Happy NaNoWriMo!

NaNoWriMoToday marks the beginning of the frenetic bundle of amazingness that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This month, thousands of writers around the globe will try to write a 50,000 word first draft of a new story.

With an all-star line-up of NaNoWriMo Pep Talks, and hashtags on Twitter for both writing tips and daily sprints, this month is a great time to start writing that novel that you’ve been meaning to write for ages.

Here’s what the some of the Pennies have to say about their own NaNoWriMo experiences:

Julie Artz: I first learned about NaNoWriMo in 2012. And even though my story that year unraveled at 22,000 words, I was hooked. I came back in 2013 with a little bit more advanced planning and claimed the winner’s badge a few days before month-end. In 2014, I used the month to finish a story I started earlier in the fall. And in 2015, that manuscript made it into Pitch Wars. It was that 2013 story–a middle-grade post-apoc with steampunk elements–that first caught my agent’s eye. She offered a revise and resubmit on the manuscript, but, with her permission, I sent her my newest story instead. And the rest is history. This year, I’ll be cheering you all on from the sidelines as I revise for her instead of drafting, but it will be with a pang of envy, because I’ve got this new story idea that’s just itching to be written…

Jessica Bloczynski: In the fall of 2013, I ran out of every episode of Star Trek Netflix had to offer. I even suffered through Enterprise. I was bored. Climbing the walls bored. Honestly, finding NaNo was a fluke. I stumbled upon a Facebook group of folks doing NaNo together and an idea that had been riding around in my head for about a year spoke up and demanded to be written. And I figured, why not, might as well put my creative writing degree to use. I started writing, did writing sprints with friends and shared snippets of my WIP with other newb writers. Basically, I found this amazing, encouraging community and instead of writing my book alone, I wrote it with thousands of others. That’s a powerful feeling. At the end of November I had a very messy draft, that would, in the fullness of time, become the sci-fi novel that earned me a spot in PitchWars 2015. My advice? Do it. DO IT. Do it for the confidence it builds, the community you find and 50,000 words you can shape into something wonderful. And remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be finished. Go Nanokids!

Mark Holtzen:  I first participated in NaNoWriMo when I was stuffed in a room with gobs of swarming third graders five days a week and I had two kids under five at home. I had no time and even less energy, but I figured if I was ever going to write a children’s novel in a more efficient way than my first one, I’d have to find the time somewhere in the day. O’dark thirty seemed as good a time as any. The timing wasn’t great–after three days of getting up early I’d pass out at 8:30pm, but that month did get me into the habit of staring at my computer screen for an hour each day. Sometimes I only managed forty minutes, sometimes ten, but I learned the important part was visiting the story once every day. It turned out to be a great thing to share with my students as well.

The Shadows We Know by HeartJennifer Park: My up-coming debut, The Shadows We Know By Heart, was a NaNo project in 2014… I didn’t win, but it jump started the draft and I got a lot of work done on it… I’m going to use this Nano to finish possible book 2. Definitely start strong and surpass your daily word count when you can, because I always lose the week of thanksgiving because of kids and traveling and just being busy… we’re moving this month, so I’ll be surprised if I make the 50k… but there’s always hope! And what I love the most about NaNo is that the momentum really carries through into the following months… I probably get my highest word counts in the months following NaNo because it’s so motivating, and you get to the point where 3000 a day is easily attainable. And I’m competitive, so if friends are doing better than me, I’ll work that much harder. And, no matter whether you win or not, we’re all doing it together. So it’s good to know that when you sit down to get that word count out, so is everyone else.

Kristi Wientge: I’ve participated in NaNo in 2012, 2013 and 2014. I won each of those years. Part of it I attribute to my inner drive that will NOT let me NOT do something I say I’m going to do. The other part I attribute to organization. I use notecards to map out my days. I also jot down notes and names and things I know I’ll forget later on, but don’t want to waste the time to scroll through finding. Usually, I have the first seven cards mapped out. So, my first week goes smoothly. Then, I do the next week and so on. It gives me structure, but still allows me to be flexible. Typically I use a Save The Cat type of beat bullet point to keep me on track and to ensure I actually complete the story. But, if I really find myself stuck, then I take the day to free write from one of the character’s POV’s. It’s words and it counts!

Happy NaNoWriMo writing friends! Share your NaNoWriMo story in the comments below.

Claim it!

via GIPHY

When I had my first child, sure my life changed. My sleep was dictated by her cries. I had to take her with me on all my errands and be sure there’d be a place I could nurse. Worse case, I had to time my arrival so I could feed her in the car.

