Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Probably the Most Damaging Insecurity I’ve Ever Had

Gosh, I can’t believe it’s time for another IWSG post again. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a bloghop where we share our fears, doubts and insecurities once a month. The idea is for everyone to see they’re not alone in what they’re feeling, and also for everyone to encourage each other, or to give advice if you’ve been there and made it through. If you would like more information or to sign up, just click here.

I actually considered skipping today, because man, I’ve been having some serious troubles writing.

But here’s the thing. I realized earlier that the major insecurity I’ve been suffering from for the past two or three months is a lie. 

So I thought I’d share a bit of what’s going on with me. Finally figured out a way in which to put my feelings in a publishable format.

There’s a bit of a challenge, because I can’t really explain why I felt this way. I did explain on my Patreon page, since I wanted my patrons to know where I am in my life, but I couldn’t make it a public posting, because I have quite a good reason not to want to put everything up in public unfiltered where a Google Search can pick it up. So. If you want to see a full picture, I’m afraid it’s going to cost a dollar. If not, no pressure. I think you’ll be able to get by without the full picture.

Why? Because I’m a writer, damn it. I’ll make it work.

Right.

So.

*Deep breath.*

Basically from the beginning of March, I stopped feeling like I had a future worth living for.

Man. That sentence was harder than I thought. Already in tears.

Okay. I can do this.

From the beginning of March, I stopped feeling like I had a future worth living for. Basically for the past ten years, I’ve been keeping myself functioning by relentlessly chasing down my dream of becoming a writer, and then later of making a living off my writing skills.

And that was great, because there was always something to work towards. A book to write/edit. Marketing to do… And so on and so forth.

But then partly thanks to a very close relative and some supposed “friends,” my life started to unravel in 2014.

And it kept on unraveling.

And kept on unraveling.

To the point where in March, I stopped being able to even hope that one day it would be okay. It didn’t help that I was already earning my living from writing and it just wasn’t enough to stabilize the shit storm that my life has become.

That was the worst. Because if I wasn’t happy now, what was the point of building toward the future anyway?

It started as a single thought that multiplied and multiplied until it became a belief that simply wouldn’t go away.

But here’s the thing.

 

It’s a lie. Or worse, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

 

Because if I believe that my future is dead in the water, I’m going to stop trying to fight for it. And if I stop trying to fight for it, all hope is lost, and my future as I want it really will die.

And today I had the blessing of being given a chance to step back and evaluate. And to remember that although I have a grand future planned, I also have a closer, smaller, more short-term future. One where I have a new book (or two) published. One where that book acts as a stepping stone to what I consider to be my empire. Also, one where after two years of putting it off, I have an actual proper author website and stuff.

That smaller future is something I want. Badly. And it doesn’t matter whether my life wants to fall to pieces. I have the skills and tools at my disposal to make that smaller future happen.

But to do that, I have to stop lying to myself. I have to stop thinking that I’m going to be trapped in limbo forever.

Maybe you’re in the same boat as me. In which case, I want to remind you to stop lying to yourself as well. There is a future you want, and there is a way for you to get there. Once you remember that, it becomes easier to to figure out what you need to do and how to do it, regardless of what’s going on in the present.

Thanks for reading!

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Social Contracts, The Prestige, and the Subtle Art of Mind-F*ckery

Social Contracts, The Prestige, and the Subtle Art of Mind-F*ckery

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I recently read a book that had some… let’s call them issues. I’m not going to name names, but you guys will probably be able to track it down if you follow my social networks, or if you’re patient enough. But if you do track the title down, keep in mind my comments can be seen as spoilers once you have the context, so choose wisely if you want to find out what book I’m talking about.

At any rate, I mostly did enjoy this book. It had an interesting voice and rapid pacing that did serve to keep me immersed in the reading.

But will I be reading this book’s sequel, which is coming out soon?

No.

I could blame some of the plot issues this book had, but if those were the only ones, the book had entertained me enough to encourage me to (eventually, maybe) pick up the sequel. But no. The issue was a bit more serious.

The issue is that the writer broke her social contract with me.

