All over the world writers are celebrating the end of National Novel Writing Month 2013, aka NaNoWriMo.

Well, maybe celebrating is not quite the right word. Some of us, certainly, are feeling jubilant that it’s over. Those who met the 50,000 word goal are doing a victory dance, for sure. Others of us, those who didn’t “win” (including yours truly, with 27, 000 words written), are feeling glad to have participated but perhaps a little consternated by their word count coming up short.

No matter where you fall on this continuum, take this short multiple choice quiz to figure out what to do next now that NaNoWriMo is over.

It’s December 3rd and you’ve got a big chunk of a novel (if not a full draft of a novel…go, you!) saved on your hard drive. (By the way, we really hope you’re also saving another copy somewhere. Check out these horror stories if you need a reminder about the importance of backing up your work!)

The very next thing you do is:

  1. Read. It’s pretty difficult squeezing in a good book while writing 1667 words a day. You’re about to go on a full-on book binge in your favorite genres.
  2. Write. You might have 10K words. You might have 100K words. All you know is you’ve gotten into a writing routine like never before, and you’re going to keep it up while you can.
  3. Get feedback. All throughout NaNoWriMo you were dying to ask fellow writers what was working in your book and what wasn’t. Now that you’ve got some serious prose to work with, you’re dying to show it off.
  4. Revise. The whole “no-editing during NaNoWriMo” thing? That was driving you nuts. Now that you’re officially off the clock, you’re itching to go back through and replot, reword, rewrite.

Which of these should you do? The answer is, of course, all of the above.

One online space where you can do all four options above is on Book Country, the online writing and publishing community where I work as the Community and Engagement Manager. Book Country is a proud sponsor of NaNoWriMo 2013 because our missions are so beautifully aligned: NaNoWriMo emboldens writers to write more than they ever thought possible, and Book Country is the most supportive online writing and publishing community on the web, helping writers in over sixty literary categories to write their best books. Book country is the perfect next step for the post-NaNoWriMo writer: there you can read books written by other writers in your genre, you can post chapters of your Nano WIP as you write, you can get feedback on your work via our peer review feedback system, and you can use that feedback to revise your book, preparing it for traditional publishing queries or for self-publishing.  As a Book Country member you can connect with writers from around the world for year-round support, and use our discussion boards and blog to learn more about the craft of writing and the business of publishing.

Curious about how to get involved on book country? Join here and send me an email: Lucy at bookcountry dot com. I’ll show you around.

Let’s celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo together!

Lucy Silag is the Community and Engagement Manager for Book Country, Penguin’s online writing and publishing community.


As Thanksgiving 2010 was approaching, I was living in Iowa City, Iowa, where I was an MFA student in the Fiction program at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I had ached ardently to go to the Workshop, and when I’d been accepted I’d shrieked with joy. Now, trudging through brown snow to my classes; eating lumpy, bland Chinese takeout as I researched my thesis—I knew that I was in so many ways very lucky. But wasn’t I actively thankful anymore. This was just my real life.

That same fall, a friend and classmate of mine had been typing his novel so fast and for so many hours a day that he lost use of both wrists, and he had to complete his own thesis using clunky voice recognition software. His experience didn’t make me grateful for my own uninjured wrists. Instead I was scared that was going to happen to me, too.

That winter was particularly dreary one in Iowa City, with frequent blizzards that made it dangerous to even go outside.  I gave myself over to writerly brooding. But the writing wasn’t going as well as I’d hoped, and when I turned in a chunk of my thesis for a class workshop, another writer in my class told me that my treatment of the subject matter was extremely shallow. Another writer commented that I’d spent way too much time describing how and what my characters were knitting. By the time I turned the thesis into the Graduate College, I’d gone completely off it. I’d been given this time at the Workshop to write something really great, and felt like I’d squandered the chance. I’d wanted to go to the workshop, and now that I was there I wanted everyone to praise my work, too. I wanted to write something that felt  worthy of this famed place. So much wanting.

Roxanne Gay wrote in Salon a couple years ago: “What most writers have in common is desire. We want and want and want and want.”  It’s what keeps writers ambitious.

But what if we don’t get what we want? And if we do, will we ever feel fulfilled, and grateful?

Ever since I came to work at Book Country, Penguin Group’s online writing and publishing community, that yucky feeling of ingratitude has dissipated, leaving in its place something much more heartening. Book Country is a community of writers both published and unpublished. These writers come from all over the world to participate in a wide-ranging conversation about writing books of all types, from Erotica to Middle Grade Fiction to Epic Fantasy to Horror. We talk to each other on the Discussion Boards, trading tips about the craft of writing and the business of publishing, and we Tweet at each other to share our congrats on successes and our musings on pop culture. And because Book Country is a sponsor of NaNoWriMo 2013, this engagement with other writers has extended into the even wider Nano community of writers, who reflect that same positive encouragement at one another, too.

