Category Archives: Writer Profiles

On Expectations and Doing the Work: A NaNoWriMo Profile

As part of my NaNoWriMo Halo Giveaway, I offered all of the folks who signed up a chance to write a guest post for How Not To Write. I think you’ll be amazed as I was at the variety of people who have submitted posts. I know I am. I’m also proud to share their words here and I hope you’ll take a moment to leave a comment. — Jamie


Today’s post comes from Tom Harold.

Tom is a Midwesterner trying to figure out how to get people to pay him for making full use of his creative talents. In his spare time he hones his skills by writing, building rolling ball sculptures, playing harmonica/singing in a blues band, drag racing, land speed racing, and working on photography. He figured he’d write a novel in 30 days, because he obviously doesn’t have enough other stuff to do. He is heavily invested in the creative process, which he blogs about at

On Expectations and Doing the Work

I had it all planned out. I was hard at work on my NaNo novel, when out of the blue, Jamie invited me to guest post on his blog. I was honored. I was pleased. I was sure I was going to be able to provide some uplifting, motivational post containing concrete examples of how I had applied myself to WriMo, met my goals, and was enjoying a wonderful, rich, rewarding, and relatively trouble-free experience thanks to my tenacity, and the ever-present wave of unbridled enthusiasm from fellow WriMos across the globe. Oh sure, I’d have some problems, but these would work themselves out as I smiled, furrowed my brow, and kept on keepin’ on. I might get stuck, but it would be the “usual stuck,” nothing overwhelming, because I had “a plan,” or at least an idea.

That’s all that’s really required for victory, right?

When Jamie contacted me, it didn’t seem like this was an unrealistic thought. I was in the middle of chugging away on my NaNo novel. I probably had a good 23K under my belt right around the time he contacted me. I was scooting along pretty well, and it seemed a pretty safe bet that I was going to hit my goal of writing 50K by the 20th of the month. Sure the plot was moving a little slowly, but I was fairly certain that any pesky details would work themselves out in the remaining 27K, and I would likely be pretty close to finishing my novel by the time I hit 50K on the 20th. This would, in turn, mean that I wouldn’t have to worry about setting aside much extra time during the Thanksgiving holiday while family was visiting.

It was a very nice thought. It was very good(?) planning. It was also wrong.

Well, my plan worked beautifully, but only by a half measure. I reached 50K by the 20th. Actually, before the 20th. Sometime around noon on the 18th I hit 50,297 words. Woohoo! I was happy! I was excited! I was – in trouble.

Yes, I’d hit fifty thousand words. I had reached my word count goal in my prescribed timeline. I’d even done a little better. Unfortunately, my planned laurel-resting was upset by one crucial detail: The story itself wasn’t anywhere near being finished. In fact, it seemed that, while my novel had begun at Word 1, my story didn’t really get going until somewhere around Word 20,000.

This was bad. This meant that Thanksgiving would not be the carefree affair I had envisioned. I would not blissfully play with my lovable little single-digit relatives while having some pecan pie and wowing the fam with the triumphs and tribulations of “How I Wrote a Novel in Less than Twenty Days.” Instead, what I would be doing in between bites of pie and playing with nieces and nephews was fretting, worrying, and more writing. Being that I like to get a good head start on things, I started in on the fretting and worrying part immediately.

I had thought that 50K would be this grand milestone, having this “I did it!” sort of feel to it. I was actually a lot more excited at 49,006 words. When I hit 50K I kind of went, “Woohoo – oh crap,” realizing that I still had a long way to go and didn’t really know how to get there.

As I collected my thoughts I realized a couple of things:

  • It feels like I’ll never finish this thing.
  • I’ve had this feeling before, and it has turned out to be false.

About two months ago I took part in a local art event in my town during which you were challenged to create a piece of artwork in one day. My “plan” (notice the use of that word again) was that I was going to begin and complete a work of kinetic sculpture within the prescribed period of time. When the day arrived, I showed up with all my stuff, unloaded there on the sidewalk, and went to work. I worked, I hummed, I chatted with passers by, and I kept working. Time was moving quickly, but I was still getting some things done. Suddenly, as if I had only arrived moments ago, people were streaming past me to turn in their completed works. I sat there at my little card table with large loops of copper in my hands resembling nothing more than maybe a loose wire basket. A woman with her daughter came up and asked me what I’d made. “It’s not done,” I said, shoulders slumping. Her daughter looked at me silently, and then walked off. I felt completely defeated and frustrated. I wanted to leave immediately. I wanted to throw out what I had started and forget the whole thing.

