Camp NaNoWriMo: A Lakeside Retreat

Canoes bobbing on the water.

Late-night bonfires.

Soft, gooey marshmallows that stick to your fingers.

These are some of the images that come to mind when you think of camp, right?

Well, that’s exactly what Camp NaNoWriMo has been like for me so far. Relaxing and steady, like the beat of a wave against a boat.

This is my first April doing Camp NaNo and I find it’s not as daunting as NaNo in November.

First, you set your own word goal. I’ve always fallen short of the 50, 000 word-mark and always thought personally, that 25, 000 words is a more achievable goal for me.

Second, a lot of NaNo writers have hibernated for the spring. It has a more close-knit, intimate vibe, especially with the cabins. You are bunked with cabin mates, based on your similarities and interests. In that cabin,the message board works a lot like Twitter, with username handles and short messages so you can chat about your progress.

And third, your mind has had a time of renewal. It’s gone through the new year, there’s no cold, wet snow or gray, cloudy days (or there shouldn’t be- it’s spring!) , and summer fun is just around the corner.

It’s reawakened my love of writing after a busy winter and helped me start a fantasy story that’s been brewing in my head for a while now.

I’d like to leave you with an inspiring quote from a writer I admire and hope it inspires you not just this month, but every month.

“Our lives are busy, and April is always a busy month, but why not indulge? You can treat yourself to a writing vacation where you visit a project you love, make time with it, get to know it.” -Nika Harper, writer and YouTube personality

Writing Prompts: Christmas

First winter here in your arms

Flames rising as we fall like stars

Making angels in the snow

Warm fuzzy, frozen toes

Is this a dream?

-Kelly Clarkson, “Winter Dreams”

Does Christmas or another holiday you celebrate in the winter inspire your writing? I absolutely love Christmas: the dreamy music, bright twinkling lights, the smell of pine, the sweet taste of shortbread cookies…

Recently I’ve discovered the wonderful help of writing prompts, and how they prompt you rather than just inspire you to write. After reading through blogs such as Pomalia and Morrighan’s Muse, I’ve learned that writing prompts can come in the form of lyrics, artwork and simple writing exercises like haikus.

And the holidays might be a good time to write with all of its Christmas-themed novels, music, and films.

Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red has been playing in the background lately as I write. I think just the mood of the album is a writing prompt for me. Its playful, fun and sweet.

The Versatile Blogger Award

versatile-blogger award picI thought that The Versatile Blogger Award fits in nicely with the holiday season because it’s a nice gesture and shows some appreciation for our fellow bloggers.

I have just been nominated for The Versatile Blogger Award by A Mom’s Blog. Check out her creative blog full of short stories, photography, arts and crafts, and more.

Here are the rules for the award:

  • Display the Award Certificate on your blog.
  • Write a post and link back to the blogger who nominated you.
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers.
  • Inform them of their nomination via comment on their blog.
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

For The Versatile Blogger’s Award I nominate:

1. Morrighan’s Muse

2. Grow Up Proper

3. HarsH ReaLiTy

4. Crystal Puzzle Pieces

5. Something About Love

6. Whittlin Rich

7. D.L. Kamstra

8. Artistic Diversions

9. Word Wabbit

10. ProlixMe

11. Bucket List Publications

12. Writing Reconsidered

13. Pomalia

14. clotildajamcracker

15. Day’s Lee

And 7 interesting things about myself:

1. I often mispronounce words and my family tells me I have my own language (haha).

2. I’m a die-hard Sailor Moon fan.

3. I’m an Anglophile. I love everything about England and want to visit one day.

4. I keep movie tickets, for some odd reason.

5. I have a fear of elevators.

6. I don’t like heights but still go on rides.

7. One of my favourite movies is The Shining, and I don’t usually like horror movies.

Thanks again to the lovely Znjavid from A Mom’s Blog for nominating me! Now off to tell everyone and hopefully spread some holiday cheer :)

NaNoWriMo: Lessons Learned

It’s the last day of NaNoWriMo and it’s bitter-sweet. I’m sort of sad because I’ll miss all the craziness and excitement of the month, but I’m also sort of relieved too– because I discovered I’m not the best at getting down 1, 000 + words a day. That is quite a lot of pressure! Instead of focusing solely on the quantity (*cough* the word count) I’m going to talk about quality. Specifically, what NaNoWriMo teaches you and instills in you, whether you consider yourself a writer or not.

My second NaNoWriMo experience was challenging, exciting and crazy. It was a great way to spend my November and I’m glad I did it. Along the way though, I came up with some surprising and enlightening reflections. Here is what NaNoWriMo taught me:

Be Brave: Funny enough, I was writing a supernatural/horror story about college-age students encountering ghosts in a haunted mansion on Halloween. I was getting so creeped out that I would often stop writing. In the same way, you and I can apply this to our writing: we get scared of the ghoulish monsters that taunt us and tell us we can’t do it, when we know we can. We just have to brave it out and write, no matter how good or bad it is on paper.

