November calendar

November is coming…

I know I’m stating the obvious, but today is October 30, which means that November arrives in 2 days. It is suddenly occurring to me that the world will not brake to a halt to allow me to focus only on my Nanowrimo novel for the month. I know that it isn’t necessary for that to happen, but it would have been nice.

My life right now is made up of an odd set of commitments that are far less restricting than when I worked full-time at Appalachian State, yet still unexpectedly busy. I now have not one but two nonfiction projects that need attention, and it turns out that I will not be able to finish them in October, as I had hoped. Surprise, surprise. I take some comfort that I am better able to multi-task nonfiction projects than if I were to work on two fiction projects at the same time. Still, this now means that I will spend my mornings immersed in novel-writing, and then rather than enjoy the rest of the day in a happy “I wrote something” glow, I will have to return to the keyboard to work on the nonfiction projects.

On the other hand, I am starting to regain a sense of satisfaction in time spent writing, one that gets lost sometimes for inexplicable reasons. Perhaps I have nothing to fear in the month ahead. It will be a chance to spend time with the words, a joy in the act itself that requires nothing more than my willingness to start.

screenshot of Scrivener website

A love note to the Scrivener App

As Nanowrimo approaches, I should talk about the app Scrivener, which I learned about the first time I took part in nanowrimo on their discussion board on technology tools for writing, which tends to be my favorite place to lurk. Many writers there raved about Scrivener, and the company actually offers a free month’s trial that works pretty well for the month of November, and winners of nanowimo usually get a discount to purchase the app, which is reasonably priced for all that it does.

To be honest, Scrivener is half the reason why I switched from PC computers to Mac, (though there is now a PC version). (The other half was the invention of the ipad).

The app was created by someone listed as Keith B., a writer who taught himself to code so he could create the software he needed to write. So not only do we benefit from the insight he brought as a writer, but also from his ongoing commitment to nurture it. If you are curious, you can find out more at his website Literature and Latte:

There’s this saying that is certainly true for me and my almost 2 year old dog Cisco: I want to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.

That’s the way I feel about this software—I want to be the kind of writer this software thinks I am—strategic, organized, productive, and creative.

I often find posts about Scrivener across the web, not to mention plenty of support on the website, so I’ll try not to recreate the wheel in this post. I will just say that I love that this app empowers me to organize and visualize my writing in multiple ways. I can sort and label my scenes easily, moving them back and forth (and sometimes in and out) as I change my mind (often) about the best approach to the storyline. I can link each scene to research, character notes, or setting notes either inside or outside of the app. I especially love that I can view these scenes as index cards, or, my favorite view, to see all the index cards on the left side of the screen and then one specific scene open for editing on the right side.

Plus there are many more bells and whistles that I am still learning.

A few cautions may be in order. The best way to use Scrivener is to start slowly, without trying to learn how to do everything. Just start with your first scene. Gradually discover more options.

The next is to say if you are happy with what you are using, and you aren’t a fan of learning new software, you don’t need to try it. But if you are like me and enjoy trying out different software as a way to manage your work, you might find Scrivener makes the work of the writer easier.

Caution three: There is an iOS version available that works on both the phone and the ipad. I like this option so much because I can view my project on the go, plus the IOS version is a bit more streamlined so that sometimes helps with focus. It’s really a lovely app. I did find that I need to take care not to open my project in more than one device at a time, though. Fortunately, the app gives you many ways to back up and catch conflicts, so I haven’t lost anything, but I think this has created some challenges for some users, so just fyi.

So this week as part of my prep, I’ve set up a special Scrivener file just for this project that I saved in dropbox so I can access it from any device. I will also copy each day’s work into a larger Scrivener file on my desktop. The app has a Project Target feature so I was able to set my goal for 50,000 words by November 30, with a daily word count goal of 1700 words. I put my current notes and ideas into the Research folder, which isn’t part of the word count. In the Manuscript folder, where the words will count, I created a bunch of blank scenes. For each scene, I put prompts in the notes section for possible plot points, such as “inciting event,” or “midpoint,” etc. Over the next few days, I will add other prompts more specific to the storyline as I envision it right now. During November, I will use those prompts as my starting point each day. I don’t necessarily write the scenes in order. Really, I just write whatever I can get myself to write that day! But it works out, one way or another.

