Show Me Your #WriMoFace!

Paul's WriMo Face

Paul’s WriMo Face

Day 3 and I’m behind. I had huge travel days recently. I went from Newark, Delaware to New York City, New York City to Pleasant Valley, New York. Pleasant Valley to New Paltz, NY. New Paltz back to New York City. New York City to Poughkeepsie and I head back to Newark, Delaware tomorrow. My head is spinning and I’ve had about five hours of sleep in the past two days.

I worked on my NaNoWriMo novel on my phone, my tablet, and my wife’s computer. I had dreams about it last night. I still haven’t entered an official word count on the WriMo site because I’m waiting to dump everything into Scrivener. As I was working on it today at Starbucks, I decided to take a break. I opened up Photo Booth on my wife’s Mac and snapped a photo of me working on my novel. Then I thought it might be fun to see what everyone looks like as they are working on their novels, so I wrote this quick post.

Here’s what I want you to do. Take a selfie of you working on your novel and share it on Twitter with the hashtag #wrimoface or just include a link in the comments and we’ll be able to check them out. (Extra points for creativity, mine was pretty boring.)

Have fun everyone! (I’ll be posting word counts later tonight and I hope to be caught up.) If you need support, don’t hesitate to reach out. Keep writing. Your stories are the wildest things!


(P.S. This is my 100th post on Stories are the Wildest Things. Thank you for your support!)

The NaNoWriMo Coffee Chocolate Correlation – please participate!

As I wrote in my earlier post, 6 Things You Need to Thrive During NaNoWriMo 2014, chocolate and coffee are the first two things on that list.

I thought it would be fun to have WriMos keep track of their consumption of coffee and chocolate and then enter their word counts for the day to see how consuming these essentials might correlate to the size of their word count.

The more people who take part in The NaNoWriMo Coffee Chocolate Correlation, the bigger the sample we’ll have.

So please click on the link and fill out the form all the way through NaNoWriMo 2014 (Nov. 1-30, 2014) when you take a break from your writing and we’ll see what happens! (If you could share this with others on social media we’ll get a bigger sample as well.)

Also, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter if you’re having a bad writing day, looking for some encouraging words, or just want to celebrate your success. I’ll be pounding the keyboard along with all of you.


Thanks, everyone! Have a great NaNoWriMo 2014.

Here’s a link to the survey:

Here’s a screenshot of what the form will look like:

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 12.01.06 PM

6 Questions You Need to Answer to Win NaNoWriMo


Paul wearing his NaNoWriMo writing hat.

As Macbeth says, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day.”

Unless, of course, you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Then the days fly by faster than Malcolm’s army moving from Birnam Wood to Dunsinane Hill.

As some of you know, I’m rehearsing Shakespeare’s Macbeth as well as prepping for and participating in NaNoWriMo. I’ve never done both at the same time and it’s making me nervous. The anxiety has been steadily building up over the past week as I realize that I’m going to have to reach that cold, hard deadline of 50,000 words in 30 days and open a play in the middle of the month.

It is possible to get 50,000 words in a month. I’ve done it in the past, but never while preparing for a play. As I’ve said in my previous post, 6 Things You Need to Thrive During NaNoWriMo, to win NaNoWriMo it helps to have a plan.

The plan I’m going to talk about in this post is answering the 6 Questions otherwise known as the 5 Ws and an H (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How). If you can answer these questions in some detail, you are well on your way to getting your story done. The great thing about this kind of planning is that it applies to your story and your writing life.

Let’s look at the WHO question first.

For your story, you need some WHOs doing things to other WHOs. Your MC (main character) wants something more than anything else and your story is about what your MC is willing or not willing to do to get that thing. The other WHOs are there to either help the MC or hinder them. Figuring out who these WHOs are is a big step to figuring out your story. If you take a look at my post Aristotle’s 4 Levels to Creating Characters that Live, you’ll get some great insight into creating characters with dimension. I’ve already cast my novel with photos from the internet and put them into my Scrivener file for my novel. By having a photograph and some information about them readily available, I don’t have to keep inventing information about each person, it’s like I know them already.

For your writing life the WHO question is, “Who are you going to be in the matter of finishing your 50,000 words?” What I mean by that is, will you give yourself excuses as to why you can’t finish your words for the day or will make the time to get the words done? It’s the difference between being a victim of what is happening in your life (the path I often take), or taking the initiative to find a way to do the things you say you are going to do – NO MATTER WHAT.

It’s not that you’re a bad person if you don’t do the things you say you’re going to do, it’s more a question of who do you need to become to be able to do the things you say you’re going to do? It’s a deep question and one you can live your whole life exploring.

