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A Writer’s Need


NaNoWriMo is well underway. It has been for twelve days, and the participants should be somewhere around 20,000 words written, if they’re on track. Many aren’t and that’s okay.

I wasn’t going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year because I’ve simply had too much on my plate and I need a break. I switched The Boy from home school back to mainstream high school, then discovered I still have to babysit him, plus he has his learners permit and I have to take him driving. Getting The Girl to choose a college, then change her mind twice was fun. She finally started school and got hit by a car. She’ll recover, but her injuries make attending even some of her classes hard so Hubby and I are helping her out. He drives her and carries her backpack to the classes she absolutely can’t miss, and I’m now playing teacher for The Girl instead of (mostly) The Boy for the classes she’s missing. It’s like a horror novel.

On a related note, I’ve taken up reading horror in my spare time (AKA long bubble baths). I didn’t like it before, but now… If I can survive a teenage boy, what’s a little death and carnage? Bah.

Oh, and we’re moving Hubby’s parents from the large house they’ve lived in for 40 years to a small apartment in a retirement village. Everything we pack has a memory and a story that must be relived at that precise moment before I can put it in a box. This will take forever.

And then NaNo came around again. I seriously have no time. Except, courtesy of stress and time constraints, for the past year I haven’t been writing much. I used to be able to sit down and knock out 1000 words in an hour or so and 5000+/day wasn’t anything worth celebrating. But I haven’t been writing 5000 words/day; most days I don’t write anything. I should have finished my work in progress by the beginning of the year. It’s November and I’m maybe 2/3 of the way through.

I don’t have time for NaNoWriMo. (Sound familiar?) I need to pack my inlaws, help my son with a math assignment, then study for a chemistry test. I need to make him actually read The Crucible because he’s trying to fake his way through the assignments. I also need to help my daughter study for two upcoming tests, clear out the garden and compost the tomato plants that refuse to die, winterize the yard, cover the air-conditioning unit, and get a new battery for the second car. Also take The Boy driving for Driver’s Ed. See? No time. Too many other things I need to do.

No, I’m a writer. What I need to do is write, and I haven’t been. Not blogs either. To a novelist that’s just not the same, and besides, I haven’t even been good about staying up to date there. Too many things are being pushed aside. I’m going slightly mad and I need to pull myself together. How? Write. I’m a writer, the need is pervasive and as essential as breathing to my overall well-being.

Back to NaNoWriMo then. It’s day 12. I have written exactly 0 words in my manuscript so far this month. I counted. (Actually I looked at the last day the file was updated and it said October 28.) I don’t need to add 50,000 words to this book. It’ll take far less than 50,000 words to finish, but I need to finish it. I’m going to stick with the 50,000 word goal of the challenge anyway because it’s tradition. Once I finish she novel, I can start something else. But to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month means 2635 words/day. So? I used to do that regularly when I competed in NaNo. My personal goal was 2500 words/day and I usually exceeded it, so no sweat, right?

No. There will be a lot of sweating. Probably swearing too. I’m out of practice with less free time than usual and more stress. In short, I’m in about the same mindset as someone doing this for the first time. I was better than this my own first time which makes my position particularly embarrassing and uneasy for me.

The upshot? I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo again this year because I need to get my butt in gear and head back in the game, and this is part of what the challenge is about. For new writers or those who haven’t established regular and successful writing habits yet, NaNo is about making you stop daydreaming, procrastinating, or overthinking your project and just do it. I thought I was done needing NaNo years ago. When I participated it was for fun not the actual challenge of it. I lost my way over the past year and a half and now I need NaNo again to whip me back into shape.

The challenge is ready and waiting, now it’s up to me to rise to the occasion.




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Finished at 40k? Oops.


Okay, NaNoWriMers should be passing the 40k mark, and hopefully most of you are on the home stretch. There is a peculiar problem I hope is isolated but I’ll bring up anyway: novellas are sometimes complete at less than 50,000 words.

Um, yeah. I got an email with just this problem. Her NaNoWriMo novel is done, finished, complete, and it’s falling about 10k short. Wow. This particular writer has done NaNoWriMo before and she knows some … tricks. She went in and replaced contractions with full words. You know, can’t became can not, won’t became will not, and so on. That’ll only get you so far. There’s actually a lot of contractions in English, so … but there is a limit. And she lengthened some names. That was an act of desperation.

