What If NaNoWriMo Isn’t For You?

You’ve prepared through all of October to start your novel on November 1. You’ve got your character charts, plot outline, and major settings worked out. You will reach 50,000 words by November 30. You just know it. This idea has been bubbling in your mind so long you just have to get it into print. On November 1, you exceed your word count for that day. On November 2, you do it again. But in a week you’re behind. And around the 15th, or 20th, or 23rd, you quit. You don’t know what’s wrong. You have everything so well planned. I offer a question. What if NaNoWriMo isn’t for you?

My NaNoWriMo

November is a terrible month for an American writer to attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. At a minimum, we lose one day to Thanksgiving, but most likely, it’s two or three to various family festivities. And after that holiday, we’re thrown into preparing for Christmas.

Because of those conflicts, I had never even considered tackling NaNoWriMo. When I mentioned to fellow author Theresa Van Meter that March was a much better month for me–not much happens in March–she agreed to write with me for our own personal NaNoWriMo. We would call each other once a week to see how we were doing.

I was very excited about focusing on my next novel. All the marketing I’d done for first novel had put a serious dent in the amount of time I could devote to it. So March 1, I started writing Chapter 1. I didn’t get far because three days later, I was at a state park with my family for a long weekend.

When we got home, I began again but felt my writing was stale. Pushing through the next chapter was like pushing against a mountain. I switched to writing my last chapter because I tend to think of my climax first. That helped give my story a goal, but when I returned to the first chapters, I stalled again.

My goal had been 100 pages. By the end of the month, which was interrupted by spring break for my kids, I’d written 50 and only 40 were worth anything.

Theresa had similar trouble, and we both concluded that the kind of work style demanded by NaNoWriMo just didn’t work for us.

Don’t Fight Your Working Style

This experiment taught me that I can’t blaze through a first draft from beginning to end. After I’ve written the first draft of five or six chapters, I feel like writing any more would be like climbing too far out on a thin tree limb. I just don’t feel confident that any more chapters will be any good. So I type the five or six chapters I’ve written–I handwrite my first drafts–editing as I type and see if I’ve written anything worth keeping. I’m almost always pleasantly surprised that my first draft wasn’t nearly as awful as I thought.

Now that I have a sturdy foundation, I can write the next five or six chapters. This may not be the fastest way to write, but it’s the only way I can write with confidence.

Although it may take some experimentation, find out what working style works best for you and stick with it. Does setting aside one weekend a month to crank out 10,000 make the most sense to you? Does writing every day on your lunch hour? No style is wrong except the style that dictates to only write when you feel like it. Once a writer has a deadline, he or she has to learn to write whether they feel like it or not.

Because of the demands of my family, I’ve found working in short spurts works best for me. As friend and author Bettie Boswell said, if I make myself to sit down and write one page, chances are I’ll write more and accomplish more than I thought.

For more posts on NaNoWriMo, click here.

What writing schedule works best for you?

My Author Interview

My tip for this week appears on another author’s site as my author interview. I met fantasy author Madisyn Carlin online when she agreed to write a guest blog for me. To read her post about advice for beginning writers, click here.

In my author interview, I answer such burning questions as which do I prefer: tea or coffee. But, seriously, Madisyn posed some great questions, like how I incorporate my faith in my writing, what message do I want to tell through my writing, and what advice would I give new writers.

Click here to read the interview and please leave your thoughts in the comments.

The Agony of the First Draft during NaNoWriMo

If you are taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, it’s very likely the agony of the first draft will hit you. Very few writers can complete a first draft without doubts and even dislike creeping in. But never fear. Suddenly doubting or loathing the story you’re working on isn’t unusual. Just keep these points in mind.

The first draft is supposed to be ugly.

If you write a pristine first draft during NaNoWriMo, that needs no editing whatsoever, well done! You are an extreme rarity in the writing world. For the rest of us, we have to edit. An ugly, really ugly, first draft doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track or that you have no future of a writer. In fact, if you think every first draft is perfect, you probably haven’t studied the craft enough. Understanding that all writing can be improved through rewriting and editing is a sign of maturing in the art.

You can’t fix what doesn’t exist.

Despite its ugliness, the first draft is necessary because you can’t get to the second, third, or umpteenth draft without it. It’s impossible to fix a story that only occupies your imagination. Now I like the editing process. It’s only when I’m into the fourth or fifth draft that I can finally judge whether a scene is working.

Please don’t think I have worked out to perfection how to handle the agony of the first draft. In fact, I’m hoping by writing out this view, I will find the motivation to continue my first draft of my second novel.

