December 1st, 12:00am, a strange thing happened to writers across the globe. The deadline passed. If we’d finished our 50,000 words — or whatever modified goal we’d set for ourselves, we celebrated. If we hadn’t? Well, we beat ourselves up and tried to make excuses.
But now what?
Without this project and deadline beating down our necks, some of us are feeling… lost. Cast adrift. And just maybe a little hung over.
Here’s my list of:
Morgan’s Top 5 Things To Do AFTER NaNoWriMo
Note: These items work just as well for any writer who’s been pushing hard to finish a novel or meet a deadline.
5. Catch up on sleep
I don’t know about you, but between long hours at my day job, holiday travel, and NaNoWriMo, my sleep was getting the short shift.
It’s all fun and games when you can imagine your characters and their worlds, but when you start seeing them, maybe it’s time to lay off the caffeine and rest up.
For those of you like me, you likely let a few things slide while chasing that nebulous deadline–Like laundry (luckily, I found my stash of sweaters and shifted my wardrobe over, that helped stretch the month), cleaning your kitchen, and vacuuming.
Hopefully, you took my tips before diving into that novel-writing exercise and had enough things cleaned and prepped that your cleanliness slip didn’t take you down too many notches.
Where is my vacuum, again?
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3. Tackle your to-read pile!
Did you spend months preparing for your novel? Then, the mad sprint to get it written? With all the focus on your own words, you might have felt guilty taking time away to read. But! Now that your novel is resting, waiting for edits or beta readers (like bread before baking) you have some time to just breath.
Now is the time to explore the other worlds. If you need to feel industrious, remember that reading widely is recommended for all writers. And comps should be recent — in the last two-to-three years. So really, reading in your genre is um… research!
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2. Indulge in your OTHER hobbies
Whether it’s catching up on the TV shows you’ve missed, video games, the gym, Pokemon, or crafting, writing probably isn’t your only interest. Now is a great time to remember those other things you love, and take the time to indulge in them. Focusing on your writing, to the exclusion of everything else, can limit your creativity. Most of us need time away from the keyboard to replenish our writing drive and avoid (or recover from) burn out.
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1. Finish the story at a more leisurely pace.
Yes, some people finish a story or a draft in 30 days, in the hoped for 50,000 words (or more if you’re better at sprinting than I am). But many of us still have words to write, plot lines to wrap up.
Now? Without the deadline rushing down on us, that doesn’t mean we should stop with our stories! It means we can catch up on chores and sleep, and squeak out the rest of the story while it’s still fresh in our heads.
Have you recently finished a novel? (Or at least NaNoWriMo)?
I know it’s been a while, but now that I made it through November, I’m back to sharing my panel notes. For World Fantasy Con, some of the panels turned more into suggested reading lists, but for now, I’m going to go through the other panels, in the order I experienced them.
I attended “Writing As Sanctuary” at World Fantasy Con. I went into this panel expecting to hear stories of authors using their writing as either escapism or as a tool to process stressors in their lives. Escapism either as a distraction from real-world issues, OR as a way to create a new world, with those issues fixed.
The actual discussion was a lot more nuanced, but less focused.
The panelists were Jacob Baugher, JD Blackrose, JL Gribble, and K. Ceres Knight, moderated by Anna La Voie.
The discussion started off exploring the motivations behind people’s writing and the reoccurring themes they explored, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Most wrote for themselves — but with the intent of publication — seeking that external validation. Only a few used their writing to explore alternative choices — either personally or historically.
Themes They Found In Their Writing
Some writers write themes explicitly into their work. Others only recognize it when they begin editing. And sometimes? You only recognize your themes when the same issues keep coming up, novel after novel. Here were some of the themes the panelists found in their writing – intentionally or not.
Cyberpunk — in order to have control over their world
Which is better: To Be Writing or To Have Written?
It’s a reality for many of us writers — the process itself can be agony. I found it inspiring to hear how much of a struggle even published writers still find it. And how many also resort to procrasti-cleaning!
