Writerfield

Fuel for the creative writer

3 books to help boost your NaNoWrimo word count

Yes, it’s November, and that means another NaNoWriMo is here again!

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual event where writers from around the globe get together to produce a novel’s worth of output in a single month. Since everybody works through this challenge as a group, there’s a baked-in support network. There are regional groups and meetups too, so you’ll always have others who can help you through the marathon.

Why take part? If you complete the challenge, you have fifty-thousand words! What happens if you fail? Nothing, really! Let’s say you only (note the emphasis on only) manage thirty-thousand words, you’re still thirty-thousand words ahead of where you were in October, right? Same deal if you “only” write ten-thousand, five-thousand, or even one hundred words.

And what if the words don’t feel right? Consider this an exercise in speed writing combined with an introduction to a vibrant and fun community of like-minded people.

NaNoWriMo isn’t for everybody, but it might be just the thing you need to get moving on that big project you’ve been procrastinating.

If this is something you’re interested in, here are three great books that can help you reach the finish line. And they’re all affiliate free, so we’re not trying to make any money off these sales–these are genuine recommendations.

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Backing up your writing

Should you back up your writing?

Yes!

Well, that was a short post, eh?

Oh, wait. We can probably be a bit more helpful than that!

Let’s talk about what a backup looks like, and how and when you should do a backup. (And yes, you definitely should be backing up your writing!)

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Smash writer’s block and find the ending

Sometimes writing comes easily. When characters are believable, motivated, and fun, they can seem to act on their own. This remarkable phase of writing leads to astronomical daily word counts as your characters navigate the challenges you’ve set up for them.

When things are going well, writing seems easy.

However, what happens when your characters have had a slew of adventures and found themselves tied up in the mess of consequences? They’ve created a bunch of problems, often in fun and unexpected ways, and now it’s on the author to figure out how to build a world that will let them close everything out in a way that’s satisfying for your readers.

Uh oh.

So how do you get through this writer’s block and find an ending that will satisfy everybody? What do you do when the first 90% of the story came quickly but you’re left with the final–and arguably most important–10%?

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Starting stories without a bang

Stories should start in the middle of the action, right? You’ve probably heard that advice over and over again, in a number of different forms. Start strong, don’t let your characters dawdle around, give your readers something active to start with, and so on.

So is this always the best approach? Should you ever start your stories slowly, building up to the action later on? Or is it always correct to start trapped in the middle of a gunfight?

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

Just like writing, there are no hard rules here, despite what you might have heard. And writing, like life, is full of trade-offs.

Some stories will benefit tremendously from an introduction that’s fast-paced and full of action. Others need a gentle hand, one that guides the characters away from action, but not out of tension.

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Do stories need villains?

Can you think of a great hero who is made greater because of a villain who counters them perfectly?

Batman is at his most iconic when he’s facing the Joker. When Loki gets out of line, it’s Thor who has to be at the top of his game. And Harry Potter might have lived a relatively normal life without Voldemort causing trouble.

Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty. Ripley has an infestation of aliens. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader. Ariel versus Ursula.

Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

However you choose to define a hero, you can often find an antagonist who has the exact set of qualities needed to make the hero who they are.

So does every story need a villain?

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Why you shouldn’t worry about first draft formatting

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.

Margaret Atwood

Starting a new writing project is exciting. Perhaps the idea has been stewing in your brain for weeks or months, or maybe it erupted from your head like Athena.

New writing projects come with lots of unanswered questions. Who should the main character be? What are the world’s rules? Should you write in first person, third person, or should you take a more experimental approach?

What about more subtle concerns, like the font size or the formatting? Should you write this project in a format designed for your agent, whether you have one or not? Is it better to plan for a self-published story and to save time now by setting up your document as close to the final formatted version as possible?

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Most writers should consider the first draft as a place to think more about the story and less about the presentation. Develop your character, your setting, your plot, and give yourself all sorts of room to explore your new world. Forget about page margins and font sizes for now.

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“Don’t worry about repeating ‘they said,'” they said.

Nobody wants to sound like a broken record. In addition, nobody wants to sound like a broken record.

Wait. What?

Okay, two quick questions:

  • Do you own a thesaurus?
  • Have you ever replaced a common word you’ve repeated in your writing with a fancier, lesser-known one?

Here are my answers. Yes, and yes, of course! In fact, the first draft of the second list item above almost started with “Have you ever scrutinized a common word…” Ugh!

As we develop our writing voice, many of us go through a phase where we try to replace quotidian (common) words for ones that are more sophisticated (less common). We want our work to have precision, don’t we? So why would somebody complain when they could caterwaul? Is a situation propitious, or is it simply good?

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Stephen King, On Writing

Sometimes, a ten-dollar word can spice up your writing. These words are perfectly cromulent, after all. However, you’re making a trade-off. You can drag a reader out of the moment if they have to stop to look up a word, or if the word sticks out like something you’ve–oh, I don’t know–just looked up in a thesaurus.

Take dialogue, for example. In a heated conversation, characters are going to speak with emotion. They’re going to growl, they’ll yell, they might huff and puff, and they might mutter under their breath. Does that mean that they graduate out of simply saying what they’re saying?

In other words, should you bring out the thesaurus and eliminate “he said,” “she said,” “they said,” and the like?

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Dealing with a boring main character

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

Ernest Hemingway

The clouds overhead begin to part as the alien vessel’s hull emerges. Weeks of radio transmissions warned us that this day would come. The scientific community has been rallying behind an elite team of brilliant minds seeking salvation while nations around the world put their disagreements aside in the hope of saving the world. Armies are desperately attempting to finding ways to work together as charismatic leaders try to spread hope among their troubled populations.

Who would you choose for your protagonist here? A genius who’s struggled to find academic success but just might have the one key to saving humanity? What about the prime minister of a global superpower? Do you go with a soldier who has to choose between leading the charge against the invading forces or staying behind with her family?

Or did you accidentally start with Jimmy, the complacent guy who seemed interesting but now just wants to watch the whole thing on TV?

What do you do when your story is compelling but your main character feels like a boring spectator?

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Writing when you only want to plan

Imagination is a wonderful thing. A major reason that many of us write is to realize the unforgettable characters, gorgeous locations, and killer plots bouncing around in our heads.

The only drawback to having a great imagination is that it’s easier to simply imagine an amazing world than to generate words that evoke the same feelings.

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Have you ever tried to put words on the page that don’t feel right? Do you have a folder full of half-baked ideas that would certainly become best sellers if you could only find the right words? I certainly do.

Why does it feel so easy to imagine a complicated world while feeling so hard to write about that world?

This is a call for all you plotters. You’re not alone in this battle.

A word after a word after a word is power.

Margaret Atwood

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4 confidence boosting tips for writers

I hate writing, I love having written.

Dorothy Parker

Let’s face it. Writing can be a slog. Being an author doesn’t always make you feel like you’re crafting fantastic worlds out of the air. Sometimes writing sucks.

If you’ve ever felt the pain of an empty page, or found yourself stuck in a knotted plot that won’t unravel into the story you’re looking for, you know the pain. Maybe it comes in the form of fear, where you begin to question whether or not this whole writing thing is for you. Maybe it’s anger, and you’ve got a wastebasket beside your desk full of hastily half-scrawled and crumpled pages. Or maybe you’re just tired.

Whatever you do, don’t give up! Every writer struggles at some point. Some just make it less visible than others.

Photo by Web Hosting on Unsplash

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