Category: by nano guest


During our “Now What?” Months, we’re talking to Wrimos who’ve published their NaNoWriMo projects and asking them about the steps they took to make it happen. Today, Dan Frey, author of recent release The Retreat, shares some tips on practices to get your novel published:

I’ve wanted to be an author since I was 10, when I first read Tolkien. I was a weird kid who didn’t fit in at school, and my parents were going through a messy divorce. But I found refuge in fantasy, and devoured The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. When it was over, I didn’t want the story to end, so I started writing what we’d now call fan-fiction, while dreaming that one day I’d write a book of my own.

But then, life happened. My interests shifted. I wrote plays, then advertising copy, and eventually worked my way to a career as a screenwriter. Which was incredibly exciting, but it could also be creatively frustrating, since none of my work was getting produced.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo on the podcast Scriptnotes, where Grant Faulkner discussed the program with John August. I was so inspired by the idea, I joined the community that day, and decided to try it myself.

With an idea that I’d been kicking around for a year, I dove in and started my first novel, The Retreat, in November 2017. I completed 50,000 words within the month, which put me within range of finishing a draft by the end of the year.

After a few rounds of revision, I eventually found an agent, who sent the novel out and got some interest, but alas, not a buyer. Nonetheless, I was so encouraged by how fulfilling the process had been, I decided to try another NaNoWriMo in 2018, and started work on a sci-fi book called The Future. Again, I got a strong start in November, and finished it off that momentum.

While I was working on the second book, to my great surprise, The Retreat DID find a buyer. Namely Audible, which saw it as a good fit for release as an Audible Original. It debuted on the service in December, and it’s available now!

Shortly after the sale of The Retreat, my agent took out my second NaNoWriMo book, and got interest from multiple publishers. That book sold to Del Rey, who actually offered a deal for 2 books (The Future and another that I’ll write next).

So I’ve done 2 NaNoWriMo’s, written 2 novels… and somehow sold 3 books in the process (many thanks to my amazing agent Zoe Sandler at ICM!). More importantly, I’ve achieved a childhood dream, and I know that 10-year-old-me would have his mind blown if he could see what lay ahead.

I hope NaNoWriMo inspires many more people, and for anyone contemplating their first or tenth novel, here are a few practices that I follow:  

1. Know where you’re going, but don’t plan every detail.  

If you want to actually finish a book, it’s helpful to have a broad-strokes idea of the major plot turns, but leaving room for discovery along the way keeps the process interesting. To me, the ideal outline is a stack of 30-50 note cards.

2. Write about something you can’t shut up about.  

Instead of “write what you know,” write about something you want to talk about endlessly. The subject you’re hoping someone else at a party is up for discussing and debating into the wee hours. Whether it’s fashion history or 90’s video games, finding a world you’re driven to learn about and wrestle with will give you endless material.

3. Listen to your community.

Share your book with friends, family, and other writers, and then (the hard part) honestly listen to their feedback. Don’t justify or defend your choices; the reader is never wrong.

4. Rewrite aggressively.

First drafts are full of the joy of discovery, but the wheat is separated from the chaff by drafts 2 through 5+. Build a process so you can iterate systematically, rather than spending hours moving commas.

5. Journal daily.

Even if starts as just a page a day of random thoughts, I don’t know of any better practice to cultivate sanity, discipline, honest self-reflection, and creative flexibility.

Dan Frey is a writer of film, television, theater, and now fiction. With his screenwriting partner Ru Sommer, he has developed projects for Fox, Paramount, YouTube Premium, and the Disney+ streaming service, among others. The Retreat is his first work of fiction, and his second, The Future, will be published by Penguin Random House in 2020. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Casey and their poodle Winston. On Twitter, he’s @wordsbydanfrey

Fanfiction sometimes gets a bad rap, but it can be a great form to help you develop story ideas with characters you already know and love. Today, writer Monique Busacay is here to share some of the best things about fanfic:

It’s a warm afternoon in 2004. I’m in my 6th grade computer literacy class, finishing up an assignment that was teaching us how to use different search engines (before Googling became a word). Upon submission, a friend of mine shows me a website called

I didn’t understand fanfiction, at first. Fifteen years later, my understanding has transformed into an outlet for when I need a break from mid-20s crises and lore so complex it needs its own book.

