Thursday, October 30, 2014

How To Win NaNoWriMo In 12 Easy Steps

So. November is nearly upon is. The NaNoWriMo challenge looms ahead. Or maybe for you it lies ahead, beckoning to you like a wooded path glowing in the autumn light. Either way, it's just about here. Are you ready?

I am not accepting the challenge this year, at least not officially. I have a little middle grade verse novel that I will be working on, but I've already started it, and it would never be so long as 50,000 words. So my plan for November, besides PiBoIdMo, is to make steady progress on my little novel, with my goal being to finish the draft by the end of the month.

BUT! I did NaNoWriMo last year. And I won! So I thought I would share how I did it, in the hopes that it will help you crazy WriMo-ers to accomplish your goal, tackle the beast, cross the finish line, whatever metaphor you like.

So, how did I win NaNoWriMo last year? By following these 12 easy steps:

1. I had an IDEA. More specifically, I had an idea I was excited to write. This might sound like crazy talk, but having an idea you are excited about just might be the best motivation you can ask for.

Got your idea? Okay, move on to step two!

2. I planned ahead. This is important, as you need to have at least some inkling of who your characters are (beyond just their name and goal) and where you want your story to go. So, do an outline if that's your thing. Write a list of characters and their traits/goals/personalities. What I did was jot down a bit about my characters, and then I wrote a little blurb about my story. Kind of like the type of thing you'll find on a jacket flap. I also had to do a little research on the phases of the moon. Do a little planning, or do a lot. But do some!

Now that you have your idea, and you've planned appropriately, you are ready to start writing!

WAIT! Only start writing if it is 12:01 a.m. or later on November 1st. Got it?

Okay, go!

3. I kept a schedule. I wrote at least 3 hours every day M-F, and as often as I could during the weekends. Admittedly, working 3 solid hours of writing into my day wasn't too hard to do, as I do not have a "day job." But as any wife and mother knows, the demands of children, home and hubby can be very time-consuming. Plus, I was directing a Christmas play at church and hosting Thanksgiving dinner and an out-of-town guest. But whatever your schedule is like, if you want to write 50,000 words in November, you have to make time to write. Simple as that.

4. I followed @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter and enthusiastically joined in on the fun and craziness of five or ten or thirty-minute sprint sessions. I highly recommend doing this as a way to keep yourself motivated and have a lot of fun with fellow WriMo-ers. You might be amazed at how many words you can write in 5 minutes of sprinty madness!

5. I did NOT edit. Okay... I resisted editing as much as possible. Editing is a time sucker. RESIST!

6. I kept notes. Because I am not an outliner, one thing I did was keep little notes of what was happening in my story as I progressed. It was kind of an outline-as-you-go idea. Jotting down a line or two of summary at the end of each chapter only takes a moment, and you will thank yourself when revising/editing time comes around.

7. I wrote in the margins. I jotted down thoughts or questions that occurred to me as I wrote. Usually this was because something happened as I was writing that I hadn't seen coming: a new character would appear, or a thought regarding a character's motivation would jump out at me, or a question about an earlier incident would pop into my brain. Other times I had only a general idea of what would happen next, so I summarized it and moved on. I wrote these down in the margins of my composition notebook (or by adding a comment in Word once I moved to the computer) so that they would be there for me when I went back to revise.

8. I wrote out of order. This was probably the hardest thing for me, but in the end, I think it was the biggest reason for my success last year. I wrote down scenes as they came to me, with little regard for where they would happen in the story. This helped me keep my word count growing if I ever felt stuck.

9. I took advantage of dialogue. I wrote a lot of long, boring discussion scenes. If I wasn't quite sure how to proceed, my characters would have long discussions (or sometimes inner monologues) about their current predicament and what to do about it. This not only added to my word count, but also helped me work out some of the story's issues as I progressed.

10. I accepted that my family would be annoyed. I sat at the computer during movie nights. I let my kids fend for themselves on Saturday mornings. I stayed up late. But it was only for one month. And my family was very supportive. My kids are all teenagers, so it wasn't as much of a challenge as it might be for someone with tots. But again, these little changes make a world of difference.

11. I did not allow myself to get discouraged. Remember that out-of-town guest I mentioned before? As if hosting Thanksgiving wasn't enough of a demand on my time, having my cousin visiting from Minnesota was a major drag on my writing. I lost about three days, but I picked up where I left off and kept going! No matter how far behind you get, KEEP GOING.

