Tag Archive: NaNoWriMo

Gone Writing!

Hello! So we are a little swamped and burnt out over here at WriteOnSisters, and we’ve decided we need to take a break from blogging and concentrate on our fiction writing until the new year. Most of you might be in similar situations – writing your fingers off for NaNoWriMo, and then bustling about for the holiday season – so hopefully you understand.

As well, we need time to figure out a new email service. Jetpack is letting us down! The email for our last post didn’t go out. If you missed it, click here: 15 Story Beats to Keep Your NaNoWriMo Novel on Track.

With that, we’re hanging up our sign for a couple months. Happy writing everyone!


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/general-information/gone-writing/

15 Story Beats to Keep Your NaNoWriMo Novel on Track

Regardless of whether you’re a plotter or pantser, you might come to a place mid-month where your story feels like it’s gone off the rails. A lot of people will tell you to plow through! Just keep writing! It’ll work itself out! But I think better advice is to check in with your basic story beats. It doesn’t matter if you plan them ahead of time or figure them out partway through writing. The important thing to know is that these beats are an extremely useful tool to avoid writer’s block, mushy middle syndrome and general NaNoWriMo fatigue.


Originally posted on Nov. 3, 2014. Revived on Oct. 23, 2016.

*Note: Basic Beats based on Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat” method.

1 – Opening… shows where the protagonist is at the beginning before they’ve gone on a journey that will change them to the person we see in the Final scene. For example, if your hero starts off loveless, she will find love in the end.

  • Do you even have a change? If not, that’s probably why your story has stalled. Think about how this story will change the hero and your writing will find its direction.

(For more, check out “3 Steps to Creating Character Change”)

2 – Theme… is the heart of your book as opposed to the plot. Not knowing the theme or having too many themes is a common reason stories get muddled and bogged down. Figuring out the theme will give your novel a purposeful direction, so ask:

  • Why are you writing this story? Deep down, what is the one thing you’re trying to say with this novel?

  • What is the value at stake in this story? Why does it matter?

(For more, check out “Theme With a Capital T” and “The Controlling Idea – Not Your English Teacher’s Theme”)

3 – Set-Up… establishes the protagonist’s world, introduces supporting characters, reveals protagonist’s personal problems and the stuff she’ll need to fix by the end in order for that vital character change to take place.

  • Did you set up the character’s goal clearly? No clear goal is a common reason stories ramble.

  • Did you set up the stakes? There needs to be consequences if the hero fails. Stakes drive stories!

(For more on stakes read “6 Questions to Ask to Make Sure Your Story has Real Stakes”)

4 – Catalyst… is also called The Inciting Incident. This event disrupts the character’s world and starts the story. Without it, there’s no story. For example, in “The Hunger Games” the catalyst is when Katniss’s sister’s name is selected for the games. If another kid’s name had been selected, there wouldn’t be a story – Katniss would just keep on hunting and hanging out with Gale in her district. Life would remain the same.

  • Does the catalyst change your protagonist’s life? If not, figure out what will. Stories need to be life-changing!

5 – The Debate… is when the protagonist decides how to proceed after the Catalyst. This shouldn’t be an easy decision. To go on the journey, or not to go on the journey? Of course, she has to go for there to be a story, but doubt adds tension and stakes, which help move the story forward.

  • Did your character debate going on her journey? What could have been holding her back and how can that add layers of tension to your novel?

6 – Break Into Act II… This is where the protagonist leaves her familiar world behind and goes on the journey to achieve a goal. The key to this beat is that the protagonist must choose, not be forced or tricked into action.

  • Is your character pro-active? Passive characters are common culprits in stories that drag.

7 – B-Story… Often this is the love interest, but can also be a sidekick or a mentor. This ally guides the protagonist and is often instrumental in helping him learn the Theme, i.e. what he needs to do to survive and win the story.

  • Does your B-story character challenge your hero? Maybe they can spice things up with conflict and humor!

(For more check out “What’s a B-Story? And Why that Lame Love Triangle Doesn’t Cut It”)

8 – Act II part 1: Fun & Games… is the promise of the premise. If your novel was a movie, the F&G section would be featured in the trailer. For instance, in a romantic comedy, this is where the two love interests clash.

  • Do you have enough conflict? Sometimes a story meanders simply because it lacks conflict. Repeat after me: make your characters suffer!

9 – Midpoint… right smack in the middle of Act II, this is usually a False Victory where the protagonist thinks she’s achieved her goal but she hasn’t. It’s here that the stakes are raised and the bad guys start to close in on the protagonist.

