The Return to Slow, Steady Writing: A NaNo Wrap Up

After NaNoWriMo, it can be difficult to remember that slow, steady writing should be the norm. NaNo provides participants with a fun month of frantic output, a crazy goal that might seem less crazy by month’s end. But most people cannot sustain that writing pace. Even a full-time writer, with an output goal of 2,000 words per day, won’t generally keep that up every day, month after month. Writers need to take days off. If they maintain a daily writing habit, they still build in a “day of rest” or breaks between projects. Everyone finds themselves working overtime to hit a deadline on occasion, but it’s important to limit those situations.

If you’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo, you might be nearing the finish line: 50,000 words. Or, you may not. Plenty of writers fail to hit that goal, but still find they’ve achieved a lot of words in a month. Other writers never intended to hit 50k, but used NaNo to motivate their work. However you approached the challenge, the key takeaway now that the end is near should be that words add up. Whether you write for an hour a day or five, the words you craft in that time build, day in, day out. There will be days you only write a little bit, days you rewrite and end up with fewer words than when you began. But over time, words add up. Writers write, words add up, and yes, you can do this.


Many of you already know how this works. A good number of you even follow the idea up with action. Plenty of people refuse to join NaNoWriMo each year because they have no wish to push themselves to write fast. They prefer to show up every day and put their words on paper or pixel, until they get where they’re going. But whatever your feelings about NaNo, there is a great deal to be said for the momentum it helps develop. While the challenge emphasizes output, it encourages work ethic.

In a few days, I’ll kick off my annual December Writing Challenge here on the blog. I’ll post the complete details later in the week, but the basic thrust of the challenge is to write every day in December. Keep going with that NaNo novel. Start a short story. Work on your next contracted project. Play around with a few different things. You don’t have to write for a set time, although at least 30 minutes a day makes a great goal. There’s no minimum word count involved, just slow, steady writing. So as you wind up your NaNo projects, or just continue your typical writing routine, mark your calendars for Friday. You’re going to write your way steadily into the new year.

Ready, Set, Write: Turning Off Your Internal Editor

Ready, set, write. It sounds incredibly easy to do. You sit down at your keyboard or a notebook, and get to work. But most writers hear the nagging voice of their internal editor from the first sentence. That voice says you’ve started at the wrong spot. Or it insists your opening sentence is boring. Maybe you should start with a different scene. Are you sure that’s the correct point of view? Your internal editor pokes and whines and insinuates as you write, growing louder with every paragraph. It makes you doubt yourself, and slows your progress.


Silencing Your Internal Editor

Writers everywhere have their own methods for silencing the nagging voice in their heads. The one that tells them they’re doing it all wrong. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working on your first draft. Post your favorites over your desk or tape them to the edge of your monitor. Maybe create a mantra or two.

  • It’s just a shitty first draft. No one writes a beautiful or perfect first draft. It’s supposed to be a brain dump. Plenty of time to make it pretty when you start to revise.
  • I’m figuring out who the characters are. First drafts help you flesh out your protagonist and the rest of your cast. Get to know them, determine what they want, and how they’re likely to behave while getting it.
  • Only reread the previous day’s output. When you sit down to write, don’t allow yourself to read anything older than what you wrote in your previous session. Out of sight, out of mind. And again, you have plenty of time to revise once you’re done with draft #1.
  • I don’t have to know everything yet. First drafts are for fleshing out the plot just as much as the characters. If you don’t know what happens next, skip ahead to where you do have an idea. Put brackets and come back later to fill in the details.
  • Everything is relative. Remember that the things you write start to build on each other. You may reach a juncture at page 50 or 150 or 250 that gives you wonderful ideas for shoring up earlier scenes. Sometimes you need to build the castle before the foundation.
  • You cannot edit a blank page. There’s no point in trying to perfect what you haven’t written. Write first, edit later. By this I mean the entire book. Editing a single sentence in a void is almost as bad as trying to write one perfect sentence from the start.

If your internal editor becomes particularly persistent, try some other ways of distracting yourself. Put on instrumental music to fill your head with some other sound. Scroll down the page so your screen is blank (or turn to the next page in your notebook), then take a short break to walk around; when you come back, start writing without looking at what you’d been picking over before you left. Change the font color of the last section to white so it’s invisible, then keep writing. Go for a run or hit the gym to get your blood flowing — you’ll feel more creatively inspired.

