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Plotting for NaNoWriMo & Winners

Do you jump right in?

I’ve always thought of myself as a pantser, despite the fact that my left brain generally rules all other areas of my life. So I was surprised to find potential scene lists for my first two manuscripts while flipping through old notebooks the other day.

Apparently I did more planning in the early days than I remember.

I’ve made several attempts at becoming a planner/outliner, and my best-written book to date was borne of a rough outline and the 30 days of literary abandon known as NaNoWriMo. Yet I still resist moving into the outlining camp.

It’s probably a patience thing. I’m always eager to jump right in when a story is pulling at me. But then several months later I’m floundering, usually after hitting the midpoint and realizing the conflict isn’t strong enough, or that I’ve written myself into a corner.

Which brings me back to the need for a better outline. And I’m starting to think I may have been doing it wrong. Or rather, that I wasn’t patient enough to do it right.

Or do you plot your course first?

With NaNo again looming, I recently picked up K.M. Weiland’s book Outline Your Novel. And instead of answering the exercises with “I kind of have an idea of what should happen there, but I'm not ready to commit”, I forced myself to brainstorm actual answers.

And guess what? Some of the ideas I came up with are awesome (if I do say so myself). Even something as simple as coming up with a premise sentence brought an epiphany on how to raise the stakes.

I’m even more excited to write the book than I was before. And with a decent outline to follow, I won’t get stuck wondering what comes next when I finish a scene.

I don’t see myself writing 80-page outlines any time soon, and the pantser in me still gets the freedom to change the storyline if a better idea comes along, but if this goes well, I may just be a convert. Again.



Thanks to everyone who participated in my blog’s birthday celebration! Here are the winners (chosen by

– Signed copy of Scrivener For Dummies: Dave

– Free Scrivener online class enrollment for 2013: Beth K.


Photo credits:
Cliff jumping: By Rafi B. from Somewhere in Texas 🙂 (Flickr) CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Charting a course: By U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Eboni C. Cameron (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Scrivener’s best for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is coming! Worried about how you can reach your 50K words? Scrivener can’t do the writing for you, but it can certainly make the job easier.

Here are some of Scrivener's best features to help keep you on track when you’re burning up the keyboard.

Stay on Track

Staying on track for NaNo is not easy, but keeping track of your progress is a cinch if you use Project Targets.

You know you need 50,000 words, 1667 per day if you write all 30 days. Set up your overall word count goal, and then a session goal for each time you sit down to write. The colorful progress bars will show you how you’re doing.

Mac users can use the Deadline setting under Options to calculate the session target automatically based on the days you plan to work. And when you're done, you can tweet your results right from the Project Targets window by clicking the blue bird!

For more on Project Targets, check out this post.

Enter Your Den of Zen

If you’re like me, you write better without distractions. Scrivener has you covered with Composition Mode (Mac)/Full Screen Mode (Windows).

You can change your background color to whatever gets your creative juices flowing and block out everything else. Mac users can even change the background to an image.

Learn more here.

Don’t Slow Down

Haven’t figured out that line of snappy dialogue? Need a fact, but don’t want to stop your momentum to research it? Insert an annotation and get back to work.

Annotations are colored bubbles of text that you insert directly into your writing. They’re easy-to-spot reminders that something needs fixed, but later, after NaNo. And when you’re ready to make the changes, they’re simple to find again.

Click here to learn more about annotations.

Also, consider creating a Change Log or Ideas Log document in the Binder to store ideas for earlier scenes, or those that might come later in the manuscript. You can jot down an idea when inspiration hits, and then get back to writing. When NaNo is over, your ideas will all be waiting.

Info at a Glance

Need quick access to your character’s names and/or basic info? Or your descriptions of locations? Or a reminder of what special power each character has?

Whatever it is, in addition to storing a complete document in the Binder, you can put an abbreviated list in the Project Notes section of the Inspector panel. Not only does this make it available without leaving the document you’re working on (or using split screen), but you can view the Project Notes pane from Composition/Full Screen view.

Easy Access

Don’t forget to import your must-have research, notes, references, and images before you get started. By storing key items within Scrivener, you won’t have to waste time hunting them down when you’re in a crunch.

Remember to breathe, relax, and have fun. Even if you don’t reach 50K, you’ll come out knowing you gave it your best shot, and you’ll likely have more words than you otherwise would have.

Good luck!

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

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Getting psyched for NaNoWriMo

Next month I’m doing the crazy thing I always do in November: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). And this year I’m going for the hat trick, win number three.

Why do I torture myself like this? So glad you asked.

1. I’m competitive by nature, so once I’ve decided to do it, I won’t quit until I reach my 50,000 words.

2. Writing under the pressure of a deadline forces me to turn off my internal editor and just write. I really, really need that.

3. It gives me the excuse to ignore distractions and focus on my writing. And it helps that so many of my friends are doing the same thing.