The urge to quit was very compelling for about ten minutes, but I fought it. I decided to stick around and look at the other art work, enjoying what others had accomplished, and considering my other options as well as giving myself credit for having done the bit I’d managed to do. I ended up having a really good time, and decided to let go of my previous expectations. Instead of giving up on my incomplete work, I would take it home and work on it until it was finished. It ended up taking quite a while, and there were times when I doubted if I could complete it, but in the end it turned out wonderfully, and I received some very positive comments on what was my first full effort with this type of art. While events didn’t transpire the way I thought they would, they certainly turned out well, and I’m very happy I stuck with the project.

While I was still in the process of completing that sculpture, I attended my first writer’s conference. I went into it with many ideas of extending my world of experience, of learning new things, of feeling inspired and rejuvenated. While there might be some rude awakenings, overall I planned to have a pretty great time. How bad could it be, really?

Toward the end of the conference I took part in a workshop that asked us to write character descriptions in ten-minute increments. We were then encouraged to read these aloud. I started out poorly, and got worse. By the end of the fourth and final exercise, I’d locked up completely, having written only a single sentence which had no descriptive qualities to it whatsoever. I had to tell the instructor in front of the group that I didn’t have anything to read. I felt defeated and frustrated and angry. (Ooh, anger – a new emotion! Well, it was probably there with the art work too, honestly.) I was ready to leave immediately. Why stay? There wasn’t much of the conference left on the schedule, and was I even enough of a writer to bother sticking around? After all, I apparently couldn’t describe what a shoplifting woman in Walmart looked like.

I wanted to leave, but I didn’t. I stuck around, listened to the remaining scheduled speakers, and then went immediately to my local WriMo meeting. It might seem that hanging out with other writers after feeling slain as a writer is a terrible idea, but these are WriMo friends. They’re all about rambling plot lines, flimsy characters, and thinly-veiled attempts at padding a scene enough to reach that magical 25K just before bedtime. In other words, they’re okay with mistakes. Very okay. After hanging out with these people and sharing my experience (“It was awesome, but I totally went down in flames at one point,” I told them.) I didn’t feel terrible anymore. I didn’t feel like I couldn’t write, I just felt like I’d had a bad moment. Now I’m more than 50K deep in WriMo and having a good, if sometimes rocky, time of it.

In both cases I went against my first instinct, which was basically to run and hide from the fear and shame of not living up to my own expectations. The huge payoff for working through those situations was that I proved to myself that I could go through the seemingly seemed impossible, and come out not only alive, but feeling pretty good about myself, with some positive results to boot.

I’m still not sure where my novel is going. I’m still intimidated by the thought of all the writing I have left to do, but I know that if I stick with it, the rewards will definitely be worth it. My past experience – research if you will – has shown that it is hard, it can be painful, but ultimately it can be pretty fantastic. I just need to lay aside the expectations and keep doing the work.

Interested in sharing your story? I’ve opened up the writer profiles section to submissions from any/all writers. Read on for “guidelines”.

The Look in Their Eyes: A NaNoWriMo Profile

As part of my NaNoWriMo Halo Giveaway, I offered all of the folks who signed up a chance to write a guest post for How Not To Write. I think you’ll be amazed as I was at the variety of people who have submitted posts. I know I am. I’m also proud to share their words here and I hope you’ll take a moment to leave a comment. — Jamie


Today’s post comes from Ali Hawke.

Ali is writing her fifth NaNoWriMo novel and all five are wildly different. She does this every year, having dragged her husband and a co-worker into the madness with her, and even when it all stinks, it’s still a fantastic ride!

Drop by her website for a visit:

The Look in Their Eyes

You say it to someone who doesn’t write, and they look at you like you’re doubly crazy. First there’s the “You want to write HOW MANY words in HOW LONG?” look, which is equivalent to how you’d look at a ferret that just surfaced in your morning coffee complete with scuba mask and oxygen tanks. You can get them over that one by blaming someone else for talking you into it, which makes you not insane, merely a supportive friend, albeit in a bizarre fashion.

Then there’s the revelation that your characters, whom you created, are misbehaving, and that’s a 9.8 on the weird-o-meter in almost every non-writer’s book. They’re sulking in a corner, they got blink drunk last night, they ran off to Reykjavik with the neighbours cousin’s ex-girlfriend, they stubbornly refused to fall in love with the right person, and inexplicably turned up in scenes they have no right to be in, doing stuff you didn’t plan on them doing at all, let alone right now. Yep, THAT look. You know what I’m talking about. They probably took an involuntary step back when you said it.

