Category: writing advice


Thinking about craft is always necessary, but we should also consider other aspects of how we write. In this post, Young Writers Program Participant Zoe Ward gives some advice on finding a place to write:

Ben Franklin liked to write in the bathtub. Maya Angelo paid for a hotel room by the month. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up, Agatha Christie needed a cold bath and lots of apples, and Truman Capote always laid down, calling himself “a completely horizontal author.”

Needless to say, the world is intrigued by where writers write.

What is the key to each place that makes ordinary people create extraordinary novels?

The short answer: complete focus. Agatha Christie and Ben Franklin liked the bathtub as it took a little extra effort to get out of it. Maya Angelo preferred the hotel room: without the human distractions. A good writing space needs to separate you from everyday life enough so you can focus, but not so much that you can’t get there easily.

Maybe your idea of a perfect writing space is a clean room with the blinds drawn and nothing but a sheet of paper on the desk. This works fine if you are Marie Kondo, but it’s a bad sign if you spend more time setting up your writing space than writing. Your creative space doesn’t have to be pristine. It can be noisy (some writers like to sit in traffic) and vibrant. Just make sure that all the sounds and sights around you are inspiring, not distracting.

E.B. White said: “I never listen to music while writing. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all.” However, he says he wrote in “a bright cheerful room,” “at the core of everything that goes on.” He described it as “the carnival going on all around me.”

There’s no exact formula for a perfect writing space. It’s all about knowing yourself. What time of day are you most productive? What noise level do you need? I can’t write without some type of sound. I need quiet music, the vacuum downstairs, or rain sliding down the window. Heroine Betsy Ray from the Betsy-Tacy books needed a picture window. Figure out what makes your pen move.

Another thing that goes hand-in-hand with creating (or finding) a writing space is making it inviting. Someone once told me that wherever you write needs to simulate all of your senses. You can’t just appeal to sight and leave every other sense by the wayside. Little things like lighting a candle, grabbing a blanket, or eating apples like Agatha Christie will help make your creative area more defined. Soon, your brain will start to associate the pictures you have on the walls, a mint in your mouth, etc. with writing. Then, whenever all of these things happen in a certain environment, it’ll be easier to write.

You shouldn’t dread sitting down at your desk. Yes, some days writing is hard, but your workspace should make it easier. Many authors always leave their stories when they know what’s going to happen next. Nothing’s worse than sitting down, eager to write, and staring at a blank page for an hour. This simple trick makes you more excited to write (aka making your writing environment more productive) and gets your creative juices flowing.

In short, writing can be hard. But the space in which you write shouldn’t be. Finding somewhere inspiring and cultivating it to give you complete focus can transform your writing habits. Switch up your area and see its effects in your novel. Write on!


Zoe Ward is a reader, writer, spring lover, and bunhead who believes in the power of writing. The writer of blog Pen2Paper, she seeks to help authors find their voices and help the world read a little more (which we can all agree makes it a better place). If she’s not scribbling poems on Post-its, you can find her eating cookie dough, dancing around her kitchen, or memorizing Anne of Green Gables.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Suzy Hazelwood on Flickr.


NaNoWriMo can seem like a daunting task sometimes, for NaNo newbies and veterans alike. Fortunately, our NaNo Coaches are here to help guide you through November! Today, author Kate Clayborn is here to share her advice on how to cross that finish line:

Dear writers, 

You’re so close. 

It’s a risky first line for this letter to you, here in your last week of NaNo, because no doubt there are many of you out there who feel like you aren’t close at all. Maybe you’re looking behind you, across the distance of all the calendar pages, to the you you were on November 1st, and thinking: what happened to that person? The person who was actually excited to write a book? 

Y’all, I’ve been there. In fact, here’s a (not-so-secret) secret: most of the time, when I’m working on a book, I basically live there. While NaNo encourages us to keep moving, to keep putting words down, I’ve often struggled with the gap between what I imagined the process or the plot would be like, and the actual experience I’ve had writing on any given day, or the actual story that has evolved on the page. And the gap can be a dangerous place for writers,  because it can make forward motion feel impossible.

