NaNoWriMo, a brave challenge some writers take on every November. It involves a lot of work and a lot of motivation. We asked a few of our authors to come up with some tips to help you if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Check it out!
- Schedule your writing time. This is huge, but the time limit doesn’t have to be. Add writing to your to-do list, but make the goals incredibly achievable. Nothing beats scratching something off a to-do list! When I began my first published novel, PACK OF DORKS, the only time I had to myself were the two and a half hours each weekday my son was at preschool. The temptation to cram those hours with everything I needed to accomplish—from doing laundry to running errands to catching up with friends—was tremendous. I began to add to the top of each day’s to-do list: Write for twenty minutes. That’s it, twenty minutes. I’d drop off my son and pull into a coffee shop, find a table and open my laptop. Then I’d check the clock. Some days, I closed the laptop twenty minutes later on the dot. Most days, I kept on writing until pick-up time. Either way, I had met my goal. Even more importantly, I prioritized my writing. Let’s face it, no one is going to take this calling seriously until you do.
- Remember: not all writing is putting words on the page. The bulk of my early writing time looks a lot like staring into space and eating potato chips. That’s because I’m staring into space eating potato chips. But I’m also thinking about my characters, getting to know them and their tastes and interests, figuring out how they speak and see the world. I might spend hours creating the perfect playlist for the story I’m brewing. All of this counts as writing! Nothing is more intimating than a blank screen, but if you can hold off and only open that document file when your characters are screaming to be heard, you’re going to have so much more fun and be way more productive.
- Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. I think this is a cooking analogy, something about how you can tell if pasta is ready to eat because it’ll stick to tiles. I don’t know; as someone who has twice accidentally melted the interior of microwaves during meal prep, I’m not really all that up-to-date on culinary terminology. When it comes to writing, though, I firmly believe you must, must, must throw everything you’ve got into the story. Reimagine your own experiences, tap into times you’ve shared emotions with your characters, mix in your own authentic observations on life’s absurdities. Not all of this will survive the editing phase. That’s okay. Your best cooked thoughts will stick.
- Going right along with that last one, make it personal. Get under your own skin and then scratch until you reveal what you—and only you—can share with the world. Look, so many books are out there for readers. But your book? Your voice? It’s brand new. So don’t waste your time thinking about trying to make the next Harry Potter or Twilight or Ramona Quimby or whatever came to your mind just now. Those stories have been told. Yours hasn’t. And only you can do it. Yes, it’s not always going to be easy or comfortable. It will, however, be worth it.
- Have fun. You love writing, that’s why you’re doing this. Because you love it, or maybe you love having done it. Either way, honor the magic.
Richie “Ryder” Raymond has a gift. He can find the punchline in any situation, even in his limited vision and prosthetic eye. During the past year at Addison School for the Blind, Ryder’s quick wit earned the respect and friendship of his classmates. Heading to mainstream, or “normal,” school for eighth grade is going to be awesome.
After all, what’s not to like? At Addison, Ryder was everyone’s favorite person. He could make anyone laugh, especially his best friend Alice. So long as he can be first to make all of the one-eyed jokes, Ryder is sure he’ll fit in just as quick at Papuaville Middle School, home of the Fighting Guinea Pigs. But Alice warns him fitting in might not be as easy as he thinks.
Turns out, Alice was right. In just the first hour of “normal” school, Ryder is attacked by General MacCathur II (aka, Gramps’s cat), causes his bio teacher to pass out cold, makes an enemy out town hero Max, and falls for Jocelyn, the fierce girl next door who happens to be Max’s girlfriend. On top of that, Ryder struggles to hold onto his dignity in the face of students’ pity and Gramps’s non-stop practical jokes.
Ryder quickly sees the only thing worse than explaining a joke is being the punchline. But with help from his stuck-in-the-70s Gramps and encouragement from Alice, Ryder finds the strength to not only fight back, but to make peace.
Advice from Kita Murdock, author of the middle grade novel Future Flash.
- You don’t have to be sitting at a desk to create stories. As a working mom of three, it’s challenging to find time to in front of the computer to write, which is why most of my story creation occurs on the running trail behind my house. While running (or driving or even in line at the supermarket) I work out storylines and characters in my head. By the time I get a chance to sit at the computer, I am typing out what I have already developed.
- Seek inspiration. Whether through reading a compelling book, watching a show with a great plot line, or contemplating a piece of art, I am always motivated by other people’s artistic expression.
- Read about the craft of writing. I was an English major and always have been an avid reader, yet when I attempted to write my first novel, I found there was a lot I didn’t know. Plot and Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Bell was an essential read when I was starting out and Stephen King’s On Writing is a book I come back to time and time again.
- Find some good readers. It’s important to find honest editors. My mom and two writer friends always read my first drafts and the pages come back to me covered in useful suggestions.
- Have fun! My best writing happens when I’m enjoying myself and letting myself get lost in my story.
