What’re the Wesleyan courses all about?

Hi there! This is your friendly still-mostly-newbie ML, Taube/Roxanne. For my first post on this blog, I wanted to share my experience with taking the NaNoWriMo Creative Writing Courses through Wesleyan University last year. I’ll talk about what the courses are, what you get from the course, some examples of what’s beneficial, cost and financial aid, and how to sign up.

What are these courses?

NaNoWriMo has partnered with Wesleyan University to create a unique offering of Wesleyan’s online Creative Writing Courses meant especially for Wrimos! This includes a break in the course that is intended to coincide with November so you can learn AND write your NaNo novel! The NaNo sections of these courses have a special lower price (50% off regular price!), and they are structured slightly differently from the normal progression to help you get prepared for November. Additionally, all the other people in the courses will be your NaNo peers and there are special NaNo mentors in the chat section to help guide you in ways specific to the NaNo experience. The courses are offered through the online Coursera platform.

What will I get out of it?

There are four themed courses plus a special capstone. The four regular courses cover style, setting, character, and plot. These are meant to be finished by the end of October so you can take November off to work on your NaNo novel. Then, in December, you will complete the capstone course, which is centered around applying the principles from the other courses to prepare a polished first chapter of the novel you just wrote. In every course, there are video lectures and readings, as well as writing assignments that help you work on that course’s themes and lessons. For each writing assignment, you will get peer reviews that will help you see how others interact with your writing and get valuable feedback. This includes your first chapter of your novel!

How will this help me?


Feedback, feedback, FEEDBACK!!! I cannot stress enough how important this is! Feedback is simultaneously one of the most important and one of the most terrifying aspects of becoming a better writer. In these courses, each assignment will net you feedback from three peer reviewers. That doesn’t take all the fear out of sharing your brain products with the world, but the nice thing about this particular feedback is that all of it is from fellow NaNo writers, so you’re all roughly in the same boat. It’s not like you’re going to get stuck in a cohort of stuck-up professional writers or snot-nose, unwilling young’uns. Everyone is a NaNo writer trying to improve their writing through these courses. I found the feedback sometimes infuriating, often gratifying, and always helpful! Being able to open yourself up to critique is also an important part of increasing your skill and refining your writing, so if you want to take things to the next step, this is a great way to do it. The writing assignments themselves are also edifying and challenging. The most frustrating/helpful one was where I had to write a really quite short story which I labored over, and then the very next assignment was to write the same story in half the words! Aieeee! But what a great lesson! I got such satisfaction from completing the assignments, and then I got wonderful feedback that took me out of my own head and let me see how others responded to my writing. Priceless!

Speaking of price . . .

“Great, but how much is this going to cost me?” you’re probably wondering right about now. Each of the five courses is $29, which is half of what these courses normally cost. However, if this is a hardship for you, there is financial aid. I needed help, so I worked through this. It’s done mostly on an honor system, but you do have to write several statements in the application process to explain why you need the aid. It’s certainly easier than getting traditional financial aid at a university, and I received enough help that it was feasible for me to take all five courses despite my situation. If the $29/course makes you worry but you still are interested in the courses, I highly encourage you to take this route. Wesleyan/Coursera are very reasonable.

“I’m ready! Sign me up!”

Sound interesting? It is! I hope this has helped clear some things up about the courses and encouraged you that they will be helpful and fun. If you’re interested, visit Wesleyan’s page on the courses to learn the specifics and see how to sign up. If you need financial aid, make sure to visit this page. If you have questions, reply here in comments or message me on the NaNo site and I’ll do my best to answer! I hope this was helpful and has given you some inspiration to maybe improve your writing. 🙂



Are you ready??

hear yea

NaNo is coming! NaNo is coming!

The forum reset is October 5th

(yes, this Monday!)

so hurry after and update your profile with this year’s novel information!

You don’t want to be left out – NaNoLag is a terrible thing!

