Career changing Inspiration

Getting Inspiration from Friendship

Grab Some Inspiration from Friendship


Friendship is as inspiring as the memory of old love affairs. Our friends can help us write. Sometimes it’s because of something we did together. And sometimes it’s because we want to honor them.


For stories which need a lot of names, why not ask your friends whether they want their names used? I’ve come up to people and asked, “Can I kill you in my novel?” People usually love this. Bonus – when you write about them or you publish, or if you post a quote, be sure to tag them. Because your best friend from sixth grade will probably be thrilled (but ask, in case they aren’t).

And if you’re going to make a friend a villain, be particularly careful about asking permission. A suggestion: for truly villainous villains (e. g. sadists and despots), don’t use friends’ names. For my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel, I needed to populate a space ship with crew members. Some got more screen time (page time, I suppose) than others. Asking whether I could use my friends’ names was the fastest and easiest way to populate the ship.

Furthermore, it paid dividends with social sharing because so many people were tagged.

Friendship Characteristics and Quirks

Why do we love our friends? Is it how they play poker? How they sing? Their love of the same fandom we love? Then find a way to adapt these details and put them in your work. It can be something as simple as a man stroking his mustache or a woman’s Kentucky accent. Maybe your friends collect stamps or they run track. All of these are good details.

Of course, don’t spy on your friends and take extensive notes. But you know these people well. You have already observed their teddy bear collections and their overly full makeup drawers. You don’t have to spy.

Scenes Inspired by Friendship

Did you and your friend meet in some interesting manner? Did you bond over something funny? Then ask, can I adapt this for my novel? And I say ask – don’t assume. Because some people may feel that’s overly private.


Be respectful, of course. And your friends might not want their memories used for writing fodder. So ask! And if they allow it, do be sure to thank them. The acknowledgements section of your book is a great place for that.

Career changing Inspiration

Getting Inspiration from Myths & Legends

Grab Some Inspiration from Myths and Legends

Myths and legends are perhaps the oldest stories we humans tell each other. They go back to before human beings were literate. They may go back to before agriculture, which would make them some six to ten thousand years old. Yeah, legends are that old.


We might, at least here in the west, think of Greek and Roman mythologies before we consider others. Or maybe we do not know any others. But there are plenty! However, rather than getting into specific culture’s mythologies, I would instead suggest considering certain ancient tropes.

Flood Myths

Floods make for great storytelling. This is because they are a kind of ancient people’s disaster movie. The effects are legitimately frightening and off the scale. Furthermore, most of us have experienced some species of flooding in our lives, even if it was just water rising in a creek and pooling around our ankles.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Getting inspiration from myths and legends
Getting inspiration from myths and legends

For a religious group, a flood is also a great way to separate out the righteous (using whatever criteria the group so desires) from the wicked. The best people can be quite literally be saved and the evil people can be swept away.

It is also far less messy than a fire or earthquake would be (although being swallowed up by the earth is another option when it comes to the fate of the wicked). There is nothing to clean up.

Legendary Battles

The fall of Troy makes for a great story. Can it inspire? Of course. Between the death scenes, Helen’s love affair and then her fall from grace, and the Trojan Horse itself, the story is fascinating reading.

Another (probably) mythological battle is Joshua’s invasion of Jericho. The story includes the image of a wanton woman (Rahab, who was most likely intended to be a prostitute) offering aid and comfort to the enemy’s spies, to the walls falling from trumpet blasts and not traditional attacks.

Takeaways for Myths and Legends and Writing Inspiration

Without getting into faith or religion (which will be handled in a different post), it is perfectly legitimate to use myths for writing. They are, after all, within the public domain.

Career changing

Libraries—How to Get Your Book into Them


Getting into Libraries

Libraries are the unsung heroes of the American (and other countries’) educational system. They are where people look for jobs, listen to lectures, or teach themselves all sorts of things.

They are also a marvelous home for your newly-published book.


First of all, you probably can’t just write to or visit every library in creation. While writing is something of a numbers game, it won’t do you much good to just launch your book at all the libraries out there. You need to have a plan.

The best and easiest plan is to go with a library where you have some sort of a connection. Did you grow up in Cleveland, go to college in Dallas, and are now settled in St. Louis? Then try your local library from when you were growing up. Don’t try every single Ohio or even Cleveland library. The same is true of Dallas, plus you may want to try your alma mater. For St. Louis, do yourself a favor and get a library card before you even start. They want to know you, at least a little bit. So go and let them at least know that much about you.

The Approach

I’m going to give you three approaches.

With the Book

Take your book with you, in a purse or tote bag or backpack. Ask to speak to whoever is in charge of acquisitions. Go to them, book in hand, and explain how you are related to the library. E. g. “I grew up down the street, on Parkland Road.” or “I just got a card three months ago.”

Now explain what you’re doing. “I’m a first-time author. This is my book. It’s about ____.

