Category: nano prep

3 Tips from an Engineer to Help You Write Efficiently


For many, writing is an art — but you can still use science to make the most of November and meet your word count goals (and then some)! Today, writer and engineer Benjamin M. Weilert shares how he used spreadsheets to become a more efficient writer:

I’m an engineer. While most of my colleagues use this as an excuse to keep themselves from writing anything, I argue it’s the reason they need to be the best writers. The concepts engineers can create in their minds still need to be communicated to the world, and they’re sometimes concepts never imagined before. 

Similarly, how many writers are out there with an idea nobody has ever read, just waiting to get it onto the page? As an engineer, I have a particular set of skills — some would say “quirks” — that have helped me over the last eight years of NaNoWriMo grow from just barely finishing to writing rapidly and voluminously.

Most engineers are known for their problem-solving skills, and NaNoWriMo presents an interesting problem: how do I write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days? Like with most engineering problems, I resort to spreadsheets. After all, I’m already writing the book in Microsoft Word, so it’s not hard to set up an Excel spreadsheet to track my progress. This spreadsheet is what helped me grow as a writer. Here’s how tracking my writing helped motivate me to become a better (or at least faster/more efficient) writer:

#1: 1,667 words are the minimum.

My spreadsheet doesn’t allow me to slack. If the “words written” column for that day is less than 1,667 words, I have to keep writing. I may be 15 days ahead, but until I get those 1,667, I can’t stop writing for that day. Here’s how the spreadsheet looks:


#2: Compete with the past.

What’s nice about a spreadsheet that tracks your NaNoWriMo progress for one year is that it can be used to track your progress for the following years as well. Consequently, I’m always looking at ways to outdo myself each year, whether it’s being further ahead than in previous years, writing more per-day, or writing more than ever before. It’s how I was able to reach 50K in less than two weeks (four times), write over 10K words in a day (in six years), and even reach my record of 123,456 words in a month. No matter what your own goals and records are, by tracking them day to day and year to year, you’ll manage to write more!

#3: Recognize trends.

As I began to track my NaNoWriMo projects against each other, I started to see trends. I saw that I would usually write a lot during the Veteran’s Day weekend (since I get Veteran’s Day off). I also saw that I would get almost no writing done around Thanksgiving (since I travel out of town for it). Recognizing which days and situations were conducive to my writing helped me to schedule them out in advance so I’d be sure to use them to their utmost capability. Think about the trends in your life, and see how they impact your writing! 

In the end, my spreadsheet allowed me to recognize the small — sometimes hidden — milestones that can give me a push to keep writing. For instance, last year, it helped me see how close I was to 500,000 cumulative words. I’m extra motivated to beat a previous “high score” day from a past NaNoWriMo. 

Milestones like these are what made me realize that the impossible feats of veteran writers are actually quite achievable if you break them down into smaller chunks. And what engineer wouldn’t tackle a problem by first breaking it down into manageable pieces? But don’t take this engineer’s word for it; try it for yourself!


Benjamin M. Weilert is a verbal and visual artist from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He’s been winning NaNoWriMo since 2010, combining his love and knowledge of science with his writing. His first three projects, The Fluxion Trilogy, are what he likes to call “hard science in a fantasy candy coating.” His latest book, Fourteener Father, is a memoir of his adventures climbing Colorado’s 14,000 ft. mountains with his dad. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Goodreads, or check out his writing website.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

How to Overcome Common Writing Obstacles and Win Every Year

The task of writing 50,000 words in a month is daunting to many, and it can be easy to feel like you’re not prepared to take on the challenge. But fear not, Wrimo, for today author and 9-time NaNo winner T.S. Valmond shares her tips for overcoming the many hurdles that may be in your way this November:

Raise your hand if any of these sound familiar:

  1. “I’m not a writer, I don’t know what I’m doing.”
  2. “There’s not enough time in 30 days to write a novel.”
  3. “I don’t have enough words and it’s the end of the story.”
  4. “My story is boring and I hate it.”

