So You’ve Decided To Write A Novel – Here are 7 Tips To Get Started

[Throwback Thursday: Just as true as when I first posted. And? Those placeholder names are still in that rough draft I’m scared to touch.]

7 Tips for Preparing to Write A Novel

For Pantsers AND Plotters and #NaNoPrepMo

Whether you’ve just decided it’s finally time to write that book you’ve been thinking about on your own or you’ve been bit by the NaNoWriMo bug, starting a novel can be intimidating!

It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants), a plotter, or something in between, there’s still stuff you can do to prepare yourself before you start writing.

Plotters, you have your to-do lists, but even you can get stuck. Here are some things that may be on your list, and a few things that might not be.

Pantsers and plantsers? You might not want to do all the planning that the plotters do. You might be just along for the journey to see where the story takes you. BUT! That doesn’t mean you have to be left out of writing prep!

That said, here are my top 7 writing prep activities.

1. Outlining

Clearly, the plotter’s first choice and the fear of every pantser, but outlining can be as extensive — or as sparse — as you want it to be.

– You can have 10 pages of notes for every chapter
– A basic “[Main character] wants [objective] but [obstacle] stands in their way.” statement
– Just pre-write a query letter!
– Even most pantsers find having a starting point and an end target at least moderately useful.

(Here’s my level of outlining)

2. Beat Sheets!

The cousin of outlining. These help you check your pacing — whether you’re going for a 3 act, 4 act, or another sort of structure.

Jami Gold has a great collection of Beat Sheet Worksheets to help you plan out your story’s emotional arcs AND plot arcs.

OR — save the beat sheet and use it when you’re pantsing to decide what to do next!

3. Mood Boards

Gathering together pictures that suggest your characters, your settings, your wardrobe, and your world.

You’d think this would be most helpful for those writers who are more visually oriented — literally helping them see their story. But, my imagination isn’t very visual, and I say that mood boards can be INVALUABLE for those of us whose imaginations are more conceptual.

If you have a vague idea in your head of a character’s look or the settings, you can google image search until you have something that works for your story — then you can use that image to help describe your people, places, and things to your readers.

4. Character Sheets

It’s official. I’m a geek. I’ve been playing D&D and its cousins since 2000. But even if it’s not a true ‘character sheet’, writing out your characters strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits is very helpful when you’re deciding during the story how your character will react.

You can use things like Myers-Briggs designations, star signs, or zodiacs to help flesh out your character and keep them consistent.

5. Creating a List of Names

I can spend weeks picking the perfect name for a main character. During NaNoWriMo, I’ve definitely lost hours of writing time trying to come up with names for characters, places, and my magic system.

Two NaNos ago, I decided to save a lot of time by just giving everyone placeholder names: Alice, Bob, Carol… I went through the entire alphabet and ended up naming the enemy country Canadia. It helped me accomplish a NaNo-and-a-half, but it had consequences (yep! 75k!). The editing this is going to require has me scared off starting that rewrite. Don’t make my mistake.

This year? I intend to have a list of at least 20 random names that fit my story and world that I can grab-and-go with once I start writing. So far I’ve got 6.

6. World Building

Is your story happening in the real world or a made up one? Do the laws of physics work the same?

Having a good idea of how far apart places are, the transport times, and key landmarks is super helpful.

I spent a couple hours last NaNoWriMo figuring out how far it was from Loxley to Nottingham. And the number of times I’ve redrawn my fantasy map because of average pilgrim walking paces versus bicycle paces… is more than twice.

I also have 2 moons in one of my worlds, so I keep an eye on the tides and the moon fullness in regards to the aforementioned travel times. It can get tricky!

7. Minimize Real World Distractions

I’ve mentioned this before, but for me? Having a stocked fridge, clean clothes, and straightened house when NaNoWriMo starts means I can ignore those things for longer while I dedicate more time to writing.

It usually takes a week or so after a good clean for my house to start really getting piled up.

I try to keep my calendar light, preload the Panera app on my phone for write-ins (getting hungry? Keep writing and the food will come to me), and work hard to build up momentum. Once I’ve got a good streak going, meeting that daily word target, I don’t want to break it.


