2021 Gift Guide For Writers

I do this every year, so there’s no real need for a massive introduction. You need gift ideas for any writers in your life. I have some suggestions. Let’s get into it.

In case there isn’t anything on this list that fits your holiday shopping needs, I do this every year. Here are links to all of my previous years’ shopping guides.

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

Gifts that cost nothing. 

I always like to start with gifts that cost nothing but time. In our world of ultra-consumerism, these are underrated. I embraced free things in a lot of ways this year.

– I foraged pine boughs, sticks, and pinecones for some one-of-a-kind decorations and ornaments. (Note, if you’re going to do this, spray your projects down with hair spray as soon as you can. I like Aqua Net, personally)

– Instead of buying wrapping paper, I’ve been using the paper that comes in my Chewy orders. This cost me nothing but a couple of bucks for the red ribbon. And these look so cute!

– I relied a lot on things we already had. Holiday-themed mugs look great on the kitchen counter. White pens work in place of gift tags. Red, green and white books set through the house. The place looks like a holiday wonderland, and I didn’t add many items at all.

Now, about the gifts. 

Time spent together is the best thing you can give someone for the holidays. Anytime, actually. I make a point of spending Yule doing two things, reading and snuggling with the darling husband. Honestly, the less time I can spend buying things, wrapping them, cleaning up, and cooking, the better. Those things are great, and I’ll never stop doing them. But I’d like to lessen them. This is a gift not only for my husband but for me as well.

As far as writer-specific gifts, I can’t suggest enough an offer to critique something they’ve written. I would personally love this gift, as it’s really hard to get sufficient beta readers. (I don’t suggest this as a gift from your spouse. Beta readers need to have a level of honesty that probably isn’t great for a relationship.)

Another great gift you can give the writer in your life is to recommend their work to others. Especially if you can request their books from a local library. Word of mouth is the best way for a book to get someone’s attention. There’s just nothing better.

Finally, a fun option, if you’re artsy, is some fan art. I’ve had a few friends do fan art for my work, and I love it every single time. Even if it’s bad. Especially if it’s bad.

Gifts that cost money dollars 

If you’ve got some cash to spend, here are some good ideas for the writers you love. As always, I’d like to remind you that none of these items are sponsored, I don’t get anything for suggesting them to you.

A journal is always a great idea. I know for a fact that I’m getting some cute ones from Archer & Olive. There are great ones on Etsy too. And handmade is always cool, even when it’s not your hands that made it. 

If you’re looking for something to give them a kick in the behind, I’d suggest The Hero’s Journal. I got a copy of this earlier this year. It wasn’t for me, but that’s just because I have a bullet journal and that fits my needs well.

The Hero’s Journal is super fun, though, and seems tailor-made for those trying to forge a creative path in life for themselves.

Did your favorite writer win Nanowrimo but lack the funds to get a winner’s shirt? What better thing could you give them than a physical reminder that they kicked their word count in the ass?

And if they didn’t win, the Nano store probably still has something drool-worthy. And the money spent there goes to help young writers. Win, win.

A gift that would be great for writers and readers is a soundtrack from something they enjoy. I love writing while listening to show soundtracks. My current favorite is the album for Wheel of Time. It just gets me in the right writing vibe. I don’t know why, but the singing in Old Tongue (which I do not understand) takes up enough of my brain to keep it from straying but not enough to distract me.

Video game soundtracks are also great for this. 

Another suggestion is a good reading light for either their desk or reading chair. I’ve been all about proper lighting during the last few years. There’s just something so cozy about a single lamp illuminating my chair like a halo. 

Finally, if your writer doesn’t already use Dabble, I’d suggest getting them a subscription. I’ve been using Dabble for a few years now, and it is just awesome. I can use it on any device, it autosaves my work. It’s just the best writing software I’ve ever used.

That is it for my list this year. If you have any handy suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments. And I hope you’re all having a great holiday season so far. 

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Impostor Syndrome never goes away. And that’s a good thing

Alright, I know that’s a hell of a thing to say, but hear me out.

Most of you reading this are creators or aspiring to be so. And we know impostor syndrome. It walks with us daily, holding our hands and whispering in our ears like a lover. Only what lover would tell us these sorts of things?

You don’t belong here. 

No one really likes your work. They just pity you.

All your Instagram followers are just following you to send you scammy DMs. 

Feel free to insert your own hellish thoughts here. 

