As November looms, so thousands of writers worldwide start to prepare for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). A month when they will throw themselves into the annual challenge of writing a fifty-thousand-word novel. That may sound impossible, but for many, they’ll achieve it. For others, they’ll take that enviable step of actually realizing their literary dream.
This year will see me undertake my fourth NaNo journey. With each year my writing has grown, and with each year, I’ve realized there are things I need to do to improve the next years’ experience. And so, as I prepare this year, I’ve separated preparation and planning, both personally, and professionally where my writing is concerned.
Angela asked me to write about my NaNo experience, so here goes.
Preparation (a personal perspective)
1. Make sure you have a creative space to work in.
It’s not always easy. Whether you live alone, or with a family, there’s always distractions. Whether it be the urge to tidy up and vacuum, or having to listen to your teenage sons’ music. As a result, if you are going to write, you need a place you can feel comfortable in.
Do you need an uncluttered workspace? Do you work best with your family around you? Do you work with chaos around you? It’s all up to the individual. I know writers’ who work in the kitchen in the midst of their family. And writers who need to escape from the chaos that’s home. Everyone is different.
If not at home, then possibly a local coffee shop, the library. You need to feel comfortable where you write to avoid distractions, and the urge to procrastinate.
2. Pre-prepare meals
As a mom of six, understandably meal-times can be a little like feeding time at the zoo. However, I’ve found that during NaNo, if I prepare meals and freeze them, it makes for a far more efficient dinner time. As a result, during October, every time I cook a meal, I make double the amount and freeze the extra for the following month (why I don’t do this all year round I don’t know!). I’ll make cauliflower cheese, lasagna, spaghetti Bolognese, shepherd’s pie, curries. I’ll prepare veg and then put it in freezer bags (I could probably buy frozen veg, but I’ve always preferred my own). I’ll have baking days, where I make muffins, potato wedges, anything that I know the family enjoy. So that when they’re hungry, they can merely take it out of the freezer and heat it up. Meaning they leave mom alone!
3. Make sure your family and friends are aware of what NaNo means to you, and them.
I’ve traditionally used a personal contract to reinforce my commitment to NaNo. I commit to my fifty-thousand-word goal, and have in the past reached as many as 125,000 words. This has only been possible by communicating with my family. They know what writing means to me. But during November, they’re aware that they don’t come into my study. They leave me to write. My husband bought me a hat, which he jokingly referred to as my writing hat. It’s become symbolic, in that if I’m wearing it, the family leave me alone to write.
Talk to your family and friends. Explain to them what NaNo is. What you intend to do. Why it means so much to you. Help them to understand why the month is important. If you’re going to commit, then you need the support of those around you. To be honest, my family become my own personal cheerleading squad. Watching as my daily tally grows. Urging me on all the way. That kind of support is invaluable to any writer.
4. Know what you want to achieve from NaNoWriMo
It’s all well and good committing to NaNoWriMo, but what do you want to achieve? Is it a novel you’ve always known you wanted to write, but never had the time? Is it your memoirs? Perhaps it’s a thesis? A collection of short stories? As you prepare for NaNo, set your goals. Know what it is you want before the month begins.
5. Buy yourself stationery.
Most people these days’ use computers, but one of the things I’ve found vital are notebooks and pens. I have small notebooks that fit in my handbag – each one labelled differently. Character notes, ideas, quotes, sources. I also have a large notebook that I use as journals and plotting diaries. I keep record of my progress, documenting how ideas evolve. How a character has changed; why I decided it needed to happen; if I decided to change a setting. All things that contribute to the evolution of my story. Not to mention picking up interesting snippets when I’m out and about.
6. Create a schedule
Identify what time of day is most effective for your writing. Are you a day writer? An early morning writer? Or do you like writing late into the night? In identifying it, you’ll be able to create a schedule for NaNo that most effectively uses your time for creativity. Do you want to just write for a couple of hours each day? Just an hour? Do you want to join a local write-in with the your local NaNo group. Research what’s available early, so that you’re not distracted during NaNo.
7. Set your goals.
Set yourself SMART goals (small, achievable, realistic targets). It might be a word count goal. I generally aim for 2,000 words a day. But I’m lucky enough to have the time to commit to having my bum in the seat far longer than many others may be able to commit.
To achieve 50,000 words in a month, then the average would be around 1650 words a day. You’ll find some days that is easy. Others will be a struggle. But they will generally average out if you’re on course for the fifty-thousand-word goal.
If you have a goal, you have something to reach for. A direction. So commit to that goal.
That’s pretty much everything as far as the preparation is concerned. I hope this helps with others planning their NaNo journey. It’s an exciting time of year, and with only a little over two weeks to go, preparation is well and truly underway for 2016’s NaNoWriMo.
Part 2: Planning to come!
Emma Lowe moved to North Canterbury from Dunedin three years ago. She promptly joined the CWG and was overwhelmed to discover not only a network of writers, but a group of people who have become close personal friends. She has been focusing on her writing ever since (at least when she’s not juggling kids and the family business). She predominantly writes romance, and is also a member of Romance Writers of New Zealand, amongst other writing organisations.
