Category: by oll guest


When it comes to editing and perfecting our novels, we need all the help we can get! Today, author and Municipal Liaison A.K. Child shares her advice for those NaNo novelists with a complete draft and who are wondering what comes next:

November is over, and if you were successful, you should have at
least 50,000 words of novel sitting on your computer (and on the cloud, a few thumb drives, and in a hard copy, just in case!). And even if you didn’t quite reach 50,000, you still have the workings of a draft to your name. Some of you
may have finished a novel, and
others may have been working on something else, but finishing is key.
Reaching those sweet, sexy words, “The End,” is just so

the sake of argument, let’s pretend you reached a “happily ever after,” and
you have a full draft sitting there, teasing you.

“You’ll never pick me up again,”

it taunts in its whiney, ill-formed
voice. “What will you do now?”

But that mocking pile of pages is so very wrong about your tenacity and
dedication to creativity! You did manage to finish a draft. You did get to the coveted “The End.” It
was all you. Don’t let that draft get the better of you now. Show
it you are the master of your own destiny!

time to edit!

1. Refresh

Wait…it might not actually be time to edit. It will be soon, I
promise. First, you may want to take a break. Put your draft in the
freezer. Think about something else. Binge watch all those shows you
missed while you were writing in November. Detox from the caffeine

now that you’ve had a rest, you can start the editing. Getting away
from your piece for a little while does a couple of things. First, it keeps your mind from imploding. Second, it allows you to look at
your story with fresh eyes to see the errors you might otherwise miss. Third, it gives you some time to think about things you may
have skipped over, like names or that massive plot hole your
characters decided it was best to cover with a tarp and never speak

2. Rearrange

how does editing work? Well, that depends on your story. If you are
like many writers, you may work on different scenes in random order.
The first thing to do is put those scenes in logical order. Make a timeline! This will
allow you to see where any gaps might exist. If you’re like me and
have to write in logical order from beginning to end, you can skip
this step, unless you just feel like rearranging stuff to
procrastinate. Then go for it.

3. Reread

that you have your story put together, the best way to edit is to
read it. You can do this on a screen or print out a hard copy,
whatever works for you. You may want to read it aloud too (especially
in public, because that’s always fun!), so you can hear the words as
well as see them. The errors have a way of standing out if you
perceive them differently. This is neither a fun nor fast process,
but it is necessary if you expect to show your work to other people, especially if you want to publish it.

4. Review

you’ve gone through your story, it’s best to share the love. Find
beta readers. Relatives are usually the worst, and friends aren’t
much better. They may not know much about writing and may not give
you critical feedback. Writer’s groups and other writers are the
best reviewers, plus you’ll be able to sell your books to your
friends and family and they can write reviews for you later.

hope this gives you a small idea on how to move forward. Good luck,
and let me know when you’ve published so I can read your

Child is originally from the West Coast but now lives on the East Coast, making a living by editing audit reports, and other writing.
She has self-published two books,
Steamroller and The Scow:
Free Flight. A.K. is a regular participant in NaNoWriMo and is a
co-Municipal Liaison for the Northern Virginia region. She also
writes original graphic novels/comic books. Visit her online to learn more. 

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Sarah Browning on Flickr.

Despite all the excitement of the “Now What” months, you might feel like you’re in over your head. Where do you start? What tools do you need to edit your novel? Who do you talk to? Fear not—you’re not alone! Today, Municipal Liaison for the Europe :: Scotland :: Dundee & Angus region Gavin Cameron shares their advice for taking on the revision process:

I’m not a lifelong writer. When I was 26, I heard about a strange writing contest—it was called “NaNooNaNoo” or something. I decided to join up with no real plot, no experience of writing fiction since high school—and no idea what would happen next. I went along to a local meet-up, and found a group of the most welcoming people. With their help, I hit 50,000 words in my first attempt.

Seven years on, I’m now a three-time ML for the Dundee & Angus region in Scotland, assisted by a wonderfully supportive co-ML, Valerie. Together, we manage a diverse and inclusive group with writers of several nationalities and LGBT identities, and it’s a joy to do so. 

There’s been such enthusiasm from the members of our region that we’ve been meeting up every week for around 2 years, even outside of NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo seasons. This means members have the time and support to continue their work during the dreaded “I Wrote a Novel… Now What?” months.

“One of the most useful editing tools is neither an eraser nor a Delete key, but time.”

