I “won” at Nano again this year. 50,062 glorious and absolutely dreadful words to build on and polish into something worth reading over the next year. Like many others I currently have a love/hate relationship with my manuscript, Keeper of Shadows, but I will keep working at it until there is more love than hate. That’s the plan anyway.

This year things were different. I didn’t waste the full first half of the month and then sprint my way towards the finish like last year. This year I created a plan, stuck to it, and even finished a few days early. So what did I learn during this year’s process?

It’s all in how you say it: Last year I had daily word goals, and considering I wrote most of my novel in the last half of the month these goals were like mini Everests. The other problem was that my weekends were completely unproductive because I was just too busy with things I couldn’t control. Any words I didn’t finish then got added to my weekday goals. Honestly, it hurt and I constantly felt like I was failing.

This year I changed my approach. I set a 2500 word goal for all the weekdays in November, so instead of my pathetic weekend writing increasing my daily word count, it went towards decreasing my word count. In the end it was the same amount of words, but the change in focus from being behind all the time was a lot more encouraging than I thought. Make sure you create goals that work for you and work to motivate, not de-motivate, you. Don’t set yourself up to fail, because you probably will.

All the small things: Like any writer I had some days where creativity was as probable as a litter of purple polka-dotted baby dragons showing up on my doorstep through Fed Ex. On one of these particular days I read one of Chuck Wendig’s writers write manifestos on his blog Terrible Minds (if you don’t mind swearing I highly recommend this site). Grumbling, I opened my laptop and forced myself to write just a little bit – like 150 words. A few hours later, still grumbling, I did the same thing. And again. By the end of the day I had actually surpassed my daily word count. All those little pieces added up and didn’t involve me staring at my screen for an hour and bashing my forehead against the keys trying to unlock some deep subconscious creative wisdom.

A special kind of crazy: This year I was very vocal about my participation in Nanowrimo. Last year I locked this part of my life away in a scary basement where I would visit and feel dirty and sensitive to light when I resurfaced. This year, I didn’t care who knew. I am a writer and that what writers do. Interacting with the “real” world about what I was doing, did make one thing clear. Writers are a special kind of crazy. They don’t just pick up a pen because they’re bored and feel like it’s something to do. It’s something inside that begs to be let out. Writers are storytellers, dreamers, the kids who lied to their parents because they could. Writers are insane to do what we do, but I couldn’t picture my life without it.

For everyone else who passed the 50,000 threshold – congratulations! For those who didn’t, don’t worry about it at least you wrote something, which is more than a lot of other people can say. 

Did anyone else learn any valuable Nano lessons this year?

 

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At Nanowrimo time of year I see all sorts of tips on how to increase your word count. Use "all of a sudden" instead of "suddenly". Do not use contractions. Use every adjective you can think of to describe something and then come back and edit down the correct one. These will work, and it would be a bold faced lie if I said I've never let unnecessary words stand in the name of the mighty word count, but I honestly try to avoid them whenever possible. If you plan on doing something with your manuscript that doesn't involve fire or locking it in a drawer and throwing away the key, then you are going to have to edit it at some point. For me, I have to trim enough fat out of my work that I can't afford to just throw in snack sized Kit Kat bars of words for fun, even if it will get me to the 50,000 holy grail faster.


My Word Count Tip: My word count tip is actually very simple. When I finish writing for the day (preferred) or when I start in the morning I take a couple of minutes to make a plan of my scenes. I know all of you pantsers out there are quaking in your writing pants right now, but I'm not talking about outlining here just a to-do list of sorts. For example, if my word count for the day is say 1,667 words, I would jot down a quick list of all the scenes I know I have coming up (in whatever order as I am a non-sequential writer) and an estimate of their word counts. If possible I try to make sure I have at least one scene more than the required word count for the day in case my other scenes fall short or I'm just not feeling something during the scene. 

If you were writing a book about wizards and vampires in a dystopian fight to death reality show, your list might look like this:

 

Wizard Zednor offers self as tribute - 250 words

Zednor says goodbye to best vampire friend Sally - 500 words

Full cast homage to Frozen - 800 words

Zednor tells Sally he loves her - 250 words

Sally tries to bite Zednor - 500 words

 

As you can see I usually keep a standard (250/short scene, 500/medium scene, 800/long scene). None of this is set in stone and none of it goes into too much detail that it affects my ability to run with the scene wherever it takes me. Most times, I am usually conservative on my word count estimates and end up going way over. 

This gets tougher as time goes on because it is always easier to start a new scene than to add words to something you've already been working on. Around the last week of November, my to-do list has a lot of "Finish chapter/scene X - 250 words" on it.  

 

 

Why It Works: There seems to be two reasons, at least for me anyway.

1.) I'm not staring at a blank screen trying to figure out where to start. I have an idea about the focus of the scene and about how long I think it's going to take. This helps cut out a lot of that wasted time trying to figure out where to go next. 

