Writing is inherently lonely. No matter how many writing classes or groups you belong to, when it comes time to write, it’s just you and a blank page. And a more daunting opponent, you will never meet.
And so things like NaNoWriMo exist. Because we need encouragement, we need a push, we need a deadline and frankly we need to know that other people round the globe are suffering just as much as we are.
If you didn’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it is an annual program where writers everywhere attempt to complete a novel between November 1 and November 30.
Now, whether or not you actually intend to win NaNoWriMo and get to the 50,000 word finish line, November or Nano Month is an incredible time to lose yourself in literary abandon because there are many posts and other resources geared towards helping you write as well as you can as fast as you can. Also, there’s something about knowing that several hundred other writers are doing the same. Misery loves company.
With October almost up and November fast approaching, I’m sure you’re already preparing and gathering the tools you’ll need for the 30 days haul. Here are some words to inspire and hopefully help you in the planning, drafting and even the revising of your NaNoWriMo Story.Having trouble completing your novel? Then you need to read this!Click To Tweet
Let’s start at the beginning. Think back to that moment when you first wanted to be a writer. You didn’t know what you were getting into. You probably thought a writing life would be easy and glamorous. Then you actually attempted to write and realized for the first time that writing would be the hardest thing you would ever to do.
As Thomas Mann said,
Eventually, you realized that being a writer truly means that you are able to steel yourself against the pain- of rejection, of unattained perfection, of self judgement- and the fear- of failure, mediocrity, and anonymity. It means that you write because
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”
Maya Angelou, I know why the caged birds sing
It means that you understand that writers have great purpose.
“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself”
Albert Camus, L’Etranger
And great power.
“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly- they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.
Ideas. The beginning of every story. The little pencil mark from which great characters, plots and worlds are drawn. This close to Nano Month, you’re probably already tinkering with an idea or two but just in case the net’s empty and you have no clue how to begin, here’s some advice.
1. There’s no pressure to come up with the greatest idea possible because in the end…
“It doesn’t matter how many book ideas you have if you can’t finish writing your book”
Joe Bunting, Hands
“Ideas are cheap…It’s the execution that is all important”
George R.R Martin, A song of Fire and Ice
2. Understand this…
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club”
Jack London, The Call of The Wind
So if you think the perfect idea is going to just settle in the back of your mind, think again.
3. Write the story of your heart.
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children”
Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet)
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Toni Morrison, Beloved
“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention and my initial concern is to get a hearing”
George Orwell, Nineteen-Eighty-Four
“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bone
Write about what people need to hear. Write about what makes you mad or happy or anxious. Write about what interests you or what confuses you.
For more on getting ideas, check out this post.
Characters are the people that populate our story world. The ones that haunt us and taunt us into telling their stories. The ones without whom our stories would not exist.
“Let’s face it. Characters are the bedrock of your fiction. Plot is just a series of actions that happen in a sequence and without someone to either perpetrate or suffer the consequences of those actions, you have no one for your reader to root for or wish bad things on”
Icy Sedgwick, The Necromancer’s Roue
1. Pay attention to these people.
“When writing a novel, a writer should create living people. People, not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Old man and the Sea
2. Your characters must be round, three-dimensional. As complex as you and I, with competing wants and contradicting desires.
“If, you want to write a character from the ground up, a character who is as real any person living, yet wholly your creation, then there are three aspects you need to know in depth: the physical, sociological and psychological”
Quote from The Three Dimensions of Character
3. They must have goals which drive them throughout the story and flaws which prevent them from achieving their goals.
“A good place to start is by figuring out what your character wants”
Charlotte Rains Dixon, Emma Jean’s bad behaviour
4. And don’t forget small details. The way her nose twitches when she lies. The way he rubs his neck when he’s nervous. The sway of her hips. The tick in his Jaw. These are important.
“Don’t just use visual details, but also include kinesthetic details, or how the character moves. Graceful, limping, stutter-step, lumbers, waddles, stomps”
Darcy Pattison, 30 days to a stronger Novel
“Personality plays a large role in how a character sounds. Their voice will reflect that personality and color every line of dialog and internal thought”
Janice Hardy, The Shifter
For more on crafting characters, check out this post.
“A plot is just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.”
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
There is so much to say about plot. One running conversation is about if to even bother with it.
There is this
“Know the story- as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story- before you commit yourself to the first paragraph…If you don’t know the story before you begin the story, what kind of story teller are you?”
John Irving, The World according to Gap
And then there’s this
“I distrust plot for two reasons. First, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all of our reasonable precautions and the careful planning, and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible”
Stephen King, IT
I say to try both ways and see what works for you. Personally, I do a bit of both. I find that strict detailed plotting stifles my creativity and completely pantsing it out makes me crazy.
Both eventually make me dump the story.
I envy those writers that can write without a clue. I just can’t. For me, it’s important to know, at least, the general direction in which my story is headed.
So I begin with an outline. Always.
If you are a sworn Pantser then feel free to skip on to the next section but for my fellow Outliners, here’s some advice.
