Magical Cookies and NaNo 2019

This post original came out in my monthly newsletter on December 1, 2019. To subscribe to my newsletter, fill out this form and you’ll be the first to see posts, freebies, and news and get more info that I only share in my newsletters.

I made it to 50k! But it took me all the way until November 30th to do it. Here’s a picture of my writing chart from this NaNo:

As you can see, I’m definitely the “write everyday” kind of gal. Even though I went in with a really thorough outline, plotted out all my scenes with goals and whether they would achieve those goals or not, I still needed the buffer time between big scenes in order to really figure out how to move forward.

NaNoWriMo  progress chart word count daily
My NaNo Writing Chart this year

The biggest takeaway that I had this year, though, was that it wasn’t just enough to set scene intentions if I wasn’t interested in those intentions from a writing standpoint. So, about a week in, after the pre-NaNo planning had all been put on the page, I had to figure out how to get myself to write the next “boring” scene in my outline.

The problem was, I knew it was boring. And I also knew that if I made it boring, I’d also be boring my readers as well. Thankfully, I follow a brilliant author named Susan Dennard and one of her go-to pieces of advice for writers is all about magical cookies. Magical cookies are essentially the reasons you wanted to write this story in the first place, so figuring out how to weave that into every scene can make you excited to write every scene, even the ones that you thought were boring.

So, I wanted to share an example with you today.

Here’s the outline notes for a particular scene that I was working on:
-Wes meets with Freya and she gives him a pie that was promised in the opening scene. His goal is to decide whether or not to leave home and journey to the capital. He will accomplish this goal at the end of the scene, even though he’ll be terrified of breaking the news to his uncle.

When I sat down to write the scene, however, all I could see were the two of them sitting at a small table and the smells of the yummy pie they were about to eat. How was I going to get anywhere after that? And how would I make it interesting enough to read?

Well, when I sat down and considered some of the reasons I wanted to write this story, I came up with a few magical cookies that I could weave into the scene: choosing others over self, identities that are complex or lost, and morally gray decisions.

When I thought about weaving elements of this into the scene, suddenly Freya wasn’t just a kindly old woman, she was a woman who knew Wes’ true identity, even though he doesn’t.

When I considered choosing others over self, I knew that Wes’ passion for serving his community needed to come through. He should be adamant about going, no matter what his uncle had to say.

And when I looked at morally gray decisions, I knew that Wes would eventually becoming morally gray even though he wasn’t yet, but this one act, this defiance for what he believes is right could come back to haunt him and then lead him towards that morally gray character by the end of the book.

Just by looking at all of these things wrapped into a single “boring” scene, I suddenly got excited thinking about how Freya could try to drop hints to Wes. I imagined his blindsided view on life interfering with interpreting those clues, but that they could really impact him later on in the story after he made some bad decisions.

Suddenly, I pictured the conversation and the body language in the scene and the words began to flow out.

After that, I used the magical cookies concept every time I felt like I was stuck on something in my story. Not only did they help me stay excited about writing, even when I needed time to think between scenes, they helped it so that my scenes felt more whole and directly related to the rest of the book.

I hope that by sharing this, maybe you can think about your own magical cookies of your book and use that to help you whenever you feel stuck. I’d also love to hear about any tips or tricks that you have about unsticking your story, so feel free to reach out on social media or hit “Reply” to this post!

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Published by Leslie

I'm an author, teacher, wife, and mother of three who just finished an MFA program and is working on a YA fantasy novel.

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