Sorry for the radio silence, guys. I initially planned to take just a week or two off—I was still feeling bleh from my run-in with food poisoning—but then Inktober came around and more or less monopolized my free time, and … well, there you have it. But October is winding down—and fast!—and I want to share some final thoughts as we all prepare for the official kick-off this Friday. (!!!)

Stock up on essentials.

Carve some time out of your schedule this week to do an inventory check on all your wrimoly necessities. For those writing by hand, do you have enough pens and paper? For my fellow caffeine drinkers, do you have enough coffee and tea? Anybody prone to winter chills? Buy a few pairs of wool socks, and keep a thick throw close by. You might also want to look into fingerless mittens.

Rule of thumb: do what you can to save yourself time next month. If you can stock up now—and your goods aren’t perishable—do so!

Maintain thy well-being!

While it’s important to keep on task and write during Nanowrimo, it’s equally important to not neglect your body. Make sure to take regular breaks during your writing sprints. I recommend getting up every hour or so to stretch and walk around, or even to bike around the neighborhood should weather permit. (Nothing like fresh, crisp air and the exhilaration of biking to refresh your brain and get your creative juices flowing again.) Eat healthy too. It’s super-easy to lapse into a diet of fast food—convenient! cheap! so, so tasty!—but do your best to stick with fresh produce, protein, and calcium. And STAY HYDRATED. Your brain and body will thank you for it.

Don’t neglect life.

Nanowrimo may seem to consume all of your free time, but that doesn’t mean you should put life on hold. Pay your bills. Do the dishes. Clean up after yourself. Go to school. Take your exams. Show up for work. Maintain a healthy social life. And for goodness’ sake, don’t forget to feed your pet hamster! If certain responsibilities conflict with your writing time, see if you can rearrange your schedule to accommodate both.

✎ Just write! And have fun.

We all want to write good prose, and be good writers, but at the end of the day it’s not about writing well or writing a lot—it’s about WRITING, period. Write. Just write. Keep on writing. Accept the fact, here and now, that your writing next month will not be your best. AND THAT’S OKAY. That’s what rewriting is for. Nanowrimo is not the time for rewrites or perfect manuscripts. It’s the time for writing, and for getting that first draft onto paper.

And most importantly, HAVE FUN YOU GUYS. Don’t take your story too seriously. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Just let go and enjoy the craziness that is Nanowrimo, and see where the creativity takes you.

Write on!


NANOWRIMO SURVIVAL GUIDE: Assemble an emergency kit

While I hope that no wrimo will ever suffer a melt-down mid-month, it’s best to be prepared! Therefore, spend some time this week assembling a writerly emergency kit.

I personally haven’t done this, but one idea is to find a box—nothing too big; something like a shoebox will do—and fill it with things that are comforting and inspiring. Maybe a copy of your favorite book? Or a few bars of your favorite chocolate? You can also try copying down some of your favorite inspirational quotes onto a sheet of paper or a small notebook, and keeping that in there. And why not, throw in a shock blanket, some stress balls, and maybe a live puppy or two. You might be in need of some snuggles and a few wet kisses.

You can also try compiling something more virtual. Maybe start a Pinterest board! Or a Tumblr. Upload images that remind you of your characters and locales. Reblog sage advice from seasoned writers that you admire. Or write some reminders to yourself! I did that a few years back, and would look over it whenever I felt I needed a perspective correction or something to knock me out of self-pity. I found it very effective.

Have fun with your kit! Don’t feel the need to be limited by what I’ve just suggested. Use it rather as a springboard. After all, you know what you’ll need in the kit better than anyone else.

Readers — What’s going into your kit? This is what’s going into mine. (And yup, I’m gonna be compiling a physical kit this year!)

  • Signed copy of Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints. And maybe American Born Chinese as well, for good measure.
  • Several bars of Madécasse chocolate. And maybe some Sharffen Berger too.
  • Print-out of my above-mentioned reminder-to-self.
  • Print-out of my favorite writing-related quotes.
  • My tartan wool blanket—if I’m not already wrapped in it come November.

NANOWRIMO SURVIVAL GUIDE: Find writing buddies

Some friends and I being dorky during last year’s Writeathon. Hipsters gonna hipster.


