2015 NaNoWriMo Kickoff!

NaNo-2015-Participant-Banner

Happy NaNoWriMo, everyone! We’ve been hosting word sprints on our Twitter all day to celebrate and get a head start on our word counts, but we also thought it would be fun to throw together a little kick-off post as always.

Over the next 30 days, we’ll be toiling alongside you to churn out 50,000 words (and a few inspirational posts to help you chug along). This, of course, means one thing: word sprints! For the next 4 weeks, we’ll be hosting our usual #SundayScribes and #TalesAndTea word sprints, alongside spontaneous, unannounced sprints, as we grab spare moments to write throughout the days and nights. We hope to see you writing with us; NaNoWriMo is always more fun with company!

And, to hold us accountable, we thought we’d share our goals and what we’re working on for the next month. Feel free to comment below with a description of your story and/or goals!

CristinaCristina Guarino

I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo last year and definitely missed the fun and camaraderie this month brings. This year is just as busy as the last (if not more so), but I’m going to try to take the plunge with a drama/thriller novel that I’ve been brainstorming throughout October.

I typically don’t go into too much detail about my novels before I start writing them, but let’s put it this way: I’ve been reading a lot of Gillian Flynn lately and I love how complex her characters are. I’m hoping to pull off something equally as amazing in this novel, although I know that’s ambitious for a first draft! My goal is to hit the 50,000 mark, but even if I miss it, I’ll be happy to know I tried.

Skye Fairwin

Faye

I’m a NaNo rebel at heart. Why work on one project when you can work on two? That’s my aim for the next month: 30,000 words on a fantasy-with-a-dash-of-steampunk novella and 20,000 words on a non-fiction e-book. The (hopeful) result: two first drafts by the end of November. We’ll see in 30 days whether or not I make it! I hope you’ll all keep me accountable (and I’ll return the favour, ’kay?).

TaylorTaylor Eaton

It’s already time for NaNoWriMo? How did that happen? This year has flown by, and I find myself unprepared for NaNo this year. But no matter! I’ll be working on a novel of mine, Firewalkers, which has been in progress since last year. I’ve currently been writing a chapter of it each week and posting it to Channillo. But now, I want to make a final push and wrap the whole book up. I think it’ll take at least the 50,000 words I’ll write during November – maybe even more!

I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of word sprints this month and can’t wait to see how everyone does. Let’s write a novel this month, everyone!


What are you working on this month? Are you aiming for 50,000 words or less/more? Let us know!

How Writing “for Publication” (Nearly) Killed My Love for The Craft

Okay, oUntitledkay—let’s take a step back for a minute.

My love for writing is certainly nowhere near dead, but for a short while there, I was worrying it might be. I haven’t been writing much at all lately (or, technically, not just “lately.” My productivity has been dropping for quite some time now, as many of my blog posts this year have shown). When I do try to muster the strength to write, I often find excuses to avoid it or discourage myself with negative thoughts about my skills, my works in progress, or the likelihood that I’ll continue my writing streak. I’ve always been hard on myself, but I do remember a time when I enjoyed writing and persevered even when it wasn’t going so smoothly—so what’s different now?

I think I’ve made a mistake this past year or two that’s seriously hindered the enjoyment I’ve always found in writing, and maybe my skills themselves, to some extent: I’ve been focusing too heavily on “getting published” and not enough on writing good stories that make me happy.

Now, for someone whose ultimate goal is to see her books on shelves, it makes sense that I’d do some research on the publishing process and apply that knowledge to my work. In fact, for a while, the things I was learning through various industry blogs and podcasts greatly helped my writing, as I started seeing my plot and characters from the point of views of readers, editors, agents, and publishers—not just from my excited god-playing eyes. I identified weaknesses in my process and my stories, themselves, and even received some excellent feedback from an editor who rejected a short story I was submitting around this time last year. I thought I was on the right track, and for a while, I was. Until I wasn’t.

