Category: nano prep

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Diversity makes stories better, plain and simple. This year, we’ve partnered with the good folks at Writing With Color to get some advice on how to write stories populated with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. In the second part of her “Do’s of Writing People of Color” sub-series, founder Colette Aburime discusses how reading diversity will help us write diversity:

Writers write. They should also read. And if you plan on writing Characters of Color, you should read works by People of Color. More specifically, stuff from authors in that ethnic group. Consider this an important part of your research.

How do People of Color tell their tales, express culture, and represent themselves in story? You may find that—ope! We humans are quite alike in many regards.

It’s those key differences you should learn to add a touch of authenticity.

Whether it’s:

  • Haircare needs & styles
  • How we describe ourselves
  • Microaggressions: the ones we face & how we cope
  • How we incorporate, celebrate and balance culture
  • Fitting in at work and school

When the mods and I give advice on WritingwithColor, we speak mainly from our experiences. Don’t stop at just one book or blog. There are many more voices to hear. Seek plenty of stories by those you hope to represent.

Primary Resources:

  • Fiction – particularly in your story’s genre
  • Non-fiction
  • Blogs and vlogs
  • Articles
  • POC Profiles on WritingwithColor blog (reader submission-based experiences)
  • Autobiographies, diaries and memoirs – particularly in your story’s time period
  • Social media / message boards (Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit can be an open diary!)
  • Comment sections, reviews, and discussions from any number of these.

Remember your goal is to learn and to listen.

Tips:

  • Practice proper etiquette. When entering public or semi-private spaces, provide support without offering unasked-for sympathies or questions. “Thank you for sharing” is a good general way to show support. Or sometimes lurking is best. Regardless, make sure all commentary is welcome and appropriate.

For example: A Black girl venting about getting her hair pet by a coworker isn’t the time to ask “Well, why is it so wrong to do that?” Google is a good, dear friend!  

  • Keep an open mind. Some of these sources may share raw, intimate information. Truths that make you uncomfortable, told in ways that don’t sugarcoat or act nice about it. Time to forget yourself! A person’s personal experiences are seldom written to make others comfortable. Again, you’re here to listen and learn. And you will learn if you listen!
  • Support Authors of Color. When it comes to stories, support the author with a review. And if you liked it, recommend the book to others. You could also buy a copy or ask your library to carry it. 

It’s not all about oppression.

Something you’ll discover from reading our stories, particularly fiction; we want adventures! To fall in love, crack the cold case, and soar from the backs of dragons. Most of our lives are not 24/7 about The Struggle.

In any case, stories that let us play is part of escapism. Allow us these moments. When we’re ready for really tough stuff, we’ll seek the stories that deal specifically with those topics.

And don’t forget all the positive to neutral things. Food, holidays, traditions, music, get-togethers…

Overwhelmed?

Don’t get lost in the details. Not everything you learn will prove relevant to the story, but it could provide some background. In the same way giving your MC the favorite color yellow may never appear on the pages, it gives insight on who they are.

Organize to Success!

Chart your findings in a neat and easy to reference manner.

I’ve created this Character of Color Research Table (Google Doc) to give you a start. Make a copy and fill the chart with whatever information you see fit.

Now, pick up a great book by an Author of Color and get in some research!


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Colette Aburime is the founder of WritingWithColor, a writing advice blog focused on diversity. She studied creative and professional writing in college, and writes (or rather, dreams of writing) in her free time. Colette is a big fan of romance and fantasy and lives out her fairytale in a humble cottage in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. She spends happily ever after with her prince, plants, and a feisty cat. Check out WritingWithColor on Tumblr and Twitter.

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Diversity makes stories better, plain and simple. This year, we’ve partnered with the good folks at Writing With Color to get some advice on how to write stories populated with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. In this post, Alexa White gives advice on finding the right voice for characters of color:

The #1 thing I tell people on Writing With Color when they provide a character for review is “this sounds like a white person.”

I don’t say it as a condemnation, but to provide a baseline for what people are working with. They are working from an environment where white narratives, white people, and white-majority countries are the only places deemed “worthy” of their history, culture, and physical location being explored.

