This blog’s title could also be “The Art of Writing”, “The Art of Writing Well”, “Steps to Writing Well”, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” or any of the hundreds of published titles that hold the promise of success within their glossy covers.
But what is the craft of writing? What does that even mean?
I pondered how to write this article. I mean, I was a teacher for nine years and taught literature and creative writing at the college level – surely I should be able to come up with something, even if it was just a regurgitated lesson plan. But this topic isn’t something that can be covered in just one blog article. In fact, discussing the craft of writing is a bit like asking the meaning of life – everyone has an opinion and values particular to them. This topic encompasses so many facets, so many areas, and each one deserves its own heading and attention.
Don’t panic! While I could write for days about the craft of writing, I won’t. Instead, what follows is a general overview that conveys some of the essentials to help guide you down the path of writing well.
Know your genre
If you want to write well, you need to read widely, especially, but not exclusively, in your genre. The fact is, you may not even know your genre when you first start writing. Learn the common elements of different genres. For example, there are certain guiding rules for those who write mysteries, one being that the detective must solve the case using rational and scientific methods. No pulling a rabbit out of a hat allowed. Familiarity with similar, well-written books by authors you admire will help ensure that you are following the accepted method that readers rely on. That’s not to say you are limited to only these methods—just use them as a guide from those who may have more experience as you let your own creativity and words flow.
Know your story and plot
Some people are prodigious plotters, going so far as to create character backstories before they start. Others eschew the outline and let their pen or keyboard take them where it will. Whatever method is best for you (and don’t knock one until you’ve tried it), what matters most is that you know what you are writing about, even if you don’t know exactly how the story is going to unfold. One tip to help in this area is to know your story’s main themes before you start and make sure the storyline is consistently presenting them. A theme is not a topic or subject. A theme is the idea you wish to convey about that subject. For example, a subject could be pride. The theme could be that pride can be the downfall of the greatest people. Themes are best when they attempt to convey human experiences and wisdom.
Think about structure
After deciding on your topic and plot, it’s often helpful to decide on the structure. This means deciding on how you want to tell your story. You may have a straightforward, chronological tale à la The Tortoise and the Hare. But maybe you want to use flashbacks, or jumps in time. Perhaps you’re interested in some added complexity by layering in subplots, which are especially intriguing when they complement the main storyline. Multiple character arcs and perspectives (think Star Wars: Phantom Menace) provide depth for your reader to sift through and establish their own meaning of your story.
Is your story told in first person? This technique is great for engaging the reader and really making them connect with the character. Most stories are told in the familiar third person, and if it worked in Harry Potter for J.K. Rowling, you should feel pretty confident using it yourself. Second person narration isn’t very common. It addresses the reader as “you” instead of the first person “I” or third person “he/she/they.” One novel that uses this technique brilliantly, however, is Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. This technique brings the reader closer to the story: we are the characters in the story. Your novel’s point of view is an integral element of the story and can help convey mood and tone.
Any story your write, in any genre, should have what’s called a narrative or story arc. This refers to the chronological construction of the plot. Typically the arc looks something like a pyramid, made up of the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. It can be helpful to do more reading on each of these and think about how they might look in your story before you start writing.
Create compelling characters
No one likes bad characters. And by “bad” I don’t mean the villains, I mean the poorly written, flat, static, one dimensional characters. You want your characters to leap off the page and nestle into our hearts and minds the way that Anne Shirley does. Bring your characters to life. One of the easiest ways to do this is through simple details. You don’t need to dwell on their appearance, although Anne’s fiery red hair complements her passionate temperament, but you can use elements of their appearance to build their personality. Would Quasimodo be such a sympathetic character if he were a strapping, handsome young man? No. Other ways to describe your characters are through their actions, words, thoughts, and how other characters respond to them. Make sure that your character is growing and changing throughout the story by means of conflict.
