Writing Goals

November may be over, but I’m still writing with new word count goals.

In NaNoWriMo’s past, I have been so burned out after a month-long writing marathon, I needed a break from writing. And while a break is well-deserved, the longer the break is, the harder it is to get back into the habit of writing every day.

I loved this from Holly McGhee’s NaNp Pep Talk:

Sometimes if you haven’t touched your laptop in a while, you begin to fear it. You’re afraid to start typing and you’re afraid not to start typing. Writing becomes a stranger—and without realizing it, you’ve closed the door on your closest friend, your imagination.

NaNo ChartThis year, I decided not to take a break after NaNoWriMo. I’m going to maintain my habit of writing everyday.

In tracking my writing sessions throughout November, I noticed that I write well in short bursts, writing several hundred words in twenty or thirty minutes. Some days, it would take three separate writing sessions throughout the day for me to reach the daily goal of 1,667. And when I fell behind, I had to write even more to try to catch up.

1,667 words a day is a decent goal, but one I have trouble maintaining regularly. I’ve decided to shoot for 500 words a day, six days a week. If I write more than 500 in a day, even better and allowing myself one day off a week gives me a little flexibility.

Word count isn’t the only way to set a writing goal. You can set milestones in your story to write certain scenes or get to a particular point in the story arch.

Are you setting any post-NaNo writing goals? Let’s hear ’em!

The NaNoWriMo Experience

I did it. I wrote 50,298 words in November for National Novel Writing Month.

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I honestly didn’t think I would make it this year. I’ve only won NaNo once before and after a fairly lousy Week Two and a Week Three that wasn’t much better, the odds seemed stacked against me. As the month wore on, I slowly gave up all my good writing habits: I started sleeping in instead of getting up early to write before work, I worked through lunch instead of writing on my lunch break. By the time I finally sat down to write for the first time each day at six o’clock p.m., I was mostly too exhausted to produce much more than a few hundred words.

Once the final week rolled around, I wasn’t feeling very motivated and I was behind on my word count, but I figured I had come to far to quit.

So I kept writing. Every word, every sentence was agonizing at times but I kept going. As the end of November neared with a long holiday weekend ahead, I still had hope to come from behind to win. I didn’t give in to my exhaustion and self-doubt. Those last thousand words were slow to come together, but they did.

I think the NaNoWriMo experience was pretty well summed up in these words from author, Ralph Peters in his NaNoWriMo Pep Talk:

“Writing is wretched, discouraging, physically unhealthy, infinitely frustrating work. And when it all comes together it’s utterly glorious.”

I spent a large part of NaNoWriMo feeling frustrated, and discouraged. But I learned that I can sit down at the laptop and write every day even when I’m too tired or not feeling inspired. And because I kept going, I was able to write more than 50,000 words in a month and win NaNoWriMo, even when I didn’t think I could.

So to all those who won NaNo and to all those who participated, congratulations. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

What did you learn this November?

One Word After Another…

In Week One, I was in love with my NaNo Novel. I woke up early each and every morning to fire up my laptop, eager to write and to add up each pretty little word and record them on my spreadsheet. I fell in love with my characters and with the art of writing and became completely immersed in the story. My NaNo Novel and I were in the honeymoon phase.

Then Week Two hit.

My writing sessions produced pathetic word counts.  Suddenly my writing, my plot and my characters which were shiny and new just days ago seemed dull. My ideas had never seemed more unoriginal. My “novel” was nothing but a collection of short scenes with talking heads. I fell out of love with my NaNo Novel.

Dang,” I kept thinking, this NaNoWriMo thing is HARD. Adding insult to injury, smack in the middle of Week Two, I got a cold. Not just a case of the sniffles, but the kind of cold that makes you feel like you could sleep for days. Great, I thought. Just what I needed. Perfect timing! I chugged orange juice, took a nap and kept sitting at the keyboard. I had several days that I didn’t write the 1,667 word minimum. For the first time this November, I fell behind. I thought about quitting, but I didn’t. Each writing session, I kept putting down one word after another. And slowly, they added up.

