Disclaimer: this is an article on the craft and business of writing. We are going to answer the questions raised within with honestly and bluntness. If you are here as a fan of our work, sometimes that can be jarring, so proceed at your own risk.
In a recent blog post you asked for questions we had about writing. I’m working on an outline for NaNoWriMo and am curious about their outlining process.
Here is a blog post on outlining. Let’s go one step further. Here is the preliminary synopsis of WILDFIRE.
This synopsis was provided to the publisher to indicate the general direction of the book. At the time, the major criticism of the outline was that it had too many explosions. There was action for the sake of action. Everything the characters do should advance both the plot and the character development.
If you have read Wildfire, you will note that the book diverges from the synopsis. This outline is meant as a guide. As you are writing the book and developing the characters, parts of your old outline will make no sense. Let them go. Remember, the object of the game is not to stick to the outline but to write the best book you have in you.
I do the NaNoWrMo events to help with the daily discipline of writing. My question is how did you design your writi g office for best work? I keep thinking buying a big white board to map out stuff and special chair mat for my computer chair on carpet would help. Any suggestions on budgeting for writingvstuff before the big sale? Any preferred pieces you like to use? Thc.
I require a desktop. Some people write well on a laptop, and I also have for a number of years. But I find that having a separate spot dedicated solely to writing like a desktop at a desk helps to put me in the right frame of mind. Sometimes the desk feels stifling and I will switch. But most of the time Gordon and I sit next to each other so a desktop is a must.
You want a good chair. If you are a woman, you want a good bra. This seems odd, but if you wear something ill-fitting and end up hunching over the desk, you will be in a world of pain pretty quickly.
That’s quality advice there – Ilona Andrews recommends wearing a good bra. Hell of a productivity tip. 😉
Basically, if you feel the need to make a little writing nest, do it. Buy the whiteboard, get the chair mat, find some cute critters to perch on your desk to help you write.
NaNoWriMo is about ritual. It’s sole purpose is to uncork you and get you over the threshold of self-criticism.
The only way to succeed at NaNoWriMo is to give yourself permission to write crap.
It doesn’t mean that you will actually produce crap, although it is very rare for NaNoWriMo projects to reach publication without extensive revisions. It means that you shut down the annoying voice in your head that wants to spend half an hour pondering the lackluster characters, or the weird plot twist, or a comma. It doesn’t matter what the voice says. It’s butt in a chair, words on a page, full steam ahead time.
If you do want to make an investment in your writing gear, I suggest spending a few bucks on a pair of good over-the-ear headphones and buying some video games or movie soundtracks. There will be time when you will need to shut down background noise.
Social Network soundtrack is remarkably good for concentration.
What software to you recommend for NaNoWriMo?
You have a couple of options. For NaNoWriMo specifically, I would recommend Scrivener, especially if you a Mac user. Scrivener is designed to get you to vomit words on the page.
I moved away from Scrivener, because the Windows version left me incredibly frustrated with its lack of features and absence of a robust spellcheck. Their spellcheck made me want to tear my hair out. If I turned off replace as you type features, I would typo and not notice and if I turned them on, they resulted in nonsense sentences. I use MsWord for first draft now. That’s how we wrote our first 4 or 5 books and, judging by the success of the last three, it’s working.
But my goal and process are different. I am not racing through thousands of words. I want to sit down and produce the first draft that requires minimal changes. I’m on a deadline. You are not.
Enjoy it while you can. Muhahahaha!
Colleen C. says
I missed the blog about process. I am super curious, especially after the last two books, how you plan out the fight scenes.
Grace Draven says
I was asked a question regarding the best way to approach meeting the NaNoWriMo goal on time that had me a little stumped. The person wanted to know if it was more efficient word count-wise to dictate the story via Dragonspeak and then transcribe it all when the 50k words were reached. As I’ve never used DS (my brain locks down at the idea of dictation), I couldn’t answer the question.
I believe you mentioned to me previously that you’ve done dictation with DS, so what do you think? An efficient way to get in word count you can actually work with during revision that will also meet the end goal number for NaNoWriMo?
I hope that it is not impertinent to share my experience of Dragon, particularly as I have not used it for writing fiction, but it might be of some use. I have used this software for years, switching to it after serious back and hand problems (I switched to a standing desk at the same time) meant that I could no longer pull off hours typing at my desk.
My writing is technical legal, and, academic legal writing and it is all too easy to get bogged down in detail, so using Dragon to dictate a ‘quick and dirty’ first draft is genuinely helpful for the clarity, speed and quality of my writing. However, I still tend to use a keyboard to type annotations, to add references and further detail, as even now I do not find Dragon to be sufficiently precise for this. As a result, there is a clear separation between the ‘stream of consciousness’ writing and the editing in my work, which I find to be very productive…. I could easily see this relating to rough first draft/revision processes in fiction writing.
However, there is a pretty steep learning curve to using Dragon. The ‘proper’ software is also expensive (I have not tried the app, but a taking advantage of a free trial would be a good idea).
For people very used to typing, there are productivity and habit issues. Re. productivity: it is like trying to write using a keyboard for the very first time….you know that it would be quicker to use pen and paper and it can be very frustrating. Whilst you do get up to speed quite quickly with Dragon, there remains the habit issue: you have not got the haptic feedback that you get from typing, and this is something that some people really struggle with. Finally, some people simply feel really stupid dictating to their computer, and, particularly in shared workspaces can find it embarrassing to use.
