Woohoo…NaNo2019 Funsies!

At this time of year, everyone starts putting out their ‘Tips For NaNo’ blogs. As I didn’t want to be left out, I thought I’d add my voice to all the advice aimed at writers planning to participate in this year’s (Inter)National Novel Writing Month through NaNoWriMo.org in November.

What do you mean, ‘what is it?’? It’s second fourth only to Hallowe’en, Christmas and Valentine’s as the most celebrated season of the year. Whether you are a seasoned author or a newbie who’s never written a whole novel before, this is a great way to challenge yourself to write a complete novel—though it could also be non-fiction, if that’s your bag, baby—by taking the challenge to write a whopping 50,000 words during the month of November.

I’ve done it several times now, and still haven’t quite made up my mind whether or not to go for it this year, as I’m just doing a final proof of my latest novel which is out at the end of this month, and I am, frankly, exhausted. But I do have some ideas I’ve been mulling over, so who knows, I might—just might—do something rash and go for it.

Even if I decide to do the smart thing and take a break, I can say unreservedly that NaNoWriMo is a great idea and I really believe it’s a valuable writing experience. If you’re not sure whether to do it, then I say, maybe give it a go, what have you got to lose?

You could gain a complete first draft!

Even if you don’t manage to complete the challenge, you will have achieved something – if you only write 10,000 words, or less than that – hey, it’s 10,000, or 1,000 or 250 words more than you had in October.

So here are my top tips for a great NaNoWriMo:

  1. Prepare. Yes, make sure you do. Even if you see yourself as a ‘pantser’, make sure you hit the ground running on November 1st by having a good idea of what your story is about, who the main characters are, and key plot points. You will need to write a little over1600 words per day every day to achieve the 50,000 word target by the end of the month. Reread any notes you have, and get your Word docs or word processing files, or your Scrivener files ready on your computer of choice. Do any essential research necessary NOW, don’t leave it until November.

I recommend setting up 30 files, dated: 1 Nov, 2 Nov, etc, so they are in the correct order time-wise, type up your story every day. Have another file called something like ‘Whole Thing’, and every day you complete, copy and paste that day’s work into the Whole Thing file, so you won’t have to do this at the end.

If you struggle to get going each new day, leave yourself a few words of direction at the end of your writing session, so when you come to start the next day, you’ve got a starting point.

It is a marathon. And like a runner in a marathon, you will have to learn to overcome ‘the voice’ in your head that tells you to give up, that you can’t do it. It’s not just athletes: you will find that voice also tries to trip up writers. You must learn to be stubborn, bloody-minded even, and refuse to give in even when everything in you and around you says you will fail and that what you are writing is terrible. So what, you will say, I’m going to do it. Carpe Stilum. Seize the pen! (I think…Latin is not my strongest skill)

If you get really stuck, go back and reread what you’ve already written, try to figure out what your original vision was and how you saw the story developing. If that isn’t working for you, try writing isolated scenes , conversations between your characters, events, try writing description of the setting in your story. Anything to keep going. Collect some images that will help to inspire you or give you a push forward when things are tough. You can find some wonderful images for free on Pixabay. Create a folder of these images to look at when you need something to spur you on.

  1. Keep your daily writing typed up. This is important if it’s your first time. Type your work into a computer file, don’t only write in longhand. Because at the end of the month, you need to copy and paste all your writing into the NaNoWriMo counter to get your achievement verified. And if it’s only written in notebooks, no matter how neat the writing nor fancy the notebook, it just—doesn’t—count. So don’t do what I did two years in a row (argh, the pain! Why am I so forgetful???) of writing mainly longhand then not leaving enough time to type up my work before the end of the month. It’s no good telling NaNoWriMo you’ve successfully completed the challenge if you don’t upload your ENTIRE 50,000 words for verification by their robot. In addition, remember their robot may not count quite the same as you, so ensure you’ve got a couple of hundred words over the 50,000-limit ‘just in case’. Don’t fail because you wrote exactly 50,000 words.
  2. Don’t get distracted. There is so much to look at on the NaNoWriMo site, and so many useful talks, motivational speeches, helps, suggestions, support groups, discussions and so on, not to mention the merch, but DO NOT spend time looking at this stuff if you haven’t done your daily word count. It is so easy to become distracted and to think, I’ll just write a bit extra tomorrow. Then the dog breaks its leg, and you’re at the vet till midnight and before you know it a week has gone by and you’ve got to write 3,500 words a day just to keep up. So don’t get on that slippery slope. Write first, have fun later.
  3. Be realistic. The aim here is not to write and publish a great work by Christmas. Okay, I’m sure some wonderman/woman will do exactly that—there’s always a handful of literary stars. But most of us will be aiming to simply write a complete, or almost complete, first draft during NaNoWriMo. Don’t write your 50,000 words then think the work is over, that your book is ready to be unleashed on a waiting world. This is simply the end of the beginning. Once you’ve finished your first draft, pat yourself on the back because it’s a wonderful achievement. Then request your winners’ certificate from NaNoWriMo.org and take a well-earned break. Put your first draft away. Then get it out in a month or six, and begin the process of rewriting, crafting, polishing. Work on it alongside the NaNoWriMo revision camps and workshops, and take pride in getting it as good as it can be. And—while you wait—write another book!
  4. Keep going through the tough days. At first it’s exciting. It’s fun. You feel a wonderful sense of achievement, and as you reach the end of week one, you survey your 5,000 or 10,000 or 15,000 words with pride. It’s all so easy, it’s all so wonderful. You should have done this years ago, why do people say writing is tough? BUT…often, (and it won’t just be you who goes through this) you can hit a brick wall. You struggle to wring 400 words from your imagination. Things happen in life and it can be hard to find the time. Suddenly the blank page is staring back at you, in what can only be described as a hostile manner, and you begin to feel like giving up. Now, yes, now it is hard. Maybe it’s not worth it, your inner wimp suggests.

