25 Things to Do While Your NaNo Novel Rests

You’ve finished your NaNoNovel? Congratulations! Or maybe you got all 50,000 words down, but those don’t include “The End” just yet. That’s still freaking awesome. Or is it that you know you’ll cross that finish line, just not in November of this year? That’s okay too!

If you’re in the last two groups, keep at it! Don’t burn yourself out, of course, but don’t quit just because an arbitrary deadline has passed. If you’re a part of the first group, though, you’re probably wondering, “what do I do now?”

person wearing shirt standing near tree
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DON’T EDIT

Let me say that again: PUT. THE NOVEL. DOWN. Don’t edit it, don’t read it, don’t think about it. Set it aside, covered, where you won’t be tempted to take a peek. I know everything in your being wants to get back to work (or burn it, even – I get that, too), but don’t. This is the resting period. 

Nearly every writer will tell you that after you write something, you need to let it rest before you edit it, and that’s because you need to give room for the fairies to sneak in at night and fix everything that’s wrong wit–I’m just kidding. But once you get some space between you and your writing, it will seem to change. Passages you thought were terrible when you wrote it will actually seem pretty amazing, sections you thought were great will somehow be awful. Problems and plot holes will become more obvious, but also fixable. Let it rest. Trust me. Editing now will only harm what you have.

So what do I do?

Firstly, secure your novel. You might also want to back it up somewhere in a second location – off-site if you’re thorough – and then give some of these activities a try! Some are serious, some are fun, some are both. But all are worth giving a shot to distract you from your novel just waiting for you to finish it.

Things to do:

  1. Plan how long you’ll let your novel rest. Stephen King says to wait at least six weeks before even thinking about it again. Other writers say anywhere from a day to a year. The longer you wait the better it’ll be, up until the point you lose interest in your book.
  2. Update your followers on your NaNoWriMo success! Don’t have followers? Well…
  3. Start working on your social media profiles, stat. I’m not an expert on social media just yet, but I’ll also work on this while I wait on my own NaNoNovel.  
  4. Flavia Young suggests that you plan your editing strategy for when it’s time to start editing. Figure out what your pace will be like, but be realistic: if you think you can only edit a page a day with your schedule or brain power, do that – a page a day for 365 days is better than doing 100 pages all at once and then never touching it again because you burned yourself out.
  5. Be on the lookout for the editing post I’ll put out soon.
  6. Suzannah Freeman suggests that you set new writing goals, and I agree. What are you going to write next? A suggestion I’ve seen before is to write the first draft of one book, set is aside and immediately start a new book. Finish that first draft, and only then start to edit the first one. Alternatively you can try your hand at writing short stories or your own blog about your NaNo experience. Or cats. Whatever – I’m not a cop.
  7. If you want to go the traditional publishing route, I would recommend you start looking into agents and such. Not querying yet, but looking at their reviews and what kinds of books they represent to get an idea of where your novel fits.
  8. For self-publishing, start looking into what you need to do this: editors, book cover designers, beta readers, sensitivity readers, etc. What platform are you going to publish on? Where does your novel fit in that realm?
  9. Keep working on your writing skills: 
    1. Online courses.
    2. YouTube videos.
    3. Practice with short stories and take them to workshops and meetups for critiquing.
    4. Learn new words.
    5. Read read read!
  10. Pick up a new hobby – getting hands on experience with the world can only be good for your writing. I started gardening in the summer, and soon I’ll be building a garden bed to get ready for Spring next year. I’ve also got a few other hobbies lined up for once that’s done, as I imagine this winter will be a long one. 
  11. Finish your research! Anything that you avoided looking up while trying to get your 1667/day is now open season. Go ahead and find the air speed velocity of a coconut-laden swallow, or whatever else you wanted in your story but used a placeholder instead. 
  12. Jo Gatford has a (great) list of things to do after your first draft as well, including some bits that involve your novel, if you can’t stand to completely step away. 
  13. Get back in touch with all the loved ones you alienated during November! If you were smart, you stayed at home during the holidays, but you probably should have called them once or twice. Or showed up to shove food in your face during your Thanksgiving zoom call. I don’t really know how that goes, honestly. Whatever leafs your family’s tree, I guess.
  14. Make up fun phrases, like I just did there. Make sure to write them down so you can shoehorn them into your next project.
  15. Do your laundry. No doubt you skimped on anything you could during this month, and laundry is one we’ve all been slacking on recently anyway. Who cares if your pajama pants smell a tad ripe? We’re in the apocalypse! Well, now is the time you can start thinking about how you appear to others, if only to rebuild your self-confidence after a month of doubt, pain, and disappointment. Or, if you actually got to 50 thousand words, use your excess energy to get cleaned up for all the rounds of bragging you’re going to do.
  16. Catch up on all the video games, TV, and movies you missed out on.
  17. Get some new pajama pants. I’m assuming, if you’re anything like me, you wore a hole in every single pair you own, since no one is wearing real pants nowadays. Spruce up your winter wardrobe with a whole new set of PJs and sweats.
  18. Feed your pets. You…you did have someone take care of that for November, right? Oh dear…well: 
  19. Regain the trust of your feral house animals. Since they were forced to go lord of the flies on your pantry while you pecked away at the keyboard, they no doubt have a little lingering mistrust toward you. Try to earn that back with treats and scritches.
  20. Go for a walk, or at least see the sun. 
  21. Practice your signature! While it’s too early to start to really dream about success, it might take some time to figure out the perfect way to sign your name on your new novel. And lord knows you don’t want to be caught off guard with a weird scribble.
  22. Find some new bloggers to follow.
  23. Eat a damn vegetable. If you’re anything like me, you eat like shit when you’re busy. Here’s your chance to try to off-set an entire month of pizza with a carrot or something.
  24. Journal about your month. Think about what could have gone better, or what ended up working really well. How did this month feel to you? Rushed? Exciting? Painful? Why?
  25. Breathe: you made it! Whether you actually got to 50k or not doesn’t matter. You gave it a shot and made it to the other side. If you’re reading this, it means that you still want to write, and that’s a win in my book. Again, if you didn’t quite get to the finish line yet, that’s okay. I didn’t either! What’s a problem is if you decide to quit altogether.

    Maybe you came to the conclusion that you just don’t like writing as much as you thought, and that’s okay. But if you do like writing, don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t get to a made up goal set by someone you’ve never met. And if you did make it, make sure to take a moment to celebrate how far you’ve come. Which is only part of the way, I hope you know.

    Editing and rewriting (yes, you get to do all of this again!) is a big part of the process and can be daunting. So catch your breath. Enjoy the view. You’ve earned it.

Final NaNo Update and Post-Mortem

exhausted woman with head on keyboard
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Final Update – 11.30.20

Well, folks, it’s finally over. I actually stopped adding my word count to the NaNo site on the 25th, as it is basically all a lie now. Getting rid of a POV knocked a substantial amount off my story and there were some worldbuilding words included as well, so it’s not an accurate count of what I have.

I’m not too concerned with that, though. 

Today was weird, attention span-wise until I got something to eat. My brain just could not sit still. “Oh, a cat! I’m cold. Now I’m too hot. Now hungr–CATS CATS CATS.” But sipping on some Soylent calmed everything down and I managed to bang out a little over a thousand words. I’m almost to the end of the outline I started, so there’s going to be a lot of discovery writing after that. I still have my major landmarks to get to, and I was already allowing myself to change or add scenes however I felt like it, so it won’t be too different. I just feel a little nervous again now that I’ll be flying mostly blind once I get there. Will I freeze? Will I hate everything? Will I fuck it all up? We’ll see!

Soon this blog will return to it’s regularly scheduled programming. Which is starting to feel a little disingenuous. I don’t know. I feel like I should write something other than writing tips for noobs, but I have no idea what that would be. Hence the Tuesday posts where I kinda just babble on about whatever. I have a feeling it’s going to turn into something like Chuck Wendig’s blog, which is essentially just a diary, except he’s actually a famous author and so people actually care what he thinks about things? 

I don’t know, maybe that’s just my self-consciousness peeking through again. That’s fine, I’ll figure something out. Or I won’t and I’ll just quietly sneak away and try to finish a couple of books first. 