Every writer must face their internal editor, but only you can determine how much power you’ll give to your nagging voice. Whether you’re piling up words for NaNoWriMo or fighting to meet a contract deadline, there will be days when reaching your writing goal feels impossible. Remember that the internal editor is you — you at your most critical and insecure. Remind yourself that you are not alone in your efforts, and the only way to reach the end is to keep pushing through. Good luck, and happy writing.

Prepare for NaNoWriMo: Get Ready to Write

With just two weeks left in October, it’s time to prepare for NaNoWriMo, otherwise knows as National Novel Writing Month. Every November, thousands and thousands of writers around the world attempt to write a novel in 30 days. No prize awaits them. There’s no guarantee of publication. But writers still churn out hundreds of words each day, hoping to hit the goal of 50,000 by November 30th.

Why do people challenge themselves to write so much in a short period? Some do it for fun. NaNoWriMo has become something of a party over the years. Writers gather with other local participants to write in coffee shops or bookstores. Online forums provide a way to reach out and chat about your work-in-progress. Others use the energy of the event to force themselves to finish a first draft. Professional writers often join in, working on current projects or starting new ones. Writers with thoughts of publication know that 50,000 runs a bit short for a traditional novel, but NaNoWriMo still offers great motivation to get to work.

prepare for NaNoWriMo

Are you a plotter or pantser?

Plenty of writers just open up a new Word doc on November 1st and start typing at random. It can be entertaining to see where your imagination takes you. But if you prefer to plot, or you want to make sure the words flow daily, it’s a good idea to prep for NaNoWriMo. If you have at least some idea of where you’d like your story to go, it will help you build your word count and avoid facing a nasty bout of writer’s block.

How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

Technically, you’re not supposed to start writing until November 1st, but you can still put together some notes.

  • Determine your major characters. Figure out who your protagonist is and what they want. Name some people. Give them jobs and relationships.
  • Do you at least have an idea for your book? If you do, dream up a few scenes you’re really looking forward to writing and sketch out a few short notes about them. (Not the scenes themselves, of course. That would be cheating.)
  • Get some research done. If you have to do some leg work or reading about your setting, the time period, characters’ careers, etc., now is the time to do it. Plus all that wonderful detail and vocabulary you dig up will help you increase your word count.

There’s nothing wrong with deciding to use NaNoWriMo as a time to play. But if you plan to use it to work, just a little bit of prep will help you make the most of your experience. And don’t forget: the manuscript you finish on November 30th will be a first draft. So don’t waste time editing while you write. Plenty of time for that later.

Good luck to everyone participating this year!

Friday Links: Pre-Election Inspiration

TGIF! This weekend marks the last few days running up to the elections here in the U.S., and I think it’s safe to say that not only the nation but a good part of the world is bracing itself for the outcome. So much rides on who moves into the White House come January, and also on what happens with the balance of power in Congress, particularly for women, for immigrants, for anyone who has traditionally been labeled as “other.” Every vote matters, and while getting out to vote itself is the most important thing, I would also ask people to truly consider whether their vote will have actual weight, and not to vote for someone with no chance of winning simply to make a statement. Too much hinges on the outcome this year for any of us to make what will ultimately be a rather hollow stand.

And on that note, I’ll shut up about politics and get to this week’s links. They may be a little thematic, in that there’s a fair number that focus on diversity in literature, but that theme is ongoing around here, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. I’ve also got some writing tips that might particularly interest the NaNoWriMo folks. Wishing you all a great and productive weekend. Happy writing!

From the First to Second Wave: Wonder Woman’s Feminist Roots – Feels appropriate in light of the release of the new trailer for next summer’s film.

NaNoWriMo 2016: Writing Tips and Techniques from Our Authors – A round up of writing tips from the Penguin Books blog.

Jade Chang Won’t Write a Traditional Immigrant Novel – Electric Literature interviews the author of the recent release, The Wangs vs. The World.

