Lessons from the Querying Trenches

When I first started the writing thing, I think my parents were a bit bewildered. My siblings were, too.  Several friends were in the same boat. 

It wasn’t that they were unsupportive. Far from it. They just didn’t know how it all worked. (I didn’t either, but I was researching my happy little butt off, learning it all for myself at the time.)

Heck, co-workers and colleagues always seemed just a little be befuzzled when I started talking about query letters or writing a synopsis or edits or revisions or getting ready for a conference, but I kept talking.

You know why?

Well, there’s the peer pressure for one thing. If they all knew what I was up to, they were going to ask if there had been any progress. This, of course, makes me feel like I need to be able to have progress to report. It motivates the Butt-In-Chair instinct to actually sit down and DO IT. Writers write. Wanna-be writers talk about wanting to write.

I actually went to the county fair last year with a friend and was walking around looking at exhibits and stuff, telling stories of high school escapades, and just enjoying the trip down memory lane. We went to the pig and calf scramble that night for the same reason. (I caught a pig when I was in high school; my grandfather used to do the announcing for the event, and now my cousin does it.) At the scramble, one of the law enforcement officers (I know him from my day job, of course) working security at the event stopped me and asked what I was doing there. I’m sure I gave him a dumb look, and muttered something about watching the scramble, when he smiled and told me that I should be home writing, “because I’d never finish my book if I didn’t go home and write.”

My jaw just about hit the ground. I hadn’t realized he even knew I wrote fiction. And then I remembered that I’d friended him on Facebook and I’d been updating my word count and posting writing updates. There’s a lesson there on social media, but it also served to motivate me to be able to post later that I had made progress, even if I did stay to watch the scramble that night.

I wasn’t the only one learning. My brother sometimes reads my stuff. So does my cousin. Mom has read some of it, and has asked for more. Dad’s read some of it, but it’s really not his thing. My sister’s not really a big reader, but she’ll ask from time to time if I’m writing on a day off.

They are NOT my critique buddies. I’m actually in two different critique groups, and I go to workshops and conferences, and have beta readers and writer friends all over the place. Family members reading are not doing so because I want them to pat me on the back and tell me how awesome I am. I love them, I trust them, and if they ask, I’m okay with letting them read stuff. I don’t ask them for critique; I have asked Mom, a former teacher, for copyediting grammar mistake type help. Brother has read some things and helped brainstorm ideas. So has Dad. But they are not the ones I go to for “make it better by making it bleed” revision. That’s not fair to put them in that position, and it’s not necessarily going to help me as a writer if they could be uncomfortable doing so. Better to just avoid it altogether.

The amazing part is that my parents and non-writer friends have all started asking questions about submissions and progress. I answered them, at first because I’d let them read some of the early stuff and then started panicking that they’d go out and self-pub it as a birthday or Christmas gift, something I DID NOT want to do. Probably an over-panic on my part, but I wanted to make sure that this didn’t happen. So I began telling them, a bit at a time, over dinner, or in passing, where I was at, and what my goals for publication were. And I explained specifically, the whole “money flows toward the writer” principle.

Fast forward a few years. Just the other day, I ended up telling Mom just how frustrated and disheartened I was with the writing in a phone conversation. I indicated some frustration with the query process, the “positive rejections” and hey, it was a bad day, with multiple rejections coming in. Let’s just leave it there. No matter how thick the skin, multiple rejections on the same day hurts. I was thinking it was a night for cookies and a glass of wine. Oh, and maybe some video games where I could kill things.

Her response, without qualification or hesitation? “You just gotta find the right place to send it, right?”

Spot on. Took the wind right out of my sails. And an answer I should have said first. And she’s right. She’d been listening to some of my talk about the querying process, and all the research and how it all works.

I’ve been at some gatherings with my parents recently, and they asked how it was going. Well, I made some noise about some frustration with market trends that had been cited to me in rejection letters, and some of the reasons I’d gotten for the “no.”  I was venting about it. (I’ll note…it’s way okay to vent, bitch, rant, rave, or otherwise do this in private, or with trusted friends and family members, but not okay to do this on your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the crowded bar at a writer’s conference.  Please note that I’m NOT going into the reasons for the rejection, or how many there had been, or WHO had rejected my writing. Also, please note, I said, rejecting my writing, not rejecting ME.)

