Category: nano prep

How to Piece Together Research and Free Writing


Even though the frenzy of April’s Camp NaNoWriMo session has passed, that doesn’t mean you need to stop writing! If you’re feeling like you want to continue your noveling adventures but you’re not quite sure where to go with them, participant Larisa Hunter shares some tips for researching and organizing your first draft:

Free writing is exactly how it sounds: you sit down and just write. It doesn’t seem like it would be a good tool to organize your thoughts, because it’s somewhat chaotic, but I find it very useful. You don’t have to write about a specific thing; you just take thoughts that are all over the place and put them down. 

I’m usually a very organized person. I used to be extremely organized until I became a mom, at which point it began to be more trouble than it was worth. You can’t always predict what kids will do, and planning for everything is virtually impossible (as children, if nothing else, are great at finding the one thing you didn’t prepare for). I began to realize that not much was under my control. Life is often fraught with unexpected events, so trying to organize everything is virtually impossible. In completing a writing project, I’ve found that a mix of free writing and organization work best for me.

Step One: Organizing Research

If you’re writing nonfiction, you have to do research. There’s no way to avoid this, as getting facts wrong can be devastating to your reputation as a writer. When writing nonfiction, you’ll also usually need many sources to research any topic. 

To organize my sources, I find it easier to research one topic at a time and list notes for each section. Each note includes essential information about my source, including the author, title, year, publisher, and page numbers for direct quotes. Making my bibliography is super easy with those notes. I always make sure my sources are backed up by both internet and physical books to ensure I have correct, up-to-date information. It’s vital to ensure your sources are accurate and that you’re sticking to the rules of the style guide you’re using.

With fiction, research can be helpful if you’re looking for background information. It can help you create believable settings and characters. If you’re writing about a fire fighter, you’d want to find out as much as you can about a fire fighter’s life. Don’t be afraid to ask someone who has direct experience if they’d be willing to give you the details of what their job entails. 

Think about fiction research as a way to be a kind of detective: you’re discovering material that you can use to push the story forward. You can research locations locations by physically going to them and noting what you see, and you can read stories similar to the one you want to write.  

Step Two: Free Writing

After I compile my research (or at least have an idea of what exactly I’m going to write), I then go into my free writing sessions. I personally prefer to just sit down at my keyboard and start typing. I don’t really have an idea of where I’m going in the beginning, but I often find the idea when writing it down. Sometimes just putting your fingers on the keys and allowing your mind to pour out its ideas becomes a very good way to finish your project—or at least begin to work it out.

Don’t worry at all about structure with free writing. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or anything related to editing and formal writing. Free writing is an exercise to get your inspiration going. I find it extremely helpful to just roll with it, to allow yourself to go places in your mind and to write your story in whatever way you want. 

It’s helpful to set a time limit on the free writing block—say, twenty minutes—then sit and self-reflect. Review what you’ve written and take a critical eye to it. This may require you to give it to someone else because we often can’t criticize our own work fairly—we tend to be way too harsh on ourselves, or self-deprecating of our own talent.

Writing is an art, and art takes time to craft. You have to have a lot of patience with yourself. Sometimes pressure can override your ability to have a clean piece of writing that will turn into the product that you want it to be. I think that patience is the hardest part of writing to learn, because writers often get caught up in our own heads. When this happens, take a break. Breathe, relax, go outside, do something else to get a break from yourself. These things will help organize your project in a way that is not overwhelming or stressful.

Writing should never be a chore or a task, but an expression of ourselves on the page. Remember that this is your time, your space, your page, fill how you choose. Don’t let yourself feel that this page is your enemy, but a friend waiting to hear your secrets.


Larisa Hunter has spent most of her life on the East Coast of Canada. She is the owner of a small publishing house called Saga Press, and has been involved in publishing for about 6 years.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Rick Payette on Flickr.

Conquering Writer’s Block: Online Generators Edition

Even though the frenzy of April’s Camp NaNoWriMo session has passed, that doesn’t mean you need to stop writing! If you’re feeling like you want to continue your noveling adventures but you’re not quite sure where to go with them, participant Kayla Ann Diaz shares some tips for beating writer’s block:

If you’re like me, there is always a point in your writing in which the dreaded phenomenon known as writer’s block occurs. Some people say that writer’s block isn’t real; it’s just insecurity or the anticipation of an epiphany that causes writer’s block.

In my case, every experience I’ve had with writer’s block resulted from one of two reasons: I either got bored with the idea I initially had, or I ran out of ways to embellish that idea.

I’ve found that I can get myself writing again in one of three ways:

  • Introducing a new character
  • Moving my characters to a new place
  • Using a random prompt to spark inspiration

Online generators help in all three areas. Online generators are inherently prompt generators, a great tool to have for a project like NaNoWriMo. I use them for inspiration and as a way to add a new element to my story more quickly. What better use for something like that than a writing project in which you need to crank out as much content as possible in a short amount of time?

In the corner of the Internet, I found little nuggets of content gold.

