NaNoWriMo – my Top Ten Tips. Part III Tips 4-7


4. Get off to a good start 

Oh yes. This is probably THE most important tip. Get off to a good start (there, I repeated it for you). Work hard and get that first 2,000 words in on the first day. I know, I know, it’s more than the 1,667 that you need, but believe me, you will want those words in the bank. If you can, write more! Don’t stop.

I have seen the heartbreak posts so many times now. “I’m 1,000 words behind, but I’ll catch up at the weekend”. No you won’t. “I’ve had a slow start, but I reckon I’ll be able to write double tomorrow”. No you won’t. “I’ve not actually started yet, and I know it’s the end of the first week, but things have been so busy for me, and I know I’ll have some time during the second week, so I’ll catch up then”. NO. YOU. WON’T.

You might, though. I would say, 1 in 10, or maybe fewer than that, actually catch up. Writing is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, it withers away and dies. You have to exercise it every day in order to keep it in top trim. So, during all the hype and excitement of November 1st, write 2,000 words. Next day, write 2,000 words. Next day, the same. After that, you’ll breeze through the challenge. Your writing muscle will be fully developed, and it’ll be itching to get working as soon as you open your eyes in the morning.

5. Short bursts

This is a technique I’ve used in the past couple of years. I write in short bursts. Or rather, I develop the ability to write in short bursts. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. Maybe half an hour.

We all have busy lives, and many, many distractions from our writing. Finding that two-hour golden writing time ain’t gonna happen if you work, have families, or friends, or strange habits. How many times have you said: “It’s not worth starting to write now, I’ve only got twenty minutes before …”

Poppycock. I would guess that most people use laptops. Keep your work open, and just put the laptop into sleep or whatever mode it goes into. When the advert breaks come during your favourite, can’t-miss programme, pick up your laptop, and write a bit. When you’re not writing, think about your novel. Plan what you’re going to write next. As soon as you open the computer, start typing. Don’t think, or look up to the ceiling in your best Hemingway pose. Write. I can write 1,000 words an hour. In 5 minutes, I can 80 words. During an evening’s TV watching, I can write half my NaNo words for the day, without finding any writing time, per se.

Or – spend a month not watching your normal soap operas. Two soaps an evening, half an hour each, makes 1,000 words. Over half my daily requirement.

Or – write in your lunch hour. 1,000 words, right there.

Or – get up half an hour early. A third of your words done before everyone else gets up.

Don’t expect to find two hour slots for writing. It ain’t gonna happen.

You might also look up the Pomodoro technique. Here’s a link to get you started: It’s doing stuff in short, but prescribed, amounts of time. Makes the task less onerous, and is surprisingly effective. Also, in the NaNoWriMo forums, people have ‘Word Wars’ or something similar. One person will ask “anyone up for a word war?” (other phrases like “word sprints” are sometimes used), and a group of you will write solidly for 10 minutes or half an hour. At the end, you compare amount of words written, no prizes, no boasting, and you’ve added to your word count. Get used to writing in small chunks.

6. Write every day

Don’t take a day off. Don’t think because you’ve worked hard all week, you deserve a day off writing. Writing is fun! Writing is inspiring! Writing might be financially beneficial – how are you going to know unless you write, eh?

If you’re fully engaged with your story, you’ll want to write. If you love your characters, and can’t wait until that next kink in the plotline, you need to keep writing! If you’ve had a really rubbish day, retreat into the make-believe word of your novel. Writing isn’t something you squeeze in when you’ve got nothing else to do. This is one month in a year, when your writing should take priority over many other leisure activities. Say: “I’d love to come to the pub, but I can’t come right away, BECAUSE I’M WRITING!” Say: “I’ll do the washing up in an hour, because right now, I’M WRITING!”

If you write every day, force yourself to put your novel first for a change, then you’ll notice something different by around the 10th day. You will really *want* to write your novel. It will start to rise up the list of “things to do”.

So – write every day. This is not a tip – this is a RULE.

7. Plough through

Yes, I’ve been in those situations. Where your characters are doing nothing, or you’ve done the writing equivalent of painting yourself into a corner, or you’ve got a dead body, but no idea who it is, how they got dead, or who did it.

