Pep Talk Week 4: Writing Magic

Dear Reader,

Recently, I rewatched The Magicians. In one of the episodes, one of my favorite characters, Margo, mentioned something I’ve held with me for a long time. Magic comes from pain

When I first watched the series years ago, I remembered the line got me through a lot. I think rewatching it was some sort of calling. As someone who was experiencing a rut–not a creative rut, a rut that comes from being buried under deadlines, imposter syndrome, and more–this line spoke to me once again.

Words are magic. In spell books, in tv shows, and in more, words are used as a conduit to cast spells. I think, in some way, that extends to writing. We are magicians because we put our blood, sweat, tears, hopes, fears, and souls into words. Be it ink, or graphite, or zeros and ones on a screen, these mediums are our wands, and the novels, short stories, poems, and essays we write are the byproduct of the magic we cast.

Which brings me back to that expression. If Magicians use magic, and it comes from pain, then the words and stories we write also come from it. This experience has been used and morphed throughout time. How writers have to mine their trauma. Or how your lived experiences make the best stories. The suffering artist trope. I can go on and on.

Pain is a tool in a writer’s arsenal. Just like point-of-view, exposition, and dialogue. Too much dialogue, and your stories lack grounding. Too much exposition, and you’re telling, not showing. Like everything, there needs to be a balance. Going back to The Magicians, to write, just like to cast, the circumstances have to be right. 

The world is a mess right now. There’s no other way to say it. The world is pushing down on us in every way imaginable. We cannot control it. 

But we can control ourselves. We can control how that pain manifests itself. We are not only magicians, readers, we are alchemists who can turn blood into wine. It doesn’t have to happen instantly. The spell might take one month or one year, but in the end, if you lean into it, if you trust yourself, and if you remember, you are powerful, and not shy away from those feelings, you might just make something great.

And I believe, with my whole heart and being, we will be the best magicians known to man. 

Onward,

Kosoko Jackson

Kosoko Jackson is a digital media specialist, focusing on digital storytelling, email, social and SMS marketing, and a freelance political journalist. Occasionally, his personal essays and short stories have been featured on Medium, Thought Catalog, The Advocate, and some literary magazines. When not writing YA novels that champion holistic representation of black queer youth across genres, he can be found obsessing over movies, drinking his (umpteenth) London Fog, or spending far too much time on Twitter. His YA debut, YESTERDAY IS HISTORY, came out in 2021, published by SourceBooks Fire and his adult #OwnVoices queer Romcom, I’M SO (NOT) OVER YOU will come out in 2022, by Berkley Romance.

Pep Talk Week #3: Nudging the Muse

Kudos for taking on this awesome JuNoWriMo challenge. Writing 50,000 in a single month is a huge goal, and while you no doubt started inspired and fired up, at some point, you may find yourself feeling uninspired.

So, if and when you run out of steam with your writing, here are five fun ways to nudge the muse.

  1. Create Some Chaos: Stories are fueled by conflict. Conflict shows what kind of stuff your characters are made of. Try sticking two characters in a room and tossing in some conflict. Did one of them renege on a deal? Maybe they discovered they’re both dating the same person. Maybe it’s as simple as disagreeing on where to set the thermostat. It’s not as much about the specific issue as it is about their behaviors and their reactions to the conflict. It’s fascinating the deeper levels of character you can reach through a little exercise in conflict, and creating chaos is a great way to spice things up and get your writing revved back up.
  1. Face the Fear: Just like each of us, every well-drawn character has something they fear. Peter Pan is afraid to grow old. Indiana Jones hates snakes. Find a fear to saddle your character with and then force them to face that fear. If your character is afraid of the dark, blow out their only candle, or drain the battery on their smart phone. One of the best ways to see what your character is made of is to pit them against their phobias. All sorts of things can come to light, just by exploring your character’s darkest fears.
  1. Road Trip!: Transport your character to another location. Give them, and your brain, a change of scenery. 
  1. Set the Mood: Try a little music. Pick a song that matches the tone of the scene you’re writing. Listen, really listen and let yourself take it in. Get up and move to the music. Sway, or hop, or leap, or spin. Soak it up, allow it to shift your emotions and turn them into physical movement. Set it on replay as you resume writing. Let the music move you and your words.
  1. Re-engage Your Senses: When writing, we tend to get focused on the visual. But stories should engage all of our senses. Put yourself inside the story, by waking up your senses. Writing a scene in a coffee shop? Make yourself a fresh cuppa and spend some time savoring the sounds of the coffee maker, the smell of the coffee beans, the taste of the dark roast with a hint of cream. Writing a scene that takes place outdoors? Go outside, close your eyes and inhale. Let yourself really hear, smell, and feel the world. Not only will this exercise give you a short break from the keyboard, it’s also a great way to remind yourself what your character is hearing, smelling, feeling, tasting.

