What Should We Call Me?

After many months and more rounds of edits than probably healthy, cover reveal day is finally here for my forthcoming fantasy novel Off Book. A rather meta-humor story (where the characters in it are well aware that they’re characters in a book) I think the title suits it.


Of course… that wasn’t always the title. Just like the several edits the overall story went through between initial writing and now, the book’s title has gone through no less than four iterations (after being discussed in multiple marketing meeting). And so it seemed to be the perfect day to discuss just what makes a good title.

1. Don’t feel like you need a title right away.

Some authors come up with their titles before ever putting pen to paper, some are still looking for a good one as they get a query ready to send. Personally, I find coming up with titles feels more difficult than actually writing a full novel half the time and so I often have “working titles” while writing a book that will likely change three or four times before I’ve reached “the end” There is absolutely no problem with not having a title while you’re working on a book. Just make sure that you can always find your file if you work on a computer by having a “working title” that is distinct enough (for example, title it after your main character rather than just “Story” or “Untitled”)

2. Look for strong themes

Either while planning (if you like to title before writing a book), writing (if you like to title while in process), or editing (if you like to title after) keep an eye out for strong themes you could build a title around. Is your character dealing with a certain emotion? Look for words that embody that. Does your character have a distinct name? Try to figure out if there is a way use that (one of the early titles of Off Book was Ashes to Ashes because of the character’s last name, for example, though more on that later). Once you have some focus, it will become easier to narrow down title options.

3. Consider if this is part of a series.

If you are writing a series, take into consideration if there are any title patterns you will want to use. Many series try to use similar sounds for their books. For example George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords…), Traci Borum’s Chilton Crosse Series (Painting the Moon, Finding the Rainbow…), or even my own Broken Line Series (The Copper Witch, The Porcelain Child, The Paper Masque) Each book has a unique title, but follows the same pattern (A ____ of ____. ___ing the ____. The ____ ____) If you are coming up with the title for a later book of a series, try to find a way to tie it to the previous books. If you are titling the first book of a series, try to come up with something that will allow for similar follow-up titles.

4. Do some market research.

This is where things can get a little bit trickier, for while titles can be just as creative as the books inside the cover, titles are largely about marketing. You want to find something that catches the reader’s eye, fits the feel/genre of the book, and (where many people get tripped up) doesn’t get lost in search results. It is not possible to copyright a title so just because someone has used a certain title before doesn’t mean you can’t. Just because you can, however, doesn’t mean you should. While one of my working titles was Ashes to Ashes, going with that would have likely been a bit of a marketing nightmare. Enough books (and TV shows) have used that title that it was likely my book would get lost far down the search results. Another possibility (Between the Lines) while considered ended up bringing up a number of Romance novels when researched. You don’t necessarily need to go for entirely unique, but you don’t likely want to end up with your book being the 5000th of the same name or immediately assumed to be a different genre than it is because you pick a name associated with a number of [other genre] books. A quick search at the Amazon Kindle Store or otherwise online will help you get an idea if you are on the right track with what you’ve come up with so far.

5. Let your publisher help you.

If you are self publishing, it is up to you to come up with something you can market well, but if you are working with a traditional publisher, listen to their marketing team. You can fight for a title you’ve come up with if you want, but publishers generally have a good reason for asking for title changes (most often having to do with how they intend to market your book) so being willing to work with them will help you down the road. Always consider a title a “working title” until your book hits the shelf.

Off Book: Coming soon from REUTS Publications. Read more about it here, request to be part of the blog tour here, or find it on Goodreads

Twenty-year-old Eloise has learned all she can from the School, where characters live until joining their novels. No one knows genre and plot structure better than her, but despite her knowledge, she’s yet to be assigned to her own story. All her friends are off starting their lives with their authors—and if Eloise doesn’t get assigned soon, she’ll fade away, forgotten by all.

When she is suddenly offered a job at the Recording Office, she takes the chance to write her own future. Suddenly living among the post-storied, Eloise meets Barnaby Fitzwilliam, a former romance novel hero who hasn’t lost any of his in-story charm. But just as their relationship begins to get serious, everything Eloise has been taught gets turned upside down when she’s sucked into a novel she was never meant to be part of.

Now, caught where the only rules are made by the authors and truly anything is possible, Eloise must find her way back home—or else her life might end before she ever gets the chance to live it.