Forget Inspiration: I didn’t realize how futile relying on inspiration was until I read my NaNoWriMo pep talk from author, Malinda Lo. I prefer to write whenever inspiration hits me, but find myself hating the times when I sit down to write and come up with lacklustre words, feeling as if my story sucks. But after taking in Malinda Lo’s words about inspiration, I learned that if you wait for inspiration to write, you’ll never write and inspiration is a rare occurrence.

Have Fun: NaNoWriMo’s staff, especially those tweeting on @NaNoWordSprints, taught me to not take myself so seriously. I love their silly prompts on @NaNoWordSprints and the way they could put together an engaging pep talk. When you’re feeling silly and wacky, it translates to your novel. I was even able to incorporate some humour (or what I hope was good humour) into my horror story. I have a way of taking my writing VERY seriously, but I realized it’s okay to have some fun with your writing too. At the end of the day, shouldn’t writing be fun and enjoyable too?

Trust Time: Like a fine cheese or wine, your writing only gets better with age. If you continue to write year after year, you learn more and more. I’m a better writer now than I was last year, and more in terms of discipline than anything. NaNoWriMo is the perfect way to hone your writing; not only is there the annual November writing month but Camp NaNoWriMo that takes place in April and July, as well as the “Now What?” months of January and February, which are full of tips for revising, editing and publishing. NaNoWriMo proves in a very short period of time that you can improve. If you can improve in a month, just imagine what one year could do!

These are just a few lessons I took away this year. What was your NaNoWriMo writing experience like? I’d love to hear your stories!

P.S. Check out ProlixMe’s great post about NaNoWriMo :)

NaNoWriMo: 30 Days and Nights of Literary Madness

It’s now day three of NaNoWriMo, and I’m a lot farther than I thought I’d be.

What is NanoWriMo, you ask?

NanoWriMo is a literary competition (against yourself) where you attempt to write 50, 000 words in the course of a month. It sounds crazy already, doesn’t it?

It began in 1999 with only 21 participants to over 200, 000 people signed up in 2010. From November 1-30, participants choose a genre, theme and language, and then write their stories. As they write, they input the number of words they have into their NaNoWriMo word count. The word tracker helps participants get an idea of their progress and how far they have to go.

What’s even crazier is the fact that I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo while in a post-graduate college program last year. I didn’t manage to reach my goal (but I’m okay with that).

NaNoWriMo is a great metaphor for the writing process. It’s exciting, challenging and sometimes frustrating. There are times when you run out of steam and lose inspiration, but that’s all part of the journey. You have to vanquish some monsters along the way, don’t you?

NaNoWriMo gives you permission to make mistakes and suck at writing. I like to think of it as a very long free-write, where you silence your “inner editor” as the organizers call it. During and after the competition you get awesome emails full of advice from authors, who encourage you along the way.

It really is a good process when you think about it. I mean, how many people actually set aside enough time to write down their awesome ideas and finish a book? NaNoWriMo gets you writing your first draft- it’s the first step in a literary journey.

If you’re new to NaNoWriMo or just looking for some general advice, here are five tips:

    • Set aside a scheduled time for writing (if possible): When I wrote last year, I would often write at night when I had free time from school or sometimes on the weekends (I think). It would usually happen at night though, being a night owl.
    • Focus on milestones, not failures: If you reach, say 10, 000 words by two weeks, celebrate! It takes a lot of dedication, concentration and work to write that much. Don’t focus on how far you have to go or how many words you’re missing because in the end, the word count won’t really matter.
    • Join forums with like-minded individuals: Join the forums for advice, writing buddies and resources. Also check out local meetings and write-ins in your area (and always be safe when meeting new people).
    • Check out @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter: This is NaNoWriMo’s twitter account for word sprints. These happen all the time (even late at night!), so you’re never short of inspiration or writing prompts. I find these very inspirational and encouraging.
    • Know what you’re going to write about: Whether you have an idea brewing in your head, a story plan all typed out or just like to fly by the seat of your pants it’s good to have at least a general idea of what you’re going to be writing about. Personally, I have to have a bit of a storyline written out or else I’ll sit there in November thinking up scenarios, characters and other things.  If you need some ideas on planning a story, I’ve written an older blog post here.

I hope these tips help and if you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year I hope you enjoy it.

And most importantly- don’t worry if you don’t like your first draft. It is a first draft after all.

Do you have any tips for NaNoWriMo or really good advice you’ve come across?

I encourage you to check out TR August’s post called And So It Begins. Very light-hearted and fun take on all the reasons to do NaNoWriMo.

