Category: nano prep

It Takes a V.I.L.L.A.G.E. to Make a Writer

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With November upon us, it’s a great time to reflect on what makes you the writer you are, and how the rest of the NaNo community can help you complete your novel. Today, Municipal Liason Sarah Peloquin shows us how it “takes a village” to make a writer:

I enjoyed solitude as a child. Now, as a parent of four little minions, alone time is a rare and beautiful treasure. When I first began honing my writing, I thought, Perfect. Writing is an alone sort of activity and I’m an alone sort of gal.

And writing is, in one sense, a solitary matter. No one else will ever write you.

Your creativity and imagination spilling out onto blank pages is solely yours.
At the same time, your inspiration for writing is the product of life experiences and the community of people that shaped you. A hermit in a dark, cold cell will never have the same ability to create a story as a person who has tasted and seen and touched and heard and felt the world around them in all its exquisite glory.

When I say it takes a VILLAGE to make a writer, here’s why:

Virtual – Our world has expanded with the expansion of technology. We now have ways of connecting to our fellow writers that we never dreamed of one hundred years ago. Get involved in the online chats, twitter word sprints, and NaNoWriMo’s own amazing regional forums to connect to others who are on the same journey, in the same part of the world, with you this November.

Inspiration – NaNoWriMo’s forums are amazing for offering new writing challenges, writer pen pals from around the world, mentors who’ve seen it all and lived to tell the tale, and even threads just for those times when the blank page is your worst fear realized.

Links – To Write-ins at your local libraries, coffee shops, bookstores, and more. Calendars of events, both the official NaNoWriMo one and those compiled by volunteer Municipal Liaisons, who work tirelessly at bringing you the resources you need to succeed at this 30 day writing challenge. (I’ve heard chocolate is a good incentive for MLs in lieu of payment)

Life – Happens and it’s amazing to me every year when my own brilliant region circles the wagons to support a struggling writer through a difficult time. Care packages for the sick, an emergency online meet-up when the words just won’t flow, or just a note of encouragement to remind someone that not meeting their writing goal in November is NOT failure by any stretch of the imagination.

Affirmation – Whether it’s winning a contest for the most words written or a Hip, HIP, HUZZAH for even making it to a write-in after the car broke down, the baby-sitter was a no-show, or the house nearly burned down right before you left because your husband was trying to be helpful by making dinner for you. We all need to hear words of encouragement for our efforts. A community of writers brings that in abundance in my humble experience.

Galvanized – This word is NOT used often enough in my opinion. What better place for a writer than a community (online or otherwise) of fellow writing warriors who can give us the kick in the pants we need on those days we don’t want to stare at another blank screen? 

Educational – Writing is an ongoing learning project and there is no greater way to continue honing your craft than building a diverse community of writers around you. You get better the more you learn.

Your writing world will expand this November, and it’s time to jump right into the fray. Find your region, build relationships, and for goodness sake, write!


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Sarah Peloquin loves great books on rainy afternoons, whether it’s The Chronicles of Narnia read aloud to three (almost four) squirmy children or her favorite history, poetry, or parenting books. She homeschools her aforementioned tiny minions with her amazing husband in Midwest, North America. She found NaNoWriMo in 2008, but didn’t get serious about it until 2010. Sarah took on the challenge of Municipal Liaison in 2014 and enjoys her region immensely. You can find some of her scribblings and inspirational posts at: Musings on a Life Lived and Instagram

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from behindthethrills on Flickr.

Pro Tips for Making Friends Through the NaNo Community

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November is full of challenges—from supervillains to coffee shortages—so it’s important to have support from the community to help push your writing towards the finish line. Today, writer and ML for the USA :: Kansas :: Topeka region Lissa Staley shares her thoughts on how to make friends through NaNo and build your dream team:

This
is your chance. The time is now. All around the world, in your region, or in
your own city, people who share your creative values are joining together this November to write novels. These are your people, this community of frantic fiction writers, and they are inviting
you to join them.

Maybe
you don’t know anyone else who writes fiction, or you haven’t written a novel
before. Maybe right now you don’t have writing friends, or you worry about how
your writing will compare to theirs. That’s all about to change. When you build
a community of fiction writers during NaNoWriMo, you are building
friendships that may reach beyond November and beyond writing.

You are befriending amazing people. NaNoWriMo is populated by people
who believe that seemingly impossible things (like writing fifty thousand words in
thirty days) are achievable and worth doing. In November, you see the same
people at events or online. You begin by connecting with people around writing
and then find you can connect in other ways. You may find another writer who
has something in common with yousomeone who knits, or appreciates your
Firefly references, or loves licorice, or is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. 

You
may find yourself trying new things because of conversations you had with your
new writer friendswatching Star Trek, or playing Dungeons and Dragons, or
reading The Princess Bride. You may discover future beta readers, editors, and
collaborators or form book groups or critique circles.

