What I’m anxious about NaNoWriMo the most is time. There’s not enough of it. I work full time and get home later than I’d like so secretly writing at my desk on the slow days and pumping my body full of caffeine at nights seems to be the way to go. I have planned the amount I will write each day in the calendar you see at the top (there’s a link to print the calendar off for yourself at the bottom). There can be no excuses for going under but I will never stop myself from going over! I’ve always found that when I’m in a scene writing comes naturally, it’s the beginning that is the hardest part. I wrote about this in my previous post. Stopping in the middle of action instead of at the end usually helps me to re-enter the world quicker, so that is how I plan to finish each day.
I won’t be starting from scratch like a lot of NaNoWriMo writes, instead I will be starting at around 20,000 words. At the end of November, I hope to be at 70,000 words or more with another 15,000 words to go to reach my 85,000-word goal. phew. I’m hoping that the month of November can get me into a routine. For December is a crazy month, I’ll be going home for Christmas and there’s a lot of distraction there. If I can keep the same pace I will (hopefully) have for November however, I should be able to reach my goal (and finish my first draft) by the middle of the month. In time to step back, bask in the Christmas break and then come back and really chop my WIP up.
Although haunted by my anxious demons, I have some excited puppies nipping at their heels. The truth is, I’m in love with this story. I really need to write this book. Ideas about the world, the politics, my lovable main character, her silly sidekicks form in my mind daily. I need to share them with people. I already have the tweets in my head that I can share when it’s published, isn’t that the most important reason for it to get written. Think of the tweets! As well as the fact that I’m already thinking of the second book.
Adding to my word count daily on NaNoWriMo, sending it to my team lead on #revpit, seeing the progress bar fill up at the top of this website. That will be a great accomplishment at the end of every day/week. Also, I’m excited to participate in the community even when they do struggle and curse the gods of writer’s block. We can do that together.
I’m Ready to Go
✔ My calendar is all ready
✔ Don’t look back at what you’ve written just head forwards
✔ Stop in the middle of the action to help with writer’s block
My outline is done, the beginning is already written, I have tips on what I know work and what doesn’t. I’m ready to go. I’ve scribbled and pondered about this story for so long that I can’t wait to see it written on the page. This will also be my first time participating in any writing event. I’ve got your backs, fellow writers. Let’s do this.
Psst if you want the calendar you see at the top, click here.
Do not, I repeat do not query your novel before you’ve written it. That is a huge no-no, why? Because agents and publishers need to see your work before they sign you, they don’t have time to just take your word that you’re writing the best thing to ever hit shelves. (Even if I totally believe you). I talked in my previous post about finding the #amquerying tag on Twitter before sitting down and beginning to write. I thought I’d share why I’m glad I found the trenches of querying before the adventures of writing and why I’d encourage you to do the same.
You already know the first step of publishing a book: getting it written, unfortunately, that is only the first step. Depending on how you want to publish your book there’s going to be a lot of other factors in-between writing and seeing your book in stores. If you’re heading in the traditional publishing route, you need to decide whether you want to bag yourself an agent or you’re going to pitch straight to publishers. For me, I plan to go the agent route. No matter who you choose there’s a couple of things that need to be thought about before, such as who.
There are plenty of agents out there all repping different genres, all looking for different things. I’m not saying to start a conversation with them now, “Hey agent, you know you’re looking for a middle-grade fantasy? Yeah, I have one that’s perfect for you… can you wait a year?” Probably not the best idea, but that doesn’t mean that while you’re scrolling through Twitter and you see an agent that is looking for a genre you’re writing or is promoting a book that is close to yours you can’t follow them. Create a list of the agents who look pleasant to you, so when the time comes you already know who you’d prefer in your corner.
The Querying Process
The other thing you can be thinking about is what you will send them. I know, I know, you send them your MS (manuscript). Actually, you only send part of your MS most likely the first ten pages or one chapter (it differs from agent to agent). What an agent will first see is a query letter or synopsis or both. A query letter is an explanation of the plot of your book but without giving away the ending. Kind of like a longer version of a blurb you see on the back of a cover. I would check out Query Shark if you want to know more about queries. A synopsis, however, encompasses everything including the ending.