At minimum, tell them the genre. I find it’s helpful to tell them either where it’s shelved elsewhere (is it science fiction or fantasy, for example). Also tell them whether the work has any triggers or heavy sex or violence scenes. Mention if it is LGBT-friendly. This isn’t just a courtesy to help keep small children from taking out works with explicit sex scenes. It also helps the library decide how they are going to display the work and what they are going to say if anyone asks them about it.

Then give them the book. Yes, just hand it over. Make sure it’s a perfect new copy. Do not give them a signed copy. Why not? Because those can potentially be stolen. In addition, the library has to think ahead. Your book will probably end up in their book sale, and maybe even in less than a year. A pristine copy is easier for them to sell.

Without the Book

No book? No problem! Come over with a business card instead. Again, ask to speak with whoever is in charge of acquisitions. Explain who you are and what your book is about. Hand over your business card. And if you’ve got the ISBN handy, then write it on the back. But also get their address of where you can send the work. Don’t make them ask for it. You have to do all the legwork here.

On the Phone

This one is similar to when you go in but don’t have a copy of the book with you. Again, ask to speak to whoever is in charge of acquisitions, and explain about your work. Make it clear the book is free to them. Then ask for their shipping address, and whose name should it be addressed to. And the best part about this approach (or if you need to mail the book for any reason) is, you can just have Amazon ship it to them and send it as a gift.

What do You Want in Return From Libraries?

Pictures. Yes, really! Tell them you will do this if they take pictures of your book on their shelves and send the images to you. Explain you are going to use them in your marketing campaign. And then do so, making sure to thank them profusely and link back to any libraries which help you out.

Libraries: Takeaways

You just sold another book! Never mind that it was to yourself. You still sold one, and that counts for Amazon’s rankings system. Plus your book now is in a position to be seen by others. And the librarian knows your title. Finally, I have personally found talking to librarians to be easy. Because you’re not really selling. Instead, you’re giving them a donation. Libraries want authors to succeed.

Career changing Inspiration

Getting Inspiration from Employment

Getting Inspiration from Employment

Adventures in Career Changing Getting inspiration from employment
Adventures in Career Changing Getting inspiration from employment

Working Stiffs

Employment colors most people’s lives (or the lack of a job). And whether your job is a creative one, or has to do with business, athletics, science, the Internet, or anything else, it can help propel your creative spirit to new heights.

Employment as Metaphor

So let’s say your characters are on a spaceship deep in the Andromeda Galaxy. Hence the time frame, pretty obviously, is the deep future. Yet even if you feel we’ll all be part-cyborg pod people, you can still see your current position (or a past one) as a kind of metaphor. Because even your heroes in space suits might become peeved if someone else uses their favorite ray gun. Or maybe they have a conflict over a meal – even if that meal is an alien carcass or a mess of nutrition pills. Since it’s your show and your universe, why not show someone who resents the person in charge?

Repetitive or Unpleasant Work

For even the most exciting and glamorous occupations, there can often be a great deal of repetitive work. Actors have to memorize lines or go to cattle call auditions or autograph stacks and stacks of head shots. Models have to travel a lot and miss their families, and they wait around a lot at photo shoots. And singers get colds. In addition, lawyers have to answer emails and phone calls and travel to court. Furthermore, doctors – even world class ones – sometimes deal with less than cooperative patients. And politicians deal with the polls and the press.

Most noteworthy, you’re a writer. So you know all about artist’s block.

Hence consider what you do, over and over again, at work. Maybe it’s running database queries. Or filing papers. Maybe you fill out tax forms or dig holes to embed fence posts or you clean animal cages or perform oil changes.

Now, please keep in mind, I want you to stay safe at all times! However, doing a repetitive task can sometimes lead to your mind wandering. So why not let it wander to and then linger on your writing? Maybe you can envision one of your characters performing your repetitive task. Never mind if the time frame is wrong; this is just an exercise. And then start thinking about other tasks your character could be performing. While writing about a repetitive task might not make it into the final cut of your work, it could give you insights into your character’s personality and motivations.

Maybe your character makes mistakes. Or maybe they’re perfect at executing the task. In addition, some character might rebel or be repulsed by your task. So, can you extrapolate that to your work and your universe? Maybe you can.


Whether you’re an accountant or an astronaut, you might be able to use your employment as a vehicle for writing inspiration.

Inspiration Writing

Getting Inspiration from the Military

Let’s Look at the Military for Writing Inspiration

Inspiration is all around. And so it should come as no great shock that the military can be another source from which to draw.

So let’s look at military service in depth.

Basic Training on the Military

Probably the first thing to keep in mind is that it’s not all a monolith. And it’s not all about war and wartime.

In the United States, the main branches are the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. The newest addition is the Space Force.

In addition, consider that there are very big differences between people who are drafted versus volunteers. There are folks who only stay for their single tour. And there are others who reup and become career soldiers.

Yet another type is people who attend military training schools.

It’s a Job

Yep, it’s a job. It has hours, duty rosters, supervisors, and training. The TV show M*A*S*H shows the bureaucracy of the military. Watch the characters Radar O’Reilly and then Max Klinger and see all the forms they fill out.

