Fast Draft Your Manuscript: It’s NaNoWri

Are you all set to Fast Draft? This year will be the sixth year I have participated in National Writing Month. Of the five novels I have completed in one month, I have published four.

Not too bad a record.

Over the years I have learned better ways to outline, explored word trackers, got myself more organized, and most importantly learned how to draft fast.

After teaching a number of workshops and mentoring NaNoWri participants, I have finally gathered all my tips and tricks for writing fast into a book.

Fast Draft Your Manuscript and Get It Done Now, written under my professional name, is being published by Short Fuse Publishing. It is available in Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited and is the first in my new Write for Success writing craft series.

About Fast Draft Your Manuscript


Fast Drafting is a proven set of techniques and strategies that can be applied to any piece of writing from blog post to novel. Tested over the author’s decades-long career as an author and educator, the Fast Drafting Method is easy to learn, customizable for your needs, and designed to get results quickly. Fast Draft Your Manuscript: And Get It Done Now.


About the Write for Success series


Don’t just write…write for success! From award-winning author and educator Joan Bouza Koster comes a revolutionary series of guides showing you the steps that helped her writing not just land an agent and book deal but win praise from readers and literary taste makers. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, romance, thriller, or historical, this series delivers behind-the-scenes tips, inspiration when you need it most, and the flexibility to fit your writing career. Write with confidence and write for success.

Upcoming books in the series

Revise Your Draft and Make It Shine

Power Charge Your Language and Make Your Writing Sing

Research Your Subject and Validate Your Writing


So are you doing NaNo or do you just have a draft to finish? Here are few tips for you from Fast Draft Your Manuscript And Get It Done Now.

Fast Drafting is a time to forget about being perfect. So, type away.

  • Relish being sloppy.
  • Use the first words that pop into your head.
  • Don’t worry about clichés or repeating terms.
  • Forget writing rules or making it sound pretty.
  • If you can’t think of something, or you need a fact to fill in, or you are not sure about what you wrote, use the highlighter tool in your word processor to highlight that area in a color so when you do your first revision you can come back and fix it.



Available from AMAZON


“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” —-Louis L’Amour

Organize and De-Clutter Your Writing Zone

~ Make it Beautiful !

Organizing is something you do before you do something, so when you do it, it is not all mixed up. ~ A.A. Milne


Oranize and de-clutter your writing zone.

 

Last month, while pondering my Big Word FOCUS, I learned that maintaining one’s focus on one’s writing is a challenge that requires you to become immersed in the creative process. While passion and motivation are high on the list for getting into that state of flow, it is helpful to be in a stress-free, distraction-free writing zone.

So, it seemed serendipitous that the next Big Word I drew was ORGANIZE. I don’t know about you, but while I consider myself to be a fairly organized person, I can quickly build up piles of papers that need attention. I am also prone to saving magazines with writing articles I like, and to printing out helpful writing tips and to collecting research facts for the books I am writing. Then there are all my promo materials and calendars and journals. Add to that all my writing materials – pencils, pens, rulers, stapler, and other stationery supplies, and honestly, my writing zone was a mess. All that mess hovered around my writing area and distracted me before I even started to write.

Note: Although, I am just focusing on my writing environment, I am not alone in struggling with cluttered spaces. According to the blog, SimplyOrderly, the average American spends almost 12 days per year, looking for things we own but can’t find. As a writer working to deadline, I cannot afford to lose time searching for papers or waste a half-hour reading an interesting, but irrelevant to my writing, article. But even more importantly, I cannot lose time writing because I am distracted or stressed.

Organizing Reduces Stress

Apparently, cluttered spaces make people feel trapped and anxious and affect our stress levels. For example, researchers at DePaul University found that people who lived in cluttered homes showed more general dissatisfaction and frustration. A 2010 study by Saxbe and Repetti found that women who thought their homes cluttered had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva.

When I looked around at the papers littering my desk and those poking out of the file box sitting next to my desk, and then at the calendar I could see out of the corner of my eye with all those looming deadlines, I knew just how those women felt.

Every item was pulling my attention away from my creative work, scattering my thinking, and keeping me stressed.  I could feel myself thinking: “Maybe I should stop writing my novel and get that blog post done.” Or “Maybe I should check my calendar to see what is due next week.” No wonder I was having trouble focusing on my novel and finding that all important state of flow.