Fanfiction, or fanfic for short, is any form of writing in which characters and their respective universes already exist. The definition by itself exhibits one advantage a writer can have over writing original fiction: a world is already established for them. No long nights slaving over character appearances or favorite foods or how they’d react if another character professed their love for them. Even then, a writer can defy the world that’s been created and bring the characters into a new light. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen can be thrown into 2019 where Instagram exists and dragons don’t. Tony Stark and the rest of the Avengers can be alive and well in a D&D universe full of goblins and mana potions. Behind the fanfic door is a plethora of possibilities and fans creating new stories for already-beloved characters.

That’s another quirk of fanfic: the familiarity of the characters. We’re all so drawn to our favorites in all forms of media. Whether you stan Katsuki Bakugo or All Might in his true form, the writer is able to single out their favorites and utilize or manipulate their given personality to their own stories. Jesse McCree can be a doting father to a little girl instead of working for a covert division of Overwatch. Link can wield his hands for sign language at a school instead of a Master Sword in the middle of Hyrule. Writing fanfic has drawn me closer to my favorite characters. Every word is written with care. I can mix canon lore with a story of my own. Overwatch can be a coffee shop, Zelda can be an heiress to her father’s hotel. The creativity doesn’t stop and I’m sure more writers out there can come up with more prompts to support their peers.

The NaNoWriMo community itself is a motivating, driven group that always inspires me to keep writing yearlong when I’m unable to participate in the events. Fanfiction communities are the same. Writers across Archive of Our Own, WattPad, and more are their own worlds of kudos and comments, alongside being a hub of the most accessible creative works on the Internet (It’s all free!). I’ve met so many writers on Ao3 who love the same tropes as I do. We message each other to beta-read works, to toss around ideas, to scream about real-life problems. It’s a wonderful way to start writing, especially for those who may be intimidated by starting from scratch. I wish I could meet every writer I’ve met through fanfiction in person; we’re friends beyond words and bending canon to our liking.

To the writers out there who are doubting writing fanfiction, I say go for it. Fanfic is just as valid as its counterpart, and it has its perks. Perhaps one day, someone will stumble upon your work late at night, craving a new adventure with their favorite characters. And that joy is what makes fanfic all worth it.

When she’s not hand-drawing charts and writing practice questions for pharmacy school assessments, Monique is an active writer in and out of the internet. You can find her practicing poetry in a bullet journal or smashing out fanfic on a Saturday night in the comfort of her own home, because all of her social media is closed to the public.

Top photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash.

Ready to pitch your novel to the pros? Here’s a message from The Book Doctors to tell you how!

You wrote your 50,000 words (or got pretty close!). You’re a winner. You felt the high. Now what are you going to do with your precious manuscript? That’s where we, The Book Doctors, come in.

For those of you not familiar with Pitchapalooza, here’s the skinny: You get 250 words to pitch your book. Twenty pitches will be randomly selected from all submissions. We will then critique the pitches during a live webinar on March 14, 12PM PT, so you get to see what makes a great pitch. At the end of the webinar, we will choose one winner from the group.

The winner will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for their manuscript.

Beginning February 1, 2020, you can email your pitch to PLEASE DO NOT ATTACH YOUR PITCH, JUST EMBED IT IN THE EMAIL. Include your title and your name at the top of your pitch. All pitches must be received by 11:59PM PT on February 29, 2020.

We will also crown a fan favorite who will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250). On March 15, 2020, the 20 random pitches will be posted on our website, Anyone can vote for a fan favorite, so get your social media engine running as soon as the pitches go up! Connecting with your future readers is a vital part of being a successfully published author today. And this is a great way to get some practice. Voting closes at 11:59PM PT on March 31, 2020. The fan favorite will be announced on April 1, 2020.

If you purchase a new copy of our book, The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published, by April 2, 2020, we’re offering an exclusive one-hour webinar where you’ll get the chance to pitch your book. Just attach a copy of your sales receipt to your email and we’ll send the link to the webinar dates.

NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza Success Stories

It’s been a great year for past NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winners. Gloria Chao won the 2015 NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza with the novel that would become her critically-acclaimed debut American Panda. Her second novel, Our Wayward Fate, came out in 2019 from Simon Pulse. Gloria also sold the rights to her next novel Rent a Boyfriend with publication planned for fall 2020. Read Gloria’s winning NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza pitch.

“Winning Pitchapalooza gave me confidence and the courage to keep fighting. It also helped bring my manuscript to the next level.”

