The Final Piece of Information Your Story Needs

This is the final post in a four-part series on story structure. You can read part one herepart two here and part three here

Story structure is the skeleton of your story; it’s the backbone that holds the entire thing together.

So here we are.

We’ve reached the final piece of structure on the storytelling road–the Second Plot Point (SPP).

All’s said and done after this moment in your story.

The Second Plot Point

The Second Plot Point, according to Larry Brooks of StoryFix.com, is: “the final injection of new information into the story, after which no new expository information may enter the story, and which puts a final piece of narrative information in play that gives the hero everything she or he needs to become the primary catalyst in the story’s conclusion.”

That means whatever shows up in the story after this moment must have already been in play, set up or foreshadowed.

This is a big moment in your story–it’s the final catalyst that transitions the Protagonist from part three “Attack” mode into part four “Resolution” mode. It’s the moment when the Protagonist becomes the Martyr, willing to do whatever it takes to solve the problem at hand and defeat the antagonist.

Brooks covered this in his blog post:

I’m gonna send you over to StoryFix.com now to read more about the Second Plot Point. Then be sure to come back here for some SPP examples.

Second Plot Point Examples

It’s hard to give specific Second Plot Point examples (as Larry mentioned in his blog post) because the SPP can literally be almost anything. So I’m gonna give ya one  specific example, and then a few generic examples, just to give you an idea of how the SPP works.

In the movie, Safe Haven, the protagonist, Katie, is running from a dark past. That past finally catches up to her at the SPP.

The SPP shows up in a dream–Katie falls asleep and dreams of her friend, Jo. Jo leaves Katie with a warning, “He’s here.” Katie replies, “Who is?” And Jo adds, “You know who.”

When Katie awakens, we’ve officially been transitioned into Part Four of the story. She now has all the information needed to resolve the story and secure the title of “Hero.”

There are a million possibilities for the SPP, some of which could be:

  • In a thriller, it’s when the chase scene starts
  • In a romance, it’s when the protagonist realizes he’s in love with the girl and must now do everything in his power to win her back
  • In a mystery, it’s when the final clue is dropped, causing the protagonist to have all the details needed to solve the puzzle

The SPP is the fuel that propels the Protagonist forward for the final time in the story.

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Now that you’ve gotten the full run down of story structure–how will you use this information to write better stories?

Image courtesy of Robert Huffstutter

A Strong Reminder of What’s At Stake In Your Story

This is part three in a four-part series on story structure. You can read part one here and part two here

There are some moments in a story that are huge. And others that aren’t always quite as huge, but are just as important.

In fact, without them, your story won’t be balanced like it needs to be.

These not-always-huge-but-always-important moments are known as Pinch Points, and your story needs two of them. Not only that, but they also need to be impactful, and they need to show up in the right location in the story.

Get it wrong, and your story will suffer.

Pinch Points

Pinch Points are “an example, or reminder, of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force, that is not filtered by the hero’s experience“–according to Larry Brooks of StoryFix.com.

Essentially Pinch Points are two moments in your story that remind the reader–and sometimes the protagonist–of what’s at stake and what the consequences could be if the antagonist wins.

These little moments occur in two very specific locations in your story:

  1. Half way between the First Plot Point and the Midpoint
  2. Halfway between the Midpoint and the Second Plot Point (which we’ll be talking about soon)

Again I’m going to send you over to StoryFix.com to read a post Larry wrote about Pinch Points. He gives some really great examples of how Pinch Points work in a story.

So go read that article, and then come back here for another example from the movie, Twilight: Eclipse.

Pinch Point Examples from Twilight: Eclipse

I’m always on the look out for movies (and books) that have great story structure. And the Twilight series follows the structure that Larry and I teach perfectly. So I figured that would be the best example for me to use as an illustration of what Pinch Points are.

One of my favorite movies in the Twilight series is Eclipse. It has great structure and really fulfills the mission of each story milestone. Especially when it comes to the Pinch Points.

In this movie, the Pinch Points are done really well.

Pinch Point One occurs as a short scene–we see a news report on television talking about the disappearances in Seattle. The disappearances are getting more frequent and the city is being turned upside down during the night–and no one knows why yet. (What’s happening is an army of vampires are being created, but we don’t find that out ’til later in the movie.)