In my own case,
I’m not yet finished writing my story, so that’ll be my focus for
the weeks to come. I spoke to Kirsty, one of our regular members,
who’ll be doing the same. But she has her sights set even higher.
Kirsty already has one published novel and three short story credits,
and she’s planning to add this year’s NaNoWriMo novel to that

Which brings me
to an important point if you want to be published: the value of the

One of the most
useful editing tools is neither an eraser nor a Delete key, but time. I
make a habit of taking a break from a piece after writing it, even if
I’m bound to a tight deadline. When I come back, I read it aloud
where possible; I often find spelling errors, clumsy phrasing and
structural flaws jumping out at me. I repeat this process until I’m
satisfied with my own work, and only then do I consider sending it

A technique I’m keen to try during this “Now What?” is
peer editing, where two writers swap manuscripts and look over each
other’s work, as a couple of my friends already do. Even after
thorough self-editing, it’s still possible to overlook basic

Of course, maybe
you don’t have a 50,000-word novel to edit. Dundee & Angus
region members are probably sick of hearing it, but there’s no
shame in not reaching that target. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
and Breakfast at Tiffany’s are two well-loved books, yet
neither of them touch 50,000 words. 

In 2015, I had to give up writing
my own novel to concentrate on an MLitt Writing Practice and Study
degree, something I wouldn’t be doing if it hadn’t been for that
initial positive experience with “NaNooNaNoo” five years earlier.
I graduated during the 2016 contest.

So whether you’ve
entered the “Now What?” months with 1,000 words or 100,000, well
done. You’ve no doubt told the story only you can tell, so consider
giving it a thorough edit, then show it off to a waiting world.


Gavin Cameron has
participated in NaNoWriMo since 2010 and became ML for the Europe ::
Scotland :: Dundee & Angus region in 2015. Gavin chiefly writes
poems and short stories the rest of the year, some of which have been
published locally and abroad. Drawing on a passion for spoken-word
and live performance, Gavin runs
Hotchpotch, a monthly open-mike
night for writers to present their creative work without judgement or
criticism. Find out more at Gavin’s website and on Twitter

Top photo licensed under Creative Commons from M Reza Faisal on Flickr.


We hope you’ve had a chance to catch up on sleep and are now starting to reread and revise your NaNo novels. Writing a draft is only half the battle, so today author Laura VanArendonk Baugh shares some questions to ask yourself when you’re revising:

If they’d asked
me, it would be called NaDraWriMo: National Draft Writing Month.

Don’t get me
wrong—writing 50,000 words in a month is a big accomplishment, and I’m
not taking anything away from that. But it’s not accurate to think
of it as a finished novel just yet. 

Fortunately, we
have the next eleven months for revisions! Revision is not a
luxury; it’s an essential part of finishing a novel.

I say writing, O believe me, it is rewriting that I have chiefly in

Robert Louis Stevenson

But without the
communal adrenaline of NaNoWriMo—and let’s be honest, it’s far
less thrilling to post “I removed a weak subplot” than to update
that purple bar—it can be hard to maintain that promise to revise. Rewriting is also very different than writing, so it can be hard to
know how to even start.

Here is how I do

Structure & Pacing

When you’re beginning to revise, ask yourself: Does my story
follow a standard plot arc? If not, why not, and does it still work?

This is the first
and most critical component. It does not matter how poetic your sentences are if the story is unsatisfying. The question posed at
the beginning must be answered at the end.

You may need to add a subplot for depth, or remove that bunny trail. Each scene must
simultaneously advance plot and characterization. Any scene,
even one you enjoy, that doesn’t meet this criteria is deleted from the
manuscript. This is brutal work, but necessary. Loose prose written
under pressure needs to be distilled to pure story. Writing a log
line—a single sentence to summarize premise and plot—can help you simplify your structural analysis. Try it!

The key may also be to just finish the thing! Fifty thousand words is about two-thirds of
a traditional mainstream novel, so depending on your story and genre,
you may not be done yet. My 2017 project will be complete at 90,000
words, so just a few thousand more and then I’ll start revising.


It takes me a
while to understand my characters. I don’t really know someone
until I drop him into the middle of a plot and see what he does.

I may revise
early scenes with the complex personalities of later writing. Does her
knowledge of sushi help to identify the murderer? Go back and drop a
kappa roll reference in her introduction. Humanize a dull character
by giving him a fear of spiders or heights. Let a villain snuggle a
kitten to show he’s not all bad.

