Can I Tell You a Secret? No One Really Loses Nanowrimo. (drafts don't Have To "fail.")

Even the crappiest drafting experience EVER can be redeemed if you dig deep into these four questions. |

I heard someone once refer to "failed drafts" and it totally weirded me out.

A failed draft? Great, one more thing to worry about.

I thought I might believe that for a while. I looked at some of my works-in-progress like they were actively failing. (This did not make me feel inspired at all, by the way.)

I don't think that any more.

Look. Here's what you need to know today, the final day of Nanowrimo

Drafts themselves don't fail. They always do exactly what they need to.

Maybe you finished your 50,000 words for Nanowrimo. Maybe you wrote more words than you hoped you could.

Maybe you fell in love with all your characters, and you all just had a huge party together, a wonderful word fest. That is great.

Or maybe you're finishing Nanowrimo by the skin of your teeth, squeaking in this evening with your final word count. You're not sure what you ended up with, and you suspect it might read like cat puke, but heck, you did it. 

Or maybe--maybe it wasn't even close.

Maybe you burned out early, or your novel idea fell apart in your hands and you stopped, discouraged.

Maybe Life happened--as it does--and you had million other things to cope with this month, and writing took a back burner. Or even no burner.

And maybe you're bummed, frustrated, and upset with yourself.

No matter who you are, and no matter what happened in November, here's what you need to know:

Your draft, and your experience while writing it, is telling you something. Not just the story (or lack of story), but something about you, the writer, and how you write.

And if you listen to that, and actually learn from it, then you didn't have a failed draft. 

Sound good? 

Even the crappiest, most miserable draft can bring valuable insights. I promise. And between you and me, I have written some stunningly bad pieces before.

And it's what I learned through those bad pieces that made me a much better (and happier!) writer. Okay?

Here's what I want you to do, especially if you didn't "win," (though you can do it even if you did).

Look at these four questions and come up with at least one answer for each. (All four answers are massively important: no skipping!)

(It would be great and probably more helpful to you if you actually wrote your answers down, but... I'm guessing your wrist and fingers are all burnt out by now.)

Ready? Okay. Think back over your Nanowrimo experience, or over your most recent draft, and answer this:

1.) What was your favorite thing about the story? A character, an image, a moment, a setting? A plot turn? A chapter? A dialogue exchange? What was it?

2.) What was your favorite thing about the drafting process? What went well for you? If you had a single good writing day, or a single good writing session: what was it that made it good?

Okay. Now, be nice and play fair (meaning, no name calling):

3.) What were you less than thrilled with in your story? A character that went flat, a dramatic scene that died, a non-existent setting? Conflict that fizzled? 

4.) And what were you less than thrilled with in your writing process? Was there a consistent pattern in the writing days that went belly-up? Something in your environment, mindset, tools, skill sets, or habits that you think sabotaged the work?

Whew! That was some important thinking. 

Here's what I've learned through doing so, so many drafts: The draft you learn from is a good draft.

It can be the worst pile of slop: if you honest-to-goodness learn from that thing, then it is a slop pile of gold. 

Learning is totally antithetical to failing. If you're learning, you're just not failing

I'm not being goofy about this: I understand, things can go really, really wrong, and all the learning in the world doesn't change the fact that it is supremely unfun and painful to have something go wrong.

I get that. I really do.

But I also know that when pain and frustration turn into ways of doing it better: That's when those difficult days are redeemed.

So. You've got at least four answers to those four questions? Cool. Here's what to do (and you already were thinking of this, I bet):

Your answer to question one: Your favorite parts of your draft? Lean into those. What you loved in your story--do more of that. Turn up the volume.

If it was a theme, expand it. If it was an image, do more images like that.

Maybe it surprised you a bit. Maybe the thing you loved most is the thing that you didn't think you were going to write about. Maybe it just showed up in the draft, and you fell in love.

Or maybe, you planned for it, and there it was, perfect and happy-making and smiling at you from the draft. Your impulse to write about it was totally confirmed.

However you came across it: I want you to give yourself massive permission to do more of that!! 

Same thing goes for your answer to question number two. I'm deeply convinced that it pays to know what makes your writing day run well, and then to do those things, as much and as often as you can.

What can you do to bring more of answer #1 and answer #2 into your writing life?

Okay. Now looking at the answers to #3 and #4: 

Obviously, the first thing to say is: let's do less of that! 

But I'd like to expand that by saying: Make sure you're really listening to yourself.

If you discovered that you don't like the genre you're writing in, start playing around with a genre that might suit you more.

If your villain absolutely failed to thrill you, think about the antagonists in the stories that you love, and what made them so chilling.

