How I’ll Write My Next Book

NaNoWriMo inspired me on a new way to approach writing a book

How I’ll Write My Next BookI’ve written several books, most of which didn’t have a deadline. Though I would regularly sit down to write and methodically plod through from start to finish, I wasn’t as intentional as I could have been. I would take several months to complete my first draft of these books—and it was arduous.

Last November I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time, where the goal is to write the first draft of a novel in one month. I effectively did this, but it didn’t happen as expected. (Check out my post of my first NaNoWriMo experience).

Going forward I plan to write all my books NaNoWriMo style. I’ll hunker down and crank through the first draft in one month. Here are the benefits of taking this approach.

Increased Focus: Writing a book in one month requires making it a priority. It’s not one of many things to dilute focus; it’s the one thing. This gives a hyper-intensive focus. In fact, I was so into my novel, which took place in May, that I actually thought it was spring in real life; I had to keep reminding myself that summer was not about to happen, but eight months out. That’s intense (or crazy). Regardless I had focus and finished writing that book.

Better Continuity: When writing large chunks of a book every day, it’s much easier to keep everything straight. One chapter easily moves into the next. But had time interrupted my writing it would have also caused me to lose my comprehension of the story arc. This would necessitate re-reading large sections, a too-frequent referring to my notes, and missed opportunities to produce a better read. But because I was able to stay in the writing zone, the words flowed forth with greater ease. Taking fewer days to write a book gets me to the end faster and avoids a mid-book slump. Click To Tweet

Faster Results: For me the difficulty in writing a book isn’t the number of words I need to write, it’s the number of days it takes. When I write a book in one month, there’s no time to bog down in the middle, yet a book that takes several months to complete will always produce a discouraging sag of motivation midway through. Taking fewer days to write a book gets me to the end faster and avoids a mid-book slump.

Sense of Accomplishment: It’s a great feeling to finish the first draft of a book. Writing with NaNoWriMo intention rewards me with that feeling of satisfaction faster. Having that great sense of accomplishment encourages me as a writer and motivates me to produce even more.

Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I plan to write the first draft of my next book in a month. And I won’t even wait until November to start.

Was 2016 Your Best Year Ever or an Epic Fail?

We need a realistic view of our history to plan a reasonable vision for our future

Was 2016 Your Best Year Ever or an Epic Fail?My wife sometimes says I view things as though my glass is only half-full, that I’m pessimistic. I counter that I’m simply being a realist, but the truth is I’m not sure who’s right. Perhaps a bit of reality resides in both perspectives. So it is in viewing my past year as a writer.

As such, I share two perspectives:

Best Year Ever:

  • After years of talk, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time. What a great experience.
  • I wrote two novels, the second one in about three weeks. (I’m still editing them both.)
  • My work as a commercial freelance writer really took off this year, with more clients, more work, and more income—all new records.
  • I grew my Twitter followers from 2,400 to 11,500, surpassing my year-end goal of 10,000. I’m enjoying good connections and engagement there.
  • I took LinkedIn seriously and made 100 posts to a growing audience of 2,300, which more than doubled in 2016.

Epic Fail:

  • I didn’t publish a book this year.
  • I didn’t win any writing contests.
  • I wasn’t published in any anthologies.
  • I didn’t accomplish my number one goal for 2016. (Which is now my number one goal for 2017.)
  • Work/life balance continues to elude me. (It’s even harder to achieve when you work at home.)

I could reasonably adopt either of these two perspectives as my primary view of 2016. While it’s easy to dwell on disappointments, missed goals, and wasted opportunities, a better outlook is to focus on what went great this year. Though I might need to reread this post to remind myself, I can truly say that 2016 was my best year ever, and I look forward to 2017 being even better. Celebrate the mountains and don’t allow yourself to wallow in the valleys. Click To Tweet

As you review 2016, I encourage you to celebrate the mountains and not allow yourself to wallow in the valleys. Though everyone is at a different place as a writer, no one had a flawless year and everyone has something to celebrate. Focus on these things as you move into 2017.

May it be your best year ever.

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What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

The journey of writing a novel in one month has much to teach about being a writer

Can You Write a Book in a Month?Many times in this blog, I’ve talked about NaNoWriMo—the effort to write the first 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. I also announced in October that this was the year I would actually participate. Though I did pursue NaNoWriMo, I almost bailed before I even started, and I would have had I not told you about it.

