NaNoWriMo Survival: Week One

Here’s the little tricks I’ve either learned or put to good effect this week; I’m posting them as advice to myself, because I am dense enough to have to learn these things over and over.

  1. Start small – a half hour on and five to ten minutes off is a great way to get started, and yeah, even a half hour’s worth of words adds up!
  2. Allow yourself to write whatever, including your current frustrations. Likely doing so will help you through a problem, or at least warm up your writing muscles.
  3. Periodically keeping track of words/time spent is a great way to give yourself a pat on the back and keep you going, but don’t get obsessed with it. Writing comes first.
  4. After you hit word goal, do something else besides writing.
  5. Write in small increments. I know I kind of said this already on #1, but this is a BIG DEAL. Writing in 4 half-hour sessions may be more effective than trying to block out 2 hours of uninterrupted time.


As a writing tutor, I run into this a lot with students. They often feel like they are bad writers, and they obsess with fixing their first draft. Can I share with you a piece of writing wisdom that may transform your life? Do you think you can handle it?

First Drafts are not for fixing, but for rewriting entirely.

Now that I’ve given you the scary part, let me soften it. The second draft is MUCH easier. It’s soooo much easier. The thing is, you already know what you want to say, and now you’re saying it better.

Once you’re able to get past the scariness of “more work”, you may find this fact to be liberating. You mean you don’t have to get it all perfectly the first time? No. Far from it. Stephen King includes an exerpt from his short story 1408 in On Writing. Pick it up in the bookstore and look at it. It’s amazing to see how much this seasoned, professional writer transforms his drafts.

Credit yourself for ANY WORK DONE. This means those pre-writing sessions, or the rants about your frustrations. All work done sitting down, in the word processor. (Sorry, Facebook and other internet distractions don’t count as work, but with a timer they can serve as a great breather! Use your phone or ipod to keep your internet time-wasting under strict control.) This is why I like to keep track of my hours spent writing as well as the words; because those hours are work, even if they were less productive than some. We get paid at our office jobs by the hour, although only an average of 30% of our work day is actually spent on productive work. The rest is pre-work, organization, and activities that help us recharge.

During NaNoWriMo, it will not be to your advantage to make sure that you keep your manuscript orderly and neat. It won’t help you to keep rants out of the manuscript. What will help you is anything that keeps you writing, keeps your hope up, and keeps you sane. Get to it. If you are writing, you’re a writer. That’s what NaNoWriMo is all about.

Good luck on Week 2!


YA Books You Should Be Reading

At Worldcon one of my favorite Panels was titled, “Beyond Harry Potter: What other Young Adult Fiction Everyone – Adults Included – Should Be Reading.” The panelists were Ellen Asher, Susan Chang, Laura Frankos, Dan Wells, and Andrew Wheeler. I took down a 90% accurate list of the suggestions of the panelists, as well as some of the suggestions from the audience.

Many of us graduated with Harry Potter with the desire for more fiction like it. We wanted stories that read quickly, that had fun, and were character and story-based. While YA books have certainly existed for a while, the recent explosion of the genre as we know it in the bookstores was almost a direct result of the Harry Potter books.

If, like me, you fit in this category of readers… feast upon this list:

  • Everything by Lloyd Alexander
  • T.H. White’s Arthurian Novels (Sword in the Stone, etc)
  • The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
  • William Sleator’s science fiction novels.
  • Daniel Pinkwater (many books, including one titled “Young Adult Novel”)
  • Robert A. Heinlein’s Juvenile Novels
  • Andre Alice Norton’s Novels
  • The Foundation Novels by Isaac Asimov
  • Edward Eager’s Novels
  • Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Fields
  • Fred Saberhagen’s Novels
  • John Carter of Mars Books
  • Neil Gaiman (including Stardust, the Graveyard Book, etc)
  • Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Series
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Brandon Mull (Including Fablehaven and The Beyonders)
  • Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke (translated from German)
  • Joe Walton’s “Among Others”
  • Tamora Pierce
  • Garth Nix
  • Justine Larbalestier’s “Liar”and “How to Ditch Your Fairy”
  • Diane Duane’s Young Wizards Series
  • Patricia Wrede’s “Enchanted Forest”
  • Adam Rex’s “The True Meaning of Smekday”
  • Mary Brown’s “The Unexpected Dragons”
  • Robison Wells “Variant” (coming out in Sept.)
  • Cory Doctorow “Little Brother” and “For the Win”, among others.
  • Gary Paulsen “Hatchet” and others.
  • Robert C. O’Brien “Z is for Zachariah”
  • Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall Trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums)
  • Shannon Hale “Princess Academy” and “Rapunzel’s Revenge”
  • Norton Juster “The Phantom Tollbooth”
  • Scott Westerfeld “Leviathan” (Steampunk Series), “Uglies” (Future Dystopia Series), and more.
  • Steven Gould “Jumper”

