Category: nano prep

6 Tips to Help You Prep for Your Writing Project

Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner! Now that March is here, we’re starting to think about gearing up for our next writing adventure. Today, NaNoWriMo participant Marlena Storm shares a few tips to help you get in the writing zone before it starts:

There isn’t a much bigger or more daunting task than approaching a new project.

You stare at the blinking cursor that haunts your waking hours, sometimes even your dreams, and you wonder to yourself…“Where do I even begin?”

The biggest thing to remember is that making the decision TO begin is an accomplishment in and of itself. Celebrate your small victories and then work toward your bigger victories. Respect and appreciate your commitment and everything else will come a bit easier.

In the almost five years that I have participated in NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve learned that micro goals (mini goals) and benchmark goals are a strong key to success. Pacing is a critical point to success that I think we, as writers, tend to overlook. It seems so simple but in the bigger picture, those small details are a great foundation for the world you will create through your writing.

1. Above all else: Be realistic. 

Be realistic in your goals AND in your expectations. We all want to strive for greatness but greatness is achieved through baby steps. Keep that focus.

2. Along with pacing comes self-care. 

Self-care seems simple but when you are focused on hitting your word count every day, we can forget simple things. Prepare before the event starts! Make sure you have your preferred coffee or tea, your snack haul and those simple comforts covered before you start plugging away at your goals.

3. Keep your goals in mind.

Remember the micro goals thing? Keep that in mind not to overwhelm yourself. If you look at your daily goals and have a day where you fall behind, pace your catch-up. You don’t have to write twenty-thousand words a day to succeed. If you get behind, mini goal your catch-up goals. It all starts with smaller building blocks. I’ve learned through execution that sometimes being so hyper focused on that end goal and the overview can be murder for your inspiration. Don’t let your mind get the best of you. Take care of yourself and everything else will start to feel exponentially easier.

4. Don’t run on empty.

You can’t expect a vehicle to run without an energy source, right? You can’t work toward your goals on empty, either. I can’t emphasize the importance of self-care enough.

5. Why do you write?

Another thing to keep in the front of your mind is why you’re doing what you’re doing. Why do you write? Why did you want to participate in NaNoWriMo to begin with? What inspires you to create? These questions and answers can really be an additional fuel source needed to push you to greater heights.

6. Make your writing space work for you.

Finally, one more thing I have learned throughout doing this event is VIBE MATTERS. What kind of space do you require to write and be in the mental space to create? Personally, I enjoy lighting incense, putting on music, lighting a couple of candles, and getting nice and zen in my creative space. Add in a hot cup of tea and I’m good to go. Every writer is different. Every artist is different.

At the end of the day, writing is hard. To create something from nothing takes a lot of time, a lot of patience, a lot of focus, and sometimes a lot of tears. Utilize your resources (ex: word sprints, group support, etc.) Find your groove, set your goals, and keep it pushing.

I believe in you, but moreover, I hope YOU believe in you, too.

I’d say “good luck”, but a writer makes their own luck. Remember that.

Now, let’s get to work. Novels don’t write themselves.


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Marlena Storm is an amateur writer who has spent her life telling stories. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her partner and her cat. She is an LGBTQIA+ advocate, an animal lover and a nature obsessed tea enthusiast with a deep love of horror culture and rock music. She is currently working on a number of projects, including the Mirrors Series & The Daylight Dies Series. You can visit her on Instagram @MarlenaStorm and her website.

Top photo by ian dooley on Unsplash.

How to Tackle NaNoWriMo With Clinical Depression

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re writing is making sure that finishing your project doesn’t adversely affect your mental health. Today, writer Andrea Tomé shares how she balances writing and mental health needs:

There’s this trope in which writers almost always have a mental disorder that always grants them WRITING SUPERPOWERS. They’re able to finish a whole draft in two days, providing they have enough cheese balls and Coke cans on their desk (think Johnny Depp in Secret Window).

For some authors, writing is therapeutic. Me? My depression is so linked to my perfectionism that every time I struggle with my writing, I’m paralyzed. The white page is enormous, and it blinds me; writing a sentence requires Herculean strength.

