Auther Toolbox: Gaming for Writers

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Pictured: A hard day’s work

This post is written as part of the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, hosted by the insightful Raimey Gallant. Anyone who’s interested in more exciting tips and thoughtful advice should definitely go and check out the main link, where dozens of other writers are sharing their words of wisdom on the third Wednesday of every month.


I spent most of yesterday playing video games. For work.

In honor of this – and to reassure myself that I wasn’t actually slacking – I thought that this month I’d share two games that help me outsource some of my creative heavy lifting. I’m not suggesting that anyone go out and buy them just for the sake of writing tools. Both of these games can get expensive, especially when you start taking bonus packs and DLC into account. But if you already have them, or something like them, it might be worth playing around and seeing if you find them helpful.

So, without further ado, I present:

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Author Toolbox: The Horse

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You know, the one you keep falling off of.

This post, which almost didn’t make it, is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. Check out the main link for more!


I’ve had trouble writing this month.

I haven’t been sleeping particularly well, which never helps anything, and I had a cold for a while, but that’s nothing new. I’ve worked perfectly well under those circumstances before; I just couldn’t, this month … until yesterday, when everything suddenly clicked back in place like there had never been any interruption.

In honor of this, I thought I might as well offer my checklist of Things I  Use To Combat Writer’s Block (with varying degrees of success). Some of these I’ve figured out on my own, others have been advice given by others, and by the time I get to the end of this, there will probably be at least one tip I’ve never actually tried but seems like a pretty good idea right now.

Starting off with old favorites:

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Author Toolbox: Backstories Matter

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I was heartbroken to realize that I lost track of time last month and missed out on #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, but I’m hoping that Raimey Gallant will be a benevolent host and let me back in because I had so much fun reading and writing these last year. Check out the main link to see what other writers have to offer!


I’ll be honest:  I don’t really spend very much time thinking about characters’ backstories.

Not because I don’t care about them – really, it’s more of the opposite problem. I’m the kind of writer who thrives on worldbuilding, on planting a seed and then watching and trying to keep up as the resulting plant takes over the garden. I consider myself a pruner, to keep the gardening metaphor going. I encourage particularly promising growths and try to cut off dead weight but otherwise, I tend to sit back in my mind and let things bloom as they will. By the time I’ve got anything resembling a plot, my characters have usually already assembled a host of likes, dislikes, memories, quirks, friends, enemies, and stories. All I have to do is figure out how to turn them into a cohesive narrative. Continue reading

Author Toolbox: To NaNo or not to NaNo?

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Photo courtesy of https://sweatersscarvesstories.wordpress.com/category/nanowrimo-2/

After a month’s absence, I’m happy to be back in #AuthorToolboxBlogHop! As always, check out the main link for lots of other fantastic authors (who wrote awesome things in September as well)!


National Novel-Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo (or just NaNo if you’re me and lazy) is an event that was started 18 years ago by Chris Baty as a way of getting aspiring writers together and helping them actually get some writing done.

The basic concept simple: write 50,000 words in the month of November, and don’t go back and edit anything until you’re done. If you do that, you win. If you don’t, you try again next year.

Ideally, those 50k words should be the beginning of a new project, and that project should be a novel, and you should get to the end of the story by the time you’ve gotten to the end of your words. I always end up breaking at least one of those ideals – usually the one about writing a 50,000-word story instead of writing 50,000 words of a much longer potential story – but it’s useful to keep them in mind. If nothing else, they can give you a sense of what the other WriMos are trying to achieve.

I joined my first NaNoWriMo back in 2007 and failed spectacularly. I didn’t make my next attempt until 2011, but since then I’ve won five out of the six years I’ve participated. (We shall not speak of 2015.) The end results have ranged from pretty decent to absolutely horrible, but I’ve always had fun and I’ve always felt like I learned something from the experience. There’s a sort of a thrill at the end, looking back and seeing what I’ve accomplished – even if that accomplishment is a lot of bad writing.

That having been said, NaNoWriMo is definitely not for everybody. It’s kind of grueling, it eats giant chunks of time out of a month that’s already busy with an American national holiday, and if you don’t know too many other people it can feel sort of isolating. Some people find the commandment against editing freeing, and other people find it distracting and prohibitive.

The way that I’ve found I can enjoy this mammoth undertaking year after year is by remembering to just have fun with it and take every rule and bit of advice with a grain of salt. For anyone who’s a little more curious, though, here’s my take on NaNoWriMo.

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Preptober Week 1 – Foundations

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So it’s October, and I’m already seeing people around me start getting excited about pumpkins and candy and costumes. I’ve never really been all that into Halloween, though, so for me October is all about NaNoWriMo prep!

This year I’m going to be working on a project that I started and then dropped about five years ago. It’s been simmering ever since then, and last week a bunch of things clicked in the shower, and I’m now super excited to see what I can do with two months of hard work. Of course, the writing doesn’t start until November, but that means I’ve got a month to get my foundation laid.

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Author Toolbox: Nevermind “Necessary”.

