Book news! Well, anthology news, actually. Tomorrow my short story King Swan comes out in a brand new collection — Gorgon: Stories of Emergence (Pantheon Magazine).
From the official blurb: “Be changed. GORGON: STORIES OF EMERGENCE contains 42 transformative stories spanning all genres from both emerging and new voices alike, with all new stories by Gwendolyn Kiste, Richard Thomas, Annie Neugebauer, Eden Royce, Beth Cato, D.A. Xiaolin Spires and more, and featuring 10 illustrations by Carrion House.”
I’ve had a peek at some of the stories and they’re awesome! You can buy Gorgon on Amazon in ebook and paperback, starting tomorrow…
It’s been two years today since HEART BLADE was published! Happy bookversary to the Blade Hunt Chronicles!
It’s almost February, and that means it’s getting close to Boskone time! I absolutely love this friendly New England Con, and I’m glad to be returning. If you like science fiction and/or fantasy, and live anywhere near Boston, why not drop by to check it out?
This year brings a couple of firsts for me: my first time as a panel moderator at Boskone, and my first reading, as part of the Broad Universe group. Besides my own program items, I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and hopefully making a few new ones; watching a couple of panels (see full program here); and maybe attending a reading. Let’s see how much I can cram into the two days I’ll be there!
If you’re planning to attend, here’s my schedule:
Agency and Free Will in Speculative Fiction
Friday 15th Feb 2019, 18:00 – 18:50, Harbor III
Fantasy often makes use of prophecy. But when a protagonist is the prophesied one, how can they experience true conflict, risk — or agency? They can’t fail, right? Shouldn’t this deflate the reader’s interest? What happens when you have conflicting prophecies? And if we’re in a mechanistic universe, governed by the laws of physics, where is free will?
Juliana Spink Mills (M), Gillian Daniels, Rebecca Roanhorse, Greer Gilman, M. C. DeMarco
Broad Universe Group Reading
Friday 15th Feb 2019, 21:00 – 21:50, Griffin
Join members of Broad Universe — a nonprofit association dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and promoting female authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror — as they read tidbits of works and works in progress. Readers will include Terri Bruce, Trisha Wooldridge, L. J. Cohen, Roberta Rogow, Juliana Spinks Mills, Joanna Weston, and others. Moderated by Elaine Isaak.
Now, That’s a Great Action Scene!
Saturday 16th Feb 2019, 11:00 – 11:50, Burroughs
Fight scenes are not all created equal. Action scenes can make or break a story: drawing readers in, or shattering the suspension of their disbelief. Let’s look at some of the best action scenes and sequences to see how it’s done right — and why some scenes are just wrong. How do you keep the energy up without confusing the readers with a flurry of movements that only martial arts enthusiasts can follow — or care to?
Errick Nunnally (M), S L Huang, Bracken MacLeod, Juliana Spink Mills, Vincent O’Neil
The Middle Book Syndrome
Saturday 16th Feb 2019, 16:00 – 16:50, Marina 4
The first book of your series was amazing: solid story; compelling characters; great reception by publisher, critics, and fans. Now, the hard part: living up to all the high expectations. Or maybe the first book had a less receptive reception, but you still need to produce that second volume? Plus there’s the rhythm problem — first book, thrilling beginnings; last book, satisfying conclusions; middle book, recaps and repetitions … How do you deal with the pressures of a multi-book contract and impatient fans?
Fran Wilde (M), Juliana Spink Mills, Kenneth Rogers Jr., Sarah Beth Durst, Sharon Lee
Finnish-born author C.T. Grey is an engineer and self-confessed information junkie with a serious addiction to science fiction and fantasy. Besides his own novels, Grey has also published a number of articles and blog posts on technology, science, politics, and a wide variety of other topics, both fact and fiction.
In First Interview, book 1 of the Necromorphosis series, Grey introduces us to a bleak and horrifying post-zombie-outbreak London, where a mutated virus has escaped government control and now runs rampant among the population. The novel comes with a twist, though: zombies are not the only supernatural creatures roaming London. And now the Damned, which include vampires, are threatened with exposure as the entire structure of society begins to fall apart.