Whether you’re pitching to an agent or a publishing house they’re going to want to look at either one of these before deciding to even take a look at your MS. Again, I repeat you don’t have to write these now. It would be rather difficult to write about the entire plot of your book without actually have written it. My point is the more you know about the querying process now, the less of a shock it will be when it’s time.
You know the great thing about mistakes? You learn from them. You know the great things about other people making mistakes? You don’t have to make them. Now that’s unfair, there are no ill wishes against my co-writers or authors. But… when an agent tweets tips that talk about authors using too many adverbs, or not pacing the plot properly, I’m gonna listen. There’s a big writing community on Twitter and that includes agents. Just because you’re still in the writing phase does not mean you shouldn’t congregate around #askagent #agenttip #querytip etc. When you know the problem you tend to look out for it, meaning less clean up when editing.
The reality is reality sucks. When looking through querying you’re going to find the good and the bad… a lot of bad. Not everyone is going to love your work. Thinking about this before writing may seem counterproductive but the more you write, the more you fall in love with your characters, settings, the story it hopefully won’t be too much of a blow when querying comes.
Try to understand the real reason that you’re writing. If it’s for fame and money then you may want to pick a different career. Not everyone makes it and the pay can be low. I’m not saying don’t be ambitious, I’ve already planned for Jude Law to be narrating the audiobook and can see the series of movies playing in my mind. Yet the thing I’m most excited about is people just reading my work. For my story to bring a smile to someone’s face. And if that’s all, if just one person reads my work and smiles, well I’m okay with that reality.
Warning! This content may contain scenes of violence, strong language and religious connotations.
Johnny stepped out of the shower and grabbed for a towel hanging over the rack. He wiped the water from his eyes then rubbed his hair, draping it around his neck when finished, he wrapped another around his waist, his gut helping to keep it in place as he tucked the towel underneath. He bypassed the mirror and stepped into his bedroom, warm light engulfing him as the floor-to-ceiling window showed the city’s skyline reflecting light from one building to another below. The activity never stopped down there, the 12am crowd simply replaced the 12pm crowd in a coordinated overtake of bodies throughout the day.
He looked over to the clock near his bed 1:54pm, early enough he thought. Throwing the towel that still hung from his neck on the bed he went over to the cabinet across the room. He picked up the half-empty bottle of scotch and poured some into the small glass sitting next to it, downing the glass in one mouthful, he picked up the bottle again and was about to pour another when he heard women laughing. Women laughing in his apartment. In his apartment where he lived alone.
He settled the bottle down and moved towards the door that lead out to the living room. He tried to steady his breathing as he turned the handle, opening it a sliver. The corridor appeared empty, but the voices grew louder. “She’s lying, she’s such a liar, I just hope the other girls can see it before it’s too late. Look out for snaaake.” Johnny closed the door as up-tempo music started playing and a different woman’s voice replaced the first, discussing a party she planned to throw that night. He scurried to his bedside table and pulled out a gun, the weapon shimmering as it was welcomed into the light and went over to the door, opening it enough so he could squeeze through. He slowly stepped out into the corridor, stilling whenever the floor made a groan or the drips from his still wet body met the ground.
Reaching the end of the corridor, he peered around the corner. “I just – just don’t know why you’d do that to me. Why would you do that? Why? Why?” said a distraught woman on screen of the TV to a man who looked like he had used an entire bottle of gel on his thick blonde hair. The light of the screen illuminated the man watching it. He was sprawled over the large sofa that followed the curve of the coffee table in front where his feet were resting. One of his arms ran down the head of the sofa while the other fumbled with the volume button on the remote.
Johnny stepped back and rested his head against the wall. Who was he sent by Luca? Rizzo? Ricci? Johnny couldn’t imagine any of Ricci’s men lounging about on the job, Rizzo’s boys were too stupid to find their way on the forty-second floor of an apartment building and that’s without the security that was stationed in the lobby. One of Luca’s? He peered around the corner, the man looked young, not a boy but couldn’t be more than thirty, he was muscular, but his dirty blonde hair wasn’t the profile of Luca’s crew. Luca’s crew was made up of the Capurso family and rugged noses and jet-black hair was present in every one them.