My father listened to my rant, and didn’t say a whole lot. Then he asked me some questions.

“Do you want to write the stuff you’re complaining about?”

Honest answer for me was “No.”

His response? “I didn’t think so. I didn’t think you wrote stuff like that, and I can’t see you writing stuff like that. Don’t give up and don’t write stuff that isn’t you.”

Gulp. He was right. And it shut me down pretty hard. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately.

He’d been listening. Mom had been, too. In fact, they’d been listening to me more than I had been. Talk about a reality check.

Respect for writing time only happens when people know it’s writing time. If you don’t tell them you’re writing, then you really have no grounds to get annoyed at the phone ringing, people talking to you, questions being asked, the doorbell ringing, or invitations to go, well, anywhere.

If they don’t know you’re writing, you can’t hold it against them.

I talked to a friend on the phone recently, and she wanted to know if I had weekend plans. I had indicated to her that Saturday I’d planned to write, but otherwise I didn’t have any other plans. Her reaction? “Oh, that’s okay, we’ll make plans Friday or Sunday then.” Color me surprised. I didn’t have a deadline to meet. I could have easily worked in Saturday plans, and write before or after I met her for dinner. She wouldn’t hear of it, no matter how much I protested that I could change my schedule.

There’s a lesson there in that the people who care about you are listening to what matters to you. If writing matters, they’ll see it. It might take a while, but they’ll see it. And they’re learning as you are. They might have advice. They might have some kind of help they can offer.

Even if it’s as small as weeding your flowerbeds while you write the next chapter.  And that’s not a hint, but I certainly wouldn’t turn that down!

A Sense of Humor and Inspiration

It’s hard to explain your own sense of humor to someone else. You can say it’s dry or it’s witty or it’s sarcastic or it’s light or whatever, but that’s a category. It’s not easy to give someone a good idea of what tickles your funny bone or amuses you as entertainment in a single word.

I think it comes as no surprise to many who read this blog that I sincerely believe that Joss Whedon is one of the brightest, most entertaining writers on the PLANET.

Not only did he write Buffy and Angel, series that I really enjoyed, but, hey, Firefly….Serenity…and Dr. Horrible. Whedon is funny, he’s socially conscious, and he treats women like actual women in his stories, instead of as place-holders or plot devices or obligatory romance angles. I haven’t really watched a lot of Dollhouse, but it’s in the Netflix instant queue for the next time I’m looking for smart, engaging entertainment that doesn’t treat me like an idiot but doesn’t require me to have a PhD in, well, anything, to follow it. I’m okay with learning something while I’m entertained, but I don’t want to feel like I’m supposed to take notes when I’m watching TV on a rare evening break from writing and work and everything else. And I want to laugh at it, no matter how dark or serious or scary or off-kilter.

I believe that humor is a part of everything we say and do and watch and discuss. And without humor, life would just suck.

The reality shows on TV really aren’t my thing. I’d rather have a plotted out story that just watch someone else blunder their way through life. I do that enough in my own life to enjoy watching someone else flail about without a resolution that fits the story. The exception seems to be Iron Chef America and Chopped and Food Network Challenge. Cooking competition shows are like catnip to me. I can’t stop watching them, but there’s a sick, twisted part of me that can’t resist wondering if the giant sugar statute is going to crash to the floor, or if someone’s going to set their eyebrows on fire with a torch. Hey, I admit it. That’s the first step, right?

Not everything funny has to be overtly marked as comedy. I was a big fan of The West Wing. I enjoyed The Sopranos, I can’t wait for the next season of Treme, and as much as I thought that Deadwood jumped the shark a bit toward the end, I could not stop watching it because I was so enthralled by the characters and the in-jokes and the world created for the show. I have to admit to really enjoying the wit behind many of Kevin Smith’s movies, and laughed my tail off at the Fanboys movie, making fun of geek fan culture. I was very disappointed when The Riches were cancelled before we got a resolution to the wonderful buildup…because I got swept away by the characters, who you knew were really criminals but you couldn’t help but root for them to get away with whatever zany situation they were trying to talk themselves out of. And yet, the characters were fully functioning human beings that laughed and loved and worked like real people with multi-faceted angles…they were three dimensional because they had a sense of humor that inspired viewers to come back over and over again.

