Category: by nano guest

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From beds to desks to dining tables, many of us have no choice but to write from home for the immediate future. Fear not! Kristi Stalder is here with us today to teach us how how to make the most of our writing environments — both at home and online.

With all of the social distancing and encouragement to stay home and limit our exposure to crowds, we may experience a slight wrench in our Camp NaNoWriMo plans. Fortunately, we live in a world with the ability to connect virtually and because of this, we are thriving as a community. 

During Camp NaNoWriMo, many of us will be writing at home but we can make the best of it by creating a productive writing environment and still have connections with the writing community. While the perfect writing environment isn’t a guarantee that you’ll meet your word count, it certainly has an influence on your creative mindset. We can create a personalized workspace in the comfort of our homes, and have fun while mixing things up! 

Online writing communities can help you achieve your goals.

One of my favorite things about NaNoWriMo are the people within the online writing communities. Sharing thoughts, motivation, and inspiration with likeminded writers is what makes me love what I do. It’s by far, the most encouraging and positively influential environment. 

I’ve met writers in local workshops, NaNo write-ins, libraries, schools, and coffee shops, and they are still, to this day, great friends of mine. We all share a passion for writing, and this common thread of love knits us together no matter how scary the world becomes. 

We all know that writing is HARD. But the writing community helps to push us through the challenges. They show up with us. They write with us. And they share success stories as well as failures, to help us to learn and grow as writers.

If you haven’t already, join a writing group online and you’ll see what I mean. Unwavering support, honest feedback, and meeting new friends are just a few great benefits.

A stimulating environment leads to productivity.

When I write in a café, I enjoy listening to the chatter and laughter of the patrons, and the acoustic melodies coming through the speakers are as smooth as my white-chocolate mocha. Not to mention the sensational aroma of coffee that puts me in a trance, and I am inspired to write for hours.

To replicate this atmosphere, try this to transport your mind:

  • If you’re inspired by scents, have a variety of candles burning while you write. I have a coffee scented “writing candle” and when it’s lit, I write and don’t stop. When I blow it out, my writing session is over and I can relax.
  • If you’re inspired by music, create a playlist of the relaxing café music (or any genre that awakens your muse), and play it in the background while you hammer out your word count. 
  • This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Coffee, tea, or any other beverage that strikes your fancy is good for the writer’s soul. Pause, take a sip, and continue writing like water flowing over stones in a creek.
  • If scenery inspires you, rearrange your writing space to have plenty of natural light, and change the view to keep your mind fresh. My backyard bistro table now sits in the corner of my living room near a window, overlooking the snow-capped mountains. When the mood strikes and I want to write in the café, I’ll light a few candles, make a cup of coffee, press ‘play’ on the soundtrack, and I’m there. 

While the world is on pause and we wait for the pandemic to fizzle out, we can use this time at home to focus, set writing goals, and forge onward. 

Be well, good luck, and remember to wash your hands!

(No, seriously, go wash your hands.)


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Kristi Stalder is an author, book coach, and creative entrepreneur. She lives in the little farm town of Tonasket, Washington with her kiddos and handsome husband, and she spends her free time working on her adventure fiction novel. She is the author of the senior resource guide, Navigating Assisted Living: The Transition into Senior Living, and children’s book, I Love You More, illustrated by Julie Edwards. For more information, visit www.KristiStalder.com and connect with her on social media!

Top photo by Tom Rogerson on Unsplash

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Looking for a fun, new way to get to work on your worldbuilding? Today, as a part of a new series on roleplaying, Gretchen Turonek shares some tips on how to use roleplaying to strengthen your writing: 

Until a few years ago, I was kind of intimidated by the idea of tabletop gaming as a hobby. It seemed like something I might be into, but for the longest time, I avoided it. That all changed when I was brought on to a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and now I regret not having started sooner because it’s one of the
best things I’ve ever done for my writing.

