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!


Progress Reports in Excel

I don’t know, there’s something about us Red Personality types… we LOVE progress. I began this tiny side-project toward the beginning of the year, when I first started Demigod Diaries. I was also beginning to write a lot more often for this blog. Between these two blogs and writing for school, I felt like I had very little energy to devote to the novel. I began creating the Excel Spreadsheet as just a way to track my writing progress, a cohesive way for me to see it all at once. This many words on this day toward this project. Simple.

During Writing Bootcamp, I began adding alterations to track my overall word count. I also divided the columns between work done toward the novel and work done toward other writing projects. I wanted to track progress of any kind of writing, so that I could see how much energy I had devoted to the craft. The only thing I write and haven’t been counting is my free-writing sessions when I first get started, which for me is a kind of meditative journaling to music.

Today I realized something wonderful. I created an additional box to keep track of my average words per hour, and found that I have made leaps and bounds of improvement ever since. Boot camp was characterized by hours upon hours of staring at the screen with blood-shot eyes, broken by occasional sprints of up to 2200 words in an hour. I averaged 550 then.

screenshot of my spreadsheet

As you can see, this week has gone significantly better, which I believe is owed to the shorter writing periods. You’ll notice that I haven’t stuck exactly to my writing schedule of 4 hours a day. I’m still striving toward that, but I am delighted in the progress I am making. I am finding that by sitting down to write, even if I only have 15 minutes, I can surprise myself with what I can get done in that time.

I also think that by doing short writing sessions regularly, I am establishing a good balance between writing time and thinking time, so that when I actually sit down to write the words tend to flow a little more easily. I already know what I want to say, partially because I’ve given myself the time to ponder it, and partially because it’s regularly on my mind (which just isn’t the case when I put off writing, waiting for that “day off” where I believe I’ll get a large chunk of writing all done at once).

So yeah. I like my Progress Report. And the fact that each week gets progressively better.

Lesson? Frequency Wins.

The Writing Schedule

picture of a franklin planner
Write it in!

After the Writing Boot-Camp Ian and I held a couple weeks back, I’ve been thinking hard about what kind of schedule will work best to really get productivity out of me. I’ve settled on the idea that two sessions would make me most productive, giving me a chance to get out, get some sun, work my muscles, and ponder what I’ll write the next time I sit down.

I want this schedule to be effective enough to churn out books, and at the same time be doable during a work week. Here it is;

2 hours after breakfast and a morning walk, before starting other aspects of the day (such as school).

2 hours after an evening exercise and dinner, before bed.

The daily word goal is 2000 words, which means 1,000 a session. Thanks to an excel spreadsheet I used to track my progress during bootcamp, I learned that I can still average 645 words on my BAD hours. That means the goal is a good minimum-benchmark if I feel like I need to quit early.

2,000 words a day = about 10 weeks a novel. That’s about 5 novel sessions a year. Granted, some of those sessions might be editing instead of drafting, or outlining the next book, but that’s the kind of progress I want to be able to expect out of myself every year.

So I started today. I slept late, and after breakfast realized I only had 1 hour before Sara came over to run some errands. I sat down, said a prayer before beginning, and followed Stephen King’s advice to “shut the door”. I busted out 1,000 in that hour, easy-peasy, not counting the freewriting session I did for 6 minutes at the beginning to get my typing-fingers going.

So, it’s working. The trick is to make it routine.

Baking Recipe: Success

picture of freshly-baked round loaves

When you have invented a good recipe, you write it down. You write it down because you know it works, and you might need that reminder at a later date. You also write it down because it might serve to benefit other people, or in order to mark little changes you’ve discovered along the way. That’s kind of what this blog is all about.

I love baking as an analogy not only because I worked at Great Harvest for a year and a half, but also because I just love baking. I’ve put together three ingredients to success that have always led me to great things in the past. They are the reason I have never gone more than a week or two without a job, even after the economic downturn – and I believe the same principles will eventually lead to success in other aspects of life.

First Ingredient – Work Hard and Continuously

This may seem obvious, and there’s a reason for that. Every book that was ever published was also rejected. Almost every author who was ever published didn’t publish their first written work. A piano player practices regularly for years to get good enough for professional status. That’s just how life works.

In the job-getting department, this means every day you find some new contacts, and you make at least 5 contacts. Expand your list of job openings and make 5 steps toward getting a job somewhere. That means applying online, dressing nice and walking in to check on an application, scheduling an interview, attending an interview, etc.

In the writing world, this means writing a book. It also means editing it, probably several times.

Second Ingredient – Be Cheerfully Flexible

It really irks me when plans change last second on me. At my very best, I’ll eventually remember to be cheerfully flexible. Changes happen, and you’ve got to be able to adapt to them. Why waste energy on being upset about it?

This means being able to take critique or roll with the punches. Many writers are sensitive arteests, vulnerable and even angry at the idea of an editor “ruining” their work. An already successful editor or agent knows how to take a book and make it ready for the professional world. Chances are, you don’t.

Third Ingredient – Learn to Like People

I love smart people. Literary people make some of the most fun conversationalists; they have something to say about everything, and they are so darn witty. However, it kills me how critical smart people can be. Sometimes, downright cynical and negative. It’s a natural thing, I think; we as humans tend toward our own viewpoint so strongly, we often find ourselves in a perpetual state of dislike toward others.