Then Pinch Point Two occurs as a dream–we see Bella, the protagonist, dream of vampire, Victoria (this movie’s true antagonist), telling an ally vampire to kill Bella. It turns out Victoria is “hiding” behind the vampire army she’s created, letting them make decisions for her. (The “deciding” thing comes into play because there’s a vampire who can see the future–but only when people make a clear decision.)

Without seeing a deconstruction of the entire movie, these scenes may not make much sense to you. But if you look at the core of what they’re doing–showing what’s at stake and what will happen if the antagonist wins–you can see the value they offer to a story.

But Pinch Points aren’t the final stop on Story Rd. There’s still one more very, very important story moment that has to happen. That moment is the Second Plot Point, and it’s up next.

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What are your thoughts on Pinch Points? Can you see how they can be used to up the ante in your story? 

Image courtesy of umjanedoan

The Moment In Your Story That Changes Everything

This is part two in a four-part series on story structure. You can read part one here. To learn more about story structure, be sure to sign up to receive a free copy of the eBook, How To Write Better Stories

There’s a moment in every story (or at least there should be!) where the protagonist is heading in one direction…and then everything changes.

New information has entered the picture. There’s been a “parting of the curtain” (in Larry Brooks speak). Suddenly things aren’t what they seemed even a moment before.

Now that’s powerful. And it’s also the job of this next piece of story structure: the Midpoint.

The Midpoint

The Midpoint is a plot point that happens smack-dab in the middle of the story, at the 50 percent mark. It introduces new and vital information–and it’s also the moment that shifts the context of the story.

It’s the catalyst that takes your protagonist from part two of the story (where he’s in “reaction mode”) to part three of the story, where he’s ready to start attacking.

Again, just like the First Plot Point, Larry Brooks, bestselling author of Story Engineering, has written a very detailed post about the Midpoint and what it’s all about. So head on over to his site, StoryFix.com, and read:

Then come back here for some Midpoint examples.

Breaking Down the Midpoint: Two Examples

Examples are the best way to really wrap your head around this story milestone and the significance it plays in every great story. So here are two Midpoint examples from movies:

Ian

Cameron Diaz plays Christina in The Sweetest Thing

The Sweetest Thing

In this movie we meet Christina (the protagonist), a party girl who just wants to have fun. Her and her friends are partying at a club one night when she meets Peter, a handsome real estate agent. At first they don’t get along, but then as the night progresses we see them getting to know and like each other.

Then we find out Peter is at the club celebrating a bachelor party for his brother, who’s getting married that weekend in Somerset.

The Midpoint happens after Christina and her friend arrive in Somerset where they’ve secretly followed Peter. They sneak into the church–late–for the wedding. They figure they’ll hang out, watch the ceremony and then find Peter at the reception.

But the context of the entire movie is shifted at the Midpoint–when we find out it’s actually Peter’s wedding.

Before this moment the story was heading down one path, but now it’s on a completely different path. That’s what the Midpoint does.

Paul Sherwood

Bill Murray plays Bob in What About Bob? [Image courtesy of Paul Sherwood]

What About Bob?

In this movie we meet Dr. Marvin, an up-and-coming psychologist who has a new book out. Things are going well for him, until he gets introduced to a new patient named Bob.

Suddenly Bob has started showing up everywhere, including on Dr. Marvin’s family vacation, driving him nuts!

The Midpoint happens when Dr. Marvin has his Good Morning America interview–Bob pretty much takes over the interview and ruins everything.

After that moment, we see the Doctor shift into part three of the story, which is “attack mode.”

Without a Midpoint in place to shift your story, you won’t have the catalyst needed to push your protagonist from being a “wanderer” to being a “warrior” (more on this soon).

But that’s not the last stop on the plot point trail. There’s still one more major milestone that has to happen in your story (plus two smaller milestones that need to occur). Up next in this series: Pinch Points, what they are and how to use them.

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What are your thoughts on the Midpoint? Have you noticed it in movies or books that you’ve watched/read? 

Image of Bill Murray courtesy of Paul Sherwood

Image of Cameron Diaz courtesy of Ian

Image of Midpoint Cafe sign courtesy of Peer Lawther

Do You Know The Most Important Moment In Your Story? (Hint: It’s Not What You Think!)

