5 Reasons Why You Should Participate in Writer in Motion

Last year I participated in Writer in Motion and this year I’m working as a forum moderator. If you’ve never heard of Writer in Motion, I highly suggest first checking out their site followed by my Writer in Motion journey last year. The next round of Writer in Motion (WIM) is getting ready to open soon. Spots open for marginalized writers on June 25th, all writers on July 2nd, with the writing prompt (aka picture) released on July 9th. After that you have roughly a month to write a 1,000 word story based on the prompt documenting your journey from a rough first draft to a pretty finalized edited version. Along the way you get to know your fellow WIM participants, exchange beta reads, have an actual editor give feedback on your short story and be invited to a virtual taco party at the ending.

Okay, so you now have a brief overview of WIM, why you should you participate in it? Well…

1. Get Out of a Writing Slump

Last year WIM came at a time when I was making no progress on revisions. Like a lot of others, I experienced anxiety from COVID and didn’t feel like doing anything creative, let alone write. I spent my free time being addicted to Animal Crossing. But WIM forced me out of my funk. I had a set weekly schedule so I could start my self-edit to finish in time for the beta edit and editor edit. There’s really no consequences if you don’t, other than not being able to share your posts with the others, but having a schedule with a simple goal of getting through 1,000 words each work was more attainable than getting through a 100,000 story with no fixed timeline. It still took about a month after WIM to be able to throw myself back into revisions, but I did push through. It’s gone through a few more revisions and beta reads since then and I’m officially querying a year later.

If you at a similar point but your WIP seems too daunting, you don’t even know where to begin for a new WIP, or need to rediscover your love of writing, I’d suggest giving WIM a try. Start small, and build up your creativity and energy before tackling something big. Who knows, that 1,000 short story might turn into your next MS– several past WIM participants have gone on to turn their stories into full-fledged novels.

2. Try a New Genre

In my round there were several writers who tried out a different genre or POV, including myself. At the time I’d been writing fantasy for several years. In my initial brainstorming session after seeing the prompt picture for the first time, I jumped around between genres and tones. I’d thought I’d land on a more fantastical one but was drawn more to the little fluffy contemporary piece that reflected a certain point of my life. Writing something set in present day instead of a magical 18th century land was a shift, but it was also refreshing. A chance to flex my writing muscles.

If there’s ever been a genre you’ve wanted to write but didn’t have a full-fledged story idea or weren’t sure how, WIM is the perfect time to experiment. You only have to write a 1,000 word short story, not a long novel. Same goes if you want to try a new perspective. Curious about second-person? Tired of third-person past and ready for first-person present? This is the chance to break out of your comfort zone.

3. Challenge Yourself

It’s also a chance to challenge yourself if you’re an over-writer. The 1,000 word limit really only comes into play for the beta and editor feedback to keep it fair, so for your first draft and final you can go over. Personally I’d recommend trying to stay as close to that 1,000 word limit as possible. It forces you to make the most of every single word. Don’t say something in twenty words when you can say it in ten. Cut back on the info dumping and make sure the reader has the bare minimum information required to understand the story. Watch dialogue, make sure it’s natural for the character but isn’t too long-winded. Delete/replace overused words. All lessons that came in handy with my later revisions.

If you’re an underwriter it can be a different kind of challenge. Sure you can write something less than 1,000 and be fine, but why not flesh things out a bit and aim for the 1,000 word limit? Draw things for your protagonist, make them fight for the resolution. Delve a bit more into their backstory or really paint the scene. Crank up the tension and stakes.

4. Fight Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome basically means believing that everything your write is horrible and should never see the light of day when compared to other writers. In my experience it most commonly kicks in after getting into a writing slump, reading somebody else’s WIP, or having nothing but endless rejections/bad writing news. Because WIM involves chronicling the journey of initial idea to final, polished work you can follow along and see how those incredibly written stories that put yours to shame started out. While there might be a few great first drafts out there, the majority are messy. Run-on sentences, misspellings, grammar issues, pacing, inconstancies. Even the best works start out rough.

You also receive a variety of feedback on your writing be it from the WIM participants or an actual editor. You might think that what you wrote was mediocre, but then you read a lovely compliment about your writing. Maybe somebody pointed out some small detail you included on purpose and really love, or saw deeper meaning in a line that was a throw away (yes, you so meant that all along). Or just a few words of encouragement. It’s amazing how one comment can brighten your day or writing confidence.

