Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nanowrimo Tips

As National Novel Writing Month draws to a close, you may be basking in the warm glow of your wonderful word count, existing only to produce more words, any words, anyhow, or you may be wondering why you ever thought in your wildest dreams that you could come up with 50, 000 words in 30 days.

If you are basking, congratulations! It's an incomparable feeling, that moment when you validate that word count. It's glorious. Savour it.

If you are deep into your manuscript, only lifting your fingers from the keyboard long enough to take a swig of your caffeinated beverage of choice, keep going. You're almost there. You can do it.

And, if you're shaking your head at your temerity in thinking that 50K was at all possible, here are some tips for next year.

1. If dirt bothers you, clean your house in October. Get it into routine-maintenance-only shape. You won't have time for anything else in November.

2. If the thought of impending holidays scares the turtles out of you, do the holiday shopping in October (or earlier). Imagine the calm of a closet full of gifts. I know I am. Wish I had made this list in, say, September.

3. Decide on a project before November 1. If you're an outliner, outline -- before November 1. Then just write, from Day 1.

4. Focus on one project for Nano. It's just easier that way. Each day, you get up and work on that one world, with one set of characters who become more and more familiar with each passing page.

5. Sign up even if you don't have any intention of finishing. The Nanowrimo people send out PepTalks by published authors at least once a week throughout the month. Where else can you get pithy writing advice for free? (Well, lots of places, but that's another post.) The thing is, it comes to your inbox. So there you are, minding your own procrastinating business, when whammo, there's a boot up the arse in your email. It's the best.

Oh, and where am I at, in the word count wars? My village was attacked, and I'm stumbling down the road with my meagre possessions in a moth-eaten sack.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Can you call yourself a marathoner if you make like the hare and take a shortcut?

I'm seriously considering (meaning: I've pretty much decided) to adjust my Nano goal to a personal goal of 25K words. My current word count sits at 18,540. 25K seems doable.

On reducing my commitment to "Nano-lite", I feel a new sense of peace. The brow is unfurrowing, the brain is losing that vise-like tendency that was squeezing the life out of all my characters (and not in the good way), and I feel ready, willing and able to get back to story creation...which is a long way from word spewing.

Monday, November 17, 2008


First, let me say that Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is an incredible motivator.

Second, let me say that a word count of some 12,000 words as of now, is more than a bit off pace.

My solution? I declare this Mini-Marathon Week. I'm going to put on the big push, forget that Christmas is coming, and just write until my hands are claws or my brain explodes or both. Then maybe, just maybe, I'll make it to 50K for the month.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Writing Time and Book Shopping

OK. Here's my last word on scheduling: use a timer for the non-writing stuff. So, the cleaning, the laundry, the shopping list, the exercise, all that gets small blocks of time. The rest is for writing. That's it.

Now, on to fun stuff.

I came across a truly neat site yesterday. At Zoomii Books, you can shop for books online -- visually. Book covers are lined up on shelves, separated by category and alphabetically.

It takes a little work to get used to moving around, and the selection is a bit limited at the moment, but it is as close to real-world book shopping as you can get online (minus the new book smell, of course). You can actually scan the shelves in much the same way you would in a bricks-and-mortar store.

Very nifty, and just what I always thought was missing from Amazon. Interestingly enough, Zoomii orders are processed through Amazon.com. So, there's nothing new, once you make your choices.

Canadian bookworms can find Zoomii at www.zoomii.ca. Americans should head to www.zoomii.com.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Starting over...again

15 minutes a day. That was the goal. Some days, yes. Other days, not so much.

I do have a few excuses up my sleeve: illness, housework, fitness, Halloween. Kids were home sick, housework is occasionally getting done, I've managed to get myself moving again, on a regular basis, I've been decorating and brainstorming for a Halloween party, sending the creative energy into ghoulish zones. But none of these excuses, when balanced with my simple request to myself to sit and write for 15 minutes each day, hold up under scrutiny.