These thoughts suck. And no matter how long I write, no matter how much I create, they’ve never gone away. I honestly doubt they ever will, even if I achieve everything I want to achieve. 

I’m a published author. I’m a professional critic. I’ve produced podcasts, both fiction and nonfiction. People like what I create. They tell me so. And I still feel like I don’t fit. Like my stories aren’t good enough. Like I got published and hired as some cosmic joke. The universe gave me just what I wanted, but I can scarcely believe I earned it. 

I could join SFWA, get published with Tor, and quit my day job. And it would just make my Impostor Syndrome even worse. Because I wouldn’t feel like I deserve any of it.

So how in the hell could that ever be considered a good thing? Let’s talk about it. 

When you feel impostor syndrome, it means you’re trying new things. We don’t generally feel like impostors when we feel comfortable, after all. And if we want to grow as artists, we should always be trying new things. Learning new things that might make us feel stupid and slow at first. Things that make us feel like we’re writing with a crayon shoved between our toes. It’s easy to feel like we don’t belong. Which is a great way to be sure we’re growing. 

Along the same lines, impostor syndrome likes to show up when we’re out of our comfort zone. When we’re trying to level up. Even as we do it, it’s normal to feel like we don’t deserve these new spaces. That doesn’t mean we don’t deserve them. don’t ever misunderstand. It’s just that you can’t move into your new phase in life without some growing pains. 

Impostor syndrome also means that you give a shit about your work. That you want it to be good, you want it to be the very best it can be. Your work matters to you. And you care more about your opinion of your work than anyone else’s opinion. It should be better, it can be better. Because you are capable of better. That’s why you’re feeling like your work should be better. Because you’re capable of better.

Impostor Syndrome will never go away. And you’d better hope it doesn’t. Because as soon as you feel like you belong, you get complacent. You stop trying to get better. You stop working to hit new levels, achieve new dreams. 

There’s a time for that in your life. But it’s near the end so I’d rather not think of that right now.

So the next time impostor syndrome takes your hand, give it a comforting squeeze. It’s saying awful things to you, but it’s not trying to hurt you. It’s trying to help you grow. 

All that being said, you probably deserve the praise and rewards for your work. There are too many people out there creating for any praise or achievement to be from pity or by accident. Celebrate your wins, celebrate your space.

But then reach for more. Reach high enough until you start feeling that impostor syndrome whispering in your ear again. And again, and again, and again. 

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Why Velvet Was The Night Works

Velvet Was The Night is the latest novel by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. We’ve talked about several of her books in the past, including Mexican Gothic and God of Jade and Shadows. She has no trouble genre-hopping, going from horror to fantasy to political noir without missing a beat.

Through each genre hop, some things remain constant. Each book shows Mexico for the beautiful, complex, rich country that it is. And each book includes a love affair that melts my heart. 

Velvet Was The Night is that political Noir genre I was talking about. Set in the 1970s, it’s all about political uprisings and protests. And, about a young woman named Maite who accidentally gets caught up in all of this.

I loved every single page of this book. So let’s break it apart to see why it works. 

We see the story in this book from two points of view. One is Maite, a secretary who’s bored to death with her life. She has just one pleasure in her life, a series of romance comics.

The second pov character is Elvis. He’s a pseudo-government agent, tasked with shutting down protests in the city.

These two people show us entirely different views of the situation and the city itself. More than that, though, they know things the other doesn’t. They’re able to see the mystery from different angles, revealing secrets to the reader that one or the other character isn’t privy to. This means that this is one of those delightful mystery novels that you can play along with.

I’m not a fan of mysteries you can’t solve. Maybe that’s just a me thing.

So now, let’s talk about Maite. I didn’t like her at first. She seemed dull. Not interested in anything but her comics. She also didn’t like cats, which is a total turn-off.

Maite was also a thief. She stole little things from her neighbor’s apartments. It’s a weird thing to do, not gonna lie. At first, it seems like this is just a weird thing she does. And it makes sense. Maite is bored with her life. Bored people sometimes do dumb things to entertain themselves.

Eventually, though, we find out that this is a crucial plot device. If this petty theft trait of Maite’s hadn’t made sense right from the start, this would have felt cheap. Instead, it made total sense. 

Honestly, a lot of the enjoyment of this book came from Maite. She’s miserable, but it makes sense that she’s miserable. Her mother treats her like an afterthought. Her boss barely notices she’s there. She’s broke and has no friends. Everyone would be a little miserable. 

