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When the World Ends: Or, I Need a New Computer

public-domain-tombstoneThe Death of My Dell

(To skip to the “best laptops for writers” information, scroll to the end.)

It was the 2015-2016 academic year.

I was finishing my MFA program (no biggie), launching a platform, winning NaNoWriMo, writing my thesis, planning and organizing a remodel/addition project in the SF Bay Area (from Maryland), dealing with having four kids grades 6-10 in school for the time in their lives (with very mixed results), endeavoring to submit work on a regular basis, AND working at a job I do not love for what was supposed to be dwindling hours but turned out to be ever-increasing hours.

I was also trying to get a handle on my daughter’s serious and chronic genetic health disorder, finding out the same daughter might also have epilepsy (no firm answer – she’s on watch), suffering from an awful and seemingly endless bout of carpal tunnel (in both wrists, of course), trying to sell a house in an area where houses can sit for years, dealing with packing and a cross-country move, volunteering as a Board member of the library, freelance editing and critiquing  …. The list is almost as long as it seemed like my bout with carpal tunnel was (and sadly is – it’s back). I’ve blocked out the rest.

You get the idea – it was a little busy.public-domain-red-wine

One afternoon, to relax, my husband and I decided to take our work to the screened-in porch. It was a Sunday, a gorgeous fall day, and after researching and making yet another decision on the new house project, we decided to enjoy a glass of red wine while browsing online at various home hardware options. I believe doorknobs were next on the list that day.

My husband brought out our favorite red, poured me a lovely glass, and passed it over to me where I lounged on our patio couch. Then, as only someone with carpal tunnel can do, I lost hold of the glassware and tipped the generous serving straight into the keyboard of my laptop. (This is where the people with carpal tunnel nod sadly in understanding and those without frown a little in confusion.)

Suffice it to say, since that day my poor computer has never been the same.

Even though we’d done our best to dry out the computer right away, it wasn’t enough. It lagged. It crashed. It flashed strange messages. The speakers quit. The mic quit. It stopped liking the internet and stopped liking its own keys. It shut down and refused to turn on, making you think it had committed some kind of cyber suicide only to come back to life a day later. But without the physical or mental time to dedicate to the issue, I ignored it other than the occasional update to my husband.

“Hey hon, my computer is crashing more and more frequently.” Or, “I’m so frustrated. I just lot another revision because of this thing.” And the most repeated, “Honey? Not right now, but soon – probably within a month, if it makes it that far – I’m pretty sure my computer will actually die instead of pulling another Lazarus. Just want to warn you.”

horse_with_blindersI admit it’s not the best technique for dealing with a problem. In fact, I usually advise against it. But this time I tied on the blinders extra tight and just kept plodding along one annoying keystroke at a time. I had too much else to worry about.

And somehow, it made it to this week. It wasn’t pretty, it often involved threats of violence. But in the end, that determined computer lasted a full year. However, it’s reached the point where I can no longer ignore the need to replace the wine-resistant beast. I need a computer that works. Reliably. Not one more file will be lost, I tell you!

So here I am. In the middle of another very busy fall (that house project? STILL GOING ON!) and not in the least bit interested in researching computers. But faced with the reality that to survive as a writer one really does need a computer, I needed to take action. And so…

I am on a mission to find the best laptop for writers.

To simplify the processpublic-domain-laptop-writer, I’ve been reading reviews of computers like tomorrow is their last day on earth. And not just regular reviews – reviews that provide thoughts on the best laptops for writers.

In the spirit of sharing found knowledge, I want to share a list of reviews out of the millions (okay dozens) of reviews for computers made in/for 2016 that have been deemed “for writers.”

I can’t vouch for these other than to say yes, I read them and they do exist. Whether or not the information is accurate/valid/reliable? I cannot say. I can say I know more now than I did before reading them, and without these articles I would be drooling in a corner overwhelmed by the options.