Now, don’t get me wrong—if you want your work published, especially traditionally so, you need to have some insider knowledge. But I did something that the authors from one of my favorite insider sources, the podcast Writing Excuses, often warn against: I let my obsession with seeing my name on a book spine eclipse the hard work it takes to get there. I focused too heavily on the end, and often overlooked the means. As a result, I continuously found myself in this vicious cycle:

  1. Open up Fleeting, my Fantasy work in progress, which I was convinced would be my first published novel.
  2. Realize that I haven’t worked on it in some time because I’ve taken too long (3 years and counting) to work through this first draft and I’m completely disengaged from the story, and as a result, I have no idea where to begin.
  3. Get overwhelmed. Close the project and consider working on some writing prompts, or a short story I’m excited about, instead.
  4. Decide against those options. They aren’t pieces I can publish, so why waste my time when I could be working on my WIP? They say young writers should “finish everything they start,” so I shouldn’t start a new project until I’m done with this one.
  5. Open up WIP one more time. Get overwhelmed again. Close it and give up on writing for the night entirely.

Let me just emphasize this: this pattern is toxic. You’d think that after all the podcasts I’ve listened to, all the blog posts I’ve read, all the advice I’ve doled out myself, I’d have realized way before this point that it’s okay (if not necessary) to put down my WIP if it’s discouraging me from writing altogether. It’s okay to work on something that probably won’t get published, because those pieces are often the ones that shape our writing the most. And it’s okay to just have fun with your first drafts and not worry so much about what an agent or publisher will think, because forced writing is stiff. The writing you enjoy working on is the writing readers enjoy reading, and it’s the only kind that breathes that proverbial life into its world and its characters.

Of course, this may not be the case for those who are already published and have deadlines to meet for future publications—but for authors like myself, who have still yet to come close to publishing a work, I feel it’s best to enjoy the writing first and shape it for publication later. That’s what revisions are for!

So, I’m going to take some of my own advice for once and cut myself some slack. Rather than force my way through a story I’m not currently enjoying writing, I’m going to pick up Faye’s new e-book Writember and get to work on making enjoyable writing a daily habit.

What do you write for fun? Is publication a factor when working on a first draft, or is it something that doesn’t come into play until you’re in revisions? Let me know!

The Aftermath: What I Learned From My First #10KWritathon

10kOkay, first confession: I wrote the first draft of this post DURING, not after, yesterday’s #10KWritathon. I needed a word boost and a break from my current WIP, which I’d been working on for approximately 6 hours. So I figured it was time for a change of pace, subject, and genre.

This was my first #10KWritathon, so I thought I’d write up a post for you guys on how it went and what I learned. And my decision to switch gears brings me to my first two lessons: be prepared and switch it up.

Lesson #1: Be prepared. Probably the hardest part about this Writathon for me was that, not only was it my first time attempting to write 10k in one day that I can recall, I wasn’t as prepared as I’d have liked to have been. My original plan was simple: spend the few weeks between the announcement of the Writathon and the actual day of it tearing apart my WIP and reorganizing it into a cohesive outline, then work on rewriting problematic areas during the Writathon itself. But what I didn’t account for was a little thing called life, and that actually-not-so-little thing wedged itself between me and my plans just about every day possible until I had very little time left. As a result, I found this challenge to be a struggle—perhaps more so than I normally would have with a concrete outline and budding ideas—and so, I had to resort to lesson 2.

Lesson #2: Switch it up. Ideally, this step should take root in your planning and preparing stage. Come to the Writathon with a list of things you’d like to work on, which can include anything from a short story to an article to a chapter, or even an outlining or brainstorming session for a new work. Of course, some will want to knock out 10k on one manuscript alone, and that’s great! But for many, writing for hours at a time on one manuscript can often bring us to that proverbial brick wall we call writer’s block when we’re suffering from sheer exhaustion, and having something different to work on—bonus points if it’s a completely different format or genre— is a great way to wake your brain up and refresh your creativity.

Lesson #3: Have a timer ready. This goes for whether you’re participating in the Writathon or hosting it, yourself! I used my phone as a timer to remind myself when sprints began and ended, that way I didn’t accidentally let my break spill into writing time or get so caught up in a lucky wave of words that I missed the sprint’s end. Of course, if you’re going to use your phone, you’ll have to be diligent about not checking it during your sprints; the whole point to having an alarm is to prevent you from looking up to check the clock/Twitter, so make sure to put your phone on silent or Do Not Disturb mode so you aren’t tempted to check it!

