The NeverEnding (NaNoWriMo) Story


Keep Calm and Write On

I received a peppy email from NaNoWriMo this week about it being editing time. Usually, I would be all over that, or even a couple steps ahead. Last year, I finished the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel on January 24th. The year before, I was a little slower, taking until February 10th, but my first draft was 30,000 words longer. This year, sad to say, I’m still under 70,000 words (barely) and feel like I might have finally achieved the halfway point of the story arc (if there is such a thing).

I’m not giving up, just plodding along. I don’t write new material every day – I don’t even think about it every day – although I should. I’m just too busy – often with things besides writing. But I’m reading a really good book that I can hardly stand to put down. (Okay, I’m actually reading several good books, but only one page-turner that’s brand new to me.)

And I have become distracted by another writing project. Yes, I’m writing this with guilty fingers, fingers that have typed on another story. Just to think – I postponed work on my Camp NaNoWriMo novel for NaNoWriMo 2015, and now that’s slowed down because I had this completely unexpected novel barge in one day, demanding to be written. Books will do that sometimes, and although I’ve been able to put some of these stories off before, this one wouldn’t take “Wait” for an answer.

You see, it all happened when I read a good book. (That’s how my first NaNoWriMo happened to begin with, so I guess my muse is really rubbing her hands together in glee right now.) It was teen fiction. No vampires or werewolves or anything at all supernatural, which is somewhat unusual for me. And suddenly, I had a character and an idea, and poor NaNoWriMo 2015 was doomed. I’ve only typed a little on this new project (just under 5500 words), but there’s at least 10 times that much simmering in my head, ready to boil over. It’s not like anything I’ve ever written, which makes me think that maybe it’s special.

Or maybe I’m just coming up with excuses to let NaNoWriMo 2015 linger.

Somehow, I don’t think so. Although I’ve left quite a few manuscripts hanging out to dry before, my NaNoWriMo record to date stands at two participations, two wins, two completed manuscripts (and by completed, I mean that I plowed through to their respective ends, although they still need major editing). Considering it’s the third book of a trilogy, and I have beta readers who want to know how it ends, I need to finish it for them – and for me. Earlier this week, one of my characters surprised me and did something I thought a different character would do. I guess I ought to keep writing and see how that’s going to resolve.

But let me state up front what I’m not going to do. This year, I am not going to set goals that will put me in a panic. This year, when I finish, I plan to edit and do it right. I will eventually have a copy of this book for beta readers, but I don’t even know if CreateSpace has a deal for free books this year, and I’m not going to stress out about it. If I have to pay for books, I have to pay for books.

So I’m going to work on these two stories (plus Camp NaNoWriMo, plus editing books one and two of the trilogy again), and if they take me through the end of October, so be it. But come November 1, 2016… well, the NaNoWriMo piper will play for me again. I’m sure of it.

Summer 2015 Writing

So far, summer 2015 has been one of the best summers in recent memory. My husband and I aren’t big summer vacation people. In fact, other than weekend trips to visit his parents, we haven’t taken a big summer vacation since our honeymoon 11 years ago.

When we decided to spend two weeks in the Pacific Northwest, I thought we were crazy. We’re not the type of people to just leave for two weeks. But aside from taking our hot Florida weather with us to Washington State, it was a great time away from home with our family.

During the first half of our trip, I was a little anti-social. (Let’s be honest, I’m anti-social anyway, but this time it was because I had a deadline to meet.) I spent most of my down time polishing my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel for submission to CreateSpace. As a NaNo winner, I was eligible to claim two free copies of my book, but I had to have it submitted and approved before midnight EDT on June 30th. On the west coast, that meant I had to be done by 9:00 P.M., and I was nervous about pushing it that late. Last year, I had my novel submitted in plenty of time, but CreateSpace’s approval process took almost 24 hours, and by then, it was too late to get two free copies.