“To me, NaNoWriMo is so compelling because the more that people encourage each other, the more we all win.” 

Or—you may not. You don’t have to become best friends with every writer you meet.
I have writer friends who I only talk to during November. The focus on quantity
of words means that I can cheer a fellow writer on to victory without knowing
anything about what they are writing or sharing any goals beyond that 50,000
word finish line.

To
me, NaNoWriMo is so compelling because the more that people encourage each
other, the more we all win. The shared experiences are richer for all of us
when we attend events, participate in word wars, post in the forums, and create
inside jokes during the act of writing fiction together. Here in Topeka,
Kansas, we give out “Ask Me About My Word Count” stickers and create an
intentional safe space for writing without judgement. We can support each
other’s writing endeavors because we are only competing in word sprints.

Be on the lookout this November for your own writing community:

  • Introduce yourself online in your local forums. Add local writers as writing buddies and send them a few supportive messages during the early weeks of writing.
  • Inspire others. Share quotes, encouragement, memes, plot twists and ideas for boosting word counts.
  • Put time to write on your calendar and prioritize it. Attend local events, or advertise your own impromptu write-in at a popular coffee shop, bookstore or library.
  • Ask for help! Use your forums in your region to suggest a writing dare or word war. Be on the lookout for opportunities to help other writers with encouragement or challenges.

In
NaNoWriMo, writers cheer each other on as part of their writing process. Your individual words count for more than just your
personal goal; you contribute to the regional word counts and the total on the
main website. We write novels in November because we want to be part of
something bigger than ourselves; in addition to the goal and the
deadline, NaNoWriMo gives solitary writers the opportunity to create community.

This
November, make friends while you make your story.


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Lissa Staley became a novelist in 2003, approximately a month
after signing up for NaNoWriMo on Halloween.  She became the Topeka,
Kansas Municipal Liaison in 2004 and has talked people into writing
novels in November ever since. She also hosts Come Write In programs as a
public librarian, and helps writers learn the skills for self publishing through
the Community Novel Project at tscpl.org/novel.

Top photo (from the Night of Writing Dangerously 2016) licensed under Creative Commons from Buster Benson on Flickr.

NaNo Prep: Create Your Personal NaNo Prize

NaNoWriMo is almost here! As we wrap up our NaNo Prep season and start getting ready to write, we’ve talked to some participants about their tips and tricks for staying motivated. Today, author Jacqui Jacoby shares the personal reward system she’s come up with:

“Mom, you have to try this new program. You write 50,000 words in November.”

I doubted the logic of what my daughter proposed, but was interested enough to look into it. That was October 2001—and I now have sixteen NaNoWriMos and nine wins under my belt.

These days, I’m a professional author. I’ve written millions of words that ended up going some place for some reason. Sometimes there was a payment, sometimes not. I was still doing what I wanted to be doing.

That fall, in my car, when my daughter suggested I try NaNoWriMo, it seemed incredibly hard. But it wasn’t long before it became an intrinsic part of my writing process. I wasn’t published at the time, but eventually writing became my profession, not just my dream.

In fact, NaNoWriMo became my annual vacation.

Every January when I fill out the new day planner, the first thing I do is head on over to November to block out the month for fun. Though I have published several books that started as NaNo Projects, publishing them was never my goal. I use the month to play, to develop ideas I might otherwise ignore if I was working on a set assignment.

I read No Plot, No Problem every year starting on October 1st as a refresher course and to get me in the mood. When I have finished that, I begin to fill out Ready. Set. Novel. I buy myself a new mechanical pencil to use in my notes and workbooks. It’s usually just a step above the pencils I normally buy, in a pretty color to set it apart.

All this is a good start, a place to find direction. However, direction isn’t the only challenge in NaNo. Sometimes, the challenge is showing up on a day you would really rather watch a Friends rerun. I needed to find that edge that would get me through the hard days.

I came up with the ‘NaNo Purse Program,’ or as I call it, the NNPP.

The NNPP is simple. I like purses, but I rarely buy. I have a designer I like that I can find used on eBay and I like to have something that I can look at and say “I earned that because…”  In October, I start looking for the purse that will be my prize. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a purse. It could be anything you collect, something that you can look at later and associate with your accomplishment.

My rules are simple:

  • I have to have my NNPP before November 1st.
  • The NNPP is unpacked and set in a position where I can see it from my chair when I type.
  • The NNPP is not touched while I am writing.

The final rule…

  • I only get the purse if I hit 50,000 words.

If I miss the mark for whatever reason, I have to give the NNPP to someone who I will see use it on a daily basis. I will see it and understand that maybe I should have typed faster.

I have yet to type too slow to get my purse. Motivation screams at me when I picture Jane in Accounting carrying MY purse. This is what I do to propel me forward and it puts a smile on my face.  

