NaNoWriMo Prep Time


Hooray! NaNoWriMo is just 22 days away! I love the space theme this year, and it’s especially fitting because the story I’m planning to write is a relationship driven sci-fi novel that takes place (mostly) on Mars.

I’m psyched to start writing, but I can’t officially start until November 1st. In the meantime, I’ve been working on novel prep. For those of you who are curious, I thought I’d share a little about what I’m doing.

First, a caveat — every time I do this, my process is a little different. Last year, for example, I mostly worked from a rough outline and a beat sheet and did minimal prep work. In previous years, I did even less prep work. Back in 2013, I completely pantsed my novel with no outline or prep work. Going into November the year after that, I think I knew exactly one scene that I wanted to write, but that scene didn’t take place until nearly two thirds of the way through the novel. So, I wrote down some “way points” that would get me to that scene. Then I started writing and pantsed my way from point to point until I ultimately got to that scene.

What I’m saying is, there are a lot of different ways to “win” NaNoWriMo, and there is no “right way.” Do what works for you.

This year, I’m trying to take a little more time and be a little more organized with my prep, mostly because the story I want to write is a little more complicated than what I’ve done in the past. I’m attempting a “re-telling,” but I want it to feel like an entirely new story while still being true to the emotional and plot beats of the original.

I’ve started by thinking about which story elements I’ll be including in my novel (primarily Relationship with sides of Wonder, Drama, Issue, and Ensemble, I think). Now I’m working on fleshing out each of the four story building blocks:

  1. Character
  2. Plot
  3. Setting
  4. Conflict

My characters and my plot are both drawn from the original story. How they differ from the original will depend a lot on the setting I’m planning. So, I’m starting with world-building. Once I’ve got the world figured out, I can tweak my characters and my plot to fit seamlessly into my world. In the process, I’ll be adding a whole new layer of conflict that didn’t exist in the original story.

So far, I’ve mostly been doing research for my world, but it’s getting to the point now where I think research is really just a procrastination excuse because I’m not exactly sure *how* I want to organize my world-building. I’ve been searching for writing tools that might help, but I think this may work best if I just start free-writing my thoughts in a notebook the way I’ve always done. I’ve built five completely different worlds for the five novels I’ve written, so far. I’ve never used any writing tools for world-building before, and world-building has always been an area of strength for me. So, I’m pretty sure I’m completely over-thinking this part.

Once I tackle the world-building, the characters and plot will be much easier. I already have good tools for these areas. I’ll probably use character sheets to define each of the main characters’ motivations, objectives, sensibilities, etc. Then I’ll map out my emotional and plot beats and modify them to fit the setting. After all that, conflict *should* be pretty obvious, but I may just make some more specific notes on that so I don’t forget what I’d originally planned once I start writing.

For the record, I’m just getting started, and it feels like I have no idea what I’m doing, even though this will be my 6th time writing a first draft of a novel. Perhaps this first draft thing never gets any easier… What’s keeping me motivated is my vision for this story and the knowledge that, if I can make this work, it’s going to be awesome.

Now it’s time to stop procrastinating and dive into world-building.

Oh! But, before I go… I’m only $38 away from hitting my fundraising goal to support the non-profit that runs NaNoWriMo, plus many other excellent creative writing programs for children and adults. If you haven’t already donated, please have a look at my fundraising page and consider a donation.

For those who have donated: Thank you for supporting me in my novel-writing quest, and for helping National Novel Writing Month create a more engaged and inspiring world. You’re awesome!

October TBR

I took a long, hard look at the books on my Kindle, and the TBR pile on my bookshelf, and had to make some hard decisions about what I wanted to make sure I read before the end of this year.

The priority for October is to finish the two books I want to read in preparation for NaNoWriMo this year. The rest of my October reading list is made up of books that I’ve shuffled to the top of my TBR for a variety of reasons.

I’m not planning on doing much, if any, reading in November. So, whatever I don’t read this month will probably end up getting pushed to December.


  • Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku (paperback) — I just bought this one to do a little pop science research for my sci-fi WIP that I’m planning to write in November. Not sure if it will help, but it looks promising.
  • Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly (paperback) — I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now for writing research. Now time is running out and I need to read it before November.
  • The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin (Kindle) — I bought this a while ago (July?), and lately everywhere I look there is a glowing review about this book. It’s time. I need to read it before the end of this year. And then I need to read the sequel.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Hardcover, signed special edition) — I still haven’t been able to find time to read this book. This is what happens when I have a hardcover and I do most of my reading on my Kindle during my commute.
  • The Magician King by Lev Grossman (Kindle, library) — I may or may not get to this one this month, but I do want to read it before the TV series starts up again in January.
  • Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas (Kindle, pre-order) — This is another one that my have to get pushed to post-NaNoWriMo. I wanted to read this right away when it came out, but writing is the priority for October and November. So, as much as I want to dig into this and read it before everyone else has and spoilers have invaded the internet, this may have to wait.

September in Review

September did not exactly go as planned. This is the first time in a long time that’s happened. I’d created some fairly ambitious goals for September, and I accomplished ~3/5, barely.

You may not be able to tell from this blog, but I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard this year. It’s gone beyond “burning the candle at both ends.” Between work stuff, writing stuff, and personal stuff (swimming, reading, social, etc.), it feels like I’ve cut the candle into a bunch of smaller pieces so I could burn each of those at both ends. As a result, this month I may finally have snapped.

Mid-month, I decided to dial it way back and re-set my expectations about what I want to accomplish for the rest of this year. More on that (maybe) in a future blog post. This one is just meant to be a September wrap-up.

Let’s recap each of my goals (since I posted them for ya’ll to see…)…

1. SWIM at least 4 x 3300 yards per week

This would have resulted in ~52.8k yards swum in September. I actually ended up swimming 15 days for a total of 53k yards. So, I did okay on the yardage, but 15 days isn’t quite 4x per week. Still, I’m considering this one accomplished, but just barely.

2. READ at least 1 book per week on average

There were four weeks plus three days in September, and I read three novels, one short non-fiction book, one comic trade, and one “quarterly almanac” of short stories and book/movie reviews. So, I’m calling this one accomplished as well, but also just barely.

Here’s what I read this month (links take you to my Goodreads reviews):



  • This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab (Kindle, pre-order) — Supposedly this is VES in her “YA” mode. It’s the first of her “YA” books I’ve read. That said, it didn’t really feel much more “YA” than her Shades of Magic series. This may have something to do with the fact that it had that gritty almost-real-world feel to the world-building, plus the dark complexity around what makes someone a hero vs. a villian that Vicious did. So, yeah. I loved it and want more, please.
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Kindle) — This book is like if you took the anthropological world building of an Ursula Le Guin book and crossed it with the TV show Firefly. I had a few small quibbles with parts of this book when I thought about it critically (see my Goodreads review for more on this, if you’re curious). But, overall, I loved it and I can’t wait to read more stories set in this world. Apparently, there is a new one coming out in October! Woo hoo!
  • A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab (Kindle, library) — Book two in the series, and it ends on a massive cliff-hanger. Most of this story takes place around VES’s equivalent of the “tri-wizard tournament” in Harry Potter. In the process, we get to know our main characters better, and we learn a little more about magic in this world. I’m looking forward to the final book in this series, and I’m bummed that I have to wait until next year for its release. NOTE: my Goodreads review contains spoilers. Don’t click on the link above if you don’t want to be spoiled.
  • Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates (trade paper) — I know nothing about Black Panther except that he was in the latest Captain America movie. I do know that I really like Mr. Coates’s writing (I took note of his articles in The Atlantic and started following him long before Between the World and Me). This comic was really dense and satisfying because of that. There is definitely a much more complex story building here than I feel like you usually get in most Marvel comics. This feels more like volume one of Bitch Planet or The Wicked & The Divine than any of the recent X-Men volumes I’ve been consuming. This is a good thing. Our superhero stories could use more depth.
  • Making It Right: Product Management For A Startup World by  Rian Van Der Merwe (Safari Books Online) — I’ve been thinking about my day-job a lot and realizing more and more that what I really want is to get closer to the engineering side of the world. I should have been a software engineer. I may still, someday, become a software engineer. But, in the meantime, I wanted to learn a little more about the difference between Program Managers and Product Managers. This book did a great job explaining what makes a great Product Manager and what great Product Managers do to ship great products. Highly recommend this one if you are considering becoming a Product Manager.
  • The Book Smugglers’ Quarterly Almanac: June 2016 edited by The Book Smugglers (Kindle) — This collection had a “superhero” theme. It included some excellent reviews for some books I want to read and some superhero movies (one I saw and one I skipped). Plus, there were a few short stories and essays. All were very good, a few were fantastic. The only hang-up I had was the copy editing. For some reason there were a ton of copy edit errors in my Kindle version.