Most of all, take a minute to celebrate your progress to this point and marvel at the awesome power of putting words on the page and bringing your stories and characters to life.

Here’s to finishing strong!

Sharon Skinner holds a BA in English, an MA in Creative Writing, and is a Certified Book Coach. She writes fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and the occasional steampunk, for audiences of all ages. Skinner is an active member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and serves as the Regional Advisor for SCBWI AZ.

Pep Talk Week #2: Don’t Look Back

Dear Writer,

I have long been obsessed with mythology, specifically the Greeks. My favorite among these myths is that of Orpheus and Eurydice. What I find myself returning to again and again within this myth and my current work-in-progress is a lasting reminder. Don’t look back. This, dear writer, is a mantra to recite daily as you endeavor to fill one page after the next. 

No matter what stage or scene you find yourself in, you must keep your eyes on the forward motion of your story. Sure, there will be trials and roadblocks and wrong turns along the way. Writing is, after all, a journey with a destination. But the best adventures often arrive when we get out of our own way.

Most recently, I forgot the name for the location of the school I created in my own fictional world. I searched through reference materials saved in Scrivener, but could not find the answer I needed. Following this slight sense of panic, I took too many hours diving into archives of notes from 2014 to present day. I discovered folders from Phase One and Phase Two only to be struck by the realization that this story is now in Phase Three. Here, dear writer, is where my most beloved advice of don’t look back would’ve suited me well.

While I did find the answer I needed, too much time spent away from the writing dwindled the momentum I gained that Sunday morning. Perhaps, it was procrastination at a subconscious level. I knew that specific writing session would be about tackling a difficult chapter. In an effort to feel prepared, I lost that fizzle of alchemical obsession that often causes us to write in a haze. You know those days, dear writer, as they are often the ones which never feel tangible. The words are just there without a real memory of putting them on the page. 

But here’s the thing. Tough chapters will happen. There may be answers to questions you cannot remember in the moment. The key is to keep writing despite these challenges. And you guessed it, don’t look back. 

When facing troublesome scenes or struggling to make sense of what you think your story should be, consider the points of the journey you are most excited to write. It might be a small idea or image, it may be a conversation echoing on a loop in your head or an action scene you’ve imagined with perfect pacing. Whatever it may be, use these as an anchor to stay tethered to the act of writing.

As mentioned earlier, my work-in-progress novel began as a small seedling of an idea in 2014. During my time in the Mountainview MFA, I conceptualized a story filled with dreams. I  researched and wrote. I added more pages and ideas. My final semester of my graduate studies, I met with my mentor to pitch that story and discuss the plan for the next few months. Very quickly, my mentor let me know that this was not what my story was actually about. She gave me a deadline and urged me to rethink the concept. I must note that I have always thrived on setting a goal, and that night, I did in fact conceptualize a new version of this story. It felt right. And even then, there was a scene in a lighthouse I needed to write. It got me through to the end of my thesis. 

Now in Phase Three having finally gotten out of my own way, leaning into my strengths as a writer, and incorporating my love of mythology, I have finally found what this story needs to be, and I refuse to look back. As I approach the final part of the novel, I am once again writing toward that scene in the lighthouse. Even amidst the tough chapters, it keeps me excited to continue this journey. 

Throughout this month, you will encounter all kinds of chapters and scenes moving you toward your desired word count. This is your destination. And along the way, there is magic to be found in the journey. 

This is what keeps us returning to the page, right? There will be days when you’re tired and the words come too slow. And other hours may hurt because the writing feels too real, too authentic to ever consider sharing with the world. I’m here to tell you that this month, it doesn’t matter if the writing is scary so long as you put words on the page. 

Dear writer, the world is not always kind and life is not always easy. Some days, survival may be all you can manage. But on the other days when you find excitement for the scenes you’ve yet to write, these are the days when getting close is better than best because it means you haven’t given up. 

Believe in yourself. Take a deep breath. Drink some water because you’re probably dehydrated. Keep trying. And most importantly this month, don’t look back until you make it to the end, whatever that means for you. 

Wishing you all the very best, 

Kayla King 

Kayla King is an author of fiction and poetry. Her debut micro-collection of poetry, These Are the Women We Write About, is published by The Poetry Annals.

She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Pages Penned in Pandemic: A Collective, now available for purchase. All proceeds will be donated to 826 National, an organization supporting young writers.

