I recently started using a bullet journal to track my novel projects, book sales, web stats, and writing tools and information. A couple of weeks ago, I made a video showing the section that included my NaNoWriMo prep. That video has had quite a few views, so I thought I’d share the rest of my writing bullet journal. It offers a behind the scenes view to writing and being an author.
I participate in NaNoWriMo every year and most years, I succeed in hitting the 50,000 word mark in 30 days. But more often than not, I’m squeaking out those last words as the clock ticks closer and closer to midnight Nov. 30. This year, I’d like to finish early, or at least, glide through NaNoWriMo without the stress of getting stuck with nothing to write. In order to do that, I need to prepare better than I usually do, which isn’t easy because I’m a pantster (write by the seat of my pants!)
Armed with my brand new writer bullet journal, and tips and worksheets found on the Internet, I’ve made a plan for plotting out my NaNoWriMo novel in October.
Here’s a video that shares my plan and shows off my bullet page spreads for my October NaNo prep.
Pictures of my Bullet Journal page spreads as well as links to resources mentioned in the video are listed below.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)
Leuchtturm 1917 Hard Cover 5.8″ x 8.3″ (A5) Lime Green, Dotted/Points (other colors available)
Bullet Journal Stencils
NaNoWriMo Divas Facebook Group
Writing and Selling a Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron
Classic 12-Chapter Mystery Formula
Outline Your Novel (3 Act Structure)
Elements of a Scene (lots of other great novel writing downloads as well)
*Note: some resources above contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission from the product company if you purchase something through the links provided. I only post links to items I’ve used and enjoy.
Gilian Baker is the author of Blogging is Murder, the first in the Jade Blackwell Mysteries series, which is now available. She stopped by today to talk about her debut book.
Tell us a little about your first book, Gilian.
Blogging is Murder introduces readers to Jade Blackwell, a former tenured English professor who left the rat race behind to start a blog. She’s a vivacious reader of classic mysteries and is lovably nosy.:) In the first scene she learns that her friend and fellow blogger, Liz Collins is being cyber-stalked by a crazed fan. Things escalate quickly— the stalker is murdered and Liz is the prime suspect. To help her friend, Jade sets out to prove she didn’t do it. Unfortunately, Jade’s “help” ends up making matters worse, and Liz is thrown in jail. Full of guilt, Jade enlists her friend and lawyer Gabrielle Langdon to take the case. After many false starts, plot twists and mishaps, Jade accidently breaks the case wide open while putting herself in harm’s way.
Where did you get the inspiration for the book?
Jade started to develop in my mind about 15 years ago when I got the idea that maybe I could write cozy mysteries like the ones I loved to read. But it took years before I had the nerve to start putting it on paper. Jade never gave up though. She was like a ghost appearing occasionally to remind me that she wanted me to tell her story. She eventually got her way.
The impetus to write Blogging is Murder was NaNoWriMo 2014. I needed a creative outlet for the stress and frustration of life as a blogger. Many of the issues Jade deals with in her home office are things that drove me crazy when I blogged.
As for the murder weapon, I’d always wanted to kill someone with an old-fashioned poison. The idea started percolating when I first saw Arsenic and Old Lace on stage in college. I love the idea of using the natural world as a murder method instead of one of the man-made chemicals we have available to us today.
Cyber-crime and stalking is something that’s always a worry for bloggers, so I chose that to be the disruption to Jade and Liz’s ordinary lives. From there, the plot and characters took on a life of their own. As I wrote, they revealed themselves to me.
Are you a plotter or pantser?
I’m mostly a pantser, although pantsing has its drawbacks. I had to go back to add in a lot of details that weren’t in the original story—clues, red herrings and characters. For example, originally Jade had a different sidekick. But after I’d written myself into a corner, I realized her sidekick needed to be someone who’d have a strong motivation for investigating and who’d have access to information she couldn’t get. Gabrielle Langdon was already a small character in the book, so I made changes to her profile and wrote her in as the sidekick.
When I first started writing the book, it was just for fun. A creative outlet. But once I decided to publish it, I had a lot of changes to make. I cut around 40,000 words from the first draft because it was a lot of internal dialogue. I as the writer needed to understand Jade that well, but it would’ve bored the reader to tears! I tried to outline the rest of the book a few times, but all I did was stare at the page. I didn’t know what was going to happen next until the characters told me. So I just stuck with pantsing, even though I had to go back later to change things around.
What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?
The biggest surprise has been that the writing process is the same no matter what you’re writing. Like Jade, I was a college English professor for years, so I “get” the writing process. But somehow, I thought writing fiction would require a different type of process. Yet I find myself using the same one that I used when I was writing literary criticism. I find that concept fascinating and exciting.
Since you’re writing cozy mysteries, you’re planning out a series, right? What’s next for Gilian and Jade?
Absolutely. I’ve already started working on the second book in the series, A Time to Kiln, which will be released in May 2017. In Blogging is Murder, Jade realizes she needs to have a better work-life balance, so in A Time to Kiln, she takes up pottery as a way to get out of the house and have some fun…until another murderer strikes.