If any of these statements are true for you, there’s only one way you’re going to get 50,000 words of a story down by November 30th: Never give up, never surrender. Sound familiar? Yeah, I stole it from the movie Galaxy Quest, but it’s still true. Other than stealing inspirational movie lines, I also overcame these same challenges and won NaNo for the last nine years. Here’s what I had to do that might help you:

1. Tell your story your way.

Contrary to popular belief, special writing skills aren’t required to write a story. You can use whatever medium is available to you to capture that story. Getting to 50k can be daunting especially when the most you’ve ever written is a book report. You don’t need special software or equipment, but a plan might help. Here’s something to get you started:

  1. Introduce your characters, perspective, and the world.
  2. Put your characters into increasingly difficult situations.
  3. Create an enemy with a purpose for the hero to conquer.
  4. Write an epic battle of good versus evil where even you aren’t sure who will win.
  5. After the battle, detail how the characters and world have changed from the introduction.

Don’t feel constricted by this list or the order. Remember that this is just a reference. Every story has these five elements, and it’s all you need to create even the most basic of stories. (But your story won’t be basic, it’ll be amazing!) 

2. Be a thief of time.

You’ve got a job, a family, a life, and you’re really busy. You’ve heard it before: try writing before your family gets up or before work. If you’re a night owl, turn off the TV and get in a couple of hours of writing before bed. If you struggle getting up early or keeping your head off of your keyboard at night, then you’ll need to find time during the day. Here’s where you become the master thief of space and time.

Do your kids take naps? Are you on a break at work? Do you commute to work? These are great times to jot down novel notes, type up scenes on your tablet. You can even use a voice recorder. Let everyone think you’re crazy while you’re dictating your masterpiece.

If you’re a competitive person like me, word sprints may be the answer. Head over to the sprints section of the NaNo forums and challenge someone to a 5, 10, or 15-minute word sprint. Not only will you gain lots of words in a short amount of time, but you’ll also help someone else reach their goal too.

Remember: don’t edit anything (right now). It will only rob you of time you’ve rightfully stolen and lower your word count.

3. Use the five senses to describe your world.

If your story is coming up short, put more sights, sounds, textures, tastes, and smells onto the page. Are there shops, shopkeepers, markets, or people selling goods on the street? What does it smell like in the morning or the middle of the day? What kind of transportation do they use? Dive deep into your world’s history, its government, and its people. Let the world around your characters influence their mood, their conversation, and their behavior.

4. Don’t give up; get creative.

Inevitably you’ll come to a point on this journey where you’ll hate everything you’ve written so far and your story will bore you to tears. You’re going to consider bailing on it and starting something new. There’s something more interesting than the drivel you’ve been writing. You might even consider quitting this NaNoWriMo madness altogether.

Don’t quit—you can still do this. Go tell someone about your story. Use the NaNo forums if there’s no one nearby. Pets are great for this too.

Why? Because now that you’ve started summarizing your story, your brain will go into overdrive. You’ll realize one of your characters has an interesting backstory. There’s a new mystery that needs to be solved. A natural disaster is coming. Someone reveals their true feelings for the first time. The villain of your story has just come up with a dastardly plan to foil your hero’s efforts.

In other words, things just got interesting. Now run with it.

I hope on December 1st you’ll say what I did, back in 2009:

  • “I can’t believe how much time I found to write.”
  • “I finished a novel in 30 days.”
  • “This story isn’t half bad, with some editing it could be great.”
  • “I’m a writer.”


T.S. Valmond is an author of YA fantasy and epic science-fiction adventures. She’s been a NaNoWriMo winner since 2009 and credits the event for her success as a prolific author. An international traveler, she’s written books in three countries and communicates fluently in four languages. T.S. currently resides in Canada with her husband and dog in an undisclosed location. As one can never be too careful when exposing the secrets of powerful governments, worlds, and illegal aliens.

Top photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash.

How to Build a Story Around a Character (and Not the Other Way Around)


When you’re well into designing an enthralling plot, it’s easy to forget about what ultimately fuels the story: the characters! Today, writer K.R. Garcia shares her advice on how to develop realistic and resonant characters that will make any story shine: 

Suddenly, it comes to you: a girl in a hot air balloon. The braids in her red hair have come free, and she’s standing at the edge of the basket, brandishing a vial of emerald liquid. The sky is peppered with milky white clouds, and the landscape below is a rocky wasteland of copper-grey.