5. Make Writing Friends

Finally, participating in WIM could lead to new friendships. If I could give my younger self writing advice it’d be, writing doesn’t have to be a solo journey. There are a variety of resources, groups, and Discord servers dedicated to helping writers on their journey. WIM is one of those resources. Last year there was a Twitter DM group for participants. You’ll be assigned partners to exchange stories with, and are free to interact/comment on one another’s edits each week.

If you’re new to the writing community, take advantage of the connections and meet new writing buddies. If you’re looking for a beta reader, in need of querying advice, or banging your head against the wall over a certain section, see if anybody is willing to help (there’s probably at least one).

You can keep to yourself and not engage with the other participants, and some do. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you don’t have to. And sometimes having writer friends can make the difference between whether or not you break out of that writing slump, feel confident at trying a new genre or challenging yourself, and fighting imposter syndrome.

Conclusion

There’s no monetary awards for participating in WIM or first place for best short story. That’s not WIM’s purpose. It’s purpose are some of the reasons laid out above. To bring writers together and show how much a piece of writing can change from initial concept to final result. If you’ve written less than a hundred words or more than a million, you can still get something out of it. Even if you don’t take the plunge yourself, you can always follow along with the participants. But you won’t know, unless you try. So go check it out: https://writerinmotion.com/

How to Reduce Your Word Count

I recently posted on lessons I learned while editing. I mentioned my biggest lessons revolved around reducing my word count, but it deserved a separate post, so here it is. But first, some background.

When I first started getting back into writing through fanfiction, I averaged around 1,000 – 2,000 words per chapter. My first attempt at NANOWRIMO I limped to 50,000 words, resorting to writing an Author’s Note to finish my word count. As I progressed with my writing, my chapters started to grow in length, to 5,000 and even 10,000 words. I didn’t think much of it. Some of my favorites fics can range from 20,000 – 40,000 words per update, and I eagerly devour every word. So as my own word counts began to balloon, I wasn’t too concerned.

Then I started to seriously consider publishing my current WIP. After doing some research I learned the average maximum word count for fantasy from new authors was 120,000 words. I wasn’t very far into editing my first draft, but quickly realized I had a problem. The chapters I had edited were ranging from 7,000 – 10,000 words a piece. At roughly thirty chapters, it could easily turn into 150,000 – 300,000 words by the time I was done. Therefore, some drastic changes were needed. Even after those drastic changes, my WIP was still over 10,000 words too long. But, after some hard work, I eventually got it to 118,400 words.Below are what I did for those drastic changes, and the smaller ones to get my word count to it’s current form.

Narrow Your Focus

This was one of the first things I did. I realized they story may have revolved around six characters, but there were really just two main characters, who each had their own two side characters. It was hard, but I cut quite a bit of length simply skipping over the side character’s point of views, and summing up their important developments in a few sentences. It sounds short and simple to do, but ended up leading to my next tip below.

Rebuild Your Foundation

This was the second thing I did. My first draft was organized into two parts– Part I taking place in one time period, with Part II in another. My initial concept was to open with the big final battle and then go backwards, showing what led up to it.

It was a fun concept, but wasn’t working. The pacing in Part II was just too slow. Besides narrowing my focus on two characters, I restructured the entire novel. Instead of going backwards, I went forward with the chapters. Instead of beginning in one time period only to end in another, I alternated the two periods every other chapter.

I can’t say for sure how many words I reduced due to this method, but I did reduce the number of chapters by around seven, and by combining it with narrowing my focus, I can say it improved my story for the better.

Trim the Fat

It wasn’t until I was editing did I realize how many unnecessary words and phrases I insert into my writing. The most common culprits are ‘had’, ‘that’, ‘so’, and ‘once again’.

For example, take the following example sentence:

So, she then suddenly realized that he had been lying to her the entire time that she knew him.

By removing the excess words it could read:

She suddenly realized he’d been lying to her the entire time she knew him.

By trimming the excess words, I went from nineteen words to fourteen words. Five words may not seem like a lot, but by multiplying those five words by at least ten instances per chapter over twenty-five chapters, that’s over a thousand words which can be deleted easily.

This can also work by rephrasing sentences, or simplifying run-on sentences. It may not solve all of your word count issues, but it’s a good start, and usually is a better reading experience for the reader. The last thing you want is to have readers quit because they can’t stand your complicated sentence structure.

