Strategies for Success: Your Characters are not Real

Wait, what?  How could you say such a thing!  I imagine my characters as real all the time!  They speak to me!  They know me better than I know myself!  They know themselves better than I know them!  And besides, how am I supposed to write my characters realistically if I don’t imagine them as fully fleshed out real people?

Well, that’s kind of the point.  You IMAGINE them as real people.  Look, we all try to picture our characters as real.  We imagine how they look and sound, how they feel and act.  You have to try to make them consistent, and act according to their character most of the time.  You have to weigh how to make them act against character sometimes in a way that is compelling and impactful, not unbelievable.  You have to imagine them as real in order to portray them in a realistic way.

But they are not real.  All that imagining you are doing is imagining.  You are their maker.  You decide everything about them.  If you don’t like something, you get to change it with impunity.  You are the Decider of Things.

This is a good thing.

Not just because the idea of fictional characters being real people with their own agency and agenda is terrifying (or a sign of a serious illness).

Because it means that you’re in charge!  You are not a helpless vessel bending to the whims of some recalcitrant entity.  You are the master of this whole shebang.

So when you’re tempted to say “The character is being stubborn!  They don’t want to be written about right now!” remember that that’s not true.  It’s just that you’re having a hard time figuring out how you want the story to go.  You can just give it some thought and push through.  Side characters never “speak up and demand that their story be told!” it’s that you had a different idea that you wanted to explore for a bit.  You can either decide to go with it for awhile, or table it and go back to your story.  And your characters certainly aren’t going to gang up on you and forcibly take the story in a completely different direction than you intended, with you along for the ride.  You just wrote it differently than you had planned, and that’s okay!  You can keep with it, or make yourself go back to your outline.  The former is spontaneous, which can be fun, and the latter requires discipline. Sometimes it seems like stories do take on a life of their own, what with the ways they can go that you didn’t plan.  That’s cool, but it’s still what came out of your own head.

The important thing is that YOU are in control of your story.  Which means that you are not helpless to change it.  Keep those unexpected words!  Maybe you’ll decide that your new idea is way cooler than the old one.  Maybe you’ll decide that you’re going to write a whole other story about this other side character.  Maybe you’ll just keep that cool idea on the back burner and turn it into your outline for next year, when you’ll wind up having ANOTHER DIFFERENT cool idea, and the whole thing repeats every year until there’s a pile of books by you on the desk!

You’re the author.  You get to decide.

Strategies for Success: Changing Projects

No matter whether you are a planner, pantser, plantser, no matter how much prep work you do or don’t do, there will come a time someday that you will discover that you hate your novel with the passion of a thousand firey suns.  Maybe not this year.  Maybe not for many, many years.  But it happens to everyone at some point, so it will happen to you someday.  Every word is painful.  Every line of dialogue is infuriating.  Maybe your characters are flat.  Maybe your plot just doesn’t work.  Maybe you took on something too big and now it seems overwhelming. Maybe you’re just bored with it.  Or maybe you just had a crummy idea and now are realizing it.  It’s all right.  It happens.

When it does, what do you do?  You could just keep writing, and hope that you get over the hump.  Sometimes all you have to do is power through.  Keep writing until you get an idea of how to salvage the mess.  People that are heavy duty planners might be well suited to this approach, especially if you just don’t feel comfortable trying to start from scratch on the fly.

But there is an other option for you.  You can scrap it all and start over.  I don’t mean throw your words away!  No no no!  Keep those words.  You wrote every one of them and you deserve every one of them in your count.  But you can put a nice lil page break in your file and start a new story.  If you get a sudden burst of inspiration for a story that is now bugging you in your head, and you want to write that instead, who’s to say you shouldn’t?  Nobody!  What’s wrong with doing some of your nano words on one story, and some on another?  Nothing!  I wouldn’t even call that rebelling, quite frankly.

So if you need a fresh idea to brighten up your enthusiasm and get those words flowing, go ahead and do it.  You might wind up with two stories that are worth telling.

Strategies for Success: Join the Wars

Of course we’ve been bugging everyone to join the Team Championship (and will continue to do at every opportunity) for the fun of it all, but there’s actually more to it than that.  A lot of people find getting into the little competitions a thing that helps them drive their word counts up.

There are three main sorts of word wars: the Team Championship, the War with Seattle, and the individual nemeses from either of those two challenges.

