Showing posts with label novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label novel. Show all posts

Thursday, October 10

How To Write 50,000 Words In 30 Days: Write One Word After Another

How To Write 50,000 Words In 30 Days: Write One Word At A Time
Here's how to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days: write one word at a time, one after the other.

(Underwhelmed? Hang on, let me unpack it before you roll your eyes and exit stage left.)

That advice doesn't originate with me, the first time I heard it was from Neil Gaiman but since then I've heard gaggles of other talented writers say the same thing.

On one level the advice is so obvious as to be tautological. But what it means is that if you feel that your writing is off, that all your words are vying to be the most hideous ever written, then there's only one thing to do. Write the next word.

On the other hand, if you think your writing is awesome, if you feel that you're inspired and that the gods on Olympus smiled on you and gave you the gift of writing excellence ... Well, there's only one thing to do. You guessed it. Write the next word.

If you're feeling a bit off, if you haven't had enough coffee, if you didn't sleep well, if you've got mountains of work to do, if your head's fuzzy, if your cat woke you by drooling in your nose (happened to me, swear to God) then there's only one thing to do: go to your writing space, sit down, and write the next word.

The key to writing 2,000 words a day is simple. Whether you feel like doing it or not, put your butt in your writing chair and write the next word, and the one after that, and the one after that, until you've done your word count for the day. (At which point your miniature giant space hamster minions will feed you skinned grapes and chocolate, or whatever it is that you get your miniature giant space hamsters to do for you.)

Don't walk away from your computer, don't put it off till you're feeling more in the mood. Why? Because that's _self-doubt_ and (if you're anything like me) it will pop it's head up every single bloody time you sit down to write _anything_.

You might be thinking something along the lines of: that's easier said than done. If so, then you're right. So. Here are a few things I do that seem to help the process along.

First Drafts Don't Matter

That's what I tell myself and (* knock on wood*) it works. It takes the pressure off.

I love the idea of writing a zero draft. The name reinforces the notion that nothing remotely anxiety inducing is going on, you're not ripping your guts out and smearing them all over the page, you're just writing in your journal (or typing on your computer), nothing to be nervous about. No one will see this, no one will judge you.

A zero draft is a draft where, truly, anything goes. I write thoughts about my story--what I'm feeling about it, where I want to take it, possible endings, possible beginnings, character notes, possible tags and traits, I scribble out mind-maps, do Venn diagrams. Then, at some point, in the midst off all this messiness, this literary equivalent of a coughing up a hairball, I'll fall into the story.

I'm no longer sitting in my writing chair (or slumped on the couch or lying in bed or sipping coffee at my favorite caffeine dispensary). I'm in the story and I'll look around and see things, story things, and I write these down. I'll be with the characters in the scene, watching it play out around me. This might not last for long, perhaps I've just caught the tail of the story, or glimpsed an eyelash. Whatever. That's my 'in'. That's what I hold onto and follow, and see where it takes me.

Perhaps it'll take me to a dead end. It could. But that's okay. This is the planning processes. Zero draft. No pressure. I go back to writing down my thoughts and doodling and drawing connections and then, at some point, the characters will spring to life again and another scene will unfurl.

Usually this process lasts only a couple, maybe three, days. Long enough to do up an outline, a rough one, and write a few scenes.

Once I get an outline I've got my roadmap. I know where I'm going. (Kinda, sorta.) I'll still have to do character development and a lot of fleshing out, but I've got my starting point, my story.

I'm on my way.


I learnt this term in computer science eons ago but I think it also applies to writing.

Originally bootstrapping referred to an impossible task--pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps--but it has been adapted for various areas and undertakings.

The general idea is that one starts with a little something. Not much, but something. Then, through a process that's simple but not easy, you work your way through to a higher, more organized, more complex state.

Think of a lumberjack working his way up a tree. Lumberjacks can climb to dizzying heights by possessing the right tools (iron climbing hooks and rope) and following a certain process.

It's the same with writing. We can bootstrap our way into a finished novel, taking each step at a time, and steadfastly refusing to look down or dwell on how many words are still to be written or get discouraged at all the times we're going to have revise the draft. That's for later. Right now we're just writing this thing, this labour of love and sweat and fear, and we're doing it one word at a time.

In my next post I'll talk more about the process of bootstrapping. Specifically, how you break your novel into tiny, bite-sized, completely unintimidating, pieces.

Till then, good writing!

