Monday, October 31, 2011

NaNoWriMo in a Nutshell

What is NaNoWriMo, anyway?

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, an incentive for aspiring writers to get off their butts and start writing. It’s held in November, because what else will you do in November, anyway?

How do I find out about it?

For more info and to register for NaNoWriMo, visit their official website at Here’s the answer to your first question, on their FAQ page:

NaNo in a Nutshell:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.

Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Where: You write wherever you’d like. On your computer, on your iPad, on a typewriter---anywhere is fine, just as long as you’re writing! For a more in-depth NaNoWriMo overview, visit the devilishly handsome What is NaNoWriMo? and How NaNoWriMo Works pages.”


More info and background on NaNoWriMo:

According to Wikipedia, “NaNoWriMo is an annual creative writing project coordinated by the non-profit organization The Office of Letters and Light. Spanning the month of November, the project challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel in one month. The project has been running since July 1999 by Chris Baty, and started out with only 21 participants. In 2009, over 170,000 people signed up and 2,427,190,537 words were written.

How do I get involved?

Writers wishing to participate first register on the project’s website, where they can post profiles and information about their novels, including a synopsis and excerpts. Word counts are validated on the site, with writers submitting a copy of their novel at the end for automatic counting. Municipal leaders and regional forums help connect local writers with one another by holding writing events and providing encouragement.”

What are the rules?

This is for fiction writing, but participants’ novels can be on any theme and in any genre, and in any language. According to the website’s FAQ, “If you believe you're writing a novel, we believe you're writing a novel too.” You start writing November 1, and the idea is for you to reach a minimum of 50,000 words by 11:59:59 PM on November 30, local time. We’re talking first draft here, not polishing and revising, which you leave till later. You’re allowed to do all kinds of advance planning and make extensive notes, but you can’t start the actual writing until November 1.

According to Wikipedia, “Participants write either a complete novel of 50,000 words, or simply the first 50,000 words of a novel to be completed later. While 50,000 words is a relatively low word count for a complete novel, it is still significantly more than the 40,000 word mark that distinguishes a novel from a novella. Notable novels of roughly 50,000 words include The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World, and The Great Gatsby.”

To complete the NaNoWriMo challenge, participants will need to write an average of about 1,667 words per day. Organizers of the event say that the aim is simply to get people to start writing, using the deadline as an incentive to get the story going and to put words to paper. This “quantity over quality” philosophy is summarized by the site’s slogan: No Plot? No Problem! This is also the title of Chris Baty's book of advice for NaNoWriMo participants, published in late 2004 by Chronicle Books.

Is there a cost to enter this program?

No, there is no fee to participate in NaNoWriMo; all you need to do is register in order to have your progress verified.

Are there any prizes?

No, there are official prizes are awarded, but you will receive a handy-dandy certificate to display as you wish, as well as an icon to display on the Web, and you’ll be officially included on the list of winners. Anyone who reaches the 50,000 word mark is declared a winner.

How do they know I reached the target number of words?

Beginning November 25, participants can submit their novel to be automatically verified for length. No precautions are taken to prevent cheating; since the only significant reward for winning is the finished novel itself and the satisfaction of having written it, there is little incentive to cheat. Novels are verified for word count by software, and may be scrambled or otherwise encrypted before being submitted for verification, although the software does not keep any other record of text input. It is possible to win without anyone (other than the author) ever seeing or reading the novel.

In October 2008, the self-publishing company CreateSpace teamed up with NaNoWriMo to begin offering winners a single free, paperback proof copy of their manuscripts, with the option to use the proof to then sell the novel on

What about community support?

The official forums on the NaNoWriMo website provide a place for advice, information, criticism, support and an opportunity for “collective procrastination.” The forums are available from the beginning of October, when signups for the year begin, until late September, when they are archived and the database is wiped in preparation for the next year.

Most regions also have one or more Municipal Liaisons (ML) assigned to them, who are volunteers that help with organizing local events. MLs are encouraged to coordinate at least two kinds of meet-ups; a kickoff party, and a "Thank God It's Over" party to celebrate successes and share novels. Kickoff parties are often held the weekend before November to give local writers a chance to meet and get geared up, although some are held on Halloween night past midnight so writers start writing in a community setting. Other events may be scheduled, including weekend meet-ups or overnight write-ins.

