Category: writing advice

What do baking and writing have in common? More than you might…

What do baking and writing have in common? More than you might think!

In this video, NaNoWriMo staffers explore the similarities between baking and writing as they cook up some delicious desserts (and try to resolve a lengthy debate at NaNoWriMo HQ about whether madeleines are cakes or cookies.): 

 1. In both baking and writing, you might be a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between. 

 2. Even if you’re prepared, you may encounter unexpected obstacles. 

 3. Conditions won’t always be optimal. Go for it anyway! 

 4. Sometimes, working with friends can help you meet your goals. 

 5. Whatever your creative style, the important part is making something that you like!

4 Ways to Turn Your Writing Struggles Into Stories

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Sometimes, it’s easy to identify what your character’s struggle with. Other times, it’s something shadowy lurking under the surface. Today, Young Writers Program Participant Amanda Harrison offers some tips on turning that struggle into a narrative arc:

1. When you’re about to begin writing, make sure you have a plan.

You don’t necessarily have to go into it with a strict day-to-day agenda, because that can take away from the fun of writing, but it is important to have a general idea of the characters in your story and what direction the conflict is going in.

A good way to start organizing your ideas and elements of your story is to have some sort of notebook devoted to it. Having a specific place to keep everything about your book can help you straighten out any information that doesn’t exactly match up, fill plot holes, and keep track of all the important aspects of your story (characters, government and/or magic systems, places, etc.). After having everything in your story written down is when your writing becomes easier.

2. Don’t make a story without a conflict or a goal your protagonists are working for or against. 

If you’re having trouble coming up with your main character’s struggle in the story, take a look at their insecurities and faults, and you will most likely be able to come up with your story’s problem easily.

In my current story I’m working on, I’ve had trouble thinking of my conflict, but after taking a break from writing and going back to my story’s outline and my character lists, it’s become easier to think of a conflict and execute it in my story. I took a look at my protagonist, Jacob, and tried thinking about his personality. Jacob’s main fear is having the people he cares about taken away from him. Two parts of the conflict I have are him having to leave his family for good, and having an outside force take away his new family/friends.

3. Shake it up! If your story is boring to you, it’s not going to be exciting for your readers.

It’s not that the story itself is bad, but without your conflict, your story won’t develop well. If you do have a conflict in mind, but are still in the exposition or rising action, try adding in backstories for less important characters who might play a crucial role in the story later, or write a bit about the villain in your story.

Another thing you can try is creating a side story for your main characters; showing how they got where they are today. And don’t let us forget about everyone’s favorite thing to write: plot twists. If you’re having trouble writing, try putting yourself in your readers’ shoes. Think of something your characters wouldn’t do; a sort of rebellion, an action that would throw everyone in your book off guard. 

When you’re writing, lead your audience away from the plot, make them think they know what is going on or give them a sense of closure on the subject, drop a few subtle hints the readers will notice after reading the twist, then drop that reading bomb on your readers!

4. And lastly: don’t stress!

Remember, you should be writing because you enjoy it! Don’t make a goal too monumental for yourself, in terms of your schedule, and how much you as a writer are able to write.


Amanda Harrison is a 13 year old writer, and is about half way through her first rough draft of her novel she’s writing, using camp Nanowrimo (although it’s mostly her procrastinating and talking to her cabin-mates from Cricket) Amanda also writes on Cricket Magazine’s ‘Chirp at Cricket’ website. On her free time, you can find Amanda playing piano or ukulele, playing basketball, or singing whatever Broadway song is stuck in her head at the top of her lungs.

Top photo by Anna Samoylova on Unsplash.

Don’t Get Stuck, Get Going!

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We’ve all been there, chasing down some magical plot bunny, that seems to be leading us to our narrative destiny. Then, somewhere along the way, that plot bunny seems to disappear into thin air and leave us stranded on the trail to who knows where. Today, NaNoWriMo Participant K.S. Trenten reminds us that when the going gets tough, the tough… start talking to themselves:

Uh oh. You started out with a good story, it was moving forward, only now you’re not sure what to write. You’re stuck. 

How do you get moving again? 