PS: Chuck Wendig has written a motivating blog post for NaNoWriMo bursting with advice that'll help you get ready for a writing marathon. He writes: "My oft-repeated refrain is that plot is Soylent Green — it’s made of people." True! The article is an educational and entertaining read.

Also, take a look at Chuck Wendig's article, 25 Ways To Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story, for a whirlwind overview of different ways to start writing and to organize what you've written.

Photo credit: "Raccoon Kids" by Ingrid Taylar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, November 24

Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds

Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds

I love Pinterest. I mean, who wouldn't? If only it wasn't a lethal time-sink! I love looking at beautiful pictures and chatting with friends. Since Pinterest combines both it's like visiting a virtual art gallery with dozens of your best buds and getting to curate your own collection.

I figured out a LONG time ago that I needed to limit my time on Pinterest if I wanted to get anything done.

That's why I was surprised when I came across Daniel's article, Using Pinterest For Your Novel. It never occurred to me that The Great Timesink could be harnessed for good.

Who knew?

Pinterest Right-Click

Before I say anything more about using Pinterest to help organize your novel I'd like to talk about how to get a plug-in for your browser that will allow you to right-click on any picture you find on the web and pin it to one of your boards.

I use Firefox so that's the browser I talk about, but I'd be surprised if similar plug-ins don't exist for your favorite browser.

Pinterest Right-Click is the name of an add-on you can get that will help you collect images from the web and pin them to one of your boards. After you install the add-on all you have to do is right-click on an image. You'll be asked which board you'd like to pin it to and that's it! Quick and convenient.

Organize Your Research With Pinterest

Pinterest provides and great way to visually organize your research for a novel.  For instance, you could have one board for pictures of locations, one board for pictures of casting choices for your characters and one board dedicated to the music that not only inspired you as you write your novel but which your characters like to listen to.

But that's just the beginning! You could have boards for what their homes look like, their wardrobes, landscape features such as gardens, where they like to go on vacation, what their families look like, what they dream about, and so on.

Here's my Pinterest board for my NaNoWriMo novel: NaNoWriMo 2012.


When I draft a story I tend to think visually. What a great idea to use a Pinterest board to hold miscellaneous images you come across on the web, images that remind you of various locations, or possible locations, in your novel.

In my NaNoWriMo novel one of my characters, a mage, lives in an ice fortress (no, he's not superman!) and I have an image in my mind of what it looks like. I just Googled "ice fortress", found lots of great pictures that ... while none of them was  exactly like the image I have in my mind, they're fairly close and evocative in their own way.

Using Pinterest Right-Click I easily created a new board "NaNoWriMo 2012" and pinned those photos to my board.

Your Characters - What They Look Like

Although it changes, in the beginning I have certain ideas about what my characters look like. Though perhaps it's only partial. Perhaps I'll know that the antagonist has long thick black flowing hair that gleams in sunlight. It's fun to use Google images to help fill out the picture.

I just went through and pinned a few images of how my characters could look and found out something valuable. Apart from Robyn, my protagonist, I'm not sure how the other characters look, especially her friend and side-kick Jane. Good to know! That's something I'll have to work on in the second draft.

Music - What Would Your Characters Listen to?

Since Pinterest is a visual medium the best we can do is pin pictures of albums, concerts, songs, magicians, and so on. Though it would be be great if we could pin the actual songs!

Before this moment this isn't something I've thought about for my characters, what kind of music they'd like. It's good to think about, though. This helps bring out other aspects of their personality. At the moment all I know is that Robyn likes classical music. That might change, though, as I get to know her better.

I'm finding there are a multitude of creative ways to use Pinterest. If you have one you'd like to share, please do! :)

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NaNoWriMo Update: Hurray! 45,025 words. Only one caffeinated writing jag away from the end. Not that I think that's going to happen, though it would be nice to finish tomorrow! Still, I think I'll continue to take it slow and steady so, if I keep my current pace, I'll be finished Monday. Which works out perfectly, since I wanted to be done before Jim Butcher's Cold Days comes out on the 27th.

I hope I didn't just jinx myself! lol

Other articles you might like:

- How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse
- For NaNoWriMo: 10 HarperCollins Books On Writing For $1.99 Each
- Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling

Photo credit: "Brown Bear having fun, rolling in the grass on his back with paws up" by Beverly & Pack under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, November 2

Ian McEwan Believes The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction

Ian McEwan Believes The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction

The Novella Is The Perfect Form Of Prose Fiction

Ian McEwan recently wrote a piece for The New Yorker entitled Some Notes On The Novella in which he eloquently and passionately argues that the "novella is the perfect form of prose fiction".