Without further ado, here is the whittled-down list of reviews of best laptops for writers in 2016:

Plus… I wouldn’t feel right without including a link to this forum on Writer’s Digest where writers chime in from all over to share their opinions about “the best” laptop for writers.

After all of that (and more, so much more) research, I’ve decided there is no “best laptop,” only the best laptop for you. Personally, I’m leaning toward a Lenovo. Just not sure which one. Yet more research is required, I suppose (will it never cease?!).

Tomorrow is the deadline I set for myself, and I’ll post an update about which I choose and why after I’ve gotten to know it a little.

What about you? Have you ever lost a computer? Are you in the market now for any reason, not just wine-related incidents? Please share your thoughts on the best laptops for writers!

The Writing Life: Lions and Tiger and Titles – Oh My!

books_public_domainIf you’re anything like me, you start writing because a character (or an interesting situation) comes to visit your brain. And you write and write and write and begin to bring to life the story. You start to get excited about your wonderful writing so you share bits and pieces of the project with your friends and/or fellow writers. And then, inevitably the question arises:

“So … what’s the title?” 

And you pause for a never-ending-moment before answering, “Uh … n-n-nothing yet.”

You say this even if it is titled because you only have a working title and no one in their right mind ever wants to share a working title because it is usually embarrassing or silly or unimaginative or anything but the perfect title you know your masterpiece deserves.

Speaking from experience, I can say this traumatic title trouble also happens with poems, flash pieces, works of nonfiction both long and short, essays, research papers, academic works … and yes, even blog posts.

So what’s a writer to do? 

Well, I wish I could give you a one-sentence magic answer … but sadly, I have yet to master that mystical power. However, I can give you a list of some pretty nifty websites that have helped me tack title trouble in the past. Here they are in no particular order:

    • From comes the post, How to Pick a Title For Your Book (doesn’t get more obvious than that). What I like about this post is that it presents a number of options to brainstorm – I particularly like the suggestion to look for snatches of dialogue.
    • I love this post from Scott Berkun entitled The Truth About Choosing Book Titles because he hits on what matters and what doesn’t, which helps when whittling down that endless brainstorm list of possible titles – I especially like #10!
    • The helpful Tucker Max over at Book in a Box has provided this detailed article aptly named Picking the Perfect Book Title covering everything from titular research to social media to your own gut – very helpful and full of jumping-off points for your title adventures.
    • Don’t forget the value of old-fashioned brain picking – friends, family, even strangers in the supermarket might have the perfect title on the tips of their tongues. My husband was instrumental in helping me figure out the title to a nonfiction piece I recently wrote for a workshop and the first thing everyone commented on was the amazing title.
    • Really stumped? Check out these random title generators from TaraSparlingWrites. I’m happy to see that if I were to ever write Chic Lit (highly unlikely), the title could be Where Smiles Might Tell — mysterious and strange, just like me!
        And when all else fails, keep in mind that if you decide to publish your baby via a publishing house, the editor and marketing peeps may make the decision for you! So sit back, relax, and keep writing. The title will appear, one way or the other. At least that’s what I keep telling myself!

Do you have any tips for title choosing? I’d love to read them and add your wisdom to my writing arsenal! So please – share away in the comments section!

Top Seven Takeaways from Writing Conferences (Part 7): Enjoy the Ride

relax public domainMy final takeaway after attending myriad writing conferences for a year is to sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself. I know it can be stressful to network, have your work critiqued, or pitch to an agent. But it’s important to remember that writing conferences are not put on to induce stress. They are there to help you grow as a writer, make new writing contacts, and have a good time.

You’re probably asking, How do I do that?

Well, everyone is different – what is fun to some might be torture for others. But I think the following tips are fairly universal and will help you enjoy your next writing conference.

