Friday Links: NaNo Inspiration and Motivation

For anyone looking for a bit of NaNo inspiration, I have some thoughts beyond my tips from earlier in the week. That post assumes you will use NaNoWriMo more or less as intended by the organizers. To win NaNo, you need to write 50,000 new words in November and submit for verification I hinted there were other ways to tackle the challenge, so today I’d like to elaborate. And yes, links will follow. If you’re not interested in NaNoWriMo, feel free to skip ahead.

The beauty of NaNo lies in the community that forms around it. People who love writing and/or stories get together and celebrate this crazy act of creativity. Many are hobbyists, searching for a fun group activity. A good number never plan to publish a book. They write fanfiction for fun or play around with writing a novel for their own enjoyment. But NaNo works even if you do have major aspirations. Plenty of published writers started out in the NaNoWriMo challenge. And if you search, you’ll learn that many disregarded the rules and made NaNo work for their needs. They used what served their goals, and ignored the rest.

NaNoWriMo for Purists

If you’re a fairly new writer, you might hve an idea for a novel but lack the discipline to work on it regularly. Participating in NaNo encourages you to put your seat in the chair and get those words down. Don’t worry if the words aren’t so great; first drafts tend to be pretty crappy. But they give you a place to start, so you’re no longer staring at a blank page. And by tackling that draft during NaNo, you get a huge support system that’s built into the challenge. Find a write-in group near you and meet with them once a week. Check out the forums and chat with people writing in your genre. Ask questions of seasoned NaNo participants. Read the great pep talks that get posted by the pros. New writers can also find peers in November who become critique partners well into the future.

Already started writing a novel? Pick up where you left off and continue working on it during NaNoWriMo. Novels for adults run far longer than 50,000 words, so take what you’ve written and add to it. You might actually have a complete draft by month’s end. If you track new words written–using a new document, for instance–you can still submit to verify completion of the challenge. And again, make the most of the offers and community that come with the event while you write, letting that NaNo inspiration motivate you through the tough parts.

NaNoWriMo with a Twist

Maybe you’ve been at this a while and have a draft that needs rewriting. Use NaNo and its support systems for your editing project. You might not have a new 50,000-word manuscript to hand in come November 30th, but you’ll still make progress. It’s far more important to hit your own goal than the goal set up by the challenge organizers. And in the meantime, enjoy the cheerleading that goes on during the month. Use it to energize and encourage you as you tackle your rewrite.

What about pacing? Maybe the idea of writing 1,667 words per day (roughly what you need to complete NaNo) makes you panic. So don’t write that fast. Don’t aim for 50,000 words in a month. Make your goal half that, or whatever feels like a doable stretch. Perhaps the challenge for you lies in actually writing daily. Set a time goal instead of a word goal–30 minutes a day until the end of the month. Make the writing habit the aim instead of the finished product.

NaNoWriMo works so well because the challenge offers you one potential route to success, and then encourages participants to come play on your own terms. Now, maybe none of these options appeal to you, and that’s fine too. But if you’re looking for a way to participate in NaNoWriMo, I say go for it. Figure out what you want to achieve, and adapt the challenge to meet that goal.

With that bit of NaNo inspiration out there, I’ll move on to the links for the week. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!

This Week’s Links:

Messy Attics of the Mind: What’s Inside a Writer’s Notebook. – Interesting look at the act of keeping notes and the ongoing fascination with the origin of story ideas.

5 Books Featuring Women in Love with Women. – Tor offers up some wonderful SFF titles for anyone looking to mix up their reading list.

7 Wonderful Classic Reprint Series. – When you favorites get a new look. Nice peek at some great new book designs.

The Draw of the Gothic. – What fascinates us about this particular story mood.

Inside the Rooms Where 20 Famous Books Were Written. – A peek at the room where it happened. Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t resist.

How to Renew Your English Degree. – A bit of humor courtesy of McSweeney’s.

3 Principles for Finding Time to Write. – Tips for how to prioritize your writing.

 

Tackling NaNoWriMo: Tips for Writing a Novel in a Month

Tackling NaNoWriMo–or National Novel Writing Month–challenges any writer, whether they have participated for years or are new to the event. Each year, I offer advice on how to get the most out of the month, whatever your personal goal. The key to NaNo is to remember to have fun. This challenge aims to help you get words on paper, to push through a long project without overthinking. It’s great for anyone who tends to stop and rewrite repeatedly before moving on. Because that strategy? Doesn’t work for NaNo. If you want to write 50,000 words in November, you need to ignore your mistakes and just go.

Tackling NaNoWriMo header with writing supplies for November

So where do you start? These few days before the November kickoff allow you a chance to prepare. Below, I have some ideas for what you might want to do, both in terms of writing your NaNo project and for maintaining your sanity during the challenge.

Know Your Goal:

The rules state that NaNoWriMo consists of writing a new 50,000-word project between November 1st and November 30th. Reality allows you to adapt this to whatever works for you. If you’re starting a new project, great. (And most of my tips below assume such.) But you can easily finish a novel already in progress, too. Just start a new file for the remainder of the book, to keep track, and write another 50,000 words.

Regardless of your goal, NaNo offers plenty of support for anyone writing in November. Take advantage of it.

Plan What to Write:

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser–someone who prefers to outline ahead or just let the spirit take you–it’s helpful to start NaNoWriMo with at least some idea of what you want to write. That doesn’t mean you need a detailed outline, but a few basics will go a long way to get your creativity flowing.

Think ahead about your characters. Who is your protagonist? What do they want? What sort of obstacles might they face? Do they have a love interest? Arch enemy? Cohorts? Friends and family? Adding these characters and describing them over the course of the story will add to your word count.

Next think about your genre. If you’re writing romance, you know you’re aiming for a happily ever after. For fantasy or science fiction, your characters might not all be human. Do you have special technology in your story? For a historical, you will need background research. And many types of stories rely heavily on setting and/or world building. Don’t hesitate to hit the library or do some online searches regardling locations, tech, history, etc. Take notes, so you’ll have lots of great detail on hand to weave into your writing.

Finally, consider scenes you’ve already envisioned. How do your characters reach those points? What happens after the scenes? Think about repercussions. It’s good to have some key scenes you’re excited to write, especially on days words don’t flow easily.

Organize Your Life:

Let friends and family know you’ll be tackling NaNoWriMo, so they understand your time might be tight for a few weeks.

Stock the fridge with healthy snacks in addition to the fun ones. Fruit, nuts, yogurt, etc. make great brain food when you’re on a writing tear. Also, cook some easy meals ahead and freeze them for quick dinner prep.

Check supplies of important staples: coffee, tea, tissues, toilet paper–anything you’d hate to run out of in November.

Prepare to take care of yourself. Put reminders in your phone so you go for walks or hit the gym during NaNo. The exercise will help keep your mind fresh.

Tackling NaNoWriMo:

Schedule a few smaller writing sessions per day rather than trying to hit your daily goal in one goal.

Do write ahead on days you’re feeling strong. If you have the time, keep going. You’ll stockpile words for days you’re busy or less inspired.

Don’t feel you need to write linearly. Skip around if it helps you keep writing. Just make notes of places where you need to fill in later.

Don’t stop to edit. Don’t fret over sloppy writing or repetition. Just keep getting your ideas down. You’ll have plenty of time to rewrite later.

If a scene isn’t coming, jot it down in note form as a place holder. The words will count and you’ll replace them with even more when you finally tackle that section. Again, flag where you’ve done this so you remember to go back.

Do take advantage of group write-ins or other NaNo community events. It helps to have some cheerleaders who know what you’re up against.

Don’t ignore those reminders you set to get some exercise. And remember to get a good night’s sleep, too.

These are just a few ideas for ways to make tackling NaNoWriMo fun and relatively painless. Be sure to check out the main site, where there are additional tips and forums filled with encouragement. Whatever your goal for November, I wish you good luck and happy writing.

Friday Links: Halloween Distractions and Other Fall Stuff

Halloween distractions feel like an appropriate reason to post the latest Friday Links collection. It helps that my whirlwind conference schedule wrapped up last weekend. I love sharing links with all of you, but when I work three conferences in four weeks, something needs to give. In this case, blogging took a back seat. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping my eyes open for fun sites, however. Halloween-themed literary links have been popping up a lot the past week. I’ll admit I took it as a sign–the internet gods smiling down on me. Or reminding me to get back in gear. Either one works.

