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NaNoWriMo, Writing Advice

Writing is for life, not just for November

December is finally here! Some of you have completed NaNoWriMo, some of you didn’t make it, and some didn’t attempt it. Today I want to look at what comes next for novel writers. What do we do with ourselves now that the official Novel Writing Month is over for another year?

 

Option 1: You Won NaNoWriMo!!!

Holy crap, you should be so proud of yourself. You wrote fifty thousand words in a month (or less) . Remember in school when you would get assignments to write 1000 words in six weeks and you’d moan, “That’s impossible!!”? Well, you just did that fifty times over for fun! You beautiful weirdo!

So, what comes next? You have two options here. If you reached 50k and your story isn’t over yet, try to keep rolling with the momentum and get it written. Or, if the story is done (or you’re feeling burned out) stick that masterpiece in a drawer for a few months. Wait for all the mistakes and instances of bad writing to mature and ripen like stinky blue cheese. Distance yourself from your project after you have reached a stopping point, and come back to it with fresh eyes for the first of many rounds of redrafting. I like to leave at least a month between rounds of editing, just so I forget what I’ve written.

Also, it isn’t uncommon for Nano participants to feel a little slumpy when all the hype has died down. But don’t worry, your inspiration will return. Rest, relax, bask in your victory, and try to read and do a couple of writing exercises when you’re feeling up to it.

 

Option 2: You Took Part But Lost NaNoWriMo

I’m in this category. My laptop died a glorious death halfway through. I was disappointed, but I’m not too upset, because I know that I can write any time I want to. And, I have 23,000 words of a new novel that I can continue working on now!

Novel writing doesn’t have to be an activity saved just for November. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter that NaNoWriMo is over. You can keep going. Be your own inspiration, and push yourself to achieve your goals.

Whether you wrote 1 word, or 49,999, holy crap, you should be so proud of yourself. Life gets in the way, and committing to something as intensive as NaNo isn’t always possible. But you should be so proud of yourself for trying.

Keep going. Keep writing. Set yourself a deadline, or gather your writer friends (if you don’t have any then I’m more than willing to help – find me on Instagram @marielipscombwriting ) and keep yourself, and each other, accountable. Sometimes we can bash out a story in a month, sometimes it takes a decade. However long it takes, know that you’re contributing something to our culture and that in itself is amazing.

 

Option 3: You Didn’t Participate

Perhaps NaNo just didn’t appeal to you this year. Perhaps it never has and never will appeal to you. Perhaps you’ve never even heard of it (in which case this has probably been a confusing read for you, and I apologize). Whatever the case, just keep doing your own thing. You’ve got this. And holy crap, you should be so proud of yourself. Going it alone isn’t easy, but you’re doing it.

If you didn’t take part because you couldn’t think of anything to write, then try to do as many writing exercises as possible. Try flash fiction, free writing, write about anything, but try to do it every day. Even if it’s just a sentence. Keep a diary of your little ideas and exercises, and I promise you that eventually you will have an idea that sticks in your head and becomes a full story. And the best thing is, you don’t have to wait until next November to start working on it. Any month is Novel Writing Month if you write a novel in it.

 

 

Thank you for reading, and I hope this helps you feel good about what you’ve achieved. And you should feel good, no matter how last month went for you. Keep writing.

Uncategorized

Just… keep… writing…

Writing a novel- whether it takes a month, a year or a decade- is a grueling, daunting task. At times it’s exhilarating! You’re typing at a million words per minute, creating worlds, people, conflicts. But then

sometimes

it’s like

um…

you can’t even remember

how to                 write?

I spend a lot of my free time reading advice to writers and watching authors on YouTube talking about productivity and how they stay focused.  At times it can feel as though you’re the only writer who spends all day with their fingers hovering over the keyboard waiting for the words to come. You’re definitely not alone.

I’ll be straight with you- I can be a lazy, easily distracted, procrastinating mess. But, I have written an entire novel, and I’m working on another two, so there is hope for everyone.

There are countless tips and tricks for productivity, but I’m going to share my techniques to try and get myself in the right mindset to write.

