Do you NaNoWriMo?

Who else has heard of NaNoWriMo? If you have yet to encounter it, this is your introduction to something that will take you nought to novel author in just 30 days.

NaNoWriMo, or the National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to write a novel in just one month. Impossible you say, that’s what I thought and yet, all these years later, I have a growing collection of first drafts and an increased confidence that each one is better than the one from the year before.

NaNoWriMo is not just for amateurs. Many authors who stared in NaNoWriMo went on to be traditionally published. About 449 traditionally published books started in NaNoWriMo. And that’s just the ones they know about.

This year, participants will be inspired by weekly “pep talks” penned by published authors, including Roxane Gay, Kevin Kwan, Julie Murphy, and Grant Faulkner. NaNoWriMo will also provide participants access to mentorship from authors including Emily X. R. Pan, Mur Lafferty, and Jasmine Guillory.

A novel in a month?

A novel in a month. That does not seem possible. How do the NaNoWriMo folks do it?

The secret is not worrying and just getting stuff down on paper. The fact is that it is hundreds of times easier to fix an imperfect manuscript than it is to write a perfect one.

After that, it is just a case of doing a little math (or letting me do it for you). The target word count is 50,000 words. This is 1,667 words a day. Or about three to five typed pages. Which amounts to a page in the morning, one at lunch, another before tea and two more in the evening.

That’s not so hard right?

How to make NaNoWriMo even easier

There are many secrets, tips, and hacks to make NaNoWriMo even easier but here are three quick tips that will turn anyone into a novelist in just one month.

1. Tell everyone what you are doing

I cannot tell you how much more motivated I feel when I know that everyone is going to ask how my novel is going. That part of my brain that works very hard to avoid embarrassing me (the part that gets trumped by own idiot missteps) can work for you too. I find that I work very hard to keep on target when failure means everyone knowing about my failure.

As motivation hacks go, this one is huge.

2. Come up with a few ideas ahead of time

Nothing takes the pressure off like having a handle on the characters and settings for your story. You can find some tools to help build characters in our Facebook group. You can also get support in the forums, particularly the QnA for aspiring authors. There is a long-running thread with questions to ask in a mock interview with your main protagonist (lead character).

3. Break your story into 30 little chunks

Break your story up into 30 bite-sized chunks. Each of those, oh I don’t know but let’s call them chapters, can tell one part of the story.

This takes the pressure off because you will not need to ask yourself “what do I write today?” because you already have a plan.

Are you going to be doing NaNoWriMo?

Thanet Creative are planning to make Thanet much more NaNoWriMo freindly by holding write ins and supporting WriMos (participants) in our regular writing group events.

What’s stopping you becoming a novelist?

September’s Winner and Sunday’s challenge.

The Winner of the September story challenge is Jess Joy.

I thought I would get that out there right from the offset. This is a zero mystery post, today. On the other hand, there is a lot of really good mystery in the winning post. Don’t forget to read it next.

readingIn a few days, I will be posting the October Challenge. Were I to think about this stuff in advance I could have them posted on the first of each month. If I was that super organised I’d probably be all wrong for writing so…

Anyway, before that avenue of pleasure, I thought I would share the Sunday Writers challenge of the week. This should really be posted by Vicky but, well, that thing we said about being organised and writing… Yeah, that some more.

Right, the challenge. Are you ready?

The challenge is to write a story.

(Big surprise).

However, this story must be:

  1. In the second person
  2. In present tense
  3. Ready on Sunday

Here is a quick overview of writing in the second person. It is about the craziest type of story to try and write. Made crazier by being present tense.

If you come along on Sunday and fancy joining in, bring your attempt. If not post it as a submission here or on your blog (and ping us).

Let’s see what you got.

The prize, at Sunday Writers, is that the winner will be published on the site. Please don’t let me be the only one who brings something.

EditThe closing date will be the week of bonfire night (end of roughly). Vicky will explain properly soon. (I’ve made aright dog’s dinner of it).

Having fun at a writer’s group

Ball Pit

There is something magical about finding a fun writer’s group.

At last weekend’s Sunday Writers group we tried out a new activity – Word Bingo. Now, before you groan here me out – this was a far more fun than it had any right to be. That might be because I am hugely competitive and I happened to win. Who is to say. Winning the prize for that week certainly was nice. I can tell you that.

You play word bingo like normal bingo. You each have a sheet of writer-related words and the speaker says that word, you tick it off. The speaker, in our case, is whoever is presenting something or asking a question, or whatever – it depends on what we are doing at the time.

The benefits of a fun writer’s group

We noticed an unintended and beneficial side effect of the game. While we were playing, every one of us paid rapt attention to what was being said. Our listening skills were turned up to 11.

The point is that creativity and working together does not need to be boring or overly serious. A lot of studies show that if you can have fun doing something, your focus is greatly improved.