As an additional source, check out YALSA, which has lists of Young Adult Books such as the Teen Top 10, Popular Paperbacks, and Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers.

WorldCon Ho!

This week, Ian and I are paying a visit to RENOvation. It’s Worldcon, a very large fan convention that hosts many authors, editors, agents, artists, costume makers, game designers, cartoonists, and much more. To give you an idea of what to expect, George R. R. Martin, Dr. Demento, and Brandon Sanderson are here, to name a very few.

This is the first time we’ve attended something so large, and I’ve got to say I’m a bit nervous. I was able to formulate a kind of itinerary of my own. It goes something like this;

Keep Eyes Open

This also includes “Pen ready” and “camera on”. I might be so busy that I won’t have the time to really internalize everything I take in until later… but I can sure be ready to absorb. Information, good vibe, awesome art; I’m open to Zing of all kinds.

Turn Smile On

Elana Johnson offered me this tidbit of advice; “Put aside all your insecurities and talk to everyone.” That’s pretty much become my creed for this entire event. The most important thing I can do at this con isn’t get inspiration for a story (I’ve got enough of those unwritten!) or sell a book (which isn’t ready yet). No, the best thing I can do is involve myself in the community. To get to know other people that are as serious about this as I am? Heavuuuuuun…

Have a Blast

I don’t know if I can avoid this part, but specifically I mean taking the time to really enjoy every minute. Even during rest moments I can be soaking it up in the dealer’s room, admiring people’s art or visiting the gaming area. Heck, standing around talking will probably be a blast here. I intend to soak it up.

Open Conference Call with David Farland

photo of David Farland
David Farland

Super Author David Farland hosts “Farland’s Authors’ Advisory Conference Calls”. I had the opportunity to attend a few panels with David Farland at this year’s Life, the Universe, and Everything. He has been teaching writers for a long time now, and is full of great advice.

Just a little ethos for you, David Farland used to teach Creative Writing at BYU, and has led many aspiring authors to success. His students include the likes of Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson.

The next call is tonight, March 30, 2011 at 9:00 pm EDT.  According to the website, anyone is free to log in to the call and to bring questions. Check out their website for more details on how to log into the call;

Farland’s Authors’ Advisory Conference Calls


LTUE Schedule

logo for LTUE

Today I’ve got to run a crap-ton of errands in order to get ready for this weekend’s trip to Life, the Universe, and Everything. LTUE is a Science Fiction/Fantasy Convention held at BYU in Provo, UT. It is free for students, and $25.00 for the entire event otherwise. My friend Ian and I have been planning on this for a couple of months now, and I’ve rescheduled school tests and arranged note-takers for other classes in order to make this happen.

In short, this is exciting stuff.

If you are attending, let me know so we can meet up and say hi!