1. Play! Sign up for at least one workshop or session that lets you play. Or daydream. Or
laugh. Some of my favorite sessions have been ones where I spent time playing with the craft – literally. We cut and pasted. We colored words. And I left with a long list of possiblemuses-dancing-public domain characters and situations. Another that comes to mind involved humor writing – the presenters were a riot and had me laughing for most of the hour. Another involved incorporating tricks and techniques from the theater to improve writing (and trust me, I don’t have the drama bug). All of these were a departure from my normal approach and all made the conference fun.

2. Take a break. Let’s be honest – conferences can be exhausting! Especially multi-day conferences. If you’re feeling like you can’t maintain, take a break. Go for a quick walk. reading public domainFind a quiet space and doodle/journal/read/stare into space. Do you have a hotel room? Take a 20-minute power nap or a quick shower. I know when I’ve felt like I’ve reached the end of my rope at conferences, taking a break allowed me to re-enter with a positive mindset and renewed energy

3. Indulge. There is usually a spread of delectable goodies at writing conferences. And I’m not talking food. Check out the books and other writing-related items for sale and allow yourself an indulgence or two. I’ve picked up books at writing conferences that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. They were a real treat for me and as an added bonus, I got that wonderous feeling that comes from having supported my fellow writers.

4. See the sights. If you’re attending a conference in a city you don’t usually frequent, takesightseeing-tour-bus-public domain
time after the conference to see the sights, hit a local bar or restaurant, or visit an independent bookstore. If you’ve hit it off with a writing buddy or two, take the initiative and invite them along for the ride. One of my favorite experiences was going to lunch with a group of successful writers at a local “green” cafe. Another conference was by the beach, and after the conference I kicked off my shoes and walked on the sandy shore.

grateful public domain5. Gratitude. Congratulate yourself from stepping away from your desk and out into the writing world by making a list of the positive things you are taking away from the experience (even if you’re feeling like the conference wasn’t the best). Being conscious and mindful of the experience and framing it in a positive light allows you to leave feeling more fulfilled and happier about your time at the conference.

I’m thrilled to have shared some of what I learned during the past year with all of you. If you attend a writing conference in the future, let me know how it goes!

And finally – how do you enjoy the writing conference ride? Haven’t been to a writing conference? No sweat! Let me know a tip or trick you use to relax and have fun in any situation! 

Time to Celebrate!


Photo from

After participating in the October Platform Challenge hosted by Writer’s Digest and Robert Lee Brewer, I was fortunate to find an amazing list of writers with phenomenal blogs and websites. DMG Byrnes is one of those writers and she was the winner of the Platform Challenge, an honor which included a stack of wonderful writing resources. In true pay-it-forward fashion, DMG offered a giveaway for one of those books – the 2016 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market guide from Writer’s Digest.

And I won!

Yippee! Now we are so happy, we do the dance of joy!  

Okay, I’m dating myself with a Perfect Strangers reference…  Time to move on.

Thank you, Ms. Byrnes, for the giveaway and for the wonderful information you share via your blog.

If you haven’t had the chance to visit DMG’s site, check it out! Tell her I say “hi!”

Pondering Poetry: What’s a Poet to Do?

** Don’t forget to enter my February GIVEAWAY! Enter by 2/12 to win! **

Poetry-cover-public-DomainI love to read poetry. It makes me feel in a way that little else does.

I also love to write poetry. If I am honest (and I believe I am an honest person), I think I mostly write bad poetry. Sigh. But every once in a while I get an internal “YES!” from something I’ve written. I wish I could get more of those.

Writing poetry is an interesting thing. If you ever want to stop a conversation in its tracks, mention you write and read poetry. Most Americans (in my experience) steer clear of the neatly-wrapped packages we call poetry. Even very successful poets rarely become rich or famous or widely read. (Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in line getting coffee ask the person in front of you who the current US Poet Laureate is.) And getting published can be challenging – it is often a matter of whether or not the particular poem is a good fit for a publication … or maybe even that issue. Did you just finish a masterpiece on running shoes that elevates this everyday item to the level of the gods? Great! Celebrate your genius! But if the journal has already accepted (or published in the recent past) a poem that mentions shoes, running shoes, running, etc., etc., etc. … keep hitting “submit.”