Some might find this surprising. As McEwan himself notes, many view the novella as something lesser. He writes:
When a character in my recent book, “Sweet Tooth,” publishes his short first work of fiction, he finds some critics are suggesting that he has done something unmanly or dishonest. His experience reflects my own. A novella? Perhaps you don’t have the necessary creative juice.
To counter this, McEwan points out that the tradition of writing novellas is "long and glorious" and points to the work of writers such as Thomas Mann, Henry James, Kafka, Joseph Conrad, Albert Camus, Voltaire, Tolstoy, Joyce, Solzhenitsyn, Orwell, Steinbeck and Melville, only to name a few.

Novella's "don’t ramble or preach, they spare us their quintuple subplots and swollen midsections"

What is it about the novella that makes it the perfect form of prose fiction rather than the novel? McEwan writes:
[T]he demands of economy push writers to polish their sentences to precision and clarity, to bring off their effects with unusual intensity, to remain focussed on the point of their creation and drive it forward with functional single-mindedness, and to end it with a mind to its unity. They don’t ramble or preach, they spare us their quintuple subplots and swollen midsections. 
Swollen midsections, indeed. I'm reminded of Jim Butcher's instruction about how to survive what he calls The Great Swampy Middle (I picture it as something like the Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride, the home of the ROUSes--Rodents Of Unusual Size. But I digress.)

Be masters of the form, not slaves to the giant

True, this November we're writing 50,000 words and McEwan defines a novella as being between 20,000 and 40,000 words. Still, McEwan's characterization of the novella is one we're all familiar with--in fact I don't think I've seen a better description of what most writers are trying to do when they craft a story. Certainly I've never read one more concise or eloquent. He continues:
I suspect that many novelists clock up sixty thousand words after a year’s work and believe (wearily, perhaps) that they are only half way there. They are slaves to the giant, instead of masters of the form.
Been there, done that. (When I was reading McEwan's column I actually sprang up from my chair at this point and yelled, "Yes!" ... Or at least I felt like doing it. ;)

McEwan goes on to compare the novella to watching a play or movie and remarks that:
[T]here’s a strong resemblance between the screenplay (twenty odd thousand words) and the novella, both operating within the same useful constraints of economy—space for a subplot (two at a stretch), characters to be established with quick strokes but allowed enough room to live and breathe, and the central idea, even if it is just below the horizon, always exerting its gravitational pull. The analogy with film or theatre is a reminder that there is an element of performance in the novella. We are more strongly aware of the curtain and the stage, of the author as illusionist. The smoke and mirrors, rabbits and hats are more self-consciously applied than in the full-length novel. The novella is the modern and post-modern form par excellence. 

NaNoWriMo and the novella

Perhaps, as we go through NaNoWriMo this November, we should think of ourselves as writing, not novels, but slightly overextended novellas and take McEwan's advice to heart. Rather than aspire to turn our masterpieces into a "rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant", after NaNoWriMo is completed, strip off 10,000 (or so) words and attempt the creation of what could be "the perfect form of prose fiction".

Everyone's gotta have a goal. Right? ;)

Best of luck to my fellow NaNo-ers! Right now my manuscript is at about 2,200 words, I'm hoping to add at least another 2,000 tonight.

Other articles you might like:
- Jim Butcher On Writing
- Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive
- Dialogue: 7 Ways of Adding Variety

Photo credit: "a walk in to the woods" by VinothChandar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, June 9

Call For Authors: Write a DEAD MAN Novel

Want to write the next novel in Lee Goldberg's DEAD MAN series? This is from Lee's website:
How would you like to become a PUBLISHED AUTHOR...and win $1000 in cash and prizes?

Now's your chance to win a $500 advance, a $500 Amazon gift card, and a publishing contract to write your own tale in the hugely popular DEAD MAN be published in early 2013 by Amazon's 47North imprint. 

All you have to do is write a sample chapter and a brief outline of your story, complete the entry form and sign the release...and email the whole package to us at by August 1, 2012...or before we receive 500 entries...whichever comes first. Each entry will be judged by a group of current writers of THE DEAD MAN, led by series co-creators Lee Goldberg & William Rabkin.  

The contest rules are below. Please read them carefully to make sure that your entry meets all of the eligibility requirements before you submit. 
 Good luck!

For the complete contest rules, click here: You Can Write a DEAD MAN Novel

Lee Goldberg has been writing for decades. I got to know his work through his excellent Mr. Monk books, but he is a prolific writer. This isn't my genre, or I'd be the first to apply.

Good luck!