Bookshelf Read: North and South

I’m not sure how I stumbled across the 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South but I’m sure glad I did. From start to finish, the story had me glued to the screen for a good couple of hours. The Victorian-era novel tells the tale of a young Margaret Hale who lives in the seemingly idyllic town of Helstone in Hampshire with her parents. When her father, a minister in Helstone, starts questioning his own faith, Margaret and her mother must move with Mr. Hale to the north of England to the grey and industrial town of Milton, where he decides to take a job as a tutor.

Picture on North and South cover. Here you can see the juxtaposition of Northern England and Southern England.

Picture on North and South cover. Here you can see the juxtaposition of Northern England and Southern England.

There Margaret sees the poverty and struggles of the local mill-workers and their families. It is also where she meets Mr. Thornton the mill-owner: she doesn’t like him from the beginning and thinks he is uncaring and ungentlemanly. Both from strikingly different backgrounds and viewpoints, Margaret Hale and John Thornton clash on issues over class, work and labour disputes. However, underneath their disagreements is a strong attraction that neither one is quick to acknowledge.

This might sound a lot like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Fans have drawn similarities between the two, often arguing over whether Mr. Thornton is a better romantic interest over Mr. Darcy. (My choice is Mr. Thornton- because I adored his character in the book and loved Richard Armitage’s excellent portrayal of him in the 2004 BBC adaptation.)

I won’t compare the two but will say that if you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice you’re very likely to enjoy this book as well.

It is an in-depth examination of class and work differences between people who live in different parts of England, and of stereotypical male and female roles. Margaret has many interesting discussions with Nicholas Higgins (a rioter and mill-worker), Nicholas’ daughter Bessie and Mr. Thornton. These meaningful discussions throughout the book get you thinking. Something I appreciate about novels are those instances of deep reflections and discussions throughout that say something about the society or ideology at the time. I think it’s really important for authors to make a statement on issues and emphasize them.

Elizabeth Gaskell  examines the social differences between the Hale family, the Higgins family (whom Margaret befriends), and the Thornton family. South and North are juxtaposed as past and future, and traditional and modern.  Gaskell accomplishes all of this through her eloquent and poetic writing. Her style is similar to that of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s or Jane Austen’s: she makes beautiful use of language that resonates with meaning.

I enjoyed the subtle ways she described Mr. Thornton’s initial attraction to Margaret, his and Margaret’s interactions, and the inner motivations of the two characters.

Touching on Mr. Thornton and Margaret, I also liked the way their relationship developed slowly as they went from complete strangers, to close friends and then finally to two people in love. I understand that propriety between men and women were expected in those days (and that women were not to be seen alone with a man after dark), but the progression of Mr. Thornton and Margaret’s relationship felt very realistic and convincing. The book is a good example of romantic tension and development in literature.

North and South is more than just a romance– it is a social critique, and a challenge on ideas of femininity and masculinity. Gaskell turns female and male gender roles upside down. Thornton’s gruff layers are gradually shed as he forms a bond with the Hale family,  and decides to talk to Nicholas on equal grounds (a mill-worker in his factory that has decided to riot against him). Gaskell also shows Margaret’s strong resolve as she tries to bring her wanted brother home, look after her sick mother, take care of her weak-willed father, and assert her independence in a world where women were expected to be dependent on others.

I highly recommend this book. It can be quite melancholy and sad as you feel empathy toward the characters as they face loss of family members, friends and even their livelihood. But it carries a very important lesson of redemption and hope, as each character finds a new beginning and a new perspective. I think Gaskell saw a certain spirit in people of her time and she certainly captured that in North and South.

Have you read North and South, or similar books? What did you think?

Spelling and word usage: Here’s the buzz on how to fix it

Ever found yourself struggling over which word to use: affect and effect, or accept and except? Or have you just been plain confused about how to spell a word?

It’s understandable why it happens to us, especially today with our constant text messaging, red underlined AutoCorrect, and our pervasive use of English slang. Proper spelling and word usage are not things drilled into our minds (unless you were an English or Writing major like I was).

There’s a way to fix this though! I often find that if I’m confused about which word to use I would look at the context of the sentence and the meaning of the word itself. For example, if I were trying to fill in the blank in the sentence below, I would understand the sentence itself and then consult a dictionary.

The           of the laboratory experiment were startling. 

In this case, effects would the be the correct word because effect is the consequence of an action, according to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary of Current English. I also like to think of effects as what happens after; the outcomes and affects as an action word, which it is. Affect is acting on something, influencing it.

On the other hand, if you’re having difficulty remembering how to spell that pesky word, check out the back of some writing handbooks or school agendas. They tend to have a list of commonly misspelled words. Another good reference to check out is The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling (I find it a life-saver) or your country’s equivalent guidebook as it tells you which words to capitalize and how to spell certain words. It’s even trickier if a word contains a hyphen, but Canadian Caps and Spelling or another guidebook usually helps.