Nanowrimo Pep Talk

So I have signed up for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) nine times in the past, and I’ve succeeded seven times in writing 50,000 words or more. Some of those times, I actually did write a brand new novel from scratch, and sometimes I was a NaNo Rebel, revising or fleshing out a revision, or working on a series of shorter pieces rather than one continuous novel.

I love nanowrimo because I get to be part of a community that is celebrating progress in writing, rather than, say, awards in writing or impressive publications… because if that’s the only thing we can celebrate, we won’t get to celebrate very often, nor can we all celebrate together. I also have to admit that it is the act of writing that I love the most.

It helps that I enjoy fast drafting and free writing. It does not bother me that most of what I write will have to be revised later. Plus, I am apparently a sucker for motivational tools such as bar graphs and online badges. I also seem to do better when I write a small amount daily, and I am not the type to shine with last-minute-under-the-gun brilliance, so reaching a reasonable daily word count works well for me. If I fall behind, it gets harder And sometimes life happens, and I just have to say, okay, Nanowrimo is not a good fit with all that is happening in my life right now, and that’s fine.

Bottom line: I can’t wait for November. I have tried the Nano Camp in the summer once, and I’ve considered trying to use the tools they make available at other times of the year, but there is a certain buzz that comes in November because so many other writers are doing this, too.

All of this is leading me, finally, to my main point, which is to try to give a pep talk to people who have wanted to be a part of Nanowrimo but for lots of really good reasons, they can’t participate in the traditional way.

Here are my thoughts, for what it’s worth. First, there are so many amazing writers who probably would gain little from engaging in the Nanowrimo challenge. You may be one of them. Pat yourself on the back. You know who you are, and what works for you, and that’s fine.

On the other hand, if you want to be part of it but the traditional approach to write at least 50,000 words in a month on a brand new novel just won’t work, here is another approach—

Use the Nanowrimo website and word count as a way to celebrate whatever progress you did make, whenever you happen to make it. When I revise, I usually am cutting a lot, not generating words, or sometimes I am just staring at the words and not a lot seems to be happening. If that was the work I needed to do this month, I could just guesstimate at the end of each day what might be the right number of words to represent the quality or length of my writing work. It is as if I give myself a grade at the end of each day.

For example, I might give myself credit for 1,250 words for spending 45 minutes jotting down a few thoughts and revising one sentence to perfection. Such estimates might not be appropriate for, say, a diet or billing a client, but let me be clear: Nanowrimo is only about you writing more. Whatever that looks like. Whatever you want to celebrate. And you don’t have to reach the 50,000 word goal (or even a guesstimated grade) to feel good about what you get done in November.

As far as I’m concerned, any writer who can say, “I got something done,” deserves to be congratulated.

Again, let me stress, if you already know that nanowrimo is not a good idea for you, that’s so fine. But if you really want to try it but you know the traditional approach is not good for you, come join us. It’s all good. There are some people who go onto the discussion boards to celebrate writing 100,000 words by day three, and if we could, we’d all be exchanging looks with each other behind the teacher’s back at that, but it doesn’t matter. You go, 100,000 words in three days! It could be true. It doesn’t matter. No one is getting paid for this. Just let it help you go further. And to be honest, some writers (maybe most writers) produce ten words in a month that are so much better than my 50,000, and I’m trying not to resent that, because I’m going to be happy about my 50k and I want you to be happy about whatever you’ve done that’s writerly. We aren’t competing. That’s what’s so nice about it. We are just cheering each other on as we cross whatever finish line makes sense for us.

wp tagging

#Tag, you’re it.

So I have become aware that tags on WordPress and Twitter are a way of waving your hand to say, hey, read this! I have also been bemused by how many tags people sometimes put on their posts.

