Archive for the ‘Writer’s Tools’ Category


NaNoWriMo – Here We Go!

October 26, 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017 Participant

It’s NaNoWriMo time again! What’s that? Don’t know what NaNoWriMo is? Why, it’s National Novel Writing Month, of course! Time for all the little novelist wannabes write for 30 days to finish a 50,000 word draft of a novel. I have been aware of NaNoWriMo for years, more like a decade, actually. But I have never truly participated.

Oh, sure, there was that one year that I jumped into the fray a week into November with no prep but just a concept. About a day later, and a full month of day job, rehearsals, and other scheduled activities ahead of me, I quickly recognized the futility of the effort and abandoned the project.

But here it is, just within a week before kickoff, and I have time ahead of me. I’m jumping in full-force with the same novel idea. But this time I have a little prep time to formulate characters, an outline, and general themes that I can work with.

How much is too much or too little prep time for writing a novel in 30 days? When I first heard about NaNoWriMo I figured that the participants jumped in with no concept, no prep, and literally created and wrote an entire novel from scratch. I now know that it is allowed to do prep prior to beginning on November 1st. I also know it is certainly allowable to have an unpublishable product by November 30. It’s all about getting the words down. Participants can always edit and revise later.

I’m seeing that some folks have been prepping for weeks, writing entire character biographies, sketching story and plot structures, and formulating entire chapter and scene outlines. I can see the advantage in that. But since I just decided that I am tossing my hat in the proverbial ring with less than a week to go, I have minimal time. But I am encouraged by my ideas. I am taking my same concept from my previous attempt (it’s a good concept!), and fleshing out some characters, organizing a loose outline, and by Nov. 1st I have a hazy blueprint to work from. The rest will all come from my noodle as I write.

So if you haven’t already, begin your preps and do the steps so get ready for the big day! For my jumpstart, I found a very useful set of novel writing templates from the Evernote blog here:

Happy writing!


A Bookcase Full of Writing Reference Books

March 18, 2015

BookcaseI have a bookcase. A tall one. I live in the city of the world famous Powell’s Books. So yeah, my shelves are stacked and overflowing with books. One particular genre of books taking up precious space on my bookcase are those from the writing reference section. Dozens upon dozens of books face me each day as I pass by begging me to “Write That Novel”, and exclaiming, “You Can Write Romance!”. I have encouragement from Julia Cameron and her Artist’s Way (and btw, I’m counting today’s blog as part of my morning pages.) And I have all the forensic procedures and poisons I can swallow (sorry, that pun just had to happen.)

Now the big question I’m sure you are begging to ask is, “so have you read all those books?” Of course not! They’re for reference! When I need to know how to pick a poison I have just the guide. If I need a plot structure helper I know where to go. I would say I’ve read close to one-third of them. And many of them I have not even cracked open. So the point is why own so many how-to books if I don’t read them, or even open for a quick reference.

To me it is encouragement. I have succeeded in writing online articles and content, but I am committed to writing a novel. Each time I stop by Powell’s Books I browse the writing reference section to check for another used copy of a handy and helpful writing guide. A novel full of 70,000 – 100,000 words requires a bit more creative thought, planning, outlining and plotting than a simple 300-700 word article. And by a ‘bit’ I mean exponentially harder. My books are my mentor. Stephen King encourages me in his On Writing memoir. Janet Evanovich tells me How I Write and I can model her example.

Could I write without all these books? Sure I could. And so could you. But if writers didn’t need encouragement and support there would be no MFA programs in creative writing. And the Artist’s Way would never have been published. And the Writing Reference section at Powell’s would be boarded over and in its place would probably display blank journals. So I cherish my books, unopened as some of the may be. But I’m confident that when I finish my first novel the investment in my writing reference shelves will have paid off.


Maybe I Should be Pub Pop

April 2, 2013

It was many moons ago that I coined my online name as Coffeshop Pop. That was back when I was mostly spending a good deal of time at coffee shops writing online content for various websites. Don’t get me wrong, I still am looking for that perfect cup o’ Joe, but sometime during the interim I found another Pacific Northwest specialty – India Pale Ale.

I’ve always been a porter or stout drinker when I happen by the local pub. But a few years ago my wise and retired father introduced me to the joy of IPA. I never was a fan of IPA, and I think it was due to trying a taste here and there of weak versions. I like my beer to have flavor. So one taste of Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA and I was hooked. Wow! What flavor! The bitter hops and strong alcohol content is right on tap for a beer lover who likes their beer strong.

But I digress…

As a beer-lovin’ Pac NorWesterner I find myself more often frequenting the long list of craft brew pubs in the area rather than coffee shops. As I sit now with a new IPA recipe in hand from the local McMenamins I stop to consider that “Pub Pop” is more appropriate these days. And here I am on day #2 of unemployment with my trusty notebook ‘puter in front of me typing out a bit of prose and a blog post.

