Beyond Camp NaNoWriMo

It’s the end of Camp NaNo, and you probably have a first draft – or almost a completed first draft – on your hands. Congratulations! But now what? Well, if you’re not finished, completing it is your first step.

If you’re already finished and want to dive into revisions – because who doesn’t love rewriting? – this post is for you. I was looking for ways to jump into revisions in an organized way. [I’m an editor, and I’m constantly trying to learn new ways to edit on a large scale.] Handling plots, subplots, and layers can be complicated and confusing to keep track of, so I read about different authors’ self-editing methods.

By far, this one is the method I could follow. The post is long but detailed. It leaves very little room for questions or confusion. I highly recommend checking it out to help you organize your revisions to prepare to write your second draft.



Writing and a 21-Day Meditation Experience

This post will be a heavier topic than usual, but I think that’s okay. Life is sometimes profound and deep, and we, as authors and readers, shouldn’t shy away from those ideas.

Of course, it’s April, which means it’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve written a few posts on this already. What I haven’t done, however, was keep you all updated with my progress. There are a lot of reasons [excuses] for this: editing contracts, landlord inspection, and a weekend hiking trip are the big ones. Needless to say, my progress hasn’t been what I’d have hoped. In fact, my original goal was to write 40,000 words this month. [Totally unreasonable, by the way.] I bumped it down to 25,000 words, but, after this hiking trip, I decided that 20,000 words was a reasonable goal. Right now, I’m sitting with a paltry 5,496 words. I will essentially quadruple this in the next ten days.

In addition to Camp NaNo, I’m also participating in an annual 21-day meditation experience hosted by Oprah and Deepak Chopra. The topics change each year, and I’ve been participating in this for the past three years [at least]. Anyway, this year, the topic is all about finding hope in everyday life. Hope is something definitely lacking in my life, and it’s something I am trying to work on.

I’m a little behind on the days, and I just wrapped up days 6 and 7 tonight. I decided to do the meditation in a secluded IHOP booth at midnight. Instead of chanting the mantra, I free write during the meditation part. It allows me the space to really connect with the message. After that meditation, though, I was a weeping puddle. I was ugly-crying by the end of it, and I didn’t stop for several minutes. Let me tell you, in case you’ve never broke down at midnight in a restaurant, it was awkward, but I needed that vulnerability with myself.

Day 6’s message was: “I trust in my core self at every moment,” and it talked about how we build trust and belief in ourselves and how we translate that to others. If we have a negative view of the world, we can fix it by examining each belief one at a time, breaking them down to their core and mending them. It spoke of inner trust – and, I’ll be honest, I lack that – and about limiting beliefs. During the free write, all this trauma from when I was younger surfaced, and I felt like I was right there again. That fear, that intensity. I could feel every scar, some rawer than others. Honestly, it was a little overwhelming to experience in an IHOP in the middle of the night. I continued with the next day’s meditation, though.

Day 7’s message dovetailed nicely with the previous one, and it was: “I find a reason to hope in every situation.” It talked about the importance of gratitude as a foundation of hope, that the more gratitude we have the more hope we have. It reminded me to focus on the solution and not on the problem, and that every problem has a solution, which should bring me hope. Chopra went into what happens when we have constricted awareness – which was basically my daily experience of limits and fears and anxieties and a feeling of “lack.” Again, during the free write, all these memories resurfaced, and I just let them. I ended up writing a list of ways I can expand my awareness in my daily life, and I came up with nine practical, easy things. What’s pretty cool is that my word of the year I chose on December 31 last year was LIMITLESS. I didn’t know why I chose this word; it just popped in my head. During the meditation recording, Chopra said that word several times, and I just smiled. I learned how I can experience being limitless, if only I put in a little effort.

I bring all this up because one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, once said, “Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones, you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory.”

All these memories, the scars left behind, helped me develop Aggie, the main character in my cozy mystery series. In it, she and her husband have a lot to deal with. She’s an optimist; there’s no denying it, but throughout the series, she and her husband will experience setbacks that will test her optimism and will threaten to break her spirit. Whether it does or not is something you’ll have to read about, but I can write about her experiences battling hopelessness and feeling limited because I can fully feel my own experiences of feeling the same way. As a writer, it’s sometimes painful to dredge up those memories of trauma and hurt, but, in the end, it not only deepens my characters but it’s a cathartic experience in my own healing process. Hopefully, a reader will read my words and find their own healing as well.

