National Novel Writing Month

Also known as NaNoWriMo, this is a month in November when authors of all shapes and sizes go haywire.

“Why are you sleep deprived?” you ask.

Oh, you sweet summer child. How naive you are. How innocent.

Your author friend gives you a wild-eyed, harried look and blurts out a number.

“…I’m sorry?” you reply, bewildered. “I don’t understand.”

“Thirty days. Fifty thousand words. No time for sleep. Haven’t bathed since October. My blood is vibrating. I can hear voices.”

If you’re smart, take a step back. Leave an offering of caffeine and snacks. Then run for your life.


National Novel Writing Month is pure insanity at its finest. During the month of November, authors attempt to reach 50,000 words – the average word count of a novel. Why do this, you ask? Because it’s a major procrastination buster for some authors. The looming deadline combined with a fear of failure can motivate even the laziest of writers (*raises hand* that’s me).

For some authors, the tight deadline can paralyze them. For still other authors, they need a looser schedule to write, edit, rewrite, and not focus on the word count, which is okay. But you never know until you try.

NaNoWriMo F.A.Q.

Do I HAVE to write 50k?

Nope. You can dive into the chaos with your own personal word goal. One author I know set a goal of 1 million words (AND SHE MADE IT). Other authors shoot for 25k. Or just editing another project.

If you want a winner sticker on your NaNoWriMo profile though, you’ll have to pass that 50k finish line.

Do I need to start with a brand new project?

The website suggests a clean slate is a good idea. It allows for maximum flailing and messy writing so you don’t stress about all the nonsense you’re spewing into your manuscript at 2am, cramming leftover Halloween candy into your mouth, bleary-eyed and mush-brained.

(IT’S FUN, I SWEAR.)

Some authors work on their second draft. Other authors work on a compilation of projects.

The RULES of NaNoWriMo aren’t the key. It’s the productivity, feeding off of other writers to motivate and inspire you to put your butt in that chair and write.

What does it cost to do this?

Nada. Zippo. Zilch. Entirely, 100% free. All you gotta do is cough up your sanity and a whole lot of sleep.

Can anyone actually SEE my project?

Not unless you want them to. When you upload your novel via cut-n-paste, it’s only for word count purposes. Your novel doesn’t get submitted anywhere.

Why can’t I just cheat?

You sure can. The system relies on honesty. There are plenty of opportunities to cheat and say you finished 50k in like…an hour. But the only person who gets cheated is yourself.

And I’m not just saying that full of threat and bluster. It’s true. The point of NaNoWriMo is to work on your novel. Yes, you’re joining other authors in the writing process, but ultimately, it’s just you and your novel when NaNoWriMo is over.

If you cheat, eventually you will have to explain to your novel why you didn’t write it when you had the chance. And if your novel is anything like my projects, they can give a pretty mean stink-eye. Lots of guilt. If looks could kill, I’d be murdered by a book that isn’t even finished yet.

What do I get when I win?

  • Major bragging rights, like holy cow, you just wrote 50,000 words in 30 days!
  • Treat yourself in the swag shop. Smother yourself in NaNoWriMo merch, proudly proclaiming to the world that you are nuts.
  • Several sponsors have provided generous discounts on writing-related products for not only winners but also participants, i.e. 50% of Scrivener for winners, 20% off for participants.
  • Also, you finished that novel you keep procrastinating on for months…years…like, a really, really long time.

Extra stuff

NaNoWriMo also has a special Young Writers’ Program for those budding authors still in school, looking to learn the art of writing a novel.

Before NaNoWriMo begins, they provide free Prep 101 to arm yourself for battle.

Above all else, my favorite part of NaNoWriMo is the Pep Talks. These are short, inspirational messages from some of the top authors in the business. Some of them are even NaNo participants themselves! A few names you might recognize are:

  • Holly Black
  • Brandon Sanderson
  • Jenny Han
  • Lemony Snickett
  • Malinda Lo
  • Marie Lu

Many of these pep talks are archived and free for your reading pleasure, without a NaNo account here. But you will get even more pep talks straight to your inbox if you sign up.


Have you jumped into the NaNoWriMo fray before? What was your experience like? Did you enjoy it or hate it? Tell me all about it in the comments!

PSST! Want a NaNo buddy? Send me a request @runningfree

Finding Your Groove

I love hearing how other authors write, their little rituals, their methods for slaying writer’s block, what bizarre little seed sprouted an entire novel or series, their word count. It shows just how diverse writing can be, that there’s no one right or wrong way to put words on the page and get your story done.