There’s really no way around it, she simply needs to write more and I told her so. I suggested she add a scene or related short story and gave her some writing prompts. Some were outrageous because it was pretty late by that point, but some weren’t bad if I say so myself.

Then it occurred to me, it’s been a long time since I’d been given a writing prompt (and oddly that was during NaNo) but it might help someone out there. The ones I gave her probably wouldn’t, but sometimes a little something to get you going is helpful. If you need a kick start, there are some websites that offer prompts, but I’ll toss a few out there.

  • While two characters are sharing a meal, have one choke. Two options here: the other can debate whether to save their companion, or just immediately do it. Regardless, having your life saved changes people. Perhaps that person knows something of value, or confesses something that shouldn’t be said. A lot can happen when emotions are high.
  • If you have a character with any sort of super human abilities, have them lose those abilities for a short time while some moon crosses the orbit of the closest planet and aligns with the sun…whatever. The overall effect could be comedic or catastrophic.
  • In a world without magic, have a studious character find a book in an old bookshop that appears to be bound in a weird leather. It’s a book about dragons as far as he/she can tell, but it’s written in a language he/she can’t identify. “Look at these drawings of a dissection and dragons in flight. And I think this is supposed to show how they breath fire.” He just picked it up because it was cool. Weird that the owner let it go so cheap when it’s clearly old, but cool. “Probably a hoax. I wonder where I can get it tested…what were you saying?” (Maybe he/she sets it down while they have lunch at a restaurant and it’s left behind. He’d probably be mad about that.)
  • Have you written another book? Different genre is even better. While your characters are out and about, have a chance meeting and ‘guest appearance’ of a character from another book. A description, a few lines, nothing much. Nothing to detract from your current story, just an easter egg. King, Lee, and Tarantino make appearances in their movies…
  • Your character has a day where nothing happens. The boredom is killing him/her. And perhaps anticipation. Is he waiting for something? Is someone supposed to call? Dawn to dusk…nothing. He’s left to his own thoughts, how would those thoughts go?
  • A hang up call sparks paranoia.
  • A dead letter delivered/returned to sender twenty years later.
  • Someone makes a meal to apologize for an argument, but accidentally includes an allergen and the victim ends up in the hospital. Much more to apologize for now.

There are so many possibilities out there, most are probably less specific or twisted. Do a search in your browser for writing prompts and it’ll give you a list of websites for ideas. Pick those that suit your novel and style. Have fun, and get writing.

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Two Weeks to NaNo – What I’m Doing Now


I’ve gone on a writing hiatus while I decide what my NaNo novel will be. I’ve gone through files of the more developed ideas I’ve collected (I have a ton of short text message story ideas that, but I’ve left those alone for now in favor of concepts I at least spent a few minutes to jot some notes down on.) Narrowing it down helps, but now I have to decide not only what inspires me, but what I’ll actually stick with.

More than once in the passion of NaNo, I’ve started a novel, got ten thousand words in, changed my mind, and started over on something else. When I’ve been part of a writing group, I drove them nuts. I don’t mention it now so I can avoid those dirty looks. It wasn’t like I put their word count in jeopardy, but they took it personally.

Hubby keeps giving me pointed looks and reminding me that I’m trying to finish The Thousand Words series. Um, no. I have to do something different. Something I can play with. NaNo is a time for experimenting. I’ve explained this to him. So then he goes to Plan B: hinting that I could do a first draft of the next Genie in Your Pocket novel. That would be the crossover novel. I’m mulling that over. It would be different. I wanted to avoid romances, but it’s not a typical romance, and it’s not like the other genie books. It should have much more from the genie’s point of view. Maybe. I do need to get that done, he has a point. And it’s mostly outlined.

Okay, so assuming I go with that idea (and stick with it, I’m choosing a backup as well) it helps you get your word count easier if you outline. I’ve got that mostly done, but I’ll look it over to refine and fill in anywhere I can. This is hard for me, I’m not a plotter/outliner by nature. My writing is organic and comes to me on the fly. Since I have time now before the writing begins, I can force myself to do it.

