Tag Archives: drafting

Top 16 Close-Talking, Double Dipping Tips to Succeeding At Nanowrimo!

Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month.

For 30 days in November every year, hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world try to get 50,000 words on paper. In a perfect world, these words would be brilliant and profound. It’s far more likely that the words are a big hot mess. If you are participating, this is the perfect time to organize your ideas and get ready! The objective is to write as much as possible, you know, yada, yada, yada, not to be beautiful doing it. Sign up here so you can participate this November!

I believe that the objective of 50K words in 30 days is doable for anyone who wants to try.

I also believe that much is to be gained from the whole exercise, even if it isn’t a coherent story. I’ve broken down the steps to writing a story for Nano into super-easy steps. If you follow them, you’ll easily make your goal. (It’s only 1,667 words a day. You can DO that!)

So here we go! (This is the Seinfeld version so I suggest you regift your label maker, put on your puffy shirt, and spare a square!)

 

Step One: Start your story with Did you ever notice  . . .. Is that cheating?  NO! It gets you going and now you only have 49,996 words to go.

Step Two: Pick Two Names: Almost any two will do. Let’s go with Jerry and George

Step Three: Describe these two characters. List their favorite things, their appearance, and their relationships. They also need a job that is unrelated to the genre of the book, like say, make them work for Vandalay Industries! In the import/export business! Say they really, really like velvet!

Step Four: Give them an antagonist. This determines your genre. If it’s a mean girl/boy, then it’s chick lit, (Susan?) If it’s a tall, dark stranger who they think is a pain in the butt (at first) it’s a rom-com, (Putty?) If it’s a mysterious colleague with secret who may do something violent to protect it then it’s a thriller, (Tim Whatley?) If it’s someone who had committed a crime and he doesn’t want our couple to find out about it, it’s a mystery, (Newman and what he did to that poor dog!) If it’s bigger than a personality, like, say, a government agency, then it’s a spy thriller, (Kramer probably knows something about this!) If it’s a non-human but nothing technological is involved, then it’s a fantasy. (“The sea was angry that day, my friends!”  If it’s a non-human but technology IS involved it’s science fiction.(The Bubble Boy!) Okay, so these are loose definitions, but this is Nanowrimo! There is no need to get technical, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Step Five: Give them a setting. Make it consistent with the antagonist. Delis in NYC are more for romantic comedies than for science fiction. You could also hang out in Jerry’s apartment, but the local soup Nazis will do too.  But you know what, it’s NANOWRIMO! Go ahead, break the rules, and while Jerry and George are waiting for the baddie to show up, they can order twenty-seven things on the menu, as long as they follow the rules, because that will pad you with a lot of words! Or maybe Kramer drops by because he wants something!

Step Six: Give them an objective: All this means is that the characters want something. They want to be loved. They want to be famous. They want to be secure, forgiven, avenged, or safe. These are primal needs and everybody wants them. You don’t need to worry about the specifics of the objectives, that will come later.

Step Seven: Give them a handicap: What will keep them from meeting their objective?  Sure, the antagonist will do his part, but there’s got to be more. Let’s say George is an incompetent Yankees employee who thinks uniforms should be made of cotton. Let’s say Jerry has the bad habit of bringing Pez dispensers to piano concerts. Be as nonsensical and illogical as you want because HEY! THIS IS NANOWRIMO! 

Step Eight: Give them something to say:  Open your scene with dialogue. Your pair is bickering because of something. This shouldn’t be hard to come up with. As they bicker, the reader learns about their big objective. There is no topic too small to talk about. You can talk about Snapple. You can talk about why the girl you know wears the same dress every day. You certainly can talk about Superman.

“It all became very clear to me sitting out there today that every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat – it’s all been wrong.” –George Costanza

Step Nine: The antagonist makes an appearance OR someone challenges them to acquire something. They are sent off on their mission. They bicker about it some more. They get distracted. Now write about this! NEWMAN! 

Step Ten: Stuck? Tell us backstory! This is where Nanowrimo is beautiful. Tell us all about George’s struggle with his parents and how his fiancee died licking wedding invitation envelopes. Tell us about the trauma that Jerry had when he his girlfriend ate peas one at a time. Tell us about that time that Elaine, ahem, danced. In Nanowrimo (unlike your best work) you can have as much bleedin’ backstory as you want. This will add to your word count, will help you flesh out those characters, explain what happens in chapter 47 and help you understand where the story is going. Trust me.

Step Eleven: Stuck again? Put something unexpected in their path! Japanese businessmen! An NBC pilot!  A new J. Peterman catalog! Have your duo fight it out and regroup and get back to the task at hand. (That could kill a couple of thousand words right there!)

Step Twelve: Take a break and think about your ending. What do you want to happen? Do you want them to meet their objective or not? Brainstorm for 10-20 things that need to happen before your duo gets to the end. This is your very loose outline. From now on, as you get stuck, refer to this. Put Jerry and George in these situations or scenes and then get them out.

“I can’t die with dignity. I have no dignity. I want to be the one person who doesn’t die with dignity. I’ve lived my whole life in shame! Why should I die with dignity?” –George Costanza

Step Thirteen: When you get about 10K from the end, try to wrap it up. Get your main characters in positions where they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you’re having trouble, make a coincidence work out for them. Have a high school buddy show up with a solution. Don’t even worry about the logic of it. The important thing is that YOU ARE 10K FROM THE END! You need to fill that space up with something. Sometimes all we need to see what happens next is to put our fingers on the keyboard and plow through. You might be surprised what you figure out for your characters.

Step Fourteen: When you hit 50K, CELEBRATE!  You deserve that badge! You deserve a pat on the back And don’t worry about the story.

Put it aside for a minimum of three months. Do it, Jerry. Do it!

Step Fifteen: When three months have passed, get the story out and go on a search and rescue mission. You are now digging through the haystack looking for the needle. You are digging through the stable full of ca-ca, looking for the pony. You are mining for diamonds in the cave. DO NOT PUBLISH THIS, JERRY! I repeat! DO NOT PUBLISH THIS, JERRY! If you have any kind of sense, you will take that 50K words and see if there’s something salvageable, like an exchange of dialog, a good description, a well-drawn character or a little bit of a plot line. This is your good stuff. SAVE IT.

Step Sixteen:  Question my method completely. “What’s the point of writing like a madman for a month if all we’re getting out of it is a little bit here and there.” I’ll tell you. You are learning discipline. You are learning to think fast. You are learning to appreciate the struggle. You are learning basic storytelling elements. You are learning what doesn’t work. You are learning what is good and what is drivel. You are learning to write the hard way.

Nanowrimo is not HOW to write a novel. It is however, a way to build muscle and skills. To stretch your story-telling abilities. To gain perspective and insight. It’s good for you. And your car will look nicer too.

So, veteran Nano-ers? What do you think? How has past Nanos worked for you? 


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I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community. 

More Questions To Ask After That First Draft Is Done

Your first draft is done!

And trust me when I say this, it is not ready to be published! 

How do you know this? No one writes a perfect first draft. You don’t either. Before you let your mom, your best buddy or the pizza guy read this draft, make sure it’s the best you can make it.

15 More Questions To Ask After That First Draft is Done by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

Here are questions you can ask about this draft.

Go on! Take your time to think about it! Make notes!  Each change you make will probably be for the better. And if you are serious about getting this published, then you’ll be far more marketable and competitive in this saturated markets. Your pizza guy? He probably won’t notice the changes precisely, but he probably will enjoy the pacing, characterization, and conflict. Make sure you tip him well.

Are there believable surprises in your story?

Your reader needs to be surprised, so think of ways to put the unexpected in. What if the sidekick decides to betray our main character? Or what if the getaway is interrupted by a car crash? What if the protagonist is recognized by the guard? Or what if the love interest is really that bully from her childhood? What if his food allergies give away his identity? It’s hard when you’ve read your work a million times to see a surprise (that’s where a beta reader could come in) but keep thinking! Surprises keep your readers turning pages long after they should be in bed!

