It’s National Novel Writing Month, which means tens of thousands of writers (Or maybe hundreds of thousands? Millions??? I don’t know the numbers on this stuff.) are planning on spending the entirety of November juggling their everyday lives with pumping out roughly 2,000 words of writing per day. I love NaNoWriMo because it has benefits for writers at all levels of writing, whether you hit the magical 50,000 words in a month or not. There’s a badass online community, there’s the side-effect of said community that helps you realize YOU ARE NOT ALONE, and there’s the necessary benefit of forcing yourself to get into a rhythm, to write regularly, to carve space out of every day solely for your work.
The thing is, writing is hard. Sure, some people can spew out reams of logorrhea and hit 50k in a few days… but then there are the rest of us, who need help. Which is why I’m sharing my NaNoWriMo toolkit with y’all today.
My writing partner and I use Amazon Studios for all of our writing projects. It’s simple, it’s free, and it has the added benefit of having templates from other stories embedded into its programming, so you can copy story structure without having to think about it, or you can see how others have structured a story and go from there. (I’m admittedly a “see-it-to-get-it” kind of guy, so this was amazingly helpful for me.) With its simple Post-It notes on a corkboard styling, you can get a macro view of your story while being able to shuffle things around, insert notes on scene minutiae, and, best of all, share your work with other Amazon Studio users.
I love Chuck Wendig’s writing, and I love Chuck Wendig’s writing about writing. Dude knows his stuff. He has many books about writing for sale, but he also gifts us with writerly wisdom from his blog space regularly, including this amazing list of the various ways to plot out a novel. PLOT IS IMPORTANT! It’s the spine which holds up your body of work. From experience, I can say going into a novel with only a vague idea of the plot leads to a mishmash of mush that is hard to follow, painful to edit, and in general a waste of time. Know your plot!
The page also has a ton of wonderful links to creating kickass protagonists and a guide to creating amazing secondary characters, as well as a website dedicated to the “beat sheets,” aka the plot structure, of recent movies.
Speaking of Beat Sheets, one of the more important books about structured writing is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. It’s not a perfect book by any means, but it definitely forces you to think about plot/novel not as a sequence of events (thing A happens then thing B and C, etc.) but as a story arc. In particular, Snyder’s shown me that:
- Act 1 introduces the problem, and Act 2 is when the protagonist enters the “upside down world” of your novel
- By the middle of Act 2 and the midpoint of your novel, the protagonist needs to have obtained the Thing They Want, or they need to be in deep, deep doo-doo
- Act 3 begins when the protagonist is at the lowest they can possibly be, but then uses what they’ve learned from Act 2 to get their way out of it
- THE NOVEL IS ENTIRELY DRIVEN BY CHARACTER DECISION/ACTION AND IF CHARACTERS ARE NOT MAKING DECISIONS YOUR NOVEL WILL NOT WORK
Save the Cat also has common lingo writers use to talk about writing, and a neat website that explores the nuances of structure, and answers questions about structuring your novel/writing.
- Rachel Aaron
Rachel Aaron wrote a fantastic and quick-read book titled 2,000 to 10,000: How to write faster, how to write better, and how to write more of what you love. There’s a ton of stuff in her book packed into a small space, but my personal favorite is that you should “warm up” before you write by writing a quick summary of what you want to write before you get to the actual writing of it. This makes so much sense, and yet it blew my mind when I read it. By simply putting down a chunk of 400-500 words about what I intended to write, the novel-specific writing I penned afterward went faster, was more coherent, and I ended up writing deeper into scenes than I initially planned. The book contains a lot of other ways to write more/better/faster/stronger/etc., and it’s only a few bucks online. Check it out.
Twitter is a double-edged sword: it can suck up hours of your time, but it can also lead you to fellow writers, excellent content, and great discourse. I use it all the time, and have connected with some of my favorite writers, reconnected with writers from my MFA program, and connected with new writers from all across the world. So when you need a break, need some encouragement, or need to shout out to the world about the amazing scene you just wrote, I suggest heading to Twitter and throwing out a 140ish characters into the internet ether. That being said, most of the time Twitter should be turned off. If you’re finding yourself retweeting a couple of writer memes and favoriting cat videos, it might be time to step away from the computer and take a walk.
So there you have it! I’m always looking for new ways to look at writing/editing… for example, John Adamus is an editor that showed me this neat character-arc notecard technique, which I picked up on Twitter after following him based on Chuck Wendig’s recommendation.
Let me know what’s in your NaNoWriMo toolkit in the comments below!