What pushes you past the muddy middle? What does it take to get over the hump? In our day jobs, we tend to have that midweek slump then are rejuvenated by the thrill of the approaching weekend. We have deadlines, and more work piled on us but yet generally manage to push forward. Why is it then when it comes to writing, we often let the slump get the better of us?
I know for myself personally, the tyranny of the urgent rises and trumps all other personal endeavors. This is when I have to go seek out encouraging blogs, motivational books, and make a concerted effort with time management.
Maybe for you it’s different. Maybe you have the sure-fire cure to getting bogged down in the middle mire. If so, can you message me?
Continuing with the NANO theme, my guest Leslie Conzatti is going to share a bit about how she pushed through the middle.
Are you a nano newbie? Seasoned veteran? Old timer? This is my fourth year participating in NaNo, but only my second year officially registered. My first year, I just wrote a story and tracked my word count; the second year, I “accidentally” started the story on September 29 and ended up writing for the month of October instead. So yes, I would consider myself a NaNo newbie, even though writing is not a new thing for me. I have yet to actually achieve 50K within the 30 days of November.
How do you prepare for nano? Or if this is your first time, how have you prepared? I am a planner. My first attempt, I thought it would be fun to just “pants” a story for pretty much the first time, only because I did not have any ideas for it to plan ahead of time… Day 3 I woke up with the whole plot in my head. No more pantsing. Typically my story ideas start out with a single scene, or an idea. For example:
Cipherstalker (2011)—started from the idea of a serial killer who starts sending warnings about his targets to the town recluse—a cryptophile—in code. The recluse is forced to learn about people and observe them so that when he cracks the code he can warn the potential victim and save their life.
A Writer’s Tale (2012)—Based on a friend who complained of writer’s block when I happened to be reading “Arabian Nights,” I wrote in first person the adventures of a writer whose work had become “predictable” and so she goes through a series of adventures in all different genres to rekindle the spark of imagination.
The Suggestion Box (2013)—based on a series I did on my blog, where I asked readers for lists containing just four items: a name, a place, a time, and an object. I then had to take the list and create a scene to connect all four items. For November, I pulled all the lists into five parts, and wrote them as one continuous story.
Clay Heroes (2014)—started as just a scene where a young boy gets captured by the six-inch high clay figurines he has made, which have come to life and reverence him as their Maker.
From there, I start making a bulleted list of plot points that provide a context, conflict, conclusion, and characters for the story. Then I go through and map out chapter divisions, just so I am not caught rambling. I work best with a clear starting point and a clear end. The middle can go where it will. I’m not one for doing research if I can help it, so I typically use ideas that don’t require any research. I think it’s more fun that way.
How many hours are you able to write each day? What program/processor do you use, or do you write by hand? Well, working full-time at an elementary school, I basically have a total of 45 minutes during the work day, and maybe a couple of hours once I get home. On the weekends it’s better; I give as much time as possible to writing. Those are my catch-up days. I don’t have a specific ritual or “tradition” when it comes to writing. It has always been “Sit. Stay. Write.” I listen to my characters; I imagine describing them to other people. I see the world through their eyes, and I try to come up with as many words as possible to describe what I see in my mind. I stopped writing by hand once I got my first mobile device… Mostly because I was forced to admit that my handwriting really sucked. I started tapping out my stories and other notes to myself on just the basic Notes app, which meant no more carrying around chunky notebooks that are either too small to write in or too big to actually fit in my purse, and plus I can save the whole thing as an email and access it on my computer for an easy cut-and-paste. (just as long as auto-correct didn’t do anything funky!) I keep my plan on a separate note from my draft, so I can always refer back to it as I am writing. On my laptop I just use Microsoft Word and it works well enough for me.
Tell me briefly your nano book idea, and what inspired it. To be honest, I can’t really remember what inspired it—Transformers, maybe? From the design of the robots? It’s called “Clay Heroes” and it focuses on a 9-year-old boy who is constantly getting bullied. He’s small, he’s creative, and he always has a story running through his head, which sort of distracts him from what’s going on in front of his face and makes him an easy target for bullying. One day his mom gives him a pack of clay and he makes seven figurines: six of them are noble, heroic types with special superpowers. The seventh he makes after the bullies catch him and ruin his clay. The figurines come to life, and the heroes want to help him realize his potential and believe the inner strength that he has, but the seventh figure—the villain—wants to tear the boy down just like the bullies did and set himself up to be the ultimate “Maker.”
Do you write chronologically or when you hit a tight spot, do you jump to another scene and come back? Most often, I do tend to write chronologically. It helps me follow the plan better when I have everything in order, and the “lines” of the story (as I call the space between plot points) are much cleaner. Sometimes, I might come up with a scene that should happen further in, and I only write it down because I don’t want to forget it by the time I reach that point in the story. Interestingly enough, during NaNo 2012, I was writing this ingenious idea of a serial story that changed genre and setting, but I decided to have the same core group of characters (The Hero, The Sidekick, The Traitor, The Reject, etc.) and follow basically the same plot in each genre setting (think “Cloud Atlas” meets “Arabian Nights”), so for that one I could be writing multiple sections at the same time, whichever “mood” I was in. That was a fun method! It all depends on how tight the spot is; sometimes I can just write through it, and sometimes I just have to leave myself notes on what I want to happen and move on to the next plot point. But most of the time, I choose to write linearly.
What advice would you give now that it’s halfway through the month, for people who feel like they are more than halfway through their novel? Ah, the mid-month slump. I am going through it, myself. Heck, I hit the midpoint of my novel last week!
The best thing is to do whatever it takes to keep writing. In an attempt to keep up with my own goals despite not having any inspiration to move forward with my story, I went back over the chapters I had already written, and added adjectives and descriptions and little expansion passages (the excuse of CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT is always an appealing one!) here and there and everywhere. But that was just my tactic because I have a very tight plot-line with not a lot of room for anything too outlandish.
Maybe you have a plot with room for something unexpected that fits the genre and adds to the plot without side-tracking the story. Use it!
Another thing I like to do when I am writing, to generate ideas is to ask “what if?” What if your character responds in the opposite way of what you might predict? What if something happened to completely destroy your hero’s plans? Would it destroy him? Or would he be able to rise above it and figure out a way around it?
I would encourage you at this point that YES, with a modicum of editing, what you are formulating right now IS WORTH READING. Not in the moment, of course, but after a hearty round of editing (and the removal of all those parts you just added for word count anyway, but they’re not vital to the story) it will certainly be something new and fresh that someone will enjoy. So keep writing!
Leslie is a native of the Pacific Northwest and a committed bibliophile. Leslie holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and loves nothing better than reading, writing, and spending time with her family. When she isn’t writing (at least, not that anyone can tell) Leslie works full-time as an elementary school staff assistant. Though she has written many stories and started many novels, Leslie has yet to publish… But she hopes to remedy this situation in the coming year! Happy writing!
You can follow her on her blog: http://www.upstreamwriter.blogspot.com