  • Do you have a Midpoint, a turning point that is like a tent pole holding up the middle of your story? If you’re meandering through the mushy middle, probably not. For help, read “Mapping the Mushy Middle

10 – Act II part 2: Bad Guys Close In… Both internal problems (hero’s issues) and external problems (bad guys) tighten their grip and get closer and closer to thwarting the protagonist’s goal.

  • Quite simply, are things getting progressively worse for your hero? Don’t just pile on new problems; make sure the problems escalate.

11 – Crisis / All Is Lost… is usually a False Defeat. If at the Midpoint the protagonist thought that she’d achieved her goal, this is where she thinks she’s utterly and completely failed.

  • What is your All Is Lost moment? It’s easier to keep your story on track if you know the big disaster you’re writing towards.

12 – Dark Night of the Soul… is the emotional fallout of the crisis wherein the protagonist loses all hope. The worst thing about this beat is that she knows it’s her fault. The hero that resonates is not innocent and blameless and perfect; she has flaws just like we do. And despite her best intentions, she had a hand in her own defeat.

  • Has your hero failed? Does she think it’s her fault? How can you make this the lowest moment of her life?

13 – Break Into Act III… Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute action or advice from the B-story ally, the protagonist digs deep to find a solution.

  • How does your hero move past her defeat? Having even a rough idea of this crucial moment will help focus your story.

14 – Act III Finale… From what she’s gone through and what she’s learned (i.e. Theme), the protagonist forges a third way and conquers her problems (both internal and external).

  • How does your hero win in the end? Again, you don’t have to have all the details, but knowing the basic ending (i.e. hero finds love, hero captures bad guy, hero leaves home for college) is invaluable for getting you through to The End.

15 – Final Scene (aka THE END)… is the opposite of the Opening scene and proves a change has occurred. There’s no point to a story if it doesn’t change the hero’s life.

  • What is your final image? What does your hero look like after this journey is over? How have they changed?

So if you’re ever struggling with your story, check in with these beats and make sure you’ve got the answers. Of course, the answers may change as you are writing, and that is totally fine. I keep a version of this beat sheet with me at all times. I look at it whenever I get off-track and revise it when necessary. Of course, during NaNoWriMo you don’t have time to revise what you’ve already written, but it’s still helpful to note what you will change and write the rest of the novel as if you’ve already done so.

Now good luck with NaNoWriMo, everyone!


For more on basic beats, outlining and story structure, check out the recommended posts:


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/story-questions-keep-nanowrimo-novel-track/

4 Visual Tricks for Writers Who Want To Rock NaNoWriMo

Are you entering National Novel Writing Month in November?

If you answered yes, the odds are 50/50 you’re doing some planning this month. If not hardcore plotting, at least making notes and brainstorming your story. I’ve done NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNo many times and I’ve won my fair share. For me, planning is the best recipe for success, but that doesn’t mean my stories haven’t gone down a rabbit hole, because they have.

The one strategy that has never failed me is doing some pre-NaNo visual brainstorming. I’ve put together four tricks that I like to think of as my NaNoWriMo secret weapons, but they will work for any writing project. 4-tricks-for-nano

1. Organize Visuals Cues:

I love Pinterest for letting my story creativity run wild. When I start a project, I pin everything! Eye colors, hair styles, outfits, you name it. I tend to keep these boards in secret mode; that way only I can see them and I don’t need to worry about giving away too many surprises.

While my Pinterest vision boards help me see the big picture, most of these pinned items will never make it into the story. Pinterest lacks the flexibility to take my visuals to the next level. Once I’ve narrow down the images, I create visual timelines in Canva. I like to use the free infographic templates to make these. This is the perfect tool to quickly create compact photo references and character studies. These visual guides help me plan each character’s changing physical look and track setting shifts. I like knowing both of these sources of visual candy are a click away, but it’s taking the extra step to organize my images in Canva that really helps keep my creative motor running.

2. Map It:

I’m an artistically challenged human. If you were to ask me to draw a map free-hand, it would look like blobs of Jello with sticks jutting out of it, in other words something completely un-map-like would emerge. However, I still need to see and understand how my characters will move in my virtual space, so that’s why I use tools. And graph paper, lots of graph paper.

My go-to trick for room mapping is the interior designer’s friend: a furniture template. This is not a cheap item, but you will only need to buy it once.

If you like your rooms more fleshed out, or just wouldn’t dream of putting pencil to paper, try the online tool from Pottery Barn. This tool is amazing! You set the room dimensions and drop in and arrange items until you have your room just the way you want it.

Looking for something with more scope, say you want to create a full town? Or perhaps you need a whole continent for your characters to explore? There are online tools for this too, but most of them are costly and challenging to master.

For this I use old maps. I simply can’t pass a sale of beat up and outdated maps without grabbing a handful. I’ve got a real passion for the historical maps, Havana, Cuba in the 1930s, Chicago, Illinois in the 1890s — I just never know what layout will inspire me.

