Tag Archives: National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo 2015


November, aka National Novel Writing Month, has come and gone. This time around, I was what they call a NaNo rebel. I’ve been meaning to work on short story writing for a while, and the stars just aligned this time around so that I wasn’t ready to work on a new novel. However, I could see outlining some stories and at least getting a start on them.

I called this effort #30Stories30Days, and will share more on how it went later. Most likely this sharing will come accompanied with begging for beta readers. If you’re willing to help me in this way, please comment (either below, on Facebook, G+,Twitter, or whichever way you find easiest) to let me know and we’ll figure out how to make it work.

Officially, I “won.” That is, I got my word count and then some. Final tally came in at 68,075.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year — Again


Of course I’m doing NaNoWriMo. Sorry I didn’t blog about it before this. Has it really been three weeks since my last confession, er, blog post?

I’ve just been totally wrapped up in the planning and the writing involved in NaNoWriMo. However, instead of writing a novel this month, I decided to write a bunch of stories. Or, to be more precise, to start a bunch of stories. I had ideas for three or four novels and many more short stories, and I thought I’d get to work on a few of them. Part of this came about because I keep hearing from published science fiction and fantasy writers that an important component of learning to write well is finishing your work.

It’s hard to finish a novel, even if you have a first draft. I’ve got one novel I care enough about to keep working on. I started during November of 2012. It’s still not done. So I thought, heck. If short stories are good enough for Ray Bradbury, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Aliette de Bodard, maybe there’s something there.

Then I learned about Ray Bradbury’s 52 Week Short Story Challenge. Hmmm. That might be just what I need.

After November, in which I’m writing (actually, starting) #30Stories30Days, I hope to have plenty of material to mine for the entire following year. Then I’ll finish a story a week. Even if I take a few of weeks of vacation and/or get caught up in whatever drama life chooses to present, I should still be able to finish 45-50 stories. As Ray Bradbury would say, they won’t all be bad. Unless of course, you really have to write all 52 stories to end up with one good one. Then I’m screwed.

Still, I think I’ll learn a lot. I’m looking forward to it.

NaNoWriMo—what I learned, plus—perks!

My final official total was 65,594 words

This year during NaNoWriMo, I had the opportunity to beta-read the first draft of a professional writer’s novel while writing my own. As I slogged along in my poorly organized story, this writer dashed off elegant prose and posted a new chapter of it every day or two. She knew the setting. She knew what was coming next. She knew her characters inside and out. She knew how to write all of the above so it showed up on the page.

By contrast, I had only the barest notion of my setting. I had a beginning and an end in mind and only a bit of an idea how the characters got from one end to the other. I knew a few of the characters pretty well, but was spitballing all the others. As for knowing how to write it—I can’t say I know how to write something when I don’t have it firmly in mind, can I?

I’ve now completed five novels during previous National Novel Writing Months—if by completed, you mean that I’ve written at least 50,000 words each time. Some Novembers were more successful than others. Maybe two of them gave me novels that felt more or less whole. Beginnings, middles, ends, character growth. All that stuff. For those two, I was well organized and had clear goals. The other years were more about discovery writing, aka “pantsing.”

All writers have their favored ways of working, falling somewhere along the Pantser/Plotter continuum. Now that I’ve had a chance to process my process, I think I’m happier being a plotter. It’s not that there are no discoveries (AKA surprises) when I write from an outline, it’s just that the discoveries seem more useful when I’ve defined the context better. Which brings me to an offer I’m about to pass along.

Since I “won”, I’m entitled to several winner perks and goodies from some of NaNoWriMo’s sponsors. There’s one perk that I’m not going to use, and which I have permission to pass along to anyone who would like it.

[EDITED 1-8-2015: I’m leaving the information below so the post appears pretty much as it did initially, but the offer of my Scrivener half-price code has been accepted, so I’m not able to provide it any longer. If you’re interested in a NaNoWriMo winner code for Scrivener, you may still be able to find someone who has it to spare, but mine is gone! END of EDIT note.]


If you want to try the writing software Scrivener , you can get a free 30-day trial through the web site, Literature and Latte. If you’ve already tried it and know you want to own it—or if you just want to own it without checking out the trial version—I have a code that will allow you to buy it at half price. Right now (12/9/14) the Windows version is selling for $40 and the Mac version is selling for $45, so that means that with my coupon code, you can get it for either $20 or $22.50, depending on which version you want. This 50% off code is good until May 30, 2015.

I’ve been using Scrivener for the past few years for novel-length work, and I really like it. It gives you a place to organize information, research, and inspiration as you’re working, and makes it easy to find these support materials when you have questions later—questions like, “What was I thinking?”

So please, if you’d like to know more about the program and/or would like the coupon code and information on how to use it, contact me. If we know each other via Facebook, Twitter, or some other way, please message/email me. If not, please leave me a contact method in the comments section below, and I’ll get in touch with you.

On Scalzi, NaNoWriMo, & being Mary Robinette Kowal’s evil minion

Scalzi & me (not heckling him!)

So…here’s a little NaNoWriMo-related  tidbit. It may keep you thinking about the endeavor with hope rather than dread, no matter where you are in your word count and story line.