Finally, as embarrassing as it may seem, sometimes it’s helpful to ask a friend or co-worker how to spell a word. We all forget sometimes and I’ve even found that words look strange to me at times on a screen when spelled right. It can be a matter of over-thinking spelling and word meaning.

Hope these tips have helped! If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment. Happy writing!

Reeling in your readers

My internship involves a lot of professional writing and it struck me a few days ago that a hook is very important.

It is the start. The beginning point of your story. It’s the first thing your readers see. If you don’t use an interesting hook your writing will fall flat.

First of all what is it?

Hook: “something that catches your attention or serves as an enticement”, according to Dictionary.com.

Next, how do you make it compelling?

There are a number of options you can use:

  • A Question: Ask a thought-provoking or controversial question that gets your audience riled or gets them thinking. This is especially good for an essay or an article.
  • A Quote: Use a humorous, meaningful or inspiring quote, depending on your medium. Don’t forget to credit the person too!
  • An Anecdote: Tell a detailed or colourful story to set the tone, mood and scene. I find these are useful in first-person accounts or opinion pieces.
  • A Metaphor or Simile: Compare and contrast two elements to create a feeling or compelling image. These are great for creative pieces like stories or poems.
  • A Definition: Define what a word, idea or concept means. Focus on that word.

Just remember it should be interesting, engaging and clear. That way you can catch your readers and reel them in!

What is your favourite type of hook to use?

Building Your Story

Building Blocks

I’ve always wondered what process other writers go through before creating a new story, or if they go through a process. I know my best friend draws up a vision of her characters when creating a story and that’s her own personal style as an artist. So it makes me wonder if we all have our own personal styles as writers when it comes to planning a story…

These are tools that I usually find helpful before I craft my story:

1. Character Profiles: I don’t know why I love these so much but something about putting your character down on a page just makes them seem that much more real. I always use the main character as a starting point: the person to shape my story around.

2. Story outlines or summaries: I’m not the biggest fan of these (I find them too technical and restrictive, and I like to believe there’s a free spirit floating around somewhere in me) but these do help to give me a general idea of where my story is headed.

3. Notebooks: I must have at least three notebooks that I use solely for jotting down writing ideas that hit me randomly at night or during my commute. I find these incredibly helpful (except when I lose them around the house). They help me remember my ideas and  I use these ideas as inspiration when I’m stumped.

4. Favourite pictures: If I’m writing a story set in a medieval time period, I want to visualize it somehow. Finding a picture of The Lady of Shalott gives me a sense of the mood and feeling of that time, even if this picture was painted by a Pre-Raphaelite in the 19th century.

Photo Courtesy: WikiPaintings, Visual Art Encyclopedia

Photo Courtesy: WikiPaintings, Visual Art Encyclopedia

5.A Novel Idea: This is an Apple app that you can get for free on your iPhone, iPad or iPod. You’ll get more if you pay and upgrade, but I’m content with the free one which allows you to organize your notes by ideas, stories, characters, etc. The great part is that you can also link ideas to your story, keeping them nice and neat.

I hoped some of these helped you like they’ve helped me. How do you build your story? What tools do you find helpful? Do you plan at all or are you more of a spontaneous writer?

Related Posts:

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The Power of Music and How It Can Help You Write

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.
- Victor Hugo

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about music and how it affects my writing. I’m a huge music lover so you’ll often find me writing with headphones in, music going. But what place does music have in writing?

This is what I hope to explore. I’ve often thought that music was a great source of inspiration for writing. Music evokes strong emotions and takes you far away. It helps that most music has a narrative structure; when you think about it  music is another way of telling a story. It can push you and motivate you as you write. I often listen to music to keep me writing. Music sets a mood, setting and feeling.

I’ve been finding myself listening to a lot of Marina and the Diamonds, Emeli Sande and Feist. Marina’s voice is haunting and her lyrics often portray the dark side of people, Emeli’s music is inspirational and uplifting, and Feist’s music often reveals a quiet, pensive look on life and its outcomes. You can see how all of these artists’ music has a certain theme and feel. If I want to maintain a certain mood while writing I’ll put on the appropriate music. When I’m feeling a bit darker and moodier, I’ll put on Marina. When I’m feeling chill and relaxed, some Feist. And when I want to feel encouraged, Emeli.

Even writing about music can get your creative juices flowing. I always like to read the summaries of albums on iTunes because the people who wrote those clearly put a lot of thought and effort into explaining the feel and style of those artists and their music. And the description those writers use can get you thinking about your stories, poems, lyrics or whatever other creative project you’ve got going. You can apply the music to your character, to the setting or to your own story (whether it be personal or fictional).

You might want to consider incorporating music into your writing process to assist you when you’re brainstorming or stuck in a rut. It doesn’t work for everyone but it might work for you.

Do you use music as a source of inspiration? If so, what kind of music do you listen to?