Three Steps to NaNoWriMo Success by Jennifer Allis Provost

Nanowrimo Awaits!
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Hello, readers and writers! November is just around the corner, which means you only have a few days left to finalize your NaNoWriMo plan of attack. You can do so by using three easy but helpful methods: researching, outlining, and creating a few character profiles.

Plan NaNo, you say? But I never plan Nano! I just open up a Word document and pound the keyboard until I’m done! Or pass out, whichever comes first.

Well, that’s certainly a method, but remember that the goal of NaNo isn’t just to write 50k words, but words that create some sort of cohesive story. While you can write anything and win, why not put those 50k words toward advancing your writing career? A complete first draft (remember: a first draft does not equal a submission-quality or publishable draft) within 30 days is absolutely achievable. All you need is a bit of planning.

I am a huge fan of NaNoWriMo, and have been participating for years. Two of my NaNo projects went on to become published novels, and I’ve used other years to make significant headway on sequels. However, last year’s NaNo was an epic fail on my part, and it was because I didn’t follow the three steps.

My main story idea was set and I’d done a bit of outlining and research, but not nearly enough. I also hadn’t completed a single character profile. (Character profiles don’t have to be long. Start with name, objective, and obstacles to achieving the objective.) It wasn’t long before the story had gone so far off the rails there was no way I could fix it in 30 days. In fact, I haven’t fixed it to date, and I have no idea if I ever will. That’s a shame, because it was a project I’d wanted to work on for a few years, and I had high hopes for it.

But this year will be different! This year’s project will be set in Scotland, and has a smattering of Picts and a Roman legion thrown in for good measure, and I’ve done my homework. I stocked up on travel guides of Glasgow, a few books on the ancient Roman military, and watched an interesting if maybe not completely factual documentary on the Picts. (What can I say, it was free on Amazon Prime.) I sketched out a rough outline so I know where my characters are going, how they get there, and what the ultimate goal is for each one of them. This time around I’m confident that even if I don’t have a finished story by November 30, I will at least have my fifty thousand words in.

Fifty thousand good words, that is.

But it’s almost November! How could anyone still have time to research? Fear not, because one of the great secrets of writing is that you don’t have to do all your research beforehand. What you need is enough to get your story going, put your foot in the door so to speak, and let the story unroll from there. I fully intend to consult my Scottish travel guides and books on Roman legions several times over the next few weeks, and who knows how many times I’ll hit up the internet for answers. I probably won’t re-watch the documentary on the Picts.

To sum up, the three basic steps to NaNoWriMo success are:

Research – Then do some more research, ask a librarian for help, and maybe book a trip to visit any real-life locations. Really, you’re not going to get too much information so go all in.

Outline – A nice detailed outline is key. One incorporating the classic three act structure would be ideal, but all you really need is a strong map to follow along. Think of it like you’re downloading the newest map software onto your Garmin, as opposed to using a paper map printed in 1952.

Character Profiles – Who’s the protagonist? Antagonist? What do they want? What are the stakes? What will happen if they don’t get what they want? Again, you cannot have too much information.

Will these steps work for you? That I can’t answer, but they have worked for me in the past. Hopefully they’ll work their magic again this year. I bet they’ll work for you, too. Have fun, and happy writing!

Author Jennifer Allis ProvostJennifer Allis Provost writes books about faeries, orcs and elves. Zombies too. She grew up in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and had read every book in the local library by age twelve. (It was a small library.) An early love of mythology and folklore led to her epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Parthalan, and her day job as a cubicle monkey helped shape her urban fantasy, Copper Girl. When she’s not writing about things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day) she’s working on her MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Visit her at www.authorjenniferallisprovost.com

Eccentric Orbits 2 – Edited by Wendy Van Camp

Eccentric Orbits is an anthology of speculative poetry by an international cast of poets. It was my pleasure to be the editor of this volume of poetry in 2021 and I hope to return in 2022 to edit another volume of this series. I will be posting calls for poets here on No Wasted Ink, at the SFPA, and via other general anthology submission groups on Facebook. If you write speculative poetry, I hope you will consider submitting your work.

Dimentionfold Publishing is a small press devoted to the support of speculative poetry. You can find a list of the speculative poets who are represented by Dimentionfold at https://dimensionold.com

Author Interview: Stephen Hall

If Matthew Reilly (who writes all those fast-paced adventure novels) and Douglas Adams (who wrote The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy) had a love-child… well, that’d be really weird. Not to mention impossible. But if they DID, that love-child might write a little bit like Stephen Hall. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.

Hello, I’m Stephen Hall. I’m a writer and actor, a father to one daughter, a husband to one woman, and a meal ticket to one Staffordshire Terrier. I have one sister and no parents. For the past four decades or so, I’ve mostly been trying to make people laugh.