As a result, most characters come across as white. Their thought patterns, mental framework, and values don’t feel like they reflect the realities of growing up as someone othered. There aren’t enough details, the priorities feel wrong, and the cultural touchstones are just not there.

Thankfully, the internet is very vast, and has provided people multiple ways to respectfully research everything you could need. Here are three basic steps (in no order) you can take to begin creating characters of color:

1: Listen in on social media

Key word: listen. The goal of this step is to familiarize yourself with communities that are speaking as if white people aren’t around. You can do this on any social media platform. 

How to find these communities can be tricky. A great place to start is going through Writing With Color’s tags meant to gain community commentary (NDN only), following activist accounts (black lives matter), and just generally searching “x activist” (googling Asian activism got me a Wikipedia article on Asian-American activism, with the name of multiple movements, activist organizations, and notable activists. Note: it’s very East Asian heavy, but you can tailor searches for specific groups by name).

The more you listen, the more you’ll start to see what conversations are a priority for these groups. And don’t stop at the big names! Smaller accounts are important to follow, to get the big picture.

2: Read #OwnVoices

The wonders of the internet have provided us with a whole hashtag that centralizes diverse authors as the authorities on their own stories. It’s a built-in reading list for so many groups, and it’s basically guaranteed that you’ll find a large collection of stories that match your demographic.

Reading stories by people of color will help combat the overflow of white-centered stories in mass media, which will in turn provide you with a different framework to work from. Details you hadn’t even thought of (like satin pillowcases for type 4 curly hair) will start to emerge, and you’ll get a window into how someone chose to present themselves (which is a big deal when closed religions start to come into effect, such as many Native religions).

Plus, you get to support authors of color along the way, and have a bunch of new stories to recommend!

3: Google every basic you can think of (and make sure the sources are reputable)

The literal only reason writing Europeans and white Americans is easier is because you’ve had their history spoon fed to you since kindergarten. You’re going to need to start from kindergarten level questions for your characters of color.

As alluded to multiple times in this post, the internet is full of content by people of color. You can find Japanese recipe blogs, Black makeup and hair YouTubers, Native fashion stores—the list is endless. So long as the source is someone from the group, chances are you’ll be getting something accurate.

By googling your questions, you can start to fill up the education cup without demanding any extra labor from people of color. We have already provided the labor for you. All you need to do is find it, and withhold the impulse to insert yourself into the narrative.

This isn’t about you. Learn to let it be about us, before you start writing. 

Good luck on your research quest!

~ Alexa White


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Alexa White, also known as Mod Lesya on Writing with Color, is a Mohawk two spirit person from Southern Ontario, who joined Writing with Color to help educate others. A lifelong lover of storytelling, she dedicates her focus to making characters feel like they come from whatever setting they’re supposed to exist in. If she is not found writing, she is playing with her cat, cooking, or drawing.

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Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, Scribd, a 2019 NaNoWriMo sponsor, shares how you can boost your writing skills through reading. Try out Scribd’s reading subscription service for free!

If you ask any seasoned writer for advice, it’s practically a guarantee that clichéd exhortations to “read more” will be among their suggestions. 

It’s difficult to blame writers seeking guidance to tune out this advice when they hear it, conditioned as they are to being told they’re not reading enough. But this advice should be taken seriously. Even those who are already avid readers and can’t possibly pack more reading time into their days will benefit from adjusting their relationship with reading.

Pro writers cite diverse reasons for becoming compulsive, eclectic readers. Here are a few of them:

1. Mastering the nuts and bolts

Writers don’t like to admit it, but it’s the truth: Grammar is hard. The rules of grammar are often counterintuitive, arbitrary, nebulously defined, and subject to change. Style guides provide contrasting explanations of certain rules, and many of them require annual updates. If it feels like it’s impossible to truly master syntax, punctuation, and word choice, that’s because it nearly is. 