In hindsight I can see by the end of the Workshop, I was just in a bad writing funk, and that there was work I needed to do on my thesis that was hard and uncomfortable that I was petulant about doing—this made me feel both ungrateful and unambitious, a loathsome combination. In the years since we graduated, my gratitude for having gone to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with my particular cohort has swelled, so much so that this Thanksgiving I’m waxing nostalgic about that brown snow and bland Chinese food. I miss my friends from the program, and the way we trusted each other enough to say it when we thought someone’s manuscript felt shallow or boring.

I no longer think that writers are an ungrateful lot, doomed to a forever of only wanting. Open to the acknowledgments section of any Penguin book, and you’ll see a grateful writer taking a long and wonderful moment to thank their editor, their agent, their publicist, their writing teachers, their friends, their spouses, and their children. And then they move on to writing another, even more ambitious book.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for my community of writers (both from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and on Book Country), for the experience of NaNoWriMo and how it’s energized my writing routine in a way that feels almost athletic, but also for that wanting that Roxanne Gay wrote about, that feeling that my work can and should get better. The balance of these is a wonderful place from which to write.

Lucy Silag is the Community and Engagement Manager for Book Country, an online writing and publishing community, and the author of the Beautiful Americans novels for young adults.


My self-esteem is suffering. It has everything to do with NaNoWriMo, and only a little to do with writing.

It’s because I haven’t been reading.

You could say I am a bit of a “scorekeeper” when it comes to books read. I’ve never met a Goodreads reading challenge I didn’t like, and I’ve been known to waste many hours delving into the recesses of my memory to come up with the approximate date that I read a book in elementary school, so that I can add it to my Goodreads “read” shelf. There’s something immensely satisfying about getting “credit” for having read all these books, even if I didn’t enjoy them, or worse, if I barely remember them at all. For me, scrolling through my own “Read” shelf is also a way of taking stock: What have I been thinking about? What made me laugh? What am I now more inspired to do? I reflect on all these things when I review what I’ve been reading. As the music-nerd record collectors in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity attach heavy meaning to their stacks of albums, books I’ve read are an important part of how I validate how I’ve spent my time.

And now it actually is becoming a problem, because I haven’t read a book cover to cover since I started NaNoWriMo. I’ve started two (On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee, coming out from Riverhead in January 2014; and On Writing, by Stephen King—both really, really wonderful books, deserving of rich praise and fast reading), and both of them languish on my bedside table, begging to be opened, read, tucked back into the shelf, added to Goodreads. Next to them are unfinished issues of Real Simple, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, and People Magazine.

I’ve been blowing off these books and magazines because a militant typist inside my head scoffs at me when I reach for them. “You should be writing. You’ll never win NaNoWriMo if you spend all your free time reading!” (I have exactly 19974 words, and I need 50K to “win.” I feel hugely behind schedule.)  So I skulk away from the books, but not toward the computer. I get sidetracked by my TV, Twitter, and my cat. Double guilt: no books read, no words written. The technical term for how this plays out is “shame spiral.”

On Monday morning, I decided that enough was enough. Instead of thumb-typing in my NaNoWriMo document as I took the subway to work, I played an audiobook instead: I Kiss Your Hands Many Times, by Marianne Szegedy-Maszak, a family memoir that came out from Spiegel & Grau. It’s subject matter has nothing to do with my NaNoWriMo project: It is about an aristocratic Hungarian family in the first half of the 20th century.

The audiobook of I KISS YOUR HANDS MANY TIMES is read by the author, and I was reminded of Elizabeth Gilbert, who also narrated the audiobooks for her memoirs. Both women have smart, warm voices—they are natural storytellers who bring their family stories to life in a way that makes them feel both rare and universal. Almost immediately, I started to chill out and get really into this book, which combines a sweeping romance with a great deal of historical research about complicated topics like anti-Semitism and Catholic conversion in Hungary, the Treaty of Trianon, and bourgeois values in Budapest during the interwar period. These were subjects I studied with great interest in college—I studied abroad in Budapest for a semester, living just a few blocks from the Dohany Street Synagogue, mentioned often in Szegedy-Maszak’s book. I rode the same subways that the author’s family did while living out these scenes, and the prose taps into that deep well of wonder I had as a young person delving into a new place, startled and amazed by what I learned of it.

My NaNoWriMo project does not take place in Hungary, but the main character is a college student far from home. Simply thinking about my own college memories brings up all kinds of things from that time I had forgotten about: How often I ate Subway sandwiches for dinner, because I didn’t know how to cook anything; how exciting it was to be invited to a party, and how much planning went into the outfit that I would wear; how easily I got lost when I went to a new city, not just because the city itself was new, but also because I didn’t yet know how to go to a new city—how to find out what I didn’t know.

