Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: how to finish a novel

Kristen's New Author Pic
Kristen’s New Author Pic

It’s my FAVORITE time of the year. I SO LOVE HALLOWEEN. It is the best of all the holidays because it is the only holiday where hanging out with family and cleaning my house are optional. There’s also candy and costumes.

This year I am going as Maleficent. Still working on my costume, and since I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off, I actually had a spare Alice in Wonderland costume.

#ThingsOnlyWritersAndPornStarsSay

So of course I had to put THAT to use. And, you are welcome!

Yes, I filmed myself as Alice in Wonderland in the only room in the house with lighting that didn’t make me look like Alice in Wonder-When-Botox-Will-Go-On-Sale Land. But, hey, we are all here to have FUN!

Anyway, whether we Nano or not, I want to offer you a lesson about writing a novel. Probably the BEST lesson. Editing is necessary and awesome. In fact, there are a lot of books published that could have used it…a LOT of it. But, like Botox, it can be overdone and ruin something that could have been beautiful.

Editing can and WILL kill your WIP. It WILL tank progress and, if you allow it, it WILL derail you and keep you from finishing Nano. In fact, I think perfecting and editing kill more novels than “writer’s block” ever did. We futz and fuss and fret the magic right out of the work until it dies a lonely death in a forgotten digital file on a forgotten laptop.

But how can we NOT edit? How can ignoring editing make our work better? Kristen, are you mad? What’s next? Cats and dogs living together? 

It can. Trust me. Better yet. I’m an editor, so I will show and not tell.

I dig parables, so I have a good one for you.

I love to garden, but I am terrible at reading instructions, which means I am not going to read a How To book or gardening blogs, because I already have enough to read and this would steal time from my great joy…digging in the dirt. This means that, over the years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.

Code for : Killing Stuff

Almost seven years ago, we bought our first home. We got a sweet deal on it, but it needed work. The yard was little more than mowed field. I couldn’t wait to get in and pretty it up. I slaved for hours in triple-digit Texas heat digging holes and clearing land for gardens. I’d always loved oleander and when I found them on sale at the local nursery, I was ecstatic.

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Normally, oleander this size were about $150 but I got each for less than $20. I planted one on each corner of the house and dreamed of how beautiful they’d be when they matured.

Then we had the most freakish, freezing winter in Texas history. I’d never even seen snow before and suddenly we were buried in eight inches of it.

The Canadians can all stop laughing now. You guys have things like PLOWS, SNOW SHOVELS, SNOW TIRES…and COATS.

Anyway, the oleanders that seemed to be doing okay during the mild fall were obliterated. When early spring came, I cleaned up all the dead stuff and dug out all the oleanders and threw them away. All except one because I ran out of energy.

Much to my horror, guess what sprouted once it got warmer?

I….LIVE….AGAIN!
I….LIVE….AGAIN!

My last remaining oleander. *sniffles*

To this day, I can’t look at that oleander without grieving the other four. I feel so foolish. What if I’d just been patient? What if I hadn’t been so quick to judge what was “dead”?

This is what premature editing can do to our story. When we start hacking away and digging stuff out too soon, we have no idea what treasures we might be tossing in the garbage.

Never underestimate what your subconscious is capable of doing. Our subconscious mind is planting seeds along the way that can eventually sprout into ideas better than we imagined. Editing too soon can ruin that magic and toss it in a Hefty bag, just like my poor oleanders.

Tips to Avoid Premature Editing

Fast Draft (Kinda Like Nano on Steroids)

Candace Havens teaches a method called Fast Draft and I use it to this day. You write the entire novel in a matter of two weeks. No stopping, no looking back. No editing. This is my preferred method, because I am notorious for editing stuff to death.

In the mystery I just sent off to an agent, I forbade content editing. There were times I thought what I was writing was ridiculous. SHEER MADNESS. But, as I got closer to the end, I realized my subconscious was far smarter than I was. I ended up with a richer, deeper story that I never would have been able to consciously plot. Because I didn’t uproot those seeds of inspiration, I was finally able to watch them bloom into something far more remarkable.

The killer I’d “plotted” was actually a red herring. My subconscious actually had come up with a twist even I didn’t consciously see. Had I gone back and “fixed” things? I would have edited out the best twist in my book.

Thus I challenge those of you who might have a tough time finishing. Give permission to simply WRITE. Your subconscious might have a miracle in store for you.