Another good example of military bureaucracy is in the book Catch-22. In both instances, soldiers are drowning in paperwork.

And don’t forget that the military has courts, judges, and lawyers. The Judge Advocate General’s Corps can bring a legal twist to any stories about the military.

Starting with the Military

Volunteers may want to serve their country. Or they may want to go kill the enemy if we’re at war or are about to be. Or they may just want the benefits. These days, joining the military comes with major perks. It can be the ticket out of poverty for many.

But draftees, on the other hand, may resent being forced to serve. They might feel their lives have been interrupted, or they don’t want to risk themselves. In particular, if to them it feels like an unjust conflict, they could end up becoming downright dangerous.

For both types of soldier, basic training is a must. It can be very indoctrinating, turning reluctant law-abiding folks into killing machines.

Military Colleges, Academies, and Schools

There are dozens of schools for soldiers and sailors. They go from Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont to the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. Military prep schools offer something of the experience to high schools. Plus many universities and colleges—otherwise unaffiliated with the military—have a chapter of the ROTC on campus or nearby.


Recruiters promise civilians a lot. And sometimes they deliver. But during the war in Afghanistan in particular, there were a number of soldiers who hadn’t quite expected to have to fight when the only thing they were in the military for was the free education.

In addition, there’s been some spoofing of the recruitment process, in films such as Stripes.

The Front… and the Back

So the front, of course, is where the real action is. However, in this, the age of nuclear bombs, the front might just be everywhere. In addition, with the advent of drone warfare, there may not be an actual front. At least, not one that any human beings actually go to.

Contrast this with the fighting in the Somme during the first world war. Or Pickett’s Charge. But while both of those were happening, there were still soldiers who were nowhere near the fighting.


Without getting into medical care, of course members of the military can be hurt or even killed. And sometimes the wounds are psychological, where a veteran suffers from PTSD. For a good portrayal of a veteran with PTSD, check out Downton Abbey episode two of the second season, where new valet Lang has what at the time they called ‘shell shock’.

There’s also the matter of self-inflicted injuries so as to escape the front. Again, Downton Abbey delivers; this time it’s Thomas the butler raising his hand in a trench to have it shattered so he can come home. This is episode one of the second season.

Military Deserters

Every war has soldiers who get sick of the fighting and just plain go AWOL. Changing sides and betraying your country can be great fodder for drama, as can the reaction of the folks back home.

Conduct Unbecoming and Court Martials

The court martial is a particularly good source of drama. A Few Good Men makes it the centerpiece of the film. So there’s even a court martial in the original Star Trek series.


Getting out can mean an honorable discharge. But discharges can also be dishonorable. Soldiers get out because the war ends, or their enlistment period does. They may get out because of injuries making it impossible for them to fight. Older career soldiers and sailors can retire.

Or you can be kicked out essentially. A dishonorable discharge may be rendered only by conviction at a general court-martial for very serious offenses (e.g., treason, espionage, desertion, sexual assault, or murder) that call for dishonorable discharge as part of the sentence.

There are also general discharges and bad conduct discharges.

Military Veterans

One role for veterans in real life can be attempt to correct a less than honorable discharge. Veterans might also march in parades or speak at schools—and not necessarily for recruitment purposes. Plus there are veterans with permanent injuries. The VA administration exists to help with their transition to civilian life, but the VA is chronically underfunded.

As a result, there are homeless veterans, and vets who need medical care but aren’t getting it.

Military Inspiration: Takeaways

This barely scratches the surface when it comes to all the ways you can turn to the military for writing inspiration.


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Snowflake Novel Outlining Method Revisited

Snowflake Novel Outlining Method Revisited

Snowflake is but one method for outlining a novel. It’s not the only kind, and your methodology is probably best for you. But this is what I do.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Quill | SnowflakeI do a variation on snowflake. Do this on paper. I’ve never been able to do it on a screen and I think paper gives some semi-permanent feelings. But if you can do it on a screen, then have at it.

The First Snowflake Falls: Getting Started

1) Start with a concept. Let’s say the concept is that the world has run out of pumpkin spice.

2) Name a main-ish character (this can always be changed). So let’s go with a sapient chipmunk.

3) Write the main character’s name in the center of a page and circle it.

4) Write the concept down as well, maybe at the top of the page and circle it.

The Next Snowflake Will Fall: Making Connections

5) Draw 3 lines between them, but fewer if it’s a short story, more if it’s meant to be a series.

6) Along those lines, write possible connections. But don’t worry about them sounding stupid. Your sapient chipmunk might be hoarding it (and thereby is the villain). Another option is they might be searching for it as some sort of chipmunk holy quest. Or they might stumble upon it by accident. It could be that they might have to pay it as ransom to the mean squirrel which kidnapped their baby chipmunks, whatever.

7) So now you’ve got more characters and more scene concepts.