Set in a world dictated by Authors, OFF BOOK explores the story beneath the stories we all know and love, taking readers and characters alike on an adventure just waiting to be written.


Where to Start

Happy Halloween, or as it’s known around my house, Happy “Oh god, it’s the day before NaNoWriMo…” Day

For those who don’t know (and possibly have never visited this blog before) NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month” and is a time when writers of all levels come together to try to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

It can be a contested (sometimes loathed) event amongst those in the publishing world (mostly having to do with authors submitting unedited, literally “written in a month” books to agents or publishers December 1st) but for those who use it as motivation, it is a great program. After all, even if you only end up writing 1,000 words over the entire month, it’s 1,000 words you didn’t have in October. NaNoWriMo serves to be the kick in the pants some of us need to put our butts in a chair and start writing.

And, as long as you edit, it’s entirely possible to end up with good stories.


All of the above, and my newest fantasy novel contracted with Red Adept Publishing, were partially (or entirely) written during NaNoWriMo.

Of course, with kickoff just around the corner, I have seen many authors asking how or where they’re supposed to start their novels. And it’s understandable. It tends to be much easier to write when you’re already in the flow of things rather than when you’re staring at a blank page.

Short answer: Start writing with whatever scene comes to you. Yes, openings are very important when it comes to publishing (if you don’t catch an agent/publisher/reader within the first 1000 words or so, your odds of them contracting you drastically drops) but as long as you do go back and edit (several times) before sending a manuscript off, it doesn’t matter. Many people end up cutting their first scene or two once they’ve written the full book because they realize they came in too early. Others end up adding a few scenes because they came in too late. It is actually often times easier to see where you need to start after you’ve ended. As long as you start getting words down on the page, it doesn’t matter what your opening sentence, paragraph, or even scene is.

Long answer: For those who want a little more advice when it comes to picking an opening scene, look to your plot structure. While you will tend to have some exposition at the beginning of novels, you generally want to start as close to the inciting incident as possible. You picked the story you are writing for a reason–hopefully because you find it interesting. Don’t waste time with scenes that aren’t involved in the story you want to tell. So, if your story follows a cop chasing a serial killer, it is perfectly fine to start with your characters finding the first body rather than with your cop waking up and going to work one day. Or even your cop going through the police academy, meeting his/her partner, being promoted to detective, and whatever else happened before your story actually starts. As an author, you will always know more about your character’s background than your reader will likely need to know. If it helps you in your rough draft to info dump some of that backstory right at the beginning of your novel, feel free to. You will just generally find the story flows better once you get rid of that come editing time.

But, hey, that’s what editing is for. Don’t stress it.

And… Scene.

Today’s question: “For awhile now I’ve had so much problems in ending scenes. I’m stuck on one particular scene in one chapter for a week before I move on to another scene and the same thing happens over and over again. What I like to ask is how do you know when to end the scene? How do your own scenes work out?”

Working as both a creative writing teacher and an editor, I have seen my share of first novels. Having seen so many, I can safely say first novels run the gauntlet from awe-inspiring to a little cringe-worthy (like my first novel was…), but no matter the inherent skill level, scenes often cause authors problems. How to start one, how to end one, it can be a bit of a headache.

Because starting and ending suddenly can feel unnatural, many beginning writers start scenes with a character waking up and end with them falling asleep. Besides being an easy way for critics to point out “new” writers (or at least ones that haven’t mastered that aspect of writing yet), the problem with this method is that you either end up with a lot of “filler” (things that happen that aren’t important) or something like this:

“I never want to speak to you again!” John yelled slamming the door in Sam’s face.

Really upset, John stormed upstairs, sitting on his bed as he tried to forget everything that had happened. When that didn’t work, he finally took a shower. Coming out ten minutes later, he was finally calm enough to sleep. He crawled into bed and turned off the light, closing his eyes.

While not bad for something like NaNoWriMo where you’re trying to up your word count, paragraphs like that are not especially engaging to read, meaning it can slow the pacing of the story at best, and lose you readers/get you slammed in reviews at worse.

So, if starting and stopping at the natural points of waking up and falling asleep are out, how exactly do you structure a scene?

Remember one cardinal rule: Start when the action starts. End when the action ends.