Lesson #4: Writing all day is hard. Well, duh, right? But I include this here because, during the busy hubbub of our daily lives, it’s easy to forget that, yes, writing is hard—even (and, sometimes, especially) when you have all day to do it. It’s so darn easy to stretch that break out a little longer, or call for an extra break before you really need one, or busy yourself with menial tasks to avoid the actual work. So, while most writers will tell you with confidence that writing 10,000 words in a day is hard, participating in a #10kWritathon might be the exact reality check we need to understand just how hard it is to do this daily for a living. And maybe, possibly, that’ll give us some more appreciation for whatever our daily life is like, and encourage us to enjoy and make use of the small snatches of time we have to write amongst all our other responsibilities.

Lesson #5: Word padding isn’t helpful. Some may argue with me on this, and this is a lesson born of both our Writathon AND NaNoWriMo, but it’s one I’m going to stick to. While writing the original, unfinished, messy draft of this WIP during NaNoWriMo, I let the words absolutely fly. Adverbs ran amuck; I stretched conjunctions into their full length to create stiff but wordy dialog; and I described everything I could, often derailing my work from the plot and the issues at hand. It helped me reach 50,000 words, and I did get some great lines and ideas out of it, but I took it too far. The result? A troublesome #10kWritathon in which I struggled to reorganize and rewrite the beginning of this work, and the manuscript is such a nightmare to get through that reaching 10,000 words, even including outlining and brainstorming, felt like slogging through thigh-deep mud to a far-off finish line.

In fact, I didn’t reach 10,000 words. I burnt out at just over the halfway point.

Ultimately, though, this challenge has brought me to a little epiphany I’ll call our bonus lesson: Any word count, whether 100 or 10,000, is a victory. This is something we commonly say to motivate anyone who is disappointed in their word count during a sprint, and it’s true—but until yesterday, I didn’t understand just how true. Watching the #10KWritathon hasthag scroll throughout the day on my Tweetdeck was a great reminder of how productive this challenge is for so many people; some reach their goals, some don’t, others don’t aim for that number at all. But it’s helpful to know that, even if your word count didn’t get quite where you wanted it to, it may just have inspired someone else to keep writing—which is one of the wonderful and beautiful things about our little writing community on Twitter.

And now… our Hall of Famer! While I didn’t get to 10,000 words yesterday, one determined writer did. A HUGE congrats to Christina (@chuffwrites) for reaching 10k in our first in-house #10kWritathon!

And, of course, here are some honorable mentions with their stellar word counts:

Cari Wiese (@cariwiese) with 8,003 words

Tami Veldura (@tamiveldura) with 7,954 words

Holly Starkey (@holly_starkey) with 6,000 words

L.A. Lanier (@TheSquibbler) with 4,986 words

Congrats everyone! And for those not mentioned here, if you participated, let us know how you did!

2 More Features that Make Scrivener Ideal for First Drafts

Are you working on your first draft and/or are a messy/non-linear/easily distracted writer? Me too. That’s why I use the programme Scrivener to write all my novels in, why I think it’s ideal for writers like me, and why I’ve created this tutorial series highlighting the best features it has to offer. In short, I love this writing programme and would love you to benefit from it too.

In my last post, I sang the praises of three organisational features available in Scrivener. Today, I’m all about the screen options and how they can aid a writer in the midst of her first draft. Here are two features I use to make my writing life that little bit easier and myself that little bit less crazy (though only a little).

1. The split screen option.

Why I love it: I can divide the screen and view two files at once, side-by-side.

What’s more annoying than constantly flicking between two documents as I’m trying to write (aside from a bout of writer’s block accompanied by a clingy plot bunny)? Nothing. Scrivener has a feature that removes that annoyance: the split screen.

Now I can view those two documents side-by-side, making it easy to check one doc while typing into another. The screen can be split between text files, images, corkboards and more, very helpful if I want to write in one half of the screen and view a setting image or a scene outline or my research notes in the other.

I can also choose which way I split the screen. I can split it horizontally, like so…

2 Features that Make Scrivener Ideal for First Drafts. Feature One: Split Screen | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

Or vertically. Whichever works best with what I’m splitting the screen between.