Tabletop role-playing games allow you to tell stories with a group of people. There’s no winning or losing except in the form of telling the best and most memorable story possible, and there are so many options for games across genres and complexity levels that there’s something for everyone. Here are
five ways things that roleplaying could help bring to your novel:

1. Collect Story and Character Ideas

If you’ve created a character you really enjoy, try working their adventures into your writing. You could chronicle the campaign from their perspective, or you could really flesh out their backstory or other “off-screen” adventures. If you’re a game master that’s running a game, you could do something similar, or base your novel on the path your players didn’t take.

2. See What Kinds of Stories Inspire You

When you’re creating and playing a character, think about what drew you to the concept and the story hooks you want to explore. Do you want more about your character’s relationship with their family, their love interest, or the other members of the party? Are you invested in their resolve to finish the
mission or the temptation to stray from their path? The stories you gravitate towards when you make your RPG characters are the ones that hold your attention and make you want to find out more: even if you don’t plan on writing a novel themed around your game, think about the stories you enjoy, because
they’re probably the ones that will carry you toward your word count goal.

3. Create Through Collaboration

We writers have kind of a reputation for locking ourselves in our rooms and only emerging when we’ve made progress, the day job calls, or we’re out of caffeine. Getting away from your desk and interacting with other people—yes, even during NaNoWriMo—can sometimes be the best thing for your story.
Even if you’re not thinking about your novel directly, being in a place with other people thinking creatively about the same story can be inspiring.

4. Encouraging Fearless Improvisation

NaNoWriMo is all about getting your words on the page in a limited amount of time without agonizing over whether they’re perfect. RPGs are very similar, but with an audience: there’s a (real or virtual) table of people waiting for your next decision, which is more often than not made on the spot and gets instant
feedback and results. It sounds scary, especially because some decisions might not seem “right,” but as long as the story is moving forward and everyone is comfortable with what’s happened there really are no wrong choices.

5. A Healthy Change of Pace

At some point, you’re going to hit a wall in your writing. There’s something to be said for sitting in a chair and making it happen, but if you’re staring at a blank notebook or a blinking cursor and you can’t get any words out, a change of setting and medium might help. If the writer’s block happens to arrive on
game night, you’ll be stepping away from your novel and into creating a different story, but you’ll probably come back to your novel refreshed.


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Gretchen is a seven-time WriMo and Camper from Michigan. She’s a copywriter and fantasy writer who is in the process of revising a former NaNo novel that was, in fact, inspired by a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. She also has a few small game design projects in the works. It’s unusual for her not to be creating or consuming content in fictional worlds, but she does occasionally dabble in fiber arts and baking.

Top photo by Alex Chambers on Unsplash

Time to hit the books! History is full of novel-worthy moments, but how do you write about these events while remaining mindful and respectful of the people who lived through them? Here to start off a new blog series on using real-world events as writing inspiration is Young Writers Program participant Madalyn R:

Inspiration is hard. I’m realizing this yet again as I sit down at my computer to write this blog post. While it can be tempting to travel down a rabbit hole of Pinterest’s top picks for writing inspiration (which will probably eventually lead to a collection of 50 Hottest Characters in Shakespeare), opening a history textbook may be your best bet. 

Bear with me, reader, I know it seems dull and dry, but when you push through the academic, sometimes snooze-worthy, language, you’ll discover a wealth of literary possibilities that may astonish you and inspire your next written work. Certain people or events, such as Leo Szilard or the Battle for Castle Itter, are overlooked and ignored, and writing a work of historically accurate fiction about them can be enlightening to the public. 

More commonly known events and characters, like the destruction of the Berlin Wall or the life of Queen Victoria, can be brought to life and reimagined with new narrators and perspectives. However, there are three crucial things to remember when writing historical fiction, and they all focus on a key concept: respect.

