NaNoWriMo 2017

Hey friends, I wanted to formally announce that I’m participating in NaNoWriMo 2017. If you’ve followed me long, you know I’m a huge proponent of this event. If you haven’t and don’t know what I’m talking about, let me give a brief intro.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s every November and the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel between Nov. 1st – Nov. 30th. As far as novel length goes, 50k isn’t really all that much. But for writers who’ve been struggling or needed a boost to get out there and write, NaNo is the perfect way to get at it.

Back when I wanted to pick up writing again, I used NaNo to kick start my work. I failed the first year or two and finally “won” with my book Master of the Drunken Fist. I went on for three more consecutive wins. For me, being able to finish a novel made being a writer a reality.

soul windowsThis year I’m doing a horror novel. For now, I’m titling it “Soul Windows” and have even created a pretty sweet looking cover to give myself an added incentive to finish. I plan on discussing this new novel throughout October as I lead up to Nov. 1st when I actually get to start writing it!

Anyone else interested in jumping on board? Go to the NaNoWriMo site and register. It’s free and they’ve got a ton of useful posts in the forums. If you do, add me as a writing buddy. My name there is Lailoken74. I’ve created a private Facebook group for my writer friends who want to participate in NaNo as a place to share info and encouragement. If you want in, click here.

I can’t wait to get started! I encourage you to try it if you’ve ever had the urge to write. For seasoned writers, it’s the perfect way to jumpstart a current or future project.


Musical Inspiration

Sometimes when I write, I’ll use music to set the scene within my head. I’ll allow the music to enhance the mood and my words flow from it.

Several years ago I started this part of my writing process when I “won” my first NaNoWriMo. My novel was about a guy who goes into a place called “the void” where he turns from a normal, nothing special person, into a master of fighting. He’s the only one who can make things happen in the void so he’s welcomed with open arms.

The thing about it was, he was an alcoholic. He’d drink certain types of alcohol and find himself in different situations in the void. For example, when he drank moonshine, he’d end up as one of twelve hillbilly brothers. When he drank tequila, he found himself coming to the new world with Cortez. When he drank vodka, he was on a Russian expedition. He’s not aware of how he gets to those places till later on in the story, but the novel follows his trials and adventure in these various locales.

I used music heavily when I wrote the scenes of him in the void. When I wrote the hillbilly scenes, I created a playlist based off of the soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and it was perfect. The bluegrass and old country music set the tone in my mind which helped me feel the scenes so much more.

When I had him on the Russian expedition, I listened to a ton of Tchaikovsky, one of my favorite classical composers. Those sweeping Russian nationalistic pieces made those scenes feel alive in my mind.

The following year as I attempted (and won!) NaNoWriMo again, I wrote a horror novel. The story was about child sacrifice in a small town. It was a dark story where demons forced the sacrifices and had to be defeated. For those writing sessions, I listened to heavy doses of Slayer. Their dark music helped me set the tone in my work.

Lately I’ve not used that method to assist my writing, though on occasion I will turn on the music to help inspire my words. I find it helps to block outside distractions and create the right mood in my mind for the story I’m working on.

If you’ve read any of my “Author Spotlight” interviews this year, you’ll notice I ask that question of all my guests. I think because it’s been such a vital tool for me I wanted to see if it worked for others.

What about you? Do you use music to help with your writing or does is distract from your efforts? I’m genuinely curious to see if this is something others do or if I’m some kind of anomaly.

Tools of the Trade

Writing used to be so simple. Grab a pen or pencil, some paper, and off you went. These days, more often than not, writers use a slew of tools for their work that don’t require paper.

When I first tried my hand at NaNoWriMo, I used our iPad with the onscreen keyboard. I got to about 12,000 words with that set-up before I finally petered out. It wasn’t my work station that did me in, but my lack of planning for success.

I often go back to my NaNoWriMo experiences as the times when I can refer to myself as a writer because that’s when I started taking this entire process with some seriousness.