... Typed out, on a screen here in black and white, that seems kind of no-brainerish, kind of obvious, right? Sure it does.

And yet.

I chained myself to a draft I disliked for four years, absolutely failing to see that I didn't like the story, the main character, most of the villains, the side kick, and pretty much the whole shebang.

(I did like the outrageously quirky characters that randomly showed up near the end, but I ignored that.)  

I was focused on finishing it, not so much how I felt about it. Essentially, I was working blind.

Which is why your answers to #3 and #4 are so dang valuable in guiding what you do next.

For me? I wrote another manuscript pretty similar to my first one. (I'm not always a fast learner.)

But now--I'm writing a middle grade trilogy that is chock-full of everything I LOVE in stories.

Outrageously quirky characters definitely take a starring role. And every single thing I like is in there somewhere. 

But that's only because I finally, finally, let myself figure out what I liked and what I didn't, what drew me in and what repelled me.

I finally let that tell me what to write.

You can save yourself a bunch of time and anguish, and do that right now!

And with your answer to #4: How can you protect your writing life from those things happening again?

Is there a skill you'd love to learn, a class to take? Do you need to change where you work, or make sure you take a walk in the sun now and then, or get lost in a library for a while? 

I'd love to challenge you to do this: Answer #4 as deeply and in as many ways as you can, and then set out to learn what you need to, to establish whatever boundaries, to change your office around if you need to. 

In short, get every single thing that you need to be the amazing and happy writer that you can be. Please, please, please. That's Priority Number One.

... If you do that, then this could be the most successful draft you've ever written! Even if you just wrote fifty words on it!! 

So whatever happened to you in November, whatever happened in your latest draft:

Let it tell you which direction to go. What to do more of, what to embrace. What to let go of, what to seek.

You just might discover a story that's closer to your heart, populated with characters you adore, and fueled by a fascinating conflict. 

And you just might renovate your writing process and writing life, so that you're filled with everything you need to thrive as a writer and creator.

You can be gloriously happy with your writing life.

And then, your "failed" draft becomes the most exciting thing: a turning point. 

I just have one quick thing to say before you eat your pie.

Can we take a sec to be outrageously grateful for our story-filled lives? Let's. |

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans!! (And everyone else too, of course!!)

Go eat all the food, and maybe write some, just a little bit. Mostly, eat the food. 

If you're new to this space, you should know this about me: I feel incredibly fortunate to be a writer, and to live a story-filled life. 

It wasn't always this way. Actually, for the first seven-ish years of being a full-time apprentice-level writer, I kinda hated it. 

I mean, I loved words (mostly), and I loved reading (when I could get around to it). But I was in a sheer, flat-out panic about how little I knew about writing, and how desperately I needed this whole novelist venture to work out. 

And I got really bitter. And really sad. And super anxious.

About a year and a half ago, that all changed. Through some pretty major circumstances (waaaaaaay too much to go into in this blog post!), my way of thinking was taken all apart, and put back together again.

It was painful. But it was extremely clarifying. And ultimately, it's one of the best things that's ever happened to me.

And I realized: when I drop my expectations, my perfectionism, my decision of when and how my writing life should progress--when I drop all of that, and when I instead just focus on this incredible challenge of learning to tell stories:

I love it. I mean, I freaking LOVE it. 

This world of characters and setting, of conflict and plot twists, story structure and pacing... Everything that I have learned, and everything (everything!!) I have yet to learn: I'm overwhelmed at how rewarding it is. 

I think it's perfect that American Thanksgiving happens in the midst of Nanowrimo. Yeah, it ups the chaos factor a bit, but I think every draft should have a moment where we pause all the frantic activity and just get grateful.

Stories are precious things, my friends. A perfectly turned sentence? A thing of beauty. 

Novels--even the most lighthearted ones--can practically save lives

Even a ramshackle sentence, a messy paragraph, a totally botched dialogue exchange: all things that can be learned from, that can be rewritten, that can be turned into gold.

(Which is, itself, a totally incredible process, and has delights all its own. There are good reasons why I was almost an editor!)

... Yes, I do hear myself. I promise I'm not just trying to be a sappy, ridiculous, idealistic little writer-girl.

Dude. I know it's hard. Writing can be really, really stinking hard. 

But it can also--when we loosen our grip, when we lighten up, when we allow ourselves to be learners, when we focus on curiosity, when we treat ourselves well--it can also be a wonderfully rewarding life.

And one that I'm definitely grateful to participate in.

And HEY. While I'm being all emotional, let me just say this:

I am so dang grateful for all of you, my lovely lionhearted readers!! It's been so awesome to get to know you, to hear what you're thinking, what you're writing, to see so many of you on Twitter.

We're not doing this writing thing alone! 

