Thursday, November 30, 2017

Top 5 Reasons I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo This Year (by Marlo Berliner)

I had to laugh when I read YAOTL member Alissa Grosso’s blog on her Nine Reasons she doesn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, because I have many of those same reasons. I always have the best of intentions for doing NaNo but it just never quite seems to work out, this year being no exception. I still hope to do it someday, because I love the idea of writers supporting one another and pulling together to accomplish something remarkable. In the meantime though, I thought I’d share my reasons for not doing it this year, and give one possible alternative.
1)      My book releases always seem to fall in October. This October saw the release of THE GHOST CHRONICLES 2, the second book in my Ghost Chronicles series. Since then, I’ve been busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest with everything surrounding the book’s launch. As any author knows, the first couple of months after a book’s release are probably the most crucial for promotion, so consequently this book needs my attention first and foremost.

2)      My youngest son is in the midst of completing college applications, essays, and an art portfolio for submission. He needs my help, so all else will have to wait. And just a friendly heads up for all you parents out there, this process is time-consuming and messy. The Common App…well, it’s not so common. Some schools use it, some don’t, and even if they do, you soon discover that each of the schools has an addendum with their own (sometimes lengthy) set of questions anyway! In the end, it’s almost as if you’re filling out a separate app for each school! And if your child applies to any schools under Early Action or Early Decision, then the FAFSA is due by December 1st in most cases. And boy if you’ve never experienced it let me tell you, the FAFSA is pure joy. Kind of like slamming your head in a car door, repeatedly. But we’ll get through this…we will…we will. ***breathes in and out slowly while counting to one hundred***
3)      While I love the idea of authors encouraging one another to reach a goal, I have no idea how one does this and completes 50K words. No idea whatsoever. None. If you’re busy socializing, how can you possibly get anything done? I know if I don’t get off social media and the internet, I get nothing accomplished. So I admire anyone that can do both and get words on the page. Like I said, I still hope to try it someday, but for me I think I might fall into the trap of socializing too much and getting nowhere.
4)      I both love and hate the idea of a word count benchmark. I keep a running tally of my daily word count and try to bank at least 500 words towards each of three projects a day, so I love seeing my totals go up. But that’s the key – I work on three projects at once and don’t write in anything even close to a linear fashion. (Lauren Oliver once said at an NJ-SCBWI Conference she works on three projects at a time, so I’ve been doing it that way ever since. And it totally fits with my writing process.) I need to have each story percolate, stew, and properly gestate before it is born. So working on different projects simultaneously allows my brain to subconsciously do that.
5)      November is a terrible month! There I said it. I completely agree with Alissa – who in their right mind ever chose November?? The decorations won’t put themselves up. I have two children and a large family on both sides, and the presents won’t buy themselves. The cookies won’t bake themselves. There are no elves, no helpers, no Christmas magic, there is only me.
Which brings me to a better alternative and one I have done in the past. It’s called JeRoWriMo and it’s hosted each year by New Jersey Romance Writers, my local chapter of RWA. It’s run in February and our motto is 30K Write Away. For me, 30K words is a much more achievable goal and at a much better time of year when the weather is dreary and the holidays are over. I believe they open it up to members and non-members of NJRW, but you can check the website or twitter in January for more details @NJRomanceWriter.

So, if anyone out there did do Nano, please tell me how it went! I'd love to applaud you if you made it, or if you didn't.

Marlo Berliner is the award-winning author of THE GHOST CHRONICLES, her debut book which was released in November 2015 to critical acclaim. The book won the 2016 NJRW Golden Leaf Award for Best First Book, was named FINALIST in the National Indie Excellence Awards for Young Adult Fiction, received the Literary Classics Seal of Approval, was awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion, and was named one of the “best indie YA books we have seen in the past year, from both self-publishers and small presses” by IPPY Magazine. THE GHOST CHRONICLES 2 was just released in October.

When she's not writing or editing, Marlo loves reading, relaxing at the beach, watching movies, and rooting for the Penn State Nittany Lions. After having spent some wonderful time in Pittsburgh and Houston, she’s now back in her home state of New Jersey where she resides with her husband, two sons, and a rambunctious puppy named Max. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Putting the "No" in NaNoWriMo--But Getting Your Novel Done Anyway by Dean Gloster

            I love the idea of NaNoWriMo, National Novel-Writing Month, which encourages us to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. That’s an impressive chunk of a book, enough heft to provide the momentum to keep going. And the rush of pushing through resistance to surf a torrent of words sounds breathtaking.
Not that I’ve ever experienced it.