I have mixed feelings. I like it when I can tell someone has read, or at least, viewed one of my posts, so I have noticed which tags get more readers (such as #writing). On the other hand, I am still somewhat reluctant to try to draw attention to my posts. I mean, people are busy. What if they regret that 1-2 minutes they spend staring at my words? Or what if they don’t exactly regret it, but I am somehow enabling their web-surfing habit, when what they really need to do is go outside and breathe fresh air?

It’s possible I worry too much.

At any rate, I will still put what seem like appropriate tags on my posts, but lately what I have enjoyed…because my guiding principle these days has been to write in ways that make me want to write more…is to post tags for the fun of it, as a kind of poetic or ironic expression.

So I think I will play with tagging for awhile. As a writer, I can’t help but love the idea of emphasizing words in isolation. And you?

image from website

Preparing for Nanowrimo

So I logged in today to get a load of the snazzy new Nanowrimo website. I am a sucker for new bells and whistles, so it was a treat to explore the new design. It’s very visually-appealing, and it looks as if there are new ways to track and celebrate writing progress that I am itching to try. If you are at all tempted, and I will try to give my own pep talk soon about how nanowrimo should not be a source of self-recrimination, check out the website here: Even if you do not wish to work on a project in November, you might find some helpful tools or discussion boards there. It is free to use, free to participate, though they always appreciate donations, and they partner with librarians and teachers, aka heroes.

I set up my project on there with the catchy title of SF#3, which is code for the young adult/science fiction novel I hope to flesh out, drawn from the third in a series of short stories I wrote years ago.

I then clicked on a link for nano prep, and I found my way to a number of tools and prompts that I can use this month to get ready for November, hoorah. Which also may give me the excuse to post on here when I work on them as a way to celebrate progress. It’s all about progress!

I made baby steps yesterday on my revision of the time management e-book and related projects, but I think I may be able to start to build momentum there, too. So I will likely write blog posts on that topic, too, preferably celebrating progress rather than kvetching about doubts and imperfections… ahem. As I say (too often), fingers crossed.

Hope your writing or other endeavors go well today!

image of task list

Writing goals this week

I am in a mood to talk through my writing goals today. At a writer’s group gathering yesterday, it became clear that I’m not the only one for whom the writing process includes time spent interpreting then overcoming feelings of doubt and time spent trying to choose which project to tackle first.

Hmm. Seems to me I’m about to do a bit of both today.

First, I have decided to work the rest of this month on nonfiction content related to time management strategies. I currently have a little e-book out that unpacks information that was helpful to my college students, but I think it needs a little tweaking in order to engage a casual reader and to work as an e-book. I am wondering whether I should unpublish it and start new, or revise it, even if the revision may be quite different from the original. I haven’t yet decided which answer I prefer, but the good news is that I don’t have to decide that right now, the joy of self-publishing, I guess. Instead, I want to devote time to work on the revision and some related projects to see what emerges. I often experience some doubts about dedicating time to this project, but the truth is I like thinking about and talking about time management, and I want to experiment with self-publishing. And once I feel more confident about the final product, I could finally try a few strategies-that-don’t-make-my-skin-crawl to promote it. Maybe ;).

My other priority will be to make sure I am ready for November, when I will work on fleshing out an initial draft of a SF YA book. My hope is that I will have made tons of progress on the nonfiction ideas so that I can devote myself to my nanowrimo project.

Last year I set a goal to blog daily during nanowrimo, which was a lot of fun, actually, so I may try to do something similar this year.

So cross your fingers for a productive rest of the month! I would hate to manage my time poorly while writing about time management.

Just like a writer

So it is October now, which means November is coming. That is, National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo), my favorite time of year.

I love nanowrimo because it celebrates process, not outcomes. I know there are people who believe life is a zero-sum experience, but nanowrimo lets us all be winners. Heaven knows anyone who wants to write needs that.

