The Writing Process, or How I Bang My Head Against the Wall and Shake Out a Book

A friend asked me recently if my novel-writing process differed from what it was before, now that I’ve had more experience putting a book together.  My answer was yes and no.

Ambiguity.  I has it. 

Ambiguity.  I has it.


Every writer has a different method.  There is no one way to crank out a book.  Some people approach it in a straightforward manner like they’re on a mission, and others meander about like they have no idea where they’re going.  I can’t speak for anyone but me, so today I’ll attempt to answer my friend’s question in a bit more depth.

Yes, but it depends on the book

I wrote Rose’s Hostage in a mostly linear fashion, from the beginning to the end.  The fanfic that inspired it was written the same way.

Tunerville, on the other hand, not so much.  I started with a rough idea of plot and wrote scenes out of sequence as I went, much the way a movie is filmed.  If my mind was on a certain section of the book, that’s the one I worked on.  Then at the end, I edited it together and smoothed out the transitions.

Secret Book is definitely out of sequence.  I have a complete outline.  I also have two main protagonists, who have separate lives before they meet.  I’ve done a lot of Protagonist 2, and now I’m working on Protagonist 1 and some of the scenes they appear in together.

A clue?  Sorry, this is all you’re getting.  Muwahaha!

A clue?  Sorry, this is all you’re getting.  Muwahaha!

Actually, their lines should converge slightly before you get to the heart, but I screwed up and I don’t feel like drawing it again.  And I ended up writing an ending scene before I was ready, to discharge some of the bruises I had when the Universe socked me right in the feels (didn’t work, BTW).

Yes, and it’s more efficient

I mentioned the outline.  Some writers avoid these, because they feel an outline locks them into a set path for the book.  That makes sense.  But I see it as a fluid thing, something I can change as I go, that keeps me on track.  The only book you can’t edit is the one that is printed and on the shelf.  And since I haven’t published any of them yet, anything goes!

It took me about six months to write Rose’s Hostage, but that was mostly because I was learning how to tie the story together as I went.  It took another five to edit it into a cohesive narrative, again thanks to the learning curve.

Conversely, I finished the first draft of Tunerville using NaNoWriMo 2012 in a month, not counting the bits I already had.

No, because I still think it through in the same way

Sometimes it starts with a plot, and sometimes it starts with a concept.

  • Rose’s Hostage: plot (bank robber takes hostage and keeps her; serial killer turns vigilante to find them)
  • Tunerville: concept  (man invents remote control that tunes up ghosts)
  • Secret Book: title (no really, I had the title first and nothing else)

No matter what I start with, I make notes.  Lots and lots of brainstorming notes.  Pages of them.  Secret Book started with the title, and later I attached a different idea to it.  Then even later, I thought of something else that married well with the original idea, and off we went.

Notes happen throughout the writing process, too.  I make character lists, notes on settings (this is especially true for Rose’s Hostage because I want to make Detectives Pierce and Rossberger series characters if I can), and anything else I might think of.

Especially troublesome when you think of it at nearly four a.m.

Especially troublesome when you think of it at nearly four a.m.


No, because no matter what the preliminaries are, I still have to sit down and write it

I use music geared toward the mood of the book to help me write.  Only instrumental—no songs, because then I’m tempted to sing along, and I can’t concentrate when the music has lyrics.  But whether I’m listening to Ludovico Einaudi (Secret Book), Hans Zimmer (Tunerville and Rose’s Hostage), or Beethoven (because he’s awesome), my butt still has to be in that chair and my fingers must be engaged with the keyboard.

Incidentally, it is Beethoven’s 244th  birthday today.  Happy birthday!

Incidentally, it is Beethoven’s 244th  birthday today.  Happy birthday!

Image:  Joseph Karl Stieler (1820) /

There is no other way to write a book.  Chuck Wendig in his book 500 Ways to Tell a Better Story points out that while the old saw states that everybody has a novel in them, lucky for us writers, most of them can’t be arsed to drag it out.  (I’ve paraphrased a bit there.)  You simply cannot do it without actually doing it.

One thing my friend hit on without actually saying it is this:  every time I write something, I learn something.  I would add that every time I read something, I learn also.  From plowing through a self-published bag of rat droppings and seeing mistakes I shouldn’t make, to consuming the exquisitely rendered prose of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling, every book contains a lesson for the writer.

