Every Day We Write the Books: Please, Contribute to My Tumblr

Every Day We Write the Books: Please, Contribute to My Tumblr


Selfies + Accountability

During the summer of 2013, I wanted to keep track of how many days I wrote. Like making a big fat X on a calendar. Except I don’t use a physical calendar anymore.

So I hit the Photo Booth icon on my Mac and took a quick picture, and it was saved by the date. Here’s one from May 17.


It’s how I kept myself accountable all summer. Sometimes I took a picture from the POV of my computer, sometimes from my POV looking at my computer.

June 22, 2013

I used to use 750words.com a lot. I liked sharing that a writing session had taken place, similar to how I can share an exercise session has taken place on MapMyRun. I liked that all my friends were using 750words. It felt like we were all in it together.

So at the end of the summer, I made a Tumblr that anyone can contribute to. It’s called Every Day I Write the Book.

Perhaps you think sharing info like this is bragging or narcissistic?

Well, screw you. This is for the rest of us.

This isn’t like Selfies at Funerals or Selfies at Serious Places.

This is like, Hey look at all these people who are writing! 

Writing Accountability Tools

There are many ways to hold yourself accountable as a writer.

I have many writer friends who post weekly or daily updates on FB about how many words they’ve written. Personally, I like getting this information. It keeps me motivated, and they do it, I imagine, because it makes them accountable.

But yeah, I know, it gets to be too much sometimes.


Then there’s the fact that this Tumblr is about WRITING ACCOUNTABILITY and SELFIES. At the same time!

I don’t do selfies much. I have complicated feelings about them.

I like sharing. I like offering support. I like seeing what people are wearing or that they’ve lost weight or that they’re happy or that they’ve developed a six pack or that they like their new haircut. Yay!

But yeah, I know it on the other hand, it all feels like too much sometimes.

The rules

Every time you sit down to work on your book, take a pic. Of yourself or where you’re sitting.

Keep it clean.

Be real. No sprucing or preening.

Don’t show off.

Use this to keep yourself accountable and motivated.

Submit here.

[Let’s see if this works…and how it works.]

Twitter in a Creative Writing Class

Twitter in a Creative Writing Class

Teaching Writing

Inspired by the way Adam Johnson shares innovative classes via Blogger, I decided to create a blog for two of my classes this semester. One is a graduate course on Linked Stories, and the other is an undergraduate course on Novel Writing. Long after the classes are over, the blogs will remain, archiving the experience of the course. I’m curating the Linked Stories blog, titled #amlinking, and my intern Lauren Burch is curating the Novel Writing blog, #amnoveling.

Why those titles? Well, if you use Twitter and you’re a writer, I’m sure you recognize what I’m doing, so let me take a minute to explain hashtags to the rest of my readers. See picture below. Also, non-Tweeters should read this. Continue reading

Changing Habits During NaNo


Survey Question 2: Did you start writing on Nov. 1 or before?

9 students started on Nov. 1

4 students started before Nov. 1 (sometime around Oct. 1)

Are you happy with that decision?

All the students who started on Oct. 1 are happy with that decision. And they are all cruising right along, almost done.

Of the 9 students who started on Nov. 1, five are happy with that decision and four are not. Not surprisingly, the four who are not happy with their decision had the lowest word counts. Continue reading

The Gamification of Novel Writing

The Gamification of Novel Writing

For twenty years, my writing practice had no structure. I wrote when inspired and I would keep writing until I wasn’t inspired. If I didn’t have a big block of time, I wouldn’t write. I waited until I did have a big block of time–which happened…oh…never.

I was 25 years old, two years into an MFA program, and I still acted (without really realizing it) as if writing was something I did “for school.” And then one fall, the buzz among all students in my program was that Inman Majors had returned from summer break with a 200-page manuscript, a rough draft of a novel. Of course, we all hated him immediately.

Continue reading

Writing in the same room as your students

Writing in the same room as your students


On Monday, I opened the door to my classroom and my Advanced Fiction students filed inside. I opened up some cookies, scattered some leftover Halloween candy on the desk. I showed them that we’d received another postcard from the students in Lori Rader Day‘s class. They’re doing NaNo, too. I passed around a postcard, and a few students wrote down their words of encouragement. Continue reading

Publicity as a Motivator


The Ball State Daily News ran a story today about National Novel Writing Month.

Seriously. Front page. Above the fold.

The neighboring headline read “Sex Study places BSU 31st.” And right above, there was a huge picture of Conan O’Brien. So: the editors could have led with a story about S-E-X, or a story about a HUGE CELEBRITY, but instead they went with a story about a bunch of students writing fiction.

Which is pretty awesome, I think.

It was a nice article (thanks Keshia Smith!) and it definitely got my students pumped today. They walked into class full of energy and quickly got to work. Making the front page of the student newspaper will do that to you.

This is what my classroom sounded like today. I think it’s a glorious sound.

Five (or Six)

Charles Demuth, Figure 5 in Gold

A few days ago, Sonya Chung posted this great essay on The Millions about being a teacher of creative writing and about the uncertainty that’s inherent to the writing life.

She mentions a recent visit from author Jennifer Egan, who confessed to being an unconscious writer. The first drafts of her novels are written by hand on legal pads. The handwriting is illegible. She doesn’t consciously think about craft at this stage. She just goes, and because she’s writing by hand instead of on the computer, she doesn’t fiddle with what she’s written. It’s only after she’s hand-written a full draft that she goes back and revises and shapes and crafts and starts thinking and making choices.

