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The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

NaNo Tips: Wrapping Up November 25, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 6:43 PM
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Today I verified my NaNoWriMo win and printed off the certificate, very pleased to see that it had an organic chemistry theme.

 

Some of you may not be this lucky. Don’t despair! There are five more days to go, and I know what it’s like to be typing down to the last few hours.

If you’re getting desperate, forget elegant plotting. Forget your outline, your dreams of perfect prose, a vision of a flawless first draft. Forget your characters if you have to. Just come up with something and write.

Sometimes all it takes is throwing in something completely crazy to jump start your imagination. Here are a few suggestions to spur you on to word count victory.

1.  A mysterious stranger arrives

It’s late in the third act of your book, but there’s a new player on the stage. He or she knows a secret one of your characters would kill to stop from being revealed. Or maybe he/she shares a messy past with your quietest, most forgettable side character. Perhaps he/she is on the run and needs help – and for some reason one of your characters agrees. Why? Or, better yet, he/she unzips their jacket to reveal a ticking device on their chest and whispers, “Help.”

Adding in another character can throw everything off kilter, but you can feed off that chaos and pull out lots of very fun – if random – words.

2. A crisis erupts

You know what can give you words? Things going wrong. Because mishaps and misadventures ensuing means a lot of people scrambling around, freaking out, and trying to make things right.

A nasty stomach bug infects everyone. A snowstorm blankets the town in two feet of ice and snow. The next day several important objects are missing, but there are no footprints to be seen. Maybe your character finds a scar they don’t remember getting on their arm, or the device on the mysterious stranger’s chest does whatever it was programmed to do.

Whatever happens, make it big, make it messy, and make it vital. It has to be fixed in a very wordy, complicated, and drawn out way.

3. A secret is revealed

Everyone has secrets. If your character doesn’t have one, give him or her one. Now. Make it horrible. Make it embarrassing. Make it something they would really hate to have revealed.

Then reveal it in a really awkward, public way.

People will get upset. They’ll scream. Cry. Fight. And you can wade through the bloodshed and rake up the delicious, delicious words.

Did I give you any ideas? I hope so. Now run along and hit 50000 words. I believe in you.

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Mastering NaNo: Week Two November 10, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 7:58 PM
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Week Two is widely regarded as the hardest week of NaNoWriMo. That thrill of doing something new is wearing off. You’ve played around in your sandbox and are now expected to build something. Real life is knocking on the door and reminding you that Hey, you have responsibilities! Your characters are boring, your writing poor, and everything sucks.

That’s where motivation comes in.

The point is not to write quality literature. Everyone writes terrible first drafts. We’re just writing them at higher speeds. To keep yourself going, or knock you out of a rut, here are some tried and true methods I use to spur myself on:

1. Write or Die

This site will save your life. It saved mine. Writeordie.com has downloadable apps for a price, but if you click the web app tab you can use it for free. Input the amount of time you want to work, the word count, level of difficulty, etc, and go! You have to keep typing at all times, or something terrible will happen. In fifteen minute stretches, I can pound out from 800 – 1000 words. There’s absolutely no editing allowed – it’ll get angry at you – so it’s a great way to get your day’s word count.

2. Word wars

Have a friend doing NaNo? Set a time period when both of you will type fast and furious. Whoever gets the most words wins. (Maybe you can make the prize be some carpal tunnel gloves. You’ll need them.)

3. Bribery

That’s right – good, old fashioned bribery. I found a ridiculously huge box of Andes Mints at my campus store, and I now get one every thousand words. It’s like being paid to write with delicious sugary treats. I also have a fabled bowl of Noodles and Company Japanese udon noodles waiting for me at the 50k finish line.

4. Random inspiration

Sometimes you really don’t know what to do next. Maybe you haven’t planned it out, maybe things went haywire, I don’t know. But you’re staring at a blank screen and you have no clue what to write.

This is where friends come in.

Go to Facebook or tumblr or a writing forum or wherever your craziest, most creative friends hang out. Tell them you’re doing NaNo and you  need something to write – the weirder the better. Then wait for the suggestions to pour in. The best I got was ‘your character accidentally falls into a time machine  (s)he was expecting to be a public restroom from which this character emerges and it’s (random time period). Then this person meets the person who invented the Twizzler that Y&S candy factory stole from them. What will your character do? Go back home and do nothing or stand up to the man to do what’s right?!’

I have not managed to include that yet.

Still, rack up those words and have fun! That’s really what NaNo is all about. Getting serious will ruin the experience.

 

Dialogue No-No’s June 17, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 5:59 PM
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I’m revisiting dialogue today with a look at what not to do. I’ve made all of these mistakes many times. Thanks to kind – or blunt – more experienced writers calling me (or someone else) out on it, I’ve learned what to avoid. Sometimes I think all of writing is screwing up and having someone fix it for you. Work hard and you can be the one doing the fixing.

