How to Plot Your NaNo Novel at the Last Minute

In need of some last minute #NaNoPrep? Learn how to plot your story using the Plot Card Method right here.One week left before NaNoWriMo begins. You know what that means. A flurry of NaNoPrep, an extra helping of excitement and a dollop of freaking out.

Do you have a story outline yet? If you haven’t the faintest idea what will happen in your NaNo novel yet, don’t panic. There’s still time and I have just the speedy technique to help you. It’s name: the plot card method. Here’s how it goes…

1. Grab a stack of index cards.

Slips of paper or Post-It Notes work just as well if you don’t have index cards on hand. These are your ‘plot cards’. Got yours ready? Great. On we go.

2. Put your scene summaries on your plot cards.

Write down any ideas for scenes you have in 1-2 sentences, one scene to a plot card. It doesn’t matter if you don’t yet know how these scenes will fit together or where they’ll go in the story. Let your muse take charge and dump any scene ideas you have on the cards.

Done that? Now it’s time to straighten out that timeline.

3. Place your milestone plot cards first.

There are five major milestones I try to pin down before I do anything else. They are the Hook, the First Plot Point, the Midpoint, the Third Plot Point and the Climax.

Before I start using these terms willy-nilly, let’s define them. I use K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel system to plot out my stories, so it’s her definitions I’ll be using for each of these milestones.

The Hook is what reels in your readers, the opening scene that piques their curiosity and asks a question. It happens right at the start of the story and, if it does its job right, it’ll keep your readers reading on to find out the answer.

The First Plot Point falls around the 25% mark and is the point in the story that changes everything. The characters react in a way that is irrevocable and leaves them unable to continue the way they had before. This is their personal turning point and, by the writing gods, it’s going to be exciting.

The Midpoint falls (surprise, surprise) at the middle of your story. Think of it as the point around which the whole story hangs, a centrepiece and pivotal moment in which the tides begin to turn. Your characters stop reacting and start acting.

The Third Plot Point, which falls around the 75% mark, is the moment that sets your protagonist racing along the path to the Climax. They hit their lowest point in the story and it’s from this bleak place that they must rise in order to reach the Climax.

Pretty much all writers are familiar with what the Climax of the story is—the point that has readers on the edge of their seats as the protagonist comes to a life-changing epiphany. The Climax usually begins around the 90% mark and covers the final part of the story.

So now that you know what the five major milestones are, let’s start positioning those plot cards. I recommend grabbing a clear patch of floor to build your timeline on, so that space isn’t an issue.

Where to begin? Here’s the order I position my plot cards in:

I almost always have an idea of my Hook and Climax scenes from the beginning so I start by putting the plot cards containing those milestones at opposite ends of my timeline. If you don’t know exactly what your Hook and Climax scenes are yet but have plot cards that describe scenes near those points, place those instead.

Next, if I know what scene I want at the Midpoint, I place that in the middle, between the Hook and Climax cards (make sure you leave plenty of space between your milestones). Again, if you don’t know exactly what will happen at the Midpoint, position plot cards that you know occur near that point.

Now it’s time to will in the First and Third Plot Points. If I have plot cards that describe these scenes, I place them at the quarter and three-quarter marks of the timeline respectively.

If you have enough plot cards to chart out the five major milestones, your timeline should be looking a lot more structured by now. If you don’t, don’t worry—as you’re filling in the rest of the timeline with your other plot cards, you’ll start to bridge the gaps between the scenes you already have planned.

Speaking of, it’s time to position the rest of your scenes.

4. Fill in the gaps between the milestones with your remaining plot cards.

A lot will happen between the Hook and the First Plot Point, between that and the Midpoint, and so on. Take your remaining plot cards and position them on your timeline where they’d logically fall in the story.

For example, if your characters are in a café in Paris at the First Plot Point, then at a bazaar in Cairo at the Midpoint, you need scenes between that get them from one to the other. This is a good way to brainstorm scene ideas if you have any gaps between plot cards—what could happen between the plot cards you do have to get them from A to B?

Once you’ve placed all the plot cards you can on the timeline, take a step back and admire your hard work. Congratulations. You’ve just created the outline for your NaNo novel. Write down a permanent copy of the order of your scenes, give yourself a pat on the back, and prepare yourself—NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. Good luck!

~

Have you plotted out your NaNo novel yet?