*shrugs*

NaNoWriMo Post Mortem

This year was quite the learning experience for me. The first year that I won, I didn’t really learn too much as I was far too busy writing down a ridiculous amount of words for a story I already knew inside and out. I knew it inside and out because I had been continuously imagining it in my daydreams for months before then. All of the other years, I started with an idea I knew quite a bit about, but ran out of time or energy or “give-a-fuck-ness” for any of it, and so not much learning happened there, either.

This year, however, I had a lot of pressure to get this story written and win NaNo. Plus I wasn’t sure how I wanted to actually tell this story and I didn’t know the characters as well. I’m not quite sure what made this so different as far as understanding the people, places, and things, but it did end up making me think really hard about what I was doing and why. I was also determined to not leave behind a mess like I did in 2009 when I “won.” 

Honestly, it’s not that bad of a mess, I just never approached it with the right mindset. I was still at the “first draft = final draft” stage in thought, so every time I realized I needed to rewrite a chapter or found a poorly written paragraph I felt like a failure. Now that I am older and wiser (ha!), I realize that writing is rewriting, so I’m not as afraid of the big bad scary first draft.

Anyhow, my point is that I didn’t want to write another pile of garbage for me to sort through later. I wanted it to be legible and organized at least a little, so that I can tear it a part and rewrite it anyway. 

My general process during NaNo this year:

  1. Come up with the general idea for the novel.
  2. Gather materials that will assist with designing the world/afterlife/nature of existence (relevant, I swear!).
  3. Read many of the materials, skim through some that weren’t as useful as I’d hoped, discard the rest.
  4. Plan to do write ups for different things that I learned because it’s all so neat.
  5. Don’t.
  6. Try to write up character sheets for each character.
  7. Try to write up information on each location that is planned in the story.
  8. Try to write up a detailed outline in stages, starting with basic “beginning, middle, end” and then expanding each of these sections until a complete understand is reached for each character in each scene so that all that needs to happen during NaNo is writing the prose.
  9. Don’t manage to do any of these things.
  10. Try to do worldbuilding, character creation, plotting, and writing every day for 30 days, writing a total of 1,667 each day at least, to end with 50,000 words on November 30th.
  11. Have illnesses, burnout, doubt, imagined stress, and existential crises get in the way.
  12. Say “fuck it” and do whatever the hell I want for the rest of the month, taking breaks on the weekends to keep my sanity.
  13. ???
  14. Profit!

What’s next?

I am going to continue to write this novel until it’s done. This is an official commitment to that. I have no idea how long it’s going to take, but I’ll make sure to get it all the way to beta readers, so that I have experience in doing so. 

What this means is that I will write THE END on this first draft, doing any sort of worldbuilding, etc. as needed along the way. Then I will let it rest. After that, I’ll go through and write a detailed outline of what I have, doing the “scene work” I had planned to do before I started in order to better understand the plot holes I have and any sort of motivations I need to sort out or make obvious. From there, I’ll work out tone, character voice, descriptions, etc. and finally go through and do a proofread – looking for grammatical errors, spelling errors, etc. etc. 

Then I’ll need people to read it! It’s a diverse cast of characters, so I’ll need some sensitivity readers, as well as just regular “is this good?” readers. So I guess if you’re up for that and you like urban fantasy with a touch of horror, hit me up!


How did your NaNoWriMo go? Any better than mine?

NaNoWriMo Week 4: Almost There

Huck is a mood.

This week has been a little different mostly because of the holiday. I figured out a new way to approach my writing (at least for this novel), and had a weird turn off/turn back on troubleshooting moment for my brain. Either way, I’m kinda glad this week is over. Back to the regularly scheduled programming on Monday.

11.23.20

As I said before, I’m taking weekends off. I hoped doing this would give me another crazy boost in creativity today as it had last week, but instead I just stared at what I felt was the worst fucking novel ever attempted to be written.

I haven’t decided yet if this is a valid feeling, or just the “I’m a creator” feeling. Instead of deciding, though, I spent two hours trying to fix it, then gave up and started writing whatever. This gets the story on paper that I can fix, rewrite, or burn to the ground later. My new mantra is just get it done.

The results: surprisingly good. I came up with new scenes that do a better job of foreshadowing than I had originally planned and the timeline makes a little more sense now. There’s still some blank spots in my plot, but I don’t care anymore. As long as I know what’s going to happen at the beginning of the next writing session, that’s all that matters.

I’m planning on sticking to the original major plot points, but going freestyle on everything else. This will allow me to stay loose but on a general pathway to the end. Once I’m done with the whole book, I’ll go back and outline to catch plot holes, map out points of view and foreshadowing better, and to make sure everything makes sense. 

That also allows me to think more in-depth about every single scene without that being a hindrance to me getting words down. I can reassess character motivations and goals for every time they appear. Setting scenes will be easier, too. I can add in sensory details as needed or make sure tension is properly built or dissipated. There are other things I’ll be looking out for, I’m sure, but that’s all I can think of.

Anyhow, after outlining it all, I can then plan my editing much better. Knowing that I need to add a scene in chapter 12 before I’ve rewritten the whole book for tone makes each editorial pass much easier and consistent. I assume. That’s what I hope, anyway.

I’m mostly rambling now. The moral of the story is, I hated my book and the characters and everything ever. Then I said fuck it and kept writing what I was writing anyway, and wrote myself into a better mood. So if you hate your book right now, don’t worry. Just keep going. Don’t delete anything: JUST. KEEP. WRITING. I’ll let you know how tomorrow pans out. 

11.24.20

Today has been a weird day. Just the general feel of the house has been…off. I want to say that this shouldn’t affect me, that I should be able to just put some headphones on and vibe to the sounds of creepy castles or whatever the fuck I’ve decided to zone out on that day, but it does. I’m only human, after all, and it’s really annoying. If I could stop, that’d be great. 

But I can’t. So here I am, with a weird feeling day. I managed to write about 1300 words, and they weren’t half-bad, so that’s good. They even had something to do with the storyline, which is great. But it was like chipping through rocks. Now I’m back to the rest of my day and hopefully the mood of the house improves dramatically. I don’t know. We’ll see.

Tomorrow’s been set up well, though. I’m mid-scene so getting back into the zone should be easy. Hopefully.

11.25.20

I have decided that today until at least Friday I’m going to work half days worldbuilding. I’ll be picking a location or two and going more into depth about the people there, the history, the layout, and the feel. That way when I write about something happening there, I can visualize it a little better. I may not even go back to reference what I’ve written, but the important part is that I’ve taken the time to design it in my head.

Today was the church again and the main character’s home. I’m…kinda becoming obsessed with this church, to be honest.

But, in an hour I managed to get both set up and figured out and ended up writing 1,268 words. Tomorrow I’m planning on working on the bar, and probably another place, too. Maybe one of the ritual sites. We’ll see. It’s been pretty relaxed today, with words just kinda falling out of my fingers. It feels nice describing places. 

11.26.20

I am writing this entry on the 27th because the 26th was just…I was a zombie yesterday, basically. I have some chronic medical issues I won’t go into here and they were flaring up really bad yesterday and have been a little more than usual for some time now. When I’m in pain for long periods of time I start to get really frustrated and depressed and it kinda all piled on at once. So I did almost nothing but read or stare into space all day. Or sleep, I did a lot of sleeping, too. 

11.27.20

Today I feel like a completely new person. There’s still some pain, as usual, but it’s at a more tolerable level, and all the sleep and zoning out really got me back to myself again. Worked on worldbuilding some more so the town really feels like a real place to me now. At least, it’s getting there. I really wish I was much better at drawing than I am now because I have the strongest urge to sketch everything out. The buildings, the town, the characters…it would be so great. That’s okay though, I need some other hobby to take part in when I’m not working now, since my hobby was working. I think it’s going to be drawing. So that…I can…be working…while I’m not working…let’s just ignore that part for now. I like living in alternate universes, okay? Can you really blame me? 

Anyway, the plan for the weekend is to enjoy the weekend, but I can’t really guarantee that this is what’s actually going to happen. I don’t know, we’ll see.

