NaNoWriMo Tips 2019

Last October and November, I took on a project that I admittedly didn’t expect to gain much traction. I wrote a series of posts giving advice to those who were participating in NaNoWriMo 2018. As someone who has participated in NaNoWriMo on three different occasions — and finished it twice — I felt like I had a lot of advice I could share that could be beneficial to someone participating for themselves. Much to my surprise, the series went over well, with four of the posts in the series making my top 20 posts of the year despite being published with two months (or less) left in 2018.

I wanted to get a bit more of a headstart on the project this year, however, I also wanted to try something new in the process. What I’d like to do is to see what those of you who are considering participating in NaNoWriMo would like for me to write about. What questions about the month-long writing endeavor do you have?

I’m not sure exactly how many topics I’ll write about this year. With that said, I’ve listed the topics I wrote about last year below. While I’m not opposed to revisiting a particular topic and putting a different spin on it if there’s enough interest, I would like to see what new topics you all would like for me to write about.

If there’s a specific topic you’d like for me to write about, leave me a comment and suggest it. I’m going to work on planning out my post schedule over the next couple of weeks so that I can begin writing them in early October (as I learned last year, this project takes a while).

If you don’t have a topic you’d like me to write about, I would still love to hear what you’re planning on writing about for this NaNoWriMo. Leave your story I’d in the comments. I’d love to talk about them.

Snow in Tunisia

The following post is a short story where those who support me on Patreon were able to vote and choose what this short story would be about and/or have as a theme. Since their poll ended in a tie,1LInk might show for patrons only? Either way, know it was a tie. I’ll be writing both short stories over the next couple months. This short story’s theme is to write a short story with a hidden pattern. See if you can find the pattern(s) in the piece.

If you wish to support me on Patreon and get access to bonus content like exclusive blog posts, podcasts, and me signing pictures that aren’t of me, you can do so here.


Beep.

$1.49.

Beep.

$16.25. Credit: thirty-six cents.

Nikki scanned her groceries at the self-checkout, growing increasingly aware of the expanding line of people waiting for registers behind her. It was a moment of social awkwardness she dreaded. There she was, a cart full of food, though one that was easily within the self-checkout’s arbitrary limit, doing her best to scan and bag all of the items by herself as people waited for their turn behind her. Granted, she wasn’t the only one using a register. There was an elderly man arguing with a store attendant over the fact that the self-checkout wouldn’t take a check at one register, while the final register was in use by a middle-aged woman whose cart was so full it looked like she could prepare seven square meals a day and still not be back to the store for a month. Never mind the fact that there were at least four registers with human cashiers at them that people in line could go to. That didn’t stop Nikki from feeling like the holdup was her fault.

Your total is sixty-four dollars and eighty-one cents. Please select your payment method.

Nikki paid for her groceries, loaded her bags of food into her cart, and walked towards the parking lot, hearing the man who had been behind her in line start scanning his flowers as she left. She loaded her groceries into the saddlebags of her motorcycle, returned the cart to its corral, then turned right onto Marlborough Road to begin her trek home. Nearly immediately, Nikki was greeted with a red light at the intersection of Elena Park Avenue. She turned her head to the right and stared at the large hill in the center of Elena Park, its slope covered in lush green grass and sighed heavily. One January in her youth, Nikki had gone sledding with some friends when she built up a little too much speed, barrelling past the end of the park over the sidewalk, and into the busy street. She narrowly avoided getting struck by a bus, though her best friend, Cassie Lowe, wasn’t so lucky. Cassie had chased after Nikki, and though the bus avoided them both, a car driving in the next lane struck Cassie at full speed, killing her instantly.

It was a cruel joke that Nikki had to move back here. Her parents pulled her out of school for two weeks following Cassie’s death. Then her father got a job in Tampa, letting them leave this godforsaken hellhole and never look back. But then Nikki graduated from college and got a job for a telecommunications company handling their social media marketing. When it was announced her company’s office was closing, her choices were to lose her job or to take relocation to an office that just so happened to be mere miles from where her childhood best friend died.

