Being a Writer on a Break

To be completely honest, my life is a mess these days.

Now don’t worry. It’s a good mess. I’m finishing up the last couple weeks of my first year at college and I have not gotten as much done as I had wanted to be done by now. I’m behind on papers for my classes. I’ve let the March Micro Fiction Challenge slip from my routine. My blog posts have been going up late this month. And we are less than a week from Camp NaNoWriMo. (Ahh!!)

I’m juggling an insane amount of things in my life and I’ve just come to the comical realization that I can’t juggle.

Yes Chiante. Thanks for sharing your very average college student woes. How does this relate to writing?

Yes, yes. I’m getting there. There are a few ways I could tackle this, but today I’m going to say this to all the people who have watched life’s responsibilities consume the time they usually set aside for writing and are despairing (like I was earlier this week).

You don’t stop being a writer even when you take a break from writing.

Let me say that again.

You. Are still a writer. Whether or not you are currently writing.

Too often I have heard writers tell me that they are putting writing on the back burner until they can get life under control—which is completely reasonable. Priorities shift during different seasons and different points of life. But what isn’t reasonable is assuming that prioritising other things makes you any less of a writer.

Realistically a person can’t write all the time. There are all kinds of responsibilities that need attention: Family, work, bills, school, food, sleep, self-care. Realistically a person shouldn’t try to write all the time especially at the sake of some of these things.

I personally experienced this imbalance last November when I wrote a novel which I hated and later regretted partially because of how much I abandoned the things I truly care about like my family, my school work and most importantly, my relationship with God. Hitting that 50,000 word count became an idol in my life that was more important than anything else.

Trust me. It is not worth sacrificing the things that truly truly matter for getting in that hour or two of writing everyday.

Besides this imbalance of priorities, there is something truly wonderful about the times when a writer isn’t writing. Those are the times for living and learning about the world in order to rejuvenate the creative soul. Breaks from writing are times for rest and for a renewal of perspectives.

I’m an advocate for writing about what you know *with a modifier that I’ll have to delve into some other time. And if a person only spends their time writing, they are cutting short the life they could be experiencing (and later writing about).

It’s okay to take a break from writing. Whether consciously to rejuvenate the creative soul, or unconsciously when other responsibilities become priorities, but what’s important is to remember the intrinsic importance of the time spent not writing.

Not only will the distance from that writing make the heart grow fonder upon its return, but there is nothing quite like returning to a project with a clear focus and purpose.

That’s the posture with which I’ve been facing this month of craziness when life takes the front seat and writing gets moved to the backburner. Sure there is no time to spend fine-tunning my novel plans for Camp NaNo, sure I have miserably failed in the Micro Fiction Challenge, sure my blog has been neglected this month, and sure I’d much rather write about my characters than about the issues of nonverbal communication in artificial intelligence…

But.

I’m still a writer. I’m just a writer on a break. And that’s what matters.

 

Have you ever been a writer on a break? What was it like coming back to writing after being away from it for a while?

Advertisements

5 Tips for Better Elevator Pitches

All writer’s reach a point when they get asked the dreaded question: “What’s your novel about?”

But why does this enquiry need to be so dreaded? Coming up with an elevator pitch not only eliminates the problem of the question, but having a sentence to pull out like a business card for your novel is extremely freeing and uplifting.

A one sentence summary is super helpful in allowing you as the writer to identify the most important part of your novel by condensing what may be a 50,000+ word manuscript into a single sentence. Of course the art of crafting such a sentence is more like the complicated science I didn’t take in high school. I’m no expert at elevator pitches, but here are a five helpful hints to think about while crafting that perfect one sentence story summary.

1. Your elevator pitch should include the main character, conflict, and make the reader ask why.

Who is in your story? What is the most important part of their identity? What makes them different from the other characters in your novel? What/who are they up against? What makes this antagonist someone to worry about? Why is that interesting or different enough for a reader to pick up your book? Why should the readers care about the story taking place? What intrigue or mystery is there that the reader wants to understand? These are really valuable questions to ask and muse over while trying to come up with a concise and catchy sentence.

2. Keep your audience in mind.

Each novel is meant for a different set of people. You have to keep those readers in mind when you are writing your elevator pitch. Something written for children will approach the elevator pitch quite differently than an international spy thriller or high fantasy novel. Remember your reader!

