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  • Jeff Somers 9:04 pm on 2016/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , inspiration, , , national novel writing month, , ,   

    Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors 

    It’s that time of year again, the magical, horrible month when authors, aspiring and otherwise, attempt to write an entire novel in 3o days. Some do NaNoWriMo for the challenge, some do it to finally check write novel off of their bucket lists, and some do it just for the experience. Whatever your reasons, it’s always one of the most difficult and most rewarding writing exercises of the year.

    NaNoWriMo is like a marathon: it requires a lot of inspiration to get you over the finish line. This can come in many forms, but every writer knows that fiction itself is the most nourishing thing a writer can take in. Here are five novels about fictional authors that have something to teach anyone trying to crank out a novel-length story between now and November 30.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Lesson: Fiction is Powerful Stuff

    Spoilers ahead!
    McEwan’s twisty novel tells the tale of Briony Tallis, bestelling author. As a child, Briony commits a terrible act that impacts those around her in awful ways. As time goes by, however, the victims of her immature mistakes recover and go on to live their lives, although they refuse to forgive Briony even as she declares her intentions to do what she can to make things right. The final, devastating twist reveals that Briony has been writing the story all along, and rewriting history to make it happier—in real life her victims never recovered and died young, unfulfilled. The lesson in Briony’s deception is dark and powerful: your experiences are just the inspiration for your stories. Dark or not, the things that inspire you to write don’t have to be rendered accurately. As a writer, you can change everything to suit your purpose, so don’t hesitate to embellish, deceive, and omit.

    Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
    Lesson: Novels Change Lives
    Kurt Vonnegut was a writer who somehow combined not taking himself seriously with powerful writing that still sparks arguments to this day. In Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut’s alter-ego, writer Kilgore Trout (who appears in many of Vonnegut’s stories), travels to a low-rent convention in Ohio, where he’s destined to meet an insane fan who believes Trout’s speculative fiction is real. Vonnegut uses this premise, as always, to explore free will and existence in various absurd and darkly humorous ways, but the takeaway for anyone who finds themselves depressed and frustrated on, say, day thirteen of NaNoWiMo, is simple: what you write is like wild magic. Once it’s released into the world, you have no control over how it will affect other people. That sort of crackling, electric possibility should inspire anyone to finish what they’ve started.

    The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth
    Lesson: Think Before You Write

    Nathan Zuckerman may be Roth’s greatest creation, an author avatar who remains fascinating throughout nine novels. In the first of the Zuckerman Opus, Nathan struggles with something all writers should think about: balancing honesty with artistry. As Nathan struggles with the fallout from writing about his own Jewish community in a negative way (prompting questions of his responsibility to not fan the flames of anti-Jewish sentiment versus his need to be honest in his writing), every author working on a NaNoWriMo book should take the hint and ask themselves some honest questions about their inspiration, motivation, and how their work might affect their intimates and the community around them.

    The Dark Half, by Stephen King
    Lesson: Don’t Shy Away from Darkness

    Writing is confessional. In fact, the more you attempt to obscure the personal demons and angels that inspire your work, the more artificial it will seem to readers. King’s horror novel is, on the one hand, the story of a writer whose public works don’t sell well, but whose trashy crime novels written under a pseudonym sell like hotcakes. When he “kills off” his pseudonym, however, his dark half seems to come to life and launch a violent killing spree. You’ll have to read the book to find out if he’s crazy or if there’s some other explanation, but the takeaway for a NaNoWriMo writer is this: don’t fight your true muse. If there’s daylight between the books you think you should be writing and the books you’re actually inspired to write, use this month to indulge your id and just write whatever your Dark Half wants to write. You’ll be amazed how easy writing suddenly becomes.

    Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
    Lesson: Just Finish It

    Chabon, inspired by his own out-of-control manuscript, offers up Grady Tripp, a writer who has been working on his second novel for seven years, amassing more than 2,500 manuscript pages. That Grady Tripp should be the patron saint of NaNoWriMo might not be obvious; after all, the point of this month is to finish a novel. But reading about Grady’s increasingly disorganized and hectic life is precisely the sort of inspiration you need, because in a sense that unfinished novel is the cause of all of Tripp’s problems. Reading Wonder Boys right before NaNoWriMo will offer up all the inspiration you need to ensure that on Day 30, you’ll be typing THE END instead of allowing your novel to spiral off into a madness of endless revisions.

    The post Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 6:30 pm on 2015/11/11 Permalink
    Tags: , get shorty, hugh howey, lessons, , national novel writing month, the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, , ,   

    Great Novels that Double as Writing Classes 

    Think of National Novel Writing Month as the Author Olympics: a crazy event that comes around every year and offers up a challenge that goes beyond sales numbers, advances, or any other data point used to measure success. NaNoWriMo asks a simple question: can you write a novel-length story in just one month? For years now, thousands of people have answered “yes.” True, not everyone succeeds (or likes what they wind up with), which can lead to frustration. The good news? You don’t have to take an expensive course or spend ten years in the desert eating mushrooms to become a better writer. All you have to do is read. For your NaNoWriMo training, here are five books that will teach you incredible lessons you can apply directly to your next work.