Some, like Baugher, were shocked to learn people could enjoy writing. He forces words out and is working on trying to change his own mindset.
Sometimes, real-world tragedies strike too close to home and you can’t write. Blackrose spoke of knowing when to push through, and when to step back. Then, when it’s time to return to the keyboard, she aims for just 500 words to regain her momentum.
Writing a novel is intimidating and that can make it hard to start. But 30,000 sounds a lot more doable. You can approach writing like Blackrose. She just wrote 30,000 words four times, and she had a novel.
Gribble uses gamification to get her words in. She wrote her 3rd novel, just using 5-minute sprints. Her best writing day was also the day she washed all of the windows.
Many of us, like Knight, love writing — when inspired. But most of her writing is deadline based.
Do you find sanctuary in a private journal?
Some writers swear by them. I know many writers who collect journals by the trunkful. But, advice doesn’t always sync up with reality so I was curious how these writers would answer. How useful are they in practice?
Some, like Gribble, find them a waste of words. Why journal when you could be writing paying work?
Some use it for free writing when the words just won’t flow. Baugher uses this process about once a week as a sort of 10-minute warm-up for his novel writing — his is mostly profanity.
Blackrose doesn’t journal per se, but she blogs…
Major life events can make journaling helpful. Knight only found herself journaling when she going through her divorce.
Some use it to manage stress. La Voie only journals sporadically but she finds it helps with her anxiety.
Knight and I agree: no writing is ever a waste. You’re always learning, always practicing.
What works for someone else, won’t necessarily work for you. Journal only if you’re actually getting something out of it.
Do you have your own writing sanctuary?
Now, me? I have a desk in a library alcove off my family room. But ever since I got a laptop, I find myself on my couch for most of my writing, with the occasional restaurant-based write-in. Not that I haven’t snuck words in at work or on my smartphone. There’s a reason I use GoogleDocs — it can auto-sync, you can use it offline, and it’s available for free on all my devices. I might not be the Google fangirl I was before they dropped 8 of the products I’d adopted… but some habits die hard.
But, I always find it fascinating to learn where other writers work.
Some, like Knight, can write anywhere that’s relatively quiet.
Some, like Gribble have home offices. But?
She NEVER uses it to write in.
She spends most of her time in Starbucks, on her couch, or the counter in her kitchen.
Gribble WILL, however, edit her writing in that perfect home office.
Some, like Blackrose, will write anywhere — even at her day job when things are slow.
Some libraries, like Blackrose’s, have writing centers you can use
On Sundays, she has permission to use the Writer-In-Resident’s office — it makes her feel like a ‘real’ writer!
And some have home offices they actually write in!
Baugher came home from a convention and found his wife had turned their 2nd bedroom into an office for him.
Do you use writing as an escape from life?
This question could have gone in so many directions, but somehow we got back to procrasti-cleaning again. As a procrasti-cleaner myself, I was happy to be in such good company.
You can use laundry to avoid writing like Blackrose
You can use writing sprints as breaks from chores like Gribble
You can leave the house to go write, so you can avoid laundry altogether, like Knight.
How much do you reread before you restart your writing?
Personally, I only skip back a paragraph or two and then push on from there. I keep waiting for there to be a right answer to this. But of course, with all things writing related, it’s a matter of preference.
Some read just the start of the current scene, like Gribble.
Some, like Baugher, like to leave notes or hints for what’s going to happen in the next scene.
Some reread it all.
Some, like Blackrose, use the first 7,000 to 15,000 words as a sort of giant outline, and then fill in.
Some write in layers. First getting the action out and the plot, then coming back and filling in the descriptive narrative, like Knight.
Critiques That Made You Regret Sharing Your Writing
Even if writing isn’t your sanctuary, it can be scary to share your words and thoughts with the world. And sometimes, critics can be harsher than they know.
For Baugher’s first writing workshop, for his first critique ever, another writer told him, “Stop writing now — this sucks!”