You may find yourself asking, What’s the point? Why bother writing poetry at all?

There are many answers to this question which come from the physiological to the philosophical arenas. The bottom line for most of us is that we can’t help it. We write it even when we don’t mean to write poetry. Or, you could be in an MFA program and find yourself in a class that requires you to write poetry (eh-hem… present company included). And as I’ve mentioned before, if you’ve never written poetry you can find plenty of reasons to start.

Here are a few articles I read this weekend to keep me motivated and excited about writing poetry.

  1. Five Reasons to Write Poetry by Vic Vosen
    I love things that are short and sweet but full of interesting information. Plus how could I resist an article written by an author with such a cool, alliterative name?
  2. Improving Your Writing through Poetry by Melissa Donovan
    This author explains how doing the work of poetry will help you improve your ability to connect to readers on multiple levels…
  3. Five Ways How to Write a Poem by Robert Lee Brewer
    Another shortie and sweetie. What I like about this article is that it offers concrete jumping-off points to get started…
  4. Un-think Your Poetry: How to Write Better Poems from Writer’s Relief
    Ahhhh… I feel a great weight being lifted just reading this article. This is how I tend to approach poems, and find that when I let go a little I tend to write better …
  5. Ten Tips for Being a Successful Poet from BBC News and Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion
    I was taught that if you want to be successful you should learn from the best, so this weekend I sought out tips from Sir Andrew Motion, poet extraordinaire. His fifth tip especially resonated with me…

Remember: Sharing Is Caring
With that in mind tell me … do you write poetry? Have you read anything that gets you excited about poetry? Or do you detest poetry – please tell me why! Of course, if that’s the case you probably didn’t make it this far. 😉 


The Writing Life: Top Seven Takeaways from Writing Conferences (Part 2)

As I explained in Part 1 of this series, over the past year I made it a point to go to a multitude of writing conferences. From big, national conferences to small town gatherings, I attended over a dozen conferences, drank lots of too much coffee, and took copious notes. In this series, I’m sharing with my readers my top seven takeaways from the experience.

In Part 1, I talked about the importance of networking and mingling with other writers (and agents … and editors … and illustrators …). Read on to find out my second takeaway!

business-concept-3-1615030Number Two – Authors Need to Market for Themselves

At most of the conferences, there was a session or panel or workshop (or two or three) dedicated to marketing. At first, I ignored these sessions thinking they were relevant only to those authors who were interested in self-publishing their books. (And believe me, from what I heard at these conferences, if you are planning on self-publishing your baby you absolutely want to investigate marketing, self-publishing, and the world of ebooks.)

But after attending a few conferences and seeing this topic over and over and over again while at the same time hearing writer after writer talk about these sessions, I decided to attend a few myself (here is where the networking from Part 1 comes into play – had I not been talking to these authors, I would not have learned how important these sessions are for all authors no matter where in the process you find yourself).

What I learned about marketing blew me away.

I had assumed that once your book was accepted by a publishing house, marketing would be done for you. After all, isn’t it in the best interest of publishers to have their books sell? Yes and no. It turns out publishers like to put most of their eggs in one basket.

What does this mean for Average Joe (or Jane) Writer?

Let’s pretend Big Publisher has $100 to spend on marketing 10 books. Chances are that he or she small-change-1240648will put $90 into marketing one of the books and spread the remaining $10 over the other nine books. Smaller publishing houses have less money to spend, so while your book may get more attention there is likely to be a smaller budget.

This boils down to a fairly simple result for most authors – Average Joe or Jane Writer will need to pick up the slack with marketing if he or she wants his or her publication to experience the best possible sales and build his or her name. 

