Mind Gremlins: Should I Pursue This Idea? by Josh Smith

If you’re anything like me, you have a stockpile of story concepts that multiplies like wet Mogwai. If you’re even more like me, most of these ideas are half-baked at best, and just like our little Mogwai buddies, should probably never be exposed to the light of day. Determining which of these critters is worth taking the time to develop into a full-length work can require some careful consideration, but where does one begin?

Get organized!
For years, I carried a pen and small notepad everywhere I went and would scratch things down as they hit me, but I’ve since switched to archiving these flashes on my smartphone. In the notepad days, I would typically wait until it was full to sift through it and weed out all the obviously bad ideas, but now I just scroll through my notes any time I’m ready to start a new project and see if anything clicks with how I’m feeling. There are several note taking apps out there and they all do basically the same thing, but I highly recommend Evernote. It’s free, has a relatively low learning curve, lots of organizational capabilities, and it syncs across devices and platforms, which means if you write something on your phone, you can pull it up on your computer or tablet almost instantly, regardless of whether it’s Mac, PC, Android, or other. I use it for everything. I’m composing this draft in Evernote right now so I can pick it back up during my lunch break! Whichever method you choose to collect your grand schemes, just make sure to clear out the clutter regularly, or you’ll have a mess of slimy Gremlin cocoons and nowhere to release them when they hatch. Why yes, I am running with this absurd metaphor.

Are any of these good?
Sifting through an avalanche of story ideas can be a tedious task, and you may very well hit a pile of ideas so dumb you stop dead in your tracks. Just remember that not everything works, delete the ones that make you cringe and keep going. Usually you’ll know right away if you want to pursue an idea, but sometimes it helps to set it aside for a couple days and see if it still holds its appeal. If you’re still on the fence after a little time, take it back to the curio shop and get back to inventing.

Is it enough to work with?
Sometimes the potential of an idea doesn’t become clear until another element snaps into place. If you have the skeleton of an exciting plot but no character or settings in mind, flag it and continue through your idea mine looking for something to compliment it. Like a furry little Rambo in a Barbie car, wildly different elements can unite with a spark that gives your piece a unique tone and give your voice a platform all your own. If this method doesn’t yield the results you’re looking for, you can always take the basic concept and use it to guide character sketches, or even write a couple rough scenes. If those results don’t stir enough excitement to get you working, it’s time to try a different approach.

Google it!
Seriously. Sometimes a title or a situation comes so clearly into focus that we can’t wait to get it on paper, but it’s always smart to do some quick research to make sure someone didn’t beat you to it. I’m not even talking about plagiarism here—there are just so many writers and creators, so many platforms for people to create with little to no editorial input, that you never really know what’s out there unless you search for it. Parallel thinking is an interesting concept, but it doesn’t do you any good as a writer, so avoid being panned as a ripoff artist by doing a little digging before you pour your soul into a story about cute, fuzzy creatures who morph into monsters if they eat after midnight.

What is it?
The best way to approach work on an idea is to understand your ultimate goals for it as a completed piece. These goals will likely evolve over the course of the writing process, but you should know going in what points you’re trying to make, and what you hope your readers will take away from it. It’s also good to know if you’ve got the makings of a flash fiction, epic poem, novel, novel series, or something else entirely. When I first started writing a novel, it began as a poem because poetry was all I had written up to that point, and I simply didn’t have the experience to realize that the concept was much larger than the couple pages of free verse I had scrawled out. I kept returning to it, and eventually the verse became prose, the prose became a short story, the short story became a chapter, and the chapter became one of several in what became a (relatively short) novel. Had I realized from the start what these words were trying to form, I could have approached the entire project with a clearer perspective, and likely produced a finished product much sooner than the several years it took me to compose a readable draft. Not every concept is birthed with a clear intention, so when you find one that speaks to you, keep listening until you know what to do with it. At the end of the day, you will guide your adorable conceptual Mogwai through its transformation into a wild-eyed, mischievous story Gremlin, but it’s up to you whether it becomes a Stripe or a Vegetable Gremlin.

Why?
http://gremlins.wikia.com/wiki/Vegetable_Gremlin

Seriously, whose idea was the Vegetable Gremlin?