Look, Another Snowflake: Supporting Characters

8) New page of paper. Same name in the center, circled. Now surround it with the names or at least descriptions of the other characters you came up with. In this case, the mean squirrel, whoever sent the chipmunk on the quest, whoever hid the pumpkin spice treasure our heroine stumbles over, the kidnapper, etc.

9) Draw connecting lines to the main character and, as before, write along those lines what the connections are. And do this even if you already have them written elsewhere. Otherwise, you’re going back and forth between pages, which is a pain.

Flurries: Supporting Scenes

10) Third sheet of paper: do the same with the concept and possible scenes. So these are scenes like the dramatic kidnapping, receiving the ransom note, a news story about the spice theft, the stumbling, etc.

More Flurries: Create Order (for the Scenes)

11) Fourth sheet of paper: take your scenes and put them in as coherent an order as you can and number them accordingly. Plus this can be changed. You’re just getting a rough idea here. So #1 kidnapper makes plans. And #2 spice is stolen; #3 meet the chipmunks, etc. Maybe you need to go back earlier to when the kidnapper first thought of the idea of kidnapping – that’s scene #0. Hence maybe you want the news story between #2 and #3 – then rename it #2a and move on.

Snow Showers: Moving Onto Your Computer

12) Transcribe the scenes into a word processing document. I use Word; some people like Scrivener or Google docs, etc. In addition, continue to reorder the scenes and see where the filler and the exposition go.

13) Transcribe the character types and any names you’ve got. First of all, you’ve got to get across that the chipmunk heroine is sapient. So does she have an amazing backstory? Sketch it out. Because it may or may not end up in the book. Sometimes a backstory doesn’t need to be explicitly stated, but if you know your chipmunk was an escapee from a science lab, that might inform how you write her.

Just because you researched or thought of something, does not mean it absolutely must end up on the page.

The Blizzard: Assign Tasks

14) Time to figure out who does what. Hence maybe the crow delivers the ransom note, or the wolf acts as the squirrel’s henchman and does the actual dirty work of kidnapping.

15) Keep refining and go back to the paper if you need to.

** Note: a lot of people who don’t like outlines feel they have to show every single little thing planned out. But this does not have to be true. Because all you really need is a general idea for a scene, like chipmunk babies are kidnapped, pumpkin spice shortage reported in the news, etc. Just know what your scenes’ purposes are.

Post-Storm Clean-Up: Do You Really Need That Scene or Character?

A scene should have one of two purposes (it can have both):

1) Develop characters (particularly the main character) or

2) Advance the plot.

So any scenes which do neither get scuttled or altered.

Lather, rinse, repeat. This is my version of the snowflake method. But it’s not the only way to write a snowflake novel.

Career changing Inspiration

Getting Inspiration from Education

Getting Inspiration from Education

A Vital Component of Life is Education

Education is of course something anyone in a wealthier country, who is over than the age of five, has in common with everyone else.

But what does it have to do with writing?

The Process

Consider the process you go through, and even the rituals which accompany schooling. You get up in the morning. Then you often eat something and you usually leave the premises, although not always. You read a lot, and answer questions. Plus you might perform mathematical operations. Some of these tasks may be simple. Others may be grindingly difficult.

Then at some point you knock off for the day. You might have assigned homework. And then you go to sleep so that you can do it all over again. It’s a little different if you’re homeschooled. But a lot of the activities are the same.

The Subjects

After primary classes, you start to see variations. French instead of Spanish. Physics instead of advanced Biology. College-bound students tend to track one way. Those who are going to stop with a High School diploma or GED tend to track another.


There are some interactions with homeschooling, but not as many as when you leave your domicile and go to a school. There may be bullying. Students may self-divide into cliques. Some join clubs or teams. Or even go to work.

There may be divisions made due to athletic ability. Or academic ability. Another group might be artists, or musicians. Some students know what they want to study. E. g. they know what they want to be when they ‘grow up’. Others take longer to find themselves.

And, of course, don’t forget students who get pregnant, or marry, or drop out—perhaps all three.

Education, Inspiration, and Takeaways

If your characters are in school, what is it like? Both Harry Potter and The Lord of the Flies allude to scholastic pursuits. Are your characters failing? Teacher’s pets? In trouble? Coasting? Ready to drop out because they think it’s pointless?

Career changing Publishing

Bechdel Test in Writing

A Look at the Bechdel Test

You may have heard the term—Bechdel test—but what the heck is it?

What is the Bechdel test?

The Bechdel test is best defined by the Bechdel site:

… sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel‘s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule. For a nice video introduction to the subject please check out The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies on

Okay, But What Does it Really Mean?

Films have shortchanged women for decades. How so? It’s less in the area of leads versus supporting and bit players.

If a female main character is hurt, and the female doctor character treating her has a nametag, and they discuss the main characters injuries, voila! The film passes the Bechdel test. Make that throwaway character male, and the opportunity is lost.

The test is not necessary for cinema, and it is certainly not necessary for prose. However, it’s still a helpful gauge.

