Wednesday, November 22, 2017

NaNoWriMo Reality Checks by Patty Blount

You may have heard that November is National Novel Writing Month. We're blogging about it all month long. You've heard from authors who've won, like Jody Casella and Maryanne Fantalis and authors who won't touch it, like Alyssa Grosso. You've heard authors defend NaNo and others tell you how they bend it to suit their needs.

I thought I'd go back to basics, discuss what NaNoWriMo is and what it's not. First, let me say this: Yes, it is possible to write an entire book in 30 days.

I know this because I've done it. (If you're curious, head over to Wattpad and read Past Perfect.)

I nearly killed myself writing that story but I did it. Here are some things I learned about the NaNoWriMo process, back in 2012, just after I signed my first publishing deal.

Myth 1: NaNoWriMo emphasizes word count --> Writing 50,000 words in thirty days requires that you write at least 1667 words each day. This isn't arbitary. This reflects the real world. You see, like most aspiring authors, I wrote my first novel in my spare time over a period of YEARS. After it sold and I had a contract in hand, it came with this newfangled concept -- "the deadline."  I was expected to deliver my second novel in just six months. I cannot fully express the panic that this inspired in me. Six months to write an entire novel? It cannot be done! Oh, it can and it must and it was.

Managing a deadline means you work backwards. NaNoWriMo success means splitting that 50,000 word count minimum by the 30 days in November to arrive at 1667 words per day. I could do that.

Reality check: There are days I can barely write a paragraph which, luckily, are often followed by days where I write entire chapters. For every project since my first novel, I still take that deadline, the expected length of the novel, and compute my daily target. Even on the days I don't want to write, I know I can do this because I did it before. NaNo teaches you how to meet your professional and contractual obligations. But -- and this is an important but -- it's not DONE. The first draft is done, yes. Repeat those words.

The FIRST DRAFT is done. A first draft is so named because it is intended to be followed by more drafts.

Myth 2: NaNoWriMo doesn't emphasize quality --> Is it true that NaNo forces you to turn off your Inner Editor? Yes. Is it true you should never pitch your NaNo projects on December 1st? Also yes. Remember that this is called National Novel WRITING Month. See Point #1: This is just the first draft. There really should be a month for rewriting and another month for revising because those are essential steps in the process of getting a book to publication.

Reality check: First drafts are never good. (They're called first drafts for exactly this reason.) The goodness comes from the rest of the process -- rewrite, revise, edit, improve. NaNo teaches you that getting the story down and on paper first is the only way you can ever hit those next two critical phases -- rewrite and revise. You can't do that to a blank page. Quality isn't something that simply pours out of us. Quality requires thought. Deliberation. Consideration.

A book is a large effort. There are a lot of moving parts to keep in mind. NaNo helps you compartmentalize those moving parts by putting focus on what's often the hardest part -- finishing the first draft. It's up to you to track the rest of the moving parts.

Myth 3: NaNoWriMo favors pantsers over plotters --> I have a theory about the write by the seat of your pants vs. plot it all out first debate that's been going on for centuries. I believe everybody plots to some extent. Some of us are extremely precise about it, employing spreadsheets and vision boards and charts and graphics. Others are more laid back and just keep it all straight in their heads. At a minimum, I believe all authors have at least a general idea of what their stories are about in terms of the characters' goals and conflicts and maybe even their arc so that they know (generally) how each character's story will end.

I am a plotter by nature but did not have my typical extensive outline for Past Perfect but that is NOT why I never published this book. I didn't publish it because I never did reach the rewrite and revise stages. The first draft is done, but that story requires more effort before it would be publication-worthy.

Reality check: NaNoWriMo doesn't particularly care how you write. The how is entirely up to you. NaNo taught me it's okay to just put notes in my manuscript like <<insert burn treatment here>> and then move on with the story. I can fill in those details later. Why is this important? Because it redirects our creative energy on getting the first draft out of our heads instead of caught up in the minutia of details that should still be fluid.

Am I doing NaNoWriMo this year? Unofficially, yes.

I set a goal for myself to write two books a year. Back in January, I began plotting a new YA called SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, which is an ambitious companion story to SOME BOYS, exploring rape and rape culture NOT from a traditional romance perspective (because romance is what I typically write), but from a familial one. The main characters are siblings and the book explores how their relationship is impacted by rape. This was not an easy novel to write. I finished the first draft in September, the rewrite in October and a massive revision in November. Copy edits will be next, followed by galley proof-reads.

I also started plotting a contemporary romance called NOBODY SAID IT'D BE EASY, which is a single father romance that's been an absolute joy to write. First draft of this is due in December. For me to deliver both books and keep my fulltime day job, I routinely apply the things I've learned from my NaNo experience writing Past Perfect. I stick to daily word count goals. I bind and gag my Inner Editor. I leave notes all over the book for research I haven't yet performed. And I build in time for rewrite and revision, frequently leaving myself bookmarks in the middle of a WIP that say "MARK NEW MOTIVATION HERE" that pinpoint exactly when and where I changed my mind about my story. I write from that point on as if the whole manuscript already reflects that change. That speeds up the rewrite process later.