Halloween Distractions: spooky abandoned house

In case you missed my earlier posts this week, please note The Knight Agency announced a new submissions system. All details are available in yesterday’s post, or over at the agency submissions page. Basically, we’ve migrated to using QueryManager. All submissions sent through the old system will still receive responses; please don’t resend anything.

And with that, I’ll get right to the links. They include a mix of spooky, seasonal goodies to check out and a backlog of things I bookmarked over the past month. I hope you find them entertaining and inspiring in this run up to Halloween (and NaNoWriMo!). Now on to those Halloween distractions. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Halloween Distractions and Other Links:

How Victorian Mansions Became the Default Haunted House. – A fun look at this history of this imagery in books and film.

The Ghost Story Persists in American Literature. Why? – The ongoing love affair between readers and the supernatural.

Vincent Price’s Delightful 1969 Lecture on Witchcraft, Magick, and Demonology. – Because really, what’s Halloween without Vincent Price’s wonderfully spooky voice in your ear?

Who Are the Forgotten Greats of Science Fiction? – Some wonderful old titles for anyone interested in the roots of the genre.

Talking to Arthur Levine about 20 Years of Harry Potter. – A nice look back at the journey of the boy wizard with the American publisher.

A Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Canon. – Vulture chooses the best 100 books of the 21st century… so far. They admit it’s early, but clearly still had a good time putting this together. I like a lot of their choices and their effort to keep things diverse. Interesting, regardless, especially if you’re looking for a good read.

Roxane Gay: What Does a Political Story Look Like in 2018? – Gay talks about the challenges of choosing this year’s 20 best American short stories.

How Do I Become One of Those Writers Who Remember Everything? – Advice on how to cultivate a writer’s brain, and tricks for keeping all that information straight.

35 Over 35: Women Authors Who Debuted at 35 or Older. – Because everyone works at their own pace, and succeeding young isn’t the only way to do it.

 

Knight Agency Submissions Move to QueryManager

The Knight Agency submissions move to QueryManager starting today! I’m excited to announce that, as promised yesterday, we have officially migrated our submissions system over to QueryManager. As of now, you will be able to query the agent of your choice directly. The new system provides a confirmation when your query uploads, and also allows you to track the progress of your material. On our end, QueryManager allows us to sort queries and other submissions more effectively. It keeps them separate from other incoming email from the start.

If you submit to our old submission email, you’ll receive a message redirecting you to QueryManager. However, we do still have materials sent prior to today, and will respond per usual. No need to resend anything sent before we made this shift.

As always, you can find complete submission guidelines for The Knight Agency on our website, including links to each agent’s QueryManager submission form. Or you can submit to my directly through my QueryManager form. I am currently seeking full-length novels only, including general/upmarket fiction, women’s fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, single-title romance, young adult and middle grade fiction. My complete wishlist is available both here and at the agency link above. I have also been known to use the #MSWL tag on Twitter from time to time.

 

New Submission Guidelines Coming Soon

The Knight Agency is getting ready to institute new submission guidelines in the next few days. I will announce it here and on Twitter, in addition to the agency’s own announcements when it goes live. Consider this a heads up. We’re very excited about this change.

To give you a general idea, we decided to migrate submissions to a Query Manager account, allowing us to automate certain things and personalize others. No more wondering if we received your submission, or whether we responded and the email went astray. Full submission information will continue to appear on The Knight Agency website, including details about what we each rep. We will include access to our individual Query Manager pages there, and I will add mine here on the site.

We will, of course, still respond to all submissions sent through the existing system. You won’t need to resubmit if you already have a query, partial, or manuscript waiting to be read. Likewise, if I requested material from you at a recent conference, please go ahead and send per that request.

And on that note, I’m off to read submissions. Keep an eye out for news the new system has gone live, and happy writing!