Another WHO question you can ask is, “Who will you turn to for support?” One of the reasons people like participating in WriMo is the amount of support they receive. Writing is hard. It’s lonely. We often don’t have someone looking out for us or cheering us on, but for the month of November we join together to say, “Hey, we can do this!”

It also really helps to have someone to be an accountable to. Look for me on NaNoWriMo’s site and sign up to be my writing buddy. If you are desperate in November, reach out to me on Twitter and I’ll send you an encouraging word. I want us to get to the end of NaNoWriMo together and celebrate big time.

Next is the question of WHAT.

I like to think of the what of the story as several questions.

“What do the characters want?”

“What do they do to get what they want?”

“What gets in the their way?”

In acting terms, the first question is known as the character’s OBJECTIVE. The character wants something badly and will do almost anything to get it. The TACTICS the characters use or the ACTIONS the characters take to get what they want is often what gets them into trouble in our stories. The OBSTACLES are anything that gets in their way. When you answer these three things over and over you have a story that moves along in an exciting way to a dramatic conclusion.

For your writing life the WHAT question is, “What do you need to do to get your words done each day?”

Do you need to tell your spouse you are taking an extra hour or two at night on in the morning to work on your book? Do you need to let a parent know you aren’t brooding in your room, you’re trying to accomplish something really important to you? Do you need to exercise more, sleep less, drink more water, make sure your laptop is charged, stretch every 25 minutes, give yourself rewards for reaching certain goals, etc.? Think about this question as you move through the month. What happens if you miss a few days? Can you make it up on the weekend? Most people can. Don’t panic. Don’t give up. Ask yourself WHAT you can do to make it to your goal of 50,000 words.

WHERE? is an important question in many ways.

If you get stuck during WriMo (if, ha!, when), you might think of a new WHERE for your characters to end up. What interesting WHERE can you write about? You might set your opening scene in a restaurant. But what kind of restaurant? What makes it unique? Why did your couple pick this particular restaurant? A greasy spoon diner is going to tell us something different about their relationship than a four-star restaurant. Think about the specifics of your WHERE and give us a few details to allow us to find ourselves in the world you’ve created.

Locations in your story are important, but also WHERE YOU WRITE can be an important factor, too. For some reason, I was able to get more writing done at Panera Bread during my last WriMo than when I was at home. Being at home I was able to clean the kitchen, vacuum the living room, play some video games, mess around on the computer, and basically procrastinate most of my writing time away. When I was out at Panera, writing with other WriMos, I was able to concentrate and focus on the task at hand, getting the words on the page.

WHEN? is another question that can affect your story and how much you write.

The WHEN grounds your reader in time and what is happening in your story. Some writers actually keep a calendar of events in their stories to be able to keep track of what should be happening when. Use a mapping program to figure out how long a drive across Pennsylvania might actually take. (A REALLY long time, Pennsylvania is wide.) Time of day affects how characters talk, what they say. Let the WHEN affect the characters and us.

I know that I’m often best at writing when I do it first thing in the morning, during or just after that first cup of coffee. I’m writing this post late at night and I started it earlier this afternoon. When I write in the afternoon, I get fatigued very easily. For me, it has to be early in the morning or late at night. Read these great articles by Jeff Goins about How to Wake Up Early and Why You Should Be Writing at Night.

One of the biggest questions of all is WHY?

From an acting stand-point the why is your character’s MOTIVATION. WHY is your MC doing what they are doing to get what they want?  What is driving your MC to continue to pursue this action? What do they get out of the continued pursuit? If they get nothing, why?

This is also an important question for your writing life. Why are you writing this story? Is it fun? Do you enjoy it? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? Are you doing it for approval? Do you want to make someone proud? Do you want to tell your story? Do you want to prove to yourself that you can set a goal and stick to it? All of these are completely valid reasons for writing and getting your writing done. Leave a comment about why you write. If you know WHY you are doing something, it can often give you the power to continue doing it, or stop doing it if you realize you are doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Finally, let’s take a look at HOW?

This is the question that I find to be the most fun. It’s one of the reasons I love writing so much. I get to decide HOW my characters act. I am in complete control. My MC is stuck in a well. How did they get down there? How do they get out? How will they drive to see their daughter when they’ve lost their driver’s license from drinking too much? How does this character sound when they talk? How do they dress? How do they eat? How? How? How?

The other reason I like this question is because when it comes to our writing lives we have to ask ourselves, “How will we get this done?”

The answer is: “Any way possible.”