What will you use as your personal prize?


Award-winning author, Jacqui Jacoby lives and writes in the beauty of Northern Arizona. Currently adjusting to being an empty nester with her first grandchild to draw her pictures, Jacqui is a self-defense hobbyist. Having studied martial arts for numerous years she retired in 2006 from the sport, yet still brings strength she learned from the discipline to her characters. She is a working writer, whose career includes writing books, novellas & short stories, teaching online & live workshops and penning short nonfiction. Follow her on her website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Top photo: Winning purses, c/o Jacqui Jacoby
#1  
Magic Man Victory, 2005
#2  
Dead Men Seal the Deal Victory, 2013
#3
Aaden’s Hope Victory 2015

NaNo Prep: How to Go From Plotless to Polished

November is just around the corner, and as we gear up, we’re sharing advice on how you can best prepare for a month of writing. Today, author and designer Derek Murphy shares his advice on how to turn a messy work-in-progress into a polished draft in November:

NaNoWriMo is a
great opportunity to push your boundaries and see how much writing
you can get done in thirty days. If it’s your first time shooting for
50K, write whatever is easiest for you. However, if you’ve been
doing NaNoWriMo for a few years and have struggled to turn your newly
generated manuscript into an actual book that sells, here’s some advice that should help:

Save a Darling—Plot Ahead

First of all, if
you started your story with very little plotting, it’s likely you
have dozens of powerful scenes but no backbone to hold it all
together. And it’s very difficult to go back and operate on
your manuscript after it’s finished. “Kill your darlings” is
good advice, but painful for a reason. It’s hard to cut the stuff
you love—but if it confuses the narrative or doesn’t need to be
there, it’s hurting the story.

Rather than spend
a month generating content and then months of frustration trying to
polish it into something that actually sees the light of day, it’s
much easier to plot before your start—at least loosely.
For most commercial fiction, I use a simplified
hero’s journey
with 12 major plot points.

As long as I hit
most of those points in roughly the right places, I know my story
will stand strong even if the writing falters. You don’t have to
chronicle the exact details of every scene, and you shouldn’t worry
about writing beautiful prose, but having a rough idea of your
pivotal scenes will make it much easier for you to finish a powerful
story in record time.

If you get stuck
halfway through your NaNoWriMo novel, it’s usually because you’re
sinking into the muddy middle—where you didn’t plot enough events
to carry the story forward—so you invent a bunch of random and
increasingly incredible plot developments to span the gap, then rush
towards the epic conclusion. The problem with this is your story will
feel rushed and implausible.

Let your characters drive your outline.

A basic story
might look like this:

  1. Character
    wants something but can’t get it. Something happens that forces
    them on a new experience or journey. They resist, but are forced by
    circumstances to move forward.
  2. The
    antagonists appear, showing danger and consequences. There is a
    conflict or battle and the protagonist’s forces lose. More is
    revealed, until the protagonist finally makes a deliberate choice to
    fight back or take control.
  3. The
    protagonist makes a mistake; a failure that causes irreparable harm
    to one of their allies. They feel guilt, fear, loss and almost give
    up.
  4. The
    protagonist reaches into themselves, finds a new will to continue,
    discovers a new power or ability, and overcomes the antagonist’s
    forces… this time.

But how do you
fill it all in? And what do you add when your plot events are sparse? You can make your characters’ problems harder. 

You might have already plotted something like:

Desire

problem

overcome problem

introduce new problem

But that’s too
easy.

You can extend
the sequence by adding steps:

Desire

problem 1

try to
overcome problem 1, meet problem 2

try to over come problem 2,
meet problem 3

try to overcome problem 3, meet problem 4…

That sequence can
go on until they have too many problems and are overwhelmed.
Eventually they succeed in one and go back through the sequence to
solve the original problem.

Make your characters fail. 

Characters shouldn’t succeed easily. You want them to
fail, again and again. So have them discover new problems and
setbacks at every turn. No matter what they want to do next, give
them three big and insurmountable problems that get in their way.
Don’t make them all accidental (the weather / a broken leg). Some
of them should come from opposition, either the antagonist’s forces
or the protagonist’s allies.

Create more
paths. 

You don’t just want a happy band of comrades agreeing
with each other; your inner circle needs conflict, too. Each of your
main characters should have their own desires, agendas, and
problems to solve. They will have priorities that put them in direct
conflict with your main character. Even if they’re friends or
lovers, they will be forced into opposition based on their personal
desires, and each will be fighting their own dragons to get what they
want—leading to betrayal, jealousy, guilt, dishonesty and anger.

I recommend three main characters (protagonist + best friend + love interest), a
teacher or voice of wisdom, a hidden antagonist directing mayhem from
the shadows, and also a system of legal enforcers (who persecute the
protagonist but think they’re acting for the good of society). The
sides should not be clear cut, and everyone will have to wrestle with
moral decisions, like when it’s OK to break the law or do something
evil for the universal good.

