The first step is admitting you have a problem

My name is Kate Carpenter, and I have a book-buying addiction.

This weekend, in the course of a 36-hour trip to St. Louis, I managed to visit a bookstore 3 times and buy a new book each time (36 hours!). The bookshelf we built this summer is already overflowing with all the new books I’ve added to my collection lately. It looks like another bookshelf should be on the to-do list for 2013.

If you are similarly afflicted, take comfort in these words from C.S. Lewis:

“The great thing is to be always reading but not to get bored – treat it not like work, more as a vice!  Your book bill ought to be your biggest extravagance.”


After several years of trying, after a trip out of town that got me off to a slow start, after a 4-day migraine and the distraction of Thanksgiving, even after the peculiarly specific self-loathing that always sets in around 30,000 words…

…I finished NaNoWriMo!

I’m not done with the manuscript, so I’ll be working on it next month, too, but I’m pleased to take a moment to savor how good it feels to finally be able to say that I did it. I wrote 50,000 words in November. Yay me!

I wanted to finish a couple days early so that I could go back and clean up the first few paragraphs a bit. Then I’m going to take a deep, fortifying breath and enter this contest. I’m setting new goals all the time, eager to push forward, eager to see where I can take this. Like I said last week, I’m so thankful to be writing again.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving…

…and there are a few writing-related thanks that I’d like to reflect on:

-I’m thankful to be writing again, in earnest. It feels so good to get the words out, and see them come together as a cohesive — if not quite ready to show the world — finished product.

-I’m thankful that our circumstances right now allow me to focus on writing, without fear or pressure. I’m thankful that we have food and shelter and comfort and a spare room for writing.

-I’m thankful for this small truth: That when I sit down and work, a little every day, the words come. They come even when it’s not fun, even when I’m feeling uninspired, even when I’m discouraged, as long as I sit down and start to write. I’m thankful that hard work trumps waiting for The Muse to show up.

-I’m thankful for a husband and family that are so supportive of what I’m trying to do. I know not everyone pursuing a creative field can say the same thing, so I’m grateful that they are cheering for me.

Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for this year when it comes to your own creative pursuits?

This year, NaNoWriMo is fun

I’m mid-way through my NaNoWriMo attempt as of today, and I’m taking a break for a little celebration. This year’s NaNo has been a totally different experience for me. The words have come more freely, and I’ve made it farther to 50,000 words already than I ever have before. I’m a big believer in joining NaNoWriMo even if you don’t feel like you can hit that 50,000-word mark, but man, it feels good to be on track.

This year is also different because I’m having so much fun writing. As I suspected, being in the habit of writing every day has made it easier to stick to the schedule. But NaNo has forced me to boost my daily writing totals, and that has had some surprising side effects. I’m pushing myself in a voice and genre that I’m not as comfortable with. My brain is surprising me with clever paragraphs when I think it’s well past the point of exhaustion. And by writing faster — and, as a result, getting through my story faster — I feel like I’m really in the plot, living it, breathing it, and thinking about it even when I’m not writing. It’s like reading a compelling book that you just can’t wait to pick up again — except that I’m reading it as I’m writing it.

I may try to stick to this boosted word count goal post-November, if these positive effects stick around. How’s your NaNo experience going this year?

Fresh sights

We returned late Monday night from a long weekend in northern California, where we met up with most of my mom’s side of the family to celebrate my Grandpa’s 80th birthday. Taking a few days away put me a bit behind my target word count for the week, sure (though I tried to write a little every day), but it also had some advantages.

For one thing, it’s certainly always nice to get out of my own head and be around a wider circle of people who love and support me. After a few pep talks from my parents, I can feel myself writing with more confidence this week.

But I also always forget how important it is to escape my routine and scope out some fresh sights. It seems to add a little WD-40 to my mental gears. There’s something about visiting different places and taking in new perspectives that leaves me feeling refreshed and creative. I’ll have to remember that.

I hope you had a recharging weekend, too. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how’s it going? I’m feeling good about catching up from my word-count drop-off this weekend.

NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow

I’m sure you already know, but in case you hadn’t heard: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated) starts tomorrow, and I’m ready to dive in!

First, a confession. This will be my third year doing NaNoWriMo, and I have yet to “win” (in other words, write 50,000 words in 30 days). I have high hopes for this year — for one thing, I’m in a habit of writing every day now, and for another, I have a little plot sketch to help keep me on track. But I’m not sorry about those past two years; even if NaNoWriMo just reminds you of how much you love writing, I think it’s worth participating, whether you “win” or not.

