Category Archives: National Novel Writing Month

What I Learned This November

As November comes to a close and with it another NaNoWriMo, I look back at the insanity that is always there but always different. Three years I’ve written a full novel in November. Last year I was editing a completed novel – some call that mid-project. This year, I had a half-baked idea that I tried to write by the seat of my pants with basically no preparation – otherwise known as pantsing. Which I hate, for the record. I’m sure you’re wondering whether I “won” or not this year. Did I go the distance. The answer is no – and yes.

In the literal sense, I did not win this year. An official win consists of fifty thousands words – any words – written in the course of the month. In total, I was able to crank out just under thirty thousand words.

In the broader sense – that of being a professional author – I did win and learned new lessons along the way.

I learned that I cannot write productively without having a plan. Pantsing a novel is not for me. Not now. Probably not ever. I also learned that I am far more productive when I write what inspires me rather than trying to force a story that I don’t feel in my gut.

I write and read mostly dark fiction – not always horror but always dark. My oldest daughter has become an avid reader and really wants to read my stories. Every time she has tried to read my work she has to put it down because it scares her too much. She requested a story written for her, not too dark and not too scary. I tried. I really did. But I failed. I was bored so I barely wrote anything each day. All the great ideas I had that excited me would have turned it very dark very fast so I didn’t indulge my inner muse.

This same lesson of productivity being driven by excitement was cemented when about three weeks in I abandoned the flailing idea and instead wrote something I’ve been thinking about for months and just hadn’t had the time to focus on. The words poured out of me – thousands by the day over one weekend – and I made up quite a bit of ground. As a professional author, I know this lesson will do me well in the coming years. Translated into a bigger context, don’t write what you think will sell or what the next big thing is. Write a story that excites you. Either you’ll sell it or you won’t. Guaranteed it will feel less like work regardless.

This marked the eighth year I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo but in truth I write like it is NaNo all year long thanks to the habits formed in November. Consistent writing and putting in the work of learning the craft are the best rewards there are to embarking on this crazy journey year after year. I have multiple publishing credits to my name and I’m well on my way to my goal of publishing novels thanks to National Novel Writing Month and those who organize it every year. There was a badge this year you could earn by updating your word count for thirty days in a row – sort of the booby prize in case you didn’t get the word count for an official win. I wrote every single day in November and am just as proud of that badge as I would have been for a win in the word count.

Until next year, NaNo – thanks for all the memories and all the lessons.


When Life Ups the Ante

It’s the first week of November – a time synonymous in my life for writing a novel in a month for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I do this every year, without fail. Some years I succeed at fifty thousand words by the end of the month, sometimes I don’t. It isn’t about winning, it’s about consistency.

Anyone who has participated in NaNo knows that the first week is filled with excitement on many levels. The shiny new idea still hasn’t revealed all the plot holes and questions you haven’t thought how to address yet. The sleep deprivation hasn’t really set in either – plenty of time for that later. The family and friends haven’t gotten sick of hearing “maybe next month” because I’m obsessed with staying on track with my word count. Week two is when everything starts to shift toward procrastination and life stuff getting in the way, when the need for the momentum of a great week one to get through it is serious.

This year is different for me. Usually NaNo is the most insane and time-consuming endeavor in my life once November rolls around. This year, 2015, NaNo week one is also week two of traveling for work – the day job that is. Sleeping in a hotel and working between thirteen to fifteen hours every day. By the time week one of NaNo rolled around I was already sleep deprived as if it was week four of NaNo–without a single word written to show either. No amount of coffee or Dr Pepper has helped combat the exhaustion enough for any significant writing. Although given this, I’m taking the fact that I’ve writing an average of 500 words a day this week – every day. In truth, I’m in bed by nine thirty every night so I can wake up at four for my next shift. If you know how much of a night owl I am, you’ll know how incredible that is. Bed-before-my-child-is-home-from-dance-twice-a-week kind of incredible.

I’m thrilled that my work travels are done and I’m headed home to reconnect with my poor family who has had to fend for themselves without my iron organization and management for the past two weeks. Here’s hoping I can make up lost ground in week two of NaNo – stranger things have happened, right?

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Are you writing a novel this year? If you are, hit me up on NaNoWriMo.org and let’s be buddies! If you’ve ever uttered the words “I’ve always wanted to write a novel” or “I wonder if I could write a novel” then I hope you’re already embarking on this great adventure. And if not, why not?


