Get ready for NaNoWriMo–or any novel project–with some advice from author N.M. Kelby

It’s back!

Promptly’s Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series launches today. I’ve combed all of our 90th anniversary issues for the quote-worthy quips that branded themselves in my mind when we were creating these magazines throughout the year, and selected my biased favorites. The tips will run twice a week and range from the practical to the pensive to the inspirational, and, of course, will always be followed by a regular Promptly writing prompt.

Today’s offering comes from novelist and friend-of-WD N.M. Kelby (Whale Season, The Constant Art of Being a Writer). A simple but vital reminder for those hoping to start a book, those working on a work-in-progress (aside: if we were in a classroom, I’d self-consciously raise my hand), or those gearing up to bang one out in 30 days for NaNoWriMo (aside: incapable; I salute you).

So here’s to that novel—and meditations on life.

No. 20: Gaining Focus
Make your workspace your sanctuary. Keep office hours. Close the door if you can. If you can’t, put on earphones and listen to music. Writing is a meditation on life. You need to feel alone in the world so that you can be objective about it. Don’t ever panic. Keep in mind that even great writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway needed editing. You can always go back and fix what doesn’t work.
—N.M. Kelby, “Taming the Beast,” January 2010 (click here to check out the issue)

And, as a bonus, also from Kelby’s “Taming the Beast”:

The best way to write a bestselling book is to write a book that you could give to anyone, including your mother-in-law and that salsa-dancing neighbor. Novels that really work are books that people can see their own hearts in. They’re books that make people feel that you’re writing about them. The best way to write such a genuine work is to write from an authentic part of yourself, rather than being distracted by what’s selling and why.”


Fear Factor
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a
response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our
occasional around-the-office swag drawings.
you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

For a Halloween party, your character has decided to face his biggest fear by making it his costume. And at the party, his biggest fear comes true.

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6 thoughts on “Get ready for NaNoWriMo–or any novel project–with some advice from author N.M. Kelby

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  3. Dare Gaither

    She always said I was a soulless zombie.
    I was always afraid she was right.
    I comforted myself with the thought that
    a real soulless zombie wouldn’t be afraid
    of being a soulless zombie. She just laughed
    at my irrefutable logic. It also occurred to me
    that a soulless zombie wouldn’t be afraid of her.
    I was afraid ….very afraid.
    I defiance of my fear, or actually in defiance of her,
    I was dressed as a zombie for the Halloween party.
    Thank God she wouldn’t be there.
    She didn’t do parties.

    The party was in full swing when I arrived.
    I could already hear spooky music luring me into
    the house as I made my way through the maze
    of gravestones and skeletons in the front yard.

    “I knew you’d come.”

    I froze in my tracks.
    The familiar voice sent chills down my spine.
    Fear reduced me to a helpless blob of gelatin.
    It was Janet.
    She was dressed as a witch.
    Cascades of black hair spilled over her shoulders, falling in
    ringlets around her breast.
    How could she be here?

    “I was wrong about you,” she said, slowly licking her
    swollen red lips.

    My body betrayed me as her seductive charms
    drew me inexorably toward her.
    She grabbed me and kissed me with primal urgency.
    Fear lost its hold as desire overwhelmed me.
    I was hers to do with as she pleased.
    She pulled me into the small workshop behind the house.
    At least I’ll die happy, I thought as I succumbed to her will.

    When I regained my senses, she was gone.
    I now understood why they call it The Great Rite.
    I would never be the same again.
    My costume was in shambles on the floor.
    I looked around me, wondering if she had gone in to join the party.
    I pulled on what I could find of my costume and headed for the door.
    At some point her witch’s garter had ended up wrapped around
    my neck. I could feel the silver buckle bob up and down when I swallowed.
    I decided to leave it on.
    It was Halloween after all.

    Fog engulfed me as the door opened.
    Count Dracula flashed his fangs and bowed as I entered.
    His eyes paused on the silver buckle at my throat.

    “So, have you seen Janet?” I asked nonchalantly?

    “Janet?” Dracula echoed absently, tugging his cape closer around him.

    “Janet Ferrell. I thought I saw her earlier.”

    Dracula turned pale beneath his white make-up.

    “Haven’t you heard?” He whispered with bloodless lips.
    “She died in a car crash last August.”

    My heart stopped as my fingers reached for the silver buckle.
    It was still there, undeniable proof that I had not imagined the encounter.
    Once again I heard her voice speaking enigmatic words,
    “I was wrong about you.”

    The dry-ice fog hid my tears as I grasped her true meaning.
    Love replaced fear.
    I am not a soulless zombie.