Last month I went to a Chicago stop on John Scalzi’s book tour for Lock In. I went at least partly because John claimed on his blog he gave good book tour, and partly because I just enjoy reading John Scalzi, so why not get a signed book? Also, Cookie likes John Scalzi, so I had a built-in buddy.

Anyway, he wasn’t kidding. He does give good book tour. Not that I was surprised, having seen him handle toastmaster duties at ChiCon/WorldCon with fabulous aplomb in 2012. But it was fun to see him less formally.

Before the signing, Cookie and I were sitting around waiting for Scalzi to start the reading, and I happened to tweet where I was and what I was doing. Then things started happening, so I put my phone on vibrate and forgot about it so I could soak up Scalzi wisdom. Here’s what I learned about writing:

  1. Write a lot. Scalzi wrote for years and years as a day job and a fan before he started selling his fiction.
  2. If a story doesn’t work as you first conceived it, it’s okay to start over. He initially started Lock In with one idea in mind, but found that he was spinning his wheels, so he started over again, bringing different characters to the fore and letting them carry the story line. He read us a discarded scene. Cookie and I can testify that there was nothing wrong with the scene, but he needed to go a different direction in order to have the book do what he wanted it to do.

There are some things it doesn’t hurt to hear over and over (see 1 and 2, above). Until they stick. I write plenty, but if I still need to write more in order to come up with something marketable, I will feel less stupid about it. I can say, hey, even John Scalzi sometimes needs to start over, but what he ends up publishing is primo.

Anyway, while I was standing in line waiting to have my book signed and mulling over these little lessons on writing and life, I happened to glance at my phone again. Lo and behold, Mary Robinette Kowal had responded to my tweet with this request: “Heckle him for me.”

Ordinarily I would never do such a thing, but I felt the need to let him know of Mary’s tweet, so I showed it to him and he was all, “Yes! Yes! Heckle me and take a picture, so she knows you did it!”

So Cookie used my phone to take a picture of me heckling him, which we then sent back to Mary. She seemed, as John predicted, delighted that I followed instructions. I could practically hear her go, “Mwah-hah-hah!”

It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized I had become Mary’s unofficial evil minion. Mary has official minions, of course. When I was at the Writing the Other workshop last June, there were two, Christy and Stina. They took turns; sometimes Christy was the evil minion and Stina was the good minion, and the next day they would change alignments. It can be full-time work, being one of Mary’s official minions. I’m just glad I got to be an unofficial minion for a few minutes, albeit an evil one.

I’d like to mention just one more John Scalzi related tidbit. He wrote a very encouraging blog post just as NaNoWriMo started up this year. In it, he explained how writing a novel in November isn’t necessarily a giant waste of time. Lock In, when he finally needed to turn it in, ended up being written during NaNoWriMo, and now…you can buy it! So there’s that.

For those who are working on their novels this month, here are a few other novels that got started during National Novel Writing Month which ended up getting published to fabulous acclaim:

And several others I haven’t read yet, including:

NaNoWriMo Link Salad


Most of the writing mojo is going to novel-writing this month. Blogging wordage may be sparse.

In the meantime, please enjoy a National Novel Writing Month link salad. My Writing Journey peeps helped put together these prep workshops for the Naperville region of NaNoWriMo:

The Stone Soup Method for NaNoWriMo Success by Tim Yao and Kaden Patrick

Genre Tropes and Cliches by Frank Dahlman

Fiction Improv—Preparation for NaNoWriMo by Todd Hogan

How to Survive NaNoWriMo with your Sanity (Mostly) Intact by Jen Moore

This next link is not from my Journey/Naperwrimo buddies:
30 day’s worth of NaNoWriMo advice from writers Scott Westerfeld & Justine Larbalestier

Enjoy! It’s not too late to start! (Jen’s workshop will help you there, or write me for tips.)

Oh, and if you read this on November 4, 2014 and haven’t yet done so, please vote!

Writing energy boost # 1—Ink & Blood


When one of our writing meetup members—I’ll call him Rafe*—mentioned that he was planning to participate in an Ink & Blood writing duel, my first question was “what’s that?” followed closely by my second: “why would you ever do it?”

Answer the First: Ink & Blood/Chicago holds writing duels at G-Mart Comic Books on the third Saturday of most—if not all—months. Writers are paired off and given a writing prompt and ten minutes to write something based on it. At the end, the winner is decided by audience vote. Heckling, Rafe said, is encouraged.

Answer the Second: Why, I asked Rafe, would anyone volunteer to write something off the top of their heads in front of other people, only to be heckled? And how does the “loser” feel once the winner is declared? He shrugged. “It’s a good exercise.” He’d done it before, and had not been declared the winner; he still planned to do it again. I decided I had to see this for myself.

The Event

BK keeps one eye on the TV schedule during college football season (the Vols were on TV the night of October 18), so I begged Cookie to go with me. As she’s the definition of a good sport, she not only agreed, she drove. The duels started at 8 p.m. There were costumes (because, you know, October). There were also masks. I got the impression there might be masks even if it wasn’t October. Writers were identified by such catchy monikers as Writer A, Writer B, Writer C, etc.

