Four books for Nanowrimo inspiration

Halloween is over, Thanksgiving creeps ever closer and Nanowrimo has begun. Pages and word counts are climbing, and so far I’m feeling great about my new novel in progress.

Some of this excitement is because of the story itself. It’s a good one, I think. Some of it’s the positive peer pressure on social media. There’s something great to be said for a bunch of people working towards the same goal. Some of it as well is the energy of the season. I’m super pumped for the holidays and doing my best to put that creative energy to good use. 

But I think we all know those incentives aren’t going to last. Seasonal excitement in particular is like a sugar high. It’s great while you have it, but eventually, you’re gonna crash. 

Writing is my favorite thing to do, but it’s also exhausting. Especially when we get closer to the middle of a tale when I’m running low on ideas, and when the word counts are looming. Then, of course, we remember that it is the holiday season and I’m up to my eyeballs in crafts, cooking, and cleaning.

All good thing, but quite time-consuming. 

When my energy starts to wain, when the work begins to feel like work, when I start thinking I’ll just take up stamp collecting after all, I need something more substantial to sustain me. And what I have are the words of authors who have gone before me. Writers who I admire and respect. 

To that end, I made a reading list for myself for November. I might not get to all of them since I’ll be switching over to Christmas reads after Thanksgiving, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t run out of inspiration. Some of the books I’ve read before, some I haven’t. All are from authors who inspire me to do what we all love to do, write. 

On Writing by Stephen King

It’s the first book on writing I ever read, and it’s still one of the best ones I’ve read. I don’t want to waste a lot of time here because I’ve already talked about this book so extensively. If you haven’t read it, and you want to be a writer, go read it now.

Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg

What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? So many writers credit this book with inspiring them that it’s impossible to count. I can’t help but feel inspired to write deeper work that goes right to the bone. 

Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou

This book and the one after are autobiographies by the unparalleled Maya Angelou. They’re not writing advice books, but they inspire me nevertheless. Seeing how such an impactful author lived her life can’t help but make me want to be a better writer. And a better woman. 

All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou

Ditto for this one. 

So that’s it. It’s a pretty short post today because I know we’re all busy. But if you have a moment, I’d love to know what book inspires you most as a writer or artist. Let us know in the comments.

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You don’t have to do Nanowrimo in November

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.

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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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Preptober, Week One

Alright, it’s the first day of October. And this month is dedicated to exactly two things in my house. Celebrating Halloween as hard as possible, and getting ready for Nanowrimo. 

So this year I’m going to take you along for the ride with me, in a four-week course that will let you hit the ground running on November first. I’ve done Nanowrimo or Nanoedmo every year for the last eight years. And I never lose.

Why don’t I ever lose? Because I plan my life and my project in such a way that failure is not possible. 

If you’re with me, we’re starting today. This week, you have two tasks. 

1. Make your plan of action.

2. Get your people together.

Let’s break these down.

Make your plan of action

Especially if you’re new to the whole novel-writing thing, you need to make a plan for how this is going to happen. Because it’s sure as hell not going to happen by accident. Especially if you have other responsibilities. Like, you know, a life.

So you’ll want to ask yourself these questions. 

When am I going to write?

What projects do I need to wrap up before November to make space for this?

Are there any days I know right now I won’t be able to write? What days will I work ahead or catch up?

What are the other obligations that I still need to meet like work, school, finals, or home care?

What I’m saying is this. You are going to have excuses aplenty to not write. Get rid of those excuses by planning for them, not succumbing to them.

Find your people

This is broken down into two groups. Who are you writing with, and who is supporting your writing?

Do you have any friends, online or IRL who want to write with you? Nanowrimo is always better when you have other people participating with you. Start talking to your buddies now, and see who’s going to join you.

More important even than that, though, is your in-person support team.

Who’s going to help you out during November? My support team is my husband, who will help me out with the house and give me space. My best friend, who will be there for emotional support. And my group of friends, always ready for weird questions at random moments. 

