On Writing

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October and November are both months of extreme writing. I've gotten a few questions about writing, and with the amount of you who have decided to participate in NaNoWriMo as a result of my my last post, I think calls for another post on writing. Although I did a writing post back in February, I've learned so much since then.

segment one: nothing is a bad idea
I went through a time of always thinking that every idea I ever had could never turn into anything. I thought everything I wrote was awful. I convinced myself that every idea was a bad one. But then I taught myself to let loose. I wrote down all my ideas and I allowed myself to write anything I wanted to, no matter how awful I convinced myself it was. You must learn to do the same.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

You must learn to let yourself try. If you believe in what you do, you will reach what you are looking for. My first and second year of NaNoWriMo was my trying point. This year has been my search for greatness. You just have to keep trying. Nothing is a bad idea. You can make the craziest idea a bestseller if you try hard enough.

segment two: do not trust your brain
No matter how much you tell yourself that you will remember something, never trust your brain. You will forget. I cannot tell you how many times I have trusted my brain to remember something and forgotten. If you come out with anything from this post let it be this: write everything down. Keep a notebook and write down every single idea you ever get inside. May it be dialogue you'd like to add to a story you are working on or one that you haven't started yet or didn't even know about, or it could be the title to a chapter, or a plot idea. Taking a moment to write an idea down will save you a lifetime of searching for ideas that you've lost.

segment three: let your characters live
You must believe that your characters are alive. Let them live. Learn everything you can about them. They cannot be entirely perfect. Do you know anyone who does not have a problem? Anyone who does not once fail at something? Anyone who is perfect at everything? The answer, clearly, is no. With that being said, you cannot make your characters picture perfect either. Spilling Ink and Writing Magic both have really nice character questions. You have to get inside you character's brain; find out their deepest darkest secrets. Email me if you would like my list (highly recommended if you are going to be doing NaNoWriMo or just writing a novel in general). Remember though, once your characters come alive, they will do things you don't want them to. They will not always follow your lead. Your characters sometimes determine the way the story goes. And you have to allow them to. You aren't going to get an overweight baker who opposes any form of exercise to willingly run a marathon. Obviously, he could go through a change in the course of the book, but you're going to need to have him actually change. Maybe it's through his granddaughter who is a personal trainer; she wants him to be her first client. He's not going to want to run or exercise, and maybe at first he won't. You'll have to change him, and with finding his character, you'll be able to do it, but it will take time, and he will put up a fight.

Another way to get to know your character is draw a picture of him or her or it. Olivia even dressed up as her character once. You could even talk to a stick, pretending that it is your main character's best friend and you are the main character. Anything to get to know them; whatever works for you.

segment four: face what scares you. Inspiration.
The thought of inspiration scares a lot of people. We've been good friends before; but more often than not, we are enemies. We have our phases. There are a few simple things to help you find your inspiration. 
  1. Make a list of some words, most helpfully; feelings, that you like or sound interesting to you. Think about them. I mean take a good, long moment to think about them. Emotions are one of my strongest forms of Inspiration. Keep your list handy and look to it for a little help now and then. (On my list: Lighthouse, whisper, glow, hope, strength, reassurance, freedom, chains, symbol)
  2. Make a list of places or things which you like. (On my list: London, Europe, fog, the night sky, ponds, the beach, grays, paths, stones, boats.) Perhaps you can pull things from this list to find a story. For instance, I could easily find a story of a girl on the beach in either London or Europe in the midst of a foggy night, with the night sky just peeking through. The colors around her are grey; winter or early spring. And (taking from the words list) she is searching for freedom, but is in chains. The Lighthouse is her only symbol of hope as it's glow whispers passages of strength. She has reassurance that stealing the boat will free her. As she walks along the path, stones crunch beneath her feet. The night had come. See? With just these two lists, I've come with a story (almost a complete plot) in less than ten minutes. And, to tell you the truth, I rather like this idea. I may use it sometime.
  3. Make a playlist of songs you like. Listen to the words. Use tip Number One and write the words which stick out to you from the song. Perhaps you can find a story hidden beneath the lyrics. 
  4. Find images online (Pinterest.com is a great place to go) of things which you love. My Inspiration Board is a place I often can go to search out a story. Images can help you with Number Two; but also just seeing pretty, lovely things can spark something inside your head.
  5. Keep a Journal; not a Diary. The difference? A Journal is a place where you express your emotions, thoughts, and/or ideas. A Diary is a place where you gossip with yourself, talk about what you did that day, and explain what is going on in your life. In my Journal, I do about a paragraph of what's going on and what I did that day; how school is going. The rest is left for actual Journaling. At the moment, I journal at least once a week. On the 12th, I did an overview of my past year. And right now, I'm working on a word study. My first word was Wars/Battles. I hope to do Hope, Strength, and many others in the near future. I have also written ideas for stories and novels in my journal as well. My Journal helps me understand things, the world, and most importantly: myself. Remember that your Journal is something that only you will read. A Journal is a great place to develop your writer's voice because no one is there to judge you.
Also a help with this: Carlotta's guest post here from the summer.

segment five: use your mind
Now, when I said not to trust your brain; I didn't say not to trust your mind. To me (although both are the same) your brain is a place that stores things and tells your body what to do. Your mind, however, is a place of thinking. I like my mind better than my brain, although the brain is probably more important. A great way to get your mind working is to get your brain doing something it can do almost involuntarily. Some examples; washing the dishes, taking a shower, going for a walk. A lot of great writers (spilling ink authors, *ahem* J.K. Rowling. (you knew I was getting her in here somewhere)) say that when they hit writer's block, they will got outside, relax, and take a walk. Give your mind the topic of your story and let it go from there. It works. Sometimes it's slow, but it works.