1. Respect the character.

The first, perhaps most crucial, is to remember to respect the historical figures and people that you write about. Research is a key aspect and will greatly aid the process of honoring characters. General textbooks and almanacs are wonderful for finding inspiration, but once you find a person to write about, go deeper with primary sources, personal writings, etc. These will allow you to sculpt a well-rounded and accurate character. When writing about a person who actually existed, it is important to not change their personality, appearance, religion, gender, sexuality, or race in order to make them more relevant or likable. This is a grave error that is not considerate of the individual, and it should be avoided. 

Other things, such as mentioning their hobbies, friends, and family, help to remind the reader of the humanity of the character, which is something that can on occasion be lost in historical fiction. Of course, there are many other aspects to properly writing historical characters, but these are a few pointers that will hopefully serve you well.

2. Respect the reader.

It is also important to remember to respect the reader. While everything in historical fiction can seem new and exciting with differing architecture, fashion, and customs, the reader can often become bored with excesses of prose that aren’t related to the plot, themes, or dialogue. I often find myself including pages of descriptions of halls, libraries, gardens, and other such things in my writing, but I have picked up a phrase from my mother, “don’t assume your reader is dumb.” While some descriptions can be beautiful and grounding, it is usually wise to assume that unless you’re writing about a very narrow or little-studied time period, that the reader is well informed on the basics of the culture of that time.

3. Respect the time period.

Finally, it is crucial to remember to respect the time period. It is important to remember that you are writing about a different time with different cultures, politics, and technology. Unless you’re writing sci-fi, fantasy, or satire, don’t write about a Confederate soldier uploading a meme to his Twitter account in the midst of battle. If your character climbs into a car, ensure that it is the right model and year and decide whether or not this character would have a chauffeur or even be able to afford a vehicle. 

When you’re naming characters (which is one of my favorite parts of writing), research the origins of the name, as some have shifted in popularity, use, and even the gender to which they’re typically given. 

And while it can be agonizing at times, remember to accurately portray the political climate of the time period. Racism and sexism, to name just a few, were and are grave and serious issues that aren’t enjoyable to talk about, but they were central to many time periods, so I’d encourage you to resolve to write about these beliefs in a way that is hopefully accurate, yet respectful to all parties. 

I wish you good luck and endless inspiration, fellow writer!


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Madalyn R. is a literature nerd who spends her days reading anything from Seuss to Joyce and writing poetry and flash fiction. She is working on completing her first novel, a gothic work set in the 1840s focused around the fragility of identity and memory. In her free time, you can find her attempting to play the ukulele and scribbling in journals. She hopes to pursue a career in academia as an English professor.

Top photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash.

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Whether we prefer busy coffee shops or the comfort of our beds, we all have a favorite place to write. Today we have Jamie Lynne Burgess here to kick off a new blog series on writing environments by sharing a cautionary tale about a time where she was perhaps a bit too over overzealous in the search for the perfect writing spot:

On my second night in the cabin, the ants came in droves. They were on the larger side, which is to say that I could see their mandibles, and I imagined their tiny jaws clipping at my skin while I slept. So I did not sleep, because I expected to wake up and find the ants crawling all over me. To find that they had built a nest inside my sleeping bag. To find that thousands of ants had united and were carrying me aloft to their lair.

I went to the cabin because I wished to live—erm, well—deliberately. This cabin was at the end of a rutted-out road and a three-quarter-mile hill. I lugged my typewriter to the top. To my chagrin (and my mother’s delight), my phone still worked there. But I turned it off because I didn’t need the distraction. I went to write.

After five weeks in the cabin, I can tell you this: living alone in the woods does not help you become a better writer.

Hierarchy of Needs

In the cottagecore fantasy, the cabin is the place where the worries and self-doubt about my writing dissolve and disappear. The words flow naturally onto the page. I hardly need to revise. I found this (of course) to be fallacy. While in the cabin, I was too concerned with mundane, basic needs to do something higher-level, like create art. The hierarchy of needs, developed by
Maslow, describes the way humans must satisfy certain basic needs before they can move up the rungs toward self-actualization.

