Category: nano prep

For the Honor of Tippy! How to Host a Regional Competition

Every year, NaNoWriMo’s super cool Municipal Liaisons find ways to make writing even more fun. Today, Dayton, Ohio, ML Rochelle Bradley tells us about the November challenge that her region started with the neighboring Indianapolis region. (Want to create a fun regional challenge this year? Join a region and start chatting with fellow participants and MLs!)

For NaNoWriMo 2017, the Dayton, Ohio region declared war on Indianapolis, Indiana. Both regions have awesome Municipal Liaisons ☺, Wrimos, and mascots. Dayton has a cute three-legged cat named Tippy, an actual pet of a former ML. Indy’s mascot is Moe the tomato.

The regional MLs decided on the winning criteria. The losing region had to write a poem in the opposing mascot’s honor.  We posted the “call to war” in Indy’s forum:


We the Wrimos of the Dayton, Ohio Region challenge thee to a duel! For Tippy the three-legged cat’s honor, we shall raise our pens and open our laptops to take the battle to the pages of our novels. Our region may be small but we are fierce.

The duels shall three be:

  1. Average word count per Wrimo
  2. Average donation per Wrimo
  3. Percentage of winners per region

The battle of wits and words will commence forthwith on the first of the eleventh month and ending on thirtieth day at the stroke of midnight.

Prepare thyself for battle! Tippy is hungry for marinara sauce.

Indy replied in kind:

The bold Indianapolis Wrimos challenge the entire region of Dayton to a WAR! There will be blood, there will be screaming, there will be… probably lots of writing and money donated, let’s be honest.

The realms of combat shall be as follows:

  1. Average word count per Wrimo
  2. Average donation per Wrimo
  3. Percentage of winners per region

Let the battles commence! Well, starting on November 1, and ending on the 31st at midnight, as specified in the lore of old. Indianapolis WILL be victorious! By the end, a tub of tomatoes will be toppled on Tippy. Bring it, Dayton!

ML Strych and I loved working with Indianapolis’ MLs, Chelleybean13 and Cgarrett. We all were motivated to inspire and encourage our Wrimos.  From the Hogwarts House Cup challenge, weekly Write-Ins, and even meeting mid-way in Richmond, IN for a cross-region write-in, we worked to prod the words out of our regions. What greater motivation do you need than a fuzzy three-legged kitty?

Who won the challenge? Indianapolis. This time.

Here is the ode the Dayton Wrimos wrote at the TGIO (Thank Goodness It’s Over) party:

Moe’s Ode (AKA Tippy’s Lament)

To Indianapolis and rotten tomato Moe,
a lament from Tippy and Dayton, OH.

Tomato! Beauteous, Moe! Delish in marinara,
freshly chopped in salad, red as Scarlett O’Hara.

Poor Tippy, we tried,
how sad to see your tomato-covered hide.

O Glorious orb, ripe, red, and round,
emerging from the sun to pound us to the ground.

“Tippia volt!” we cried and charged into the fray.
How odious that a vegetable/fruit should carry the day,
while Tippy the kitty lazed away.

Indy’s writing game was mean,
whether Moe was fresh and red or crispy, fried and green.

And we must admit, the tomato, however green or soft or flavorless,
will always cook up better than a cat—a tasteless cat.

So keep on rolling, oh great round fruit,
while Tippy tries to right (write) herself.

Even though Dayton didn’t come out on top, we collectively wrote 8,438,171 words. That’s eight million words! Crazy awesome!

New friends, more words, collaborative poem writing…we all won. There’s nothing like the competition of a regional NaNoWriMo war to motivate DayOhWrimos to write for the honor of Tippy.

In autumn of 2008, Rochelle Bradley wrote her first romance novel. Midway through, Hurricane Ike (yes, a hurricane in Ohio) rendered her laptop useless with a nine-day power outage. She didn’t give up, but continued to pursue her dream. Introduced to NaNoWriMo in 2008, she became hooked and has won every year since. In 2015 she became a Municipal Liaison for the Dayton, Ohio region. Her 2013 NaNoWriMo novel The Double D Ranch was published in December 2017. Rochelle shares her home with one cat, three lizards, two high schoolers, and her Prince.

3 Writing Distractions and How You Can Stop Them


We’re gearing up for Camp NaNo, so we’ve asked the community for their best advice for new and returning Campers. Today, writer Sarayu Adeni shares three distracting writing “mosquitoes” and how to defeat them:

I confess, the title is a bit deceptive. You can’t actually stop distractions from draining your time and motivation from you while you’re writing. Like writing mosquitoes, they’re aggressive little beasts. 

