Thursday, November 23, 2017

Beyond Word Processing: Useful "Extras" for Story Creation

By Christie Valentine Powell

One afternoon my college roommate, an accounting major, found me pouring over an excel sheet. “You use excel?” she asked incredulously. 

“Yes,” I answered. “It’s useful for writing.”

My roommate still couldn’t believe that a girl with a perchance for fiction would be using the same program she used in her classes—especially if she didn’t have to! In fact, I used excel as early as middle school for keeping track of my characters (and their Pokémon—this was 2000).

Excel is only one tool that writers can use in crafting a story. Using files in addition to your regular word processing files can help a writer keep track of character details; turn the story’s setting into a living, breathing world; and the mundane realities of writing and publishing.


Have you ever read a series where one of the characters switches middle names between books? What about eyes that change color? Or a horse that changes gender? A character sheet can be a great way to keep all those little details straight, especially for minor characters. 

“How do you name your characters?” comes up frequently in writing circles. Many writers have an interest in names outside of fiction, and enjoy online lists and name dictionaries. When I come upon a name that fits my story, I add it to my name excel sheet. The columns go across the top and then I fill in the information about each name. I include a column for “bearer” so I know if I’ve already used the name. I can sort the names to help me narrow down the perfect name for my character. For instance, if a new male Sprite character appears, I can scroll down the alphabet to ‘S’…

and I have a whole list of possibilities.

Drawing a family tree can generate new ideas and help you get to know your character better. This is a must if your story includes many family members or complicated backstory. I use a Paint program (free with most computers) to move names and dates around. This is also especially useful in conjunction with a timeline.



A timeline is especially useful in fantasy novels or any story that takes place over many years. I have a quick reference for births, deaths and marriages; important events in both kingdoms and characters’ lives; and the reigns of kings.  I can easily calculate how old any one character is during a certain event. This also assures that my world is populated by a realistic number of ages: children and the elderly are often overlooked in fantasy stories, but my timeline can help me discern which characters of all ages might be present.

My ‘master map’ is essential for a high fantasy world, but maps can be useful in many genres to help calculate travel times, keep track of multiple groups of characters, include different landscapes, and even visualize which direction the characters are facing. When I publish a book, I take the relevant section of my master map and turn it into an insert for the front of the book.

Another tool for keeping track of characters on a journey is the calendar. It helps you keep track of how long your characters might have traveled and how much time has passed between significant events. For my calendar, I use a template from word perfect, but you can find them for excel, download a program for the purpose, or even keep a physical copy.

Short-story writer Melissa Mead discovered: “I’ve been really stuck on the [work in progress], trying to keep track of what’s happening to who where, when, and why. I even tried outlining, and I’m a major pantser. Then I realized: I don’t need an outline to get a grip on this book. I need a CALENDAR. Never mind what chapter or scene this is, or whose point of view I’m in. Just tell me who’s doing what, where, and when. Even if there’s half a chapter happening on one day and 4 chapters on the next…This way I can even write in what the villain’s doing behind the scenes, even though it’s not in the book.”

Calendars can keep multiple viewpoints straight. And don’t forget the weather! Once, I had just described the vibrant green of a temperate rain forest… only to realize that this was autumn. The leaves would be vibrant, but not green!


My “Chapter Sheet” is a tool I use to help with pacing, though it may be too OCD for some. I keep track of the name and number of each chapter, and then copy down the page numbers from my table of contents. This calculates the length of each chapter so I can determine if parts are too long or short. I color code chapters based on the characters present and the plot points involved. This also helps me compare between books in a series.


I’ve also used excel to keep track of agents and reviewers that I’ve contacted about my books. For reviewers, I listed their name, website, when I submitted to them, and what response I received. I did the same thing for agents before I decided to Indie publish, which also included hints I’d dug up about the sort of books they were looking for.

Where is money going and where is it coming from? At the end of the year I move the total costs, total profits, and year total to another table so that I can compare years and look for patterns… and do taxes (shudder). This is the sheet that my accounting roommate would approve of!

