Camp Nano is more than halfway done, and this is the first post I’m doing about it. What is this, who even am I?
So I was talking with some fellow writers during a writing date a few weeks ago. I, all bright eyes and ready for some writer bonding, asked if anyone else was doing Camp Nano.
The response I got, almost universally, is that more people would like to do Nanowrimo if it wasn’t in November.
Which is understandable. For those of us in the states, November is the start of the holiday season. Decorating, baking, traveling, shopping, and family time quickly eat up your month. If you’re a student, this might be the end of your semester, which means finals. Finals, I understand, eat up your month and your mental stability.
July holds many of the same obstacles. It’s peak vacation time. Kids are out of school. There’s not a ton of time free if you’re a parent.
Then, of course, there’s always the change life’s just going to hit you in the teeth. House fires, divorces, job losses, health issues. Any of these and lots more I didn’t mention might come up. Or, you know, something good might happen like a big move or a marriage or a baby. Life is going to keep right on life-ing around you, and it doesn’t give a damn about your plans to write 50,000 words in a month.
It also doesn’t give a damn if you have a blog post to write. Case in point, this post should have been up at six this morning. Best laid plans and all.
Some people say that this is kind of the point of Nanowrimo. If you can write a novel during November, with all the festivities and finals, then you can do it anytime.
But maybe you don’t need to amp the difficulty level up to eleven.
Then I have good news for you. You can do Nanowrimo any month of the year.
I’ll grant that doing Nanowrimo outside of November does lack the cool winner prizes. But I’ve honestly never heard of a writer doing Nanowrimo for the half-off Dabble subscription. (Not bashing Dabble. It’s my preferred writer software.)
So let’s set that aside.
To do Nanowrimo yourself, consider what it is about the contest that appeals to you. Make a list of all the reasons you’d like to do Nanowrimo.
There’s the writing community. The challenge of getting in 50,000 words in a single month. The video game-like joy of watching your word count go up on a scoreboard.
Whatever it is, consider how you can replicate it. If you love getting together with your writing peers, get together! Post your daily word counts and cheer each other on. If it’s that sweet chart that shows you how much you’ve written in a month, I have wonderful news for you. The Nanowrimo website is always there, and you can set up a monthly word count goal anytime you want.
And if you ever need a cheerleader, hit me up on Twitter or Instagram. I’m always happy to be in your writing corner.
There are so many barriers to writing a novel. What month it is shouldn’t be one of them. Take your life into your own hands, and do Nanowrimo whenever is best for you.
Nine years, ten books, and two podcasts later, I’m still here. Still going strong. And it’s honestly kind of baffling.
I’ve gone into detail before about how this book saved my life. How the universe came together to bring me to the place of being a writer. So I’m not going to get super mushy today. At least not on here. In real life, I’m sobbing. Because I can’t believe I’ve been a professional writer for nine whole years.
Honestly, I am not the same person I was nine years ago. I hope you’re not the same because that would be kind of sad.
I wanted to do a bonus post today, sharing nine things I’ve learned in the last nine years. Then, I realized that I wrote an advice post a few weeks ago when Quiet Apocalypse came out.
Then, I realized that all of the advice in that post was about being a writer. It’s not craft advice. And after all, it’s all about the craft. I didn’t offer bread to the birds in Diamond Park and pray to be good at marketing. I prayed to be a writer.
So today here are the nine most important pieces of writing advice I’ve learned in the last nine years.
Use cheap notebooks
Listen to me on this one. I love beautiful notebooks, expensive notebooks. I bought two Archer and Olive notebooks for my 2022 bullet journals, and those puppies ain’t cheap. I just bought a real leather-covered book for my Book of Shadows, and clearly, that was some money. But when I’m doing freewriting or rough drafts, I use cheap college-ruled notebooks as one would use in school.
The first reason is that I fill a freewriting notebook every two months and my rough drafts usually encompass up to five notebooks, and that would be money. But the more important reason for this is that it allows me to write shit.
And you’ve got to have the freedom to write shit. Especially when you’re working on your rough draft. You’ve got to sit down, look at the page, and say, “I’m going to fill you. And because my only goal today is to fill you, most of what I fill you with is going to be pure, unfiltered garbage.”
That is not happening in a twenty-dollar notebook. That book will stand up and walk off your desk.