Meet the three distraction “mosquitoes” whining around my (and possibly your) ears at Camp NaNo this year:

1. Work

That is to say, actual work, or grad school work, or undergrad school work, or homework. I’ve lived, studied, and worked on three different continents during past Camp NaNos, and despite valiant efforts, I’ve sometimes rejected my super-novel’s attempts to fly and gone back to my meek alter-ego’s everyday grind. This year, I’m balancing Camp NaNo with a job hunt—so this mosquito bites hard. The resume polishing, cover letter creation, networking, interviewing, etc. are top priority!

2. Love and/or Heartbreak

You may be in that fresh, sparkly initial stage of any new relationship, or—like me—you’re pushing heavily past a recent disappointment and moving on. These are raw, common experiences. But I find when I’m trying to write, they like to buzz in my head with daydreamy replays and alternate endings as if it’s never happened to anyone before. Which of course, as far as word count goes, is completely unproductive. Swat that mosquito!

3. Living Space 

I recently moved into what Virginia Woolf referred to as “a room of one’s own,” which means I have space and solitude and every reason to hit my Camp NaNo goal this time…right? 

…Except I have to take out the trash tomorrow, don’t forget! And that’s the third lightbulb that’s gone out this month—better get that checked. It’s almost seven p.m., go feed the dog! When was the last time I watered that potted succulent? …I think it’s time to break out the vacuum cleaner. 

How to deal with these distractions:

There’s no amount of bug spray that will get rid of these distractions for good when I’m trying to write. So here’s my approach at Camp NaNo this year: instead of trying to oust the mosquitoes from my tent, I’ll invite them in.

I’m resurrecting a long-unfinished NaNoWriMo novel that I’ve been working on in Camp NaNo the past two years. By looking around my own house (distraction #3), I can add richer descriptions of surroundings and what tasks my characters are doing or need to do. 

Maybe some of them are better than I am at balancing it all. In fact, do all my characters have stable jobs? If not, why not? Maybe I should see how they hold up in an interview. And maybe my own areas of expertise in international development, youth empowerment, and journalism can add something legitimate and complex to my made-up plot. In other words, make use of your own distractions to push your writing ahead.

As for the ups and downs of relationships, I don’t want to inflict heart-suffering on my characters—but I do want them to learn the same lessons I did, or at the very least teach me something. Maybe as I journey forward, they can keep me company. A long tirade from a jilted lover is good for word count, anyway.

Your whining mosquitoes—your distractions—at Camp NaNo this year might be the same as mine. Maybe they’re different. But don’t give up and let them consume you alive, or waste time trying to slap them away. Find a way to work them all in to the novel, poem, play, script, whatever. This year, turn whining into writing.


Sarayu Adeni lives in Austin, Texas, but in different eras of life, she’s called Chicago, Valparaíso, Kumasi, Playa Najayo, and New York City home. Amid her travels, she has participated in Camp NaNoWrimo since April 2013, ScriptFrenzy once, and NaNoWrimo for over eleven years. When not facing down the ol’ writer’s block, she works in the nonprofit sector, studies classical Indian dance, and holds the world record for slowest eater. Visit her on LinkedIn or on her website.

Top image modified from an image licensed under Creative Commons from frankieleon on Flickr.

The Secret to a Successful NaNo


As we’re nearing the end of November’s creative challenge, it’s important to remember that a month of writing doesn’t need to mean a month of solitude. Today, writer and Austin ML Jackie Dana shares one of her secrets to NaNo success: 

We tell ourselves NaNoWriMo is all about the writing. We’ll write a novel and prove we can do it,
impress our friends, or maybe give ourselves an excuse to get out of
Aunt Rhonda’s Thanksgiving “Massacree.”  

But there’s a secret the NaNo veterans know: it’s not just about the writing. NaNo is people!

The Ordinary World

Before NaNoWriMo,
you were probably like most people. You might have a job, or you’re
in school. Maybe you’re raising small children. But you’re also
that quirky friend with a good imagination—a person whose compulsion
to write befuddles friends and family.

So NaNoWriMo seemed like it could be fun, but it’s a big commitment. Could you really put
your social life on hold? Would your family and friends understand why
you’re going to become a hermit for a month?

When you sign up for
NaNoWriMo—alone on a strange website filling out your personal
details—you can almost hear the devil on your shoulder urging to
forsake your social life.

But as you may have already discovered, that doesn’t have to be the case.

The Adventure Begins

Once you created your
novel on the NaNoWriMo site, you might have gotten curious, and started clicking around. First, you discovered the discussion forums for all
participants, and then your regional forums…

Whoa, where
did all these people come from? There are in-person activities and
Facebook groups?

When you
discover that the “solitary” act of writing is more social than you
thought, your inner introvert may be scared
and confused.

What do you do?

It’s All Fun and

Many regions host
kickoff parties on Halloween or November 1st. Maybe you summoned up the
courage to attend, thinking you could get a few lingering questions
answered. Maybe that’s when
everything started to change. Writers—at
least the kinds who do NaNoWriMo—are a tribe.

