Archive | October 2011

How Are You Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo?

Here’s my plan:


1. Figure out genre. (Check)

2. Build my characters. (Check)

3. Plan a couple of plot ideas. (Check)

4. Clean the house. (Check – but only because my parents AND my in-laws came to visit!)

5. Clean desk. (Check – also due to visitors!)

6. Freeze some easy suppers. (Ummm…)

7. Stock the house with groceries. (Not done)

8. Buy coffee and chocolate. (Also not done)

9. Make sure my son’s molars have all come in. (Not done. Hello, sleepless nights!)

What’s your plan? Why don’t you leave a comment and let me know? I’d love to hear it!

NaNoWriMo: The Rules


There seems to be some confusion about the rules of NaNoWriMo. The rules state that you have 30 days to write 50,000 words. You have to start a new project, from scratch, on November first. To be an official participant, you cannot work on a project you have already started. All you are allowed to do beforehand is a plot outline and character building. Here are the rest of the rules copied from the NaNoWriMo website, I hope they help:


Rules and Regulations

Can I share writing duties with a partner?

No. But we would like to take this opportunity to plug our Script Frenzy event. Script Frenzy participants write a 100-page stage play or screenplay in April, and for Script Frenzy you are welcome to work with a partner.

What genres are okay? Can I write fanfiction? How about a memoir?

Any genre of novel is okay for NaNoWriMo. Yes, really, any genre. Fan fiction is okay. Steamy adult content is okay (as long as you are careful about where you post it!). Memoir is a sticky one; as long as it is fictionalized, it is okay, too. We just want you to be excited about writing. If what you’re writing doesn’t qualify as a lengthy work of fiction, we’ve set up a group for NaNo Rebels in the forums.

Can I write one word 50,000 times?

No. Well… No.

Do I have to start my novel from scratch on November 1st? Can I use an outline?


This sounds like a dumb, arbitrary rule, we know. But bringing a half-finished manuscript into NaNoWriMo all but guarantees a miserable month. You’ll care about the characters and story too much to write with the gleeful, anything-goes approach that makes NaNoWriMo such a creative rush. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate, and you’ll tap into realms of imagination and intuition that are out-of-reach when working on pre-existing manuscripts.

Outlines and plot notes are very much encouraged, and can be started months ahead of the actual novel-writing adventure. Previously written prose, though, is punishable by death.

What if I don’t finish? Or hit 50,000 words but I’m only halfway through my novel?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

And the 50,000-word goal is a threshold, not necessarily a stopping place. Reaching 50k and realizing you still have a lot of wrapping up to do is a good thing—it gives you something to come back and work on later. You will still win if you reach 50k but have not yet completed your novel.

Can I keep writing and adding to my word count even after I’ve had the novel validated and collected my winner goodies?

Absolutely. Validation simply confirms that you have crossed the 50,000-word mark. You can continue to add to your word count in the usual fashion until 11:59:59 PM, local time, on November 30th.

How do you win NaNoWriMo and what are the prizes?

The way to win NaNoWriMo is by writing 50,000 words by midnight on November 30. Every year, there are many, many winners. There are no “Best Novel” or “Quickest-Written Novel” awards given out. All winners will get an official “Winner” web badge and a PDF Winner’s Certificate.

The real prize in NaNoWriMo is the manuscript itself, and the exhilarating feeling of setting an ambitious creative goal and nailing it. And the $1,000,000.

Just kidding about the $1,000,000!

The actual winning process works like this: From 12:00:01 AM, local time, November 25 until 11:59:59 PM, local time, on November 30, all participants who have written more than 50,000 words can have their winning word counts verified by our site. Uploading your novel to the Word Count Validator makes your NaNoWriMo victory official, gets you listed on our Winners Page, and routes you to the secret spot where you can collect this year’s winner’s certificate. It will also turn your word count bar purple.

To become a winner, first make sure that you have written a manuscript that is 50,000 words or longer. Then sign in to the site, click on Edit Profile, then scroll down to the area labeled Word Count Validator. Copy and paste your entire novel into this box. Then hit the “Submit” button, and prepare for your accolades.

We understand that you may be reluctant to upload your novel to a random website, even to one as winsome as ours. If you are using Microsoft Word it is very easy to completely scramble your novel before uploading it in a way that will not affect its word count.

1. Open the file and make a new copy of your novel using ‘Save As…’
2. Open the Find and Replace dialog box (Edit -> Replace) or (Edit -> Find -> Advanced Find and Replace in Word 2007).
3. Click the “More” button to expand the box.
4. Check the “Use Wildcards” checkbox.
5. In the “Find What” field, put this: [a-zA-Z0-9] (include the square brackets, no spaces before or after)
6. In the “Replace With” field, put this: a
7. Click “Replace All”
8. Select All (Ctrl+A) and Copy & Paste into the validator!