For a long time, I tried to fight my way free of the gap, to keep moving in spite of it. For some writers, that works, and if you’re plugging along with your story, making all your word counts and loving every second, I want you to know, I salute you (and envy you a little, too!). But if you’re like me, maybe it’ll help you to know what I’ve learned about…well, minding the gap. 

The first thing I’ve learned is to “mind the gap” in the British sense: to pay attention to it, to watch out for it. While it can be frustrating to notice where I’m falling short of my plans, it can also help me understand both my process and my story. I watch out for what times of day I tend to write smoothly or slowly. I pay attention to how I write more freely when I abandon chronology, when I work on the scene that’s moving me, not necessarily the one that comes “next” in my plan. I notice when a character’s voice sounds inauthentic, or when I can’t seem to draft a plot point I once outlined with excitement. Minding the gap tells me where to make adjustments going forward, how to set myself and my story up for success. NaNo is doing that for you right now—it is teaching you about yourself as a storyteller. 

But this way of minding the gap only works if I remember to not mind it too much. When we say we “don’t mind” something, we mean we’re not bothered by it, and fellow writers, that’s been the more difficult lesson for me to learn. As much as I’m helped by paying attention to the gap, I’ve also had to teach myself not to get blocked by it. I’ve worked to acknowledge that the gap is simply part of my process, and if I don’t mind it—if I don’t get too bothered by it, I mean—I can keep moving. I put a pin in the stuff I’ve noticed about myself and my story, noting where I’ll go back and make changes later. The gap is as much a part of my journey as that first shiny synopsis I wrote, so when it shows up, I say hello and I keep going. As you reach the end of your NaNo journey, don’t be bothered by that fresh, excited former you, waving across the distance since November 1st. Wave back, and keep writing. You know more than November 1st you, anyway. 

So what I’m saying is: mind the gap, but also don’t mind it. And most importantly, mine it: use it to guide you, to help you learn who you are as a writer and what you want your story to be. The gap is a companion and a conscience, a fussy but well-meaning co-worker who ultimately helps you get the job done.

Mine the gap, because the gap is what’s going to get you there—to the book you were meant to write all along. 

Cheering you on from the gap,



We’re nearing the end of NaNoWriMo, which is the time of the month when all those moments of procrastination have added up, and now you’re looking at your word count and can’t see hope of recovery.

Well. If you think you can’t do it just because you fell behind, you’re wrong! You’ve never been more wrong in your life! No shame in being wrong. But you are. You are wrong.

In this post, NaNoWriMo participant Sarah Lefebvre gives some sage advice to all our procrastinators out there:

NaNoWriMo encourages writers to pick up a pen or cozy up to a keyboard every day for the length of November, all in reach of the 50,000-word holy grail. Success requires dedication, time management, and consistency.

Or, if you’re a master procrastinator, it requires a dash of lunacy and a significant supply of sheer willpower.

I fall squarely into the procrastinator category. In fact, the higher the pressure radiating from a responsibility or commitment, the more my procrastinator brain relishes putting it off. Each year I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, I started the contest late. Sometimes I didn’t expect to participate at all until after it began. But each time, I made it to that 50,000-word goal. So, from one procrastinator to another, here’s my guide for succeeding in NaNoWriMo despite a late start.

Step One: Start on the first day?

Yawn. Where’s the fun in reducing stress by allowing ourselves maximum time to achieve our goals? Leave that to the people who don’t want to lie awake at night calculating how to manage a daily word count that escalated from 1,667 per day to 3,813 (and counting). Instead, start when life—or your procrastinator brain—makes it possible. Maybe that’s one day late, or three days, or two weeks. As long as you start.

Step Two: Embrace the Pit of Despair.

Admit it: if you’re truly a master procrastinator, you probably like it. You know that feeling when you’re halfway through NaNoWriMo, your word count tracker has flatlined, and your characters refuse to write themselves? Rather than allow it to bog you down, embrace it. Turn it into your fuel. 10 days and 25,000 words to go? That’s not terrifying. That’s exhilarating.

Step Three: Establish accountability.