When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve always loved entertaining people, telling stories. I suppose the first professional writing I did was writing my own standup comedy material, which I started performing a week before my 18th birthday.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I was first officially employed as a writer in 1996 – with a contract and everything – when I got a gig writing gags and sketches for the Australian TV sketch comedy show Full Frontal.
FUN FACT: That’s where Eric Bana got his start!

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

I’d love to, Wendy! Symphony Under Siege is a rollicking sci-fi comedy adventure set 512 years in the future. On a Thursday morning. It tells the story of the 5-star luxury space cruise liner the Symphony of the Stars, as it’s raided by desperate space pirates in search of the secret fabulous treasure hidden somewhere on board. This playground for the ultra-rich now becomes a battleground for the two crews, as their two headstrong captains circle ever closer to their fateful showdown.

Did I mention one of the cruise ship’s crew is a serial killer? That’s just one more thing the cruise ship captain (highly-decorated ex-navy Captain Diana Singh) has to contend with.

The story’s fast pace is a product of its serialized beginnings, with chapter after chapter of cliffhangers, daring escapes, twists and turns and there’s-no-way-they-could-have-survived-that! moments…..
Oh, and I’ve tried to put in a lot of gags, too.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’d wanted to write a novel for ages. As my 50th birthday approached, I bit the bullet and vowed to finally DO IT before I turned 51. I told my wife and daughter, then I devised a framework to hold me accountable; releasing one chapter online every week, for 52 weeks. Those 52 mini-deadlines were exactly the motivation I needed to stick to it, and get that first draft done. I’m happy to report I met them all, and the original serialised version of the novel is still online, right here: http://www.thestephenhall.com/novel-chapters/

And I always knew that I’d be self-publishing it. I was confident I could do that part of the process, because I’d done it with my previous (non-fiction) book How To Win Game Shows.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

When I started writing it, I didn’t have a title in mind; I just trusted that one would present itself to me… Then, as I neared the end of the writing process (and I knew what the story actually was) I came up with a shortlist of three potential titles, and ran a survey! I asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers to vote for one of the three options, and Symphony Under Siege won hands down. So Symphony Under Siege it was.
And is.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I don’t know about a message, as such – this is just a rollicking, escapist adventure. It has virtually nothing to do with life on earth in 2021. There’s nothing in it to remind you
of our global pandemic,
of our seemingly endless lockdowns,
of the continuing harmful – and sadly, successful – spread of misinformation, ignorance, arrogance and fear,
of the continuing global climate emergency or
of all the petty things that divide humanity being exaggerated and incited by The Powers That Be to overwhelm all the beautiful things that unite us.

Not referencing any of that – or even hinting at any of it – in the book is all deliberate on my part… perhaps that’s as much of a message as anything.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

I wish! No, this is all just invented adventure… probably born of being such a Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Star Trek fan, and all those old Saturday afternoon matinee serials I’ve watched as well.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

Terry Pratchett, Ursula LeGuin, Kurt Vonnegut, Tim Winton, and Robert Louis Stevenson are some whose work I really enjoy. I tend to enjoy speculative, imaginative fiction with a sense of humour on the slightly dry side. And Dickens – how could I forget Charles Dickens?! When it comes to serialised novels, Charles Dickens wrote the book.
(In regular monthly instalments, you understand…)

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

Oh, I think Douglas Adams was pretty brilliant, wasn’t he? That mix of wacky, brilliant sci-fi concepts and laugh-out-loud (and very British) comedy gets me every time.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

The cover was designed by a Venezuelan studio called The Kicke Studio. I found them on Fiverr, after commissioning concept sketches from 5 or 6 other artists. I knew I wanted the image to feature my luxury space cruise liner at the moment just before the pirate attack. Although I’d described the ships’ appearances in the novel, I’d only done a few rough sketches of what I thought they might look like. I hired a number of artists to design the two ships based on my descriptions and sketches, and I instantly fell in love with what The Kicke Studio submitted. I’m really happy with the cover they painted for me, and I look forward to teaming up with them again for the sequel!

Do you have any advice for other writers?

A writer writes. Don’t wait for the muse to strike – just write something, anything! The worst thing you did write is always better than the best thing you didn’t write. Remind yourself what fun writing can be – what fun writing should be!

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Yes. Thank you for reading this far.


Stephen Hall
Melbourne, Victoria (Australia)

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Cover Artist: The Kicke Studio

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Welcome back to No Wasted Ink’s top-ten articles about writing with a science fiction and fantasy bent. This week I found many great articles for you to review. Enjoy!


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Author Interviews * Book Reviews * Essays * Writer's Links * Scifaiku

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