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Get ready for NaNoWriMo by choosing your novel’s story question

It’s that time of year when everywhere you look you can find pumpkins and things made with pumpkin. Pumpkins for carving, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pancakes, and pumpkin ice cream. It’s also the time of year when writers everywhere are gearing up for Nanowrimo. That mad rush to write a novel during the month of November.

If you plan to get into the NaNoWrimo groove, you may find that a plan will set you up for success in making your daily word goal.

Some writers have an idea of what they’ll write about when Nov. 1 rolls around. Others dive in and just go for it. Sometimes not knowing where you’re going can make you freeze. While the writing starts Nov. 1, it’s fine to think through your basic plot, subplot, and cast of characters now.

If you’re starting from scratch and feeling stuck, begin with this step: Figure out your novel’s story question.

In his eight basics of creative writing, Kurt Vonnegut said that, “every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

A satisfying and successful story has at its core a question that must be answered by the end of the book. In its most simple terms, it could be a question such as, will Rose find her true love? Will Conrad the detective capture the scurrilous killer lurking in his town? Will Jamie find her birth mother, and will she find peace?

Your character was living life until something happened that changed everything. A state of equilibrium was disrupted. What will happen next?

Start with your protagonist and decide what he or she wants. Then inject conflict by making it very hard for that character to get it. Other characters will join your novel to help or hurt your character’s chances of getting what he or she wants. At the end, your characters will have changed and you will have created that change with all your many NaNoWriMo words.

Grab a pumpkin spice latte and stay tuned for more NaNoWriMo tips in future blog posts.

How to stay creative in an age of distraction

I love owning my own home-based business. I sleep until I’m done (mostly) and schedule my day any way I want. Can I take a day off to go shopping in my favorite little artist-colony town? You bet. Can I spend the middle of my day visiting with a friend? No problem.

What I find most difficult, believe it or not, is scheduling time to write. In my business, I get e-mails and phone calls on a daily basis that I need to respond to. Often, when I’m writing, I may hear the phone ring or see an e-mail has landed, and I’ll be tempted to answer it because it will “just take a minute.” Or, I may think it’s better to answer it now then have to return the call or email later.

This is a pitfall that I’m learning to avoid. It’s my big danger zone. Another danger zone is the whole social media distraction. You know: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. One second spent to check Facebook and twenty minutes later…you know the drill.

In Adam Popescu’s post “How Neil Gaiman Stays Creative in an Age of Constant Distraction,” Gaiman reveals that he sometimes uses social media like Twitter for a short break from writing. Read more

Poetic inspiration for your writing

We’ve all faced the need to clean out our closets and finetune our possessions, whether we’re making a move, downsizing our living space, or just reorganizing.

We have to make hard decisions about what to keep and what to toss or give away. And sometimes the decisions aren’t hard. We wonder why we still have that stack of papers or miscellaneous junk that we never should have saved to begin with.

Exercise: Think about a time when you sorted through your stuff and had to decide what to get rid of and what to save. Think about how you felt. What were the emotions? What tugged at you and why? What was hard? What was easy? Now, write a poem, story, essay, or scene about it.

For inspiration and one poet’s take on getting rid of stuff, read the poem below from the American Life in Poetry project. Visit the American Life in Poetry website to sign up to receive a free weekly poem in your e-mail inbox.

American Life in Poetry: Column 497

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I’d guess everybody reading this has felt the guilt of getting rid of belongings that meant more to somebody else than they did to you. Here’s a poem by Jennifer Maier, who lives in Seattle. Don’t call her up. All her stuff is gone.

Rummage Sale

Forgive me, Aunt Phyllis, for rejecting the cut
glass dishes—the odd set you gathered piece
by piece from thirteen boxes of Lux laundry soap.

Pardon me, eggbeater, for preferring the whisk;
and you, small ship in a bottle, for the diminutive
size of your ocean. Please don’t tell my mother,

hideous lamp, that the light you provided
was never enough. Domestic deities, do not be angry
that my counters are not white with flour;

no one is sorrier than I, iron skillet, for the heavy
longing for lightness directing my mortal hand.
And my apologies, to you, above all,

forsaken dresses, that sway from a rod between
ladders behind me, clicking your plastic tongues
at the girl you once made beautiful,

and the woman, with a hard heart and
softening body, who stands in the driveway
making change.

