Being Flexible During Camp NaNo

Two days before Camp NaNoWriMo started, I abandoned my project and switched to another. I’m the planning kind of person, so I was reeling from the drastic change. But despite that, it was definitely for the best. Here’s why it was a good idea.

(Throughout this post I will be referring to both projects, the original project is nicknamed “Home” and the second, current project is nicknamed “Issac Normal”)

The first reason was about being ready.

The project I was going to do is something I really want to write and something I really want to write well. I spent the latter half of the week before Camp NaNo trying to think of the title instead of fleshing out the characters, the plot or refining the conflict.

I was not and am still not ready to tackle Home. The idea for Home is there, but that’s about it. Everything is vague and undetermined and while this is not entirely a bad thing, I’ve found that during NaNoWriMo especially, that is not how I like to work. I’m more familiar with the characters and world of Issac Normal than I was with Home. I would have struggled to find character voices and fit them into an underdeveloped world that I haven’t done enough real life research for yet.

The second reason it was important to switch to Issac Normal was because of duration.

I had been thinking about Home for only a couple weeks. I’m still in the pre-pre-planning stages, not the writing stage. This idea is so new that I struggled to figure out the perspective and form I wanted to use to tell the story.

For Issac Normal, I’ve had this project sitting on the back burner since last year. Not only have I passed the writing stage, I’m in the rewriting and editing stage. Since first writing Issac Normal, I’ve created an animation for it, I’ve rewritten it to be longer and I’ve started a sequel. Suffice to say, I know Issac Normal inside and out because of how much time I’ve spent honing the story and its characters.

The third reason and perhaps the most telling reason for why I needed to change was because of my enthusiasm.

I’m excited to write Home. I really am, but the combination of it being a new and underdeveloped idea means I’m more cautious and unsure of what it will turn out to be.

On the other hand, something quite random and insignificant in my life reminded me of Issac Normal and my brain turned on its head and I’ve been giddy, yes, giddy, with excitement to be working on Issac Normal. My head is swirling with possibilities and inspiration for Issac Normal whereas ideas for Home were sorely underwhelming.

Trying to force myself to work on Home while my heart is set on Issac Normal would have only led to an unsatisfying, unproductive, and draining Camp experience.

Camp NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a fun, productive month of writing, and so while it was difficult to completely change my project, it was important to give myself permission to change paths and follow a new plan. The first couple days of Camp have been great and I’m looking forward to the rest of the month!

How is your Camp experience going so far?

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Last Minute Camp NaNo Prep Checklist

The countdown is on to finish any Camp NaNoWriMo prep.

Here’s my last minute checklist for Camp NaNoWriMo prep!

Create a one sentence summary

This will give your project focus and allow you to take your complex story and get it down in one thought. July is basically just expanding that sentence by 50,000 words. Throughout the month of July, go back to this sentence and see how well your story is staying true to the sentence you created. Sometimes the sentence changes as the novel evolves and changes, but having a sentence will help give you an idea of where you need to go to get your story done.

Create an aesthetic
Depending on your style this could be a number of things. I like the combination of a pinterest board and spotify playlist. Find something that speaks to the style of your story to help you get excited and focussed in on the story you are about to write.

Choose a font
I try to write each of my novels in a different font. Not only is it refreshing to see something other than Times New Roman for a change, but I find choosing a special font for each story sets it apart. For this novel I will be using a font I found called Old Style. It’s a very classic looking serif font that reminds me of old books. Not to mention it fits my aesthetic very well.

Finish the outline
Whether this outline is visual, short, long, detailed or vague, finish it. I find everytime I only outline halfway I run into problems…at the halfway mark. Avoid this problem and that mid month wall, slump, and desperation by finishing the outline so you have a clear and direct understanding of your story and where it is going to go.

Test write some scenes
I’m going to take my characters on paper and put them in some situations similar to the conflict of my novel in order to get my head into their minds and the setting of the story. I find this helps prepare me to write in the particular voice and style of a new project.

Gather the supplies
Whether this is the coffee or tea you love, the snacks you like to munch on, that special pen to write notes with or that comfy spot: whatever it is. Get prepared for the long writing hours with the supplies you need.

Set up rewards
Writing a novel in a month is a milestone event, but so is writing 10,000 words, 25,000 words, or writing every day for a month. Give yourself an incentive to stick to your novel when the going gets tough. It might be a special snack, a night out, or that new mug you’ve been eyeing. Whatever it is, find some tangible incentives for reaching milestones throughout the month.