You can make the most familiar landscape look fresh by rotating the ordination. Or stick a few different maps together to create a brand new world. Give the landmarks new names and boom the map is ready for characters to populate in no time.

3. Mind Map it:

This is another organizational brainstorming tool that many writers swear by. Scrivener makes their own version called Scapple. A free trial version is available here. Or you can use index cards and the kitchen table. Either way, this technique gives me a way to scaffold complicated ideas into relationship trees.

This is the perfect method for visual thinkers to lay out any series of events and work out how these events interrelate to the different plots and subplots. It’s also fantastic to use when you just don’t know where the story should go next. You can set down all your ideas and work them in different patterns until the right sequence of events jumps out at you.

4. Gather Brain Trigger Items:

When I get stuck, I always go for my brain triggers. These are special items that help me activate the creative part of my brain. This is not my idea. It’s based on highly detailed neuroscience most of which I don’t even understand, but it works.

The theory is your mind stores all unnecessary data in dormant sectors and you need something to re-prime those sleeping cells before you can access those memories. Almost anything can help reactivate memories: a smell, a picture, a sound, or a taste.

Putting together a box of items you want to use for triggers is highly personal. The triggers that will work best should relate to the emotions you want to transmit with your writing. If you want to write sad, you might want to revisit your worst breakup. You could also find something that reminds you of the death of a loved one. Want to write scary? Try fueling each writing session with mood setting sounds of a storm. I pack my box with old letters and photos. By looking these items over I can recall the mood of a summer beach outing, or trigger memories of childhood camping trips. Try to use your triggers just when writing. Overexposure to triggers weakens their best effect.

When the dark days of November strike and I feel my creativity tank running on empty, I take great comfort in knowing these sources of inspiration are ready to save me.

What about you? Do you have any unusual ways to brainstorm before writing? Please share in the comments. Also share your NaNoWriMo handle so we can all become writing pals this November and cheer each other on.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/4-tricks-for-nanowrimo/

Plotters vs Pantsers: Are We Really That Different?

Ever since I learned the terms “pantser and plotter”, I’ve identified as a plotter (someone who outlines a story before writing a manuscript). To me, sitting down to write a whole book without an outline (i.e. the pantser method) is impossible. And now it’s time for a confession: pantsers make me feel stupid. Why can’t I just sit down at my laptop and start writing a novel? Why do I have to plan first? How is it possible that people can construct complicated long-form narratives without a story map? Is it because they’re geniuses and I am not? Should I just give up now?

Then I discovered something that made me realize that pantsers and plotters are more alike than we think. This doesn’t mean we’re all “plansters” — the en vogue definition for writers who see themselves as a little bit of both methods. What I mean is we’re all doing the same thing, but we use different terminology to define it, and sometimes that leads to misunderstandings and a sh*tload of writers doubt. Let’s end that now…


So because pantsers begin by writing a manuscript, I used to think they didn’t do any story development, that the story just spilled from their magic brains fully formed. How I envied that! But that’s not exactly how it works. Every writer goes through a process of story development. We all head out into the unknown and follow that unmarked road to discover where it leads. It’s just that some record that journey in full sentences and paragraphs (first draft), others take point form notes (beat sheets), some map the route (outline) and backtrack to explore (revise), and at one point or another we all stare out the window daydreaming. Each writer is developing the story, but using different methods and calling the process different things. Pantsers call this the first draft, and the reason this made me feel stupid is because as a plotter, I picture a first draft as a readable manuscript that doesn’t need too much story editing. How do pantsers achieve that without an outline or ten?! Well, my pantser friends clarified that they don’t — their first drafts are often a mess of ideas spit onto the page that they then build, revise and edit into a novel via many subsequent drafts. See, it all comes down to terminology: a pantser’s first draft is different than a plotter’s first draft which is different than a plantser’s first draft.

Though this might be obvious to some people, for others, especially those just starting out, hearing writers use the same term to describe disparate stages of writing can be confusing and daunting. I know it was for me. And if you’re a plotter, you might beat yourself up for not “really writing.” Pantsers were always telling me to “just start writing” because they didn’t understand that I was already writing, that my outline serves the same purpose as their first draft, that we’re both getting the story out of our heads but just in different formats. And sometimes the formats aren’t even different! For example, I wrote a post last year (A Slow Writer’s Scheme to Win NaNoWriMo) where I confessed that I was not writing a fast first draft for NaNo, I was instead writing a detailed outline, and that started a conversation with some writer friends who said that my detailed outline sounded exactly like their first drafts. We were at the same stage of story development, but called it different things.