Here’s what I learned.

Prepare to Write: Though you can’t write prior to November 1, you can plan for your novel. I had an idea bouncing around in my head for several years. I know the characters, the inciting incident, the ending, the story arc, and all the scenes. But in mid-October I realized my tone and vision were wrong, and that I wouldn’t be ready to write come November 1.

On to plan B: write a sequel to my novella, which was on its way to becoming a novel. I already knew the characters and had determined the opening, ending, story arc, and most of the scenes for the second book. The only problem was that I didn’t want to start the sequel until I finished writing the first book. But I couldn’t finish the first book until I received feedback from my developmental editor, which didn’t come soon enough.

Despite many efforts to the contrary, I wasn’t prepared for NaNoWriMo. Strike one.

Schedule Time to Write: I write in the morning. On November 1, I wrote nothing because I had nothing to write. Strike two. On November 2 through 11, I worked on finishing my first book, which was a great feeling of accomplishment, but it didn’t count for NaNoWriMo. I took the twelfth off from fiction writing and started writing my NaNoWriMo book on the thirteenth.

Monday through Saturday I would start writing about 5:30 a.m., with a goal of not stopping until I hit 2,500 words. A few days I worked again in the evening, which I also did on Sundays.

Remove Distractions: I should have scaled back on other activities. I should have stopped reading, cut back on TV, and put my blogs on hold or have written posts a month in advance. I didn’t. Another strike. (If you’re keeping track, I’m allowing myself more than three strikes.)

Be Flexible: I began November flirting with a cold, which took me out of writing mode for a couple of days (another strike), and I had two websites get infected with malware, which took several hours, spread over a week and a half, to fix. (My anti-malware noticed the incursion, but didn’t prevent it. Bummer.) More setbacks and another strike.

Focus on the Goal: If my goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel, which I didn’t start until November 13, than I would have just given up. Instead I set new goals, which was to relish the participation and see how far I could get.

Celebrate the Journey: I enjoyed my writing to finish the first book, which spanned November 2 through 11. And I really enjoyed writing the second book, which started November 13. I liked sitting down to write, the progress invigorated me, and seeing me move closer to the end spurred me on. I had fun!

Rest as Your Reward: When NaNoWriMo is over (and anytime you finish writing a book), you need to rest. For me one or two days are usually enough. But when December 1 rolled around, I couldn’t rest because my book wasn’t quite done. I suspect that will happen around December 5—and I can’t wait.NaNoWriMo was exhausting and exhilarating. I can’t wait to do it again next year Click To Tweet

For the record, I logged 78,600 words in November, which I’m both amazed and shocked at. Of those, 15,700 were to complete my first novel, 12,100 words were for work (yes, I have a day job), 8,300 words were for my blog, and . . . drum roll please . . . I completed 42,500 words on my new novel, which isn’t bad at all for just eighteen days of work. (I’ve continued writing, and it currently stands at 46,400 words with one more scene to write, which should add another 1,000 or so words.)

My low word count day for NaNoWriMo was zero, and I had a couple of them. My high word count day for NaNoWriMo was 3,800 (plus another 1,700 for work, bumping that day’s total word count to 5,500). My writing goal, once I actually started, was 2,500 words a day. Most days I hit it fine and wanted to keep going, but I had to stop for work. A few days were real struggles. I typically wrote at a pace of 500 to 600 words an hour, sometimes a little less and occasionally up to about 1,000.

Over all, the month was exhausting and exhilarating. I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Can You Write a Novel in a Month?

Now is the time to prepare for NaNoWriMo in November

NaNoWriMo: Can You Write a Book in a Month?I’ve written nonfiction all of my adult life and recently began writing fiction for some variety. I started with short story (mostly flash fiction: under 1,000 words) because it was faster to write and easier to experiment. And if it doesn’t work, I haven’t invested too much time. Recently I received some professional feedback on my short stories.

Then I upped the word count and wrote a novella (longer than a short story and shorter than a novel.) When I outlined it – yes, I’m a planner – I expected a word count in the lower 20s. It ended up at 29,000 words. I sent it off to another editor for her professional opinion on the overall content and writing.

