So You Plan to Try NaNoWriMo

Because so many people participate or are now aware of it, I probably don’t have to explain that November is National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. But the first year I participated, back when Stegosaurus still roamed the plains, I had the same conversation a lot.

ME: I’m going to try to write a novel in a month.
OTHER PERSON: Why would you do that?

There’s really only one requirement. You write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. It’s a word count goal that is challenging but definitely doable if you apply yourself. And I still enjoy doing it every year, because it’s a time to focus on one project and engage with a bunch of other writers, and it’s a tremendous amount of fun.

I’ve participated in every NaNoWriMo since 2002. Not all of those novels were good, or even complete. (In the early years, I had no idea what I was doing). But my published books that started out as NaNoWriMo novels include The Windup, Show and Tell, Such a Dance, and Ten Days in August. From 2003 until 2013, I also acted as municipal liaison for New York City, meaning that on top of writing, I also planned events for the region and wrote weekly pep talks.

Basically, I have some experience with all this. And although there’s still a rational part of my brain that’s like, “A novel in a month? Why would you do that?” I’ve figured out how to do it. So I thought I’d offer some tips.

1. Plan WHAT you will write. “But I’m a pantser!” Yes. I get that. I’m not saying you need a detailed outline. But consider jotting down a few words about who your characters are. Write a paragraph describing the basics of the plot. Think about why you are writing this story—what’s at the center of what you want to say. Because I’ll tell you a secret: When I sit down to write knowing what I’m going to write and where the story is going, the writing goes much faster. I don’t stare at the blinky cursor or try to reason out what’s going to happen. I just sit down and write.

I’ll tell you another secret: a lot of advanced planning makes my first drafts really solid. One of the prevailing ideas about NaNoWriMo is that, if you’re writing that fast, it all must be complete crap. But I’m here to tell you, I had the whole Rainbow League series plotted out in detail before I sat down to write The Windup one November. And while I did have to make some changes and revisions, the final version of The Windup is not substantially different from the first draft I wrote during NaNoWriMo.

(Planning tips: Jami Gold’s Beat Sheets are great. I made my own beat sheet for my writing based on Save the Cat, which ties in nicely with both Jami Gold’s sheets and with Gwen Hayes’s Romance the Beat, which is a book on plotting a romance. Also check out the handout (PDF) from my Plotting for Pantsers workshop.)

(If you’re REALLY allergic to planning, consider sitting down each morning to plan out that day’s writing. Or, if you hit a block, sometimes it helps to plan the next scene—just write out what happens in a paragraph or two.)

2. Plan WHEN you will write Think ahead about when you can make time for writing, because you’ll need a lot of it to write 50,000 words in a month. Think about when you are at your best and most focused. I, for example, am better in the morning. So if I push writing to the end of the day, it kind of feels like pulling teeth. But if I write first thing in the morning, it flows. Figure out when your ideal writing time is, and stick to the plan to write at that time.

3. Try Word Sprints and Pomodoros. The basic idea of the Pomodoro Method is that you work in 25 minute bursts. I do this all the time with my freelance work. I’ve got an app on my phone that tracks the timed bursts of productivity. So a day goes like this: 25 minutes of work with no distractions, then a five minute break where I can check my email or Twitter or whatever, then repeat a few times, then a twenty-minute break, then repeat some more. It sounds silly, but I swear it works. If I just do pomodoros (the 25-minutes of work + 5-minute break unit) all day, I can get a ton done.

Word sprints work similarly. Set a timer (10 or 15 minutes is ideal; anything more than about 20 minutes starts to feel like a slog). Then cut out all distractions and just try to write as much as you can. I do word sprints when I have writer’s block, because forcing myself to write usually gets me through the block. Similarly, you can try a 1k1hr (trying to write 1,000 words in an hour). You can bang out the words for the day in a series of sprints, is my point, and I bet you could do it in less time than you think.

4. Participate in the Community… But Don’t Let It Distract You! There’s a fine line, maybe. I know anecdotally from all my years as a municipal liaison that people who come to write-ins are more likely to make it to 50K than people who don’t. I think we all need that support, or need people to prod us on. Most regions have write-ins (which is what it sounds like; basically everyone shows up at a location, usually a cafe or library, and types away in the company of others), as well as an online forum, a chat room, public social events, etc. This also means it’s possible to be chatty and not write anything, so keep an eye on how you’re using your community time.

5. Try Something New. NaNoWriMo is only a month, so you could view it as a time to experiment. Try a genre you’ve never written before, play around with new tropes, try a different approach. (Try planning, for example, if your usual instinct is to be a pantser.) If it doesn’t work, it’s only a month. But if it DOES work, you could learn something useful about how to write a book.

