Unlock the Muse – November 14, 2018

We’re midway through the month of November and National Novel Writing Month. Word counts should be climbing, characters growing and plots twisting. Maybe your NaNo project is flying along as it should be. Or maybe your word count is seriously lagging. Or maybe you’re not NaNo-ing at all, but just writing. Whatever it is, here’s this week’s inspiration to keep you moving forward.

Having trouble reaching your goals? Promise yourself a reward when you reach it. Your writing prompt for this week is:

Look outside. You can go out when you’re done (writing).

Whatever your goal is for today, finish it. Write that scene or chapter. Write those 500 or 1,667 words. And when you finish, reward yourself. Go for a bike ride. Pick up leaves. Sit in a lawn chair and just breathe (take an umbrella with you if necessary).

If, like me, you are struggling with your NaNoWriMo word count this November, here are some great pep talks from well known authors. Maybe there’s one there from a favorite author. Take a moment to be encouraged. Then, get back to writing!

It is grammar week, and in honor of National Novel Writing Month, I will be taking a look at contractions. If you have ever participated in NaNoWriMo, you may have been desperate enough to use any means necessary to increase your word count. One such trick for this sort of “shameless padding” is to undo your contractions. Turn all those ‘it’s’ into ‘it is’ and ‘don’ts’ into ‘do nots’ and so on.

If you are concerned about the grammatical correctness of this trick, never fear, it is a perfectly acceptable way to write. For more information on the correct use of contractions see this article on yourdictionary.com.

One more thing you will need to consider, before you decide to use this trick to increase your novel’s word count. There is a trade off in the editing side of things. Yes, it is perfectly correct whether you use the contraction or not, however, it usually feels more natural, especially in dialogue to use them. So if you remove them in the drafting phase, be prepared to add them back in during the editing phase.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!


NaNoWriMo Week Two: Underdogs, Distractions and Writing a Sequel

My NaNoWriMo progress has been less than stellar this week. For one reason or another, I am finding it difficult to focus the way I need to on writing my novel. My writing buddy, Oakland, has been with me for the duration, sticking by me despite my lack of success.

This year I’m writing book two of a planned series of five, and I can’t help but wonder if this is part of what is making NaNo difficult for me. There’s a reason, after all, the powers that be at NaNoWriMo HQ recommend writing a brand new novel. It’s hard to have the same level of creative abandonment for a project you’re already invested in.


I’m fortunate to be part of a vibrant community full of creative people. We have an active group of NaNoWriMo participants and a pair of dedicated MLs (Municipal Liaisons) who make November more fun. This week we had our local NaNoWriMo Kick-Off party where close to fifty people came together to write. If you participate in NaNoWriMo, but have never sought out a local write-in, I would encourage you to do so. The energy of a room full of other writers pursuing the same crazy goal is amazing. At our local write-ins there is also always goodies like coffee, tea and leftover Halloween candy!

If you follow football at all, you’re probably aware of the Raiders’ record so far this season. Ever the optimist, Oakland doesn’t seem to be bothered by this. He’s also not bothered by my dismal word count. And, as our fortune cookie from lunch one day this week reminds us, we should root for the underdog. (That would be me.)


Our busy week included a trip to the elementary school for Literacy Night where the Kinder, 1st and 2nd grade teachers shared information about reading and writing goals for their students. They also offered up tools and tips for helping these young students at home as well. Literacy is important to me, and as two of my boys fall within this age group, I was there to learn more about what they’re doing in school. Plus, we got to bring home a new book to read!


And speaking of reading, One of the biggest reasons I’ve struggled to stay motivated to write is because of the book(s) I’ve been reading. I’m working my way through the 2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge, and I started Gone With the Wind just before November. I had hoped to finish before NaNo started, but it’s a very large book. But a very enjoyable one, as you can see Oakland enjoying it now. Also, if you follow the Popsugar reading challenge, you’re aware the new 2019 challenge list went live this week, providing yet one more distraction I don’t need right now!


Our week ended with a writing session with my local writers’ group. Three of us showed up, plugged in our laptops, put on our headsets and got to work. Very little talking other than to greet one another, and we just wrote and wrote and wrote. I needed this badly, as I’m suffering from a Reading Challenge induced word-count deficit. We’ll finish the week at around 7,500 words, a far cry from the nearly 17,000 we should have by now. But I won’t think of that now, tomorrow is another day!

Unlock the Muse – November 7, 2018

I haven’t got off to a very good start for NaNoWriMo this November. It is perhaps my worst NaNo start ever in my nine years of participating in this event. I’m confident things will change, however as the month progresses and the story really begins to take off. I haven’t lost a NaNo yet, and I don’t intend to start now.

If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Remember your favorite summertime activity, and describe it in vivid detail. How old were you? Where did it take place?

Let yourself get caught up in the memory. Explore every aspect of it – sights, sounds, smells. Who was with you? And what were you wearing?