We understand the
compulsion to write. We like going into those scary places inside our
heads and finding out what’s lurking within. We enjoy putting our
characters through torturous twists and turns, only to discover that
the evil queen is really the most interesting character, so we make
her the protagonist, and we start slaughtering all of the good guys
just because we can…

Did I mention we’re a tribe?

The Whiff of Death

When you’re caught
up in the midst of NaNoWriMo you might struggle a bit. The holidays
are tough. You’ve got a week to go and you might be barely past the
halfway mark. You might become tempted to give up and
walk away from the whole endeavor. Let the novel-in-progress die a
slow, forgettable death. That’s you
talking—but you’re part of a tribe now, remember?

Turn to your new
NaNoWriMo buddies—the ones you met at the kickoff or on
Facebook—and ask for help. Maybe you need a pep talk, or someone to
sit across from you at Starbucks while you play catch-up. Or perhaps
you just need to hear from others who have been in your shoes and be
reassured that yes, it is possible to turn this turkey into a winner.

Writers don’t let
fellow writers give up.

The Reward

Joining a community
of fellow writers could very well change your life.

You’ll make
friends with people who understand that sometimes you’d rather stay
home and write or read a book. You’ll discover that you’re not
the only person who takes notes during a movie. It will no longer
feel so weird to spend two hours researching all the different kinds
of barrels, or which kind of chain mail best resists a
broadsword—because your friends do those things too.

Your writer friends
will become your favorite people to hang out with. They’ll also be
the ones who will help you succeed over the long run. After
November’s over, those people might have tips for revising your
novel, and there’s a good chance they’ll join you for coffee to
discuss the ideas you have for your next book.

A Believer’s Born
Every November

Before you started NaNoWriMo, you might not have realized how much fun it would be to meet
other people like yourself. But once December rolls around, you’ll
discover that it’s not enough to hang out with your new writer buds
once a year. You’ll want to keep the spirit of writing camaraderie

Here are a few ways
you can indulge your writer fix throughout the year:

  • Become a Municipal Liaison—join the ranks of the MLs who help run local regional events. 
  • Join a local writing group on—or start your own! You can host regular write-ins, book discussions, critiques, or workshops.
  • Attend writers’ conferences.
  • Enter short story writing contests online.
  • Join writing groups on Facebook.
  • Organize writing retreats. 
  • Attend fan conferences and book festivals and schmooze with fellow authors (that’s right, you’re an author too!).

And if all else
fails, you’ve always got Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July to keep
you going until next November.

As you plunge
head-first into NaNoWriMo this year, don’t think of it as a solo
pursuit. Use it as an excuse to climb out of your shell and meet
fellow participants. While we might spend time getting into the heads
of adulterers, serial killers, and evil goblin kings, most of us are
actually pretty cool people. And every single one of us wants you to


Jackie Dana loves
words and the people who write them. She’s a professional blogger and
content manager, and published her first novel,
in 2015 (with a sequel on the way).
Recognizing the value in a writing community, she serves as a
NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for Austin-Central Texas and organizes
It Already! Meetup
for all writers. You can check out
her blog at

Top image licensed under Creative Commons Zero.

It Takes a V.I.L.L.A.G.E. to Make a Writer


With November upon us, it’s a great time to reflect on what makes you the writer you are, and how the rest of the NaNo community can help you complete your novel. Today, Municipal Liason Sarah Peloquin shows us how it “takes a village” to make a writer:

I enjoyed solitude as a child. Now, as a parent of four little minions, alone time is a rare and beautiful treasure. When I first began honing my writing, I thought, Perfect. Writing is an alone sort of activity and I’m an alone sort of gal.

And writing is, in one sense, a solitary matter. No one else will ever write you.

Your creativity and imagination spilling out onto blank pages is solely yours.
At the same time, your inspiration for writing is the product of life experiences and the community of people that shaped you. A hermit in a dark, cold cell will never have the same ability to create a story as a person who has tasted and seen and touched and heard and felt the world around them in all its exquisite glory.

When I say it takes a VILLAGE to make a writer, here’s why:

Virtual – Our world has expanded with the expansion of technology. We now have ways of connecting to our fellow writers that we never dreamed of one hundred years ago. Get involved in the online chats, twitter word sprints, and NaNoWriMo’s own amazing regional forums to connect to others who are on the same journey, in the same part of the world, with you this November.

Inspiration – NaNoWriMo’s forums are amazing for offering new writing challenges, writer pen pals from around the world, mentors who’ve seen it all and lived to tell the tale, and even threads just for those times when the blank page is your worst fear realized.

Links – To Write-ins at your local libraries, coffee shops, bookstores, and more. Calendars of events, both the official NaNoWriMo one and those compiled by volunteer Municipal Liaisons, who work tirelessly at bringing you the resources you need to succeed at this 30 day writing challenge. (I’ve heard chocolate is a good incentive for MLs in lieu of payment)

Life – Happens and it’s amazing to me every year when my own brilliant region circles the wagons to support a struggling writer through a difficult time. Care packages for the sick, an emergency online meet-up when the words just won’t flow, or just a note of encouragement to remind someone that not meeting their writing goal in November is NOT failure by any stretch of the imagination.

