How to Prepare for the November Writing Challenges

How to Prepare for the November Writing Challenges

Guest Post by Jo Linsdell

Photo Jo Lindell on November Writing Challenges

Author Jo Lindell presents advice on preparing for the November Writing Challenges

Just as the calendar year winds down, three November writing challenges help writers jump-start their creativity. You can choose between NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), WNFIN (Write Nonfiction in November) aka NaNonFiWritMo (National Nonfiction Writing Month), and PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month).

 Not everyone, it turns out, is choosing just one. Guest poster Jo Linsdell, of and organizer of the annual online PromoDay event plans to do all three. She takes “plans” literally, so we’ve asked her to share how she preps to “put a jet pack” on her productivity.

 Even if you’re “just” doing one challenge, or partially participating, you can learn from her attitude and pre-challenge tactics.

I love a good challenge. I’ve never been one to do things lightly though. I have a go big attitude when it comes to setting goals for myself, and this year is no different. I’ll be taking part in, not one, but three different challenges this November. I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo, WNFIN, and PiBoIdMo.

Right now you’re probably asking yourself “Is she crazy?!” The honest answer here is probably “YES”.

As I have two small children, work part-time as a teacher, have several blogs, and have various events to attend throughout the month, it’s a huge goal to try to reach.

A 50K novel, a non-fiction book, and 30 ideas for children’s picture books, all in the one month is a LOT of work. It is doable though.

How do I know?

Simple. I’ve done it before. And yes, I collected my winner certificates 😉

Preparing for the November Writing Challenges

So how does someone prepare for such a writing frenzy?

The key is organization, and preparation.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

The first thing to do is pick and idea. In my case, the idea usually picks me—I tend to have an over-active imagination. I go with the one that I think about most. When it takes over and starts to build itself in my head, I know it’s the right one to go with.

Next I brainstorm and work out a plot outline. Nothing too detailed, but enough to give me a basic timeline of events to get me from start to finish. As I do the outline, the main characters usually already start to define themselves. They develop personalities.

The next step is writing up a quick character sheet (click for free download) for each of them. Again nothing too detailed. Part of the fun is seeing where the characters take me.

Finally, I like to create a draft cover for the novel. It makes the book seem real. Envisioning it as a final product can be very motivating.

WNFIN (Write Nonfiction in November)

The first thing to do is to pick an idea and brainstorm on it to make sure it’s enough to become a book. This is important because some ideas are better suited to being blog posts, or a short series of blog posts, than a book.

Once I’m sure I have enough material to work with, I expand my brainstorming into a rough table of contents. This way I know the structure the book will take and what I need to write in each section.

If there are any parts I need to research further I do that next. Things like looking for quotes to include also fall into this category. These are all saved to a word file called WNFIN prep on my computer. I can then hop over to it as needed during the challenge.

I use a template with includes title page and other front matter, the table of contents, and pre-formatted chapter lay out. This saves me loads of time later on and helps me see the book as a finished product as I’m writing it. That way I just have to write the book.

As I do with NaNoWriMo, I also make a draft cover for WNFIN, for the same reasons.

PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month)

I’ve participated in this challenge for several years now and each time I go over the 30 idea goal. Having two small children around is an endless font of inspiration!

The only preparation I do for this challenge is to make an idea sheet (click to download) where I’ll track the number of ideas I get throughout the month.

So what about the non-writing related prep for the November Writing Challenges?

Yes, that’s just as important. Actually, it’s even more important than the rest of it.

If you’re going to be in a writing frenzy for 30 days you need to make sure you have a plan of action.

When will you write? Can you fit in big blocks of time on some days? Or will you be doing word sprints for the whole month? I tend to have a mix of these. I try to get bigger chunks done whilst the kids are at school in the morning as this is usually when I have more free time. I then word sprint through out the day where possible..

Where will you write? Find the best place for you to take on the November Writing Challenges. I work best from my home. I try to limit these interruptions is by telling everyone I’ll be doing these challenges and warning them that if they interrupt me for silly reasons they are likely to be turned into a character in my NaNoWriMo novel and then killed off. I’m writing a thriller this year 😉

I also plan food in advance. I do a big food shop the last day of October so I’m nicely stocked up with healthy, and easy to prepare food. Supplies of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate are musts, as are chocolate bars, and fruit for snacking.

In the last days of October, I make sure all the washing and ironing is up to date, and give the house a deep clean. This makes it easier to stay on top of housework throughout the month. I also prepare a few activities for the kids to do should I need to keep them busy.