Plough through. Just keep writing. Don’t put your head in your hands, telling yourself that you suck at writing, telling yourself this was all a stupid idea, telling yourself you’ll never be a writer.

Invent a new character. A space alien with a fine taste in ladies’ shoes. A mean down-and-out who just happens to be your hero’s twin sister. Or father. Or have a building suddenly collapse. Or have lightning strike something important. Or (as I often do), have a character suddenly die on you. Even better, have the main character die. That’ll get the creative juices flowing again. But don’t, whatever you do, stop writing to analyse what you’ve written so far. Plough on through.

Next time – tips 8-10 (plus a couple of extra ones for free)


NaNoWriMo – my Top Ten Tips. Part II Tips 1-3


1. Write what interests you as a reader.

There’s no point choosing a genre that you don’t enjoy and know nothing about. Some people like to choose books which might be ‘popular’ (e.g. sparkly vampires or very naughty businessmen with a penchant for violence). This is a recipe for disaster. There is an old saying” ‘Write what you know’. This is obviously not true in all cases, because there would be no science fiction. But you need to write with authority about a subject. I can’t write humour, and I can’t write romance. I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work. So I don’t, no matter how popular those genres have become. I know I enjoy writing short dark fiction, crime novellas, and longer thrillers. I find them to be the most enjoyable. So for this NaNoWriMo, I’m either writing (you’ll never guess) short dark fiction (to make a set of short stories); crime novellas (for my crime series books); or a long novel-length thriller (either techno or political – I have ideas for both).

2. Plan

Benjamin Franklin said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Variations of this abound all over the internet, but the idea is the same. People who don’t plan are called “pantsers” – they write by the seats of their pants. I’ve tried this, but it just doesn’t work for me. I have to know where the story’s going, who the bad guys are, and who gets killed in the end. That’s not to say I stick rigidly to the plan. Characters change sides, gender, even sexuality sometimes. Good guys get killed, bad guys prosper, and the creepy guy from up the road with the camera turns out to be a hero. But you must have the plan, the outline. I don’t think I’ve had a NaNo where I haven’t deviated from the plan. But that’s okay, because by then, I know where my story’s going. Create some story ‘beats’, from a few lines to a couple of pages that says who does what, to whom, and with which unearthly creature. Believe me, this will help you later on in the month.

3. Have backup ideas

Ha! Yes, I have some great story ideas. Some wonderful characters jumping and screaming in my head to tell their story. Beautiful locations, cunning plots and twists.

And then, 25,000 words in, I see it all is rubbish. The fascinating characters are paper thin, the plots are boring and stereotypical, and the locations are less interesting than that dark and smelly place behind my garage. It would be easy to throw my hands up in horror, and go and sulk. But when stories stagnate, I turn to my “ideas” folder on the computer, and zoom through a few of my story ideas, and start writing a new story. It’s okay, The NaNoWriMo people don’t mind. You then become a “rebel”, but you can still count all of your words towards the total, and get access to that all-important badge at the end of the month. It’s much better to have succeeded, and have 50,000 words under your belt, than to fail mid-month.

Tomorrow: Tips 4-7 Writing During NaNoWriMo


NaNoWriMo – my Top Ten Tips. Part I Introduction

Firstly, what is NaNoWriMo? It ’s an acronym for National Novel Writing Month. But it’s more international, rather than national (it was started in the USA), and what comes out of it is rarely a novel.

So that’s what it isn’t. So what is it? It’s a challenge for writers and would-be writers. And the challenge is to write 50,000 new words of a novel between midnight on the 1st of November to midnight on the 30th November. Thirty days, to you and me. The mathematicians amongst you will be able to work out it’s 1,667 words per day.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. You might be able to write 1,667 words today, but can you write the same tomorrow, and the next day, and … (well, you get the idea)?

I’ve done it before. My first time was in 2003, and I ‘won’ (completed the challenge). In all, I’ve attempted it every year since then, except in 2008 when we were moving house. Pathetic excuse, I know. I ‘failed’ in 2006, but in 9 attempts, I’ve succeeded 8 times. Not a bad batting average.

