And it was at that age, Poetry arrived in search of me
March 27, 2012 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I want to start writing creatively, and am thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo this year. How do I get started?

Last time I wrote anything, it was for high school and college assignments. The feedback I got was that it was very good. Unfortunately, I didn't stay with it, and now haven't written anything for 15 years.

But I feel the spark inside me still. How do I fan those flames? I dream up poems and stories in my head, but can never seem to get those down on paper. Even if I did get them onto paper, how do I get feedback on them? I'd be too embarrassed to show anything to the people I know. Even in school showing my work to others was nerve wracking. I'm not looking to sell or publish anything, just a personal creative outlet. But if I think it's inferior work, then that won't be satisfying.

So, here's what I'm looking for:
1) How do I get started writing poems and stories again?
2) What can I do now to prepare for NaNoWriMo? What kind of drafts, storyboards, flowcharts, or whatever can I use to establish my characters, my plotline, and my themes and motifs (maybe even snippets of sentances or paragraphs I think sounds good). Are there any tools or best practices for this?
3) Are there any good online writing prompts or writing workshops that I can participate in? Is there a Metafilter group anywhere?
posted by I am the Walrus to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
This is mostly relevant to question 2--I think The Snowflake Method looks pretty straightforward and helpful. If you already have a story idea, anyhow...
posted by Nibbly Fang at 11:20 AM on March 27, 2012

Figment looks interesting for prompts and social writing, but I admit I signed up and immediately quasi-forgot about it.

Since you have time, I would suggest purchasing Scrivener and learning to use all the tools therein. (You can try it during NaNo and get a 50% coupon if you win, but they work really hard for the money and if you buy it now you can really spend some time getting the hang of it.)

Snowflake method is a powerfully simple concept for planning, but really what you can do now is just write. Just get in the habit of words. You can read and listen to podcasts and cover your bedroom wall in notecards, but all of that is secondary to writing. If you blurb out enough stuff for a few months, you'll have concepts to choose from when November comes around.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:35 AM on March 27, 2012

1) You just start. It's that simple. To be a writer, first you have to write. Everyday. Or nearly everyday. You don't plan out a whole novel and then write it. You write it. Most authors will tell you that they start with very vague ideas and it ends up being a completely different beast then what they had in mind. You learn to write a novel every time your write a novel, they say.

2) You don't prepare for NaNoWriMo (I did it last year). You just go. It's about writing everyday (see #1).
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:37 AM on March 27, 2012

The whole point of NaNoWriMo is that you SHOULDN'T have any prep work. You should just dive in and go. I'm sure some people probably do, but the approach behind NaNoWriMo is that you have this constantly ticking clock at your back that makes you just flail-around-y enough that you just pick a direction and run in it without stopping to second-guess yourself. It sounds counterintuitive, but for a lot of people, it's that second-guessing yourself and back-tracking that stops them, not a lack of talent -- sometimes if you have no choice but to sit back and just go with something, that's when you sort of get out of your own way and do something.

But the beauty of that is -- you can do it at any time, even right now. In fact, as soon as you finish reading this, shut down your browser, get a kitchen timer, and set it for 15 minutes. Then open a new document MS word. Then, grab the nearest book to you, flip it open to any random page, pick the fifth sentence on that page, and type it into that document. That is now the first page of the super-short story you will write. Now set the timer for 15 minutes, and just do it. Write. Do not stop typing, even if you misspell something, even if one character says something totally stupid, just keep going and going and going and going until the timer goes off.

You may end up with something totally fucked-up and weird. You may end up with crap. But you MAY also end up with something that's mostly crap except this one little bit towards the end that's pretty good. It doesn't matter -- no one ever has to see it. If you want to keep any of what you just wrote for something else, great; if not, just close word and no one will ever know.

Now do that again. And again. Do that every once in a while.

Eventually you may end up with something that sounds like it's the beginning or even the middle of a story. Keep working on that when you feel like it. If you finish that story and decide you want to show it to people, great. If you don't, just save it in a corner of your hard drive. Don't throw it away unless it's total crap -- because any story, if it doesn't work, may have some character or plot point that could work a little better in some other idea you could get two years from now.

That's all NaNoWriMo is, really, is that whole "just keep writing for a set period of time and don't overthink it" approach. And that's how some of the really cool ideas come out, is when you just get out of your own way a little.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:42 AM on March 27, 2012

The book The Weekend Novelist is surprisingly good and useful.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:49 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

As others have said, the most important aspect of writing is to actually write. The power of NaNo is that it gives you a deadline and a supportive community.

So, don't wait to start writing! Just do it! Also, your question is timely, because if you've ever considered writing a movie/play/comic book/scripted whatever, Script Frenzy is about to start April 1 (the sister event of NaNo) and that may just be the kick in the pants you are looking for.

I also highly recommend Scrivener as a writing tool (for both novels and scripts).
posted by ilikecookies at 12:02 PM on March 27, 2012

Chris Baty, NaNo's founder, wrote a book of helpful hints called No Plot? No Problem! Fun, fast read that really helped me get in the right mood for NaNo a few years ago. I actually finished! (after dropping out four times before) The NaNo forums are also very helpful in getting started and toughing it out. You can join groups by location, interests, and genre groups, like mystery or romance.

Jennifer Crusie does some cool collages for her novels and talks about her process with each. Lots of great advice above- have an awesome adventure!
posted by aisle9nine at 12:22 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first couple of years I went in cold and did OK. Though I don't really recommend this, as your initial inspiration can taper off and November is really just a shitty month to write as there are boatloads of social things happening.

I have become very fond of Write or Die as a way to write. You will get your words DONE or There Will Be Consequences. There are even varying degrees of punishment.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:29 PM on March 27, 2012

You should check out Ficly and Protagonize. Both are free online writing sites. I have used both and highly recommend them for writing practice, inspiration, and constructive criticism. Each has a slightly different focus and vibe, so choose the one that's right for you. Both encourage collaboration, so you may find yourself contributing to others' stories, or teaming up with strangers to take your own in directions you never expected.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:11 PM on March 27, 2012

To get yourself into training I can't recommend 750 Words enough. It's a nice freeform (and free) online writing tool that gently encourages you to write 750 or more words a day. I collected 100,000 words in a surprisingly short time and my writing became much faster and easier.
posted by Ookseer at 2:28 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Assume your first several hundred thousand words will be garbage. If you beat yourself up about quality, it gets way harder to write regularly. I recommend writing a fixed number of words every day. Write 500 words today, and then do it again tomorrow, and so on. Beeminder is a great tool to track your habit.

As for NaNoWriMo, I recommend having a vague outline that you don't mind deviating from. It helps to have lots of notes about your characters before starting. But let your plot go crazy. You'll be surprised at what happens when you don't give a shit.

As for feedback, the Critters Workshop is great. They have a strong SF/F community, but it's a great way to get solid feedback on your work. It requires a big time commitment (you have to regularly critique other authors' stories in order to earn critiques of yours), however.
posted by tavish at 8:38 AM on March 28, 2012

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