Writers Assemble!

NaNo-2017-Participant-Badge (1)The hour is nigh! National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins in just two days, and JMRL is here to support you in your writing endeavors. Are you thinking of taking on the 50,000-word challenge, or setting your own November writing goal? Here are my favorite last-minute tips and tricks for Wrimos and speed-drafters alike:

Aim for halfway. That 50k can feel like a lot, but the first 25k is the uphill climb. After that you’re coasting downhill toward the finish line. Forget about 50k—commit to hitting 25,000 words in the first two weeks. It will be painful, it will be hard, and you will hate your writing occasionally, but if you can hit 25k, you will have pushed through the worst of it!

Write your first page BEFORE November 1st. You can’t count any words written before November 1st toward the official NaNo 50k goal, but getting the intimidating blank page staring contest over before the real deal starts can be a huge confidence booster. Turn some of that nervous energy you’re feeling into an awesome opening scene.

If nothing else, figure out your premise. Even if you like to fly by the seat of your pants when you write, you can really benefit from having at least some vague points in your head before you start. It’s not plotters vs. pantsers to the death; There’s tons of middle ground between those options, and you can find a balance that’ll keep you motivated and inspired throughout November. If you do nothing else, it can really help to elevate your NaNo plan from a vague idea to a premise. Larry Brooks talks about this in his book Story Physics, and in this Writer’s Digest Article. Here’s an example using The Hunger Games:

  • [Idea]  I want to write a dystopian novel about reality TV
  • [Concept]  (add conflict and tension) I want to write about an annual televised event where poor kids are pitted against other poor kids for sport
  • [Premise]  (add character and themes) A girl named Katniss volunteers for The Hunger Games to save her sister from participating and has to fight to the death against other kids—including a boy from her own district who has always shown her kindness.

Look for that hint of conflict inherent in your basic idea and start questioning it like a toddler who just learned “why?”. And if you want to do a bit more in-depth prep, don’t forget that NaNoWriMo puts out some excellent workbooks through the Young Writer’s Program. The high school one is great for adults, too!

Use placeholders to keep up momentum. You should avoid stopping to research things as much as possible while fast drafting. Don’t know what to call that city? @CITY. Can’t come up with a name for that character? @GUY1. Can’t remember how many bones are in the human body? @RESEARCH LATER. Anything that will break your flow as you write, just throw a placeholder there and move on. Once you’re done with your first draft, you can use the ctrl+F (or cmd+F on a mac) feature to find every single instance of that placeholder in your doc. I always use the @ symbol, since I rarely write fiction that has lots of e-mail addresses in it, but you can use any symbol that doesn’t show up in your story.

Stay in the story between writing sessions. Carry a notebook around and always have those characters cooking in the back of your head while you do other things. When you sit down to write, you’ll be ready to go!

Reward yourself. Set mini goals along the way, and give yourself mini rewards. A cookie every 10k words? An hour of video games each week you make your goal? Whatever motivates you.

The challenge IS doable. Let your draft be rough. Real writing is rewriting. You’ll make it pretty and readable and entertaining later when you revise your novel. For now? Its only job is to exist. Make it exist.

Do you have any NaNoPrep strategies or tips that help you survive NaNoWriMo? Post ’em in the comments! Best of luck to all the wrimos out there. We will be victorious!

For a list of writing resources and related upcoming events at JMRL, see our Writing at JMRL page. See you at the finish line, writers.

Out of This World

smallangryplanetJuly 2nd was World UFO Day, so how about some aliens for your summer reading? Some are literary, some are campy, some are scary, and some are pure fun. This list is a mix of adult, YA, middle grade, and picture books, but don’t limit yourself—adults and older teens would enjoy all of these!

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers — For those who love character-driven stories and rich, detailed worldbuilding. Follow Rosemary Harper as she joins the crew of the Wayfarer, an ailing ship with an eccentric and diverse crew that makes a living tunneling wormholes. Winner of many awards and “Best Book of 2016” lists.

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex — The inspiration for the absolutely wonderful animated movie Home. 11-year-old Tip goes on a quest to rescue her mother, who was abducted by the Boov, and save the planet from disaster with the help of an alien mechanic friend.

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson — Aliens abduct Henry Denton and give him an ultimatum: Push the button, or the world ends. Seems like a simple choice, but Henry has had a rough life and is dealing with a lot: his grandmother’s Alzheimer’s, his overworked mother, his boyfriend’s suicide, and his occasional hook-up’s bullying. The end of the world doesn’t seem so bad.

Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis — Yelfred and Omek have been best frints since they were little blobbies, but when Omek borrows Yelfred’s spaceship without asking and crashes it, they get in their biggest fight ever. A fun lesson in understanding made-up language via context clues.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin — A literary science fiction classic. A lone human ambassador is sent to a world where the people can change gender at will. The goal is to foster an alliance, but our two cultures have very different beliefs. It’s been optioned for a mini-series a la The Handmaid’s Tale.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi — Retirement-age folks have the option to be made young again in exchange for a short commitment to the Colonial Defense Force. Too bad most people don’t live through their service, because the war is far tougher than anyone back on Earth knows. Great sense of humor in this first book from the now-famous Scalzi.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Stapes — This award-winning adult graphic novel series follows two soldiers from opposite sides of a generations-long war as they become parents for the first time while on the run. Absolutely stunning, hilarious, a personal favorite.

Adaptation by Malinda Lo — All across the nation, flocks of birds hurl themselves at planes. People die, communication breaks down, martial law is declared—and Reese’s car is run off the road, nearly killing her. But when she and her friend wake up in a secret facility in Nevada, a month has passed and they’ve received some experimental treatment that drags them into a government conspiracy. An X-files-esque thriller with a sequel to wrap up the cliffhanger.

The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers — When a boy flies a plane all the way up to space and runs out of gas, he encounters a martian whose spaceship has broken down. They’re both scared, but friends can be found in the most unexpected places.

Beyond the Binary at JMRL

y648At the Crozet Library, our focus for LGBT+* Pride Month 2017 is gender. We’re featuring fiction and nonfiction books about people who identify somewhere outside the cisgender man/woman binary system and inviting patrons to contribute their identity to our community board. Check out the display in our teen area for information, pronoun stickers, book selections, or to add to the board.

Looking for some great books to read for Pride, or want to educate yourself about gender identity? Check out these fiction, nonfiction, and memoir picks! Links will take you to the JMRL catalog, where you can place these books on reserve.



Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin – A genderfluid teen creates a blog to share thoughts and experiences about gender. When it goes viral, the responsibility and risk of exposure may prove to be too much.

Beast by Brie Spangler – A Beauty and the Beast retelling featureing fifteen-year-old Dylan (hairy, burly, outcast) and Jamie (witty, gorgeous, transgender) who meet when Dylan is assigned to a therapy group for self-harmers after an accident.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky – A novel about twelve-year-old Grayson, who feels trapped under the weight of a life-long secret: “he” has always been a girl on the inside. A sweet and thoughtful story about friendship and support.

George by Alex Gino – George wants to play Charlotte in the annual school rendition of Charlotte’s Web, but she’s not allowed to audition because everyone sees her as a boy. With the support of her best friend, though, George comes up with a plan to embrace her true self and make her dream come true.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills – Public access radio star Gabe is dealing with a lot: romance, parents, friendships, coming out as transgender, and an awesome opportunity to audition for a radio station in Minneapolis. The difficulty ramps even higher when several violent students discover that Gabe the popular DJ is also Elizabeth from school.


The ABCs of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell – This one isn’t strictly about gender, as it encompasses the entire scope of gender, sexual, and romantic identity, but it’s a must-read for anyone feeling out of their depth in the ever-more-complex world of identity. YouTuber Ashley Mardell presents what could be an overwhelming amount of information in a straightforward and easy-to-digest way, with complete definitions, personal anecdotes, and infographics.

Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews / Being Normal by Katie Rain Hill – Two halves of the same story, told by two transgender teens who were dating during their respective transitions from male to female and female to male.

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings – Young transgender activist (and now reality TV star) Jazz Jennings recounts her experiences growing up as a transgender child and her work to educate the world about gender issues.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out edited by Susan Kuklin – Author/photographer Susan Kuklin interviews six transgender or non-binary young adults as they work to understand themselves and their gender identities. Filled with beautiful photos and candid anecdotes.

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt – A family who adopted identical twin boys reexamined their deeply held views about gender identity when one of the twins turns out to be transgender.

Want more? Ask a librarian at any JMRL branch, chat with us via our website, or use our What Do I Read Next? tool. Happy reading!

* – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and more