Drum up good dialogue
I have discarded books with perfectly enticing storylines and otherwise well-written narratives because the dialogue sucked and the first page of conversation signaled an amateur scribbler who hadn’t grasped the mechanics of speech. A professional author adroitly uses dialogue to build character, reveal relationships, and propel the plot. You need to be adept at crafting natural-sounding dialogue. Dialogue is hard to write and even harder to write well. One way to improve upon it is to listen to conversations around you and record them. Listen to the nuances, innuendo, rhythm. Don’t be afraid to punctuate your dialogue with ellipses or the em dash to show hesitation, trailing off, or interrupted sentences. These things happen in real life. Novice writers, in particular, need to study dialogue writing.
Find your voice
When I was still teaching, I was lucky enough to connect with Lawrence Hill and invite him as a guest speaker for my classes. One of the things we talked about was prose style and how important it is for each author to establish their own voice. This is easier said than done. We often consciously or unconsciously mimic the writing styles of authors we admire or read often. Hill’s suggestion was to start with small, daily writing tasks that focus strictly on your own observations with the freedom of not having to share this with anyone else. For example, describe a person you know intimately, focusing on appearance and then personality. Just write the thoughts that come immediately into your head when you think of them. The next day, write briefly about a memory you have of an event or occasion. Again, you are using the words that only you have about this time. From here, you can expand into larger paragraphs about situations you’ve experienced. The idea is to keep these writing activities intensely personal and write from your point of view. This will help you to remain authentic and you can then look over your entries to note the types of words and sentence styles that are intrinsic to your own writing style.
Bring your setting to life
Off the top of my head, when I think of the strongest examples of setting or world building in novels, I think immediately of Hogwarts, the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, Oceania in 1984, and 221B Baker Street in Sherlock Holmes. There’s Alice’s Wonderland and even the rabbit-run Efrafa in Watership Down. Sensory imagery brings settings to life. Many novice writers get bogged down with descriptions of setting. Don’t be one of them! Instead, use strong literal and figurative language to show us places and yes, situations. Don’t tell us that London is raining, because when isn’t it? (Sorry, Londoners! I love you and your city!) Show us it’s windy when a character struggles to open and hold on to her umbrella. Convey how it’s cold and wet by her reddened fingers clutched around the umbrella’s shaft, slipping down as she tries to maintain her grip without impaling someone’s eye or sloshing in a puddle. Be creative.
Do the research
Thorough research and accuracy are imperative. You might not like wading through the library stacks for a piece of obscure 11th century Germanic folklore, but that’s why we have Google. Don’t guess facts. If you don’t like to research, hire someone. If that’s not in your budget, consider offering the job to a student in return for providing a recommendation. This is especially true if you’re writing historical fiction. I would love to ask Diana Gabaldon how many hours she spends researching for each of her Outlander books.
Also, don’t fall behind the times. If you’ve decided to dig out a dusty manuscript from your college days, check that the names of people and places haven’t changed. Ensure the dialogue, setting, even actions of your characters are in sync with the timeline of your story. This may also require researching the types of language, fashion, hairstyles, and even appliances or cars of a certain period.
If research and fact-finding are difficult or don’t interest you, you may want to consider writing fantasy.
Get another set of eyes
I may be biased on this next point but hire an editor. You might have fantastic ideas, you might be able to spin the greatest yarn, but grammar and sentence style are tricky little devils. A professional editor acts as an extra pair of eyes. While learning about grammar and punctuation (two very different things) will undoubtedly help you, if you aren’t trained in these areas, or in how to give a manuscript evaluation or a developmental edit, you’re going to miss things. If Hemingway, a professional journalist and one of the world’s greatest authors, needed an editor (the brilliant Max Perkins) so do you.
Connect with your readers
Finally, learn as much as you can about writing, but never forget the purpose of writing is to tell a story. Stories that connect with your reader and take them on a journey of emotional or intellectual discovery. Stories that show how we cope with tragedies and rise up on the wings of dreams. Stories that speak of who you are and who you may become. Stories that inspire, terrify, encourage, or teach. Stories that bring a smile to our face and a tear to our eyes. Stories that show us we are all connected somehow in our differences.