Hitman, maybe? Must be a cheap hitman, there were plenty of opportunities to kill him. Whoever he was, he was an idiot, one for entering the home of Johnny Bianchi and two for not killing him when he was in the shower, he would put up a hell of a fight now and Johnny Bianchi never lost. He pushed himself off the wall, raised his gun and turned the corner.
The couch was empty. The TV continued to blare but it was no longer being watched. Johnny spun expecting a weapon to be aimed at him from behind, instead, he found the man hunched over the kitchen island from across the room, picking at a handful of grapes. The man tossed one in his mouth, his eyes trained at Johnny, intrigue spread across his face. Johnny re-aimed his weapon, but the man did nothing but pop another grape in his mouth. “Nice towel”, he said in a voice as smooth as the fruit he was eating. Johnny sneered but said nothing, the silence an opportunity to assess his opponent. He didn’t look familiar, yet there was an easiness about him that made Johnny less cautious than he should be about someone who had just broken into his home.
His gun still aimed in the intruder’s direction, he asked, “who sent you? Was it Luca? You know he lost half of the family’s money on the tables, I’m sure I can double his investment.” Johnny’s brow furrowed, but he corrected it before confusion could settle on his face. Why was he bargaining with this guy? He was the one with the power, it’d be so easy just to shoot, but his finger made no move to the trigger.
“No, no Luca”, said the man, a smile crawling across his face as if he could hear Johnny’s internal struggle.
“Then who are you? Why you here?”
“Right, sorry, where are my manners”, the man stood straight and threw the grapes over to him, supposedly to catch but as Johnny was reluctant to drop his gun, he let them bounce off his chest and to his feet. The man continued as if nothing happened, “I’m Samael”, he said placing a palm to his chest, “and this”, he outstretched his hand and ran it across the open space between the living room and kitchen “is my new home”. Irritation throttled the confusion that was playing in Johnny’s mind, he scoffed, his finger finally reaching the trigger, which seemed to only add a gleam to Samael’s eye. “Yeah, you know I was surprised too, I had a penthouse a few years back”, he puffed out a breath audibly, “coming up to twelve years now. I’ve been living in one of those houses in the suburbs. You know the ones, big, more bedrooms than you need, a mile-long garden, friendly neighbours”, said Samael, a knowing smile at his lips. He walked towards one of the windows, “But you can’t beat that view, huh?” he sounded far away by the end as if he could see each individual person down there.
Johnny shook his head slightly, he knew the guy had just told him he was going to kill him and take his home, but his voice dripped with something else. Something that stopped Johnny raising his gun and shooting him square in the head. His voice dripped promise. Johnny placed his gun on the counter with a thud that made Samael’s eyes travel to it and patted it, letting his hand rest on top, “How about we make a deal? You tell me who you’re working for, you then change allegiances and I don’t shoot you between the eyes and throw you from that view you love so much.”
Samael’s mouth twitched, he started to speak but then looked over to near the TV. Johnny turned his head slightly in the same direction but saw nothing than the cartoon now playing on the screen. Samael tutted, “Ah, now as much as I love making deals, Johnny boy, especially when at least one participant is naked I must decline. Looks like your ride’s here.”
Johnny ground his teeth, he was done with riddles, this guy may know something but he wasn’t going to tell him and that made him a liability. “Then we’re through here”, he sneered and grabbed for his gun, his finger coiled around the trigger as he took one step forward and fell. His foot covered by the juice of the grapes that once laid at his feet, he could do nothing but stare at the sharp granite edge of the kitchen counter he was now tumbling towards. His head hit the side with a smack that echoed around the room.
“Poor, poor Johnny boy”, he heard the promising voice titter, as he felt himself slide to the floor, a trail of red following and then nothing.