I fell hard for the urban fantasy genre in the beginning of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, because of the turn of phrase in her main character’s thought patterns.  Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, and Kim Harrison are big favorites for similar reasons. I’m a huge fan of Christopher Moore, for exactly this reason, as well as Good Omens, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. John Scalzi’s another one whose writing just hits the right level of crack-me-up and serious topics.

I prefer funny to hack-and-slash, but if we can do both, I’m in. I’m not a fan of horror zombie movies but I enjoyed the heck out of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.

I can get engrossed in a well crafted sentence, reading it over and over again in my head and chuckling to myself, savoring it in my brain like a surprise chocolate melt-away candy, one smooth enough or crunchy enough to distract me from what I’d been doing before I’d read or heard the sentence.

My friends do it, too. So that means we end up quoting minor bits of books and movies and tv shows at each other, peppered throughout our conversations.

I have a tendency to really enjoy a show or a book, and watch it or read it over and over again, compelled by characters and witty lines and situations that get stuck in my head, for later enjoyment. This is not always a good thing…it results in me cackling to myself in a corner because something someone else has said has dredged back up that line I’d read, or situation I’d seen six months ago…and it wouldn’t really be funny to anyone else in the room but it’s HYSTERICAL to me at the moment. I call myself the Queen of the Weird Mental Connection for just this reason.

Just one of these single save-it-away lines can turn into an entire story in my brain. My short story, DEMON BUSTERS, INC. came from a single sentence that John Scalzi uttered in a podcast interview about intergalactic genetically enhanced soldiers squishing inch high aliens with their boots. The story I wrote talked about squashing imps with work boots. I’d laughed at the line in the interview, and THREE MONTHS LATER, I was writing something with that line in mind.

Talk about a turn of phrase that sticks with you beyond the minute’s entertainment that it initially gives! I think all writers should aspire to some of that, whether it’s an iconic line that’s become part of the popular vernacular (i.e., “going to the mattresses” from The Godfather) or some scene that people refer to in the belief that it’s a universal meeting of the minds (if I talked about the diner scene from When Harry Met Sally, I’d guess that close to 90% percent of people would associate it with a woman faking an orgasm), or the crossover appeal of the Scooby Gang references in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It must be genetic, as well.

Nephew is a HUGENORMOUS fan of Buzz Lightyear. From Toy Story. Which was co-written by Joss Whedon.

We must be training him young.

Either that, or he’s inheriting the same, snarky, zany, off-kilter, somewhat contextual sense of humor that most of the family seems to enjoy.

I almost feel like I should apologize to him.

Thank a Veteran

Last night was the local bar association annual holiday dinner. While I was there, I learned that not only is today Veteran’s Day, but that yesterday was the Marine Corps’ birthday. At my table were two veterans, one who had served with the Marines and one who had served in the Navy. Hearing the two of them talk just reminded me of how much we have to be thankful for…especially something to consider with Thanksgiving coming up soon.

My father is also a veteran, who served in the Air Force before he and my mother married, and before I was born.

It’s easy, during our everyday lives in this free country of ours, to forget the price that the men and women in our Armed Services pay to keep this country free. When we post a blog entry, or write a novel, or go to church, or go to meetings, or just walk down the street whenever we feel like it, it’s easy to take for granted that we can do all of those things without worry about censorship or religious persecution or illegal assemblies or curfews or travel passes. It’s easy to forget that because we don’t have to apply for passes or permission from the government to do any of these things. We’re safe from other countries imposing these restrictions on us because our armed forces protect us from this threat. They protect our society so that we can take these things for granted.

So, today, while you’re going about your day, take the time to thank a veteran.

And remember those who paid the ultimate price for those intangible freedoms we count on every day.

God of Cake

Okay, this has NOTHING to do with anything I normally blog about, other than it made me laugh after a 15 hour day of meetings and witness interviews and a writer’s group critique session.

Enjoy. I absolutely did. Especially after having spent a few hours last Friday with my nephew “helping” me bake snickerdoodle cookies.