FAQ section.
now it's your turn to ask a question. Ask your questions in the comments and check back here for the answer!

1. Is there a NaNoWriMo for younger kids? I don't have time for 50,000 words.
Yes, there is! It's called YWP NaNoWriMo. You can set your own goal word count there, and there are a lot more writing tips on the YWP site then on the original NaNo site. Also: check the bottom of the main YWP page, there is a nice little dare machine which could help you get ideas. (p.s. you don't have time? check question #3)

2. Is NaNoWriMo hard?
To tell you the truth; no. Not for me it wasn't. What NaNoWriMo makes for is early mornings and late nights--if you already have a busy life, like most of us do. To break it down for you: week one is a breeze, week two you want with all your heart to quit, week three you usually have to do a little extra to make up for Thanksgiving; if you get behind It's usually during week three, and week four you're writing junk. I know it sounds awful, but once you get into it it's amazing. I know for sure that week two you want to quit with just nearly everyone, but as for the other weeks; that's just how it went for me. Week four was all junk because I was dry on ideas. The YWP dare machine came in handy, but made the end of my practical fiction story crazy. Check segment four of this post; it could really help during week four & the end of three.

3. How much time did you spend on NaNoWriMo daily?
Two hours mostly, that's all. You would expect a lot more; maybe that is a lot to you, I don't know. Some days during the later weeks it took me three, but two was the hours I spent on most days. Surly you can devote two hours every day in November to do NaNoWriMo. You could get up an hour early and go to bed an hour later, cut computer time, or cut tv time. Or do half the word count with the YWP challenge and only spend one hour.

4. Will you read my writing?
I'd love to! Just know that I'm often busy with school and soon with NaNoWriMo. But I would love to read your writing. I will add notes to the side for improvements you could make or things I think really work. Please no more than one chapter, though (up to 3,500 to 5,000 words). Email me you writing at metheblog[at]gmail.com.

p.s. I'm hosting NaNoWriMo Bloggers again, as I did least year. Anyone doing NaNo should check it out! I'd love to have you contribute.
p.p.s. this post it 1,856 words, by the way. It took just about 2 hours. 


  1. Megan I love you. ;) These tips helped me out a lot when I was first getting in to writing. Some of my writing teachers told me some of these (hint, you are a great teacher/writer =D). I've been thinking about NaNoWriMo, but to tell you the truth, I don't have much of a plot right now. (The first time I wrote that I said "write" instead of "right." Wow. Can you tell my mind is on other things at the moment? haha)

    I think it would take me a little over 2 hours to write that many words, but I'm not exactly sure how long it would take me. Time in an issue, but I could probably make time if I don't spend so much time on the dang internet. Haha. For one of my stories/novels, I only have 7,321 words and I honestly don't have any idea how to move on. OKAY wow. Maybe I should've emailed this to you instead. Haha, k I'm gonna leave now. =)

  2. I think I just completed NaNoWriMo with that comment. xD Haha. Gosh, why do I ALWAYS leave two comments on every one of your posts? I don't know what's wrong with me. =P Haha.

  3. Wow! Thanks for this, it really helped! I'm doing the YWP so I'll be doing 1,000 words a day (around that, anyways. Anywhere from 900-1200).

  4. How many Abby's are there? haha. Thanks a million for this post, Megan! I'm going to be doing Nano for the first time this year, and I've heard people say it was really hard, but this post helped me to see it's not so hard. I'm sure I can find at least two hours every day to write. Your tips helped - thanks again!

  5. This was definitely quite helpful. I have a couple of tips to add from my experience last year:

    Don't stress if you don't have the time or motivation to write enough everyday. Most days I only managed to get a few words down, whether because of schoolwork or writer's block, and would be quite far from my goal and be despairing that I'd never finish, but on the weekends and days off from school I would blast music in my ears and write maybe 4-7k words per day.

    Also: for me at least, I write better and more when I don't have a structured outline. Honestly last year I only had a pretty vague idea for my novel when NaNo began, and by the end of November my story had morphed into something totally different. I find it best to let the story develop on its own, so to speak.

    Another tip that you covered: music helps a lot, especially if you have trouble concentrating. It blocks the sounds of the world outside and you can just focus on writing. This is so so so helpful, it is really probably the most helpful tip I could offer.

    And I also got in the habit of not using contractions to boost my word count :)

    When you finally crack that 50k, it is SO fulfilling. You will definitely not regret doing NaNo, even if your story turns out to be less than ideal and not one you'd like to publish (mine did).


  6. I'm doing nanowrimo this year too! (I tried last year but completely failed) Thanks so much for the tips!!

  7. Just to inform you, you've been 'drawn' by me. It's not very good - but you're famous! hehe. ;) http://www.ismikendra.org/2011/10/spot-blogger.html

  8. Wow! Great post Megan!


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