 

Do the supporting characters contrast the main character enough in what they do or say?

When creating your cast of characters, think of the supporting cast as an ensemble. They should have different personality types, different life experiences, different points of view. And they should never get along perfectly. The main character could take turns listening to each one and yet changing his loyalties. What do you have in this draft? Consider each one carefully and make necessary changes.

Is every supporting character necessary?

Can you cut any out? When creating characters, think about variety and roles that each character plays. Just like our main character, each of the supporting cast should have desires and objectives. To make good conflict, you don’t want them to perfectly align with your protagonists. But if they are too similar, you may have a problem.  If you have characters that are too much the same either make one an extreme exaggeration or eliminate one altogether.

Do you have a subplot or two that can divert the reader from the main story, just for a moment?

A good subplot harmonizes with the main plot, it doesn’t compete with it. If you don’t have one in this draft, now’s the time to add one.  That’s why a romantic subplot often works in books that aren’t necessarily romances. Cutting away to the subplot, right when the tension in the main plot is high, is a good strategic move for story telling. Your readers will be invested in both if you do this right, and they’ll keep reading.

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Is your antagonist too much of a cartoon?

It’s really easy to take a villain and put a mustache, beard and black hat on him. You can do that in the first draft. But the more you make him like a cartoon the less serious he will be to your reader. Have you taken the worst of your antagonist and exaggerated it to the point of caricature? It may be better to work with their nuances, their personalities, and their worldview rather than their quest for “one meelion” dollars.

Is your antagonist’s objective clear?

Does it oppose your protagonist enough? Do you want to have your antagonist monolog to reveal all of their intentions to your good guy? Or would it come up some other way? Antagonist development is really important. The richer you make this conflict between him and the protagonist, the more interesting your story.

Is your dialogue distinctive between characters?

The voice between the characters should be so distinctive that you could remove the dialog tags and still know what’s going on. If you don’t see any distinction, this could mean that you have too many characters or too many that are alike. Consider merging a couple together or killing a few darlings.

What do all of the characters learn by the end?

Every character needs to have some sort of arc. This means that by the end of the story everyone has had a change for the better or for the worse. The change could be a physical change, or it could be financial, spiritual, emotional, academic or professional. The point is that growth is evident to the reader.

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Do you add in touches of sensory description in each scene?

Sensory descriptions can make the scene come alive. Consider using three descriptors, but not too many more. A scene that’s too heavy handed with description can be boring, so take care that you don’t get carried away.

Is the mood and tone of the story consistent with the theme and the genre?

Tone is the emotional weight of the narration. For example, thrillers are mostly serious. Romances are more light-hearted. Comedies, regardless of their setting, are the lightest of all. If you’re writing genre fiction, you want to sound like all of the other books in your genre. If your tone is too different from what is expected, you may turn off some readers.

Do your scenes feel like they build with excitement like the tension is increasing as the story plays out?

Each scene requires a push or a pull, toward the main character’s objective or away from it. There should be a sense of more gained than lost, and each scene is more treacherous than the last.

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Do your protagonist and antagonist have a final conflict where something unexpected happens?

This should happen late in the second act. There should be a point when all hell breaks loose and your protagonist and your antagonist are at each other’s throats. You’ve seen this scene in countless movies — the final showdown. Now, if you do this well, you don’t make it last too short or too long, you give the villain the upper hand for just a second and then BAM! Something unexpected helps the protagonist out and your bad guy gets the Disney accidental-death-by-falling-which-technically-doesn’t-make-your-good-guy-a-murderer. Okay, maybe that’s a big much for your romance, but you get what I’m trying to say.

Does your protagonist make a choice between two mutually exclusive desires?

This conflict is one of my very favorite things to create for my characters. They’ve have wanted to get to A for a long, long time — say 250 pages — and here they are, just about to touch it and have what they want but then, THEN, they realize they’ll lose B if they do! B?? B?? Oh, not B! This is good conflict. Set your characters up to make them choose!

Is your ending predictable?

This is the funny thing about endings: the need to be believable and probable, but not completely predictable. Before you write that conclusion, make sure you’ve considered all of the options. Make a list, if you have to, of what could happen and then choose the most ridiculous, most mind-boggling or most odd. Your reader would prefer a good surprise rather than an “oh, I saw that coming!”

Does your third act bring all the characters to a new, permanent place that makes sense?

Your third act is where everyone cleans up the mess of the climax and goes on about their lives. If you’ve done your job well, then each character has a new, permanent change in their life. Third acts should be much shorter than the second act, and maybe even shorter than the third. Don’t over do it. Just sum it all up in a tidy bow and write The End.

Your first draft is certainly something to be proud of, but a well-crafted novel is even moreso. Use these questions to make your draft the best it can be.


Did you like this post? You may also like:

Twelve Questions To Ask Yourself After That First Draft Is Done and 16 Questions About Body Language & Appearance For Your Character


 


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Five Awful Things My Work-In-Progress Says To Me And What I Say Back

I have a work-in-progress and I think it hates me.

Every day I sit down with this project, set my timer, turn on the music, spend way too much time thinking about font, size, and color, and then work at least an hour.

When I sit down with it, I feel it come alive.

It is a non-fiction book, so it’s not like it’s alive in the sense of genre or character. It’s alive with the ease (or lack of ease) that comes with the drafting and sculpting of each chapter. At times, it feels like it’s fighting against me.  Some days, it is sterile and compliant; I’m the boss. I put one word in front of the other.

But most days, my work-in-progress is anything but sterile and compliant. It's the boss. And…

Why Do I Feel Like My Work-In-Progress is Out To Get Me?

5 Awful Things my Work-In-Progress Says To Me And What I Say Back

 

Sometimes my WIP is a wild animal.

 It responds to me with claws and fangs. It requires a chair and a whip and possibly raw meat in my pocket, never coming when I call it. I hold my ground with it, flicking the whip with confidence. I have to remind it that my name is on the contract. (Wait, no that’s not a strong argument. WIP’s name is on it too!) It says that it is an out of control animal and it can’t be tamed.

What do I say? I say, “Hey! Get back in line! I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it!” Then I get out the band-aids.

Sometimes my WIP is a diva.

It’s whiny and demanding. It insists I rewrite the sentences that have been rewritten dozens of times. Often it has high standards that I’m not sure I can meet. It withholds affection from me and turns up its nose at the ideas I bring or the structure I’ve suggested. This IS a book about writing, it sighs to me. How original can you expect to be? And then the dark glasses go on its face and I am dismissed.

What do I say? I say, “I am a professional. I’m a strong writer. If I think the work is good, then it’s good. I refuse to pamper you one minute longer than I have to!”

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Sometimes my WIP is a spoiled teenager.

My work-in-progress is bored and would much rather I turn up the music.  I often sit at my desk wanting to be other places and my WIP (who lives in my computer and never goes out) rolls its eyes at me and whines. “Let’s go swimming!” “I’m so tired of this!” “How much longer do we have to work on this project?” I can beat teenagers at their eye rolling game.

What do I say? I say, “until it’s done. An hour a day in 10 or 20-minute increments. And you realize I have a delete button at my fingertips, don’t you?”

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Sometimes my WIP is an exhausted toddler. This is the same thing as a spoiled teenager, only less articulate.

Tears are usually involved. My WIP holds its fists in anger and screams. “I DON’T WANNA!” Hmm, I don’t tolerate this behavior. I didn’t when my five kids were little and I don’t now. This will require the teacher voice. No one likes the teacher voice.

What do I say? 

I say, “Sit down! Hush! There is no reason to act like that. We are going to get through sixty minutes of drafting and if you give me one more whimper, one more whine, one more tear, I swear to you, I will change the font to comic sans! Do you understand me?

Sometimes my WIP is a harpy.

This is the worst one of the group. Its only attack is to mock me. Years ago, I would have responded by running away, by quitting, by believing all the lies that it was telling me about how this is a waste of time. It’s not going to sell anyway. How is this book different from what others are saying? They only asked you because they knew you’d work cheaply. After you finish this, you’re done, you don’t have any more projects in you. But I’ve changed.

