It’s 5:45 a.m. on Monday, November. 30, at the time of writing this article. For the past few hours I’ve been in writer mode which can best be described as Puppet Angel, hence the pic.
For most people it’s the start of a new week and the final day in the month. But for an intrepid lot, today is essentially Judgment Day.
The final hours of National Novel Writing Month are upon us. NaNoWriMo is perhaps the writing equivalent of Battle Royale/Hunger Games/Mortal Kombat/Thunderdome. Each year, many enter, but only a handful survive.
This is a fact I know firsthand. A few years back, when I was just a part-timer helping with a guest post service, I took my first stab at NaNoWriMo. Not only was I successful, but my debut YA paranormal mystery novel, Hollowstone, is the result. It was also around this time two years ago that I was putting the finishing touches on my urban fantasy sophomore title, West of Sunset.
Both books have become a game changer for me. I’ve traveled the country appearing and speaking at conventions and book signings. I’ve been blessed to be interviewed, receive freelance gigs, and countless other opportunities. This is all to say that it can happen, I’m living proof of that, and to keep this in mind at anytime you get discouraged during NaNoWriMo or pursuing any goal for that matter.
It goes without saying that being a writer is not for the weak or the timid. It takes discipline, commitment, hard work, and the strongest of constitutions. But perhaps the biggest challenge is staying motivated about your craft, even when you’re exhausted, frustrated and believe that you have every reason not to do so. Fret not, as I’m going to share with you some tips I’ve developed over the years on staying in love with your writing.
This is an issue in which I’m all too familiar, so trust me when I say that having the opportunity to discuss and share my experiences and techniques with fellow bards is a real treat for me. Hopefully this post will be entertaining and beneficial for each of you.
As is the standard with any advice I offer, take whatever you can utilize and disregard the rest.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
Early in my writing career, I made the mistake of forsaking fun and enjoyment while writing. I wasn’t invested in the short stories I wrote. Don’t get me wrong, they were well structured and well-written, but because these characters were one-offs and not players in the universes I intended on investing in and developing a series around… the stories lacked my enthusiasm/passion/soul (or what have you).
In my defense, I was a fledgling writer at the time and I was testing the waters of the submissions and publishing process. But before I knew it, writing was becoming as unpleasant as my day job and worse, I wasn’t being paid for it.
That’s when I made a solemn rule: I will not write a story unless I’m having the most fun possible. If the concept of the plot or the characters don’t have my muse and my inner geek excited to a fever pitch, I’m not wasting my time. That concept can range from misadventures in babysitting that led to my audio short, Stranger Than Fiction; a retelling/homage of the Great Gatsby which was one of the key themes of Hollowstone; and the re-imagining and exploration of Richard Corey as a young gay black wizard such as my superhero Brecken Everett in West of Sunset.
An original story I’m developing now begs the question as to what would happen if Regina Mills/The Evil Queen from TV’s Once Upon A Time crossed paths with DC Comics’ Cassandra Cain.
By no means am I exaggerating when I say I’m having a party.
Allowing myself to be a kid is not an easy feat for me. A precocious old soul, my parents used to constantly tell me that I was 16 going on 50 and I needed to learn to loosen up. I have it on good authority, those conversations never happen with teenagers. However in the process of discovering my inner kid, the connected fun, magic, and sense of wonder translated over into my work and by extension, to my readers.
The Soundtrack of Our Lives
Not only is The Soundtrack of Our Lives a punned title and segue into the next topic I’m going to discuss, but they’re also a great band. If you aren’t familiar with their music, I highly recommend you check them out.
One of my rituals before starting a story or while writing one is composing a soundtrack from my iTunes library. Despite the fact that I can’t play an instrument to save my life, I love music.
From Johnny Cash to Michael and Janet Jackson to Kasabian, to Ladytron, to Beethoven, to 2Cellos, to Janelle Monae, to the Prodigy, to Sloan to the New Pornographers to the Dandy Warhols and countless other acts, their art fuels mine.