This is How you Do It Quote

Today, I am feeling as though I may have broken through the slump of the infamous Week Two. I’ve written 2,028 words so far today and feel like I could write more (and maybe I will!) I’m feeling excited about my novel again.

I have recently fallen in love with Neil Gaiman who tweeted his Pep Talk earlier this week. In his Pep Talk, he describes exactly how I have been feeling these past few days. He says,

You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days…

That’s how novels get written.

After a string of lousy days, I’m now past the halfway point. I’ve now officially made it past the point where I gave up last November. I’m going to celebrate those accomplishments. Then, I’m going to keep writing.

One word after another…

Words Written Today:  2,028
Total Words Written:  27,756
Words Left to Go:  22,244
Percent Complete:  56%

I’ll be sharing my progress throughout November! Subscribe to my blog for NaNo updates and follow me on Twitter @iamJenniferK for helpful hints and inspiring quotes in 140 characters or less!

Don’t get it Right, just get it Written

This has been the quote going through my mind all weekend long. Don’t get it right just get it written James Thurber Quote

Already on Day Two of NaNoWriMo, I found myself struggling. The words were coming slow, I was writing in fits and starts. I realized I was too hung up on the sequence of events in the story. I was stuck trying to write the story in order. I started kicking myself for not putting an outline to paper like I had planned. Sure, I had the first several scenes laid out in my mind, but my planning never got much further than that. If only I had done that outline, I thought, I’d be in much better shape.

Then I remembered: “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

This is only a first draft – a shitty first draft. I don’t have to get it right the first time through, I can always go back later and move scenes around or add scenes. It’s okay to write the story out of order. Once I gave myself permission to write whatever scene I wanted rather than trying to stick to a timeline, the words came easier. I finally got into a writing flow mid-afternoon and ended up with 2,436 at the end of the day.

I kept telling myself, “Just get it written,” and surpassed 6,000 words on Day Three. I was able to write over 5,000 words this weekend and am a full day ahead of schedule (I’m thrilled to have even just a little cushion going into the work week!)

The lesson is, sometimes we have to get out of our own way in order to get the words on the page.

I still want to sit down and put together a more detailed outline, but I have given myself permission to write it any order necessary!

What is your NaNoWriMo mantra that’s getting you through? Let’s hear them!

Words Written Today:  2,583
Total Words Written:  6,764
Words Left to Go:  43,236
Percent Complete:  14%

I’ll be sharing my progress throughout November! Subscribe to my blog for NaNo updates and follow me on Twitter @iamJenniferK for helpful hints and inspiring quotes in 140 characters or less!

Falling in Love with Writing

During NaNoWriMo, there aren’t enough hours in a day. Not only are there not enough hours for all the writing there is to be done, but there simply isn’t enough time for all the great NaNo related activities! There are blogs to follow, NaNo Pep Talks and tweets to read, spreadsheets to update… the list goes on.

In the days leading up to November 1st, I still hadn’t finished my character sketches or my outline, I hadn’t yet downloaded a shiny new spreadsheet to track my progress, and my NaNo mail was left unopened. Last night, I began catching up on all of that, in addition to writing. Luckily, we gain an hour this weekend (I think I figured out why National Novel Writing Month is in November!)

As I was catching up on my email, I read the pep talk from Rainbow Rowell, Author of Attachments and Fangirl. Something she said in her pep talk really spoke to me:

Rainbow Rowell Writing Advice

Rainbow Rowell

During NaNoWriMo, I never left the world of the book long enough to lose momentum.

I stayed immersed in the story all month long, and that made everything come so much smoother than usual. I got a much quicker grasp on the main characters and their voices. The plotlines shot forward…

I mean, I still didn’t know whether what I’d written was any good. (I hadn’t even read it all in one piece!) But I was so excited about the novel, I wanted to write every day. And even when I wasn’t writing, my brain was still working on the story.

