Sunday, September 28, 2008

National Novel Writing Month

By Vikki Perry

Can you write a 50,000 word novel in a single month?

Last November, I did.

I participated in the ninth annual National Novel Writing Month (otherwise known as Nanowrimo) for the first time. Nanowrimo’s mix of peer support, “let’s finish it” philosophy, and my own desire to succeed allowed me to complete a 52,000 word novel in 30 days.


You see, even though I’ve written short stories and poems galore, the ability to finish a novel eluded me. Nanowrimo changed that. I can now call myself a novelist. Yea again!

Nanowrimo was a learning experience. The “let’s finish it” philosophy is revolutionary to a writer like me who worries about getting each word right the first time around.

Here are some tips to having a successful Nanowrimo:
  • Turn off the internal editor. Do not worry about making it perfect. Get it down on paper now. You can fix it next month.
  • Write. Do not read over what you’ve already written. Look over the last sentence or two (without changing anything) to get a feel for where you stopped and then start writing again.
  • If you get stuck, stop writing that scene and move on to another scene. One of my fellow participants titled one of her chapters “Chapter 4 – A chapter in which the author has no idea what happens.” She moved on to Chapter 5 and finished the book.
  • Affiliate with your region if you have one and participate in the group activities. Last year, the Columbia, SC region held a plotting bash, a kickoff, several write-ins, a lock-in (at my house), and a thank-god-it's-over party. We held each other accountable, and we also had lots of fun!
This year I’m serving as the co-Municipal Liaison (ML) for the Columbia region. This means that I will be assisting the other ML in planning and hosting events.

Some of the events that we are planning:
  • Noveling 101 – (October) On the basic structure of novels and how to use this structure when writing.
  • Creativity Kicker – (October) Exercises to kickstart our creativity and get ready to write.
  • Plotting Bash – (October) Different ways that we can plot out our novels and then talking about our ideas. Both Plotters and Pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants) are welcome!
  • Kickoff – (November 1) We’ll have a few word wars and we’ll socialize.
  • Write-ins – (November) Held in various places all over the Columbia area at various times. Last year, we held them at the IHOP in Lexington, the Richland County main library, the USC campus, and the Sandhills mall. The area message boards on provide information throughout the month of November.
  • Lock-in – (November) A tremendous success last year. For one whole day (from 8:00 am until midnight), we “locked” ourselves in and wrote. Some participants wrote over 10,000 words.
  • Thank-God-It’s-Over Party – (early December) The final event of Nano. We’ll celebrate the success of completing 50,000 word novels.
Nanowrimo is a lot of work, but it can be lots of fun. I’m ticking the days off on my calendar until it starts. I’ll be blogging my journey on my blog and on the Modern Mythmakers blog

For more information on the National Novel Writing Month, visit The boards will open up on October 1. If you have questions, email me at I hope that some of you guys will join us.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How Do You Find the Time to Write?

By Tiem Wilson

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Writers write.” Or, you’ve heard the advice that you should write everyday. Well, how do you find time to do that? Take a schoolteacher, for example. After teaching three or four classes a day and then grading homework, exams, etc., where is the time to flesh out the next chapter of your thriller? Suppose you live in a large city with a sixty-minute commute to work. You are fighting traffic to and fro (struggling with road rage), finally get home and the kids are screaming for attention. After helping the kids with their homework and spending quality time with the spouse, how much character development can you get through before falling asleep atop the keyboard?

I have tried several time management tips to become more organized. At first, I set aside time in the mornings. I attempted to awake before the rest of the house to give myself some quiet, uninterrupted time at the computer. The problem with this was, I’m not a morning person. Getting out of bed that early consumed the energy I needed to focus on my writing. So, I switched to writing at night.

I waited until the kids were in bed and the house was quiet again. You can already tell how that worked out, right? After homework, after-school activities, cooking dinner, and preparing for the next workday, I was too exhausted to concentrate.

I tried writing while traveling on a couple of family vacations this summer. I figured a six-hour drive to Disney World would yield some great make-up time. Unfortunately, I suffered from motion sickness. Needless to say, a long ride in the backseat was not pleasant for me. It definitely was not the creative juices that were flowing!