Setting Out to Organize and De-Clutter a Writing Zone

So to reduce my stress and make myself not only happier but also more productive, I set about creating a distraction and clutter-free zone around my computer where I write.

The idea was not to get rid of all those important papers or journals or calendars. That would be impossible and foolhardy. Instead, I kept my task limited. My goal was to make the area that I could see while writing distraction-free. So I moved my paper piles, magazines, and research notes to storage containers located on shelving behind me where I couldn’t see them while writing, but where they were near at hand for when I needed them outside my dedicated creative writing time.

Using the SORT System to Organize and De-ClutterSORT to Succeed by Darla DeMorrow

In order to accomplish this task, I needed a simple organizing method. There are many approaches to organizing clutter. I looked at a number of blogs and books and settled on using Darla DeMorrow’s simple and logical SORT system (Organizing Your Home With Sort and Succeed). Her very simple advice, in the long run, is the easiest to follow.

The key to her system is having you write down exactly what you plan to accomplish in the time you allot. Having a time frame and a goal keeps you from getting lost in reading an old magazine or wandering off with an item and then ending up reorganizing something else.

1. First, I Sorted my desk zone clutter.

2. Second, I Organized it using various containers and drawers.

3. Next, I Removed and Recycled items that were unnecessary (yes, there were some!).

4. Finally, I Tweaked the space so it became clean and beautiful for me to look at.

How I Organized

Here is some of what I did to give you an example. I sorted through all my excessive pens and pencils and kept only few on my desk. I moved the open file boxes to the counter behind me, and I filed my to-do materials and articles and promo items in those boxes so they were no longer lying in piles. Next, I put my journals and notebooks on shelves under my desk where I can pull them out quickly, but where they are not staring me in the face. I turned my calendar so it faces away, but is easily turned around when I need to see the date, and hung a restful picture on the back. I have to say, no longer having red-marked days staring me in the face while writing has lowered my stress level tremendously.

To make the space welcoming, I cleared away the piles of books blocking my view out the window, added a cactus garden and an ammonite fossil shell, and set out a few of my favorite rocks that I like to hold when thinking.

Now when I sit down to write every morning, all I see is the computer, my beautiful and inspiring objects, and the view through the window. I love it.

 

Making It Work

But it is not enough to just SORT. To succeed, you also have to maintain that space. Now that I have my stress-free writing area, I need to keep it that way. That takes resolve. So far, I have managed it. Every evening before I turn off the office lights, I make sure my writing zone is clear and ready for me in the morning. Now my goal is to keep it that way all year long.

My Organized and De-cluttered DeskReady and Waiting


What do you see when you sit down to write?

How could you make it less distracting and more conducive to fostering your focus and creativity?

How I Learned to Focus

~ Becoming a Focused Writer ~

Being able to focus is always an issue for a creative writer. No one is telling you what story world to invent nor how to get yourself in the seat, start writing, and then keep at it. Somehow, you have to shut out the world around you and zero in on the words boiling up inside and aching to pour out on to the page. That takes FOCUS.

Since my big word for January was FOCUS, I spent the month, thinking about what distracts me from writing, and what methodologies I might use to improve my concentration.

ZARA-West-BIG-Word-FOCUS

How I Write

I have been writing for many, many years. In those years, I have learned that there are some basics that I need in order to write anything. One is a comfortable chair and the computer at the right height. Otherwise, plain physical discomfort will do me in pretty quickly.

Another thing is having everything I need, or think I will need, within arm’s reach. I need my book research a click away – I use OneNote as my digital binder. I need paper and pen for jot notes. I need the little cards that I write my character’s names on and some of their favorite words.

But even with all these practical things in place, focusing on the writing to be done doesn’t always happen. I’d suddenly look at the clock and see that nothing was down on the page or what was there wasn’t what I intended to write. Not to mention, all the times I just wandered off to do something else.

My Writing Distractions

So why, when I am dedicated to what I was writing and highly motivated, does my mind wander? Being of a practical nature, I began by looking at the physical things that distracted me from writing. First, there were the sensory distractions. The ticking clock. The itchy sweater. A cold draft.

