Chicago Writes: No NaNo? No Problem.

This is the second of two posts on NaNoWriMo. For an alternate perspective, see NaNoWriMo 2016: A Guide & A Gentle Nudge.

Oh, NaNo.

Beloved by writers around the world, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a thirty-day sprint undertaken during the month of November, when hundreds of thousands of participants attempt to pen 50,000 words before the calendar flips to December. It’s challenging, exhilarating, and a great way to stay warm as you feverishly pound out 1,667 words per day.

Sometimes, it isn’t in the cards.

disclaimer.pngPerhaps, like me, you love NaNo but are in the middle of an MS that shouldn’t be neglected. Perhaps you’ve tried NaNo and find it makes your muse pack up and take a long vacation. Perhaps you’re more reader than writer, or buried in edits, or know that this year just isn’t the year.

If that sounds like you, it’s good to remember that NaNo is about far more than dividing 50,000 by 30. It’s about celebrating words and stories while stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself to do something unique—and yeah, maybe a little bonkers.

So as we head into November, let’s take the spirit of NaNo and make it yours:


You wouldn’t be alone in celebrating National Novel Reading Month, a response to NaNoWriMo that encourages more reading. Take this a step further by challenging yourself to read books you normally don’t—if you’re a fantasy fan, try contemporary; if you normally read YA, try Middle Grade or plays or even nonfiction. Alternatively, you could pick books (or one giant book) you want to read before you die—be they traditional classics or the first six books in Dune.

Like NaNo, this will work best if you have a concrete goal: take your normal monthly reading load and multiply it by 1.5, for instance. Write down that goal and take it to heart, selecting some books in advance and scheduling daily reading time.


ALLLLLLL the books!


I think I invented this last Tuesday, but I could be wrong. NaNoIdeaMo, as I call it, is a challenge to brainstorm thirty book ideas in one month. More than rough sketches, these ideas should include primary characters, major plot arcs, stakes, and setting. I’ll personally follow a structure similar to the one described by Mary Robinette Kowal in episode 7.50 of Writing Excuses. In December, I’ll create a fun and brutal bracket system to narrow these thirty ideas down to the one I actually want to write next.


Where will your imagination take you?


National Novel Editing Month is technically in March, but the NaNo spirit includes bucking convention, so why not do it now? If you have a large editing project in your future, develop a schedule that starts with substantive edits and keeps you on track through copyedits. You’ll have a pristine new draft by December.


I swear this scene made sense at the time…


Rather than a word count goal, challenge yourself to write 15-30 short stories during the month of November. As with everything else on this list, make it an ambitious but achievable goal.



Start a new habit, find a new hobby

By popular belief, it takes 21 days to start a habit. Use November to try out something you’ve always wanted to do—or to start a habit you know would be good for you. At just a month, it’s less pressure than a New Year’s resolution, and it could be anything from making breakfast every day to finally signing up for that pottery class or joining a rec sports team.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, the things you do outside of books will enrich your experience inside of them. And hey—maybe your habit does have to do with books: read ten pages a night, write 100 words before work. Whatever it is, take yourself seriously and treat your new goal with respect. Open yourself up to new experiences—now that’s the NaNo way.


NaNo knows that success feels great, whether you’re at your computer or on the field.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this November, or something else entirely? Let us know in the comments, and write/read/brainstorm/revise/live on!


This post is brought to you by Anna Waggener at

Chicago Writes: NaNoWriMo 2016, A Guide & A Gentle Nudge

This is the first of two posts on NaNoWriMo. For an alternate perspective, see No NaNo? No Problem.


DO NANOWRIMO! Okay…maybe I lied when I said it would be a gentle nudge.

So, I really like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) because I’ve done it ever since I decided to start writing with a goal of publishing.

According to

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.

NaNoWriMo kind of reminds me of college because you have an excuse to be grouchy and crazy at 3 AM and there are likely other people doing that exact same thing! So you know what that means, 3AM coffee/wine and whine time with friends!

Did you know Storyist, write or die, and Scrivener were created out of NaNo by writers who saw deficiencies in existing writing software? So, even if you haven’t ever done NaNo, you might have benefited from those that have done it!

I also always like to point out that some awesome novels were started and/or written during NaNoWriMo. I actually wrote the bulk of my latest MS during 2015’s NaNo and that’s the novel I got an agent with (wheee!)

Okay, so here are some of the fun things you get by signing up (FOR FREE) at

Cool stats and graphs telling you how awesome (or, in my case, how lazy) you are:


Awesome Forums where you can connect with other authors. There are so many options to base the forums on (genre, hobbies, progress in your WIP, where you live, who you read):

NaNo2.png gives you tools to motivate yourself but none of it is mandatory. It’s just available for your use if you find it helps you on your writing journey. There are fun things like buddies (friends who are also participating), badges, and a blog with advice:

NaNo3.pngAnd there are some Regional specific events:


Something I want to say is if you take part in NaNo and don’t hit the 50,000 word mark, then it’s not a failure. Writing at all is an accomplishment, and it’s great to be able to just sit down and put words to paper. That’s the spirit of NaNoWriMo. What it offers that’s cool is a community and tools to help motivate you along the way.