Juliana: Hi C.T., and welcome. First Interview is a zombie novel with a unique approach — one of its main point of view characters is a vampire! How did you come up with the idea of mixing traditional fantasy elements like vampires and magic with a classic zombie outbreak tale?
CTG: Thank you Juliana. It is a good question. At the beginning the trilogy was just a short story that I posted in its entirety in the SFF Chronicles under a title of “A New Beginning…” It was story where Herbert Jackson faced Jane and end up as her dinner, as the story ends in the classical Jane’s line: “I’d like some red, please.”
When I started to listen to Jane as my muse I was imagining a very different kind of story as I was admiring Bear Grylls and I wanted to put him as a character, which comes to rescue Jane from some tower in London. It would have been really romantic and somewhat a classical adventure. However it never happened as Jane led to a very different kind of survival story.
I never wanted to write a classical zombie story or follow Kirkman in the niche market, as the whole turmoil with the zombie uprise is a background detail in the book. It is not the main thing. Jane’s survival story is and I wanted to make her extraordinary as those types get highlighted born in the times of conflict.
You can read from between the lines that the story Jane tells to Henrik isn’t a normal journey. But it is the sort of case that Henrik would be normally investigating, but the deeper he ventures into the story that Jane is weaving, he starts to realise that everything isn’t as it should be.
I wanted that to be the fantasy element, not just supernatural as that would be boring. I honestly wanted to write in all the places she has visited, things she has seen but wasn’t mentioned in the books, like for example: dryads, centaurs, elves and dragons. What I think is interesting is that to Henrik all of those things are magic. He doesn’t believe in any of them, because he was born skeptic. But over the course of the trilogy, his views change somewhat dramatically.
Juliana: I know you are a fan of a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy TV shows, which you review for the SFFChronicles.com. Did your eclectic approach to entertainment influence your choice to draw from both sides of the speculative coin, so to speak?
CTG: No. It never was my aim, but I do admit I might have been influenced by them. Thing is whatever you read, watch, see will get mixed in your mind and eventually spilled out on the paper.
I started my own reading experience with Ursula Le Guin’s Tales from Earthsea and moved on to cover a number of classical masters like Asimov, Tolkien, Heinlein, Philip K Dick and so on. I read a lot and I still do, but these days I have the internet, so I don’t read as many books as I used to, but over the years I’ve never been just one type of guy.
If there is a fantasy creature in my stories, the chances are there are a number of others lurking at the background, ready to pop in the stage. I could claim that it’s like the case of Tove Janson’s Moomins, once you know they are real, they never go away and in the Moomin valley there are a large number of things that not present in the ‘real world,’ but we still do believe in there.
Therefore I cannot omit fantasy from a story, if the main character is already a fantasy creature. What I can and what I have done in the trilogy, is that I’ve rooted them into the realm of realism as much as I can. It just happens to be that after the Great Panic all these creatures start to pop all over the map.
So, in the case of the Necromorphosis trilogy, nothing you’ll see is traditional. I mix … sometimes quite strongly science fiction into fantasy because both genres can offer so much more than restricting yourself to write yourself into the corner. The biggest SF thing I have is the Portal technology, but it is also funny, because the portals are in scientific terms pure fantasy.
Juliana: I have a confession — I’m terrified of zombies! But First Interview, despite the sometimes-graphic descriptions of gore, somehow eased me in and kept me from running away. A lot of this is probably down to your protagonist Jane, and her matter-of-fact manner of telling the story. Was this a conscious decision on your part — to give the reader some breathing space, so the horror wouldn’t be too overwhelming — or did this just occur naturally?
CTG:(Laughs) You are not the only one. Jeff Richards, who has edited the whole trilogy, confessed to me very early on that he absolutely hates the zombie tales. To him, you and a number of other people, who have read the book, have confessed the same thing. First Interview isn’t about the zombies, or what they do, when the apocalypse becomes real, because that tale is Jane’s tale and I doubt she would ever bore Henrik with a simple zombie story.