You want to know who she is. But how can you build a story around just a fragment of an idea? Try building your story around a character!

As you might expect, it’s all about personality: the core of a character that drives their actions and, therefore, the plot. Personality branches into traits and desires.


What is your character like? They have positive and negative character traits—their advantages and disadvantages in the story. The conflict between these kinds of traits and their eventual resolution form the character arc.

I like starting out with five positive traits and four negative traits for a hero or vice versa for a villain. I’ve decided that the girl in the hot air balloon is a hero. Keeping in mind that traits are aspects of a character’s personality, not their physical features, professions, or skills, I can choose traits that fit the image I have of her. Let’s say her positive traits are adventurous, determined, clever, empathetic, and funny, and her negative traits are reckless, oversensitive, arrogant, and gullible.


What does your character want? For each of these desires, they should have an incentive and an obstacle in the way of them achieving that desire. These two things become, respectively, your character’s stake in the outcome of the story and the reasons it will not be easy for your character to get there. 

One of your character’s desires will likely be stronger than the others, and this desire and its incentive and obstacle will come together to form the plot (the others can be subplots). If none of the desires stand out, that’s fine! Try looking at your list of desires. How can you connect them? What would happen if the worst outcome came out of an attempt to achieve one of those desires?

To start, I usually list ten desires for my characters. To find these, I can think about the events leading up to my idea fragment and imagine what could come next. For example, how did the girl in the balloon get there? I decide that she is trying to escape something. What is she escaping? I continue to ask questions and decide the answers until I have several desires to work with. I have to keep her character traits in mind so that none of her desires clash with them.


I’ll show you with my example:

  • Because she is empathetic, she desires to bring the cure for a disease home. She’s also clever, so she wants to escape the secret agents she stole it from. She’s adventurous, too, so she wants to control the hot air balloon.
  • Beyond those desires, she has external incentives to succeed: her sister is sick, the agents mean her harm, and the hot air balloon is malfunctioning.
  • She still faces some obstacles: the cure will expire after three days, the secret agents won’t give up, and the hot air balloon is dropping towards the rocks below.
  • What’s the plot? My character goes on a quest to find a cure for her sister’s sickness, but the cure has to be used in three days, and the secret agents who created it will stop at nothing to find her.

This method works because characters are the lifeblood of the story. The plot is the mechanism that keeps the story going, but without any good characters to provide power, the mechanism couldn’t function. The character arc and plot come together to form the story.

By building the story around your characters, you can work your character seamlessly into the plot. Their stake in the outcome of the story will be strong and the threat of failure terrifying. But, most importantly, you’ll understand them better starting out. What better companion for a month of adventure than your own complex main character?


K.R. Garcia has been creating stories since before she could hold a pencil and has participated in nine NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo events. An avid Agatha Christie reader, she writes mainly in the mystery and adventure genres. She coaches a class for young writers at her high school in Texas. When she is not writing, she enjoys classic rock, psychology, and music boxes. You can find her on Twitter at @katerpillar43.

Photo by Daniela Cuevas on Unsplash .

6 Ways to Balance NaNoWriMo and Your Life


It’s not always easy to fit 1,667 words into a day already filled with work, errands, family, school, and a social life. Luckily, writer Gianna Maria has some valuable tips for finding the sweet spot between NaNo and the rest of your life: 

As a full time student, life can certainly get busy, with assignments and projects and reading due at the most inconvenient of times. This year, I decided to pick up two jobs on top of my course load. It’s hard work, but I am determined to power through, just like I did in the two years prior.

I’m here to tell you that, no matter the number of things crammed into your schedule, there’s always a way to make time for writing. Today, I’m going to share some of the tips that work best for me when balancing work and activities at the same time.

#1: Wake up early. 

As horrible as this one sounds to my fellow night owls out there, waking up early (even just 15 minutes!) can really give you a positive start to the day, and also gives you time to get 100 to 1,000 words in. I’m not going to lie, keeping up with this one is a real challenge, and there are days when I hit the snooze button and turn over despite being a thousand words behind. Still, try waking up a couple minutes early, at least on November 1st, and be prepared to feel like you’ve accomplished something before you’ve even brushed your teeth.

#2: Utilize all your breaks. 

