NaNoWriMo Prep: The Importance of Planning, Even for Pantsers


Dear Pantsers:

I know every instinct is screaming for you to run for the hills. Stick with me. It’s worth it.


It is entirely possible to start NaNoWriMo on November 1st (or later) with no preparation. You can win with a late start. It’s also possible to scale Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen. If you’re a professional with the right physiology and a little luck, you can even survive it.

That doesn’t make it a good idea if you have any other choice. And you, my little writers, do.

But I’m a pantser! I don’t do prep!

And you can choose not to. But why not make something that’s already an incredible feat a little bit easier?

Today, let’s talk about the bare minimum of what you really should have to write a semi-coherent novel by the end of November:

  • A very basic plot. This doesn’t mean: Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. This means: Boy meets girl at club when he’s with another girl. Boy is intrigued by girl and has a friend get in contact with her. Boy convinces girl to date him. Girl finds out boy is technically dating someone else and didn’t tell her… oh, you get the picture.   “A man died. A woman died.” isn’t a plot. “A man died. His wife died of heartbreak.” is.
  • An MC (that’s main character) you know reasonably well. If you took the MC out to eat, what would he order? If you went shopping together, what would she do? The more you know, the more naturally the story will flow.
  • A chosen form of recording your story. Notebook and pen. Computer with Scrivener. Tablet with a notepad app. Dictation machine. A combination of the above. Make sure you have your tools ready.
  • Support. You can find support groups online, in the NaNo forums, or in-person groups. If you’re still at a loss, get one friend to be your accountability partner.
  • A reason. Know why you’re doing it. If you’re just doing it because it sounded like a cool thing to do, then you may do fine. You may also crumble if things go wrong. If you’re doing it because you need to finish a novel (finally?), then you’ll know that you might be putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Knowing the reasons ahead of time can help motivate you when it gets hard.

That’s all you really need. Here’s a few more things that might help:

  • A title. Some books don’t get a title until just before production. Some get a working title. Some titles are intrinsic to the book.
  • A cover. While it’s not necessary, a cover helps motivate. It’s like being able to see the course before you run the race. It doesn’t need to be a professional cover. In fact, it shouldn’t be. But having something visual that means your book to you is a nice motivator.
  • Supporting characters. Again, the better you know your characters, the better your plot can flow.
  • An outline. Unless you are of a very particular mindset and know you can hold the bones of a book in your head, putting something on paper keeps the words flowing. Outlining also serves to let you try out ideas without having to write all 50k words before you figure out that you wrote yourself into a corner.

And, with this, we’re done with generalities. Tomorrow’s post will start on the specifics of working out your plot.

See, pantsers? That wasn’t so painful.

NaNoWriMo Prep: When Life Throws a Curve Ball in November


It invariably happens every single year in November: I see a frantic online post about how something urgent has come up that might interfere with finishing NaNo.

First, let’s take a look at the big issue here: NaNoWriMo is a game, a challenge. It is not life. It should not be a substitute for life. Yes, take the challenge seriously. Follow the rules of the game as closely as you’re able and try to score a win. But it’s not life. When actual life things come up, give them precedence. Don’t mourn that you won’t finish NaNo because you had to run your neighbor to the hospital and ended up staying for three days. Rejoice that you were able to help out your neighbor. Priorities, people!

Second, be prepared to roll with the punches. I unexpectedly got to leave my place of hiding for a new place of hiding this weekend. Unfortunately, there was nothing resembling internet, even if I’d had time, so I’m now three blog posts behind on my NaNo Prep series. But that’s okay because, as much as I love waxing philosophical about how to have a perfect NaNo, the trip was more important. (Please don’t get your tighty-whiteys in a bunch over this. I still adore you most of the time.) So I rolled with the punches. I’ll double up on blog posts, one morning, one evening, until I catch up and life will move on. Do the same thing during your NaNo time. If you have a pipe burst and have to spend your normal writing time dealing with a plumber, divide 1667 by the number of days you have left and just add it on. If your child wins a “very special award” and you go to school for the award ceremony, only to find that every child won a “very special award” and you’ll be there for three hours– not writing– adjust and sneak in some notes on your phone while you wait.