Off To Camp – July 2015 CampNaNoWriMo

(aka Campy Campy Camp Camp)

And so we meet again. Me, the de facto camp counselor and you, the intrepid Warm Weather Warriors of cabin-768716_640Wordsmithiness (I can’t help it, I LOVE unnecessary alliteration [I wanted to go with gratuitous but it didn’t alliterate as nicely]).

As we step forth and prepare for another month of crazed creativity it’s good to look back at our past.

What did we learn in April? Did we exceed our expectations or did we expect too much? Did we find brilliant ways to express our story or were we frustrated with limiting words?

Did we fly? Or did we fall?

Allow me to answer that for you (trust me, I’m a  professional*).

You flew! (Does flew look weird to anyone else? It’s right, I checked. Okay, moving on…)

YOU FLEW! I know you don’t think you did, but you did! You FLEW like a crazy Bird of Words. Remember, if you added anything at all, you did something. And something really and truthfully is better than nothing. It’s not just an overused saying. And seriously, I’m not just saying this to placate, enable, or patronize you.

YOU flew.FlashBuddy bald-eagle-521492_640

Writing is surprisingly difficult. Do you know how many stories have wandered through my head that were never written down? (You probably do, you’ve had them too.) So you know how hard it is to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, thumbs to phone. And then, if you manage that, you sit and tap your fingers, not writing, just tapping a surface, all words having fled the mind. Frustrated, you slap your hands on the table and get up and actually clean the house (we all do it, my house is never tidy, but in November things get put away – it’s weird). You stalk to the kitchen to do dishes or eat your frustrations (disguised as Oreos and Cheetos) then pace back to your chair.

Eventually you start with anything that pops in to your head (it might be the Cheetos/Oreos combination talking, but go with it).

A sentence or two is written. You’ve done it! It flows.

People who don’t write do not get it. They assume it’s so easy. How hard can it be? they mock. But they don’t know. They don’t understand how hard it is. You pour yourself out and hope that someone loves it as much as you.ClkerFreeVectorImages proud figure-25590_640

And you did that. You boldly got those words out of your head.

I’m so proud of you. :’-D

So as we move into July’s camp just remember

If you flew once, you can do it again. 😀

*Hehehe A professional what? (Okay, I am actually a Life/Nutrition Coach among other things. I’m sure this falls under the life coaching aspect.)

NaNo Jargon

*This post was originally a thread in last year’s Spokane Regional forums, created by Samantha Potter, ML.

Like many specialized endeavors, NaNoWriMo has evolved its own specific jargon over the years. A question by one of the attendees of our plot planning session reminded me that like any foreign languages, many of the terms bandied about by NaNoWriMo participants must be learned.

Often those of us who have been around for a while have incorporated many of these NaNo-specific phrases into our personal vocabularies, and we’ve long since forgotten that the general public has no clue what we’re referring to.

… And Then What Happened? Vol. I = an anthology published August, 2012, containing the work of 23 of the more than 630 Spokane-area authors who have participated in NaNoWriMo from 2002 through 2011. Copies of the Anthology may also be purchased directly from the MLs.

Camp NaNoWriMo = an opportunity to write a novel in two separate sessions during the summer months. Camp is also run by the Office of Letters and Light, NaNoWriMo’s parent organization.

Chat Room = an unofficial chat platform where MLs can set up a chat for their region.

Chatzy The Spokane Region’s Chat Room. This is a password-protected, moderated chat room that requires users to register their email address. The Chatzy Chat Room is open year-round for Spokane-area NaNoWriMo participants.

Donation Day = a single day in November when participants are challenged to meet a fundraising goal. OLL staff members offer to embarrass themselves on YouTube to encourage fundraising efforts.

Donation Station = the place where anyone can donate money to the Office of Letters and Light and/or purchase merchandise related to NaNoWriMo, YWP, Script Frenzy, Camp NaNoWriMo, and the Office of Letters and Light.