This year, my goal was to submit my manuscript on June 28th. I didn’t achieve that goal, but that’s because I decided to submit more than just the 2014 novel. Since it was the sequel of my 2013 novel, I included both novels in the same volume. The 2013 novel has gone through significant revisions since last year, and my beta readers for the sequel will need to read the new version of the first novel in order for the story to make sense. So I finished editing and formatting both books, then submitted them on the evening of the 29th.

When CreateSpace sent me the book preview, it was with a note that they couldn’t publish it because there were three blank pages in the middle. After hours of frustration (because my copy didn’t have three blank pages), I figured out a way to eliminate the blank pages on their end. I submitted the new version after one in the morning, went to sleep, and woke up to see that it was perfect – except for the headers. Since there are two novels in one volume, I thought it would be helpful to have the titles listed in the headers, but after making the change that eliminated the three pages, apparently the second header was deleted. Oh well. I went with it rather than risk fixing the problem, only for it to go past the deadline. These are just beta copies, after all, and I finally got my two free copies.

NaNoWriMo 2013 2014

It was an immediate relief to have that project behind me. I spent a few days filling my free time with reading. But then it happened – the itch to write again. After giving my creative juices a few days to percolate, I started looking through my unfinished manuscripts for something I could sink my teeth into.

Then I found it – a book that I started writing years ago and that I come back to every once in a while. I’ve written a scene here, a scene there. It’s not even a skeleton of a book yet, but it’s something. I read through everything I had – about 60 pages in a Word document – and decided I wanted to dig in and really get something done with this story.

I was surprised with how easy it was to sit down and just write. It’s a great feeing – one that I’ve only been able to capture during National Novel Writing Month the past couple years. There’s a reason that I have so many unfinished manuscripts, and it’s that I’ll start with a lot of inspiration, and then my Muse will just abandon me. It’s wonderful to have the motivation back.

So wonderful that, after several days of writing and having no inclination to stop, I decided I might as well sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo. I have friends who sometimes participate in Camp NaNoWriMo in April or July, but I never wanted to do it before. I’m always too busy editing and revising. But this year, while I wait for my beta readers to give me their critiques, I want to be productive. There’s nothing better than writing because I want to – and having the time to do it. I might as well enjoy it because I’ll be working full-time in November and don’t know if I’ll be able to make the 50,000 word minimum.

For anyone else who’s interested, Camp NaNoWriMo allows you to set your own goal (I think the minimum is 10,000 words). My manuscript was already at 20,000 when I started, so I set my goal for 35,000 by the end of July. As of today, I only have 10,000 words to go, and I think I have enough momentum to maybe even finish this book.

Happy writing!


If you read my post last week, you know that I had great hopes for this week. My to-do list needed to get a lot shorter, and guess what? I am happy to report that my first full week of summer break has been a success.

On Sunday, I finally finished Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, the last book of which I’d been waiting for read for four years. I have to say, whatever my complaints about Paolini’s style in his early books, the last one more than made up for it. The only problem, of course, was that I was sad to be finished.

Reading Dilemma

With my recreational reading done, I plunged into work on Monday. And I even involved the kids. They sat at their table and had work time while I cleaned the kitchen. I have to tell you this because a day during which I clean an entire room (actually more than that because I cleaned the laundry room and one bathroom, too) is a day for the record books. (Please tell me I’m not crazy to be proud of this.)

I also spent my younger son’s entire naptime working on my biggest freelance project, a memoir that I’ve been working on for a year now. Thank goodness my client isn’t in a hurry. Although she still has some copy to turn in to me, my hope was to finish arranging and editing the material she’s given me so far and return it to her by the end of the week. I must have spent anywhere from three to six hours on this project every day this week, and although Microsoft Word had me practically pulling my hair out by the end, I did finally get a draft to her. (I would give details, but just know it had to do with pagination – if I try to be any more specific, I’ll most likely be reduced to gibberish and &%*!@ in order to keep this a family friendly blog.)

