Tag Archives: writing

Preparing For NaNoWriMo

In two days a group of ordinary people will embark on an extraordinary adventure. They will abandon their families, shirk their responsibilities and quite possibly stop bathing altogether on the journey to becoming novelists. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month is primarily a support network that encourages, promotes and inspires those among us who have been afflicted with that very special type of insanity that drives a person to write fiction.

Maybe you’re thinking about joining them. You might be thinking about how good it would feel to spend the next month Doing Something. Or maybe you’re tempted by the  idea of spending a month living in an alternative reality. Maybe you’re thinking about the motivational aspect, how November is really just a chance for writers to take a second shot at a New Year’s resolution. A deadline does work wonders for productivity, after all.

This will be my first time participating in National Novel Writing Month so I’ve been doing a lot of research and planning. I love a solid game plan.

In order to reach the minimum word count of 50,000 participants will need to write an average of 1,667 words per day. The rules of NaNoWriMo stipulate that all writing must start 12:01 AM November 1st but that doesn’t mean that you have to go into November with a blank slate. There are a few things that you can be doing in the next two days to get prepared that don’t involve writing.

1. Find Your Starter

In baking, a starter is a bit of bread dough that’s saved from every batch. It is already fermenting when the baker adds it to the new batch of dough so it activates the yeast and the dough rises.

A good story starts with an idea. Since you’re going to be spending the next month wandering through this idea you want to make sure that it’s something you’re excited about.  If you don’t already have an idea like that, read through your notebook until something snags your attention. It should really hook you. Maybe you’ll read on but then your eyes will wander back, reading over the name or the sentence again. That wriggling lively idea is just begging to be written about. And that’s it. That’s your starter.

Character is an excellent starter. There are plenty of shadowy characters in every writer’s notebook, indistinct and unformed, waiting to be written into being.

2. Meet Some Of The Characters

If your starter was setting or plot related, take some time now to think about the characters who will live in your book. It’s easy to assume that the first character you think of should be the main character but try coming up with a few rough characters before you make your decision. Think about the story as it would be told by each of your characters; maybe write a paragraph or two to see what it would be like. Take their perspective for a test drive. A story changes dramatically when told by different people so give some serious thought to this.

Spend some time thinking about names as well. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to write and coming to a total stand still when the only name you can think of is Roxette. Roxette is the right name for some stories but definitely not for all of them. Name with care.

3. Make A Bubble Chart

Or write out a list or use refrigerator magnets. However you do your best thinking down on paper (or fridge), get ready to do it. Because what you’re going to do next is make a story map.

Sit down with a blank piece of paper or document and casually start to think about the story. Write down the first thing that comes to mind be it a place, an event, a person, or an object. Then connect it to something else. Follow wherever your thoughts take you, writing down everything you’ve been thinking about your book, filling in you story’s family tree.

I like to do a bubble chart because it only loosely connects the story leaving room for flexibility and change. However you do it, this is a good step to do a day or two before writing starts; I’ll be doing mine today.

4. One True Sentence

Ernest Hemingway’s advice for those with writer’s block haunts me.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

This quote tends to pop up on the edge of my mind all shiny and golden when I’m staring at the blank first page of a new story and starting to panic. The first sentence is always the hardest. So in the last couple days before NaNoWriMo, think about how your story wants to start.

Try out a couple of different approaches. A few ideas for how to start:

  • Dialogue
  • In the middle of a scene
  • Description of a person/place/object
  • Flashback
  • Journal Entry or Letter

There are tons of exercises and prompts on the Internet so do some searching if you need help getting started. The important thing is to sit down on the first day with something to put on the page. If you start with confidence that will carry you a long way through the month.

5. Manage Your Expectations

It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into when you start NaNoWriMo and to clarify what you’re hoping to get out of it. There will be discouraging days and there is a strength that comes from being prepared.

In order to “win” NaNoWriMo you’ll need to complete 50,000 words in one month. That is just long enough to be considered a novel by a some publishers but it is much more common for publishers to accept novels closer to 70,000 words in length; you may want to add some length after the month has ended. More importantly, writing 50,000 words in a month is likely to produce some loose writing and, to quote Hemingway again,

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

When the month ends, you’re still going to have work to do. Be prepared to edit like crazy, add scenes, characters, whatever the story needs. You can (and should) take a break from it though. Take a couple days or a week away from the book. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t write, you should always write. Just write something else for a few days and return to your novel with fresh eyes.

I hope that you are all thinking about stories and getting as excited as I am! NaNoWriMo is going to be rigorous, it’s true, but think about what we get to do this month. We get to make up a world, give birth to a new family, watch detailed events unfold in a whirlwind of creative release. We are writers. Our job is magic.


The Books Are Here!

They’re here! They’re here!

Well, some of them. With more to come!