6. Don’t Look Back! NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for every writer because it requires an approach in which the writer plows forward without revising. I personally have adopted this approach for my writing year-round; I like to churn out a first draft quickly and then take my time revising and polishing it. But I also learned during my very first NaNoWriMo that if I stop to edit, I will definitely not finish.

Some writers need to revise what they just wrote before they can move on, and that’s a valid approach. NaNoWriMo is not for everyone. But if you’ve never tried it, I recommend trying the straight-on-til-morning approach at least once. (And, again, it’s a month. If it fails, go back to your usual approach in December.) Basically, write, and don’t look at what you wrote until December. For some writers, this means changing the font to white so they physically can’t read what’s already written. (For me, it just means no scrolling backward. If I think of something I want to change, I make a note of it in my project notebook—oh, yeah, I have a project notebook—and fix it later.)

For me, it’s better to have the raw material I can revise and shape rather than nothing. I can slay the internal editor and focus on story.

7. A First Draft Is Not a Final Draft. One would think this goes without saying, but I’ve heard from a lot of editors and agents over the years who dread December because they are inundated with half-baked NaNoWriMo novels.

Here’s the deal: 50,000 words is a very short novel. (It’s The Great Gatsby or a Harlequin Presents.) Most novels these days run in the 75–100K range (with some variation, depending on genre). So that 50K you wrote in November is really a jumping off point. Not to mention, if you haven’t read any of what you’ve written, how do you know if it’s good?

Revision is part of the process. In my Other Life, I work on writing and reading books for school-aged kids, and one of the things we always teach are the 5 stages of the writing process: pre-writing, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing. Maybe you want to send your first draft to a beta reader or critique partner, but if you want a book deal, polish that thing before you submit it to the pros!

My advice would be to let it sit in December. After all that noveling time, take a break, reconnect with your family, celebrate your winter holidays. Then read the whole thing after the New Year. The time spent away from it will give you a new perspective. Because NaNo is for first drafts, not final drafts. The purpose is for you to stop saying, “I want to write a novel” and to write it. But November isn’t the end of the story.

I would say also, after all the years of both NaNoWriMo and professional authoring, my approach during NaNoWriMo is not radically different from my approach the rest of the year, but NaNoWriMo gives me an excuse to prioritize writing over some other things in my life—gotta make that daily word count. And if you’re a NaNo veteran, consider changing the challenge: up your monthly word count goal (instead of 50K, aim for 60K or 75K).

Good luck!

Out Now! What’s the Use of Wondering?

Out today! Book 2 in my New Adult WMU series, What’s the Use of Wondering?

Violinist Logan has spent most of his life training for a career in music. But as the pressure mounts during his junior year, he questions whether playing in an orchestra is the future he wants, or one chosen by his parents. His new roommate—that annoying jerk Peter from last year’s production of Guys and Dolls—complicates matters. Crammed into a dorm room with the overconfident but undeniably hot accounting major, Logan can’t stop snarling.

Then Peter sprains his ankle building sets, and Logan grudgingly agrees to play chauffeur. But instead of putting further strain on their relationship, spending time together reveals some common ground—and mutual frustration. Logan discovers he isn’t the only one who doesn’t know what he wants from life, and the animosity between him and Peter changes keys. But just as the possibility of a happier future appears, Logan gets a dream offer that will take him away from Western Massachusetts University—and Peter. Now he has to decide: will he live the solitary life laid out for him, or hold on to Peter and forge his own path?

It’s live at most ebook stores.

Dreamspinner Press: http://bit.ly/WtUoWDSP
Amazon: http://bit.ly/WtUoW

And don’t miss book 1! There Has to Be a Reason

The WMU Series Playlist

What’s the Use of Wondering? contains a lot of musical theater references. (There Has to Be a Reason does, too, since Noel is a prominent member of the Theater Club.) So I’ve put together a Spotify playlist with the songs referenced in both books (and the specific versions referenced when available) and then I threw a bunch of other showtunes on there just for fun. (I tried to include a mix of old classics and new stuff.)

Do you have favorite showtunes I left off? Favorite shows I ignored entirely? I’d love to hear what they are! Some may even find their way onto the playlist.

What’s the Use of Wondering? will be out on Monday. You can pre-order it now from your favorite bookstore! Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

“Rebels at Heart” Now Available!

I’ve released my short story, “Rebels at Heart” as a standalone. This revolutionary war romance was originally part of the For Love and Liberty anthology, which will be going out of print shortly. The standalone story has been revised and slightly expanded.