Change the scenery.

If your book is getting boring, give your protagonists
a new, incredible setting and a reason to get there. It could be a
treasure hunt for a necessary item, or a shelter, or a lost city—make it epic and larger than life. Your story will keep readers
reading, but your settings and descriptions are what will stick in
their brains. I like to think of my scenes like a painting; a
dramatic backdrop and a central character doing something amazing.

Once you
have a basic plot outlined and have built in enough conflict, writing
a successful book will be easier, and take much less time to revise
and polish before it’s ready to be share. During
revision
, add in more details like what characters are wearing,
improve the dialogue, strengthen the transitions and openings, and
fix any lackluster character motivations. Remember, adding conflict
is as easy as giving a character a different backstory (”your father
killed my father”) or withholding a secret (”you lied to me”).

Once your book is
ready, share it with beta readers, put it on Wattpad, or even get a
cheap cover and publish it on Kindle. It’s scary letting go, but
getting feedback is the best way to learn and improve.

If you take an hour to ask and answer these questions before November 1st, you’ll be able to win NaNoWriMo with more than 50,000 words of slush as a reward—you’ll have a clean rough draft you can polish up and publish, without ending up in editing purgatory forever. 


Derek Murphy has
a PhD in Literature and now writes young
adult fiction
. He’s renting a castle for NaNoWriMo, drinks too
much Coke Zero, and loves supporting indie authors—his publishing
resources
and book design
templates
have had over 20 thousand downloads.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Project 404 on Flickr.

NaNo Prep: Don’t Just Write a Novel — Tell an Amazing Story

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November is fast approaching, and with it comes plenty of great advice from around the NaNo community on how to create your novel. Today, author Dinty W. Moore shares his thoughts on one of the most challenging questions asked of any writer: what’s your story really about?

Why do people read books? Why do people stream Netflix long into the evening? Why do people sit for hours in a coffee shop chatting about their co-workers?

The answer is simple: we love a good story.

With NaNoWriMo just days away, now might be the best time to remind ourselves what constitutes a good story—or better yet, what is it that makes a story absolutely compelling. The goal for our NaNoWriMo month shouldn’t be merely to write a novel in 30 days. The goal should be to write a novel that folks are clamoring to read.

Remember this: Stories which leave readers eager to follow along through each moment and every surprising turn did not begin with Shakespeare, Dickens, or Stephen King. Captivating storytelling goes back to the origins of language itself.

Long before printing presses and book clubs, our ancestors kept fear at bay by spinning tales of heroic hunts, of memorable victories, and of mysterious, powerful gods. These early stories mark the beginnings of imaginative fiction. How to explain thunder, floods, birth, death, the inexplicable movement of the sun? Our ancestors created stories to explain these. Stories that gave them both understanding and solace. Or, as author Barry Lopez puts it, stories are part mystery, part ministry, and absolutely indispensable. 

“We need them, I believe, in the way we need water…” he writes. “The reason we tell stories … is to keep each other from being afraid.”

Novelist Ben Percy suggests that the most enduring stories reach readers at the deepest level by taking “a knife to the nerve of the moment.” Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein—the story of a mad doctor who uses electricity to create a superhuman monster—found its root power by reflecting people’s fears of the industrial revolution, while Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers – later made into the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers – connected directly to mid-20th-century fears of communist spies infiltrating small-town America.

“Stories revive us, challenge us, startle us, and offer us new ways to reflect upon our world and the current moment’s most perplexing questions.”

Percy’s own book, Red Moon, begins with a man on a commercial jetliner inexplicably transforming into a werewolf and attacking his fellow passengers. This transformation is happening not just on the one plane, but simultaneously on two other airplanes, one of which crashes into a wheat field.

Does that sound at all familiar?

“We fear, more than anything, terrorism and disease,” Percy explains, “and I braided the two together.”

Not all stories are horror stories, of course, but all enduring stories find their power by addressing intrinsic human concerns, those vexing problems that keep us awake and thinking late into the night.

Consider these:

  • Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice features neither werewolves nor body snatchers. Instead, this tale of five unmarried daughters in 19th century England and the eligible bachelors who come calling enchanted readers by reflecting upon contemporary concerns about class, gender, and morality.
  • The Harry Potter series is about more than schoolchildren and magic spells; it explores the power of self-sacrifice and the importance of tolerance.
  • Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is, on the surface, the story of African-American women living a generation or two beyond slavery, but the underlying issues of prejudice and family violence resonate with readers of any race, any age, any time.

This is why people tell stories, and why we listen to the good ones with such rapt attention. Stories revive us, challenge us, startle us, and offer us new ways to reflect upon our world and the current moment’s most perplexing questions.