Sometimes a simple solution is to move around. Get up. Cross the room and pour yourself a cup of coffee. Go for a walk. See if stirring from the spot you’re sitting in doesn’t shake up your imagination a bit, jarring something loose you hadn’t thought of. An idea may tumble free in the process, giving you the impetus to get your story going again. Perhaps you should pick up your writing tools and relocate somewhere else. Physical movement often gets my mind moving as well. 

Nor is that the only way to get going. 

Take up your writing implements. Start venting. Not just writing, venting. Let all of your frustration about being stuck on the page out in your words. Confide all your hopes and dreams you had for this particular story to the page. Let the character know they’re not satisfying you, exactly how and why they’re being difficult. If some other story has distracted you, taunt them about all the reasons why you’re enjoying the other story more than them. Allow the characters to talk back. Let them get as uppity as they want, letting you know exactly why they’re not behaving the way you wish them to. 

Seriously, I write weekly blogs which are my characters just mouthing off. A writer can learn some surprising things if you let them talk back. 

Something else which may have gotten you stuck is that all your insecurities about your writing are coming back to haunt you. You cannot shut them up. Getting stuck has only made them louder. 

Fine. Dedicate a page to a major snark-off with your insecurities. Write down every nasty thing you fear. Talk back to them. Come up with a retort for everything they say. Is there any truth in these insults, really? What can you do to change your writing if something about it really is bothering you?

Don’t get upset if you’re truly afraid, deep down, that you are stuck. Writing is no different than most anything else. With time and practice, you can become quite skilled. Do it often enough and you will improve. Look your fear right in the eye and ask why? What would you like to change to get better? How can you go about it? Are you shaky at descriptions? Use too many telling words or too much passive description? (I was guilty of both and still am.) 

Don’t shrink from your faults. Face them. Contemplate ways to fix them.

Look at others writers you admire. What would you like to do, that they do? Anne Rice wrote exquisite descriptions I’d drool over in envy. I made the mistake, at first, of trying to write like her, to imitate her. I studied her work closely, tried to detect exactly why I found her descriptions exquisite. She used very simple words to create complex, compelling settings and characters. I started pruning some of the big, fancy words from my prose and tried to express things in more common words. Certain descriptive passages in my own stories improved. I even started getting compliments on them! 

Life isn’t always smooth. Neither is writing. In both, you’ll hit rough patches. You can’t always avoid these patches, even though you may get better at dodging them with practice. The trick is to pick yourself up out of the patch. Keep going, even if you’re sore, shaky, and your pride feels a little banged up. 

You’re not alone. We’ve all fallen into potholes, been hit over the head with obstacles, or smashed our stories against a block. 

Get up. Give yourself a hug. Find a way to keep going, to find your way back to your plot or for your plot to find its way back to you. Abandon it entirely if you need to go in a different direction, but don’t give up. 

You’re not over yet. Not if you decide you’re not.


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K.S. Trenten lives in the South Bay Area of California in the United States with her husband, two cats, and a host of characters in her imagination, all shouting out for attention. Her published works include Seven Tricks; A Symposium in Space; Fairest (part of the Once Upon a Rainbow LGBTQIA+ fairytale anthology) and At Her Service (part of the Once Upon a Rainbow 2 anthology); and The Closet (part of Queer Sci Fi’s Impact, a collection of flash fictions). She also offers weekly samples of her work on Mondays and Saturdays at the Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration, Wednesdays at the Formerly Forbidden Cauldron, monthly blogs at cauldronkeeper.livejournal.com, rhodrymavelyne.dreamwidth.org, and is the author of Queer Sci Fi’s Sources of Inspiration column.  She can be found on Twitter, tumblr, LinkedIn, and has a Facebook Author Page, which reflects the contents of both Cauldrons.

4 Tips to Sail Smoothly Through Camp NaNoWriMo

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Okay, Campers! As we let the dust settle from Week 3 and enter the last week of Camp NaNoWriMo, it may be time to remind ourselves of all the resources we have at our fingertips. Take advantage of your greater writing community and don’t underestimate the power of your imagination! Here are a few tips to keep you typing, penned by YWP participant: Peiying Tsai:

Hello Fellow Writers!