So focused on being focused, I set out to remove these sensory distractions. I put the clock in another room. I made sure to wear my most comfortable clothes. I found a blanket to wrap around my legs. These changes were easy to make and did help. But only a little.

Pressing Things First

 I still had “To-Do” distractions. The email I was anxiously awaiting. The blog post I was late posting (uh- like this one). The prep for the courses I teach. Reading an interesting blog post or news article. All those things were right there on the computer and oh so easy to just click over and check. To fix these issues, I first tried doing the pressing things first – this got those done, but then I had no energy or writing time left.

Clearing the Screen

So next I tried a suggestion from Johanna Jast’s book Laser-Sharp Focus. I created a separate login identity on my computer—one that didn’t have access to all the files and emails. The interface was a lot cleaner, and the fact that I had to turn off the computer to sign into my main account was a good preventative against those easy slides into digital distractions.

Note: If you don’t want to mess with the computer, there are also programs that turn your computer into a writing area only. Here is a list of distraction freeing digital writing tools you might want to try. https://lifehacker.com/five-best-distraction-free-writing-tools-5689579

Zara West BIG words - FocusClearing the Desk

In addition, I removed all the distractions littering my desk especially those that shouted at me about things I HAD to do. I removed the wall calendar, I tucked my bullet journal out of sight, and last, removed the standing file full of work waiting to be done. I added a plant and pretty pen holder and a display of my favorite rocks.

Setting the Time

I have been using the timer method as a way to both ignore distractions and get things done. The idea is to set a timer for the length of time you want to write and ignore everything else. I had already explored timers for fast drafting for NaNo. Now I tried to figure out the optimum time for me to write. I thought it would be 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. That’s the time frame I use when sprinting and going through social media.

But I am not sprinting every minute. Most days, I write steadily, but at my own pace, letting the story unfold naturally scene by scene. But with a timer dinging every 15 minutes, it seemed like instead of helping me focus in on the writing, the buzzer was just another annoying distraction pulling me away from moments when the writing was flowing along nicely.

So I tried longer times. Several research studies have indicated that for creative work longer times work better. Nathan Kleitman identified a natural 90 minute rhythm during the day that mirrored the 90 minute sleep cycle. A productivity app found that the highest performing workers focus for an average of 52 minutes and then take about a 17 minute break. I settled on an hour using a physical sand timer that didn’t ding at all.

Those Pesky Writing Problems

So I had a simplified writing site. A distraction-free screen. And a quiet, unobtrusive timer set for an hour. All these changes did help me focus better to the extent that I came back to my writing more quickly. But what I found was the writing issues that stopped me in the first place were still there and still making me lose focus. The more I forced myself to focus on solving a writing problem, the more I became unsettled and distracted. Then off I went to do something else, despite the timer and the distraction free screen and the hidden away task list.

So, I started noting down those times and places I became distracted. There were three main issues that caused me to stop writing.

  1. It was hard to get started on a new scene or chapter or blog post.
  2. I couldn’t think of the perfect word or a way to say what I was thinking or what I was picturing or the right order in which to say it.
  3. My writing was going in the wrong direction for my storyline.

Not Focus…Flow

But how to address these issues? I started searching for more focus tips and I discovered FLOW…

Flow and focus go together. Flow is defined by researchers as a mental state in which time, distractions, and everything around you fall away and all your creative energy is focused on the task. When you are in a state of flow, you are actually using your brain differently. The prefrontal part of the brain that controls critical thinking is deactivated and our sense of self lessens. Instead, norepinephrine and dopamine flood our bodies and time slows, impulse control decreases, and our performance becomes more fluid and creative.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow (1990) characterizes this feeling as a time when you are so engrossed in an activity nothing else matters. My goodness. That sounds exactly how I feel when the writing is going great. (Also when I am doing photography or making a drawing or singing a song). So how do I make that happen all the time?

Csikszentmihalyi says that setting the stage for flow to happen requires:

  1. A clear end goal
  2. Immediate self-feedback that you are moving toward that goal
  3. The task is challenging, but within your capabilities
  4. No worry about failing
  5. You are happy doing it.

Suddenly, my focus problem became clear. I lost focus writing when one of the above five things wasn’t happening.

