3 Things NaNoWriMo Gives You — "Win" OR "Lose"

This week, I thought I’d take a break from sharing convention notes to talk about my writing.* Specifically, what I’ve learned from National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) — both this year, and in previous years.

For those who are unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo is the pledge to write 50,000 words (or 200 pages) during the 30 days of November. This averages out to 1,666 words per day, or about 6 double-spaced pages.

Now, NaNoWriMo is clearly not for everyone. As with all things writer related, you should do what works best for you. But for a lot of people, it’s a great starting place.

If you’re new to my blog, I feel I should inform you that this was indeed, not my first rodeo. I’ve talked about my previous NaNoWriMos before. The first NaNo I won was in 2013, and I didn’t finish the novel itself until I hit 131,000 words that following August. I took that year off to revise. The following year, I was moving that month, and then I was back. Since 2016, I’ve attempted and won 4 more NaNoWriMos.

CONFESSION: NaNoWriMo is NOT my natural pace. For me, it involves a daily grind, prioritizing my writing over chores and social events, and fighting burn out. I know this. It’s always like this for me.

But? All 4 of my rough drafts, plus this year’s near TWENTY short stories were written as NaNoWriMo projects. It’s not sustainable… but it gets the job done — for me.

So. I’d like to talk about what has NaNoWriMo given me.

3 – Understanding Your Own Pace — And Limits

Some people are sprinters, some are slow-but-steady marathoners (me!), and others vary depending on the day.

By taking on the challenge, you learn:

  1. How fast you write
    Can you fit those 1666 words in before the clock strikes midnight?
  2. When you write best
    Are you an early morning writer? Sneaking it in on your lunch? Maybe on your commute — hopefully you’re not the driver. Do you pull late nights? Or perhaps, long weekend sessions where you make up the whole week’s word count goals?
  3. What you’re willing to give up for your writing
    For me, it’s chores and social time. For you? It’s all in what you say no to, and what you make sure to leave time for — besides your writing.
  4. What a reasonable pace looks like for you
    Maybe 250 words were the most you could write per day. Maybe you were averaging 3,000 words per day. You might even be one of those 10k on the weekends people.

By pushing yourself, you learn your limits — or you learned that you can do more than you ever dreamed.

2 – There’s A Writing Community For Everyone

NaNoWriMo has a website and very active forum. When you join, you’re encouraged to also join a ‘region’ based on actual geographic locations. Regions are run by “municipal liaisons”. Who run events.

Some regions are more active than others. Mine is very active. There were OFFICIAL, in-person write-ins at libraries, coffee shops, and diners 3-7 days a week. Not counting the unofficial ones, or the solo-writers.

On a chat program called Discord, we also could hang out virtually. Which is what I mostly did. Including writing sprints — challenges to see who can write the most words in the next 15 (or however many) minutes.

I’m also part of the #AuthorTube community. They had their own Discord chat, as well as Live-streaming write-ins. In which multiple Authortubers would video stream themselves writing, and others could ‘hang out’ on the stream’s chat with the streamers, conversing back and forth.

It let you know you weren’t in this alone. If you wanted company, it was out there for the taking. You could find other writers in your genre, style, what have you. It’s a priceless opportunity to both make friends and find potential beta readers/critique partners.

1 – Pride in my accomplishments

I’m not going to say “everyone’s a winner”, but if NaNoWriMo inspired you to write more words than you otherwise would have, you ended up ahead of where you would have been without it.

So many people achieve more during NaNoWriMo than they ever have before.

Besides. What do you win in a contest where claiming the winning certificate is entirely on the honor system?

All you win are bragging rights and some discounts on writing software. (And I seriously prefer gDocs over Scrivener anyway, so… shrugs).

Okay. Maybe there’s one kinda big thing.

There’s the satisfaction and pride at having set a goal, worked at it, and learned you can achieve it.

Not counting, of course, the community, the knowledge of your own pace, and an understanding of what you need to write.


Now What?

Now that November is over, what should you do next? Well, everyone has advice and here’s mine.

Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? If so, what has NaNoWriMo given you?


* Okay, let’s be honest here, my dayjob sent me on travel and I forgot my notebook, but hey. This is more timely anyway!