Affirmation – Whether it’s winning a contest for the most words written or a Hip, HIP, HUZZAH for even making it to a write-in after the car broke down, the baby-sitter was a no-show, or the house nearly burned down right before you left because your husband was trying to be helpful by making dinner for you. We all need to hear words of encouragement for our efforts. A community of writers brings that in abundance in my humble experience.

Galvanized – This word is NOT used often enough in my opinion. What better place for a writer than a community (online or otherwise) of fellow writing warriors who can give us the kick in the pants we need on those days we don’t want to stare at another blank screen? 

Educational – Writing is an ongoing learning project and there is no greater way to continue honing your craft than building a diverse community of writers around you. You get better the more you learn.

Your writing world will expand this November, and it’s time to jump right into the fray. Find your region, build relationships, and for goodness sake, write!


Sarah Peloquin loves great books on rainy afternoons, whether it’s The Chronicles of Narnia read aloud to three (almost four) squirmy children or her favorite history, poetry, or parenting books. She homeschools her aforementioned tiny minions with her amazing husband in Midwest, North America. She found NaNoWriMo in 2008, but didn’t get serious about it until 2010. Sarah took on the challenge of Municipal Liaison in 2014 and enjoys her region immensely. You can find some of her scribblings and inspirational posts at: Musings on a Life Lived and Instagram

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from behindthethrills on Flickr.

Pro Tips for Making Friends Through the NaNo Community


November is full of challenges—from supervillains to coffee shortages—so it’s important to have support from the community to help push your writing towards the finish line. Today, writer and ML for the USA :: Kansas :: Topeka region Lissa Staley shares her thoughts on how to make friends through NaNo and build your dream team:

is your chance. The time is now. All around the world, in your region, or in
your own city, people who share your creative values are joining together this November to write novels. These are your people, this community of frantic fiction writers, and they are inviting
you to join them.

you don’t know anyone else who writes fiction, or you haven’t written a novel
before. Maybe right now you don’t have writing friends, or you worry about how
your writing will compare to theirs. That’s all about to change. When you build
a community of fiction writers during NaNoWriMo, you are building
friendships that may reach beyond November and beyond writing.

You are befriending amazing people. NaNoWriMo is populated by people
who believe that seemingly impossible things (like writing fifty thousand words in
thirty days) are achievable and worth doing. In November, you see the same
people at events or online. You begin by connecting with people around writing
and then find you can connect in other ways. You may find another writer who
has something in common with yousomeone who knits, or appreciates your
Firefly references, or loves licorice, or is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. 

may find yourself trying new things because of conversations you had with your
new writer friendswatching Star Trek, or playing Dungeons and Dragons, or
reading The Princess Bride. You may discover future beta readers, editors, and
collaborators or form book groups or critique circles.

“To me, NaNoWriMo is so compelling because the more that people encourage each other, the more we all win.” 

Or—you may not. You don’t have to become best friends with every writer you meet.
I have writer friends who I only talk to during November. The focus on quantity
of words means that I can cheer a fellow writer on to victory without knowing
anything about what they are writing or sharing any goals beyond that 50,000
word finish line.

me, NaNoWriMo is so compelling because the more that people encourage each
other, the more we all win. The shared experiences are richer for all of us
when we attend events, participate in word wars, post in the forums, and create
inside jokes during the act of writing fiction together. Here in Topeka,
Kansas, we give out “Ask Me About My Word Count” stickers and create an
intentional safe space for writing without judgement. We can support each
other’s writing endeavors because we are only competing in word sprints.

Be on the lookout this November for your own writing community:

  • Introduce yourself online in your local forums. Add local writers as writing buddies and send them a few supportive messages during the early weeks of writing.
  • Inspire others. Share quotes, encouragement, memes, plot twists and ideas for boosting word counts.
  • Put time to write on your calendar and prioritize it. Attend local events, or advertise your own impromptu write-in at a popular coffee shop, bookstore or library.
  • Ask for help! Use your forums in your region to suggest a writing dare or word war. Be on the lookout for opportunities to help other writers with encouragement or challenges.

NaNoWriMo, writers cheer each other on as part of their writing process. Your individual words count for more than just your
personal goal; you contribute to the regional word counts and the total on the
main website. We write novels in November because we want to be part of
something bigger than ourselves; in addition to the goal and the
deadline, NaNoWriMo gives solitary writers the opportunity to create community.

November, make friends while you make your story.


Lissa Staley became a novelist in 2003, approximately a month
after signing up for NaNoWriMo on Halloween.  She became the Topeka,
Kansas Municipal Liaison in 2004 and has talked people into writing
novels in November ever since. She also hosts Come Write In programs as a
public librarian, and helps writers learn the skills for self publishing through
the Community Novel Project at

Top photo (from the Night of Writing Dangerously 2016) licensed under Creative Commons from Buster Benson on Flickr.