I entered November feeling at my lowest, but I wanted to win NaNoWriMo. I was sure that my depression would always be this massive rock in my way unless I started learning to work in spite of it.

November was the most depressed I had been, but with a little help from my friends (is The Beatles song playing in your head right now?) I was able to complete the 50k words.

How? There are certain coping mechanisms that always help. Maybe you won’t write 50k in a month, maybe you’ll still struggle to find motivation, but what’s most important is to shift your focus: you’re struggling with a cruel disorder and you’re creating something beautiful nonetheless. That’s heroic.

These are my five tips on how to tackle NaNoWriMo when you’re dealing with depression:

1. Cut yourself some slack. 

Aim for the 50k, but make sure you’ll be okay if you don’t reach that word count. Think of NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to finish a first draft that’s probably gonna be terrible because that’s the nature of all first drafts.

2. Step out of your comfort zone. 

You hate this expression. I know you hate this expression. Everyone hates this expression. But hear me out: old methods will only bring old results (you hate this expression too). For me, stepping out of my comfort zone meant being less of a writing hermit and participating more in local write-ins (you can organize some with your friends if you don’t have any “official” ones in your hometown).

3. Plan your writing sessions AND your rests. 

Lack of motivation is a struggle when you have depression, so take a minute to consider your schedule and plan your writing sessions around it. What about resting? Plan it too, and be as specific as possible. Think about some self-care activities you will feel genuinely excited about: it can be meeting with a friend, or doing a Korean facemask while you listen to your favorite podcast, or maybe binge-watching that Netflix show that has been on your to-watch list since forever.

4. Don’t forget to socialize. 

One of my favorite memories of high-school were the café study sessions with my best friends in which, quite honestly, we didn’t do as much studying as we had hoped for. It’s okay. The goal isn’t to be 100% productive at the expense of your mental health; the goal is to be as productive as you can while taking care of yourself. Meeting with people is hard when you have depression, but finding a writing buddy (or a friend who will work on something else while you write) will make everything easier.

5. Listen to your body (another expression you hate). 

During NaNo I took a whole week off because I was feeling mentally drained— and my novel turned out okay. If you’re feeling burnt out, take days off and tackle your project with energy to write double the time the following days. Work smarter, not harder.

Writing is hard. Writing when you have a mood disorder is harder. You’re an absolute superhero just for trying, don’t forget it.


Andrea Tomé was born in the Fall of 1994 in the North-West of Spain. She published her first novel, Corazón de mariposa, when she was 19 and hasn’t stopped writing and publishing since.

She lives in London, where she works in the publishing industry and goes to the Tate Modern way too often. She’s also guest author for The Mighty and Sick Not Weak and she occasionally gives public speaking gigs on mental health. 2018 was her fifth time participating in NaNo and the second time she won.

Top photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

5 Common Mistakes First-Time Novelists Make

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, our sponsor Reedsy has put together a list of the most common mistakes for rookie novelists (Want more advice from Reedsy? Check out their webcast on writing and submitting query letters!):

Writing a novel for the first time is probably one of the most daunting creative experiences in existence. Indeed, many first-time novelists have no idea how to approach it! This often means they go in blind—and end up making mistakes that seriously hinder their writing process, their novel, and their overall confidence as a writer.

And while learning from your own mistakes is a great way to cement those lessons, we can all agree that it’s not very efficient. So if you’re about to start writing a novel for the first time, here’s a quick catalog of five common mistakes that first-time novelists make, as well as how to evade them.

1. Starting without a clear purpose

A staggering number of first-timers go into the novel-writing process with no greater mission other than to, well, write a novel. It’s a noble quest, to be sure—but without any other purpose in mind for your work, you’re not going to get very far.

To avoid this fate, have a prolonged brainstorm/deep thinking sesh before you begin to draft. The question you ultimately need to answer is: what kind of story am I trying to write? Not just in terms of genre and plot, but what you want the reader to take away from your novel.

This might be an outright lesson about society, as in a book like The Handmaid’s Tale. Or it might be an impression of a time/place/feeling, as in Elif Batuman’s 2017 novel The Idiot. Perhaps you want to represent a group or experience you feel is underrepresented in literature. Your novel’s purpose could be just about anything, as long as you feel strongly about it.

