Saturday, October 26, 2013

NaNoWriMo Writing Tips: How to Hit 50K

Friends, try to picture 50,000 of something. 50,000 pennies, 50,000 chipmunks... 50,000 elephants. It's not an easy number to really picture or fathom. Now try to picture 50,000 words. Not easy, is it? Well, here's a few points of reference for you.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is 30,644 words.
The average book of the Goosebumps series is 18,000-23,000 words.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 257,154 words.
A Game of Thrones is around 300,000 words.
Ender's Game is 100,609 words.

At a standard 12-point font, double spaced, a printed page of text is about X pages long. So those term papers you did in high school and college (if you're finished or in the process of doing them) suddenly aren't such a big deal, right? But in my experience, it's a zillion times easier to write for NaNo than to do a term paper. Why? Because this is something you WANT to write, not something you HAVE to. You have no grade pending on your completion of this project, no teacher waiting to tear apart your hard work.

This post is going to focus on tools to help boost your word count. I'm not focusing on some of the technical or atmospheric tips I've heard over the years, like finding your best writing time (mine is early in the morning. The earlier, the better) because these are personal things that you have to find out for yourself. I'm going to give hints for getting the most bang for your buck word-wise. And these tips are broken down into two categories: Real Techniques and Cheap Tricks.

Real Techniques

Don't Delete ANYTHING
I mean this. Every word you write for NaNo counts, even if it's a piece of complete crap that takes you to a dead end and you have to go back to the beginning of a scene or chapter and start over again. Don't delete anything. You wrote those words, so own them! I use Scrivener, and it's really easy to open a new little side document and stash those failed attempts at scenes, descriptions, dialogue, or whatever in there. They're words, and they count. Another author I've listened to an interview of does the same thing. Don't think of these as failed attempts or wasted work. Think of them as deleted scenes, just like on DVD extra features. I love those things, actually.

But the point is, that if it's a good word or a bad one, it STILL COUNTS! So do NOT delete anything.

Expound at Great Length
Writers, this is your chance to be as wordy as you would like. I haven't read any Jane Austen, but I've heard that she actually will spend five pages describing a windowsill. As a reader, that's annoying. As a writer, that's a LOT of words. Don't think you have to keep them. If you really want to set your scene and describe the entire line of mountains in the horizon inch-by-inch, do it. If your skyscraper has 100 windows and something going on in each one, then tell us what's going on! Go into as much detail as you like. Flesh everything out. Make your characters give long speeches. You can pare things down later.

Remember, Your First Draft Can (And Most Likely Will) Be Crap
This is a hard lesson to learn. You WILL NOT get your words done perfectly on your first try. Even if you weren't trying to get all these words down quickly, you still would need a few drafts on a book. So don't freak out about getting every sentence pefrectly crafted. That's what rewrites and additional drafts are for. You can deal with that later. For now, just focus on getting the story told. That's what NaNo is for. Telling the story. Just move your characters around. Tell the story, however bad and sloppily you tell it. Lots of typos and puncuation problems? No worries! You can fix that in another draft if trying to spell and punctuate exactly right slows you down. Just write.

Trust me, you don't want to see some of my first drafts. Don't let yourself get hung up on things. Just write. I can't stress that enough.

Yes, that first chapter is crap. That paragraph you wrote yesterday is a mess. Yes, that character you have would be better off being a girl than a guy. Don't waste the time of going back and changing it during NaNo. Once again, this is a FIRST DRAFT! You're going to have to go back and change it later. This is a hard thing to do, but the best thing to do for those problems you've discovered is to make a note and move on. Some other Scrivener users open another document (like the Deleted Scenes one) and leave notes to themselves in them. But if you don't use Scrivener, that can be hard to do.

This is a method I've used for a while, since before I started using Scrivener, and it works with any word processor. If you need to make a note to yourself, put it in a bracket []. I usually put whatever note I need in all caps, too, just for extra emphasis. Later on, when you're editing, you can just do a text search for the left bracket [, and you'll find all your "notes-to-self". Don't know what to name that weird hobo that just walked into the scene? Pop in one of these bad boys- [HOBO NAME]. You can even do a Find and Replace later and change all [HOBO NAME] to Steve. Or whatever you name him. And if you're anal like me, in that first draft, you'll even have [HOBO NAME]'s when you need the possessive, and then it will automatically change it to Steve's when you fix it later.

This sort of notation works for anything from names to full on I-need-to-fix-this-a-lot notes. It's tempting to go back and fix things, but don't do it. When I started writing my superhero novel, The Secret Keeper, I had one of my heroes, Galemaster, fighting a villain in the very first chapter. It wasn't until I was almost done with the chapter that I realized I was writing his powers completely wrong. IN THE FIRST CHAPTER! Did I go back and rewrite? I mean, it's just the first chapter, right? Yeah, but no, I didn't go back. I just popped in one of these bad boys: [FIX GALEMASTER'S POWERS- HE SOLIDIFIES AIR, NOT MAKES IT BLOW]. And I moved on. I'll rewrite the chapter later. But moving forward, I wrote as if I hadn't messed up in the first place. Did you change a character's gender? Move forward like he/she has always been the new gender, and you can fix the earlier stuff in editing. The words count, and you don't have the time to spend fixing errors during NaNo. Once again... JUST WRITE!

Go To Write-Ins
I wish I could go to more write-ins, honestly. But it's hard for me to justify a 20- or 30- minute trip one way when I could be writing. Still, I do try to get to at least one (and sometimes more) write-in during NaNo season. Check with your region to see when and where your local Wrimos get together to write. In Nashville, there are usually two or three a week, and we have at least one big one toward the end of the month.

The point of a write-in is to get together with your laptops and ignore each other while you write. Okay, not really. There's some socializing, lots of writing, and discussion. Also, usually food, even if it's just because we're writing in a side room at Panera. Personally, I love write-ins because it's always a pain to sign into wi-fi at these places (if they offer it) and I don't want to go through the hassle. That makes it easy to eliminate the distractions of Facebook, Twitter, Kongregate, and the internet in general. If I get stuck on a plot point, there are a bunch of other writers willing to listen for a minute while I explain the problem and help me find a solution. And then there's my favorite part about our write-ins: Word Wars!

Participate in Word Wars
I don't use Write or Die ( but I know a lot of people who do. Word Wards function similarly to WoD, only without the hassle of being a computer program. In Nashville, we usually have a few at every write-in. These are great fun and good challenges to write a bunch quickly. Here's how they work:

Someone brings a Box of Doom (or, in Nashville, a Box of Sparkly Doom) which contains a bunch of colored popsicle sticks with different numbers on them. A length of time for the word war is chosen (usually 15 or 30 minutes, but we've done a 60-minute one before). The popsicle sticks are organized by color. For example, red is an easy 15-minute goal, green is a hard 15-minute goal but an easy 30-minute goal, etc. You can choose a stick for whatever kind of challenge you want to set for yourself. Your stick might challenge you to hit 400 words in 15 minutes, for example. Everyone gets a different stick, so you have your own goal to reach. Someone starts a timer, you write, the word war ends, and you have more words!

It's a simple concept really, but doing one every two hours or so can really push you to whip out some good stuff. You don't take time to think, very few people distract themselves with conversation, and you all have fun trying to reach your goal (or passing it). And once it's over, you can all see how you did against your stick and see how much you just wrote. There's no penalty for not hitting your stick-goal, and there's a great prize at the end: WORDS!

Cheap Tricks

Don't Use Contractions
You may not realize it, but you often cheat your self out of words. It's, you're, aren't, isn't... and other contractions are just working against you. If you use one contraction every other sentence, and you have 50 sentences, that's 25 contractions you're using, which is cheating you out of 25 words right there! And in truth, you probably use a lot more than that without realizing it. Stretch them out and avoid apostrophes ro get some easy words. Chaing to "you are" "is not" and so on will give you some quick word boosts.

Oh, no! Just realized you've been using isn't a lot? My old friend Find and Replace can fix that! Pop in to change "isn't" to "is not" and there you go! Instant word jump. Do that for all the contractions you can think of, and watch your numbers jump!

This also works for possessive, but it's a little harder to fix. Instead of "Jeremy's bicycle", change it to "the bicycle that belongs to Jeremy". Much wordier, but harder to change, and this kind of thinking can make the natural writing word flow a little less... flowy. Use with caution.

Give People Long Names and Titles
In my novel Criminal from Birth (my NaNo 2010 project), I had to make a up a religion. And I built it around the concept of a parent-god that serves as both parents in the minds of the clergy and the followers. I could have easily called it the "Parent-God" or something like that. But I wanted my word count, so what did I call it? The God Who is Both Mother and Father. That's 7 words. And I used the whole name every time he/she was mentioned. Easy words, and guess what: when I edited, after NaNo was long over, I changed some of them to "parent god", "dual god" and "twofold god". But the many-word name counted for NaNo, and that's what matters.

Write fantasy with a lot of lords and ladies? List their titles at length, or whenever Duke Franky is around, make sure he's always addressed as "Duke Franky of the Western Shorts of Cumberville-Northbach". Words, words, words! Give your places outlandish names, like Cumberton-on-the-Sea or The Hallowed Halls of Harry Haverfield-Humsmore. Seriously. It's fun to get creative and just start blasting proper names out of the water.

So there are some tricks to help get you to 50K during NaNo. Use what you like and if you have any other tips or cheap tricks, please let me know in the comments! I don't think of everything, after all! By the way, just for context, this blog post is 2165 words total. How's that for context?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: The Coffee Legacy by Katharina Bordet

The Coffee Legacy: A Wiener Blut Novel by Katharina Bordet


Isabelle runs a cafe with her best friend, Karin, and coffee is her life. When someone close to her is murdered, Isabelle begins to feel drawn to the past she abandoned when she married her husband, Dominik. Straining to protect her family, who knows nothing of her past, from the drama of that abandoned life, Isabelle must reconnect with and fix everything she left behind ages ago. Either that, or watch as the rest of her family is picked off, one by one.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

An old café, an even older legend and a new threat.

When Isabelle’s secret past returns to haunt her nightmares, she must take action to protect her family from a threat that is closer than she realises.

Set within the traditional Viennese café culture, ‘Wiener Blut’ (literally translated as ‘Viennese Blood’) is the story of café owner Isabelle Schindler-Krug and her role in a struggle for power that stretches back for centuries.

As she tells her sons the legends behind coffee and Vienna, it becomes clear that one such legend is still in the making, with her own family caught right in the middle.


When you get right down to it, America is pretty well addicted to coffee. You can’t turn a corner without seeing a cafe, coffee shop, or restaurant that claims to sell “premium” coffee. And don’t get me started on Starbucks. I have one word for them, and that word is disgusting. But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here— at least in this little section— to talk about the context of the book, and for me, that’s how the book can be seen to relate to America right now. And we’re, on the whole, addicted to coffee. That in mind, a novel that revolves around the stuff was due, and Bordet slammed this one out of the park! Along with an excellent plot involving the nature, discovery, and development of coffee, The Coffee Legacy includes chapter openings with a picture, name, and description of specific types of coffee that show up in the following chapter. And if you really pay attention, the coffee itself often reflects the events in the chapter, too! It’s a very subtle connection, but rewarding to find. And these are coffees I personally have never heard of, because coffee culture here is, honestly, nothing compared to how it is in Vienna. I would like to make the note that the author, Katharina Bordet, is Austrian and actually lives in Vienna, so she has the access to this culture we simply lack. But the pictures and descriptions made me desperately yearn for some of this greatness rather than a drive-thru “latte”. That said, this book proves that coffee is much more than just a morning (or afternoon, or any other time of day) pick-me-up, and bravo to the author for revolving an entire plot around it!


Initially reading The Coffee Legacy can be a little disorienting at first, because Bordet’s formatting style in the e-book is very different from that of native English speakers. But that’s mostly a punctuation thing and doesn’t actually apply itself to the plot or book content. I just wanted to alert readers who want to pick this up that, if you’re used to reading books by American or English authors, the punctuation might catch you off guard, and I would hate to see that make you put the book down.

As far as the writing style itself, The Coffee Legacy is tightly written, clear, and intriguing. I thought I had an idea what sort of setting we had, but by chapter three, that perception was blown out of the water by awesomeness. The book did not go in the direction I thought it would. It turned out I was reading something very different than I initially thought I would be reading. And what a pleasant surprise that was! I got sucked in by the characters, the secrets, the layers of connection between characters, and just coffee in general. Bordet is very good at getting you inside characters’ heads so you at least understand their decisions and actions, even if you don’t agree with them.

My Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed The Coffee Legacy. I distinctly felt the highs and lows that a good book is supposed to bring you. Had I not been reading it in a public place, I can think of at least two or three times I wanted to exclaim things and yell at the pages (of my kindle). Most of those would have been “Aw, Hell!” exclamations. There was one, “You’d better not!” for certain. And then, the character did it. Satisfying, yet upsetting, but the plot couldn’t have gone any other way, really. Have you ever not wanted something to happen but couldn’t imagine it not happening? That’s what the situation was, and I’ll go ahead and tell you, that’s one of the times I completely understood the character’s actions but did not agree with them. But how realistic and true to human nature! Yes, I’m purposefully being vague because I don’t want to give spoilers. Even though I’m the type to love spoilers, I know I’m the odd one out, so I’m not going to do that to you guys. Suffice it to say, you will feel the low desperation of the characters when the time comes.

Of course, there were also the moments when, despite reading this in public (at work, mostly), I could not help but laugh. So don’t think this book is all caffeine with a side of sadness. What are the lows without the highs to balance them? Less effective, that’s what. And do you like less effective things? I didn’t think so.

Overall, this novel was well constructed, easy to read, and engaging. And there’s some automatic audience participation if you go and make the coffees in the book to go along with them. I, sadly, didn’t have the means to do this, but I want to, and I’m sure at some point I will completely botch them by making them myself. But in more ways than one, this book really opened up some new worlds and new cultures for me. It left me wanting more… and wanting coffee. There’s a lot of good stuff for the mind and palate here. I know I keep saying it, but the characters are very real, and that makes for a tale that I honestly think could happen, even with the fantastic elements involved. Who are we to say you can’t get to Neu Meidling? Maybe we just haven’t found it yet. THey are hiding, after all.

Would I Recommend This Book? Yes. Its plot is well-woven with a tight cast of characters who have more connections to one another than you would think, and it’s a great way to absorb some of that Viennese culture (for those of us who have never been there). On a scale of 1 to 5 stars, I give it a solid, caffeine-carrying 4. A few typos and a word or two that I think were meant to be something else (plot-centric and -specific terms) kept it from being a 4.5. But overall, this book is a good pick, especially if you’re the type to curl up with a good book and a hot drink.

For more on the author, visit For more on Wiener Blut and The Coffee Legacy, visit

Saturday, October 5, 2013

How to Survive NaNoWriMo

For those of you who don't know me well, I'm a bit of a fanatic of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month Since November is right around the corner, things are going to be a little different here on the blog. I've decided to bust out some NaNo-centric articles to help get you through the month and the challenge. So here's the first article: How To Survive NaNoWriMo.


It's October, and NaNoWriMo is coming. For those of you who don't know what NaNoWriMo is, here's a quick breakdown. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo- NaNo for short, because we don't have time for all these syllables) is a gateway drug for many writers. I've heard of dozens of people who got serious about writing thanks to NaNo, and it certainly was a great spur to action for me. I did my first NaNo in 2009, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

NaNo is a challenge to writers to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, during the month of November. People all over the world take on this challenge, and it is a huge worldwide online community that is broken down by regions. Many people in these regions get together for write-ins (more on these in another article) to help support one another in their endeavors to complete those 50,000 words.

This article is the first a series of NaNo articles, because there is just too much to talk about in one article. So since we're so close to starting NaNo, I'm going to give you a few tips and tricks to help you survive NaNo and hit 50,000 words. 

1. Prepare
I cannot stress this one enough. I used to be a pantser, someone who writes on the fly, but if you're trying to hit 50,000 words in a month (that averages 1,667 words a day) it can be hard to reach that goal if you don't have a map. Even the most basic outline can help. You don't have to be an overthinking, overprepared plotter like I am (see my article on The Outlining Process- This roadmap, even if it's just a list of a few bullet points for the main plot arc of your story, will be crucial in helping you move forward. For me, the more detail I have in my outline, the easier NaNo tends to be, but that's me. And you can ask those who have watched me work on my novel(s). I always have the outline right next to me... and the more I work on it, the more it gets marked up with additional notes and stuff. 

Personally, I suggest being prepared as early as possible, but I have been known to finish my outline as late as October 30, a bare two days before NaNo begins. I have found that having that outline done before NaNo begins gets me raring and impatient to write that son of a gun, so I'm counting down the minutes until November 1, and when NaNo officially starts, BOOM! Out of the gate!

2. Let Your Family and Friends Know What You're Doing
This step is still a preparation thing, and it's good to do this before NaNo starts. NaNo takes a lot of time and effort, and it can be difficult to concentrate on writing if you're constantly being interrupted. Let your family and friends know what's about to happen over the next 30 days. I'm not saying you need to become a complete recluse, because  these people love you, and they can actually be a great help in reaching your goal. Support is amazing, and these people can help keep you accountable. Sometimes, I need a kick in the pants to sit my butt down and write, and being asked, "Hey, where's your word count?" by a friend is always nice. Of course, when you tell them you're behind, then they get to boss you around and push you towards your chair/desk/laptop/whatever, and who doesn't like bossing others around? They can serve as motivators, or even to bounce ideas off of if you do get stuck despite your outline. Let them know what you're doing!

Similarly, they can help keep you alive and functioning during the month. Traditionally, I take November 1 off of work just because I can, and I have a personal writing marathon that day to get ahead (more on that in a few bullet points). But when I get into that zone, I forget physical necessities, such as life. My best friend, who has been around since before my first NaNo, has learned that I still need her despite turning into a recluse in November. Yes, do as I say, not as I do. I can go recluse, at least on that first day. On day 1 in particular, I usually get a text or call every two or three hours reminding me to eat and go to the bathroom. And yes... I do forget that stuff sometimes. I know some NaNo participants (called Wrimos- isn't that cute?) have families and friends who will agree to help with dinners or other things, just to give the writer more time to write. If you're lucky, your spouse or kids might be willing to do extra dishes or something for a month so you can focus on your novel.

Now there are the unfortunate few that really do not have a good support sytem at home, and I feel for you. It hurts when people you care about look at your writing and see nothing but a waste of time. You are NOT ALONE! Believe me, it is not a waste of time. It's worth the effort, and so are you. And if you are struggling to find support, even just people to commiserate with about how hard NaNo is, you have the entire Wrimo online community! We're all there for the same reason. No one is forcing us to do this. We do it because we love it, and we're happy to help you along the way. So get involved with your regional community, and hang out in the forums! There are conversations about every genre, agre bracket, and even just random chatting NOT about writing. You have support no matter what! If you feel like you can go it alone, power to you!

3. Get Involved with Your Region's Group Anyway
I am lucky to have great support in NaNo, especially from my close friends. Even so, they are not Wrimos (although I've been trying to get my best friend to do it for years), so sometimes I just want to talk to others who are taking on this challenge with me. The Nashville, TN group has weekly write-ins, a HUGE writing party/potluck toward the end of the month, and all kinds of other ways to get involved with other writers and help push you toward that goal. I'll talk more about write-ins and other tools like that in another article. The point here is that your region and your region's Municipal Liaison (ML) are there to help you reach your goal. You're missing out if you're not hanging with your local Wrimos!

4. Bank Words Early 
This is one thing I've watched a lot of Wrimo friends trip up on. To hit 50,000 words, you would need to write 1,667 words a day for 30 days. Doesn't seem to bad, right?

DON'T JUST TRY TO GET THAT WORD COUNT EVERY DAY AND THEN STOP! This is one of the biggest mistakes I've seen people make. No matter how many friends are making dinner for you, walking your dog, and doing other things for you, life will still happen. And oh, will it happen! Life will do everything it can to get in the way of your hitting 50K words, and it is no fun trying to play catch up with your word count. Not to mention you have THANKSGIVING (if you're American) right at the end of the month, and the food-induced coma that comes along with that holiday makes for a day when it's hard to write.

My advice is, as often as you can and as early as you can, get ahead. If you hit that 1,667 words on day 1 and you're still raring to go, KEEP GOING! Just because you've hit word count for the day doesn't mean you have to stop. Get an extra 200, 500, 1,000, or- if you're a huge overachiever like me- 10,000 words on day 1. And on day 2. And 3. Any day you find yourself plugging along at a good clip and you don't want to stop, take advantage of it. Because there are going to be days when you can hardly eke out 400 words, or you only manage 186 words, and you'll be glad that you got ahead. Let those days happen and move on. Get ahead and stay ahead. For me, that's the real key to NaNo.

5. Make Time 
I've written some blog posts on this topic... but they may not have been posted yet, so I want to briefly go over how to get those words in. We have hectic lives, and sometimes it seems like every minute has something important going on in it. But believe me, little spurts of time can add up. Waiting at the doctor's office, waiting to pick up your kids from school, lunch breaks, coffee breaks, and even- dare I say it- sitting on the toilet are prime writing times. Afraid to take your laptop with you into the bathroom, or just don't have your usual writing medium with you? Open an email to yourself in your smartphone and type into your phone. Send the email to yourself and copy/paste it into your full document later. Even just a couple sentences here and there can really add up. And take advantage of the large chunks of time you manage to get-- if the kids are napping or you wake up early before everyone else, or anything like that-- and ignore the distractions fo Facebook and I Can Has Cheezburger. WRITE!

Think about it. If you go to the bathroom four times a day, and you take 2 minutes of each of those potty breaks to whip out a couple sentences, that's 8 minutes of writing already! Have an hour lunch break? Even just 15 minutes of that will be a boon! If you happen to find 5 minutes a day six times a day, that's half an hour of writing time! That's just as good as sitting down for 30 minutes, and you didn't even know you had that time, did you? It's there! You just need to find it.

6. Write Every Day 
This one can be hard, because like I said, LIFE HAPPENS. Even if it's just a little bit, a few sentences, make a point of writing every day. With NaNo, every word matters, and each one will get you closer to that goal. Don't force things and write to a breaking point, but write something every day. Plot stuck? Do something unexpected: make a steel girder hit your character in the head and make him have a dream sequence. Throw in another character from chapter 1 you didn't think would ever come back into the scene, and make your characters react. Do SOMETHING! I'll actually be doing another post on writing tips for Wrimos soon, so keep an eye out for it, but the point here is just to make some words. Make more words!

7. Most Importantly- Keep Writing AFTER NaNo! 
A lot of people miss the real point of NaNoWriMo. It pains me every time I hear someone say, "I'm a writer!" and then, when asked what they're working on, they say, "Oh, I only write in November during NaNoWriMo!" I don't mean to be harsh, but you're not a writer; you're a NaNoWriMo participant. A writer actually writes during other parts of the year. I really do hate to sound mean, but it's true. The point of NaNo, on the surface, is to write 50K words in 30 days.

The real underlying point of NaNo, though, is to develop a habit of writing every day. Some people don't realize how much they can accomplish, and NaNo is a tool to help you see your potential. Every month doesn't need to be this hectic and draining, but you need to keep going afterwards. 50K is not a full novel, really, and you don't really have a finished novel after that. You have a first draft that's novella-sized. But it's an AMAZING starting point, and YOU DID IT! Now keep going! Don't just set it aside. Look at how much time you've found out you really have every day to write! Keep taking a few little bits every day, keep writing
that project or start a new one or whip out a short story, and keep your writing going. Let me reiterate. Don't feel like you have to keep up the NaNo pace. But keep up the writing itself.

So to sum up, it is very possible to survive November if you're a NaNoWriMo participant. This seems like a lot of information, and it is. It really is. And these tips might not actually work for you. I know there are a lot of other people who post articles like this. The NaNoWriMo site does a lot of pep talks and preparation programs to help get you ready to go and get you through the challenge. And other writers post their own maps to success. These are just my tips and tricks, the things that help me hit my 50K. Give NaNo a shot! You've got plenty of time to get ready!

Other resources:
The Official NaNoWriMo blog:
A couple specific articles from the NaNo blog that can help: How To Schedule Time for Writing

There are plenty of other articles out there, but these are a few I found that offer some different tips than my own. Everyone writes differently. Some of the tips these others discuss have never been issues for me, so they don't cross my mind. Search through, try some things, and most importantly, go write!