Back in the first paragraph, I said that at the end of November, with over 50,000 words under your belt, what comes out is rarely a novel. That is so for two reasons:

1. 50,000 words does not generally a novel make. Novels, by publishing standards, consist of at least 70,000 words, or more. This ‘rule’ is more flexible these days with e-publishing. When all we had was print books, it was difficult for publishers to set a realistic price for short writing which could amortise publishing overheads and pre-publication costs. So, a ‘novel’ (70,000 words or more, remember) might cost £7.99 in today’s market. Something which was 50,000 words, or less, would still have to cost at least £6.99 (paper and ink is relatively cheap), but the perceived value is less, since it’s a thinner book. Therefore, a harder sell to the public.

Self-published ebooks have tiny overheads, and can be priced according to the perceived value. This has created a market for smaller writing, especially in genre fiction.

2. The speed at which you have to write, especially if you have a full-time job or a busy family and social life, means the writing can be of a lesser quality. Characters are less interesting. Plots have some whoppers of holes in them. Locations are monochrome and boring. It’s generally accepted that NaNo ‘novels’ need some severe editing and rewriting on them before they’re fit for publication.

So, in short, you can call it a novel if you wish, but I wouldn’t expect to see it on the shelves of my local (or not-so-local) bookseller anytime soon after the 30th November.

What are the potential pitfalls of NaNoWriMo?

Apart from developing an unhealthy taste for energy snacks and coffee, there are a number of problems that NaNo-ers can encounter along their journey.

* You run out of story. This has happened to me on a number of occasions. Despite planning, I get to 30,000 words, and I’ve said everything I wanted to say. My characters end up doing the equivalent of those little motorised puppies at Christmas fayres, when they move along the table, hit a buffer, turn round, and go the other way. My characters talk to each other, visit different places, but very little happens. If you find yourself in this situation, you can either: a) start writing something new (see tip no. 3 below); b) Evoke Chandler’s law – “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” or c) create a new character, it doesn’t matter if they have no backstory in the right place, just continue writing.

* You fall behind (see tip no. 4). This can be demoralising, as you see your targets and graphs fall back, and you realise you need to find even more time to write than you’ve been able to find so far.

* You spend all of your time talking about writing instead of doing it. The NaNoWriMo forums are fascinating places to chat, or discuss writing, or ask and answer questions. You can quite happily spend an hour or two, easily, wandering around the forums. It’s an interesting place. But that time could have been spent writing instead. See tip 9 below.

Next time: Tips 1-3 – “Before NaNoWriMo”


Write well, or write well enough?

I can write good. Oh yes, I can (the first sentence excluded). I’ve been involved in many online writers’ groups and critique circles, and although I never got anywhere near winning any of the prestigious competitions or being published in highbrow periodicals, I had some of my short fiction featured in now long-defunct publications and I did win a very minor competition (for which there was no prize).

But I’ve had my work critiqued enough to know that, at times, it can be pretty good. And if I take my time, work at it, review it, I can feel proud of what I have produced. Some of it even got into my two collections of flash and short fiction, Bleak Midwinter Tales and Bleak Midwinter Tales 2. There is a BMT3 coming out sometime in the not-too-distant future.

For my longer work (greater than 50,000 words, approaching novel length), I have struggled. I have eighteen pieces of writing in progress, most of which have been produced as a result of time-limited writing challenges, such as NaNoWriMo and #100kwords100days. Each of these has been a strain and a struggle to get through. Recently, I have managed to complete not one, but two novels (one is 45,000 words in Draft 0 form, and the other is 65,000 words in Draft 0). *

But, coming back to the point of this post (see what I mean about podgy and moribund middles?), I wonder how good my books need to be.

They should be the best they can be, right? Well, yes, but there is the 80/20 principle, and a definite dropping off in the effort / value ratio as I spend more time agonising over individual words and sentences. I love the fact that people are reading what I write, and some of them like it so much they take time to email / message me and tell me. Which is wonderful. If I can make a few pennies on it, so much the better.

But I’ve seen some horrific writing out there. But what’s more horrific is that some people seem to like it. To the tune of tens of thousands of people buying the thing, and 5 star to 1 star ratings ratios of 30:1 or better on Amazon.

Whaaaat? When I read the same book, I see paper-thin characters, dreadful clichés, stilted, unrealistic dialogue, and ludicrous plotlines. But people seem to love it. And the writers are earning (presumably) a reasonable amount of money from it. “Can’t wait to read more from this author!” “Couldn’t put the book down!” “I loved the main character – in fact, all of the characters!” Are they even reading the same book as me?

So I sit here, with my 18 works in progress, and wonder how much effort should I put into making them the mostest, absolutest, bestest they can be? Should I spend a couple of years on each, editing and brushing-up and polishing until it sparkles like a gemstone in the Alterian twin suns? Or should I cobble together something quickly, throw it out like yesterdays newspaper, and write some more rubbish as quickly as I can and hope someone buys it?

I suspect the answer will be “somewhere in between”. I should work at my writing until it’s good, with no mistakes, no spelling or grammer snafus, and no plot holes or pointless dialogue; and until it is formatted perfectly, and with an appealing and professional cover. Then usher it out with a gentle hand behind it and some encouraging words in its ear.

And then write the next damned book!


* Out of interest, Draft Zero is my version of a first draft, except it’s less good. My Draft Zero is a very rough, clunky, badly-written story, but it is complete with a start, usually a podgy and moribund middle, and a long floppy end. But the story is told, and I will then take this, smooth out the rough bits, tighten up the floppy bits, and give it to my Alpha reader for feedback. Thence (once I’ve stopped crying), I will edit and restructure and replot it until it looks a bit more like a finished work, whence it will be dropped upon unsuspecting Beta readers. After a few more tears, and more editing, it should be ready to be thrust out into the world.


Late summer update. Busy busy busy.

Tonight, I had cause to log in to my WordPress account, in order to comment on a friend’s blog. No problems occurred, but I did look at my blog, and saw that the last item was posted way back in early April. Ugh. Bad blogger.

As a way back in, I’ll give you an update on what’s happening. Summer is happening, that’s what. For once, the UK, and especially the Eastern side, has been bathed in beautiful sun for what seems likes weeks on end.

Which makes it hard to write.

It always seems that there’s something else that needs doing, whether it really needs it, or whether that need is perceived. Gardens need tidying, planting, cutting back, mowing, watering. Summer houses needed to be built, which necessitated quite large changes to groundworks in the back garden. Social events had been organised, and enjoyed.

Cycling happened. A lot. I rode from London to Paris in less than 24 hours. That was fun. Shortly, I’m going to be riding from Shenfield (bottom of Essex), through Harwich / Hook of Holland, to Bruges (or Brugge, if you’re Belgian). And back again. There’s various other cycling-related things going on, too, either watching or actually doing. And a new bike has entered the collection, which is lovely and a joy to ride.

Oh, and I’m doing #100kwords100days again.

The group seemed to have an appetite for more of the pain and anguish, although word counts have been somewhat down on the winter version. I suspect others have the summer distraction thing going on, too. This one runs from the 1st of July through to early October, when we’ll breathe a sigh of relief before girding our loins ready for NaNoWriMo.

I’m writing about the end of the world again, albeit this time in a fairly small area in the USA. But there’s death and destruction going on, forces unimagined by man (or woman), and I have a strong female lead. Again.

On word counts, I’m somewhat down on the target. I’m at 41,579 for the story and 48,435 for the challenge (the challenge includes blog posts and other creative writing). I am supposed to be somewhere near 66,000 words right now. My rolling average word count per day is creeping up and is now 734 words per day, which is pretty good, and I need to write an average of 1,517 words per day between now and the end of the challenge to reach the 100k.

More importantly, it looks like I’m going to finish this work. Mr. Work In Progress might actually get to finish something (unlike the other 17 or 18 WIPs which lay unloved on various parts of my hard disk).

And how has this been achieved? I think it has been achieved with more structured planning, clear and interesting characters, a vision for the whole story from start to finish, and using the classic 3 act / 8 sequence structure, often used in film making. I’ve been able to keep my story on track, writing scenes (In Scrivener, of course), and kept the plot rolling along.

