What’s the Recipe for NaNoWriMo Success?

[Answer: It Depends on the Cook... and has a lot to do with Lucky Charms]

For the next few months, the authors Chandler Baker, Virginia Boecker, and Lee Kelly's will take us with them on an inspiring writing journey through the medium of blogs posts. This week, they make introductions and quite literally chat about all things NaNoWriMo. 


Hi everyone! We’re all first-day-of-school excited for our first Movellas blog post. The three of us will be popping in regularly over the next several months to talk all things books, writing and publishing.


We’ll be offering a down-and-dirty, no-holds-barred look at the road to publication (see photographic evidence below) via roundtables, posts, videos, contests and more. This month’s writing topic: NaNoWriMo! [Don't forget to get involved by joining the Movellas NaNoWriMo group]


We recently chatted via text about our own NaNo experiences, and thought it would be fun to share what we’ve learned (like Lee’s debut, believe it or not, was a NaNo novel). We also talked about how we each approach a first draft in general, which is what NaNo is all about. And as a bonus, you’ll get to read about what gets us excited about a blank page, how random authors can be when they get together, and how Han Solo was almost a green alien.


Virginia Boecker: Are either of you participating in NaNo this year? If so, what are you writing, if not, why?

Lee Kelly: That's a tough question – so hard with my edits being due in a few weeks. I was hoping to use NaNo to write Book 2, but we'll see. What about you guys?

Chandler Baker: Modified NaNo for me. I'll be drafting the end of ALIVE and revising like crazy. Full on lockdown mode in November chez Baker.

Virginia Boecker: I was going to do NaNo for the same reason - to power through Book 2. But I get my second editorial letter Nov. 8 so that may let me out.

Lee Kelly: Have either of you done NaNo before?

Chandler Baker: I have. It's how I first started writing  I'd always wanted to write a book but could never work up the courage. My first NaNo book was just getting words down. But it showed me I could do it.

Lee Kelly: What year was that? And was that the novel that got you your agent?


Chandler Baker: It was probably 2007. No, it wasn’t that book -  I literally never opened that book again after I wrote it, but I did get an agent in 2008.

Virginia Boecker: Lee, the book that got you your agent was a NaNo book, right?

Lee Kelly: Yep! My first foray into NaNo was MANHATTAN SAVAGES. I kind of cheated: I had 30k words going in. My goal was to finish with 50k, but I ended up at 100,000 words! 

Virginia Boecker: 100K words! That's amazing! Did you outline beforehand or pants it?


Lee Kelly: I had an outline, but I ended up abandoning it about ⅓ of the way through. That seems to be kind of typical for me. I like having the comfort of an outline, but the story sort of has a mind of its own once I got past that first quarter mark.


Virginia Boecker: I did an outline for THE WITCH HUNTER, but didn't really stick to it. For me, the best part of writing is the journey it takes you on. Once you get started it seems to take on a life of its own. Like today: I'm drafting Book 2 and inadvertently wrote in a love triangle. I’m writing off a synopsis and that was NOT part of it, but I like where it's headed so I'm going for it!

Lee Kelly: I love when the story tells you what it wants to say, versus the other way around. I think an outline for me is almost a crutch, just something that I need to get me walking. Once I gain momentum then I leave it behind.



Chandler Baker: I'm similar to you, Lee. I outline in chunks up to where I can't think of anything else. Usually Act 1 or so. Then start writing. When I get stuck, outline some more.

Lee Kelly: Chandler, exactly. I do feel comfortable jumping in once I have a construct for Act 1. Thinking about it, that's usually a lot of the world details, fleshing out characters, creating that initial conflict and inciting incident.  Just some of the building blocks to get started. I think what we’re saying here is maybe we are outliners who aren't afraid to put on pants?

Virginia Boecker: In my first draft of THE WITCH HUNTER my MC was a princess (ha! so cliché!). Halfway through the second draft I turned her into a witch hunter. It came out of nowhere. That changed the story completely, obviously, so sometimes I fear outlining too much will take away that process of discovery.

Chandler Baker: She was a princess!?

Virginia Boecker: In the very first draft, yes! When I had zero idea where it was going. You guys, I literally was like, "I want to write a book, it's been #1 on my bucket list for 10 years now, I'm going to do it." So I sat down and did it.

Chandler Baker: That's how I was. I worried I'd never write a book. So I sat down and did it. Nano helps with that.

Lee Kelly: It's so cool how the first draft of a project can be so different from the final. I was just talking to my dad about the 1st draft of Star Wars. Apparently Han Solo was a green alien.

Virginia Boecker: NO WAY.