After that failure, Google released the Chromebook computers. They were cheap and came with a ton of storage in the Drive, so I bought one. It was a poor man’s MacBook Air. I loved the size of it. It lacked a light up keyboard which I wanted, but it worked. I tried winning NaNoWriMo the following year, failing at around 20,000 words. I followed it up the next year with my first “win” using the same Chromebook.

Not long after, I wanted something more. The Chromebook wasn’t cutting it. I wrote in the evenings back then and the dark keyboard was an issue. I’d sit in the living room with my wife. She watched television and I wrote. The lamp light wasn’t enough.

That summer, I bought an Asus Windows laptop with Windows 8 and a backlit keyboard. The interface was clunky but I got used to it. The only issue I had was the freaking space bar! When I typed, I guess the way I hit the bar wasn’t sufficient and I’d get frustrated as my words jumbled together.

computer-1839667_960_720Not long after, my wife started online schooling and needed a more robust computer than her MacBook Air. Her mom had a MacBook Pro, so with some cash and my Asus, we made a three way trade. My wife got the Pro, I got the Air, and my mother-in-law got the Asus. That set-up has worked great until recently.

About a week ago I got a new MacBook Air with a larger screen cause these older eyes had a hard time seeing on the smaller screen. Such is life I guess.

I’ve used several writing programs over the years but I’ve settled on two. My main writing program is Scrivener. I love how easy it is to change chapters, customize headings, and create usable files. And as far as cost, it’s one of the more affordable options. Of course, Open Office and the word processor on Google Drive are free, so there’s that.

I also use Microsoft Word. I’ve found as much as I love Scrivener, sometimes I have a need for the trusty Word program. It’s great for formatting paperback books. I use it for Standard Manuscript formatting when submitting short stories. I’m sure Scrivener could do it, but the program is so complex at times I can’t find what I need.

So that’s it, my tools of the trade. I work on a MacBook Air using Scrivener and MS Word. It’s worked so far, though I’m always up for learning new programs and practices to make my process better. What about you? What’s the set-up you use for your writing? What’s your go-to writing program? I’d love to hear if we’re alike or if you’ve got something else that works better.

Rough Writing

This post is one I originally posted on Facebook at the end of July and was one of my most viewed posts ever! It’s a deeply personal account of a tough moment in my writing “career.” I’ve posted about it before but this seemed to resonate with many writers and readers. Here ya go!

Last year, I learned a valuable lesson in regards to my writing.

I wanted to turn one of my four NaNoWriMo novels into a publishable book. I choose what I thought was the best one and revised it then hired an editor to look it over.

When I got the edits back, I was also given a brutally honest assessment of the work. It wasn’t something I wanted to hear, but man it was so helpful and so spot on. I cannot thank that editor enough for opening my eyes to the problems it had and¬†how far from being ready it was.

Then, a few days later, I attended a writing conference where they were doing a blind reading of submitted stories with a panel of agents and small publishers. Anyone that wanted to could submit a three page sample of their story and they’d read it out loud for the entire conference to hear. Once it got to the point in the story where that agent or editor would’ve rejected the submission, they were to raise their hand. Once a majority of the panel rejected it, they’d stop and offer a critique of why they rejected it (or if it went the entire length, why they would’ve asked for more).

I submitted my three pages. So did about a hundred other writers. They only read five submissions but guess whose got read? Yeah, this guy right here! It was the same story I had my editor work on. Already feeling bummed about the comments received so far, when they started reading mine I was in shock but also curious.

boy-859364_960_720When they got to the second page, hands started flying up. I sipped my Diet Coke like nothing was going on but inside I was crushed. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Their feedback was brutal. Much like the editor I worked with, they didn’t hold back, however this was in front of a room of over a hundred writers! Fortunately the only person that knew who’s story they were critiquing was myself.

Those combined experiences with that draft made me question everything I was doing. Was I good enough? Do I have a clue about what I’m doing? Was I mistakenly claiming the title of “writer?” Should I give up?

