5 Ways to Succeed at NaNoWriMo

Before I begin I must be forthright. I’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo. But that does not disqualify me from sharing advice about a literary sprint such as this. How? I’ve done the 3 Day Novel Contest. Yes. NaNoWriMo – in three days.

That contest produced a 25,000 word novella with a wide cast of characters, weaving plot, and horrendous grammar, just like your NaNoWriMo project will.

Know you can do it! Super cliché right? Removing this mental hurdle is key. How do you know you can do it? Break it down. 2,500 words a day = a 75,000 word novel. This is more than adequate for any market.

Remove distractions. Turn off the wifi connector on your writing device. barricade yourself in your room or garage. Whatever you need to do to ensure you have absolute focus. One of my friends listens to music. Another requires silence. Do whatever it is that makes you dial in.

Be healthy. Take breaks. Get proper sleep. Go on walks. Spend time not writing. Spend time reading. Maybe choose one day a week where you don’t write. Don’t avoid it but don’t let your creative well run dry. This is paramount. Write 1,000 words and then go stretch your legs.

Don’t edit. This might be hard or not. But consider this – have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who interrupts you all of the time? Annoying yes? Let your inner artist out. This is not the final draft anyway. If you were a sculptor, your finished draft would be like finding the precise stone to chisel. Believe me, this is an essential ingredient to ensure you do not fall behind and win the competition.

Have your ending in mind. Plot all you want or not at all but have a solid ending. This will keep you going and make sure it will not be a chore to finish, because it can be. And also having your destination in mind will ensure you do not spend 30 hours and 30,000 words on something that does not work or does not interest even you.

I hope you are prepared mentally, physically, and emotionally.

If you have ideas for how you are going to get through this, share them below.



ROE And Why Writers Should Care About It

I don’t like acronyms. If you tell me you went to DRT to learn YUR, you might see my eyes glaze over and be given a polite excuse that my phone is ringing or my house is on fire.

Okay, I’m not that much of a jerk, but I don’t like acronyms for their exclusivity and lack of description.

So why am I talking about ROE? If you’ve read any books by James Scott Bell recently, you are probably clear on why, as a writer, keeping ROE in mind is important. If not, let me induct you into the group. Here’s the Kool Aid.

If you are in the business world you might be aware of its cousin – ROI – Return On Investment. How much you expect to get back for your efforts/investment. ROE – Return On Energy is just as important to the time-strapped novelist.

Time is our enemy. We scramble to cobble together three minutes to whittle a sentence or two and hope it doesn’t have a lot of adverbs. We must be intentional with all of our time and projects to ensure our efforts are productive and we get the proper ROE.

So how do you ensure you are getting the proper ROE? Good question.

I firmly believe in writing when you have the time, not meandering around Facebook/Pintrest or throwing together a writing playlist. You sit down and write on your novel/article/blog post. All of this screen time and usage of time is making sure you are getting the proper return on the energy spent. This means keeping your end goal in mind and working towards it.

Sometimes you must leave a bit of editing and move forward with your work or plotting your book for the eighth time, so you don’t veer off course like an errant firework. Maybe it’s simply taking time away from marketing and blogging and actually work on your next project.

Whatever this might mean for you writer, keep writing and keep aiming. Keep searching for the best Return On Energy.

See, I still can’t do acronyms.



Developing Characters – The Blind Date Approach

Characters make or break a work of fiction. No matter what perspective you are writing they have to be real, convincing, and unique to survive your entire book.

I’ve read a lot about creating characters. Not so that I can whip up bland cookie-cutter personalities but to learn how to develop them. Our readers want our characters to grow through whatever journey we take them. This does not mean the journey finishes with an end of the rainbow ending, but it does mean that they cannot be the same person at the beginning and at the end.

This is why I believe we should reveal our characters as if they are on a blind date with our audience.

I have not been on a date in about a decade. I’m happily married. But a blind date is a simple enough concept. You don’t start by telling them you are interested in getting married right now, or tomorrow at the latest. And you don’t ask them to see your parents tomorrow or move in. Relationships take time to develop.

Introduce your main characters with a few descriptive details. Not – he was old, fat and lazy. Instead – his hobby was TV, his favorite food was anything found in a gas station, and he kept a fridge next to his sofa so all of his snacks were within arm’s reach.

Okay that description may have been a bit lame but you get the point. Don’t tell the entire history of this person in three or four pages and interrupt the flow of the story. If you do it you, the author, are drawing attention to yourself with this magnificent sidebar. The introduction should feel natural and then take opportunities through the story to reveal the character through action and conversation.

I encourage you to go back and check each time you introduce a character. See how many pages and paragraphs you use to do this. Keeping it short and sweet can help keep your audience in what John Gardner called “the vivid dream”. They will be carried along by the current of your plot as they get to know the people you’ve created.

Keep Writing.



