I Answer the Most Annoying Questions about NaNoWriMo

Saturday Afternoon, 34°F and foggy
Listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer—Tarkus

A confession: The first time I heard about NaNoWriMo I was skeptical. I had been fussing over a manuscript for more than a year and couldn’t imagine what anyone would get out of writing a novel in 30 days.

Then, on November 2, 2007, I made the irrational decision to give NaNo a shot. I won. I now understand that’s not the norm for first-time “WriMos” but I was already serious about writing and had a consistent writing habit.

However, “steaming pile” is not too harsh a description for the resulting manuscript. I disliked the protagonist. There was not enough tension. It was 100% seat of the pants and lacked a few important things, like a plot.

Yet it was worthwhile. Writing that first steaming pile of 50,000 words in 28 days gave me some useful results. Continue reading

How not to tag dialogue

Wednesday evening, 25°F and cloudy 
Listening to The Nice, War & Peace

Please, self-publishing authors. I am begging you. Learn how to tag dialogue. It’s not that hard, I promise. The bad dialogue tags in self-published fiction makes my eyeballs spurt blood. I’ll be covering several varieties of bad dialogue tags and what you can do to fix them. If you’re not sure how to properly tag dialogue, keep reading. If you think you’re sure but are using dialogue tags other than said or asked more than once every 5,000 words, keep reading.

Said and asked are your dialogue MVPs

You could write a 150,000-word novel using no dialogue tags other than these. It doesn’t mean you have to, but they should make up the majority of your dialogue tags (not including properly used action tags). Said and asked are your go-to tags because they are practically invisible. Continue reading

Ideas are worthless

Friday Evening, 32°F and cloudy
Listening to The Nice, She Belongs to Me.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but that idea you have for a novel? It’s worthless. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, is buying up ideas for novels. Go ahead, Google around and see if I’m wrong. I’ll just wait here.

The good news is, if you’ve been wasting energy hoarding your novel ideas, you can relax. The dollar value of your great idea is $0.00. Nobody is angling to swipe it from you. Even if they did, it wouldn’t matter.

Yet I keep seeing comments like these in writers’ groups:

“I avoid social media pitch events like ass herpes because writers are lurking around hoping to steal my ideas.”

“Whatever my current idea is, I guard it like a state secret.”

“I flat out refuse to even tell my editor what the story is about until I’ve got the first draft finished.”

Now, there may be some good reasons to not share your ideas, but “people are going to steal them” isn’t one of them. The value isn’t in the story idea. It’s in the story’s execution. Continue reading

Your first draft: getting out of your own way

Friday Morning, 32°F and foggy
Listening to ELP, Rondo Pt. 3 at The Lycium

I was hanging out on a writers forum when someone complained about struggling with how to begin their first novel. “I just can’t get it started. Nothing sounds right.”

The experienced writers were quick to weigh in with  “just write it,” “don’t worry if it’s crap,” and Hemmingway’s assertion: “all first drafts are shit.” This is 100% correct. But only helpful if you understand why you need to just write it, and what purpose that serves.

The reason we say “just write it” is that if you’re struggling with where to begin, what you really need is to get out of your own way. Quit worrying about whether you’re starting in exactly the right spot, what it sounds like, how it flows or (worst of all) what people are going to think when they read it. If you’re smart, nobody is going to read your first draft. You’re going to revise and polish a second draft before you let another set of eyes on it.

Many if not most authors throw away far more words than they ever publish. This is especially true with the words we write when we’re first starting out as novelists. The best thing I’ve ever done for my writing? Learn to be unflinching about throwing out anything that doesn’t serve the story. This is what people mean when they say “murder your darlings.” I have deleted whole chapters, scenes, descriptions, strings of great dialogue, and even solid characters that I’ve absolutely loved. Just because something is beautifully written, gut-wrenching, unforgettable or hilarious doesn’t mean it serves the story. Continue reading

Progholm Syndrome

Tuesday Evening, 33°F and foggy
Listening to The Nice, Rondo

It’s no secret that I have a thing about progressive rock. I tend to go through phases with it, where I will get deep down into a single prog band for days or weeks then I’ll come back out of my prog binge and not listen to another note of prog for weeks.

A few years ago my best friend and I started a really limited Facebook group called Progvember, dedicated to listening to prog during the month of November. For some reason (probably a combination of NaNoWriMo and a disgust hangover from the US presidential election) I neglected Progvember entirely in 2016. I thought I could get away with that. Turns out prog had something to say about that. Uh-uh, Grace. Not so fast. Continue reading

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