Of the three methods I previously mention for adding words to the page, my favorite is character creation. New characters thrown into the mix have unique backstories and motives, which can take on a life of their own. They are an excellent source of new material. There are online generators out there that make adding characters to your story simple by either supplying a unique name or giving you a character description to embellish.

For some writers, even just a new name for a character can spark creativity and battle writer’s block. For one story, I received the name “Inissa" from a name generator.  It made me think princess, royalty, a heart of gold. I immediately saw long dark hair, blue eyes, and a scar on her arm from that time she went to the market in disguise and saved a homeless boy with ailurophobia from a stray cat.

Perhaps a simple, generic character description will do the trick. You could create a few humorous moments in your fantasy epic by introducing “The unathletic Druid” or have the sudden misfortune of adding “The awkward, pious, clinging Rogue” to your party. Your stalled science fiction masterpiece may even be in need of “The bitter, philandering cyborg.” The descriptions are just generic enough to get ideas flowing. You start contemplating situations before even officially adding them to the story.

There are even generators that provide detailed character descriptions for more severe writer’s block, randomizing and selecting things like demeanor, gender, and physical descriptions.

Don’t like a name or character description you received? With the click of a button, you receive a whole new word or phrase to use. You can keep refreshing until you find something you like, something that sparks creativity for you.

The following are online generators I use. I hope they help you the way they help me. Happy writing!

  • Seventh Sanctum — the first online generator I ever used. The generators here span different categories that range from generic to descriptive.  
  • Chaotic Shiny — my new obsession. It has writing and gaming generators, a lot of them designed for D&D campaigns. I whole-heartedly recommend the Tavern/Inn generator.
  • Fantasy Name Generators — my go-to name generator nowadays. There are many name generators worth exploring.


Kayla Ann Diaz grew up in Brooklyn, New York and is still adjusting to life in rural Pennsylvania. She has loved writing ever since she discovered forum roleplaying, and she has participated in NaNoWriMo events since 2010. She finds inspiration in works like Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series while secretly favoring the young adult Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Kayla has a B.A. in English and has a passion for fantasy and all its subgenres.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Judit Klein on Flickr.

What Will Your Camp Creation Be?


We’re gearing up for Camp NaNoWriMo, and we’ve asked our great community for their advice for campers, both new and returning. Today, YWP writer Claire Marino shares what makes Camp NaNo so special: 

Imagine being locked in a room for a month. You’re told to set a goal for yourself, keep track of your progress, and create something you care about. You have complete creative freedom—something that, these days, is much harder to come by than you might think.

So, what is this mighty project? What do you immediately itch to write when given such a guideline? Take that inkling—that feeling—and bottle it up! You will need that inspiration later!

You might be thinking, “NaNoWriMo? Isn’t that the insane novel-in-November thing? I can’t do that. I don’t even want to write a novel, anyway.” To which I would say, “Great! Then Camp NaNoWriMo is just the thing for you!”

There is one main difference between Camp NaNo and November NaNo: creative freedom. In Camp NaNo, not only can you write whatever you want, but you can also track your progress however you want. You can track your project progress through words, lines, pages, or hours spent working on the project. The only measurement I could even think of to add to the list would be seconds spent thinking about the project. (Boy, wouldn’t it be great if they counted?)

Just think of all the wonderfully YOU things you could write with such progress-tracking freedom. In case you’re awestruck just thinking of all the possible things you could write, I’ve curated a list. From the conventional to the unique, there are truly no bad options with what you could write. You could write a…

  • Novel
  • Novel outline and/or other pre-writing processes
  • Novella
  • Screenplay
  • Video game script
  • Short story or collection of short stories
  • Poem (an epic, a few poems, or a whole collection)
  • Board game
  • Zine
  • Memoir
  • Letter collection
  • Essay or essay collection
  • Dictionary in the fantasy language you’re creating
  • Recipe, or a whole cookbook
  • Comic book
  • Response to a different word prompt each day
  • Anything else you can imagine!

With Camp NaNoWriMo, not even the sky is the limit—you are encouraged to surpass it. 

I could probably write a novel itself about the endless possibilities Camp NaNoWriMo provides. In fact, I did, and I won last April. (Just kidding…I lost.)

It’s important to sit down and really think about what you want to create this month. Camp NaNoWriMo was created for people like you to create the things that matter to you—things that don’t necessarily fall under the “novel” umbrella.

Don’t let the opportunity pass you by to learn something about yourself and write something you care about in the process. Or, you know, write a dictionary chock full of the words your dog knows how to say. Whatever inspires you. This is your time to take advantage of creative freedom and set a goal. Prove to yourself that you can. Prove to the world it didn’t know what it was missing.


Claire Marino is a high school sophomore from New Jersey who has been creating stories since before she could read. She spends her free time reading anything she can get her hands on, singing under every breath, and writing everything from novels to poetry to music. Some of her favorite authors and greatest literary inspirations include Jandy Nelson, Marissa Meyer, L. M. Montgomery, and J. K. Rowling. Two recurring themes in her work about which her family loves to tease her include deceased fathers and the moon.

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.