It’s all about perspective. NaNo is not life. NaNo is a fun game that pushes you to do something pretty amazing.  If you’re like me, however, you may forget that in the heat of the moment. Create a few “inspire me” cards and have them ready. When life dumps spaghetti in your lap, you’ll have a bleach pen ready to get out the stains.

Here are a few examples:

  • If you divide 1667 words by 30 days, you only have to write 55.3 words. You’re fine. You’ve got this.
  • Emergency writing prompt: add an elephant to your story. In a tutu.
  • There are several billion people in the world who are not writing a novel. You aren’t one of them. That makes you special. Go write!
  • Reward challenge: write for two 30-minute sprints and you can watch an episode of [your favorite binge show]

What are your favorite go to emergency fixes during NaNo?

NaNoWriMo Prep: Prepping for THOSE Days


I don’t feel like adulting today. In fact, I don’t feel like humaning. Maybe cat or dragoning. I could maybe deal with that.

Here’s the thing: you will have a day like this during NaNo. Either the weather will be too nice and you’ll want to go out or the weather will be too bad and you’ll want to stay in (but curled up with a book) or the computer won’t work right or you won’t feel right or your characters won’t be talking to you or you’re just having a bad day…

Yeah, it happens.

One thing I do appreciate about NaNoWriMo is that it teaches you to write when you don’t feel like it. Getting behind on 1,667 words/day is a big deal if you do it a few times. Trust me. I have the 10k makeup days to prove it.  If you have depression, family events (Thanksgiving, anyone?), or other things come up, though, you may have to deal with making up for those days.

Prep for them ahead of time and you’ll deal with them better.

  1. Know what you’re going to write about. Sometimes it helps to jot a note about where the story is going before you stop for the night. Then you have something to give you a little push the next day when you won’t be in the same zone.
  2. Give yourself permission to just write for 30 minutes. Sometimes this means you’ll only get in 250 words (or less) for the day, but that’s 250 words you didn’t have before. Sometimes, though, it means that you get started writing and you go ahead and hit that 1,667 words before you realize it.
  3. Download some word crawls to get you motivated. While I find that they actually slow down my writing speed, they are great for getting things going, so if you can’t find motivation any other way, use one of them. There’s the list on the NaNoWriMo boards here and a bunch of popular ones archived by Wikiwrimo here.

Let’s say you do get behind. What are some things you can do to catch up?

  1. Plan a longer writing day on one of your days off. I plan these from the very beginning, because I prefer to get ahead. At some point, I know I’ll need it.
  2. Give up something to write. Yes, I know it’s big TV season, but you probably have a DVR or Hulu or something. You can watch your shows when NaNo season is over.
  3. Tempt yourself with a reward. We’re partial to chocolate, but that leads to needing more workout time, so you may want to change it up. New shoes. Tickets to a music/ sporting/ art event. Getting to watch one of those shows we just talked about.
  4. Pull a random writing prompt and throw it in there. Since I like to publish what I write with the minimum amount of editing, this doesn’t work for me, but it might for you. Don’t worry about continuity. Write about Uncle Joe at the Thanksgiving dinner yesterday and later you can replace it with dinosaurs invading your four-course fantasy meal.
  5. Add a little more to your word counts for the next few days. Yeah, 1,667 is a lot of words, but, really, you can make it up. Add 330-ish words a day for a week and you have it pretty much taken care of (that’s an even 2k words, for those of you who don’t math).

So, there you have it. Now you’re prepared for those days when you don’t feel like dealing– and I managed to adult a little today after all.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Routines


I promised you that today we would go over setting up routines (and we will!), but I just wanted to bring up one more thing related to priorities first.

I’m a runner. I’ve watched Zombieland; cardio is important if you want to survive the end of the world. I’ve learned almost any healthy person can do a 5k (that’s 3.1 miles for the metrically-challenged). Yeah, you might walk a lot, but even if you walk, that’s, what, at most an hour out of your life? Bump it up to the half-marathon (13.1 miles), though, and you start weeding out the committed from the casual. Go all the way to the marathon (26.2 miles) and you find the true crazy people.