When The Writer Battles Self-Doubt


If there is anything a writer (or any artist) needs, it is that. After all, you are placing a short story, essay, painting, poem or some other original work out in the open for someone to love or scrutinize.

Though I have written for years and published a little, I still wrestle with small bouts of insecurity. The shadow comes when I blog, tell people I am a writer or submit the latest short story. I think I am not good enough, original enough, have not lived and experienced enough to put something amazing or meaningful together.

Over the last few months I created a writing space. I built bookshelves, put pictures up of my wife and kids, in order to have a place to write and keep my writer-ish things (like a sailboat, family heirlooms, hockey pucks and, most importantly, my leather bound journals).

Every once in a while I crack open a journal entry or two to review an important date of my life. The entry at 5am before I was married to my beautiful bride. The birth of my first daughter. The day I graduated college. The day my second daughter was born. I reflect and remember how much I have grown both as a writer and a person. Recently, I read my very first journal entry and smiled.

This “entry” consisted of a date, title, and a scrap from a devotional book. That’s right. My first attempt at a journal entry was also my first attempt at plagiarism.

Be what it is, I learned something. Something significant and comforting that I consider each time I embark on a new project.

I have come a long way.DSC_0073

I can see progress and joy in my entries and short stories. I see the love of something good and, even in the rarest of occasions, profound.

There are many things we build on. But they all come from the first word, the first step of trying something new. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t.

That is not the point. The point is the step.

After a while you can see just how far you’ve come.

If there is any doubt in you writer – think about the piece before. Think about how far you’ve come. I did and find I am a lot further down the road than I could ever have expected.

And it gives me confidence to keep going.

Keep (or start) Writing.



Making Plans

It’s been a month or so since I’ve written my blog. It’s been a few more since I’ve blogged consistently. This hiatus has been an intentional one, though I have missed my writing comrades scattered across the globe.

What I’ve Been Up To

I dropped my blog for a couple of reasons. First, I was allotting all of my writing time to my blog and commenting while I was in the middle of a dramatic overhaul of my novel. This required nearly all of my writing effort and writing time. I am pleased to report that it is finished and I am doing a final grammar scrub. I hope to have it to an acquisitions editor by my thirtieth birthday on May 19th.

Also, I have written a few short stories and submitted one of them. I’ve been inspired by reading several of Ray Bradbury’s articles on writing collected in Zen in the Art of Writing. They are wonderful. I would recommend them to any writer.

My Plans

I planned on picking a new theme/platform for the blog relaunch but it’s proven difficult to find one I like. I hope to do this soon.

Over the next year, I plan to cycle my novel through a few Literary Agents and hope for some feedback.

Also, I would like to get a short story finished every two weeks and submitted to journals or websites. I plan on submitting to multiple places from literary journals to flash fiction to sci-fi/fantasy. As a writer it is good to stretch yourself and I hope to do that.

That’s a lot of goals

I want to keep my writing goals realistic as I tend to be someone with way too many plans and not enough time. If only I could figure out how to survive on an hour or so of sleep. If you have figured that out, please let me know.

All of these goals are going to be up in the air come July as we welcome a new addition to the family. My son is due at the end of July!

Overall, it has been an exciting year for writing. I look forward to more submissions and rejections.

How about you?

Have you met your writing goals?

Are you using your writing time wisely?



Remembering the 3-Day Novel Contest

The Weaklings – Our Photo For The Grand Rapids Press

It started out as the most outrageous statement I had ever heard. “So we need to try this sometime. Can you imagine writing a novel in three days?” thus said Matthew Landrum as he discovered the annual 3-Day novel contest over Labor Day Weekend. I took it as a sort of joke at first. After all I had been working on a novel for three stinking years. There was no way I could do that, I thought. Could I?

Then I was creating an outline. My writer’s group The Weaklings (a play on C.S Lewis’s and Tolkien’s Inkings) began to discuss logistics. Where would this take place? What would we eat? How long would we have to write to complete it? What would we write? Slowly but surely each member looked at this Mount Everest of novel writing contests and began to believe that it was something we could finish.

The three day novel contest is exactly that: Start at 12:01am on Saturday and write until 11:59 on Monday evening. You cannot type a single word before or after that time frame and a person must sign and date a form saying you have not. Outlines are okay, but other than that, its just dreaming up as much of the novel in your mind ahead of time before you begin.

Obviously the novels composed during this weekend are not your average novels. No eight hundred page tomes are penned, but eighty to 100 pages are within reach if you are prepared.

The 3-Day Novel is a juggernaut. Once you are in it there is no stopping. And after that brief moment of despair or trying something new you cannot allow yourself to think twice about it, you must highlight, delete, then begin a new sentence in one continuous action.

Through the contest we went on walks, shared the occasional meal, and for motivation I called my wife, talked with a fellow Weakling for a moment or read the article that made it into the Grand Rapids Press and on the Mlive website.