Have you got your team assignment yet?  If not, you can talk to any leadership and they can help you out.  Once you know what marvelous mythical beast is yours, you can get in on the fun!  We’ve got people smack talking all over the facebook page and a little bit in the forums.

We’re also running team games during word wars at write ins, and that means more word wars, more chances to win swag, more chances to get a ton of words.  And you’ll have your teammates to cheer you on and your opponents to razz you on to victory.

Next is the word war with Seattle.  You don’t have to DO anything extra.  Everybody in the region is already taking part.  To check how we’re doing, there is a thread in the forum with a widget that shows who’s ahead.  You can razz Seattlites in that thread, or in the companion thread over in their forum.

Now, we’re fairly behind right now, but that’s all right.  Last year they were WAY further ahead!  And it’s all in good fun.  You can look at that widget and think, how many words would I have to write to raise that average?  Am I pulling us up or down?  Use that energy!

Finally, nemeses.  Having a nemesis is a direct way to compete with one or more individual people, and that can be a major motivator.  If you signed up for the Team Championship during the first few days, you were paired up with someone from each other team to fight.  If you signed up after that, you weren’t assigned a nemesis, but there’s no reason that you can’t find your own!  There should be a thread up in the forum in the next day or two to let people match themselves.

About twice as many people signed up from Seattle as Detroit to have a nemesis (no surprise, seeing as they have so many more people than we do) so there are some unmatched Seattlites looking for people to fight.  There’s a thread up in the forum by the Seattle ML who you can message to get yourself a nemesis.  I’m sure they would be very appreciative to have some more people to participate.  I messaged them yesterday to ask for FOUR additional nemeses, but I think they’re scared of my crazy self because I haven’t heard back yet.

All of these things are ways to add a little external competition into what is primarily a personal challenge.  If you’re the sort of person motivated by competition, this is a great way to get your word count up.  If it’s not, it can still just be good fun, especially if you naturally contain high levels of sass.


That’s the only thing you can try to do after a day like yesterday, right?  Three events, from one in the afternoon to one in the morning.  I wrote a little over seven thousand words and hit a wall just before the night owl ended.

A big huge thanks to Joe and Dev for hosting us.  This was all Joe’s idea at the end of last year, and the event was brilliant.  Good snacks, nice quiet atmosphere, it was very good.

Then I got home at two in the morning and slept until eleven o’clock.  and today has been a blissfully slow day of errands and chores.

So you’re not getting much today, sorry!  See you tomorrow.

Saturday (Night!) Update

Can you believe it’s already the tenth?  It seems both like Nano just started, and like it’s been going on forever.  Crazy, right?

First of all, we are only two hours away from our first ever Night Owl event, a late night write in hosted by the illustrious newlyweds Joe and Dev.  All hail and many thanks to Joe and Dev for being the kind of crazy people that are willing to open their home to a bunch of weirdos from the internet.  You make the world a better place.  If you’re in the super special time window of reading this post before the event begins, you can get all of the information on the forum, where there is a thread of details, and also the address.

So it’s Saturday night.  It’s a beautiful wordy weekend.  I (Erika) just finished a very successful write in in the Detroit/Grosse Pointe area, where it took a five minute sprint to break the tie in points between the Emerald Dragons and Golden Phoenixes.  Owen and I are now at the Saturday night biggby (beause we are crazy people doing three events in a row today) both with our magical team headbands which are clearly the difference maker in words.

How about that team Championship?!  It’s going GREAT and you guys are all great.  The words are coming fast!  Participation is high!  Smack talk is smacking on facebook.  If you haven’t joined the fun yet, there is still time!  See any of the million things we have in a million places for info on taking the quiz and joining a team, or just message anyone in leadership.  Seriously, we’re having a great time and you should play.  If you have facebook and are not a member, you should join Nanowrimotown.  Although everything we post tends to get posted in many places, there are a lot of reminders, a lot of fun banter, and people post all kinds of interesting stuff, not just in November, but throughout the year.

It’s true that we are currently way behind in our war with Seattle, but that’s okay.  You know why?  Cuz it’s all in good fun, and we all want each other to succeed.  So there’s no consequence to losing!  Isn’t that great?  There are threads in both our forum and theirs for banter.  If you would like a nemesis, they still have a whole lot of people that signed up on their end that weren’t matched with any of us, and they need partners.  Not surprising, considering how many bazillions of people they have over there.  If you have a nemesis, go ahead and ask for another one!  Go nuts!  Sometimes you can make a good friend from a nemesis.