With one project out of the way (at least until that client gets back with me), I have one last freelance project (a much simpler one) to finish before our family vacation. I understand that I will come home from our vacation with work still to do, but my clients will have that time to decide what changes they would like for me to make, and I will only have to worry about finishing touches.

And then I will be done. As of this week, I am no longer offering my freelance writing services. And it’s not just Word that’s made me fed up enough to quit. Although I won’t go into details now, I am going to join the work force again soon, and if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that I can make myself and my loved ones very miserable if my plate is too full. So while I will be glad to help friends with blogs or editing projects that don’t have critical deadlines, I am no longer pursuing freelance work.

It’s a relief, actually. Anyone who is self-employed understands the pressures of finding enough work to pay the bills. Last summer, I was able to land enough steady projects to earn a paycheck while I wasn’t substitute teaching, but it meant that when I was at home with my kids, we weren’t able to do much fun stuff; I was stuck at my computer working very hard for very little monetary compensation. This summer, I will be able to spend more time with them, and the time that I do spend at the computer will mostly be writing my own fiction.

Speaking of my fiction, now that I have one freelance project behind me, I have time to concentrate on editing last year’s NaNoWriMo book. I am determined to get my two free copies from CreateSpace. Beta readers, I will be reaching out to you sometime in July, so get ready!

Lastly, while I am reducing the stresses in my life, one of them will be this blog. No, I’m not quitting! Believe me, I still have a lot to say, but I won’t be pushing myself to reach my own personal deadline (which is once a week) anymore. Many weeks, I get to Sunday and panic because I don’t know what to write about. Or I have a lot to say but am too brain dead to arrange much of a coherent thought.

I have a friend who used to blog weekly, and she made the announcement earlier this year that she will now only post when she feels inspired to do so. At the time, I was saddened because I loved reading her blogs, but I could certainly understand – and I kept her idea in the back of my mind. To remove another stress that I put on myself sounded like bliss. I told myself that if I ever went back to work, changing from a weekly blog post to a “when I’m inspired to write” blog post would be the way to go.

Don’t worry. Even if you don’t hear from me next week, I still have plenty to say. I’ll likely update my book list sometime soon, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about NaNoWriMo 2015. But when you don’t hear from me, know that I’m enjoying my family or a good book… and, as always, striving make more of my to-do list items to-done.

Identity Crisis

As both an editor and an author, I used to assume that if someone claimed to be a author, he had to know how to spell (or at least turn over a manuscript relatively free of typos). But I’ve learned that that is not the case at all. And while it’s handy to be able to easily pick out typos, bad syntax, and gaping plot holes, it is something of a disadvantage when the editor part of me gets in the way of the author part.

When I participated in National Novel Writing Month, both in 2013 and 2014, I had to remind myself that to write 50,000 words in 30 days, I had to set my internal editor aside. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook recently, and I can totally relate:

Month-Long Novel Agreement

As I’ve said many times, I love both the outpouring of raw story as well as the subsequent cutting, adding, tweaking, and rearranging that come with the editing process. It’s hard to say which I enjoy more, although it’s quite satisfying to read something I’ve edited and note its improvement. And it’s also wonderful to have those Aha! moments (usually in the car or shower – totally not convenient times to write) that provide just the right solution to a problem that’s been irritating me.

This last can happen in either stage. When writing this past November, I counted on these moments to get me through long periods of stagnation. This book was the sequel to my 2013 NaNoWriMo novel, and as such, I sometimes wrote something that either solved a problem in the first book or necessitated a change in that earlier storyline. I had to jot down these ideas and come back to them later; I didn’t have time to both write 50,000 words of my new novel as well as edit the old one.

But I finished NaNoWriMo 2014, set it aside to percolate while I made those necessary changes to NaNoWriMo 2013, and I even had a date written in my calendar for when I would switch gears again to start editing the sequel.

