15 writing resources to keep you going through NaNoWriMo 2017

That time of year is upon us once again, fellow writers – National Novel Writing Month. While some of you may know that I have never attempted NaNoWriMo myself, I am an avid fan and follower of the influx of writing inspiration and advice the month invariably brings.

1. Fiction Writing Tips by Kris Noel

Author Kris Noel is an on-and-off Tumblr user, but come NaNoWriMo she floods feeds worldwide with all kinds of helpful tips on how to actually buckle down and crank that novel out.

2. Writrs

This blog runs prompts all year round, but it focuses on what aspiring writers need to keep them creative and inspired in November.

3. Fuck Yeah Character Development

Characters are pretty much the most important part of any written work, so if you ever find yourself struggling with that aspect, this site provides all kinds of brainstorming questions, as well as insight into how to write characters of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences.

4. It’s a Writer Thing

You are not alone! The lovely folks at It’s a Writer Thing have plenty of support and advice to offer if you’re struggling with an aspect of your story, whether it’s scene, dialogue, character – no matter how small it is, you can find someone or something that can help you here.

5. Sacha Black

While author Sacha Black’s website isn’t dedicated specifically to NaNoWriMo, it is dedicated to her own journey as a writer and the experience that comes with it. She also offers writer resources and interviews other writers for their perspectives.

6. The Spinning Pen

This site is dedicated to YA authors, but the advice and insight available on the writing and publishing processes are useful to any writer.

7. Shannon Thompson

Shannon Thompson is another author whose blog is focused more on her own work and what’s relevant to her in the writing world, but I continue to find her experience incredibly useful and encouraging. Thompson is a YA author, so if that’s your genre you may find her writing experiences particularly relatable.

8. Cecile’s Writers

This blog is an offshoot of Cecile’s Writers magazine, a publication dedicated to intercultural voices. Their blog is a great way to get insight on the industry from a diverse set of writers.

9. Eye of the Writer

If you need a little humor as you sit chained to your disk, your digits slowly numbing from hours of typing, Eye of the Writer is the place to be. The style is hilarious and the advice is excellent.

10. The Muffin

The Muffin is WOW! Women on Writing’s official blog. They’ve been online since 2006, so there’s no shortage of advice for women looking to break into the business and keep themselves motivated through the month.

11. Creative Writing Contests

This is a more of an “after” resource, but if you’re focused on publication and want to give your novel its best chance, this website has an endless list of competitions, grants, and literary magazine issues that can help you focus your plot and give you a prize to keep your eye on.

12. World Building Question of the Day

Every day, this Tumblr blog gives you something to think about as you create the world your story exists in.

13. And World Building Too

This website I especially like because it provides visual inspiration to help you think about what your world looks like.

14. I Suck At Writing

This is a great resource for writers looking for help with productivity and creating clean, professional copy.

15. Silly OC Prompts

Another blog focused on character creation and development, this provides daily questions that will give you a much clearer focus on who your characters really are.

There you have it folks! What are some of the resources you rely on to motivate you through NaNoWriMo? Share in the comments!

Writing: Why you gotta go and make it so complicated?

A few weeks (or has it been months? Who knows! Time is relative) ago, I joined Pinterest as a way of sparking some visual creativity, which some of you may know I’ve always been a fan of. And Pinterest did not disappoint:

It’s beautiful!!! *heart eyes*

(While we’re here, you can check out the Creative Quibble Pinterest Board here, and also check out this board if you’re only really here for the books).

But one thing I’ve noticed that I’m not so crazy about is the plethora of writing advice infographics along the lines of “Words to Use Instead of X.”

Before I start talking about why I don’t like this and don’t think it’s helpful, let me say that this isn’t a criticism of those dispensing this kind of writing advice, or even the advice itself. It’s not bad or wrong – I’ve personally found it useful in certain circumstances – but I think for aspiring writers to get the most of it, there needs to be a very specific approach.

When 1+1=3

Writing isn’t a science where you can replace one thing with its equivalent and get the same result. When you tell someone to use “enraged” instead of “very angry,” you could be legitimately improving their writing – or you could be ruining their work. The only way you can know for sure is if you see the word choice in the context of the piece itself.

Remember the scene in Friends where Joey tries to write Monica and Chandler a recommendation for their adoption agency but gets a little overenthusiastic with this thesaurus feature?

That’s basically what you risk when you follow this kind of advice willy nilly.

For example, one of these posts suggests “deafening” as a replacement for “very noisy.” But these two are not necessarily the same thing. What about “piercing”? It may well be a better replacement for the meaning you’re trying to convey. What about “cacophonous”? Riotous? Clamorous? Ear-popping? And that’s just off the top of my head. All of these words mean “very noisy.” None of them refer to the same kind of noise.

