Structure > NaNoWriMo

This post will be of more interest to my fellow writers than readers. I’m giving up my chance to finish NaNo on time to focus on overhauling my plot, starting by giving myself a crash course in structure.

November’s been a really horrible month. We don’t need to go over that. It’s been a particularly bad month for my NaNo project, A Gentlemanly Murder. When I started writing on the first of November, my protagonist didn’t have a name. I finally came up with a name for him, and an opening scene five days later, but then I decided I needed to finish Morgen Song before I went further and set it aside. Morgen Song had a rogue ending that needed to be wrestled with, and while I was pinning that down, November hit in earnest. Finally Morgen Song behaved itself. I sat down with A Gentlemanly Murder, had a brilliantly productive day, work up the next morning and realised that something had gone wrong.

Something has gone wrong is not an unusual feeling for me. Three-quarters of my stories have gone off the rails at some point, requiring a lot of hard work wrestling, cutting words, revising and long walks before they emerge. I think they emerge better for the struggle, but I know I can write really strong stories without that fight–Deep Magic, The Biggest Scoop and Banging the Supernatural are examples of this. Worse, the fight is hard work. It brings with it doubt and writer’s block and ends in a lot of time wasted, whether in time not writing or in revisions later.

I’ve got a feeling that the solution lies in my plotting. I want to be a better outliner, but pretty much all the books I’ve read on how to outline your novel talk about structure instead. After much resisting, I’ve decided to accept the inevitable, and am giving myself a crash course in structure by spending some time with some old friends, namely Michael Hauge, James Scott Bell, Libbie Hawker and Monica Leonelle.

Michael Hauge spoke at the RWNZ 2016 Conference and was amazing. His story mastery workshop was really, really good. I’ve been revising the notes I took from his conference but if you’re interested, check out his product page–he recommended Writing Screenplays that Sell and The Hero’s Two Journeys  for people at the conference who wanted more info of what he was talking about.

What’s really cool is that as I’m re-reading, I’m noticing how well Hauge’s key plot moments and structure ties into James Scott Bell’s pivotal moments. I am a huge fan of Write Your Novel From the Middle, and just read Super Structure, which, while covering a lot of the same ground as Write Your Novel From the Middle, enlarges on the pivotal moments. I found it good because Bell’s moments really resonate with me.

If you haven’t heard of Take Off Your Pants, I will be very surprised! Libbie Hawker does a great job of articulating how theme ties into character and conflict and the outline that she suggests working with is what helped me get Morgen Song back on track at last. The way she approaches her outline is very, very similar to the way that Monica Leonelle works, with the difference that Leonelle brings her marketing savvy to the process in Nail Your Story. Leonelle also provides a copious amount of worksheets. In the past, I’ve been daunted by the sheer amount of worksheets to work through but no more. I’m hoping the time I invest now will equal faster drafting and less revisions later.



I hit 90k words this morning. Yeah. It’s pretty unreal. Met up with my one irl writing buddy last night and she told me she hated me a little, and I agreed — this is not right! But at the same time, writing Aki is so much fun that I don’t want to stop.

As I get towards the end of the story, it’s even harder to find things I can share. Everything is a spoiler! Please keep that in mind if you decide to read on.


Aki discovers that being alone with a vampire is a bad idea on many levels.


Teaser Thursday NaNo 2105 Edition 2: Banging the Supernatural and Other Questionable Life Choices.

NaNo continues to go really well! I hit the 50k mark on the 10th. I am having a lot of fun. Mostly due to Aki. He’s been rolling his eyes a lot while I worked on the previous two stories in this series. Turns out, he has a lot of very important opinions, and he feels that it is about time he got to share them.

Unfortunately, he does make it hard for me to share them! Because Aki was involved a lot in the events of Thorns and Fangs and The Dead Living (he had a lot of important opinions there too), he brings that past with him to Banging the Supernatural. I’ve chosen a scene that avoids major spoilers and shows a side of Aki we don’t get to see very often — Aki playing nicely with people. Let me know what you think! (disclaimer: excerpt is entirely un-betaed or edited)



Please Don’t Hate Me: How to Over Achieve at NaNo.

I am having a great NaNoWriMo. Ridiculously so. 8 days in, I have a wordcount of 42218, a daily average of 5277. I’m on track to achieve my goal of a complete novel in November (my goal is 100, 000 words). I have become, in short, the exact type of writer who, this time last year, was the bane of my NaNo experience. Last year, I plodded slowly along, struggling to hit the daily minimum. In fact, most NaNos, I have plodded along in the dust of my faster writing friends.