1. Plot is not separate from Character. They must be intertwined, so much so that a change in character requires a change in plot.
“Character is plot. Plot is character”
Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
“The reader is not primarily interested in plot. He is interested in the character it happens to. No incident has any place in the story unless it has an emotional impact on the character- and on the reader”
Jean Lee Latham, Carry On, Mr Bowditch
2. Every scene has to fulfill the purpose of driving the story forward in some way. Either it’s progressing the dive towards the climax or revealing a crucial facet of your main character. If there’s a scene that’s not doing any of these, it does not belong in your plot.
“Real suspense comes with moral dilemma and the courage to make and act upon choices. False suspense comes from the accidental and meaningless occurrence of one damned thing after another”
John Gardner, Grendel
3. Be sure you are raising the stakes- making it more and more important that your character achieves his or her goal while at the same time, making it more difficult.
“The whole magic of a plot requires that somebody be impeded from getting something over with”
Renata Adler, Speedboat
“When all else fails, complicate matters”
Aaron Allston, Star Wars
4. All roads lead to a dead end. More commonly known as ‘Rock Bottom’. There has to be something big and scary lurking along the character’s path. Something that will shake your character to the core and completely alter his perception of life.
“What monster sleeps in the deep of your story? You need a monster. Without a monster, there is no story.”
Billy Marshall StoneKing, Stringer
5. Don’t forget subplots.
“We must remember that there’s more than one story and plot in every novel. There are at least as many stories as there are main characters, and each of these stories has to have multiple plots to keep it going- blood and bone, nerve and tissue, forgotten longing and unknown events”
Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress
6. Use elements of plot to foreshadow later events.
“If there’s a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last”
Anton Chekhov, The Steppe
“Every Surprise must have its sublimated genesis”
Cynthia Ozick, The Shawl
The easiest and hardest part of the writing process. It is the true point of discovery. A great misconception people have is that plot steals away creativity and limits discovery. I don’t buy that. If you can’t plot without it stifling your creative flow then plotting is just not for you. That’s all. It doesn’t mean plot generally steals away creativity. That’s why every writer’s process is unique to them.
Drafting is when you really get to know what your story is about, regardless of what you have penned down in your plot or outline.
But before that, you have to face every writer’s worst nightmare, the blank page
“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job. It’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often, the blank piece of paper wins.”
Neil Gaiman, Stardust
I know. Not much of a pep talk. But that’s just the way it is. We have this vibrant, amazing world inside us and sometimes it gets lost in translation.
“I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to produce precisely the sound he hears within”
Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
But you can’t let that stop you. Understand that,
“The first draft of anything is shit”
Ernest Hemingway, The Old man and The Sea
And don’t let the fear of judgement stilt your writing.
“I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something, you can be judged”
Erica Jong, Fear of Flying
A writer is nothing, if not brave.
“Everything in life is writable if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt”
Sylvia Plath, The Collusus and Other Poems
Write freely. Write straight from your heart.
“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good”
William Faulkner, The Sound and The Fury
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
“The scariest moment is always just before you begin”
Stephen King, IT
You’ve heard it. You’re not alone. All writers experience the same fears but you are a writer only if you write, only if you are able to beat the fear and just begin. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write something.
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know”
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and The Sea
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on”
Louis L’Amour, Hondo
And finally, take it from Barbara Kingsolver,
“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer”
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
Now that you’ve gotten through the hard part, here is where the real magic happens. Here is where you watch the horse-crap you vomited out, slowly, with each new revision, turn into an actual readable book.
“A good book isn’t written, it’s rewritten.”
Phyllis A. Whitney, The Mystery of The Haunted Pool
But for this incredible transformation to occur, you’re going to have to be brutal. You will have to…
Or in other words,
“Cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children but it must be done.”
Stephen King, IT
Other things to look out for
1. Cut away the extra words. If you don’t need them, don’t keep them.
“A successful book is not made of what is in it but what is left out”
Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
2. The age old rule. Show don’t tell.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass”
Anton Chekhov, The Steppe
3. Don’t forget to remove pesky adverbs
“The road to hell is paved by adverbs”
Stephen King, IT
4. Rephrase until you’re sentences are just right
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is… the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning”
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
5. Rephrase until each sentence serves the purpose for which it is present in the story. Rewrite a sad scene until it brings even you to tears. Rewrite a funny scene until it cracks you up.
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader”
Robert Frost, Birches
6. Punctuation matters
“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: DO not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college”
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-five
“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage
At the end, write the way you know how. If you haven’t noticed yet, every writer has an opinion about everything. Because every writer has their own way. Find yours and stick to it. Follow your gut. As long as you finish the novel, what does it matter how it happens?
Finally, one of my favorite writing quote. For me, it sums up exactly what I find so fascinating about writing.
“A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat flexible parts, imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time- proof that humans can work magic.”
Carl Sagan, Cosmos
So did you enjoy the post? Was it helpful? Which was your favorite quote out of the ones I mentioned? What is your favorite writing quote ever?
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