The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘NaNoWriMo

In my recent newsletter, I wrote about how fun it has been to break some WRITING RULES during the month of November. You might want to consider breaking some writing rules, too.

I’ve been taking inspiration from Durham author and podcaster Mur Lafftery. She is creator of the delightful podcast called I Should Be Writing.

Like many folks, I am working on a NaNoWriMo project and juggling other writing projects, work and life. Also, like many folks, I recognize that we’re moving into a time of the year where it can be harder to get creative work done due to holiday travel, holiday plans, increased expectations about spending time with family and/or friends, etc.

I won NaNoWriMo in 2014, but I used an outline and prepared for months. This year, I don’t have an outline, so I’m “pantsing it” and to boot my NaNoWriMo project is an urban fantasy novel co-written with my sister. Complicated!

Mur typically does a special NaNoWriMo series on her podcast. This year, she’s been posting daily using the metaphor of The Purge (which was a series of horror movies). The NaNoWriMo Purge suspends and breaks “all writing laws/rules” in service of getting more writing done.

These movies look scary!

Hearing her encouragement on breaking writing rules has been a lot of FUN and given me PERMISSION to try new things. A writing rules purge every once and awhile is probably good for us. It builds a sense of excitement and rebelliousness when we come to the page.

So, here are some writing rules to consider breaking—just for the month of November, because well, you know how this month goes. You might be doing NaNoWriMo and trying to get more words written or you just might want to get writing again. Anyway, without a bit of fortitude it’s cold turkey sandwiches, sticky leftover cranberry sauce, the last slice of pumpkin pie, a retail headache and a lot of regret by November 30th.

Writing Rules to Break in November according to Mur (with my interpretation)

Write every day. Nope! Now usually this is a good rule to have because it helps with our consistency. Well, as Mur notes, a major American holiday intervenes in the midst of November which usually includes lots of cooking, eating and retail adventures. You can break this law! Instead think about what writing might realistically fit in your schedule. Plan to be interrupted. Find time to steal. Maybe you will write in the car (assuming you aren’t driving) on the way to Thanksgiving dinner. If you are used to doing a specific word count, consider what it would take to write just a little bit more when you can—so plan to make your word count up over six days, knowing that you will probably not be able to write during the holiday weekend.

Don’t write dream sequences. Nope! Many writers are absolutely terrified of putting a dream sequence into a novel. OK, sometimes they are overused, but that’s not always the case. A dream sequence can be just what you need to get your writing juices flowing—it can always be cut later. Put on your Freudian or Jungian hat and write a dream sequence. Use it to foreshadow an event, get into your characters’ subconscious, and show us their desires or their fears.

Don’t head-hop. Nope! So the rule goes don’t go head-hopping between characters in the same scene. You can confuse the reader and it is not as common in literature as it once was. Though as Mur points out Agatha Christy did this within in a scene and even within a paragraph! So, head-hop all you want. Tell us what Janelle thinks about Damon and then tell us what Damon thinks about her. Tell us what the server in the restaurant that is watching them thinks. Give us all the points of view possible in the very same scene!

-Don’t start a scene with dialogue. Nope! This is one of my additions. Common writing wisdom frowns on starting with dialogue as it disorients the reader. Readers need context. I think it depends on what the characters are saying. Read the fantastic mystery writer Walter Mosely, and you’ll find that he often starts his scenes off with dialogue and trust me, you are immediately hooked. I would have never finished my first NaNoWriMo if I stuck to this rule. Starting with dialogue can be a way to get the reader quickly involved into the emotion of the scene.

Can you think of more writing rules that you’d like to break? I bet you can.

You can listen for free to the first of Mur’s NaNoWriMo Purge series here. The rest of her series is available through her Patreon page. Patreon is a platform that lets you directly support artists and creators.

Break some rules, people! It’s really fun. We will return to our writing law-abiding selves after November. Promise.

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I’ve attended two conferences during the past two weekends. Last week, I attended the North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference. I hosted a NaNoWriMo meet and greet on Friday night and then a ‘Shut Up and Write’ session on Saturday where writers could come and just write for an hour and half. Both events went very well and I managed to get close to 2,000 words completed on Saturday.

