Shifting blog focus

A vase of tulips on a desk with a laptop

Photo via Visualhunt.

It’s been a few months since I’ve written a post for this blog. The holidays are one excuse, having young kids underfoot is another—but I’ve also struggled with the narrow focus of this blog.

I write stories. Sometimes I write articles for magazines or Web sites, but they don’t bring me the same joy that writing fiction does. I have hope that someday I’ll have my novels traditionally published, so I wanted to start building my brand image now. Hence, an author blog.

But I’m not just a writer. I have a wide array of interests and I like to talk about more than just writing! I’m also a “if you give a mouse a cookie” kind of person, who likes to latch on to a current topic of interest with zeal before suddenly switching to another.

I’d like to post about whatever I feel like writing, even if it has nothing to do with writing, reading, or the English language. I know traditional blog advice always says to stick to set topics under a specific theme, but as a person I’m not that structured. I’m going to let my blog reflect the fickleness of my true nature and see how it goes.

My current obsessions are:

  • minimalism
  • Dress Your Truth by Carol Tuttle
  • my current novel; a Cinderella retelling
  • So, you might (or might not) be seeing some posts about those, as well as anything else that’s a part of my life, such as parenting, my faith, or other hobbies. I’m sure there will still be posts about writing, too. I just don’t want to get stuck writing only about writing. There are a zillion blogs out there that are eager to teach amateurs how to write. I don’t feel the need to become an authority in that.

    How about you? What’s something that you’re obsessing over, which others may or may not understand? I’m also really loving lemon tea (tea made from lemons, rather than tea leaves), though hōjicha (roasted green tea) is still far and away my favorite. I’m also really loving rose-gold or champagne colored shoes, though I can’t seem to find any that fit my wide feet properly—I’m still looking. But I’d love to hear about what’s catching your fancy these days, so let me know in the comments!

    NaNoWriMo prep, part four: What to expect

    Four matches; the third is burned out

    Photo via Visualhunt.

    Hurray, you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year! It’s going to be so much fun and you’re going to have a whole novel written by the end of it and it’ll be amazing and you’re going to get published and you’re going to become rich and famous! Right?

    Uh, no.

    So, hold your horses, because if you’ve never done NaNo before, you need to learn what to expect. Here’s what your November may look like.

    Week one

    You’ve been waiting for NaNo to start and you’re so excited! You might have even stayed up late on Halloween so you could start your novel as soon as it was midnight. During the week the story is flying out of you. This is fun! Things you didn’t plan for happen, like new characters or your MC’s personality is different than expected, but who cares! That’s part of the experience. Uh, that was not your best sentence just now, but oh well! We’re supposed to be turning off our inner editors anyway, right? You’re doing pretty good about staying on track for your word count goal… sort of. But if you’re a tad behind or skip a day, no worries, because you totally can make that up later. This is great!

    Week two

    Oh. This is a little more complicated than you thought. You’re still having fun, but issues are cropping up in your story. Your real life is as demanding as ever and it’s easier to think, “Well, I’ll catch up on my word count later,” and deal with those things instead of making room for your writing. You notice that some members in the forums are already past the halfway mark on their word counts and you begin to doubt whether you can do this. But you still like your story and you don’t want to be a quitter, so you keep plugging away.

    Here is where the path splits.

    Week three

    This week looks different depending on which fork you took in the road. Some of you will manage to stay on track with your word count goals. It’s hard to ignore the glaring problems with your story but you’re going to muscle through. You committed to this. Plus you’ve probably been to at least one write in or have a buddy doing NaNoWriMo with you, so the additional motivation and/or accountability helps you keep going.

    Or, you’re falling behind. You kept telling yourself you’d catch up, but the gap between what you do have and what you should have has grown so much it doesn’t seem possible to reach 50,000 words by November 30. Plus you know you’re going to cut huge chunks of what you’ve already written from your novel because it doesn’t serve the story or is just plain terrible. Or maybe you know you’re going to have to go back and rewrite some, if not all of it. You feel guilty and frustrated. This was supposed to be fun. Now you feel bad.

    And to make it all worse, if you’re an American, it’s Thanksgiving! How can you get any writing done with all of those relatives around?

    No matter which path you’re on, don’t give up! This is the hard part for everybody. Whether you’re hanging in there or falling off the wagon, once you stop writing you guarantee that you won’t reach the end. If you quit early at, let’s say, 24,000 words, you’ll end the month with 24,000 words. But if you keep writing you might end the month with 32,000 words. That’s 8,000 more words than you would have had if you had quit early! So, don’t stop. During week three you will doubt that you’ll have any more fun after this, but there is still more fun to be had in week four. Going to write ins will really help in the fun department, too. Try to attend at least one, if not more of them.