While this is by no means an exhaustive exploration on the craft of writing, it is hopefully enough to give you the motivation to sit down, pick up your pen or laptop, and begin sharing that story that’s waiting to be crafted.
Cassandra Filice is a professional editor and writer. After a nine year teaching career, she turned to her editing business, Write to the End, full time. When not reading and writing for others, she can be found riding horses or trying to eke out time for her own stories and poems. She lives in eastern Newfoundland with her husband and fur babies.
Find her at:
I have been using Scrivener daily for nearly ten years now. I find Scrivener such a flexible tool for my fiction and nonfiction projects such as creating web pages, presentations, and the occasional blog post.
I like Scrivener because it's flexible and because it suits my workflow. I tend to work on my projects in a non-linear fashion. The graphic is how I’ve set up my Scrivener.
One of the first things I did when I started using Scrivener was to change the default toolbar to meet my needs. I removed the icons which I don’t use and replace them with those I often use such as Copy and Paste Formatting, Start and Stop Speech, and Sync with External Folder icons. I also rearranged them on the toolbar to suit my needs.
Modifying the toolbar is simple. Right-Click on the taskbar and then select Customize Toolbar. A window will open, allowing you to drag icons from the window on the toolbar where you can move them where you want them.
I also use the Right-Click extensively on my mouse to bring up the Context Menu. Depending on which part of Scrivener you are pointing your mouse at, such as the editor or the binder the Context Menu, it will display a slightly different set of task commands.
There are also keyboard shortcuts available which you can find in the menus. The only ones I remember are the cut and paste commands.
Syncing & Backup
If you are on the go, you can sync Scrivener with other devices such as tablets and smartphones. Under File>Sync menu, the following options are available: With Mobile Devices, With External Folder, and With External Folder Now.
The simplest is to use Scrivener’s IOS app and to sync via Dropbox. Be aware Scrivener recommends not to keep the same project open at the same time on multiple devices to avoid syncing problems. You need to close Scrivener on one device before working on your project on another.
I have been playing with this option, but unfortunately, I have the habit of keeping Scrivener always open on my Mac and I know I will forget closing it before I head out to the local coffee shop. Also, syncing using Scrivener’s IOS app would require that I upgrade my current Dropbox account to get additional storage space since some of my project files are quite large.
Instead, I sync my projects with Alfons Schmid’s Notebooks using the With External Folder option via Dropbox. I’ve created Draft folders for each of my projects, and I simply sync my drafts in plain text back and forth. It has been working quite well for me.
Also, I’m a great fan of using Scrivener’s Snapshots feature because it allows me to easily compare differences in the text before and after syncing.
On the Mac Time Machine does an excellent job of backing up your files to an external hard drive. However, in case of fire or theft, it is important to have copies of your critical files off-site.
I use the File>Backup option to create a zip archive of my projects in a backup folder when I close Scrivener. The contents of the backup folder are then uploaded to one of my cloud accounts.
Under the Scrivener>Preferences>Backup you can configure how, when, and where your backups are created.
Scrivener>Preferences gives you a variety of options to configure Scrivener to suit your needs. In most cases, you can leave the defaults as is. If you are new to Scrivener, I would take a few minutes to review them. Then modify the ones you feel would make your life easier.
In the Preference>Editing I’ve set the Default Text zoom to 150% since I find myself squinting at my computer screen.
In the Preference>Editing>Formatting is where I’ve set the default formatting for all my projects since they don’t change much from project to project. The simplest method to set your default settings is using a document you already have formatted the way you like it then click on the Use Formatting in Current Editor command. The other method is to select each of the icons in the ruler to modify the formatting in the Preference>Editing>Formatting window.
If you need to change them for a special project, you can do so under the Project>Project Settings menu.
