Thanks so much for stopping by to check out my blog 2014 NaNo mini-series. Last week I posted the bio’s of my mini-series participants. Please check out who they are here: http://wp.me/p35Mk4-eO
Today these brave NaNo-ers reveal a little bit more about their backgrounds, and how they plan to take on the frantic writing month of November. This is a bit of a lengthy post, but I am seriously impressed with what these writers bring to the NaNo table. Reading these responses has given me some new angles to approach my own writing with. Maybe it will for you, too!
Is this your first NaNoWriMo, or are you a NaNo veteran?
How did your previous NaNoWriMo experiences work out?
Diana Pinguicha: I tried doing NaNo in 2010, but it didn’t work out because I was doing it by myself. On 2011, I had this novel going on, and I convinced myself I’d use NaNo to finish it. I started going to meets, where we talked more than we wrote, met one of my best friends there, had lots of fun, and came home so pumped I finished that year with 87 000 words. I did it again in 2012 and 2013, and while 2012 wasn’t a very good year (51k), 2012 was great, clocking in at around 78k words. This year I’ll be aiming for 80k—at least!
Ali Carey Billedeaux: I’ve done it, I think, five times (I keep deleting my account, which makes keeping track rather difficult) and I’ve finished it three of those times.
Alessa Hinlo: This will be my seventh NaNo. I’ve had good runs, and I’ve had bad runs. I’ve failed two NaNos. I’ve succeeded at four, but at least one of those resulted in a half-written book I absolutely hated and haven’t looked at since. It happens.
The book I wrote for last year’s NaNo turned out okay though.
Margarita Montimore: My first NaNo experience was in 2004 and I only managed about 20K words (then life got in the way). However, I revisited the work years later and fleshed it out into a manuscript I completed over the summer. It turned out to be the novel that got me into the Pitch Wars finals. I plan to begin querying it later this fall.
Mary Ann Nicholson: Last year was the only Nano I’ve participated in. I took time off work thinking I’d need entire days to keep up with my goals, but I threw myself into it, and when I’d hit my goals early in the day, I tended to keep going. I hit 50k in about 10 days, and my story wasn’t finished, so I pressed on to see how much I could write. I ended up with a palindrome of 127,721 words. I do not recommend this at all.
Alexis Larkin: Last year, I got to about 25,000 words. My mistake was trying to work on novel revisions, two short stories, and a bunch of other things at the same time. Huge Mistake! This year I am clearing the decks and focusing only on my NaNo novel in November.
Shawn Thomas Anderson: I have one year of NaNoWriMo under my belt. I hit the word goal, completed my YA space-opera thriller (I love a good mash-up) and I’m excited about the story I wrote. So hell yeah, I guess that makes me a veteran!
Danielle Doolittle: I’ve actually participated in three NaNos (yikes!). NaNo is intese but I think most of us creative types work best under the pressure. Seriously, I sold two of my three NaNo manuscripts. The third I’m still writing away on because…well I went and had a baby halfway through NaNo last year. ;)
What prompted you to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo?
Was there a story in your head that was just itching to get out into the world?
Maybe you just love the challenge that is NaNo. Tell us about your motivation to participate this year.
Diana Pinguicha: I love NaNo! It’s so much fun to do it every year that when one NaNo ends, I’m already thinking of the next – well, not really, but the thought of not participating is never in my mind. I’m going to use it this year to re-write Sightless, my 2011 NaNo novel, from the ground up to match the game prototype we made for a college course.
Plus, our Lisbon meets are pretty awesome, and I love all of my NaNo friends—online and offline.
Ali Carey Billedeaux: I try to do NaNo every year, so I wouldn’t say anything in particular inspired my joining again this year. That said, I DO have an extremely tentative idea for this year’s project. I’m a bit notorious for switching things up, though, so I will have to try hard to make it stick!
Alessa Hinlo: I’m a Pitch Wars mentee (with the book I wrote for last year’s NaNo, actually) and I’m shamelessly using NaNoWriMo to distract myself during the agent round. I’m waffling between starting a new novel during November or rebelling by writing a collection of short stories. Maybe I’ll do both.
