Category: by nano sponsor

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Kindle Direct Publishing, a NaNoWriMo 2019 sponsor, is a free self-publishing platform that can help you reach millions of readers. Today, author Julian Simmons shares how he found his writing community through NaNoWriMo:

This NaNoWriMo, participants are busy with the exciting challenge of bringing their stories to life. The time has come to seduce our stories onto the page with the dream of reaching people all over the world. But as some of us know from experience, our narratives can be shy, and therefore we have to start small and simple to get them ready for literary splendor. 

I went into my first NaNoWriMo with no outline, no storyboards, and no expectations. All I had was a simple plot and the drive to devote 50,000 words to my book. The zero prep work allowed me to focus on taking the words from my head and putting them on paper. I never looked at NaNoWriMo as something that would give me a completed novel, ready for publication at the end. For me, this competition was only about writing 50,000 words as the foundation of my story. That was it. What I didn’t expect was the level of support I received from the many different writing communities I found by just joining my home region.

Our network of writing communities met for write-ins, used online platforms to play games to increase our word count, shared writing prompts, and challenged our NaNoWriMo buddies’ word count to keep us motivated. I even joined a group of Wrimos at work and we scheduled short breaks to write together. All of these activities had one focus: getting as many words out as possible. And it worked! I finished the challenge with over 50,000 words and went on to write an additional 30,000 words in the months following NaNoWriMo. What worked best for me was to avoid making the writing process feel like a project with spreadsheets full of story timelines and character outlines. This would make the process feel like a never-ending homework assignment, and I would never finish. Some writers prefer to plan and organize their NaNoWriMo journey, and ultimately you have to do what works best for you.

“What I love most about NaNoWriMo and KDP is that they provide a path for writers to create, nurture, and share their stories with the world, lending a voice to those who may never have had the opportunity.”

The community and support that I experienced continued after NaNoWriMo. My home region stayed active on social media. Through my network of friends I made during the writing challenge, I was able to connect with an amazing editor that fit the needs of my manuscript and even found multiple graphic designers to help me with cover and interior design. When I was ready to publish, I used Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The KDP community forums are heavily driven by authors sharing tips and tricks for publishing and gave me a true sense of authors looking out for each other.

What I love most about NaNoWriMo and KDP is that they provide a path for writers to create, nurture, and share their stories with the world, lending a voice to those who may never have had the opportunity. I’d watched many of my friends publish their books over the years, but finally being one of those authors by submitting my final manuscript for publication was an incredible experience. 

To find out more about the KDP community, visit the KDP Community page.


Julian Simmons is an award-winning author of the middle-grade novel The Writer’s Table and works at Amazon KDP in the books division. You can find him at www.juliansimmonsbooks.com and through social media @writerjsimmons

Top photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

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Every year, as tens of thousands of writers get ready to write a novel, we ask a handful of authors to share encouragement, advice, and their experience. This year, in partnership with Vintage Anchor Books, we’re sharing some words of inspiration from author Anne Lamott, and celebrating the 25th anniversary of her book Bird by Bird by sharing an excerpt here on our blog:

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out. Year after year my students are bursting with stories to tell, and they start writing projects with excitement and maybe even joy—finally their voices will be heard, and they are going to get to devote themselves to this one thing they’ve longed to do since childhood. But after a few days at the desk, telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat. Some lose faith. Their sense of self and story shatters and crumbles to the ground. Historically they show up for the first day of the workshop looking like bright goofy ducklings who will follow me anywhere, but by the time the second class rolls around, they look at me as if the engagement is definitely off.

“I don’t even know where to start,” one will wail.

Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is Okay if it is well done. Don’t worry about doing it well yet, though. Just start getting it down.

Now, the amount of material may be so overwhelming that it can make your brain freeze. When I had been writing food reviews for a number of years, there were so many restaurants and individual dishes in my brainpan that when people asked for a recommendation, I couldn’t think of a single restaurant where I’d ever actually eaten. But if the person could narrow it down to, say, Indian, I might remember one lavish Indian place I went on a date. Then a number of memories would come to mind, of other dates and other Indian restaurants.