1. Tag overdose

We’ve all run into the over emotive cast. Characters don’t say anything. They whisper growl, exclaim, pronounce, shout. Clearly the writer has gotten carried away with their thesaurus.

When it comes to dialogue, said is usually the best word to use. Our minds naturally skip over it. However, it’s essentially meaningless, and it’s best to cut every word you can. By reworking the scene, you can avoid as many dialogue tags as possible. Instead of “he said”, throw in a snippet of action. “‘You can’t go in there.’ He crossed his arms and stood in front of the doorway.” “She took a sip of her coffee and looked at him sidelong. ‘What exactly are you suggesting?'” This reminds the reader that the physical world hasn’t gone away while your characters were chatting.

2. Say my name

I once saw a video of clips from Titanic. Various people said the main characters’ names over and over while a running tally kept track. The grand total? 75 for Rose and 84 for Jack – way higher than it needed to be.

In real life, we don’t usually use the names of the people we’re talking to. Why would we? We both know who they are. Think about it. Not counting getting their attention, when is the last time you addressed someone by name in a conversation? Often the name is in there as a filler, or to remind the reader who the people are. Readers are smart people. They don’t need our help.

3. Teeth can’t talk

If you want to be taken seriously, never do this:

“Yes,” she smiled.

Smiling does not involve speech. I’ve seen this done with frowned, laughed, sighed, etc., even in published work. Just because you can get away with it doesn’t mean it’s right. Instead, say, “Yes”, she said with a smile.

4. You fail grammar for life

Guess what? We all do.

When I run into a foreign exchange student who learned English later in life, I sometimes notice that their speech sounds stilted or off – wrong, somehow. Here’s the thing. It’s actually right.

As a rule, we don’t use proper grammar. We don’t conjugate in past perfect or subjunctive tenses when we ought to. Characters shouldn’t either unless there’s a reason Casual speech is the norm.

5. Watch out for filler

Although sticking action in dialogue is good, the action should be real. I’ve caught myself repeating the same verbs over and over when I’m at a loss for what to write. A few common culprits: nodded, shrugged, smiled, blinked, laughed, and sighed. Make sure you don’t overuse them.

Now I need to get back to my editing and cut out a few more ‘said’s!

 

NaNo Prep Tip# 3: Point of View October 28, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 1:56 PM
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Just a few more days until NaNo starts. I’m already having second thoughts – I already have too  much homework. What will happen if I fail? – but that’s part of the experience. You just force a smile and keep on going, using the idea of utter humiliation as a motivator.

A good thing to know before you start your book is what point of view you’re going to be writing in. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

First person limited: All you can see/hear/know/understand is filtered through the head of one person. This helps readers connect to a character faster, but it limits you. If there’s some crucial piece of information that the character doesn’t know but the reader should, you’re stuck. Some authors make up for this by doing the cursed split POV story, which I shall never speak of again. Another shortcoming is that if the character thinks too much, is rather dull, or whines a lot, readers might get sick of it and put the book down, as they have no escape. This is best for a character with a strong, original voice.

First person omniscient: Very rare, unless the character in question is a mind reader or some sort of outside observer. The only example I’ve seen is The Book Thief. It’s a tricky POV to do well.

Second person: Choose your own adventure style. I’ve seen bits of it used in Cry, The Beloved Country, but usually this POV is just tacky.

Third person limited: The most common type of narration. Think Harry Potter. It’s not told as ‘I’, but we only hear the thoughts of one character. This allows the writer more room to maneuver, but still gives the reader someone to focus on.

Third person omniscient: The narrator can see into all the character’s though processes at will. We usually don’t see all of them at once, but jump around. Think Runemarks. This allows the reader to know things one character may not, which comes in handy if some of the characters are idiots.  However, it’s generally best to still focus on one person, so we get an idea of a central character.

Mix it up: Is one POV not enough? Do several. The Bartimaeus Trilogy, after all, switches between third person limited and first person limited (with occasionally breaches of the fourth wall). First person books might occasionally step outward to third person for behind the scenes action.

That’s all for POVs. But as an additional bit of NaNo prep – now is a good time to notify your friends/family/significant other that you may not be around much next month. Also, stake a claim on a computer. I informed my family of which one I would use. If necessary, claim it by setting up residence there, creating clever booby traps, or leaving scent marks. (In perfume – what did you think I meant?) However you do it, make sure you have access to a word processor. In a few days, you’ll be needing it.