So if you're wondering what good NaNoWriMo is, I'd say it helps aspiring writers figure out what their unique process is and work it even when deadlines loom. In short, it teaches us to be professionals. know what? Sometimes, when the pressure sucks the joy out of creating words, it's okay to say, "This isn't working for me." That's another lesson NaNo taught me and why I haven't formally participated in it since Past Perfect.

For those celebrating, Happy Thanksgiving! I'm grateful to all of you who read and contribute to YA Outside the Lines. I'd love to hear how those doing NaNoWriMo are making out... tell me in the comments!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Nine Reasons I Don't Participate in NaNoWriMo (Alissa Grosso)

1. November is a busy month. For my "day job" November is hands down the busiest month of the year. We're talking crazy, sleep-deprivation busy. I don't have time to catch my breath let alone write a novel.

2. I'm not a team player. I'm a registered independent voter. I've never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, The Bachelor or The Walking Dead. In fact, I literally had to Google popular TV series to come up with three shows for my list. I don't own a single garment of clothing emblazoned with a professional or collegiate sports team logo. So, the whole team aspect, encouraging-each-other-thing is a real turn-off for me.

3. It's not conducive to my creative process. I am a firm believer in outlining, but even so writing a novel in a straight up linear fashion doesn't work for me. I also feel that percolation helps writing, and this is where NaNoWriMo fails me. It takes some introspection to understand how the different scenes of a novel should play out, but there's no time for introspection when you're sprinting.

4. I'm not a one-novel woman. Look the idea of being able to work on only one novel at a time appeals to me, but it simply isn't how my brain works. I seldom read just one book at a time, and I certainly can't write just one at at time. I've heard people say that would be too confusing for them, but then they watch four or more television shows concurrently.

5. I have to put up the Christmas decorations. Right now. Today. Okay, this doesn't take all day, but a few hours. That's a lot in November. (See number 1 above.) I assume anyone that does NaNo has one of those houses that looks rather unfestive this time of year.

6. It's like commuting in rush hour traffic. I don't know about you, but I go to great lengths to avoid rush hour traffic. I'm self employed. If I have to drive somewhere I take steps to make sure I won't be driving during rush hour. When you do NaNo it's like entering the rat race. Come January agents and editors are going to be swamped with everyone's NaNo projects. So, there's something to be said for not being a team player.

7. I write a lot at night. I do most of my writing later in the evenings, before bed. That wouldn't seem like an issue except that here in the U.S. we have this absurd thing called Daylight Savings Time, which I loathe, and which comes to an end at the beginning of November when we can finally rejoin the rest of the world and live on standard time. Still shouldn't be a problem, right? Well, I have a dog and all this clock changing stuff is lost on him, plus he's old, so instead of getting to wake up at a reasonable 6:30 in the morning or maybe even 7 (a girl can dream, but not the sleep kind of dreaming because I've been rudely awakened by barking), at 5:30 in the morning I have to take my dog for a walk in the pitch dark, and what this means is that by 9 p.m. I'm struggling to keep my eyes open, which makes it difficult to write.

8. I don't care for the word count benchmark.  I understand the idea behind measuring your success by the number of words you've written, but it's fundamentally flawed. The goal with any written work is to exercise an economy of words, to tell your story in as few words as possible. So, why use word count to measure success?

9. Who the hell picked November, anyway? I mean I know we all do our own thing, and I know not everyone's as busy as I am in November, but isn't it still a pretty busy month for a lot of people? Could it be it was picked just because the first four letters of November are the same as the first four letters of novel? Because, if so, that was a really stupid reason. February would make the most sense, except it's generally only 28 days. So, how about March? What's happening in March? Absolutely nothing, that's what. Also the weather tends to suck for a good portion of the U.S. So, if I was going to pick a month to write a novel in, it would be March, but I probably won't for reasons I've outlined above.

Alissa Grosso took roughly ten years (take that, NaNoers!) to write her first book, Popular. She's also the author of the books Ferocity Summer and Shallow Pond, which took far less time, but still much longer than a month to complete. Learn more about her and her books at

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Holding on and letting go by Jody Casella

I've been there, November 30th, typing in the fifty-thousandth word. Uploading the "finished" novel onto the NaNoWriMo site. Collecting my virtual Winner badge before collapsing in a frazzled heap, elated that I finished writing a book!! and thrilled that I won't have to deal with the gigantic mess until January.

I can tell you about my struggles and breakthroughs doing Nano (for the record, I "won" five times, and published one of those novels after extensive revision). I'm a big believer in the write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants/spew-out-words-every-day-even-on-Thanksgiving process.

I'm also realistic about what you end up with on December first (if you dare to sneak a peek at the mess). So, I don't want to talk about NaNoWriMo.

I'm gonna be the giant buzzkill here, smack dab in the middle of this frenzied marathon writing month to talk about


The hardest part for me is always gearing up to read what I wrote.

