As I gear up for NaNoWriMo in the morning, I want to clarify
for myself (as well as for anyone who decides to keep tabs on me) exactly what
my purpose entails. I am aiming for a total of 50,000 words during the 30 days
of November, but I am not “writing a book,” nor will I have written a novel by
I’ve already expounded on my feeling that 50,000
words is much too short to be considered a novel.
2. All I hope to end up with are some pieces of a
story that can be expanded, elaborated upon, and stitched together with
eloquent transitions that turn them into parts of a novel.
3. As such, there will be days when I write part or
most of a distinct chapter. For example, the passage I plan to start with
tomorrow is part of the Prologue to the rest of my proposed book.
4. But there will also be times when I need to
write about the writing – to discuss the history behind an event, perhaps. That’s also going to happen tomorrow, I hope,
since the Prologue is based on a real natural disaster that turned the
Grenville legacy upside down. I’ll be
putting the story “behind this story” into the form of a blog post on my
5. My ultimate word count for the day will include
both the words of the prologue and the words of the blog.
6. And what appears in the blog will inform and
enrich what appears in the prologue (I hope!)
I figure that how I count up my words is my choice. As long
as they are new, and creative, and not just blathering drivel, they count. And
since I’m accountable only to myself, there should be no accusations of “cheating”
In November 2009 I joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time. The NaNoWriMo goal is to produce 50,000 words in 30 days -- which amounts to 1667 words every day. The rules do not demand that anyone produce deathless prose. The goals are speed, creativity, allowing characters to develop, and ideas to flow. In November 2009, I produced 62,000 words in 28 days. I even got the certificate! But what was important was that many of those words ended up in my latest book, "Beyond All Price." Many of them didn't, of course, but I was off to a great start, and the motivation carried me right through to publication.
The NaNoWriMo process seemed easier in 2010. II was better able to just sit down and let the words flow. What was developing on my computer screen was by no means a finished product, but it served as a great base from which to build a real novel. I was getting a feel for the characters, and some of the individuals began to speak in their own voices, which is always a delightful turning point.
Now, I've done that, several times in fact. Technically I've won the darn challenge three times. But I finally had to admit that (1) 50,000 words is not long enough for a novel; (2) it is impossible for me to write without editing as I go along, partially because I can't type the letter “I” to save my soul; and (3) a story written without taking time to think about what you are writing doesn't turn out to be a very good story.
I have, however, learned a bit more about myself and about the writing process. Here are five rules I would now be willing to carve on a stone:
1. Don't start writing until you have some idea of where you're heading. These little daily chapters utterly fail to provide direction. An impartial reader can not tell who the important characters are, or what the book is all about.
2. Have a timeline. My events tend to be confusingly out of order.
3. Don't confuse "show and tell." My academic background reveals itself all too clearly when I fall into lecture mode. I thought I was writing conversations, but the result all too often sounds like a typical schoolmarm telling a class of students what they must know for the test. I wrote so quickly that I forgot to let my characters show what was going on through their words and actions.
4. Know your characters. Each one needs a distinct personality, recognizable in both their actions and in their speech patterns. If the reader can't tell the characters apart, the author has failed again.
5. Write because you have something important to say. The reader deserves to understand what is important about your story and why you care.
So I quit doing NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago -- swore I'd never do it again. And I haven't, except for a couple of summer camps where the goal was shorter. Still, when November rolls around, I get this irresistible urge to pound the keys. So here I go again, but this time I’m headed into a new novel with six months of preparation behind me. I have character sketches, a timeline, a complete chapter-by-chapter synopsis, and lots of notes on the accompanying history.
I'll keep you posted on progress. Cheerleaders welcome
Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2013 10:52 AM
notoriously bad about dates, so I did not mind paying $19.95 for this
computer app from the Apple Store. Here's the full description of how its developer describes the program:
here's how I used it. I started by filling in the important dates
during and leading up to the Civil War. Then I added my characters
actions, so that their dates made sense of what was going on in the
world around them. Here's just one section of the resulting chart:
can vary all sorts of things, like the colors. Dates adjust to the
number of events you enter. When I started this particular timeline,
the year hatches were only about a quarter of an inch apart. You can
also print out the events on a spreadsheet that transfers seamlessly to
Excel. This gave me a chart of exactly the details I needed to keep
As the list above points out, you can add pictures, videos, maps, etc. to any event, but I haven't needed to do that. As with any software program, the trick is to get maximum usefulness out of it without being distracted by extra bells and whistles. This one calls itself an "Easy Timeline" and that's exactly what it provides.
(That is NOT a misspelled word in the title. It's a piece of software that you need to know about.)