There was also beer, which was pretty much free, though they did accept contributions for it. I’ve discovered a stout I like: New Holland Brewing Company’s Oatmeal Stout. But that’s beside the point. The point is: writing duels. You’re still wondering how they work.

Two writers sat at laptops behind a large screen so the audience couldn’t see them. In front of this masking screen were two monitors, each linked to one of the writers’ laptops. Also in front of the screen stood the evening’s emcee. The emcee’s job was to get the audience riled up and to elicit writing prompts from the crowd. It being the Halloween-themed event, there were many prompts along the lines of blood and graveyards and ghosts. The emcee would choose one, and the writing would commence.

Three preliminary match-ups ran, after which we drank (more) beer and voted for the writers we wanted to see in the final round. Then there was a costume contest. The winner was ghost in a white tuxedo and top hat, wearing a monocle. (S)he looked fabulous!

One of the writers who made it to the final round had written a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style narrative in the first round, which simply begged for audience response. Great tactic. The other writer did an excellent job sticking to the topic and finished her writing with a flourish which tied everything together in a satisfying way.

For this final round, each writer ran true to form. The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure writer wrote in that style again, while the other writer went for unity and stuck the landing.

The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style was fun, but when the same writer did it again, it felt gimmicky to me. If the second writer had a gimmick, it was artistic unity. I always like that, so she got my vote. I know this writer was a woman because in the end she won and came out front to claim her accolades. All the writers were good, though. She might have been the named winner, but I wouldn’t call any of the others losers.

On the topic of heckling

When Rafe first described the event, I told him I couldn’t imagine participating in a writer’s duel on account of the heckling. He said it didn’t bother him and afterwards I understood why. The audience behavior didn’t seem exactly like heckling. It was more like egging the writers on and offering “helpful” suggestions, like “don’t correct your typos!”

The advice not to correct typos came in particularly handy in one instance. The writer had one character offer another character a cup of cider and then wrote that there was a strange odder coming from the cup.

A few people called out variations of “don’t drink the cider!” (assuming the writer meant odor rather than odder), but some more ironic audience members said things like “What kind of otter? River or sea? That must be one big cup of cider, if it’ll hold an otter!”

The writer used these comments to advantage, explaining in subsequent paragraphs that the creature in the cup was a miniature sea otter, and so adorable that many people preferred to call it an “awwwder.”

I can now see how heckling, if you’d call it that, could energize a writer. I’m thinking of giving writers’ duels a try. After November. Because as we all know, November is National Writing Month, and I’m woefully underprepared.

However, events like Ink & Blood duels have really pumped some writing energy into me lately. I’m definitely writing more than I have for a while.

I’ll talk about my other writing energy boosts in upcoming posts. We’ll need that because, you know. November.


The Three-Legged Stool of Creativity – The Last Leg

Filling the Well -or- The Care and Feeding of Your Muse
Part Three of a three-part series on helping creativity flow

All three legs

You can only stare at your computer screen or scribble words on a page for so long before you start to go wacky. Ask Stephen King. Or his character, Jack Torrance.

Don’t let it get this bad, fellow writers!

There are a bunch of ways to fill the well/care for your muse (pick your metaphor). Julia Cameron, whose book, The Artist’s Way, was mentioned in the first post of this series, recommends Artist Dates. For an artist date, you set aside maybe an hour a week to do something fun, but you need to do it by yourself. No significant other, no kids, no pals. You explore some new, interesting thing without having to worry about what anyone thinks of you, or of the experience. It’s a great idea. It’s also more difficult than it sounds. It’s not usually hard to participate in your Artist Date once you get there. What’s difficult is committing to take the time to do it. It’s easier, as Cameron says, for most of us to work at our art than it is to play at it. I’m not that good at it myself, but I have actually tried this in the past. Some of my artist dates have included:

  • Sitting in a bookstore and looking at gorgeous art or travel books
  • Going to Naper Settlement, a local living history museum
  • Pulling out a kid’s set of watercolors and painting, even though I suck at it
  • Bird watching
  • Driving to Starved Rock State Park to hike and take photos
  • People-watching at Union Station while jotting notes about people and my surroundings

The Union Station trip was a particularly good idea. It was a week or so into NaNoWriMo, and I was hating every word I’d written. I couldn’t face the page anymore. After a few hours of writing about something other than my novel – something no one was going to read – I came back refreshed and ready to write on my novel again. It was like magic.

You don’t need to fill the well all by yourself. Hanging out with other, like-minded people can be energizing, too. There’s no way I would have stayed as committed to writing if I hadn’t found my writing group, The Journey. We support each other as a group. In addition to working on our craft together and commiserating, we also find ways to have fun. Various activities have included visiting The Art Institute or Morton Arboretum, seeing live theatre, starting our own reader’s theatre group to read Shakespeare plays together, learning archery, going out for drinks, and playing games. And when possible, we try to find ways to organize a potluck lunch or go out to dinner.

So there are at least two ways to go – solitary or social. I recommend both. If you haven’t already started a muse-feeding, well-filling practice, try the one that’s easier to manage, and try to do it at least once a week if you possibly can.