Posted in [writer resources]

[Resource Review] “Ready, Set, Novel!” by Chris Baty, Lindsey Grant, and Tavia Stewart-Streit

Full Title: Ready, Set, Novel! Plan and Plot Your Upcoming Masterpiece
Author: Chris Baty, Lindsey Grant, and Tavia Stewart-Streit from National Novel Writing Month
Published: October 2011 by Chronicle Books
Genres: Nonfiction, Books & Writing, Writing Fiction, Authorship, Writing Skills
Edition Details: 160 pages, trade paperback
Source: {Purchased – New}
Rating: {4/5 stars}

First Glance

Woohoo! It’s a NaNoWriMo workbook! I love workbooks!

In all seriousness, this was the last NaNoWriMo-specific book on my list. I mostly bought it to complete the NaNoWriMo mini collection.

Positive Bits

The NaNoWriMo team really did create a workbook for writers that fits the formatting of the event itself. These are the hands-on activities I said were missing in the previous books; in fact, I’m surprised they didn’t make a combination set somewhere along the way.

I love the playful attitude of this workbook. There’s a page that’s literally a high five, and you’re supposed to celebrate your successes by slapping the hand on the page. There’s also a boot for your “kick in the pants” as needed. Silly, but cute!

For a newbie writer with little or no experience with creating characters from scratch, I think the activities focused on that process are particularly helpful. When I was younger, I basically kidnapped the personality of people close to me (while changing their names). The workbook gives you more thorough activities for character building.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I’m not sure this book is useful if you’ve written multiple stories in the past. Many of the activities are super simplified processes that you internalize as you grow, and that makes this workbook feel less helpful than I’d hoped it to be.

Workbooks, by their very nature, have little actual writing in them. There’s tons of blank space for the person actually doing the work. That said, I sprinted through this book and found myself disappointed at how short it was outside of the times you were supposed to pause your reading and do an exercise.

It’s a silly complaint, but I prefer workbooks that are bound in a way that allows easier use. The spine on this book (while new) is very stiff, so actually writing in the workbook itself would be irritating until you broke it in. There’s not much to do about that, though, unless the publisher wanted to use the thinner paper and binding of a traditional school workbook instead of trade paperback binding methods.

Tidbits Worth Repeating*

*Note: I didn’t have a lot of quote to share, because this workbook is mostly a collection of exercises that don’t lend themselves to epic quotability.

The hardest part is behind you. Your story is here. Your characters are waiting. It’s time for the next phase of this bookish adventure to begin. You ready? You’re set. Let’s novel. {page 117}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – particularly for new writers. If you benefit from surfing Tumblr or Pinterest for character creation tips and the like, then this book has a decent collection of worksheets to help you out. This workbook would also be a great help with pre-planning your novel, doing the outlining and world building required to get started.

Posted in [writer resources]

[Resource Review] “No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit” by Chris Baty

Full Title: No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit: A Treasure Chest of Tools, Tips, and Righteous Gear to Help You Bash Out a Novel in a Month
Author: Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month
Published: September 2006 by Chronicle Books
Genres: Nonfiction, Writing & Books, Authorship, Writing Skills, Writing Fiction
Edition Details: 48 pages, trade paperback – kit also includes a calendar, daily inspiration cards, coupons and peptalk letters, and the Radiant Badge of the Triumphant Wordsmith
Source: {Purchased – New}
Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

I know I reviewed the original NaNoWriMo book, but I happened to get this kit on clearance at Barnes & Noble somewhere along the way as well. I’ll be brief, as there are few thoughts about this kit that don’t align with my review of the 2004 book.

Positive Bits

Humor is still Baty’s key approach, and it fit well with the pacing of this smaller kit’s book. The activities mentioned as similar to those in the core book, but this kit focuses on the basic details and leaves the actual accomplishment of each activity up to the writer.

I enjoyed the titles and descriptions of people who you might invite to join you. Instead of just suggesting family and friends, Baty takes the time to explain archetypes for each kind of person. A fellow writer. A challenge taker. A book group(ie).