Some writers seem to be completely unaware of the fact, but all works of fiction come with a reciprocal, unwritten social contract.

The reader agrees to suspend disbelief until the end of the book, trusting the writer’s ability to tell a good story until the very end.

On the writer’s side, there’s the promise of a good story being told, and that any leap of faith taken by the reader will be either explained or rewarded in some way by the end.

I always talk about the plot and characterization in a book being its foundation. Well, taking this analogy further, this social contract of trust and reward basically stands as the reason why the foundation had been laid in the first place. The writer wants to entertain, and the reader wants to be entertained. The social contract makes it possible for both sides to both get and deliver what is needed for this transaction to occur.

My problem with this book is that I spent 90% of the book trusting the writer despite some logic issues in the story, only to be rewarded at the end with “Oh well, the conflicts, the stakes, the choices, and even the supposedly devastating sacrifices as the result of those choices never actually mattered and were all undone by the end.”

While it had been foreshadowed from the start that this was the case, but nothing had prepared me for how little it all mattered in the end.

And so, at the end of it, I, being a reader, felt betrayed. So much so that I’m simply not willing to get back onto that roller-coaster again for the sequel.

So How Do Writers Deliver Their End of the Contract?

The main step, of course, is to tell a good story, which revolves around all the techniques you guys already know.

But if you were to want to write a book that is designed to completely screw with your reader’s minds, it basically comes down to one thing:

Don’t put the mind-f*ck ahead of the story. 

In other words, if you’re putting so much effort into blowing the mind of the reader at every turn, you’re actually harming the story, either by making it predictable, or by unraveling all the meaning you’d put into it.

Or in still other words, put the mind-blowing events into your plot, but don’t make your plot about the mind-blowing events.

This is such a difficult thing to explain without naming examples, so I will name two examples in movies. And to make the point I’m making clearer, I’ll even make the main characters have the same vocation.

I present to you:
Image result for the prestige
and
Image result for now you see me
Before we continue: SPOILER WARNING!!!

Of the two, I think the book I’d read was trying to be The Prestige. And why wouldn’t it?

In The Prestige, the pacing was tight. The conflict was no-holds-barred and take-no-prisoners. The stakes kept climbing. But here’s the thing. The conflict centered around what two stage magicians were capable of doing to each other in the name of revenge. The mind-f*cks started coming when the understanding the viewer had of the events in the story took on a new meaning, once they realized what the magicians were willing to do to themselves in order to win in this revenge game. (Let me just say that those things are more horrific the more you think about them.)

Everything in The Prestige is established, shown, and explained, peeling back layer after layer until the viewer is given clear sight of what they had been seeing all along. In other words, nothing was hidden, save for the meaning of what they had seen, and even that is revealed by the end as the huge twist. If viewers rewatch the movie, they will have a different experience, just because they understand all that’s going on in context. But even knowing the context and twist, The Prestige is still a movie worth watching, simply because the characterization was excellent and the plot in itself is amazing. (Brilliant conflict. Huge and ever-increasing stakes driven by character motivation.)

What the book ended up being was Now You See Me. This movie sets up a conflict, only to reveal it’s a diversion, then sets up another thing, only to show it’s fake. And another, and another, none of which is real. By the third time there’s a plot twist (and I use the term loosely), the viewer’s mind isn’t blown, because the viewer knows that literally nothing that’s happening is actually happening. So stakes? Nada. Conflict? Meh what conflict? We don’t even know what the goal is yet. (If we don’t know what the goal is, we don’t know what is standing against the goal.)

Plot twists are thrown in with little to no real ground work, all to “generate interest.” And in the end, it is revealed that the one thing the viewer thought was real—in other words, the heist and the conflict with the detective—was all fake and that the whole time, there had been an entire other plot that the viewer had not been allowed to see on purpose, and that gets jumped on the viewer from left field with little more than a “ta-da!” in the third act.

This in a nutshell was exactly what had happened in the book. Literally in the third act, we’re not only introduced to this whole other unseen plot, but said plot literally undoes everything in the book, including the relationship between the two leads that had been developed as the story progressed.