            In reality, I find every November a painful avalanche of fist-sized rocks bounding downhill at my already-dented writer’s self-image. By mid-month, everyone else is all, “I wrote 29,000 words!” “I’m at 38k!” “I wrote a fantasy trilogy and a prequel! But they’re in Kingon.” while I just mumble, “Uh, I rewrote my first two chapters in first-person present.” (It’s still not right.)
(I'm participating in the more popular "National Novel Writing Decade")

            So while everyone else is crowing about their word count this month, I feel like that one out-of-place penguin at a convention of flying birds: They’re all urging me to soar, and telling me it’s not that hard, while I look down at my stubby flippers and think, “I might be designed for a different approach.”
            It’s possible that I just don’t get NaNoWriMo, despite admiring the idea. My internal editor is a vicious thug, and the best I can currently work out with him is an uneasy truce: He gets out of the way only briefly, for parts of the first draft, and then piles on during revision.

            The truth is, there are lots of ways to write a novel, and many of them don’t involve 50,000 words in one month. I’m trying to find a sustainable pace and process for writing—more of a marathon pace than a one-month sprint. That’s part of the difficulty in being a writer: You have to figure out your story, learn your craft, and also find—through trial and error—the process that works for you.

            While I don’t have 50,000 words of advice (or of anything else) this month, I do have some process suggestions of things that sometimes work for me. One or two might work for you, too.
            Sometimes write by hand. When I write longhand, I know it’s a draft—just playing—not something I’m typing in the document, so that frees me a little from my cranky internal editor.
            Start with the raisins, before the oatmeal. Do some of the fun stuff first. For me, that’s the jokes and the dialogue. Later, I can fill in the rest of the scene.
            When you’re stuck, use the “one-inch frame.” I got this advice from Anne Lamott’s wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird. Reduce the scope of what you’re trying to do to a small thing—the transition to the next scene, the paragraph describing the setting, the dialogue where the characters are talking past each other. 

            Edit yesterday’s pages before going on to today’s. This advice, of course, is anathema to the hot first draft notion of NaNoWriMo, but writer M.T. Anderson advises doing it anyway. Editing is easier than writing, and starting there helps you overcome the resistance to writing by sneaking into it: You revise yesterday’s pages, and by the time you’re done doing that, your head is in the book again, constructing what’s next. It seems to work pretty well for M.T. Anderson, what with the National Book Award, and all.
            Write in 40-minute sprints. When you can, it’s helpful to write in 40-minute sprints: That’s long enough to push through resistance and get something done, but not so long that it seems interminable. Then repeat.
            Get away from the Internet. That’s good advice generally, but especially in 2017, where it’s easy to get wrapped around the axel of the news cycle before eight in the morning and then spend the rest of the day rotating helplessly in a useless jabbering rage. Don’t. Not if you also want to be productive. Channel that anxiety into art and activism, not an endless cycle of freak out and distraction.
There's a room in our house where the wi-fi signal doesn’t reach, and I take my laptop there to write. There are also software solutions that will keep you off the Internet for timed periods. 
However you do it, find your way to write, which may not be 50,000 words in one month. And be kind and compassionate to yourself. Writing is hard for everyone I know. 

            Do you have a process tip to pass along? Share it with us in the comments. Write on, friends.

Dean Gloster graduated with an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in July 2017. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Your word count is bigger than his. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

A break (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

My posting date here is the 27th. I figure that if you're still doing NaNoWriMo, you are pushing for the finish line and don't have time to read this. And if you're not doing NaNo, you're tired of hearing about it by now. So this post is a break, a pause, a respite--something we could all use from time to time.

This post is an encouragement to lay down the pen, the keyboard, the phone, the book, and look up. Look out the window. What's going on? What is the slant of the sunlight, or the color of the clouds, or the size of the moon? Who's around you? What are the sights, sounds, and scents of this moment?

Sometimes we can read our surroundings the way we read a book, noticing the little details, linking this present moment with the past and the future. It's like stopping time, the breath that slows us down, the "Be here now."