We can take solace in the fact that “proper English” is a human construct and not fully “getting it” is largely inconsequential. You, however, are a writer, so correct grammar is important for your purposes. The good news is that “correct grammar” isn’t as rigid as you may have been led to believe. Writers have been using grammar creatively for a long time now, from the stages of Elizabethan England to the cafés of postmodern New York, and you have unlimited material to draw stylistic and grammatical cues from. Take advantage of it! The more authors you read, the better able you’ll be to nail down a style that best reflects your vision. And, of course, if the fundamentals are still beyond your grasp, there’s no better way to master them by immersing yourself in them.

2. Getting inspired

In the second century CE, the Greek author Plutarch wrote one of his most famous works: Parallel Lives, an account of the lives of 48 Greek and Roman public figures. A 1579 English translation of Parallel Lives—one book!—would form the basis for four plays by William Shakespeare.

This isn’t meant to suggest that you should indiscriminately plunder ideas like Shakespeare did, but to illustrate the inspirational power of reading. If one book (albeit a pretty big one) gave the English language’s most beloved writer four plays, think of how many ideas you could get out of reading all the time. Inspiration can come from unexpected sources; why not seek it out?

3. Broadening your world

Here’s another (true) cliché: Literature is defined by its ability to expand our capacity for empathy. Understanding is at the core of empathy, and learning about experiences different from our own is how we develop understanding. You might read books by and about all different sorts of people, and that’s great! But people have written about everything under the sun, and no matter how much you know, there will always be more to learn, more worlds for you to explore. Everyone gets caught in “bubbles” of preferences and interests and experiences, but reaching outside those bubbles by reading a diverse selection of books can make us better people, which makes us better writers. 

From the Russian avant-garde to 18th-century recipes to cricket technique to squirrel behavior to the lives of workers on the Transcontinental Railroad, there have been books written about everything, including many, many things you aren’t even aware of—yet. With reading subscription service Scribd, you get access to millions of books, audiobooks, documents, and more, to help you expand your reading horizons, all for around $10 a month. You can sign up for Scribd here, and get 30 days free to check it out. 

Read more, get acquainted with the world around you, and write all about it!


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Karyne is the Senior Original Content Manager at Scribd. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, West Coast Tech Editor at Business Insider, and Assistant Managing Editor at CNET. Her varied interests include singing, playing video games, and reading good hard-boiled detective novels.

Top photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

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Diversity makes stories better, plain and simple. This year, we’ve partnered with the good folks at Writing With Color to get some advice on how to write stories populated with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. In this post, founder Colette Aburime gives advice on how to begin incorporating diversity into your writing:

When you write with racial and ethnic diversity, you hear a lot about what to avoid. Now, it’s not without good reason. The road to good representation is paved with harmful stereotypes and worn-out depictions of People of Color. Advice-givers, like me and the rest of the folks at WritingwithColor, put up caution signs and leave the rest of the journey up to you.

Still, there are some do’s that make for both good writing and good representation.

Writers tend to think big. Our craft demands that we keep our brains fired up with ideas. 

I’m asking you to think small.

You wouldn’t set out to climb Mount Everest your first day as a climber. No way – you’d train first! It’d take loads of exercise, you might scale some indoor climbing walls, and perhaps stock up on wisdom to apply to your own form.

When approaching topics you have little experience with, no need to go the biggest you can go from the start. Train before tackling the full-length novel or dealing heavily in tough topics like racism. Start with a hill, not the mountain.

Benefits of starting small:

  • Smoother writing process. The writing process can be a bit stop-and-go if you’re, say, constantly checking that your Black character descriptions are on the right track. You’ll feel more focused if you’ve described Black characters countless times before. Get the stumbling out on the training grounds.
  • More confidence as a writer. The stakes of writing a group outside of your own can feel like mountains looming overhead. The more practice you have, even from writing snippets and scenes, the more confident you’ll become.
  • Better representation. With all that practice prose in, combined with research and feedback, your diverse writing will only get better. You’ll learn what works, doesn’t work, and tackle stereotypes and blunders early on.

