Tag Archives: writing tips

Tips for November Writing Challenges

It’s almost November—do you know what that means? Many writers are getting ready for fun challenges, like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in November. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo, I didn’t think I’d be able to participate because I was finishing a revision on a middle grade novel. On November 7th, I completed my revision and thought of a shiny new idea. By the end of November, I ended up with over 60,000 words! As awesome as that was, I’ve learned that it’s better to have more than just an idea. Fleshing out my concept and making sure I have important plot points in mind really helps (even though it’s possible they’ll change as I get to know my characters better). Some people love to outline, but I’ve never been a huge fan of it for my work. My favorite tool is Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock. Here’s a post about it, and here’s another post that shows a picture of the Plot Clock.

ywp_logo-NaNoWriMo

Calling all teachers—did you know that there’s a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program? Check out their Resources for Educators, where you’ll find their free classroom kit, lesson plans, and Virtual Classroom how-to. You can also find out how to connect with fellow educators.

If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, but don’t know what to write about yet, here’s a post that can help you come up with new ideas.

Here’s a link to a helpful interview with author Dorian Cirrone. She has fantastic advice for brainstorming high concept ideas, how to come up with a great beginning, plus a writing exercise. Check out Dorian’s blog for her series on Ten Ways to Generate Ideas.

A lot of middle grade novels are way less than 50,000 words…so how can you write a middle grade novel and still be a NaNoWriMo winner? Well, I think anyone who makes great progress on a novel is a winner. Reaching the end of a first draft in one month is definitely a reason to dance around the room and treat yourself to some kind of special celebration (maybe delicious chocolate, a fun outing with family members you haven’t spent much time with because you were so busy writing, or possibly a massage to un-hunch your shoulders after all that hard work). After celebrating, I like to dive back in and hit that 50,000 mark. Here are a few ways that I’ve accomplished that:

  1. My first drafts used to have lots of dialogue, but only a small amount of description. To beef up my word count and add important sensory details, I’ve looked for areas that could use fleshing out and added more description to them. I’d often have to cut a lot of it in the first few rounds of revision, but loved how many gems I was able to keep. Find what you often lack in your first drafts (maybe it’s dialogue, you don’t increase tension enough, etc.) and see where you can add it into your draft.
  2. If you think a sequel could work for your story, jump in and start writing it to reach your 50,000 word goal. Just try not to get too invested in it, because any changes you make to the first novel could cause huge changes to any future ones—but it can’t hurt to play around with it. You might find ideas that could enhance your first book!
  3. Beginnings are so hard to get right, that I’ve gone back to write a bunch of different beginnings. Don’t be afraid to start in a completely different place. If you’re not sure which one is best for your novel, polish your favorite beginnings up after NaNoWriMo is over, then share them with your critique group or writing friends and see if there’s a clear winner.
  4. You could also start a new novel! Hopefully, you’ll have some ideas fleshed out and ready to go.

If you get stuck while working on your new project, here’s a link to Tricks to Defeat Writer’s Block.

For those of you who also write picture books, check out Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) where the goal is to come up with at least thirty shiny new ideas during the month of November. Then, you have plenty of ideas to choose from whenever you want to write a new picture book throughout the year.

If you have any tips to share or questions to ask, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Good luck with whatever goal you’re working toward this November. I hope the words flow!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

Writing Effective Beginnings

DISCLAIMER: If the contents of this post about how to write effective beginnings seem familiar to you, you’ve got a good memory. You’ve also probably been reading the MUF blog for at least two years. Let me explain.

A couple of years ago, I posted about key elements that should be present in a story’s opening lines, and I used Wendy Mass’s Every Soul a Star as a model. Today’s post is going to revisit the same book. And I’m so lazy, most everything else is the same, too. But there’s one key difference:

Wigs.

Now, instead of reading, sit back and relax. Grab your favorite beverage. Then take just 3 minutes to watch my video on what you can do with your story’s opening lines in order to hook your readers.

So . . . what’s a book you’ve read that pulled you in from the opening line? What struggles and/or successes have you had at crafting your own effective beginnings? Feel free to post in the comments below.

T. P. Jagger, The 3-Minute Writing Teacher Along with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus free, original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers. You can subscribe to his e-newsletter and/or his YouTube channel in order to be notified when new videos are posted in “The 3-Minute Writing Teacher” series of how-to writing tips.

 

Five Reasons to Keep a Writing Journal

This week, I’m wrapping up the eight millionth draft of a manuscript, polishing it to a high shine before querying agents. Of course, putting the finishing touches on one manuscript has put my mental gears spinning as I think about what’s next. Should I tinker with an old manuscript, trying to salvage a story that’s been pushed aside? Or should I start fresh, seeing where my muse might lead?

I’m still not sure what direction I’ll go, but this transition from one story to the next has sent me flipping through my writing journal, weighing my options. And it’s also provided the inspiration for today’s post.

When I first started writing, I didn’t keep a journal. After all, I like things nice and neat and orderly. A writing journal is inherently messy. There are jotted down bits of dialogue. Clipped newspaper headlines. Pictures of people, places, and potted plants pilfered from magazines. A bazillion ideas for story starters. In general, just lots of “stuff.”

And it’s all an absolute mess.

So why do I do it? Why do I now jot, clip, tape, and scribble things into my writing journal, even if the chaos pushes me ever closer to crazy?

I’ve got my reasons. . . .

Writing Journal

1) How else will you remember when a friend sees a man in Wal-Mart pushing his wife in the shopping cart while the wife paints her nails?

2) Sometimes people say the darndest things. And characters have to talk, too.

10-year-old coming off of a looping roller coaster: “I kept my eyes open the whole time! . . . I just blinked kind of slow on the twisty part.”

3) Real newspaper headlines can often trump anything my imagination could ever conjure.

“Rifle cases taped to bike give away Elkhart burglar”

and . . .

“Woman fends off bear with zucchini”

4) Often, it’s that extra little detail that makes a setting come alive.

Slogan on the side of a plumbing truck: “A flush beats a full house.”

5) When I write a story, I always uncover a lot of “what if” questions then try to answer those questions in interesting ways as the story unfolds. Of course, I may need a bit of help with the initial question that gets a story rolling, and a writing journal is the perfect home in which those questions can reside.

What if . . . a boy’s dad sometimes wears a kilt?

So how about you—are you the writing-journal type? If so, take a meandering stroll through one of your journals and see what you find. You might uncover an old spark for a new story. Even if you don’t, you may find something to inspire the rest of us. Feel free to share a snatch of stolen dialogue, a meandering musing, or any other random tidbit that’s found its way into your journal over the years.

And, of course, happy writing!

T. P. Jagger, The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers.