Why I Outline Last

paper-34910_640Every writer builds the foundation for their novel differently, and most of us do it a little differently every time we attempt to write a novel.

Some writers start with an almost fully formed plot and write their outline while still trying to figure out the characters’ histories and the setting’s climate. Others start with characters who won’t leave them alone. A select few start with an interesting world.

Every one of my novels starts differently, but I almost always outline last. Some years I’ve barely outlined at all before Nanowrimo got started.

Why do I outline last?

The first reason is because I consider outlines to be loose guides rather than something I’m going to follow to the letter. I expect my novels to grow and change as I write them, as I get to know my characters and my world better.

But the real reason I usually outline last is because strong characters and a well developed setting influence plot. 

In order to really know what your plot will look like, you have to understand your characters. You have to know how they respond to different situations, who and what they care about, what they’re willing to do to achieve their goals. You should know their weaknesses and their strengths, the memories that haunt them and their childhood dreams.

Your characters are shaped, at least partially, by their setting. They will have internalized many of the predominant beliefs in your culture. If they’re part of an oppressed group, it will influence how they act, especially when around members of the oppressive group. It will also influence how characters from the oppressive group act towards your characters.

That’s not even mentioning that well educated characters from a world where the vast majority of people can’t read–or can’t read well–have to get that way somehow. If your character comes from a poor background in a medieval type fantasy world but can fight with several different weapons and read well, there has to be a logical explanation. Exploring oppression in fantasy is interesting and often fun, but you have to do it right. If your characters are oppressed, make sure they act like people who are oppressed. 

The setting can also have a direct influence on the plot. Your characters might have to tangle with volcanoes, tropical storms, mountains, all kinds of fun things created by their setting. Even a simple thunder storm that makes it impossible to find usable firewood near the road can have an impact on your story.

You’re much more likely to stick with your outline if it’s based on the reality of your world and your characters. After all, if you don’t know your characters very well, you won’t know how they’ll really react when the story gets started.

Do you outline first or last? Or do you develop your outline while working on other aspects of your novel?

Let me know in the comments below!

The Ultimate Plot Creation Resource List

quill-175980_640Once you’ve figured out the basics of your world and gotten to know your characters pretty well, it’s time to start thinking seriously about the plot. If your novel planning process is moving along at the proper pace, you should already have an idea what your plot looks like.

Now it’s time to figure out all the details. Well, not all the details. At least a few details should be figured out as you go along, because the best stories grow organically.

But you do need to know the basic structure of your plot before you start writing the first draft of your novel, at least if you want to write a first draft you might actually be able to salvage someday. So I’ve compiled a pretty large collection of resources designed to help you plot a novel.

Remember: there is no right or wrong way to plot a novel. Try as many as you need to until you find the one that works best for you.

Plotting Resources

1. The 4 Story Structures That Dominate Novels – This is an article on Writer’s Digest that details different story structures commonly used in novels. If you have only a very basic idea—or no idea at all—how your story will be structured, this is a really good place to start.

2. How to Structure a Story: The Eight-Point Arc – An explanation of one way you can structure your story. It’s a fairly detailed article that should give you lots of food for thought.

3. Nanowrimo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide – I haven’t actually read through this whole thing yet, but there’s an interesting article and a downloadable guide that comes with a plot building worksheet. This seems like just as good a place as any to go when you’re prepared to start fleshing out your plot.

4. The Snowflake Method – One method for planning a novel that lots and lots of writers absolutely love. I find this kind of outlining to be way too rigid for my tastes, but to each their own, right?

5. The Best Approach to Story Structure: From Aristotle to Dramatica – This is a pretty interesting article with a lot of food for thought on the subject of story structure/plotting. Some good reading to do before you start nailing down the details of your plot.

6. How to Create Story Structure to Die For – A fairly detailed article about creating excellent story structure on the Write to Done blog.

7. 25 Things You Should Know About Story Structure – Although I’ve only read one of his books I can tell you Chuck Wendig is a great author. He’s also a great blogger and seems to me to be an all around great guy. If you found Limyaael’s rants entertaining, you’ll love this—and find it useful to boot.

8. Novel Plotting Worksheets – If you really prefer to use worksheets to plot your novels, or you’re simply interested in trying a different approach, you can find a couple novel plotting worksheets here. You’ll also find a handy character chart and a link to a resource with more worksheets.

9. How to Create a Book that will Keep Readers Reading – Plot Worksheet – This is a pretty detailed plot worksheet that should help you create an engaging story you’ll actually be able to edit into a publishable novel.

10. Writing a Young Adult Series – An article that, despite its focus on one genre, can be helpful to anyone planning a series. You might not be writing every book in your series during November, but you should have an idea what they’re all going to look like, and what the overall story is. This article has some useful thoughts on how you can do just that.

11. Plot Structures for Books in a Series – More thoughts on how to structure novels within a series.

12. The Challenges of Writing a Series – And one more post on the challenges of writing a series because frankly, it’s challenging. After all, you want to set things up in the first book so that there’s appropriate foreshadowing for things in later books, which means you need to outline the whole thing before writing the first book.

13. Michael Crichton’s Method for Plotting out a Story – I think the title really says it all for this one.

14. How to Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps – If you don’t want to use a worksheet but you still want to create a solid outline before you start your first draft, this article can help you do so.

15. Plot Development – A pretty detailed article about plot development that should help you create something worthwhile, especially when combined with one of the outlining methods linked to in this article.

16. Golden Rules for a Good Plot – Five rules and a couple useful links that will help you write a novel worth reading.

17. 6 Writing Outline Templates and 3 Reasons to Use Them – An article about the importance of outlines, with links to outline worksheets you can download.

18. Plotting a Romance Novel – If you’re considering writing a romance novel—or you’ve already decided it’s a good idea—this article is for you. It might also be helpful if you’re trying to write a book where romance is a major component, but not actually the main storyline.

19. Outlining Your Novel: Why and How – Another great article about the purpose of outlines, along with a guide to creating them.

20. First Steps in Plotting a Novel – A brief article that will help you plan the beginning of your novel.

21. Plotting a Novel – This article details the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. There’s actual software for this available if you’re interested in using the method yourself. From my understanding there’s also a book, if you prefer to learn that way.

22. How J.K. Rowling Plotted Harry Potter with a Hand-Drawn Spreadsheet – Admit it. Every time you finish reading a book that leaves an impression, you want to know how it was planned. Well, J.K. Rowling’s actually enlightened the public to a fair bit of her writing process. Enjoy!

23. Famous Authors’ Hand-Written Outlines for Great Works of Literature – On this site you can actually see the hand-written outlines several famous authors have created. I don’t know how much it will help you plot your own novel, but it is really cool to see these famous novels planned out like this.

24. 7 Ways to Add Great Subplots to Your Novel – This is another article from Writer’s Digest, this time discussing how to add interesting subplots to your novel. After all, the best novels always have more than one thing going on.

25. 5 Ways to Write a Killer Plot Twist – Everybody loves a good plot twist done right. This article will help you get it right every time.

26. What is Plot – How to Write a Story from Beginning to End – A fairly detailed article that will help you think your plot through properly and make sure you write a story actually worth reading. After all, you don’t want to spend an entire month on something that isn’t worthwhile, do you?