NaNoWriMo Week 3: The Second Half

I have officially decided to take the weekends off after melting my brain the first two weeks, so you’ll only see nano updates for Monday through Friday from here on out. I have far more time to write than most other people doing NaNo, so I don’t think that’s going to be too big of an issue. It’s not actually an issue anyway, as I explained last week that I’m going back to basics with the worldbuilding/planning and not really paying too much attention to word count. Or am I? No, really: am I? God, I don’t know. Someone please tell me what to do!

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Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

11.16.20

I didn’t want to pay attention to word counts the rest of the time, going back to planning my novel and doing more worldbuilding, etc., but I really took off in writing today and met my new par almost on accident. I noticed I was almost there when I was just 300ish words out from it and still had an idea of what to write next, so I figured: hell, why not? 

The biggest differences today (I think, I’ve just been guessing this whole time honestly), is that I:

  1. took the weekend off.
  2. figured out a way to get deeper into the world I haven’t 1,000% fleshed out yet.
  3. realized that I really needed to just chill the fuck out and have fun writing what I wanted to write and that I could fix it into something more publicly presentable later if I really needed to.

I started off today by freewriting about how I used to have so much fun writing, how I could sit down and easily tap out 5,000 or so words in a day for a story and barely feel it and still have somewhere to go the next day, how I think I might have lost my ability to do this…all things I had been thinking about last night before going to bed, as well. 

Existential doubt is kinda my thing, y’all. 

Anyhow, I was being all whiny in text to myself for about 10 minutes when I realized that I just needed to have some fun. Find a spot in the story I can jump off of, something that sounds like it would be interesting to write, get into the flow of it, and stop fucking worrying about if this person or that person are going to like it. So I found a good mood altering playlist and did exactly that.

Do I like what I wrote? Honestly, I don’t know; I haven’t gone back to read it yet. Did I have fun writing it? Hell. Yes. 

I didn’t get to 5k in a day yet, but that’s okay. I’m still trying to catch up to my original mental stamina. Though this may never happen because I was in my 20s and hopped up on energy drinks all the time. Ah well. I’ll take 2351 words in 3.5 hours any day.

11.17.20

Today was another very successful day at 2,466 words in 2:11. Not bad! This does include a break in the middle somewhere, but no big deal. Again, I haven’t really gone back to read what I wrote, but it was fun while I wrote it. I’ve been listening to some tracks on Youtube of spooky, atmospheric music to match the mood of the scenes I’ve written.

Another thing I haven’t done is update the post it notes on my closet door. They all are written as though I have three extra point of view characters (I’m thinking of keeping one of those and adding one more through journal entries, but I’m not sure), so there’s a lot that has changed. The point that I actually started this novel is about halfway through the sticky notes, too, so there’s a lot that getting hinted at as opposed to directly started in narrative. That’s okay though. I’m not really worried about it much. All I can say is I’m surprised I’ve gotten this far and have exceeded my new par two days in a row…

11.18.20

I had to say something. Today I only got a little less than halfway through par. I’m not too worried about it, as I had already decided to not worry about word counts anymore, but it was such a short clip of writing this week…

Basically I just wasn’t able to concentrate much today. I settled for doing some more business-y work and journaling instead. A first draft for a new post on Tuesday is ready, too. It’s a bit different than I’m used to posting. I also watched a lot of videos on writing craft and finished reading a book by an author I’ve never read before. I really, really like Jenna Moresci‘s videos on writing, but only just recently picked up any book of hers. The one I started reading was The Savior’s Champion, the first in a trilogy, and it’s amazing. I don’t personally vibe much with romance stories myself, but there is much more to it than that, and was devoured in a few days. 

Words today were 1090 in about an hour’s worth of writing time. With many breaks in between. I did manage to design a church and a religion today as well. For the novel. Though I really wish this church were real, too. Maybe one day.

11.19.20

Today has been fucking useless. I’m going to try to get something done today, but as far as my novel goes, I’ve only written 304 words. My head is killing me and other things have been going on, so I’m going to try not to be too hard on myself, but damn, son. 

It also hasn’t actually been “useless” as I know where I’m headed in the novel enough to give myself some momentum when I do finally get the will to liv–I mean, write–again. I also made some more decisions about the church and the characters involved in that part of the storyline. We’ll see how it all plays out. I’m excited, but my brain isn’t wanting to form words just yet. Maybe I’ll just keep imagining everything play out and have even more material for later. 

I just hope that tomorrow goes a little better than today.

11.20.20

Today was…I’ll call it “medium productive.” I got a word count higher than 1667, but less than the 2300 or so words I was supposed to get. 1688 is the official count. So not bad for a normal day, terrible if I actually wanted to finish this novel by November 30th. Which I’m not stuck on. It would be cool, but honestly I’d rather make the editing process easier on myself than adhere to an artificial deadline. 

Keeping up with the NaNoWriMo speed is crucial to getting a novel written if you just can’t stop deleting everything or you are stuck in the planning/researching phases. Otherwise, it’s better to write in “better than chicken scratch” quality than the lightning speed writing of NaNo. 

I have found that, while I don’t require this in order to write, I make a lot of headway when I have music that suits the tone of the scenes I’m writing playing as I go. There are a lot of requirements in this area, though. I have a sensitivity to sounds, so it has to be a very smooth, even track that is not too interesting. If it’s too interesting, I start to just listen to the music instead of writing, or I get really annoyed really quickly if it jolts me out of a creative flow too often. 

I think I might post some links to videos that I’ve been using later, introduce you all to my novel characters through song!

This weekend will possibly consist of some planning and some worldbuilding, maybe even some writing if it strikes me, but I will try to abstain for my own sanity. Then again, my spouse is taking all next week off, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to concentrate enough to get writing done. I might need to get as much done over the weekend as I can. We’ll see. That might be a future Charlie problem.


How’s your week going? Anyone finish their first draft yet? Have any exciting stories to share or do you want to tell us what your novel is about? Join the conversation below!

NaNoWriMo Week 2: The Weakening

woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

11.07.20 – 11.09.20

These days have drained me so much. As I mentioned before, I haven’t had to use my brain for more than an hour at a time for months now, and then suddenly I’m in the middle of the biggest writing challenge of the year. It feels simultaneously like my brain is leaking out of my ears and I have completely forgotten how to write a story. 

I have started and stopped and outlined and plotted and replotted this book over and over and over…I can’t seem to like it for much longer than a day or so. I can’t quite figure out what about this I hate so much. 

For Saturday and Sunday I mostly did a lot of scene work: starting with a specific thing I wanted to happen as part of the plot, deciding who was going to be in the scene, what they wanted, how the scene affected them, what they did, and how they were changed. Monday I started back into actual writing, using the scenes to help guide me. This worked really well, and is a technique I think I might start to use for the rest of my writing career – it’s really nice to have the important parts of a scene planned out before you start to write it, it allows you to worry about other aspects of writing without forgetting to have a point behind what it is you’re putting on paper.

I don’t really have a word count for the weekend, honestly. Hopefully I’ll get back to sanity before this week is over.

11.10.20

Today I had a little bit easier time writing some bits and such a hard time writing others it was physically painful. I was thinking I might go back and write more, but I just hate this story so fucking much. 

I think I figured out why though. I’m starting waaaay too early in this plot. I’m including too many people’s points of view.Every chapter should add to the intrigue of the plot: makes you ask questions and then teases you with some answers and eggs you on with more questions. This keeps you reading. You also need some kind of progress – a way for you to measure that your characters aren’t just sitting around with their thumbs up their asses. 

While I kind of had progress happening in my story, there were no questions. Even I, as the author, didn’t give a shit about what my characters were doing and why they were doing it. If there was a question, it got answered almost immediately by another point of view in the next chapter. It was just…so boring. No intrigue, no questions, no nothing. 

I’m going to keep what I’ve written so far, even if it’s only to reference later, and I think I might have a prologue from a different point of view just to get the “inciting incident” thing going, I’m not sure. But I’m going to be readjusting everything in this book to make it less painful to write. It still won’t be perfect – this will be more or less “First Draft Part Two: The Draftening.” There will still be some major things to take care of and lots of subsequent drafts to write, but hopefully I can get this going. I’ve only been able to make myself write up to 3 hours a day on this book because it’s so painful, and my word count has been pretty poor, considering the amount of time I’ve been spending on it. Maybe once I start enjoying the story and the characters again, I can spend far more time on it and write it quicker so I can catch back up to where I should be by now. 