Authors and Social Media: Friends or Foe?

Authors get a lot of mixed advice when it comes to social media. Let’s talk about different author approaches and tips and tricks to make social media work for you. In this post, I’m combining notes from two panels.

From the titular panel, Francesca T. Barbini, Gareth Powell, and Georgina Kamsika discussed if social media was our friend… or our foe.

And in Social Media: Tips and Tricks, Brenda Noiseux, Stevie Finegan, Lydia Gittens, and Pablo Defendini shared their experience with us.

Top 3 Things To Know About Social Media

  1. Commit to the platform you’re most comfortable with
    • If you try to do them all — have a team
  2. Pay attention to what you’re looking for: connection or sales
  3. Be yourself. Be authentic.

Should You Have Separate Private and Public Accounts?

As I’ve mentioned before, and with all things writer-related: it depends.

If you have a business or family that you want to keep out of the public eye, it’s a good strategy.

Otherwise, it’s up to personal preference.

Some people don’t, some people can’t — their public life IS their private life, and some people… are glad to know where the split is.

You should look at your profile and see if what appeals to your current friends/followers is what appeals to the audience you want to build for your work. If they’re in alignment, you’re good. If not? You might want to consider a split.

Best Methods To Engage Others

  • Honesty
  • Offering help online
  • Feeding positivity
  • Twitter polls
  • Acting like it’s your own personal pub — and just chat with people
  • Quote and tag people who are talking about you!
  • Note: Things like #authorLifts (twitter hashtags, where you tag people and have a big follow loop thing) are going to find you writers — not readers. It’s a way to game your account. Most of the people on that hashtag are looking for followers, not friends. But! Many writers are also readers. Look to find your community and friends.

How Many Hashtags Should I Use?

On Instagram? Around 30

On Twitter? Around 3

On Tumblr? Only the 1st 5 show.

5 Tips To Make Twitter More Useful

  1. A tweet stays in a feed for 17 minutes on average. Tweeting every 2 hours (assuming you have something to share) is recommended. More before a big event to up your traction. People see more tweets from those they’ve interacted with recently.
  2. Pin a tweet with your intro/link to your latest book
  3. When you have more than 1000 followers, you’ll need to start making twitter lists to keep track of groups.
    • Suggested lists: Close friends, worklist, local emergency feeds, mentors (people you look up to), BookTwitter, Etc
  4. Curate your list. You don’t have to follow people who don’t interest you, who you don’t think will be interested in your product, your book, your blog. Don’t hesitate to block someone who is trolling you or thinks twitter is a dating site.
  5. NOTE: people don’t know if you’ve muted them. So, if you don’t want to hear them, but don’t want to offend them, this might be the way to go.

3 Facebook Tips

  1. Facebook Ads are more effective than boosts — but pick your target demographic carefully.
  2. Personal pages currently have better reach than author pages, even if you reach the friend limit, people can still follow you.
  3. Facebook is actively throttling crossposts – especially to Patreon or WordPress – it might be best to put the link in the first comment.

7 Newsletter Tips

[If you’ve been following, you might know I both hate email AND have an email newsletter. Some of you are reading this FROM your email!]

A mailing list is something that you own. If Facebook shuts down tomorrow, you could still get your content and news to these followers. ListServes, Myspace, even G+ are gone. Internet communities are never guaranteed.

  1. Email can be time-consuming but can be very rewarding
  2. Try not to send news more than once a month or quarter
  3. Email viewers skew to an older demographic
  4. Mailchimp is highly recommended [Note: that’s what I use!]
  5. Make sure you don’t use words like “freebies” in the title or the email system might dub you ‘spam’
  6. If you send too many emails yourself, the email system might dub you ‘spam’
  7. If you send them out yourself, DO use “BCC” (blind carbon copy), so none of the readers can see the other email addresses — or “Reply All” to them.

3 Snapchat Tips

It’s a way to connect, but not necessarily sell to your target audience. In case you are unfamiliar, it’s a chat program that’s mostly used to share pictures with filters and maybe added text. You can chat back and forth with individuals, spend a single snap to a group of people, or share it publicly as a ‘story’. A story will disappear after it’s been watched.

