Nanowritetips: 30 Writing Tips Inspired by NaNoWriMo

Throughout November I posted craft, structural, and speed writing tips on Twitter and Tumblr to aid those at work on a novel. Now that National Novel Writing Month is over, I present the complete list:

  1. Hook readers from the very first sentence. Keep them hooked with questions, tension, character, fascination, stakes.
  2. Don’t frontload with information. The story should move: start with action, and then quietly weave background throughout the opening chapters.
  3. “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” –Kurt Vonnegut
  4. Fewer words pack greater punch.
  5. In high school, my writing class had to describe the sound of snow being stepped on without using the word crunch. Best answer? “Like a camel licking a cactus.” I STILL remember it. Lesson learned: when describing things, make vivid and unusual comparisons.
  6. Verbs and nouns over adjectives. Was it sour, or did it kick like a mule?
  7. If you want to get the story out, say goodbye to your delete key.
  8. Highlight and use placeholders for details you haven’t figured out yet. You can come back to them in revisions.
  9. The first draft is just for you. Don’t worry about plot holes, inconsistencies, weak prose, wrong accents. Just write.
  10. Getting away from the screen (for a shower, laundry, walk, etc.) is a great way to reach solutions when you get stuck.
  11. What’s on the line? There should be negative consequences if your protagonist doesn’t get what he/she wants.
  12. When worried about bending the rules or doing something unconventional in your story, remember this: “When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can.” —Neil Gaiman in his 2012 Keynote Address, aka the Make Good Art speech
  13. Write in the active, not passive voice. “Pandora opened the box.” Not “The box was opened by Pandora.”
  14. “End each chapter on a cliff.” See Writer’s Digest for more.
  15. Say things as directly as possible. (See: fewer words, tip #4)
  16. Things to avoid: clichés. Adverbs. Gratuitous exclamation points. Drugs. That boy your momma warned you about.
  17. Every sentence has a rhythm. Mind them, and arrange and vary to make music. Read This sentence has five words for more.
  18. Increase the stakes as the story progresses to keep readers turning pages.
  19. It’s easier to edit plop than nothing.
  20. Sensory details make vivid, sometimes lasting impressions. (See: “camel licking a cactus,” tip #5.)
  21. “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” –Elmore Leonard
  22. Word count slump? Try writing in bursts. Timed sessions of 45 minutes – 1 hour are manageable and bring focus.
  23. Hold the reader’s attention. Things that don’t: excessive description, asides, internal thought, showing of research.
  24. Simple is best.
  25. Every scene, line, and word should serve a purpose.
  26. Short sentences heighten tension.
  27. Dialogue can also be used to imply what’s happening and things that aren’t being said.
  28. “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” –Stephen King
  29. Things that illicit a physical reaction from readers—laughter, tears, a wrinkled nose—are usually signs of a job well done.
  30. “The only universal rule is to write. Get it done, and do what works for you.” –Anne Rice

Feel free to add your own in the comments!

Coming soon: Nanowritetips!

As October rolls to a close, many of us are gearing up for Nanowrimo. (Nanowrimo: (n.) the month for which your writer friends transform into coffee-crazed, unwashed trolls in efforts to write 1,667 words a day, or 50,000 words of a novel by the end of November.)

This year, although I won’t be participating myself, I’m excited to announce that one of my projects this month was compiling craft, structural, and speed writing tips, and that for the month of November, I will be posting these tips, one each day, at 5:30pm EST on Twitter and 10:30pm EST on Tumblr. (Note: same tips, just at different times.) At the end of the month I will post the complete list here.

Why Twitter and Tumblr? Because Nanowrimo, for those of us crazy/driven enough to do it, is about the writing. Not the reading about the writing. And I figure that even non-Nano writers might appreciate insights in less than 140 characters. Everybody loves brevity.

I will actually be Tweet/Tumbling the first of these pointers tomorrow, as the first two deal with pre-Nano planning. I’ll also have a few after November to help with post-Nano revisions.

Look for my tips  under the hashtag #nanowritetip—and good luck!

Forum Friday: What has the Nano experience taught you?

Just one more day of November and the madness that is Nanowrimo!

Whether you’ve reached the magic 50,000 or not– whether it’s your first time doing Nano, your twenty-first, or you heard what Nanowrimo was and ran away screaming in terror– with every draft comes experiment, progress, and lessons.

So what did you learn? What has Nanowrimo taught you (this year, collectively, or otherwise)?

Forum Friday: Tricks for writing at a faster pace

This is the second year I’ve done Nanowrimo, and less than half way through the month I realize: hey. 1700 words a day is not anywhere near as hard as it used to be! I asked myself, What have I changed? and What am I doing right? and realized that this– tips for writing at a faster pace– would make an excellent subject to open up to other writers!

What do you do to keep the momentum? Large or small scale– what tricks and methods help you write at a faster pace?

A couple things that work me:

  • Large scale: outline. Sweet hippopotamus, OUTLINE. I had an outline last year, too, but it was woefully vague and required large amounts of cutting and rewrites all through the month of the November (which, as you might imagine, really slowed me down). This year I went into it with every chapter planned in bullet points: had the bones down, but left myself room for natural developments. It’s worked much better.
  • Small scale: placeholders. Whenever I get stuck on something– a bit of pacing here, a town or event name there– I’ve been either writing a generic term (i.e., “pacing” or “school dance” or “club”) and highlighting it to come back to, or I’ve written in whatever nonsense I came up with at the snap of the fingers. You can always go back and fix placeholders when the first draft is finished. (And who knows. You might even end up liking something. Muffin Wars.)

