How to Win NaNoWriMo

There are only two short weeks until November 1st, the start of National Novel Writing Month. Never heard of it? Here’s the gist…

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

Cool, right? I’ve NaNo-ed twice, in 2012 and in 2014, and I “won” both times. I never touched the 2012 project again, but my 2014 project went on to become The Impossibility of Us, which will be published in 2018 by Swoon Reads/Macmillan — yay! Point is, I’ve figured out how to NaNo pretty successfully, and I’d love to share a few of my favorite practices so that you, too, can write 50K words in thirty days.

Research ahead of time — like, now.
Is your NaNo project set on Mars? Awesome. Spend the next two weeks reading books about the Red Planet. Are you writing about a person who’s obsessed with riding horses? Great. Reach out to a real-life equestrian today. Are you planning a story about teen counselors at a sleep-away camp? Start cataloguing images of actual camps right away. Trust me — you don’t want to waste your November lost in a black hole of research.

Know your characters, especially the leads.
If character worksheets are your thing, I suggest filling them out before November 1st. Or, do some free-writing. Or, type up a mock interview for your protagonist. Or, print off some photos of what s/he might look like. At the very least, make sure you’ve nailed down strong external and internal goals, motivations, and conflicts for your main character(s) and your antagonist.

Prepare your family and friends.
Talk to your partner/children/parents/friends about National Novel Writing Month. Let them know exactly what you hope to accomplish, and why it’s important to you. If you’ve got a set do-not-disturb writing block in mind, tell them when it will be. That way you’re not fielding visitors and phone calls when you should be banking words. And don’t be afraid to enlist help. If you need your spouse to put the kiddos to bed every night in November so you can write uninterrupted, cement that plan ahead of time.

Incentivize — whatever it takes.
The first time I participated in NaNo, I wanted the Scrivener discount offered to winners. It was enough to drag me through 50K words of an awful (yet unfinished) manuscript. The second time, I wanted a book ready for submission by the following spring, which meant I needed a complete first draft quick. These were the “prizes” that pushed me to win in both instances, but you do you. Dangle a pair of boots, or banana split, or vacation in front of your writerly self. That way when you lose motivation mid-November, you’ve got something other than 50K words to work for.

Front loud your word count.
The first week or so of NaNo, you’re going to be excited and fresh and full of energy. This is when you should be writing your ass off. Forget about the daily 1,667 words needed to total 50K at the end of the month; you should be writing at least 2K words in those early days of November. That way, when Thanksgiving rolls around you can take time off without guilt or worry.  

Related: Don’t let yourself fall behind.
Guys, it’s going to be such a struggle to catch up if you slack. That nifty graph they show you on the NaNoWriMo website each time you log your words? You don’t want it to flatline for more than one or two days. Because ugh. Those are days with zero words — zero progress — and there’s no greater hit to your writer psyche than stagnation. It’s hard to climb out of a hole, so do yourself a favor and don’t fall in.

Don’t be derailed by Thanksgiving (or anything else).
The first November I NaNo-ed, I also threw a friend a baby shower, which required hours and hours of preparation. The second November I NaNo-ed, I welcomed my husband home from a trip to Afghanistan, which required (for me, at least) lots of extra cooking and cleaning and poster-making and balloon buying. And then there’s Thanksgiving, which is so totally inconvenient to a writer’s routine. But! When I’m NaNo-ing, I refuse to let additional commitments impact my word count. I plan head, get up early, stay up late, put my writing first. If you’re going to NaNo successfully, you’ll have to do the same.

Hold yourself accountable.
Log your daily words on the NaNoWriMo site religiously. Watch the line on your graph climb. Tweet about your successes. Instagram your increasing word count. Blog about your experiences — the good and the bad. Celebrate (and commiserate) with other NaNo-ers. Whatever you can do to share your progress publicly, the better. When lots of people are rooting you on, it’s harder to be lackadaisical about your goals. You don’t want to disappoint them!

Stay active in the NaNo community.
This one goes hand-in-hand with holding yourself accountable; the NaNo community is exactly the tool you need to stay on track. Seeing others pumped about their manuscripts, hearing success stories about NaNo projects gone on to become published books, participating in this amazing month of writing with thousands of like-minded people… It’s so inspiring.

