How I Write – Evolving Outline

We’re now a bit past the middle of this crazy month of November. A lot has changed in the course of eighteen days. For one, I went from zero words on a story to over 50k, passing the midway mark to my 100k objective on November 14th (a day ahead of schedule, yay!) I thought it would be a good time to give you a bit more insight into the way I write and tackle a challenge like writing a complete first draft of a novel in a month.

Do you remember the post-its outline I showed you in October? Here’s a refresh in case you need it.

Seventeen chapters planned. Order, content and number may change.

Seventeen chapters planned October 30th. (click to magnify)

In the original post, I mentioned that one of the reasons why I like using post-its is because they give me great flexibility. As I write the story and uncover new things about the characters, I take post-its out, throw them away, replace them, switch the order; whatever is needed for my outline to reflect the new needs of the story. That’s why the original outline doesn’t have chapter numbers on the post-its. I want to feel like it’s okay to go off road and let the story wander away from the initial plan –because it is okay, needed, even. Most of the time, the plot still heads in the same general direction, and when it doesn’t, that’s alright, too.

Sometimes, I’ll adjust the post-its before I write the related chapter. Sometimes, I’ll write the chapter once, discover something new, throw it out and rewrite it right away, strong with my new understanding of what the characters and/or story needs. In this NaNo, I wrote chapter 4 twice, and chapters 5 to 7 three times. I just kept rolling with the punches and revising the outline until my story had a solid enough plot to keep me writing through the end. The chapters still have big issues –it’s important not to obsess over perfection for the first draft—but the intrigue isn’t going face first into a wall anymore.

Some writers are fine with ignoring broken chapters and skipping ahead. They’ll fix them in revisions. Personally, I get demotivated if the continuity is broken, so I need to figure at least that much out in the first draft. The rest, I’ll fix in revisions. ;)

This is what my outline looks like now:

Now twenty-one chapters and moving toward the middle of the first draft. May still change before the end.

Now twenty-one chapters and moving toward the middle of the first draft. May still change before the end. (click to magnify)

I’ve added chapter numbers on the chapters that are written, which serves as an additional burn-down chart of my progress. I’m about done with chapter 9 and will number it with great joy sometime today.

Motivation & Small Accomplishments

If you’ve been reading motivational advice around the Internet, you’ve probably come across the classic “break objectives down into small achievable chunks” or “focus on manageable short-term goals”. By all means, do this for your second week of NaNo. Just like we’ve all broken down the 50k into daily goals, break down the 1,667 words a day into three 556 sprints or even smaller.

Most importantly, give yourself opportunities to celebrate yourself.

Reached 556 words? Make yourself a cup of your favorite beverage. Reached 1,112? Have your favorite snack. Blasted through your 1,667 goal? Pat yourself on the back and brag a little.

Do not – and let me insist on this: do not!—skimp on the little rewards. They serve two very important purposes in keeping you productive:

  1. They make you take a break which gives rhythm to your writing and resting time to your brain and fingers.
  2. They remind you that you can do this and that NaNo is a fun, satisfying experience, which helps fight the occasional feeling of “this is a gruelling pace”.

Since I’m between jobs (visa for Australia submitted yesterday! Yay!), I can afford to give myself bigger rewards, like catching up on a TV show, because my writing hours are numerous. My small goals are also bigger since I’m reaching for 100k by the end of the month. Find a split of goals and a type of reward that works for your schedule.

You can also supplement this with other writerly accomplishments and celebration. Post your favorite sentences on the NaNoWriMo forums or share them of social media. Hell, share your NaNoisms too and have a good laugh. This’ll remind you that you can do this.

I’m lucky enough that I have other sources of small accomplishments to boost my confidence when I hit a creative wall. I have this blog and WordPress is nice enough to track a few stats for me. A few days ago, someone from Hungary read the entirety of my first blog novel, Unforeseen Dives, in two days straight. Today, someone from Norway started blasting through chapters of Killing Time OST, my second serialized novel.

These are old stories, written at a fast pace and basically posted as I went, and yet, people are seemingly still enjoying them. They’re not legion, but they’re enough to tell me that I can do this.

And I celebrate that small accomplishment.