Kick-Off Party = a social gathering, usually held just prior to the beginning of November to meet local participants and talk about your novel.

MC = Main Character. Variants: MFC = Main Female Character & MMC = Main Male Character

Meet Up = when Wrimos “meet up” anywhere. These usually happen in coffee shops, libraries, parks, homes, or cafes. In contrast with a Write-in, a meet-up may not involve actual writing.

Midway party = a non-writing event held about half-way through November. A midway party can be a great stress-reliever and community-builder

ML = Municipal Liaison. One of the officially appointed unpaid volunteers who organize events in a specified region.

ML Appreciation Day = a day during November when participants celebrate all the hard work that MLs put into making NaNoWriMo happen.

Mr. Ian Woon = an ongoing challenge, created by sushimustwrite, whereupon each Nano participant is challenged to include a character by that name in their novel.   Mr. Ian Woon is an anagram of NaNoWriMo. That is, if you rearrange the letters of Mr. Ian Woon you’ll get NaNoWriMo.

NaNo Rebel = any NaNoWriMo participant who writes something besides a new novel in November. NaNo Rebels are largely self-defined.

NaNoMail = the private messaging system through which users can communicate with each other on NaNoWriMo.org. Participants must be logged in to read and send NaNoMail, and must have their mail set to receive private messages in order to receive messages.

NaNoVideo = videos produced each fall by the NaNoWriMo staff and posted on the site, containing advice, encouragement, answers to questions, and amusing miscellany.

Night of Writing Dangerously = a fundraiser and writing marathon that benefits OLL programs. Takes place each November in San Francisco; tickets are limited to the first 250 fundraising Wrimos who collect 250 dollars or more through their fundraising pages for the event.

No Plot? No Problem! = NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s book, published in 2006, that explains NaNoWriMo and offers advice for successful participation.

Novel Validation = the process of confirming that a participant has written at least 50,000 words in November, through the website’s word-count validation system. Takes place from November 25-30 and can be found under “My NaNoWriMo” –> “Edit Novel Info” when a participant is logged in. Participants must validate their novels to receive winner goodies.

OLL = Office of Letters & Light, the parent organization that runs NaNoWriMo, YWP and CampNaNo.

Plot Bunny = a story idea that refuses to go away until it is written. The term’s origin is unknown but is known to predate NaNoWriMo. Because plot bunnies tend to multiply quickly, the term is thought to be related to the oft-quoted John Steinbeck quote about ideas and rabbits. “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
The NaNoWriMo forums offer several resources for the care and handling of plot bunnies. Unwanted bunnies can be put up for adoption in the Adoption Society forum. Plot bunnies that the writer wants to write later can be left in the Plot Bunny Day Care Center in the NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul forum, where they can breed with the plot bunnies of other Wrimos and be cared for in the finest fashion.

Plot Ninjas = something that is inserted into the plot when the writer finds him- or herself at a loss for what to do next, or when their characters are bogging down in dull conversation rather than doing anything interesting. The traditional form of the plot ninja is literal ninjas crashing through windows or leaping out of wardrobes and attacking the main characters, turning the dithering over plot into an exciting action scene. When actual ninjas are not appropriate, milieu-appropriate enemies, such as orcs, cyborgs, or gangster can be substituted.
In a more general sense, a plot ninja is any plot element, perhaps randomly generated or taken from other’s suggestions (such as dares), which a writer will toss into the story when things are slowing down.

PM (Private Message) = see NaNoMail.

Regional Lounge = a special forum where members of a region can see a calendar of upcoming events, discuss regional matters, and learn about their region and MLs. This post resides in a thread on the Spokane Regional Lounge.

SpokaNaNo = the Spokane Region of NaNoWriMo, officially incorporated as a non-profit corporation with the Washington Secretary of State, and doing business as the Spokane River Writers.

Spokane River Writers = see SpokaNaNo . The combined force of the Greater Spokane-area NaNoWriMo participants since 2002.