The hardest part of winning NaNoWriMo as a procrastinator is knowing when to stop procrastinating. Put someone—your critique partner, writing friend, mom, significant other, cat—in charge of checking in on you. Did you write the two chapters you promised to write, or did you binge watch five episodes of The Good Place? If you have someone keeping an eye on you, you might be more inclined to do the former.

Step Four: Reward yourself, don’t punish yourself.

Procrastination and instant gratification go hand-in-hand, but you can turn that to your advantage. If you find yourself procrastinating from your NaNo goal, don’t punish yourself with discouraging thoughts or relinquished activities. Reward yourself before and after the work. Watch the TV episode you’re dying to watch, do your writing, and then play a game—or whatever it is that serves as reward in your life.

Step Five: Take a deep breath and have fun with it.

NaNoWriMo challenges us and teaches us lessons about time management, daily writing, and establishing goals. But most importantly, NaNoWriMo should be fun. Whether you start on Day 1 or Day 21, have fun with it. Revel in the challenge and know that choosing to write, whether you ‘win’ or not, puts you ahead of where you would be if you did not write at all. Maybe you arrived late to the game, but at least you showed up, so make the most of it.

Tackling NaNoWriMo as a procrastinator means turning an already difficult challenge into a true feat of strength. But if you choose to start your NaNoWriMo journey later than the first day, know that you too have the power to cross that virtual finish line. And you might feel all the more impressive for doing so (at least, that’s what I tell myself every year).


Sarah LeFebvre is a self-proclaimed master procrastinator, Walt Disney World cast member, and writer of LGBT Young Adult fiction. Alongside three writing friends, she co-runs @WriterCoven, a Twitter account dedicated to putting writers in touch with the magic of writing. When she’s not working or writing, she’s probably attending to the whims of three cats or giving into her Sims 4 addiction.

Be sure to visit her website to see more of her work, and follow her on Twitter!

NaNoWriMo can seem like a daunting task sometimes, for NaNo newbies and veterans alike. Fortunately, our NaNo Coaches are here to help guide you through November! Today, author Angela J. Ford is here to share her advice on how to keep writing even when the way ahead seems blocked:

Do you ever hear the voices in your head telling you that your story isn’t good enough? Or you don’t have the time or talent to write? It’s tough when you’re feeling down and imposter syndrome rears its ugly head. You say things to yourself like:

It’s too late.

I’ll never finish my book.

There are too many plot holes.

I’ll never be a best seller.

[insert name of familiar writer] never struggled like I did.

My characters are too shallow.

Is this even a believable plot?

I don’t have the time.

I went through a rough period one year. I’d finally been able to make full time income as a writer and had already sold thousands of books. Then it happened. I got slammed with some brutal reviews that absolutely gutted me. As a result, I froze. I couldn’t write and I didn’t know what to do. I’d finally reached the elusive success all writers dream of only to feel completely rotten. That’s when the lies started dancing in my head:

You’ll never be good enough.

Your work is trash.

When I tried to write the lies buzzed around my head faster. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete another novel and maybe my career in writing was coming to an abrupt end. So, I did what anyone would do. I took a break from writing. But I didn’t stop there, I came back stronger than before. I took a metaphorical ax and chopped those lies up, fired up my creativity, and started churning out stories faster and better than before. 

Here’s what I learned and what I sincerely hope it will help you get through the rough patch in your story:

1. Write for yourself. 

Pretend that no one will read your words except you. Be bold and write whatever comes to mind without editing yourself. This is your story, write what makes your blood boil, write what makes your heart sing, write your worries and fears. Get it all down on paper. When you write the story you want to read, it changes things and your passion will leap off the page.

2. Remember why you started.

There’s a reason why you decided to write your book; go back to your why when the going gets hard. If you don’t know why, write it out and put it on the wall as your manifesto. 

3. Finish that first draft no matter what.

The reason most writers fail is because they don’t finish their first draft. I encourage you to finish your book, even if it’s an early ending that you’ll need to re-write. Finishing your first draft is half the battle. 