And it keeps me striving toward better writing and that 100k.

So thanks, Stranger One and Stranger Two!

Now, not every WriMo reading this is lucky enough to have a Stranger One and Stranger Two to boost their morale, so in honor of the middle of the Dreaded Second Week, I offer to be your Stranger. Reach out to me in the comment section, on Twitter or with a NaNoMail and let me know your NaNo username. I’ll write you a NaNoMail motivational/celebratory message. If your profile and novel information are filled or if you let me know about your current hurdle or accomplishment in your message, I’ll personalize your message as best as I can.

I pledge to do this for 10 NaNo, at least. I invite any other NaNo who wants to make a similar pledge to do so.

Let’s celebrate our small and big accomplishments and reach our NaNo goals like champions!

Of Voices and Games

Short post today because I have a NaNoWriMo word count to catch up on. ;)

This morning, I made myself a cup of coffee and decided to be a little nostalgic by using my Drakensang Online mug.

The aforementioned mug in all its splendor!

The aforementioned mug in all its splendor!

I worked with the Drakensang team for three months in Berlin and really enjoyed the experience. We had several big tasks in the pipeline during my short interim leadership of the design team. One of them was the new Game Entry and a first version of it was released mid-August.

One thing didn’t quite make it in that release, though.

After I sang at a celebratory team event, the audio designer asked if I’d like to lend my voice to one of the background tracks for the game. I agreed and before I left, we recorded vocals, but we were a bit too tight to implement it for the initial release. Looking at my mug, I wondered if it had been implemented by now.

So I checked.

And it is!

In case you’re curious and want to see one of the projects I’ve worked on, go play Drakensang Online. It’s free-to-play. And if you want to hear what my singing sounds like, play at least until the third map (about ten minutes in) which is a night time dark fantasy garden. All the vocals are mine (a few tracks are layered to create harmonies), except for the one that sounds like lyrics in a foreign language.

How awesome is that?

Shout out to the great team at Bigpoint Berlin and Andy, the audio designer, for his inclusive approach to sound design! This was a lot of fun.

Now back to that writing thing I sometimes do…

Creativity Tip – Speculation

The dreaded second week of NaNoWriMo is here and several of the participating writers are having trouble keeping up the pace. It’s normal. We were all excited the first week. We may have pushed ourselves a little bit more than we should have because of that excitement. By now, we’ve caught our feet in a couple of plot challenges and one of them was bound to trip us over at some point.

Like some of my other Creativity Tips (especially the one about brainstorming alone and the value of a tarot deck), this post can help you get over your hurdle and keep the word count going.

First piece of advice today: Don’t get frustrated with your NaNo. Sometimes, it’ll refuse to come out, especially as the month goes on. And yes, that’s annoying. Unfortunately, our brain works in such a way that when we’re focusing on the negative, we go down a solution-less spiral. When I feel the first tendrils of desire to curse at my novel, I CTRL+S and close it.

You see, despite what the fast pace of NaNoWriMo drills us to do, taking a break is sometimes the best thing we can do for our word count. Even a short break to brew some tea or walk around the block can be helpful, and the fear of falling behind shouldn’t stop you from taking a deep breath. Sometimes, a short break isn’t enough to replenish the creativity, though, and this where my tip comes in.

Do a session of stream-of-consciousness speculation.

There are several ways to get this started: sources of writing prompts are legion and some come attached to official NaNoWriMo word sprints. However, I’ve found that following someone else’s prompt or schedule feels like too much of a constraint when I’m struggling to write. Instead, I let my mind wonder until I find something intriguing, something that makes me ask myself several questions.

Yesterday, as it turned out, I thought about how many characters I had had to name for my NaNo and how refreshing it would be to write a story about That Guy. Who is That Guy? What does he do? How is he “that guy”?

I opened a new document and started typing, following That Guy where ever he may lead me. Speculation, speculation. 1,200 words later, I’m still not sure whether my narrator is a man or woman, or what That Guy does. The story looks like a romantic comedy. The narrator had a mental breakdown when That Guy revealed that his name was Greg. The narrator finds it harder to speculate about Greg than about That Guy.