When you later on read the next book – From Exopolis to Necropolis – you will notice that the same effect that plagues AMC’s The Walking Dead plagues that story as it keeps moving away from shuffling horrors to a short of story that is close to Inception. And that move was as much intentional as it could be. The dead will remain as threat and as a reminder about what happened when the Day of Great Panic dawned in Jane’s Earth and it became apparent that there was no return to the world of yesterday.
So to get Jeff to edit he had to love the story so much that he made me put it into various competitions with the Big 5 for over two and half years. When it became apparent to me that they liked it and saw something in it, but couldn’t invest money into it, I made a decision to publish it on my own.
Juliana: What challenges did your two main characters, the vampire Jane and Intelligence Analyst Henrik, bring? Who was the hardest one to write? And the easiest?
CTG: Henrik was the hardest. The simple reason is, he’s an invisible narrator in First Interview but his role grows much bigger later on. Because he was so vague I had harder time engaging him than Jane. Usually she’s much easier and more interesting thing to write than Henrik. With her you always know that you’re not going to have a boring moment. Instead you’ll get a chance to explore things that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. You could claim that Jane is sort of Super Heroine and you wouldn’t be wrong as that is almost what she is. With her being an over six and half centuries old vampire, you get a chance to explore world from a point-of-view that is far older than what you could do with a traditional human perspective.
She has seen history and met people since last mini ice-age and it shows in her narrative. With Henrik the case is different, as he studies things in the current timeframe rather than wallowing in the past, like Jane does sometimes.
There are only a few Jane focused chapters that I struggled to write. Some of them especially so because I got so emotional with her struggles to cope with the world she didn’t wanted to bring around. Jane would have happily stayed in the shadows and continued living in a normal world that we experience everyday.
Juliana: First Interview is full of high-octane action scenes. Do you have a system for writing these scenes? Do you work them out beforehand, in your mind or on paper, or do you just jump straight in?
CTG: I don’t plan them as I let the muse and flow bring them out, but each one of those battles has been written multiple times. In some cases Jeff has made me to rewrite them again. So you get multiple layers that over time became the scenes you see in the books. In First Interview there is a scene, where Jane is being targeted by a sniper. I wrote it probably ten times even though it is relatively simple thing to write. It is also a reference point that Henrik uses multiple times, because in his mind, nobody could have survived it. Jane, on the other hand, isn’t a nobody and her ending in it wouldn’t have made a very good book. (laughs)
With the choreography of the fights I have over a decade long experience as a game-master and making high-octane adventures for the top-class players. Believe me, they schooled me well on what’s an interesting fight and how it should go down. Although with the gamers what you expect to get isn’t ever going to happen, because their sole aim is to destroy you as a game-master. (laughs again)
So, with the fights I never aim to destroy my characters but to put them through fast-and-dirty fights where sometimes unbelievable things happens just like it is in the case of the real life. Although I have a chance to show those scenes to military people and ask their opinion on them, I tend utilize my service experience and stuff that I’ve gathered continuing talking and analyzing current fights in the world, before I bring them on the paper.
Believe me it would be easier to write them if I didn’t knew anything about the art of warfare or how the battles turn out. In fact I’m glad that you can reflect those experience in the fiction and anchor them into the reality as much as I can. It also helps that every week, sometimes every day I write reviews on the stuff you see in the small screen or in the big one.
Juliana: Since your first language is Finnish, what were the key difficulties you had to face when working in English? And do you have any tips for other non-native-English writers?
Finnish and English are very different. Whilst Finnish might be easier language to write prose, it’s not the main language in our world. I write both fluently and out of those two, English is way much harder, because it has so many rules. Some things don’t make sense to even English Masters as they have to accept that things are the way they are. On the other hand I can easily bend the Finnish words and use them in completely different meaning altogether as the language flexes more around the speaker and the writer than what you can do with English language alone. So, it is a question of how much you can cope, and how well you can learn those rules to be able write in second language. As English is one of the main languages I try not to play with it as much I can do with my mother tongue.
