Archive for October, 2016

31 Oct

NaNoWriMo Tips & Tricks

In Drafting,Goals,NaNoWriMo,Writing Process by MK England / October 31, 2016 / 0 Comments

The hour is nigh! It’s October 31st, which means NaNoWriMo is less than 24 hours away. Here are my favorite last-minute tips and tricks for Wrimos and speed-drafters alike:

Aim for halfway. Seriously, that 50k can feel like A LOT, but the first 25k is the uphill climb and after that you’re coasting downhill toward the finish line. Forget about 50k—commit to hitting 25,000 words in the first two weeks. It will be painful, it will suck at times, and you will hate your writing occasionally, but if you can hit 25k, you will have pushed through the worst of it!

Write your first page BEFORE November 1st. You can’t count any words written before November 1st toward your 50k goal, but getting the intimidating blank page staring contest over before the read deal starts can be a huge confidence booster! Turn some of that nervous energy you’re feeling into an opening scene. Just make a note of your wordcount before you start writing on November 1st so you can subtract it from your overall total.

Use placeholders to keep momentum up. You should avoid stopping to research things as much as possible. Don’t know what to call that city? @CITY. Can’t come up with a name for that character? @DUDE1. Can’t remember how many bones are in the human body? @RESEARCH LATER. Can’t get over how bad a sentence sounds? @DO BETTER. Literally anything that will cause you to break your flow as you write, just throw a placeholder there and keep writing. Once you’re done with your first draft, you can use the ctrl+F (or cmd+F on a mac) feature to find every single instance of that placeholder in your doc. I always use the @ symbol, since I rarely write fiction that has lots of e-mail addresses in it, but you can use any character that doesn’t show up in your story.

Stay in the story between writing sessions. Carry a notebook around and always have those characters cooking in the back of your head while you do other things. When you sit down to write, you’ll be ready to go!

Reward yourself. Set mini goals along the way, and give yourself mini rewards! A cookie every 10k words? An hour of video games each week you make your goal? Whatever motivates you!

Let your draft be rough. Real writing is rewriting. You’ll make it pretty and readable and entertaining later when you revise your novel. For now? Its only job is to exist. Make it exist.

Do you have any tips or tricks that help you survive NaNoWriMo? Post ’em below! Best of luck to all the wrimos out there. We will be victorious!

24 Oct

NaNoWriMo Prep – Even for Pantsers!

In Drafting,NaNoWriMo,Writing Process by MK England / October 24, 2016 / 0 Comments
(Originally posted in my region’s forum on nanowrimo.org)

NaNoWriMo is less than a month away! Do you have any idea what you’re going to write yet? If not, that’s fine! I’ve got some suggestions to help get you going. Even if you like to totally fly by the seat of your pants when you write, you can really benefit from having at least some vague points in your head before you start.

You don’t have to go all dystopian-YA-novel and declare your faction. It’s not plotters vs. pantsers to the death. It’s not “start without a single idea” vs. “20 pages of meticulous notes”. There’s tons of middle ground between those options, and you can find a balance that will work for you and keep you motivated and inspired throughout November!

If you do nothing else, it can really help to elevate your NaNo plan from a vague idea to a premise. Larry Brooks talks about this in his book Story Physics, and in this Writer’s Digest Article. Here’s an example using The Hunger Games:

  • [Idea]  I want to write a dystopian novel about reality TV
  • [Concept]  (add conflict and tension) I want to write about an annual televised event where poor kids are pitted against other poor kids for sport
  • [Premise]  (add character and themes) A girl named Katniss volunteers for The Hunger Games to save her sister from participating and has to fight to the death against other kids—including a boy from her own district who has always shown her kindness.

Look for that hint of conflict inherent in your basic idea and start questioning it. Want to go a bit more in-depth into the plot than just the basic idea? Larry Brooks also has a book called Story Engineering, and just about every story in the western world* ends up falling into this structure, whether by instinct or by planning.

What’s great and useful about this style of outline is the focus on when characters learn new pieces of information, which makes you think through what bits of info the characters need to learn over the course of the story to achieve their goal, which in turn gives you points to write toward. What does Harry Potter need to know to defeat Voldemort? What does Luke Skywalker need to know to embrace the Force and blow up the Death Star?

The very boiled-down version of the structure is:

  • Part One: The Setup (the orphan) — Introduce your characters, have the inciting incident, foreshadow things that will be important later, introduce your antagonist in some small way. At the end of part one, at approximately the 25% mark of your story, include Plot Point One: The clear statement of the quest/goal/major obstacle, our first full view of the antagonist, and the statement of the stakes. What do you characters stand to lose? Make sure we know why it matters to the characters.
  • Part Two: The Response (the wanderer) — Your characters have their very human reactions to the quest. Run, hide, seek information, get help, find an advisor. At about the 50% mark, you’ll have the Midpoint, where the character learns something new that changes the context of the quest. The game has changed, and it shifts the character from reactive mode to proactive mode. Time to DO STUFF.
  • Part Three: The Attack (the warrior) — Your characters attack the problem/obstacle/antagonist head on. They can’t totally succeed yet, because we’re not at the end of the book yet, but they can make progress. At about the 75% mark, you’ll have Plot Point Two: The final piece of information the characters need to conquer the obstacle/defeat the villain/begin the final chase. It’s ON.
  • Part Four: The Resolution (the martyr) — No new information can be introduced after this point. It’s time to defeat the obstacle/villain, resolve the conflict, let the stakes come into play in a big way, and make the character sacrifice something to achieve the goal. Make it happen, cap’n.

Come up with as much of this as you can ahead of time! If that’s just the big four basic sections (Setup, Response, Attack, Resolution), then great! That still gives you some good direction. If you can, add in those plot points. If you want to go even more in depth than that and plan out chapters, go for it. The level of detail is up to you.