  1. My end goal (or my character’s end goal) for the scene/chapter/writing piece wasn’t spelled out enough.
  2. I had lost track of what I was writing so I wasn’t getting positive self-feedback that I was doing well.
  3. I didn’t yet have the writing skills need to fix that storyline or paragraph or sentence.
  4. I was on a tight schedule, or I felt my writing had to be perfect so I was afraid of failure.
  5. What I was working on wasn’t what I wanted to be writing at that time. I had another idea or another task to do that I was drawn to more.

Zara West's BIG Words - FocusPutting Flow Into Practice

When I began my investigation into focus at the beginning of January, I thought I would find some simple technique that would increase my ability to write more effectively and smoothly. What I learned is that it is impossible to eliminate all distractions, and that’s okay. When you are in the flow, you can ignore most of them. That when you start to get distracted, re-examine what you were just working on. What can you do to solve the problem?

Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Stuck on a start? Write a place holder sentence at the start of a difficult scene or chapter to be revised later, that simply states who, where and when.
  2. Need positive feedback? Note down what I have accomplished – word count, scenes completed, etc.
  3. Don’t have the skill yet? Make a note to find a writing blog or workshop or critique partner to help me improve my writing and leave that spot a blank or highlighted to come back to.
  4. Face the fact that sometimes the flow just doesn’t happen. Then it is time to go do something else. But the important thing is to come back and dive into that writing again.

PS – I love my new distraction-free writing zone too.

 


I love to hear from my followers. 

What distracts you from writing or some other favorite creative pursuit?

 

My 2019 New Year Resolutions

~A Dozen Hopes for 2019 ~

Time to make those 2019 New Year Resolutions. I have a long tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. I bet many of you do too. After all, we only get a chance to revisit our hopes and dreams every 365 days.

Usually, I make a list and stuff it away. This year, inspired by my Hearts Through History Romance Writing Chapter, I decided to write my resolutions as a word cloud.

Making My 2019 New Year Resolutions Word Cloud

First I needed to choose my words. There were so many wonderful words that I wanted to pursue that I had trouble picking only a few. I ended up with twelve words that were meaningful to me and that I thought I could pursue successfully. Twelve – a dozen seemed like a nice even, easy-to-handle number, and to my surprise, mirrored the twelve months too. (Be looking for blog posts focusing on one of these words in each of the coming months.)

Next, I took my words and using Word Art Creator, turned them into a beautiful graphic that I can hang on my bulletin board or paste in my journal. This cool little website is pretty intuitive to use. You can choose the size, color, and font for your words and then a shape to fit them into. You can even upload your own shape.

Here’s how my 2019 New Year Resolutions Word Cloud turned out:

Zara West2019 New Year's Resolutions

 


Using Word Art to Picture a Novel

Pretty cool, don’t you think? This gave me another idea. What if I created  a word art design for the romantic comedy I am currently writing? So I did. The novel is tentatively named Hooked on Love, and here is the word art version. Looks like a fun read, right?

Hooked on Love Word Art by Zara West

 


What are some of your 2019 resolution words?

Put them in a word art design of your creating.

Share how it works for you.

 

12 things I am Thankful for: A Writer’s List of Thankfuls

~ What I am Thankful For ~

On this Thanksgiving Day, I thought I would make a list of all the things I am thankful for as a writer. Most of the things are simple. It doesn’t take much to make me happy as long as I can write.Cat and Computer

  1. Time to write
  2. A computer to write on
  3. A beautiful view out my window
  4. A comfortable chair
  5. A warm, furry cat to keep me company
  6. A working Internet (most of the time)
  7. A family that honors my writing
  8. An ever-constant flow of ideas
  9. A terrific romance writers chapter
  10. Years and years of inspiring teachers
  11. A wonderful agent, editor, and publisher
  12. AND YOU—My wonderful, supportive readers

Writing a Series – 6 Tips for Success

~How to Extend the Story~

When I started writing my first romantic suspense Beneath the Skin, I had no plans to make it into a series. But it didn’t take long for me to start imagining the lives of the secondary characters and wondering if they could win true love too.

So when I pitched the book to Rhonda Penders at Wild Rose Press, I told her it was the first of a series of four books – The Skin Quartet.

Well, on August 18th, book 2 in the series Close to the Skin is scheduled to be released. Now I will find out if I have accomplished what I set out to do.