It’s that time again where we sharpen our wits, fortify our minds, and immerse ourselves in writing. As fun as this month of writing is, we all know it hasn’t been smooth sailing all the way. Inevitably, you may have come across one of the most dreaded obstacles: writer’s block. It may seem futile. You may wish to put your writing away to never see the light of day. You may flounder around the house for hours without making any progress. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, when faced with writer’s block, you can try out the tips listed below.

1. My number one suggestion is always to talk to someone about it, even if they’re not a writer. 

It may seem daunting to show your writing to someone else, but the end goal for many of us is to eventually publish and show the world our work. Other people will be able to give you a fresh take on your writing and help you come up with ideas you did not previously think about. Sometimes, even the mere act of talking will get the cogs in your brain moving. Often when I have writer’s block, it is solved with talking to someone about it. Many times, the problem at hand is much smaller than you would have thought!

2. My second tip is to read other people’s writing. 

Most of us, before we were writers, were readers. Reading can remind us why we fell in love with writing, reigniting the desire to return to our writing. 

Sometimes, you might even find the answers you’re looking for in the book. For instance, if you’re having difficulties writing dialogue, read someone else’s dialogue. If you’re having problems with an action scene, read someone else’s fight scene. Pick up your favorite book and ask yourself why you love it. What made that book work in your opinion? Try to infuse that same joy you feel reading it in your writing. In your hand is the product of an author who was once in the same position as you, and that book is proof that writer’s block is beatable.

3. My third tip would be to use a prompt. 

The NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program has an excellent selection of prompts to help you out in a pinch in its “Dare Machine.” If that doesn’t satisfy you, the Internet has an even wider selection of writing prompts to choose from. You can even specifically look up prompts that suit your needs, like romance prompts, dialogue prompts, fantasy prompts, even image prompts! Most prompts I have seen are fun and creative, and I’m always itching to write something after reading them.

4. Lastly, don’t worry about being perfect! 

As you forge into Camp NaNoWriMo this summer, remember: quantity over quality. You can always edit a bad page, but not a blank one. 

If you’re really stuck on a scene, simply write a summary of what happens and continue on to write a scene you’d much rather write, and then come back to the scene giving you trouble with a newly awakened vigor. Don’t procrastinate, don’t get caught up in minutiae, but instead focus on getting your story on the page, especially if it’s your first draft.

All of us have a story worth telling. All of the hard work you’re putting into your writing will pay off in the end. Now go write!


Peiying Tsai is a high schooler with a great life long passion for creative writing and loves talking about it with fellow writers. When not writing, Peiying can be found drawing despite a lack of talent, reading voraciously, or watching the latest blockbuster movies.

Top photo by Katherine McCormack on Unsplash.

3 Tips for Writing Magic in FantasyOne of the most interesting…

3 Tips for Writing Magic in Fantasy

One of the most interesting parts of any fantasy book is how magic works in the world the author has created. If you’re a fantasy writer, check out these tips on creating magic when you’re world-building. 

1. Make your magic have consistent rules. 

Magic in fantasy is a lot like science in sci-fi. It doesn’t need to make perfect sense, but it does need to make logical sense in the context of the world. You can make your magic systems as complex as you want, but however much or little detail you provide, magic should adhere to the rules. It can be strange to us, but it should be consistent. 

2. Make your magic have limitations. 

Even with supernatural or extremely powerful characters, it’s more interesting to read about them when they have some kind of limitation or obstacle that they have to overcome. For example, wizards in Harry Potter need to memorize spells and (usually) have their wands to channel their power. Fairies and gods are often bound by strict rules and need to work through humans. In some stories, magic users have to fuel their power with their own physical strength. Decide what the boundaries of your characters’ magical powers are. 

3. Decide how much your characters know about magic in your world. 

How do your characters describe, interact with, or respond to magic? Is magic common or rare? Are magic users respected, or do they have to keep their powers hidden? How does magic complement or conflict with other things that your readers might already be familiar with, like electricity or religious practices? What’s the history of magic in your world? 