Wondering now if the almost-three-year-old nephew was in a cookie dough and sugar coma by the time he got home. If so, I really owe my mom and sister a HUGE apology. And a statement…it could have been worse. It could have been cake, icing and marshmallows.  And no, I haven’t taught him to remove a window screen.

Exactly what I needed after a day of crazy stupidness.

Bring A Rowboat

So moving back to a more rural community has its perks.

One of those perks is that you sometimes don’t need to have a garden of your own to benefit from farm fresh produce. And when I say farm fresh, I mean there are times that friends will call and say that whatever you pick, you get to keep, because their crops have produced more than they can handle. You just can’t get fresher than that.

My sister has been in green bean purgatory, because she’s been doing nothing but snapping and canning green beans for weeks. My neighbor offered up some really great rhubarb a few weeks ago. And this weekend, I got two calls asking if I wanted sweet corn.

I love sweet corn. I love corn on the cob, especially if its grilled in the husk. And canned corn just never quite tastes the same, probably because my parents had a garden when I was a kid, and I remember watching Mom cut it off the cobs to freeze for the winter. It just tastes better when it’s home grown. Something about it being crisper, even after months in the freezer. I remember husking corn as a kid. I hated it (and still do), but it’s worth the effort because it’s just that good.

So when my cousin’s wife called and offered me some of her corn, my thought had been to grill some and freeze some, and I was pretty happy. She brought me a a little over a dozen ears of corn. That would have made a nice dinner for me and a friend and probably enough for a single freezer portion for later. I held it for Saturday night.

I called my mother on Saturday, and she told me that a family friend had called and told her to come get some sweet corn from her field. I offered to come and help her, hoping to snag a little for myself. I hadn’t been planning to be out in a cornfield. I was in capris and a nice shirt and flip flop sandals, having just come from a writer’s meeting at the Mechanicsburg library. I grew up in the country; I know that’s not really farm attire.

That being said, we weren’t going to be out there long. The plan was to fill two decent sized boxes, go back to Mom’s house, divvy them up and start shucking and cutting and boiling corn for freezing. It shouldn’t take more than fifteen or twenty minutes to fill those boxes, so I didn’t run back to my house for sturdier footwear or appropriate clothing. That decision came back to haunt me later.

We got out to the field, and realized that there had been others picking as well; we needed to get deeper into the rows to get to ears that were ripe enough for picking. We left the boxes on the ground on the edge of the field and headed into the rows, bringing out armloads of corn to fill the boxes on the ground. Just as we were headed in for our last armloads, the skies opened and it began to rain. Hard. In fact, it was raining harder than I’d seen it rain for a long time. It rained hard enough that it felt like we were standing in the middle of a waterfall.

I didn’t get very far. I’d grabbed the larger box and the bottom fell out of it, sending all of those ears of corn to the ground. Mom scooped up some, and I grabbed an armload and the box, so that we could at least put the bigger box back together in the back of the car and fill it, using the one that was still intact to go back after the rest of the corn we’d picked. We slipped and slid out of our shoes as we went up and down the embankment, grabbing the rest of what we’d picked. Mom turned the car around, and we got in, soaked clear through.

My hair was so wet, it looked like I’d just gotten out of the shower. I couldn’t see anything, because the lenses to my glasses were dripping with water. Mom’s mascara was running, and it was raining so hard that we could hardly see out the windshield with the wipers on high. Mom asked me to reach in the glove compartment because she kept, in her words, “a whole bunch” of paper napkins in there, and maybe we could wipe off our faces.

There was one napkin.

I gave it to her since she was driving, and tried to wipe off my glasses with the hem of my sopping wet shirt. Needless to say, it didn’t work well, especially because I was laughing so hard I was crying.

Less than four miles down the road, the rain quit as abruptly as if someone had shut off a faucet. The roadway was bone dry. We dissolved into giggles again, and by the time we got back to her house, we hadn’t stopped laughing yet. Our shoes were making wet sloppy squishy noises as we unloaded the car, and divided up the corn.

I ended up taking my share and going home. I don’t live with my folks, don’t have any clothes there, and Mom and I don’t wear the same size. Getting into dry clothes was only going to happen if I drove home. I hauled all that corn back to my house, and put it all on the kitchen table for the night. I didn’t even want to look at it. Luckily someone else offered to make me dinner last night, and I was only too happy to accept.

