We are nearing the end of what has become a global annual event for creative writers everywhere! NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) first began 18 years ago in July 1999 when freelance writer Chris Baty originated the project in San Francisco with a mere 21 participants. By the following year the project had gained a website and had been moved to the month of November so that creative writers could take advantage of the indoor friendly weather. The number of participants had increased to 140 members and had broken free of its local, humble beginnings to include members from around the world. Now, 18 years later the number of participants has increased to almost 400,000 with the amount of “winners” who have completed the project numbering in the tens of thousands. Notable NaNoWriMo titles that have been published include Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants which was later adapted into an award-winning film.
Stuck in a rut? Need some inspiration? Our in-house creative writing graduate Tom shares his top 5 writing tips…
1. Bring your character to life!
Don’t trap your character within their story. It’s very important not to use your character as a catalyst or shell for things to happen to. Instead, have your character act and react. Stephen King once said ‘the best stories end up being about the people rather than the event’ which goes to show why such critically celebrated stories of his, like Shawshank Redemption, It, and Misery, simply work. They’re not written with their protagonists acting as shells for things to happen to, they’re written with the protagonists instigating their story. Andy Dufrane wants to escape prison, The Losers want to fight back It, and Paul Sheldon doesn’t want to write more Misery books. They’re all things that set in motion the events of the book.
You must remember to make room for your story to chop and change. That ending in mind may be the best thing you’ve ever thought of, but it will lose its impact if your character acts like an idiot to get there.
2. Trust your reader
We all have an image of a character, down to a small freckle on their nose to their knobbly knees, but your reader won’t necessarily picture that when they’re introduced. In fact, the moment you mention your character’s name, they’ve already got an image in their head of what this person, creature or thing will look like – and it’s a very slim chance it will be the same as yours. You can customise and edit this picture in their head rather easily, but do it too much and your reader will become bored, irritated or just plain offended that you’ve given them no room to flex their imaginative muscles.
Think of something you need your reader to know for the sake of the narrative, like a scar or their uniform, and trust your reader to do the rest.
3. Share with other writers
The University of Winchester is lucky enough to have a thriving community of writers, including lecturers, students and graduates, all passionate about the craft. If you’re not sure you’re happy with the way a scene panned out, share it with a fellow writer – be it a tutor or a friend – and get some constructive feedback. Even if you believe you’ve written the next Harry Potter, be sure to get someone else to puncture that ego with a few spelling corrections and subjective opinions of characters. No one has ever written the perfect story but every published writer has had a team of friends, teachers and industry professionals giving their feedback to shape the stories we know so well to what they are today.
Remember, negative feedback can hurt – especially when you’ve put so much time and effort into something – but it’s needed. Sometimes we’re so close to our stories and characters, we fail to see them from an outsider perspective. Much like we need a telling off from our friends every once in a while if we’re being stupid, our stories need a bit of a take-down to realise their faults and better themselves.
4. Keep Writing!
It’s very hard to continue writing when the ideas run out or you just don’t feel like putting pen to paper, but you must make sure you do it! Every day, even if it’s a sentence or just scribbling down an idea. Practice makes perfect and good things come to those who work. If you’ve reached an unfortunate plot hole in your epic fantasy series, explore the backstory of one of your characters. If you’re feeling too sad to continue writing your comedy, jot down your own thoughts and feelings. Even if you’re too tired to even think about turning on your laptop for anything except the next episode of Stranger Things, take at least five minutes to just plan out your next chapter. It all contributes in the long run and before you know it, you’ll have your novel, short story or four-hour gangster movie finished in no time.
5. Enjoy yourself
Last but not least, you must make sure you enjoy yourself. Writing is something you have chosen to do because you love telling stories. It’s you at your best. It’s not about being published, getting the best grade or changing the world. It’s just you telling a story. So enjoy exploring new worlds, meeting new characters and writing an adventure that pleases you because if you aren’t enjoying writing it, a reader won’t enjoy reading it.