Also, since I’ll have an outline, I’ll be able to see now what I need to research. That’s a whole other blog post. I have my spreadsheet set up for tracking wordcount, and my book bible ready for making notes on character names/features/details. I’ll make a playlist on my phone this weekend, so I’m being reminded of my book even while I’m doing dishes/taking a shower just by listening to music. Any little motivators you need, prep them now.

Prepare a practical word count goal. Officially, it’s 50,000 words in 30 days, so 1667 words/day. If you can’t write on the (5)Sundays, Thanksgiving just isn’t going to happen, and you know you won’t write on Black Friday, then subtract those days from the 30, divide 50,000 by your new number, and modify your daily wordcount goal. Don’t lie to yourself, it will cause stress later. I personally recommend padding the goal: round up. Instead of 1667 words, make your goal an even 2000. It’s easy to calculate, remember, and it will keep you ahead of the target for some unforeseen difficulty. Come to terms with your goal now, so it’s settled in your mind by November First.

Finally, make sure you warn your family and friends. Let them know what you’re doing so they can either support you or stay out of your way. I don’t know about you, but those who interfere risk being written into my novels. And then written back out…

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Something New for NaNo


It’s NaNo Time! (Nearly)

Yup, coming up on that time of year where a lot of people around the world go mildly insane trying to write 50,000 words during November. Other people sit back and watch, cheer, and jeer.

Where will I be? Historically, I write the 50,000 words by Thanksgiving and cheer everyone on. I’ve been debating the value of my continued participating in this annual event for years. In my mind, NaNoWriMo has value, but it’s to those who struggle with it. I don’t struggle with it, so why do it? I know I can write 50k in 30 days. If I push it, I can write 80k, although my family hates me for it. Does that mean I should modify my goal? Should I step aside and cheer on everyone else?

For me it comes down to the reason for doing it. I see NaNoWriMo as being for those who struggle. Namely, for the new writers. I want to encourage those who have an idea for a book, but haven’t set aside the time to get that first draft down on paper. (Figuratively speaking.) NaNo is for those writers still fighting with that first draft. Maybe it’s their first book, maybe it’s their third. It doesn’t matter. The point is, they’re struggling with it.

Critics argue Nano puts quantity of words over quality of words. Yes, it does. Sort of. Maybe. Here’s the thing on that: the goal is the word count, not the quality of the words themselves, so that criticism is true. However, experienced writers know a couple of things that those critics clearly aren’t considering:

  1.   Increasing your words/hour doesn’t mean you’re writing crap. Authoress RJ Blain looked at three of her mindsets while writing, the words/hour that corresponded with each, and the quality of writing at each. Just because she writes faster sometimes doesn’t mean she writes worse. The blog post is worth a peek. I concur fully.
  2.  When you’re inspired, your words/hour increases as does the quality of your writing. The experienced writers know the trick is to stay excited and/or inspired about your work. If the author is excited/inspired it shows in the writing and the reader picks up on it. A byproduct is that it gets that book written faster. At least the first draft, which is what NaNo is all about.

Don’t be concerned about quality anyway. First drafts are rough, they’re meant to be, and that’s what revisions are for. You’re supposed to put that quality concern aside for NaNoWriMo. Too many aspiring authors get caught in the editing trap: they write a first chapter, then edit it. Write a second chapter, then edit it. Then they decide the first chapter doesn’t work anymore and go back and fix it. Now the second chapter isn’t working anymore and they fix that. At this rate, they’ll never finish the book.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: when writing, the first chapter doesn’t matter. It’s a jumping off point, but it’s expendable. You may know after chapter two that chapter one needs to be fixed. Fine, but don’t fix it yet. Don’t you dare touch it until after you’ve finished the book. It’ll need to be fixed again after chapter three. And again after chapter four. And you’ll need to delete chapter one and fix chapter two after chapter seven, and so on. The point is: until you write “The End” you won’t know what really needs to be fixed in those first chapters, so there’s no point wasting your time doing it as you go.

