No Plot? No Problem! Revised, Part One

One of the most important books in my writing life was No Plot? No Problem! and I credit that book and the online NaNoWriMo community with giving me the small step goals that got me here. If I can write 50,000 words in a month, can I write a full story? If I can do that, can I write a longer full story? What happens if I plan out the book beforehand? Incredibly important questions. And incredibly important skills.

Which means this review series will be a little biased because I love the idea, the process, and the community. But, a bias declared is a bias acknowledged, so keep it in mind.

This book is designed to get you through a month long writing project, a guidebook for the NaNoWriMo process. You can start whenever you want, and you can do it all without getting online. Unless, like me, you have the digital copy. Not the point.

As usual, the first section not only gives some background on the crazy endeavour that is writing a book in a month. It also busts some pretty necessary myths that really can hamstring your attempts. Don’t worry about it being perfect, make time to write but actually write, write if you don’t know what’s happening, write if you do. Basically, write first and worry about editing later. Which is largely how you get through NaNo, in a blaze of writing glory much like a firework set off at an odd angle…

Thankfully, the first section contains tips, tricks for getting yourself set up. This includes people wrangling, contingency planning, novelling headquarters options, tools lists, and suggestions on some ways you can make more time available to you for your epic writing month. All very handy things, and some of them do creep into your habits if, like me, you end up doing a lot more than one month novel push a year.

It also gives you information on how to work out what level of pre-production you need. As the title suggests, you can have as little as you want. The important thing is not to overdo the pre-production.

One of the best pieces of advice here are the two Magna Cartas. The list of things you like, and the list of things you hate. This means when things from the second list creep in, you can kick them out much earlier because you know what they look like.

There are also some good questions to ask yourself about character, and good guidance on starting out your plot.

And because I am going to use this Camp NaNoWriMo to read the book as it was intended, I’m stopping here. No writing on the story itself until Day One. No reading ahead.

So far, the book has lived up to its purpose. It makes the idea of writing a novel in a month fun and not scary, it gives good guidance on how to set yourself up for success without sacrificing things unnecessarily, and has good titbits from Wrimos in there too. So far, it’s made me more confident rather than less.

It currently has a place on my writing craft shelf.

One of the things recommended for the month is to find a writing totem. Here’s mine for month!

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Catch Up Post, Again.

It should come as no surprise that I ended up overwhelmed and forgot to blog. Again.

It should also come as no surprise that I intend to do something about it. Again.

What this means is the blog is getting an overhaul. Again. Are we sensing a theme?

The first part of this transition to a hopefully more productive, helpful blog will be a running review  of the revised ‘No Plot? No Problem!’ by Chris Baty. I’ll also try to keep my progress updated during Camp NaNoWriMo, and this session’s Abernath the griffin book. If I’m lucky, it will actually be the first book in series this time. There is always hope it will work as planned…

Which brings me to the part where I’m hoping for some input from anyone popping in.

There are a few themes of blog posts I could start with as the beginning of a more consistent schedule. I’d love to know what interests you most.

Would you like to see reviews of texts, fiction and nonfiction, books and other media?

Would you like to know the tips and tricks I’m learning and implementing? What’s worked for me and what hasn’t?

Would you like to know how I’m going about retraining my brain to do creative writing when pain and medication interfere?

Let me know in the comments what you’d like to see first.

Thank you for sticking with me, hopefully this time the processes I’m changing will work long term.

 

The Bunny and the Cat

Plot Bunny and Fluffy Cat are ready!

Looking Back on 2016

This has been a weird and wacky shaped year indeed. So, since I was terrible at keeping things up to date, here is a quick overview of the things I did. Which I may, or may not, be able to put posts up about next year should I get through the brain fog.

Part of the reason for the lack of posts has been exhaustion, some of it’s been a change in medication and the resulting brain mush, and part of it has been that I wasn’t sure what to even say anymore.

I honestly believed I had done nothing and therefore there was nothing to tell. Yeah, I was wrong about that.

This year, I have moved house, got a cat, and a dog, had to say goodbye unexpectedly to Duchess bunny, learned a little about gardening, and done a lot of reading and listening to craft discussions. That’s not even counting the writing I’ve been doing.

So, in no particular order, here are the things I’ve managed to do this year.

I have worked on a modern fantasy novel I actually plotted, with the working title The Black Dog. I only got about 27k into it in Camp NaNoWriMo, but I had run into a plot problem and had no idea how to fix it. Then I found Save The Cat by Blake Snyder, and I found out I had been putting the points in place for a different kind of conflict than the ones I’d thought. What a neat thing that was!

For NaNoWriMo, I took the Beat Sheet from Blake Snyder and whacked it over my ridiculously fun fantasy world for Abernath and the Mermaids’ Tears, which I managed to finish. I hit word count, and I wrote The End. All while managing to be largely accurate to the plot points and having enough room to move. When you have a young griffin as your point of view character, a little room to fly is always handy.

I also managed to get two spontaneous story ideas, which is a big thing since I had been going through the process mechanically for the last few years due to brain medication. It was glorious! One was a cute little story of a young Abernath rescuing a wet kitten, and the other was a story from the same world but that will be a bigger piece. Princess Astrid has a war to stop, and that’s no short thing.

Of course, that mechanical, skill based process means I have been reading craft books on everything from the actual words to the writerly mindset. Those notes I will put up in posts, because they are going to be handy to go back to.

There are some good podcasts I’ve found as well. There are writing craft ones, self publishing ones, author mindset ones, and ones I’m not entirely sure about. Those I will also post about somewhere, because I had recommendations that led me to the good ones.

I’ve started the terrifying task of editing my vomit copies, and it’s messy! Especially the things I wrote well before I had managed to work out the delicate balance between plotting and discovery writing. I’m still working on that, but I have a better handle on it than I did.

So, all told, I did a lot in 2016.

Who knew?

Here’s hoping 2017 is as productive, and that I actually remember to post things.

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Bridget, showing me that it’s not just writing I’ve done a lot with.

The End, or the Big Anticlimactic Thud

Congratulations! You just wrote those magical words we strive for.

You just wrote ‘The End’.

There should be trumpts sounding, showers of petals or confetti, and glowing accolades from your friends and family. But it’s not quite like that, is it?

If you’re anything like me, those little words are both the best and worst in your writing life.

Best, because you did it! You pushed through the whole messy story and tacked it to the page with your very own words. It’s not going anywhere until you decide to look at them again, or the technology sprites run off with your seventeen back ups all at once.

Worst, because it’s done. It’s finished. You got the whole thing out and down, scrabbling oddness that it is, but now the space it occupied in your life is empty. Poof. No more trying to sneak words in around your busy day. No desperately bargaining with characters to play nice, please. No more offerings of tea and biscuits to tempt the muse to you. My muse loves sweet biscuits, yours may like something else but the principle applies.

And when you do get into the spot to sneak in those words, you don’t just have to battle the latest hurdle your work is giving you. It’s the actual blank page. Or the list of all your other projects waiting to be picked. You have to make a decision about what to write next.
What is next?

And there is a heap of advice out there, all conflicting, and it all comes down to ‘do what your process is’. I have lost count of my frustrated mutterings into my tea cup about how to find this magical ‘your process’. It’s got to be some sort epic quest I haven’t got the starter for.

So now that The End is written, it’s done, there is one thing I have learned that has actually helped me. Listen to your reaction, and go with it. If you only want to write the one, well done you! But if you want to write more, here’s what I’ve found so far.

If there is a massive sense of victory, of being able to conquer anything, pick the next thing to do. Don’t necessarily start, but choose something. That way, when habit has the keyboard in front of you, there is an easy answer to what you’re supposed to do.

If it’s time to curl up in a blanket fort and sleep for a week, do that. But put the other projects out so you can see them. That way, when you emerge from well deserved hibernation, there is something to gnaw over and get ready for when it is time to write again.