Writing a successful series is hard

To write a successful series, the author needs to accomplish 6 things.

ONE – Keep the details consistent

This one was a real challenge. No one wants to read a series where characters’ eye color and other characteristics flip around.

Not planning to write a series I hadn’t keep the best ordered notes for Beneath the Skin. I also had used Zara West Suspense Beneath the Skin Writing a series - 6 Tipsa variety of filing methods. I had a looseleaf, a bulletin board, word files, and Pinterest boards

When I hit Book 2 suddenly I needed a unified resource if I wasn’t going to spend forever trying to search out a detail such as a character’s favorite ice cream flavor. I hit upon using One Note (a free program that comes with Microsoft.  Evernote is a similar program, readily available)

But I tried a lot of other methods as well.  The results of what I learned are presented in my online workshop The Story Bible. (Note: I will be offering this workshop for From the Heart Romance Writers in September 2018).

TWO – Stay organized

Another important thing I learned was to keep all my data together. I originally had separate files for each book. This meant I was constantly moving from one to the other. I quickly learned that the best organizational method is to keep all the data for the entire series in one series file.

THREE – Keep track of the passage of time

Having a great Story Bible means that I can quickly locate a name or an age or a location or hair color. But it needs to be supplemented with a calendar. In my case, my series books are consecutive. That means that characters grow older in each book. Not by much -all together the span is about four years. But when one main character is only 14 in the first book, four years will make big difference in his life.

FOUR – Maintain the tone and conflict level.

I wanted to keep the same tone and page-turning level of excitement that reviewers praised after reading Beneath the Skin.

Since each book in the Skin Quartet deals with different characters who relate on different emotional levels., this one was a particular challenge. You want the characters to be unique but linked in some way even though time is passing and the characters are growing, maturing and changing.

In my case, I solved this problem by keeping the villains the same in each book. Because they change much less and are driven to the same end goal – tormenting the hero and heroine,  they provide a unity of motivation and consistency of character.

FIVE – Make the books stand on their own.

Close to the Skin by Zara West Writing a Series - 6 TipsDespite the fact that I was writing a series, I wanted to make sure that every book in the series could be read as a stand-alone. I hate picking up a book and not knowing what the author is referring to. In a recent poll I did on Facebook, every single commenter said they would not like to read book 2 in a series before book 1. However I have seen it done successfully.

But boy is it hard to do well. A series writer has several choices.

  1. You can summarize what has already happened near the start of the story. But that often slows down the reader and can prove annoying.
  2. You can give a few hints of past events and hope the reader will understand enough.
  3. You can tie the past events into the current characters’ lives as motivations or problems.

For Book 2 in The Skin Quartet, I have my main character suffering from post-traumatic stress following the kidnapping she experiences in book 1 Beneath the Skin.

For me, having each book follow the next in time was another great way to ensure the stories stand on their own.

A NetGalley reviewer has written that Close to the Skin works as a stand-alone. I hope other readers agree.

SIX End with a happily ever after.

Having been burned by several books which end in a cliffhanger, I was doubly motivated to make sure every book in my series had a happily ever after.  I decided that the best approach was to write a complete character arc for my romance couple. At the end of the book, their story is done – ending happily ever after.

Success?

Since Close to the Skin has not been released yet, I have my fingers crossed that I have succeeded in making both a great Book 2 full of characters my Beneath the Skin readers have come to love plus created a cast of characters who can stand on their own and draw a new reader in.

Note: Book 3 in the series Within the Skin is currently in production at Wild Rose Press.


Read about the whole series here: The Skin Quartet


Buy Links for Beneath the Skin

Amazon  |  B&N  |  iTunes  | KOBO  |  Wild Rose Press

Buy Links for Close to the Skin

Amazon  |  B&N  |  Wild Rose Press


How about you? Have you written a series? What did you struggle with?

Are you a reader of series? What do you like about them? What do you dislike?

Post your comments below.

 

Time Management versus Creativity in Writing

Or Why Hitching Creativity to the Clock is Doomed to Failure

alarm clock Zara West SuspenseYikes! Where did the time go? My last post was when – December? So much for keeping a writing journal.

It was such a good idea – writing down what was going on in my writing. So what happened?  Well, now that I am knee-deep – or is it eyeball deep – in my third novel in the Skin Quartet, I think I have discovered something that will make some writers upset, and others cheer. Time management and creative writing do not fit well together.