That’s what NaNo is about: putting pressure on you in the form of a wordcount and deadline that you don’t’ have time to go back and fix things. You have to forge on. It’s brilliant, and it’s exactly what many new writers need to get that first manuscript finished.

Now, back to my dilemma: I’m not a new writer. I don’t need the wordcount/deadline pressure. I know not to edit as go. I know how to forge on. Do I need NaNo?

Yes and No. Not really. I still do it every year, and I easily make my word count. Right now, I have a novel I’m working on to finish a series. I should finish that. I have another in extreme revisions (so extreme you really need to hear an echo when you read that). I should work on that. I have other books outlined, things I may not get to for years – except for NaNoWriMo.

This is the one month of the year I get to pretend to be a new writer again. Sort of. I still have to do my normal author-y things, but writing – for NaNo it’s always something new. A new book, a new concept, a new genre. Romance is too easy now, I can’t write that for NaNo, it’s not a challenge. I’ve done YA a couple of times (didn’t actually finish them, I may go back and do that.) I’m somewhat scary as a YA writer. I finished a zombie book (there’s a reason you haven’t seen it). Last year I wrote Rerun, my first suspense novel, and finished it up at 65k – the shortest novel I’ve ever written. This year…I’m not sure yet. Will I participate in NaNo? Probably. I’ll write something new.

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Did I Write Garbage? – Part Two


All right, let’s revisit my ongoing examination on the birth of a novel. When we last left my NaNoWriMo project, Rerun, I’d ended NaNo at nearly 59,000 words, then trimmed 15,000 when I found myself trying to regain focus. And I wasn’t upset about it, I’m still not, although I’m sort of missing those 15,000 words now.

So I started off again with a renewed sense of direction and almost 44,000 words completed. Experience told me I was halfway done. That was by word count. Reality and experience are not pals, however, something I learned last week.

I finished my first draft of Rerun, finishing at 67,404 words. I was not really happy about this. My experience (again! You’d think I’d learn) told me that I was going to lose some of that in editing and I prayed that rough edit I did in December took care of that problem.

Maybe, I’m not sure yet. I did a quick clean up: fixed some dates, checked for consistency, took care of all but one of those “Look at this@@” research notes, and handed it to the alpha readers. All 67,128 words of it. I was so relieved I didn’t lose more I can’t begin to tell you. Of course there will be more editing.

Alpha readers sort of have a fun job. They read it and just give an opinion. Well, kind of. I put mine through the third degree. Let them read the first chapter then I quiz them: who do you think will do xxx? I want to know if the end is going to be a surprise and, if not, at what point they guess or how close they get. Beta readers get the same treatment, but worse. I don’t expect alpha readers to pick apart plot consistency; check my physics, history, or math; or catch plot holes small enough for them to step over. They’re kind of your average reader and I just want feedback.

Beta readers – I require work. I’ll actually edit it and have it short of sending to my editor before handing it to beta readers. I send it to them, all formatted and pretty, with the implied request “Please pick apart this novel and leave me lying in the gutter, twitching. Thank you.”

Handing Rerun to alpha readers is fine, they’ll let me know if I’m on the right track and then I’ll fix what I need to. But I’m still having some nervous twitches about a couple of things. First: I expressed concern before I was venturing into unknown territory and I cut 15,000 words in part to get me back on track. I’m not sure it worked. This isn’t a romance. It’s closer to chic-lit than romance. Okay, not what I was shooting for, but I’ll live with that.

My second concern is: I’ve never written anything this short. I think the shortest novel I’ve completed to date was somewhere around 78,000 words. It is a novel, I haven’t ventured into the novella range yet. I actually had to go double check, but Writer’s Digest (among some other resources) still counts everything above 50,000 words as a novel. I’m on the fence at that 50k line, but I’ll go with it. And it shouldn’t matter, there’s nothing wrong with novellas. They’re the trend, they’re popular, some people prefer them to full-length novels. I’m just a little skiddish because this is so much shorter than I’m used to. I’m not going to pad it just to inflate my word count into my comfort zone. The story is complete as it stands, and I’ll wait and see what feedback I get before decided whether to permanently shelve my apprehension.