2.) If I have a plan, and even better if I wrote the plan the day before, my subconscious starts doing the heavy lifting for me. If I know that tomorrow I'm writing an epic battle or a first kiss, my brain is already starting to put together the details without my knowledge (or sometimes my consent). By the time I put my fingers to the keys I already have some of the kinks worked out letting me get the ideas out faster.

 

So that's my tip. If you're a plotter you might already do something like this, but it breaks down your outline to a micro level to get the brain juices pumping. If you're a pantser, you only have to plan one day at a time. Maybe only half a day if that is how you operate, but it will help give you some direction and at least some early morning motivation to get moving. 

 

How do you keep up with your word count goals? Are you? 

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I’m doing Nanowrimo again this year. Although I “won” last year it wasn’t without difficulty. I admit that I only had 8000 words on the 17th of November and I quit 3 times during the month, twice in one day alone, but at 3pm November 30th I uploaded my 50,117 word manuscript for confirmation.  It was tough, but I learned a lot about writing and about myself as a writer.

 

There is always time to write: During November of last year I was working my full time and then some day job, a part time job that consumed another 20-30 hours per week, had two hockey tournaments and had to devote time to trivial things like eating, sleeping, and showering.  I also wrote 50,117 words. I’m not a very fast writer. Sometimes I get on a roll, but I didn’t pound out those word gems over 3 days, it took time. A lot of time. But even though I was extremely busy, I found that time. I got into a routine and I made writing a priority. So in July when I think that I don’t have time to write, I do. No excuses.

 

When to cut and run: If you have done any studying on writing craft I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to “arrive late and leave early” when writing a scene or to “not write what readers skip”. I’ve tried, I really have, but Nano was the best teacher for this concept. When you have a limited amount of time you write what you feel and what drives you. There is no time to smooth out a nice transition or worse add another Tolkien-esque walking scene. During Nano I wrote pages of dialogue with no action, action with no dialogue, and great snippets of plot treasures that popped into my head. After November I needed to beef up these scenes, but in most cases I didn’t need to add transitions. Had I taken my time to write the first draft I know I would have dragged these scenes out, which was something they didn’t need.

 

Developing a routine: I write more during the week than on weekends. I write better in mid afternoon than any other time of day. Although I had been writing for years prior to 2013, the short time frame showed me some truths about what kind of writer I am. This year, I have actually created my Nano word count goals based on the weekdays in November instead of the entire month, with weekends being bonus words. Now if I can just get my life to stop at about 2 pm so I can have uninterrupted writing time, things would be perfect.

 

Fast drafting keeps voice consistent: Any writer can tell you that their characters get in their head. They live and breathe even when you aren’t writing, so when it comes time to put fingers to keyboard your characters can come alive on the page. When you are writing regularly, the voice of your characters stays consistent because you are visiting with them more often. My first novel was written over a long period of time and I found that the voice of my character changed every time I picked up my laptop. When fast drafting for Nano my characters sounded more like themselves from beginning to end.

 

I know there are mixed opinions on the value of Nanowrimo due to speed of production and focus on word counts instead of quality, but it has been a great experience for me. I might not have an award-winning novel on December 1st, but I will have a less lumpy piece of clay to mold into something beautiful.

 

For all your Nano’s out there, best of luck. If you are interested, my screen name for Nano is RookiePen. See you all in December!

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Last Thursday I caught the premiere of the new Shondaland smash “How to Get Away with Murder.” I had heard of the show but knew zero about the premise before watching it, so I had no expectations whatsoever. Then it blew my mind.

 

Ignoring the fact that Viola Davis is a goddess sent from awesome actress heaven, this show electro-shocked my writer brain by doing all the things that a good story should do.  So if this were a book, what did they do right? (relatively spoiler free)

 

Title: How fantastic is “How to Get Away with Murder”? Provocative, indicative of the story and a little double entendre. Well played. Although not all book titles scream at the reader, a solid title like this one could at least get people to pick it up.

 

Open with Your Main Characters: There were many places that this show could have started. It could have followed some of the students around to get to know them. It could have followed the professor. It could have even started with the flash forwards. But did it? Nope. There was no prologue, no slow start, the opening threw all the main characters in a room and tossed conflict at them. Bam!

This type of opening achieves many goals. It introduces our characters and ensures that we want to root for them, plus it tells us the main conflict. On top of that, the dialogue is sharp and the scene is active, engaging the audience to want to know more.

 

Show Don’t Tell: Further to the introduction of the characters, this show did a great job of showing and not telling us about them. They don’t load the reader down with backstory, nor do they explain who people are, they just let them be and leave the audience to figure it out.

One particular exchange comes to mind in the opening scene. Wes is put on the spot for not having the assignment completed. He notes that he didn’t receive the email because he was waitlisted. Another student, Michaela provides the answer and is met with the professor’s scolding to “never take away a learning opportunity from another student.” Thirty seconds of dialogue, maybe less, and we already know that a.) Wes is likely not the smartest kid in the class and has a lot to prove; b.) Micheala is a know-it-all who is very competitive, and c.) Professor Keating isn’t just a hardnosed attorney, she actually does want to teach people and may not be who we thought she was.