    Wool, by Hugh Howey
    Lesson: You can do it
    Howey is the patron saint of both NaNoWriMo and self-publishing. Wool proves to any aspiring author that not only can a great book be written in a month, but that just because a book was written over a short period of time, doesn’t mean it can’t be wildly successful. Howey’s not the only writer with a celebrated novel written in a month or less—Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in a month, as did Anthony Burgess with A Clockwork Orange—but Howey’s all-in-one DIY aesthetic is the perfect modern-day proof that proves you can write that book this year, in 30 days or less, and publish it, too.

    Get Shorty, by Elmore Leonard
    Lesson: How to write believable dialogue
    To be fair, you could peruse any of Leonard’s books for an example of sparkling dialogue. He was a fount of writing wisdom, famously suggesting the best way to write an exciting plot is to “skip the boring parts,” but anyone tackling NaNoWriMo should take his dialogue lessons to heart because they’re so easy to implement. First, keep your speech tags simple—Leonard hardly ever deviated from a simple “he said/she said” pattern. Second, remember that great dialogue is more about rhythm than grammar. And finally, every word spoken should advance the plot or explain a character’s motivations. Every line should perform some useful work in your story.

    Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
    Lesson: Complex plots don’t have to be confusing
    Again, we could choose any Dickens book for this lesson. While a 30-day limit likely means your novel will be fairly short, one mistake a lot of new writers make is assuming that complicated, character-packed plots either have to reach epic fantasy length, or must be incredibly difficult to interpret. (We can blame the postmodernist aesthetic for that.) While there’s nothing wrong with crafting a puzzle-box of a book, Dickens shows us you can have a plot that explores people’s lives and desires deeply and in intricate ways while remaining perfectly clear to the reader. No one ever had to create a complex infographic to explain a Dickens plot, yet his books remain challenging, satisfying reads.

    To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
    Lesson: The power of feedback and revision
    Go Set a Watchman is basically a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird; Lee’s editor rejected the book and advised her that the sequences where Jean Louise flashed back to her childhood were the strongest, and Lee’s rewrite became the Pulitzer-winning classic we know and love. While Watchman has great moments, if you read both books back to back, it’s obvious how great that advice was: Mockingbird is light years better. It’s a good reminder that just because you type THE END on your manuscript, it doesn’t mean your book couldn’t need some polish, and probably a thorough beta-read by several trusted (and honest) friends. Most importantly, seriously consider the feedback you get, even if it boils down to “only 5 percent of this book is worth saving.”

    The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
    Lesson: If at first it ain’t a novel…keep writing
    On the other hand, sometimes a story needs to go through several stages before it attains its final form. Sometimes the things we write (especially the NaNoWriMo things) get away from us. Sometimes we can’t finish them, and sometimes we wind up with something that isn’t exactly a novel. As Adams proved with his hilarious sci-fi classic The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, what you start off with doesn’t have to be a story’s final form. Ideas can be revised, reused, and reinvented endlessly. Adams’ book started off as a series of radio scripts, and the basic story and characters were subsequently revised in many different forms before the novel appeared. If your NaNoWriMo book isn’t very good, or isn’t even a novel, don’t despair. Pick up the ideas you like and start again.

    NaNoWriMo is great fun, great practice, and can even result in a great book. Whatever you seek to learn from it, look to these books for the fundamental lessons that will get you over the hump.

  • Nicole Hill 4:00 pm on 2015/11/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , national novel writing month, ,   

    The Book Nerd’s Guide to Failing NaNoWriMo 

    Welcome to the Book Nerd’s Guide to Life! Every other week, we convene in this safe place to discuss the unique challenges of life for people whose noses are always wedged in books. For past guides, click here.

    We’re five days into National Novel Writing Month. Hand check! Are yours glued to your keyboard, or have they wandered off to less taxing diversions, like flipping through the nearest already written book or, perhaps, etching a triptych into a cave wall? I thought so.

    Look, there’s no shame in being a NaNoWriMo dropout, or at least that’s what I tell myself. Sure, it’s still early. There’s plenty of time to get back on track. You can make up those 2,000 words. You’ll just tack them onto your weekend total! You make this vow five or six times. By the weekend, your target number to stay on course is 12,000 words in 48 hours. You write 1,500 and wander off to see if any Halloween candy has escaped consumption. Then you’ll watch just one episode of Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

    You never return to your novel.

    There are any number of ways to end up at this point. It turns out writing a novel is difficult, and time-consuming.