Here’s the thing: NaNoWriMo is a marathon with a time limit. It’s one thing to do a marathon if you’ve been running every day. Yeah, it might hurt a bit if you have to do more than you’re used to, but at least you’ve been running. If you do a couch-to-marathon-in-a-month plan, though, you’re likely to follow that up with a marathon-to-hospital-in-a-day plan.

The same thing happens with NaNo, and it’s one of those things no one talks about. If you have not been writing, you have not developed the training for doing 1,667 words per day. You really need a plan.

  • Try to write in short chunks: 30-60 minutes
  • Schedule breaks for food, exercise, social life, and rest
  • Give yourself some sort of a road map, even if you’re a pantser. You haven’t taken this trip before; there’s no shame in having a road map. You can choose which scenery you stop and visit once you know where you’re going.

Another way you can help yourself out is by making the rest of your life into a routine, just for the 30 days. When I ran my first half-marathon, my big trick was to walk during the verses of songs on my headphones and run during the choruses. Little tricks get you to the end.

Take 15-60 minutes today and figure out the following routines:

  1. Your wake-up routine. What do you do for the first hour in the morning? Do you workout? (Put out your clothing the night before.) Shower? (Put out your clothing the night before.) Eat? (Put out your clothing– er, food– the night before.) Hopefully you’re getting the idea.
  2. Your lunchtime routine. Most of us have a fairly set time for lunch. Figure out what your routine is (and how you can fit a writing sprint in there, if you can).
  3. Your “after work/school but before dinner” routine. I write an hour, throw in 15 minutes of housework, then write 30 minutes. Then I eat.
  4. Your bedtime routine. Remember all those things you were going to put out the night before? Make that part of your bedtime routine. It will also help you fall asleep faster if you have a routine.
  5. Your writing routine. Do the same thing every time you sit down to write and your brain will start to switch on the neural pathways for creativity before you ever write a word. That’s science. Get your favorite drink (if it has a specific scent, like peppermint tea or hot coffee, that’s a bonus trigger), turn on the same song or soundtrack every time, and do the exact same thing. For me, that’s grab a mocha, turn on the book’s theme song/ soundtrack, and reread what I wrote last. By the time I finish it, I’m already writing.

Where else can you set up routines? What kind of routines do you have?


It’s Here. Again. NaNoWriMo Prep Time.


It’s here. Again.

I don’t know why it surprises me when it comes around every year. Supposedly, this is my ninth NaNoWriMo. No, I haven’t contracted some strange disease and I do not have an alien in suspenders hiding out in my home. NaNoWriMo, the brain-child of The Office of Letters and Light, stands for “National Novel Writing Month”. In other translations, it stands for “Naturally, No Writer’s Motivated”.

This is that time of year when, for 30 days, all writers, aspiring retires, supposedly-retired writers, and a hoard of eager children try to write 50k (that’s fifty thousand) words. In the same book. In, as closely as possible, novel format.

Yes. It’s basically one month of group insanity.

However, NaNoWriMo has turned out to be a boon to me. I first started in 2009. I merrily failed every year until 2013. Suddenly something clicked and I barreled through all fifty thousand words just under the wire.

Well. That was easy. I can do this again.

In 2014, I decided to take it a step further. I hadn’t really written much since 2013, so I committed myself to not only writing the book but, in my wisdom, to publishing it. By January 15th. Of the following years.

For those of you who have problems grasping acts of insanity, this means 2 1/2 months, from first word to “Now Available on Amazon”.

And I did it. Veneri Verbum published on January 16th (okay, I was off one day). It had a cover I liked, passable formatting, and very good editing.  (Yeah. I’ve gone back and fixed a lot of things since then, which just shows you what I knew.)

Well. That was easy. I can do this again. No. I can do better.