Mind Your Languages: Literature in Translation Quiz – Check out your literary translation I.Q. or just pick up some fun facts.

Tuck Everlasting Author Natalie Babbitt Dies at 84 – A brief report on the death of the beloved children’s author.

What to Do When Your Book Jumps the Shark – Tips for how to handle abrupt, ridiculous plot twists that send your book careening off track.

Reading The Handmaid’s Tale in the Year of Trump – I’ve been tempted to reread this book several times this year, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it in the face of reality. Timely.


Friday Links: A Little Halloween Gloom

Happy Friday, everyone! It feels like we just started October, yet here we are heading into the last weekend of the month. I hope you’ve all had a productive few weeks and have made progress on your goals for 2016. The end of the year is in sight, so now is the time to double down and make some good headway.

This week I have a rather abbreviated collection of links, mostly because I was traveling and then playing catch up and so there wasn’t a great deal of time for scouting out wonderful snippets. However, it’s a pretty diverse assortment — though overall a little gloomy and Halloween-appropriate — and I hope you find them interesting and inspiring. Sometimes the smallest tidbit can provide a new outlook or perspective. Plus I have not forgotten that NaNoWriMo kicks off starting Tuesday. If you’re participating this year, I wish you the best of luck. Enjoy, and happy writing!

The Lost Virtue of Cursive – A look at the art of handwriting and some thoughts about its present, and future.

Sheri S. Tepper’s Dystopias – In honor of the author, who passed away this week, a look back at her best known novels.

Anne Brontë, Anger, and the Resonance of Assault in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – A look at this less known Brontë sister and the underpinnings of her best known novel.

Eight Horror Films about Writers – A little Halloween goodness for you all.

Marlon James: Why I’m Done Talking about Diversity – An intriguing perspective on the discussion of diversity in publishing and writing.

The Perks and Perils of Writing a 50,000 Word Novel in a Month – Some thoughts on NaNoWriMo.

Friday Links: Writing Advice to Escape the Doldrums

Happy Friday the 13th! Does anyone truly get spooked when that day and date collide? I’ve always wondered. One of these days I need to look more closely into the origins of the superstition. I do know that in some countries, 13 is considered a lucky number. Funny how differently these things develop depending on where you are.

In my book, Fridays are a good thing pretty much across the board, though this week I anticipate burning a bit of midnight oil to finish up some things I swore wouldn’t creep into the weekend. Earlier this week I had my phone and internet upgraded, and of course that meant no service plus a technician on the premises for a good chuck of a day. It never ceases to amaze me what a few lost hours of work time can do to my schedule. But on the upside, I now have speedier internet, and my computer no longer groans when I go to download email with enormous manuscripts attached.

But enough chatter; I have Friday links to share. This week I seem to have a backlog of links I’ve been meaning to post previous weeks along with some new things I discovered, so in the interest of closing tabs, I’m just going to throw them down and let you all go to town. Plenty to entertain and inspire here, especially if you’re feeling like you need a bit of a pep talk. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Colum McCann’s Letter to a Young Writer – Some lovely words of advice to keep you plugging along, no matter your age or stage of writing career.

How Do You Write for Teenagers? – Looking to write YA? Here are some words of wisdom from writers in the know.

I Hate Women’s Fiction and I’ll Tell You Why – An impassioned and intelligent look at the distinction between works of fiction about women written by women, and those written by men.

Sometimes Writer’s Block Is Really Depression – An honest, personal account from author Mary Robinette Kowal.

Why We Read (and Write) Short Stories – An interesting analysis by skilled short-story writer Lorrie Moore.

The Rachel Connection: Why Rachel Fershleiser Is a Wizard of New York’s Literary Community – The woman behind bookish Tumblr.

How to Build Your Own Self-Hosted Author Website in 30 Minutes – Clear step-by-step instructions from author Joanna Penn.

To Question and Be Questioned: The Millions Interviews Azar Nafisi – An interview with the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Republic of Imagination: A Life in Books.

6 Things You Should Never Write About for NaNoWriMo – A list of things to avoid when diving into NaNoWriMo, or, in the case of most of them, any writing project at all.