And that’s it! Are you starting a new novel? Tell me about it!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Feel free to friend me: morganhazelwood!

( Are you new to NaNoWriMo or an old hat? )

Facebook For Characters!

Ch@ractR

Have you ever wished there was a facebook, but for fictional characters?

Today, I’m going to be talking about one of the less mainstream social media websites. It just got out of Beta but is growing fast:

Ch@ractR at charactrRealms.com

The website for writers, artists, and fans to post as or follow FICTIONAL CHARACTERS!

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As usual, you create an account, with whatever username you want. Brand consistency can be useful if you’re planning on adding stuff you want associated with your name. Otherwise, (I can’t believe I’m saying this), you can use a different username.

When you do post, it will always be under [CharacterName]+[a random number]. Once you’ve posted to a character’s page once, your number will remain consistent.

But what sort of characters qualify? CLEARLY, there are still some negotiations underway for licensed characters, but pended approval…

Types of characters:

  • Established worlds
    • Disney
    • Harry Potter
    • etc
  • Created worlds
    • a book you’re writing/wrote
    • characters in your head
    • your DND game
    • etc

But does everyone know everything you post? Not necessarily.

Privacy Options

  • Anonymous
    • You always post with the same number, but they are not tracked back to a profile, just a page that shows all of your posts for that character
  • Obscure – Custom
    • You DO link back to a profile page, but only for the selected characters. And you can set character sets to be invisible to each other.
      • For example, if you post cosplay pics of you as Disney character and you write dark memes about Marvel characters, you can self-define the groups. So, people following your Disney postings don’t see your Marvel postings on the profile page
    • You can share a custom profile with each set, linking external works, etc
  • Public
    • All posts and characters are shown on your profile page

Every character gets a new profile. And then you can add to their MYTH.

Types of MYTHS:

  • Selfies
    • Original fan art!
    • Cosplay pics
  • Diary Entries
    • Write as if you’re the character
  • Memes
    • You know what these are
  • Flash fiction
    • Add to their story

Then, the other people on the site vote.

Voting Options

  • ‘true-cannon’
    • This is for myth additions that ADD to the world the character is in
  • ‘true-multiverse’
    • This is for myth additions that don’t work in the original world but are AWESOME for the character, so could work in an alternate version.
  • ‘cute’
    • Basically ‘liking’, but not feeling that they add to the character
  • ‘vicious rumors’
    • Things that run counter to everything you believe to be true about this character. CLEARLY, made up by the character’s enemies.

For the VERY best posts? No matter the format, they go from the character’s MYTH page to their PROFILE page. And your post-name gets a star next to it, proving that you’ve permanently contributed to that character.

But how do they judge the BEST posts? Some characters have more of a following than others. They do it based on the percentage of active users following that character.

A couple of notes.

NOTE 1: If you are the author (or licensed owner) of the property, you have special privileges and your vote is weighted more than non-authors.

NOTE: There IS a review committee to try and validate the characters. Reports of ‘fake characters’ created to harass real-life people are taken VERY seriously.


Are you on Ch@ractr?

Who are your favorites? Are there any obscure ones you’re just waiting to go viral?

If you’re a public account? Share it and let me follow you!

Happy April 1st!

The Reward For A Job Well Done…

In my day job, I’d been working hard on a project for nearly a year, but turned the last of my work in back in December. Then, all I could do for that project was wait for everyone else to be done with their part. Tuesday, we had a big, milestone test, and it passed. But? It’s far from done.

But, my day job isn’t the only place where that happens, my writing works the same way.

I work hard, polish it up so it passes my own tests, and then I send it off to beta readers, or critique partners, or agents. I wait… maybe not-so-patiently for my writing to pass their ‘tests’, and then I hear back (or pass the no-answer-means-no-thank-you deadline).

So far, my responses have been positive — or at least neutral.

No one has told me my writing sucks and I should stick to reading. But? They all have ideas for improvement. Ways for my work to get better, for the plot to flow more naturally, to give the emotional core of the story a greater impact, to make the setting and main character something that an agent can connect with and draw them in.

Both of my projects already have a form, a function, and a shape. Now, it’s time to really see what I can turn them into.

