NaNoWriMo is over. Now what? Toss it, or floss it? And…

… a guest post by Martha Miller, the hardest working writer I know.

But first, a few words from your host.

This just in… Procrastinating Writers has just posted the “43 Most Inspiring Writing Advice Posts 0f 2009.”  And guess what… 15 of them were from  Huge thanks to Jennifer, I’m so very honored by this.

And now for today’s post…

It’s quiet out there.  Tens of thousands of novelists are catching their breath, licking their wounds and getting massages.  A few are looking at a file on their computer and, with a trembling finger poised above the Delete key, wondering what to do now.

My friend Martha has the answer.

If an idea emerged from your month of writing the beginnings of a novel, hopefully one worthy of any further investment of time, including profuse bleeding from your forehead– irrespective of how much time you’ve put into it thus far, that isn’t remotely the highest criteria for moving ahead — then you need to take a breather, get that massage and then get back in the game.

Because by now, you should have a notion as to what challenged you as you plodded along.  And thus, what needs a little literary C.P.R. as the next step in saving the patient. 

You may not have realized it yet, but the fix might be one of process as well as product.

The first question you need to ask, and answer: do you know how your story will end? 

If you don’t, then I strongly advise you to come up with a killer ending before you return to the manuscript.  I am certain that when you do, everything about the writing experience will be different.  It may even send you back to page one.

And if you’re a die-hard panster, the gig is up: you’ve had your random fun wandering among the possibilities, now it’s time to focus.  You had to face that ending sooner or later… it’s time.

And guess what — you don’t need a bunch of subsequent drafts to get there.  If you do it right, one more will do the trick.

Next question: do you know what your major story points are? 

And where to put them?  Do you believe you can just stick them in there any darn place you please? 

If the answer to the latter is in the affirmative, then spend some time wit my story structure series (or my ebook), because you’re trying to reinvent a wheel that doesn’t want or need reinvention.  In fact, you’re swimming upstream… toward a hydroelectic dam that is waiting to grind you into fish food.

If you do know those story points, and your ending… and if your basic premise is strong enough to turn the head of the most cynical, hungover agent…  then what remains is to create scenes that arc between those milestones.  Having written tens of thousands of words by now, you should have a idea as to what that flow might look like, especially in context to these milestones.

If this is a fresh and exciting notion for you, then welcome to a whole new world of storytelling.  You may have needed the head-banging experiencing of trying to write a story from the seat of your pants without the empowering knowledge of either, a) where your story is going, and/or b) what that architectural paradigm even looks like, but it’s time to get real about how this is done.

Once you know, the skies part, the future beckons, and the angels weep.

Here’s how the busiest and most sincere writer I know approaches the craft of storytelling, in context to all of the above.  Her name is Martha Miller, and not only is she a very talented writer and storyteller, she’s a selfless writer’s advocate.

She’s also addicted.  And, truth be told, I’m her dealer.  Her pusher.  And she’s hooked for life.

Confessions of an Addict

(Or, as I like to call it, “Two Women and a Corkboard.” L.B.)

by Martha Miller                                

 Okay, I confess.

I’m addicted. I can’t survive without Larry’s structural paradigm. I am hooked on developing my story outline in advance of the actual writing, figuring out plot points, pinch points and the midpoint. Watching movies, I nod my head at the quarter mark and whisper to myself, “Bingo. Plot Point One, right on schedule”. And I love the rush that comes when I recognize the Midpoint.

Is intervention for this addiction required? Not since I developed my 5-Step Program for managing it.

Step 1: Admit my addiction. Learn to live with it, and recognize it as a positive thing that has improved my quality of life.

Step 2: Tell others about my experience so they too can benefit from its positive aspects.

Step 3.  Find a way to keep track of the beat sheet scenes.

I tried a hard-copy list, but never had it when Ieeded it. Keeping the list on my computer was hard to manage. What about index cards? I was forever spilling them, then lost valuable writing time putting them back in order, all the time muttering under my breath.

Step 4. Find a buddy you can depend on.

Jan Bear heard me confess my problem one night at a meeting. She had the same problem, so she empathized. She took me aside and told me about this $40 downloadable writing software (available only at this time for Mac users) called Scrivener. I experienced true euphoria. Among its many tools for writers, Scrivener has a corkboard feature, which allows you to write each scene of a novel on a virtual index card. These cards are all tacked to a corkboard onscreen, in whatever order you like. They can be moved around at will. Once you begin to write scenes, and with Scrivener running in the background, you can check your ‘cards’ to see what comes next. Result? More euphoria. Less stress.

Step 5.  No more excuses. Get busy and write like hell. 

Martha Miller is a Big Cheese (my title, not hers) with the Oregon Writers Colony, helping to organize writing workshops and events that help move writers toward their goals within a community of support and accountability.  Her novels — I’ve read ’em — are all courageous in that they challenge big ideas in big ways. 