  1. Get dressed: I’d love to spend the entire day in my pj’s, but sadly, it just puts me in full-blown Netflix binge mode. If I go to all the effort of getting dressed to work on my project, then I’m more likely to actually show up to the writing desk.
  2. Music: I create playlists for each of my stories, and listening to them really puts me in the mood to write. Some songs will be the “soundtrack” for certain scenes, others will be mood-setters for the story as a whole, or anthems for characters and places. Music always gets me pumped to write.
  3. If sitting at a desk all day is draining, go for a walk: I’d go so far as to say that all my best ideas come to me while I’m walking with my headphones in, blaring out the songs that I’ve come to associate with my story. I don’t know if it’s the blood pumping or just the act of engaging different parts of your brain, but it really works. And it’s good for you! Also (and this is embarrassing to admit) if I’m in a quiet area, I’ll sometimes (I can’t believe I’m typing this) try to walk the way I imagine my protagonist walking, while their “theme song” is playing. It seems to help me get into their heads and see the world through their eyes. (Actually, that was kind of cathartic.)
  4. Write whatever makes you happy: let me tell you from experience; if you try to appeal to everyone’s tastes you will drive yourself insane, strip all the life out of your novel, get miserable and eat an entire packet of shortbread biscuits. If writing “cheesy” romances makes you happy, then fill your boots. If all your fantasy stories seem to be based in a pseudo-medieval Europe, then have a blast. Writing should be fun for at least 78% of the process… the rest of it will be torture though.
  5. Find joy in research: This kind of links to the previous point. I love writing stories set in a similar climate to England, because it’s where I lived for the first three decades of my life. It’s home to me. I know how the air feels just before it starts to rain, I know the red streaked sunsets and the seemingly endless, dark, wet winters. I enjoy writing about it and it makes me feel comfortable, but I also adore discovering other climates and Eco-systems. I wish I could travel to them in person, but until that happens, we’re lucky enough to live in an age where we can summon information in moments. Take pleasure in researching new places and people, and it’ll show in the diversity of your written worlds.
  6. Set manageable goals, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hit them: unless you’re set a deadline by a publisher or agent, it’s all in your own time, at your own pace. Push yourself, yes, but don’t try to go beyond your limits.
  7. Set a break time (and stick to it!!) Tell yourself that you will write until, say, lunch time, and then take an hour off to eat, watch something, read, listen to music… whatever you want. You have to switch off sometimes, and allowing your brain to relax will make you less stressed, which equals more productivity. Yay! But at the end of that hour have the discipline to get back to work. Treat your writing like any other job.
  8. If you absolutely can’t think of anything to write, then read instead: One of the absolute best things about being a writer, is that reading counts as working! I could go on for hours about how reading improves your writing, but you most likely already know it. Just read, analyze, critique and enjoy. See what works and what doesn’t. Look at how you would have done it differently. Look at how they did it in a way you would have never thought. Read.

So there you go. I hope some of this helps!

The main thing is to enjoy yourself, and just keep writing. A crappy first draft is infinitely better than a perfectly blank page.

 

Writing Advice

Deeply Flawed Diamonds.

“And what would you say are your worst qualities?”

It’s the question we all dread when it comes to interviews. Pointing out our flaws to someone whose job it is to scrutinize our character is almost impossible to do honestly.

“I work too hard,”

“I’m such a perfectionist,”

Come on. No one believes the standard answers. If we’re really truly honest with ourselves we’re kind of lazy, we daydream, we’re bad-tempered  and snippy, sometimes we’d rather dig our eyes out with a spoon than go to work, we pick our noses, we fart, we’d rather spend a little bit too long in the toilet cubicles than go back to that god awful desk…

I honestly don’t know why interviews bother to ask, because they never get a real answer.

It’s the same with literary characters. We know that to create well-rounded characters we have to come up with flaws. Bad habits make characters more relatable, because none of us are perfect, but it’s all too easy to give the “interview friendly” responses. We love our characters; they’re our babies, and we want readers to love them too!

“My character is deeply flawed. They’re too humble, too kind and adorable, and they have a weird defect whereby they poop solid gold…”

No.

Sure, your readers have to want to spend time with your characters, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be royal pains in the arse from time to time. If anything, when done correctly and balanced with good qualities, it just serves to make your characters more interesting and fun. Readers like to see themselves between the pages, and making your protagonists perfect just makes them seem alien, untouchable, and honestly, dull.

Flawed characters are wonderful!

Take, for instance, that lovable rascal Hannibal Lecter. He’s charming, funny, well-traveled, intelligent, a renowned forensic psychiatrist… oh, and he’s a cannibalistic serial killer. As character flaws go, that one’s a biggie, but I don’t know many people who aren’t captivated by him. Your examples don’t need to be as extreme as chowing down on long pig, but you get the idea. He’s the antagonist of the story, but he’s certainly the most memorable character.

Harry Potter might be the only one who can stop Voldemort, but he’s by no means the most intelligent, or the most perfect student at Hogwarts. He can be arrogant and impulsive, sulky and clueless, and that’s why we love him- because aren’t we all?

The protagonist of my current work in progress is a thief. She can be callous, stubborn, cruel, cowardly, she drinks, swears, and steals. And yet she’s witty, charming, she cares for the people closest to her and will endanger her own life to save them. She’s been through a lot, and putting on the mask of a rotten little shitbag helps hide her vulnerabilities. I absolutely adore her, and simultaneously want to throttle her, and writing her story has been the most fun out of anything I’ve written before.

Look at your friends, your loved ones, and be honest with yourself. Sometimes they drive you absolutely nuts. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it just means that they’re human, and that’s how your characters should be. Maybe you have a friend who is grouchy and hard-faced until you get to know them and realize they actually run a shelter for unwanted puppies and just have little faith in humans anymore? Or someone who won’t spend a penny to do anything nice, because they’ve been financially ruined before and never want to go through that hell again?

A writer’s job is to “collect” interesting people (figuratively speaking- please no kidnappings). Observe the douche-bags, the pushovers, the people who have you rolling your eyes one minute and grinning ear-to-ear the next. Those are the interesting characters. None of us are perfect. We’re deeply flawed diamonds.

For ideas of character flaws I highly recommend Now Novel’s character flaw list:

Character flaw list: 30 intriguing character flaws

I’m also on instagram @marielipscombwriting

Thank you for reading if you made it this far, and have fun creating your own beautiful disasters.