I suspect I will be a hybrid nano writer this November. I love the traditional goal of writing a first draft of a brand new novel in the month of November because that is always be my favorite part of the writing process. But I am already in the middle of fleshing out a YA SF novel that has a few scenes written, but lots of holes and notes where the rest of the novel should be. So my goal will be to work on it, which makes me more of a rebel Nano then a traditional Nano, which means… not much. The key is to write.

I will probably talk more about Nano prep this month, but today I want to brag about two good moments in writing I experienced recently, when I felt like, well, a writer :).

Earlier in the month I was spending more time on the YA SF novel that will be my focus for November. I had several days of good writing sessions, but I woke one morning with a sense of dread, fearful that I would not be able to produce anything new. Usually I already have some momentum in my writing, but this time, I knew I had to find a new plot line and address some other challenges with this novel, and I had nothing yet.

But I made myself sit down to write anyway, and it turned out to be a highly productive writing session yielding unexpected and exciting insights into what could happen in this novel.

That was cool.

The second moment has to do with my historical/upmarket novel set during the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot in Wilmington, North Carolina. After countless revisions, I had announced this novel “done,” but in my research into how I might pitch it to an agent, I discovered that I had cut too much, and the total word count might not be enough.

So this month I went in and added 8,000 words.

It was a surprisingly positive experience. First, even though I could be forgiven for being a bit burned out on this novel after so long, I found myself happy to spend time again with some of my main characters. It coincided, fortunately, with feedback from a brilliant writer friend who mentioned one scene was a bit lean (it’s plumper now). I also added a new scene that had been percolating in my head earlier in the process that added some substance to a side character and may make more visible the wealth-stripping aspects of this terrible history. Finally, I surfed through various scenes to see if what might bring it more to life for the reader. At times, I felt like an artist adding extra depth and shading to a portrait.

So that was cool. Not only did it help me manage what I call my revision anxiety, but also the experience gave me more confidence that I really can make unexpected revisions if an editor were to request it.

Just like a writer would.

1619 Project: Muhammad

Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s essay is titled “The sugar that saturates the American diet has a barbaric history as the ‘white gold’ that fueled slavery.”

As always, my goal is to highlight these articles rather than summarize, assuming that you will read the original works.

This line in particular stood out for me:

In Europe at that time, refined sugar was a luxury product, the backbreaking toil and dangerous labor required in its manufacture an insuperable barrier to production in anything approaching bulk. It seems reasonable to imagine that it might have remained so if it weren’t for the establishment of an enormous market in enslaved laborers who had no way to opt out of the treacherous work.

I especially liked the framing of this article in which he reminds the reader of how harmful sugar is to our health, as well as its ubiquity.

I am glad I am not trying to summarize because I could not do justice to this article, which explores the brutality and hardship experienced first by the enslaved people and then after enslavement ended, including ongoing efforts to sabotage Black-owned farms.

It is especially striking that the same prison mentioned by Bryan Stevenson is mentioned here: Angola. Which means that prisoners are forced not only to pick cotton but also sugar, one of the most painful crops to tend, or be forced into the “hole” if they don’t do the job well –which also will affect their chances at earning parole.

I am picturing now the sugar bowl that sits on my kitchen counter. I have been trying to use less sugar for health reasons. But how much worse to consider what I might be stirring into my tea or coffee, the product of such horrors, past and present.

Note: I found time recently to listen to an episode of Pod Save the People, and discovered they discussed this very article, so you might want to check it out, too:

Today in blogging…

So my morning was packed with appointments around town, which tends to undermine my ability to stick to any writing routine. I dictated some blog ideas onto my voice memos app as I drove around, which made me feel productive, even though I did not feel inspired later to transfer those ideas to a blog post later. The topic was too large for a quick blog post, so I will have to be more deliberative, perhaps, slowly teasing out what I really want to say. Or perhaps, what I should say.