As you read the story, you can see exactly why she fell into the scary situations she found herself in. 

There are a lot of stories about bored young women ending up in fantastical, scary, dangerous situations. Most of them don’t seem plausible. But this one does. 

So, what can you as a writer learn from Velvet was The Night? 

Point of view switching is a great way to build suspense. 

Flawed characters work best when their flaws make sense.

It doesn’t work to put a random character in a random situation. How or why did they of all people end up there?

Is there a movie, tv-show or book you’d like me to break apart to see why it works? Let me know in the comments.

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Laziness doesn’t exist

Unpopular opinion, laziness doesn’t exist. Yeah, that thing you feel bad about all the time? The flat, dull emotion you feel that you try to beat out of yourself and teach your children to demonize? It’s not a real thing. 

Don’t believe me? Alright, let’s break it down. I’m willing to bet that when you feel like you’re being lazy, it’s one of four other scenarios that you aren’t going to solve by telling yourself to just stop, you know, being lazy.

I know this because I’ve done this myself. Especially in November. I’m trying to do so much in November every year it’s not funny. I’m finishing up all my projects for the year, and writing a novel, and prepping for the holidays. And I have had some days when I felt downright lazy. I don’t want to work or write or clean. Mostly what I want to do this time of year is craft, read and bake.

This is not laziness. And if you’re feeling the same way, it’s not laziness for you either. Here’s what it is instead. 

You’re doing too much

Who isn’t prone to letting their too much gene get the better of them this time of year? I mean, it feels very much like the only way the holidays are going to happen is if I make them happen by sheer force of will. 

But it’s not just this time of year. I have been trying desperately to slow down over the past year. But I’m a freelance writer and indie novelist. That is work. And since those two things don’t pay all the bills, I also have a day job. Sometimes it feels like I live in a constant state of being behind deadlines. Even though I’m the one who made all my damned deadlines!

But doing too much at once leads to just one thing, shutting down. Which to some looks like being lazy. Well of course I’m going to spend the evening watching Rick and Morty while playing Webkinz if I spent all day running from the second I got up. Of course, I’ll have all the motivation of a slug in the sun on my days off if I do nothing but hustle six days straight.

I’m not lazy, I’ve earned a break.

You’re overwhelmed

Okay, but what about if you haven’t done all that stuff? What about if you coasted by at work, left the dishes in the sink and all of your passion projects are collecting dust? What about if you accomplished nothing for the past day, week, month and you’re still sleeping late and eating take-out for dinner? That’s got to be laziness, right?

Or you have an executive disfunction and the sheer volume of things you need to do is too much to process. You’re looking at a list, either mental or on paper, and there’s just so much to do you don’t know where to start. Or you’re so overwhelmed at the scope of a project that you just can’t imagine getting it done. 

I’m not lazy, I’m overwhelmed. And there are things to do about that. I’ll do a whole post on overwhelm if you like. But there are a ton out there already. If that’s your issue, it’s not going to do you a bit of good to beat yourself up because you think you’re being lazy. 

You’re comfortable

Maybe it’s not the day-to-day list that is getting you down. Maybe it’s instead starting on a new project that you just can’t get behind. Maybe you need a new day job. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a novel, or buy a storefront, or start painting. But you’re just too lazy to get started.

Yeah, or maybe you’re just comfortable. Maybe you don’t love your day job, but you’re worried a new one could be even worse. Maybe the thought of starting a creative venture is scary because it might fail. Maybe you just enjoy your downtime and don’t want to start anything new. 

Well, if you’re comfortable, do you want to step out of that zone? That comfort zone?

Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But you’re not lazy. Not everyone’s got to push themselves to reach for the stars all the damned time. Maybe you’re happy just, you know, being happy. 

But if you’re not, then get used to not being comfortable. It’s worth it.

You don’t care, and that’s fine

Have you ever noticed that a lot of what you feel lazy over are things you didn’t give a damn about to start with? The things that you procrastinate on are often things that you just don’t care about. Things like decorating for the holidays, cooking dinner, volunteering at your kids’ school, cleaning out the garage. I’m sure you’ve got your list. I procrastinate when it comes to housekeeping.

Why? Because so long as my house doesn’t smell and I’ve got a spoon to stir my coffee I don’t care about what my house looks like. 