4. It’s inspiring. I love pushing my limits, and always come out of the month with a fresh sense of what I can accomplish.

Yes, November is one of the worst months anyone could choose (is the founder from Canada or something?).

Yes, I'll be writing a pile of crap (but Anne Lamott would approve).

Yes, for 30 days I'll ignore my family, turn down social engagements, forget to shower, let the dog fend for herself, run out of clean clothes, and make frozen dinners every night (okay, I might make a decent dinner once or twice).

But at the end I come out with 50K shiny new words and the feeling that I can do anything I set my mind to. Even if it only happens once a year, that’s priceless.

How about it? Are you up for the NaNo challenge this year?

NaNoWriMo Is OvEr

NaNoWriMo is over! And I did it!! Some people wonder why I torture myself, ignore my family, shun the dog, let my house go to hell—well, more than it already is—and s-t-r-e-s-s for 30 days just to get some extra words down.

Why? Because the things I learn about myself are priceless.

  • I can actually write 3500 words in a day, over multiple days, and it’s not all complete doo doo. I can even write 47000 words in 21 days (I got a late start this year). Which all means that someday when I’m getting paid tens of dollars to do this, I will be able to meet my deadline.
  • I can carve out 3-5 hours a day to write if I have a reason to.
  • I have the discipline required to put off email, Twitter, blogging, reading, television, and laundry (oh wait, that I was supposed to do) in order to meet my goal. Now I just need to keep it going.
  • I like writing! Despite the plot struggles and fights with my internal editor, when I sit down and write every day, the story ideas and improvements start flowing even when I’m not writing. My change log is almost 900 words all on its own, mostly from things I thought of while driving, or coming off a nap.
  • I’m competitive. I like to win. So putting the goal out there taps into my sense of pride and helps me make the push to meet it. With that in mind, my new goal is to finish the first draft of the manuscript by January 15th. I expect you to hold me to it.

And, of course, there’s nothing better than finishing out a month with 50,000 new words—half a book—done!

What have you learned about yourself from a tough goal that you met? Or didn’t.


The end is in sight

I'm less than 3000 words from my NaNoWriMo goal and racing to finish, so I'll keep today's post brief. Let me know how you're doing. Are you one of the super-motivated who's already done, or are you cutting it down to the wire like me?

By the way, if you get a chance, check out my new group blog: Kiss and Thrill. It's nine romantic suspense writers exploring our favorite genre each Tuesday. If you're a fan of thriller writer Allison Brennan, you'll want to head over and check out today's interview with this bestselling author.

I hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving. Whatever you're working on this week, good luck!

Photo credit: MECHANICAL SPORT © Fouquin Christophe |

The check phase

After only getting in about 9000 words during the first half of November (way off the 25K needed to stay on track for NaNoWriMo), I decided to reevaluate my writing habits. The check phase of my own personal Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle for continuous improvement.

Sure, I have excuses. I scheduled too many things, got thrown off—and helped—by the Michael Hauge workshop, was struggling with my storyline, couldn’t deal with the early mornings forced by my kids’ swim schedule.

But in the end, regardless of all my reasons, I wasn’t putting in the required amount of time needed to get down the words.

So what was really getting in my way? The usual suspects: email, Facebook, blog reading, Twitter.

I have this desire to start my day by clearing my Inbox and getting all distractions “out of the way”. But you know what happens when I do that? By the time I’m done—often hours later, despite thinking it’ll be much less—I don’t have the productive energy left to write.

After spending half the morning online, I’ve used up all my mental enthusiasm on activities that don’t produce words.

This wasn’t really news to me. Or probably to you for that matter. I reassess every few months, and it’s always the same thing. The hard part is getting over that feeling that I need to respond to emails right away. That blog comments should be acknowledged as soon as I see them. That if I don’t answer Twitter mentions or respond to Facebook comments someone will actually care.

But, wow, I’m just not that important in the scheme of other people’s lives. That’s not a statement of low self-esteem, it’s an affirmation that my priorities should come first.

So, this week I changed things. I now start the morning with writing.

I let my gym membership expire since I have equipment at home, so now while my boys swim, I write. I can get in 600-1000 words before 6:15 in the morning! That’s a good feeling, and gets me in the mood to keep going.

Then I keep writing through the morning until I meet my word count goal. If I hit lunch before my word count, I let myself take a break, just like I did when I worked full time. Eat, read a good book, maybe watch a quick TV show, but most important, stay off the computer.

And then, go back to work.

Only when I’ve met my goal do I get online, write my blog, or work on other responsibilities. Just like if I were still working outside the house. I need to remember that paid or not, writing is now my job. I have to treat it as such. Only I can make it happen.

Simple, but not always easy.

So, is it working?

On Tuesday I wrote for almost five hours and got in 3500 words. Yesterday in just over three hours I did about 2700. Hard to argue with numbers like that.

Will it work every day? Probably not, but it’s a good start.

How about you? How are you doing with your goals?