3. Your elevator pitch shouldn’t try to explain all the complicated character relationships and subplots.

Stick to the main conflict. That subplot is there for a reason, but it’s also called a sub-plot for a reason. It has to have less emphasis than the main plot and in your one sentence, you don’t have room to add anything other than the essentials.

4. Be specific.

Don’t tell me a ‘woman/girl’ is doing something. There are women and girls doing things in every novel. This is going back to my first point. What part of your character’s identity is the most important part to the conflict? Is it the fact that she’s a woman, a warrior, a queen? One sentence is not a lot to work with. Don’t waste your limited words with unspecific and general ideas that could be said more specifically to your novel.

5. Don’t stop at your one sentence summary.

You will want to have some kind of follow-up after giving your sentence. This could be as simple as knowing its genre and audience, “It’s a YA Fantasy novel.” Or having comp titles to help give the reader more information about the type of book it is.

Side note. Comp books—Comparison books are books that have a similar subject matter or feeling to your novel. Typically this is described in an equation like x meets y.

Here are just a few things to keep in mind while writing an elevator pitch.

This practice is part of my March NaNo prep process. If you are interested in doing some Camp NaNoWriMo prep work, check out my other post on getting ready for the month here.

A Tour of my Storyboard for Camp NaNo 2018

March Prep month continues!

If you haven’t read my checklist for March NaNo Prep, you can here.

Today, we are going to be talking about storyboarding. This is a broad topic, and I find myself continually trying new ways to storyboard my novels, so it won’t be, by any standard, an exhaustive look.

In the spirit of March prep, I will be sharing snippets of the storyboard I have been working on for Camp NaNoWriMo.

I’m a visual learner, so my storyboard works best when there’s bright colours and nicely organized boxes. The purpose of my storyboard is to be a visual reminder of my story, its characters, and its key themes during the writing process. For me the storyboard is the finalized plan for my novel.

I do all my novel planning as scribbles on scrap papers and in notebooks. But the storyboard is my finalized project for my novel planning process.

What kinds of things can go on a storyboard? Well, anything really, but there are a few categories to which I typically go.

 

Characters

I like to have a spot where I can list the main or important characters and a short description of who they are and what they look like. This way I have a reference list in case I forget a name or specific character description.
Goal

I have box on my current storyboard that tells me what my goal is and what has to happen each day to make that happen.

goal storyboard

Plot and Triangle

A majority of my storyboard will be dedicating to outlining the plot of the story in bullet form so I can reference the board and see what needs to happen to reach the next big plot point. The triangle part of the storyboard will be the story’s plot in really broad strokes as an overview.

storyboard

Elevator pitch

I like to create an elevator pitch for each book that I write. Partially so that I know what the story is in one sentence and partly because people ask about what I’m writing and I’ve got to have that sentence or risk going off on a 45 minute description.

Title Ideas

Sometimes I know what I want to call a novel right from the beginning, but in this case, I have no idea. I’ve been calling the idea the Black Sun for as long as I can remember, but as far as titles go, I have nothing. This box is a place for me to try out some titles and gather inspiration while I’m writing.

Places

In most of the stuff I write, everything is made up, so I create a list of all the places the characters go so I know where everything is and how far away it is from the places around it. In this novel there are lots of place names because of how the characters island hop from place to place. I need a list of the placed the characters visited and what they did there so I can keep everything consistent.

Themes/Motifs/Symbols

This is a new category that I am trying for this novel. I normally write, find the themes I wrote, and then in the editing process go through and strengthen or emphasize those themes. For this project, I have list of themes/motifs/symbols that I want to incorporate into the story. Having a list of those ideas and why I want them in the novel will hopefully remind me to intergrate themes into my stories a little earlier.

Series

This is also a new category. I often think of my stories in terms of being part of larger story arcs, but I don’t note that kind of thing until the first book is done. I’m hoping that having a visual representation of the ideas, characters and conflicts that I want to carry over to the next books will help keep my book ready to be written as part of a series.

Notes

I don’t think of everything. And after I have everything laid out, I’m bound to realize a key element I’ve forgotten to include. So this is an empty box that I will use in case there is any outlying information that I want to add to my storyboard, but has no designated place.