Store the place where official merchandise related to NaNoWriMo, YWP, Script Frenzy, Camp NaNoWriMo, and the Office of Letters and Light can be purchased.

TGIO Party = the end-of-month celebration for all regional participants, usually held within the first week of December.

Traveling Shovel of Death (TSoD) =  an ongoing challenge to include the shovel by name in your novel, causing havoc and death in some manner and then post appropriate excerpts in your regional forums.

Twitter.com/nanowordsprints = the Twitter feed maintained by NaNoWriMo staff that regularly offers timed word sprints.

Twitter.com/nanowrimo = The official NaNoWrimo Twitter feed with news snippets, responses to Tweeted questions, and year-round encouragement.

Virtual Write-In = most write-ins on the Spokane calendar can be accessed virtually (whenever wi-fi access is available from the event) and at least once a week an entirely virtual event is scheduled, via Chatzy for a text-based chat and using Google+ Hangouts for those Wrimos who have circled the Spokane River Writers Google+ Page.

Winner Certificate = a downloadable certificate available to NaNoWriMo participants who validate their novels. Certificate design changes each year; winners receive a link to a congratulatory page after novel validation.

Word Wars = a common activity in which two or more people or groups compete to see who can write the most words in a given time (most “wars” in the Spokane region range from 15-30 minutes). Word wars are a major tool of Write-ins to ensure productive writing sessions. Word Wars also refer to challenges between regions for either most words written in November, or highest average per-author word count.

Word Sprint (see also: Word Wars) = Writing as much as possible in a given time. Sprinters often compare their word counts and at official Write-Ins, MLs may reward small prizes to the winners. The NaNoWriMo staff maintains a feed at twitter.com/nanowordsprints for frequent online sprinting. In the Spokane Region, word sprints are more commonly referred to as word wars, reserving the “sprint” definition for the NaNoWriMo twitter feed.

Wrimo = a National Novel Writing Month participant.

Write-In = a group writing event, usually held at a library, coffee shop or restaurant, where Wrimos gather to write their novels. Usually aided by copious amounts of caffeine, sticker bribery and word wars (word sprints). May be attended virtually via Chatzy or Google+ hangouts, when held in a location providing wi-fi access.

Year of Big, Fun, Scary Adventures (The Year of Doing Big, Fun, Scary Things Together) = an annual post-November challenge to NaNoWriMo participants, in which participants post their adventurous goals for the year ahead.

Young Writers Program (YWP) = NaNoWriMo for kids and teens in grades K-12. YWP participants can set their own word count goals, interact with each other in monitored, kid-friendly forums, and access a host of resources. Educators can find lesson plans and teacher forums at the YWP site (ywp.nanowrimo.org)

Food, Glorious Food…

“Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard!”*

pbjWhat do you eat during Nano? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or as Dr. Who prefers – fish fingers & custard? Do you make dinners ahead of time, freezing meals for a quick pop in the microwave or reheat in the oven?  Do you tell your family to fend for themselves and rely on what’s in the cupboard for food to keep you going?  Maybe you buy frozen dinners on sale and hoard them for November, filling your freezer with boxes. Whatever you do, now’s the time to give it some thought and perhaps, stock up.

You’ll want to include your favorite writing rewards on that list as well, especially if it is food related. (Mine are dark chocolate covered coffee beans!)

My go to website for fast meals is usually FoodNetwork.com.  I use it for everything from cookies to breads to full dinners.

I prefer dishes I can cook with little fuss and less cleanup. One pot meals are my favorite, but my family prefers to have their peas separate from their potatoes and meat. (Shepard’s Pie anyone?)


On the other hand, they love anything that is easily picked up and taken with – even dinner. I’ve been known to make  these easy mini quiches in my muffin tins, eating a few right out of the oven and freezing the rest for late morning rush-out-the-door days. You can omit the crust for a tasty, on the go frittata!