As a reader, have you experienced a sense of healing after reading about a character’s journey? What messages have stuck with you?

As a writer, do you use your personal scars to deepen your characters and give them a purpose? Do you share some scars with your characters, allowing yourself to process your experiences through the lens of writing?

Weekly camp check-in

Here we are! It’s a week into Camp NaNoWriMo, [Has it really been a week already?!] so here’s my check-in. The first three days of Camp, I resisted the urge to dive into my story, and I spent quality time creating an outline. Or, at least, some notes I can use that’ll help keep everything organized. I’m writing a murder mystery, which means I need to know everything from suspects’ alibis and motives to those tiny clues that might end up being red herrings in the end. I needed a way to track all that stuff, so I created some charts to keep handy.

I also created a map for my city! I hand drew it, so I’ll be honest and say it’s nothing to write home about, but it’s functional for now. It also allows room to grow as the series gets longer, which, hopefully, it will. How I created my fictional town was I searched for a real city about the same size as my fictional town. I pulled it up on Google Maps, and I scoped it out – how many restaurants did it have, how many stores, how many houses versus apartments, schools, parks, bus stops? Anything I could think of to research about it, I did. I then manipulated the real city, and in this case I drew a mirror image of it. I filled in what I needed for the first book – the theater that it takes place in, the police department, my main character’s home, and the school at which she works. I didn’t need all of those things, but I wanted to get a baseline so I didn’t have to do these basic things later. [Plus, I had to know how long it’d take the cops to get to the theater, and to do that I needed to calculate the distance to extrapolate the time.] And they said being a writer was easy. [Actually, nobody says that.]

After I had those things, I started to write. [It was the next logical step.] Somewhere in there, I realized my suspects only had a one-word motive without any backstory. I stopped writing again, and I went back to develop that just a little more. I filled nearly five pages of my notebook with their backstories, even though most, if not all, of these characters are making an appearance in this story only. It kind of felt like overkill, honestly, but it’s been helping me a lot while I write.

So I basically saved my entire manuscript by managing to fill those plot holes. Great. I start writing again, and at this point in the story, the ever-inquisitive sleuth has deduced that something isn’t right with the theater actors and she needs to get backstage to investigate. In my original outline, I had her pretend to be a doctor and her convincing the security guard that an actor appeared to be having a heart attack. [Lame, I know. It was probably 3am, though.] As I was writing it, it just felt all wrong, so I stopped writing again to figure out a good reason why she needs to be the one the guard lets through the doors. [I ended up creating a character…and another suspect.] Saved it again! Now, I’m somewhere in between the sleuth gathering information and piecing together the puzzle, which is pretty exciting. [What mystery writer or reader doesn’t like a good puzzle?]

My goal for this story is to turn it into a novella of around 40,000 words. [I’d like to finish all 40,000 words this month, but I’d also like to be realistic.] I’m not sure the story will be stretched out to 40,000 words, though. It’s sounding like it’ll be a shorter story, possibly a novelette, but I’m also recognizing that this is a first draft. My first drafts tend to be shorter, and I add in the details – and subplots – in subsequent drafts when the skeleton of the story has already been written. [I’m really not sure why I write this way.]

So, for now, I have 4,242 words out of a reasonable goal of 25,000 words. I haven’t written today yet, so I’m hopeful I can catch up to par for the day. [I have a home inspection with the rental company on Wednesday and I also have to repair some damages my three-year-old created – as well as messes we’ve all created – so my free time is being eaten by housework, which, let’s be honest, is the worst.]

I did, however, literally double my word count [actually, I more-than-doubled it] in one coffee-infused night at IHOP this past week, so I know it’s possible to catch up.

Current word count: 4,242
Weekly total word count goal: 12,000 [par is 11,666]
Weekly focus goal: 7,800 [actual goal is 7,753, but I wanted to round up and not down]


Welcome Camp!

Welcome! Take a seat and get cozy. We’ll be here all month. By now, Camp NaNoWriMo has surely started in your time zone, and it’s off to the races. Well, word races…uh…sprints. Anyway, I wanted to take a minute to offer some inspiration and reassurance.

