Tag Archives: Pro Tips


First of all, I’d like to thank all my friends, family, and readers of Potato Chip Math for putting up with me this last month. If you’re not into writing it can be a bit much and I acknowledge that four or five straight blog posts and countless Facebook status updates may put a few of you off. Thanks for sticking around though and I promise things will get back to normal… starting tomorrow.

In case you didn’t know, I managed to “win” NaNoWriMo again this year, my third victory in a row!

So, yay me! Though that’s about all the celebrating I’ll allow mostly due to the fact that I’m freaking exhausted. I tackled the project in a slightly different way this year, in that I planned on writing a complete story – one with “THE END” written proudly at the bottom of the last page – rather than just writing 50,000 words towards a novel and having half of the story to be written, someday.

I thought I had it all figured out, I even had FIFTEEN bullet points written down with some key plot moments, names and short bios for my main characters, and all my locations mapped out right down to the “L” shape of the MC’s penthouse apartment (fancy schmancy!), the style and layout of the bank where he has a safety deposit box (ooooh intriguing!), and the location of the fax machine in the office where he shags his secretary (scandalous!). Even with all this prepared and ready to go by the time I went to bed on October 31 it was still a long, difficult journey to victory and I learned a few things along the way.

Days Off are Important (and Dangerous)

The plan was easy: write for twelve days and then take a day off. I had a workshop for a speakers event called Ignite! for which I am the speaker coordinator. I could not afford to take the day off prior to the event so that left me with no choice but to get ahead on my word count over the first dozen days and take a day off. 
It worked out wonderfully until I sat down to write on the 14th. By then it had been 44 hours since I had written anything and getting back on the horse was a challenge. I took two more days off in the month for various reasons (hockey game with my daughter on the 21st and the actual Ignite! event on the 26th and it was the same deal for the day after. I struggled to get words on the page. In every case I managed to at least keep pace with 1,667 words but I have a sneaky suspicion that those will be some of the first ones to hit the cutting room floor. It does bring me to my second lesson:

Just Keep Writing

I’ve said this before I’m sure, and countless others have said this before me, but the only way to get through the tough times is to just keep writing. Yes, you’ll have to lean on friends for support and you’ll be filled with self-doubt and worry, but that’s the deal. That’s what you signed up for, so suck it up buttercup and just keep writing. When in doubt, throw a curve ball at your MC. Think to yourself, “What would really fuck up his world right now?” or “Oh my god, wouldn’t it be terrible if…?” and then run with it. 

If You’re Going to Plan, then Plan Already

I thought I had prepared adequately. In past NaNos I never planned. I just started writing and kept doing the previous lesson until there were 50,000 words on the page. This time I had a plan, or at least I thought I did. It turns out I did not. My plan sucked. My plan was good for 15,000 or 20,000 words, tops. Next year I am either going  back to being a pantser or I am planning the living shit out of it. 
This year I ended up bloating my manuscript with who-knows-what to fill in the gaps that my sorry-ass planning left. Now, it’s not all bad. I did manage to dream up some pretty nifty character interactions that would not have come to light otherwise, but it was a real struggle. There’s a certain comfort in not knowing anything and having to make it all up as you go. There’s also comfort in knowing so many god damned things that the only thing left to do is write it down. Word of caution: the worst place to be is one where you think you know everything but actually don’t know squat.
A few other things I learned/noticed about this year’s event:
  • I felt better about my writing on days were I could get in 500 words after dinner and before the kids went to bed. I usually did this when they were eating their desserts or playing Minecraft. I planned these in based on the schedules for events (volleyball, play dates, my events, wife’s travel schedule, etc…). 
  • I made it rain on weekends, and starting NaNo on a weekend put me in a great position. I wrote almost double my target on every weekend (except this one, because I finished).
  • I kept a routine. I wan’t scrambling to squeeze words in before work, or at lunch at work (I keep my day job and my writing quite separate), or anything like that. I designated times when I could write, and then that’s when I wrote. 
  • I stopped writing most nights with enough time to watch an episode of Louie or Downton Abbey. Having 45-60 minutes before bed to wind down and enjoy some time watching TV with my wife really helped keep me sane. 
So there you have it. Another November come and gone and a brand new novel sitting in my “Writing” folder on my computer. Thanks again to everyone who helped me along especially my family (who is probably quite glad to have “normal” Andrew back) and those in my Writers Without Borders group on Facebook. 
We now return you to your regularly scheduled Sunday blog posts about mostly writing but also about a tonne of other things. I’m thinking I’ll keep it light and silly next week. Maybe crowd source a topic. What do you think? 
What would YOU like me to write about next week? Submit a comment and I’ll see what I can do. 
~ Andrew.

