NaNoWriMo2018: My Three a Day


In this case, I’m not talking about meals in a day. I’m talking NaNoWriMo Sprints.

I believe they are designed as a way for NaNoWri-mers to motivate each other to put in the time and come out with a bunch of words.

I’m racing against myself.

I read somewhere, quite long ago, that for many people a 90-minute working stretch is the most profitable period of time to commit to one task. And it’s worked for me for quite a while.

For the purposes of NaNo, and during a very busy November at work and in life, I’ve been aiming for 3 x 30-minutes Sprints a day, writing against the clock, using one of the actions identified in my Writing Down the Page exercise – which is as far as I’ve got with outlining or plotting this baby.

It turns out that my average production rate in a 30-minute stretch is 1,000 words. Work it out. If I managed to do Three a Day, I’d accomplish over 3,000 words, well over the average of daily 1,667 words required to meet the 50,000 word goal by the end of the month.

I’m lucky if I do manage two sprints. But even at that, I might stand a decent chance of making the Finish Line in 13 days.



NaNoWriMo 2018: Then What? – a quick plotting exercise

Whenever I find myself treading water on a piece of fiction – can’t figure out where to go next, how to get where I think I am going, of am just plain bored with where I find myself – I fall back on a practise that came out of a workshop presented by the dynamic duo of Jack Remick and Robert Ray.


It’s called Writing Down the Page… or, as I call it And Then

I begin with a very brief summary line to conveys my starting place (sometimes picking it up from the MS), then riff down the page one line at a time, each of which begins And Then

As this is a brainstorming exercise I don’t judge or edit what gets listed, but I do try to start each line with an active verb – which helps provide momentum for the scene.

This is what one riff looked like, when I was stuck in place on a chapter book entitled Cheese Dreams.

Set-up: Brianne and her brother Peter have just arrived at the new apartment over the shop that their dad will be running as a cheese shop and deli. His businesses always fail, forcing the family to move, yet again, which means Brianne finds it hard settling in and making friends. She hopes this will be the last time they have to move if her Dad can make a success of the deli.

Their mother starts unpacking in the upstairs apartment.

And Then (AT) Brianne follow their father downstairs to inspect the shop
AT – When Dad unlocks the door, the alarm goes off
AT – B is sent upstairs to ask her mom for the alarm code
AT – Her mom tells her its in her dad’s pocket
AT – B races back downstairs to tell her dad.
AT – Brother cries because the shop alarm hurts his ears

AT – Their dad finds the code, punches it in
AT – the police arrive
AT – While Dad huddles with the police showing proof he owns the shops
AT – Brie and her brother go inside to look around the premises
AT – Their father joins them, to show them where the coolers and the counter will go
AT – As leads them out, Brie notices what looks like a mouse hole in the skirting board
AT – She hurries her dad outside before he sees it
AT – Back upstairs Breanne wonders how she can get rid of the mice before they ruin her dad’s business by eating all the cheese.

This seems – and is – a very simplistic example, but the process can be helpful in keeping you going when it feels as if you’ve come to a dead stop. And it can work even better when you get someone else to throw ideas at you. Don’t judge them, just keep And Then-ning until you run out of steam. 

Then you can go back and see what elements work to bring the scene alive.

NaNoWriMo 2018: Give them faces

When I teach Writing Historical Fiction to school students, I first give them a whole raft of pictures of people’s faces of many eras, pulled from all kinds of sources.

I get them to pick the picture of a face they ‘like’ – one that appeals to them for any reason – then their first assignment is to create a frame for the picture, then name the subject. That person will be their main character.

In a similar exercise, when I first start a story I go in search of a face to represent the main character.

In this case, I selected this person to be a stand in for my character Rowena Cole. (She is fact, Nancy Talbot Clark, the first women to graduate from medical school in the US in 1852).

I like the vulnerable, but somewhat determined look in her eye. The plainness of her hair, and for the purposes of writing THE ROUGH DRESS, the man’s hand on her shoulder which conveys an element of the story.

I will probably print out her picture, and put it in this frame, the same one I used to house the picture of Elsie Miller, the main character in my midgrade historical novel SILVER RAIN.


Elsie Miller, protagonist of SILVER RAIN

If Nancy Talbot Clark could overcome all kinds of obstacles to forge a career in medicine, I can surely write 50,000 words!

NaNoWriMo2018: The perils and pleasures of research


As THE ROUGH DRESS is in three parts – one set in rural England, the second in the inner city of London, and the third in Ontario (all in the mid-1800s) – there’s lots of research involved.

Which I love – often to the detriment of the story. I get so involved that the time goes by and I have no writing time left. Or I end up with so much research material that I have no idea how I might use it all.

I’ve partially solved this by:
1.   Separating the processes into two separate working sessions. I work on research for 60 to 90 mins in the morning, then do the writing for the same period of time later in the day. (Reversed today, as I woke early at 4:45 am and put in my writing time then.)

2. When I reach a place in the draft MS when I need more information or want to confirm a factual detail, rather than stopping and reverting to research mode, I type in a double ?? – or insert a footnote to specify the info I need – then keep writing. At the beginning of each research session I review the MS for the ?? and footnotes, and only then pursue the information.

3. For the month of November, the only reading I will be doing is research-related. Books on my To Read list for this project include, among others:

  • Voyages of Hope: The Saga of Bride-Ships by Peter Johnson
  • London Labour and the London Poor by William Mayhew
  • Across the Waters: Ontario Immigrant Experiences  1820 – 1850 by Frances Hoffman 
  • Roughing it in the Bush by Susannah Moodie
  • The Makers of Canada: The Pioneers of Old Ontario by W.L. Smith
  • The Rural Life of England by William Hewitt

And just to ensure I don’t get non fiction overload, I will also probably reread

  • The Frightened Man by Kenneth M. Cameron (an adult mystery set in Victorian London – wonderful voice, and great relationship between the protagonist Denton and his manservant Atkins)
  • The Agency (and others) YA series by YS Lee
  • Bleak House or David Copperfield
  • and any other new Victorian-era fiction I come across (suggestions welcomed)


And I will read, reread and savour all over again, Margaret Atwood’s wonderful poem Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer, the first piece I read that gave me what felt like an authentic feeling for the pioneer experience.


NaNoWriMo – In at the Deep End

I finally figured if I was ever going to reach The End on any of my current projects, November might be the month to do it.

So I am using National Novel Writing Month to work on The Rough Dress, a Victorian-era novel built around the true story of Urania House – the ‘House of Fallen Women’ – established by novelist Charles Dickens and philanthropist Angela Coutts to help rehabilitate women who had fallen foul of the law, and prepare them for emigration to ‘The Colonies’ as domestics.

It’s not quite cheating. I’m digging into past Shitty First Drafts, rewriting scenes as I go, with the goal of having a somewhat coherent 50,000-word story by the time I’m done.

Why The Rough Dress, when I do have at least two other novels in various stages of dress and undress? Because it has a connection to Canada, in that three of the women from Urania House did emigrate to Canada, so the third part of the book will feature Rowena Cole’s settlement in Ontario – hopefully making the book easier to sell to a Canadian publisher.

Not that finishing the damn thing is in any way guarantee that The Rough Dress will ever find its way into readers’ hands.

But I do know that if I don’t finish it, it has no chance at all.


Philanthropist Angela Coutts

So I had better get to it.

Novelist Charles Dickens

Novelist Charles Dickens