NaNo Prep: Create Your Personal NaNo Prize

NaNoWriMo is almost here! As we wrap up our NaNo Prep season and start getting ready to write, we’ve talked to some participants about their tips and tricks for staying motivated. Today, author Jacqui Jacoby shares the personal reward system she’s come up with:

“Mom, you have to try this new program. You write 50,000 words in November.”

I doubted the logic of what my daughter proposed, but was interested enough to look into it. That was October 2001—and I now have sixteen NaNoWriMos and nine wins under my belt.

These days, I’m a professional author. I’ve written millions of words that ended up going some place for some reason. Sometimes there was a payment, sometimes not. I was still doing what I wanted to be doing.

That fall, in my car, when my daughter suggested I try NaNoWriMo, it seemed incredibly hard. But it wasn’t long before it became an intrinsic part of my writing process. I wasn’t published at the time, but eventually writing became my profession, not just my dream.

In fact, NaNoWriMo became my annual vacation.

Every January when I fill out the new day planner, the first thing I do is head on over to November to block out the month for fun. Though I have published several books that started as NaNo Projects, publishing them was never my goal. I use the month to play, to develop ideas I might otherwise ignore if I was working on a set assignment.

I read No Plot, No Problem every year starting on October 1st as a refresher course and to get me in the mood. When I have finished that, I begin to fill out Ready. Set. Novel. I buy myself a new mechanical pencil to use in my notes and workbooks. It’s usually just a step above the pencils I normally buy, in a pretty color to set it apart.

All this is a good start, a place to find direction. However, direction isn’t the only challenge in NaNo. Sometimes, the challenge is showing up on a day you would really rather watch a Friends rerun. I needed to find that edge that would get me through the hard days.

I came up with the ‘NaNo Purse Program,’ or as I call it, the NNPP.

The NNPP is simple. I like purses, but I rarely buy. I have a designer I like that I can find used on eBay and I like to have something that I can look at and say “I earned that because…”  In October, I start looking for the purse that will be my prize. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a purse. It could be anything you collect, something that you can look at later and associate with your accomplishment.

My rules are simple:

  • I have to have my NNPP before November 1st.
  • The NNPP is unpacked and set in a position where I can see it from my chair when I type.
  • The NNPP is not touched while I am writing.

The final rule…

  • I only get the purse if I hit 50,000 words.

If I miss the mark for whatever reason, I have to give the NNPP to someone who I will see use it on a daily basis. I will see it and understand that maybe I should have typed faster.

I have yet to type too slow to get my purse. Motivation screams at me when I picture Jane in Accounting carrying MY purse. This is what I do to propel me forward and it puts a smile on my face.  

What will you use as your personal prize?

Award-winning author, Jacqui Jacoby lives and writes in the beauty of Northern Arizona. Currently adjusting to being an empty nester with her first grandchild to draw her pictures, Jacqui is a self-defense hobbyist. Having studied martial arts for numerous years she retired in 2006 from the sport, yet still brings strength she learned from the discipline to her characters. She is a working writer, whose career includes writing books, novellas & short stories, teaching online & live workshops and penning short nonfiction. Follow her on her website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Top photo: Winning purses, c/o Jacqui Jacoby
Magic Man Victory, 2005
Dead Men Seal the Deal Victory, 2013
Aaden’s Hope Victory 2015

NaNo Prep: How to Go From Plotless to Polished

November is just around the corner, and as we gear up, we’re sharing advice on how you can best prepare for a month of writing. Today, author and designer Derek Murphy shares his advice on how to turn a messy work-in-progress into a polished draft in November:

NaNoWriMo is a
great opportunity to push your boundaries and see how much writing
you can get done in thirty days. If it’s your first time shooting for
50K, write whatever is easiest for you. However, if you’ve been
doing NaNoWriMo for a few years and have struggled to turn your newly
generated manuscript into an actual book that sells, here’s some advice that should help:

Save a Darling—Plot Ahead

First of all, if
you started your story with very little plotting, it’s likely you
have dozens of powerful scenes but no backbone to hold it all
together. And it’s very difficult to go back and operate on
your manuscript after it’s finished. “Kill your darlings” is
good advice, but painful for a reason. It’s hard to cut the stuff
you love—but if it confuses the narrative or doesn’t need to be
there, it’s hurting the story.

Rather than spend
a month generating content and then months of frustration trying to
polish it into something that actually sees the light of day, it’s
much easier to plot before your start—at least loosely.
For most commercial fiction, I use a simplified
hero’s journey
with 12 major plot points.

As long as I hit
most of those points in roughly the right places, I know my story
will stand strong even if the writing falters. You don’t have to
chronicle the exact details of every scene, and you shouldn’t worry
about writing beautiful prose, but having a rough idea of your
pivotal scenes will make it much easier for you to finish a powerful
story in record time.