In short: I think that starting to use Dragon for NaNoWriMo (or for the first time with any work with a pressing deadline) would only slow progress. However, once used to the software, I find it faster, and, better than just typing alone.
This was incredibly helpful. Thank you!
Heather Langston says
Thank you for the insight! I’ve finished NaNo twice and am still tinkering with my last story (which has completely changed).
I think my inner critic is my very worst enemy. I don’t just open up and let it flow when I am writing. Reading your blog made me feel better about my writing process.
Basic question, but what is NaNoWriMo?
National Novel Writing Month. Website is nanowrimo.org
Thanks for asking that question Tink, I didn’t know what it was either.
Tasha A says
Nicki Garvey says
Elaina Roberts says
Totally off topic but… are those Lucuma Designs birds in your Mom Boss picture? I have one and it looks a lot like that one (it’s Peruvian gourd art and has that same “I’ve seen things I can’t unsee” expression on its face.
I am not a writer, but have a desk job. I absolutely agree with you about the bra! It’s uncomfortable and distracting when it digs into my xiphoid process at the base of my sternum.
I also have a desk job. My advice is to avoid the high waisted jean trend. Just who wants a waistband to cut into them when you sit for hours out of the day?
Humm, so good bra – check. High wasted – not high wasted pants – – that is a question. My office cubical has all the privacy of a men’s prison shower so I go with the high wasted so I can remove my jacket when the office gets warm and not shock my office mates (all very respectful men).
I also want a regular key board and 2 big screens to work. I write technical documents (not great fiction more-is-the pity), but it is butt in the chair for 10 hours four days a week. So a desk top or a docked laptop.
Lastly, I don’t write fiction but i love your explanation of how writing works for you as a couple and how publishing/editing is done. Please keep sharining the insider information!
Loved the evil laughter at the end.
Thanks for all y’all do.
read to read says
I was cussing my computer and my billing software (and my brain for forgetting to enter the right digits) and took a break to read your blog.
I loved the picture’s and the turtle is awesome. I don’t know why that turtle made me think of a favorite kid movie and then I was grinning.
Now I can go back and attack the work load with a mite more sanity.
heyTotally off topic but… are those Lucuma Designs birds in your Mom Boss picture? I have one and it looks a lot like that one (it’s Peruvian gourd art and has that same “I’ve seen things I can’t unsee” expression on its face.
Elaina Roberts says
Hi! I think your reply got truncated as all it did was repost my post. Weird, huh?
Thanks for the good advice. For me, being short, it also helps to have a footstool, so my legs aren’t hanging at all. That can kill my back.
Agent of SMERSH says
I thoroughly second the advice to get a good chair if you are, like me, rather on the large side.
I regularly used to break the normal chairs because they were not specified for my weight.
When I created my own company I bought myself a chair rated at twice my weight and with extra width so I was no longer confined. It makes working so much more comfortable.
I am not a writer (except of standards documents) but I would make the same recommendation for anybody in an office job
Lynn T. says
Interesting, Ilona Andrews. Thank you for the insight. I spent 14 years working retail the last 4 chained to a desk. As a female required to adhere to male dress standards once I became a manager, a good comfortable supportive bra is critical. Also a good quality chair that adjusts so that your body is properly positioned. Plus do not forget to move desk top monitor to proper height once you get chair adjusted for you. Your eye doctor can help with that. Else you are not comfortable and unproductive.
One thing that helped me too was monthly maintenance visits to my chiropractor as I suppress my stress and negative emotions into my neck and back muscles. My productivity tended to go up after my monthly visit to get the knots out of my neck.
Yes i like writing stories in MS Word at home. For me easier to use and then I just drop to thumb drive and send to my siblings.
Thanks so much! I’ve been contemplating doing NaNo this year and your article/advice was really helpful.
Not a writer (of fiction, I do write non-fiction scientific articles, totally different kettle of fish) so I am going to comment on the Wildfire outline. Am I the only one who is glad the changes to Wildfire happened? The interactions between Nevada and Rogan in the draft seemed somewhat petty and out of character for them. I liked how Nevada was so mature about the entire ex-needs-saving bit in the final draft. It was really cool to see the outline compared to final product!
There’s a new Netflix movie that came out within the last couple months. It’s called “Set it Up” and it’s a very charming rom-com with some charismatic actors — seriously, I want Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell to now star in everything together as a couple; they could be the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks of the current age; go home and watch it TONIGHT — and some surprisingly insightful writing.
One bit that stands out to me is in the 3rd act of the movie. The main female character Harper (played by Deutch) wants to write an article, and even though she’s passionate about the subject matter, she is struggling with the article big-time. She has holed up in her house and gorged on food and basically worked herself into a paralyzing depressive funk. Her roommate/best friend comes home and literally slaps some sense into her (with a pillow). Harper complains that what she’s writing sucks, and the best friend points out that it’s SUPPOSED to suck — it’s a first draft. It’s supposed to be crap. It’s a cute moment where the two get very on board with the idea of successfully writing a crappy first draft.
As someone who has to write papers for school, and who laboriously edits as I write, I think of that movie scene often. Sometimes the real triumph is just to get it all down on paper, even if it’s total crap.
I always like these “behind the scenes” look at writing. Thanks for sharing. Interested to learn about nanowrimo organization too!!
Always like the writing advice stuff. I’ve been thinking about sitting down and writing for ages and keep finding myself having trouble getting into the ‘right headspace.’ It’s fun thinking about story ideas but I can’t seem to make myself commit anything to page. I’d completely forgotten about nanowrimo though and am thinking maybe I should give it a try to force myself into just getting on with it already.