    Now, there’s lots of great advice out there for how to write NaNo into submission—including some of our own. But let’s be real: some of us are just never going to produce 50,000 words we’re decently pleased with in the course of a month. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’ve got significant others/kids/dependent mammals/jobs/bar tabs that fill up much of your time. The last thing you want to do at night is sidle up to a computer screen and think up names for a fictional hamster.

    I’m here to tell you that’s OK. As a veteran of such dismal affairs, I can safely say it’s all right if you…

    • Never got past the first paragraph because you couldn’t settle on a name for your protagonist’s love interest. (Marcus? Todd? Callum? Slade?)
    • Became uncomfortable with the degree your main character’s desire for purpose in life mirrored your own.
    • Ordered a pizza and never looked back.
    • Got lost in a “Worst Line I Wrote Today” forum thread for daaaaays.
    • Shelved your novel to write erotic fanfiction about some of the posts in the “Worst Line I Wrote Today” thread.
    • Could in no way come up with an appropriate deus ex machina after charging ahead without an outline.
    • Ended up hating one of your characters as a person so much you couldn’t continue writing her. #UmbridgeSyndrome
    • Found yourself at 40,000 words without a denouement in sight.
    • Spent so much time with Ctrl-F keeping your chief antagonist’s eye color straight that you missed several days’ word counts.
    • Got upset because NaNo has already yielded The Night Circus—so what is even the point—and ordered another pizza.

    All of this is perfectly reasonable. It happens to the best of us. (Well, maybe not the best of us, because, well, Night Circus, but whatever.) The best part about National Novel Writing Month is that it’s surrounded by 11 other months equally suitable for frantic word-slinging. Live every day like it’s the day you could finally sit down and crank out a masterpiece. It may not be how Hemingway did it, but it’s probably healthier.

  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2015/11/04 Permalink
    Tags: , national novel writing month, ,   

    Ten Creative Ways to Bust Out of Your Writer’s Block for NaNoWriMo 

    We’ve all had that dream: it’s an important day and you show up totally unprepared and, probably, naked. For writers who take the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge, this most commonly occurs on Day One: you’ve brewed your warm, comforting beverage of choice, assembled your meticulously curated writing playlist, filled the bathroom with catnip and locked the cats inside, and carefully arranged all the implements and tchotchkes on your desk into a pleasing geometric pattern. Then you sit and stare at a blinking cursor and have no idea what to write.

    Whether it strikes at the very beginning of a novel or right at a crucial middle part, writer’s block is frustrating and potentially devastating. The most essential tool any author can have is a list of surefire ways of breaking out of its cold, clammy clutches. Here are ten creative ways to smash out of a creative funk.

    Read Great Books
    Your first step, always, should be to read a few of your favorite books. Since NaNoWriMo goes pretty fast, don’t try to read a whole novel, just skip to your favorite parts. Spending a few minutes with a beloved story usually gets the juices flowing. Alternatively, read a hot new title everyone’s talking about to stoke those fire of jealousy, one of the best motivators known to man.

    Get Some Pro Advice
    Another approach is to sit down with some of the best writers in history and ask their advice, which you can do by picking up a book like Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Or, depending on your taste in literature, a wilder example—Charles Bukowski’s On Writing, or Ray Bradbury’s Zen In the Art of Writing.

    Write About Yourself
    A great trick is to start writing about a frustrated writer. Writers as characters can be lazy, yes, but even if it’s a false start that has to be scrapped, writing about your own situation might offer a glimpse of an escape route.

    Just Start
    Another trick is to simply begin writing without any concern over what the story is, who your characters are, or how in the world you’re going to get to 50,000 words in thirty days. Just start describing something, or sketching a scene—anything. Just using your fingers and brain to put words on the screen can act like a starter motor, cranking your engine into gear.

    Change Your Method
    All writers develop a mechanical way of writing—the software used, the specific pen or pencil, the location of their work space. If you’re blocked, try changing things up. Switch to longhand if you work on a computer, or go sit in the garden with a laptop instead of rigidly upright at a desk. A change of mechanics can shock your brain into exploring a new way of working—and thinking.

    Stop Counting
    Sometimes what blocks a writer is the pressure of getting 2,000 words in every day for a month. Try not paying attention to word counts for a week, just concentrating on telling a story, and often the pressure relief will un-crimp your creativity. And don’t forget, some incredible novels are less than 50,000 words—The Great Gatsby and Slaughterhouse-Five among them.

    Change What You’re Writing
    Sometimes writer’s block isn’t some mystery brain injury; sometimes it’s your subconscious trying to tell you you’re headed down the wrong path. Back up to the last major plot decision you made and see if there’s a more interesting choice you missed. Or, while it might break your heart, ask yourself if you should be writing something else entirely.