If you’re worried you went too far, write it anyway
I have written some things that frankly, scared me. I’ve written about gruesome murders, rapes, and tortures. I’ve written about people doing things that horrify me. I’ve killed characters who didn’t deserve to die. I even wrote about a dog being ripped apart.
It was fucking hard to do that. But I didn’t do it for shock value. I did it because it fit in the story. Because while I was writing, I felt like this is what needed to happen. And those scenes, hard as they are to write or even really think about, make for a richer story. And yes, it might upset some people. But that’s the next thing we’re going to talk about.
Don’t worry that you’re going to piss people off
I’m in the process of writing a nonfiction book that’s going to piss people off. I talk about politics a lot on this website, and sometimes people don’t like that. Sometimes when things happen to me, I write about them in fictional settings. Some of those things are messed up, and I’m going to write about them anyway.
And I’ll never, ever apologize.
My stories are mine. Your stories are yours. If you want to write about your life, write about it. You don’t need permission to talk about anything that happens to you.
Writing exercises are crucial
I do writing exercises every day. Some days I’m bored by it. Some days I write some of the best shit I have ever written. Every day I come to the page. Because you can’t do something every day and not get good at it.
It also helps with writer’s block. If you’re just used to doing writing exercises every day, the blank page just doesn’t hold a lot of fear for you.
90 percent of writing books are bullshit
I love every single book Natalie Goldberg has ever written. I have worn out multiple copies of Stephen King’s On Writing. And I have a copy of Elements of Style that came to me in such a serendipitous way that God sent it to me.
I have never read any other writing book that was worth my time. If you have any book recommendations for me, leave them in the comments. But most of them are shit. Sorry.
This isn’t to say that a good writing book isn’t worth twice its weight in gold. Good writing books are worth wading through bad writing books to find them. Just don’t feel like you’ve got to take everything in one of those books as gospel.
Be honest while telling lies
I write about dragons, ghosts, and spaceships. That’s my catchphrase. I don’t write about things that happened.
But I also do.
I write about people dying at political rallies.
I write about postpartum depression.
I write about real things I’m really afraid of or things that have happened in the guise of fiction.
And it’s not always on purpose. My husband is an actor in AA, and he’s frequently found my work familiar in ways that I didn’t even realize. “Oh, this character is like our asshole landlady. Oh, I remember when this happened to you. I know the horrific political thing you’re referencing here.”
And half the time I hadn’t realized that’s what I was writing about until he pointed it out.
Do you have to make your fiction a political statement? No, of course not. But the truth will come out of your fiction if you care about anything at all.
Make friends with other writers
My writing life blossomed when I started making other writer friends. Yes, it’s great to have someone to network with. Yes, it’s great to have people to swap beta reads with. But the best thing about having writing friends is having someone who speaks your language. The best thing is finding your tribe.
Finding people who get the weird shit we do. Who understands why we can agonize over one word for days and then write 4,000 words in an hour. Who gets what it feels like to launch a book to lukewarm applause, and how awful/awesome that is. Because yes, no one seemed to care, but it’s also the best thing you’ve ever done.
It’s great to have people who can hold you accountable, with who you can pitch ideas, and who you can cry over rejection letters.
Find your writing tribe.
You can learn from literally everybody
I have become a better writer by listening to advice from other artists. Not just writers. Poets, visual artists, photographers, and stand-up comedians. Everyone who creates has something to teach us.
Actually, everyone has someone to teach us. I heard the best advice from the CEO of Hooters in a podcast once.
Read autobiographies from creative people. Watch interviews, and listen to podcasts. Learn from creative people, writers or not.
Write for you first
Finally, this is something I learned from Quiet Apocalypse. I’ve mentioned this before, but this book is the most selfish book I’ve ever written.
I love haunted house books, so I wanted to write one. I am a witch, so I wanted to write a main character who’s a witch. I love demonic stories, so I wrote about demons. I wrote the story that I wanted to read. And it is my favorite book I’ve ever written.
I think other people would agree. But even if no one else read it, I still had a blast writing it. Hell, I might sit down and read it myself someday.
I would love to know if you’re a long-time fan who read and loved Woven. I’d love to know which one of my books you’ve read or want to read. Let me know in the comments so I can cry out of gratitude.
Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you found something of value in this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi.
I am in love with a good, dark gothic story. The kind of story that’s as much about the setting as the serial killer.
You might think of a Southern Gothic, with massive plantations, kudzu and overt racism all crisping in the unending heat. Or maybe a Midwestern Gothic, with cornfields big enough to swallow you whole, scarecrows that move around and have a taste for flesh, and snowstorms that are out for blood. Or Mexican Gothic, which is one of my favorite horror novels in the last few years and encompassed the feel of an eerie small town perfectly.
It’s easy to think that to write a Gothic you’ve got to write them about one of these twisted places. But I have bad news. Unless you live in one of these places, your Gothic is going to lack the soul that a native writer can bring to it.
But fear not! Whether you live in a small town in the south or smack in the middle of LA, you can write a gothic story about where you live. And we’re going to talk about how today, with the help of three questions.
Where are your town’s shadows?
When you’re a kid, the world seems scary in a different way. There are parts of our town we don’t want to go to. Stores that don’t pass our vibe check. Houses we don’t ride our bikes in front of.
No one knows those stories better than someone who lived them. I can tell you about standing in the middle of Ames while my mother looked through discount clothes racks, my heart about to burst out of my chest because I was sure I’d seen a person in a Mickey Mouse foam costume watching me. There wasn’t any promotion that day, he was just there. Watching me. I can tell that story.
So, what are the scary places in your town?
What is your town known for?
My hometown is known for jeeps. We’re the place jeeps were invented. We’re also a steel town, with a steel mill that still exists and employees hundreds of people.
Alright, it might be hard to write a story about a scary jeep. But I can work with a steel mill. That used to be an inherently scary field to be in.
It’s better now, but those wounds run deep.
There are other wounds in my town. Fires that took lives, businesses, homes, and memories. Wars sent men back broken to walk our streets like the living dead.
There are wounds in your town. I can tell you that without ever knowing where you live. Because there are wounds everywhere. Write from those wounds.
What legends already exist in your town?
Every town has legends. Cryptids, famous mass murderers. Unsolved crimes that are truly chilling.
A woman in my town was once strung up between two trees and gutted.
There have been so many fires on Main Street without a whole lot of explanation.
There’s a glass factory that everyone agrees is haunted. I have pieces of glass from it.
Then there’s the Butler Gargoyle.
Surely your town has stories. Things that outsiders might not know, but you’ve heard since you were a teenager.
Draw on these tales for inspiration.
There is no place in this world where you can’t write a Gothic story from. It just takes an understanding of your town and a little (twisted) imagination.
I’ve loved true crime since I was a little girl. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who got hooked watching Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack. My great-grandma and I used to watch it together. I still think of her any time I hear that theme song.
Recently I’ve found a reason for guilt over my enjoyment, though. The latest Scream movie pointed out that there’s a darker side to these stories. These are real stories. People died. Families were left shattered. The very last thing I’d ever want to do is belittle someone’s loss. The second to last thing I’d want to do is make a killer into a celebrity.
It’s not like mentally ill people need another excuse to kill innocent people.
Are we just encouraging killers to think of themselves as rock stars? Are we dehumanizing victims for the sake of entertainment?
I’ve spent some time thinking about this. This world’s in a bad enough place right now, I don’t need to make things worse with some insensitive little tale.
And after some consideration, I don’t think True Crime does much harm. Dare I even say it might do some good? If, of course, it’s done right.
The good true crime podcasters don’t glorify the killers
On my podcast, Off The Bone, we don’t glorify killers. We tend to mock them. Most serial killers, by the way, wet the bed way longer than anyone else.
The killer is never the good guy, and the victim is never the punchline. To talk about True Crime in any other way is disrespectful and dangerous.
We say their names
So many True Crime stories are unsolved. That’s part of the fascination, at least for me. We don’t know who the Somerton Man was, so we can’t let his family know what happened to him. Same for the Lady of The Dunes (Though Stephen King’s son might have helped solve that one.)
We’re all going to die someday. And most of us hope to be remembered by our loved ones. We want friends and family to share stories about us. And we don’t want a bunch of question marks hanging over our coffins.
When we talk about unsolved murders, there’s a chance that someone might recognize the victim. That maybe, by saying their names, someone who loves them might hear.