Links to help you hook up with Chicago writers taking part in NaNoWriMo:

NaNo’s Chicago Region page

ChiWriMo Facebook Group

AND you can find the ChiYA crew on the site if you’d like to be NaNo buddies!

Kat Cho: katjc589

Ronni Davis Selzer: LilRonGal


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Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Samira Ahmed

This post is one in a series introducing the contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!

*waves* I’m Samira. I write YA. And poetry. And short stories. Also, essays. But mostly YA these days. I’ve lived in the City of Chicago (with a 13 year break) for 13+years.

So here’s some questions. I have some answers. Some of them are totally made up. Because the first rule of answering questionnaires:


Who is your fictional hero?

To me, heroes loom largest in childhood when you can literally look up to someone. And when I was a kid, I often imagined life in the little log cabin of Laura Ingalls. Never mind the atrocious indoor plumbing situation. I wanted to run wild in the prairie and make molasses candy in the snow and have calico dresses and survive a frontier childhood.

Who is your real-life hero?

I’m not gonna lie on this one. There are a lot of people in real life and through history that I look up to, but I’ve never really thought of anyone as my personal hero. And those people I admire, probably change to suit my life at that moment. Right now, it’s these guys. Because, CHICAGO.


If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

Growing up, I couldn’t really imagine myself as any character because no character really looked like me, felt like me. That’s starting to change, but even with that, I still have a hard time really seeing myself as any character.

But if there could be an Indian Nancy Drew…Yeah, I’d be her. Because of my (solely aspirational) sleuthing abilities and gumption. Also, because the TV show Nancy Drew got to kiss Parker Stevenson (Frank Hardy) in the late 70s. 4th grade Life Goals. That is all.


What is happiness to you?

Sun.Sky.Beach.My little family.

The startling good fortune of these moments of life’s perfection.


What inspires you to write?

Turns of phrase in my favorite poems and short stories that I read over and over.

The extraordinary moments in quotidian life.

My strong desire to have my children, and all children, walk into a bookstore or a library and see themselves on a shelf.

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be?

Okay, I’m gonna straight up skirt around this question and give you 2 short stories and a book (of connected short stories). In each of these selections, young people face stark choices that pit them against others and themselves. Every human should read these.

1) Everyday Use by Alice Walker
2) Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates
3) The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

One. Single. Favorite? Now, that’s just cruel. I can’t choose. The choices are endless and all important.

Don’t believe me? Here’s John Cusack in the greatest Chicago-showcasing movie, ever, High Fidelity. Telling it like it is:


And here’s my favorite Chicago Art Institute montage. Go. See. All of them.


Also, this skyline. Architecture is Art. Fight me.


What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

Gwendolyn Brooks. Yeah, I’m cheating again. But she is one of our greatest poets. And she lived here and I heard her read here and  you must read When You Have Forgotten Sunday.

And here’s what she thought of our fair city: “(L)iving in the city, I wrote differently than I would have if I had been raised in Topeka, KS…I am an organic Chicagoan. Living there has given me a multiplicity of characters to aspire for. I hope to live there the rest of my days. That’s my headquarters.”

The Fountain of Time. Lorado Taft, 1920. An overlooked but brilliant sculpture on Chicago’s South Side.


But pictures don’t do this work justice, so here’s a video (dramatic music=bonus).

HOLD UP. That’s all? I didn’t even get a chance to add my favorite Chicago parade scene from a movie. Here it is. You’re welcome.


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Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Anna Waggener

This post is one in a series introducing the contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!


Hello! I’m Anna, and I’m stoked to be part of ChiYA and learn from some very funny, smart writers while inflicting you with occasional literary rambles of my own. Since it’s only right to give you a warning before doing so, here’s a little bit about myself:


Who is your fictional hero?

I admire Katniss for being so proactive and for defending the people she loves and the principles she believes in, while simultaneously living with faults and vulnerabilities that are relatable. I also admire her for being far more outdoorsy and savvy than I could ever be. That’s a respectable way of saying I would for sure die on my way to the Cornucopia.


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Who is your real-life hero?

My mother sacrificed so much to ensure my sister and I would have opportunity. When things feel overwhelming, I think of her: any issue I’m facing suddenly seems pretty piddly by comparison.

If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

I think I most closely resemble John Watson. I’m not an instigator and wouldn’t willingly start snooping around a crime scene, but I’m very loyal and willing to go along with people who I care about or who intrigue me. I’m a pretty good problem solver as well, so I like to think I’d get my book’s Sherlock out of sticky situations.


What is happiness to you?

Happiness is feeling secure—in your living situation, financially, and when you’re alone with your thoughts—and having something to look forward to, even if that something is simply extra whipped cream on a slice of pumpkin pie.

What inspires you to write?

Characters, plotlines, and scraps of description or dialogue often pop into my head during quiet moments—on a walk by myself, for example, but usually when I’m half asleep. That said, reading fiction is the thing that most inspires me to take those ideas and do something with them.