February 24th was when I was supposed to get back to the 2014 book. It’s now May 9th. I’m still on the first book. Granted, all the changes I’ve made so far have been necessary – and I even had an Aha! moment as recently as this past week. But the editor in me is tired. She wants to move on to something else. She wants to talk to the frustrated author of NaNoWriMo 2014 and hash some things out. But I can’t give equal space to both right now, and the more they argue, the less work I get done.

I presented this issue to my husband, and he gave me the answer that I knew all along (but that I needed to have reaffirmed): finish editing the first book. After all, I have to make sure I know exactly how it will end in order to have a smooth transition to the sequel.

I often hear jokes about artists and how they’re flighty and unorganized. That’s why it’s so odd for me to be a stickler when it comes to grammar, punctuation, formatting – you name it – but also creative enough to invent new worlds. For me, the two are so interconnected that they will always need to work in tandem. But I wonder if it’s freeing to not worry about spelling properly, to just hand a manuscript over to someone else to correct. Not that I write without any outside input at all – a second pair of eyes to catch typos and plot inconsistencies is always necessary. Especially because…

Writing Quote

I don’t know what numbers one through three are, but number four certainly does have a point – all the more reason for me to find out if the story in my head gets across at all, even if it’s not as eloquent or funny or moving as I originally thought. Because of my Grammar Nazism, I sometimes worry that I’m not the author I should be. Maybe I’m too careful, too precise, too self-censored (God forbid). Maybe one part of my inner writer holds back the other.

Editing my novel is necessary (it really is – auto format deleted about two-thirds of my sections breaks, and I have to put them back in), but it’s almost time to move on. Besides, I have a good incentive: CreateSpace is offering two free copies of NaNoWriMo winners’ novels again, and I don’t want to miss the deadline like I did last year. I want to give my beta readers the chance to tear another novel to shreds, to give me good reason to sink my teeth into another good edit… and to gear up for NaNoWriMo 2015. After all, these books are a part of a trilogy, and unless my muse materializes and does the dirty work for me, the author in me is going to take the driver’s seat on November first.

What Comes After NaNoWriMo? (2014 Version)

I won!

I won!

For the third year now, I’ve written a post entitled “What Comes After NaNoWriMo?”, so since we’re into December now, it’s time to post this year’s version. (Read the first two here and here.)

In case it’s your first time stumbling across my blog, and you’re like “NaNo-what?”, it’s short for National Novel Writing Month (which is November). Writers sign up through, and starting on November first, they each must write a 50,000-word novel from scratch by November 30th.

In 2012, I thought everyone who participated was crazy. Then last year, I turned into one of those crazy people and wrote 80,000 words by the end of November, and I finished the first draft of that novel in early February. I didn’t know whether I would participate again this year, although my first time was an amazing experience. It just wasn’t one I was sure I could replicate.

Then in the spring, I had an idea for a new novel, but the problem was: could I wait until November? I did discover a way around that problem (read about it here), but as the summer months came and went, I realized that what I really wanted to write this year was the sequel for last year’s NaNo novel. And so when November rolled around, I was ready. Sort of.

Actually, I was stressing over editing the first novel. There were some problems with the end that I had to resolve before being able to start book two. So November first found me making those final changes, and I started NaNoWriMo 2014 with a bang. I wrote over 4000 words, which put me ahead of the game (you need to write 1667 words per day to finish on time, but my personal goal was 2000).

Unfortunately, it was well before the dreaded second week slump that I had my own personal slump. This year, although I enjoyed the writing process, it was a completely different experience than last year. Many days, I struggled to achieve my word count goal, and a couple nights, I didn’t come anywhere close.

It was one day last week when I confided to my husband that I’d finally reached a scene with some action – about 38,000 words in. What that means is that when I go back to edit, I’m going to have to cut out a lot of deadwood. I joked that it would end up being a two chapter novel when I got done with it.

The wonderful thing is that, after that point, I had a much easier time writing this book. If I were able to average 2000 words a day, that would put me at 60,000 words at the end of the month. And as of November 30th, I actually had 61K. The last 20,000 words were the easiest for me to write; it only took me to the end of the month to find my stride.