My Schedule;

11:00 am – How to Scare People
Noon – Killer Openings/Believable aliens and Monsters
1:00 pm – Dealing with Deadlines or “Ten Steps to OVernight Success”
2:00pm – “Writing Strong Female Characters”
3:00 – “Contemporary/Urban Fantasy” or “Slush Piles and what not to do…”
4:00 – The Writing Life
5:00 – The art of podcasting
6:00 – Marketing and Publicity
7:00 – Does Your Book have a Soundtrack?
8:00 – Streamlining Your Fiction

9:00 – How to Research…
10:00 – Tracy Hickman Presentation
11:00 – Main Adress by Steve Keele
Noon – Charisma is not a Dump Stat
1:00 – Dialog Tags and Speech Patterns
2:00 – Characters’ morals/theology vs. authors
3:00 – Collaboration or Plotstorming
4:00 – Rewriting to Greatness
5:00 – What you Can and Can’t Do in a YA Novel
6:00 – How to Get and Develop Killer Story Ideas
7:00 – Writing for Comics or Lessons on Story from The Hunger Games
8:00 – Zombies: They’re Still Here!

9:00 – Killer Breakfast w/ Tracy and Laura Hickman
10:00 – Killer Breakfast contd…
11:00 – Main Adress by James Dashner
Noon – Can YA protagonists have families? or Anime/Manga in SFF
1:00 – Writing Excuses
2:00 – Writing Excuses
3:00 – Can Your Dreams Pay Your Bills? or Pitching to agents/editors
4:00 – Memorable Villains
5:00 – Borrowing from History
6:00 – Regional Publishers/Hang Out
7:00 – back to Idaho

Tracy Hickman on Writing Excuses (LTUE)

Tracy Hickman: “Writers basically believe that they are never going to be or are already has-beens. The thing I try to tell writers all the time, and I have to remind myself is that we have not yet written our best work. The best is yet to come. It could be that next book, it could be two books away, but it’s in our future because every time we write we improve our craft. Every time we put word to page we improve our craft.

The fact of the matter is the first books you write are not going to be good. They just aren’t, ok? Sorry.That’s just how it is.

The first book I wrote was in fourth grade, I decided that the way that you wrote a book is that you kept writing a little more every day, and when you had enough pages you had a book. So I wrote this book about a destroyer that went to the South Pacific and was attacked by 50 planes and sank – on page 2. I had writer’s block in fourth grade, I didn’t know what to do with it, I mean – the boat sank. The boat was the main character, man!

I tried to fix it, writing on that big chunky paper with those dotted lines so that you didn’t go too far with those little letters – but I couldn’t do it. The point is that your first stuff isn’t going to be as good as the second,  and the second thing you do is never going to be good as the third. You make rag shoes to begin with, and the second thing is going to be better. You just have to keep going.”

Guest Starring on Writing Excuses at Life, the Universe, and Everything. (Season 2 Episode 24)

What I learned at NaNoWriMo

I know. I’ve already written one blog about Writer’s Block and another about how to use a Simple Outline, but now NaNoWriMo is officially done and over.

The official status of my manuscript is 37,796 words. In the “official” standards of NaNoWriMo, I didn’t “Win”. You win by finishing 50,000 words in one month. However, I moved twice in this time, and honestly I think I did a damn good job. I practiced writing daily – some days I pounded up to 5,000 words out in one day, other times I was lucky to write more than two sentences. But the daily goal was 1,700, and for the most part – I met that. I built up a whole new experience, having hurdled the largest chunk of writing on one project that I’ve done so far (The largest before now was a 10,000 word short-story for a World of Warcraft Submission).

The best part is, I don’t have to stop. My goal is to finish the novel this December. I’m at the halfway point of the story, which means my complete manuscript will probably be upwards of about 80,000 words. That’s about the size of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for reference. I’m the “Eternal Revision” type of writer. Brandon Sanderson, who also teaches Creative Writing classes at BYU, said it seems that there is two types of writers that don’t publish anything; the one-drafter and the eternal rewrite. The one-drafter writes straight through to the finish, looks at the book and says, “This sucks” and continues on to another one. I’m the other one – the one who writes chapters 1-3 over and over again, getting them perfect.

That’s why NaNoWriMo. I finally got to chapter 11. Chapter 11! I know I’ll end up revising later, but I needed to focus on that rough draft. No editing until the ending is written.