One writer’s mother doesn’t do fantasy, and after they opened up and shared their novel, the response was, “how do you think of these things?”… and not in an awed sort of tone.
Gribble once had a critic complain about the orgy. One problem? Her novel contains ZERO orgies…
Knight once watched a teacher lay into a fellow classmate for half-assing the assignment. Which, not only was discouraging for the student in question, but also, I’d imagine, inhibiting the other students from trying new things.
Blackrose once wrote a Seders in Space humor piece, pulling from her own experiences. A non-Jewish friend hated it and felt it mocked the Jewish stereotypes. Her Jewish friends and family loved it.
And the two final questions from the panel? The answers were in unison.
How does marketing interfere with the sanctuary of writing?
Do you write as a sanctuary for your readers?
So, a bit more of an exploration of their lives as writers, but altogether a panel I enjoyed.
Do you use writing as a sanctuary?
Do you use books as a sanctuary? What are some of your favorites?
After last week’s post on avoiding burn out, I thought I’d give myself a break. But, I’ve got a few confessions to make…
On Accepting Limits
Writer Confession #1: I am, indeed, quite bad at taking my own advice.
Once I’ve accomplished a thing two or three times, I have trouble letting myself stop. See: this blog. See also: my NaNo word count. Even when it might not be the healthiest choice for me.
Instead of accepting the inevitable, I’ve buckled down and written past my bedtime every night since we last spoke. I wrote while on a date, I wrote at one of the three Thanksgiving’s I attended, I wrote through an evening visiting my mother. As a coder-by-day, I’ve taken my work laptop home to meet deadlines and wrote during the 3 minute breaks while my new code was compiling.
As expected, everything non-essential in my life is being sorely neglected and I’m eagerly burning the candle at both ends, praying for December.
On being a Plantser
Writer Confession #2: My story looks nothing like I intended. (or at least, expected)
Instead of kids saving parents from a brain-washing book, my story is ninety percent about a school play. Then again, as I sort of had the 90’s TV show “Wishbone” in my head as my mental concept of what sort of story to aim at a Middle Grade audience, I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising.
There are several meal scenes that likely serve no purpose — although, of course, I can probably fix that in edits. Although, I probably shouldn’t repeat a breakfast scene unless I make it part of my character’s preferences? Why have I decided that my characters love bacon and breakfast foods? Well, I mean, who (whose diet includes pork) doesn’t?
Warning — if you write a story that centers around books and a play, that means you’re gonna have to sort of plot ALL of these things. Separately!
My play currently has roles such as “Sworsdswoman”, “Storyteller”, and “Sidekick”. I made up half a song from another non-existent kids’ musical about “The Flannel Bear” (my world’s Velveteen Rabbit, which my sister was in during OUR middle-school years). [If enough people ask, I might post a video singing it for you. Although, be warned, I can follow a tune, but I can’t carry one.]
With the changes in my story, I’m not really sure what a satisfying ending will look like, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to end at the cast party, so that’s what I’m writing towards now.
On Novel Prep Work
Writer Confession #3: My prep work wasn’t actually a waste of time.
Despite my story looking nothing like I intended, my first 9 chapters almost aligned, and then it kinda went sideways because of the new direction.
But! Working out the main characters, their personalities and families was helpful. Charting out that the two main characters would alternate chapters and would be friends but NOT romantically invested has been a cornerstone of my novel.
And? My massive list of random names definitely came in handy to help me keep up my pace while writing. Although, next time, I should note who they got assigned to. Especially when they only get mentioned once or twice.
On Writing Sprints
Writer Confession #4: My novel would NOT exist without these.
Three years ago, I started using Twitter to ‘clock in’, as sort of a type of accountability. Usually something like, “It’s 9pm and I’m clocking in”. Last year, NaNoWriMo.org created sprint timers integrated in their website where you could invite people to your sprints and race each other for the most words. Or, at least, have a focused 15 minutes where you could usually convince yourself to ignore social media and just write.