So what happens is that once this other plot becomes known, the plot we readers had read—the one we had known and spent time on—doesn’t gain a new meaning. It gains non-meaning. As in, if I reread this book again, I’ll never be able to commit to the story again, because this story literally means nothing now. Nothing I had been shown in the story actually meant anything. The story is defined by what I hadn’t been shown, and in short, by how much the writer had taken my trust without giving me anything of substance in return.

And instead of being mind-blown, I’m just really upset and let down.

So if you are working on a book that hinges on some major plot twists, please do ask yourself:

If my readers reread this book knowing the plot twists in it, will they still be presented with a compelling plot?
Or will everything I set up fall apart because of the way I resolved the story? 

If you answer yes to the latter, you failed to hold up your part of the social contract. It really is that simple. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go rewatch The Prestige. 

Anyone else love The Prestige as much as I do? Anyone else feel as betrayed as I do when plot twists basically undo entire stories? 

Eef Lenaerts on Writing a Book About Traveling through Africa

One of my first freelance jobs was to do the editing, formatting, and cover design for a book about traveling through Africa from Egypt to South Africa. It was a great book for me to read, because the idea of traveling over Africa has always intrigued me. (Although I’d do it in reverse from how the writers Eef and Dries did it, seeing as I am in South Africa already.)

But because I enjoyed working on the book so much, I thought I’d invite Eef to do a guest post about what it was like for her to write it.

Hi all,

Like many of you here, we wrote a book! But we’re no writers, we’re travelers and we had absolutely had no idea how the hell to write a book, so we got some help from Misha.

The book is finally finished (thanks to Misha) and she asked us to write a guest post about the process of writing a book while traveling, so here we go!

Four years ago, we left Belgium with our car. Two years later, we reached South Africa. It was an adventure, with many ups and downs. We loved it, but at times we hated it. It was hot, it was cold, it was amazing, it was dreadful…but it was the adventure of a lifetime that no-one can take away from us.

We left as total dummies with our Toyota Landcruiser. We drove from Belgium to Turkey and took a ferry to Egypt to start our way down along the East Coast of Africa, with South Africa as our end goal.

We were total dummies. Young and eager to go, we couldn’t wait. We packed up our house, sold our belongings, and bought a 4×4 to go on the adventure of a lifetime!

We didn’t take enough preparations, so of course we ran in problems along the way, getting stuck in the dessert with a hi-lift jack, but no points to use the jack, having a spare battery for the fridge, but having a warm fridge, applying for a visa, but no USD to pay for it…

These were all small things that we could sort out, and they make some great stories now, but we could easily have avoided these issues. So after the umpteenth time of thinking “Oh really? Wish we knew this before!’ I decided to write a book for the other dummies in the world!

With a good mood, I started writing down things that were important to prepare before you leave home, ways to act in certain countries, hidden treasures along the road, etc. Gathering this information was easy, but making it into a book was way more difficult than I thought.

It took me two years to finish the book. One reason was because we were still traveling, so we had a lot going on. The other reason was simply that things change constantly in Africa! So the information about a border crossing from two years ago was absolutely out of date. This meant that apart from the actual writing, the book required A LOT of research. In the end, I had read the content so many times, I just couldn’t cope anymore.

So for me, it was a horrible experience. 😛

I don’t think I’ll do it again in the near future, but the book is finished and I’m very proud of it!

So if you’re interested to have a look at what I made of it, or just need the final push to start an adventure (the big aim of this book is to give the people that push they need to get out the house and go and see the world), feel free to look it up! Part of this book’s profits will also go to the Rhino Fund Uganda, so the rhinos will thank you.

All the best,

Eef

Two years ago, Dries and Eef decided to throw caution to the wind. They packed up their house, sold their belongings and bought a 4×4 to go on the adventure of a lifetime, traveling over the African continent. It was a life-changing experience, filled with amazing sights and wonderful people, but it was also challenging because when they started, they had no idea about what they were letting themselves in for.

So to help others who want to share in this amazing adventure, Eef and Dries decided to share their experiences and advice learned the hard way, just to make things a little easier for new adventurers.

