national novel writing month

The Process of Story Creation: The [Rough] Beginning (part 1 of 3)

By Becky Swanberg — EMoon Lead Content Editor and Middle Reader Novelist

In the fall of 2011, I was deep in the fog of postpartum life. My kids were six, four, two, and 10 weeks, and I had the sudden and strange desire to write a novel.


Inspired by National Novel Writing Month (known as NaNoWriMo), one night I opened my laptop and started telling a story about a teenage girl who could smell deception.  This chunk of writing time became part of my day, as normal as morning feedings and making PBJ’s, and so every evening from 9:30-11:00, I wrote.

It didn’t feel like work because this voice in my head was telling me her story. I just listened to her, almost like recording the thoughts of a friend, and tried (unsuccessfully) to steer it toward a cohesive storyline.

I wish I could tell you that first novel came together in one beautiful and linear story- but it didn’t.

I wish I could tell you that after revising for two years (which I did), I found an agent and sold that book (I didn’t).

I wish I could say that while I didn’t sell the first one, I did sell the next one. (Sigh). Nope.


But here’s what did happen. Somewhere in the process of creating stories and daydreaming scenes, a part of me that I had abandoned for adulthood starting to come alive again. I discovered that writing stories made me feel more like myself.

That realization, the understanding that I was much more me when I was writing, brought along some big questions. How do I get paid to do this? Do I need to get paid to do this? And what exactly am I trying to do? As a caretaker with a full plate, the idea of writing for the joy of it made me a bit squeamish. I didn’t have that kind of time, I said.  It wasn’t a season of life to do things for joy, I said. And can you really be a storyteller if no one is reading those stories?

Despite the questions, I did what made the most sense: I kept writing.

That first draft needed work, so I watched YouTube videos on revision, characterization, and genre. I read books on the craft of story and listened to podcasts where authors shared their tools and process. Our family rhythm shifted, so I began waking in the dark to work a bit before the early risers popped out of bed. I embraced writing fiction as a hobby while the question of publication took a backseat. A few years, a couple rounds of reader feedback, and hundreds of hours later, I had a finished young adult novel.

But now what?

I sent it out to literary agents, and for the next twelve months I collected rejection letters. I got some leads and requests for the full manuscript, but they all eventually ended in a no. In the way that writing made me feel alive, rejections letters drained me dry. I had suspected it wasn’t that good. I hadn’t really wanted to publish it. No one sells their first novel, I told myself. It’s fine.

But it wasn’t fine. I tried not to talk about the process of querying (sending out letters to literary agents) because I couldn’t even think about it without crying. I shelved my laptop, read more books, and quietly tried to pretend I had never written a novel at all.


As I tried to ignore the heartache of a “failed” first book, a funny thing happened. A new voice started telling me her story. She was younger, funnier, a bit rough around the edges. Her world was interesting, and I found myself daydreaming about how I would describe it. Scraps of dialogue floated in and out. Scenes fell into place. She talked in my head as I did the dishes or drove to the store.

One night in an act of faith and defiance, I opened my laptop and started tapping out that story. It felt ridiculous to do it all again with no guarantee I wouldn’t end up with another Word document that nobody would read. But it also felt ridiculous to stop doing something I love because of fear.

In those first few pages, I officially met twelve-year-old Ren, the main character of the middle grade dystopian novel that kept me company for the next few years. But in writing, in pursuing and embracing the person who I’m created to be, I also met myself again.

To be continued next week in part two . . .

A NaNoWriMo Top Ten: Strategies, Lifesavers, and Unintended Consequences (3 of 3)

By Becky Swanberg, author and EMoon Team Member 

NaNoWriMo is a mere two days away. Have you officially signed up? Are you plotting out your story arc? Have you cleared your schedule and loaded up on your preferred form of caffeine?


Sounds like you're well on your way to hitting that 50,000 word count before December 1. Aside from registering and story prep, here’s a few more things you can do to set yourself up for success.

  1. Carve out time….now. That’s right. When is this novel magic going to happen? Early mornings? Lunch breaks? Late nights? Start to think about how this novel is going to fit into your every day, and allow extra time the first few days. Remember- the daily goal is around 1600 words. Will you break it into pieces? Slay it all at once? Your plan can be flexible, but it helps to hit November 1 with an idea of when this is going down.

  2. Tell your people. Now wait a sec, I don’t mean you need to blast your NaNoWriMo aspirations on all your social media platforms (though if that’s your thing- go for it!) I mean to let the people who are close to you in on this goal. That way when it’s Friday night and you ask friends to see a movie, someone will say, “Where’s your wordcount? Did you write today?” Then you’ll roll your eyes, ditch the movie plans, and feel sorry that you ever told anyone as you open your laptop. But later, when you hit your goal, you’ll be glad your people pushed you to it.

