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NaNoWriMo: Creating a book cover

nanowrimo-crestI was on the fence (again) this year about joining NaNoWriMo, but the idea of writing during the month of November with my amazing Platformed Challenged friends has convinced me. I’m in!

Still…

I worry.

This year, November for me means not only all of the usual busyness of Thanksgiving, family, and work because in addition there is a 100% chance of (FINALLY) moving into our new house. It’s been delayed and delayed and delayed, and we’ve been moving from temporary housing to temporary housing. But finally – in November – it will be done. And right smack in the middle of it all? NaNoWriMo.

So with these immense tasks looming large, I need all the motivation I can get. Little things can get me pumped when I’m feeling intimidated, so this morning instead of focusing on the writing, I thought I’d focus on something easier:

Creating a book cover for NaNoWriMo.

I have no plan when it comes to NaNo. I don’t plot – as much as I want to be the writer with the outline, character sketches, and full-blown plan for novel writing, I am a pantser through and through. In fact, I don’t have a clue as to what this year’s NaNo book will be about. Or at least I didn’t until I started making a cover. It’s one of my tricks up my very tricksy sleeves. I force myself to complete the first step, and the rest follows. Eventually. And if I change my mind or the Muses gift me with another story? I’ll change the cover. Easy as pie.

So for anyone who would like a nudge in the pants(er), here is a quick and painless way to create a NaNoWriMo book cover to display with pride (or any other emotion you choose) on your dashboard…

(1) Log in to Canva.

Canva is a free, online site that comes fully loaded with easy-to-use tools that make it possible for everyone (well, maybe not my mother but she still can’t figure out her email) to design graphics, presentations, social media bling, headers, buttons, and yes, NaNo book covers. For free. Just register with your email address and you’re good to go!

(2) From your Canva dashboard, click “Use custom dimensions” and enter 230 x 300 pixels. It will look something like this:

canva-step-2
You’ll then end up on the layout page with a blank slate, like this:

canva-step-2-and-a-half

(3) From here, you can get as creative as you’d like OR keep it as simple as you like.

Simple cover – For a crisp, clean cover, simply add a background color and lettering, like so:

canva-step-3

All I did here was select existing text from the left sidebar and edit it. For the author’s name, I used “Add a little bit of body text.” You can change the colors, size, etc., by simply selecting the element. Playing around and experimenting is the best way to find what you like.

Fancier cover – Or add photos (choose from free stock photos, pay $1 to use protected images, or upload your own photos), graphics, fancy fonts from your personal library, and other elements. Here’s an example using a free stock photo:

canva-step-3-and-a-half
I selected “Elements” from the left menu bar, picked “Free photos,” then entered “train” in the search box. To make the photo fit the cover, I dragged the corners until the image filled the 230 x 300 pixel template. Then I added text as above.

(4) After you’ve played around and are happy with the cover, click “Download” from the top menu bar and save the file as a JPG or PNG, the forms compatible with NaNo.

canva-step-4

(5) Finally, all that’s left is to visit your author dashboard over at NaNoWriMo and upload the cover!

I promise this is a very easy process and was actually faster than the time it took to write this post! I created my 2016 NaNoWriMo cover this morning after deciding to take the plunge. And while I didn’t know going in what my book would be about, the creative process got the juices flowing and an idea sparked. Now let’s hope it catches!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Let me know if you create a NaNoWriMo cover! And if you have a different technique or use different software please feel free to share in the comment section – it’s always good to learn different ways to accomplish the same task since you never know what you’ll like best until you try it!

The Writing Life: Best Tips for Finishing NaNoWriMo

**Don’t forget to enter my Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of What If? Writing Exercises. Ends 11/24!**

finish lineThis is my first year taking on the month-long challenge that is NaNoWriMo. And so far, I’m pleasantly on track. Not ahead, not behind. Right on target. But every day, the words come more slowly. The looming mountain ahead feels higher and steeper than it did week one.

Bottom line? I’m starting to get worried about finishing.

So last night, I took a few hours and did what procrastinating writers everywhere do best – I surfed the web.  And read. And surfed. And read some more.  And I found some of the best tips for finishing NaNoWriMo on the web.

Because I want you to finish, I’m hoping my wasted writing hours will mean less procrastination for you. Take advantage of my surfing trip and check out these helpful articles and posts for finishing NaNoWriMo.

My personal favorite way to write when the well appears dry? NaNoWriMo Word Sprints on Twitter. I don’t know what it is, but just having that page up while writing motivates me to plow through and have something on the page before they yell, “STOP!”

Note: I’m only including five of the many, many, MANY articles I read because, well, the truth is you need to be writing and so do I!

When you’re through reading the wise words of these WriMo sages, get writing! The end is near – so write on!

TIPS FOR FINISHING NANOWRIMO
brought to you by World-Class Procrastinator, Kat McCormick… 

  1. From WritersDigest.comHalfway There: Finishing NaNoWriMo Strong by contributor Cris Freese

    This tidy article offers creative and inspiring tips from past finishers and writers to get you through the second half of NaNo.  My personal favorite? Bring wine!