Ways to start small:

  • Character profiles 
  • Character descriptions (physical and personality)
  • Dialogue
  • Third person POV
  • First person POV
  • Write a secondary Character of Color
  • Write a Protagonist of Color
  • Scene with CoC during an ordinary moment 
  • Scene of CoC during an emotional moment 
  • Scene of CoC facing a micro-aggression
  • Scene of CoC facing blatant racism or discrimination 
  • Scene that casually shows culture (e.g. dinner, clothing, family interaction)
  • Scene that prominently shows culture (e.g. holiday, cultural event)
  • Fan Fiction (Good source of feedback if published!)
  • Flash fiction
  • Short story

This list progresses from easier stuff to more complex means of practice. Try a variety of methods and practice as much as it takes to feel comfortable on a certain task. Exercise those diverse-writing muscles!

I’ve practiced a lot. Now what?

  1. Research what you’re writing. If you didn’t do it before or during writing, now’s the time to research. Check out those writing guides on describing skin tone and physical features, dialect and speech, handling stereotypes, and so on. Writingwithcolor is a good starting place! Check out the WWC FAQ and explore from there.
  2. Get feedback. Preferably from the groups you’re writing on. Again, Writingwithcolor is a resource for feedback but so are beta-readers, writing groups online and in-person, etc.
  3. Improve your practice pieces. Don’t lament too much on perfecting it but do apply research and feedback to polish them up. Remember the relevant advice for future reference.

It’s great that you’re writing with diversity! Now that you’ve got the small stuff out of the way, pull out those big plans you kept tucked in your back pocket. You’ll stumble a lot less with all the practice you’ve already clocked in.


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Colette Aburime is the founder of WritingWithColor, a writing advice blog focused on diversity. She studied creative and professional writing in college, and writes (or rather, dreams of writing) in her free time. Colette is a big fan of romance and fantasy and lives out her fairytale in a humble cottage in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. She spends happily ever after with her prince, plants, and a feisty cat. Check out WritingWithColor on Tumblr and Twitter.

Having the support of friends, family, or other important people in your life can help you accomplish your creative goals.

We’ve come up with these graphics that you can share to help the writer-adjacent people in your lives best understand how they can support you during November—whether that’s by keeping you off social media when you should be writing, coming up with chores for you to do if you don’t reach your goals, or participating in NaNoWriMo with you! Tag or share with someone you’d like to write with next month.

IMAGES:

1. Writing Buddy definition
Noun: A person who writes with another person, offering encouragement and support, including but not limited to:
a. Accountability
b. Cheerleading
c. Real Talk: i.e. “…You know you chose to do this, right?”

Bring your own writing buddy #BYOWB

2: Public Declaration of Accountability
I hereby declare that I am staying off social media until I hit my next writing goal. Scold me if you see me around these parts until I get there!

3: Public Declaration of Accountability
I hereby declare that if I fail to reach my next writing goal, I will commit to doing a chore for you. Make suggestions and cheer me on below!

4: Public Declaration of Accountability
I hereby declare that upon reaching my next writing goal, I will join one of you for a celebratory treat. Make a date with me or cheer me on below!

How to Reinforce Your Characters with Detailed Worldbuilding

What does the world of your novel look like? Sometimes you have a great story idea, or really cool characters, but for some reason, your writing just seems to fall flat. Watch this video to get some tips on how detailed world-building can help you add depth to your characters and your plot. 

If you don’t include a lot of detail when you’re creating the world of your story, your characters may seem two-dimensional.

One writing trick is to show more about your characters by putting them in specific settings and letting the objects or landscape around them tell readers something about the characters themselves. 

You can also use your setting to enhance or create a specific mood in your novel, or alert your readers that an important plot point is about to happen. It can also influence how your readers feel when they’re reading your novel.

Treating your setting as something that shows how your characters feel, not just the place they happen to be in, can help deepen your writing and make your readers more invested in your story.


2019 NaNoWriMo Facebook Cover


2019 NaNoWriMo Writer Badge


2019 NaNoWriMo Twitter Banner

It’s October, which means that National Novel Writing Month is just one month away!

Are you writing a novel with us in November? Let the world know by updating your social media profiles with this participant flair! (We have a square icon image, as well as banners sized for Facebook and Twitter). 

You can also announce your project on the brand new NaNoWriMo website! If you haven’t seen it yet, log into nanowrimo.org with your existing username and password (or create a new one if you don’t have an account). You can go to “My NaNoWriMo” > “Projects”, and click the “Announce new project” button at the top.

