Life · Writing

Why I Gave Up #Nanowrimo2016 (And What I Learned by Doing It)

I’ve completely Nanowrimo twice, as well as various Camp Nanowrimos, and my own personal ‘nanowrimo-esque’ goals. I’ve written and am currently editing two novels, one of them close to 200k words, while writing the second one in that series.

For Nanowrimo 2016 I decided I was going to get through 50k words of the sequel to Tyrant, my 2015 Nanowrimo project. I barely managed 20k.

Now, that doesn’t sound too bad for most people – 20 000 words is still a lot of words! But I am a home maker, and my time is spent either volunteering or writing. Hitting 2000 words a day is,  normally, not a problem. I do that most of the year, one way or another.

But in October, I had begun to struggle. My anxiety had flared up, depression creeping in. My mind was sluggish, my attention span shorter than that of a gnat, and everything hurt. I still fought on. I trudged through paragraph after uninspired paragraph.

Finally, two weeks ago, I snapped. I dragged every last blanket and pillow into my bed and refused to come out the entire weekend. I have no idea how my husband managed to get in there to sleep. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t barely sit up, and everything just hurt.

Now, I’m not one to ramble about my personal life on the internet. I have enough trouble opening up to those who are closest to me. So, this isn’t going to be a post of me blogging out all of my woes. Suffice to say, I was unhappy, and I didn’t know why.

I didn’t want to know why, because that meant I would have to deal with it.

Finally, my writing partner and I were working on a scene between two of our characters, and one of the characters said to her counterpart –

“Fine, go mope. You are the only person I know who feels guilty for making someone feel good.”

It was a blow to the heart. An offhand comment while spitballing ideas summarized the entirety of the desperate aching void I had been fighting against. I fell to pieces. A character in a world nothing like ours, in a situation nothing like mine, and she had managed to shatter my carefully constructed defenses like a catapult stone.

So I stopped. I put everything aside – my writing, editing, everything. I sat, and I thought, and I cried. I confronted the people I needed to confront. I confronted myself about why I had let everything get this bad. I wrote emails, I made plans. I finally feel like I have solid ground beneath my feet for the first time in months.

All thanks to a character that had nothing to do with Nanowrimo.

Now, I love Nanowrimo. I adore it, and I have every intention of trying again next year. I’ll do Camp Nanos, and I will keep writing and editing. But Lord above, I’m so glad I stopped.

My mental health was crumbling, and I was dreading writing every single time I sat down. Writing is hard, and there are times when all I want to do is throw in the towel, but I was hating it, and that wasn’t okay. A lot of people feel terribly guilty when they don’t complete their Nano goals, and I’m here to tell you: It’s OKAY.

Life gets in the way. You can get in the way. But there is always next year. Next month.

Don’t give up on your story just because you had to give up on Nanowrimo. Don’t give up on yourself.


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S.J. Penner

Author of the upcoming series #Tyrant, artist, and inveterate dabbler. Creator of #guiltfreeswag for writers and gamers at Coffee Ink where 100% of proceeds go to Red Cross Emergency Services.

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S.J’s Helpful Master Post!

Are you a writer? A game session designer? An actor? Any sort of creative type that uses words for fun? Well, this is my master post of helpful and useful articles, posts, books and groups that have inspired me to keep moving my work forward. I will continue to add to this as I go along, so please, check back every once and a while!


Ninja Writers by Shaunta Grimes – This is a great group of people. A huge group who works together and helps encourage people to complete their projects. It’s a closed group, but they accept almost anyone who applies!

Nanowrimo – If you are a writer, and you haven’t heard of National Novel Writing Month, you need to head over there right away! The group is most active in November, but there are a ton of useful resources, cool people, and inspirations to be found here.

Camp Nanowrimo – This is a more regular, but less intense version of Nanowrimo. If you want to be sorted into a support group and work hard to write together, this is the place for you!

COURSES/PODCASTS – The woman who runs Ninja Writers on facebook also has a series of courses, classes, and helpful tips on her own website. A lot of the time she has sales/free courses available, so I definitely suggest you go check it out!

Sarah Selecky’s Writing School – Another awesome set of courses at a variety of price points. Ms. Selecky is a great person to follow, an award winning author, and really inspiring.

Jerry Jenkins – Personally, I haven’t taken any of his classes, but I do enjoy his mailing list. I have heard awesome things about them though, so I figured this would be a good one to throw up here.


How To Promote A Blog Post – This is a long one, but absolutely worth it. It breaks down how to promote your blog (and it can absolutely be applied to other writing projects), places to do so, and tons of helpful apps and plug ins. I hadn’t even HEARD of a lot of these!