Find more tips on the “Fantasy Genre Lounge” forum on NaNoWriMo.

What to Do While You’re Waiting for Your Book to Be Published

Are you finding yourself caught up in transition time between being a hopeful writer and a published author? Today, author and NaNoWriMo participant M.A Hinkle offers 3 simple tips for those lucky writers on the brink of publication:

I’ve always prided myself on my ability to detach my feelings from the work of writing. Kind of a weird flex, I know, but it’s helped me accept comments and manage my expectations from my first experience swapping manuscripts in high school to my first rejections in college.

Then, two years ago, I found out my debut novel had been picked up. I was too overwhelmed with happiness to form words, so I texted my friends and significant other a picture of the acceptance email. As I signed the contract and got concrete details like my release date and the editing schedule, other feelings started to set in, ones I wasn’t so prepared for.

Mostly, I found myself wondering how the heck I was supposed to manage most of a year waiting for my book to actually come out. I had all the time in the world and no time at all. It felt like every other author I knew didn’t have any complicated feelings, so why did I?

That was nonsense, of course. Everyone struggles with complex emotions when they finally have the finish line of a big goal in sight. If you find yourself in the same boat, here are my tips to help you manage the time between contract and publication:  

1. Get away from writing as much as possible.

I know, every voice in your head is telling you the opposite. But writing isn’t simply putting your butt in the chair and typing, even if that’s the part we get paid for. It’s also people-watching. Playing games. Eating good food. Spending time with people who love you and who can tell you Twitter doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. These are all grist for the mill, making sure you have something to draw on when you do sit down.

2. Actually talk to other authors. 

I promise you. It does not matter how cool the other author seems on social media (especially Instagram; Instagram is the devil’s playground). Every author is running around constantly quieting the same demons, trying their hardest to put forth a brave face. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you’re struggling. Odds are, they need just as much reassurance, and you’ll be able to help each other through it. And you’ll probably come out the other side with a new friend who understands what you’ve been through. That never hurts.

3. Find your hype person. 

Before writing my third book, I did not show WIPs to anyone. But my third book was such a slog. I needed to remember why I loved it enough to persist, and for once, I couldn’t give that to myself. So I roped in my significant other. I told him upfront that I was not looking for criticism; I wanted him to tell me if he liked it. And he loved it. Talking with him reminded me why I’d started the book in the first place and gave me the encouragement I required to write the last stretch. I think every author needs this. We’re needy people, and taking critique requires so much emotional management. Having at least one person who will love your work without question is an essential part of the process. 


M.A. Hinkle is the author of Death of a Bachelor and Diamond Heart, both from Ninestar Press. Her third book, Weight of Living, is due out spring 2020.

You can find more of her work at maryannehinklethewriter.com.

Top photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

Fell Short of 50K? Give Yourself Some Credit — Then Keep Going!

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Another November has come and gone; while some of you are celebrating the completion of 50,000 words, some of you didn’t make it quite as far as you’d have liked. Today, writer Adrianne DeWeese shares some words of encouragement about continuing to write, whether or not you met your word-count goal this year:

November has always been a month of great promise for me. It’s the eve of one of the busiest months of the year, before the calendar page turns for the final time that year. It is a month of thanks, of renewed hope. As one of my all-time favorite bands, Jimmy Eat World, summarized it so eloquently in their 2004 album title track “Futures”: 

I always believed in futures
I hope for better
In November.

I held onto that same sense of promise and optimism this year going into my first-ever NaNoWriMo experience. Unfortunately, a brief bout of seasonal sinus issues found me bedridden during my spare time for two weeks.

It was certainly frustrating, as I was hell-bent on reaching that 1,667 minimum daily word count. I knew I had to take care of myself, though, so I asked myself what the alternatives were: I did what I could to continue chipping away at my bucket-list goal of one day writing a book.

I continued to write by hand. I checked out several amazing books about writing from my local public library: The Thorn Necklace by Francesca Lia Block; and Elizabeth Sims’ You’ve Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams.

