Unlock the Muse – November 28, 2018

This week I am grateful for the blogging community, those of you who share your thoughts and wisdoms gained through your various experiences. I am grateful for my local writing community who continue to challenge me to keep writing. And I’m grateful for my family who allow me the time to follow my dream. To all of you, thank you!

Here is your writing prompt for this week:

Take a walk around your block (if there’s no block, walk one-quarter of a mile). Write down everything you see along the way that starts with a particular letter (for example, T – tree, treehouse, toad, trampoline, a neighbor named Tina, tricycle). When you get home, write a 400-word piece of short-short fiction that uses each word.

I’m trying to convince my son to do this exercise with me. I’m sure he would get a kick out of picking words for me to use in a story. It’s a little like giving mom a homework assignment. If you’re having trouble deciding what letter to use, just use the first letter of your name. Or, do the assignment 26 times and write a piece for each letter!

NaNoWriMo is almost over again for another year. Soon it will be time to begin the work of rewriting and editing the novel. Right now, mine is a huge mess. If you’re in the same situation, don’t worry. There’s lots of great advice out there on how to rework that mess into something readable. Whether your intention is to publish your novel, share it with those close to you, or to save it only for yourself, you can turn it into something better.

Here’s one article by K. M. Weiland about revising your NaNo novel. K. M. Weiland’s site is also full of other great tips and advice for writing too, so while you’re there, you might check it out!

It’s play week! Get ready to take action with this week’s Story Cube selection. Use one or all of the images to create a story, a poem or a letter to your great-uncle’s hamster. Be creative and have fun!


Happy writing!

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

NaNoWriMo Week Four: Family, Feasting and Crazy Impossible Things

I have continued to be so far behind on my word count, so I set myself a goal to write 4,000 words on Sunday to open week four of NaNo 2018. It was our local NaNoWriMo write-in day, and at the three hour long write-in, I managed to write 2,400 words, leaving me with 1,600 left to write. With Sunday Night Football going on when I got home again, and children clamoring to be fed, I didn’t get to write much more until the kiddos were off to bed. In the end, I managed 3,000 words for the day. Not quite what I’d hoped for, but not a bad total after all.

Despite my dismal word count, I allowed myself to attend my book club meeting this week. Ours is not a traditional book club. We don’t select a single book to read and discuss it all together. No. Instead, we all read whatever we want then come together and talk about our favorites. Our group is called the Dragon’s Hoard Book Club, and our focus is fantasy and science fiction books, but we read pretty much anything. This week, I met some new members. And it turns out, one of them is a fellow Wrimo!


Who doesn’t love a huge feast? But I’d venture to guess, fewer of us enjoy the hours of prep and the mountains of clean-up that go along with the feast. My family has chosen the last several years to gather at a local church that has a large enough facility to accommodate our extended family. We each prepare some part of the traditional American Thanksgiving Day meal and bring it to share. My assignment this year was to prepare a green bean casserole and a cheesecake. I think Oakland enjoyed the dessert making process, but it made for a very late night with little writing accomplished.


The first year I participated in National Novel Writing Month, way back in 2010, I ran across a forum thread on the NaNo site labeled “10k Black Friday Challenge.” I thought then, and I still do, that this is a crazy, impossible idea. I loved it! Of course, I had to work on Black Friday back then, so writing time was minimal. I failed quite spectacularly in reaching 10k words. In all the years since, I have endeavored to do this crazy, impossible thing. I have managed it only once. This year, I desperately needed the 10k (actually, I was aiming for 12k), but managed the slightly less impressive total of 8,300 words written in a single day.


Oakland and I finished the week with a trip to Shari’s with my sister to celebrate her birthday and get in a few words over pie and coffee. Saturday was my semi-monthly writer’s group meeting. I ended up being the only one there this week, but with a cup of coffee and my laptop, I got in a couple thousand more words! I’m ready to finish NaNoWriMo 2018 with a win! This was my wordiest week yet this November, and I ended it just shy of 40,000!!!