So I do the minimum, and I do it as fast as possible. I also blast music and sing along at the top of my lungs while I do it. This is great because it’s both fun for me and insufferable for the rest of my household. 

I’m not lazy because I don’t want to wash my windows or mop the floor. I just don’t care if these things get done. And that’s okay. It’s my life.

It’s your life. If you don’t care about something, don’t do it. Leave your energy for things you want to do. 

And don’t ever talk about being lazy again. It just does not exist. 

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It’s time for another holiday pep talk

It’s November, and it’s time to have the talk. The same talk we have every year. Sorry not sorry, we’re gonna talk about it again.

As much as we all want to pretend otherwise, this holiday season is going to look an awful lot like last holiday season. Supply lines are backed up. Everyday items and festive goodies are hard to find. More than a few have lost their jobs or had their hours drastically cut. Many of us will be celebrating the days with empty seats at our tables. Some buried loved ones. Some had to cut toxic family members out of our lives. 

It’s likely you, like me, aren’t entering into this festive season in the best of spirits. 

I still want to celebrate. I want to have fun. I want to bake and watch festive movies. I want to enjoy good food and time with the people I love. And I want to enjoy good stories. 

So I’m here again to give you four pieces of advice to get you through this season. Listen, we need the holidays. We need bright moments of joy. We need cats playing in wrapping paper, Yule logs burning, good meals, and great moments.

We’ve gotten through tough years before, as a society. Wars and Depressions. I don’t know you, but I bet you’ve gone through some tough holidays yourself. After death or divorce. After losing a job or a fight.

I’ve had holidays so broke every gift came from the Dollar Tree. I’ve buried a grandmother in mid-December. I’ve changed religions and lost the comfort of a Church family to celebrate with. I’ve had a holiday season after a bad divorce.

This year, we’re in a new home and we are struggling, cash-wise. Health has been a concern this year. And some other things I can’t talk about yet.

But I’ll be damned if I’ll take my current pleasure away from myself. And here’s how I’m going to do it. 

Prioritize like hell

You know my favorite thing in this whole wide world is a list. So when I started planning for this season, I made my list by priority. It’s hard to do it, but you’ve got to. Sit down and think about what you’d want to do if it’s the only thing you do. 

The top of my list is watching Elf with my husband on Christmas Eve. Right after that is having a fancy charcuterie board dinner on Yule. And third is reading holiday books under a blanket with a fire video on the tv and Harper on my lap. 

Yes, there are other things. Simpsons episodes and about a million movies. Lots of recipes to make and decorate. But you know what? If I don’t get to do any of those things, then I guess that’s what happens. I know what I’ll sacrifice, and what I won’t. Because what we make a priority gets done.

Get as much off your plate now as you can

You may have noticed on social media that I’ve been talking a lot about this. I’m batch writing all of my blog posts through the end of the month and scheduling them. Both for here and Haunted MTL. (Except my reviews of Dexter, New Blood. By the way, I’m live-tweeting during every episode over on Twitter. Follow Haunted MTL so you don’t miss it.)

I’m finishing a rough draft this month during Nanowrimo of course. I’m writing scripts for an upcoming podcast. 

And then in December, I am doing as little as freaking possible.

So if I’ve got to go all over town to find Christmas crackers, I damn well can. So if I want to spend my whole weekend reading and baking cookies, I damn well can. And if I just want to sit with some hot chocolate and watch the snow (or rain) fall, I damn well can. 

If it goes well, I might just set up my goals next year so I can take all of December off then too. 

Now, I’m still going to have to go to my day job. As already mentioned, I’ll still have episodes of New Blood to watch and review. I’ll still be updating social media. 

But that’s not near as much as I’ve been doing. And it’s nice, to worry not about what I need to do, but what I want to do. 

So what can you get off your plate this month, so you can play and celebrate next month? 

Be flexible

Christmas just won’t be Christmas without the special sugar cookies your family has been making for five generations. That’s gonna be a real hard sell if the one ingredient you need is on a boat stuck in a loading bay by customs.

If you’re not already noticing a supply chain issue, I’m surprised. Every time I go to the store it feels like half of what I normally get is just not there. And what is there is sure as hell more expensive than it was last year. 

Look, we’re going to have to get flexible this year. We’re going to have to settle for less than we want, for not the perfect picture. And it’s not great. 

But it’s better than letting yourself get into a tear because you have to get creative. Be aware, be prepared, and be flexible. 