Here’s what I’ve learned about my own writing process, this November;

  1. Leave the house. JK Rowling often talked about how she writes at a coffee shop, even after becoming wildly successful. I can now see why – Home is a place for me to kick up my feet and relax, and watch Mythbusters, and read books, but not work (unless cooking or cleaning). While I have succeeded at writing some of my 1,700 word per day at home, for the most part I couldn’t focus. I went to a coffee shop, bookstore, library, or study hall instead.
  2. Put my phone away. Sometimes I want to talk about something else and avoid writing, and sometimes I want to discuss parts of the story I’m struggling on with friendly confidants. Either way, though a good break is good once in awhile, I needed to consciously put the thing away – otherwise I could sit with the Bluetooth in my ear, whittling the hours away and accomplishing nothing.
  3. Shut the internet browser., the Research Doctors -Dr Wikipedia and Dr Google, and Pandora Radio are all good resources for a writer. However, I often begin doing research and end up on Facebook, or checking my email, or even looking at Lolcats or something equally pointless. Now I’ve got an ipod with a Pandora app, a dictionary/thesaurus app, and Wikipedia and google apps. No more internet browser up while writing.
  4. Tell the internal editor to take the day off. When writing a rough draft, I don’t have time to be critical of my names, or almost anything else. Discovery writing brings out some of the more interesting bits, in my opinion, and I can’t get to that point with my editor self watching over my shoulder. Sometimes I find that Editor Sam and Dumb Sam are the only ones that showed up to work today, and I don’t have Business Sam driving Artist Sam to get things done. In that situation, Editor Sam needs to go home – there’s nothing for him to do. And Dumb Sam, he just continues with the next step, doing what he can in case Artist Sam decides to show up late.
  5. Read myself into my writing. Read what I’d written the day before, making small corrections in spelling and grammar, and filling in names where I wrote *thebartender*. By the time I get to where I left off, I’m often set to keep going. This only works if you’re making “small” corrections – major plotpoints, things that may get cut later, characters and points that need to come in earlier – those can wait for revision.
  6. Skip to another scene when I get stuck, and connect them later. As a good example, with one of my recent short-stories I knew I wanted the ending to involve a character using his music to “heal” his comatose wife. I knew I wanted the scene to be very emotional, but I didn’t know what to write leading up to that point. Instead of trying, I skipped forward and wrote the ending. Then, I went backward and wrote what led up to this scene, making sure to try my best to make my characters familiar to the reader, in order to make that ending powerful. I don’t know if I did it well, but I do know that I finished that short-story even though I had been very stuck at one point. And that’s the important part right now.
  7. Learn to “Ask” my characters things, instead of trying to fabricate storyline from thin air. Whether the characters are complete or incomplete, if they have even the tiniest amount of voice in my head, I’ve learned it’s so much easier to come up with answers when I consult them. What would you do here? Are you likely to be rash, or thoughtful? Does this kind of thing make sense in your world? I guess it’s weird to admit here, on public internet, that I’ve just learned that I write better stories as a total schitzo, but I’m probably not too different from other writers in this. I got the idea, in the first place, from the excellent Ursula K Leguin – and if you haven’t read one of her stories yet, go find “A Wizard of Earthsea” and read it. It’s short, so no worries about getting overwhelmed, but it is, in a word, awesome.
  8. I’ll end up cutting the first chapters anyway. That’s the funny bit about being an eternal re-write; you end up deciding later, the best way to begin the book. As my book continues, and plotlines develop, and I learn to focus in the story on the most important parts… Chapters 1-3 are going to have to be cut. From what I know of other authors, this is normal, but it sure makes me glad that I’m learning to move on from being the “Eternal Re-Write”. Before November I’d never gotten past Chapter 3. Now that I have, they’ll have to be cut – and Chapters 4 and 5 are going to have to be majorly tweaked. But that’s ok, the further I write, the more I’m learning about the structure of a novel-length piece. By the time I’m finished, I’m sure I’ll have learned even more!

This is what I can think of right now. I still need to experience having written the ending, and afterward, the next editing draft of the same book. After this, I may even let some of you read some of it; probably not though. It’ll still be pretty bad at that point, I’m sure. =)