What to Do When You Have Too Many Story Ideas

How can you cope with idea overwhelm? Through using these four fun and creative methods. | www.sprintshack.wordpress.comYou’re a writer so your head is probably brimming with ideas (most of the time, anyway). And that’s a good thing. We’re a creative lot, with story ideas sneaking up on us at the most random and often inconvenient of times—like in the middle of our current works-in-progress.

But what if you have too many ideas? So many you just can’t decide which to write next. So many you keep hopping from project to project because you just have to write those shiny new ideas now.

Okay. Deep breath. Here are four methods that could be just the ticket to saving you when you have too many story ideas swirling around your noggin.

1. Summarise your idea so that it fits on an index card and put that card safely away in an “idea box”.

When inspiration first blossoms, it can be tempting to dive straight in with writing that new story. The problem with this is that these ideas tend to be undeveloped. They haven’t had time to mature, to grow into fully fledged plots, so you hit a brick wall after a few chapters of furious writing and scratch your head, wondering where the story will go next.

If, instead, you write your new ideas down in a few sentences and store them away for another time, you give your muse the chance to work on them at the back of your mind. This method keeps a record of your ideas so that you don’t forget them and gives them a place to grow and develop. In fact, I once heard this technique described as the ‘plot bunny nursery’.

2. Use your ideas as inspiration for shorter fiction.

If you really can’t wait to start writing your shiny new story, then giving novellas, short stories or microfiction—stories under 1000 words—a go can help to alleviate this burning desire. This way, you don’t have to spend months, if not years, turning each idea into a full length novel. You can have fun with your story seedlings by writing some microfiction, short stories or novellas about them instead.

I’ve also found this method particularly useful for experimenting with different genres, voices and styles of writing. Because you’re not dedicating yourself to a 70,000+ word book, you have the freedom to try something new without worrying that you’ll have wasted all that time should it not work out as you planned.

3. Combine several ideas to create one story.

Got too many ideas that you want to make into full length novels? Try weaving them together to create one story. This method’s very effective if you have several ideas that can’t make a story on their own, like a character, a magic system, a conflict, and so on, but can also be used when you have fully formed plots that line up with each other nicely.

For example, a character who can read auras has taken up residence in your head and demands you write a story about her. You also want to write a thriller involving a therapist who manipulates her clients into committing crimes for her. And you really like the idea of setting a story in a futuristic world teetering on the edge of societal collapse. You could write separate books about each of these elements or you could combine them to create a novel about an aura-reading therapist who’s been driven to manipulating her clients in order to protect her family as the world slowly crumbles around her. Interesting, right?

4. Use your ideas as inspiration for subplots.

Subplots support the main story, so there’s no reason not to incorporate one of your many ideas as a subplot as long as it helps to drive the main plot forward.

Maybe you really want to write a story about the adventures of a swashbuckling airship pirate, but you’re also dying to write a mystery set in the Alps. What if, in the course of his daring adventures, your air-pirate stopped to get supplies at a small town in the foothills and was drawn into a murder mystery there?

Is your multitude of ideas slightly more manageable now? I hope so. Have fun with these methods, dear readers. There’s a lot of scope for imagination and that’s what we writers are all about.

~

Do you ever feel like you have too many ideas? How do you deal with idea overwhelm?

Hit an Inspiration Dry Spell? Pinterest Has the Solution

So, what will you write about next?

Usually, having ideas isn’t a problem for most writers. Our brains are brimming with them. They come to us in flashes of brilliance, in bits and pieces, in the form of plot bunnies, leading us down the rabbit hole.

But what happens when those ideas just seem to… evaporate? What do you do if you hit an inspiration dry spell?

First of all: don’t panic. You haven’t lost your spark. There’s an abundance of creativity within you—it’s just blocked right now. Whatever is holding you back, it’s not unfixable, and sometimes all it takes is a dose of the strange and unexpected to get your imagination back in business. The best way I’ve found to do that? Writing prompts. And the best place I’ve found to get them from? Pinterest.

(What is Pinterest? Find out in Pinterest for Writers in 6 Simple Steps.)

With Pinterest being such a visual platform, it’s a great opportunity to find writing prompts, whether they’re stunning images or written prompts. It could be a single pin or a whole board centred around a theme or style that gets the ideas flowing again—you just need to find them first.

So how can you find a wealth of prompts on Pinterest?