Be patient

I mean this last one in two ways. First of all, be patent with your fellow man. Everyone is going through something right now. I already went over that in the intro. Yeah, it’s easy to get pissy when someone’s being a bitch in public. You might even want to be that person losing it because there is not anything in the grocery store your child will eat, and that quarter-filled cart is still going to set you back eighty bucks. But please, for the love of God remember that we are all humans. We’re all trying to get through something that sucks at best. And not all of us are getting out of it alive.

Be patient with people, and be patient with yourself. Take time to rest, get help when you need it. And if you lose your cool at your mother-in-law over Thanksgiving dinner, maybe just apologize and forgive yourself.

I truly hope you have the happiest of holidays, no matter what that looks like to you this year. We all deserve that warmth and light at the end of a long year. Enjoy what you have to enjoy, love who you have to love. 

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Consulting Credit

Happy Halloween. I hope you enjoy this creepy little piece.

Shadows scare people because they don’t know what might be lurking in them. If we paid attention to them, they wouldn’t be so mysterious. The things that lurk there are dark, not invisible.

I’m quite familiar with shadows. I look in them, I hide in them. 

I create them. 

I waited outside the campus library, blending into the shadows in a gray coat and dark jeans. I must have looked like any other college student, idly flipping through Instagram while I waited for a friend so we could walk home together. It’s much safer for women to walk together than alone. 

Soon I saw what I was looking for. The one who caught my eye was probably a senior. His face was buried in his phone, typing one-handed as he adjusted his backpack. Everyone tells girls to watch their surroundings. No father takes their son aside to discuss keeping themselves safe in public. That helps me.

I turned off my phone. Without its glow, I vanished.

The further we got from the library the fewer people were around. I spent this time watching the man. Why had I chosen him? I don’t ever know. There’s just something about some people. A discoloration in their aura, perhaps. A scent they give off. Or maybe it’s just the timing of it all. He came out when it was dark enough to be safe.

Either way, the time was now.  

“Excuse me,” I called.

The man jumped. “Oh, sorry,” he said. “I didn’t see you.”

“Can you help me? My dog got out, and I think she’s in this construction up here.”

“Oh, sure,” he said. Of course. “What does she look like?”

He pocketed his phone and walked ahead of me. Such a gentleman. 

“She’s a terrier mix. White with brown spots. Her name’s Trixi.”

Of course, he called out the name, “Trixi!” 

I did the same. 

There was a scratching sound from a room near the back, where the walls were finished.

Again he took the lead. I waited until I could close the new door behind us. The loop of wire went around his neck most satisfactorily.

The man tried to yell, but it came out strangled, gurgling. I pulled him down. Something moved in the shadows, but I ignored it. There was an ax there, waiting for me.

One good blow to the head was enough to make sure he couldn’t move Then I could use my smaller tools at my leisure. Plyers, fiberglass, matches. It was over too quickly, but most good things are. There was still the cleanup. I had a good little electrical saw to slice up the remains, and a barrel of lye at the ready. 

As I worked, someone moved in the shadow. A woman stepped out.

She’d worn heels and her little business suit. How foolish. But at least she’d remembered to dress in colors for the shadows.

“Great, this is really some great stuff,” Sophie said. She was scratching down notes on her notepad. She nearly glowed in the shadow. 

“Really, I can’t thank you enough.” She held out her hand to shake mine. A smear of blood transferred from my flesh to hers, standing out against her pale skin. 

“We have to get you consulting credits on the show. I couldn’t write it without this experience.”

“That would be great,” I smiled. Maybe I’d even score a visit to Hollywood out of it. People go missing in the shadows there all the time.

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The five best scary books I’ve read this year

Halloween is almost here, and there’s no better time to curl up with a good scary story. I’ve been spending as much time as possible this month with some ambient videos playing, a hot mug of chai tea, and some great books meant to terrify. So today I wanted to share with you the five best scary books I’ve read this year. If you’re looking for something sinister to read this Halloween, you could certainly do worse than these. 

Lore, Wicked Mortals by Aaron Manke

This is the same content as the podcast of the same name. Which is to say it’s delightful, educational, and eerie. I learned a lot about some truly sinister people. Some of it I already knew. I do co-host a true-crime podcast, after all. But there’s always more to learn. Sadly, there’s always another monster in man’s form to learn about.

Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I’m forever behind the times with this sort of thing. But that just means I get to discover great stories on my own time, so whatever. 