And that is a tour of my storyboard for this coming up Camp NaNoWriMo. If you are wanting to join me in April in a cabin, leave me a message and we’ll chat!

Do you do any storyboarding for your writing? What kinds of things do you include?

The Camp NaNoWriMo Prep Checklist

camp nano prep checklist

It’s March! And besides having the Micro Fiction Challenge underway, Another event is looming on the horizon. (It’s just my favourite time of the year!)

We are less than a month from Camp NaNoWriMo!

For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, an annually hosted event designed to challenge writers everywhere to write 50,000 words in a month. Normally, this takes place in November, but Camp NaNoWriMo, to borrow their slogan, is an “idyllic writer’s retreat, smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life.”

Unlike a normal NaNoWriMo, a Camp session allows you to set your own goals. Instead of reaching 50,000 words in 30 days, you could write 100 pages, do 4000 minutes, or as I am doing this session, 60 hours. Whatever the goal, however big or small, March is the time to get ready to write a novel!

Here is my March NaNo Prep Checklist:

1. You need a project.

Not only do you need a project, you need to get it ready to be written into a beautiful first draft. You need an idea. Likely, if you’re a writer, you have a million. If that’s the case, you need to narrow it down to one. (Impossible you say. I say, very nearly impossible, yes). I recommend trying out a couple ideas on for size. Write some scenes with your main characters to get a feel for them and their story. To be clear, this isn’t part of your novel, it’s just to figure out which characters and ideas you are going to commit to for the month.

2. You need to flesh out your project.

Once you’ve got an idea, you need to flesh it out. This is the wonderfully gritty part of writing. It means building your world or setting, interviewing your characters to find their personality and flaws, and fleshing out your plot to the extent that your pantser/planster/plotter writing brain wants to go.

To do this I do one of those triangles you learned about in school and put the big picture idea of my story along the lines, using those helpful words like inciting incident, climax, denouement, etc. This sounds tedious, but like any outline it will help you see where you want each major event to fall during the story and how much weight the event will need to carry.  For some, this is enough of an outline. I personally like to have more. So then I go to my favourite piece of stationary, index cards (preferably colour-coded, but not necessary).

On index cards I break my story up into scenes. Having a novel idea laid out in this way helps to tighten up the story, allows you to keep track of lose ends and subplots, and gives you an opportunity to reorder the story by moving the scenes around until they work best for your story.

Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what will be in each scene. Having a rough idea is better than floundering and having no idea what to write, what comes next, or how to get your characters out of that seemingly impossible situation.

Disclaimer: For my pansters. Don’t worry about this step. Be free like a wild gazelle!

3. Make a plan to face the month.

In my experience, the more detailed this is, the better. Take the time to figure out how much time you are going to need each day to stay on track. And if you’re anything like me, schedule extra time for those super busy days where no writing gets done. I try to have one day near the end of the month where I can just write with no distractions.

Then you need to figure out when you can fit this time in. For me, I’m doing two hours each day, but it is unlikely I will have a two hour time slot just for writing. That means I have to schedule at least two times in my day where I can write for an hour without distraction. My strategy is one hour before the day starts and an hour in the evening.

During March, I will try this method by doing my plotting and outline in two one hour chunks to get a feel for it and see whether or not that particular schedule will work.

4. Gather your supplies.

I always make sure to stock my fridge with snacks and refill my coffee reserves. But I also make sure I have a cozy nook to write in. This may be a chair near a window, or a tidy desk with few distractions. A hoodie or a blanket, a favourite pair of slippers, whatever comfort you need to go into writing hibernation mode during April.

During March I also work on building a playlist so that I have an ample supply of noveling music.

5. Hype yourself up.

Spend the month of March getting excited for NaNo. Nothing is worse than entering NaNoWriMo halfheartedly. This month has no time for doubts or half-baked efforts. NaNo is hard. And being excited for the challenge will make the month much fun and exciting. Love your story and your characters and make sure you are entering April on a good note.
These Five items are on my must-do list for NaNo prep this month. Are you participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this April? What kinds of prep are you doing to get ready?

Find me on Camp NaNoWriMo as ChianteG. I will be creating a cabin a little later in March. If you are interested in participating in NaNo and want to join a group of like-minded writers, leave me a comment and we can cabin together (space is limited and fills up fast!) Happy NaNo prepping!