My drive home from that conference was a dark, lonely drive. However, when I finally pulled in the driveway, I determined to use this for good.

I vowed to get better, to try harder, to continue progressing in my craft because I love it. I enjoy writing and it’s a part of me now. I chose to take their criticisms not as a personal attack, but as my alarm to improve my writing. I had skill, but it needed work.

It was a tough lesson to learn, but in the end the most valuable thing to happen to me.

Writing Ideas

When you write and get stuck on a scene or stuck on a story idea, what do you do?

I’ve got a couple tricks I’ve found useful when I get in those predicaments.

My go-to method for story idea generating is to search random pictures online until I find something useful or inspiring. Normally I’d go to Flickr and start searching through the public photos. I’ve found the site to be excellent at discovering new and interesting photos.

My method then is to save the image in a folder on my computer and just sit and stare. I like to think long about what’s in the image, what could be happening, what did just happen, and more. Back when I used to release brand new flash fiction on the 15th of every month, that was my tried and true method for creating new stories. I’d also include the image in the story. If you search around on my blog long enough, you’ll eventually stumble on those.

old-book-2514411_960_720Another method I like to use to enhance my writing is to listen to music. Back when I was working on my first NaNoWriMo novel called “Master of the Drunken Fist,” my protagonist would drink various types of alcohol and go into another dimension based on the the type of alcohol he drank. For example, when he drank moonshine he ended up in a backwoods, rural setting. When he drank vodka he was on an expedition in Russia.

When it came time to write the scenes in that other dimension, I would listen to various types of music. When I did the moonshine scenes, I created a playlist on Pandora based off of the “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. It was perfect for setting the mood. When I wrote the vodka scenes, I listened to Tchaikovsky non-stop.

I found the various types of music, like the alcohol my protagonist drank, transported me to a different world and helped me create scenes that were more alive and more true to the feeling I was trying to evoke.

I’ve known other authors who will do something similar. I know of an author who will search through random YouTube videos for songs to draw inspiration from. Like my random photos, they help him generate ideas for stories.

As with all writing, we come to our methods in different ways. I would never tell you to do it like I do because it might not be your thing. I can suggest you try what I do to see if it works, but I’m not gonna say my method is the only one you should use. What does matter is that you find your thing, whatever it is.

Do you have something different that works for you? Share in the comments so others can try your technique. Let’s share our methods so we can all learn together.

Anatomy of “The Selection”

Creating a novel is an overwhelming experience. The various parts need to fit together like a giant puzzle so in the end a clear pleasing picture appears.

I’ve known some writers that must plan every scene, every chapter, and every character to such a degree that their outline takes months to create. By the time they write the story most of it is already planned and plotted to a fine degree.

Others write with a crazy lack of any structure, fitting words here and there hoping to keep a coherent train of thought going till the end.
I fall somewhere in the middle.

When planning a novel I make a rough (and I mean rough!) outline that serves as guard rails as I write. I research certain topics ahead of time. I read stories or news articles to gain insights into those topics. I go for an immersion experience through research. I want to feel comfortable with the subject so when I write it comes across as true and believable.

No matter if I write about medieval fantasy, science fiction, or something in the horror genre I want my readers to connect to the story in some way.

My latest novel called “The Selection,” the one I wrote for NaNoWriMo was written this way. I researched some key points though there are others I feel weren’t quite up to the standards they need to be, but that’s what revision is for right? I studied and immersed myself in information about Kepler 186f, the inspiration for the planet Anastasia in my story.

Then I take all that research and write.

When I write I follow a fluid outline that sometimes is written, sometimes not. This past novel I didn’t use a written outline but I had a plan in mind and followed it to the end. For me that type of “structure” is perfect. I get the guard rails I need to keep me in check but it allows me the flexibility to change big things as I go along. For instance I had a couple big twists at the end of the novel that weren’t planned but as I wrote the characters and story they revealed themselves to me. That kind of organic flow as I write feels right.

