October 28, 2021 / 4 Comments

Ready… Set… NaNoWriMo!

Spooky season is among us! Ghosts! Vampires! Nightmares! Panic!—no wait, we’re talking about NaNoWriMo this time.

Or are we?!?

Hopefully you’re not really panicking about NaNoWriMo. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s a bragging rights contest, something to make us focus on actually doing this for thirty days rather than saying “someday I’ll write it all down” for another month.

Wait, does everyone know what I’m talking about? In case you’re new to the ranty writing blog, we’re talking about National Novel Writing Month (Na-No-Wri-Mo). It’s a completely free, no strings, no requirements writing contest where you try to write, well, a whole novel in a month. Really, as much of the first draft of a novel as possible. There’s also no prizes, no trophies, no real prestige. As I mentioned above, I basically just get to say I did it. To someone else and to myself. Most importantly, to myself.

There’s a good chance this sounds a little intimidating. Don’t let it be. This is the writing equivalent of a fun run. It’s got a starting date and a goal, but past that it’s just you. Whatever pace you want to go at, however far you want to go with it. No pressure at all.

In fact, here a tip for you. Use that knowledge. Focus on it. Don’t worry about anyone else. Don’t think about your friends or the people in your writing group or that guy on Twitter bragging about his daily word count. Don’t consider what a future agent or editor might want. Toss all of that away. Forget all of it. Take a deep breath. Breathe in. Breathe out.

And now just write.

Seriously. Just write. Nothing else. For the next thirty days, forward motion only. No re-reading. No editing. No corrections at all. Don’t look back. Under no circumstances hit the up arrow or page up or push the scroll bar. None of that. Not even to go up to the last paragraph. We’re moving in one direction and we don’t stop moving in that direction. Making myself to only go forward means I’m making myself write. I’m not spending time rethinking yesterday’s work or tweaking that first encounter or double checking my spelling. I’m just writing.

And, yeah, this means things are going to be a little… well, very messy. Lots of typos. Dangling plot threads. Characters who suddenly change names/ hair color/ genders halfway through. Or are just suddenly dead because they really should’ve died back at the bank ambush and I’m only realizing that now and we’re only moving forward, right?

And that’s totally fine. Seriously. Remember, NaNoWriMo is just a first draft. It’s not going to be the thing we sell or the thing that gets us an agent. It’s the thing that’ll need some more time and some more work. Because a month isn’t that much time. Really. Even for pros.

Like I mentioned above, the goal here is to get as much work done on a first draft as possible. And first drafts are almost always messy things. In fact, I became a much more productive writer once I accepted that first drafts were messy things. It freed me up to and let me focus on getting things down on the page rather than getting them perfect the first time.

And getting things down on the page is what NaNoWriMo is all about.

So, as I often say… go write.

No, wait. A few other things before we all get on with the writing.

First, if you happen to be in the SoCal area and have a lot of free time at the end of the month, I’m going to be at SDCC Special Edition over Thanksgiving weekend. Sunday, to be exact. I’m doing the con edition of the Writers Coffeehouse, talking about writing, publishing, the state of the industry, and whatever other questions you might have. No idea what size crowd to expect, so we’ll see what happens there.

Also, I may be taking a little bit of a break here for a week or three. I’m feeling a touch overworked/stressed with said con, the holidays, the new book, and, y’know, the world in general. So I just want to take some pressure off and try to get to a place where I feel a little more caught up on things. Plus, to be honest, I feel like I’m just rehashing a lot of stuff here, and I’d love to be able to give you something new and, y’know, actually useful.

Anyway, that’s where things are at. Now fuel up on some Halloween candy and go wild with NaNoWriMo.

Now go write.

November 1, 2020

NaNoWriMo Go Go GO!

And here we are, mere hours into November. I hope you got to have a little Halloween fun, even if it was just watching some favorite movies or making creepy displays for your home. We had a socially-distant candy bowl but… didn’t get a lot of takers. Which means now I have a lot of candy.

