When life hands you a butternut squash…

Confession: I’m failing at NaNo right now.

Prediction: This month will be incredibly important to both my most recent manuscript, and the one I planned to use November to sketch out.

Result: WIN anyhow!

The truth is, sometimes life hands you a butternut squash when what you really want is a pumpkin.

Case in point, my friend’s husband went in search of Halloween pumpkins for carving, and came home with a butternut squash. It was all he could find after trekking across various stores. Did he just give up? NO. That man bought it, brought it home, and they carved the best damned butternut squash jack o’ lantern I’ve ever seen 🙂

sid's pumpkin
The photo’s by me. Brilliant carving is by my lovely friends.

Apart from making me laugh, this story has been the theme for November. I regularly read blogs and how-to craft articles and books, clicking on Twitter links, or reading the blogs I subscribe to. But this month, I went for it. It was time for another serious growth spurt in my writing, and I wanted to nurture it before putting one. more. word. down. That was the squash life gave me. I certainly hadn’t planned it that way — no! I wanted to WIN WIN WIN! But a little voice said it was time for learning, not doing. No matter what the calendar tells me.

Everything I’ve read/listened to this month has had major effects on both the story I’m polishing, the one I’m plotting before throwing more words at, and all my future stories (maybe even my past ones…).

Here’s what I did:

1) Got hooked into Susan Dennard’s awesome series, How I Plan A Book. She’s the author of the SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY series, and is a kick-butt motivator. There are several parts to the series, and I highly recommend reading all of them (and taking notes). Her magic cookie concept, as well as her pointing to Rachel Aaron‘s earth-shattering reveal on how to write 10k a day, have changed my life.

2) Scoured the brilliant Janice Hardy‘s website for articles in how to handle internalisation, exposition, and backstory. These two stood out, but every article on her blog is an incredible tool for writing. Exposition can be filtered in – it has to be, especially in fantasy/sci-fi. We ARE in another world, and we do need to let the reader know how it works, and what its history is. She talks about how to add a character’s judgment/personal opinion to anything that sounds like telling that you can’t do without, to stop it from drying out your readers’ eyeballs. Among other gems.

3) Read Nathan Bransford‘s book – In case you haven’t heard, the man behind the hugely popular writing advice blog has a book, HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL. I loved how clear, concise, witty, and straight-to-the-heart this book is. I read it in one sitting and then re-read all my highlighted sections. Really puts things into perspective, and has a very helpful checklist on how to know when you’re done revising.

4) Listened to several hours of Writers’ Digest webinar archives – There are tons of video tutorials from past webinars on their website, and you can get a month’s worth of listening to as many as your heart desires for $25. I’ve “attended” a few of the webinars at the time, which usually comes with some critique of your work by the agent/pro who runs the webinar, but for a cheaper option, sans critique, you can pay 25 smackers and listen to as many as you want, pausing to take notes, etc. I wasn’t sure at first but you can listen to some 5-minute samples before taking the plunge. I’ve found it totally worth it – particularly for Chuck Sambuchino‘s tutorial on how to write a synopsis, agent Kathleen Ortiz‘s tutorial on querying, and agent Jim McCarthy‘s tutorial on “10 elements of a viable, lucrative novel”.

5) Revisited Query Tracker’s query forum. Post, critique, receive feedback. I’ve used it in the past and it’s been great, and it was wonderful to revisit, read others’ work, and receive feedback myself.

6) Joined Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror  I heard about this through Susan Dennard, and thought I would give it a go. Working with CPs and betas is one thing, but posting my work – whole chapters – for people to read and pick apart publicly always makes me squirm, but it’s great practice. Once you’re published, I imagine you must learn about squirming under public scrutiny on a WHOLE new level, and not only is it great practice, but I’ve read some wonderful stories and received great feedback. 

More than that, I traded feedback with a few people this month who’ve made me see the way forward for what would’ve been my NaNo story. I feel a lot more confident about starting this one out now, with some shiny new tools under my belt. That’s what makes writing fun for me — amongst the world building and character creation and tension plotting, I love that whenever I learn new tactics, or see something I’ve been doing wrong, it injects me with renewed passion.

If you’re looking for some new (or revisited) resources for inspiration and honing your skillz (with a Z), check any of the above out, and good luck with your pumpkin 🙂


Gratuitous Halloween shot . I am now the proud owner of a Starfleet uniform. Troi, eat your heart out.
Gratuitous Halloween photo. I am now the proud owner of a Starfleet uniform (phased out in late 2365).


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3 thoughts on “When life hands you a butternut squash…

  1. Sweetie! You are not “failing NANO”!!! Nope, if you’ve made progress, learning, or otherwise, you’ve WON!! already you’ve won because it’s not about putting 50,000 words on paper. Anyone can do that. Heck Copy and Paste is awesome for doing that! 🙂 But really, what NANO is, at least from what I understand, is about the process. Who cares if you put 50,000 words down. Do you have a story? did you plot it? did you learn the deepest, darkest secrets of your characters? who are they? why are they doing this? Where will it all lead? Did you get any words down? even if it was just for back story, or character development? did you write?! THen there’s the cheering, the meetings of like-minds…THAT is what I find a win!

    But, I’m not a NANO expert. I stopped counting long ago! So, maybe the creators of NANO and their idea of writing 50,000 words in a month is really what it’s all about.

    Or, maybe, just maybe, it’s a personal win when you’ve bettered you’re writing. 🙂
    Who am I anyway? …. 😛

  2. ooooh, what resources! *swoons over post*

    The butternut squash jack-o-lantern is fabulous! It makes me smile a lot. And the Starfleet uniform is FANTASTIC! You look great in it!

  3. I give my Ex-ML approval to this “Win”. You are FAR better served by getting a handle on your novels before drafting them than by bashing out a shitty draft just because it’s November and the thing to do. I know several people who spend 4 months planning to every week they spend drafting. *cough*KT*cough* And EXCELLENT links, the Susan Cooper ones are good, and BTDT with Rachel Aaron’s discoveries. I find the more I write, the more I CAN write at a time. There was a time where 1667 a day seemed impossibly, frighteningly large. Now, I don’t consider it a Real Writing Day unless I get at least 2k. Anything less is “futzing”, and most of those low days are either 1. Dayjob ate my brain (which, alas, does happen) or 2. something’s wrong with the scene I’m on and my subconscious is gnawing on it (alas, happens more than I’d like!). <3

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