Writers Assemble!

NaNo-2017-Participant-Badge (1)The hour is nigh! National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins in just two days, and JMRL is here to support you in your writing endeavors. Are you thinking of taking on the 50,000-word challenge, or setting your own November writing goal? Here are my favorite last-minute tips and tricks for Wrimos and speed-drafters alike:

Aim for halfway. That 50k can feel like a lot, but the first 25k is the uphill climb. After that you’re coasting downhill toward the finish line. Forget about 50k—commit to hitting 25,000 words in the first two weeks. It will be painful, it will be hard, and you will hate your writing occasionally, but if you can hit 25k, you will have pushed through the worst of it!

Write your first page BEFORE November 1st. You can’t count any words written before November 1st toward the official NaNo 50k goal, but getting the intimidating blank page staring contest over before the real deal starts can be a huge confidence booster. Turn some of that nervous energy you’re feeling into an awesome opening scene.

If nothing else, figure out your premise. Even if you like to fly by the seat of your pants when you write, you can really benefit from having at least some vague points in your head before you start. It’s not plotters vs. pantsers to the death; There’s tons of middle ground between those options, and you can find a balance that’ll keep you motivated and inspired throughout November. If you do nothing else, it can really help to elevate your NaNo plan from a vague idea to a premise. Larry Brooks talks about this in his book Story Physics, and in this Writer’s Digest Article. Here’s an example using The Hunger Games:

  • [Idea]  I want to write a dystopian novel about reality TV
  • [Concept]  (add conflict and tension) I want to write about an annual televised event where poor kids are pitted against other poor kids for sport
  • [Premise]  (add character and themes) A girl named Katniss volunteers for The Hunger Games to save her sister from participating and has to fight to the death against other kids—including a boy from her own district who has always shown her kindness.

Look for that hint of conflict inherent in your basic idea and start questioning it like a toddler who just learned “why?”. And if you want to do a bit more in-depth prep, don’t forget that NaNoWriMo puts out some excellent workbooks through the Young Writer’s Program. The high school one is great for adults, too!

Use placeholders to keep up momentum. You should avoid stopping to research things as much as possible while fast drafting. Don’t know what to call that city? @CITY. Can’t come up with a name for that character? @GUY1. Can’t remember how many bones are in the human body? @RESEARCH LATER. Anything that will break your flow as you write, just throw a placeholder there and move on. Once you’re done with your first draft, you can use the ctrl+F (or cmd+F on a mac) feature to find every single instance of that placeholder in your doc. I always use the @ symbol, since I rarely write fiction that has lots of e-mail addresses in it, but you can use any symbol that doesn’t show up in your story.

Stay in the story between writing sessions. Carry a notebook around and always have those characters cooking in the back of your head while you do other things. When you sit down to write, you’ll be ready to go!

Reward yourself. Set mini goals along the way, and give yourself mini rewards. A cookie every 10k words? An hour of video games each week you make your goal? Whatever motivates you.

The challenge IS doable. Let your draft be rough. Real writing is rewriting. You’ll make it pretty and readable and entertaining later when you revise your novel. For now? Its only job is to exist. Make it exist.

Do you have any NaNoPrep strategies or tips that help you survive NaNoWriMo? Post ’em in the comments! Best of luck to all the wrimos out there. We will be victorious!

For a list of writing resources and related upcoming events at JMRL, see our Writing at JMRL page. See you at the finish line, writers.

WriterHouse and the NEA Big Read Finale

writer-605764_640Throughout the month of March, JMRL has offered events for all ages based on the themes of this year’s NEA Big Read selection: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. In addition to her acclaimed work as an author, Tayari Jones supports the development of young writers. She has served on the Board of Directors for Girls Write Now, an organization that pairs high school girls with women writers and digital media professionals in one-on-one mentorship program. Inspired by this, JMRL has partnered with WriterHouse to offer a similar program for several middle school aged girls in Charlottesville.

These students will read from their work during the NEA Big Read Finale at CitySpace this Wednesday evening, March 29th, at 6:30. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.

In advance of the reading, we asked one mentor and student pair to reflect on their experiences writing.

“What Inspired You to Start Writing?”

Hannah Russell, 8th grader & Mentee at The Village School
Jess Brophy, poet & Hannah’s mentor with WriterHouse

 Working with Hannah has shown me that writing can be fun, silly, and a great way to build friendships. She has shown me that I have made my writing life too serious! Hannah was excited to write about her early memories of being a writer in this blog post, so I followed her lead and explored this topic too. I am so pleased that her early writing life was influenced by a positive female teacher who instilled the value of creative expression. Her post made me want to immediately go back to third grade and write about Mrs. Bazarewsky!

Hannah writes:

Having a very wide imagination, I always loved to make up stories in my head when I was younger. Sometimes my friends and I would act them out, but usually they’d stay locked in my mind, their beginnings, endings and middles always twisting with my memory. In third grade, my amazing teacher, Ms. Brandt, had my class decorate compositions notebooks with felt and buttons during the first week of school. For the rest of the year, we would open them up daily and be given free time to write whatever we wanted. This was the first time I ever put one of my stories onto paper. As an avid reader, the idea of one day becoming a published author made me giddy. I desperately wanted to write a book that a younger me would’ve spent hours reading, and felt just a small amount of sadness after finishing. In third grade, most of my stories were inspired by things I had read. Mythology, Warriors, Harry Potter, and other various series I had eaten through like a bookworm. Of course my first compositions were far from perfect, but they were still stories that I was very proud of and held close to my heart. Over six years, my writing style has improved and become much less erratic (or so I hope), but it was during those fifteen minutes of each school day that I kindled my love of writing. Continue reading