But now it’s November, and we all know what that means…


(shouted like the opening to “Mortal Kombat”)

If that handful of syllables means nothing to you, we’re talking about National Novel Writing Month. Every November thousands of folks sit themselves down at the keyboard or microphone or notepad and try to get an entire book out—start to finish—in just thirty days.

This is probably going to be one of the most brutal years ever to try to do NaNoWriMo. Yeah, it’s just after Halloween and heading full speed into the holidays, but at least that part’s normal. We’re also dealing with a somewhat intense election cycle (already in progress) here in the states. Plus a pandemic that’s raging around the world at levels anywhere from “screaming woman in the grocery store” to “actual kaiju attack,” depending on where you are.

As I mentioned the other day, it’s understandable if you’ve had trouble focusing on your writing. Or if you just don’t feel up to this. NaNoWriMo can be fun and it can get your enthusiasm for writing really stoked again. But the truth is, it’s a huge, exhausting undertaking.

Anyway, here’s four quick things for all of us to keep in mind so we don’t get as intimidated or overwhelmed trying to do this, y’know, intimidating thing at this overwhelming point in time.

1) We Shouldn’t be Hard on Ourselves—NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun.  Technically we’re on a deadline, yeah, but it’s a self-imposed deadline with no consequences if it’s missed. Seriously, relax. Push yourself, but don’t pressureyourself.  The real goal here is to improve, and any and every improvement counts. So have fun and try to enjoy all the little victories this month. 

And don’t worry about “winning.” This is a time when coming in second or third is still a fantastic achievement. So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make your daily or weekly word count. That’s the kind of thing that only makes you feel bad about yourself. It doesn’t help anything, it just makes you not enjoy writing as much.

2) Pace Ourselves—nobody wins a marathon by sprinting the entire way. Trying to fill every single waking moment with writing will burn any of us out quick. Seriously. And it’ll show in the work.

It’s tough, especially on projects like this, but we need to stay aware of diminishing returns. Personally, when I’m on a deadline, a lot of times I’ll work late into the night. Sometimes it goes great, but more often than not… I start to slow down. I get distracted. My productivity drops. Eventually it hits the point where I would’ve been better off going to bed two hours ago because I would’ve gotten just as much done in half an hour after a good night’s sleep.

Again, you can’t sprint for a month. And after too many sprints, you’re just going to crash. So find a good, steady pace that works for you and just keep it up. Remember, we’re not trying to write faster, we’re trying to write at a much more regular rate. It’s better to do a thousand word every day than two thousand every third or fourth day.

3) Rest and recharge—if the last two pieces of advice got together and had an advice baby, it’d be this. Don’t be scared to just step away for a little while. Have a meal at the table, maybe a drink out back.  Curl up with somebody on the couch and watch an episode of The Mandalorian or Camp Cretaceous or something. Put on your mask and go for a walk. Take a nap. Take a shower. No, seriously, take a shower.  Yeah, I’m talking to you—you’ve been sitting there since midnightSaturday and you’ve got Halloween stink and writer stink on you. Please use lots of shampoo.

My point is, again, don’t feel bad about stepping away from the computer for an hour.  We’re trying to get a lot done, yeah, but we also don’t want to overwork our brains to the point they overheat and seize up. Take time to cool down and refuel. I’m not saying take off two or three days, but don’t be scared to get up and stretch now and then. In the end, it’ll make everything run smoother and faster overall.

4) Nobody’s Going to Buy This— Seriously. They won’t. I don’t care what somebody said on that other website, it’s just not going to happen. As pressing concerns go, this is only slightly behind wondering if we can get Letitia Wright to play the lead in the movie adaptation. We’re just not there yet. Nowhere near it.

Y’see, Timmy, National Novel Writing Month isn’t really an accurate name, because we’re not writing a novel. We’re writing the first draft of a novel.  Maybe even just the first draft of a novella. And there’s a huge difference between a first draft and a polished, completed manuscript. Most relevant to our discussion here—nobody’s going to buy a first draft. No agent’s going to look at it. No film studio will pre-emptively buy the rights after a prolonged bidding war.

This draft’s for us. It’s to do whatever we want with. Don’t wast time wondering about agents or editors or producers. They’re never going to see this. They may see the third or fourth draft later—and be interested in it—but what we’re doing right now? This is just the first steps. If we actually complete this draft, we’ll barely be halfway through the process.