That’s it really. Get as prepared and organized as possible before the challenges start.

If you’re taking part in any of the November Writing Challenges, tweet me a shout at I’ll be doing lots of word sprints throughout the month. Maybe you can join me for some?

Jo Linsdell is an award-winning, and international best-selling author and illustrator. She is also the CEO of For more information about her and her projects, visit

The Power of Tabula Rasa

Tabula rasa

Tabula rasa — a blank slate — offers freedom and potential

When suffering from writer’s block, do as the Romans do and utilize tabula rasa.

Latin for “blank slate,” tabula rasa is a literary term that stretches back to the days of ancient Rome. In those days, people wrote upon wax tablets or tabula. When they wanted a new “page,” they created it by heating the wax and smoothing it out. Though we modern-day writers aren’t penning future best-sellers on wax tablets, we can take a page from those days of hallowed antiquity by utilizing the freedom offered by a blank slate to get the creative juices flowing. (more…)

Re-Writing History


Re-writing history requires intense research.

Grounded in my Jewish heritage, choosing to write about the Holocaust was never the question. It was how to approach it. I wanted to create something more meaningful than the recitation of facts and figures. Those brutalized by of one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity were more than nameless, faceless numbers. They deserved to be experienced as human beings. Breathing life into fictional characters to enact their stories, the voices of real people who had experienced historic events in actual places became the narrative. Stepping outside the role of WRITING history to relating its stories, my task shifted to RE-writing history. (more…)

Some Words with a Muse

Writing Career with a Muse

Muse Attack

Having rescheduled yet another appointment due to my predilection for getting lost in my writing, I decided that it was time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with my Muse. Seriously! When I chose a literary career, I thought I was supposed to be in charge of the writing process. After all, many successful authors describe how they structure their days, “reporting to their offices” to write for several hours, after which they go about the rest of their lives as they see fit.

Obviously, they never met my Muse. Like a selfish child, it can clamor within my head at the most awkward times. The following is an example of a recent exchange. Feel free to offer suggestions as to how you would handle my quixotic Muse!

MUSE:  “Hello there! Remember me? I just thought of a way you can improve that chapter you’ve been struggling with!”

ME:  “It is 3:45 am. Can’t I just put in a wake-up call for 7:30? I’ll be fresher, and my fingers should work better then. OK? Good! Keep in touch . . . . “

MUSE:  “’Fresher?’ And how do you think that is going to fix that overwritten, narrative-starved, clunky excuse for writing? I need you edgy. Nervous. That’s what’s missing in that chapter. Now, get your butt out of bed and let’s get busy!”

ME:  “Get busy? I’ve been pounding away on that keyboard until my fingers have gone numb. I’ve had to call to push up meetings with kind and patient folks who have decided that there is simply no way they are going to get me to conform to a ‘normal’ schedule, and even find me mildly amusing in an eccentric way. Besides, who put you in charge anyway? I’m the writer, you know!”

MUSE:  “Really? And who do you think planted Max inside of your head anyway, ‘Madam Writer?’ Who do you think woke you up that morning so many years ago with a little old man chattering away in a Yiddish accent you simply couldn’t ignore? Who do you think presented his entire story, beginning to end like a shimmering rainbow, even showing you the pot of gold on the last page? Who kicked you out of bed and drove you to your computer, so you could quickly record a rough outline of chapters before the Universe reabsorbed the story? ME, that’s who! So, who is in charge here? Do you really think you have much of a choice in the matter?”

ME:  “Well, I agree that you got the ball rolling. But, I don’t see you sitting hours upon end at that computer until your tailbone screams for relief. I don’t see you longing to be lost in Max’s world when your beloved partner impatiently calls you to yet another dinner he’s prepared just to hear, ‘Five more minutes. I just need to finish this paragraph!’ (With me generally appearing an hour later, my plate of food in the microwave awaiting resuscitation). I was the one who went into postpartum depression when I completed the first draft of the manuscript because I couldn’t bear to lose Max. Why shouldn’t I have the choice as to when to write? I’m not a television remote control device, you know. I have never found it comfortable to write, ‘On Demand!’”

MUSE:  “Because of ME! Do you know how lucky you are? Just think of all the people in the world who are asked to write on a subject that bores them to tears. Yet, they have no problem doing it. You’ve been there. I’ve rescued you time and again from linguistic drudgery in dreary offices. And this is the thanks I get? ‘Wake me at 7:30?’”