3. NaNoWriMo Prep

Well, I picked which project I’m going to work on. But I didn’t write a plot synopsis for any of the ideas I was considering. So, I should maybe just get partial credit for this goal. I’m pretty excited about this idea though… and I’m excited to dive into prep and research in October. It feels good to be back in “creation” mode again after months and months and months of editing.

I’ve also been working hard on getting my region ready for NaNoWriMo. I’ve been scheduling write-ins and the kick-off and TGIO parties. I’m working on prizes and prep sessions. I’ve already hit my first fundraising goal, and now I’m trying to see if I can raise a little more so I can bring a guest. I’m probably completely over-committing, but I’d rather start strong and see how it goes. I think I can make it work. It’s just a month. How bad could it be? (Famous last words…)

4. Re-read “Falling” and decide next steps

I didn’t even try to do this. I had too much else going on and decided that I didn’t want to try to push another project through before NaNoWriMo starts. I decided that I needed a break. So, all non-NaNoWriMo writing projects are officially on hold until January.

5. “Good clean living…” (no sweets, no alcohol except for one “cheat day” per week)

Yeah…. this did not happen. I bailed on this one pretty early. I don’t know what I was thinking. September is my husband’s birthday month, and if he was eating pie and drinking a beer, I certainly wasn’t going to just sit there and watch him! Plus, I had no real solid motivating factor here to keep me on the wagon. It’s not like I’m trying to lose weight or anything. This activity is best reserved for January as a post-holiday “cleanse” of sorts.

Oh, and this wasn’t exactly in my goals, but I totally bailed on that Instagram challenge (#IGAuthorLifeSept) that I said I was going to do in September.

Still, for a month where nothing seemed to be going as planned, I got the important stuff done. And, I definitely learned my lesson. Sometimes you just need a month to relax and re-group. I’m making a note of this and mentally scheduling December as my next “relax and re-group” month. After NaNoWriMo, I have a feeling I’ll need it!

Tagged: The Real Neat Blog Award

I’ve been tagged by Kayla at kdrewkthebookworm blog for something called the Real Neat Blog Award. Thanks, Kayla!


Here’s how it works:

  1. Thank and link back to the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Answer the seven questions set to you.
  3. Create seven questions for your nominees.
  4. Nominate seven other bloggers.

Here are my answers to the questions Kayla asked:

  1. How many physical books do you own? Too many to count. Plus, it’s hard to tell where “my books” end and my husband’s books begin… some are pretty obvious, but there’s a lot of overlap. We did get rid of a lot of our books (donated to Friends of the Library) when we moved into this apartment, but we still have five completely full bookshelves and stacks of books everywhere.
  2. Under what circumstances would you DNF a book? If I find myself rolling my eyes on almost every page, or if I put it down and have pretty much no interest in picking it back up again, I’ll abandon it. If the book came highly recommended from a friend, I’ll return to it later to see if I just wasn’t in the mood for it at the time I tried to read it. That’s what I’m planning to do with the last book I DNFed.
  3. What are your favourite and least favourite things about blogging? I love the community of people I’ve met through my blog (or their blog) over the years. Finding people out in the world who are interested in the same things I’m into is so exciting. My least favorite thing about blogging is the process of blogging. It takes me forever to write, edit, format, and add links (and *gasp* photos!) to my blog posts.
  4. Tell me a teaser sentence from the book you’re currently reading! I’m between books at the moment, but I just finished A Gathering of Shadows, and it ends on a massive cliff-hanger. I can’t wait for the next book. In the meantime, I’ll be dwelling on what happens after that last line… (which I won’t post here because, spoilers!)
  5. What device do you use to write your blog posts (computer, phone, etc.)? I almost always use my computer. I’ve tried to use the wordpress app on my phone to create new posts, but most of my posts are heavy on the words and hyperlinks and light on the photos. I find that typing, formatting, and hyperlinking on my phone is incredibly frustrating. I prefer to do those posts on my computer. But, if it’s a photo-heavy post, it’s way easier to do it on my phone.
  6. Tell me a little known fact about you that no other bloggers know. Hmm…. this one is pretty hard… I had to think about this one for a while and the best I can come up with is this: I became a major geek on bread baking about 14 years ago. I read a bunch of books. I made a sourdough starter. I taught myself to make a fairly decent loaf of pain au levain (the hard way… not any of that NYT bread in a cast iron soup pot stuff…). I also got pretty good at focaccia and cinnamon rolls. I love making bread, and I’ve always wanted to try working as a baker at some point.
  7. What song is stuck in your head right now? Ugh. This one is so embarrassing… Hey, Jealousy by the Gin Blossoms… I heard this playing in our cafeteria earlier this week, and it’s been stuck in my head since then. Oh, the ’90s nostalgia…

In turn, I nominate the following seven bloggers:

  1. Sharon
  2. Brynn
  3. Angela
  4. Bacon
  5. Alexandria
  6. Lana
  7. Shanna

To answer the following seven questions:

  1. How many books are currently on your (pick one) Goodreads TBR / Amazon wish list / library hold list / whatever other app you use to track books you want to read?
  2. Out of those books, if you had to pick just one to buy/borrow next, which one would it be and why?
  3. When you walk into a bookstore, what’s the first section that you go to?
  4. What future-release book are you most looking forward to reading and why? When does it come out?
  5. What book have you re-read the most? How many times?
  6. What was the last book you DNFed, and why?
  7. What was the last book you stayed up past your bedtime reading?

Thanks again to Kayla for tagging me! This has been really fun!

Unpopular Opinions Book Tag

I’ve not been tagged, but my friend Sharon answered these on her blog (Library Hungry), and I got inspired. I tag anyone who hasn’t done this yet and wants to share their responses.

1) A popular book or series you didn’t like: I’m going to have to go with The Giver on this one… Maybe it’s just because I read it for the first time as an adult and after what seems like a million other books have come out that more or less have the exact same plot and, in my opinion, do it better.

2) A book or series everyone seems to hate, but you love: Like Sharon said in her post, my tastes (for the most part) are pretty mainstream. So, for this question I’m going to shine the light on an older series that doesn’t get a lot of love. Most people, when they think of Madeline L’Engle, shower all the love on her Wrinkle in Time series. I liked that series a lot, but the one that really got me was her series about Meg and Calvin’s family which focuses on the adventures of their children and mostly features their eldest daughter, Polly. The first of these books is apparently considered to be the last (5th) book in the Wrinkle in Time series (called An Acceptable Time). I think that book launched the O’Keefe family spin-off series (or maybe it was the other way around?) that starts with Arm of the Starfish. Both of these books were formative books in my YA reader life. (P.S. While adding links to this post, I realized that the Kindle version of Arm of the Starfish happens to be on sale for $2.99 right now… go buy it! –> )

3) A love triangle or romantic pairing you’re not a fan of: The one in An Ember in the Ashes. It’s actually more than a love triangle. There are conjoined love triangles in this book with one pair appearing in both, then each having their own “third wheel,” so to speak. I’m not even sure what shape that makes. But I was absolutely not invested in any of the pairings and possible romances, even though everyone seems to be all swoony over the boys in this book/series.

