Preparing for NaNoWriMo

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Yesterday, I gave an online presentation on plotting for NaNoWriMo, for the India chapter. (To access it, just join the group on FB by clicking here.)

If you are a writer, chances are that you must have heard of NaNoWriMo. It’s a month-long challenge where writers across the globe aim to finish 50000 words in 30 days. So, if you break those words by daily requirement, you need to write 1766 words or roughly 7 MS Word pages a day.

From the time Chris Baty introduced this challenge, way back in 1998, novels were regularly birthed in the month of November. I personally know many writers who would have never written a novel, if not for NanNoWrimo.

Why 50000 words? An average novel is anywhere between 50k-90k words. If you finish the first 50k words, you are half way there. Considering that most writers suffer from procrastination, this challenge eliminates the “starting problem” and delivers a kick in the pants to get their muses show up for work. What’s not to love about a goal like this?

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But I get it. It’s scary to face that empty screen. How the heck are you going to fill it all up 50000 words, your mind demands, poking you in the ribs. Muttering an ouch, you try to ignore your doubts and put on a brave face.

Don’t.

Ignoring your mind’s questions is always a bad idea. That question is actually your sub-conscious asking you whether you are committed, whether you are prepared, whether you are writer enough to win this challenge. You have to answer it. You don’t have a choice.

It’s surprising how often we ignore this voice. All it needs is the assurance that you can do it.

It’s also surprising that, we would never think of showing up at an interview or an examination without being prepared, yet many writers just join in at the last minute (or join without any prep) and hope to win. Not gonna happen!

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Like all challenges, this one is also tough, it will test you and scare you and if you do not stand committed, it will break you and push you out (no matter how much you shrug it off as cest la vie, you will know that you failed and sometimes, that’s the bitterest of all criticism.)

So. Here are my top 3 preparation tips for anybody thinking to attempt NaNoWriMo this year.

1. Start NOW.

Never ignore your fears and doubts. Face them, answer them, tackle them. Tell your mind that you are going to do it – period. Because – ta da – you have a plan! What plan? Now is the time to plan. You have nearly 2 weeks until Day 1 of the challenge. Spend this time plotting your novel. How to do that? Get all your previous half-completed novels out and select one that’s the most developed. You have none? Then start plotting a fresh idea, something that has been on your mind for a long time. You don’t have one of those either? Go to Plot Generator, keep generating plots until you find the one that piques your interest, and start working on it.

2. Form a Habit.

The habit of NaNo Prep – this simply means you pick a time, ideally the same time (for me, early morning just after I wake up is the best time) and make it your NaNo time. Spend 30 minutes every day this month plotting your novel (you are encouraged to spend more time, but if you have only 30 minutes, then you better start writing!). Not only will this eliminate “oh my god what comes now, I don’t know!” moments during NaNoWriMo month, this will also set the habit of sitting and writing everyday in November. A couple of links given below talk about the same idea, so don’t skip reading them. The idea is to write 7 pages every day and that can happen only when you make it a habit.

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3. Be Ready.

Mentally, physically, emotionally – be ready. You want to be a writer? It ain’t gonna happen by itself. You want to complete a novel? It ain’t gonna write itself. You want to be famous, beloved, immortal? You need to do everything to make it happen. Get your laptop (or notebooks and pens) in order. Get your writing space (please tell me you have one!) in order. After you finish outlining and doing character sketches this month, save those notes in a folder and keep it on your writing desk, so that you can refer them any time. Look forward to editing your novel this January… that would give you the impetuous to finish the damn thing in November!

All others come later. You be prepared with a blurb and an outline, with a decent workspace and laptop/PC/writing medium, and you show up every single day next month and commit to writing at least 1800 words… your story WILL come to you. And that’s how you win a challenge ☺. All the best!

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Homework links:

http://allindiewriters.com/prepare-for-nanowrimo/

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-prepare-for-nanowrimo-to-outline-or-not-to-outline

http://storyist.com/support/howto/get-ready-for-nanowrimo/

http://thewritingcafe.tumblr.com/post/61873818642/preparing-for-nanowrimo

http://rinellegrey.com/preparing-for-nanowrimo/

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Lesson 2 of my picture book writing course!

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If you have always wanted to write picture books, perhaps this excerpt will help you sign up for my e-course. More details here.

Visual storytelling has existed from the time of ancient man!

Ever since Man decided to draw because it was easier than words (drawing did come before language), he has been passing on his stories and life experiences in the form of cave drawings, palm leaf scrolls, rock inscriptions and even sculpture. Once paper was invented, it was only natural that the leap from “wall” to “print” would eventually happen (much to the delight of children and adults!)

