November is National Novel Writing Month. offers a wealth of free resources for anyone who has ever dreamed of writing a novel – and they’re available all year, not just in November.

Since today is November 8, I’m obviously not inviting you to join this year’s push to write an entire novel by November 30 (but go ahead and try if you want to!).

In honor of NaNoWriMo, The New York Times recently wrote an article that’s full of digital resources for novelists: “Ready. Set. Write a Book.” Go to

I’m not a novelist, and I obviously haven’t tried the tools for mapping a plot and developing characters. But I did try Scrivener – software that helps you organize content for any writing task. And I gave up on it very quickly.

You might get the idea that I’m against writing software. No, no, no! Friends who have tried some of those programs say that they’re a huge help.

But I want to point out that you have to figure out what works for you – and stick to it (even at the risk of looking like a dinosaur).

The system I developed in graduate school – notecards, photocopies, and blue or pink legal pads – would probably evoke laughter from writers who efficiently organize tons of information on Scrivener. (You should see the table where I do my writing. On second thought – no, you shouldn’t!)

Scrivener is tidier, but I found it slow and cumbersome. The book I’m writing now (about Shaw’s play Major Barbara) had so many categories that I could never find the quotation I wanted. All those headings and boxes made writing harder for me.

My old system – thumbing through a deck of index card notations and pawing through stacks of legal pads – is admittedly a hit-or-miss way to tackle a writing task. But it works for me.

Do look at the digital tools out there. But don’t feel guilty if they don’t work for you!


4 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo

  1. AvatarKelly Pomeroy

    Just a thought on finding those elusive passages you want to cite:

    If you can find an on-line copy of the work, just pick it up and save it as a Word document – or a series of Word documents – and then do a Word search on any sequence you think will get you to the passage you want (and not too many passages that aren’t what you want).

    I don’t know if that’s possible or practical. I think you can get searchable text from Amazon.

  2. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    It’s both possible and practical – thanks! I often do a word search right inside Google Books, and sometimes I find exactly what I want. Saves me from a trip to the library and filling out an interlibrary loan form – or purchasing an entire book. Google ran into some copyright issues, and they’re no longer as generous with the searches as they used to be. But between Amazon and Google Books, there’s a good chance of finding what you’re looking for.

  3. AvatarFrank

    Some novelists are also going back to the old-fashioned way of writing books: a typewriter. I can see the appeal of fewer distractions and temptations from the web etc. Perhaps it also forces us to think more carefully about what we want to write, given that words aren’t as easily deleted. Digital is great, but there is something rather impersonal about it.

  4. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    Hi, Frank – I wasn’t aware of that trend. Interesting – thanks!
    When I was in college, I worked part-time as a typist to earn spending money. Businesses were just making the transition to electric typewriters. I don’t have any warm feelings for typewriters. I don’t think of them as “personal”!

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