Shelley Chappell is a writer of fantasy fiction and fairy tale retellings for children and young adults. She is the author of Beyond the Briar: A Collection of Romantic Fairy Tales (nominated for a Sir Julius Vogel Award), and various short stories. Today we are talking to her about her recent project, Wish Upon a Southern Star, an anthology of retold fairy tales by New Zealand and Australian authors, which is scheduled for release on September 2nd, 2017.
Hi Shelley, thank you for joining us today. What was the inspiration behind Wish Upon a Southern Star?
I was invited to meet with the Christchurch Children’s Literature Hub to speak about fairy tales. I had already published my own collection of retold fairy tales, Beyond the Briar, and it was great fun to share my passion for fairy tales with the group. One of the activities involved leading the group through the process of rethinking and rewriting their own chosen fairy tale and that gave me the idea of editing a collection of writing by other authors in New Zealand and Australia.
Can you tell us about some of the stories?
Every author has their own unique way of reinterpreting the original tales and it’s fun to read how they reshape the original characters and plots. I met some very memorable characters walking through these pages and enjoyed their adventures. With twenty-one stories, it’s hard to pick one or two to highlight but I can say that there are stories set in this world and stories set in other places, comical stories and stories that pluck at the heart-strings. With such a range of different stories hopefully there will be something to appeal to everyone!
Would you be able to share with us a little about the anthology creation process?
The anthology began with a call for submissions nearly a year ago, which I sent out to all the writing groups I could reach in New Zealand and Australia. Once the submissions came in, I got to enjoy the process of reading them all. I read lots of great stories, including some I had to decline because they just weren’t ultimately a good fit for the collection. The editing process came next, and I really enjoyed working with the contributing authors to get their stories ready for the collection. With twenty-one contributing authors this took some time to complete, but once a final draft was ready it was time for proofreading and formatting the manuscript for Createspace and Kindle (the publishing platforms for Wish Upon a Southern Star). After that came the marketing and advertising in preparation for the anthology’s release.
The official book launch is Saturday, September 2nd. Where is it, and what can we expect?
The book launch will take place between 2 – 4 pm on Saturday 2nd September in the Sydenham Room at the South Library at 66 Colombo Street. Seventeen of the contributing authors will be in attendance, some coming from the North Island and Australia, so it should be a really fun occasion. The launch will start at 2pm with some speeches and author introductions, followed by a mix and mingle with light refreshments, allowing guests an opportunity to purchase and sign books and meet the authors.
Thank you Shelley, looking forward to meeting you and the other authors there.
Michele Clark McConnochie is a Christchurch-based children’s author with over 25 years’ experience in education. She teaches creative writing and is a freelance features writer for local newspapers. Her trilogy, The Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers, was first published via Createspace, but the first book, the Uncooperative Flying Carpet, was recently picked up by Morgan James Kids.
Welcome Michele, and thank you for joining us today to answer a few questions.
Firstly, can you tell us a little about the Sabrina Summers series?
It’s a middle-grade trilogy which, although each book has serious messages for readers, is designed to be funny and engaging. Sabrina Summers and her friends are accidentally sent to a strange and mysterious land where they find that being traditional fairy-tale characters is really no fun at all. The books follow a traditional quest format but turn fairytales inside out. Once the magic objects are found, a battle ensues with the kingdom of Dralfynia at stake. Along the way there is treachery and betrayal, and the traditional happy ending where a character becomes a ruler is given a very 21st century twist. I want children to think for themselves and learn to take responsibility for what they do, but to enjoy themselves at the same time.
I have also seen that your series has been released in a special dyslexic-friendly format. Are you able to tell us a little about the difference in style, and how that is helpful to the reader?
I contacted the Dyslexia Foundation of NZ. They recommended dyslexie font and I bought a publisher’s licence from them. As well as using that font, the books are on cream paper and have a ragged, not straight, right-hand margin. I also deliberately used short chapters with cliffhangers to encourage reluctant readers.
You’ve also put a lot of thought into creating additional resources for the readers, such as teaching notes. Any advice to other middle-grade authors who might want to include some of their own? Does it help to be a teacher?
Well, all teachers pinch ideas from other teachers, so take a look at other author’s websites and see what looks like a good match (David Walliams and Roald Dahl both have tons of resources). You don’t need to be a teacher, just be creative. I was going to link my worksheets to the national curricula of the UK and NZ, but it was quite complicated to do both.
When your third book was released, you held a book launch, which I attended. Do you feel book launches are important? How much planning and organisation is required to make it successful?
I absolutely think they are important, even though many authors are introverts and dread public speaking! I launched at the NZ Society of Author’s Book Buzz, and they’re happy to give you a platform with another couple of authors and organise the room booking etc, but I also launched at a local library, after running a Canterbury-wide children’s story and drawing competition. Helen Mongillo was incredibly generous and did heaps of the organising, and arranged for Gavin Bishop, Heather McQuillan and Bob Docherty to be the judges. I got entries from around Canterbury, it was heaps of fun, but I found it was a ‘loss leader’ and a lot of work. It’s easier if you work with someone else (a friend is a photographer and we talked about a joint launch/exhibition but the audiences were too different), and it helps if you have a gimmick such as a raffle or food. Basically, ask for help – the Guild seems incredibly supportive!