So, what went right?


I’ve completed NaNo a few times, but I’ve never written a complete book. I thought I was just a slow writer. Then I discovered Rachel Aaron’s writing productivity book, From 2k to 10k: How to write faster, write better and write more of what you love. Great title, right? It’s a brilliant book. Rachel Aaron spells out the importance of managing your time, planning what you write (such as spending 5 minutes before a writing session jotting down what the important points of that scene are and how you’re going to get to them) so that you spend your writing time as efficiently as possible, and bringing enthusiasm to your work. Most importantly of all, in addition to sharing her methods, she makes you believe that you can do it. That however you write, by studying your writing habits and tweaking your surroundings, you can refine your methods and improve your output. That belief alone is pretty much worth the buying the book for (although she shares the gem of her book for free on her blog. Read it here).

Now, Rachel’s methods are very much geared towards plotters rather than pantsers. I am somewhere in the middle of both camps, and while the first days went by in a rush of words and enthusiasm and 5k days, by day 4, it was becoming a bit of a drag to get up at 5:00 am and write, even with my notes ready to guide me. I was still hitting my daily goals (3334 — which is really good! On par with my best days of previous NaNos!) but I wasn’t hitting the 5k highs that I was. I was bored.

So I turned to the enthusiasm part of Rachel’s equation, and spent some time reminding myself why I love these crazy characters. I compiled my book for epub and read it, and was surprised to see that all of the horrible things I imagined were wrong with my story weren’t there. Weird. I also discovered that while big blocks of uninterrupted writing time work very well for Rachel Aaron, but that when I’m struggling with the enthusiasm side, that short sprints work best for me. Sprints stop me worrying, and once I’m past that initial barrier, my enjoyment of the story carries me through. It will even carry into fresh, unplotted scenes, and that varying planned and unplanned writing gives me the mix I need to keep enjoying putting words on computer screen. I — and this is not the case for most writers I know — live alone, so it can get pretty lonely. Sprints (and the lovely M/M Writers comm) provide a social aspect to writing that I find absolutely essential at these times of lower enthusiasm.

Another really valuable thing that Rachel Aaron introduced me too was keeping tabs of when I write and how much I write. I’ve discovered that I am useless at night, unless I have sprints to keep me on track. I also discovered that the only thing I accomplish trying to write in breaks at work is frustrating myself. I looked at the numbers, realised it wasn’t worth it, and decided to use that time to read. I am reading articles by authors about writing, and a collection of books about writing books, Writing Success. I’m still working my way through it, but so far I’ve got a lot out of the parts written by James Scott Bell and Mary Demuth.

What I learnt from James Scott Bell (in addition to his advice on plot structure, which I got from Write Your Novel From the Middle another book that I highly recommend), is goal setting. He suggests looking at what you achieve now, increasing that by 10%, and believing that you can do that. I’d sort of subconsciously done this already, by deciding that I was going to increase my output with Rachel Aaron’s advice, and it really is amazing how quickly 3000 words a day became my new ‘minimum’ and 5000 words became ‘normal.’ I think the fact that I am writing so well right now is a combination of Aaron and Bell’s advice working in tandem. He also recommends things like checking your e-mail only twice a day, which I need to start doing. I have a bad habit of sitting in my inbox, waiting for an e-mail.

Mary Deluth, on the other hand, mentions that you’ve got to take care of yourself. She reminds us that it is important to have a writing support group, but it is also important to have people who care about you the person, and with whom you can share all parts of your story-writing journey. She puts this in spiritual terms, but it really is just taking care of you. I recently decided to share the fact I write gay romance with my Mum, and she responded far better than I ever imagined — by giving me story advice (“Why don’t you let your vampires have a little dog. Dogs make everything better.”) Talking to Mum about what I want my stories to express and what I am struggling with has contributed to me being much more centred and focused when I sit down to write (even though her advice drives me nuts– they’re vampires! How are they going to let the dog out during the day?).

James Scott Bell and Mary Deluth also recommend reading. Previous NaNos I have said “I don’t have time to read!” but by devoting dead/unproductive time at school to reading, I make myself enthusiastic and excited about writing, and keep myself fresh. And I get to read!

