Category: writing

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“To write a novel is to lose your way and find it over, and…

“To write a novel is to lose your way and find it over, and over, and over again.”

Just a little #WayBackWednesday inspiration from 2013 Pep Talker Lev Grossman. Shoutout to NaNoWriMo participant ejsmith3130 for the lovely illustration!

Read the full pep talk here. 

“The most painful thing in forgetting someone, is when you deleted all the messages and conversations…”

“The most painful thing in forgetting someone, is when you deleted all the messages and…

How to Toe the Line Between ‘Trite’ and ‘Trendy’

Lots of authors struggle with balancing the stories they want to write with the trends of the present book market. Today, writer Paige Crawley shares some thoughts about writing the stories you want to write when you also want to make them marketable:

In 2015, my first stab at NaNoWriMo, I was determined to write a really trendy YA novel. I leaned into the conventions, perfected the sudden end-of-chapter reveals. I created a Threat (with a capital T), wrote a tragic backstory, and then created a character who was both a misunderstood outsider and the only person who could save the world. On December 1st, I felt pretty satisfied with the result. I’d written of friendship and tragedy and beating impossible odds. It fit the epochal fashion to a T (also capitalized). Nearly three years later, I look back and shudder.

The epitomic problem with writing is that it always takes too long, while the problem with trends is that they never last long enough. This is especially true in fiction, and even more so YA. Because it’s is the big seller these days, the fad currently sweeping the genre becomes the Thing. The Thing is hot and bestselling, so we assume it will become the new standard. And just like that, the newest trope is born and swaths of writers try to catch up, some succeeding while most cannot type fast enough.

Ironically, in the ‘real world’ trope and stereotype are universally negative, while in literature they are more ambiguous. A trope is a comforting omnipresence in your favorite genre. A stereotype reminds you that, yes, this book is insert-genre-here. Tropes ensure popularity and stereotypes help push copies. Even if your ultimate goal isn’t commercial success, deviating from the norm can feel incredibly risky because, oftentimes, the piece lacks a sort of genuineness. I’ve written countless stereotype-challenging pieces that simply failed to work, for reasons intangible and thus unfixable. Each time, I have questioned why I bothered—if that particular trope was ever bad in the first place. The answer I’ve come to is unfortunately rather blurry. While most tropes are harmless, many have resulted in such problems as under-representation and dreadfully boring novels. I recently read a heavily-lauded novel only to find I could predict the entire plot, which is no fun for anybody.

“The books that change genres, set new tones, and have embedded every trope considered standard issue are the ones that tell the most authentic, most developed stories.”

So how do we navigate this predicament? How does one toe the line between trite and familiar? While I have so far failed to come up with a definitive answer, my advice fortunately does not rely on one. I recommend ignoring the mess altogether.

These days, especially in YA, the genre fads ebb and flow so swiftly that, in my opinion, they should barely matter. After all, writing usually takes too long to catch up. It’s like the stock market: if you only buy stock after it’s done well, you’ve missed the boat. To make any cash, you need to be willing to take some risk.  Besides, there’s a new trend sweeping YA. As a well-read fan, I can promise that one type of book is up in sales: novels that have a good story to tell. If this seems self-explanatory, it should. The books that change genres, set new tones, and have embedded every trope considered standard issue are the ones that tell the most authentic, most developed stories.

To summarize, dealing with genre stereotypes, especially in the washy fields of juvenile fiction, is surprisingly easy. Ignore them. If you think up a wonderful sci-fi story, write it. If you find yourself writing about space wars and intergalactic resource conflicts, then great. There’s no use in writing against a trope solely to combat it. Likewise, if you feel like your science fiction reality doesn’t need holograms, leave them out. As readers, we like structure and familiarity, but I can promise that we’ll always like a good story better.


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Paige Crawley is a student living in Toronto. Besides literature, her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and knitting. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, she has drafted a number of novels and hopes to one day share them with the world. She is currently working on a blog about books and a podcast about language.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from scrappy annie on Flickr.

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“I cling to people who live out of the box; those who escaped the book they were stuck in and still…”

“I cling to people who live out of the box; those who escaped the book they were stuck in and…

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Would You Like to Write for the NaNoWriMo Blog?

No one knows NaNoWriMo like the people who participate! We’re looking for Wrimos to contribute to our blog for some upcoming series. 

Interested? Just fill out this form, and we’ll get in touch! (Please note that we receive a high volume of interest in writing for the blog, and may not be able to respond to everyone. This is currently an unpaid opportunity.)

Are you a Municipal Liaison or Come Write In space coordinator? Fill out this form instead, we have a few specific questions we’d like to ask you!

Are you a Young Writers Program participant? Fill out this form instead so we can make sure that we attribute you correctly!

A Recipe for Writing a Novel 99 Words at a Time

No matter the writing season, it can be difficult to find ways to keep your writing fresh and moving forward. Today, writer Charli Mills shares a recipe to help writers create big projects in small, bite-sized pieces:

One old mountain man asked another, “How do you eat an entire grizzly?”

The second man replies: “One bite at a time, Pard!”

Growing up in the shadow of silver mines on the eastern slope of the Sierras, I had plenty of time as a kid to poke around history and contemplate a dream to write historical fiction. Voices of mountain men like Kit Carson filled my imagination. Names on tilting marble tombstones emerged as characters.

Fast forward many decades later and I’m still poking a pen at times past. Novels, especially ones brewed in the filters of history, take a considerable time commitment. I’ve learned what the mountain man adage means—place one scene down after another, one chapter after another, one draft revision after another.

Constraints (word count or time) can form patterns that imprint the brain. When writers repeat the challenge regularly, flash fiction trains brains to resolve the 99-word problem. It’s like magic, but it’s science. So, when drafting a novel, you can write scenes, dialog, character profiles or setting in 99-word increments.

Like eating a grizzly one bite at a time, 99 words makes 50,000 feel doable.

In 2014 I launched Carrot Ranch Literary Community to connect with other writers and to make literary art accessible. My mission aligns with that of NaNoWriMo. I witness the transformational power of creativity every week when I compile the collection of 99-word flash fictions from writers around the world. I see it played out every November and subsequent NaNoWriMo.

As you prepare to take on the grizzly bear that is writing a novel, take some tips from writing small bites. I’ve arranged a few recipes:

  1. For the busy writer, serve quickly. Write 99 words in five minutes.
  2. For the pantser, write a story until it feels complete. Likely the results will be hundreds of words. Distill the main idea into 99 words. Or use a section and make sure it stands on its own as a 99-word story.
  3. For the plotter, map out three acts. Whip up a beginning, middle, and end. Serve.
  4. For the distracted author, write your WIP in 99 words. Take a scene or character and apply the prompt and constraint. The constraint will give you focus.
  5. For the undecided author, write one 99-word flash in different voices, styles or perspectives to discover what resonates with you. It’s a brief commitment and can help you decide.
  6. For the lonely blogger, bring a dish and join the potluck. Write 99 words and visit the flash fiction posts of others, striking up delicious conversation. Everyone is welcome at CarrotRanch.com.

My novels are now in revision; the way miners refine ore. Flash fiction can also be a powerful editing tool, filling gaps, focusing scenes, and using brevity to tighten writing. Remember, every novel begins with the first 99 words.


From riding horses to writing stories, Charli Mills is a born buckaroo wrangling words. She writes stories set in the American West, giving voice to history, women, rocks, and veterans. She founded an imaginary place called Carrot Ranch where real literary artists from around the world gather. As lead buckaroo, she’s crafted and compiled thousands of 99-word flash fictions. Charli created The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology series with her literary community.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from mazaletel on Flickr.

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