Juliana: Talk to me about your cover! What are your favorite things about it? How closely did you work with the artist, Jackie Felix?
CTG: The cover… Oh man, I don’t know where to start. Well, firstly, I wanted to show Jane and keep Henrik altogether, as Jane is the Main Character in the First Interview. Jackie did a fantastic job in bringing her and Sergeant Red out as a couple, as you can see them standing in the Interview Room 2, looking mighty grumpy. Through the book they are an item as much as Jane and Jaq is, but Jackie didn’t wanted to draw nasty dead in the streets of war torn London, hence you see them in the Interview scene.
I chose Jackie, because she draws the best females characters in the industry and she isn’t afraid of showing them curvy or full of life. She also has an ability to draw from the darkness and apply that to the canvas. Jackie also managed to capture the feeling that their world is close to us but in some terms it’s more technologically advanced than our own. You see the eye of the Source (an AI) in the background watching everyone. So even in that you can get layers of the that only make complete sense once you have the knowledge.
Juliana: On February 10th you’ll be releasing Book 2 of your series, From Exopolis to Necropolis. Can you give us any spoiler-free hints of what awaits Jane, Henrik, Jaq and Co.? Also, First Interview very briefly introduces deeper fantasy elements, such as magic, the teaser of more supernatural creatures lurking undercover, and the mysterious Underworld. Will you expand upon these in the sequel?
CTG: Yes, I’ve expanded them a great deal, as the reader gets to dive into the story that was hugely inspired by Nolan’s Inception movie. You’ll get to learn how the Necromorphis advanced in the streets of London. What role the Portals, the Exopolis and the collective of special people that the Authorities placed in the Moon has been doing since the dust from the Great Panic has settled. You also learn much more about Henrik and what he’s going to do when, after six months, he meets Jane in the Exopolis and one of the first things she asks is for him to become Mayor.
At the background, you can expect that the war between the Damned and the Authorities is continuing. And for your delight there aren’t that many scenes involving the dead as there are in the First Interview. Instead of them you get to learn more about the mysterious Underworld, and what role it plays in the grand scheme of things.
Juliana: Thank you CT for stopping by and answering my questions. And I love the cover of the new book, with art by Adam Burn!
From Exopolis to Necropolis is available for preorder from Amazon, and First Interview will soon be available at a special promotional price during the sequel’s pre-launch week.
I don’t do dark. I don’t do scary, or heart-wrenching. My writing is fun and happy, and full of sunshine. Until it really, really isn’t.
The first thing I ever wrote was a light-hearted middle grade novel about a group of friends in small-town Brazil trying to stop a rampaging gang of ghosts. There was a bike chase, and meetings at the local ice cream parlor. Not a sliver of a shadow in sight, right? But now, looking back, I see there was an underlying theme of the price of magic, and of good magic gone very wrong.
Another middle grade novel had themes of PTSD and abandonment. My first foray into YA was about genetic experimentation on teenagers and forced seclusion from society. Are we beginning to sense a thread of darkness in all of this? But I still had this illusion that I was writing upbeat happy stories, probably because the dark bits were interspersed with enough action to mask them, at least to my own eyes.
(Although the torture scene in my first published book—which got a special mention from Fantasy-Faction—should have clued me in…)
I got into short stories. These tended to be a lot darker right off the bat. Probably because I felt these were somewhat separated from my usual stuff, and gave me more room to play. Published stories include an alien willing to kill to remain on Earth, a trio of cut-throat teen mercenaries on a desperate mission, and murder by flesh-eating fungus. Nice and cheerful!
But there’s a beauty to the shadows, to the gray tones and the storm clouds. We can only appreciate the light when the story has contrast. And for that, it often needs to go down dark paths.
At the moment, I’m working on something brand new. It’s my darkest novel yet, with some pretty tough subthemes. At first, I wondered who the heck the person commandeering my brain was, to be coming up with this stuff. Then I took a good hard look at my earlier writing, and realized the shadows have been there all along, from the very beginning.