5 Tips For a Killer Ignite Talk

5 minutes.
20 slides.
That’s one slide every 15 seconds, and oh  yes, they auto-advance whether you like it or not.
Ignite Waterloo: Enlighten us. Just make it quick.
I volunteer for a speaker series called Ignite. I’ve given a talk and been a speaker coordinator ever since. The format of the talks is what you see above the logo. It’s remarkably difficult and through the speakers’ workshops we hold you see all kinds of stuff. We do our best to educate the prospective speakers so they know what they’re getting into, but it doesn’t always work. We have a workshop coming up and I thought this would be a good time to impart a little wisdom. Hopefully this list will prepare applicants a little bit and improve their chances of being selected. Last event we turned away almost as many people as we accepted so why not take advantage of some free advice?
I played around with a few concepts for this post but given the Ignite format I settled on a list approach. More specifically a list of five. One tip for each minute a speaker is up on stage.  In an effort to avoid the dreaded tl;dr I’ll try to keep things short and sweet.

5 Tips For a Killer Ignite Talk:

  1.  Simplify
    We do this exercise in the workshops called “Log Lines”. It’s designed to help distill your message down into its most basic form and it works wonders. Too many words, too many concepts, too much of anything actually and you risk losing your audience before you even get warmed up. If you can’t summarize what you want to say in one or two sentences then try again, and keep trying until you can strip it down to the bare essentials. Simplify.
  2. Be Passionate
    I’m not saying you have to go all Tony Robbins or anything like that, but a genuine enthusiasm for your topic goes a long way. If you don’t look interested in your topic there is a very slim chance anyone else will be. Speak from the heart.

  3. Tell a Story
    The hardest part of preparing any Ignite talk is teasing out the narrative. This is something that my speaker coordinator colleagues and spend the most time on during the workshops. There are lots of great ideas that get discussed, but the ones that end up with a person on stage are the ones that can tell a story. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end and your Ignite talk is no different. Think of your talk as a three-act play: hook them early, have some ups and downs along the way, then drive the point home with something memorable. The good thing about this concept is that even if can always take something interesting and make it entertaining. Beginning. Middle. End.
  4. People Remember Funny
    Understandably, not everyone can be a comedian and not every talk can be all laughs, but even a serious talk with a well-placed moment of levity will stick in people’s minds. John Cleese, a veritable king of comedians, says to be aware that there’s a difference between serious and solemn and that some of the funniest moments he’s experienced have come during a well delivered eulogy. Quite simply, people love to laugh, and if you can share a nugget of information with them while doing it then you’ve done your job. Laugh it up, fuzz ball.
  5. AVOID: selling, preaching, or pandering
    While people love to laugh, they hate to be targeted, made to feel guilty, or be underestimated. Ignite is about sharing a little bit of Waterloo Region culture that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. It’s not a sales conference or a venture capital rodeo. You’ve got an attentive audience for 5 minutes or less and you’re just one of 16 to 20 they will see that night. They should want to seek you out and have a conversation with you about your topic after the event, not wonder what your angle is or how much money you need to crowd source The Next Big Thing. Less is more.
So there you have it. Five easy tips to improve your chances of being selected as an Ignite speaker. Of course, you will never get selected if you don’t apply. Attending a workshop is another sure fire way to get a leg up. Just about every speaker we’ve had in recent events has attended one. 
Our first workshop leading up to our next event will take place on August 6th at 6:30pm (location to be determined – check out the Ignite Website or sign up for the mailing list). See you there!
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvEP7Ry0Jnc]
~ Andrew