Busting the Block

by sarahenni on November 11, 2011

November is flying by, and I’m hearing some amazing word counts from all of you NaNoWriMo-ers! I thought it would be an appropriate time to share the thing that has helped me figure out which way to go when the writing seems to hit a wall.

When a scene is sputtering to a halt and you have no idea what will happen next, do one thing first: step away from the story and change it up. If you’re on a computer, pick up a pen. If you’re hand-writing, pull up a Word document. Maybe just take a walk.

Then, make a list of every conflict that is at play in the story when the scene is happening. I prefer to write out the list, but you could definitely just mull it over. My lists look similar to this:

  • John is angry at Anne because she refuses to believe that Sasquatch is real.
  • Anne is sad/lonely because her brother left for college, leaving just her and her mom.
  • Anne’s mom lost her job and Anne is struggling to help bring in money.

Right about now in the process of making the list, I start to get inspired with ways to make the bad situations even worse. Something that will further one or more of the conflicts, or somehow combine conflicts. For this (completely hypothetical) list, my thought was: “What if Anne helped John with his Sasquatch Watch website to earn some extra money?”

Boom. There’s my next few scenes. Anne calls John and says she’s so sorry for ever doubting that Sasquatch, that majestic cryptozoological wonder, was anything but factually in existence. John rekindles his crush on Anne and leaps at the chance to get her help on his website. Of course, all this helps work toward the eventual super-conflict, when poor John learns that Anne has been lying to him and using his website for money.

(aaaand now I want to write this story.)

Taking a step back and making the list helps me look at the book as a whole more effectively, rather than just wondering “What is happening RIGHT AFTER THIS?” Sometimes that can be creatively stifling.

What about you? What are some writers’ block busting methods you use?


An Outline, Like a Suitcase

by sarahenni on October 31, 2011

With less than a day until the NaNoWriMo madness begins, I thought I’d throw out an outlining analogy that helped me when I was mapping out my WiP. Though I’d never done it before, I don’t think I’ll ever go into a first draft without at least a rough outline again. Preparing an outline is like packing—preparing yourself for the long journey ahead.

The Essentials

When it comes to an outline, there are some essentials that need to be put in place. Just like the most important things to pack are books socks and underwear, it’s necessary to have an idea of who your main character(s) is, what major conflict they’ll encounter, and where the story might* end up.

Conditional Items

After the essentials get tucked away, it’s time to plan for conditional items. Hiking shoes if you’re heading to Colorado, wellies for a trip to Maine in the winter. The equivalent in an outline are things like worldbuilding for a science fiction story, or mythology for paranormal. Neglecting to prepare for the specific journey you’re taking will only lead to frustration.

Just in Case Items

Finally, don’t forget to throw in a couple of items that could come in handy—just in case! A dress for a fancy party could really come in handy. So could an idea for a scene or a plot twist that will crank up the tension in the story (like a death, a fight, or another love interest). When you’re bleary-eyed in mid-November, these ideas could be just what you need to revive a flagging story.

What do you think?? Any other tips for packing, in NaNo or in life? (I’m always looking for practical tips!)

*I say might because I recommend always thinking of outlines as suggestions. Once you start writing the story, things will inevitably change---as they should! But to start out, I find it motivational and helpful to know where I think things will end up.


Scrivener Project Targets

by sarahenni on October 17, 2011

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is around the corner, and a few weeks ago I discovered a tool in my writing program that makes achieving 50,000 words in a month seem way more reasonable. It’s the Project Targets tool in Scrivener. (If you haven’t heard of Scrivener, I encourage—nay, beg—you to check out that link. It’s the best $40 I’ve spent on basically anything ever.)  The Project Targets tool breaks down a full maniscript word count goal into daily amounts, and keeps track of what you need to add every day to meet the ultimate goal.

Here’s how to use it!

First: Select “Show Project Targets” from the Project menu.

Then you’ll see a small separate window pop up.

It will ask you to set the parameters for your target: when is the deadline for this target, how many days a week you plan on writing, and whether you want deleting a word to subtract from your word count. (Scrivener is so nice.)

When you hit OK, the window will change into two separate bar charts that will show you the overall manuscript wordcount progress (toward the ultimate word count goal) and the progress of your current writing session.

My favorite part is how the bar changes colors based on how close you are to finishing. It begins a faint red, gets bright red, then slowly shifts to green (passing through an unfortunate pukey mustard phase, as evidenced above).

When your writing session for the day has been achieved (yay!) it looks like this:

I feel like I’m always learning some new and fun feature of Scrivener. This one has been the single most helpful in motivating me to actually sit down and write. It reminds me every day that I truly only need 15, 30, or 45 minutes to reach a reasonable daily goal. That’s helpful for someone like me who is detail oriented but needs to breathe into a paper bag when confronted with the big picture. (80,000 words?! How can that EVER be done?!)
What about you? Do you find features like this helpful? Do you use Scrivener? What are some other tricks you like in Scrivener?