So you might start by writing down every single thing you can remember from your first few years in school. Start with kindergarten. Try to get the words and memories down as they occur to you. Don’t worry if what you write is no good, because no one is going to see it. Move on to first grade, to second, to third. Who were your teachers, your classmates? What did you wear? Who and what were you jealous of? Now branch out a little. Did your family take vacations during those years? Get these down on paper. Do you remember how much more presentable everybody else’s family looked? Do you remember how when you’d be floating around in an inner tube on a river, your own family would have lost the little cap that screws over the airflow valve, so every time you got in and out of the inner tube, you’d scratch new welts in your thighs? And how other families never lost the caps? […] Remember that you own what happened to you.

Excerpted from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott Copyright © 1995 by Anne Lamott. Excerpted by permission of Anchor. All rights reserved.

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Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Scrivener, a NaNoWriMo 2019 sponsor, is an award-winning word processor and project management program. Today, writer Rebeca Schiller shares some advice about creating an outline for your novel using their software:

I’m in a quandary. The issue is: do I pants my way through November, or do I outline? 

Pantsing is fast, but you’ll discover lapses in story logic when you’re revising your manuscript. In my WIP, I’ve had to go back to the beginning several times and make changes because I realized a character’s action made no sense. Set-up, foreshadowing, and motivation had to be added in many early scenes. 

This year I’ve decided to outline a new story just in time for NaNoWriMo. The key is to include enough detail so I can write it in one fell swoop, and when it’s time to revise the manuscript I can focus on prettying up the language. 

To accomplish this goal, I’ll use Scrivener’s built-in outliner that, in theory, will help me spot my missing plot holes. Below are illustrated steps on how to create an outline using Scrivener: 

Step 1: If you like the flexibility of creating your own structure, choose the blank template for your project. I like one that’s based on Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tips for Authors, which I wrote about on the Literature and Latte blog.

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Step 2: After creating the structure, add documents in the first folder by clicking on the + icon found in the Binder’s footer. Next write a synopsis for each scene. The synopsis feature is found in the Inspector under the tab that looks like a notebook. Type in two or three sentences summarizing the scene in the synopsis pane. A small thing to notice: when you type in a synopsis, the blank document icon in the binder turns into an index card.

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Step 3. In the binder select each scene, and then go to View->Outline where the editor pane will change, displaying a number of columns including Title and Synopsis, word count, section, target, etc. Personally, the only column that interests me for now is Title and Synopsis.  New columns for POV label,  Setting, Goal, Motivation, Conflict (the character’s), Setting, and Characters in Scene will need to be created.

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Step 4. To create a POV using the label feature, go to the Inspector’s footer. Click on Label, a menu will open select Edit. A window will open providing the option to add a custom title, type in POV.  Next to one of the tinted dots, double click, and type in the character’s name.  Next to create custom columns in the Outliner,  click on the arrow located on the far right; a drop down menu will appear, uncheck the columns you won’t use. At the very bottom, click on Custom Columns.

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Step 5: A window will open. On the left select Custom Metadata. Clicking on the + icon on the right, type in a column heading. I’ve typed in Setting, Goal, Conflict, Motivation, Characters in Scene. Below that  make sure “Text” is selected in the Type field; select left alignment and check word wrap. Hit OK when you’re done.

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Step 6: Go back to where the columns are listed in the drop down menu, uncheck the ones you don’t want and check the ones you created. To fill in the fields, double click in the outliner and write your brief description.

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Lastly,  don’t let elementary school rules on how to outline get in the way of how you write your novel. For years, I followed what I learned in the third grade: I kept my main points brief, used  keywords, but after I read through the material, I had no idea of what I was trying to articulate. This is your roadmap be as detailed as you need to be. Remember, its purpose is to help you write your story.

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, Alex Holcomb shares how Campfire, a NaNoWriMo 2019 sponsor, can help you finish your novel when you’re having trouble finding the right words:

It’s 9:59 a.m. on a Saturday morning. You want to hit 2,000 words for the day, but you can’t seem to even reach 200. You write a noun, then a verb, and then… nothing.

Exhausted from the cycle, you try slamming your hands on your keyboard and seeing if anything magical happens. 

It doesn’t.

And that’s when it hits you: you’re fighting off writer’s block.