I say “should be” but honestly, wherever I am in this book is where I should be. Writing a book is a very personal process for many different reasons. It is hard, and painful, and gruelling. And that’s okay, it’s worth it.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo and having similar problems, don’t fret. You don’t get booted off Writer Island if you don’t get 50k words by November 30th. You get the prize of continuing to be able to work on your novel. So if you’re behind or you hate your book, or it feels like you have Spaghettios for brains right now, take a breath. It’s okay. You can do this. You have all the time in the world to get it done right.

I’m only…mostly talking to you right now…

11.11.20

This morning I got back into the ring, trading blows and ducking punches until…my novel kicked my ass. Again. I thought I had everything figured out. I knew where I needed to start, I took out the excess point of view, I had questions planned…but it wasn’t enough. I struggled with this until about 2 (with a few breaks in between of course). Finally I just decided that I needed to stop and distance myself from writing for a little while. I quit for today and am going to take a full writing break tomorrow. No writing, no reading, no reading about writing…it’s just going to be video games and baking. Or something, I don’t know. What it is, it’s going to allow the subconscious part of my brain pick at this problem for a bit.

11.12.20

Or not. I woke up to a friend asking me about my novel and as I told them more about it I started to figure out more problems I had and different ways I could fix it. Then I started to get excited all over again. I didn’t do any “real” writing, but I did do some more planning. It was still at a leisurely pace so kind of in the spirit of a break. This weekend I’ll try to not write for a bit. I think I’ll go back to that 5 days a week mindset and give it a try.

11.13.20

Today I have finally made the conscious decision to ignore my “word counts” for NaNoWriMo and just go back to the planning and worldbuilding stages for now. I have seen first hand what happens when you go into a novel writing awful words that don’t really have a place in the universe you are trying to build, and it is complete carnage. If your goal is to just have something to do for 30 days, then that’s perfectly okay. If you really really enjoy going back and chipping away at dried word poo to find the diamonds and rubies underneath, then that’s perfectly okay. But I’m not a fan of throwing away 25,000 words out of 50,000 because they don’t make sense in context, and I plan on polishing up this turd enough to publish, so I really have to go back. 

But what about getting something written and not obsessing over details? When I’m excited about what I’m writing, have a good idea of where I’m going, and I have the time, I can easily write 5,000 words in a day. Now that I write full time, that last requirement is met. I just need to meet the first two (which shouldn’t take too much longer now), and then I’ll be on track to get a novel written in a month. It just might not be the month. Another thing is that I won’t be writing a sentence, deciding it’s not good enough and then deleting and rewriting it 80 times until it’s perfect. I still plan on having multiple drafts. But I want to have my story as close to the original vision as possible before I start on draft number two, otherwise I’ll be spending time with the painful parts instead of the fun ones. 

And who knows? Maybe I’ll finish this book and decide that it really wasn’t worth it. That’s fine – I’ll just change it up next time (but I doubt I will go back to pantsing unless I am writing lit fic, honestly).

October Retro and NaNo Updates

Well folx, if you haven’t seen the news on Twitter, I have quit my software development job and am now working full-time as a writer! This…doesn’t mean much in a “employment” sense at the moment. I’m not published anywhere nor have I made any money yet, but I’m living the dream! 

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

That about sums up the blog, and I guess I can quit now – juuuuuust kidding. Not only do I not count this (it was more of a “I’m literally dying in this job and have to bail and we have the funds to do so” kind of thing), but even after getting published and whatnot I want to still blog about what it’s like. Plus there’s always something to say about ways to improve, and I’ll of course always be improving myself as well.

One thing I’ll say for now is that I haven’t had to think too hard about anything the past 6+ months, so sitting down to do writing-related work that all requires thinking and planning and creativity and organizing was a) so much fun and b) exhausting. I am having to do a lot of mental adjustment, but it is well worth it.

So, how did a week of full-time writing pan out?

Monthly Totals

Total words written: 13,620
Days worked: 17
Average WPD (words per day): 801.2

Last Month’s Goals

  • Prepapalooza articles finished
  • Get myself prepped for NaNoWriMo
  • Finish reading research books for novel

What went well

  • I quit! I no longer work for anyone but myself.
  • On the first, I got my first piece of personalized (and lovely) feedback from a submission I turned in, so definitely cause for celebration
  • I have FINALLY figured out the bigger chunks of my NaNoWriMo story, both the basic plot as well as the progress points I want to happen.
  • Got to take a little vacation from writing since I was going to be starting up full time the last week of the month.
  • More personal notes: My birthday happened (I’m old af) and I started to learn how to be a person at work instead of an anxious ball of nonsense. Not that this is going to matter much now…maybe if I even have/want to go back to working for someone else.

What didn’t go well

  • I started burning out again starting at the beginning of the month. This is actually what prompted me to quit sooner than expected and why I really needed to take that break from writing.
  • Now that I don’t have a “real” job to stress about anymore, I’m just finding all new things to be anxious about (this has since gotten under control, so don’t worry).
  • I didn’t meet the goal of getting everything as planned out for my novel as I wanted, including not having all the research done by the end of October as well. That’s okay though! Plenty of time to learn.

Goals for Next Month

  • Finish NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words at the very least.
  • That’s it. That’s the goal.

This will require me to work in a lot of planning sessions and some extra research occasionally (only when absolutely necessary, mind you!), but that’s basically what I’m focusing on right now. I’ll get more into the business side of working for myself after NaNo is over. 

My plan right now is to get into a groove where I can write a draft of a novel in a month while blocking out the whole world, and then get back into the social media/extra writing game after. I have no idea if I’ll ever be able to do that, or if I’ll want to once I have more experience, but that’s what I envision at the moment.

NaNoWriMo Update

Every day this month, I plan on recording how my day went as far as how many words written, how I’m feeling, how I’m staying motivated…generally anything that comes to mind after getting my minimum daily word count in (or not, we’ll see how it goes!). I’ll probably be brief for each of these entries, for obvious reasons, and then I’ll combine them together for an official update at the end of the week in lieu of a normal blog post. These are the entries for the very first week of NaNoWriMo 2020:

11.01.20

In order to keep myself from burning out, I promised that if I managed to get to write full-time, I would keep my weekends work free. At the very least, keep them writing and editing free if I needed to take care of other aspects of the business I could, hopefully without feeling like I am going to die at the end. This complicated NaNo for me. Today, the beginning of this challenge, is a Sunday, but I really wanted to make sure I got a word count in on the first day (gotta do it for the badge, son!). So I have decided I’m just going to waive this “no weekends” requirement for November, and just concentrate on getting my first draft finished. But how did it actually go?

Being a weekend, there were many different things that needed to be done and time that is set aside for my spouse (yeah I know, even though we’re locked in with each other we still like doing stuff together, go figure). After all was taken care of, I finally sat down to write and…felt like I had done zero prep for this. Every part of my (as of yet unfinished) outline fell flat and seemed so flimsy. I immediately saw all the flaws in my world and the order of events, and this completely took the wind out from me. But I wrote anyway, keeping track of my time spent with Toggl

One word in front of the other, friends. That’s the only way I’ll finish this. And, once it is finished, I’ll be able to figure out what’s wrong with what and fix it. Make it better. Make it awesome. 

Today’s word count: 1679 in 1:41:03. Not bad. Maybe I’ll do better tomorrow.

11.02.20

Today was my first full working day that I had to write for NaNo. There are still some other work items I need to take care of (such as the retrospective post and getting my homework worked on for class), but for the most part I wanted to concentrate on NaNo writing. I feel like it was even more difficult for me to complete today if I’m honest. Something isn’t quite sitting right with this story, and I can’t figure it out just yet. It might be the story or it might be me. Some thought holding me back or something. I’m not sure. 

It doesn’t help that today I was battling a headache of stupid proportions. 

Today’s word count: 1746 in 3:02:53. Not…great. But I’ll get there. 

I think tomorrow I might take some time to dissect what’s going on. Hopefully I can get settled into a groove by the end of the week or so.