In the past, I’ve been able to crank out thousands of words in a day. Anywhere from 3k-6k. Maybe not every day but I still hit those numbers on a fairly regular basis when I sat down to write.

Side effects? I would be unable to write for days. Sometimes weeks. It felt like putting a puzzle together blindfolded. I stumbled over words, couldn’t grasp the most basic of terms to describe my scenes.

Many life changes have happened since those days. I’ve had short stories published, which brings along a different monster of perfectionism to do battle with. I’ve started a new job that I love but can be draining on the social spectrum for an introverted bookworm like me which leaves my brain a puddle of mush.

And the more I write, the more stories I start, abandon, or finish, the more I realize: every story is like a person. No two people are the same. Each story has its own set of needs. Maybe one story will spin itself out in a day or two. Other stories will take longer to bloom from their cocoon and face the world.

I came to this realization as I wrestle to get a grasp on what story I want to tell for the second book in my Bewitchment Series. For a year and a half, I have not made it past the 15k mark. I couldn’t latch onto what I was trying to say. And when that 15k mark loomed on the horizon, my motivation took a nose dive. Straight into the ground. Every single time.

So I started over.

Again.

And again.

And again.

My goal is to finish book #2 by the end of this year. To bury that 15k mark and launch myself past it. But I knew I couldn’t do my usual 3k-6k stints like I did before. I haven’t managed that in a long, long time. I needed to pace myself, not burn out.

So I began to research what the daily word count was for famous authors and I found some very manageable goals. According to wordcount.net, I discovered a surprising range, some of them astronomical while others were far more manageable (and enjoyable!)

Michael Crichton: 10,000 words

Stephen King: 2,000 words

Kate DiCamillo: 600-900 words

Holly Black: 1,000 words
Though that number varies wildly. She details her daily word count and some of her process on The Coldest Girl in Coldtown here

Right now, I’ve settled on 400 words a day, as inspired by the brilliant late Sir Terry Pratchett. On those days when my energy levels are zapped from all that socializing, 400 words is a push. On good days, I can reach over 1k words a bit more comfortably, jumping me ahead in my schedule by several days’ worth of work in case I do slip up because of Life Things.

It’s not the over-achieving numbers that I used to do. And it can feel a bit slow now and then. But…

I really, really like it.

Burn out isn’t necessary for your creativity. Sometimes, all you need is a goal that you can reach without pulling a muscle in order to find your writing groove.


Do you write every day? If so, how much do you manage to achieve in a span of 24 hours? If not, what does your writing schedule look like? Do you have a writing schedule at all or do you prefer to play it by ear? Let me know in the comments!

Get Lost

Before you identified as a writer, chances are that your imagination took you to some WILD places. For hours, you would lose yourself in your thoughts, dreaming up the most fantastical, amazing, phenomenal, mind-blowing scenarios.

And then you decided to take up the pen and record your adventures, craft them into tales for others to enjoy.

That’s where things started to get tricky.

Not all who wander are lost.

– J. R. R. Tolkien

Writing a novel, a series, a short story can be intimidating, to say the least. Taking on such a project is a valiant effort and requires guts, with a considerable amount of hard-headedness, to follow through and see to completion.

Naturally, the first thing you do is: research.

How do I write a novel? fills your Google search history in various forms. And that’s all well and good!

But sometimes, the formulas, the outlines, the strict chapter-by-chapter play of your project straps down your boundless imagination and grounds you where once you soared through the stars.

Recently, I discovered a deliciously inspiring book by Jeff Vandermeer: “Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction”.

Within the first chapter, Vandermeer wastes no time in getting straight to the heart of the matter: imagination is the key to writing.

The world wants us to believe in technique and craft, in practice and hard work as the primary ingredients of success…The most important thing is allowing the subconscious mind to engage in the kind of play that leads to making the connections necessary to create narrative.

– Jeff Vandermeer

(Click the image to order your own copy!)

While Vandermeer exalts the virtues of creativity and freedom of expression, he does point out that discipline and endurance have their place, especially where writing is involved.

Without discipline, which translates in writing into focus and good work habits, your imagination can atrophy. Discipline balances the imagination by grounding the writer in pragmatism and structure. Discipline is learning craft, practicing craft, and, on the micro level, isolating the particular problems you need your imagination to solve.

