October 14, 2019

nanowrimo tip: logistics

Blogger's Note: This year marks my 10th consecutive year participating in National Novel Writing Month. So far, I am 9/9 of reaching the 50,000 words mark in 30 days. As I go into this year, I'm reflecting on what has and hasn't worked and passing it along. Please remember, this is my experience and what works for me. Please feel free to take or leave any advice as you like!


Okay, folks. We've talked about character development. We've even worked on our plots a little. Now it's time to get into the business side of National Novel Writing Month: logistics. I mean, what kind of a planner would I be if I didn't


Launch your official profile/book page

If you haven't already, sign-up for an account with NaNoWriMo and create your profile. Even if you're a past WriMo, go and check out the newly launched website. Heads up: they're still working out a few glitches. (Exp. It says I've won 10 years, but my streak is only six, which has my reward-focused self a little twitchy. But I'm learning to be chill and patient until it's fixed. Ha!) Familiarize yourself with the site and share a little about yourself by personalizing the page. (Most of the old info didn't transfer, so we're all getting a fresh start.)

You can also click "Announce New Project" to build your book's page. I'm semi-superstitious (but not fully, because it's bad luck to be superstitious) so I only share a few details. I'm actually getting a little crazy and sharing the working title for my NaNoWriMo project, but I've used stand-ins or acronyms before.

And, hey, if you want to build your Buddy List, please go ahead and add me. My user name is LauraChapmanBooks.


Create a writing schedule

If you're not someone who already writes every day (or you're someone who wants to write even more a day) schedule in time to make sure this happens. I start by printing out a calendar for the month of November. I write in times when I know I won't be able to write (like from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays I'm at work or a Saturday I have a book signing or RWA meeting).

Then, I look to see when my best time(s) of each day will be to write. I also check for local write-ins and if they work with my schedule. I add these times into my Google calendar and set notifications. While I will likely do more writing at other times throughout the month, but I like reserving an hour or more every day when I know I'll write.

Here's my first go at scheduling at this November:



Once it's on the schedule for November, I'm protective of that time. If someone asks me to do something later, unless it's really important, I'll tell them I have a conflict. It's way too easy for me to say "I'll just write later" but in November, I like to guard that time as well as I can.


Set mini goals

Let's face it: 50,000 words feels like a lot to do in one month. And if you're here in the U.S., we have Thanksgiving, which usually means a few days unavailable for writing while you hang out with the family.

To counteract that feeling, I set smaller goals for myself to accomplish throughout the month. Looking at my writing schedule, I'll set daily and weekly word count goals based on how much time I have at my disposal for writing. I tend to set the biggest word counts earlier in the month. While writing 1,667 words a day will get you to the finish line by November 30, I find that I'll do my biggest word counts early on when everything is exciting and new.

I have friends who will also give themselves rewards for meeting these mini goals. They'll get a manicure or go see a movie. Those kinds of rewards don't usually work for me. (If I really want something, I'll just get it or go do it.) Instead, I use a sticker chart to reward myself for meeting goals. I give myself one sticker every time I write 1,000 words.

If you're a goals/rewards person too, try coming up with something you'll find both inspiring and helpful.


Build in one full day to write

This might be one of the trickier tips on this list, but it's been one of my favorite must-do practices. For the past couple of years, I pick one full day in November to set aside for writing. I let people know not to contact me unless there's a major emergency (football games don't count as emergencies). I try to stay offline. I don't turn on my TV (until the very end of the day), and in some instances, I won't even make my own meals for the day. (I am strange. Somehow even turning on my stove signifies to me that it's time to clean, and before I know it, I've lost several hours of writing time.)

For one full day, it's just me and my words. Last November, I wrote almost 8,000 words, which was a personal record for me. I did another one in June, and I wrote more than 10,000 words. It wasn't easy. And I was in prime fighting/writing condition. And having done it, I'll tell you, there is very little more gratifying than seeing you've written a huge chunk of your book or story.

(I'll also note that I am lucky and privileged to have a job that allows me to take time off when needed and to have full weekends in most cases, which is when I tend to plan these days. I also live alone, which cuts out on distractions. But even if you can take half a day and declare it a "DO NOT BOTHER ME OR ELSE" you can put up some good word counts.)


Plan a writing adventure

Apart from the one day of the month I like to set aside for a full day of writing at home, I also like to schedule myself a writing adventure each November. The idea for this just came to me one Saturday morning several Novembers ago (while I was writing Going for Two). I'll walk you through the details, but basically it's the opposite of a full day writing at home.

Here's how it works: I create a list of four or five of my favorite writing locations around town. This usually includes a coffee shop (where I begin the day), a bookstore, a cafe (for lunch break), and a library. I set a word count goal for each location, and once I hit it, I move on to the next. So, say I want to write 6,000 words in the day. I'll stay in a location until I reach at least 1,500 words.