This weekend, I attended an academic conference. I had hoped to get a lot more writing done but only managed to squeeze out about 1,000 words one day.  I also conducted some useful research. My current NaNoWriMo project is a continuation of a novel concept that my sister and began last year. Although I thought I had a decent outline to work with, I find myself unsure about characters, character motivations, plot threads, etc. Not a great position to be in when trying to write fast. I’m way behind where I should be which is 18,000 words. However, I’m not panicking quite yet. I’m about to employ a secret weapon– which is dictation software.

My Groovy Amazon Link

There has been a ton of buzz about writers (especially indie writers) using dictation software and drafting their novels in a matter of weeks. Podcaster and author, Joanna Penn has had several writers on her podcast to talk about using dictation. I invested in Dragon Naturally Speaking last year and really love it.

I have used it to draft talks and lectures I give and when I feel stuck on a project. It takes a little while to train the software to your voice, but it is worth the effort. I use the headset in conjunction with my laptop. Some people use the app on their phone and dictate while taking a walk.

I’ll start using the dictation software this week and I think it will help my word count. Why? Well, some people think that we tap into our ‘inner storyteller’ when we tell our story aloud. I feel like I get into a natural creative rhythm speaking aloud after just a few minutes.

In my writing workshop just three weeks ago (whew! it’s been a busy few weeks), I encouraged my participants to try dictation as a way to bring some more play into the drafting process. Also, if you use the app then you can get more walks in which most us desperately need.

Maybe dictation might serve you well, too, for drafting new material.

Until then, I will just

 

Every time you write something valuable will occur.
-Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy aka SARK

Hi folks,

We’re four days into November which is also National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’m NaNoWriMoing. Are you? I hope you are! Last weekend, I taught my ‘How to Level Up in Your Writing Life’ workshop for the first time and it went incredibly well. There were twelve people who signed up and one of the participants had already won a NaNoWriMo. I spent some time talking about the benefits about participating in this international creative event. We had a blast brainstorming the ways they could use NaNoWriMo to further their writing projects. Even if you don’t reach the 50,000 word mark at the end of November, you’ll write more than usual just by trying to write 1,667 words a day.

It’s also a great way to push yourself to finish a project.

I reminded folks that it is so easy to let our creative work slip to the bottom of the to-do list.

I shared with them insights about how I won NaNoWriMo in 2014 and the things I did then to keep me on track as well as what I am doing differently now, including using dictation software.

I’ll be updating my word count as we move through the month. I got off to a great start on Nov 1 with 1738 words and then over 1,431 words in the past two days. I’m behind, but I’m not worried yet as I plan to get up early over the next few days and do some writing sprints.

Let me know if you are attempting NaNoWriMo. I’ll cheer you on!

In July I created a poll titled, “What Does Leveling Up in Your Writing Life Look Like?” I was prepping for my upcoming workshop and wanted to get a glimpse into what writers are struggling with in their creative lives.

There were 34 responses (thanks to all who participated!). Here are the top three:

#1: Making More Dedicated Time to Write

“Writers do not have a time problem. We have a priority problem. When you sit down in front of the television, you’re subconsciously saying, “I choose to do this instead of write.” Mur Lafferty

Claiming more time for our writing lives is an ongoing issue. Over the course of our writing lives, we will try many new routines and patterns to support our work.

In Saturday’s workshop, I’ll be drawing on some proven techniques from Rachel Aaron and Jake Bible for getting the most out of your writing time when you sit down to write (which will also help to boost your writing output) as well as creating more time to write.

Below are some tried and true ways to find more writing time.

-Schedule it in. Yes, time for your writing needs to be in your calendar.

Getting your writing projects to migrate from the bottom to the top of your to-do list is no easy feat. Ariel Gore makes this point in her witty book, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. She says that most of us believe that making time for creative work is selfish, so we put it at the end of our to-do lists:

“And then we kick ourselves because the novel isn’t written. We look down at our laps and blush when our writing teacher asks us if we got a chance to write this week. Of course we didn’t get a chance to write—it was the last thing on our list. We had a glass of wine with dinner. We got sleepy. I’m going to tell you something, and it’s something I want you to remember: No one ever does the last thing on their to-do list.”

I write every day. For me, writing every day keeps my momentum going. I typically do an hour of academic writing in the morning and an hour of creative work in the evening throughout the week. My academic writing is scheduled in my calendar. My creative work is scheduled in my calendar. It’s what keeps me sane.

If creating everyday doesn’t work for you, find consistent periods of time that do and then schedule them into your calendar. For many people consistency is more important than trying to write daily.

