May your holiday season be joyful, and full of love, peace, and blessings. Merry Christmas to all of you, and a very Happy New Year.
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.
Years 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.
Guest Post by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe
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 Boy—hunger 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 #4 — Back 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.
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.
That’s right, P. N. Elrod the multi-talented author of The Vampire Files urban fantasy series (among many other books and genres) is offering critiques.
This isn’t something she does lightly, and this is a rare opportunity to have a sample of your writing critiqued by a pro.
Elrod is offering critiques to help pay the bills for her miracle dog Fuzzy; that’s Fuzzy in the picture. Fuzzy’s medical bills are in the triple digits. P. N. Elrod is offering critiques to help pay them down.
Here are P. N. Elrod’s terms for a critique. They’re reasonable, and yes, affordable for even the frugal. She’s also put up some items—Doctor Who Goodies, and original cover art painting—for sale in P. N. Elrod’s Garage Sale (scroll all the way to the bottom to read Fuzzy’s story).
Even if it’s not for you, if you have writerly friends who might benefit from the knowledge of a working writing professional, please spread the word!
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
Does it work? I hope so. C. H. Valentino and I have written two books, so far, this way.
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:
- Good or Evil?
- Male or Female?
- What’s in your pocket?
- Painter or cook?
- 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.
Here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, full of warmth and joy and blessings beyond counting.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts November 1. The basic idea is to engage in BIC (Butt In Chair) and write fiction. The goal is to finish 50,000 words by midnight on November 30. By successfully completing 50,000 words by the deadline, you win, (you get a badge!), and have a draft of a novel. Or that’s the idea.
The goal is less one of writing a novel than it is of writing 50,000 words in a month, or roughly, 1,667 words a day.
- Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
- Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
- Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
- Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
- Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
- Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.
I like very much the attitude behind NaNo WriMo that what’s important is that you’re writing, and writing regularly. It is, as some writers have said, permission to create a first draft without obsessing over style, with the idea that later you will revise at your leisure.
Here’s an interesting thing: you’re permitted to use an outline, or notes that you’ve created ahead of time. But they discourage writers from starting with a draft or even a partial draft, and here’s why:
But bringing a half-finished manuscript into NaNoWriMo all but guarantees a miserable month. You’ll care about the characters and story too much to write with the gleeful, anything-goes approach that makes NaNoWriMo such a creative rush. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate, and you’ll tap into realms of imagination and intuition that are out-of-reach when working on pre-existing manuscripts.
There’s even support for local NaNo WriMo groups. We have a lot of AWers who are NaNo veterans, and we even have an AW NaNo WriMo and Beyond subforum. MacAllister Stone has written about her own participation in NaNo WriMo, and the difficulty of maintaining a schedule.
What advice do you NaNo veterans have for first timers? What works for you in terms of finding time to NaNo?
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.
Guest post by Francesca Nicasio
When I first started out, there were some things that I tried to avoid as much as possible because they
were uncomfortable scared the crap out of me. It didn’t take long though before I realized that my avoidance was getting me nowhere and if I really wanted to succeed in freelance writing, I had to not only face my fears, I had to embrace them.
Below is a list of those fears. I’ve also included the things that I learned from facing them, and what you can do if you share the same fears or apprehensions.
Getting edits and constructive criticism is a good thing. Those red marks on your article may not look pretty, but they will make you a better writer. They can improve your style and develop your attention to detail. As writers, we are often too close to our creations to see flaws or errors. Having someone scrutinize your work will make it sharper and more compelling.
How to deal with constructive criticism: First of all, don’t take it personally. The person scrutinizing your work is just doing their job. Also remember that having your work edited or criticized doesn’t make you a bad writer. It only means that there’s some room for improvement and growth.
When you get the edited piece back, thank the person and revise your work. If you don’t agree with the way they edited your article, say so. Tell them (in a polite way, of course) why you wrote it the way you did and hear out their response. This opens up constructive discourse between the two of you, and you’ll likely pick up helpful insights in the process.