In a way, this came as a relief. It’s good to know my work has actually had some consistency from the start. Until I began this latest project, I was worried that there was a huge disconnect between my short pieces and my longer stories. This new thing of mine not only seems to pull all the different sides of me together, but it also made me take a good hard look at my past work, too. And maybe embrace the dark.
Here we are, on the brink of a brand-new year. Yes, it’s an arbitrary calendar division and one day is the same as the next, etc, etc. But personally, I’ve always loved the concept of celebrating time passed and a new year ahead.
A quick look at 2018!
One novel written, another with a solid start
Two short stories published; a third sold but not yet out; and a fourth written, edited, and approved for an upcoming collaborative anthology
Writing events: one Con as panelist (participated in 3 panels), one retreat, a one-day workshop, and two library events (one as panelist)
A successful number of SCBWI meet and greets organized and held in our area (thanks to all my co-organizers!)
Fave books this year include The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Man O’War by Dan Jones, Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, the Magisterium series by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch and Akata Warrior, The Empyreus Proof by Bryan Wigmore, and Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom
Some of the movies I loved were Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. Yeah, those superhero movies are still topping the bill for me…
TV shows! Marvel’s Runaways was an unexpected delight. The Expanse is still one of my favorite shows. Into the Badlands and Midnight, Texas continued to deliver good storylines. In terms of animation, 2018 saw the final seasons of Voltron Legendary Defender *sobs* and Star Wars Rebels *sobs harder*. But it also kicked off The Dragon Prince and the new She-Ra reboot, both extremely enjoyable, so plenty to look forward to in 2019
Personal bits and pieces
We have a new rescue pup! Misty is seven months old, and both a delight and a tiny terror. We love her!
We visited family in Brazil in July/August and got to spend time with old friends, too. We returned to Brazil briefly over Christmas week, for much more difficult reasons. It’s always hard to face the brutal finality of burying someone you love, however much you think you’re prepared
On the other hand, and because life tends to do this: brand new baby nephew! He lives on a different continent, so I didn’t get to go all grabby hands, but thankfully Facetime and WhatsApp are a thing
I passed the one-year milestone of working at my town library and am so grateful I get to do this. I love my job!
Coming in 2019
ALL THE CONS! Well, three. I’m a panelist again at Boskone in February, and I’ll be doing my first reading, as part of the Broad Universe program. In August I’m off to Ireland, first to Dublin for Worldcon, and then to Belfast for Eurocon. It’ll be a great chance to connect with some of my UK writer friends who I haven’t met in person yet
Book release: some of us ladies over at the SFFChronicles.com have been working on a science fiction anthology with an all-female line-up of authors. Out in 2019
Star Blade! Hopefully this new year will bring the last installment of my YA trilogy. I’m working hard to make that happen…
THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT IN 2018. SEE YOU IN 2019!
Hard to believe the year is almost over! I could swear it was October just the other day… Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and I thought I’d start with a quick reading round-up. 2018 has been a slow year for me, book-wise. There are SO MANY novels sitting on my bookshelf or in my e-reader waiting for some love, and I’ve barely made a dent in the pile. Hopefully 2019 will find me more inspired!
2018 was the first year I ever kept a book log, which proved to be an interesting experiment, and one I think I’ll continue next year. So, what did I actually read? I finished 35 novels in 2018. They were pretty evenly spread out in terms of age category: 11 were Middle Grade, 11 were YA, and 13 were adult fiction. As for genre, Fantasy (and sub-genres) was the big winner, with 25 titles against 3 science fiction novels, 1 horror tale, and 6 that fell into other categories (thrillers, a mystery, and a contemporary YA). 15 of those books were written by men, and the other 20 by women.
My resolution for 2019? Step up my reading game and catch up on that TBR pile!
Recent Reads: Earth shakers, world breakers.
I followed up my earlier read of Akata Witchwith the sequel, Akata Warrior. I absolutely love Nnedi Okorafor’s vivid worldbuilding and crisp storytelling syle, and the second book definitely lived up to the first. The novel continues Sunny’s saga as she keeps up her training in Leopard Society, takes her magical abilities further, and finds an even bigger battle to fight with her friends.
