Making a List of Possibilities | Writing Wednesdays

It seems like I’ll be sharing one writing update per month for the time being! There’s been a few points in the month where I’ve felt like sharing an update, but I had to hold myself back. I generally like to write my blog posts in advance and then put final touches on them closer to their publication date, but that doesn’t really work for writing posts.

So much can change in the course of a single day, regarding my story progress. If I were to record every single up- and down-swing in my confidence, plotting, etc. my posts would be an absolute mess, and nobody wants that!

I think a lot of people harbor secret fantasies of being a writer but struggle to think of ideas or how to build good writing habits. I certainly have, and for a long time. That’s why I am so tempted to overshare right now, even at the expense of it ruining my streaks of progress! I love reading other people’s writing updates, because they get me excited to write. I like to think others might get the same motivation from reading my own trials and tribulations.

So that I don’t overshare on my novel writing progress, I’ve decided to limit myself to just one post per month until I am fully done with my first draft. However, my next few writing posts will also feature a strategy or resource(s) that have helped me in my early stages of writing a novel, starting today with how I plotted the novel on which I’m currently working.

But first, here’s my little writing update!

Deadline Extension

In my last writing update (Here We Go Again | #AmWriting), I shared my personal deadline for my first draft was May 31st. I had to move it to June 20th for the reasons listed below.

One, I squandered my time, prioritizing blog posts and goals. It’s hard to punish myself when I have been doing work that I’m proud of, especially work (read: reading) that I believe has the added benefit of making me a better writer.

Two, plotting my story has been difficult. I went through three versions to end up at the one that finally, and tidily, unites all the characters and plot lines that have existed in my head some amorphous brain stew. I’m glad that I didn’t start writing before I was confident in my plot, because I don’t think I would have ended up in place that I did or even a place with which I could be truly happy.

Three, for reasons I will share at the end of next month, I will have a lot more time to myself to write in the first half of June. I will be able to use this extra time to write quality words, not hastily written ones that are discardable placeholders. I’ll be able to focus on and live in the story I want to tell.

While I often say that I’m writing when I am actually doing other tasks that help with writing (plotting, world-building, etc.), I have started properly writing this past weekend. I took my plot (in the form of short summary paragraphs with bullet-points), identified the most prominent plot arcs, chose the ones I wanted to work on first, then referred to the books that I thought might give me ideas as I began to write. PROPERLY WRITE!

A List of Possibilities

At long last we’ve reached the point where I will talk about the main topic of this post: making a list of possibilities. I got this idea from a video by Katytastic that I’ve referenced before at the end of Writing Update #1 | NaNoWriMo 2017. She talks about making a list of every possible direction your story could go when you get stuck in your writing. While she is recommending this list for people who have already started writing, I took it and ran with it as a plotting technique.

I can’t plot my stories by following a strict story structure, as much as I’d like to be able to. I find it more useful to refer to well-known story structures as guidelines when I know there’s something missing that I can’t readily identify. Instead I’ve found much more success in plotting by summarizing the story I want to write in the simplest terms

I rarely know what I’m going to write (read: summarize) ahead of time; I discover it as I go. Unsurprisingly, this never results in a great plot at first. Fortunately, I’m often very easily able to tell when I don’t like something I’ve plotted (for any number of reasons) and go about fixing it.

What I do in these instances is brainstorm different options that fulfill what that plot point needs to do for the story to work, but in a way that satisfies me. Sometimes the first new option I come up with is great and will work, but I try to think of at least one more direction the plot point can take just so that I’m confident in my final choice.

Here’s an example of some of the original options I had for how the female (FMC) and male (MMC) protagonists in my story meet, revised and made more concise than I originally wrote them.

Option 1. MMC introduced before the Hook (witch taken away) as a charismatic mercenary. Meets FMC and build connection before he knows she’s important. Later he is a part of arresting party that takes the witch, helping the FMC avoid similar fate.

Option 2. MMC introduced after Hook, sympathetic to FMC helps her visit the witch in prison driven by his own secret motives.

Neither of these options made the final cut because I eventually realized that my MMC was better utilized not fraternizing with the townsfolk but with another group of people whom my FMC falls in with. Also, I didn’t want his true mission to turn into a reason why the witch was taken away, as it seemed like it might.

Ultimately, I decided not to let the MMC and the witch character’s paths cross at all. A few days after stewing over my plot, I decided to introduce him in an action scene, novel’s first major pinch plot as a mysterious rescuer who was fatefully in the right place at the right time.

