For Readers & Writers
from Susan Dennard
M&D Issue #140

June 28, 2019

What's in this heart-to-heart?

Recent Goings On:

FINALLY, summer has arrived. After a month of rain and cold, the sun is finally out and the heat is rising.

Summer is my favorite season. By a LOT. Give me alllllll the humidity and mosquitos, thanks! ☀️

Also, I got a new car! I don't say this to brag, but rather because it took me 5 years to finally buy it. And it wasn't a pretty road to get here.

Read the full backstory here—and may you learn sooner than I did to divorce yourself from toxic internal bargains.

What I’m Playing

Yes, I'm playing it AGAIN. It's my comfort food, alright?
What I’m Reading

No, it's not a book-book, but I'm prepping for a new campaign. Gotta be ready.

For the DenNerds:


Witchlands Teaser + The Luminaries

The Luminaries adventure is still going strong on Twitter (follow along here or with the hashtag #TheLuminaries). So far, readers have narrowly escaped death a few times, but as of today, TERRIBLE THINGS HAVE UNFOLDED.

What will you choose? ✨

Aaaaand, as promised in the title, here’s a fun little teaser for you from the next Witchlands book (Iseult’s book!).

It’s from the prologue, narrated by a tricksy corvid you’ve seen in Windwitch and Bloodwitch—but got to actually hang out with in Sightwitch.

In other words, everyone’s favorite animal companion (even more favorite than Blueberry, I think): THE ROOK.

Happy reading! 😌


He does not make it far, though, before he catches sight of her. She sits atop the stone overhang. High, high, where no one else can see, and wrapped in brown furs that camouflage her against the rock.

No human eye would have noticed her there. But the Rook’s eyes have not been human for so very long.

She holds out her arm and smiles gloriously at him. Rosy light warms her face—a different face than the last time he saw her. This iteration is young. Just a child, in fact.

He recognizes her instantly, though—the one made of stone and bat-song. She was always his favorite.


P.S. In case you missed it, I shared two other teasers on Instagram recently! One is also from the next Witchlands book...

And the other is from an upcoming SURPRISE. 😉

For the Daydreamers:

Get Ready for Camp NaNoWriMo!

Camp NaNoWriMo kicks off on Monday, so to get all of you campers ready, I thought I’d share a post I did back in October. It was intended to help writers get ready for regular ol’ NaNo, but all the advice I shared then still applies now.

Good luck and happy writing, my friends!

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 raised money for them and their Young Writers program with The Mighty Pens.

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

Oh, I can totally write 50,000 words in a month (and seem to at least once a year), 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've  learned along the way.

I tackled my first NaNoWriMo in 2009. (The same month I got married, actually -- fun fact.)

The book was a MESS, since it was my second attempt ever at finishing a novel. Prior to that, I'd only ever written 30-50 pages before abandoned ship. And while I had finished one complete novel before, I had known it was terrible. I had known it wasn't sellable, and I hadn't adored the idea enough to go to the trouble 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 of 2009, and I had finished of 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!), 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 is going to need a lot of revising.

Even if you're not a beginner, your first draft will probably 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 it. 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 will have moved on from it months and months ago.

Also, don't ever write a book for NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNo JUST to write a book for NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNo. 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 down 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 in 2012! With the final book in the trilogy, Strange & Ever After.

I mean, 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 (The Executioners Three!) 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 Camp NaNo or NaNoWriMo -- be a NaNo Rebel!

This past NaNoWriMo, 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.

And the reality was that I didn’t. I ended up with ~35,000 words by the end, and honestly, that’s still pretty incredible.

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 NaNo and Camp NaNo -- tap into it!

For NaNoWriMo 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. After I was already shooting down the wrong train track.

In hindsight, I SHOULD have stopped and recalibrated. Instead, I just dug into my Very Wrong Trajectory and wrote, wrote, wrote until I hit 60,000 words...

And then my dear friend (and reader) Rachel read what I had....and she said, "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 had 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’s 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 I did, and it was a purely joyful experience.
~ PRO-TIP: ~

Don't beat yourself up if you don't win Camp NaNo or 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. 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, Camp NaNo and NaNoWriMo are 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:


August 1-4
Indianapolis, IN
Full schedule to come!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tomorrow is DnD night, so I know mine will be great.


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Copyright © 2019
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

110 West 40th St.
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I'm a misfit, a daydreamer,
a fangirl, an animal-lover,
a feminist killjoy,
and a gluten-free
cookie-eater. 🐙
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