to NaNo or not to NaNo… that’s not really the question

As November looms, many people find themselves squinting tiredly at their schedules and thinking, do I really have time to write 50,000 words? Can I do it without neglecting my other responsibilities?

Some of you have full-time jobs, plus commitments to friends and family. Others, like me, are students whose academic work certainly feels like a full-time job. None of us can afford to slack off on those responsibilities, especially for the sake of a novel you might never publish.

But if you want to write, you do have to commit. You should be writing all the time — maybe not every single day, but certainly not one month out of the whole year.

So the question isn’t really, “Should I participate in NaNo this year?”

It’s, “How much should I participate?”

Realistically, not everyone can pump out 50k words in the busy month of November. That’s okay; don’t feel pressured to neglect the rest of your life for this. But not being able to write 50k doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate at all. Set a lower, more manageable goal, whether it’s 1k, 10k, or 30k. This means you can’t “win” NaNo, but the real point is to make writing a regular part of your life for a month — if you manage that, that’s all the victory you need.

If you’re even thinking of NaNo-ing, then you should. Don’t let the desire to win blind you to what’s really important — to write. Just to write. 

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carrying on: pet project angst, entry #1

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 2.38.29 PMPictured: my one and only writing buddy. What would I do without you?

I’ve been writing this novel on and off for the last three years, and I’m very close to being done with the first complete draft. On different occasions, I’ve gotten halfway or 3/4 of the way through it, only to stop, change everything, and start again. (Whether or not I count those rewrites as “drafts” changes day to day, depending on my mood.)

Now that I’m here, I’m plagued by the same doubts other writers face: What if it’s not good enough? What if the problems and plot holes are unfixable? How do I turn the vision in my head into a reality on paper, especially when the draft I’ve produced looks so very different from the story I want it to be?

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A (Personal) Guide to Short Story Writing

For us long-winded, self-indulgent writer types, the art of producing short stories can be just as tricky as churning out a 100k novel draft. And short story writing is an art. I’ve spent a big chunk of time this summer trying to hone this skill, and these are the unofficial guidelines I’ve come up with – mostly for myself, but they might be useful to others, too. Under the cut, I’ll elaborate on each point and recommend stories I’ve read that are especially good examples of the craft.

(My recommendations will be sci-fi and fantasy, since that’s what I read. Some are Nebula Award winners and some just have a lot of notes on Tumblr. They’ll also be stories that are not commonly taught in English class, because, sorry, but “Hills Like White Elephants” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” turned me off of short stories for years, until I started finding the enjoyable stuff.)

The Five Short Story Commandments:

  1. No matter how short, a story needs a beginning, middle, and end
  2. Lead up to a revelation or realization
  3. Focus on the details, not the big picture
  4. Start in the middle of the action…
  5. …But don’t show all your cards right away

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