Now, as you prepare for NaNoWriMo, is a good time to ask: How does your story touch “a knife to the nerve of the moment”? 

What’s your story really about?


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Dinty W. Moore is author of The Story Cure: A Book Doctor’s Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir and many other books. He has his work in The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Normal School, and elsewhere, and has won numerous awards for his writing, including fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. You can find Dinty at www.dintywmoore.com and on Twitter as @brevitymag.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Dave Herholz on Flickr.

NaNo Prep: Four Character Archetypes that Can Help You Crush NaNoWriMo

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November is just around the corner, and as we gear up to hunker down and write, we’re sharing advice from guest writers on how you can best prepare for a month of writing. Today, editor, author, and life coach Kendra Levin shares her favorite tips on using the classic Hero’s Journey to your advantage:

If you’re embarking on NaNoWriMo, you probably already know your way around the storytelling model of the Hero’s Journey. (If not, you can find out more about it here.) It’s a useful craft tool that can help you build a skeleton of a plot, gauge your pacing, and create characters inspired by its building-block archetypes like Hero, Mentor, Shadow, and more.

But the Hero’s Journey is also an amazing resource for finding ways to cope with the emotional ups and downs a month of writing can bring. Here’s how four character archetypes from the Hero’s Journey can help you get through NaNoWriMo and feel like a Hero doing it:  

The Herald

A messenger who issues the Hero’s call to adventure.

Prescription: The Herald is the patron saint of beginnings. Beginning can be the hardest part of writing a novel. I remember once asking a writer how his NaNoWriMo was going. “I’ve almost started!” he said brightly. It was Nov. 20.

Do this: On Oct. 31, set aside 15 minutes to sit or walk by yourself. Think about the project you plan to start the next day. What is your vision for it? Imagine a winged messenger appearing and telling you, “Here’s the story I need you to write: _________.” What would go in that blank? Jot down this vision for the project. While you’re at it, write a couple sentences of Chapter One. That way, when you sit down to start in earnest the next day, you won’t be facing that intimidating blank page—you’ll already have begun, with the help of the Herald.

The Mentor

A wise older character who gives the Hero advice, wisdom, and gifts.

Prescription: Tap into the Mentor when you reach a crossroads or a difficult decision in your writing or your process. Torn between plugging away at your novel and going outside and interacting with other humans for an evening? Two weeks into NaNo and unsure whether you can make it through the whole month? Ask the Mentor.

Do this: Take a moment to sit quietly. Ask yourself, What would my 90-year-old self say about this situation? Connecting with the older, wiser version of you can help you be your own Dumbledore.

The Trickster

A trick-playing character who subverts expectations, often with humor.

Prescription: Tricksters are all about revealing the silliness and surreal nature of life when everybody is getting way too serious. Find your inner trickster when you catch yourself acting like the novel you’re writing is the bus from Speed and you’re Sandra Bullock.

Do this: Take a whole day off from your novel. You heard me. That day, write something totally different and silly—a comedy sketch about soup, a collection of satirical limericks inspired by the day’s headlines, the script for a webisode about anthropomorphized office supplies. Let yourself recapture the fun and sense of play in writing and, the next day, bring that spirit back to your novel. In the process, you just might come up with some new and surprising ideas for your main project.

Allies

Loyal friends and comrades who help and support the Hero. 

Prescription: Nobody writes a novel alone—and there’s no reason you need to. It’s vital to have a community of Allies around you, whether online or IRL, fellow writers or just your personal cheerleaders, to help you get through the month.

Do this: Before November, find others who are participating in NaNoWriMo and set up a system for checking in with one another. If you don’t know anybody else who’s doing it, check out NaNo’s forums. Let other people in your life know that you’re doing NaNo, and don’t be afraid to ask them for support, encouragement, free babysitting—whatever you might need. When one of your Allies asks for your help, you’ll discover that doing NaNoWriMo is about more than just finishing your novel—it’s about being a Hero, to yourself and to others. And that’s a feeling that will last long after November ends.


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Kendra Levin helps writers and other creative artists meet their goals and connect more deeply with their work and themselves. She is a certified life coach, as well as an executive editor at Penguin, a teacher, and author of The Hero Is You. Visit her at kendracoaching.com and follow her @kendralevin. To win a coaching session with Kendra by supporting NaNoWriMo, check out the Night of Writing Dangerously!

Top image by Hyrax Attax on DeviantArt.

NaNo Prep: Is This Really a Good Idea?

Are you struggling with finding an idea you think is good enough to spend a whole month writing? Today, award-winning author Karin Tidbeck, a Season of Stories writer, shares her own experience with being the “ugly duckling of ideas”:

So you want to write a novel, but maybe you’re not sure if your idea is good enough. I’m here to tell you that you’re fine.