Walking the Walk

Consider the following. These are bits of my prose. These are the points where my first three NaNoWriMo novels passed. First off is a sentence from Untrustworthy, and it is the first dialogue spoken. It is in the first chapter, page 1.

“Good morning, Ixalla,” Tathrelle said…

And the second one is from The Obolonk Murders. It is in the first chapter, page 3. Selkhet (who is a female robot) is speaking to the main character, Peri Martin.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” said Selkhet…

Finally, the third is from The Enigman Cave. It is in the first chapter, page 3. The speaker is the main character, Mariana Shapiro.

“Yeah, Astrid? Can you patch me through to Jazzie and Trixie?”

The Point of the Bechdel Test

I don’t pretend to always write stellar prose. Yet all three of these works pass the test. And all they do so within chapter one. Rather than making the reader dig, I lay it all out quickly.

For other writers, though, it may be more difficult. Lewis Carroll takes longer to bring Alice together with someone named. And even then, the name is ‘The Red Queen’. But does that count? Beyond the name question, does it count because Alice is a child and therefore probably would not be talking about men?

And what happens if the piece is about lesbians? If they discuss the objects of their affections, does it count?

The Bar is Set Low

Talk about setting a low bar! The two women don’t need to be strong. They do not need to be intelligent. A film or book can pass the test if two named women discuss crocheting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

However, my point is, passing the test doesn’t automatically turn anyone smart. Or kick ass. Or anything else. Instead, it just means two named female characters spoke, however briefly. And their subject, however briefly, was not a man.

But hey, it’s something. And it’s necessary. Good lord, is it ever. Because the last thing we need in the indy writing community is people writing about “Girl 4”.

Return to Prose

Let’s go back to my three examples. The speakers in Untrustworthy are married to each other. The ones in The Obolonk Murders and The Enigman Cave are colleagues. While Selkhet is subordinate to Peri, and Astrid is to Mariana, they are still addressed respectfully. Especially relevant, the interactions are professional ones. However, Mariana is more informal than Selkhet.

Do the interactions have to be meaningful? Not really. Ixalla and Tathrelle could be beating each other for all the reader knows. At least, given the one sentence, above. Maybe Peri smashes Selkhet to bits right after the above statement. Maybe Mariana fires Astrid.

So the test doesn’t ‘fix’ any of that. It doesn’t guarantee heroic characters. It just guarantees names and the power of speech. And they, at least one time, don’t talk about a man.

More Issues with the Bechdel Test

The test is imperfect. It’s very hard to pass it when writing historical fiction. Of course female characters in the past could have names. They could speak of something other than men. But the time and place dictate something else.

In the 1880s (for example), men drive most of the action outside the home. That’s not sexism; it’s reality. Still, since Scarlett O’Hara and Prissy discuss Melanie Hamilton Wilkes’s baby, then yes, Gone With the Wind passes. So it’s not impossible. It’s just tougher.


Creating well-realized female characters means naming them. It means having them speak. And it also means giving them more than one subject.

After all, when was the last time you thought a male character should only be discussing relationships? When was the last time you thought he shouldn’t have a name (unless the character is truly minor, seen for a paragraph or two and no more)? And when was the last time you thought it was okay—barring any specific all-distaff settings like sororities or women’s colleges—to not see more than one of them in a piece?

If any of those are a problem for you, then you know what the Bechdel test is really about. And you know your work should easily pass it without having to tie itself in knots.

Publishing Writing

NaNoWriMo Advice for All

NaNoWriMo Advice for All

NaNoWriMo advice? Yes; I’ve won it every year I’ve entered.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Quill | NaNoWriMo Advice

This is (for real!) how to do NaNoWriMo. Learn from my mistakes!


1) Plan if you can and if that helps you. I would suggest even pantsers should at least do research in advance. No sense in looking up how to say “I love you” in Latvian during November if you can do it beforehand. And no, that’s not cheating.


2) Write every single day. It should be at least 1667 words, but even 1 word beats the hell out of none. I have found this is some of the best NaNoWriMo advice I have ever gotten. Writing every day gets you into a habit.

Move Ahead if You’re Stuck

3) Can’t write chapter 4? Then skip it and write chapter 5. You’ll go back, or maybe chapter 4 will turn out to be superfluous. You’ll stitch it together later.

Don’t Edit!

4) Don’t edit! Do that in January or February (in December, either finish or just leave it). In November, it’ll eat up time when you should be writing.

Manage Family Expectations

5) Tell your family or whoever you live with that you’re doing it. Ask someone else to take the kids for an hour, or say you’ll make dinner all December if someone else does it in November, etc. Just, set expectations and get some help from others to get all the other little things done around your home. E. g. my husband isn’t a writer but he’ll put on his headphones at his desk while I’m writing so his computer sounds won’t bother me. Little things like that help.

Getting Ahead

6) If and when you can get ahead, do so. Can you write 1800 or 2000 words or more instead of 1667? Then go for it. No law says you have to stop at 1667 and call it a day. If you’re feeling it, have at it!