Ask your spouse for support or sneak in a few hours after everyone is asleep. Write on your phone, your tablet, your notebook. Use Scrivener or use Word. Think about your story in the shower. Jot down notes while waiting at the doctor’s office. Talk to yourself into a recording app on your phone.

Above all, fight against resistance. Resistance will come, but we must defeat it to win WriMo and to accomplish anything in life.

As Steven says, “Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”

The great thing about this is that at any moment we can defeat resistance and change our lives. HOW? By sitting down and doing the work – word after word on the page until we reach our goal – a story that we share with the world.


I you struggle with resistance and procrastination, listen to this Genius Network Interview of Steven Pressfield talking about Resistance.


6 Things You Need to Thrive During NaNoWriMo 2014

It’s coming…

NaNoWriMo 2014 – that month-long frenzy of key-bashing goodness that can bring me to my knees in tears, make me mumble to myself while walking in circles, take extra-long showers, cause excited jumping around the room and then leave me with a messy pile of 50,000 words that needs a lot of revision to make any sense.

As a past winner, I’ve learned there are a few essentials you need to get through the month with as few bumps and bruises as possible. Here is my list and why I’m stocking my WriMo closet now.

6 Things You Need to Thrive During NaNoWriMo 2014


(Credit: Image from Wikimedia Commons user Sandstein)

Chocolate and Coffee

If you’re feeling anxious about meeting your word counts, have a bar of dark chocolate on hand to calm those nerves. In a study done at an Australian university, they found that the polyphenols in chocolate can calm people and make them feel less anxious because they attach themselves to brain receptors associated with anxiety. Matthew Pase, one of the authors of the study said, “This clinical trial is perhaps the first to scientifically demonstrate the positive effects of cocoa polyphenols on mood.”

If you want those words to flow during Wrimo you might want to grab a bar or two of dark chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the more polyphenols it has). Since the cocoa polyphenols in dark chocolate stem anxiety, and anxiety turns on that internal editor and keeps your ideas from flowing, you could infer that eating dark chocolate can help keep your word counts up because your ideas will be flowing faster!

Coffee is a given for me for Wrimo, but I have to be careful that I don’t drink too much throughout my writing session or I’ll get all jittery and crash.

It’s said that Balzac drank up to 50 cups a day. He describes what he calls a “horrible, rather brutal method” of preparing coffee using “finely pulverized, dense coffee, cold and anhydrous, consumed on an empty stomach.” In The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee Balzac describes the effect drinking this concoction will have on you.

“From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink – for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.”

If you continue to drink too much coffee, though, even Balzac knew that it would cause you to “fall into horrible sweats, suffer feebleness of the nerves, and undergo episodes of severe drowsiness.” So be careful with your intake of this useful medicine.

If you need some creative ways to serve up your favorite caffeinated beverage, check out this great article on about other ways to prepare coffee.


A Writing Totem

A writing totem is an object that can help keep you inspired or in a writing-state-of-mind. Some people use articles of clothing like the WriMo t-shirts and Viking helmets. Other WriMos like to have an object like a stuffed-animal, a small figurine, or a special pen that they keep close by.

By placing the totem near your writing space, it gives you the power to keep going. It reminds you of what you are trying to accomplish during WriMo.

Totems can also let others know that you aren’t just surfing the internet, but are in full-on WriMo mode, dwelling in what NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty calls the “shadowy realm of the novel.” They’ll look at you and say, “Uh-oh, the Viking hat is on. Better stay clear.”

Since I’m an actor as well as a writer, I find that dressing up in some way can definitely put me in a different mood and allows new ideas to flow. Dress rehearsal always adds a new element to any performance and the clothing you wear gives you a sense of who you are and how you move in the created world of the play. I have certain hats I like to wear when writing. (I also like having a framed inspirational quote from Writing Quote Wednesday nearby.)

Please leave a comment to let us know what kind of writing totems you use for NaNoWriMo.


(Credit: photo by xololounge)

Your Writing Plan

Start now on figuring out what kind of book you want to write. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, is often credited with saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

I highly recommend that you start figuring out the basics of the novel you want to work on during WriMo. Starting on the first day with no planning is possible. I did it and won. But the resulting messy pile of words is going to be really tough to revise.

In the article I wrote about 8 Best-Selling Novels Written During NaNoWriMo, most of the authors said they had more success in the years when they did some pre-planning before WriMo began.

At the very least decide what kind of book you want to write. Then start thinking about characters and what they want from each other. The more specific you can be about your characters, the more details you can write about them. Sometimes I cast the characters with photos of actors (or random people online) to get a sense of the type of person they are.