Though I say the first draft of my novella is done, I wonder if it is. After sending it off, I had an idea to weave in a second story arc of another character. I’ve outlined her story, too, which will give me another 12,000 to 15,000 words. Now its approaching novel length (at least for YA romance).

I’m doing all of this in preparation to write a novel. Since writers first novels are generally bad, I want to get this out of my system and move on. Besides my story idea isn’t too marketable, so it’s definitely practice.

I plan to write the first draft this November as part of NaNoWriMo, something I’ve wanted to do for the past few years but never had the time. This year will be different – I hope. The idea of NaNoWriMo is to write the first 50,000 words of a novel in one month.The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write the first 50,000 words of a novel in one month. Click To Tweet

When working on my Novella, my low word count day was about 1,000 and my best day was 3,600 (the words really flowed, and I didn’t want to stop). Most days I was in the 1,500 to 2,000 word range, but that was only for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. For NaNoWriMo, I need to keep up that pace seven days a week, which I could definitely do if I didn’t have to work.

The rules of NaNoWriMo allow you to prepare prior to November 1, but you can’t do any actual writing until after midnight October 31. I’ve done my prep work and am itching to start. Though I doubt I will achieve 50,000 words in a month, I do want to participate and see how far I can get.

The one possible roadblock would be if my agent finds a publisher for one of my nonfiction book ideas. Then NaNoWriMo will go on hold for another year, and I’ll spend November writing nonfiction – and I’m okay with that. After all, I’ll still be writing, and that’s what’s important.

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Writers Need to Learn By Doing

Knowledge about writing has value only when we put it into action

Writers Need to Learn By DoingAt the risk of offending all writers who are pursuing or want to pursue an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree in writing, let me share some concerns. Yes, I look at writers with MFA degrees with admiration, even through the eyes of envy. And as a person who has earned the right to hang letters of accomplishment after my name, I understand the heady allure and practical benefits of doing so. Yet I have also wondered if an MFA degree is worth the effort and the cost, both in terms of time and money.

This week in listening to one of the many writing podcasts I follow, the accomplished guest (sorry I forgot your name; I can’t even check because I don’t recall which podcast it was) put things very clearly for me. He (yes, I remember that much) said something to the effect of “Don’t waste your time on an MFA degree, where you will spend years writing one book. You’re better off spending that time writing many books.”

That makes sense, especially given that most authors have to write several novels before they pen one that’s marketable. That’s a big reason why I plan to participate in NaNoWriMo this November to write my first novel. I want to get it out of my system. I need to move it from my head onto the page, inching me closer to authoring a book that is worthy. Of course if my first novel is good I won’t complain, but I’m not expecting that outcome. But by the time I finish the series (two sequels and a prequel) I hope I’m ready.

I’ve been moving toward this for a couple of years: reading fiction, receiving instruction, opening myself to critique, and writing fiction. I started with short stories. Though each of these steps is essential, the final one matters most, the actual implementation. During the practice phase, theory becomes real. When we apply head knowledge, it becomes art.We must practice: most authors write several novels before penning one that’s marketable. Click To Tweet

I often run into wannabe writers who have stuffed their heads with theory but have never bothered to apply it by actually writing. Their ideas mean little and their critiques carry questionable merit because they lack the practical experience that turns education into work that matters.

Yes, learning is critical – and writers who refuse to learn are not really writers at all – but working out that head knowledge as we write is even more critical.

Writers spend their time writing and poseurs spend their time learning.

What It Means To Be a Writer

Writing is about focus and balance and obeying our muse

What It Means To Be a Writer

For the first time (that I recall) I don’t want to write a post for this blog today. It’s not that I don’t want to write at all; it’s that I yearn to work on something else.

This something else is a short story that has turned into a novella (a short novel). It is a YA romance, of all things. Yes, this nonfiction writer is fixated on writing a novella. I’m so into it that I’d rather work on it than do anything else. And since I have many other things that demand my attention today, this is a bit of a problem.

After I focus on this day’s critical tasks, I plan to reward myself with time to write another section. Yet I know one hour of writing will turn into more, one chapter will slide into the next, and each time I promise to write “just one more paragraph” another one will follow. This is the writer’s equivalent to reading a can’t-put-it-down, page-turner.

