A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

I SPY: Writing Challenges

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ...


Today, a couple hundred thousand writers are embarking on an annual challenge known as NaNo, or NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel WritingMonth. A month known by the rest of the world as November.

The goal? Starting November 1st, write like mad and produce 50,000 words by 11:59 p.m. on November 30th. Yes, with the holidays and madness of everyday life, participants are expected to throw caution to the wind and write whatever words come out of their fingertips. The final product isn’t expected to be coherent, but it is hoped to give the author something he/she can shape and mold in the coming months.

NaNo’ers aren’t the only writers motivated by a challenge. There are other challenges out there, designed to encourage productivity. I’m part of the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood, a group of writers dedicated to sharing our experiences and tips on the craft. Each winter for the past few years, we’ve hosted the Winter Writing Festival from early January until the last day of February. For people who thought it was insane to follow through on a 50k-word project during Thanksgiving and Christmas-shopping season, this is a good place to get re-committed to their manuscripts. Plus, YOU set YOUR OWN goals. Need to catch up on reading industry/craft magazines? That could be a daily goal. Have to finish judging a packet of contest entries? Goal. Need to crank out 50k? Goal. And we offer prizes to keep participants motivated, and checking in to motivate others. (The WWF site is only maintained during the festival, so check back in mid-January, or check the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood site for more information on how to sign up, closer to the start date.)

Why does one sign up for these descents into madness? Writing challenges offer a shock to the system that can rebalance and recommit a writer.

Here’s a list of the benefits I’ve noticed via participation:

  • Sparking new ideas by becoming immersed in a project. You eat, breathe, and dream your manuscript when you’re dedicated to it. When your brain is spending so much time processing your story, ideas can come at you anytime, day or night.

  • Sense of accomplishment. When, at the end of the specified time period, you look up and notice your word count—like, really step away and notice the world again—you’ll be shocked by how productive you can be. It can be done. You’ll never again believe, “I can’t do this.”

  • Finish the project! Thought 50k isn’t always long enough to complete a project, for many writers, that kind of word production is a HUGE accomplishment. And many writers I know, who want to become published but have been working on the same book for years, never reach “the end.” NaNo and other challenges go a long way toward reaching those goals, and showing the writer they can succeed.

  • BICHOK and narrowing your world. While committing to NaNo, it is perfectly okay to tell the world to leave you alone because you are a serious writer. The permission to BICHOK ("bottom in chair, hands on keyboard") can be freeing. You're even encouraged to let housework slide.

  • Setting goals and building on them into the new year. Some people think NaNo is much like throwing a person into a pool to teach them to swim. But really, it’s all about developing habits, pushing yourself to the limit, and seeing what you’re truly capable of. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, right? So are you tough enough? And if you learn to make writing a daily habit, well, that's really the ultimate goal, right?

  • Supportive community. The NaNo site has a library of supportive letters (called "pep talks") from fellow writers, as well as links that can connect you to a NaNo group in your local community, where you can meet up to support each other, sprint, and commiserate. The Winter Writing Festival hosts online chats that allow sprinting in short increments (usually twenty or thirty minutes, several times over a couple-hour period) that encourages word production and provides writers a community in which to vent, brainstorm, and connect.

But if a commitment of a month or more seems daunting, there are other writing challenges that are much shorter—as in a week, or even an hour. One of my online RWA® chapters hosts BiaW (Book in a Week) four times a year. Each installment is a week-long program where participants sign up to write as many words as possible within a week. But you set your own pace, report your word count daily, and contribute to a “team,” whose total is compared to the opposing team, so there’s a bit of friendly competition to keep motivation going.

Need an even shorter commitment? If you’re on Twitter, seek out other writers using the #1k1hr hashtag to connect with those wanting to pop out 1,000 words in an hour-long sprint.

Or, if you're looking for a different kind of commitment, pair up with an accountability buddy—someone to whom you email your word count daily, weekly, or however you choose to set it up. Someone who will cheer you on as you progress or take you to task if you're letting yourself slide. And you can reciprocate by doing the same for them.

If you’re up for the NaNo challenge, come “buddy” with me. I’m user name “Anne Marie B.” I hope to see you there, but if these programs don’t work for you, I encourage you to find some way to challenge yourself. The writer within will thrive!

Have you done NaNo before? How about other writing challenges? Or have you used similar techniques to face other challenges for other passions/goals in your life? Please share! 

Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.  
She writes to reclaim her sanity.

Find ways to connect with Anne Marie at


FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!


Ana Barrons said...

I'm a big fan of Nanowrimo, even though I haven't done it in a while. I'm using the nano technique right now to write my novella—just keep writing, don't edit, don't look back. It's the only way I can squeeze out a first draft in a hurry. I'll polish it later. Thanks for this post!

Toni Anderson said...

I'm not doing NaNo but you totally inspired me to knuckle down with bigger goals. Time to get serious!
Greta post.

Anne Marie Becker said...

@Ana - yep, just one foot in front of the other until you reach the end, look up, and see how far you've come! Good luck!

@Toni - I love this time of year because, at least for me, it encourages reflection and assessment of goals. Reach for the stars!

Darynda said...

I LOVE NaNo!!!! I look forward to it every year even though I've only won once. Still, it really gets me motivated. I also want to check out the Twitter #1k1h. Very interested in that. Thanks!!! Love this post!

Rita said...

I'm not doing NaNo But I plan on cranking out 40000 words this month. A lot for me.
Best to all doing NaNo hope you meet your goals.

Anne Marie Becker said...

@Darynda - thanks for stopping by. :) I wasn't going to NaNo this year because I was editing, but that manuscript is giving me fits, so I decided to switch to generating new words in a new manuscript. Boy, the energy spark I got told me it's the right thing (write thing?) to do! :) Good luck!

@Rita - that's an amazing commitment. I'm not confident I'll get the 50k to "win" NaNo, but I'm hoping it'll motivate me. Happy writing!

Cathy Perkins said...

I'm doing NaNo with my SmackDown Teammates from last year. They're awesome for cheering each other on and feeling you HAVE to get the pages done so you won't let the team down.

Anne Marie Becker said...

@Cathy - that teamwork mentality can certainly work to keep you motivated. I felt that way the times I've participated in BiaW. Even when I felt I had no words that day, I made myself write for a few minutes so my word contribution wouldn't be zilch. ;) Good luck with the NaNo!

Gwynlyn said...

Wishing all our NaNoers hefty word counts and tons of fun! I'll be catching you during the WWF!

Anne Marie Becker said...

Hi, Gwynlyn, and I'll definitely be seeing you at the WWF!

Clare London said...

Excellent post! I've always enjoyed challenges, though I've fallen by the wayside in recent years :). You've inspired me to find new goals!

Anne Marie Becker said...

@Clare, glad I could inspire you. :) Good luck with whatever challenge you choose!

J Wachowski said...

Yay for you Anne Marie!
I actually started Nanoing "at an undisclosed remote location" this year. Very fun. I find it really helpful to focus on one thing and go, go, go!
(& I learned a lot about how my brain writes just from trying to "WordWars.")

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