Limited Edit

Allow yourself to correct typos, punctuation and grammar ONLY. Anything else that you believe needs to be changed, make a note of it in a different color. Then keep moving forward.

I know this isn’t for everyone. Every time I talk about this topic, I get a half a dozen comments from people who just can’t bear to not edit. Of course, many of them don’t have finished books, either.

In the end, these are tips. You have to find what works for you. But I would at least give these methods a try. You can always slay the superfluous adverbs later ;).

Make Notes

If you are tempted to edit, instead, just make a note of it in a different color and keep going. For instance, maybe your protagonist didn’t have a sister when you started the book, then suddenly she does. You are tempted to edit this new character out. Instead of doing that, just make a note of it and riff with it. Your muse could be doing you a solid.

Writers often whine that they wish the muse would visit, but then when she does, they undo all her magic with edits. Let her help!

Remember that Nanowrimo is NOT about 50,000 perfect words so it is okay if there is a false trail in there. But if there IS, then you at least have some breadcrumbs to get you back on track and you haven’t wasted precious time polishing something that didn’t work OR unraveling something seriously cool your muse was gifting to you when you were refilling your vodka coffee ;).

Again, if you LOVE editing and you have finished 20 novels and bathe regularly in $50 bills, keep doing it. I am ALL about writers finding what works for them. There IS no One-Size-Fits-All.

But, if you’ve had a hard time finishing or you do get stuck, it doesn’t hurt to give this a try. I argued with pros who told me to stop editing my stuff for YEARS and I was stubborn as a goat (note the pic of me with the horns above—this is before I put ON my Maleficent costume 😉 ). In all honesty, I really wish I hadn’t been such a stubborn pain in the @$$.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever gotten overzealous and edited the heart out of a story and later regretted it? What tactics do you use to keep from editing too soon? Does editing early not bother you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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Image via Lauriesanders60 WANACommons

Last month I participated in NaNoWriMo even though it’s the holidays and, as many of you know, I am battling the last vestiges of Shingles which makes me tired, like down to the BONES tired. But, lest I go crazy, I had to write, because that’s what writers do. We aren’t happy unless we are writing something. 

I figured in the beginning I likely wouldn’t make the 50,000 word mark not only because of feeling puny, but I also have other writing that doesn’t count toward NaNo.

Yet, the interesting thing is, being tired can have benefits. If we wait until that celestial alignment when the kids aren’t sick, our pants fit, there isn’t a heap of laundry, the garage is clean, the junk mail sorted, and we feel energized? We won’t get a lot of writing done, so here is some food for thought next time you believe you’re too tired to write.

Embrace Being Tired

Okay, first I want to take a moment to acknowledge that we do need rest. We need breaks and days off. Shingles had taught me I am seriously HUMAN. It’s actually humbled me to be better at resting because I love what I do and this makes it easy to overdo.

I’m going to be writing a new NF in 2015, so I needed to REST my left brain and let RIGHT BRAIN have some time to play (ergo NaNo).

Your Body Will Lie to You

Beyond sickness and disasters, our bodies tend to be a bit lazy, and they like to lie. They tell us we need a day or two or twenty off, and the longer we’re away from the work, the easier it is to let things slip, to see a new shiny and start a newer, more exciting project. In this business, time is our enemy. Always remember this.

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Image via JulaiLimjl Flikr Creative Commons

It Will Never Be a “Perfect” Time

We want to wait until we’re rested, the kids are out of the house, until we have total quiet, a new computer, the list goes on. To do this job at a professional level, we have to learn to write no matter what. This is a profession, not a playpen. People often groan that NaNoWriMo is in November and there is all this shopping and cleaning and cooking.

Okay, well, I used to work in sales and they still expected my tail to be on the road selling industrial paper from Mexico to Missouri until that scrawny four days off for vaca. If I was sick? I knew when I came back, I had to bust tail to catch up. Family emergency? Okay, tend it, but then back to get your $#!& done.

Coffee was for closers.

Writing (for those who want to make a living at this) should apply the same rules as other professions. Granted, it’s a LOT harder because no boss is going to write us up or chew us out if we don’t write…and most of our family and friends secretly believe all we do is play with our imaginary friends and we don’t have a “real” job. We need A LOT more self-discipline than other jobs.

I write every day but Sunday with a preschooler whacking me 47 times with a NERF sword before breakfast, all the while Paw Patrol is blazing in the background. I’ve learned to un-see the dirty dishes, the laundry that needs folding, and the Christmas tree that was attacked by my cats in the middle of the night and needs triage.