As with last year, my goal now is to finish the novel. Last year’s novel ended up being 148,000 words, which I have now cut down to 99,000. Still long for a the young adult genre, but it’s a lot tighter than it was. As for this one, I will be surprised if it’s longer than 80,000 words. I hope to finish it by the end of December, if at all possible, and then start editing.

I’m not about to fool myself that this one will be any easier to edit. After having such a hard time finding my momentum, it’s going to need some serious work. But yet again, CreateSpace is offering two free copies to all NaNoWriMo winners who submit by June 30th (see all the winner goodies here). And unlike last year, when I submitted so late that I didn’t have time to fix a submission issue before the deadline, I plan to make it ahead of schedule and actually get those two books for free.

How about the rest of you? Did you struggle like me and keep plugging away? Did you realize your idea wasn’t what you thought and scrap it halfway through? Or did you surpass all your goals and end up with a monster novel on your hands at the end of the month?

And for those of you who still don’t know if you can handle a project of this magnitude, I encourage you to consider signing up next year. And there are a couple opportunities before November when you can sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo and warm up those writing muscles. Why not? You might discover you have some unexpected literary tricks up your sleeves.

So You Want to Write a Book – Well, Now What?

William Faulkner's Underwood Universal Portabl...

William Faulkner’s Underwood Universal Portable (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Has this ever happened to you? You’re with a group of people – let’s say a moms’ group, with everyone exchanging tips and anecdotes – and someone says, “We could write a book.”

“We really could!” someone else chimes in.

Another mom even throws in a title: “Temper Tantrum on Aisle Four – How to Survive the Toddler Years!”

Everyone laughs, and they go about their lives and forget about it. But you linger on the thought that maybe you could write a book. Then again, the idea that you don’t know how to start – and what would make your book any more special than any other, any more worthy of the New York Times Bestseller List? – is intimidating, so your idea stays an idea and no more.

On the one hand, you might be right. Everyone does have a story (or three), and some of them aren’t worth telling (and those are the ones that seem to be repeated the most). But any time you impart a nugget of knowledge to someone else who seems to get something out of it, you feel that I-should-really-write-this tug.

Nowadays, blogs (much like this one) pick up the slack. A mom blogs about potty-training her strong-willed toddler, and other moms unite behind her or take comfort that they aren’t alone in the struggle. A man loses his job but figures out how to make a living from home – and writes a great how-to post. Someone with an incredible weight-loss story posts a menu and workout routine online to help others in the same situation. Blogs are great resources, and the topics they cover are endless.

But still, there are those for whom blogging and swapping stories around the water cooler aren’t enough. The problem is that they aren’t necessarily writers and don’t know what to do. The idea persists, won’t let them go.

Sometimes for decades.

I get all kinds of mixed reactions when people find out that I’m a writer. They want to know what I write. (“Novels? How can you write so much?”) They want to know how much freelance work I can handle. (“How do you manage it with two kids?”) They marvel that I’ve actually made an occupation out of this – you know, it’s not just a cute hobby. (“You mean you edit and write for a living?”)

And sometimes they ask me, kind of sheepishly, if I can help them with something they’ve been wanting to do for years.

One such person is a client of my parents’ business and happened to mention to my mom that she had a writing project. My mother said that I’m a writer, and the next time the woman came in, I was there. I gave her my business card and promptly forgot about it. I talk to a lot of people about my services, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to hire me.

A few weeks later, to my surprise, she called. She went into great detail about this project, one that she started over ten years ago. Her kids have been encouraging her to write a memoir because she’s led such an interesting life, but she doesn’t use computers, and the woman who helped her start it has been too busy to continue.

As I talked to this woman and learned her story, I realized that there are so many people who lead amazing lives, but some of the best details will die with them. They may not have a great command of the English language, but they have stories worth passing on. It would be a shame for this woman to never see her dream fulfilled just because she’s not a “writer.” I feel privileged to help her share her bit of history with her family.