Kayla is a graduate of the Mountainview MFA with her sights set on publishing the novel conceptualized during her graduate studies. She will be completing her YA speculative novel about dreams this summer before seeking representation, and always dreaming bigger than ever. To learn more and catch a sneak peek of her first page, check out her conversation with agent Danielle Chiotti featured on the Manuscript Academy Podcast! You can follow Kayla’s writing journey over at her website: kaylakingbooks.com or her twitterings @KaylaMKing. 

Pep Talk Week #1: Finding Venus

Sentences. Those precious, precious sentences… I find myself thinking about sentences a lot, especially after I’ve written a bunch of questionable ones.

Oh, writers: those esoteric beings perched over a keyboard or a notebook, crafting stories one word at a time, one sentence at a time. And the writers who have written and/or published multiple books LOVE to remind us of the incredible importance of the finely tuned sentence, and the Herculean battle they embarked upon to get those lauded strings of words just. Exactly. Right. The lost sleep! The blood! The sweat! Etcetera!

When I started grad school, it had been twenty-plus years since I’d had to carefully contemplate things like sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, tone, beats… In my workaday world post-undergrad and pre-MFA program, sentences were purely utilitarian: say things to convey information, ideas, feelings, or make a friend laugh. Of course it was always important to me that my sentences, whether written or spoken, were soundly constructed and made sense, but understanding them to the degree that my program’s faculty discussed in workshops (and even in casual conversations I’d overhear while passing by) was overwhelming, to say the least. It had just been so long since I’d thought about that stuff, I was afraid I’d never be able to grasp it again. I remember scribbling “What have I done? I am in completely over my head.”

Realizing all that we don’t know, and haven’t even thought about when we start on a writing project is enough to make a person turn back before they really start. Maybe you’re there right now.

OK, so… I’m working on something now, too. It’s been in progress for what’s got to be two years now. I had a lot of ideas, and, in fits and starts, have written – as of today – 47,702 words. Most of the reason why I haven’t gotten more words and more story is: the sentence. The vast majority of sentences in this thing are garbage. I can practically see the comments by former mentors and editors about how messy this sentence/paragraph/chapter is. It’s like commentary during a baseball game, only it’s about this thing I’m still trying to make. I’m editing myself before I actually have enough to edit.

Sculptors make beautiful things. I always think of the Venus de Milo, with her luminous, pensive facial expression, the dropped shoulder, and the curve of her neck. And how she started as a block of stone – or maybe marble? I’m not sure. I’m not a literal sculptor. But that detail, that beauty, came out of an amorphous block. Think how strong the artist’s vision must have been to chisel away at that block to reveal that goddess of beauty that still evokes emotion and passion today.

That block is your first draft. And you don’t even get to buy it or have it given to you; you have to MAKE it. And a block is exactly what it needs to be: blocky (of course), heavy, bulky. In fact, the bigger the block, the more material there is to chisel away at. And if you make a mistake with that chisel, at least you’ll have enough marble or stone or whatever to chip away more and more until it looks exactly like you want it to.

If you spend too much time editing your sentences as you try to plow through your first draft, you will never get to play with that big, strong, solid block. So keep going, keep building that blocky word count until it’s so big, with so many sentences that will absolutely need chiseling, that you’ll have lots of room for mistakes and missteps – and then when you’re all the way through you can start obsessing about making your sentences fine and intricate. But until then, keep making those big, blocky ones. Your Venus will reveal herself to you in due time.

Shawna-Lee is a writer with a debut novel called Radio Waves, which is all about connecting to music in such a way that it can change the course of one’s life. In addition to music, she also loves stand-up comedy, proverbial rabbit holes, and desolate lighthouses. She’s a lifelong New Englander, and is currently working on a novel about Gen X-ers, friendship, and life’s unexpected turns.

Radio Waves is available anywhere you like to get your books, including your local indies, via Bookshop.org.

Using Meditation to Leave a No-Write-Rut Behind

When Frodo told Gandalf he would rather not have to deal with all the hardship of taking the one ring to Mordor, Gandalf’s response was, “So do all who live to see such times…All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” 

Living through a pandemic, forest fires, murder hornets, climate change, and political division is not likely something any of us would wish to endure. But we should take Gandalf’s advice and decide what to do with the time we have.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably decided to use at least some of your time to write. 

But if it’s been hard to put pen to paper during the pandemic, if you’ve found yourself in a rut, how do you pull yourself out? 

In our last post, we took the path of least resistance and watched some inspirational videos to get the creative juices flowing. But that was just the first step. In this post, we’ll help you leave that rut—COVID-inspired or not—behind. 