I also have an outline for another long piece, which may end up being my NaNoWriMo project. When this story is complete, I shall put it away for preliminary editing, and take up my crime short novel series. I really would like to get 2 or 3 of those written before the end of the challenge.

Wish me luck!


Please! How can I sell more of my books?

money-bagI’ve been writing for over 40 years. Okay, so for many of those 40 years I was working for a living, having children (not literally), and generally being too busy, or lazy, to write, but I’ve taken writing much more seriously over the past ten years. In that time, I’ve written getting on for three-quarters of a million words. I’ve submitted short stories and flash fiction to online publications and competitions. I’ve been part of writing groups, where my writing was subject to open, honest, and sometimes harsh critique. I’ve completed (‘won’, if you will) eight NaNoWriMo’s. That’s 400,000-odd words right there.

So, I get quite grumpy when I see questions from writers asking “how can I market my book?” “How can I sell more of my books?” “What’s the best way of using Twitter and Facebook to market my book?”

Quite often, these questions are from people who’ve written one book. No writing CV. No other writing success. They’ve written one book, and they’ve read how some writers (Amanda Hocking, John Locke, J.A.Konrath, Michael J. Sullivan, Louise Voss/Mark Edwards, Stephen Leather, Bella Andre, et al) have made a ton of money from self-publishing, and they want some. They think all they have to do is write one book, upload it to an online bookstore (Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iBooks, Smashwords), and promote the hell out of it, spamming Facebook groups, endlessly Tweeting about it, and generally getting on everyone’s nerves. And then they think there’s something they’re not doing, some magic bullet which, once they’re told about it, will rocket their book up the bestseller charts, earning tens of thousands of dollars in the process.

I used to avidly follow the posts in the Writer’s Café section of Kindleboards (i’m not going to give you a handy clicky link – if you can’t be arsed to drive Google to find it, then you’re not serious about this), and it was a great place for the new self-publishers. Writers shared successes, with numbers, and dollars, and what they did, and how they did it. Now, most of those fascinating self-publishers have gone away, tempted by the Big K – Kudos – that a ‘proper’ publishing contract can bring to them. And I don’t blame them for that. Publishers are in business for one thing – to make money. And if they can sign up a writer with a proven record of selling huge quantities of books, then they’ll come a’ running, with cheque books open. But the rest have got pretty tired of the new members. “I’ve written a book, and uploaded it to Amazon, but sales are disappointing. How can I improve my numbers?”

I’ll tell you in the next blog post, coming soon.


For Pete’s sake. READ. IT. THROUGH.

I’ve loaded up Kindle for a forthcoming trip. I was checking my purchases. Crime. Thriller. Short fiction. All lovely.

I was intrigued by one of my books, and opened it up. Grrrrr!
In the first sentence, the author used the words mouthful, mouth and handful. It was clumsy. Amateurish! Abort! Delete!

Out of interest, I checked another book. Grrrrrr! Again!
First two sentences: “The woman stood in the middle of the bank atrium. She stood there …”
Aaarrrggghhh! Clumsy! Abort! Delete!

Why don’t people check their writing? Are they blind to it? Have they given it to their partner, parent, in-laws, and they were too scared to criticise?

Put yourself in the shoes of a book buyer. Be it from a bricks-and-mortar shop (other building materials are available), or from an online store. For the sake of imagery, let’s walk into a nice bookshop. Usually, there’s a presentation bookcase straight in front of you when you walk in. Let’s call it “New Releases”. And it even has a special cardboard point-of-sale star attached to it: “Special Offers”. No, I don’t know why they feel the need to Capitalise Every Word Either. I digress.


So you approach the shelves, and you’re in browse mode. You might see some famous names presented there, but you fancy something different, something new for a change.

Oo look, there’s a new writer. Hieronymus Postlethwaite, with his latest release: “Syphoning the Snake”. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it. Should you buy? Should you not? What are you going to do?

Obviously, unless you’ve been living under a rock since you were old enough to walk, you’re going to pick the book up. If you’re like me, you turn it over to read the back cover. There’s blurbs from other, more famous authors, but mostly they’ve been paid to say nice things about other authors from the same publisher.