Friday Links: Online Listening Edition for Podcast Fans

Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to the online listening edition of Friday Links. This week I’ve been obsessing a bit about podcasts. I’m not a regular podcast listener. I don’t subscribe to any, and normally I end up streaming them from their websites rather than through iTunes or the like. My listening depends on my running across something interesting more than any adherence to a specific thing. Not to say I don’t enjoy them, because I do. But podcasts fall into the same category as audio books for me. If I am listening while doing something more complicated than driving or walking, I tune out. It’s just how my brain works. I’m more of a visual person. I like to read print. My mind wanders if I’m listening to something recorded without a corresponding image. But this week was a bit different.

microphone for online listening

It actually started with Audible, not with podcasts. I do have an Audible account and will listen to books while walking or driving more than 20 minutes or so. But Audible really got my attention by adding two additional freebies to membership. They now offer two downloads of Audible Originals per month, from a list of six titles they choose. No extra fee, no credits required. So suddenly I had more listening material at my fingertips. Mind you, I’m already working my way through The Three Musketeers (unabridged and over 20 hours), but I like having a variety. But then came the email from Danny Gregory about his latest podcast episode of Art for All–featuring an interview with Austin Kleon.

I believe firmly in branching out when it comes to seeking advice on a creative life. I like to dabble in arts and crafts and photography when I’m not nose-deep in a book. And I check out books or websites by various types of artists, as well. So I’m a fan of Danny Gregory, and Sketchbook Skool, the online art class platform he co-runs. I gave his newish podcast a try when it first started, but it didn’t really capture my attention. This week’s episode, however, was a different story. Gregory’s interview with Kleon covers so many aspects of the creative life. They discuss Kleon’s system of journaling, working on paper versus digitally, and his thoughts on why so many people are trying to turn their art into a career. So interesting, and relatable to many artistic endeavors.

Unlike many podcasts, this one wasn’t streaming from the landing page, so I ended up listening on iTunes. When I finished, I went scouting for more things to listen to and came up with a handful of other recommendations. They’re all related to books and/or writing and creativity, and I’m bookmarking for future listening binges. I’m also adding them here to the rest of this week’s links. I hope you find something fun to check out over the weekend for a bit of reading and writing inspiration. Enjoy!

Online Listening Links:

Art for All. – The main page for Danny Gregory’s art-related podcast focusing on the creative life.

The Librarian Is In. – A fabulous podcast run by the New York Public Library, featuring two very entertaining hosts, frequent guests, and diverse book recommendations.

Overdue. – A podcast where the hosts finally get around to reading (and discussing) those books that have been lingering on their TBR lists way too long.

Other PPL with Brad Listi. – An old favorite of mine; one-on-one interviews with authors.

First Draft. – Another favorite. Interviews with young adult and middle grade authors.

Lit Up. – More great author interviews.

What Should I Read Next? – A book rec podcast run by Anne Bogel, of the popular blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy.

A Few Other Links:

Romance Bookstore The Ripped Bodice Poised to Bring the Genre to Television. – Announcing the store owners’ deal with Sony TV.

Bloomsbury Group’s Countryside Hub Opens to Visitors Year-Round. – In case you’re making literary travel plans…

23 Book Cover Designers to Follow on Instagram. – Pretty much what it says.

Regency Rendezvous: Inside the World of Jane Austen Fandom. – For diehard fans, a chance to step into the period.

 

Friday Links: Vacation Land Edition

Greetings from vacation land! I’m oficially off this week, though unofficially still doing a few things here and there. My travels involve driving to see friends for the day and wandering around Los Angeles’s prettier sites, rather than jetting off to some hot spot. But even while vacationing, I think about writing and reading. I work in publishing for a reason, after all. So the blog marches on. Now that I’m getting back in the swing of posting, I don’t want to spoil my streak.

blogging-in-vacation-land

That said, this week’s links are on the sparse side. I have spent very little time online this week (see: vacation land) and so did not discover the usual wealth of tidbits to share. But I’m excited for the ones I found, so I hope you find them inspirational and informative.

Also, if you didn’t see it earlier this week, I posted my thoughts on marginalia and whether or not taking notes in the margins as you read a book can make you a better writer. I got inspired by Austin Kleon’s post on Reading with a Pencil. so check out Kleon’s thoughts and then see my take on the subject. Please feel free to comment about your own experiences with making notes while reading. I’m curious as to how many people still use marginalia as a way to engage with their books. And if you’re an e-reader, those electronic notes you can take on Kindles count, too (though I’m not sure Kleon would agree with me). I’ll respond to more comments on that post once I’m officially back to work.