Skip around.
Generally, I write linearly, but not during NaNoWriMo. I give myself permission to skip ahead, to jump around, to write the fun stuff first. During NaNo 2014, I wrote my characters’ first kiss within the first few days of November, even though I knew it wasn’t going to actually happen until about halfway through the story. If you’re hung up on a scene or dreading a relatively boring transition, move on. You’ll come back to fill-in later, or you’ll discover the scene that was giving you headaches was unnecessary after all.

It’s okay to write crap.
What matters during NaNo is words. They don’t have to be pretty. They don’t have to make sense. They don’t even have to be relevant, really, because sometimes a brain dump, a page of drivel, is exactly what you need to spark your imagination, thus helping you move the story forward. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I’ll just write a super detailed description of the setting or a character’s outfit, knowing I’ll cut most (or even all) of it later. Doesn’t matter, though, because that warm-up often propels me toward the good stuff. The point is forward progress. Do whatever it takes. You’ll revise later.

Tell me: Have you NaNo-ed?
What are your best tips for success?

September Reading Wrap-Up

Just three books in September, because I logged about a million hours revising and editing my (just announced!) 2018 YA.  :-)
(As always, cover images link to Goodreads pages.)

Wanderlost by Jen Malone – So cute! Voice-y and fun and sweet, plus Wanderlost gave me a wicked case of wanderlust. To be completely honest, the plot here is rather implausible, but I didn’t even care because the story itself is so full of wit and charm. I’m all sorts of jealous of Aubree’s European adventures, I loved her character arc, and I can totally relate to her duck-out-of-water feelings when it comes to stepping out and taking risks. I adored her super swoony romance with adorable Sam, as well as the expertly-developed (and unexpectedly hilarious) elderly people on the tour she leads. Definitely pick Wanderlost up if you’re looking for a light contemporary YA that’s bursting with heart.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – I bought this novel in an airport bookstore after watching the movie trailer in a random Facebook ad. I loved it. It’s historical fiction with a setting so vividly described, I felt as though I was on Janus with Tom and Isabel. Tragically, our protagonists have lost three pregnancies, leaving them (Isabel especially) desperate for a child. Serendipitously, a row boat washes up on their isolated lighthouse island. Inside is a baby girl, who Tom and Isabel decide to raise her as their own. Obviously there are a lot of intensely bittersweet feelings that come along with such a choice, especially when they discover the baby’s mother is alive, grieving her lost daughter on the mainland. While I became frustrated with Isabel at certain points, I could also relate to her fertility struggles and her longing, which may have played a part in my appreciation of this story. Regardless, it’s beautifully written and deeply emotional, and I highly recommend it if you’re into historical fiction with a literary slant.

Catch a Falling Star by Kim Culbertson – I borrowed this one from the library on a whim, mostly because its cover caught my eye. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! I thought it’d be a fluffy, wish-fulfillment sort of story, but it’s not, thanks to author Kim Culbertson’s skillful writing and main character Carter’s overall awesomeness. When Hollywood bad boy Adam Jakes comes to Carter’s small town to film a movie, he tangles her up in a PR stunt, paying her to play his small-town girlfriend, thus improving his image. Carter only accepts because she’s got a legitimate need for the cash Adam offers, but of course it’s not long before she begins to fall for him. Without giving anything away, a lot about this story surprised me, and I ended up smitten with Adam just as Carter was. Give Catch a Falling Star a read if you’re into books by Huntley Fitzpatrick and Leila Howland.

Tell me: What’s the best book you read in September? 

GuEsS wHaT?!

Back in 2014, I wrote a book during National Novel Writing Month. Actually, I started a few weeks before, in October. I wrote about 10K words, then another 50K words in November (I “won” NaNoWriMo — yay!) and then I finished a final 10K words in February of 2015. I did a lot of revising (as usual, because I write the most convoluted first drafts ever), and then I sent the manuscript to my CPs. I spent a million more months revising before putting the story on the back burner because amazing things started happening with Kissing Max Holden.

Fast forward to when my agent and I started chatting about what to submit to Swoon Reads as my option book. My 2014 NaNoWriMo project seemed like a perfect follow-up to Kissing Max Holden, so we sent the manuscript in. Time passed, meetings were had, emails were exchanged and then…


Swoon Reads bought a second book from me! I’m thrilled! I feel so lucky to be working with Kat Brzozowski (who is a brilliant editor) along with the rest of the Swoon Team, and I’m so thankful to my agent, Victoria Marini, who’s worked tirelessly for this deal.