How do writers go about this? We all know writers who tweet incessantly about their own books, but this simply doesn’t work. At least not according to the many successful (often best-selling) authors I listened to over the past year who were involved in marketing their own works.  What does work is a combination of activities and connections with other writers and book-friendly community partners.

What follows is a list of some the ideas and suggestions I gathered from the various conferences. Take the ideas, tweak the ideas, leave the ideas – it’s up to you. But know that when the time comes to market your work you should be prepared to be actively involved in the process.

Author Marketing Ideas

  1. Promote other authors’ books. This seems to work especially well if you can join a group of like-genre writers who will do the same for you. Instead of tweeting or blogging about your own book, offer to do a review or giveaway of their books and ask them to do the same for you.
  2. Tie marketing into workshops at community events – but be sure you are truly providing a value to the community (don’t just try to sell your books).  For example, at the local Arts & Wine Festival, offer a creative writing session (or two) to aspiring writers or teens … and at the end offer to sign copies of your book.
  3. Start a “Read Local” challenge. Band together with 15-20 other local authors, create a poster with your books, and spread the word. This works especially well with YA and middle grade books where schools can compete to see which can read the greatest number of local authors in a given time period. However, this could also work with adult readers and local libraries.
  4. If you write YA or middle grade, offer to do school visits. Be sure that the teachers prepare for your visit school-desks-1418686(i.e., the children should know the book and have questions ready). Also be sure your books are available to the students through the school or classroom library. Schools usually pay authors for these visits, and rates vary based on your geographic region and how long your visit lasts.
  5. Offer to do writing workshops at local schools and community colleges. You can charge for the workshops and offer to have copies of your books available for sale/signing at the end of the day.
  6. Giveaway Skype visits to schools and community groups. Offer to do a 15-20 minute Q&A for no cost through a website or Twitter giveaway.
  7. Donate a few copies of your books to underprivileged schools/community groups/events.
  8. And lastly, remember that the best publicity is publishing additional books. The more titles you have to your name the broader your audience and the more marketable you become. So write, write, write!

What about you? Do you have any tips or tidbits for author marketing? Have you engaged in any of the above tactics or done something on your own? I’d love to hear about it in the comments box! The more we share with each other the more we grow!

November Giveaway Winner!

I want to thank everyone who entered my November Giveaway!  I am amazed by the number of entries and can’t wait to see what happens in December when my next giveaway begins!

What If Giveaway Nov WinnerCONGRATULATIONS to Patrise Henkel!  The Random Number Gods have favored you today, and you have been selected the November Giveaway winner! You will receive a copy of my favorite book of writing exercises, What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.  Message or email me with your contact info, and I’ll get your copy on its way to you pronto!

I would love to send a copy to everyone who entered, but sadly I am only one writer with limited resources. If you are looking for a book of exercises and didn’t win, pick up a copy of What If? here or here.  And let me know what you think!

Be sure to look for my DECEMBER GIVEAWAY!

The Writing Life: The Importance of Connecting with Other Writers

**Don’t forget to enter my Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of What If? Writing Exercises. Ends 11/24!**

aloneWriting is a mostly solitary act.  We may venture out to eavesdrop on coffee-shop conversations or to “gather material” in other crowded places, but much of our work is done in a chair, in our head, alone.  And depending on where in the world you live and/or your schedule, it can be challenging to meet with other writers on a regular basis.  The groups either don’t exist, exist too far away from your home to make attending a meeting realistic, or meet at times that conflict with that other thing you have going on, commonly referred to as “life.”

Even those of us fortunate enough to both live in areas where writers’ groups thrive and had the magic scheduling gods smile upon us struggle to make honest-to-goodness connections with our peers.  Instead we may chat at the meeting or get together but not speak to the other members again until the next meeting; or we may sit quietly, gathering material nodding and observing and smiling, but avoiding deeper conversation.

This is a huge mistake.

I know what you’re thinking. Or at least what I might be thinking if I were reading this.