There’s a lot of chatter between novelists about whether it’s better to be a plotter or a pantser. A quick Google search reveals that the debate is endless! But I don’t think we’re all that different. Both camps develop, build, revise and edit the story, we just use different methods to execute and different terminology to define those stages.

This is all to say that the Plotter vs Pantser divide is silly and possibly harmful to a writer’s psyche. After all, I didn’t participate in NaNo for the longest time because I don’t “fast draft” first drafts. That’s pantser territory, right? To me, NaNoWriMo didn’t seem like a place for plotters and slow writers. But it can be if you change the terminology. Words are words, after all. If you’re a plotter who’s not at the first draft stage yet, count words for outlines or story development notes or whatever. Use the challenge to motivate yourself to write (that’s ultimately what it’s for) and do it. As for me, I am participating with another “detailed outline” this year. Here’s my NaNo profile. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

What do you think about the pantser vs plotter thing? Are we more alike than different?

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/plotters-vs-pantsers-are-we-really-that-different/

5 Obscure Tricks for Winning #NaNoWriMo

NaNoEveryone has heard the typical NaNoWriMo advice:
Just write your story.
Don’t stop!
Don’t edit!
Even if you know what you’re writing is awful, just keep pushing!


This year was my third NaNoWriMo and every year has been a unique process; I’ve made countless mistakes, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself as a writer from the experience. And I think I’ve finally uncovered five foolproof steps to winning…

Step 1. Reorganize Your Book Shelves:
I have the urge to clean my house when I’m avoiding a deadline, and NaNoWriMo is no different. When the feeling laid me low this November, I headed for my messy shelves. During the process I found the ubiquitous unread hardcover bestseller. Finding this book created an overwhelming level of guilt; I always meant to read this book. All my friends read this book. All the reviewers told me I should read this book.

What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I read this gosh darn book when I had the chance?

This triggered a reading panic attack and turned my cerebellum into an impassable labyrinth with all paths leading back to the same glowing tome of magnificence that everyone in the world had read, but me. And it taunted me.

So I wrenched open the pristine dust jacket knowing exactly what this diversion was costing my writing timeline. Halfway through the novel, disgust bubbled in my veins. The book was awful! The only thing I wanted to know about these characters was how I could erase them from my memory banks, forever! I was seething with the realization that I paid $29.99 for this… this… this door stop!

I positioned the book in a place of shame, (the center of my desk) and with renewed zeal, I opened Scrivener.

kittenStep 2. Get a kitten:
Although logic would dictate that adding another living being requiring food, warmth and extra care into your home while also trying to write a novel in 30 days is a bad thing, nothing could be further from the truth.

In case you didn’t know it, kittens are insanely comical. They fall off window sills and into bathtubs full of water. They eat strange things, like peanut butter. And they get their heads stuck in Kleenex boxes. It’s a laugh a minute with a kitten in the house, and studies show that getting a good chuckle is beneficial to increasing your creativity. If your muse is a bit sluggish, a kitten is sure to perk her right up.

Also, a very young kitten will cry for its mom all night long! And it will engage in this high-pitched, mournful cry for a solid week, two if you’re lucky. This ever-present nightly cry will disrupt all those stupid regular sleep patterns you normally have. Eight hours of sleep? Who needs it? A darling kitten with a nocturnal vigilance for constant attention will make it possible for you to work around-the-clock. The only thing that rivals a kitten in your dreams of midnight NaNo success, is giving birth to a baby. You can be assured months of REM-free sleep with a newborn in the house.

Best of all, a normally active kitten can easily type a few thousand words just by running across your keyboard one, two, or three… a dozen times a day. Although those words look a bit like this: “aszx tghy jnmk ol;p” who cares, they still count. It makes your kitten worth his/her weight in kitty chow as your new writing partner!

The one downside to the kitten method is you may find yourself a few fingers short of a full complement, as your hand is frequently engaged as a kitty chew toy.

Step 3. Enroll your kids in a school that has 9 full days Thanksgiving vacation:
Once you have your little darlings home and under foot, give them unlimited access to the internet and don sound canceling headphones. You will need the headphones; they are part of the standard Mom Doing NaNoWriMo Arsenal Of Awesomeness. Without headphones you will learn to loath the sound of Minecraft, Call of Duty, or whatever video games your kids are addicted to. Trust me, the sound of them valiantly trying to beat a level boss, while simultaneously yelling at their friends to give them air cover will be blasting from at least two electronic devices per kid, for the whole 9 days of vacation.

Headphones, now! Good!

What is the NaNoWriMo upside of all this video game playing you ask?