The evolution of November

December is here and with it came the end of this year’s NaNoWriMo. So many things have changed for me this year. The drastic shift started back in February when I decided to start actively pursuing this insanity called publication. So I shouldn’t be surprised that NaNoWriMo and the part it plays in my writing has also changed. This year I’m not working on a new story, I’m revising an old one so I can sell it soon. That’s the plan anyway. Even knowing that’s where I’m at, I still feel guilty that I didn’t “win” this year. That’s how much a part of me this silly thing I do every November has become.

What did I do in November INSTEAD of finishing NaNo? Lots of things…

I’m working with some amazing authors to create a non-profit organization for writers with a community and collaborative focus rather than book sales. A professional organization for writers like no one has ever created before that gives back to members at all levels as well as the public at large. It’s super fun but part of me wonders why I gravitate to being in charge of things rather than just being a participant. Not in my nature apparently. It doesn’t feel like work, but if you add up all the time I have put into it, I’ve done quite a lot the last month toward this collective vision that we hope will be amazing.

I submitted a short story to a very prestigious writing contest for as-yet unpublished authors. Wait, I know I’ve been hinting at publication news for a while now but I still don’t have a signed contract to purchase my story. It is slotted for a short-story collection due out next year but until the deal is done and signed I’m not talking about it as a past-tense reality. Doesn’t mean I’m not super excited about it, I just don’t want to jinx it. Yes, deep down I’m a neurotic writer. See? This contest comes with cash prizes for the winners and some pretty impressive writing credentials if I’m a finalist – including publication. But I won’t know until months from now. And we all know how impatient I am. Luckily I have things to take my mind off the waiting. This was one of my specific goals for this year so checking it off my list was a pretty significant milestone for me.

Because I do have a pending deal, I must have a “real” website with a URL that doesn’t include “blogspot” or any of the other free sites. In other words, I have to get legit. So in all my free time (ha!) I’m building a website to migrate my blog to. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to follow me when I go and, if everything works out the way I hope, all my past content will come with me. We’ll see when I get to that point. Building websites is not a job I want – full time or part time. It kind of sucks. I’m really good at what I know and having to start over with an associated learning curve is frustrating.

Because I have to get legit, I had to get professional head-shots taken so I can use them everywhere people expect. Prompted by a deadline for said pending publication deal, I had to get them done ASAP. Imagine my horror when I found out you can’t use your smartphone to take a selfie and use that. I was a photographer in a past life before I started writing and I’m better behind the camera than in front of it. However, I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. It helps to have a long-standing relationship with a photographer you trust… Voila! Big hair to match my big personality.

Hubby said the other day, when I was apologizing for all the time I’ve spent away from normal family life lately, that it was to be expected since “writing isn’t a hobby anymore”. Imagine that. My hobby isn’t a hobby anymore, it’s a business that will someday pay off. I have no delusions of ever replacing the lucrative income from my corporate job but you never know. Stranger things have happened.

I let a beta reader take a gander at my story that’s getting ready for public appearance. She immediately started drilling me about the world I’d built and characters I’d created that had already become real to her. She needed answers and she needed them now. Guess I better get cracking on THAT novel soon, too.There are now more stories and novels in the pipeline than I ever thought possible.

When I look back at where NaNoWriMo has taken me, I’m okay with my Novembers evolving into something different. Maybe next year I’ll be in the first draft arena of another story so I can participate. If not, at least I’ll still be writing!


Why you can’t "do" NaNoWriMo if you are revising – my latest epiphany

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year? And then I decided I was a big fat liar since I was going to do it but bend the rules and not write something new? I’m here to tell you it wasn’t a good idea. When I’m drafting a brand new story, I can bust out a couple of thousand words a day and finish while still having a life – or whatever my life usually resembles. Revisions are not the same as vomiting a story from your subconscious with the motto running through your head of “Write First, Ask Questions Later”.

I’ve written consistently this month – six days a week with the exception of the two days I was too sick to stay awake that long. But I only have 20,000 words to show for it. So what the hell is happening?

Revisions are FAR different from first drafts. I delete more words than I write because I’m focused on quality rather than sheer quantity. I’m trying to write coherent scenes that tie together and take my characters from where they are to where I know they are headed. The place they must be headed if the story is to remain consistent. And entertaining. And marketable. And entertaining. You get the point. So while I’ve been consistent, I’m only averaging about eight hundred words a day.