I can only hope that someday mine will hold value for someone else, but that won’t happen if I don’t actually do the work.  So I’m doing it.

If you do not get this book and read it immediately, I will disown you.

If you do not get this book and read it immediately, I will disown you.


Vintage Stuff in Secret Book and NaNoWriMo2014 – The End but not the Finish

Many think of period literature as nineteenth-century or earlier, but writing something set within living memory is even more fraught with danger.  If I get it wrong, there will be no shortage of people eager to point it out.  Below, in no particular order, are some of the things I have to consider in writing a book set in the 1960s and 1970s (with excursions into the 1950s).

Gadgets.  It was harder for people to do things back then without the technology we have today.  Watch some old television shows and notice plot points that would never work now that everyone has a smartphone.


Someone gets hopelessly lost (usually in the desert because the show was shot near Los Angeles), and they either die or there is a frantic search to find them before it’s too late.


GPS, baby.  Not only can you use it to find your way home, you can track people with it too.  I had to remember this for Rose’s Hostage and had the bank robber ditch Libby’s phone so the cops couldn’t track her.

You can run, but you can’t hide. 

You can run, but you can’t hide.



A character has to find a pay phone to call someone and warn them of danger.  They can’t find one, so all hell breaks loose.


Everyone has a cell, and this would only work if they were in the damn woods or locked in a stone basement with no signal.

The world was introduced to a lot of new technologies in the mid to late twentieth century.   What they used at the time was considered current to them.  Their reactions to a new gadget, one we might laugh at, would be pretty much the same as ours.

It’s the latest thing!  We should get one for the office!

It’s the latest thing!  We should get one for the office!


Slang.  British and American slang at the time is devilishly hard to replicate.  Though the most obvious catchphrases are easy to suss out, I keep running into things that I know aren’t right but I haven’t figured out yet.

Since the only thing I can remember from the 1960s is the moon landing and the 1970s were all kid stuff for me, I shall have to pick the brains of older relatives and friends who weren’t so square (see, there’s one) back in the day.   In a first draft, I get round this by typing NNNNN in place of something or CHECK so I can go back and find it again.

Details of daily life.  I didn’t grow up in Britain, so checking this part will require a lot of googling and perhaps some interviewing.  I did get some post-war reminiscences from some of the very nice English people who were staying at my B&B in Cardiff, and yes, those are going in the book.

Even though I was a kid, I do remember quite a bit from the 1970s in America.  I grew up in a middle-class home, and our experience was pretty typical.  I remember certain food products, full-service gas stations, the energy crisis, etc.

Clothing.  I already did some research for this in London when I visited the Fabric and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Road.  I remember people wore a lot of knitwear in the 1970s.  I’ve still had to do some googling.   It slipped my mind how butt-ugly some of the clothes were back then.

Did we actually WEAR this? 

Did we actually WEAR this?


Décor.  Dear sweet Jesus on a hotdog bun.

Enough said.

Enough said.


Politics and world events.  While most of Secret Book isn’t concerned with these things, it lends more authenticity to have people mention them.  The Vietnam War was a hot-button topic, for example.  And American Character in particular would remember the Kennedy assassination in 1963; my real-life friends who are old enough to recall it still talk about it on November 22.

You  might wonder why I chose the 1970s as the present-day setting for the book, but all I can tell you right now is that I have two main reasons:

  • I’m trying to avoid the internet.
  • The decade was very avant-garde, and it was all about being yourself and what you are, the Me Decade, etc.  This will make sense when I can talk more about it.

People still wrote letters in the 1960s and 1970s, and you could smoke on airplanes.  So, writing in a different period takes a lot of thinking and reconsidering.  It’s like time travel, only without the TARDIS.


NaNoWriMo News

I have 45,059 words written on Secret Book.  It will definitely hit the 50K mark before NaNoWriMo ends, but I am nowhere near finished.  That’s okay; the goal was to get my ass in gear on this first draft, and it’s working, for the most part.

This is a thing today.

This is a thing today.

I decided to go whole hog and put Brit Character’s POV scenes in UK English, spellings and all, so I changed the Word language settings for those bits.  It’s fun to deliberately type in US English and watch the program (programme!) change it.  So far I’ve got very few errors, though I keep forgetting the u in flavour, colour, parlour, honour, and the like.  Also, the word woollies is in the UK English spellchecker and that amused me to no end.  (Yes, the book does have that word in it.)

 I find it highly annoying that the pronunciation link says the word in an American accent. 