And, aw, heck: I just love ya!

There. I said it. And it's true. *hug*

Now go eat some pumpkin pie.

If You're Exhausted, If You're Dragging: Here's a Two-Day Prescription to Re-Energize Your Whole Process

Late in the drafting process, it gets hard to keep going! Exhaustion--of every variety--sets in and sticks around. Here's my two-day recipe for re-energizing yourself and your writing. |

One week left in Nanowrimo! (Whaaaaaat??) How are you feeling about that?

If you're panicked about the amount of words you still have to write, if you don't know how you'll make it, if you're exhausted...

Try this recipe for end-of-draft survival. (It has worked so well for me!)

Here's what you do: 

1) Take a day off.

Yes, in the midst of crunch time. Yes, this is counter-intuitive. And yes, you will probably want to not listen to me on this one.

But trust me: you need a deep day off, where you do something that utterly recharges you.

(Even if--especially if--you feel like you don't "deserve" one, after some half-hearted writing sessions. Yes, I'm talking to you. You need a day off too. I promise.)

Go look at something that is not a screen. (Find a lake, a forest, a beach, or maybe an art museum, a city walk, a new café...) 

Move around. Explore a bit. Go for a ramble.

Make time for friends. Hang out with some people who get you, who nurture you.

Do whatever it is that deeply energizes your soul. Whatever you're craving. Whatever you feel starved of. Whatever it is: do that. Guilt free.

That guilt-free thing is important. You're not allowed to cheat and make yourself feel miserable about a day off, and you're not allowed to beat yourself up about not writing.

Nope. You and your emotions and your body--you need a break from this intense writing. And you need to trust that rest--rich, deep, true rest--really will translate into more words.

So: a full and amazing day off. Sound good? Cool. 

At the end of your day off, move on to step 2:

2) I have a little reading assignment for you... 

Check out this mega-insightful blog post from Rachel Aaron: she explains the three components of her approach to fast writing.

All three are super-important, but it was the third component that especially grabbed my attention. It's the one that I forget to pay attention to. And she's so right: when I got that straightened out, my writing totals skyrocketed.

Which component is the biggest game-changer for you?

Whichever one it is, you could totally implement it. Like: tomorrow.


Tuck yourself into bed early, and tell your subconscious to dream up big wonderful things for your writing session tomorrow.  

3) Day Two: Do all the Good Things.

When you sit back down to draft the next day, incorporate every single good, healthful strategy you know of.

Do anything and everything that makes you feel most energized as a writer.

Pamper yourself too. Make it easy to be at your desk. 

Get the quality coffee. Light a candle that makes your office area feel special. Read your favorite rah-rah-rah writing quotes.

Take breaks for health, but mostly work on diving deep into the draft: planning your work, and writing scenes that are crazy-fun, and working at the best time and environment for you.

Refuse to let perfectionism anywhere near your desk today.

Tell envy (especially comparing your totals of anyone else's word counts) to take a hike ... a really long one, with no map and no granola bars.

Just focus on being you--the amazing, ever-growing writer that you are--and attending to the needs of this incredible, lively, messy, and promising first draft that you are writing. 

PS: If that blog post by Rachel Aaron struck a chord with you, I highly recommend her book on the subject, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. It expands on the original blog post, by showing more of her process, from early development stages through to editing.

I'm ultra-nosy about how other writers work, so I loved it! I want to swipe a few things from her process and try them out. It's a quick read, and super inspiring! Right now it's just 99 cents, so if you love this kind of thing, grab your copy! 

When You Absolutely Can't Keep Writing, Try This

Has desperation set in with your manuscript? Here are your desperate measures. Four strategies to help you keep going when you thought you just. couldn't. even. |

And then. The day comes when your brain feels as lively and full of words as a rubber pancake. 

And you hear yourself saying the dreaded words: "I think I've hit a wall."

What do you do? When your eyes are buggy, your fingertips numb, and your grip on the language isn't exactly a grip?

What do you do when you can't keep writing, but there's too dang much of the draft still to go?

You throw out every single standard or expectation for this draft that you're still holding on to.

ALL of 'em.

(Don't panic. You can bring your standards back when things are moving again. But for now, you just don't need them. For now, the goal is: Unstick this word machine and get it back on track!)

Here are four tricks I use to lower the bar, shake up the draft, and get my story moving again.

1. Forget about paragraphs: Start writing in list form.

What?! Like, with bullet points?

Yes! Certainly! Why not?! 

If your story is stuck, and you have no idea what should happen next, list the possibilities.

Right there in the draft. Yes, really! 

And let your characters talk back to you about each one. Conduct a little story interview.

Explore the different options: not by thinking about them, but by writing. 