This fall a discussion developed on the Book Country discussion boards about whether reading was “an acceptable procrastination technique,” and our members were almost uniformly in support. One member, Carl E. Reed, wrote that “Everything is grist for the mill when you’re a writer.”

I thought of that as I sat back down with my NaNoWriMo project this week. I KISS YOUR HANDS MANY TIMES is an unlikely source of inspiration for my particular work-in-progress, but it remains one just the same. Carl and the rest of the Book Country community were right, and because of that, I’ve resolved not to feel guilty about reading during NaNoWriMo anymore. You never know how a good book might jumpstart your own Nano inspiration.

Lucy Silag is the Community and Engagement Manager for Book Country, Penguin’s online writing and publishing community.


Beautiful Americans, Lucy SilagHalf the fun of NaNoWriMo is the breaks you take to update your word count on social media. Last weekend, I happily tweeted out my latest stats, hashtagging them with #NaNoWriMo. Then, I clicked through to see what others had just tweeted about it.

Imagine my dismay when I saw that two friends of mine from graduate school were just at that very moment engaging in a Twitter conversation about NaNoWriMo—and not a friendly one. Literary writers both, they were mocking the idea of anyone being able to write a novel in a month. One friend went for a cheap laugh by calling it “National Delete a Novel Month.”

I do not usually take people to task over differences of opinion on social media. But this time I felt compelled to intervene.

“You shush!” I tweeted at them. “I’m doing it!”

Immediately, my two friends apologized for any offense, which made me laugh, and then forgive them. They are both kind, funny people—snarky, but in a charming way. Their NaNo–naysaying was harmless. But the exchange stuck with me. Why do some writers resist the idea of NaNoWriMo, not just for themselves, but as a cultural phenomenon? What is it about binge-writing that is so distasteful to the “serious writer”?

Me, I’ve always been a fan of binge-writing. I wrote my first book, Beautiful Americans, in a series of Saturday afternoon binges. I was 23 years old, just out of college, and new to New York City. My fiancé, who was then my boyfriend, got up at 5am every Saturday for his shift at Borders at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. So every Saturday I was left to my own devices, since I didn’t have many friends in the city yet. For the first few months, I’d spent those days reading, or looking at Myspace. I’d always said about myself: “I could write a book if I tried.” Since I had some time on my hands, I decided to try.

Early drafts of that book, Beautiful Americans, were really terrible. My favorite TV show at the time was Lost, and because of that I was enchanted with the idea of my characters flashing back to really involved, harrowing scenes from their lives before they’d all met. There were about twenty main characters, and none of them were very likeable—they stole, lied, and cheated, and always with a snotty attitude. Not only that, the characters were 17 but spoke like they were 23 and just out of college—like their author. Best of all, the novel took place in Paris, a city I was not at all knowledgeable about or even particularly admired. Every time a character encountered the city around them, they remarked how much it smelled of urine.

Luckily, I was young and not very self-aware, and thought that if I was having fun doing something, I must be good at it. For hours at a time, I typed away at this manuscript, completely living in its world for the whole day. I never attempted to make it a part of my everyday life, because binge-writing was so engrossing. When I finished a draft, I binge-revised it. It went on like this for months, binge-writing and binge-revising as it made its way from pipe dream to agent to published book.

There were so many drafts of Beautiful Americans. I cannot tell you how many, because I lost count after 20. I wrote, rewrote, and copyedited that thing until it was a very, very distant cousin of the original manuscript, a cousin so far removed that they weren’t of the same species.

I recently heard a famous, National Book Award-winning writer describe her early days in this way: “I wrote my way to a new life.”  Beautiful Americans, and those long-ago Saturdays I spent just pouring out the words, not worrying if they were good or bad or even spell-checked, led me into a new life, too.

Even before I published the Beautiful Americans books, they gave me so much. Because of that first manuscript, I saved up for a research trip to Paris so that I could fact check the book before it was sent to publishers, and on that trip I started to finally see what was so enchanting about the City of Light, now one of my favorite places in the world. Writing that manuscript brought me into contact with a community of writers here in New York, which brought me friends in my city. Most of all, writing those drafts proved right something I’d always had a hunch about: I could write a book if I tried. Not everyone knows that about themselves. I do. It’s a great feeling.

I wouldn’t know what that felt like if I hadn’t started somewhere, and binge-writing on Saturdays, like Wrimos are doing all through the month of November, all over the world, is where I started.

Many “serious writers” are suspicious of NaNoWriMo because of how they painstakingly labor over every word of prose. Wrimos just let the words fly. How can something be good if so little thought is going into its construction?

Don’t be fooled by this. These are simply two ways of going about the same hard work, and arguments about which is the better way are silly.