Description:
Charles Foxworth is among New York City’s most fashionable men, though he is only pretending to be a dashing British aristocrat. Still, he is content with his role and has little interest in the war. His companion, Isaac Ward, has more invested in the coming conflict; Isaac was born a slave, and though he is now free, that freedom could be guaranteed if he chose to pick up arms. Then war arrives on the shores of the city and Charles’s idyll is over. He quickly realizes that the war could take from him the very thing he holds most dear: Isaac.

Please note, this is a 15,000 word story, not a full novel.

You can buy it from any of these fine retailers:
Amazon
B&N
Kobo
iTunes

You can also add it on Goodreads!

Progress Is Not Straight Lines: On Happy Endings in Diverse Historical Romance

At RT, I was on a panel about historical romance set in America. One thing that came up from the authors who write romances with characters who aren’t white is that readers often react with, “I don’t believe these people could have a happy ending.” As someone who has written LGBT characters in historical romance, I’ve gotten this quite a bit, too.

I think we as Americans struggle with our own history, because we know the bad stuff (or think we do). I think that’s one of the reasons there are so few American-set romances right now. And while I do agree that one can’t set a book during the Civil War, say, and not address slavery, I don’t agree that it would be impossible for two African American people to find a happy ending during this era.

I think this idea that POC or LGBT people couldn’t have had happy endings comes from two misperceptions. The first is that, unless you were straight and white, everything has always been terrible. This contributes to the other misperception: that progress only ever moves forward, in straight lines.

The reality is that progress is circular, or it’s two steps forward and one step back. For example, African Americans made tremendous strides in the immediate wake of the Civil War that were undone by the abrupt end to Reconstruction and the creation of Jim Crow laws. But even before that, free men and women were activists and writers, held jobs from which they drew salaries, owned businesses.

Or, in the 1920s, women gained the right to vote. The invention of the bra meant they took off their corsets, which literally allowed more freedom of movement. They were allowed to patronize bars for the first time, to drink and smoke in public. Women got jobs they’d never had before. And a lot of that progress was undone by World War II and a return to traditional gender roles in the 1950s. The women’s movement didn’t begin in the 1960s, or even with Susan B. Anthony in the 1870s. Sojourner Truth, herself born a slave, gave her landmark “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech in 1851. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” in England 1792, and she drew from the same philosophical writings that Jefferson did when writing the Declaration of Independence.

Every time a group makes progress, there is always pushback. And how we think about history is colored by how we’re taught it and who wrote it. (American history was written by white men, mostly, and the textbooks we all read in school are manipulated to tell a certain narrative. See also Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States or James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me.)

Our idea of romance is relatively modern; marriage for love rather than as a business or practical transaction is fairly new, although love as an emotion has existed for centuries, obviously. But I think if we can be moved by a story of love between, I dunno, a rakish veteran of the Napoleonic Wars and a shy bluestocking, in an era when most women married for financial security, we can also believe in a love story between two men or a man and a woman who aren’t white. And people have always defied the odds to find happiness. As humans, we thrive on hope, on the idea that everything will work out. Rebellions and political movements are built on the hope that we can change the world, are they not?

Newlywed couple, ca. 1900

So when a reader says, “I don’t believe two African Americans could have had a happy ending in antebellum America,” I find that problematic. For one thing, some states abolished slavery well before the Civil War. (Slavery was gradually emancipated in New York beginning in the 1790s and ultimately ended in 1827, for example.) This doesn’t mean African Americans didn’t face racism and adversity—they definitely did and still do—but there were places they could settle, make good marriages, have children. (“We’re all here, aren’t we?” is how Beverly Jenkins responded to this question on my RT panel.)

Or, take LGBT people. I had someone tell me once that LGBT people didn’t exist before the mid-20th century, which is of course completely false. LGBT people have existed as long as people have. To give a small example, performing in drag is hardly a new phenomenon. Female impersonators have been dancing on stages in New York City since at least the early 19th century, if not earlier. While it is true, even, that LGBT identities as we now think of them are relatively new—”homosexuality” was coined as a term in the 1880s around the same time scientists became interested in same-sex attraction—homosexual relationships are recorded in history going back millennia.

Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle

I’ve had readers tell me, “I don’t like gay historicals because I don’t believe a gay couple could have had a happy ending in the past.” We assume that life for gay people was terrible and oppressive for all time. And, sure, it was not always easy. In London in the 1830s, for example, more men were hanged on sodomy charges than murder charges. Laws in New York City made it illegal to be gay and drink at a bar until the Stonewall riots. Sodomy laws remained on the books throughout the country into my lifetime.