When I see my WIP cross its arms and hold its nose in the air, I stand a little taller. I’ve learned that most bullies back down because they’re cowards at heart.

What do I say?

I slip into my best Dirty Harry voice: Get. Over. Here. And then I may or may not slap it upside the head, (depending on how graphic you want this story to be and how believable it is that I actually take a whack at my computer. Hmm. Not very.)

I’m Learning How To Silence The Inner Critic. I’m taming my work-in-progress.

Despite my complaints, I’m blessed and grateful that I have this gig. I’m learning a great deal, growing in discipline and already meeting people who might benefit from this book. But this is hard work. Every day is a battle of will and discipline and not just mine.

Some day this book will be done and be sitting on the shelf beside me. It will be powerless to mock me, torment me or roll its eyes. Instead, it will bring in royalty checks and open doors.

And then the scars, tears, discipline, hard work and ridiculous metaphors will all be worth it.

You Better Believe It!


If you liked this post, you may also like:

Eleven Ways To Know The Best Time To Show Your Work (And When You Should You Hold It Close To Your Chest)

Or, 10 Ways To Lift Yourself Out of That Writing Funk


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

10 Writing Prompts To Help You Unstick Your First Draft

Sometimes drafting that story stinks.

You’re all excited in the beginning, you can’t stop writing! But somewhere you get stuck. And you may want to quit.

Keep in mind, your purpose in writing the first draft is to just get the raw material of a story. You don’t have to create a masterpiece. You don’t even have to be all that coherent. In fact, what you’re doing wrong may be stressing you out. Instead, just write down what comes to your head. Don’t self-edit. Don’t go backward. Just put down word after word.

10 Writing Prompts To Help You Unstick Your Draft

 

The following prompts may just get you over your little funk and get you enough inspiration to…

1. Describe what everyone is wearing. This is especially for your girly-girls. Go into detail about the honey colored cashmere twin set that the receptionist has on. Have it remind you of your Aunt Grace and the time she took you shopping at Macy’s and you got squirted in the eye by the perfume counter and now you can’t smell Jennifer Lopez’s new scent without thinking of Aunt Grace. Do it. Your draft needs this.

2. There’s an annoying noise bothering the main character. What is it? And then describe it. What does he do about it? Even if this has nothing to do with your story, the act of writing it out can trigger something else. You may be glad you went off on this tangent.

“Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration. Begin, and inspiration will find you.”
H. Jackson Brown Jr.

3. Your main character is really, really hungry. Have him stop and feed himself. Does he cook or go out? What does he eat? Go into detail. Why does he like bacon and blue cheese burgers so much? What does he do with his egg allergy? Why does he suspect the waitress is up to something? Not enough characters eat, in my humble opinion, so schedule some elevensies and see what happens in your draft.

4. Your main character has been in this exact position before. What was it like? What did she do differently? What feeling does she now have about this? Pride? Shame? Fear? Tell the reader. Even if you go into dangerous unnecessary backstory, do it anyway.

5. Give your main character a ridiculous middle name and tell a story of how they got it. Who cares if this has nothing to do with the plot, just write. It could be that this could open up a long lost secret or motivation that can help unstick you!

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6. That weird thing that you heard about from a friend last week — about the dog, or the appliance repair man or that puff piece on the evening news — put it in your story. Even if it’s not completely plausible. In fact, go through all your old notes and see if there’s something salvageable from other stories that this one could use.

7. Put your main character in a car accident. These are never planned. Think about how they would react, what types of injuries would be the worst. Would they be at fault? Would they take responsibility? Every draft needs something unexpected, right?

 

8. Your main character finds a cell phone. It is ringing. They answer it. It’s someone the main character knows. Who is it? What do they want? This assumes that your story isn’t set in Longbourne in 1810. Even if it is, go for it. You may discover something.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
Kurt Vonnegut

9. The weather goes crazy. Is it a major thunderstorm? Hurricane? Blizzard? This too is not in our control and it shouldn’t be a choice for you — put your main character in a storm and let them wrestle with the elements. Like we can ever do anything about the weather.

10. Finally, set your timer. Go small. You might be stressed out that you don’t have an hour or two to put in the big numbers. That’s okay. You need lots of small numbers. If you’re a fast typist, you can knock out three hundred words in ten minutes. Take any of the above suggestions, work for ten minutes and watch that word count climb.

Here’s a secret: you don’t have to write what makes sense. You just have to get to the end. Once you get that draft done, then you can get serious about what says and what gets cut.

Just write. You can do it. It will be awesome.


If you liked this post on writing prompts, try these:

How Champion Free Writers Combat The Blank Page or, Top Ten Ways To Deal With Writer’s Block


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

A Writer’s Guide To Ruthlessly Killing Your Darlings

You need not worry about your browser history; this post is about killing figuratively.  In the world of writers, killing your darlings means getting rid of those story bits that need to die, even though the author may have fallen in love with them.

But in the world of writers, the author who wants to write well, should be ruthless when it comes to removing the unwanted or unsightly from our manuscripts.

A Writer's Guide To Ruthlessly Killing Your Darlings

Here’s how:

Obliterate your Prologue.

In one swift move, hit select all and delete. It’s gone. You probably didn’t feel a thing. Why? Most prologues are unnecessary. Prologues often assume your reader needs to be spoon fed every little detail. They don’t! Prologues should only be there if they shed vitally important information to the plot or characters and it can’t be inserted in any other way. So take your prologue out. But leave the cannoli.

Bring all your weak characters to the guillotine.

18th Century French Revolutionaries believed that that the guillotine was the most humane way to execute. So line up all those mamby-pamby personalities, those random guys in the background, that grocery store clerk that you thought might have a purpose and pull the cord. There shouldn’t be room in your manuscript for people who have no purpose other than to pad your word count. Kill them all!

Entrap those plot bunny trails.

This may be really hard for you since plot bunny trails are so cute and fun. But with them, you must be as ruthless as a hungry eagle with long, pointy talons. Reach down and clutch each one of those bunny trails with great force! Eliminate their uselessness! Take hold of their tangential fuzziness and stick them somewhere far away, like, say, another story. Perhaps there, they could multiply like rabbits and create a new story all their own.

Hack away at your cliches.

And really, really hack, like with a dull machete. Back in the first draft, you may have thrown a trite phrase in as a marker for a point you wanted to work in later. Or you really may have been typing really fast. Or maybe, just maybe, you think that having an old, worn-out phrase is a good idea. Honey, it’s not. We’ve got a nice flat cutting surface for you. Go for it. Cliches must die. If they’ve served its purpose, they go on the cutting room floor.

Assault your unnecessary and weak scenes.

Hit ’em! Kick ’em! Knock ’em down! Don’t let them up! You’ll know if a scene needs it’s butt kicked if it doesn’t move the story forward in any way. If a scene doesn’t give the reader new information, bring the main character closer or farther away from the main goal, but does nothing but add to the word count, it needs a can of whup-ass. If you take it out, then you’ll keep your pacing in tact, you’ll keep the reader interested and you’ll feel like a tough guy.

Firebomb your backstory.

It’s going to take a lot of firepower to blast all that exposition out, but you gotta do it. When you were drafting, you created all this crazy structure of your character’s life. You built fact upon fact. This house of cards is now sky high in your notes and brain. But it’s an eyesore for your reader. And you don’t have time to take it out piece by piece. Meh, just light a bomb under the sucker. The debris will fall in all the right places and you’ll know what bits to put in in the right places.

Plug your purple prose.

I know, I know, you get carried away sometimes at the lingering sunset that sunk on the horizon like a hunk of playdough on fire, blazing in glory. Sentences like this may have sounded gorgeous at the time, but what they do, really, is point to the idiot who wrote them. You don’t want your purple prose to make you look bad, right? Then pull out that red-inked pistol and shoot it between the eyes. If there is a mercy killing in this list, the death of the purple prose would be it.