 Much more of your story exists than appears on paper. Take advantage of all your resources! Using files in addition to your word processing can help you keep track of all the additional information and create a story that exists beyond the page.

Christie Valentine Powell lives near the sunniest city in the world with her husband, children, and lots of farm critters. Her first book, The Spectra Unearthed, was published in 2015. She also enjoys hobby farming, making toys, and daydreaming. 

Keita thought being a princess nothing but trouble even before the power-hungry Stygians took over the Spectra kingdoms. Standing up to the Stygians means confronting Jasper Smelt, a former friend who insists he wants to keep her safe. His pitch-black dungeon and fiery threats suggest otherwise. With help from her friends, Keita escapes, but there is no safe place for former princesses. Banding together despite their different cultures, the girls find themselves in the middle of a conflict between the Stygians and a small rebel group. Keita wants to help, but how can she face Jasper, someone with abilities she couldn’t begin to fight, someone constantly seeking her out, someone who fears everything…except her?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Long and the Short of Flash Fiction

By Whitney Hemsath

I’ve been experimenting with flash fiction lately, and I gotta say, it’s fun. It’s challenging, but fun.

What is flash fiction, you ask? It’s a subcategory of short stories. There is a lot of overlap in categories, and the exact word count definitions vary by whoever is calling the shots for that contest or publication, but the following are some general break downs of word counts for various categories under the short story umbrella:

Short Story <7,500 words
Flash Fiction <1,000 words
Micro Fiction <100 words

The terms “short-short” and “sudden fiction” also apply to flash fiction.

Being able to tell a story in so few words is a real art. You have to learn how to get rid of extraneous characters, subplots, descriptions, etc and just hone in on the main character and their story. One of the most famous examples of a micro fiction is a six-word story (often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but there is no concrete source to verify that attribution) which goes like this:

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

It tells a whole, heart-wrenching story in just six words. Amazing, huh?

Notice that it didn’t try to tell how the baby died, or if the baby really did die or if the baby just grew too quickly that they never got around to wearing the new shoes. Short stories, especially flash and micro ones, don’t try to answer every possible question about the story. They often leave things a little open-ended.

As I have been trying my hand at flash fiction, I’ve grown to love it, and here are just a few reasons why:

1) The end is in sight from the very beginning.

When you start a novel, there are often months of planning, months (or years!) of drafting, and then you have to start on edits. Even the most speedy and seasoned of writers will still need a couple of months from start to finish, while the rest of us may need a year or more. But with short stories and flash fiction, you can start and finish in a week or less, sometimes in just a day or an hour. It feels good to say you’ve finished something, and you can actually start submitting your writing for publication long before your beta readers have ever finished reading your novel. It is a satisfying feeling to start and finish a project in a brief period of time. When you are in between projects, or even just needing to step away from your novel for a bit, flash fiction can be just what you need to get the juices flowing again without committing to a larger project like a second novel.

2) Your editing skills are instantly refined.

In flash and micro fiction, every word counts. You should really make every word count in your longer fiction too, but with more word count wiggle room, there is often a few fluff words that sneak in. With a tight word count limit though, you have no choice but to trim the fat. You get really good and ditching adverbs and long descriptions and finding a better verb or more concise phrase to put in their place.

“She marched angrily in the room” becomes “She stomped into the room.” One word gone.  

“He ran as fast as he could” becomes “he charged.” Boom. Five words saved. 

You learn how unnecessary dialogue tags often are, and how you really don’t need all the smiling, nodding and shrugging when those attitudes can be implied through the context of the scene.

You spot weak or passive writing and make it strong and active.

“She began to pace the room” becomes “She paced the room.”

“The room was filled with dozens of hanging lanterns” becomes “Dozens of hanging lanterns filled the room.”

In every case, you shave off one, two, maybe even five words. And it all adds up. I know from experience. I wrote two flash fiction pieces for an anthology challenge issued by LDS Beta-Readers, one themed “Something Lost” and the other themed “Something Found.” In both cases, the word count was 1,000 words, and my rough drafts ended up with 1,557 and 1,936 words respectively. And yes, I managed to cut both of them down to 1,000 words or less.