    Week four

    The end is in sight. The clock is ticking. There are only seven more days until the end of NaNoWriMo! If you took the first path, you’re excited again. You’re nearly there! Your friends are cheering you on. You write like mad trying to finish on time. You keep updating your word count tally and are marking down the days until they open the official word counter that determines whether you’ve won yet or not. You might stay up late a few nights if you’re cutting it close, trying to get more words in. Here it is, November 30, and you’re still writing! Will you make it? Will you make it? WILL YOU MAKE IT???

    Boom! You made it! You’ve won!!! Pop all the party poppers and drink a glass of bubbly (grape juice, if you’re not old enough for champagne). Dance in your pajamas—because of course it’s nearly midnight if you’re cutting it this close—and try not to wake your parents/roommates. You feel great. You feel accomplished. This was so much fun! Good job.

    If you took the other path, this week will also drum up excitement in you, but you may be interpreting those feelings and the tightness in your chest as anxiety or guilt. Remember, there is no penalty if you don’t reach 50,000 words. There are no NaNo police. The point of this whole thing was to motivate you to write.

    Did you write? Yes! Whether you have 5,000 or 50,000 words, be proud! What you’ve written is an accomplishment. Even without reaching your word count goals, you’ve already won.

    So, throw off those negative labels to what you’re feeling and rename them. You are excited. The clock is ticking and you’re feeling a rush. This is fun! Race towards the finish line with everyone else. See how much more of your novel you can eke out before midnight of November 30 hits your region. And when it does, be proud of what you’ve produced. I’ll say it again, BE PROUD! Because you have every right to be. You did a hard thing and didn’t give up. Good job.

    Now what?

    Remember the first paragraph of this blog post? It’s time to address those misconceptions. First, even if you reach 50,000 words, you won’t have a completed novel. Most novels are about 80,000 to 100,000 words. At the end of November, you might be about half way through your plot.

    Second, even if you manage to write over 50,000 words and finish your plot, it probably won’t be amazing. Yet! Writing a novel is fun, hard work, but that’s not even half of it. Editing it is just as much work, if not harder work than writing it in some cases. Yes, publishing firms will have editors on site, but they won’t waste their time on a manuscript that’s littered with errors (editors are polishers, not construction crews.) And if you self-publish, no one will want to buy and read it if there are typos or glaring plot holes. Before you even consider publication, you’ll need to take the time to make it the best possible version of itself that you’re able to make it with the resources you have.

    At the end of November, your NaNo story is not ready for publication. I’m saying this again because it’s important and often people don’t believe it—it is NOT ready, no matter how wonderful you think it is, or your friends or mother says it is. Do NOT submit it to any literary agents/editors or self publish it until you’ve let the novel rest for a few months and THEN you’ve edited it thoroughly. You’ll save yourself from a bunch of heartache (rejection slips, poor reviews, embarrassment) this way.

    Well, that was a downer

    I know. Hearing that your novel is a mess when you’re still on a NaNo high is hard to stomach. But the point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to churn out quality work. It’s to help you to shut off your inhibitions and self criticism and just write. Get it out. Get it done. And have fun while doing it.

    Some NaNo novels have been published and have seen success—but they didn’t submit them the December after they wrote them. It took a lot of hard work after NaNoWriMo was over.

    But now that you know that, you can avoid the crash and instead end NaNo on a high note. You can celebrate having done a hard thing. You’ll have had fun, and will probably learn a thing or two about yourself or about your writing along the way.

    Between the friends you make, the lessons you learn, and the words you write, NaNoWriMo will be worth it. And addicting. I can’t wait to join you on this journey next month, as well as every November after that!

    I can’t believe we begin next week. Where has the time gone? I have a few more kinks I want to work out in my plot/notes before I start writing. How about you? Are you ready? If you know what you’re writing about, share the premise in the comments!

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

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

    NaNoWriMo prep, part three: Notes and plans

    A hand writing notes on pieces of paper

    Photo via Visualhunt.

    You’ve committed to NaNoWriMo this year, you’ve determined your goal for November (to have fun, to reach a word count goal, to finish a story, to make friends with other writers, etc.), and you’ve begun a daily writing routine to prepare yourself. That’s a great start!

    But to further increase your chances of meeting your goal successfully, it’s time to make a plan.


    You are a planner if—before writing—you need to figure out not only who you’re writing about and the general premise, but also all of the secondary characters and their backstories, the history of the world, the characters your protagonists know well (even though they never show up in the story), how your protagonists would react in scenarios that aren’t even a part of the plot, and so on. And of course you know the beginning and the end of the story, because you also know all of the scenes that will happen along the way. The climax is a given.

    If this sounds like you, you’re a planner. My main tip for you is to not go so far into your prep that you get tired of the story before the story is even written. It’s okay to leave some things unknown, as inevitably things will change as you write, even with the best laid plans. Also, be aware that you tend to use research to procrastinate on writing.

    If this doesn’t sound like you but you wish it were, it can be! I am a convert just like you. A lot of things contributed to the change in my writing habits, but the book 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron played a big part. She focuses on how to write faster, but she teaches in detail how to plan better so that you can write faster. Faster is only possible because of the planning.