When I was in my early twenties, I started to get serious about writing. There was just one problem: my ideas, or rather, the lack of them. I was surrounded by creative, amazing people, and they all seemed to create incredible works of art without the least bit of difficulty. I was the ugly duckling of ideas. I found that I was great at building on other people’s ideas, improvising from them, developing them. But when I had to come up with something on my own, I froze. It seemed like there was nothing there.

My actual problem was that I discarded all of my own ideas because they didn’t sound cool enough, or clever enough. They were too silly, too weird to implement, too trite. What I didn’t understand at the time was that a lot of works of art start out with ideas just like that.

I got it once I took a creative writing course where we were forced to come up with ideas on the spot and just write them down. No second-guessing, no automatic self-criticism. I learned how to take that silly idea and set it spinning. I learned, gradually, that values like “good” or “bad” don’t really apply.

I wrote my debut novel, Amatka, in 2011. I had previously written poetry and short stories, but a novel felt like a different beast entirely. I had a basic concept that I wanted to explore: what if matter responded to language? I had thought a lot about it, I had written some texts that related to it, but the draft itself I wrote in a six-week rush, much like you’ll do during NaNoWriMo. I didn’t know whether my idea would carry all the way through to the end. Is this good? I asked myself all the time, or is it terrible?

“I learned, gradually, that values like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ don’t really apply.”

My story “Reindeer Mountain”, which is included in the Season of Stories, was also a piece that I drafted under pressure, with a quickly approaching deadline. I had an idea: two bickering sisters in a family with a curse. I had no clue where that idea would take me. I just went along for the ride.

So much like me, you might have doubts. You might even feel like you shouldn’t be allowed near a keyboard, because your idea isn’t good enough. It’s completely normal. I still have moments when I wonder why on earth I haven’t been struck by lightning for putting such an idea on paper. I think most writers do. But “good” and “bad” don’t really apply here. What matters is what happens when you take that idea by the hand and tag along.  


Karin Tidbeck is originally from Stockholm, Sweden. She lives and works in Malmö as a freelance writer, translator and creative writing teacher, and writes fiction in Swedish and English. She debuted in 2010 with the Swedish short story collection Vem är Arvid Pekon?. Her English debut, the 2012 collection Jagannath, was awarded the Crawford Award 2013 and shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Her novel debut, Amatka, was published in June 2017 by Vintage. She devotes her spare time to forteana, subversive cross-stitching, and Nordic LARP. 

Learn more about Season of Stories here. For more about Karin Tidbeck please visit http://www.karintidbeck.com/

NaNo Prep: Take a Story Field Trip

We’re deep into NaNo Prep Season, and this week, we’ve asked writers to share their thoughts on how to craft great plots and build immersive worlds. Today, NaNoWriMo Executive Director Grant Faulkner shares an excerpt from his new book, Pep Talks for Writers. He invites you to fill out the setting of your novel by taking a story field trip:

One of the mistaken perceptions of writers is that all of their writing gets done at their desks, that plots, characters, and the telling details that make a story blossom into life just flow out of a writer’s mind and onto the page. As much as I hesitate to lure you away from maximal word production (because most of my pep talks encourage you to just keep writing in one way or another), one of the wonderful side benefits of being a writer is not just the places you get to go in your imagination, but the real places you get to go to explore your story in all of its nuances.

It’s time to go on a story field trip—an imaginative scavenger hunt to gather details, sensory information, and character insights. It’s just like the kind of field trip you went on in elementary school, except you don’t have your parents sign a permission form and you don’t have to travel on a bus with a lot of screaming kids (unless your story takes place on a school bus, that is). There’s nothing like venturing out to an actual place to experience it so you can write about it with the ring of authenticity. The location of your story can function almost as a character in your story, so know it well.

“One of the wonderful side benefits of being a writer is not just the places you get to go in your imagination, but the real places you get to go to explore your story.” 

Is your main character a doctor? Go to a hospital one day and sit in an emergency room and observe all that is going on—the people waiting in pain, discomfort, or boredom; the nurses bustling about; the out-of-date magazines in the waiting room; and, yes, the doctors. How does your doctor character relate to the pain in a patient’s eyes? How does your doctor view an impatient nurse? How does he or she wear a stethoscope?

Spend some time walking the hospital’s halls and attune your senses to all of the little things you might not think about when you’re there as a patient. What does the hospital smell like? How is it decorated? Where would your doctor eat lunch? See if you can even do a brief interview with a doctor. How many patients does he or she see each day? What thoughts does he or she carry home from the day?

I once went to a cemetery at night to see the moon’s chilly glow on the tombstones. Another time I drove from San Francisco to Reno, tracing the road my main character was fleeing on. I ate tacos in Chowchilla and drank a Coke by an irrigation ditch for one story, and dressed in my suit and went to a Pentecostal church on a Sunday morning for another.