This coming year is a year of revision for me. Taking rough manuscripts and turning them into a polished form. Rough stone to elegant statues.


Where are you with your projects? Are they still ideas and raw material?

Or are you ready to polish them ’til they shine?

New Year’s Resolutions: Dusting off my shelved manuscripts

As January firmly establishes itself, this might seem a bit late for a resolutions post, but I always planned to take January off from writing and relax some, so you haven’t missed anything.

For me, this is going to be a year of reading, revision, and reflection.

Blogging/Vlogging

I’ve got such a lovely streak going here, I’d hate to break it. So, I’ll continue putting out a new blog/vlog every Thursday on writing tips or writerly musings.

When I have them lined up, I’ll be sharing Author Spotlights or Query Corners on Tuesdays.

Plus, I’m contemplating maybe a picture post on the weekends. I’m debating if Saturday or Sunday is better. Suggestions?

Reading

They say one can’t be a writer without reading. And, finding out what’s new and good in your genre is research, right? Although, that doesn’t mean I won’t do plenty of ‘for fun’ reading.

My goal is to read 26 books this year, one every other week on average. (Although, I tend to read in binges.) I’m looking at taking breaks from writing to focus on downtime and reading in January, MarchMay, and July. And I hope that planning intentional breaks will help fight the feeling of being on a never-ending treadmill, where I fail if I let myself take a break.

So far? I’ve read a couple romances and all 4 books in Charlie Holmberg’s The Paper Magician series. I think I’m off to a good start.

Revising

I’m sitting on a backlog of 4 manuscripts in various states — mostly collecting dust. It’s time to fix that.

I got some great feedback from a critique partner back in November for Manuscript #1 (a secondary world young adult fantasy), but it was kind of a bitter pill to swallow. I have been brainstorming and messaging with the critiquer on ways to fix it. But I took December and January off, partially sulking, partially trying to figure out how to solve the issues mentioned. I’m going to let the ideas percolate a bit more and plan to hold off until February before implementing my fixes.

Then, in April, I’m going to pull out MS #2 — the sequel to MS #1.

In June, I’m going to pull out either MS #3 (my gender-bent Robin Hood) or MS #4 (my middle-grade contemporary fantasy, where the more you connect with what you read, the more your world shifts to be like it… physically!)

Querying

Once MS #1 has been revised, again, I’m marching into the query trenches once more.

Starting in March, I intend to send out 3 queries a week for 4 months, unless I get an R&R. If it goes no where, I’ll contemplate edits in August.

Beta Readers

I’ll be reaching out to beta readers as I wrap up my revisions on MS #2 (May) and MS #3 or #4(July).  Readers for MS #2 will, by necessity, be people who have beta read or critiqued MS #1, but for the others, I’m open to a small pool of new readers.

I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.

If my Alpha reader’s schedule permits, I’ll send my manuscripts to her for quick feedback, but otherwise, these may just go straight to my beta readers.

In August and September, I’ve blocked time to incorporate the feedback — at least for MS #2. And perhaps, some updates for MS #1 (either as query feedback suggests, or to better set up MS #2’s plotting).

Conventions

I intend to hit Balticon again (May) and WorldCon (August) in Dublin (!!). I submitted to be a panelist at Balticon… but after they’d already started sending out panel invites, so I may have been too late there. We’ll see. (Keep your fingers crossed!)

Writing

Hmmm, there’s very little actual writing on this project plan, but sometimes, that’s how the cookie crumbles. Besides, I’ve been assured that editing and revising and brainstorming ARE part of the writing process.

Plus? I don’t have a big idea pushing on me right now.

That said, I intend to do OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. And then NaNoWriMo.

If I don’t have an idea by then, I’ll do a rebel NaNo and revise whichever manuscript hasn’t been touched.


And that’s my plan for the year. If you got a little lost, here’s the plan in chart form.

I’ll be focusing on reading every other month until the last quarter, revising most of my backlog, querying, a couple conventions, and a bit of writing.


What does your plan look like for 2019?

Did you build in flexibility?

World Fantasy Con, Writers Workshops, and NaNoWriMo. Oh, my!