But the scene is infinitely more interesting than ye olde coffee shop. I used to try to find inspiration from the business-type folk who rushed in to Starbucks for a non-fat soy latte, shaken – not stirred. In retrospect their pant suits, ugly ties, and blue tooth ears lacked of character and provided little inspiration whatsoever.

Now I am not in the midst of vegans with long beards, alongside carnivorous burger-eaters who drive hybrid automobiles with bumper stickers that say “COEXIST”. I hear conversations not of baseball or football, but of composting, concerts, local plays, family anecdotes, and of course, conversations of great beer. There is spontaneous laughter, gaiety, enthusiasm, and even heartfelt moments.

I find inspiration here at the pub. And I hope that the colorful characters on whom I eavesdrop find their way into my writing. I’ll have another, please. Prost!


Schadenfreude for Writers

March 28, 2013


I learned recently that I was to be laid off from my current employer as of the end of the month. I immediately brushed up the ol’ resume and began shooting it out like shotgun fire to dozens of potential employers found on Craigslist and/or LinkedIn. While I was still working full-time and using every spare moment outside of work looking for other work, I was left with minimal, if any, time to focus on the ol’ novel (much less Tweeting about it).

So what is a part-time writer to do? Obviously an instance such as this takes priority over a “hobby” of writing. However, I will admit no defeat in holding off on my writing project for a few weeks since I depend on an income to support my writing habit. On the contrary, the time spent in conflict over the last 2 to 3 weeks has provided plenty of potential fodder for my story. Besides, what is a story without conflict?

If you’re lucky enough to have never experienced unemployment, count your blessings. The constant worry about how to pay next month’s rent, much less put cheap Mac & Cheese on the table is an ever-present struggle. Recently I have realized that my protagonist’s struggle can mirror my struggle. As I try to think of more rocks to throw at my main character, the “ah-ha!” moment comes when I determine that money is the answer. How will she pay the mortgage on the Bed-n-Breakfast? How will she pay for the much-needed maintenance on the historic home? What will she do when a dreaded coastal storm knocks down trees and rips off part of the roof?

The ideas are coming fast and furious. And I feel a little better about my problems because I can come up with worse problems for my story’s hero. Isn’t that the definition of Schadenfreude – to feel pleasure at others’ misfortunes?

So take my example and advice, if you are having problems creating conflict and plot twists, use that favorite German joy of misfortune and give your characters worse problems than your own.



When Do YOU Grab Time to Write?

January 29, 2013

Time running outLike most writers, I’m sure you have the same excuse: “ I just don’t have time to write!!” (extra exclamations added for emphasis). But like the X Files used to say, ‘the truth is out there’, I’d like to say, “the time is out there” .

What do I mean by that, you may ask? I expected that question so let me elaborate. Writers are high maintenance folk when it comes to their precious writing time. Myself included, I’ll admit. If I am going to work on an article or increase the word count on my novel, I want to have a long chunk of time in front of me. I like at least an hour, if not more to really focus and tune in to my theme or dialogue. But we must break through that high maintenance barrier if we choose to be a part-time writer.

The reality is that most of us have daily lives that get in the way. We zoom around town racing to work, running errands, preparing meals, chasing kids upstairs to brush teeth and get them to bed, etc. I’m sure this is sounding familiar.

If you are like the other 99% of writers, you cannot expect time to be your friend. You simply can’t expect to be awarded hours each day to spend in your luxurious and peaceful writing den. You have to take what is yours, and when you can get it. And the truth is, time is everywhere. Here are some examples:

Before Work

I like to get up a bit early each morning before work and spend 30-40 minutes on my laptop before I leave the house. Ugh, I can hear the groans already: “But I HATE waking up early!!” . No worries, then check out the other options below. But if you really want to be a writer and finish your story, you need to make and take time, which means you may sacrifice some sleep doing it.

Bus/Public Transportation

Do you take public transportation? Now there’s a prime example of wasted writing time. Though you can’t spread out like the bus is your own private office, you can jot down some notes on your pocket sized Moleskine notebook. Use that 30 minutes it takes to get downtown to continue plotting out your story, or figuring out a new scene. Jot down notes. Sketch out some new character traits.

Lunch Hour

Once or twice a week I’ll bring a brown bag lunch and my trusty notebook computer. The size is perfect for traveling to work. During my lunch I’ll claim a spot in the lunch room, plug into the iTunes, and type away. If you’ve got a laptop, notebook ‘puter, or any kind of tablet computer, you have no excuse not to use it for your writing project at lunch time.

Dr Office

How long have we all sat in a doctor or dentist office? Or other appointments like the DMV (shudder)? These are other times you can use to move forward with your novel.