It really helps to know your ending because you can drive your word count to that ending. Think about it. If I told you to come and visit me but didn’t give you my address, you could be driving for years before you find out where I am. By knowing where you’re going, you can plan on how to get there. You can take lots of side trips to look at interesting things, but knowing where you’ll stop gives you a direction and a plan to get there.

When I figure out where my characters are going, I start to think about what kind of fun situations I can put the characters in. I like to come up with short summaries of each chapter with ideas for scenes within those chapters. These are often called “beats.”

I have nothing against pantsing – writing a novel with no plan by the seat of your pants – but if you want to write faster, having a plan really helps. You’re always free to change the plan as you go. I often find that I thought the story was going one way and the characters decided to take it another. Most people find that they combine pansting and plotting throughout their writing process.


Writing is difficult, and frustrating, but if you can’t find joy in some aspect of it, something is wrong. When this happens, you might be writing the story you feel you SHOULD write and not the story you WANT to write.


Take some time before WriMo starts and think about what brings you JOY.

Ask yourself, “What would I do even if I wasn’t being paid to do it?”

There might be something in what brings you joy that can become a focus for your book. It might be something a main character does. It might be a theme you’ve wanted to explore. By thinking about the joy, you can write about the struggles your main character goes through when the joy isn’t there.

Another way to look at this is to figure out what you LOSE YOURSELF in.

What is the thing you do that you start at a certain time and when you stop and look at the clock you realize several hours have passed and it feels like minutes? How can writing be like that for you if it isn’t right now?

As you’re prepping for WriMo, what figure out what EXCITES you about the characters, scenes, the novel itself? If it’s not exciting to you, WHY?

You want to turn off that internal editor while you’re writing in November and let the ideas flow. You want to get the first draft on the page. To do this more powerfully, look for the JOY. Be a “listening” for what is joyful about the process. If you are a listening for something, you’ll be amazed at how it shows up in your life.

People who are a listening for what can go wrong often find themselves in situations where things go horribly wrong. People who are a listening for what they can learn from a situation end up learning something. People who are a listening for joy often find it in the tiniest of accomplishments.

You made your word count for the day. JOY! (Why? You set a goal and kept it.)

You didn’t make your word count for the day. JOY! (Why? It gives you a chance to be a hero tomorrow. Plus, it probably means you need to do more thinking about your story.)

You went way over your word count and discovered something new about a character. JOY! (Why? Because that is really cool and you are AWESOME.)

Read: Connect with Joy Instead of Searching for Joy by TIny Buddha

(Credit: photo by pippalou)

(Credit: photo by pippalou)


This is a big one. I know. I think about it a lot. How do we reserve the time to get the writing done?

I think joy and planning (and chocolate and coffee) help us find the time.

What activity are you doing every day that you can do less of during WriMo?

Bingeing on Netflix? Remember, Netflix will be there at the end of November. (How to Overcome a Binge-watching Addiction from the Wall Street Journal)

Like to sleep in? Is it possible to get up a little earlier? How about going to bed a little later? (How to Wake Up Early by Jeff Goins)

Kids keeping you distracted? NOW is the time to introduce them to the wonders of reading a book quietly. (How to Get Work Done With Kids at Home)

What about your friends and significant others? Some people find that telling them you are working on WriMo and that it’s important is a good step and others like to keep WriMo a secret.

If you have an app like Evernote on your phone or tablet, you can feed the word count beast on your lunch break and then dump the words into the manuscript when you have the time.

The main thing to do is to start writing. As the prolific author Louis L’Amour says, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Please comment on your favorite ways of finding the time to get your words down.


Keep an eye out for more NaNoWriMo posts coming out soon! During WriMo I’m planning on writing a novel based on my steampunk fantasy short story, My Strength Will Ease Your Sorrow. It’s set in the world of The Dream Engine written by the guys over at Sterling and Stone. See you in the Winner’s Circle!

8 Best Selling Novels Written During NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s affectionately called, starts in less than two weeks.


I’m a past winner of this book writing frenzy. I’m proud of my stickers and certificate saying that I participated and completed 50,000 words in 30 days (which works out to about 1,667 words a day). I had been struggling to complete a novel length story for years and the year I decided to do WriMo I was determined to finish a first draft “no matter what.”

The resulting work, The Sangoma’s Daughter, started out as a vague idea I had about a down-on-his-luck janitor at an American university who meets and has a tempestuous relationship with a young Zulu woman from South Africa who is a sangoma (a traditional healer). I decided to “pants” the story.