So forget them.  Right now, just crank up the music and let your imagination run wild.  Do whatever you want. Tell your story. Drop all inhibitions and expectations and just write.

Try to keep these things in mind over the next couple days.  Hopefully they’ll make things a little easier for you. Which’ll make the writing a little more enjoyable.

Next time…

Jeeeez, let’s be honest. Who knows what things are going to be like next time we talk. Crap, not the best thing to say when I’m trying to psych you up. But let’s all take a deep breath (no matter what) and…

Yeah, next time, I’m going to beg you to stop telling me things.

Until then… go write.

Wow. It just fully hit me that NaNoWriMo starts on Sunday. And I’d hoped to partake this year as well.

I have to admit, my brain is kind of fried. Wouldn’t be surprised if yours is too. But this is the job. Time to buckle down and…

Okay, look. This is actually, legally, my career. I’ve hit that fortunate point where I don’t have to do anything else except write (and maybe watch the occasional B-movie now and then while I build toy soldiers). I mean, at this point my accountant and the IRS both consider me a full-time writer.

And maybe some of you are there too. Or maybe you’re aspiring to be there. And because you are, and because you take this seriously, you’re trying your god-damndest to treat this like a real job. You understand writing is work, and it needs to happen if you want to advance.

So one important thing to remember.

You get days off from work.

Sometimes, I think we get so caught up in that idea of writing as a career and having to write every day that we forget we can just… take a sick day. Hell, take a personal day. Use up all that vacation time you’ve been saving up. And holy crap could we all use a mental health day right now. 

And that’s okay. It’s completely fine. Yeah, even if you take this really seriously.

Look, we’re heading into our seventh or eighth month of pandemic lockdown (depending on when you started), during a third surge which most likely is just the ongoing continuation of the first surge. We’re in the middle of a USelection that’s probably going to drag on for at least a month after it technically ends, and depending on how it ends things could be very not-good in the world for a while. And this weekend a perfectly good once-in-a-blue-moon (literally) Saturday Halloween is probably going to go to waste.

It’s completely understandable that you might not feel like typing out three or four hundred words right now. I know it’s been brutal on me, and I know I’ve been very lucky during all this. I’m self-employed and I spend 90-95% of my time at home when the world isn’t on fire. So this hasn’t been that disruptive for me and I’m still friggin’ stressed out worrying about my family and friends. Because there’s one or two good reasons to worry about… well, anybody. Everybody! I can barely imagine what it’s been like for those of you who are dealing with homeschooling kids or sick family members or who are at the end of your financial thread.

Well, I know exactly what that last one’s like, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

My point is, any decent boss would give you some time off if you were going through all this. Again, sick day. Personal day. Mental health day. They might even send you a card. 

Y’see Timmy, if the goal is to eventually be our own boss, then shouldn’t we all want to be a good boss? The kind we always wanted? The ones who actually made us like our jobs? Yeah, we need to keep on track, hit goals, try to get in a few hours a week… but we also want our employees (also us) to stay healthy. Physically and mentally.

So don’t beat yourself up if you need to take some time or maybe move a little slower right now. You’re not alone. In that, and in a lot of other things.

Thursday, the usual Halloween post. And then some more NaNoWriMo encouragements.

Until then, if you’ve up for it, go write.

But don’t worry if you’re not up for it.