Before Bed

Finally, you could switch off that TV (use DVR if you must record your favorite program) and type away for the last 30 minutes of the day. Sit in bed and bring your laptop. Assign this time of day to expand your word count by even 100 or 200 words.

As you can see, the time is out there. If you truly want to be a writer and at some point claim to be a published author, you must find the time to dedicate to your craft. Don’t let time be your enemy – take the time that is yours!


Trees or Forest?

January 19, 2013

ForestDo you see the trees or do you see the forest? In writing classes we learn that this metaphor describes how we as writers get our stories on paper (or bits and bytes — choose your poison).

Those who see the trees are ones walking through the forest, passing one tree at a time along an unfamiliar trail. This type of writer likes to sit down with a blank screen or paper and begins writing with no plan. Rather, they like to see where the story takes them. Occasionally there may be a diversion onto a trail that goes nowhere, but the adventure was not lost and can be helpful somewhere further down the trail. Usually there are a higher number of revisions to this process, but these writers like the exploration.

Other writers may like to have a map of the forest in front of them, before they begin trekking through unknown territory and risk getting lost. With a pre-determined plot already outlined, the process of writing the narrative is quicker and the book falls into place much faster. Some writers say this method hinders creativity during the process of writing. And staying strict to a pre-determined plot results in a stifled story.

One camp of teachers and writers will advocate that structuring a plot before you write is the best way to go. But others, even famous novelists, will tell you that they sit down in front of a keyboard and begin typing a book from beginning to end, without ever planning where it goes.

The truth is that there is no absolute correct and proper writing procedure. But, we as writers need to figure out how we work best. That much is essential if we are to succeed in our writing.

For over a dozen years I always thought of myself as a “tree” guy, liking to make up a story or non-fiction article as I go along. However, I have a lot of false starts on my hard drive because of this.

During the three years I wrote online articles for a living, I learned to start with at least a basic structure. I outlined how-to and “tips” articles so all I had to do was fill in the gaps.

When 2013 rolled the calendar I decided to re-visit my fiction writing, and I applied similar structuring to my stories. So far I have a novel in progress with a basic outline, and dozens of scenes sketched out. I feel more confident that this story is going somewhere and am encouraged to keep writing.

Perhaps you need to take a look at your writing method. Is your current paradigm working for you? Take some time to seriously consider whether you should change to a look at the trees, or view the forest to help your writing more productive.


Sit Down And Write

January 11, 2013


Yesterday I tweeted the hashtag, #sitdownandwrite. Then I thought I’d follow the hashtag to see what other tweets might include this subconscious direction. Not a single other tweet. Not one.

That surprised me. If you do a Google search for “sit down and write” you’ll get over 86 million results. Why? Because writers and authors who teach or motivate others to write like to say this as their #1 direction. Just sit down, shut up, and write.

Why is this said so frequently in published books and writing courses? Because it’s easy to procrastinate. Especially if one has a full-time job, children to take care of at home, oh, and maybe catch up on the latest Dexter episode. Understandably, life gets in the way. But the bottom line is: writers write.

I’ll admit, I’m no different. I admitted a few blog posts ago that I’m a chickenshit and getting down to writing is a complex, time-consuming, and scary proposition. But I’ve learned that what helps me sit down and write is some motivation. Here are some that might motivate you, too.


But back when I was writing online articles full time I had a good motivation – deadlines! Some weeks I had 30 to 50 articles assigned to me and like always I would procrastinate until they absolutely had to get done. I recall on one single day I tallied up about 25 articles totaling around 12,000 words. If I could do that every day I could write a novel almost every week! But no matter what, I always met my deadlines, which meant I had to place butt firmly in chair and ignore the signs of carpel tunnel.

Giving yourself a self-imposed deadline can help a lot. Say you want to finish your novel and have it ready to send to publishers by mid-year. That’s motivation to sit down and write at least 16,000 words each month, or 555 words per day, EVERY DAY, until then.

Schedule Your Sit Down And Write Time

For some folks it is more helpful to schedule a block of time to sit down and write. Earlybirds may want to set 30 to 60 minutes each morning at the keyboard right after they wake up. Others may want to do this the last thing before bed. Others may find that bringing a sandwich and spending 60 minutes at the laptop during lunch hour each day is the way to go.

The important thing to remember is to set a schedule that works for you, and stick to it.


I am finding that rewards are good motivators for me. I’m a sucker for donuts, and I have a special place in my heart (and stomach) for Dove’s dark chocolate. And there’s nothing quite like a delicious local micro-brewed IPA. I allow myself to indulge these things if I reach my goals.

What do you like most? Determine that you can allow a little indulging for yourself if you just sit down and write like a good writer should.

Don’t forget that you wanted to be a writer. But nobody can call themselves a writer if they don’t sit down and write. Get to it and be proud of your results!