Remember to KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid

This phrased popped up a lot in college and my day job, but also applies to writing.

It can be as simple as saying in a few dozen words what you were saying in a few hundred. Established authors might be able to get away with pages of prose and backstory on scale with Tolkien, but new ones not so much. If you’re like me and like to write pages on backstory and details, you’re going to have cut some out. Just keep enough to set the mood or explain what the reader needs to know for the plot, but otherwise keep it simple.

This also applies with the number of chapters or scenes you might have. Instead of having Character A go to Point X with Character B to discover something then back to Point Y, before returning to Point X, try to reduce the plot. Ask yourself, does it really need to be this complicated? Or can you get the same plot developments with a fewer number of scenes?

By remembering to keep things simple, I reduced my number of scenes and sentences, and further reduced my length.

Make Every Scene and Word Count

If you’re really attached to a scene or chapter, make it count. Show some character development that can’t be shown elsewhere, reveal an important plot detail, include foreshadowing, set up a future event. Ask yourself, why the scene or sentence is important and what it adds to the story? Can it be removed without the story losing anything important?

If you can’t come up with an answer to the first question, or the answer is no to the second, them delete it. As painful as it might be, if it’s not further serving your story or plot, then it should be removed.

It Can be a Painful Process…

Deleting parts of your story can be painful. Whether it’s the countless hours of backstory and world-building that’s now reduced to a single sentence, your favorite line of dialogue or character now gone, deleting parts of your story can suck.

If you’ve exhausted all other avenues and are still a few thousand words too high, you might have to resort to axing your favorite parts. When it comes to doing that, copy the parts into a different document so they’re not completely gone. You can always reread them later. Then remember, if your ultimate goal is to get published and the only way to do that is by reducing your word count, the pain will be worth it in the end.

…But It Can Also be Gratifying

One of my best days of editing was reducing a chapter which was close to 11,000 words originally, to under 5,000. The sections I deleted were unnecessary, wordy, and could have been added elsewhere. Being able to cut the chapter in half was a great feeling.

When I saw my final word count of 118,400, 1,600 words under 120,000 I felt ecstatic. All of my hard work paid off and made the countless worth it. My current draft has come a long way from its origins, and I’m proud of its current state.

That’s it for now. Let me know if you have your own tips to reduce length, or if any of these helped you out.

— Kay S. Beckett

How to Create Your Own Holiday

So, you’ve read my previous post about including a holiday in a novel, or are just looking for some general tips and guidance. Holidays can be a great way to add a subplot or aid your novel, but can be tricky, especially when your genre is fantasy, science fiction, dystopia, or an alternate world that doesn’t quite share the same history and traditions as our own.

Before I get too far, first a couple disclaimers. There is no right way to create a holiday, and these are nothing more than just tips. You by no means have to add a holiday to your novel, and unless it’s integral to your plot, shouldn’t rely too heavily on holidays either. The majority of the holidays I use as examples are American because that’s what I have the most experience with, but they are by no means the only holidays and festivals people around the world celebrate.

Change the Name

My first tip, is the most basic and widely used tip in fiction—literature, television shows,  movies, or games— I see it all the time. Instead of Valentine’s Day, it’s Lover’s Day and still has all the association and aspects of the day itself. Instead of Christmas, it’s Yule, Mid-Winter, etc… Different name, but similar origins and traditions.

Changing the name is perhaps the easiest thing to do, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Readers like familiarity. Sure your story may take place in a land far, far away with a different type of government, creatures, and history, but chances are there are similar aspects to our own. Gravity acts more or less the same, the day/night/week/year cycle is the same, and foreign cultures and values may be similar to our own as well. The likes of Star Wars, Doctor Who, and other fantasy/sci-fi lands do this all the time. Reading a novel or watching a show where everything is different can be intense, and not for the average casual audience member. By keeping some things similar, it’s easier for the audience to pay attention to the story and relate to the characters, and you don’t have to spend too much time detailing the holiday and traditions associated with it because the audience already is informed.

But, there may be instances where you need a new holiday or event specific to your plot that doesn’t have a counterpart in our world, or maybe just want to have something different. If that’s the case, there are some questions you should take into consideration when developing your own holiday.

How Much of a Role Does the Holiday Play in Your Plot?

