Tip #20: Planning Your Novel In 3 Steps (for NaNoWriMo)

If, like me, you’re waaaay behind schedule in planning your NaNo novel for this year, here’s a super helpful blog post by J S Malpas over at Useless Book Club.

Useless Book Club

How to

Recently, I’ve been publishing tips which are quite abstract (e.g. Write For Money, Keep Up With The Times). This post is a lot more focused and aims to give purely practical advice on how to plan a novel. I didn’t actually get this information from the how-to book in the featured image (I’m relying on my own experience such as it is), but I thought it would be worthwhile showing you what other resources are out there.

Step 1: Flying among the clouds

The heading is a bit fanciful, but at this stage that’s exactly where your mind should be. You need to let your imagination run wild and unchecked. Come up with an idea for a story, decide who its main characters are and how you want it to end. Chances are that if you’re reading this post, you’ve already finished this step. If not, then generate…

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November Change-Up.

Hey everybody!

So, to get the first bit of business out of the way, as well as to explain the title, I’m going to let you know that for the month of November, I’m going to suspend the usual schedule of “Learning From” posts. But don’t worry, I’ll be picking it back up, and we’ll get to learn from the last six authors in the series during the months of December and January. So why am I putting them on hold?

Well. I can answer that in four syllables of gobbledygook: NaNoWriMo.

Okay, so to many writers, that probably makes perfect sense, but if you’ve never heard of  it, NaNo is short for National Novel Writing Month… In other words, a celebration of insanity. Basically, a bunch of crazy people decided they could write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in thirty days, and settled on the month of November to do it in. Last year, I became one of those crazy people.

Here’s how it happened: I bought NaNo’s handbook No Plot? No Problem! A long, long time ago, and forgot about it. About this time last year I was cleaning out my bookshelf and re-discovered it. Without giving myself time to think, I decided “What the heck, why not?” And signed on for the ride. I figured I might make it a week. But guess what? I made it all the way across the finish line, ending up with a 50,167 word first draft of a terrible novel, which is slowly becoming slightly less terrible. By mid-December, I already couldn’t wait for November to come again.

Now, of course, November is almost upon us, and I’m freaking out. I mean, who told me I could write a decent story anyway? What am I trying to accomplish here? I’ll never be Jane Austen anyway, so I should probably just go work at McDonald’s.

The lovely thing about NaNo is that you don’t get enough time to entertain those thoughts. You have to write a couple thousand words per day, and baby, there’s no room for negativity in that pressurized canister.

So that’s where I’ll be in November. I will be tweeting about my process daily, and I promise I won’t neglect the blog entirely. I may even still post twice weekly, who knows? But I’m guessing most of it will be NaNo themed. Maybe I’ll share some of the more hilariously heinous bits of writing that come out, or maybe I’ll share words of encouragement to others who are attempting the impossible. I’m not sure how it will look quite yet.

If you want to learn more about NaNoWriMo, here is a link to their website.

If you’re doing NaNo this year, give yourself a shout-out down in the comments! And add me as a writing buddy here. I’d love to connect with you.



“Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.”
–Jackson Pollock

Isn’t it interesting how often quotes from artists are interdisciplinary? I find the creative mind endlessly fascinating.

Although Jackson Pollock was a painter, his quote applies exceptionally well to writing. As writers, particularly writers of fiction, we may strive for individual characters or original plot lines, but in the end, each human being can only see and interpret the world from a single perspective: their own. Therefore, every writer, whether of a personal memoir or a best-selling comic series, is leaving something of themselves in their work.

Edit: Okay, maybe Shakespeare was able to see from more than one perspective… But he’s basically the exception to every known rule, isn’t he?

Can you think of other writers who seem to have the ability to scrunch themselves into any human shape? Tell me about them in the comments!


Okay, so I know it’s Sunday, and therefore you aren’t expecting a post from me, and also this has nothing to do with my writing… But guess what? Today is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.