Write down what you love about the different options. Write down what draws you deeper. And when a possibility makes your heart beat a little faster, start writing your draft in that direction.

2. Don't worry about writing actual sentences either.

Judy Reeves writes about the power of creating a run-on sentence: every time you'd naturally write a period, try putting a comma, and then keep on pushing.

She says, "Follow the last word with another specific image that takes the writing further, then do it again and again." 

When I first heard that, I thought, Yeah, right, whatever.

Then I tried it, and whoa: She's totally right. It unlocks doors. And it helps me feel more like an explorer-writer, and less like a this-has-to-be-done-CORRECTLY writer.

Which is really good news for getting past walls in the draft.

3. When your story's really on the rocks, talk to yourself.

Last year, I hit an absolute wall in my manuscript. Half the characters were stranded in a farmhouse, with unknown and undefined villainy pressing in around them, but they didn't have any kind of game plan... and neither did I

I was so stuck. After a LONG time of staring at my notebook, I switched tactics: I started talking to myself about the story... in narrative form. 

I started scribbling like this: "Okay, Lucy, so they're all at the farmhouse waiting, but who wants to just watch characters wait? So what SHOULD they be doing? Is anyone getting ready for the climax? Because they totally should be. Okay. Which characters are really involved in this section, and what skills do they have? What are they worried about? Is there some narrative something I haven't cashed in yet? A subplot that hasn't gotten its due in a while? How's Claire doing? What about that one guy--we haven't heard from him in a while. Maybe I should explore... "

I know. It doesn't make for exciting reading. But I kept on writing like that. Letting my pen keep moving, asking myself questions, searching for what should happen next.

And guess what. After quite a few pages of rambling, I found it. 

I wrote my way out of that problem, and back on track. 

(Yes, some very strict people might argue that this isn't actual WRITING on my actual STORY and should therefore NOT COUNT... but let's all check our writing-a-first-draft guidebooks, shall we? It isn't about being strict.

When I revise, I'll be able to consider all the possible ways of filling that narrative hole: All my talking to myself is a giant placeholder. A placeholder studded with actual ideas.

And since my goal was finish the draft and not solve this plot dilemma right now and perfectly, this solution totally worked.) 

4. Switch your writing medium.

If you've been writing on a computer, try writing by hand. (I did all of last year's Nanowrimo by hand! I promise it can be done!) 

If you're already writing longhand, try swapping your notebook for a stack of index cards. Or even little sticky notes.

It's easier to look at a small piece of paper and say: "Okay, so what might happen next?" And even a very tired brain might roll its eyes, and say, "Well, sure, I can write THAT much."

Whichever method you try, remember this: The point of a rough draft (especially a Nanowrimo draft) is to GET SOMETHING DOWN ON PAPER.

You're getting the idea down. You're exploring possibilities. 

It is supposed to be rough. The edges are meant to be jagged and frayed. There are supposed to be plenty of holes! 

So when you feel like you can't keep going, do a quick expectations check. Figure out which standards you're still clinging to, and drop 'em! 

Don't just accept imperfection: rush out and find it! Give it a huge hug! Because it's your best friend when the writing is hard.

You can fix the holes later, I promise. And it's so much easier to fill holes in a finished draft.

Resuscitating a permanently-stalled one, on the other hand, is brutal.

Write messy. Write muddy. Fall down a lot. And keep on writing.

Your Novel Versus the World

If you're slowing down, if you're burning out, if the drafting is getting more difficult: This one thing might make all the difference. |

If you're doing Nanowrimo this month, you're about halfway there. (In terms of time, at least. Draftwise... that might look a little different.)

And halfway through a drafting marathon, you might feel a bit of an energy shift. 

All the excitement of starting something... it might have fizzled out a bit. And you're left with the work itself.

Maybe you sense the drag, the friction, the gravity. The flow of ideas might be slackening.

And yet... You might also be in a weird dreamy state as your draft grows. The non-writing parts of your day might feel a bit detached. You might hear yourself saying things that don't make sense.

You might be getting a little word-drunk is what I'm saying. (Kind of exhilarating, isn't it!)

But at the same time, you might be looking at your stock of energy, your reserves, and wonder how you'll keep going at this pace.

I totally hear you. That's exactly how I feel mid-draft.

This is the point in the game when I start throwing non-writing commitments overboard. I look suspiciously at anything that sucks energy away from the work.

You gotta lighten the load.

Grab a few minutes, and list everything that you've got going on in your life, from now until the end of the draft. (In Nano terms, that's at 11:59 p.m., November 30.)

What are your commitments, your obligations, your appointments? Write 'em all down.