Also… thanks, Ruth, for this idea.


Filed under getting published

8 Responses to NaNoWriMo is over. Now what? Toss it, or floss it? And…

  1. L.B
    I love the writers that come here. They’re always so down to earth and never snoody or condescending like so many other sites I’ve been to.

    I get where you’re coming from. I’ve found I’m begining to become an addict as well. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one. lol

    Oh and thanks for the tip on that program…. it sounds perfect.

  2. Patrick Sullivan

    I really wish Scrivener had a pc version. Especially since NaNoers who won get a discount on the full version I believe. But ah well, just have to stick with index cards ;-).

    How many others on here are still plowing through their NaNo stories btw? I only managed 54k+ during NaNo, even though I finished 50k on the 25th, and am still pushing along towards what looks to be a 100k story (my midpoint was almost exactly at the 50k mark).

  3. Pingback: Linkdump for December 3rd at found_drama

  4. Patrick, you might try Liquid Story Binder. It’s got a free trial and a VERY responsive developer.

    Good article, Larry. (Though there is the off-chance that that pantser won’t even need another draft, just a hefty revision like the rest of us. 😉 )

  5. Martha Miller

    To J.Morgan: Yes, this is a serious addiction we’ve developed but Larry makes it so easy to get a good (story) fix.

    And, keep the faith, Patrick. Scrivener will surely see the light and realize that PC’s still outnumber Macs (but we’re gaining on ya.)

  6. I’m still writing, Patrick, I’m at 57k now, although I finished early, and I think I will finish somewhere between 80 and 100k. But there’ll be a lot of restructuring – which I actually enjoy.

    I wrote mostly to exercise my writing muscles – the longest story I’ve written before was 5000 words and I want to write a novel. So I was writing with the intention of throwing it all away, and then getting back to the crime novel I started earlier this year.

    Except half way through I suddenly had a flash of insight and saw a structure that could turn the whole thing into a real novel…

    So now I am part way writing two novels – insane but also sort of exciting.

    And I did learn a lot by just writing every day – partly how the words do mount up, but also I became more fluent, and I started to generate lots more ideas – I have half a dozen ideas for stories I recorded in my notebook as I went along.

  7. Monica

    Yes, Larry’s right – the writing world’s a little bit quieter this week. I’ll admit I haven’t written a word since Monday. And I DID get a massage, and caught my breath, did laundry, put up Christmas lights, did Christmas shopping, and baked two batches of cookies. Yeah, there was a lot on hold!

    As I only got to 51+k written, obviously I have more to write to finish my novel. But I wouldn’t have gotten ANYWHERE without Larry’s story structure. Your story structure series & eBook have been invaluable. With that structure I knew when I need a plot twist or an entire subplot. It has changed how I approach my writing – and I was already an outliner! I can’t thank you enough, Larry.

    I will say, for those who were skeptical about Nano, I got out of it what I wanted. A manuscript wasn’t even at the top of the list. A steady habit of writing is what I wanted to develop. Seeing that I could put off procrastination and get my butt in the chair and produce. I accomplished that. Even if the words were trash, I put 51k words together in 30 days. And I could do it again. That I can never lose, delete, or forget.

    There is a site called NaNoFiMo, for those who want to reach 80k words for their unfinished novels (Nano or other). The challenge runs this month, but it’s still early in the month, and you only have to write 30k words. Seems like cake after 50! It’s a much smaller group, but they’re putting up challenges already (9k words by 10 Dec). It should help keep me on track while the holidays are busying distracting me. (Find the link at the ‘I wrote a novel, now what?’ link at Nanowrimo.)

    I got Liquid Story Binder (there was a half-off special last month) on rave reviews for it. Haven’t had a chance to play with it much, but so far it looks all right. But I was working it with a WIP, and I think it would be most beneficial for a new project. Maybe. I might find it invaluable once I get to using it more.

    Thanks again, Larry. I am ever so grateful for your work.

  8. Greetings from Cork Ireland. This is my first visit after I got the link on Twitter this morning.

    I was keen to follow-up on the 50,000 word challenge, the name of which I can never remember. You were recommended to me by @lesleydewar in Perth Australia. I trust her.

    You give so much info away in one post, I don’t know where I’ll start. But one impression I have already: you know your way round this writing business. Love the architectural approach.

    I failed nanowrimo. Failed to complete the challenge. Only wrote a paltry 178 pages of a handwritten epic poem in my Moleskine Notebook.

    In case you’re tricked into being impressed: I write poetry better than prose, and find it easier to write. Simply a habit I’ve developed. I’m one of those nerds who can talk iambic pentameter for Ireland, in my sleep.

    “It is the only way to go my friend.
    Averse to drink, I barely write a line
    without the thought you probably think me fool…

    I’ll be back again soon.