Miss Peregrine’s is about a young man named Jacob, who finds out that all the stories his grandfather told him in childhood are very much real. Soon it becomes clear that he found these strange, wonderful children just in time to save their whole world.

I speed read through all three of these books in a matter of a week. They aren’t spooky in the traditional sense. But they’re dark and well written. The tale is imaginative. I love the characters, and I appreciate the ending. If you haven’t read these books yet, give them a chance.

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King.

This was recently made into a tv show that is now on my list. 

The story is told from two points of view. A retired detective who can’t let go of his last case named Bill Hodges, and the perpetrator of the said case named Brady. Brady stole a woman’s car and killed a crowd of people waiting outside a job fair. But that was just the start. Now he wants to go out in a blaze of gore and blood.

I haven’t read the next two books in the trilogy yet. But they’re next on my tbr list. 

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

I have no idea what I was expecting when I started this book. I think I anticipated something much like American Gods, exploring the dark corners and superstitions of the world. And there is some of that. But it’s also about magic made real, the struggles of the black community, and being tough as hell for your family. It’s about a man named Atticus, who learns that he has a magical lineage. And some would do anything to use that magic for themselves.

Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Halloween Tree is a book I wish I’d been introduced to as a child. But as an adult, it’s firmly on my yearly Halloween reading list now. It’s about a group of boys who go out trick or treating, only for one of them to be snatched up by the wind and propelled through time. To find him, the boys must travel through the history of Halloween. And it’s a chilling, wonderful history. A trick and treat all in one.

The book itself was only a treat. If you haven’t read it, grab a copy and treat yourself. 

That’s it for my list. So now it’s your turn. What’s the best scary story you’ve read this year? Let us know in the comments. And come back on Sunday, Halloween, for a bonus post. See you then. 

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Preptober, Week Four

We’ve reached the last week of Preptober, writing fam. It’s time now for the final step before actually writing your novel. 

It’s time to create your outline. 

I have no time for pantsers. Those of you who don’t believe in outlines may go on your merry way. Enjoy your writer’s block and unsatisfying endings. That’s right, I said it. Fight me in the comments if you like.

So let’s get down to it. Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to be done in one day. We’ve got more than a week. 

I sometimes find myself getting a bit overwhelmed when I start an outline. By this time I’ve got pages and pages of freewriting, notes, and ideas. It’s a metric shit ton of content that may or may not make it into my novel. So take your time. Don’t try to sort out everything at once. It’s like a puzzle. You don’t drop all the pieces on the table and start shuffling. You take one piece at a time and see where it might fit.

Also like a puzzle piece, it’s best to start with the edges. Or, to drop the analogy, start with the things you know (for now) you want to write. If I’m feeling too overwhelmed, I’ll pick just one thing. One thing I’m sure I want to have in the story. Often it’s the ending. We’ll talk about that more later. But it’s important to have two kinds of scenes to start. You need load-bearing scenes that move the story forward, and you need scenes you’re really excited to write.

Now that you’ve got a start, you can start connecting dots. What has to happen to make these scenes pay off. If someone is dying in the last chapter, what caused that? If we’re looking for a treasure, we need to have a treasure map earlier. 

I want to caution you again to not put too much pressure on yourself. Remember that your outline is written in ink, not stone. I always reach a point when writing a rough draft that I have to stop and redo my entire outline. And that’s fine. Remember, the point of writing an outline isn’t to figure out your whole story. It’s to start giving you an idea of the shape of it. Honestly, you might not have the whole story until your third or fourth draft. Maybe even more. So yes, put time and effort into your outline. But remember, you’re not married to it. 

While this isn’t for everyone, I insist upon knowing my ending before I start. Even if it might change dramatically. I still have to have an ending before I start writing. It’s the finish line at the end of the trail. When I’m lost in the weeds, and I’m not sure what should be happening, it’s the North Star. My ending is often the first part I write. And if you’re wondering, I already know the ending of my Nano project this year. 

Finally, I’ll leave you with a reveal. This year I won’t be writing a novel. Those of you who’ve been loving the first season of AA will be thrilled to hear that I’ll be writing the second season. These episodes will be longer, darker, deeper. 

What are you writing for Nanowrimo? Let us know in the comments. 

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Preptober, Week Three

It’s week three of Preptober, and it’s finally time to start writing! 

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I suggest a whole week at least of brainstorming before starting a novel. Maybe this is just my method. But my method’s gotten me four published books, so I guess it’s working for me.