The procedure for Open Office is essentially the same, except that Open Office refers to ‘Regular Expressions’ instead of ‘Wildcards’. (Thanks to Peter Dudley for this advice!)

You can get the same effect in a more cumbersome way by just doing a find-and-replace on every letter in the alphabet, one letter at a time. Open the find-and-replace interface on your word processing program and tell it to replace every “b” in your story with an “a,” and every “c” with an “a,” then every “d” with an “a.” And so on.

We realize that people can cheat and upload something that’s not a novel and still “win.” But since the only real prize of NaNoWriMo is the self-satisfaction that comes with pulling off such a great, creative feat, we don’t really worry too much about people cheating. Those who upload 50,000 words they copied from just to see their name on the Winner’s page are pitiful indeed, and likely need more help than a downloadable winner’s certificate can provide them.

When and how do I start writing?

You begin writing at 12:00:01 AM local time on November 1. You write your novel off-line, on whatever word processor you like. If you write 50,000 words or more, you upload the manuscript to our site between November 25 and November 30 at 11:59:59 for word-count verification to win.

Where do I write? Do I have to write my novel on your site?

You write on your own computer. Or by hand. Or on a typewriter. Or on your iPhone or iPad. Basically, you write with your own materials, on your own materials. You don’t write on our website! There is a place that lets you upload an excerpt of your novel to share with your writing buddies, but don’t use that as your writing space! Every year, a few Wrimos get confused and start writing there, only to accidentally delete what they’ve written later. That makes us very sad and leads to chocolate binge-eating here in the office. Don’t make us over-eat. Write on your own computer.

Also, be sure to frequently save and back up your work. Once every three or four days, at least, is a good routine. E-mail yourself a current copy of the novel, or save it to a CD or DVD, or transfer it to another computer.


How to Outline a Plot For Your Novel

Only three more days until NaNoWriMo starts! Have you outlined a plot for your novel? Here’s how!


There are lots of different ways to plot a novel. Some authors have extremely detailed outlines that are almost as long as their novels. Some authors don’t plot out a single thing, and just see where their writing leads. Then there is everything in between. I tried all the different methods before I finally settled on one I liked. I thought I would share my insights with you.


The first three novels I tried to write, I didn’t plot anything. All my story ideas start with a spark, as I call it, and then I build the characters. A “spark” is basically an opening scene, a nice piece of dialogue, or an interesting event. Those three novels never got beyond 10,000 words. I always got to a point where I had written myself into a corner and couldn’t figure out where to go from there.


The next novel I wrote was the first one I finished. For this one, I plotted out every single scene (around 50 I think) on note cards, shuffled them around until they were in the perfect order, and then wrote the whole novel, sticking faithfully to my outline. Yes, I finished it, but I hated every moment of it. There was no excitement, no joyous flash of inspiration that would lead you into a new direction. The writing was fine. You couldn’t tell I hated the process. But it was still a horrible eight months.


The method I use now, and the one that works for me the best, is in between those two extremes. I have my spark, I have my characters, and then I choose ten or so things I want to happen in the plot, including the last scene. The last scene is extremely important to keep you on track. As long as you know where you are going with the whole book, you’re free to explore as many interesting side trips as you want. I have never suffered from writer’s block since I happened across this method, and I still get to have the fun and excitement of having spontaneous flashes of plot delivered by my “Muse”. It’s the best of both worlds.

November First Approaches

It’s almost November 1st, and I’m feeling a little anxious. Why is this important, you ask? Well, for two reasons: Not only is it the first day of NaNoWriMo, but it is also the day when the winners are announced for the Happy Holidays Harlequin Special Edition Contest. Yes, I entered it. Yes, I’m biting my nails. What else do I have going on? I’ve been sending out queries for my YA fantasy again. I also have a query and a sample chapter at Harlequin for another novel I wrote. You’re supposed to call after 13 weeks to make sure they got it. On Monday, it will be 14 weeks. Have I called?

What’s that? What? Oh, the dog wants to go out? Sure, I’m not doing anything important….

Why I Don’t Want to Be “The Next Great American Novelist”

Okay, here is my deepest, darkest, dirtiest little secret: I don’t want to write “important” books. Why? Because, in general, I don’t enjoy “important” books (enjoy is the key word here).   

I can hear your shocked gasps. Okay, okay, before you get outraged, let me clarify that I do like SOME important books. I love Jane Eyre and all of Jane Austin’s works. I love To Kill a Mocking Bird and Gone with the Wind. So why don’t I like the rest?