Reading this, I realized why I love NaNoWriMo: every November, I fall in love with writing all over again. I fall in love with writing every day even when its hard, I fall in love with my characters. I love that feeling of being immersed in the story, as Rowell says, of living with one foot in this world and the other foot inside the world I’m creating. This is why I write.

Good luck, wrimos! Write and fall in love!

You can read the full pep talk from Rainbow Rowell here  (although I bet you already read it, didn’t you!)

Words Written Today: 1,745
Words to Go: 48,255
Percent Complete: 3.5%

I’ll be sharing my progress throughout November! Subscribe to my blog for NaNo updates and follow me on Twitter @iamJenniferK for helpful hints and inspiring quotes in 140 characters or less!

Six Techniques for Getting to Know your Characters

When I get an idea for a story, it almost always starts with a character. My favorite part of the writing process is getting to know my characters. I like to know their background, what makes them tick. I want to know what makes them happy, what they fear, what keeps them up at night and what they carry with them in their pockets.

Whether your story is plot focused or character driven, well-rounded characters are essential for any story.

Characters can bring a story to life. A good character can feel like an old friend by the time we finish a book – they are what keep me coming back to books I love again and again.

Here are a few ways to get to know your characters:

Character Sketch – When a character comes to me, I usually only have a vague sense of them, while the details are fuzzy. Begin with the basics: their age, where they live, hair and eye color.  Describe their features.

Then start thinking about the details of their appearance, their likes and dislikes. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What style of clothing do they wear?
  • What kind of music, books or movies do they like?

Go deeper into thinking about your characters’ personality. Ask:

  • What are their regrets and their dreams?
  • How would other characters in your novel describe them?
  • What sort of first impression they make?

Give your characters’ strengths but don’t forget to give them flaws. Perhaps your protagonist is ambitious but self-involved and critical. No one is perfect, and a too-perfect character will fall flat. We all have vulnerabilities, our characters should have them too.

Pick their Astrological Sign – I’m not a big believer in horoscopes, but I love to assign my characters an astrological sign. Is your character a creative, quiet Pisces or a playful, risk-taking Leo? Years ago, I purchased a book called Your Star Sign Life Coach by Lorna MacKinnon. I use this book to look at each astrological sign’s strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes to help flesh out my characters. This book also breaks down parenting styles and relationship behaviors that help me to think about what kind of parent my character would be, or how they are in a romantic relationship. Always stay true to your character when picking their sign, but use these traits to think about them in a more meaningful way.

Freewrite or Journal – Freewriting is an unstructured way to learn about your main characters. Write journal entries from the perspective of your protagonist. You can keep it simple, reflecting on the character’s day or go deeper. Write a letter from your central character to the antagonist. How does your main character feel about him or her? Did something happen between them in the past that will add to the tension in the present narration of your story?

Write a short story – My last NaNo novel actually began as a short story that evolved into a novel-length work. Thinking about your characters or your story on a smaller scale can be more manageable and less overwhelming before trying to write a whole novel about them. Is one of your minor characters still a bit fuzzy for you? Try writing a short story from their perspective. Think about your main character’s history or backstory. Craft a snapshot of your character with a defining moment that shapes him or her. You may end up with some usable material for your novel!

Find their celebrity likeness – In NaNoWriMo’s past, I have found celebrities who resemble my characters and pin their pictures to a Pinterest board dedicated to my NaNo Novel. Selecting a celebrity lookalike for my characters is fun and it helps me to imagine my characters and more accurately describe their features.

Pink Ballet SlippersTake a walk in their shoes – In college, I took a beginner ballet class to get to know my main character, who was – you guessed it, – a ballet dancer. I could have done all the research in the world about ballet, the structure of the classes, the life of a dancer – but I learned more in that semester than I could have in a year of writing and researching.

Get into the psyche of your character by participating in their hobbies and getting to know the things they enjoy. Take advantage of free or inexpensive classes in your area. Is your character a fantastic cook? Take a cooking class and learn techniques for chopping and sauteing. If participating in a class isn’t an option, ask the instructor if you could simply sit-in on and observe a few classes and explain why – it’s worth a shot.