Today I shucked it, cut it, and boiled it. I’m waiting now for it to cool enough to portion out for freezer portions. I ended up giving someone else some of my haul, and still ended up cutting and cooking nearly three dozen ears. It smelled so good that when it was done boiling, I had to spoon up a bowl for a late lunch for myself.

And yes, it was all worth it. It’s just as good as I remember.

I’ll just have to remember to take a rowboat the next time.

Happy Mom’s Day

Hope all you moms out there had a great day.

I had two mother’s day celebrations to attend today. At the second, we had planned to work on my grandmother’s flowerbeds for the afternoon. This has become a yearly tradition. She loves her flowerbeds, and we generally use Mother’s Day as the excuse to do all the spring edging and weeding and planting for her. My brother and sister and I all end up going together to get her a couple of flats of impatiens, and I end up spending the day planting them in a pattern in one of her flowerbeds while the others dig and weed and thin all the overgrowth from the year before.

This year, we weren’t able to get it all done because of the lack of cooperation from Mother Nature. It was actually pretty cold out there today, and it was difficult to work in the shade. We got some of the work done, and will have to go back as our schedules allow over the next week or two to get the rest done. I think Grandma’s actually happier about that; she got to spend the day with all of us, and we’ll all come back again to get it done, as opposed to one long marathon of work today.

I’ve got a long to-do list over the next couple of weeks, but I’m hoping that I can get plenty of time set aside not only to finish Grandma’s flowerbed, but my own as well.

Happy Mother’s Day!

On an unrelated note, please light a candle, say a prayer, and keep in your thoughts all those in Nashville who are struggling to deal with the flood waters and the damage that’s followed the water. I know I certainly can’t help but think about all of those moms and families who were not able to observe Mother’s Day because of the current turmoil in their lives.

Truly Mooooo-ving

RECOMMENDATION ALERT: I have received no compensation of any kind for this recommendation. I bought the book with my own funds, and personally made donations as listed below.

 Patrick Rothfuss is one of my favorite authors.

 Pat’s book, THE NAME OF THE WIND, took my breath away when it was first published.

 I generally have a hard time with epic fantasy, because too often the writer gets carried away with the cool world they created and forget that they’re supposed to be telling me a story. I love a good fantastical story. I hate reading about the cool weird bush that the characters just happen to ride past on their way to slay demons and dragons and evil wizards. The bush has nothing to do with the story. I don’t want to read about it ad nauseum for ten pages. It makes me give up on slogging through it.

 This book did NOT do that. It was amazing. I’ve recommended it all over the place. I’ve pushed it on friends who read fantasy, friends looking for gift recommendations for fantasy fans, for wives to buy their husbands, for husbands to buy their wives, for mothers to buy their teenagers, and on and on and on. Words actually fail me when I start trying to explain the awesomeness of this book. It’s just that cool.

 So when I got the chance to meet Pat in person last year (2008) at GenCon in Indianapolis, I was surprised that I was actually able to be cool and normal and not the gushing fan goo-girl I was afraid I’d be. Pat’s a hyper guy…but really nice and really enthusiastic about writing and fantasy in general. I actually sent him an email last year as he was getting his first book off the ground, telling him that his was the first in a long time that I’d been able to read without getting out the red pen (since I’d been editing my own work so much). He was gracious enough to personally reply. Cool guy.

 Completely unrelated to all of this, Pat last year launched a matching campaign for Heifer International.

 Heifer holds a special place in my heart. My siblings and I presented my parents with donations made in memory of both of my grandfathers to Heifer as part of their Christmas presents last year. Both grandfathers spent their entire lives in agriculture, and in working with family farmers. My maternal grandfather was an auctioneer; my paternal grandfather founded the family business, a feed mill and farm supply company that my father runs today. It meant a lot to me that we gave back, in their names, to a charity that would have fit their legacy.

 Don’t tell my parents. I’d like to surprise them. I’m planning to do it again this year.

 Check out Pat’s fundraiser. He’s got some cool prizes up that you might win. And you’re helping out a worthwhile cause at the same time. And there’s absolutely nothing cooler than that.