–Gloria Chao

In 2016, May Cobb ran away with NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza. She’s been capturing attention ever since. This time it was a “heated six-publisher auction” that ended with Berkley winning the rights to publish her latest thriller The Hunting Wives, which was pitched as In a Dark, Dark Wood meets Mean Girls. Berkley plans an early 2021 release. Read May’s winning pitch.

“Having my pitch selected as the 2016 winner for Pitchapalooza was such a boost! Of course it was wonderful to win, but even more than that, having the Book Doctor’s feedback on my pitch was instrumental.”

–May Cobb

Stacy McAnulty has been on fire since she won our third NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza. Her latest middle grade novel, The World Ends in April, is out now from Random House Books for Young Readers. Shelf Awareness gave it a starred review and called it “a smart, funny and emotionally candid book.” Stacy also signed a deal with Random House to publish another middle grade novel, A Penny Doubled, pitched as How to Steal a Dog meets Brewster’s Millions. Look for it in spring 2021. Read Stacy’s winning pitch.

Cari Noga was one of our first NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winners. Her winning novel, Sparrow Migrations, went on to be a semi-finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, then she received an acquisition offer from Lake Union Publishing. Her latest novel, The Orphan Daughter (Lake Union Publishing), released last year. Read Cari’s winning pitch.

Are you feeling a little unsure about exactly how to craft your pitch?  We’ve got you covered.


  1. A great pitch is like a poem.  Every word counts.
  2. Make us fall in love with your hero.  Whether you’re writing a novel or memoir, you have to make us root for your flawed but lovable hero.
  3. Make us hate your villain.  Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at.
  4. Just because your kids love to hear your story at bedtime doesn’t mean you’re automatically qualified to get a publishing deal. So make sure not to include this information in your pitch.
  5. If you have any particular expertise that relates to your novel, tell us. Establishing your credentials will help us trust you.
  6. Your pitch is your audition to show us what a brilliant writer you are, so it has to be the very best of your writing.
  7. Don’t make your pitch a book report.  Make it sing and soar and amaze.
  8. A pitch is like a movie trailer.  You start with an incredibly exciting/funny/sexy/romantic/etc. close-up with intense specificity, then you pull back to show the big picture and tell us the themes and broad strokes that build to a climax.
  9. Leave us with a cliffhanger.  The ideal reaction to a pitch is, “Oh my God, what happens next?”
  10. Show us what’s unique, exciting, valuable, awesome, unexpected, about your project, and why it’s comfortable, familiar and proven.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry have appeared everywhere from NPR’s Morning Edition to The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal to USA Today. They have taught everywhere from Stanford University to the Miami Book Festival to the granddaddy of American bookstores, Strand Books in New York City.

Their book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, is the go-to book on the subject, and contains all the information you’ll ever need, taking you through the entire process of conceiving, writing, selling, marketing and promoting your book.

When you finally finish your NaNoWriMo novel, the options for taking the next step can be overwhelming. Today, writer Sarah Beaudette of The Spun Yarn gives you a few tips on finding beta readers that will help you take your novel to the next level:

When NaNoWriMo ends, you’ve probably finished both your draft and your self-congratulatory cake, bottle(s) of Scotch, really involved vegan lasagna, (or whatever you do to celebrate). Once you’ve taken time away from the manuscript to regain some precious objectivity, you are now entering The Editing Realm. 

Here’s where it gets tricky if you actually want this baby to make it into the world. For one thing, you’ve got a lot of options: self-editing, developmental editor, self-publishing, traditional publishing… the list is nearly endless.

BEFORE you engage in this choose-your-own-adventure terror, it’s fairly standard to get a few beta readers. If your book is your baby—something you and the universe have created using your genetic material and life experience but which will ultimately live out in the world—who are the first people you trust to hold this fragile, precious, bloody thing?

The people who love you and who you love the most. Natch. Many writers send their newborn draft to their parents, partners, and best friends. This is all good. The writing experience is raw. You need to be acknowledged for the incredible work you’ve put in. You need to share the exultation, and to hear how beautiful it is, how perfect, how new.

After that? It could be a few years or a few months, because your book is not actually a child, but it if it were, you would need to send that kid to kindergarten. You would need to put that beautiful child into the hands of an experienced, loving, qualified stranger, who can help you guide it to its ultimate potential. 

Here are a few things to look for when you’re casting your beta reading net:

1. You need compassionate strangers. 

You need to know what you’re really looking at here. The [kindergarten teacher/beta reader] loves [kids/books], and they can be honest about what your [kid/book] needs to succeed, in comparison to the hundreds of other [kid/books] they’ve seen. 