Practice Makes Perfect: NaNoWriMo as a Writing Exercise


Practice makes perfect. While the relative perfection of any finished project is up for debate, the reality of writing, as with many creative endeavors, is that you need to work at your craft in order to improve.

When you were a small child, first learning the building blocks of what would eventually become your ability to write – the alphabet, how to fashion individual letters, how to spell short words: cat, hat, bat – no one expected you to get these things right the first time you tried. The adults teaching you understood that it would take time for you to remember all the letters, to comprehend their meaning, to adjust to holding a pencil and forcing it to make recognizable shapes, to memorize what letters represented the words you already knew. They coaxed you through repetitions, assured you of your progress when you grew frustrated, and encouraged you to keep adding new skills to your arsenal.

Writing a novel is no different, and I feel it’s particularly important to stress this now, in the midst of NaNoWriMo, when so many aspiring authors dive into the task of writing a novel in a month. Publishing professionals, and agents in particular, are quick to remind NaNo participants that their completed NaNo novel is in no way ready for submission on November 30th. What you create during this month is a draft, a very early version of what your book might one day be. But more importantly, this month of writing every day, of shaking off your internal editor and sitting down to add more words to your project instead of editing or deleting yesterday’s efforts — this month serves as a fabulous writing exercise.

Whether you are writing for NaNoWriMo or just for yourself on an average day of the year, each time you sit in front of your keyboard or pick up a pen and notebook, you work a sort of alchemy. You are creating a story out of thin air, plucking the idea from your imagination and personal experiences and influences, then fashioning it into something some other person might read. Any given day you might write a string of sentences or pages that never make it past the confines of your writing desk. They might get rewritten later on or you might give up on that particular concept and move on to something else. But never consider those abandoned pages wasted effort, because the act of writing requires practice, and part of any practice is understanding what not to do as much as what you should do.

Producing 50,000 words in a month can be a difficult haul, especially for a new writer, but ignore the naysayers who tell you that you’re crazy to do it. Because at the end of thirty days, you will have a great deal of writing practice under your belt and a good chunk of first draft to play with. Likely you’ll need to add to it, since most novels are a longer than 50,000 words. And you will undoubtedly need to revise it. Parts might get discarded, and others changed until they barely resemble their origins. There are plenty of stories of professional writers who cherry picked through their NaNo drafts, taking only the interesting bits to make a better book. But that’s no different from any first draft of a project. First drafts are meant to be jumping off points, not finished works. And with every first draft you create, your writing skills get more polished, more adept. Each book teaches you something new.

So to those of you participating in NaNoWriMo this month, whether for the first time for the fifteenth, I say good for you and happy writing. The same goes to anyone simply plugging along with their writing practice, because of course you don’t need an organized event to write daily. After all, there are eleven other months in the year, and practice makes perfect.

Friday Links: From First Drafts to Engaging with Readers


These days Friday feels like just one more herald of the coming of year’s end. Work weeks are busy and weekends are filled with attempts to catch up not just with additional work but with every single thing I intend to accomplish before 2016 rolls around. Anyone else feeling that same sense of speeding up to fit everything in before the holidays hit?

For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, this weekend marks the one-week point. Don’t think about being ahead or behind, just get those words down. Write, write, write, and the editing and polishing will come later. Remember that everyone’s first draft is pretty crappy, no matter whether you’re writing to a deadline or just working your way through the story at a leisurely pace. First drafts are just a jumping-off point.

Whether or not you’re swamped with NaNo and a long to-do list, I hope you’ll take a few moments to check out some of this week’s links. They range from entertaining to practical, and there should be something to appeal to everyone. Enjoy, and happy writing!

21 Invaluable Writing Tips from Renowned British Writers – Some excellent advice here.

Scrivener for NaNoWriMo – Some great tips on using the writing program to organize and work through your NaNo novel.

Scrivener NaNoWriMo Offers – Discounts on the writing software in honor of NaNoWriMo; either 20% off now, or 50% later if you complete NaNo.

My 2.5 Star Trip to Amazon’s Bizarre New Bookstore – Amazon opened their first brick-and-mortar shop this week in Seattle. One visitor’s thoughts.

Want a Jane Austen Quote Delivered to You Everyday? – A new app for Jane Austen fans.