I recently picked up an ARC for an October release that had been gathering dust on my shelf since spring. Monstrous Devices by Damien Love is a nicely paced middle grade novel with a dark side and a hint of teeth. It has a vaguely clockpunk feel to it, and mixes toy robots, ancient golems, blood magic, and a breathless chase across half of Europe. Good stuff.
Moving away from kid lit, First Interview by CT Grey is what happens when you mix a zombie apocalypse, a vampire warrior, a high-tech portal to a secret off-planet colony, and whispers of a supernatural underworld. To be honest, when I read the blurb, I was skeptical. But Grey pulls it off with style, and this fast-paced genre mash-up was an entertaining read. Book 2 comes out in 2019, so stay tuned for an interview with the author on my blog.
Now Reading: Space capers galore!
I’m in the middle of The Scalpel, by James Worrad, and thoroughly enjoying it. There is plenty of action-packed intrigue to keep things moving, and a great cast of colorful characters.
To Read: The fantastic and the familiar.
I have a copy of Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peachon my Kindle just begging for attention. I’ve liked everything I’ve read of Robson’s so far, and this one promises to be just as good.
Juliet E. McKenna is an author I’ve had on my to-read list for a while, and now I have two signed books of hers I got in the last Pixel Project fundraiser: The Green Man’s Heir, and Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom. Looking forward to these!
I haven’t read anything by children’s author Patricia MacLachlan, and I have at least two writer friends who claim she’s been a major influence in their lives. So I was delighted to be given a copy of My Father’s Words during a Holiday Book Swap held by my local SCBWI group. I think this will be one for my Christmas break…
Wishing you all a wonderful book-filled end of year!
Adapted from a guest blog I originally wrote for fantasy romance author Suzanne Jackson.
Anyone who’s been hanging around the Twittersphere lately will have seen writers sharing their ‘rules for writing’. Now, I’m not that big on ‘rules’ (what works for one person might backfire splendidly for another!), but here are a few things I figured out early on and which keep me going. Hopefully, they’ll help you too!
Three things I’ve learned about writing:
1. Take Your Time. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. When I started writing ‘for real’, one of the first things I did was read a lot of bios and websites of authors I admired. To my surprise, there were very few true ‘overnight success’ stories. One author took ten years to be published, another five. Another more than that combined. Some writers didn’t become household names until their third, or fifth, or seventh book.
Beginner-writer-me found this hugely reassuring. If other people could do it, so could I. If I had to put in the time to learn the craft and get it right, then so be it. I wouldn’t be the first, or the last, to take a deep breath and tell myself, “As long as it takes.” I knew this was something I loved, and that I was prepared to be in it for the long haul. I just had to jump in, and keep going.
2. Make Mistakes. Also known as: you have nothing to prove. When I was younger, I’d always planned on becoming a writer ‘someday’. Perhaps when I ‘grew up’. But somehow, I never got around to it. Probably because I had this weird notion that writers sat down at their perfect writing desks and dashed out the Next Big Classic all in one go. Yes, I really was that naive! I knew nothing about messy first drafts, or that it takes rewrites, revisions, and a whole lot of elbow grease to produce something halfway decent. So of course, with that sort of self-inflicted pressure, inevitably I was terrified of starting and failing.
When I figured out that the writing business was a long-distance event (see number 1), this led to the realization that nothing had to be perfect right away. I could allow myself time to work things out, to back my story into corners and fall into plot holes. I could get it wrong, and dust myself off, and rewrite, and get it wrong again, as many times as necessary. The only thing I couldn’t do, was let the fear of failure hold me back from trying.