November 30th Isn’t Some Magic Day When Suddenly You Have to be Done With Your Story

7) The story does not have to be finished at 11:59 PM on November 30th. You just need 50,000 words. For the last two years in a row, I finished NaNoWriMo in the middle of November but didn’t finish the books (they were both over 100,000 words) until January. No, this is not cheating.

Nixing Writer’s Block

8) Got writer’s block? Then step away from the keyboard and exercise for 15 – 30 minutes. Pump iron, take a walk, play frisbee, beat the rugs, shovel snow. I don’t care. Just burn calories and then go back to it. Because it really does help.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

9) Don’t compare your accomplishments to others. Because there will always be someone who writes 100,000 words in one day or something like that. And there will always be people complaining that they’re behind. Also, there will always be people typing up until the very last second, and there will always be people wasting time online. Don’t worry about them.

Just take care of your own work and leave them to theirs. Their issues, quirks, and complaints are none of your concern.

Back Up Your Work!

10) Back up your work! I back up in three rather different places – my hard drive, a flash drive, and OneDrive, which is Microsoft’s cloud storage. So I highly recommend a similar setup for everyone. I had to replace a computer right before 2017 NaNo but I lost none of my prep work because it was on two places other than my old laptop’s hard drive.

There is always someone who loses their work during November. And I have seen it all, from soda on keyboards to toddlers stomping on flash drives and breaking them, to power outages. Don’t be that person.


Lots of people get this, and sometimes a friend or a loved one doesn’t even realize they are doing this. Remember what I said about managing family expectations? You may need to reiterate this. Or you may need to put it in writing so it’s not “forgotten”. Your solutions might be to get up early to write before others are up, or at lunch break, or during a commute, or late at night when everyone’s gone to bed.

Got headphones (or at least earbuds)? Then put those suckers on, even if you play no music at all. This is body language. You are busy and working; others will just have to wait. And tough on them.

You Take Care of You – And Guard Your Writing Time Jealously

Here is also where expectation management comes in handy. If your family was already told you would not be cooking in November, then they can’t say on the fourth that you didn’t warn them. You can also stave off some of this with family preparations before the first rolls around. Got a slow cooker? Then make a bunch of meals and freeze them for during the month. Get the kids’ haircuts and dentist appointments out of the way in October. You get the idea.

If it’s someone or something that really can’t wait (your toddler is screaming, your mother is in the emergency room, or your spouse is seriously threatening divorce), then by all means stop what you’re doing in order to deal with that.

And if you don’t make it to 50,000 words, it’s okay. Really, it is. NaNoWriMo exists so that writing, which is an often solitary endeavor, gets a social component. But that’s it. If you write in December or October, or you write less than 50,000 words, or you never validate, it’s equally okay.

Some Final Words of NaNoWriMo Advice

The best NaNoWriMo advice I can give anyone is to have fun with it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Publishing Writing

NaNoWriMo—Word Count, Love, and Please Don’t Panic

NaNoWrimo is Fun! But it’s  Misunderstood, Too

You may have heard, somewhere in your travels, about a little thing called NaNoWriMo. And while I don’t get paid by them or anything, I am still here to help you along in your quest.

Your quest, should you choose to accept it, should be to:

  • Learn what NaNoWrimo is
  • Figure out if you want to do it
  • And to succeed at NaNoWriMo

Sounds simple, right?

Not so fast, my writing pals.

What is This Stuff, Anyway?

So, the first thing you need to know is that NaNoWriMo is not a competition. Rather, it’s a personal challenge.

What do I mean by this?

The 1999 original idea behind it was to see if an amateur writer could crank out 50,000 words toward a new novel during a set amount of time. November was chosen, and I suspect that was because it starts with the letter ‘N’. It’s also because it’s 30 days long.

And while neither 31 nor 30 (nor 28 or 29, for that matter) divides evenly into 50,000, that’s not really an issue.

The Rules of NaNoWriMo

Write at least 50,000 words. During the calendar month of November.

And… that’s it.

Want to write a memoir rather than a novel? Have fun. Want to write more than 50,000 words? Go for it. Want to add 50,000 words to a preexisting project? Enjoy. Want to set a NaNoWriMo word count goal that’s less than 50,000? No one’s stopping you, although you won’t get a ‘traditional’ NaNo accomplishment.

There are no other rules to remember.


There are no NaNo police.


If you divide 50,000 words by 30 days, you get 1,666.67, or 5,000 words every three days. Of course this is the minimum you need to succeed. Write 5,000 words every three days and, at 11:59 PM on November 30th, you can meet goal.

But life rarely works out that way. And God knows art does not.

There is nothing wrong with this.


What happens if you write only 4,000 words in three days?

Then you’d better write 6,000 in some three-day period, not necessarily the one right after the period where, oops, you missed goal. Just do so before December 1st.

What happens if you write 6,000 words in three days, without having been behind? That is, what happens if you get ahead?

Give yourself a cookie or buy a flower or whatever you do for yourself to celebrate your small victories in life. Because, shhh—come closer now, for this is apparently a secret—getting ahead is the secret to winning NaNoWriMo.