This is the first question you should be asking because it will determine how much work you put into constructing the holiday. If the answer is not much, the holiday is just there in the background, then you can get away with the basics. If the answer is a great deal with a significant amount of your plot revolving around it, then you’ll have to spend quite a bit time and energy into creating it.

Of course, the answer could be not much, but you love world-building so much or have a great idea that you can’t pass up on the opportunity to go into as much detail as possible. That’s fine, but if that’s the case, you should then ask yourself, is it worth it? Could my time be better spent elsewhere in the world? Should I really be typing 10,000 words on a holiday that will only show up for a few hundred, at the most, in the novel? Or even maybe, include it in the first place?

The amount you put into your holiday is ultimately up to you, but just keep in mind the level of effort you should really be putting in vs. what you want to put in.

What does the Society Value?

This is the next question you should ask, because the answer could shape the reason for your holiday. A lot of our so-called modern holidays can be traced back to similar origins, mainly revolving around the changing of the seasons and astrological occurrences.

It’s not a coincidence that Stonehenge, and other prehistoric sites around the world have special significance for certain events such as the winter or summer solstices. These monuments marked the changing of the seasons, which were important to know for one reason— food. Knowing when to plant, when to harvest, the start of the rainy season, how long it would last, was crucial to survival. There was no store to go to, no government bail-out if the crops did poorly. There was also no Google Calendar for them to keep track of the days and seasons by, so they made their own. 

Besides food and health, other values for society include religion, the government/military, societal values. Many holidays have a religious connection (Christmas, Easter, Passover, Ramadan), some of which comes back to giving thanks for the food/seasons. Others have a military/government angle (Fourth of July, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day). If your society values their military or government leaders, a holiday could be to celebrate/honor/remember them or an important historic event.

Then there are societal values which could be unique to your world. Think of festivals or holidays that are held locally in your area, but not nationally (Sweet Corn Festival, Bacon Days). Or if your society strongly values family, you could have holidays revolving around family (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day).

Also, holidays don’t have to be happy, joyous occasions. They can be solemn days of remembrance (Pearl Harbor Day, Patriot’s Day). A somber event could be the perfect way to set the mood for a darker-toned story (think the reaping in Hunger Games), or a great way to have a contrast against an otherwise light story.

Who Celebrates it?

Not everybody celebrates the same holiday, or even the same way. Holidays and festivals can vary by region. The Fourth of July may be big in America, but for the rest of the world, it’s just another day of the year. Your hometown might have a Bacon Day Festival every year, but it’s not celebrated elsewhere.

Holidays can also vary by religion. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, all have unique holidays and festival. Some might overlap at the same time of the year or origin, but they’re still observed differently. Then there are those who might be surrounded by a religion different than their own, or are atheists and don’t participate in religious holidays period. 

They can also vary by social class. Depending on wealth, the elite of your society might celebrate an event, where as the lower class might either dread it or skip it (Think how District 12 reacts to the Hunger Games vs. the Capital. Also this should be the last Hunger Games reference). The same could work vice versa. The lower class might celebrate an event while the elite think it’s too crass, or beneath them.

Humans are a diverse group, and should be represented as such in your story.

Where/when is it Celebrated?

We tend to think of holidays of annual events, but that’s not always the case. Inauguration Day in America is once only four years. Some events, such as those revolving around the changing of the seasons could be held multiple times a year as the season change.

Practices can also vary by time of day. Muslims observing Ramadan spend a month fasting from dawn to dusk, while having post-sundown feasts. While your holiday doesn’t have to follow the same practice as Ramadan, varying how your holiday is observed based on the time of day— and explaining why— could be an interesting read for your audience.

Where your novel takes place matters as well. If you story takes place in a desert, it might be hard for your characters to get their hands on an evergreen if they’re observing a Christmas inspired holiday. If your story takes place on an island or near the ocean, then your characters might celebrate with some special fish dish rather than a plump turkey or glazed ham.

How is it Celebrated?

Once you get the when/where/why/who down, it’s time to figure out the how. How can vary depending on who’s celebrating the event (children vs. adults, poor vs. wealthy, believers vs. non), where the holiday is (desert vs. mountain, nationally observed vs. small town), and when it is (spring vs. winter, modern times vs. ancient).