And even if they don’t, we remember them.
I remember Bella in the witch elm.
I remember the Lady of The Dunes.
I remember the Somerton Man.
And I’ll be you do too.
If you have any information regarding this case.
Remember how each episode of Unsolved Mysteries ended?
“If you have any information regarding this case, please call us.”
Well, people did call them. And because of that show, at least 260 cold cases were solved.
Crowdsourcing mysteries gets results. And in the age of the internet, we’re even better at it.
Because of consistent attention, the Keddie Cabin murder case was reopened. And as I mentioned earlier, Owen King might have helped solve the Lady of The Dunes mystery. He recognized an extra from Jaws who just might be her.
True Crime done badly isn’t moral. But True Crime done well might actually solve crimes. And even if you’re not one of those who helps solve a cold case, you still enjoyed a damn good story.
And that’s worth something. I hope that when I go, I leave a good story behind.
It’s July first, so it must be time to check in with our goals for 2022 and see how we’re doing.
My goal progress has been a mixed bag so far. Some goals have been slam dunks. Some are lagging. And some got dropped altogether.
Let’s see where we are, and check-in with our progress together.
Step one- How it started
What were your goals at the start of the year? I had nine specific goals.
Read the entire bible
Read 42 books
Take 24 Masterclasses
Build our emergency fund
Plan a covid safe vacation
Get the husband’s health on track
Attend a con
Make progress on my novels
I want you to write your goals down just like I did, without any judgment about how far you’ve gotten, or not gotten. Any progress is fine. No progress is also fine.
We all tend to apply magical thinking in January, don’t we? We think this is going to be the year we do all the things. Nothing’s going to stand in our way in January. We’re going to be our very best selves every single day, and so is everyone else.
And in July, that same magic feels like it’s working against us. We tend to forget the two weeks we were sick, the unexpected expense, and the emergency that we had to deal with.
Life is just never going to go to plan. Sometimes we can compensate. Sometimes we can’t.
Step two- How it’s going
Now is the time to look at where we are with each of our goals. If we reached a goal, or are on track, that’s freaking awesome! If we’re not, now is the time to consider why we’re not.
Do we need to work on time management?
Do we need to focus on better habits with our spending?
Or is this just a goal that no longer applies to us?
Some of my goals, like taking 24 masterclasses, are going away. Masterclass is expensive, and going to Nebula con was more important.
Some of my goals needed a new tactic. Reading the bible every day just was not happening. Until I found a bible in a year podcast. Now, I can listen to the daily readings while I’m cleaning the kitchen. Win/win!
So, at this stage, you want to take these steps.
1. Decide if any of your goals are no longer a priority to you. Drop those right off your list.
2. Take anything off your list that you’ve accomplished. Yay, you!
Here’s what I had left after that.
-Read the entire bible (Currently eleven days into the bible in a year podcast I found)
-Read 42 books (21 down, 21 to go)
-Get the husband’s health on track (this is a work in progress)
-Join SFWA (Still a work in progress)
-Make progress on my novels (Got one book out, making progress for some exciting content for you guys in 2023!)
Step three- Where’s it going from here.
Finally, it’s time to make some realistic goals for the second half of 2022. Make sure you’re considering things like holidays. I don’t know about you, but my second half of the year is always less productive than the first.
Another thing I like to do is add some not vital projects to my list. They’re not my top priorities, but they’re on the list of things it would be awesome to finish before the end of the year.
Right now, my list looks like this.
Get a literary agent
Make progress on the bible in a year podcast.
Finish 42 books
Study tarot cards, one card each week
Achieve Camp Nano goal
Celebrate each holiday and sabbat to its fullest
Create a go-bag in case of emergencies
Build my fuck off fund
Achieve Nanowrimo goal
Finish the scripts for the second draft of AA.
Redo my laundry room
Redo my holiday supply closet
This list has three things on it. Goals that I plan to make progress on but may not finish. Goals that are super important to me that I will finish before the end of the year. And finally, projects that enrich my life and will make me happy to complete.
And please, if you take nothing else from this post, take this away.
Your goals should be there to make you happy.
All of my goals are designed to make me happy. All of your goals should be designed to make you happy.
I hope your midyear check-in goes well, everyone. We’ve got six more months to go in 2022. Let’s see what we can accomplish together.