I also rewrote the outline to my novel twice (third time’s a charm!), while using the two earlier iterations as the backbone for what I feel is going to make a solid first draft. Most importantly, I was gentle with myself in what I could achieve, even if it were just 200 words on the screen – and I kept my eye on December.  

December also happens to be my birthday, and as a gift to myself for turning 33, I’ve vowed to keep up an unofficial NaNoWriMo effort throughout the month.

Perhaps you, too, need to keep writing in December to reach the “Now What?” months of January and February. Here are two tips I’m going to use for the upcoming 31 days:

#1: Visualize a time in your life when you overcame a challenge.

Writing a book often seems impossible. But you and I both, my dear reader, have been here before. Think of a time in your life where something once seemed out of reach, but you were able to accomplish it anyway.

For me, I think about my competitive running days in high school. I visualize the times when I didn’t think I had the strength or momentum to finish the second mile of the race. Then, I remembered that I already had – many times – when I ran six, seven, eight miles in a row at practices. Writing is no different: Put in the time and the work, and the output will follow.

#2: Figure out where you are “spending” your writing time, and set your intentions.

My writing time is limited to very specific portions of my days, typically two to three hours in the evening. For me, I actually prefer this structure, as I should ideally be able to focus in such a short span and get the work done. However, November often found me wandering over to Twitter for “check-ins” or answering personal emails.

For December, I plan to set a daily intention before my writing begins. Also, if I feel the Internet is going to pose too much of a distraction, I also can opt to shut my laptop altogether for several days a week and write longhand, a practice that Sims recommends in her book. (NaNoWriMo also has a great new video related to battling distractions.)

Above all else, be patient and gentle with yourself if you didn’t hit 50K in November. December – a whole new month, with an extra day! – awaits you. You can – and you will – begin again. Returning to Jimmy Eat World, and the words of “Futures”: My darling, what matters is what hasn’t been.


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Adrianne DeWeese is a nonprofit fundraising professional who writes and reads as much as possible in her spare time. A former newspaper reporter, she earned her Master of Public Administration from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in May 2018. Her first novel, Be For, is a work in progress, exploring themes of self-awareness, the convenience of technology, and what to do once you finally have the answers to life. She enjoys tweeting about writing and reading, the nonprofit community, space, and much more @AdrianneDeWeese.

Pro Tips from a NaNo Coach: You’ve Got Nothing to Lose

NaNoWriMo can seem like a daunting task sometimes, for NaNo newbies and veterans alike. Fortunately, author Destiny Soria is here to share her advice on how to overcome any obstacles in your way as you write toward the end of the month:

It’s the last week of November. A mere three weeks ago we set out on this journey together, eyes bright and hearts full of hope. We spent hours snuggled on the couch, hunched over a desk, flopped on the bed, or crammed on the train, weaving the words inside us into new worlds. We served our time imprisoned by the blank page, wondering idly if it was too late to give up this writing thing altogether and become a pea farmer. We reaped our reward from countless sprints as we watched that word count go up, up, up. We laughed at our own jokes, wept at our own tragedies, and grinned in gleeful malice as we put our characters through tortures and embarrassments that would make even the worst super-villain shudder.

Right now you are feeling like a conquering hero, an abject failure, or something in between. But in this final week of the most harrowing—err, exciting—month of the year, every single one of us on this journey has one thing in common:

There’s nothing to lose.

You heard me. It’s time to take off the training wheels. Time to throw caution to the wind. Let’s end this journey not with a whimper, but with a cataclysmic bang.

Have you already wrapped up your plot and are just tying up the loose ends? That’s awesome, but don’t you think it’d be awesomer if the defeated antagonist suddenly rose from the grave? Or if a jilted lover suddenly appeared out of nowhere? Or if that key piece of evidence that neatly ties up your murder mystery is proven false?

Are you floundering around somewhere in the middle of the story, trying to make your way to a climax that never seems to materialize? Someone needs to get stabbed. Someone needs to confess their undying love. Someone needs to vanish without a trace. Bring on the dragons and the spaceships and the long-lost-relatives. It doesn’t need to make sense. It doesn’t even need to be good. No one is reading this but you and the secret government agents monitoring your computer (ooh, there’s another plot twist for you). The last week of November is no time for elegance. Those bright eyes and bushy tails of November 1 are long past. We are the haggard few, nursing our wounds and caffeine addictions while dragging ourselves toward an impossible finish line.