I call this writerphoria.

As a committed planner who outlines every long work before I type the first word, I’m mostly discovering this story as I write. Yes, I know the final scene (at least I think I do), and I am writing toward it. I also listed story beats that I click through in connect-the-dots fashion to move me closer to the finish line, but as I do my muse keeps giving me more great ideas to insert into the journey.

It’s a heady experience – and also frustrating.

My angst occurs because I’m largely winging this affair. Since I didn’t plan on this being a novella, I didn’t plan the details. I never bothered to explore my characters, to map their motivations, or even determine their last names. I just make it up as I go – and hope it doesn’t contradict something I wrote earlier. And too often it does. I worry that I’m not fixing all the prior scenes to align with the new ones I’m adding. Plus, I must get back to my story before some essential spark slips from memory and disappears forever. I write short stories in preparation to writing a novel. Click To Tweet

This all began with a simple short story, flash fiction (under one thousand words).

I started writing short stories in earnest about two years ago. This was strategic in preparation to write a novel, which I plan to start this November as part of NanNoWriMo. Though the NanNoWriMo rules tell me I can’t start the actual writing until November 1, I can prepare and plan. I know my story arc, I’ve outlined the plot, and I’ve detailed my characters and identified their motivation. I listed my beats and know the theme. I have the title. The opening and ending scenes bounce around in my head.

Though I can’t wait to start my novel in November, I have a novella to finish first – along with living the other parts of life.

Isn’t being a writer grand?

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Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?

Some writers discover as they write while others plan their journey before they start

Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?In writing, as in life, people tend to follow two modes: pantsing and plotting.

On one side are the pantsers, those who write by the seat of their pants. I prefer the label of “discovery writers.” They don’t know where their words will take them. Writing reveals an adventure as they watch their plot unfold, learn about their characters, and sometimes paint themselves into a corner with no way out.

In contrast stand the plotters who map out their writing journey before they write one word. But I don’t like that name because it sounds too much like plodder. I prefer the alternate labels of outliners or planners. These folks know their story arc, strategize the various scenes (or at least chapters), define their characters, and have the end in sight before they type their first word. (NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, allows writers to do this sort of preplanning, though actual writing may not begin before November 1.)

The May/June 2016 issue of Writer’s Digest had some great articles about pantsing versus plotting. And many writing podcasters weigh in on the pantsing versus plotting debate. Writers who like to plan may benefit from the snowflake method; writers who forgo planning, need no instruction. Also see my post “Should You Use an Outline?

While each side of the debate holds firm opinions, neither is the method that will work for everyone. Each writer must determine which style works best for him or herself; there is no one right answer.It’s okay to discover as you write, and it’s okay to plan you writing before you start. Click To Tweet

If you’re unsure which you are, look at how you live life for clues. Do you plan things out or wing it? The answer likely reveals your preferred writing mode. Though you can test out the opposite method, don’t let someone talk you into trying to be what you are not.

My default is to plan in detail, both for life and for writing. (I am, however, more open to detours when I write.) For trips I make lists, verify details, do research, make maps, note addresses and phone numbers, make reservations, pack carefully, and set timetables. Planning calms me; it provides the structure I need to enjoy my vacation. Encountering the unexpected is unpleasant.

Yet within this framework I allow for flexibility to relish the journey and explore as I go. Some of my most enjoyable memories are within those moments of discovery. Yet without my planning I would have never been confronted by those spontaneous, serendipitous delights.

Others are the opposite. They would forgo a vacation if they had to prepare for it as much as I.

So it is with pantsers and plotters. Know which one you are, and learn when you can deviate. This will provide you with the most enjoyable writing experience and the most satisfying results.

Are you a pantser or a plotter? What is your experience when you have tried the opposite approach?

Do You Know What You’re Capable of Accomplishing as a Writer?

For the past ten weeks I’ve been on a writing quest, a grand creative adventure. I needed to write an 85,000-word book and have it done by the end of November. I’m pleased to report that I made it. This stands as one of my most significant accomplishments as a writer (so far).

Do You Know What You’re Capable of Accomplishing as a Writer?Although writing 85,000 words in two and a half months pales next to all the novelists who just finished NaNoWriMo, where they wrote 50,000 words in one month, I want to point out one difference. For NaNoWriMo the goal is to produce a first draft; editing and polishing come later. In my case I needed to have the finished version, one carefully edited and smoothly polished. I am pleased with the results.