Preference>SharingThe Conversion preference specifies how your documents will be converted into Microsoft Word or OpenOffice formats. Also, under File>Compile you can set how Scrivener will convert your document into an ePub.
Getting to work
The Binder is where you organise your drafts and research. Organising your binder is a personal and whatever works for you. Depending on the project, I will create a different structure. Some are by dates other by scenes and chapters. Scrivener gives you the flexibility to plan your projects as you see fit.
One thing I like about Scrivener is that it is a plain text editor with limited layout capabilities. I write all my first drafts longhand using a fountain pen in notebooks. When I finish a scene, I type it into the Scrivener where I will polish it until I’m happy with it. I can’t create fiction typing on a computer screen. The constant red squiggly lines interrupt my train of thought.
While Scrivener does allow you to create Tables and insert graphics into your documents, these tools are not as sophisticated as Word or OpenOffice’s layout tools. If I need to create a document-heavy with tables and graphics, I find Word to be a much better tool.
Scrivener styles, under Format>Styles, are more geared towards plain text documents. The Format>Show Styles Panel will display a floating styles window. I don’t use this very much since I usually use only three default styles: one for the headings, one for the first paragraph, and one for the body text.
Also, on my Toolbar I have two icons, Copy Format and Paste Format, which I frequently use to apply to format.
In Scrivener you can view your project as a Document, as a Corkboard, or as an Outline. I usually have the main window split into two views; with the top in Document view while the bottom is either in Document or Outline depending on what task I’m doing. If I’m reviewing and editing, the bottom is in Outline view which helps me gauge my progress.
If you wish, you can vertically split the window by holding Option key and clicking the split icon in the document header.
Locking the Editor
I frequently lock the main Editor to keep it in place and in focus when I’m conducting research or consulting other documents in the bottom view. To lock Right-Click on the document header, then select the Lock in Place command in the menu when it appears. The title bar will change to a red colour to indicate it has been locked.
SearchOne of the more useful is the Search and Replace functions in Scrivener, especially when you have a great many documents in your project. Quick Search is available in the toolbar. Also, Project Search is available at the top of the Binder.
Scrivener will return all the documents which contain the search term. In text documents, the search term will be highlighted. Scrivener also provides options, Right-Click in Project Search Box, to expand or restrict how it searches. In most cases, the defaults work very well.
Under the edit menu, there are several useful tools which I use such as Edit>Transformations such as changing cases from upper to lower to convert Straight Quotes to Smart Quotes.
The Edit>Text Tidying is useful for removing double spaces and cleaning up some of my text.
The Edit>Writing Tools> Name Generator is useful for creating character names.
I recently discovered Linguistic Focuswhich is found under the Edit>Writing Tools menu. The feature allows you to select various parts of your text such as Speech by fading the surrounding text to highlight it. I haven’t used it extensively as yet, but it looks interesting. I’m planning to play with to see whether it will prove useful.
In the Inspector, you will find several metadata fields. I usually create a synopsis in the Notes panel by copying and pasting text into the Synopsis field. For multiple documents, I use the Set Synopsis from main text command under Documents>Auto-Fill menu. This grabs the first paragraph of the document and displays it in the Synopsis Field. I find this useful when I’m in Outline mode or in Corkboard as it gives me a general idea of the scene.
You aren’t restricted to text. You can also drop an image in the Synopsis field.
I use Bookmarks frequently as I consult various documents. It saves me time when several months later, I’m trying to find the source of the fact that I had used. You can bookmark web pages, Scrivener files, or files you have stored on your hard drive.
There are some standard metadata fields such as Due Date, Title, Metadata etc. I rarely used the standard ones except when I’m created a Web page. I would then complete the Title, and Description fields as these are key metadata for Web pages and search optimization.
Scrivener allows you to create your own metadata fields. For most of my projects, I have deleted the defaults and created two new metadata fields: Speech Check and Grammar Check. They are simple checkboxes which I tick which finished editing the scene.