What if You’ve Never Meditated Before?

We get it. New activities can be difficult to start because…what if it doesn’t go well? What if you’re doing it wrong? 

The good thing about meditation is there is no wrong, not really. It’s one of those things that’s an art and a science, and you can start small. As long as you’re relaxed and mindful, and forgiving of yourself when your mind wanders (because it will), you can achieve a meditative state. 

But if you’re a total newb when it comes to going zen, don’t worry. We’re going to guide you through some meditation exercises for both the amateur and the meditation master.

Meditation Exercise 1: Breathe it Out

Sometimes all it takes is to breathe. Really breathe—mindfully. Breathing is unique because our bodies will do it on their own, but we can also regulate it. Can you think of anything else our bodies do that are both involuntary and voluntary? We can’t.

The benefit of being mindful about breathing is you will continue to breathe regardless (unless you’re holding your breath), so you can rely on it happening. But by focusing on your breathing, you become mindful of what’s happening in your body. 

This exercise is good regardless of your expertise with meditation. The goal is to focus on your breathing only. If other thoughts crop up—and they will—acknowledge them, let them go, and take another breath to refocus on what’s happening in your body.

  1. Make sure you have somewhere comfortable to sit or recline. You want your muscles to be able to relax. If you’ve never sat in a lotus position, don’t start right now—you can meditate without contorting yourself. (If you can sit in a lotus position, you have our admiration!)
  2. Make sure your environment is quiet. (If it’s not, a pair of noise cancelling headphones or a white noise machine can help.)
  3. Keep your eyes open, but let them un-focus at a comfortable middle distance.
  4. Breathe in through your nose for a count of three. Breathe out through pursed lips for a count of six. If you’ve meditated before, focus on how the breath feels entering and exiting your body. If this is your first meditation, just focus on counting and breathing. Repeat twice.
  5. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Breathe out through pursed lips for a count of eight. Repeat twice.
  6. Breathe in through your nose for a count of five. Breathe out through pursed lips for a count of ten. Repeat twice.
  7. Repeat step 5.
  8. Repeat step 4.
  9. Congratulate yourself for meditating! How did it feel? Write a brief reflection or journal entry about your experience. What did you notice? Was it challenging or easy? Did you like it? Why or why not? Will you try it again?

This first exercise can help you get used to meditation. It can help clear your mind. It can help you focus on the present, on your body, instead of what’s been going on out in the world—or what might go on out in the world. It takes your mind off your writing.

Wait, that sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it? Aren’t we supposed to be getting our minds on our writing?

If you’re in a rut, thinking about the thing that put you there isn’t going to help you out. Have faith in yourself, in the process, and in meditation. 

When you’ve stopped thinking each day about how you should have been writing through the pandemic, you’re ready for the next exercise.

Meditation Exercise 2: Affirmation Mantra

What’s an affirmation? You may already know, but in case you don’t, an affirmation is a statement of positivity about yourself and/or your abilities. Sometimes it’s designed to express gratitude or attract more of what you desire. An example of an affirmation might be: 

I have the right to call myself a writer.

It’s brief, positive, and easy to remember. 

Now what about a mantra? A mantra may be repeated during meditation to help the mind focus on the ideas presented by the mantra. So if you’ve guessed that you’re going to create an affirmation and repeat it—either aloud or silently while you meditate—then you’re right on track. 

Without further ado, here’s your second meditation exercise:

  1. Create your affirmation. Make sure it’s positive and brief. If you’re having trouble, try focusing on something you’re grateful for, or a feeling or thought you desire more of.
  2. Perform the first meditation exercise to help you reach what’s known as a liminal state. Basically, it’s that place where you can be mindful.
  3. Repeat your affirmation mantra at least ten times.
  4. Perform the first meditation again.

You can repeat this as often as you need to. You can write new affirmation mantras to work with as well. 

The next exercise will help you find inspiration, hopefully, to carry you out of your writing rut.

Meditation Exercise 3: Visualization

Visualization is slightly different from meditation in the same way that a square is always a rectangle but a rectangle’s not always a square. What? A math reference? In a blog about writing? 

But it’s true—visualization requires meditation skills but you can meditate without performing a visualization. So what’s a visualization?

When you visualize, you use your imagination to create a spatial setting and the objects in it. Sound familiar? Visualization should be easy for writers because it’s like creating a setting in a story. 