A happy few of us Shakespeare nerds, banded together in brother-and-sisterhood by Good Tickle Brain herself, roused us at the name of Crispian.

I’m so thrilled and thankful to be part of this heroic and historic project. Check it out, it’s worth a watch.

(By the way, I’ve discovered that it’s really fun in a humiliating sort of way to stand all alone in a public park and repeat “Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d” over and over again. Especially when you don’t notice cute old ladies walking their poodles or little families with butterfly nets 20 feet behind you. Fortunately, there is a college just over the hill from where I was standing, and a mental hospital right across the street, so I’m sure they didn’t think I was too strange…)

Learning From Jodi Picoult.


“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

I have a kind of love-hate relationship with this blog series I’ve started… On the one hand, it’s nice to know exactly what I will be writing about next, and on the other hand, some of these writers are so good at their jobs that I really don’t have anything to add. This quote is one of those.

“Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands.” Boom. This is so exactly true. It’s particularly resonant at this time, because guess what? NaNoWriMo is almost upon us! I’ve been looking forward to this season since… well, since last November. Ah, that heady month, full of sleepless nights and too much tea, as we race  to fit a ridiculously large number of words into a ridiculously small number of days. I love it.

If you take a look at my Instagram feed over there on the right, you’ll notice that I’m participating in Inktober, another month-long challenge requiring me to complete an ink drawing every day for the month of October. You might be able to infer from this that I love monthly challenges.

Now, to transport the urgency of an imposed deadline into the rest of the year.

P.S.: I’m actually writing this on Wednesday afternoon, as by the time this post is published, I’ll be on my way up to Seattle for an Owl City concert!


This post is the sixth in a series based on this article by James Clear, featuring quotes and reflections on the routines of twelve famous authors.

Practical Cats.

What comes to your mind when you think of T. S. Eliot?

“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table…”
“April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain…”
Good stuff, all of it, but what springs to my mind happens to be

An illustration by Edward Gorey, 1982.

“When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.”
Oh, yes. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, besides inspiring one of the most truly disturbing Broadway shows of all time, happens to be one of my favorite ways to get into a certain frivolous frame of mind. Good lord, I’m alliterating.
Here’s a Spotify playlist of the entire book being read by Eliot himself! I just love his voice, don’t you? Absolutely perfect.

Learning From Kurt Vonnegut.

I love this photo… He is not having any of your nonsense, people. None of it.

I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do push ups and sit ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not.

We all know who Kurt Vonnegut is, right? Good, because I don’t have a lot of time today for padding out this post with extra research. Let me tell you, sharing a single internet source with three other adults is not easy.

So really, all I have to say is that this guy takes a regimented lifestyle to a whole new level. No room for flexibility anywhere, Kurt? So not me. But again, the hallmark is definitely to take the writing seriously. In Vonnegut’s case, the time allotment was only 3.5 hours per day, but he made sure they happened by writing before he even ate breakfast. That could definitely be workable for me, as my family knows nothing happens before I emerge from my bedroom. I’m not one of those rise-and-shine socialites in the early morning, but I’m sure I could write effectively in that time.

The other thing worth noting is that, again, he was careful to balance his sedentary work with physical activity. I’m working on it. I still don’t enjoy it, but I’m working on it.

On a more frivolous level, I love the tone of this. It’s actually an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his wife, which explains the charming personal tone, and the frank ending, which I absolutely adore. I know the feeling, Mr. Vonnegut. Every time I finish my Pilates routine, I feel as though I am getting a six pack and biceps, but maybe not.

This post is the fifth in a series based on this article by James Clear, featuring quotes and reflections on the routines of twelve famous authors.


Isn’t it beautiful that the Japanese language has a word for this? Sunlight filtering through leaves, and the gentle, moving shadows it creates, is one of the most lovely things God has given us, but it is one that is so often ignored or taken for granted. Simply knowing that there is a word for this has given me a greater awareness and appreciation for it.