ME:  “OK, OK. You have a point there. How about we make a deal? You are allowed to wake me at 3:45 am to plant a thought, but as I need all the strength I can get to finish these revisions, how about your letting me hit your ‘snooze button’ so I can get a little extra shuteye until 7:30 instead?”

MUSE:  “I am more than a little bit offended! Likening me to an alarm clock is like comparing a brilliant sunset to the streetlights that go on at appointed times. I can’t give advance notice as to when I’m going to burst forth with some magnificent insight, rain glorious words down upon you like a refreshing shower, or fill your head and heart to overflowing. No, I’m afraid there are no deals if you want to be a writer. Writers aren’t doctors. There’s no vacation time, weekends, or full nights of sleep. That’s simply the name of the game.”

ME:  “But, doctors certainly get paid a lot more. A LOT more when you consider that being a full-time writer often means having to go long periods ‘on sabbatical,’ from any type of meaningful employment!”

MUSE:  “’Meaningful employment?’ Crunching numbers, or trudging to an office with bland people doing bland things while they answer to bland bosses who direct their lives? Writers are on their own! If you want a structured existence, than forget living a life with a Muse to provide you with pictures that dance in your head. It boils down to one simple question. Are you really serious about being a writer? If not, I can look for somebody else . . . . ”

ME:  “NO! Don’t leave me! Without you, Max wouldn’t be jabbering away in my ear and I don’t quite think I’d ever be whole again without him. He takes long walks with me and draws me into his world so I can experience the full flavor of his life and times. We’ve become very close. If you left, I’m not quite certain he’d know how to find me, nor I him. You win. If you can’t wait until a reasonable hour, than I suppose my nickname, ‘The Late Sue Ross’ will have to stand. Of course, I may never have work again, not to mention friends or colleagues who have trouble understanding the way of the writer, but that’s the way it will have to be.”

MUSE:  “Truly, I really don’t want to cost you friends, or employment, but I think you’re being a little melodramatic here. We’ve been working on this book for 14 years, during which time you’ve held down some pretty impressive jobs (with a few breaks here and there). I guess it’s hard for me to hold back when the energy is flowing.”

ME:  “I get that, but keep in mind that when you aren’t holding back, neither can I!”

MUSE:  “True, but if I’m on a roll, and you decide to come along, you’ll just have to accept the consequences. I will continue to wake you up and typing whenever the spirit moves me. You will simply have to accept your lot in life as a writer enslaved to me, your Muse, for as long as it takes. Not really a bad gig. You could have been born into a life as a telemarketer or bill collector! Instead, you are living two lives. Your own, and Max’s.”

ME:  “My own, and Max’s, hmm? Well then, let’s get back to work!”

MUSE:  “Now, that’s more like it! OK, get some rest for now. But, remember . . . I’ll see you in your dreams.” 

(“Muse Attack” created by –

Personality Disorders = Goldmine

Personality disorderWant to create memorable characters with depth, complexity and an unpredictable capability for danger? Then give them a personality disorder … but don’t diagnose it.

Who could forget the character of Alex Forrest from the 1987 thriller “Fatal Attraction?” Actress Glenn Close’s ability to maintain a seemingly normal façade whilst exhibiting some of the most bizarre behavior is a testament to her power as an actress, but the part of Alex was also very well written. While most might sum her up as being “psycho,” more astute observers have noted that Alex displayed many of the characteristic traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. Since the character was never officially “diagnosed” in the film, it left her behavior and motivations – not to mention her mental health – open to interpretation. (more…)

Writing About Fighting: How to Create Realistic Combat Without Getting Your Head Knocked Off

Writing about fighting With split-second timing, the hero levels his enemy with a perfectly-timed jumping front kick. Striking his erstwhile attacker on the chin, his steel-like foot sends the villain careening into the two evil henchmen behind him, knocking them down. As one enemy gets up swinging, the hero rattles off six strikes to his body with the speed and damage of a cobra’s strike, and he smiles wryly as the bad guy’s body jerks and convulses before falling to the ground. Sensing movement behind him, the hero turns just in time to duck the attempted cheap shot before executing a judo flip upon his charging attacker, sending him crashing through a conveniently-placed window …

Writing dramatic battles is alluring, violence is quick, brutal, and chaotic in the real world. I learned this from fights in the playgrounds, street corners, and dive bars in Flint, Michigan, one of the “Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S.” And while the School of Hard Knocks has made me a better writer, my tuition was paid with a broken nose, broken orbital bone, and various and sundry injuries. For the gentle literary types, there are other ways to learn about real-world violence that won’t put you in mortal danger. (more…)