Last year, I committed to write five novels of 50k words in the 30 days. That’s 250k. 250,000 words. Pretty close to 10k per day.

It didn’t quite go to plan.

One novel mostly got finished and was published in January again. (Sanity has never been my strong suit.) A second novel was completely finished, but needed some rewriting, so it was published in February. A third was published in April, even though I really didn’t get it going until January.

The fourth novel was a crash and burn. The fifth? I’m finally finishing it up for publication at the end of this month.

However, if I hadn’t committed to writing five novels, I wouldn’t have published anything, let alone all five. NaNo is my caffeine: the burst of energy that pushes me through impossible projects as if they weren’t impossible.

So this year– why not try it again?

I’m again committing to write five novels of 50k or more in the 30 days:

  • The Voyage of the Pearl Diver: Water
  • Cheyna and the Doorway to Everland
  • Smells Like Teen Bobian
  • Of Spouses and Friends
  • LOL

Three of these are young adult. One is #3 in the Figments series. The fifth is a scary thing that I will probably not finish. But I won’t finish any of them without at least trying.

So… off to NaNo Prep. In honor of Prep Month, I will be giving up some of my tips and secrets as the month progresses. Hopefully, by November 1st, you’ll be joining me for this adventure. Just in case, bookmark the site.

See you soon.

The Wicked Witch of Whatever

Cover Reveal: The Wicked Witch of Whatever AND New Contest!

The Wicked Witch of WhateverYes, it’s that time. Another cover has reared its not-so-ugly head and is ready to be revealed to the world. I give you The Wicked Witch of Whatever.

This YA paranormal/ urban fantasy (still trying to figure out that exact niche) is set at Cawdor High School for the (Magical) Arts. I don’t have a blurb yet. Are you nuts? I’m still rewriting. What if I rewrite something that gives me the perfect blurb? All you need to know is that Macbeth meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead meets me. And maybe a heavy dose of teen pop culture thrown in for seasoning.

The Wicked Witch of Whatever is slated to be released on Halloween, which is my favorite holiday of the year. When else can I get away with dressing like one of my own characters without someone questioning my sanity?

In honor of its release, I’m throwing a little picture party. Dress up like your favorite INDIE character for Halloween, snap a photo, and send it to me. Seven lucky winners will win an ebook copy of The Wicked Witch of Whatever. Three lucky winners will get to have a character named after them in an upcoming book. One really lucky winner will get a copy of the paperback.

Where should you send it? I’m so many places:

  • Comment here (that’s in case you got lost along the way)
  • Comment on my page on Facebook
  • Post it on Twitter and tag me: @Zanzibar7Writer
  • Put it up on your Instagram and either inbox it to me or tag me. I’m still new to Instagram, so I’m assuming it can be done. (@Zanzibar7Writer)
  • If you’re feeling really shy, email it to me directly at

The fine print (but I’ll keep it large enough to read because I’m nice like that):

  • Contest is open from now until November 7, 2016
  • Since I haven’t read every indie book out there, please identify the character, book, and author for your costume
  • Yeah, it does have to be an indie book character. Sorry. Must uphold some standards.
  • Kissing up and using one of my characters won’t improve your chances, but I might like you better.
  • Winners will be announced via all platforms on November 11th. It’s NaNo month. I may be a little busy.

Any questions?

Where’s Zanzibar? (Tricky Graphic Not Included),


My dear readers, my deepest apologies for leaving you high and dry without any blog entries for a while. I’ve taken this “become a Real Person” thing to an extreme and have not only been working a regular “day job to pay the bills”, but have also encountered Illness and Surprise Events. While such things are very useful for content of writing, they are less useful for the practice of writing. Or for blogging, Twittering (er, tweeting) or Facebooking.

Mea culpa.

I have been incredibly busy in the background, though. The Annals of Bobian did well in the Indie Summer Book Awards, although it was edged out at the end by someone who probably has a Real Life already and is better adjusted to it. Alright, it was edged out of the top five. It was still an honor to be nominated and I will be part of an event tomorrow (9/16) for authors who were nominated. Come visit me here at 6pm Pacific Time!