Physiological Needs

While in the cabin, there was no electricity or running water, so cooking took longer, and I needed to tend the wood stove for heat. While these little tasks can be pleasures of a life in the woods, too many unfamiliar factors make it difficult to create.

Safety

When the ants moved in, writing became a lost cause. My constant preoccupation with their activity was a distraction worse than Twitter. They might have been a minor threat, but the fact is I didn’t feel comfortable enough to be safe.

Love & Belonging

Though I daydreamed of the time I would be blissfully, utterly alone in Vermont, I found myself craving community. It’s no secret that accountability works for many writers—NaNoWriMo is a testament to that fact—and that a writing community offers great motivation.

Esteem

By the time I have satisfied the needs leading to esteem, it seems I am better able to create. Esteem is about mastery and feelings of accomplishment. Your own inner critic may be one of your greatest blocks toward achieving “esteem.” Inner critics are generally not allowed in NaNoWriMo: this month, it’s write first, edit later.

Self-Actualization

With basic needs met, writers can begin to create from a completely different space, one that isn’t predicated on fear or urgency for inspiration. This is when you face the page with no other needs but to write. And that is an entirely different challenge.

If you cannot escape to the woods, or another writing-place of your dreams, consider the ways your current environment is meeting many of your needs already: at home, you know the place well and are comfortable here. You do not need to exert any extra mental energy to navigate an unfamiliar place. Your current environment could be just the place for you to write from a place of calm. This writing could be your best.

And if you are not convinced, and you still wish to go into the woods, I encourage you to think carefully about the ways that your needs will be met there. How will you nourish yourself? Keep yourself warm? Will you feel a sense of security and belonging? And if it so happens that your cabin is invaded by ants, maybe you (unlike me) can use it as inspiration to write the next Metamorphosis.


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Jamie Lynne Burgess is a writer in residence at Elsewhere Studios in Paonia, Colorado, where she is working on a novel about climate change in the South Pacific. She has lived in many places, including the Marshall Islands, France, and New England, and place is at the center of her work. Jamie Lynne is also the author of the Awake Tinyletter. Visit jamielynneburgess.com to learn more.

Top photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash.

Have you learned any skills from NaNoWriMo that you can apply to your job or life? Today, long-time participant Julia Peterson shares how NaNoWriMo has helped her in her career as a reporter:

A few months ago, I was standing on my tip-toes on a rickety bench, leaning over a slick pole, holding out a camera and trying very hard not to fall face-first into the side of a cow—and grinning, because I love my job. Working as a reporter has taken me to so many interesting places, from agricultural fairs to museum galleries and political rallies, and every day seems to bring something new and exciting.

And doing NaNoWriMo for the past six years has made me better at every part of my career. 

NaNo taught to respect a deadline—and to know when I can fudge it. If I don’t write exactly 1667 words on any given day, that’s okay, I can make them up tomorrow. But when midnight rolls around on November 30th, the words I have are all the words that count. So when I’m working on an article and feel the deadline breathing down my neck, I make a judgment call—can I ask for a bit of extra time to make this piece better, or does it just need to get done as soon as possible?

Another obvious advantage of writing 50000+ words three times a year for the past six years is that it has made me a much faster writer. Training my “writing muscles” to get this speed boost has given me a leg up with everything from transcribing interviews, writing articles, and doing school assignments as I pursue my master’s degree. And because I know how fast I can work, I’m able to take on more ambitious projects as well. 

“You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page” is one of NaNo’s guiding philosophies that I have heartily embraced. When I’m feeling stuck on a story, I don’t waste time staring down at a blank screen—I make myself start typing. Sometimes, I’ll write a first draft full of notes like “QUOTE GOES HERE” or “FACT CHECK?” or just “FIX THIS,” but I know I can always come back and fill in these gaps later, and now I have a frame to build on.  

With the support of this wonderful NaNoWriMo community, I started pitching my work and ideas to agents and publications a couple years ago. Learning how to pitch succinctly, politely, and often, without taking rejection personally, has been the most important factor in building my journalism career, and I benefitted from so much good advice from experienced writers on the forums along the way. I’ve now learned to love it so much that I have a “pitch something to somewhere” reminder on my calendar every week!