So, what’s The Impossibility of Us about?  It’s a love story (duh) about a girl who wants to be a photojournalist and a boy who wants to be a writer. They come from different countries — different cultures — and there are a lot of forces working against them. There’s a cute dog, too, as well as a beautiful beach, and a lot of wishes sent to the wind. There’s also some kissing. Of course there is.


The Impossibility of Us is tentatively slated for 2018.
I can’t wait for you to read it!  

August Reading Wrap-Up

I read some amazing books this month, and I’ve been so excited to share them here. Big recommend to all of these novels, guys!
{As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.}

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu – My nine-year-old daughter and I read this middle grade novel together, and we loved it. It’s a story that tackles weighty issues (a mother’s alcoholism, most notably), but it’s a fairy tale as well, a book about sisters and magic and imagination and secrets and unbreakable bonds. Silly is the youngest of four; she and her sisters are deftly drawn — each unique, with her own strengths and flaws. While they lean on each other, there’s distance between the girls, too, due to their mother’s drinking and their father’s inattentiveness and the general discord a pair of inept parents bring to a household. Silly and her sisters have their closets, though — extraordinary places full of magic and beauty (mostly), where they can escape their unhappy reality. Corey Ann Haydu combines Silly’s authentic, youthful voice with charming insight and enchanting descriptions, while creating a world that is both vastly sad and infinitely hopeful. I feel so lucky to have shared this one with my girl, and I highly recommend it.

The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Webber (March 14, 2017) – I added this 2017 debut to my list of Katy Books immediately upon finishing — it’s everything I hope for when I pick up a YA novel. Wing is a fascinating character: often uncomfortable in her skin and full of longing, yet strong in spirit, too. When Marcus, the big brother she idolizes, kills two people (and almost himself) while driving drunk, Wing steps out of his shadow and into a pair of running shoes in an effort save both her sanity and her family’s home. While The Heartbeats of Wing Jones features touches of magic, it’s a story rooted in reality, in family and friendship and first love (Aaron — you will adore him). It’s beautifully written, nuanced, and full of lovely, evocative language, the sort of descriptions that make you want to start the story all over again the second you finish (that first kiss, man…). Definitely pick up The Heartbeats of Wing Jones when it debuts in March — I loved it!

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood – This book is so lovely. It’s a quiet story about a girl named Ivy who, thanks to her talented (and troubled) lineage, is striving to meet her granddad’s sky-high expectations. Ivy’s such a great protagonist. She’s smart and sporty and incredibly kind, though she doesn’t exactly excel at any one thing — a problem, considering the gifted women who’ve come before her. Along with her perceived mediocrity, Ivy’s also trying to come to terms with the sudden return of her absolutely awful mother, and the two sisters she knows little about. My favorite aspects of Wild Swans are its setting (a small town on the Chesapeake Bay), its friendships (Ivy’s got two awesomely supportive girl friends), and its romance, which is equal parts sweet and steamy. Love interest Connor is the hottest YA boy I’ve encountered in a long while (hello, ink! 😍 ).  Give Wild Swans a read the next time you’re in the mood for a heartfelt contemporary with gorgeous writing and a wonderfully relatable protagonist.

Gilded Gage by Vic James (February 14, 2017) – The marketing material on and inside the Gilded Cage‘s ARC makes some big promises about its excellence and let me tell you — it’s not kidding around. This book is so cool; its concept is unique, its world-building is outstanding, and its characters are captivating. It’s set in a fantastical version of modern England, where those with magical abilities rule, and commoners serve in the way of a ten year slavery stint. Main characters Abi and Luke are a sister/brother pair who have very different experiences while enslaved. Their voices are marvelously vibrant, as is Vic James’s third person narration; her prose is enviable, her style somehow both classic and accessible. Gilded Cage is full of twists and magic and rebellion and romance, and to be honest, I had a hard time putting it down. Mark it To-Read now, and snatch it up when it debuts in February.