I find it highly annoying that the pronunciation link says the word in an American accent.

 Screen capture:  Google

I still have a lot to do on American Character (okay, most of her stuff, actually).  So I’ll be writing on this for a while.  Then I have more research to do, so I can authenticate everything and fill it out a little more.  My word count will be huge, but that’s what editing is for.

Like this. 

Like this.


So, back to work.

Beginning and Advice from a Master

I’ve begun revising some old work that will fit into the Rose’s Hostage sequel.  It’s painful to see how labored and idiotic it was.  The actual scenes themselves aren’t bad, and what I already did will save me a ton of research.  It’s the writing itself that makes me cringe.

Right now, I’m mostly changing names and tweaking references.  I’ll go back and excise all the purple prose when I fit it in.

I’m also starting to think about the other novel–in fact, I think more about it than I do about this one, sometimes.  I like to make playlists for writing sessions that are specific to each work.  With this one, I went to my dusty record collection and found an old orchestral thing I used to use as background music when I played restaurant as a child.  It’s perfect.  AND IT WAS ON AMAZON.

God, I love the internet. 

God, I love the internet.


Man, my parents had so many crazy old records.  We grew up listening to stuff from the 1950s and 1960s, everything from “La Bamba” to Mancini.  I credit them for sparking my obsession with soundtrack music.  When you’re sitting there coloring listening to Bernstein’s The Ten Commandments and Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, how can you not love it?

Speaking of the ‘rents, they celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary on Saturday, July 19 (which was also Benedict Cumberbatch’s birthday.  Happy birthday!).

Congratulations, Mom and Dad!  I’d post an awesome picture, but I want to stay alive a little longer.

While I go attempt to organize myself for the evening, I’d like you to take a look at this Business Insider article.  It distills some great advice from Stephen King from his memoir/advice tome, On Writing.  Every author should have this book on his/her shelf.

You can buy it here.

How to Drive Yourself Insane

Hope everyone in the US had a safe and fun Fourth of July.  Mine was safe, though dull.  As I had nothing to do, I sat on the couch all day sipping tea and pretending I was British and didn’t care.  I didn’t even get in the shower until three in the afternoon.  It was kind of nice, actually.

Except I have been going INSANE.

I’ve gone through all my materials for the Rose’s Hostage sequel–working title An Unsettling Calm (meh)–and the really diabolical plot I wanted to use is falling by the wayside.  I had abandoned the original plot as too sensational, but I reread the beginning and it was GOOD.

I’m going back to it.  It’s like returning to an old lover, one you didn’t date long but who thrilled you for a while anyway, and who still makes your pulse race when you think of him.

Reunions are sweet.  Unless he stole your purse last time. 

Reunions are sweet.  Unless he stole your purse the last time.

 Image:  nuttakit/

I’ll save the diabolical thing for Book Three of the Detective Pierce Chronicles.  I couldn’t tie the villain in with the subplot, no matter how I tried, but Original Plot and I still have some connecting we can do.

The mini-NaNoWriMo may not be a thing, since I wanted to start it on the first of the month and I didn’t get to it (my fault entirely—I’ve been taken up with stupid mental crap).  But I decided I would attempt to write two things at once.  Horrors!

The other book I can’t tell you about at all right now.  But I will be sporadically working on it, with the bulk of the effort going toward Pierce Book Two.  I should be able to get a lot done in the next two-and-a-half months.

Here are some bona fide ways to drive yourself insane and guarantee that you can’t get a project started.

Ambitiously plan to write two books at once when you usually only do one


Put research ahead of the actual writing

This is a bad one.  I’m guilty of this.  I can get so caught up in research that I actually do nothing toward whatever I’m working on.  Example:  I have yet to complete one single dollhouse or room box, but I now have an extensive knowledge of Victorian household gadgetry.

Watch too much TV

Or Netflix.  My shows aren’t on right now (The Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time, Doctor Who), but that doesn’t stop me from consuming every British comedy series my little red online friend has to offer (Little Britain!).  It’s so tempting to schlep home tired from my day job, do a workout, and then go straight to the My List page.  Bad writer.  Bad.

I laughed so hard at this show I almost coughed up a lung. 

I laughed so hard at this show I almost coughed up a lung.


Read too much crap on the internet

Oh, Buzzfeed.  You are such a frenemy.  I love your quizzes, your silly GIF posts, your hacks, and how your UK edition constantly shoves more cool London stuff that I will not possibly have time to do right in my face.