So, I'll try again. Shift the mindset. Quote FlyLady a lot. I know that I can do anything for 15 minutes. Even write.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

SMART Goal Setting

OK. Step One: Clean the office. Check. If a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind, well, my mind has a major case of the sniffles. But I like it this way.

Step Two: Set goals.

Doing a bit of quick mental calculating, I figure I realistically have about three hours a day to spend writing. There are three major activities or groups of activities that go into writing: first draft writing; re-writing, editing and critiquing; and research and marketing (this is where blogging comes in). So, one hour each, every day.

Being in a realistic frame of mind, I don't see this happening immediately. My goal is to work 15 minutes for each "department" Monday to Friday by the end of next week. There is a holiday descending on Monday, but grabbing 15 minutes here and there should not be insurmountable.

Goal Check: Does my goal meet SMART goal setting guidelines?

S- Specific? 15 minutes. Check
M - Measurable? Check.
A - Attainable? Check. Some goal setters also use "Action-oriented" for the letter A. Work. Check
R - Realistic? Check.
T - Timed? By end of next week. Check.

After writing this post, I've exceeded the goal for research and marketing today. I'm on my way!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I Call a Do-over!

In September, I got my wish: the whole day for writing. But, I have to admit, I wasn't all that productive. My resources were spread over myriad projects and the result was that I was getting very little accomplished.

First, the reality check: I do not have the whole day to write.

I am chief cook and bottle-washer for a household of four people and two cats. The tasks that go into that job take Time, and will not (as much as I wish they would) get done by themselves. If I do not do those tasks in a timely fashion, there is an associated cost, whether it be monetary or environmental. It's more than OK to take the time to do that job to the best of my ability.

It is also OK to take the time to do my job as a writer. Good writing requires committed, butt-in-the-chair time. Writing keeps my brain in peak function, which is good for me now and in the future. As an added benefit, it helps me to do my other job well.

Off to do Step One: Clean The Office.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tips for Writers: The Reading

I hit The Word on the Street in Kitchener this weekend. Raptures. Books and sunlight and folding chairs on the grass, autumn leaves rappling down the tent roof and the barking of small dogs. Writers and words and writing...and readings. It was a rare opportunity to sit in on one reading after another. As such, it was also a rare opportunity to see what works and what doesn't, in terms of engaging one's audience. So after sitting in on a few readings, here are my tips for a good reading:

1. Remember that the purpose of a reading is, ultimately, to sell books.

2. KYSS: Keep your snips short. Give 'em just enough to whet the appetite. Too much and they'll glaze over and start thinking about what to cook for dinner.

3. Choose your snip carefully. It should be able to stand on its own. It should show off at least one of your characters to good effect. It should be easy to introduce: "Amabel, the MC, has just fallen down a well", versus "Amabel, the MC, has just gone into a hotel for a drink, when in walks the captain of the ship she jumped off of to avoid paying the fare because her purse was stolen while she was asleep; she was pretending to be a man then, and is now dressed as a woman".

4. Practice.

5. Read with feeling.

6. Answer a question with a story. You're a storyteller. Prove it. This may be difficult for you, or it may come as easily as breathing, but when someone asks you a question, they're giving you a chance to sell yourself. Do it. It will help sell books. Remember, you want to sell books.

7. Learn how to deal with crickets. Have a contingency plan for the dreaded silence when the call goes out for questions...and there aren't any. Don't leave them wanting less.

8. Dress for success. You should wear the clothes, the clothes shouldn't wear you. Nothing fussy or distracting. Wear colours that flatter, fabrics that don't wrinkle, and avoid words on your person. Make sure you feel comfortable. And for those with breasts, I can't emphasize enough the importance of a good bra.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Acadian Star Contest

There is only one thing I like better than reading a good book -- and that's WINNING a good book.