For those of you who don’t know what a “pantser” is, it’s someone who just jumps into writing a story with no pre-planning and then writes a white-hot first draft by the “seat of their pants” – a pantser. I’m now a firm believer in being a plotter – someone who writes out beats (story actions) and figures out what the characters want from each other before the story begins. As I write within the plotted out beats I often find the freedom to pants some scenes as well.

The result of pantsing a NaNoWriMo novel was a 50,000 word story that is a total mess. As I wrote I became fascinated with this janitor who lived by himself in a utility closet on campus and the Sangoma’s daughter never quite made it into the story. It was a wreck.

Some days, in order to get out my writing quota of 1,667 words, I’d make up lists of things that my janitor would be thinking about instead of figuring out what he was doing. I’d write endless run-on sentences just to pile up words. The “novel” is full of long passages of description that aren’t important, dialogue that is pumped up with unnecessary information and general fumbling around to try to find what my story was about. I still haven’t made another pass at this story, but I will return to it someday to see if I can salvage a chapter or two.

What I did get out of participating in NaNoWriMo, though, was a sense of accomplishment and a respect for the hard work it takes to complete a novel. I said I was going to write 50,000 words and I did. I met a wonderful community of people who were all struggling with the same journey of discovering what their stories were about. I also realized what it would take to stick to a novel-length story: lots of hours in the chair, no editing, staying immersed in the story, keeping to word counts and deadlines, being okay with writing a terrible first draft and not giving up. No wonder Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Although my story was a wreck, there are several best-selling novels that came out of participation in NaNoWriMo. Perhaps yours will be a best-seller some day, too.

Leave me a comment about your participation in NaNoWriMo and let me know if you’ve published your work. Please include a link to the work so we can check it out.

8 Best Selling Novels Written During NaNoWriMo

The Lunar Chronicles

Some novelists struggle to write ONE first draft during WriMo.

YA fiction writer Marissa Meyer wrote THREE: Cinder, Scarlet and Cress.

These futuristic re-tellings of famous fairy tales with a sci-fi twist were all written during a 2008 NaNoWriMo. As a self-professed geek and chronic over-achiever, Meyer says she participated in WriMo that year because she was trying to win a contest where the Seattle based writer with the most words written during the month would get to play a walk-on role on a future episode of Star Trek. She came in third with a word count of 150,011 and didn’t get the role, but she ended up with 70,000 words for Cinder, 50,000 words for Scarlet and about 30,000 words for Cress. 

Before she published the novels, all three had to be completely scrapped and re-written. Meyer said, “I may not produce anything of quality during NaNoWriMo, but I always come away with a great roadmap.” It was two years to the day she started Cinder during WriMo that she got her first offer from a publisher.

Meyer says she’s a neurotic plotter who spends weeks, months even, on brainstorming, plotting, re-arranging notecards and making character arc charts. She also uses the Scrivener color-coding feature to help keep track of what’s going on in her stories. Her revision process is extensive. For these best sellers she did two entire rewrites, six or seven rounds of revisions, had eight beta readers, and did countless polishing and editing after WriMo was over. All that hard work paid off for Meyer and her Lunar Chronicles series is a huge success.

Darwin Elevator

Jason Hough (pronounced “Huff”) is still in denial about his success with his WriMo novel, Darwin Elevator. He did a WriMo in 2007 and said his story, Tact or Fiction, basically fell apart after the first chapter because he tried to pants it and just jumped into it with no planning. He did finish with 50,280 words, however. Although the story was a bust, he had a sense of accomplishment and a new found respect for the hard work it takes to write a novel.

In 2008 he tried again, but this time he had a highly detailed outline, lots of character sketches and maps, and an idea of what he was getting himself into. He completed the first 50,000 words of Darwin Elevator, then after stepping back for awhile and doing a first revision pass himself, he hired a freelance editor.

He recommends using writing software like Scrivener to get the job done because it makes the revision process so much easier. He also advises everyone to do their research when they are querying an agent. He says, “At least 75% of queries are discarded almost immediately by agents for simple mistakes. Lesson: It doesn’t take much to increase your chances significantly.”

For more inspiration from Hough check out his post: Doing NaNoWriMo: some tips for success.


Hugh Howey has been a supporter and participant in WriMo for several years. His breakout dystopian sci-fi novella series, Wool, thrust self-publishing into the national media spotlight. After selling tens of thousands of books directly to readers, he was picked up for a six-figure deal by a major publisher. Howey wrote three of the five novellas of the Wool series in 2011 and published one of them.