Music can often convey ideas, emotional content, and stories when even words fail. In West of Sunset, there’s a very intimate scene where Brecken and his buddy Owen have an intense dance. That scene was inspired by the Smithereens’ classic track, The Last Good Time.
When Hollowstone was released, I repeatedly mentioned that Moon by the Kaiser Chiefs was the perfect theme song for the novel.
When I released the trailer for the novel, NIN’s “A Warm Place” fit the bill for the teaser. But since seeing and hearing is believing, have a gander at the book trailer.
Cross The Streams
Okay, show of hands, how many of you have are in the process of developing your own universe where a series of your stories take place? Come on. Don’t be shy. Raise ’em up and represent. How many of you have two or more universes/series created or in the works? Very awesome.
By crossing the streams, I’m not just making a Ghostbusters’ reference but I’m also referring to crossovers.
Worlds collide in West of Sunset when Brecken teams up with the Phoenix twins and later with Violet, all of whom are key protagonists in three separate series and universes I’m developing. For me, the writer, it was a treat for the same reason someone enjoys Angel making a cameo on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Martha Jones teaming up with Jack Harkness on Torchwood, Spider-Man and Storm teaming up for an adventure in a comic book, or seeing two of the Avengers appear on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
One of my favorite exercises, dreamcasting is where I share who would be my ideal picks to portray the players of my novel in the hypothetical live-action adaptation. This often gets very interesting for me because how I envision the characters in my mind while writing the characters and the actors portraying them can sometimes be vastly different and it sort of creates a sister universe of my own source material.
If that was surreal for you to read, imagine how it is for me typing this out.
Another added benefit of dreamcasting is that it helps the readers to envision the characters and when you’re promoting your latest project, it gets them uber stoked.
The idea of defining your brand or pitching your story can seem like a daunting task, but I’ve found that when you get creative and have fun with the process, not only does it make you even more excited about your work but it can boost your confidence about your craft and your career overall.
As a gay writer of color who analyzes diversity in media and is an equal rights advocate, I’m well aware that my identity and my brand makes me marketable to a huge potential audience that the mainstream (read: white) industry continues to ignore and denigrate. Because I’m serving a cause that is bigger than me (diversity and progressiveness), I’m motivated to give my 100 percent in all of my work and to promote and fight for it. Why? Because I understand what it means to read a book that has a sympathetic protagonist that looks like you and shares your identity, be you a woman of color, a trans person, an individual with disabilities, or any other minority.
The greatest motivator for me is when a PoC tells me they couldn’t put the book down and want to buy my other work or when a gay person thanks me for giving them a champion. Upon hearing that, I can’t grab the pen and the pad and return to the lab fast enough.
Much in the same way that dreamcasting aids readers in visualizing the characters for your saga, I’ve found that creating a digital photo album, be it one on iCloud or a Pinterest board, aids me in visualizing the world, the protagonists, and the ideas and emotions I want to communicate with the audience. The photo can be of any person, place, thing, or even an abstract expression. The only requisite is that it encapsulates a theme, emotion, or idea that aids me in visualizing my story in its proper tone and context.
Doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else, as long as it makes sense to me, that’s all that matters. Not only does that keep me jazzed about working and writing but when loyal and inquisitive fans follow you on Pinterest and see your process, they often encourage you even more with their questions and comments.
The End of The Race Is Only The Beginning
The biggest confidence booster and motivator for me is finishing a story. Doesn’t matter how bad it is or how many revisions I may have to do. I set out to accomplish a task, and I did that very thing. That is a fact that cannot be undone.
By completing this journey, I know the highs, the lows and intricacies of my writing process and possess a better insight in achieving maximum efficiency when I embark on my next project.
And embark I shall.
That’s the thing about journeys once I finish one, I’m left with a hunger to embark on another one, pen a more epic fantastical tale, with the goal of this work one being superior to my last.
The end? Far from it. I’m only getting started. So when NaNoWriMo (aka the Hunger Games/Battle Royale/ Mortal Kombat/Thunderdome) ends tonight, regardless of the outcome, remember to stay strong, keep writing and may the odds be ever in your favor. 😉