Category Archives: #WritingTips

How to Do Twitter, for Writers

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How to Read the Classics to Become a Better Writer

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Top Three Things to Learn Before Writing a Novel

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How to Tell a Good Story

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On Being a Writer

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How to Handle Writer’s Block and Other Writing Challenges

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Make NaNoWriMo Last All Year

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Photo by Christopher Campbell © Unsplash

Every November, hundreds of thousands of people around the world do something that might break them spiritually, psychically, or psychologically — though probably not physically: they attempt to write the first draft of an entire novel in 30 days. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (175 DS manuscript pages, based on a count of approximately 300 words per page) in thirty days. That’s about 1,700 words (or six DS manuscript pages) a day. Besides training for and entering an Iron Man Competition, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s known to participants, has to be one of the most challenging and demanding tasks anyone can voluntarily give himself.

Participants are not supposed to publish the book they write during NaNoWriMo as is. The NaNoWriMo book is the first draft. Writers have to revise, edit, get feedback from readers, re-write, edit, revise more, have some coffee, then decide whether they want to Indie publish or attempt to get an agent and try for the traditional New York publishing route.

NaNoWriMo is not about getting published or about being an author.

NaNoWriMo is about being a writer.

If you participated in NaNoWriMo, you probably learned as much about yourself as you did about your novel.  Even if you didn’t manage to complete the requisite 50K, even if you only worked on an outline for your planned novel, you did something important. If you learned nothing more than how difficult it is to write full-time, then you learned the most important thing NaNoWriMo could ever teach you about being a writer. Here are some tips for helping you continue to write full-time, all year long.

Photo by Alejandro Escamilla © Unsplash

Pretend It’s Your Job

As I wrote in another post, some of the best advice I ever got about writing came from a friend when I took nine months off work to write my first novel — 9 months without pay, after having borrowed $11K from the bank (at 17 & ⅞% interest, for a total loan repayment of $18K). At that time, though I’d been writing regularly and been extensively published in literary and university journals for over 10 years, I’d only written when inspiration struck me, i.e., in short, intensive bursts every few months. I’d never been paid for writing, had never published a book, and had never done it every day, all day long, for an extended period. I’d also only written poetry, which is easier to write sporadically since poems are quite a bit shorter than novels.

After almost a year trying to write my first novel while working several jobs, I’d gotten the bright idea to borrow money from the bank to write my book. To my shock, the bank approved the loan, based on my extensive publications and literary prizes. During the first month of my sabbatical, I didn’t write anything at all: instead, I spent my time thinking about my novel, all day long, every day. When I realized how much it had cost me to think for a month, I panicked. That’s when my best friend suggested that I think at my desk, with a pen in my hand, holding my pen over a tablet of paper. Further, she suggested that I pretend writing was my job, which meant getting up, getting dressed, going to my desk, and writing at the same time every day.

Pretending that writing was my job changed my life.

Celebrity authors are not the only full-time writers in the world: all of us who eventually got published had to write for a long time before our books received contracts. Full-time writers, including traditionally published authors, almost always have other jobs: they rarely can support themselves and their families solely from writing income. Full-time writers are those who’ve made a serious and long-term commitment to writing, no matter what their day-job is, how long their daily commute, how small their writing or office space, how large their family, or how extensive their outside obligations.

A full-time writer writes like it’s his job, even if he’s never gotten paid for his writing.

If you want to make NaNoWriMo last all year long, treat writing as your job.

Photo by STIL © Unsplash

Get a Calendar and
Schedule Writing Time

When you have a job as a writer, you don’t merely write the time you have already spent writing on the calendar: you write down the time you are going to spend writing. Like it’s your job. You know what time you have to be at your job, and if you have multiple jobs, as I’ve had almost all of my life, you write down where you have to be and the time you have to be there. When I wrote for that year that I took off work, I wrote down, in advance, the times I was supposed to be writing, and I continued that practice after I went back to my paying job.

That’s how I got into the habit of getting up and writing by 5 every morning. I scheduled [Name of Book] on my calendar from 5-7 every morning. That meant I had to be at my desk writing by that time, not just getting out of bed, or lying there hitting the snooze button. I did it on the weekends, too, but scheduled my writing for at least 8 hours on weekends and holidays. Since I was used to getting up and working by 5, it was no inconvenience to continue doing that after I went back to work at my paying job.

For NaNoWriMo, you planned in advance to write the entire month, and you planned to get a certain number of words written a day. To continue the NaNoWriMo experience, get yourself a calendar and schedule your writing time in advance, just as you would your job, your vacation, holidays, or any doctors’ appointments.

Keep that scheduled commitment and be there writing.

Photo by Allef Vincius © Unsplash

Consider Writing Time
as Your Apprenticeship

You have to pay your dues in practically any job. Sometimes you have to do volunteer work in your chosen field in order to have experience. Often, people educated in a particular field have to complete an apprenticeship, internship, or residency to get sufficient practical experience to qualify for a paying position in the field of their choice. Being a writer — and eventually an author — is the same as any other field. Everyone puts in plenty of time writing without getting paid or having any guarantee of publication.

Consider any time you spend writing before publication as your own apprenticeship,  internship, or residency until you get really good at it.

If you are traditionally published after you finish your book, it is unlikely that you will get a large enough Advance to live on. You may become a bestseller, but, given how long it takes for a traditionally published book to reach bookstores after it’s sold to the Publishing House, you won’t get rich immediately. That means you’ll be writing your subsequent book with no guarantee of additional money or of another publishing contract.

Think of NaNoWriMo as the beginning of your internship.

Now extend that month of your writing internship for the entire year.

After you’ve published your first book, you will be an author, but all authors still have to write, and they write all year long, not just in November.

Photo by Andrew Neel © Unsplash

Choose to Write

You are not super-human, so you will have to make choices if you want to include writing in your life. For me, it meant delaying children because I needed all my time for college, grad school, teaching, retail jobs, and writing. If you really want to be a writer, writing should always be at the top of your list of priorities and commitments. If it’s not, stop reading this post and go do something else: you don’t want to be a writer bad enough.

Next on your list of priorities, put your paying job since you have to support yourself and your writing, which costs money even if you don’t Indie publish. Put your family or permanent relationships after that. Anything else can be considered superfluous and can be eliminated.

You need to make choices in life, especially if you want to be a writer: it is such a time-consuming career. If you want to be an author, which is a published writer, you will still have to write.

If you want NaNoWriMo to last longer than the month of November, you have to establish your priorities and make conscious choices that will guarantee you have sufficient writing time.

Photo by Arno Smit © Unsplash

Be Ready to Open the Door
When Opportunity Knocks

To unpublished writers, being traditionally published is like being in the Garden of Eden, but nobody wakes up already in Published Author Paradise. You must always be writing, revising, editing, writing more, completing your books, improving your craft, searching for agents, submitting your work to editors and agents, and writing even more. That way, when the Getting Published Opportunity knocks on your door, you’ll be qualified to answer the door with (at least one) polished, finished book in hand.

NaNoWriMo gives you a taste of what being a writer is like.

If you want to be a published author, use your NaNoWriMo experience to continue being a full-time writer, whether or not you have another paying job. You’ll be writing more than one month out of the year, and you’ll also be finishing your books so that you’ll have something to publish when your opportunity to become an author arrives.

Photo by Christine Roy © Unsplash

Don’t Expect Fame & Fortune

As any artist in any field can readily tell you, there is a very small number of celebrities in any field who are well known to everyone, get any job they want, make most of the money, get all the attention, and make most of the money.

Don’t expect fame. Don’t expect fortune. Those things cannot be controlled.

The amount of time you spend writing is the only thing that can be controlled. Expect, therefore, to write, write, write. And then to write some more.

If you’re lucky, you might get some prizes, or a big Advance from one of the traditional publishers, or an option on your book that actually leads to a big movie deal, but don’t expect or plan on any of these things because that’s just not the way the artistic world works.

Expect to be a writer.

You experienced that during NaNoWriMo, so you already know what it’s like to write.

Now, go write.

Photo by Christopher Campbell © Unsplash

Take Care of Yourself
Spiritually, Emotionally, & Physically

Writing is a taxing business. It’s much harder than any job you leave behind at the workplace when you clock out at the end of the day. For that reason, you need to exercise, eat healthily, and should probably do some form of meditation daily.

You also need to keep negative people away from you: there’s enough rejection in this business. You don’t need negative people “rejecting” you as a writer in your personal life as well. Eliminate the negative people in your life even if they are family members, friends, or spouses. Surround yourself instead with loving and supportive people who encourage you to be a writer. Additionally, find writing-support groups, reliable beta-readers, and good editors.

Rest when necessary.

Don’t forget to play.

After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to write.

Photo by Raw Pixel © Unsplash

If you truly wish to be a writer, you can’t just write when you feel like it, or when inspiration hits you, or when your muses are singing to you, or when it happens to be convenient. You have to make a commitment to writing. You have to make conscious choices to have the time to write. Despite NaNoWriMo, which I think is a wonderful idea, you cannot spend only one month a year committed to writing as a priority in your life.