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As writers, we are forever guided and cautioned by three timelines:

1. What came before us (the past)

2. What is currently with us (the present)

3. What is going to come from us, i.e., what we are going to create (the future)

Early picture books were mostly moral lessons, because at that time, the consensus was that children should be seen and not heard. It is a sad fact that even today, when children are about a thousand times more stimulated than olden times’ and have even more distractions, some writers consider that children’s stories should also be moral stories!

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To know how times have changes, to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes, it is essential to know the past and the present – only then can we create a unique and relevant idea that has not been done to death. Keeping this in mind, here are two links that will give you an idea of the history behind picture books.

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/02/a-brief-history-of-childrens-picture-books-and-the-art-of-visual-storytelling/253570/ – This link is a comprehensive intro to the history of visual storytelling

http://www.picturingbooks.com/slides/picture-book-timeline.html – This is a terrific resource, complete with picture samples, of the styles of picture storytelling dating back to centuries.

The above two links will keep you happily entertained and infinitely wiser about the styles and storytelling themes prevalent in various decades of the past few centuries.

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But this is the global history, right? What about the Indian perspective, you may wonder. Well, that constitutes tomorrow’s lesson 🙂

Today’s activity:

Read some classic picture books that are available free at this link – http://www.childrensbooksonline.org/library.htm

See what the themes usually are. Try to decipher the attitudes and the moral convictions of a society through the stories it has provided for its little members. It’s not necessary to submit a formal report, but do share your thoughts on what you feel about learning this history. 

Editing Your Chapter Book – Guest post

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ChaBooCha is short for Chapter Bookwriting Challenge. Author Rebecca Fyfe hosts it every March; the goal being, you guessed it, to write a chapter book in a month.

Since I was attempting to write a chapter book every month this year – and boy is it tougher than I ever thought it would be! – I was invited to write a guest post in the official ChaBooCha site. I talk about the process that I employ to get a raw draft to a readable draft – and why it is essential to edit your first draft two times before you send it for critiques.

Here’s the link – http://chapterbookchallenge.blogspot.in/2014/03/editing-your-first-draft-by-radhika.html

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Let’s use that one to edit!

March’s Short Story: PROPHET

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This month’s Short Story 12×12 involved a blind review, i.e., participants submitted their stories without a byline.

So, during the critique process, each one will review stories without any preconceived opinion about the author’s style or mastery over her craft. I had advised everyone to write something different and make it tough for others to guess.

It’s a brilliant idea, because this link says so. And also because I had participated in a similar experiment a few years back at IIT Kanpur, and it was so much fun … what other way to flabbergast your fellow writers!

You thought you knew me? Ha!

Here’s a sneak preview on how I ended up writing Angel – my March story for SHORT STORY 12×12:

1. I had a clear plan – I wanted to write a proper fantasy story, because until now my co-challengers (is that a proper term?) had only sampled my contemporary stories for young adults. So I was determined to write an “adult” and surprise them.

2. Mahaaaaaaaaa…….baaaaarat (that’s how the title song went, you’d know if you woke up every sunday morning hearing that from the idiot box). It all starts with Sage Vyasa. I was not in the mood to write titillating stuff (all you who know the real role Vyasa plays in the epic, you will understand my apathy), so how about… Bheeshma? THE Bachelor. Long white beard. Mukesh Khanna. Kids love Shakthimaan. Arrrrggggghhhhhh. Must. Not. Write. Children’s. Story.

3. Hmm,  a different angle. King Santhanu, that old geezer who was always falling in love with stipulating women… Ganga, especially, you know, the women drowns her own children? Darn it – I am back to “children” again!

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But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach. – OOGWAY

4. But Ganga’s story… hmm, let’s see, can a woman do that today? Even the most besotted might not agree to be quiet while his wife murdered theirchildren! But perhaps, “murder by drowning” should not be so literally interpreted in 2014. It may be an act like.. an abortion. Or even birth control (yes, really, if you think about….!!!). So how about a case where the husband wants a baby and the wife does not and he can do nothing about it, since he agreed to respect her wishes?

5. Now where is the fun if the story ended there? In the myth, Santhanu was a mortal and Ganga was a river goddess. So I made my heroine a supernatural and the hero, a muggle who works in an IT company. Can anyone be more mortal than a software engineer?

So there you go. The genesis of a short story. The guy’s lurrrvvveees the girl, but the girl says no can do unless he agrees to zero kids, guy says yes without thinking, only to change his mind later; meanwhile, he also discovers that his wife is a clairvoyant.  But still, he loves her but he loves to have a child more, he wants one RIGHT now, and he is willing to go to any lengths to have one…

Want to know more? I will send you a link when it gets published 🙂

Workshop report #1 – Feb 23, 2014

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Feb 23 marked the first date of this year’s writing workshops from Smara Creative Escapes.