1. Search for them.

If you’re new to Pinterest or don’t follow many prompt-related boards, often the best place to start is with the search function. Simply type in a few keywords, like ‘writing prompt’, ‘settings’, ‘characters’, your genre of choice, etc., and search away. See any images you like? Create your own inspiration board and pin them to it!

2. Follow themed boards.

If searching for prompts doesn’t turn out the best results for you, the second option is to scout out inspiration-based boards that have been compiled by others. Found a pin that you really like? Chances are, you could like the other pins on the board it’s a part of.

To find the board the image is from and preview the other pins in it, simply click the image and look at the column on the right (highlighted in the image below). And there you have it.

How and where can you find the best writing prompts on Pinterest? Here are 4 ways to find the spark that can rekindle your imagination. | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

My favourite inspiration-based boards:

3. Check out all the pins from a source.

What if you’re looking for pins from a particular source, rather than from a particular pinner? For instance, you really like the images created by a certain artist or writer, but the boards you’ve found only have a few of their many pieces of art or prompts on. What now? Pinterest has you covered.

Every pin has a source, the web address it came from, and if that’s the same source as the artist’s other images (e.g., their website), then you can find them easily. Click on the pin and look at the column to the right of it. There’s the name of the board at the top and the other pins on it, and underneath that there’s a ‘more from’ section. This is the bit we’re interested in.

If you like Sarah Selecky’s writing prompts, for example, you can find one of her pinned prompts, click ‘more from sarahselecky.com’ (highlighted in the image below), and explore all the images various users have pinned from her website.

How and where can you find the best writing prompts on Pinterest? Here are 4 ways to find the spark that can rekindle your imagination. | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

My favourite sources for writing prompts? Right here:

4. Make use of Pinterest’s suggestions.

As you start pinning prompts to your own boards, you’ll see more of Pinterest’s ‘picked for you’ suggestions, which is a great way to find more incredible prompts and follow boards that collect them too. In fact, that’s where I find the majority of the prompts I get from Pinterest!

You can spot the ‘picked for you’ pins by looking at the section beneath each image, which contains the name of the pinner and the board it comes from. Check out the image below for an example.

How and where can you find the best writing prompts on Pinterest? Here are 4 ways to find the spark that can rekindle your imagination. | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

So now that you have some prompts to get you over that inspiration dry spell, it’s time to get writing. Enjoy your idea hunting on Pinterest! (But don’t get too distracted—you actually have to write the thing, remember!)

~

Where do you find your writing prompts?

Use Cues to Make Writing a Habit

How can you use cues in your writing environment to make writing a habit? Using this one simple technique. | www.sprintshack.wordpress.comSo you want to make writing a habit. What’s the best way to do that? Write on a regular basis—every day, if possible.

That’s easier said than done though. Writing every day is hard work—there’s no getting away from that—but if there’s something you can do to make it that little bit easier, then you should take advantage of that, right? Today’s post features a technique that’s simple, quick and can save your writing streak when your will to write is sorely tested.

Have you heard of the when-then phrase? I first came across this trick in Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander (which I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys NaNoWriMo). A when-then phrase involves using cues in your environment to direct you towards a goal-oriented action.

For example, your computer or notebook are cues in your environment. A goal-oriented action is writing. Put them together in a when-then phrase and you get:

When I sit down with my computer/notebook, then I will write [x amount of] words.

If you add in a ‘so that I can…’ phrase at the end, it becomes an even stronger motivational tool. For instance..

When I sit down with my computer/notebook, then I will write [x amount of] words, so that I can achieve my goal of writing every day.

When-then phrases are very handy when it comes to steering you away from distractions and temptations too. Try modifying these when-then phrases to best suit you and the common difficulties you face:

1. When I feel like surfing the Internet, then I will first write 100 words, so that I can achieve my writing goal for the day.

2. When something unavoidable pulls me away from my writing time, then I will take a notebook with me to write in, so that I can achieve my goal of forging a writing streak.

3. When I don’t want to write, then I will set a timer for 10 minutes and write down as much as I can, so that I can achieve my goal of an unbroken writing streak.

The beauty of this technique is how it creates an association between the cue (the ‘when’) and the action (the ‘then’). Over time, whenever you encounter the cue, the action will become an automatic response. And habits are basically automatic behaviours, right?

Start making writing an automatic behaviour today. Create a few when-then phrases of your own, write them down and put them somewhere easy to see.

Why not share your when-then phrases with us too? Let us know in the comments section below!

