June 28th, 2017

Take Your Work-In-Progress to Camp!

Jamie Raintree

Chances are, if you’ve spent any amount of time around other writers, you’ve heard of National Novel Writing Month, an online writing event that attracts hundreds of thousands of writers from all over the world each year. The event takes place in November and each participant pledges to write 50,000 words of new fiction in 30 days. I, myself, have participated in the event eight times and have become addicted to the rush of immersing myself so deeply into my story, the sense of community, and accomplishing so much in such a short amount of time.

But what if November isn’t a good month for you to throw all real-life commitments to the wind?

A common complaint I hear amongst writer friends is that November is an impossible (or near impossible) month for them to focus on their works-in-progress, with Thanksgiving and Christmas shopping and travel. Seemingly in response to these complaints, in 2011, the NaNo team introduced a new event called Camp NaNoWriMo, a similar challenge that takes place in two different months each summer.

As popular as NaNoWriMo proper is, I find that many writers still haven’t heard of Camp so today, I’d like to tell you more about it, the differences between the November event and the summer events, and why it might be the perfect way to make substantial progress on your work-in-progress this summer.

1. It happens in April and July.

If you are one of those people who have very busy Novembers, you have two new opportunities to make the most of this energizing online challenge. July, in particular, is perfect for teachers and students who have more free time outside of the school year. Plus July gives you the added benefit of an extra day in the month. If you’re a mom, though, summer might not be much better for you, with the kids home from school, which brings me to my next point…

2. You can set your own goal.

Unlike the November event, which has a pre-determined word count and pre-determined writing form, Camp NaNoWriMo frees you up to work on any project and set any goal. You can write non-fiction, short stories, or poetry. Or if you’ve already completed your first draft, you can set a revision goal instead. Track your progress by words, hours, minutes, lines, or pages, with a goal of anywhere between 20 and a million (I wish!). So if you’ve ever wanted to participate in the November event but have been too intimidated by the idea of 50,000 words, Camp might be the perfect challenge for you.

(Be sure to check out my Writing & Revision Tracker if you want to set and track your goals on your desktop during Camp or any month of the year!)

3. Connect with a tighter-knit community.

My favorite thing about any NaNo event is the connection to a community with a common goal. During November, though, some might find it difficult to navigate and keep up with the many forums available and the hundreds of thousands of people chiming in. But during Camp, you are placed into a “Cabin,” which is a private forum that holds no more than 20 participants and creates a much more intimate experience. You can even create a private cabin with your friends!

(If you decide to participate and would like to join me and my group of private cabins, come on over to our Facebook group, The Motivated Writer!)

I don’t know about you, but we’re definitely hitting that point in my house when summer is proving to be less productive than I hoped it would be, and the kids and I are all getting a little antsy. If you’re ready to shake things up a bit and get back on track with your writing, check out Camp NaNoWriMo, and see if it’s a good fit for you!

FIND OUT MORE, OR SIGN UP HERE!

Are you participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this July? What are you working on and what is your goal?

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About Jamie

Jamie RaintreeJamie Raintree is an author and a writing business teacher. She is also a mother of two girls, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. Her debut novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released on October 3, 2017 by Graydon House. Subscribe to her newsletter for more writing tips, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website.

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June 26th, 2017

4 Times Inaction Can Help Your Writing Life

Kathryn Craft

Turning Whine Into Gold

Our society as a whole, and publishing as a subculture, rewards action and achievement. The Holy Grail seems to be a book a year, and you can’t pull that off while sitting on your hands.

Yet I would maintain there are at least four times in your writing career when sitting on your hands might be the most effective strategy.

  1. When you are coming up with a new story.

One of my favorite definitions of story is, “internal conflict made external”: an author sets in motion a cast of characters that has been carefully orchestrated to bring to life principles that are at war within the protagonist. Your story will be more powerful—and I maintain, your book club discussions more interesting—if you are conflicted over these issues as well.

Identifying them might take some soul-searching, especially if you’re beyond your first two or three novels. What else do you care about? Why are you conflicted about it? If you’ve settled on a personal stance—say, you want to write about abortion and are pro-life—what are the ways in which you empathize with other points of view? What are the challenges in doing so?

What moves you to tears? What situations make you burning mad? What seems unfair? This wellspring of emotion can drive your novel, but it needs a quiet stage and an attentive audience to deliver its gifts.

  1. After you receive a tough critique.

Whether the criticism came from your mom, a critique partner, a developmental editor, a publishing professional, or a reviewer, a wound to the ego needs to heal just like any other wound. That takes rest, good nutrition, a break from additional stressors—and time.