  2. From WritabilityHow I Won NaNoWriMo in 9 Days by writer Ava Jae

    I know what you’re thinking… nine days?! You and I may not be aiming to pull off a 9-day feat (or if you’re behind maybe you are), but regardless of timing the tips and tricks used by speed writer Jae will help you power through toward the finish line.

  3. From Write It SidewaysHow to Get Past the NaNoWriMo Danger Point and Finish Your Novel by author and coach Hillary Rettig

    This article offers some tips I’ve read before, and some I haven’t – but they are presented in a different light that made something “click” in my brain. I especially like the tips about writing nonlinearly and examining your fears and pitfall (procrastination-busting at its best).

  4. From Kirsten Lamb’s Blog8 Elements to NAILING Your Plot & Owning NaNo by, you guessed it, Kirsten Lamb

    While this post is not specifically about finishing NaNo, Lamb points out flaw that will stop you from completing your story and provides insights on what is needed to avoid/fix them. I especially appreciate the section on the core story problem (or lack thereof).

  5. And last but not least, from CreativeLiveHow to Break Through Writer’s Block: Show Up & Bring a Pen by Hanna Brooks Olsen

    What I like best about this post is how straightforward it is – if you want to break through the shiny ribbon at the NaNo finish line, there is only one thing to do – WRITE! Olsen does offer some tips on how to write when the words don’t want to come, but overall this article was a swift kick in the rear for yours truly.

Any of these tips resonate with you? Or if you’re a past finisher, please share your best tip in the comments section and stop a WriMo procrastinator from spending more precious writing time surfing the web …  

From the Bookshelf: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

**Don’t forget to enter my Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of What If? Writing Exercises. Ends 11/24!**

curious incident haddonI would love to give you a hot-off-the-presses book review, but instead I can only write about books I read in my actual life (I’m saving the made-up version for my next book).  And in my life, I’m often always behind.  This book review is no exception.  But stick with me. Pretty please with sugar and cherry on top!  This weekend, I re-read a book I’ve read three times before.  A book that has been out for years.  My daughter was assigned the book in her English class and asked me a question as she was preparing to write a response so to refresh my memory, I glanced at the first page … and didn’t look up again until I reached the end.

And here’s why: It’s amazing.

The book? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Which I guess is timely in some ways because Haddon has a short story this week (miracle that I’m not behind on something) in The New Yorker (check it out here). The short version is that Curious tells the tale of fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone, who discovers the slain body of his neighbor’s poodle and sets out to uncover the murderer.  But it is so much more.  Through this book, we are called to question our perceptions about love, growing up, and the human mind.

It’s November.  I’m just starting Week Two of NaNoWriMo and NovPAD.  So this time when I read the book, I kept my writer’s hat firmly in place and paid special attention to Haddon’s writing tools and techniques.

One of the best features of Curious is, in my humble opinion, the voice.  In fact, it is so good let’s write that again but this time with capitals and a fancy font – The Voice.  Christopher is highly logical, excessively literal, and extremely detached, which can be at times hilarious and at times devastating. His voice is so real, so genuine that I felt like I was there in the book with him as the story unfolded. Part of this success comes from Haddon’s use of first-person POV, which allows us to see the events of the novel through the eyes of the narrator and places us deep inside Christopher’s mind, forcing us to see the world in his very limited way.  Haddon helps us understand Christopher by having him give us his opinions on the status quo.  Looking at things I take for granted through Christopher’s eyes caused me to question some of my assumptions about the world and the so-called “normal” way of thinking.

Amazingly, Christopher is a phenomenal narrator despite is inability to relate emotionally to others.  We still get our emotional fix, however, because Christopher is such a stickler for description (the book is full of vivid sensory imagery) and the facts.  We are called to read between the lines, and it is easy to fill in the emotional void based on how others react to Christopher and his actions.  Reading the book, I felt both wildly frustrated with and crazy mama-bear protective of Christopher as he tried to make his way in the world.

Haddon also manages to add depth and personality to secondary characters in creative ways.  For example, readers learn about Christopher’s mother from her letters.  Through the explanations she gives, the spelling errors she makes, even the way she recounts her job, we learn what makes her unique, some of her background, and how she will likely react to events in the story before she ever steps into a scene.

Lastly, the book is chock full of literary themes.  One major theme in the book – and one that is not unexpected with a teenager as the central character – is the struggle for independence.  Yawn. I know, it sounds trite. But in Curious, Haddon takes this common theme and gives it to us with a twist. Instead of the usual teen bucking the rules of mom & dad or society, Christopher is struggling to gain independence from his mental constraints.  He is a character who, because of a mental health disorder, can never be fully independent. On some level, he recognizes this. And yet he struggles against his destiny. Throughout the book, he takes step after step in a direction of his own choosing.  Starting with the search for dog murderer (against his father’s command to the contrary), through a solitary trip to London (challenging for a kid who can’t talk to strangers even to ask directions), and culminating in taking exams to move on to college (when he realizes he can now “do anything”), we bear witness to Christopher’s growing independence. At the same time, there is a nagging sense that the gap between Christopher and everyone else still exists – he hasn’t achieved independence.  And he won’t.  But he does change, and he manages to change the minds of some around him.  Personally, I like this variation on a (very) common topic.  There are only so many themes in the human story, and this book has inspired me to look for ways to twist them as I write my own stories.