2 Features that Make Scrivener Ideal for First Drafts. Feature One: Split Screen | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

To split the screen, simply go to the menu, click ‘View’, then ‘Layout’, and choose whether to split the screen horizontally or vertically.

2. A simple, no-distractions full screen mode.

Why I love it: I can cut out the distractions and focus in on the scene I’m writing using full screen mode.

I’m easily distracted so, while having a splittable screen is great for the aforementioned reasons, I sometimes need to whittle things down to just the one screen, the one text file. But even then, there’s the menu options and the taskbar to distract me… but not necessarily so. And I have full screen mode to thank for that.

In full screen mode, I can make a text file fill the entire screen (and I mean all of it, as you can see in the image below). The taskbar is gone, the menu options are gone. There’s just me and the words and far less temptation to keep clicking back to YouTube to watch funny cat videos.

2 Features that Make Scrivener Ideal for First Drafts. Feature Two: Full Screen Mode | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

To use this option, go to the menu, click ‘View’ and select ‘Enter Full Screen’.

Full screen mode is perfect for word sprints. It shuts out distractions, hides potentially eye-catching features and folders, and lets you concentrate on churning out those words. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re ever sprinting with us over at @TheSprintShack on Twitter!

Though the two parts of this series have focused on using Scrivener for writing the first draft of a novel, you don’t even have to use it just for this purpose. I wrote this blog post in Scrivener, using both of today’s features, the split screen to view Parts 1 and 2 of the Best Scrivener Features series side-by-side and full screen mode to focus in on this post once I got into the groove of writing.

I’ve also used Scrivener to compile my short stories, to create each individual Writember Workshop lesson, and to write academic papers during my time at university. And there’s still more you could use Scrivener for. You’re limited only by your imagination (which shouldn’t be a problem for us writers, eh?)

Explore Scrivener’s features, find what works best for you and, most importantly, make progress on the projects that have a special place in your heart. Have fun!

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That’s all for the Best Scrivener Features series (for now). What’s your favourite feature and why?

3 Features that Make Scrivener Ideal for First Drafts

Whenever I write—be it a novel, a blog post or a research page—there’s one programme in particular that I use for my first drafts: my trusty friend, Scrivener.

My first experience of Scrivener came just after NaNoWriMo, back in 2012, when I used my winner’s goodies to check out this strange writing programme I hadn’t come across before. Though it took several YouTube tutorials to get my head around all the options, icons and menus, I quickly realised that this multitude of features was perfect for me and my writing style.

As you’ll probably come to understand as you read on, I’m a very messy writer, with an attention span comparable to a squirrel. If you’re anything like me and struggle with basic writing programmes, then Scrivener may be just right for you too. That said, here are the three features that, in my opinion, make this programme so ideal for me and my incredibly chaotic first drafts.

1. The hierarchy of folders in the binder.

Why I love it: I don’t have to write my story in order.

I’m a very non-linear writer. At the start of a new story, I’ll write whatever scenes come to me first before even thinking about the opening chapter. If an exciting scene pops into my head as I’m writing, I’ll pause where I am at in the story and write it. Should a scene be giving me lots of trouble, I’ll skip ahead and fill in the gaps later. In short, I write scenes all over the place in my first draft.

In a programme like Microsoft Word, in which the whole novel is kept in a single document, I would be constantly scrolling back and forth, trying to find the right part of the story, always at risk of leaving gaps because I’ve overlooked something. Not so in Scrivener.

Using the ‘binder’ feature, I can access each individual chapter and scene of my novel with ease. I want to re-read the first scene from Chapter 16? No problem. I just find the ‘Chapter 16’ folder, click the ‘Scene 1’ text file and it’s there. If I had been using Microsoft Word, I would have had to scroll through over 40,000 words to reach the correct scene—if I ever found it in the first place. Not how I want to be spending my writing time.

3 Features that Make Scrivener Ideal for First Drafts. Feature One: The Binder | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

The binder feature: See how the story is arranged into folders, subfolders and files?

2. Assignable statuses for folders and files.

Why I love it: It’s easy to see what needs to be done to each chapter and scene.