-Develop a better reward system. Over the long journey of creating, producing good work becomes its own reward. However, for those of us just starting to pursue a creative path, may need motivation and encouragement to keep saying yes to our projects. Reward systems can be big or small and can be connected to time and/or output. I keep an active rewards list for meeting writing goals (mostly for academic writing). About every few weeks, I’m checking that list to see what I have earned. The rewards list can keep me going through the really tough periods where writing doesn’t feel like it’s going well.

-Work in smaller blocks of time. Writers often pine for days of uninterrupted time, but as a coach, I’m often in the position of pointing out to clients that what time they have is not always used well. Creativity expert Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) uses the concept of micromovements to break tasks into manageable segments of 5 seconds to 5 minutes. Very effective! She believes that creative people often assign themselves too big of a task. And, then when they don’t meet that often impossible task, their inner critics come leaping out to point out their lack of completion.

#2 Finishing More of My Writing Projects

In my writer’s group last week, we read and discussed Robert Heinlein’s famous writing rules. The second is “Finish what you start.”

I think it is easy to beat ourselves up about not finishing things. Instead, it is helpful to get curious about why you’re not finishing writing projects. There are questions we can ask when we have a big pile of unfinished manuscripts.

-Has the manuscript lost momentum? Am I bored?
-Can I simplify the structure of the story (or creative nonfiction piece)?
-Do I need an accountability buddy?
-Do I need to work more on my craft around middles and endings? (Nancy Kress’s wonderful Beginnings, Middles and Endings really helped me work on my endings.)
-Am I overly worried about rejection (which is interfering with finishing this piece)?
-What would I like to have completed between now and the end of the quarter?

I love using anthology calls and special themed issues as a way to get lingering manuscripts out of the door.

In the workshop I’ll be drawing on the insights of Chuck Wendig and Austin Kleon about how to finish what you start. And, of course we’ll be talking about NaNoWriMo and why it is such as a great catalyst for both starting and finishing a project.

#3-Developing (or improving) My Author Platform (e.g. using social media, blogging, etc.)

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot. So much so, I have proposed a course in the spring through CCCC, tentatively titled: Savvy Social Media Strategies for Writers.

Creating an online presence and managing social media helps writers build relationships with other authors, fans and industry professionals. It also can generate leads, provide exposure and advance your professional goals and aspirations.

In the workshop we’ll take a deep dive into best practices for building and sustaining an author platform/online presence.

In the meantime, you might like this post about I wrote about growing your author’s platform over the course of your writing career.

Stay tuned for a spring 2019 date and more info!

LAST CALL:

Mary Robinette Kowal recently said that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) allows writers to “chase their joy”. I love that expression! My workshop is about helping writers do just that in prep for NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is an ignition starter for your writing, no matter what your goals or what you are writing (i.e. memoir, short stories, etc).

UPCOMING WORKSHOP: Saturday, October 27, 10am-3pm, Central Carolina Community College, Pittsboro

How to Level Up Your Writing Life
Do you want to write faster? Do you want to write better? These goals are not in contradiction with each other! This workshop will teach you some fun ways to “hack” your brain to support increased productivity, outwit pesky inner critics and unleash your inner storyteller.

This workshop will help both discovery writers (also known as “pantsers”) and writers that outline find new ways to approach their work.

How to Level Up is also geared for writers wanting to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). We’ll spend time talking about how to best prepare for NaNoWriMo and how you can produce a 50,000 word draft in a month.

We’ll spend time exploring new ways to combat what stops us from writing including: procrastination, perfectionism, imposter syndrome and feeling overwhelmed with creative ideas. We’ll explore how other successful writers have found ways to write faster and better including Austin Kleon, Chuck Wendig, Jake Bible and Rachel Aaron.
This workshop is about busting through our own self-imposed limiting beliefs about our writing life.

Writers of every level, genre, and background welcome.
And, of course, there will be door prizes!

Register here

 

Hi all,

As many of you know I serve as a Trustee on the Board of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. The North Carolina Writers’ Network connects, promotes, and serves the writers of this state. It supports writers at all stages of development. Recently, I was asked to contribute a short piece to our newsletter. I’m sharing it here as it gives you insight into how I found the Network and why I think that are a great place for writers, the importance of literary community and also about my participation in hosting our second “NaNoWriMo Meet and Greet” as well as a new “Shut Up and Write” session during the conference. So, I get to talk about two favorite things in the newsletter–National Novel Writing Month and the Network!

