Catch NaNoWriMo Fever!

Catch NaNoWriMo Fever
If you are curious about NaNoWriMo or considering hopping into this crazy-fun event, I wrote about the what and why. Here’s an excerpt:

There are nay-sayers (as with anything) who complain it’s not the best way to learn to write. it’s not good for quality.  I think they  miss two key points.

It’s not about quality. It’s about the doing and the finishing.

NaNoWriMo can help you gain the habit of writing daily. I don’t know the current number used by the experts, but it’s somewhere between 28-45 times you need to do something to form a new habit. I would argue that a daily writing routine is the cornerstone of a writer’s life. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself if you are serious about writing.

How many writers out there have half-completed manuscripts and stories littered about? No need to raise your hand. I saw your furtive glance. Finishing is hard. Until you’ve done it a few times, finishing is a major lifetime achievement. It puts you into a small percentage of writers in the world  who have actually completed a novel.

The advantage of NaNoWriMo is that it brings together a unique combination of commitment, competition, and community to motivate new writers and those who haven’t written in a while. 1667 words a day feels like a lot at first, but it doesn’t give the inner editor time to squawk and fuss. And, once you establish a regular writing routine, you’ll find 1667 is not only an achievable daily goal, it might be on the low side.

It’s fun!

Sometimes it’s just fun to  participate in something big with other writers. NaNoWriMo is broken up into regions and these regions host write-ins, celebrations, and forums.  It’s fun to watch your word count bar fill up. It’s fun to see “Winner!” on your screen and collect your badge. And, for most of us, it’s fun to pound the keys and produce something new.

Keeping momentum during the month of November is a key aspect of NaNoWriMo. I’ve included the full text here.

During the month of November, the goal is to get the story down. To do that, you need to keep up your momentum. Instead of psyching yourself out over what might seem a daunting task, psych yourself up. Get excited. Let anticipation built. Eagerness and a good start on November 1 can get you a really good jump on your word count.

Riding the anticipation and excitement of beginning NaNoWriMo does carry you through a lot of words, but it will fade. This is when most first-time writers quit. Don’t quit. Keep up your momentum. Here are a few ways that work for myself and several writer friends.

Outline or pre-write the last week of October. Doing this close to the start of November ensures that your characters and plot details are fresh in your mind. As a pantser, I pre-write up to one third to one half of the draft’s final word count before I  ever begin the draft. This writing is not the story. It’s about the story, the characters, the relationships, the back story, and where the characters are a year after the novel ends. My plotter friends create a list of scenes needed to move the characters from point A to point B. Neither of us stick to our pre-conceived story ideas if the writing goes another direction, but it does give us the necessary roadmap to get well into the novel.

Send your inner editor to the Bahamas. Don’t worry about tangents, scenes that don’t fit, or details. Forget spelling and punctuation errors. Just concentrate on getting all your raw material into your rough draft. Later, you’ll have plenty of time to structure the scenes and decide what to leave in. If necessary, don’t read what you have written. Keep forging ahead.

Choose a writing prompt and adapt it to your characters and plot. Even if you end up discarding the scene in December, you can usually pull a few nuggets from it, including insight into a character or the thread of a sub-plot.

Plan ahead several scenes. I pre-write a great deal, so I know my characters and story fairly well by the time I begin the draft, but it helps to plan out 3-5 scenes ahead, or make notes at the end of a writing session. I’ll read over the pre-write as necessary and plan the work for the next several sessions whenever the momentum slows.

Be prepared to hit the wall. Experienced writers do this between 20,000-30,000 words.  You may find yourself at the wall at 10k or 15k. Expect it. It’s normal. The initial fun wears off and the middle section is upon you. Here is where the work begins. Plotters have an outline to work from. Pantsers start to do their own form of plotting at this point (and it’s as individual as the pantser). This year I’m trying something different. I created 80 scenes in Scrivener and made a descriptive note on about 50 of them. When I hit the wall, I have the option of picking the most interesting of these scenes to work on.