The timer breaks this massive “must write all the words” into an achievable chunk. 50,000 words sounds intimidating. 1,666 words a day seem to drag on forever. But 10 minutes? 15 minutes? I can sprint that long.
This year? My NaNo region has a Discord channel. It’s a chat application (often used by online gamer and, it can do audio), that has a sprint feature built in. You type in “_sprint” and anyone can join in. When the timer goes off, you enter how many words you’ve written and it tallies the ‘winner’.
Knowing you’re not writing alone, seeing everyone else’s progress, and comparing your own words-per-minute against your results last sprint can be very encouraging. Or shame you into focusing better next sprint. I’ll even sprint against myself, if no one else is on. But, there are early writers, day writers, and evening writers. You can usually find someone on the channel
On Rewarding Myself
Writer Confession #5: It’s all about TV and chocolate.
I got a large box of dark chocolate and orange truffles as my NaNo writing treat. They’ve lasted a lot better than I’d feared. I’m not sure if I’ve slowed down my consumption as I’ve gotten used to them, or if I greatly overestimated how fast I was going through them. Because the store sell them in bags of 15, and I got a box of a 150.
My daily reward for getting my words in? Getting to go to bed.
And if I have a spare hour, I’ve been catching up on the new Doctor Who. But really? I’m looking at the December 5th arrival of season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as my reward for making it through NaNoWriMo.
Confess to me! Does your writing look like you expected it to? What about your writing process?
If you’re not a writer, how do you handle deadlines and staying focused?
For those of you in America or from America, I’d like to wish you a very merry Thanksgiving. For the rest of you, I hope you have a great day.
I knew, going into November, that NaNoWriMo might not happen. The first couple days I was going to be a writing convention, I have a massive work deadline coming up in early December, plus, there’s that whole family and holiday thing you might have noticed is happening. But still, I had hope and plans.
However, I’ve had to take a step back and reassess. Here are my:
5 Steps For Avoiding Burn Out
Step 1 – Recognize Your Limits
As my work deadline approaches, my day-job hours have kept growing, eating into my writing time. When Tuesday turned into a 14-hour workday, I just couldn’t handle it. I tossed about 200 words on the page and crashed out hard.
I was too plain exhausted to pull out more words. I now know that 10-12 hours is about all the productivity I have in me during a given day. If work uses it up, then I have to recognize that it’s okay for me to let the writing slip a little.
Step 2 – Reassess Your Goals
This past Monday, I decided to stop worrying about stretching a middle-grade novel to 50,000 words and toss my blog post word count into my NaNoWriMo total. (I’m a rebel!)
I felt disappointed in myself, in my progress, in the fact that I couldn’t stretch myself to make it work. However, looking back on my past NaNoWriMo wins, they happen when life and day job aren’t getting in the way and I admitted at the start of this month that they might.
As the month wears on, I’m contemplating aiming for 1,000 words a day (on average) instead of that NaNo dream of 1,666 words per day. I hate to concede, but at some point, you have to recognize when you’re burning the candle at both ends, you’re gonna get burnt out.
Step 3 – Recognize Your Needs
I have a chocolate stash, easy microwave dinners, and a comfy bed. Despite my writer-self telling me it is, getting my word count in is honestly a want, not a need. In order to get words in, I need 3 things:
Energy – I need to not have used all my energy at work. I need to be reasonably rested. I need to be able to focus on things without my vision blurring over.
Cope – I need energy and a minimal of top-priority things fighting for my attention. Being able to prioritize and feel like I’m at least treading water, not actively sinking helps a lot.
Downtime – I used to have a commute to contemplate story ideas. These days? I’ve got a 9-minute commute which is amazing and I love. But doesn’t give me quiet time to think. Maybe I need to start using that elliptical I picked up second hand and spend that time on story contemplation. Or keep watching the new Duck Tales, because my brain needs a break. I cannot keep going from 12 hours at my day job staring at code directly home to write. It’s breaking me.