I know there are apps or plugins that block you from the internet so that you can work, but I’m afraid if I try one that I’ll tear a hole in my computer trying to get past it.

Plan a vacation

My UK holiday is almost completely set up, except for train tickets to Cardiff (too early to book yet) and a possible quick jaunt up to Loch Ness in the beautiful West Highlands of Scotland via sleeper train (a bucket list item).  Once that is squared away, I can just STOP PLANNING AND GET TO WORK ALREADY.

Or, I could just trust the email reminders and STOP PLANNING AND GET TO WORK ALREADY.

You did promise me, you know.

You did promise me, you know.


 Yes, sir, I know.

Think way too much about things that in real life will probably not happen but are not impossible because the world is a magical place and the Universe really needs to reconsider and fork it over anyway

The less said about that, the better.


In the coming weeks, I will blog to you as I write, so you can vicariously experience the madness that is me trying to do more than one thing at a time.  In the words of the immortal Bette Davis:


Tunerville Update and Principles of Design

Just a quick dash in to let you know that my friend and first reader Jim Allder finished with his reading of Tunerville.  He liked it!

He said it reminded him of a cross between Michael Crichton and Bruce Joel Rubin (author of the screenplay for Ghost; probably because there are ghosts in it).  High praise indeed.  To be compared to the great Crichton made me squee.

Rest in peace, sir.  You left us too soon.

Rest in peace, sir. You left us too soon.


Next, I will incorporate his suggestions (one was something I was thinking about doing anyway, which tells me it was on track) and then print it out for its first hard copy edit.  D’aww!

Although that means I have to haul it around in a binder for a few days.  Ick.  Also I better buy some paper.  And revisit my copymarks, most of which I’ve forgotten by now.  I still have my study sheet.

That’s all I have time for right now, since I’m drowning in homework (the four principles of design are:  Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity.  Acronym:  C.R.A.P.  Tee hee!).  But I’ll be back soon, when I get my edit finished, and I might even post a wee bit of text.

‘Til next time, people.  Keep your feet warm.

Writing the Novel Synopsis, or I’m Supposed to Tell You How it Ends!?


I got my little car back!  And he’s all well!  He looks as if nothing even happened!

He’s gone from this:

5-28-13 Oliver accident


To this:



Today I did this to him:

Yes, he’s a boy and yes, he likes purple flowers.  Also, I control him.  Muwahaha!

Yes, he’s a boy and yes, he likes purple flowers. Also, I control him. Muwahaha!

Photographs by Elizabeth West

In other news, I have completed another pass through Tunerville, completed a chapter-by-chapter outline, and now I’ve started working on the synopses.   Why am I using the plural?  And what is a synopsis, anyway?

Simply put, it’s a summary of your novel.  Agents and publishers ask for them in manuscript submissions and sometimes in query guidelines.  They tend to ask for something short, in my experience, between one and three pages.  And yes, you have to tell them how it ends.

One page?! How the hell can I summarize my whole novel on only one page?

One page?! How the hell can I summarize my whole novel on only one page?

 Image:  David Castillo Dominici /

Relax, grasshopper; you can do it.  Start by thinking about your story.  What is it about?  Who are the main characters? What happens in the story?  You don’t need huge amounts of detail; just the gist of it will do.

The synopsis should be written in third person, present tense, no matter how your book is written.  Below, I’ve posted the first two paragraphs from the Rose’s Hostage one I sent to Brian.

Bored office worker LIBBY ANN MARSHALL never dreamed a man like JOSHUA ROSE would come into her life.  He is confident, sexy, and adventurous.  He is also the Black Bandit, a former gang member and armed bank robber in the (fictional) city of Ralston, IL who, one hot July day, kidnaps her during a heist. 

The crime inflames harried city police detective STEPHEN PIERCE and the FBI.  Pierce must divide his energy with another major case, prostitute killer JOHN COOK JR., known only as The Motel Shooter.  Cook is furious with Joshua for stealing all his press and launches his own search for the Bandit.  

Capitalize the names of the characters the first time you write them.  (I left out ages in parentheses because I couldn’t fit the whole thing on one page.)

For Rose’s Hostage, I have one, two, four, and seven-page synopses.  I’ve sent the one and two-page ones out.  One-pagers are probably the one you’ll use the most, so work really hard on those.