Less Enjoyable Bits

Honestly, there’s a clear echo. The mini book in this kit would easily take the place of purchasing the full No Plot? No Problem! if you were choosing between A or B. You’re losing the history of NaNoWriMo and some depth to the exercises offered, but the basic explanation and guidance for writing a novel in a month are still present.

However, this kit really is the bare bones of NaNoWriMo guidance. It’s good… but not very different from just reading bits and pieces of the peptalk emails you get from NaNoWriMo’s website during November.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The Radiant Badge of the Triumphant Wordsmith {throughout}

I just really love the over-the-top name! Maybe I should add that to my resume…

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I think the kit has been on the clearance shelves of Barnes & Noble for the past year or so. But even at full price, this kit is just playful enough to get you going on your NaNoWriMo adventure. Also, there’s just something extra enjoyable about using a kit rather than just referencing a book.

Posted in [writer resources]

[Resource Review] “No Plot? No Problem!” by Chris Baty

Full Title: No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days
Author: Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month
Published: September 2004 by Chronicle Books (apparently I got a used first edition)
Genres: Nonfiction, Writing &  Books, Authorship, Writing Skills, Writing Fiction
Edition Details: 176 pages, trade paperback
Source: {Purchased – Used}
Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

First Glance

Let’s be real. As someone who’s participated in NaNoWriMo for years, I was destined to enjoy this book. My only first glance impression was that my edition might be quite different from whatever’s being sold now (14 years later). Actually, my wife’s joked about buying me the newest 2014 expanded edition just so I can compare the two!

Positive Bits

Humor is often hit and miss. Baty found a good balance, I think, in using generalized jokes and dorky humor throughout the book, all without crossing the line into anything questionable (i.e. sexist, racist, ageist, etc.).

One activity I loved the idea of is the Magna Carta (and Magna Carta II). The short version is that you make a list of things you love in a story (I) and things you can’t stand (II). Those lists then serve as a guide when you feel a bit listless or lost in your plot. I’ve done this activity before (calling it “reader research”), and I think it’s a marvelous way to really discover both preferences and skills.

The language of this book (and concepts presented) never aim over the head of anyone who can read a chapter book. I think a middle schooler could get just as much use and enjoyment out of this book as their grandparent. Baty’s voice is conversational enough to make reading each chapter feel like a chat over coffee (or cocoa).

Less Enjoyable Bits

Every single time Baty directs the reader to take full advantage of company supplies or time, I cringe. Maybe that worked a decade ago, but many companies now record all emails sent and received (for legal reasons). Personal documents aren’t actually personal. So aside from the questionable ethics of not working at work, you have the reality that today’s companies will be far less naive about your digital activities (and printing). That said, a wireless keyboard and a smartphone can lend more honest opportunities to write on breaks and lunch (while avoiding company resources and time).

This book doesn’t include a lot of suggestions on your process itself. It covers the basics of your word count, your timeline, and then a weekly breakdown of how (he assumes) you’ll feel as the event goes forward. Small stories and side notes from previous NaNoWriMo participants help mediate this absence, but it still left me a little disappointed.

Baty wrote for non-writers. His pep talks and advice are ideal for them… and less useful for the rest of us. I think writers need a different approach, largely because we have a familiarity with the process that also makes us more nervous about success versus failure.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It’s the lack of a deadlineGive someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen. {page 14}

The things that you appreciate as a reader are also the things you’ll likely excel at as a writer. {page 86}

[Talking about people playing sports or videos games for fun on weekends, not to become famous] They do it because the challenge of the game simply feels good.  They do it because they like to compete, because they like spending time with friends, because it feels really, really nice to just lose themselves in the visceral pleasure of an activity. Novel-writing is just a recreational sport where you don’t have to get up out of your chair. {page 172}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I’d even buy this book at full price, and I rarely do that with any book. While I didn’t get as much active assistance from this book as I’d hoped, the history of NaNoWriMo and its bare bones fascinated me.