Get excited!
Whether this is starting to get to know your cabin mates on Camp NaNoWriMo or general excitement of your project, find a way to bring up your excitement levels. NaNoWriMo is so much more fun when you can barely wait for the first day of the month to start so you can start. Remind yourself why you want to write a novel and go into July brimming with purpose and determination.

I’ll be cheering for you!

How is your novel prep going? Is there anything else you like to do for last minute prep?

The Importance of Being Challenged

It’s been nearly six years since I felt as inexperienced as a writer as I do right now.

Over the past weekend I attended an all day writing workshop with local author Andre Harden. He was wonderful at delivering the wisdom and methods he has picked up since he first started writing.

In the first twenty minutes of Andre’s workshop I realized how little I knew and how much I had to glean from him. It had been such a long time since I had felt like a beginner writer that the feeling scared me. During the workshop I went through doubt, fear, and an ever plummeting confidence in my works and abilities as a writer.

I wrestled with all these feelings throughout the day and slowly, as the workshop progressed the fear turned to admiration, and the doubt turned to determination, and I was humbled. I realized there was no way I could possibly know the craft of writing as intimately as Andre who has been working at it for longer than I’ve been alive.

Despite how uncomfortable it sounds, I relished those doubts and fears. Not because I like doubting all the work I’ve done, but because I know that it is through doubt and fear that I push myself to a new understanding.

I come to a place where I can look at my work more objectively and I can say, “this doesn’t work. This doesn’t make sense. What was I even thinking here? Is there a point to this part of the story?” And those prodding, probing questions that seem to tear everything apart are all part of the refining process. I always say I love editing because of the result, not because of the work it takes to get there.

During this workshop, I basically edited everything I know about writing and storytelling. And the results look very promising.

I left the workshop filled to the brim with new ideas, inspirations, and a growing fire to learn and improve. I’ve completely reevaluated how I do villains, how I turn concepts into stories and how to put a novel together. As I’ve started working on what I discovered during the workshop I see that it is one thing to know about writing and another to take that knowledge and put it into action.

It’s so easy to fall into a routine that is comfortable and easy but not as effective or strong. The thing that comes to mind is when I learned to type. I was so good at typing quickly using just my two fingers and learning how to put my hands on the keyboard and then type without looking was long, slow, and painful. Now though, I can type much faster than I ever could with two fingers and using the proper technique will decrease my risk of injury and increase the longevity of my typing life (which is fairly important if I want to be a writer).

So I’m welcoming the challenge of taking my established routine and process and trying something new that could end up helping me craft better stories even if it means struggling through a couple of novels trying to get the techniques I’ve learned to a level of proficiency.

I know it is going to be hard. It’s already been hard in the few days since the workshop. I know it is going to take everything in me not to give up and go back to my old, comfortable ways.

But I’m so thankful. Andre put words to ideas and story structures that I knew existed but had no idea had names. He took things I had vague ideas about and made them into concrete terms and concepts. He took my love of crafting stories and taught me how to identify what it is about the stories that I love and how to recreate that in my writing.

Essentially, I was given an enlightened understanding of storytelling of which I had only been unconsciously aware.

Basically, I want to encourage you to embrace challenges, find someone more experienced than you and learn from them, and never shy away from the possibility of bettering your craft.
Have you ever been challenged in your writing? What’s the most important thing you learned from the experience?

Finding Your Muse Through Music

finding your muse through music

It’s no secret that I get stuck in my writing sometimes. In fact I wrote about how I was stuck just a few weeks ago. Since getting out of that slump, I’ve returned to some of my older writing and in my reflections uncovered a few techniques I had long abandoned. One of these has been the helpfulness of cinematic music.

For me this typically means music from this youtube channel. I have compilations of soundtracks on my phone for 8 hours of uninterrupted soundtrack music. I have found this technique works a lot better for fantasy writing, but I have found some uses for it in more ‘realistic’ fiction.

I find listening to these soundtracks when I’m having a hard time writing incredibly helpful. It doesn’t always unstuck me for my current project, but it gives me the push and inspiration I need to write something—anything.

How do I do this exactly?

I start with a song. Preferably one of which I don’t know the name or source. It’s a lot easier to come up with ideas when there aren’t associations already attached to the music.

Then I listen. And I let the music form images in my head. I loosen my grip on my emotions and allow myself to feel what the composer was trying to get me to feel.