In addition to this, you should also have an elevator pitch—a short, two or three-sentence summary, sans ending—worked up and memorized, in case anyone asks you what your book is about.


Speaking of Rose’s Hostage, I haven’t received my critique from Brian Keene yet.  He should be finished soon.  Either he was too busy to get to it until today, was waiting for someone to get back to him on it, or it stunk so bad he has to practically rewrite it.  I can just imagine…”Cut this…this sucks…good God, what did you do here…auuughgg!”

  Dolly, in despair over bad reviews of her torrid Ken-Barbie-G.I. Joe love triangle romantic thriller, ended up on the street.

Dolly, in despair over bad reviews of her torrid Ken-Barbie-G.I. Joe love triangle romantic thriller, ended up on the street.

Image:  Theeradech Sanin /

You know I have more work to do on Tunerville, so why am I writing synopses now?  Well, the damn things are helpful to me.  Doing a huge outline—going through every chapter and summarizing it—gives me little bits I can use in my synopses.  It also helps me see where I need to add stuff, and I’ve already used the outline to split a very long chapter.

The synopses will change as the rewrites progress.  I’ll do the short one, so I don’t have much to edit if I move things around.  When I’m ready to submit, I won’t have to cobble one together at the last minute.

If you are finished with your book and you need some advice on writing synopses, check out the following links to start.

Chuck Sambuchino (Guide to Literary Agents editor, writer, and columnist) gives five tips for writing a synopsis.

Robert J. Sawyer, award-winning science fiction writer, shares his outlines and synopses with us on his website (please, Robert, hire someone to update it!).

Anne Mini’s blog, Author! Author! is a dense read, but worth it.  I learned so much here it’s not even funny.  Check out her Synopsispalooza series of posts.


Places in Your Writing


Yep, and it’s writing/editing related!  I’ll be proofing reports for a local company, along with various administrative duties.  I’m pretty excited about it.  It seems like a very cool place to work.

Sorry for the long delay in posting.  I had to rest my brain after NaNoWriMo.  The space between when I finish and when I can stand to even look at NewBook has been larger than it was for Rose’s Hostage.

Instead, I’ve been reading Robert J. Sawyer, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Brian Keene, and absorbing lessons on characterization, chapter structure, and speculative / thriller elements.

There’s a lot to do, and I promised I would share that process with you.  I’ll start with these remarks about setting.

Whether your story takes place in a village, a city or on another planet, your setting has its own identity that may or may not be wrapped up in that of your protagonist.  The right name and some attention to its population, geography and infrastructure provide valuable backstory that will give your place depth and realism, even if you don’t use all the material.

The sounds of the words can tell you something about your setting.   Consider J.R.R. Tolkien‘s hobbits, who live in Hobbiton, the Shire.  Tolkien’s place names are representative of the folks living in them. Shire sounds pastoral, peaceful, like the hobbits themselves.

Looks like it, too.  No wonder Gandalf loved it here.

Looks like it, too. No wonder Gandalf loved it here.


Gondor sounds mighty, as its warrior Boromir was before the Ring tragically unmasked his failings.  And Mordor—the name alone is enough to conjure writhing black spirits in one’s mind.

Batman’s stomping grounds are based on New York, a city that can be dark and looming, although Chris Nolan’s movies are filmed in Chicago.  Gotham, which was a nickname for the Big Apple long before Batman came to be, sounds metropolitan but also gothic in a broody way.  Considering Batman’s tragic origin, it fits.  Metropolis (hello, Captain Obvious) is the bustling city where Superman hangs out.

Sometimes writers use real places in their work, especially ones with which they are very familiar.  Tons of movies and books are set in New York City. .  In Betty Smith’s classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the borough itself is as much a character as the protagonist.

I prefer to make up settings.  Unless I know a place very, very well, I’m liable to get it wrong.  If one of my books happened in Los Angeles, I would have to either do a great deal of research (which sucks – I set something in Spain once and know NOTHING about it) or travel there to get it right (Ha! Not likely with my bank account!).

Rose’s Hostage is set in a fictional city in Illinois called Ralston.  Yes, like the cereal.  To me, it sounded Midwestern, solid, slightly industrial.  I picture a drive into it as close to entering St. Louis–not as factory-infested as Joliet, with rural satellite communities like my small city.   To make it interesting and keep my detective busy, I added:

  • A self-contained rough area downtown, like the Narrows in Gotham City, with lots and lots of bars and hookers.
  • Federal law enforcement and an entrenched Mafia presence.
  • Motorcycle gangs.  Both they and the Mafia are augmented by a reasonable proximity to Chicago, which I can mine for all sorts of criminal goodies.
  • Lots of public areas—parks, a museum, etc. where disaster-ish stuff could happen.