I plan to do some housekeeping here in coming weeks, both in terms of agenting and more general information. Longtime readers probably know this blog is only partly work related. It houses writing and publishing tips, book talk, and so on. But I also keep my public face here, in many respects, and I might do more of that in the future. Meanwhile, I bring you links from vacation land. Wishing you a wonderful weekend and some good writing time. Enjoy!

This week’s links:

Tin House Is Accepting Unsolicited Submissions for 2019. – Guidelines for submitting to the literary magazine.

How to Write a Traditionally Published Book: A Behind the Scenes Look. – One writer shares her experience building a writing career.

All the New Fantasy Books Coming Out in September. – Tor offers a great list of books to add to that TBR pile.

Francine Prose: It’s Harder than it Looks to Write Clearly. – The writer offers advice on saying what you mean in a readable way.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I Became Black in America. – The author discusses feminism, race, and perception in Nigeria and the U.S.

Margin Notes: Does Marginalia Make You a Better Writer?

Do you scribble margin notes in your books when you read? I never really adopted the habit of keeping marginalia, but this past week I read Austin Kleon’s post, Reading with a Pencil, so now I’m thinking about it. He claims marking up your reading material serves as a gateway to becoming a writer. It forces you to read with a writer’s brain. I can see why he says it, but I wonder if it’s true.

Stack of books with pencils

Margin notes felt wrong to me when I was a kid. My mother trained me early on not to write in books. She took me to the library weekly, so there was a specific logic in her insistence I treat the books well. It carried over into how I kept my own books. I recall going through a very brief period at about four when I underlined (in pencil) words I recognized. I say recognized rather than read because “kitten” isn’t difficult to pick out with the book is The Three Little Kittens. But I outgrew the habit quickly, probably about the time my mother realized what I was doing.

Through school, I took notes separately, in my notebook. Teachers handed out all of our textbooks at the start of the year and expected us to return them in good condition in June. The habit was so well ingrained that by college, when I was purchasing my books, it took conscious effort to highlight the text. Even then, I reserved margin scribbles and highlights for my math and science books. As an English major, I mostly read novels in thin-paged editions I tried to keep clean. Ink would have bled through those pages. Pencil would smudge and become illegible. Writing in them felt impractical.

But occasionally I’d come across books with margin notes. At the library, used bookstores, in a friend’s loan. I read enough literary criticism and biographies of authors including references to marginalia to become curious. What process of reading resulted in these small comments? So I decided to give it a try.

Armed with a few sharpened pencils, I crashed on the couch with my latest book and set to reading with a pencil in hand. But it wasn’t a particularly successful experiment. I’d get involved in the book and forget to make any notes whatsoever. Or, I’d grow so self-conscious about needing to take notes that my reading slowed to a crawl.

Looking back having now read Kleon’s post, I understand that the slow, thoughtful reading necessitated by making margin notes helps you read more closely. It forces you to analyze the text in a different way. But at the time, I tried to take notes more because I wanted to be a person who left witty comments in the margins than from a desire to read deeply.

Which brings me to my question. Does keeping marginalia automatically give you a leg up on becoming a writer? It no doubt makes you a better reader. You read more thoroughly, think through the narrative on a different level. You engage with the content. And the act of writing notes has been proven to help you recall what you’ve read. But is that the same things as reading like a writer?

I once read a book on how to write romance–maybe twenty-five years ago, so I can’t recall the title. The author recommended taking a favorite romance novel and marking it up with a color code. Plot development should be underlined in one color, characterization in another, action a third, and so on. I gave it a very brief attempt before giving up. First, writing is not that clear cut; sentences serve multiple purposes at once, so what color to choose? Second, the slow, frustrating task had me ready to throw my colored pencils out a window after less than a chapter. I’d never make it through underlining the book. Still, the process of trying to separate out those differen parts of the text showed how well the author had entwine them. It served as a lesson on book structure, which was ultimately the point.