Another post gives 50 alternatives to the phrase “looks like,” including “mirrors,” “reflects,” “parodies,” “mimics,” and “parallels.” Personally I prefer this kind of post because it gives the writer a chance to consider what works best for their meaning, but that still requires one to be very familiar with the language and confident in what they want to portray.  If you’re in that category, then you may well find these posts exceedingly helpful. But if you’re just starting to get comfortable with writing, I think you need to approach this type of advice carefully.

I think the best, most authentic writing comes from where you are naturally in your vocabulary and your environment. When I was in grad school, I had several people tell me that my writing wasn’t “academic” enough, because I tended to use short sentences and paragraphs and everyday language. That was a direct result of my training in journalism – it was what I was reading and writing naturally, and so it carried over into my graduate work. I rather liked it – I find a lot of academic writing cumbersome to the point of being unintelligible. Here’s a pro-tip: if you’ve hit line four but you’re still in the same sentence, stop and find somewhere to put a period. No one knows what you’re talking about anymore.

But I digress. My point is this: I could have tried to mimic the academic style I was told to by my peers (for the record, my professors never took issue with my writing style), but it would have come off as awkward and artless. Writing is not a “fake it till you make it” skill. It’s something that needs time to develop naturally, and it’s also unique in that to perfect your writing, you need to do something else – read.

Reading is the only way to grow your vocabulary in a way that will organically feed into your writing. That’s the long and short of it. You can save all these posts and bookmark thesaurus.com and read the dictionary every night before you go to bed, but none of that will feed into your writing like reading does.

And speaking of reading…

Just say it!

One thing that really, really bugs me is when people give you a list of words to replace “said.” Guys. Guys. You do not need to replace “said.” In some cases, when you’re trying to really emphasize an attitude or a characteristic, it is appropriate to use “stammered,” or “demanded,” or “snapped.” In most cases, “said” is just fine. In fact, it’s better than fine.

Here’s why: your reader isn’t actually seeing the word “said.” That’s not how the brain works. It doesn’t read every individual letter or word. Instead, your brain scans and absorbs a context, and fills out the details from there. Have you ever been reading a page and suddenly stop and go, ‘wait, what,?” because what’s happening now doesn’t make sense with what you just read. So you go back, only to discover that you missed a crucial “not” in a sentence in the last scene, which is why the what happened afterwards was such a shock.

It’s not because you’re skimming or falling asleep or otherwise not paying attention. That’s just how your brain reads. When your brain sees quotation marks in the context of a story, it knows that there’s dialogue coming up, i.e., someone is saying something. It doesn’t need to read the word “said” to know that, so more often than not, it doesn’t.

So as a reader, you’re not registering the word “said,” and you’re certainly not nitpicking the author’s use of it. But of course as a writer, it’s a different ball game entirely. Because you’re typing it out so much, you become paranoid about your use of “said.” Is it boring? Is it evocative of what you’re really trying to express? You have an image in your head of exactly what your characters are doing and thinking and feeling; is “said” really doing them justice?

Yes. Yes it is. Don’t just take it from me. Author and publisher Rob Hart is a huge proponent of “said”:

Said and asked are beautiful in their simplicity. They are completely anonymous words. We know what they mean. We’ve seen them so often that our eyes recognize the shape and convey the meaning with zero effort. We glide right over them.

That’s very important when you’re reading dialogue. Dialogue flows. Conversations don’t stop so we can figure out what people are feeling. We intuit it. And having these nearly-meaningless words to steer you along means that you’re not pausing to figure anything out.

But when you see that a character retorted or blustered or hissed, your brain slows down. There’s something there you need to process. It’s momentary, probably imperceptible, but when it comes to writing a flowing conversation, the pause may as well last for hours.

In writing, everything counts. Where you put your periods. The white space between the paragraph breaks. Everything. And said and asked are very valuable tools in your arsenal. Because they get the job done and get the fuck out of the way. They’re so good at it, they can completely disappear when you need them to.

Hart makes an important point about the anonymity of “said” and “asked.” When you write, you’re trying to convey a certain idea or image, and often you become so invested in that image that you become obsessed with making sure the reader sees it exactly as you do in their mind’s eyes. So you use these unnecessary words and add emphasis where you don’t need it because you’re trying to force the reader to conform to your vision of the narrative, and instead you push them out of their reading bubble and force them to recall this outside force, you, the author, that has created this imaginary world.

They were immersed in your world. Then you dragged them out and beat them over the head with your complicated dialogue tags.

Sometimes, it’s better to just go with your instincts and not overthink these things. You can always go back and edit. And when you do, you may find that your work is in better shape than you thought!