– Jeff Vandermeer

So, balance is key. The discipline of an outline, plot, etc. can help you complete the marathon of writing a novel/series/short story. But also take time to let your imagination run free, unharnessed, unchecked.

Get lost in your imagination.

You might find yourself coming up with more creative twists and turns in your writing because of it!

How To:
Encourage More Creative Thinking

  • Keep a Journal
    Write for a set amount of time or pages, stream of consciousness style. Write anything that comes to mind. Write about your fears, your plot hiccups, your dreams and aspirations. Write that you don’t know what to write. Put it all on the page. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation, don’t edit or self-censor in any way. This is your freedom.
  • Morning pages
    This is a lot like journaling except you do it in the morning, first thing, before anything else (BEFORE COFFEE…or maybe during coffee). I, personally, am not, nor ever will be, a morning person, so I prefer a journal. But try it all! See what works!
  • Creative play
    Remember when you used to pick up a stick and pretend it was something else? If you’re like me, it was ALWAYS a sword. When you’re no longer a child, creative play falls by the wayside in favor of more “productive” and “mature” things, like jobs, paying bills. All important things (see: discipline, as mentioned earlier), but things that CAN be nudged aside to make room for creative play, too. Maybe your creative play is telling stories verbally just off the top of your head. Or painting. Drawing. Sculpture. Metalwork. Sewing. Anything that gets your brain working in a way that is imaginative.
  • Read a book or watch a movie outside of the genre(s) you usually consume.
    Do you read fantasy 90% of the time? Pick up a sci-fi book with space ships and alien races. Do you usually watch rom-coms and period dramas? Try a spy flick. Even if it’s not to your tastes, the different story lines, characters, and settings might ignite a spark of creativity.
  • Brainstorm or create within a short amount of time.
    This depends on your personality. For some people, deadlines can be inspirational due to the fear of failure looming on the horizon. For others, a tight deadline can be restrictive, crippling, and incite blind panic. Set a certain amount of time to brainstorm and/or write. Try it every day for a week. Or a month. But make sure to give it a decent shot. Don’t give up and flop on the ground in a temper tantrum because, “It’s too hard!” Your most brilliant burst of creative genius might be lying just out of reach. All you have to do is push yourself a little outside of your comfort zone to grasp it and make it yours.

How do you encourage creative thinking in your daily life? Let me know in the comments!

Honest Creativity and Witch Hunts

Google “how to write” and there’s no shortage of advice available on every form of writing known to man.

There are articles for plotters – those who like to work with a detailed plan before they approach their project.

There are articles for pantsers – those who cannonball into their project, heedless of safety nets, parachutes, floaties, a first aid kit.

You’ll even find articles for those who plan a little but dive in with the bare essentials of an idea pretty quick.

Looking to write some poetry? No problem. Plenty of pointers on rhythm, cadence, stanzas, the sprawling landscape of free verse.

Writing a novel for the first time? Or tackling a particularly stubborn 10th novel that just won’t cooperate like your other completed projects did? Got you covered. Websites galore on plot development, character arcs, cliches, tropes, and appropriate word counts per genre.

But…there’s something missing.

It’s easy to overlook. Especially when the clamor of critics around every corner is deafening, tireless, and insatiable. They take up their pitchforks and torches, hellbent on violence, carnage, destruction. Breathe in their direction and it’s a slaughter.

Who in their right mind would dare to expose their weakness to this blood-thirsty crowd, seeking fresh meat to flay alive?

Creativity takes courage.

Henri Matisse

The mechanics of writing are, of course, a necessity. Any machine needs properly oiled parts that fit together in working order. Write your heart out sans punctuation, coherent themes, or development and you’re going to leave your readers confused and frustrated.

Then what’s the big deal?

While we’re caught up in the minutiae of writing, we forget the key component that makes storytelling such a key factor in every society.

CONNECTION.

Raw. Vulnerable. The kind of creativity that strips away your defenses, shines a light on every insecurity you’ve attempted to hide.

It’s terrifying.

It’s brutal.

It’s all of you on the page.

This kind of honest creative writing can’t really be taught. Reflection, deep thought, solitude, and a considerable amount of re-writing is required to reach this interior well we have insides ourselves, the same well that drove us to the page to begin with.

Creativity should always be a form of prayer.