Words to Replace Said – This. Is. Amazing. I absolutely love it. This is an actually helpful post about words you can use instead of ‘said’. Just go check it out.

Character Secret Generator – Alright, this isn’t a post, but it’s awesome anyways. Is one of your characters feeling flat and boring? Give them a secret!


The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler – Inspired by the Hero’s Journey, this book breaks down storytelling in a way that inspires you to experiment and write your heart out. An absolute MUST have for all writers.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell – If you are looking for something a little more academic than Vogler’s Cambell inspired tome, hit up the original! Campbell is a brilliant literary historian and his book is extremely intriguing. Admittedly he is a little too into Freud’s work for my taste, but the book is still excellent.

The Emotional Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi – BRILLIANT BOOK! It is literally a thesaurus for emotions, helping you come up with creative and interesting ways to mix up your descriptions. I use it all the time. Her other thesaurus’s are also amazing, and if you have the money, I definitely suggest grabbing the whole lot, but start with the Emotional Thesaurus.

On Writing by Steven King – Part autobiography, part inspiration, part advice, Steven King literally writes on writing. It’s a pretty quick read and completely captivating. To look into the mind of someone who has made millions on his books, and to find that he’s just a writer like anyone else (if a particularly dedicated and dogged one) is unbelievably encouraging.


Sarah Selecky – This is one of my favorite mailing lists. Ms. Selecky sends regular, useful, and fun emails often without feeling like you’re being drown in promotions. Most of her emails are writing tips and prompts, all of which are interesting and pretty unique! Scroll to the bottom of her website for the sign up form.

Jerry Jenkins – Mr. Jenkins is a solid rock in a maelstrom of literary advice. He has a solid, patient voice, and his mailing list is a weekly reminder that you’re not alone in your doubts and frustrations. Sign up for his ‘Top Five Free Writing Tips’ near the bottom of the linked page to also sign up for his mailing list.

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S.J. Penner

Author of the upcoming series #Tyrant, artist, and inveterate dabbler. Creator of #guiltfreeswag for writers and gamers at Coffee Ink where 100% of proceeds go to Red Cross Emergency Services.

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Are you a Pantser? Should you be a Planner?

As we hurtle with terrifying speed towards the November 1st start date of Nanowrimo the debate that sparks every October has begun again. Should you plan out your novel, or should you fly by the seat of your pants? Or as it is more commonly asked: Are you a Planner, or a Pantser?

For those of you who might not be familiar, Nanowrimo is “”. I’ve won twice now, once with my upcoming novel #Tyrant, and once with an earlier project that is sadly sitting, covered in dust (I really should do something about that). For that first project, so long ago, I wrote by the seat of my pants. I had a beginning, I had an ending, I had characters and a world. I’d be fine, right?

Well, I made it, but it was with many tears and some swears I didn’t even know I knew. Every time I turned around I was slamming into walls of ‘wait, but why would they do that?’ or ‘how would they even get there?’ I fought through writer’s block after writer’s block. I fell behind, I caught up, I wrote and wrote and wrote and I hated every minute of it.

In my last blog post “Why are writers so afraid to have fun?” I talked about how writers are so focused on ‘getting published’ that they end up writing things they hate just because they think it will sell better. They end up hating what their writing, and worse, hating writing.

This is another facet of that. Why make yourself absolutely miserable, trying to force out 1666 words a day when you don’t know where you’re going? Why not take the time before hand and plot out your map? That way when you sit down you don’t have to be worrying about the ‘what now?’ problem. All you have to do is write.

I think there are two main things stopping people from planning;

The first thing that holds a lot of us back (I know it was definitely the fear in my case) is the idea that planning is hard. The idea of writing out character sheets, settings, maps, and plot boards sounds like, well, like homework! S.J, didn’t you say we should have FUN writing?

My response: You’re going to have to do all of that anyways! The problem with doing it LATER is that I can guarantee you are going to have to do a LOT of rewriting. You are going to forget if you character has blue eyes or green, if he was a blacksmith or a chef. You are going to make more mistakes this way, and hunting them all down later is awful.

The second reason people seem to avoid planning? They just want to ‘go where inspiration takes them’. They want to let their muse guide them. They want to allow the story to grow organically, naturally and without fences.

My response: My friend, meet writer’s block. I talk to tons of writers, all the time, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that people who refuse to plan because they want their story to grow organically are ALWAYS more prone to writer’s block. They follow rabbit trails that lead nowhere and have to delete pages and pages of work. They end up giving up on the story all together because they have gotten themselves so tied up in side characters and plots that they don’t even know what direction is up anymore.

Planning gives you a skeleton to work on. Just like a sculpture builds a metal frame beneath the clay, just like a painter sketches the ideas onto the canvas, we need to have the basic idea sorted out BEFORE we start work on our masterpieces. This doesn’t mean you can’t let things grow and change organically – of course they do! The protagonist of Tyrant is a completely different woman than I though she was going to be when I started out.