Things to keep in mind include:

  • Food
    • Take a minute and think about every holiday you’ve ever been a part of, and chances are, food was involved. Whether it was candy and sweets, classic dishes such as turkey and pumpkin for Thanksgiving, or the one dish your mother made without fail, food was most likely involved as part of the holiday, and your fictional holiday should as well. Now, it could be a food common to the time of year (pumpkin and squash in the fall), or something rare that’s only brought out once a year (be it a food, or the good china set to serve it on). Don’t forget about drinks, be it apple cider or hot chocolate in the fall and winter, or a nice frothy pint for St. Patrick’s Day. Food has been a huge part of holidays and festivals for centuries, so why should yours be any different?
  • Clothing
    • It’s not uncommon to have clothing unique to a holiday. Whether it’d be a family’s best and cleanest clothes, or a specific outfit. For Saint Lucy’s Day, girls traditionally wear white dresses with red sashes and a crown of candles on their head, which has special meaning for the day. While you don’t have to be that elaborate, think about what your characters would wear to celebrate. Remember where your story takes place and when the holiday occurs for influences from temperature, climate, what materials your characters might have access to. Social and economic background could effect their dress as well (a dress in the finest material in the latest fashion for a wealthy woman, vs. a second-hand dress for a woman not as well-off).
  • Decorations
    • Whether it’s skulls for Día de Muertos, mistletoe and evergreens for Christmas, or hearts for Valentine’s Day, decorations can play a huge role in celebrating your holiday. They can be large, like a Christmas tree, or small like a simple string of garland. Flowers and other natural materials are a good start, as are other materials your society easily has access to based on where they live or social class. Or they might save the rare flower or item for a special day that occurs only once a year.
  • Colors
    • Valentine’s Day has pink and red, Halloween has orange and black, Fourth of July has red, white, and blue. Colors can show up in clothing, decorations, and food, as discussed previously. They might reflect the time of the year—Halloween/Thanksgiving has colors reflecting the changing leaves while Easter has brighter colors associated with blooming flowers. Or they might reflect colors important to your country, if the holiday has a government or military significance (think red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July). 
  • Oral Traditions
    • Depending on the holiday, and where one lives, different types of greetings can be used (Merry Christmas vs. Happy Christmas). What do people in you society say to one another on the holiday? In addition, what type of stories or legends are told for your holiday? Are they origin stories such as the birth of Jesus for Christmas, or tales associated with the time of year such as A Christmas Carol for Christmas, or ghost/horror stories for Halloween. While they can be written down, typically such tales are best if they’re shared aloud, be it in a religious setting explaining the origins, or among family and friends for entertainment or setting the mood.
  • Gifts (if applicable)
    • Gift-giving is a common aspect of holidays, but not required. If you do include it as part of your holiday, you should consider who receives gifts and who gives them? Are they given just to children or maybe to parents (Mother’s/Father’s Day). Are they exchanged between lovers (Valentine’s Day) or between office workers (Boss Appreciation Day). What is typically given? Do gifts vary by location, cost, size? Are gifts required, or simply an appreciated gesture? How are they presented (wrapped vs. plain, all at once vs. one at a time)? What happens if a person receives a gift but has none to give in return? Is there a charitable aspect of your holiday where those who are well-off give to those in need? How does that work? These are just some of the questions you might consider when incorporating gift-giving into your holiday.
  • Music/Dancing
    • What would Christmas be without carols, or the Fourth of July without a band playing patriotic music? Holiday music can be loud and celebratory, or soft and gentle, or even somber. And what would music be without dancing to go with it? Be it a slow dance between lovers, or a group dance to an upbeat tune, music and dancing go hand and hand, and are a great way to celebrate a holiday. Nearly anything can be made into some sort of an instrument, and the same goes for dancing. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, old or young, live in a desert or on a mountain, both are readily available.

That’s it for this month. As previously stated this is by no means the ultimate guide on how to craft your own holiday, but hopefully it’s enough to get those creative juices flowing.

If this was helpful, you have a few suggestions of your own, or just some different topics you want to see me cover, leave me a comment.