Because I know-- I know it's going to be bad. Those days back in November when you hammered out your words, muttering "Quantity not Quality" to yourself while you meandered off on tangents, blathering about the scenery or what your characters were wearing or where they were sitting in the school cafeteria, spilling out every inane thought in their heads, or

alternately, forgetting what your character's motivations were or what they looked like or what the minor character's name was back on day three or

when you figured out the entire Point of This Book on day twenty-three (Oh MY GOD that was a good day, because it all made sense!!) but too bad none of the previous 150 pages led up to that momentous climax.

Well, all of those pages have to be read now

and dealt with.

Okay. Deep breaths. Let's do this.

You read this crappy mess pile of spewed garbage first draft,  slowly, and then quickly. Trying to resist the urge to make notes, but scrawling questions to yourself in the margins:


All the while the vision of what this book was when you wrote it--the beauty and complexity and brilliance and heartbreaking drama-- receding and falling away, until all you have left is what this book is. 

And what this book is
is, um, not that great.

But stay with me here: it still can be. 

Which brings me to the hardest part of revision (yeah, I know I said gearing up to read the draft is the hardest part, and reading it--that's hard too--but who are we kidding here? Did you really believe that you could write a novel in 30 days?)

It's revision that is the hardest part of the process. It's also the best part of writing. Because, listen:

Thirty days ago you had nothing but an idea.

Now you have the building blocks of a story. Characters. Conflict. A handful of decent scenes. If you're lucky, you've stumbled upon the voice. You have the potential beginning.

You have the end.

All you have to do now is hold onto what works, let the rest go, and write!

Anyway, this is what I am telling myself today, in the middle of a NaNo month for you, but in the middle of a revision for me, a revision of a draft first written ten years ago. A meandery mess I read one time, and never dealt with

even though it had the building blocks of a story. A few decent scenes. The glimmer of a voice.

What I have is not great.

But here is what I am telling myself today:

It will be.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Projects Without Deadlines Don't Get Done by Jodi Moore

My husband is fond of saying, “Projects without deadlines don’t get done.”

This month on the blog, we’re celebrating NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, where writers challenge themselves to craft a full novel (50,000 words) during the 30 days of November.

Talk about an impressive deadline!

But since I recently finished my first draft of a YA novel, I’ve decided to create on my own version, which I’ve termed NaNoREVISEMo.

I tend to hold onto a manuscript, editing it over and over, until someone has to pry it from my hands. I will sometimes focus on one chapter, one paragraph, one WORD for days. NaNo invites us, allows us, to put our inner editors on the back burners while pushing forward to write the story in our hearts.

Imagine that. Permission for a month of peace without my inner editor popping in every few paragraphs to ask me if I’m sure I want to use that semi-colon there; to point out the scene I’m writing (much as I love it) isn’t really adding to the plot; to question the dialogue – “OMG! Are you delusional? No one talks like that!”

And to let me know Starbucks is hiring for the holidays: “Are you sure you don’t want to consider a new career…?”

But NaNo says NO. Go away, inner editor. You are banned for 30 days.

It can be very freezing freeing. (See, inner editor? I can find mistakes on my own, thank you very much.)

(I just used the word “very”. Twice. And “just”. JUST! My inner editor is freaking out somewhere.)

It can allow us to reach that elusive finish line.

(She’s breaking out in hives right now. She wants me to add one more example to fulfill the rule of three.)

Which feels pretty darn good.

Oh sure, we’ll have to go back and revise. That’s a given. My inner editor will totally call me to the carpet for “pretty darn good.”

(The veins have begun to pop out on her head. “Call me to the carpet” is cliché.)

But she’ll get over it. Because she’s an editor…and you can’t edit a blank page.

Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I have a deadline to attend to.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

NaNoWriMo Lessons (Maryanne Fantalis)

For a long time, I thought NaNoWriMo was the stupidest writing idea I’d ever heard. First of all, November. Do I have to say it? And the idea: writing 50,000 words without thinking very hard about what those words are, just so you can say you’ve written a novel? When you can get past writer's block by typing out the lyrics of a song or copying the front page of the newspaper lying next to you on the table… This is ridiculous. That’s not creative writing, that’s copyright infringement.


If the exercise of typing out a song gets you past a mental block, or if responding to a silly prompt in a Twitter sprint helps you finish, you might learn something about your writing process, and that would be valuable.

It would be, and it was.

I did NaNoWriMo in 2014 and “won,” which means I completed 50,000 words in 30 days (well, actually, I finished with 51,219 words in 21 days, but who’s counting? Me! I am!).

And I learned a lot about myself and my writing process. Since I did it, I’ve become a big cheerleader for NaNo, and I’ll tell you why.

1.       It forces you to face your demons. I used to think I needed quiet, and music, and time, and inspiration, and mood, and pen-and-paper, and all kinds of things to write. Turns out, I just needed someone to light a fire under my lazy… rear end. All those things I “needed” were excuses: ways to avoid writing, crutches set up by my perfectionism, my fear, my cowardice, my confusion, and all the other emotional roadblocks to success. I’m still dealing with them, but at least now they’ve been dragged into the light.

