I Told My Characters Not to Fall in Love and They Did It Anyway (Midweek Novel Update #1)


Since first starting my book in 2012, I’ve learned a lot about the creative process. I’ve learned a lot about how an idea transforms over time, if you give it the chance to grow. I’ve learned a lot about what it means to fall in love with a story, so much so that you’re willing to let that story shift and change so it can become, well, better, even if it’s nothing even resembling your original plot.

Kind of funny, considering the story of the book-that-currently-has-no-title started out in a setting that (is this cliché enough for you?) did not allow people to fall in love. At all. Ever. Punishable by death? Eh. Sort of.

Actually, technically, the story started out as a semi-utopian sci-fi something-or-other with no plot structure and cringe-worthy dialogue, but what book doesn’t?

For the record, I don’t consider myself a particularly talented (or accomplished) writer. That’s why I spend most of my time with NR giving you all writing advice instead of talking about my own work.

But I’ve done some stats reviews recently, and it turns out you all (trying to stop myself from y’alling, it’s hard) apparently like reading about my novel-writing shenanigans. So I’ve made a decision.

Once a week, on Wednesdays, you get a novel update on our blog. So from now on, you can celebrate Hump Day with a blog post about my book, even if I haven’t made any progress, even if I am fighting with it, even if it kills me. You’re welcome.

So where am I now in the novel-conquering process? Struggling, big time. I like to be as transparent as possible when I do talk about my book (aside from giving away major plot points, in case a miracle happens and you someday get to read it in print). I think that’s important, for authors, for aspiring writers, anybody. Writing can be fun, it can be very rewarding, and everyone deserves praise for at least trying. But it’s hard.

Some days even I don’t feel like writing. I spend more time disliking my work than I do being proud of it. But that’s part of the process, I think. At some point you get past that, and you have a finished product and all that struggling seems worth it by then.

I’m not past that yet, though. I’m far from finishing my product, and as a Wrimo veteran, this is difficult for me. This book has gone through three Wrimos now (July 2014, November 2014, April 2015) and it’s still in fragments and shards. I know where I’m going with it. I’m just taking my time in filling the gaps.

What’s hardest for me isn’t the actual writing; it’s the story. If you’ve been following me for at least the past few months, you know I’ve made a lot of changes recently. In January I decided to start the book over completely … and again last month. This most recent change is, I’m certain, headed in the right direction. But I’m worried. Why?

Because two characters end up falling in love. And that’s not what I wanted them to do.

Characters have minds of their own, they really do. The narrator literally starts off telling the story with the line, “This is not a love story.” It’s not, I guess. I think every story has to have a little romance of some kind or readers get bored, or it doesn’t seem realistic. But that wasn’t my plan for my main characters. Nothing ever goes according to plan when you’re trying to write a book.

The way these characters express their love to each other is a bit out of the ordinary, because these kids are trained and manipulated not to register their own emotions (they’re too distracting, or so they are told). So love is confusing and, while not forbidden (thank God) widely misunderstood. Imagine two people feeling attracted to each other but never having felt that way about anybody before. Sort of like that.

Companionship in this society is complicated. A group of characters end up having to work as a team to overcome a few obstacles (we’re talking literal obstacles, more specifically, fire, darkness, trees) which obviously won’t go well at first, since they’re students, the best of the best, only accustomed to working alone. What are friends? No one has any clue what’s going on and I kind of like that. But I’ve been fighting this whole time to keep character A and character B apart, and they’re just not having it.

No, it’s not a love story. Because our narrator has read a lot of love stories, and hers isn’t anything like those books.

Too bad she doesn’t have a mom to help her sort out all these confusing feelings. Her dad may or may not have sent her away on behalf of “curious circumstances” and, despite prodding over the years, has never explained the details.

Love is confusing. You have been warned.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

The 30,000-Word Slump: A NaNoWriMo Horror Story

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbWell, fellow Wrimos, it’s that time of November again. Not just National Novel Writing Month. Not just literary insanity mixed with sleep deprivation, caffeine over-consumption and thinking we hear our characters talking to us out loud (they’re not). It’s the time to be brave, to face our biggest fears, to finally gain temporary control over our setting, plot and characters (though not necessarily in that order). It’s time to fight the battle we’ve been dreading since typing out our first word.

It’s time to plow through our 30,000th word. Continue reading “The 30,000-Word Slump: A NaNoWriMo Horror Story”

NaNoWriMo 2014: How to Give Your Ideas the Attention They’re Begging For


[Author’s note: I started writing this post, and one sentence in, my laptop shut off and restarted itself. And it has yet to begin functioning properly since. This post may be cursed. You have been warned. Continue reading at your own risk.]