For this exercise, you’re going to perform the first meditation exercise and then visualize the following:

You’re standing in a bookstore. It’s early morning or close to closing, so the store isn’t terribly busy. You wander over to the bookshelf of your genre and scan the spines. You run your fingers over them and take in the letters. Note the colors, the fonts, and their sizes. As you continue to peruse the shelf, you see a book given precedence.  You can see the whole front cover. On the cover is your name, the title of your book, fitting imagery, and blurbs. There are several copies of your book in stock, but it’s also clear that some have sold already. Visualize yourself picking up the book. You hold it in both hands. It’s a hardcover. You let the book gently fall open to a random page. You raise the book to your nose and inhale. You can smell the pages, the glue, the ink—that new book smell which is as aromatic and pleasing as the old book smell. You hold the pages in your hand and thumb through them, letting pages fall onto the other half of the book. Gently, you close the cover. On the back you see a description of your book, more blurbs, a barcode and ISBN, and your photo with a brief bio. You hold in your hands the culmination of your creative efforts. You feel a swell of happiness warm your entire being. Like the climax of a story, you feel like this moment is one you questioned the possibility of many times, but at the same time, it feels inevitable. It feels like no matter your path to publication, you were always going to finish this story. You were always going to complete it, and every hurdle along the way only increases your joy in having done so. You carefully replace your book on the bookstore shelf. 

You can adjust this visualization to be more specific to your goals as a writer. The point is to sense yourself having met your goal while acknowledging the struggles along the way, accepting them, and realizing they are a part of the process.

This rut you’re in—it’s just one hurdle in a long run. When you reach your goal, you’ll be able to look back and see that every step brought you to that moment. The purpose of the visualization is to feel that end point.

How’d it Go?

We’d love to hear about your meditation sessions, if you’re willing to share! Did you try these exercises? Did you try others? There are plenty of writing-related meditations available and many of them are free. We encourage you to keep up the meditation habit, even when you start writing again.

Author & Author Accelerator Certified book coach Margaret McNellis holds an MFA in fiction, an M.A. in English & creative writing, and a B.A. in art history. She writes historical fiction for adult and young adult readers. Her debut YA novel, THE RED FLETCH, will be released on 9/18/21. Margaret’s short fiction has been published in several markets, including Assignment Magazine, where she was the 2019 student fiction contest winner. Margaret loves the beach when it’s empty, the forest in the fall, blasting Mozart’s piano sonatas, and baking bread.

5 Inspirational Videos to Help You Gear Up to Write Your Book

Writing a book is no mean feat. If it were easy, everyone would do it, right? If you’re thinking of participating in JuNoWriMo 2021, that’s fantastic. It really is. Deciding to write a book is exciting, and making that decision is the biggest step because it’s the first. Most people don’t even decide to write a book.

That beautiful commitment to yourself and to your story can fuel you through the whole drafting process…but why go it alone? We’ve sourced five inspirational videos to help you gear up to write your book. Over the next [x weeks/days] we will share some additional resources to help you shake off the doldrums of the pandemic and prepare to launch into a month of storytelling.

No. 1: When You’re Seeking Creativity…

Watch Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) talk about creative genius.

No. 2: When You Need to Choose…

Writing a book is scary. But that doesn’t mean you have to let your brain keep you from trying.

No. 3: When You Need to Find Your Passion…

Do you love to write? If you’re feeling like you’ve lost your way a little, this video is for you!

No. 4: When You Need to Think Outside the Box…

If you’re feeling trapped by your ideas, by your story, watch this video to step outside of the norm and expand your creativity.

No. 5: When You Stumble or Others Put You Down…

When we strive, we inevitably experience setbacks and failures along the way. When you need to feel able to continue on despite feeling like everything is wrong, watch this video.

Final Thoughts

Not all inspiration has to be on the topic of writing. If these videos don’t help you feel inspired to write, watch an inspirational sports video. If that doesn’t help, look for videos by more people who have succeeded even though the odds were stacked against them. Look for the people who could have given up, who almost gave up, but who didn’t give up. 

Inspiration is everywhere. Hopefully this list of videos will get you started on your way to preparing to participate in JuNoWriMo. 

Author & Author Accelerator Certified book coach Margaret McNellis holds an MFA in fiction, an M.A. in English & creative writing, and a B.A. in art history. She writes historical fiction for adult and young adult readers. Her debut YA novel, THE RED FLETCH, will be released on 9/18/21. Margaret’s short fiction has been published in several markets, including Assignment Magazine, where she was the 2019 student fiction contest winner. Margaret loves the beach when it’s empty, the forest in the fall, blasting Mozart’s piano sonatas, and baking bread.

Train for JuNo Like You Would a 5K – Stepping Up Your Writing Game

Could you go from couch potato to running a 5K? Nah, neither could we. No judgment. You know what the 5K of the writing world is? Writing a novel in a month. Well, that might actually be more like a marathon, but we’re going to go with 5K because it’s less intimidating.