—Kay S. Beckett

Why You Should Include a Holiday in Your Novel

December is here, which means spiced pumpkin flavored goods have been exchanged for hot cocoa and peppermint. The days are growing shorter and darker, and traffic is becoming more chaotic as everyone tries to squeeze in their last minute holiday shopping. As crazy as it may be at times, December is also a time for family, friends, to say goodbye to the old year and hello to a new, and hopefully better year.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, no holiday, or a different one completely, if you’re having plot issues with your novel you should consider adding a holiday to it. You can go beyond the traditional holidays found in December, writing about Easter, Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, April Fool’s Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, or whatever holiday is close to either you or the characters in your novel. Below are a list of some of the reasons why you should include a holiday, and how you can incorporate into your story.

Holidays Can Provide Background on the World

If you’re writing a fantasy or science fiction novel, than odds are you’ve had to do some serious world-building. You need to convey certain information to the reader so they can better understand the world and plot, but have to do so in a way that avoids having large amounts of exposition or info dumping. Holidays provide a great way to do that.

No matter the holiday, certain traditions are always involved or associated with that holiday. Things like food, colors, symbols, activities, and even religious practices. By showing how the characters observe a holiday, a reader can learn more about their culture, beliefs, value system, and even more about the character themselves. Character A could be really excited about the holiday, while Character B doesn’t really care— and they might have their own reasons, which could be foreshadowing a bigger event.

Think of the Hunger Games which opens with the reaping. It might not be a holiday by our normal definition, but it is an annual event that is observed by everybody in Panem, with major implications. By reading about how Katniss goes about her day and what happens during the reaping, the reader learns about the world’s history and what’s at stake for the characters without it being a complete info dump.

Holidays Can Help With Character Growth

Usually people spend holidays with family, sometimes only seeing them at a certain holiday which can lead to interesting situations and reveals. How a person relates to their family, whether they’re close and looking eager to the reunion or wants to avoid it, can be interesting subplots to explore, and possibly explain a character’s actions so far, or foreshadow how they’ll react to future events.

They could also stumble upon some long hidden family secret or receive a gift that will come in handy later (think Hagrid’s flute or Harry’s invisibility cloak, both of which were received as Christmas presents).

Or maybe their lack of celebrating or returning home can be an opportunity for growth as well. Maybe it’s revealed that they have no family (by situation or choice) to celebrate with, so they either stick to themselves or spend time with friends, who they consider family. Perhaps they got stuck working, or just don’t celebrate the holiday period. Holidays don’t have to be spent in the traditional way, and could still serve as an opportunity for growth.

Holidays Can Kick Off the Plot

If you’re having trouble figuring out how to start your novel, consider adding a holiday. The beginning could be a catalyst for events, or just serve as a background for the rest of the novel. Character A could be expecting a fancy meal or engagement on Valentine’s Day, only to break-up and start on a journey of self-discovery. Character B could return home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, only thanks to a drunken relative discover they’re not really family at all, or an equally unknown, but devastating family secret.

This could also double up with the world-building example. When does the reaping first appear in the Hunger Games? Towards the beginning, not only providing readers with context and background knowledge on the world, but kicking off the plot as well.

Holidays Can Provide a Lull

Sometimes after a big reveal or action scene you need a breather and holidays can certainly provide that. They’re typically times of relaxation, spent in locations where one feels safe and with people one loves. If a character has just gone through some major change or action, they might need a break (as well as the reader) from the plot and having a holiday is a natural excuse for doing just that.

Of course, you could always pull a bait and switch. Just as your characters and the readers think things are calming down, BAM! Unexpected twist or action. Dear old sweet granny isn’t as sweet as you think, or just when your characters think they’re safe, the plot shows up at the front door, not even bothering to knock politely, but kicking it down instead.

Holidays Can Set Up the Climax

The novel could also be working or leading to a major event as well, which also doubles as a backdrop for the climax. Throughout the novel, preparations have begun, decorations must be bought or put up, but it’s in the background and seems minor. Then as the plot begins to accelerate, the holiday suddenly takes center stage. Some holidays involve large public gatherings (parades, New Year Eve Countdown, Easter and Christmas mass) which would be the perfect target for an evil doer up to no good, and the heroes must stop them and save the event. Or perhaps they’re using the event as a distraction for their true plot, using a mob of people as the perfect getaway, or Santa’s sack to make off with their ill-gotten goods.

You can make it obvious that the big holiday or festival event is the setting of your big climax, or try your best to conceal your plot (but don’t forget to include a few bits of foreshadowing so it won’t seem like it’s coming out of nowhere). Either way, using a holiday as your climax could be an interesting ending for your novel.