As far as prose goes, novels are the longest common form. Where short stories tend to clock in under 10,000 words, novels are often ten times that (if not even longer, like some epics). That does not, however, mean that there should be filler. Every scene in a novel should serve a purpose, be it introducing an important concept, serving as character building, or advancing the plot. If there is any scene (or any part of a scene) that doesn’t serve a purpose, it’s something that should likely be cut on the editing floor.

This includes summaries of unimportant things that happen between the actual action of a scene and some arbitrary cut off (the character going to sleep, class ending, etc.) There is absolutely no reason in the above example that you can’t end with John slamming the door. If something important happens afterward, you certainly don’t have to, but in the above example, all John does is sit, shower, and then go to bed. Not exciting to read, not character building, and certainly not advancing the plot, there is no reason to have it there.

But what if there’s a large chunk of time that’s going to pass between action? How will the reader know that things aren’t happening right in a row if you don’t explain time is passing?

Simple, you throw in a single line that time has passed at the beginning of the next scene.

For example, in my new novella, The Copper Rebelliontwo days pass between the end of chapter six and the start of chapter seven. Chapter Six ends as soon as the action is done (in this case, the character figuring something out with the ending line, “And that wasn’t good”). Chapter Seven starts:

“Adela took a deep breath, steeling her resolve. She’d let it sit two more days. And that was two days too long” 

That’s it. No summary of what had happened the past two days. No filler. With the second and third sentence, the reader knows that it has been two days since the last scene and can assume that nothing important happened those days (at least not to the story). Especially in a novella there’s no reason to waste space with “She sat around one day. Went out riding. Had dinner, etc. etc.” either as filler scenes or as a paragraph telling the reader these things have happened before the start of the important information, but even in a novel, the same holds true.

Similarly, if your characters are driving somewhere because they start in A and the story is actually in B–and nothing interesting happens on the way/nothing that is important to the plot–it is perfectly okay to have something like:

“Let’s go!” Jane threw the car in gear, pulling out of the driveway.


The New York Skyline came into view, Jane nearly ready to cry with joy. A week in the car with John and Miranda would be enough to make the Dali Lama snap.

Again, a week has passed. The characters have made it from their house to New York. The reader can assume they haven’t missed anything important by not seeing miles of road tick by or having a summary about how nothing, in fact, has happened.

As with everything else in writing, figuring out the perfect place to start and end scenes is something that becomes simpler with practice. But by approaching each scene looking for what’s important–figuring out where the action is–it becomes much simpler.

Write, Edit, Publish: The Best of The Jessica Dall Blog

June 17th is here once again, and that means one thing. It’s my birthday. And to celebrate, I have a gift for all you readers out there:


Write, Edit, Publish includes some of this site’s most popular blog posts compiled into a downloadable eBook, covering everything from staring with a blank page to working on getting a manuscript published.

Download for FREE right here: Write, Edit, Publish [PDF]

Or FREE on Smashwords: Write, Edit, Publish

(Soon available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble)


Write, Edit, Publish articles include:

Section One: Writing

Getting Started

Writing Prompts

Finding Time to Write

Writing through Writer’s Block

Inner Filters

Character Naming

What’s in a Name?

Historical Naming

Who are you, again?


From Premise to Plot

“Accidental Plagiarism”

[X] Types of Plot


Making Your Characters Believable

Character Flaws

“Plot Device” Disorders

Just a Pretty Face


You Don’t Say

Floating Dialogue


Writing Shakespeare

Head Jumping


Section Two: Editing

Editing 101

Plot and Plot Holes

The Ever-Dreaded Plot Holes

A Wizard Did It

That’s Just…Wrong


The Problem with Pronouns

The Unneeded Words

All of a sudden, he was suddenly there

Critique Groups

How to Take a Critique

Crises of Confidence

The Nitty-Gritty

Does Length Matter?

Eh, it’s not my style

“Intensive Purpose”


Section Three: Publishing

Self, Vanity, Traditional Publishing

Shoot the Shaggy Dog


How to Get Published

Submissions 101

Wishlists and Trends

Word Counts

Word Limits

Copyrights and Contracts


Novel Blogs

Toe Tappin’ Copyrights


Novel Layout Tips

Historical Naming

Interesting question today: “When writing historical fiction, do you have a hard time coming up with names? Is there a list of when particular personal names were first used? I have written some fiction that is historical and I’m worried the use of a name or names that were unknown in that period might put some people off because of the inaccuracy.