4. Seek accountability.

The #1 thing that helped me complete my first book was accountability. I had people cheering me on and waiting for the novel to be completed. Reach out either locally or virtually for an accountability partner who will cheer you on to the finish line. 

5. Don’t compare yourself.

If you’re a reader, you know there are some jaw-dropping storylines out there. The novels you wish you had written, or that make you wonder if you will ever be good enough. Stop, drop the book and walk away. Comparison will only make you feel inferior. There’s a reason why we are all different. The world needs your unique spin on your story, whether you write 100 words a day or 10,000 words a day. It’s okay to shut off access to the things that make you feel inferior. 

6. Slow and steady wins the race.

Take your writing one day at a time, or one hour at a time if you need to. Consistency pays off, even if you’re showing up for 10 minutes a day, you’ll get a lot further than if you don’t do anything at all.

7. It’s never too late.

It is never too late to start your book, or keep going. Just because November is halfway over doesn’t mean it’s too late to start. Head over to your computer and start writing now, if you keep waiting it might be another month, another year, another decade before you start your novel. Stop waiting. Start writing. 

8. You can improve everything about your book in the next draft.

I’ve written several bad drafts which went through extensive polishing and creating an amazing book! Keep that in mind when your first draft makes you cry. Everything can be figured out; everything can be revised. Finishing your first draft is the first step, so do that first and revise afterward.

9. Read, read, read.

When you feel blocked with your creativity, don’t be afraid to take a break. Pick up a book and read it, watch a TV show, go outside. Make a change to get the creative juices flowing again. If you don’t know enough about the craft of writing, read books about it. If you feel like your characters are flat, read up on character development and adding emotions into your story. The world is at your fingertips, read, explore, take action and write your best story. 

10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Ask. If you need feedback on your storyline, reaching out to beta readers, writers in the same genre, and successful professionals. No matter where you are in your story you can reach out for help, and chances are it will help you get over the hump.

You are not a failure. Your story is beautiful and there are specific people who need to hear it. Even if only one person loves your story, you will have succeeded. 

Go forth and write. Don’t let the monster stand in the way of your flow. Find those precious moments and don’t get hung up on the blank page. Pick up pen and paper, whatever you need to do to make it happen, do it. You’ve got this!

Angela J. Ford is an award-winning blogger and author of the international bestselling epic fantasy series,THE FOUR WORLDS. Her books have sold over 25,000 copies world-wide and have been ranked bestsellers in multiple categories.  Aside from writing, she enjoys the challenge of working with marketing technology and builds websites for authors. If you happen to be in Nashville, you’ll most likely find her at a local coffee shop, enjoying a white chocolate mocha and furiously working on her next book.

Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Walmart eBooks, a NaNoWriMo 2019 sponsor, has partnered with Kobo Writing Life to bring you some tips for writing and publishing. Here are some of their favorite excerpts from the Kobo Writing Life podcast:

Walmart partners with Kobo to offer Walmart eBooks services, and one of the best parts of working with Kobo’s self-publishing arm Kobo Writing Life is the opportunity to interview writers and publishing professionals on the KWL podcast. 

We’ve spoken to a wide variety of guests, from novice writers to seasoned professionals and everyone in between. Wherever you are in your writing journey, we’ve got something for you (hint: special offers included)! 

Pep Talks from NaNoWriMo’s very own Grant Faulkner!

Episode 96

In case you need extra motivation, Grant gives great tips from for keeping up the bootcamp attitude during NaNoWriMo and throughout the year!

Editor-turned-writer Signe Pike talks first drafts and historical research

Episode 130

Another great one for novice writers, Signe talks to us about her time as an acquisition editor, her top tips for writers struggling to write their first draft and the challenges of writing non-fiction versus fiction.

Damon Suede talks about creating memorable characters

Episode 139

This is another incredibly popular episode, and absolutely worth listening to if you want to up your characterization game! Damon Suede writes m/m romance and explains how his background in acting helps him approach writing well-developed characters in his novels. It’s a must-listen for anyone looking to write lovable, believable characters, in any genre!