*Feature image credit: John Davey via Flickr.

How to handle your inner critic

It’s December. You spent a whole month slaving away on a manuscript that you’re passionate about, that you love, that you can’t wait to get out to the world…up until you start rereading it.

In writing, as with any profession, it’s important to be able to accept criticism of your work and use it to your benefit. Editing is crucial part of the writing process, after all, and to do that you have to be able to approach your work with a critical eye. It’s admirable, healthy even, to be approach your work with the intention of improving it.

What’s not healthy is that little voice in your head that tells you that you’re work is terrible and you’re terrible and you should just bury yourself neck deep in the woods somewhere as penance. We call it the inner critic, but that’s really misleading. A critic evaluates. This little dude is just cruel. And more often than not, he’s a liar too, because burying yourself in the woods never solves anything.

That voice (James Chartrand at “The Write Life” refers to it as the inner demon) is essentially the manifestations of our insecurities. When we allow that voice to be takeover the megaphone in our mind, so to speak, it warps the way we see ourselves and our work. When we think negative thoughts, we feel badly, and when we feel that way, it becomes the lens through which we perceive ourselves. Work that we loved two days ago seems ridiculous. Language that was poetic last week becomes pretentious and cheesy.

How to handle your inner critic when it's at its most obnoxious

When you start to hear and recognize that demonic voice (because sometimes we don’t recognize it until it’s been talking for a while), you have to nip it in the bud right then and there. Once you’ve been able to do that, revisit the positive thoughts feelings you had when you were working on the piece earlier. If you liked it last week, it can’t possibly be utter garbage today. Try to move away from the piece emotionally and view it in a more objective way, so that if you do find that there are areas that need improvement, you’re at least not taking that on as reflection of your own self-worth or your skill as a creative actor.

This is also true if you’re getting back comments from an editor or a beta reader. Just because they don’t like parts of your piece, doesn’t mean that the whole thing is terrible or that you are terrible. Even if they hate the whole thing, that’s okay too. Not everything is going to be a home run every time, and not everyone is going to like every thing you do. How many people tore into the “Twilight” series as everything that’s wrong with modern fantasy fiction? And yet the series was wildly successful, and Stephanie Meyers herself is living the high life – she’s written more books that have been able to piggyback off of “Twilight’s” success, and now she has her own film production company.

Clearly, the negative opinions of others do not necessarily equal failure. So why should your own opinions hold any more weight? Just because you think something, doesn’t make it true.

If you find that you are simply too invested in the piece and it’s really wearing on you emotionally, put it aside. There’s no law that says you have to publish something withing 20 days of writing it. Leave it alone for a couple months, and then come back to it. Not only will probably be able to edit it better, you won’t feel like your personal integrity is attached to it – which, you know, it’s really not.

What advice do you have for dealing with the demonic voice in your mind? Share below!

Link Bank November 2016: A recap of NaNoWriMo

Welp, November is officially over, and with it National Novel Writing Month. Whether you participated this year or not, it’s a time to focus on your writing overall and see what you can accomplish and what needs to improve. Over the past month, I’ve written lots of writing advice here, but I wanted to record some of the best advice from around the internet for future reference.

5 tips to win NaNoWriMo (and survive life, creatively) – The Tempest

“But I’ve met a lot of people who finish and never go further, even if they say they want to. People whose eyes go glassy when I tell them that going well above 50,000 words a month is my normal routine, regardless of what month it is. But there’s nothing special about me! I was not given a magic potion to drink! I have no fairy godmother! I just want to jump off the cliff and into the void.”

*I am an editor at “The Tempest.”

Advice from authors for your NaNoWriMo success – Unbound Worlds

“Don’t try to create and destroy at the same time. Either you are ‘creating’ draft – and your inner critic is turned totally OFF, anything goes, you just write without judgement, or you are ‘editing’ – destroying – this is a separate stage, it happens after you have a draft and after you know your idea – you are reshaping that draft and refining your words to convey that idea with more clarity. Then you have your inner critic turned on, and you cut what’s garbage. ”

How to fall in love with your writing – Nerds of Color

“Early in my writing career, I made the mistake of forsaking fun and enjoyment while writing. I wasn’t invested in the short stories I wrote. Don’t get me wrong, they were well structured and well-written, but… the stories lacked my enthusiasm/passion/soul (or what have you).”

NaNoWriMo – The dirty truth – Sacha Black

“Writers block, unblocked, blocked again, Shovel more chocolate in to cure depressive writers mentality. Self criticise. Stupid NaNo. Suddenly remember why you started the challenge, tap tap tap, chocolate, crisps, hate on work for getting in the way of writing, tap tap. Feel the burn, feel the slump, can’t do it any more, for the love of god why did I start this… Stupid idea.”