When you’re dealing with writer’s block, hard work is what gets you through it, but without strong planning, that hard work might not do anything. Let’s look at a few ways planning can get you through your first draft:

1. Stick to the Path

For most people, outdoor experiences consist of day hikes, hikes that only last a few hours and usually have a very obvious trail. More serious hikers might take on the challenge of backpacking or overnight hikes. 

A day hike usually doesn’t require a map, but when backpacking, a map is an essential part of packing. You can follow the trail, but if you ever get lost or can’t quite see the path, you’ll be in serious trouble without a map.

Similarly, you can, with varying levels of success, write a short story or poem with little planning, but a long-form piece like a novel needs a map. Without it, even the best writers will have difficulty getting back on the trail when they get lost.

Of course, most people have an idea of where they want their story to go. Without planning, you can get somewhere on your story, but figuring out where to go next during writer’s block can be impossible, especially when creativity is nowhere to be found.

 2. Know Thy Characters

Most writers know how important a character is to their story. In fact, most of the time, the characters are more important than the story.

Think of a sitcom like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Without Will’s comedic flair and Carlton’s nerdy outlook, the show would be about an angry mother who got so mad she sent her son to the other side of the country.

Without vibrant characters, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is a sad story about an impoverished man who fishes for a living. The Office would feel like going to work without the antics of Jim and Dwight.

You could go on and on about shows, movies, and books that rely less on plot and more on developing and maintaining good characters. Hemingway himself once said, “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”

Without careful character planning, the actors are mindless robots roaming from one point to another. They stay flat as you focus on making sure you can get to the next plot development.

If you take time to get to know your own characters before writing, you’ll be able to get past writer’s block by asking, “What would my character do here?” In the same way you know how your best friend would react to a situation, you’ll know what to write when your character finds themselves in the right situation.

On the same note, defining your character arcs essentially tells you what they should do. For example, let’s say you want your character to learn to be selfless by the end of the book. If you’re at the beginning of the book, chances are you shouldn’t have your character give to a charity, but if you’re nearing the end, it should be a given that they would risk their life to save their friends.

3. Fear No Plotholes

Arguably one of the greatest plotholes of all time comes from J.R.R. Tolkien: The Great Eagles of Manwë from The Lord of the Rings series, giant eagles who are sapient and powerful, could have helped Frodo and Sam fly to Mount Doom and avoid the perilous journey of destroying the One Ring, but they don’t for unexplained reasons.

Of course, no one is arguing that J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t plan his story, but plotholes can cause serious issues in your writing. Even now, there’s enough debate about the Great Eagles of Manwë to fill up enough books to match all of the LOTR books.

Planning your story helps you see these plotholes before you even begin your first draft. The last thing you want to be doing 10,000 words into a book is to be figuring out a way to explain an inconsistency you could have avoided before you had ever typed a word.

About Campfire

Campfire is a writing software that helps you organize every part of your story from character development to the language your characters speak. Our specialty is helping you plan your story to become the best-seller you want it to be.

We’ve helped thousands of writers create their stories, and we recently raised over $37,000 to kickstart our next project: a web-based application with even more features than before.

Want to try Campfire Pro out completely free? Check out our free trial and get started with your next novel today. If you decide to purchase, don’t forget to use code NANOCAMPO at checkout for 25% off Campfire Pro.


Alex Holcomb is the social media manager at Campfire and a marketing professional based in Knoxville, TN. He enjoys reading more than writing, hiking with his fiancée, and definitely not writing bios. You can find his work scattered throughout the internet, on Twitter, and on his website acholcomb.com.

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, writer Christin David shares how Dabble, a NaNoWriMo 2019 sponsor, helped her find her writing community:

Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall. 
—Ray Bradbury

After some writing adventures as a teenager twenty-something years ago, NaNoWriMo got me back into writing fiction in 2016. The key for me was to dedicate some time and energy every day to this one goal. The realization that I could write a coherent, interesting story (despite my day job as a scientific researcher and university teacher) gave me a huge boost in confidence. Reaching the goal of 50k words each November by writing two hours a day renewed the desire of my adolescence to bring stories from mind to paper. It has opened a floodgate.

Motivation is a feeble thing, though; it tends to slip away when looking at a blank page and wondering how on earth to fill it. My interest was sparked in a writing software that would allow me to plan and organize my ideas, but many softwares overwhelmed me with functionalities I didn’t need. Halfway through November 2017, I became a Dabbler. 