If it’s energy snacks you’re looking for, try Rachael Ray’s Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, or this Homemade Granola. Either recipe lends itself well to additional ingredients.

Whatever you plan on eating, there’s only one month left to get to it!

*Read more lyrics: Oliver – Food, Glorious Food Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

I don’ need no character…

Whether your characters are planned out meticulously or spring fully formed from your imagination one thing all authors agree on is that characters need to be real.  So how do you go about making them three dimensional? There are a variety of ways, some of which we’ve shared below.

  1. While “The Writers Toolbox” by Jamie Cat Callan is mostly for plot and getting your story out, there is a vital piece related to characters.  She says it thusly: “Talk to your [character]…Ask your [character] what it wants. Sit down and write what the [character] would tell you if it could…”  In other words, interview your character. Write questions in your voice and your character’s answers in her’s, perhaps using different colored inks.  Ask your character what she wants from the story, she’ll tell you.
  2. Lizette Gifford recommends using character descriptions. Things such as name, species/race, gender, hair, eye & skin color, and an even more detailed list will help you later in the story (usually when editing). If you don’t like the super long lists, put the basic traits on a note card and pin it.
  3. James N. Frey discusses how to make well-rounded, believable characters that sizzle. He recommends creating a biography for your character and finding out what his “ruling passion” is. What drives him above everything else (for this story). In his second book Frey goes into detail on how to make worthy characters with “…the uniqueness of real people.”
  4. In “Ready, Set, Go!” you’re tasked with details, all the details you can think of about your character, as if you were an NYC detective and your character just got caught stealing your beloved grandmother’s prize-winning spaghetti sauce recipe. In other words, profile your character with pictures, motivations, juicy details of their bad habits and rumors involving him.
  5. If lists aren’t your thing, keep a separate document handy and put your character’s traits in the document as you discover them.  Perhaps you learn he craves cinnamon rolls but is highly allergic to  cinnamon which makes him a very crabby person in the morning; that would go on the document.

If none of this is helpful or your character just isn’t talking to you, throw her into an unexpected scene. Follow her around like a stalker – what’s in her medicine cabinet, her purse/backpack/briefcase or lunch box, what’s her ‘regular’ at the local coffee shop? Or best of all, go talk to her family. No one dishes dirt like a family member!


  1. The Writers Toolbox, Jamie Cat Callan, pg 37.
  2. NaNo for the New and the Insane, Lizette Gifford, pg 48.
  3. How to Write a Damn Good Novel I, James N Frey, pg 35.
  4. Ready Set Novel, Chris Baty et all., pg 21.
  5. Character Cafe, NaNoWriMo forums, Gadifere.

Spokane River Writers at Bark For Life in 2011

Need more help with your characters? Come visit us at the Spokane Bark for Life event this Saturday, October 13th from 11am – 3pm and get personal advice!  Not to mention supporting a great cause! 

Muse… What Muse?

Do you have a favorite place to write
or can you write anywhere?

Does your music need to be just so?  
Perhaps you have a special writing pen
or tchotcky that acts as your muse?  

No? Never fear – we can help you!

During the month of November we visit many places in our quest to complete the 50K word challenge. Libraries and coffee houses, video hangouts and chat rooms, sandwich shops and the ever popular *personal home are our hosts.  One is sure to work for you!

Is your music just not cutting it anymore? Spokane Nano writers freely share their play lists on the forum. Peruse their choices and try one or two out. You might find you like it!

Need a muse and not an inner editor? Visit a write-in and pick one up!  You’ll discover them hiding in Word Wars, the Haunted Book of Challenges and in the Bucket of Goodness. On very rare occasions, they peek out of your MLs’ pockets! In addition, MLs offer a safe place to drop off your inner editor. It can play with the others, while you work without interruption!

Be brave! Tell us what you need to write this November and throughout the year.

*No personal homes revealed or outed. A woman’s home is her kingdom after all.