Check out Howey’s post NaNoWriMo is Almost Here for some great inspiration and what to look for if this your first time participating.


Rainbow Rowell says she did “some of the bravest writing” she’s ever done during her 2011 WriMo stint. She was already an accomplished author with two published books, Attachments and Eleanor and Parkand thought that WriMo was something amateur writers did.

She was reluctant to participate because it seemed like something writers who needed to trick themselves into writing did to just pile up words. But then she thought it might be wonderful to have a nice big pile of 50,000 words to play around with.

Her pile of words written in 2011 wasn’t a mess at all and became the first 50,000 words of a best-selling novel called Fangirl

Rowell credits WriMo with changing how she wrote. Usually she would start writing by rewriting what she had written in the last session, but for WriMo she had given herself three goals: to write every day, to write at least 2,000 words a day, and to keep moving forward.

She was surprised to find that she could easily pick up where she left off and felt like the momentum she generated by staying in the world of the story contributed to its success. She didn’t finish the novel during WriMo, but after a heavy rewrite that Spring to finish the story, she was shocked to realize she kept almost all the words she created during WriMo.

Rowell said, “NaNoWriMo helped me push past so many of my doubts and insecurities and bad habits. And I think that’s partly why I love Fangirl so much now—because I remember how swept away I felt when I was writing it.”

The Night Circus

Although Erin Morgenstern‘s novel, The Night Circus, has had rapturous reviews, strong sales and the movie rights bought by the producers of the Harry Potter films, it started out as a much different story during NaNoWriMo.

Morgenstern said, “I was working on a different story altogether, one that was becoming progressively more and more boring because nothing was happening. I needed something exciting to happen and I couldn’t figure out how to do it with the locations I had so I sent the characters to the circus. That circus was immediately much more interesting and eventually I abandoned that other story and its characters entirely and focused on the circus instead. What eventually became The Night Circus started from exploring that spontaneously-created location, figuring out who created it and who performed in it and what its story was.”

She calls herself a binge writer and prefers to write in long sessions rather than every day. She attributes this to getting her start as a serious writer by participating in NaNoWriMo.

Water for Elephants

The transplanted Canadian, Sara Gruen, (now a U.S. citizen as well) moved to the U.S. for a job as a technical writer in 1999. When she got laid off in 2001, she decided to gamble on writing fiction instead of looking for another job. Her novel, Water for Elephants, started as a WriMo novel and has been on best-seller lists for over a year, read and discussed by book clubs around the country and turned into a film starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattison. (60% on

In her pep talk for NaNoWriMo participants Gruen says was having trouble with her own word counts when she realized she wasn’t heeding her own advice. She was ignoring her own rules: no editing, it’s okay to write a really bad first draft, and move around the story as much as you want. When she realized this for herself, she tossed all that aside and started focusing on writing the fun parts of the story that she wanted to write.

As her last bit of advice, Gruen said, “However far behind you are, take comfort in knowing that there is somebody else out there in the same boat, and look for that next fun scene. And then the next. And if that doesn’t work, set someone on fire. In your book, of course.”


I found a lot of inspiration in reading about these authors and their varied paths to publishing success that began by participating in NaNoWriMo. I wish all of you much success with your writing journey this coming month and hope to hear from you how it’s going. If you haven’t yet done a WriMo, I urge you to take the plunge.

Remember, Stories are the Wildest Things, and they can take you places you’ve never been before, especially if you’re the ones writing them. See you in the Winner’s Circle.

(Sources:,, Author websites)

Steven Pressfield – Writing Quote Wednesday

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny from photo

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny from photo

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. Thousands of writers will be sweating out a first draft of 50K words between November 1-30, 2014. I took this week’s writing quote from Steven Pressfield’s inspirational manifesto – Do the Work! (I HIGHLY recommend you pick up this book if you don’t have it.) I think it embodies the spirit of NaNoWriMo – don’t try to control your idea, figure out what is is and wants to be and then bring it into being.

I’ll also be posting a more extensive post about Getting NaNoWriMo Done soon. Look for it over the next day or two.

Please leave a comment about your success or failure with NaNoWriMo in the past few years. I’m curious to hear how people have done in the past, whether you completed (and sent out) your novel after writing your first draft and what you hope to accomplish this year.

Thank you for commenting! I love hearing from everyone.

Write a Novel in 30 Days – Fiction Unboxed (Days 3-15)


I haven’t posted from day-to-day on Fiction Unboxed from the guys at Self-Publishing Podcast because I’ve been busy writing, parenting and reading the updates that the guys have posted each day. Their steam punk YA grows by leaps and bounds with each day. The past twelve days have been all about getting words on the page. They are about halfway through their first draft and they’ve already begun to polish. I admire their tenacity in getting the pages complete. My own output has been anemic in comparison.