Then, what are the other things you're doing every day? Stuff like: Laundry (if you're still doing that), showers (if they haven't become totally optional), food consumption, and those Lucy-Flint-made-me-do-it dance parties.

Okay, here's the tricky part. 

What three things require the most energy from you, while giving you the least renewed energy in return? 

What's taking more than it's giving back: that's my question. 

Try to push yourself to circle three things. If you can't find three, at least find one. 

And then get rid of it. Be done with it. Say, "Thanks, sorry, but I can't." 

At least until Nanowrimo is over.

Some commitments can't be shaken, so if you can't totally get rid of it, how can you still lighten the load?

Is there a way to protect your energy? To pull back slightly, even if you still have to do it? Ways to delegate, ways to do only part?

Can you arrive late, can you leave early, can you not bring the dessert this time?

What would it look like if this didn't totally drain you?

If this whole question is hard, I totally get it. I'm with you. I'm stepping back from some important things this month, to make room for more writing.

And whenever that makes me feel like I'm maybe a callous and terrible and unlikeable person, I remind myself of these three super-important truths:

1) No one can write your book except for you. No one.

Actually, let's repeat that (maybe out loud, and maybe standing on your tip toes, and yeah, you probably should shout it): No one can write my book except for me! 

So you need to get mama-bear defensive about your work sometimes. Okay? It's that important.

2) The work-in-progress takes WAY MORE mental energy and emotional energy than you can really explain to yourself (or to other people). 

Which means that, if you are drafting your brains out (and you are!), you need every bit of energy you can get.

Your hours away from the writing desk are still important. They're still part of the equation, because they still affect your total energy reserves.

Sometimes I'm tempted to be a superwoman during my non-writing hours. But whenever I try to dodge this rule, I can feel it. Big time. And the work suffers.

The book takes a lot of energy... even when you aren't actively writing it.

And so sometimes, for the sake of your beloved work-in-progress (which only you can write!!), you have to step back.

Which brings us to number three.

3) This is only for a season. 

It's not for forever. Heck, you've just got a couple of weeks left! It's nearly done.

If your choices are disappointing someone you care about, just remember this: You will be done with this draft soon.

Drafts don't last forever, and when you're finished, you'll need a little break. You can reinvest in those other parts of your life then, and everything will be just. fine


So take a little time today to make the hard call. Give yourself the gift of a bit more energy. 

And then watch your draft flourish.

Sound good?

My work-in-progress is definitely cheering. I think yours is too.

PS: Seriously, how's it going? How's the Nanowrimo life treating you? Feel free to give us all an update in the comments!! I'd love to hear about it!

My Favorite Writing Strategy: Take Super-Good Care of the Thing that Takes Care of the Writing

During a mega-drafting marathon (hey there, Nanowrimo!), one of your best writing tools can take a big hit. Here are some quick ideas for how to avoid that. |

It's too easy for a writer to treat her body like an afterthought.

It's just the mass of bones and muscles that keep our writing brains from scrabbling around on the ground, right?

Our fingers are simply the instruments our brains use to reach the keyboard, and mouths were clearly made for just one thing: Coffee reception.

It's too easy to fall into that trap, but I have a suspicion: A ridiculously healthy body just might be a writer's best weapon.

It hit me recently how easy and typical it is for me and my friends to all categorize ourselves as "Busy and Tired."

Suddenly I wondered: What would happen if I were, instead, Focused and Deeply Rested? 

How clearly would I think if my body were at its best condition? 

What would happen if my wrists weren't on the brink of carpal tunnel syndrome? What if I wasn't putting my back in permanent danger, and what if I wasn't burning my retinas out by staring at a screen without blinking? 

Would I--shocking thought--actually be better able to do my job? 

Would I think more clearly, and have more interesting ideas, and have more attention for each project? Maybe, you know, be a better writer?  

I think it's pretty dang possible.

During a drafting marathon, it's SO easy to make your body suffer on behalf of your draft. But honestly, you might pay for it later.

I have a writing friend who totally fried her wrists in an attempt to meet an aggressive writing deadline... She ended up in physical therapy, and yeah, her writing had to sit on the back burner for a while. (Not to mention: OUCH.)

Can we maybe not make ourselves sick and broken in the pursuit of that 50,000th word? Can writing "The End" not kill us, please?

I know you're already keeping track of a lot. But maybe, consider loving your body a little during the remaining days of your drafting marathon. 

Here's a list of some teeny tiny little moves toward health. It won't ask much from you, but your body will be THRILLED ... and it just might reward you with that plot breakthrough you've been begging for! 