I'm updating and reposting this article from 2013 because it analyses a software program that has not yet caught on with many writers. Scapple is a program developed by the same folks that created Scrivener, and most writers know how useful that program is. I discovered Scapple when I was asked to beta-test it, and I've been a convert ever since. Each time I start a book project I find new uses for it.
does that word mean? Think of it as a combination of "scrap" --
"scalpel" (cutting edge) --"scaffold" -- "scramble" -- "scrabble" -- in
short a new word to describe that piece of paper on which you doodle
until ideas start to flow and make sense. You know the one -- the piece
of paper that fills up before you have all your plot elements down? The
one you spilled coffee on, just when you knew what you were going to
write about? The one that made perfect sense in the middle of the night
but is unreadable in the morning?
you can put those so-called idea-scraps in the nearest trash bin. Now,you can use
Scapple, a never-ending, infinitely-expandable piece of paper for your
computer. And your random thoughts can end up looking like this:
is not-really mind-mapping software; it's more like freeform virtual
paper. It's proof that your random thoughts really do have a pattern or
organization behind them. You can start anywhere on the sheet and
branch out in any direction. You can include totally unrelated notes,
connect ideas in any direction, group items together, move any one note
(or any number) from one place to another. You can apply colors,
borders, and shapes if you want them. And when you are all though, you
can print out your diagram, or save it in PDF, or drag and drop it into
Scrivener. How handy is that!
I used it to map out my main story line and its sub-plots for Damned Yankee. I used clusters of notes for each chapter, and
then moved them over to Scrivener for reference. And when I
completed a draft of a whole chapter, I could drag the new Scrivener note
card from the corkboard view back into Scapple, so that it showed up as a
completed chapter. Here's a small clip that shows some completed
chapters in pink, the next chapters as topics in green, and related
plain notes for each chapter.
Since then, I've also used Scapple in all sorts of ways:
- You can build genealogical charts to help keep a new list of characters and their relationships straight. Having a chart that shows birth and death dates (imaginary though they may be) keeps you from making unfortunate chronological errors.
- You can use it to create a timeline. That's very useful if you are writing historical fiction and need to keep your dates straight.
- You can even use it to create Infographics if your mind works in that way.
The best news is that Scapple
is now, in 2015, available for Windows as well as MAC. This is software you
cannot afford to ignore. It still only costs $14.99, and you can get a 30-day
free trial if you like . Order it at http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scapple.php#wrapper-content
I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Pinterest. Several years ago, I decided to take down all my Pinterest boards because of concerns about copyright issues. I was bothered by a requirement to list the source of each pin, which often turned out to be impossible. I was reluctant to accept the idea that I was giving Pinterest exclusive rights over everything I pinned. I was nervous about being sued by someone whose copyright had been infringed, no matter how unintentionally. And it seemed to me that Pinterest was encouraging people to ignore copyright laws; as a writer I had to oppose that.
On the other side of the argument, came these facts. Pinterest has grown at a phenomenal speed, catching up with the other social media sites. And it attracts the very demographic that I want to attract to my books. So, somewhat hesitantly and reluctantly, I dipped a toe back into these copyright-threatening waters.
I started out with a promise to myself -- to limit my pins to pictures I have taken myself, or to those that come from websites like the Library of Congress, which clearly states that their pictures can be used without permission. For many people, that would be impossible, but for someone who wants to pin about the Civil War, it's fairly easy. The pictures that tell my stories were usually taken 150 years ago.
I have to admit that there is something very addictive about those "boards." I started with a board for each of my published books, and then expanded them as new collections arrived — like the people and the places of “A Scratch with the Rebels,” Others were more touristy -- my own photographs taken on St. Helena Island and at Fort Donelson, Charleston and Beauford. A few others deal with "Who I Am" by showing some of my community-service oriented activities, and eventually, a board dedicated to the cats of Katzenhaus Books.
Here are a few other book-related ideas you might want to try on your own Pinterest boards:
▪ Quotes about reading and books, especially by other authors
▪ Your own favorite books — those that changed you in some way
▪ Books written by people you know. You and your fellow authors can really help one another by sharing each other’s works.
▪ Unusual bookstores, bookshelves, or libraries
▪ Images that provide information about your particular niche, whether it’s a time period or a do-it-yourself topic.
▪ Images connected to a work-in-progress. These might be clothing from a time period, the settings for the story, maps, or even timelines.
Whatever you as an author choose to do with Pinterest boards, the subjects matter should be designed to help both you and your readers get more out of the reading experience. For example, my most recent efforts included Book Club Ideas for each of my books: recipes for suitable refreshments taken from the book or at least the period of the book; discussion questions, and a short bibliography of related books.