Prepping for NaNoWriMo in 5 steps

NaNoWriMoBlogIt is almost time!!!! NaNo Warriors take your places at the keyboard.

NaNoWriMo started in July 1999, in the San Francisco Bay Area. The first year there were 21 participants. By 2012, there were over 300,000 participants. The numbers continue to grow as more writer nerds find their people and gather to celebrate the craft during an intense write fest. Being a part of the festivities has always been and continues to be, free of charge (though you can get a halo for contributing to the upkeep of the site).

September is not too early

The first year I did Nano, I waited until November first to log in and start. I thought that was how it was done. I was wrong. If you know you want to participate, but you know nothing about the organization, September is the time to start learning. To begin your journey, read all about the timeline of this great community over on their history page.

As I enter into my fourth year as a Nano participator, my general advice to you is this: Start planning and plotting weeks in advance and get into the forums early and often.

Brainstorm and outline in October (or sooner)

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. This does not mean that you will stand up from your writing space after pounding the keys all month and have a publishable novel. If you are among the 99.9% of us who end up with a good working draft that needs lots of tender loving care in December and beyond, you are still a winner. This is about training your brain to get the words on the page without worrying about whether or not every word will stick.

The second thing I tell people who are interested in NaNo but have not yet committed is to remember this not brainstorming month, nor is it outline a novel month. When your calendar turns over November 1, have the preparation complete, and be ready to write! Keep in mind that most of the time the reason someone gives up on NaNo is that their story isn’t going anywhere or they don’t know what to write next. Save yourself the potential of being backed into a writing corner. Plot. Plan. Prepare.

If you are out of ideas for a new story, The Creative Penn offers some great advice. You can also find great ideas for stories in the NaNo platform itself, in the discussion forum. This leads nicely into the next piece of advice that I have for new NaNo enthusiasts.

Get into the forums before November first

The NaNo Dashboard holds valuable tips and tricks that extend far beyond the month of November itself. And, if you wait to log on until the first day that you need to produce 1,667 words, there will be little time to learn and/or take advantage of all of the greatness.

Look for the term “Conversation” on the menu bar, and choose “Forums.” Some of my favorite forum topics are below:

  1. NaNo Prep – This one is just what it sounds like. A place to discuss preparations for the November writing marathon.
  2. Reference Desk – If you have a question, someone likely has an answer. I asked how long it takes a body to disintegrate if buried in a dune on the beach. I had experts answering before the day was out.  I tell people that even if you do not get 50,000 words in November, if you you this forum you will be a winner.
  3. Adoption Society – Do you need a plot, a character, a title? There are lots of them to adopt in this forum.
  4. 30 covers – 30 days – I’ll let you discover the fun here for yourself. Year one I didn’t participate. Every other year I have.

In addition to starting early with the discussion boards, go ahead and find some buddies. Having a support system already in place will go far in helping you to hit that daunting 50,000 word mark by the last day in November. Ask in your writing groups who participates and what advice they have. Add a post to writer groups, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others, asking if anyone wants to be your NaNo buddy.

To add buddies:

To add a writing buddy, go to the main page on the NaNoWriMo site. You will see the search function toward the upper right of the screen. Type in the exact username you’re searching for. If it is off at all, the search functionality won’t find it. Once you locate your buddy, click on the “Add as Buddy” button to the right of the username. If you meet someone in the forums who you want to add as a buddy, you can click on their username to reach their profile page.

Find your favorite word counting and calendar tools

Finally, if you are like me, you find it nice to visually observe the fruits of your labor day-by-day. Some of my friends use a pretty, printable word-count calendar with inspirational words. Others use an app. Still others rely on the word counter on the NaNo site. Regardless of your style, there is something for you. I have a couple of examples below. There are many more.

David Seah has designed a simple tracking visual that can be found here:

Do you start to lose steam about halfway through an intense writing session? Using a reverse strategy for NaNo might work for you. The details are here: 

Check out these other sites

If you want even more NaNo advice, there are many sites that can help. I am listing just a few below to get you started. Also, if you have tips and tricks for others, please leave a comment. It takes a village and allathat.