The path to freelance writing success is littered with rejection letters. It’s just part of the territory. As writers we must learn to accept — nay —embrace rejection because each “no” that we get brings us closer to that coveted “yes.”
Rejection can teach you some valuable lessons in persistence and resilience. It also tests just how badly you want success. More importantly, rejection enables you to develop a thicker hide–an attribute that you must possess when putting yourself out there.
How to deal with rejection: There’s no shortcut or sugar-coated way to handle rejection. You just have to dust yourself off, learn from the mistakes that got you rejected (if any), and keep going.
You can also think of it this way: If you get rejected by a prospective client or publication, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something wrong with you. It just means that you and the other party aren’t a good fit for each other. They’re not the right client or they simply aren’t looking for someone like you at the moment. It’s nothing personal and it’s not anything against you, it’s just the way it is.
Okay, maybe “haters” is too strong of a word. Let’s call them “negative commenters”.
Unpleasant as it may be though, receiving negative comments should be taken as a compliment. Why? Because it means that what you wrote sparked enough emotion to compel people to leave a comment.
Don’t feel bad when you get negative comments, be upset when you don’t get any.
How to deal with negative comments
If you choose to dignify their comments with a response, always be calm and respectful. Recognize that each person is entitled to their own opinions. Additionally, do not respond from a place of defensiveness or emotion. Instead, state the facts and be cool. And be sure to thank the person for taking the time to comment.
PS: This doesn’t apply to trolls.
This is for all the shy ones (myself included). Reaching out to other people may be out of your comfort zone, but it’s absolutely necessary. Reaching success is not something that you can do alone, so get out there and network away. Growing your contact list is essential especially when you’re looking to promote your work or collaborate with others.
Reaching out to others is also something that you must do again and again throughout your career because it’s the only way to find new audiences and/or clients.
How to reach out
Do your research on the person that you’re touching base with. To be effective, reach out with their needs in mind, not just yours. For instance, if you’re contacting them to start a joint venture, tell them why a JV would benefit them and their audience. Remember, they’ll be asking the question of what’s in it for them, so be sure to answer it when you first get in touch.
Have you ever avoided any of the things mentioned in this blog post? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Francesca Nicasio (formerly Francesca StaAna) is the founder of CredibleCopywriting.net and is currently developing Copywriter2.0, an online course that teaches aspiring freelance writers the ins and outs of the biz.
By Martha Alderson
Most writers have a preference for one style of writing over another. Some writers are more adept at developing complex, interesting, and quirky characters. Others excel at page-turning action. The lucky writers are good at creating both the character emotional development plotline and the dramatic action plotline. Become aware of your strength and learn to address your weakness, and you, too, can become one of the lucky ones.
Broadly speaking, writers who prefer writing action-driven stories focus on logical thinking, rational analysis, and accuracy. Action-driven writers tend to rely more on the left side of their brain. These writers approach writing as a linear function and see the story in its parts. Action-driven writers like structure. They usually pre-plot or create an outline before writing. Action-driven writers have little trouble expressing themselves in words.
On the other hand, writers who write character-driven stories tend to focus on aesthetics and feelings, creativity and imagination. These writers access the right side of their brains and enjoy playing with the beauty of language. They are more intuitive, and like to work things out on the page. Character-driven writers are holistic and subjective. They can synthesize new information, but are somewhat (or more) disorganized and random. They see the story as the whole. Right brain writers may know what they mean, but often have trouble finding the right words.
Take the test below to see whether you are stronger at developing character emotional development plotlines or dramatic action plotlines.
Fill in the character emotional development plot profile below for your protagonist (the character who is most changed by the dramatic action), any other major viewpoint characters and, if there is one, the character who represents the major antagonist for the protagonist:
- Protagonist’s overall story goal:
- What stands in his/her way of achieving this goal:
- What does he/she stand to lose, if not successful:
- Flaw or greatest fault:
- Greatest strength:
- Writers who filled out 1-3 with ease prefer writing dramatic action.