I also make sure
each character has a consistent voice, but that individual characters’ voices
differ. Try rewriting a scene without any dialogue tags, and see if you can distinguish each speaker; if you can’t tell who’s who, it may be time to focus on distinct character voices.

Wordsmithing & Polishing

This is the
final (and for me, the most fun!) part of revision. This is where
we take sandpaper to the rough story and polish it into gleaming
brilliance. This is where manuscripts start to sing.

You can get those
shining, perfect lines in your first draft too, of course. But like a
diamond in the rough, they cannot be fully appreciated until
they are given a proper setting.

Save this line
editing for after structural revisions, lest you spend hours
perfecting scenes you’ll end up cutting. I used to get caught in
this most enjoyable part of revisions, but to be efficient with my
time, I’ve made it my reward for getting through structural editing.

Tackle Those Revisions!

Revisions are
usually most effective when we’ve had time away. My manuscript and
I will agree to see other people for a while, and then I’ll come
back with a fresh outlook. Remember, you have time to make it great!

Need more
detailed guidance? Editor Janeen Ippolito of Uncommon Universes Press
has a series
on revisions
with links to other free resources.

Enjoy your
deserved break after your hard November push, but don’t forget the
next step toward finishing your novel. Happy revisions!


Laura VanArendonk
Baugh is an award-winning writer of fantasy (epic, urban, and
historical), mystery, and non-fiction, both traditionally and
independently published. Her NaNoWriMo fantasy The
Songweaver’s Vow
is a semi-finalist for SPFBO’s Best of
2017. Visit her website to learn more.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Ben Terrett on Flickr.


You’ve probably heard the phrase “write what you know.” But if we only wrote what we knew, we’d never discover anything new! As you revise, it may be a good time to let your story go to new places. Today, ten-time NaNo winner Meg Dowell encourages you to get out of your comfort zone:

Have you ever written a story that takes you so far out of your comfort zone you’re not sure you’ll ever find your way back again? I think every writer should aim for this creative milestone… someday.

Because I’ve done and won NaNo 10 years in a row, I knew a goal of 50,000 words just wouldn’t be enough. I needed a different kind of challenge to propel my writing forward this time around. 

So I decided to write a story that made me uncomfortable.

A different genre; different themes; characters I’d never met before. It took research to understand perspectives that directly opposed mine. I took the story I wanted to write and flipped it so that every word I typed felt unfamiliar—and yet, somehow, right.

I was surprised to discover how much I had to lean on my instinct as a storyteller to make all the words happen. That instinct is not something many of us are comfortable with, especially when we’re desperately trying to write as much as possible in such a short amount of time.

You know those random flashes of inspiration you get in the shower—the ones you don’t ask for or expect, and have to sprint to your laptop, still dripping from your cleanse, to write them down before they disappear? That’s your story, trapped inside your head, saying, “This is what happens now.”

“Listen to your story. It knows the way. And the way is never comfortable.“

It doesn’t matter if you can’t figure out how each piece fits into your story, or you don’t want to write that scene because it’s too weird or too gross or it hits too close to home. 

Listen to your story. It knows the way. And the way is never comfortable. Sometimes, you just have to go with your gut instinct. Let your characters drive the story for awhile. Let your story tell itself.

Whether you’re finishing up the novel you started in November or you’re venturing back into it wearing an editor’s lens, it doesn’t matter if it’s comfortable or rational or “good.” If it’s the direction your story wants to go, let it go. Follow it. Watch it take shape. Allow yourself to turn up the volume, raise the stakes, twist that narrative, do something different.

When you reread that passage and think, “I should have written it this way,” write it that way. When you don’t feel you’ve built up a character enough, build them up more. If harsher words can be spoken, thrust them into the dialogue whether you’d say them out loud yourself or wouldn’t dare.

Deep down, you know your story’s still growing. You may hesitate to let it because you don’t yet recognize what it feels like to give up full control of this thing you thought you understood.

Stories evolve even while we’re still working on them. Your first draft may be its own finished product, and yes, you should be exceptionally proud of it.

But the work isn’t over. Listen closely, and you’ll hear the echoes of the game-changing story elements you considered including, but didn’t. Now is the time to be bold! Go where you have never gone before. Take this thing you’re already so proud of, and make it better. Turn it into everything you didn’t know it could be, or feared you couldn’t skillfully construct.

Your novel begs to be set free.

Will you choose comfort? Or will you leave your old story behind, and make way for a version much grander than anything you’ve written before?