“And here’s the best part: that finish line never expires. A novel is a novel, whether you finish it on November 30, 2018, or ten years from now.”

The beautiful thing about November is that once it ends, there are eleven more months that follow, and those are the months for editing, for deleting all the stuff that doesn’t make any sense, for fixing that ridiculous plot point that you wrote at 3:00 a.m. just because it seemed funny at the time. Those are the months for taking a pen or a paring knife or a sledgehammer to your manuscript and reshaping each word until every sentence sings. And trust me, when the time comes, you’re going to do great.

But until then, there is only you and that finish line (and the secret government agents). That beautiful, impossible, infuriating 50,000 words. Nothing to lose and everything to gain. And here’s the best part: that finish line never expires. A novel is a novel, whether you finish it on November 30, 2018, or ten years from now. So keep going. I promise it’s worth it.  


Destiny Soria lives and works in the shadow of the mighty Vulcan statue in Birmingham, AL. She is the author of Iron Cast, which features magic and mobsters in 1920s Boston, and Beneath the Citadel, a fantasy epic about ancient seers, stolen memories, and a failed rebellion.

Pro Tips from a NaNo Coach: Write the Joy

NaNoWriMo can seem like a daunting task sometimes, for NaNo newbies and veterans alike. Fortunately, author Rebecca Roanhorse is here to share her advice on how to overcome some of NaNo’s obstacles:

It’s week three of NaNoWriMo, and you are either: 

  1. deep into the slog, 
  2. floundering helpless and feeling that you’ll never catch up, or 
  3. a few thousand words from the finish line, victory in your grasp! 

Most of us are either at number one or two, with a few industrious souls claiming number three. But no matter where you are in this wild writing month, take a moment and congratulate yourself. You’ve made it this far. You have dared something very few people ever dare and given it your all.

And now, staring down Week Three, maybe you’re ready to quit.

Because writing a novel is not as fun as you first thought it would be, is it? In fact, it’s a lot harder, and maybe a lot more boring. Your daily word count goal is feeling like a punishment. You finish it and wake up the next day to re-experience the same dread again. Unless you’re writing a horror story, that’s not exactly motivating.

So, I’m here to remind you to find the joy again. 

Remember how you felt on November 1st? You were nervous, unsure, but brimming with ideas. You had a setting, a journey, a possible ending. But most of all, you couldn’t wait to meet your characters. You knew their names, first and last. Maybe you did one of those lengthy character brainstorming sheets and knew their habits, likes and dislikes, favorite colors, childhood pets. You couldn’t wait for all your characters to meet each other and interact. They were going to go on adventures or solve mysteries or fall in love or commit murders or…what? No murders? Just me? Okay.

Anyway, no matter what you were dreaming up for your characters, if you are anything like me, you had some of your favorite potential scenes already visualized in your mind. That final showdown with the villain, that awkward first kiss, that moment your main character realizes they had an evil twin. No evil twin? That’s just me, too? Fine.

“It’s your story. You don’t have to write anything you don’t want to write.”

Okay, well, you knew you had some great scenes in your head, whatever they were, but here you are, studiously following your outlines (you did outline, didn’t you?), pushing through the soggy middle of your draft, feeling like those fun parts you imagined will never come or have long passed you by. Well, here’s my Week Three advice for you:

Ditch the boring parts.

That’s right. It’s your story. You don’t have to write anything you don’t want to write, and if week three has turned into trying to remember why you started this impossible thing in the first place, stop making it impossible. Go write the scenes you first dreamed of way back at the beginning of the month. Write the fight scene, the kiss, the best friends’ banter, the murder! If you already wrote the bet parts, make up some new best parts. (You’re supposed to save the best for last, anyway.) Make writing fun, again. Write something just for you that will make you and only you happy. Embrace that garbage ship, lovingly detail that planetary landscape, indulge in that dream sequence with the killer deer… again, that’s only me, isn’t it? I knew that.