Starting is the hardest part
I have started my book a total of six times. Sometimes I tweak a detail or two, other times they are complete re-writes. Even after I did a brief outline and was so excited that I could see the main plot points, the beginning was still so hard to write. Now I have my beginning, I don’t know what took me so long. Words spewed onto the page, I really understood those people who said: “I let my characters steer the scene”. A lot of the scenes that led from that beginning weren’t in my outline but added so much depth to my main character. Happy with the progress I made, I stopped writing for the day, but when I tried to begin again, I struggled.
The momentum I felt before had gone, I re-read what I wrote and waited for my characters to speak. After a while of looking back and forth between my writing and my outline, ideas sparked. I then realised that it wasn’t starting a book that was hard, it was starting in general. I try and force ideas when really only my best emerge as I immerse myself into a scene and because I don’t have a lot of time during the day to write, this can be difficult. To try and conquer this I’ve tried to stop writing in the middle of an idea when the action is still happening. This way when I come back to write it gets me back into the scene quicker. It’s not 100% guaranteed, but it definitely works better than the ‘stop and start’ technique.
Don’t look back
When it comes to first drafts you kind of have to accept that it’s not going to be perfect. So don’t make it perfect. When I started, I used to study each paragraph, again and again, it slowed me down tremendously. I am planning to do NaNoWriMo this November, an event where you’re tasked with writing 50,000 words in a month. When you have that many words to write, with so little time, you just have to continue forward. You may hate what you’ve written, don’t think it works but this draft isn’t the place to re-work. Your first draft should just be the basis of your story. You have the second, third, fourth, fifth draft to make it perfect.
Be open to change
Now, this point is a bit more personal. If you’re a hard-core plotter who needs to stick to an outline you may not relate, but as the other points suggest I’m not. Your story is going to take you in a million directions, let it. Again the first draft isn’t to be perfect. If your story opens up an avenue that you didn’t think of before don’t be afraid to explore possibilities. My current work-in-progress is miles away from what I thought it was going to be and I don’t love it any less. Things may not plan out the way you want them to, you may have to cut some of your favourite scenes to fit the narrative but don’t see this as a negative. Everything you’re doing is strengthening your work in a way you couldn’t have possibly of planned for.
a boy saw a butterfly as it flew past his face,
“Hello Mr. Butterfly,” he said, “Did you want to show me something?”,
but the butterfly had already gone and the boy had to hurry to catch up,
the butterfly landed on a yellow flower,
“Is this what you wanted to show me Mr. Butterfly?” said the boy, “It’s very pretty”,
but the butterfly flew off when the boy got close and settled on the trunk of a tree,
“Is this what you wanted to show me Mr. Butterfly?” said the boy, “It’s very tall”,
but the butterfly flew off when the boy got close and settled on a reed near a lake,
“Is this what you wanted to show me Mr. Butterfly?” said the boy, “It’s very wide”,
but the butterfly flew off when the boy got close and settled on the lid of a bin,
“Is this what you wanted to show me Mr. Butterfly?” said the boy, “It’s very smelly”,
but the butterfly flew off when the boy got close and settled on a yellow flower,
“You’ve already shown me this Mr. Butterfly,” said the boy and went to follow the moth
Plotter vs Pantser
If you ever stalk around the #amwriting tag on Twitter you may have seen a lot of acronyms used by the writing community that see you migrate into your inner Sherlock as you desperately try to figure out what is being discussed. I’m still convinced that PNR stands for pick nose right.
But there are some terms that are easier to understand (or should I say easier to look up). You may have seen some writers refer to themselves as either a plotter or a pantser and it’s super easy to identify which bracket you fall into.
Do you have to outline a story before you write?
Do you know exactly what will happen to each of your characters?
Do you write each scene in sequence?
If you answered yes to all of the above, then you’re most likely a plotter. Plotters plan out their entire story beforehand while pantsers, just pick up their pen or run to their keyboard and write whatever they’re feeling. If you want to learn more about these terms I would check out ‘The Pros and Cons of Plotters and Pantsers‘.