I love participating in NaNo. There’s just so much energy and excitement and joy. These are all good things to bring to writing, and I love surrounding myself with it.
Margarita Montimore: The timing worked out well, since I recently completed one novel and haven’t been able start a new one with the same ease. Since I’m about to begin the querying process, I know I’ll have a lot of waiting ahead of me, so I need a new creative project to keep me busy. I work best to deadlines and completed 40K words of my last novel in a couple of months setting daily writing goals, so I’m looking forward to challenging myself with a something more ambitious.
I’m also excited about connecting with other writers participating in NaNo, sharing writing tips, encouragement, and general chatter. Having a community helps balance out the isolation that comes with being a writer.
As for the story I have in mind, I had one idea I started sketching out, but once I had 4K words, another idea swept in, demanding to be the object of my obsession. Certainly a good problem for a writer to have, I just hope I’m able to follow one of these far enough to create a fleshed out story.
Mary Ann Nicholson: I did not and do not have for sure plans for Nano. I knew I’d do it again regardless, but as it turns out, I did get an idea for a story I’ve already started on. Unless I finish that one, this year will probably be a rebel year for me, since I don’t want to set that WIP aside until it’s done.
Alexis Larkin: I had so much fun with the 3 Day Novel Contest this year that I decided to give NaNo another go. It was such a freeing experience for a plotter like me to write as much as I could in three days following the mini-outline I wrote ahead of time. Looking back on that novella, I can see a real difference in my writing. It has more energy, its more urgent and full of life, than some first drafts that I’ve agonized over. I hope to harness that same kind of energy during this NaNo! My book will be a romance inspired by that trip my husband and I took driving and climbing in a number of African countries.
Shawn Thomas Anderson: My first manuscript, a MG fantasy, took years. Once it was finally in a state that I wanted to share it, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write something really, really fast. NaNoWriMo was the swift kick I needed to push myself, and my writing, to new limits. And you know what, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be—and I love the story.
Danielle Doolittle: Honestly? NaNo comes around right when I need to get my butt in gear. It always helps to get the creative juices flowing. Even if I don’t finish (which I haven’t) I still come out of the even with at least one manuscript and about five others on the back burner. This year I plan on working on a storyline I’ve been putting off for the sake of other projects (read as: sequels). I’m really excited to see where this story goes!
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
We’d love to know what practices you follow to help plot or pants your NaNo novel.
Diana Pinguicha: I try to plot. A month or two before NaNo, I begin “outlining” — which is to say, I write a bunch of bullet points on the novel I’ll be working on and call that my plot. “Aisling is in the hospital. Notices shadows flickering, follows them. She ends up in Reid’s room, where, for the first time in her life, she can see.”
You know, stuff like that. I more or less follow them if they’re working, and if they’re not, I improvise on the spot. If the improv is crap, I move on and write a scene that takes place later—that’s the good thing about plot points. You know where things go even if you write them out of order.
Ali Carey Billedeaux: Pantser! The only thing I stick to (and I mean the ONLY) is that I keep my characters in November. I might change the story (and the plot and the conflict and the plan) but I almost always keep the characters. They are my fuel. They are always the reason I start writing in the first place.
Alessa Hinlo: So I do plan my novels in advance, but they’re not necessarily by “traditional” methods. I use a combination of Pinterest inspiration boards, scene lists, mindmaps, and Spotify playlists. The playlist is the most important piece of the planning process for me, because I’m very particular about choosing songs that fit the themes, characters, and moods in my novels.
With short stories, I begin with an idea (“I’m going to write about an aswang.”) and just go from there.
Margarita Montimore: Panster at heart, but I’m trying to adopt more plotting habits. For my last novel, I had three different timelines to work with, so I created a wall of color-coded Post-Its (and later, a matching spreadsheet) to arrange the different scenes, which helped me with plotting and pacing. My NaNo novel will have at least two narratives, so I’ll probably do something similar, but I’m hoping to have much of the story outlined before I start, instead of writing a bunch of scenes and then piecing them together like a puzzle (in all honesty, that’s probably what’s going to happen anyway).