Ben Okri

But it’s not easy. Anything important and worthwhile is never smooth-sailing. Heroes are not born with a cape and a heart of gold. They suffer. They toil. They bleed. Their hardships mold them into the champions we admire and look up to.

Critics will be the first to eagerly tear down the honesty you’ve constructed. Remember, they’re the mob that’s armed and ready to attack at all odd hours of the day and night. You can’t escape them and they will never be kind.

Welcome to the witch hunt. In their eyes, your honesty is akin to the mark of the devil and now they smell blood in the water. It’s prime feeding ground for a frenzy of criticism.

But you? You have nothing to fear. Because you have ventured into territory only the bravest of souls are willing to go. The angry mobs will cast a sign about your neck that reads HAG in vicious black letters. They will tie you to the stake with flames rising high. The heat will be unbearable.

You will struggle with doubts when it gets this hard.
Why didn’t I sugarcoat the truth?
Why did I put so much of myself into my work?
Why didn’t I spend more time developing a more intricate plot than sharing my most personal imaginings?

What the mob of critics will never admit is how scared they are. Of you.

Because your words – filled with your heart, your fears, your joys – will forever leave an echo in this world. You transcended the mere act of writing a book or a poem. You opened you hands to those who struggle as you did and you gave them understanding. You gave them peace of mind. They have connected with you and they will carry your words always.


What truths, secrets, and insecurities made you pick up the pen and put words on the page? Why are you writing the project you’re working on now? How can you bring more honesty to the table in your writing?

Distracted, Stuck, Burned Out: The Love-Hate Relationship Between Your Brain and Writing

Your Writer Brain is like a caffeinated hamster – it’s constantly running at high speed, even when you’re burned out, stuck on a plot/character arc/motivation, or you’re just plain distracted by Life. Either way, your Writer Brain is hyper-fixated on something
all
the
time.

This is good, right?

Well, yes and no. Why?

The good news: your Writer Brain always has material to work into a story. There are endless ideas whirling through your head like a cyclone, or clustered in haphazard, cobwebby piles like an abandoned bookstore.

Now for the bad news. No matter how many ideas are crammed into that cranium of yours, eventually the caffeine wears off, and, whether you like it or not, ye olde gray matter takes a swan dive into…The Twilight Zone.

It’s a black hole of self-doubt and misgivings about your writing that generally involve the echo of disembodied voices, whispering horrific things, like, “Might as well just give up. You were never any good at this writing business anyway. You’ll never be a decent writer.”

Being able to write, not simply to organize or punctuate, arises when you are able to be at ease with the unique games and distractions your mind is tossing around.”

“The Writing Warrior”, Laraine Herring

One of the most common questions I’ve seen in the writing community, whether it’s the seasoned writers with the well-worn and familiar tools of the trade tucked under their belts, or the fresh-faced, bright-eyed newbies with baby soft skin as yet unmarred by the scars of rejection, it’s this: How do you beat writer’s block?

Every writer develops their own method of madness to forge through the Swamp of Despair. What it boils down to is basically recharging the brain with a battery and a few wires. Jumpstart that sucker with some heavy duty volts.

Writer Brain Recharge DIY Tips

  • Read read read.
  • Take a break.
  • Talk to other writers and feed off of their energy.
  • Work on a completely different project.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Scream into the void.

That fine print section too small to actually read:
DON’T attach your brain to a battery. Don’t stick your finger or a knife or a fork in a light socket. No electrocution necessary. These are figures of speech, used for amusement purposes only.


So, what’s the hang up? How can I prevent my hyperspeed descent into The Abyss you ask?

Short answer: you don’t. Everything – including creativity – ebbs and flows.

Some writers can write consistently, churning out a certain number of words every day like a machine. Some writers plot their entire outline down to the letter.

Other writers don’t.

Your Writer Brain will have good days and bad days. Sometimes, you will be so tired that words smear on the page like a toddler’s handprint instead of a masterful brushstroke.

Other days, you will soar over the terrain of your writing, distributing words in graceful arcs like rainbows.

That’s okay.

Read that again.

That’s okay to have good days and bad days. It’s okay to write thousands of words one day, but other days, you write nothing. What counts is being faithful to your writing, coming back to it again and again.

There is only you and your work. Nurture the relationship you have with your writing and your stories.

“The Writing Warrior”, Laraine Herring

What advice would you give to a struggling writer? What tools of the trade have you discovered to get you through the Swamp of Despair? Drop me a line in the comments and tell me about it!