Posted in [witchcraft & wonder], [writer stuff]

Winning NaNoWriMo, and the road ahead

I did it! I successfully wrote 50K words in the month of November. Now I have a relatively horrid rough draft of a story, and access to a cute little digital sticker to prove my writer’s worth.

Honestly, I’m slightly impressed. I was correct to think that it would be similar to writing in my blog daily, so the word count itself wasn’t as killer as it could’ve been. The bigger issue was deciding where to take the story, especially as huge parts were redone in the middle; I found myself wanting to go back and redo the entire beginning just to correct it all, but I resisted the siren’s call of editing and pushed through to the end instead.

I haven’t reread it yet, either. I was using multiple small documents due to where and when I was writing, so I never had a chance to see everything all together. I figure I’ll wait until our winter break to go back and read that I vomited onto the keyboard; maybe I can salvage a story out of the wreckage? We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ve been able to pursue intellectual efforts (code word for studying when it doesn’t involve school work). I’m working on runes right now, having finally heard them talk to me. It only took a decade for them to call my name! I’ve had the shapes and names memorized for ages, because I used them for code in high school; however, it was only recently that they held allure as a divinatory tool. I’ve been studying Greek spirituality for so long that it feels weird to move over to the Norse pantheon, but it’s a comfortable kind of weird that comes with immersion into something new.

Back in 2006, I remember studying a bit about Seax Wica. It’s a branch of Wicca created loosely around the Norse pantheon, and I found myself really attracted to many of its key ideas. For example, one maxim would be “Love is the Law, Love is the bond.” I couldn’t connect to the gods of the pantheon at the time, but the rituals and such really spoke to me. Just a few years ago, I also studied the Asatru traditions for my comparative theology paper. Again, certain aspects resonated with me (the Nine Noble Virtues, for example) and stayed in my mind long after I was done researching the topic.

And so, we circle back.

Posted in [writer stuff]

Halfway(+) through NaNoWriMo

This is a personal sigil for Inspiration. Because why not!
This is a personal sigil for Inspiration. Because why not! See the original sigil instructions here.

I’m taking a small break from writing for NaNoWriMo, mostly to let my character decide what’s going to happen next. I forgot how fun it is to let them tell the story! They even name themselves; one quirky lady tossed her nickname at me before running off to cause a ruckus!

I’ve reached about 30,000 words today. Yesterday was an allergies-and-Benadryl night, so I didn’t write anything. Thankfully, though, it’s been a slow day at work and I’ve had a muse whispering over my shoulder.

I’m surprised at where my story has gone. I’d originally allowed (begrudgingly) a small amount of romance into the plot, largely unwanted by me personally. However, the main characters ran with it, had a hot tryst, and then leapt straight into a plot of deep intrigue and political drama (a pleasant surprise).

Now I’m looking at a couple of random people who popped up, trying to figure out who they are. Are you a good guy or a bad guy? Do you plan to make this some corny love triangle (oh gods, please no!), or are you here to help the OTP get back together? Do any of you plan to die?

NaNoWriMo is helping my process, actually. Instead of struggling through pages and pages of writing until I’m drained dry, I usually write about one or two scenes a day during the scheduled word count. That means most of my scenes start and end concisely, without too much rambling or wandering off in a weird direction. It also means I’m never at a loss for a stopping point; when a scene ends, my writing ends for the day.

That might sound bad, my creative process thrives on sprints rather than long deluges of words across the screen. Most days I easily write a couple thousand words before stopping. It’s highly satisfying!

On a side note, I’ve also been surprised by how easily I shut up my inner editor. She’s much nicer than she once was! If I see myself using the same word for the hundredth time, but I’d remind her that we’d find a better synonym later and she’d hush right up. The same goes with “said” over and over, or scenes where the descriptive parts are a hot mess; she accepts that I’ll get back to it later.

Halfway through the NaNoWriMo month, I’m feeling confident and creative. That’s what this is all about!

Posted in [writer stuff]

NaNoWriMo is almost here!

This year I will win!
This year I will win!

NaNoWriMo starts this weekend! YAY!