For as long as she can remember, Laney has been having “future flashes”—visions of the future that she sees when she makes physical contact with another person. Left on a doorstep as a baby, Laney’s past has always been cloudy to her, despite the clarity with which she can see the future. Her caretaker, Walt, claims to be her father, but Laney has a nagging suspicion that he isn’t quite telling her the entire truth. And when a new kid, Lyle, moves to her small town, Laney is dreading meeting him—she almost always gets a future flash when first meeting someone new, and the flashes aren’t always good. Unfortunately, her meeting with Lyle isn’t just bad; it’s painful. Engulfed in flames, Lyle’s future flash is the worst Laney’s ever experienced. But what does it mean? Is there anything Laney can do to change the future? And will she be able to save Lyle not only from a fiery death but also from the merciless class bully without becoming a victim of his antics herself?
In this thrilling and imaginative middle grade novel from author Kita Helmetag Murdock, follow Laney as she works against the clock to understand her past and prevent the disaster looming in the future.
Advice from Bibi Belford, author of Canned and Crushed
Bibi Belford’s secret to writing great middle great novels, is the BIC Pill. The BIC Pill is not for everyone; read on for more information:
Medical News Flash: The BIC Pill. Miracle Drug for Writers. Writers flock to pharmacists for the BIC Pill before NaNoWriMo. This new drug effectively produces cohesive and prolonged writing attention. During clinical trials, 87% of writers created hooks with character, voice, and mystery generating novels bursting with concept, character, theme, and structure.
Full disclosure of BIC Pill ingredients: B-Butt, large appendage in rear. I-In, directional preposition, C-Chair, seat on four legs in front of desk. Use of BIC Pill may cause recurring scene revisions, prolonged echoes of character voices lasting more than four pages, and full manuscript requests from agents and editors.
When Sandro Zapote finds out his little sister needs heart surgery, he is determined to help his parents raise the money so she can get treatment. Sandro’s dad is in the States illegally and must work two jobs to support the family. For one, he picks up roadkill for the department of streets and sanitation and gets paid by the carcass. For the other, he collects scrap metal to recycle for cash. Sandro helps his dad with some of the scrap metal heavy lifting, and one headboard, a weight bench, some gutters, and a few car parts later, Sandro has a brilliant idea: can collecting. Save the environment. Save his sister. Maybe even save some spending money for the fabulous, fast new bike he’s been coveting.
Well-meaning and with funny inner monologue, Sandro is the kind of person you can’t help but cheer for. He’s a boy who loves drawing, soccer, and his little sister. And whether he’s fishing a fuzzy, dust-coated turtle out from under his sister’s bed or organizing a school-wide can drive all by himself, Sandro is a smart, self-aware hero who makes just a few mistakes along the way.
Advice from Melissa E. Hurst, author of The Edge of Forever
Last year, while drafting On Through the Never, I was desperate to find a way to focus on writing because I usually procrastinate when I’m stuck. I searched for tips and discovered an app called 5000 Words Per Hour by Sly Fox Applications. It was extremely helpful because I could set the timer to sprint and it would keep up with my average words per hour. I started out sprinting for five minutes at a time, gradually increasing until I was writing for thirty minutes without any urge to procrastinate or edit. Trying to beat each previous sprint’s word count became my goal instead of making everything perfect. I ended up writing almost fifty thousand words in a month using that method.
In 2146, seventeen-year-old Bridger is one of a small number of people born with the ability to travel to the past. While on a routine school time trip, he sees the last person he expected—his dead father. The strangest part is that, according to the Department of Temporal Affairs, his father was never assigned to be in that time. Bridger’s even more stunned when he learns that his by-the-book father was there to break the most important rule of time travel—to prevent someone’s murder.
And that someone is named Alora.
Determined to discover why his father wanted to help a “ghost,” Bridger illegally shifts to 2013 and, along with Alora, races to solve the mystery surrounding her past and her connection to his father before the DTA finds him. If he can stop Alora’s death without altering the timeline, maybe he can save his father too.
50,000 words in 30 days. I know it seems daunting, and it is. I won’t lie. Even the most seasoned of writers will tell you that seeing such a large word count sitting next to any kind of deadline will make them break out into a cold sweat. You’re not alone. But here’s how you do it. One bite at a time. Just like Melinda Mae who ate that whole whale in the Shel Silverstein poem, you can do it. One word at a time.
My best advice for NaNo writers is to try to hit whatever goal you’ve set for that day, no matter what. In a perfect world, you’re set to write 1700 words a day like clockwork. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and if you miss a day, you will need to make those words up so that you don’t fall behind. Stress can be cumulative, so do what you can. If you’ve exceeded your word count and are on fire, KEEP GOING. Nothing beats being on a creative roll when the words are flowing. And bonus, you’ll be ahead of the game and have some cushion for those days when you do fall behind.
Lastly, remember, you’re doing this because you love it. You’re a writer! Have fun and own the process. You can do it!
In Serjana Caelum’s world, gods exist. So do goddesses. Sera knows this because she is one of them. A secret long concealed by her parents, Sera is Lakshmi reborn, the human avatar of an immortal Indian goddess rumored to control all the planes of existence. Marked by the sigils of both heaven and hell, Sera’s avatar is meant to bring balance to the mortal world, but all she creates is chaos. A chaos that Azrath, the Asura Lord of Death, hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.