What in the name of Ray Bradbury am I talking about? Two months ago my boyfriend and I packed up our lives in Portland, Oregon and moved to Tucson, Arizona. When we were planning the move we decided that the most cost-effective way to do it would be to just take the car and anything we could fit into it. With the two of us and our 95 pound dog, there wasn’t much room left over.

To be honest, I am amazed at how much we were able to fit. And it felt good to whittle down our lives to only that which was really important. For me, 95% of that was books. But pre-move, my book collection was pretty huge. I sorted through my three shelves (cried more than once) and ended up selling or giving away 305 books. I kept about fifty.

It was a sad, sad day.

But along the way I had a stroke of genius. What if, instead of just donating all of my beloved books to Goodwill (or to my literary friends) what if I sold them to a bookstore that would allow me to shop online?

Powell’s Books is an absolute wonder. If you live anywhere near the Northwest, you’ve probably heard of it and if you haven’t, they’re worth the trip from wherever you are. Their flagship store is a three story wonderland that takes up an entire city block. They have an unparalleled sci-fi/ fantasy collection and every department has a mix of new and used copies.

Not to mention that they will buy used books and if you take payment in store credit (which can be spent online) instead of cash, they’ll give you 50% more. They bought about 100 of my books and I walked out with almost $300 on a gift card.

My intentions were to make it last. To use the card to buy books as I needed or wanted them. That did not happen.

Over the course of the last week I spent the entire thing. And you know what? I am damn happy about it. I didn’t end up re-ordering a single book that I had before but I did get an eclectic mix of science fiction, literature, classics, non-fiction, reference and inspirational books. I have been anxiously awaiting the crazed knocking of my cross-eyed mailman for days and today, the first box arrived.

Its contents were as follows:

The Windup Girl Paolo Bacigalupi

On Writing- Stephen King

2013 Writer’s Market (Yes!!! So incredibly excited about this one)

A Short History of Nearly Everything- Bill Bryson

What If? Exercises for Fiction Writers- Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter

The War of Art- Steven Pressfield

The Eye of the World- Robert Jordan

Letters to a Young Poet- Rainer Maria Rilke

And folks, that’s not all. I have four more shipments coming. This is better than Christmas, I kid you not. And I’m not the only one who gets to enjoy them! Each and every one of these books will be getting reviewed on the RedInkling. I know it’s a little strange to review books that have been out for years but I’m doing it anyway. And I’m calling it The Ravenous Reader Reviews, so when they start to come up you’ll be able to check out all of the reviews by just clicking that category in the side bar.

I am so excited! And I am psyched to share my Ravenous Reading experiences with you. I’ll keep you posted as my collection grows and if you want to chat about any of the books I’m reading, drop me a line. My second favorite thing after reading books is talking about reading books. Happy reading Ravenous Readers!

The Curse Of The Prolific Writer

Did you know that Stephen King has published over fifty books? Fifty full length novels or stories. And FIFTEEN of those have been turned into movies.

I had never read and of his works until last year when my best friend finally talked me into reading the Dark Tower series.

“It’s not really Stephen King-y,” she said. “It’s not really that scary (this was a lie) and it’s really well written.”

So I picked up the Gunslinger from the library and from the first brilliant line, I was hooked.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

This has to be one of the best first lines of all time. Who is the man in black? Who is the gunslinger? Is he chasing the man in black or just following his trail? And WHAT are they doing in the desert?

Come to that, what desert are they in?

That simple, twelve word sentence had me asking five separate questions, all of which desperately needed answering. One short month later, I was finished with the seventh book.

(Note: At the time I didn’t know about The Wind Through The Keyhole and as of yet, I still haven’t read it. It is on order though and should be here in a few days!)

I loved the series. Roland was such an amazing character and I fell in love with he and his little family of misfits. But after I finished the series, I still didn’t feel any need to seek out King’s other works.

Why not?

As you can see from my friend’s “not Stephen King-y” comment, we had some biases. And to be honest, these biases came from a pretty pretentious place. I was a creative writing major at the time and spending most of my time writing or reading about writing. I had developed the idea that in order for a book to be any good, it had to have taken years and a part of the writer’s soul in its creation.

So when I looked at the Stephen King shelf in the bookstore and saw his 50+ books, what did I see? A man worse than Voldemort who had split his soul into 50 pieces. I thought that anything he wrote must be cheap and poorly written because he had obviously whipped each book out in an afternoon.

And my love for the Dark Tower series did nothing to change that perception because it took King over twenty years to write those seven wonderful volumes. I assumed that all of his care and talent went into those works and the rest was just garbage.

Well, Mister King, I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. I am sorry that I skimmed over your section in the bookstore for twenty seven years. I am sorry that I never watched any of your movies besides The Shining. I am sorry for you but most of all I am sorry for myself. Because of my pretentious preconceived ideas, I robbed myself of years of wonderful reading.