As a developmental editor and author, I know from experience on both sides of the fence that the unwritten message we’ll see as “you’re an unworthy hack” will fade, and in time, the mist of negativity will settle out into what feels true, what was misunderstood, and what was informed by personal opinion.

You might be so desperate to hear a compliment that you phone a friend and tear the critique to pieces, writing it off entirely. That might feel good at first, but to do so is to miss an important opportunity.

Your inner Supreme Court will determine whether to capitalize on your reader’s perspective or gently set it aside, but can only do so when our inner lawyers stop prosecuting and defending, and you give the court enough quiet time to deliberate.

  1. When life throws you a curve ball.

Many authors have learned the hard way that they need to build some “s**t happens” time into their deadline-driven word count goals. You may have hunkered down in your writing cave with laser focus, all systems go, but that doesn’t mean life stops around you. Storms rage, bodies break down, lives end and begin, financial setbacks occur, mental health wobbles. Sometimes you just have to throw up your hands and surrender.

Now maybe you have a protective barrier in place, like a husband who will hold your mom’s hand while she’s dying and let you write. Personally, I think allowing this protection is to miss the point of our work entirely. Authors are revered for their ability to reflect upon and process the human condition in a way from which readers can benefit. That requires that we take the time to reflect and process.

  1. When you’re feeling whiny.

In her book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, Marianne Williamson posits that every positive emotion is rooted in love, and every negative emotion is rooted in fear. I have yet to think of an example where this isn’t true.

If your loved ones get off on hearing you whine, have at it. But here’s another option: when you’re tempted to whine, take a few quiet moments to ask yourself what it is you’re really afraid of. Is it that you don’t feel equal to the task before you? That your loved ones will forget you as you pursue this time-gobbling, all-consuming goal? That your publisher will blow their promo budget on someone else’s title?

Those are just a few from my own life—go ahead and fill in your own questions. Giving our emotions due consideration will point us right towards what is important in our lives, and our readers depend upon the fruits of this contemplation. The quicker we can dig beneath the whine and uncover our real concerns, the faster we can get back to writing stories that matter.

How do moments of quiet contemplation fit into your writing life? Have you learned to allow it? Do you allow yourself the grace to call such contemplation “writing,” or is writing to you only word count?

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About Kathryn

Kathryn CraftKathryn Craft  is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” was included in the writing guide Author in Progress, from Writers Digest Books. Janice Gable Bashman’s interview with her, “How Structure Supports Meaning,” originally published in the 2017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, has been reprinted in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writingboth from Writer’s Digest Books.

June 23rd, 2017

Writing is Like Golf

Cathy Lamb

             This isn’t Cathy – but it could be…

I recently started golfing.My husband (nicknamed “Innocent Husband”  because the poor man can never be held responsible for what his wife says or writes), made me.

He has been hoping I would golf with him for over two decades.

I have resisted. Even thinking about trying to put a tiny white ball into a tiny hole hundreds of yards off made my brain want to bust open and shriek.

But Innocent Husband recently bought me clubs, smiled endearingly, and I caved.

I am a terrible golfer. No one told me that golf balls have evil brains. No one told me that the golf ball will do whatever it wants to do no matter how I swing the club. I have hit trees and almost Innocent Husband. I have hit my ball into grass so deep, and so far off course, it took ten minutes to find it.

But I love it. Unbelievably. Miraculously. I love it. As I love writing.

So let me link golfing and writing if I can. I think they have some things in common besides swear words.

1)      Practice Swinging and Scribbling . Golfing takes practice. It’s going to take a lot of practice for me to get the ball to go straight instead of heading straight towards the sand pit. Writing does, too. It takes practice for beginners and for people who have won The National Book Award. You must write. Write and edit your manuscript, but write an article or a blog, too. If you like poetry, write a poem. Write a letter. Write on your computer, write by hand in a beautiful journal. Write in a whole new genre. Write.

2)      Analyze and Dissect. You need to analyze your golf swing so you don’t keep swinging and swinging…and the golf ball is still sitting there cackling meanly up at you from the tee. 

You need to analyze your own work. Don’t tell yourself you’re terrible, but take a hard, deep, honest look at your plot. Will it find an audience? Who is your audience? Is the plot, truly, interesting? What about the characters? Are they unique, compelling, funny, maddening or diabolical? If they need to be likable, are they likable? What about the pacing of your book? Slow pacing kills a plot. I have seen this a hundred times. Is your plot moving right along?

What about the dialogue? Is it realistic? Is it flat out amusing or threatening or thought provoking or utterly sincere? Does it tell the reader about the personality of the characters? Are you using the setting and weather to enhance the plot? Are there character arcs? Will your story evoke emotion in the reader? Will it make them laugh or cry or think or all three?  It should.

