Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

What I’m Reading Post-NaNoWriMo

One of the hardest parts of writing 50,000 words in one month was refraining from reading as much as I usually do. While I finished reading a novella and made progress on a nonfiction book, it felt like I was on a diet. I hate going so long without substantial reading time. So, one of the best parts about finishing the rough draft of my own novel is the prospect of devouring others’!

Here’s my reading list for the month.

9780316206846The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith / J.K. Rowling
Yeah, I know this book only became a bestseller because of Rowling’s name. But I’ve actually already started it, and it’s good! I also like the idea that she published the book because she likes writing, not for fortune/fame (both of which she already has in spades).

Bermudez TriangleThe Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
I’ve followed Maureen Johnson on Twitter pretty much from the first day I joined, and I’ve been meaning to read one of her books. Since I’m on a LGBTQ YA kick, I thought this—an exploration of friendship, sexuality, and identity in high school—would be a good place to start!

9781451666175Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
I’m a huge fan of Brosh’s website by the same name, so I couldn’t wait to pick up my own copy of Hyperbole and a Half. If this graphic memoir (sort of) is half as good as her blog, this will be one of my favorite books this year.

FC9780061583261The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
This book has been on my TBR list forever. I’m thinking about selecting it for the Nonfiction Book Club at One More Page, so I’ll finally have a kick in the pants to start it! (Perhaps my first action item after reading this will be “Don’t neglect TBR pile!”

9780375832994Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Like I said, I’ve been on an LGBTQ YA kick, and I’m told David Levithan is my guy to get to know the genre. His most recent book, Two Boys Kissing, was long-listed for a National Book Award, but I wanted to start at the beginning of his oeuvre.

Pardonable LiesPardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear
I’ve slowly been making my way through the Maisie Dobbs series. Beginning Cuckoo’s Calling–also a detective story set in London, but different in pretty much every other way–prompted me to think about the series again. I’m sensing a theme: Detective December!

If I have time, I also want to get started on The Round House by Louise Erdrich and Shine by Lauren Myracle.

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

NaNoWriMo “Winner”!

Sunday Salon

You’ve probably noticed how quiet my blog has been lately–even quieter than usual. That’s because I participated in NaNoWriMo this year. In the month of November, I wrote more than 50,000 words of a novel.

First of all, let me say: WOOOOOO! I’M A WINNER! I’M AWESOME!

NaNoWriMo Winner

I set out to write a what seemed like an impossible number of words last month–not to mention maintaining a full-time job, buying a new car, keeping my house clean and in good repair, celebrating my 28th birthday, and doing all of my homework for grad school on time. I can barely believe nothing major fell apart!

Now, on to reflections…

The Writing Process

Going through this process has definitely helped me with my “madman” stage. For me, the hardest part is getting started–ignoring my inner editor/critic and just getting something up on the screen or down on the page. Then, later, the editor/critic may be unleashed to slash and restructure gleefully. But editor/critic has nothing to work with without the madman.

So NaNo was valuable in helping me pour out words without thought to the consequence. Want to change your main character’s name midway through? Do it! Don’t even worry about searching the 20,000 words you’ve already written to fix it. (You might end up changing it again later, anyway). Want to add a new subplot to your secondary character? Why not! Just leave a note to yourself to work in the details leading up to this plot, and keep on writing. Above all, keep writing.

I’ve heard from some people that they can’t imagine writing a novel non-chronologically. That is, they have to write the story exactly in the order they think it will be read.

That doesn’t work for me at all. I jump around like crazy, keeping an Excel sheet to track where I am with each story thread. In a short amount of time, where the focus is to pump out as many words as possible, I found it most helpful simply to write what was on my mind. If I tried to force it, I might risk wasting valuable writing time. (Also, I find that my best work happens when things are flowing–when nothing feels forced.) If I was thinking about the final scene, I wrote that. I’d jump from the end to the beginning to the middle.

Sure, things will change in the final version, where it won’t make sense that my main character is talking to a friend in the end with whom she’d had an irreparable fight in the middle. But these are all things to smooth out in revisions.