If you get stuck
halfway through your NaNoWriMo novel, it’s usually because you’re
sinking into the muddy middle—where you didn’t plot enough events
to carry the story forward—so you invent a bunch of random and
increasingly incredible plot developments to span the gap, then rush
towards the epic conclusion. The problem with this is your story will
feel rushed and implausible.

Let your characters drive your outline.

A basic story
might look like this:

  1. Character
    wants something but can’t get it. Something happens that forces
    them on a new experience or journey. They resist, but are forced by
    circumstances to move forward.
  2. The
    antagonists appear, showing danger and consequences. There is a
    conflict or battle and the protagonist’s forces lose. More is
    revealed, until the protagonist finally makes a deliberate choice to
    fight back or take control.
  3. The
    protagonist makes a mistake; a failure that causes irreparable harm
    to one of their allies. They feel guilt, fear, loss and almost give
  4. The
    protagonist reaches into themselves, finds a new will to continue,
    discovers a new power or ability, and overcomes the antagonist’s
    forces… this time.

But how do you
fill it all in? And what do you add when your plot events are sparse? You can make your characters’ problems harder. 

You might have already plotted something like:



overcome problem

introduce new problem

But that’s too

You can extend
the sequence by adding steps:


problem 1

try to
overcome problem 1, meet problem 2

try to over come problem 2,
meet problem 3

try to overcome problem 3, meet problem 4…

That sequence can
go on until they have too many problems and are overwhelmed.
Eventually they succeed in one and go back through the sequence to
solve the original problem.

Make your characters fail. 

Characters shouldn’t succeed easily. You want them to
fail, again and again. So have them discover new problems and
setbacks at every turn. No matter what they want to do next, give
them three big and insurmountable problems that get in their way.
Don’t make them all accidental (the weather / a broken leg). Some
of them should come from opposition, either the antagonist’s forces
or the protagonist’s allies.

Create more

You don’t just want a happy band of comrades agreeing
with each other; your inner circle needs conflict, too. Each of your
main characters should have their own desires, agendas, and
problems to solve. They will have priorities that put them in direct
conflict with your main character. Even if they’re friends or
lovers, they will be forced into opposition based on their personal
desires, and each will be fighting their own dragons to get what they
want—leading to betrayal, jealousy, guilt, dishonesty and anger.

I recommend three main characters (protagonist + best friend + love interest), a
teacher or voice of wisdom, a hidden antagonist directing mayhem from
the shadows, and also a system of legal enforcers (who persecute the
protagonist but think they’re acting for the good of society). The
sides should not be clear cut, and everyone will have to wrestle with
moral decisions, like when it’s OK to break the law or do something
evil for the universal good.

Change the scenery.

If your book is getting boring, give your protagonists
a new, incredible setting and a reason to get there. It could be a
treasure hunt for a necessary item, or a shelter, or a lost city—make it epic and larger than life. Your story will keep readers
reading, but your settings and descriptions are what will stick in
their brains. I like to think of my scenes like a painting; a
dramatic backdrop and a central character doing something amazing.

Once you
have a basic plot outlined and have built in enough conflict, writing
a successful book will be easier, and take much less time to revise
and polish before it’s ready to be share. During
, add in more details like what characters are wearing,
improve the dialogue, strengthen the transitions and openings, and
fix any lackluster character motivations. Remember, adding conflict
is as easy as giving a character a different backstory (”your father
killed my father”) or withholding a secret (”you lied to me”).

Once your book is
ready, share it with beta readers, put it on Wattpad, or even get a
cheap cover and publish it on Kindle. It’s scary letting go, but
getting feedback is the best way to learn and improve.

If you take an hour to ask and answer these questions before November 1st, you’ll be able to win NaNoWriMo with more than 50,000 words of slush as a reward—you’ll have a clean rough draft you can polish up and publish, without ending up in editing purgatory forever. 

Derek Murphy has
a PhD in Literature and now writes young
adult fiction
. He’s renting a castle for NaNoWriMo, drinks too
much Coke Zero, and loves supporting indie authors—his publishing
and book design
have had over 20 thousand downloads.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Project 404 on Flickr.

NaNo Prep: Don’t Just Write a Novel — Tell an Amazing Story


November is fast approaching, and with it comes plenty of great advice from around the NaNo community on how to create your novel. Today, author Dinty W. Moore shares his thoughts on one of the most challenging questions asked of any writer: what’s your story really about?

Why do people read books? Why do people stream Netflix long into the evening? Why do people sit for hours in a coffee shop chatting about their co-workers?

The answer is simple: we love a good story.

With NaNoWriMo just days away, now might be the best time to remind ourselves what constitutes a good story—or better yet, what is it that makes a story absolutely compelling. The goal for our NaNoWriMo month shouldn’t be merely to write a novel in 30 days. The goal should be to write a novel that folks are clamoring to read.