[Update: my laptop’s hard drive actually failed. Whether or not this post caused this unfortunate circumstance is still under hypothetical speculation.]

At this point in NaNo prep land, you’re either scrambling to come up with a novel idea, trying desperately to finish your current book by November 1 so you can start the next book in the trilogy (raises hand) or you have a novel idea, you’ve had a novel idea for THREE FREAKING MONTHS and you HAVE TO START WRITING NOW NOW NOW NOW.

You’re now at the very end of the stage of your NaNo Preparation Plan where paying attention to your ideas is the best thing you can do for the novel inside you begging to find its way out. Technically you could start writing before November 1, and no one would ever know. But nothing is more satisfying than a “true” NaNo win – this, I’m sure, could be debated for the entire 30-day NaNo stretch, which would prevent everyone involved from writing the 50,000 words actually needed to win because they’re too busy arguing about whether or not they’re “literally cheating” … I could keep going. But I won’t.

Here are three ways you can give some TLC to your ideas without turning them loose (yet.) Continue reading “NaNoWriMo 2014: How to Give Your Ideas the Attention They’re Begging For”

NaNoWriMo 2014: How to Start Your NaNo Preparation Plan


“I can’t come to your birthday party, Steve.”

“Why not, Joe?”

“Because over the next 30 days I’m going to work my full-time job, take night classes, make dinner for my family every evening, watch How to Get Away with Murder every Thursday and, oh, write 50,000 words.”

” … What?”

For some, it’s strange to think November involves anything other than turkey, parade floats, Christmas shopping and the best day of the year to make a wish. It’s different when you’ve signed up on October 1 to attempt (and possibly conquer) yet another National Novel Writing Month challenge. Turkey, balloons, malls and 11/11 can’t quite compare to the literary insanity between you, your computer and a group of imaginary people that only exist in your head. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo 2014: How to Start Your NaNo Preparation Plan”

How to Feel More Confident About What You Write


Do you like to write? Well, do you? Now I’ll ask you a question with a less obvious answer: do you like WHAT you write?

I used to write Christian novels. I like reading them and there are authors out there who write them well, but I’m not one of them. And it’s not because Jesus and I have issues (we’re all good), it’s because it never clicked with me. I believe what I believe and it’s a staple in my life, but at some point in high school I realized I didn’t want to write for that audience 24/7.

The problem wasn’t the messages I wanted to convey or the lifestyles of the characters I wrote about. It was the fact that, simply, I didn’t like writing in that genre. And I realized that writing in a genre other than Christian fiction didn’t change my religion or the way I lived my own life. I wanted to write about different characters with different lifestyles, a different style. And once I started doing that, I started liking the end products of long hours spent typing away at my computer.

Now confidence – that’s a different story. And if you’re in the middle of writing a book and are high on caffeine and low on confidence, you’ve stumbled upon the appropriate collection of tips.

Write about things you’re interested in. You don’t have to be an expert about soccer to write about the World Cup – I write about health and fitness almost daily and I don’t even have my degree yet. No, you can’t claim you’re an expert on something when you’re not, but you’re not banned from writing about what you’re interested in just because you didn’t study it in school. The more you like something, the more you’ll watch, practice or research/read about it – the more you’ll know, and the more material you’ll have to go off of when you sit down and open your go-to word processor. Don’t write about the World Cup if you have no interest in it whatsoever, just because ‘everybody else is doing it.’ Stick to what you know – your love for the topic of choice will show through the words you use to write about it.

Don’t underestimate your ability to tell an amazing story. You’ve gone places throughout your lifetime and interacted with people whether you wanted to or not (I’m talking to you, fellow introverts). Even if you’ve never gone past your hometown’s official boundaries, you’ve encountered thousands if not millions of writing prompts just by walking down your front steps on your way to school every day when you were younger. If you’re afraid your ideas ‘have all been done before,’ snuff out that fear and make them come to life anyway. How many Disney classics were based on previously-written tales? A LOT. And all who grew up watching them don’t care if they’re technically fairly unoriginal. The more you practice writing, the better you’ll get at putting your own original spin on an age-old tale. You are a WRITER! Sit yourself down and crank out those stories you’ve kept floating around in your head your entire life. You won’t regret it.

