Monday, November 30, 2015

NaNoWriMo Revisions: Be the Tortoise


Today is the last day of November, which means you very well might have finished NaNoWriMo with a successful run of 50,000 or more words to your name. If not, perhaps you're going to use today as part of your homestretch strategy, and by the time your head hits the pillow tonight you'll have all of those words counted and verified, and you'll be the proud owner of a brand new 2015 social media badge to display! Or maybe you didn't reach the goal, which is also okay. If you gave it your best try and still found yourself with a new pile of words that you'll someday be able to mold into a viable manuscript, it can't really be said that you lost.

So what comes next? Designing mock-ups of what the book cover will eventually look like? Prepping your bio and head shot for the dust jacket? Trying to decide which of the agents in that whole level of the publishing realm will be the favored few to be included in your first round of querying?

No, no, no, no a thousand times no. If you're serious about this, all of those things, and really everything else that would go with them, need to be stored up on your dream shelf for the time being. Save them, and revisit them on occasion because dreams are awesome and they can keep you going through the frustrating times, but if you want a legitimate chance at seeing those dreams climb up to the next step, you're just getting started on your work.

So let's say you finished a new draft. The chances are good it probably needs a coat or two of polish before its ready to see the light of day. I know, I know -- it's brilliant, you love it, you're so proud of what you accomplished that you're about to burst. Believe me, I've been there, more than once. The thing is, you've been living and breathing and consumed by that story for thirty days now, and once you give your head a little time to clear and regain your bearings about how normal life works, you'll see there's still a good amount of work to be done. Once your able to approach your work with fresh eyes, it's time to start revising.

I'm not going to give you a long checklist of tips on the best way to meet your revision goals because each writer has a different process, and what works for some of us might be a nightmare of frustration for others. I am, however, going to recommend you follow one big step in the revision process (to be used following NaNoWriMo or really any other time you finish drafting a new manuscript) which I personally think is crucial for making it all work the best for you:


Don't dive in and start revising right after you type out that satisfying "The End" tag. Let your head clear for a few weeks, or months. Give the work a little space to breathe. Taking some time away from it will let you approach it with more necessary objectivity when you return, and allow you to identify both what's working and what isn't. If you can, go ahead and get the draft in front of some critique partners while you're resting up, and really think about whatever feedback they provide.

For me, revising has never been about applying quick bandage-paragraphs to fix the things that don't work. I usually have to do a lot more than that, and when I travel deep into that revision rabbit hole (which is where I've been living for the past month) I put a lot of thought into making sure everything is going in the right direction. I'm not saying my planning is so regimentally mapped out ahead of time that it won't allow for discovery, but I want to make sure the writing has the best possible chance to grow into something better.

Think back to the Tortoise and the Hare. Do you want to be the writer who charges through this critical stage of the process, which can be so beneficial to your work, or do you want to be the one who invests the time it takes to do it right?

Trust me. Be the tortoise. It can make all the difference.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Synopsis /səˈnäpsəs/ (n). the bane of any writer's existence.

I tried NaNoWriMo once.

And I failed.


I started out writing between 1500-2000 words a day, and then somewhere around mid-November my brain became a stew of ideas and twists and new character arcs that sounded a heck of a lot better than the ones I'd started out with.
So since many of you are currently halfway through your own NaNo projects (imagine me applauding you at this point because I am, I promise), I thought I'd pass along what I learned from my month-long stint in a creative hell. 
The Super-Simple Synopsis Strategy Sure To Satisfy Your Storytelling...Stuff.
Don't judge me. Titles have never been my forte. 
Anyway, this strategy is going to be absolutely priceless for those of you who will be querying your newborn manuscript in January (imagine me hugging you and telling you it'll be okay at this point because I am, I promise) and hoping no agent you decide to query asks for a ONE PAGE SYNOPSIS OH MY GOD.
But we all know agents will. They have to. And after this post, you're going to be prepared to write one. All thanks to my TS-SSSSTSYS...S technique. 
It's really quite simple. I use it to teach writers of all ages how to write the world's most simple and complete synopsis. And all you have to remember are five words: somebody, wanted, but, so, then.
That's it! When you fill in the responses to those, you've got a full-blown synopsis that'll easily fit on one page. So let's take a look at each of these words so you'll know just what to include.
  1. Somebody: Tell us who the main character is, where she lives, her age, and anything else that you feel we should know.
  2. Wanted: Tell us your main character's biggest inner desire. What's her biggest external goal?
  3. But: Tell us the obstacle standing in her way of achieving these. There might be more than one or there could be one single challenge. This is going to be the biggest portion of your synopsis because we need to see how your character struggles and fails, struggles and fails, struggles and fails, and nearly gives up.
  4. So: Tell us the method she uses to finally overcome this obstacle.
  5. Then: Tell us the internal and external reward she obtains for solving this problem. 

