Happy NaNoWriMo & Happy Birthday, Helen of Pasadena

by Lian on November 1, 2011

Happy First Birthday, Helen! Pub date: November 1, 2010

Today is Helen of Pasadena’s first birthday and I’m celebrating by writing a post about writing. And then I’ll have a Dots cupcake, don’t worry. November 1st is also the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, or as insiders call it, NaNoWriMo. The coincidence was too appealing not to use the occasion to write down my tips for writing a novel. Because, I’ve found, when you have a novel out, lots of people ask, “How did you do it? How did you write that novel. ”

For more information about  NaNoWriMo, click here. But, in short, NaNoWriMo is a support group/movement/kick in the butt to write 50,000 in a month. Or about half a chick lit novel. So start writing NOW!

Lian Dolan’s Tips for Getting Started on That Novel You Have in Your Head

Tell a few people Yes, confess to a few close supporters that you are , in fact, working on a novel. Not everyone you know or  those other “writers” you meet in Starbucks. But the people in your life that will take your declaration seriously, hold your feet to the fire, but not ask every week, “Hey, have you finished that book yet?” They need to be people who you trust and frankly, are a little scared of. By saying the words ‘I’m writing a novel” out loud, you’ll force yourself into accountability. Every writer needs accountability.

Stop wondering why you can’t find the time You will NEVER “find” the time. You can’t write a novel in your spare time. You can’t write a novel if you are going to carry on with your life exactly the way it is now and wait for the right moment.   A gigantic block of time is not going to suddenly open up, complete with creative juices flowing and zero life complications, so that FINALLY you can write that book. Never. Going. To. Happen. Do I make myself clear? Cause if one more person asks me about “finding the time,” I may lose it.  You need to make the time and commit to the work.  My advice? Give up at least two of the following: volunteer work at your kids school; television watching; socializing; long exercise classes that eat up an entire weekend morning; house guests; lunches with clients; sleeping in; and/or grooming appointments that occur more than once a quarter. Seriously, something’s gotta go for a while. Like a year. And, it will be SO worth it when you have that completed manuscript.

Force Yourself to Turn in Pages Writing the first chapter can be the biggest stumbling block for most first-time writers.  If was for me. I could have “researched’ forever and never gotten a real paragraph on paper. I had to trick myself into plunging in. I signed up for an online novel writing class at mediabistro.com one day and, boom, two weeks later, I had to turn in 30 pages of prose. 30 pages! And, I’d never written a word of fiction before. If I didn’t have that deadline, and the guilt of shelling out all that money to take a class, I may never have written Helen of Pasadena. Do what ever it takes to put some real deadlines in your life, like taking a class or joining a writers’ group.

Read, Read, Read Immerse yourself in your genre. Do whatever it takes to read every day. In your genre! The year I wrote Helen, I also read about 50 books in the Chick Lit/Women’s Fiction genre. I literally absorbed story structure, pacing, plotting from the other books. I read critically, looking for the good and the bad in books like well-executed character arcs, flawed turning points, and weak dialogue.  I understood what a book in this genre needed to be in terms of length, plot twists, back story. I’m surprised how many would -be writers don’t read in their genre.  I hear this all the time from writers. Oh, they read… just not mysteries or thrillers or YA, even if that’s what they are attempting to write. I don’t get it. You need to understand what’s out there, how the structure works and where you can take your idea within that structure and really make it pop. Can you imagine attempting to fly a plane simply because you’ve driven a car and you think they’re pretty close? Of course not. Same deal with writing.

Write, Write, Write Some days, the muse doesn’t show up.  Write anyway, even if it’s just one page and it’s total crap. Put something down on Monday that you can rewrite on Tuesday. You need to impose structure and discipline to your work effort. And, frankly, you need to get words on the page. If you’re stuck one day, start by taking another look at what you did the day before, punching that up to get the juices going, then move forward.

Keep Moving Forward Get through that first draft if it kills you. Even if you know by the time you get to chapter 6, that you have to rewrite the first 5 chapters, keep moving forward. Getting bogged down in re-writing can be an endless cycle. Finish draft #1, then circle back. I used a well-detailed outline to keep me on track and then jotted down notes on cards about what I need to “fix” for the rewrite. Finishing draft #1 was a fantastic feeling. The hardest work was done. To me, rewriting was a delight, the fun stuff.

Accept that you can’t write a novel in month But it’s a fantastic goal and you could get really far into a first draft if you use November as your kick-off month. ( I did when writing Helen. Started in November so I could benefit from some collective momentum of NaNoWriMo.) Getting those first few chapters under your belt is a huge. Hopefully, by then, you’ll be so overwhelmed by the story that you’ll have a hard time thinking of anything else– like what to make for dinner.


That’s enough for now. Good luck, all you writers. Stay focused. And know that I’m right there with you as I start my next book.  It’s the same process, but at least now I know what to expect.

Embracing my Choas, Lian

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Random Thoughts on Writing

Helen of Pasadena is here, there and everywhere!



Lian November 6, 2011 at 1:21 PM

This is awesome. How would they look on my clogs?

Beckett Graham November 4, 2011 at 9:09 PM

I just listened to the episode where you referred to the red soled shoe phenomenon… did you know you can “fake it” – there is a whole line of stickers just for this purpose:

Sue in NJ November 3, 2011 at 7:46 PM

Happy Anniversary to you and Helen!

Cyndi November 3, 2011 at 3:14 AM

First of all, congratulations on the one year anniversary of Helen! Did you ever in your wildest dreams think you would be celebrating this?

I really enjoyed this post – thank you for the insight on the process of writing. I don’t see writing a novel in my future, but your ideas and approach are easily applied to accomplishing any number of projects. You’ve inspired me to take on a few of my own and this post provides some new fuel – thank you.

Good luck with number two!

Professor Alan November 1, 2011 at 2:54 PM

I have done NaNo (as the insiders call it) a number of times, and have found it a good way to get a large chunk of a rough draft done.

I recommend it to “eventual” writers, people who have always told themselves they would eventually write that novel.

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