————————

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Jennifer Maier from her most recent book of poems, Now, Now, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Jennifer Maier and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Five prompts to propel you into a writing zone

Do you ever feel a bit of restlessness about writing? It’s as though an idea or epiphany is dancing at the edge of your brain. You know you want to write but can’t quite settle down to do it.

Those are times when I like to pick a prompt and freewrite. The prompts put me in a groove and help work out the fluttery energy that’s holding me back.

If that sounds like something that might help you, check out the five prompts below. Set a timer and see what your writing reveals. You might turn your ideas and images into an essay, a poem, a short story, or a scene in a novel.

1. Write about something you lost. Don’t you hate it when you misplace something? I feel so out of sorts. Maybe it’s not a possession you lost, but a relationship or an opportunity. No matter what the loss, it can be painful in its own way. Note your emotions about the loss. What are the consequences of the loss?

2. Write a letter. Is there someone you want to reach out to? Maybe there’s something left unsaid to someone important in your life. Maybe you want to write a mash note to someone. Go for it.

3. Write about something that made you angry in the past week. Are you stewing about something that happened this week? What small or large injustice needles you? Write it out.

4. Describe the backyard of your childhood. What kind of games did you play. Did you have a vegetable garden? I remember my sister and I opening the windows and turning on the stereo in the house and dancing in the yard with our girlfriends.

5. Write about the place you love most? If you could live anywhere you wanted, where would it be? What is your definition of home? Where do you most feel at home? Where do you feel most at peace? Whether you’re there now or long to be somewhere else, write about it.

Fiction writing: A lie that tells the truth

“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” –Pablo Picasso

 

In his Ted Talk, “Why a Good Book is a Secret Door,” children’s author Mac Barnett quotes Picasso and says he loves writing for children because they make the best audience. Children are so willing to enter other worlds.

He says good fiction will leave us with the feeling that the characters are real even though we know that they are not.

As a kid, he loved reading fantasy stories like the “Chronicles of Narnia,” and he was always looking in the real world for doorways to the fictional worlds he’d read about.

He talks about a writing technique called metafiction, which is a story about a story but he says instead of the audience breaking the fourth wall into the story, he prefers to have his books break the wall and enter reality. He wants his fiction to open up into the real world, to create a doorway into our world. Read more

How to stay passionate in your life and writing, Part one

Some days I feel as if I’m still twelve and other days a hundred and twelve. Some days I feel young because I have so many things I want to do in the time I have left. And other days, I feel old because I’ve already done so much—I survived my childhood, graduated college, raised a family, worked for somebody else, ran my own business, went back to graduate school, changed businesses, buried my parents, and lost two aunts, two uncles, and two cousins in the span of two years.

So when I heard that one of my favorite authors Isabel Allende was giving a Ted Talk on aging, I couldn’t wait to watch it. In “How to live passionately—no matter your age,” Allende begins by quoting poet Mary Oliver in one of her poems: “Tell me, what are you going to do with your own wild and precious life?” Allende says she wants to live passionately. How does she do this? By saying “yes” to life.

Staying young is often a matter of attitude, according to Allende. She says, “Our souls are ageless.”

After watching Allende’s Ted Talk, which you can view below, I was inspired to make a list of things I’m passionate about. I have many passions but some of my top ones are: spending time with my family, helping people with my business, writing, reading, being in nature, learning Spanish, and listening to music.

What are you passionate about? How do you live passionately? What are you doing with your one and only life?

For more on passion by Allende, see my previous post, “Igniting passion as an artist.”

In my next post, I’ll give tips for staying passionately connected to your writing.

 

 

 

Think big as you revise your manuscript with these nine steps

You say you’re revising your draft, but are you really? In the past, I’ve thought I was revising a manuscript when in fact I was really just editing it.

A revision is just that: a “re-visioning” of the story – looking at it in a whole new way. It’s easy to think you’re revising when what you’re really doing is making small edits, reworking sentences, and tightening up scenes and dialogue. Those things are important but don’t go far enough to truly create a publishable manuscript.

Instead, when you’re ready to dive into revisions, think big. Open your mind and pen to rethink every aspect of your manuscript.

To move into re-vision mode, consider these questions:

  1. Use a logline to maintain focus. A logline is one sentence (at most two) that conveys the dramatic story of your novel or screenplay boiled down in the most succinct way possible. It presents the major throughline of the narrative without details about subplots or characters.  As you begin to revise, go back to your logline or create one if you haven’t already. Read more
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