Fear Me, Fear Me Not by Elodie Nowodazkij (September 27, 2016) – Ooh, this book is chilling, in the best way! I think it might be my favorite Elodie Nowodazkij novel, and I know Erin and Dimitri are my favorite Elodie Nowodazkij couple. They have a long history, and amazing chemistry, and I loved all of their swoony scenes. But Fear Me, Fear Me Not is not just a romance; it’s a murder mystery, too, and it’s bursting with suspense. Elodie manages to pull off three distinct points-of-view, including the killer’s, while keeping the tension high and the thrills coming. I love the roles family and friendship play in this novel, rocketing the stakes up and up and up, and keeping me turning pages (or scrolling through the document — whatever 😉 ) late into the night. If you’re ready for a book that’ll have you searching for clues, while giving you a few good scares, featuring characters who are easy to cheer for, check out Fear Me, Fear Me Not at the end of September.

On the Fence by Kasie West – I read this romantic contemporary while on a camping trip, and that’s exactly what the story is — the perfect vacation read. I found MC Charlie to be endearing and relatable, while simultaneously full of spunk and delightfully flawed. She spends the novel coming to terms with her athletic body and tom-boy-ish sensibilities (not to mention hazy memories of her deceased mother), while discovering that the Charlie she’s always been is not necessarily the Charlie she has to be forever. I love the family dynamics in this novel (Charlie’s big brothers are excellent), and I thought the romance was so sweet. Boy-next-door Braden is a love interest worth rooting for; he appreciates Charlie for exactly who she is and stands in as a constant source of support. Recommended for fans of contemporary YA.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornoll (US edition out January 3rd, 2017, UK edition available from Book Depository now) – This debut is masterful in its balance of dark and light. Main character Norah battles agoraphobia, as well as OCD and frequent urges to self-harm. Basically, she’s trapped in her house, her only companions her doting mom and her frank therapist. She’s stifled and scared, emotions that are conveyed brilliantly through Louise Gornoll’s evocative language. Norah’s challenges absolutely wear her down, and her sadness and frustration are palpable, but she’s full of wit and sarcasm, too. It seems she’s gained a certain level of acceptance regarding her mental illness — until cute new boy Luke moves in next door. While Luke’s not a savior, he challenges Norah in this gentle, respectful way that pushes her to begin confronting her fears. The final quarter of this book surprised me; it’s action-packed and rather creepy, and it allows us to see the true scope of Norah’s strength. Under Rose-Tainted Skies is an affecting and beautifully written book — big recommend.

What’s the best book you read in August?

And the winning cover direction is…


I’m so excited to share the winning cover direction for Kissing Max Holden!

This fence concept stood out to me from the very beginning. There’s something about its tones, its symbolism, and its couple—their position and their clear affection for one another other—that, for me, truly captures the feeling of Kissing Max Holden. I’m so glad it’s the cover direction that scored the most votes!

To read more about my thoughts on the cover direction selection process, head over to Swoon Reads to check out my most recent post.

Thanks so much to all who voted!  <3

Cover voting is live!

One of my favorite things about the Swoon Reads experience is the amount of involvement members of the site get to have. From rating and commenting on submitted stories to voting on cover directions for selected manuscripts, Swoon Readers get a big say in many aspects of the books published by Swoon Reads.

Now’s one of those times when Swoon Reads needs your help — let’s select the cover direction for my debut, Kissing Max Holden!

Guys, I can’t tell you how long I’ve anticipated seeing my name on an actual book cover, and now it’s on FOUR. Four lovely covers that all capture different aspects of Jill and Max’s story in really beautiful ways…


Above, you’ll find a piece of each of the four options. Remember — these are cover directions, not necessarily final products. The winner will likely undergo adjustments and fine-tunings, but it’ll be the cover you help select!

Head over to the Swoon Blog to see the full cover concept images and vote for your very favorite(s). Can’t wait to see which you choose…

The winner will be announced soon!


Guys, you know what this means, right?

Kissing Max Holden debuts in exactly one year! 

CP gif

Let’s celebrate with a giveaway, shall we?

One lucky winner will receive FOUR of my favorite YA novels — each signed by its author!


That’s right: Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally, and The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh will go to one randomly chosen winner!

⬇️  Enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter link below. ⬇️

**** A Rafflecopter Giveaway ****


Fine print: This giveaway is for US residents only (why is shipping so expensive?!) but please look for international giveaways in the future. If you are under 18, please secure parental permission before entering. All entries will be verified. Giveaway begins August 1st and continues through August 9th at 12 a.m. The winner will be announced and contacted shortly thereafter. 

Any help in spreading the word will be much appreciated.❤