Strangle your first chapter.

Most first chapters in most first drafts need the wind taken out of them. Do this especially if your first chapter has your main character waking up from a dream, looking out the window contemplating the universe, or starting off their day with the buzz of an alarm. Your first chapter, really, was just there to get you started in the beginning draft. It’s served its purpose and you need to put a lot of thought into how you open your book. That early first chapter just isn’t going to cut it. Kill this darling and do it quickly. No one is looking.

Now I’ve seen my share of gangster movies, so I know a heartless murderer when I see one (at least when I’m safely on one side of a screen). I think that writers should have the same brutality of  Tony Soprano when it comes to killing off the weak parts of their manuscripts.

But that’s just in the writing. Writing only. Really.

Want to go for a ride? I have to stop someplace for a cannoli first.

You don’t mind, do you?


 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community. 

Beginning Badly: Eight Awful Ways To Start A Novel

 In the beginning . . .

It’s the first page of a brand new novel. Will it be a good beginning or a bad one? Within reading the first two sentences, you’ve already made a decision on whether or not you’ll keep reading. Your reader has too. If they have picked up your novel, they may be turned off by what they read if you have one of these eight awful beginnings.

Bad Beginning: Eight Awful Ways To Start A Novel by Katharine Grrubb

Your main character is asleep, dreaming. Why is this bad? Sleeping is passive. Unless the action of the entire novel is based in dreams or sleeping frequently, this is an amateur move. Take out the dream sequence completely and start the story with action.

Your first two pages are filled with bizarre landscape description. Why is this bad? Your reader needs a reason to care about this world and they can only do this through the eyes of the character. A description of a foreign world may be fun to write, you may even do it well, but give it to the reader after they’ve fallen in love with the story.

You have a prologue. Why is this bad? A prologue assumes that a reader needs to know some back story to fully appreciate what happens in chapter one. If the author believes this, a better way to put back story in is to add it in with a delicate touch, somewhere between chapter 3 and the midpoint of the book. Start the story when the action begins and have faith that your reader can figure it all out.

It was a dark and stormy night.

You describe your character with a long list. Her eyes, her hair, her Grecian nose (what is that, anyway?) Her smile, her scar that she got falling off the skateboard when she was 11, all this detail can be off-putting! Why is this bad? Your reader may have trouble keeping the details straight in their head. It may be too much to ask that they remember every single detail. Yes, you adore your character and you’ve thought long and hard about how they should smirk in the right place, but your reader should have freedom and ease in picturing the characters in their heads. Keep those descriptions simple so that the reader can move on.

Your character thinks. Often they think when they are looking out the window. Or they may think when they are viewing a sunset. Why is this bad? For the same reason that dreaming is bad: no action. Sure, all of us need to contemplate what we want and why we want it, but not in the beginning of a book. Save the navel gazing for later in the second act when the hero questions the quest in the first place.

Your character begins their day. The alarm goes off and they are late. They make the coffee and catch the bus. They go about their business and the reader is bored out of their mind. Why is this bad? The first scenes of a book should set the stage, but it should reveal a purpose for the main character not the unnecessary details. If the action starts at the office, then start it at the office. Start the story full of action. Your reader will be more likely to join you.

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You show off your vocabulary. Smugly, you use words that require a dictionary. Maybe you secretly hope an former English teacher sees it. Why is this bad? In your effort to impress, you may have sacrificed clarity. Good writing is writing that communicates. While this may seem obvious to some, for others good writing is adding syllables. Your reader wants to know what’s going on. Don’t make it difficult. Readers will come back to you if you don’t make them feel stupid. 

You shock. The opening scene is so brutal, so violent, so gory or so offensive, you congratulate yourself on your graphic description. Why is this bad? You’ve turned the reader to 11 right from the beginning, so there’s no place to go. Even if the point of the story is to solve the gory murder, you’ll have to tone down the imagery and emotion just to tell the story. It’s a good idea to “open with a hook” but “hook” your reader, don’t drag them in kicking and screaming.   

So how do you avoid bad beginnings?

Study, maybe even collect, the beginnings of great novels. Examine them for their simplicity, their action, their concise description, and how they all lead up to the inciting incident.

Practice writing them. Wait until you have a solid complete draft before you tackle your beginning, then write several of them. Analyze their strengths and weaknesses and take your time in choosing them.

Don’t be afraid to start late in the story. Experienced novelists know the first chapter will probably be cut out anyway. Often they draft it, get it out of their system and unceremoniously cut it out.

Think action. Put your main character in a fix right in the beginning and show  him doing something that is consistent with what he’s going to tackle later.

Think theme. Introduce your big idea in the first of the book. The reader may not be aware of it when they first read it, but it will tug at them subconsciously. They may even re-read the beginning to understand it fully.

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Why should you care?

Twenty five gajillion books are published each year. If you want your novel to make a dent in the market at all, you need to be excellent. The first impression that your novel makes to the reader is in what they read in the first five pages. Make sure those pages are as good as they can be.

Your first pages carry a lot of weight. Make sure that you avoid these eight awful openings, engage your reader and get on with your adventure!

 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Does Your Backstory Make Your Readers Stabby?

Backstory?

Oh yes, you’ve been working on that character’s backstory for months!

You’ve written thousands of words of backstory! You know how his parents met, how he got that scar on his pasty white tuckus, and why he gets all shaky and whiny when he’s served enchiladas. This is all important stuff you told yourself as you dumped it out into the first chapter of your work-in-progress. It sets the stage! The readers can really know him! This will make the story richer!

Your character’s backstory may have bored your reader to tears.

They left after the second or third page. They want a story: they don’t want genealogical report or long-winded childhood account. (Although that bit about the enchiladas was creepy.)

Does Your Backstory Make Your Reader Stabby? By Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

Best case scenario, your readers just thought that they would put your book aside and wait for when they needs a good relaxant before bed. Worst case? All of your details and exposition made them want to take a sharp knife and stab their Kindle with the force of Hurricane Sandy.

Don’t make your readers stabby.

Here’s how to avoid it.

Ask a beta reader or critique partner to highlight only the most important of information. Go through your manuscript and evaluate every sentence that is not action or dialogue and ask, “is this information critical to the story?” If it isn’t, cut it out. It’s going to hurt. You’ve grown very attached to this character’s past. I don’t recommend mixing alcohol and editing, but if it will help, pour yourself a drink while you hack away.

Make a note of any point of view problems. You must stay in the head of the narrative character. It could be that you’ve had your main character pondering his childhood trauma with enchiladas, but let’s be realistic here, how often should he wax nostalgic? Eliminate all interior monologue rabbit trails. If the thoughts aren’t consistent with the main character and don’t add to the story, you’ll need to cut it out.

Track how much action is in the story. Action is when any character does something physically to meet his objectives. A character that moves purposefully is a character that is progressing the story. You want lots of this. You want your main character to DO STUFF that is unrelated to that tuckus scar. (Unless, of course, you write erotica. And if you do, I don’t want details.)

“Backstory is actually at its most powerful when we don’t tell it—or rather when we don’t show it. The strength of backstory is its looming shadow. Readers know it’s there, they see it’s having an effect upon the characters, but they don’t always need to know the nitty-gritty details.”
— K.M. Weiland

Give your reader credit. Your reader is very familiar with the art of storytelling. They can piece bit together without you explaining every little thing. Readers can make conclusions on their own. They can connect dots on their own. If you give them too much exposition or backstory, it’s kind of like you’re insulting their intelligence. Nothing makes me stabbier than people thinking I’m stupid.

Make a list of the absolutely most important details and then drop them in like breadcrumbs. With exposition, less is more. Your reader may want the information you’re withholding if you’ve spread it far apart enough. The little bits you do give will make them curious. That’s a good thing. Curious readers turn pages. Curious readers finish books.

Use dialogue as a place to share information. But do it well. Someone needs to not know what’s going on. Have them ask questions. Then use your main character to only give them a little big of information. Here’s an example:

Main character's date: "Why aren't you eating those enchiladas?"