Thinking about where Ralston is, who lives there and what kind of activity they would engage in made a difference in all sorts of details.  The population is mostly descended from Western European immigrants, which affects what names I choose for people.  All this comes together in a flavor for the area.

Most of the places in NewBook are grounded in reality.  Some are speculative.  There are several places where the story happens:

  • Martinsburg (working title)—a nice, middle-sized city, nothing huge, smaller than Ralston, but not rural.  It’s home to a prestigious university that has spawned a pretty good scientific community, central to some elements of the story.
  • A couple of other dimensions.  No, really.
  • Heaven.  Yep, you heard me.
  • Brief visits to Los Angeles and New York.

WTF??  What is this story about, anyway?

You'll find out, youngling.  You'll find out.

You’ll find out, youngling. You’ll find out.

Image:  David Castillo Dominici /

There are larger social ramifications to the protagonist’s actions, but I simply could not expand the scope of my settings and still manage the story.   So I’m condensing the majority of it down to Martinsburg.  I’m not sharing just yet because so many things still need work that what I say now may be completely different in a month or two.

Keep an eye out for April’s Blogging from A-Z Challenge.  I’m planning yet again to participate, with more enticing tidbits about how my book is coming together.

NewBook’s settings are still mostly in my head.  It seems kind of back-assward to write them down now, but this book has not followed my usual process, so don’t take it as gospel on how to work.   For most of us, it’s worthwhile to take time and plot your setting before you put your characters there.


National Novel Writing Month – or, That Crazy Writer’s Locked Herself in the Closet Again

Next month is November and the National Novel Writing Month spectacular, aka NaNoWriMo.  Yes, writers are lazy; why type all that shit when we don’t have to?

What is NaNoWriMo?  It’s this crazy idea that in thirty days, you can bang out a 50,000-word novel.  It’s a chance to take that idea swimming around in your head and birth it out into reality.  Not polished perfection, mind you—that takes a much longer commitment.  Since many writers suffer from butt-in-chair deficiency, NaNoWriMo is designed to force you to sit still and write.

To do this, you can formally sign up for the process at the NaNoWriMo site and participate in the contest.  Or you can do it on your own, whatever.   The site has forums, advice, word counters, and much more.

I hate trying to crap out first drafts.  HATE HATE HATE HATE.  I’m considering doing NaNoWriMo informally this year, just to finish something.

I would like to get some voice recognition software and just talk the damn thing out, like “Then Dr. Equate stabs the zombie four times—no, three—and his evil diseased brain cocktail is about to fall into the water supply!  Yeah!  And super spy Dirk Fabulous shows up and forces him to drink it!”  Same process; no hand cramps. I can clean it up later.

The awesomeness of this would be, well, awesome.

Image:  Victor Habbick /

The current WIP is stalled, but I think I finally figured out something that was borking my story.  By borking, I mean it threw up a giant roadblock that effectively killed forward progression.  This has nothing to do with the fact that my life imploded, by the way; it was a glitch in the plot.

If you want to do this, I suggest you take these next couple of weeks to prepare, if you haven’t already.

Do an outline

I get a rough concept of a book and when I’ve thought it out a bit, I write a synopsis and then break it down into scenes.  Later, I use it to organize chapters.  Since I tend to skip around when I write, the outline keeps me on track.

Get your life in order

My writer buddy James Allder recommended that I make sure I’m not interrupted in any way during my NNWM writing time.  He’s got a good point.  A break in concentration can mean death to a writing session.  Shouldn’t be hard, considering I have no life right now.

If you have one, make sure you get extra crap out of the way so you can sit down at the same time every day and work.

Do a few practice sessions

You may already have a set time you write every day.  If so, good for you.

Here’s your trophy, you self-righteous bastard.

Image:  Suat Eman /

If you don’t, I would suggest a practice run.  Take a few days and try it out.  It doesn’t matter if you’re only writing gibberish, just so you get the feel of actually working during that interval.  Mind you, it’s against the rules to work on your NNWM project before the start date.

Remember it’s only a tool

You are not going to produce a complete book in one month.  Let me repeat that, because it’s important:  you are not going to produce a complete book in one frigging month. 