But in the same way you couldn’t go from Netflix-and-snack to running several miles in one get-off-the-couch move, we don’t expect you to go from not writing to putting down 50,000 words in a month. 

Maybe you used our list of inspirational videos and meditation exercises to pull yourself out of a writing rut—possibly even a pandemic-induced writing rut. Either way, good for you! You should take a moment to give yourself the proverbial pat on the back. Or take a rewarding trip to the bookstore (safely, with masks and social distancing). 

But then come back to your computer or notebook and realize there’s more prep work to do. In this post, we’ll give you a four-week plan to get up to writing 1,667 words a day (the number you need daily for 30 days to hit 50,000 words).

Week One

For the first week, you’re going to aim to get up to 100 words a day. That may seem paltry, but don’t worry—we’ll be turning up the heat soon, and before you know it, you’ll be in prime shape for JuNoWriMo 2021.

For each day, you can write a new micro-story or work toward a single, longer story. Here’s the plan:

Day 1: Write 25 words. No sweat, right?

Day 2: Write 30 words. Still pretty small.

Day 3: Write 45 words. Oh we’re getting closer to elevator-pitch length!

Day 4: Write 65 words. You’re more than halfway there!

Day 5: Write 80 words. So close!

Day 6: Write 95 words.

Day 7: Write 100 words! Way to go! Celebrate somehow.

Week Two

Last week was a nice experience of wading back into writing. This week, we’re going to aim to get you to 500 words by the end. Same rules apply: You can write a different bit of micro-fiction each day, or work toward a longer story.

Day 1: Write 105 words. Already writing more than last week!

Day 2: Write 150 words.

Day 3: Write 225 words.

Day 4: Write 275 words. More than halfway there!

Day 5: Write 350 words.

Day 6: Write 435 words. You’re so close!

Day 7: Write 500 words. You did it! Celebrate bigger than you did last week.

Week Three

This week’s goal is to get you above 1,000. Why make such a big jump in week three? Two reasons: The more days you write closer to goal, the easier it will be in June—and we don’t want flagging motivation in week four to stop you from reaching 1,667 words a day.

Same rules as weeks one and two. Ready? Set? Write!

Day 1: Write 505 words.

Day 2: Write 600 words.

Day 3: Write 700 words. A big jump, but you can handle it! We believe in you.

Day 4: Write 775 words. You’re halfway through the week, and more than halfway past your daily word goal!

Day 5: Write 850 words.

Day 6: Write 920 words. Less than 100 to go to reach your daily goal!

Day 7: Write 1,000 words. Woohoo! You did it! You’re so close to writing the daily minimum to reach 50k in 30 days! Do something really nice for yourself.

Week Four

Here we are in the home stretch. You’ve done really well. There’s not much more work to do now—you’ll just be working up to adding those final 667 words per day. You’re already writing 1,000 words per day, so this should be a walk in the park or a piece of cake or whatever reward-based idiom you want to use.

Same rules. Here we go!

Day 1: Write 1,001 words. You’ve got this. It’s just one more word than you wrote yesterday.

Day 2: Write 1,055 words.

Day 3: Write 1,225 words.

Day 4: Write 1,350 words. You’re more than halfway to this week’s goal! Keep chugging along.

Day 5: Write 1,450 words.

Day 6: Write 1,550 words. You’re so close. Can you feel it?

Day 7: Write 1,667 words. You made it! You’re totally ready for the vigor of writing 50K in 30 days now. Do something super fun to celebrate!

You Made It…What Next?

How does it feel to be writing 1,667 words a day? We always knew you had it in you. By the end of this challenge, you’ve written 17,128 words, which is almost 35% of a JuNoWriMo challenge. Add that to what you’ll write in June and that’s 67,128 words. At an average of 250 words per page (standard for many novels), that would be a book of almost 270 pages. Not too shabby, right?

Best of all, you’re now writing 1,667 words a day. If you timed this right, you can just keep going at that pace through June. If not, you’ll end up with even more stories or words written—and that’s not a bad thing, either.

Good luck and happy writing for JuNoWriMo 2021!

Author & Author Accelerator Certified book coach Margaret McNellis holds an MFA in fiction, an M.A. in English & creative writing, and a B.A. in art history. She writes historical fiction for adult and young adult readers. Her debut YA novel, THE RED FLETCH, will be released on 9/18/21. Margaret’s short fiction has been published in several markets, including Assignment Magazine, where she was the 2019 student fiction contest winner. Margaret loves the beach when it’s empty, the forest in the fall, blasting Mozart’s piano sonatas, and baking bread.