Give 'em a try:

  • If you're writing longhand, try using markers instead of pens, because they slide over the page more easily. Good news for your wrists!
  • Every fifty minutes, stand up from your desk for a five minute dance party. (Set a timer to remind yourself if need be!) Yes, you. Yes, really. Getting your blood moving around means more idea power, so get twirlin'!
  • Better yet? Stand up every thirty minutes and just shake everything out! Or, if dancing isn't appealing, try these five simple yoga moves for a fantastic stretch. They always make me feel more awake!
  • Protect your eyes by giving them a break too: look away from your screen for at least five minutes, every half hour. Go look out a window while you brainstorm your next paragraph. (I tend to get my best ideas away from the computer anyway!)
  • Skip chocolate as a drafting snack (once in while, at least!), and fill up your bowl with celery sticks, carrots, red pepper slices, and hummus. (And grapes! And pomegranate arils! Go crazy!)
  • Dare yourself to drink a big glass of water before you refill your coffee mug. (If you're really health-bonkers like me, grab a green juice now and then. Kale LOVES helping with your plot.)
  • Can you stand and type? I plunk my keyboard on an upside-down trashcan and tip my screen up. Voilà! DIY standing desk! My brain feels instantly perkier.
  • If you find you're always zoning out, give yourself a nap. Subconsciouses like to dance around while you're sleeping anyway: you might wake up to brilliance.
  • And while we're talking about sleep: Send yourself to bed a half hour earlier: what you lose in drafting time, you'll regain in mental clarity. (This has worked SO well for me lately!)

It's not rocket science. None of this is shocking health news.

But I know that I need to forcibly remind myself, mid-draft, that my body doesn't just exist to write words down!

So here's my challenge to you: Try to do at least ONE THING each day that your body would genuinely thank you for. (No fibbing.)

And seriously, from one writer to another: Please don't burn out your body for the sake of your book. There are other ways to finish, which don't include totally trashing your self.

Sound good? 

Okay, my lionhearted friend... back to those words! My celery sticks salute you. 

Got a good health tip? ... Especially something easy to apply in the midst of drafting season? Do share in the comments!! I'm always up for feeling more awesome!

Think You Won't Make It To the Finish Line? Here's Why That's Totally Okay.

It's so easy to panic when you see all the work ahead of you. Fear has a TON of practice stopping us in our tracks. Here's the simple truth you need to know right this minute. |

So this is a trick that Fear likes to play: It forces you to stare at your mountain of work--all at once--and then it declares:

Nope. You won't make it.

It says: You can't get there, you're not strong enough, and it's too much.

The thing that makes this so tough to fight is: It has a point.

It's technically accurate. 

You cannot get to the top of that mountain in one step. You can't finish a journey in just a few minutes. 

And you can't, in the exact same condition you started in, finish a drafting marathon. 

Not to sound goofy, but: The process has to change you--and will change you--into the person who can.

It's like a fitness challenge: you know those little challenges on Pinterest and such, where you to do 5 squats today, then 7 the next day, and then 10, then 13, and so on, all the way up to 50?

It builds the very muscles you'll need to finish. 

Isn't that great news? A bit unsettling, of course, because you don't have those muscles right this second (hence the room for Fear to show up). But you WILL. 

And that is the thing that Fear wants you to forget. 

So you don't need to focus on finishing right now. You don't need to think about five hundred steps from now, or even five steps from now.

You just need to think about the very next step.  

So break it down, until it's the smallest piece possible. Just the next 200 words. Or the next thirty minutes of drafting. 

And if that still feels daunting, go smaller. 100 words. Or just 50. Or 20.

The next two minutes of drafting.

You can totally handle two minutes.

That's all you need to do right now. I promise. That's all you need.

So if Fear shows up, set it to one side. It's telling you a fake truth anyway. Tell it to move over, get out of your way, it's blocking your view.

And then focus on that next tiny thing you need to do.

It's the one sure way to get to the finish line. 

Fifty Plot Twist Ideas for Your Work-In-Progress!

It happens to the best of us. Mid-drafting-marathon, or mid-Nanowrimo, your plot ideas can turn stale. But I've got your back, lionheart. Read on for 50 plot twists. One of 'em is sure to save your bacon. |

Hey there, lionhearts! I hope you find the following fifty plot twists fun and exciting and helpful. 

And if you want more where they came from... check out the new idea series I've just posted!

It's a nine-part series (I know, I know, I get carried away!) on EVERYTHING I know about generating tons of awesome ideas...

including the principles I used to create these fifty plot twistswhich is far and away the most popular post on this site!

If you never want to run out of ideas,
you gotta check it out:

Here's the roundup of links: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

Hope you love it and find it super helpful! Okay, and now to the fifty plot twists...

Has inspiration evaporated? Is your imagination flagging?

Does your plot feel a little ... limp?