A complete book, ready for publishing, will require at least another few months of editing, rewriting, polishing, submission to first/second/third readers, more editing, more polishing, etc. before you can even think about querying.

Your goal is to finish something, not write a goddamn bestseller.   Use it to get your butt in the chair.  When the month is over, it’s up to you to keep it there.

NaNoWriMo is only a tool.  Its purpose:  to make you WRITE.  In a burst of uncensored, freewriting word diarrhea.   Your brain will open the creativity floodgates and not even the Brain-o-pectate will stop it.  At the end, you will have the bones of a book.

If I do NaNoWriMo—and I think I will—I’ll create a separate category on this blog where I can update my progress and tears.  You may live through the actual process of writing (well, finishing, technically) a book along with me.

Lock and load.

Image:  vudhikrai /


Helpful links:

25 Things You Should Know about NaNoWriMo”  by Chuck Wendig

Chuck is no-holds barred.   If you don’t like me saying goddamn and shit, you’ll hate him.  But he knows what he’s talking about, goddamn it.

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo” by Steve Shepard

Some decent tips, even if it’s kind of an ad for the Storyist software.  I prefer PageFour myself.  Plain old Word is fine; you don’t have to buy anything to do NNWM.

History, rules, and more.


More Annoying Online Errors

Surfing around the ‘net, I found another 79,352,863 so-called professional articles online this week with ridiculous errors. Most are homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

I already covered common punctuation errors here, in The Most Annoying Online Errors (formerly called “All Those Eyes.”  Editing is fun!)

Below are more goofs I keep running across, in no particular order.

Horde vs. hoard

A horde is a large group.  A hoard is an accumulation.  ”But,” you cry, “the definitions are similar!”  Tricky? Yes, except a hoard can be small.

Teh vs. the

In LOLcat speak, teh is usually deliberate. The email to your boss is not LOLcat speak.  Often this error is a typo that careful proofreading would have caught.  I see it more in blog posts and comments.


Thx vs. thanks

Unless texting your BFF, write it out!  The more you get in the habit of writing carefully and properly, the better your overall presentation will be.  Save the textspeak for casual encounters.  Or just learn to type faster.

Bare vs. bear

(Naked vs. a large carnivorous land mammal)

I hate this one.

The pain was more than I could bare.

Don’t wear shoulder-bearing shirts in the office.

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear (not a bare).  Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.  Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he?

If you tell me this is a bair, I can’t help you.

Image:  APF/Getty

Isle vs. aisle

You were not married on a tropical aisle; it was a tropical isle.  Your grocery cart didn’t lose a wheel in the middle of the isle; you lost it in the aisle.

Gage vs. gauge

A gage is a pledge or the token of a challenge, like the glove a knight throws down to an opponent.  A gauge is an instrument for measuring something.  Guage is just plain wrong.

Hair vs. hare

Come on.  Really?  You can’t tell the difference between an aggregate of keratinous filaments growing through the skin, and a long-eared, rodentlike mammal of the genus Lepus?

What an ultra-maroon!


Juggler vein

Your veins can juggle! Call the news channel! Call Ripley’s Believe it or Not!  We got a medical miracle here!

Leach vs. leech

NO:  The trash leeched chemicals into the groundwater when it rained.

To leach *VERB* means to dissolve out something by percolation.

A leech *NOUN* is a bloodsucking freshwater worm, or that ex-boyfriend who hung around constantly and ate all your roommate’s food.

Accept vs. except

To accept is to receive something—an object, criticism, etc.   Except is a preposition, which leads to an exclusion.

“I’d accept your challenge,” the Doctor said to the Sontaran, “except we are not both armed with sonic screwdrivers.  Wouldn’t be quite fair, would it?”

Run-on sentences

Run-on sentences go on and on they don’t have any punctuation between them and they are very very long the person writing them doesn’t know or care about punctuation oh my God that drives me nuts.

I see these in comments or forum posts the most.   Many times, they lead to an impenetrable wall of text my eyes cannot fathom.

Than vs. then

NO:  He was more handsome thenthe first man we saw.

YES:  He was more handsome than the first man we saw.

Than is a conjunction.  It sets apart two unequal subjects of comparison.

Then is an adverb (modifies a verb, typically) used to denote time and place.

Gandalf leaned over, set the confused Pippin on his feet, then brushed him off roughly. “Fool of a Took,” he muttered, not without affection. 