Okay, take a breath, dig deep, you can do this. Hang on in there as they used to say in the 70s. Write a page of ‘I have no idea what to write’ or ‘I am so &*%%£! off with this writing game’. Anything, just to keep writing. Just keep at it and slog through the tough times. This would be a good time to read or listen to ONE or TWO only of the motivational speeches or posts, just so you know there are others going through the same experience. Keep writing, it will come back, I promise. You can make that 50,000 words appear. It’s not inspiration, by the way, it’s hard graft that will get you through this. Hard graft, and ignoring your inner meanie who says it’s time to give up and go home. ‘There’s always next year’, your inner meanie says with a snarky smile. Kick that B*****d in the shins and write on!

Woohoo—you made it! You are a writing genius and should feel sooooo proud of your achievement. Congratulations! Print off your certificate and put it on your wall to gloat over.

One of my books came out of a NaNoWriMo draft. I’ve written a number of other NaNoNovels but they are still on a shelf waiting for some TLC. Not every NaNoNovel shines and reaches publication, and not every novel that shines and is published started life written in 30 days flat in November. But NaNoWriMo is a valuable experience, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It will do wonders for your self-esteem as a writer.

Now stop wasting time and write another book. Oh, and, please, let me know how you get on! See you on the other side.


Writers Write!


Every week I try to think of something scintillating to write on my blog. (I know – shocker! I do think about it, honest.) This week, as I wracked/racked my brains to think of a topic, any topic, I read somewhere that “blogging comes easily to writers” because apparently it’s what we do. Not true. I mean yes, writers write – but I for one am almost permanently stumped for ideas of things to write on here – which is why it’s now Thursday and you are only just reading my Tuesday blog… I have read many books on all things writerly over the last thirty-five years. And I’ve bought even more (some I still haven’t read). Some of them have changed my life – no exaggeration.

In fact if you do want to make money from writing, there is some to be made in writing how-to books for those with the expertise. There is a vast selection of books available to help us as writers hone our skills in one specialist area or all areas generally.

So this week I thought I would indulge myself – here is a list of all the books about writing and writing technique or self-publishing or promotion that I have found helpful. I hope you do too – I heartily recommend these, and if any of the authors mentioned below are reading this – bribes are now acceptable by pay pal.

In no particular order:

Stephen King – On Writing – (everyone raves about this book, with justification. Honest, sometimes painfully.)

Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter – What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers (great prompting)

Douglas Wynn – The Crime Writer’s Handbook (I’ve got lots of page markers in this one) (get a used copy – the new one is listed at £81 on Amazon!!!)

Michael Boxwell – Make An Ebook (fab straightforward easy stuff for the average Joe or Josephine who wants to go it alone in the eBook world)

Ruby Barnes – The New Author (more brill stuff for ePublication and ‘new media’)

Barry Turner (Editor) – The Writer’s Handbook Guide to Crime Writing (also really expensive new! But full of great stuff.)

Robert R Ray and Jack Remick – The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery (for me – worked well but not on its own – see Louise Doughty below)

Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs – See Jane Write (brilliant and hilarious)

Carole Blake – From Pitch To Publication (the serious biz)

Dorothea Brande – Becoming A Writer (this is the one that changed my life and showed me how to become a writer when those around me said I couldn’t; some critics have complained about its exercises – I found them helpful, especially in the beginning. It is still in print after 80 years – that tells you something! I hope the same can one day be said for a book of mine. Once I fell asleep writing morning pages as per this book, and woke up with the notebook on my chest, a pen in one hand and my alarm clock in the other; the worst thing was, I couldn’t remember all the wonderful stuff I wrote in my dream!)

Mary Wibberley – To Writers With Love – (I think only used copies available – but I found it helpful even though it is intended as a guide for authors of romance in the old-school style (1970s.) I particularly liked her bit about not tinkering with your draft until it’s finished!)

Andre Jute – Writing a Thriller

Louise Doughty – A Novel In a Year (I used in conjunction with The Weekend Novelist as above; and found it very useful in finding a new approach to characters)

Seumas Gallacher – self-publishing steps to successful sales (an alliteration nightmare but one of the most useful books I’ve read on the topic of platform-building and promotions)

James Scott Bell – Write your novel from the middle (interesting and very helpful and inspiring.)

K S Brooks – Indies Unlimited’s Tutorials and Tools for prospering in a digital age vol 2 – (this is probably the most useful book I have read concerning how us writers can put down our pen and notebooks and get out there in the virtual world – I have referred to this time and again and only got it two months ago – there are other publications by them and I will definitely get those in due course.)

Nancy J Cohen – Writing the Cozy Mystery – (shortish, sweet, and practical. Loved it.)

Them’s all you need! Anything else is just icing on the cake. I’ve got quite a few others, these are the ones that actually helped. If there is a book I haven’t mentioned that you found really helpful, please let me know, I’ll give it a go!