11.03.20

Election day. I spent most of my morning writing time being angry at Past Charlie for not planning as well as I wanted to, and getting me stuck in a story that was passing harder than a kidney stone. I liked the general premise of the story, but something about it made it painful to write. I kept grabbing a scene from my piss-poor outline and writing like three sentences to cover everything I planned, and then going to the next scene.

While complaining about this to other writer friends (very important that you make these types of friends, by the way, they are the best), I started to form the question I needed to answer to fix everything. It took some exercise and a shower before I finally got it sorted. 

Fixing it got me super stoked to continue with my story and I ended up getting the word count I wanted before it was time to start obsessively checking election counts.

Today’s word count: 1709 in 1:26:49. Not bad at all! I’m hoping to eventually get to where I know enough of my story and know where I’m going with it enough that I can breeze past the 5k in a day mark. That might take awhile though. We’ll see.

11.04.20

Today, I found another issue with my novel, one completely different from the other. It started with not understanding the nature of the universe I was working in, leading me to do a little worldbuilding before I could continue. Just a little – literally just talking to myself in the shower for a little bit. Then today, I realized I had an issue with the story just not being enough. I worked on this one for quite awhile longer. It led to me fleshing out a B plot that already existed, just in a vague sort of way.

These set backs the past two days have inspired me to write an article in December or January all about how to troubleshoot your writing sessions when they aren’t going how you like them to. Basically if you’re sitting down to write and the words aren’t coming, what can you look for in what you’re feeling or how it’s going in order to know what you need to do to fix it? I have a feeling I’m going to have a lot more sessions like these – it’s the nature of the beast – but having a guide ready to help when my brain starts going numb will benefit me. I hope it will benefit you as well. 

Today I’ve hit a little over the minimum word count for NaNo. I’m going to take a little break from everything and then get into drawing up a better outline. Maybe that will help with tomorrow’s progress. A little work now hopefully will save me a boatload of time later.

Today’s word count: 1765 in 1:52:00. I’ll take it!

11.05.20

After spending each of these days kind of floundering around more than I would like, I decided to get to work on an outline and do some “scene work” today. What this means is I’ll actually sit down and write an outline (in the form of post-it notes on my wall), and then decide what scenes need to happen to make each of the major plot points or specific ideas I want to incorporate happen. I’m going to look at what is the goal I have for the scene, what are the goals of the characters in the scene, are they going to achieve those goals, how do they plan to go about it, and will there be some external thing that happens to disrupt what’s going on.

At least, that was the plan. I am still a bit stuck on the outline. Confidence is waning hard. It would have any way, but now this is my job, so I have extra self-consciousness about it. Which is natural whenever you start a new job, but that doesn’t stop it from sucking. 

Anyway, I have a much bigger chunk actually laid out in front of my eyeballs now, so that’s good. I’ll eventually get to what I need, but it’s going to be painful getting there I think.

Today’s word count: technically none. I made up a bunch of post its to map out points in the plot, though, so work has been done.

11.06.20

My spouse took some PTO today so that we could go hiking. It’s something that we’ve been planning and trying to do for awhile now, and we finally got to. It was great, but now I started working at about 1pm today. Time to try to catch up a bit.

(A few hours later)

That didn’t quite go as planned. I have a lot of doubts about this story and whether or not I’ve got enough of a grip on any part of it to actually tell it. I ended up doing a little more worldbuilding and plot hole plugging, and I’ve got it at enough of a place now that I can get some more scene work done tomorrow.

Today’s word count: 1050. Not great. Not bad. But progress is progress, no doubt about that. I kinda forgot to keep track of time today, but I think it was about 1.5 hours or so.

Today’s update will be included in next week’s updates, as it’s still early yet. Until then, good luck WriMos and have fun!


How has your NaNo been treating you, assuming you’re participating? If not, what ways have you been keeping sane in these crazy times? Any plans or goals you’ve made?

Happy NaNoWriMo Eve!

brown pumpkin halloween decor and gray skull at grass field
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Welcome, writer!

Oh…you…you came here for story ideas? You didn’t listen to us about prepping for NaNoWriMo? Don’t have a clue what you’re going to write tomorrow, either, huh? Oof, you screwed yourself big time, darling. 

What’s that? Oh, yeah I know you wanted to participate. But really, if you didn’t do the prep work, there’s not much I can tell you. Unless…

No, no, it’s too dangerous.

No, I couldn’t possibly tell you. You’ll just end up getting hurt. 

Wow, that desperate to write a book, huh? Alright, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Come closer, friend. Let me tell you how you can get a guaranteed1 bestselling novel idea for NaNoWriMo and beyond.

Muse summoning

There are many different ideas for where muses come from. Don’t listen to them. Muses are the souls of the innocent. Those who passed on before the world corrupted them, stamped out their dreams, or extinguished their light.

Beware that those who make contact with one are forever changed. Some will benefit, of course, making multi-million dollar book deals. Others, however, are overwhelmed by the sheer number of ideas foisted upon them. Others still make contact with something that turns out to not be a muse at all. They are the most unfortunate of all. 

Muses drive even the strongest of souls to the brink of madness. It’s up to you to make it back.

How to prepare

photo of sage beside rose quartz
Good vibes, y’all.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Because of this, I beg of you to take precautions. 

First, clear your mind and the staging area of any negativity. Cleanse the area you will be using as thoroughly as possible. Burning sage or incense is recommended, music is good, too. Do not play Wagner. 

Secondly, but just as important, you must enclose the space you are using with salt. A thick circle of salt, unbroken, keeps any nasty spirits piggybacking on this ritual from getting through. You are opening a gateway into our world, and even the smallest of creatures that slip through can wreak havoc. 

Materials needed

white rabbit plush toy
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

1 small mirror

1 tub of ice cold water

1 humanoid-shaped doll you can throw away – do not use a doll with thumbs

A name for the doll – do not speak it aloud until you’ve activated it

1 CLEAN pin or knife – something to prick your finger to draw blood with2

2 chairs or pillows, one for you and one for the doll

1 candle and a (reliable) lighter

Lots of paper, a pen, and a surface for writing

1 windowless room large enough to hold you, the tub of water, and the two pillows, with enough space so you do not touch the doll

One more chance to turn back

Summoning is a dangerous thing – your intention and confidence must never falter or prepare to suffer grave consequences. If there are any dark entities around that sense your weakness, they may appear instead, posing as your muse. Once begun, this ritual may be ended, but you will still have called something to our side of the Veil, and whatever it is, is free to do as it pleases.

Follow the precautions carefully, say your lines with conviction, and never let your fear show and you should be okay. Good luck.

The Ritual

Burn the incense or sage, take some deep breaths, take a cleansing shower or bath (or at the very least wash your hands with soap), and then do the following at 11:11 pm on Halloween night:

Fill the tub with water if you have not already done so, and place the mirror, reflective side up, into the bottom of the tub.

Bring the candle to where you will be sitting and light it. You will need this for light during the summoning, but will need access to it for two more parts of the ritual.

Set up the pillows so that you have the one near the tub and writing supplies and the doll sits on the one behind you.

Double check yourself. Are you afraid? Tamp that down as much as you can. Do not appear weak.

Time to start

Once you are ready, turn out the artificial light of the room and spread the salt in a thick circle to encompass all of your materials. Make sure it is fully closed and do not cross it once drawn. This protects you while you work. 

Prick or cut your finger to draw blood, and smear it on the forehead of your doll in a horizontal stripe. Think the “Simbaaa” scene from The Lion King, but say nothing. Do not draw any other shape. Place the doll back down onto the pillow, facing away from you or, if it cannot sit up, have it lay with its head pointing toward you, face up to the ceiling.

Do not look at the doll for the rest of the ritual, no matter what you hear behind you.

What to say

Clear your throat, stare into the tub as unblinkingly as possible, and chant:

“Come here little muse, and let’s play a game
All of the others so terribly tame.
To tell them a story’s our Halloween goal,
So come here and whisper, you innocent soul.”

Continue to chant this until you see movement in your peripheral or over your shoulder in the mirror, or you hear movement behind you. Once this happens, stop chanting and say, “Welcome, [the name you picked for the doll].” Get settled with your writing supplies, blow out the candle, and then say, “please begin when you are ready.” 