3)      Get Outside and Groove. You need to get outside to golf unless you want to break a window and you need to get outside to write. On nice days I set my computer up on my table in my back yard. Hiking helps. Walking helps. Going to the lake or the beach or the mountain helps. (Don’t golf in the mountains.) You need to get a different perspective and being outside will help you think through your work.

4)      Learn from others, like I learn from Innocent Husband when he’s coaching me on the golf course and telling me not to treat the golf ball as the enemy. Read your favorite authors and take their work apart. Why do you like their books? How can you put those elements in your own work? I have learned from Geraldine Brooks, Alice Walker, James McBride, Bailey White, Kaye Gibbons, etc. If you read a book you didn’t like, why?  What can you do to make sure you don’t repeat that author’s mistake?

5)      Never throw your golf clubs in the lake.  Too expensive. Never quit writing if it’s something you love to do. Never.

Good luck. I mean that, I do.

Do you golf? Did you ever think about trying? Have any other golf/writing tips for us?

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About Cathy

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Cathy Lamb is currently working on her tenth novel. She would rather be slugging coffee and eating chocolate on a sunny beach.

Her latest book is The Language of Sisters.

Email: CathyLamb@frontier.com

Website – http://cathylamb.org/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/AuthorCathyLamb

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/cathy.lamb.9

Pinterest – http://pinterest.com/bookwriter12/

 

June 21st, 2017

5 Things The Family Roadtrip Taught Me About Editing

Many of my fellow writing parents tell me that the summer school break is a menace to their writing schedule. There’s no denying that it’s a challenge that takes juggling and creativity. I’ve already completed the first road trip of the summer, and here are the five benefits I’ve found (so far).

1. The importance of “location, location, location.”

New places and new people add grist to our writing mill. The dysfunctional family at a rest stop..the wise waitress at the roadside cafe..the twitchy person at the front desk of your hotel. They are all new characters, and new things to describe when you are stuck.

On our last trip, there was an older man who had Middle Eastern music blaring out of his pocket at the breakfast buffet. Like all around the buffet. He was a total giver who walked to every corner of the room, so he could share with everybody.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think before coffee. I especially can’t think over drums and violins before coffee. I was bonkers within five minutes of the Music Man sitting next to us. I put my coffee in a to-go cup, went upstairs and got this dude out of my system and onto the page in a hilarious scene. He was so much fun to write, and I never would have run across him in my usual writing cocoon. 

I know most writers are cave dwellers who often don’t leave their homes (or their pajamas) for days on end. *hitches up flannel pants* But a new environment brings a fresh view to your story. When I think a scene is boring, the easiest fix is a change of scenery. Go to a coffee shop, or the library, or the park.

2. It takes a village.

Don’t be the only set of eyes reading your manuscript. Especially if you don’t have a critique group, your summer road trip can be a godsend to your book. Read that baby out loud to your driver. If you’re the driver, make your passenger read it to you. You’ll clearly see what’s missing when you hear your book read out loud.

3. Nothing replaces paper.

I don’t know why this is, but the eyes see new things in print than they do on your screen. Every writer I know recommends a printed copy for final revisions.

I also use paper to be able to write in the car. Sometimes my eyes can see the plot better, and the view out of the window can add to the experience. Additionally, I can read those pages to my Dragon software so that the work makes it to the page for more revision. I freak out a little bit if I can’t see forward progress, and then all the work gets stalled. God bless Dragon!

4. Take a nap.

Susan and Harry Squires did a fantastic post about Talking Back to Your Brain. They explain why it’s important to ask yourself small manageable questions as part of your writing process.

The Squires recommend you not ask yourself large esoteric questions like: “Why am I stuck?” or “Why do I suck, and I can’t finish this chapter and I’ll never finish this book…” (You get the picture.) Instead, formulate a small specific question like: “I need to get my character from the beach to the mountains. Who should they travel with and why?” You get the picture.

Think small and be specific. 

It is completely true that if I’m thinking about an issue with my manuscript and I nod off for a nap, I’ll wake up with – if not an answer – at least a potential solution to my issue.

There’s cool brain stuff involved in this, so be sure to click the link and read that post!

5. An hour is golden.

As long as you don’t get carsick, setting “time chunk” goals is a great way to use your passenger time on a road trip (or the school line, or your lunch break) for writing.

I don’t know about you but, if I’m in a timed sprint I write faster. I don’t know why. But it just seems like the act of setting a limit on it makes my brain stop lollygagging and bring out its “A” game. I talked about this group sprint concept quite a bit in my Holy-Moly-I-Won NaNoWriMo article a few months back.