Writing has to be your life.

And you have to take care of yourself emotionally, spiritually, and physically so that you can continue to write. That way, NaNoWriMo can last more than a month: it can last all year, every year, for the rest of your life.

Related Posts

Creative Writing

Urgency in Fiction: Part One

Urgency in Fiction: Part Two

No Demons, No Saints:
Creating Realistic Characters

Writing Effective Dialogue

Who’s Afraid of Point of View?

Myths About Point of View

How to Write a Novel Without an Outline

Publishing & Writer’s Life

How to Pitch Your Book

Long Day’s Journey Into Publishing My Second Book

A Week in the Life of a Writer, and a Peek Inside my Office

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Tips to Get You Through NaNoWriMo

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Every November, hundreds of thousands of people around the world test themselves doing something that might break them spiritually, psychically, or psychologically: NaNoWriMo, when they set the month of November aside and attempt to write an entire novel in 30 days. Besides training for and entering an Iron Man Competition, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, has to be one of the most challenging and demanding tasks anyone can voluntarily give himself. According to the organization which started the “contest” about 15 years ago, the goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (175 DS manuscript pages, based on a count of approximately 300 words per page) in thirty days. That’s about 1,700 words, or six DS manuscript pages a day.

It’s a first draft: you’re not supposed to publish the book you write during NaNoWriMo as is. You’ve got to revise, edit, get feedback from readers, re-write, edit, revise some more, have some coffee, then decide whether you want to Indie publish or attempt to get an agent and try for the traditional New York publishing route.

In short, NaNoWriMo isn’t about getting published and becoming an author: it’s about being a writer.

If you’ve done NaNoWriMo before, you know it’ll strain every relationship you have, make you want to quit your job to write full-time, make you wonder if you’ve completely lost your mind, and convince you that you are not a writer after all. If you’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo, you’ll find those things out soon enough. NaNoWriMo is the closest you’ll ever get to being a full-time writer until you actually are a full-time writer. Here are some strategies to give yourself a fair chance to discover if you really want to be a writer, because writing is very hard work.

Skip the Outline

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I know some people are convinced that they cannot write a novel, especially if it’s in a series, unless they have the entire novel outlined in advance. Some people even outline all the novels they project in the series before they have even written the first book. But writing outlines, no matter how detailed, is not writing a novel. Not even in a rough draft. You have to actually sit down and write a novel to be writing a novel, not just outlining it. When time is as limited as it is during NaNoWriMo, drop the outline and concentrate on writing a draft of the book itself.

If You’re Going to Ignore My First Tip
and Write an Outline Anyway
,
Then Ignore Missing Parts

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Still convinced you need an outline even when your time is as severely limited as it is during NaNoWriMo? Then you’re going to have to compromise somewhere. Even when you have an outline, you may think the whole book in mind just because you have scenes A, B, C, D, and E firmly in mind and jotted down in whatever system you’re using. Then, after outlining scene E, you suddenly realize that the next scene in your head seems to be J.

What happened to scenes F, G, and H?

You have no idea, but they’re not there.

Do not stop writing while waiting for scenes F, G, and H to come to you. If you insist on outlining, and there are missing parts, then just ignore those missing parts for the present, and continue outlining: J, K, L, M, N…

O, P, Q will probably be missing, though you’ll know what scenes R, S, and T are supposed to be.

As far as I know, all writers experience these initial “gaps” in their vision while writing novels, even if it’s not their first. If you insist on writing an outline during NaNoWriMo, skip over the missing parts and getting down the scenes that are readily there.

If you are going to write an outline rather than exclusively working on the novel itself this month, then limit yourself to one or two days of writing a bare-bones outline. You’ll need the rest of the month to write the novel itself.

Don’t Count Words

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I know that NaNoWriMo’s stated goal is to write at least a 50,000 word novel this month, but less than 10% of NaNoWriMo’s official participants consistently reach that goal. More important, probably no agent, editor, or publisher will ever ask you how many words are in your novel. They’ll either love the book or they won’t. They’ll either think they can sell it to potential readers or they won’t.

The sponsors of NaNoWriMo want you to write at least 50,000 words because the traditional division between a novella and a novel is by word count. Anything around 40-45K words usually considered a novella (under 40K words is either a novella or long short story), while books with more than 50K words are considered novels. Some agents and editors disagree with these numbers: they think 80K words is novel material. So, the 50K word-count is merely NaNoWriMo’s attempt to encourage you to write a piece of fiction long enough to be considered a novel, rather than a piece of fiction which would automatically be labeled a novella or long short story.

