NaNoWriMo prep, part two: Getting started

Participants of the Tokyo NaNoWriMo write in I hosted in 2010

Participants of the Tokyo NaNoWriMo write in I hosted in 2010.

So, you’ve been hearing a thing or two about NaNoWriMo for a while now—or perhaps only since last week—and you’ve been curious. But this year, you’re ready to see what the fuss is about and try it out yourself.

Welcome! NaNo can be a lot of fun, but you only get as much out of it as you put into it. Here are some steps for getting started if you’ve never participated in National Novel Writing Month before.

First of all, sign up!

It’s free and easy to sign up. (If you’re 12 or younger, you’ll need your parents to make an account for you.) It may seem silly to sign up anywhere just to write a story. After all, you can write any time or anywhere without them, right? So, why bother with their Web site?

An official NaNoWriMo account gives you access to a bunch of tools that will help you reach your 50,000-words-in-30-days goal. Just a few of these resources are word count trackers, statistics based on your entered data, badges to motivate you (earned based on your efforts), access to pep talks written by famous authors, goal trackers, and more. The best part is that you’ll get to meet people! They have a very active forum and lots of fun events to attend. But before we get to that…

Set up your account

The first thing you’ll be prompted to do is to announce your novel. This means you’re registering to be included in this year’s challenge (it’s possible to have an account and not participate in any given year). Nothing you say here about your upcoming novel is permanent, so don’t stress out! But for now, enter a title—even if it’s “Untitled”—and pick the genre. Mine is “Young Adult” this year. The rest of the options are not required and all of it can be edited later, so don’t worry about that now unless you already know exactly what your novel will be about and want to fill it in this second.

Next, set up your profile. Look for “Author Info.” It’ll be pretty blank, but at the bottom right there will be an edit button. Fill in a few facts about yourself that you feel comfortable sharing, and a couple of sentences for your bio. Remember not to share personal information—like your full name—online, particularly if you’re a minor. To update your profile picture, you’ll need to go into account settings. Upload a picture of something you like if you’re a minor or if you’re feeling shy. Animals, flowers/landscapes, or an illustration are all good options. If you’re an adult, go ahead and upload a picture of yourself. It’ll make it easier to recognize each other when you attend write ins.

That’s all you need to do to get started! Click around to see the other options and to customize your page if you want. Once you’ve got things as much (or as little) as you like set up, you’re ready to…

Pick a region

While you should never share your address with strangers, it’s okay to claim a state or city. Head over to “Find a Region” and enter the name of your closest city. If it isn’t able to determine your location, then put in your state. If you’re not in the US and your state or province doesn’t pull up some options, put in your country. From there, select the region closest to you.

On that region’s page, there will be a “join this region” button. Click it to join! If someday you move, you can leave the region by clicking the same button. You can join multiple regions if you travel a lot or move mid-November.

This region forum is important because they include all the people in your area. Your word count and their word counts get totaled for a regional word count. It’s always fun to see which cities write the most! It’s also important because this allows you to get to know some “neighbors.” Not only can you become online friends with them, but you can learn about local events (like NaNo prep sessions, parties, write ins, etc.) that you could attend.

Get to know people

One of the most fun aspects of NaNo is meeting up in a coffee shop or library to write and chat with other aspiring writers. I highly encourage you to commit to attending at least one, if not more, write ins or parties. There will be situations where that may not be possible (a large region with no one close to you, you’re a minor and a parent can’t go with you, etc.), but try. If one isn’t hosted near you, you can set one up yourself. Perhaps no one else will come—but they might. And even if they don’t, you’ll still have gotten some writing in.

Setting up a write-in is as simple as posting in the regional forum the location (“XYZ Cafe on the corner of South Street and Main Street in TownName” or “TownName Public Library”), the date (“Nov 5th”), and the time (“4pm to 6pm”) that you plan to be there. At the location, put out a sign or something that indicates you’re with NaNoWriMo so other members can find you. Other than that, it’s up to you! Most people are happy to chat a bit or to just write while seated next to you.