Whether it’s lunchtime or just a 15-minute break, make the most of your time off. When you’re inevitably short on time, it all comes down to those breaks at work. If you’re writing on Google Docs, feel free to whip out your phone and type up a quick 100 words. Even if it’s just 100, you’re still heading on your way to 50k.

#3: Writing is cheaper than going out.

I don’t go out much myself, but during November, take a break from brunch with your friends. Use that time to stay home, eat an apple, drink some coffee or tea, and contemplate the next couple chapters of your story. It saves money and time! 

#4: Don’t delete ANYTHING. 

This might seem like a general NaNo rule (and it is), but it definitely applies to those of us short on time. Keep everything you’ve written on your document, it’ll help you make your goal faster, but it’ll also give you options when you go back and edit it later. You can always fix things in December.

#5: Write every single day. 

Trust me, this one works. It’s like running a race. If you stop running, it takes a lot of effort to start running again, and you’re less likely to continue. It’s the same with writing. Even if you’re only writing 100 words per day, that’s 100 words towards your goal, and 100 words to power you through to the next day. If you skip one day, it’s easier to justify another day off. That’s still 30 days of keeping up with something, and that’s something to be proud of. There were a couple days last year when I only wrote 10 words, but it was still enough to keep the momentum going.

#6: It’s OK to not hit 50K.

Sometimes we’re just too busy to make it work. Or sickness comes through. Or maybe you’ve spent the last week of November finishing a novel-length research paper for class. Remember that NaNoWriMo is a challenge to help you remember to write, and there’s no punishment for not being able to finish.

Overall, just remember that NaNoWriMo is a huge commitment, and writing every single day is a big accomplishment as it is! Happy noveling!


2018 is Gianna Maria’s third year doing NaNoWriMo. Her previous NaNoWriMo projects have included the genres of horror and romance. She most enjoys reading wilderness memoirs and other non-fiction. She enjoys photography, and has an Instagram page dedicated to books. You can follow her on Instagram. 

Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash.

4 Tips to Balance Research and Writing

If you’re writing a novel this November that has the potential to involve a lot of research—say, science fiction or historical drama—you may be feeling a little overwhelmed trying to balance your time. Today, Dan Koboldt, author of Putting the Science in Fiction, shares his tips for making your research help rather than hinder your writing:

Doing research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Of course, I’m a genetics researcher by day, so I probably love it more than most.

Scientists don’t exactly advertise this, but we don’t know everything. Just like engineers, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, we tend to specialize in a particular area. Often, we don’t know anything more about a subject outside our field than the average Joe. So yes, I do my research, and I encourage other authors to do the same.

At the same time, it’s important not to let research become an excuse to avoid writing. I see this happen to some of my friends who aspire to be authors. Heck, I’m guilty of it myself. It’s understandable, because writing is hard. It’s much more fun to read stuff that’s already written under the guise of preparing to crank out words of our own. Yet, a writer who wants to be successful must not fall into this trap. Especially if they hope to win NaNoWriMo.

Naturally, this raises the question of how an author should balance research for writing purposes with the writing itself. I’d like to offer a few suggestions.

1. Research Efficiently

In this digital age, information is more readily available than ever before. It’s easy to get lost in the flood of new information. One thing I try to do is to limit the scope of my research to what I need right now. If I’m writing a story about space travel, for example, I don’t need to understand everything that’s happened since The Big Bang. I just need to know where the closest celestial bodies are (short answer: really far away) and how long it would take to get there using current technology (short answer: thousands of years).

It’s useful to come up with specific research questions before diving into a book or search engine. For example, I might want to know the crew size and approximate armament of mid-century Soviet submarines. That’s a specific inquiry that might take some detective work, but at least I know the type of information I need. When I find the answers I need, I stop.

2. Ask an Expert

One of the most efficient ways to do research is to approach an expert in the relevant subject area and ask for help. Thanks to social media, real-world experts are easier to find than ever. If you approach them politely and with genuine interest, many are happy to talk about their work (I love it when people come to me with genetics questions). An interactive conversation with an expert can get you answers quickly, and also provide important nuances that you might miss when researching on your own.

