What Are You Writing for NaNoWriMo 2016?

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month this year? I am, I think. I have no idea what, specifically, I am writing, though, but I guess I have a week to figure that out.

I know that not everyone participates in NaNoWriMo or the Young Writer’s Program for writers 17 and under, but I see it as a way to take advantage of a vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic writing community while working on a new (or even an existing) project. You can try new things, new genres or styles for example, and you have a great place to seek help or guidance. I, for one, see it as a very useful program and if you haven’t checked it out, I hope you will.

For me, as I said above, I don’t have any clue what I’m going to write. But I’m thinking I will work on something that is like a serial. Thinking about novels I’ve enjoyed, specifically books by Isaac Asimov, many started as periodic stories in literary magazines before they were brought together as full-length novels. So, my current thought is that I’ll work toward writing an installment or chapter every couple of days. I don’t know if that will work out to a 50,000 word novel in the end or not, but this year my goal is to just write.

How about you? Whether you’re participating or utilizing the NaNoWriMo site or not, what are you writing in the coming month? What goals do you have and what new things are you considering trying?


The Writers Circle: NaNoWriMo 2016

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

National Novel Writing Month begins again on November 1! October is NaNo Prep month.  Many members of the Today’s Author community are annual participants in NaNoWriMo, so today we’d like to see how many folks are planning to participate this year.  Please take a moment to answer the poll and leave a comment about what you are considering writing for NaNoWriMo 2016 or with any questions you might have about the event.

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

The Writers Circle: Writing When Busy

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

NaNoWriMo asks participants to write with a reckless abandon for the month, squeezing in time for 1667 words per day for 30 days. Similarly, when on a deadline, we often are asked to churn out books and stories in a shorter amount of time than we’d like. Usually these stretches of time seem to hit when there are a lot of other things going on in life, too.  How do you squeeze in extra time for writing during NaNoWriMo or during any deadline-driven period without neglecting the family, the day job or your own eating, bathing and sleeping needs?

Let’s discuss this in the comments or on the forums and see what our community thinks.

4 Ways to Plan Your Writing

Few people can sit down and start writing. Most of us hem and haw as we mentally walk through how to get from introduction to conclusion. It’s called ‘prewriting’ and everyone does it. What differs is the method–what best suits our communication style?

Here are four approaches I’ve seen work for writer friends:


Brainstorming, also called ‘mindmapping’, is a visual approach for collecting all the bits of a topic that may find relevance in the fullness of your manuscript. It enables writers to come up with many ideas without worrying about where they fit, leaving that for the writing process.

Here are basics for brainstorming your novel:

  • There are no wrong answers.
  • Get as many ideas as possible.
  • Don’t evaluate ideas–just record them.
  • Build on the suggestions of others (if you’re doing this as part of a critique group or writer’s workshop).
  • Stress quantity over quality–get as many ideas as possible. Sort them later.

There are many online tools that facilitate this process. If you’re looking for a webtool, try Inspiration, MindMeister, or another from this list. For iPads, try iBrainstorm, Ideament, or another from this list.


Timelines are graphical representations of a sequence of events over a period of time. Researching and creating timelines appeals to the visual, mathematic, and kinesthetic intelligences in a writer’s mental toolbox. They are critical to developing the story’s temporal flow, making sure events are in the proper order, with necessary scaffolding.

They can be created in:

  • a desktop publishing tool like Publisher or Canva
  • an online tool
  • a spreadsheet program

Popular options include MS Publisher or a spreadsheet like Excel. If you want a webtool, try Piktochart, Canva, or another from this list. If you have an iPad,  try Timeline or another from this list. Here’s an example of my novel’s timeline:

story timeline


Outlines are a tried-and-true approach to organizing knowledge on a topic. They:

  • summarize important points
  • encourage a better understanding of a topic
  • promote reflection
  • assist analysis

Once a general outline is established, they are a valuable method of curating thoughts on subtopics of a theme.

Outlines can be completed easily and quickly in most word processing programs (using bullet or numbered lists) or a note-taking tool like Evernote or OneNote. Excellent web-based options include OakWorkflowy, or Outliner of GiantsIf you’re an iPad user, try Quicklyst or OmniOutliner.

pre-writingDigital note-taking

Note-taking not only collects information, but power boosts learning. Consider this from the 2008 Leadership and Learning Center:

In schools where writing and note-taking were rarely implemented in science classes, approximately 25 percent of students scored proficient or higher on state assessments. But in schools where writing and note-taking were consistently implemented by science teachers, 79 percent scored at the proficient level.

Regardless of whether you write fiction or non-fiction, note-taking is an important approach to remembering and activating knowledge. This includes quickly jotting ideas down as well as the extensive note-taking employed during your novel’s research. Doing this digitally allows you to rearrange, edit, and move thoughts into the order best-suited to the writing phase.

