Monday, October 19, 2015

Review: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days by Rochelle Melander

Today I’m back with the final NaNoWriMo-related book review I’ll be doing this year; if you missed the first two you can find my review of Fast Fiction by Denise Jaden here, and Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt here. Today we’re going to look at Write-A-Thon by Rochelle Melander; this book is a better fit for the ‘pantsers’ or ‘discovery writers’ out there among you. 

If you’re new to NaNoWriMo, you may not yet have heard the terms ‘pantsers’ and ‘plotters’ yet. ‘Plotters’ is fairly intuitive—it refers to people who like to plot at least the basics out before they begin writing. ‘Pantsers’, on the other hand, are people who like to just dive in, or write by the seat of their pants. Another term for this (one I prefer) is ‘discovery writers’, because you’re discovering where your story will go as you write.

So if you’re a just-dive-in kind of person, there’s not really much prep to do, right, and what help can a book be? First of all, wrong. There’s all sorts of prep you can do, but it’s more along the lines of getting past your writing demons and making sure you schedule your life to set yourself up for success during NaNoWriMo. There are also lots of tricks and tips that can help you keep going while you’re writing your book, so you’ll successfully reach the end. These are the kinds of help you’ll find in this book. 

Write-A-Thon has three parts. The first takes you through some training: attitude training, writing training, course training (plotting your book—don’t worry, this is in a very basic, pantser-friendly way), and life training. Each of these will help you find the time, energy and head space to help you succeed when you do sit down to write your book. The writing training session will also introduce you to some basics about writing a book, with the assumption that you’re fairly new to this. 

The second part of the book is designed to be a companion during the writing process; Melander suggests you use it as a ‘writing coach’ of sorts. It’s broken up into 32 vignettes with different tips; you can read them all before you start, read one or more a day to get your mojo flowing, or she suggests you can even just flip at random when you need an extra push and see what you get. If you have an ereader this part is a bit hard, but you can always use a random number generator as a way of flipping through. There’s a lot of good wisdom in these sections, from avoiding ‘monkey mind’ to overcoming perfection, to ways to get past writer’s block. 

The final part, ‘Recovery’, focuses mostly on why you should revise what you’ve written during your write-a-thon, and gives some basic suggestions for beginning that process. It also talks a little bit about editors and queries. 

This book is particularly well-suited for people who’ve never tried to write a book before, and are thinking of getting their toes wet in the NaNoWriMo pool. It’s very user-friendly and terminology-friendly for people who haven’t really thought about doing something like this before, and for whom the thought of plotting or outlining an entire book makes them break out in a cold sweat. It’s also a good resource for people who have tried NaNoWriMo before but had a hard time seeing it through—it gets to the root of a lot of those problems that can derail you. I wish I’d had something like this my first year to use as a daily mojo-stoker. 

Another thing this book has going for it is that it's designed to help writers of all sorts. It has a dedicated section on non-fiction books, and the advice it gives applies to all. Increasing numbers of people are using NaNoWriMo to write books other than novels (even dissertations and short-story collections), and this book is a good resource for all, not just the fiction writers among us. 

So, if you’re a NaNoWriMo newbie, a pantser/discovery writer, or someone who needs a little extra something to help them win this year, go have a look at this book. It might be just the thing to help you get through those 50,000 words, and beyond. 

Happy writing!  

Sunday, October 11, 2015

NaNoWriMo Review: Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

(Purchased by me; affiliate link)

I’m back with my second NaNoWriMo-relevant book review, this time Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. If the thought of 'pantsing' it gives you night terrors and you’re looking for something that can help you write a book with structure, direction, and developed characters all in a month, this may be the book for you. If you like order, exercises and worksheets, this book is definitely for you!

Book in a Month has a clear structure designed to guide you part by part, and even day-by-day, through the construction of your novel. There are two main parts to the book; the first section is designed to help you break through mental barriers you might have, such as problems with resistance and time management. It’s broken down like this:

The five secrets of BiaM
Time management
Setting and keeping goals
The Book in a Month system (an overview of the rest of the book)

 I personally have watched lots of very well-intentioned writers set out to write their book (both inside and outside of NaNo), only to be side-lined by fears they aren’t even aware they have, and time-management issues that can easily be overcome (that are probably also related to those fears!). In psychological circles, we call these issues self-sabotage and self-fulfilling prophecy, and they’re deadly. This section talks you through common pitfalls and gives you strategies & worksheets to help you deal with those pitfalls. For example, many people allow their fears to manifest in a need for perfection—they’ll go back and rewrite or rework a section over and over trying to make it perfect, and never make any actual progress on the novel. BiaM provides you with a worksheet that allows you to write down everything you need to go back and fix/research/build on later, so you don’t have to obsess about it now. This is a strategy that the successful writers I know use in one form or another to help keep their minds clear and their work moving forward. 