The Best Laid Plans…

And it’s definitely a NaNo month…and that means that procrastination is rife in the air.

I fully meant to come home tonight and do some yardwork, throw in some laundry, and then sit down to get another couple thousand words written.

Of course, very little of that actually happened.

I thought I’d actually leave “on time”. “On time” would be the time the courthouse closes as opposed to the time I normally leave, which is something like an hour or two after that. Of course, that didn’t happen, since I needed to talk to a co-worker who was hung up in court. And still ended up with a work related phone call a moment or two after getting home. This isn’t unusual; I was just hoping I’d avoid it tonight.

I got in the car and got a phone call from Mom, who invited me out to dinner. My first thoughts were “well, there goes the yard work,” (which wasn’t a depressed thought at all…I hate mowing the yard) and “I need to eat, and that way I get to spend some time with Mom and Grandma. Yay for me!”

Dinner was good, and I enjoyed spending time with them, as usual. They helped me out a bit by pointing out things in the yard that I need to get done (because I really really do have a black thumb, and I don’t have a CLUE what to do with flowers and stuff. That’s the part of homeownership that I’m really clueless about.) And it was good. Dinner took longer than expected, but I’m really glad I went.

I finished putting away the Halloween decorations, and hung the wreaths that Mom gave me on the front doors. I fed the cat, loaded the dishwasher, and unloaded some stuff from the car from the kick-off party last night. (I was so tired when I pulled in last night that I grabbed all things that needed to come in the house and crashed, figuring I’d unload it later. The Urbana to Dayton haul is going to get old quick.)

My brother called on his drive home from work and wanted to talk. Hard to tell him no, since I haven’t talked to him much lately.

I changed my clothes and started a load of laundry. At this point, I figured that I might actually finish laundry before it was time to start it all over again.

And then I finally booted up the computer. And I’m here instead of writing. Thank goodness I’m ahead on word count.

It’s definitely November again, and now I REALLY have to go write. Hope all of you are getting better word count than I am.

Oh Noes, it’s NaNo!

Well, yet another NaNoWriMo is threatening to shut down the family and home lives of many this year!

This will be my fourth year of participating. It will be on my fourth novel. Technically it’s not a true NaNo book, since I’ve already written into the fourth chapter, but I’ll be trying to get 50K new words written on it before December starts. That’s right…my already written and revised stuff will not count toward my word count for NaNo purposes.

Last year I was a Municipal Liasion, and would have done so again this year if life hadn’t reached up and grabbed me by the ankle. Between the move, the new job, the house, the sick cat, and actually starting to have a social life outside of gaming, writing, or the internet (yes, that means I am dating someone), there’s just no way that I can pull off as much as I have in the past. It’s still going to be a challenge. Why is that?

November is a month for take out. It’s a month for cramming as many dishes into the dishwasher, and for the speed-mowing that is “good-enough”. I try to have my Christmas cards written out before November even starts so that I don’t have to hurry before Christmas when the brain is whimpering from the decorating, the shopping, the social events, and recovering from NaNo. It’s also a good time-killer and distractor when you’re itching to get cracking on your NaNo novel, and you can’t get word count toward your goal because November hasn’t started yet.

I recommend to all first time NaNo participants out there the following:

1) Stock up on junk food and caffeine. Chocolate really can help you through the writer’s block. And it generally takes little to no cooking time.

2) Have a community you can commiserate with. Whether it’s your local NaNo group, your own writer’s community, the NaNo forums, or your understanding and about-to-be-put-upon family. You’ll need it.

3) Warn your friends, family and co-workers that you are about to lose your mind for about 30 days. It will come back.

If you are in charge of food prep for your family, put someone else in charge or start freezing some casseroles ahead of time. Putting the pizza delivery place on speed dial and teaching your kids/spouse/roommate/significant other/cat or dog/gremlin to pick up after themselves for thirty days will also help. Promising them thanks in the acknowledgements page if you ever get the thing published is not enough, but it is a good start. Reminding them that they will have your attention all through Christmas, and undistracted by rampant plot genies may motivate them. If nothing else, make Halloween very cool for them, and promise a pretty awesome Christmas (This does NOT mean spend a lot of money, by the way).