2. You need people, plural, so you can view suggestions as objectively as possible. 

Your instinct is going to be to disagree with people, because you wrote it the way you wrote it for a reason: My kid is perfect! You’re open to feedback, but it should be persuasive. It’s hard to get more persuasive than two people who have never met one another, and who independently agree on the same thing. If two babysitters say that Jimmy likes to smear his boogers on the dog when you’re gone and neither babysitter has met the other… well. When it’s time to decide how to edit, you want that decision to be clear by virtue of consensus. When it comes to beta readers, one is not enough. 

3. You need professionalism: people who stick to a deadline, and actually, you know, read the whole book. 

You think we jest. Ask your writer friends how many people (even within their inner circle), have read the whole book, in a reasonable amount of time, and have given a thoughtful, thorough, opinion. You can tell when someone skims. If they skimmed, how can you trust that feedback? And why did you go to the trouble in the first place? Were you trying to write the best book you could write, or did you just want to tick the beta reader box and go on telling yourself your kid is perfect?

4. It would be great if your beta readers have read a lot in your genre. 

Each genre has its own standards, conventions, tropes. If you wrote a western, you don’t want people focusing more on your prose than your action. The reverse is also true. If you wrote an upmarket women’s fiction manuscript, a thriller fan might think it’s moving more slowly than it should. Moreover, someone who reads a lot in your genre can tell you when you’re relying too heavily on genre tropes. They can also tell you when you’ve got something the genre hasn’t seen enough of, and really needs.

5. You need your beta readers to bring the reading experience to the table. 

If you wrote a YA, who but an actual teen can say if your dialogue is like, so awkward? If you set your story in Alaska, you better know an Alaskan. If you really think you nailed it, test it. Be courageous. Who is your book is for? Find those people. They want you to succeed and they’ll be excited to help you level up.

Like anything, finding beta readers takes some work. There are services out there that help standardize the experience, give you what you pay for in terms of demographics, deadlines, structure, depth, and actionability. Or you can do it on your own. That’s the great thing about writing today. You actually can choose your own adventure, and if you want to survive this gauntlet and come out with a wise, seasoned, brilliant book that will take over the world, you’re going to need some help along the way. 

Sarah Beaudette is a writer and Chief Editor at The Spun Yarn, where they believe that writing is hard and getting honest feedback shouldn’t be. Learn more about feedback that empowers authors to make decisions at

Top photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash.

People tend to think that authors only write alone, but that definitely doesn’t have to be the case! Today, writer Sharon L. Clark discusses some of the ways that finding a writing group has helped her with her writing:

We’ve all heard how writing is a solitary pursuit. It can be a challenge to sit in a room full of people while trying to listen to the voices in your head so you can put it all down on paper.

I mean, everyone does that, right?

Writing with a group doesn’t have to be difficult. I’ve found that some of my best work has come out when I was surrounded by my circle of like-minded authors. Through my regional NaNoWriMo writing group, I was fortunate to be thrust into a room full of talented people who wanted nothing more than to reach their word count and drag me, kicking and screaming, along with them. Their blind faith in me was infectious and I found myself—after my first NaNo—recruiting others to meet weekly, planning dinners, and trying to be that voice of inspiration that keeps a struggling author from walking away. 

There are astounding benefits to finding or building your personal writing clan. 

First and foremost is accountability. It may just be me, but when I’m home there are a million other things that I should probably get done before I sit down and indulge my writing habit. The dogs are always in need of a walk or a snack, the laundry is never ending, dinner won’t cook itself, or my DVR is full of unwatched episodes of my favorite shows. But when I go to an outside location to meet other people who are expecting me to write, it’s as though I can finally give myself permission to indulge my creativity.

Plus, the others will be able to see if I’m doing nothing but watching endless funny animal videos.

You can find information for basically anything on the internet, and that includes hints and tips on writing techniques. But how much more do we retain by being able to ask questions of a live person who has been there and done that? The writing community around you is a wealth of knowledge about whatever you need to know. Whether it’s plotting, fighting through writer’s block, or using new software, chances are better than good that someone in your writing community has experience they will be more than happy to share.

For me, personally, the most rewarding aspect of finding my writing group has been their support, encouragement, and friendship. The circle of authors I met through NaNoWriMo are wonderful sounding boards, cheerleaders, editors, and friends. I genuinely enjoy being around them and, even more importantly, I trust them. I trust them to be honest but not mean, to build me up without exaggerating, and to be there for me when I need a boost as I hope they know I’m there for them.