Don’t have a computer to write on? NaNoWriMo runs a Laptop Loaner program for those who do not have regular access to a computer or word processor. Old, yet functional laptops are donated from NaNoWriMo participants. Those wishing to borrow a laptop are required to cover the cost of shipping it back and must send a $300 deposit along with proof of identity, but are not charged a fee for using the laptops. In 2006, AlphaSmart, Inc. donated 25 brand-new Neos to expand the Laptop Loaner library with the promise of 25 more over the next two years .

by Jodie Renner,

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thrillerfest, Editing, My Craft Articles

Thrillerfest in NYC was excellent again this year. I only attended the two-day Craftfest, but all the workshops were top-notch, and all led by bestselling authors. I attended classes led by Steve Berry, William Bernhardt, Grant Blackwood, Michael Palmer, John Gilstrap, Steven James, and Hallie Ephron. Wish I could have also attended some of the others that took place at the same time! Will get into more details about the seminars and topics soon. Ken Follett was our keynote speaker. He's a relaxed, fascinating speaker, and his talk was really inspiring.

As usual, I am editing three fiction manuscripts at a time (all crime fiction), as that seems to work for me. I edit the books in sections, so when one author is doing revisions on a section, I'm working on another manuscript, and so on. All three books I'm working on now are really well-written and compelling, and the authors are great to work with, so I'm really enjoying my freelance editing these days. As I near the end of one manuscript, I start looking closely at the ones others are sending me.

I haven't had time to post here as, besides editing fiction manuscripts and magazine articles, doing initial critiques of first chapters for others, and judging books for a Writer's Digest competition, I also post regularly on three other blogs: Crime Fiction Collective:,
The Thrill Begins: , and, less frequently, Blood-Red Pencil:  Check out these blogs for great articles of interest to writers (and readers), especially of crime fiction and thrillers.

Here are some of my craft of fiction articles and tips posted on other blogs:


April 25, 2011: Questions for Your Beta Readers

May 9, 2011: Show, Don’t Tell

May 23: Writing a Killer Thriller, Part I

June 6: Writing a Killer Thriller, Part II

June 20: Writing a Killer Thriller, Part III

July 18: Thrillers vs. Mysteries


April 26, 2011: Questions for Your Beta Readers


March 31, 2011: Writing Effective Dialogue

April 28, 2011: Creating Compelling Characters

May 19, 2011: Act First, Explain Later

June 23, 2011: Pros and Cons of First-Person Point of View

July 21, 2011: Style Blunders in Fiction


August 7, 2010 – Act First, Explain Later

Sept. 17, 2010: Creating Compelling Characters

Oct. 2, 2010: Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue

Dec. 15, 2010: Show, Don’t Tell

Jan. 8, 2011: Style Blunders in Fiction

Feb. 11, 2011: Deep Point of View, or How to Avoid Head-Hopping

Feb. 16, 2011: Survive Your Writing or Editing Career

March 21, 2011: The Pros and Cons of First-Person Viewpoint

March 28, 2011: Deep Point of View, Part 2

April 18, 2011 – Deep Point of View- How to Avoid Head-Hopping, Part 3

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Two Conferences, Three Countries, Numerous Blogs and a Lot of Editing…

… all in two months. I’ve been way too busy. Time to slow down a bit and smell the roses…er, tulips…when they bloom here in Canada, that is. And get caught up on my editing.

February 16-22, I was in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for a stimulating writers’ conference in a great location. The 6th Annual San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival, Feb. 18-20, offered three days of workshops, with a wide variety of topics to choose from, plus keynote speakers and cultural events to give us all a taste of Mexican food, music and dance. I met some great people at the conference. I really enjoyed getting to know and hanging out with Diana Barnes, a writer and professor of Spanish Literature (far left, in the black jacket).

And I got to San Miguel early enough to explore this very special, safe, World Heritage colonial town in the mountains of Central Mexico, and snap hundreds of unique photos.I’m definitely going back to San Miguel next year, but for longer.

And I took a little detour on the way home to join my sister and her husband in Cancun for four days of R&R -- and I don't feel a bit guilty about it!

Then, March 22-27, off to Left Coast Crime’s conference, The Big Chile, in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, also a high desert location. I chose one of the optional pre-conference bus tours to Taos, led by two friendly, knowledgeable guides, which turned out to be a lot of fun and a photographer’s delight. This conference, for both writers and readers of crime fiction, featured panels (in contrast to the workshops at San Miguel), talks, a bookstore, book signings, and plenty of other cultural and literary activities to choose from, culminating in an awards banquet. I was also pleased to be asked to participate in a panel with literary agents and editors, called “Industry Professionals on Publishing,” which was extremely well-attended.