Marginalia can include the reader’s thoughts on many aspects of the text. Looking through books with margin notes, you’ll find lovely quotes underlined, disgust expressed at purple prose, and comments on the sanity of the protagonist. Readers focus on whatever captures their attention, but not everything readers note will be helpful to their writing process. I’d argue marginalia can definitely be helpful to the developing writer, but that the most helpful marginalia occurs when the writer reads with that specific intention. A reader who reads for pleasure and happens to make notes won’t engage on the same level as one hoping to improve their writing.

What are your thoughts? Do you write in your books? Is it something you feel helps you understand how the author approached their work? I’d love to hear some other takes on the subject.

Friday Links: Vacation Reading Roundup

With summer unofficially coming to a close, a vacation reading roundup seems necessary. Maybe you’re taking off for a week before fall hits, or maybe you just wish you were. Either way, it’s time to catch up on the summer books you meant to read but never got around to.

Vacation reading

I still have writing tips for you this week, but there are a lot of book lists. Some even hint at back-to-school and the approach of autumn. And don’t worry if you’re currently coping with winter and dreaming of spring. Plenty of these will appeal to you, too.

So without further ado, I give you this week’s Friday Links. I hope you find some great writing inspiration and some intriguing vacation reading to add to your TBR. Have a fabulous weekend!

This week’s links:

Top 10 Books about Americans Abroad. – For inspiration or armchair traveling.

16 Puerto Rican Women and Non-Binary Writers Telling New Stories. – A great introduction to Puerto Rican literature, particulary for anyone working to diversify their reading.

An Extensive List of Amazing Books by WOC. – Pretty much exactly as stated. Something here for everyone.

The Three Types of Book Cover Design Every Writer Should Know. – A nice reference for anyone sellf-publishing but also for traditional writers trying to figure out what to expect from their cover art.

The Virtues of Shelf-lessness. – Writer Sloane Crosley shares her approach to keeping books in her home.

Click if You Dare: 100 Favorite Horror Stories. – For those of you already planning Halloween costumes. A great list with a broad definition of what horror means, so even readers who shy away from scary books should find something here.

Five Reasons to Keep Track of Every Single Book You Read. – Justification for that diligent list-making. I’m right there with you, and I wish I started younger.

As Barnes & Noble Struggles to Find Footing, Founder Takes Heat. – A look at the state of the bookstore chain and its fight to reinvent itself.

Start Writing Fiction: A Free Online Course Starts 3 September. – Information on an upcoming class from The Open University.

In Search of Doors. – The text of V.E. Schwab’s 2018 J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature, which she presented at Oxford University earlier this year.

Friday Links: Writing Foundations

Every writer’s work develops from their writing foundations, their earliest impressions as young writers and readers. Although new experiences always add to the writer’s perspective, nothing is so formative as those first encounters. This week’s links focus on the usual range of topics, but several include interviews with authors talking about their writing identity and early influences. Consider your own favorite books that inspired you to write, or life events that might affect your writing themes. Sometimes knowing the questions that fascinate you can help you dig more deeply into the story you wish to tell.

As always, I hope this week’s links leave you feeling excited to write. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, with some time to read, write,  and maybe to investigate your own writing foundations. Enjoy!

This week’s links:

On the 13 Words that Made Me a Writer. – Author Sofia Samatar talks about her youthful obsession with fantasy and how it inspired her.

When Your Imposter Syndrome Is Out of Control. – Everyone feels unsure about themselves at some point. A great reading list to help fight self-doubt.

The Crack Squad of Librarians Who Track Down Half-Forgotten Books. – A look at those talented folks who help find that book you can’t quite remember.

Jason Reynolds: “What’s Unusual about My Story Is that I Became a Writer.” – The multi-published author discusses how his early experiences led him to write books that wouldn’t bore his audience.

Writing Wisdom from Guest Author Maureen Goo. – The YA author talks about her approach to writing.

Five Books about Unconventional Pirates. – Because I have a pirate thing, okay? And everyone’s TBR stack should have a pirate book on it.

Reading Horror Can Arm Us Against a Horrifying World. – NPR looks at horror as a way to make sense of reality.