Which is why I spent a lot of the day, yesterday, writing a generator script to make Writer’s Group Word Bing cards. There is a post on the Author Buzz Dev blog explaining how it works under the hood. If you have a geeky side and want to take a look then check it out.

Writers’ Word Bingo

How do you have fun at your writer’s group?

This got me thinking. How do other writers groups make their weekly (or monthly) events maximally fun?

Let me know in the comments about the fun activities that take place at your local writers’ group. After all, everyone loves a fun writer’s group, right?

September Writing Competition

A new site, a new competition! Are you ready, writers?

Explain the series of events that ties these images together

How to enter

Unlike our last competition which ran week to week, this one will run month to month. Also unlike the last one entering is as simple as submitting an article. So grab a free account and join us in Thanet’s best writing competition.

To enter simply submit an original story to us before the end of Septemeber. But don’t hang around. There is a definite advantage to being early.

The winner will be determined by the story with the most on-blog likes. As I said, getting in early helps.

You can enter more than once but second and subsequent entries may be delayed by the arrival of first entries from other people.

How to set out your entry

You are free to choose any appropriate title and opening that you wish. However, at the end you should state that story is a competition entry (and link to this page). The editors can help with that if you get stuck.

I suggest you make a heading that says something like “about this story”. You could use that opportunity to slip in an author bio if you wish.

Closing date for submissions is Saturday the 30th of September. The winners will be announced five days after the last entry is posted or the first of October if all the entries are in and posted by then.

Creating a safe space for writers

baby hands

Establishing a safe space for writers to share work is one of the most important things a host must do.

As hosts, we have a responsibility to look after the writers that we receive into our gatherings. Some writers, perhaps many writers, are vulnerable people. For some, writing is a way to deal with a great deal of emotional or physical pain.

Sharing what we have written is not so different to being totally naked.

It is very easy to feel exposed or at least a little nervous when sharing our work. After all, it a very intimate expression of our inner-self set before total strangers. As hosts of events, our job is to make our guests feel safe enough to share.

Creating a safe space for writers should be the objective of all hosts and organisers. I don’t know how it is in all writers groups, but I would like to think that most try to do just that.

Encouragement and support

While members are finding their feet within a group, one of the best things we as hosts can do is try to build up their confidence.

This can mean different things in each situation. It may mean encouraging members to give criticism which includes enthusiastic praise for what was done right, rather than focusing on what needs fixing. It may mean simply thanking a member when they share for the first time and acknowledging that the first time is always hard.

Sometimes all we really need to do is remember what it was like when we were starting out and remembering that we are not all on the same level (and that is perfectly fine).

Setting a good example to create a safe space for writers

As hosts, we often set the tone for an event and should be setting an example of exactly what we would like from other members. That’s not always as easy as it sounds.

For example, there have been times when I have been utterly shattered and a budding writer puts some work in my hand that is, frankly, hard to read. When I am tired I find it harder to concentrate on roughly written work and I find it even more tiring to maintain an even tone with my response.

For me, it is a cop-out to hand it back and simply claim “that was very good”. That’s what your mums is supposed to tell you but writers come to a group for more than that.

No matter how tired I am, or how little interest I have in the manuscript in my hands, I know, as host, that I must keep reading until I can give a mix of praise and a candid yet kind appraisal. I need to give something that the writer can use to further their craft.

Giving everyone a fair share of the time

A fair share of the time is not always the same thing as an equal share of the group’s time but the two are fairly similar. Sometimes it can be helpful to allow one member to occupy more time than any other – so long as it is not the same person each week.

On the other hand, it pays to watch out for “the talker”. I am a person that loves to talk – it’s what helps me overcome my own dyslexia and write anyway – but just as I have had to teach myself to shut up and let others speak there are times when the host needs to call time on a person.

If you ask, I will be the first to admit that when I am excited about a subject I can talk about it for a very long time. I mean seriously, have you seen how long this article is?

However, I have become acutely aware of just how much time I can take up talking about my work, about my thoughts on other people’s work, or my reaction to the latest Star Wars film (don’t get me started unless you love Star Wars too). This is why I write blog posts – so I can talk about topics I love and people who find those topics interesting can read them, we both win. But in a group setting, where time is finite we hosts must be a bit more careful.

Give shy people a chance to shine too

Part of creating your safe space for writers is making sure that strong personalities do not unduly dominate.

The talkers in the group can, without meaning to, deny the shyer members of the group a chance to contribute. In an open mic session this is less of a problem as you probably have set time limits but in a group discussion setting, we hosts need to be mindful of how much time any given member is using up.

The talker is usually someone who seems to love the sound of their own voice, or it can be someone like me who just gets very excited about stuff. As hosts, it can be helpful to have a clock or watch handy. It will not be long before it is clear who the most talkative members are. The trick is in figuring out how to gently bring them to a stop and draw out the other members so everyone can contribute.

We also have another responsibility – dealing with keen contributors that do not know what they are talking about. As hosts, we need to be aware of when bad advice is being offered and be ready to offer alternative views.