Twitter for Writers: 3 Ways to Make Meaningful Connections

Twitter for Writers: 3 Ways to Make Meaningful Connections | www.sprintshack.wordpress.comWriting can be solitary in nature, but that doesn’t mean you have to scribble down words all by your lonesome. Now you can connect with people all over the world, right from the comfort of your write cave. The internet is a wonderful thing, no?

In my previous post in the Social Media for Writers series, I walked writers through six steps to a Pinterest traffic flood. Today we tackle another titan of the social media world: Twitter.

If you haven’t given Twitter a try yet, you’re missing out—it provides a plethora of opportunities for writers. You can connect with fellow writers, find new readers, seek out inspiration and let your creativity shine, if you know where to look and what to do.

Ready to delve into the fast-moving, exciting (and highly addictive) world of Twitter? Let’s go.

Know Your Writerly Hashtags

The trusty hashtag is one of the most useful tools for writers on Twitter, yet sadly many people give them a wide berth because they aren’t sure what hashtags are or how to use them. But no more! Time for a quick hashtag lesson.

Using a hashtag in a tweet is a way to categorise your message and reach others who have used or searched for the same hashtag. For example, the #amwriting hashtag is commonly used in tweets about (you guessed it) writing. If you click on ‘#amwriting’ in a tweet, you’ll bring up a list of messages that also include that hashtag.

Why is that useful for writers? Connections, my friend. You can use writing- and reading-related hashtags to find fellow lovers of the written word and be found by them in turn. Including these types of hashtag in your tweets can help you to make new friends, find new readers, build a network of contacts and more.

So what are these magical hashtags for writers? You can find a more detailed list on our Writing & Sprinting Resources page, but some of the most popular ones are:

  • #amwriting
  • #amediting
  • #amreading
  • #writetip
  • #writerslife
  • #writerproblems (one of my personal favourites)
  • #writingprompt

Give it a try yourself if you’re new to hashtags and take full advantage of the hashtags for writers listed here to make new connections in the writing world.

Take Part in a Twitter Chat or Two

The beauty of Twitter, I feel, is it’s real-time nature, which becomes highly apparent when taking part in Twitter chats.

What are Twitter chats? In a nutshell: live conversations in which participants use the same hashtag to discuss the host’s questions or topic and chat with each other.

Some regular Twitter chats for writers, creatives and bloggers are:

  • #Storycrafter, hosted by @Writerology. Held on Sundays from 3-4 p.m. ET.
  • #StorySocial, hosted by @ShesNovel and @BlotsandPlots. Held on Wednesdays from 9-10 p.m. ET.
  • #StoryDam, hosted by @StoryDam. Held on Thursdays from 8-9 p.m. ET.
  • #K8chat, hosted by @K8Tilton. Held Thursdays from 9-10 p.m. ET.
  • #createlounge, hosted by @kayla_hollatz. Held on Wednesdays from 8-9 p.m. ET.

Join Creative Challenges

Want to exercise your creative muscles and/or let others see your skill? Join in a creative challenge or event on Twitter and do both.

My top Twitter challenges for writers include:

  • #FridayPhrases, hosted by @FridayPhrases. Can you tell a compelling story in under 140 characters? If you can, you can #FP. (You can find out more about Friday Phrases here.)
  • #sixwordstory, hosted by @WriterlyTweets. This challenge invites you to write a story based on a prompt in six words or fewer. Can’t get much more micro in your microfiction than that, eh?
  • #AuthorUp, hosted by @ShesNovel. Author Up challenges writers to 30 days of intentional improvement of their craft, and to make sure you can do that, it includes a free course (which you can find out more about here).
  • #WriteChain, hosted by @WriteChain. Want to make writing every day a habit? Set yourself a daily goal and create a chain with every consecutive day you reach it. You can sign up for the challenge here.

Whether you use hashtags, chats, creative challenges or all three in conjunction, the aim for writers on Twitter is to make meaningful connections. Share your writing journey, talk to others about the craft, enrich the lives of every tweep you meet, and enjoy the ‘social’ side of social media—because writing might be a solitary pursuit, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one.

~

How do you use Twitter to make new writing connections?

Top Tools for an Easily Distracted Writer

Are you an easily distracted writer?