My next attempt was writing during my lunch hour. This worked a little better because I was able to focus enough to flesh out maybe a page or two, at the most. A downside was the limited time frame itself. Just when I was on a roll and my fingers were flying across the keyboard, “the bell rings.” Creativity is interrupted, and it's not always easy to pick up again the next day.

So, how do I find the time to write? I use a combination of timesaving techniques. During the commute between dropping the kids off to school and pulling into a parking space at work, I sometimes record my thoughts with a mini recorder. I listen to it during a break to keep the idea fresh in my head for when I sit down during lunch. I also keep a small notebook with me at all times. I use it to jot down any brainstorming ideas as I’m waiting for the kids during their extra-curricular activities. Before, I would use the children’s reading time to fold laundry. Now, I use it to sneak in some writing. Yes, the clothes are piling higher. But, I feel better sacrificing the chores at night for a little extra writing time. Any slice of time is gobbled up in the name of fiction.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eat Spicy Food Before Going to Bed

And 7 Other Ways to Work on a Story
When You Aren’t Actually Writing

by Janie Kronk

Don’t call it procrastination.

We read stories, and we write stories. Even when we aren’t technically at work, we are busy watching, noticing, and remembering details of the world around us. We are busy enjoying elements of story in everyday life. Often these elements creep up in our own work over time.

Jack Kerouac’s Book of Dreams is exactly what it sounds like -- a record of each night’s dreams, meticulously recorded for mood and detail. A table in the front of the book lists the characters from his dreams, alongside the names of characters in The Dharma Bums, On the Road, and other works that originated from these nocturnal personas.

Aside from enjoying some spicy food at bedtime and keeping a pen handy to record the vivid dreams that ensue, here are my seven favorite ventures (mostly) unrelated to writing that help me better understand the art of storytelling:

1) TAKE AN ACTING CLASS (backstory, character)
This activity encourages thinking about a character’s objectives and motivations; it promotes thinking with your body, to explore a character’s actions and expressions
Everyone has a story to tell: the homeless woman who believes she was used by the government for 25 years; the guy from Chicago who has been driving in circles for hours and can’t seem to find the museum; the old man walking a pot-bellied pig through the park, hoping to be noticed.
3) MAKE THINGS (detail, craft)
Creativity yields creativity. Working in a visual medium is another way to stretch the right side of your brain. Visual arts communicate ideas using many of the same devices found in the writer’s toolbox: metaphor, evocative details, pattern and motif, form and structure.
4) READ WRITING LIFE STORIES by Bill Roorbach (remedies for writer’s block)
Wait…wasn’t this supposed to be a list of activities unrelated to reading and writing? Several exercises in this book actually fit that criteria: drawing maps, making diagrams, and other unconventional ways of finding stories which are important to us.
Simply put, it’s a treat. And while on the topic of stories being read and told aloud, I highly recommend the following:,, Listen enough and you may unleash an inner narrator that travels with you throughout your day.
I’m being facetious, yes. Still, any time you find yourself a little too close for comfort, just consider yourself an impartial observer of human behavior.
7) TRAVEL (plot, setting)
Some sources say that all stories adhere to one of seven basic plots. Other sources say there are ten. Even others say, “There are two basic plots: A man goes on a journey… or A stranger comes to town…” So if you think about it, travel plans are stories waiting to happen. The journey can take on many forms. A friend of mine applied to live in a Mennonite boarding house outside Manhattan, even though she is a Catholic-raised agnostic from Pittsburgh. Another friend once ran with the bulls in Pamplona.

In the end, it is curiosity--about people, places, and experiences--that is the crux of what storytelling is all about. Why else would we keep turning the pages?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The History of a 5,000-Word Story

by Ilmars Birznieks

CadillacCicatrix is a semi-annual journal for writers, poets, and artists.

My story, The Long Journey to Freedom (over 5000 words), just happened to have the kind of plot the editor was looking for--adaptation.

The Long Journey to Freedom was born from my first novel, Baltic Amber, that's been gathering dust on the shelf since 1987.

The story tells the plight of a young American woman who was unjustly accused of espionage in communist Hungary and sentenced to hard labor in Siberia. I describe her return from the Gulag to East Germany.

If you want to read the whole story, all you have to do is click www. CadillacCicatrix. com or .org on the Internet and you will have it in the features.