Because I don’t write in order, I’ll sometimes leave scenes incomplete or skip over them entirely. That’s not too hard to keep track of when I’ve only written a few chapters, but when I’ve passed 60,000 words and I can’t remember where that chapter I dropped partway through because it just wasn’t working out is, I start to get headaches.

Scrivener has a good solution. I can assign each chapter a status— ‘To Do’, ‘First Draft’, ‘Revised Draft’, etc.—and it even lets me create labels of my own. The most commonly used ones in my first drafts are ‘Finish This Please’ and ‘Yuck—Needs Editing’.

See.

3 Features that Make Scrivener Ideal for First Drafts. Feature Two: Assignable Statuses | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

Assignable statuses: Now I know the locations of all the unfinished and yucky chapters in Part Two.

With statuses, I know exactly what needs to be done to each chapter and scene within my messy manuscript and can locate them easily. Lovely.

3. Multiple documents, one programme.

Why I love it: I can keep my novel, my notes and my research all in one programme.

Gone are the days when I would click between endless documents as I paused my writing to check out character profiles, look at setting photos, read some of my research notes, see what’s coming next in my chapter synopses, and so on. My taskbar only needs one programme open now, which houses all the documents I need.

3 Features that Make Scrivener Ideal for First Drafts. Feature Three: Multiple Documents | www.sprintshack.wordpress.com

Multiple documents: Dirigible knowledge at my fingertips.

See how easy it is to organise, access and move between the story and notes? It saves me so much time and doesn’t disrupt my focus as much as filling my taskbar with new documents does.

In Part 2 of the Best Scrivener Features series (because there were so many of them that I couldn’t fit them all into one post), I’ll share another feature that makes it even easier to view all your documents without switching programmes. You won’t even have to click on to a new file. How’s that for a tantalising hook?

More on that in 2 More Features that Make Scrivener Ideal for First Drafts, where there are an additional two features that make Scrivener perfect for my messy writing style. (Hint: they involve every type of screen a writer with a squirrel’s attention span could possibly wish for.)

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Which Scrivener features do you use more than any other? Share your favourites in a comment below!

How Long Should You Take To Write Your First Draft?

first draftAs avid word sprinters, we’re all about time-oriented goals. Give us 20 minutes on the clock and a swift kick in the pants, and we’re off to a good few hundred words of fresh writing on any given day. But when it comes to much more long-term goals—such as the first draft of a novel—time limits can be unclear. How long should we take to complete the first draft? How long do we want to take?

Of course, these are questions that only those of us without a publisher’s deadline have the luxury of asking. If you’ve been asked to submit a manuscript by a certain date, then by all means, be on time. Open-ended projects, however, allow for more flexibility on our parts.

The problem with leaving anything open-ended lies in a writer’s best skill and worst habit: procrastination. If you don’t have a hard deadline for your project, why rush it? Why not give it all the time in the world to be the best it can be? Our answer, and that of many accomplished writers, is this: give that project too long to simmer and it may just burn. The longer you take to complete a first draft, the more opportunities you have for other, exciting ideas to take hold and derail you, and the more likely you are to lose interest.

There are a plethora of other problems that can occur, of course. If you’re a discovery writer, for example, you could lose track of where you were going or forget an important detail you wanted to include. Those of us who outline could very well end up following the outline mechanically and disconnecting from the tone of the story. Both pantsers and planners run the risk of losing momentum. Ultimately, it’s best to get the story down while the idea is fresh, which is the sole idea behind writing challenges like NaNoWriMo.

In the Writing Excuses podcast 9.15, entitled “Becoming A Writer – Full Disclosure,” New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson describes interrupting a first draft as “absolutely miserable.” Stephen King recommends taking no longer than 3 months to complete a manuscript in his memoir and writing guide, On Writing. But while it’s always helpful to follow the advice of an accomplished author, writers at all stages in their careers have their own processes. I took to Twitter to see how some of you approach first drafts, and was genuinely surprised at how solid your timelines were:

If your tweet isn’t featured here, what about you? Do you set a deadline for your first drafts? Do they tend to just take hold and finish themselves within a certain period of time? Or do you wing it and hope for the best? Let us know!