NaNo, bandwidth, and assorted weirdness

My webhosting provider sent me an email telling me I’m running out of bandwidth. I looked into it and wow, my spreadsheets have been seeing a lot of downloads. You people are crazy. And I’m crazy for uploading the damn things to my website instead of using a free filesharing service.

So I’ve changed the links. They’re still the same spreadsheets, they’re just hosted on Dropbox now because I’ve already upgraded for more bandwidth once now and it still went over the limit. They want more money from me now. Eep.

I got an offer for a sponsored blog post the other day, but I turned it down. The company, which shall remain nameless, wanted me to tell my readers that I’m using its service. I’m not using its service, though. And I’m not about to start lying to people for money.

I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo at the moment, in between working on art stuff. Some of it is commissions, some of it new personal work and prints for Eirtakon. Have an example!

Closeups from my WIP featuring, well, you know who.

Sammy, Cas and Dean from that one show I can’t stop watching. Read more »

Some tips for starting a scene, chapter – or novel!

Five days in! How are we doing? Any major plot derailment yet?

9,186 / 50,000

I’m on track for now, but sometimes, it’s really hard to get going. Sometimes, you find yourself staring at a blank sheet of paper, or a blank document, and the words just won’t come. I’ve had that problem more than once, but there are a few things you can do about it.

One strategy is to just start writing. I don’t mean your novel or chapter, necessarily, but anything. Whatever comes to mind. “So here I am with this blank page, and I have no idea how to get going. I guess my characters should…” Just write whatever comes to mind. Try to write about your novel or the scene that you want to write, and at some point, you’ll come up with a snatch of description or dialogue, and go from there. A great tool for this is Write or Die, which comes out with some brilliant punishments for not writing, so give that a shot if you’re really stuck.

Start in the middle. Jump right into the action, the dialogue, the dramatic part, the part that you really want to write. Sometimes, a piece of dialogue or a specific situation jumps into my brain, and I’ve learned that it’s better to write it down just like that, even if it’s not at all clear how the situation came about or why my character said what she said. You can worry about that later, once you’ve written down what’s in your head. Make it fit later.

Start with dialogue. Doesn’t matter what, really. The last thing someone said to you, a line from TV or a movie, whatever. Someone says something, and from there, others have to reply. It may have nothing to do with your story and you might end up cutting it later, but you’ve written something. You’ve started. You have something to go from. The same works with first sentences. Try some prompt generators, pick a random image from your computer or the internet and use that as a starting point (deviantART is good for this; the front page is full of random pictures that might inspire you, or you can search by category and find something more specific), listen to some music, whatever works for you.

Act it out. Think of your character and the situation that he/she is in, and try to become them. Actors do this, too, or at least the good ones do. Become your character and act out, in your head or out loud or with your cat or whatever, what they might do and say. Let situations develop. Then write them down.

If you’ve already written something and you’re having trouble getting back into it today, read back over what you have. This will help you get back into the story, too, as well as reminding you of the characters’ motivations and thoughts and your own writing style.

Don’t finish the last scene of the day. When you’re done writing for the day, leave some loose ends. That way, the first thing you have to do the next day is finish an already-started scene. You’re not starting with a blank page. Even if it’s just a paragraph, even if you end up changing that or getting rid of it or writing something else entirely, you’re basically giving your future self a starting point.

Sometimes none of that works. Sometimes you sit there, and sit there, and the words don’t come. Write or Die is screeching at you, what you wrote yesterday is rubbish, you have no idea who your characters even are, and the prompts are all entirely wrong. If it’s like that, step back. Put away your notebook, shut down your computer, and walk away. Go for a walk, tidy up the kitchen, work in the garden, go shopping, bake a cake. Do something, anything, that doesn’t require a lot of thought, something physical. Give your brain a break and don’t worry about your word count.

In all likelihood, at some point, you’ll get a flash of inspiration. A sentence might form in your mind or your character might knock on the inside of your skull and promise to be more co-operative. You’ll feel an urge to go back and start writing. Or maybe you won’t, but when you do sit back down to write, you’ll feel better. Chances are, the words will start coming again. Sometimes, all we need is some distance and a little break. Give yourself both.

Finally, bear in mind that whatever you end up writing, however you end up starting a scene, a chapter, or your entire novel, you will probably change it. The beginning is one of the hardest parts to write, so it’s not going to be perfect the first time around. A lot of authors find it impossible to write a good beginning until they’ve written most of the story. So: no pressure. It doesn’t matter. Write whatever you want, jump right into it, don’t worry about it. You’ll come back and edit it, get rid of it entirely, write a much better start.

In December.

NaNoWriMo resources, part 2: Motivation!

It’s the eve of Halloween, which means that we’re right on November’s doorstep – a scary thought if ever there was one, right? Having all the tools and programs you need for writing is one thing. The other thing is… do you know how you’re going to get through November yet? Got your inspiration and motivation all sorted out? If not, here are some suggestions.

Let’s start with music. Lots of people listen to music while they write, and having a soundtrack to help you get in the right mood for your novel can help tremendously. But did you know that there’s music specifically for NaNoWriMo? Last year, I discovered ALL CAPS’ The NaNoWriMo Song, which is pretty cool. This year I’ve found live2tivo, a singer/songwriter whose opus includes gems like NaNoWriMo Will Eat Your Soul and NaNoWriMo University. Seriously, check them out. They’re guaranteed to get you in the NaNo mood.

If you’re the visual type, you might want to check out some NaNo wallpapers for your computer – that way, you’ll be reminded of what you should be doing every time you turn on your computer! Check out the NaNo wallpaper thread, and you’ll find my own wallpapers linked in this blog as well. If you’ve made or somehow obtained a book cover, print it out and hang it up where you can see it. If not, consider getting one!

