The guides in my Fan’s Party Planner series usually focus on a particular story from books or other media, but this planner will offer tips and ideas for hosting a party to celebrate and inspire the people who make those stories happen. “Write-ins” are a beloved tradition at Pudding Shot, when we gather with our journals and laptops and manuscripts to write, edit, outline, revise, and brainstorm in good company. These cozy events are great ways to get feedback on projects, meet other writers, and add some exciting variety to an otherwise solitary vocation. I especially look forward to them in autumn, when the changing world inspires us to create and the cool, cloudy days invite us to curl up inside with warm mugs and pen and paper. November is also National Novel Writing Month, so now is a great time for writers and readers to celebrate the hard work of writing and storytelling and offer some moral support to our friends pursuing the NaNoWriMo challenge.
Completely unbelievably, this is my eighth year participating in the slightly horrifying, always interesting, yearly tradition known as National Novel Writing Month. For my first three years, I took the challenge very seriously and hit 50,000 words every November; after that, I felt I’d learned what NaNo was meant to teach me and became what is known as a “rebel” by setting my own goals. If you think you might be interested in writing a novel this month, here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years.
- Make a pact with yourself to not care about the quality of your novel.
This is the most important rule. NaNoWriMo invariably produces messy first drafts, not pristine manuscripts ready to be sent off to agents, and that’s why I always recommend this challenge to friends who are having trouble getting past their inner editors. If you’ve never finished a novel before, finishing NaNoWriMo will prove to you that you can do it, which is invaluable knowledge for anyone with bookish ambitions. It will also prove to you that writing is a process, and Stage One of that process is going to be (as mentioned) slightly horrifying.
I finished the final draft of my first “proper novel” (a phrase which here means “something I didn’t hate”) back in March. Although I’m really happy with it, for various reasons I’ve decided to stop querying it and concentrate instead on writing a new novel. Which… I’ve found… is a lot easier said than done.
Writing Proper Novel was kind of like being possessed. (Not that I ever have been possessed, cough cough whistle whistle, but I feel I’ve read enough fiction to know pretty well what it might be like.) Point being, the protagonist jumped into my head when I was only sixteen, immediately inserted herself as a side character in the (terrible) novel I was writing at the time, and refused to stop appearing in things until I wrote a novel about her. Which I eventually did. And now, I think, she’s finally happy, because she hasn’t shoved her way into anything ever since.
By Sam F.
I’m a sucker for novelizations of historical figures’ lives, especially when those historical figures are women whom time has overlooked. Unfortunately, many of these novels—even my favorites—place their emphasis on the woman’s relation to a man. Just check out some of the titles. The Paris Wife. Loving Frank. America’s First Daughter. The Other Einstein. Before you even open the book, the protagonist is defined by a male relative—in these instances, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.
While I applaud the authors for giving attention to the women behind these men, I have to wonder: where are the novels about the women who aren’t defined by their marriages and fathers? While they do exist—Stephanie Thornton’s “Daughter of the Gods”, a novel about Hatshepsut, is a great example—they rarely make a splash.
So, authors. I came up with a few suggestions. The women below aren’t remembered much, but when they are, it’s not for their marriages.
The year before I started college, I had a dream about a mysterious, lonely boy raising a large, beautiful garden of flowers that would quietly bring magic to the world. I didn’t have much to go on beyond some images and some feelings, but I knew this dream was a story, and I decided I had to bring it into the world.
It took me five years to write this dream into a short story. As of today, this story is still not finished.
For all my labor and determination, I have an enormous, messy rough draft stuck in the first round of revision, facing an uphill climb of cutting, outlining, and massive chunks of rewriting that will not get easier any time soon. When I come across the paper copy in my bag or spy the digital draft on my flash drive, I make a note to return “when I have time” and guiltily put it away. By this point, it might be easier for me to toss the thing, just chuck the paper, delete the file, and move on unburdened to the other projects that I have already prioritized for my writing time.
But I still like the story, or at least the idea of it. Plus, I went through five years of the writing process from hell to even get this far, and it would feel like a massive waste of time, energy, pain, and discovery to burn it now. It would also feel like a betrayal. It’s a ghost in my head right now, but this is the story where I cut my teeth as a younger, more naïve writer, where I learned so much about writing and my own creative needs that I could overcome my fears of perfection, inadequacy, commitment, and simple failure and finally start a novel when it was finished.
When we talk about characters and conflict in writing, we spend a lot of time fussing over our protagonists, because we recognize how crucial they are to the success of our story and the reader’s exploration of its ideas. But I think it is equally important to recognize the antagonist as an invaluable storytelling opportunity. We identify and define antagonists as those who oppose the protagonists and their goals in the story’s conflict, but we only have conflict because the antagonists challenge the protagonists.
They provide the problems and situations necessary for the plot’s progress that the protagonist needs to grow and develop as a character. This position gives our antagonists powerful influence on how our readers interpret the ideas at the center of the conflict and at work in the protagonist’s journey, so it is in our story’s best interest to make sure we do right by our antagonist and take advantage of the opportunities they offer.
By Sam F.
I received my first diary when I was nine. I loved the writing exercises we did in school, and while I wrote silly poems at home, I had never before considered keeping a journal. Soon, I was hooked. I haven’t stopped journaling since.
In high school, I was embarrassed by it (then again, I was embarrassed by everything in high school), but when I got to college, I realized that a lot of people kept journals. Now I talk about it openly, and I often encounter people who would like to keep a journal, but aren’t sure how to go about it. So here is some advice from a self-declared pro:
What if I don’t have anything to write about?