There are lots of digital note-taking tools that are both web-based or for iPads. Two of my favorites are Notability and Evernote.

How do you organize your thoughts and research in preparation for writing?

More on writing:

How to Write a Novel with 140 Characters

Technology Removes Obstructed Writers’ Barriers to Learning

66 Writing Tools for the 21st Century Classroom

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

The Writers Circle: Helpful Websites

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

With NaNoWriMo less than a week away, thoughts for many people turn to ways to build higher word counts.  But whether you are participating in NaNoWriMo or not, sometimes having help getting motivated to write is a good thing. There are many websites out there that are designed to encourage you to write more words quickly and save the editing for later.  What are some of your favorite sites and tools to help motivate you and increase your writing output?

Let’s discuss this in the comments or on the forums and see what our community thinks.

The Writers Circle: NaNoWriMo Poll 2015

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

It’s a special Thursday edition of The Writers Circle!  Now that we are mid-way through October, we wanted to check in once again to see how many of our community members are joining the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are excitedly anticipating November 1 and the start of NaNoWriMo 2015.  What are your thoughts are about NaNoWriMo this year?

After taking our unscientific poll, leave a comment to discuss NaNoWriMo:  Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? What have you learned or gained from it?  Will you do it again?  If you haven’t done NaNoWriMo, are there reasons you would or would not consider it in the future?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

‘Tis the Season

It’s hard to believe that this morning I tore the page off the calendar as we moved to the first day of October (okay, I realize the phrase “tore the page off the calendar” may say more about my age than I’d like). Didn’t summer just start a few days ago?  Yet, here we are, October 1.  Leaves are falling, there’s a cool, crisp feeling in the air (at least here in New Jersey) and thoughts are turning to seasonal things like pumpkins, Halloween, raking of leaves and… NaNoWriMo.

Yes, it’s officially the season for National Novel Writing Month preparations!  Many writers spend October gearing up for a fast-paced November of writing. Whether it’s for the thrill of creating a new work of fiction in a short amount of time, the camaraderie of participating in a writing event with a couple hundred thousand fellow writers or simply a writing challenge, NaNoWriMo presents aspiring writers with an opportunity to make writing a priority above all the other top priorities we have each day.

Whether you are planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year or not, the start of a new month, a new calendar quarter  and, essentially, a new season of the year is a good time to consider the projects you are working on and what new project(s) you might be considering in the near future.  As a “pantser”, I don’t really plan out what my writing projects will include, but I still have generally vague ideas in mind.  I’ve participated in and won NaNoWriMo every year since 2006 and am hoping to participate and win again this year.  But I understand the concept and rigor of a month of writing isn’t for everyone.  So today I am wondering who among our community is planning to participate or at least considering participating in NaNoWriMo, either on the main “adult” site or via the Young Writers Program.  Whether you are participating or not, what project(s) are you looking forward to working on over the coming months?

As always, I and everyone here at Today’s Author are happy you have made us a part of your writing journey and hope to continue supporting your creative efforts.  If there are ways we can help, please contact us, leave a comment on one of our posts or create a topic in our forums. Keep writing, everyone!

NaNoWriMo Tips and Tricks for Success

We are just over two days away from the start of NaNoWriMo 2014.  It’s exciting and terrifying for NaNoWriMo veterans and rookies alike.  As someone who is doing this for the ninth time, I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks for how I’ve been able to get through the month of November without abandoning the novel or the writing when the going gets tough.  Many of these ideas can be used not just for NaNoWriMo but for any writing endeavor you may take, and some of these tricks may be useful for overcoming a spell of writer’s block as well.  In the comments, share your favorite tips for getting the words on the page.

  • Have your character write a diary/blog post — When I get stuck, especially in NaNoWriMo, it usually means one of two things:
    • I have not gotten to know my character(s) well enough to know what they’d do in their current situation
    • I’ve completed the character’s current task and don’t know what he or she will do next.

    In either case, one solution to this that has helped me a lot is to have the character write a diary entry/blog post/give a speech/etc. Writing this type of thing gives the character a chance to talk about what they did, why they did it, how they did it, when they did it, and anything else they feel like discussing about the situation.  It gives an opportunity for the character to tell you, the writer, what they are thinking about things.  The benefits of doing this include: gaining a deeper understanding of the character; finding new events or situations to explore in another chapter or story with the character; defining back story or making connections to the character’s past; and, specifically for NaNoWriMo: bolstering word count.

    The result of writing these diary (etc.) entries can also be expanded into what happens as a result of them.  Does a boyfriend read his girlfriend’s diary and learn something important about her that she was trying to hide?  Does the blog post result in social/political problems for the character? Does the audience react strongly in one way or another to the speech the character gives?  So many possible avenues can get opened by writing a simple set of paragraphs directly from the character’s perspective.