  4. Mandy

    The costume had seemed like such a good idea last night as he rushed towards his car and away from the desk that seemed to have tentacles that were forever grasping where they didn’t belong. After a particularly lengthy and fruitless session with Danny, who was in his office only because he would find himself back in a jail cell if he failed to make an appearance, it came to him. He could dress up as a client. It might not be the most politically correct idea he could have conceived, but thinking about what kinds of clothes and props he would need made the day feel lighter and almost entertaining. Counseling abusive men who repeatedly found themselves on the wrong side of the law couldn’t kill you if you were laughing about it, right?

    Now that he was in the midst of an assortment of witches, lumberjacks and more than one Sarah Palin, he wasn’t so sure. Explaining his costume made him feel like a jerk, probably because he couldn’t manage the "Oh yeah, I’m cool with it" tone he was going for, and so he had spent most of the night drinking Bud Lime (what was happening to his life) and listening to a woman dressed like a French maid complain about her husband. When Joe announced a beer run, he grabbed the opportunity, excused himself from the disgruntled maid and offered to drive.

    He was glad to get away from the crowd and the cool air lifted his spirits. Joe was rambling on about something in the seat beside him, but he wasn’t even listening. He had had enough of that. Driving towards the gas station with the windows down, he focused only on the sensation of the wind whipping through the windows. It felt good. It felt good right up until the moment when the blue lights seared into his rear view mirror. The moment when the beers with the maid, Joe’s sports car, and his clever costume collided into one very bad idea.

  5. Mark James

    Zac, I loved the quotes. This is going to become my new mantra, "You can always go back and fix what doesn’t work.”

    “What’s all that gold?”

    “Judgment Day,” Rick said. “Michael’s badass.”

    If Rick had a ten pound weight in each hand, he might have tipped the scales at one thirty five, but at five nine, he was a bean pole. “I know I’ll be sorry I asked,” Lance said, “but how come that armor looks like the real thing?”

    Rick looked ready to faint. “It’s heavy as hell.” He fell against the door with a jangle. “I need a beer.”

    Lance pulled him in, kicked the door shut. “Tell me you didn’t.”

    “Steal armor from the archangel of war?” Rick said. “I didn’t.” A smile Lance knew from countless high school detentions slipped across Rick’s face. “I borrowed it.”

    “If he shows up,” Lance said. “I don’t know you.”

    Rick leaned himself up against a wall. Lance brought him a beer, flicked on the fifty two inch television, tuned in a game and headed for the kitchen. His Halloween party started in less than an hour.

    He was sliding a tray full of cheese and crackers off the counter when a stranger’s enraged voice echoed through the house. The tray overbalanced. It hit the wine bottles on the kitchen island. They fell over like dominoes, crashed into the granite countertop, knocked over a bowl of chili dip.

    Lance ran for the hall, skidded to a halt at the archway between the hall and the living room. A man built like he could start Armageddon all alone was towering over Rick and somehow, he was ripping off the armor.

    “You ever been in battle without armor?”

    “You’re not real.” Rick’s voice was a whisper. “Dr. Kelly said if I faced my fear about death I’d – -”

    “You don’t have to be scared anymore.” The man ripped off the breastplate. It clattered to the wood floor. “Because you’re about to know all about death.” He ripped off the chain mail skirt. “First hand.”

    “You don’t exist.” Rick’s eyes were squeezed tightly shut. His arms were up in front of his face. “You’re a phobia.”

    “You’re dead,” the man said.

    And oh God, Lance couldn’t be seeing this. The man had a sword in both hands. It was on fire.

    Rick had toilet papered the principal’s car in high school, and Lance had been his alibi because they’d been best friends since Kindergarten. But he was frozen. The only part of him moving was his pounding heart.

    From behind Lance, a low voice said, “Drop your sword, Michael.”

    The archangel whipped around, his flaming sword over his head. He was fully armored, and his burning eyes were focused over Lance’s left shoulder. “Lucifer. I should have known you had something to do with this.”

    The archangel of Hell pushed Lance aside, went toward Michael. “He cast a good spell. It’s Samhain.” Lucifer shrugged. “And how often do you get to fight naked?”

    “How often do you get your horns ripped off?”

    Over his shoulder, Lucifer whispered, “Take your friend and go.”

    Quick as a snake, Lucifer leapt at Michael. The archangel struck out and missed.

    Lance hustled Rick out the door, ignoring the clang of metal on wood behind him.

    Whoever showed up for the party wouldn’t be staying long.