2.      You learn about your writing process.  I like to spend a lot of time dreaming. I call it planning, but it’s really just imagining the big picture: what the novel will shape up to be, what the themes and subplots will be, who the characters really are and how they became that way, what they look like and what they think about and how they grew up… I like to KNOW everything (or mostly everything) before I do most of the writing. One thing I learned from NaNoWriMo is that you don’t have to know everything before you start. In fact, you don’t have to know almost anything. You can just start writing. All you need is a bare bones plot and some characters. The motivations, the relationships, the back-stories, all that will reveal itself when you need it, or if it doesn’t, you can fill it in later. As YAOTL author Janet (and a fish named Dory) would say, “Just keep swimming.”

3.      I can silence the Internal Editor. As a life-long perfectionist, the IE (as NaNos not-so-lovingly refer to it) was my constant companion and enemy. From the first sentence, she would snarl, “Well, that’s pure sh*t” in my ear, and I was finished. NaNo pretty much vanquished her. There’s no time. You have to keep moving. And once you shut her up, once you stop critiquing every…single…word, it becomes much easier to write freely. I know that I'll edit eventually. When. I. Am. Finished.

4.      You must do things that terrify you sometimes. I’ve failed at NaNo more than I’ve succeeded. But that one time, it was electrifying. I am a person who loves the even-keel. My nickname could be Goldilocks; I don’t like it cold or hot, I don’t like to go run fast or go slow. I like a nice even pace. I want things the same today as yesterday and to know that they’ll be the same tomorrow. Different is uncomfortable. But every once in a while, I push myself beyond my steady, measured pace. I hike up a mountain. I take an acting class. I write a novel in a month. And, it turns out, despite the crazy, I love it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

I Believe! (Sydney Salter)

I'm not doing NaNo this year, but I am a many-years winner, and three of my five sold manuscripts were NaNo novels. Here's a post I wrote back in 2011 after completing my 50,000 words - just barely! 

Many times during my first week of NaNo writing, people said to me, "I'd love to try it, but I don't have the time to write in November." I don't have the time either. That's what I love about NaNoWriMo.

As I head into Week #2, I'm hosting an SCBWI conference & dealing with all those last minute details. Coordinating my daughters' after school activities requires military-level planning--cloning would be even more helpful. I've had fun events, too, like last night's dinner with Two Rivers High Students (amazing kids who are passionate about reading & many who will become authors in time).

I even went to the dentist this week.

And I still have to exercise, sleep, and feed everyone. I wouldn't have started this novel in November. Or maybe I'd still be dinking around with my first chapter--getting it just right while doubting my whole idea. But NaNo has forced me to squeeze writing into my hectic days. We've had homework/writing field trips to the bookstore cafe late in the afternoon. I've woken up early on the weekend. And today I'll probably add to my word count while waiting for soccer practice to end.

NaNoWriMo reminds me that I can always make writing a priority--no matter what is happening in my life. I've written 13,583 words so far & I've added two official patches to my book bag. I plan to hit 15,500 today. I'll get to add another patch & I'm sure there will celebratory chocolates too!

After completing NaNo I scrawled a quick reflection in the calendar I use for my writing life:

That's why I will always defend NaNoWriMo writing: it proves that sheer willpower means something.

I kept working and working on the manuscript I wrote back in 2011 - and now I'm thrilled to announce that SPONSORED will coming out with ChiTeen press in 2019!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

NaNoMyWay Instead of NaNoWriMo By: Kimberly Sabatini

I'm not gonna lie. I love me some #NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as...

I've attempted it before. And I even won on my second NaNo foray in 2013

But I'm going to have to admit the truth. Most of the time #NaNoWriMo isn't a good fit for me.
And I hate that it isn't because I love the energy. I crave the challenge. And I adore the community with it's pep talks and check-ins. 

I want to #NaNoWriMo but I've come to learn, through trial and error, that what I need to do first and foremost, is #NaNoMyWay. Which translates into participating in something I affectionally call...National Novel Writing Month My Way.

What does that mean? Well, for starters, when it comes to my writing, I don't pants anything anymore. 
I plot out extensively--even when I'm writing picture books. 

And I can predict your next question... 
How did I--the ultimate pantster--turn her approach to writing around so drastically?

Primarily, these two books...

About two years ago, it came to my attention, that I was making some of the same mistakes over and over again in my writing. To fix it,  I sought out numerous books on craft to help me learn how to be a better writer. But now these two books--THE ANATOMY OF STORY: 22 Steps of Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby and STORY GENIUS: How to Outline Your Novel Using the Secrets of Brains Science by Lisa Cron--are never far from my finger tips. 

In fact, I've been working these two books and their related online classes and other supports for at least a year and a half now. I keep rereading the texts and working through the exercises and adapting what I'm learning to my own writing process. I even started a private FB group of friends who were also working through the books, so we could discuss our questions and support each other. 

And a year ago, I made myself a 120 page workbook to help me digest Truby's book. 
I know, I'm a crazy person. 
But it was a very effective way of helping me to BEGIN digesting the information. Now I'm working on improving the packet to incorporate techniques and information from both authors. 
I have a novel length, detailed version that I use for pre-planning my novels...