Most of all, be flexible and creative. If you need the writing time, find ways to get it. We’re writers…we know how to find creative solutions to problems. Or perhaps you’ll give yourself permission to just take a break from writing altogether and enjoy your summer break. You’re allowed to do that if you don’t have a deadline! Really, I promise. You can take a writing break as long you put a specific date on the calendar to get back in the writing saddle.

Bonus Link: Here’s a great article on self-editing: 10 Simple Ways to Edit Your Own Book by Blake Atwood at The Write Life.

What are your most valued tips and tricks when school breaks and vacations smash your writing schedule to smithereens? Do you love the summer break, or hate it? (Enquiring minds want to know!)

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm

June 19th, 2017

The Art and Craft of Developing Characters

Aimie K. Runyan

As an author of historical fiction, my work must—almost by definition—begin with a concept. Am I going to write a gritty saga about the women who flew as combat pilots for Russia in the Second World War (I did and it was great fun)? Am I going to write a sweeping fictionalized biography of Joan of Arc? A dark and twisty Tudor-era mystery? I have to be grounded in that first to know what I’m doing. That’s the easy part in many ways. But as many writers will tell you, a story isn’t just something happening. It’s something happening to someone. Even in the case of a Joan of Arc biography, you have to decide who your Joan is. Bold and fearless or tentative and unsettled? These are all decisions you have to make.

I was recently asked if I could change direction on my work-in-progress. As in, shelve what I was working on and start over on something very, very different. Fine by me, I can come back to the other project when the market is right for it. I’m every bit as excited about the new project, and being flexible is definitely an indispensable trait for anyone in this crazy business. I was set to chat with my new editor the following week to discuss the new idea, so I had work to do. In order to nail the call I’d have to figure out one thing: Who is my protagonist?

I spent half a day driving around trying to get hold of a research book I’d need to get a better sense of the history. You might wonder why I needed the research book to figure that out. My protagonist—an invention of my own brain–had nothing to do with the dates, facts, and figures that I’d find in the book. But as I read about the life and times my unknown protagonist was living in, my brain would automatically try to figure out the type of woman who would be daunted by, and eventually thrive, under the stressors I would put on her. As I read, I began to ask myself what she looked like, what she wore, where she lived. Definitely a place to start. She also insisted that her name be Ruby. Sure thing, girl, you’re the star of the show.

But I had to ask her some deeper questions.

What do your days look like? Who are your friends? Do you have any friends? What is your secret pleasure? What embarrasses you? What annoys you? And even bigger: what do you want out of life? I’m not one to necessarily spend a lot of time writing character sketches, though I almost always take some notes. I prefer to have these ideas in my head and let them come out as I actually draft the story. Sometimes my characters really add another dimension in the second draft and that’s always a fun discovery. I’m a voracious plotter, so this organic development is how I regain the thrill of discovery that I lose by knowing the general direction of the narrative.

So once I have some ideas in my head, I open up my trusty OneNote Workbook that I use for everything (timelines, lists of names, interesting articles, and so on) and make a sheet for the protagonist. I Google for pictures to find someone who looks as I envision my character would, perhaps searching for images of some items in their life that are important as well and paste it all in the page. I might throw together a few paragraphs about my protagonist’s thoughts on life and goals we’ll see unveil in the story. Maybe some bigger goals we won’t see. Then I get to work clickety-clacking on some chapters.

Seems easy, right? Well some characters are easier to crack than others. A prime example of a difficult character is the protagonist from my upcoming novel, Daughters of the Night Sky. My protagonist, Katya, is an officer in the Red Army. She’s driven to learn how to fly from the time she’s a child because life has forced her to grow up before her time. She was focused, determined, and married to her work. She and I didn’t have a lot in common, and she was pretty closed-lipped (as any good officer in the Red Army would have been), so coaxing the character onto the page took some time.

I spent a lot more time doing freewriting exercises when I couldn’t reflect her personality on the page. Writing letters from Katya to important people in her life was one that helped a lot. Even then, my redheaded pilot was a character that really needed a second draft to add the final dimension into her personality. Even tweaks in drafts six and seven brought out some spark in her. It was a challenge, but I think she came into herself at long last. It was definitely worth the struggle, but thank goodness this new girl, Ruby, is a whole lot chattier than Katya ever was.

So, what tips and tricks do you use to breathe life into your protagonist?

Share with the crowd!

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Aimie K. Runyan is a historian and author who writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. She is the author of two previous historical novels: Promised to the Crown and Duty to the Crown. She is active as an educator and a speaker in the writing community and beyond. She lives in Colorado with her wonderful husband and two (usually) adorable children. To learn more about Aimie and her work, please visit www.aimiekrunyan.com.