    I have always been and probably always will be a slow writer. When competing in word sprints (write the most words in 15 minutes) with other writers at NaNoWriMo write ins, I am almost always last place. But learning to plan in detail before writing has enabled me to write the rough draft only once. No more writing the same story over and over, trying not to write myself into a corner this time. No more multiple chapter deletions! Because I’m prepared, I can write the whole first draft in one go.

    I love editing—tweaking, polishing, making the good even better. But I loathe slaughtering large swaths of words. I hate to have wasted the effort it took to write them.

    Another influence in changing my habits has been Gail Carson Levine’s blog post “Taking Notes.” She mentions her notes process in many other posts as well.

    If I do have to kill an otherwise amazing sentence or paragraph, I put them in my notes so they’re removed, but not gone. If I need to remind myself to insert something earlier in the story or pay attention to something during editing (anything to be taken care of later so I don’t lose my groove now), I make note of it there. If I need a place to keep track of details I’m not as familiar with, such as the MC’s sister’s boyfriend’s name that I just made up while writing, I keep it there for reference. If I’m daydreaming and suddenly think of a new scene I want to work in or some witty dialogue I want to use later, I keep them safe there until I can get to it later. And so on.

    The great thing about these notes is that they are completely flexible and can hold whatever you need it to, and also completely private. No one but me will ever see these, so I don’t have to worry about complete sentences or typos. They’re also a safe place to rant when I’m struggling with something, like a difficult scene or some negative feedback. I usually feel better after writing down my frustrations.

    So, when I write, I always have three windows open: my detailed plans for reference, my notes to type in as I write or edit, and my current draft.


    If all of that sounds like way too much prep and not enough story for you, consider chucking it all out the window and becoming a pantser—someone who writes by the seat of their pants. This is the best option for someone who wants to write during NaNo for fun and has no intention to publish the end result. The point is to see where the story goes and to just enjoy the process.

    It can be great fun! Often your characters will say and do things you never expected them to say or do, and you will learn things about them and from them. Just don’t be surprised if you don’t reach the end of the story. You might, but pantsers often get entranced by new ideas before they can see old ones through. If you’re okay with that, have at it.

    Some published authors use this method all the time though, not just for NaNo. They love to revise, so exploring the plot and characters through the narrative instead of on a page of notes is more interesting and fun for them. They have the patience to see the story to its end, even though they’re taking the longer, more scenic route.

    They feel more creative with this method, and maybe you do, too. But when I try to pants my stories, my plot becomes predictable and I often don’t reach the end. You can use NaNo to try this method and see if it works for you. It took me several years to realize it didn’t work for me.


    If you like the idea of pantsing (the rush! the excitement! the mystery!) but want a little more structure (prevent loopholes or writing yourself into a corner), the middle ground is for you. Planner-pantsers, or plantsers, have a general outline they follow with some notes about the important things, but figure out the spaces in between as they go.

    When trying this method, make sure you have your key scenes planned. The beginning (how the adventure starts), a few hurdles (what’s at stake), the climax (when everything goes to pot), and the end (how it all gets resolved). This will guide you in the right direction when you explore as you write so that you don’t end up stuck. If you feel stumped, jump ahead to the next key scene and work backwards to clear your way. (Remember, there’s no such thing as writer’s block.)

    As a NaNo plantser, you’ll want to do some basic research ahead of time, but you won’t be as thorough as a planner. Take some time to consider what you might need to know.

    Is this a fantasy world? Go to the library and check out some kid books on horses, swords, medieval fashion, or what have you. Nonfiction books for kids are great because they’ve been fact checked and have reliable information, but are quick and easy to digest.

    Is this a contemporary world? Use Google Maps to explore the city you plan to base it in. Use Pinterest to look up outfit ideas for your characters. Go to a place that people of similar age to your characters hang out and just listen to the way they talk (and what about).

    Let all of this mull around in your brain during October. Come November, you’ll be able to write with the confidence of a planner and the freedom of a pantser. Just watch out for either extreme of this style—too much research, or writing an impossible scene out of ignorance. Plantsers have a narrow balance beam to walk.

    Have fun

    No matter what method of writing you prefer, don’t forget that NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to stretch you as a writer, so though there will be times that you struggle, it isn’t supposed to make you hate everything. Try different methods and see what works for you. And enjoy your story, no matter how it comes out of you.

    Next week we’ll talk about what you can expect during your NaNo journey. That first week will be so exciting as you begin the race, but what about when your enthusiasm wanes? What about Thanksgiving??? I’ll have some tips for you. In the meantime, start daydreaming about your potential story, and maybe check out a few books from the library to help you plan. You can even check out the official NaNo prep page they encourage participants to look at. Also, if you’re lucky, your region might be hosting a pre-NaNo meet up (either for prep or just for fun). Be sure to check the forums to find out!

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

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

    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 plans
    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 plans
    Part four: What to expect