I strongly encourage you to look at the groups in your nearest region. Try a few on for size until you find the one that’s just right for you, and you will find that the rewards will be plentiful and well worth the effort.

Sharon L. Clark is an author, wife, and mother living in Des Moines, Iowa. She has written a collection of short stories and serials and one of her short ghost stories has been included in a Halloween collection, Chills Down Your Spine: A Scary Halloween Anthology. More samples of Sharon’s work can be found on the writers’ website Channillo and on her website, or you can follow her writing journey on Twitter or Facebook.

Top photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash.


There can be many challenges to writing and editing… and even more when multiple languages are involved! If you’re a writer who dabbles in different languages, NaNoWriMo writer Claudia Schmidhuber has some tips:

For many of us NaNoWriMo starts with questions like these: Who are my characters? What is my plot? Where are my 500 gallons of coffee? For some of us NaNoWriMo starts with a question like this: Which language do I write this in?

If you didn’t grow up in an English-speaking country, or grew up speaking more than one language, you might have run into that exact problem. You might have wondered if you should give writing in the language you’re less comfortable with a shot. Particularly when your second language is English, you might have considered that writing in English instead of your native language will give you a larger audience later on. Or maybe you’re just in the mood to challenge yourself. 

There’s a variety of issues that are likely to hold you back. You don’t want to spend half of your writing time looking up words you don’t know, you think your grammar isn’t up to par, and maybe you feel like your writing won’t be good enough if you write in a language you’re not as familiar with. Many of us have been there. And we decided to go for it anyway. 

Here’s what you can do to make things easier for yourself (other than getting those 500 gallons of coffee): Find fellow writers who speak the language you’re writing in, be it in forums, on Twitter, on Discord, or in whatever other spaces are available to you. It’s not so much about having someone to correct your spelling and grammar – honestly, spell check will help you out quite a bit here – but more about having someone to ask, “Hey, do you actually say this?” You’ll learn vocabulary, idioms and phrases at school and later on you’ll find out that no one who speaks the language you learned actually says those things in real life.

If you struggle with vocabulary, don’t hesitate to put words in your native language in the middle of a sentence. Go ahead and write entire sentences in your native language. Make sure you can find them again later and look up those words once you’ve come to a point where checking a dictionary won’t interrupt your flow of writing. Don’t be scared of the Grammar Police. You’re learning a language and you’re allowed to make mistakes! You’re doing something really impressive and, no matter which language you’re writing in, your first draft doesn’t have to perfect. 

At the end of your foreign language adventure, you’ll know tons of new words, you’ll have great new friends to practice that other language with, even when you’re not writing, and most of all, you’ll be extremely proud of yourself for writing a whole story in a non-native language.

Claudia Schmidhuber is a frequent NaNoWriMo participant from Germany. She started writing as a hobby while pursuing her BA in Literature and wrote her first novel in English. She hasn’t looked back since. You can follow her on Twitter @ahlettuce.

Top photo licensed under Creative Commons by Clair Pickworth on Flickr.


As you begin revising your November novel, you’ll probably notice a lot more about your manuscript now that you’re looking at it with a critical eye—some good, some that needs reworking. Today, Municipal Liaison Rebekah Loper shares some good and bad writing instincts that may help you with your edits:

When you sit down with a blank page and a story idea, you’re bringing all the habits you’ve learned along the way, and those habits aren’t always good.

If you’re a new writer, you’re bringing along all that maybe-not-so-helpful advice everyone shared when you announced your book writing intentions. If those advice-givers haven’t actually written a book ever, ignore them.

Bad Instinct #1 – Explaining Too Much

Ah, the dreaded info dump. We’ve all read one, but it’s hard to catch ourselves while writing one. And for NaNoWriMo, we’ve told ourselves that any words are good words, so long as they get written, and this is true. You can’t fix an unwritten story.

Info dumps usually don’t become noticeable until we’re re-reading a draft, and they’re so challenging to get rid of because as the creator of our stories, we love what we write (mostly).

Good Instinct Alternative – Knowing Your Story & Its World

The knowledge contained in an info dump isn’t bad—it just doesn’t necessarily belong where it ended up. And yes, sometimes that information doesn’t belong in the story at all but it’s almost always something you, as the author, needed to know.

