Sunday, September 30, 2012

October is Nanowrimo PREP month!

Oh my God, October tomorrow, how did that happen? (Did you see the Huntress Moon last night? Still huge this morning...)

So do you remember what October is? Yes, right, Halloween.  But it's also the month before Nanowrimo, which means it's Nanowrimo PREP month.

(This is actually the one thing I hate about Nano - why did it have to be in November so if I do a novel prep series it has to be in October, the busiest month of the year for me and all my, you know, supernatural thrillers?)

But that's okay, I'm psyched anyway. Fall is my favorite season. Maybe it’s that Halloween thing, maybe it’s the “back to school” energy, maybe it’s the Santa Ana winds (that were so much a part of my life growing up in Southern California that I made them a character in The Space Between), maybe it’s just that you get a jolt of ambition because it gets cooler and your brain returns to some functional temperature.

Because it’s sort of ingrained in us (whether we like it or not), that fall is the beginning of a new school year, I think fall is a good time for making resolutions. Like, if you're an author, about that new book you’re going to be writing for the next year or so.

I’m sure many if not most here are aware that November is Nanowrimo – National Novel Writing Month. As explained at the official site here, and here and here, the goal of Nanowrimo is to bash through 50,000 words of a novel in a single month.

I could not be more supportive of this idea – it gives focus and a nice juicy competitive edge to an endeavor that can seem completely overwhelming when you’re facing it all on your own. Through peer pressure and the truly national focus on the event, Nanowrimo forces people to commit. It’s easy to get caught up in and carried along by the writing frenzy of tens of thousands – or maybe by now hundreds of thousands - of “Wrimos”. And I’ve met and heard of lots of novelists, like Carrie Ryan (The Forest of Hands and Teeth) Sara Gruen (Water For Elephants), and Lisa Daily (The Dreamgirl Academy) who started novels during Nanowrimo that went on to sell, sometimes sell big.

Nanowrimo works.

But as everyone who reads this blog knows, I’m not a big fan of sitting down and typing Chapter One at the top of a blank screen and seeing what comes out from there. It may be fine – but it may be a disaster, or something even worse than a disaster – an unfinished book. And it doesn’t have to be.

I’m always asked to do Nanowrimo “pep talks”. These are always in the month of November.

That makes no sense to me.

I mean, I’m happy to do it, but mid-November is way too late for that kind of thing. What people should be asking me, and other authors that they ask to do Nano support, is Nano PREP talks.

If you’re going to put a month aside to write 50,000 words, doesn’t it make a little more sense to have worked out the outline, or at least an overall roadmap, before November 1? I am pretty positive that in most cases far more writing, and far more professional writing, would get done in November if Wrimos took the month of October – at LEAST - to really think out some things about their story and characters, and where the whole book is going. It wouldn’t have to be the full-tilt-every-day frenzy that November will be, but even a half hour per day in October, even fifteen minutes a day, thinking about what you really want to be writing would do your potential novel worlds of good.

Because even if you never look at that prep work again, your brilliant subconscious mind will have been working on it for you for a whole month. Let’s face it – we don’t do this mystical thing called writing all by ourselves, now, do we?

So once again, I'm going to do a Nano prep series and hopefully get some people not just to commit to Nano this year, but to give them a chance to really make something of the month.

Here's the first thing to consider:

How do you choose the next book you write? (Or the first, if it's your first?)

I know, I know, it chooses you. That’s a good answer, and sometimes it IS the answer, but it’s not the only answer. And let’s face it – just like with, well, men, sometimes the one who chooses you is NOT the one YOU should be choosing. What makes anyone think it’s any different with books?

It’s a huge commitment, to decide on a book to write. That’s a minimum of six months of your life just getting it written, not even factoring in revisions and promotion. You live in that world for a long, long time. Not only that, but if you're a professional writer, you're pretty much always going to be having to work on more than one book at a time. You're writing a minimum of one book while you're editing another and always doing promotion for a third.

So the book you choose to write is not just going to have to hold your attention for six to twelve months or longer with its world and characters, but it's going to have to hold your attention while you're working just as hard on another or two or three other completely different projects at the same time. You're going to have to want to come back to that book after being on the road touring a completely different book and doing something that is both exhausting and almost antithetical to writing (promotion).

That's a lot to ask of a story.

So how does that decision process happen?

When on panels or at events, I have been asked, “How do you decide what book you should write?” I have not so facetiously answered: “I write the book that someone writes me a check for.”

That’s maybe a screenwriter thing to say, and I don’t mean that in a good way, but it’s true, isn’t it?

Anything that you aren’t getting a check for, you’re going to have to scramble to write, steal time for – it’s just harder. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, or that it doesn’t produce great work, but it’s harder.

As a professional writer, you’re also constricted to a certain degree by your genre, and even more so by your brand. I’m not allowed to turn in a chick lit story, or a flat-out gruesome horrorfest, or probably a spy story, either. Once you’ve published you are a certain commodity. Even now that I'm e publishing, too, and am not so constrained by my publishers' expectations, I have to take my readers into account.