Well, your delightful offspring will be hogging all the bandwidth and you will be cut off from social media. There will be no chance of you getting distracted by web surfing, or doing a little research that leads to a bit more research, which untimely leads to the NSA, CIA and/or Interpol opening a file on you. Your fabulous game playing brood, bless their little techno-obsessed hearts, will make any form of communication with the outside world challenging, if not down right impossible. No calls from your pesky family, no telemarketers… it’s like turning the clock back to the Dark Ages.

If you try this tip, I recommend you acquire a carrier pigeon, or two, just in case of emergencies.

This method has a rather large downside, as it might provoke countless friends and associates to mourn your demise. And don’t expect a party when you resurface from your dead zone, as your children may have inadvertently causes some blackouts with their wanton power consumption. But you will have finished 50,000 words, and isn’t that what counts?

Step 4. Embrace your love of fast food:
Junk food is your NaNoWriMo best friend, go ahead and give it a cuddle. Sorry, my mistake, you were supposed to cuddle the kitten and stuff the junk food in your face. Although not soft and fluffy, junk food is still warm and comforting! It requires no dishes or silverware. You never need to stand at the stove cooking it, or at a sink washing any pans for the sake of junk food.

licorice-171350_640chips-843993_640It’s so delightfully colorful.

It comes in an endless assortment of shapes and sizes. It’s individually wrapped.

It’s crunchy and chewy.

Oops! Excuse the drool.

Need I say more to convince you?


Don’t forget all that junk food causes heartburn, upset stomachs and packs in thousands of grams of energy producing fat and sugar. With enough junk food and coffee chugging along in your blood stream, anyone can pull off a NaNoWriMo all-nighter that rivals the ones you managed during your freshman year at college! You remember those? You partied until 2am, wrote a term paper until daybreak, ate a slice of cold pizza, chased it with a diet soda and still made your 8am class. Ah, good times!

Although a person can go at full speed for days on the right diet of junk food, it might be best to leave this one for that last weekend push.

Disclaimer: Please contact your physician before attempting this method as excessive junk food and caffeine consumption can be detrimental to your health and your bank account.

Step 5. Lie, cheat and practice wide-spread self trickery!
NaNo is not for the weak! You need to be tough! You need to be ruthless! You need to exploit your own vulnerabilities and play yourself like a slot machine! Heather tapped into this fact with her Slow Writers Scheme to Win NaNo.


Mal From Firefly

After hearing my first four tips, it should come as no surprise to you that I am decidedly more diabolical than the average NaNoWriMo participant. Although most of my other tricks are not fit for polite society, I will share this one.

I engaged in systematic under-reporting. I took my model from your basic white-collar criminal; I call it “word embezzling.” I spend the first three weeks of NaNo rounding down. If I write 1260 words I reported 1200, skimming a bit right off the top. If I sat down and wrote a paragraph or two, I never reported those words at all, they went right into the black bag with the other stolen words.

Around the start of the fourth week I produced my real records and validated my word count. It’s like cracking open a piggy bank you forgot you had. It put me several thousand words over where I expected I’d be, and the rest was 2015 NaNoWriMo history.

So there you have it, five sure-fire, if totally obscure, ways to win NaNo. Will these tips work for you? Who knows? If I was a mind reader, I’d already have a literary agent.
Feel free to follow any of these fine, NaNo winning tips next year, or share some of your own in the comments.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/obscure-tricks-for-winning-nanowrimo/

Results of a Slow Writer’s First #NaNoWriMo

This year was my first participating in the legendary National Novel Writing Month. I’m a slow writer and never felt up for the challenge, but 2015 is apparently “The Year Heather Faces Intimidating Challenges,” so I gave it a go. I even made a plan: A Slow Writer’s Scheme to Win NaNoWriMo. So how’d I fare? And why am I writing about it like it’s in the past tense even though it’s still November? Read on and I’ll tell you…

NaNo-Results SlowWriter

What Worked

The Pressure: NaNo definitely pushed me to write more each day. That word counter graph taunts me! I created more words than I would have if I wasn’t in NaNo, and there was one day in particular (okay, it was only Day 5 – don’t judge me!) that I felt so burnt out I would have given myself a writing holiday any other time of the year, but because of NaNo I made myself write something and felt pretty good about it. By the end of Week 2, I was at 15,000 words. A bit behind, but I didn’t care. That’s a lot of words for me! I’d moved my story forward and was really figuring out some important details. And NaNo had pushed me to do that even when I didn’t feel like writing.

Tips & Tricks I Learned

Burnout: As I mentioned above, I quickly experienced burnout trying to keep pace with NaNo. To deal with this, I changed my writing schedule. Part of my “slowness” is it takes me awhile to get focused and start writing, so I’ll do other things as I prep my brain to begin. However, then I’m left with a big chunk of writing time at the end of the day that’s exhausting to get through. So I switched it up – now I write something first, then when my brain feels fatigued I take a break to wash dishes or respond to emails, and then go back to writing, and repeat. These short, intermittent brain breaks stave off the burnout. Plus, this schedule forces me to complete stuff within shorter chunks of time, so I can’t procrastinate like I would with a big chunk of time where I don’t actually write anything until the last hour.