  3. Don’t forget to account for Thanksgiving. NaNoWriMo rookies will find themselves pacing along, coming upon the end of the month with just a few thousand words left and then...Thanksgiving. That turkey coma will not only stall out your Black Friday aspirations, but it will kill a few days of novel writing. Work ahead, or plan makeup time on the back end. And if you’re travelling, don’t even pretend you’re going to hit your word count all those days. Trust me.

  4. Don’t over edit. Your goal is 50,000 words- not 50,000 amazing and publishable words. If you stop to fix, you may kill the flow of your thoughts and feed the ego of your inner critic. Which leads me to my next point….

  5. Ignore your inner critic. There’s a small voice that will tell you this is a waste of time, that your novel is terrible, and that everyone in your life is actually making fun of you behind your back. Turn down the volume on that voice.

  6. Celebrate the glimpses of greatness. Have a storyline come together? A witty dialogue that makes you smile? A phrase or description that came to you in just the right moment? Be proud of those simple things. Sometimes stopping to acknowledge a little something gone right will help you to ignore the other 1500 painful words you wrote. Or the laundry piling up. Or the strange smell coming from your fridge.

  7. Read the pep talks that arrive in your inbox. If you’re official with NaNoWriMo, they’ll send you regular pep talks from real deal authors- and they’re legit, my friend. Some of these authors tried this very experiment and have lived (and published) to tell the tale.

  8. Take yourself seriously without taking your story too seriously. The goal is the quantity of words produced in such a short time. Give yourself the space to hit the goal, but don’t add the pressure for those words to be reader ready by the end. Let your main characters wander and grow and make decisions that are completely unsupported by their backstory. It’s OK. Really. It is.

  9. Be open to what your novel wants to teach you. You may find that the greatest victory of the whole endeavor is learning that you actually don’t have a novel to write. Maybe you’ll discover that you don’t enjoy creating fiction. Or perhaps some things will clarify for you about why or when or what it really means for you to write. How do you push through? What time of day works best? Who are the people in your life who really get it and support you? Those are things that your novel can teach you if you let it.

  10. Prepare yourself for the harsh reality that you might become addicted. You may think you only signed up for a month of this, but then this main character gets into your head and suddenly this novel is nowhere near done. It’s only fair to warn you that the art and craft of storytelling is a complicated hobby rife with writer’s block, endless decisions, and rejection letters. (I mean, who in their right mind pursues an interest where you pour out your soul, send it to strangers, and then they send you rejection letters? Why is anybody doing this?)

The reality is this: in this crazy month of pounding out words each day, you may find that writing a novel brings you joy. That you make more sense when you’re writing. That the every day of life is tamed a bit by the words you give to a story. And if you have the courage to admit that you can’t not write, then you’ll be glad you set out on this NaNoWriMo journey. You’ll thank this horrible first novel for waking you up, and then you’ll start the hard work of doing it all again.

Will I participate for NaNoWriMo this year? I’ve been there done that. I logged the hours, cringed at the writing, and came out at the other end knowing a bit more about story and a lot more about myself.

Happy writing, friends.

Read the two previous posts in this blog series here.

NaNoWriMo: Are You a Writing Architect or a Writing Gardener? (2 of 3)


If you were preparing to host a dinner, maybe you’d research recipes, carefully curate the menu, and then make a detailed shopping list. You’d head to the store with the list in hand and buy exactly what was needed. Then, with all these specific ingredients, you’d come home, follow directions, measure carefully, and execute. Nicely done!

Or perhaps you prefer to go the store and see what strikes your fancy. I mean, you have a leaning towards beef, but if you get to the meat section and the pork tenderloin is calling your name- you go with it. Toss in some veggies, a carb or two, and a surprising dessert. Then you head home, excited for the mystery of how this will all turn out.

Whether you cook more with your head or your heart, there’s an ease to it that makes sense with who you are and how you’re wired. The same goes for writing your novel.

I first stumbled across the idea of the two writing personalities while watching a writing class on YouTube. The professor was talking about a writer’s natural bent toward the craft, referring to the two ends of the spectrum as gardeners and architects (often called pantsers and plotters).  

Like most of my experiences with personality types, I found myself surprised how well a simple descriptor could make me aware of things I could only vaguely sense about myself. I was in the midst of writing my first novel, and my husband kept asking me questions about the villain and the ending and the fate of the characters.

“I don’t know!” I would answer, frustrated that he was trying to pin me down.

“Of course, you know,” my husband would reply. “You have to know. You’re the author!”

But what I couldn’t quite explain was this subtle feeling that though I was typing the words of this novel, I wasn’t really steering the ship. The story felt to me like it wanted to tell itself. I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that this was a common feeling among writers. I wasn’t a psycho; I was a gardener.

Like all personality types, there certainly is room for people to have a bit of both or fall right in the middle, but as I read about the craft and talk to other writers, most people have a strong sense of being one or the other.