My point here is that everyone works differently. Just as every story is different depending on who is telling it, so too is the writing process unique to the writer.

Basically, as long as you write, you’re doing it right!

Not Done Yet

But what was that nasty word I said? “Revisions”?

Anyone can sit in a chair and peck out thousands of words. With NaNo, it doesn’t have to be good–it just has to meet the length requirements. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, many people don’t reach the end. But really, anyone can do it.*

What distinguishes newbs from pros is simple: perspective. Once you reach the end, the most important part is sitting back and saying to yourself, “Well, that was a nice start.” Unless you are some kind of creative genius, in which case I doubt you read my blog, your NaNo project is not yet ready for prime-time. Don’t hit “send” on all those queries to agents just yet.

Revise, revise. Let it sit, let it simmer, and revise again.

Is my novel good? Some parts, I think, are good. They may stay, and, if I’m lucky, see the light of day in a published book. (Fingers crossed.)

However, much of this draft will be chopped up, salvaged, polished, or tossed during revisions. This is very much a rough draft. I see many weaknesses in the manuscript already (and I haven’t even started re-reading it yet!). And there are other parts that aren’t necessarily weak, but they aren’t wonderful yet.

I’m extremely pleased that I was able to reach the word count that I did. NaNo really helped me set goals and meet them, and I owe that in large part to everyone who encouraged me this month–both fellow novelists and non-writers. But that’s all NaNo was–a word-count goal. It doesn’t mean I have a novel on my hands yet. All I have are seeds that I planted that are beginning to shoot up tender leaves. I have to water and fertilize the plants, shield them from the elements, make sure they grow strong and true before I can really say I have a garden.

This is the time where I will go through each paragraph, each sentence, with a fine-tooth comb. Now that I’m used to switching metaphors midstream (shhh, editor/critic!): I want my baby to be as perfect as possible when the time finally comes to look for an agent. She’s gonna have her hair brushed, her finest dress free of stains and wrinkles, and all that apple sauce wiped off her face when it’s time to shine the spotlight on her.

Until then, I will sit here grinning and mouthing “I DID IT!”

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 9.34.53 PM

*Except, perhaps, people with young children, who stared at me in horror at the idea of writing anything in one month.

Top Ten Books About Writing

I’m beginning another nonfiction writing class this week, so my mind is occupied with books about writing right now. Whether you read them cover to cover or simply flip through the pages in search of inspiration, the following books are very valuable tools for writers.

10. No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty

Chris Baty founded National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the premise of which is simple: write a novel in 30 days. It doesn’t have to be pretty and it certainly doesn’t have to be perfect, but you do have to sit your butt in a chair and write every day. This book is intended as a guide for that month-long writingpalooza, billing itself as a “results-oriented, quick-fix strategy” for writers on the go. If your writing stretches out longer than a month—and it almost certainly will—Baty’s advice is also useful as a stand-alone handbook, especially if you have writer’s block or trouble motivating yourself.

9. The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) by Carol Fisher Saller

Technically, this book is about copyediting. But as I noted in my review, Carol Fisher Saller’s advice applies to all working relationships, especially those engaged in the creative professions of writing and publishing. Saller blends an irreverent sense of humor with years of experience as editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online‘s Q&A, offering very practical and sound advice for working with one’s colleagues–and one’s self.

8. Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors by Bill Bryson

Speaking of useful volumes for writers and editors alike… Bill Bryson’s accessible guide covers spelling, capitalization, plurals, hyphens, abbreviations, and foreign names and phrases—and much more. He guides writerly readers through the most commonly encountered problems of the English language toward precise, mistake-free usage. This is not a book you’ll want to read all the way through, but it is an indispensable resource. As Bryson notes, it will provide you with “the answers to all those points of written usage that you kind of know or ought to know but can’t quite remember.”

7. How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

Many writing books offer sound advice on how to write well. This is not one of those books. On the contrary, this is a collection of terrible, awkward, and laughably unreadable excerpts that will teach you what to avoid—at all costs—if you ever want your novel published.