If a write-in isn’t possible for you, you can still be active in the region forum. Or perhaps you’d like to get to know those with similar interests, not just similar geography. The NaNo forums are extensive and you’ll never be short of things to read and comment on. It can be super fun when you dive in. You can start in the Newbie forum and expand to your areas of interest (you’ll need to be logged in to participate).

Either through the forums, the write ins, or in your real life, you will have or make a friend who likes to write, just like you. Add them to your buddy list and strive to keep each other accountable. It can be a huge motivator to get your word count for the day met if you race each other to see who can reach it first, or who writes the most words on any given day. Friendly competition will give you the energy to keep going on days you start to tire or worry about finishing on time.

Prepare yourself

Since it’s still October, you can’t start writing your novel yet. But as we talked about last time, that doesn’t stop you from getting ready to write.

First, set yourself a goal. Why are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Is it just to let loose and have fun? Then plan to get active in the forums, attend as many write ins as possible, write lots of whatever comes to mind without worrying about if it’s any good, and don’t stress about whether word counts get met. Is your goal to reach 50,000 words? Then set yourself a schedule to write 1,667 words or more a day. Stay on top of entering your daily count in your profile so you can see your chart grow. Is your goal to complete a story? Then consider planning your plot ahead of time so you know where you’re going as you write. If your story ends at 50,000 words, be aware that’s a novella, not a full novel. Novels are usually longer—their stories won’t be finished at 50,000 words.

Second, get into a routine. Set a specific time and place for writing, preferably every day. This new routine during October can prepare you for the daily “homework” of writing for your NaNo novel during November. Since you can’t write the novel in October, you can use that time to write for another project, or to plot, outline, research, and make notes for your November novel.

Need help setting up those notes? Come back next week for some tips.

In the meantime, let your mind wander and come up with some possibilities for your NaNo project. What sounds fun to write about?

This article is the second in a series about NaNoWriMo.
To see the other posts, click one of the links below.

NaNoWriMo prep, part one
Part two: Getting started   [that’s this post]
Part three: Notes and outlines
Part four: What to expect

NaNoWriMo prep, part one

2017 NaNoWriMo participant banner'

Photo via NaNoWriMo.

It’s October! It’s finally October!

Why am I excited? Is it because it’s fall? No. Is it because we get candy later this month? No. Is it because Christmas is that much closer? (Well, yes, but) no.

It’s because NaNoWriMo is coming!

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is a free event during November for all ages. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, but any amount of words written are celebrated. I’ve been taking part for years (I just did the math and it’s been 15, wow!), ever since I read about it in the newspaper in high school. It’s a great exercise in silencing your inner editor and just getting the words out on the page.

It’s also a fun way to meet other writers. Participants in NaNoWriMo who attend meet ups (or write ins, as members call them) and/or have a buddy to “race” word counts with are significantly more likely to succeed in reaching 50,000 words. Plus you can make friends! My current writing group is comprised of women I met during last year’s NaNo.

But wait. Why the excitement in October if it doesn’t start until November?

Because even though you’re not allowed to write any words for your NaNo novel before November 1st, you’re encouraged to plot, plan, and prepare during the days leading up to it. I love this part. October means I get to play with new stories and characters.

I used to be a pantser, someone who wrote by the seat of my pants. I’d have terrific beginnings of stories with an interesting concept or characters, but somewhere in the middle of the story my enthusiasm would fade and I’d never complete them. After repeating that process for years and never having anything completed to show when I told people that I write, I decided being a pantser didn’t work for me.

So, instead, I became a planner. When I get an idea, I let it roll around in my head for a while and get excited about some key scenes, just like before. But instead of diving straight into writing at that point, I put those ideas and scenes into my notes. Then I work on filling in the spaces between those scenes with more notes before working on the narrative. I’ve learned it’s much easier (not to mention light years faster) to write a few bullet points, cross them out, and rewrite the bullet points than to write multiple chapters, throw them out, and then rewrite new chapters.

October is my notes month. It’s also a good time to do any preliminary research needed to plot out my story. The less time I spend researching during November, the more time I’ll have to write!