Make writing easy, and hopefully The End is just another part of writing. One that should be celebrated, because finishing a piece is always awesome, but one that can play out however it does without throwing your writing life into turmoil.

Dusty and our new kitty, Abbey, relaxing together. This is totally what I am doing to prepare for the next writing push. 

How to Kill Your Momentum, option one

I want to be really honest from the get go here. I adore NaNoWriMo, because of the community and because it means I get a free pass to tell people how many words I’ve written lately. 
So, when I knew I was going to have a wickedly tricky end of Week Two/Start of Week Three, I had a plan. I did all the words I could think of before the horsemanship clinic on the weekend so I could hang out with my partner on the Friday night, be an excited exhausted wreck on Saturday night, and collapse in a happy, horsey heap on the Sunday night.

Which left me Monday to start writing again, thank you very much. And I can do almost 2k words on the train on the commute so I should be doing it easy.

Unfortunately, I did exactly what I was trying to do.

I wrote everything I had planned and got to the Midpoint Battle, complete with battle! Which will need a reworking because there are actual ship battles, and I am terrible at fight scenes and scared of the ocean. Yeah. Write what you’re scared of people!

When I got to Monday, I had nothing to write. 

I stared at Captain Drake and Abernath the griffin and waited for them to do something. They stared back, and waited for me to tell them what the merfolk were doing. And the merfolk patiently waited for me to tell them how much they knew and how pissed they were at the human interference at a small scared grove.

Not to self: Do not write all you know. Save something to go to for next session. Whenever that maybe. Do it however works for you, but stopping at a good moment to stop may mean your momentum is harder to pick up again next session. Whenever that is.

And I have only just started to get momentum going again. We’re in Week Three proper. Momentum, it matters.

Bridget is getting rather round with the spring grass. Another good example of needing momentum.

WILF: ‘Use Your Words’ by Catherine Deveny

I bought this book on a whim because it had ‘You are my special snowflake’ in the introduction. Shallow, likely, but since I’m the human half of Team Snowflake I decided to pretend the universe was giving me a sign.

I am so glad I did.

Catherine Deveny has a vivacious style that makes it easy to keep reading her advice. The other reason I kept reading was that the advice was great. And she made me laugh, which is definitely necessary when you’re looking at the cold hard truths of writing. Like it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, just write the darn book.

Picking up this book when I was at a stage of deciding just how much quitting writing would be the better idea. I had the ‘done’ button in front of me and was about to hit it and forget all the horrendous half-drafts in my pile of files.

Deveny took that wrung out me and walked me through the fact that what I write is likely shit. That it’s okay to write shit. You are the only person you are writing for. She made it completely okay to be  Gunna, and to take the step from someone is ‘going to’ write to someone who is writing. And that was all before she got to the actual craft stuff!

The big thing I’ve taken from the craft section is her goal setting. It is on my sticky notes as ‘half, half, half again, quarter of that and treat!’ with a smiley face. And she’s right. Taking the smallest part to get something done will make it happen. This blog post, right here? I was going to write the intro part. And then I got a cup of tea. And I wrote the little bit about the style, and patted the dog. And here we are past where I thought I would get to with the review today. Deveny is brilliant.

She makes it easy to feel like you can honestly just start writing and enjoy it, with the confidence to play with your voice because this is for you. First and foremost, this is for you, so do it. Otherwise, why would you be reading the book in the first place?

The other thing I really liked was her use of text-to-speech to help speed up the editing process. I got myself a neat add-in for Word, because I’m still using Word, and there is nothing quite like a vaguely stilted British woman reading your work to you. It really helps catch the words you’ve misspelled and where things actually don’t make sense.

This book is now one of my go-to books for getting started writing. It helps me relax when I feel nothing but the weighty anxiety of being ‘good enough’ to actually call myself a writer, because even if I only write to make myself feel things it still counts.

If you are able to get a copy, do.

And when you feel self-doubt creeping in, remember these words are for you. And if you want to, you can delete them or burn them or whatever else you want to do with them. But they are for you, no one else. Just keep going!