3) It’s great inspiration for future stories

Many competitions have prompts or themes that can give you the inspiration you need to come up with a new story. And sometimes, as you create a world and characters for that short story, you get ideas for how to expand them into something longer. Quite a few authors have novels born from short stories. (See this article for more details:

So there you have it. Three reasons why I have loved dabbling in short and flash fiction lately. And guess what? I’ve actually submitted four different short/flash/micro pieces in the last few months and they’ve done really well. One is about to be published in an anthology, and two others earned me the ranks of “Silver” and “First Runner Up” in their respective competitions. All resulted from just a few weeks of writing. So yeah. I’m a short story/flash fiction convert. You should really give it a try.

Whitney Hemsath is an author currently residing in Provo, UT who wrangles three small boys and makes a mean pot of zuppa toscana. She has a degree in screenwriting from Chapman University, but switched her interests to novel writing and began writing in earnest in the fall of 2016. Since then she placed 3rd in the 2017 Storymakers First Chapter Contest - Non-fiction division, received silver in the adult division of "The Way of Writers: Building Worlds with Brandon Mull" writing competition for a short story, and was named First Runner-up in the League of Utah Writer's flash fiction contest. Her YA Sci-fi "Song of the Sapien" is just about ready to query and her LDS non-fiction "Types, Shadows and Casseroles: Finding Christ in all Things" will be out to beta readers by the end of 2017. She's also has some LDS romance, dark fairy-tale retellings, and MG mystery coming down the pipeline as well. Her favorite things to write, however, are parody song lyrics and really corny puns.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Academic Insights about Successful Writers

by Becca McCulloch

I’m a sucker for a good book on writing. From Stephen King’s On Writing to Anne Lamott’s Bird in the Hand and John Gardiner’s On Moral Fiction, my library is filled with philosophical tomes full of witty insights and motivational phrases such as kill your darlings and said is dead. The books are inspirational—I flip through them whenever the muse is absent.

But they’re not exactly science. Science is objective. It requires observations of multiple subjects to eliminate bias (assumptions) and create a pattern of predictable outcomes. As a university professor, I’m fascinated by science. So I wondered what the sciences had to say about effective writing.

The subjective nature of writing and storytelling make it difficult to gather empirical evidence, but here’s what I uncovered as I scoured research databases to uncover what objectively contributes to a successful writer:

What are writers like?

Writers tend to be a little on the odd side—outsiders who reject social norms and tend towards idealism. Blind ambition pairs with curiosity to create that zest for creation and understanding. Then you add in an unfortunate tendency towards sadness and a heightened sensitivity. We’re an odd bunch, but it makes us more capable to feel and interpret feelings, which contributes to heightened empathy. This combination of traits makes us more able to describe the complexities of the world (but also makes us likely to become depressed at least once in our lives).

What lifestyle factors do writers share?

Well, given the focus of the publishing world on New York City, you probably won’t be surprised to find out that the most successful writers have lived or worked in NYC at some point. Beyond that shared geography, successful writers tend to have a history of family or personal trauma. This experience tends to form a heightened affinity to persons who are marginalized—the stories that need to be told. In addition, writers tend to be out-of-sync with their social group. It’s actually rare for a family to have multiple writers. Most writers are the oddball artist among more practical sorts.

What behaviors do writers have in common?

We’ve arrived at the factors we can control. Since this is the most important section, let’s pull out that good, old-fashioned bullet list. Here are the top 10 writing behaviors shared by over 80 successful writers:

  1. Seek education about the craft and life in general
  2. Keep a journal and/or life record
  3. Have a spiritual practice of some form
  4. Be purposeful in your life and planning
  5. Use some kind of formal organizational tool for writing
  6. Engage in frequent revision and critique cycles
  7. Meditate on themes and connections in life
  8. Enjoy language—love books and words and the meanings in each
  9. Spend time each day in intentional composition
  10. Be observers of the world and the people in it

What behaviors could you add to your practice to help you be more successful? And if you didn’t find yourself in this, remember this little scientific fact: there are always outliers that defy the data. Be your own person and love the craft. That’s the best way to make your work shine.