With all of the emotional crap I’m dealing with in my personal life, I’m seriously looking forward to diving into an alternate reality for a while. This is the first year that I won’t be in the middle of a move, so there are *no* excuses to not participate.

I had a funny epiphany, though.I did a word count on half a dozen of my blog posts. In a little 30-45 minute jot, I often write up between 600-1000 words. That’s just by rambling into the aether!

With this event, though, I’ll be able to focus that pouring of words toward a story (which I should’ve already been doing, but I’m lazy and have bad habits). I don’t think I’ll have any issues, since I’m only looking at the length of two blog posts per day; considering the prep I’ve done, I’m sure that’ll be easy!

Speaking of prep, I still have bits I want to do. I’ve researched and built a nice little world, but I want to get a vague, one-page outline of my story (or at least one character’s arch) written out before Saturday. I’ve bounced between ideas, from a story of self-discovery to a story of two unlikely people becoming friends (corny, but it has more depth in context).

Another piece of random prep is creating a calendar. I want a physical one for my bedroom door, so I can mark off my word counts daily (and weekly) to be sure I’m on track. I’m in a mood right now where step-by-step processes are my jam. I saw a few interesting calendars online via DeviantArt, but I think I’d rather do my own and add quotes and junk. I’ll probably make it tomorrow during lunch, just to be sure it gets done before we start writing.

Of things I’ve managed to nail down for my story, I can say… I’m going to write something in third-person. It’ll probably be third-person limited, which is basically third-person from a specific person’s perspective, allowing you to keep stuff from the reader because an observer following your main character wouldn’t have been informed or witnessed your secret thing. It’s used in a ton of the books I’ve enjoyed reading, and it’s more relatable than first person for many of the people I know. It’s really hard for a male to get into the head of a female protagonist if she’s first-person (and visa versa); meanwhile, it’s relatively easy to step out of oneself and become an observer of the opposite sex without that sense of disconnect.

I’m annoyingly excited for the end of this week (and it’s only Monday).

Note: I’m snickering at myself, because I said the average length of my blog posts… and then wrote one far shorter (489 words) in about 20 minutes. I still stand by my logic, though, that it’s like blogging on a small dose of steroids.

Posted in [writer stuff]

NaNoWriMo approaches

I’ve randomly decided to try to participate in NaNoWriMo this year.

For those who aren’t familiar, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write 50,000 words (a novel) in 30 days (November). Part of it is a challenge, to focus your creativity and create something. The other part is a guide, to help you meet a goal of writing that story (finally).

I hadn’t heard of NaNoWriMo until it was already November last year, so it was a bit late to start. However, a reminder via YouTube had me refreshing my account and preparing to get creative.

I have two different plot ideas that I’m deciding between for the event. One is focused on a worldwide therian awakening, the other on a complex modernization of a Gaea-related myth. I like both, and I have a slight outline for both. The next few weeks will allow me time to choose a focus.

Part of me hopes to complete a rough draft of a novel. I’ve been hesitant with my writing for years now, between adulthood’s ugly reality and the possibility of failure. I’ve told stories, to be sure… I just haven’t managed to write anything down.

My dream of becoming a published author is only half completed with my poetry. It doesn’t feel like a victory without a novel of some sort.

The eventual goal is publication. If I like the story enough, I might try traditional publishers for a bit; the worst they can do is say no. If that fails, there’s always the e-book route; I actually enjoy the idea of only charging a few dollars per download with the possibility of a greater audience.

I’m a little nervous that our move will interfere. I’ll be taking two weeks off from work in November specifically for the move. On top of that, we have classes after work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And there’s Thanksgiving.

It’s a busy month in November.

But I figure I’ll have at least an hour a day to write, especially if I don’t watch Netflix reruns after work. Moving time won’t be a 24/7 process; evenings will be time to recover (and write, hopefully). Our electricity will be on at one or both houses the entire month, meaning that the computer and laptop are usable; I type much faster than I write, so a keyboard is very necessary to my writing process.

We’ll see what happens! Are you a member of NaNoWriMo?