Share your work. But Meg, I don’t like bragging about my writing. TOO BAD! Don’t even think of it as ‘bragging.’ If writers never promoted their own work to start out, no one would ever discover it. How do you think authors snag publishing contracts? By marketing their best work and being proud of it. Yes, be PROUD of it! You sat down and wrote a book/article/news brief/screenplay/haiku/instruction manual! WOOHOO! You accomplished something and you deserve a self-pat on the back! Now go email it to all your friends. If they don’t like it, there’s something wrong with them. Or, if you want to go the more logical route, they’re just not interested in the topic, genre or form of writing. Send it to 10 people and at least half of them will probably tell you you’re awesome and beg you for more reading material.

Do you like what you write? Maybe not. And all of us have pieces we wish we’d never written. But those are easy to save onto our hard drives and forget about, to leave more room in your brain for new ideas. Take your writing into your own hands (literally, as always) and love it. Love it as much as you love Disney movies and, okay, international soccer extravaganzas.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Three Ways to Turn Nuisances Into Short Stories

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Warning: Excessively facetious blog post begins…now.

If you have a younger sibling, obnoxious neighbors or a cat (currently, I have all three). you know have a picture to smack down beside the definition of “annoying” in the dictionary (literally, you actually might have a picture – just don’t smack the actual person). While they might be interrupting the creation of the most significant plot twist you’ve ever thought of, they might also have the potential to become the most significant character you’ve ever sketched.

The same goes for just-can’t-handle-this situations (super long lines in grocery stores, emails that start with “Hi,” just to name a few). You might want to cut everyone in line or intentionally ignore a few thousand emails (and those are gentle reactions). You can’t, though. You can’t let nuisances turn you into the Hulk. But a fictional character can go to extremes to eliminate all the annoying things in his or her life, and if he or she gets in trouble for it – well, you don’t even have to write that part, if you don’t want to.

You are a writer. Use your Wannabe Novelist/Poet/Playwright/Journalist Superpowers to turn that wall you want so badly to punch a hole through into your next greatest literary accomplishment.

How? Well obviously I’m going to give you a few suggestions. From, ahem, personal experience.

Walk straight from Annoying Situation X to your laptop.

Don’t wait, because all that frustration and feeling like you need to pull all the hairs out of your head one by one has to go somewhere. Even if you have to scribble it down on a napkin or the back of a six-month-old receipt, something is better than nothing. Act on your negative spirt of emotion before it passes; if you’ve been looking for motivation to write something new, at least you have something to jumpstart your newest project. Don’t let it sit in your head too long; it might just end up giving you a migraine instead of morphing itself into a useful addition to your Idea Bank.

Don’t hold back.

As long as you’re already busy venting your frustrations in literary form, go all out before your wrists and fingers cramp up. You’ll feel much better once your character has finished saying everything you just barely stopped yourself from screaming twenty minutes ago, word-for-word, maybe with a few choice phrases added in (not that I recommend colorful language when it’s not needed, let’s be modest here). Even if it’s a “fake letter,” don’t even feel an ounce of guilt about everything your Source of Unnecessary Stress is hypothetically reading as you’re writing it. This is for your sanity. Let loose and be proud.

For once, don’t write for a specific audience.

Every writing professor I ever had in college is cringing at this tip. Hang on, let me explain myself. If you’re writing about a person, one who, unfortunately, is the current source of your frustration and hair-greying stress, you’re probably going to want to imagine up 101 Ways to Push Person X Down Six Flights of Stairs Without Getting Caught. There is nothing wrong with this violent urge – just think about how many stories involving violence have become huge literary successes. But don’t write that story with your readers in mind, because at least for now, no one should read what you’ve written about an actual human being. Wait until you’ve cooled down a little, go back and reread your masterpiece – if it’s a little too over-the-top, tone it down, do a few subtle name changes, and then hand it off to your wannabe literary agent. And scene.

The best stories we write are the ones fueled by the emotions of our personal experiences. I believe you can do it. Let’s work together, decreasing the national prevalence of physical violence one short story at a time.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

How to Turn “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” Into “A Work In Progress”

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“I wish I could have gotten to know him better.”

“I should have paid more attention in that class.”

“If it weren’t for my part-time job, I would have spent more time writing.”

And the list, probably, goes on. And on. And on. No matter what we accomplish – in that internship position or working for this company or earning some degree – we will always ask the “what if?” questions. What if I’d majored in journalism instead of English? What if I’d spent a little more time studying and a lot less time cramming everything under the sun into one page’s worth of a resume hardly anyone might ever read?

The answer to these questions, and the millions out there just like them, is always the same: it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you could or couldn’t do, what you apparently should or shouldn’t have done, what you would have done if this or wouldn’t have done if that. What matters is what you can do, and will do, right now.