Remember this: Stories which leave readers eager to follow along through each moment and every surprising turn did not begin with Shakespeare, Dickens, or Stephen King. Captivating storytelling goes back to the origins of language itself.

Long before printing presses and book clubs, our ancestors kept fear at bay by spinning tales of heroic hunts, of memorable victories, and of mysterious, powerful gods. These early stories mark the beginnings of imaginative fiction. How to explain thunder, floods, birth, death, the inexplicable movement of the sun? Our ancestors created stories to explain these. Stories that gave them both understanding and solace. Or, as author Barry Lopez puts it, stories are part mystery, part ministry, and absolutely indispensable. 

“We need them, I believe, in the way we need water…” he writes. “The reason we tell stories … is to keep each other from being afraid.”

Novelist Ben Percy suggests that the most enduring stories reach readers at the deepest level by taking “a knife to the nerve of the moment.” Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein—the story of a mad doctor who uses electricity to create a superhuman monster—found its root power by reflecting people’s fears of the industrial revolution, while Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers – later made into the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers – connected directly to mid-20th-century fears of communist spies infiltrating small-town America.

“Stories revive us, challenge us, startle us, and offer us new ways to reflect upon our world and the current moment’s most perplexing questions.”

Percy’s own book, Red Moon, begins with a man on a commercial jetliner inexplicably transforming into a werewolf and attacking his fellow passengers. This transformation is happening not just on the one plane, but simultaneously on two other airplanes, one of which crashes into a wheat field.

Does that sound at all familiar?

“We fear, more than anything, terrorism and disease,” Percy explains, “and I braided the two together.”

Not all stories are horror stories, of course, but all enduring stories find their power by addressing intrinsic human concerns, those vexing problems that keep us awake and thinking late into the night.

Consider these:

  • Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice features neither werewolves nor body snatchers. Instead, this tale of five unmarried daughters in 19th century England and the eligible bachelors who come calling enchanted readers by reflecting upon contemporary concerns about class, gender, and morality.
  • The Harry Potter series is about more than schoolchildren and magic spells; it explores the power of self-sacrifice and the importance of tolerance.
  • Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is, on the surface, the story of African-American women living a generation or two beyond slavery, but the underlying issues of prejudice and family violence resonate with readers of any race, any age, any time.

This is why people tell stories, and why we listen to the good ones with such rapt attention. Stories revive us, challenge us, startle us, and offer us new ways to reflect upon our world and the current moment’s most perplexing questions.

Now, as you prepare for NaNoWriMo, is a good time to ask: How does your story touch “a knife to the nerve of the moment”? 

What’s your story really about?


Dinty W. Moore is author of The Story Cure: A Book Doctor’s Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir and many other books. He has his work in The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Normal School, and elsewhere, and has won numerous awards for his writing, including fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. You can find Dinty at and on Twitter as @brevitymag.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Dave Herholz on Flickr.

NaNo Prep: Four Character Archetypes that Can Help You Crush NaNoWriMo


November is just around the corner, and as we gear up to hunker down and write, we’re sharing advice from guest writers on how you can best prepare for a month of writing. Today, editor, author, and life coach Kendra Levin shares her favorite tips on using the classic Hero’s Journey to your advantage:

If you’re embarking on NaNoWriMo, you probably already know your way around the storytelling model of the Hero’s Journey. (If not, you can find out more about it here.) It’s a useful craft tool that can help you build a skeleton of a plot, gauge your pacing, and create characters inspired by its building-block archetypes like Hero, Mentor, Shadow, and more.

But the Hero’s Journey is also an amazing resource for finding ways to cope with the emotional ups and downs a month of writing can bring. Here’s how four character archetypes from the Hero’s Journey can help you get through NaNoWriMo and feel like a Hero doing it:  

The Herald

A messenger who issues the Hero’s call to adventure.

Prescription: The Herald is the patron saint of beginnings. Beginning can be the hardest part of writing a novel. I remember once asking a writer how his NaNoWriMo was going. “I’ve almost started!” he said brightly. It was Nov. 20.

Do this: On Oct. 31, set aside 15 minutes to sit or walk by yourself. Think about the project you plan to start the next day. What is your vision for it? Imagine a winged messenger appearing and telling you, “Here’s the story I need you to write: _________.” What would go in that blank? Jot down this vision for the project. While you’re at it, write a couple sentences of Chapter One. That way, when you sit down to start in earnest the next day, you won’t be facing that intimidating blank page—you’ll already have begun, with the help of the Herald.

The Mentor

A wise older character who gives the Hero advice, wisdom, and gifts.

Prescription: Tap into the Mentor when you reach a crossroads or a difficult decision in your writing or your process. Torn between plugging away at your novel and going outside and interacting with other humans for an evening? Two weeks into NaNo and unsure whether you can make it through the whole month? Ask the Mentor.