27. Special Fiction Writing Week: Creating a Plot – You’ll find some great information on plot creation in this article and you’ll also find a couple useful links. Realistically, Men with Pens is a blog you should probably be following anyway. Just thought I’d throw the idea out there.

28. Thoughts on Plot by Famous Writers – This is a great collection of quotes which will hopefully help you plan a better novel and stay inspired when the plotting gets tough.

29. Before You Can Write a Good Plot, You Need to Write a Good Place – An article discussing the importance of your setting to creating a great story.

30. The Best Advice on Plotting I’ve Ever Heard – A pretty useful article that happens to be located on a writing blog you might want to spend some time exploring before moving on to the next resource.

31. Plots and Stories – An article that outlines the differences between plots and stories, discusses how they work together, and how stories without strong plots can still work on occasion. There’s some pretty interesting stuff here.

32. Constructing Plot – This article goes through the various elements of plot and shows how you can use them to construct a worthwhile novel.

33. 5 Major Plotholes in Otherwise Great Movies – Okay, I’ll be fair, this isn’t really a writing resource. At the same time, everything is a writing resource. Movies, just like books, consist of characters, setting, plot and story. And knowing what to avoid is just as important as knowing what to do.

34. How to Write a Good Game Story – Again, this article isn’t focused on books, but it is focused on story and plot. And studying any kind of story is worthwhile, so it’s on the list.

35, It’s Just a Phase – This article walks you through the creation of a phase outline, which is a pretty intensive form of outlining I find way too extreme that might just work for you anyway. There are also a lot of useful articles on the Forward Motion website.

36. 25 Ways to Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story – Another great article written by Chuck Wendig. If you go through all 25 you’ll probably end up with a pretty solid plot. I’ve never worked through them all in order from this list, so if you do, I’d love to hear about it and the results you get.

37. Choosing the Best Outline Method for You – One last article from Writer’s Digest which will help you decide which of these many different outlining methods you can actually use.

Outlining a novel might seem tedious, but it’s essential to creating a worthwhile first draft. Even with an outline you might find your first draft too messy to be salvageable, but I can almost guarantee you’ll be able to tell your story is still worthwhile.

Outlining your novel before you begin also helps you decide whether or not you actually want to spend a month or more on this novel. After all, you can’t really know if an idea is worthwhile until you’ve spent some time examining it and discovering more about it.

If you know of any plotting resources that really should be on this list, let me know in the comments below or shoot me an email at diannalgunn @ gmail.com .

Eric James Spannerman Discusses his Experience with Nanowrimo

Appliednaturalmagic2014 was the year in which I made the jump from hopeful writer to published author. My first book, Applied Natural Magic, was released by Musa Publishing in August of 2014 as part of the Darkside Codex series of steampunk stories. NaNoWriMo 2013 was a big part of getting me to that point, and Dianna has asked me to share that story.

Although writing a NaNoWriMo draft was difficult, producing the draft was not the most difficult part of the process. My biggest obstacles emerged during the four months I spent hammering the raw material of the first draft into submittable form. Fortunately, there are some things to do prior to and during NaNoWriMo that make the transition from draft to usable manuscript easier, and I’m going to focus on those.

I did not start NaNoWriMo with a blank slate. In August of 2013, I received the Darkside Codex Bible, a document that describes the world of Southwatch in which the series is set. The Bible lays out the physical description of the world, as well as most of its basic features. It’s a steampunk venue where magic, science and mad science all work; humans and fae have an uneasy coexistence; and a permanent toxic cloud hovers over the city, dividing the elite, who live in the upper floors of skyscrapers or a complex of dirigibles above the cloud, from the masses, who live in perpetual gloom below it. The Bible also describes other features such as the money system, basic social mores, and a complete history of the city and the empire of which it is part. Some stock characters are also included, although I didn’t use any of them. So, I began with basic world building in hand.

I took advantage of an offer by Celina Summers, head editor for the series, to review sample chapters. She said my idea was on the right track, and pointed out a couple of problems with the sample. Although this was not a commitment to buy the finished product, it was far more involvement and encouragement than I’ve gotten from any other venue before completing a manuscript. This gave me the basic tone and outline of the story.

Sometime in early fall, I discovered Randy Ingermanson’s “snowflake method” of planning a novel. His highly-structured approach made sense to me, probably because I’m a former technical writer. I started creating the various planning tools he advocated. The complete description is at http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

These are the pieces I found most valuable:

Plot Summaries. Randy advocates creating a series of longer and increasingly-complex plot summaries, beginning with a one-sentence distillation of the book and concluding with a four-page description. This forced me to think through all the major events in the book and guided my writing during the draft.

Character Summaries The Character Summary consists of working out each character’s motivation, goals, conflict and epiphany, then closing with a summary of the character’s arc. I wish I’d included a physical description as well, since it’s a pain to forget what color a character’s eyes are halfway through the draft. However, if you go for the “full snowflake,” that is handled in a later step.

Scene Spreadsheet A spreadsheet with one line for each scene, including the POV character and a description of what happens. Numbering makes it easy to sort and reorder. I added some information to Randy’s basic form: all the characters included in the scene, the physical setting and a description of the scene’s purposes–introduce a character, foreshadow part of a conflict, etc. This is the piece of work I most wish I’d finished before starting NaNoWriMo, and the piece I’m most determined to have this year.

In addition to these formal planning tools, I also filed scraps of dialog, intriguing questions, pictures, and draft scenes as I thought them up or discovered them in the months between starting the project and starting NaNoWriMo.

I kept everything in Evernote except the Scene Spreadsheet, which was in Google Sheets. I like Evernote’s ability to quickly tag and file a wide variety of media and find it again, later. For example, when I wrote a riot scene, I was able to pull up everything with the keyword “riot” and see pictures of the Ukrainian protestors, a word-sketch I’d made of the scene, and so on.

I did not complete my planning by the first of November. I hesitated over the question of whether to finish the planning or to plunge ahead on the draft. In the end, I decided to use the planning I had and plunge into NaNoWriMo.

The draft of Applied Natural Magic turned out to be nearly seven times longer than anything I’d previously written. The length introduced a bunch of problems I’d never had with a short story manuscript. For one thing, the sheer size of the document made it hard to flip back through it and look up a place name or to see which characters were in a room when an announcement was made. For another, the complexity of the story made it much more difficult to keep all the pieces working together–it was too easy to go off on a tangent and forget exactly why I was writing a given scene.

This is where some of the planning materials became invaluable. By having the whole story arc in the summaries where I could look at it, I found it easier to get back on track. And it allowed me to work non-sequentially–I wrote the parts I felt like writing on any given day, which was not necessarily their final order in the book. When working that way, it was especially convenient to be able to look back in the summary and see what was supposed to have happened before, so I knew what had to be explained in a given scene and what didn’t.

Despite all that, the draft that emerged at the end of NaNoWriMo had some serious problems. There were scenes in the wrong setting, with the wrong characters, and the whole thing suffered from lack of action and lack of a good “hook” to get the reader involved early.

I set about fixing the problems, again leaning heavily on the summaries and other planning materials to stay organized. At this point, I was finding it really difficult to remember what had already happened in a given scene and what was yet to happen, because I’d been doing so much non-sequential editing. By mid-February, I decided I needed the Scene Spreadsheet, so I stopped to create it. That allowed me to see the entire structure of the book at one time, and made the final six weeks of editing much easier.