Tracking your progress
Scrivener provides a wealth of statistics on managing your projects. The Project>Statistics menu gives you basic stats on the number of words, characters, sentences, and page counts in your project.
Project Targets, Session Targets, Document Targets
Scrivener allows you to set target word counts for your project, daily (Sessions), and at the document level.
The Project>Show Project Targets menu allows you to set the total number of words for your project. Clicking between ‘of’ and ‘words’ will activate a text box where you can input your project’s word count.
Clicking on Options allows you, in the Draft Target window, to set a deadline date for your project. In Session Target, clicking Automatically calculate from draft deadline checkbox Scrivener will calculate your total workdays and the daily word count you will need to write to meet the deadline you have set.
Once you set your Project Targets Quick Search the Toolbar will show thin colour bars to indicate your progress.
The top blue line is your project total word count, while the bottom green line indicates your daily Session Target progress. When you mouse over Quick Search, your current word count will be displayed.
I rarely use the document target since my scene count varies, but it is available in the document footer by clicking on the Target icon.
Depending on your workflow, you can use Scrivener to created Word docs, Pdf, ePub as well as other formats. I usually convert my document into Word which I then send to my editor for copyediting and proofreading. There it will remain until final editing is completed, then sent to my print book designer and ePub creator.
If you need help?
Under the Help menu, there are plenty of resources in case you need additional help. There is an extensive manual, 900 pages long, a Scrivener interactive tutorial, user forums, and video tutorials.
Frank Rockland is the pen name of an Ottawa based writer. In 2013 he published his first novel, Fire on the Hill, a suspense novel about fire that destroyed the Parliament Hill Centre Block on the night of Feb 3, 1916.
He recently completed the third volume, Sharpening the Blade (1916), in his Canadian Expeditionary Force series, to be released late in 2019. Forging the Weapon (1914) and Hammering the Blade (1915) were released 2015 and 2017. He is currently working on the fourth volume Hardening the Blade (1917). Visit his website www.sambiasebooks.ca and at twitter @FrankRockland
For me, the process of writing a story is an adventure. As a writer of epic fantasy, people often ask, “How do you world build? How do you establish plot lines? How do you create characters? How do you build magic systems?” To each and every one of those questions, the answer is simple. I don't.
So many people devote countless hours (some take years!) building a fantastical world. They spend days and weeks fretting over magic systems. They agonize until the sun comes up about the plot. I get it. There are a lot of people who require structure. Hey, if that works for them, great, but I don't have the patience, nor the time to devote to these things when I could be writing instead. I don’t need to stress over things my characters are going to sort out for themselves anyway.
What do I mean by that? Well, in some circles, I am called a ‘pantser.’ I had never heard of this term until a few months ago. It means I fly by the seat of my pants. Truth be told, I like to think I fly by the seat of my character's pants. When I sit down to write, I haven't spent weeks agonizing over scene development or crisis management. Heck, I don't even know what the land looks like around the next bend in the trail. The beauty is, I don't have to. My characters tell me everything I need to know as they experience it.
My worldbuilding consists of maintaining two detailed excel spreadsheets, which, by the way, are made and added to as the story progresses. Nothing is done beforehand. One spreadsheet, the places spreadsheet, has a tab for everyplace, road, river, etc. I put in the story—each with their own description. The other spreadsheet, the people spreadsheet, lists almost every character mentioned, with 3 subcategories: Physical Description, Clothing, and Other. (The obligatory guy that shows up and becomes collateral damage, doesn’t count.)
At some point, I generate a map, but not before the story is well underway. Why, because the characters haven’t told me what’s on the map yet. And magic systems? Huh? I write fantasy. Magic is an inherent part of the story. I don’t explain how people stay alive by describing the intricacies of breathing: oxygen enters one’s lungs via a tube called an esophagus and then passes through…you get what I’m saying? You just accept the fact that the character’s body is capable of breathing. That being said, I don’t need to explain how magic works—by definition, it’s magic!