Becca McCulloch is a wife, mother, professor, and writer but rarely in that order (if in any order at all). At night, she transitions from mild-mannered educator into mild-mannered artist, writing about LDS (Mormon) issues in a modern and complex world. In 2016, she won the Storymakers' First Chapter Contest/General Fiction category. Becca resides in Utah with her husband, 2 children, Great Dane, two cats, and a pesky, yet friendly raccoon that won't leave the outdoor shed. Her short story, A Fae One, was published in the 2017 LDS Beta Readers anthology Mind Games and she recently released a co-written work under the pen name Liv Bartlet (LDS readers be warned: this one has swears and sexy times).

Amazon Link:
Twitter: @WriterMcCulloch
Instagram: @WriterMcCulloch

1.     Piirto, J. Themes in the lives of successful contemporary U.S. women creative writers. Roeper Review. Vol. 21 , Iss. 1,1998
2.     Yang Shuxian. A comparison of writing strategies employed by successful and unsuccessful EFL writers. Journal of Teaching and Management. Online only. As seen at: Accessed 6/6/2017.
3.     Carey, Linda ; Flower, Linda ; Hayes, John R. ; Schriver, Karen A. ; Haas, Christina.  Differences in Writers' Initial Task Representations. Carnegie Melon. As seen at: Accessed 6/6/2017.
4.     Rosemary S. Caffarella & Bruce G. Barnett. Teaching Doctoral Students to Become Scholarly Writers: The importance of giving and receiving critiques. Studies in Higher Education Vol. 25 , Iss. 1,2000
5.     Ferrari, M., Bouffard, T. & Rainville, L.What makes a good writer? Differences in good and poor writers' self-regulation of writing  Instructional Science (1998) 26: 473. doi:10.1023/A:1003202412203

Thursday, November 2, 2017

How to Start a Mailing List

By Victorine E. Lieske

Mailing lists can be daunting and scary, but don’t worry; it’s not as hard as it sounds! I’ll walk you through how to do it with, but other mail programs are similar, so if you like Mailchimp better, or somewhere else, you can probably apply the same idea to the other program.
The first thing you want to do is sign up for an account. With MailerLite, your account is free until you have a thousand people on your mailing list. Don’t worry; it takes a while to get a thousand people, so you can keep your free account for a while.

Step 1: Go to and click to set up an account.

Step 2: Click Subscribers at the top of the screen.

Step 3: Click Add New Group, it will be a large orange button on the right-hand side of the screen.

Step 4: Name your group, and click Create.

Step 5: Now you need to create a way for people to subscribe to your list. Click on the Forms button at the top of the screen.

Step 6: Click Create Embedded Form if you have a website where you want to put a signup form for your mailing list. (If you don’t have a website, don’t worry, there will be another way to have people sign up. Just keep going.)

Step 7: Name your form, and click Save and Continue.

Step 8: You can choose to create an embed form, or a subscribe button that will create a pop-up form. I’ll go over the steps to create an embed form, but you can mess around with the other if you want. So, click Create Embed Form.

Step 9: Check the box for the email list you’re working on, and click Save and Continue.

Step 10: The next screen will show you a simple subscribe form all filled out. You can keep it the same, or personalize it. For me, I give away a free book when people subscribe, so I changed my wording to let them know if they subscribe, they get a free Kindle book. If you want to see mine in action, here’s the webpage:

Step 11: Once you change your wording to personalize your subscribe form, click Save.

Step 12: Now you can choose if you want to embed JavaScript, HTML, or an IFRAME code. If you’re not sure which works with your website, pick one and try it. You can always change it to something else if it’s not working. I used HTML on mine, but remember to add the HTML to your Source code on your website page builder. (Just find the Source button on the website page builder and copy and paste the code in there, then click Source again to turn that off and see if it worked.)