There’s a summary. “Phileas B. Pendlestone never knew what it felt like to be loved. From a baby, kidnapped from his pushchair by a pack of wild kangaroos on an outing from the local zoo, he lived in a cave for 16 years. Whilst working for the government on a top-secret mission, he falls in love with a beautiful Russian agent. But on a trip back home, his childhood sweetheart uncovers a truth that forces him to make a decision. Should he ….” (etc etc).

Sounds pretty damned good to me. And I’ll bet it does to you, too. So what do you do then? Do you trot off to the cashier, credit card in hand?

No, of course you don’t.

You open the book. You read the first paragraph. Maybe two.

And there, kind readers, is the crux of this post. Prospective purchasers will read the first paragraph or two, or a page. That is the point at which they’re deciding to buy the book, or put it back on the shelf.

So what should a novelist do, in those first few paragraphs? Hmm? Do I really need to spell it out?

You make those first few paragraphs the best damned paragraphs in the whole book. IN. THE. WHOLE. BOOK. Because within those paragraphs lie the secret to the sale.

Online, it’s the same thing. The Big Gun, Amazon, give you a “Click to LOOK INSIDE!” feature. They seem to think it’s pretty important for people to be able to have a squint at what you’re on about. Or you can download a sample. Same thing.

Okay, you say. I get it, you say. I need to have someone check it, you say. So you give it to your mom.


Your mom (mum if she’s in the UK) is probably very nice, and brought you into this world, or at least, brought you up. What’s she going to say? Is she qualified to judge writing? Is she published? Or, maybe you give it to your best mate at work. What’s he/she going to say? “Yeah, it’s great.”

No no no no.

Find another writer. Come on, it’s not difficult. These days of social media everywhere, you can surely find someone, online, who’s another writer, and preferably writing in your chosen genre. Say hi to them. Create an online friendship. Ask them to read your book.

No no no no.

Authors are busy people. If they’re not, they’re no good. if a good author has free time, the last thing she’ll want to do is to spend a number of hours wading through your manuscript.

So my advice? Send them a small section. At the start. Take the first few hundred words of your story. Not too much, because they won’t read it. A paperback page is around 250 words, so make it around that. Bad writing can be detected (usually) within a paragraph.

Send them the extract, ask for honest opinion. Does it work as an opening section? Would a reader want to read on? Are there any ways it could be improved? Just that. Don’t send them a thirty page questionnaire. Just three questions.

If the feedback is good, proceed to Go, and collect £200 (if you’re lucky). If the feedback is bad, think about your writing. Is it really good enough to publish? Was the extract an aberration? Or was it typical of your writing? Don’t forget, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

ImageEdit: Hoist by my own petard! A friend pointed out that the first “I” was missing from this blog post. See what I mean? Read. It. Through. Okay, I will. Next time.


Writing challenges – are they any good?

First, there came National Novel Writing Month – often shortened to NaNoWriMo. The challenge? To write a 50,000 word ‘novel’ during the 30 days of November. First

NaNoWriMo remains very popular. In 1999, their first year, they had 21 participants and 6 winners. In 2011, they had over a quarter of a million participants and nearly 37,000 winners. The number of words logged in the 2011 event was 3,074,068,446. Over three billion words. Staggering.

However, there a couple of problems with NaNoWriMo:

1) The pace is pretty high, at 1667 words per day. The danger is that you type words, not create a story. Generally, I’ve been dissatisfied with my 8 NaNoWriMo winning ‘novels’

2) 50,000 words do not a novel make, especially that, by the time you’ve done some (necessary) editing, you’ll end up with something around 30,000 words.

Several other challenges have emanated from the NaNowriMo people. Camp NaNoWriMo is another 50k word novel month, in the month of July. Script Frenzy is the same, but for scriptwriting. And it doesn’t stop there. Others have created NaNoEdMo (editing), NaNoWriWee (30k in a weekend). There’s a ton of monthly timed artistic challenges at

So, with all these problems, is it worth doing a timed wordcount challenge? Bearing in mind that:

* You have to be prepared to work at it. Nothing worth having comes easily. You need to make compromises. You need to write when you don’t feel like it.