Make a list of your support team. Ask them if they’re ready for that. Let them know what you’ll need of them. Do you need your mother-in-law to watch the kids an extra hour a week? Do you need your wife to make dinner on a night that would normally be yours?

You need time to prep. Your support system does too. And if you’ve got to do something extra to support your loved ones in return, best to know that early. 

So that’s it for this time. You’ve got a week for these two tasks. I’ll see you back here next week for a new assignment. 

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Camp Nano, 2021

It’s that time again. July is a week away, and I’m getting ready to participate in Camp Nanowrimo. 

I almost decided not to do it this year, to be honest. A lot is going on in my life right now. I’m working on some big projects for Haunted MTL. I have a pretty big personal project that I’ll talk more about early next year. And I’ll be going back to the office for my day job in July.

So why in the hell am I thinking of adding another major project to July? Well, as always, there’s a reason. I’m not just being self-abusive, stacking projects on top of myself until it all comes crashing down like Jenga bricks. This project is good for me. Here’s why.

I’d like to have some fun

Yes, writing is hard. Especially that second draft! But it’s also kind of the most fun thing? I don’t know, writing confuses me. The second draft has the bare bones of the story already there, but it needs so much work to get it right. 

And in that work, nestled like opals in a mine, are a thousand aha moments. Realizing the hows and the whys and the wheres of the story. It’s like the best puzzle in the world. And I live for it, despite complaining about it like crazy on social media.

I haven’t been working on my novel as much as I want to be

As I mentioned, I’m busy as hell. And I love that I have the opportunity to do so much good work. I even got a screener for a show! I’m like an actual critic or something. 

But I haven’t worked on my novel since I finished the rough draft in December. And that just doesn’t fly with me. See, this novel is important. And I’m going to be self-publishing it to get it right into your hands. And I think, I think, you’re going to love it.

So I want to work on it. And Camp Nano is a great way to make myself make the time. 

I love the feeling of community

Why will Camp Nano inspire me? Because the feeling of community is amazing. I love that feeling when you put in your word count at the end of the day and see how all your writing friends did. We’re all working on different projects, all working alone. We may never meet in person. But we’re still working together. And that just never gets old.

 I’m never really myself unless I’m working on a novel

I am a writer. And a critic, and a podcaster. Most of all, I am a writer. And I am just never, ever myself when I’m not working on a book. I learned this in the years before I started this blog. I am happiest when I have a novel.

And so yes, I am busy. And yes, I am doing all sorts of other writing. But this is writing that is just for me. One day, it will be for all of you. 

But for now, my novel is for me. And I need to take the time to write for myself. Even if it’s just during July.

I hope to see you at camp. You bring the chocolate, I’ll bring the marshmallows.

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A last minute Preptober list that you totally have time for

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It’s October 16th. If you’re participating in Nanowrimo, we have half a month left to get ready.

If you’ve been procrastinating, now is the time to get started on your Preptober list. 

If you have no idea what the hell you’re supposed to be doing for your Preptober list, I’m here for you. Each of these things can be done over the next two weeks and will help you succeed in Nanowrimo this year.

List five ideas every day

Notice that I didn’t say good ideas. You should feel free to write the worst ideas you can think of. Just get yourself thinking about your story. What might happen?

Remember, you’re not required to use any of this in your novel. It’s just there to start you thinking. You might even use this to list things that for sure will not happen in your novel. 

Gather your supplies

What do you write with? I’m writing my Nano novel this year on paper because my eyes have been messing with me and I don’t want to stare at a screen any more than I need to. So, I’ve stocked up on notebooks and the specific felt tip pens I like. I’ve got a big stack of index cards for outlining. I’m ready to go.

Make a list of things you need to write your novel, and get them now.

Let the people in your life know your plans

This is especially important if you’ve never done Nanowrimo before. I do this all the time, so my darling husband just rolls his eyes.

We can’t expect our family to respect our goals if they don’t know what the goals are. So let your family know what to expect over November. You’re going to need time away, daily, to write. Figure out if things need to be taken off your plate and whose plate they can be comfortably set on.