During the two years I did compete, I wrote two novels. The first is titled For the Glory of Nequam. It is my attempt at exploring the evil in my world and how it began. It is the story of a promised young boy who seeks fame, fails and then attempts to restore the glory of his city no matter the cost. 

The second novel is titled Dacia. It’s about a language expert who is commissioned to travel to Romania to help sway them to join England’s cause during WWI. He falls in love with Katia, a native Romanian and after she goes missing while hiking, discovers a society of werewolves that have lived in the Balkans for centuries.

The contest was so much fun that I am getting filled with the thrill of competing in it once more. Not this year though, but perhaps next. Now I am focused on getting published.

Please enjoy other 3 Day Novel memories below:

If you are participating this year, good luck!



Writing Above Your Means

When my wife and I were looking for a house, we decided to get one we could afford. Shocking, I know. What I mean is, we agreed to buy something within our means and have realistic expectations about this purchase. We knew it would be silly to try to have what our parents have now in regards to a house and the things in it as they have had thirty plus years to accumulate them.

That got me thinking. Do I do that with my writing? What sort of expectations do I have for my novel? Are they unrealistic? Do I give myself time to grow and become the novelist I want to be? Or am I working too fast and too hard trying to get there? Do I compare myself with Patterson, Dickens, Rowling or the next millionaire author?

Something to think about.



My Family Loves Books!

My daughter June loves books. When she first started walking, her favorite book was Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. I know this because she kept swiping it off the shelf and biting it.

Now as she is older, she likes to take them off the shelf and distribute them about the house. Sometimes she puts them in our bed. Every night she has at least a dozen scattered across her as she sleeps when I go to check on her before bed.

Earlier this week my wife and I moved our youngest daughter Clara into June’s room. Clara is almost eleven months old and they get along fairly well. I also believe Clara will share the same passion, as you can see it clearly displayed below. Okay, her sister might have helped.

Happy reading and writing.



The Dust Jacket of Calelleth

The Seige of Calelleth

Yesterday (see here), I promised to post the synopsis of my book as I continue to work through sections of my proposal. I am pleased to say I got a bit closer to the place I wanted to be, though there is always a (perhaps obsessive) need for the writer to refine and improve.

I have to admit I was a bit depressed by the perpetual mustering of strength  my synopsis required. I was trying so hard and focusing all of my energy on writing a synopsis that is good and gripping and inviting that I nearly tired of writing altogether.

Now, I know it is only a couple of hundred words but I am proud of them. Proud enough to hope that the thrill of finishing this portion of my proposal will be able to carry me through the next. I also hope it offers a potent enough spell to banish that depressive Bob that rears his ugly head every now and again to tell me I’m not cut out for this. You can go to seed, dear friend. This novelist no longer needs you.

Custos is a Humili – both farmer and volunteer in the Calellethian guard. Though war hasn’t happened for centuries, opportunities abound for a young man to display his talent with the sword and bow during the Harvest Celebration. However, before Custos is able to participate, he is chosen to fill a revered post that becomes available once in a generation: The Guardian, the protector of the future Sage of Calelleth.  

After Hailea is elected Sage in Waiting, but before the people of Calelleth discover they are not alone in the world, she befriends her bodyguard Custos and together they uncover a nasty secret buried beneath the city: a labyrinth of passageways leading to ancient ruins and piles of decayed bodies.

As Custos and Hailea struggle with the gravity of this discovery amid the political squabbles and backstabbings that usually encompass their daily life, an innumerable army arrives at the Calellethian gates demanding to have their captive families released to the utter bewilderment of the city leaders.

Will Custos and Hailea be able to devise a plan to appease the ferocious force in order to save Calelleth? Or will the city of Calelleth and its inept army be obliterated by the consequences of a forgotten past?

Keep Writing.



C.S. Lewis, On Stories

I like essays. I like essays by any notable writer because it helps me get into their mind, read what makes them tick, and hear what formed their world and life and why this translated into book form.

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorites because he can write something like this:

My dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it – C.S. Lewis’ dedication of the Lion Witch and the Wardrobe.

If you have read any of the Chronicles of Narnia, you will know they are nothing like the Disney film travesties. They are wonderfully written. Read them.

I write this post today because of something I read in a collections of essays by Lewis titled On Stories and Other Essays on Literature edited by Walter Hooper. One of these essays is titled “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said”.

It goes like this:

In the Author’s mind there bubbles up every now and then the material for a story. For me it invariably begins with mental pictures. This ferment leads to nothing unless it is accompanied with the longing for Form: verse or prose, short story, novel, play or what not. When These two things click you have the Author’s impulse to complete. It is now a thing inside him pawing  to get out. He longs to see that bubbling stuff pouring into form…This nags him all day long and gets in the way of his work and his sleep and his meals. It’s like being in love.

Crazy huh? Does your work get in the way of your meals? Does it keep you up at night? Well, I think it should and so does C.S. Lewis. If, perhaps, it does not, is it worth your time?

Something to ponder for sure.

Keep writing.