This is part one in a four-part series on story structure. To see the whole series, go here.

There’s a moment in every story that’s most important.

It’s more important than the ending. More important than how the protagonist (aka: hero) gets introduced. Even more important than the crazy-cool plot twists you’ve thrown into the mix.

It’s a big moment–a huge one. It’s the moment in your story when the real story begins.

This moment is the First Plot Point, and without it your story’s a dud.

The First Plot Point (FPP)

The FPP is when the story’s antagonist makes its full-frontal appearance–and everything changes. The protagonist is now thrust into a journey where he must square off with demons, both inner and outer, in order to achieve his goal, overcome his demons, and defeat the antagonist.

This is the moment in your story when everything changes. Whatever came before this moment was just set up for it.

This moment defines the stakes of the story–what the protagonist has to lose (or gain). It introduces the primary conflict and antagonistic force (whether that be a person or an actual force of some kind, like nature).

There’s SO much I could tell you about the FPP … but Larry Brooks, the bestselling author of Story Engineering, has already done an amazing job going into detail explaining what the FPP is and why it’s so important in these two blog posts:

  1. The Most Important Moment In Your Story: the First Plot Point

Rather than re-explain everything that Larry explains, I’d recommend heading over there and reading those posts. Then come back here for some more specific examples of First Plot Points in action (go ahead, I’ll wait.)

Breaking Down the First Plot Point: Two Examples

I don’t know about you, but I always do better understanding things when I can see them visually. So I thought I’d give you a simple exercise for finding the FPP in movies. I use movies as the teaching tool for storytelling (something I learned from Larry) because movies are visual and you can learn quickly from viewing them.

If you watch any movie trailer or read the description of (most) movies, you will find the FPP, staring you in the face. That’s because the FPP tells you what the movie is actually about.

Let’s take a look at two examples, one a movie trailer and the other a written movie description:

1. The Trailer for If I Stay

Right around 1:17 into this trailer you’ll see the FPP happen–a car accident, where the protagonist is badly injured and falls into a coma. Everything that happened in the first 1:16 of the trailer was just set up for that moment. That one big, important moment that changed the whole story and moved the protagonist in a whole new direction.

2. The Movie Description for While You Were Sleeping

An exercise I love to do is to read the descriptions of all the movies on Netflix. It’s such an easy way to study First Plot Points in-action. Here’s the description for the 90s romance, While You Were Sleeping:

A transit worker rescues a handsome commuter, then pretends to be the comatose man’s fiancee while falling for his brother

Bam–there’s the FPP: “pretends to be the comatose man’s fiancee.” It’s the moment that changes everything in the story.

Without this moment, the movie would just be about a transit worker’s day-to-day life; she saves a guy at work one day, then she goes to the hospital to see if he’s OK, then she falls in love, then she… boring! There’s no real story there.

[Take note of this: episodic stories do not work. (Except sometimes in movies, but those movies are usually pretty boring, and they rarely ever become blockbuster hits. Just saying.)]

The real story comes from adding in that FPP.

By pretending to be the fiancee of the guy she saved, she took the story to a whole new level. Now we’re not just seeing her day-to-day life, we’re following along vicariously as she tries to get herself out of the mess she just created by lying about being his fiancee!

We’re hooked–we have to keep watching to see what happens next. 

That’s the true power of the First Plot Point.

Even More First Plot Point Examples

To make it even more clear how important the FPP is, here are a bunch of other movie descriptions with the FPPs bolded (and italicized) for emphasis:

  • Something’s Gotta Give: Still sexy at 60, Harry Sanborn wines and dines women half his age. But a getaway with his girlfriend goes awry when her mother drops in unannounced (in the movie, Harry ends up falling in love with his girlfriend’s mother)
  • The Sweetest Thing: After a brief nightclub encounter with a handsome real-estate agent, a party girl and her best friends embark on a wild road trip to track him down (without the decision to go on a road trip to try and find this guy, the story would be about a girl who likes to party meeting a cute guy at a bar–boring!)
  • Just One of the Guys: When her essay about a woman posing as a male jock is scoffed at during a contest, a teenage journalist decides to prove her theory’s feasibility (before making this decision, we would just be watching a movie about a young woman who wrote an essay that got made fun of–boring!)
  • Olympus Has Fallen: A disgraced Secret Service agent must come to the rescue when Korean terrorists descent on the White House and take the president hostage (the antagonist has made a full-frontal–now we know who they are–Korean terrorists–and what they want–to kidnap the president–which creates stakes and conflict)
  • Panic Room: A woman and her daughter are caught in a game of cat-and-mouse with burglars in their New York City home and are forced to retreat inside a vault (without the burglars making an appearance, forcing them into the vault where they’re pretty much sitting ducks, there is no story)

Without the First Plot Point, a story is nothing more than a boring, episodic tale of endless dribble. The FPP infuses the story with conflict, with stakes, with a journey for the protagonist.

Master this one piece of story structure and you’re pretty much set for life as a writer.

But of course, there’s a lot more to it than this. The FPP is only the beginning.

As a writer, you need to educate yourself on the whole picture of how to tell a story that works. Up next in part two of this series: the Midpoint.

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What are your thoughts on the First Plot Point? Have you noticed it in all the movies (and books) that you watch (and read)?

Image courtesy of Patrick Denker 

 

2 Books Every Novelist Should Read Annually

You know that feeling when you read a book and it lights up something inside you? Finally everything makes sense. You feel on-fire with insight. Your world will never, ever be the same again.

This feeling doesn’t happen with every book you read. No, it only happens with a few very special books. Books that are meant to change your life in some way.

You know those books I’m talking about. You’re running a list of them in your head right now as you read this.

For me those books include things like, Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.

And then there are those books that you get this same feeling from–except at a much higher level. The book hits your core, your soul. It sings sweet music to your heart as you read it. (Go ahead. Run a list in your head of those books, too.)

When you finally discover the books that do this for you, they will usually get added to a very short list of “Books to Read Annually.” Or at least they do for me.

So far the books on my list to read every year include, The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte, and two other books.

The two other books I read every year are books that are especially important for emerging novelists. If you want to stay on top of your writing game and keep working toward your dream of being a published novelist, here are two books you should make the time to read every single year: 

1. Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

I know I talk a lot about this book on my blog, but it’s because this book is fucking genius. It totally changed my life–and especially my writing life–in so many ways. This book is the core to knowing how to write a novel that’s publishable.

I truly believe this book should be on the shelf of every single writer in the world. While Brooks’ tell-it-like-it-is style isn’t for every writer, the information he shares is.

If I had to name only one book for a brand-new novelist to read if she wanted to learn how to write a novel, it would be this book. In fact, I’ve even gone so far as to create a story coaching program (that’s similar to a college course) based entirely around teaching emerging novelists how to execute the principles from the book.

Without this book, I wouldn’t be a novelist, I wouldn’t be a writing coach. It was that life-transforming for me. I could never say enough good things about this book.

Get yourself a copy of this book and read it once a year. You won’t regret it.

2. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield 

After years of hearing people talk about this book and having people recommend it to me directly, I finally decided to buy a copy and read it. To say it shifted things for me would be an understatement.

Back a few years ago I discovered the idea of the Resistance via a guest post written by Seth Godin (I even wrote about it).But this time, the Resistance hit me right in the face.

Pressfield dives deep into the Resistance–what it is, what it looks like and how to overcome it.  He gives clear examples to illustrate how the Resistance shows up in your life and in yourself. As I was reading this book, it was like a light kept popping on inside me over and over again.

You know all those reasons you give for not writing your novel? You know the excuses you have for not finishing it? That’s the Resistance in action. 

The Resistance is fear–and it will break you if you let it.

As a creative person–and especially an emerging novelist–you have to be able to overcome the Resistance. You have no choice but to  feel the fear and do it anyhow.

‘Cuz if you don’t, you’ll never publish your novel. You’ll never become the writer you know you’re absolutely capable of being.

And because the Resistance is something we writers and creative people will be dealing with always–the Resistance will never go away–it’s imperative that we find ways to push through to the other side.

The first step to doing that is being able to recognize your version of the Resistance in action. When you can do that, it will be much easier for you to side-step it and get your novel finished.