Print or write out your favourite writing quotes and again, hang them up where you can see them. My favourites are ”Don’t get it right, just get it written” and ”Write who you are”.

Get yourself a mascot. I’m still working on mine; it’s a wood carving of a guy I’ve named Roman, after Borussia Dortmund’s goalkeeper (because his hands are freakishly big, like goalie gloves). Put it on your desk and let it cheer you on. Until I finish Roman, a little model of the Millennium Falcon is filling in for him, but I suspect that that would be more useful for fanfic than an original werewolf novel. Although there aren’t any goalkeepers in my werewolf novel. Yet. Ask me again in two weeks.

Speaking of tangents, check out the NaNoWriMo forums if you haven’t yet. Especially the genre threads, and especially the Dare and Adoption threads. They’re usually a riot, and you’ll get tons of ideas there. Just remember to come back and actually use them in your writing. Forum posts don’t actually count towards your final wordcount (alas).

Get yourself a writing buddy – or several. If you don’t have any yet, no worries, just get over to the NaNo forums and have a look around. There are usually loads of threads for people looking for someone to kick them in the behind. In fact, I’d be happy to oblige myself – you can add me via my NaNoWriMo profile if you want. I’m pretty good at bossing people around, or so they tell me.

Get a wordcount widget from the NaNo site and share it on your journal, website, profile, etc. Sharing your progress with the world can be a powerful motivator, too. It makes you feel accountable – it does me, at least. The widgets will probably experience some downtime (they usually do at the start of the month) but they’ll be more stable a few days in, if not from the beginning, so keep checking back for them.

And finally… don’t worry. I don’t have my plot entirely worked out yet either. I meant to do it today, I really did, but then I decided that my DeviantArt journal needed a new layout instead. Priorities, and all that. Now it’s 20:16, and I have to go watch soccer in half an hour, so my plot probably won’t get very sorted out tonight, either. But it’s okay. That’s part of the fun.

In fact, last year, having (bravely or stupidly, depending on your point of view) decided to write my novel in German, I didn’t even have a plot by the end. I had 50,000 words, I even had coherent scenes, but don’t ask me how they fit together or why [whatever happened] happened. But I made it anyway. And that’s the key: just keep writing. When you think you’re stuck, switch to a different scene, leave out the plot point, figure out the whys and hows later. In December. Or if you’re like me, two years later. There’s no rush.

Happy Halloween, and ready… set… write! (And I’d love to hear how you’re getting on!)

NaNoWriMo resources, part 1: Writing tools

I thought I’d make a list of things that might come in useful during November, for inspiration, motivation, or just to make the process of writing easier. There are, as it turns out, quite a lot of useful things out there, so there will be two parts to this. I’ll talk about writing tools in this first part; inspiration and motivation will be in part two.

I use Word for writing, because I’m just used to it, and if you don’t have that there’s always OpenOffice, which is free to use. There are other programs out there worth mentioning, though: Q10 and WriteMonkey, full-screen text editors which cut out all distractions and reduce things down to just you, your keyboard, and your writing. I prefer WriteMonkey because I find it a bit easier to change the settings (Q10 uses keyboard shortcuts rather while WriteMonkey gives you the option of using your mouse too), but they’re both pretty useful.

Another useful writing resource is Write or Die, which, if you haven’t heard of it, is quite an excellent tool for combating writer’s block. You put in the amount of words you want to write or the length of time for which you want to write, select a severity level, and go – then you have to keep writing, otherwise Bad Things will happen. The only downside to this one is that if you want to use it offline, on your computer, you have to pay for it.

I used to do my plotting on paper or in Word, but I recently discovered OneNote (part of the Microsoft Office suite), so now I’m using that. I still do a fair bit of my plotting on paper, but I like that OneNote lets me incorporate text, images, and handwriting in the one file – without randomly changing the layout the way Word likes to do.

There is a lot of novelling software out there, too, and while I like typing in Word, it’s really impractical for saving a novel. Either you end up with a huge long file, or lots of different files that you have to keep organised. Editing is a mess with both options, as far as I’m concerned. Either I spend ages scrolling up and down, or I spend ages renaming files because I decided that scene 24 should be scene 25, and scene 25 should be scene 20…

I use a program called yWriter to organise my writing. It’s a pretty neat program; you can run it off a memory stick if you don’t have it installed on the computer youtre using, and it has all the features you really need for novelling. It’s extremely easy to use and lets you divide your novel into chapters and scenes, which you can rearrange simply by dragging and dropping. It also has character, item, and location lists, a storyboard, and other stuff. It’s the easiest novelling software I’ve used, and the best part is that it’s completely free.

I’ve got a copy of Liquid Storybinder, too, but I find that I spend more time playing with settings and extras than I do writing, so I don’t use it anymore. It just has too many functions and options for me, and the dark background disagrees with me as well. That said, it’s a lot more customisable than yWriter, so if you like lots of options and tools and toys, then this might be for you.

If you’re into spreadsheets, I’ve made a pretty comprehensive one for NaNo ‘10 which features a word tracker, progress charts, as well as sections for novel info and developing plot and characters. There are two versions, one for filling in your per-day wordcount, the other for filling in your cumulative wordcount throughout the month. You can download it from here.

I made a word count meter last year, too, which is still online on this page. The generated meter looks like this:

10000 / 50000

There’s a ton of others out there, too, I just made this one because I missed the pretty Zokutou one. I like mine, but I quite like this one as well, which is a html-only version that looks very nice as well:

10000 / 50000 (20.00%)

That’s all I can come up with; these are the tools I know of and use myself. You’ll find loads of technology- and software-related discussions on the “NaNo Technology” forum as well. And if you have any more resources to share, please do so!