Main character: "These? These?" He catches his breath, swallows, downs a glass of water and pushed the plate away. "I haven't liked them since I was six. Can you take them away? Can you take them away, NOW?"

The problem with the enchiladas isn’t fully explained, but it doesn’t need to be. The reader’s curiosity is piqued and they’ll keep reading to find out what’s going on with specific Mexican foods and this poor loser’s childhood.

Review story structure rules. My friend K.M. Weiland often says that if there’s a problem with a story, it’s almost always a structural one. I firmly believe that the best way to make ourselves better story tellers is to really understand structure inside and out. Once you do, you’ll see that too much backstory and exposition can kill a story’s pacing. Not to mention make your readers stabby. Need help with story structure? Look here. 

You CAN make your story lively, fast-paced, and gripping.

To do so, you’ll need to look at that backstory and exposition with a brutal eye. I know, I know, you worked so hard on this. The backstory creation is for you. The elimination of unnecessary details is for your reader.

If your readers are stabby, then they’re not going to enjoy your book.

They could get bored, skip over parts, put your book down and forget about it. They could not leave a review for you, nor recommend it to your friends.

By controlling your backstory and exposition, your making the whole story a richer experience.

And you’ll probably save someone a fortune in damages.


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

7 Ways To Keep Your Buzz & Write Drunk — By Elaine Bayless

 

“Write drunk. Edit sober.”

Easy enough, right? It means to write without boundaries, loose and wild and out of control. Thoughtful word selection and complex grammatical decisions belong in the world of editing. And yet, how often do you “lose your buzz” and start editing right in the middle of writing? How do you write drunk?

During Nanowrimo each year I see dozens of people falling into the editing trap when they should be writing. I get it: I’ve been trapped by those some concerns too. But nothing kills the possibility of finishing your work faster than accidentally falling into editing mode.

7 Ways To Keep Your Buzz and Write Drunk by Elaine Bayless

Here’s 7 ways to keep your buzz and write drunk.

7. DON’T worry about legal issues.

When was the last time a drunk person considered the legal ramifications of her actions? Not recently enough.

Every year at Nanowrimo I see people asking about the legal ramifications of using a real place, or referencing a real person, or quoting song lyrics. Go ahead, use the real place, the real company, the real person. Maybe your book will turn into speculative fiction, or historical fiction. Maybe you’ll just change the name and identifying details when publication time comes. Allow your muse to reference the real people & places for the rough draft and worry about copyright law later.

You will never finish a book if you spend your writing time researching copyright laws.

6. DON’T get stuck on names.

I don’t have to be drunk or even tipsy to mess up someone’s name. But alcohol can certainly kill our ability to learn someone’s name.

In my last Nanowrimo book, one of my characters was a high priestess. I couldn’t think of a name for her, so I labeled her “HP” in my character list. I called her HP throughout the entire 50,000 word draft. In another place, I needed a place name and couldn’t think of one, so I called it “Camp Nanowrimo.”

Now, of course names are important, especially if you are doing world-building for your work. But crafting the perfect name is not a good use of writing time: it’s a good use of planning and editing time. Writing drunk means using placeholders for names so you can keep the flow of words going.

5. DON’T do any research.

When a group of friends drinking together decide to do something, do they let a little lack of knowledge stand in their way? Heck no! They dive right in.

As writers, we often tumble into situations when we need to do a little research. Maybe you’re writing a typical day in your main character’s life, when suddenly your character decides to bake a soufflé. But you don’t know how to bake a soufflé: you just know it involves eggs and ovens and not stomping around the house.

You can spend the next 2 hours watching YouTube videos on how to bake soufflés, or you can write what you know and then insert a note that says “Research soufflé baking” in the text itself. You’ll see the note while editing and then you can plan two hours of soufflé research. Nothing kills a writing buzz faster than educational YouTube viewing, after all.

4. DO relish your inconsistent verb tenses and incorrect grammar.

Have you ever listened to a tipsy person tell a story, and get the sequence all messed up? It’s hard to keep events in the proper order when you’re intoxicated, and the same thing is true of rough draft writing.

I have the bad habit of starting a scene in the present tense, and later slipping into past tense. It drives me nuts, and makes editing a real pain. But stopping the flow of words because you need to correct verb tenses or look up the proper grammatical construction is exactly what sober editing is for. Write in whatever tense you need to use.

3. DO use personal references as shortcuts

Sometimes instead of a cliché, you have an inside joke or personal experience that works in your writing. For example, my husband and I have this inside joke: “Sad Superman flies in half circles.” Isn’t that hilarious? No? You don’t get it? That’s OK. Drunk people will tell you the entire story of the sad Superman half circles, and you won’t think it’s funny before or after the explanation! If I’m writing, and my muse tells me to write: “She knew Dogalog was sad by the way he flew in Superman half circles,” I’m going to write that. I know exactly what that means, and when I edit it, I will be able to sit down and leisurely craft a dozen accessible metaphors for my readers.  Write drunk. The humor comes later in sober editing. [NOTE TO Katharine – might be a good place to link to your post about how to write humor?]

2. DO use clichés.

Do drunk people take the time to choose pretty words? Nope, and neither should you. This is a rough draft. And if it’s Nanowrimo, it’s a rough draft that needs to be written quickly. So you’ve just written “He was as dead as a doornail” in your draft, and you are cringing (deservedly). You can either use writing time to create a different simile, or you can add those seven words to your count and keep going.

Write the cliché and move on.

1. DO write terribly.

Have you ever seen something created by a drunk person? It’s usually terrible.  Alcohol gives us confidence in our worst ideas. That’s bad for actions, but great for writing. (Remember, we’re not ACTUALLY drunk, just WRITING drunk.)

I find this works best when I’m approaching a scene I really just don’t want to write. For example: Your main character is about to get married in a big floofy wedding that is the exact opposite of anything you would choose. As you start writing, you realized that you know nothing about this kind of wedding. You can throw your hands up in despair, or just go with it. Write: “She walked down the aisle, an aisle filled with flowers and those thingys on the ends of the pews, on a burlap runner, with a long train and big Princess Diana wedding dress, watching the men lined up at the front place.” Now that’s awful. But it’s 42 words more than you would’ve written while browsing Pinterest for wedding ideas and terminology. And now you have a kernel of writing that can be edited into paragraphs of lyrical text.

To write drunk, you don’t have to consume copious amounts of alcohol. You just have to loosen up and let the words flow from your mind, not worrying about the end result. Have fun!

 


Elaine Bayless Elaine Bayless is a life coach, pastoral counselor, and Reiki Master in Raleigh, NC. She works with overwhelmed moms and over achieving perfectionists to help them create a delicious life of ease and joy. Elaine is a prolific writer, maintaining two blogs and publishing articles on elephant journal, Mind Body Green, and LinkedIn. In her spare time she bakes bread, reads, and gardens. She graduated from Regent University in 2009, with a Master’s degree in Divinity and Pastoral Counseling, as well as a peer coach certification. In 2016 she completed training as a Reiki Master. Check out her website at [http://www.soulcourse.com] or schedule a one hour stress relieving chat at [http://www.talkwithelaine.com]

Follow Elaine at [http://www.twitter.com/elainefbayless]

Listen to Elaine at [https://www.youtube.com/user/inspirecoachelaine]

And Friend Elaine at [http://www.facebook.com/inspirationcoaches]

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The Diary of A Beta Reader: A Guest Post by Sara Marschand

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Guest blogger Sara Marschand explains her thought processes while she beta reads. A beta reader is often the first or second set of eyes a manuscript gets. Their purpose is to spot holes in a manuscript and communicate to a writer, who maybe a little myopic, that changes need to be made. 

For the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of beta reading for many authors.

Much of my feedback highlights awkward sentence flags and unclear story parts. Sometimes it’s a setting that can’t be visualized, other times it may be a whole scene that doesn’t fit the narrative.