(I wish I had a better example, but in the two first plot versions I drafted I deleted the “loser” options, so what did for this post was merge the “winners” from the first two plot iterations. )

End Note

If you’ve read this far, I hope you find this post helpful! I bet there’s a proper name and better description out there of what I tried to express through my “list of possibilities,” but I’ve not come across it and this is what worked for me.

Before I go, I will say that this process did not happen all in one day. I’ve always found it necessary to let things stew a few days before I return to work on the story so that I know if I’m still excited by what I came up with. So while making a list of possibilities may seem simple enough, it can become harder the further down the road you get. It’s especially hard if you grow attached to plot points that may not end up fitting well with the rest of the story in the end.

It helped to start a fresh new blank document each time I needed to make a drastic change. That’s why I can clearly delineate in my head two different plot versions (1.0 and 2.0) with their defining characteristics. It was also handy, because it allowed me to preserve old plot ideas that may still be utilized in future novel drafts as I discover what fits.

Thank you for reading!
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Writing Update #1 | NaNoWriMo 2017

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Hey, everyone! Hope you’re doing well and hanging in there! In case you haven’t noticed from my lack of posting, I’ve been avoiding writing this post. The writing has been a struggle for me personally, and I’ve been waiting for something positive to happen before I write my first update. I’ve realized though that it’s late enough in the month that I need to update or I’ll have no record to look back on at the end of this month, so here I am!

This post comes to you in two parts:

  1.  An update on how my writing is going
  2. The tricks and advice that are keeping me going

Novel Progress

As I predicted at the beginning of NaNoWriMo I did a lot of jumping around at the beginning. I started towards the beginning and as I wrote and learned more about the story, I began jumping ahead to make notes under chapter headings of things I want to remember to write once I get there in this draft.

I started this month with a Word document that contained 30 chapters with headings to remind me at what point I should have major plot points (e.g midpoint, pinches, climax, etc.) happening. I adjust these periodically and by no means am dead set on ending with 30 chapters. I just find it useful as visual representation of the mental framework I want to remember to follow so that stuff is actually happening. (I’m too good at stalling the story while I set up scenes that aren’t fully formed yet.)

There are often a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my head as I write. I’m try to stay in the moment, but my internal editor is always reminding me that I’m telling too much and that I keep changing my writing POV and that holistically the story is a mess and that my protagonist has no personality. But something I’ve found very encouraging to remember, when I’m in the mood to be optimistic are these words from Adam Silvera.

“For the first draft I “Tell Now, Show Later” because I gotta learn the characters and story first by TELLING myself before SHOWING you.

I find it a lot easier to write when I remember that this a crucial first step in writing a novel. I need to get all my ideas out and then select from amongst them the strongest that will make this story more coherent. Not everything will be necessary to include in a final draft, but the final draft will not be reachable unless I get all these scenes out of my head.

I also remind myself that I will be able to commit to a POV after I’ve decided what I want to keep and how to best have the story unfold. At that point I will be able to better develop my protagonist’s voice and better bring her to life.

So right now as I endeavor to catch up, I’m still jumping around to write the most interesting bits and following leads I discover as I write. I’m also rereading what I’ve written, which I know some people advise against, but I always find I’m able to add words as I reread and make things more clear because when I sprint I find I leave out clarifying and descriptive details in my hurry to keep up with the story unfolding in my head.

I also make in-line notes about things I want to fix later or add to make certain details more meaningful. And the best thing about doing it this way is I feel like I’m satisfying my inner editor and adding to my word count!

At this point, I figure I’ll share my current writing stats as depicted in graph form. Bare in mind, that although I’m behind, I have not given up hope!

Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 10.16.35 AM

Tricks That Help Me Keep Writing

I’m not a fast writer. I also find it difficult to write when I’m stressed out or deeply unhappy about something, because the words I write at these moments are often tinged with those negative emotions. Because I don’t think anyone should force themselves to write if they’re not in the right headspace for it (which, let me be clear, I consider separate from the infamous “writer’s block” headspace), I have found certain ways to keep adding words and not feel like I’m totally slacking.