April 2, 2020 / 4 Comments

A2Q Part Eight—The First Draft

And here we are once again. Or maybe we never left. Maybe we’ve been here all along, obsessively reading news articles and checking on friends in hotspots.
No? Just me? Really?
I find that hard to believe…
Anyway, it’s back to the A2Q, this rambly, sprawling series about how to write a book from bare-bones idea to finished manuscript. And it’s the day you’ve all been waiting for. We’re going to start writing. Finally! I mean, this is what the whole A2Q thing was supposed to be about, right? Writing a book. And yet, for some reason, we’re not getting to “writing the book” until part eight. EIGHT? What the freakin’ hell?
Hang on, though.
There’s a reason we took the long path. Well, I took the long path and just sort of led you along with little bread crumbs and Reece’s Pieces and maybe shots of whiskeys. Trust me, I lured you out this way for a reason.
Remember how I compared outlining to road trips? We can make a very loose, bare-bones plan or we can map out the whole thing and schedule every stop along the way. There’s plusses and minuses to both of these, but for the moment I want to flip this idea a bit and compare it to something else.
Have you ever needed to go somewhere you’ve never been before? Not wanted to go—needed to go? Maybe a doctor’s office or a job interview or a bar where that person is waiting for you and you reallywant to be there and make a good impression? And that place is… six or seven miles away? Maybe ten? Google gives two or three routes and it doesn’t seem quite sure where you’re going but you’ve memorized the names of a couple cross streets and maybe two stores that are supposedly nearby.

What’s that drive usually like? Overly-focused? Watching the clock a lot? Maybe a bit nerve-wracking because you thought you left early enough but you still haven’t found it and you’re watching the clock tick closer and closer to the time you’re supposed to be there and now you’re doing mental calculations about how far you think you’ve still got to go and find parking and… look, you know this feeling, right?

Compare that to the last time you drove to your significant other’s place. Or the grocery store. Or the mall. Did you think about street names? Did you even notice any of the stores along the way. No, of course not. It was familiar and easy and you barely thought about it at all. You just did it.
That’s why we’ve been talking about all this stuff up front. So you’ll have the characters and the setting and the plot and the story solidly in your mind. Heck, maybe you’ve got some bare-bones thoughts about theme. And because we talked about outlines and you moved things around a bit on paper—or even just in your head—you’ve got an idea how all these things fit together. Most importantly, you know what happens next. You’ve got an endpoint you’re aiming for, which means you can always keep going.
So, let’s get writing.
No, seriously. That’s it. Dive in. You’ve got the story in your head, so start writing.
Okay, fine. Here’s some more advice. Just because I like you.
First, dump any idea you have about art. Throw out all those books. Don’t even mention your muse. We’re not making excuses, we’re writing. The only way this happens is you pick up a pen or sit down at the keyboard. That’s the biggest thing. You just need  to do it.
Second, think of this a lot like NaNoWriMo, just without the time limit. If it takes you six weeks or three months or half a year to do this… so what? You work at your own pace. You’ve probably got other stuff going on in your life and sweet jeebus there’s a lot going on in the world. Right now you’re under no time limit and nobody’s expecting anything from you.
More importantly, just like NaNoWriMo, absolutely nobody’s going to see this. Seriously. It’s a first draft. It’s going to be messy, you’re going to change a bunch of stuff as you go, and it’s definitely going to need editing. So much editing. Don’t worry, we’ll be getting to that point soon enough.

If it makes this easier, I forbid you to show it to anyone. Just like that. Forbidden. It’s going to be awkward to explain to your friends, I know, but it’s a little bit of a relief, too, isn’t it? Now you don’t have to worry about it being perfect. You can just put a bunch of words down on the page. And then do it again the next day. And the day after that. Are they all the right words? Probably not. Good thing you’ve been forbidden from showing it to anybody.

Third, don’t judge your process off anybody else’s. Some people can do a first draft in weeks, some need a few months, but like I just said up above—none of them are you moving at your speed. Don’t worry that he turns out great first drafts or that she claims she doesn’t even do drafts(that’s usually a bit misleading anyway). This is your book. It’s just about you. I absolutely, hand-on-my-copy-of-On Writing swear your editor or readers will not care in the slightest how long you did or didn’t spend on this.

Unless I tell them I wrote my six-hundred page masterpiece in a week, in which case… they’re going to go into it a little leery.

Fourth, because it bears repeating, please remember nobody’s going to see this. You can’t disappoint anyone. No one will know about those typos. That big plot hole is going to go unseen. You can’t even disappoint yourself. It’s all my fault. I forbade you from showing anyone, remember?
So for now, forward motion. Just get it done. We’ll clean up that other stuff next time. Honest.
Finally, have some fun with this. I know that might sound tough, but… you have to want to write this. You should be excited about writing it. As someone who’s been doing this full time for a while now… yeah, it can be rough and a grind and there are days (especially this past month) when it’s really hard to focus or feel like this isn’t frivolous somehow.