I found the perfect companion in Dabble to evolve my random writing habit into a regular activity without losing inertia and without anxieties creeping in. Its simplistic design and auto-focus is free from distractions; it keeps track of writing goals; accounts for days off; and even syncs with the NaNoWriMo word count. These days, I’m writing fiction whenever my brain itches and my fingers twitch. Dabble is always with me, on- and offline, on all my devices (and, thanks to automatic cloud backup and synching, I never miss a beat).

Dabble just celebrated its 2nd (!) birthday and I feel like a pioneer. I found Dabble to be more than a writing app. With Dabble, service is personal, as you can make suggestions and discuss any issues directly with its developer, founder and only full-time employee, Jacob Wright, on its dedicated forum or through the app itself. There, I felt right at home between people who debate every aspect of the craft and who enjoy having a direct influence on the product they use. For me, the support of such a community has been vital and gave me lots of insights into the tricks of habitual writers. Though I am not a professional, I feel among equals. We all love to write.

“Dabble’s ever growing community has been a major factor for me to keep going, to improve my writing habits and to, ultimately, self-publish my short stories.”

I didn’t think I wanted more. I knew, I had stories in me—and I was surprised at how many ideas rushed over me, once I allowed them to come. As an introvert, however, I rarely showed my finished stories to friends and family, publishing for a wider audience seemed unthinkable. Finding the courage to do something outrageously new is tricky. Dabble’s ever growing community has been a major factor for me to keep going, to improve my writing habits and to, ultimately, self-publish my short stories.

I’ve included the Camp NaNoWriMo events in April and July into my calendar, where I set less stressing personal writing goals for myself (e.g. editing my November draft in April, and collecting ideas and outlining a plot in July. Dabble as a community has given me the courage to follow this path and to not give up on my dreams. (I’m still terrified of the idea that it’s now all out there, though!)

A final note: As a scientist, I adhere to the scientific method. Each scientific publication is as dry, honest and precise as possible. I try to spread my wings in the evenings. And I love to fall into the unknown.


Dr. Christin David is a German scientist, teaching students about the laws of Nature by day, while writing fiction whenever time allows. Traveling frequently on the job, she draws inspiration from every corner of the world and inevitable, weird encounters. Her stories are full of mysteries, a healthy bit of laughter, and sometimes even science. Still trying to figure out a genre or niche, she has self-published a collection of short stories [in German ;)] written during NaNoWriMo 2017. Follow her on Twitter @CDavid_Fiction 

Top photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash.

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, The Great Courses Plus, a NaNoWriMo 2019 sponsor, is here with some tips to help guide you through the novel-writing process in November:

Just like the novel itself, the process of writing a novel always has a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion. And The Great Courses Plus is here to help with every stage of novel writing you take on.  

In the Beginning… 

We need ideas and inspiration. We have to invent our characters, plot out how we think the story will unfold, and entertain no less than 50,000 potential plot twists—because at the beginning, anything can happen. 

Once we have those ideas, getting them all together and organized into a readable story structure is as big of a challenge as putting together the right words to craft that ever-vital first sentence. 

James Scott Bell is an award-winning novelist and writing instructor and he thinks you have a bestseller in you. With our course How to Write Best-Selling Fiction, you get an intimate introduction into the fundamentals of how to write your bestseller, given from a best-selling author who has mastered the secrets to success.

We all have creativity in us, but sometimes we need help getting in touch with it. Mr. Bell gets you started by offering several fun, challenging, and mind-expanding exercises that help you flex and develop your creative muscle. 

Once you have a few (thousand) great ideas, Mr. Bell provides a writing method called “LOCK” that will help you structure your story in a way that develops into an engaging page-turner. He also breaks down techniques that other best-selling authors have implemented. With these methods and explanations, Mr. Bell provides inspiration and demonstrates what works, so that you will have a plethora of tools to improve your writing and your chances of success.  

How to Write Best-Selling Fiction is jam-packed with techniques to help you bring power to your plot, charisma to your characters, drama to your dialogue, and vitality to your voice.  

In the beginning, you can also consider other Great Courses as resources for inspiration and development: 

In the Middle….