Whatever happens this month – whether you reach and surpass your word goal, you don’t write down a word, or you write something in between – know that you did well this month. You had the courage to try something new, and if all you did was sign up for the challenge, that took guts. You should be acknowledged for taking that leap.

Writing a book is hard work. Well, it’s work. Novels don’t just appear on the computer without mixing in equal amounts of tears, laughter, and perspiration. You signed up for this challenge because, I assume, you want to write a book. But the thing is – most people want to have written a book. It’s a slight word different, but it’s a huge distinction. Most people don’t want to have to go through to come up with an idea and follow it to “The End” then tear it apart only to stitch it back together. It’s a process, and if sometime during this month you decide that process isn’t for you, that’s okay. The big thing is that you tried. You chased after a dream. And somethings the thing about dreams is that they aren’t always how we imagined them. That’s okay. Keep dreaming, keep trying, keep doing.

Sometime in the middle of the month, you’ll look at your word processor (or notebook) and think you’re the worst writer ever to have written, and everything is shit. [Truly, I think it’s inevitable.] Don’t delete your words! When you find yourself in a mental rut like this – or a bout of writer’s block – take a minute away from the screen. Get up, move around, go for a walk, listen to music, do anything that gets you back in your happy place. Think about why you want to be a writer and why you want to write this particular story. Remind yourself of why you’re embarking on this wild journey called Camp NaNoWriMo.

There’s a great book [I’m somewhere in the middle of it as it’s one of those books I’ll take the entire year to read because I want to take my time] called Word by Word by Anne Lamott. It’s kind of a mashup of a writing tutorial and self-help book. I won’t go into the contents here, but I want to bring your attention to the title: Word by Word. That’s how this thing is done. Don’t look at your entire goal as an entity. Don’t even focus on your daily word count goal right now. Focus on that first word. When you’ve written down that word, move onto the next. Eventually, you’ll have a sentence, which will turn into a paragraph, a scene, a chapter, and, finally, a story. But it all starts with that first word, and, that, you can manage.

If you don’t know how your story will go, that’s okay too. Pantsers, plotters, or plantsers are all welcome. And if your story changes midway because your characters take the reins, enjoy the ride. First drafts are used to explore your story, your world, and your characters. Don’t be afraid of dead ends, and don’t be afraid of straying off course to try something else. This is your time to try new things.

Most of all, just have fun and enjoy the experience. If you don’t end up reaching your goal, there will always be another Camp with another goal. Chin up and continue onward.

For now, though, keep writing, keep exploring, and keep growing.




Camp NaNo prep [3 days left]

Well, kind of. I’m writing this post-midnight since I had to work all day, and I’m just now able to get to this. So, really, it’s more like two days left, but who’s counting?


Today, let’s focus on what happens in your story. This isn’t so much of an outline [I hear your rebellion, pantsers] so much as it’s a general guide. It’s difficult to truly pants a story.

[And if you’re wondering what pantsing is it’s simply writing by the seat of your pants and foregoing an outline.]

With events such as NaNoWriMo [and similar ones] where there’s a hard deadline, it makes it easier for you to jot down some basic notes about your story, your world, and your character. How much you jot down – whether it’s a small bulleted list or a full outline complete with character synopses – is up to you. I tend to gravitate toward something in the middle, making myself a “plantser,” a plotter and pantser. [I never did fit in one box, anyway.]

Because this topic is huge in scope and there are literally thousands of blogs and articles written about how to plan for different genres, I’ll only touch on my own genres and some of the bigger ones. I stay within the mystery/thriller and literary fiction genres, though I do write some young adult and children’s books from time to time. I’ll also briefly discuss world building in the scifi/fantasy genres.

All you need for this is a notebook and writing implement or a computer. I like doing all my planning on paper because it activates different parts of the brain that aren’t activated while typing, and paper gives me the freedom to doodle and mind map. Of course, choose the method that works best for you or try them both.

If you want to get fancy, you can choose to have:

  • Index cards – for characters, setting, scenes, plot points, anything else you think is important for you to write the story
  • Various colors of markers and highlighters – useful especially if you’re working with multiple POVs
  • Mapping software – to draw a map of your characters’ environment, which is useful for any genre and not just fantasy


First, let’s give your characters somewhere to live. Setting is important to every story, not just science fiction and fantasy. Whether your story takes place at 221B Baker Street in London, on a faraway planet in a different galaxy, the street you grew up on, or a random city, it’s important to map out where everything is. Ideally, your setting will complement your story. It will enhance your characters and their conflict.

