NaNoWriMo: Tips and Tricks for Staying Alive and Typing

Completely unbelievably, this is my eighth year participating in the slightly horrifying, always interesting, yearly tradition known as National Novel Writing Month. For my first three years, I took the challenge very seriously and hit 50,000 words every November; after that, I felt I’d learned what NaNo was meant to teach me and became what is known as a “rebel” by setting my own goals. If you think you might be interested in writing a novel this month, here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years.

  1. Make a pact with yourself to not care about the quality of your novel.

This is the most important rule. NaNoWriMo invariably produces messy first drafts, not pristine manuscripts ready to be sent off to agents, and that’s why I always recommend this challenge to friends who are having trouble getting past their inner editors. If you’ve never finished a novel before, finishing NaNoWriMo will prove to you that you can do it, which is invaluable knowledge for anyone with bookish ambitions. It will also prove to you that writing is a process, and Stage One of that process is going to be (as mentioned) slightly horrifying.

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Book Review: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor


For our honeymoon, my wife and I went up to sunny New England. We road-tripped from Burlington, Vermont to Bar Harbor, Maine and stopped at every. Single. Used. Bookstore. The best honeymoon we could hope for, really. In Burlington, we stopped on Church Street at a little place called the Crow Bookshop, which deals in new, used, and out-of-print books. Their sci-fi/fantasy section wasn’t huge, which seems to be standard for hippy/literary bookstores. But there, next to the five millionth copy of Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, was a book I’d never even seen before: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.

I’ve read Binti, Dr. Okorafor’s Hugo-winning Afrofuturist novella, but other than that I’m a relative newcomer to her writing. I went into Who Fears Death with almost no expectations. I was blown away.

The plot summary, in brief:

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Three YA Books to Curl Up with for Utmost Autumn Hygge

Hygge, a Danish word that is rapidly gaining popularity worldwide, is a concept that basically means “huddling up in front of a crackling log fire with a fuzzy blanket, a purring cat, and a bowl of cheese fondue, whilst rain patters outside, scented candles fill the house, and your favorite atmospheric music plays in the background”. That feeling of being totally, contentedly, hedonistically quiet, because that is your reward for living in a place where it gets cold during the year. Hygge fits in very well with the bookish life.

Here is a list of three young adult novels that embody the autumn spirit—perfect for a day off or a blustery November evening.


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On Writing, and Starting Fresh

I finished the final draft of my first “proper novel” (a phrase which here means “something I didn’t hate”) back in March. Although I’m really happy with it, for various reasons I’ve decided to stop querying it and concentrate instead on writing a new novel. Which… I’ve found… is a lot easier said than done.

Writing Proper Novel was kind of like being possessed. (Not that I ever have been possessed, cough cough whistle whistle, but I feel I’ve read enough fiction to know pretty well what it might be like.) Point being, the protagonist jumped into my head when I was only sixteen, immediately inserted herself as a side character in the (terrible) novel I was writing at the time, and refused to stop appearing in things until I wrote a novel about her. Which I eventually did. And now, I think, she’s finally happy, because she hasn’t shoved her way into anything ever since.

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The Historical Heroines We Need to See

By Sam F.

I’m a sucker for novelizations of historical figures’ lives, especially when those historical figures are women whom time has overlooked. Unfortunately, many of these novels—even my favorites—place their emphasis on the woman’s relation to a man. Just check out some of the titles. The Paris Wife. Loving Frank. America’s First Daughter. The Other Einstein. Before you even open the book, the protagonist is defined by a male relative—in these instances, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.

While I applaud the authors for giving attention to the women behind these men, I have to wonder: where are the novels about the women who aren’t defined by their marriages and fathers? While they do exist—Stephanie Thornton’s “Daughter of the Gods”, a novel about Hatshepsut, is a great example—they rarely make a splash.

So, authors. I came up with a few suggestions. The women below aren’t remembered much, but when they are, it’s not for their marriages.

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What I Learned About Writing From the Nightmare Short Story

The year before I started college, I had a dream about a mysterious, lonely boy raising a large, beautiful garden of flowers that would quietly bring magic to the world. I didn’t have much to go on beyond some images and some feelings, but I knew this dream was a story, and I decided I had to bring it into the world.

It took me five years to write this dream into a short story. As of today, this story is still not finished.

For all my labor and determination, I have an enormous, messy rough draft stuck in the first round of revision, facing an uphill climb of cutting, outlining, and massive chunks of rewriting that will not get easier any time soon. When I come across the paper copy in my bag or spy the digital draft on my flash drive, I make a note to return “when I have time” and guiltily put it away. By this point, it might be easier for me to toss the thing, just chuck the paper, delete the file, and move on unburdened to the other projects that I have already prioritized for my writing time.

But I still like the story, or at least the idea of it. Plus, I went through five years of the writing process from hell to even get this far, and it would feel like a massive waste of time, energy, pain, and discovery to burn it now. It would also feel like a betrayal. It’s a ghost in my head right now, but this is the story where I cut my teeth as a younger, more naïve writer, where I learned so much about writing and my own creative needs that I could overcome my fears of perfection, inadequacy, commitment, and simple failure and finally start a novel when it was finished.

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