Storytelling with Waubgeshig Rice

Episode 165

A fascinating interview with Waubgeshig Rice, who recently published his second novel with ECW Press. Moon of the Crusted Snow is a post-apocalyptic story told from an indigenous perspective. He spoke about how young writers – particularly indigenous writers – can find opportunities to write and publish.

Looking for more? You can find a great selection of audiobooks by visiting Walmart eBooks! Sign up now to get your first audiobook for free. 

And finally, you can also get 50% off The Writer’s Toolbox 2019 and The Successful Author Mindset audiobook by Joanna Penn. Use promo code KWLPODPENN to receive 50% off of your choice of either eBook or audiobook. 

Happy writing!


Character creation? In Week 3?! Yes, indeed! Whether you realize that you need a character to fill in a gap in a gang of international thieves, or whether your main character is coming off a little flat, it’s never to late to think about what makes characters tick.

In this post, Young Writers Program Participant Katherine Liu gives some tips, tricks, and helpful resources to write more interesting characters: 

Interesting and dynamic characters in a story are essential to keeping your readers interested. If a character is flat, clichéd and clone-like, then it keeps your readers from flipping the page (or scrolling down online!) Here are some ways to help you with creating riveting characters:

Get to know your characters

I find personality tests like 16 Personalities/Myers Briggs extremely helpful. 

If you take the test in your character’s point of view, then you can learn a lot more about him/her by simply answering the questions. After the test, you can read about the strengths and weaknesses of that personality type, in addition to finding information about their friendship and romantic relationships. I also find the NaNoWriMo Character Questionnaire as something great that you can do in addition. 

Think about their greatest ambitions

Every character, whether they are major or minor, should have an aim in their life. For example, a henchman of the villain who makes an appearance during the climax shouldn’t just be working for the villain because he/she is simply evil. If the henchman is desperate to be paid money to feed his family, then his goal/aim would be “To support my family”.

If the henchman is being forced to work because the villain is threatening his family’s life, then his goal/aim would be “To save my family”. There can be many more reasons than the two possibilities that I have listed. “Want for absolute power” had been a commonly used goal in villains.

If it helps, you can think about what you want most in your life and incorporate it as your main character’s goal, e.g. An amazing adventure. It might not work for some plots but you can always choose to build the plot around the character or the other way around.

Avoid Character Clichés

Character clichés just makes me want to tear out my hair! They make your characters lack individuality. Here are some clichés that you can try to avoid:

  • No More Fiery Redheads: Not every redheaded character has to be feisty and outspoken to match their hair color, they can be shy and quiet too.
  • No More Broody Men: Haven’t we had enough of surly, handsome men who show a soft side to their lover? What about a man who is bright and optimistic, and shows their soft side to everyone?
  • No More Chosen Ones: The ~*prophecies*~ show that they will be the one to [insert plot thing here]… but that means they don’t have any real motivation. It’s much better if they want to do it themselves instead of having a prophecy telling them to.

This article by Now Novel can help you change your character cliché.

Good luck with creating your characters!

Apart from writing, Katherine enjoys sketching and painting with watercolors, especially if she’s drawing a scene/character from her own story. Often she can be found with her nose in a book, usually a romantic fantasy. Sometimes she attempts to write poems, though they turn up not so well.

We’re halfway through the month, and it’s easy to forget one of the key aspects of NaNoWriMo. Yes, we’re writing a ton of words, yes we’re toiling in pursuit of abstract and extrinsic goals, yes we’re spending a month pouring our blood, sweat, and tears into a piece of creative work… But we’re also supposed to be having fun!

In this post, NaNoWriMo Participant Matisse Mozer reminds us of that important fact:

NaNoWriMo is fun. 

Say it again. 

Not ‘NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun.’ 

Not ‘NaNoWriMo should be fun.’

NaNoWriMo. Is. Fun. 

Even if writing itself isn’t all fun and games, NaNoWriMo is a chance to take so many of the humdrum parts of the craft and toss them aside. The pressure to make something presentable? That pesky internal editor? That pile of laundry that you just now want to put away? Shut ‘em all up. 

See all of your artist buddies doing Inktober, furiously scribbling away like there’s no tomorrow? Well, November is our turn, fellow writers. 