Making the Most of NaNoWriMo by Melissa Heiselt

Nothing gets a fire burning under you like a tight deadline. Ah, that alarming shock to your system that says you’ve got to move now or you will suffer humiliation at the hands of your friends, family, or coworkers! Which brings us to National Novel Writing Month, A.k.a. NaNoWriMo, where hundreds of writers dash in, determined to finish that novel! Or start that novel! Or crank out any novel! All in just those scant thirty days of November. Sound crazy? Well, yeah, it pretty much is, but it’s also a really fun way to make some serious headway on that one project that you love/fear the most, if you approach it the right way. Here are five steps to use this October to prepare for the greatest writer’s holiday ever this November:

        Get Your Head in the Game

Many authors decide to join the NaNoWriMo hype on a whim. I should do something amazing this month! I’m totally going to write a novel! There is nothing wrong with that if it’s just for kicks and you see no serious goals of publication in the future for your work, but it’s very hard to cross that finish line without a concrete goal. Get clear about your purpose here. Why are you doing it? Is this an intense writing exercise to get you over the mental hang-up of writing something as massive as a full novel? Is this to get your ideas fleshed out fully? Is this the major push to get your concept on the road to publication? Know where you want to go when you board the NaNoWriMo train, and you will reach your destination. At the same time, know this: thirty days isn’t enough time to complete a great novel. It can be enough time to complete a rough draft if you are committed. Don’t demand perfection in every word here. Revisions will be necessary, and that is okay. Even a draft that takes years to assemble will need many revisions and editing work. Just get it all on the page so you can see it take shape.

        Don’t Fly By the Seat of Your Pants.

I know, I know, I just quashed the creativity right out of you. Just hear me out. If you are using NaNoWriMo as a catalyst with a goal of publication, you will want to use this month wisely. If you want to actually write a novel instead of 50,000 random words, you will still need to plan. Before you write a novel you MUST KNOW your main characters. What drives them? What stands in their way? What scares them? You MUST KNOW the beginning, middle, and end of your plot. If you doubt this, just binge watch the TV series LOST. You guys, it could have been so good. Know your ending. That’s what enables you to foreshadow and create meaningful connections throughout that create that brilliant/ shocking/ satisfying ending. You MUST KNOW your landscape. Your readers will be as confused as you are about where things are happening. Make sure you aren’t disorganized. Strategies for outlining, storyboarding or however you like to organize your world are myriad, and I’m not going to delve into that here, but spend October planning for November. If you have a vague story idea you’ve never had time to really flesh out, this is a great time to give yourself a kick-start on bringing it to life!

         Create Space to Create.

Perhaps the greatest value of NanoWriMo for aspiring authors is that it forces you to commit deeply to your writing and to schedule fiercely guarded, uninterrupted writing time. After all, it’s only for a month! At least that’s what we tell our loved ones as we closet ourselves away for hours at a time writing hundreds or thousands of words each day. If you find your roommates cannot resist coming in during that sacred writing time, pick a different venue. The library. A coffee shop. Wherever will allow you to focus and stay on target. That act of carving out time and space for your creative work has the potential to become a deliciously self-perpetuating habit. Maybe you can’t keep that break-neck speed forever. Maybe you have bills to pay and actually like the people with whom you cohabitate. But that habit carries momentum that you just have to renegotiate to keep rolling at the pace that’s right for you. Begin now to set aside time each day to prepare for NaNoWriMo. Word count doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be hours. However, it needs to be consistent every day.  Use that time to get plot details hammered out. Get acquainted with your characters. Research relevant professions. Draw maps. It doesn’t even have to be writing, it just needs to be relevant to the project.

        Embrace the Cloud

Create a safe place to store your work. Nothing is worse than losing your nearly finished masterpiece-in-progress.  It’s sheer devastation. Plan ahead to find the place to save that’s right for you. Dropbox (unless you are incredibly prolific or use it for photos) and Googledocs both offer cloud services for free. Create some accountability for your writing with a word count widget, or commit to consistently updating your word count on the NaNoWriMo site once you begin. Find some way to see your progress visually. It will keep you motivated to keep driving this crazy train.

          Find a Writing Buddy

As antisocial as some of us may be, at our core we are social creatures. We perform better when there is accountability involved. Whether it’s your best friend you’ve roped into joining you on this ride or your local writer’s group or an online forum for NaNoWriMo inductees, find someone with whom you can commiserate. Writing fifty thousand words in thirty days is a huge undertaking; it’s the marathon of the writing world. Connecting with a writing buddy will give you a place to share strategies, encourage, and receive encouragement! Once you begin the race, you won’t want to waste your precious writing time trying to locate someone who really gets it and who understands your insatiable need for hot drinks and validation. Seek out connections beforehand and you will find yourself ahead of the game.

National Novel Writing Month is both a celebration of writing and a beastly challenge. Take some of the fire out of this dragon by preparing now, and you will be much more pleased with your completed novel on November 30th at 11:59pm.