Who are you, oh writer-come-lately, to judge and tell other writers what they should and should not be doing when it comes to making connections?

I can’t argue – I am new to the writing newscene (at least in a public sense).  I have just started submitting my work and have only a modest number of publication credits to my name, not scores of impressive journal titles. And I haven’t even finished my first book let alone published it.

So what can I offer?

I can offer my personal experience. I’m someone who avoided making these types of connections for a very long time. I’m someone who refused was afraid to admit to other people that she is a writer. I’m someone who has changed her ways and started forging connections.  And I’ve seen firsthand how these connections have helped me grow and thrive, both as a writer and a person.

You don’t have to take my word for it.

There are countless, far more impressive writers who have talked about the significant role these connections have played in their lives and careers.  If you’re interested in reading more, all you have to do is Google and find page after page on the topic.

Instead of rehashing what these very smart people have already written, I thought I’d share a piece of my story to illustrate how forging strong connections has improved my writing life.

The Life and Times of One Small-Town Writer

Main street road sign, Iowa, USA

Okay, I admit that subtitle is a little dramatic. But we have to get our kicks somewhere, right? After all – writing is a solitary occupation, as we just discussed, and as I write this I’m sitting in The Hole, by myself, with nothing but a cup of coffee and some 90s tunes rocking in the background for company. So thank you for allowing me my dramatic entrance. =)

In all seriousness, though, I am one small-town writer out of the thousands (millions?) across the country, the world. And when the big, bright “you’re-a-writer-gosh-darn-it” light bulb went off over my head and I realized I wanted to venture into the world of publication, I knew that in order to find my way I needed to find other writers.library

I started by talking to a published writer I met through the local library. He worked there and was very willing to share his story with me. He told me about getting his MFA, keeping his day job, self-promotion at local festivals and fairs and libraries. And he commiserated with me about the lack of area writing groups.

Just admitting to this one person that I was a “Writer” and having him take me seriously gave me a boost. My world began to change.

conferenceI then attended a local conference where I applied (and was accepted!) to take part in two workshops with published, bestselling authors.  Instead of giving in to my shrinking violet inclinations, I networked with these authors and the other writers in the group.  We exchanged emails, and I actually took the next step – I sent follow-up emails.

And my world changed a little more.

The authors encouraged me, gave me feedback and a swift kick in the rear. Because of their encouragement, I decided to pursue writing.  I told tell my husband my goal and determined to get my MFA.  It wasn’t until I was solidly embarked in the program that I found the courage to submit.

Can you guess why?

My fellow classmates.  I made a few strong connections. I reached out and encouraged them to submit certain pieces, and I was blown away Group of people studying together in cafewhen they did the same to me.  I was even more shocked when some of the pieces I’d submitted based on their encouragement landed and stuck in literary journals. I asked the administration if there was a way we could expand on this type of support, and I was thrilled when the program advisor agreed and started a Facebook group for current and past program members. It’s been a wonderful way to connect outside the classroom and learn about the various “wins” my classmates and program alum find in the writing world.

I attended a few more writing conferences and exchanged information with other writers. Several of those brief connections turned into long email conversations with invitations to attend local poetry workshops, writing critique groups, and information about local publications looking for authors.

My writing world was growing.

Group of people jumping for joy

This fall, I finally got on board with creating a writing platform. I joined the Writer’s Digest Platform Challenge, run by poet and editor Robert Lee Brewer. Through the program, I met many amazing writers. Some just starting out, some with dozens of books to their names.  And some of these writers have gone on to become what I consider good “online” friends.  They’ve boosted my moral when I was feeling desperate about my current writing project, they’ve sympathized when I wrote about my real-life antagonist, and they’ve cheered me on when I had pieces accepted for publication.

But more importantly, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to read their amazing work, hear their stories, learn about their writing process. These writers have shown me other ways to do things, options to try when the well runs dry, and offered a place to turn when I feel like giving up.

