Posts Tagged NaNoWriMo

How to Conquer a Blank Page

October is almost over, but even with the scariest ghosts and goblins getting ready to beg for candy in the US, a blank page is way more terrifying. The possibilities are exciting.


*What if the words turn out wrong?

*What if this awesome new idea is a flop?

*What if the murky middle sucks the plot in like a pile of quicksand?

Take a deep breath. You can do it!

Here are some helpful hints.


Challenges can be extremely motivating, and you’re in luck—because NaNoWriMo starts on November 1st. The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel by the end of November. They have motivating posts, a supportive community, and a fun way to track your daily and overall progress.

If your novel ends up being less than 50,000 words, you can still win. Start a second novel! Or see what’s missing from your first draft and add those scenes in.

*Teachers—there’s a fantastic program to use with young writers!


Word Wars

You can have word wars with others or challenge yourself. Put aside an hour (or half hour) and do your best to have uninterrupted time. It helps to jot down what you hope to cover in the next few chapters ahead of time, then write, write, write! No editing allowed—there’s plenty of time for that later. This helps word counts soar. Plus, it’s amazing how many gems pop up that might not have been discovered if an internal editor butted into the draft.

Think about what’s often missing from your first drafts. For me, it’s usually sensory details. So during word wars, I concentrate on adding in as many as I can. A bunch get streamlined or deleted…but I also find amazing details that I love. Ones that might not exist without this fun challenge.


More tips and tricks:

*If you get stuck, think about the worst thing that could happen to your character. I learned this from author Bruce Coville at a conference years ago, and it’s always been a huge help.

*Brainstorm! Set a timer for 10 minutes and type or write all the possible things that can happen non-stop. Don’t edit yourself, no matter how silly something might seem.

*Have your main character write a journal entry and see if it gives you more insight into wants/needs/conflict. It also works great with secondary characters.

*Let your internal editor know they aren’t allowed in your first draft! They can be stubborn, but there are ways to trick them.

-Write when your internal editor is too tired to butt in (it might be late at night or early in the morning).

-Signal your brain that it’s time for creativity—not your internal editor. Some people do this with one scented candle for writing and another for revising. Authors like Bruce Hale have a writing hat and an editing hat. Play around to figure out what works best for you!


Blank pages are scary—but take a deep breath and remember the fun and excitement of writing as you plunge into your novel. Your page won’t be blank for long!

Happy writing. 😊

I’d love to hear your tips for tackling a blank page and shushing your internal editor.

Fast Drafting

How many words do you write each day…500, 1000, 2000 or more? I love the thrill of watching a first draft come to life. The more I learn about the craft of writing, the harder it is to stare at a blank page and figure out what to write…the rules all scream so loud, they muffle my creative side. There’s plenty of time for editing, but if I can’t lock my internal editor away for a bit, I’ll never have a first draft to whip into shape. That’s why I love fast drafting so much. 

Here are some fast drafting tips:

  • Do as much pre-planning as you can before you start your novel—which can include plotting, characters sketches, schedules, maps, research, etc.
  • Leave notes for yourself every time you leave your computer—some exciting things that should happen soon, and an idea of where to start when you come back. You can even type the first sentence or two in the next chapter (although you might get sucked in and finish writing it before you leave).
  • Create a block of uninterrupted writing time. An hour is great, but if that doesn’t work for you, a half hour, twenty minutes, even ten minutes several times a day can help you reach your goal.

                  * Go to the bathroom, grab water or your favorite drink, then turn off                         the phone and put a do not disturb sign on your door if you can. Set                         a timer and write, write, write!

                  * Don’t go back and revise your novel—this is a fast draft and your job                       is to keep going. You can put notes to yourself inside the text, plus                           keep a notebook of things that pop up that you need to know, like                             new character traits, more in depth setting info, etc.

                * If you think of something you need to do that isn’t related to your                             novel, quickly jot it down so you won’t forget, then get back to your                           novel ASAP. It isn’t going to write itself.

               * See if anyone wants to do a Word War with you. My favorite kind is                          when you share your current word count, start at the same time, and                        write, write, write! At the end of that period, you check in with                                  everyone and share your word counts. This also can work if you all                            promise to time yourselves for a set amount during the day and then                        share the results. You can even have a day long Word War! Plus, you                        can offer a prize to the winner—it could be a critique of a certain                                number of pages, their name as a character in your book, or anything                      you all agree on.  

If you’d like some extra motivation to write your novel ASAP, it’s almost time for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Don’t worry, it’s not too late to prep for it. Years ago, I had just finished revising a middle grade manuscript and was brainstorming the synopsis when I suddenly had a spark of an idea for another novel. The ideas started flying faster and faster, so I rushed to my computer to jot them down. It was the 7th of November, and I had already missed a week of NaNoWriMo. I didn’t think it would be possible to complete the challenge, but I figured the extra motivation would help me write faster than I had in the past. After jotting down some plot ideas and character sketches, I started typing, typing, typing…and couldn’t believe that I had completed my first draft (and more than the 50,000 words to win the NaNoWriMo challenge). Wahoo! It was such an amazing feeling.