Bonus image:

Forum Friday: Post a recent line of dialogue.

Hey guys! So, I know it’s a bit later than usual (Nanowrimo strikes again), but in the spirit of keeping things quick and interesting I thought I’d throw you another prompt:

Post a line of dialogue you wrote recently, and tell us what it’s from.

Also, if you’re participating in Nanowrimo and feel your story starting to slow, you might be interested in some of last week’s plot ninjas people came up with! Or feel free to contribute your own.

Forum Friday: Plot Ninjas

Since today is the start of Nanowrimo, I thought I’d mix things up a little and rather than ask a question, prompt those of you reading this to provide a plot ninja.

What is a plot ninja?

A plot ninja is a random plot twist. “Protagonist finds a note taped to her refrigerator.” “Antagonist is mistaken for a celebrity.” “Portal to Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen opens up in the floor.”

These devices are great for keeping things interesting 10, 20, 30K into a work when either you start to lose steam or you reach a saggy middle section of the story. And the best plot ninjas are the ones that come from somebody else– because they are totally foreign to your story! An injection of fresh blood! Without sounding vampiric or like someone who takes the phrase ‘young blood’ literally.

Help other writers– post a plot ninja in the comments below!

NaNoWriMo 101: An Introduction

NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, is a writer’s challenge in which, during the month of November, participants aim to write 50,000 words of a novel. This equates to approximately 1,667 words a day for 30 days.

Cactus SPIKE! Did you say 1,667 words a day?

Yes. Yes I did.

That might seem like a lot, but with the right mindset, effort, and time, pretty much anybody can do it.

I don’t believe you.

It’s true.

Any Converse-wearing wannabe can throw down effort and time, but what is this “right mindset” you speak of?

The fast pace of Nanowrimo is designed to be a push for all of us, but especially for us hardcore edit-as-we-go types. What I mean by the right mindset is the witting knowledge that this is your first draft: it doesn’t matter how messy, haphazard, or even downright reckless it is. The important thing now is to get the story out. Edit later.

Say it with me now: Write now. Edit later.

In fact, for the month of November, say goodbye to your delete key.

What! No! But I love my delete key!

Tough cheese. In my experience, succeeding in Nanowrimo means granting yourself permission to tell a story and tell it poorly (because you will improve it later*).

Here’s a suggestion for those that really struggle with turning off the internal editor.

Step 1: Think of three adorable animals.

Step 2: Draw minute versions of said animals on tiny scraps of paper.

Step 3: Attach/tape one tiny animal picture (let’s say a baby seal, a baby panda, and a kitten) to each of the following computer keys: INS, DEL, and BACKSPACE.

Step 4: EVERY TIME YOU PRESS INS, DEL, OR BACKSPACE A FAIRY [baby seal, panda, kitten, etc.] DIES

A less dramatic idea is to write with the screen brightness all the way down or using a tool such as Write or Die, which discourages distraction, procrastination and editing with negative reinforcement.

A completely drama-free but arguably difficult approach is to simply be disciplined and not let yourself edit.

Uh, okay…But why was there an asterisk in that last bit?

You can always go back and improve something you’ve written…provided that you save it first! (See the First Rule of Writing: Back It Up.) And be sure to save your Nano writing, like any document you care about, in more than one location! Use zip drives. Email the latest versions to yourself. Dropbox and other save folders that update automatically are especially useful. That way, if anything happens to your computer you’ll be covered.

Save often, and always save in more than one place!

Any other resources I should know about? is the official website for Nanowrimo and offers cool tools for tracking your progress, prize incentives, and forums for connecting with other writers taking the challenge. Many cities also have local chapters, and if you sign up with Nanowrimo you may be able to find gatherings in your local neighborhood.

There are many other resources out there to help you plan, organize, and write your novel, but the most rudimentary and really the only necessary one is a writing implement.

Other Nano basics?

Share your experience in the comments below! What Nano survival advice would you give to those just starting out? What resources would you recommend?

Forum Friday: Do you write in sprints or marathons?

What I mean by that is, Do you power-write in quick bursts (say, 300-500 words in an hour) or are you more likely to stake a place in a café or library for the day and work at a slower but steadier pace?

I think this is an especially relevant topic as the ~1,700 word-a-day madness that is Nanowrimo approaches. Tell us what works best for you!

Encouragement (& Laughs) for Writers

Happy Friday! This post comes in the midst of National Novel Writing Month, and I don’t know about you guys but as a writer I could really use some encouragement (and a few good laughs) right about now. I have been lagging in word counts almost since the beginning (the goal is to write approximately 1,667 words a day every day for the month of November) and as of now I am about 1,000 words behind. But I did meet my goal for today and before I write any more I’m taking a break, coming up for air and a little inspiration!

Enjoy, and may all your writing thrive!

P.S. Today is also Forum Friday, so for the sake of posing a question: What is your favorite bit of writing advice/encouragement?

How do YOU observe NaNoWriMo?

Happy Friday, fellow writers! This week’s forum is aimed at novelists, or those with aspirations to become one:

How do YOU observe NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month is a challenge taken by writers in the US (and the world over) who aim to write a 50,000 word, 175 page novel in the course of thirty fun, frantic, and fear-filled days. While many of us struggle to get words on the page, and then nitpick over what we do manage to get out, NaNoWriMo’s 1,667 words-a-day challenge pushes us to produce now and edit later.

Are you participating? First time? What are you working on? Do you have NaNoWriMo traditions besides word count– favorite cafes, comfort foods (god knows we’ll need them), or WINES, perhaps? Let us know below!