If you are writing a series, you're even more restricted. You have a certain amount of freedom about your situation and plot but – you’re going to have to write the same characters, and if your characters live in a certain place, you’re also constricted by place. Now that I’m doing my Huntress series, I am learning that every decision I make about the books is easier in a way, because so many elements are already defined, but it’s also way more limiting than my standalones and I could see how it would get frustrating.

If you have an agent, then input from her or him is key, of course - you are a team and you are shaping your career together. Your agent will steer you away from projects that are in a genre that is glutted, saving you years of work over the years, and s/he will help you make all kinds of big-pitcure decisions.

But what I’m really interested in right now is not the restrictions but the limitless possibilities. I'll get more specific next post.

For now let's just think about it, and discuss:

- How DO you decide what to write?  And do you know what you're working on for Nano?

- And even more importantly – How do you decide what to READ?

Because I have a theory that it’s actually the same answer, but we’ll see.

Now, a couple of announcements:

1. This week I'm off to Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention - I'm absolutely thrilled to be doing a panel with my idols Val McDermid and Elizabeth George, and also to be performing with Heather Graham, F. Paul Wilson, and the Slushpile band at the House of Blues on Friday night (e mail me at alex AT alexandrasokoloff DOT com) if you want a free ticket). And of course partying the rest of the time. I mean, you know, networking.


Date: Friday, October 5, 2012

Time: 1:30 p.m.-2:20 p.m.

Location: Ambassador Room- double check the program book before your  
panel as a location could change.

Subject: How can an author convincingly write from the point of view  
of the opposite sex?

Book signings will be held in the bookroom immediately after the  

2. If you DO NOT have the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbook and you want it for Nook, this is your last day to get it for the next three months.  I'm very sorry about that, but as I've blogged about here, it's costing me a fortune not to have at least one of the workbooks in the Kindle Select program. However, all the story structure you could ever need is in the second workbook, Writing Love, available in all e formats, so I refuse to feel guilty about it.

Happy Fall, everyone...

- Alex


Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE


chihuahuazero said...

My NaNoWriMo idea is actually a story I thought up back in the beginning of 2011. And it looped back around. With a new protagonist front-and-center. With a slow-boiling vigor which will overflow once I start outlining and writing it.

One writer said, "The good ideas always come back."

Adaddinsane said...


They just didn't bother changing the name.

I'm prepping.

Sarah W said...

I'm planning on doing Nano this year to jumpstart my next book and remind myself that I can usually find more time to write than I think I can.

I've never prepped for Nano before--I've always been more of a pantser than a planner--but I think I'll give it a try this time.

Even if I can't commit this November, the planning time won't go to waste.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Chihuahua, I know EXACTLY what you mean. I've been playing with elements of Huntress Moon for at least ten years now, more, really, and it all finally came together in an actual storyline a couple of years ago. Actually exactly two years ago, because it was at Bouchercon. Amazing!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Adadd, I was going to say "Internanowrimo" but then it kind of freaked me out.

Good for you! Let's get this party started.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Sarah, I always say this, but I really did write The Harrowing in 15 minutes a day. I didn't have any more than that. But even if I only wrote a sentence, I committed to doing SOMETHING every day. And prepping can be research, or collecting images. You need to prime the pump, is what I'm saying.

Chihuahua Zero said...

By the way, I've just bought Screenwriting Tricks for Authors a few seconds ago.

It'll probably be awhile before I get to it, but I hope I'll enjoy it!

Ann Marie Gamble said...

Social media helps me decide what to write next. I know, I know, don't we like to think so? but really--certain kinds of images start to call to me, and then I realize they could be the scrapbook or the mood map of one of the several ideas burbling around in there, and then things start to adhere to that, more connections are made, suddenly I have stakes, and isn't that wonderful if that all starts to happen in late September so I'm ready to pop for the NaNo party!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Ann Marie, that sounds like a great way to free-form brainstorm to me! Good luck with it!

Di Eats the Elephant said...

Fabulous post, Alex. One of my critique groups is prepping (two of them are librarians, so they are prepping for their day-job as well) and the other I'll share you post with as I found both of them through NANOWRIMO last year. I definitely want to be dancing at Bouchercon since we didn't get to do that at WPA, and I love your practical advice and will be following (and getting the grey cells going) and really love how you discuss the impact of branding yourself and being pigeon-holed thereafter.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Di, that's great, having the whole critique group prep together. It's a lonely thing, this writing - working through what you can with other committed writers is good for the books AND for the soul!

Anonymous said...

I really like this website and am so appreciative of your hard work and writing advice. I have to say, though, since you changed the look of the site, I am having trouble reading the things to the right side of the page listed under "writing articles". Is it just me?

Anyway, thanks again - terrific information!