3. Have Fun! Along with realization number 2, came the awareness that I didn’t actually want to write the Next Big Classic. I wasn’t fussed about literary immortality, or having my books on required reading lists. I couldn’t care less whether my prose was gorgeously poetic. Instead, I wanted to enjoy my writing. I wanted to fill my pages with fight scenes, and daring escapes, and fireballs. Maybe a breathless first kiss or two. I was an 80’s teen, and all those hours spent watching the likes of Star Wars, Die Hard, Back to the Future, and The Goonies had to impact my writer’s soul somehow. Once I figured out the sort of things I enjoyed writing, the stories took off and the words just flowed. I was having fun, and I never ever wanted to stop.
Of course, these discoveries may have worked for me, but may not work for you. Find the small bits of wisdom that inspire you, personally, and use them to keep going on the dark days. We all have those days – beginner writer or seasoned pro – and sometimes you just need to remind yourself of why and how you got started in the first place. And then get up, dust yourself off, and jump back in with all your heart.
It’s almost November, and if you follow writers on social media, you’ve probably come across at least some mention of the National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, as it’s known, challenges writers to reach a stretch goal of a 50,000-word novel by the end of November. You can find more info on it here.
But the truth is, NaNoWriMo isn’t really about writing a book in a month; unless you’re writing middle grade, or maybe younger YA, 50k words isn’t enough for a full-length novel. But it is enough for a rough first draft, or to lay down a solid foundation for something you can develop on your own time, later, when the month is up.
What NaNo does is challenge you to make writing your absolute priority for an entire month, even if you need to wake up earlier or sleep later to do so, or DVR your favorite TV shows for a while. This complete focus on writing can be the push many people need, in several different ways.
You don’t even need to do the official NaNo challenge; make up your own if you prefer. For example, I have a Facebook group of writer friends who get together every November to cheer each other on and to exchange beta reads and critiques once the month is up. Most of our group don’t sign up on the NaNo website, relying instead on each other for companionship and support.
The NaNo concept works for me, for a very simple reason: it gives me a deadline to focus on. I’m always setting myself personal goals, like ‘finish this revision by September!’. But self-imposed deadlines are easy to push back. There’s always a good reason to delay things a little. However, if I use an ‘outside’ deadline like the one NaNo suggests, it gives me that extra incentive to get things done.
So, what should you do if you are planning on participating in NaNoWriMo, either officially or unofficially?
For a start, determine your goals. You can use NaNo as a push to:
Start something new and build writing momentum, so that after the month is up you can continue, or revise, or rewrite what you started.
Finish something old; dust off that stalled WIP and see it through to the end!
Revise and rewrite something you had written previously.
Set yourself other writing goals, such as draft three picture books, or do a writing prompt every day. It doesn’t have to be about one single book; NaNo can simply be an excuse to focus on all things writing-related for a solid month.
Once you’ve decided what you’re using the month for, the next step is to plan out your roadmap. Are you focusing on picture books? Brainstorm ideas beforehand and make a list of the most likely ones. Aiming at finishing a stalled WIP? Get it out and read through what you’ve got, familiarizing yourself once again with the rhythm and voice of the story. Starting something new? Do some prep work, so you know the basics about your characters and world before starting. Some NaNo writers outline everything before going in, but not everyone works that way. Do as much as feels right to you, to save yourself time in figuring things out when November rolls around and the blank page is waiting.
Carve out your writing time. Decide when the best time of day is for you. You might normally only be able to snatch small portions of time here and there, and that’s fine but, for this one month, perhaps try and find a routine that works. If you need to talk to partners and children, do it: you may find they’re excited to be part of the challenge in this one small way.
What happens when you get to the end of November? One thing is for sure: you’ll still have a lot of work ahead, whether in finishing the story you started, or polishing up that first draft you powered through. So now it’s time to take a moment and look back at what you’ve achieved. Maybe you didn’t hit your 50,000 words, or finish your rewrites. But hopefully you got a good solid chunk of work done, and perhaps pushed past that writer’s block or slow patch. Celebrate it!
And remember: NaNoWriMo is set in November for one reason, and one reason only: leftover Halloween loot*. So, now you have words and you have chocolate, and really, what else does a writer need?