No more running in shops or popping out for a coffee. There were schedules to follow and a baby to entertain.

But, overall, my life was like a less selfish version of its former self. I still worked. Colleagues and students called me by my name. In fact, many didn’t even know I had a family.

I was still Kristi or Mrs. Kristi.

Then, six months into my second pregnancy, I quit my job. My hair went from curly to straight. I only interacted with mothers. I was sick and tired and hungry and sweaty.

All. The. Freaking. Time.

The people at my daughter’s school, art class and music class called me, “Sylvia’s Mommy.” When I walked down the street with a big belly, pushing a stroller, I was invisible. Everyone looked at my cute toddler’s face and smiled at her. I was suddenly no one.

Just a mom.

That’s how it felt, anyway. Eleven years later, I’m only just now rebuilding my identity. I had three other children, went through the ups and downs over and over. I’ve had to be called “So-and-so’s Mommy” for much longer than I ever intended.

My writing felt like a selfish indulgence. So much so that I’d squish it in between naps and after bedtimes. I only told two people that I was even doing it. All the while, unhappily ticking the “homemaker” box on forms for doctors, schools, etc.

Last year I signed with my agent. I still ticked “homemaker” because I convinced myself that my book hadn’t sold yet so technically I wasn’t an author.

Then, my book sold. I still ticked “homemaker” at the gynecologist.

I signed my contract and I still hesitated and let my hand hover over my children’s Punjabi school form next to the line: Mother’s Job:_____.

I STILL wrote “homemaker.”

I told myself that I’d write “author” once my book comes out in print.

BUT, why?

Why should I wait? What if my book gets bumped and doesn’t come out until 2018 instead of 2017?

If a friend asked me, I’d be telling them not to be silly, write “author.” Why won’t I let myself write it?

Being an author is like being a homemaker. No one really knows how much time, effort and work you put into things. Like when I do a really thorough cleaning of my flat. I feel like I accomplished something. Then, the kids get home from school, have a snack, run around outside, invite neighbors in. By the time my husband walks through the door, he wonders what I’ve actually done all day because the house and dinner are kind of all over the place.

My writing time can be the same. I spend hours working and reworking only to have family say, “You’re STILL working on that? How long does it take to write down some words?”

Recently the FOWP group shared our favorite writing quotes. Mine? (It’s funny now that I think about it!) Here it is: Claim it!

Yep, I’m pretty sure it was from a NaNo pep talk.

So, all of you who have a manuscript hiding in a drawer or maybe you’re in the query trenches or maybe your book is on submission…still. Claim it!

Posting this is my promise to myself that after claiming it to all of you, I’m going to claim it to myself as well. I promise to take a photo of the next form I fill out and post it here. You better be sure I do!

 

Photo on 3-19-15 at 1.23 PM #2Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out summer 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR and is represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. 

Feeding Your Inner Artist

Some of my earliest memories are of going to the art museum with my father. music-1311106_640Later, when I started playing violin, my parents took us to the symphony. We read widely, went to plays and art festivals and were generally immersed in the arts.

Before I started my family, I spent years attending live music, traveling to some of the world’s best museums, and grabbing a seat at every literary lecture and reading I could.

Things changed. I spent several years not availing myself of art. I had some good excuses: young children, a fixer-upper house that needed lots of fixing up, lack of money. Eventually, I stopped using excuses altogether. Experiencing art just wasn’t something I did anymore.

But then I met my friend Nancy, a dancer. She invited me to one of her performances, which was to be held at the building where we both worked, in a small studio space crammed with a few chairs and lit sparingly.

idea-1301427_640During the performance – an unfinished avant garde piece she was testing out for a choreographer friend of hers – I found that lost piece of myself, the one that is fueled by art. And I had an epiphany.

Writers are artists. I am an artist.

That’s probably a big duh for most of you. I hope it is anyway. But I have found a surprising number of writers who don’t consider themselves artists, or at least don’t refer to themselves that way.

And I think it’s important that we do. Artists create. Writers create. Writers are artists.

Sure, you should read a lot in and out of your chosen genre. But my inner artist is hungry for more. Every art meal I feed my inner artist sparks a new idea in me or gives me an interesting new direction for my work.

Feed your inner artist:

  • Get a membership to the art museum in your town. When they have a show featuring a particular school or artist, go and see how the ideas and style evolved over time.
  • Attend plays and listen to the dialogue. See where the playwright, the director and the actors savor the words, and where they rush.
  • Check out some out-of-the-box performance art. How does the artist use surprise or shock to communicate?
  • See musicians who aren’t in your musical library. How does listening to new music spark your own creativity?
  • Spend time with other artists. Talk to them about their work, learn how to discuss your work. Encourage each other!