Learn how to tease your readers, only giving away information as necessary. For those info dumps you just can’t part with, pull them out of your story and put them in your story bible in case you need to reference it later.

Bad Instinct #2 – Mimicking Another Writer’s Voice

As you delve deeper into the world of writing and begin to study the processes of the craft, you’re going to stumble across advice telling you to find your own writing voice.

Finding the elusive, mythical creature known as ‘my writing voice’ was a daunting task when I first stumbled across this advice—especially since it was never well-defined. I remember being advised to read a lot, and learn to recognize other ‘writing voices’. While learning to recognize these can be a beneficial skill (especially if you ever want to be a ghostwriter), this never actually helped me write better stories.

It can also be tempting to try and sound like another author, particularly one you admire. But then, instead of telling your own unique stories, you start to tell someone else’s.

Good Instinct Alternative – Recognizing the Sound of Your Own Voice

“So how do I find my writing voice?” It’s actually simple—you write.

Your voice is already there. It’s not something you find, it’s a skill that you hone.

‘Writing voice’ is the way you phrase sentences, the cadence you naturally fall into. Often, you’ll find your writing voice is easy for you to read aloud, because it sounds like you.

Reading your own work aloud is a great way to refine your voice, especially in later drafts of a book. Take note of the places where you instinctively want to use a different turn of phrase, or a word just doesn’t quite mesh with what you were trying to convey. Then re-write it how you want to say it.

Bad Instinct #3 – Being Overly Protective of Your Story

No matter how experienced of a writer you are, the first time you send a new story out to critique partners, beta readers, or even an editor, you’ll be really nervous. For new writers especially, those nerves might start when you even think about sharing your work with someone else.

It can also happen when you find out someone else has written a story with a very similar premise to yours. Then you start wondering if, by the time your story is ready to be unleashed in the world, your words will even matter anymore. (They will. Even if premises are similar, no story told by two separate people could ever be the same.)

Those feelings might be so fierce you’re tempted to just shove your story in a drawer and forget it. But if you do that, you’ll never grow into your full potential.

Good Instinct Alternative – Recognizing the Value of Constructive Criticism

It’s okay to be selective about who sees your stories, especially in those very early drafts. Your critique partners (other writers, preferably) and beta readers should understand that the story is pretty raw at this point. No first draft (and rarely second or third drafts) is ever ready to be released wild into the world.

You will need to practice accepting feedback, especially from more experienced writers and readers who know your genre. You’ll need to learn how to recognize when a piece of feedback doesn’t actually apply to your story.

Trust your gut. Be selective in who you let read your work, and if a critique partner or beta reader just isn’t meshing well with your vision, don’t be afraid of ignoring their advice.

What bad instincts have you noticed in your own writing habits? Or, conversely, what good instincts came easily to you?


Rebekah Loper began creating fictional worlds and epic stories as a child and never stopped. Now she also helps inspire others to write their stories through her volunteer work as a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison, and with her workbook, The A-Zs of Worldbuilding: Building a Fictional World From Scratch. Her most recent release, a fantasy short story titled The Path of Mercy, is available in Beatitudes & Woes: A Speculative Fiction Anthology.

Rebekah lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with her husband, a dog, two formerly feral cats, a flock of chickens, and an extensive tea collection. She is often found battling the elements in an effort to create a productive, permaculture urban homestead on a shoestring budget.

She blogs about writing and urban homesteading at, and has been a contributing writer for You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Top photo by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash.

As you begin revising your November novel, you’ll probably notice a lot more about your manuscript now that you’re looking at it with a critical eye—some good, some that needs reworking. Today, writer Nathan Dhami is here to help you distinguish between tropes and clichés, and how they may help or hinder your novel:

Genre fiction, while being a very broad and catch-all term, is gaining mass appeal with contemporary audiences and writers alike. Newer writers may try writing their favorite genre, but might be lost as to where they should start. Maybe they are inspired by their favorite pieces in the genre they wish to emulate, but have no idea how to apply that inspiration. They may also be worried that their story is falling into trappings that leads to similar pieces being considered “boring” or “played out.” In other words, writers may have difficulty navigating and using the genre’s tropes in their own stories. 

In order to make writing these stories easier, we must understand the differences between tropes and clichés. The dictionary definition of “trope” is “figure of speech,” but that could also refer to idioms and, well, clichés. I’ve come to understand tropes as plot beats or patterns that are inherently recognizable from work to work due to how often they appear. (While you shouldn’t spend too much time on TVTropes, the website is a good informal catalogue of tropes in media.) 