You can do this on a smaller scale, too. Does your character drink herbal tea? Trying drinking a steaming mug of tea while writing from their perspective. Get involved in networking groups in your area or follow blogs about topics your character might find of interest.

Like any relationship, the most important factor for me in getting to know my characters is time. I can’t learn everything there is to know about them overnight, or even in a month. But slowly, as I write about them and as I go about my day and they appear in my thoughts, they reveal themselves. This is, by far, what I love most about writing.

What techniques help you get to know your characters?

Book in a Month – Preparing to Write a Novel in 30 days

Writing a novel in thirty days can seem daunting and overwhelming – it is!

I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the past three years. The first year, I lost. The second year, I won. This past year I lost again. If there is a pattern going here, perhaps this will be my year to hit the 50,000 word goal again. Winning NaNoWriMo is a challenge in  itself, but the real challenge comes afterward, trying to clean up the mess of those frantically written words to make them into a workable novel.November - NaNoWriMo

There are different methods for writing a novel in only a month. Some people are “pantsers” just flying by the seat of their pants, while others are “plotters” planning their NaNo Novel ahead of time.

I typically take a combination method –  I plan as much as I can prior to November,  then go with the flow once I hit a road block or reach the end of my outline.

I don’t want to spend a month writing gibberish, just so I can say I wrote 50,000 words. I’d rather take some time to prepare, with the hopes of turning out something I can work with in the weeks and months that follow NaNoWriMo.

With November 1st approaching and many people participating in the 30 day challenge to write a 50,000 word novel, I thought I’d spend offer a few methods for preparing to write your novel in a month:

Get a Notebook – When I’m working on a novel, I like to keep a notebook where I can write down all my notes and ideas related to that story. This keep me organized so that everything is in one place. I try to keep it with me so that if inspiration strikes, I can scribble down that line of dialogue before it escapes me. These are a few things I keep in my notebook:

  • Outlines
  • Backstory and notes
  • Location and setting details
  • Scene ideas
  • Characters sketches and details
  • Timelines  tracking dates of important events

Find the time of day that works best for you to write. We all have a time of the day we are most productive. For me, it is in the morning but I have found ways to make writing at night work for me too. During NaNoWriMo, finding even ten or fifteen minutes to write can make all the difference in meeting my daily goals.

Get into the habit of Daily Writing (if you aren’t already) Once you have found a place in your schedule where you do your best work, make that your time to write everyday. You can actually train your brain to get creative at a certain time. Get your brain in the habit before November 1st so you can reach those word count goals.

Research – Do your research before you begin writing your novel so that you don’t waste any valuable writing time doing research. Don’t fixate too much on accuracy at this point, you can flesh out details and make corrections later. If you’re writing a book in a month, you don’t have time to waste on the small stuff. Get the big picture for now, and jot down areas that you will need to do more research on later.

Write the jacket copy – We’ve all imagine our book in print and on the shelves. If your novel got published, what would the jacket copy say? This is a fun way to not only get excited about your story, but also to summarize your story and demonstrate who the story is about, what the main problem is, and where the story is headed. If you’ve got these main ideas in place, you’re in good shape to start writing. If this seems too overwhelming at the beginning, start by writing a one sentence summary.

Map out your story idea and summarize the essential scenes – Right now, you’ve got an idea. In order to write a novel, you have to have at least a general idea of where the story is going. Start brainstorming about what might happen to your main character. Write just a single sentence describing ten key scenes that will drive the story forward.

I do believe writing a book in a month is possible with a bit of preparation. It’s all about getting your ideas and the words onto the page in that first thirty days, then spending the next thirty (or sixty or ninety days) rewriting, editing and writing some more.

How do you prepare to write a book in a month?

I’ll be sharing my progress throughout November! Subscribe to my blog for NaNo updates and follow me on Twitter @JenniferK220 for helpful hints and inspiring quotes in 140 characters or less!