But it happens. Sooner or later, no matter how well planned your outline is (and I’m a rabid outliner), you find yourself writing something you didn’t expect. You have two choices now: Wrestle the characters back into place, or go with it. I say go with it! The story takes off in a different direction and you’re along for the ride, watching the characters tear up their lines and say something else. Maybe they’ll get back on track later, maybe you’re not writing the story you started out with, and that’s OK. Maybe they have another story to tell, maybe your original idea was sound and they’ll see that further down the line and come back to it with extra plot twists of their own. Stalk the wily characters in the wild and eavesdrop shamelessly. Some of them are brilliant. And you can’t stop thinking about them.

Grind through the first chunk of the story and you’ll get to the part where it comes alive. If you’re insanely lucky, it’ll take off immediately. Most of us have to put in some sweat first where you’ve written every cliché in the book up to and including “No, I am your father Luke!” (Darth Vader gets around and wears many disguises. If you haven’t seen him in your novel yet, trust me, he’s coming your way). At this point, the whole thing seems like a bad idea and a waste of your time. You could hurl it into a flaming pit of molten lava and decide that it would be easier to be a rocket scientist instead. Maybe you already are a rocket scientist. But there’s still that story in you like a hook in your mind, tugging at you. And once you get one story out, there’s another one bubbling up right behind it, two more after that.

The absolute best part about writing for me is the part just after you’ve finished the story. Finishing is a special magic. You have a stack of pages all toasty from the printer and smelling of interesting carcinogens. They don’t sparkle or dance, they just sit there, but they’re pages you brought into being that didn’t exist last month. You have all the time in the world to embed diamonds in the dialog and polish up the prose and red pen it into magnificence. Right after that next scene…

Interested in sharing your story? I’ve opened up the writer profiles section to submissions from any/all writers. Read on for “guidelines”.

Fear is the Mind Killer: A NaNoWriMo Profile

As part of my NaNoWriMo Halo Giveaway, I offered all of the folks who signed up a chance to write a guest post for How Not To Write. I think you’ll be amazed as I was at the variety of people who have submitted posts. I know I am. I’m also proud to share their words here and I hope you’ll take a moment to leave a comment. — Jamie

Today’s post comes from Scott Roche.

Scott Roche is a computer technician, a husband, a father of three, and one day hopes to be a published novelist. He has a blog or three floating around the internet, but the one he devotes the most time to can be found at He is also podcasting his 2006 NaNoWriMo novel at He is always looking for new things to write about and as a result has would up writing for sites like and, reviewing movies, music, and looking at pop culture through a Christian lens.

Fear is the Mind Killer


My very first attempt at doing NaNo was in 2005. Prior to that auspicious month I had written a fair number of short stories of varying lengths, but most of my writing efforts were non-fiction. I wanted to challenge myself to write something really big both in scope and in size and it seemed like this project was just the ticket. Ordinarily I’m what you might call an organic writer. That is if organic is French for “someone who fears planning”. Writing a novel seemed like eating the proverbial elephant, but I put the fear away. I went at it like any inexperienced author and tried to get it all in one bite. Naturally, I failed utterly, but the attempt had been made.

The next year rolled around and I went in to it with my eyes wide open. I planned to a degree unheard of before, for me at least. I prepared a chapter outline and some character sketches. I considered what sort of tone I wanted and really gave the whole thing some serious thought. For all of that pre-work though I was still afraid. When you write a lot of short stories, or perhaps more to the point when I write a lot of short stories I get used to that small space. I developed a sort of agoraphobia, only this was more a fear of big open pages. If I couldn’t resolve a story in less than five thousand words, would it ever draw to a close? The challenge was to continually remind myself that I had as much room as I needed. You know all those long nights and playing catch on weekends that you hear about? I had them. For all my planning characters did things I didn’t expect and new ones popped up unbidden. Still, I was glad for the planning. I crossed the finish line on the last day and then about mid-December I actually finished the novella. I knew then that I could write long form fiction.

I skipped 2007 thanks to some personal issues, but was determined to really give 2008 a solid try. I was podcasting my 2006 novella and working on its sequel and we’re scheduled to move in December, but I didn’t want any of that to stand in my way. I planned a little less, but progress is seemingly smoother. My fear of the white space is gradually diminishing. I let myself have chapters that savor the setting and characters, without rushing through them to serve the plot. I decided to do a number of things this year that I don’t ordinarily try. I’m limiting my point of view. The tone is overall much lighter than most stories I’ve written. In years past the challenge was just to cross the finish line, but now that I know I am capable of that I want to push myself in new directions, confront new fears, and take everything to the next level. That’s what this month is about for me, taking those writing fears and flipping them over, making them work for me.