I started out the week feeling dejected as I saw everyone I know near the finish line. I felt stressed that the goal of “winning” with 50,000 words was slipping further and further from my grasp as this week continues with more of the same productivity. But then I remembered that my personal goal this year is very different. I’m still on track for that goal which is the only thing that’s important.

I will “win” when I finish this revision by the end of December. Oh, and submit a short story to a writing contest. Because why not? I’ve had the idea knocking around in the back of my mind and recent events make it possible to do it without treading into murky “it can’t be published yet” waters. (First rule of publishing: release deadlines never stick!)

It is uncharted territory I’m exploring. The path to figuring out exactly how to write a novel was long and fraught with hardship. Now I’m on what I’ve declared as the path to getting published. I fear it will be just as difficult and just as fraught with obstacles. But damn it’s exciting to be here!


Halfway there check-in

What is it with November? Do I get sick every year coincidentally or is it a side-effect of NaNoWriMo? It is week three and I’m behind because week two – the dreaded week two – had me sick and unmotivated. Week one went splendidly and I was on track for the minimum recommended word count. Week two, I penned in the couple of hundred of words a day range instead of the thousands that I needed – if I wrote at all. Now I’m thousands of words behind.

I could wallow but the real goal is to revise this novel so I’m focusing on the fact that I’ve written seventeen thousand words toward that. I’m still plugging along and loving this revision process. I know exactly what the ending looks like, and exactly what I need to be writing toward from the beginning. I know what needs to be foreshadowed, and what motivates my characters. Most of them, anyway. About half of what I’ve written is brand new stuff because I added supernatural elements and changed the story in fundamental ways. It’s been fun, even if it’s been exhausting. I could definitely get used to this revision thing thanks to having a fabulous developmental editor I can employ as soon as the first draft is written.

See you on the flip side of November… win or lose I’m sure to be sleep deprived and highly caffeinated but loving every minute.


Embarking on Revisions – and why I’m a big fat liar

Game on for NaNoWriMo 2014! Wait, what? I know. Right now you think my addiction is showing and pray that I get some help after my confession just ten short days ago. But let me explain…

When I set out last year to write my second novel, I swore it would be the one that I figured out the fearful and overwhelming process of Revisions with. All of 2014 so far has been devoted to just that. What I didn’t know, is that after I employed the services of a developmental editor it would be necessary to re-write basically every scene. Every. Single. One. Oh, and add in more of course and layer in more elements that are still missing.

My editor is phenomenal. Sometimes I hate what she tells me but it is always spot on. Seriously, if you’re a writer and you haven’t found an editor you trust then you have a moral imperative to find one. After ten years of working together, I know I can trust her not to lead me astray. (She is for hire, if you’re in need.)

I got my edits back a couple of days ago, had a meeting with her (on our yoga mats, it was beautiful) and hashed out the big things that need to be tackled. I came away knowing that while I am not writing a new story this November I’ll be completely re-writing my current one. I may as well use the website tools to track my progress and milestones and keep me on track and motivated for the entire month. Does it make me any less of a NaNo’er that I am writing 50K works of a story I’ve already hashed out? It might, but I don’t care. I will donate to cover the costs of my usage and my conscience will rest easy about my little white lie.

Holy shit, I have 11 days to prepare! And lots of questions still unanswered. Better get brainstorming… If you need me I’ll be re-visioning. Otherwise known as re-writing. There’s still time to join me and all the other November novelists at www.nanowrimo.org


Why I’m NOT doing NaNoWriMo this year

It’s October. Weeks away from my historically statistical most productive writing month of the entire year. My email is hopping with updates from National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) getting me geared up and ready. My creative juices are already brewing and I’m on a roll with new material waiting to spew forth…I’m like an addict in need of intervention!

Hi, I’m Terra and I’m addicted to NaNoWriMo and writing first drafts.

It’s been a very fruitful year for me in the writing department. And my writing group already intervened months ago forcing a commitment from me to revise one of my first drafts between now and February. I told them I would be ready to pitch to agents and publishers by then to see if I can get someone to buy one and publish it. So, I won’t be using November to write a shiny new novel – a skill I’ve mastered after having done it so many times already. Instead, I’ll be revising. A piece of the craft I have yet to master as well as the first draft. Probably a better use of my time in the grand scheme of things.