For now, describe your setting as an outsider would see it. Play tourist in your own world and note big things [like the Space Needle in Seattle] and the small things [the hole-in-the-wall pub that serves the best fish and chips that only the locals know about]. What kind of things are in your city or on your planet? Right now, this is a general look at it. You can be as vague or as specific as you’d like to be. Do you write

If you’re writing a historical fiction novel, this is the time when you need to show off your research skills. You’ll need to research different topics, such as: political/social/cultural context, manner of speech, clothing, geography [which may have changed over the course of time], etc. Number one rule? Fact check everything. Here are tips to get you started.

Do you write scifi or fantasy? Check out this great guide.

I typically write 5-8 pages of setting notes that include grocery stores, parks, schools, population size, basic statistics [average socioeconomic class, average ages of residents, and ethnicity breakdown], tourist attractions, shops, town history [origin of the town, who founded it, why is it called that], overall “vibe” of the town, local lore [like ghost stories], and newsworthy events [like murders either well-publicized or covered up by the powers that be].

Keep this setting description and we will dig deeper in setting after we develop the main characters. I recommend every writer read this excellent article on inspirational settings.


It’s time to populate your world. Make a list of your characters – main characters, supporting/minor characters, antagonists, mentors, and what some people call “power players.” For this part, we’re focusing on a general list – names, ages, their roles, their goals, and their conflicts. What motivates your character to continue? What barriers are in their way? [These can be external, internal, and/or both.] How do they interact with the other characters?

  •  Your main characters are just that – they’re the people the story revolves. Without the main characters, the story wouldn’t be told.
  • Your supporting or minor characters help [or hinder] the main characters. Either way, they’re there to help keep the forward momentum and drive the story to the end.
  • Your antagonists are in competition with your protagonist [and sometimes the minor characters]. They want something, and the protagonist is in the way. The key to creating a believable antagonist is remembering that everyone is the hero of their own story. The reasons behind their actions will make the antagonist realistic and sympathetic.
  • Mentors are those characters that guide the protagonist through their journey. Traditionally, it’s an older person in a high role, but molds were made to be broken. Mentors could include: a teacher, a parent, a friend, a boss, or a wizard. The options are unlimited. Mentors traditionally help the protagonist, but they could also offer well-intentioned advice that causes conflict for the protagonist.
  • Power players are characters that have the power to change the course of the story. Is there a murderer running loose in the city, picking off people randomly? Does your mentor character hold a secret that, if divulged to the protagonist, will help defeat the antagonist?

It’s important to note that your characters aren’t meant to stay in one box. Antagonists can be power players, as can mentors. [If you really want to get twisted, an antagonist can be a mentor and a power player.] Play around with the roles your characters will play in the story. Develop their relationships with each other. How do they interact with one another? How do they affect each other? Characters, just like people, don’t live in a vacuum.


Now you’ve got a world and people, so next you need them to do stuff to get the plot rolling. Dust off your work from yesterday – the one paragraph that gives you an overview of the what happens during the story. This is your framework to build upon.

Reread what you’ve written then see if your story fits one of these plot templates. Knowing the root of the story will help understand which plot details and subplots to choose. [Note: Your story might fit more than one template, and that’s okay.]

Rarely will a plot, by itself, sustain a novel-length story. That’s where subplots come into play. Take a moment and think about your other characters. What’s going on in their lives? How does it relate to the protagonist and the main storyline? Is there a love interest? Is there a family feud? Revenge? Jealousy? Murder? How will a minor character’s story converge with a main character’s story? What other character’s (or characters’) story will enhance the protagonist’s story?

I tried to structure a section about plot and how to layer different elements to create a deeper story while adding subplots to the mix, but it would turn into a book in itself. Instead, I’m going to direct you to these fantastic references. I recommend reading them in order since they build upon one another, but, of course, like anything, do what works for you.

  • This short article talks about what exactly are plot, plot layers, and subplots. It goes into how exactly to set up an easy-to-reference chart for you to use as you’re writing to make sure you’re weaving each element seamlessly.
  • This denser article, which has several other links with worksheets and checklists embedded, goes into more detail than I could ever imagine about how to work in subplots. I’ve read it four times already, and I pick up on something new each time. Definitely something to print and have handy. I highly recommend clicking through other links referenced in the article and printing off the checklists.
  • Finally, this article shows the methods in which to practically weave in your subplots. It talks about the different ways to write them on the page – whether to start each thread as a new chapter, parallel writing, or something else entirely. There are seven methods explored in this article, and it contains examples of each.