That's it! As an example, we'll write up a quick (less than one page) synopsis for Bridge to Terabithia. Warning: major spoilers ahead if you haven't read the book.
  1. Somebody: Jess Aarons is a fifth grader at Lark Creek Elementary School. He's been training all summer long on his farm because...
  2. Wanted: he wants to be the fastest runner in the school. He knows if he can do this, he'll earn the respect of his friends, his rivals, and more importantly, the respect of his dad.
  3. But: But when Leslie Burke, Jess' new neighbor and classmate, challenges the boys to a race, she leaves every one of them in her dust...along with Jess' dreams. Second place isn't good enough to brag about. Not to the other boys at school. And not to his dad. When Leslie attempts to befriend Jess, he resists at first. But somewhere along the way, he realizes she's not so bad. And her family is more than ready to welcome him as their new neighbor. Jess and Leslie quickly become friends and together they create Terabithia, an imaginary world in the woods, just across the creek beside the old crab apple tree. The more time they spend building their castle stronghold, the more the other boys tease him about having a girlfriend. And the more time he spends with Leslie, the more his parents worry about him not doing regular "boy things." But Leslie brings out the best in Jess--his creativity, his curiosity, and his willingness to see a world outside of Lark Creek. And Jess inspires Leslie, too. She tells him she's never been to church, so when Easter rolls around, she tags along with his family. Jess worries that her lack of understanding about the Bible will come to haunt her one day, but he quickly forgets about it. Soon after, Ms. Edmunds, Jess' music teacher, invites him to visit an art gallery and Jess accepts the offer. They spend the day exploring the different paintings, talking about imagination, and enjoying their time in the city. But when Jess gets back home, his parents are waiting for him with some devastating news. Leslie is dead. She drowned trying to cross the creek into Terabithia. At first, Jess refuses to believe it. He becomes angry at his family, at himself, even at Leslie. He runs away to the woods, ready to tear down the world he created with Leslie. Jess' father finds him. Jess confesses that Leslie's death is his own fault because he didn't invite her to go to the art gallery with him. And what's even worse, since Leslie never went to church before Easter, he's worried God sent her to hell. 
  4. So: For the first time ever, Jess' dad consoles him. He tells Jess not to worry. That it's not his fault and that God doesn't send little girls to hell. They sit quietly together in the woods remembering Leslie and having their very first honest father-son moment. The next day, Jess finds the strength to revisit Terabithia. He decides to build a bridge across the creek and invite his little sister along.
  5. Then: Together, they will keep the memory of Leslie alive so that Terabithia can live on forever. 
There ya go! Obviously, the synopsis I just wrote can be modified and greatly improved, but it at least gives you the idea of how you can use the somebody, wanted, but, so, then method to at least get your started in the right direction.
But until then, happy writing! You're only halfway through November, so there's plenty of time to finish and worry about that synopsis (imagine me giving you plenty of caffeine and chocolate at this point because I am, I promise. Except for that donut. I'll take that.)

Monday, November 9, 2015

What I Learned from NaNoWriMo (even though it doesn’t work for me)

When I started the manuscript that would be the first one I would ever complete, NaNoWriMo was just around the corner. It seemed like a great opportunity to keep the momentum going on this book I was already excited about. What I didn’t realize until I dove head first in, was that Nano isn’t for everyone. Despite that I did learn some valuable lessons.

You’re not alone
Just because you didn’t finish NaNo, or even if you didn’t start, it doesn’t mean you’re the only person in existence that didn’t. I know it’s hard to be in the writing community in November when everyone is shouting about their word counts, but there are many people who are quiet about the fact that they aren’t making their daily goal or aren’t even participating. It may feel lonely, but you aren’t the only one. I’ll shout from the rooftops right now, I’m not NaNoing!!! So you can join my saying no to NaNo club if you want.

Writing every day doesn’t work for everyone
This was something I learned fairly quickly during NaNo. I simply didn’t have the emotional energy required, or the brain power to sit down and write every single day especially with a full time day job. Now this probably sounds like excuses but in all honesty I needed time to plot, and let ideas stew in my subconscious before things gelled together and I could write more. And not writing everyday doesn’t mean you are a failure, it just means it’s not the right method for you. That said, I did learn the importance of a schedule. When I had time to write scheduled out, I was a lot more effective and got things done.

The importance of momentum
The more frequently you write the more your head is in the game. This is why NaNo can be so effective because your brain is in your story every day. While I determined that writing every day was too much for me, between the fatigue and needing down time, I did notice an increase in ideas and excitement to continue my story even on the days I wasn't writing. So once you find that momentum from whatever schedule works for you, keep it going.

Capitalize on the energy
The energy during NaNo is electric (boogey-woogie-woogie *sorry couldn’t resist*). Everyone is excited about their stories, and running word sprints. Even if you aren’t participating in NaNo, jump in on some word sprints or let the excitement grab you and take you down the path. You may not be writing 50k in a month, but you can still work on your manuscript.

Not reaching 50k in a month doesn’t make you a failure
Did you put words on the page? More than you started with? If the answer is yes and yes, then congrats you won. You added words to the page and that is the most important part of drafting. And even if you didn’t get 50K or finish your book, you did make progress. And now you have momentum and time to finish it. So keep going.

Even if NaNoWrimo doesn’t work for you, I hope you are at least able to find some value from it. Keep moving forward, persevere and finish! You can do it!