People may tell you that anything you accomplish during this month is going to be really crappy. I mean you’re writing at a pace that most people can’t even comprehend. What if what you’re writing is horrible? This is perhaps the biggest fear I still face. A lot of the writers I meet have all the self esteem of Penfold the Hamster. I’m no different. Instead of letting this stop you, give yourself permission to be bad so long as the writing gets done. After all, a bad novel might be able to be edited into a good one. The one that stays stuck in your head will never do anyone any good. Don’t let fear, whatever it may be, kill your mind or stunt your story. Let it push you to the places that people tell you that you can’t go or that you tell yourself you shouldn’t. You’ll be glad you did.

Interested in sharing your story? I’ve opened up the writer profiles section to submissions from any/all writers. Read on for “guidelines”.

The Hardest 10,000 Words: A NaNoWriMo Profile

As part of my NaNoWriMo Halo Giveaway, I offered all of the folks who signed up a chance to write a guest post for How Not To Write. I think you’ll be amazed as I was at the variety of people who have submitted posts. I know I am. I’m also proud to share their words here and I hope you’ll take a moment to leave a comment. — Jamie

Today’s post comes from Dan Barrett.

Dan is a young British writer, humourist, and critic, with a sweet collection of plaid shirts and a moustache tattooed on his finger. This will be his (fingers crossed!) third year of Nano success, and first year acting as a Municipal Liaison, for the Milton Keynes region. As well as writing, he enjoys reading, listening to music, telling people he doesn’t own a television, drinking heavily, and shouting. You can find him on the Nano site, or read his website, where he writes mostly about his life, and things he doesn’t like very much. Some people even find it relatively amusing!

The Hardest 10,000 Words


If you’re pretty much on target in your Nano-ing, you will have just passed, or will be about to pass, the 30,000 word mark. At which point, you enter into a horrible limbo of self-doubt, loathing for your work in progress, and you generally have the toughest-to-write 10,000 words of the novel just ahead of you, a seemingly insurmountable task compared with the thought of writing five times as much back on November 1st. Here are some strategies and thoughts which I hope will help get you past this bump in the road, onto the home stretch, and through to the 50k finish line!

First of all, realise that this is a perfectly normal thing to be going through, be you a virgin or veteran of Nano. Everyone else experiences this to a degree, and it’s totally fine. This section of the novel is always the hardest: you’re past the initial excitement of going on a new writing adventure, have cleared the ‘halfway high’, and at the same time, you’re not quite close enough to the end to have the goal in sight, and be able to push through to that.

So, you end up procrastinating even more than usual, your writing pace slows to almost a standstill, and the whole thing seems just too hard to manage. Why did you ever think it was a good idea to do this (again)?! You could always just stop, it’s not like you have to complete it, right?

But don’t give up just yet! It really isn’t as impossible as it seems, and once you’ve gotten through this painful phase, it’s really easy, as you ride out the home stretch from forty to fifty thousand words. I promise!

It is not a waste of time, it’s a brilliant endeavour – I know at least one point in my first year, about 35k in, I felt like my novel was a crime against the English language and the concept of a ‘story’, and that I was wasting my time. Then I was reminded that this is a challenge – it isn’t supposed to be easy, nothing worth doing is. This particular challenge is one to be particularly proud of when you have succeeded at it, so keep going and finish it!

Accept that sometimes your writing will feel laboured, ‘clunky’, awkward, or just plain BAD. Perhaps you’ve said the exact same thing three times in a row in different words, or maybe your padding in a particular scene is blatant and shameless. But there will also be times when you write a sentence or two, or even a paragraph, which you are genuinely pleased with. Remember these moments, rather than the hiccups you may have also had. And I assure you, your writing is never as bad as you think it is.

Don’t re-read until you have written ‘The End’ – at least not any more than the last paragraph, just enough to carry on after a break from writing. You will only nitpick and find faults, or be overcome with the urge to edit it ‘just a little bit’ – DON’T! On a similar note, don’t be too bothered about consistency throughout –you can always fix this later. Who cares if it was uncle Albert in chapter six and uncle Alfred in chapter seventeen?!

If you’re not enjoying writing it, move on quickly – Some sections will be a little boring to write, but are necessary to move the plot forward (assuming you have a ‘plot’, of course…) If you find yourself flagging a bit during one of these, end the scene as quickly as you reasonably can. Get it over with and move on to the next bit which will hopefully be more fun to write. Do the same if a particular section feels like it is getting a bit too long for its own good. You can always flesh it out or prune it back later!