Now that you have your plot, plot layers, and subplots, think of different scenes that are a part of each of these elements. Scenes, at their heart, do one of two things. [Sometimes, they can do both at the same time, which is wildly efficient.]

  1. Reveal characters – their motivations, goals, personality, etc.
  2. Move the story forward – getting characters to point A to Z.

By keeping these two categories in mind, it’ll help to ward off those information dumps that are common, especially in the beginning when it’s tempting to want to explain everything all at once – the setting and its history, the main character and their life story, the problem or conflict without actually doing anything to solve it. Ideally, this information can be revealed on an as-needed basis and intertwined within the story to where it’s almost imperceptible that you’re doling out information at all.

Take the time now to jot down a few scenes for each element – plot, plot layer, and subplot – to get you started.


That was a lot of work, and if you’re still here with me, thank you. By now, you have a good idea of what your story is and the layers that make it up. You’ll also probably see where you can improve your story – gaping plot holes or topics to research. Jot these concerns down. We’ll address them soon.

Tomorrow [later today during the next post], we will dive into your characters and explore their role in the story. Keep the work you’ve done today handy. When you learn who your characters are, some of these plot and subplot details may change. Don’t be afraid to alter anything if it strengthens your story.


Camp NaNoWriMo prep [4 days left]

It’s a good thing I’m not a math teacher because, apparently, I can’t do basic math – like subtracting five from anything. [I think I might have forgotten March has thirty-one days in it, which is nearly every year.] In any case, you got a break to really dive into the beginning tasks. If you’re just joining us, check out the first post of this series here.


Today, we’re going to take your elevator pitch and transform that into a paragraph you can use to write a more detailed plot outline, if you so choose. This paragraph will give you a road map to follow so you don’t get off-track.

Things you’ll want to include:

  • Main characters, including your protagonist and villains/antagonists – even if you write literary fiction like I do and don’t have a human antagonist.
  • Goals. Your characters want something. Ideally, your protagonist and antagonist will want the same things but go about it in different ways.
  • Conflict. This is the stuff of stories. If you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a story.
  • Disasters. With conflict comes snafus and twists for your characters. How will they handle not getting their way? What unexpected things happen because things didn’t go according to plan?
  • Resolution. Every story comes to an end [eventually]. How does yours end?

Several years ago, a new software hit the internet. It was called Snowflake Pro, and, without really knowing why, I purchased it for pennies. [Not literally, but compared to what it costs today, it feels like that.] I use it for every project, from short stories to mystery series. Since then, Randy Ingermanson has written several articles [and books] about how to implement the concepts of his Snowflake Method without actually purchasing the software. One of the steps in his method is this one paragraph summary. Here is what he suggests, and you can find the full article here.

Ideally, your paragraph will have about five sentences. One sentence to give me the backdrop and story setup. Then one sentence each for your three disasters. Then one more sentence to tell the ending. Don’t confuse this paragraph with the back-cover copy for your book. This paragraph summarizes the whole story. Your back-cover copy should summarize only about the first quarter of the story.

Keep this paragraph handy. We’ll reference it later – and you might find you’ll change it after we tinker with the backbone of your story.


Next, we’re going to choose who gets to tell your story and how that story will be told. In other words, the voice of your story and its point of view. Let’s start with voice first.

Choosing a narrator: By definition, your narrator narrates the story and is not a character in the story. There is a degree of separation between the narrator and the characters in the story in which he narrates. Here’s a great article about how to approach each of these three narrator types with examples from well-known books.

  • The omniscient narrator

The omniscient narrator knows everything and can share anyone’s thoughts at any time. He can, and often does, make value judgments about the characters in the story.

  • The limited narrator

The limited narrator can share the thoughts of a selected few characters, usually only one per scene. He seldom makes value judgments. He can take a long view, or focus on a single character.

  • The objective narrator

The objective narrator is like a photojournalist. He reports the story events, but he doesn’t judge and doesn’t read minds.


If you want a more personalized story that really gets into a character’s (or characters’) mind, you might want to choose allowing a character, or multiple characters, to tell the story instead. We’ll explore different ways you can approach point of view to see who best to hold the proverbial camera. Here is another great article that dives deeper into each of these and includes examples from well-known books.

  • First person and close third person [also called deep point of view]: In both of these points of view, the reader gets an up close and personal view of this character’s life and mind. Readers are more immersed rather than using a narrator to tell the story.

In Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint, Nancy Kress writes, “‘close third person’ and ‘first person’ are indistinguishable from one another except for their pronouns. When you transpose first person to third person by changing the pronouns, close third is what you get.”

  • Multiple points of view: You may choose to have several characters tell the story, either using first person or using deep point of view for each. This allows you, as the writer, to rely on the perspectives of multiple people, and you may choose to do this for several reasons: create the effect of the unreliable narrator, or to tell different characters’ stories and show how they intertwine. Be careful you don’t choose too many characters to tell the story, though. The more characters you use, readers will be unable to form strong attachments to any one of them, and it will appear fragmented.

Some writing books say if you are writing in “third person” you can reveal information not known to the viewpoint character. This is true only if you are using a narrator. You cannot reveal information unknown to the viewpoint character. The character with the camera can only show what they see. The instant you reveal something the protagonist cannot know, you have taken the viewpoint away from him and given it to a narrator.


Now that you have your narrator and point of view chosen, you can go back to your one paragraph summary. Evaluate it to see if it’s consistent with who is telling the story and who the story is about. Rework it to reflect with your new understanding of your story.

Tomorrow, we’ll go more in-depth with your world and your story, so stay tuned!

Countdown to Camp (five days)

If you don’t know, Camp NaNoWriMo is coming back in April. What’s this elusive camp, you ask? It’s a virtual camp for writers where we’re placed in different virtual cabins – either randomly or by choice – and we work on our writing goals. Camp activities are optional but encouraged.

What do you need before going to camp? Well, not much, really. [You don’t even need an idea, outline, or plan.] You can dive right in and write what comes to mind, which is great. If that’s how your brain works, anyway. Mine? Not so much. Over the next five days, I’ll share with you my process I take to gear up for any NaNoWriMo event – the Camps in April and July, and the main event in November.


Before you do anything else, make sure you’re actually registered for the event. (It’s free, so why not!) Signing up is simple. Go to the homepage here and register for a new account. If you’re already a member of the main NaNo event, use that login for this one. Easy peasy!

In order to be placed in a cabin, you have to have a project. You can choose anything – even “Untitled” in an “Other” genre. They’re flexible and don’t mind if you have no idea what you’re doing. [Most years, I don’t.] To add a writing project, under “My Camp NaNo,” click “My Writing Projects” and follow the instructions. For a writing goal, you can anything from 3o words to 1 million words, a wide margin of choice to say the least. This is the biggest difference between the Camp events and the traditional NaNo event in November: you can choose your own word count. Traditional word counts are 50,000 words, but don’t feel the need to conform. [My goal this year is 40,000 because that’s all I need my story to be as a novella. Also, I’m bucking tradition by working on something that’s currently in progress.]

Writing Projects.PNG

I forgot to draw the little arrow this time, but click “My Writing Projects.”


Next, you’ll want to decide if you want to join a cabin or not. Cabins are a great way to stay motivated and accountable throughout the month. I’ve been in cabins where people aren’t chatty and nobody checked in, but the overwhelming majority of experiences are fun. There are challenges and rewards systems and check-ins. Writing can be a lonely experience, so it’s great to have a personalized group to chat with. Cabins are small-ish, with only twelve spots in each. You can swap cabins midway if you’re not feeling the vibe of your assigned cabin. Of course, you can always write solo as well. To set your cabin settings, something you’ll need to do if you want to be in a cabin or not, sign in and click “Cabin Settings” under the “Cabin” tab.

Cabin Settings.PNG

Yes, my username is anonymouskitten, and yes, I have unopened NaNo mail from over three years ago. 🙂 

Next, you’ll want to choose your cabin preference. There are several options. [Of course, just as I was taking a snapshot of the screen, I was added to a cabin and the options are no longer visible.] You can choose to be randomly selected in a  cabin – with or without meeting certain criteria such as the same genre or goal as you – or you can create your own private cabin if you know other writers you’d like to pair up with. [There is always the lone wolf option as well.]