In fact, as I sit here by my computer, surfing away, a perfect silhouette of the maple tree outside my window has crept into a square of light on the wall. I don’t know how long it has been there for me to see, and I don’t know how much longer it will last, but for now my throat is filling with wonder and gratitude.

Learning From Henry Miller.

I’m going to start out by saying that Henry Miller sounds like the exact kind of author (and person) that I try to avoid. I have no intention of familiarizing myself with his work or character beyond a quick Wikipedia scan. However, that’s not to say I’m not getting anything out of this. You don’t have to admire or agree with a person in order to learn from them, right?

First, I learned two interesting things about him. The first is that he was also an artist, so we have that in common. Hurrah. The second is that his first novel was never published, although he recycled parts of it in later work. He recalled it as being “a long book and probably a very bad one.” Again, a comforting reminder that everyone starts out bad.

Now for his quote. It’s actually a list of Eleven “Commandments” as published in his book, Henry Miller On Writing. This is understandably a bit long, so I’ll tackle the list items one by one and add my own commentary as I go.

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
    Well. I suppose that’s good advice. I don’t want to take it though. It is good advice. It is, it is, it is.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
    Isn’t that basically the same commandment? I’ll just leave that one where it is. “Black Spring,” by the way, is one of his books.
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
    Very, very good advice. I am a nervous person, whether by nature or by nurture I haven’t quite figured out. Calmly, joyously, recklessly, are beautiful adverbs, and ones which should probably be taped to my wall.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
    Suuuch a good one. Suuuuuuuuuch a struggle. Right when I feel like I’m getting a handle on it, something comes along and knocks the props out from under me. But that’s the whole point of not letting mood interrupt you, isn’t it? 
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
    Simple truth, and nothing that needs my comments.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
    I’m not entirely sure what he means, unless he’s echoing the first two commandments. If anybody has further enlightenment on this one, please comment!
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
    I don’t feel like drinking, thanks. I’m a prudish teetotaler. But other than that, a good reminder. Keeping human is a good thing.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
    At first, I thought this one fought with number four, but when you think about it, they really go hand in hand. Emotions are controllable, believe it or not, so even if you aren’t “in the mood” (cue swanky music), you can absolutely approach your work with pleasure. After all, it’s a privilege to be able to work on things you enjoy, right? And if you don’t enjoy it, why are you doing something so thankless? Go be a CEO or something.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
    Again, I thought this fought with number four. But all the best healthy-lifestyle gurus say that you should strive for 80%. Nobody can be perfect. Some days, it just ain’t happening. But don’t let it happen two days in a row.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
    Yep. Ha, I remember during NaNoWriMo last year, when I allowed myself to take writing seriously again after five years of denial, I had so many new ideas right in the middle of my daily writing, and sometimes it was all I could do not to open a fresh document right then and there. I’m glad I didn’t. Floppy and struggling as the product was, it was there, in completion, and almost a year later I still think there’s some merit in it. 
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
    Yes. Yes. This. Still working on it. Always with the disclaimer, of course, that God comes first, and writing second.

This post is the fourth in a series based on this article by James Clear, featuring quotes and reflections on the routines of twelve famous authors.

Danger and Purity.

On a purely frivolous note, wasn’t he a beautiful human being? Goodness gracious.

I don’t know why, I’m just feeling really classic lately… So here’s some Byron for your reading pleasure.

I have to say, I find it rather funny that he was praising her purity and innocence, given his own reputation for being “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” Certainly says something about human nature, doesn’t it? How often do we admire traits in others that we don’t find in ourselves…

When I read this poem, I always try to imagine his thoughts when he wrote it. Some days, I imagine him feeling wistful, shamed by her innocence. Other days I picture him reveling in their differences, enjoying the stark contrast of her purity against his worldliness.

And some days I imagine him hammering out a poem because he has publishers breathing down his neck.