Now I have to preface this discussion with the fact that I am excellent at managing time. Ask anyone! At one time I had three jobs, a craft business, two young children and a heck of a lot of sheep. I didn’t sleep much, but I got everything done. I had a planner. I had a calendar. I had a time and place for everything.

The writerly tasks require creativity

So what makes writing different? Well, I have a planner. I have a calendar. I have a timer. And I have a beautiful writing studio. First thing every morning, I sit down and write or edit for the requisite number of words or pages. No problem there. It’s my favorite time of day. No timer is set. Rather my goal is a number of words or a number of pages. The creative ideas pour out of me and onto the page.

Then my schedule lists a number of other writerly tasks to accomplish each day.  These are the things that go along with publishing a book and include such checklist items as posting 8-10 daily quips on social media, taking writing classes (you can always improve!), teaching classes, participating in writing and critique groups, designing newsletters, answering email, and writing blog posts.

A while back, I took a terrific time management course for writers called Book Factory by Kerri Nelson. She suggested dividing up all these writerly tasks into manageable 15 minute blocks of time. This makes sense to me as you can at least see progress. And I have tried to do this ever since and to some extent it does work.

The problem is tasks like social media posts and blogging and newletters so on are all creative writing tasks. Often they take way more than 15 minutes to complete.

After doing creative writing all morning, I have to admit my creative juices are on low flow by the time I open my Facebook page and try to come up with some great new content that people will look at and hopefully share. Then I have to move on to Twitter and class assignments, and so on.

Blog posts, like this one, are the worst, because unlike most social media posts, they can’t be 140 characters long. They have to provide meaningful content. They take me a lot longer than 15 minutes. That’s why they are so rare.

So what’s the solution?

Well, I have noticed that the major writers often mention they have PAs (personal assistants) to do all these other tasks. Others hire promotion companies to help out with some of the items. Both of these sound like a dream to me. With one book published, I’m not yet in that league.

A quick search of my writer friends shows me that the ones who are getting a lot of posts out and somehow keep up with regular blogs often have a strong network of friends and take turns sharing content with each other.

The writers like me who are struggling on our own often sink to re-posting content. It’s not a bad compromise. But not very creative, and it starts to get boring for the reader and -I hate to say it- for me.

So here are some ideas that I am going to try in order to blog about my writing more often.

  1. Set aside one day a week – I’m thinking Monday for my writing blog. (But don’t hold me to that.)
  2. On writing blog day, I will repost and do quickie things on social media like share and retweet.
  3. Create a format for the writing blog posts so I can channel my creativity into what I say instead of how it is organized.
  4. Before writing my blog post, I will walk for 15 minutes to stir up those creative juices.

Do you think this plan will work?

Be looking for my next writing journal post to find out.

 

Word Trackers. A Good Thing or Not?

50,000 Words and Counting!

I did it! For the third year in a row I managed to get down 50,000 words on my next novel, despite the holidays, a long-awaited visit from my sister who lives in Scotland, a book signing in Long Island, and all the daily things I do – like work.

However, 50,000 words is not a complete novel, at least not for me. My romantic suspenses run about 75,000 to 85,000 words. So that means I have 25,000 to 35, 000 still left to write. But already I am starting to feel less pressure to get those words down.  So what to do?

Word Trackers and Word CountersWord Tracker NaNoWr

One of the things I like about NaNoWri is their great word count tracker. It gives a very visual picture of your progress and also adjust automatically to keep you on track.  Now I know that you can make your own tracker using Excel. Been there. Done that. [Here is a tutorial if you want to try it yourself].

It works, but is it really necessary to create a counter from scratch? With that in mind, I set out to explore what was available on the web. Here’s what I found.

Excel Spreadsheets

If you have a basic understanding of Excel, [like don’t mess with the formulas in the cells] then you will enjoy Svenja Goslen’s beautiful Excel spreadsheets that track daily progress either for a month nanowrimo-word-tracker-spreadsheets or for a year  yearly-word-tracker-spreadsheets/  These are so beautiful – truly works of art – that I didn’t look any further. I have used them for several novels in the past and can vouch that they definitely do work. Do consider making a donation if you do use one of these.