Another opportunity arose in late May. I had just published my children’s book Hero (shameless plug – buy it here!), and Peter shared it with his kindergarten class. Afterward, one of his teachers mentioned that she has always wanted to write a book but needs help.

“Sure, let’s do it,” I said before I even knew what she wanted. Hey, I had just illustrated and published my first children’s book – I was flying high and felt like I could do anything.

Her face lit up as she described her 20-year dream. She used to take her children for bike rides around Amelia Island. They would stop at interesting trees, and she would make them create stories about how those trees came to look like that. Combining her love of nature with her interest in developing writing skills in children, she wants to create a book with photos of interesting trees and writing prompts. As with her own children, kids will “Look at this tree” and be encouraged to write a story about it.

It’s right up my alley. Although I’ve never created a book like this, I must admit that I love writing prompts. I love anything that starts with a tiny seed and blossoms into a beautiful story.

I really feel that I could give her a push – much like with a child on a bike with the training wheels removed for the first time – and watch her go, but I also understand that I’ve been in the publishing world for a while now, and it’s no longer mysterious to me. If you’re not right in the middle of it, though, you might think writing a book is unattainable.

I was there once. I’ve talked about my college fiction workshop before, and the second time I signed up, our instructor Ari pulled a group of us together (the ones who were serious about getting published) and gave us the low-down on publishing. 1) It’s a competitive market that’s difficult to break into, and 2) it’s still not guaranteed to be everything you hoped and dreamed even if you do get published. What Ari suggested was that we pull our best stories together and create our own publication. And so Fiction Fix was born. With his direction, we figured out what we were supposed to do, and more than 11 years later, Fiction Fix is going strong as an online fiction journal. We’ve grown quite a bit from that group of desperate writers who just wanted to see our stories in print; now we receive submissions from all over the world.

We were lucky in that we had someone who saw our desire to write and be read and who knew just when to push us. But for those out there with the desire but no direction, no help, no idea except THE IDEA for a story or book, the task can seem daunting. But here’s the thing: if you have a book that you want to write, the only thing in your way is your own indecision. Instead of dreaming or joking about maybe writing a book some day, you need to take action.

Indie (self-published) authors are more prevalent than ever. The internet has done many wonderful things for writers, on-demand and e-publishing being two of them. And even if you don’t write, these tools and their practitioners have made publishing a much more attainable reality than it used to be.

An internet search can give you everything you need, from writers’ support groups and social networks to online book publishing to lists of freelance editors (like me!). Don’t ever assume that the person you’ve just looked up is the real deal until you’ve done some research. (I learned this the hard way, regarding literary agents – read my story here.) Also don’t assume that the big companies are your only choice. Everywhere you look, you will find writers and editors with different levels of expertise. You’ll even find local printing companies, graphic designers, and illustrators who can all help bring your book to life. These are real people with whom you can share a cup of coffee – and your dream.

But if you’d like some resources, here are some websites to check out:

  • Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace (’s answers to e-publishing and on demand publishing)
  • (distributor of eBooks to every conceivable e-format)
  • Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market (tips for writing and publishing)
  • LinkedIn (where professionals go to network – Facebook and Twitter are great, but if you want to connect with writers who can help you get started, I can’t think of a better place)
  • (Ever wonder if you could write a novel in a month? If you’re serious about this, I promise that you will have the writing experience of a lifetime.

So… do you have a story to tell?

Want to help with the writing prompt book?

Look at This Tree

Look at This Tree

The writing prompt book I mentioned is the brain-child of my friend Karen Saltmarsh. We’re going to title it Look at This Tree, and we’re looking for high-quality photos of interesting trees that could tell a story. To the left is an example from a park that I visited in Washington State. (Don’t you think there could be a secret hideout for some mythical, woodland creature under the roots?) If you have something you’d like to submit, please fill out the contact form on my Writing Services page, and Karen and I will consider your photo for her book.