These are my tricks for anyone struggling to write:

  1. Open a second NaNoWriMo document for all the extra stuff you don’t want cluttering your main story and don’t want to delete for the sake of winning. In my second document, I have transferred scenes that no longer fit, summaries for scenes that I’ve since written, and ideas for spin-off storylines and even related novel ideas I may want to pursue later! Then I just add up the word counts between the two documents when I want to update my NaNoWriMo word count on the website.
  2. Commit yourself each day to time spent with your butt in your writing chair. NaNoWriMo is all about that word count, but I find it much easier some days to think of success in terms of time spent writing rather than words written. If you often find yourself procrastinating on writing because you’re telling yourself you can do it later in the day, this might be something that can help you. I often find myself getting ants in my pants after I’ve written a couple hundred words and feel like I deserve a break, but it’s avoidant behavior that shouldn’t be indulged! If I tell myself to sit down for an hour and not get up, I often find that I’ll end up writing things that surprise myself and make me want to keep writing. These are often things I would’ve never thought of if I was allowing myself to take a break every 20 minutes.
  3. Don’t look at your friend’s stats if you’re behind! When I’m on track or even ahead, I find it incredibly reassuring to look at my writing buddies’ stats and remind myself that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing. But if you’ve not been able to write for a few days and have fallen really behind, comparisons can be really detrimental to your already fragile writing self-esteem. So my advice for catching up is to look up how many words you need to write each day to catch up and focus on meeting or exceeding that goal.

I also wanted to share a video with some good advice for those of you who may be stuck because you do not know what to write next! I was going to share this video in a post that may not end up happening so now’s a good a time as any.

In “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? | NANOWRIMO DAY 6” Katytastic provides what I think is excellent advice for this predicament, starting around 1:31 in the video.

End Note

Writing is hard. There’s no way around it. If  you are behind and feel like all is lost, I encourage you to look at your NaNo stats, which provide an estimate of how many words per day you need to write to still finish on time. As I am currently at 6,927 words on Day 14, my current estimate is 2,534 words, which is not hopeless! Especially when I think about how some days I may still manage to write more than that.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to update you all again. My priority is winning NaNoWriMo so I can’t guarantee another one this month, but I do hope to update you if and when I am able to catch up to where I need to be.

Thank you for reading!
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Let’s Talk Plot + Tips | NaNoWriMo 2017

Plot Tips

A post for anyone who might want to participate in NaNoWriMo, but doesn’t know what to write.

I think one of the main obstacles that prevents people from even trying to attempt NaNoWriMo is that they don’t know what they want to write. Some people have loads of works-in-progress, so choosing between them might be the most of their worries. And of course, there are those pantsers who are perfectly content to just write by the seat of their pants with no plans in sight, following every scent they come across as they go.

But for others like me, there might a desire to write but a hesitance, maybe related to confidence, to choose something and just go for it.

I have struggled with plot a lot in the past. I used to be a pantser, and was successful at completing NaNoWriMo. But once I realized that the drafts I wrote were not anything I wanted to continue working on past NaNoWriMo and that one of the major determinants of what books become my favorites is a strong plot I decided I wanted to become a writer with a plan. Of course, it’s been easier said than done.

I do not have all the answers and am still figuring out how to plot in a way that works for me. But I have come across a bunch of tips and resources that might help others, which is why I wanted to compile them here in a post for anyone who might benefit.

Bare in mind, this is not a comprehensive list, only stuff that I’ve personally come across and think have best influenced me.

Resources

  1. NaNoWriMo Adopt A Plot Forum. The official NaNoWriMo has an entire forum listed to adoptables each year. Here’s a link specifically to the Adopt a Plot forum, where people list anything from plot synopses to questions that might spark ideas. So it’s not exactly full-length prompts, but this might be a good starting point for you if you’re not even sure what kind of story you want to write yet.
  2. Three Act Structure. One of my favorite YouTubers is Katytastic who got her start making writing videos. Her explanation of the Three Act Structure is really easy to follow and something that might help you develop an effective plot that takes place over 27 chapters. It might make your story feel formulaic at first, but I think it’s a good starting place for a first draft and it may be smoothed out after the core of the story is written.
  3. Marissa Meyer’s 9 Steps from Idea to Finished. On her blog, the author of the Lunar Chronicles shows how she brainstorms/ researches and outlines in a few posts that I have found really helpful. I’ve not quite reached the point where her last few steps come in handy (e.g. revision), but I will definitely return to this series once I’ve got a first draft I’m ready to polish.

One Option (For if you’re really stuck)

Do a retelling of a well-known or beloved story with a different cast and setting. Some really successful fantasy novels that have done this are the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy and the Lunar Chronicles series. For instance, you might select a favorite Grim’s fairytale, Shakespeare play, Jane Austen novel, Biblical story, or tale from any other world mythology that speaks to you. Classics are wonderful sources to pull from because they’ve stood the test of time and are still around because there’s something universal about their stories that continues to resonate with modern day readers.