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Lady Catherine Will Never Know (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

People have strong feelings about NaNoWriMo. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. People have strong feelings about everything these days, from things that matter a lot to things that really, really don't matter at all. It's like we're all in the strong feelings habit, and we really need to tone it down on some things.

I'm going to put whether or not you do, or like, or win NaNoWriMo in the category of things that really don't matter at all.

For a couple of years, I followed Gretchen Rubin's blog, The Happiness Project, and read two of the corresponding books, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. I liked them. I also got a lot out of Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. If you do a quick Google search, though, you'll see that a lot of people not only didn't like these books, they really didn't like them. They went so far as to burn their authors in online effigy (another popular pastime these days that makes real tarring and feathering seem kinder).

I think it was because somehow these books made them feel criticized, like if they weren't doing it the Rubin Way or the Kon-Mari Way, they were somehow failing. People get a similar brand of crazy about Elf on the Shelf this time of year. Just do it if you want to! Don't do it if you don't want to!

Here's what I don't get. Why do people always feel like they have to do everything exactly by the book in order to get something valuable out of it? Just take what works for you and leave the rest! Other parts might work for other people. If you're going to get worked up, get worked up about something that matters.

I'm reminded of the scene in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, where Maria Lucas is frantically repacking her trunks.

One of the Gretchen Rubin's takeaways from her own happiness project, oft-quoted by me, is this:
What's fun for you may not be fun for other people. What's fun for other people may not be fun for you.

I quote this so much because people seem to have a hard time understanding it, but it's so very clear to me now that people are just different, so some people might like NaNoWriMo and have great success at it, and some people might hate it and find it a hindrance or just unhelpful. That's fine. Both ways are fine.

There are things I like about NaNoWriMo and things I don't like about it. So here's what I do.
I just make my own rules and determine for myself whether or not it's a win.

I find writing a first draft quickly to be the only way I can get out of my own way long enough to write a first draft.

So I've written a fast first draft in November. I've written a fast first draft in March.

I've written more than 50,000 words. I've written way under 50,000 words.

I've focused solely on one project. I've jumped around.

I've used the time to draft. I've used the time to revise.

Now, it is true that I have never gotten the badge. I don't care about the badge. But it might matter to other people, so I don't begrudge them the badge if it helps.

I've never even officially signed up, or gone to an event, or uploaded my manuscript  for the judgment of the NaNoWriMo gods.

This year, I felt like I wanted to do it. I wanted to tackle a longer project, because while I've written and published a variety of shorter essays and poetry and the like since I published my first novel, I haven't actually finished another long piece, and I wanted to get out of my own way and do it.

(Contrary to popular belief, my failure to write another novel is not the baby's fault. I've written a ton of words. I've just psyched myself out about whether I could actually write another halfway decent novel, and I've chosen to spend my time writing for money instead of glory so I can keep an active résumé. #practicality)

I'm writing this on November 24, and this year I've written (rounding)
--        -- an 18,000 word discovery draft of a novel I can't see myself publishing anytime in the near future
·        --2,000 words on a nonfiction project I'm super excited about (can't wait to get back to this one)
·         --a 3,000 word rage poem (Did I make that term up? TM, if so.) mostly about how stressed out the holidays and people who ask me what I do all day make me. Definitely won't publish that, because I definitely named names. It helped to get it out. I believe this is called a "thought download."
      This blog post is over 1,000 words, and you better believe I'm counting it.

That's 24,000 words. There are six more days left in November, and I'm sure I'll write more. I'll keep writing in December, and in January, and so on. It's not like the clock strikes midnight on November 30 and we all turn into pumpkins.

I won't get to 50,000 words, but that's okay. I'm proud to have made it to 24,000 so far. As others have mentioned, November is a crazy month to try this. I did this with a sick husband, a sick toddler, a sick me, and relatives in and out of my house, and during the month of Thanksgiving and Christmas prep.

I got to producing serious word counts again. I remembered how important it is to practice your scales if you're ever going to play Carnegie Hall. I had forgotten that for a while, lost it in the glamour (if it can be called that, which I don't think it really can, except in the sense of the word that means it obscures what's real) of publication.

As far as I'm concerned, I won.

So make up your own rules.

This is your trunk.

These are your gowns.