There are days when the writing process doesn’t flow. Those days are tough. Some people like to hide behind the security curtain many refer to as writer’s block. I refuse to let myself do this. On the days writing doesn’t come naturally, my word count suffers for sure, but I still get a count. I force myself to write the word, ‘The,’ and then the next word, and then the one after that. You might surprise yourself. Once you change your mindset from “I can’t do it” to “I am doing it,” more often than not, the so-called ‘writer’s block’ disappears. Don’t worry if it’s not Pulitzer prize winning material—that’s what editing is for!
For me, writing a story is simple. I put a character in a room, or on a trail, or in a boat, and all I need to do is have them place that first foot in front of the other and give them a shove. The rest is easy. The land and their story will evolve before their eyes. My job as a writer is to keep up and tell the reader what my characters are experiencing.
Life is short. Don’t let it pass you by with your characters locked inside your head. If you don’t write it, no one can read it. Sit in front of your keyboard, look through your character’s eyes, and take part in the wondrous adventure awaiting them.
Richard H. Stephens
Born in Simcoe, Ontario, in 1965, Richard began writing circa 1974, a bored child looking for something to while away the long, summertime days. His penchant for reading The Hardy Boys led to an inspiration one sweltering summer afternoon when he and his best friend realized, "Hey, we could write one of those." And so, Richard did.
As his reading horizons broadened, so did his writing. Star Wars inspired Richard to write a 600-page novel about outer space that caught the attention of a special teacher, Mr. Woodley, who saw his talent and encouraged him to keep writing.
A few years later, Richard visited a local bookstore. The proprietor introduced him to Stephen R. Donaldson and Terry Brooks. Richard's writing life was forever changed.
Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/author/richardhstephens
YouTube Channel: https://bit.ly/2NKpOhn
Three weeks into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I’m seeing a lot of people on social media say they’ve hit a wall when it comes to their work in progress (WIP). Let’s face it, churning out 2,000 or more words a day every day for weeks on end is a challenging pace.
When I’m stuck with a WIP, I ask myself what kind of inspiration I need. Sometimes, I do not understand a character. The way that I’m describing them is flat, they have poor dialogue, and they’re doing things mechanically and clinically. To get inspired, I watch a movie or two or three on a related theme that I’m writing on. Sometimes I’m trying to write something funny, so I watch a comedy in a setting that’s related to my books. If I’m stuck on a military character, then I pick a movie appropriate to the period of time I’m writing and focused on the rank that I’m writing (foot soldiers versus from Caesar’s perspective). I watch their body language and jot down notes to see how I can incorporate some of that into my characterisations.
If I need to brainstorm more realistic interactions, then I pick an appropriate public spot, and people watch for a while. I’ll sit in a café and watch two friends interact, or go to a restaurant that is family friendly to see how families with younger children communicate differently than those with older children.
Even though I use an outline for the main plot points and a few character moments, I do sometimes write myself into a corner or get stuck on the next logical step to get my character from A to B. One thing that really helps me is to jot thoughts down. (I have so many notebooks I had to get new shelves installed). I brainstorm a few words or plot points, I draw a relationship map between the characters, I write down a few motivations and goals for the characters involved in the scene, and I’ll even sketch the movement in a battle. I find that writing pen to paper uses a different brain mechanism than typing. Things pry loose from the corners of my mind, and I can continue with my scene.
If the words aren’t coming to me, I write an outline for another short story or book. I’m still working on my craft and moving my projects forward, without working on my word count. I feel productive and satisfied at the end of the day.
One of the most underrated things to do when you’re stuck is to do something else. Go for a walk. Exercise. Read a book. Take a course to improve your writing skills. Play a computer game. Visit a friend. Do anything else except writing, and it will give your brain a break.
When we read how well others are writing, their astronomical word counts, and the staggering pace at which they release books, remind yourself that they too get stuck. All writers face similar structural and characterisation issues, all writers have written themselves into corners and have had to find ways out. Getting stuck is part of the craft, and with persistence, everyone can get unstuck.