I have taken a break for two weeks because I felt like my first draft was going nowhere. In my imagination, I have the plot and clues entirely constructed. But when I actually put words to those imaginings, it reads horribly. I’m doubting whether I can write anything new or interesting. So I need as much reminding as anyone that the first draft can be agony and in the end be polished to diamond-dazzling brilliance.

Do you love writing the first draft? Or do you hate it?

Find Settings that Help Your Mystery

Many articles and books describe how to create characters and plots for mysteries. But settings are just as important. If you’re writing in this genre, you need to find settings that help your mystery.

Settings to Meet People

In a mystery, the detective meets people, observes them, questions them. The plot can’t move forward without the detective performing these activities. In a novel where the detective is part of law enforcement, the author has an easy time getting his detective to the characters he needs to meet. In a cozy mystery with an amateur detective, the author has to invent opportunities.

My teen detective Rae Riley works in a library in a rural county in Ohio. As a check-out clerk, she can meet anyone I want to push through the front doors of the library. Rae works mostly at the main branch in the county seat, so she’s in the biggest town in the county, where locals would have any number of reasons to visit.

In a rural community, holiday and civic events provide Rae a chance to meet people. These events also allow me to make people who are unlikely to bump into each other otherwise to rub shoulders with one another.

Of course, Rae can meet just about anyone online, but if that person is going to be a significant character, he or she will have to make a physical appearance. A soley online presence limits character development. But to get the characters to meet, I’m faced with obstacles of how to plausibly introduce this character into Rae’s physical world. If Rae’s supposed to be smart, she wouldn’t just tell the person online where she lives.

Settings that Add Suspense

Isolating the detective is the best way to create suspense in a mystery, but these day, when it seems like help is just a phone call away, mystery writers have to work harder to create suspenseful scenes. And a writer can only use the phone battery dying so often. Finding settings that isolate the detective in a plausible way is crucial to adding suspense.

I have the advantage of using a rural county as my main setting. I’ve lived and traveled in enough rural locations to know that reception can disappear at any time. That’s perfect if I want to throw my detective into a dangerous situation in which he can only count on his wits.

Othering settings that add suspense are ones with a time element. The detective is trapped in a car that’s slowly sinking into a lake. Or she is being chased through a deserted part of an unfamiliar city, so that when she calls 911, she can’t tell them exactly where she is.

Any setting that’s been abandoned automatically adds an ominous mood to a story, whether it’s a quarry, a hospital, a school, or a farm.

Also any setting that is unfamiliar to your detective can add suspense. Hoping to find her missing sister, a woman who has lived her whole life in L.A. follows clues to a remote town in the Appalachian mountains. Or hoping to find her missing sister, a woman who has lived her whole life in the Appalachian mountains follows clues to L.A.

For more posts on writing mysteries, click here.

Which authors have found settings that help their mysteries?

Working Out the Logistics in a Mystery

Having been inspired by V.L. Adams’ guest post, “Start with the End: Leaving Clues in a Mystery“, I decided to write a post on working out the logistics in a mystery. As I tackled the next novel in my Rae Riley series, I hit upon a way to keep the action straight.

Get a Calendar

Preferably an old calendar. I’m using my calendar for this year but in months that have already passed. My novels are set during definite seasons of the year. A Shadow on the Snow starts in late January and ends on Good Friday. My current work-in-progress A Storm in Summer opens on Memorial Day and covers roughly two weeks with a wrap-up on Father’s Day.

On a day that action takes place, I draw a line down the middle of it. On the left side, I write action that will appear in the book. Since I write in first person, this is also what my main character is doing. On the right side, I write what other characters are up to during that same day. Their actions may or may not appear in the book. Keeping track of where all the characters are at certain points of the day prevents holes from appearing in my plot and makes it easier to fix holes when they do show up.

For example, let’s say I need my teen detective Rae Riley to see a certain car. The most plausible way for her to see it is town where she works. So I write a scene where she goes to work at the library and has lunch with a friend and spots the car

But how did the car get there? On the right, I write what the other characters have done so Rae can see the convertible in town. Those reasons may not have to appear in the book for readers to make sense of the mystery, but it helps me understand my plot and the motivation of my characters.

You can break this technique down to hours or even minutes if you’re plotting requires it.

Let’s say you’re writing a mystery in which someone had to have been murdered between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Select your day and then the times to schedule what the detective, victim, guilty part and suspects were doing.

Plotter or Pantser

This method works for a plotter or a pantser. If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, a plotter is someone who maps out her entire book, writes from an outline, and doesn’t deviate from it much. A pantser usually has a rough idea of characters, settings, and plot but explores all those aspects as he writes. While my calendar plotting obviously appeals to a plotter, it can also help a pantser when she needs to smooth out rough spots and fill in the holes in her story.

If you write crime fiction, what method do you use for working out the logistics in a mystery? I’d love to learn about it!

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