12. I made a super-human last ditch effort. On November 30, 2013 I found myself about 8,000 words behind. I can't tell you how daunting it was to have those 8,000 words darkening my dreams of NaNoWriMo success. But somehow I managed. I wrote through the day and into the night, and at about 11:45 p.m. on November 30, I surpassed the 50,000 word mark with a final tally of 50,033 words of a brand new, very mess YA fantasy novel.

Okay, so maybe these steps weren't easy. But they worked for me. And maybe they will work for you too!

I wish you the best of luck, crazy WriMo-ers.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Beauty of Fall

On Sunday afternoon my family and I went for a hike in the woods, eager to enjoy one of the last warm days of the year and soak in some of the vibrant fall before the burnished beauty fades. It was a little too warm, to be honest, but the colors were awe-inspiring. We hiked up the trail littered with fall confetti, clutching our walking sticks, all the way to the little suspension bridge that's part of Backwoods Trail No. 2. That bridge alone makes the trek worth it.

It was a beautiful day, and I'd like to share a little glimpse of it with you:

Glowing golden in the afternoon sunlight.

The Suspension Bridge

Daughter #2's boots. Look at all those reds!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Moosey Monday: Cover Reveal!

And here it is! The picture book cover you have all been waiting for!

Is it not the cutest thing you've seen all day?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Bringing On the Giggles in Children's Books

I am not especially funny. At least not when I try to be. Though I have been known to make people laugh, my brand of humor is generally spontaneous and unexpected. If you have ever chuckled when reading one of my blog posts, I can assure you it was not planned in advance.

But in raising kids, and working with kids, and writing for kids, I have discovered that there are a few things that are practically guaranteed to bring out the giggles, whether in experiences, movies or in books.

1. Butts. And any variation thereof. Hiney, tush, rear end. The mention of this part of the human body elicits giggles so easily that teachers have taken to asking kids to sit on their pockets rather than their bottoms. Why else would books like Chicken Butt by Erica S. Pearl and The Butt Book by Artie Bennett make it onto shelves?

2. Underwear. Haven't we all tried to trick someone into saying "underwear" at some point? It's funny, and kids know it. Captain Underpants, anyone?

3. Farts. It doesn't have to be the actual word "fart," to bring on the giggles (like in Walter the Farting Dog). Onomatopoeia also does the trick, as do various references to stinky gas. We adults may shake our heads at this kind of humor, but often we are secretly laughing our butts off!

4. Poop. Noticing a pattern here? Yes, kids think poop is funny. Hilarious. Dog poop, cow manure, dung beetles. Excrement can be an author's best friend! Having worked in a library, I have seen first hand how kids are drawn to books with titles like Poop Eaters: Dung Beetles in the Food Chain and Everyone Poops. And let's not forget Professor Poopypants, or the diaper references in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.

5. Grossness. In addition to farts and poop, anything else that elicits an "Ew!" is likely to elicit a giggle or two. A monster that slurps slugs for breakfast, a dog with severely bad breath (like in Dog Breath by Dav Pilkey), and anything else that is gooey, slobbery or just plain gross will do the trick.

6. Naughtiness. Kids love reading about naughty kids' antics in books like No, David! or David Goes to School by David Shannon (my own David loved his books when he was little). Not only do they find this stuff funny, but it's good for them to see that characters in children's books are as flawed as they are.

7. Slapstick. Who doesn't love a little slapstick comedy, like in Aaron Zenz's Hiccupotomus (bonus "bottom" humor in this one) or Karma Wilson's Sakes Alive! A Cattle Drive? A little bumbling, colliding, and near catastrophe can go a long way to amp up the humor in a children's book!

Of course, a book doesn't have to be all laughs in order for humor to be an important element. Sometimes the best giggle is the one you didn't see coming.

What kind of humor do you like to see in children's books?

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Photo credit: a4gpa on Best Running / CC BY-SA

Monday, October 06, 2014

Moosey Monday: If You Give a Moose a Muffin

In continuing the celebration of moose in all their forms, today I bring you the adorable picture book If You Give a Moose a Muffin, by Laura Numeroff. This was one of my and my son's favorite books to read aloud when he was little (as were the others in this series). The pictures are fun to explore, the series of events elicit chuckles, and the way the story comes full circle is satisfying and clever.

And, of course, it stars a moose! What's not to love?

Friday, October 03, 2014

Time is like a gnat

Time is zipping by
so fast!
Like a little gnat that zigs
and zags
in front of my face,
daring me to catch it,
to smack it,
to squish it.

But I can't catch time,
can't slow it down,
can't squish it into what I want it to be.

All I can do is try
to keep up,
keep breathing,
keep hoping that
time and I
will fall into an easy