Torn between reconciling her past and present, Sera must figure out how to stop Azrath before the Mortal Realm is destroyed. But trust doesn’t come easy in a world fissured by lies and betrayal. Her best friend Kyle is hiding his own dark secrets, and her mysterious new neighbor, Devendra, seems to know a lot more than he’s telling. Struggling between her opposing halves and her attraction to the boys tied to each of them, Sera must become the goddess she was meant to be, or risk failing, which means sacrificing the world she was born to protect.
Nabokov said, “The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.” When you’re plotting, make sure that the rocks (or complications) you choose are meaningful. During one chapter of Pandemic, I needed “something bad” to happen. My initial thought was that a house burns down. While that did qualify as something bad, it didn’t really fit. A better complication was that looters steal the main character’s supplies and make her fear for her safety, a running concern throughout the story. So don’t use random rocks—choose them wisely.
Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a supernatural connection. Since her mother discourages these beliefs, Ella keeps her cemetery visits secret. But she may not be the only one with secrets. Ella’s mother might be lying about how Dad died sixteen years ago. Newfound evidence points to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not as a result of a tragic car accident as her mother always claimed. After a lifetime of just the two of them, Mom suddenly feels like a stranger.
When a handprint much like the one Ella left on her father’s tombstone mysteriously appears on the bathroom mirror, at first she wonders if Dad is warning her of danger as he did once before. If it’s not a warning, could her new too-good-to-be-true boyfriend be responsible for the strange occurrences? Or maybe it’s the grieving building superintendent whose dead daughter strongly resembles Ella? As the unexplained events become more frequent and more sinister, Ella becomes terrified about who—or what—might harm her.
Soon the evidence points to someone else entirely: Ella herself. What if, like her father, she’s suffering from a breakdown? In this second novel from award-winning author Yvonne Ventresca, Ella desperately needs to find answers, no matter how disturbing the truth might be.
Advice from Randall Platt, author of Incommunicado
Randall Platt’s Writer’s Toolbox—it’s fun, it’s useful, and it’s portable!
- A thick skin to ward off the naysayers, critics, and rejections
- A healthy ego demanding, “What I have to say is worthy of being read!”
- The courage to come back better and stronger, time after time after time
- The grace to accept a bad review, even from Mumzie
- Duct tape to cover my mouth to remind me that the best way to save face is to keep the lower end of it closed (especially with Mumzie)
- A pen (or reasonable facsimile)
There you are! Go get ’em!
Just about everyone is incommunicado in the small, sleepy Oregon coastal town of Sea Park during the winter of 1941. That is, until Pearl Harbor is attacked. Then Sea Park springs to patriotic life. But is Ruby Opal Pearl (aka Jewels) Stokes the only person to see what’s really happening here? Tommy Kaye, the one person in her life who has provided security, shelter, and a smidgeon of respect—and who owns the biggest resort on the coast—is now the cause of the town’s rage. Tommy’s Japanese ancestry makes him the prime target of an angry mob, not to mention he’s also rich, has a shady past (which includes Jewels’s eccentric mother), and everyone in town owes him money.
As the town’s patriotism blossoms into paranoia and turns violent, Jewels has to do something to protect Tommy from internment (or worse), even if that something is going up against the town and the government, not to mention the FBI. Thus begins a twelve-year-old girl’s war within a war.
Advice from Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of Fear the Drowning Deep
When you’re stuck, moving past the block is the hardest thing.
My advice on how to push through while drafting is to focus on the next scene you’re really excited to write (for me, usually a romantic scene!). Hold that exciting scene in your mind, as it’ll motivate you to keep drafting so you can get to the good stuff!
Sixteen-year-old Bridey Corkill longs to leave her small island and see the world; the farther from the sea, the better. When Bridey was young, she witnessed something lure her granddad off a cliff and into a watery grave with a smile on his face. Now, in 1913, those haunting memories are dredged to the surface when a young woman is found drowned on the beach. Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her Granddad to leap has made its return to the Isle of Man.
Soon, people in Bridey’s idyllic village begin vanishing, and she finds an injured boy on the shore—an outsider who can’t remember who he is or where he’s from. Bridey’s family takes him in so he can rest and heal. In exchange for saving his life, he teaches Bridey how to master her fear of the water—stealing her heart in the process.
But something sinister is lurking in the deep, and Bridey must gather her courage to figure out who—or what—is plaguing her village, and find a way to stop it before she loses everyone she loves.
Advice from Tara Sim, author of Timekeeper
I was in an accident. I got out. I’m safe now.
An alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, where a damaged clock can fracture time—and a destroyed one can stop it completely.
A prodigy mechanic who can repair not only clockwork but time itself, determined to rescue his father from a Stopped town.
A series of mysterious bombings that could jeopardize all of England.
A boy who would give anything to relive his pat, and one who would give anything to live at all.
A romance that will shake the very foundations of time.
The first book in a dazzling new steampunk-fantasy trilogy, Timekeeper introduces a magical world of mythology and innovation that readers will never want to leave.