4) A popular genre you hardly ever reach for: Horror/Thriller. I’m not into the scary stuff.

5) A beloved book character who gets on your nerves in a major way: This is the part where everyone is going to hate me… Celaena Sardothien (aka Aelin) from the Throne of Glass series… There are a lot of other reasons why I enjoy these books, but the main character is rarely one of them. She’s got that angsty, broody YA hero thing down, and she’s independent to a life-threatening, world-destroying fault. She’s not shown herself to be a very good leader, or friend, which sometimes makes it just really hard to root for her. We’ll see how I feel after I read Empire of Storms, but so far, the books I’ve liked her best in are the prequel novellas. Please note: saying this *does not* mean I don’t like this series. Just because a character gets on your nerves, that doesn’t mean a book is bad. Sometimes it means exactly the opposite. Another example: Book 5 of the Harry Potter series is my favorite and that one features Harry at his most angsty and difficult to love point in the story.

6) A popular author you can’t seem to get into: I really can’t think of anyone here… I can’t think of a time when I wrote off an author because of one book/series I didn’t like. And, I can’t think of an author who is still writing books that I would never read anything by again just because I didn’t like one of their books, or a series they wrote.

7) A trope you’re tired of seeing: At the moment, I am burnt out on the “orphan teen queen/king hiding out as a street urchin / thief / assassin / rebel” trope. For some reason, it feels like this trope, and the “chosen one” trope, have been the only two plot arc choices for nearly every YA fantasy book over the past decade. I’m ready for something new.

8) A popular book or series you have no interest in reading: The Mortal Instruments series. I know this series has some serious fans, but it just doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy (mostly due to burn-out on that type of story/world/trope). However, at some point I do plan to try her Infernal Devices series.

9) The saying goes: the book is always better than the movie. But what movie or TV adaption did you like better than the original book? I really like the SyFy Channel’s TV show version of The Magicians better than I liked the first book in that series. I haven’t read the other two books in that series, yet. I’m trying to finish them before the second season starts. But so far I like the TV show better.

If you did this book tag, share a link to your post in the comments so I can go check it out!

September 2016 TBR (#IGAuthorLifeSept)

I’m splitting my TBR in two this month.

First are the books I’d like to read for research that will help me achieve my Fall Bootcamp goals.


  • Under the Black Flag — I think I mentioned this one on here before. It’s been on my TBR stack for a while now. I bought it with the intention of reading it for research on the book idea that includes space pirates.
  • Physics of the Impossible — I just got this one. It’s a popular science book that I’ve heard is really helpful for understanding some sciencey bits that I need for world building.
  • The Seven Basic Plots — I checked this one out of the library years ago and read some of it, then skimmed through the rest before I had to return it. I decided to splurge and order myself a copy so I can use it for research and refer to it at my leisure.
  • Outlining Your Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel workbooks — I’ve heard these are good. I’ve read the Outlining Your Novel book and thought it was really helpful. So, I decided to try the workbook. I don’t really want to mark up the pages though… I may just use these as writing prompts and scribble in a notebook instead.