Your friendly, neighborhood writer-blogger-vlogger-voice actress has been BUSY!

Two weekends ago, I attended a writers’ workshop put on by my local writer’s group, Write By The Rails. Unfortunately, I had to miss the end of it.

Why? You might ask.

To hit my regional NaNoWriMo kickoff party!

Then, this past week, my day job was busy enough that I managed to take Friday off without having to burn any leave… to attend my first World Fantasy Con — including my panel debut!

And, of course, that doesn’t include finishing up OctPoWriMo, Halloween, keeping up with my blog and vlog, and a little thing called NaNoWriMo!

It’s been a little frantic here at Morgan’s lair.

As always, I’ll be sharing my panel notes, (although, some were more recommended reading lists) but first, I’m going to be sharing my experiences with you.

The writing workshop

It was a cool, rainy fall morning when I parked on the street in front of the full church parking lot, and prayed I’d read the parking regulations correctly. I asked a gentleman, walking across the parking lot if I was in the right place, and he confirmed.

I followed the sidewalk to the side door and found myself in the foyer of the church where the workshop was taking place. Once I’d hung my jacket and gotten my nametag from the table in the hall, I corrected my nameplate and found a seat at the large circular table toward the middle of the room. After a quick introduction to my fellow tablemates, I pulled out my notepad and settled in.

As always, the Write By The Rails crowd was enthusiastic, supportive, and welcoming.

The first panel was on marketing and took a local view. Most of the tips were more useful for non-fiction and novels set in the local area, but there was information about getting coverage for book launches and more.

We took a short break to look at all the books for sale by local authors. Manassas has a decent selection of local novels. Even most of the self-published books are high quality and make me proud to be associated with them.

Next up was a panel on memoirs. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be open to writing a memoir, but it was fascinating to hear the thought process that goes into it, how it differs from a biography, and the process for finding the theme that pulls the memoir together.

Finally, the topic nearest and dearest to my heart. Fiction novelists. The panelists were skilled, knowledgeable, and wrote in my genre.

Altogether, there were four panels: marketing, memoirs, novel writing, and poetry, I missed the last one. As always, I took copious notes on all — except that last one. Despite my OctPoWriMo inspired interest in poetry, I’d already committed to attending my regional NaNoWriMo kickoff party.

The NaNoWriMo kickoff party

NaNoWriMoI’d seriously joined NaNoWriMo in 2013, but didn’t attend my first in-person event until after I’d started this blog. This was my 3rd kickoff party.

I like going and meeting my local writing community. The circles overlap, but by no means encompasses those who are in the other local groups, and that weekend, I was determined to find my inner extrovert. (outer extrovert?)

I drove through the rain and made it to the library’s basement parking deck 10 minutes before kickoff time. I headed up the stairs, finding a conference room right where I remembered it from last year. The first room you get to at the top of the stairs. I held my breath, hoping it was in the same place.

Peeking in, I spotted the chairs in a circle, and the tables set up for food and drink offerings. With a sigh of relief, I headed in and signed up, adding my genre and motivation to the group display board as requested. Got my raffle ticket (and skipped putting my name on it, cause it was numbered) and goodie bag, and went about introducing myself to those near my chair (carefully selected to be right next to the snack table.)

Once we got going, everyone was asked to introduce themselves, share their NaNoWriMo forum name, years writing, and talk about this year’s project. When they got to me, my regional liaisons introduced me as our resident blogger. So I knew what I had to do.

“Hi, my name is Morgan Hazelwood. You can find me on the forums as morganHazelwood. And since I’m our resident blogger, you can find my blog over on morganHazelwood.com.”

“Folks. That’s! How you do branding,” our liaison laughed.

So, when we got to the raffle (a table full of items, in which our raffle only indicated the order of picking something off the table), I got a lot of grief for being basically the only person who DIDN’T put their name on their table.

I re-met people from previous years, chatted with first-timers, and never-finisheders. And I hope to see most of them, if not in person, then on the new-to-our-region discord chat rooms.

Plus, I ate way too many snacks, I couldn’t even finish my amazingly decadent peanut butter cupcake.