Bedtime Debriefs: These help combat my slowness too. When I plan what to write the next day, beginning that writing is much easier. Plus if I’ve been struggling with the story, what’s wrong with it is more easily sorted out before bed. For some reason, my brain solves problems better right before sleep.

Character Quiz: As I got farther into my novel, I added more characters that needed to be developed. Luckily, I wrote these 10 Quick Character Questions before NaNo so I was ready to do just this and didn’t spend nearly as much time flushing them out as I normally would have. Huzzah! Plus, I counted those words in my NaNo counter. I saw someone in a message board who simply counts everything in their Scrivener document, whether it’s character sketches, world building or actual chapters, and I thought hell yeah! After all, these character sketches flushed out a lot of important plot points and contributed to the overall story.

What Didn’t Work

Pushing Ahead: When something is wrong with my story, I cannot “push ahead” as many in the NaNoWriMo community encourage. Note that I am not revising for pretty prose; I am revising plot points that will affect the whole novel. I have to go back and fix those before I know what will happen next. I think of a novel like a skyscraper – the whole building rests on the foundation, and if the foundation is weak or any of the lower storeys have holes, the entire thing will fall over. And it’s easier to fix the foundation before the building is built than after. However, the pressure to go forward in NaNo meant that I tried to push ahead and ignore the feeling that something was wrong with my story’s foundation longer than I normally would, and consequently I had to do a bigger teardown than if I’d just doubled back to rebuild sooner.

Getting a New Job: And here we arrive at the reason why I’m talking about NaNoWriMo in the past tense. Exactly halfway through November, I got a new freelance writing gig. It’s super fun and awesome, but it doesn’t leave me with enough time to write another 35,000 words by the end of this month. So, yeah.

The Takeaway

I believe I accomplished one of the main objectives of the NaNoWriMo challenge – write faster! I may never spit out words at the speed of light, but I am certainly less slow than I was before. Though I don’t expect to win #NaNoWriMo2015, I will keep writing for the rest of the month and beyond at my new, improved pace.

So thanks, National Novel Writing Month! And for those of you still racing for that 50k finish line during this last week of November, good luck!


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/results-of-a-slow-writers-first-nanowrimo/

Mushy Middle Tips for #NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMoLogoHey NaNaWriMo writers! How’s it going? It’s mid-November and that means you’re deep in Act II and might be encountering some mushy middle difficulties. So here are some tips to get you through…

[Click on the titles to read the whole blog post.]

Mapping the Mushy Middle

The key to not getting lost in the middle of your novel is a map. Often we writers have an idea of what is the crisis at the end of Act II – the ALL IS LOST moment when it looks as if the hero will never achieve his goal – but how do you get your hero there? The answer is the MIDPOINT, which is the opposite of the ALL IS LOST moment. Before you drag your hero down into crisis, give him a big victory that makes it seem like he’ll achieve his goal. Every story is a will-he-or-won’t-he scenario. You can’t have failure without success, and vice versa.

3 Things to Keep Your Story on the Road (not the Goat Path)

So now you have the big plot points to prop up Act II, but it’s still a loooooong section and it’s getting a little boring. I have a solution for that: check every scene for conflict, stakes and change. Every single scene; no exceptions. Ask these questions:

  • What does the hero want that she can’t have?

  • Who is opposing the hero in this scene?

  • Is the hero doing something that has a consequence?

  • Does the reader feel the presence of the story’s overall stakes?

  • What is this scene’s emotional change?

  • What’s the story change?

(For more details on what those questions mean, read the full post.)

The Hero’s Emotional Midpoint

Maybe your Act II is falling flat because your character doesn’t have a strong enough reaction to what’s happening. To resolve this, figure out your hero’s death stakes, mirror moment and transformation. Every hero needs an inner journey to complement the outer journey. This post will help you figure those out and get you through Act II.

The Gooey Center of a Novel

Finally, Robin has some baking tips to firm up the middle of your story: add some spice, use a thickener, seat a new diner before the bowl, adjust the serving size, and don’t repackage the same old pudding. To find out how that advice applies to your book, click here.

Hopefully you found something there that helps get you through the messy middle section of your book. Good luck, NaNoers! You’re halfway done!