Not sure what you want to write about yet? Don’t freak out! We’ve got a lot of resources to help you prep for writing a novel this month with our NaNo Prep 101 workbook and exercises. 

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Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Today, Milanote, a 2019 NaNoWriMo sponsor, has partnered with creative writing coach Angel McCoy to bring you this summary guide on how to start your novel as you prepare for NaNoWriMo:

Writing a novel is the most amazing adventure you may ever undertake. It’s a baring of the soul, no matter how fictional. It requires dedication, attention to detail, imagination, and a burning desire to tell a story. When you sit down to begin your story outline, you’re taking the first step on a journey into the unknown. Fortunately, many novelists have already traveled the path before you, so you don’t have to go into that wilderness without a map. 

Milanote is a wonderful creative writing app where you can organize your research, ideas, characters and outline in one place.

In this article you will learn five critical questions to ask yourself about your novel so that you can begin formulating a vision for it. These questions are practical and inspirational. This is the first step toward writing your novel, so let’s settle in and get started!

Question 1: What is this novel about?

The first question is “What is this novel about?” At this stage, you don’t want to dive too deep. State your answer as a “What if…” question, and limit yourself to twenty words or less. These limitations help to refine your concept. See example below for The Wizard of Oz.

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Question 2: What are the stakes?

The next question is “What are the stakes?” If your heroes fail, what will happen? What do the world and your characters have to lose if this story ends in tragedy? 

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Question 3: What is the core conflict?

After the stakes, you want to define the core conflict. A great way to express this is with an “X versus Y” statement, where X is your protagonist and Y is the force working against your protagonist. Who or what wants to keep the protagonist from achieving success? Is it an individual, a group, a situation, an internal struggle, or something else?

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Question 4: How is the conflict resolved?

Eventually, the Core Conflict must be resolved, but how? When answering this next question, consider whether the protagonist fails or the story ends in success. Describe, in one sentence, how the Core Conflict is resolved.

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Question 5: What is ‘the lesson’?

Conflict creates change, whether in the protagonist or the world itself. A novel is the story of change through conflict. In your novel, what needs to change? We call this The Lesson to represent that someone or something is facing a trial that will end in transformation. What is the transformation that occurs through the course of your novel and comes to fruition through the application of the Core Conflict? 

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If you answered all these questions, then you’re well on your way to a novel. 

If you found this guide useful you might like to try Milanote’s accompanying story map template to help you start your next great novel.


Angel Leigh McCoy tells tales and builds worlds for a living. Her stories have entertained millions, maybe even you. AngelMcCoy.com

Hey Wrimos, did you know that NaNo Prep season is officially kicking off?

Last year, we asked a bunch of first-time NaNoWriMo winners one simple question: What went right? 

There were so many interesting, thoughtful, and funny responses… and one major common theme: preparation. That preparation took a lot of different forms, and we did our best to corral it all into something we’re calling our NaNo Prep 101 Workshop!

Over the next six weeks, we’ll provide focused NaNo Prep activities for you to knock out of the park—focusing on idea generation, character development, worldbuilding, and more. By the time November rolls around, we hope you’ll be more prepared than ever to reach 50,000 words on your novel draft.

We designed this course with less seasoned Wrimos in mind, but even if you’ve written (or won!) with us before, we think you’ll discover something useful.

Check out this week’s NaNo Prep 101 Resources

Download the Complete NaNo Prep 101 Handbook

We all face different challenges as writers, so of course there are many different strategies you can try to bring your story to completion. If you’re a writer with ADHD, NaNoWriMo participant Lila Krishna has a few tips and tricks you can try to stay focused:

As a teenager, I’d begin a new novel once every few months. By 20, I had under my belt 17 different first chapters, around 8 second chapters—and little else. A decade later, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Shocker, I know. 

While ADHD is one of the most well-documented mental health issues, a task like writing brings with it some unique challenges. Its unstructured nature is both a blessing and a curse for those of us who are neuro-atypical. 