Time to have some fun as you get words down, no strings attached. 

We all know that week one is the long, awkward first date with your book. It’s fun learning about all these new heroes and villains as they’re birthed into your Scrivener document. Even if they don’t all make sense at first. (They won’t.) 

Somewhere around week two, you’ll hit your stride. Your cast of characters will gel as they bounce off the page. You might even find that Character A and Character B don’t belong together, and that Character A should be dating Character D. 

But wait, the people you were basing Character D and E off of in real life? (Because be honest, writers. Those are real people you’re putting into prose.) They’re having a real-life family drama that you can totally put in your book! 

You might even go to a write-in after work, just to cheer on other writers!

It’s a pretty good time, am I right? 

…But then, if you’re anything like me, you get one thought that poisons the word well that is NaNoWriMo. 

The poison apple. 

The mole in the INF. 

You think, “This is coming out pretty good. Maybe I should take this draft seriously.” 

Say it with me, writers and one-time Admiral Ackbar impersonators: IT’S A TRAP. 

This is the trappiest trap to have ever trapped, and I will tell you why. 

Look back at the first two weeks of writing that you’ve gotten down. When you were having fun with your screaming bundle of words, did you care that you introduced an entire sub-species of aliens that will never appear again? Of course not. When you threw in Character D during a booze-fueled write-in, did you even notice that the character is literally Ian Somerhalder from The Vampire Diaries, just with a different name? No way, jose. 

But now that you’ve decided to take your draft seriously…oof.

That sub-species of aliens has to come back in the third act, because otherwise you have to revise them out of the first. Mr. Somerhalder has been one-note this entire manuscript…maybe you can make him into an alien? But that means all of his dialogue needs to be re-done to foreshadow this and…Hey, who invited Internal Editor back in the room? 

While Internal Editor is screaming at the manuscript, maybe it’d be a good time to fold that laundry pile…

This, dear writer, is how your NaNoWriMo project dies a painful, drawn-out death. 

The fun is gone.

R.I.P. NaNoWriMo project 2019. Maybe you’ll have better luck next year.


Or, you can prevent this horrible fate right here and now. 

It doesn’t matter if your NaNoWriMo project turns out to be good, just like it doesn’t matter if the project turns out badly. That’s a question for January, when you come back and look at your work with fresh eyes. 

You might find that your project, while fun to write, was nearly incomprehensible. Bootleg Ian Somerhalder was really, actually the protagonist all along! Meaning, you need to re-write the book. 

Or, you might find that everything was great! It just needs some fine-tuning. Time to re-write the book. 

No matter what, you’ll be re-writing this manuscript. 

But that’s the prize for NaNoWriMo: having a manuscript to revise. 

Consider the alternative: you got stuck in week three because now there’s pressure to write a real, workable draft…and you didn’t finish. 

That sounds like a writer without a manuscript to re-write. 

Even worse, that sounds like a writer who’s not having fun. 

And if we’re not having fun, fellow writers…why are we here?


Matisse Mozer is a writer and librarian living in lovely Los Angeles, California. When he’s not writing, posing his imported action figures, or reading comics, he’s on Twitter and Instagram as @doodletisse.

Top image licensed under creative commons from Reiterlied on Flickr.


An inevitable part of NaNoWriMo is the naysayers. The best thing to do is pretend they don’t exist, but we writers are sensitive souls, and sometimes it can get to us. In this post, NaNoWriMo participant Nicole Luttrell gives her thoughts on writing in spite of negativity:

You’re all ready to participate in Nanowrimo. Maybe it’s your first time, maybe you’re a veteran. Whichever point you’re at, you are stoked. You are so excited for a month of word nerd sister and brotherhood, of putting your writing first. Of getting your novel done! Or at least 50,000 words of it done. I mean, if you write fantasy or something else pretty long then you might still have some work to do.

But that’s not the point here.

The point is that, invariably, there will be people in your life who do not, cannot understand Nanowrimo.

And because they cannot understand it, you’re likely to get a lot of this.

“What are you doing?”