Logical errors are the easiest to spot. One author described a tiny cabin that two inhabitants lived tightly in. The next scene featured and armed militia crowding in for a sword fight. Plus, the heroine escaped everyone’s notice as she snuck out a secret back exit. Not likely!

Another author switched back and forth between night and day a couple times in a scene. The author had missed a couple words in editing that changed the clarity of the entire section.

But what goes on in the mind of your beta reader?

This is a snapshot of a year in the life of me, a beta reader. I tackled two works. The authors at different points in their careers.

Diary of a Beta Reader by Sara Marschand

Need questions to ask of your beta readers? Click here!

March

A new paranormal romance arrived. I love urban fantasy mixed with romance, so I can’t wait to dive in! It’s the author’s first book.

Prologue

Action at the beginning. Good start. I’m a huge fan of destruction. The author is overly fond of exclamation points, though. I will gently suggest she doesn’t need quite so many. I’ll have to wait and see if the prologue is relevant to the story.

Chapter 1

And now, I have whiplash. What the heidi-ho did the action- packed prologue have to do with this vapid girl’s POV?

Some of the actions are hard to envision, but I can help with that.

The cool fairy names totally fit the genre. I like them, and I’ll let the author know.

The writing style feels like YA, but why are they all wearing spiked heels?

Chapter 2

Hmm. This author makes a lot of grammatical errors. I’m not an editor, but there are so many, I can’t help but to comment on a few. After all, these could be typos.

Based on the language and simplicity of the sentences this must be YA or mid grade. I thought I was getting a book for adults, but moving on!

Chapter 3

Nope. These errors are definitely not typos. I know I got this pre-editor, but did the author even try to make it readable? Maybe I’ll send her a link to a good grammar book. For grins, I ran this chapter through the Hemingway app— second grade reading level. No wonder my intelligence feels insulted. This is beyond my ability as a beta reader to suggest fixes for, but I really, really, hope she has an editor.

Chapter 4

The characters roll their eyes too much. Another easy fix.

That paragraph was the best yet. If I highlight the excellent passages, she’ll know what works. I’m glad I found something redeeming amongst the choppy sentences.

This is clearly a novice author, but hopefully I can give her something to build her craft. I see a lot of thesis “telling” statements followed with the “showing” sentences. If she can delete those tells, the quality of writing will be improved.

Chapter 6

Holy exclamation points, Batman !!!!!!

These characters all walk and talk the same. I can’t figure out the hierarchy of the fantasy creatures. It seems like age and wisdom mean nothing, but it goes against norms of the genre.

Chapter 13

A pornographic content warning would have been appreciated. Adult audience confirmed. Erotica is not my typical genre. I would not have agreed to read this because of my inability to judge the content properly. Ironically, this is the highest quality writing in the book, except for the choice of words. I’m fairly sure the romance community never describes body parts in the terms used here.

Chapter Who Cares. Lost count.

The agony!  I quit !!! With lots of exclamation points and missing apostrophes!!!  I will never beta read again. Why did I sacrifice a weekend for twenty bucks? I regret my life choices. I read 80k of something the author should have said was an Alpha read and full of shocking content. I spent another four 4 hours summarizing my feedback where I gently wrote a paragraph on why this author should seek an editor.

The paranormal romance beta left me shell-shocked. A content warning flag should have been applied, and if I hadn’t been paid, I would have sent it back after chapter one due to sloppy writing. I could not, would not, take another beta for several months after that grueling read. I even quit the beta reading service I belonged to. I read only published and polished works until an author I’d worked with before asked for me to give feedback on her sequel. The first book was epic in length for the rates I charged, but I loved the story, so I agreed to the second installment.

“Beta reading perk: finding out what happens before anyone else.”

— Sara Marschand

August

The Word document arrived!

It’s been a while since book one. The author made significant changes after the book one beta. I’m really glad she gave me the final version, otherwise I’d be lost. Still, I have both versions swirling around in my head so I’ll review my notes and the changes. I want to get to the new book—stat!   

I don’t expect any nasty surprises. A book refined this far allows me to look at the broad strokes of the story. I’ll provide comments on little things that cause bumps in the read, but I’m looking forward to digging into the overarching plot and character development.

Prologue:

Symmetrical with book one. It’s a teaser for sure, but I like it. The tie-in to the climax works perfectly.

Characters:

There is so much good with this story, but my job is to find the holes. The major characters are just as I remember them, but one minor character bugs me. The male protagonist goes out of his way to keep the minor player alive, and ends up out of character as a result. The protagonist would never behave this way, and it’s too early in the book to have a major character development. The minor character needs to die. He’s got too much dangling plot potential to keep alive if those ideas won’t be pursued.

Two awesome second tier characters deserve a spin off or at least a short story. I’d love to see them on a caper together.

Romance:

This book has less romance than the first, but the opportunities exist. Where’s all the love?

Pace:

Four chapters in the space dock go on FOREVER. I started skimming when I got really bored. It’s basically four chapters of a character complaining about his aches and pains and wallowing in self-pity. Most of this material is repetitive, and it’s a departure from the feel of the rest of the book. Nix this. Please. A paragraph of this would be plenty. This could be a great place to insert a few hints about the end, though.

Dialogue:

Too much cursing. I enjoy a good swear, but not when it detracts from characterization. Multiple characters are using the exact same verbiage, and I’d like to see more differentiation.

Conclusion:

I fixed a few typos because I couldn’t help myself. There are still a number of junk words, which could be removed for conciseness, but I love this book. I’m so happy the author lets me read her works.

The harshest of my direct thoughts never made it into my feedback verbatim, but I did find polite ways to share them and encourage the author as best I could. Author 1 needed to work on her craft more before the story could be addressed. It was a hard read that made me much more selective in the works I’ve taken since. Author 2 and I had an established relationship. Other than a few typos, the copy was clean. I was able to focus on her overall story and plot twists that didn’t work. The author took my feedback graciously and even discussed potential changes afterward. A character died, thanks to me. So many authors take your feedback and you never hear from them again, but this author values my input.

The moral of the story: Give your beta reader the most highly edited work you can and let them be part of the process. The feedback you get will be deeper when their time is time spent reading the story and not fighting fixable errors. I beta read because I love helping authors shape the best story they can.


 

Top 10 Ways You May Be Doing National Novel Writing Month All Wrong

by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

Is it really November? Is it really time to start that non-stop frenzy that requires 50,000 words in 30 days? It is!

Congratulations to all of you who are attempting it this year!

And to those of you who have tried, get discouraged and possibly think you are on the road to failure, just consider this:  you may be doing it wrong. 

Top 10 Ways You May be Doing Nanowrimo All Wrong, by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

1. You think every word you write is golden. Um, your nano project is a first draft. Please, for the love of all that’s publishable, type this sentence ten times —> MY NANO PROJECT IS A FIRST DRAFT. The solution? Just plan on doing some major rewrites, revisions and edits long before you let a critic, agent, publisher or reviewer see it.

You just have to write the words.

2. The converse: you think every word you write is garbage, so you delete and try again, rewriting the same sentence fifty seven times. The solution? Don’t delete! Don’t edit! Your purpose is a high word count, to have the raw material of a good book. Just keep going and worry about editing later.

You just have to write the words.

3. You’ve got your character stuck in a corner so you quit. The solution? Give him wings and let him fly out of there. Leave him in the corner and throw down 3K on his backstory. Go to a different scene, or a different point of view, and write what’s happening elsewhere. You don’t have to save your hero in this draft. You just have to write the words.

You just have to write the words.

4. Your outline isn’t as wonderful as it was in October, so you quit. The solution? Forget the outline. Go a different direction. You are the master of the outline, not the other way around. If you want start at the ending and work backward. No one says that you have to do your words in chronological order.

You just have to write the words.

5. Your write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method is stressing you out. You thought that this was the way to stay truly inspired. The solution? Go easy on yourself. You don’t have to be a creative genius all the time. Instead of wishing for the muse to show up, write about descriptions of the setting, character backstory, or the tragic forces that made your antagonist so nasty.

You just have to write the words.

