Thanks to all of you who read, share, like, and comment on this blog! It still amazes me when someone has something to say about my musings here.
With NaNoWriMo starting tomorrow, I’m going to be busy fast-drafting, hosting/attending write-ins, and engaging with fellow Wrimos on other platforms, so I’m taking a break from the blog this November. If you want to chat or keep up with my adventures as I travel the state for write-ins, say hi on Twitter! And if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, I’m lizthelibrarian there. Add me as a buddy, and let’s tackle this whirlwind month together!
I’ll be back in December with more posts about writing, libraries, and books. Have a great month!
Oh, and if you’re going to the YALSA Symposium this weekend, please say hi! I’ll be the one with the We Need Diverse Books bag fangirling over all things teen services and YA lit.
Some writers crave the soundtrack of a busy coffee shop while they write. Others make playlists for each project, or will listen to the same song on repeat while writing a specific scene.
Personally, I prefer silence when I write, though I’ve started making playlists for each project with songs that remind me of certain characters or scenes. But since I’ll be hosting write-ins at the library in November (which is by no means silent, though the room we’ll be using is pretty quiet), I thought it might be good to come up with some light background music to play. I’ll let attendees vote on whether they want the music or not, and of course they’re welcome to bring headphones if they have their own music they want to listen to, but I want to offer something beyond silence. Most public meet-up spaces have at least some background noise, and some people need that to settle into a rhythm.
Two of my favorite groups for instrumental music right now are 2Cellos and The Piano Guys. Both groups perform instrumental covers of popular songs. My favorites right now are 2Cellos’ cover of U2’s “With or Without You“, and The Piano Guys’ cover of Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years“.
Do you listen to music while writing?
I’ve always considered myself a pantser, or a discovery writer, someone who doesn’t outline a book before she starts writing. That’s probably why my early drafts always have weak plotting, slow pacing, and endings that need to be re-written multiple times. With every book I’ve written in the last few years, I’ve crept closer to outlining, planning major plot points and character arcs in advance, but I will never fill out a beat sheet for one of my books.
But NaNoWriMo is coming, and I plan to fast-draft a YA mystery/thriller this November. Not only do I want to write alongside the teens I encourage to do the Young Writers Program at the library, I also volunteered to be a Municipal Liaison for my region (USA :: Indiana :: Elsewhere), so I’ll be organizing write-ins and other NaNo gatherings all month long. In an attempt to prepare for NaNoWriMo, I’m loosely brainstorming plot points, character arcs, and setting details. So, I thought I’d share some tips for pantsers looking to dip their toes into outlining. Remember, every writer is different, so do whatever works for you. These are some things that work for me.
- Do character sketches. If you write character-driven stories, getting to know your characters better before you start writing will make the process go a lot more smoothly. I’ll write interviews or journal entries where my main characters tell me about their lives and how they feel about other characters in the story. Sometimes those sketches will reveal a surprising trait that leads to a major development in the plot.
- Figure out the main plot points. You don’t need to fill out a beat sheet or have every scene planned out, but it helps to go into a story knowing a few basics. I like to have at least a vague idea of the following beats: how the story starts, the midpoint reversal, the climax/final confrontation, and how the story ends. These don’t have to be exact. Sometimes my notes on a climax are protagonist confronts antagonist and uses some skill they learned earlier in the book to emerge victorious where they would have failed in the beginning. (Very vague, I know. Have I mentioned I once wrote twelve endings for a book before I found one I like? Maybe this is why… However, I don’t think I could’ve come up with that right ending before trying out all the ones that didn’t work.)
- List the scenes you know you want to write. Again, this can be really vague — first clue found (for a mystery), Character A dies, Characters B and C finally admit their feelings for each other, etc. If you’re like me, some of the major scenes have already played out in your head. Jotting them down may help you figure out where those scenes should fit into the larger narrative.
Again, these are things that have worked for me, but they may not be right for every pantser. There’s no right or wrong way to write, so figure out what works for you.
Do you have tips you would add to this list? Please share in the comments! Also, if you want to do NaNoWriMo with me, you can add me as a writing buddy: lizthelibrarian.