And my circle continues to grow. At the Baltimore Writing Conference just last weekend, I met several women writers who connected me with additional support groups designed to help women authors in a world that publishes (and awards) far more men than women.  And just yesterday, I received an email from one of these women with a proposal to collaborate on a project.

I may never be a bestselling Cultura Image sync Capture/Cortex - may have been withdrawn. VUNauthor, but I feel like in so many ways I’ve already won. I’ve embraced who I am. I have a growing community of writing friends and supporters. And I love where these connections are taking me – the future of my writing world.

Need help building your community?

Check out this article by New York Times bestselling author Joanna Penn: 5 Ways to Connect with Other Writers. In this post, Penn offers tips on how to make these all-important connections.

Do you have a writing community? How has it impacted your writing life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section! You never know when something you share will change another writer’s life – so don’t be shy! Share away!

The Writing Life: Best Tips for Finishing NaNoWriMo

**Don’t forget to enter my Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of What If? Writing Exercises. Ends 11/24!**

finish lineThis is my first year taking on the month-long challenge that is NaNoWriMo. And so far, I’m pleasantly on track. Not ahead, not behind. Right on target. But every day, the words come more slowly. The looming mountain ahead feels higher and steeper than it did week one.

Bottom line? I’m starting to get worried about finishing.

So last night, I took a few hours and did what procrastinating writers everywhere do best – I surfed the web.  And read. And surfed. And read some more.  And I found some of the best tips for finishing NaNoWriMo on the web.

Because I want you to finish, I’m hoping my wasted writing hours will mean less procrastination for you. Take advantage of my surfing trip and check out these helpful articles and posts for finishing NaNoWriMo.

My personal favorite way to write when the well appears dry? NaNoWriMo Word Sprints on Twitter. I don’t know what it is, but just having that page up while writing motivates me to plow through and have something on the page before they yell, “STOP!”

Note: I’m only including five of the many, many, MANY articles I read because, well, the truth is you need to be writing and so do I!

When you’re through reading the wise words of these WriMo sages, get writing! The end is near – so write on!

brought to you by World-Class Procrastinator, Kat McCormick… 

  1. From WritersDigest.comHalfway There: Finishing NaNoWriMo Strong by contributor Cris Freese

    This tidy article offers creative and inspiring tips from past finishers and writers to get you through the second half of NaNo.  My personal favorite? Bring wine!

  2. From WritabilityHow I Won NaNoWriMo in 9 Days by writer Ava Jae

    I know what you’re thinking… nine days?! You and I may not be aiming to pull off a 9-day feat (or if you’re behind maybe you are), but regardless of timing the tips and tricks used by speed writer Jae will help you power through toward the finish line.

  3. From Write It SidewaysHow to Get Past the NaNoWriMo Danger Point and Finish Your Novel by author and coach Hillary Rettig

    This article offers some tips I’ve read before, and some I haven’t – but they are presented in a different light that made something “click” in my brain. I especially like the tips about writing nonlinearly and examining your fears and pitfall (procrastination-busting at its best).

  4. From Kirsten Lamb’s Blog8 Elements to NAILING Your Plot & Owning NaNo by, you guessed it, Kirsten Lamb

    While this post is not specifically about finishing NaNo, Lamb points out flaw that will stop you from completing your story and provides insights on what is needed to avoid/fix them. I especially appreciate the section on the core story problem (or lack thereof).

  5. And last but not least, from CreativeLiveHow to Break Through Writer’s Block: Show Up & Bring a Pen by Hanna Brooks Olsen

    What I like best about this post is how straightforward it is – if you want to break through the shiny ribbon at the NaNo finish line, there is only one thing to do – WRITE! Olsen does offer some tips on how to write when the words don’t want to come, but overall this article was a swift kick in the rear for yours truly.