They write a few pages, do some editing, upload everything and we get to read the work in progress. They’re super fast with their first drafts, making very few changes to the story as they go. They are also running their podcast, working on other projects and parenting as well. It’s pretty amazing to watch the guys work. They’ve definitely got FLOW.

Because they set up the beats so well, the writing really flows. The edits are mostly line edits for grammar, sense and rhythm. I really appreciate seeing the edits because they show how having an external eye can really strengthen your writing for the better.

As far as the influence on my writing, I’m not sure yet how it’s been helping me with my MG novel other than keeping me focused on word count. I have had a few ideas for stories within their world, which I’m getting “itchy” to begin beating out. Because they are opening the world to us, it will be fun to play within it and see what happens. I know I have to keep focused on the story I’m working on now, though. Like Henry Miller said, “Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.” I will probably do some beats on this idea tonight, though.

The community of writers who are participating in Fiction Unboxed are positive and interesting. We’ve formed a community on Google+ with several members organizing and other members watching and participating when they can. I haven’t yet been able to take part in a Google hangout, but I’d like to. If you’re interested in finding out more about this fascinating project, check them out at Fiction Unboxed.

As a busy writer parent, I’ve tried to balance my participation with Fiction Unboxed, parenting, my writing, blogging and reading and my other projects. My wife and I had a production meeting last night. We have several films coming up this summer and an energetic four-year-old who wants and needs our attention. We’re also searching for other opportunities to pursue at the same time. All of it seems a bit overwhelming. We always come through the other side of our dilemmas, but right now we are searching for an opening to dash through to find a solution.

As I write this, my four-year-old is munching cereal and watching Sesame Street. He has a milk goatee. Now he is chewing on a pillow. Now the pillow has a milk goatee, too. The birds are singing outside our window in a cacophony of birdsong and the wind chimes are tinkling in response to the wind. Cloudless blue skies are beckoning. I’m behind on word count and stuck in a story dilemma. Do I stay in my fictional world or go out into the one outside my window? Henry Miller again, “Keep Human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.” I won’t be drinking, but I may have to take my little one to the park.

The solution we came up with last night is to play hard with our four-year-old and insist on some resting time in the middle of the afternoon to give me an hour or two to pound out some words. I am going to post this, go play hard and then post again this afternoon with the results of this new procedure.

Let me know what solutions you’ve come up with as writer parents to get your words on the page. Also, please sign-up for my email newsletter, Stories are the Wildest Things, you’ll get insider tips and inspirational quotes right to your inbox. I’ll never sell your email or send you any SPAM. Have a productive writing day and I’ll see you later this afternoon.




Write a Novel in 30 Days – FICTION UNBOXED (Days 2 & 3)

Fiction Unboxed Day Three

So the guys, Sean Platt and Jounny B. Truant, are “steaming” along with their ideas for their 30 day novel and the process is FASCINATING. Getting to sit on their story meetings has given me some valuable insights into a working method for collaborators that could really help writers pump out the kind of volume the guys have been pumping out.

For the first three days they threw around a lot of different ideas based on the Steampunk genre. They’ve already written and discarded tons of words.

They worked hard to come up with a world for the characters to live in and a story line that they would both be excited to keep exploring. This process is difficult enough when you are working in private, but adding the stressful element of everyone watching has to be affecting the guys in some way. They do discuss how strange it is and how aware they are that people are watching, even incorporating it into the story idea. It will be interesting to hear them talk more about this as they move forward.

They’ve also been posting their pages. As of today we’ve seen emails, beats, and a first draft of Chapter One. You can check out where they are in the process by visiting FICTION UNBOXED. There are some FREE levels you can still take part in.

Here are a few take-aways from the past few days:

Discipline is key to getting this accomplished, what the guys call “ass in chair” time. Agreed.

When talking about their protagonist Johnny B. Truant said, “You can’t desire something you don’t want and you can’t want something if it’s too easy to get.” I think that’s really good advice for creating a character your readers want to follow. Give them something they want more than anything else and make it REALLY hard for them to get.

While trying to figure out the beats, the guys discussed how they wanted to find the story that is true to them. They used a great term while describing themselves – genre agnostic – and said that no matter the genre, “our voice is what matters.”