Will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year? If you’re new to it all, don’t worry, I’ll explain more about how to get started next week.

Are you a pantser? Some people love finding out what happens next as they write and that process really works for them. Or maybe you’re a planner? Having all of your ducks in a row takes the stress out of getting the story onto paper. Raise your hand if you’re a convert to outlining like me!

This article is the first in a series about NaNoWriMo.
To see the other posts, click one of the links below.

NaNoWriMo prep, part one [that’s this post]
Part two: Getting started
Part three: Notes and outlines
Part four: What to expect

What my handwriting says about me

Handwriting that reads 'she sells seashells by the seashore' and 'a quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog'

Your handwriting can reveal a lot about you… or so they say. I’m about to put that to the test! Real Simple magazine has an article online that analyzes your handwriting for you. All you have to do is write “she sells seashells by the seashore” in cursive, even if you typically write in print. I’ve also included “a quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog” in my usual handwriting so you can see what it looks like. Let’s see if what is revealed about me is accurate.


It feels unnatural to write only in cursive, so writing it felt stilted and not smooth. But according to the slight right slant I had, I am open to the world around me and like to socialize with other people. Possibly true? I am not an extrovert (definitely an introvert!) but I am not at all shy.


Large, small, or average… compared to what? But remembering from years and years ago when I compared notes with friends in school, I’d say I have average-size writing. I didn’t have large letters that filled the ruled lines nor tiny letters that teachers struggled to read. That means I’m neither in love with the limelight, nor shy. Instead, I’m adaptable. That’s pretty accurate.


Since most of my Ls and Es have opened loops instead of closed loops, I am “spontaneous and relaxed and find it easy to express” myself, and “have an open mind and enjoy trying new things.” But I have a couple of closed loops, implying I’m feeling a bit tense. Both are accurate, as I’ve got 4 kids under the age of 6 in my care as I write this blog post. Kid noise is hard to tune out while writing!

S shape

Here’s where I’ll admit I practiced a couple of times first since it had been so long since I had written in cursive. So, though I had to rewrite it several times because I accidentally mixed print into my cursive, I don’t think I technically qualify under the “printed” S. I’m guessing my Ss are “pointy,” which means I’m “intellectually probing and like to study new things.” It’s true that I love to read and learn about new things. In fact, if I’m not in the middle of a new project or some kind of research, I get pretty irritable.

I’d say the results were more accurate than I expected! How about you? Try writing “she sells seashells by the seashore” in cursive and see what your handwriting reveals about you. Let me know how accurate it is!

Why English is so hard to learn

An old language book titled: Correctly English in Hundred Days

Photo via Visualhunt.

1. The bandage was wound around the wound.

2. The farm was used to produce produce.

3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4. We must polish the Polish furniture.

5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert and soldier on.

7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10. I did not object to the object.

11. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13. They were too close to the door to close it.

English can be so tricky—and funny! I don’t know who wrote that list, but here’s another one I came up with: She likes to read, but she already read that book about the common reed.

Can you come up with any others?

My writing favorites

Stationery store in Japan; many rows of pens for sale

Photo via Visualhunt.

I thought it would be fun to list my favorites when it comes to writing. These may not be the best by other people’s standards, nor even MY favorites overall, but they’re the ones I like or gravitate toward when it comes to writing (vs drawing, etc.).

My favorite:


My current favorite is the Pilot Frixion ball knock retractable gel pen in size 0.5 mm. Mine were purchased in Japan, not on Amazon, but the link should take you to the same thing. I love the bright colors and the smooth flow of the ink—and the best part? They erase! There is a plastic nub on the end that produces friction, and the heat from the friction erases the ink. So, you get the permanence of a ball point pen but with the edibility of a pencil. No smudging! I use these for writing in my journal as well as editing my work.


I don’t actually have a favorite pencil at the moment, but I tend to prefer mechanical pencils for writing since they don’t need resharpening. A couple of clicks and I can write with a sharp point every time.


