Most Words Drafted–Fall 2013

Here are the winners of the Most Words Drafted competition in my novel-writing class. The whole semester of this course is archived here.

First place: Liz Winks

LizLiz wrote 64,309 words this semester. Her satirical novel is entitled The Grand War: or, How We Screwed Over the World to Get What We Wanted. She plans to keep writing during the break and the spring semester until she’s got a first draft–and given her amazing productivity, I have no doubt that she’ll do it, too.

You can follow Liz’s main character Otto von Visscher on Twitter. He’s a scientist.

I asked Liz to talk about how she got all this writing done this semester. Here’s what she said.

The Key to Writing a Novel:
Love Your Characters and Have Fun

At the beginning of this semester, I was terrified at the thought of having to write 2000 words a week when I still didn’t have an idea for a novel. Somehow, eventually, an idea hit me (still not sure how or when) and it stuck. I wrote arduously, almost obsessively, trying to capture every moment my characters wished to share with me.

I wrote during my night job. As I sat at the front desk of my dorm for three and a half or four hours, it helped keep me awake.

I wrote in between classes because I was bored and knew I would get entertainment from my characters.

I wrote when I didn’t feel like it, scrap it, and do it again until I got it right.

I wrote when sleep deprived because that’s when I was the most carefree and, in my loopy state, I actually stumbled upon some ideas that have been permanently incorporated into my novel.

My advice to you is to first and foremost love your characters. If you love them and truly care for them, they will speak to you and reveal themselves to you. If you are able to obtain that relationship, you’re basically set.

Don’t force it. If writing feels strained or not right, then it isn’t. But don’t worry, you will be able to return to that state of writing ease, I promise. When you feel stuck, just breathe, walk away, and remind yourself why you love your characters in the first place.

Always keep a notebook with you at all times. You never know when inspiration will strike you or when you will get the itch to hash out ideas.

And, maybe most importantly, have fun. That’s what I’ve learned the key to writing a novel is: having fun with it. Enjoying it and appreciating for the challenge that it is. You’re creating your own world filled with “real” lives. How could it get any cooler than that?

headshot with roseSecond place: Chelsea Jackman

Chelsea wrote 32,595 words this semester. Her novel is Jumping Fences, a middle-grade book about a girl, a ghost, and buried treasure set in St. Augustine, Florida.

You can find her online here, and check out the books she’s illustrated here.

rebecca2Third place: Rebecca Brill

Rebecca wrote 25,216 words this term. Her novel is Fever Queen’s Daughter, a fantasy novel she’s been working on for awhile; when I taught the class how to storyboard, she showed me her color-coded system for keeping track of her main POV characters.

You can find Rebecca online here. She and Liz will both be in my Literary Citizenship class next semester, so I look forward to continuing the conversation with them.

Congrats to ALL my students for embarking on novels, and thank you to you, kind readers, for following along.



  1. Gail says:

    So fun to hear these end-of-semester reports from your students! Congrats Liz! I have to say, I COMPLETELY agree with you. Love of your characters is essential to this novel-writing business. As an outsider participating in Cathy’s class, I was right there with you, cranking out words when I could and the ONLY way I could is because *I* wanted to know what happened next to these people I was creating. I think the best part was finding myself thinking about them even when I wasn’t writing.

    Good luck to all of you as you keep plugging along! Any of you planning on signing up for Midwest Writers Workshop? I can’t wait!

  2. Congrats to all your students, Cathy; but special congrats to Liz Winks. 64K is a lot of words. Clearly she was engaged with her characters and the whole project. Really enjoyed reading her comments. She sure sounds like a smart writer.

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