Right now I’m still in the collecting phase. I have a Word doc to keep track of all setting/character/plot details that come to me as well as a physical notebook for free-writing. When doing general brainstorming, pen and paper often work better for me than my laptop, because it feels more organic and there’s less of a risk I’ll get distracted by the Internet. I also look at scraps of old writing I’ve done, because I have a ton of random story ideas I started and then abandoned, and you never know what might add fuel to the bigger creative fire. In fact, I just stumbled across 6K words I wrote four years ago, which may serve as the seed of my NaNo novel. Lastly, I’m going collect as much research as I can ahead of time (usually I do this as a write since I’m never sure how the story will evolve). The novel I have in mind involves an industry I don’t have much behind-the-scenes knowledge of, so it’ll be important to gather that ahead of time and keep my NaNo days free for writing.
Mary Ann Nicholson: Definite pantser. I have a kernel of an idea. I don’t know if it can be stretched to a full novel, so I start writing it. My abandoned projects folder shames me. My characters start out sketchy and develop as I go, often changing completely once they start to take shape. Somewhere around 20K in, I realize that I’m in trouble, and although I know what my end goal is, I start to need a roadmap. Around that time, I sketch out some kind of an outline. For my current WIP, I went whole hog and wrote an actual outline. I don’t even recognize myself anymore.
Alexis Larkin: Plotter. PLOTTER! I love outlines. I used them in business writing for years so it was natural for me to continue to outline when I made the switch to creative writing. I find they’re especially important in mystery writing to set up clues, suspects, red herrings, etc., but I’m sure you can find wildly successful mystery writers who pants the day away. For this NaNo, I’m taking a hybrid approach. Instead of outlining scene-by-scene, I’m creating a visual outline by chapter using photographs, artifacts, and minimal notes to sketch out the book’s beats. Just enough to know where I’m going and inspire some creativity, but plenty of room to pants and harness that fast-paced NaNo energy. I think this project is particularly suited to a visual outline given that it focuses on travel, but if it works I hope to use it for future projects as well.
Shawn Thomas Anderson: Honestly, I’m plotanster, a total hybrid. Some days I do elaborate character maps and outlines, and once I’m on track, I stray from them and let the story take me where it wants to go. The character maps become guides and the plotting becomes general checkpoints along the way to keep the project moving forward, but I always leave the ending wide open. I know that if I surprise myself, I will surprise the reader.
Danielle Doolittle: Oh, I’m 110% a pantser. I can’t plot to save my life. I never EVER stick to it when I try. Usually when a story idea hits me, when a character comes screaming into my head demanding I tell their story, I sit down and just start.
Here’s the basics of my process:
- I let the characters drive the direction the manuscript takes and they always surprise me. Seriously, I had a story go waaaaayyyy out in left field. Turned out to be one of the best I’ve written.
- I don’t try to control where I think the story should go. Just because a hero does something that pisses me off doesn’t mean I should change it because I don’t like it. If it’s true to the character then it’ll feel natural in the arc, their growth, as the story progresses.
- Coffee: lots and lots of coffee. Seriously. I’ve had stories wake me at three in the morning and not let me go until I’ve blurrily pounded out a chapter.
Turn off my inner editor. It’s tempting to go back over the pages I’ve written but I try and resist. I’ve found it messes with my flow. I try and get the whole story out before going back and looking for misplaced commas or missing words. That’s pretty much it. Nothing magical or no big tips to share (sorry). I just sit in front of the computer and let the words flow. Sometimes it’ll be total crap and I’ll have to go back and delete whole sections (had to do away with a whole chapter once) but sometimes the method of pantsing allows you to get to know your characters better.
How do you plan to pace yourself during the frantic writing month of November?