For the record, I don’t write short stories either. I can’t. I used to, back in junior high and high school, but I seemed to have lost the ability. Everything I have now that is a short story is actually a cut chapter, although that seems to work.

We’ll see what happens to Rerun as it progresses past the alpha and beta readers, revisions, and an editor. I’ve never timed a book from beginning to end, or tracked the steps, so this should be interesting.


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Being Able to Write Anywhere

It’s 3 am and I’m wide awake. I suspect it has something to do with hubby snoring loudly in my ear. Okay, 8 inches away. Anyway, I woke up and wanted to write. At first I thought my NaNo project and started thinking of scenes, and then I thought of last year’s creativity question asked in the forums and all over: is your creativity/productivity linked to a particular location? For a significant percentage of people, it was.

This can be a both a small advantage and a serious handicap. I had a favorite writing place before we moved where my ideas flowed easier and I wrote more than when I wrote elsewhere, but I still could write elsewhere. Some people can’t and I get it. I was severely shaken when we moved and I lost my writing place. It took a year for me to find my groove again in the new house. That’s a problem. Having a writing place your muse just lives in is great. Just being there can put you in the groove. But being able to just sit down anywhere and write is handy. Having both options available to you is clearly optimal. Here are some little tricks I use to get me going when my muse seems to have stayed in my preferred writing spot:

Instead of picking up where I left off in my book, I start a new scene. I always do this if I’m writing on my tablet or phone (as I’m doing now) because I rarely have the actual book loaded onto them. This gives me flexibility, I don’t have to remember where exactly I was, only that this scene was coming up. I’ll have to write it eventually, why not now? (For anyone who’s wondering, I almost always have phones with physical keyboards for this reason. I can type faster, longer with fewer errors and frustration on a physical keyboard so it doesn’t bother me to write long passages on a tiny device. Also, small bluetooth keyboards are available. They’re cheap and about the size of my Droid Bionic when I carried that. It worked well.)

If I’m still struggling, I pick a better scene. I have sex scenes written for books I haven’t officially started in the Lexi Frost series because of this. I have the series loosely outlined, so I can do that. Many of the key pick up and reveal scenes are written too. I’m only partway through book 6, but I have scenes written that are probably for book 9 or 10 looking at the rate the story’s unfolding. Scary.

But what if you’re such a pantser you don’t know what a future scene is going to be to write that? Well, figure it out. If you’re partway through a scene and find yourself away from your happy place, you have a choice: you can try to finish the scene, or you can imagine it’s done, your hero has slain the dragon (you’ll go back later and figure out exactly how and write that) and now it’s time for the after party.

Outlining a book can really get your creative juices flowing. In truth, I’m terrible at it. My outlines, when I have them, aren’t a pretty formatted classical outline with roman numerals and indentations. My outlines are just a list:

Intro Viv: 70, divorced, kids’ reaction, haircut, cruise
Doesn’t drink
Meets Charlie, warns her abt drinking, talk abt cruises
They play poker a lot,
Charlie drinks scotch, Viv experiments with fruity drinks w/ umbrella
Charlie takes to fav shop of shipwreck items
Buys her locket
On way back to ship meets diver, charlie haggles
Viv rummages through box of salvage, silver flask breaks

That’s part of my outline from Be Careful What You Wish For and it covers about ten pages. It was my NaNo novel in 2009, and proves it can be done. For your outline, it’s okay if it starts really general, like:

Introduce MC,
Intro sidekick
Intro goal
Intro villain

You have to admit, that’s basic. Fine. Now add to it.

Intro MC – she’s awkward teen flunking math w/crush on football quarterback, also has power to freeze things.

Great. Now more that applies to the opening scene. (since we seem to be starting at the beginning)

Intro MC – she’s awkward teen flunking math w/crush on football quarterback, also has power to freeze things. She’s sitting in class staring at back of quarterback’s head, gets excited & freezes her pen. It leaks all over her hand & notebook.

Fantastic, I’m starting to see a scene in here, it just needs to be filled in. Like a sidekick was mentioned? Best friend perhaps? Villain who is…? Goal…? I’m not writing this, you get the idea. You outline, then keep adding more details until it’s really just a matter of connecting the ideas in book format. You know those “write 10,000 words/day” methods? This is how they do it. They outline the hell out it first so it’s essentially prewritten. It really does work.