  1. Younger demographic
  2. Can’t schedule
  3. Stories can reach all of your followers

Stats To Watch

When you start doing social media, there are dozens of numbers for every site you’re working on. Analytics Pages – both for Facebook and Twitter, Youtube has one as well.

  1. Demographics – Currently, facebook is the older audience, instagram/snapchat are younger.
  2. Likes/Click Rates – see which types of posts do better and if there is a timing component. Try different things and see what resonates best with your audience.

Social Media Tools

There are tons of tools for social media. Everyone, from solo artists to corporations are using them.

A few hints on using tools.

  • If you’re going to schedule your social media, you should still comment and interact outside of the scheduled posts.
  • Remember to consider time zones and viewing habits for different platforms.
  • Try to sound just as personal and authentic in the scheduled tweets as you would if you where live posting.

Tools to try

  • TweetDeck – It’s a browser tool, not an app, but you can watch multiple feeds at a time, or a feed based on a single hashtag that’s trending. You can also use it to schedule tweets (like during twitter pitch contests) [I use on occasion.]
  • Unfollow tools are handy
    • Many people follow you, then unfollow as soon as you follow back to boost their own “follower-to-unfollowers” ratio. Making themselves look more popular. They’re users who forget you within a week. Feel free to unfriend them.
  • Hootsuite – great for cross-platform scheduling
  • Picmonkey – photo editing
  • Trello – project management tool [I’ve been trying this intermittently. Mostly when I’m juggling several projects.]
  • Slack – Chat website/app that can share files. Good if you’re coordinating a team
  • Falcon.io – Costs money but is very handy for a campaign
  • Canva – lots of free stock pics (and premium paid ones) [I use for my preview pics]
  • Facebook Groups have scheduling, as do Pages — but pages just made it an annoying option to access that’s easier done on the PC than the phone.
  • Old school – a folder with a bunch of pics, or a list of tweets to share later

4 Ways Social Media is Bad For Authors

Now, before we decide if social media is the answer, let’s acknowledge the downsides.

  1. It’s a huge time sink
  2. It’s so active, your feed is rarely still
  3. When you’re not feeling social — it’s draining. For extroverts, you might find yourself not wanting to go out
  4. You’ll find yourself comparing your progress to other writers’ successes. And that can be very discouraging

Should Authors Do Social Media?

If you don’t want to, don’t. The resentment of being forced to do it will bleed through and you won’t come across as genuine.

It can be a useful way to get to know editors and agents in the field. But remember this is a small field, everyone knows everyone, so be careful who you offend.

If you do, “Look after your name, and your name will become your currency.” Your brand IS your name when you’re a writer. Everything you do will reflect on you. Tweets from 10 years ago regularly come up in the news.

Debate if you want to politicize your career. Many people do. Many people avoid it like the plague. Decide if making a political stand is the right choice for you — and the choice you can live with.

If someone upsets you, and you have thousands of followers, be careful what you say. You don’t want to abuse your power and have all of your followers descend upon some small-time person with maybe 20 followers. You won’t come out clean — you’ll look like a bully.

Are you the type of poster/tweeter who shares rants? Or well-researched articles? Or both?

Only you can decide where you spend your time and energy. And what sort of image you choose to share.


Let me know what your favorite social media platform is and what tools you like!

Let me know if there’s anything I missed! Even with two panels, there was only so much we could cover!

Picking an Agent (or #PW Mentor) To Query

Whether you’re querying PitchWars mentors tomorrow or literary agents on Friday, it’s best to do your homework first. Querying an agent (or mentor) simply because they represent your genre is the bare minimum to not get thrown into the trash in 0.005 seconds.

I know it’s hard to pick — and harder yet not to get emotionally invested in a person who knows nothing about you.

I’ve talked a lot about picking agents and my own pitchWars experiences. From querying agents and mentors, here’s a list of my biggest tips.

2 Things NOT To Do To An Agent/Mentor

  1. Do Not Stalk Them.

    As I’ve mentioned before, do not stalk agents or mentors. Do not go through their facebook/instagram feed and like everything they’ve posted for the last five years, scour their photos to find out their favorite foods, their friends, vacation places. Don’t Do It.
  2. Do Not Rules Lawyer Their “No Thanks” Lists

    Some agents or mentors mention things they want A, B, and C. But never Z. And you have A, B, C, and Z. They’d be perfect except for that last thing!