Needless to say, I’m very pleased with the results of NaNoWriMo 2013. I’ve got another book moving through the planning process for NaNoWriMo 2014, and I hope that better planning will result in a better draft.

Good luck to all, and thanks for reading.

You can purchase a copy of Applied Natural Magic here.

Using setting to develop character

http://pixabay.com/en/wallpaper-wood-bridge-background-19513/Any writer who’s been at this a while will tell you that in the best novels, setting, plot and character are intertwined. One cannot exist completely separate from the other, and they all influence each other to make a whole, interesting story.

This means that building upon one aspect of your novel often informs work you’re doing on other aspects. The history of your world, particularly the development of prejudice, impacts how your characters behave and are perceived. If one or more of your characters are in marginalized groups in the society you’ve created, they’re going to interact differently with other characters and be treated differently too.

Of course, how you can play with discrimination in fantasy settings and how that impacts characters’ lives is an article in its own right, maybe even a book.

What I’d really like to talk about today is something a little different: what you can learn about your characters by how they interpret setting. The details your character notices first–and how that changes based on their mood–can tell you a lot about your character: what they think about, how certain objects remind them of their past, how they feel about a certain place.

Today’s exercise is to write a scene where one of the major characters in your novel walks into a public space, twice.

The first time you write this scene, your character has just gotten some good news and is feeling great. What details do they notice? How are they walking? Do they often use large words to describe ordinary objects when a small word could work just as well? All these things say something about your character.

The second time you write this scene, your character’s had a really long day and is feeling down about their life and the direction it’s going in. Are the details they notice the same as the first time they walked into this room? Are they paying more attention to what’s going on in the room, or to how they feel? Does their mood change the language they use to describe things and people in the room?

When you’ve written both versions of the scene, compare the two and take notes on anything that leaps out of you: particularly poignant descriptions, a tendency to ignore their surroundings because they’re focused on themselves, a specific relationship with the place you chose to write about. Any small thing you notice about the character–or the setting, if you think it’s one you’ll use again–is worth noting.

What did you learn about your character today? Do you think it will help you write a better novel?

Ultimate Character Resource List

characterIf you’ve followed more than a couple blogs about writing fiction for a while, you’ve probably noticed that most writers will claim one of two things is the most important aspect of any novel: character or plot. And before you ask, I suspect the only author you’re likely to know of who thought worldbuilding truly was the most crucial aspect of story was Tolkien. (Feel free to mention others if you know about them. I don’t.)

You might be wondering what I have to say on the matter, and just to satisfy your curiosity I’ll give you the short answer: I think it depends on the writer and the story. Which is really my short answer for everything to do with writing a novel, because it’s hard to say anything more definite in a sentence.

Besides, I’m not here to argue semantics. We can do that in a couple months, when we’ve finished our crazy noveling adventures.

No, today I’m here to provide you with a comprehensive list of free resources that will help you create real, believable characters that people will grow to love—or hate. So bookmark this page and prepare to build the best characters you’ve ever built, one exercise at a time.

(For the record, this would have gone up last weekend except I accidentally smashed my laptop screen before I scheduled it and it took me a while to get the file back. Sorry guys!)

Resources on Character Development

1. Character Creation: 4 Simple Exercises – This is a short but incredibly useful article on Writer’s Digest if you’re just getting started with your character creation. The four writing exercises outlined in this article won’t take you too long, but they will greatly improve your understanding of your characters.

2. Take your Characters out to Lunch: 5 Development Exercises – The great thing about this article is that it has not just the five exercises it mentions, but links to a few different prompt sites where you can find writing exercises that will help you develop your characters further and get into the writing mood before you actually start your first draft.

3. 12 Character Writing Tips for Fiction Writers – This is an article with advice on many of the different aspects you need to create a solid character. It doesn’t go into much detail about any of them, but it’s a good place to start.

4. Characterisation in the Novel – Published by The Writer’s Workshop, this is a really comprehensive article about character development with a pretty intense exercise designed to help you nail down many of the fundamentals mentioned in the article above this one.

5. Developing Distinctive Character Voices – An article with three different exercises designed to help you develop distinctive voices for each of your characters.

6. The 100 Most Important Things You Need to Know About Your Character – This is a pretty massive list of questions designed to help you get to know your character. I’ve never worked my way through all of them for a single character, but combining question exercises with narrative exercises is often the best approach to character development, and one I’m quite fond of.

7. 50 Questions to Free Your Mind – The post kind of conveys them as questions you can ask yourself during a meditation or something, but these are some really interesting questions you can ask your characters if you want to make them really believable.

8. Top 10 Questions for Creating Believable Characters – If you don’t have a lot of time to spend planning your characters between now and when you’d like to start your first draft or you’d rather focus mostly on narrative exercises, these are the ten questions you really should ask your characters before you start your first draft.

9. Character Questionnaire – As you can probably tell, there are thousands of these questionnaires, each of them with their own good points and bad points. Often they’re a good jumping off point for writing exercises—you can use each one as a prompt for some flash fiction—but even answering all of these questions in point form is a great way to start building characters people will believe and understand.

10. The Art of Character Development – This is a pretty comprehensive cluster of articles designed to help writers and role players create excellent characters. It’s also got some more general information on role playing if you have any interest in that.

11. The First Rule of Creating Fictional Characters – A breakdown of eight different ways you can ensure that your readers will actually care about your characters. There’s some great advice here.

12. Character Interview Sample Questions – Just in case you haven’t asked your characters enough questions at this point—or you want to try a different list for each character so you can figure out which one you like best.

13. Create a Character Exercises – This article takes some time to remind you that reading is just as important to your success as writing is before delving into some exercises you can use to develop your own great characters.

14. Creating Memorable Characters – This is an excellent article on Writing-World.com which discusses how to make your characters more memorable. I read this article a few years ago and took its words to heart.

15. What Makes a Character Memorable? — Another article discussing how you can create memorable characters. After all, if there’s one thing that will be remembered about your book throughout the ages, it will probably be the characters.

16. Virginia Woolf’s Advice on Creating Memorable Characters – Whether or not you like Virginia Woolf—and people seem to be pretty divided on that matter, from what I can tell—she does have some great advice about how to create memorable characters.

17. Five Key Ways to Make Characters Memorable – Yet another great article on how you can make your characters more memorable.

18. The 3 Types of Character Arc : Change, Growth, and Fall – The best novels all feature dynamic characters whos lives are constantly changing, even if only in small, minute ways the reader barely notices. This article explains the three main types of character arc to help you create truly dynamic, vivid characters.

19. Character Arc 101 – This article goes over a lot of the basics needed to understand how character arcs work.

20. Creating a Stunning Character Arc, Part 1: Can You Structure Characters? — This is a long, pretty in depth article with links to an entire series of pretty long, in depth articles. Reading through all of these—and thoroughly digesting the information you find there—will help you go into your first draft with a clear idea of where your characters are going.

21. The Elements of a Novel: Character – You can find lots of useful information on different aspects of novel writing at this website, and this particular link is a pretty thorough article about character development.

22. Character Profile Template – This is a ready to download character profile template you can use to keep the most important information about each of your characters in one place.

23. Character Chart – This is another, more detailed approach to a character profile where you can keep pretty much any information you’ll ever need to know about your characters. You can download a copy to edit yourself.

24. Huge Character Profile of Completeness – If you want to try creating a truly comprehensive character profile as your main approach to character development—or just so all the information you’ve gathered while using the rest of these resources is in one place—this is the resource you need.