  • Timeskip — There is no rule that you have to write your story in order, whether it’s for NaNoWriMo or not.  Specifically thinking about NaNoWriMo, getting bogged down in the details of a dull, boring or languishing scene is a bad thing because there simply isn’t time to waste on that. So, put a placeholder in, something like {fill in the details of why it is so darn important that he ordered a decaf soy mocha-latte later}, then start the next scene.  I’m not proposing that this is something you’d do routinely, just that if you’re stuck, sometimes jumping to the next scene, where the problem is already resolved, will help you figure out later how to actually resolve the problem.  Alternatively, you could skip backwards in time and write a scene that leads up to the one you’re stuck in.  Understanding how your character got to where they are can help you understand how to get them out of that situation, too.
  • Secondary plots — Presumably, you’ve got more than one character in your book.  So, if your main character isn’t cooperating, how about adding a chapter that focuses on someone else for a while?  At some point you will have to deal with the issues you face with your main character, but in the meantime the secondary story of what your non-primary characters are doing can bolster your word count for NaNoWriMo, open up new storylines within the main character’s story and, perhaps, change your perspective as to who the story is actually about.
  • Use a prompt — There are plenty of writing prompts out there. We have hundreds of prompts here on Today’s Author and also on our Facebook page. Sometimes just finding a simple sentence to use as a starting off point for a new chapter or scene is all you need.  So when you’re stuck, hit our Write Now prompt archive (right at the top of the page), visit our Facebook page and use one of the Micro Prompts, find a plot generator on the internet or  find another writing site’s prompts.  Prompts can be a fantastic tool for getting the creative spark going.
  • When all else fails, add a burrito or a monkey or some underwear — Sometimes nothing helps more than throwing a random object or instigator into the mix. It may just be me, but I find frozen burritos to be funny when they are used as a tool to solve a problem (I actually wrote a story in which the character used a frozen burrito to save the day).  Monkeys, squirrels, angry cats… they’re all funny, too, in that people and characters react to them.  And as much as we all like to claim otherwise, underwear remains funny no matter how old you get.  So, throw your character into a situation where he has been sent to the store to buy underwear for his wife or daughter.  Maybe while he’s there a squirrel breaks through a ceiling tile and runs around causing havoc. And after all of that, he finds himself in a 7-Eleven waiting for his favorite burrito to warm up…


There are many ways to get through the doldrums of a long work.  The ones I’ve mentioned are my favorite ways and they work well for me as a seat-of-the-pants writer.  Maybe you can use them to help you succeed at NaNoWriMo or at whatever your current work in progress is.  I’m sure, though, that you also have tips and tricks for getting through the rough patches and I’d love to hear them in the comments. So, share away and remember to just keep writing.

The Bumble Bee

 shari_post_20141015It isn’t supposed to be able to fly, you know. The bumble bee isn’t built with the correct anatomical construction for flight, but try telling that to a jail-striped insect lusting after pretty flowers between bouts of breathtaking aerodynamic displays. Of course it’s just a worker bee after all, motivated but sexless, doing its robo-job on behalf of the hive, all glory to Her Royal Highness, the Queen.

We can learn a lot from the busy bee, industry and work ethic being at the top of the list. Butcher, baker, or writer, you can’t beat the bee for getting the job done. I’m not fussy about who claims the title writer for themselves. Published writer or wanna be, (I’m in the latter category, sigh,) as long as you write, keyboard nib to virtual page, you’re a writer to me. I’ve written five books, two for children, three for adults, with more story ideas in the chute, awaiting their place in the computer files. Not a claim for commendation, but not a candidate for sloth either.

I read so many articles about getting over writer’s block, way too much time and space wasted wondering why so much is written about how we can make ourselves do what we all claim we love to do – write. Frankly, my dears, the only caveat I see about calling oneself a writer is staking the claim and then standing back to wall, describing bricks as the Big Block. I live in California, earthquake country – I know that a brick wall falls incredibly fast. Ambition matters less than motivation which matters less than inspiration which is always fleeting and subject to bouts of fancy and antsy. What counts is work. I don’t care if you do NaNoWriMo or prefer flash fiction or need a prompt to get your juices out of the blender – you must write. Standing in line for your Bucky Brew and thinking about the next line you plan write to as soon as you fire up the laptop counts for Good Idea, (as when Mom says, “What a Good Idea, Sweetie, now eat your broccoli.”) but writing only happens when it’s a hard wired commitment. Damn the broccoli. Fire up. Write.