Helene Boudreau is launching her new book, Acadian Star, with a contest on her blog. So head on over, and leave a comment with "star" in it for a chance to win your very own copy of Acadian Star. Find all the details (including more ways to win) on Helene's blog here.

Acadian Star hits the bookstores October 1.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Three Little Pigs Plotting Primer

I checked out Helene Boudreau's blog today to see what she had to say about plotting. Plenty of Very Good Ideas, as it turns out. My favourite was her comment about the Three Little Pigs. The lightbulb went on with that one.

So, here's my take on how to plot, using the Three Little Pigs model.

Introduction: Meet the pigs (the protagonists -- you need at least one), who need a place to live, safe from the Big Bad Wolf (the antagonist -- you need one of these). There's conflict between the characters: they can't agree on building materials. (Ordinary stuff to help suspend disbelief) The pigs agree to disagree, and each build their own house, setting the scene for later drama.

Next, we meet the Big Bad Wolf. He's hungry (understandable motivation, which adds depth and subtlety to portrayal of antagonist) Bad Thing #1 happens: the Big Bad Wolf destroys straw house. Subplot: Pig A goes to live with Pig B.

Then, Bad Thing #2 happens: the Big Bad Wolf destroys the stick house . This is worse than Bad Thing #1 (builds tension). The subplot also progresses, as Pig A and Pig B must move in with Pig C.

Finally, the Climax: the Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf have their showdown. The Wolf gets what is coming to him, the brick house stands, and the Pigs resolve their domestic issues (thereby taking care of the subplot) and live happily ever.

1. Introduce conflict early.
2. Give your protagonist and your antagonist realistic motivations for their actions.
3. Make things go from bad to worse before you let them get better.
4. Tie your subplots to your main plot.
5. Make sure everyone gets what they deserve.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fusion Friday

Fusion Friday...where the copywriter meets the gardener meets the fiction writer...

Got Plot?

Without spreading some conflict, probably not.

In the compost pile I refer to as the first draft of my middle grade novel, my main character, Fred, comes home from school on his birthday. He finds his achingly cool mother vacuuming with uber cool tunes cranked on the stereo. He also finds The One Thing He Wanted Most for His Birthday waiting for him. Fred has no homework, despite turning twelve. Fred has one friend, so important to him that Nick (or Eric, we're not sure of his name) barely merits mention in the MS. He has a sister he likes who is not instrumental to the plot in any way, shape or form. He has a nemesis he grumbles about, but we do not meet her. He likes games. Or so we hear.

No conflict. No colour. No fertilizer. No reason to go on.

So I donned gardening gloves and dug a whole new border. I have the earth turned. I've anchored the planting with a querulous Fred and his competitive rival, Jinny. Jinny can be invasive, so I'll keep an eye on her. Nick provides comic height at the back of the border, and is topped with a showy toque. For a touch of the traditional, I think I'll put in a Fight Over Chores Mother Plant. Add in a few stepping stones to get Fred started on his Hero's Journey (learn more about the Hero's Journey here), and there might just be enough curb appeal to invite readers in.

Failing that, maybe someone knows where I can pick up some Magic Beans, cheap?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Whole Whack of Tips in One Tome

From ideas to query letters, The New Writer's Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft & Career is chock full of helpful information for fiction and non-fiction writers alike. The anthology of essays and articles is edited by Philip Martin. There's a bio and web info for each contributor, making it a print portal to even more great tips. Best of all, Volume 2 was released in July of this year.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Blog Launch

Welcome to Ink Gleanings!

[drumroll, smattering of applause]

Thanks for coming to my first official blog posting. Please enjoy a slice of cake and some punch (spiked). From here on in, I plan to share tidbits about writing, advertising and gardening.

What does gardening have to do with writing? Plenty. Both need a plot, seeds, time to germinate and grow, and a good set of pruning shears. Above all, both require the shoveling of manure. Often quite a lot of it.