After LTUE last year I committed to writing short stories to figure out how to revise on a much smaller scale. I did it – with a story I’m super proud of but which is on draft number seven – seven – in preparation for publication. (Yes, I might have some very exciting news coming soon!) If it takes seven drafts of a novel to get it ready, I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. Guess I better get to it! If you need me, I’ll be writing – I mean editing!


NaNoWriMo 2013 Recap

Is it me or is this getting easier?

I’ve done National Novel Writing Month six times now – not including the failed Camp NaNo attempt this past summer that never really got off the ground. This was my third year winning and the first time I not only finished the 50K word count but also finished the rough draft of the novel I had started. It was also the easiest attempt in my memory. I have a theory about why…

Is it because I had already completed a rough draft of my first novel and know how to get to “The End”?

Is it because I have used all these years to build a habit for daily writing – at least during November?

Is it because I planned ahead this time with character studies and a plot outline before November hit?

I think it has a lot to do with all three of these key elements.

This November was not the perfect month to pick to impose this crazy deadline on myself and life threw even more wrenches into the works. I was too tired on Halloween to stay up past midnight and write a couple thousand words to start off with a buffer like I always have before. Little Sister (who is now three) came down with a nasty flu at the end of week two and I had to hold her while she suffered with high fevers for a solid week. The only time I could write was while she was drugged and sleeping. Then one night of planned house guests a couple of days before Thanksgiving turned into three days and I could only write after everyone had gone to bed – much later than a normal night.

With all of that plus the craziness that always comes with my life anyway, I still managed to write every day except three over the course of the entire month. And I hit the daily word count goal an average of four days every week. I caught up little by little on the nights I wrote well and spent the weekends holed up with my laptop while my family tried to manage itself without me at the helm. Big Sister did her own laundry to help out a couple of times, and my amazingly supportive Hubby did dishes and grocery shopping all month and even cooked huge meals on the weekends when there was more time so we could eat reheated leftovers during the week. As a result, I only stayed up past midnight once the entire month – very unlike any of my previous winning attempts. And, I was DONE EARLY and enjoyed a celebratory date night on November 30th which was super strange. Usually I’m frantically clawing for word count to validate my novel with minutes to spare in the wee hours before the 30th comes to a close.

So how did I really do it?

  1. I spent all of October fleshing out characters and plot points so all I really had to do in November was write the story I’d already thought through. Of course I got halfway through and realized the plot was far too elaborate and my characters had gone and gotten us pretty far off course so I had to rethink the ending but that wasn’t as hard as I imagined.
  2. I invested in software especially designed for writers that made managing my plot a breeze. (If you haven’t checked out Scrivener, do yourself a favor and do. It is super affordable and once you start using it you are hooked.) This allowed me the flexibility to write those scenes I’d planned to happen in the order I was inspired to write them rather than how I planned to lay them out. Keeping the creativity juices flowing made the actual writing so much more effortless.
  3. My family and all my friends were on board and supportive of my efforts. This is huge and I can’t stress enough how important it is. Writing is like having a job and if you want people to take you seriously you have to treat it as such. My family knew that I had scheduled the time after the kids went to bed at 9:00 until midnight every night to devote to writing and then large chunks of each weekend as well. Friends supported me from afar and didn’t extend invitations they knew would tempt me from my writing.
  4. I didn’t deprive myself entirely of those things in life that keep me grounded and happy. All three of the days that I didn’t write were nights that I used wisely. One night I spent with Hubby; one was an impromptu night of laughter, tears and wine with a friend that went further in recharging my batteries than I might have imagined before I spontaneously threw caution to the wind on a whim; and I didn’t write on Thanksgiving. I still did yoga three to four days a week. And I still went to my monthly book club. I could do these things because they helped me stay focused on maintaining the daily word count when I was writing so I could slow and steady win the race.
  5. I wrote every day (with the noted exceptions above) whether I was inspired to do so when I sat down or not. This made it so I didn’t ever get so far behind that I had to do massive feats of will (or caffeine) to write enough to catch up. Remember the last time I won when I wrote something like 18K in the last five days? That was insane and I swore I would never do it again. Instead, I never got more than about 3K behind the 1667 words a day pace and was able to keep the goal easily within sight. It seems like the simplest and silliest writing advice anyone ever gives when they say “Just write” but that has boiled down to the key for me.