Distractions=Death

The Spawn
The Spawn

Time is the Enemy

When writing anything (but especially fiction) taking time off can kill momentum. We need to go back, reread, familiarize ourselves with the story and characters (since we’ve slept since that last bit we wrote). This can lead to editing the beginning to death and stalls forward progress. We get bogged down in the first part of the book.

Take too much time? Likely, you’ll have to start all over.

I did. Yes, even NF authors are vulnerable to time. Back in 2011 I scored a premium NYC agent and over a year and a half later? The project was going nowhere. When I finally decided to self-publish my most current social media book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I spent more effort trying to retrofit work I’d done for my agent back in 2011 than I want to admit. Finally, I just scrapped the whole thing and started over. 150 pages of wasted work all because I didn’t keep writing.

My mistake. Won’t happen again.

Sometimes Being Tired Produces Better Writing

I know a lot of you work day jobs, are full-time caregivers, and you’re squeezing in writing when you can. GO YOU! You’re superheroes, and always remember that. Keep pressing.

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Yet, one mistake we make is we don’t tackle the novel when we’re tired. We believe our work will be better if we’ve rested.

This isn’t necessarily true.

Candy runs a workshop she calls Fast Draft. In Fast Draft, you write your novel in two weeks. It is one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever done, but it works. No editing, no going back, just keep going forward. By Day Three, I promise you’ll feel like you’ve been tossed in a bag of hammers and shaken.

BUT…

One of the biggest enemies of great fiction is Conscious Mind. Our internal editor lives there and won’t let us move forward until we get rid of “was clusters” or add more detail to that “jungle scene.” Conscious Mind will have you “being responsible” and browsing the Internet looking at South American plants instead of writing.

Conscious Mind is the Bigger Sibling Who Constantly Calls Little Sister (Subconscious Mind) Stupid and Tells Her to Shut Up

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Image via Life Mental health Flikr Creative Commons

Subconscious Mind is the primal mind. It sees things we don’t, makes connections Conscious Mind, also known as “The Thinking Brain”, misses. Thinking Brain is a bit of a Bossy Pants and likes to shove Subconscious Mind around, give it wedgies and promise that it can jump off the roof with an umbrella and float down.

Hey, Penguin does it all the time.

The best way to get your Subconscious Mind to help you is to wear the bigger, bossier sibling out. This allows the Little Guy an opportunity to help you make magic without the bigger sibling butting in.

Conscious Mind is the Inner Editor, the Inner Critic, the Nit-Picker, whereas the Subconscious Mind (the Limbic and “primitive” brain) is the one who sees value in finger painting and advantages of glitter.

Subconscious Mind will thrust you deeper into the story. Subconscious Mind is like a toddler who jumps head-first off the couch. No fear. There will be greater emotion and the writing often is more visceral. Subconscious Mind plants Seeds of Awesomeness that you will see flower into something more amazing that you believed you were capable of.

But that won’t happen unless Conscious Mind is exhausted and too tired to argue and bully it’s littler sibling.

So if you’re struggling with the WIP, you might just be a little “too rested.” This isn’t to say we don’t take care of ourselves, but total immersion and pressing on even when we’re worn out and would trade everything we own for a nap does have major advantages.

It’s also why I didn’t kill myself to make the 50,000 words for NaNo, but am still plugging. If I take too much time away from the novel, I KNOW I can cause myself more grief than I care to deal with.

Have you ever done a fast draft? Did it help? Do you write even when you’re tired? What has that shown you? What are your thoughts? Questions? War stories?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.
Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month—November) is just around the corner. Many new writers take this as an opportunity to test if they can do this professional writing thing “fer realz.” Some of us dust off an old story and see if we can toss it in the crucible of peer pressure and FINALLY finish. This is a good plan…most of the time.

We have to be careful. Never giving up might keep us from ever succeeding.

Want to know the secret to success? Quitting. Yes, you read correctly. And, if you’re a creative professional, it is in your interest to learn to get really good at quitting. Maybe you’ve felt like a loser or a failure, that your dream to make a living with your art was a fool’s errand.

Ignore that junk and understand…

Winners Quit All the Time

I posit this thought; if we ever hope to achieve anything remarkable, we must learn to quit. In fact, I’ll take this another step. I venture to say that most aspiring writers will not succeed simply because they aren’t skilled at quitting.

