For Readers & Writers
from Susan Dennard
M&D Issue #128

November 16, 2018

What's in this heart-to-heart?

Recent Goings On:

I have 1000% fallen off the NaNoWriMo bandwagon. I did so well for the first week....and then womp-womp.

IN MY DEFENSE, I stared my own personal NaNo in October. So actually, I've written 60,000 since then...

That excuses me, right? RIGHT?

Also, the next book in the Witchlands is calling to me, and I've been SCRIBBLING DOWN IDEAS in a glorious burst of inspiration.

Help the Mighty Pens!

Hey, it's not too late to join this fundraiser-crossed-with-NaNoWriMo! So far, we've written 1,000,000 words as a group! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?

We also had our first writer hit 50,000 words today! (Congrats, Asteria!)

If you think you might be interested in joining us, head here!

Or, if you want to help in other ways, we could really use monetary donations! Every dollar helps, and just think about all the young writers and aspiring authors around the globe that you would be helping! Donate here!

For the Misfits & Witchlanders:


Read The Executioners Three


Before I get into The Executioners Three, I want to tell all you Witchlands fans that you can now request Bloodwitch on Netgalley!

It isn't the full book, but it is a MEATY chunk -- the first 178 pages! And I personally picked out exactly where it ends, so you know it's got lots of goodness for the fans. (I don't mess around.)

Now onto The Executioners Three! What is it, you ask? Why, it's my paranormal horror mystery with lots of kissing -- think Stranger Things meets Sleepy Hollow. But set in 1999 (cue up the N'SYNC and BSB references!) on Lake Michigan.

This is a book I have been working on for years. I started it in 2011 when I was sick with whooping cough and couldn't leave my bed. It was fall, and I was in the mood for some funny contemporary fiction with a heavy dose of romance. So I dug up a terrible short story I'd written at age 16 called "Purely Platonic" (about best friends who fall in love) and dove into making it a novel.

Well, turns out I can't write straight contemporary. At all. I got 100 pages in and petered out. (Props to all you contemporary writers!)

But then I dug up the book again the following fall. I added murder to it, and oh, now the story seemed to be working again! Well...for another 100 pages at least.

So move to the fall of 2013 (are you sensing a pattern?), when I dug it out again and basically ditched ALL OF IT. I kept some things (the heroine, for example, and the 1999, Lake Michigan setting), but I shifted the POVs from first person to third, and I added a supernatural element.

That fall, I wrote a brand new 100 pages and retitled the book The Executioners Three. I worked on it during that NaNoWriMo, actually! But when the NaNo ended, something still wasn't quite right...

Every fall after that, I would pick up the book again and look over it. But deadlines for the Witchlands were DIRE, so I never got to work on it thoroughly.

Until this fall! 5 years later! I pulled that sucker back out because I was itching to work on it. Y'all know my personal life has been a bit stressful right now with IVF, and I wanted a book that was pure candy and had no pressure attached.

But I knew that the hero in the story was not clicking. He'd always been the weakest link to it all. So for a week, I brainstormed and mind-mapped and made index cards until finally it CLICKED. Good bye best friend Simon Girard, and hello rival Theo Porter.

This guy (once I found him) was all there, fully formed: a bad boy with a heart of gold (my most favorite trope ever). Theo wasn't the main POV, though -- that was Freddie. She has ALWAYS had the strongest voice and personality in my head. I realized it needed to be her book and hers alone.

So I rewrote the entire thing again. I made Freddie the only POV character (with a handful of scenes from Theo). I added an epic school rivalry. I made it standalone (instead of a planned trilogy). I simplified the ghostly element and amped up the 90s references.

And oh my friends, we were off to the races!

Since I started writing this on October 15 of this year, I've gotten in 60,000 words! Of those 60,000, about 15,000 were from old drafts. (It's no wonder I petered out halfway into NaNoWriMo.)

I LOVE THIS STORY, THOUGH. Omgosh, it makes me laugh. And it makes me happy. And it has been the greatest confidence boost ever since I (yet again) killed myself under deadline and thought I would never want to write again.

So all of this lead up is to say, you can read The Executioners Three! On Wattpad!

I wanted to share this story with readers, like I used to in my old Fictionpress days (like I once did with "Purely Platonic"). Plus, I wanted to hold myself accountable until I hit "The End" -- and maybe do all that while reaching new readers who haven't yet discovered the Witchlands.

I hope you'll consider giving this new book a read! New chapters coming every Wednesday and Friday! Plus, since it's an early draft, I'll be uniquely poised to walk though how I revise it, when that moment eventually comes!

Read the book here!

Last but never least, if you want to preorder Bloodwitch, these are the places to do so!


For the Daydreamers:


NaNoWriMo: A Love/Hate Relationship


First of all, I feel I should preface this post with the VERY LOUD DECLARATION THAT I LOVE NANOWRIMO.

It's why I'm on their author board.