* You can feel down if you start falling behind. You need to either stick with the schedule, or not. If something gets in the way – illness, family issues, meteorites hitting the earth – you need to accept that you’re not going to achieve that target.

* You can end up with nonsense. Ernest Hemingway said “the first draft of anything is shit.” And it is. Mine are, anyway. That’s what the editing process is for.

However, there are a couple of huge positives:

* Having a regular, challenging schedule means that you need to write each day. This is a very good thing. And once you get into the habit of writing each day, you can’t stop. More writing = a better chance at gaining a publisher or more self-published works to offer to the public.

* You can feel that you have what it takes to become a novelist. This is also a good thing. We’re all delicate, fragile souls, and our confidence needs lots of bolstering.

How do you succeed at timed writing challenges? Here are some hints and tips I’ve used over the years.


I’ve seen many authors fail the challenges, but one of the biggest reasons is due to lack of planning. You really can’t write a novel without having a plan. An idea is not enough. An idea is not a plan. The plan is something which lists plot points, from the start, through the middle, and to the end. The plan lists your characters, with some sort of character definitions. The plan can be a chapter-by-chapter detailed definition of your story, but it needn’t be. Without the plan, your story will run out of ‘legs’, you will run out of story, before you complete the necessary words. And, with something like NaNoWriMo, there is no time for major replanning.


It sounds obvious. But some people don’t. They feel tired, they have a busy day at work, they have a family member fall ill. All valid reasons, sure enough, but if you can break through these barriers, write just a few words, a couple of sentences, maybe a paragraph or two – then you’ll stand a much better chance at succeeding.


NaNoWriMo have forums for you to chat with your fellow challengees. They have individual local forums for people in your area. They have forums for your genre. They have technical question forums. They have forums for people to recommend writing resources and programs. And so it goes on. There are Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, other forums. All of which take you away from what you are supposed to be doing – WRITING!

Restrict your non-writing social media efforts to a certain amount of time during the day. One of the best things I have found to do is to close down my browser when I’m writing. That little bit of effort to open up the browser and load websites takes just long enough for me to think carefully before doing it.


One of the problems many challenge writers have is of finding time to write. We think to write 1000 words a day or more, we need a couple of hours of time away from other people, in silence or with the music of our choice, a glass of wine or a cup of tea, and a view to inspire our writing.


You need to put your writing instrument of choice in front of you, and write. I’ve written whilst food has been cooking. While watching TV. In between doing household chores. When the rest of the house has gone to bed. Before the rest of the house has woken up in the morning. Whilst waiting for an appointment. During a 15-minute tea break. During a lunch break. Learn to write in small sections, and with distractions. Learn to switch off from outside influences, and concentrate on your story. I can type at around 1,000 words an hour, creating fiction as I go. That’s four, quarter-hour segments, or six, ten-minute segments during the day. Can you find six, ten minute chunks of time to write. Sure you can!


Yes, the challenge is about writing. And writing is work. Damned hard work. But you’re allowed to have fun, too. Chat to others about what you’re doing. If there’s a forum, join in. Read blogs that other writers offer. Here are a couple that might amuse or encourage you. Chuck Wendig is not everyone’s cup of tea, and he’s irreverent and some of his language may offend. But what he says is the truth, so please read them, and nod your head sagely, and remember who told you to read them!

Good luck!


Monomyth and story structure

I’m not a fan of prescriptive writing. The sort of stuff where you learn ‘how’ to write a proper story, where you learn about protagonists, antagonists, story arc, blah blah blah. I’ve read a lot of novels in my writing genre (crime / horror / dark / dystopian fiction), and I think I’ve absorbed story structure into my head. My characters have challenges and conflict.

But I enjoy reading about writing, and I particularly enjoy listening to the Writing Excuses podcast. You can subscribe via iTunes.

This week, they were talking about “Hero’s Journey” and there’s a lot of interesting stuff in there. They also link the theory to popular stories and films, like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the Lord of the Rings story. Examples like that really bring home the reasoning behind the theories.

I’ve searched some of the stuff they talk about, and include links below.

I’m not saying (and they’re not saying) that your stories have to follow these prescriptive plans, but it’s worth reading about the theories to see if they might be useful to you.