That’s all for now, stay tuned for my next post which will focus on creating your own holiday for a fantasy or science fiction story.

— Kay S. Beckett

NaNoWriMo: Tips and Tricks to Reach 50,000 Words (And Beyond!)

Okay, so not only have you decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, you have yourself a plot, and are counting down the days to get started.

Or maybe not. Maybe the idea of writing 50,000 words — a word goal of 1,667 words per day— seems impossible and you’re starting to second guess the whole writing a novel in a month thing.

As a three-time NaNo winner, with a word count of over 100,000 last year, I’m here to share with you all the tips and tricks I know — and wished I had known when I first started doing NaNo— to get you to 50,000 words and beyond.

1. Be Honest About Your Free Time

This is probably the first thing you should think about when considering NaNo. It’s understandable that you might have a busy life— a full-time job, significant other, family obligations— and wonder how you can even find the time to write. It is possible to find time— getting up early in the morning, using your lunch hour at work, and setting aside some time at night.

But sometimes life can be just too busy to do NaNo. In 2016 I didn’t participate in NaNo because I knew I’d be spending a week at Disney. Having gone before, I knew that I would have been too exhausted after getting back to the hotel to write, and giving all the planning I put into Disney— reading reviews, creating schedules for each day to maximize efficiency and avoid crowds, planning what to take— I knew that I didn’t even have time to plan for NaNo, which is essential for me finishing NaNo. As a result I didn’t sign up for it that year.

Now you don’t have to go to Disney in November like me— though it certainly beats visiting in the summer— but if you know that you have something big in November that realistically would make it too hard to find the time, don’t feel bad about taking a step back. You could always do your own NaNo in December, or participate in a Camp NaNo in either April or July.

2. Outline, Outline, Outline

If you’re new to the NaNo community, you might see terms like ‘planner’ and ‘pantser’ being used a lot. If you’re a planner, you’re a writer who needs a plan or outline in order to write. If you’re a pantser, then you can ‘fly by the seat of your pants’, or write as you go, with no overarching plan in mind.

If you’re a pantser, then you have my congratulations for I’m definitely a planner. In my younger years, I tried writing novels and never got very far because I didn’t outline my story. Perhaps one of the biggest things I’ve taken away from writing fanfiction, is that if I want to finish a story, I need to know how it ends and have a plan.

Some writers use note cards and plan out every single scene and story beat. You don’t have to go that far, but I certainly recommend having an idea of how you want your story to begin, how you want it to end, and how you get from the beginning to the ending. What key scenes must be included to set up and the conflict and resolution? Where should your main characters be and what do they need to know/do in order for your story to come to a satisfying conclusion?

Think of writing a novel like driving somewhere new. You typically start driving with a destination already in mind and need some sort of guide— a map, GPS, your phone— to get you there. You’re free to take bathroom breaks and detours along the way, but ultimately you’ll return to the main path in order to get to your destination.

Outlining/planning your story is very similar. While writing a subplot or new idea might pop into your head, and your ending might change from what you originally had in mind, by having an outline you stand a better chance of reaching your end goal.

3. The Very Beginning… Isn’t Always the Best Place to Start

Sadly this is a trick I didn’t learn until last year. When you read a book, you start at the beginning and continue straight through to the end (unless you’re doing a Choose Your Own Adventure book). That doesn’t mean you have to do the same when you write one.

If you’re not very excited about your beginning, or not quite sure about the details, then don’t start at the beginning. Is there a certain part you’re really looking forward to? Maybe an action scene, a villain’s grand reveal, or a long overdue reunion between characters? Then start there. Start at the point in your novel that you’re most excited to write to guarantee you’ll actually write it. If simply getting to that point in your novel is a struggle, then you probably won’t get that far along into your 50,000 words.

4. Don’t Stick to the 1,667 Word Count Goal Per Day

50,000 words may average out to writing 1,667 words a day, but that doesn’t mean you actually have to write that many a day.

The bad thing about November is that it only has 30 days in it. The good thing is that it comes with a couple of bonuses— at least for Americans, I can’t say the same for international writers. In November, Americans gain an extra hour on a Sunday— which could be used for writing. There’s also Veteran’s Day— which most Americans get off work— and Thanksgiving and the Friday after if you’re lucky enough.