Of course, the biggest skill NaNoWriMo has helped me build that I take with me into my journalism career is knowing how to search out opportunities for creativity. When I’m working on a novel in November, April, or July, I’ve learned to look for the nuances and little details that can make every scene pop (and/or buy me an extra 500 words). These days, when I’m out working on an article, I catch myself engaging these same habits—looking for the details readers will remember, the people whose voices can describe the issue best, and the stories no one has noticed yet. 

If I hadn’t discovered NaNoWriMo six years ago, I don’t know what I would be doing with my life now, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be quite as good at it or having nearly as much fun. (And no, I didn’t fall into the cow!)


Julia Peterson is a journalist from Regina, Saskatchewan, and a six-year NaNoWriMo participant. She absolutely adores musical theatre and has a habit of coming in second at trivia competitions. Her greatest ambition is to travel back in time to meet Julie d’Aubigny, and will fully accept potentially being stabbed through the shoulder with a sword as a consequence of that dream. Her writing can be found in Plenitude Magazine, Reading in Translation, StarTrek.com, Eagle Feather News, and The Quad Town Forum.

Top photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash.

Ever wonder what goes into writing a great query letter? Today, agent Barbara Poelle is here to tell you some “Do”s and “Don’t”s of submitting your manuscript. Looking for more advice? Join us on Twitter for our #NaNoAgentChat tweet chat series where you’ll be able to ask Barbara and other agents your questions!

You’ve typed “THE END”. You’ve run your manuscript through the gauntlet of critique partner lashing. The moment has come: it’s time to query! Let’s get your book’s calling card out there with confidence and professionalism. Start your query with a great opening line, like some of these pulled from my own query inbox:

“Hi Barb, Looking for your next million dollar book? Well this is it!”

“Ms. Poelle, What if it was your job to kill babies?”

“I recently read [name of current client’s novel] and while I can see what drew you to it, I think you’ll agree I do it better.” 

Oh. Hang on. Yeah, no, these are the opposite of great opening lines. You’ve worked so hard for your novel, let’s make sure you stick the landing on this, your first foray into the publishing industry: the query letter!

A query can be broken down into three easy sections: the hook, the book, and the cook. 

The HOOK should include your log line, word count, and comp titles. Example:

In the vein of Kaethe Schwehn’s The Rending and the Nest and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station 11, I am proud to offer for your consideration my 90K word post-apocalyptic novel, The Ash Circus.

Boom, see? I get everything I need from that line — almost to the point where I might just skip to the pages. However the next section, the BOOK — five lines of premise, not plot — is going to be helpful for me as well, to understand the players and the world. Example:

Twenty-nine year old Nance Underwood lives in the world of ashes. After the catastrophic events of 10/17/2023, Nance’s world, along with the other 2 million survivors in the US, is one of day-to-day survival. But when strange fliers start to appear on buildings in her dilapidated New York City neighborhood advertising a one night only circus performance, and her 11 year old charge, Ghiz, begs to attend, she acquiesces, unsure if this is some new hope or some new horror against a backdrop of never-ending horrors. Nance finds out that it might be a bit of both. 

So we get the characters, the atmosphere, setting, stakes. Premise, not plot. 

And finally the COOK — that’s you! Doesn’t matter if you have an MFA or wrote this out long hand while on maternity leave, this section should just answer three main questions: why this book, why me, why now. 

Ta-da! Queried! Now you try. When you’re ready come find me at Barbara.queries@irenegoodman.com

(Also, oh my goodness, can someone please write me The Ash Circus?!)