A story field trip can take many forms, and sometimes we have to make do with our limitations. I once wrote a novel that took place in Thailand, but I didn’t have the time or money to go to Thailand. I knew I couldn’t go deep into my descriptions of it by looking at it on a map. What did I do? I ate in Thai restaurants. I watched Thai movies and soap operas (even if I couldn’t understand them). I listened to Thai music and read Thai books. I discovered that the clerk at my dry cleaning shop grew up in Thailand, so I asked her questions about her childhood. It was one big virtual Thai field trip that helped me shape my novel.

Sometimes I take story field trips without any research purpose, just to get the creative juices flowing in a different way. One of my favorite field trips is to sit in a train station and simply observe the people. People reveal themselves in different ways when in transit. They’re in that odd state of suspension, between places, carrying high expectations of the pleasures ahead or the dread of what’s to come. They’re fleeing a place or running home. Some travel in packs, and some travel in what seems like a perpetual solitude. I watch to see how they reveal themselves; I eavesdrop on their conversations; I try to surmise their stories. They carry questions that stir my imagination, and in observing them, I bring a deeper sense of humanity to my characters.

There are some downsides of a story field trip. It can be tempting to twist your characters and plot into illustrating your research instead of letting your observations serve the characters’ stories. It’s easy to fall so much in love with all that you’ve gleaned that you force details where they don’t belong. Focus on imparting the telling details rather than a random inventory of your notes.

In the end, perhaps the biggest purpose of the story field trip isn’t just for information, but for confidence. By spending a few hours inhabiting the world in your story, you’ll write much more confidently about that place. You’ll trust your words because you’ve grounded them with a foundation of experience.

Try this: Inhabit Your Story World

How can you inhabit the world of your story? Is there a key setting, occupation, or encounter that you can tap into in real life? Go there. Smell, touch, listen.

––Grant Faulkner, NaNoWriMo Executive Director.

Autographed copies of Pep Talks for Writers can be purchased in the NaNoWriMo store.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Shinichi Sugiyama on Flickr.

NaNo Prep: A Quick-and-Dirty Guide to Building a Fantasy Religion

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We’re deep into NaNo Prep Season, and this week, we’ve asked participants to share their thoughts on how to craft great plots and build immersive worlds. Today, columnist and ten-time participant Dianna Gunn offers three tips for creating an authentic religion in your speculative fiction:

So
you’ve decided to write your NaNoWriMo novel in a fantasy world. This
is a great idea! Fantasy is only limited by your imagination, and
there’s always a sensible way to work in ninjas when you get stuck.

But
creating your own world isn’t as easy as it seems, which is probably
why you’ve come here seeking aid. After all, it’s almost halfway to November and your planning… well, let’s not talk about the state it’s
in, shall we?

I’ve spent an entire decade building worlds at record pace for NaNoWriMo,
and I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. Today, I’ll show you three of
the most powerful tricks I’ve learned for quickly building a
believable fantasy religion, since religion is a driving force in
most fantasy worlds.

Follow
these three steps to create a fantasy religion on the fly:

1. Choose
between monotheistic and pantheistic.

Monotheistic
religions feature only one god or goddess; there is usually also an
opposing devil-type force, though not always. Pantheistic religions
follow many deities, often both gods and goddesses.

Choosing
a monotheistic religion is usually easier, and allows you to easily
draw parallels with Judeo-Christian religions. Developing a
pantheistic religion requires more work, but there are several ways
to speed up the process, and you can draw parallels with many
different mythologies.

2. Draw
on familiar archetypes.

The
easiest way to make a religion’s gods and goddesses believable is to
take familiar mythological archetypes and modify or expand on them.
This allows you to give a clear image of your fantasy religion with a
few well-placed images.

Using
familiar archetypes can also save you a lot of time up front, since
you already know what you like—and hate—about those archetypes.
For example, I like the common association of fire and war, but I’m
tired of hyper-masculine fire gods. So I created Taelanna, a fire
goddess closely associated with the phoenix, for my book Keeper
of the Dawn.

What
religious archetypes do you love? What archetypes drive you crazy?
Start with these and fine tune them to fit your world.

3. Write
a creation myth.

At
the root of every great religion there lies a creation myth: a story
that attempts to explain not only human origins but also human
nature.

The
nature of these myths has a huge ripple effect on your religion, and the rest of the world you build. For example, if
your religion believes a goddess created the world on her own,
they’ll likely respect women more than if they believe humanity was
created by a male entity. If your characters believe in a creation myth that casts women
in a purely supporting and reproductive role, their world will most likely be plagued by systematic
misogyny.

If
you only write one myth before starting your novel, make it the
creation myth. You can find plenty of inspiration for mythology—and
its impact on your society—in Crash
Course World Mythology: Social Orders and Creation Myths
. Once
you’ve got an idea, give yourself a solid half hour and free write
the myth—you can refine the details after NaNoWriMo!