“Why are you letting someone else set these arbitrary deadlines?”

“You’re never going to finish it.”

“You’re wasting your time.”  

“You’re never going to do anything with it.”

“Do you know the odds of getting published? You’ve got a better chance of winning the lottery.”

I know that this is what you’ll hear because I’ve heard it all. Especially the first year I participated. Most people were super supportive. But there were a few who just couldn’t let me be. They pestered me, harassed me, and made me feel guilty for participating. And thank God, I didn’t listen.

It’s always the same sort of person, at least for me. It’s a well-meaning friend. It’s the intrusive relative that thinks you need to grow up and focus on the real world.

The worst offender, though, is the one who reminds you how full your plate is. You have classwork, kids, a full-time job, a house to keep in order, a relative who just had hip surgery. You’re already hustling, already tired, already doing so much! What are you doing adding more on top of things? This is particularly nefarious because it sounds uncomfortably like the little voice in your own head, the one telling you to forget it and catch up on Stranger Things instead.

Forget that. No one’s opinion is going to pay your bills. It sure isn’t going to help you reach your dreams either.

I want you to understand something, especially if you’re a brand new writer. Yes, writing a book is hard. It’s a long, long road. Whether you self publish or seek traditional publishing, it’s a lot of long nights, getting up early to write. And here’s the really bad part. You can be a great writer, and you can try your absolute best. And you still might not get published. But you have zero chance, absolutely none at all, if you don’t finish your novel. And yeah, the odds are against you, the competition is fierce.

But trying and failing beats never trying every time. So don’t listen to the people who tell you that you can’t do this, that you’re wasting your time. Look, I’m assuming that you’re here because you love to write. And if you love how you’re spending your time then it is never a waste.

Write on.

Nicole is a speculative fiction writer. That means she writes about dragons, ghosts and spaceships. Sometimes she writes about the ghosts of dragons and spaceships. She’s the author behind Station 86 and Woven. Follow along with her adventures and reviews of all things geeky at Paper Beats World.

Check out her books:

Broken Patterns on Amazon

Seeming on Smashwords

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Adam on Flickr.

NaNoWriMo can seem like a daunting task sometimes, for NaNo newbies and veterans alike. Fortunately, our NaNo Coaches are here to help guide you through November! Today, author Aisha Saeed is here to share her advice on how to take care of yourself while you’re writing:

Welcome to week two of NaNoWriMo! I’m honored to be a coach this month because NaNoWriMo is how I found the determination and motivation to finish my debut young adult novel, Written In The Stars. In the hopes of paying it forward here are some quick tips that helped me I hope will help you!  

1. Write with a friend! 

Back in 2009 when I was working on my novel, a friend introduced me to NaNoWriMo. She asked if I wanted to take it on together. A month to complete a 50,000 word novel felt like a huge task and I was pretty sure I couldn’t do it, but having a friend made all the difference. We cheered each other on, met up for coffee dates, and when we couldn’t meet up we texted each other about word counts for the day. If you don’t have a friend to write with, it’s not too late! Check out the NaNoWriMo forums and look at the meet ups that might be happening near you. It’s a great way not only to write together with others, but to perhaps make a friend or two. 

2. Be bold and proud about taking on NaNoWriMo this month. 

It can be intimidating to announce you’re writing a novel. I encourage you to share it with the world! At the very least make sure to let friends and family know. A 50,000 word novel requires time away and to yourself to do what you need to do. It means sometimes you’ll say no to a hang out or a sporting event. Let those close to you know about this huge undertaking and ask for their support. As a mama to three boys, I let my partner know we’ll be eating a bit more take out than usual and the house will be messier. It’s okay! The dishes will always pile up—but NaNoWriMo is a month for you to do something for you. 

3. Front load your word count when you can. 

I said this before and I’ll say it again: 50,000 words in the span of one month, which also includes Thanksgiving holidays, is hard. Whenever I do NaNoWriMo, I never get any writing done around Thanksgiving because family is visiting and there are turkeys to be baked and stuffing to be chopped. Now, I plan ahead. I make sure to block out days I know I won’t get any writing done and find less busy days to get that extra word count in to make sure I hit my goal. Then, if I do get some time during Thanksgiving to write, it’s a bonus but I’m not hard on myself for enjoying the holidays and taking some time off. 