Step 4 – Give Yourself Credit
You might be disappointed in your output – your word count, your plotting, your writing itself. Your story might be a hot mess. But those experts say that it takes 10,000 hours of something to become an expert. You’re working on writing under pressure, practicing deadlines, and even if you’re missing them?
A – They give a great breeze when they race by
B – You’re still closer to the end of your novel than you were before you started. Be it 50 words or 50 pages, you’re making progress.
C – You likely have a better idea of what you want your novel to look like. Be it “I know how to fix this” or even just “now I know that won’t work”
D – You likely have a better feel for your characters and their voices. Maybe you’ll have to start over from scratch… but I bet when you look at it again, you might find sections you can use wholesale.
Step 5 – Practice Gratitude
I don’t know what things in your life make you smile, but hopefully, there are many things. And if not? Maybe it’s time to make changes that will get you there.
For me? I’m grateful for many things:
My friends and family who love and care for me – and have me lined up to attend 3 Thanksgiving celebrations on 3 consecutive days.
How supportive my friends, family, and writing community are.
My quiet, comfortable home where I write.
My day job that stretches my skills, teaches me more, and is full of welcoming and enthusiastic people.
My creativity and writing skills
That I learned how to touch type.
Electricity and the internet. Because my life kinda revolves around them.
My health (and health insurance).
Um… I feel like this is when I should say something “and viewers like you”
If you’re starting to feel strung out, look at why. Is it because you’re not used to writing so much and it’s taking an adjustment period? Or is it because your non-writing obligations and life are taking their own toll on you. Only you can decide if you can cut things out of your life, or if your writing needs to be trimmed back a bit.
Have you had to deal with burn out? Did you just take a break or were there other things that helped? Let me know!
Wishing you all a happy and drama-free Thanksgiving.
Write By The Rails’s Back on Tracks – Writer’s Workshop – Fall 2018
Now that I’ve recovered from the back-to-back weekends of workshop and writing convention, I can start sharing the notes I took! Today, I’m starting with the notes from the Write By The Rail‘s break out session on memoirs.
First off, we need to define what is a memoir and what makes it different from a biography (or autobiography). A memoir is the intersection between memory and story and typically focuses on one major event or process.
Next thing to note, you don’t need to have an outrageous life. To write a memoir, you just need to be prepared for these four things.
1 – Reminiscing can be immersive.
Be prepared for negative emotions to resurface as strongly as they did at the time. As you go through the story, you’re going to have to make it real for the readers, which means delving into the emotions and thought processes you were having at the time the events actually took place.
2 – Deciding on a voice.
Is this told by the you-of-today? By younger-you? Or do you want a dual-timeline, perhaps comparing recent events to ones that happened years before?
You get to decide what works best for your story.
3 – Discovering the theme.
A memoir isn’t just a recitation of events and stories. It needs a theme. You don’t need to know the theme when you start, but as you edit and polish your work, often you can find the theme that ties the events together.
Themes are varied, but there are some universal themes. Self-growth or discovery. Coming into one’s own. The way truths–or lies impact everyone. Or the impact of a single person on the trajectory of your life.
4 – Resist holding back.
Share your memories the way you remember them. Don’t hold back because you might show someone in a negative light. It’s surprisingly hard to sue someone for defamation in a memoir – they’re supposed to be based on true events – not 100% fact. Memory is faulty and it’s hard to prove your version isn’t the true version – as long as you don’t start making outrageous claims.
Don’t hold back or save the major event for the end as a surprise. It’s hard to build up to something so major without it feeling almost anti-climatic. Have that critical event be the starting point, or make references to it and make the reader anticipate with current-you, getting to that event.
And that’s how to build your memoir — or help someone else build theirs. Welcome the memories, pick a voice, recognize the theme, and don’t hold back. What are you waiting for?
Have you written a memoir? Tell me what experience you shared. Have you thought about writing one? What would you like to share with readers?
(Thanks to Write By The Rails’s president, Jan Rayl for organizing the workshop and a special thanks to Nancy Kyme for sharing her experiences with us.)