Here’s a strategy: Don’t count. I work with children who crab and fuss about the number of words they’re supposed to write. “I can’t think of any more. Is this enough?” they ask. I ask them if what they’ve written completes their article and states all they mean to express in the best possible language. Most want to return to the formula of the number of required words; it’s a benchmark they can measure. Staring at word count and trying to get to a target guarantees frustration as the optimal number remains elusive. What? Only 125 words? But I need yadda yadda amount! You might as well start at the dictionary, list its words, stop at an arbitrary number, and stake your flag on that territory, page 329, done! The effect will be much the same, with the same blah value and impact. Those kids who simply write, getting their thoughts on the page, telling everything they know, do better of course. Grammar and spelling aside, that which issues from their hearts tumbles into something worth reading. So don’t count. Just write.

I began my first adult book with no clear goal in mind other than to tell the story that had been beached in my brain like a ship in the sand. It wasn’t going anywhere until the tide rolled in and took it out to sea – er, until I sat at the computer and wrote the story. I figured at first that I’d be lucky to get to about 50,000 words to tell the story, (I wasn’t doing NaNo; 50,000 just seemed like a good number) but a funny thing happened on the way to that market – I went way past 50,000 and found myself up in the hundreds of thousands. (Shall we draw a number line to see what that looks like? Oooo, big!) Required some serious editing.

I’d written like the bumble bee that flies, completely unaware of the dynamics needed for success. I wrote because I had a story I wanted passionately to tell, peopled with characters who’d been living rent free in my head and needed digs of their own, and a story arc that was about to explode if I didn’t get it down on paper. (OK, it’s a computer, but the old fashioned image of me as writer working at my worn wooden desk, scribbling words from a leaky pen is more visually appealing than me in front of my white/black computer screen, my tush broadening with each paragraph. As my Mom actually says, “You know it, girl.”)

Here’s another strategy: Write what you love. If you don’t love that bad boy, that unlikely plot, that trampy vixen, that innocent Everyman with the droopy eyes, how are you gonna wanna write them into being? How you gonna make your reader wanna read what you wrote if you don’t love your story? Don’t fuss over genre or blockbuster tomes, worrying that you don’t want to write ___________ (here you may fill in the blank of whatever genre is most popular at this moment or any author currently on the best seller list.) Stop jingling the change in your pocket. Wrap your fingers around a pen. Plant a kiss on your story, hug your keyboard, and write what’s in your heart, cads and all. The first novel I wrote? It wasn’t a hot genre in 2012 when I entered it into ABNA, yet it placed within the top 250 books. That placement was heady confirmation for my story but my blue ribbon came when I wrote the final word a few months before.

Success is simple. No matter the designated label or projected numerical outcome, whether writing in November, February, or July, it’s all the same. Don’t count words. Write what you love.

And if you’re still wondering how that tubby bee does in fact fly – because we’re all successful empirical scientists and we know he does – he flaps harder. Just like we should.


Looking for Balance

BalanceI’m not sure I’ve ever heard NaNoWriMo (in the running for the clumsiest acronym ever) spoken aloud. But each year from October 1 through December 7 (or so) it’s nearly impossible to be part of the online writing community without wading, hip-deep, into the NaNo fray.

Will you or won’t you? Does it work, or is it just a gimmick?

I’m a bit of a NaNo moderate. I see the appeal, and I see the usefulness, but I’ve never felt it’s the right tool for me. I’ve never been able to focus on word counts as a way of motivation. Rather, I’m the type to play around with different sparks of inspiration, accepting the fact that some days I’ll write 11 words and some days I’ll write 11,000. I’ve done NaNo 3 times, officially, and won all 3 (unless you don’t count the time where I did 4 small projects to make up my 50k. And I’ve done smaller scale NaNo once or twice–where I set a smaller goal, and don’t officially participate.

I’ve never used much of what I’ve written, but the Decembers that have followed my NaNos have been very productive. But then, that’s what Nano’s about…finding what works for you to get yourself writing.

This year, I’ve not yet decided if I’ll participate at all. I have a rather big event happening on NaNoWriMo Eve, and while I won’t say what that event is, I’ll be travelling for the first 9 days of NaNo on a vacation that traditionally comes right after this event. Combine that with the normal November holidays, and I’ll lose half the month. So 50k, is nothing more than a dream.

And to any of you, looking at your crowded November calendar, who say, There is just no way

That’s OK!

Personally I’ve never heard or felt any peer pressure to join NaNo, but I’ve always felt self-pressure. Like I’m selling out my writing dreams if I don’t do it. Even as I write this post I feel like I’m making excuses.

Trust me–down that path, madness lies.

So I bargain with myself. When I return from vacation, I will try to write 25k through November. But I will not sign up, and I will not obsessively check my word counts.

I also won’t beat myself up for not joining. And if I miss my goal, I won’t beat myself up over that, either.

No NaNoWriMo is OK.

There’s always December.