This is part of why I began seeking out scientists, engineers, and other experts for my Science in Sci-fi blog series. Each week, I invite someone with real-world expertise to share it in a guest post on my blog. With 150 articles and counting, it’s grown into a massive resource for writers of genre fiction.

I’m also a prodigious note-taker. When I read something or get answers from an expert, I write it all down in a text file. Often I encounter interesting tidbits that aren’t related to my immediate question, but might be useful later. Everything gets copied into a searchable notes file—which I back up to my Dropbox account—so that I know I’ll have it later.

3. Block Out Writing Time, Squeeze In Research Time

If you want to be a productive writer, you have to protect your writing time. That means putting it on the schedule and blocking out those crucial hours to get words on paper. Research, on the other hand, is something you can squeeze into the margins. Maybe you’re waiting in line or zoning out after the kids take control of the TV. Grab those few minutes and spend them on your research. If you follow my note-taking advice, you’ll have it all in place when you need it later.

An important corollary of this time management strategy is this: when you’re writing and in a groove, don’t stop for anything. This includes doing research, picking character names (my personal weakness), or other tasks that pull you away from the writing. Use TK as a placeholder and stay in the writing groove. That’s what it takes to win NaNoWriMo.

4. Start and End with Research

You can always do some research after you’ve written a draft to make sure that you got those details right. But if you’re like me, you want to get your feet wet even before you start. In fact, one of my favorite things about research is that it often seeds new story ideas. That’s why my blog contributors have been sharing sci-fi story prompts all month long in the run-up to NaNoWriMo. Read them, get some ideas, and go write that novel!

You can enter to win a free copy of Dan’s book, Putting the Science in Fiction, by clicking on this link!

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author from the Midwest. He is the editor of Putting the Science in Fiction (Writers Digest, 2018) and the author of the Gateway to Alissia series (Harper Voyager). Dan works at the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where he and his colleagues use next-generation DNA sequencing technologies to uncover the genetic basis of pediatric diseases. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. Dan is hoping to reach his 10th consecutive NaNoWriMo win this year.

Top photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash.

To Research or Not to Research


You might be a pantser; you might be a planner; you might be somewhere in between. No matter how you prepare to write your novel, many recommend you do your research before you start, especially if you’re writing about something unfamiliar. Today, writer Jill Shirley shares her list of pros and cons of pre-writing research:

50k words in 30 days. 1667 words a day. You still have to eat, and shower,
and probably work your real job every day, too. Take care of the kids, make
dinner, order takeout. You don’t have time to research for your NaNo novel
amongst all that.

Or do you?

I’ve done stories during NaNoWriMo that required little to no research (my first NaNo was a story set in the same universe as my epic-fairy-tale-I’ve-been writing-since-college), and I’ve done ones that I felt like I had to heavily research, like the one I set in Ancient Egypt and was determined to get as accurate as possible. 

Both methods have helped me reach 50k, but some of you might be wondering about the pros and cons of doing a deep dive into research:

  • Pro: You get the details just right! The way that landmark looks or is situated, the bathing habits of ancient peoples, what they ate. You, therefore, avoid situations where you accidentally put a landlocked city next to the sea (looking at you, Willy Shakes).
  • Con: It eats up precious time you could be using to, you know, write down words. 
  • Pro: You’re procrastinating, but you’re PURPOSEFULLY procrastinating.
  • Con: You’re purposefully procrastinating.
  • Pro: The internet gives you so many research options – scientific papers, climate and flora and fauna reports on different regions, baby name trends, famous people’s biographies and quotes.
  • Con: Despite all those options you’ll probably still use Wikipedia. 

At the end of the day, it’s up to you whether or not you research! There are  ways around the cons, like doing your research on your work breaks, or carving out one hour a day for research. Just make sure the research you’re doing really is in service of the story, and not just about procrastination.

One more thing: Wikipedia is admittedly an easy source of information, but use caution and double check references if it’s necessary. If it helps you write down more words and aids you in moving the story forward, do it! If you feel like it’s holding you back, though, save your research for the editing phase. 

Either way, as with all things NaNo, don’t forget to have fun while you’re doing it!