Ooooohhhh.

Learning Discernment

One problem many artists have is we lack discernment. It’s easy to get trapped in all-or-nothing thinking. If we defy family in pursuit of our art and something stops working properly, out of pride often we will persist even when the very thing we are attempting is the largest reason we will fail.

We keep reworking that first novel over and over. We keep querying the first novel and won’t move on until we get an agent. We keep writing in the same genre even though it might not be the best fit for our voice. We keep marketing the first self-published book and don’t move forward and keep writing more books and better books.

If you are tangled in a book that isn’t working, never ends, keeps getting rejected, ask for help. Sometimes the story (plot) is there only we can’t see it. We’re too vested and emotionally blinded.

This is why I do consulting. Yes, it’s $160 for three hours, but I’ve yet to meet a book I couldn’t wrangle and make behave. A skilled outside perspective is priceless and will save time and money (and good content editors are NOT cheap). People like me can help you quit the book that isn’t working and start writing the book you originally had in mind.

(***If you need help, e-mail me at kristen at wana intl dot com)

Learning to Quit is the Surest Insurance Against Failure

I like to say, “Persistence looks a lot like stupid.” The act of never giving up is noble, but never giving up on the wrong things is a formula to fail. We have to learn to detect the difference between quitting a tactic and quitting a dream.

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons
Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

If I am trying to climb Mt. Everest, but I am repeatedly failing at climbing the one side, which is a sheer rock face with no way to get a footing, then it is suicide to keep trying the same thing. If, however, I regroup, hike back to the bottom and take another way up the mountain, I am a quitter…but I am NOT a failure.

In fact, in order to “win” I must “quit.”

Learn to Quit from the Best

Most of us are lousy at knowing how and when to quit. This is one of the reasons it is a good idea to surround ourselves with successful people, because successful people are expert quitters. When I started out, I had all the wrong mentors. I had writer pals who quit writing when it was boring or who quit querying after a handful of rejections. They quit attending critique because they got their feelings hurt when people didn’t rave their book was the best thing since kitten calendars.

All this wrong kind of quitting is easy to fall into. Excuses are free, but they cost us everything.

My Life Changed When I Changed the Quitters in My Company

It all started with the DFW Writer’s Workshop. I attended and met people living the life I wanted to have…the life of a professional writer. They were the same as me, and yet very different. When I attended my first conference, I found myself being pushed to yet a higher level.

I met and stalked Candy Havens. Candy is an excellent quitter. She wrote her first bad book and didn’t spend the next six years trying to resurrect it. She sought training and experts and moved forward. She quit outside hobbies and friends that took away from her goal of becoming a professional author.

Theresa Ragan was rejected by traditional publishers for over twenty years. She finally self-published and has now sold hundreds of thousands of books. NY tried to offer her a contract and she turned them down. 

I turned in a hundred page proposal for Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World in the summer of 2011 to a premiere agent, a DREAM agent. But, after NY ignoring it for over two years? I thanked my agent for his efforts and published it myself. We need to always be moving forward, and sometimes pressing on requires letting go. We can’t grab hold of the new if we are hanging on to the old.

If something isn’t working QUIT. Move on! If we have to defend and justify what we are doing there’s something wrong.

Everything is Our Enemy

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It’s hard to know when to quit. I’m a loyal person. I’m loyal to a fault and I struggle every day with this lesson. But I’ve recently come to a conclusion. People who reach their dreams don’t get there by doing EVERYTHING. Everything is dead weight. Everything will keep us from focusing. Everything gets us distracted.

Everything is the enemy.

Sometimes we need to let go of inefficiencies or false trails, and if we don’t let go, then failure is just a matter of time.

Artists Actually Need More Quitting

Quit your day job. Today. This moment. Now, by quitting, I don’t mean you should throw your laptop in a waste can and take a bat to that copy machine that’s eaten every presentation you’ve tried to photocopy since the day you were hired….though that might be fun.

No, I mean mentally QUIT, then hire yourself to the dream. Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. It takes guts to be a writer. It takes guts to be any kind of creative professional. Hire yourself to the job you dream about. TODAY.

No aspiring writers, only pre-published writers. If you want to be a professional author, you must quit to win. The day job is no longer the ends, but rather the means. The day job is just venture capital funding the successful art-making business…YOU.

You are a pre-published author…who happens to also be a stay-at-home-mom, a computer programmer, a salesperson, a whatever.