25. The Nanowrimo Adoption Society – Every year you’ll find a handy “Adopt a character” thread on this forum. Often you’ll even find different threads devoted to adopting characters from different genres. Even if you don’t take a specific character from this forum, the things you read are sure to inspire a character anyway.

26. Fantasy Character Generator – Just in case you’re starting completely from scratch, this generator will randomly produce character descriptions and hopefully inspire some great creations of your own.

27. The Secrets of Great Characters According to 6 Science Fiction Authors – An article with some thoughts from successful fiction authors so you can get an idea what the pros have to say on the subject.

28. How to Use Psychology in Fiction to Engage Readers – This is a great article about how psychology can be used to create amazing characters that will keep your readers coming back for more.

29. Psychology for Writers – This is a whole archive of articles about pyschology that are of particular interest to fiction writers. Need I say it’s exciting to explore? I haven’t gotten through them all yet, but I’m fascinated and eager to continue reading until I do.

30. Creating a Character Template – A guide to creating your own character template to use every time you start working with a new character.

31. Character Sketch — Kindly left in the comments for me, this is a great article by Matt Herron about how to create characters using Scrivener.

32. Developing Themes in Your Stories: Character Arcs — This is a post on one of my favourite blogs, DIY MFA, with a series of exercises to help you develop character arcs.

You can find thousands of articles and exercises designed to help you build your characters all over the web, but these are the ones I think you’ll find most useful. This list represents dozens of different approaches to creating believable, dynamic fictional characters, and I intend to add to it every year.

Is there a resource you’d really like to see added to this list? Let me know in the comments below or via email at diannalgunn @ gmail.com .

Author Spotlight: Becky Black

DreamForMe_BeckyBlack_coverlgToday’s author has not one, but four Nanowrimo novels published. She’s also been a pleasure to work with and provided some extremely valuable insight anyone interested in Nanowrimo can find useful.

Please give author Becky Black a warm welcome.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your books? (Preferably with a focus on those originally written during Nanowrimo)

NaNoWriMo got me started on writing novels after I’d been writing fanfiction for a few years. I started by doing science fiction, and later moved on to gay romance – a genre that was only just appearing a few years ago, but is booming now. I first sold a book back in 2010 and since then four of my nine published novels have started their lives as NaNoWriMo books. One was a last minute substitute, the idea coming to me late and muscling its way in when I lost my nerve about doing book two of a series when book one hadn’t sold yet. I only thought of the idea late September. I usually like to think about ideas for a lot longer than that. But I rode the tide and it was written, edited, submitted, sold and published within a year of the first idea. My books are published by a digital-first small press publisher – they move faster than the big boys! Already my NaNoWriMo novel from 2013 is out and feels like a distant memory.

2. When did you first decide you wanted to become a published author?

I think I’d always had that ambition, but was frankly too lacking in the confidence and drive to actually write for many years. But I’d have to trace the decision to take the idea seriously to shortly after my first NaNoWriMo, back in 2006. I’d been writing a few years, doing fanfiction, but chose to do an original fiction novel for my first NaNoWriMo, just to see if I could. Well I could, I did, and after that I had to sit down and think, did I want to just continue writing as a hobby, or was I going to start working towards becoming published? I chose publishing. I didn’t actually write one to submit until 2009, because I knew I had plenty to learn yet! But back in 2006 is when I made the decision.

3. How did you find out about Nanowrimo?

I don’t recall the first time I encountered it. It was something I’d just see mentions of around the internet and in the writing groups I hung out in. I got a vague idea of what it was and thought, hmm, no, I don’t think that’s for me at all! 50,000 words in a month? That’s ridiculous. That was in 2005. I didn’t do it that year. In 2006 I saw mentions of it again, more of them as November approached. By then I’d been writing for another year, and I’d produced some novella and even novel length fanfics. So I decided, maybe 50,000 words in a month wasn’t so crazy after all…

4. How much planning did you do before starting Nanowrimo?

That first time I produced a pretty loose outline. I knew the start and I knew the end, and had a rough plot for the middle, and had a big list of scenes to go in the middle, but I didn’t have a nailed down order for the scenes to go in. So I did “just in time” outlining. I planned a few scenes ahead. I picked out the events that best illustrated where the characters were emotionally at that point in the story and made a more detailed plan for the next part of the story, then the next, then the next, until I reached the end. And I knew the ending. From day one I knew the final line the narrator would say to end the story. When drafting I always know the ending vaguely, and it firms up as I get closer. But that one I knew in full detail.

That kind of flexible outline has remained the way I outline most stories to this day. Some are more nailed down than others, some are more loose and flexible, but overall the method hasn’t changed much. For me it’s never a case of finish the outline and then draft. I change and refine the outline as I write.

5. What was your first Nanowrimo experience like?

A bit of a leap into the unknown. But I had a small group of internet friends who were doing it too, which helped. We urged each other on in the case of slacking off. Anyone feeling lazy would be inspired by the member of the group who was about eight months pregnant – since if she could do it, so could we. I was also strongly reminded that I am in fact ridiculously competitive. Failure was not an option once I got started. I competed against my friends, and against random people on the forums, I really had the red mist in my eyes and it made me super productive. I reached my 50k on the 19th of November. I finished my story, at 62,595 words on the 25th. Yes, I recall the exact number of words. Stop looking at me like that. I’ve done it and won it every year since. One year I only made it to 50k through sheer bloody mindedness, but like I say, once I start, failure is not an option.

6. What advice would you give people attempting Nanowrimo this year? (As much as you’re willing, maybe with a cap of 3 fairly long paragraphs)

Don’t assume you will be able to write every day. The official daily total to get you to 50k in 30 days is 1667 words a day. (Well it’s actually 1666.7 but the only time I write .7 of a word is those times I faceplant into my keyboard.) That’s the dream. But doing anything for 30 days consecutively, barring sleeping and eating is hard. Not simply in terms of the mental discipline to do it, resisting all the siren calls of the TV or the pub, or the bed, but in purely practical terms.

What are the chances you can go 30 days without some kind of domestic emergency, or having to stay late at work, or you or your kids getting ill? Or maybe you want to retain some vestige of a social life and not become a hermit for a month. So give yourself some wiggle room. Adjust your daily total for say 25 days not 30. Or take a look at your calendar and see when you can get extra writing sessions in that you can use to build up a word count cushion to insulate you against disaster. Even if you don’t plan your novel, plan the month in terms of when you’ll write.

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, or says they are doing. There are people you’ll see around the NaNoWriMo forums who post gigantic word counts. They can write really fast. Don’t compare yourself to them. They don’t win harder because they wrote more than you. If you write 50,000 by November 30th you’re a winner, simple as that. And I personally think people who have won by day three or something are missing out on all the fun ups and downs of the month. On the other hand it can be very motivating to find someone on the forums to compete with. You don’t have to know the person, or indeed ever have any contact with them. But they are your nemesis. They should be someone who is at nearly the same word count as you and seems to be working at roughly the same pace – around the 10th of the month is a good time to start looking out for someone like that. Someone living in a different time zone so writing at a different time of day, is good too. You either have to chase their word count, or stay ahead of it. A nemesis is a great motivator.