The spirit will now speak to you. You may not hear actual sound; this is fine. However, if an adult is speaking, you must put down your writing supplies and firmly but politely ask it to leave up to three times.

Absent or Stubborn spirits

If you do not get any indication that someone has joined you after twenty repetitions of the chant, either no one came, or someone is pretending they didn’t. Pick up the candle, break the salt circle, and leave until morning. Destroy the doll in the daylight after dunking it in the water.

If it continues to speak despite your command, light the candle and ask three more times. If it ignores this, break the circle of salt, get up, and leave the building with the candle. Do not look at the doll or return to the building until daylight. Once you return (and you must), light more incense or sage if you like, but dip the doll in the water of the tub you left behind, then destroy the doll in the daylight and throw it away.

The rest of the ritual

opened book near skull
Photo by Joy Marino on Pexels.com

If all goes well, then yes – you will be writing in the dark. Transcribe what this spirit tells you as best as you can, without interruption or asking it to repeat itself. It will not repeat itself.

This ritual will last as long as your muse wants it to, or until sunrise, whichever comes first. If you would like to end it early, know that this will annoy your muse and they will be less likely to show next time. To end the ritual, simply interrupt your muse and say, “Thank you for coming, [name], but I must rest now.” If they do not leave, repeat the steps above for asking an unknown entity to leave.2

Once the ritual is over, disperse the salt. If you were successful and your muse left politely, you may keep the doll for another use. If there were any problems, I recommend you destroy the doll after dunking it in the water for a fresh start. You may only do this ritual once a year.

2Options for certain limitations

If you are unable to speak, you can use sign language (as it is your intent that is read anyway), or write the chant on paper three times and burn it. You may put the burning paper out in the water. To welcome the doll, write the greeting down on spare paper and slide it behind you, careful not to turn toward the doll. To ask the spirit to leave, you can knock on the floor three times for each time you request them to leave.

If you are unable or unwilling to use blood, you may alternatively tie a red ribbon around both your and the doll’s wrist. When you are ready to leave, remove the ribbon from your wrist or cut it off. Do not look at the doll. When disposing of the doll, also destroy the full piece of ribbon you used. 

Did you survive?

Congratulations! 

Did you get a story? Even better!

If you didn’t get a story dictated by your muse, hopefully doing something so unusual knocked some neat ideas loose for you. At the very least this gave you something fun to do instead of panicking about NaNoWriMo. Seriously, it’s just a fun way to motivate you to write a novel, not a make-or-break competition to the death or anything. Relax, have fun, eat some snacks, and get to writing!

Happy Halloween, folx ~*

1Because people are ridiculous: 

This ritual is for entertainment purposes only. In deciding to follow any or all of these steps, you absolve me of all responsibility for any injury or difficulty or literally any consequence including but not limited to: surprise hemophilia, infections, destruction of property, mental illness, panic attacks, arson (accidental or intentional), trespassing charges, demonic possession, muse integration, death, dismemberment, spoopy skeleton syndrome, night terrors, cold sweats, or one heck of a sweet novel written in 30 days and nights culminating in worldwide fame and massive fortune. 

The Mishmash of Techniques I’m Using to Plot my NaNoNovel

emotional woman with sprinkles on tongue
This was an available stock photo, so now you have to look at it.
Photo by Cleyton Ewerton on Pexels.com

Plot is one of the hardest parts about writing a book (for me at least). You might have a great character and an awesome world, but it’s going to be really hard to sell if they read all day. 

Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere from 2 to 21 different plots (from “happy or sad ending” to “man vs. man,” “man vs. self,” and so on).  This means a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done for you, with regard to overall structure of plot. This doesn’t mean you have an excuse to plagiarize, but at least you can easily look up simple things like pacing and progress. 

Along with plotting a novel, there’s the idea of outlining it. Some people balk at this idea, being true “pantsers” – those who go into a novel blind, just a general idea of genre and a character or two and then let them run around doing things. In contrast, you have your “planners” who outline everything down to the very scene. Most of my life, however, I have been a combination of the two: a “planster.” 

How I used to do it

I used to think of a vague backstory for why everyone is where they are and who they are, and then think about something that could happen to them. This usually means writing a chapter or two to get an idea for everything. 

As I write the characters, I would close my eyes and imagine actually being them, and trying to think of how they would react to anything thrown their way. Each character got their chance to react as required, and then their reactions (or proactivity) would trigger something new to happen and so on until I reached the end. 

If I had certain scenes I think of during this process, I might skip ahead to write it in a vacuum, or I’d skip over parts that weren’t as interesting. But this ended with me without a real ending, or, if I had an ending, I had a squishy, terrible middle. Side plots might become important but didn’t actually line up chronologically with the rest of the story without adding a bunch of fluff. When it came time to edit, my story was a mess and none of it would be salvageable without a complete rewrite. 

Enter in the research

In doing research on plotting, I’ve found quite a few great resources I am officially stealing from:

The inside outline from Author Accelerator, is a concept that includes the advice I already applied naturally, but inconsistently. The way you should be able to tell your story is not, “This happens and THEN this happens” – it is “this happens, and BECAUSE of this, that happens.” They have a LOT more information about plotting, and I recommend you check them out. They will occasionally have free webinars available teaching the basics of this process.

Lisa Cron’s Story Genius (as I’m sure some of you are sick of hearing me reference), is all about finding your character’s emotional third rail and making sure everything happening in your story pertains to it – whether that’s helping to resolve it or aggravating it. This helps keep you focused on the plot that truly matters and you don’t accidentally end up with a bunch of stuff happening to people with no reason for any reader to care.

I recently began watching Brandon Sanderson’s BYU lectures on Youtube and in his episodes on plot, he mentions another somewhat intuitive-but-also-entirely-not-at-all concept: progress. What keeps people turning the pages of your novel is being able to track your characters as they make headway into whatever it is they are doing. This might be collecting all the magic artifacts to defeat the evil sorcerer or checking each town to see if the princess is hiding there, or even just obviously having incremental progress in overcoming their fear of other people. It’s anything concrete you can check off a list and see the story is, in fact, going somewhere.

My new, experimental method of plotting

engineer working with laptop at table
Safety first when experimenting!
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Step one: Decide what kind of progress I want my characters to make based off of the goals I gave the characters already.

Step two: Connect that progress with the emotional third rail of my characters/story.

Step three: Write down the barest of outlines. The beginning, each progress step, a climax somewhere, and the end.

Step four: Start connecting those bits of progress with scenes that happen with the idea of “because this happens, this happens” as with the inside outline concept.

Step five: Repeat step four until I have every progress point, the beginning, and the end connected.

Step six: Begin to outline all the chapters and scenes and figure out exactly what will be told by whom (since I currently have two points of view to deal with).

So far…

…this is working pretty okay. I fell back to outlining the first chapter or so to get an idea of where it’s starting and to build a sort of momentum. It’s also difficult to jump so far ahead in determining when and where the progress points will happen. I have this fear that by the time I get to where one was supposed to be, the story will be dramatically different and it won’t make sense where/how I put it. 

But that’s the beauty of the frist draft: I can change anything I want in any way I want. If I really get going with writing the scenes and realize it’s not working, I am allowed to completely abandon the prep work I did and see where it goes.

My goal is to finish the damn book. I have left far too many novels unfinished in my time, and I have vowed never to do it again. In fact, the plan is to finish this one and then go back to the others, even if I need to gut them entirely. Wish me luck!


How about you? What have you been plotting? How have you been plotting? How’s it going for you?

The Tip of the Worldbuilding Iceberg

iceberg
Photo by Jean-Christophe André on Pexels.com

There is so much to write on this topic, but today I’m going to cover what you need to get started for NaNoWriMo. I also won’t be talking too much about my novel’s world, as discovery is a part of the story I’m writing. This post is more the process I’m using to do worldbuilding.

What is worldbuilding?

Worldbuilding is exactly what it sounds like: you are building the world your characters live in. This can be as simple as “the same town and neighborhood as I live in” or as complex as “I have created an entire universe and multiple languages from scratch.” Neither is better than the other, so long as it fits the story you’re trying to tell. 