The rest of the day passed in a blur, an odd mix of productivity and not-so-much, plus a few more errands for my family. So now it is the end of the day, and I am pondering my goal to write a blog post “first thing” each day with the goals to “be brief” and “be specific.” It hasn’t been happening the way I hoped, and perhaps it shouldn’t. My “first thing” writing time is pretty special to me, and I want to channel it to my top priorities, which are coming into focus. It’s time to dive fully into my SF novel. I’ve been dabbling with it, which has been good, gathering ideas and notes. There was that character chart. All good. But I want to boost it to top priority now. And second priority each day will be to work on a revision (better described as a re-vision) of my time management book.

So I will move the blog to a new location on my (mostly imaginary) daily writing schedule—end-of-the-day. I can still read/reflect on important articles and books. I can use the blog as an accountability partner and process log. I can even talk more about apps I like (way more than you want to hear, I bet!). But not first. Working on the blog will be a reward once I’ve gotten some work done on my top priorities. Okay, new day, new plan. Cross your fingers for me.

Creating character charts on Corkulous

Yesterday I went on and on about how much I love the Corkulous app, and I promised to talk today about how I use it for my novel-writing. Again, I would like to stress that owning this app (that works on iPad or IPhone only, and the pro edition costs 99 cents a month or $7.99 for the year, at least as I write this blog) is not essential—you can use pen and paper or real cork boards and post-it notes to do what I’m doing just as well, and possibly better. But if you like indulging in cool apps, Corkulous is fun.

I’ve taken a screen shot of the blank version of the character cork board similar to the one I am creating for my novel, which has one protagonist, one love interest, two best friends, and two half antagonists/half allies, and all of them deserve extra development on my part so I can bring them to life in the novel.


You can see that I can add a photo, usually a screen shot of a stock photo or minor celebrity who looks the part of my imagined character (in this example, I just used a photo of my puppy dog Cisco). Then I can brainstorm different elements that might boost my descriptions of the characters as well as my understanding of how each one constructs their sense of identity. I find it helpful to associate senses with the character. For my puppy dog, let’s see, that might be the sight of the leash (always gets his attention), the sound of my husband’s whistle, which he can’t resist (he ignores my attempts to whistle for him, the stinker) (I mean the dog, not my husband, fyi), the smell of salmon and eggs, etc.

As for the other categories, the object prompt is one I did for a writing workshop where we wrote about an object that was somehow significant to a character or the story, and it was a powerful exercise, so that’s been helpful to me. It helps me build character and story at the same time.

As for the various favorites, I am working on a SF novel set at least a hundred years in the future (which I agree is very optimistic of me), but I actually assign to each character favorite songs, movies, and books from my lifetime—I won’t necessarily name any of them since one imagines that people will have moved on by then… though I’ve noticed that some of the shows I associate with the past are booming right now (Seinfeld, Friends, etc.). I just use those categories to help me think about what this character would connect with, to get a feel for types.

I have the advantage, being overly indulgent in owning various tech toys, that I can use a keyboard with my iPad, so I can type a bit more on the board than I would if I were entering it directly on an iPad or iPhone screen, but if you don’t have a keyboard, I would recommend just jotting a word or two at most, because this board is really meant as a pre-writing tool to trigger lengthier writing on the novel in whatever medium you use (notebook, word processor, etc).

I will also note that I keep changing how I create character notes for my fiction. I’ve used several templates that I’ve found from different sources, some more helpful than others. Sometimes less is better for these notes, serving as prompts for writing in the novel drafts but rather than generating a lot of writing for hours that I then completely forget when I’m actually writing parts of the novel (or that may just be me?).

Okay, enough about Corkulous and character charts. I will say that knowing I planned to write about this topic for the blog prompted me to move forward on this work on my novel, which was awesome, and now I’m filled with ambitions to use my blog as a tool or a kind of accountability partner to accomplish various tasks on my to-do list (I have, for example, multiple articles backlogged to read and reflect on for various reasons). So that makes me happy.

Hope your week is off to a good start. If you have the chance, let me know if you have any tools or strategies for character planning or cork board systems that you like.