- Writers who filled in 4- 10 with ease prefer character emotional development.
- Writers who filled in everything with ease find both the dramatic action and the character emotional development plotlines come easy.
Without a firm understanding of points 1-3, you have no front story. The dramatic action plotline is what gets the reader turning the pages. Without it there is no excitement on the page.
Without a firm understanding of points 4-10, you are more likely to line up the action pieces of your story, arrange them in a logical order and then draw conclusions. Yet, no matter how exciting the action, this presentation lacks the human element. Such an omission increases your chances of losing your audience’s interest; readers read 70% for character.
For Dramatic Action Plot Writers
To Strengthen the Character Emotional Development Plotline
- Try using your own flaw, fear, and/or secret—we all have them. What you filled out for #4-10 of the character emotional development profile is a mere skimming of the surface, like the first draft of any story. Even so, tack it up next to your computer. Over time, as you continue writing and come to know your characters better, the information will deepen. The longer you work, the deeper you will dig, the more significant your story will become.
- Look for opportunities to incorporate more patterning, metaphors, and analogies into your writing.
- Look for opportunities to role-play and use visual aids.
- Stop writing periodically and move your body during your writing time.
- Reread the information above that covers the less dominant side of your writing.
- Writers with strength in creating dramatic action usually think in sequence and are list makers. Since you have no trouble processing symbols, you actually enjoy making an advanced plan on a linear form such as a plot planner.
- After plotting out the dramatic action, use a different color pen and plot out a character emotional development plotline. To create logical conclusions, look for clues as to how the dramatic action causes changes in the character emotional development.
For Character Emotional Development Plot Writers
To Strength the Dramatic Action Plotline
- Use goals of your own and insert them into the context of the story— to finish, what? To organize, what? To accomplish, what?
- Writers who write about character emotional development have a more random writing style and rebel at anything as structured as a scene tracker or plot planner. Yet, because you like things concrete and benefit from seeing, feeling, or touching the real object, you keep coming back to the idea of developing a plot planner. You know intuitively that a plan will keep you on track and help you survive to the end of a completed project
- Because the right side of the brain is color sensitive, use one color to plot out the character emotional development scenes and use a different color to show the dramatic action, and yet another to show the thematic significance.
- Schedule a walk during your writing time and set the timer. Imagine yourself plotting out your scenes in sequence. The act of seeing yourself plotting will help you actually do it.
- Start with the climax of your story, and work backwards. Using your intuition, pay attention to coherence and meaning. Link dramatic action to the changes in your characters emotional development.
- Since you like to back up everything visually, hang a plot planner and/or scene tracker on a wall near your computer. These will help you remember the sequence of your story as you rewrite and rewrite until your story shows the meaning you want it to convey.
These are just some of the differences that exist between character-driven writers and action-driven writers, but you can see the pattern. Writers who lean more toward creating the character emotional development plotline now know you can be flexible and adapt the plot planner to make such a structured approach work for you. Likewise, those of you who are predominantly left-brain know that it would be wise to use both sides of the brain and employ some right brain strategies.
We tend to process and use information from our dominant side. However, the writing process is enhanced when both sides of the brain participate in a balanced manner.
Martha Alderson, M.A. is the author of Blockbuster Plots: Pure & Simple. She is a teacher, a plot consultant, a speaker, and an award-winning writer of historical fiction. She has taught plot and scene development and historical novel writing at the University of California at Santa Cruz Extension, Learning Annex, writers’ conferences, and workshops in the greater San Francisco Bay Area and in Washington State. Martha is available workshops and plot consultations. You can find plot tips and tools at Martha Alderson’s Website blockbusterplots.com. Her books on writing and plotting fiction are available at Amazon and other booksellers.