Step 13: If you can’t get the code put in your website, or if you don’t have a website yet, don’t worry. On the screen with all the code is a Form URL. Copy this and save it somewhere. You can hand out this link, or put this link on your website, and people will be able to sign up for your newsletter using this URL link. If you want to see what your newsletter signup looks like, just copy this link and put it in a new browser window, and go there. See? A cool signup form for people.

You’re done! Now you have a mailing list!

If you get some people to sign up and want to send out an email, just go to your MailerLite dashboard and click Campaigns at the top, then click Create Campaign on the right side of your screen.

Don’t stress about having to send out emails. For years, all I ever emailed my list about were new releases. I don’t like getting tons of emails, so I figured my list wouldn’t like it either. I don’t make up reasons to email, to talk about what I’m watching on TV or what I had for breakfast. I only email when I have a new release, or when I’m swapping newsletters and I tell them about someone else’s new release. Your newsletter isn’t how you market and sell existing books. If they’ve joined your newsletter, they probably already have your existing books. Use your newsletter to launch your future books.

Note: If you have people who have expressed interest in joining your mailing list, you can click the Subscribers button on the top of the screen, then click the green button that looks like a person with a plus beside their head. This is the Add New Subscribers button. Most people just starting out won’t have people yet to add, so you might not need to do this. Warning: Do Not add all the people on your email contact list to your mailing list!! This is called SPAMMING them and people don’t like it! You can send an email inviting your friends to join your mailing list, but please don’t add people without them knowing. You can be penalized for doing this.

Victorine writes romantic comedy, and loves everything romance related. When she’s not writing her next book, she’s usually watching something romantic on Netflix, or curled up reading her favorite clean romance books.

Her Big Fat FakeBillionaire Boyfriend

Kenzie Bennett just wants to attend her sister’s wedding without looking like the loser her mother thinks she is. When she mistakes Camden for her date-for-hire, she doesn’t realize her good fortune. But her ex left her scarred, and even though Camden is everything she'd want in a man, she's not looking for love.

Camden James needs a distraction from his crazy stalker ex-girlfriend, and Kenzie fits the bill perfectly. Spunky and full of life, she makes him laugh. The more time he spends with her, the more he falls in love. Too bad she’s made it clear there isn’t anything between them.

This is a clean romance and a stand-alone novel.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Being a Productive Writer When Time Poor

By Sherrie L. M. Gavin

About a decade ago, when I was doing a post-graduate degree, I attended a seminar aimed at the productive process in writing our theses. My own thesis was in history, but I was surrounded by people with various fields in which they were researching and writing for their Masters and Doctoral degrees. Some were creative writers, others were mathematicians, still others were writing about psychology, elementary education, environmental studies, and so on. It was a large seminar room, and it was packed. I was ready to take notes: Franklin planner and pen in hand.

To begin, the professors running the seminar discussed various time-management techniques that worked for them. Some discussed software that helped them keep on track with the kind of research and writing they were doing. All of those things are helpful, but I had heard them all before. But then came the pièce de résistance. It was a dissertation written by a newly graduated young man. His topic? “Writer’s block” does not exist. His topic and research was simply that—disproving the existence of “writer’s block.” He argued that when you sit to write, you can procrastinate and day dream—seeking inspiration that may or may not come. Or you can sit and write, shaking of the futility of inaction. Sure, sometimes you have a billion other things on your mind. But “writer’s block” is essentially a choice. Exercising some basic self-control can redirect you and make your writing productive. No matter how much you might think otherwise.

I took the information on board. No longer would I sit still, staring at a computer screen and wait and creativity and motivation to come from a place outside of me. I could and would push through—and get things written.

And then I had children.