One of the most common questions asked of writers is, “Where do you get your story ideas?” Most authors I know answer this question with a shrug and say, “They come from everywhere.” Before I was a publishing writer, I hated that answer. Surely there was a better way to get ideas without waiting for the universe to present them.
In reality, they’re right; story ideas are everywhere. But finding them isn’t a matter of waiting for them to present themselves. Instead, it’s in noticing them because they’re always there. When asked where he got his ideas for his quirky characters and odd-ball situations, Carl Hiaasen said they were from the local newspaper. Stephan King said he got the idea for Mr. Mercedes after reading about someone driving their Mercedes into a crowded McDonalds. Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games fame got the idea for her series from reality TV. These authors where reading the newspaper, watching the news or reality TV and from that ideas formed.
My ideas come from unique places as well. I just figured out the idea for book three in a cozy series I’m working on while searching Google on the equivalents between fresh and ground nutmeg. I got hooked on the show Airplane Repo and knew I had to have a character that was an airplane repo man. Recently, I had an entire short story come to me in a dream, but I think the trigger was a Facebook question about romantic Christmas gifts.
Sometimes I already have a kernel of an idea or I know I need to come up with the next idea for a series, but I don’t have the important details needed to create a full-fledged story. For example, in the Valentine series, I know each book needs a murder mystery that takes place in Tess and Jack’s circle of acquaintances. Using my cast of characters, I pick one for each book and try to figure out a plot. The idea about who’s murdered and why often comes from things I see or read in the world. I linked Tess’ first engagement ring to the Hope Diamond right around the time it was revealed that the blue stone was first the French Blue. This was helpful because at the time, I didn’t have a compelling reason for the ring to be so valuable that the bad guys would seek it out and kill to have it.
In the second Valentine book, Old Flames Never Die, I was stuck on how to make the crime work until I saw an episode of a forensic show on ID TV. Thank goodness I saw it, because it was the idea that made the whole plot work.
The idea for book four of the Valentine series (‘Til Death Do Us Part), came from the fascination fans have in the love lives of celebrities, especially those who have great on-screen chemistry. Luckily, I’d mentioned a celebrity friend of Jack’s in the first book, so I had a way to use this idea.
I’m fascinated by the prohibition era and have an idea of a cozy series set during that period. Interestingly enough, that idea started as a romance featuring a different couple set in contemporary times. Over time, it has morphed from the influence of watching Miss Fisher and Boardwalk Empire.
While some ideas show up while you’re busy living your life, some arrive while you’re writing. I have an idea for a vampire story, but the unique details of my vampire world came from my research on Romanian folklore. That research also helped me create a character for a new cozy I’m working on who loves fairy tales and folklore.
The point is, that while stories are developed, that initial spark of idea often comes from unusual and unexpected places. The unique plot twists and turns in stories often come the same way. If you’re a writer, the trick is to recognize and remember these ideas. That’s where keeping a notebook or having a note taking app on your phone can help. After that, it’s about asking questions to see where the idea can lead so you can flesh it out into a story or fit it into a book you’re already working on.
There is a writing adage to “Write what you know.” While this is faster and easier, it’s also limiting. If I wrote only what I knew, Tess would wear plain old undergarments instead of expensive French couture lingerie. Jack would drive an old Honda instead of a Tesla. The only thing that I know is chocolate.
The challenge of making things up when you write is being as accurate as possible. To that end, sometimes I need to do research. While research in school was tedious and boring, research for writing fiction can be very interesting. Here are a few cool things I’ve learned when doing research for my books:
- You can’t poison someone quickly with mistletoe, which is why Santa was stabbed in Death Under the Mistletoe.
- Stabbing someone in the mid-back on the side can still be fatal. I had to figure out where to stab someone in the back to avoid a fatal injury for Meant to Be: Southern Heat Book Two.
- Chocolate with nibs is yummy. Scharffen Berger’s chocolate with nibs makes an appearance in for Deadly Valentine.
- There’s such a thing as Moonpie Moonshine, although I haven’t been able to taste it yet. Moonshine shows up in Meant to Be: Southern Heat Book Two.
- I hate to fly (like Jack Valentine), but I learned how to fly a Cessna through a Youtube video for a new cozy mystery I’m writing.
- I have learned how to make a chocolate martini. You can find the recipe in ‘Til Death Do Us Part: A Valentine Mystery Book 4.
- I knew the French Blue eventually became the Hope Diamond, but learned that when the original stone was cut into the French Blue, there weren’t enough cuttings to make more jewelry. The French Blue shows up in With This Ring, I Thee Kill: A Valentine Mystery Book 3. I also take some liberties with the cuttings.
- The Grimms were disturbed brothers. I have a new character who likes fairy tales, so I’m reading Grimm’s’ stories and others.
- The southern accent is the most similar to the English of our forefathers than the accent in other parts of the U.S. I used this plus other cool stuff I learned about the southern accent in a free ebook How to Speak Southern.
- There’s a mystery surrounding the Confederate treasury and gold. I have been thinking of using it in a Delecoeur novella, but I might save it for something else.
- It’s legal to make beer and wine at home for personal consumption in Virginia, but not moonshine.
- Franklin County, Virginia is the “Capital of Moonshine.”