*Disclaimer! This is probably not true. Or maybe it is, who knows? It’s a valid enough reason…
**Please consume your Halloween treats in moderation.
I have kids. Two of them, teenagers now, which allows for plenty of ‘me’ time, since they’re often occupied with their private worlds of school and friends, YouTube and online gaming, and books of their own choosing. But still, I have kids. This means that, twice a year, my carefully set up writing routine gets turned upside down.
Winter break is easier. Although December is usually a blur of things to do and places to be, the school hiatus itself is unreasonably tiny in the USA. They’re out for around ten days and then it’s back to school. The routine hits a small bump in the road, but rightens itself quickly.
But summer… Summer is hard. Summer is long. Summer is frequent breaks for day trips to the lake or the beach, cousins staying over, kids asking for rides to the mall, or to friends’ houses. Summer is slowing life right down to a comfortable crawl, and enjoying a last-minute barbeque, or setting up an inflatable pool on the blacktop and having a family water fight. Summer is fun, summer is a welcome change of pace. Summer is… not great for writing. For me, at least.
After the kids (finally) go back to school at the end of August, it usually takes me a while to find my rhythm again. This year was extra especially hard as we adopted a puppy in August, with all the pet training challenges an enthusiastic three-month-old dog brings. So, come mid-September, I was screaming at myself to get a grip and focus on my work. But it just wasn’t happening, and this was dragging me into a downward spiral of self-doubt, fueled by VERY EARLY mornings (thanks to Small Pup) and not enough sleep. I wasn’t writing ANYTHING, and I wasn’t reading, either. My to-be-read pile looked like an unclimbable mountain, and I just didn’t feel like touching a single book. So I sat down and came up with some strategies to ease myself back into things. I decided that, instead of tackling the big tasks on my to-do list, I would try starting out with small steps, and tiny bites.
On the reading front, I resolutely put the TBR pile away. I went to my town library and looked for comfort and familiarity, and a change of genre. If science fiction and fantasy were stressing me out, I was going to move away, at least for a while. I picked up a few thrillers by an author I used to love, rereading a few old favorites and trying a couple of new titles. I mixed in a bit of middle grade, and a bit of YA. Before I knew it, my 2018 ‘books read’ list — horrifically untouched throughout July and August — was suddenly growing, and I was having fun again.
I approached writing with clear and easy goals, and a challenge. The challenge for what was left of September was to do something writing-related every day. It could be creating a blog post, going over a critique partner’s submission, or working on a short story. I set aside the must do’s (like work on Star Blade!) and focused on the can do’s. As my confidence grew, I began to hit my goals. I revised a short story that had been languishing for a couple of months, I wrote a promised blog interview I’d been sitting on for a while, and I got through most of a new editing pass for my brand-new sci fi thriller. I wrote down what I achieved every day in my journal, and gave myself stars and a pat on the back. I was on a roll, I was getting things done.
I’ve kept the momentum going into October, with slightly more challenging goals, keeping to my system of trying to do at least one writing-related thing each day. So far, it’s working, and I feel like I’m back up to speed and moving along nicely. The strategies worked, for me at least, and I shall reapply them whenever I lose momentum or get into one of those self-doubt spirals, and need something structured to help me along.
We all go through slow patches at times. It’s normal, and often downright necessary. And sometimes we need to help ourselves a little to get out of a slump. Will my strategies work for you? I don’t know; perhaps you might have to come up with your own solutions. But here’s a recap of mine, in case you need them. Good luck!
Daily challenges. A loose ‘do something writing-related every day’ worked for me, but find your own. It could be trying a writing prompt, or doing a different daily writing exercise. Make it something that can be as big or as small as you can handle on each specific day. Small steps, tiny bites.
Easy goals. Give yourself tasks you know you can handle. One page of new words a day. A new short story. Ten pages of revision. Victory with easy goals will encourage you to take on more demanding ones next.
Comfort food. Or comfort books, really. Though food is good, too. Especially cake. Wait, what were we talking about? Books, that’s right. Think of it as comfort food for the brain. I got myself back in the mood for reading by returning to old favorites and switching genres for a while.