But don’t build your house on sand, folks. Give yourself a solid footing, especially in a marathon run like Nanowrimo.

Now, you might be saying “Okay. You’ve convinced me. But HOW?”

I can help you there! There are a couple of resources and people that have given me SO MUCH HELP in the last few years, and I know they will be great for you too (I don’t get commission on this, I promise. There are just plain old, useful links).

“The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler – This is an oldie but a GOODIE. It’s aimed at screenwriters, but if you call yourself a writer in any sense, grab this book. You will not regret it. It lays out stories and why they work, basing itself off of ‘The Hero’s Journey’ by Joseph Cambell (which is also an amazing book, but a little harder to chew through. Vogler has done a nice job of modernizing Cambell and breaking it down for us non-academia types).

The Plotting Workshop by Shaunta Grimes – Shaunta Grimes runs Ninja Writers, an awesome online writing group that supports and works together to get things DONE. Her plotting workshop breaks down planning a novel into wonderfully easy, bite sized bits. She often offers the workshop for free, so make sure to keep an eye out for that! – There are SO many resources in their archives and forums I don’t even know where to start. Go, sign up, explore. Thousands of people congregate there every day to help you figure out how to get yourself fighting fit for November. Right from story ideas to world building, they are there to get your story written.

So what do you think? Are you a plotting convert, or a staunch planner? Either way, if you want #guiltfreeswag to show your loyalty, you can find it here!

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S.J. Penner

Author of the upcoming series #Tyrant, artist, and inveterate dabbler. Creator of #guiltfreeswag for writers and gamers at Coffee Ink where 100% of proceeds go to Red Cross Emergency Services.

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Life · Writing

Why are writers so afraid to have fun?

The last two years I have delved into the world of writers on the web. There are a lot of us out there, from bloggers (of which I hope to become one), to novelists (of which I am one, though currently unpublished), to researchers, to poets. Every one of us saw the open seas of the interwebs and said, ‘You know, I think I have something to say!’. So we picked up our pens (or pencils, or keyboards, or quills) and we set to work to destroy that horrific white page of nothingness.

Now, the problem with writing is that, well, it’s hard. Writer’s block is a real thing, on top of the fact that most of us only do it as a hobby. Time is against us; families need keeping, food needs cooking, clothes need washing. So when we finally sit down to write, we feel like we have no time to waste. We have important things to tell the world! Intriguing, twisted, and complex stories to tell. So we stare at the Blank Page. And we stare. Then we stare some more.

We’re tired, we’re uninspired, we’re blocked. We’re terrified that what we write won’t be good enough. We haven’t learned enough, aren’t good enough. So we read books on writing, we complain about writer’s block on forums, we chat with other writers on Facebook. We do everything we can do, except actually WRITE.

There are a million gifs, memes, and posts on the difficulties of creative pursuits. People constantly reminding the world that writing is WORK, that it is HARD, and that it comes at a cost. Writing makes us depressed. Writing burns us out. Writing is a burden.

But WHY? Why are we as writers so determined to undercut ourselves? Don’t get me wrong, writing a novel is hard! Of course it is! There are times where you will want to give up the whole, ridiculous endeavor. I certainly had a few of those moments working on the first draft of ‘Tyrant’.

I think, though, that people come at writing the wrong way, nowadays. Everything I read is always about ‘accessibility’, ‘marketability’, and ‘main streaming’. It’s all about giving the audience what they want — or at least what that last book on digital marketing we read tells us they want. We all focus so hard on what will sell that we forget what writing is all about.

We write to share our inner worlds with the outer world. And dammit, whos inner world is really THAT serious, ALL the time?

So, for all my fellow writers out there, here is my proposal; WRITE WHAT MAKES YOU SMILE! Stop worrying so much about whether or not your are hitting your ‘target audience’. Don’t stress about marketability. Don’t panic about what a publisher might say about it.

Does your story make you smile when you think about writing it(yes, evil, maniacal smiles count. We all love to torture our characters)? Because chances are, if it makes you smile, it will make other smile too.

Shut off Facebook. Log off twitter (after following me @sj_penner, obviously). Ignore the inner voice telling your that no one wants to hear what you have to say. Just think of something that makes you smile, andwrite.

If you need a more physical reminder of this particular idea, why not get a mug? 100% of proceeds go directly to charity.

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S.J. Penner

Author of the upcoming series #Tyrant, artist, and inveterate dabbler. Creator of #guiltfreeswag for writers and gamers at Coffee Ink where 100% of proceeds go to Red Cross Emergency Services.

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