Have fun! Every year the “NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul” forum is one of the busiest on the site. Sure, writers always have one or more “this thing is going to kill me! I just hope I have time to clear my browsing history before I go” moments in the middle of any novel draft, never mind during a high pressure event like NaNoWriMo. But you don’t want to spend October worrying about it, and November having a month long nervous breakdown about it. This isn’t a homework assignment, or a project for work. Nobody ever has to see it if you don’t want them to. Maybe you’ll fail to write 50,000 words. Maybe you’ll get 50,000 words, but they are terrible drivel. So what? You won’t get expelled, evicted or excommunicated over it. There are no bad consequences to doing this. If it’s a failure, well it was only a month out of your life and you at least gave it a go. You’ll have learned from it. So stop worrying and start enjoying it.

Make backups. For the love of cats, make backups every single day. I don’t care how you do it, USB stick, emailed to yourself, cloud storage, whatever floats your boat. But do it. If you’ve never written a novel before you may never have put so much of your heart and soul into one fragile little document file. Protect it like it’s a baby.

7. What are your plans this coming November? (Nanowrimo or other projects, and it doesn’t all have to be writing related)

I chose my NaNoWriMo project a couple of months ago, and I’ve spent September doing a daily (well most days) 30 minutes or so of brainstorming on it. That’s a fun time, when no idea is too crazy, and nothing is set in stone. October is when I turn that into an outline. By the end of the brainstorming phase I have a good idea of the shape of the plot and – I hope, or I’m on trouble – the ending. As I type this the story is called Mapping the Shadows. By the time you’re reading this it might have changed. By the time I start writing it might have changed again. I’ve learned not to be married to titles. But I like this one. It may stick.

I try to clear the decks of other things as much as possible for November, so I shouldn’t have any other big projects on the go. I even try to get my blog posts for November set up and scheduled in October, to save me thinking time as much as anything else! This isn’t always possible. I’ve had novel edits from my publisher land on me in November before. With careful planning I still managed to get them back and win NaNoWriMo. But usually November is my time to eliminate as many distractions as possible and really refocus on writing again.

Bio

Becky lives in the UK and her writing is primarily fuelled by tea and rainy days. After spending far too many years only thinking about writing she finally started putting words down back in 2003 and hasn’t stopped since, still trying to make up for lost time.

email: beckyblackbooks@gmail.com

website: http://beckyblack.wordpress.com/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/beckyblackbooks

More links for places to connect with me are on my website, along with full details of all my books.

I’ve attached the cover art of my most recent published NaNoWriMo book, called Dream For Me and the buy links are all on this page:

http://beckyblack.wordpress.com/bookshelf/standalone-novels-and-novellas/dream-for-me/

Let me know if you’d like a different size of the cover art. I have a range from tiny to huge.

Author Spotlight: Nikki McCormack

TheGirlWiththeClockworkCat-NikkiMcCormack-500x750[2]Today’s author recently released her debut novel, The Girl And the Clockwork Cat, a YA steampunk novel that began as a messy Nanowrimo draft.

Please give Nikki McCormack a warm welcome.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your books?

I have numerous books in my backlog right now (about 20 or so novels in some stage between plotted and final draft), but if we focus on NaNoWriMo novels, my debut novel, The Girl and the Clockwork Cat, was my NaNoWriMo novel for 2010. It was my fastest NaNo novel to date, written in 22 days. I wrote book 2 of the series (which I’m currently editing) for NaNo 2011 and book 3 for 2012, though I didn’t finish that November due to other life events. I have a few novels from earlier years that I hope to publish eventually and a few that will never see the light of day for good reason.

2. When did you first decide you wanted to become a published author?

I’ve wanted to be a published author since I started writing at the age of 12. Unfortunately, I felt it necessary to relegate writing fiction to hobby status until a few years ago when, with my husband’s support and encouragement, I decided to focus on making the life dream I’d set aside into a reality.

3. How did you find out about Nanowrimo?

I started doing NaNoWriMo in 2006. Someone I know or knew at the time told me about it, but I honestly don’t recall who it was. If I did remember, I’d probably thank them for it…probably.

4. How much planning did you do before starting Nanowrimo?

The first several years I did NaNoWriMo, I started with no more than a rough idea of what I wanted to write. In more recent years, I’ve learned to start taking notes and doing some rough outlining as soon as come up with an idea. It goes a lot smoother this way and I find that the final product often needs far less editing.

5. What was your first Nanowrimo experience like?

When I did my first NaNoWriMo, my husband and I had a cruise scheduled for the end of the month, Island hopping in Hawaii. On the last day of November, I was still 10,000 words behind. We were stopped for the first of two days in Maui. I decided I would let it go, but my husband knew me well enough to know I would be disappointed if I gave up. He convinced me to keep going. I did get those 10,000 words written that day and paid the fee to upload it to my NaNoWriMo page from the cruise ship a little before midnight. I have since edited that book down to novella length (not too surprisingly) and may publish it at some point.

6. What advice would you give people attempting Nanowrimo this year?

I think my first bit of advice would be to try NaNoWriMo. I’ve met many writers who think it’s silly or that you could never write anything worthwhile that way. My debut novel was a NaNo project and I’m far from the first to get a NaNo novel published. Even if you don’t come out with a publishable work, NaNoWriMo is a great tool to help build the habit of writing every day. I use it to help kick-start my writing at the end of every year when holidays make it harder to keep on track.

Second bit of advice would be to plan ahead. You don’t have to write a full plot outline, but at least know what you want to write, how you want it to start and end, and maybe have a few major plot points worked out. The more you know, the easier it is to get rolling and to keep your daily word count up. Flying by the seat of your pants can be fun, but it can also lead to more time spent pulling your hair trying to figure out how to keep the story going.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, have fun. NaNoWriMo should always be fun. It’s great if you come out of it with a novel you are proud of that may have a future, but that isn’t what NaNoWriMo is about. It’s about getting words on a page. It’s about enjoying the act of writing. Besides, when you enjoy what you’re doing, it shows through in your writing.

7. What are your plans this coming November?

This November I will be doing a road trip and visiting family around Thanksgiving, which will make NaNoWriMo a little more challenging. I will be doing NaNo though. I’ve had to spend a large part of my year focused on editing other work, working with my publisher and agent to get The Girl and the Clockwork Cat out, and learning how to market/promote my book. It’s time to write something. I have a couple of contemporary dark fantasy novels I’ve wanted to write. One of those two will be my NaNo project this year, which means I have to get back to editing the sequel to The Girl and the Clockwork Cat so I can have that off to my publisher before then.

Good luck with NaNoWriMo or, as my main character Maeko would say, ganbatte!

Nikki McCormack is an author, wine and tea lover, and slave to her cats. She enjoys horseback riding, kayaking, caving, archery, video games, ballroom dancing, and good anime. She is studying Japanese and practicing Iaido because she believes we should never stop learning. You can find her at nikkimccormack.com

The Ultimate List of 42 Worldbuilding Resources

setting2Do you need help figuring out how to plan your novel? Are you looking for writing exercises that will help you develop your setting?

Well, it just so happens that you’re in the right place. This year as part of my Nanowrimo blogstravaganza I’ve decided to create three lists: the ultimate list of worldbuilding resources, the ultimate list of character building resources, and the ultimate list of plot development exercises.

My goal is to present you with all the options and the knowledge necessary to find your own way to success this Nanowrimo, and in every novelling endeavour you decide to take on after that.

Are you ready to start planning your Nanowrimo novel?