The tips range from what you should wear to what you should bring along, how to get through the borders to where you should camp and what you should do while you’re there.

Which means that Into Africa is a fun read for armchair travelers, but especially useful as a guide for adventurers out to experience Africa for themselves.

A portion of proceeds from the sales of this book will go toward The Rhino Fund Uganda, an organization focused on saving rhinos from extinction.

Available on Amazon

Anyone else ever dream of traveling through Africa? 

How to Use Framing to Strengthen Your Story

How to Use Framing to Strengthen Your Story

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about framing. A lot of us take framing for granted, but it’s actually such a vital part of our writing. So I thought I’d talk about it today.

We often think of framing in terms of the plot frame. As in how a plot forms the backbone or frame over which the whole story goes. This is true, and as important, but what I’m thinking of is framing, almost in a photographic sense.

Framing has a lot of different meanings in photography too, but what I’m talking about here is aiming your camera so that the contents of your frame (i.e. what will be in the picture) results in a pleasant image. Like so:

When we write, we should be framing the chapters in the same way. See, a chapter isn’t just a number with text after it. It’s actually a snapshot out of your story, and like a photo, the best chapters are framed properly, so the contents do the best work possible toward progressing the plot.

Since I’ve started freelance editing, I’ve been noticing quite often that writers seem to think that chapters should just begin and end, maybe at a set number of pages.

Many writers seem to think that, as long as the story gets told, it doesn’t matter where the chapters start and finish.

In a way, they’re not wrong. Beautifully framed chapters won’t do anything if the story is weak, but then, I don’t really think you can beautifully frame chapters if you didn’t sort your story out first.

The thing is, the framing of one’s chapters can be the difference between a good book and an excellent one. Or even an okay book and a good one.

It all comes back to reader immersion.

See, readers have been trained to “read” certain things in a certain way. For example, a comma makes them pause. Periods make them pause longer. Line breaks mean there has been a change of some sort from one paragraph to the next, whether it’s in location, time, or point of view character. The readers might not yet know what changed, but that line break signals them to be prepared for it, so when the change does become apparent, they’re not pulled out of the story.

Just so, readers are trained to read something into a chapter as well. A chapter is a unit, which follows after the previous one and goes in before the next. The end of the chapter means that the main content of said chapter has been dealt with. Even chapters with cliffhangers. There is obviously still something unresolved in that chapter, but something still happened, and progress of some sort has been made.

When chapters don’t work in this expected way, readers get this vague feeling that something about what they’re reading feels “off.”

They probably won’t even be able to lay their finger on the reason, but more often than not, that sense of writing being off comes either from pacing or framing problems. (And pacing could be a framing problem in itself.)  If chapters aren’t framed nicely, your job of lulling the reader into staying immersed in a story becomes that much harder.

So what are the signs of bad chapter framing?

There are quite a few diverse things I can think of:

The chapter doesn’t lead in.
By this, I mean that writers open chapters in the middle of nowhere, giving readers no sense of where the characters are, what’s going on, who’s involved, or even who’s there (which especially becomes an issue when we’re dealing with larger casts).

Unless the chapter follows directly on the previous one (but not too directly, more on this later), make sure your reader can paint a picture in their mind’s eye of what’s going on before anything important happens. You don’t want your scenes to look like they’re happening in white mist. You don’t want talking heads. And you don’t want the reader to exclaim “where the heck did he/she/it come from just now?!” Because all these will pull your readers out of the story.

Nothing happens in the chapter.
This is a common one with writers using flashbacks. Usually, your main plot is the one taking place in the present. That’s the plot you want to progress. If you only have a paragraph of two of a character starting to reminisce, followed by the flashback scene and nothing else, nothing has happened in your chapter. Because even if the memory is fully action packed, your character did nothing in the now while they were remembering the past.

This isn’t to say that there has to be action in the present all the time, but something does need to happen before the chapter plays out. So does the flashback cause a reaction? Does it cause an emotional response? Does it trigger a major decision? Put those responses in the same chapter as the flashback, because in that way, the flashback adds to the main plot in a direct, immediate, meaningful way.