The War of Art is is a book that every novelist (and creative person in general) should read annually.

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What books have changed your life? Do you have any books that you read every year? 

Image courtesy of Shutterhacks  

Do You Have An Idea Or A Concept?

“Why won’t this draft work?!” I threw my notebook down in a fit of brattiness. I was on the third draft of a novel. My first novel. The one I wrote back in 2008.

I’d been writing it for months, and still nothing was going right. The story wouldn’t flow like it should, my heroine was a whiny, alchy mess, and the plot didn’t quite make sense. There were so many holes and I had no idea how to fix them.

I was in over my head. This draft, this story, was not working. I was finally ready to admit it.

Problem was, admitting didn’t change the fact that I’d spent close to a year writing and rewriting and rewriting a draft, just to still be sitting in a mess.

I had no idea what I was doing. I was ready to quit.

If you’ve written a first draft before, you know where I’m coming from. You know what it’s like to have a story feel not quite right or parts that don’t seem to fit. No matter how much you rework it.

Why Your Novel Won’t Work

Instead of quitting, I stopped working on my draft and took a short break. Immediately following that break, I had a breakthrough. I came across a website called StoryFix.com and an author named Larry Brooks. Brooks pulled no punches in talking about what it took to write a novel that “worked.”

A major thing I learned from him–from studying his teachings, his methods–was there are story “ideas” and there are story “concepts.”

Most novelists don’t have a “concept” when they start writing, they only have an “idea.” And that lack of concept is what turns their drafts into a hellish nightmare where they either rip all their hair out, quit or end up in a mental institution (OK–maybe not a mental institution, but the drafting process really can drive you NUTS!).

If you’ve experienced this before it’s because your story was only an “idea” when you started writing it, and not a full-blown “concept.”

It’s like you put the bread in the oven and baked it, but you never added any yeast or gave it time to rise (two essentials for baking bread).

You can’t write a strong first draft unless you’ve dug deep enough to have a concept for your novel. (And writing drafts based on “ideas” can kill your spirit–and your fiction career.)

So What’s The Difference?

Stories, at their core, are all about one thing: something happening.

It’s all well and good to have a story with a fancy theme, a cool setting and an amazing protagonist, but if nothing actually happens, your story’s a dud.

Think about when you tell stories to other people–what are they about 9 times out of 10? Something that happened! An action, a conflict.

THIS is what differentiates an “idea” from a “concept.”

An idea is often a seedling, such as a:

  • Location
  • Backstory
  • Theme
  • Character
  • Setting

But that’s all there is. There’s nothing to elevate the seedling to the next level.

And while these seedlings are great and are completely needed, they don’t, alone, make a story work.

A concept is the stuff great novels are made from–a concept is a full-blown picture of a journey.

Every great story (of modern day writing) has a protagonist who has “something happen,” and then he’s forced (by the antagonist) to go on a journey in order to solve a problem/defeat the antagonist/get what he wants. 

Idea Or Concept?

An “idea” becomes a “concept” when it has:

  1. A Character (Proagonist/Hero)
  2. A Goal (Something the Hero wants)
  3. A Motivation (The ‘why’ that’s driving what the Hero wants)
  4. A Conflict (The Antagonist, what’s standing in the Hero’s way of getting what he wants)

Here’s an elevator-pitch formula you can use to begin turning your idea seeds into a fully-sprouted story concept:

(Character) wants (Goal) because (Motivation), but (Conflict)

Some examples:

  • Jack Dawson (Character) wants to get to America so he can start a new life (Goal) because he’s a street rat with nowhere else to go (Motivation), but little does he know the ship he’s on is headed for disaster (Conflict). (Titanic)
  • Dr. Leo Marvin (Character) wants to enjoy his vacation and the success of his book (Goal) because he’s been working hard and has finally become a well-known psychologist (Motivation), but his newest patient, Bob Wiley, has plans of his own (Conflict). (What About Bob?)

This formula can help you take an idea seed and turn it into a full-blown concept.

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Do you have an idea or a concept for your current novel? In the comments 1) Share your concept, OR 2) Using the formula above, turn your current idea seed into a concept and then share it with us.