Or, maybe you want to approach things from a character standpoint, rather than plot. Consider: How will your character change over time? What kind of person are they at the start, and how will they be different at the end? Why does the conflict matter to them? What do they personally have to lose?

No matter where you start (plot, character, idea, or even worldbuilding), look for that source of conflict and change. No conflict, no story!

And if you want to do a bit more in-depth prep, don’t forget that NaNoWriMo puts out some excellent workbooks through the Young Writer’s Program. The high school one is great for adults, too!

Do you have any NaNo prep strategies to share with your fellow wrimos? Post ‘em below!

Happy writing,
M.K.

* – except literary fiction which, by its very nature, is about experimenting and subverting expectations.

19 Oct

Three Kinds of Writer’s Block

In Drafting,NaNoWriMo,Writing Process by MK England / October 19, 2016 / 0 Comments

…and how to beat them

It’s NaNoWriMo season, which means everyone has speed-writing on the brain.

john typing

(That’s not how you do it, John.)

Writer’s block is oft spoken of in groaning complaints and hushed whispers like it’s a thing that sneaks up on writers to ruin their flow and steal away their creativity. In reality, though, I don’t think “Writers Block” is really any one thing. In my own writing experience, I’ve found I’m affected by at least three distinct types of writer’s block:

Totally Lost Block: This block usually comes from a lack of prep work. Not sure what comes next in your story? Even if you’re a pantser (you write by the seat of your pants), it’s time to stop and brainstorm. List your core elements: Main characters, central plot conflict, stakes (what the character has to lose if they fail). What’s the end goal for the central conflict, the problem to be solved, or the farthest point forward where you know what happens? Make a list of 10 potential ways to get there, then pick the most interesting one. What information do your characters need to get to that point? Brainstorm interesting ways for them to get that information. Keep breaking it down until you have several points to write toward. You don’t have to obey those points if you come up with something better along the way, but it helps to have a light at the end of the tunnel. Or, is there a point later in the story where you DO know what happens? Write that first, and go back to connect the dots later.

Depression Block: Not in a good place mental health-wise? That can have a big impact on your writing. If this is the case for you, take some time for self-care. Give yourself permission to do something you love to recharge your creative batteries and mental energy. Once you’re in a better place, set reasonable but challenging goals, manage your expectations for yourself, and re-dedicate yourself to your writing. If you haven’t already sought help for depression, definitely do! Taking that first step can be a huge load off your mind in and of itself.

Motivation Block: This is the most common type of writer’s block. You’re not actually blocked, writing is just HARD and it takes a lot of time and effort and it can be a struggle to get motivated. Even seasoned writers get this kind of block sometimes. Sit down at your computer or open your notebook and commit to writing one sentence. You can manage that, right? Once you’re over that hurdle, it’s surprisingly easy to keep going. You’re already there, so why not make it a whole paragraph? How about a page? And there’s no rule that says you have to write all your daily words in one sitting. Write a little in the morning, a little at lunch, and a little in the evening if you need to. Or, binge it all in one sitting and enjoy your free time afterward. Also consider small rituals that tell your brain it’s writing time: Light a candle, get dressed like you’re going to work, put on comfy PJs, whatever works for you. You can do this! Just remember BICHOK: Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. Make it happen.

Have you experienced any other kind of writer’s block? Any advice for overcoming? Tell me in the comments!

15 Oct

NaNo Printables – 2016 Edition

In Drafting,NaNoWriMo,Prompts by MK England / October 15, 2016 / 1 Comment

I’m serving as a Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month again this year, whoooo! Last year I made some printable NaNoBingo and Frequent Writer Cards that wrimos got stamped or stickered at events they attended, and they were a big hit in the South Jersey region, so I’m hoping they’ll be similarly received in Charlottesville. This year, I’ve included an alternate version of the NaNoBingo card for use in schools and libraries. Differences are minor, but they exclude any mention of donating to the NaNoWriMo organization, distance travel for write-ins, and making characters kiss. Please feel free to print these out and use them at your own events, though I’d prefer it if you could leave the credit line in.

NaNoBingo Card – standard version
NaNoBingo Card – classroom and library version
Frequent Writer Card

The FWC currently has six spaces, which could be filled if a wrimo went to one write-in per week, plus the kickoff and TGIO parties. Regions with particularly ambitious wrimos may wish to edit to add more spots by circling the smaller stars in fun colored markers.

For prizes, I’m using my library’s button maker to make 1.5″ pinback buttons again, though this year they’ll be Virginia-themed instead of South Jersey. Check your local library to see if they have a makerspace or equipment check out—you may be able to do the same!

Happy novel planning, wrimos! November is almost here…

Moriarty(1)

 

14 Oct

Book Deal Announcement

In News,Publishing by MK England / October 14, 2016 / 0 Comments

So, funny story. The public announcement for my book deal went up two weeks ago. I celebrated on twitter, I finally told facebook, I announced to my coworkers, and so on. Aaaaaand I forgot announce it on this website.

Uh.

LET’S FIX THAT.

book-deal
Those who have been around for a while might notice the new title. It’s true—Space Academy Rejects is now THE DISASTERS, and I love love love this new title! I also love the way my rockstar agent, Barbara Poelle, pitched this book. She makes it sound so awesome, so now my job is to make it live up to her pitch while revising with my new editor, Abby Ranger. I’m thrilled to be working with Abby and HarperCollins to bring these space nerds to you, and I hope you love these characters as much as I do.

For those interested in the mechanics of all this, I’ll be posting about my own path to publication soon.

Follow me on twitter @Geektasticlib for updates!