I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself saying the words “playing devil’s advocate for a moment…” It is a lot, I know that much.

Of course, this also requires that we ourselves know what we are talking about.

Knowing our craft

When people come to events we host, either as writers and poets or just as interested on-lookers, there is an expectation that we, the host, know what we are talking about.

I am not about to suggest that only experts can be hosts, far from it. Yet we must, I feel, do two very important things in this regard.

  1. Do our best to learn the theory of our craft
  2. Be very honest about our own limits

In fact, of the two tasks, honesty is perhaps the most vital and least easy. Let’s be honest, it takes a certain amount of ego to write things down in the expectation that others will find it worth reading. That same ego can often blind us to our own faults and shortcomings.

It is very easy to think that we know everything, or at least most of everything, even when we are barely more than rank amateurs ourselves.

Keeping egos in check

Just as we must make the effort to keep our ego in check, we may also be called upon to keep other egos from overwhelming the group too. That’s not always easy.

There have been times when that rare combination of strong self-confidence, an admitted talent, and many years of writing arrives along with a prima donna attitude. More often, the prima donna attitude is undeserved. In both cases, it is off-putting and intimidating.

I don’t envy the host who finds themselves faced with the task of keeping a huge ego sufficiently contained that the other members still have space to grow. I am not sure that I even have any particularly helpful advice to offer.

Fortunately, I have found that huge egos are not so common. Unfortunately, in place of a huge ego can come with another problem – the potential to overwhelm and bully.

Protection from bullies

Back in 2013 I started hosting writers workshops in my home. I had very little idea what I was doing. I was simply looking to engage with other writers on a topic that I loved. Surprisingly to me, this was a popular idea. But it was that very popularity that brought with it a harsh lesson.

The harsh lesson arrived in the shape of a charismatic yet dominating man. This guy made every effort to take over and control everything he could. He soon figured out who he could lean on to present his ideas for him.

Suddenly we had secret cliques and conflicts arose. “For the good of the group,” he would say before laying out his “reasonable” demands.

It turns out that just because I am a person who wants nothing more than to share a love of writing and to engage in reciprocal kindness and support not everyone is like that. There are those who, if I am honest, are best described as toxic people.

Dealing with toxic people is hard

Dealing with toxic people is hard. Yet, to maintain a safe space for writers, it is something we must do.

Sometimes toxic people are just people with more than their fair share of needs. In which case, good support can help them become better human beings and a great asset to a group. Others, well, with others the best you can do is wish them well and send them on their way. I can tell you this – it is not an easy decision to make.

If you are unlucky enough to have a covert bully among your attendees, they can do a lot of damage. Damage both to the group dynamics and the well-being of your writers. This can happen before you are even aware there is a bully.

Even once you have realised that there is a toxic person in the group, it can be hard – especially if you are somewhat sensitive – to bring yourself to remove them.

From experience, I can tell you that if you let a toxic person put down roots in your community, they can cause a lot of damage on the way out. I have learned that the hard way.

Being the sort of person who is unwilling to give up on anyone, no matter how hopeless the cause, this was not an easy lesson to learn. I can’t say that I have fully learned it yet but I am trying.

Yet, learn this skill I must. It is a vital skill that must be coaxed into existence, in much the same way a difficult scene must me, for the good of all the members who attend.

Setting some ground rules for a safe space for writers

Most of a host’s responsibilities could be summed up in a set of simple group rules. Those rules may be different for each group but they do exist.

Good rules can be an important part of creating a safe space for writers.

Rules such as “only one piece of work to be read per guest”, can help you be consistent. It helps to be consistent with the way you treat the people who attend. If only because people can learn to trust you when they see you are fair.

The “rules” can focus your attention on the areas that need it. I try to work on a rule of “everyone should be allowed an equal share of the allotted time”.

Work out how much time we have and divide that by the number of people. That is how much time it is fair for a single person to take up.

Rules need not be explicitly stated

It is not always necessary to express the rules, or even draw any attention to them at all. As long as you are consistent with your application of the rules, they will soon become part of the culture of the group.

On more than a few occasions, I have been delighted to hear members telling newcomers about the way we do things. I hear them explaining the rules which I’ve used but never told anyone about. There was no need to explain the rules because I was demonstrating them in the way I was acting.

I have noticed that the group culture is something people generally try and fit in with. Rules are there to be broken, it seems. Group culture, on the other hand, can quickly become set in stone. What that group culture will be is entirely down to you. As host, the way we act towards guests sets the tone.

Over to you

Those of us that host events for writers are doing something truly special. We are giving the community something very valuable. It is not always easy but I think it is always worthwhile.

I am sure there are many other things that we hosts can and maybe should be doing to create a safe space for all writers. What one would you add?

Have you been to an event with a particularly great host? What was it about the host that impressed you the most?

Do you host a writers’ event? What challenges have you faced and how did you tackle them? Have you had to deal with any of these issues? How did you approach them and what was the outcome?