Not a member yet? Check out all the good stuff here.
Joining the Network really did change the trajectory of my writing life.

Not signed up yet for the amazing fall conference happening, Nov 2-4? You’ve got two weeks to go before pre-registration closes! Check out the fantastic line-up of workshops, classes, events and instructors here.

“North Carolina is known for three things, hogs, tobacco, and writers. Since you’re an aspiring writer, I assume you’ll know which community to connect with.” These words were spoken to me by my therapist at the time and I’m forever grateful for them. More than fifteen years ago, I moved to North Carolina and although I had a professional position I loved, other aspects of my life post-move remained challenging. My partner was having a difficult time finding fulfilling work and my creative writing goals had stagnated.  Despite my therapist’s blunt (and a bit exaggerated take on North Carolina’s reputation), I got the point. In this new place, I needed to take action, find like-minded writing folk and investigate North Carolina’s impressive literary history. An aspiring poet, too, my therapist was the first person that told me about the Network and its two annual conferences.

At that time in my life, I was writing metaphorically in the basement. I read lots of craft books, yes. But, I didn’t know any other writers, wasn’t in a writer’s group and so therefore never received productive feedback. I kept rewriting hundreds of pages over and over and was assailed by devious “inner critics”. I was in a kind of literary quicksand. Like many writers, I thought I could (and should) do it all alone.

It took me a few more years to muster up the confidence to attend a Network conference. If you’ve ever been to a NCWN conference you know how dynamic and exciting it is. What energy! What excitement! I felt welcomed. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I had found people I could discuss the joys and challenges of the writing life. No one is an outsider when attending a NCWN conference.

I wasn’t in the basement anymore.

The years have flown by since that first conference. I kept attending them and deepened my craft knowledge, met terrific writers and made friends.  I got to know my wonderful regional rep for Chatham County—Al Manning and also started to attend local writing events. My world is so different now! I’m a trustee deeply committed to the mission of the organization. I now get to welcome members into this literary community.

Given my past of having to battle long periods of creative self-doubt, I’m really passionate about strategies to circumvent inner critics. One of the most fun ways to do that is to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

You’ve probably heard the buzz about it. November is National Novel Writing Month. Amateur and professional writers sign up to write 50,000 words, a short novel, during the month. That is roughly 1,667 words a day. And, yes the draft’s supposed to be rough, need work, and a beautiful mess that yields something amazing later.

NaNoWriMo is for fresh, wild, and fast writing. And, you don’t have to be an aspiring novelist to participate—writers adapt NaNoWriMo for their own needs. NaNoWriMo gets people writing more words than they normally would in a month.

There are many success stories of writers who carefully revised their NaNoWriMo drafts and have made sales of novels (including the bestselling Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough), short-story collections, and other kinds of publications.

But publishing is not the overall point of NaNoWriMo. It is about getting started. It’s about getting some words—any words down that then can turn into good words later.

I’m hosting a NaNoWriMo Meet and Greet on Friday night after the plenary. We’ll gather and talk about goals over wine and refreshments. If you’ve ever been curious about NaNoWriMo, come to this event.

Given the pace of the conference and the lively workshops, plenaries and networking opportunities, most of us don’t get a lot of writing done when attending.  In recognition of this fact, we’re trying out a new session during the conference: Shut up and Write. Shut and Write will offer conference participants a quiet space for writing.

I hope I’ll see you at one or both of these events. And, you can tell me your story about how you found the Network.

 

I’m teaching a writing workshop through my local community college on Saturday, October 27 called: Write Faster, Write Better: Author 2.0

I came up with the idea of this workshop as a way to encourage people who have always wanted to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) but wanted more guidance. As I was thinking about it, however, it occurred to me that it would also be the perfect place to share ways to “level up” in one’s writing life. So, even if someone doesn’t want to write a 50,000 word draft, they may want to play with upping their productivity in November. As the description below states, I’ll be sharing some powerful techniques and tools to hack your brain to write better and faster (without loss of quality). The workshop also will provide people an opportunity to discuss their writing aspirations, goals and strategies and evaluate what’s working and what needs refining.

So dear reader, my question to you is: What Does Leveling Up in Your Writing Look Like?

I really want to know the areas that you struggle with in your writing life and the goals you are working on. So, I have designed a very comprehensive poll. Would you be so kind as to take my poll? Getting this information here would be really helpful as the readers of this blog are writers and creators at all different stages. My workshop will be in person (see details below to register), but I also plan to create an online version, too. So even if you’re not local and can’t take the workshop, you may be able to take an online version of it later this year.