The Book Seer – A fun new online tool that recommends books based on the last one you read (and presumably liked).

Walter Dean Myers, Writing White, and Affirmation – One writer learns to put herself into her work.

What Do Writers Owe Readers? – A thoughtful look at the reader/writer dynamic, and the level of expectation that sometimes seems to come from having read an author’s work.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Remember that post about writing a fast-and-furious, no-apologies-needed first draft? NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is the perfect time to exercise your edit-free, crappy first draft rights. For the uninitiated, the idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word draft of a novel between November 1st and November 30th. You start and finish all within the confines of a single month, pounding out words every day — or possibly in marathon weekend sessions where you forget to sleep and subsist primarily on coffee and junk food. (For the record, I don’t recommend that last strategy.) Participants range from published writers attempting to get a jump on a new project, to first-time writers looking to turn off their inner editors, to complete newbies who just think it might be a fun thing to try and are hoping for a really hilarious end product. But for the more serious-minded writers among you, NaNo can be a wonderful way to churn out that first draft (or at least a good chunk of one, since 50,000 words is a bit short for an actual novel) because there really is no time to worry if it’s any good.

So with those thoughts in mind, I’m offering up a few ideas for how to prepare for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Decide what you want to write. I’m not saying you have to outline ahead, but it will make your life markedly easier if you have some direction each time you sit down at your keyboard to pound out your daily word count. Create a few characters ahead, figure out your conflict, and if possible make a list of a dozen or so scenes you know you want to write. They may get cut in your second draft or your fifth draft, but for the purposes of that fast first draft, everything goes in.
  2. Stock up on some healthy munchies. Coffee and leftover Halloween candy will only get you so far. Make sure you’ve got some nice crunchy veggies and dip, fresh fruit, nuts, etc. to grab when you’re running low on mental energy. Also, some easy-to-prepare dinners are great, too, for those nights you’re loathe to step away from the computer. Pick up the fixings for a couple of crock-pot meals, or make a few batches of soup or chili ahead and freeze in individual portions for easy nuking.
  3. Check out the NaNo site and see if there are write-ins local to your area. If you’re the type to do well with a bit of cheerleading, these gatherings for group writing sessions will be right up your alley. You also might meet some new writing friends or pick up a potential critique partner in the process.
  4. Tell people what you’re planning to do. Even if your friends and family are used to you mumbling to yourself about your characters, they might find you vastly different under the pressures of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Let them know you’re signing up for NaNo and that you will likely be pretty busy during November, so they should not count on you for casual cocktails after work or lengthy Sunday brunches.
  5. Do some research ahead. Have you picked some fun settings for your characters? Given them intriguing careers? Hit the library and gather information that will let  you flesh out your descriptions and bring your characters’ experiences to life while you write.
  6. Turn off that editorial brain. Try not to polish any projects those last few days of October leading into NaNo. Get yourself used to just writing full speed ahead. Maybe hang a little sign over your computer or in your writing space to remind you not to edit, and especially not to delete. Plenty of time for that come December.


On Challenging Yourself as a Writer

The weekend is winding down, and with it the month. If you’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo, you might be basking in the glory of having hit your 50,000-word goal, frantically writing to finish up, or drowning your sorrows in hot chocolate because you know you’ll never close your 15,000-word gap by midnight. Regardless of your status, congratulations on your efforts. For those of you not caught up in NaNo frenzy, you might be polishing off the last of your holiday leftovers, plotting for the next holiday on the calendar, or enjoying a good book and ignoring the season entirely.

Whatever you’ve been doing this weekend, or even this past month, I urge you to wake up bright and early tomorrow morning to kick off the new month with my December Writing Challenge. Those of you who frequent this blog know my December challenge bears little resemblance to NaNoWriMo. No lofty word-count goals or frenetic write-ins at the local coffee shop. Instead I ask you to commit — to yourself, to your writing, to your own personal writing goals — as a way to get in shape for the coming new year. Forget waiting around for 2015 to kick off resolutions; December 1, 2014 is the first day of the rest of your writing career. I challenge you to make the most of it.

Details for the challenge will be going up first thing tomorrow, December 1st, so be sure to swing by and check them out. Happy writing!