Plan ahead, but not too far – and don’t be afraid to go wildly off course either. I recommend having a vague idea of where your novel will end up, and making little notes as you go along about upcoming chapters and what will happen in them to get to this end point. But at the same don’t be afraid to completely ignore these when you have a much better idea en route. As some Scottish bloke once said: ‘The best laid plans of mice and men, quickly go down the toilet as far as Nanowrimo is concerned’.

Print it out, even if no one ever reads it – when you reach 50k words (and then the end of your story about a hundred and seven words later!) the first thing you should do, after punching the air and shouting ‘I did it!’ ecstatically, is to print out a copy of your (not-so) masterpiece. That sure is a lot of paper, isn’t it? Now, flick through all the pages of your novel and say, ‘I wrote all of this’. And be damn proud of yourself.

And then plan to do it all again next year…

Interested in sharing your story? I’ve opened up the writer profiles section to submissions from any/all writers. Read on for “guidelines”.

Long Live Procrastination: A NaNoWriMo Profile

As part of my NaNoWriMo Halo Giveaway, I offered all of the folks who signed up a chance to write a guest post for How Not To Write. I think you’ll be amazed as I was at the variety of people who have submitted posts. I know I am. I’m also proud to share their words here and I hope you’ll take a moment to leave a comment. — Jamie

Today’s post comes from Katherine Skipper.

Katherine is a computer science major in her junior year at Keene State College. She divides her time between New Hampshire and western Massachusetts, where she lives with her amazing plot-helping boyfriend and three cats. This is her second year doing NaNoWriMo, and though it has been an unusually stressful time due to recent deaths in her family, her friend the Procrastinator has helped to keep her calm and on track with her word count. You can find her on the NaNo website or on her blog.

Long Live Procrastination


I was going to start writing this post yesterday, but just like my NaNo, I stared at the screen for a while before discovering that I was doing something else. Even though that something else was homework, it was still not what I had intended to do. You’ve probably guessed my topic: procrastination. That and writing without writing.

What’s writing without writing? Is that possible? To me, it’s the opposite of the advice that I hear from so many writers during NaNo, namely, “Just write! That’s the only trick, just sit down and force the words out, no matter what they say!”

That’s probably good advice for a lot of people, particularly those who fight fiercely to keep the inner Editor under control, like I do. I blame my OCD for my total inability to let a misspelled word sit and stare at me. They mock me. I fix them. I admit freely to that. Beyond that, however, although I have been guilty of erasing a sentence here and there, I stick to a rule for editing: if I absolutely must change something, the new version has to be longer than the old one. I read that rule somewhere in the NaNo forums and it has worked wonderfully for me.

The inner Editor, you have probably noticed, is good friends with the inner Procrastinator. They assist each other in their jobs, sort of a you-scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours thing. The Editor scares you into procrastinating by making you think too much, while the Procrastinator fools the Editor into thinking that by you doing nothing, when you do eventually do something, it will be better, more pleasing to the Editor’s excruciatingly high standards.

Recently I’ve discovered, to my delight, that I have a way of tricking the Procrastinator into helping me. It’s a tricky task, for if you do it wrong, it will work against you. But think of that absolutely mindless thing you do when you should be doing a thousand other, more useful things. Is it knitting? Playing solitaire? Reorganizing your desk in a myriad of different patterns, all of approximately similar usefulness? For me, it’s playing poker online. It requires no effort, no thought, just me sitting and staring and accomplishing nothing else. (Hey, I didn’t say I actually won anything.)

My discovery is that while I play poker, because it is so mindless, I can think about other things; and with just a little bit of focus, I can bend that thought around to my novel. In pleasing the Procrastinator (by playing poker), I also please the Editor (by doing a little planning), and yet I’m helping myself, too. The tricky part is not doing it too long. After all, if I’ve been playing poker for five hours, I’ve probably run out of time in which to physically write down the scenes I’ve thought up. But if after half an hour, I pull myself away from the virtual table and open up that nagging Word document titled NaNovel2008, the build-up of recent thoughts just pours out on the page.

I never thought I would have reason to thank my Procrastinator, but I have to say it: thank you, Sir P., for insisting that I play mindless internet games. You are more helpful than I’m sure you ever wanted to be.

Interested in sharing your story? I’ve opened up the writer profiles section to submissions from any/all writers. Read on for “guidelines”.