Unlock the Muse – November 21, 2018

It’s the time of year for family gatherings, feasting and giving thanks. It’s also the time for school conferences, progress reports and book fairs. Who doesn’t love a book fair? Progress reports, maybe not so much. Especially when they show how much room there is for improvement. If your NaNo – or other writing endeavor – is going as well as mine, the progress report isn’t so great. Okay, let’s take an honest look at where things stand: I’m currently at 21,000 words. I should be at 33,000 words. Ouch. Still, it might be bad, but it isn’t hopeless.

Here is this week’s writing prompt:

If you could have a conversation with yourself, what would you say? Write down the dialogue. Then read over it. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself if you only take the time to listen.

If it makes this exercise easier, imagine yourself as a child talking with you as you are today. Or have this conversation with future you.

This is just about the hardest part of NaNoWriMo. If you’ve made it this far, don’t give up! Whether you’re well ahead, right on target, or woefully behind – Don’t. Give. Up.

Though the website focuses on business and financial success, this article from lifehack.org offers some useful tips that can be applied to NaNo.

  1. Revisit your purpose.
  2. Remember your accomplishments.
  3. Understand that obstacles and setbacks are necessary.
  4. Focus on what you do best.
  5. Clear your head.
  6. You are not alone.

So there you have it. Remember why you started this adventure in the first place. Look back at all that you’ve already accomplished. Setbacks only make your novel stronger. Whether you write dialogue best, or description, go with it! It’s okay to step away from the novel and recharge. Reach out to other Wrimos, either locally or online and get the support you need to finish this month strong!

Today’s vocabulary word is: Challenge.



1. A call to take part in a contest or competition, especially a duel.
2. An objection or query as to the truth of something, often with an implicit demand for proof.

1. Invite (someone) to engage in a contest.
2. Dispute the truth of validity of.

The use of the word challenge as a verb predates its usage as a noun, dating back to c. 1200, from the Old French chalongier, “to complain, protest, haggle, quibble;” and from the Vulgar Latin caluminare, “to accuse falsely.” From the late 13c., it came to be used as “to object to, take exception to,” and later still (late 14c.) as “to call to fight.”

As a noun, challenge was original used to mean “something one can be accused of, a fault, blemish,” again from the Old French chalonge, “calumny, slander; demand, opposition.” According to etymonline.com, accusatory connotations of the word died out in the 17c., and it didn’t come to mean “a difficult task” until 1954.

Happy writing!

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

NaNoWriMo Week Three: Monkey Bars, Guilt Monkeys and Other Fantastic Beasts

Welcome to week three of NaNoWriMo. If you’re writing along, I hope your month is going splendidly! I am still struggling with the word count, but ever the optimist, Oakland is still sticking with me. I refuse to give up, but I am starting to feel a little be stressed about my low daily word count. I need a big day to really make up for the difference.

This week started off with a holiday – Veteran’s Day. A day off with the kiddos, so Oakland and I had a play day. We hung out with the boys reading books, putting together a 1,000 piece puzzle and took a trip to the playground. While it was loads of fun, we didn’t get a lot of writing work done.


On Thursday nights in November, I host an online writing event I call “Thursday Throw Down.” In this game with other local Wrimos, each participant declares themselves for one side or the other. This week, the battle was Plot Bunnies vs. Guilt Monkeys. I declared myself for the Guilt Monkeys, because, well, the family, the job, all the other responsibilities… Oakland and I gathered up some of our favorites snacks and started writing. Guilt Monkeys pulled it off in the end, beating the Bunnies by all of 33 words. So far this month, these Thursday events have been the most productive for me, and I wrote around 2,500 words.


Everyone needs a break during NaNo, and my local group of Wrimos likes to plan some activities outside of writing just for this purpose. One thing we do each year is to choose a bookish movie that’s been released in November. This week, we went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald. And yes, Oakland went with me. The movie is fantastic!


Once again, the week ended with a three-hour writing session with my local writing group. There was a new member this week, and that is always fun! All in all, not a bad week. Possibly the best I’ve had so far this NaNo. I’ll finish the week around 17,000 words. Next week is a big holiday week, and I’m grateful I get to spend it with my family and friends. I’m looking forward to a little dedicated writing time and getting caught up on my word count!

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.