You see, I just moved. And in the move i had to get rid of most of my books. So when I got to my new home in Arizona I happily accepted a couple boxes of books from my boyfriend’s parents. The told me to keep what I wanted and donate the rest.

Many of them were not my taste but I put them on my empty shelves as placeholders until I could get some that I really wanted (I just ordered about 35 books online, they should be here any day! I’ll keep you posted.). Among them were two Stephen King books, The Shining and The Running Man.

I should have known what was going to happen, but I didn’t see it coming. One day, I got bored. I sat and I stared at the books on my shelf waiting to feel the heart-to-book lightening bolt that I let guide all of my reading decisions. My eyes skimmed over the Shining and…I felt something. I gave it a second look. And there it was.

The lightening bolt was faint, but it was there. I pulled the dog-eared paperback off the shelf, plopped down on the couch and read the whole thing. The next day I read The Running Man. And now, here I am. A full blown Stephen King addict. Better late than never, right?

Photo on 2013-05-31 at 12.16

While I Wait

Where do we go to find peace when those we love continue to crumble and fall despite our best efforts or intentions? How to find solace when past decisions stand unyielding with fresh honed blades before every doorway but the ones we cannot imagine taking? How can a person be expected to say goodbye to friends that never became as close as I should have let them?

Wine swallows fast and only polishes pain.

I try to get lost in books but find myself reading Night again and again.

I never wanted to stay here but now that the end is coming I cannot stand the thought. The journey won’t kill me but the same might not be true for him.

And the hardest part is proving to not be saying goodbye. If the end would come, at least it would be over.

Hope’s blade is proving to be the sharpest and shallow cuts inflicted slowly always cause the most pain.


Help Me Go To Space!

Friends, you all know of my obsession with Ray Bradbury. I live half in the real world and half on Mars. I dream of floating above the Earth with everything and everyone I have ever known tumbling through space on the blue marble beneath me.

And now it’s possible.

I once dreamed of a career as an astronaut but a lack of scientific focus at college has made me consider other career paths. And when it comes down to it, I am a writer through and through. But I could still go to space.

Axe Apollo is going to send one person into space and I’ve entered the contest. Unfortunately, I just found out about it and the contest ends April 29th. In order to win I need the most votes by the end of that day. I know it’s a long shot but if everyone who reads this takes a moment to vote, it’s possible that you could make my dream come true.

It will take very little of your time and your action could change my life. Besides, don’t you want to read what the RedInkling has to say from space? I know I do.

Questions For Our Heroes

I work in a library so the likelihood of me coming across a stack of thirteen year old ripped out magazine pages in a given workday is fairly high. Yesterday I was puttering around the back room when a picture of a gray-haired man in shorts and sandals with the headline, The Martian Tourist.

It was an interview with Ray Bradbury from 2000. I found a copy of it on his website (unfortunately without the dashing portrait) here. Honestly, it’s not a great interview. I don’t know if Bradbury’s answers were trimmed for length or if he’s just not very forthcoming but it kind of reads like he’s lecturing the interviewer, a Mary Roach.

I always imagined that I would meet Ray Bradbury someday; get a chance to ask him questions and talk to him about the stars. And then last year he died and now I’ll never get that chance.

But the fact that he’ll never answer my questions is not going to stop me from asking them. I think that it will always be valuable to think about exactly what it is that you admire in a person and imagining the questions you would ask them is a good way to do that.

So here are my questions for Ray Bradbury. If you want, think about who you would interview given the chance, and post some questions for them in the comments!

1. In your book on writing, Zen In The Art Of Writing, you talk about being passionate about writing at an early age and throughout your life. Was there ever a time that writing was harder or less of a joy for you?

2. Tell me about your writing routine.

3. What is the best thing about writing for you?

4. Of all of the worlds that you created or visited which was your favorite and why?

5. Will you tell me about your childhood? What it was like growing up in the Midwest in the twenties and thirties?


I’d love to read your questions and if the person you wrote them for is still alive, consider trying to get them answered. You’ll never regret trying, I promise!


The Word Unspoken (NaPoWriMo Day 12)

I have not been the best at keeping up with NaPoWriMo this month but as long as I’m writing more poems than I would have, I count it as a win. This one has nothing to do with the suggested prompt but I did take a couple ideas from the excellent page that they linked to here. Check it out for some good poetry writing prompts.

Earth and its overlords

look like fluffy clouds

to the sheep on the moon.

The word dominion was a mistranslation

I lived it well and still

happiness eludes me.


The strangest word

is the one that has been read

but not yet spoken.

The strangest path

is the one I walk–looking ahead,


one path over to the right.


Anywhere but here.

Anywhere but where I am.


How long did it take to fly all those sheep to the moon?

Can they see me?