Many of you may know that I started out in NaNoWriMo. After all, I was a product of NaNo and my Figments books are, to one degree or another, largely about the NaNo process. I was further honored to be asked to write an article on how to write the absurd for the NaNoWriMo blog. It was apparently a hit and made their “NaNo 3” list. You can see it here, in case you missed it.

Finally, I’m very hard at work on the rewrites for The Wicked Witch of Whatever and will be doing a cover reveal next week. I’m quite thrilled with how readable this is turning out to be. At least, I think it’s readable. I could currently be on a Writer’s High. The “it sucks and I should just become a peat moss salesman” period is, undoubtedly, coming.

Thank you for sticking with me. I look forward to being better about blogging again as soon as I get down this Life thing.

How do you deal with a Real Life job and writing?




My Words Are on Vacation

Chess Board - TwitterI have no words.

I have a theory that the more real I become, the harder words become to find. How do normal people write? How unreal do you have to be for words to flow like sunshine down the side of an ice floe?

I’m not sure, but I think this reality thing is way overrated.

I got a day job. It was part of an experiment to see if I could become Real. The day job, however, has now consumed my life and, in effect, become my reality. This is no way to be real. I come home too tired to write and my creativity is sucked down a drain with dirty dishwater.

And I have no words.

Sometimes I still think clever thoughts. I still have a moment when I ignore the pressing in of the “must do” list and just bask in the warmth of a moment of clarity and vision. Then an alarm beeps or a break ends and the moment runs away, as flighty as a skittish deer in a forest.

And it takes my words.

How do I set aside a space for this side of me, for the me that is fragile and nebulous and vital and so much more real than reality itself? How do I protect it from bone-numbing weariness and apathy? How do I not just binge-watch hours of television and comment on every item on social media because it’s easier?

And find my words?

I don’t have the answer yet but, because I am awesomesauce in Figment form, I will have an answer. I will even share my answer with you.

I just need words.

Maybe tomorrow. Today, an alarm is going off and it’s time to play dwarf (I choose to be Happy, even though I feel like Grumpy or Sleepy) and hi-ho off to the mines. Maybe I’ll find a jewel while I work.

Maybe I’ll find words.

Pacemaker Summer Olympics

Chess Board - TwitterI’m a speedy writer. When I say that, I’m not bragging. I’m also a writer with a moderate attention span. I prefer to slam through a first draft in 45 days and be done with it than belabor over it for months and months.

I have been working on The Wicked Witch of Whatever, off and on, since November.

Pacemaker, a project writing website, is having a challenge called the Pacemaker Summer Olympics. In this challenge, writers set a word goal of at least 400 words per day between August 5th and August 21st (the dates of the Summer Olympics). Pacemaker has a “fluctuating” setting, so I won’t be writing the same amount every day, but each day will be at least 400 words. Also, because Zanzibar (the place) is in Tanzania (the country), that’s the country I’m representing.

What about you? Want to join me for a little word challenge fun?

Go to Set up an account if you don’t have one and make or choose a plan. Then sign up for a country. There’s low participation right now, so you could make some obscure country famous (modestly famous) by winning.

I don’t have to have challenges to do my writing, but I do find they help, so why not? Let me know if you join and which country you’re representing. If you see the flag of Tanzania start showing up in my blog posts, you’ll know why.

Psst. The 5th is tomorrow. Get moving!

X Marks the Spat

Chess Board - TwitterI managed, with my usual aplomb, to find myself in the middle of a discussion that turned into a mild argument– on Twitter. It takes extreme talent to argue on Twitter and I don’t advise it. Better to admit my inadequacies and move on: I need far more than 140 characters to really get my teeth in a topic.

However, the point isn’t the dispute, but the subject of dispute. We were discussing gatekeepers and whether or not indie writers should have them (or writers in general). I’m going to set forth my reasoning here (in far more than 140 characters or even 140 words), but I would love to hear from you as well. Comment here. Knock me up on Twitter (although I do expect help raising the baby). Send me an email if you’re feeling a bit shy. I’ll put all my contact info at the bottom.