This one is still a major work in progress.
And I'm also adjusting it to allow me to work directly on the paper packet if I'm inclined, or I can place my work in Scrivener and move back and forth between the two...

And this is a version I use for Picture Books/Chapter Books/Low MG...

It's a starting point and I keep adding and subtracting as I play with what works for me. But what ultimately doesn't change is the key components of writing a good story. 

So, why am I opting for #NaNoMyWay instead of #NaNoWriMo? 
It all comes down to timing. 
At this year's kick-off of National Novel Writing Month, I was 2/3 of the way through a YA novel, working with a couple mentors on a picture book project, revising a chapter book project and pre-planning my next YA manuscript. Not a single one of these projects put me in the proper position to officially participate in #NaNoWriMo. 
I'm "playing along" based on my own individual criteria, but it's different and I wish I could be mad drafting right now, but I'm not.
 And it's a good choice.

But that doesn't mean forever.
 I can't rule out an opportunity to participate in the future. In the future, my timing might be better. 
If down the line, all my stars are aligned, my novel development packet has been completed and I'm ready to make a mad draft to the finish line--well, you can bet I'll be the first one signing up for #NaNoWriMo.

In the meantime, tell me if you #NaNoWriMo or you #NaNoMyWay...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Na-NO But lots of Wri-Mo by Joy Preble

I'm seeing a slight theme from the posts that have come before mine. As in, there's a solid handful of us that just don't do NaNoWriMo.

Correction: I've tried. Twice, I think, the last time being about eight years ago. I had good intentions. I really did. But the truth for me is that competitions like this don't encourage me as much as they give me anxiety-- the same garden variety I get when authors post their writing progress on social media. You know the posts I mean. The ones where Author X or Author Y posts about how many words they've written today and how exhausted they are or how many projects they have scheduled and how tense this is making them or how many cities they'll be traveling to or have traveled to and thank goodness for their intrepid publicist or how tough it is that their book garnered only 4 and not 5 stars or whatever. Or even the posts about how they've followed some very hyper-specific writing routine.

It's not that I don't relate. Or that I don't have empathy. It's just that sometimes those posts are honest expressions of what's going on and sometimes  they're bragging tricked up as anxiousness. We all know that some days we write one sentence that's decent and binge watch Stranger Things all night because we just can't dig in. (Okay, maybe that's just me.) Sometimes we like to tell everyone how we're doing so we can, well, pretend we're doing it. (Okay, maybe that one's just me, too)

NaNo makes me feel like all that.
So do work place diet contests, which immediately make me want to eat two doughnuts and then maybe some chips.

Writing -- for me--is an unpredictable, often painfully slow process. Not always, of course. Sometimes the words flow so fast I can barely get them out. But I am not a fast drafter (although I'm sometimes a speedy outliner) and honestly, the thought of writing without any internal editing just to hit a word count? It makes me itch. I am delighted for those who can do it. I have seen amazing books come from it. But they're just not mine.

That said, I'm somehow--like now-- always finishing a book in November. But I usually arrive here with about 70 pages to go and usually it's a second or third draft at this point.

So I'm sort of NaNo-ing. I'm just not competing, nor did I start it on November 1st.

I'll high five you guys come end of the month.
Because however we get there, we're doing the work and writing our hearts out.
Cheers to that!

Monday, November 6, 2017

NaNoWriMo or Bust! (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is NaNoWriMo, or NaNo, or National Novel Writing Month.  In our house, it’s also known (to quote my husband) as “Oh, no. Oh, God. Here we go again!”

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write at least 50,000 new words on a novel in the month of November.  To achieve that, you basically write.  Every day.  For long stretches of time and past the point when you’d usually quit.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Disclaimer:  I wrote this blog post in October.  The first rule of NaNoWriMo is that, during November, ALL of your words (to the extent humanly possible) go into your manuscript.  Not into blog posts, or Facebook posts of excessive length (which would be most of mine), or holiday letters, or that note you’ve been meaning to write to your aunt Tillie.  Save it for December.  (Unless Tillie isn’t expected to live past November, in which case forget the note and go visit her NOW.)

Okay, I don’t actually skip writing my usual Facebook posts in November.  I also exercise, play guitar, go out to hear live music, eat at Five Guys ALL THE TIME, and do everything else that makes up my life.

That’s the thing: there are exceptions to every NaNo rule.  The truth is that 50,000 is a glorious sum of words, but life is to be lived.  Even during NaNo.
Bradley Cooper is the inspiration for the hero in my NaNo undertaking this year.
I mean, it's not like I'd post a picture of him for NO GOOD REASON, right?

Many NaNo’ers will tell you that you must write Every Single Day, with the possible exception of Thanksgiving, and they think you should really write then, too.  I learned during my first NaNo that my creative well dries up if I write seven days a week.  So, with rare exception, I write “only” six days a week during NaNo.  Instead of aiming for 1,667 words per day, I aim for 2,000 or more words a day.  Once in a while, 3,000.  It gives me a cushion for when life gets in the way.

