Finding Inspiration In The Company of a Roomful of Aspiring Authors for NaNoWriMo
And a few novel writing tips!
Last week I had the opportunity to help present a program titled, “Building your Writer’s Tool Box,” with fellow authors Elizabeth Harmon and Caryl Dierksen. The idea was to give inspiration to writers along with some tips on how to write a complete novel in a month as they gear up along with thousands of other writers who will attempt to write a complete novel in November: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.)
I have to say, though, that I was the one inspired by the forty or so aspiring novelists gathered for the presentation. There is something so soul soothing about being in a room full of people who get what you do and why you do it. Seeing all those eager faces, pens poised ready to take notes, excited to get started, I could almost feel my brain and heart give a huge sigh, just before all those creative synapses started firing again as if I’d had a triple mocha latte. These people understand what it means when characters are talking in your head, wake you up in the middle of the night as you try to reconcile an argument they’ve had, insist on turning your story in one direction when you had planned on them doing something completely different. They also understand the need to write, the urge to create, despite any obstacles that might be tossed your way.
The feeling was similar to when I walked into my first meeting of Chicago North RWA, the local chapter of Romance Writers of America, almost twenty years ago. Yes, I had taken creative writing courses in college, but this was different. These were authors, most who had completed at least one book, many already published, some multiple published, who did what I did. Who understood. Who were willing to share their expertise, their ideas, and critiques all in the purpose of promoting the craft. I felt I had come home.
I’m guessing many of those in attendance in the library room last week felt the same way I did when I walked into that RWA chapter meeting all those years ago. Hopefully, our presentation inspired many to not only begin their novels, but to complete them. Perhaps one of them will even produce the next great American novel.
So, what were my tips for putting in a writer’s toolbox?
I can only go by my own experience and what works for me. Because I write suspense novels, I like to have a road map before I begin. My novels usually start with a main idea, the “What the heck happened?” premise, although sometimes they start with a character and I build the main idea around him/her. At that point, I begin to put together a notebook with tabs for the main characters, the characters’ objectives, the obstacles or conflicts they may face, and any scenes that pop into my head as I think about what the novel will be.
Then I do a lot of brainstorming. Often I will already have an idea for the beginning and the end of the story. Now I think about the middle and what obstacles the main characters must overcome to get from point A to point B.
Next, I do a character grid. This lists what each main character thinks about the other characters, and what he/she wants from the other characters. (An invaluable tip gleaned from another author.) This helps me get to know my characters.
Finally, I do a plot grid. This is where I list the objectives of the main characters for each act of the novel: I, II, and III. I fill in the beginning, the end, and the midpoint of the novel. Then I start filling in the major events in each act as I envision them, along with the turning points at the end of each act which take my characters from one act into the other, the novel’s darkest moment, where all seems lost, and the resolution. The gird is not a chapter by chapter grid by any means. I only hit on the main points here which leaves a lot of room for creativity as I write the book.
I find all this pre-writing quite exhilarating. It is a time when my creativity is given free reign to explore the novel’s possibilities. It is also a time when the novel is glowing with perfection, before the actual writing begins and the real work starts. Once I have my plot grid in front of me, I feel I have my road map and I’m ready to hit the pavement running as I open a new manuscript on my PC.
Thus far, this has been a very successful method for me. However, one of the most important tips I would give an author embarking on his or her novel, is that whatever your method, once you start writing, keep writing, no matter what. And don’t wait for the muse to strike each day. If the words aren’t coming, just begin by writing something, even if you think it’s nothing. You will be surprised how quickly nothing can turn into something.
And the most important tip? Find other authors to hang out with—people who understand what you do and why you do it. You may find that is the best inspiration you can get—ever!
For those interested in writing the novel that is inside them during NaNoWriMo, registration, rules, and tools are available at www.nanowrimo.org.
So until next time,