For a time, my writing paused. And I missed it! Desperately! I find a type of freedom when using my own brand of artistry in writing, even when I write non-fiction, or type up emails to friends. (Oh, yes. I email. Paragraphs. Complete sentences. Email.) But I felt time poor, and sometimes when I sat to write, it seemed even harder to power on and create something. Often, I wanted to claim that I really did have writer’s block, or worse, that I simply did not have enough time.

But as time went on, I came up with a list of things that helped me to learn to be a better writer, especially when time poor. Doing these things made me happier, because I was actively doing what I love—writing! So please have a look, and see what might work for you—so you can write, even when time poor.

1. Ten minutes is enough. I used to think that I needed to set aside huge chunks of time to write paragraphs or pages. A friend of mine once suggested writing one page per day. But on some days, even one page seemed like a lot. So I set a timer ten minutes, and told my children that they should only interrupt me if someone was dying, or there was chocolate or fire involved. No interruptions meant a follow-up ten minutes of tickle time, or my reading them an extra story. It was a win-win situation. I was able to type for 10 minutes, and I was still able to be a good parent and have quality time with my children.  Letting go of the need to have huge chunks of writing time was hugely liberating. Try it! Ten minutes can be magic!

2. Take a laptop to school pick up. I used to write as quickly as I could, pushing till the last second to go and pick up the kids from school. So I switched. I began going to pick up my kids from school 20-30 minutes before school let out, with my trusty laptop in hand. I sat in the car and typed for that space of time, then when I heard the bell ring, I saved my document and went to gather my kids. Bonus: a great parking spot for pick up means I was home even sooner and with less complaining about the long walk to the car. Maybe this isn’t the set up you have for collecting you children from school, but the idea stands: Take a laptop with you when you might have a space of time to wait in the car. Make that time productive, rather than scrolling Facebook, or searching for parking spaces at the last minute.

3. I think good writers are also good readers. Reading what others write, learning about different writing styles and experiencing the word choices and artistry of other writers is inspiring to me! But finding the time to read can be hard. So I went audio for much of my everyday literary indulgence time. I invested in a quality pair earphones that were not cheap, and that fit my ears perfectly. Then I researched a number of apps that read text, but better yet, there are free audiobooks and paid audiobook subscriptions that I invested in. Now, I Bluetooth my phone to the car as I drive to the grocery store, then I wear earphones when do I the shopping. Now, the drudgery of collecting groceries is a productive, rewarding self-indulgence. And I love it. I listen to the words of writers I love, and others I’ve just met as I select the freshest stalks of broccoli, choose the best apples and gather the noodles that my children will heartily eat during the week. I also listen to century-old poetry while I do dishes, vacuum and even garden. Bonus: when my children need me on the occasion that I can’t seem to put an audio book on pause when they are with me, I can still hear them between the words being spoken. This is unlike music- which seems to pound out all other sounds. And there’s nothing wrong with listening to books more than once. So, sure—maybe it isn’t exactly reading—but it is a good way to be engaged in the work of authors when personal reading time is limited.

4. Sometimes inspiration strikes, but I don’t have the time to flesh out an idea. Easy fix: I email or text the thought to myself, then when I have ten minutes or more, I flesh it out and add it to my work.

5. Make a list. What do I want to write? Am I working on a blog post, a chapter in a book or a short story? Regardless, I write it down. Sometimes I get so many idea going on in my mind, that I become stressed that I am not writing about them all right now. So- now I make a list. And I tick it off when it is completed.

6. Personal writer’s retreat. This is super indulgent, but often very, very rewarding and productive. Right now, my husband is at the zoo with our children. They’ll be happy and tired when they get home, and I’ll be as engaged as ever with my family. But right now, I am writing. Just me. And next weekend, we’ll do something as a family, so I don’t miss out on their childhood. It’s just for a couple of hours, but it works wonders. The other thing we do as a family every so often, if for me to go and stay in a motel for the weekend. I bring my laptop, snacks and pyjamas. I stay up late writing and following all of the ideas that pop in my head.  Sometimes wake up early and start writing again, then I eat and nap. And do it all over. But the time is set aside to write, write, write…. And rest. And it works!