 

 

NaNo Prep Tip #2: Pre-Writing October 12, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:19 PM
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When it comes to pre-writing for your NaNo novel, there are three main camps of opinion:

1. Wing it. That’s right. Just go in there with no plot, no characters, no setting… and go crazy. I did this my first year – not because I wanted to (I’m a bit controlling, if you haven’t noticed) but because I couldn’t help it. I found out about NaNo in the paper on November 5. Not much time for prep. The advantage of this method is that you can come up with some crazy, awesome stuff you never would have planned. You’re just making up worlds as you go along, and you’ll be amazed at what your mind can create. However, the disadvantage is that if you find out you don’t have enough to write, or become unsure of where you’re going, you’re in trouble.

2. Plan… a little. This is the officially approved (according to the NaNo guide No Plot? No Problem!) version of pre-writing. It advises you to only plan in the month of October, reasoning that if you get too attached to your novel, you won’t be able to write with reckless abandon. This really depends on the person. I tried it one year, and it went all right. Still, personally I prefer…

3. Go plotting crazy! This is for the obsessive ones out there. *waves* I start planning my next NaNo in December. However, that’s mostly tossing out ideas, etc. I usually settle on one in about June or so. Then I begin character profiles, plot summaries, and chapter guides. This helps me, personally, because I know what I’m going to write. It speeds me up, that’s for sure – I finished in twenty days using this method last year. But for those who prefer the freedom and unrestrained imagination of an unplotted novel, that’s good too. It’s really up to you.

 

NaNo Prep Tip #1: Choosing Your Novel October 5, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 7:27 PM
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Now that it’s October, if you’re planning on doing NaNo, you should probably create some vague idea of what you want to write about. (If you’re like me, you’ll have come up with and discarded a minimum of three by now, finally forcing yourself to stop changing your mind.) If you haven’t chosen yet, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Research is Not Your Friend – While doing NaNo, you need to write large quantities of words very quickly. Stopping to look something up or check a fact will slow you down. Therefore, it’s a good idea to reject stories that involve a lot of research. Books set in modern times in a place you’re familiar with, or a fantasy world you can create completely on your own, are the best choices.

2. This is Not Your Baby – Do you have some grandiose, eternal dream of writing the great American novel? A perfect, Pulitzer-prize worthy idea stewing in your mind? Great. Don’t write it. At least, not now. NaNo is about the glorious freedom of just writing, abandoning crappy paragraphs in your dust as you move on to the next, possibly even crappier one. It’s hard to let your inhibitions go if you want to perfect every word. Save your story-babies for writing at leisure.

3. I Hear You, Dude – You need to stick with this story for thirty days and fifty thousand words. I’ve had many ideas that fizzled and died. Make sure you have a strong grasp on your story, and can see following through with it until the end. Make sure you ‘hear’ the voices of your characters clearly, and have enough to write about them to make it through. If it’s just a vague shadow of a plot, either refine it or try again.

 

Public Service Announcement August 12, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 4:16 PM
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Welcome, everyone. I’m interrupting my vacation to give you some advice that I think will make everyone’s lives better. Listen up.

In my time, I’ve read a lot of stuff. Essays by fellow students during peer-editing, papers written by my brother, and short stories on Inkpop, just to name a few. There is one ridiculously simple thing you can do that may very well mean the difference between an A or B, or a publication contract versus a rejection.

This thing is: proofreading.

This never ceases to astound me, especially when people post their writing online. Inkpop, Fanfiction.net, etc… my stomach clenches every time I see a word spelled wrong. I mean, you are basically putting your work out for all the world to read… and you don’t even bother checking to make sure it’s perfect?

Here are the big three classes of errors I run across:

1. Misspelings. These may take the form of an ommitted lettr or transposed lettres. Word processors usually fix these – unless you formed another word by accident. Autocorrect is also a major pain.

2.  Improper       use ofspacing. Pretty self explanatory.

3. Oops, I picked the wrong word. Hear does not equal here. Spell check won’t catch that.

4. Screwed up punctuation? Don’t you think a question should end with a question mark. Also, apostrophe’s aren’t used to make plurals. They’re to make possessives. For the love of all that is legible, don’t, misplace, commas!

There are a few simple ways to proofread your work. Chances are, one method won’t catch every error. But by putting them together, you should feel confident that you’re turning in your best work.

1. Re-read. I like to print off my work and go over it manually. While looking for misspelled words, try reading backwards. When you read in the regular direction, your brain knows what the paper should say, and tells you that’s what you’re reading. If you read the story backwards, you’re more likely to catch errors.

2. Let the story sit. Chances are, you’ll catch errors with fresh eyes.

3. Let someone else read it. They don’t know what the story is supposed to say, so they’ll read what’s really there – and sometimes there’s a difference. A friend or family member beta-testing can really help.

Take this lesson to heart, and please, please use it. There’s only so many times I can stand to read a manuscript peppered with errors. *eye twitches* The next time I see a question that ends with a period, who knows what I’ll do. 😉