Swoon Author Katie Van Ark: Keep Calm and NaNo On!

For those of you doing NaNoWriMo, by this time you’ve probably found yourself in one of two groups. You’re either nicely synched with that little line on your bar graph…









… or you’re sliding all over the place with just a couple thousand words logged.

(Unless you’re one of those people who’s already passed 50K, in which case please ignore the giant green envy monster named Katie Van Ark typing this post.)

I am a slow cooker when it comes to writing. Not even a slow-cooker, really. My writing process is like fixing Thanksgiving dinner. All the messiness of stuffing the turkey, then checking it all the time and basting it, meanwhile jumping around to different projects like peeling potatoes and prepping cranberry jelly. Yes, I’m managing my daily word counts but it’s no longer my first time cooking dinner and writing is my day job. And sometimes I still feel like this:

Wherever you are in your novel, take a deep breath and remind yourself it is going to be okay. Thanksgiving is a time to appreciate what you have, right? I love my local NaNoWriMo region, and my MLs just sent a great reminder that what NaNo is really about is establishing writing rituals for yourself. If you have to project jump at first, do it. If all you can manage is a couple hundred words a day, it’s a start. Who goes to her first ice skating lesson thinking she’ll pull off a triple Axel? (Well, Maddy, maybe, but that’s a different story – specifically my novel!)

Do what you can and be proud of yourself. Most people who say they’re going to write novels never even put down a single word. And remember that even elite skaters (and writers) have moments like this:

Many of them. Get back up, because you can do this.

And if you’re feeling as sluggish as if you’ve already eaten Thanksgiving dinner? Whether you’re at 2K or 20K, here are some things I’ve found helpful when my novels stall out:

  • Think about your characters’ world, especially if you’re NOT writing sci-fi or fantasy. What is their neighborhood like? Is there a hospital? A cemetery? A jail? Where do people hang out? Who’s outside during the day (or night) and what are they doing? Walk around it in your main character’s mind and see if the experience triggers any memories associated with places. (If you’ve set your novel in a real place, walk there virtually using Google Maps!)
  • Have your character write a letter to you about what he or she really wants. (Besides having the other person fall in love with him/her – see my editor Holly West’s great post about the Bechdel test. As much fun as making out is, book boyfriends and girlfriends are more interesting when they do have lives outside of love.)
  • Pretend to be a social worker and interview everyone in your character’s family. What are their deepest secrets and how do they really feel about each other?
  • Use favorite emotional songs to get you in the mood to punch up the emotion in your writing. More on this on my blog
  • If you’re totally stuck, take advantage of Kat the NaNoBot. Created by members of my local region, the Ottawa County-Grand Rapids WriMos, Kat supplies you with random scene suggestions ranging from serious (your character learns that someone has passed away) to seriously silly (your character gets a sudden craving for a corn dog) and writing prompts.
  • Last but not least, get a support system. Check out your own local NaNoWriMo region. You can buddy me at http://nanowrimo.org/participants/KatieVanArk and find the information to follow all the Swoon Reads first and second list authors here.

And finally, I know this particular potato has been mashed too many times but I cannot resist: Keep calm and NaNo on!

Author spotlight

Katie Van Ark

Katie Van Ark lives in Michigan with two daughters, two cats, and one very patient husband who was also her …

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