Because life DOES get in the way.  As it should.

On Thanksgiving, when life definitely gets in MY way, I do try to write something.  Anything.  500 words.  And then I abandon my book for the rest of the day in favor of skiing or hiking, playing football (note: we all cheat, wildly, or at least I do), and wild Jell-O wars with my son at dinner.  (Don’t ask.)

Many will also tell you that, during NaNo, you should write fast and wildly and forget about revising anything.  If I did that, I’d wind up with a ton of garbage at the end of the month.  No way!  I write the same as always during NaNo, just more of it.  I do my usual light edit at the beginning of each writing day.  I don’t cut corners just because it’s NaNo.  My goal, always, is to write a good book.

The only thing I do differently, really, is to park my butt in a chair for an hour or two longer each day.  When possible, I also sneak in an extra half hour late in the day.  That’s it.  You’d think I could do this 12 months a year, but ... I can’t.  I don’t make widgets in a factory line.  I write novels.  I need to dream them, mull them over during long walks, and stare into space while pondering a character’s name or looks or the (fast) car she drives.  But for one month a year, nearly every year, I do less pondering and more writing, almost as if I am making widgets in a factory line.  Frankly, NaNo is a mildly insane undertaking.

And I love it.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at

Sunday, November 5, 2017

I Got Nothing For You

by Fae Rowen

Why do I have nothing this month?

I've never participated in NaNoWriMo. And I probably never will.

Please don't let me buzzkill you at the exciting, beginning of your furious writing month. But cranking out word count that requires hours and hours of revision is not my idea of a good time.

Let me explain why, in case you are wondering if there is something wrong with you because you don't participate in what some now think of as a serious writer's right of passage.

I'm  a mathematician by trade. That means I've been trained to search for solutions to problems. Correct solutions to problems, although incorrect solutions provide answers, too. Meticulous attention to a solution process lessens the chance for errors. Careful review of the steps taken to solve a problem not only offers ways to analyze and plan future work—so days and months aren't spent going down a dead-end path—but revising "the work" can lead to a more elegant solution. And who doesn't like elegant work?

For me, the parallel in my writing process makes me cringe at the thought of writing a whole book without re-reading and revising along the way. What if I veer off-course and cannot correct a damaged plot or correct the course of a character arc? How many words will have to be cut in the fixing?

I've had days when I write over 5,000 words, and days when I write 250. I already end up cutting as many words as I keep in my novels, which run about 100 K. I write YA and adult science fiction. I'm a careful writer. I re-read what I wrote the day before, revise it, then continue with new words. Every three or so chapters I re-read the bigger "chunk" to check pacing, direction of the plot and character arcs, and continuity.

Everyone's writing process is different. If yours isn't suited to NaNoWriMo, don't despair. Keep on writing every day. Maybe push yourself more than usual this month to see what you can accomplish. This is a special month for writers, so take advantage of that. Push yourself to write more or different or better. Share what you're doing with other writers, even your NaNoWriMo friends. Rejoice in your—and their—successes. Remember the whole point of NaNoWriMo is to write a book. Just keep working actively toward that goal. You'll get there. In your own way and in your own time.

I guess I don't have nothing this month, after all. I have the shared drive and intention of a worldwide community of writers to write every day and work on the best book I can give to my readers.

So get out there and write—with or without rules. Because if you're not in the chair, the book won't get finished. Books don't write themselves.


Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
P.R.I.S.M.Fae's debut book available now, is a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

NaNoWri…No? (Bill Cameron)