In superhero fiction, one of the most recognizable tropes is “the Cape,” a superhero who is pure of heart and fights for justice, representing the ideal “good” hero. If the first example of the Cape that popped into your head was Superman, that’s because the DC Comics hero is the pinnacle of the trope- he even wears an iconic bright red cape!

“Tropes as plot beats or patterns that are inherently recognizable from work to work due to how often they appear.”

A cliché is a type of trope—one that has become common enough that its occurrence is expected in a work or set of works. Depending on the execution, a motif could be a well-used trope or a trite cliché. One such example that gets brought up a lot in writing workshops is the phrase “love is like a rose.” It’s easily recognizable, because we already associate roses as a gift or a symbol of love. However, this simile is played out and not very innovative. Your audience probably already expects roses to appear when you’re writing a romantic poem or story, and while I’m not saying that you can’t include roses at all, it is often best to explore the emotion of love with other images and phrases.

So why use tropes if they can be misused or if you’re worried about your audience recognizing them? The simple answer is tropes are tools that you employ in your writing to convey your plot beats in an efficient and compelling way. Tools are meant to be used. Just like I would have a difficult time constructing my work desk without the right hammer, drill, and screwdriver, you will have a difficult time constructing your story without using the right tropes. 

Your audience should recognize the tropes that you use when telling your story, especially when it comes to writing genre fiction. Genre fiction relies heavily on tropes because it’s written to appeal to a specific audience. Because your reader should already be familiar with the genre you’re working in, this means you can invoke and play with particular tropes in order to satisfy or defy your audience’s expectations, without having to construct or define specific plot beats for the first time ever in your story. You can’t worry about cynical fans pointing out everything you write that reminds them of [thing] from [another story]. Just use the tools that other writers and stories have provided to your advantage and construct your world the way you want to.

Nathan Dhami is a UC Irvine graduate with a BA in English. His creative work, often related to superheroes and video games, has been featured in Orange County writing journals such as New Forum and The Ear. He has participated in NaNoWriMo every year since 2014. Samples of Nathan’s work can be found at

Top photo by Foto T on Unsplash.


In this post, NaNoWriMo participant Jen offers her perspective on writing with chronic illness, and offers some words of encouragement!

Every writer gets writer’s block, headaches, blurry eyes, a lack of sleep, the list goes on. Now imagine all of that, but with pain everywhere, all the time, but sometimes better, sometimes worse, usually when it’s rainy or a cold front hits…

Welcome to writing life with a chronic pain disorder. They come with different names, multiple sclerosis, lupus, fibromyalgia, so many others. They have so many things in common, often the names are interchangeable with doctors, as tests come few and far between, with not always the best results.

Personally I have fibromyalgia, and have for the past three years. In that time, I’ve gone from working every day just about, writing, painting, reading and parenting… to being in so much pain I can’t always walk, let alone chase after an active kiddo, having such brain fuzz that I can’t always think straight or remember what I was even doing a minute ago, and losing the ability to do any sort of real work.

I’d love to say there’s an upside to this, like staying home all the time is great for my writing time! (you would think so!) but instead I’m often staring at a screen, wishing I could get the words to work. I look over old things I’ve written, and wonder who wrote that, surely not me, who forgot what the work for a spatula was the other day (“the flat thing, for flipping food?” I guessed, at my husband, who is my biggest hero these days.) The lucky thing is, I have some really good days, and I take advantage of them to the fullest.

It’s not the same as it was though, former NaNoWriMo sessions, I would be blazing along with the NaNoWordSprints account on Twitter, easily passing their 1kin30 (1000 words in 30 minutes) challenges. Now, 1000 words a day seems an amazing feat. You learn to change, or you lose your hobbies and fun in life though. So despite everything else, amazingly, I am still going to attempt to participate!

This year, after having started playing Dungeons and Dragons this past May, instead of trying to write any sort of novel, I’ll be rebelling, and using the one shots and campaigns I’m writing, as my word count. While I can’t lead people at work any longer, I AM a heck of a DM (so they tell me), and run a DnD Discord server for parents who just need a break, with other people who understand that getting a babysitter for roleplay night isn’t very easy to do. Which for me, works amazingly, seeing that on top of being a mom, I’m often housebound by my pains, headaches, and general broke-ness (disability isn’t a very lucrative job plan), so it’s the perfect match for me. Something I can do from home, but still be creative.