But even on the rough days, I’ve still got passion for it. I’m thinking of how cool this is going to be. When we started this thing, I jokingly came up with the idea of using a werewolf story to illustrate a lot of my points. But as we’ve been talking more and more about Phoebe and Luna and their family legacy and Luna’s curse… well, I started to get invested in it. I saw solid directions it could go in and even came up with a few little twists I liked and one big twist I really liked. To be honest, I’ve had a few developments I didn’t mention because now I’m thinking I want to write this as my next project (bumping my historical horror/weird western idea back yet again).

I’ve got nothing to back it up past my own gut, but I think readers can tell when the writer is bored. If I’m not enjoying writing it, they’re not going to enjoy reading it. My lack of energy for a character or a point of view or a sequence is going to be clear. Again, just my opinion, no hard research behind it, and there are always exceptions to the rule. But I really think it’s true.
So for now, just write. You’ve got the story in your head. Put it on the page “good enough” for now, we’ll make it better later.


Chapter One

            Phoebe sifted through the laundry pile again, willing the black top to appear even though it hadn’t the last three times she’d looked. “Luna,” she bellowed again.
            Upstairs the sound of the shower finally stopped and she heard the thump of feet on the wooden floor. The bathroom door creaked open. “What?”
            “Where’s my black top? The one with the ribbing?”
            “I’m trying to get ready,” her little sister growled. “I’m going out!”
            “So am I! Where is it?”
            “How should I know?”
            “You borrowed it last night. You promised you’d wash it.”
            Silence. Then the bathroom door creaked quietly.
            What?” Her voice echoed in the small house.
            “Where is it?”
            A sigh echoed down the stairs. “I’ll get you a new one.”
            “You’ll what?”
            “I kind of… misplaced it.”
            “You what?”
            “I lost it, okay. I said I’ll get you a new one.”
            “Goddammit. I wanted it for tonight. It fits under my armor.” She looked at the leather sleeves, vest, and gorget piled on the bed. Her mom’s old armor. Stained dark brown with years of oil and sweat and blood that sank in before it could be cleaned off.
            “Wear the green one.”
            “It’s long-sleeved and I wore it last night. It stinks.”
            “It’s not like anyone’s going to complain.”
            Phoebe bit back a sigh of her own and marched over to the hamper of dirty clothes. “How did you ‘misplace’ it?”
            “I was at a party.”
            “That’s not an answer.”
            “Yes it is,” Luna sang down the stairs. “I’m getting back in the shower now.”
            “We’re going to talk about this later.”
            “Whatever.” The bathroom door creaked shut and hot water started to gush again.
            They’d have to talk about that too. The water bill and the gas bill had been high last month. Phoebe felt pretty sure Luna’s long showers were a major part of that.
            She pulled the green top from the hamper. It had been warm last night, especially under all the leather, and she’d sweated a lot. The top was still damp, and it reeked. But it was that or she could try to find a Henley or turtleneck that wouldn’t bunch up under the armor and slow her down.
            She sure as hell wasn’t going to be some B-movie cliché, hunting werewolves with nothing on but a leather vest.
That’s a rough, first-draft, off-the-top-of-my-head page and a half. It’s not great, I’m probably going to tweak the dialogue, and I already have some thoughts on word-choice. But the point was just to get it out.

I’m a big fan of exploring and learning stuff in a first draft. But I think a lot of people get caught up because they don’t have a good sense of their characters or the world, and they don’t know where they’re going. They’ve got too much to explore, and so a lot of their first draft gets eaten up dealing with… well, all that stuff we’ve been  going over for the past few weeks.

But when you’ve got enough of it in your head, you can just go.
Will it be perfect? Definitely not. But that’s okay, because we’re just doing a first draft.
So get to it.

Next time… should I keep going with the A2Q? Or should we take a break and I could talk about something else for a bit? Let me know what you’re thinking.
Until then… go write.
Write like nobody’s going to see it.