Last year, I did a lot of muttering about having a Ding Dong problem. (Yes, I do mean those Hostess cakes. If you thought I meant something else, you have a sick and dirty mind.) It was a plot problem in a story. Warning people ahead of time that random mutterings may be due to your writing may fend off any attempts to place you in a rubber room. So in that sense, it is self-defense.

4) I did say warn your co-workers. I meant it. That also means, no writing during work hours, unless on your break or at lunch unless your boss has told you that it’s okay. That’s pretty rare. It also goes without saying not to print off your novel at work unless you get approval. Please do not risk your employment in an economy like this. It’s too hard to get a new job, and especially will be harder as the holidays descend.

5) Chris Baty and the guys and gals at the Office of Letters and Light will tell you that it is possible to write a novel in 30 days without having any idea about plot before you start. I can’t do that. If you’re like me, start gathering up your planning materials and be organized for the first day’s rush. Your organization will crumble before it’s all over, but at least start out knowing where all your outlines and ideas are headed. And where they’re filed.

6) Get ahead in word count early and often if possible. To stay on track to finish, you must write 1667 words per day to finish on time. Every day you don’t write puts you 1667 words behind. For me, if the story’s really cooking, I can get over 1000 words in an hour. That means 2-3 hours per day to get ahead and stay ahead. I take longer amounts of time on weekends, so that I can take days off during the week and stay sane. If I average 12,500 words per week, I can still make it. I’ve had the 10K word Saturday. My brain is mush when this happens, and it doesn’t always happen, so I can’t count on it.

This year the first day is on a Sunday, which means that most people will not be working. Take advantage of it and get a couple days ahead. That doesn’t mean that you get to slack off on Monday. Save up that surplus for the day that your dog needs an emergency run to the vet or you end up with a kid with H1N1 at home, or you have to spend time cooking Thanksgiving dinner when you didn’t expect to. I guess what I’m saying is…have a pad of word count in case of emergency. That way you can’t fall too far behind unless something absolutely catastrophic happens.

7) Remember that the world will not end if you do not get to 50K. I’ve had a year that I didn’t get there. Between getting sick, falling down Mom and Dad’s stairs at Thanksgiving and hurting my back, and a plot that was just not cooperating, I wasn’t able to pull it off, but I was behind when these things happened. I had to suck it up and realize that the inability to sit at the computer for more than a few minutes at a time meant that I just couldn’t do it. I got over 30K. For me, that year, that was still an accomplishment. And I came back stronger than ever with another novel hitting 50K with time to spare the next year.

8.) Understand that the holiday weight gain begins early for you, with all the caffeine and junk you will end up ingesting to stay sane. Get ahead on word count, and go work out. Write for an hour and then go for a walk. Be sure to exercise more muscles than just your brain, or you will no longer fit in your favorite reindeer sweatervest for the holidays.

9) Really really clean and get all household chores done early. That way you can let it go a bit during the month of November. It’s okay not to vacuum every day. It’s okay if the kids eat McDonalds. It’s okay if you don’t dust every week. It’s just for November. Be prepared to catch up at the beginnining of December for the holidays, but don’t obsess about it in November unless you are hosting Thanksgiving. And if you are, you are crazy on a level that I can’t match. Time to go negotiate the hosting of Christmas instead, if you can.

10) Enjoy. This is writing at its most pure, its most fun, and its most addictive level possible. Everything is shiny and new. It’s easy to believe that you are writing a masterpiece. Believe it. Live it. Give that internal editor a swift kick in the pants and tell them that they are banished until December.

Understand that when NaNo is over and your novel is written, it is not completed. You will have many many hours of editing, critiquing, workshopping, shaping, chopping, deleting and angsting yet to come. You WILL NOT be sending it out in December; you won’t have time with the catching up on family stuff, housecleaning, reminding loved ones that they are loved and the holidays. You will likely not be sending it out in January. That will be when you can edit. And that will take longer than you think. That is when you’ll realize that November’s gold really isn’t. But enough about that. I’ll post about that later.

For now…enjoy the anticipation. And Dayton NaNoers…I’m with you. Let’s drive up that word count!