The Joys and Woes of Writing

About a week ago, I reached out to #writingcommunity on twitter and asked people what was the best and worst thing about being a writer. The answers were mixed, but there was definitely a theme that I could relate with. (You can find the original thread here). 

Best Thing About Being a Writer

  • Getting lost in the world I've created

  • Watching my characters deal with the world and events I throw at them. 

  • Meeting other writers and hanging out with them

  • Creating worlds and characters and watching them develop

  • Living vicariously through a character

  • Writing is magic and creativity is joy 

  • Having people who "get" you

  • Feeling like this is exactly what I'm meant to do in life. 

Worst Thing About Being a Writer

  • Separating honest feedback from the trolls

  • Being asked, "How much do you earn from your writing" or "How many books have you published?" 

  • Having to do so much of the process alone

  • Writing is solitary 

  • Feeling I have no idea what I'm doing and wanting to give up

  • Fearing that my story is terrible

  • No immediate rewards, payments, or feedback

  • Feeling isolated and unmotivated 

  • Fearing Failure

  • Isolating

  • Fearing Failure

  • Isolating

I think you can notice a theme with the "worst" thing. For many, writing is an isolating craft. You create characters and a world from your head, put it all down on paper, huddle with a computer and a notepad to develop your story...it's hard not to feel alone. At the same time, we fear what happens when we offer our work to people through way of editing or publishing. Will they provide honest feedback? Will they hate it? Will they review it at all? How dare we bare our soul to the world? 

It's often said that we are our own worst critics, and I think we can see that in the list above. We're so afraid of failure and how our story isn't good enough. We beat ourselves down, thinking we can never amount to the other authors out there. It's a heartbreaking feeling, and it sometimes keeps writers from putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Some people stop all together because of that insurmountable feeling that they're not good enough. 

But, on the flip side, look at all the amazing things that come out of writing. When you meet other creative minds, it's wonderful to develop a community where you can support each other. As I write this, I'm with The Rainbow Room of The Writers' Rooms, an LGBT writing group. I've met incredible people through the Rooms, through twitter, instagram, facebook, etc. There's a community out there for you, you just have to find the right one. If anything, start with #writingcommunity on twitter.  

Writing also allows you to let your creative juices flow into the creation of worlds, characters, magic systems, alien races, and more. How amazing is that? You get to develop this thing that you can call your very own! I often read books to escape reality and stresses of the day. Writing (usually) lets me do the same thing, provided I'm not ready to throw the book out the window. That's special, and you should feel proud of the things you develop. Yes, first drafts suck. Yes, we all need and editor. But in the end, you take nothing and make something incredible; be proud! 

Writing, as with all things, can have its drawbacks, but if we focus only on the negative, then we miss the good things that come with it. So to those of you struggling and wondering if you're good enough or if you're the only one who feels alone...there are others out there who feel exactly the same way. You aren't alone. And I hope you find the courage to pick up that pen or open up that laptop and share your story with the world. Because you deserve to be heard. 

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

October is finally here. The leaves are changing color. There’s a crisp chill in the air. Pumpkin spice lattes waft through cafes. And the countdown to NaNoWriMo has begun! Whatever will you do?

Let’s start with the basics. What is NaNoWriMo? This is the abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month, a challenge that writers around the world take on every November. The goal? Write 50,000 words (the length of a short novel or novella) in a single month. You track your words on the official NaNo site, and at the end of the month, you confirm that you reached the word count. If you win, you’re showered with all kinds of awards including discounts on writing programs, editing offers, NaNo swag, and more!

Sounds crazy, right? It’s a daunting task, to be sure, but thousands of people give it a shot each year. I personally have won NaNoWriMo about 8 times, but that’s usually because I prepped through October.

How can you get ready to write your novel during NaNoWriMo?

  • Pantser or Plotter? First, you have to decide whether you’re a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) or a plotter (someone who outlines a story). What you are will determine how you prep your story. A plotter is more likely to create an outline while a pantser might be more interested in character development or world building. Sometimes, a pantser doesn’t know what he’s writing until the strike of midnight on November 1st, and that’s completely okay. We all work to our own speed.