At the Awards Banquet, I was pleased to join thriller writer David Morrell's table. Morrell is the author of numerous novels, starting with First Blood, which grew into the Rambo movies with Sylvester Stallone. David generously supplied wine and gave each of us a book of his (I chose his excellent book on advice for writers, called The Successful Novelist, since I had just bought three of his novels at the bookroom.)

At both events, I was very fortunate to hook up with interesting people (mainly writers), companions to share sightseeing, shopping, meals, and lots of stimulating conversation, mostly revolving around writing, editing and the state of publishing and self-publishing. In both cases, although I loved the conferences and exploring new and different parts of the continent, it was the connections with these great people and talented writers that made the experiences so enriching and satisfying. A special thanks to my friend, mystery-suspense novelist LJ Sellers, for introducing me to four other bright, dynamic people – horror and thriller writer Andrew E. Kaufman, romantic suspense writer Peg Brantley, mystery writer Judith Yates Borger, and reviewer Marlyn Beebe. We all shared ideas and brainstormed over lunches, dinners and drinks--great times!

Plus, due to a flurry of activity before I left, I’ve recently had several of my articles posted on three blogs. In February and March, Blood-Red Pencil blogspot, at, posted Deep Point of View, or How to Avoid Head-Hopping, Survive Your Writing or Editing Career, The Pros and Cons of First-Person Viewpoint, and Deep Point of View, Part 2. (Part 3 coming in April.) As well, my article on “Writing Effective Dialogue” was published on The Thrill Begins blog at,  and my article on “Creating Compelling Characters” on Writing from the Peak – Pikes Peak Writers Blog, at

And I was surprised to discover that my panel at LCC and my freelance editing services were mentioned in a few other very interesting blog posts: Ctrl+Alt+Pub blog, at and Sisters in Crime blog, at

The very well-written article by Andrew E. Kaufman on the state of indie publishing, at Ctrl+Alt+Pub, sparked a lot of interest and debate. That will be the topic of another blog post here – the rapidly changing world of publishing, self-publishing and e-publishing.

And you might want to also check out Blood-Red Pencil’s “Ask the Editor” monthly feature for some tips for writers from editors and other writers. Here’s yesterday’s post:

Time to get back to my editing – my “raison-d’ĂȘtre” and, besides being satisfying and rewarding, the activity that funds my trips to all of these great writers’ conferences!

...speaking of editing, if you have a fiction manuscript you'd like me to have a look at, my website is

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


(See down for Blood-Red Pencil blogspot posts and The Thrill Begins blogspot posts)

Act First, Explain Later (Hooking Your Readers with an Effective Opening)

Point of View – Head-Hopping

Creating Compelling Characters

Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue

Show, Don’t Tell

Style Faux-Pas (Style Blunders in Fiction)

12 Tips for Keeping Your Manuscript out of the Rejects Pile

Dialogue Nuts and Bolts

14 Tips for Breaking into the Romance Genre

16 Tips for Writing an Effective Short Story

Clear, Concise, Powerful Nonfiction Writing

Hyphens, Dashes, Ellipses

Basic Formatting of Your Manuscript

Thrillers vs. Mysteries

Writers’ Conferences in 2011

Fiction Definitions

Query Letters

Writing a Synopsis of Your Novel 


August 7, 2010 – Act First, Explain Later

Sept. 17, 2010: Creating Compelling Characters

Oct. 2, 2010: Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue

Dec. 15, 2010: Show, Don’t Tell

Jan. 8, 2011: Style Blunders in Fiction

Feb. 11, 2011: Deep Point of View, or How to Avoid Head-Hopping

Feb. 16, 2011 – Survive Your Writing or Editing Career

March 28, 2011: Deep Point of View, Part 2

April 2011 – Deep Point of View, Part 3


March 31, 2011: Writing Effective Dialogue

April 28, 2011: Creating Compelling Characters


March 30, 2011: Creating Compelling Characters

Thursday, February 10, 2011


by Larry Seeley, Published Author and Guest Blogger       

On January 28-30, 2011, I attended a Weekend Fiction Boot Camp in Ventura, California. The boot camp was advertised as “An intensive work and hone experience for serious writers who want to move out of classroom exercises and writing book prompts, and move into the world of writing professionalism. Not for the faint of heart.”

Toni Lopopolo, owner of Literary Management, and Shelly Lowenkopf, noted writing guru, led the proceedings. Fifteen aspiring authors attended. Our experience ranged from novice to published authors, and each participant was encouraged to contribute.