I’m veering out of my comfort zone to play around with a young adult, first-person project this year. Of course, I’ve managed to time a trip for the start of the month, but that’s OK! I’ll be writing on the plane, before bed, and in the occasional coffee shop. I’ll keep you posted on my progress throughout the month.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? What will you be working on?


I’m mired in editing one project and brainstorming for another, but I thought I would step away from that today to talk about self-publishing. Between the media frenzy over the latest self-published surprise bestseller and the ever-increasing number of “how to market your self-published novel” articles in my favorite writing magazines, I find myself reflecting on the world of self-publishing a lot lately.

It was not many years ago that you could easily write off a self-published novel as nothing but a vanity project, and it’s certainly true that a lot of self-published books still are not quite ready for prime time. But, as self-publishing has become increasingly accessible (and increasingly in line with digital reading habits) and the publishing industry has gotten more constricted, it’s easier to see how the self-publishing route would be tempting. More of these works are starting to shake the “amateur” label, and the audience seems to be growing.

I can certainly understand how, frustrated by a wall of rejections from the publishing industry, writers might decide to turn to self-publishing to tell their stories. Besides, with fewer people taking a cut of the book’s purchase price, it has certain monetary advantages — provided you can get people to buy your book, of course. I could even see myself going that route someday. I always wonder, though — do readers perceive stories differently when they are self-published versus traditionally published?

What do you think about self-publishing? Would you ever do it? Do you think it’s a realistic route? Do you purchase self-published books?

Stuck in revisions

Just recently, I finished a first draft. It’s a pretty solid first draft, if I can say so myself. There aren’t too many major holes, it clips along at a nice pace, and there are even a few moments that really shine. An excellent place to start.

The trouble is, now I’m stuck. It’s time to start revising, taking my mediocre first draft and adding, subtracting and reworking until it becomes something that sparkles. There are some parts of the editing process that I’m comfortable with. I know how to strengthen characters and bring the setting to life. I feel pretty comfortable heading in with my highlighter to identify phrases that are a little flat and tweaking them ’til they shine. And, believe it or not, I love copy editing.

When it comes to revising for plot, though, I’m feeling completely overwhelmed. I know my plot has a couple of pacing issues, needs a little bit of suspense added into the mix, and could use an additional subplot (or the ones that exist could use some fleshing out). The scope of wrangling a novel-length plot and figuring out what else it needs (and what it doesn’t need) is starting to make me hyperventilate the more I think about it. For better or worse, I’d better just plunge into it and see what happens.

I think I’ll start by outlining my existing plot, in the hope that seeing it in abbreviated form will help me figure out where it needs to be improved. I would love to hear any revision advice that you have, though. Where do you start? Have you read any great books on the subject?

Lauren Oliver in Kansas City

I’m discovering that one of the major bonuses of living in a big city is that cool things happen here. Musicians, artists and especially authors that I used to just read about come right here, to the city where I live, all the time. One of our local bookstores, Rainy Day Books, hosts a plethora of great author events — so many that I have a hard time choosing which ones to check out. On Tuesday, I got to see Lauren Oliver, whose newest book, “The Spindlers,” came out a few days ago.

I read (and enjoyed) Oliver’s first book, “Before I Fall,” earlier this year, so I was excited to see her in person and hear her speak. Like many writers, I suspect, I have an addiction to learning about other writers’ writing and editing processes. There’s a sort of so-glad-I’m-not-the-only-one feeling that comes from hearing an author say that their drafts undergo drastic edits, or that they, too, need an outline to keep them focused. One of the great things about writing is that there is no “right way” to go about it, but the downside of that, for me, is that I always feel like I might be doing it wrong…

How about you? Have you gotten to see authors whose books you love in person? What did you take away from the experience?

The joy of research

It’s true, I love doing research. As a journalist, one of the greatest perks was the chance to be learning about something new all the time. I threw myself into researching the subjects I covered, and I often got caught up in the discovery: I bought a bundle of fabric after attending a particularly impressive quilt show, I threatened to quit my job and live by the river after spending a week interviewing rafting guides, I wanted to travel the old Lincoln Highway after meeting a man who was dedicating his life to identifying its forgotten stretches. If I had to narrow myself down to just one field of interest for the rest of my life, I would be paralyzed with indecision.

Fortunately, fiction writing comes with the same benefit. I’m finding that with each new project my favorite part of the preparation is the research. Just yesterday I spent an afternoon learning about entrances to hidden passageways and practicing writing in invisible ink. As a writer, there’s certainly a joy in taking your reader to new worlds — but there’s also joy in discovering them for yourself, first.