In short, expand your artistic horizons.

I am more grateful than I can express for my writer friends and their support, advice and camaraderie. But my inner artist craves the connection with other creative types, too.

Nancy and I often set aside times to discuss art – the creative process, the ups and downs of creating, revising and polishing, the public reception, the germ of a new idea. Our work in different mediums isn’t an impediment to discussion at all. In fact, it enhances it. We often try to bring in other artist friends who can express similar ideas through the lens of photography, sculpture, ballet, architecture, or music.

I attended a concert and discussion recently where the moderator asked a songwriter about intention. The songwriter said he often started out thinking that a song was about one thing, only to find that it ended up being about something else entirely. That happens to me almost every time I write, and hearing another artist talk about that made me feel less alone.

Since that first performance of Nancy’s, I have seen her dance several times. I’ve also started to seek out art again, including going to more live music, taking my kids to art festivals, museums and theater, and generously tipping the fantastic cellist at the farmer’s market.

Each time I experience a new piece of art it feeds that creative part of my soul and reminds me that far from being frivolous or a luxury, art is essential to my well being and the well being of the world.

Art matters.

Your art matters. Feed your art — and keep on creating!

What feeds your art? Do you connect with other artists, either in person or online? Let’s meet in the comments to discuss!

Where Do You Write?

One of the great things about writing is that there’s no wrong way to do it…as long as words are getting logged somewhere. Anywhere. On a laptop, in a notebook, on thick, creamy paper, or in a recording on a cell phone to be transcribed later. But with all these options, we all have our own comfortable patterns we fall into.

IMG_0418Two members of The Winged Pen talk about where they write and why this works for them.

Where do you write?

Rebecca:

I’m a home office girl. I have visions of being a regular in a hip coffee shop, lattes available for the asking when I’ve sweated through so many words that my brain needs a break. In these visions, a critique partner would be writing by my side and we’d brainstorm a plot bunny over the coffee break.

But writing in Starbucks is not for me. One word: Noise. I need quiet to write. I don’t even listen to music. The only words I want to hear are the ones in my head or on my screen. The only voice – my characters’. Anything else slows me down. I have written in coffee shops, but I save that for when I’m more focused on connecting with writer-friends and getting a little work done. Never when I’m doing the Big Revision.

Richelle:

I have an “office” at home, but I rarely do my best work there. Instead, I am that annoying regular at the coffee shop, taking up a table for hours while nursing a cup of coffee.

I like the noise and bustle of the coffee shop. I love to watch people and imagine their backstories, or better yet, listen to how they talk and interact with their companions. Of course, when I’m really cranking, I put my earbuds in and turn on music, which ends up as white noise as I lose myself in the story. But when I’m stuck for a word or the direction for the next scene, all of that inspiration is right there, just over the brim of my coffee mug.

I think the coffee shop calls to me for a couple of reasons: One, my day job is at home, so when I sit down in my “office” I feel guilty if I’m not working on a paid gig. But more than that, at home, there is always something else that I could be doing: dishes, laundry, cleaning up cat vomit, organizing that one closet or drawer that never seems to stay organized, sweeping the dust bunnies from under the sofa. At my local coffee shops – shout out to Rain or Shine and the Bipartisan Café! – nothing is expected of me except that I write.

Describe your typical writing spot.

Rebecca:

I have a desk in the room over the garage. I share my “office” with my kids, so the focused work needs to be done before school gets out and that room gets noisy with video games and homework. My desk is a mess: The Emotional Thesaurus and Story Engineering are always within arm’s reach. There’s a notebook or two with my jotted “do not forgets” for next chapters or revisions, as well as sticky notes with “to do” lists. I also have a Yankee Candle that gets lit when serious writing will be done and a collection of kid art projects.

Richelle:

When I’m not perched on a stool at the local café, I sit in a blue chair in my living room with my beagle curled up asleep behind me. I have a bucket from IKEA that holds my notebooks, and if I lean a little to the left, I can snag a reference book off the bookshelf. I’m more minimalist at the coffee shop, where it’s just me, my laptop, and a notebook and pen.

When you get the big book deal and need to lock yourself away for a month to make the words happen (oh, please let this happen someday!), what would be your dream writing local?

Rebecca:

On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, listening to the surf crash into the beach. Of course, that nasty sand would never get into my laptop and gum up the works. And it would be 70 degrees and partly cloudy and not 95 and scorching…I mean, since we’re dreaming.