  • Outline: One of the best ways to prep is to create an outline. It can be a brief sketch of the chapters in the book, a paragraph about the story, or a 10-page long analysis. It’s completely up to you. Having something at the start of NaNo can help give you an edge and guide you when you inevitably get stuck.

  • Character Creation: Who are your characters? How will they act in the story? What do they look like? Knowing the information about your characters before you even get started can make the writing process much easier. You’ll spend less time hemming and hawing over small details and dive right in with your characters.

  • World Building: Whether you’re writing an urban fantasy, a science-fiction adventure in space, or a contemporary romance, your story is going to require world building. Gather that information in October so you know where to start in November. As with character creation, you’ll spend less time wondering what the world looks like and more time writing.

  • Research: If you know you’re going to need to research to create your book, do it in advance of NaNo. This can save you precious writing hours. Jot your notes down, and make certain your information is easily accessible so you’re not wasting time trying to find your research after you’ve already done it.

  • Create a Schedule: If you write 1,667 words everyday, you’ll succeed in completing NaNo. Realistically, though, real life can get in the way of that. Writer’s block, a bad day, sickness, a broken computer can all complicate your schedule and force you to play catch up. One way to prepare yourself is to set up “buffer days” where you’ll have more time to write than usual. Stick to your schedule, and you’ll have a better shot at winning.

  • Schedule Breaks: Not everyone will agree with me on this, but you should schedule breaks during NaNo. You’ll need time to recharge after writing furiously for days on end. It’s okay to take a night to hang out with friends, read, or, heaven forbid, sleep. You don’t want to burn out halfway through.

  • Find Your Region/Support Team: One of the cool features about NaNo is you can connect with people in your area! You don’t have to work on your novel alone. A Municipal Liaison (ML) will set up writing times for people to get together, and that includes October prep. Don’t be surprised if there’s a NaNo kick off right at midnight on November 1st. You can also communicate with one another over the NaNo website and encourage each other. Creating a support team can inspire you to finish your book even when you want to quit.

  • Pep Talk: Prepare pep talks to get you through the tough times, because there will be moments when you’ll want to hurl your book out the window. We face it every yearly, usually around the half-way mark. The NaNo site will provide inspirational speeches from authors, but it doesn’t hurt to have your own positive mantra.

  • Sleep: Seriously, make sure you set up a sleep schedule for yourself for November. And get plenty of sleep in October so you’re rested and prepared for writing. We usually joke about spending every waking moment writing in November, and that’s not too far from the truth. Make plans to take care of your mental and physical health so you don’t burn out or get sick.

  • No editing: NaNo is all about writing, so prepare yourself not to edit. There are no rules against going back and fixing mistakes, but the fun of NaNo is spewing out the story without worrying about grammar or showing vs telling. Editing comes later! Get used to taking off the editor gloves and go ahead and word vomit all over that page (a beautiful image, isn’t it?).

  • Playlists!: Create musical playlists that will keep you focused while you write in November. Maybe you work better with the tv on in the background, or you need a movie soundtrack to hold your attention. Whatever you need to do, October is the time to plan it! I have a playlist that’s nearly two hours long. Each song reminds me of certain characters in my book, thus creating an environment that encourages me to write.

  • NaNo Prep Page: Check out the NaNo Prep Page for more ideas to help you prepare your novel.

Keep in mind, these are all suggestions, and you can use what works for you. NaNo is supposed to be a fun (albeit stressful) event. If you don’t reach 50,000 words, that’s okay! The fact that you wrote anything is an accomplishment. You can do this! Happy NaNo prep to you!

If you have any topics you’d like me to cover (or any more NaNo advice you’d like to know) list them below! Feel free to share your NaNo prep ideas as well!

World Building

One of the most exciting and most frustrating tasks of starting a book series is world building. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, this is something writers have to do when they write a book that’s set in their own world. They have to create everything about the world, from the appearance and agriculture to the politics and government. Maybe you have a race you want to create, or a brand new religion. Sounds simple, right? I’ve read on blogs before that non-fiction writers believe that fiction writers have it easier because we don’t have to look up historical facts to back up our literature or world. Quite honestly, I think fiction writers have it the hardest. At least non-fiction artists have a base point from which they can start. They have a timeline and a culture already created for them from which they can draw history. And in truth, many fiction/fantasy writers do a ton of research to create their books. Right now I’m looking at a huge shelf of books about medieval history including blacksmithing, herbal medicinal uses, the medieval city/castle/town, and even ship facts. Some of us writers do try to keep our stories somewhat historically accurate so that there is some truth in our craft. Outside of researching, we also have both the pleasure and burden of creating our own world. When I was little, the facts that truly concerned me about world building were: what color is my sky? What color is the grass? What kind of creatures will I have? Will there be different food? And that was it. Today, I realize just how much more in depth you have to get to accurately create your own world. This will actually result in reconstructing an entire series I’ve been writing.