Note: Apologies again for another late post! Ugh. I didn’t manage my time too well last week, and … well, tardiness happened. We should be back on schedule next week.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I believe a writer fares best when they are surrounded by a supportive and encouraging community. I think this true particularly for wrimos. While Nanowrimo is unquestionably a time of fun and hilarity, it’s also one of the most strenuous creative experiences I’ve ever gone through. (Think marathon, but with noveling.) As if pumping out an original novel isn’t hard enough, you’ve signed up to do it within 30 days, at less than 1,700 words a day. That means lots of late nights, sleep deprivation liek whoa, and a potentially unholy amount of coffee consumption. Under such conditions, it’s incredibly easy for wrimos to kowtow to discouragement.

That’s where writing buddies come in.

If you have friends or family who are doing Nanowrimo, recruit them! Try to write together, if schedules and geographical constraints allow. Go to your favorite writing places as a group, or take turns hosting each other for daily write-ins. Even if you’re not talking, the camaraderie from physically being together makes a difference. It’ll help everyone to stay on track and focused—not to mention, being a heaping dose of encouragement. If you can’t write together, or prefer to work solo, check in with each other periodically. Use e-mail/ text/g-chat/Skype to ask how progress is going, or to send words of encouragement, or even offer suggestions if someone is having a hard time writing their main character out of a particular situation.

If you don’t know of anyone who is also doing Nanowrimo, recruit fellow writers, or studious college students. (I kid you not; November is midterm season; who else will be staying up all hours doing work?) Or look up your local region and see if you can connect with any writing groups, or community write-ins.

Ask around this week, and let me know how that goes.


Readers — What has your experience been like with finding and working alongside writing buddies?

NANOWRIMO SURVIVAL GUIDE: Compile a writing playlist

Note: Happy Labor Day, to all my Stateside readers! Enjoy your day off, and use it well!

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If you’re like me and need music playing in the background while you’re writing, set aside some time this week to assemble a writing playlist. If you’re not too happy with the selection on your iTunes, you can always go to online streaming websites like Pandora, Spotify, and Songza. I believe Spotify is the only one where you can put together your own playlist, but the others are perfect alternatives if you like listening to music in radio mode.

Over the years, I’ve resorted to my time-tested favorites: film and television scores. Particularly the following albums:

  • Inception
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
  • Pride & Prejudice (2005)
  • Never Let Me Go
  • Jane Eyre (2011)
  • Emma (1996 & 2009)
  • Sense & Sensibility (1995)
  • The Italian Job (2003)
  • The Bourne series

I’ll likely do so again this year, although I’ll probably also switch things up with some trip-hop and downtempo on Songza.

Readers — What do you listen to while you write?

NANOWRIMO SURVIVAL GUIDE: Find your writing space

Note: Apologies for the delay this week. I had some personal business last weekend, and didn’t manage to finish this post beforehand. The NSG should be back on schedule next week, with a new installment on Monday.

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If you were to ask me what my ideal writing space looks like, I could tell you right off the bat. It’s someplace indoors, but by no means sterile or sealed off from the outside world. I need windows, and fresh air, and sunlight. And a cushy couch. And an electrical outlet. Very, very important. It’s also a space filled with sound. Sometimes, it’s carefully chosen music. Sometimes, it’s the soothing bustle of a cafe. Other times, it’s simply the sounds of life: my roommates typing away at their computers, or the dishes being washed in the kitchen. It’s also a space where I feel welcomed and physically safe. Where I can cross my legs and type on my lap, and no one would raise an eyebrow. And where fresh, good coffee is within easy reach.

I didn’t always know what sort of space I needed to write. Growing up, I thought there was only one sort of environment: a library. But during college, I learned that that isn’t the case. Through trial and error, and many an evening spent trying NOT to feel miserable, I learned that libraries, in fact, are my least favorite environments, and that I needed somewhere else to work.

How about you? What is your ideal writing space? If you don’t know, now’s a good time to figure it out. First, determine what sort of environment you work best in—loud, quiet, or somewhere in between—and stake out a place that best matches it. Do you need utter silence? Consider your local public library. Or using ear plugs. Need some background noise? Consider a cafe. Or simulate the sound of one. Do you need to be comfortable? Stay at home. And work out a system with those you live with so they know not to disturb you when you’re writing. (Unless, of course, the house is burning down. In which case, by all means be disturbed.) If you’re not sure what works best for you, give them all a shot! And do that now, when you have the time. Pay attention to how productive you are in each environment. Can you hear yourself think? Do you feel physically safe? Can you concentrate? Are you actually getting work done? Eventually, you’ll find the environment that’s right for you.