A chapter ends abruptly.
Often, this goes hand in hand with the previous point, but whereas nothing happens in that example, this one is more a case of a chapter ending just as something interesting starts to happen. I’m not talking about cliffhangers here. This is something entirely different.

Chapters, like most plots, have a beginning, middle, and end. Something is introduced, something happens, and there’s a resolution. I find, sometimes, that something will be introduced.

Yeah. Did you just get the feeling that I just left you hanging out to dry with that sentence? That’s exactly what an abruptly ended chapter feels like. The reader knows there should be something coming after, but it’s just not there. The blank space where the chapter ended becomes a gaping vacuum in your story.

A good example of this is a big revelation or admission by a character, and having that revelation be the chapter’s end. This could work as a cliffhanger, but nothing else has happened in the chapter yet. This is bad enough, but when I turn the page, I find that the new chapter doesn’t continue where the last one left off. So… what? Did the writer forget to finish it? Did he/she just not feel like writing that day….?

Takeaway here… write out your scenes, people. Its not the readers’ job to fill in the blanks for you.

Which brings me to my next point.

Glossing over major events.
Ooh… this is a subtle one. I make this mistake most often. It’s too easy. See, we’re taught as writers that we need to skip the boring parts and stick to the important bits. If we don’t, the story becomes boring. So what we do is spend maybe a paragraph to tell the readers something along the lines of “nothing major has happened. X did this the whole time… it’s about a week since you saw him last…”

And then we ease them into the chapter proper, where things are happening. The problem is that we sometimes overdo it. We gloss over too much, and important parts of the story as a whole get lost.

It’s not cool to tell me a character became friends with another one without showing us as it happens. Sure, it’s cool to save the reader from the boring parts, but some things, like growing relationships, discoveries that have bearing on the scene now… those sorts of things… we want to see. If you have to say “so this cool/interesting/important thing happened off-screen,” it really means you’re excluding the readers from your story, which means they’ll no longer want to stay as immersed as they have been.

The chapter ends for no reason.
As I mentioned before, a chapter has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and if you split the chapter in two for no reason, it just ends the one chapter abruptly, and starts the next in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, cliffhangers are the exception, but the reason why they exist is to create tension. That said, there are so many ways in which cliffhangers can be done wrong.

Let me count the ways.

Cliffhangers done wrong.
Honestly, I’m not a particular fan of the cliffhanger chapter ending. I don’t hate it. I mean, it’s still as good a writing tool as any. But more often than not, writers use them wrong, in some groan-inducing ways.

Prime examples:

Cliffhangers followed by cop-outs. (Gasp! He has a gun! Oh… It’s a water pistol. *eye roll*)

Cliffhangers followed by glossing over to explain them away. (Oh, you were worried about the bad guy’s bomb going off? Well, while I purposefully weren’t allowing you to look, my genius investigator figured out not only how to magically find said bomb, but he also disarmed it with a toothpick and some bubblegum. Phew!)

Cliffhangers being the entire point of the chapter. If your whole point is to get from the beginning of a chapter to the cliffhanger, and nothing else happened on the way there, you’re probably doing it wrong. And finally…

Cliffhangers.
Happening.
Every.
Bloody.
Freaking.
For heaven’s sake.
Please make it end.
Chapter.

One more thought. If you’re writing a book with multiple points of view, it’s probably not a good idea to use a cliffhanger chapter ending if it’s going to tempt the reader even a little to skim over, or entirely skip, the other characters’ points of view until the cliffhanger’s resolved.

Chapters are too long or too short.
This is where pacing comes in. As I mentioned before, readers read chapters as units of a story. But further than that, the speed at which a reader gets through those units influences their concept of the book’s pacing. Shorter chapters=faster pacing, longer chapters=slower pacing.

So what happens if you have a whole bunch of long chapters with one thing happening after the other in quick succession? It feels wrong, because the chapter rate clashes with the story’s actual pacing. Just so, too many short chapters will jar if your overall story unfolds at a slower rate. In such a case, it might be a good idea to look for this specifically, and combine or split chapters accordingly.