We might wonder if this was such a good idea. 

The middle is where 50,000 words suddenly seems like a massively overwhelming and unobtainable concept. This is where nothing works. This is where we are convinced we’ll never get done. This is where our characters are already boring us. This is where we’re staying up all night trying to just make what we already wrote sound better instead of plowing on and moving forward. 

And this is where we step away for an hour. Or a night. Or a day. 

We promise. It’s a good thing. 

Mindful thinking tells us that changing your environment helps you take a different viewpoint. And Dr. Peter M. Vishton, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology, tells us that the best way to deal with the writer’s block, frustration, or the procrastination that affects us all is to attack it at its source. 

In our course Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You, you’ll get tips for monotasking to make you more efficient at whatever it is you are concentrating on. You’ll learn how practicing meditation regularly can help inspire you. You’ll discover the importance of a good night’s sleep. And he’ll provide you with a toolbox full of several practical, easy-to-implement strategies for finding more creative solutions, solving puzzles, and enhancing your mental prowess. 

So, go feed your mind with a brain snack, listen to a new song, or take a break and meditate for a bit. Your novel will be there when you come back; and with these tips, you’ll return with a renewed vigor and enthusiasm for your project. 

In the middle, you can also consider these Great Courses as resources for meditation, changing your mindset, and finding motivation: 

In Conclusion… 

We are so glad to be marching towards those two most important words in a writer’s vocabulary (“The End”) that we don’t have a thought to spare when it comes to the next two most important words in a writer’s vocabulary, which are: “Now what?” 

Jane Friedman, publishing industry expert and educator, provides you with sought-after secrets of the publishing process that will help you navigate this difficult progression, bypass pitfalls that many novice authors get hung up on, and improve your chances of being considered for publication. In our course How to Publish Your Book, she acts as your personal guide though the entire process from finalizing your manuscript, to writing the perfect pitch, to reviewing contracts and marketing your book. 

You’ll get the candid scoop on what you need to do in order to increase your chances of being considered. The knowledge you’ll gain by having an inside expert teaching you how to position your book for publication gives you a unique advantage and drastically increases your chances of getting noticed in this increasingly competitive industry.

In conclusion, you can also consider these Great Courses as resources for editing, negotiating, marketing, and celebrating: 

All these courses, and more, are available to you through The Great Courses Plus. You can also find genre-specific courses such as science fiction, mysteries and suspense, or literatures most fantastic works. 

Enjoy the process. We’re rooting for you.

Top photo modified from original by AbsolutVision on Unsplash.

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, Novlr, a 2019 NaNoWriMo sponsor, shares what they’ve learned from the millions of words that have been written on their site during NaNoWriMo. Try out Novlr for free!

We are not the experts on NaNoWriMo. We are not the experts on writing. We are certainly not the experts on writing during NaNoWriMo. However, we’ve learnt a lot from the thousands of Novlr users taking on the challenge over the years.

Over 335 million words have been written by Novlr users over the last few years, and those stats have helped us create a list of tips to help you win:

Tip #1: Build in some slack.

It’s not going to go perfectly. You will slip up. Hopefully, you’ll write 50,000 words in November, but to get there, there’ll be days you hit 1667 words, and days you don’t. Our stats show that very very few people manage 30 days in a row, let alone 30 days of over 1667 words.

Build in some break days. You don’t need to choose which days, but expect some days where you don’t hit the daily target. Factor that in to the daily target. Could you hit 1850 a day? If you can, that gives you three days to play with.

However, we also know how important momentum is. Our Streaks feature—which tracks how many days in a row you’ve been writing—is one of our most popular. We recommend seeing how far you can get at 1850 a day—it’ll make the rest of the month easier. And roll with it if you miss a day or two unexpectedly. 

Tip #2: Write, don’t delete.

Writing does not mean writing well. No one, even you, pours perfection onto the page for 50,000 hasty words. So don’t worry too much about the exact words, phraseology, or even the novel timeline, during the month—just smash the words out. 

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to WRITE 50,000 words in a month, so even if you don’t particularly like a sentence, don’t delete it. Leave it there. By the time you come back to edit it, you might have grown fond of it.

Novlr will keep you motivated with celebratory messages as your word count grows… Just. Keep. Writing.