End Note

One last thing I want to leave you with before I go is about how prepared you need to be. Hank Green on the YouTube channel he shares with his brother John recently did a video called “The Secret to My Productivity” in which he describes that he doesn’t shoot to be 100% ready before he starts anything; he gets to 80% and then gets going. It might be hard to wrap your head around it, especially if you grasp at any excuse to hold off the future (like me). But I do believe he might be onto something.

I’ve come to realize over the last year that one thing that has really held me back in life is waiting until I’m 100% ready to do anything, which means I’ve gotten very little done. So what I’m getting at is that you should not not participate in NaNoWriMo if you don’t feel like you’ve figure out every last detail about your story. There’s point were you need to just start if you feel like you have enough to go on to figure out the rest along the way.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. I wish I had more to share, but I think these tidbits are a good starting point for anyone who’s not got much planned at all. On Halloween I plan to finally tell you all about the story I’m writing for NaNoWriMo and how I think I’m going to be successful.

Thank you for reading!
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Time for Camp NaNoWriMo!

Hello friends!

As promised I’m back again this week with my official Camp NaNoWriMo announcement post in which I will share my personal goals for the month-long event and some tips for my fellow busy bees who are crazy enough to want to join me on this journey.

In case you don’t know, Camp NaNoWriMo is a month-long writing event that happens officially twice a year in April and July. These events are more relaxed than the official NaNoWriMo event that happens in November in which a 50K novel is the official goal. In Camp, you can feel free to set your own goal and write whatever you want, including scripts, poetry, or even revisions.

I will personally be trying to write a really short first draft of a new novel idea I developed in March.

Disclaimer: This post will not be helpful if you don’t know what you want to write. I do hope by publishing this post two days before it starts so that hopefully you have enough time to scrounge something together!

Word Goal

Because of how busy I anticipate April being, I’m only setting a goal of 20,000 words, which translates to roughly 667 words per day.

Tips

This is my final month of my final semester of grad school so I have a lot of things to do. I have three final projects to complete, all of which involve 12-15 page papers due at the beginning of May. I also have to keep up with my regular tasks of assigned reading and grading which is part of my job as a TA. Oh, and I really need to start looking for jobs! So taking on Camp NaNoWriMo right now maybe is not the best idea, but I’m doing it anyway!

The tips I have to share that I know will get me personally through this month in one piece are:

  1. Be Organized. To do lists are my best friend. I write one every week at the beginning of my weekend. I plan out everything I want to accomplish on each day. And I break down larger projects into discrete units so I have more boxes to feel good about once I’ve marked them off. :)
  2. Set a Reasonable Goal. I’ve done this by setting only 20,000 words as my goal which means roughly 667 words per day. I think this goal should be achievable on top of the writing I will already need to do for my regular assignments and my final papers. Additionally, I think its enough that I can write it in about an hour of uninterrupted writing.
  3. Utilize Writing Sprints. Don’t underestimate the power of writing sprints. Particularly if you feel like you don’t have enough time blocked off to write. The Camp NaNoWriMo official Twitter page if likely to host several sprints throughout the month. You might also encourage your writing buddies to partake in your own writing sprint parties! (Who says you can’t be social during a NaNoWriMo event?!)
  4. Plan Ahead. If there are some days of the week you just know you will not want to write, then make sure you get extra writing done early so that you don’t feel guilty about it.
  5. Don’t Fall Behind. There’s nothing more disheartening than falling behind on something when you still have so many other things to do. That’s why I plan to start Camp off really strong this weekend on April 1st so that I get that rush of achievement early on and do not feel guilty if I don’t manage to write on my busiest days (Tuesday and Wednesday).

Plans

Camp NaNoWriMo begins on April 1st, which this year is Saturday so if you’re a real go getter you could stay up Friday night and start writing right at midnight if that sounds exciting to you. I personally think I may wake up early and have myself a little write-in after breakfast. My plan is to get a good head start early in the month and write a lot during the weekend. Ideally I’ll work on my novel a little every day, even if it’s not properly writing.

If you’re participating in Camp NaNoWriMo too, let me know in the comments! I hope write weekly updates, but I don’t feel confident committing to that schedule. If I have blogging time I also want to do other posts, some of which I hope will go up next week, so stay tuned for that. Thanks to everyone who’s been showing my blog some love. I really appreciate it!

Thank you for reading!
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