Let Week Three be the week that reminds you why you love writing. Week Four will be here soon enough to remind you why it’s hard work, again.


Rebecca Roanhorse is a Nebula and Hugo Award-winning speculative fiction writer and the recipient of the 2018 Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer. Her novel Trail of Lightning, Book #1 in the Sixth World Series (Saga Press), is available now. Book #2, Storm of Locusts, is out April 2019. Her middle grade novel, Race to the Sun (Rick Riordan Presents), drops Fall 2019. She lives in Northern New Mexico with her husband, daughter, and pug.

Pro Tips from a NaNo Coach: Write Where the Heat Is

NaNoWriMo can seem like a daunting task sometimes, for NaNo newbies and veterans alike. Fortunately, author Carolina De Robertis is here to share her advice on how to overcome some of NaNo’s obstacles:

Something that never ceases to amaze me about writing: it can be our greatest refuge, and, at the same time, one of the most frightening things we ever do. It’s a space that, for better or worse, is entirely ours to shape, to define. The blank page can welcome and reflect us like nothing else in the world, and yet, at the same time, all that blank space can make self-doubt rise up and overwhelm us.

I’ve written four novels now, and I can tell you that this dynamic continues on, because even when you’ve finished a book before, creating a new novel means diving yet again into the unknown. I joined NaNoWriMo when I was already a published author, back in 2011, to write an early rough draft of my third novel, The Gods of Tango. Yes, it took me four more years after completing NaNoWriMo to expand, research, revise, and polish the book. Yes, those stages do come after the sweet thrill of crossing that 50,000 word finish line. But the power of NaNo lies, in part, in compressing time to make you swim forward even though you don’t know where you’re going, to make the voice of self-doubt shut up and let you write.

So, for now, be bold.

For now, ride the NaNo flow as if it were a great roaring river, the pure exhilaration of the journey enough to keep you going, splashed, drenched, gliding on a story that is yours and yours alone.

If you’ve got momentum, fantastic. Trust it. Let it carry you.

If you start feeling stuck, here are a few techniques that I’ve offered in the past to creative writing students, as well as used myself:

1. Key into Burning Questions.

Set aside 20 minutes to brainstorm the burning questions you’re carrying about your book, and the questions you want the book to explore. These can be questions about the content and story, or they can be questions about the deeper themes your novel touches on. Then use these questions as jumping-off points for your writing. For example, to explore a question about your character’s relationship with her mother, you might write a scene in which they meet in a kitchen or castle or boutique or seedy cabaret (hey, I don’t know, it’s your book!) in which secrets between them are laid bare.

2. Write Where the Heat Is.  

You don’t have to write in order. Many novelists don’t—or, even if we do, we might jump forward to sketch a later scene so as to better understand what we’re muddling through in chapter 3. So, if you’re feeling stuck, feel free to jump elsewhere in the trajectory of your novel, following your instinct or curiosity; in other words, write where the heat is. You might get more traction there, and then have the increased clarity you need to bring earlier sections to life.

3. Try Bibliomancy.

Use books to spur your creative process. Keep a few of your favorite novels on hand, novels you deeply admire, the ones that made you long to be a writer, and whenever you feel stuck, open them to a random page or two. Read at least a page. Let something on that page spark you. Then carry the spark back with you into your own writing. I’m not talking about imitation, but inspiration. The books we admire are among our best companions in the writing life.

Above all, as much as possible, enjoy the journey. Even when it’s hard, we’re so lucky to be alive here, on the planet, writing.

May the Muses be with you!

Have a writing question? Ask Carolina on the NaNoWriMo Twitter account this week using the hashtag #NaNoCoach!


Carolina De Robertis, a writer of Uruguayan origins, is the author of the novels The Gods of Tango, Perla, and The Invisible Mountain. Her bestselling books have been translated into seventeen languages, and have won numerous awards. In 2017, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts named her on its 100 List of people “shaping the future of culture.” She teaches writing at San Francisco State University. Her fourth novel, The Burning Edge of the World, comes out in 2019.