I have written before about how names can be astoundingly important to how both authors and readers respond to characters in stories. It makes complete sense that having a “Neveah” and “McKenzie” wandering around Elizabethan England would be a problem.

Luckily writers have a few resources for looking for “historically accurate” names:

1. BehindtheName.com: One of my favorite sites for finding names in general, behindthename.com (and its sister site surnames.behindthename.com) is a great resource when trying to find appropriate names for historical characters. With popularity lists reaching back to 1880 (with John and Mary topping the charts), you can very easily find names that would suit a story based in the Victorian era forward (it even lists just how popular the names were at the time: 8.15% of boys born were named John and 7.24% of girls named Mary, for example).



For earlier names, you have to do a little more digging, but by looking up specific names you can find out about the history of a name, including first origin, famous bearers, and popularity charts (see above). For example, for ‘Mary’ you’ll find:

In England [Mary] has been used since the 12th century, and it has been among the most common feminine names since the 16th century.

For a name like ‘Jessica’, however, you’ll find:

This name was first used in this form by Shakespeare in his play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ (1596), where it belongs to the daughter of Shylock … It was not commonly used as a given name until the middle of the 20th century.

So where you would be more than safe naming a character “Mary” in the middle of the War of the Roses, “Jessica” is probably better suited for a character born in the 1980s or 1990s (#1 or #2 for most popular name from 1981 – 1997).

2. Historical Figures: If you are writing historical fiction you have most likely (hopefully) done some research into the time period. While doing that sort of reading, you have likely come across people who were important to the time period. For example, following the Elizabethan/Tudor example, you might see Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Edward VI, Katherine Parr, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, William Shakespeare, Thomas Moore, Walter Raleigh…and the list goes on and on and on. It is therefore reasonable to assume that you are “time period appropriate” using any of those given names in the time period.

Edward VI--meaning there had already been six other kings with his name by the 1500s.

Edward VI–meaning there had already been five other kings with his name by the 1500s.

If you are interested in genealogy/have done any family research, it is also possible to use your own family tree for inspiration. If you have an ancestor named “Samuel” who fought in the Civil War, you’re likely safe making your 1860’s character’s name ‘Samuel’.

3. Historical Records: Assuming you are writing about a time period that includes a written language/has some “primary source” documents surviving, you are likely to be able to find names off censuses/tax rolls/etc. The more “modern” the time period, the simpler it will be to find these sorts of records (for example, the U.S. Census Bureau released the 1940 Census records in 2012 for interested parties), but it is possible to find things like the 1319 London Subsidy Roll online which will provide you with names such as Johannes (“John”) and Thomas which were both highly popular in London at the time.

1850s Census with names galore (assuming you can read cursive)

1850s Census with names galore (assuming you can read cursive)

(Note: Sources I have easily found online do tend to be highly euro-centric, but as long as you are writing about a “record-keeping” society you should be able to find something [i.e. it will be easier to find records from England or China than it will from nomadic groups]).

4. Figure out naming conventions: This is another one your previous research will aid in, but if you are looking for names on Behind the Name (or another similar site) this should help point you in the right direction. It’s just about following trends. For example, naming oneself after royalty/the ruling class has always been popular, thus you will find more children born after the Norman Conquest with French-based names (from watching how many King Henrys and Charleses there are in both England and France early on, you can see the name bleed-over). Similarly, Puritans were big fans of “virtue” names (Charity, Mercy, Remembrance…) by picking a virtue name for your fictional character on the Mayflower, your name will fit in without “copying” a famous name.

(Note: It is also important to pay attention to naming conventions when it comes to things such as surnames and name order. Would your characters have patronymic names (Greta Hansdatter, James FitzJames, Phillip son of Coul) a geographic indicator (Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci), their family name first (as it common in many Asian countries), or no second name at all? Those details help with the authenticity of your characters).

As with everything else in historical fiction, research is your friend. As long as you know the time period you’re using, you shouldn’t have a problem coming up with names.


Want to carry this and other posts with you wherever you go? Download Write, Edit, Publish for free today.

Editing 101

As I head into edits for Book 2 of The Broken Line Series (The Porcelain Child, for those who are wondering), I have been asked for some editing tips for when you are taking a stab at going through the several thousand words of a rough draft.

Of course, there are no set rules anyone must follow when it comes to editing your own work. Much like writing, it’s about developing a style that works for you. To help take the first steps, however, I have included the “standard” advice I have heard when it comes to editing and my own thoughts on each.

1. Take a break after you have written it. Whether it’s a day or Stephen King’s suggested six weeks, the first piece of advice most writers hear when it comes to thinking of editing. In my own opinion, this isn’t bad advice, if you start right into editing the moment you write “the end” you will likely still be in writing mode and miss a lot of problems you might otherwise. Of course, if there are still large portions of the story you know you will have to rewrite, taking yourself out of this mindset might be detrimental.

Verdict: If you are ready for straight editing, take a break. Possibly even work on another project that will take your mind off things. If you need large swaths of rewrites/changes, go ahead and start right away. (Personal caveat–if you are writing a series and have a publisher waiting for books 2 and 3, it’s probably best to go right into edits so you can send that off before they yell at you…)

2. Just do a read through. After you have taken a break, the most common advice I’ve heard is to read through the manuscript without making any changes. While this is good if you need to put yourself in another mindset (if you need “editor” brain, rather than “writer” brain) I have never personally followed this advice. I never make big changes on the first read through (unless I was already rewriting a section, as mentioned in Step 1) but reworking wording here and there to fix problems will not make or break how you edit.

Verdict: It is a good idea not to start making sweeping changes on your first go through (otherwise you might find yourself causing more problems than you fix) but, unless you need “editor” brain to work, you can feel free to make changes as you go along on your first read through.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Yes, grammar is important, but it is not the most important thing at the beginning stages of editing. If you realize after your first read through that a character simply isn’t working or there’s a plot hole that needs to be taken care of, deal with that before you work on the exact wording for one sentence and worry about if you should have subjunctive tense or not in another. If you end up reworking entire scenes, you’ll likely find new typos popping up anyway. Don’t worry about those until the big pieces have all fallen into place.

Verdict: Definitely good advice for an early go through. There’s a reason copy edits always come after content edits when working with a publisher. Grammar and spelling are important, but not until everything else is taken care of.

Note, “big pieces” generally include:

  • Plot holes
  • Characterization problems
  • Info dumps rather than interwoven back story
  • Inconsistent tone
  • Unnecessary/repetitive scenes
  • Missing scenes

Along with anything that will perhaps require substantial rewrites and/or added/deleted text.

4. Read it Out Loud. Once you’ve gotten the big things ironed out, one of the best ways to hear if a sentence is off is to read it out loud. I find this especially helps people who have trouble with dialogue. Dialogue is about capturing how people speak, so if seems stiff to say aloud, it’s probably too stiff for the page.

Verdict: If you are still developing your voice as a writer, or have a specific problem with clunky sentences/dialogue, reading aloud is a great way of fixing that. If you are more seasoned/can “hear” how it sounds in your head, it isn’t as necessary, though it can still be helpful.

5. Read it Backwards. Having moved on from the large problems, reading backwards is what I have often heard suggested for catching typos. Not caught up in the story, you are more likely to see that that “the” was supposed to be “they”. Since half of grammar to me is being able to pause over what doesn’t sound correct in a sentence, personally, I don’t find this as helpful a step as others, but the idea holds: Find some way to take yourself away from the story and focus on the words themselves.

Verdict: While the principle holds true, this might be more helpful in finding spelling mistakes than grammar if you “write by ear” like I do. (Personal note, I prefer running my stories through a text-to-speech program. While may miss a typo, since I know what I meant to say in a sentence, hearing a mechanical voice say “The walked down…” will let you catch the/they just as easily [if not more so] than reading backwards).

Once you have gone through a story this far (and are perhaps sick of reading it over and over again) it’s time to call in the beta readers–which means you’re done, until you get all their notes back and have to edit to fix those.

But that’s a post for another time.


Want to carry this and other posts with you wherever you go? Download Write, Edit, Publish for free today.

Layout Templates

Happy New Year’s Eve to everyone (and apologies for the late post this week). Recently I was asked about book and manuscript formatting. While I previously posted some Layout Tips to make your book look more professional when laying out your text yourself, I thought I would now offer a template as a late holiday present.

