On Writing Even When You Don’t Want To

From Evan.

Evan W.S. Morgan

I can’t think of any writer that hasn’t ever had a day where they just don’t want to write. It’s just too hard for them to do so. I am guilty of this, although I am happy to say that I have been pretty consistent with working on my story. Here are some tips and ideas on how to keep that word count going up on a consistent basis…

1. Sit Down. I know, I know. This is pretty obvious, but the sad fact is that many people make an excuse about not being able to write or not wanting to write before they even sit down at their desk, or wherever they work, turn on their computer, and pull up their current Work in Progress. The simple truth is this: You don’t have any right to make excuses when you haven’t even put yourself where you are actually…

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On Sticking to One Story and Finishing It- Part Two

Evan W.S. Morgan

On Tuesday, Devin Berglund, a fellow author of mine, talked about how to stick to and finish a story. Now, in Part Two, I share my own thoughts:

During the years, I have started many novels, but had a hard time getting even close to finishing one. New ideas would always come up, or I would lose interest. It wasn’t until I started on Heavenly Lights that I realized why that was. Here are a few tips:

1. Outline. Some writers are what we like to call pantsers (people who just sit down in the chair and begin writing whatever comes to them), then there are those like me. We outline our stories. I spent about three weeks outlining Heavenly Lights. Though I find myself straying from it many times, I can at least look at it and know that I have an entire story planned out. The biggest relief…

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National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo (as it is known by its friends,) or NaNo (by its special friends) is a competition of sorts. It takes place in November every year, and the point of it is this: to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s an average of 1,667 words a day. Anyone who finishes the full 50,00 words within the time limit is a winner.

Think it sounds mad? You’d be right. But it’s also a boatload of fun.

Think it sounds hard? You’d be right there, too.

A little preparation can go a long way toward easing the pressure. You don’t need a twenty-page outline of your novel, but a short list of plot points can help. Likewise, you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) tell every stranger on the street that you’re doing this for the first time and that you’ll be a bestselling author come December 1st; but dropping a line to let your loved ones know you’ll be a bit tied up for the next few weeks is only polite – and as a bonus, it gets you out of any pesky social engagements.

NaNo involves the thrill of the chase – oh no, I’m a thousand words behind Friend One, I need to catch up; it involves the thrill of the leader – I’m beating Friend Two by over two thousand words! Eat my dust, sucker!; but mostly it involves dogged determination to just sit down and write this thing. In the end it doesn’t matter who’s written more or fewer words than you. It doesn’t matter if you won in ten days or not at all. It matters that you now have a thousand or ten thousand or a hundred thousand more words written than you did at the start of the month.

That’s progress. That’s something worth celebrating.

I’ve participated in – and won – NaNo for three years running. Here’s a brief run-down of my efforts.


 

NaNoWriMo 2012. This was my first year doing NaNo. I thought it was mad; I thought I’d be running on an hour of sleep a night for 30 days; I thought I’d manage maybe 25,00 words by the end of the month – half the required total. I had no outline. What I did have was six chapter headings describing what happened in each chapter. I was writing BBC Sherlock fanfiction; my novel title was Sherlock: New Zombieland; my chapter titles were things like Sherlock wakes up and finds John is gone. Catchy, eh? ‘course, it was summer holidays and I was unemployed. I wrote 1,667 words every day, give or take a few hundred. Result: I hit 50,000 words on November 27th. I got eight or nine hours of sleep every night. I still thought it was mad.

NaNoWriMo 2013. Year Two. No fanfiction this year; I was writing the first in my sci-fi series. I had a bit more of an outline than in 2012: characters, main events, that sort of thing. I also had the added pressure of keeping a win streak going – and of doing the last university course of my degree (yay summer school) at the same time. Classes were from 9am – 12. Some mornings I wrote from 6:00am – 8:00am; other mornings I’d jot a few lines down during class; and every afternoon I wrote for a minimum of four hours, often six, sometimes closer to eight. My self-imposed daily minimum was 2,000 words. Some days I wrote twice that. I hit 50,000 words on the 21st – and, come December, passed the uni course with flying colours.

NaNoWriMo 2014. Year Three. Writing the second book in my sci-fi series; I went into it knowing my world and my characters from the last twelve months of writing and editing (if I only wrote during November, I’d never get anywhere), and I had a solid two-page outline following several plot threads. No summer school this year; a part-time job occupied my afternoons from 2pm – 6pm. I decided to up the stakes, and challenged myself to aim for a total of 70,000 words – an acceptable word count for a published novel – and to write 3,000 words a day – almost twice the recommended daily average. The result: I hit 50,000 words on the 17th and 70,000 on the 23rd.


Have you given NaNo a shot? What was your result?

On Location

You’re neither blind nor stupid, I’m sure, so I’ll dispense with the usual cliched triple repetition of the word. Writing it once will suffice.

Location.

Whether it’s a poem, short story, or novel, the setting of a piece of writing is paramount. Character and Plot are significant cornerstones of writing, but Character and Plot without Setting become meaningless. You could have the most attractive 50-year-old grizzled cop with obligatory tragic backstory in the world; you could have a compelling serial killer, the newest twisted motivations and psychological methods, the best cross-town car chases and parking lot shootouts; and it would all be for nothing without a good setting.

Setting tells the reader where these interesting characters are rooted: where the villains are plotting their dastardly plots, what hometown the hero is from, where they’ve chosen to work and play. A basic setting can give away the genre; it can separate High Fantasy from Urban Fantasy (I’ll give you a clue: forest or city?). A more detailed setting can do wonders for the mood; it can tell the reader whether your forest is a sunshine-filled glade brimming with singing elves or a dark overgrown tanglewood.

Not having a location means your characters are performing in a white box. Setting anchors your story. It doesn’t have to be described down to the paint chips on the windowsills, but it does have to be more than just “a house.” Is it an abandoned shed out in the middle of nowhere? A busy city apartment? What country is it in? What time period? What does it feel like, smell like, what can you hear? Detailing the setting adds depth to your writing, makes your reader believe for a moment that they’re really there.

And then you have the choice of using a fictional location or a real location, or some combination of the two.

For example, in the first two books in The Christchurch Chronicles seriesmy characters travel down Lake Tekapo (a real place) and into the Tekapo Canal (see the picture above; also a real place, albeit somewhat modified for the purposes of my story) in a solar-powered hydro-pod (completely fictional, to the best of my knowledge). Basing fictional events in a largely real place allowed me to research the location, checking river names and compass points so that the events of that scene could conceivably happen in that place to those people in the future.

The level of realism to use when drawing from real locations depends on the situation and the writer. In real life, the Tekapo Canal flows out of the south end of Lake Tekapo; if I’d said in that scene that it flowed out of the east side, it would be a breach of reality that would throw anyone familiar with the area right out of the book.

If I’d used a fictional lake, I could have made the canal flow out of any side of it that I liked, and it wouldn’t have mattered. But because I was basing that scene on a real location, I needed to get the details right. Get the details wrong and your readers laugh at you and put the book down; get them right and it enhances the depth of experience to no end. The wrong details will leave the experts shaking their heads and the amateurs believing false information; the right details teach them as much about the world as any paragraph in a high-school textbook.

Setting enriches the writing, informs the reader, and helps you as the writer to see the world you’ve made. How do you pick settings? Do you prefer real-world locations or fictional ones?