No worries. I've got your back. Here are fifty (yes, FIFTY!) random ideas for plot twists. All ready to be adapted any which way, and popped into your beautiful work-in-progress.

Prepare to be re-energized...

In no order whatsoever, here they are. Fifty plot gems, at your disposal:

  1. Someone important to the action is poisoned. 
  2. Give a minor character an unshakeable faith in something that the main character doesn't believe in. How does this set them at odds?
  3. A case of mistaken identity: Someone mistakes your main character for an important cultural icon, a known villain, a spy, or someone from their past. Shenanigans ensue... 
  4. The place that your character was just traveling toward--whether it was the kitchen, the school, or another city--suddenly no longer exists.
  5. Startling, direction-altering information is brought to your characters' attention by ... an animal.  
  6. The next step for your main characters is revealed to one of them, with crystal clarity, in a dream. Only ... it turns out that the dream was wrong.
  7. Your character is locked in a prison of some kind. The only way to get the key is by singing. 
  8. Set an important scene in an art museum. One of the paintings or sculptures reminds your character of something important, long forgotten.
  9. A rumor gathers momentum and ugliness. It soon divides your main character from her allies.
  10. The only one they can trust right now is a con man.
  11. A coin toss takes on tremendous importance. 
  12. A character is suddenly inducted into a secret society. Will the other members of the society be the worst sort of antagonists, or unexpected allies?
  13. It was the last thing they ever expected to find in the kitchen.
  14. What character does your protagonist most revere? And what happens when she finds out that that character isn't all she thought?
  15. An unexpected gift seems like a wonderful present at first. But it quickly becomes a source of damage, chaos, and grief.  
  16. The only one who (grudgingly) agrees with your main character is his least favorite person. Now they'll have to work together.
  17. Their next bit of insight, or their next clue, comes from an important historic figure.
  18. Your characters have to escape into a garden... Which, it turns out, is full of something other than flowers and plants. 
  19. There's a word no one should say. Or a name that no one will mention. A place nobody talks about. Or a proverb that no one repeats. ... Except for your main character, who totally goes for it.
  20. Two characters fight over where they're each going to sit. It gets out of hand ... fast.
  21. The next calm scene is interrupted by water: a flood, a leak, rain coming through the windows, an overflowing bathtub, a spilled teacup... 
  22. Some part of your character's life, something she has taken for granted all this time, turns out to be a message for her, in code.
  23. Someone from the character's past shows up out of the blue, intent on revenge.
  24. No one's ever eavesdropped quite like this before... Your character is forced to stay in a painful or precarious position to hear what he desperately needs to know. 
  25. Some part of your cast now has to rely on an unusual (for them, at least) method of travel. A reindeer, or hot air balloon, or roller skates... 
  26. Your characters are somehow forced to interrupt a funeral. One of the mourners provides them with unexpected wisdom.
  27. Your villain becomes obsessed with knock-knock jokes. Her alarmed second-in-command plots a coup.
  28. They unexpectedly find their dream house. And it changes everything. 
  29. Just when they couldn't slow down, your characters get caught in a local celebration, festival, or holiday. 
  30. That terrible fear that your main character has been nursing, and having nightmares about... Yeah. If he doesn't face it now, he'll lose everything.
  31. An essential character steadily refuses to talk to your main character. For reasons that no one can understand. (Yet.) 
  32. They come across a chair with magical or mythical properties. Does your character sit in it, or not?
  33. Whatever problem your characters are facing, they cure it with salt water: sweat, or tears, or the sea.
  34. Just when your characters thought they could relax, the roof falls in. (Or a tree limb drops. Or the tent collapses. Or the mine caves in.)
  35. To stave off certain doom, your character has to invent an elaborate story.
  36. A minor character falls in love with the worst sort of person for her, at the worst possible time.
  37. The next stage of your characters' plans are thwarted by a massive insect attack. (Ew.)
  38. Whatever tool or skill or technology your characters were most relying on--it breaks. It stops working. It's faulty. Now what?
  39. Something disagreeable surfaces in your protagonist's bowl of soup.
  40. It turns out that all the old tales about this time of day, or this character, or this place, or this tradition, were true. And that is very bad news.
  41. Your characters knew that they were running out of time. New information cuts their remaining time in half. This forces your characters to rely on someone they know to be untrustworthy...
  42. If you haven't killed off a minor character yet... do it. If you have killed one, try resurrecting him, one way or another.
  43. And then they find an old letter, with terrible implications for them, for what they're about to do, and who they're up against.
  44. Your characters (either the good guys or the bad guys) interrupt a play, concert, recital, movie, or sporting event, and demand help from the entire audience. 
  45. Someone falls: through the flooring, through the ice, into quicksand, through the stairs. Wherever they are, the ground gives way.
  46. Something irresistible tempts your main character, but if she gives in now, she loses everything. How does she fight it?
  47. A barrier that everyone counted on--whether physical, mental, social, financial or emotional--gives way. In the chaos, what does your character do?
  48. Time for a natural disaster. Storm, flood, fire, earthquake, avalanche... Send your characters scrambling.
  49. To move forward, your main character must travel to a place to which he swore he'd never return.
  50. Your main character risks everything to save someone weaker than herself.