No character? No problem! Four tips to writing great characters

Everyone’s got that thing about writing that drives them up the wall. For me, it’s the plot: I can write dialogue and character descriptions all day long, as long as none of them have to actually do anything. This, as you can imagine, is a problem.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. Today, we’re going to talk about the other problem: you have a riveting plot riddled with characters that move through it like zombies on a full stomach.

Yes, Ben, that's our topic of the day!
Yes, Ben, that’s our topic of the day!

The truth is, there is no plot without characters. People can sit around doing nothing, but things cannot happen without people to do them. So if characters have been a pain for you, you’re in luck because I’m here to help!

Character Tip 1: Plan it out

In “How to Write and Sell Your Novel,” thriller writer R. Karl Largent says that before he begins writing, he creates distinct personalities and background stories for each of his characters. Even the most minor characters who only appear in a single scene get this treatment (although if you ask me, that’s overkill. Then again, what do I know? I’m not the bestselling author here.).

As I’m creating the character profile, I make a point not to rely to heavily on character tropes, especially those that I believe to be either harmful or unrealistic. (“Magical minority,” “evil for the heck of it,” and “Mr. Angst” are a few of the ones that really make me cringe.) Creating the profile also helps you track the character’s behavior, so that you can be sure that your character acts in a manner that makes sense within the universe you’ve created. If you’re not feeling very inspired or feel like you can’t get away from predictable tropes, try scrolling through illustrations and artwork on Tumblr. There are some very talented artists out there, and being able to picture a character in your mind’s eye can help you figure out how they act and react, how they speak, their mannerisms – all those little things that take a character and turn them into a person.

Character Tip 2: Make them matter to each other

To put it simply: if the characters in your story don’t care about each other, why should your reader care about them?

In my experience, the best novels have stories that create and build strong relationships between the characters. It’s why the death of Fred at the end of the “Harry Potter” series is so devastating: not only have we as readers grown to love him, but we know that he has family and friends who love him and will grieve for him in the world of the story. It’s why we care about the fate of Fix-It Felix when he goes looking for Ralph – even though the two are set up as antagonists, they have a relationship that is integral to the story. It makes sense that Felix would look for Ralph, and because Felix is invested, so are we.

Damn straight. I'm still salty about this, okay?
Damn straight. I’m still salty about this, okay?

As writer Chuck Wendig puts it:

Characters need connections to other characters. These don’t need to be desired connections. They can be connections that the character is actively trying to deny. But they need to be there. They help make the character who she is and continue to push and pull on her as the story unfolds.

Character Tip 3: The more things seem to change…

After you’ve built a character profile based on Tip 1, you have to figure out how that profile is going to change by the end of your novel. Because if your character stays the same from the beginning of the book to the end, why’d you write the thing in the first place?

Writer Brian Klems gives a detailed breakdown of how to make your character grow and change throughout your novel, but to break it down: the plot has to have a significant, noticeable, and logical impact on your characters. Harry Potter goes from sweet, naive little boy, to angry, hot-headed teenager, to focused, strategic, slightly older teenager over the course of seven years, in response to the twists and turns of the plot. It makes sense because his growth follows the patterns of the plot itself. In the same way, your characters have to respond to the plot in ways that make sense given the character profile you’ve created.

Character Tip 4: Everyone is special in his or her own way

It’s a lesson we learned from that lovable purple dinosaur and it’s just as applicable to fictional characters as it is to real people. Your character can’t just be good at something, they have to be the best. This is a piece of advice that comes from story consultant James Bonnet, who writes, “Great stories, myths and legends are dominated by quintessential elements. Zeus is the most powerful god. Helen of Troy is the most beautiful woman. Achilles is the greatest warrior. King Arthur is the most chivalrous king.” The quintessential makes for a more interesting story, Bonnet insists.

He goes on to add:

The quintessential can be applied to any element of your story but is especially effective when applied to the professions and dominant traits of your characters. If you take these dimensions to the quintessential, you will make your characters more intriguing. They will make an important psychological connection and that will add significantly to the power of your work.

I know, I know: didn’t I just say that I hate tropes? And isn’t the quintessential character practically the definition of a trope?

Yes and no. Yes, the idea of the chosen one, the strongest villain, the strongest superhero, the superbly intelligent detective, are all examples of tried and tested tropes. But the trope itself isn’t necessarily bad; after all, it became a trope for a reason. It’s how you apply the trope that matters. The Chosen One has to face some kind of moral dilemma that calls into question his status. The super-smart detective has to stumble on a case, start to worry that she’s losing her edge, before finally solving it. That’s how you keep your character, and by extension, your story, interesting and unpredictable.