You can more on the art of writing, itself, over here.

Prep for NaNo in Seven Days (or Less):

NaNoWriMo Blog: Building a strong plot: 

Day by day outline for NaNoWriMo:

7 Tips For Revision


Are you ready to start the revision process but not sure where to begin? Here are some ways to analyze your work in progress (WIP).

    • Make sure your WIP is easy to navigate by creating chapter title headings. If you are unfamiliar with this process, you can read more about it on Microsoft’s instructions for using the navigation pane on these pages.
    • Checking word count in each chapter of your WIP is a good way to analyze for pacing issues. Variation isn’t a bad thing, but if you have some major outliers, those might be chapters to review more closely.
    • Each major character should have an arc. Veronica Sicoe discusses this in depth. To see if your major characters have an arc, make a character arc chart for each. Ask yourself: Who is this character at the start, who is she at the end, how did she get here, what is her role in the cast of characters, what progress does she make toward her goals, toward the goals of the cast of characters, etc.
    • Speaking of characters, do they progress toward a goal in each chapter? Look carefully at each chapter in turn. If a chapter doesn’t address goals and stakes in some way, it likely needs to be cut. Ask yourself: Is the character on the verge of making an important decision? Is there an event in the works that will throw a character off balance? Is there a resolution on the horizon (that will likely be thwarted)? Do we learn why a character is moving toward or away from a thing? What is the most important thing that is happening in the chapter? How does it tie into the goals and stakes?
    • As you start to work through the above items, make notes in a revision journal, or start a revision outline. There is an example of this by “Into Another World,” HERE.
    • Use ctrl+F to find what editors and publishers call “crutch words.” You may have had someone point out a word or words that you use a lot. My most used crutch word is “had.” As hard as I try, it sneaks in way too often. Here are a few crutch words that are fairly common:
    • That
    • Just
    • Basically
    • Almost
    • Suddenly
    • Started
    • Really
    • Very
    • Look for words that can tip you off to passive voice issues (is, was, and were, for example) and feeling words that tell instead of showing (sad, happy, nervous, etc).
    • Double space your document and put in wide margins. This will give you plenty of space to make notes. Print the manuscript in its entirety. Use whatever is comfortable to take notes. I use flags of different colors to mark who is important in the chapter and different color pens to track the type of note I am making in a margin (character action, scene ideas, chapter movement, and inconsistencies are important). The idea here is to force your eyes to look at the document differently. Trust me. It works.

Do you want even more about the revision process? Holly Lisle has a great blog entry about this topic. In the end, if you are serious about making writing your career, you should not let your work leave your hands until it has gone through a rigorous review and revision process. You owe it to yourself, your readers, and your book.



A writer should never skimp on editing: 5 types to consider before you hit send

A writer should never skimp on editing

A few days ago I came across a self-published book that was rife with errors. I was sad, as I really liked the premise and thought it had much potential to be a great read. The author had added a passage to her text that said something to the effect of, “I did not get an editor or edit the work, as doing so would change the meaning.”

Um, huh?

I did not hit the button to buy, nor have I ever hit the button to buy on a book with multiple grammatical and mechanical errors in the first pages.

I get it. Editing is complicated.There are lots of different editing types. It is expensive. Charges are all over the place. And when you are trying to break into the writing business knowledge about process and money to support front end expenses is often scarce. BUT. And it is a big but. If you do not do your homework and invest on editing, you are likely not going to go as far as you otherwise might.

Let’s look at the two pieces of editing I mentioned above: Types and Cost.  Continue reading “A writer should never skimp on editing: 5 types to consider before you hit send”

100 x 100: Will you commit?

100x100 writing challengeAfter telling a friend that I struggle to find time to write, we had the following conversation.

HER: Do you send text messages?

ME: Of course.

HER: Write tweets?

ME: You know I do.

HER: How many in a day?

ME: I know where you are going with this, but –

HER: How many?