Progress Meters

These are simple bar or line charts [technically picometers] that show your progress toward the number of words you set. Most are in the form of a widget to embed in a blog or website. Some require more customization than others. word-counter

You can check these out here.

Writertopia

Honorless

Language is a Virus

Critique Circle

ProgPress [exclusively for wordpress]

Word Tracker Apps

What if you want to use your phone or tablet? Well there are several free word trackers to try.

1. Wordly is an App for the iPhone that is both a timer and a word tracker. I don’t have an iPhone so if you do please feel free to comment of how this one fares.

2. Writometer is a highly-rated App for Android that is fairly simple to use. It includes a timer, treats (time on Facebook, a cookie, etc. for completing your daily goal), and a progress meter widget to add to your home screen. You can set an alarm to remind you to record your words each day. It includes a dictionary and a thesaurus.

3. Wrimo lets you keep track of your counts in a more social setting that mimics NaNoWriMo’s public persona. You can compete with a friend or all writers using the App.

Word Tracker Online Tools

nanowri-graph-2016But what if you want something a little more like the NaNoWri graphic page?

1. Write Track is a free online word tracker that lets you pre-plan your daily word count. You have to sign up for this before you actually see the tracker which I did not do. So I will leave that for you to explore and send in feedback.

2. Pacemaker is the tracker I think most resembles the NaNoWri one and the one I am currently using. It gives you the choice of a calendar layout, a bar chart, or a

NOTE: A trick I use to be sure to record my totals is to paste the link to my chart in the header of my WIP. That makes it easy to click at the end of the writing session and quickly record my daily total.

Should I Use A Word Tracker?

One note of caution. Tracking your words is not for everyone. It is particularly useful if you are fast drafting where you need to have a fire lit under you to keep writing and not go back and reread or edit until you reach the end.

But if you work at a more leisurely pace or if having a word deadline hanging over you stifles your thinking or creativity, then consider using a simple timer. After all it is the act of sitting down and putting your fingers on the keyboard that will eventually produce your novel, not how many words a day your produce.


I welcome your comments.

Please feel free to suggest other word trackers I may have missed.

Save

I love to read: Why reading during NaNoWri is a bad Idea

I love to read. In fact, I don’t just love it– I am compelled to read. I read everything. If there is a newspaper in the recycle bin, I read it. If there is a cereal box on the table, I read the label. If there is a book left anywhere, I pick it up and read it. And if it is a book I want to read, I not only read it, I become immersed in it. So immersed, I don’t hear people talking to me. I don’t hear the doorbell. I don’t hear the tea kettle whistling. Yep. I love to read.

Now this can be a good thing or a bad thing. When I was growing up, I was forbidden to read in the house. My mother insisted that when I was reading, I tuned her out completely. (Well, she was right about that, though I am not sure the book was totally to blame. It might just have been normal teenage contrariness.) As a result, I just read more and in more creative ways – under the covers, in my lap at school, while pretending to watch TV, and so on.

In elementary school, I set out to read every book in the library. Since the library was small and poorly stocked, that turned out to be quite possible. It was also a wonderful introduction to the wide range of books out there. I read everything – fiction books about chickens that talked, the children’s classics, and non-fiction books about Indian crafts and to make pompoms. (I still can make those pompoms.)

I love to readWith that success under my belt, when I reached high school and could get to the public library on my own, I gave myself the goal of reading every fiction book in the library. I started at the As and actually got as far as the Hs. Robert Heinlein’s works were where I stopped my relentless pursuit because my best friend introduced me to the new acquisition rack and I had a whole new bunch of books to devour.

Now that I am a professional novelist, I still read. Reading is an essential part of writing. I read everything in my genre that I can. I read everything in genres I plan on writing in someday. And I plain just read everything that whets my interest. I read for enjoyment. I read to learn more about writing. I read to support my favorite authors. If you want to see what I read, check out my Goodreads list and my reviews. I read a new book every other day — usually.

However, not during NaNoWri. For one thing, reading consumes too much time. If I am going to get 1500 to 2000 words a day down, I don’t have time for a leisurely read at breakfast or lunch. But that’s not the main reason. The real problem about reading while fast drafting is that it pulls you out of your own story.