Barbara Poelle began her publishing career as a freelance copywriter and editor before joining the Goodman Agency in 2007, but feels as if she truly prepared for the industry during her brief stint as a standup comic in Los Angeles. She has found success placing thrillers, literary suspense, Young Adult and upmarket fiction and is actively seeking her next great client in those genres, but is passionate about anything with a unique voice. Barbara is also the author of Funny You Should Ask: Mostly Serious Answers to Mostly Serious Questions About the Publishing Industry (Jan, 2020) based on her Writer’s Digest column of the same name.

Top photo by Gary Chan on Unsplash.

Whether you’re working on a first draft of a novel, or rewriting your story for the tenth time, characters are what really hold a story together. If you’re having trouble getting to know your characters, writer B. Berry is here today with a method to try:

You may encounter this issue when you sit down to write a novel: Somehow, you’ve stumbled upon an amazing plot, the worldbuilding is coming together cohesively, and you cannot wait for That Certain Twist.

But, with dawning horror, you realize that oh no, novels need more than a plot and a setting. They need characters to go in it. You figure your main character will be… a person. That sounds about right. 

But what else? 

Characters are most commonly what readers will fall in love with. Whether your project is plot-driven or character-driven, they are a vital part, and not something to fudge lightly. 

There are many resources for character creation online, but I’ll share with you my favorite quick, dirty, and easy—yet somehow solid—method for creating characters entirely from scratch. 

For a solid base, think of character traits. Most can be tentatively sorted into “good” and “bad”. It’s the mix of these that will make your character rounded and believable. But you still want them to be likeable, no matter how flawed, right? 

The simplest beginning method is to take X amount of Good Traits, X minus 1 Bad Traits, put them in a blender, and pour out a basic character concept. (I know, how dare I add any sort of math to the writing process.) I call it the Minus 1 Rule, because it can be any amount of traits, any amount of characters, and apply to any type of character, be it protagonist, antagonist, side… or that one you meant to be a one-off but somehow became your not-so-secret favorite. 

“The simplest beginning method is to take X amount of Good Traits, X minus 1 Bad Traits, put them in a blender, and pour out a basic character concept.”

Example time! Let’s say I want to give my character three positive traits. I want them to be quick-witted, intelligent, and physically strong. So now we add two negative traits—they’re also a coward and unfriendly. 

Context will drastically change how these traits are viewed, of course; a coward in a military sci-fi is going to be different than a coward in a YA romance. An unfriendly person in a character introduction will come off differently than an unfriendly person at a funeral. So because of the context of your story, you don’t have to worry about making your character too simple or too much like another character, and you may be able to play up either their best traits or their worst traits. 

But speaking of other characters—it takes a cast (usually) to make a story, so chances are you’ll have to make quite a few, possibly in batches. So this step in the creation process would be The Absolute Perfect Time to figure out if you want any matching sets! 

The most obvious of these character sets would probably be the foil, so think of your protagonist and antagonist. Do you want them both to have a temper, but your hero ultimately holds theirs, so thus they remain Good and Pure? Or perhaps your story is a battle of wits with two incredibly intelligent characters. (This is also a good time to think of matching/opposing/related backstories for your cast.)

Other tics or traits can come out after you have a solid base to build upon. Maybe the traits you initially picked don’t stick around, or morph into something else. Don’t take this rule as anything to set in stone. 

Character creation is nothing scary, and you should never worry over-much about making your cast likeable—it is all about setting up a solid foundation for your cast to flourish upon. With the Minus 1 rule, it’s a quick and dirty way to tilt the “Readers Will Find This Dude Likeable” scale in your favor. Good luck, and good writing!

B. Berry is a novelist with a love of dark fantasy, LGBTQ rep, large casts, and larger wordcounts. She has published the first two in her psychological horror trilogy, THE ROOK and THE RAM, with the finale to come soon, and eagerly works on her next series beyond that. You can find her at @bberrywrites on twitter, or her website at www.bberrywrites.com.

Top photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash.

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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 fanfiction.net.

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 nanowrimo@thebookdoctors.com. 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, www.thebookdoctors.com. 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.

10 TIPS FOR PITCHING YOUR NOVEL

  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.