Chung says one of her students raised her hand asked Egan about what sort of goals she sets, given her largely unconscious way of writing.

“Five pages, she said. Every day I aim for five pages. It doesn’t matter how much time I spend, I could sit for three hours and not get any pages. I’m after the pages.” I saw a number of students scribbling in their notebooks. I thought I heard a collective exhale of relief. Five pages. Something concrete, something quantifiable.”

It’s worth pointing out that a NaNo participant is doing the same thing as Jennifer Egan. Some proceed with a plan, some without, but still, they’re just trying to get pages done every day. Not five, but six pages down every single day during the month of November.
The next time I hear someone criticize NaNo, I’m going to tell them that Jennifer Egan is a NaNo writer, too. And I’m going to tell them to read this passionate, articulate defense, too.

Egan’s not an official NaNo Novelist, of course. She doesn’t sign up on the website or get a widget. She doesn’t need external reinforcement and the behavioral rewards system. Maybe she did once upon a time, who knows? She’s come up with her own regimen, which she self-enforces.

[Which begs the question “Does writing performed with the aid of constraints or rewards make said writing less valid than writing performed without those aids?” I’ll address that issue soon.]

My students are very resistant to the idea of writing a shitty first draft, to letting their unconscious minds run amok. They say to me, “I respect novels too much to write something crappy.” Or “I had three hours to write new pages today, and all I did was fiddle with what I wrote yesterday. I can’t stop myself.” Or “It’s just embarrassing to me to know that I have written all these crappy sentences. Eventually, I will have to fix those crappy sentences, so why not now?”

All their lives, they’ve had to write, tinker, turn in, get a grade. The rhythm of the semester demands that a messy first draft needs to quickly become a polished final draft. It’s interesting to me that even though I’ve said to them over and over again, “You’re not required to turn that messy first draft into a polished final draft. So just write. I’m not grading this.” But the impulse to “revise as you write” is so well ingrained they want to do it anyway. Some days, I have to forcibly tell them to stop it.
[Could it be that it’s the “credentialed writers” especially, those who emerge from writing programs, who have the most difficulty moving from short stories to novels? I’ll address that issue soon, too.]

For now, I’m going to tell my students about Jennifer Egan’s process. Five–or six–pages every day.



Not only do I want to change the name from “Novel Writing” to “Novel Drafting,” I also want to change it from one month to two.

National Novel Drafting Two Months!

NaNoWriMo creator Chris Baty says he picked November as National Novel Writing Month because “it’s a bad weather month.” Really? What about the long, dark nights of February or March? Why not schedule NaNoWriMo in say, May or June, when lots of people start Summer Projects? Or what about September! It’s time for school and shiny pencils and new notebooks. You’ve got back-to-school energy, even if you’re not in school. November? My internal batteries are fading. Why November? It’s a busy month. Final projects. Deadlines. End-of-year reports. Plus the holidays. Commitments to family and friends. How does anyone expect you to do anything this big during November?

But that’s the beauty of it, see. Because who doesn’t have a ton of shit to do all the time? As I tell my students: You’ll probably never have time to “just write,” so ask yourself how you’re going to organize your life so you can get writing done. How are you going to incorporate it into your already scheduled life? What’s on your plate? What can you remove from that plate? And what can be shifted around to make room for writing? Now, nobody’s asking you to quit your job or break up with your girlfriend or flunk a class or stop tucking your kids in at night. What about television? Gaming? Facebooking? Yammering? Putzing? Hard-core partying? Recovering from hard-core partying? Shopping on Etsy or Ebay? I don’t know-whatever else it is that you do that I can’t think of because I’m old and boring.

Still, I was worried. Maybe it’s not possible or reasonable to ask the average college student to draft a novel during November. Maybe it contributes to their well-ingrained “binge” mentality. They deny themselves all week, and then binge drink on the weekends. They don’t write anything for months, and then binge write for 30 days. Is this healthy? Then my husband said, “I don’t know how they can stand the suspense. Why don’t you just let them start?”

So I decided to offer the class a choice: They could participate in NaNo just as Chris Baty intended, or they could modify the experiment and start writing on October 1. Instead of writing 1667 words a day for 30 days of November (NaNoWriMo), they could write 980 words a day for the 51 days of October and November (NaNoDra2Mo).

[Wow, do I suck at math. Wow. Make that 819 words a day for 61 days. Because 31 + 30 = 61. Yes.]

At the end of September, I gave my students an in-class timed writing exercise: write a profile of your main character. They wrote for about 30 minutes. Then I had them shout out their word count. Some typed swiftly-no editing or tweaking-and pounded out over 1000 words. Others wrote more slowly and laboriously, only producing about 300 words.

I said, “Okay, some of you wrote quickly and some of you didn’t. There’s no right way to write. But what does this exercise tell you about how much time you need to write 819 words? To write 1667 words? For those of you who wrote quickly, you could do what you just did-spend just a half hour at the keyboard every day for two months-and you’re done. You could go on with the rest of your day. You’ll hardly notice the difference–other than the great feeling that comes with writing a little bit every single day. For those of you who wrote slowly, how much more time do you need to write 819 words? To write 1667? And ask yourself if you can realistically create that much time in your day? Maybe you need to use both October and November to accomplish this task. Or maybe you need to stop being so hard on yourself and just write like hell. Don’t edit or spell check. Get out of your own way and just go.”

So: half the class started on October 1st, and they are all about half way to the goal of 50,000. The other half of the class decided to wait and start on November 1st.

I’ll keep you updated on their progress.