Tag Archives: planning

When the Going Gets Tough….


It’s hard to write about not following your own advice, isn’t it?

In the last post, I made very true remarks about the importance and necessity of daily writing.  Slogging ahead.  No matter what.  Right?

Well…I got off my routine.  I realized that my July 4 deadline for Lords of Askalon was incompatible with producing a quality product.  Could I get it written?  Yes.  Would it be worth much? Probably not.  Leaving myself no time to work it over, to edit, to mull, to contemplate, to tweak…not good.  I think this really hit me when Brandon Sanderson tweeted that he planned 9 revisions for his new book.  Nine.  And he’s Brandon Sanderson.  And I wasn’t going to give myself time for one?

So there’s the reason for the new release date.  But on to the inevitable, awful consequence of this decision: I stopped writing.  I got caught up in other things.  Meaningful and necessary things, to be sure, but not writing things.  I let myself get caught, too, by the self-criticism monster that paralyzes all it touches.

The horror.

Today, for example, when I opened up my manuscript and got ready to write, I caught sight of the last scene I had written.  I promptly closed the window and wrote a journal entry instead.

One could make the argument that any writing is better than no writing, and I think there’s something to that.  But I don’t particularly have writer’s block…my huge and beautiful butcher-paper outline of this novel is pinned to the wall right beside me.  I know where I need to go, what I need to write.  But that last scene is so…flat.  Ugh.

Having a clear plot outline isn’t the same as having a strong sense of the characters, of their purpose, of the dynamics that guide their interaction.

Before I can come back to the story, I need to establish those things clearly for myself.  And work out nagging details like timeline issues.  For me, simply pushing through won’t do the job.  Will that method get the plot written?  Yes, probably.  But it will be as lifeless and sketchy as the outline on my wall.

So sometimes, when the going gets tough and your narrative feels flat, it pays to take a step back and consider a few things about the deeper structure of your story in general, and the characters inhabiting your world in particular.  Ask yourself:

  • Do you really know your characters?
  • What are their personal conflicts? (A character’s personal conflict is not necessarily the overarching conflict of the book.)
  • What drives your characters in their interactions with other major/minor characters?
  • How do these interactions meaningfully reveal their character arc?
  • How does each character arc intersect with the plot?  What events need to happen for that character to develop?

Once you find the answers to these questions and have a clear sense of each character’s purpose and role, you’ll see the life flowing back into your bloodless plot structure.

So…I’m off to reacquaint myself with my characters.  How will you move your story forward today?

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

Ahhh, it’s that time of year again.

The leaves are beginning to turn, the night air is crisp, stews and hot cocoa are back on the menu, and writers everywhere are gearing up for the plunge we affectionately call NaNoWriMo.

Here at SisterMuses, J. Leigh and I are both preparing for what promises to be a totally awesome NaNoWriMo, and we hope you’ll join us as we blog about the trials and joys of pounding out a novel in a month.  Whether you are a fellow writer or just want to chuckle at us from the sidelines, please sign up to follow us and leave your comments!  There will be some fun giveaways and other exciting stuff coming your way!

So, now that you are signed up and ready to go, let’s get on to the topic of today’s post, which is on preparing for NaNoWriMo.  Over the next couple of weeks, we will have more detailed posts on planning, plotting, and scheduling your NaNoWriMo project.  This general overview is meant to inspire you to start thinking through these things and considering how you will accomplish your NaNoWriMo goals.

Step 1: Get yourself registered!  

No, not just for the SisterMuses blog.  Head over to NaNoWriMo’s official site and register.  Now you’re ready to track your progress and enjoy the company of fellow crazy passionate writers (see Step 5)!

Step 2: Figure out what you’re writing.

For this year’s NaNoWriMo, J. Leigh is working on a fabulous new book called Ethereal.  I’m working on The Lords of Askalon, the sequel to Silesia: The Outwordler.  Our choices were fairly obvious.  Well, except for J. Leigh’s.  (J. Leigh!  Where did that come from?  So exciting!).  Anyway.  If you are new to the whole novel writing thing, or if you haven’t worked on a new project in a while, this is a great time to contemplate the inner chambers of your imagination.  Dust those cobwebs out of the corners.  Open a window and let in the sunshine!

What genre would you like to work in?  Who is your main character?  What’s the conflict?  Do you need to do some research (if you’re writing historical fiction of any kind, you’d better be nodding your head right now!)?

This is probably the hardest part of the process, unless you already have a seedling project in mind.  Mapping out a project takes time. That’s why we’re starting now, when there are still a couple of weeks before the starting pistol fires.

Step 3: Get a basic plot outline together.

If you’re going to write a novel in a month — NaNoWriMo’s official word count is 50,000 (approx. 200 pages) — then you really do need a plan, even if you’re not really a planner.  Your outline doesn’t have to be extensive, but it should include major plot points and perhaps a subplot or two.  If you start visualizing scenes as you work on your outline, then write them out and keep them!  If nothing else, they get your mind onto the right story track and prime those creative juices.

You should also try to pin down your main characters.  Get their physical characteristics straight, figure out who they were before the world of the story happened to them.  A story that moves well through plot points but has dismally shallow characters might get you to the word count, but is that really your only goal here?  (Maybe it is…the thrill of writing 50K words might just be too much to resist).  But for those of you who, like J. Leigh and I, are using NaNoWriMo to improve your craft and make serious progress on some projects, then take your preparatory work seriously.

Step 4: Check your schedule.

50K words doesn’t happen overnight.  Okay.  50K coherent words doesn’t happen overnight.  In order to meet this goal, you’ll need to be deliberate about your writing time.  Take a look at your schedule and find a way to block out some consistent writing time — maybe 20-30 minutes a day.  Figure out what kind of progress you need to make in each writing session, and realize that not every session will be uniform in productivity.  You might sit down one day and write 10 pages before you blink.  Other days, the evil cursor might blink at you from the blank page…for your entire allotted time.  It happens.

Step 5: Find a writing buddy or join the NaNoWriMo community forums.

Having a writing buddy is very encouraging.  I love working with J. Leigh, and we have a great time sharing our ideas, helping each other solve plot problems, or listening with sympathy when characters don’t do what they’re told.  For something as intense as NaNoWriMo, it helps to have encouragement from another writer who is doing the same thing.  And who knows?  You might network with some pretty fantastic fellow authors and build a working relationship that extends beyond this coming month of madness.

There you have it!  A roadmap to November 1, 2011.

Are you ready?

We are!

(P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe!!!)