Honestly? They depress me. Let’s take an inventory:

The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway. (Sorry, Dad.) Depressing? Yes.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. (Sorry again, Dad.) Depressing? Yes.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Depressing? Yes.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Depressing? Yes. (Ooh…. I’m going to get in trouble for that one.)

1984 by George Orwell. Depressing? Yes.

A more modern example? Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. (Although every single high school kid should be required to read this and discuss it.) Depressing? Yes, very.

Now, I’m not saying that just because these books are depressing, you shouldn’t read them. You should. They’re important. (Although I will say you don’t have to read War and Peace. I gave up on it halfway through. Sorry, Tolstoy.) They have important messages, and everyone should read them once. But now I want you to imagine trying to WRITE one of these monsters. Can you imagine spending months, or even years in these worlds, with these characters? By the end, I’d probably be a raging alcoholic. How would you cope with the constant angst and sadness?

The other reason I don’t want to be a great novelist is the responsibility, the constant pressure. How would you ever write another word after your first book was hailed as your masterwork? Wouldn’t you feel you had already published your greatest work, and everything left inside you wouldn’t measure up? Have you ever noticed a lot of the great writers only wrote one full-length novel? (Harper Lee, Margret Mitchell, J.D. Salinger, to name a few.)

All I know is, I just want to write things that make me happy and that make my readers happy. If you’re being honest with yourself, you know you wouldn’t want to spend years in those stories either, would you?

Amy’s Quesadillas

In case you didn’t notice, you, my dear readers, get recipes instead of writing articles on the days when my son had a bad night. And yes, last night was a BAD night. He went to bed at his normal time, slept forty minutes, then woke up and cried until 1 a.m., which was when I gave in and gave him some baby Motrin for his teeth. It helped a little, at least until 5 a.m. *sigh* So here’s a quick, easy, family-pleasing recipe for you! Enjoy!


  • Ten-inch flour tortillas (two per person)
  • Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Medium onion, diced
  • One 4 oz can green chilies (or jalapeños, if you like the heat)
  • One can black beans, drained and rinsed VERY well
  • Salsa for serving

Sauté the onion, beans, and chilies in a little butter. Then spray a non-stick skillet with cooking spray. Place one tortilla in the bottom, THEN turn the heat on to medium. Cover the tortilla with a generous amount of cheddar cheese, then sprinkle with the bean, onion, and chili mix. DO NOT put on the top tortilla yet. Cover the skillet with a lid and let the cheese melt. When the cheese is nicely melted, then put on the top tortilla, pressing it down so that they stick together. When the bottom is nicely browned and crispy, flip the quesadilla and brown the other side. Slide onto a plate, cut into eight wedges with a pizza cutter, and serve with salsa.

*Other filling ideas: green onions, pre-cooked chicken, colby-jack cheese, green peppers, browned ground beef, tomato, bacon (basically whatever you want).

Not the Absence of Fear

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
Mark Twain


I am not afraid to admit that I’m scared of a lot of things, one of which is failure. I am afraid to fail. Sometimes, I am even afraid to try new things, for fear of looking stupid. After I posted yesterday, committing to do NaNoWriMo, I was instantly assaulted with fear. What if I don’t finish, and I look stupid in front of everyone?

For me, there have been quite a few things to be scared of in regard to writing fiction. When I first started writing, I was scared what I wrote would be crap. When I started submitting to agents, I was scared I would get rejected. When I entered the New Voices contest, I was scared that someone would trash my work. Now I’m scared that I’ll fail at NaNoWriMo.

Here’s the thing: I’ve done all these things, despite being scared, and you know what? In a lot of cases, the worst thing that could happen, did. I did get rejected by agents. Someone DID give me a scathing review in New Voices, and when I started writing, my writing WAS crappy. But I did it. Sometimes I got hurt, but I also learned things every single time. My writing is better, and I’m a stronger person. Those are some pretty good reasons to be courageous.

At the end of the day, if you give into your fear, you’re still a failure, even if you are the only one who knows it. And on top of that, you’ll probably have regrets you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life. You might as well do what you’re afraid of. When you’re one hundred years old, you’re not going to look back and say, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t entered that contest and gotten bad-mouthed.” But you are likely to look back and say,” Gosh, I wish I hadn’t been afraid to be a writer.”

NaNoWriMo Again

All right. I’m doing it. I think I like to torture myself. Oh well. Here we go… and thanks to everyone who voted in my poll. The winner was the YA novel, so that’s what I’ll be doing! If anyone wants to check in on me periodically and try to keep me in line on my word count goals, go for it! I could use the encouragement. I will try to blog about my experience as well, as long as my hands aren’t too crippled to type after I finish my daily word count.