Pep Talk Week #4: The Curse of Writer’s Block

It’s week four of JuNoWriMo, one of the most challenging weeks. By now you may be worn thin, your story may have lost its shine, or you may have run out of ideas. It’s common for me to hit a wall somewhere beyond the middle of my novels. But what do you do when you just feel stuck?

In On Writing, Stephen King provides a chest full of gold nuggets – encouragement, inspiration, solutions to problems every writer faces. These tips may be the vital pieces you need to break through and finish JuNoWriMo. Just in case you don’t have time to read it right now, I’m going to share one of the ways King’s wisdom has helped me.

The Curse of Writer’s Block

What is writer’s block? It depends on who you ask. The causes are even more varied, especially because it can attack all writers differently.

In my personal experience, I’ve found that writer’s block often is this: the excuse not to write. That may sound harsh, but I’m speaking for myself here. Sure, we all get stuck sometimes. I’ve had my share of big, gaping plot holes to hurdle. I’ve also experienced times of creative funk when I had absolutely no motivation to work. It’s miserable. But often what we call “writer’s block” is nothing more than a lack of tenacity – not being willing to stick with it and write through the block.

If you can figure out what’s blocking you, it makes it easier to push past it. Personally, when I get stuck, it’s usually because I don’t know what happens next in the story.

Fighting Bad with Worse

In On Writing, King made an excellent point about his own experiences with writer’s block. He said often the best solution is to add a new problem. In other words, let tragedy strike your poor, unsuspecting characters. The moment I heard that, I began analyzing periods in my work when writing was a struggle. I found that most of them were indeed at a point in the story where there was more apathy than disaster, more dull tranquility than teeth-gritting struggle.

But when I throw adversity at my characters, I instantly have something to write about. A little more self-analysis, and I determined that the times I had beaten writer’s block often happened because I initiated a new dilemma in the plot.

If King hadn’t so plainly stated his solution to writer’s block, I don’t think I would have had the conscious realization on my own. When I got stuck with my story, my gut response was for a solution to get my characters out. It’s the same thing I do in life – looking for the bright side, trying to patch up the bad with the good. But my natural optimism didn’t do my stories any favors. Actually, I’ve come to believe that seeing all the things that can go wrong is an ideal vantage point for a writer. Pessimists rejoice!

So I suppose I’ve switched sides. At least when it comes to writing fiction. I’ve finally learned that the best way to fight writer’s block is to let the plot take a turn for the worse.

Maybe you’re in the same boat?

Double bonus: if your story is nearing the end, it’s the right time for the tension to ramp up anyway. So here’s my final challenge to you for these last few days:

Focus on building in all the bad stuff you can as your characters ride up that coaster’s final, steep hill.

Let’s race to the end!

An author and dabbler in all things creative, Becca J. Campbell loves thinking up stories about supernatural abilities, experimenting with painting techniques, drawing in her sketchbook, and recycling stuff into cool products for her Etsy shop UpCycled Chic By Becca.

Pep Talk Week #3: I’m Talking to US

Week 3: I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to US.

By: Jessica Dragon Cheramie

What?!?! It’s week 3.

Are you kidding me? Time disappears way faster than this stupid coronavirus.

How are your words looking?

I hope you are doing great and words are pouring out of you like a spewing volcano destroying any distractions that dare to brave your path. If this is the case:

STOP RIGHT HERE.

I’m not talking to you. Go write more words. Hehe

I’m talking to you who are still reading because the words aren’t pouring out of you or you are stuck or feel like this challenge is impossible. Actually, no, I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to us.

Can I be honest?

It looks so glamorous on social media, but writing is HARD.

I’m always so pumped and ready on week 1 with my plan I worked on the month before or not, if I’m just winging it. I’ve been doing WriMos for years.

The first two weeks, I sit down to write, listen to my curated playlist to inspire me, and I just write the movie that’s playing in my head.

I’ve been the ones we aren’t talking to right now whose story magically unfolds and words flow like the Mighty Mississippi River. I’ve finished WriMos in crazy fast times. But this isn’t what usually happens. OH NO!

Typically, I’m writing for a while until…WHAM! Brick wall.  This just got real.

Whatever the reason—cruelties of life decide to vomit all over my perfect plans or time just isn’t being kind to me or I can’t figure out why I’m writing this story to begin with and have no idea where to go with it—it happens.

I know this too well. I’m in the trenches with you.

Now, it’s week 3.

Where did that time go? How can I meet my goals now? There’s no point to keep going. I FAILED.

Does this sound familiar? Are you with me?