Bonus: Use
an element of this creation myth as the basis of a common prayer or
curse. A few of these little details sprinkled throughout your story
can make it look like you’ve done more world-building than you
actually have, bringing your setting to life.

These
three steps will help you create a solid background religion, but if
religion is going to be a major part of your story you’ll want to
develop it more. If you want to build a detailed religion, I’ve
compiled a special world-building
resource list for fantasy science fiction writers
with many
resources dedicated to building fantasy religions.


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Dianna Gunn is a ten year NaNoWriMo participant with a lifetime word count of over 1.3 million (and that’s just during Nanowrimo!). Her debut YA fantasy novella, Keeper of the Dawn, came out in spring 2017 through The Book Smugglers Publishing. She blogs about mental health and writing on her blog, The Dabbler, and runs two writing advice columns at Write Plan Editing. Between columns you can find her ranting about anything and everything on Twitter @DiannaLGunn.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from chiaralily on Flickr.

NaNo Prep: Outline Your Story Like a Subway Map

We’re deep into NaNo Prep Season, and this week, we’ve asked participants to share their thoughts on how to craft great plots and build immersive worlds. Today, author and entrepreneur Gabriela Pereira shares her method of mapping out her story:

As a New Yorker born and raised, I think of an outline as being like a subway map. What I love about this approach is that it allows you to see how the various threads of your story work together, but you can also tease those elements apart and look at them individually to see how each thread holds up on its own.

When you make a subway map outline, each line represents a different subplot or story element you want to track. The dots (or stops) represent scenes in your story. Some scenes are like local stops on a subway and apply only to one story thread, while other scenes are like express stops and represent intersections between the story threads and mark key moments in your story. For an example of this technique in action, check out the subway map of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

Want to learn how to put together a story map like this? Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Write out your scenes.

List out all the scenes in your story or novel. I like to use index cards for this step, because it allows me to move scenes around and also look at each one apart from the rest of the story. On each card I’ll give the scene a title, then list the major characters who appear and what happens in that scene. I also make a note to myself about why the scene is important to the story overall, because if I can’t think of a compelling reason for that scene to exist, then I should consider cutting it altogether.

Step 2: Choose which elements to track.

You can track just about any aspect of your novel or story with this mapping technique: multiple plot lines, different points of view, and recurring images or thematic elements. You can even use story-mapping to keep track of your supporting cast and which characters appear in which scenes. To avoid letting your map sprawl and become out of control, I recommend focusing your map on either plot, character, or imagery. Once you have chosen which elements I recommend color-coding your scenes according to the thread (or threads) where it appears.

A plot-centered map focuses on your novel or short story’s main plot and subplots and each of these threads has a dramatic question that drives it. In our Hunger Games example, the main plot concerns the major dramatic question (MDQ): “Will Katniss survive the Games?” This book also has a series of subplots, driven by lesser dramatic questions (LDQs), like “Will Katniss return Peeta’s affections?” Notice that the dramatic questions—both major and lesser—focus on the protagonist, since this is the character driving the story.

A character-centered map is useful if you need to keep track of a sprawling supporting cast or are using multiple points of view (POV). For this type of story map, instead of worrying about MDQs for the different plot threads, you will need to think of dramatic question specific each character you are tracking. This question usually centers around that particular character’s biggest desire. For example, the dramatic questions for characters in the movie The Wizard of Oz would be: “will Dorothy ever get back to Kansas?” or “will the Scarecrow finally get a brain?”

An imagery or theme-centered story map can be useful when you need to track recurring images or thematic elements as they appear throughout your story. The elements you track with this type of map can be anything (e.g. music, color, art, weather, nature, etc.), but relate to the emotions you want to make your readers feel. This type of story map is extremely powerful because it helps you understand and enhance how your readers experience your book.

Step 3: Create Your Map

Once you have created your scene-by-scene outline and labeled each scene according to the various threads or elements you want to track, the only thing that remains is to draw the actual map. Start by plotting the scenes where two or more threads intercept (the express stops), then fill in the other scenes (local stops) around those pivotal moments.

With this map, you’ll be able to look at how different plotlines, characters, or thematic elements intercept, but you can also pull these threads (subway lines) apart to see how they work independent of the rest of the story.

While this approach might look very different from a traditional outline, you can easily extract a list outline or spreadsheet from your map. You can also adapt this technique and use it in concert with other types of outlines. As you gear up for NaNoWriMo, the most important thing is for you to find an outline technique that work best for you, and I hope you will give story mapping a try.


Gabriela Pereira is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur who wants to challenge the status quo of higher education. As the founder and instigator of DIYMFA.com, Gabriela teaches at national conferences, regional workshops, and online. She is also the host of the podcast DIY MFA Radio and author of the book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community (Writer’s Digest Books, 2016). Go to DIYMFA.com/storymap to download a print-friendly version of the story map from this post.