If you are in any kind of author circles, even on the edge of one, there is no doubt that you know what time of year it is. Many people are designing costumes and decorating their homes for Halloween. They’re preparing what films they’ll watch and how much chocolate they’ll eat.
But for a certain few, there is no Halloween. There is no turkey prep. There may be chocolate, but that chocolate is fuel…
For National Novel Writing Month, the November challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.
Deciding whether or not to participate in this challenge is the first big step, but a second question hovers just behind: If I do decide to write, what the heck am I going to work on?
With a few weeks to go, now is a good time to figure that out.
I, for one, am in just such a struggle. I recently released the first book in a planned trilogy. The second is drafted and about to start the revision process so the obvious choice would be to use NaNoWriMo to write the third, right? No?
The problem is this bright new shiny book hovering in the corner of my eye. An urban fantasy that is sexy and devious and full of such good fun. So there’s the dilemma: the logical next step or the fun detour? The one readers will be waiting for or the one that has hooked its claws in my brain and won’t let go?
The rest of the year, I’m able to avoid being distracted by said bright shiny detour by sticking to my schedule. I use websites like Trello and a hand-written agenda like my bullet journal to keep me on track to make sure each book actually reaches the end. November is different. It’s a time when you can allow yourself to play a little more.
Maybe you’re simply stuck between Idea A that you’ve been outlining since May and are finally ready to start writing vs. Idea B that only jumped into your head last month and is barely more than a glimpse at a set of characters—but those characters have really taken on a life of their own.
Or maybe you have a book that you need to write, but you’re playing with the idea of moving into the shadows and pantsing something entirely new just to see what comes of it.
The nightmare of lots of NaNoWriMo participants is that they’re going to get partway through the month and get bored, or get lost, and therefore not be able to keep going.
This will be my 6th NaNoWriMo (plus a few CampNaNoWriMos in between [CampNaNoWriMo if you haven’t heard of it, takes place in April and July. You choose your own word count goal and get assigned to a cabin—or build one with your writing mates. It’s low-key, very relaxed, and a great chance to finish/catch up on/revise your work in progress]), and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of these challenges: if you want to see them through to the end, you have to write what excites you.
The other eleven months of the year are there for you to work on what you need to write, but NaNoWriMo is all about the sheer rush of sitting down to write words on the paper. It’s challenging, it’s fun, it can be competitive if you want it to, and it’s an opportunity to lose yourself in the sheer joy of creating. For me, after fourteen publications, I find it important to use NaNoWriMo to remember what I love about writing. For me, it’s the sense of adventure and escape, of not knowing what’s around the corner when you start on that first draft, whether you’ve outlined or not. Stuck on this point? Try taking a break and running the story through your head like a film. Remember what scenes or characters made you sit down in the first place.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t outline, and, heck, if what you need to write is what gets you out of bed in the morning then huzzah! Easy choice! But no matter what process you choose, or what project, let it be something that gets you talking about it. Let it be a book that, when your friends ask you how you’re spending your month, you can’t shut up, until they’re just as excited as you are (and likely beyond that when they’ve gone all glazed-eyed, and you’re still describing your world’s social structure).
Choose the project you want. This month is all about you, your characters, your ideas. Have fun with it.
So… with all that in mind, I think I’ve made my choice.
See you on November 1, urban fantasy.
Like many authors, Krista Walsh has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pen. At eight years old, she wrote three one-page ghost stories that she still feels are her best work. From plays and short stories through to fanfiction and novels, stories have always buzzed around in her head. After her first publication in April 2012, a short story in a dark fantasy anthology, Krista made her way through various collaborations and anthologies until she founded the self-publishing brand of Raven’s Quill Press.