Don’t count words as a measure of your progress as you’re actually writing. Just write as many or as few words as you think you need to tell a compelling story. Then, if you must count words, wait until NaNoWriMo is over to see how many words you actually wrote.

Schedule Writing Time
Like It’s Your Job

Set aside a schedule for writing each day, and write for that full period. Pretend it’s your job, because, for one month, it will be. Whether you have the luxury of being able to do NaNoWriMo full-time, or can only do it part-time, try to write at the same time every day, taking regular breaks.  Remember not to worry about the quality of the writing.

When I taught University, I got up every single day at 5 a.m. and wrote for 2 hours before I had to get ready to go to work. I discovered that the more often I wrote, the more I produced. I likened it to pumping water out of a rarely used well: at first, it’s difficult to get the flow started, but if you work that pump every day, for a predetermined amount of time, the pump gets used to working, and more water flows.

You have to spend a certain number of hours a day or week on your paying job, no matter what it is. This month, writing is your job, and you have to set aside a specified amount of time doing your job. Just do it. Schedule your writing on a calendar and keep to it, every single day during NaNoWriMo.

Don’t Re-read what You’re Writing

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NaNoWriMo is 30 days to get yourself disciplined enough to write the first draft of a novel; to give yourself official permission to write full-time; and to announce to your family, friends, and to the Universe itself that you are going to write for the entire month.

If you read over the parts you’ve already written, do you know what you’ll want to do? Re-write, revise, polish, perfect. That takes precious time away from writing the initial draft. Don’t do that. Just write the first draft of the whole thing.

The time for re-reading and re-writing and revising will come afterward, because you simply don’t know how long those processes will take. During NaNoWriMo, do not re-read anything you’ve written. Just write. Try to get that first draft of the entire novel out. That’s what the month is for. That’s what you’ve committed yourself to. Do it.

Always Be Prepared to Write,
No Matter Where You Are

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Your subconscious brain — where your artistic intuition resides — never sleeps. Ever. It gets tired. But it never sleeps. Even when you’re not working on any particular scene, or you think you’re not working on the book at all, the writer in you is working on something.

You think you’re sleeping soundly, and you suddenly awake with a new scene. You think you’re taking a walk, and suddenly you see something new happen to your protagonist. You think you’re driving your children to a swim-meet or to football practice, and new dialogue pops into your head.

I’d advise always carrying a notebook, laptop, tablet, or voice recorder (most Smartphones have them) so that you can get these scenes down whenever they come to you. If you don’t, they won’t be there the next time you sit down at your desk to work on your novel. No matter how many times you repeat the exact words to yourself on the drive home from the soccer field, your brain will be blank when you get to your desk or computer and attempt to write it.

Be prepared to write anywhere, anytime during NaNoWriMo.

During NaNoWriMo, especially, since your time is so strictly limited, write down a scene (or record it) as soon as it comes to you. Otherwise, it’ll be lost.

Eliminate All Negative People
From your Life & Environment

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Committing yourself to writing a draft of an entire novel in only 30 days is enough hard work to kill some people, so you don’t need family, friends, colleagues,  or the bagger at the grocery store making snide remarks, negative comments, or otherwise expressing their doubts at your ability to write the draft of a novel in one month. Keep away from those people at all times during NaNoWriMo. This is mandatory and non-negotiable.

This is mandatory and non-negotiable.

Writing a book, especially if it’s your first or if you’ve never been published, will give you plenty of self-doubt for free. Don’t take it from anyone else. Not during NaNoWriMo nor during any other time either. There’s enough rejection in this business without getting it from people who claim to love and care for you. Stay away from them during NaNoWriMo and concentrate on writing your novel rather than on listening to their so-called good advice.

Ditch the Jammies
& Be Professional

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I know there are some writers who wear their pajamas to write. Or they wear the “outdoor” equivalent of pajamas: sweatpants and T-shirt. That’s fine if it works for them. But when I worked as a University Professor, I dressed up, complete with heels, jewelry, mascara, and lipstick. When I write, I do the same thing because it’s my job and I’m going to work. Yes, I now work at home and no one ever sees me but the cats, the dog, and my guy. But after I’m dressed, my guy always asks, “Going to work?” and then stays away from my office when I’m in there.

Just as my getting dressed for work is a visual clue for him, it’s an emotional clue for the artist in me. Don’t lounge around in bed in your jammies during NaNoWriMo and expect to get a lot of writing done. Get up, clean up, get dressed, and go to work.