Teachers and children who love to write: there’s a fun and encouraging NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program that kids can do on their own or as part of a class project.

Even though many middle grade novels are less than 50,000 words, I use the incentive to help flesh out my story and overcome weaknesses. Yes, a lot of it gets cut…but it’s still an incredibly helpful part of my process. Here are some ways you can do it for your novel:

  • Think about the area you often lack in your drafts. I’m usually dialogue heavy, but scarce with setting. So during NaNoWriMo, I make sure I zoom in closer to anything my character sees, hears, smells, etc. A lot of it gets cut during revisions, but some gems pop up that I probably wouldn’t have without this added challenge to myself.
  • I allow backstory to flow into my fast draft, which helps me get to know my characters even better. I start an orphan file to put in everything I delete during revisions, but if I have lots of great back story, it deserves a file of its own, in case bits of it could be tweaked and worked back into my novel.
  • If you reach the end of your novel but are a bit short of 50,000 words, think about what you’ve written and what might be missing from your manuscript—then write any scenes that come to mind. Not happy with the ending? Then write an alternate ending. And beginnings are so hard to nail, especially in early drafts. You can add some brilliant new beginning fast drafts, too.

I’d love to know what does and doesn’t work for you when fast drafting a novel.  

Whatever methods you use to fast draft, don’t forget to have fun. Writing a new novel is exciting, and it’s incredible what gems you can create when you stifle your internal editor. Don’t strive for perfection or try to use all your amazing editing tools. That will only tongue-tie your mind. Let the words flow—then you can switch gears, dig in deep, and start editing. Happy writing!

Tips for November Writing Challenges

It’s almost November—do you know what that means? Many writers are getting ready for fun challenges, like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in November. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo, I didn’t think I’d be able to participate because I was finishing a revision on a middle grade novel. On November 7th, I completed my revision and thought of a shiny new idea. By the end of November, I ended up with over 60,000 words! As awesome as that was, I’ve learned that it’s better to have more than just an idea. Fleshing out my concept and making sure I have important plot points in mind really helps (even though it’s possible they’ll change as I get to know my characters better). Some people love to outline, but I’ve never been a huge fan of it for my work. My favorite tool is Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock. Here’s a post about it, and here’s another post that shows a picture of the Plot Clock.


Calling all teachers—did you know that there’s a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program? Check out their Resources for Educators, where you’ll find their free classroom kit, lesson plans, and Virtual Classroom how-to. You can also find out how to connect with fellow educators.

If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, but don’t know what to write about yet, here’s a post that can help you come up with new ideas.

Here’s a link to a helpful interview with author Dorian Cirrone. She has fantastic advice for brainstorming high concept ideas, how to come up with a great beginning, plus a writing exercise. Check out Dorian’s blog for her series on Ten Ways to Generate Ideas.

A lot of middle grade novels are way less than 50,000 words…so how can you write a middle grade novel and still be a NaNoWriMo winner? Well, I think anyone who makes great progress on a novel is a winner. Reaching the end of a first draft in one month is definitely a reason to dance around the room and treat yourself to some kind of special celebration (maybe delicious chocolate, a fun outing with family members you haven’t spent much time with because you were so busy writing, or possibly a massage to un-hunch your shoulders after all that hard work). After celebrating, I like to dive back in and hit that 50,000 mark. Here are a few ways that I’ve accomplished that:

  1. My first drafts used to have lots of dialogue, but only a small amount of description. To beef up my word count and add important sensory details, I’ve looked for areas that could use fleshing out and added more description to them. I’d often have to cut a lot of it in the first few rounds of revision, but loved how many gems I was able to keep. Find what you often lack in your first drafts (maybe it’s dialogue, you don’t increase tension enough, etc.) and see where you can add it into your draft.
  2. If you think a sequel could work for your story, jump in and start writing it to reach your 50,000 word goal. Just try not to get too invested in it, because any changes you make to the first novel could cause huge changes to any future ones—but it can’t hurt to play around with it. You might find ideas that could enhance your first book!
  3. Beginnings are so hard to get right, that I’ve gone back to write a bunch of different beginnings. Don’t be afraid to start in a completely different place. If you’re not sure which one is best for your novel, polish your favorite beginnings up after NaNoWriMo is over, then share them with your critique group or writing friends and see if there’s a clear winner.
  4. You could also start a new novel! Hopefully, you’ll have some ideas fleshed out and ready to go.

If you get stuck while working on your new project, here’s a link to Tricks to Defeat Writer’s Block.

For those of you who also write picture books, check out Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) where the goal is to come up with at least thirty shiny new ideas during the month of November. Then, you have plenty of ideas to choose from whenever you want to write a new picture book throughout the year.

If you have any tips to share or questions to ask, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Good luck with whatever goal you’re working toward this November. I hope the words flow!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.