Work backwards, out of order, or write what Holly Lisle calls “candy bar scenes.” Plotters and pantsers alike might choose to jump to the end and work backwards, building the reason for each scene in reverse. Others like to write out of order or as scenes come to them, reserving the sorting out for after NaNoWriMo ends. Still others write the scenes that excite them, the ones that made them want to write this novel in the first place. Whichever you prefer, working out of order can help keep your momentum and excitement from bottoming out.

Touch your story every day. Even if you just get a few sentences down, write every single day and keep your story in your thoughts. In other words, stay engaged in your work.

A last thought on keeping up momentum: get an accountability partner or set some friends up to be your cheer squad. It helps, and a little encouragement goes a long way.

Looking for practical tips for NaNoWriMo? Here’s what I’ve learned and gleaned from five years of novel madness along with an excerpt.
Before NaNoWriMo:
  • Cook ahead or allow more takeout.
  • Get any big shopping trips out of the way.
  • Clean the house if it will help you relax.
  • Explain to family and friends that you will be occupied (tell them why and get some encouragement, too!).
 During NaNoWriMo:
  •  Carry a notebook everywhere and take advantage of spare moments to jot notes or dialog.
  • Connect with others. Sometimes you need to let off steam or have a good laugh.
  • Take things one scene at a time. One day at a time. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.
  •  Think about your scene as you go about your day and spend the last 5 min of each session jotting down what happens next.
  •  Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you need a character name or fact of some kind, type ELEPHANT into your MS as a placeholder. After NaNo, do a search for ELEPHANT and plug in the missing information.
  • One very important piece of advice. Don’t skip a day! Touch your story one way or another every day. Even if you only add a sentence, do something. Thinking you can catch up is often a mistake. One day turns into two or more. Now you’re behind and for lots of people it’s easier to give up than catch up.
  • Having said that, if you know you’ll be busy, try to hit 2000 words a day and pull ahead so those one paragraph or one sentence days don’t hurt
  • Don’t skip exercise and lay in a supply of healthy snacks and rewards. Do let someone else host Thanksgiving (or accept help) if this is your first NaNo.
  • Do let people know what you are up to so 1) you have support and 2) they don’t get hurt if you feel you need to decline lunch or coffee.
  • Unless you are a night owl or have energy late in the day, try not to wait until nighttime ot write. Whenever possible, write during a part of the day when your energy is naturally higher. Lunch hours, mass transit, early morning, an hour after or before work at your desk—do what you can to not come to the page drooping and ready for sleep.
  • Make your writing space comfortable, but not cozy. Most of us work better if we sit up. Well that may not be true. A friend of mine does her best writing in a big chair. Just make sure it isn’t so comfortable you doze off. Hey, it happens.
  • If possible, restrict internet and other distractions during your writing time and don’t hang out in your writing space unless you’re writing. This trains your brain to switch to writing mode when you sit down.
  • If you think about your scene and jot notes during the day, you’ll be ready to write and it should only take an hour to hit your 1667. Make notes for the next session and go on about your day, keeping the next scene in the back of your mind.

Each of these posts was originally published at

What is your favorite tip for reaching the winner’s badge for NaNoWriMo? If you haven’t done it, which elements make you curious?

The Enlightenment of Escape – Part 2

(c) 2014, Antionette Assaf

(c) 2014, Antoinette Assaf

It’s back to reality for me as I had spent the previous 5 days at the When Words Count retreat for writers in Rochester, Vermont.  If you remember back in April 2014 I wrote a post about my first stay.  This most recent trip, though shorter, was some of the most prolific days of my life.  In three days, I managed to write almost 40,000 words of a rough draft for my first novel.  There is magic in those mountains.  Productivity just breathes life in you the moment your foot touches the land

To prepare for my very first retreat experience, I researched several different writing retreats across the world.  I wanted a place that was built for writers and revolved around the craft.  The reason I selected When Words Count in Vermont is because you get 3 full meals each day and there is a hash session every night with writing coaches.  I hate cooking and love talking about writing, so this place is perfect for me.  I don’t want to segregate against other retreats out there since I haven’t yet had a personal experience at other locations.   However, the reviews of most retreats pretty much say the same thing:   Creative juices flow within the walls.