I was not born with the gift to be a social butterfly, and I don’t claim to be one now. I was born with passion and with honesty, however, and I’ve learned something; if I can genuinely like people, they can tell. A lot of the time, they’ll like me back. It’s actually really cool. The book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was given to me for Christmas one year by my parents. I rolled my eyes when I got it. “Wow, trying to send a subtle message here?” I thought.

It turned out to be one of the most valuable books I have ever read. It isn’t tips and tricks about how to fool people into thinking you’re different. It’s not a book on rhetoric, on using the right words to be influential. It’s not even about formulating good arguements. It’s about liking people. It’s about trying more often to see things from others’ viewpoints.

People can tell if you like people, whether it’s in person or because they’re reading your written work. For me, the trick isn’t to fool people into thinking I’m cool. It’s liking them, first.

Time for Maturity

Every great bread recipe uses an organism, sugars to feed them, salt to control them, and time to let them do their work. You can’t rush great bread. You HAVE to let it mature. Let it rise, beat it back down, and let it rise again. Put it in the oven too soon and you’ll have a brick. Take it out of the oven too soon, and you’ll have a mushy center.

Everything takes time. The trick is finding ways to track progress – mile markers you can recognize. “My first book signing” is a great way to know you’ve made it to a certain point, but “I wrote 500 words today” is a great way to tell that you’re making progress right now.

Writing Boot-Camp

picture of a boot camp logo
Writing Boot Camp

Ian and I are preparing to tackle our respective novel projects once and for all. On his days off this week he’ll be coming up to Rexburg to camp over at my place. Each day at an appointed time, we’ll make our way over to the school, talking encouragement along the way. When we get to the study rooms, we’ll part ways and write till lunch, with a 15-minute break.

After lunch, more writing, going on until 5 pm. After that, another walk home discussing story ideas and working through kinks, and then whatever the heck we want/need to do in order to refresh for the next day; working out, being in the sun, gaming, you name it.

picture of army personnel doing push-ups
Get those muscles moving!

My daily goal is 10,000 words maximum (meaning I can quit early when I get here) and 5,000 words minimum (meaning I must get this many before I quit, even if it is 5). The goal may sound steep, but I don’t want to allow myself to get pleased when I write 3,000 and quit early. I can’t do that when I feel accomplished on the job, so I’m not quitting early at Boot Camp.

This all came about because, with the wedding postponed a little, and school not starting yet, life’s become empty. I fill it with distractions, not the worthless ones like video games and TV, but ones that are worth it; reading, learning, cleaning the house, running errands, cooking healthy meals. It’s not enough though, I don’t feel accomplished.

I always get writer’s block when life gets too slow. I’ve always said, “You’ve got to live life in order to write.” Well, in this case, I’ve got my book almost completely outlined, and it’s time to write in order to be living my life.

If you’d like to join me with your own personal goals, I invite you to keep a tally of your daily word counts in a document or spreadsheet, and to tweet your updates on daily progress. I know I will be!

Generating Story Ideas: List and Twist

picture of twizzlers
These guys really know the List-and-Twist

Side Note: It’s March 3rd, the birthday of the notorious Ian Mayes and Myself! Huzzah!

John Brown, author of “Servant of a Dark God”, gave a presentation at LTUE with Larry Correia. It was entitled “How to Develop Killer Story Ideas”. In fact, if you go to his blog, there is a video recording of the presentation there. I’m the one with the big head and lots of hair, sitting in front of shiny bald guy, and next to guy with black cap. I also hold my arm up for a long time and never get called on (you can see my watch!). =P Not that getting called on mattered. I was just happy to be there.

John Brown talked about how creativity is a human thing. It isn’t single to a particular type of “creative” person. Creativity is what our brains do when we problem-solve. We get our brain to do this by asking questions.

“It’s not all smoking jackets and collie dogs.” (Tracy Hickman)

The next phase in this collaborative Blog-brainstorming session (Blogstorming session?) is what John Brown calls the “List and Twist”.

Prompt: Pick a Villain or Setting idea from the previous Brainstorming sessions and “Twist” it.

You do this by:

  1. Keeping your ‘Zing’ meter on
  2. Asking yourself questions about your choice

Here is the Villains Blogstorm

Here is the Settings Blogstorm

Note: You don’t have to stick with the ideas mentioned in the Blogstorms! This is a prompt, and the Brainstorming sessions are meant to get your brain working in a creative or “problem-solving” direction. If you begin to get new ideas while forming your response, see where it takes you! The prompt is just step one, not the destination.

Example Questions:

Villain: (If you choose this one, you will probably focus on making the villain more well-rounded and discovering him as a character) What is the villain’s motive? (Vague, like “To find true love”) Goal? (Specific: “To steal all the cookies in LA”) How do they use their job to their advantage? What makes this villain different from the typical librarian-psychopath?

Setting: (If you choose this one, you’ll probably focus on narrowing in the setting and discovering a plot, or a main character, within that setting) What would you not expect to see in this setting? Who is hurting most in this kind of a setting?

Looking forward to your responses!

Generating Story Ideas: Brainstorming Poll #2

picture of yosemite stone-setting
This Yosemite stone-setting also could qualify as a "Setting".

What is a good modern setting for our story?

This could be a broad setting or a more narrow, specific setting. We could say “Dairy farms in California”, or “The Office building on the corner of Jones and 4th, Las Vegas, NV.” So long as it answers the question!

Once again, please don’t worry about whether or not your settings are “good” or “great” or even “acceptable”. We’re not grading responses (although comments discussing the favorite ideas are fine!), we’re just brainstorming. Looking forward to your responses!