A (terrible) example of why you should worldbuild first

person in yellow coveralls spraying plant
Those ninjas can hide anywhere.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Rafael finally got to the last stair in the building, huffing as he stumbled onto the office floor. The windows opened to the massive cityscape, awakening for the day. He only had a moment to appreciate it before a shuriken whooshed by his ear, implanting itself into the wall. 

“Great,” he muttered. 

He ducked under the nearest desk and managed to get a clear view of the stairwell. Ninjas poured in from the floors both above and below, but he knew just what to do. Out of his pocket he pulled a spray bottle labeled NINJA REPELLANT and sprayed every one of those pajama’d assholes until they ran back up the stairs. All except one who was immune. Rafael had to take out his gun and shoot this one in the face. 

“My hero!” cried the prince. He stood and embraced Rafael, covering him in flop sweat. 

“Let’s get out of here. I’ll buy you a beer.” They then opened the door to the street on their left and shared a horse to the honky tonk down the old dusty road, stars settling upon the prairie. 

Wat

This story is a mess. Ignoring the brilliant writing (I’m just trying to prove a point, okay?), it can’t seem to decide on a location, time period, or even the make up of the building. Let’s break this down a bit, just in case you missed it due to my amazing storytelling: 

  • The very first sentence suggested Rafael had reached the top floor of the building (“the last stair”). However, once the ninjas started pouring in, they were coming from “the floors both above and below,” and at the end the ninjas “ran back up the stairs.” Then Rafael and the prince opened the door “to their left” and stepped out onto the ground.
  • The description of the view out of the windows suggests it is early morning in a city (“massive cityscape, just beginning to wake for the day”), but this quick encounter ends with them riding away on a horse and “stars settling upon the prairie.” 
  • The weapons used (specifically the ninja repellant) didn’t have consistent rules, working when it was convenient, not working when it was dramatic. 
  • Finally, we have ninjas, a prince, a modern day cityscape/country town, and a guy who carries a gun and rides a horse. What era is this? Why are all of these types of people cobbled together?

Sure, you could come up with all sorts of reasons why the details line up this way, but you won’t have the opportunity to explain it to your readers. Too many inconsistencies makes it a lot harder to suspend disbelief and, unfortunately, this is exactly what you need to do when you’re reading a story involving ninja repellant. 

Why

Proper worldbuilding gives your readers something to stand on: rules, physics, culture. Actions have consequences in a world fleshed out. 

Worldbuilding also allows your reader to fully disappear into the world. When I first saw the Cantina scene in A New Hope, I could see a whole world of possibility open up before me. I could imagine myself living and working in Mos Eisley. This not only made the events happening there feel grounded, but it also made me go back for the Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina book that came out afterward.

Finally, if you weren’t yet convinced, worldbuilding can help you if you get stuck. Going through the process of building a world, looking at its history and geography and cultures, can generate a heck of a lot of ideas. If, for example, you know there is a war going on between two factions, why not have your protagonist stumble upon a group of soldiers?

Even if you’re writing a story based off of a real place, it is important to understand things such as how long it takes to get from one part of the city to the other, or the history of different areas, all for the same reasons listed above.

How do you build worlds?

assorted map pieces
So. Many. Maps.
Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

To reiterate, there are so many books and blogs and videos covering how to create a world, and there is no way I can cover everything in one blog post. Because of this, I am going to cover just the very tip of the process I’m using for NaNoWriMo. So how am I building this world.

Imagine your world. Your real one. IRL. Meatspace. Let’s start with the simple things: what’s the name of the planet? The name of the country and the state or province you live in? Go farther down: city, county/parish, the part of town, your neighborhood, your building. Now think about places you go: restaurants, friends’ houses, work.

This is a lot of very important information, but all this does is create a map. 

Think about why things are the way they are – maybe read up on your city’s history. Was it started by merchants trying to scrape by on a popular trade route? Was it founded by a religious group looking for freedom or a promised land? The farther back you go in history, the more it sounds like a story anyway, but you’ll also learn credible ways to establish places in your fictional world. This is important, because it sets a sort of foundation for how and why your city was set up. Is it mostly markets or museums? Are there a lot of hospitals in your area? Did the city form organically, with winding streets that make little sense today or was it meticulously planned and set in squares? Is there a distinct divide in your town? Why? What’s the dividing factor?

Systems

Now think of all the systems you encounter: governments (federal and local), employers, HOAs, public transit. How and why  were they established? How do you interact with those systems and how do those systems interact with each other? Do they at all? Do they conflict? If they do, who wins out and why? How does this affect the way your world runs? How does this affect supply runs and emergency services and utilities like running/potable water or electricity? Could this be easily exploited or is it solid and secure? How does this affect the people’s attitude about where they live and who governs them?

Culture

This isn’t always just “‘MURICA” (or whatever other places exist out there*). There is a subtlety to everything. Such as: who do you consider your “superiors” and “subordinates?” Who does the culture you’re a part of consider your “superiors” and “subordinates?” Are these the same? Why or why not? What about your neighboring cultures? Are there any other cultures around you or are you in a bit of a culture bubble? Why? How does this affect the cooperation and attitudes between people in your area?

*I kid, I kid, I’m sure there are…a couple of other countries besides us…right?

Other questions to think about: Who do you live with and why? Why do you live in the place you do? Is it common for others to live in similar situations as you? How common is it for others to travel far from their place of birth where you live? How does this affect attitudes regarding “outsiders?” Do you celebrate holidays? Why? Do you celebrate the same holidays as your neighbors? How common is that answer in the country you live in? Why? What about religions, superstitions, rituals (religious or otherwise – think handshakes or promposals)? 

One more thing to think about when it comes to culture are your characters you’ve already created. Make sure they fit this world, and if not, then there should be the proper consequences. Are they loud and obnoxious, even though they work in a monastery library? Make sure they get hushed and punished appropriately. Are they openly a part of an illegal religion? Maybe they are being hunted down by the law enforcement of that town. Are they hiding their involvement? Maybe they’re just being watched – and you know in either situation they probably aren’t too pleased with authority.

Putting it all together

This is a ridiculously small sampling of the different things you can plan out while worldbuilding. You can also go back as far as you want – even to the beginning of time if that has any kind of bearing on your story or its setting. In my novel I’m having to decide on the nature of the universe and how existence came to be, even though that’s not revealed in this particular novel.

Most of what you write in worldbuilding won’t be used directly, but it will help to shape and color your world to make a story that feels like it actually happened.

I suggest you give this a try for NaNoWriMo. See how much of a difference it makes. The questions here aren’t enough to make an in-depth world, but it is definitely enough to inspire your own questions. Look at your day, your inconveniences, your friends, your activities, keep asking why, and see what kinds of ways you can draw parallels between your actual world and your fictional one.

As this is my favorite part of writing, I will definitely be posting more on this in the future.

Additional Resources

The SFWA has a resource by Patricia C. Wrede for questions to ask yourself while worldbuilding as well: https://www.sfwa.org/2009/08/04/fantasy-worldbuilding-questions/

Avoiding “worldbuilder’s disease” by Michael Schultheiss: https://medium.com/@Michael_Schultheiss/worldbuilding-fiction-avoiding-worldbuilders-disease-a3a30196ae53

Creating Characters: Don’t ask what tree they would be

This tree is obviously the main character in this story.

CW: This post briefly mentions fictional suicide as I talk about backstory for a character I created for my story.

For Prepapalooza so far, we’ve talked about the parts of a story and how to get ideas. Today, let’s get started with creating the heart and soul of your story: your characters.

Who are you?

appetizing bread breakfast close up
My favorite meal is breakfast, in case you decide to write about me.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Write down a list of facts about yourself. Eye color, height, weight, hobbies, your favorite kind of tea, how do you eat your toast, are you a lefty or a righty…now take another look at this information. How well do you think someone could get to you know you based off of this information? Do you think they could judge if they should trust you or not?

Alternatively, write a scene in which you had an argument with a friend. Write about a time your beliefs were changed and what happened to those beliefs. What about a childhood fantasy – your “I wanna be an astronaut when I grow up” story? Can someone make judgements based on those?

We are not a collection of facts. We are our dreams, our beliefs, our desires, and our stories…and the same goes for our characters.