So while most folks are getting geared up by making story boards (oh, those are fun) and book bibles, or out buying new notebooks and shiny special pens, I’ll be over here, trying to figure how best to not only help myself escape reality for a while, for free and with little resources, a few hours at a time. Different, but the same.

If you’re like me, and are feeling down about your situation, there’s always a way around it. Can’t write 3000 words in an hour? Try to write 30. Have a blaring headache and sitting in a busy cafe to get the ambience isn’t helping? Listen to an ambience Spotify playlist or YouTube video, with a homemade cup of coffee (it’s cheaper, anyway.) In too much pain to just sit at your desk to type away? Lay in bed, crack open Google Drive on a phone or tablet, and write in the same document that you would be writing in if you were at a computer. Before sitting/laying down to write, make sure you have everything you could possibly need nearby, snacks, drinks, notes, whatever. When I’m in pain, but have something that needs to be done, if it’s more than five feet away from me, I just don’t bother.

I’m sure there’s more tips from people more qualified than me, but just remember, you can do it. One achy step at a time.


Jen (also known online as Ryk) is a busy mom and wife, whose early retirement due to illness has made her see things differently, but still be awesome. When not whining about pains and brain fog, She’s trying to keep being creative in the arts, writing, and gardening, even on the bad days. Her current project is writing DnD campaigns for newbies!

Follow her blog for more great content! 

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from David Barber on Flickr.


Thinking about craft is always necessary, but we should also consider other aspects of how we write. In this post, Young Writers Program Participant Zoe Ward gives some advice on finding a place to write:

Ben Franklin liked to write in the bathtub. Maya Angelo paid for a hotel room by the month. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up, Agatha Christie needed a cold bath and lots of apples, and Truman Capote always laid down, calling himself “a completely horizontal author.”

Needless to say, the world is intrigued by where writers write.

What is the key to each place that makes ordinary people create extraordinary novels?

The short answer: complete focus. Agatha Christie and Ben Franklin liked the bathtub as it took a little extra effort to get out of it. Maya Angelo preferred the hotel room: without the human distractions. A good writing space needs to separate you from everyday life enough so you can focus, but not so much that you can’t get there easily.

Maybe your idea of a perfect writing space is a clean room with the blinds drawn and nothing but a sheet of paper on the desk. This works fine if you are Marie Kondo, but it’s a bad sign if you spend more time setting up your writing space than writing. Your creative space doesn’t have to be pristine. It can be noisy (some writers like to sit in traffic) and vibrant. Just make sure that all the sounds and sights around you are inspiring, not distracting.

E.B. White said: “I never listen to music while writing. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all.” However, he says he wrote in “a bright cheerful room,” “at the core of everything that goes on.” He described it as “the carnival going on all around me.”

There’s no exact formula for a perfect writing space. It’s all about knowing yourself. What time of day are you most productive? What noise level do you need? I can’t write without some type of sound. I need quiet music, the vacuum downstairs, or rain sliding down the window. Heroine Betsy Ray from the Betsy-Tacy books needed a picture window. Figure out what makes your pen move.

Another thing that goes hand-in-hand with creating (or finding) a writing space is making it inviting. Someone once told me that wherever you write needs to simulate all of your senses. You can’t just appeal to sight and leave every other sense by the wayside. Little things like lighting a candle, grabbing a blanket, or eating apples like Agatha Christie will help make your creative area more defined. Soon, your brain will start to associate the pictures you have on the walls, a mint in your mouth, etc. with writing. Then, whenever all of these things happen in a certain environment, it’ll be easier to write.

You shouldn’t dread sitting down at your desk. Yes, some days writing is hard, but your workspace should make it easier. Many authors always leave their stories when they know what’s going to happen next. Nothing’s worse than sitting down, eager to write, and staring at a blank page for an hour. This simple trick makes you more excited to write (aka making your writing environment more productive) and gets your creative juices flowing.

In short, writing can be hard. But the space in which you write shouldn’t be. Finding somewhere inspiring and cultivating it to give you complete focus can transform your writing habits. Switch up your area and see its effects in your novel. Write on!


Zoe Ward is a reader, writer, spring lover, and bunhead who believes in the power of writing. The writer of blog Pen2Paper, she seeks to help authors find their voices and help the world read a little more (which we can all agree makes it a better place). If she’s not scribbling poems on Post-its, you can find her eating cookie dough, dancing around her kitchen, or memorizing Anne of Green Gables.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Suzy Hazelwood on Flickr.