Tip #3: Day 4 is hard.

From analyzing Novlr streaks, we know that Day 4 is hard. Lots of users drop their streak after day three—not just in November, but across the year. It seems getting on a roll has a 3-day limit for many. Knowing this is your weapon against it. Day 4 this year is a Monday—plan to make sure you make it very easy for yourself to achieve your target that day—set the time aside, maybe have two or three times in the day that you plan to write so that there is more chance of being able to do it. 

And not just day 4, but every day 4. Every few days you may find a lull. If you haven’t decided it’s time for a break (see tip #1) then make sure you make it easy for yourself to write. It might help to set a small target for that day: “Today I will write 400 words, either before work, or right after dinner, or right before bed.” Beat the day 4 lull before it beats you. 

Tip #4: Switch it up.

If the unchanging view from your dining room table is becoming too much; if your bum’s numb from the same office chair; or the noise of the kids every time you try to write is driving you up the wall… then it might be time for a change of scenery. 

It might sound simple but in the depths of NaNoWriMo it can be hard to be rational! If you’re sensing writer’s block, switch things up. Leave your desktop computer behind, grab the laptop and get yourself to a cafe, the library, a museum or gallery—or the local pub if that helps. Even consider what you eat and drink, what you wear, what you listen to and who you write with. Change things.

We can see that many of our most prolific writers log into their Novlr accounts from different devices. What we don’t know is if that’s at work, at your mum’s house, at the public library or on your spare laptop…but it seems that a change of scene works. 

Tip #5: Create a purpose list. 

This tip isn’t based on Novlr stats—this one is personal. 

Before you start, write out the reasons why you are doing this. Why did you sign up to NaNoWriMo? What made you decide to do it this way rather than the usually approach to writing a novel? Be that: “I need the outside push to make me do it”; “I won’t make time otherwise”; “I won’t have time later in the year, it has to be now”; “I want to achieve this thing I’ve been talking about doing for years”; “I want to make my family proud.” 

Everyone has a reason, or a myriad of reasons, for taking on this incredible challenge. Don’t lose sight of what that is. Write the reason, or reasons, down on a piece of paper and stick it in your wallet/on the fridge/anywhere. When you are struggling to keep motivating, read it and remind yourself what got you here in the first place. 

Learning from data

At Novlr, we’re determined to use the statistics and data about how people write to find ways of helping support writers better. Good examples of that are our Streaks feature and our positive messages of encouragement as you hit targets, which our users tell us help them write more (and we’ll be looking at the stats around this in the coming months to see what impact it has). 

If you are interested in seeing if Novlr can make you more productive, or as thousands of writers have already found, is the best place to write your novel, try our free two week trial. Exclusively for NaNoWriMo participants, we’re also offering 40% off for a year with our discount code in your sponsor offers

Top photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash.

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Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, Scribd, a 2019 NaNoWriMo sponsor, shares how you can boost your writing skills through reading. Try out Scribd’s reading subscription service for free!

If you ask any seasoned writer for advice, it’s practically a guarantee that clichéd exhortations to “read more” will be among their suggestions. 

It’s difficult to blame writers seeking guidance to tune out this advice when they hear it, conditioned as they are to being told they’re not reading enough. But this advice should be taken seriously. Even those who are already avid readers and can’t possibly pack more reading time into their days will benefit from adjusting their relationship with reading.

Pro writers cite diverse reasons for becoming compulsive, eclectic readers. Here are a few of them:

1. Mastering the nuts and bolts

Writers don’t like to admit it, but it’s the truth: Grammar is hard. The rules of grammar are often counterintuitive, arbitrary, nebulously defined, and subject to change. Style guides provide contrasting explanations of certain rules, and many of them require annual updates. If it feels like it’s impossible to truly master syntax, punctuation, and word choice, that’s because it nearly is. 

We can take solace in the fact that “proper English” is a human construct and not fully “getting it” is largely inconsequential. You, however, are a writer, so correct grammar is important for your purposes. The good news is that “correct grammar” isn’t as rigid as you may have been led to believe. Writers have been using grammar creatively for a long time now, from the stages of Elizabethan England to the cafés of postmodern New York, and you have unlimited material to draw stylistic and grammatical cues from. Take advantage of it! The more authors you read, the better able you’ll be to nail down a style that best reflects your vision. And, of course, if the fundamentals are still beyond your grasp, there’s no better way to master them by immersing yourself in them.