Fundraising update:  Our current fundraising efforts sit at about $60 cash, 6 posters and 3 shirts.  We need a miniumum order of 12 shirts to place the order, so if you’re on the fence, now is the time!  Cutoff for shirts and posters orders is midway, so you have one week to go.

Please especially consider a poster.  This design is year specific, and will not be available after this year.  It’s our first one, so we feel warm and fuzzy about it.  Minion Laura and I made it and we’re really proud of it.

That’s it for now!  See you tomorrow, when the second third of the month.

Strategies for Survival: Eat a Vegetable

In other words, take care of yourself.

Seriously, guys.  It’s a miracle we survive this every year.

Nano is a great time to have fun, interact with our friends, and stretch our creative muscles.  But what about our regular muscles?  And our stomachs, and heads, and all the rest of us?  We’re pretty hard on ourselves, aren’t we?

Sitting in coffee shops for hours on end, drinking coffee for hours on end, pulling late nights to get our words in, not to mention all those awesome potlucks full of tasty snacks.  It all seems like such a good idea at the time, and it’s such a bad idea afterwards.

And THEN you’ve got all the dangers of the impending winter: stuck indoors, everyone is sniffling, flu season is starting, and the stress of Nano is compounded by stress at school, busy seasons at work, and the holidays.  Ever notice how many wrimos wind up fighting a bug partway through the month?  Is it any wonder why?

So that’s why my theme for this year’s nano is Eat a Vegetable.  Let’s all try this year to take care of ourselves.

Eat a Vegetable:  and maybe some whole grains.  Like, every day.  Seriously.  Scurvy is threatening to set in.  Is your belly sore?  It’s cuz you’re full of coffee and cookies, ya numpty.  It might be too late to do a ton of meal prep and fill up your November freezer, (or maybe it’s not: I don’t know your life) but kinda try to think every day about eating something solid and decent that isn’t fast food or snacks.  It’s not like I’m saying not to eat that dessert.  I probably made that dessert.  I’m just saying to chase it with some roughage before your digestive tract grinds to a screeching halt.

Ease up on the Caffeine: I know, sacrilege!   But if you haven’t wrecked your stomach on junk food, you’ve probably wrecked it on too much coffee, too much tea (not really a thing), or if you’re like me, too much coffee AND tea with too much sugar and probably more dairy than you REALLY should be consuming.  (Peppermint white mocha?  Yes, please.)  Just maybe think twice before ordering your third drink, or pot, of the day, and have a little decaf.  By all means, keep up the jokes about drinking coffee til you can see through time.  That’s part of our nano culture, and it’s fun.  But still, drink some water.

Also, Drink some Water:  Oh, yeah.  Water.  Lots of it!  The old eight glasses a day thing might be an arbitrary myth, but in general, hydration is happiness.  Drink some water whenever you’re thirsty and then some more on top of that.  Try a glass of water for every caffeinated or alcoholic beverage you consume, as well as with each meal, and then whenever it moves you to drink some more.  “Voiding Clear = Happy Mountaineer!”  Your kidneys will thank you.

Get up and Stretch:  Walk around.  Move your body.  Sitting too still in one place for too long is bad for your back, your neck, your muscles, your circulation, your digestion (there’s that sad belly again), your everything.  Staring at your screen too long is bad for your eyes and will give you a headache.  Every hour or so, AT LEAST, stand up, stretch, move your body.  Get some water while you’re at it.  Go to the bathroom.  Get a snack.  Just MOVE.  Before your legs swell up and your back and head are aching and everything is just the worst.  One of these years someone is going to throw a blood clot at Midway and then we’re ALL going to have a bad day.

Go to Sleep:  I’m up too late already, but I promise, I’m going to bed very, very soon.  The occasional late night isn’t going to hurt anyone, but you know you, and you know how much sleep you need to really be productive and to feel like a decent human being.  Be a decent human being.  Get some sleep.  The words will still be there in the morning.

Take a Shower, and Brush your Teeth:  You will feel better when you are clean.  The rest of us at the writein will also feel better when you are clean.