Even if you don’t write much outside of your writing place, if you can outline so you can be more productive when you get back to that hallowed ground, you’re doing great.


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NaNo is for Those Who Struggle

ImageWe passed November 15th, so in terms of NaNoWriMo, we’re halfway done. Maybe. If you’re participating and on track with your word count, you’re halfway done. If you’re ahead, great. If you fall into the other category, this is for you.

Word count obsession is a form of OCD and it’s contagious. I fought it for years and Word Count OCD relapse is one thing I don’t like about NaNo. I’ll only ever be eleven months Word Count carefreeless. And I worry a little about my peers, particularly the ones who struggle.

This is about what’s best for you. Maybe it’s a pep talk, maybe it’s a reality check, that’s your decision. If you’re using every trick in the blogs to legally pad your word count, or if you’re farther away from your goal than you like, take a step back and look at what you’re doing.

NaNo is a lot of things. It’s not meant to be easy. Don’t compare yourself to those who already have 50,000 words. Depending on the type of writer you are, there are tricks (mostly involving plotting and organization) that help you write 8-10,000 words/day. You’ll get there. To me, NaNo really isn’t about that. To me, NaNo is for those who struggle. It’s for those who haven’t finished a book yet, or only one and did so only at great personal cost. This is for the beginner, and it’s meant to be challenging.

For those that really and truly benefit from NaNo, it might take more than one or two attempts to finally meet that goal. That’s fine. The secondary goal is to develop habits and learn.

If you’re reading NaNo blogs, you’ve heard already to put your inner-editor away. This is no place for him, he fights with your muse. A lot of people who start to write a book never finish because they keep going back to rewrite that first chapter or two until it’s perfect, and they never get any farther. NaNo is about breaking that habit. That first chapter is not going to be perfect in a first draft, and it shouldn’t be. Actually, it’s common to finish your book and then have to go back and change the first chapter significantly. I’ve had to cut one altogether. If your inner-editor is on vacation, this isn’t a problem.

Sometimes writers never finish a novel because they get stuck. They get their characters to a point and then don’t know where to go next. Writer’s block has as many causes as cures and it’s different for everyone. This is trickier, but also a reason for NaNo. If you’re in a hurry, you don’t overthink it. If you absolutely cannot decide whether your character turns left or right, you should try letting your character decide. Put yourself in their shoes – with their goals, strengths, weaknesses and motivation – and decide what they would do.

If your character has no idea either, flip a coin. With NaNo, you don’t have time to debate it. Make a list of possible next steps and throw a dart at it. If you’re wrong, then: A, you learned something and B, you can fix it.

If you’re so overwhelmed you can’t even think of possible next steps, skip ahead. Books don’t have to be written in order. If you’re stuck in Chapter 2, but you know XX is going to happen at some point, write it. How you got from Chapter 2 to Chapter 6 is something you’ll obviously have to fill in later, but hey, 6 happens. Frequently I find that, looking back, I can see what had to happen in Chapter 3, 4, & 5 in order to get to 6. Or I come back to it when I’ve had more sleep/caffeine.

Sometimes life gets in the way. There may be little you can do on this one, but there are some things. There is a valid reason to track word count other than NaNo. When you sit down to write, make note of where you are, what time of day it is, day of the week. Details. Keep a log for a while and then review your productivity. Many writers have a best time of day to write. They’re either more productive or more creative first thing in the morning when they’re fresh, for example, or late at night when the house is quiet. It’s not uncommon to have a favorite place, and not being there throws you off your game.

When you don’t have a lot of time to write, make sure the time you do have is optimal. The right time, place, conditions, mascots, whatever you need. It takes time to discover this.

Where do you waste time? Find out, fix it. I look up most things on my phone to keep me away from the internet on my computer. Cats on the computer are funny, on a cell phone – not so much. There are blogs, use your resources. After your fingers are tired and you can’t write anymore anyway.

The end-all of NaNo is not 50k in 30 days, no matter what the banners say. More important than winning NaNo is: are you learning anything from it?


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