Learn to Quit Being “Everything”

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Again, Everything is the enemy. Friends and family will want you to keep being the maid and the taxi and the babysitter and the buddy who can spend all day shoe-shopping. Many of us will try to keep being Everything to everyone and we’ll just try to “fit in” writing, but that is the lie that will kill the dream. We can’t be Everything!

A new quote I have etched in my brain is, I can be respected or popular. I can’t be both.

We must learn when to quit and to be firm in quitting. Others have the right to be disappointed, but they’ll get over it. And, if they really love us they will get over it quickly and be happy for our resolve to reach our dreams. If they don’t? They’re dead weight and it’s better to cull them out of our life sooner than later.

Yes, this is hard stuff. Reaching our dreams is simple, but it will never be easy ;).

So what are some of your quitting stories? Did it work? Were you better off? Tell us your quit to win story! Do you need help sticking to your guns? Hey, your family doesn’t get you, but we do! Do you have a problem and you don’t know if you should stick or quit? Put it in the comments section and let us play armchair psychiatrist!

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

I LOVE NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which is November). It is a fantastic way to push ourselves and also for new writers to be introduced to a professional pace and a professional attitude. When we do this “writing thing” for a living, we have to write no matter what.

I’ve written books while a toddler stood whacking me with a sword. I’ve written blog posts from hospital rooms or the day after funerals. Life doesn’t stop because we want to “create.” Family gets sick, houses need to be cleaned, and bills need to be paid. Often we have to balance a day job, too.

Though I encourage you all to try NaNo, I offer a caveat. Invest in a little planning.

There are few things more defeating that to a) start off hot and heavy only to write ourselves into a corner or b) invest a month of suffering and sleep-deprivation only to end up with a derailed mess that can never be repaired short of tearing it down to the foundation and starting over.

I’ve seen a lot of first drafts that, by the end? Kinda resemble that poor baboon from the movie The Fly. The one who didn’t make it through the transporter? *shivers*.

Jami Gold is a WANA instructor and a FABULOUS teacher. She’s here to give you some tips for your NaNo journey, but her advice is sound for ANY writing. Most writers who make the good living publish more than a book a year, and they certainly don’t take five, six or TEN years to finish. I can’t tell you how many writers I see year after year at the same conference shopping the same book they’ve been trying to land an agent for since 2007.

WANA is here to prepare you for your brilliant future!

Take it away, Jami!

How to Make Sure Your NaNo Project Isn’t a Hot Mess

So, you’re thinking about doing NaNoWriMo? Great! Every writer should probably sign up to do NaNo at least once. We never know what process might work for us until we try.

But what do we do after we decide to go for it? The sheer number of words required for NaNo can be intimidating by itself. 50,000 words? To some of us, that sounds like a lot.

Maybe we’ve written mostly short stories or novellas, or maybe we get stuck at the 30,000 word mark and haven’t finished a story before. Add in the 30-day deadline and NaNo can sound like it’s geared toward gluttons for punishment. *smile*

But It’s a GOOD Kind of Punishment

No matter what—whether we “win” NaNo or not—we’re going to learn something about ourselves. We’ll learn about our ability to focus, our ability to meet deadlines, our performance under stress, our ability to crank out words (any words) when needed, and what writing processes might or might not work for us in the future.

Good stuff! All that alone makes the time and effort spent doing Nano worth it.

But what if a decent story comes out of that time and effort too? That’s a super-bonus for us.

So while time spent doing NaNo is never “wasted”—even if we end up with a hot mess at the end—finishing up with useable writing is preferred. The question now becomes, how can we prevent that “hot mess”? *smile*

Planning, Planning, Planning

Writing can feel a little like THIS...
Writing can feel a little like THIS…

I’m a pantser, which means I write by the seat of my pants. Story outlines? Blech! Scene cards? Ugh. Give me a blank page and a vague idea and I’ll write ‘til my fingers ache.

But… *sigh* But I’ve also learned that I get stuck less often if I know what direction I’m heading.

To build on an analogy Kristen used in a workshop during this past weekend’s WANACon, I might not know what roads to take (scenes) and I might not know the exact turns to make (story turning points), but I know I need to head west to get to the destination of California (the story’s end).

We all get stuck in our stories sometimes, but during the deadlines and word count pressure of NaNo, getting stuck can kill our chances of winning. So if planning can help minimize the amount or length of those “stuck points,” we’ll be better off.