So seriously, why are you still sitting there reading this?  Go find yourself a retreat!

But before you go, here are some things to consider:

1.  Pick a place that will suit your needs.  There are a variety of writing retreats out there. Some are communal and others you are completely on your own.  Do your research before you book a stay.  If you are wanting 100% alone time, make sure the retreat offers that exclusivity.  If you want your alone time, but would like interaction with others during meals, find a retreat that is more communal.  Don’t be afraid to contact the retreat host to ask if their location suits your needs.  Retreat hosts want you to be productive.  If they know that their retreat will not meet your productivity needs, they should let you know.

2.  Know that there is a huge difference between Writing Workshops and Writing Retreats.  Writing Workshops are 100% communal and will require part (or most) of your day to be spent in some kind of class or presentation.  Little time is usually left to focus on your writing.  Writing Retreats offer 100% focus on your writing, despite if the retreat is communal or solitary.   If you want to be completely dedicated to your work, then go to a writing retreat.  If you are looking to take a class and have time to do a little writing, then a writing workshop is for you.

3.  If you go communal, mingle!  You are at a writers retreat – meet other writers.  Connect with those that adore the same craft as you.  On this past retreat, I connected with an amazing woman who has such a beautiful soul.  She brought a lot of inspiration to the series I am working on.  My plan for the series feels a little more grounded with her suggestions and thoughts.  Allow yourself to connect to others.  Many of you reading this are introverted (as am I), but if we stay in our shells we miss out on so much.  We cannot do this craft alone.  Make writer friends!!

4. Make time.  Even if it is just for a day or two – escape!  I have read several articles say, for some writers, just changing their environment makes them more productive.  So a new room, new desk, new house could really get that word pot bubbling… but go on a retreat, it is much cheaper than buying a new house.

5. Take breaks, seriously – it is ok.  Your cranium needs to refuel.  While on the retreat, you are banging away at the keys and your grey matter is getting sleepy.  Stop, walk away from the keyboard, and don’t feel guilty about it.  Allow yourself to recharge.   Take a walk, take a nap, take a swim, just take a break from writing, but make sure you get back to your writing when you are done.

6. Try to go at least once or twice a year.  You need to be good to yourself and your writing.  Do your best to get away to a writing retreat at least once or twice a year.

7. Take a friend.  If you want to have a familiar face with you, bring along another writer.  Just set a criteria like, “there is no talking until 8 pm at night.”

Keep in mind, that when looking for a retreat, it does not have to be an established location that is a “writing retreat”.  You can select places off of AirBnB or any other short term leased housing.  You can chose a place where you dreamed of escaping to, finding a little apartment or cabin for a temporary respite from the anti-writing time suck of life.  Just remember… you are there to write, not sightsee (well, maybe a little sightseeing – you need inspiration after all).

Write in front of a picturesque view of the Vermont country side. (c) 2014, Antoinette Assaf

Write in front of a picturesque scape of the Vermont country side. (c) 2014, Antoinette Assaf


Have you ever been to a writers retreat?  If so, where did you go and how was your experience?

Writing 101 – Character Creation

Character Creation

(c) Robyn LaRue 2014

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”

― Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury summed it up quite appropriately: without characters there is no story. Characters are strange…erm…characters. They’re the driving force behind our stories, striving to overcome any and all obstacles keeping them from realising their goals. Everything else is either plot or setting, and neither can tell a tale.

I know a lot of writers who struggle with character creation but I’m not one of them. Protagonists, antagonists and whole supporting casts can appear to me with little effort on my part, albeit rarely fully-formed. My problem is usually having a cast without a story. They sit around in my head like freeloading room-mates, eating my food and keeping me awake with loud music and incessant chatter. In the end, I have no choice but to evict them onto paper.