Now put yourself in your character’s head and write her memories just the same way. Taste the salt in the coastal wind. Hear the cry of an owl in the deep woods at night. Smell the press of unwashed bodies on that crowded city street.

Need a short break from the mad rush of NaNoWriMo? Take a moment to check your NaNo horoscope and get a personalized writing prompt!

The question of the month for this November is: What is your greatest writing challenge? And what do you do to overcome it?

For me, it is probably the allure of something new. I am forever distracted by that “shiny new idea” lurking just around the next corner. While I have yet to overcome this challenge, I do work hard at pushing myself to stick with just one project at a time.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

NaNoWriMo Week One: Mascots, Spills and Birthday Parties

I don’t typically write with a mascot – totem, buddy, muse, whatever you might choose to call it – but this year for my birthday I was given this adorable pup whom I have dubbed Oakland. When November 1st rolled around, I decided he would make the perfect writing friend. Therefore I have chosen to take Oakland along with me on all my NaNo-ing adventures this month.


Since November begins on a Thursday this year, week one is a short adventure. But it hasn’t been a boring one.

Our adventure began early as I opted to begin NaNoWriMo at midnight. My hope was to log in a good chunk of words before the day even began, but alas, I was simply too tired, and only managed a half hour of writing after midnight. Oakland was a real trooper and stayed awake with me the entire time.

Later, Oakland went to work with me, tucked into my purse along side my notebook and current paperback. He’s large enough that he doesn’t fit discretely into a pocket, so yes, I’m carrying around a stuffed dog for all the world to see. I decided I didn’t care. I’m writing a novel, and I can be a little eccentric about it if I like.

We tackled our lunch time writing session from a local burger place. These sessions are always end way too soon, and often right when I’m finding my writing stride. So far, Oakland and I are struggling with where to take this story. But I’m confident we’ll be able to pull this off. We just need to find our groove.

Back at home, Oakland and I are writing around the family. Life among three rowdy boys can be tough for a cute canine like Oakland. After dinner, the middle son snatched up Oakland and dashed off with him for a bit before I could reclaim him. Then, the oldest son tossed a jack-o-lantern pillow across the room, knocking Oakland to the floor along with the contents of a glass of soda. So Oakland ended the first day of his very first NaNoWriMo with a bath. And only 500 words.


Finally, Oakland and I finished off our first week of November with a birthday party. Life doesn’t stop moving forward even for NaNoWriMo, and some things, like birthdays, just can’t be put off. So we celebrated. And wrote very little. This could be my worst NaNo start ever, finishing the week at only 1,100 words.


Oakland and I are looking forward to a new week filled with great accomplishments. And it begins tomorrow with our first regional NaNo write-in at the local library.

Unlock the Muse – October 31, 2018

National Novel Writing Month begins tomorrow! I’ve been busy with research, world-building and outlining. I haven’t accomplished as much as would have liked, but I have made progress. This will be my ninth NaNo, and the first time I’ve worked so hard to be prepared. So why do I feel so completely unprepared?

Here’s your writing prompt for the week:

Start with: On the morning of January 18, 1995…

If that date doesn’t amuse you, choose another date at random. Or pick one that’s meaningful to you. Now, what happened that morning?

With all the NaNo prep going on, I haven’t had time to pick up a new writing craft book lately. So I’ll send you instead to the official NaNoWriMo blog site. Here you’ll find all sorts of great tips for writing in general and NaNoWriMo in particular.

I’ve been reading the classic American novel, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Don’t worry if you’ve had a bad writing day, because in the immortal words of Scarlett O’Hara:


Whether you are participating in NaNoWriMo or not, what are your writing goals for November? Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Unlock the Muse – October 24, 2018

October is a busy month for me. Planning a birthday party, visiting a pumpkin patch, choosing costumes, participating in a 24-hour read-a-thon, preparing for NaNoWriMo… The list goes on. While some of the interruptions life throws out are avoidable, others aren’t so optional. The best we can do as writers is to take what life throws at us and incorporate it into our work. Life experiences are what makes our fiction authentic.

Here is this week’s writing prompt:

With pen and paper in hand, visit a popular bookstore. Sit at a table or in a comfy chair, and write down snippets of dialogue you hear as people walk by. Don’t look at their faces, just keep your head down and write.

If the bookstore doesn’t work well for you, choose instead a local coffee shop or café. Maybe a university setting is more your speed, or a government office open to the public. After you’ve spent some time at your chosen location and have a good selection of dialogue, go back to your usual writing space and try to imagine what those people look like. What do they do? What are their goals? Can you create a logical conflict?

Again, I haven’t started a new writing craft book yet. My focus lately has been on world building as I prepare for NaNoWriMo next month. I found this excellent resource on the subject that offers tips for creating imaginary worlds as well as alternate reality and real world settings. 

World building is a potentially overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be. Take it a little bit at a time and focus on the parts that are most vital to your characters and plot.