When I am fast drafting I am living my story. I am in the flow. I’m inside my character’s heads. I go to bed dreaming the next scene. I wake up ready to capture it. Reading someone else’s words, no matter how wonderful, no matter how enticing, interferes in the process. So as much as I hate it, I am not reading right now. Well, not much. I still read labels. I still read the newspapers my husband drapes over the armrest of the sofa. I still read e-mails and Facebook posts and even peek inside a few novels.

Because I am not perfect. I love to read…

Are you a compulsive reader too?

I’d love to here how you control your reading. Post your thoughts and comments below.

Fast Drafting My Way to The End or What I Learned from NaNoWri

My first novel, written as a respite from working on my dissertation, took me five years to write. My second novel took seven years to write. My third novel took one month.

What made the difference? Fast drafting.

Fast drafting is the writing process in which you throw out everything you’ve learned about good writing and just write whatever crazy, horrible, wonderful thoughts come spilling out of your head. You don’t stop to do research. You don’t stop to reread. You don’t stop to go back and fix something. You just write. But the question is: How do you know what to write and not end up with a mishmash?

What makes fast drafting work? Good planning at the start and great editing at the end.

Planning for Fast Drafting

I don’t think that I would have been as successful in my first NaNoWri if I hadn’t written the two slow pokes first. I learned a lot about writing between them and all the writing courses I took during those years. For one thing I learned how to plot.

My first two novels are what I would call meandering. Since they were historical fiction, I got buried in the research. I got enamored with writing beautiful settings and long sections of internal thought full of metaphors and literary references.  Many chapters existed only to share some of that incredible information I uncovered or to weave in a particular place or quote.  Originally these novels topped out at 170,000 words or there about.

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage One ACTION

Now I know that the action must come first. Forget setting. Forget angst. I write a bare-bones sloppy synopsis or what I call a fairy tale version of my novel. I imagine I am sitting around a campfire and making up a fairy tale to entertain a group of antsy kids in the format of first this happened and then that happened and then this and that until bang there’s a horrible villain and a catastrophe and oops a terrible choice that leads to a heroic deed and then an ending – a happy one, of course. I write romance.

Why does this work? The structure of fairy tales is believed by many researchers to be hardwired into our psyches. At least in my case, I know this is true as I grew up on a steady diet of fairy tales, especially Grimms. For a more professional take on this: the this and that and thens are called plot points and there are a ton of wonderful websites and books explaining them. Check out Larry Brook’s StoryFix website, for helpful examples of plot points and story structure, or take Carol Hughes workshop Deep Story I offered this coming April.

Using Fairy Tales in Fast Drafting

Illustration by Hope Dunlop from The Little Prince

Next I take that synopsis, paste into my NaNoWri draft document, and put line breaks between the sentences and label them ACTION. Here is an example from my NaNo draft

  • CHAPTER Setting The Siren POV Alba
  • ACTION Hanger is missing. Alba goes to The Siren to get help

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Two GMC

I head each sentence with the word CHAPTER. I identify a possible setting and the POV character. Then the POV character’s goal(s) for that chapter, his or her motivation for achieving that goal, and what’s going to prevent or hinder the character from achieving that goal. Debra Dixon is my resource for this. Here is my GMC from the same chapter:

  • Goal– Find Hanger
  • Motivation – furious/worried/he could be injured or dead
  • Conflict –Alba has gala that night and she must go

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Three Dilemma

I can’t remember what course I took that made me realize how important the dilemma is in plotting. The dilemma is the hard choice the POV character has to make by the end of the chapter to obtain the goal or at least get closer to it. A dilemma is stated as an either/or choice. It often becomes the hook that leads into the next chapter, especially if the choice is really dangerous or the wrong one. If you have great dilemmas for each chapter, the story will write itself. From the same chapter:

  • D – Go to Gala or go look for Hanger

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Four: Make it Simple

Now here’s the way to put this all together so you can sit down and fast draft. I happen to use Word so I make the CHAPTER ACTION SETTING POV info a Heading 1, and the GMC + D a Heading 2. Now all I have to do is open the FIND Navigation box and there it is – an outline of my novel. This way I can keep the plot right in front of me as I write. I can see where I have been and where I am going.Fast Draft Header System


Have you ever fast drafted?

What are some tricks you use.

 

Save