Don’t Do Anything
in Your Writing Space
Except Write

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This may seem self-evident, but unless you’ve written several books, you may not realize that the creative energy of the book you’re writing stays in the place where you write it. I have an office and have always had one, even when I lived in a small apartment. I do nothing in my office except write my books. I never graded papers in my office, did taxes, or even read a book at my writing desk unless that book had something to do with the research for the novel I was currently writing. As soon as I enter my office, the artist in me is ready to write and work on the book. You need to give yourself a writing space, too.

You may only be able to carve out a separate table in the corner of your kitchen during NaNoWriMo, but no matter where you’re working on your novel, you should do absolutely nothing else in that space — not even tweet about how it’s going — however confined your writing space or “office” may be. No one else should be doing anything at the place you’re writing, either, because you need every ounce of your own creative energy there for your novel.

Take Care of Yourself Physically

You must eat, stay hydrated, sleep, take breaks from writing — even during NaNoWriMo. One of the biggest causes of “writer’s block” is exhaustion, trying to “push through” the hard spots, not taking care of yourself, needing a break.

Just as you must sleep, eat, and stay hydrated every single day just to stay alive, you must take breaks from writing the novel, stretch muscles that will become sore and painful from prolonged overuse (and may even become injured), exercise muscles that stiffen from sitting in one position for prolonged periods. Walking, T’ai Chi, and yoga work best for me. I have a treadmill in my office for breaks from the actual writing when I want to continue thinking about a book.

During NaNoWriMo, you’re working extra hard on a task that is already extremely challenging and difficult — physically, mentally, and spiritually. You must take care of your body — with exercise, rest, regular breaks, naps, food, and non-alcoholic liquids in order to survive and pass this endurance test. Take regular breaks, including breaks for exercise and resting, to survive NaNoWriMo. That way, you’ll get even more writing done.

Take Care of Yourself
Spiritually & Emotionally

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If you’ve never written an entire novel before, you have absolutely no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. Don’t look at the novel as a whole: break it down into parts. A section. A chapter. A page. A paragraph. A sentence. Congratulate yourself at the end of every single writing session on how much you wrote.

You must nurture the artist in you spiritually and emotionally because the publishing world does not think in those terms: it thinks only of profit and loss. I’ve known plenty of bestselling authors whose books were dropped the moment their sales decreased. It’ll be up to you to support yourself emotionally after you get published, so you might as well get used to it now.

Pat yourself on the back, be proud of yourself, and congratulate yourself for a job well done every single day during NaNoWriMo.

Start with something like these comments:

I’m committed.
I’m brave, courageous,
and dedicated.
No one else can do this as well as I can.
I’m giving this my best shot.
This is going to make me happy, no matter how tired I might sometimes get.
I’m a writer, and writers write.

Summary, So Far…

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If you’re already writing for NaNoWriMo, good for you: keep it up. Turn to this advice when you have a break. Turn to this advice when self-doubt creeps in. Take what is useful to you, and discard the rest. If you haven’t started yet, but you told yourself you would, then use these tips to help you get started.

• Skip the outline (or, at the very least, ignore missing pieces of outline)
• Don’t count words
• Schedule writing time like it’s your job
• Don’t re-read what you’re writing
• Always be prepared to write, no matter where you are
• Eliminate all negative people from your life and environment
• Ditch the PJs and be professional
• Don’t do anything in your writing space except write
• Take care of yourself physically
• Take care of yourself emotionally and spiritually

And finally, this…

If You’re Going to Write,
Write: Don’t Talk

As Eli Wallach (Tuco) ad-libbed in the now classic Western, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, after he shot the man who came to kill him while he was taking a bath — telling Tuco repeatedly that he was, indeed, going to kill him — If you’re going to shoot, shoot: don’t talk.

If you’re going to write, write: don’t talk.

Talking about writing a book, no matter how much detail you go into, is not writing the book.

Only writing is writing.

So shut up during NaNoWriMo and write.

Related NaNoWriMo Sites

NaNoWriMo Official Emblem

Official NaNoWriMo Site
The NaNoWriMo Blog
NaNoWriMo on The Twitter

Related Posts

Urgency in Fiction, Part One:
How to Keep Readers Turning Pages

Urgency in Fiction, Part Two:
Titles, Pitches, etc

No Demons, No Saints:
Creating Realistic Characters

Writing Effective Dialogue

Who’s Afraid of Point of View?

Myths about Point of View

How to Write a Novel Without an Outline

How to Pitch Your Book

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