But I digress.

World building can be as simple and as complicated as you want to make it. For the medieval books I’m writing, I’ve tried to create a map of what my world looks like. Where are the provinces located? What kind of agriculture is in that area? What marketing can they do and what is their main import and export? What are their political standings? Do they have natural enemies and allies? What is the landscape like? What kind of powers do mages possess? Can they control water? Are there rivers, or streams, or oceans? It’s always fun when you have a character try to cross a river in one chapter, and then you have a group of characters jaunt merrily across the land without the fear of a river...because their belligerent author forgot all about it.

World building can get even more confusing and complicated when you take myths from around the world and try to bastardize them to your own liking. My friend and I have been writing a series that includes multiple mythologies included, but not limited to, Greek, Arthurian legends, and various other beliefs and cultures. Now, we could stick strictly to what we know is “historically” accurate, but we’ve twisted the tales to make them all match what we want our story to be. Of course doing this, we realize, we have to create a brand new timeline to make sure we stay somewhat true to the old myths, but so we can tie them together with our own stories. Likewise, something as simple as writing about werewolves and vampires can become even more tedious when you get into the questions of, “species vs race, what are they?” Follow this with what bites can do and how likely it is for hybrid children to be born followed by the percentage of whether a child would be more vampire or werewolf if the two were to mate, and you’ve got a headache waiting to happen.

Needless to say, I keep Tylenol, chocolate, and tissues close at hand. One of these days I think I’ll need to add a pillow to my arsenal so I stop putting dents in my wall with the Tylenol bottle.

As painful as world building can be, it’s exciting and entertaining at the same time. There’s something very special about watching this world come to life and realizing you created it, or twisted it in such a way that you can call it your own. You can add as much color and flare as you want, or make it as murky and dark as you please. It’s not as simple as saying the sky is green and the grass is yellow, it’s so much more than that. Some writers go even into the scientific possibilities of how their world could actually be possible. Honestly, some of the science fiction theories people have come up with during their world building experiences have actually lead to the possibility of “science fiction” technologies becoming real.

There are a plethora of templates out there that people follow to help themselves create their own worlds. I’ve used some myself, and I’ve gotten half-way through and realized I had no idea what in the world I was trying to write about. That’s what happened with the first series I wrote. Fortunately, I don’t seem to have the same dilemma with my current series otherwise I’d be chucking more than a Tylenol bottle at the wall.

The advice I give you is make your world your own. Make it as amazing or as simple as you want it to be and then let it grow. Sometimes if you confine the world you’re building to one set of laws, it will crash and burn and leave you with a smoldering pile of charred dreams. But if you allow yourself to question your world and let people throw more and more questions or ideas at you, you may create something beautiful and wonderful that you can be proud to call your own.

Start small and work your way up. Make sure you actually know your world to some degree before you write your book. It’ll help you to better describe what’s going on and will help make the readers feel at home in your world. Now, as you write, you’ll find parts of your world you’ll need to revise or take out. You may find halfway through that the world you’ve created has completely evolved to something new. This isn’t a bad thing; it just means that you’re becoming more familiar with your world. Some people ask, why create the world before I start writing if I’m going to change it anyway?

Well, you have to start somewhere. Walking blindly into a story is easy for some writers, but for a person like me, I need to know what to expect before I begin, otherwise I’ll get lost…and if a writer gets lost in her own universe, how can she expect her readers to keep up?

For those of you interested in some templates, here are a couple you can try out:

Template for Creating and Building a New Fantasy Race for your Fictional World or Story

5 Tips: World-Building Template

How to Create a Fictional World from Scratch

Worldbuilding

That’s all for today. If you have any questions or writing ideas you’d like me to address, let me know below.