Any Gravelle (left) and Renée Gendron CanCon 2018
Article disponible en français
In November 2018, I’ll have participated three times in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The purpose of the NaNoWriMo is to encourage participants to write 50,000 words in November. For full-time authors, this goal is easy to reach because it’s the length of a novel intended for teens and young adults. For other writers like me, NaNoWriMo gives me the motivation to write daily. The two manuscripts I wrote will never see the light of day, but NaNoWriMo allowed me to finish the projects.
To achieve 50,000 words in a month, you need to write 2,000 words daily. To accomplish that, you need to plan writing sessions, even if you’ve only got thirty minutes to spare. The point of NaNoWriMo is to write every day without getting sick of writing. In November, I concentrate on writing, and I gain twofold from this focus. At the same time, I tell people that the world doesn’t stop turning if you haven’t reached your 50,000-word target by the 30th of November.
If you’re stubborn like me, I advise you to plan your manuscript and to fill out a character sheet by the 1st of November. The more details you can plan, the more likely you’ll reach your goal. For motivation and support, it’s also a good thing to join one of the many groups at NaNoWriMo: https://nanowrimo.org/. I visit the site frequently, attend meetings, and review what others have written.
My day planner becomes my best friend in November. To ensure that I’m well organised, I pick the writing groups that are closest to where I live. If you live in Ottawa, Ontario, the meeting groups meet throughout the city. If the meetings are too far from where I live, I schedule writing time at home to avoid wasting time travelling.
I also give myself some slack. If my week is hectic, I give myself permission to slow down on the writing goals. I know that I’m busy in other areas of my life, and all I’ll do is sit down in front of the screen and not be able to type. During my first NaNoWriMo, I finished my manuscript and started editing it. It was there that I realised the work involved in producing a polished novel.
If you’re like me, then the slightest noise distracts you. It’s important to choose your writing groups wisely because many of them meet in cafés where there is a lot of background noise. To improve my productivity, I decided to work from the library or from home. While working, I’ve learned to put a wall around myself, to focus on the writing, but it’s not always easy ignoring everything that is happening around you. Despite my best efforts, I’ve had many lapses in concentration, and I wasn’t as productive as I would have liked.
During my second NaNoWriMo, I made the mistake of picking a subject I found interesting but didn’t know much about. I suggest that you write about something that you know well and are passionate about. If you’re writing about something you don’t know well, then I recommend you do your research before November.
For those who reach 50,000 words, I suggest that you put off sending it to beta-readers and an editor. It’s the first draft, and it will have to be reworked before you can share it. 50,000 words are about half of the length of a full-length novel targeted at adults, and you’ll still be writing your manuscript at the end of the month. I know that you’re eager to receive feedback on your work, but wait until you’ve improved it to the best of your abilities before sending it out. The first draft is just a draft. Editing takes twice as long as writing. It’s important to put yourself in the mindset of the readers when you’re editing, take into account how they see the book.
Above all, the first thing you need for NaNoWriMo is a passion for writing because during the month you'll, doubt yourself and your abilities. If you’re posting your manuscript online or just sharing it with your friends, you run the risk of rejection and negative feedback. There are many more that become discouraged when they realise just how much work goes into writing a finished book. There are countless times where I’ve been at tradeshows and fairs for up to six hours, and I didn’t sell one book. Keep in mind, not many readers are willing to pay full price for a book. It’s important to stay grounded and to keep your expectations realistic and to be cognizant of the effort required to produce a finished book. It helped me to join two professional writers associations and to discuss my challenges with them. It’s also good to surround yourself with people you know and trust.
I wish you a fantastic November full of adventures.
I fell in love with books when I was a child. At first, I wrote stories about the tv shows I watched, and I started to create my own characters in 2013. This is how I discovered what I want to do with my life. I wrote two short stories Alyson and un voyage interrompu, and one poem Les différences that have been published in an anthology in French called Plumes en liberté in 2017. Four other stories will be released in Au-delà des mots in 2019. Most of my stories are about relationships, and I often add a cute cowboy. I’m also a member of the Ottawa Romance Writers Association and of les auteurs et auteures de l’Outaouais.
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