As a winner’s gift, Createspace offers NaNoWriMo winners a code for free copies of their book when uploaded to Createspace. While I don’t intend to self-publish my NaNo novel (especially not while it’s still a rough draft) I thought it would be fun to at least see what it looked like in book form for now. Thus, not wanting to spend too much time on it, I changed the story format from manuscript to book format. For anyone who is likewise intending to turn their manuscript into a book, I present you with the template I created:

Book Layout [.docx]Book Layout

While (if you’re intending on full self-publishing at professional quality) this template no way replaces what a professional might do, it is a good start for beginners, including all the headers and section breaks you need to upload a word document to a self-publishing platform as a book.

For those who are looking to submit their manuscripts to agents or publishers (after editing, please, please, please) here is my general manuscript formatting (check each agent’s/publisher’s guidelines before submitting, in case they ask for something specific, but a good all-around format to look professional when submitting):

Manuscript Layout [.docx]Manuscript Layout

If anyone has problems downloading the files, please contact me and I’ll be happy to help.

Happy Holidays!

Typing, Print, Cursive

With news of the standard curriculum changing to no longer include cursive making the rounds, there have been a number of arguments surrounding the usefulness of teaching children to write in script. While many make the argument that it is an antiquated skill (and they possibly have a point, what with more and more documents being produced electronically) I have a much more personal connection to cursive than it seems many my age.

You see, when writing, I often prefer to write my first drafts out long hand. Sometimes I actually find it necessary (more than once on my most recent work in progress, I’ve only been able to write long hand while I just end up staring at the cursor on a word processor).

A sample of what nine out of ten notebooks in my house are filled with

When writing long hand, I also tend to solely write in cursive (print is reserved to mark what I intend to italicize when typing everything up). While I am able to write in both print and script quite legibly (I believe), I find writing in print much slower than writing in cursive (what with having to lift  your pen between each letter). The printing shown above was very deliberately my “nice” printing. In fact, if I try to print as quickly as I write in script, it ends up something more like this:

Why it also wobbles up and down, I don’t know.

Still legible, perhaps, but certainly not as pretty as cursive tries to sneak its way back in (I seem to be unable to separate the ‘h’ and ‘e’ in ‘the’ when writing in a hurry). As I tend to write whatever comes to me, I am thus not able to print quickly enough to keep up with my mind without the letters beginning to resemble chicken scratch (perhaps what those who knew me in middle school would remember as just my writing…)

But Jessica, you may be asking, if you don’t like printing, why don’t you just type? That’s what kids will likely find most useful in the future anyway. To which I say, fair question, rhetorical person. Typing likely will be a more important skill for children to learn in their lives–especially if their writing ventures tend to consist of school papers and emails.

As a writer, though, I still must make my case for writing longhand (and thus cursive) for a just a few reasons:

1. You think better writing longhand.

Seriously. There have been entire articles about it. While I don’t know if it is the reason (or only reason) I have been able to power through writer’s block with a pen when Microsoft Word fails me, there have been plenty studies that prove students learn better when writing things out by hand than with typing. To quote the article linked above:

“Writing stimulates a bunch of cells at the base of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you’re actively focusing on at the moment—something that the physical act of writing brings to the forefront.

“Dr. Virginia Berniger, who studies reading and writing systems and their relationship to learning processes, found that children’s writing ability was consistently better (they wrote more, faster, and more complete sentences) when they used a pen rather than a keyboard…The difference, Berniger notes, may lie in the fact that with writing, you use your hand to form the letters (and connect them), thereby more actively engaging the brain in the process. Typing, on the other hand, involves just selecting letters by pressing identical-looking keys.”

Of course, some people are much more comfortable typing and that allows them to work more easily when not worrying about writing, but the very act of writing longhand engages the brain in ways typing does not, and that is helpful for many.

2. You can write on the go.

As smartphones and tablets become more and more common, pen and paper may begin to lose their advantage here, but for now, pen and paper wins out for easy writing on the go. You can get a small notebook from Office Depot for 99¢ (you aren’t going to get the cheapest tablet for that) and throw it in your purse without giving up much space, worrying about it running out of battery, or having to figure out how to type with any speed on a touch screen. Even lacking a notebook, you can almost always find a scrap of paper somewhere to scribble down ideas. There’s something poetic about starting a best seller on a napkin (like J.K. Rowling!) that just isn’t there trying to type out something on your smartphone before it dies.