The second part of the book tackles the structure and content of the novel itself, in four sections: 

Week 1: The outline and Act I
Week 2: Act II, part 1
Week 3: Act II, part 2
Week 4: Act III

In each of these sections, Schmidt guides you through structuring your book with daily exercises and worksheets. You start small and build to big during week one; on day one you write a one-sentence summary, and put your raw story ideas into a ‘story idea map’ worksheet that helps you figure out the stakes, how your character and setting fit in, and what your inciting incidents and turning points are. As you progress, you will develop scenes for your ideas, and finally, an outline. You’ll then turn your attention to your characters development and backstory. By the end of week one, you’ll have fleshed-out characters and a basic outline to put them into. And yes, during this time, you write, so you aren’t falling behind on your daily word-count for NaNo. 

During weeks 2-4, you will continued to write as you buttress your story. You’ll fill out that outline with exercises that help you hone your theme, craft excellent cliffhangers and reversals, spice up your story, continue to improve your characters’ motivations and arcs, and identify plot holes.

I love the questions and worksheets in this book; the worksheets aren’t crazy complicated or overwhelming, yet they have power. In fact, I have a manuscript I’ve put on the back burner to so I can get some distance on it; when I’m finished with my current projects, I’m going to pull it out and use all the steps in this book on it. Yes, it’s already written and it doesn’t map on to the typical three-act structure, but I believe the questions this book asks will help me get to the heart of what isn’t quite working right with it. 

So if you’re looking for guidance, especially if plotting is a must for you, check this book out and let me know what you think! I’ll be back next time with another option to help with NaNoWriMo that’s a little more free-flowing. 

Happy prepping!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

My computer meets Windows 10: A tale of operating system mayhem and horror

The day I installed Windows 10 was a day just like any other. Beautiful skies, acceptable dinner, some light-hearted TV sitcoms that left me in a happy, optimistic mood. I’d heard whispered rumors in the corners of the internet about Window 10 fails, but really, what were the chances it would happen to me?  

So I clicked the button to install it, albeit with apprehension nipping at the edges of my consciousness. The installation went quickly and easily; all was well. Sure, a few little tweaks of preferences here and there, but nothing more. A remarkably smooth transition, in fact.

For two blissful days, Windows 10 and I got to know each other—long afternoons relishing the joy of discovering one another’s quirks. Easier access to system preferences? Lovely. Default photo display doesn’t show the file name? Hmm, I can figure out how to make that work, not a problem, you nutty little OS. 

But. Unbeknownst to me, a silent, insidious force contained in a Windows 10 update was patiently waiting to strike, like a diseased cyber zombie ripping at the core of my computer’s brain. And on the third day, I finished my work for the evening and compiled it, then went to put it into Dropbox. But Dropbox wouldn’t open. 

These things happen from time to time in my laptop’s world, and I have developed a series of troubleshooting steps to deal with them. I initiated the first, a system reboot—the fatal mistake that allowed the cyber-zombie herd to overrun my beloved electronic fortress.

A barrage of error messages pounded the screen: my computer’s screams of virtual terror in the form of incoherent messages about ‘bad images’ with strings of random numbers and letters. One after the other they named the programs that had fallen victim, whose byte-ridden corpses were now strewn dead over my laptop. Dropbox. Google Updater. Chrome. Skype. And so many more. 

I tried to initiate my virus scanner.
Another error message.
I tried to reinstall Dropbox. 
Another error message.
I scrambled to write down the error messages, and clicked to open Chrome so I could look them up.
Another error message. 
I tried Firefox. 
Another error message. 

Luckily, the new Microsoft browser ‘Edge’ opened up (go figure), and I was able to Google the problem—I wasn’t the only one who’d been hit by the cyber-zombie affliction. Microsoft forums had offered several suggestions to the others, and I rushed to try them out. I scrolled down the pages, tried them one by one, and read other’s feedback; other users determined the source of the problem to be a Windows update, and asked for it to be fixed, but were met with silence. And still nothing seemed to be solving the problem: Admin command prompts. Sfc scans. DSIM restore health scans. Reinstalling programs. Multiple reboots. I tried them all, to no avail.

I continued to scroll, desperate for answers, and watched the thread thin as each person succumbed to the inevitable terror when the solutions wouldn’t work. There was one final set of suggestions from the Microsoft representative that involved two pages of nightmarish instructions on booting in safe mode and troubleshooting each application/program individually; at the sight of that, the last hold-out gave up, and I was left alone, staring at an eerily quiet ghost town, surrounded only by the memories of those who had come before. 

My mind grappled for something to hold on to. I was surrounded: the problem clearly wasn’t in any single program—everything was being hit by something else, and hard. Reinstalling the programs hadn’t worked; the victims were beyond help, and the solution would have to eliminate the cyber-zombie king itself. I couldn’t see how it made sense to boot in safe mode to troubleshoot and reinstall the programs one by one; at the very least, that would take hours and hours and hours, with no assurance that there would be any point to it at all. No, it was becoming clear there was only one thing that could be done.

Nobody can ever anticipate what it’s like to be faced with it: the need to look into the eyes of something we once loved and had high hopes for, now turned foul and hopeless, and to know that the only solution is to reach down deep and find the courage to put a bullet right between the zombie’s eyes. At first it seems unthinkable, but inevitably resignation must come. 

I clicked to open my settings, navigated to the right place, took a deep breath and--then I did it. 

I clicked the ‘Return to Windows 7’ button.

That’s right, I did it. I did it. 

And dammit, I’d do it again if I had to.