It’s not the style for everyone. I realize that and I would never recommend to write like I do. Every writer has their own unique style based on teaching, failure, and comfort with the material.

As I wrote my most recent novel, I also let the characters dictate who they are. I had a vague feeling about them and as I wrote, that was fleshed out and hopefully they became real. In my mind they kinda are. I see them clearly and they are distinct individuals with their own agendas and aspirations.

I suck at naming characters. Three in my latest novel are named after someone I know though the characters are not based on those people. For everyone else I used a random name generator. I hate naming people. I also had to name animals since my setting was an alien planet. That was tough! I think if I were to venture into another novel like that I would spend more time creating that world ahead of writing insisted of making it up on the fly.

Not that I would spend too much time world building. I want the basics laid out ahead of time and the rest to reveal itself as I write.

When I write longer pieces like a novel, I don’t like to write it everyday. I like to get a few days at a time. Then I take a day off so I can think about the project and when I return to it I approach it with new eyes and fresh ideas.

Finishing my latest work, I realize there is much that needs correcting. There are several plot points I need to make stronger. I need to make some background information more detailed. Overall it needs a bit of heavy lifting to read better and more coherent.

But I have the first draft written. I can’t revise what I haven’t written. And that’s what NaNo is all about.

If you’d like to check out the novel in it’s first draft , crazy raw form, you can read it here: “The Selection.”

Nearing the End

As I write this, I’m just over 34,000 words into my latest NaNoWriMo attempt. I intend on getting to the end and completing my fourth novel. With the upcoming long weekend, I should find enough time to power through and hit 50k by the end of day on the 30th.

You can actually read what I’ve written so far. I’m using the Tablo writing platform and I’m quite impressed by the experience so far. I’ve had someone comment and I’ve received over 120 reads. You can find the story here. I do caution you to read it with a certain amount of understanding. It is a very rough draft with all sorts of problems. But, you can still read the story and get an idea where I’m going with it. I’m open for suggestions and critiques as well.

What I’ve discovered over the years participating in NaNo is something that correlates to my day job of sales rep.

Writing daily and uploading my word count on the NaNo site gives me instant visual verification that I’ve accomplished something. It shows me how many words I’ve written since the last time I uploaded my word count, my average word count, my expected completion date if I continue at the current pace and many other quantifiable bits of data to help me push on.

In sales it’s very much the same. I have monthly and annual goals. Every order counts. Every dollar adds up. I can break down my goals by week and day if I want to. Small orders eventually add up to larger totals. I could have a weak sales day and counter it with a spectacular day that covers for the shortages. Daily I can check my totals and watch as I get closer to my goal.

That attitude and ability to be patient when the days aren’t going the way I’d like have helped. Of course I’d rather make the goal as soon as possible but knowing if I stay the course I’ll eventually get to the end is a comforting thought.

Writing a novel isn’t easy. Heck writing short stories and essays isn’t easy either. But with determination, patience, and a willingness to trek on when everything seems against you, you can get to the end. You can make the goal set for you. You can do something amazing.

If you are writing this month, I wish you the absolute best. Don’t worry about editing or if your story is going where it needs to go (see the link to my story in progress for confirmation of this) Use this time to write. Editing comes later. Fixes can be made when the month is over.

I know I write about NaNo a lot. It’s something I get excited about. It’s a month long sprint to 50K and there’s nothing like being engrossed in your work so much that it’s the only thing on your mind. Characters become good friends. Settings seem like memories of a real place once visited. Plot lines intermingle with one another.

If you’ve never tried it I challenge you to do so. If nothing else, it will get you in the mindset of writing. It will give you an excuse to put your story down on the screen or paper.

Good luck to all the writers this month. You’re almost there! If you failed and won’t make the deadline, don’t worry. You’ve started something wonderful. Keep at it. One word added to another gets you that much closer to the goal. You’ll finish and that accomplishment is more meaningful than you know.