If, after you chat with your cabin cohorts, you decide you want to bail, you can always opt out. Go back to your cabin settings page, and click where it says to opt out.


Cabin Opt Out.PNG

I used Paint instead of freehanding it. [It still sucks, but it works.]


Now that you have your foundation, you’re probably itching to swap that “Untitled” title to something else, right? But if you don’t have an idea floating in your mind, what do you do?

This might be a huge letdown, but…you find an idea.

Inspiration comes from anywhere, seriously.

  1. My number one suggestion is simple: go for a walk. [Don’t listen to me, though. Here’s a study from Stanford.] Even if it’s crappy weather outside, walk around indoors. [If you have mobility issues, try using your mobility device, whether a walker or wheelchair or something else, to get moving and change scenery.] 
  2. Read, read, read. Pick up a book and read. Find something you’d change – the outcome, a character, a situation, anything – and make it your own.
  3. Get philosophical and ask “What if…” Frequently, my books start out this way. “What if a poor boy inherits a fortune?” [Great Expectations] or “What if a neglected boy discovers he has magical powers and is famous? [Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone] You can be as silly or serious with this as you’d like.
  4. Start a dream log. If your dreams are anything like mine, you’ll have some good material with which to work. Write down everything you remember upon waking up, even (especially) if it doesn’t make sense. Pick out a detail that sticks out to you and expand it to create a story.
  5. Go to the cemetery. Okay, this might be a little morbid for some people, but it works for me. When I go to a cemetery, which is quite often, I walk around headstones and jot down the names and ages of people. I come up with elaborate, fictional backstories for each of them. Sometimes they will turn into characters with their own stories.
  6. If you’re really on a tight deadline and can’t come with an idea, try a plot generator or the adoptables thread in the NaNoWriMo forums.
NaNo Forum

Step 1: Click NaNoWriMo Forum

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Sign in, if you aren’t already, with your Camp NaNo username then go to the forum.

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Scroll down until you find the Adoption Society thread. Inside, you’ll see an index post as the first or second thread within. Click there since everything will be alphabetical. Go wild and explore.


Okay, you’re finally inspired and you have an idea in mind. Great! Take out a piece of paper (or open a new document on your computer) and write everything that comes to mind when you think about your idea.

This can be anything, including a description of a character, a setting, a scene, a snippet of dialogue, a clue, a red herring, a murder weapon, a theme, anything. Anything goes. No filter, just write. Eventually, you will exhaust all your ideas about this project if you keep going long enough. And don’t worry if you only have one or two things written. There is no right or wrong way to do a mind dump. The goal is to get everything out of your head and onto paper (or screen), so you can decide what to do with it.

I tend to do my brainstorming on paper since it activates a different part of my brain than if I were to type the notes. My pages end up being very messy with scribbles and arrows drawn between ideas to show a connection. Somehow, I’m able to read it after I’m finished and can put it into some coherent order. The goal is to create something that works for you.


You’ve done a lot of prep work already, but there’s one more thing to do before closing up shop today. It’s called your elevator pitch. [Check out this blog with a directory of information about this. I recommend starting with this post and moving down (or up) the list. This post by a different blogger has more concrete advice to get you started.]

Essentially, your elevator pitch boils down, in a sentence, just what exactly your story is about. [I think one of the most terrifying questions I’ve ever been asked is: “So, what’s your book about?” I get flustered and try to talk about all the nuances that I think make my story great, and I don’t actually get to the heart of it.]

This is your chance to find that golden nugget, that pearl, that Holy Grail of meaning within your story. Here are some questions to get you thinking: What is your story about? Why do you need to tell this particular story? Why does it compel you? What feelings do your story bring up within you? How do you want to convey those feelings to others? What actually happens in your story? What’s the conflict? [There’s always conflict.] Who tells your story and why? Who is the story about and why? [This isn’t always the same answer as the previous question. Take a look at The Great Gatsby. Nick Carroway narrated it, but it was really about Jay Gatz. There was a reason for this.] What themes do you want to explore? Who is your intended audience? What genre do you think your story fits best in?


If you’d like to leave your elevator pitches in the comments, I’d love to take a look at them – if only to get excited about the story that will unfold this coming month. Also, you can choose to comment with your Camp goal to stay accountable.

Come back tomorrow for some more tips on how to prepare for Camp NaNoWriMo!