What Does NaNo Planning Look Like?

This planning can look different for everyone. Stories consist of (at least) two main arcs: the story/plot arc and the character/emotional arc.

At their essence, all stories are about change. They start at Point A and things happen in a cause-and-effect, action-reaction chain to end up at Point B.

Story/plot arcs are about the “what” or the “why.” What happens to make things change? Why is the story happening now and not a year ago?

Character/emotional arcs are about the “who” and the “how.” Who is facing the obstacles and has to change to succeed? How are they changing?

Most stories are a mix of those plot-driven and character-driven questions. But we might not need to plan ahead with both. Some of us are better at winging one type of arc than the other.

That’s why everyone’s blog post about “getting ready for NaNo” looks different. Some people are focusing on the plot elements—filling out beat sheets or story outlines—because that’s what they need. Others are focusing on the character elements—filling out character sheets or writing character backgrounds—because that’s what they need.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. And part of the beauty of NaNo is discovering what kind of writer you are. Once you know, you’ll know what tools you can skip in the future.

The Basics of Planning for Plot

Image vis Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.
Image vis Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

If we’re better at making up characters as we go along, we might want to plan some of the main story turning points.

  • What drags the character into the story and forces them to make a choice to get involved?
  • What raises the stakes and tension during the middle of the story?
  • What’s going to make the character lose hope before the end?
  • What’s going to push the character to change and face the obstacles at the end?

We can plan a lot more obviously, but that gives us a starting point and an ending point. That Point A and Point B will give us a direction as we write. And even if we’re the pants-iest pantser, that much planning is less likely to freak out our muse than doing a full story outline.

The Basics of Planning for Character

On the other hand, if we’re better at making up scenes and plot points as we go along, we might want to plan the character arc. That means we have to know the character’s Point A and Point B.

Some people find character arcs harder to “see” because they’re more mental than physical. But in character terms, Point A and Point B means we have to know their destination (what they want) and their beginning (what’s holding them back).

  • What does the character long for and desire? (story ending)
  • What choices are they making that keep them from their dream? (story beginning)
  • What do they learn? (how they change)
  • What are they willing to do at the end that they weren’t willing to do before? (story climax)

Those tips are the ground level of planning for plot and character arcs, and for some people, that might be all they need to get going. At some point though, even most pantsers will need to plan a bit deeper to get unstuck. That’s where my “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writer’s Guide to Plotting a Story” workshop through WANA International comes in to help.

I’m offering my workshop next week (October 15th and 17th) just in time for NaNo. I teach a plotter and pantser-friendly method for planning our stories just enough to write faster and get unstuck. Kristen’s blog readers can get $10 off by using the Promo Code: gopants.

(Note: If the days/times aren’t convenient for you, everyone who signs up receives a full recording of the class and a thorough handout. I teach this class about once a year, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to sign up.)

I won’t be doing NaNo this year, as I’m not in the right spot with any of my writing projects to do it, but I had a great time last year. I’m “Jami Gold” if you want to buddy me so I can cheer you on from the sidelines. *smile*

Will you be doing NaNo this year? If not, what’s holding you back? Does this post help you know what you need to plan in advance? Can you make up the plot or character arcs as you go along, or both (or neither)? Do you have any questions about my workshop?

***

THANK YOU, JAMI!

I LOVE hearing from you! And, like always, comments for guests count DOUBLE for my contest.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of October, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

September’s Winner is: Sean T. Smith. Please send 5000 words in a WORD document (double-spaced) to kristen at wana intl dot com. Congratulations!

Author Jami Gold
Author Jami Gold

After discovering a chemical compound that makes chocolate even more awesome, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in making her sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.

Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

Find Jami at her blogTwitterFacebookPinterestLinkedIn, and Goodreads.

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Image via Lauriesanders60 WANACommons

One of the best writing teachers/mentors in the business is Author Candace Havens. This woman isn’t an author, she’s a force of nature, and any writer who wants to go pro needs to take her classes. Recently, she presented for us at WANACon, and she brought up some interesting points I’d like to share here.

Embrace Being Tired

Okay, first I want to take a moment to acknowledge that we do need rest. We need breaks and days off. I’ve been working 16 hour days 6 and 7 days a week since the beginning of the year, and right now all I want to do is curl up and sleep…for a month. I’ve wanted to do this for the past 5 weeks at least, but I had to finish what I’d started.