Meg Dowell is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a ten-time NaNoWriMo winner, blogger, and book-buying enthusiast. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and nerdy things.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Fred Marie on Flickr.


November is finally over, and now that you’ve had a chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep, you might be planning the next steps in the life of your novel. Today, author and Municipal Liaison E.A. Comiskey shares her advice for polishing the draft you wrote in November:

hope you are wildly proud of yourself! You took a chance on a wild
journey this November, and even if you didn’t end up
exactly where you expected, I have no doubt you made
some remarkable progress. 

now what? Here are a few suggestions for next steps:

1. Step away from your novel.

of all, step away. Fifty
thousand words in thirty days is enough to fry the most seasoned
writer’s brain. You’re done. You’re no longer seeing clearly. Walk
away for a little while. Go introduce yourself to those people in
your living room. I’ll bet they’ve missed you! Breathe in some fresh
air. Stretch your muscles. Do some Christmas shopping. Read a book.
Any book except the one you just wrote. 

you’ve had a little time away, come back and read what you wrote. The
good news is: what you wrote is probably better than you felt it was
in the midst of your end-of-November haze. The
bad news
is: there is zero chance it’s ready to go out into the

me. It’s not. 

once heard someone compare writing a first draft to digging clay out
of the riverbank. When you’re done, you don’t have a beautiful pot,
but you’ve got something tangible to work with. 

rush to query or self-publish your “lump of clay.” You’ll
end up regretting it down the road.  

2. Research different editing methods.

know how to edit? Do a simple Google search—you’ll find heaping mountains of solid advice. It’s worth taking the time to
sift through the different methods and find your style. As with any practice, finding
a handful of trusted friends who have already succeeded at what you want to do will also be invaluable. I put emphasis on that,
because people can’t guide you down a road they’ve never traveled.
Take advice, but be wise about it.  

3. Research your publishing options.

After you’ve
polished it as much as you possibly can, then you’re
ready to consider publishing. How
are you going to do it? Are you going to self-publish? Go through a
small press? Take the traditional agent or Big Five route? 

time to start Googling again. Be aware that there is good and bad in
every option. Figure out what you want to achieve and follow the path
most likely to get you the results you’re looking for. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of doing your research. Don’t be
one of the many who get rejected before you start because you began your email with “Dear Editor."  

4. Be patient.

know this can all sound a little daunting, but you wrote a book in
thirty days! That’s amazing! If you did that, you can do this, too—no doubt about it! The number one thing that will be in
your favor is patience.  

know how you love sinking into a book because it slowly draws you
into a new world and immerses you inside some fantastic story? You
know how the book (a long, slow read) is always better than the movie
(a quick, easy experience)? 

The key here is to take it slow. Churning
out a first draft in thirty days is an exhilarating experience,
but in a world of rushing around, publishing still
moves at a snail’s pace, and you need to learn to be OK with
that. Your story is absolutely, unequivocally, beyond a
doubt worth telling.

Give yourself enough time
to guarantee you’re telling your story as well as it can be told. And
when you’re done with that, trust you’ve done well. Be at peace. Take
another break. Celebrate. And then… 

us another one! 


E.A. Comiskey is a NaNo ML from Michigan. Her first NaNoWriMo project
was published through a small press AFTER she learned the lessons
above and it became a best-seller in its category on Amazon. She
now has two published novels, two more coming in 2018, two currently
being queried, and one big lump of clay from this past month.  

Top photo licensed under Creative Commons from Alexandre Dulaunoy on Flickr.


November can test our mental, physical, and emotional
endurance. Sometimes, the challenge of writing a novel can help bring
the rest of our lives into focus. Today, writer Tesora
shares how doing NaNoWriMo made her reassess her
personal relationships:

Maybe it’s the waning light. Maybe it’s the terrible weather.
Maybe it’s NaNoWriMo…but I’ve had two romantic relationships
end in November; both were engagements.

Okay, you got me, it was a sensationalist blog title. The
relationships were already stressed before I threw rapid
novel-writing into the mix. NaNoWriMo isn’t to blame for anything.
But there’s a shred of truth in here: doing big, challenging (yet
optional!) things throws our lives into focus in a way nothing else

It’s important to remember that NaNoWriMo is optional, and
because it is, it’s almost 100% for YOU. Yes, book sales might
benefit your family, but in the short term this project is entirely
for you and done by you. No one else is typing the words, no one else
can force you to set aside time each day. It’s a torturous form of
self-care (but, hey, we’re writers! We have a long,
illustrious lineage of self-torture!). 