Architect vs. Gardener

Writers who see themselves as “architects” tend to write best with a plan. They outline. They timeline. They pre-write with gusto. These writers find that the outline frees them, the work done ahead makes the words come more clearly, and the work done long before they start chapter 1 helps them write most efficiently. Self-proclaimed architects include J.K Rowling, Brandon Sanderson, and John Grisham.

In contrast, “gardeners” are writers who see the process as more of a winding road than a step-by-step process. These writers are more likely to start with an idea, water it (add words and chapters), and then watch it grow. Gardeners do not generally plan a story as much as they discover the story along the way. This doesn’t mean that gardeners don’t think about it ahead of time or do some character development before starting chapter 1--they may. However, the storyline itself is generally more fluid and open to possibility. Famous gardeners include Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, and George R.R. Martin.

And what does this have to do with NaNoWriMo?

As you set out to tackle a novel, understanding your writing temperament can help you prepare and execute more effectively.


If you’re an architect, you’ll want to spend some time considering your characters, the major scenes, and overall plot progression of your book. You might find it helpful to make some decisions right away: genre, setting, main characters, central conflict, and the point of view that will serve your story best. How will the story open? What do your characters want? What challenges will they face? How will those challenges be resolved?


Gardeners are more inclined to think about the feel and growth of their story. Are you drawn to a certain voice or setting? Why? What could you add to those elements to create more pieces of this story? Write a short descriptive paragraph about your main character waking up for the day. Did you write in first or third person? Did it help establish voice? Most gardeners who write efficiently say they will try to nail down a general story outline- not a road map but at least a destination for their story. A list of scenes or possible challenges for your main character may help you focus when you come to a wall, when that story seems like it stops growing for awhile.

With National Novel Writing Month just two weeks away, the time for prepping those novels is right now. Hopefully, these tips will help you prepare in a way that is helpful as you sit down each day and tackle that wordcount goal.

Wait- what if you don’t know if you’re a gardener or an architect? I don’t know any magic secrets to figuring that out, but here’s a surefire way: try to write a novel, and I think you will quickly know.

Up for the challenge? Two weeks and counting until NaNoWriMo kicks off. This could be the year of discovering not only your novel ambitions but also what kind of writer you are.

NaNoWriMo: A Novel Idea for November (1 of 3)

In 2016, almost half a million people on six continents joined the writing movement called National Novel Writing Month. This non-profit (often referred to as NaNoWriMo) is an online community that recruits, supports, and celebrates writers as they attempt to pen 50,000 words in the thirty days of November. Volunteers can use the NaNoWriMo website to mobilize their local participants and schedule kick-off events, writing nights, and other activities along the way.  And on those hard days when the word count is lagging and motivation ebbs, participants receive emails from famous authors who cheer them on from the sidelines.

National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo)

by Dallas Beams, Electric Moon team member

Hello, again! It’s me, your favorite satirical, sarcastic, and awkward Electric Moon writer! And I have the honor of telling you that the month of November is National Novel Writing Month! For those of you who do not know what that means, National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to all current and aspiring authors. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in the span of a month; begin on November 1st and continue writing as feverishly as you can until midnight on November 30th. PHEW! Sounds impossible, right? Well, while it might be quite the feat, I know that you can do this. I know it might be hard, I know it might be 1,667 words per day. I know that you have a life, a job, a family, bills to pay, checks to write; I know all of this. But, isn’t fulfilling the dream of having your novel finished worth sacrificing for? I’m not saying don’t pay your bills for November, or to quit your job; what I am saying is it’s one month out of your life of full dedication to working with your talent and honing your craft. And that you CAN do.

There is even a website to help you along.

This website provides a log for you to track your progress, an author profile, and even published authors to offer friendly advice and encouragement on your journey.

This may all sound like a bad case of ‘easier said than done’ coming from stranger online, who only edits the books of other people, having never written her own novel. On the contrary, my friend, I, like some of you, am also trying to pump out my first novel. I’ve been working on it for about a year, I’ve gone through four drafts, and just started my fifth. And on November 1st I signed up for the website. Let me tell you, it has pushed me to write each day. And you’re right, it is hard, it is a struggle most days. But, the pep talks from the staff are stimulating, and the badges you can earn from your progress are invigorating. Seriously, if you are struggling for inspiration, and trying to fight off writers’ block, I strongly urge you to take the challenge. It is so worth it, and I am saying that only three days into it.

And please document your successes, trials, and efforts with the #nanowrimo on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We hope that this rejuvenates your love of writing and we hope to see your novels coming into the Electric Moon office at the end of the challenge; which conveniently coincides with our Holiday Publishing Package. Yes, I am shamelessly plugging. But in all honesty it is a great deal that authors should take advantage of before the year is up!

So, where are you in your novel? Half way? Three quarters? Just started? Let us know in the comments below!