Chances are, if you’re reading this instead of writing, the answer is a ‘yes’. That’s okay; I’m easily distracted too. That’s why I’ve collected a range of resources and tools over the years to help me shut out those distractions and boost my concentration. Today I want to share those tools with you, dear writer. Let’s get focused and wordy, starting with…

Tools to Enhance Concentration

Focus@Will

Focus@Will is a music player service with tracks specifically designed to enhance focus. Developed in partnership with neuroscientists, the tracks on focus@will can enhance your concentration by up to 400% when writing. How awesome is that? (You can find out more about the science behind focus@will here.)

Calm

Have you ever tried meditating before? It’s a powerful way to focus your mind, very useful for an easily distracted writer. Give a five minute meditation a try before your next writing session and use the Calm app to guide you. With its guided and timer-only meditations, it’s perfect for beginners and pros alike.

Tools to Block Distractions

Enhancing your focus is one thing, but if pesky distractions draw your attention away from writing, then it’s all for nothing. Kick those distractions to the curb with the following tools.

Web Blockers

Don’t let the call of the internet tempt you away from writing—block it out altogether with the power of the web blocker. This handy tool comes in all shapes and sizes. There are extensions, apps and programmes galore that can block the internet or particular websites, permanently or only after a certain amount of time spent on them. Perfect if you go on Facebook for a quick status update before a writing session and close it three hours later without a word written.

Here are my pick of internet/website blockers, which I recommend to all the members of my daily writing challenge:

Timed Writing Sessions

As soon as you introduce a time limit to something, there’s less room for procrastination. Give yourself a strict time limit—say, 15 minutes—and it’ll block out distractions like no one’s business. That’s the guiding principle behind the word sprint, the Sprint Shack’s favourite method for boosting productivity, motivation and focus.

How can you use time limits in a way that shuts out distractions? Here are the tools for the job:

Feeling more focused yet? If not, give these tools a try and see what works for you. Experiment until you find the perfect combination of concentration boosters and distraction busters—a combination that will make your writing sessions that much more efficient, productive and enjoyable. Good luck.

~

What tools do you use to keep you on track during a writing session?

Co-Founder Confession: Why Do I Write? – Faye Kirwin

A while back, coWhy Do I Write? Faye Kirwin reveals the reasons she puts pen to paper every single day. | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com-founder Faye Kirwin asked a good question: Why do you write?  After seeing your awesome answers, we only thought it fair that we answer that same, very personal, question. Each month one of us from the Sprint Shack team will answer that burning question: Why do I write? The previous answers came from Taylor Eaton and Cristina R. Guarino. Now Faye is chiming in.


Why do I write?

It’s a simple question—but do you ever spare the answer much more thought than a simple ‘because I like it’? Your reasons for writing are very powerful motivators. Get to the heart of why you write and it can push you forward on the days you feel you can’t write a single word.

So, why do I write?

To Escape Reality

Because we all know reality can be a rather dull or troubling place. Just as we read to escape our lives and live someone else’s, I write for the same reason. There’s one thing writing allows me to do that reading doesn’t, however: control the lives of the characters. When control is missing from my life, I can gain a sense of it through writing. (Plus, it’s fun to put my characters through the wringer. Yeah, I’m mean like that.)

To Help Me Understand

What better way to see someone else’s side of the story than to write from their perspective? If someone’s actions have upset me, I can incorporate an element of it into a story (translation: beware people who know me—you may end up in my next novel). It helps me to think through the motivations and reasons behind their actions and tease out my own feelings on the matter. Having my characters go on to resolve the situation can also give me an idea as to how to do the same thing in real life. (Though not always. Sadly, I don’t have magical candle powers or spirit-powered automata in real life.)

To Express Who I Am

I’m free to write about what interests me, the things that really mean something to me and issues that I care deeply about. Most of what I write will never be seen by anyone else as well, which means I can freely express my thoughts and feelings on a matter and get them off my chest. It’s amazing how much clarity writing about a situation can bring.

To Craft Unique Characters

What makes people tick has always fascinated me, which makes character creation one of my absolute favourite parts of writing. As readers of my blog, Writerology, will know, I’m all about applying the knowledge gleaned from my Psychology degree to storytelling. My mission is to make my characters as life-like, interesting and in-depth as possible and I love doing that.

To Have Fun

Like, so much fun. The thrill of writing an action-packed scene, the buzz that comes from a ground-breaking plot realisation, the satisfaction that follows a really productive writing session—all of it works together with the previous points to make writing something that makes my heart do a little dance. Honestly, keeping my Write Chain writing streak going is no problem, because I look forward to writing every night. I love the words.

~

So that’s why I write, but what about you? Why do you write?