Sometimes I can just picture the scene laid out in front of me, and I can see it through a cinematic lens. I picture the camera moving, panning, racing over the landscape I see in my head. When the music crescendos, something has changed about the music and therefore about the scene in my head. It could be a castle that suddenly comes into view, or a cliff that drops off into a hidden oasis. Whatever I see, that’s what I write about.

Sometimes I don’t see a landscape, but rather I’m put into a characters shoes and view an event through their eyes. These kinds of scenes are typically highly emotional and help me to slow down and see what it is exactly about each moment in that scene that causes the emotional response I’m looking for.

There are three simple steps to finding your muse through music.

Step 1: Get rid of all distractions. Find somewhere where one is, close the door, turn off the lights, whatever it is, get alone and undistracted.

Step 2: Listen. Let the music take the wheel and allow whatever comes to mind come to mind. Let the music guide what you see, hear, and feel.

Step 3: Write it down. This can take any form you wish. It might be a scene, it might be a poem, it might be a description. Whatever it is, translate what you just heard into words.

Bonus Step 4: Ride that creative muse back into your project and keep going. Repeat Steps 1-3 when needed.

I find that this moment of letting go and combining so many of my senses is the creative push I need to continue writing. I’m essentially using words to describe what I hear in image form. I don’t know about you, but I think that is pretty cool.

Tried this technique? Let me know how it went for you in the comments!

Tomorrow I will be releasing a tour of one of my favourite cinematic songs that helped me write my first book! Stay tuned!

How I’ve Grown as a Writer Since My First Novel

Roughly six years ago, I took the first big step into becoming the writer I am today. I started writing my first novel. Today, I’m reflecting on my process as a new writer and how its been shaped since that first novel.

I loved the first book I ever wrote. In fact, it is my favourite project I’ve ever worked on. Little 13 year old me starting writing a story I’d had in my brain for quite some time. I didn’t know where I was going with the story and so wrote as I went, adding twists, turns and plot points whenever I felt the story begin to become boring.

After 8 months, I had a 71,000 word manuscript. A novel for sure, but a horribly crafted, plot-hole ridden story paved with adverbs and a complete disregard for comma rules. But I had done it. I had written a book. But not only that, I loved doing it! I loved my story, my characters, and the patchwork of the plot I had laid down.

I spent the next year editing the story and went through roughly six drafts before I felt happy with the result.

I researched publishing houses and was disheartened, but not deterred to learn that I couldn’t send my book to some of the publishers of my favourite books. I quickly found the vast culture of publishing and all the different possibilities. Did I go traditionally, or self-publish? Did I try for an agent, or take my chances with smaller presses? Did I want a paper copy or ebook?

I didn’t know the answer to these questions when I submitted my book to a publisher in late 2013. Nothing came of that publisher, but I am super thankful for that. Since then, I’ve scrapped the ‘final draft’ of the manuscript and rewritten it completely to fix the underlying plot issues that had been there since the initial draft that I hadn’t realized probably shouldn’t’ be there.

In the time since I wrote a novel without knowing anything about writing a novel, I’ve made strides to become a better writer. I joined my local library’s youth writer’s circle, I attended a youth-focused writing camp, I joined various online communities that were put in place for writers to meet and grow with one another. And of course I started reading more widely both fiction and nonfiction.

I figured out who I was as a writer, what kind of voice I had in certain contexts, and what kind of writing I liked best. As I progressed, writing became less about publishing and more about what my limits were as a writer and how I could push and expand those borders. Of course publishing was still the ultimate goal, but I started to simply enjoy the process of crafting stories that I stopped worrying about what my answers to those publishing questions were and are today.

I branched out from my genre and style to try new types of stories and forms. I found some I liked and others not as much. Perhaps the climax of trying different types of writing happened during the only creative writing class I’ve been able to take. During that class I wrote poetry, myths, and a script.

I fell in love with trying new forms and styles and during that process I developed a more nuanced voice, capable of showcasing different types of writing.

Today I have a process for my writing. I know how much I need to research, how much I need to plan and how much I need to write in order to take the story from my brain and put it on paper.

Six years ago I knew hardly anything about writing or stories, but I found joy in bringing my stories to life with written word.

Today, having a process grown and shaped over the years of writing and experimenting with forms, styles and genres has transformed the simple joy I discovered while writing my first novel into an appreciation for words, grammar, and telling stories.

What do you remember from your new writer days?