.com.

From The Dishwasher Froths Success

By C.S. Paquin

Success as a freelance writer has come from the dishwasher— no, not via a lucrative commercial-copy gig bubbling with the attributes of a kitchen appliance, but from the old dishwasher installed in our new apartment.

The state of my kitchen defines my professional success and pre-dishwasher, chaos reigned! Last night’s dishes piled high don’t auger well for a productive morning, but once those counter tops sparkle, well, I’m free to tackle whatever chore is next. The only problem is, I hate dishpan hands, and in avoidance, it’s easy for me to waste an entire day—in fact, the task only takes on a sense of urgency when it’s time for dinner. This disorganization sounds the death knell for my writing career—haphazard working hours, staying up too late to make deadline after hours of procrastination, and working fitfully amidst the laundry, vacuuming, and errands—all impatiently demanding attention once I’m done in the kitchen.

But now, the delight of dealing with dirty dishes without delay, has sparked a catalyst. Each morning, after my daughter goes to school and the baby to the sitter, I tidy the apartment and throw in a load of laundry while the dishwasher sings its sloshy song. By 9 a.m., cappuccino time, I’m opening the mail, and with the rest of the place clutter-free, it’s prudent to keep my desk as pristine and file my papers and pay the bills. I’ve discovered, too, that if I balance the checkbook every few days, then it takes just a few minutes, and I even remember what I bought.

By 9.30 a.m., in disbelief at how early it still is, I switch on my computer and check for looming deadlines. I have regular editing jobs, a small column for a regional magazine, as well as sending out queries to new markets. The difference is, I’m really writing the queries and mailing them. Pre-dishwasher, I’d sit and dream about it, because with a brimming sink, I couldn’t possibly start the query process. So, with my attention not distracted by the chores, I set up and conduct interviews, write and edit what needs to be done, and send in work not only hours, but days before deadline. Ticking off the tasks on my list is addictive and the more I check off, the more inspired I am to find and complete new projects.

Within a few weeks, my flailing career takes new shape—more gigs appear, and checks trickle in. “Aha,” I think to myself, as I add regular banking to the task list: Self-discipline does pay!

This revelation chases away the nagging suspicion that haunted me—that I’m more in love with the idea of writing, than actually writing. These days, as I see my reflection in the shiny plates, I say to myself quite proudly: “I am a freelance writer!”

C.S. Paquin is a nationally published writer in a variety of genres—from news writing to humor. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Journalism, and dreams of being a best-selling author. Her first writing love, however, is creative nonfiction and personal essays.