Winning NaNoWriMo—Yes, You Can Do It!

Let’s get back to life.

Look Ma, No Plot!

So let’s say that you’re up early on November 12th, all set to write. You’ve got your lucky mouse pad. You’ve got your coffee (or tea, or juice, or cola, or whatever). And you’ve got time.


… nothing.

No thoughts. No plot. And no words. The blank page or screen mocks you. You stare at it, then chug your beverage and surf the internet. All the while telling yourself that you’ll never succeed at this NaNo business.

Don’t fret, friends. Not every day will be perfect for creating. Our minds don’t really work that way. This isn’t a factory.

What Do You Do?

Give yourself a break. One big part of writer’s block is stress. So get up and stretch! Or take a walk around the block. Another thing you can do is brainstorm what should happen next. That’s even if the only thing you think of to happen next is someone gets a pedicure.

You need to write almost 1,700 words, right? Then that pedicure had better be spectacular. Describe the salon to every last detail. Have your heroine (or hero; not judging here) hem and haw over the color(s). Or even have them unable to pay. Another idea could be them skipping out on paying.

Imagine your character running down the road, Coral Sunset polish still drying on their bare toes, as they try to avoid paying the manicurist.

Silly? You betcha.

But it’s words. And words always beget more words. Your silly idea, by the way, just might lead to a better idea. But even if you scratch out the entire day when you start editing the piece, that’s fine. Right now, your goal is to write. Turn the key in the engine so you can drive to wherever you want to go—and don’t dwell on the fact that you had to drive through a rundown neighborhood in order to get there.

NaNoWriMo S-S-S-Sabotage!

The Facebook NaNo groups, when November (or December) rolls around, are filled with people who’ve got unsupportive families (by families, I am also referring to friends). What if someone you live with turns on the stereo or the TV—LOUD—when you’re trying to write? Headphones to the rescue. Either yours or theirs.

What happens if your kids get into the argument to end all arguments just when you’re trying to write the most amazing sex scene in the history of literature? Separate them, like you always do, and find something for them to do. It could be homework or chores, or contacting the parents of their friends and asking if they could have your little angels over for the afternoon. And volunteer to do the same after November 30th.

There are more ways you can be sabotaged; I’ll get to one of them when I get to the part about saving your work.

The Thrill is Gone

This isn’t writer’s block, per se. Rather, something is just plain keeping you from being creative. Major life events, even happy ones, can do that.

And that’s okay.

If you need to mourn the end of a life or a relationship, or you need to plan your wedding, then put NaNo on pause in your life. There’s Camp NaNo in April and June. Or you can write on your own. On the site, you can use their resources pretty much any time. It doesn’t have to be November.

Preventing Common Problems with NaNoWriMo

I’ve often heard that, to succeed, you need to visualize success. But I don’t do that. Rather, I visualize failure. And then I do everything in my power to avert and avoid catastrophe.

So hear (er, read) me out, okay?

No Brain, No Words, No Ideas

Let’s look back at the three things I said could happen when you try to write (there are more, but these are big ones).

The first is not having ideas.

So get ideas!

But how, I hear you ask.

As Sonny Curtis (and Joan Jett!) sang, love is all around. And so are ideas.

Ideas don’t just exist from November 1–30. They’re everywhere. And they don’t follow a calendar or set schedule. At the time of this posting, NaNo is still over a week away.

So get out and cultivate ideas. Write down whatever strikes your fancy. Whatever will work—or at least gets you words.

If you love to outline, then do so. If you just want a bunch of sticky notes with random phrases on them, go for it. And if you’re like me, and you’re in the middle, write a bare bones outline with some listed ideas and a ton of wiggle room.

You do you.

And no, dear friends, this is NOT cheating.

Because—as I said above—it’s not a competition.

NaNoWriMo Counterspy vs Sabotage

Okay, so maybe you’re not a spy, per se. But if you have the strong feeling that the fam is going to give you grief, prepare for that NOW.

How do you do this?

Have a special day in October. Eat out, go to a film, go leaf peeping, shop, whatever works. That one should be somewhat spur of the moment. And then schedule one, with a bit of planning, for December. With the exception of very small children (think preschool and younger), most people will be happy if they don’t feel you’re neglecting them. And most have enough patience to be able to wait 30 days.

For those who are older and should know better—and just can’t wait? Promise them something special, and of course you’ll need to deliver. A weekend away. Surprise bouquet. Cleaning the gutters without complaining or being nagged into doing it. Whatever works.

Will this perfectly eliminate every bit of sabotage? Perhaps not. But you have counterexamples to show off which can effectively combat any complaints that you’re not being attentive.

Get the Thrill Back

As I said above, you might have to put things off if life is dire or just plain too busy and hectic. Your best friend got Covid. Or your Mom is in hospice. Or the roof collapsed. You’ve got to make 200 favors for your best friend’s wedding in a month. You get the picture.