Becoming a Plantser
So I thought I was a pantser when I got my first super-duper idea I thought there was no stopping me, and for a while, there wasn’t. Until every writers’ nightmare: writer’s block. Not only did I not know how my scene was going to end, but I also didn’t know where I was heading towards. I knew how I wanted my book to end, and how I wanted to start but thought nothing of the middle. It was like having two slices of bread, good bread, freshly baked out of the oven bread, but there was no filling, I couldn’t even find a piece of cheese.
So I stepped back and stopped thinking about my WIP (work-in-progress) for a while. I was surfing the internet when I came across MasterClass. MasterClass is a hub where subjects are taught by the most successful people in their profession. I watched the trailer for all the ‘learn how to write’ classes and there were quite a few. James Patterson, Judy Blume, Margaret Atwood. (I also deviated and watched some others, I mean Steve Martin teaches comedy, yeah I’m watching). But again I just watched the trailers and yet every author talked about an outline. So, from a brief lesson from the greats, I started one myself. Creating an outline isn’t easy (for me anyway) but I learnt that I’m not a pantser at all, I’m a plantser. A combination of a pantser and a plotter.
So What Does a Plantser Outline Look Like?
I created my outline but it wasn’t incredibly detailed, just the scenes that connected a to b to c to d etc. It meant that if something came up, or one of my characters opened up a new scene I wasn’t trapped by it, instead it acted as my map. I could deviate away from the path but also easily find a new route back to where I needed to be. I did this with my current WIP and I will do it for my series Samael which I plan to post on the blog. Let me explain my steps:
Write down your scenes
If you were like me, you would already have certain scenes that you knew had to be in the story. Write them down. If you were like me, you had horrible ideas that definitely shouldn’t be in the story. Write them down. This isn’t the time to be picky, that comes later. For now, you just want to get your ideas on paper. When you feel like you can’t write any more, congrats you’re a fourth of the way to creating an outline. Here are some scenes of one girl trying to stop a robbery.
Put them in order
Okay, now be picky. Go through all your scenes and decide what you want to keep and what just isn’t working. (I would advise you to keep the ideas you think are terrible. You may think of an idea that sees a scene you thought as awful become one of your best, or once your a bestselling author you can dig them out and laugh at yourself). Once you’ve collected your scenes of gold, organise them in the right order. You’re creating a timeline. The way you organise depends on the person you are. Some like writing each scene on its own card, others bullet point in a notebook while I just used a good old excel spreadsheet. Each line is a new scene.
Fill in the gaps
Using Excel was great because it allowed me to move scenes around, and insert new ones, which is crucial for this part. Filling in the gaps. Unless you’ve been so thorough with part 1, it’s likely you have big jumps between scenes. I’m not going to lie, this part is tough. This was the hardest part for me. You’re going to have to think of more scenes and bridge the gaps. If it seems impossible, it isn’t, just step back for a day or two and clear your head. It’ll come.
Determine how you divide them
You now should have an outline. It may not be super detailed. It may not be perfect. I’m sure a plotter would look at my outlines in disgust but remember for a plantser, your outline is just a guide. You can follow it scene by scene but that doesn’t mean you can’t deviate when then mood strikes. I am nearly 11,000 words into my WIP and 90% are scenes I didn’t plan but they’re still heading in the same direction and they offer my book so much.
Another way to keep yourself going in the right direction is to divide your book. I didn’t use chapters. They stressed me out. I looked at all the numbers, “85,000 words for a ya fantasy, 4,500 words is an average chapter, so I need around 20 chapters, do I have enough scenes? What scene should go in what chapter? Maybe I should split this scene? Will there be enough to say if I split?” It. Stressed. Me. Out. Now that may seem so irrational to you but I felt that chapters were just too planny. So instead I broke my scenes into parts. It was great for allowing me to know the main plot point of each section.
For my current WIP, I ended up with 100+ scenes with only around 6 parts.