OctPoWriMo

Exploring poetry in all its forms.

               OctPoWriMo              31 Poems in 31 days

Until OctPoWriMo, my main experience with poetry was class assignments and teenage flirtations with boys and paganism.

I think my biggest surprise was how quickly I could turn a theme into a poem that I didn’t hate. I don’t think I spent more than 15 minutes on anything except my sonnet (not counting typos while inking them.)

Overall, I think I would do poetry again. Either for a themed contest or anthology or as a writing exercise to get the words flowing. Perhaps, to keep up with writing when stuck in the editing doldrums and feel like being creative.

(If you missed them, here’s week 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.)

Blog/Vlog

Clearly, I was still vlogging and blogging the last two weeks, with those poetry roundups, some author spotlights, and of course, my weekly blog and vlog posts.

Last week’s blog and vlog were done after spending 6-8pm handing out candy while debugging code for my day job.  Then, I finished drafting and editing my post, set up my camera, and went to work. After my second take, I found out that the audio wasn’t what I like, but I tried both my plug-in camera and my built-in laptop one. With midnight coming quickly and a long day at work ahead of me, I went ahead and posted what I could. Then did a round of packing for World Fantasy Con and snuck in 110 words right after midnight.

I’ve been working on making my non-panel write-up blog posts more personalized, while still having useful tips that can help other writers. (Let me know how I’m doing.)

Since people’s interest peak’s the week after an event like a writers’ workshop or a convention, I’m torn between blogging my NaNoWriMo stuff and my panel write-ups. So. Expect a mix.

My NaNoWriMo progress thus far

NaNoWriMo kicked off on a 12 hour work day, with a 2-hour drive for me to check into a convention. With work keeping me as late as it did, though, the drive was cut to about an hour twenty, but I spent a bit too long in the ConSuite saying hi and settling in.

I ended the first day with 660 words, a thousand shy of the target. On day 2, I found the NaNoWriMo room at WorldFantasy, settled in, and squeaked out exactly 1,667 words. It was a great space and something I hope to find in more conventions — during NaNoWriMo or not. The only thing I would have added is extension cords and maybe an additional power strip or two. At a different event, allowing artists with their sketchbooks or quiet reading in the space might also work.

Day 3, my writing break was cut short 250 words shy of the target because I had to go to a panel — my debut as an actual panelist. After all the panels I’ve written up, this is the first one I’ve participated in. Day 4, between getting home, a nap, and visiting with my brother(sushi + binge-watching season 1 of The Good Place), I finally managed to get my daily target of words in just before midnight but was lagging almost a day for the month.

Fortunately, I’d taken Monday off work, and narrowed the gap in a long and distracted writing afternoon. My word target is amazing, it can expand to take however long I have to reach. Tuesday, I finally caught up and am now keeping on track!

nanoWeek1_2018

World Fantasy Con!

The Baltimore Renaissance Hotel

Since Balticon is my ‘home convention’ and where I met many of those who convinced me to attend World Fantasy, I’m very familiar with the space. It’s a bit expensive to stay there, and parking is ridiculous…

But the first convention I worked was at the Gaylord National in National Harbor, Md. After that hotel, there are very few places that would give me sticker shock. And the Renaissance’s layout has nothing on the Gaylord, where only 2 elevators even reach the convention center.

Coming in the night before was worth it to me to miss the expected traffic and allowed me to settle in before the crowds got there. Although, “crowd” is a relative term. Balticon is noticeably larger, even when it’s not the 50th anniversary.

Working The Con

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Morgan, wearing a Charles Babbage (and Ada Lovelace on the back) locket, eating squash soup, root veggies, and rice.

In the past, I’ve worked in guest relations for an anime convention. Liaisoning with the invited panelists and speakers, making sure their transportation and sleeping arrangements are made, their table (should they want one) is set up, that they’re fed and hydrated, and that they make it to those panels. That job is 24-7, from the day before the convention, sometimes until the day after it ends.

This time? I’d signed up to staff the ConSuite.

For those who don’t know. The ConSuite is a thing that exists at most fan-run conventions. Typically, it’s a hotel suite with snacks to tide one over and a place to hang out and chat with your friends past midnight that isn’t trying to sell you stuff.