Jill Shirley is a future famous author stuck in a retail worker’s body. Besides
writing, she designs jewelry for her Etsy shop, maintains a jewelry-focused
WordPress blog, is active in the MN cosplay scene, and puts makeup on her
face, photographs it, and puts it on Instagram for fun. She would be tickled pink
if you followed her endeavors!

Photo by Elijah Hail on Unsplash.

NaNo 101: The Basics for First-Time Wrimos


What is NaNoWriMo?

If you’re reading this, it means this is your first time doing something called NaNu—NaNa—what was it again? Your book-loving friend mentioned it last week, and it had something to do with November.

That’s it—National Novel Writing Month! It’s also known as NaNoWriMo (we’ll get the pronunciation down later).

National Novel Writing Month is a yearly event where you challenge yourself to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That comes out to about 1,667 words a day, which scientists have determined to be the perfect amount to boost your creativity. It all starts in the wee hours of November 1st (at 12:00:01 a.m., to be precise!) and continues until the final seconds of November 30th (at 11:59:59 p.m.).

Novelists from all around the world come together online (and often in person) to share their daily progress, take on writing dares, race each other in word sprints, and cheer each other on! By the time December 1st rolls around, you’ll have created something you may once have thought impossible: a draft of your very own novel (or, at least, part of one).

How do I do NaNoWriMo?

Getting started is easier than… well, coming up with a suitable metaphor! All you need is a profile and an idea! The idea part isn’t even that necessary—many Wrimos write their novels without any outline or plan in mind (they’re called “pantsers,” and they’re everywhere).

  1. Create your profile so your fellow Wrimos can connect and cheer you on!
  2. Create your novel as early as September (you can change it later). Give it a title and you’re good to go!
  3. Choose a home region so you can learn about local events from your volunteer Municipal Liaison and writers in your area!
  4. Earn badges by reaching milestones throughout the month!
  5. Get inspired with pep talks, blog posts, and other resources to help you on your journey to writing superstardom.
  6. Update your word count every day on the NaNoWriMo website and watch your novel climb to the finish line!
  7. Claim your win by validating your novel starting on November 20th and through the end of the month. There’s no cash prize, but you get an awesome certificate (plus bragging rights, special sponsor goody rewards, and your very own novel!)

What are some tips for winning NaNoWriMo? 

If this all sounds pretty daunting, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Luckily, the NaNoWriMo community is full of writers happy to share their wisdom and tips for roaring through November in style. Here’s a few tidbits of advice from a recent Twitter thread:


Now go—stock up on coffee, pencils, and comfy sweaters—and write that novel! We’ll be here to help you along the way throughout November and beyond.

The Mighty Pens: Join an Epic Writing Community

Ever wondered how you could directly support a nonprofit just by writing your novel? Today, author and NaNoWriMo Writers Board member Susan Dennard extends an invitation to join her writing group, to help support your novel as well as the members of the wider NaNoWriMo community:

Every year, NaNoWriMo takes the world by storm. And every year, since 2010, I have participated. Some years, I’ve won! Other years…yeah, not so much. But hey, I got words down, and that’s something.

Then there have been those handful of years where I didn’t write at all, yet I threw myself into the experience by hosting writing sprints or creating printable resources or running YouTube Q&As. Why? Because the sense of community during November is nothing short of epic.

What other time of the year can you walk into a coffee shop and know that at least half of the people there are typing away at a novel? It’s like a secret handshake, and we all share knowing glances across our coffee mugs. (Or maybe that’s just me and I’ve been coming across as a total creeper for 8 years.)

Of course, the incredible community that is NaNo can also be daunting. So many people! Writing! And sharing! And chatting online! For those of us who like things a bit smaller and a bit more contained, it can even be downright intimidating. In the past, I’ve always urged people to find their local NaNo chapters—and I still suggest this! But ever since finding my own tiny slice of community, I’ve been evangelizing it to everyone I know.

Meet The Mighty Pens. Formed by Kat Brauer and myself in 2017, the Mighty Pens are a combination of two things we love: charity and NaNoWriMo. Last year, we managed to raise $16,000 for the Malala Fund. This year, we’re hoping to do the same—but for NaNoWriMo.

“Because I knew I was raising money for a greater cause, I felt really held accountable.”