Thanks in advance! I will be sure to report back on the results!

Write Faster, Write Better: Author 2.0

Do you want to write faster? Do you want to write better? These goals are not in contradiction with each other! This workshop will teach you some fun ways to “hack” your brain to support increased productivity, outwit pesky inner critics and unleash your inner storyteller.

This workshop will help both discovery writers (also known as “pantsers”) and writers that outline find new ways to approach their work.

Write Faster, Write Better is also geared for writers wanting to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). We’ll spend time talking about how to best prepare for NaNoWriMo and how you can produce a 50,000 word draft in a month.

We’ll spend time exploring new ways to combat what stops us from writing including: procrastination, perfectionism, imposter syndrome and feeling overwhelmed with creative ideas. We’ll explore how other successful writers have found ways to write faster and better including Austin Kleon, Chuck Wendig, Jake Bible and Rachel Aaron.

This workshop is about busting through our own self-imposed limiting beliefs about our writing life.

Writers of every level, genre, and background welcome.

And, of course, there will be door prizes!

Register here

Like most writers, I love research. And, like most writers, research can send me down endless rabbit holes. For my novella, Reenu-You, I spent years researching viruses. Of course, only a sliver of our research ever ends up in the actual story. This means we have to make wise decisions about how much to research before writing (or while writing). Still, it is so much fun to deeply explore a subject and find details that will create emotional truths in our characters, or enliven our setting.

One of my early creative loves was fashion design. I can still recall spending hours sketching out designs and showing them to my mother when I was about eight years old. Living in NYC, it was easy to fall in love with fashion, as it is one of the driving industries and a style capital. My mother was incredibly savvy about clothes and my early interest in designing was often a desire to understand her aesthetic tastes. As I got older, I remember talking myself out of pursuing fashion design. I didn’t know anyone who was a designer, so it didn’t seem like a real career, just a glamorous dream. My inner critic told me that I didn’t sew very well and that I was horrible at measuring things. Yup, I already had an active inner critic as a pre-teen!

Anyway, our true loves have a way of sneaking into our stories. For example, Constancia, one of the two main characters in Reenu-You is passionate about fashion and is about to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, for accessories design.

In 2014, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time and completed a draft of a novel where ‘eco-fashion’ plays an important role. I absolutely love this story and have been researching sustainable fashion or eco-fashion for some time.

Before doing research, I had heard of the downsides of “fast” or highly disposable fashion, but I now know SO much more. I love fashion and also want to be a responsible consumer.

Did you know that most of our clothes eventually end up in a landfill?

Approximately, 85% of the clothing we discard in the US is sent to landfills and incinerators.

And, no giving to thrift stores doesn’t solve the problem—most of what is donated is never used and also goes into the landfill: https://daily.jstor.org/fast-fashion-fills-our-landfills/

The fashion industry has historically employed some horrendously unequal labor practices; ones that often significantly impact women workers globally. It also contributes to environmental degradation.

The fashion industry is complex and there are lots of challenges associated with reform.

But, there are also lots of opportunities for change. That is good news and involves consumer advocacy, changes in corporate practices and also the rise of designers interested in sustainable practices.

Although, I’ve read a number of books and articles, on this subject, I hadn’t talked to anyone in the design world.

So, I was thrilled that during the weekend, I was able to attend a wonderful event hosted by the Abundance Foundation called Think Again: Fashion, Farming, Fiber! This event was designed to ask local and global questions about the fashion industry and sustainability. I got to hear from experts about how technology is changing how cotton is grown (to eliminate the need to dye it), and the rise of industrial hemp being grown in North Carolina. I also got to talk to a few designers about the way they use upcycled, recycled and local materials.

The evening fashion show on Saturday was spectacular and showcased a half dozen designers, in N.C., that specialize in eco-fashion!

The model in the video is wearing an outfit made entirely from post-consumer “waste”.

It was a great community event with lots of local kids participating. The models were a range of body types, ages and gender expressions, too.

I think the key to not letting research hijack your writing is to give it a time limit and also to keep writing. This event gave me a boost to keep pushing forward in the novel. Once I get through this draft, I can go back and layer what I’ve learned into subsequent drafts. No more research until this draft is completed.

How do you manage the research process for your writing projects?

 

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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