T Minus One Day: Countdown to NaNoWriMo

It’s the last day of October, and the sun is shining, the leaves are brittle with frost, and the smell of woodsmoke is in the air. It’s Hallowe’en, and the moon has obliged by being at its fullest. Tonight it will call out the werewolves and the witches and the ghouls.

Late autumn calls to mind lots of traditions—from Guy Fawkes Night to Diwali to Día de los Muertos—and so many more. It’s also the time of wild and abandoned writing, for with the advent of November 1, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization that promotes literacy and creativity. Their landmark program is the annual month-long challenge to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30.

If you’re doing the math in your head, let me help: that’s 1667 words per day.

It’s an enormously fun challenge. I’ve been participating in it since 2009 (although I have missed a year or two), and I’ve never failed to be pleasantly surprised about how much writing I can do when I actually sit down to meet a deadline.

Today I thought I’d share some of my favourite writing resources to inspire you towards your own writing goals, be they NaNo-related or not.

  1. The NaNoWriMo website
Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo

Let’s start with the obvious. NaNoWriMo has a brilliant website, where you can create a profile and declare your project for the month. It has features that can track your progress, tell you your writing speed and your average daily word count, and estimate when you’ll complete your novel. There are also forums that you can access for everything from help with your novel research (need to know how long it would take a horse and carriage to get across the country in the 1600s, or what daily life is like for an atomic physicist? Someone on the forums probably knows), to Appellation Station, where you can get help with character names, to Adopt-a-Plot (or subplot, or character quirk, or villain, etc., etc.). You could probably have so much fun on NaNoWriMo forums that you forget to actually write your novel. But not to worry! NaNo also provides you with weekly pep talks from published authors, as well as a chance to buddy up with other writers for support. And when you “win” NaNoWriMo by reaching 50,000 words by the end of the month, you get virtual fireworks.

2. My Top Three Books About Writing

There are a million and a half books about writing out there, and I’ve read a lot of them. While others rhapsodize about Writing Down the Bones and Bird by Bird, I’ll take the controversial position of saying that my response to these was “meh.”

On the other hand, I absolutely LOVE If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, which is one that I rarely see others talk about. It’s funny, and deep, and wonderful, and has a lot of footnotes (I’m a fan of footnotes). Here’s an example of something that Brenda Ueland decided to footnote:

Incidentally, Brenda Ueland’s About the Author includes this: “…she received an international swimming record for over-80-year-olds and was knighted by the King of Norway.” Now that’s a lady I’ll take advice from.

Another fave is Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. Le Guin, which has real life exercises and examples of things like “The Sound of Your Writing” and “Crowding and Leaping.” You all know my love of Ursula, but trust me on this one. It’s stellar.

Finally, a shout-out to The New Diary by Tristine Rainer. This one isn’t about fiction-writing, but it’s an inspiring handbook for expanding your perspective of how to engage with the page.

Please note cameo by sleeping cat in top right corner

3. The Writing Excuses Podcast

This podcast has the tagline “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” It’s easy to binge these episodes, each of which ends with a prompt or exercise. Hosted by a panel of published authors including Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal, they have lots of guests to shake things up and add diversity and freshness. You can also filter episode by “Crunch” which I enjoy. My favourite season so far is the one on Elemental Genres.

4. My Top Three Blogs About Writing

To finish off, here’s some writers out there writing about writing, if you followed that.

  • The SPINE Blog by Juniper Editing and Creative. Kate Juniper runs this amazing little force of nature, which is a beacon of feminism and grit and heart. I am a member of her Book Writer’s Club, which I adore. She offers a ton of services to writers—some free, some paid, but all worthwhile.
  • Writing with Color, founded by Colette Aburime, is a blog that is “dedicated to writing and resources centered on racial, ethnic, and religious diversity.” They are there to answer your thorny questions about cultural appropriation, stereotypes, tokenism, why you shouldn’t use food metaphors to describe a character of colour, and much much more. Super important stuff! I highly recommend that you check it out.
  • Well-Storied by Kristen Kieffer has a ton of valuable articles in its blog archive. You can find a range of resources about character, plot, business and marketing, and the writing life.

So, without further ado, as they say at the end of every episode of Writing Excuses: “You’re out of excuses. Now GO WRITE!”

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