It's why we are raising money for them and their Young Writers program with The Mighty Pens.

However, the actual method of writing 50,000 words during November doesn't always seem to work for me.

Oh, I can totally write 50,000 words in a month (if I have to), but I need to be pretty far into a book to have that kind of momentum.

If I'm starting a brand new novel....yeah, no.

Below, I lay out my own past experiences with NaNoWriMo + some important tips I learned along the way.

I tackled my first NaNoWriMo in 2009. (The same month I got married, actually -- fun fact. Which reminds me, my anniversary is next week. Crap.)

It was a MESS, but it was my second attempt ever at finishing a novel. Prior to that, I'd always written 30-50 pages and then abandoned ship. While I had actually just finished my very first novel ever, I knew it was terrible. I knew it wasn't sellable and I didn't love the idea enough to go to all the work of fixing it.

But I had this new idea, see? About a ragtag team of ghostbusters. So I decided, why not try to write it during this National Novel Writing Month I had just discovered.

Flash forward to mid-December, and I had a finished first draft of ~70,000 words.


But I had a first draft!! I had typed The End, and I still loved the book enough to dive in and fix it.

Spoiler alert: I saved almost nothing from that original draft. Over the course of the next year, I rewrote it entirely, honed my craft, found critique partners (waves at Kat Brauer, my Mighty Pens cofounder! Remember reading this for me, Kat?), and polished that baby until it was ready to actually sell.

But again: none of that matters. I had a draft! And that was exhilarating!! Plus, I now had something to fix. No more blank pages.

~ PRO-TIP: ~

Do not ever, ever, ever finish NaNoWriMo and assume you are done.

For one, 50,000 words is not the actual length of a book unless it is middle grade. (Sightwitch, a novella, was 53,000 words, for example. Something Strange and Deadly was 93,000. Bloodwitch was 141,000.)

For two, everything you have written is likely terrible. Why do I say this? Because only a beginner would finish NaNoWriMo and assume their book is ready to be published or submitted to agents. And if you're a beginner, your first draft could probably use a lot of revising.

Even if you're not a beginner, your first draft will need a lot of revising. (But non-beginners already know this.)

So whatever you do, fight the urge to self-publish your NaNo novel. Fight the urge to send out query letters. You need to spend at least as much time as you spent writing the book on revising and editing. Period.

I don't say this to dishearten you, but instead to empower you. NaNoWriMo is step one. Step two is actually writing a book that is book-length. And step three is revising that book until it shines. This post might help.

In 2010, I decided to try NaNoWriMo again. I had just signed with an agent and my book was on submission to publishers (woohoo!). I felt like a total badass -- like I really knew what I was doing, and I believed I could hammer out a new book, kapow!

Well, dystopian was hot then. And I was obsessed with Fallout 3, so post-apocalypse dystopian it would be! I made a rough outline about a girl named Echo in this desert world dominated by monsters called screechers...

And off I went.

Yes, I technically "won" that NaNoWriMo because I technically did write 50,000 words. But there was absolutely no heart in that story. I'm sure you can guess why.

I set it aside, thinking that was the end of it. (But oh, how that ended up not being true!)

~ PRO-TIP: ~

Never, ever, EVER EVER EVER x 1000000 chase a trend.

1) If you aren't inspired to write the story, then that will transfer onto the page. Readers will sense your boredom -- and they won't enjoy reading your book. (More on not writing the boring stuff here.)

2) By the time you even publish the book anyway (unless you're an indie writer), the trend will have passed. Publishers are buying books 1.5-2 years in advance, so by the time that trend you're copying has actually hit shelves -- oh yeah, publishers moved on from it months and months ago.

Also, don't ever write a book for NaNoWriMo just to write a book for NaNoWriMo. While Screechers eventually morphed into a story I loved, it is 10000% unrecognizable from the original idea. There was no need for me to write 50,000 words of crap that I didn't enjoy writing and will never, ever use again.

Write a book for NaNo (or Camp NaNo!) because you love the story and want to tell it -- and because you need an extra kick in the pants to get it done.

In 2011, I once more tackled NaNoWriMo. At this time, I had sold Something Strange & Deadly to HarperTeen, and we'd finished editing the book -- meaning it was time to tackle the sequel!

I had only a vague notion of what the story was, and because the timing worked well with NaNoWriMo, I flung myself in.

And you know what happened? A GIANT MESS. I did not know where the story was going, but in my determination to get words out and beat NaNo, I wrote WHATEVER.

In the end, I had very little that was useful on my hands and a lot of frustration.

What's TERRIBLE, though, is that I did the exact same thing to myself the next year, 2012! With the final book in the trilogy, Strange & Ever After.

Like, you would think I would start to understand my own process by then, but OH NO.

In fact, it took me a another 6 years -- yeah, THIS YEAR, 2018 -- to finally, finally understand my own creativity.