Any of these tips resonate with you? Or if you’re a past finisher, please share your best tip in the comments section and stop a WriMo procrastinator from spending more precious writing time surfing the web …  

From the Bookshelf: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

**Don’t forget to enter my Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of What If? Writing Exercises. Ends 11/24!**

curious incident haddonI would love to give you a hot-off-the-presses book review, but instead I can only write about books I read in my actual life (I’m saving the made-up version for my next book).  And in my life, I’m often always behind.  This book review is no exception.  But stick with me. Pretty please with sugar and cherry on top!  This weekend, I re-read a book I’ve read three times before.  A book that has been out for years.  My daughter was assigned the book in her English class and asked me a question as she was preparing to write a response so to refresh my memory, I glanced at the first page … and didn’t look up again until I reached the end.

And here’s why: It’s amazing.

The book? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Which I guess is timely in some ways because Haddon has a short story this week (miracle that I’m not behind on something) in The New Yorker (check it out here). The short version is that Curious tells the tale of fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone, who discovers the slain body of his neighbor’s poodle and sets out to uncover the murderer.  But it is so much more.  Through this book, we are called to question our perceptions about love, growing up, and the human mind.

It’s November.  I’m just starting Week Two of NaNoWriMo and NovPAD.  So this time when I read the book, I kept my writer’s hat firmly in place and paid special attention to Haddon’s writing tools and techniques.

One of the best features of Curious is, in my humble opinion, the voice.  In fact, it is so good let’s write that again but this time with capitals and a fancy font – The Voice.  Christopher is highly logical, excessively literal, and extremely detached, which can be at times hilarious and at times devastating. His voice is so real, so genuine that I felt like I was there in the book with him as the story unfolded. Part of this success comes from Haddon’s use of first-person POV, which allows us to see the events of the novel through the eyes of the narrator and places us deep inside Christopher’s mind, forcing us to see the world in his very limited way.  Haddon helps us understand Christopher by having him give us his opinions on the status quo.  Looking at things I take for granted through Christopher’s eyes caused me to question some of my assumptions about the world and the so-called “normal” way of thinking.

Amazingly, Christopher is a phenomenal narrator despite is inability to relate emotionally to others.  We still get our emotional fix, however, because Christopher is such a stickler for description (the book is full of vivid sensory imagery) and the facts.  We are called to read between the lines, and it is easy to fill in the emotional void based on how others react to Christopher and his actions.  Reading the book, I felt both wildly frustrated with and crazy mama-bear protective of Christopher as he tried to make his way in the world.

Haddon also manages to add depth and personality to secondary characters in creative ways.  For example, readers learn about Christopher’s mother from her letters.  Through the explanations she gives, the spelling errors she makes, even the way she recounts her job, we learn what makes her unique, some of her background, and how she will likely react to events in the story before she ever steps into a scene.

Lastly, the book is chock full of literary themes.  One major theme in the book – and one that is not unexpected with a teenager as the central character – is the struggle for independence.  Yawn. I know, it sounds trite. But in Curious, Haddon takes this common theme and gives it to us with a twist. Instead of the usual teen bucking the rules of mom & dad or society, Christopher is struggling to gain independence from his mental constraints.  He is a character who, because of a mental health disorder, can never be fully independent. On some level, he recognizes this. And yet he struggles against his destiny. Throughout the book, he takes step after step in a direction of his own choosing.  Starting with the search for dog murderer (against his father’s command to the contrary), through a solitary trip to London (challenging for a kid who can’t talk to strangers even to ask directions), and culminating in taking exams to move on to college (when he realizes he can now “do anything”), we bear witness to Christopher’s growing independence. At the same time, there is a nagging sense that the gap between Christopher and everyone else still exists – he hasn’t achieved independence.  And he won’t.  But he does change, and he manages to change the minds of some around him.  Personally, I like this variation on a (very) common topic.  There are only so many themes in the human story, and this book has inspired me to look for ways to twist them as I write my own stories.

What books have you read that inspire your writing? Have you read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? I’d love to know what you think!