Six confirmed, but only 4 were able to make it; still, it was a good audience. All but one were budding writers, and everyone was eager to learn about the art and craft of children’s writing.

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The arena….

As I interacted with the participants, I was once again reminded of how awesome it is to share your craft with others. You can bet I am planning to do it more often and in a much bigger scale!

Here is what Vallabi, illustrator and budding writer, said: “Thank you so much for an informative & interesting workshop yesterday.  It has inspired me to write regularly now.”

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…with warriors 🙂

Many thanks for Art n Soul for hosting the workshop.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS / INFOMINARS

If you need more information, please contact me.

Are you taking care of your hands?

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If the object you touch most often during a day is the mouse, you face the risk of getting Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).

Today I learnt that a close writing friend has been forced to take early retirement due to RSI. This unfortunate update has prompted me to re-visit an article I had written several years ago for Writing-World.com

RSI is a non-medical term that describes disorders related to performing repetitive tasks continuously, especially in an awkward or incorrect posture.  It usually begins with numbness or aching in the wrist, hand or arm. In extreme cases, the neck and shoulders are affected.

RSI is not an infection or a communicable disease. It can happen to anyone, with women three times more likely to develop CTS than men. All writers should look out for signs.

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Credit: Ngmmemuda / Photopin.com

RSI is not life-threatening but is an extremely painful disorder to live with and can affect your career. If your hand pains or if you have any of the above symptoms, please see your physician immediately.

REQUIRED READING:

Avoiding Repetitive-Stress Injuries: A Writer’s Guide, by Geoff Hart. If your livelihood depends on your hands – you may be a writer or a data analyst – this article highlights simple tips to prevent RSI.

Spend most of your time before a computer? Design your workstation with help from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines.

Ergocise is a free, web-based ergonomic exercise program especially designed for computer users, combining a simple reminder program with over one hundred short animations of simple, ergonomically correct stretches and strengthening exercises.

The Typing Injury FAQ Provides a wide variety of information about repetitive strain injuries, resources for dealing with it, and description of products to reduce injury risk and symptoms.

How to write every day

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Have you heard of the sanskrit word sadhana?

A quick net search says it is the “disciplined or a dedicated way to practice something.

A musician may get a chance to perform once a month, or even once a year. But to do that, she has to practice every single day. Irrespective of whether she gets to perform at all, the artist needs to be in top form and to achieve that, she does her sadhana regularly.

It is no wonder the same word also means achievement!

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A writer has to write every day. That is her sadhana

But most of us find it tough to write every single day. It happens. More so if you already have an active writing career (or a full time job or a demanding home life). It is scarily easy to let all other stuff to encroach on the one activity that defines us as writers. 

That does not mean you cannot make time for writing regularly.  Here are three ways that will make the job easier – and the beauty is you don’t even have to be a writer to follow any of them. I employ all three methods elaborated below and can confidently say that they not only make me write better, they also make me understand my life more than anything or anybody else can do! 

Your Morning Pages 

Write 3 pages of free writing, as soon as you wake up. This might be a bit tough to initiate, but once you get into it, you will not stop. These three pages, popularly known as Morning pages, are a staple in most creative artists’ daily sadhana. The mind is a marvelous sponge, which unfortunately cannot differentiate between good stuff and bad stuff to absorb. The simple act of free writing as soon as you wake up frees your mind of all its sub-conscious worries and gets it super-clean to face the day.

To know more, check out the official site and also, consider buying the fantastic book on the subject. 

Your daily journal

Spend 10 minutes every night, before going to bed, writing about your day. There is, like morning pages, no finesse or grammar check or special writing skills needed here – just write down what you did that day. What happened during that mid-morning meeting, what you ate for lunch, where you went after work, what the children did, what your in laws said, what your spouse insinuated… and so on. If nothing else, it will serve as a record of where all those years went!

Penzu is an efficient (and free) online journal, if a simple notebook or journal would not do.

Your life history

Have you ever thought about writing down your life history? But my life is boring, you cry. Why should you write your life history, if you are not a celebrity or anybody important? Well, you may not be important to me, but you may very well be for some one in your family or friends’ circle, who may benefit from your life experiences. Writing your life history is, at the very least, a startling way to ascertain yourself that yes, you have lived, and lived remarkably.

Memory is a funny thing. You need to keep reminding it to remember the good stuff!

FURTHER READING:

An article about The Artist’s way / Morning pages 

Free resources to write your autobiography

A free report on writing your life history.