3. It streamlines the editing process.

“But you’re just going to have to type it up anyway,” rhetorical question-asker argues. “Agents/publishers aren’t going to take handwritten manuscripts.” Well, yeah, but you also aren’t going to (hopefully) be sending in a rough draft of a work to an agent/publisher in the first place. Once you have finished your first draft, you then have the chance to start first-round edits as you type up what you have already written. Really hate this one scene? Rewrite it. Think that sentence could be better? Tweak it as you’re typing things up. Rearrange. Cut scenes. Add scenes. You can do it all while typing what you’ve written up. It’s all stuff you should be doing anyway.

4. You always have a backup .

Hopefully you already have a backup of your manuscript (or multiple), but in the event that the machines finally rise up and become our masters, it’s always comforting to know that there’s at least a draft of what you’ve done somewhere to work with rather than losing everything (or, perhaps more likely, should your laptop and external hard drive get stolen, it’s far less likely for a burglar to grab a stack of already-used notebooks on their way out). Can you lose a notebook? Of course. Could it be destroyed? Yep. But it isn’t going to be taken out by clicking on the wrong link one day or an airport scanner wiping your computer hard drive (latter one has happened to me in the past. Thank god for external hard drives).

5. You won’t get (as) distracted.

Ok, there’s really no limit in being able to find distractions when you don’t want to write (I really should reorganize this bookshelf…) but by writing on paper, you have one less potential time waster easily accessible. Sure, there are writing programs that allow you to write “full screen” these days, so you don’t see things popping up to distract you while you type, but really, it’s so much easier to hit that little escape button and check Facebook “just for a second” then it is when you’re writing in a notebook.

5. You have something to auction off when you’re rich and famous.

I know, I know, this one’s a bit wishful thinking…but what author really doesn’t want to think about their first drafts being auctioned off for big money once they’ve hit Stephen King levels of fame? Selling a flashdrive with an old draft of your Word Document just doesn’t have the same draw.

And so, there are my reasons for still writing longhand (beyond “it helps me write” and “I like it”). Do I begrudge schools for finding other skills than cursive more important these days? No, I completely understand the argument. Do I plan on teaching my children how to write in script all the same? If at all possible, you can bet on it.

The End?

Happy Halloween! And with the last day of October here, midnight means one thing–the start of NaNoWriMo.

Yeah, I’m the second one.

Now, I’ve never done a midnight kickoff party (probably as Halloween hasn’t fallen on a Friday or Saturday since I started participating), but all over the forums tell me there are novelists ready to head out for their first write-in as the clock hits midnight.

What the forums also tell me is that a number of plotters out there are feeling the crunch for figuring out the ending of the novel they’ve spent much of October outlining.

For those who aren’t familiar/haven’t heard me use the term before, NaNoWriMo tends to divide participants into one of two groups: the Plotters (who outline their plot before the start of NaNoWriMo to work off of) and the Pantsers (who “fly by the seat of their pants” and write whatever comes to them at the spur of the moment). Both for November and in general, I tend to be the latter. If I don’t have a good reason to work out some rough outline (namely it’s a part of a series) I tend to start writing whatever comes to me. So far it has served me pretty well.

So why, then, do I feel at all qualified to address the plotters out there about their style? Mostly because, even if you need everything else plotted out, I feel there is some merit in not knowing your ending. If your story doesn’t spring to life with the ending already in place in your mind, there is no need to stare at your outline worrying about how you can’t write until you know if the Main Character (MC) is going to die, if the final game will be won, or really anything that happens after your climax. Once you get to that point, where you’ve been with these characters for thousands of words, figured out the tone of the book, and seen how everything actually fits together–sometimes it suddenly makes sense.

And so, if you are furiously wracking your brain trying to come up with an ending before the stroke of midnight, relax. Sometimes outlines change as you are writing. Sometimes you just need all the pieces before the last one will fall into place. Just certainly don’t feel like you’re going to fail November if you can’t think of an ending right this second. NaNoWriMo is about being a little crazy, so go with the feeling and just start. Who knows, you might be like me and find it more interesting when you don’t know how the story will end before you get there.


To learn more about NaNoWriMo, go to nanowrimo.org. Good luck to all participating!