There are other ways we could have got this information, but from this one exchange with characters we haven’t met yet we know what we’ve got. They continue this throughout the entire episode, only giving the audience what they need and in interesting ways. That, my friends, is showing.

 

Breadcrumbs: Anyone else notice the set up for next week’s episode? Of course, it’s obvious what this Thursday’s case is going to be considering it was spelled out in the last five minutes of the show, but did anyone notice that the characters in that story made cameos all throughout this episode? As a reader, we are already interested in book two before book one even ends. Now that’s a way to sell a series.

 

I’m excited to see where they take this show, or if the great storytelling of week one fizzles out by Christmas time, but I do know where I’m going to be this Thursday -- on my couch. Are you? 

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On September 24th I'm going to be included on the website swirlandspark.com as part of their Critique Corner feature. Three hundred of my words will appear on this website and anyone is welcome to leave their opinion. My project is called SLEEPLESS and is a YA horror/fantasy if you are interested in chiming in.

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Vampires are dead. At least that’s what the market says, and depending on who you talk to so are dystopians, angels, werewolves, fairies, paranormals, and sick lit. Oh, and apparently sci-fi is on life support.

 But now, just in time for Halloween, they announce that Anne Rice will be releasing PRINCE LESTAT – a continuation in the epic Vampire Chronicles. Granted Ms. Rice’s new story could be about Lestat in the Hunger Games with a bunch of wizards and I would probably still read it. However, it’s a vampire novel. Doesn’t the world not want vampires anymore? 

Personally, I’ve loved vampires since I was about twelve years old.  Scary ones, sexy ones, sparkly ones, I’ve read them all and loved each of their reincarnations. Even my first attempt at novel writing was about a vampire and I still have a vampire novel on my to-do list that I think is pretty original (it probably isn’t).  The point is there has always been a market for vampire loving readers and I think there always will be, the availability of good books just changes based on whether blood suckers are on trend or not.  

 So what does the release of PRINCE LESTAT mean for the future of vampires? Will the release of this new book have publishers begging for those manuscripts they passed on in the post-Twilight era? Or will it be a one hit blip that passes unnoticed except for the die-hard Rice fans? Fact is, no one really knows.

 My advice: Write what you love. Read what you love. Support the authors who produce the kinds of things you want to see, popular or not.

 What do you think about a new vampire book on the market? Are dead genres a real thing or is it just marketing hype?

 

 

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I've been working on this book called "Mercury Rises" and it's been tough. Why? Because it is very different from anything I've ever written. First off all my characters are human and -- SPOILER ALERT -- stay human for the entire book. There are no paranormals, no monsters, no ghosts, not even a well placed zombie. I can't even write myself out of a corner by dropping a hell beast into a scene and having my characters fight their way out. I guess I could, it just wouldn't be the same story anymore.

Words are coming slower than I would like and I really need to push to get the same punch that I get in my fantasy writing. There is no magic. Literally.

So why am I submitting to this torture? Because I love it! I love the story and the characters and all their insane humanness. And I can see all these wonderful things I've learned through this project that I can bring back to my other writing once I'm finished. Things like:

1.) Different tropes/rules : Obviously no one wants to a formulaic story, but some genres have certain tropes and expectations. Pacing, descriptions, character arcs or virtually any other aspect can be vastly different from one genre to the next. Learning to navigate different rules and how to bend them can provide new insights on old work and your other experience can breath life into a new genre.

2.) Strong characters make all the difference: We all want well-written, well-rounded protagonists but nothing reinforces this point then venturing into the unknown. A strong character can be a flashlight in your dark hours helping you navigate through unfamiliar territory. A strong character has depth and can work across genres, not just be pigeon holed or type cast in a specific story. I've seen some great authors take their characters from one world/situation and place them in something completely different and the characters still stay their fabulous quirky selves. 

3.) You might like it: Maybe you're high fantasy with elves kind of writer. Maybe it’s romance, or sci-fi, or whatever. And maybe you are really good at it. But what if you are really good at something else too? Being able to write in multiple genres can open doors. You may never do it professionally, but at least you know you can, and could if you wanted to.

No matter what genre you write, you can always benefit from dabbling in a project outside of your comfort zone. You might not want to bite off an entire novel lilke me, but give a short story a try. It'll be worth the experiment.

Anyone else jumped genres? What did you get out of it?

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Welcome everyone to my new website www.ScarlettKol.com.  I am very excited to be able to reach readers and writers on a new platform, and look forward to making the site better and better over time.

 I will note that I am not a huge blogger, but will definitely include information here when I have news or maybe when I just have something to say.

 So people, what do you think of my new digs? Any suggestions?

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