... Any of those give your story a boost?? I hope so! Just for fun, let me know which number restarted your draft.

Okay... back to those words! 

This Is What You Find Out When You Try to Write a Marathon (Or, Happy Nanowrimo!)

Okay: I DID consider choosing a November theme that didn't involve Nanowrimo... But honestly, that made as much sense as American Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. Sacrilege! I just couldn't bring myself to do it!

So, this month, we'll be chatting about Nanowrimo, or--for those of you not participating this year--the experience of drafting at a marathon pace. 

And BECAUSE it's a marathon pace, I'm gonna keep my posts nice and short this month, so you can get on with those impressive word counts! Ready, set, go!

It's messy. It's strange. It's totally worth it. Happy Nanowrimo, everyone! |

For those of you doing Nanowrimo for the first time this year: WAHOO! I am so excited for you. You've just begun an incredible experience, and I'm pretty dang sure it will change your writing life forever.

Here are three things I've learned--and relearned--each time I took on the Nanowrimo challenge.

1. It is gonna hurt.

Let me say right now: I'm a huge fan of Nanowrimo. I've participated (and won!! eek!) four times, and I've never regretted the experience. 

Oh wait, what am I talking about. I have TOTALLY regretted the experience.

I've regretted it right there in the midst of writing--or not writing--when my brain would cramp up, and all my characters said only stupid things, and then I'd realize how much crappy TV I haven't watched and how I should probably get moving on that.

I have had moments of hating Nanowrimo with the same passion that I hate re-starting an exercise routine, or chopping a pile of vegetables for a healthy dinner, or forcing myself to have an awkward conversation with someone even though I'm an introvert, thanks, and would rather, you know, live under a rock. 

In other words: Nanowrimo is hard ... just like other wonderful and empowering and healthy and transformative experiences are hard.

Frankly, I think it helps to know this in advance: You might have moments when you don't absolutely love it.

So when it gets rough, give a shout out to your Nanowrimo community, your writing pals, or the Nanowrimo Twitter account

Or hey!! This is a writing blog and I love you, so you can groan to me in the comments, or send me a shout on Twitter as well. I will cheer for you!

And together, we'll remember why you're doing this insane and wonderful thing. (BECAUSE YOUR STORY IS AWESOME. Ahem. But yeah, that's why.)

 2. It will surprise you.

When you are writing that many words, that quickly, with that much focus... AMAZING THINGS begin to happen in your work. And also in you.

I am so not kidding.

You'll start to live more inside your story than out of it. You'll start misplacing things in your house. You'll have your head kinda tipped to one side, listening for character voices. 

It might get a little weird. 

But it also might feel like your story is alive. Living and breathing right there under your fingertips. And exerting this magnetic pull on you, on your brain, on your time. 

You'll start canceling any appointments you haven't already canceled. You might start wondering if Thanksgiving is optional.

Characters take matters into their own hands. Plot twists leap to mind, a dozen times better than the ones you thought you loved in your outline.

Settings acquire a richer history. They begin to haunt your dreams.

All that writing momentum just might sweep you up, take you over. Now and then, you'll experience that elusive sensation: that the book is writing itself.

It's a delicious thing. Don't fight it. Just sink in.

3. It will be totally worth it. 

There will be moments of pain and frustration. There will also be moments when you think you are losing your mind, or at least, that you are much, much weirder than you ever guessed.

But here's what I know: Doing this crazy challenge will teach you super valuable things about yourself as a writer, about the craft of storytelling, and about your manuscript. 

Trust me on this. You will learn things by doing Nanowrimo that you can't learn any other way.

Not by reading. Not by someone like me telling you stuff. And not by overthinking and perfectionisming (I made that word up, but you know what I mean) and fiddling with a manuscript for far. too. long. 

You'll get smarter. Wiser. More story-savvy.

You'll understand better what bores you in a story. And what makes your blood pump a little faster.

(Even if you don't finish! Even if you don't "win"! But pretend I didn't say that. Because you're totally going to win. High five.)

I'm crazy-excited for all you lionhearted Wrimos out there. If you're doing Nanowrimo, please do give a shout, either here in the comments or on Twitter! I want to cheer you all on!! 

Now... back to those word counts!