    Read Some History
    No novel, no matter how creative, can beat actual events for sheer twists and turns and thrilling drama. If the story won’t come, seed your brain with some of the most interesting—and true—stories ever told. Bonus: reading history trains you in how things actually happen, ramping up your verisimilitude skillz.

    Change—or Make—the Routine
    Some writers like to work randomly, plopping down when the mood strikes and scribbling out a few hundred words here, a few hundred words there. Some go weeks without writing a word, and then hole up in their office for a month straight. As romantic as that sounds, you may work better with a rigid schedule. Try swapping your approach: go rando if you normally have a schedule, and treat it like a job if you’re normally a rando.

    Feed Your Senses
    Taking breaks is one of the most powerful tools a writer can use. Sometimes that panic over lost time is what’s blocking you in the first place. Take an hour and listen to some great music, or eat something delicious, or go for a walk by a beautiful spot. Feeding the senses stimulates creativity—think of Proust and the Madeleine!

  • Jenny Shank 5:30 pm on 2015/11/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , national novel writing month, , , , ,   

    Writing Advice from Great Authors to Get You Through NaNoWriMo 

    Across the country this November, aspiring novelists are clacking away at their keyboards in service of National Novel Writing Month, in which participants must write 50,000 words in 30 days. Part of the process for many involves reading any book of writing advice they can get their hands on, alongside profiles and interviews with their favorite authors, in hopes of finding the secret that will make writing a novel quick, painless, and fruitful. As a fellow seeker, I can tell you there is no such secret—and yet, there are certain nuggets of wisdom I’ve found in my quest that have stuck with me, and help me every time I make a new attempt at writing a novel. While I’m writing, I repeat certain snippets of this advice like a mantra in my head: “This is just the down draft. Get it down. Now, don’t go visit Mr. Coffee! Stay in the chair! Done? Okay, now stick it in the drawer for six weeks.” Here are 7 tips for those who are getting started on writing a novel, those who are along the way, and those ready to revise.

    Getting Started

    Get it Down.
    “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”
    –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

    Write the Missing Book You Want to See in the Bookstore.
     “There were no books about me, I didn’t exist at all in the literature I had read…this person, this female, this black did not exist.”
    Toni Morrison, quoted in Toni Morrison: Contemporary World Writers by Jill Matus

    ”If you don’t see the book you want on the shelves, write it.”
    Beverly Cleary

    Along The Way

    Treat Princesses and Chambermaids with Equal Dignity.
    “Lucia’s guidance was quiet and subtle, with one memorable exception: the tyranny of the preachy narrator. Write your characters as ghastly as you like, she said, but get off their backs. Chekhov was her hero, for his fierce discipline toward impartiality. A princess and a chambermaid, she said—Chekhov would treat them exactly the same. Lucia let that sink in and then probed to see if I’d internalized that as ennoble the maid. Of course. It was the princess I had to look out for, she said—most writers were likely to dis her. And the maid didn’t need my pity or false praise.”
    –Dave Cullen, the author of Columbine, writing about his teacher Lucia Berlin for Vanity Fair.

    Don’t Go Visit Mr. Coffee. The Writer is The Person Who Stays In The Room.
    “When you’re a writer you spend days in the room without knowing what you’ve got, but you’re still willing to keep reeling it in and following it. You’re willing to be true to it. It may mean you have to write thirty pages to get fifteen. The big secret to such writing is the ability to stay in the room. The writer is the person who stays in the room…all the good writing I’ve done in the last ten years has been done in the first twenty minutes after the first time I wanted to leave the room. I’ve learned to stay there and keep writing. I think, ‘Oh, I’ll just go get some coffee.’ Well, I love coffee, but I don’t really want any coffee at that moment. What’s happened is that I’ve confronted a little problem that’s got me kind of rattled. I can’t identify it. I don’t even know I’m rattled. I just don’t want to go on. A threshold’s come between me and the page, and I want to get out of there. I have a Mr. Coffee in the kitchen and, when I get to it, I find I also have a Mr. Refrigerator. There’s Mr. Kitchen Table, Mr. Newspaper, Mr. Big Long Couch, Mr. World Outside the Window, and honest to god, my career as a writer is over and I’m dead in the water. So I’ve learned to stay there…I’ve learned that the cup of coffee I fix afterwards is really good. Staying in the chair improves the quality of that beverage.”
    Ron Carlson, quoted in Glimmer Train Stories Writers Ask, issue 23

    Making It Good

    Figure Out What Your Charm is and Hone It.
    “Writing is about charm, about finding and accessing and honing ones’ particular charms.”
    George Saunders, “My Writing Education,The New Yorker.

    Give it A Rest.
    Stephen King advises writers to let their books rest for six weeks between drafts. “How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks…If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own…With six weeks’ worth of recuperation time, you’ll also be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development. And listen—if you spot a few of these big holes, you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us.”
    –Stephen King, On Writing


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