But whatever it is, pre-draft is the time to get ahold of it—not halfway through your novel, in a frantic attempt to conjure meaning out of thin air.

2. Being unrealistically ambitious

While you should definitely have goals (like purpose) as you write, you don’t want to be too ambitious—i.e. if you’ve never written a novel before, you can’t go into it thinking you’re about to write the next Gone Girl. Unfortunately, many first-timers do exactly that!

Little do they know that being overly ambitious with your first novel is a one-way ticket to Writer’s Blockville, which is walking distance from Giving-Up Town. So don’t make your writing goals too lofty, lest you become too discouraged to actually meet them.

Instead, try this: make a list of 3 realistic and concrete goals to work toward as you draft, and tell yourself to disregard everything else for the time being. A reasonable set of ambitions for a first-time novelist might be:

  1. Write X number of words in X days (say, 50k words in 30 days, if you’re feeling up to it).
  2. Construct a relatively straightforward plot. 
  3. Focus on one aspect of your fiction writing that you know needs improvement—characterization, pacing, dialogue, etc.

Keeping solid goals like these in mind will prevent you from burning out. Just remember, the most important part of writing a first novel is just to get it down on the page. As long as you’re still writing, you’re doing something right.

3. Trying too hard to be “literary”

Even seasoned writers often fall into the trap of trying too hard to sound “literary,”—like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Zadie Smith, or any number of renowned writers. Of course, it’s great to have role models, but not if you end up sounding unnaturally ornate and formal in an attempt to emulate other novelists.

The best way combat this “over-literary” effect is to carefully monitor your prose. Be honest with yourself: if you’ve written something just to sound fancy, not because it actually contributes to the story, cut it out. When in doubt, ask someone else to test-read your work and tell you if anything comes across as pretentious or unnatural.

It’s also good to consciously stay away from other literary works during the writing process, just in case of accidental osmosis. Or if you must read (we all know it’s a hard thing to give up), try picking up novels that are nothing like yours. For example, if you’re writing a slow-burn romance, you should be able to enjoy a fast-paced thriller without worrying about the style bleeding into yours.

4. Editing right after finishing

Countless successful writers and editors constantly remark on the importance of waiting to edit one’s manuscript. Yet after completing their first draft, many people dive right into the self-editing process without so much as a day’s buffer!

The result is a highly subjective—and therefore largely ineffective—editing process. You’re stubbornly attached to certain passages and subplots, and you’re so exhausted from writing the first draft that you resist the idea of revising. Basically, editing too soon after finishing your novel means you can’t get much of anything done.

Luckily, there’s an easy way around this problem: waiting a few days, weeks, or even months before returning to your first draft. While you may be eager to start sending your novel out to agents or other readers, trust us that waiting is the best thing you can do at this juncture.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t do anything else productive during the interim. You might research professional editors, or even start working on another project if you have the energy! The important thing is to clear your mind of that first novel, so that when you do finally go back to it, you’ll have fresh eyes with which to conduct a much better, deeper self-edit.

5. Never writing anything else

One of the worst mistakes writers make is letting their first novel also be their last. Yes, some people write novels just to see if they can, or to get a story out of their system, and they’re satisfied to leave it at that. But many more people just don’t think it’s worth the effort—especially if their first novel didn’t turn out as amazing as they thought it would (see tip #2).

Allow us to dissuade you of that notion. No one’s denying that writing a novel is hard work—but the work is worth it, as long as you don’t give up. The more you practice and the more novels you write, the better your craft will become. To paraphrase Ira Glass, your skill will eventually catch up with your taste; you just have to push a bit to get there.

So don’t stop writing after your first book, otherwise you’ll never know what you’re truly capable of creating. Learn from your own mistakes, as well as the ones we’ve outlined here, and keep moving forward—to your second, third, fourth novels and beyond.


Ricardo Fayet is a co-founder of Reedsy, an online marketplace connecting authors with industry’s best editors, designers and book marketers.

3 Tips from an Engineer to Help You Write Efficiently

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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:

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#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!


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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.”

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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)

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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.

Traits

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.

Desires

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.

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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?


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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

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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!


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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

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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!


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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

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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:

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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.