At World Fantasy? They kicked it up a notch with slow cooker oatmeal in the mornings, full sandwich spreads, hot dinners, and leftovers from all the receptions. Not to mention, the expected snacks and candies.

Plus? As a new staff member, whose schedule didn’t permit me to help load or unload the supplies, they’d scheduled me 7pm-11:30pm on Friday and Saturday only. That left my days free for panels, and my evening free for parties and BarCon (i.e. The hotel bar, where writers/agents/etc hang out and network). I did end up missing the mass book signing and the art gallery receptions, which were far more of an event than I’m used to from less formal conventions, but I wouldn’t have traded my shift for any other.

Networking and New Friends

I’d been introduced to one of the ConChairs (organizers and coordinators) of World Fantasy back in May, when I ended up helping him co-host the DC 2021 bid party for WorldCon (they want to host it, currently, no one is campaigning against them). (As opposed to World Fantasy Con). He invited me in as ConSuite staff, made sure to introduce me to new people everytime I ran into him, and helped me raid the ConSuite after-hours for a post-daylight-saving-time-rollback-snack.

I ended up staying up past 2 am both Friday and Saturday nights, talking with people and having some quality conversations.

In the ConSuite, I met a ton of people–some new people, some vaguely remembered from cons past, and some fondly remembered. I chatted with them, shared my business card and Anansi’s business card, and found several more writers, bloggers, and artists I need to follow.

I’m now a member of Broad Universe. An inclusive network to support women writers of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. As part of their more real-world support methods, they get tables at conventions that members can use for free (well, working a shift or 3) and they organize group readings.

I even networked on the elevator ride out of the con, Sunday afternoon. The gentleman emailed me links to the novel and non-fiction that he’s written on Monday. I’m working on my own follow-ups — emailing notes to thank people for their conversations and recommendations — especially those I’d love to chat with again.

World Fantasy Convention, Washington, D.C., November 1 - 4, 2018

My Debut Panel

At 5pm on Saturday, I made my debut as a panelist. I’d suggested several writing topics — beta reading, editing, querying, even social media. Instead, they realized I’d listed ‘voice actor’ on my list of qualifications. I’m a voice actor for Anansi Storytime, a folktale audio drama podcast, and, of course, I have my no-edits lazy vlog.

Thus, I found myself on Talking The Talk: Audiobooks from Fantasy Works. The panel was moderated by the award-winning Guy Gavriel Kay. My fellow panelists were Simon Vance, of literally over a thousand audiobooks, and Jessica Albert, from the small press EWC Press in Canada, where she manages the casting and creation of their audiobooks.

Guy Kay took his job as a moderator seriously and reached out to us a week before the convention, showing he’d clearly researched us all. He eagerly offered to pivot to include my experiences and discuss the differences in podcasting versus audiobooks, plus the difference between managing a voice project and being the voice for it.

The night before, I organized my notes as if I were about to vlog, and made sure to get all the equipment and process details from Anansi’s producer, in case that came up. I kept my notebook on my lap throughout the panel but never opened it. No one else was looking at notes, except Guy Kay, confirming the questions he was asking.

In person, he was no less gentlemanly and thorough, taking time to cater each question to address our particular specialties. I managed to provide a few answers I’m proud of.

At one point, though, I’d answered a question, I *knew* I’d answered the question, but the exact wording of it had escaped me, such that, when the time came, I couldn’t summarize my thoughts. I had to turn to Guy Kay and say, “I’m sorry, I got lost. What was the question again?”

As soon as I got back to my room, after the panel, I realized exactly what I *should* have said. And will say if I have this issue in the future. “Does that answer your question?”

A friend I’d met a few Balticons ago was there and took my picture for me before the panel. Then, he shared his favorable impressions in a quick post-mortem afterward. (Thank you!)

morganFirstPanel

(And I found a round-up on twitter.)

Overall, I feel my performance was pretty solid, and that I could have really shone on the topics I blog about. I think I’ll sign-up to panel again.


And that’s it. That’s what I’ve been up to for the past two ridiculous weeks.

What have you been up to?