Is that a “yes” I hear?

Well then, let’s get to it:

Worldbuilding Resources

These resources will help you create a realistic, fascinating world that you can play in for years to come. Personally, worldbuilding is my favourite part of writing, which means two things: I have lots of resources on this list, and I decided to put worldbuilding first.

1. Limyaael’s Rants – One of the first blogs I ever liked and definitely one of the most entertaining and thorough resources you’ll find for writers. She’s stopped writing them now, but only because she’s already written on pretty much every topic that could be of value to a fantasy writer—and many that could be valuable to other writers as well.

2. 30 Days of Worldbuilding – This is one of the first worldbuilding resources I came across during Nanowrimo. I’ve never gone through the whole thing, but there are certain exercises listed here that I’ve done every time I created a world. This originally was created as a writing course and now exists as both a website and an ebook, so you can download a copy and take it with you for writing on the go.

3. Educated Worldbuilding – This website is sort of like a worldbuilding FAQ. It’s got basic information on several different topics related to worldbuilding and seems to be growing all the time. Some sections have more info than others, and they’re currently looking for volunteers to help flesh out certain sections. This site gives you a lot to think about when creating your own world.

4. Fantasy World Generator – Of all the resources on this list, this is the one I found most recently. It generates maps, and can generate entire worlds upon request. I love drawing my own maps—though they don’t usually look very good—but this program is awesome.

5. Fantasy Worldbuilding Questionnaire – This questionnaire isn’t quite as in depth as the 30 Days of Worldbuilding course, but it has a lot of the same questions. It’s pretty thorough and a great place to start.

6. Magical World Builder – This was actually created by the same person who did the 30 Days of Worldbuilding course, and is also available as an ebook. It’s a thorough guide specifically designed to help fantasy authors build their worlds, whereas the 30 Days of Worldbuilding isn’t specific to either fantasy or science fiction.

7. Creating Religions – A great list of articles that discuss the different aspects of creating a religion. Creating religions is one of my favourite parts of creating a new fantasy world, and this list has quite a bit of information to help you get started.

8. Quick and Dirty Worldbuilding – Don’t worry, I picked this resource for more than the amusing title, though I’ll admit I chuckled the first time I saw it. If you really want to take the bare minimum approach to worldbuilding because you have limited time before Nanowrimo starts—trust me, I’ve been there, it’s all good—this is the website for you.

9. Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions – A great list of questions to help you build a realistic fantasy world. I haven’t looked through this in too much detail, but it’s on the SFWA website, which is a high recommendation, and seems useful from what I did read.

10. Water Geography – Pretty much everything you need to know about the geography of water when you’re mapping your world. You might not think this is particularly important, but it is something you really should pay attention to. Making the little details of your world realistic helps keep your readers entrenched in the larger story.

11. Different Types of Magic – Creating a magic system for your fantasy world? Magic doesn’t have to be based on the elements. This site has a good list of different magical systems and enough information about each to help you choose one and start creating it.

12. Defining the Source, Effects, and Cost of Magic – This is a fairly in depth article discussing different aspects of a good magical system and how you can create them. Combined with the resource above and some of your own creativity, this article will help you create a believable magic system. For some of you who have been writing fantasy novels for a long time, this might not be new information, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded, right?

13. Myths, Creatures, and Folklore – This seems to be the ultimate resource guide for anything you might want to know related to creating your own mythology. I haven’t gone through all the resources yet, but I’ve gone through quite a few and found them useful. Hopefully you will too.

14. Setting the Fantastic in the Everyday World – You don’t get out of worldbuilding just because you want to set your fantasy novel in the real world. This article discusses some of the concerns you should address before starting a contemporary fantasy novel.

15. Creating a Language – This is a pretty detailed article about creating a language. I’ve never actually created a full language before, but I’ve read a fair bit about the subject and this is one of the better resources I’ve come across.

16. The Language Construction Kit – This is the most highly recommended resource on creating your own languages that I know of. I’ve read through most of it, though as mentioned above I haven’t actually created my own language. I find it hard enough to think up names for my characters and countries, let alone an entire language. At this point you probably won’t have time to create an entire language before Nanowrimo starts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start working on it now.

17. Creating Fictional Holidays – I love creating holidays and festivals in my fantasy worlds. This article has some great information and food for thought that will help you create some holidays of your own. And remember, they can celebrate holidays in science fiction first.

18. Weather and Worldbuilding 101 – This article has just enough information about weather and worldbuilding to make sure you don’t screw it up—and to inspire you to use weather creatively during your novel.

19. Midaevil Technology – This is a handy article that focuses primarily on weapons and will help you keep your work both original and accurate. Sure, swords might be cooler, but even if you don’t use these weapons it’s good to know they existed.

20. Music For Your Fantasy World – Music has been incredibly important throughout history and can add depth to your world. This article gives you a basic framework that you can use to create music for your fantasy world, even a musical history.

21. Mythic Scribes Worldbuilding Articles – The Mythic Scribes blog is a great resource for writers. This is the archive of all their articles about worldbuilding, and it has information on a variety of related topics.

22. Internet Sacred Text Archive – For those of you who have as much fun as I do creating religions, this website is a wealth of incredibly useful info. It’s the home of hundreds of sacred texts from different cultures, and should help you create sacred texts of your own—or provide some inspiration for a story based in our own world.

23. The International Phonetic Alphabet – Audio Illustrations – This allows you to see all the different human vocal sounds, so you can mix and match to create a language that sounds just right.

24. Cartography, Maps, Star Charts, and Writing – An article about how maps should influence fantasy stories, along with some examples of good fantasy maps and several useful links. This one was actually written up by a Nanowrimo participant.

25. Decorative-Maps.com – This website has a pretty thorough collection of articles on the subject of map making, and is a handy resource for anyone thinking about creating a map.

26. Fundamentals of Physical Geography – This is a free online textbook that explains how the planet works, written in such a way that anyone can read it, not just science geeks. I haven’t read through it all, but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve learned so far.

27. SolStation – Are you thinking about writing some science fantasy? This website has local starmaps and lots of information about different stars in the area to help inspire you.

28. Orion’s Arm – You’ll find that a lot of these links are more directed at science fiction writers, but quite a few are useful for both fantasy and science fiction authors. I’ve only recently started exploring this and to be honest it has me considering digging up an old storyline I abandoned several years ago… But then again, new stories come all the time so who knows what will happen?

29. Project Rho – Here you’ll find starmaps and more useful information for building a science fiction world.

30. A Primer On Politics – Written by a Nanowrimo participant, this is one of the most useful articles you’ll find about politics for writers. It’s also got several pointed questions you should ask yourself before starting your first draft.

31. Worldbuilding: Creating and Naming Fantasy Kingdoms – This article is particularly great if, like me, you have no problem creating kingdoms but you always find yourself stumped on what to call them.

32. Encyclopedia Mythica – If you’re looking at creating a religion or writing about characters who follow an ancient religion you’ll find this resource incredibly helpful. It’s a collection of myths from all over the world, during every time period.

33. The Ancient History Encyclopedia – Want to base your fantasy world on an ancient civilization? Or maybe you want to base your fantasy novel in an ancient civilization. Either way, this site can help you make sure you get it right and give you plenty of ideas if you’re not sure how to structure your society.

34. Historically Accurate Sexism in Fantasy: Let’s Unpack That – This is a great article about what discrimination really looked like in history with some thoughts on how to treat it in your fiction.