So what are the Mighty Pens? It’s a group of writers who ask friends, family, colleagues, etc. to donate money whenever they hit specified word goals. Kind of like how runners will get each mile of a race sponsored, we’re just working with words instead! Last year, 89 people wrote with us (raising money along the way), and it was truly one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

On top of that, because I knew I was raising money for a greater cause, I felt really held accountable. In the past, if I wasn’t winning NaNo, eh! Oh well. But once there was a goal on the line that was bigger than myself, then wow, did I want to get those words down.

And of course, now the Mighty Pens are some of my best writing friends. It was such a tight knit community last year, and I have no doubt we’ll create the same haven again. We have mentors to help the new members; we have daily sprint sessions planned; and we have a whole slew of epic prizes (ranging from signed books to agent critiques) for people who reach their fundraising goals.

So if you too love the community of NaNo, but you need something a bit more contained—or if you’re looking for greater accountability, or you simply want the chance to give back!—then I hope you’ll consider joining the Mighty Pens or spreading the word about our cause.

Susan Dennard has come a long way from small-town Georgia. Working in marine biology, she got to travel the world before she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the New York Times bestselling Witchlands series, and she also manages the popular newsletter for writers, Misfits & Daydreamers. When not writing, she’s slaying darkspawn (on her Xbox) or earning bruises at the dojo. Learn more about her on her website and find hundreds of free writing resources on her blog.

Escape the News Cycle and Focus (With Help from Your Guilty Pleasure Movie Characters)

As November approaches, you might be struggling to find both the time and the mental energy to write. One of the most distracting (and often disheartening) impediments to your writing can be the endless news cycle. Today, author, editor, and writing coach Kendra Levin shares some tips from your favorite guilty pleasure movies on how to focus on your writing next month:

The news cycle has become the addictive reality show we love to hate (or maybe just hate to hate), and it’s easy to feel like skipping even one day of it means missing crucial information. The idea of unplugging from it entirely for a whole month might seem a bit unrealistic. On the other hand, to do NaNoWriMo this year, you’ll have to find some way to partly disconnect from the endless stream of media. But in a world that is increasingly full of extremes, is it even possible to “partly disconnect” anymore? Four favorite fictional characters show us how to set boundaries for November so you can strike a healthy balance between news junkie and hermit in the woods.

1. Make a declaration of your priorities for November.

Inspiration: Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones’ Diary

As powerless as we often feel in the face of the news, one aspect of our lives we do have agency over is how we spend our time and how we expend our energy. Before NaNoWriMo begins, take a little time to set your intentions. Think about the month ahead and consciously rank your priorities: what’s essential, what’s important, what’s optional—and bucket everything else as, at least for this one month, “unimportant.” You may want to post this ranking somewhere close to hand as a continual reminder.

2. Limit your daily (or weekly) allotment of news consumption—and be specific.

Inspiration: Cher from Clueless

Instead of giving yourself free rein to read, watch, or listen to the news, ask yourself the following questions: How many minutes per day do I want to consume news media during NaNoWriMo? What will help me be most focused on my writing: to consume news before, during, or after my writing hours for the day? What media sources do I want to limit myself to during the month of November? Use your answers to these questions to set boundaries you’ll stick to.

3. Turn the dial on your social media WAY down…or turn it off entirely.


Inspiration: Andrea Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada

It’s a platform for self-expression, a way to communicate with friends and strangers, and a legitimate source of behavioral addiction. It’s also a giant time-suck and a constant reminder of the most dramatic and most anxiety-making aspects of the day’s headlines. Need I say more? For the next month, back away from the feeds. Your novel (and your psyche) will thank you.     

4. Don’t get burnt out, get fueled!


Inspiration: Bernadine Harris from Waiting to Exhale

Let’s say you do take a peek at today’s headlines… and your immediate response is any combination of the following: shock, horror, rage, dread, terror, grief, resignation, or something similar. Instead of being dragged underwater by these anguished emotions, how can you use them as fuel for your writing? How can you infuse your characters with what you’re feeling to make these fictional people more real and to fill your manuscript with the crackle of genuine emotion? Turning your reaction to the news into fuel for your art is one of the healthiest ways to process it, for your body and psyche. And it’ll increase your word count.

