Posted in NaNo, On Writing

NaNo Prep: Word Clouds

One of my favourite methods of pre-writing is word clouds (also known as mind maps, word nets, and clustering). I find that this is the best way for me to come up with subplots which are connected to the main idea without overshadowing it or being too unlikely. It also helps me if I have a very rough idea (such as a genre) and I want to narrow it down into a writable plot.

To start, take your idea and write it in the middle of a sheet of paper. Then, draw a cloud around it. This is what I like to affectionately call “the beginning”.

As you think about the beginning, write down all of the ideas you associate with it. Circle these ideas and connect them to the beginning with lines. (To see an example, look at the image down below.)

If you think of things associated with an idea but not the beginning, write those down and connect them to the idea. If you think of something associated with several ideas, connect it to all of the ideas you associate it with. It is also perfectly ok to start a new cloud from an idea if you find yourself running out of room on the original page or if one idea has more associations than all the others.

Continue making these clouds and connections until you have either run out of ideas or feel you have enough ideas to create an outline.

Word Clouds


Posted in Challenges, On Writing

Boxed Inspiration

For the last few years before I moved to Alberta I was one of the MLs for NaNo. Part of my duty was to come up with pep talks and ways to inspire my wrimos to write more. Luckily the MLs have a separate forum on the NaNo site where they share ideas that have worked in their regions. One of these amazing ideas is the Box of Doom.

The Box of Doom is a box that has timed writing challenges. The idea is that these challenges are written on coloured paper or popsicle sticks. There are three colours; green for easy, yellow for medium, and red for difficult. When wrimos need that extra push they can choose a paper or stick from the colour they feel they can complete. Once the challenge has been chosen the wrimo has a set time to write a certain number of words.

I took that basic premise and changed it to suit my region better. Not only did I use the timed writing challenges but I also typed out prompts in different colours. I added them to the box and my wrimos were able to use them when they were running out of ideas.

I also gave my wrimos the freedom to add their own prompts to the box. My wrimos took this challenge to heart and the box grew so full that I had to divide it into the Box of Doom and the Box of Prompts.

Because these boxes are so useful and well-loved, I have decided that I am going to share some tips on how you can make your own.

Get The Box

This is the easiest step of the process. All you need to do is find a good-sized box, preferably one with a lid so you can easily mix up the prompts. The box I use is a picture box that I got from the Dollar Store but you can use any box that you think will work.

Get The Prompts

If the last step was the easiest, this step is the most fun. Open up a writing program or grab a pen and paper to get started. I recommend deciding whether you want the paper to be long strips or squares before you start gathering prompts so that you can format as you go along.

There are many ways that you can gather prompts. You can search the internet for “writing prompts” or “writing dares“. You can go eavesdropping and write down random words and sentences you hear. Books, movies and TV shows are an excellent source for quotes. You can also gather prompts from yourself by thinking of inside jokes, favourite words and abandoned ideas.

Make It Challenging

If you want to have timed writing challenges in your box you will have to do a little work. Everyone writes at a different speed which can vary depending on the writer’s mood. In order to have your own timed challenges you need to know your average writing speed.

Once you know your average words per minute you can start on the medium challenges. Take your speed and multiply it by 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes. Those numbers give you the timed challenges for a medium difficulty. To make easy and difficult challenges just change the word count goals. For instance, if your medium difficulty for 15 minutes is 500 words then you can change it to 250 for easy and 750 for difficult.

Put Them Together

Once you have the box and the prompts it is time to put them together. If you formatted your documents while gathering the prompts and challenges then this part should be relatively easy.

Print off your documents and cut out each prompt so that they are all on a separate strip or square of paper. Once the prompts are cut up, you should fold them so that it is difficult to see what the prompt is without unfolding. This is the boring part of the process and goes faster with friends.

When you are finished you can sit back and marvel at your creation or pick a prompt and start writing.