*Originally posted on Nov. 17, 2014 and re-posted on Nov. 16, 2015 because it’s #NaNoWriMo and I’m busy writing a novel! 🙂


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/mushy-middle-tips-nanowrimo/

A Writer’s Ode to Her Inner Critic

Inner criticIn just a few days I’m going to start NaNoWriMo and it’s already making my body feel like I’m throwing myself off a cliff without a parachute. I know intellectually writing 50,000 words in a month is not a life-threatening endeavor. However, it still produces significant amounts of stress and adrenaline! Of course, I’m excited to be starting something new. I like the plot and characters I’ve created to work with, and I know I’m prepared. But I’m also seriously freaked out, because I know I’m about to engage in a 30 day war with my inner critic, and it will not be pretty!

There will be blood spilled–mine.
A bit of innocence lost–mine.
And some stupid and humbling mistakes reviled–also mine.

Whereas Heather has made friends with her internal editor, mine is a nasty bully. I even wrote about her a while back and compared her to a giant Yeti inside my brain. My inner critic has one goal: to reduce me to a quivering mass of Jello. She’s pretty darn good at it. She has convinced me to hide finished projects away that maybe don’t deserve the solitary confinement of trunking. She has talked me into pulling back when I want to be brave and use controversial themes or questionable topics. And she waves every single mistake and writing rejection I’ve earned in my face as proof of my ineptitude.

Worst of all, ever since I signed up to do NaNo, I’ve had the feeling I painted a big red bull’s-eye on my self-confidence and gave my internal editor a gun with unlimited ammo. She’s been shooting and I’ve been running ever since. And NaNo hasn’t even started yet!

But the important thing is I am still running. I’m haven’t stopped writing or given up. Maybe I’m not the writer I want to be, which is what gives my inner critic so much power over my emotions, but I’m working on it. They say rejection kills the dreams of many writers, but I think it’s exhaustion! At some point, anyone can grow tired of running toward goals that never seem to get any closer. I know I’ve gotten tired of running from my inner critic more times then I can count. While I can’t turn off that little voice of self doubt inside my head, I can chose to keep chasing my goals anyway…even with a bloodthirsty internal editor hot on my trail.

I think every writer has a strategy for dealing with their inner critic, and during NaNo I will try just about one of everything to keep pushing through. I will shut off my monitor, and stick double sided tape on my delete key. And mid-month, when things get really bad, I might revert to one of my newest methods of placating my editor: I will draft an epic ode to my inner critic. In that letter I’ll surrender to my editor’s better judgment and own up to my writer suckage 110%. I might even shed a few frustrated tears. There is something cathartic about accepting that I’m never going to be perfect, and by surrendering the hope of perfection, I release massive amounts of negative emotion. When I’m done with my ode, I’ll be ready to fold up my little white surrender flag and live to write other day. Hopefully I’ll be a wiser and braver writer than I was the last time I almost let my inner critic get the best of me.

Come November 1st I plan to leave my inner critic some nasty messages to stay away! I also plan to taunt her when I cross the finish line on November 30st with a shiny new first draft.

With NaNoWriMo’s tight writing schedule, there is no time for second guessing every line. How do you silence that little negative voice?  Please share your tips.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/a-writers-ode-to-her-inner-critic/

A Slow Writer’s Scheme to Win #NaNoWriMo

I’ve just signed up for NaNoWriMo for the first time EVER. Here’s proof:

HeatherJacksonWrites NaNo Profile

As a hardcore plotter, I’ve never felt ready to participate. I can’t even fathom writing 50,000 words of prose without a solid outline. Plus, I’m not a fast writer. My inner editor and I are a team, not enemies, and I like it that way. She (my inner editor) gives damn good advice and prevents my story from going off the rails. I appreciate that.

I know, I’ve just confessed to doing the two big no-no’s of NaNo: 1) write slowly, and 2) listen to your inner editor. I bet you’re thinking I will totally fail this challenge!

Not so fast. I have a plan. I said so in the title. Let me tell you what it is and then you can determine if I stand a chance…

NaNo Slow Writer Scheme

Since I’m a plotter, I’ve already written multiple beat sheets and step outlines and character sketches, and have revised these documents extensively so that the story now resembles something that doesn’t completely suck. To most people, I seem ready to write this novel and write it fast! But as soon as I say the words “write novel,” my inner editor shows up, red pen in hand, eager to get to work. Common advice is to ignore her, but I can’t. I really can’t! Any of you have this problem? I suspect you might.

So the first step in my scheme to win NaNoWriMo is this:

#1 – Do not classify NaNo project as a “novel”; call it an “extremely detailed outline.”

My plan is to go scene-by-scene paraphrasing everything that happens in the story, including set up and action and transitions and filler dialogue. When this detailed outline is done, it’ll be about 100 pages long. It’s like writing a novel in shorthand. I suspect that my detailed outline resembles many writers’ rough first drafts in detail and scope. Maybe they’re exactly the same! But the plotter in me needs to call this process an “outline” so my inner editor doesn’t freak the eff out and try to improve all the words. I know, it’s just semantics, but it works for me.