So you didn’t graduate from college summa cum laude or climb aboard the “ring by spring” bandwagon your senior year. You can’t go back and change that (no matter how much you might claim you would give up to do so). What you can change is your attitude – and the goals you tack onto that Bucket List I mentioned yesterday. You won’t get anywhere in life if all you do is wish things were different. Here are a few ways to make sure you’re always looking straight ahead instead of over your shoulder.

Spend a little time reflecting.

There’s a big difference between reflecting and regretting. Whether you’ve recently graduated college or you’re just in a suitable place (literally or figuratively) to do some healthy looking back, take advantage of the opportunity to remember both good experiences and not-so-good ones. It really is true what they say: we learn from everything life tosses our way, whether it makes us smile or shudder. Everything we go through has the power to pave the way to the future we’re meant to indulge in; all you have to do is take a deep breath and walk that unfamiliar road.

You don’t have to let what you didn’t accomplish send you into a dangerous plague of remorse. When you think about what you didn’t accomplish, consider the reasons why. What sorts of barriers prevented you from crossing that goal off your list in the past? Is it a goal you can still work toward now, with a little motivation and support? If it’s a goal you literally cannot achieve (i.e., publishing a novel before graduating college – and no, this wasn’t actually one of my goals, I promise), you might still be able to get it done another way, no matter how long ago it might have been.

Pick a goal and make it your “current project.”

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we try to do too many things at once. While there’s nothing wrong with learning to multi-task, don’t try to accomplish everything on your list right here, right now. Think of it this way: if your Bucket List has five things on it (and it might, and that’s 100 percent acceptable) and you accomplish all five of those things in the next six months – well, for one thing, you’re a pretty epic individual and I’ll probably want to meet you just so I can soak up a little of your awesome just by being in the same room as you. But if you all of a sudden sit back and realize you’re [insert relatively young age here] and have already accomplished everything you ever wanted to….now what?

For now, pick one of those five goals (or however many big dreams you have stored up in that smart-person head of yours) and make it your work in progress, your “current project.” As you read in my last post (or maybe you didn’t, but you totally should now), any bigger agenda you have is going to have to be broken down into a multitude of smaller tasks if you’re ever going to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. Make those smaller tasks your main focus. You might not feel like you’re accomplishing anything at first, but just wait until those smaller completed tasks start adding up. Which brings me to my next point.

Learn to be content with slow but steady progress.

This is something I’m definitely in the process of working on, so if nothing else, you’re certainly not alone. If you’re one of those people who wants everything done now, to see results now, to do it all now now NOW (guilty), and I mean it figuratively when I say this, take a good-sized chill pill and sit still for awhile. Breathe in the fresh air. Close your eyes. Think about everything you’ve done since yo woke up today. More than likely, you’ll realize you’re doing more than your to-do list says you are.

I think we all need to learn that slow and steady is better than quick and messy. The little things you do every day, even if it’s just writing down a few ideas for a new scene or chapter or a doodle of a character on your napkin, eventually become the puzzle pieces that make up your biggest accomplishments in life. You never know what that chicken-scratch note or cruddy napkin sketch could lead to. You might think you know – but oh, no. You don’t. No one does.

The absolute truth is, we are not superheroes; we physically cannot accomplish everything we will ever want crossed off our Bucket Lists. You can try to be Super [Insert name here], but more than likely, you’ll burn yourself out before you get a chance to do that one thing you want to accomplish more than anything else. I’ve learned the hard way that even coffee can’t make it happen (and for the love of God, don’t even try proving me wrong). The book of your life will one day come to the final chapter, and there will be things you suddenly realize you never did. That’s okay, and more importantly, that’s human.

All you can do right now is live in the moment, keep your dreams at the corner of your eye and dare to refuse to give up. Never define yourself by your failures or by what others tell you they wish they could have seen you accomplish. Put the past behind you; write that book, or start up that company, or whatever your dream is. The only person holding you back is – you guessed it – you.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

You Are Your Novel’s Muse

Guess what? It’s cloudy again, and too cold to sit out without a sweatshirt (I’m a wimp when it comes to temperature, it’s true). So I’m stuck inside, still procrastinating on packing, because even though I’m 80 percent sure I’m moving back to my apartment on Sunday, it just doesn’t feel real yet. And then there’s the whole suitcase factor. I still have to dive deep into the depths of our basement to find them. College student problems.

You’ll be happy to know that I did end up working on my memoir yesterday for a good hour or so. The thing with writing about your past is that you can’t just tell the story in the order of the way things happened, necessarily, and you really can’t write it in order, either. I’m learning that when I sit down to work on it, I have to write about what’s on my mind. What/Who have I been thinking about lately? How does that tie into the message I want to get across? It’s a very different process than writing a novel, article or short story. And I think I’m really starting to like that.