6. You obsess over everyone else’s numbers. It feels like all your friends are knocking these big word counts every day and you’ve lost your confidence. The solution? Stop looking at what everyone else is doing. You only have to write for yourself. Also? If you spend your writing time today just writing all the reasons why you WILL succeed, it can count for you daily total.

You just have to write the words.

7.  You think that all the big, famous writers do Nanowrimo, so this must be the ticket to fame. Nope. Not quite. The solution? Realize that every big, famous, published writer had their own unique ticket to fame and fortune. The only common denominator is their hard work. Nanowrimo is a great idea, but it’s only a tool that writers can use to get a draft. The reward comes in completing the goal, not fame or fortune.

You just have to write the words.

8. You think that winning Nanowrimo propels into a magical world of authorship. Nope. The solution to this thought? A reality check. Many, many people complete nanowrimo and their finished draft goes nowhere. Those 50,000 words is the literary equivalent of finding a piece of carbon. Don’t you dare assume that you can sell it off as a diamond without a lot of pressure and hard work.

You just have to write the words.

9. You think writing is supposed to be easy. Oh no, honey, bless your heart. No, it’s not. It’s full of self doubt, of constant backspacing, and of getting the cat off the keyboard. Writing is an art form and to do it well, you must be disciplined. Nanowrimo can work best for you if you see it as an exercise to grow in that discipline. Put one word after another and you’ll get better, you’ll get faster and you’ll be more confident, but it may never be easy.

You just have to write the words.

10. You think that to succeed in Nanowrimo you need certain music, certain hot beverages and certain inspiration. Nope, wrong again. Writers who wait for inspiration are never successful. Writers who work, day in and day out, doing their best to make their work excellent will find the inspiration. Ask any experienced writer and ask them how dependent they were on the muse to show up. Most of them will laugh. They may suggest that we just show up, put our butt in the chair and the hands on the keyboard first, then maybe our muse will show up later.

Nanowrimo is fun, it’s hard work, and it can, at times, be stressful. But it is JUST a tool. It is not a replacement for good editing and revising, good character development or any other short cut. It is a great way to create raw materials for future masterpieces. We all have to start somewhere and if you’re working at Nanowrimo then you’re better than writers who never write a word at all.

You can do this! One word at a time! 


Conquering Twitter in 10 Minutes A DayWant more tips on how to make Twitter work for you? CONQUERING TWITTER in 10 MINUTES DAY is available for pre-order! Specifically written for authors, this book will help you think about yourself, your brand, your books, and your goals on Twitter, create great questions to ask and organize your time in such a way that you can get the most out of every tweet.

Available for $.99! 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

How To Write In 10 Minute Increments The Messy Way

My timer and I have a love/hate relationship. 

Ever since I started calling myself the 10 Minute Writer, back in 2006, I’ve realized that either I’m racing against the timer, or the timer haunts me for my lack of skill and speed. 

Let's Write (1)

During the first minute, it’s like priming the pump, I just write words, any kind of words.

During the second minute I may think of a metaphor and I get it down quickly. The third minute could be a silly stretch of the metaphor (I always want to stretch my metaphors as far as they can go). And my fourth minute is the second guessing of that metaphor and perhaps where I slip into my frequent neurosis about the original idea and I may check the time to see how much I have left. And the fifth minute I wonder if I’ve got anything else left to say. And the sixth minute is remembering what I’m going to do after this is over. And the seventh minute is a reminder to myself  that hey, at least this smattering of words is something. (And something is always better than nothing!) And the eighth minute is rereading everything I’ve written so far and resisting the temptation to waste my time editing. And the ninth minute I wrestle with more self-doubt. Or maybe I remember the puzzle pieces of a quote I’m going to have to look up. I don’t want to waste time on that yet.  And the tenth minute, of course, I’m inspired because I have an new take on the idea and just about the time that I realize that I can make some sense of this idea, the timer dings and I get to make a choice. Do I go back to the housework or the to-do list, or do I reset my timer? Today I’m going to go to the housework.

Enough 10 minute segments like that and eventually I’ll have something worth editing. And even that happens in 10 minute increments. 

I must keep writing in any increment of time. I must keep putting the words down. I can’t be afraid of stream of consciousness or a brain spew.

Because of this method, I’ve learned to write faster. I’ve learned to ignore the self-editor. I’ve learned to plan my non-writing time effectively so I can make the most of this time.

Do you need help writing in short spurts? 

Try this:

  1. Get your document ready.
  2. Send your inner editor out on a fruitless errand so you can work alone.
  3. Get all those little things you think you need, like the right music, the right font or the right beverage.
  4. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  5. Describe why this topic you’re writing about (or the story, the character, the setting) is so important.
  6. Go as quickly as you can. Try not to backspace for errors.
  7. If you’re stuck, go back to the beginning and just rewrite what you wrote. You may like a second version better.
  8. Don’t look at the clock if you can.
  9. Add fluff words, descriptions, back story, or nonsense. You need this to teach your self-editor who the boss is, to practice writing quickly and you never know, you may strike gold.
  10. When the timer dings, walk away. Don’t analyze it. Don’t start editing.
  11. Spend the next segment of time doing something mindless or necessary.
  12. When you return to your writing, keep going until you have a natural stopping point. Don’t edit until you have a good chunk to work with.
  13. Repeat as needed.
  14. Be flexible with this system. Figure out what works. You may want more time. You may want less. The point is, you wrote words. That’s all that matters.

My original words are just mediocre. I know that they’re nothing magical. I know that most of them will cut, twisted, refurbished, pitched, smashed and smoothed.

But the point is that I have more now than I did 10 minutes ago. 

Let's Write all the words in 2016 by Katharine Grubb
Click the image above for the link to the fastest growing writers group on Facebook!

You can do this too. 

We have 1,460 10 minute segments available to us in 2016. You’re not going to write in all of them, but you’ll write in some. Do what you can.

I think you’ll be pleased with the results.



Conquering Twitter in 10 Minutes A DayWant more tips on how to make Twitter work for you? CONQUERING TWITTER in 10 MINUTES DAY is available! Specifically written for authors, this book will help you think about yourself, your brand, your books, and your goals on Twitter, create great questions to ask and organize your time in such a way that you can get the most out of every tweet.

Available for $.99! 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

TODAY IS RELEASE DAY! Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day is NOW Available!

Today I release my first non-fiction book, Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day! 

You can purchase it or see the reviews here! 

Click on the image to get your advance copy!

This is the story of how I got the contract — it’s a great one! 

Also? I created a Facebook group for writers who have no choice but to write in 10 minute increments! Wanna join over 1000 writers worldwide as we encourage each other to pursue our writing dreams?  Click here! 

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Are you a blogger?  Would you like to help promote this book? Leave a comment! I’d love to work with you!

Are You A Blogger? Would You Review My New Book?
Blogger Wanted! Leave a Comment & I’ll contact you!

Neurotic Thoughts On My First Traditionally Published Book (Or The 9 Month Long Battle With Inner Voices)

In 2014, I wrote and submitted my very first traditionally published book (and you can pre-order it here).  The process of drafting, editing and submitting was nothing less than a constant fight with negative inner voices. I was a mess. But it’s done. And I’ve survived.

Write A Novel in 10 Minutes A Day

I’ve written and published a book before, but the first one was self-published. When I self published, I realized I had this huge ocean of grace — all the mistakes, all the decisions, all the vision, all the glaring spelling errors are mine alone. No one else was invested. The stakes were low. I joined the ranks of thousands of other writers who publish their own work too, for better or worse, and I could rest comfortably that my reviews (some of course, from my family and close friends) were there to build me up and keep me going. (Bless her heart! She has a hobby!)

This book was vastly different. There was an ACTUAL PUBLISHER involved. And Actual Publisher had to negotiate a deal with Literary Agent (that I had to SIGN WITH !!!) so that me, AUTHOR, can write a book! Now the stakes were higher. This is the story of how that deal went down. It’s pretty crazy.