Here are some common problems I came across in my journey as a writer with ADHD. These issues are some that are common across the writing community, but those of us with ADHD often need to go above and beyond commonly-offered answers to find long-lasting and sustainable solutions that make writing an easier, less-frustrating, and more productive hobby. 

Problem: Help! I go down internet rabbit holes a lot while writing! 

This is a problem all of us doing any kind of desk job face. However, when interrupted, the ADHD mind requires more time and energy to context-switch. Recovering from interruptions takes us much longer, and we are less effective for several minutes after an interruption. We also find it harder to resist temptations, or switch back to working after a bout of TVTropes.com. 

Solution 1: Turn off the internet while writing. It’s difficult at first, but after a few times, it’s not as bad. There’s several browser extensions, like StayFocusd, and apps like AppBlock which can automate periods of internet-free writing. Using these, you don’t need to make those decisions in the moment, which frees up significant cognitive energy. 

Power through moments where you need to research something with filler words and descriptions. I like marking these with < and > symbols, like <insert phrase a shocked Russian grandma would say>. Then, you can go through each of these when you get back your internet access to research and fill in each of these. 

Solution 2: Use an app like StayOnTask, which checks up on you at random times to see if you’re staying on task. Often, in our web surfing reverie, we need such an interruption o tell us to ‘Get back to work right away!’. 

Solution 3: Whenever you stop writing, quickly jot down the time and the reason you stopped. Also include a brain dump of what you were trying to complete, and the ideas you had. This way, when you finally get your child’s diaper changed, or get off the phone with that telemarketer, you can jump right back in without as big an effort. 

Solution 4: Sometimes, these steps aren’t sufficient. For a radical solution, have a ‘body double’ with you, whose presence or words serve as a reminder to stay the course. My husband isn’t a writer, but I began shouting out to him each time I stopped writing with the reason for my interruption, and that by itself helped me stay accountable and return to my writing. 

Problem: Help! I get bored with my ideas, and never see them through to completion! 

Apparently I’m not the only one with First Chapter Syndrome. There’s something about the zillion interesting possibilities that a first chapter brings with it that gets my pulse racing. That same something also makes me want to abandon those zillion possibilities the moment I hit a roadblock, like a week of deadlines at work, or getting stuck on a plot point, or when I come across another idea with its own zillion interesting possibilities. 

With ADHD, new ideas are always tempting and distracting me, which means I’ll rarely come back to an old, stale idea. Each idea only can sustain me for a limited time horizon, which often isn’t long enough to see the idea through. 

Solution: Set clear goals, and shorten your time horizon. 

Let’s say you want to write a short story. Set your word limit to be, say, 3,000 words, and then set a short time horizon, say, a week, to complete it. Put that week on your calendar. 

Or if it’s a novel you have in mind, set your word limit to be, say, 50,000 words, and then set a short time horizon, like a month, to complete it in. Then schedule that month on your calendar, in, say, November. 

For the duration of this short time horizon, make this goal IMPORTANT!!! Buy yourself a new notebook, or a new pen, or a Scrivener subscription, or heck, a cake, to make this goal seem special, and stand out in your mind for you. 

This keeps the exciting distraction of a new idea away, because your goal is very much within reach, and what’s more, IT’S SPECIAL!!! 

Sometimes, 50,000 words might be too much or too far away a goal, so shorten it to 30,000 or even 20,000 words. The focus is on regular, easy wins, which can keep the momentum going.

For July’s Camp NaNoWriMo, I set a goal of 20,000 words on my new novel idea. I not only achieved my goal, but also exceeded it by 5,000 words. I now have 17 chapters of a novel written, and now I’m invested and confident enough that I can easily do 25,000 more and see this project through to completion! 

For the creative person with ADHD, writing can be a great way to see through at least a few of the gazillion ideas that run through our mind. All we need is a little bit of creative problem solving to make it a more fulfilling and productive practice. 


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Lila Krishna is a San Francisco-based writer and programmer, with an abiding interest in tailoring productivity strategies for those with mental health issues. She writes fiction at the intersection of tech, women, and society, with a focus on the experience of Indians in America. She tweets at @lilastories and blogs at www.medium.com/@lilastories

Top photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash.