Weekend Edition – NaNoWriNOPE plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

NaNoWriMo – Maybe Next Year

I don't mind adventure on the road, but I like to know where (I think) I'm going.

I don’t mind adventure on the road, but I like to know where (I think) I’m going.

I think 2009 was my first NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. You know, the month of story-driven insanity where intrepid writers try to get 50,000 words out in thirty days. Today at the stroke of midnight, thousands of people sat down to keyboards, laptops, and notebooks and began to chip away at the word count. It’s an experience that is both exhilarating and exhausting. The camaraderie is contagious. Some might say it’s because misery loves company, but I think it’s more that insanity is better shared.

Whether or not to participate in NaNoWriMo is a decision that plagues many writers this time of year. Despite being up to my eyeballs with copywriting deadlines and already overextended with a (fabulous) writing class at Grub Street, I was still tempted. There is something heroic about joining this crusade against the blank page. There is something comforting about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all those other literary legions, valiantly marching towards victory, one word at a time.

But, at the end of the day, I passed on NaNoWriMo this year for the same reason that I reluctantly turned my back on the writing frenzy in 2012: Larry Brooks. I explained my justification for bailing on this literary tradition in the post NaNoWriMo #fail – I Blame You, Larry Brooks. The short version is that I found myself unprepared (as in no outline) and unable to stomach the idea of writing 50,000 without a plan. Once upon a time, I might have just forged ahead anyway. I did, actually, in 2009, write 50,000 words with nary a storyline in sight. I embraced the No Plot, No Problem! spirit of the event 150%.

But, as I’ve learned more about story structure, characterization, context, etc., I find that – for better or worse – I only want to tackle a story if I’ve had the time to get a plan in place. Even for a short story, like the assignment I’m working on today for class, I need to have a roadmap. I don’t need to have every nitty-gritty detail lined up like so many tasks on a To Do list, but I do need a strong understanding of my characters, themes, and a general idea of how (I think) the story is going to develop. It’s okay if things evolve in new directions while I’m working, but I need that starting foundation before I can settle in to crafting actual sentences.

Am I just making excuses? I don’t think so, but I can understand why you might ask the question. At some point, the planning has to stop and the writing must commence. I get that. But, I’ve always found that the writing part goes much more smoothly if I’ve taken the time to do the prep work. Whether I’m writing a blog post, a column, a website, or a business ebook, the writing is much easier if I’ve put the effort into developing solid outlines that address everything from my topic to my theme, consider my audience, and even start to lay out creative elements like structure, presentation, etc.

But, maybe that’s just me.

What’s your take? Planner or Panster? NaNoWriMo Forever or NaNoWriNope?


What I’m Writing:

practical sandra

Smile, even when things may not go as you’d planned.

Last Tuesday, my fellow students and Grub Street instructor workshopped my “homework submission” for the Fiction I class I’m taking. I was a little nervous. After all, although I knew everyone would be kind, it’s never easy to be on the hot seat, or – as it’s called in class – “in the box.” On the other hand, there is something undeniably thrilling about having someone read your work. You feel naked, but you also feel heard. I knew that all the flaws and faux pas of my writing were there on the page, but it was worth it to have readers join me inside the world of my story.

I spent some more time last week and this working on further developing the idea and outline for the short story I’m hoping to submit for next Tuesday’s class. Once again, I had set a big, juicy block of writing time aside. That mini writing retreat was scheduled to begin a few minutes ago, but after a Norman Rockwell-worthy Halloween with my daughter, I got a bit of a late start on this post. And, I just learned moments ago that my daughter’s dad has decided to pick her up later than expected. A lot later.

So, once again, my writing window has shrunk down to the size of a porthole.

In the past, I would have railed against this development. I would have slid quickly from disappointed to angry to bitter. I would have written a slightly whiny post about how hard I was fighting for my writing life, and the whole world seemed hell bent on stopping me. In short, I would have pouted.

Not any more. It’s a cold, gray day-after-Halloween. I am just about to curl on on the sofa with my daughter and watch Practical Magic – one of my all-time favorite movies with her for the first time. And, you know what? I’m not just good with that. I’m delighted. Sure, it will curtail my writing for the day, but as important as writing is to me, life is more important. Life is, after all, what fuels the writing. Life is what makes the writing worthwhile.


What I’m Reading:

miniature booksAs you might imagine, I didn’t have a ton of time for reading this week, but what I did enjoy were a few short stories and essays. I’m beginning to develop quite an affinity for short form fiction. I’m even starting to get an itch to play around with flash fiction a bit.

In addition to reading the workshop submissions from two fellow students in class (submissions which were, by the way, excellent and so much fun!), I also read a wonderful essay by Jamie Passaro on Full Grown People, and a couple of appropriately spooky 19th century tales by Elia W. Peattie from Short Story Thursdays – The Room of Evil Thoughts and A Child of the Rain.

Though these pieces were short, they were fulfilling. They didn’t provide any sense of closure, something I usually like in a story. Instead, they raised questions and curiosity. They made me wonder what else might have happened. They reached into my writer’s mind and spun the wheels about a bit. That’s a good thing.


And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:


Finally, a quote for the week:

pin happy let go

Smile and enjoy your day, even if it doesn’t go as you’d planned. Write, read, live. 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Hourglass Photo Credit: chiaralily via Compfight cc
Country Road Photo Credit: fatboyke (Luc) via Compfight cc
Miniature Books Photo Credit: lamont_cranston via Compfight cc

33 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – NaNoWriNOPE plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

  1. I think you made the smart choice. Why waste a month writing toward a plot you haven’t finalized when you can spend any month of the year writing something you’ve planned. There’s something to be said for unstructured writing exercises, but you don’t need thirty days of them. Not in my opinion! 🙂

    • Hello, Kelly. I agree. I LOVE free writing and do plenty of that type of practice with my morning pages, but when it comes to crafting a story, I put the emphasis on “craft” and really want to take my time and put things together piece by piece. Speed writing just to hit an arbitrary word count isn’t my “thing.”

      Plus, like you said, you can run you’re own NaNoWriMo any time! 🙂 Great idea!

  2. Hi Jamie.

    I can’t believe how engaged I am in your class. I don’t know how you did it, but you hooked me.

    I wonder if it will be a quiet month while all those pansters are off NaNo’ing? I blame both Larry Brooks and Blake Snyder. Plus, I now have an entire bookshelf of books telling me to plan, plan, plan. While, by the way, I’m doing while my first draft is curing. I hope to take it out after the first of the year.

    The blog on chemicals was, actually, a little scary. Can you imagine what Google and Amazon will do with that? Ha.


    • HA! Glad you’re hooked, Silent. 🙂

      Blake Snyder? Ahhh .., “Save the Cat.” I’ve been meaning to read that. Is it good?

      The blog on chemicals was a little scary, but also very interesting. It’s kind of cool to know just how hardwired we are for story … even if that knowledge can give some unsavory types the edge on “hacking” us. All the more reason to get super plugged in to why stories work … not only so we can write them, but also so we can tell when we’re being played by a story.

      Always nice to see you!

      • Blake Snyder was my first how-to-write-books book, so it is special. Larry Brooks is more comprehensive. But Snyder’s beats are legendary. I like it as a quick review on things. Silent

  3. I did Nano last year and “pants” it. It was a ball, and turned out amazingly well, but I had been thinking about the story for awhile. Not doing this year, because I have 20 articles to write for a blog copy job, but I’m thinking of staging my own when they’re done, and doing the sequel in on of those crazy two week things. Peace to you Jamie, off to check out all your cool links.

    • Hello, Abby.
      Nice to “see” you again.

      I had fun the year I pantsed NaNoWriMo, too. Being a bit too Type-A sometimes, I found it to be an excellent exercise in “letting it all hang out.” Without any expectation of having something usable at the end, I could just riff to my heart’s delight. Nothing had to make sense. I think my cast of characters changed several times, names were rather transitory, and the storyline meandered from urban fantasy to young adult to scifi and back again.

      The funny thing is, some of the characters that appeared in that hot mess of a first draft have stuck with me and may very well wind up in stories of their own someday. In fact, one has inspired an idea for another whole novel … in a very different genre and style.

      Hope you enjoy the links. Sending peace back your way! 🙂

  4. NaNoWriMo Maybe 🙂

    “Whether I’m writing a blog post, a column, a website, or a business ebook, the writing is much easier if I’ve put the effort into developing solid outlines that address everything from my topic to my theme, consider my audience, and even start to lay out creative elements like structure, presentation, etc.”

    I very much agree to this. Though I am not a professional author(yet) 🙂 (dream big right?) whatever I decide to undertake, I don’t do an half-a$$ed job (pardon the french) and I second the motion on how important life is. In fact, nothing is more important than life itself.

    • Exactly. Half-a$$ed never does the trick. 😉
      Hope you had a lovely weekend and got to enjoy life to the fullest.

  5. Flexibility is everything in this life, isn’t it? I discovered this week that I had entirely forgotten to play and rest – for months. Damn, it was making me cranky as hell. It’s so important for me to do things that are not productive or purposeful. So, on Tuesday, normally my sacred writing day, I didn’t write. I read a novel and watched the new series of Downton Abbey. 😊 . Now, I’m rested, excited about more fun things I’ve got planned – and I can’t wait to get stuck back into writing. Balance 😊. Have a lovely week Jamie.

    • I”m right with you & have a couple weeks to go before I reach the light at the end of this particular work tunnel. Your day of small indulgences sounds absolutely divine. That’s EXACTLY what I need – activity with NO purpose or agenda. My days are scheduled down to each quarter hour. I would like nothing more than a day with NOTHING to do. I imagine I’d be hard pressed to figure out what to do with myself for a while, but I’m pretty sure I’d find something! 😉
      Glad you got your rest and play. Here’s to more of that. Soon.

  6. I think you are wise to understand what works best for you and stick to that course even amidst tempations to stray. Your writing smacks of orgsnization and coherence all while flowing like a steady stream. Easy to read while urging us to keep reading. To accept a month’s challenge when you know it will throw you offcourse is sometimes … well nuts!

    And kudos for adjusting the unexpected to more special time with your daughter..those are moments you can’t do over once they’re gone so why waste them bring sngry or frustrated?

    I am thoroughly enjoying your weekly recommendations for reads and blogposts.

    • Thanks for the friendly support, Sammy. 🙂
      Figuring out what works best for us and sticking to it even amidst the constant chorus of “best practices,” IS so important. I used to feel guilty about not doing all the “smart” things other people were doing, but now I’ve realized that following my own process always turns out better.

      And – yes! – those moments can’t be brought back or done over. We had a lovely time watching the movie all snuggled on the couch. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

      Thanks for being here. Glad you’re enjoying the post recommendations.

  7. Thanks! This is my first attempt at the great NaNoWriMo experience and I am finding it relatively easy or not as difficult as it could have been without having written chapter outlines. couldn’t begin to imagine writing so much every day without a plan. So no. you are just not making excuses.

    • Thanks for enabling me. 😉
      But, seriously, I think having a plan makes it SO much easier to gain the momentum you need to finish NaNoWriMo.
      I hope you enjoy your virgin adventure through NaNoWriMo insanity. Though I’m not participating this year, I had a ton of fun when I did it and look forward to doing it again one of these years.

  8. I’ve always felt NaNoWriMo teaches the value of routine and achievement. If you stick to a routine like a daily wordcount goal, then you can achieve a lot of work in a short time. What do successful writers often say? To write, you must be hard at work, whether inspired or not.

    Unless you’re a master (and even then…) most writers’ first drafts are them telling themselves the story, and it has to be edited heavily anyway. I personally feel the craft of writing is mostly in the editing, not in the original writing (unless you agonise over every sentence from the very beginning… a technique that would make writing a very slow, tedious process). A quote I hear often: “You can’t edit a blank page.” NaNoWriMo’s objective is to take away those blank pages with a lot of support because it’s easier to give up than to keep going.

    Well done to those who don’t need NaNoWriMo to help them get going… but don’t forget the good it does even if you don’t personally need it anymore (or if you never did).

    • I completely agree that NaNoWriMo delivers a lot of value in terms of establishing good writing habits like a consistent practice, learning to love your sh!##y first draft, and gaining inspiration and support from your fellow writers. I’m a huge fan of the organization and the event.

      It’s just not for me this year.

      And I certainly didn’t mean to indicate that I don’t need to write a crappy first draft or sometimes need a cattle prod to get myself to the keyboard. It’s just that I’ve learned from personal experience that, for me, time spent writing without a plan may not be wasted, but could definitely be better spent.

      Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Love to hear more about your experience.

      • Thanks for replying! I also agree NaNoWriMo is not for everyone all of the time. You didn’t imply you were against the idea of NaNoWriMo, it sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate at the moment and that you don’t need the hype/support of NaNo to get writing.

        Personally I used to be a “pantser” (until about three years ago when I started learning about the craft and began to plot carefully rather than winging it) With Pantsing, I had story arcs in my head that I would just think about for a while and then write. It was a technique that worked for me as long as I didn’t care about finishing the story.I would write all the way to where I felt the story needed to turn and then it got too hard to figure out how, why and where and so I would move on to the next shiny idea.

        My first attempt at NaNoWriMo was in 2013 and stupidly, I decided it should be a “pure” experience, of just writing without any plots. It did prove to me with a bunch of hype and loads of support & pep-talks in the form of articles, that if I stuck to the project, I could finish it. I ended up finishing that novel late December, so NaNo lit the fire. I’ve decided since that Pantsing is not a “purer” method of writing than Plotting. How did that silly thought get into my brain in the first place?

        Now I write every day (*cough-mostly-cough*), and it was NaNo that got me going. I had the perfect storm last year, and since entering Camp NaNo, and this year’s NaNo, I realise I don’t really need them either… but they do help. Deadlines help me incredibly, but much like you, I probably wouldn’t enter another NaNoWriMo without a fully established plan.

        Sorry for the lengthy comment 😉

      • First of all, don’t apologize for a lengthy comment. I love hearing all that backstory and detail! 🙂

        My first (and, so far, only) NaNoWriMo was also done with “pure” intent and no plan at all. I had a couple vague ideas about characters and a rough sense of what genre it would be, but that was about it. So, I didn’t end up with anything workable, BUT what I did come away with was knowing I could crank out 50,000 words in 30 days. (I never would have believed it if I hadn’t done it.) It was also a really valuable exercise in kicking my usually very loud and overbearing inner critic to the curb. Gagged and bound. 😉

        Oh – and also, some of the characters that automagically appeared to “play” in that mash-up of a “novel” have actually stuck around in my head and will, I’m pretty sure, appear in stories of their own in the future. So, that’s pretty interesting.

        Finally, thank you so much for bringing up the mistaken idea of “pansting” being somehow more “pure” or “artistic.” I opened up that exact conversation at class this week because it’s a conflict that has always hovered over my head. Being so into structure and planning, I have always felt a little like I’m “less” of a writer or less creative somehow. But that’s totally not the case. I liked the way the class teacher explained the difference – plotters/planners are like architects and pansters are more like gardeners. I also think that there’s a hybrid approach that starts with the architecture but allows for some creative landscaping. 😉

        Now I’M the one with the long comment!
        Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Hope to see you around the blog again soon.

  9. Voluptuous article. Writing, real writing requires plan. It is like a lawyer’s work; it must be chronological, logical and convincing. Anything less is gibberish, as my old dad would say. Nanowrimo is good though. It is a sterling American brand that I delight in: it celebrates the industry and creativity that makes our nation great. Thanks again for the article. The Room of Evil Thoughts and A Child of the Rain. Whew. That’s quite a read. Could I borrow. Smiles

    • “Delight” is the perfect word to apply to NaNoWriMo. It IS delightful on so many levels. And it’s also very celebratory, too. (Great points.) NaNoWriMo is kind of like a world party of writing. 🙂

      I agree that good writing takes a plan (and lots of rewrites and editing), but I’m just learning that it definitely doesn’t have to be chronological or logical. (My writing class this week was about structure, including non-traditional structures. Mind blown. Just a little bit. But, that’s a story for another day!)

      Thanks so much for coming by. And for using the word “voluptuous.” I feel quite glamorous now.

  10. Maybe I’ll get an idea from just living with my daughter, not now but before she was grown. I just got that idea reading this. Thank you. You mentioned spending time with your daughter. A story might come from that.

    • Oh, lovely. SO many stories come to us through our children and the experience of becoming (and being) a parent. And my daughter inspires me each and every day with her imagination and spirit. I hope yours does, too. 🙂

  11. I love your reminder here that life is what fuels our writing. I am not a full-time writer at this point, and sometimes wish I were. Then I think about the inspiration that comes from being out in the world, doing other work. It also makes me appreciate my writing time a bit more, and be that much more productive when I sit down to write!

    • I agree. We talked a little bit in this week’s writing class about the (sadly) slim chance anyone has of becoming a published, self-supporting writer. But, when I really thought about it, I’m not sure if I would want to be a novelist full-time. I wonder how that switch from “aspiring author” to “working author” changes the dynamic in your head.
      … more on this later.
      Thanks for coming by, Cece!

      • I have often thought about this too. I don’t know if I could handle the isolation and financial instability of full-time writing, but I would love to have the opportunity to try it for a couple months. I like the ideas that spring up in my head while I am out doing all my other daily things! Looking forward to your next Weekend Edition!

  12. Pingback: Weekend Edition – The Dichotomy of You Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips | Live to Write - Write to Live

  13. Pingback: Weekend Edition – To NaNoWriMo or Not, That Is the Question | Live to Write – Write to Live

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