With this contract, my writing was no longer a hobby, if it ever was. Now it’s real. My communications, my presence, my manuscript has to be professional. 

Neurotic Thoughts On My First Traditionally Published Book
Neurotic Thoughts On My First Traditionally Published Book

When I sat down this last spring and wrote out my chapters, I have to admit, I was shaking. More than once I tensed up, thinking they had the wrong writer, the wrong idea, or this was all a big mistake. But I kept going. More than once, I had to remind myself that they approached me. I didn’t approach them. They saw something in me. I didn’t cajole or manipulate or bribe them. They were willing to risk their brand on me to the point that documents were signed and checks were written. Oh, and I had already spent the advance, so I couldn’t give it back.

Yeah, so I spent my advance on office stuff. You like?
Yeah, so I spent my advance on office stuff. You like?

If those voices of self doubt weren’t enough, I also thought the project itself was talking to me.  It said all kinds of evil things to me, especially when it came to certain songs on my lyric free Pandora stations.  If it was the Downton Abbey theme? My WIP got all pretentious, talked to me in a fake English accent, and distracted me. It told me how we were going to marry off my daughters to keep the entailment, fight a war and then forced me to make tea (which I make just to keep WIP quiet). Then I say something about how we need to get to work because it was a work in progress and it needs to be finished. With that, the fully nonverbal WIP accused me of pulling an O’Brien. It said, You are in a conspiracy to kill me off. Well, you ARE a work-in-progress, you’re going to be done someday, I say. I consider pouring my cup of tea on my keyboard to keep it quiet but saner inner voices prevailed. 

Oh! Brien!
Oh! Brien!

To add to all this, the irony smacked me in the face on a daily basis. I wrote in the manuscript: Because to have your name attached to something of inferior quality insults your hard work and the readers who read it. Hello, self? Yes, would you like more pressure? You don’t seem to have enough, do you?

But after six months, I finished it. And then I experienced this very odd feeling: I was so glad to have this 800 pound tea sipping gorilla of a task off my back, but then realizing HEY! I always wanted to have this particular gorilla!!!!  I was stressed and concerned about the whole project, but did I actually enjoy it?  I don’t know yet. Let’s get to the reviews.

I am fortunate enough to have close friends with strong editing backgrounds. So I gave my little manuscript to Jane and Barb and asked them to give it a once over with their stabby red pens to find all the errors. I foolishly thought that between the two of them, I’d see them all. There would be so much overlap between the two ladies’ interpretations, that this little book would most definitely sing.

What kind of genre do I write?

Um. No. That’s not what happened. Barb gave me five pages of notes. Five pages!!  And after I made all her corrections, I looked at Jane’s notes. Jane wrote right on the ms itself and her notes were nothing like Barb’s!!!  I would like to say, with complete confidence that I inhaled a deep breath and exhaled a prayer of gratitude that my thorough friends did such an excellent job of trouble shooting. But that’s not what I did at all. I caught myself thinking, this proves I’m a loser! 

NO! It doesn’t.  After going through all the corrections, I stopped thinking that. I realized that this was just part of the learning process. Jane and Barb also had a lot of NICE things to say and they were all true. My friends loved me and never accused me of being fictional British housemaids. They edited my book for free. I’m not a loser, I’m a wise writer who understands the power of thoughtful readers to help.

What do I do when I'm stuck on a story idea?
from Frabz.com

Then I was ready to submit. No matter how nervous I was, I had to push the send button. The truth of the situation is that the deal is done.  My agent will not drop me because of this book. The publishers are already committed. They aren’t going to change their minds. (Note to self: Just the fact that you think that this is a possibility may be a sign there’s more sessions with your therapist in the future. And mention Downton Abbey. Think about it.)

Guess what?  I wasn’t done after submission. A few weeks ago, the proofs came and I had to go over them and make a few changes. I was only slightly less neurotic with this task. It helped that both my agent and the publisher had very nice things to say about the manuscript. I also have to say that seeing my name like this is a great motivator.

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So that’s the story. What have I learned? There’s a price to pay for pursuing my dreams. My price includes facing my neuroses head on and working my butt off.

And it’s worth it.

How To Describe An Object And Why It Matters In Your Novel

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It’s pity that I don’t hold murder weapons on my desk. If I did, I could describe them and stick them in my work-in-progress.

This is what I do have:

I have a cobalt glass heart that I use as a paperweight. My husband’s cousin, Robin gave it to me. It’s been over 15 years since she’s given it to me and I can’t not think of her when I see it. This glass heart could be a weapon if I needed to be. It has little value other than who gave it to me. I also have a lamp, a cardboard coaster from a beer garden in Germany, four pewter cylinders that hold pens and paper clips, and a blue glass vase that holds red silk flowers. I also have a red ceramic tea bag holder that I use sometimes when I bring tea to my desk. I also have this little ceramic jewel box that is in the shape of a woman in a red bikini sitting in a beach chair. I like this because it’s funny and my mother in law gave it to me. Because it is a small case, I could put small valuables, like rare jewels, in it.

A well-described object has meaning and weight.

If you have a prop that plays a key role in the story, then mention it early. Symbols need subtle, yet repeated mentions too. Your reader will up on hidden meanings if you take care in an object’s description.

How To Describe An Object & Why It Matters In Your Novel
How To Describe An Object & Why It Matters In Your Novel

In the drafting process, ask yourself these questions when describing an object. (But remember, this is in the drafting stage, good editing may require you to cut much of this.)

What does it look like? Describe the items shape, texture, color, material, height and width. A good writer is a keen observer. Take your time and look for subtleties.

How do your senses react to this item? How heavy is it in your hand. What is the temperature of its surface? Does it have a smell? A taste? Does it make a noise, when you squeeze it, when you bang it on something? What kind of force would destroy it? Would you call it delicate or sturdy? Practical or ornamental?

What is it’s value? This could mean sentimental value or retail value. My little cheap jewelbox, probably a Christmas Tree Shop purchase, opens up. The space that it hides inside is tiny enough for a few beads and a coin or two. It could, in one story or another, be a container for something that needs to stay hidden. A smart card from a camera or something of that nature. This would certainly increase its value.

Who owns it? In The Lord of the Rings, the ownership of the ring was important. The way that Smeagol treated it was different from the way that Bilbo treated it and that was different from the way that Frodo treated it. Each character had a different agenda in the ownership of it. So how does the owner of your item treat this item?

How To Describe An Object And Why It Matters In Your Novel
How To Describe An Object And Why It Matters In Your Novel

What is its purpose? Items can be a lot like people — full of secrets and stories. Is this item a hiding space? Has it been used maliciously? Is it the item that the family has to sell just to buy groceries? The purpose and the value will often dictate how it’s treated by the owner. Unexpected purposes for your props can make your story more interesting.

Who wants this item? Perhaps this plays a critical point in your story. One of your characters wants this item and can’t get it. Spend time developing that character, ask yourself why his desire for this item is so strong.

What is in the item’s future? Ah, this is where the story gets interesting. What will happen if it is destroyed or lost or put in the wrong hands? The items owner loses the item to someone else, what happens now? Is another secret revealed? Is someone killed over this item?

How To Describe An Object And Why It Matters In Your Novel

What does this item symbolize? Now write down everything that comes to mind but don’t keep the obvious answers. Instead try to stretch your imagination and think in a way no one has thought of. The symbolism of this specific item could be something abstract like freedom or bravery or respect or fear. But it could also represent a relationship or a bigger quest or a memory. Review all the previous questions and think about how your answers could tie into a bigger idea. Is the cigar really just a cigar?

Objects can be powerful props in your novel writing.

Objects may have a use like a murder weapon or they may contain a memory of a happier time. They could also be a clue that solves a murder, identifies a culprit or even starts a war. In your story, your characters have things around them that they carry, move, acquire, protect, cherish, or investigate. You will need to describe them. The richer your description, the more value you put to the item, the more the reader will pick up on its importance.

So, what’s on your desk? How can you describe it? How can you incorporate that into your work-in-progress?