Your random story doesn’t need to be long, but you’ll find that if you pick an idea that sparks a lot of questions —that pushes you to speculate— the words will come by themselves. Some parts of the story will be stream-of-consciousness moments, others may be more structured fiction.

It’s fine. Unbridled creativity shouldn’t be judged. Give your brain free reign to follow any random thread. It’s refreshing after working hard to but down words within the constraints of a specific project.

Do that for a day. Don’t look at your main project at all. Just revenge-write something else. Don’t feel compelled to finish the story of random speculations; it’s a one night stand, no strings attached. You got your steady novel for the serious stuff.

In fact, I think I would recommend that you don’t try to push that story too far at all or else you’ll be back in the too-many-plot-hurdles funk, associate that feeling to both projects and be stifled all over again.

Get yourself high on creativity, then head back to your main project the next day.

When you return, read the last couple of paragraphs you wrote. No judging! You just want to get yourself back in the project. You’ll find that if you really committed to the random speculation story the day before, you’ll have a new outlook on your main project. In my case, this one day break is enough to overcome the hurdle —which suddenly doesn’t seem so bad— and be productive again.

If you’re stuck, give this a try. You’re not losing a day because the speculation you wrote counts towards your 50k, and chances are you’ll be a lot more productive after this. You may even be surprised by the result (I may post an excerpt from the story about That Guy to support this point.) ;)

Happy second week!

For my Sister’s Birthday

The other day, I read one of my little sister’s guest blog posts on one of her friends’ blog. It wasn’t the first time I read one of her posts, nor was it the first time I thought: “We may have made different choices, pursue different dreams and have different personalities, but when you look under the hood, we’re just the same.” There’s a similitude in our writing voices, but what I can see and no one else can, is that if I was put in the same situations as her, I would work through them in a very similar way. I recognize myself in her thought patterns and outlook on the world.

But what I can recognize with even more ease is the awesome woman she has grown into.

I remember the days when she was just a cute little bundle of new life. We slept in adjacent rooms, so on the weekends, I woke up when she started crying, changed her, fed her and sat in front of the cartoons with her. I said it was so my parents could sleep, but when you look at how long we did that, I think it was our “sister special time”.   Years later, she didn’t need changing anymore and we still watched cartoons together on the weekend, eating the tuna salad I taught her how to make (and we’re still making that one for ourselves every now and then). I like to think that when I lent her my favorite manga, I sparked something.

Nowadays, she’s studying for a year in Japan and has a boyfriend over there, too! We’re physically far apart and yet, I read her blog post and I think we’re just as close as when we slept in adjacent bedrooms. One night, while I was still in Germany, we had a Skype call with my mom and us three girls ended up chatting, debating, discussing for three hours straight. Now I’m back in Quebec, sleeping in her room since my bedroom was re-purposed and when I wrote to her to ask if I could borrow her slippers because the floor is cold, her answer was: “Yeah, sure. They may be stinky.”

We don’t share clothes (she’s much taller and thinner than me), but we have the same shoe size. Go figure! Actually, when she found a cool t-shirt that made her think of me, she bought one for herself and I bought one too. So we do share wardrobe on some level. ;)

But I digress.

What matters is that it’s her birthday, and because we’re on either side of the globe, I knew I’d be wishing her well through the magic of the Internet. Then I thought that the Internet was full of complaints and trolls and quite a bit of harassment these days, so why wouldn’t I dedicate a complete post to something as positive as celebrating a 21 year-long relationship with an awesome human being? Why wouldn’t I fill 15 minutes of your life with a positive, heartwarming tale of sisterly love?

So Jasmine, I wish you the happiest of birthdays! I can’t take you out for a drink or hand you a gift, but, as you can see, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about you (a little more than this and it might get creepy). I wish you a wonderful celebration with your friends. Here’s a bundle of virtual love, hugs and kisses. Keep on being yourself, *starts singing* ‘cause you’re amazing, just the way you are. *stops singing*

Je t’aime, ma puce, et bonne fête encore!


Your slightly embarrassing big sister

Jasmine (left) and me as funky pirates for a family banquet à la Astérix (French comic).

Jasmine (left) and me as funky pirates for a family banquet à la Astérix (French comic).


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