I know what you’re thinking (besides all the bad words): if you can pluck them from the air, why are you writing a post about character creation? Well, just because they come natural, doesn’t mean I don’t have to work at them once the spark has gone.

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

― Ernest Hemingway

Characters ARE people (not necessarily human but people none the less). They populate the worlds we create. Live, love, laugh, and generally spend their time being tormented by us, their creators. We pick them up, turn them this way and that, even give them a little shake to find out what falls loose. We place them into dire situations for our own amusement and test to see how far we can push before they break.

Love them or hate them, a well-developed character can affect us in more ways than we can imagine. Readers will stay up all night, eagerly devouring our books, simply to find out what happens next and how X will deal with the situation. They want to relate to our protagonists, despise our antagonists (although, not always), and sympathise with the long-suffering sidekick. People relate to other people.

So, how do we create a well-developed character?

I’m not going to lie to you, creating characters is hard work; a labour of love. The greater the influence a character has over the path of a story, the more you, the writer, needs to know about them. A main character should have no secrets from their creator.

1. Characters should have a voice

Every one of us is unique, shaped by our experiences. We all have our own way of telling our story and your character is no different.

How would your character tell their story if they could speak freely?

2. No-one exists in a vacuum

Most of us have some form of support network around us that we can call on for help when times get tough. Family, friends, colleagues are always (begrudgingly) on hand if we need them. We even have those who don’t necessarily want the best for us and will do all they can to hurt our efforts. Your characters have these too.

What is your characters’ support networks? Who are their closest friends/family members and why? Who are their enemies?

3. Goals and experiences

We all want something out of life, things we want to achieve, things we want to own. How we go about attaining these shapes who we are.

What are your characters’ goals, long- and short-term? What will they do to achieve them? How far will they go? How far is too far? Don’t confine yourself to the goals within the story you’re writing, think about their whole life.

4. Remember you’re unique

If everyone was the same, the world would be a very boring place. We all have our little habits and quirks that make us who we are. Some mask fear with humour, others are out-spoken to hide insecurities. I have colleagues who go through a precise morning ritual when they first arrive at their desks. All of these little traits add extra layers to our personalities. For instance, we all laugh at that crazy woman with the funny walk but if we look closer we’d see she walks that way to avoid the pavement cracks. If we took a moment to talk to her, she tell us that as a girl, she didn’t heed the warning and her mother suffered the consequences.

What are your characters’ quirks and mannerisms? Do they have a unique way of saying hello? What are the reasons behind all of these?

5. Be all that you can be

When we’re not out defeating the zombie hordes and saving the world from certain doom, we all have our day jobs and ways of relaxing. Your characters will also benefit from a life outside of the story.

What is your character’s occupation? What hobbies do they have? How do these impact on their actions and skill base?

Minimum character information

Fellow muse, Robyn LaRue, is a character-obsessed nut…has produced a comprehensive worksheet for those dipping their toes into the murky waters of character creation. It’s free and you can download it here from her site. For those who don’t want to read (shame on you), we should know the following about our characters as a bare minimum:

  • Age, gender, nationality, occupation
  • Family, partner, close friends, workmates
  • Desires, motives and fears
  • Physical appearance
  • Attitudes
  • Backstory
  • Reputation
  • Habits, mannerisms and unique vocabulary

The more you know about your characters, the more real they’ll feel. The days of one-dimensional archetypes are long gone, and good riddance. The “perfect” hero no longer excites us. We want to see flaws. Readers don’t just want to know that our characters are going down that pitch-black, blood-soaked staircase. They want to know details of the childhood trauma that caused their fear of the dark, their fear of blood and they expect you to know all about it.

I need to know everything about my main characters. It’s just not enough for me to say “oh, yeah…he tricked the guy into giving him is glasses” I need to know how he tricked him, what he said, what con he used. The information may never make it into the finished book but I HAVE TO know.

After all, the devil is in the detail.