The weekend started off Friday evening with dinner and wine, then Toni and Shelly started the workshops by asking writers why they enrolled in the Writers’ Boot Camp and what they hoped to learn and accomplish over the weekend. Next, we talked about how to write a pitch for your book to attract an agent or a publisher. Basics, like how to distinguish narrative vs. dialogue and what makes up a scene were also covered that evening.

Each attendee submitted at least ten pages of a current project. Fourteen were fiction, and one non-fiction. The pages were emailed prior to the camp, and Toni and Shelly offered editing and comments. After Friday’s introductions and background, the next two days were spent critiquing the offerings. Toni read each selection aloud, the author not permitted to consult a printed version, but the others reading along. Once finished, she and Shelly went around the table and asked for comments. The results were amazing.

When you hear your words read back to you, a different perspective evolves. When other writers take the time to review your work and offer suggestions, it’s easy to see what you do well and where you stray. We noted our comments and returned the marked-up copies to their respective authors. Reading the comments on my writing sample was illuminating. When I came home and got back on my computer, I used many of the suggestions to rewrite several sections of my current novel based on what I learned at boot camp.

 Toni and Shelly also offered various gems of wisdom regarding the art of writing. Both are qualified and have worked as editors and teachers. Shelly spent thirty-four years as an instructor in the Master of Professional Writing Program at USC and is an author and editor in his own right. Before founding Literary Management, Toni worked as an Executive Editor for Macmillan’s and St. Martin’s Press in New York, among others.

I should add that I’m prejudiced because Toni is my agent, and I have one published novel, Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves, and a second, 17 Degrees North, almost finished. When we went around the table, and Shelly asked my occupation, I replied, “rewriter,” because that’s what you become when you set out on a path to write and publish fiction. I’m also grateful to Jodie Renner for her encouragement and professional editing.

The weekend proved rewarding and worthwhile. I recommend it to anyone who aspires to success in the writing field. If you’re already selling one hundred thousand books, forget it, but for those of us who still strive toward that goal, consider going.

One writing tip—if you feel you need to use an exclamation point, you haven’t written a good line of dialogue or a creative scene. Incorporate the excitement in what you put on paper, not with punctuation symbols (and don’t write another vampire story).

Larry Seeley is the author of two thrillers Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves (published in 2010) and 17 Degrees North (coming out in 2011), which take place mainly in the southwestern states, mostly New Mexico. Larry is now at work on the third book in the series. Larry’s website is:  

For more info on the Writers’ Boot Camp, go to: Weekend Fiction Bootcamp – January 28,29,30
Toni Lopopolo Literary Management

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Just finished an excellent book by James N. Frey called How to Write a Damn Good Thriller – A Step-by-Step Guide for Novelists and Screenwriters. I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s interested in writing thrillers, romantic suspense, crime fiction, or any other kind of fiction, for that matter.
James concludes with some great advice:

“When you start constructing your thriller, it will help a great deal if you have the right attitude. […] To write a damn good thriller, you need a killer attitude. I suggest you make a pledge to yourself to do the following: [I’m reproducing some of Frey’s key points here.]

• Commit yourself to creating strong conflicts in every line of every scene.

• Decide you will have fresh, snappy dialogue and not a single line of conversation.

• Decide to write quickly when drafting. Fast is golden.

• Commit yourself to this: You will not have any major characters that are bland and colorless. They will all be dramatic types, theatrical, driven, larger than life, clever.

• Have your characters in terrible trouble right from the beginning, and never let them get free of terrible trouble until the climax.

• Have powerful story questions operating at all times.

• End each scene or section of dramatic narrative with a bridge, a story question to carry the reader to the next one.

• Keep the clock ticking and the excitement mounting right to the climactic moment.”

And the tips I left out are excellent, too! As is the advice given throughout this interesting and informative book. Now I’m going to look for How to Write a Damn Good Novel (I & II), How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, and finally, The Key – How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, all by the same author.

Thanks for your inspirational and practical tips, James! And thanks for giving me permission to pass on some of your damn good ideas to my blog followers and editing clients!

James N. Frey,
"The Best Damn Creative Workshops on Planet Earth"

James N. Frey is an internationally acclaimed creative writing teacher and workshop leader. Many participants of his workshops have gone on to publish with major New York houses and receive solid advances (as high as $2 million) and much critical acclaim.

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, mysteries and other crime fiction, as well as YA, mainstream, and historical fiction. Jodie’s craft-of-fiction articles appear on 6 different blogs. For more information on Jodie's editing services, please visit her website at

Jodie's 4-page, 10,000-word e-booklet, Writing a Killer Thriller - An Editor's Guide to Writing Powerful Fiction, is only $0.99 for your Kindle or on PDF.