Richelle:

I’m with Rebecca, only on the opposite coast! A beach house on the Oregon coast, with a view of the surf tumbling onto the sand and summer sun streaming in the picture window would, I’m certain, inspire me to new story heights.

 

Where do you write? Do you pick your writing spot for creativity? For productivity? What do you think would happen if you tried something new?

We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

2014-5 NESCBWI croppedREBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. Unlike many writers, Rebecca did not write her first story at age eight…at least not fiction. She wrote for her high school yearbook and edited it her senior year. She also wrote for her college newspaper. But her first fiction course scared the bejeezus out of her! Having overcome her fear of fiction, Rebecca loves see how much trouble she can get her characters into, and sometimes back out of. You can find her blog here. She’s also on Twitter.

rm-picRICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon, often in the company of her husband and their three spirited children, mischievous beagle and long-suffering cat. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.

Why You Need to Try Writing Prompts

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I’ve never really been one for writing prompts. Like everyone else, I am busy, and so have always felt the writing time I had needed to be as productive as humanly possible. If I wasn’t adding to my word count, I was wasting time. It will probably come as no surprise to those of you who have been writing for a while that I got pretty burned out by that strategy. The joy of writing was gone, and without that, there was no point.

This summer, I’m giving myself the opportunity to play with my writing. My commitment is not to a number of words or chapters or books finished, but rather that every morning, first thing, I will write for fifteen uninterrupted minutes. It is Morning Pages, basically. I journal, write, brainstorm new works, or even draw.

Inspired by a class I took with Jo Knowles, I’ve also been trying writing prompts. I am amazed at the way they spark creativity and deepen my prose. They’re great practice, in the way that a sprints workout can goose your running program. Best of all for my purposes, they’re fun. I’ve been having a ball.

There are different kinds of prompts. Some are designed to inspire you into a new story, like this list or this one. Others can help you flesh out your work in progress, like this one on character development and this one on setting. For plot, I love the ideas in this article. Jen Malone also suggests writing a synopsis of your story and asking writing partners to come up with twenty “what if” questions based on it (e.g., “What if the best friend is a boy instead of girl?” or “What if she never finds the necklace?”).

Of course, because this is my summer of decadence, I prefer the prompts that are not designed to help me with a new or existing work. I like that ones that are just about fun and practice, like this calendar of 365 writing prompts, and this list from Writer Magazine. Prompts don’t have to be some formal thing, either; as suggested in this Lee & Low post, a good prompt might be a headline, a passage you highlighted in a book, or what you see outside. Another idea is to do flash fiction, where you give yourself five random words and have to write a 100-word story using those words. Janet Reid often has contests like this on her blog, but you don’t have to wait for her to post one, or to share your work if you do use her prompts. Finally, Kate Messner hosts a wonderful summer writing camp. It’s aimed at teachers and librarians, but anyone can play along. She has an impressive roster of writers lined up to provide lessons, and every Monday, Jo Knowles (the very same!) will give a writing prompt.

You can peruse these lists and choose a prompt that appeals to you. Consider, however, picking one at random, or purposely choosing one that feels difficult. In this TED Talk, Tim Harford discusses the power of discomfort to unlock creativity. Composer and music producer Brian Eno uses a deck of cards with different prompts, like “Everyone switch instruments,” or “Make a sudden, destructive, and unpredictable noise. Incorporate it.” Musicians with whom he is working have to pick a card and must try the prompt it contains.

The musicians hate it. Phil Collins threw beer cans, apparently. The work that comes out of these experiments, though, is often creative and new. When Eno instead used a list of prompts posted on the wall and let the musicians choose, the work was not as exciting. He believes that the random selection of an uncomfortable prompt—the struggle with something difficult—is what leads to creative breakthroughs. His work, with musicians from U2 to Coldplay to David Bowie, appears to hold that up. If you want to try Brian Eno’s cards, you can pick one here. Some are specific to music, but some work for writers, too.

Ready to dive in? Here is a challenge for you, inspired by the contests of the sharkly Janet Reid. Write a 100-word story that contains the following words: girl, orange, piano, pitcher, mulberry. There are no winners or losers in this, it’s just for fun, but if you’d like to post your story in the comments, I’d love to read it!

Katharine Manning has written two middle grade novels–a contemporary fantasy about a girl who saves unicorns and a contemporary on what happens when a new girl upends a girls’ soccer team. You can see her recommendations for middle grade readers at www.kidbooklist.com, and you can find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter. She also recently discovered Instagram and would appreciate any tips you have on the care and feeding of it.