To make it even more interesting, I'll sometimes ask readers or friends to give me a couple of "challenges" to work into my story. Think of it like the NaNoWriMo dares. For example, a couple years ago, a reader suggested I use the phrase "painted me like a Picasso" somewhere in my story. And so I worked it into the book. (Does anyone know which one?)

I typically do my writing adventure halfway through the month or when I can feel myself losing a bit of interest. Not only does it spark some more fun into my story, but it usually gives me some solid word counts.

You can actually download a copy of the worksheet I use to plan my adventures (and track my writing process) on my website at https://laurachapmanbooks.com/for-writers/. Just scroll down to "Free Downloads from Me to You." I'll also share my tips for planning a most excellent writing adventure in a blog post later this month.


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Join my Facebook Reader Group for in-depth discussion on everything from books to our favorite binge-watches. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

October 8, 2019

nanowrimo tip: story development

Blogger's Note: This year marks my 10th consecutive year participating in National Novel Writing Month. So far, I am 9/9 of reaching the 50,000 words mark in 30 days. As I go into this year, I'm reflecting on what has and hasn't worked and passing it along. Please remember, this is my experience and what works for me. Please feel free to take or leave any advice as you like!


Once I have the characters figured out in my story, I turn toward developing the story. Now, some of this does involve plotting, which isn't everyone's cup. Good news: Most of my story development steps are plotting free. They'll still do wonders to help get you thinking about the journey your characters will take.

And knowing where your characters are headed--even if you don't know the entire journey or destination--helps when you sit down to get some words on paper or screen.


Create a mood board

For fellow crafting nerds like me, this is maybe one of the most fun ways to get in the spirit for a new book. Whether you cut out pictures from magazines, create a Pinterest board, or save a few photos to your Scrivener document, it can be helpful to have pictures of characters, settings, and other elements involved in your story.

My favorite book mood board was the one I made for Going for Two. It's super spoilery if you haven't read the book, but you can take a look if you dare.


Curate a playlist

Remember yesterday when I said making a mood board was maybe the most fun thing ever? Well, I might have lied. Or it might be a draw. But I absolutely love creating a playlist for each of my stories.

For me, the playlist begins almost as early as the idea for my story. It starts with a song or two and grows and gets smaller throughout the plotting, writing, editing, and publishing process.

Sometimes I pick songs that remind me of the characters (like their very own theme music). Sometimes songs represent a scene or point in the story. Other times, they're songs that just really resonate with the mood of the story.

I listen to the songs on my playlist over and over while I write. And as I do, they put me in the mindset of where I need to be when I write. Then, after the story is ready to go to print, I share the playlist with readers as a bonus.

You can find the playlists for each of my books on my website. Just select the book of your choice and scroll down to "Listen".


Write a book blurb

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, a book blurb is the book description you read on the cover of the book or the description you read when scrolling on line. While it's usually seen as a marketing tool for readers, it can also be a good way to sell the story idea to yourself. More, it's a way for you to really think about and understand what your book is about.

In it you focus on the characters (and those goals, motivations, and conflicts we talked about earlier) and how they might clash with each other to tell your story.

I also like that writing a blurb early in the process helps me get excited about the story. It helps me visualize those words on a book or online. That makes it feel more real.


Make a scene wish list

If you're like me, then sometimes you imagine certain situations or scenes you'd like to see your characters tackle before you even totally know where you're going. Keep a running list of those ideas in a notebook or on your notes app.

You don't have to include them in your story, they can be super helpful when you're trying to figure out what happens at next. You'll be especially thankful to have a few ideas tucked away when you get to the middle section of your book. While the beginning and ending tend to be more exciting to write (and plan out) you want the middle to sing, too. That's where your wish list comes into play.


Outline the plot

Pantsers, look away. But if you're a plotter like me, than plotting out your story in advance is a must. I don't usually write the most detailed outlines. Usually it's just a short paragraph about each scene that covers the big plot points that need to happen to move the story ahead.

For my last few books, I've started using beat sheets to help navigate the story. If you're interested in writing romance, I highly recommend Gwen Hayes's Romancing the Beat. I took an online workshop with her a couple years ago, and it really helped me think about the expectations readers have when it comes to making a love story bloom. You can find them for other genres too.


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Join my Facebook Reader Group for in-depth discussion on everything from books to our favorite binge-watches. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

October 3, 2019

nanowrimo tip: character development

Blogger's Note: This year marks my 10th consecutive year participating in National Novel Writing Month. So far, I am 9/9 of reaching the 50,000 words mark in 30 days. As I go into this year, I'm reflecting on what has and hasn't worked and passing it along. Please remember, this is my experience and what works for me. Please feel free to take or leave any advice as you like!