Any tips on inviting in new readers to introduce to your series?
Because I write for children, I’ve tried getting my books on the catalogue for Scholastic (they said ‘no’) and I’ve done some teaching in schools and donated the dyslexia-friendly copy of my books to the dyslexia foundation which did lead to publicity and sales. Copies were donated to libraries in the UK (thanks Mum) and here and again, both led to sales. AllbooksNZ are great to use for schools and libraries, I think Scorpio have a publication and if they stock your books, they’ll include it (but I haven’t got that far yet).
What other sorts of promotion and marketing have you done for your books?
I’ve done some Facebook advertising, have a blog (which I hardly ever do) and have my Twitter and Instagram accounts linked to Facebook. Sending copies to be reviewed is good, but I think you have to be a ‘dripping tap’ and keep on getting yourself out there to maintain, or extend, the shelf-life of your book.
Can you tell us a bit about your publishing deal?
Yes, it’s very exciting. Having self-published, I was a bit reluctant to hand over the reins to a traditional publisher and, although I did contact a number of agents in the UK as well as a couple of publishers in the US (who all rejected me), Morgan James Kids was a perfect fit. Their background was in old-fashioned ‘vanity publishing’ and they still offer a similar service for their non-fiction books, but they recently branched out into children’s books. They take 12 new publications a year and the copyright remains with the author. We work together for marketing (they get the books on shelves in the US and UK and I have books for sale via my website), and their authors are treated as equal partners, which is fantastic. I have input all the way through the re-editing, book design and cover process, and in return, they ask authors to ‘put some skin in the game’ by taking a number of books at cost and selling them to generate buzz. I approached them, heard nothing for a while then got an initial email. That was followed up with a phone call with their fiction acquisitions editor before the book went to their reading committee to be voted on. The reason for the call is they want to make sure they are dealing with authors who also have a sensible, commercial approach and are prepared to go out and do school visits etc. They have agreed to publish book one of the Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers, The Uncooperative Flying Carpet and that is released early 2018.
And finally, what other projects are you working on now?
I’m still chipping away at a travel book, working titled Big Boots, based on a trip I took last July and August to sites associated with classic children’s books such as the actual Pooh Corner and Secret Garden, and for light relief, I’m developing a book of short stories based on the background characters from the Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers.
Thank you for your time, Michele.
And if you wish to read her books, or learn more about Michele Clark McConnochie, please check out her website: http://mcmauthor.com
We have compiled a selection of local and national opportunities for authors. Please note that these are not Guild-affiliated, for further information, please refer to the links provided.
SpecFicNZ is seeking submissions to a new anthology titled, Te Kōrero Ahi Kā, an unthemed anthology that will showcase the best work from members of the SpecFicNZ organisation of writers, poets, artists, and creatives.
You need to be a member of SpecFic NZ to enter, you can join or renew here.
Submissions close: 31 October 2017.
New Zealand Society of Authors are running the Heritage Book & Writing Awards, with two categories open for unpublished authors: poetry and short prose. The theme is “Finding Our Way.” Authors are encouraged to approach the theme broadly.
Each short-form category awards a prize of $200 for first place.
There is a $15 entry fee.
Submissions Close: 15 August 2017
For more information, please visit their website.
William Taylor Memorial Heartland Short Story Competition is being held for 2017. Monetary prizes of $300, $75 and $50 respectively will be awarded.
Entries should be fiction in any genre and be up to 1,000 words in length.
There is a $10 entry fee.
Submissions close: 30 September 2017
The Storylines Awards are hosted annually, with three categories for unpublished authors of children’s fiction. These awards come with an offer of publication from well-renowned Australasian publishers for the winning entrant.
Tessa Duder Award: for teenage/young adult fiction.
Tom Fitzgibbon Award: for middle grade readers (7-11 years)
Joy Cowley Award: for a picture book manuscript
Please note: an entry fee applies.
Submissions close: 31 October 2017
Pantsers write “by the seat of their pants”, not following a set structure but letting the story take them on a wild, sometimes chaotic, journey. It is also known as “Discovery Writing”.
Plotters plan out the novel in advance, sometimes in meticulous detail, setting out the story’s structure and following it from beginning to end.
Which of the two are you? Is one way better than another? While I would never dictate how anyone should write, it is true that each method has its pros and its cons, and also that many writers tend to fit somewhere between the two.
Here are some tips and tricks our members shared during our Monday night discussion:
- It helps to know where the story begins, and have some idea of how it will end.
- Consider your plot points to be “signposts” designed to move the plot in the right direction.
- Be flexible: if characters, or the plot, behaves in an unexpected manner, be prepared to move these signposts.
- Use the first draft of your discovery written novel to determine the structure of the second draft.
- Many writers (especially those that are also dedicated readers) will find themselves subconsciously following the traditional story structure.