It’s been almost two years since my last social media book, and it was time for a new one. I’d written a 100 page proposal that didn’t go anywhere in the traditional sphere, so at Christmas time, I decided to just dig in and write the book. Obviously, a lot had changed since I’d written the proposal, so basically I was back at square one. But, I set a strict deadline (End of February to finish first draft) and dug in.

Your Body Will Lie to You

Our bodies tend to be a bit lazy, and they like to lie. They tell us we need a day or two or twenty off, and the longer we’re away from the work, the easier it is to let things slip, to see a new shiny and start a newer, more exciting project. In this business, time is our enemy. Always remember this.

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Image via JulaiLimjl Flikr Creative Commons

It Will Never Be a “Perfect” Time

We want to wait until we’re rested, the kids are out of the house, until we have total quiet, a new computer, the list goes on. To do this job at a professional level, we have to learn to write no matter what.

I blog every day with a toddler whacking me 47 times with a NERF sword before breakfast, all the while Bubble Guppies blazing in the background. I’ve learned to un-see the dirty dishes, the laundry that needs folding, and the Christmas tree that still needs to be taken down. Yes, I am officially white trash.

Distractions=Death

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The Spawn “helping me” during revisions. Yes, I wanted to stop and clean the mess, but resisted. Gave me a twitch, but I kept going…

Time is the Enemy

When writing anything (but especially fiction) taking time off can kill momentum. We need to go back, reread, familiarize ourselves with the story and characters (since we’ve slept since that last bit we wrote). This can lead to editing the beginning to death and stalls forward progress. We get bogged down in the first part of the book.

Take too much time? Likely, you’ll have to start all over.

I did. Yes, even NF authors are vulnerable to time.

I spent more effort trying to retrofit work I’d done for my agent back in 2011 than I want to admit. Finally, I just tossed most of the writing and started over. 100 pages of wasted work all because I didn’t keep writing.

My mistake. Won’t happen again.

Sometimes Being Tired Produces Better Writing

I know a lot of you work day jobs, and you’re squeezing in writing when you can. GO YOU! You’re superheroes, and always remember that. Keep pressing.

Yet, one mistake we make is we don’t tackle the novel when we’re tired. We believe our work will be better if we’ve rested.

This isn’t necessarily true.

Candy runs a workshop she calls Fast Draft. In Fast Draft, you write your novel in two weeks. It is one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever done, but it works. No editing, no going back, just keep going forward. By Day Three, I promise you’ll feel like you’ve been tossed in a bag of hammers and shaken.

BUT…

One of the biggest enemies of great fiction is Conscious Mind. Our internal editor lives there and won’t let us move forward until we get rid of “was clusters” or add more detail to that “jungle scene.” Conscious Mind will have you “being responsible” and browsing the Internet looking at South American plants instead of writing.

Conscious Mind is the Bigger Sibling Who Constantly Calls Little Sister (Subconscious Mind) Stupid and Tells Her to Shut Up

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Image via Life Mental health Flikr Creative Commons

Subconscious Mind is the primal mind. It sees things we don’t, makes connections Conscious Mind, also known as “The Thinking Brain”, misses. Thinking Brain is a bit of a Bossy Pants and likes to shove Subconscious Mind around, give it wedgies and promise that it can jump off the roof with an umbrella and float down.

Hey, Penguin does it all the time.

The best way to get your Subconscious Mind to help you is to wear the bigger, bossier sibling out. This allows the Little Guy an opportunity to help you make magic without the bigger sibling butting in.

Conscious Mind is the Inner Editor, the Inner Critic, the Nit-Picker, whereas the Subconscious Mind (the Limbic and “primitive” brain) is the one who sees value in finger painting and advantages of glitter.

Subconscious Mind will thrust you deeper into the story. Subconscious Mind is like a toddler who jumps head-first off the couch. No fear. There will be greater emotion and the writing often is more visceral. Subconscious Mind plants Seeds of Awesomeness that you will see flower into something more amazing that you believed you were capable of.

But that won’t happen unless Conscious Mind is exhausted and too tired to argue and bully it’s littler sibling.

So if you’re struggling with the WIP, you might just be a little “too rested.” This isn’t to say we don’t take care of ourselves, but total immersion and pressing on even when we’re worn out and would trade everything we own for a nap does have major advantages.

Have you ever done a fast draft? Did it help? Do you write even when you’re tired? What has that shown you? What are your thoughts? Questions? War stories?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!