I'll forever come back to the same tip I read in the first fiction-writing craft book I picked up. "Story is what happens to character." That's what James V. Smith Jr. wrote in The Writer's Little Helper, and I've taken it to heart the past decade.

It makes sense, right? Pride & Prejudice could've easily been a story about dances and fine country estates if not for Lizzie and Darcy being there to show us the complexities of the 19th century British class structure (and to make us swoon). Stars Wars would've been big spaceships and little spaceships firing back and forth at each other without the likes of the Skywalkers (and Han Solo, another swoon). And Goonies would've been a walk in the sewers if we didn't have a rich cast of developed characters who made us care about whether or not they would survive their treasure hunt and stay in their homes.

So I'll repeat it: Story is what happens to characters.

That's why I begin all of my stories by taking time to develop characters. The times I haven't done this, I've found myself getting stuck wondering "What would this character do now that they're here?" (And, full disclosure, sometimes I still screw up the decision on my first attempt, but it's easier to know what does and doesn't work when I edit.)

There are plenty of ways to develop dynamic characters to guide your story. Here's how I do it. (As with any tips I offer from here on out, please take them or leave them as you like.)

Know your characters’ GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict)

This hails from Debra Dixon's book, but establishing your characters' internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts is probably the best way to not only understand your characters but the journey you'll send them on.

For example, in my book Let It Be Me, James (the hero) had a GMC that looked like this:

Internal
  • Goal: Find peace on his own. Get his groove back. 
  • Motivation: His ex. She still has a hold on him, which makes him doubt his heart even more. 
  • Conflict: Despite his best efforts, he can't get his new assistant out of his head.

External
  • Goal: Get fired so he can move back to the UK. 
  • Motivation: His ex married his colleague and it pains them (and makes him feel like a loser) to see them together. 
  • Conflict: He’s the department’s golden boy. Nothing he does will get him fired. And now he has a new assistant who is determined to keep him on track.

From there, I was able to get how he would interact in any given scene and why he might act the way he did.

Make before and after charts for your characters

Another way to think about the journey your characters will take is to make a T-chart with "Before" on one column and "After" on the other. From there, it goes pretty much how it sounds. In the first column, list where you character is at the beginning of the story. In the second column, put where you see them after.

I can't really use one of my own books without spoiling the story, so let's go with one of my favorite TV shows. At the beginning of 30 Rock, Liz Lemon is working on a weekly, live TV show ala SNL (which doesn't get great viewership). At the end, she's running a sitcom that seems to be successful. And in the beginning, she's dating the awful Dennis and wants to have a family. At the end, she's married to James Marsden and has adopted two children who are pint-sized versions of Jenna and Tracey.

Still have questions? I go into more detail about how it works in this blog post.

Create a basic character sketch

This is where you can get to know your characters on an even deeper level. This is where you decide everything from what your character looks like to the way they take their coffee. You can take it even deeper by delving into their backgrounds. Did they go to school? For how long and where? What was life like for them growing up? What's their best memory? Their worst.

Even if some of the details in your sketch never directly come into play in your manuscript, it helps you know how they might react--what they'll think, say, and do--at different points in the story.

You can find templates for character sketches by doing a Google search. I'm actually giving this one from Lauren Layne a shot for my NaNoWriMo story. (I like to shake things up and try new things to find out what does and doesn't work for me--always.)

Give your characters transitive verbs

This tip comes from the wonderful Damon Suede. (His writing advice and books are phenomenal. Check him out.) He recommends picking a transitive verb that sums up your character's journey. A transitive verb is an action verb that needs a direct object to make it work.

So, thinking again of Let It Be Me, when it came to giving Ali a verb, I said "Ali manipulates." And that guided the way I had her tackle everything that came across her plate.


Those are my tips for developing your characters. 
I'll be back on Tuesday with some more tips on plotting your story for NaNoWriMo.


***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Join my Facebook Reader Group for in-depth discussion on everything from books to our favorite binge-watches. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***

October 1, 2019

here's to nanowrimo year 10


I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw a post from one of my friends. It read something like "Day 1 of National Novel Writing Month done with more than 3,000 words written." 

It was November 1, 2010. I was sitting in a one-bedroom apartment just off the Interstate north of Downtown Lincoln and still adjusting to my life back in Nebraska. After living in Texas for more than a year, it was weird being back sooner than I expected and working in the office I'd figured would be in my rearview window. I was also about five years into the routine of telling people that I'd write a book someday. Like most other writers, I'd started and stopped at least four or five manuscripts after getting a few thousand words into them.

But reading that message from a former classmate gave me pause. Why wasn't I writing my book? So and so was. And she'd never talked about writing as much as I had. Maybe it was time for me to stop saying someday and to make it so.