Rather than tell aspiring writers what to do, Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman tell you what to avoid. With rousing good humor and tons of experience between the two of them, they identify the 200 most common mistakes made by writers–consciously or unconsciously–and teach them to recognize, avoid, and amend them. Did I mention it’s hilarious?

6. Views from the Loft: A Portable Writer’s Workshop edited by Daniel Slager

For years, Minneapolis’s Loft Literary Center has brought together a community of writers, and now the wisdom of its authors, students, and editors has been collected in Views from the Loft. Featuring tips, questions, essays, and interviews from and with Mark Doty, Kate DiCamillo, Rick Bass, Michael Cunningham, Grace Paley, Susan Power, Susan Straight, Marilyn Hacker, and many more, this workshop-in-a-book outfits any aspiring the tools and inspiration necessary to thrive in the writing life.

5. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose

One of the best ways to learn about writing is to examine great works of literature. You don’t need a creative-writing workshop or degree to be a good writer (though that helps). All you need is a bookshelf and some time. Francine Prose, a well-known fiction writer, reads the work of the masters—Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Chekhov, and many others—to discover why their work has endured, and she looks at modern writers to prove that paying attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted, pays off.

4. On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner

Gardner’s book is a classic resource for writers, despite occasionally cumbersome prose and now-commonsense advice. He offers advice on the writing life—the pitfalls and joys of creating stories for a living—and he discusses common questions that beginning writers have: Should I enroll in a writer’s workshops? What do agents and editors actually do? Anne Tyler, one of my favorite novelists, called it “a miraculously detailed account of the creative process.”

3. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir edited by William Zinsser

If you’ve ever considered writing a memoir, you’ve probably wondered how an author reaches into the tumult of her own memory–a cacophony of emotions, senses, places, and events long gone–and pull out a crisp, compelling storyline. Drawing from the wisdom of some of the greatest literary memoirists, Inventing the Truth explores their writing processes, the unexpected obstacles they faced, and the overwhelming joy they experienced in researching, writing, and publishing their pasts. The featured authors include Russell Baker (Growing Up); Jill Ker Conway (The Road from Coorain); Annie Dillard (An American Childhood); Ian Frazier (Family); Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Colored People); Alfred Kazin (A Walker in the City); Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes); Toni Morrison (Beloved); and Eileen Simpson (Poets in Their Youth).

2. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry

How does a writer go from a good idea to a career in writing? In The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published (my review here), Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry present lucid, step-by-step advice to would-be authors, from inception to publicity. They walk budding authors through the many steps of publishing a book, including how to begin, what to expect once the process is underway, and how to maximize your book to achieve your goal—whether it be riches, fame, or simply the satisfaction of being a published author.

1. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

Ever since Millie gave me this book a few years ago, it has popped up again and again as an indispensable guide for writers. (To be fair, it was considered such long before Millie gave it to me; I’m only just noticing it.) Zinsser, a professor at the New School and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, outlines the principles of nonfiction writing and offers lucid advice to anyone who wants to learn how to write, no matter the topic. This is one of those books that stays on my desk, right next to my dictionary and thesaurus.

Want more personal accounts on writing and reading? Check out these titles:

Interested in the intricacies of grammar? Let these reference works be your guide:

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

I receive a very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links to Indiebound. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

In My Mailbox: Laura Lippman, Erin Morgenstern, Colin Meloy, and more!

Books Mentioned in This Episode

Other Shout-Outs

In My Mailbox is a way for book bloggers to discuss all of the books that they come across each week.

November in Review

And now, for the winner of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry… Sarah. Congratulations!

Thanks to everyone who left comments and retweeted the giveaway as well as all of the new subscribers and daily visitors. You guys are great!

This month, I participated in the Thankfully Reading weekend challenge. I never need a challenge to read—all I need is the time!—but it’s always nice to feel the sense of community among online reviewers that challenges emphasize. A special thanks goes to the creators and organizers!