4. Write through the UGH! 

First drafts are hard. First drafts are ugly. I’m currently working on my ninth novel and I’m sorry to report this fact remains as true as it ever did. There are going to be many times this month you will feel discouraged by your writing and the story. Taking an idea that’s rested beautifully in your mind’s eye and tackling it onto a page is never easy. Your book will improve with time, but first drafts are not about getting the story perfect. They are about getting the words down, creating a ‘lump of clay’ that you will shape into the story that it will ultimately be. I’ve learned to write through the ugly first draft by allowing myself permission to acknowledge this.  

As I write first drafts, I literally write in parenthesis this: (UGH). After a bad chapter or sentence just to vent the frustration about how hard it is, and how bad the sentence or chapter is, I write (UGH) to acknowledge, yes this isn’t what I had in mind, and then I give myself permission to let it go and keep on going. Another author friend highlights the bad sentences as she goes to remember to focus on them on the next round, while yet another friend leaves comments on her document with notes about something to look into more once the first draft is done. This is by no means necessary, but if you feel you are avoiding writing because of how bad the writing feels—take heart that nearly every writer I’ve ever asked feels exactly the same way, and if you need a little short cut to give your permission to write ugly drafts, take it!

Aisha Saeed is the New York Times bestselling author of WRITTEN IN THE STARS, which was listed as a best book of 2015 by Bank Street Books and a 2016 YALSA Quick Pick For Reluctant Readers. She is also the author of the middle grade novel AMAL UNBOUND, which was a Summer 2018 Indie Next Pick and an Amazon Best Book of the Month; has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus; and was a Global Read Aloud for 2018. She has a forthcoming picture book, BILAL COOKS DAAL. Aisha is also a founding member of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books™.


Every year, as tens of thousands of writers get ready to write a novel, we ask a handful of authors to share encouragement, advice, and their experience. This year, in partnership with Vintage Anchor Books, we’re sharing some words of inspiration from author Anne Lamott, and celebrating the 25th anniversary of her book Bird by Bird by sharing an excerpt here on our blog:

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out. Year after year my students are bursting with stories to tell, and they start writing projects with excitement and maybe even joy—finally their voices will be heard, and they are going to get to devote themselves to this one thing they’ve longed to do since childhood. But after a few days at the desk, telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat. Some lose faith. Their sense of self and story shatters and crumbles to the ground. Historically they show up for the first day of the workshop looking like bright goofy ducklings who will follow me anywhere, but by the time the second class rolls around, they look at me as if the engagement is definitely off.

“I don’t even know where to start,” one will wail.

Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is Okay if it is well done. Don’t worry about doing it well yet, though. Just start getting it down.

Now, the amount of material may be so overwhelming that it can make your brain freeze. When I had been writing food reviews for a number of years, there were so many restaurants and individual dishes in my brainpan that when people asked for a recommendation, I couldn’t think of a single restaurant where I’d ever actually eaten. But if the person could narrow it down to, say, Indian, I might remember one lavish Indian place I went on a date. Then a number of memories would come to mind, of other dates and other Indian restaurants.

So you might start by writing down every single thing you can remember from your first few years in school. Start with kindergarten. Try to get the words and memories down as they occur to you. Don’t worry if what you write is no good, because no one is going to see it. Move on to first grade, to second, to third. Who were your teachers, your classmates? What did you wear? Who and what were you jealous of? Now branch out a little. Did your family take vacations during those years? Get these down on paper. Do you remember how much more presentable everybody else’s family looked? Do you remember how when you’d be floating around in an inner tube on a river, your own family would have lost the little cap that screws over the airflow valve, so every time you got in and out of the inner tube, you’d scratch new welts in your thighs? And how other families never lost the caps? […] Remember that you own what happened to you.

Excerpted from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott Copyright © 1995 by Anne Lamott. Excerpted by permission of Anchor. All rights reserved.