Nikki floored the throttle as the light turned green, speeding off into the distance. She refused to be that asshole on a motorcycle who is a danger to themselves and everyone around them because they drive recklessly, weaving in and out of traffic with dangerous spacing just because their bike will fit. But she couldn’t help but speed away from the intersection of Marlborough Road and Elena Park Avenue every time she came to it.

After a few minutes, she arrived home at 100 Newton Lane, apartment 121. She had promised herself these living arrangments would only be temporary — that she could (and would) find something better than living with a random roommate she found on Craigslist. She traded out of a random roommate for one she liked living with, Keith. For a guy, Keith wasn’t too bad. She wouldn’t have gotten engaged to him if he were terrible. But the apartment was a world suck she never seemed to free herself from, no matter her best intentions. Keith didn’t see any harm in staying as it was.

She carried the groceries inside, stepping quietly so as not to wake Keith from his slumber. Keith would typically sleep through the day, as he worked overnight as a security guard, though this particular day he was awake much earlier than expected.

“Hey,” he said as Nikki entered through the front door, lugging the groceries to the kitchen.

“You’re up early,” replied Nikki as she dug through her bags, looking for perishable items first.

“Some guy came by while you were gone wanting to know if I had accepted Jesus into my heart as my lord and savior. I told him if he didn’t leave I’d help him meet Jesus in person.”

“Don’t be a dick, Keith.”

“There’s no need to be proselytizing in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday!” Keith exclaimed. “Besides, if I wanted to know more about religion, I’d go to a church myself.”

“How will you know which one is the right one to go to unless someone tells you about how their god is better than someone else’s god?” Nikki retorted sarcastically.

“A great question that I’m sure no one has ever considered.”

Keith walked into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around Nikki’s waist, kissing her neck as he pulled her in close.

“Did you bring me anything?” he cooed into her ear.

Nikki grabbed a bottle of bourbon from one of the bags and handed it to Keith, who eyed the label carefully.

“A hundred and forty-four proof? How drunk are you trying to get me?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“I mean, it wasn’t what I had in mind, but I’ll take it.”

“Keep it in your pants for one more day, cowboy,” Nikki said. “You work tonight, then you’re off for two weeks.”

“It’s just a shame you couldn’t be off the whole time.”

“What can I say? Everyone wants me.”

Nightfall came, and with it Keith left for work, leaving Nikki to sip at her own glass of booze as she watched Jeopardy! on television.

“Next we move on to Jeff. You were in second place — what did you come up with? You said Libya, no, I’m sorry. That’s wrong.”

“It’s Tunisia, you twats!” Nikki shouted at the television.

“And you wagered — $169. It’s enough to keep you out of last, but you likely won’t catch our reigning champion. That is, unless Elsie is wrong. Elsie what did you come up with? Morocco. No, I’m sorry.”

“TUNISIA!”

“The city of Carthage was located in the modern day country of Tunisia. You wagered — nothing. With your winnings today, you now have a total of $196,225.”

Nikki turned off the TV, scoffing as she pushed the button.

“I could beat her,” she mumbled to herself as she got up from the couch and made her way to the bedroom. Nikki pulled a suitcase out from the closet and tossed in on the bed, unzipping all the pockets and readying it for her trip with Keith. While their trip was only for the weekend and the rest of the vacation would be spent at home, packing a suitcase and going anywhere was still a big step.

Nikki was reminded of just how big when she unzipped a compartment on the front of the suitcase to find the remnants of a luggage tag stuffed inside. It was a reminder of the second scariest day of her life. The plane she was aboard, Delta flight 256, skidded off the runway in Amsterdam and came to a crashing halt against a barrier. Fortunately, no one was hurt seriously. A few passengers were shaken up, an elderly man broke his hand, and there were a few bruises for nearly everyone aboard. Still, had it not been for that crash, she never would have met Keith, who was stuck in Amsterdam Airport Schiphol because of the crash she had been involved in. Four hours in an airport bar meant that Nikki missed her ride into town, but she met her future fiancee in all the chaos.

She stuffed the fading sticker back down in the bag, then slowly packed three days worth of clothing inside for both her and Keith. Maybe she could change his mind on this trip, or even on his vacation in general. Maybe she could convince him to move away from everything she hated, all the bad memories, the constant reminders of her best friend dying at the intersection of Marlborough and Elana Park. Maybe he’d listen to going somewhere that wasn’t a plot of land adjacent to his parents’ family farm on route 289 in upstate New York. Maybe it would stop snowing in the apartment.

It was snowing in the apartment. Again.

It didn’t matter that it was summer. This was the sign that it was all about to end. It began with the snow violently leaving the ground, leaving the streets around Nikki their natural color. She’d live her life each day as that day would go, only for the snow falling around her — regardless of if she was indoors or out — to signal that the end was coming. It had always been this way.

—–     —–     —–     —–     —–

“Hey hun?” Ricky Lowe shouted.

“Yeah?”

“Can you come hold the ladder steady? I’m trying to get stuff out of the rafters of the garage.”

Mina Lowe entered the garage and braced the legs of the ladder while her husband climbed to the second highest step. As he moved the items above the exposed rafters, a fine, white dust fluttered down to the ground below.

“Jesus,” Mina said, “how much dust is up there?”

“You’d think it had snowed up here,” replied Ricky. “It’s pretty thick.”

“What’s up there? Do I need to have Hannah come out and help?”

“Nothing much. Some old two-by-fours, a few sheets of plywood, Christmas lights that probably don’t work, a broken rake, a couple sleds –”

“Sleds?”

“Yeah. Hannah’s and Cassie’s from when they were little.”

Ricky pulled down a pair of plastic sleds, one bright green, one baby blue, both covered in a covering of the dust.

“Remember how they named them?” Ricky said. “Who names a sled?”

“Yeah,” Mina replied. “Keith and Nikki, I think.”

“After some TV show, right?”

“Yeah, something they watched.”

“Do we really need them anymore? Hannah’s about to leave for college and Cassie –”

Mina cut him off.

“Throw them out,” she said.

“But Cassie’s getting married soon,” replied Ricky. “Maybe she’ll want it for her future kids.”

“Then we’ll buy her a new one. I don’t want to give her the sled she was on when she got hit by a car.”

Ricky examined the sled carefully, noticing its cracks and chips.

“You’re probably right,” he replied. “Is that the garbage truck?”

“It’s two houses down,” said Mina.

“Hold tight. I’ll take these out to the guy myself.”

WIP Update #4

Inner monologue: It feels like progress on my book has been going really slow. I can’t imagine what I’d even have to talk about since the last time I wrote a formal WIP update post.

*re-reads the last update post*

Inner monologue: Oh. Shit. There’s actually been progress for once. Well, let’s get to it.

This post is both a long time coming and yet a post where I feel like there’s still a long way to go. There’s been a lot I’ve done on my book since February — some of which I’ll be discussing in greater detail in this post. However, to quickly summarize, I have done the following since my last post about my work in progress:

  • Finished the first draft of the book
  • Written a preview scene for the sequel2More on this further down. to the book
  • Finished a second draft for the book
  • Torn apart my book with my editor/creative director/whatever she is3Hi again.
  • Finished a third draft for the book
  • Had a mental breakdown about a lot of things4This actually happening more than once, but only one of those times did it lead to me venting about my frustrations with writing. which manifested itself in a mental breakdown post about writing
  • Drew* out what some of the characters in the book looked like
  • Plotted out the basic premise of the series that will (hopefully) come out of this book

I’m writing this post in early July, so it’s certainly possible I could add something to that list between now and when this post goes live mid-July. That said, even if I make no changes to the above list5Note: I made no changes., that’s still a ton of shit I’ve gotten done.

As I mentioned before, I was debating whether or not this was going to be a series. I’ve ultimately decided that there will be a series coming out of this book, which has meant a good bit as I was going back and editing, particularly when working on draft number three. Oddly enough though, had I decided against making this a series, it really wouldn’t have changed the ending to this book all that much. Because of the sci-fi setting this book takes place in, there’s a lot that was left to the interpretation of my mind more than anything else. As this relates to the ending of my work in progress, it allowed me to have the kind of ending I wanted to the book regardless of the route I ended up choosing.

You may have noticed on the next to last point that I have an asterisk next to drew. This is because I have a bit of a unique problem when it comes to art. Specifically, I suck at art. That said, I really wanted to be able to have some context for what my characters looked like beyond what was in my head. So I did what any rational person who was bad at art yet has access to a computer would do: I created my characters in The Sims 3. I’m not quite ready to post those character mockups on here yet — mostly because I want to do that once the book goes into the beta reading stage (or shortly thereafter). That said, I did share a couple of them this month for my Patreon subscribers, so…hint hint.

I already plan to do a whole post about the editing process once that’s done, however, I do want to take a moment to call out a specific part of the editing process that I didn’t expect to go through. I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year across various genres, reading a bunch of books that range from amazing to absolutely horrid. Nearly every book I’ve read this year has caused me to re-think some part of my work in progress. In particular, Every Tool’s a Hammer by Adam Savage caused me to really consider how much I’m working in conversations that don’t advance the plot of the story but serve to add depth to characters. As someone who loves books that do this, but am not always the best about it myself, it was a great reminder to have.

At this point, I’m probably still at least one draft away from getting beta readers for the story. With that said, when I am ready, I’ll be holding a call for beta readers on this blog (and maybe on my Twitter) after offering to some folks who have already expressed interest in doing so. Hopefully the beta reading experience will be good, as my only experience for it comes from short stories rather than a full novel.

That’s all I have to share for an update for now. My hope is to have an additional update by the end of the year, though I’m not particularly sure exactly what the timeline will be. Thanks for sticking around during the long time that this story has taken. I’m thinking it’ll be worth everyone’s patience.

Wherein I Write Messages In Books

In February of this year, I found out a really exciting thing was happening, though I couldn’t share it until now. I found out that 30 copies of my book were being given away as part of a swag bag for a corporate event. Which:

  1. Holy shit.
  2. My book is not a particularly work appropriate book, at least not in the case of specific short stories.
  3. Might be the coolest writing related thing to happen to be so far. AND
  4. Is definitely the most mentally overwhelming thing to happen to me to so far.

At this point, I was overjoyed it was happening. Thank you so much to Jeremy and Jon for involving me in this. As part of the agreement, I arranged to sign and add messages to all 30 copies of the books being given away. This lead to quite the mental quandry. What do I write in a book while signing it?

I’ve signed copies of my books before. I’ve written messages in them before. That said, in both cases, this was always for people I knew at least in passing. A total stranger has never — at least to my knowledge — acquired a copy of my book that was signed and had a personalized and/or handwritten message in it.

So what did I decide to do? Do I write the same thing in every book? Are my messages classy, uplifting, or inspirational? Are they legible?

No.

I wrote 30 unique messages across the 30 books. With the permission of Jeremy and Jon, I’ve shared what I wrote in the books below. You can click on the images of the pages to get a better look at them. This may be helpful in the case of a couple of the longer messages, like the one where I wrote out a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

Note: Only 29 of the images are currently shown below. I had some issues with one of the pictures that I didn’t catch until after the post went up. I’m going to dig and see if I can find a good version of the final image.

My hope is that I’ll get the chance to do this with my current work in progress some day. I personally feel that said manuscript is already lightyears better than An Epilogue to Innocence was. That’s not to say I dislike my first book. Far from it actually. But I’m slowly getting the feeling that my WIP could be something really great.

The Hard Role of the Reviewer

For reasons I’ve yet to be able to explain, I’ve seen an uptick in folks I know talking about the process of reviewing books. I don’t know who patient zero for this epidemic was, however, I do know that I’ve seen this topic come up from a lot of people recently. In these threads/discussions/videos/Twitter rants/etc, there have been two primary items that I’ve seen being discussed.

  1. Should you tag/make authors aware of your negative reviews of their work?
  2. Can you review something objectively when your like or dislike of the work isn’t necessarily reflective of the quality of said work?

I wanted to take a moment to talk about these two ideas, both from the perspective of someone who is an author, as well as from the perspective of a reviewer. I swear the fact that I had a book review come out last week wasn’t intentional, though it was a nice lead into this topic.

Should You Make Authors Aware of your Negative Reviews?

Short answer: As a rule, no, but it depends.

Long answer: As humans, we aren’t particularly good at taking criticism from others well. While there are individuals that we may be more receptive to criticism from, it’s still not a particularly ideal experience. One of the things that I think people fail to realize when they write a book for the first time is that the book is no longer yours once it’s published. While you may still be the author of the book, the content you write now belongs to your readers. Some of your readers will not like your book. That’s just the hard reality of being a writer.

One of the first books I ever wrote a review for was a book I got for free in exchange for the review. I didn’t like the book. At all. But I was probably much harsher than I needed to be in my review. And I made the mistake — again, this being my first review — of tagging the author on Twitter and publicizing my negative review with them regularly tagged in my tweets. In retrospect, it was a shitty thing for me to do as a reviewer. While it was my first review that I’d ever written, I failed to consider the human impact of sharing with the author how much I disliked their book.

At this point, you’d think it’s a pretty cut and dry line that you shouldn’t share a negative review with an author. And once the book is published, I think this is true, particularly if you’re trying to get publicity for your own review based off of the author’s fame. So when is there an acceptable time to tell someone you don’t like their book? I feel like the obvious answer here is if you’re asked for any negative feedback prior to the book being published. If an author is trusting you enough to request your feedback prior to a book getting released to the public, provide whatever feedback you can to help them. It ultimately will make their book a better finished product. That’s not to say to be a jerk about your feedback. Trust me, as I’ve done that and it hasn’t gone well. But pre-publishing feedback is extremely valuable.

This is not to say you can’t have a negative review of a book. If you didn’t like a book and you want to leave a negative review on Goodreads, Amazon, your own blog, or somewhere else, that’s totally fine. Not every book is for everyone. Authors do read reviews of their books. I know that while I haven’t taken every piece of negative feedback I’ve had to heart, I have made an active effort to learn from that feedback and become a better writer because of it. As a rule of thumb, I’m much more willing to listen to a negative review that’s kind than one that’s inflammatory.

Can You Dislike Something and Still Find it Good?

I used to have a much more black and white answer on this question than I do now. The strange thing is that I’ve swung around to both ends of the spectrum on this answer, all before landing somewhere in the middle. Allow me to dissect where I stand on this by looking at the example of three different books/pieces I’ve read over time.

One of my least favorite books of all time is a book I had to read in high school called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. I can objectively look back at the book and say that it makes a ton of great points about environmentalism, upcycling, and sustainability. That said, even after a re-read later in life, I still dislike the book. Perhaps it’s because it was a required reading during a year in high school where all of the readings felt forced (more than normal, that is). Maybe it’s because my initial reading of the book came at a time where I disagreed with much of the book’s premise, tainting my perception of it well after my world view has changed to fall more in line with the book’s points. Whatever it is, reading Cradle to Cradle is still painful for me, even though I can objectively say the book isn’t bad.

On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve read a good amount of fan fiction that would, by many standards, be considered to be terrible writing. That said, I love them. For example, I will read most RWBY fan fiction, regardless of how fan service-y it gets. I can objectively say that some of it is bad. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy reading it less. Even writing styles that get scorn for other reasons like erotica can suffer this same fate — the reader can enjoy the work even if it’s not Dickens-level writing complexity.

With that all said, there are situations where a piece of literature may be well-written or have other positive qualities, but because of the author that penned the piece, there will be an inherent dislike for that work. In my most recent Q&A podcast, I talked about how Anthem by Ayn Rand became this for me once I learned more about Rand, however she is certainly not the only example of this. There’s a surprisingly high number of people who can write a coherent book (or at the very least have hired someone who can do so) while themselves being disgraceful individuals. Although I do try to separate author from work when writing reviews, there are situations that are too egregious to do so.