Well, it's November again, which means it's time to write the novel I'm going to send to my agent on December 1st. Haha, just kidding. It'll take me a day or so to run spellcheck and tidy up the formatting a bit, so I'll actually send on the 2nd or 3rd.
Not really.
But seriously, folks, I actually am starting a new novel, and I eventually will send to my agent—but probably not for a long time. I delivered the "final" (hahahahahaha) draft of last year's NaNovel on October 31st, just in time to start the sequel at midnight on November 1st (at a NaNoWriMo write-in held at a local 24-hour diner). On November 30th, I hope to have a significant portion of this book roughed in, at least 50,000 words worth. That's the point of NaNoWriMo, after all.
It probably sounds like I'm all in with NaNoWriMo, but my history with it is a bit checkered. My first attempt was seven years ago. I dutifully signed up for an account at and got started on my project on the evening of November 1. Upon finishing that night, my word count was 1,665—an excellent number for someone who often struggles to write a few hundred words a day. I logged into my NaNo account and entered the word count in the tracker provided. 
And got a message that I had failed to meet the daily minimum word count. To hit your 50K by the end of November, you need to average 1,667 per day, you see. And I'd missed it. By two. Anyway, I don't remember the exact wording of the alert, but it was fairly brusque. In my mind, it read something like, "You failed, you failing failure who will always fail."
I used some very strong language, logged out of the NaNo website, and didn't come back for five years. The project I started eventually did become a finished book, the fourth in my adult mystery series. I don't remember exactly how many words of it I wrote during that particular November when the NaNo word count tracker judged me for coming up two short on the first day. It wasn't 50,000, but it was more than 1,665. NaNo or no, I got the book written. 
Afterward, I carried a lot of resentment toward the very idea of NaNoWriMo. I often described it using words like "counterproductive," "arbitrary," and "destructive." Even "bad for writers and writing." Not that I put a lot of energy into it, but when the topic of NaNoWriMo came up you could say I was firmly in the camp of NaNoCritic.
Yet, up above I talked about how I just finished last year's NaNo project, and just started a new one. So what changed?
The big thing that changed is I started struggling to write any words at all. I had books in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011, and then nothing for years. Oh, I chipped away at a couple of things, and eventually managed to claw my way to the end of Property of the State, which came out in 2016. But it was bloody and painful and included a period when I thought I might never write again.
The reasons are many and mostly boring (except to me), but one thing that came out of it was I reached a point when I said to myself, "Either I'm going to write or not, but if I am, I need to change my process. I need to develop a habit of productivity." And around that time a friend talked about how they were going to be doing NaNo, and after my blood pressure dropped and I stopped swearing, I thought, "Maybe I should give it another try." I figured I could play the game but ignore the judgy website. I even remembered there being some write-ins, and I thought I would look a few up and maybe give that a try. I'd done some informal write-ins with friends and found them helpful. So why not?
So I looked up the local events and went to a NaNo Kick-off Party, a week before the November 1 start. There, I made some new friends and even chatted with a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison who said, "Yeah, the website used to be kinda harsh about the whole word count thing. But I think it's better now." Turns out they were right. The word tracker is more trackery and less judgy. Or maybe I'm less likely to jump to seeing criticism and judgment in a string of characters on my computer screen.
The thing I didn't understand about NaNo my first time around is that it's simply a tool. It's a way to generate words quickly. Sure, there's a lot of focus on 50K, a word count you have to reach in order to "win." Of my criticisms during my NaNoDark period, the one I still believe holds true is it is arbitrary. 50,000 words isn't a novel, it's a number. Depending on your genre, 50K may only get you halfway to done. Or it may get you a novel with words to spare. The important thing to remember is you don't need to "win" NaNoWriMo to write a book. All "winning" gets you is a badge on the website and the right to buy a t-shirt.
But if I believe NaNoWriMo is arbitrary, I no longer believe it's counterproductive or destructive, or nor do I believe it is bad for writers and writing. It's simply a process that may (or may not) help you be more productive. If that's what you need, then it's good for you as a writer, whether you hit the arbitrary 50K mark or not.
So two years ago, I returned to NaNo and "won," which is to say I wrote that 50,000 words in 30 days. That novel remains unfinished to this day. I may never finish it. But what I learned in the process is I'm capable of being more productive. Last year, I took a project that had languished for several years and grew it from 20K to 75K in 30 days. It's the one I turned in last week (final word count 116,000). This year, I hope to hit that 50K again, but if I don't, I won't beat myself up. I just won't buy the t-shirt.
But what I will do is keep writing. In the end, if you want to write, that's what really matters.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Just Keep Swimming - by Janet Halpin

So, you’ve decided this year you’re going to do it. You’ve stocked up on coffee, jotted some notes to guide you, joined a Facebook group, and committed to recording your daily word count. You are going all in on NaNoWriMo.

As a NaNo veteran, I know what you’re feeling. Scared, a bit nauseated. The thought of banging out 20, 30, 50 thousand words in one month is daunting. You’re wondering, now that you’ve decided to dive in to NaNo, how do you stay dove in for the long haul?

My advice, just keep swimming. A simple (and probably copyrighted) phrase that’s hard to put into practice. Distractions abound—both on the page and in the real world—tempting you to stop. And when you stop, it’s hard to get going again.

Here’s a few dos and don’ts to keep you swimming, starting with the DON’Ts (in no particular order):

No matter how tempted you are to go back and read the pages you wrote this morning--DON’T. Believe me, it won’t be pretty. NaNo is basically vomiting words onto the page and it’s going to look just like that – a discouraging mess. There will be gems in those pages you’ll suss out when you have more time to suss, but for now, you’ll probably only see the mess.

The above goes double for revision. No matter how much you want to revise that flat scene where the hero and heroine first meet, DON’T. If you think of a clever bit of dialogue that’ll help, just drop it in the appropriate space and get back in the swim.  
DON’T sweat the small stuff. Typos, stray apostrophes, misplaced modifiers, dangling participles are like pimples. They’re annoying and ugly, but don’t fatally detract from your true beauty. Plus, they clear up eventually, and so will those grammar zits when you do your second draft (okay, maybe going a bit overboard on the metaphors here).

DON’T waste time on Google. Research can wait. Unless you absolutely need a bit of historical info or the name of a killer poison to put Lady Whosywahtsit out of her misery, put an XXX or a blank space or D’oh, or something to mark the space and keep swimming.

DON’T waste even more time on social media. That #amwriting tweet or Instagram or Facebook post of cute kittens or equally adorable puppies can wait.