That being said, how you chose to free write can vary dramatically based on your writing style and personality. Today I want to talk about some tips for making the most of your brainstorming Preptober week.

Freewriting is your best friend 

Being a student of Natalie Goldberg, I firmly believe that freewriting is the best way to get to the core of a project. So every day for the next seven days I encourage you to free write about your novel project.

Do it by time

A lot of people like to free write by time. This is pretty simple, you set a timer and write for that set time. I like doing this myself, among other methods.

Do it by number

That being said, I also love a numbered list. I’ll write lists titled 20 things that can happen in this book. Or, ten jobs my character might have. Twenty ways this character’s voice is different from the other character. Whatever I can think of.

Now is the time for writing exercises

I love a good writing exercise. And during the brainstorming session, I do a ton of them. It’s a way to understand my world better before I dive into it for 30 days. There are tons of different writing exercises if you’re interested. I would definitely suggest checking out the Writing Excuses podcast for some starters.

Don’t stop for an entire seven days

If you’re anything like me, you’re going to want to jump the gun. After about three or four days of freewriting and exercises, I’m feeling like I’m ready to start working on my outline. Maybe even dive into my rough draft.

Over the years I’ve learned to ignore those feelings and keep freewriting for the entire week. 

Yes, you probably have some great ideas. Yes, it’s exciting to start a new project. Yes, nothing feels like progress until it’s words on the page. 

Keep free writing anyway. 

The reason is simple. You are going to want as much raw thought on the page as you can get. When I’m writing I refer back to these freewriting notes often. Even better, I’ll surprise myself as I free write. As I dig further and further into the story, I uncover things I might never have thought of. It will benefit your book to give yourself as much time as possible to play on the page.

It doesn’t matter in the slightest if your ideas are bad

If you are going to be writing pages and pages of freewriting, some of your ideas are going to be bad. I know we often say there are no bad ideas, but I think we all know that’s bullshit. Saying there are no bad ideas is like saying there are no worms in any wild cherries.

Wild cherries are still worth picking and enjoying, still warm from the sun. 

So what if all your ideas are bad?

Spoiler, they’re not. We’re always our own worst critics. We are always going to be hard on our work, even if it’s good. Even if it’s great.

Trust me when I say that your ideas are worthwhile. Yes, some of them are going to be bad. But not all of them. Not even most of them. 

I hope you have fun during your week of freewriting. I know I will. Remember, writing is supposed to be fun. So have fun with it. And I’ll see you back here next week for the final task of Preptober. 

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Preptober, Week Two

We’re one week into October, and one week into our Nanowrimo prep. If you missed last week, here’s a link to get you started. 

In week two, we once again have just two tasks.

1. Set up your project on the Nanowrimo website.

2. Make sure you have all the physical things you’ll need.

Okay, don’t freak out. Yes, I’m suggesting you announce your Nano project on the website this week. Note that I didn’t suggest that you know what your project is going to be. You don’t have to know the title, or even what genre you want to write in. 

You can literally label your project anything you want, and not be tied to it at all. You can just put untitled project number 69 if you want. It doesn’t matter.

So, if it doesn’t matter, why am I telling you to do this? Because it’s a concrete action that you’re taking towards your goal of writing a novel. You can see it right there on the screen, and so can everyone else. You are locked in now, you’re writing a novel. It’s on the internet.

Now, it’s time to consider some physical considerations. You don’t need a lot to be a writer. Just something to write on, and with. 

If you’ll be writing your novel on paper, consider what kind of paper you want. I like college-ruled notebooks and le pen felt tips.

You can of course type it. This is easier because you can check your word count without having to count the whole damned things. So if this is the way you’re writing, get yourself a word processor and play around with it a bit. I like Dabble, but there are tons of options.

Another thing you’ll want to consider is where you’ll be writing. Do you have somewhere at home to write? Do you need to go to a coffee shop or library? Do you need a desk, lap desk, or just a better chair? 

Think also about the little things you might need but not think of. I, for instance, like to outline things on index cards. Even if I’m typing my novel, which I’ll be doing this year, I still need pens to brainstorm on paper. 

I’m not saying these are all things you’ll need. But I am saying you should consider how you want to write, brainstorm, and do all the other things related to your project. Make a list, grab what you’ll need, and get ready to start writing. 

That’s it for this week. See you again next Friday when we get into some actual writing.

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