So I wasted another NaNoWriMo writing messy words that I ultimately threw out.

I was, at least, smart enough after another wasted-word-debacle to lower my personal goals during NaNoWriMo. Starting in 2013, I worked on either revising things I'd already written (TE3!) or else shooting for a much lower goal (like 2014, when I was working on a for fun side project).

After that, though, I had to take a break. Witchlands deadlines were NO JOKE (and I was woefully stuck on Sightwitch and Windwitch), so no more NaNoWriMo for me.

~ PRO-TIP: ~

It's okay to set your own goals for NaNoWriMo -- be a NaNo Rebel!

This year, for example, I set a goal of 25,000 words. So although I'd hoped to hit 50,000 words, I knew from the get-go I probably wouldn't. Like I said above, I started drafting 2,000 words a day in TE3 in early October. I KNEW that by the time November rolled along, I'd be losing steam.

Now, I will hit my 25,000 world goal, and I'm proud of that! That's still a huge accomplishment! And by the end of this month, I'll be getting close to having a finished book.

Or there are other things you can do during NaNoWriMo! If you've got a book that needs revising, do that instead! Or commit to spending two hours a day brainstorming and outlining a new book.

There's so much camaraderie and excitement during November -- tap into it!

Last year (2017), I worked on Bloodwitch.

In hindsight, I can see this was a terrible idea. But Kat and I had just kicked off the Mighty Pens, and I was DETERMINED to participate. I set a goal of 25,000 words and set to work.

What happened? I wrote a bunch of crap. But because I was sending myself into anxiety spirals about deadline, I kept writing after NaNoWriMo. I SHOULD have stopped and recalibrated.

Instead, I just dug into the Very Wrong Trajectory and wrote, wrote, wrote until I hit 60,000 words...

And then my dear friend (and reader) Rachel was like, "This is terrible, Sooz." It was February by then, and I was forced to look at my book and say, "CRAP. I just wasted a bunch of time and words, and Rachel is right."

On the day before my birthday, 2/25/18, after having brainstormed for 2 days straight with my buddy Bracken Fern (aka Alexandra Bracken!), I started completely anew. I threw out the 60,000 words and began from scratch. It was painful, but necessary.

And, I learned the most important lesson I've ever, ever learned about my process -- even more important than the note cards method: I have to take time off between books. I didn't wait but a few weeks between finishing Sightwitch and tackling Bloodwitch.

And so, Bloodwitch wasn't "ready."

Bloodwitch WAS ready eventually, just not in November when I forced myself to get started. Windwitch also took a long time to be ready (and I wasted 200,000 words trying to write that baby!). Sightwitch too! And oh look, TE3 was eventually ready as well! And oh, Screechers as well.

There is no point in writing a book before it is ready. It won't be the Right Story (which I'm a stickler for, y'all know!), and I will only end up throwing away words.

But once the Right Story is there? Once I've got my note cards stacked high enough to fill a shoebox -- once I've mind-mapped and plotted and started to hear the characters voices....started to want to tell their tale... Then oh yeah, it's time.

Note: This isn't an excuse to be lazy and wait for inspiration to strike. Even if I'm not writing words, I am showing up EVERY DAY at my desk and working on the story. Period. And I've talked at length before about the phases in my process. I don't wait on inspiration -- I force that mother f**ker out.

But all of this does explain why -- unless NaNoWriMo overlaps with my I-Am-Ready phase -- this whole "write 50,000 words during November" isn't always good for me.

I had no plans to do NaNo this year; I was just going to run the Mighty Pens with Kat and our volunteers...

But then TE3 reappeared in my brain during October and demanded to be written. So here I am, 60,000 words in, but only 21,000 words into NaNoWriMo. Rather than barrel onward just to hit a goal, I'm stepping aside. I might hit 25,000 words by the end of the month -- I might not. I'm back in my "input and brainstorming phases," and I'd rather lean into my process than force out words I'll eventually throw away.

~ PRO-TIP: ~

Don't beat yourself up if you don't win NaNoWriMo.

And don't beat yourself up if you don't hit your own personal goal either. I bet you have more than you started with, and any progress is just that: PROGRESS.

It's also okay to simply not participate and support from the sidelines. Sponsor a Mighty Pen or host word sprints on Twitter. Buy your buddy a coffee or let them bounce ideas off you (or vent know...50,000 words in one month!).

Either way, NaNoWriMo is meant to be a FUN time -- not a miserable one. Enjoy the ride, however long you take it for, and remember: it's a tool. Use it in whatever way works best for you (or not at all).

Upcoming Events:


Nothing for now! But stay tuned for a tour in February, when Bloodwitch releases!


As always, thank you for reading! Have a wonderful Friday and weekend!
(I will be binging Dragon Age: Inquisition. Again.)

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Susan Dennard
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I'm a misfit, a daydreamer,
a fangirl, an animal-lover,
a feminist killjoy,
and a gluten-free
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