What books have you read that inspire your writing? Have you read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? I’d love to know what you think! 

November Giveaway!

What If GiveawayGreetings from #NaNoWriMo Land!

I’m in the thick of things with my first ever NaNo, and it is going better than expected! Of course, it’s only Day 4 but so far, I’m ahead of my word count goals and I’m not getting caught up in my typical perfectionist trap.  Go me!  I’m also doing the #NovPAD (November Poem-a-Day) Chapbook Challenge from Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest.  I’m using NovPAD as a way to get the creative juices going each morning before diving into my NaNo writing after work in the afternoon.  So far, so good.  My Day 3 poem is kind of “eh,” but I’m looking at everything produced during the month of November as raw material and fodder for revision in the months to come.

In honor of all of this seat-of-the-pants writing, I thought I’d offer a #Giveaway focused on boosting creativity and getting you to step outside the comfy, familiar box that most of us find ourselves writing in whenever we’re pushed for time.  As such, I’m giving away a copy of my favorite book of writing exercises, What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.  Don’t worry, I’m not giving away my personal (well-loved, dogeared) copy – this is brand-new and shiny, straight from Amazon.com.

This book is the best.

I’m not saying this is definitively the best book of writing exercises and prompts ever.  Just that it’s a-mazing.  Phenomenal. Okay, yes.  I’m saying it’s the best.

My opinion may be due in large part to the fact that it is one of the first books I used when I embraced myself as a Writer with a capital “W” instead of a mere daydreamer.  But it’s also due to the fact that this book really is wonderful.  There are more than 75 exercises in the book, and unlike most prompt/exercise books out there, What If? provides explanations, objectives, and student examples.  It really is a gold mine for writers of all levels.

Even if you are thinking, “Great, a fiction book.  I don’t write fiction.” Don’t despair! Doing the exercises in this book will work that creativity muscle and the cross-training will result in improved writing no matter your genre of choice.  From poetry to memoir, this book will work wonders for you (if you do the work – you can’t just pet the cover and smile pretty … you have to write). And since it’s free, you have nothing to lose and much to gain!

“What do I have to do to win this amazing book?” you are probably asking.  It’s simple.  Here are the details:

  • You must be a resident of the US (or have a US shipping address).
  • Get one entry by commenting on this blog and telling us your favorite writing prompt or exercise (from any source, even one you dreamed up today).
  • Get another entry by posting about this Giveaway on Twitter.  BE SURE TO INCLUDE ME, @TheKatMcCormick, IN YOUR TWEET SO I CAN GIVE YOU CREDIT!
  • You can Tweet once per day until the Giveaway ends and earn one entry per day on Twitter. (If you start today (11/04) you could earn over 20 entries!!)
  • Do all of this before the Giveaway officially ends on Tuesday 11/24/2015 at 10pm Eastern.
  • I will select a random winner and announce the winner on Wednesday 11/25/2015 on Twitter and on my blog.

That’s it!  Easy as pie.  Good luck and happy writing!  I’m looking forward to reading your comments and Twitter posts!

The Writing Life: Dull November?

Dull NovemberDo you remember the poem, “The Garden Year” by Sara Coleridge, that teaches the months of the year in nifty rhyme? In this poem, Coleridge says this about November:

Dull November brings the blast;
Then the leaves are whirling fast.

Now, I’m fairly certain she’s describing the weather, but I can’t help but get stuck on the word dull.  For the past week as I stared at the impending NOV. 1 circled in metaphorical red on my calendar, my head was full of grumblings at this description.  They went something like, “Dull November my left foot! November – full of NaNo and NovPAD. Kids’ birthdays. November. ‘Dull.’  Not dull, full.  Stupid poem. Stupid November. And why is Thanksgiving in November? Maybe I can move to Australia.”

Yes, crazy rantings of a mad woman.  I’m not proud.

November is anything but dull between school and family and birthdays and holidays and work deadlines.  Never mind trying to write anything.  And this year, I’ve added NaNoWriMo and NovPAD to my to-do list.  Yet despite my nutty mumblings, I’m actually very excited. I am approaching both writing challenges with the idea that anything I write is better than not writing.  I’m trying not to get too caught up on word count for NaNo (although my GOODNESS it is hard to ignore the word counts being casually thrown about on the boards and Twitter … and it’s only day two!). And I’m thrilled to have partners in insanity through my Twitter and board connections for both #NaNoWriMo and #NovPAD.

I’m also excited because I’ll be announcing my November Giveaway on Wednesday (11/4). I had so much fun with the October Giveaway that I decided to make it a monthly thing here on my blog.  Stay tuned for more free fun!

So tell me… what are you doing this Dull November?  NaNo? NovPAD? Hot pokers to the eyes? Or are you staying sane and not joining the writing mayhem?  No matter what your November brings, I’d love to hear about it!