Most importantly, it’s essential to our creative well-being. If
you were immersed a big project at work, or a contract paying you
$5,000 on delivery, or a family tragedy you couldn’t escape, your
whole world could organize around you for support. 

But because this is just for you, it’s harder for our friends and families to understand it, support it, and prioritize it (unless you live
in a family of authors—in which case, good for you!). It’s
obvious, but when you’re taking more time for you, you probably
can’t give as much to everything else.

“I think of NaNoWriMo as a good and safe testing ground for the many challenges life will throw at me and my relationships.”

My first engagement ended in November 2013, my first year doing
NaNoWriMo. Halfway through the month, I had a nagging feeling. A bad
feeling. I discovered how much I loved writing, but I wondered if I
was using it to avoid my partner. Our relationship was already
stressed—and for so many reasons. 

As the going got tough around NaNo week three and I saw my
determination and tenacity to win, I had to admit something big to
myself: I cared more about finishing strong in NaNoWriMo than what
was going on in my interpersonal life. That’s an embarrassing thing
to admit, but it happened. We weren’t a good match for each other.
We both had a lot of care and kindness between us, but we didn’t
communicate well, we didn’t have any ease of understanding. 

Once I didn’t have the time to work so darn hard at our
emotional life, I saw just how much it was taking out of me to be in
that relationship. It was a sad parting and I don’t at all dismiss
how beautiful a man he is, inside and out. But NaNoWriMo helped me
reach a new place of honesty in my relationship with him.

And then…four years later…it happened again! Different man,
different place, different life package in so many ways. But the
focus, energy and clear mind it takes to pull off novel-writing threw
my own emotional life into sharper relief once again.

So no, it’s not NaNoWriMo’s fault I find myself single for the
holidays. AGAIN. I’m quite thankful for the chance to discover my
own self and my relationships in this way. Because here’s the
thing: life is long and NaNo certainly isn’t the last and only big
thing that’ll I undertake. It’s not the only time I’ll feel
stress and need to receive support and not be a highly productive,
competent, emotionally mature SuperWoman of my partnership. 

I think of NaNoWriMo as a good and safe testing ground for the
many challenges life will throw at me and my relationships. So thank
you NaNoWriMo for the tools, the time, the reflection, the challenge.
Yeah, I’m still single. But I have a handful of novels behind me
and a more creative life. So now…can anyone recommend a good dating


Tesora Jeffries lives in the Pacific Northwest. She mostly writes
website content and edits technical or academic writing. Her first
work of fiction was her 2013 NaNoWriMo novel. This year she wrote her
first fantasy work, a set of stories modeled after fairy tales from
around the world. Tesora is a single mother, leader in local Cub
Scouts, and teacher.  She set up a twitter account recently
‘cause that seemed an author-like thing to do. Find her online

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Marco Verch on Flickr.

Now that November’s over, you might be wondering: Where do I go from here? If you have a finished novel draft, there are lots of ways you could plan out your next writing or editing steps. Today, author Sarah Raughley shares her top tips for moving forward and recharging your creative juices:

So, NaNoWriMo is finished. Phew! Okay, it’s time to crack open that bottle of wine you’ve been saving. (Unless you’re underage. In which case, make it a nice can of soda. Or sparkly water!)

Eat that cupcake. You deserve it. Take your friends out to dinner. Doesn’t matter if you won NaNo or not. I’ve done plenty of NaNos and I’ve only won once––with the book that would eventually become Fate of Flames, the first book in my trilogy from Simon & Schuster. That was back in 2012. Every other time, I pretty much flopped, but that didn’t stop me from feeling incredibly proud of myself for trying. No matter what your word count is, the fact that you tackled the enormous task of trying to reach 50,000 words in one month means you’re a conqueror and you deserve to celebrate!

Of course, now comes the nagging question that can’t really be avoided: what the heck do I do with this thing?

This is especially for people who know that there’s something special in their NaNo manuscript, no matter how deeply buried that ‘special’ is underneath all the spelling mistakes, plot holes, and weirdly sudden disappearances of main or supporting characters. For some of you, as you’re looking at your draft, you know that this could turn into something big. But it’s a mess! How do you whip it into something resembling a proper, query-able manuscript?

Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you what I did when I was faced with the same issue. I do have some experience with this, after all. So here are a few suggestions on how to get started whipping this thing into shape:

1. Stay Away From the Darn Thing!

This is the most obvious first step that any agent or editor will tell you—especially agents, since I imagine they get inundated with poorly edited NaNo manuscripts in December from writers too excited to do any extra work. For their good and for your own, don’t press the send button. Instead, take some time off and do something else for at least two weeks. You can get to work on that reading list, for example. Get back to that hobby you had to drop to get your word count in. Or you can do research on the agents you eventually do want to query.

If you’ve written 50K, you need to ask yourself if that’s enough for a book of the genre you’re writing in. If it’s middle grade, perhaps, but if you’re writing an adult epic fantasy, you may have to bulk it up a little bit. You can choose your downtime to do your research on what your genre requires, what the industry is like, and which agents might love your story. And don’t worry if your downtime is a little long. It took me one year to get back to my NaNo manuscript because I just didn’t want to bother with it for a while. It may seem like a long time, but that one year gave me a lot of clarity, and I was able to come up with fresh new ideas to improve on the original blueprint of the story.

2. Read it Over with Fresh Eyes.

And when you do, make sure you ask yourself questions: why does she do this here? What did I mean when I had him do that? How is this plotpoint going to pay off? If you took my advice and you stepped away from your manuscript, you probably will have come up with a bunch of cool new ideas to punch up the story so you can decide as you’re re-reading what you want to keep and what you want to cut. Make notes using comments or highlights depending on what program you’re using. Mark the stuff that makes you cringe, and ask yourself why it does. Mark the stuff you’re excited about and ask yourself how you can make it better. Ask yourself after every scene what needs to change. Let the story speak to you and tell you what changes could be made and should be made to the plot, characters, and so on.

3. Start Re-Plotting.

Based on the notes you made during your re-read, make a brand new outline plotting your story with the changes you’ve thought up as you were reading your manuscript. Now, not everyone is a plotter, I realize that. I am a major plotter, which is why this step-by-step process thing really works for me. Having a new outline is great, because then you can compare it to the old one you (might have) made for your original NaNo project and see where things have changed, what you incorporated, and what needs to go.

4. Take the Plunge…

And write! The most important thing to remember here is that it’s alright to ‘kill your darlings’ as they say. Not every brilliant thing I wrote in November made it to the book it eventually became, but overall, that book was stronger for it. Don’t be afraid to let your story speak to you and to take it in a whole new direction you never thought possible.

This is all just to say that NaNoWriMo is just the starting point, not the end point. It is the push to get your juices flowing, but at the end of the day, you can’t be afraid to put in that extra work to get it to the work of art I know you’re capable of writing. It may take a week, two weeks, a month, or a year before you get to it again. And hey, you may decide that you want to work on something else before heading back to it. That’s fine too! But for now, relax and enjoy your NaNo victory. You can figure out the rest later.

Sarah Raughley grew up in Southern Ontario writing stories about freakish little girls with powers because she secretly wanted to be one. She is a huge fangirl of anything from manga to SF/F TV to Japanese role playing games. On top of being a YA writer, Sarah has a PhD in English, which makes her doctor, so it turns out she didn’t have to go to medical school after all. She is the author of two books in the Effigies Series, Fate of Flames and Siege of Shadows, as well as the stand-alone Feather Bound.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Jonathan Hoeglund on Flickr.


November may be over, but your writing doesn’t have to be! If you’re struggling to settle into a routine or find motivation to continue your novel, have no fear! Today, author Neal Thompson shares his advice for how to keep the momentum going: 

In the cafeteria of a Seattle-to-Bremerton ferry, headphones on and laptop glowing, I’m surprised at how many others, like me, are drinking beer at 2 PM on a rainy Thursday afternoon. In Bremerton, I find a coffee shop and write until it’s time for the ferry back east, where I’m surrounded by beer-swilling men and women headed to that night’s baseball game. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done. By the time we reach Seattle, I’ve added 1,200 more words to my next book.

Lately, I’ve found that every word I write is the result of a hard-fought battle, a series of compromises. Some writers find the month-long commitment of NaNoWriMo to be their battle, and I applaud them. 

But what if you don’t reach that 50,000-word goal? Or what if you hit 50,000, only to realize you’re at the halfway point? How do you keep the momentum going?