This year was noteworthy because all four of us in my amazing writer’s group finally did NaNoWriMo together. Most of us have attempted it at some point or another over the past six years but this was the first year that all four of us planned ahead and were poised to participate at the same time. It was amazing to have each other for support and everyone agreed – win or lose – that we learned something AND wrote more than we would have if we didn’t participate. Everything is better with friends to lighten the load and ease the pain, to share the excitement and the milestones, and to lament the frustrations that come with any worthwhile endeavor.

I’m taking the month of December off to celebrate the holidays and reconnect with my family. And come January I will again embark into uncharted territory when I begin the process of editing my rough draft from the messy, grammatically incorrect, tense-switching, inconsistent and full of plot holes state it currently is into something worthy of submitting to agents and publishers. It is sure to be a wild ride!


I did it… again!

There is a pattern emerging… I do NaNoWriMo every year but I only win every other year. This time I finished six hours before the deadline (a first). I ended up on a date with Hubby that night feeling guilty that I was out in the world enjoying myself when it was still November (gasp!). I’m taking the weekend off from writing… a rest I fully deserve. Then I’ll recap for your reading pleasure, as always!


A Day in the NaNo Life

It struck me this week how life throws so many curve balls especially in November. I appreciate the challenge that this seemingly insane deadline offers in and of itself and how it is designed to take my “someday I’ll be a writer” dream one step closer to reality with solid work habits when it comes to writing. Because that’s really what doing NaNoWriMo is about for me. But what if your life is completely insane already and then you try to add something like writing an entire novel in a single month onto your plate? You get a day like what I had yesterday which I will now recap for your reading pleasure…

12:30 am – hit the sack for some shut eye after falling asleep over my keyboard and throwing in the towel for the night.

12:30 – 5:30 am – slept like a baby. (Don’t hate me that I fall asleep the second before my head hits the pillow every time.)

5:30 – 5:45 am – claw myself awake, chat with hubby while snoozing my alarm clock

5:45 – 6:00 am – scramble out of bed in a panic, throw on clothes, brush teeth and head for yoga

6:00 – 7:15 am – yoga

7:15 – 9:30 am – get kids up and moving, shower, herd cats kids toward morning routine completion, get both off to school/dropped off at daycare

9:30 am – 2:15 pm – work the day job from my home office. Grabbed lunch on the go between phone calls and ate at my desk.

2:15 – 3:10 pm – parent/teacher conference with Big Sister with a side of book fair to suck more time I don’t have from my day. But she wants to read so how can I not?

3:10 – 3:30 pm – more cat herding to get Big Sister ready for dance and dropped off while Hubby picks up Little Sister from daycare

3:30 – 5:30 pm – work the day job

5:30 – 8:00 pm – family dinner to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. Tried to enjoy family togetherness without stressing about how far behind in my word count I already am and how I can’t afford to be there having fun.

8:00 – 9:00 pm – bedtime cat herding routine and kids tucked into bed

9:00 – 9:30 pm – coffee brewing and Facebook and chasing Little Sister back to bed

9:30 pm – 12:00 am – dedicated writing time which I also filled with unnecessary Facebook browsing because the writing isn’t flowing and hey, look, someone commented on my post! (Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?) An hour in I cut off my connection to the internet and tried not to obsessively need to update my word count online after every paragraph…

12:00 – 12:30 am – compose blog because it is all fresh on my mind, I don’t want to try and capture this later plus the two cups of coffee I consumed during my writing block just kicked in and I’m not tired now. In fact, I’m kind of giddy and I need to do something or I’ll post ridiculous (and giddy) Facebook status posts that no one else will think are as funny as I do because I am beyond looney at this point of the night and wired on caffeine and sugar. WHEE!

12:30 – 12:45 am – hit the sack, because even though I probably could stay awake and catch up the fifteen hundred words I’m behind, if I don’t get some sleep there’s no way I can function tomorrow at work.

There you have it – a day in the life of my November this year. Part of me wonders if I really have it more crazy than other people or if I just like to think of myself as different than most. I also found myself thinking about how if this “someday I’ll be a writer” dream were to come true, there will certainly be a time where I could be a published author but not making enough money to quit my day job. In which case, this is what my life every single day would look like – only hopefully less addicted to Facebook. In moments of weakness, part of me wonders if I really have it in me for more than a month… but I keep writing anyway!