Finally, when the struggle to find a workable balance between writing a novel and absorbing the ceaseless blows of the latest news feels like too much for you, don’t forget to give your brain an occasional respite. My top suggestion: re-watching a favorite movie.

Kendra Levin helps writers and other creative artists meet their goals and connect more deeply with their work and themselves. She is an editorial director at Penguin, a certified life coach, 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 photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash.

The 3 Most Important Writing Habits of Bestselling Authors

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. This week, we’re focusing on helping you find the time in your busy schedule to sit down and write a novel next month. RescueTime, a NaNoWriMo 2018 sponsor, is here today with some helpful time management tips:

Like any major creative project, writing a novel in just 30 days takes serious dedication. But even more than that, it takes mastery of your daily schedule, habits, routines, and focus.

As John Grisham, author of more than 35 New York Times-bestselling novels explains:

“Routine is what it’s all about. You’ve got to get into a [writing] routine that is second nature.”

Our lives are driven by habit and routine. In fact, most studies agree that close to 40% of our daily actions are driven by unconscious habits. In order to write consistently, you need to build a routine that gets you writing and gets rid of anything getting in the way.

Here are 3 of the most important writing habits and routines of best-selling authors and how RescueTime—the award-winning time management and productivity app—can help you stick to them.

We’re thrilled to be sponsoring NaNoWriMo 2018! Sign up for RescueTime today and get all our Premium features for free through NaNoWriMo. Find out more here.

1. Find the right time to write each day (and commit to it)

Let’s start with a bit of basic math. To hit your NaNoWriMo goal, you need to write 11,700 words a week. That’s no small feat for any writer (even the pros). But as everyone from Grisham to Haruki Murakami to Stephen King will tell you, writing novels is all about finding your optimal writing hours and sticking to them.

When Grisham first started writing novels, he followed a specific routine of getting up at 5 am, getting to his office, and writing his first words by 5:30 am. While Haruki Murakami follows a strict schedule of waking at 4 am and writing for 5–6 hours before going for a swim.

This isn’t to say you have to wake up at 4 or 5 am to write. But rather that you need to find the time that works best for you and that you can commit to every single day. RescueTime automatically tracks the time you spend on your digital devices and helps you plan out the exact time you need each day to hit your writing goals.

As Shanna Peeples, National Teacher of the Year and author of Think like Socrates, told us:

“RescueTime is like the Weight Watchers of time—helping me become aware of how I’m using my minutes and manage them better.”

2. Block distractions to stay motivated throughout your writing sessions

Back when I was in school, a professor told me that success as a writer comes down to BIC: Butt in Chair. When you’re halfway through NaNoWriMo and your motivation is waning, it’s easy to find excuses to give up. Instead, you need to block the distractions that try to take you away from your writing.

Willpower and commitment are powerful tools, not only for keeping you on track to hit your goals, but also to help you fight the deadly inner critic and get over the myth of the muse—the idea that you can only write when you “feel inspired.” For, as writer Neil Gaiman explains:

“If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist—because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not.”

RescueTime helps you stay motivated and committed by automatically blocking distracting websites and social media on your computer when you’re trying to write, while also giving you real-time nudges throughout the day to help you stay on track.

3. Set smaller, realistic goals and track your progress towards finishing your novel

Writing a 50,000 word novel in a month is hard, but doable. Yet unless you can dedicate enormous blocks of time to it you’re going to have to squeeze writing time into small chunks of the day. And while those chunks add up, you need to track your progress if you want to stay committed and hit your goal.  

As author Jocelyn K. Glei says:

“Most of us make advances small and large every single day, but we fail to notice them because we lack a method for acknowledging our progress. This is a huge loss.”

RescueTime sends you weekly reports, detailing your actual writing time and progress and giving you advice on how to adjust your schedule to find time to write.

Every writer struggles with finding the time to write. Now, with RescueTime and NaNoWriMo, you have the tools and support you need to build a solid writing routine, fight distractions, and stay focused as you bring your characters and story to life in just 30 days.

Robby Macdonell is CEO of RescueTime—a time management and productivity tool used by hundreds of thousands of people to block distractions, understand their productivity, and find time to work on their most important tasks. Sign up for RescueTime today and get our Premium features for free through the month of November (with a deep discount on continuing subscriptions).