Now to my stats:
5 books completed
1,137 pages read
5 books reviewed

This was an odd month for me, as you can probably tell by my low reading statistics. I tried to review books about writing and publishing in honor of NaNoWriMo, but I found that life gets in the way of the best-laid plans (as I should have guessed!).

November was filled with many joys, including all of the friends and family members I was able to visit. We went to Punkin Chunkin early in the month, I celebrated my birthday (the quarter-century!) on the 20th, and Thanksgiving went off without a hitch. I also began a new job, which has been very exciting.

But I also experienced a deep personal tragedy. My brother-in-law, Josh Weiss, was the victim of a fatal hit-and-run on November 7. He and my oldest sister, Chelsea, and their kids were moving to Minnesota, and the accident happened on the night of their going-away party.

I was visiting home for the weekend, and I feel very blessed that I was able to take Josh, Chelsea, and other loved ones out for breakfast. The last words I said to him were something to the effect of “I’ll miss you and I love you,” as I hugged him; I think I will always be grateful for that.

The support of my family and friends has been absolutely overwhelming. I truly appreciate everything they have done for me and for Josh’s memory. I have honestly never felt so loved and appreciated.

Going back to my “normal” life has been difficult, and I still feel intense grief at times. However, I’m glad to have the opportunity to express myself creatively and to continue kicking ass and taking names, so just watch out for me in December!

Here are the books I reviewed this month:

The conversational tone and infectious humor of the prose made this book thoroughly engaging. The layout breaks up otherwise information-dense text; it is peppered with the seasoned advice of booksellers, publishers, authors, publicists, editors… anyone involved with creating and selling books. The authors show that though writing a book is not easy, it can be incredibly rewarding.
Rating: 4 out of 5

In this “biography” of an iconic D.C. neighborhood, Blair Ruble explores the significance of cultural institutions and historical events. The author is not a trained historian, but his research is impeccable; he brings to light dozens of unpublished theses on the neighborhood. At the same time, I found this account very readable and entertaining.
Rating: 4 out of 5

This book is original, thrilling, captivating, and heartwrenching. At the same time, it is unexpectedly fresh and optimistic, filled with life and hope and wonder. Don’t even try to read this book before bed—not because it is so scary, but because you will be up half the night thinking about Jack and Ma until you give up and spend the other half finishing their story.
Rating: 5 out of 5

Zeitoun is an eye-opening account of the devastating effects of two very different disasters in the United States: As Hurricane Katrina wreaks havoc on neighborhoods and lives in New Orleans, religious intolerance toward Muslims becomes more pointed in this post-9/11 world. The Zeitouns’ fascinating story of survival in the face of loss and discrimination makes both catastrophes undeniably real to the reader.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The contents of the No Plot? No Problem! novel-writing kit are snarky and fun if you need a pick-me-up, but you shouldn’t expect any life-changing advice. Baty attempts to prepare you for a month-long writing endeavor with equal parts humor and advice, but the whole thing feels corny. In my opinion, it’s better to leave the support and advice to the thousands of NaNoWriMo-ers who are churning out word counts alongside you.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

“No Plot? No Problem!” novel-writing kit by Chris Baty

Title: No Plot? No Problem! novel-writing kit
Author: Chris Baty
ISBN: 9780811854832
Pages: 48
Release date: September 14, 2006
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Genre: How-to guides
Format: Hardcover case
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 1.5 out of 5


Did you miss out on all the noveling fun in November? Or are you inspired to keep on writing even after NaNoWriMo?

The No Plot? No Problem! novel-writing kit aims to keep you motivated whether you begin your challenge in December or July (just try to avoid February, unless you truly crave a challenge).