If there’s anything that I learned from Nanowrimo it’s this: I am a planner, through and through. And as a planner, one of the most integral parts of my Nanowrimo preparatory routine is the time-honored practice of outlining my novel.

Outlining, simply put, is a semi-detailed break-down of a novel’s plot. And there’s no right or wrong format. It can be multi-layered and indented like this:

I. Chapter One

A. Enter Mr. Whatshisface

1. Stuff happens

i. More stuff happens.

II. Chapter Two

… or it can be as simple and streamlined as a list of bullet points, like the outline I drafted for my 2010 Nano-novel, pictured above. It just has to organized, and make sense to you.

As for how detailed you should go, strike a balance. Don’t be so vague that you might as well have gone pantser, but not so detailed so that you’ve essentially written your novel. Remember, an outline is both a test run and a road map. You want to put down enough details and specifics so that you know exactly what will happen at every major point of the story. Afterwards, run through the outline. When you notice potential pitfalls—plot holes, pacing fails, loose ends—adjust your plot according. Lather, rinse, and repeat until you have a pretty solid plot. And organize it so that you know exactly what parts of your novel you’ll be writing each day. (It’s also not a bad idea to make sure that your novel will actually “fit” within the 30-day constraint.) What I’ve done in the past is break down my plot into 30 chapters, and write one chapter a day.

One of the reasons why I always outline is that it almost guarantees a peace of mind while I’m writing in November. Because I’ve worked out everything beforehand, I’m not wasting precious writing time by worrying over whether or not my story idea will actually work, or fixing a plot hole, or figuring out what’s next for my characters. Instead, I’m focused on the good stuff: writing, hitting the daily word count, and enjoying the craziness that is Nanowrimo.

For those who haven’t outlined before, give it a shot! I admit, it does sound tedious, but trust me it’s surprisingly fun. For those who do outline, do you have tips or thoughts to offer on the subject? Let me know!

Write on,


NANOWRIMO SURVIVAL GUIDE: Write from the heart

Before you do anything else this month—like polish your plot, or finalize your ending, or bulk up your characters’ backstories—pause for a moment, and consider one thing: write from the heart.

When I say, “write from the heart,” I don’t mean unleash a messy, tear-stained, heart-wrenching sob story onto the unsuspecting blank pages of your word processor. (Although you can write a sob story if you want.) What I mean is this: write as who you are, using the voice that feels the most natural to you, about things that you have personally experienced.

This will involve lots of humble self-acceptance, and realizing that as much as we want to we can’t be J. K. Rowling, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, or any writer whom we admire. We are who we are—just like they are who they are, if you think about it—and we have our own journeys and opinions from which we can glean to create stories that are uniquely our own.

If you’re still struggling with finding what to write about this year, look back at your life so far. What have been some things that you have struggled through, or pondered at length, or have been really disturbed by? Find a way to transform that into social commentary. Any oddball or embarrassing memories? Use it for the basis of a comedy! And don’t feel limited to writing stories set in reality. The same principles can be applied to sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, etc.

Find ways to incorporate emotions too. Ever felt the sting of jealousy? The bitterness of a betrayal? The elation of victory? The swell of encouragement from knowing you have the support of a loyal friend? Have your characters wrestle with them, be overcome by them, triumph over them.

Writing from the heart is I think the most important thing a writer can do. What does it matter if you come out with a kick-butt story by copying someone else’s style or experiences? Write from the heart—even if your end product has, uh, room for improvement—and you’ll have created something that no one else can replicate. (Unless, of course, you really do just write like [insert name of established/published author] by nature. In which case … I dunno. Consider a hobby change?) And who knows, maybe you’ll come up with something entirely new and refreshing in the process! (Please, please do. We really don’t need another book about vampires, or werewolves, or bondage.)

So as you hunker down in the next few weeks to come up with a story, or polish the plot you’ve already been working on, give it a try—write from the heart. And let me know how that goes.

Write on!