But! From the late 19th century until about World War II, there were thriving gay communities in New York City, particularly in Greenwich Village, Times Square, and Harlem. (Other cities, too, but I’ve been primarily researching NYC.) The Hotel Astor in Times Square had a gay section of its famous bar during Prohibition, in fact, a little area that was roped off where men seeking men could find each other. (And drink “coffee,” because Prohibition.) There have been gay bars in New York for 200 years, even. By the 1880s, there were dance halls where men were encouraged to play around with gender, and patrons donned makeup and gowns. (And LGBT people were always creating art and new ways to express themselves. The companion book to the Museum of the City of New York’s Gay Gotham exhibit lays this out nicely.)

(I don’t mean to exclude the women, but society generally didn’t consider women to have sex drives, so it wouldn’t have occurred to many people in the 19th century that the two women sharing a house down the road were, in fact, carrying on a sexual relationship. Lesbians have also existed since the beginning of time, but flew under the radar to a certain extent. Men who had sex with men and anyone who was gender non-conforming were more frequently prosecuted.)

(And this is really all tip of the iceberg; I’m not being comprehensive here, just trying to make a point. For example, some Native American tribes had completely different ideas about gender. How amazing would it be to see an Own Voices narrative about that? And other groups have historically faced oppression in the US, everyone from the Irish to the Chinese to Eastern European Jews, and they should have happy endings in romance novels, too.)

But this is what I mean by circular history. George Chauncey, in his fantastic book Gay New York, argues that acceptance for LGBT people was more widespread prior to World War II than after, that what we think we know about how people have been treated historically is short-sighted or incorrect. The progress of LGBT people has not been a straight line, but rather a push-pull of circular progress over the last several centuries. Same for people of color.

The bottom line is that readers who struggle to accept happy endings in historicals for people of color or LGBT people could take a closer look at history, or could reexamine their own assumptions, particularly since so few readers think much of the proliferation of dukes in historical romance (particularly those who end up marrying governesses or maids). More to the point, if romance is the literature of hope, please believe that there was always hope.

(And none of this is to knock British historicals. My love of them is well-documented. But I’d love to see a lot of new American historicals, too, and I think it’s possible to write these well and still incorporate concerns about American history. I am a history buff who loves historical romance, and I’d like to see these integrated!)

But plausibility issues aside, if we can embrace stories about women owning businesses in Regency England or time-traveling Vikings or what have you, why can’t we believe all people could have happy endings in historical fiction? Is there an underlying belief that only some kinds of people could have (or are deserving of) happy endings? At the end of the day, a good story is a good story, so if we can buy werewolves and vampires, why not POC or LGBT people falling in love in the past?

Because I believe Hank and Nicky from Ten Days in August and Eddie and Lane from Such a Dance lived happily ever after—that Charles and Isaac from “Rebels at Heart” retired to their little farm in Pennsylvania to spend the rest of their days together—and I hope you do, too.

Where to Find Me at #RT17

It’s about that time! I’m flying to Atlanta this Sunday for the RT Booklovers Convention, and I am super excited! I can’t wait to see old friends, meet new people, and squee about books. And, of course, I have a lot of cute outfits planned. 😉

Here’s where I’m scheduled to be:

On Monday and Tuesday, I’ll be teaching at the pre-convention writers boot camp.

On Wednesday at 4pm, I’m on a panel about American historical romance with an all-star group of writers including Kianna Alexander, Alyssa Cole, Piper Huguley, Beverly Jenkins, and Joanna Shupe.

On Thursday at 11:15am, I’m playing Apples to Apples with the crew from Dreamspinner Press.

On Thursday at 5:15, I’ll be signing copies of Ten Days in August at the Kensington Peaches and Cream party.

On Saturday, I’ll be signing at the Giant Book Fair and will be roaming around the FAN-tastic Day Party.

You can find my full schedule here.

I’m also donating prizes to Cinema Craptastique and Wheel of Romance, and I’ll have lots of cool goodies to give away. And I’ll be around all week, obviously, so if you’re there, too, be sure to say hi!

The baseball season begins!

Baseball MondaysThe baseball season has just begun! So here’s a bonus Baseball Monday!

If you’ve been around these parts, you may be aware of the fact that I am a huge baseball fan. My sister-in-law had a good insight regarding that recently. In New York, since we have two teams to choose from, she said that whoever was winning more when you were twelve is your team. This is not exactly true in my case—the Yankees sucked when I was twelve—but I did go to my first Yankee game when I was twelve (and they lost, badly, to the Orioles, but it was such a great experience that it kind of imprinted itself on my psyche).

