Janet Sumner Johnson
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What I learned from NaNoWriMo


02, 2013 |

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So NaNoWriMo is finished and amazingly, I won! I finished
with 50,176 words written by Nov. 29th.

I first heard of this event about six years ago when a
critique partner of mine told me about it. I’ll admit, I thought the whole
thing was nuts! Why would anybody kill themselves to write 50K words in 30
days, in the month of November no less? Thanksgiving alone makes the idea
insane (and I also happen to have my anniversary this month, too).

But when I found myself with a novel all outlined and my
last WIP scheduled to be to my agent by the end of October, I decided to give
it a shot. Worse case scenario, I simply wouldn’t win. So why not give it a go?

As it turns out, NaNoWriMo was very educational. I learned
all kinds of things, which I’m forcing on sharing with you:

I write better in the morning. I’m sure
everyone is different, but when I found the time to do it first thing, it was
always easier. The words came faster and better, I wasn’t as distracted, and I could
enjoy the rest of my day
, guilt free.

Having a more detailed outline really helped.
I hit this point where I knew I had outlined, but apparently I hadn’t written
it down, or perhaps I’d written it on some scrap that I couldn’t find. Point
is, the writing slowed down enough that I stopped for a day to outline. Things
went much smoother after that. (Did I ever stray from the outline? Absolutely.
But I could just adjust it as needed.)

Leaving myself a note at the end of the manuscript
when I finished writing for the day saved SO MUCH time
! I’d simply put a
note in brackets to remind myself what I planned to have happen next. I didn’t
have to search my outline to remember where I was. I didn’t have to reread
everything I’d written the day before. And as a bonus, it plopped me right into
the mood of the story. The days I forgot to do this, I really regretted it.

I can write more than I think I can.
There were a few days on my schedule that were so packed full of things I
needed to do, I was certain that I couldn’t do any writing. Amazingly, when I
organized my time, scheduled it all—including writing time—it somehow all fit.
I had to be diligent. I had to avoid Facebook and Twitter. But it WAS POSSIBLE.

Pushing through the void helped me find my voice.
When I started, I just couldn’t find the voice. It was awful, the writing was
awful, but I knew I couldn’t afford to wait for my muse or I wouldn’t meet my
goal. As it turns out, pushing through helped me find it. Will I have a ton to
revise? YES! But I always do. Even when I have the voice from the beginning.
Forcing yourself to write ugly words can lead you to the better ones.

Despite my qualms with this whole event, I am now I convert.
I learned so much about me and how I write. After 30 days of this boot-camp, I
feel like a better writer. Admittedly, I’m not promising to participate next
year, BUT . . . I plan to use this writing method to write the first draft of
my next book (which I plan to do much sooner than November).

So how about the rest of you? Did you participate in
NaNoWriMo? If yes, what did you learn? If no, think you’ll ever try it?

Speak up:



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What in the heck is Voice?


03, 2010 |

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Five-and-a-half years ago, I had my first ever critique by an editor at my first ever writing conference. I went into the meeting with so much hope, and came out devastated.

While the editor was very nice, he basically told me that my writing stunk (my own word), and I needed to keep practicing. The only bit he liked was the part I was considering cutting, and he said it sounded like I just hadn’t found my voice yet.

I haven’t touched that book since.

Anyway, that was the first I’d heard of “voice.” What in the heck is voice? I wondered.

According to About.com “voice is the author’s style , the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character.”

At Kim’s Corner for Teacher Talk she says: “voice shows the writer’s personality. . . . It contains feelings and emotions so that it does not sound like an encyclopedia article.”

But see, while good definitions, none of this really helped me “find my voice.” I do think that I’ve learned a bit in the past five years, and so here are some things that I think helped me:

  1. Don’t just read good books, study good writing. Ask yourself why you like it, and listen to the voice.
  2. Know what point of view (POV) is and how it should be used in writing. I know that may sound obvious, but I look at my first ever book, and cringe at my all-over-the-place POV. I’ve been re-writing it with a solid POV, and it the change is astounding. (trust me!)
  3. Write what you enjoy. No . . . more than just enjoy . . . write what you’re passionate about. For me, that made the difference. I wrote the book I really wanted to write on a subject I adored.
  4. Work with a critique group. I can’t tell you how many times my amazing group steered my writing to keep my voice on track. “This just doesn’t sound like something the character would say,” they told me. Or “This is a POV shift.” Little things that add up. (Thanks guys!)
  5. Write. Write. And write. There’s nothing quite like practice. We hear this all the time, but how can we expect to be good at something we rarely do? We can’t.

I admit, I’m no expert on voice, but hopefully this is a little helpful. And I’d love to hear your thoughts . . . How did you find your voice?

Speak up:



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