Hands down, Mono erasers are the best erasers ever (they’re even cheaper if you buy the ten pack). I will never willingly use those awful pink rectangles that are standard in American schools ever again. The Monos erase cleanly and thoroughly without damaging your paper—even thin paper.


Anything pretty that lays open enough to write. No spiral please. A ribbon to mark my place or a loop to hold my pen are bonuses.

App to write/type in

Plain, no frills TextEdit (like Notepad or WordPad, but for Mac, since I don’t use a PC). Once I’m done with my rough draft and the first round of major edits, I put the entire thing into Microsoft Word and format it to publishing standards. I don’t like all the bells and whistles of Word distracting me while I write, so I keep it as simple as possible at the beginning.

Word counter

Since I use TextEdit for writing, which doesn’t have a built-in word counter like Word does, I like to copy/paste my text into It does more than just count the number of words or characters used. It can also count the number of sentences or paragraphs you have, as well as the approximate time it would take to read the work silently or aloud. It also calculates the approximate reading level and keeps track of your keyword density, which means it shows you how many times you’ve used certain words or phrases. This comes in handy when you realize you have a bad habit of overusing words like “suddenly” or “he looked at her.” The site also lets you set goals for yourself or track your writing activity, to help you get your projects done. Pretty handy for a free tool!

Character naming site

I talked about this in my last post about naming your characters, but I like to use and


None! That is, while I’m writing. I am easily distracted by noise, so it’s very difficult for me to write unless it’s quiet. I can do it (such as in a coffee shop or with my kids playing nearby with noisy toys), but I don’t produce my best work that way.

Place to write

In a quiet room, in a comfy chair. Our home is too small to have a dedicated desk for me, so I use my laptop on the couch for now. I’m in the process of seeking the perfect overstuffed armchair to claim as “my spot” in the living room. The place I plan to put it is by a corner window, since I love to look at trees to destress.


I’ve participated in almost every NaNoWriMo since I read about it in a newspaper in 2002. Even if I don’t “win” or complete the story after “winning,” it is a great motivator to get writing! Plus it’s hard to find another group of writers so excited to work on their craft outside of professional writing conferences, and NaNoWriMo is free. Another good motivator to write is to have a writer’s group or friends who write, to keep each other accountable. My current writing group is comprised mostly of those who attended a local NaNoWriMo write-in last November. We just kept meeting even after it was over, and it’s been great fun, as well as a great motivator to keep plugging away at my current novel. Before I had a writing group I relied heavily on Critique Circle.

Writing blog

My favorite blog to read about the craft of writing is Gail Carson Levine’s blog. It’s targeted toward readers of Middle Grade fantasy (since that’s who she writes her books for) who like to write their own stories, but I’ve noticed in the comment section that I’m not the only adult there. I’ve found that a lot of writing blogs are very technical or focus on the process of preparing for publishing. But Gail’s blog not only answers the technical part of readers’ questions about writing, but it also dips its toes in a bit of whimsy while doing so, making her posts fun to read as well as educational. Sometimes I’ll read the question and think I already know the answer, but Gail always has a fresh take on it that I hadn’t considered.

Agent blog

It is well worth the dive into the archives of Miss Snark’s now defunct blog, as there are loads of advice that are timeless in there. But my favorite agent blog that is active is Janet Reid’s blog, where she answers questions from those seeking representation about the process of gaining an agent and about the publishing industry. She seeks clients in the mystery/crime/thriller categories, but her advice applies even to those who write outside of those categories. The comment section is extremely active and friendly, which is always a bonus.


My favorite authors to read are—in no particular order—Gail Carson Levine (MG fantasy), Robin McKinley (YA and adult fantasy), Sherwood Smith (YA and adult high fantasy), and Shannon Hale (YA fantasy). I love a good fantasy romance, which all of these women do excellently, particularly if it’s spun from a fairy tale. A runner-up would be Janette Rallison, whom I’ve only learned about recently through her Fair Godmother series. She writes mostly contemporary YA romances, which are fun and light hearted.

Who are your favorite authors? Your favorites to any of the above? I love good stationery, so if you have some recommendations I’d be happy to hear them!