As they work, there is not a lot of changing the other person’s ideas by saying “how about this instead.” What they do is ask a lot of questions about WHY the world works or doesn’t work as they are creating it. They also say, “I like that ” a lot and then riff off of the given circumstances they are creating for the characters to live into. You can see why they are a great team by how they communicate their ideas to each other.

At one point Sean Platt says he talks to his wife, Cindy, about the ideas and immediately feels like he can expand on it, this happens for me as well. It seems that if you start telling the story to someone else and get caught up in it yourself, that can be a really good sign that you are headed in the right direction.

They continue to spin the story out as they go along and keep comparing it to other stories and tropes, mixing and mashing them up into new combinations. “Good writers borrow, great writers steal!” (this quote and versions of it is attributed to various people: Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, T.S. Elliot, Austin Kleon even Steve Jobs)

They keep talking about what they like, “I like this, I love this, I want to get that” and they laugh and curse and make fun of their own ideas and get excited about them as well. It’s strange to watch because it is very similar to the process that goes on in my head.

The last quote for the day that I’d like to leave you with is “Our hero has this itch that she can’t scratch for her entire life.”

This is brilliant because if we build characters that have something they have a deep longing to accomplish or solve or acquire, we as an audience will want to go on the journey with them.

This experience is just like that, too.

The guys have a deep longing, or itch, to get this book done in 30 days and we are following along on their journey fascinated by how difficult it is and wanting to know what their process is and if they are going to accomplish it, even though we know they will (but do we?). We started with nothing and by the end of this journey we will have watched them build a whole new world with all of its bumps and bruises and false starts and unknowns. In some way, watching them do it, can give us permission to do it too.

You can get insights and inspiration like this to help you on your writer’s journey straight to your inbox by signing up to be a Stories are the Wildest Things Insider. Just click on the Become an Insider menu link or sign-up HERE.

Write a Novel in 30 Days – FICTION UNBOXED


Fiction Unboxed, from the guys at Self-Publishing Podcast, has started and it’s very exciting to participate in this “never-been-done-before” online event. I put that in quotes because I think that most everything has been done before, but that brilliance comes when people combine things that have been done before in new ways. This is a great new combination that is generating a lot of creative energy and excitement in the self-publishing world.

Over the next 30 days the guys are opening up their writing process to those who invested in the project on Kickstarter. I kicked in at a higher level than I normally have for other projects because the guys are funny, dedicated storytellers that believe we can change the world with a story.

As usual, the guys are giddy and unfocused at first, but after a short segment of rambling they get down to the nitty-gritty of world building for this 30 day book. If you know their podcasts, Self Publishing Podcast and Better Off Undead, this style of working will be familiar to you. If you are just coming is as a supporter of the project, it might be a little distracting at first. Hang in there, though, because what happens is a fun and truthful way of approaching story building.

The world they are describing sounds really fascinating and watching the guys “spit ball” and toss ideas around is enlightening. They bring up their favorite movies, books and television tropes to create their new world. As they describe their ideas, they go off on side tangents, double back on themselves, joke around and as Dave says, “It’s an awesome thing.”

It’s like a question and answer session with their own imaginations and each of the guys contribute in different ways. Sean has logorrhea and is the cheerleader. He drives the conversations forward and wrangles the random tangents and ideas into some kind of cohesive whole. Johnny B. Truant is the calculating mind, adding and subtracting the value of each idea and how he can use it to get the first draft on the page. Dave is the dark and stormy naysayer who quietly drives the story into the shadows so that Sean and Johnny can steer it back into the light.

I think it’s extremely helpful to see them work in this way. My takeaway (to use a business term) is that you have to pump out a LOT of ideas and then ask yourself questions about how these ideas will work when you begin telling the story within the world.

If you haven’t been listening to the Self-Publishing Podcast, check them out. As Sean says, “You can tackle any creative idea if your how and your why are good enough…it’s stupid and/or impossible but we believe anyway.”

This blog, my current MG paranormal adventure novel, and several other projects I’m working on now are because of these guys and their inspiration (and the ongoing encouragement of my four-year-old and lovely wife).

Thanks guys!

I’m looking forward to seeing where their process takes them and, as a result, takes me as well.

I’ll be posting about Fiction Unboxed and my experiences for the next 30 days as well. Please follow and like the blog to keep updated.


Unboxing Fiction Unboxed

I’m supporting the guys at Self Publishing Podcast in their Fiction Unboxed project (under a pseudonym) on Kickstarter. For a small donation you get to watch them write a novel, live, in 30 days. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and bring up some interesting issues.

I’m going to comment on the process of following Fiction Unboxed and how I use what I learn to complete my #WIP.