Characters are so much more than their appearance and favorite foods. They are more than if they are messy or organized. These are all superficial traits that can be changed at the drop of a hat with a little bit of description here, a line of dialogue there, and pow – your Mary Sue just went from liking apples to despising them. Don’t get me wrong, you need to know basic facts about your characters as well as things like their daily routine, but you shouldn’t stop there.

So what should I ask them?

After doing research on how other people create their characters, I have managed to combine their thoughts about personality traits, etc. into one succinct list of questions that I’m going to put into practice for this novel. It seems…odd I suppose, but just roll with it. So far it’s been helping immensely.

Who is your character?

I swear this isn’t the only question. That’d be some high-level trolling if it were.

Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius is more about how to construct a story, but it revolves around a character’s “third rail” or the emotional charge throughout the book. She believes that each character starts off with at least one desire and one belief that keeps them from obtaining this desire. This fact is what she builds her stories on, and is actually the reason I put this article before the setting and plot posts. Once you know what your character wants, you can figure out how they go about getting it.

For my NaNo novel, I have two main characters. One of them is named Pers, and they are the one I am going to use as an example of this process. Pers’s father committed suicide when they were young, and they would like nothing more than to learn how to help others dealing with mental illness. They also, however, believe that they cannot deal with emergency situations or would be strong enough to cope with the stresses of providing mental healthcare (or healthcare in general). They generally believe that they are weak and weak-willed, and this holds them back from their dream job.

They have a lot in their history that has sculpted their disposition at the beginning of the novel, mostly dealing with the fallout of that tragic event and the changes that took place in their mother as she went through the grieving process. I won’t outline them all here, but it’s something you can use to start to work on your own characters.

Why is your character?

Most of these questions aren’t exactly grammatically correct, but you’re just going to have to deal with it.

Is your character shy? Outspoken? Quick to anger? Are they messy, a go-getter, a cheat, a liar? Do they tell the truth even when it will hurt themselves or someone else? Knowing the answers to these questions is great, but knowing why these are the answers is even better. 

For everything you arbitrarily assign your character, you should find out why they are like that. And don’t read too much into the word “arbitrarily.” We all will assign traits willy-nilly because that’s what we picked out of a hat or that’s what the plot needs. What makes these assignments meaningful is what we do with them. 

Figure out why your character turned out an angry person, and you can start to build a much deeper backstory for them than just “they are mad all the time.”

Pers, for this example, is the type of person to not stand up for themself. In order to make this a more solid trait, I asked why – why aren’t they more assertive to get their needs met? After looking into their past I decided their mother fostered these feelings. They were already going to be living with their uncle (the other MC) at the beginning of the story because their mother kicked them out. So they had a father that committed suicide and a mother that was the type to abandon them later. This means that they would have attachment issues, making sure they don’t drive anyone away. Attachment issues easily translate into “I would say something but it might make them angry, so I’ll just stay quiet and deal with it.” Knowing reasons for their personality gives me some character development for their mother now, too.

How was your character…?

photo of woman holding flower
How was your character affected by being a flower person?
Photo by Dg fotografo on Pexels.com

Sometimes, you can’t ask “why.” “Why does your character have red hair,” yes, could be explained by saying “it was the postal worker” if their parents both have blonde hair. However, asking “how was your character affected by this” helps in determining what their mindset is at the beginning of the story. This is the backwards version of the previous question. Look at each one of the basic facts about your character – their family size, their socioeconomic status, their race – and really delve into how that affected them growing up and how it affects them now in your story. 

When developing this system, I thought this question was kind of a stretch (hindsight, okay?) but gave it a shot anyway. It actually got me through most of my creation process. I won’t go through every little item here, because there is a lot. Since they study psychology and their are from a family that has a history of poor mental health, they are prone to doing more self-care items: journaling, meditation, etc. but only when it is convenient and doesn’t get in anyone’s way (see lack of assertiveness/attachment issues above).

Both them and their uncle have issues with abandonment, for some overlapping reasons, but their uncle has a tendency to hold everyone at arm’s length. Pers tends to take this personally, and so this makes them feel very self conscious about themself and how much space they take up in the house/their uncle’s list of concerns.

When is your character?

“When” in their life are they? Technically this is a where question, but just go along with it. Are they full matured and at the end of their natural life? Are they fresh-faced and ready to party? Think about this while keeping in mind that your character should have a lot of room to grow. The exception is if they are a static character like Sherlock Holmes in the original series. Another consideration is where you want them at the end of the story. What’s the progression you want them to make?

Pers is primed and ready to become a functioning adult, but is too damn afraid to make that leap. There’s lots of room for growth for them: they need to develop the ability to stand up for themselves, they need to get rid of their fear of the unknown, and they need to learn how to trust both themself and others.

What is your character?

This is more about how they fit into the story mechanics. Are they the main character or the antagonist? Are they a love interest anywhere? Are they necessary? Some people create a truckload of characters when they should combine most of them into just a couple of people.

Pers is one of two point of view (POV) characters. This means they are a main character whose story will be told through their eyes. They are very necessary to the plot and are the ones that will provide a lot of context for what’s happening through what they discover in the course of the novel.

Other things to consider

Stereotypes

Stereotypes are traits or entire characters that embody an individual in a specific group. This can be based on race, gender, body type or any number of categories. They are not only offensive, but also make for boring, lazy writing.

There are a lot of resources out there to help you avoid problems when writing diverse characters. A book I’m currently reading and cannot recommend enough is How to Write Black Characters: An Incomplete Guide. Obviously there are far more categories out there, and Salt and Sage Books is developing an entire series. The other one I saw is How to Write Asexual Characters, so it seems like they will be hitting quite the spectrum of diversity.

If you aren’t in a specific group, it doesn’t matter how many books you read or movies you watch, you will still never fully understand what it’s like being a part of that group. That’s okay so long as you try in earnest and make sure you get some sensitivity readers. Not to mention, y’know, actually including all types of people in your social/professional circles…

Side characters

Depending on the world you are creating and the particular scene you’re building, you may need a lot of background characters. I consider background characters more a part of setting/worldbuilding than actual characters. They vaguely represent the world your story takes place in and do not have “speaking roles” unless a snippet is overheard here or there. However, when your main characters interact with an individual, you start to get into side characters.

These are the characters who appear several times throughout the story but only serve a tiny part in the plot. They speak, they have personality, they might even have a home, but they aren’t necessarily as deep as your main characters. Even if you create them to be as deep as your main characters, you won’t be putting all of that on the page.

This is where I quote someone much more experienced than I, Kurt Vonnegut: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

If they have a speaking role of any kind, make sure they have a purpose and a desire. Otherwise it will seem oddly hollow. You don’t have to completely spell it out, but make sure you know what it is. Maybe the clerk really does want to help check your MC’s bags. Maybe the barista would like to be anywhere but in that particular coffee shop. It doesn’t have to be life-altering, just something to make them seem more human instead of a prop for your scene.

Motivation and Stakes

astronomy atmosphere earth exploration
Too big to care.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is another bit of advice from Cron (seriously, you need this book). The idea is to think about not only the “why” of your character, but “why is the why a thing?” You need to keep asking why until you have something super specific so you understand their exact state of mind, and what they feel is at stake in the story. This helps to build empathy. There’s a difference between “they want to save the world because if it blows up there’s no world any more” and “they need to save the world because if they don’t, their abusive step mother would be right about how worthless they are, and they will disappoint their little sister who admires them yet again.” 

I can’t relate to needing to save the world, but I sure as hell know what it’s like to let someone down or prove an asshole right. 

In conclusion

This is NaNoWriMo – you are writing the absolute first draft, a.k.a. a pile of literary poo. Your characters might not be perfect from the start. Hell, your characters might be completely different by the time the month is over, and I don’t mean because they learned lots of life lessons. You will change your mind, get rid of characters, combine characters, add characters, and possibly fall in love with one that doesn’t really fit but you’re going to try to jam them into the plot anyway because you can’t bear to part with them (remember, you can use that character in another story one day so try not to do this last one, yeah?). 

The important part, in this series at least, is to have something – anything – to start with come November 1st. 

What about you? Who are your characters? Do you have any insights from the way you created yours?