Now, lest you think I’m a total buzzkill and only about the negatives, here’s some DOs for your NaNo swim: 

DO remember that life will intervene. Something will yank you out of your NaNo haze. School, work, a dog needing to be walked, trash needing to be taken out, and relatives who demand you get your head out of your fictional world this instant, your turkey and stuffing is getting cold!

DO take a break. Exercise, take a shower, get up and move. That’ll get your blood moving and re-energize your brain.

Do keep this one word in mind--BICHOK. Okay, that’s not a word, it’s really an acronym and it stands for Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. That’s the real key to success, with NaNoWriMo or any other month or week or day or the one hour you can carve out for yourself each day to write.

And for my final DO, I'll repeat the mantra of the wisest fish I know:

You may not hit your goal, just keep swimming toward that goal. You can’t fix a blank page, some smarter and better writer than me once said, and that’s the absolute truth. Each word you write, each sentence and page and chapter you complete is a victory over that blank page. 

So dive in, and have a great swim!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Happy NaNoWriMo from Jaimie Engle


Happy NaNoWriMo!!

No, I haven’t placed a Harry Potter spell on you. NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month” and it serves as inspiration to write an entire novel in the month of November… or at least to try. While I could give you tips to get started, how to plan ahead and plot your book (especially because I’ve taught a course on it once…ask me about it HERE), I figure you can get all that on the NaNoWriMo website. So instead, I’d like to offer you something completely different:

How about 30 days of inspiration?

  1. Write a memory into a short story.
  2. Enjoy a coffee with an old friend.
  3. Imagine a conversation between two people you don’t know.
  4. Visit a museum, historical site, or county park and write.
  5. Take your favorite story and switch the POV character.
  6. Dress up for no reason at all.
  7. Write fan fiction.
  8. Craft something.
  9. Draw something.
  10. Dance!
  11. Sing!
  12. Visit a classroom.
  13. Visit a gravesite.
  14. Make a bucket list.
  15. Take a daytrip to a new place.
  16. Try a new food or drink.
  17. Find a magazine picture and make up a story.
  18. Pretend you are someone else and spend a day in their shoes.
  19. Invite friends for brunch and play telephone.
  20. Read something you wrote a long time ago.
  21. Now read something new.
  22. Read your favorite childhood book or one that you love today.
  23. Get outside.
  24. Spend date night dinner at a charity dinner function.
  25. Don’t sit in your usual seat.
  26. Strike up a conversation with a stranger and share one secret truth.
  27. Read your fortune cookie fortune and write a story about it.
  28. Write a love letter to anyone you want to and never send it.
  29. Write the love letter you wish someone would send to you.
  30. Be inspired by every second of every day, alone or in dear company, inside or out, whether you feel inspired or not…and just WRITE!

I hope one of these Camp NaNoWriMo ideas leaves you inspired and I wish you the best as you start your book today. I’d love to read which inspiration you connected with the most. Feel free to mention in the comments or leave your own inspirational quotes! Until next month, Happy Writing!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


In a way, I’m in the midst of starting over right now. 

In another, I’m just putting a name on the path I’ve been traveling for quite some time.

We love to talk about author branding. Up until now, I’ve been pretty hesitant to do so. To a great extent, for the past few years, my brand has appeared to be that there is no brand. I’ve written YA, MG, adult, picture books; contemporary realism, romance, thriller, magic realism, humor, boomer lit, short stories, novellas. I’ve published on the traditional platform and the indie platform. I’ve started to move into a bit of illustrative work.

I always thought that if I picked one thing, I’d feel stifled. As soon as I sort of branded myself, I’d instantly feel the itch to go in a completely different direction. 

But the thing is, I realize there IS a type of work I enjoy writing more than any other. Lately, my indie work (I’ve just released ALL ROADS and CHRISTMAS AT RUBY’S, two holiday reads) has driven that home. 

So much so, for the first time in nearly ten years of publishing, I have inserted a brand or tag phrase into the banner on my authorsite:

As well as this explanation:

Stories that are full of heart.
No matter the genre, age category, or subject, one thing my books tend to have in common is that they’re—well—positive. Even when my earliest books tackled harder-hitting subjects, they tended to end on hopeful notes. The more I write, the more I’ve come to realize the stories I most want to highlight are those that focus on the beauty in the world. The uplifting and inspiring. Feel-good stories that are sincere and genuine and, yes, straight from the heart.

I’m so excited about this direction. I already have four indie releases and additional books for submission to publishing houses outlined for ’18. It still allows me to follow where inspiration strikes—adult reads, juvenile reads, across various genres. But it also allows me to dig into stories that are warm and gentle—books that make you smile despite the problems and trials the characters face (think THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY). 

To celebrate this new beginning, my latest reads are .99 as e-reads (they’re also available as affordable paperbacks):


One Thanksgiving.
One family's devastating story.
One answer they all seek.
Do all roads really lead home?


Welcome to Ruby’s, where the “spirits” are not confined to just the dusty liquors behind the bar, and the Christmas wish to spend one last moment with that special loved one might not be made in vain.