Contents of the kit include:

  • A 44-page booklet of advice from Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo (I assume this is advice excerpted from his larger book, No Plot? No Problem!)
  • Daily flash cards with advice, anecdotes, and quotes meant to inspire you and keep you moving on your word count
  • A pledge to complete NaNoWriMo
  • A pin that says “Novelist”
  • Stickers that say “Ask me about my novel!”
  • A 30-day progress log, with daily word count boxes, a progress bar, and gold foil stars
  • “Onerosity” coupons to disburse when your daily or weekly goals are looking impossible
  • A sealed red envelope that says “I quit,” to be opened only in the case of incredibly low spirits and a precariously high stack of dishes in the sink
  • A diagram of how to walk successfully from the door to your Novel Writing Sanctuary

Baty differentiates his kit from other books by explaining,

Most novel-writing guides set out on the admirable mission of teaching people how a novel works. In these how-to tomes, authors lay out the basics of story and craft, and warn against the common missteps that could sink a novel or brand a writer as an amateur in the eyes of agents or publishers. For all their good information, these books inevitably lack one important thing: actual novel writing. . . . Things are different here. When you dive into your novel next month, I’ll be right there beside you, cheering you on and offering advice to keep your spirits and word count high.


This kit is a whole lotta look, but not much else.

The booklet, flash cards, and progress log are kind of cool, though not entirely useful; I think they might be better as electronic resources.

The booklet contains a lot of statements like the one above, but no real advice for the daily practice of writing. Baty swings to the extreme opposite of most writing guides by offering all pep and no substance. The actual advice being issued really only scrapes the surface of how one goes about writing a manuscript in a month.

I also ordered Chris Baty’s original guide to NaNoWriMo, No Plot? No Problem! (pictured above), but after a month of waiting I marked it as lost in the mail. Perhaps I will try again with another seller in a few weeks, but after surveying this kit, I have to admit that my hopes for anything more substantial from Baty are low.

The kit’s contents are snarky and fun if you need a pick-me-up, but you shouldn’t expect any life-changing advice. Baty attempts to prepare you for a month-long writing endeavor with equal parts humor and advice, but the whole thing feels corny.

After seeing what he thinks will be useful in a month-long writing free-for-all (I mean, coupons promising that I will do things for other people if I miss my goals?! No, thanks. I’m already trying to write a freaking novel, I don’t need Tinker breathing down my neck about a long walk in the woods, too!), I wonder if NaNoWriMo isn’t actually just a cruel joke that Baty dreamed up one day and decided to entice a group of would-be novelists off the cliff with him.

But then I look at the warm, vibrant, optimistic crowd on Twitter, and I realize that NaNoWriMo-ers have all the support, advice, and inspiration they need in their own online community. My advice, after perusing this packet? Stick to November, or get a crowd of friends to write with you some other month, and leave this kit on the shelf.

November is NaNoWriMo!

As of yesterday, NaNoWriMo has begun. In 2009, more than 165,000 participants took on the challenge, and even higher numbers are expected this year.

No idea what that nonsensical word means? As Chris Baty, founder of the movement, explains:

National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo for short—is a 30-day kick in the pants for would-be writers, a no-holds-barred “contest,” in which participants are required to write a 50,000 word (roughly 175-page) novel in November. People sign up through the organization’s Web site, but there are no entry fees, judges, or prizes. What you take away from the month is the experience. And a brand-new manuscript.

In honor of those who undertake this vast but fulfilling project, this month I will be posting reviews of writing-related books. With books featuring valuable advice and tips–from writing prompts to inspiration when you’re feeling all wrung out–these reviews will (hopefully) inspire you to stick with the program.

I began yesterday by posting a review of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, which offers a wealth of knowledge about how to begin writing with publication in mind. Leave a comment on that post to win a free copy of the book!

If you were unable to participate in November but would like to re-create the experience some other month, I will feature 30-day workbooks and kits to keep you going even when it seems like no one else has ever been where you are today.

So to those thousands of NaNoWriMo-ers: I salute you! And I hope to help. If this is the first time you’ve heard of it and you are intrigued by this novel business, check out the craze that has captured the attention of would-be authors from every conceivable profession. The rules are fairly simple:

  • Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
  • Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
  • Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.
  • Of course, I won’t forget those of you who prefer to spend November reading; I will also continue reviewing fiction and non-fiction books that have nothing to do with writing. Because let’s be serious–I could never limit myself to just one genre!