    I can promise you, they do not want you messaging them asking if off-screen Z counts. Or, yes, they have Z, but it’s not that explicit.

    Imagine saying you hate dogs and then your inbox gets flooded with dog pictures asking if this one is allowed because of whatever excuse. You’re now flooding them with exactly what they asked NOT to get.

5 Things To Help You Select An Agent/Mentor

  1. Read their wish lists
    – on their bios
    – profiles
    – on #mswl/www.manuscriptwishlist.com
  2. Read their don’t want lists
    – Then REMOVE from your list of agents/mentors to query if you have a match. No matter what.
  3. Read their twitter feed
    – see if their personality seems like a good fit
  4. Examine their bio
    – see what sort of agent/mentor they are (editorial/big picture/etc)
    – what experience they have
    – what sort of publishing experience/connections they have
    REMEMBER – This is a two way process. It’s not just “do I have what they’re looking for”, it’s also, “do they have what I’m looking for”.
  5. Check out their list of favorite books
    – if those books would be a great comp for your novel, or are evocative of your tone? That’s pretty promising!

Querying is scary and intimidating. It can be easy to stall by doing your research… FOREVER. But, eventually, you have to query or move on.

All you can do is your best. Then, it’s out of your hands.

Best of luck to all of you out there in the querying trenches — with agents or PitchWars!


Let me know what you’re querying!
Let me know if you’re a pitchWars hopeful.

And link your social media below. I love connecting with other querying (and beyond!) writers.

Making the Asexual Textual

Some people are sexually attracted to the opposite gender, some are attracted to the same gender, while others are attracted to more than one gender, and yet others are only sexually attracted under specific circumstances?

But, not all people are sexually attracted to someone. Those people? Identify as asexual.

Especially in Western culture, so many of our stories — be they folktales of yore, current tv shows, books, or movies — center around the main character’s relationship. Even if it’s not the main plot point.

For asexual people, they’ve had to read-between-the-lines to look for characters that represent them.

Is this character asexual? Or did the story just not cover a period of their life where they were in a relationship.

Is that character sexual? Or are they in a consensual sex-free romantic relationship?

At the titular panel, at WorldCon 77, Wendy Metcalfe, Darcie Little Badger, Dr. Edmund Schleussel, and Jasmine Gower discussed ways to make the asexual textual, without making it feel forced.

3 Reasons Not Making the Asexual Textual is a Problem

  1. There is already a sparsity of asexual representation
  2. Readers will project on the asexual characters and make assumptions
  3. Many readers enjoy ‘shipping characters, and will mentally pair them up, or insist that there’s subtext
    • Shipping characters – Shipping is short for ‘relationship”, it’s when readers (and/or fanfic writers) decide they think two (or more characters) should be in a relationship.

      Fanfic – is fiction written by fans about the characters from tv/movies/books that they want to see. Unofficial spin-offs. Like Paradise Lost is Biblical fanfic.

      In fanfiction circles, “slash fiction” originated as stories pairing character A – slash – character B. A lot of the derivative stories have been traditionally homosexual pairings, but not always. And some of them, explicit erotica.

4 Approaches Making Asexual Characters Textual

  1. Avoid the terms, but make it obvious in the plot
  2. Make up terms in your story to represent asexual — or the reverse. Why not make a story where asexual is the default, and everything else must be defined?
  3. Slip in the term
    • Worries it will feel dated
  4. Have it as a small detail in a larger descriptive sentence

4 Overdone Asexual Tropes To Avoid

  1. Having them focus on how their asexuality makes them weird or different. Asexual people typically don’t dwell on their lack of sexuality during their normal day-to-day lives.
    • Morgan question: What about thinking about how sexuality makes everyone ELSE weird?
  2. Naivety – not understanding what sex is
  3. Being repulsed by sex
  4. Making the asexual character alien, or a robot, or inhumane in some way (very often Death itself).
  5. Non-heterosexual characters being used as code for a ‘bad person’

How Being Asexual Affects A Person’s Life

  1. No co-dependencies. Living alone is expensive and is easier with a profession.
  2. Seen as naive or “just haven’t met the right person”
  3. People trying to pair you up.
  4. Seen as ‘frigid’ or ‘sexually dysfunctional’

Asexual people are normal people. They’ve always been out there.