Plan your time

When do you have time to write? Are you a morning person or do you work best late at night? Can you write right after work or during a lunch break? Would you be better off getting your writing done in one long session, or breaking it up over the day? Are there going to be days this month you can’t write at all?

Take a look at your calendar and block out time now. If you have this time in your calendar already, you’ll have fewer excuses when the time comes. 

Brainstorm for a full week

You need time to think about your story. Mull it over. Write about your characters, their background. Just play around on paper for a full week. Set nothing in stone yet. Right now, your ideas are play dough. 

Outline for a full week

If you’re a pantser, go ahead and skip this one. You’re wrong, but you can do it. 

Outlining is time-consuming. But if you do it right, it makes the rough draft a lot easier. You’re not lost, wondering what to do with the story next. I mean, that might happen when you’re outlining, but that’s sort of the point.

Keep in mind that the outline is not written in stone. In the course of your rough drafting, you might find the story going in a different direction. That’s okay, let it. The outline is just the start.

We have half a month left to go before Nanowrimo. Are you ready? 

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Should we even do Nanowrimo this year?

2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year. Literally, the worst one I’ve ever lived through. I’m not going to try to make light of this.

So what if we don’t do Nanowrimo this year? What if we throw our hands up and say it’s too much. With everything else we’re dealing with, who could add writing a novel in there? Shouldn’t we all spend November trying to just survive and figure out how to have Thanksgiving on Zoom?

Hell no. 

Mind you, I’m not shaming anyone who doesn’t participate. But I’ll be doing it. And if you were thinking of writing a novel this year, you should do it too. Here’s why.

Publishers are still buying books

Agents and publishers are still accepting queries. Books are still coming out. People are still reading. So why not write a book?

Fiction can reach hearts and change minds.

If you’re feeling helpless, write about it. Write about your story of 2020. Write out your anger, your pain. Write about losing your job, your freedom. Whatever this year has been for you, write it out. 

Or you could write a fictionalized story about a country that let a deadly pandemic run wild even though they had the means to fix it and save thousands of lives. Just a thought.

Fiction can reach hearts and minds that straight facts can’t. Think of how many times fiction has hit you right between the eyes and made you see the world differently. You have the opportunity to do that now. Writing is the voice we have in addition to voting.

Vote!

So let’s use every tool we have. Get your story into the world. 

It’s a needed creative outlet

Okay, so not everyone wants to change the world with their words. Some people just want to create something. 

It’s in our nature to need a creative outlet. To make something. To paint, sing, write, draw, knit, whatever. If you just want to write a little something for fun or to say you did it, go for it! Write something and don’t worry about what you’re going to do with it later. Just love the process.

We can get something good out of this year 

We know how hard this year has been. There hasn’t been a lot to be happy about. Everything went wrong. People will be spending holidays without loved ones they had last year. 

We have to get some good out of this year, damn it. Any good we can. And if we can end the year on a high note, be able to say we did this one big thing, that’s a win. 

Let’s win just a little this year, together.

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Bonus Post! New 2015 Nanowrimo and Nanoedmo shopping list!

  1. Lots of red pens.
  2. Highlighters, in a rainbow of color.  I’m not surprised that the ones I bought during back to school are all gone.  The monsters took them
  3. Chocolate, again.
  4. I bought a french press!  Just another way to make a copious amount of coffee, which I’ll be needing.
  5. Some really good sharp cheese, to keep my energy up.
  6. Some VOD movie vouchers, so I can edit while the monsters watch movies.
  7. index cards, for when I have to rip my outline apart and start over.  Again.
  8. A pillow for my desk chair.  My hard, unyielding, desk chair.
  9. A playstore gift card for loud music. (It helps me think)
  10. Asprin, for headaches and wrist aches.
  11. Lots of trips to the printers, which will also mean lots of stops by the coffee shop.
  12. A large bottle of red wine, to celebrate finally (hopefully) finishing Broken Patterns!

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