Subject/verb agreement

Plural vs. singular

The cops ate their donut.

One cop, one doughnut.  His doughnut, her doughnut.   More than one cop, more doughnuts.


Donut vs. doughnut.  Did you catch that one?

Separate, not seperate.

Mischievous.  not mischievious. Also pronounced wrong:  it’s MIS-cheh-vus, not mis-CHEE-vee-ous.

It’s leviOsa, not levioSA, you bloody idiot.



When your name goes on that article, you want it to be your best work, right?  Even if you’re posting anonymously, your online writing represents you, in comments, posts, and even tweets.  Take a little time to check words you’re not sure of.

I’m far from perfect, and if you spot a mistake in one of my posts, please let me know in the comments.  They come to me in email, so I’ll see it. I’ll gladly correct it, publish your rebuttal to something I said (following my Comment Policy, of course), or change it if needed.

Proofreading Your Work

Fact-checking and proofreading seem to have taken a vacation lately.  I’ve seen so-called professional news sites and even books with goofs that made my mouth hang open so long, a wren could have built a nest in it.

A few judicious checks can help you avoid making a big fat mistake in your posts, reports, and other documents.  You can’t afford not to.  Here are some ways to make sure you’re not posting what amounts to a first draft.

Spell Check

This handy gadget in your word processing program (Microsoft Word and Open Office’s text document feature have it) will automatically check your document for spelling and grammar errors, if you have that feature turned on.  It underlines misspellings in red.

If you launch the checker under Review in Word, it will go through and recheck everything.  You then have the option to correct.  Make sure you’re picking the right word!

Spell Check is a first line of defense.  The feature won’t catch everything.  If I typed “Proofreding Your Wok,” it marks Proofreding but not Wok.  The last one is a real word.

A typo I make frequently is form instead of from.  I actually have to search for that one in manuscripts to make sure I didn’t do it.

When you go through your document on the first pass, try to remember what errors you make on a regular basis.  It helps to make a list and keep it handy.  You can also use the Find feature in Word to search for your most common goofs.

Look at it in hard copy

Anne Mini is a stickler for proper formatting.  As she points out repeatedly, the best way to find mistakes is to read your manuscript, OUT LOUD, from a hard copy before you even think about sending it to anyone.

The eye gets tired reading off a computer screen.  It’s much easier to miss errors than when reading a page.  E-readers are a hit because their interface resembles a real page in a book, and it doesn’t give you eyestrain like your laptop.

I recommend printing your copy out, putting it down and walking away from it for a while, the longer the better.  I can’t stay away from a manuscript for more than a week myself.  If you’re on a deadline, try to aim for at least thirty minutes.  Then come back and read it, blue pencil at the ready.

Have someone else look at it

This is especially good for novels.   Once you’ve spent six months with your nose in a manuscript, you don’t see individual words anymore.  You know it too well.  It’s like ceasing to notice that freckle on your lover’s hip.

Make sure you pick someone who can get it done fairly quickly, and is adept at giving feedback rather than criticism.

Watch for unintentionally silly turns of phrase, too.  I saw this sign at the grocery store today:

Juvenile of me to giggle throughout my shopping trip, but it really was funny.


Now that you’ve checked your text, you’ll have to make sure your facts / names / etc.  are correct.

Google it

Ever notice that when you enter something in Google’s search bar it corrects your spelling?  When I typed “evylin woug” it automatically pulled up English writer Evelyn Waugh’s Wikipedia page first thing.  That’s pretty damn good.

Of course, sometimes it gets it wrong.  Try Chrome’s Google page.  If you click the little microphone, you can use your voice to look up stuff.  Your laptop will probably have a mike.   Mumble a bit; the results are hysterical.

Look it up in the dictionary

 Most references are online now, at pages like,, and more.  However, maybe someone gave you a dictionary to use in college.  You may still have it.  Keep it around for when the modem goes out or you just want to feel scholarly.

Use the library

 If you can’t find something online, you can try the library.   There’s bound to be a book or periodical about your subject.  University libraries are often open to residents of the town, or if you’re an alumnus, you may have library privileges.

Haven’t been in the library since grade school?  Did you use the Dewey Decimal system on index cards as a kid?  Never fear, little boomer.  The nice people at the information desk are there to help you.

Check and recheck your work.  You’ll be glad you made it a habit.  It will help you appear more professional, and your readers will struggle less.