For those looking for asexual stories:

  • Anything from the LessThan3Press (recently defunct)
  • Lesbian Reviews
  • Ancillary Justice (Anne Leckie)
  • Star Maker (Olaf Stapledon)

I’m not asexual. Let me know if I got anything wrong. Let me know if you have any suggestions for others trying to include asexual characters in their worlds.

Thank you for reading.

Dynamic Voice Acting

Whether you’re thinking about a podcast, joining #AuthorTube, or just wanting to wow the audience when you read an excerpt from your own writing aloud to an audience, being a dynamic voice actor has a lot of benefits — for writers and creators of other forms of media.

In the titular panel, August “Gus” Grappin, Starla Huchton, Tee Morris, and Veronica Giguere, with Erin Kazmark moderating, shared tips to help you rock the voice acting world.

How IS Voice Acting Different Than Just Acting?

Of course, voice acting is a form of acting. But, when most people think of “actors”, they think of people on stage, television, or film. Without others to interact with, voice acting is a whole other ballgame.

  1. Without an audience, there is no feedback
    • Those who feed off the audience find this a detriment
    • Those who the audience makes anxious, find themselves better able to relax and get into character
  2. Theater is a team sport, unlike most voice acting
    • In theater, a good actor can bring you up, a bad one can kill the scene
    • In voice acting, you’re typically recording in a room by yourself and you have to trust the others to bring their A-game
  3. It’s hard to match the energy, when you’re not all recording together
  4. For audiobooks – it can be challenging to get feedback or direction from the author.
  5. You have to use a microphone!

4 Tips To Keep The Narrative Itself Dynamic

Characters lend themselves to different voices, based on age, gender, and energy level. Narrators can be trickier. Third person narrators are almost an eye-in-the-sky, while differentiating a first-person narration from the character’s dialogue offers a few challenges.

  1. Find a ‘character’ for the narrator. With good writing, the setting itself is a character and lends itself to a certain tone.
  2. “Make a meal of your words,” says Phil Rossi. Linger on the words, with the exploration of the world coming through with your tone.
  3. Think of the ‘narrator’ as ‘the storyteller’. Not someone reciting the words but someone telling the story to a fascinated audience.
  4. In that vein — try to imagine that you’re talking to an actual person. A friend that you don’t want to bore (or roll their eyes).

7 Ways To Make Characters POP

When you are trying to differentiate in your voice between different characters, it can be easy to fall into cliches — be it a shrill woman, a thick-accented foreigner, or a slow, low male voice. And wild characters can be hard to understand.

Luckily, there are some tricks that can help.

  1. Moving or changing posture between characters.
  2. Giving a character a physical tic — twirling hair, glaring, talking out of the side of their mouth
  3. Being careful not to mumble or speed up during action scenes
  4. Pay attention to your use of breath and pauses. They can be dynamic but, don’t “Shatner” or you’ll “Shat all over your audience.” (thank you, Tee)
  5. Pay attention to the character’s attitude — don’t make the focus of your delivery be on their gender
  6. If your voice is naturally feminine, hardening your delivery, even without lowering your voice can help
  7. As the narrator, hold the tension. Let them relive the experience as you bring the listener along for the ride.
    • I have a horrible habit of rushing jokes because I can’t wait to share the punch line. You don’t want to drag it out, but you want the audience to get there at a natural pace, not rush them, nor drag it out.

Reading aloud, be it for a animated show, podcast, or live audience can be nerve-wracking. But, if you’re dynamic, your audience should enjoy themselves.


Were there any tips you know that the panelists didn’t get a chance to mention? Are there things you enjoy in your audio dramas that you’d love to see more of? Or things you keep seeing that you HATE?
Let me know!

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back again next week with even more panel notes from #Balticon53. Because I’ve got a book of notes here.