As I considered this project back in September, I had two conflicting realizations: If I committed to this opportunity, I would surely wished I hadn’t, but if I passed on it, I would surely regret it. In the end I said “yes,” prompted by a nudge that said “you’ve been preparing for this; you are ready for this challenge.”

I blocked out half my day during the week to work on this project, leaving the rest of the day to do everything else. Starting around 5:30 a.m. and writing to about noon, with periodic breaks to eat, exercise, and shower, I logged about 30 hours a week on the project. I’m glad for what I accomplished, and I’m glad I’m done.

But until I actually did this, I had no idea that I could; I didn’t know what I was capable of accomplishing. So it is with all writers.As writers we can all do more than we think we can. Click To Tweet

Though your writing goals may be bigger than mine or smaller, I encourage you to set a goal that will stretch you, one that will push you harder and cause you to reach for more. It can be anything, and it doesn’t need to be big. It just needs to challenge you in the place you’re at as a writer and move you to the next level.

As writers, we can all do more than we think we can. Let’s reach for it.

What is a big writing accomplishment you’ve had? What stretch goal would you like to set right now? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below

Can You Write a Book in a Month?

Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens each year in November. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel, or the first 50,000 words of a longer novel, in just one month. (Why they picked November, a 30-day month with a long holiday weekend, is beyond me.)Will you participate in #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year? Click To Tweet

The idea intrigues me, but since I’m not a novelist, I’ve never tried it. Some year I will.

Can You Write a Book in a Month?Despite never participating in NaNoWriMo and not being a novelist, I think I understand the allure. As I mentioned last week, I’m on my own writing quest; 85,000 words in ten weeks. Two weeks into it, I’m exhilarated with my writing. I’m sure the same feeling often hits NaNoWriMo writers.

Writing a large number of words every day, without fail or excuse, requires discipline. It means grabbing every moment of my allotted time to write. Distractions are not permitted. Email and social media are off limits. My wife gives me quiet.

It also requires focus. Keeping my eye on the goal, I write with intention. With laser precision I type words to make sentences to form paragraphs for the various sections. Chapters birth with regularity.

My ballooning word count electrifies me. I want to write more. Even when it’s time to go to work, I wish I could keep writing.

It’s also stressful, but a good type of stress, a productive, fulfilling stress.

Though I fully expect my pace to wear thin as my quest continues, knowing the prize waiting for me at the end of the road will spur me on. A finished book looms as my reward.

I suspect the same thing occurs for each NaNoWriMo writer.

What are your experiences with NaNoWriMo? Will you do NaNoWriMo this year? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

May is National Short Story Month (Sorry for the late notice)

Last week I was disappointed when I learned that May is National Short Story Month. Gee, the month was all but over before discovered this. We could have spent the whole month talking about short story, but I missed the opportunity. Maybe next year.

A short story is one category of short-form fiction, generally with a length of 1,000 to 7,000 words. As a person used to writing and editing 1,000 word articles, a 1,000 word short story feels right to me.

Until recently there weren’t many options for writers to publish short stories (or any fiction shorter than a novel, for that matter), but with the advent of e-readers, new opportunities have opened up. With e-readers and self-publishing, the short story has been resuscitated as a viable option for writers.

Short stories can fill many needs for authors:

  • Offer a creative outlet
  • Supply a way to make some extra cash
  • Provide a use for good fiction ideas that aren’t extensive enough to fill a novel-length work
  • Flesh out minor characters from a novel, possibly providing backstory that novel fans will devour
  • Present content for fans to fill the gap between novel releases
  • Fit nicely in a short story anthology
  • Be compiled into your own short story collection, something traditional publishers have avoided but is viable when self-publishing.

I primarily write nonfiction, but I dabble in fiction. While I feel confident in my ability to write nonfiction and to discuss writing in general, when it comes to skills unique to fiction, I feel I have so much to learn. Writing short stories is a great place to start. Let me hone my skills on shorter works before diving into longer ones.

If you write mainly fiction, where do short stories fit in? If you primarily write nonfiction, do short stories offer a diversion or perhaps a creative outlet?