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A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about the idea of “writing what you know”. In that post, I mostly argued that trying to write speculative fiction while drawing too heavily from personal experience often results in characters who feel like they’ve been recently transplanted to their surroundings, and in a narrative that ignores opportunities simply because those opportunities aren’t available in the author’s own experiences.

It’s not that the axiom is a bad one, exactly. I fully agree that a story benefits when an author has a connection to what they’re writing. An author who’s never been on a boat probably won’t write a particularly compelling maritime epic, after all. It’s just that I feel like too many writers limit themselves and their stories by never straying outside of the bounds of their own imaginings.

I also frequently get in fights with the idea that an author should try to tell an “original” story – actually, I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about that, so I think I know what I’m going to be writing about next month.

This month, though, I’m lacing up my gloves and having it out with those esteemed titans, Strunk and White, and their commandment to “omit needless words”.

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Author Toolbox: Let it Go

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Welcome to the July edition of #AuthorToolboxBlogHop! As always, check out the main link for lots of other fantastic authors with lots of other fantastic advice. Neither I nor the blog hop are in any way affiliated with Disney, Frozen, Elsa, or Idina Menzel.


I’m writing this from Martha’s Vineyard, where I’m participating in the second week of the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. For the last week and a half I’ve been here on the island, learning from authors whose skill and patience are equally admirable. If I sound more lyrical than usual, you can blame Alexander Weinstein or Kea Wilson or Sequoia Nagamatsu or Jennifer Tseng or Allegra Hyde or Christopher Citro, who are encouraging me to take chances and challenge myself and push my limits as a writer. I’ll be back to normal next month! 😉

I’m learning a lot here, and I suspect that several of the lessons will become the backbones of future Author Toolbox Bloghop posts, once I’ve had a chance to sift through them. This month, though, is devoted to a notion that I’ve held for a long time, one that has been reinforced in one or another by almost every coach I’ve had here. That is: the novel that you write will not be the novel that you intended to write.

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Author Toolbox: Reading is Fundamental

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Another Wednesday, another #AuthorToolboxBlogHop! Even though I’m actually posting on Tuesday for once – take that, procrastination! Check out the main link for lots of other fantastic authors with lots of other fantastic advice.


I don’t have anything particularly mindblowing this month, just a truism that I apparently have a lot of trouble holding on to: it’s really hard to be a good writer if you’re not a good reader.

There’s a difference between being a reader and being a good reader, and it’s a distinction I often lose track of when it comes to my own life. It’s important for an aspiring author to have books nearby. Reading helps you keep up-to-date with the things that are happening in your genre so that you don’t accidentally invest hundreds of hours writing a book that’s already sitting on top of the NYT Best Sellers list. (I discovered three days ago that N. K. Jemisin has already written the book I was planning on starting after I finish my current project, so … back to the drawing board there.) It helps you understand what’s selling, what other people like, what’s been done poorly or done to death.

Not to mention, reading is fun! It challenges your sense of the norm, opens you up to new ideas, teaches you while it entertains.

And that’s great, for someone who just wants to understand the market and meet their Goodreads goal for the year.

For writers, though, other people’s books are pretty much the best resource we’re going to find. Each of the rules we’re trying to understand has been executed perfectly by hundreds and hundreds of authors – and broken by thousands upon thousands more. All we have to do is figure out which books can teach us what lessons and open ourselves up to the experience.

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Author Toolbox: Find Your “First Draft” Voices

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This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which I’m thrilled to be participating in, and which I totally forgot to actually mention last month. Whoops! Check out the main link for lots of other fantastic authors with lots of other fantastic advice.


We talk a lot as writers about “finding your voice”, telling your story the way only you can tell it. Some authors (like Elmore Leonard, in an article that my podcast discussed some weeks back) think that a writer should keep their voice as far back from the story as they can, and let the reader and the story have their adventure without interference.

On the other hand, there are any number of authors whose success comes in large part because of the strength of their writing voices. Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Jim Butcher, and Peter S. Beagle all come immediately to mind. My personal list also includes David Eddings and Guy Gavriel Kay, both of whom wrote stories that I don’t think would have engaged me if someone else had tried to tell exactly the same tale in a different voice.

This blog post has nothing to do with that. Continue reading

Author Toolbox, April Edition: We’re All In This Together

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I just did a Google image search for the word ‘writer’, and the results were exactly what I expected: a lot of pictures of typewriters, or notebooks with fancy pens on them, some laptops, a handful of cups of tea or coffee and a dozen pairs of glasses. Most of the pictures don’t have people in them. Some have parts of people: hands on keys, an arm holding a pen. When you do get to see a whole person – or at least, enough of one to be recognizable – they’re almost always sitting alone in a room, staring either absently out into space as they plan their next bestseller, or directly at their screen or page with a look of furious concentration. The backgrounds are nondescript. The writers themselves are often nondescript as well; some of them are just silhouettes, some are blown out by filters until the models probably wouldn’t recognize themselves.

Writers are solitary folk. Continue reading