Lee Kelly: Yes! And Anakin apparently was the main focus. Just goes to show you that even seasoned pros can completely switch a story around from first page to final draft.

Virginia Boecker: It does. 1,666 words a day is daunting! I remember sitting down that first day, opening word, and staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page. The terror! And the embarrassment of the first bad sentence. But I made myself do 500 words that first day, and the day after, etc. Eventually I got up to 1,000 words. Even now, on a good day, I only average about 1500. A lot of people, I think, go, "Oh, I've written 3 hours today!" But 3 hours doesn't always equate to words. NaNo forces word count. Always important in the first draft.

Lee Kelly: I agree, the blank page is the worst aspect of writing. I think NaNo basically enables you to start your story in December with the bones that you've managed to dig up in November.

Virginia Boecker: Ooh, that's a great analogy.  BTW I have a glimmer of an idea in my head for a new book but know no details. Just that I want it to be YA, speculative and involve a scavenger hunt and have the feel of LOST meets Blair Witch. And I'm wondering, were I do to NaNo this year with this book, how would I prep?

Chandler Baker: The thing that's helping me get words down the most recently is writing a "screenplay" type bare bones scene longhand before I type. At the top of the page you have to write the few things you're most excited about writing that scene. Those are called your Lucky Charms and you aim for them the whole time. Have to spend at least 5 min writing longhand before you start. I have Susan Dennard and Rachel Aaron to thank for that technique.

Lee Kelly: Ultimately I think it's a question of what makes you excited to get to the page. I'm not excited unless I have a bit of an idea of where I'm going. Others are excited just to hit the ground running. I think you find what makes you excited, and then you get started.

Virginia Boecker: I haven't drafted from scratch in years and I'm afraid of abandoning it if I don't have enough info down.


Lee Kelly: For MANHATTAN SAVAGES, I outlined pretty substantially, and revised many times,but really the back half. That first half believe it or not stay pretty too true to the outline. The reason I don't outline all 3 acts really heavily is just because I would never get started. I could spin aspects of a world for years, and never get writing. So it's just a question of balance for me!

Virginia Boecker: Now you’re really making a case for outlining!

Chandler Baker: I like to write pretty clean first drafts, But they require lots of layering and it's tough to keep track of how many drafts that makes. I edit as I go quite a bit. Especially the first third. It really bugs me not to have the first third right before moving on.

Virginia Boecker: Chandler, I have a friend who writes the way you do - really clean first drafts - edits as she goes. It works for her. I love hearing how it works for everyone depending on their circumstances!


Lee Kelly: Me too! It just goes to show you how many ways there are to do this. And if one way doesn't work for a writer, there's so many other methods to try. I'm still such a new writer, so every book seems to inform my style and approach.

Chandler Baker: Right! Plus, I worry if I’m not trying new ways! I don't want to stop learning!

Virginia Boecker: I had lunch with Lisa Desrochers (who has a  YA series and an NA series out now) and she was talking about how she gets over writer's block. If she hits a spot in a manuscript she can't solve or isn't feeling, she skips ahead to another scene she does know. When she told me this I was fascinated - I never considered doing that. so with book 2, I'm totally writing it out of order and it's so fun! I’m writing all the juicy scenes first. When I have to go in and fill in the blanks I might hate myself, but it's a whole new way of writing and it's really helping me get words down because I write what I'm enthused about for the day.

Chandler Baker: That's great. I think it's easier to write the iffier parts once your to-do list becomes shorter

Lee Kelly: I love this! I wonder if this approach helps in other ways too. Sometimes I find myself being so meticulous with a transition, that the transition can last pages. If you skip to a scene you're  excited about, maybe you realize you don't even need a long transition.

Virginia Boecker: Exactly! I figure if I'm bored writing it, people are going to be bored reading it.

Lee Kelly: The more I think about it, the more I think this is a fantastic approach.  I'm excited about Point A… I'm excited about point B… I am not excited about getting from point A to B. Again, I think writers overvalue transitions. I am totally guilty of this.

Chandler Baker: This is the idea of Lucky Charms too! Every scene needs to have a marshmallow. If you can’t find a Lucky Charm in that bite, don't write it. But from a broader standpoint your Lucky Charm scenes are the ones you most want to write. The things that made you excited about the story idea in the first place

Virginia Boecker: So in a nutshell, what we’re saying is: there’s no right or wrong way to draft, just find what makes you excited (i.e. your Lucky Charms) and go for it!                

Lee Kelly:  YES.

Chandler:  Yes!


We want to get to know you! How are you going to approach the page today? Can you tell us about your story’s Lucky Charms?

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