7. There really is no such thing as ‘writer’s block.’ For real. Let that idea go away. If I feel stuck, I just start writing—I don’t start, I write. I write the middle, I write the end, I write. And once the ball is in motion, the rest comes. Even better, I write a series of questions—then I answer them. Such as: What is going on? Why is this happening? How is this character responding? What is going to lead me to the next part of the book?  Usually my questions are more detailed, but I go and answer each and every one. This creates a more detailed outline and keeps my thinking on track. Thus, my story is given a skeleton from which I can flesh out and make into a living work.

In the end, each of us has a groove that we can find and fit in our writing lives. For many of us, it is second only to the satisfaction of being a parent in a loving marriage. As I have manoeuvred from single to marriage to parenthood, my time has become all but my own. But my soul is a writer. So I write, and find ways to write so that I am a better wife and mother. I hope you find that balance and can do the same.

Sherrie Gavin was born and raised in upstate New York, USA. Always looking for romance, adventure, and with a love of writing, she traveled to Australia and fell in love with a true Aussie bloke named Bruce. ’Sruth! They married and began adventuring together, joined by two beautiful daughters who are the loves of their lives. She currently lives in New Zealand where she spends her time enjoying her family, cooking yummy things, travelling and writing.

Baptism & Boomerangs

Baptism brings us soaring back—just like a boomerang—into the arms of our loving Heavenly Father! With colorful artwork, a fun story, and insightful analogies, this book helps parents and children discuss the importance of our first crucial covenant in God's plan of happiness. Entertaining and uplifting, it makes a great gift for all your favorite eight-year-olds.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Getting to 50,000: How to Win NaNoWriMo

by Jessica Guernsey

Somewhere, you heard about thousands of people who, every November, try to write a novel in just 30 days. Sounds crazy, right? And maybe you shook you head in disbelief, with a hint of scoffing. But then you were curious. Could you write a book in just one month? Of course you can! I did. Thirteen times in a row. Now I’m a Municipal Liaison for the Utah::Elsewhere Region and help a few hundred aspiring NaNo-ers to reach the same goal every year.

You’re already thinking “This is insane! I don’t have time to write with my work/school/kids/ant farm.” But you do, dear one! You can make it work. I did it when I was less than two weeks from having a baby and couldn’t sit for longer than 20 minutes. And the year where, due to nerve damage, I didn’t have use of my right hand. I’ve crossed the finish line with multiple small child hanging on me and while packing my house when we moved in the middle of the month. One year, I didn’t start my novel until November 6th and I still won. You can do this, dreamer! I’ll show you how.

Let Go of Perfection
Seems like every year I hear from at least one participant about how their book is going so well, they’re no longer writing it for NaNoWriMo, that they want to take their time with it and really “get it right.” When I follow up with them later, the book still isn’t finished and they’ve stalled out on writing. They were looking for the “perfect” way to start the next scene, reveal the major plot twist, or make it to that first kiss. Perfection has no place in a first draft. If you can let go of perfectionism and just let yourself write, you’ll make it closer to your goal. First drafts are meant to be edited and rewritten. The beloved Judy Blume says she’s not a good writer but she is an excellent rewriter. Even after typing “The End,” your book will go through drafts before it reaches publication. Many, many, anger-inducing, hair-pulling, and tear-spilling drafts. And even then? It still won’t be perfect. Do not try to make it perfect; try to make it count instead.

Do NOT Delete!
From November 1st through the 30th, I want you to pretend that your delete key is broken. Do not tap it at all during the month. Misspell a word? Type it correctly after the wrong one. Decide you don’t like that entire sentence/paragraph/chapter? Use the strikethrough function (there’s even a shortcut for Word users). I know people who scrapped their entire project halfway through the month and started over at zero. Why? You earned that word count through sweat, tears, and sleep deprivation! If you insist on a fresh start, open a new file or insert a page break. Don’t delete.