Don’t Listen to My Advice
So I’m a plantser, I need an outline but something that doesn’t cage me. You may be completely different. After reading my planning process you may think of it like hell, or you see parts you like and some you don’t. It’s ok. The best thing I did was find my own process, what other people were doing didn’t work for me, only when I got into my own flow did everything knit together. Everyone works differently, don’t get disheartened if you try a process that everyone swears by and it doesn’t work for you. So try the plantser method, try the plotter method, try the pantser method, create your own method. Although, if you do create your own, please make sure it begins with a p, we’re not savages.
Have you ever been stuck in that cycle of life? You know the one, you’re busy every day but you feel like you’re not doing anything. Wake up, go to work, come home, eat, sleep, repeat. Well, that was the cycle I was falling in to and as someone who’s recently left university, it was pretty depressing. I mean my job’s great, the people there are supportive and I couldn’t ask for a better boss, but something was missing.
I am constantly attacked by ideas, every day. Especially with new characters fighting for my attention.
I have maladaptive daydreaming, which for those who don’t know in the easiest explanation is daydreaming to the extreme. It’s daydreaming but incredibly vivid, I literally smell scents that are not there, taste flavours I’m imagining and feel the emotions of my characters (which can become quite embarrassing when you start randomly laughing like an idiot on a public bus). However unlike something of schizophrenia you know that none of it is real. But it can also make it hard to concentrate, I have always had a low attention span, spending my time in the make-believe.
Anyway, I was stuck in my cycle and as a newbie to the world of Twitter I was scrolling through just before bed and found someone talking about books. As someone who loves stories (re. above) my interest was peaked and at the end of their tweet was #amquerying. Having no idea what this was but assuming (correctly) it was to do with books, I clicked and was transported into a world I didn’t know existed.
Writers encouraging others, agents giving tips and of course the troll or two but hey it’s the internet nothing’s perfect. More importantly, I learnt what a query was and was fascinated. I want to take a pause here to highly recommend the hashtag. If you’re wanting to write or in the middle of writing you need to look it up. A lot of advice that is on there is about why a book is rejected for publication. It’s true a lot of the time a book is rejected due to personal reasons, so the agent just isn’t in love with the plot, characters etc. but you also have agents that tell of writing mistakes or of things that are frowned upon in the professional world. Let’s be honest you want to know this stuff before you write, so go scrolling.
Back to the story, so I found #amquerying, scrolled and thought: ‘wait, to publish a book all you just have to send a query to an agent… really?‘ No, not really, there’s a lot more work than that. Yet, ideally you could become a published author without having to spend a scrap of money. Which is great, because I am dirt poor. The only thing you need to give up is your time, which hello, stuck in a cycle, bombarded by stories. I had nothing to lose… except my sanity, but please, the hope for that was long gone.
I was ready… well nearly ready I still needed to think of a story. I knew fantasy was my strong suit, it’s what I used to love writing, it’s what I’m thinking about daily, but those stories that had followed me throughout my life just didn’t work. Some were too personal, I would be writing a part of my life. The others just didn’t translate well to the page. I was lost. But like all great ideas, the best come when you’re not trying.
I was in the middle of my pizza, a slice at the tip of my tongue when the idea struck. A choir materialised in the room, halleluja bouncing around the walls. The rain that was hammering on my windows moments before was replaced by a dazzling light. White doves perched on my windowsill… Okay none of that happened but I did have a brilliant idea, a story I was so excited to share.
I don’t want to reveal too much (no spoilers here) but it mixes folktale with mythology (huge respect to anyone who posts on #FolkloreThursdays) bringing fun, magic, wacky characters and a touch of humour. I introduce to you The Legend of Fable: A Hero Forgotten. Halleluja halleluja. It will have several languages (I’ll write a blog about it), the map has been created (I’ll write a blog about it) and with different races comes dreaded politics (I’ll write a blog about it). I plan to jot down my processes, my challenges and successes.
I also have another story idea that I’m in love with but I think will be hard to get published because of the religious connotations. What can I say the devil is the main star. It’ll be called Samael. I’ll be writing that story, part by part on the blog. Part one I plan to post on 19th October (I still need to do a rough outline).
On that note send a prayer my way, I know this is going to be a bumpy ride.