Framing your chapters is a subtle art. So subtle, in fact, that most people completely forget to do it, but most framing issues are simply solved. All it takes is adjusting the aim and focus of your chapter ever-so-slightly.

Can you think of any other ways for chapters to be framed wrong? Any of my examples a pet peeve of yours? 

NaNo Need-to-Knows: How to Avoid Writer’s Block When You’re a Pantser

Hey everyone! Today’s vlog post will be the last one I’ll be posting on a Friday for a while, because each post for November will be about advice and/or encouragement for that specific week of NaNoWriMo.

If you’re here for my monthly goal update post, click here.

If you would like to see links to all of the post in the NaNo Need-to-Knows Series, click here.

The script I used to record this vlog follows the video.

NaNoWriMo can be a dream and a nightmare for writers who fly by the seat of their pants as they write (henceforth referred to as pantsers, pantsing, etc.) On the plus side, NaNo seems almost designed for people who don’t want to plan, because we’re encouraged to just let go and write every step of the way.

On the negative side, if you paint yourself into a corner, it can be a disaster. In order to write 50,000 words in a month, you have to write an average of 1,667 words per single day. This might not seem too bad, but if you get stuck, the words needed to get back to par stack up really fast.

A lot of people try to prevent this by planning ahead and going into NaNoWriMo with something akin to a step-by-step guide to their book.

But we’re pantsers and that’s not what we do!

So what do we do?

We get stuck.

Often.

And this is frequently what we call writer’s block.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can “borrow” a few things from the plotters and adapt them to help us along.

The big thing I see as an advantage of plotting is that plotters know where they’re going with their book. Pantsers have this way of thinking that this is boring, but really, they’re just looking at it wrong.

See, just because we know where we’re headed doesn’t predetermine how we’re going to get there. And the getting there is really the fun part.

So it helps to go into NaNoWriMo with a few things settled in our mind. Knowing the main character(s), and their goal, conflict, and stakes is probably the best way to not get stuck.

However, if that smacks too much of plotting, you can get away with significantly less. How do I know? I’ve done (and won) NaNo by going into it knowing precisely one thing:

The climax of the story.

If I know what the big event or reveal will be at the end, I can use every scene before that point as a stepping stone to it. So if I get stuck in a scene, feeling like I don’t know where it’s going, I can then direct the scene towards progressing the in a way that brings me closer to the climactic point. And hopefully by then, I know enough about character, the goal, conflict and stakes to figure out how to make that progressive step forward. (But again, it does help to know all these before you start writing.)

Are you a plotter or a pantser? What do you have to know before starting?

NaNo Need-to-Knows: How to Maximize Your Chances to Win

Hey everyone! FINALLY, I have the vlog post uploaded and my internet connection back, so I’m going to have two vlog posts this week for the NaNo Need-to-Knows series. I’ll work the blog posts I had wanted to write in over this week and the next as well, because there’s a ton of information I want to share before and during NaNoWriMo.

Anyhow, here’s the video, with the script following below.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re almost on the eve of NaNoWriMo and we have no idea about who of us will succeed and who will fail at making it to 50,000 words. But I’m specially posting this on a Monday so you’ll have a bit more than a week to follow advice if you’re so inclined. Because this week is the week you prepare.

But you’ve planned your story as far as you’re going to plan it. What more can you possibly need to do?

For right now, forget your story. This week, you need to prepare yourself for NaNoWriMo, emotionally and physically.

Here are my best suggestions and the things I’m doing right now to get ready.

1) Set your strategy.

To win NaNo, you have to write 50,000 words in a month, or an average of 1,667 per day. But if you look at your calendar, you might realize that you actually have fewer days than 30 available. So how are you going to make up for that?

Make the decision now so you don’t worry about it later.

2) Clear your schedule as far as possible.

In a perfect world, you’d be able to make everything else in November go away, but alas, we’re in the real world with its millions of distractions and drains on your time. So what you want to do here is decrease those distractions as far as possible. If you have something due in the first week of November (like say next week’s vlog post), get it done now so you don’t have to worry about it.