Don’t Stop Believing
It always happens. Just when you’re chugging along, getting those words down, you come across a detail that your character should know but you don’t. Need to know what goes into making a flat white? Want to know how many teeth a Great White Shark loses in a year? Can’t remember which type of fairies belong to the Unseelie Court? It’s tempting to click open a new tab and ask Mr. Google. Don’t. Mr. Google really likes to talk and show you cool new, distracting things. Once you start searching, the minutes will slip away as your word count stands still. If you really need to know the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, mark the line with a hashtag (because they’re searchable when you’re editing) followed by a note about what you need to research later. Key word is later. When the words are flowing, don’t stop!

Branch Out
What happens when the words aren’t flowing? When you know what should happen in this scene but just can’t get it started? I’ve got a few suggestions for you.

Talk it out—Hit Enter a few times and give yourself some space, then start writing down the problem. Why isn’t think scene working for you? (Is your dialogue heading off on a tangent?) What are the bare bones things that need to happen here? (Maybe this is the scene where protagonist learns a secret about the antagonist’s evil plans?) Sometimes just talking it out, even with yourself, helps you find what’s missing.

Forums—NaNoWriMo forums are epic. Stuck on your setting? Ask people who actually live there. Scene fizzled out? Look through the Orphans thread for something that fits your story. Not sure where to go next? Peruse the Dares thread and find something that sparks an idea. Here’s another tip about venturing into the forums: limit yourself. I have to set a timer or I’ll find myself scrolling through the forums for the entirety of my writing time.

Write-ins and Chatrooms—Most regions have their own chatroom. Usually, there are a couple people in there willing to do word sprints or give suggestions when you’re looking for ideas. And Write-ins do the same thing but with actual, real people. And snacks. It’s a boost to be around other people who also talk to their imaginary friends. Support is important to success.

Mr. Google—If you need to do some research for your story, wait for a moment when you are stalled out. Go back and look for those hashtagged notes and plug it into a search engine. But, like in the forums, limit your time. And for goodness sake, don’t open YouTube! You’ll start out watching a video on how to pick a lock using a hairpin and hours later, find yourself watching poorly made stop-motion animation of Godzilla destroying a gingerbread Tokyo.

Finding the Time
You should spend time writing each day to keep a steady pace. What if you have no time to write that day? Plot out a scene in your head. Keep a small notebook on you or start a note on your smartphone to collect your ideas away from the story. Have your lines of dialogue ready so when you get a chance to sit down, the words are already there. I use the speech-to-text function during commutes to make notes for later.

Also? Don’t watch TV or Netflix. Ask for rainchecks on plans with friends until November ends. Get updated takeout menus to your favorite places that deliver. I stock my freezer with meals for my family and keep a stash of my favorite treats. These sacrifices may be difficult, but it’s only for one month.

Double Up
My third NaNoWriMo, I was so frustrated with my story by Week Two. It’s widely known that this is when most stories fizzle and would-be NaNo-ers give up. I wasn’t about to call it quits. Before the month started, I had two ideas for a project. I chose the one because I was more excited about the story. When that one came to a screeching halt, I opened a new file and started working on the second idea. Now, I always go into the month with multiple projects, in varying states of drafting. One year I did a collection of short stories in the same setting. A friend always does poetry. As long as I’m writing 50,000 new words, it counts.
You can do this, writer. Anything worth having is worth working hard to have. You may not love every moment of the month, but when you cross that finish line and your word count bar reads WINNER, there’s a feeling like no other.

Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo”s Utah::Elsewhere Region, Jessica Guernsey writes Urban Fantasy novels and short stories. A BYU alumna with a degree in Journalism, her work is published in magazines and anthologies. She is a manuscript evaluator for Covenant Communications and slush pile reader for Shadow Mountain, along with providing freelance feedback. Frequently, she can be found at writing conferences and isn’t difficult to spot. Just look for the extrovert with purple hair.

While she spent her teenage angst in Texas, she currently lives on a mountain in Utah with her husband, three kids, and a codependent mini schnauzer. Connect with her on Twitter @JessGuernsey