And finally, in totally personal changes, I am making all the use I can of my slow cooker and freezer! I have been making soups, curries, stews, anything that cooks slowly and freezes well. I made a big batch of baked oatmeal, cut it into slices and voila! A week and two days of breakfasts! I’ve also been baking one big thing at the weekend. Chocolate cake, apple cake, last night I made scones.  Having an afternoon snack waiting when I get back from work means that I don’t go to the convenience store, buy junk food and then crash a couple of hours later (I can load up my baking with fruit, etc). Baking makes me feel creative and happy, and it is a complete project, so I feel like I accomplished something (I am a goal orientated person who likes finishing things). So it is a nice little boost/change of pace.

I’m aware that my circumstances are different and that I have a lot of advantages — a quiet apartment to write in, only myself to cook and clean for — that other writers don’t have. But I hope that by showing how I took Rachel Aaron’s methods and tweaked them to my own circumstances/writing style, I can encourage others to experiment and try something new.

Thanks for reading! Thank you too to LM Brown for offering feedback on this post! Please let me know if this helped, or if you have discovered a method or resource that really helped you take your writing further!

November Plans.

My plans for November are pretty easy.

  • NaNoWriMo.
  • … and that’s it.

Of course, my goal for NaNo is not hitting the 50 000 word limit, but writing a complete novel, something I’ve never done before (within the NaNo boundaries). Part of me thinks I’m crazy for inflicting this on myself, the rest is pumped to put everything I’ve learned from Rachel Aaron’s  2000 to 10000 into practice (Speaking of Rachel Aaron, she’s doing NaNo related posts every Wednesday to get us through November. Here’s the first. Live Write Breathe also has some NaNo advice).

aXm2187xjUMy NaNo project this month is the third story in the Thorns and Fangs world. It was originally slated to be the fourth, but while finishing the second, one of the character’s began to speak very insistently and well … he was very persuasive. Working title is Banging the Supernatural and Other Questionable Life Choices. I’m 8000 words in to the story, and there have been considerable poor choices, but no regrets — at least not on my part.

I’m planning to reinstitute Teaser Thursday, at least during November, but realised that I have a problem — spoilers. I’m going to try and choose pieces to share that don’t give away anything major in Thorns and Fangs or The Dead Living (I have a completed rough draft. I am very excited), but I’m curious. What do you consider too much in spoilers/teasers? Where do you personally draw the line?

Thank you!

NaNoWriMo Resources!

NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) starts in just two days. I cannot wait! I am hello goodbye if anyone wants to be NaNo friends!

You might have noticed the title of this blog post and inferred that I am about to share my recommendations for books, blogposts and podcasts for a successful NaNo. You would be right! These are writing tools that I’ve been using to get myself hyped and organised for this year’s novel.

aXm9875xjUFirst off, the ‘relentlessly positive’ Joanna Penn (she said it, not me). I talked about her amazing Creative Penn podcast already, but I’d like to link to a few specific episodes that I have particularly enjoyed or been inspired by. First of all, Episode 238: Creativity, productivity, fear and writing because a big part of NaNo is overcoming fear. Then Joanna’s interview with James Scot Bell whose Write Your Novel from the Middle is one of my favourite writer-help books ever: Episode 236: Writing discipline and mindset. Scrolling down the list of podcast episodes, I’m just seeing more and more must-listen episodes, so I’m going to stop here and link to a video Joanne created detailing her writing process and how she uses Scrivener in particular. Now, I’ve been using Scrivener for two years and I thought I had it figured out, and I learned a lot from this video! I really recommend watching it.

My next rec is a book, From 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron. To get a good idea of what Rachel talks about, you can read the post that inspired the book on her blog here. Rachel talks about the difference sitting down to write and knowing what you want to write as opposed to sitting down and hoping inspiration strikes. She takes a much more thorough approach to plotting than I do, and I am working my way through her plotting methods to see how they work for me.

Not writing advice, but Sonali Dev’s post for How to Write Diverse Characters: A Simple Test is something I know that I am going to keep coming back to refer to. I wish I’d read this years ago. Another amazing resource is this, which was shared recently on the M/M Romance Group: Diversity Cross Check — an author resource to put you in touch with people willing to share their experiences. Also essential food for thought is pretty much every post over here at Queer Romance Month. Then 6 Writing Tips that have nothing to do with writing, because we need something to counter the crazy intensity of NaNo. Finally, 365 Days of Slow Cooking because writers need to eat and my slow cooker will definitely be getting a workout throughout November.

If you’ve got resources to share please do! I’d love to know your plan of attack.