This happens to me, and I see it happening to others too often. Participation in sprints and in the group ebbs about this time, and it’s time to make a change.

We need to do better. We can do better.

We are NOT quitters. We are finishers.

We are NOT procrastinators. We are time-managing experts. (I’m trying to convince myself on this one.)

We are NOT perfect. We are perfectly imperfect, and we will do this.

We’ll do this by remembering why we want to do this.

We aren’t doing this because we feel like writing 50k words this month. We’re doing this because we want to write a book, and we want to write it in a month.

But let’s be honest again. When the month ends, we’ll still have what we’ve written, and we can still finish this month.

So why do you want to finish this book in this month? What does it mean to you? Make a list and post somewhere as a daily reminder. (Seriously, I’m not going anywhere. You can finish this after.)

I want to finish this book in this month, so I can get to editing next month. Sure, I can continue writing it next month if I don’t finish, but I’m choosing not to make that an option. It’s now or I move on.

Here’s the thing: I’m giving you a deadline. You have 2 weeks.

Two weeks to finish your 50k words.

I’m holding you to this, and I’m holding myself to this. We’re in this together remember.

I trust you that you can do this with me. Can I trust you? (I know we’ve only just met, so I’m banking a lot on you. Don’t let me down.)

But two weeks from now, what do you want to say? That you gave up or that you did it?

Don’t look back on this in a month or a year from now and wish you would have. Do it now.

We aren’t promised tomorrow. If this virus teaches you anything, let it be to spend more time with loved ones and to stop putting your dreams on hold.

Even if you don’t reach the goals, giving up now only gives you what you had. But if you go for this, what can you do?

There’s only one way to find out.

Why do you want this? Will you be a finisher with me?

Two weeks. Just write. NOW.

Jessica Dragon Cheramie is a Young Adult Fantasy author with a love of all things magical, dragons, and her crazy holistic ways.

Pep Talk Week #2: Padding Your Word Count – The Good Way

I hope your writing is right on track, but if you’re a little behind, don’t lose hope yet! There’s still time to pick up that word count and make up whatever ground you still have to cover.

Let’s face it, there are ways to increase your word count that are not so healthy to have as writerly habits. Included in the list of Worst Ways to Pad Word Count are: copying and pasting a block of text multiple times, adding needless obscenities as adjectives before every noun, omitting hyphens, etc.

Padding Your Word Count The Good Way

Last week, Jessica Dragon Cheramie gave some great JuNoWriMo tips. Here are my own strategies to make your JuNoWriMo as wordy as possible (in a good way!):

  1. Outline – Did you neglect to prewrite before June? Has your story arc changed since then? If your story’s began to slide down a slope to who-knows-where, now might be a great time to regain some focus. Type your outline in your novel, and suddenly you’ve added both words and direction.
  2. Add character descriptions – By now you probably know more about your characters than before you began: what they like, what they don’t, and who they want to kill at the moment. Writing a character description will help both your clarity of background info and your word count. If you want to keep things organized, do it in a separate document – remember, you can still count the words since you’re writing them during June.
  1. Write deleted scenes – You know the scenes that won’t make it into the final draft because they don’t advance the plot? How about the ones that happen before your story begins? Just because they don’t happen in the book doesn’t mean writing them won’t help your story. Sometimes allowing yourself the chance to really explore backstory will help to enrich your main story. Remember, you can always delete them (or move them to another file) after JuNoWriMo.
  2. Write another point of view – The story is all about your protagonist, which is where most (if not all) of your points of view should be focused. But writing (or re-writing) a scene from another point of view might be incredibly eye-opening. You may even spark an idea of something you want to change.
  3. Say it another way – Don’t like the last sentence you wrote? Try it again. And again. But don’t erase the previous attempts. They’ll count for you and also give you options when you go back to edit later. You don’t even have to decide which way you want to say it – JuNoWriMo is the perfect opportunity for indecision! Let the words spew forth and reap a boost in your wordcount.
  4. Add sub-plots and tangents – When editing your story later, you’ll whittle away the fluff and the unnecessary plots that muddle up your main story arc. But right now it’s JuNoWriMo! This is the time to get out all your excess ideas. Let your characters roam where they want or navel-gaze for five pages. It’ll only help you get to 50,000 faster.

Remember, write now—edit later.

I hope these ideas help you get past Week Two. Now get back to it. Happy writing!

An author and dabbler in all things creative, Becca J. Campbell loves thinking up stories about supernatural abilities, experimenting with painting techniques, drawing in her sketchbook, and recycling stuff into cool products for her Etsy shop UpCycled Chic By Becca.