Using my work-issued iPhone (I couldn't afford Internet back in those days) I signed up for an account on the NaNoWriMo website and scribbled out a quick outline. The next day, I boarded a plane back to Houston for work, but this time I occupied my free time by working on a story about a young woman far from home, working in an industry she didn't understand. I related to a lot of what my main character was going through. Only, her life was far more exciting. It was like writing fan fiction for my own life. One where I took control of my professional life. Where I didn't let fear keep me back from pursuing love. 

The words didn't come completely easily, but they came. And even though I was always a little behind where the NaNoWriMo tracker said I should be, I kept going. Through another business trip and a major cold, I wrote and wrote. On November 30, with the assist from a friend (because, still, no Internet) I submitted my still-in-progress manuscript to NaNoWriMo and received my winner certificate.

I'd done it. I'd written 50,000 words. I still had a long ways to go on that manuscript (in terms of writing and editing and querying, though those last two aspects were far away). But I'd proven I could set a writing goal and fulfill it. 

When November 2011 rolled around, I was better prepared. I'd outlined my book a few weeks before November, and I went into the month with a couple of friends joining me on the journey. I finished two days ahead of schedule.

Every year, it became easier. I reached the goal earlier and earlier in the month, padding my word count even more in the days that followed. There was never a question of whether or not I'd participate in NaNoWriMo. It was more a question of "what will I write this year?" I'd found a way of writing that spoke to me. As someone who is goal oriented and competitive--and someone who worries about perfection while full-well understanding it's unattainable--going this approach just worked. 

That carefree attitude changed in November 2016. That was the year I wasn't sure I'd finish NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words under my belt. Caught up in the frenzy of everything happening in the real world at the time, I couldn't quite slip back into the fictional world I was creating. It was a pity. As someone who had participated in--and completed--NaNoWriMo every year since 2010, I was disappointed my streak would break. I decided it was okay if I didn't, though. The real world needed attention, and my story could wait.

So at 25,000 words written, I figured I'd done enough. The streak was over.

Then, I woke up five days before the end of November with another story on my heart. And a resolve that even though it felt like the world around me was falling apart, my words and my story still did matter. It didn't diminish my feelings about reality and vice versa. Besides, if I let others stop me from doing something I loved, if I let them silence me, wasn't I just giving them what they wanted? 

More resolved than ever, I went into a writing frenzy, filling the page with the words on my heart. I never did finish that story--it was too raw and unfocused. Three years later, I still haven't been able to open and look at it with an objective eye to see if it's worth saving. Yet somehow, at 9 p.m. on November 30, I managed to cross the 50,000-word mark and earn my NaNoWriMo winner badge.

I'd done it. I'd kept my streak alive. It was in that moment I did some math and realized that I was seven years into a NaNoWriMo winner streak. If I could keep my resolve up for three more years, I could call it an even 10. I liked the sound of that.

My NaNoWriMo 2017 writing journey wasn't flawless, but it was still easier than 2016. The next year --2018--was almost as challenging as 2016. Once again, my world was falling apart. This time it was my personal life collapsing as someone I loved and one of my biggest cheerleaders faced a terminal diagnosis. Only this time, I never considered stopping. As someone who'd always eagerly followed my writing progress, I knew I'd be letting her down as well if I let anything stop me from reaching my goal. It wasn't easy. But I still reached the 50,000-word mark with a few days to go. And, you know what? Those words didn't totally suck. You can actually read them (or a version of them at least) in Let It Be Me, which was released yesterday. 

All of that brings us to now: Year 10. Just seeing that on my screen right now is empowering. It's also kind of crazy and has me in a bit of an existential tizzy. (How did I get to be so old? Where did the time go? Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?)

Rather than dwell too much on what it means to go into my 10th consecutive year of participating in (and hopefully winning) NaNoWriMo, I figure I should be constructive and productive with that milestone. So, for the rest of this month here--and on my social media platforms--I'm going to share some of the lessons I've learned during the past nine years and share some of my tips for succeeding. As a disclaimer, these are entirely my own processes and you are free to take and leave them as they work (or don't) for you and your own writing journey.

I love NaNoWriMo and appreciate what it has done for me as a writer. Fact: I'm not sure I'd be a published author without it. Or, at least, it would've taken me a lot longer to reach that point. If you're someone participating for the first time, signing up after a long gap, or a fellow frequent writer, welcome. I hope you're able to pull something helpful from all of this. And I wish you the best of luck.

Look for new posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays right here on Change the Word. You can also look for daily tips on my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts (with weekly videos posted to Facebook and IG TV on Wednesdays).

With that, let the countdown to NaNoWriMo begin!

Works by Laura Chapman written during NaNoWriMo:




***Let's take this relationship to the next level. Join my Facebook Reader Group for in-depth discussion on everything from books to our favorite binge-watches. Follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for day-to-day shenanigans. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter AND score a free copy of one of my books as my thanks to you. You can also find me on Amazon and BookBub.***