The whole reason I’m doing this at all is to come to terms with a lot of things I’ve been through that have shaped me over the past 21 years, and I feel like you can’t be at peace with yourself or the way you live your life until you’re able to embrace the people that hurt you, love who you have become and know who you want to be. I’m only in the process of figuring those things out, and writing about it helps a lot more than I thought it would. I think the reason for that is, I’m not writing it all down for anyone else. I’m writing it for me. So I’m speaking to myself, in a way, as I fill the pages. Honesty leads to trust, which leads to healing.

I don’t know what I would do without a keyboard, or paper and a pen. I’m glad I don’t have to think too hard about what the alternatives would be. I have my words – and sometimes that’s all I need. Sometimes all anyone ever needs is to release the voice no one else gets to hear, the one you have the power to ignore, tolerate or accept with grace.

Figure out the things that make you become real. Never let them go. Ever.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Tales of a Highly Caffeinated JulNoWriMo Enthusiast – Day 27

I have not written much since Wednesday. I should be worried. I should have spiraled into freak-out mode about two days ago. But I haven’t. I think that’s freaking me out more than not having written.

I blame my mood swings. They try to control my life, but I’m too stubborn to ever let that come even close to happening. So I just drink coffee and eat chocolate and it’s all better.

I’m planning on writing after dinner, but I suppose we’ll have to see how much I can get done between then and bed. It’s hard to stay motivated at night when I get up so early. (I know, I know – don’t get up so early and you’ll get more done at night. I’m a morning person. End of story.)

I’ve gotten a few good ideas for Dana’s story, but I want to make sure it will work with the other subplots. I think the original plan in the pilot was to have her brother missing, but the idea of having him in the military appealed to my brain more. I didn’t plan it that way. All of a sudden that’s what was happening and I just decided to stick with it.

I honestly have to let my characters know how angry I am at them sometimes. They have a habit of wanting to take control of their own lives, and as much as I appreciate it, sometimes it’s just not okay. I’m the writer here. If they want to go write their own books when I’m finished with their stories, fine. But while I’m in charge, stick to what I tell you and otherwise keep quiet.

I should get back to writing before they do things I haven’t approved of yet.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Tales of a Highly Caffeinated JulNoWriMo Enthusiast – Day 20

As someone who has been writing [practically] her entire life, I never think of sitting down and typing out a few fictional sentences as “practicing.” In gymnastics, you get better by doing so many cartwheels you feel like your arms are going to fall off. (Personal experience? Maybe.) In music, you get better by singing until your diaphragm hurts, or blowing into your flute until…yeah, your diaphragm still hurts.

It’s easy to detect progress when you’re flipping around on a mat or glued to a piano bench in a practice room. Growing as a writer is harder to evaluate. And marking progress requires reading through (and cringing in response to) old material, understanding your current style, and even brainstorming ways to incorporate habits you liked but lost into habits you developed and kept.

It’s not easy. But that’s why we practice.




And practicing doesn’t just mean cranking out one novel after another until you have a figurative stack of unpublished books taking up space on your hard drive. It means writing all the time, every day, even if it’s one sentence about a purple kangaroo living in a dying mango tree. (You can discard sentences you don’t like. Sometimes it’s better for everyone.)

What does this not mean? It does not mean forcing yourself to write when you don’t want to. It does not mean typing out a dozen more pages of a story just because you want to make progress. It does not mean making your art come out of the shadows when it’s not ready to emerge.

The past few years, I’ve been busy enough with school that I’ve only started an average of two novels a year: one in November and one in July. I’m not constantly turning idea streamers into pompoms into cheerleaders into high school-dictating cliques that banish traitors for dating mathletes. I write articles for an online magazines and for my school’s newspaper. I’m part of a team that covers stories and captions for our yearbook. Hey, I even blog a little, occasionally.

Bottom line: I’m always writing. If it’s not one of the things mentioned above, it’s stringing together a literary analysis or research source review for a class. Any kind of writing is still writing. It’s still taking words from the brain and putting them on paper. It’s still practicing.

You may not think you’re anything but a novel-writing machine. But what the professional world is looking for is not a writer who has perfected the art of literary fiction. They’re searching for writers who can sit down, choose a medium, and come up with a lead, conclusion, and a whole lot of factual and entertaining content in-between.

Write everything. Everywhere. That’s how born writers become successful writers.

Love&hugs, Meg<3