I recently re-watched Ken Burns’s documentary Baseball, and I’ll say, if anyone is ever wondering, “Why does Kate like this sport so much?” watch it to find out. Even if you just watch The Tenth Inning (a follow-up documentary Burns put out a few years ago; the original first aired in 1994), you’ll see “the key years of Kate’s fandom” (the ’90s and ’00s) and my team’s great triumphs (Aaron Boone’s home run to win the 2003 ALCS) and defeats (the Red Sox coming from behind to win the 2004 ALCS and ultimately win the World Series). The documentary is fantastic, and I highly recommend it if you’re even a tiny bit interested in baseball (and have a good number of hours on your hand, because it’s long).

So, hey! Have you caught up with my baseball books? There’s the whole Rainbow League series, about the guys who play for an amateur league. There’s Out in the Field, the story of two Major League ballplayers who fall in love. There’s “One Man to Remember,” my historical novella about a player in Babe Ruth’s shadow in 1927. Four Corners is about four old friends who played baseball together (though the story is really more baseball adjacent). And “What There Is” is a novella about a former ballplayer who falls for his new roommate.

The beginning of the baseball season is great because it’s fresh and new and the prospects for your team always seem positive. Anything can happen! So happy spring and happy baseball!!

Now Available: Show and Tell, 2nd edition

I’m very excited to announce that the second edition of Show and Tell is now live, at least in ebook form. This is, perhaps, the most paranormal of the paranormal romances I’ve written, and it includes Celtic mythology, reincarnated gods, past lives, and an evil shapeshifter, all of which get tangled up at an antique shop that is the subject of a popular reality show. Phew!

The original was put out by Loose Id in 2013. The new edition, but out by yours truly, is expanded by about 20,000 words, which includes some edits and the reintegration of a number of scenes that were deleted from the first edition. Some of these scenes were added back in as “Interludes” which you can choose to read or skip, but I think they enhance the overall story by showing a more complete picture of Dan and Malcom’s previous lives together.

Here’s the blurb:

Dan is a superfan of the TV show Junk Shop, hosted by the handsome and charismatic Malcolm Tell. When an old music box turns up, Dan’s sister encourages him to try to get on the show and meet the object of his affection. He does, and everything changes.

When Dan and Malcolm first meet, they have a sudden vision of something horrible that happened years ago. Is it a glimpse at a past life or something else entirely? They agree to work together to find answers and discover a forgotten Celtic myth that may explain everything. If the myth is true, then Dan and Malcolm could be a pair of lovers who have been reincarnated over two thousand years. That seems impossible, but it’s hard to deny that something very strange is happening.

As Dan and Malcolm work to find the truth, they fall for each other hard. But searching for who they really are puts them both in grave danger, and they find themselves racing against time to keep their happily ever after.

You can buy it from any of these places:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iBooks

And paperbacks are coming soon! Look for those in the next two weeks or so.

AVAILABLE NOW: There Has to Be a Reason

There Has to Be a ReasonNow on sale wherever you buy ebooks!

Dave is enjoying his junior year at a big New England university, even if none of his relationships have been especially satisfying. He plans to hang around with his best friend Joe and focus on his studies until he graduates, and then he’ll figure out the rest.

Meeting Noel changes his plans.

Noel is strikingly beautiful and unlike anyone Dave knows. Something about Noel draws Dave to him—an attraction Dave doesn’t feel ready to label. And even if he was, why would Noel be interested in Dave? And what about Joe? He hates Noel and everything he represents, and he might hate Dave if he finds out about Dave’s secret desires. So Dave will have to keep those feelings hidden—along with his relationship with Noel.

But Noel has fought too hard for his identity to be Dave’s dirty secret. Will Dave tell the truth and risk the life he’s always known… or live a lie and risk losing the love of his life?

Dreamspinner Press
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Kobo

A note on the All Romance eBooks closure

All Romance eBooks announced yesterday that they are closing abruptly on December 31 and will not be paying authors for sales after 12/27, so I decided to pull my self-published titles from the site. Here’s what that may mean for you:

Lead Us Not is a free short that was available for download on ARe, but also here on the website. If you follow the link, you can find the story for download in a few different formats.

Across the East River Bridge is still available for purchase from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and iBooks. If you purchased the book from ARe and were unable to download it before I pulled it, send me proof of purchase (kate (at) katemcmurray (dot) com) and I’ll send you the book.

There Has to Be a Reason (which will be published on January 9) went up for preorder on ARe last week. If you preordered, Dreamspinner will honor your preorder; forward your receipt to contact (at) dreamspinner (dot) com.

I think that covers it. If you have any questions, shoot me an email or leave a comment and I’ll try to answer them.