Calm Your Tits:  We get ourselves all worked up over this, and some of us are a ball of anxiety from day one to thirty.  (Just take a look at the MLs if you want to see a human being crack.  😛 )  Just take a moment to chill out.  If you need to, for your physical, mental, or emotional well-being, it is okay for you to skip the event, or even turn the computer off for the day.  It will be okay.  Promise.

Interact with Your Loved Ones:  Nano completely dominated my social calendar during the entirety of November, and during most of October.  And parts of August and September as well.  I have twenty events on my calendar just this month, just for nano.  It’s a LOT.  But you don’t want your mom to forget what you look like, or your spouse to assume you’ve left and are never coming back.  Take some time with your non-nano family.  Be present.  Your life doesn’t stop when nano starts.

Here’s hoping that we can all have a great nano, and also that our bodies will still exist when we’re done.  Now, I’m going to get up, stretch, brush my teeth, and head to bed.   🙂


Strategies for Survival: Week 2

Also known as: Welcome to Hell.

Week two of Nano is a special sort of suffering.  The initial burst of adrenaline has worn off, but the thrill of the impending finale hasn’t kicked in yet.  Week two is the hardest to slog through.

Of course, maybe you’re the sort of person who starts strong, stays strong, and ends strong, and for you, it doesn’t matter what time of the month it is.  Sorry, kids, this post is not for you.  This is for the rest of us.  Like me, who is supposed to be in bed in a few minutes and only has about a hundred words down for the day.

Yeah, and here I am a day later, supposed to be going to bed again, still at the same words, and not likely to do much better tomorrow on my longest day of the week.  The curse of the week two is strong.

So how to cope with it?  I wish I had better answers, but the reality, is, you just have to push through.  If you’ve been following the strategies for success, hopefully you have a bit of a buffer for these slow days.  Or you’re managing to struggle through and squeeze out enough to stay on track.  Or maybe you’re falling behind a bit, but don’t worry, you can overcome this.  Just don’t get discouraged.  Every nano has a Week Two (although not always during the second week, if you know what I mean) and every nano, people manage to get through it.  You will too.

Twenty On, Twenty Off


Do you need to grind out a BUNCH of words?  Do you find that when you sit down to write, you stare blankly in between Facebook and Youtube and the Wikipedia research rabbit hole?  This might be the strategy for you.

Humans can’t focus on one thing intensely for an indefinite amount of time.  This is a great evolutionary strategy so predators don’t get you, but it’s not that great for your word count.  Wht ARE we good at, aside from power walking a mammoth to death?  Short bursts of intense concentration.

Pick a time. Fifteen or twenty minutes is a pretty good bet, but you could go shorter or longer to suit your needs.  Set a timer.  Write like the wind!  Then when the timer goes off, STOP!  Reset the timer.  Now do something else.  Anything else.  Play on Facebook, check the forums, text your friend.  Go to the bathroom.  Get a snack.  Get up and stretch your butt.  Or go knock out a few minutes worth of chores.  But whatever you do, do NOT look at your novel again until the timer goes off.  Personally, this is the only way I manage to get any laundry done during November.  (Especially if I’m at a frustrating point in my writing.  Then folding that laundry becomes REALLY IMPORTANT.)

Repeat as often as you need to until you have all the words you need for the day.  You’ll be swimming in words before you know it.

Strategies for Success: Go to Write Ins

It’s a few days into Nano, and you might be plugging along, or you might be struggling.  Might be a little bit of both.  But so many people find that having other wrimos around is a HUGE motivator to get those words out.

You’ve been to write ins, right?  Know how they work?

Check out the calendar; it will tell you what events are going on where and when.  There is a calendar on this site, and also in our regional forum. The regional forum also has a master list of write ins, AND a thread for each event.  Throw a rock at our space and you will hit information about write ins.

No write in by you?  Want there to be one?  Check the FAQ on this page, or the How to Plan a Write In thread on the forum for instructions.

So you’re going to the write in.  You’re at the coffee shop.  Or Panara.  Or library.  Whatever.  Now what?  First, find your people.  If there’s a leadership person at the event, they will have a blue lanyard and/or a blue T shirt that says Nanowrimotown.  Just look for the crowd of nerds with laptops.  Join those nerds.  Start socializing.  Start writing.  Write ins have word wars where you will battle for swag!  Great way to boost your word count.  People will be around to encourage you.  You can get buttons!  If you’re a tangible reward driven person, write ins are the thing for you.