Do I think that big publishing houses have too much control over what we read and they tend to be directed more by the almighty dollar than the best in reading material? Yes. Not all of them, all of the time, but a significant enough amount to not ignore it.

Do I still think that published writing needs a gatekeeper? Yes, unless it’s free.  Why?

  • Because we– you and I– spend money on books. Sometimes it’s just the $0.99 e-book. Sometimes it’s the splurgy $19.99 hardback. But our money goes into books. When you’re not Real in the first place and coming by real money can be a bit of a trick, this is a serious thing. I care about where my money goes.
  • Because we spend our time on reading books and most of us have far less time than money. If you have more money than time, please send some to me directly and I’ll solve that issue.
  • Because we invest a bit of our souls in the books we read (or at least I do… one Horcrux per book and I can never die. Voldemort and JK Rowling should be quite jealous).
  • Because the more bad books that are out there, the less expectation there is for anything good. People stop reading. I like people reading.

I know. You’re sitting there thinking “he’s not the boss of me” and very likely taking all your toys and going home. This is, of course, your right. But hear me out: I’m not saying you shouldn’t write. I want every last person on this planet to experience writing. In fact, I want to take writing to alien planets. I even think every person has a right to publish what they write. It is, after all, their sanity. If they want to throw it away to briefly declare “I am Writer”, I can’t judge. My sanity took the bullet train to Elsewhere a long time ago.

However, I don’t feel everyone should be charging for their books. Hey! Stop throwing things. You’ll only damage your screen and I am not buying you a new one. Hear me out.

  • Do you think the Girl Scout with a First Aid and CPR certification should charge you if you are kind enough to let her practice on you?
  • Do you think your child/ niece/ nephew/ random kid who gives you hand-drawn art should be charging you for the free décor?
  • Do you think the singers in a karaoke bar should get tips for singing in public?

Most of you will have answered “no”. Any children, Girl Scouts, or aspiring karaoke singers may have said “yes”. The reason is simple: all of these are amateurs who are practicing their craft. They aren’t masters or even journeymen. They haven’t reached the point where they’ve earned the right to sell their craft.

Once, this was an easily understood concept. A child with promising talent would become an apprentice. Apprentices practiced, all day long, and received instruction, but no pay. Then the apprentice became a journeyman at the approval of a master. The journeyman might sell a few things, but always at a discount because it was widely accepted that the quality wouldn’t be as good. Only a master could promote someone to a master. It meant that the buyer had the right to expect a certain level of quality in the work that followed.

We’ve done away with the apprentice system (unless you’re Donald Trump– if you are, please ask Russia to bring it back for the rest of us). We no longer have any way to tell who is the master and who is the rank amateur without investing our precious time, money, and energy in that person. As I’ve said, I don’t have endless amounts of time, money, and energy to invest. Because of that, I’m very wary of many indie authors, even though I read more indie works than anything else. Reviews are often useless, since finishing a book means five stars. This means I am far less likely to take a chance just after a bad choice.

Read the blurb and/ or free sample. You can figure it out from there.

Sometimes I can. Sometimes a book starts out good and dies, midway, like it tried to storm a beach and forgot sunblock. (There was a logical analogy in there somewhere.) Sometimes you simply can’t tell without reading the book that, although it flows beautifully, there’s no plot to it and the characters are cardboard cutouts.

Follow trusted reviewers.

Then I have to figure out who to trust, which is another investment of my time.

Do you see the issue? It’s not that I want someone saying, “No! Your book can’t be published because it’s not the current zombie/ post-apoc/ romantic triangle/ superhero trend and we can’t be sure we’ll sell it”. It’s that I want someone saying, “Not yet. Maybe go back and practice as an apprentice a little longer. Get some journeyman time. Make some corrections.” Then I’ll happily buy, read, and review the book.

But someone has to say “not yet”… and, as of yet, I don’t know who that should be. How about you?

TWITTER: @zanzibar7writer