NaNo I can't write fast

However, this detailed outline might not quite be 50,000 words when I’m finished. It’ll probably be 40,000 or a less. So where am I going to make up that other 10,000?

We’ve arrived at the second step in my plan:

#2 – Slow down and write a few scenes.

Writing fast burns me out. I know this from experience. Plus, no doubt there will be days when I just can’t think of what happens next. I’ll get stuck on something, a minor plot point probably, and I’ll need to take a break. But breaks aren’t efficient! NaNo is a race! Keep writing. So I will. I’ll take one of those scenes I’ve paraphrased in my detailed outline and write it out in pretty prose with all the proper pacing and dialogue and grammar. My inner editor will help me. We’ll probably spend eight hours honing just 1000 words, but that’s okay, that’s how we write, and when it’s done we’ll be super proud of those words and happy to have that scene in a readable format.   

That’s it. Just two steps. Perhaps it’s not the way people think you are supposed to do NaNoWriMo, but who cares because *cue music* I’m gonna do it myyyy way!!!

Are any of you participating in NaNoWriMo? If so, how do you plan to win? Share in the comments. Oh, and my username is HeatherJacksonWrites if you want to add me as a NaNo buddy. 🙂


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/a-slow-writers-scheme-to-win-nanowrimo/

The Post-NaNoWriMo Blues

keep-calm-and-keep-on-writing-20Right about now many writers are feeling a touch disappointed. They attempted a feat of greatness in the eyes of the writing community and they didn’t measure up to the recommended level of success.

To every below 50,000-words writers I say:


If you tried your best and wrote as much as you could, stand tall. I am so proud of you and you should have nothing to feel sad about. Take a moment and be thankful for all the words you did write and then consider this goal objectively.

Writing 50,000 words of anything is no small feat. The NaNoWriMo challenge also expects your brain (and fingers) to create a compelling storyline and craft memorable characters. All the while, you hold down a job and maybe care for a few kids or an elderly parent. And you must do it all in 30 days. It’s pretty much a Herculean task, and one many writers can only accomplish by sacrificing something else equally important to them, such as spending time with their family.

Of course, the world is full of lightning-fast writers. We always hear about these literary hares, the people who jotted down a bestseller on the back of a napkin while waiting for their coffee to cool. The hares are some of those people basking in the glow of their NaNo victory, empowered by their page counts and feeling ready to take the publishing world by storm. This month if you found yourself shaking your head as your friends piled up the words, or if you heard little voices inside your head telling you to slow down, it might be time to embrace the idea that you’re just a slow writer. You could be the literary tortoise in the NaNo meadow of jubilant hares.

Grandville 1855 IllustrationWe don’t often hear praise for slower writers, but we should. Please don’t despair if you’re a tortoise, you’re entering the illustrious domain of the word count under achievers, a literary hall of glory inhabited by some of publishing’s finest artists.

Don’t believe me?
Stuart Little (18 years)
Gone With the Wind (10 years)
The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao (10 years)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (5 years)
The Time Traveler’s Wife (5 years)

There are countless other slow masterpieces and it’s a group any new author should be thrilled to join.

Are the tortoises a prolific crew? No, not always, but some are. Some learned to be faster. Others decided they would rather write just one book they loved passionately than ten books they only liked. Thankfully NaNoWriMo has taught you something valuable about your writing style, something you could have spent years trying to rationalize away or make excuses for when your more prolific friends pounded out yet another book. Being a slower writer isn’t the dark cave of failure you might feel trapped in right now, it’s just who you are.

True, as a tortoise you might never write two books in a single year, but who cares about that arbitrary goal besides you?  Writers know when they have a story trapped inside and perhaps some stories just take a bit more time and effort to release than others. Stop focusing on your losses, don’t compare yourself to the hares, learn to embrace what works for you and write your way. If you and your story demand more time, take it. Use every hour you need to create something you feel is worthy of bearing your name.

There are enough mediocre books, more than enough to fill a lifetime of reading. I yearn for writers who create magic. Who pen worlds that leap off the paper and come to life before our eyes. And should it take them one year or twenty years to create such magic…I don’t care! I’m just happy they’ve given the world something worth treasuring. The tortoises of the writing world might create fewer books, but if they’re writing brilliant books, books filled with interesting plots and memorable characters, they will find fans today and they will find fans in a hundred years. And every time that book finds a home in a new pair of hands, not a single reader will lament how long it took the author to write it, they will only care about how the story made them feel.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/friday-inspiration/nanowrimo-blues/

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