My second TBR are the books I want to read for fun this month. What’s appealing to me right now is fantasy and sci-fi aimed at “older” readers. That’s why my TBR for September looks like this:


  • Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (Kindle, pre-order) — Book 5 in the Throne of Glass series will be magically delivered to my Kindle on Tuesday and I’m so excited about it that I can hardly wait! I may have too call in “reading” to work on Tuesday…😉
  • This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab (Kindle) — I’ve had this for over a month now and it’s killing me that I haven’t had time to read it. I started it last weekend and I think I may try to finish it this weekend. We’ll see how much reading time I get…
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Kindle) — still kicking myself for not having read this book yet. Argh. So many good books and such a brutal trade off for me between reading and writing.
  • The Just City by Jo Walton (Kindle) — this was the Tor book club book last month and it looks fascinating. It also looks like it would be exactly the sort of novel my husband (a philosophy major) might enjoy.
  • The Magician King by Lev Grossman (Kindle, library) — I have this one on hold at the library because I’d really like to read it before they start season two of the TV show. I feel like season one may have already spoiled me for some of this story, but I’d still like to see how it plays out on the page.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (signed hardcover) — I convinced my work bookclub to read this book this month. Since I have a nice hardcover edition, I haven’t been taking it with me on my commute. I desperately need some at-home reading time so I can dive back into this story.

I definitely will not have time to read all these books this month. But, I’m hoping I’ll find time to at least finish a few of these. A book a week is my goal. I’m already behind schedule this week, but hoping to catch up over the long weekend.

Hope everyone has a relaxing and fun long weekend! Happy reading!

September goals (#IGAuthorLifeSept)

I posted this photo of my goals for the month for today’s #IGAuthorLifeSept post.


To expand on item #3 in the photo, also hinted at by the piece of paper underneath my planner in the photo… I’m participating in the YA Buccaneers NaNoWriMo prep fall bootcamp. I’ve decided my goals for this bootcamp (September through November) are as follows:


I have a bunch of ideas that have been tumbling about in my brain for the past year or so while I’ve been working on getting my two finished novels query-ready. They are:

  1. A private school, mother/daughter, all-girl super-hero gang ensemble story… I kind of want it to feel like the Taylor Swift “Bad Blood” video…
  2. A space opera romance that I’ve been meaning to write for almost ten… this one has space pirates, adventure, and female “coming of age” MC, pining after an unrequited love (that ultimately ends “happily ever after”)…
  3. A sequel to “Eve of the Fae” that will dig more into why the demons teamed up with Lord Edric against the Fae… Ari will be the star of this story and there will be a “stuck in the snow,” forced-proximity romance…
  4. The sequel story for “Lost Empire” that will flip between the drama at home (as Zane, Kilm, Katz, and Jace try to keep the tribes united) and the drama abroad (as Mia, Vlad, and Isla face the Koto on their turf).

I’m planning on nailing down the basics for each of these (protagonist, antagonist, goal, conflict, stakes, other key characters, some basic plot points, etc.). Then I want to pick one to write in November. If you feel strongly about any of these ideas, definitely let me know. If there is a lot of interest in one of these ideas over the others, I could be swayed in that direction. Otherwise, I’ll probably go with one of the first two because I really don’t want to write a sequel for a book that doesn’t even have a home yet.

Goal #4 in the photo above is a bit of a “stretch goal.” I’d like to re-read and figure out what to do with one of my old WIP novels (code name: “Falling”). More on that next week because I’m planning on using this for one of my Instagram photo challenge posts…

Oh yeah! One goal I didn’t list in my planner is the #IGAuthorLifeSept Instagram challenge! I’m attempting another Instagram photo challenge in September. I did one back in May and another one back in December. This time I don’t think I’m going to cross post the photos to this blog unless the topic seems blog worthy (like today’s and tomorrow’s prompts). So, if you want to follow along, go check out my Instagram feed.


I think that’s probably enough to keep me busy this month… What do you think?

Don’t forget… Leave me a comment and tell me if you have strong feelings about any of my NaNoWriMo ideas.

If you donate to my fundraiser, I will reward you by sending you a link to read some of my post-NaNoWriMo draft chapters via a secret link for donors…

Or, if you’re not into that, you can sign up to be a beta reader… I’m always on the lookout for awesome beta readers!