Lady Catherine will never know.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

MY 50k-WORD NOVEMBER (Holly Schindler)

Not talking in terms of words written, but words released. Rather than drafting, I've been launching new reads. This holiday season, I've put out two novellas (ALL ROADS and CHRISTMAS AT RUBY'S). Added up together, the books hit around the 50K-word mark.

I love writing holiday stories--love dipping into a magical and heartwarming world. While these are technically adult reads, they do feature a few young(ish) characters. I hope you'll come along with me, into worlds where the seemingly impossible turns out to be true.

More about this year's releases:

Do all roads really lead us home?
Twenty years ago, Louisa’s twin disappeared. Twenty years ago, Jesse entered the foster care system under a mysterious set of circumstances.

Just days before Thanksgiving, the two cross paths, both claiming to own the same dog. Questions and strange coincidences quickly begin to mount.

Is Jesse just another scam artist out to prey on a family’s long-held hopes?

Is Louisa so overly suspicious that she can’t see a miracle staring her in the face?

They’ll never guess who holds the key to it all...

Welcome to Ruby’s, where the Christmas spirit is alive and well.

Ruby’s Place (the classy family-friendly nightspot that once lit the night sky in tiny Sullivan, Missouri) is no more—closed for decades—but that doesn’t keep those who once shared an eggnog or plate of homemade marshmallows from remembering the tinsel-wrapped moments Ruby’s supplied come Christmas.

On a snowy holiday evening, feeling a bit down on her luck, a middle-aged Angela finds herself back at Ruby’s, staring through its foggy, grimy window to remember the Christmases she spent there with her favorite aunt as a child. Could the best Christmas present of all simply be spending one last moment with that special loved one, in a place where memories were born?

At Ruby’s, it seems, the “spirits” are not confined to just the dusty liquors behind the bar, and such a Christmas wish might not be made in vain.

Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Pancrastinators -- Jen Doktorski

I don’t do NaNoWriMo.

I tried. Twice. The first time I completed the first half of YA novel. About 100 pages. The second time, I used NaNoWriMo to complete the second half of a middle grade novel that I’d been struggling with for weeks.
Both those novels are still sitting on the proverbial shelf.
It was time to Nanu Nanu to NaNo.

I’m a former journalist, trained to write quickly and accurately under daily deadline pressure. I’m also (mostly) a pantser. So one would think I’d find the NaNo process appealing. I don’t. And after enjoying everyone’s blog posts all month, I gave some serious thought as to why that is.

Here’s what I considered. With non-fiction writing, I can write fast—much faster than fiction, in fact—but that’s only because by the time I sit down to write a news article, feature story, or profile, the heavy lifting is done. I’ve completed the interviews, the research, the thinking. The writing goes quickly because I’m ready to write.

Fiction is different, of course. But some of the same groundwork goes into writing contemporary and romance novels—interviews, research, thinking. But for the most part, with my type of novels at least, I’m making stuff up. Still, that requires thinking. As writers, we all know that “thinking” takes on many forms, from staring out a window, to walking the dog, to taking long drives with your novels' playlist playing. These activities are not always conducive to daily word counts. In fact some might call this procrastinating. And they’d be right, because it is. But it’s procrastinating with an endgame in mind—being ready to write when you sit at the keyboard.

So I’m not just a pantser, I concluded. I’m a pancrastinator.
As a pancrastinator, the process of completing a novel takes me anywhere from nine months to one year. I spend a lot of time reworking my early chapters, adding layers and making sure they align with what I’ve just discovered about my character on page ninety-nine. I try to keep the three-act structure in mind as I write, making sure my characters and plot hit certain marks by certain pages. At some point, I do wind up tracking my scenes, either formally or informally, and I’ve been known to make note cards, usually when the first draft is close to being completed.

Ultimately, though, when I finish a first draft and print out all the pages to begin editing and rewriting, I always marvel that it actually got done. I’m never sure how or when it happened. (It’s a little like that old tale about the elves and the shoemaker.) It would be difficult for me to teach the pancrastinator method to anyone else, and I would strongly caution against it. But thankfully, it has worked for me.
In addition to being a pancrastinator, I’m also very superstitious. Now that NaNo has produced two flops for me, I no longer trust it to give me the good juju. But I do love how it inspires others and shines a national spotlight on novel writing. 

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