It’s time to play! Here’s the roll of the dice from Rory’s Story Cubes, Voyages edition:


Choose just one image, or use them all and create a narrative. Or work on your world building skills and create a world where all of these things make sense together.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, October 2018: The End Results

I participated in my second Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon this weekend. I did my best to read for as much of those 24 hours as I could, read as many pages as possible and have fun along the way! I followed along with the hourly blogs and tried to keep up on Goodreads. It was a lot of fun.

One thing I didn’t do was try to post my progress along the way. So, I’ll share my responses to the three surveys here. I also have my final stats for the event ready to share.

The highlight of the event for me was all the time I got to spend reading with my boys. My youngest read aloud to me a collection of Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie books – 300 pages of delightfully funny dialogue between unlikely friends. My eldest read Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo, to both myself and his youngest brother. Later, I allowed him to stay up late and read with me until he fell asleep.

Aren’t they adorable?

Boys reading

Opening Survey:
1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I did my reading from the beautiful state of Oregon on the West Coast of the United States. The morning dawned cold and foggy, but it warmed up nicely by mid-morning football/soccer games. My primary reading spot was the couch in my living room with my snugly blanket and surrounded by all my books.

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I’m probably most excited about Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb. I’ve been reading this series along with another group on Goodreads, but I’ve fallen behind because of other reading commitments (I’m looking at you, Popsugar!). I’m hoping to spend a little time with this book during the read-a-thon.

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?

4. Tell us a little something about yourself!
I might have a book problem. Despite shelves overflowing with unread books, I can’t stay away from the library book sales, the half-off book sales, or any other place where books are sold.

5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
This is my second read-a-thon, and the only thing I’m really doing different is that I have fewer books on my TBR. I didn’t choose books exclusively for the read-a-thon, but rather I’m just continuing with the books I’m already reading.

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now?
After brief forays into Dune (audio) and Zenith (ebook) and reading with two of my sons, I am about to return to my primary reading goal of the day, Gone With the Wind.

2. How many books have you read so far?
I have read parts of three books so far (Gone With the Wind, Dune and Zenith) and my children read aloud to me six books: Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive, I Really Like Slop! (by Mo Willems, read to me by my 6yr old) and Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat (by Bryan Langdo, read to me by my 8yr old.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I’m still looking forward to Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb. Maybe I will hold that in reserve for a few more hours and see if I can get further on Gone With the Wind before I switch it up.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
There are always interruptions in the life of a mom. Two of my sons had games today – one is playing flag football (his team lost) and the other is playing soccer (his team also lost). This outing took up four hours of read-a-thon time, and I just had to let it go. The kiddos will always be more important than the books. (Sorry, books!)

Once I returned home from the sports activities, I got to single parent two of the children while their father squired the third off to a classmate’s birthday party. I used this time to read with my boys (see the above answers!). Literacy is important to me, and I’m so proud of the progress my kids are making into their own reading success!

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
I can’t say that anything has surprised me thus far. Well, maybe this delightful quote I found on page 116 of Gone With the Wind:

The dim room with towering walls completely filled with dark books depressed her. Large numbers of books always depressed her, as did people who liked to read large numbers of books.

I couldn’t help laughing at this in light of large number of people reading a large number of books today! The only thing I find depressing about a large number of books is the lack of adequate time to read them all.

Closing Survey:
1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
I guess that would be hour 22 (2 a.m. my time). The words were swimming across the pages and my eyes no longer wanted to stay open.

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read!
I made progress on Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb, Dune, by Frank Herbert and Zenith, by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings. My 6yr old son read to me Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive!, I Really Like Slop!, from an Elephant and Piggie Biggie combined book by Mo Willems. And my 8yr old son read aloud to me Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo. When I put my kiddos to bed, I also got to read aloud bits from Eragon, by Christopher Paolini and The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo.

3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners?
Whether it’s the books I’ve listed here or something else, what I’d recommend to any read-a-thoner with children is to just dedicate an hour or two, more if there’s interest, in reading with or listening to your children read to you. It was my favorite part of the read-a-thon!

4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you happy?
I don’t know that I have any suggestions. There is a great mix of activities and conversations so everyone can participate the way they want to. I love how flexible the event is.

5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep?
There’s a very good chance I’ll participate again. I would still like to see more progress on my reading. But I need to just face it, I’m probably the slowest reader ever. As for volunteering, I love the energy that the hosts provide for this event, and to be honest, I don’t think I could offer that same level of enthusiasm. At least not at this time. But let me take this opportunity to give a HUGE thank you to all of those responsible for making this event so great!

Final Event Stats:

  • total time reading: 12 hrs
  • time spent on blog, Goodreads and Twitter: 2 hrs
  • real life interruptions: 5 hrs
  • sleeping: 5 hrs (started late, and quit early)
  • total pages: 184 (+ ebook and audio) + 6 pictures books
  • books read/listened to during readathon: 12

(Gone With the Wind, Assassin’s Quest, Dune, Zenith, Eragon, The Tiger Rising, Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive!, I Really Like Slop!, by Mo Willems and Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo)

If you participated in the Read-a-Thon, how did you do? Did you meet your goals/expectations? What was your favorite book?