2. Getting inspired

In the second century CE, the Greek author Plutarch wrote one of his most famous works: Parallel Lives, an account of the lives of 48 Greek and Roman public figures. A 1579 English translation of Parallel Lives—one book!—would form the basis for four plays by William Shakespeare.

This isn’t meant to suggest that you should indiscriminately plunder ideas like Shakespeare did, but to illustrate the inspirational power of reading. If one book (albeit a pretty big one) gave the English language’s most beloved writer four plays, think of how many ideas you could get out of reading all the time. Inspiration can come from unexpected sources; why not seek it out?

3. Broadening your world

Here’s another (true) cliché: Literature is defined by its ability to expand our capacity for empathy. Understanding is at the core of empathy, and learning about experiences different from our own is how we develop understanding. You might read books by and about all different sorts of people, and that’s great! But people have written about everything under the sun, and no matter how much you know, there will always be more to learn, more worlds for you to explore. Everyone gets caught in “bubbles” of preferences and interests and experiences, but reaching outside those bubbles by reading a diverse selection of books can make us better people, which makes us better writers. 

From the Russian avant-garde to 18th-century recipes to cricket technique to squirrel behavior to the lives of workers on the Transcontinental Railroad, there have been books written about everything, including many, many things you aren’t even aware of—yet. With reading subscription service Scribd, you get access to millions of books, audiobooks, documents, and more, to help you expand your reading horizons, all for around $10 a month. You can sign up for Scribd here, and get 30 days free to check it out. 

Read more, get acquainted with the world around you, and write all about it!


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Karyne is the Senior Original Content Manager at Scribd. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, West Coast Tech Editor at Business Insider, and Assistant Managing Editor at CNET. Her varied interests include singing, playing video games, and reading good hard-boiled detective novels.

Top photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

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Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, Milanote, a 2019 NaNoWriMo sponsor, has partnered with creative writing coach Angel McCoy to bring you this summary guide on how to start your novel as you prepare for NaNoWriMo:

Writing a novel is the most amazing adventure you may ever undertake. It’s a baring of the soul, no matter how fictional. It requires dedication, attention to detail, imagination, and a burning desire to tell a story. When you sit down to begin your story outline, you’re taking the first step on a journey into the unknown. Fortunately, many novelists have already traveled the path before you, so you don’t have to go into that wilderness without a map. 

Milanote is a wonderful creative writing app where you can organize your research, ideas, characters and outline in one place.

In this article you will learn five critical questions to ask yourself about your novel so that you can begin formulating a vision for it. These questions are practical and inspirational. This is the first step toward writing your novel, so let’s settle in and get started!

Question 1: What is this novel about?

The first question is “What is this novel about?” At this stage, you don’t want to dive too deep. State your answer as a “What if…” question, and limit yourself to twenty words or less. These limitations help to refine your concept. See example below for The Wizard of Oz.

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Question 2: What are the stakes?

The next question is “What are the stakes?” If your heroes fail, what will happen? What do the world and your characters have to lose if this story ends in tragedy? 

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Question 3: What is the core conflict?

After the stakes, you want to define the core conflict. A great way to express this is with an “X versus Y” statement, where X is your protagonist and Y is the force working against your protagonist. Who or what wants to keep the protagonist from achieving success? Is it an individual, a group, a situation, an internal struggle, or something else?

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Question 4: How is the conflict resolved?

Eventually, the Core Conflict must be resolved, but how? When answering this next question, consider whether the protagonist fails or the story ends in success. Describe, in one sentence, how the Core Conflict is resolved.

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Question 5: What is ‘the lesson’?

Conflict creates change, whether in the protagonist or the world itself. A novel is the story of change through conflict. In your novel, what needs to change? We call this The Lesson to represent that someone or something is facing a trial that will end in transformation. What is the transformation that occurs through the course of your novel and comes to fruition through the application of the Core Conflict? 

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If you answered all these questions, then you’re well on your way to a novel. 

If you found this guide useful you might like to try Milanote’s accompanying story map template to help you start your next great novel.