Over the years, that question of momentum, of finding the right time and place, has possessed me. Like many writers, I dream of the mythic Hemingway routine: wake at dawn, bang out a thousand words by noon, fill the afternoon with food or fun until it’s time for cocktails. For nearly ten years, over the course of three books, I managed to occasionally sustain a modest version of that cycle, sometimes achieving the pre-dawn flow state Hemingway described: 

“No one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.”

I’ve developed, by necessity, a collage style of writing, finding small in-between moments, carving out minutes here and there, scrambling to find the headspace to focus and tune out the world.

“What’s important is to explore and experiment until you’ve figured out a routine that you can sustain.”

Sometimes I settle for micro-sessions, scribbling a hundred words onto a scrap of paper in the middle of the night, picking up the thread on my iPhone, emailing myself another two hundred words when inspiration strikes. Then I’ll pour a drink and spend an hour after dinner on my iPad to stitch those scraps into the loose fabric of my book.

I often look to other writers for clues. From Michael Chabon, I learned than one side of a vinyl LP can yield results. From Amor Towles I learned that a subway ride and a cellphone are useful tools. Elsewhere, I’ve learned that Jane Smiley finds her zone with the help of a bath or shower. Haruki Murakami starts at 4 a.m. (too early for me), while F. Scott Fitzgerald started at 5 p.m. and wrote well past midnight (no thanks).

For years, Maya Angelou would leave her home early in the morning and work in a small, spare hotel room, with just a Bible, a dictionary, a bottle of sherry and a deck of cards for company. Some writers meditate, go for a drive, or drink a beer, which “dampens the butterflies, and releases my ego’s grip on my subconscious,” as Tony D’Souza once described it. 

As I’m sure you’ve found, however, writing is not a “one size fits all” exercise. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. I’ve found that, for me, the key is to keep changing it up and fight for more words wherever possible.

What’s important is to explore and experiment until you’ve figured out a routine that you can sustain, the inspiration for which can come from the most surprising places—like a beer on the Bremerton ferry. 


Neal Thompson is the author of four nonfiction books and the forthcoming Kickflip Boys: A Memoir of Freedom, Rebellion, and the Chaos of Fatherhood (May 2018, Ecco). He is the director of Author and Publishing Relations at Amazon and runs the Amazon Literary Partnership, a program that provides grants to literary nonprofits.


Every year, we emerge from NaNo with a better understanding of ourselves as writers, and new goals for the months to come. Today, visual novel writer and NaNo participant Cara Hillstock shares her thoughts on the many skills it takes to craft a great story, and how to prepare for the “next steps”:

I’m staring across the abyss at what I’d like to call my finished novel. It’s a mess—a tangle of loosely collected plot threads, hesitant relationships, and symbolic themes as potent as the flowers on an old lady’s wallpaper. On the other side of thirty days, I have a half-finished novel in hand and a deepening frustration with the age old advice for writers seeking to improve: “Just write.”

You see, when I’m not driving myself to the edge of madness with a thirty-day novel-writing binge, I’m a video game author and editor. I primarily work in visual novels—a type of video game that mirrors a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, except that one interacts directly with the characters and the choices made come back to haunt you.

The ‘visual’ aspect of a visual novel means descriptions are redundant. The reader can see everything worth describing onscreen. Instead, visual novels use potent dialogue to move the story forward and meaningful choices that trigger players to reflect on the consequences of their decisions.

The interactivity in a video game is obvious, but the change in mindset required for writing an interactive experience might not be. The player must be attached to certain characters and plots in a way that will allow them to weigh the choice between potential scenarios evenly. Obvious choices make for boring games, so each side needs strong arguments and sympathetic antagonists.

Clues must be subtle, but obvious, so that a choice doesn’t take the player by surprise or feel unfair. Every decision the player makes should be one where they understand what the consequences of their actions will be.

“Writing is not a single skill. Writing is a major skill made up of tiny subsets.”

Novels require a different, more predictive form of interactivity. They require communication with a reader who is inherently creating the experience with you. The methods a novel can use to communicate—imagery, metaphor, and symbolism—don’t tend to fit as neatly into the script of a collaborative work like a video game.

One of these communication methods is description, an ability I’ve found has weakened over my years of intensive visual novel work. With the visuals already taken care of, I excel at small motions that show the emotions of my characters, but find them walking through ever-shifting landscapes that mix and merge like bubbles in a lava lamp.

It was this decline in my descriptive skill that reignited my annoyance with the advice, “Just write.” This is what many writers, seeking improvement, are told they should do. It’s similar to an artist who tells a frustrated beginner, “Just draw!”