What we do know is that one of these types of writers is spending November feeling like they are moving boulders uphill, and the other feels like they’re riding a bike downhill with no hands, whooping (or tweeting) are the whole way.

I’ll happily take the latter.

Lucy Silag is the Community and Engagement Manager for Book Country, Penguin’s online writing and publishing community.


Do you ever sign up for something, like a potluck, or a 5K run, and then feel like you really wish you hadn’t bothered?

That’s kind of how I was about National Novel Writing Month, the online phenomenon where writers write fifty thousand words during the thirty days of November. This fall, it had been decided that Book Country, where I work as the Community and Engagement Manager, would be a sponsor of NaNoWriMo 2013. Book Country is Penguin Random House’s online writing and publishing community, and like NaNoWriMo, we are all about connecting writers. For the same reason that I love working at Book Country, I love the idea of Nano—a bunch of people, sitting at computers, smartphones, and tablets all over the planet—taking part in a conversation about writing, language, and what it means to tell a story. I blithely signed up, and started telling people that I was doing it.

I love the idea of writing 50K words in thirty days like I love the idea of potlucks, and the idea of running a 5K. But slaving over a casserole the night before a potluck, or getting up at 5am to run on a cold overcast morning? Those are hard tasks to actually execute. I was starting to get a bad feeling that NaNo was going to be a slog, and an uphill one at that. On Book Country, there’s no pressure: our members write as much or as little as they like. But if a Wrimo doesn’t reach 50K words, they don’t “win.” If there’s one idea I really don’t love, it’s the idea of being a loser.

As Halloween approached, I found myself making promotional memes for Book Country and NaNoWriMo that had a distinctly morbid feeling, using fonts named “Exquisite Corpse” and “Shlop.” It’s fair to say that NaNoWriMo had me spooked. But there was no going back now—too many Book Country members knew that I was doing NaNoWriMo. Had I set myself up for failure?

What scared me the most was the possibility of interminable exhaustion at my real job. Would I be able to pay attention in meetings? Would I get sick of staring at a computer screen? Would I be distracted by the novel plotting that was happening in my head, so much so that I couldn’t perform my job well? All around me were Halloween-themed zombie references, and that’s what I feared I’d be like to my coworkers—unfocused, unproductive, unhelpful, crawling like a zombie through our projects.

A while back, I’d arranged to take a vacation day on Monday, November 4th, so that I could spend some time with family and visiting friends, but these plans fell through. I almost told my boss that I would reschedule the time off, but something told me to just take the day.

Stocked with leftovers from the weekend in the fridge (and plenty of diet Coke!), I sat down Monday morning with the resolve to just “NaNo”—write without stopping—for as long as I could stand it. I had no other plans. If not on this day, when would there ever be a more perfect time to dive in?

For the next 12 hours, I punched word after word into my keyboard, stopping for short breaks to Tweet and to check Facebook (and to announce my word count progress, of course!).

NaNoWriMo, as it turns out, is a much different beast than other obligations I’ve taken on: it’s a blast!

That day, writing didn’t feel how it  normally feels: analytical, studied, focused. My writing was a sloppy mess. My neck ached from spending the day hunched over my laptop. When I closed my eyes, I saw a glowing Google doc with the word “NaNoWriMo 2013” swimming at the top.

And yet!

I ended up logging 10,666 words.

It felt like splashing red paint on a white wall: wild and crazy. It was the same feeling that I get after a fun party (or potluck), and I had as much breathless energy as I feel after a long run. It wasn’t just that I could brag about my word count on social media (though of course I did that right away). It was that it hadn’t felt like work; more like a 12-hour conversation with an outgoing, boisterous friend.

A useful vacation, too, in terms of writing: I learned things about how I write when I let go —what words I tend to repeat (“Smile,” “awkward,” “intimate”), what’s easy for me to come up with at random (dialogue, describing the way things smell), and what stumps me time and time again (descriptions of facial expressions).

That day of NaNo-ing was so much fun that now when I go back to my project, I feel inspired to just keep going, even if that only means a few hundred words tapped out on my phone during my commute. It all adds up, and it feels more like hanging out with a friend than writing a novel. I bring that energy into my workday with me, letting it be the escape I look forward to before and after I’m at the office. On Book Country, I’m telling our members how much fun I’m having, and I am encouraging them to do NaNoWriMo with me.

For those who are doing NaNoWriMo, and like me, are afraid of it becoming a drag on your energy level at work, do whatever you can to carve out a big chunk of time in the next few days, at least four hours. Use it to just sit with your novel and get to know it, so that it becomes a friend to you. If you’re among friends, you have nothing to fear.

Lucy Silag is the Community and Engagement Manager for Book Country, Penguin’s online writing and publishing community.