ME: Two or three, usually.

HER: How long does it take to write a text message or a tweet?

ME: A few minutes, but –

HER: No buts. Can you commit to write the same amount toward a novel each day?

ME: What will that prove?

HER: What about we just see. I challenge you to 100 words for 100 days.

I did not commit to anything yesterday. I needed to think through what my friend was saying. It turns out that 100 words for 100 days can be quite productive. 100 x 100 is 10,000. That is approximately 1/8 of a novel in about three months. Even if I did not write one word over 100 each day, if I did it for a year I would have 40,000 words.

We all know that if I write 100 words I am likely on many of those days to hit my stride and keep going. If I keep going on even half of those days and if that nets me 500 words on those days, I have a novel in less than a year.

For context, note that the conversation I recalled above is 113 words. It took me seventeen minutes to write and revise.

I timed it.

And then I committed to writing 100 words per day for 100 days.

Now I challenge you. Will you commit to writing 100 words for 100 days?


Building a masterpiece: 5 reasons to resist throwing your WIP in the trash

Do not let fear stomp on your dream

Every morning I spend thirty minutes or so scrolling through posts from fellow writers who contribute in Facebook groups geared toward writers. And every morning I read posts from those who are at the point in their novel where they want to scrap it and never look back. If you are like most of us, you know exactly what I am talking about. Maybe you have even done this in the past.

What I want you to realize is that in most instances, this has more to do with fear than it does reality. Do not let fear stomp on your dream!


Five reasons you should not give in to the desire to trash your work in progress:

One: In the first draft you are telling yourself a story. You already know the background of your characters. You see them in your mind. However, the reader cannot see them unless their movements in a particular place and time get onto the page. What you see but do not relay creates gaps in your writing. This means that for the reader there is just this talking being hanging out in a void. Do not scrap your WIP because characters seem flat. You know where they are. When you revise, build their world so the reader knows, as well. You also know what they are doing. Are they scratching an itch? Writing in a notebook? Looking destitute with their back against the wall of the local high school? Tell us. Continue reading “Building a masterpiece: 5 reasons to resist throwing your WIP in the trash”

Going back in time: 10 Key Steps to writing a flashback scene


On my way to completing my first manuscript I had to figure out how to get all of the important backstory pieces into play. I knew the importance of immediacy as a main ingredient to fiction writing. I knew going back in time should be used sparingly because it halts the forward motion of the story.

I want my readers involved in the here and now of the story. But the readers also needed to know that Katia lost her mother when she was fifteen and that she took on the role of mother to her five-year old little brother who has autism spectrum disorder. I needed them to know WHY she doesn’t have many friends now and WHY she is a bit dark and WHY she chose to become a paramedic instead of going to college as she dreamed of doing.

I needed flashbacks (something from the past to help a reader understand what compels the protagonist now). I thought that it was important to give the background early so the reader could understand the moment.

My mentor didn’t agree. She put a big red ex through 90% of my first draft of the first chapter. In the margin, she wrote two very important notes: Continue reading “Going back in time: 10 Key Steps to writing a flashback scene”

Peace and Pride from the Nitty-Gritty Writer’s own “Rubyfruit Jungle”


In 1977 I fell in love. I was 14.

Typical childhood right of passage. Except I am a societally defined woman, and so is she. I remember thinking that I wanted to marry her. Hell, I would have even done the dishes for her. (Those of you who have read Rubyfruit Jungle will likely get this reference to the hetronormative role of the woman in a relationship.)

I did not breathe a word of my love to anyone, not even her. When she taught me how to kiss a boy, and I wanted to practice until my lips bled, I was silent. When we went skating and she was always picked for the couples skates, I watched for her to glance my way and silently pictured my arms around her slim waist. When we went to a bon fire by the lake, and she kissed her first boy, I stood silent in the darkness and cried alone.

The 70s scared me. I wish I was as brave as some others were. Continue reading “Peace and Pride from the Nitty-Gritty Writer’s own “Rubyfruit Jungle””