Angel Leigh McCoy tells tales and builds worlds for a living. Her stories have entertained millions, maybe even you. AngelMcCoy.com

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. There are lots of options when it comes to writing software, but it’s important to find the one that works best for you. Today, writer Astra Compton is here to tell you about Dabble, a Camp NaNoWriMo 2019 sponsor:

One of a writer’s eternal struggles is finding the time to write. As someone working three jobs, it’s not about squeezing more hours out of the day; it’s about making the act of writing easier. After all, when progress comes easy, everything standing in your way disappears.

You know those excuses: falling down internet-search rabbit holes, needing your writing cave to be perfect before you can even start, lacking time as you scramble between work and home, typesetting your manuscript more than you’re writing it, etc.

When I won NaNoWriMo a couple years ago, one of the prizes was a subscription to Dabble. Honestly, it has revolutionized the way I write.

I hadn’t used cloud-based systems before because I found them clunky, and invariably I’d save over the wrong version. Dabble synced to cloud storage but was streamlined. While I was writing, the interface disappeared so it was just me and my story. There was a light or dark mode (light for me), bold and italics, and word count goals. No other distractions.

In previous years, I’d write offline in documents that I would have to slingshot between Microsoft Word and LibreOffice depending on which computer I had access to. I’d write through midnight, and the previous day’s worth of writing wouldn’t log because I’d forgotten to update my count on the NaNo site. Dabble updated my word count for me, and I discovered that my anxiety about performing dissipated. All of my focus could settle on writing. I’d be deep in a sprint and a little note would pop up: “Congrats! You hit your daily goal!”

If you, like me, are motivated by checklists or self-competition, this was the steady and gentle encouragement I needed.

It was only after I finished NaNo having written 85k (a personal best that I topped the following year) that I stopped to look at what this software could do. Dabble set up the book by parts, chapters, and scenes. I kept track of character POV changes by naming the scenes accordingly—which inadvertently highlighted when a character had been absent too long. When exporting to Word, the scene breaks were automatically formatted—and so were the paragraphs. This streamlined sending out to my Critique Partners, instead of the old scroll-for-pages to copy out a single chapter from my manuscripts.

I could write on my lunch break just by logging in (no more lugging around a hefty laptop), and continue writing when I got home without fumbling between back-ups and thumbdrives. I could even write offline, and the new content would sync as soon as I connected to the internet. For those easily distracted by Google or Twitter, this could prevent those while-away hours.

Preparing for my next NaNo project, I found I could build my entire outline in Dabble. The notes section doesn’t affect word count, so I’ve copied in character profiles, worldbuilding notes, lexicons and style guides—even my synopsis and query for when I’m ready to pitch. There’s also a plotting tool that allows you to set up multiple plot-lines (you can assign them however you want: by character arc, subplots, timelines, etc.), and then line them up by what happens in each chapter. For a hybrid panster-plotter like me, this organic flexibility helps me to reassess my initial skeleton as I’m writing. I can take into account how changes in pacing will affect the timing of other major plot points.

When revising, the little word counter in the corner tells me how much I’ve managed to cut; when working towards a new goal, it tells me how much I’ve got left to go. I’m easily able to toggle to ensure my chapter lengths are consistent, and make notes in the title cards if there’s anything I need to remember for revisions later.

As I worked through my rewrite, Dabble’s subtle tools cut my required drafts by half. I’m able to see more holistically from the outset, replacing a gamut of organization spreadsheets. Everything links so intuitively that I don’t waste hours with set-up, like I had previously tried (and failed) to do with Scrivener. Now I’m writing books all year ‘round. I just toggle between which project I’m inspired to work on, and it’s all helpfully in one place.

So, here I am, prepping my next novel for NaNo, waiting on feedback on the second draft of the book I wrote last November, and revising an older manuscript between projects. What used to take me 2 to 4 years is now being chipped away in months. When writing is this accessible, I can finally get out of my own way and just write.


Astra Crompton is a queer writer focusing on diverse casts with nuanced character development, bringing her passion to Adult and YA fantasy, and LGBT literature. Her work has been published in Anthology for a Green Planet, Blood Moon Rising, and Unity RPG. You can find her on Twitter @ulzaorith or on her website at www.astracrompton.com

Top photo by Amanda Jones on Unsplash.