Do this: Take a moment to sit quietly. Ask yourself, What would my 90-year-old self say about this situation? Connecting with the older, wiser version of you can help you be your own Dumbledore.

The Trickster

A trick-playing character who subverts expectations, often with humor.

Prescription: Tricksters are all about revealing the silliness and surreal nature of life when everybody is getting way too serious. Find your inner trickster when you catch yourself acting like the novel you’re writing is the bus from Speed and you’re Sandra Bullock.

Do this: Take a whole day off from your novel. You heard me. That day, write something totally different and silly—a comedy sketch about soup, a collection of satirical limericks inspired by the day’s headlines, the script for a webisode about anthropomorphized office supplies. Let yourself recapture the fun and sense of play in writing and, the next day, bring that spirit back to your novel. In the process, you just might come up with some new and surprising ideas for your main project.


Loyal friends and comrades who help and support the Hero. 

Prescription: Nobody writes a novel alone—and there’s no reason you need to. It’s vital to have a community of Allies around you, whether online or IRL, fellow writers or just your personal cheerleaders, to help you get through the month.

Do this: Before November, find others who are participating in NaNoWriMo and set up a system for checking in with one another. If you don’t know anybody else who’s doing it, check out NaNo’s forums. Let other people in your life know that you’re doing NaNo, and don’t be afraid to ask them for support, encouragement, free babysitting—whatever you might need. When one of your Allies asks for your help, you’ll discover that doing NaNoWriMo is about more than just finishing your novel—it’s about being a Hero, to yourself and to others. And that’s a feeling that will last long after November ends.


Kendra Levin helps writers and other creative artists meet their goals and connect more deeply with their work and themselves. She is a certified life coach, as well as an executive editor at Penguin, a teacher, and author of The Hero Is You. Visit her at and follow her @kendralevin. To win a coaching session with Kendra by supporting NaNoWriMo, check out the Night of Writing Dangerously!

Top image by Hyrax Attax on DeviantArt.

NaNo Prep: Is This Really a Good Idea?

Are you struggling with finding an idea you think is good enough to spend a whole month writing? Today, award-winning author Karin Tidbeck, a Season of Stories writer, shares her own experience with being the “ugly duckling of ideas”:

So you want to write a novel, but maybe you’re not sure if your idea is good enough. I’m here to tell you that you’re fine.

When I was in my early twenties, I started to get serious about writing. There was just one problem: my ideas, or rather, the lack of them. I was surrounded by creative, amazing people, and they all seemed to create incredible works of art without the least bit of difficulty. I was the ugly duckling of ideas. I found that I was great at building on other people’s ideas, improvising from them, developing them. But when I had to come up with something on my own, I froze. It seemed like there was nothing there.

My actual problem was that I discarded all of my own ideas because they didn’t sound cool enough, or clever enough. They were too silly, too weird to implement, too trite. What I didn’t understand at the time was that a lot of works of art start out with ideas just like that.

I got it once I took a creative writing course where we were forced to come up with ideas on the spot and just write them down. No second-guessing, no automatic self-criticism. I learned how to take that silly idea and set it spinning. I learned, gradually, that values like “good” or “bad” don’t really apply.

I wrote my debut novel, Amatka, in 2011. I had previously written poetry and short stories, but a novel felt like a different beast entirely. I had a basic concept that I wanted to explore: what if matter responded to language? I had thought a lot about it, I had written some texts that related to it, but the draft itself I wrote in a six-week rush, much like you’ll do during NaNoWriMo. I didn’t know whether my idea would carry all the way through to the end. Is this good? I asked myself all the time, or is it terrible?

“I learned, gradually, that values like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ don’t really apply.”

My story “Reindeer Mountain”, which is included in the Season of Stories, was also a piece that I drafted under pressure, with a quickly approaching deadline. I had an idea: two bickering sisters in a family with a curse. I had no clue where that idea would take me. I just went along for the ride.

So much like me, you might have doubts. You might even feel like you shouldn’t be allowed near a keyboard, because your idea isn’t good enough. It’s completely normal. I still have moments when I wonder why on earth I haven’t been struck by lightning for putting such an idea on paper. I think most writers do. But “good” and “bad” don’t really apply here. What matters is what happens when you take that idea by the hand and tag along.  

Karin Tidbeck is originally from Stockholm, Sweden. She lives and works in Malmö as a freelance writer, translator and creative writing teacher, and writes fiction in Swedish and English. She debuted in 2010 with the Swedish short story collection Vem är Arvid Pekon?. Her English debut, the 2012 collection Jagannath, was awarded the Crawford Award 2013 and shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Her novel debut, Amatka, was published in June 2017 by Vintage. She devotes her spare time to forteana, subversive cross-stitching, and Nordic LARP. 

Learn more about Season of Stories here. For more about Karin Tidbeck please visit