Writing is not a single skill. Writing is a major skill made up of tiny subsets: dialogue, description, knowledge of audience and genre, integrating feedback, pacing, character development, plotting, symbolism, rhythm, world-building, discipline, collaboration. But just as many young artists are told to draw more instead of practicing their fundamentals, many writers lack a common knowledge of exercises to target and develop each of these skills.

It’s easy to find yourself sticking to one thing that keeps you feeling relatively good about your work, whether that be novels, poetry, flash-fiction, or plays. But what my adventure in this year’s NaNoWriMo has taught me is that sticking to one medium can wilt skills you previously excelled at. Just like drawing, writing requires all skills be practiced often.

At the end of my challenging thirty days, I emerged armed with a new vision of what it looks like for me to be a writer and the elusive knowledge of how I can get there. I’m grateful for that.


Cara Hillstock is a Seattle-based writer who primarily writes visual novels. Her own, Asagao Academy: Normal Boots Club, stars a shy girl named Hana who dates characters based off the real-life YouTube groups known as Normal Boots and Hidden Block. In her spare time, she streams and critiques visual novels and story-based games on Twitch. You can catch her escapades on Twitter!

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from chiaralily on Flickr.

Congratulations for making it through the month! Whether you’ve written in solitude or you’ve attended every write-in, it’s important to remember that there’s more to NaNo than the novel—there’s a whole community out there! Today, writer and #projectwritetube founder Tamara Woods shares how engaging with the NaNo community will make writing a richer experience all year round:

My day is spent
generally sitting at my desk (or on my bed), hunched over my laptop
or notepad with headphones trying to block out the neighbor’s
barking dog. Sometimes I escape from my hovel and find a quiet corner
at the public library. Generally, my interactions with people have
nothing to do with work, which is different from many professions.

Writing is such a
solitary thing, it’s easy to forget that you’re not the only one
clanging at your keyboard, bitterly clenching the Oxford comma and
bemoaning the double space after the period.

Then in struts
NaNoWriMo. It’s like a worldwide conga line for writers. That one
month out of the year that we all crawl out of respective caves, look
up blearily at the sun, and jump into the line, actually speaking
with each other IRL and online.

Of course,
developing a strong writing habit is important. If you want to finish
a project, you have to work on it, regardless of the project. No one
finishes a movie by dreaming about how cool it would be to be at the
Oscars. Just like dreaming about being a New York Times bestseller
won’t make those sales come in. But that’s not why I love NaNo so
much. I can work on developing stronger work ethic any day of the

It’s the
community. By clicking on the hashtag, you can find fellow writers
all over the world, whether they’re career writers or hobbyists
working at the same time. I’m in Hawai’i, so my time zone is
notoriously later than everyone else’s. Even so, at the end of the
night, I can still post a, “Ugh, writing am I write? #NaNoWriMo”
tweet and people will immediately respond.

“During the rest of the year, I do my best to create a community, because I understand the importance of building relationships outside of those characters who are living with you 24/7.”

That camaraderie
is important in this crazy writing world where I’m often locked behind my desk and not interacting as much with people as I
would in a traditional work setting. And with NaNoWriMo comes the in
real life write-ins at different parts of the island. There’s
something very satisfying about hearing those clacking of keys around

During the rest of the year, I do my best to create a community,
because I understand the importance of building relationships outside
of those characters who are living with you 24/7. I’ve started a
tweetchat called #writestuff that’s morphed into a Facebook
community where we set weekly goals and give each other encouragement
to get there. I started #ProjectWriteTube
where each year, myself and 13 authors get together to give tips,
advice, and encouragement to writers about to start NaNoWriMo. I try
to put myself out there and give support.

Writing is a fun,
exasperating, challenging, exhilarating, and crushing enterprise to
take on. It’s like climbing a mountain, but in your seat with just
your brain. To finish a story is an amazing accomplishment. To finish
that story and tell your friends who’ve been supporting you through
the journey makes it that much richer.


is a four-time NaNo winner, this year working on her fifth.
She likes red pandas, coffee with too much creamer, and singing in
the grocery aisles. Her first fiction novel Blood Roses &
Honeysuckles will be available just in time for holiday shopping.
She’s a full-time freelance writer and posts writing, writer tips,
and indie author interviews on her
blog PenPaperPad
and her
YouTube channel
. She invites you to join the #writestuff
tweetchat Tuesdays at 9
pm. You can also find her on  Facebook

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Lennart Tange.