Your best bet is to keep plucking those ideas out of thin air, and writing them down. And then, when you’re ready, you’ll have a bank you can withdraw from.

And no, it’s not cheating!

Say it with me, people: NaNoWriMo is not a competition.

Practical Planning for NaNoWriMo

By the time this post goes live, you’ll have a little over a week before NaNo starts.

Clear the Decks

So—when does your family next go to the dentist? Make it for October or December. Same with haircuts and nights out. November doesn’t have to be 100% cleared of obligations. After all, Thanksgiving is right in there. But if you can change a few things here or there, do so. Oh, and if you can get ahead at work, at least make the effort. Less external pressure is a good thing.

Plan in Advance

Do you ever cook in advance? No? Then it’s high time you started. Make a few simple things which only need to be heated up. Pasta is your friend! Freeze whatever you can and you’re basically ready to rock. Take it out the night before to let it defrost (inside the fridge is better for food safety than your countertop) and then nuke it or toss in the oven to warm it and finish it off.

Boom, dinner is served.

You don’t have to do this every time, and you most likely won’t want to. But if you can get, say, four or five meals teed up this way, you’ll be a lot happier once you hit crunch time. And no one will have to wait for you to finish writing your epic battle scene so they can be fed.

Need to buy birthday presents, or go holiday shopping? Carve out time in October and December to git ‘er done.

Gather Your Tools

If you’re going to print anything, make sure you’ve got paper and ink, and your printer works. If you’re going to handwrite anything, make sure you’ve got pens/pencils and paper.

And make sure your computer has all the latest updates and patches. 

Practical Tidbits

Go to the NaNoWriMo site and, if you don’t already have an account, create one. Make sure you can get into your account! And check on how to save your NaNoWriMo word count.

Why am I not specifying how to do that here? Because it’s changed over the years. So go to the NaNo site.

Make sure you know how to save your word count.

Save, Save, and then Save Again

While saving your work is technically a part of planning ahead and being practical, it’s so vital that it gets its own section.

But keep in mind: you do NOT save your work on the NaNoWriMo website. Don’t even try; there’s no place for it, anyway.

That’s not the purpose of the site. So, you will need to save some other way(s).

The gold standard (it’s the standard because it’s what I do, ha!) is to save in three different types of places.

Here’s how.

#1 Save to Your Hard Drive

Saving your work to your hard drive usually means you can open it more quickly. You can probably find it faster. And it may save more quickly. All are good.

But if you’re using a public computer, or traveling and using someone else’s machine, then that’s out.

Also, this is the fourth laptop I have owned, and I’m on my second tablet. Before that, I went through I think three or four desktop units. And I’m on my third phone. In short, stuff breaks.

So don’t stop with your hard drive.

#2 Save to Portable Media Storage

Er, what’s that?

It’s flash drives, thumb drives, separate hard drives, and the like. Back in the day, it was floppy discs. It can be CDs or DVDs, too.

Whatever it is, it’s something you can hold in your hand.

But beware. Flash drives, CDs, etc. can break or die. And I will never forget when a young parent came into a NaNo Facebook group and said their toddler had stamped on their flash drive and destroyed it.

Plus, if you need to work with a public computer, then this may or may not be allowed. You may find that the library doesn’t allow anyone to use a flash drive. That’s okay. There’s another way to save your work.

#3 Save to the Cloud

There are a number of services by which you can store work in what is essentially a virtual form. You’ve probably heard of OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drives. Amazon also offers storage, and so does Apple (iCloud). You can use every single one of these for free, and they will most likely offer enough space for your needs without having to upgrade to a paid plan.

If you’re on a shared or public computer, this may also not be in the cards. But there’s one more way you can, in essence, save to a cloud.

Email your story to yourself.

While it’s a somewhat less elegant solution, it will still get the job done.

Let’s Get Psyched for NaNoWriMo!

You can write at any time. And you can write more, or less. You never have to sign up for NaNo, if you decide it’s not for you.

No biggie.

The main thing about NaNoWriMo is that it takes writing, an exceptionally solitary pursuit, and it turns it social. It’s also a convenient way to drum up interest in your work. On Facebook and Twitter, I use the hashtags #CountDownToNaNoWriMo and #CountDownToNaNoWriMo2021 (or whatever the year is).

I post little bits, and I write the blurb. Over time, I’ve found that writing the blurb early can help to crystallize my thoughts. And getting out a blurb and some basic info creates accountability for me. People cheer me on, and I don’t want to disappoint them.

It must be working, because I’ve made it to 50,000 words every time. 

Some Final Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

It took me about 3 hours to write this blog post. Its word count is almost 900 words above the minimum you need to write in one day to hit 50,000 words by the end of NaNoWriMo. Some days, it takes me more time than this. Other times, it takes less.

But in the end, it’s fun and rewarding. And no matter what, even if all you write is one word, that counts. If it’s a word you wouldn’t have written before, then NaNoWriMo has done its job, and you have succeeded.

Want to friend me on the NaNo site? Then go here. Go get ’em, tiger.

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