Diana Pinguicha: So, I have a reputation to uphold as one of the people who gets the highest wordcounts in Lisbon. Not to mention that, in Portugal, we do North vs South word wars, and of course the South always wins (for bragging rights). I have to do my part for the great Southern nation and help them defeat those Northern infidels – so I’ll be doing at least 2k words a day, more if I can. It will probably mean less sleep, but it’s NaNo and it’s a WAR and the people from the North need to be crushed. Plus, we have a dragon now. We have to win, right?
Ali Carey Billedeaux: Don’t do NaNo the way I do! I never pace myself properly. I end up missing days at a time and make it up by writing 10,000 words in a sitting. I’m a terrible role model. But what can I say? Sometimes the words just come.
Alessa Hinlo: Last year, I wrote over 80,000 words during November. This year, I plan to take it easy by comparison. Or I plan to try, anyway. Sometimes I get over-excited about the drafting process and go on a writing binge that results in 12,000 words in one day. Those don’t happen often though.
In general, I try to write every day during NaNo. 500 words or 5,000 words, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s something. In the past, I write steadily during the work week while banking the larger word counts on the weekends and days off. That works best for me, so it’s what I’ll be adopting this year.
Margarita Montimore: Pacing, schmacing. I’m going to sequester myself in my home office and become utterly immersed in the story. While I’ll set a 2k word daily goal for myself, I’m going to try to exceed it as much as possible (I’m actually hoping to get to 60K words for the month). Because of family holiday obligations, I’ll need to have most of the writing done by Thanksgiving, so I’m preparing myself for a very intense 26 days.
I tend to do most of my writing in the afternoons or late at night, but I might try to adopt more of a morning writing routine and see if that helps me be more productive. I also do much of my writing on a treadmill desk, and the physical activity helps me with creative productivity. Like many, I usually write with music playing in the background. Sometimes it’ll be music that sets the mood of what I’m working on or what I imagine the characters would listen to, other times it’s random. There’s also Focus@Will, music channels developed by neuroscientists to help increase concentration. I find those tremendously effective and imagine I’ll be relying on that site a lot to help me complete NaNo.
Mary Ann Nicholson: I actually have a spreadsheet that is automated. I plug in how many hours I think I’ll have to write on any given day, and it spits out how many words I should be able to hit. I later plug in how many words I did write, and I either get a green for reaching my goal (yay!) or red for failure (boo!). I really hate ruining a perfectly green spreadsheet, so that’s plenty motivating for me.
Alexis Larkin: I am determined to make 50,000 words, but as a new mom, I’m also going to give myself a bit of a break. My goal is 6-8 pages a day, but I plan on writing whenever I can get a few minutes, whether that means jotting down a few lines of dialog on the back of my grocery list or writing in sprints after bedtime. The book may look more like a pile than a file on December 1, but that’s what second drafts are for anyway!
Thank you, Susan, for organizing this fantastic mini-series! And good look to my fellow NaNoWriMos – let’s have some fun next month!
Susan Nystoriak: Alexis, this has been an amazing process so far! I know we will all stay motivated and have a great time writing next month!
Shawn Thomas Anderson: My approach is to hit the ground running, fast and furious right out of the gate. Generate as many words as possible in the first week and a half, so if you miss a daily goal, it’s not an OMG-NOW-I-HAVE-TO-CATCH-UP moment. I also used some online groups as further motivation to work on the project daily. #5amwritersgroup on Twitter and The Grind, an online group where writers must send work to an assigned group of other writers DAILY, were helpful—and you meet some wonderful writers when you are in the trenches.
Danielle Doolittle: I like to aim for a chapter a day. I know there’ll be days where that’s a laughable goal. It’s November for goodness sakes, I’m counting on at least one of my kids coming down with something involving mucus. I’m hoping it’ll balance nicely and I won’t be spending the last week pulling 8000 word days and living life as a zombie out to drink all the coffee.
And that’s it for round one. In a week or so, I will be posting Round Two responses. I hope you’ll stay tuned and check out our progress. We are on Twitter using #NanoMiniSeries.
Also, please share this post and leave a comment below. Happy writing!