35. Debate with the Squirrels: Sexism in Fantasy – This is an article which takes the topic of how writers can address sexism in fantasy and turns it into an entertaining debate between the author and… Themselves.

36. Writing Racism Into our Fantasies: Orcs from Tolkien to Paizo – An interesting look at race in fantasy novels, including Lord of The Rings.

37. Feudalism – This article explains how feudalism works and a bit about the history of feudalism in European countries.

38. Feudal Japan – A basic explanation of how feudalism worked in Japan, with enough to get you started on the task of creating your own feudal society if you so choose.

39. English Monarchs – This website has a pretty detailed history of the various English monarchs throughout the ages. With any luck, this will help inspire you to create an equally screwed up monarchy in your own world.

40. Everyday Life in the Middle Ages – Created by the BBC, this article explains the basics of what life looked like in the middle ages. If your main characters are rich nobles, this article will give you enough information to make sure everyone around them is portrayed realistically.

41. Peasant Life in the Middle Ages – Just in case some of your major characters are peasants, this article goes into more detail.

42. The Story and Structure of the Iroquois Confederacy – If you really want to break away from the mold of traditional fantasy, one of the best ways to do it is by basing your government off one most authors ignore. The Iroqouis confederacy comes complete with a fascinating story and an intriguing structure. I think most modern governments could learn a lot from these guys.

Take this list, copy+paste it into your word processor and keep it on hand so you can work through these articles and exercises on your own time. And remember these two things:

Not every exercise will work for you, but that’s okay. You won’t have time to get through them all before Nanowrimo starts anyway.

Oh, and there IS such a thing as too much worldbuilding. It happens when you get so caught up in the details of creating a realistic world that you never write a novel. So make sure you stop when November first comes around and start actually working on your novel.

Did you find this list useful? Do you know a resource I should have included but didn’t? Let me know in the comments section below!

Author Spotlight: Serene Conneeley

Conneeley_Into_the_MistsToday’s author is a very special guest, the first in a string of published Nanowrimo participants who will be appearing on The Dabbler throughout the next two months to give you some encouragement, inspiration and maybe even some great advice. She’s actually had two Nanowrimo novels published, but I’ll leave her to introduce those herself.

Please give Serene Conneeley a warm welcome and enjoy her advice.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your books?

The books I wrote during NaNoWriMo are the novels Into the Mists (2012 NaNo) and Into the Dark (2013 NaNo)… and this November I’ll be writing the third in the series 🙂 They’re loosely considered YA, since the main character is seventeen, and have a fantasy element, a bit of mystery and some magic, while being set in the real world. My favourite review of Into the Mists came from someone who said it was her favourite novel since Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier – Juliet is one of my all-time most-loved authors, so that was awesome!

My first two books were Seven Sacred Sites: Magical Journeys That Will Change Your Life, which is part spiritual adventure story, part history, part travel guide, and A Magical Journey: Your Diary of Inspiration, Adventure and Transformation, which combines writing exercises to unleash your inner wisdom, ways to harness the power of the phases of the moon and the seasons of the earth, and a space in which to write the story of your own life. Then I wrote three books with my friend Lucy Cavendish, The Book of Faery Magic; Mermaid Magic: Connecting With the Energy of the Ocean and the Healing Power of Water; and Witchy Magic, which combine environmental aspects and connecting with nature along with rituals and healing methods and ways to make your life more magical. I also created a meditation CD, Sacred Journey: A Meditation to Connect You to the Magic of the Earth, because I love encouraging people to connect with nature and the seasons to bring magic, strength and wisdom into their life.

  1. When did you first decide you wanted to become a published author?

There was no great plan, it just ended up that way 🙂 I’ve always been a writer (and I’ve always been shy – I prefer writing to talking, and can express myself much better with a pen than with spoken words, hence my desire to write). I’ve been a published journalist since I was fifteen – I wrote for a national surfing magazine while I was in high school, became the first student editor of my university paper and wrote a lot of the content (I studied politics and journalism, but running the paper was more useful in terms of learning as I went, writing constantly and making contacts), and have been a journalist all my life, everything from entertainment reviews and interviews to articles on health, environmental and social issues, to features on self-development and spirituality – I’ve worked for teen mags, kids mags, women’s mags, newspapers, spiritual mags, even a heavy metal mag a while back 🙂 Around ten years ago my magazine articles led to a book deal for my first book, Seven Sacred Sites, so I guess my books began as an extension of my journalistic (published) life…

  1. How did you find out about Nanowrimo?

A friend of a friend did it several years ago, and I was intrigued, but I was always doing festivals that I exhibited my non-fiction books at, like the Mind Body Spirit Festival, in November, so I never had the time to do it myself. Then in 2012 I had to skip the festival – so I was suddenly able to do NaNoWriMo, which was exciting and also a little bit daunting 🙂 And I did it the following year, and will do it again this year too.

  1. How much planning did you do before starting Nanowrimo?

I planned to do a lot of planning – but it hasn’t worked out that way. The first year I’d thought that I would have all of October to spend on plotting and planning, but I didn’t end up finishing the launch and promotion and website for my previous book until October 31, so the next day I just started writing furiously and discovering what would happen as it spewed out onto the page. And the same thing happened last year, and looks set to reoccur this year. So now I’m wondering if I’m just a make-it-up-as-I-go-along type anyway – a pantser as it’s known in the NaNoWriMo universe, for flying by the seat of my pants (I relate to this blog, although in reverse: http://blog.nanowrimo.org/post/1308206994/the-great-debate-are-you-a-planner-or-a-pantser).

I find the process of different writers fascinating – some plan meticulously, and I really admire that, while others don’t plan at all, which can be stressful, and it seems that I’m the latter. Which makes sense I guess, since I’m a bit impatient, but I’ve also discovered that I really love seeing where the writing takes me, watching it unfold as I go and not knowing what will happen in the end. There’s a certain alchemy to the journey that I love, so although I always say I’ll plan next time, maybe I never will. I also really love the forced nature of NaNoWriMo – I could have started book three already, and tried to find time to write it amongst my busy life, but part of me thinks it would take much longer that way, that I would procrastinate too much, and second guess myself, and get bogged down in editing as I go, and wait until inspiration hits – which is never a guaranteed event – so I think I’ll be the most productive if I just wait until November 1st and write it all then.

Of course I’ll spend months afterwards editing and revising and rewriting and the rest of it, but there’s nothing like the pressure of a November deadline to force you to bang out a first draft 🙂

  1. What was your first Nanowrimo experience like?

It was awesome and scary and fun and frustrating and intense and exhausting and wonderful and terrifying, all at once. I had no expectations the first year (2012) – I just figured it would be a great writing exercise, and a great challenge (and I always love a challenge!), and that it didn’t matter what came of it, whether I made it to 50,000 words or not (although I was determined to finish it), or whether the story was good or not (I was fully prepared to discover that I was terrible at fiction and that it would stay in my bottom drawer forever). Yet by the end of it I had a story I really loved, and which people have loved reading. Of course there were days I hated it and wanted to quit, many days when I struggled to force myself to write, many days when I thought my story was crap and not even worth completing – but there were also days when I surprised myself, and really liked how the story was unfolding.