If you need to set a date for something and it’s possible to do so, set that date in December.

Also, let go of your TV schedule. Make sure to record the things that are important to you, so you can watch it later, but don’t put yourself in the dilemma of “But XYZ is on…”

3) Tell your friends and family.

This way, you can say, “Can’t, I’m writing my novel in a month, remember?” Which makes it easier to stand firm if someone wants you to go out. (Obviously, don’t turn into a hermit, but if you have a day’s writing quota and winning is important to you, going out might have to wait until you do have time available.)

4) Decide on your priorities and block out an available time slot dedicated to writing every day. And make sure nothing else gets booked in that time.

It’ll be helpful if you knew how fast you write, but if you need to write 2,000 words a day and you take 2 hrs in order to do so, you need to make sure that you have an average of two non-negotiable writing hours a day. Note here: average. So if you really can only do an hour on week days, make sure you have a bigger chunk of time available on weekends.

Doing this ahead of time helps in two ways. First, having a dedicated writing time helps your brain switch over to creation mode faster than trying to steal time at random. Second, you can’t win NaNo if you don’t give yourself enough time. So scheduling writing time ahead can help you ensure that you theoretically gave yourself enough time to write your daily quota of words.

5) Sort Out Your Social Networking.

If it’s important that you post regularly to wherever, schedule as much as possible ahead. If not, go on hiatus.

Yeah I can hear the horrified gasps already. But that hour that just whizzes by every day as you scroll down your Facebook feed? You could have spent it writing. You need to spend it writing.

So pull the plug for a month. (I promise you, it’s actually really nice.) Just let everyone know that it’s what you’re doing so they don’t distract you with worried calls and emails because you “vanished.”

Those are my big tips to gear up for NaNoWriMo. Do you think I missed anything? Let me know in the comments.

NaNo Need-to-Knows: The Inciting Incident

Continuing on my theme of plot-related need-to-knows for NaNoWriMo, I want to talk about the inciting incident today. What is it? And why is it so useful to know your story’s inciting incident ahead of starting to write your NaNo Novel?

You know that line in book descriptions? “Everything changes when…”

The event that changes things for the character is the inciting incident. It’s literally the event that “incites” the character to set the goal which carries the story.

And if the goal is your story’s point, the inciting incident is then the catalyst that sparks off the story in earnest.

If you think about it from the reader’s point of view, the story’s goal doesn’t exist until the inciting incident occurred. So the introduction has no direction; it’s only an introduction. Direction only happens when the character says (directly or indirectly), “This is what I want to do.” After that, the story is about whether or not that thing is achieved.

But it can’t happen if there isn’t some spark that makes the character set out on their journey in the first place.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to have the inciting incident occur as soon as possible. Some people say within the first third of your story, but I personally think that’s too long, unless your story has a slower pace. Others say you must start in medias res, and that the inciting incident has to happen in the first chapter. Which I say is too fast for most genres outside of mysteries (where the incident in question is someone dying or something being stolen) or a thriller. Personal experience says that most of my stories work best with a proper character intro, and the inciting incident occurring somewhere in the first fifth of a book. But that’s because I prefer to emphasize my character arcs. Putting the inciting incident at around 10k words in (assuming I have a 50k book) gives me time to show the readers who the characters are before the inciting incident changes things, which I feel gives those changes more of an impact.

That said, I tend to personally leave it up to the story I’m writing, for the inciting incident to happen when it’s ready to happen.

So why the spiel about where to put it, then?

Because a surprising amount of writers feel like their story is dragging half-way into the book and they can’t tell why.

Often, the reason is that they’ve written half a novel’s worth of words, but nothing’s happened yet. So it’s basically a half a novel of waffling around with no direction and no visible point. Because nothing happened to make the character decide to do something. And as such, nothing is done.

If you know what the inciting incident is supposed to be, you’ll also know if it hasn’t happened yet, and so you can make sure it does happen and soon enough to keep your story from lagging.

Do you pre-plan your inciting incidents? Do you prefer inciting incidents to happen right at the beginning, or at a later point in the story?