As NaNoWriMo winds down, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I write. My NaNoWriMo project was highly unusual for me — I chose it simply because I wanted to do NaNoWriMo with my teens, and I knew I could write 50,000 words about these characters and their world. This is the first book I wrote with zero intention of publishing it. I wrote it for me and me alone.
It’s a train wreck of a book (or, more accurately, about three-quarters of a book, since that’s what got me to 50,000 words), but it’s also exactly what I needed this November. When my stress and anxiety levels peaked, I was able to fall back on my writing. Disappear into someone else’s problems, and celebrate their triumphs. I don’t think I wrote much that was good this month, but writing got me through some rough patches.
Writing isn’t only, or even often, therapy for me. I write because I have stories to tell, characters who refuse to shut up, worlds that demand to be brought to life. I write because I can’t imagine not writing. I love learning more about a character and the world they live in through writing their story. I love learning more about myself and my own biases when I write characters whose backgrounds or experiences differ from my own. And as a librarian, I love doing all the research.
I also write because I believe in the power of words and reading. I believe the right book for the right reader at the right time can make all the difference. It did for me — more than one book, at more than one point in my life. I hope my books will someday have that kind of impact on a reader. Even if it’s just one person, if my words have led someone else to think differently about something or to smile when they thought they couldn’t or to cry when they needed a good cry, it will be one of my greatest accomplishments.
Why do you write?
NaNoWriMo starts today, and I’m so excited to write this story! For all those who are nervous about doing NaNo, remember, it’s perfectly normal to be scared. We’ve all been there. When I was in college, I let a professor’s opinion scare me away from writing for three years. I’d get ideas for stories, but I’d talk myself out of writing them, because I was convinced they wouldn’t be any good.
But here’s the thing: not writing wasn’t making me a better writer. The only way to improve at something is to practice it. Professional musicians didn’t start out playing sonatas; they started with scales. First books, and even first drafts of books, are like scales. You learn the notes, learn what fits in this key (with this story) and what doesn’t, find a rhythm that fits. It won’t be perfect, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a starting point.
The goal of NaNoWriMo is to push yourself to get that first draft written. Don’t worry about messing it up. Don’t worry about what your friends or family or future readers will think of it. Just write.
Remember, you can always edit in December.
As a writer of YA novels and a teen librarian, writing programs at the library allow my two careers to intersect in the best way. I could talk about writing for hours, and love helping newer writers, whether that means pointing them to useful resources or providing feedback on their work. This week, in honor of Teen Read Week, I have a couple writing programs scheduled, and I’m really excited for them!
The first is more based on storytelling than writing specifically. We’ll basically be creating fan fiction and fan art, and I’m placing no limitations on format. People can write, draw, or even rap about their favorite (or least favorite) characters and stories. When I pitched this program at a school visit, one boy said, “We’re gonna rap at the library?”
Yes. Yes, we are.
After that I have a workshop planned that’s focused on novel writing. I’m determined to make the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program a thing at my library this year. I’ve put together a Young Novelist’s Survival Packet that includes lists of helpful websites, worksheets on characters development and plotting, a calendar so they can set a word count goal for every day in November (and plan for those days when they won’t be able to write), and more. I’ll also be signing teens up for the Young Writers Program, and depending on people’s interest, I may host write-ins or lead online writing sprints in November. I told our local English teachers about the program, and am hoping they send their creative writers my way!
Have you had any writing groups or programs at your library? What has been popular or successful?
I know lots of writers who swear by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s a great motivator as thousands of people around the globe all pledge to write 50,000 words in a month. Plenty of published novels — some even New York Times bestsellers — started out as NaNoWriMo projects.
I’ve only done NaNoWriMo once before. Usually November is a busy month for me, and last year, when I had a NaNo project in mind I didn’t want to wait until November, so I fast-drafted during the end of September and October. But I’ve always loved the sense of community NaNoWriMo creates, and for the last three years I’ve signed my library up to be an official Come Write In location. This year, I’m encouraging my teens to do the Young Writers Program (and seeing if I can convince their English teachers to offer participants extra credit). It feels wrong to encourage so many others to do something I won’t do myself.
So this year I’m doing NaNoWriMo again. I have no idea what I’m going to write, but I have a month to figure it out. And this way, when my young writers stress about word counts or sagging middles, I’ll be in the trenches with them. We can fight our way out together.
Do you participate in NaNoWriMo?