My second attempt, in 2013, was a little more challenging, as my husband and I went to Scotland for a month, from November 1 to 30. A lot of people told me not to bother writing, but I believe you can find time for anything if you really want to, so I took a crappy little laptop with me and managed to hit my 50,000 words by the time I flew home at the end of the month. It was hard, as some days there was a lot of driving or whatever, but I compensated by occasionally writing 4000 words in a day to catch up 🙂

There was more pressure this time – a lot of people had loved my first book, and I’d announced I was writing book two of the series, so there was pressure to finish it, and pressure for it to be as good as the first one (which I was prepared to concede might have been a fluke!), and to come up with a storyline! But I made it through, although this one was more difficult, and much more complex, and a lot of what I wrote during November didn’t actually end up making it into the final story, because I changed a few major plot points and characters as I was going, so I ended up ditching several chapters from the first half of NaNoWriMo and writing new ones over the next few months. And I’ll soon find out what my third attempt will bring 🙂

  1. What advice would you give people attempting Nanowrimo this year?

Tell people you’re doing it, to make yourself accountable. I posted my word count on Facebook each day, and I would have been embarrassed if I’d given up – which is partly why I publicly stated that I was doing it 🙂 I also had a few friends who were doing it, and that definitely encouraged me to keep going. Not that I would have quit – I’m pretty stubborn – but seeing other people’s word counts in my buddies list definitely spurred me on (I discovered a competitive streak I didn’t know I had), and I know that me posting about my progress (and the triumphs and challenges and frustrations and joys) kept other people inspired too. Plus, don’t despair if you don’t finish – no matter what happens, you’ll still have a lot more of a book written than you otherwise would have.

Three of our group of ten got to 50,000 words (and beyond) by November 30 – which is higher than the overall average – another two passed 20,000 words, and everyone else made an awesome start, and had the beginnings of a tale for next year.

Don’t be discouraged, and don’t be afraid of the blank page. I absolutely love the process of NaNoWriMo – my first time I started with just the vaguest wisp of an idea – that a girl goes to stay with her grandma in England and finds a cottage in the mists she’s not sure really exists… That was it, and each day when I started writing, I didn’t know what was going to happen – I’d just start writing, without stopping, scrawling sentences one after the other, and words would just flow out of me, and a whole story eventually emerged.

Which leads to my most important suggestion – be fearless. I had to stop worrying about how good what I was writing was, and just write. With my non-fiction books, if I had a migraine or felt uninspired I would do some research, or edit previous chapters, or do something else related to the project that didn’t involve writing. But with the knowledge that I had to rack up 1667 words each day (and more if I’d slacked off a bit in previous days), I didn’t have that luxury – I just had to write. And that was really freeing. My inner editor was switched off, and I wrote without thinking, almost stream of consciousness, and I never looked back at what I’d written either, I just kept going forward. And I was surprised (and happy) when I realised that by just keeping on writing, I’d figure out how to get from one scene to another. Each day I’d start with no idea of what would happen, yet by the end of that session I’d worked out how to progress the plot. Writing so regularly helped too, because I was thinking about the story all the time, and I’d often solve a problem in the shower or while working out, when my mind was free to wander. I loved writing long hand too – even though it was annoying to have to type it in at night, it somehow seemed to flow better using pen and paper rather than a keyboard… I’m often asked what the secret to writing a book is, and they’re always disappointed with my answer – but it’s true. To write a book, you just have to sit down and write it. Day after day after day. Seems obvious I know, but people always hope for a magic spell, a shortcut of some kind, but it doesn’t exist.

  1. What are your plans this coming November?

I’ll be writing book three of my trilogy! Part of me is more nervous than ever – I’ve stated that it’s book three, and announced the title, and the publication date, yet I have no idea what will happen in it. So I’m trusting that I’ll be able to write it out again, and that by putting pen to paper and making myself write, the story will Conneeley_Into_the_Darkemerge. Plus I’ll be continuing with my day job as editor of a bunch of preschool mags – November is a crazy time with Christmas deadlines and long hours – and working out every day. Maybe the “secret” of succeeding at NaNoWriMo is just making time for it – I would scribble down 900 words on the bus to work in the morning, and that again coming home, and was often more productive on work days than weekends… I kept a pen and paper with me at all times, so if I was waiting to meet someone I could scrawl out a section, or if an idea came to me I could write it down. NaNoWriMo is a challenge for sure, but it’s definitely doable if you really want to do it

Serene Conneeley is an Australian writer with a fascination for history, travel, ritual and the myth and magic of ancient places and cultures. She’s the author of seven books (two fiction, five non-fiction), editor of the preschool magazines Little Active Learners, Little Friends and Spider-Man, and has worked for publications including Cosmopolitan, Dolly, Woman’s Day, The West Australian newspaper, Hot Metal, Spellcraft and Your Destiny. She’s a reconnective healing practitioner, and has studied magical and medicinal herbalism, bereavement counselling, Reiki and many other healing modalities, as well as politics and journalism. You can find her at www.SereneConneeley.com.

 

How Far in Advance Should You Start Planning a Nanowrimo Novel?

Every author’s approach to planning a novel is different. Some like to know their story and characters intimately before they write the first sentence. Others fill binder after binder with worldbuilding details. Still others prefer to skimp on the notes and dive into writing head first with only the vaguest idea where they’re going.

So when should you start planning your Nanowrimo novel?

The short answer is that this varies quite a bit from novel to novel, but you should probably start planning seriously about a month in advance.

Here’s the long answer:

You can only really discover how much planning is appropriate through trial and error, but you can make an educated guess based on your story, setting, and genre–or just listen to Chris Baty, who suggests that you start planning on October 1st.

Still, certain genres demand a lot of planning by nature, at least if you want to be able to keep much of your first draft. If you’re hoping to write an epic fantasy novel, you should probably be doing more intensive planning than you would for a lighthearted romance novel set in a town based loosely off your hometown.

Other genres, such as historical fiction–or anything set in a real location that you want to represent accurately–require heavy research along with a healthy amount of planning.

Usually you can assume that more planning and research done before you start writing your novel means less editing later. At least, that’s the hope, and I know that my Nanowrimo drafts are usually cleaner when I’ve done a fair bit of planning. I’ve had some years where I just sort of started writing on the first with an idea I’d had in the back of my brain for a week. Some of them have been worthwhile stories, but the amount of editing required to make them publishable… Well let’s just say I’m still editing them.

No matter how much time you choose to devote to planning your Nanowrimo novel, there are a few things you should make sure you have before you start writing:

  • Maps — At least a world map and a map of the city/town/locale your character starts in
  • A grasp of each important character’s voice — My recommendation is you do one writing exercise in the PoV(Point of View) of each main character before starting your novel
  • Factsheets — You want to make sure all the worldbuilding and character information you have is easy to find. Factsheets are also great because you can add things to the list during the drafting process, so new information is also easy to find and you’re less likely to miss loose threads when wrapping up your novel.
  • Outline — This doesn’t have to be a very complex outline, but you should know how your novel begins and have a rough idea what the middle and end will look like. The outline can be as detailed as you like–or not. Even if you choose to write a detailed outline, you should be open to some changes, because the best stories grow organically.

These four things are, at least in my opinion, the bare essentials to a successful first draft. Over the next few weeks I’m going to share a few dozen resources to help you create the best novel possible, but for now, all you need to do is start thinking about what your novel’s going to look like.

Do you have any idea what you’re going to write about this Nanowrimo? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!