I typically take advantage of those extra days off, along with the weekend to ‘stock up’ on words. Instead of 1,667 words, I’ll write anywhere from 5,000 – 10,000 words on those days. This gets me ahead of the NaNo writing goal and prepares me for when life throws me an unforeseen curve ball such as a cold or illness (since it is that time of the year) or suddenly having to go out of town for a family emergency, which happened to me last year.

By writing more on some days, you’re allowing yourself more free-time on others and ensuring you won’t be scrambling to finish 50,000 words at the end of the month.

5. Use Placeholders

So you’re busy writing and suddenly realize, you don’t have a name for the parents of your main character’s best friend. Or you have no idea for a name of the restaurant your characters are suddenly eating at or that country right next door that is rather important to the plot.

Rather than take a break from a good writing streak to try to come up with a name, use a place holder such as DADNAME or RESTAURANTNAME, or even ASDF. Then when you go back to edit like a good little writer, you’ll see that you still need names and actually have the time to do so. I put place holders in all caps so they’ll pop out more when I’m editing, and I know I have to change the name versus actually belonging in the story.

6. Focus on Quantity, Not Quality

This is another tip that took me a while to learn.

One of the hardest parts of writing, is fighting the urge to not go back and fix all your errors. The red squiggly lines under misspelled words, run-on sentences, incorrect grammar, or the perfect line for that sentence on the last page. The time to deal with all of those is after NaNo when you’re editing, which is another post entirely. The word validator on the site doesn’t care about all your errors, it only cares about how many words you’ve written.

If you find errors are too distracting, simply close your eyes while you type— assuming you don’t need to look at the keys when you type. I find closing my eyes also makes it easier to concentrate on my story as well, one more way to add to my word count.

7. The Word Vomit Method

This is the method that managed to get me to over 100,000 words last year, and is closely related to the above tip about quantity over quality.

Basically I would close my eyes, and type as the words came to me. As I started typing I wouldn’t worry about grammar, spelling or punctuation, I would just type. If a scene was emotional, I might go into what the character was feeling and thinking, and why in order to get more insight into their personality. Sometimes I would realize that a character’s action or dialogue wasn’t working, or contradicted an earlier point. Rather than going back and correcting it, I’d simply type something like, ‘this doesn’t make sense, why??’. I’d also type whatever random idea suddenly popped into my head that may relate to the world and mythos, ideas for earlier scenes that need to be included, or ideas for later ones that I haven’t gotten to yet.

The downside with using this method is that your novel will require a lot of editing to make your word vomit into something legible. Last year I had so many typos, Word gave me a message stating it could no longer display all of the red lines for typos, which I didn’t even know was possible.

But remember, NaNo is all about quantity over quality, and this will definitely get you a high word count.

8. Take A Break (Screw Your Courage to the Sticking Place)

It can be very easy to get so caught up in trying to reach your daily word count or making up for lost time, that you spend all your free-time writing.

Which can be a bad thing. It can be really easy to get burned out when you’re writing all the time, or start losing interest in your novel. It’s important to remember it’s okay to take a break from writing and do something else be it simply vegging out, spending time with friends and family, or doing a different fun activity or hobby.

Every November it seems like Nintendo is releasing some new Pokémon game and I may or may not have a copy of Let’s Go Eevee! pre-ordered. During weekdays I’ll write on my lunch break and finish up a little at home, but at night I’ll spend time with my SO and de-stress.

This is important for several reasons. The first is to remember it’s okay to have a life outside of writing, and your family and friends do like to have some interaction with you that doesn’t involve having your face looking at a screen. Also, sometimes you might hit a wall in your writing, not knowing how to end a scene or coming across a plot hole. In those cases simple taking a break and doing something else can be useful. You might suddenly come up with a solution while doing your laundry, or watching a TV. Or you might return to writing the next day with ease and wonder what the big deal was about.

9. Quick Cheats

These are the tips that can add a few more words to your word count if you’re really desperate. Write out your contractions— do not vs. don’t.  Refer to your characters by first and last name all the time and give them extra long names if possible (Robert John Williams Jr.). For more, check out the thread on the NaNo website.

Those are all my tips and tricks. Hopefully some will be useful on your NaNo journey. Did you find them useful? Have some of your own? Let me know in a comment.

During November, I’ll be blogging my NaNo progress. It won’t be everyday, but as I reach certain milestones I’ll write a short post on my progress.

— Kay S. Beckett