Image courtesy of Andrew Tarvin

10 Rules for Writing A First Draft

If you’re a writer, you know what a pain in the ass it can be to write a first draft. The negative voices, the doubt, the lack of motivation, the procrastination.

But what if there were a set of rules you could follow to make sure that your first draft writing process wasn’t always such a pain?

Copyblogger just published the list of 10 rules for writing first drafts. They are: Read more

Script Frenzy Starts April 1

By Jennifer Blanchard

On April 1st, writers all over the world are starting day one of Script Frenzy.

What is Script Frenzy, you ask?

“Script Frenzy is an international writing event in which participants take on the challenge of writing 100 pages of scripted material in the month of April,” according to the Script Frenzy Web site.

Here are the rules:

  • 100 Scripted Pages–You have 30 days, from April 1 at 12 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. on April 30, to write 100 pages of an original script.
  • You Must Verify Your Total–Before midnight on May 1, you have to login to the Script Frenzy Web site and submit your text. (It’s exactly the same as NaNoWriMo, for those of you familiar with it.)
  • You have to Wait to Start–You have to wait until midnight on April 1 to start. No starting early. Everyone has the same amount of time. That’s part of the challenge.
  • Write Anything Scripted–You are allowed to write screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, comic book or graphic novel scripts, adaptations of novels or any other type of script you can think of.
  • Grab a Friend–You can choose to write your script alone, or with a partner. (If you choose to write with a partner you will write toward the 100-page goal together.)

If you want more details, check out the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Challenges like this are great for people who procrastinate because it forces you to really focus and get writing done. (And for an extra kick, try using the Write or Die productivity tool in Kamikaze mode!)

Now What? The After-Math of NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo has been over for about a week and you’ve finally caught up on your sleep. So…how did you do? Did you get your 50,000 words finished and uploaded to the NaNoWriMo site by November 30? Or did you let your procrastination get the best of you?

My procrastination got the best of me, unfortunately, and I didn’t make 50,000 words. In fact, I didn’t even come close. I only wrote 3,700 words before procrastination took over.

For those of you who didn’t make it (like me), better luck next year! But for those of you who did make it, you’re probably wondering now what?

And that question has been answered. The NaNoWriMo Web site has a page dedicated to what you can do now that you’re finished with your 50,000-word novel. Some of their ideas include:

    • Gloat a little bit–You wrote a 50,000-word novel, congratulations! It’s time to celebrate. Get a bottle of champagne and toast with your family and friends. Buy yourself something from your Amazon Wishlist. You deserve it!As a NaNoWriMo-winner gift, CreateSpace, a Web site where you can create and sell books, music and video, is giving you a free paperback-bound proof copy of your novel. Just go to the site and sign up for an account using your NaNoWriMo winner’s promo code and you’re on your way.

 

  • Start editing–Now that your novel is finished, it’s time to start editing! Or, you could wait until March 1, which starts National Novel Editing Month and edit your NaNo-book with thousands of other writers.

 

 

  • Start on your next project–The next writing months coming up are February Album Writing Month (goal: 14 original songs in 28 days) and Script Frenzy (goal: a 100-page script in 30 days). Although these writing challenges can be, well, pretty challenging, it’s good to keep trying different ways to get writing done.

 

As a procrastinator, you need to push yourself a little harder than other people do, and signing up for a writing challenge is a shove in the right direction.

For more challenge ideas, check out the NaNoWriMo’s Now What? page.

 

  • Challenge yourself even more–If you’ve finished writing your 50,000-word novel and feel like you’re up for an even bigger challenge, then check out Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest. From Feb. 2, 2009 until Feb. 8, 2009 upload your unpublished fiction manuscript for a chance to win a $25,000 publishing contract with Penguin Group (USA) and the distribution of your novel on Amazon.com.

For more ideas of what to do now that you’ve finished your NaNoWriMo novel, check out the NaNoWriMo Now What? page.

And if you didn’t make it to 50,000 words this year, don’t beat yourself up. The NaNoWriMo challenge is very difficult, even for an advanced writer. Remember, the start of each month is another chance for you to write 50,000 words in 30/31 days. Or if you want to write with other writers, July and August are novel writing months as well.

Chin up…you’ll get there!