The truth is, I’m not a writer who has to write. I’ve learned that if I’m not regularly reading fiction, I just don’t feel the itch to create anything of my own. Realizing this has made me much more intentional about finding time for both reading and writing.

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be?

This is an impossible question, but here we go!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Brown Girl Dreaming

I think each has its own approach to encouraging readers to use their imaginations, develop empathy, and find joy and adventure in reading. Plus, all have the benefit of being very rereadable.


What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

Kanye West has made some interesting life choices lately, but he’s a musical genius. “All Falls Down” and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” are two of my favorite songs, mixing his signature swagger and flow with sharp social commentary and the raw honesty that so often makes his music unique and powerful.

What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

As a person who loves good food, I’d have to pick Kabobi, a great Persian restaurant in Albany Park. When it comes to writing rather than food, I’d pick the L: I love brainstorming on the train. The motion, anonymity, and sense of urgency (trying to finish before reaching my stop) really kicks my muse into gear.


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Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Gloria Chao

This post is one in a series introducing the contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!

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Who is your fictional hero?

I love Audrey Rose from Stalking Jack the Ripper. She was a girl ahead of her time, wanting an education and career before that became the norm. She fought her arranged marriages and snuck out behind her father’s back. She loved science and was badass enough to go after a murderer, yet she still loved pretty dresses and gossiping.

I don’t want to chase serial killers, but I admire her intelligence, confidence, and all-around-badassness.

Who is your real-life hero?

I look up to J.K. Rowling for her creativity, dedication, and talent. She created an entire world and brought us in using third person! Harry Potter made me fall back in love with books after a long hiatus and was an important part of my journey.

I also look up to my husband, who pursued what he loved and gave me the confidence to chase after my dream. Without him, I would have never started writing.

If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

All of my own characters have a bit of me in them. I guess you write what you know.

What is happiness to you?

My husband of course, and sitting down at my desk to write with a cup of tea. I’m also obsessed with Dance Dance Revolution, board games (Takenoko or Ticket to Ride, anyone?), and of course books.

What inspires you to write?

I first started writing because it was my escape from dental school. When I came up with the idea for American Panda, it was partly therapeutic, but more so, I wanted to write the book that I wish teenage me (and me right now) could have so she would know she wasn’t alone in her struggles to fit in, straddle two cultures, or have different dreams and priorities than her parents.

I want other teens to know they aren’t alone. I also want to show them how to find the humor in their struggles, which took me almost thirty years to find.

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be?

What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

There’s a Renoir in The Art Institute of Chicago that will always be special to me. When my husband and I first visited to decide whether or not to move here, we visited the museum and we were both blown away by the Renoir—how lifelike the woman’s eyes were, how vivid the colors—and we stared at that piece for quite some time. Seeing that painting always makes me remember how we fell in love with the city before we moved here, and how it’s now home.

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What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

I love 57th Street Books. It extends much farther back than you would initially guess, it’s underground meaning you can go stacks-spelunking, and it has a fantastic selection of young adult books. I spend a lot of my weekends there!

HeadshotGoriaChao 200x200 Author Photo

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Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Lizzie Cooke

This post is one in a series introducing the contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!


A few of my favorite things…

Who is your fictional hero?

Hermione. She’s bookish, brave, and—when the occasion demands it—badass. She stands up against bullies and champions the downtrodden, even when her classmates mock her for it. And, like all the greats, she needs only one name. Hamilton. Beyoncé. Hermione. Enough said.

Who is your real-life hero?

Jane Austen. Because she wrote women into the narrative. (To paraphrase the lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda, another of my real-life heroes.)

If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

Rory Gilmore. We share a love of books, coffee, and proving people wrong when they doubt us.

What is happiness to you?

A treehouse stocked with books. And hot chocolate. In a maple tree. In autumn.

What inspires you to write?

I write to understand other people and, ultimately, myself. I’m always seeking to uncover how our experiences shape who we are and who we are becoming.

Also, Hamilton. It’s in my head at all times. On repeat. Whether I have headphones on or not. My Shot inspires me to write the best damn story I can. Wait For It  inspires me to be patient with myself (and the publishing process).

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be?

  • Hamilton: The Revolution (a.k.a. The Hamiltome) by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (Are you starting to see a pattern in my responses? This book not only includes the full lyrics of the musical Hamilton but also reads like a master class in the creative process.)
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (I’m not going to give a reason for this one. Just read it. And hug it. And cry over it.)
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (I’m cheating since this book isn’t even out yet, but I’m 99.9% sure it will be on the list. Scratch that. 100%. Preorder it here, folks.)

What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

Hmm, I’m tempted to say Hamilton since it is being performed in Chicago now. But . . . that seems like a bit of a cop-out. Instead, I’ll offer an old favorite and a new favorite.

Old favorite: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. This classic story of growing up in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood reads as fresh and relevant today as ever. Plus, the writing is pure poetry.

New favorite: Sky Landing by Yoko Ono. This sculpture, unveiled just last week in Chicago’s Jackson Park (South Side shout-out!), is a lovely, hopeful work of art comprised of twelve steel lotus petals growing out of the ground.

What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

Promontory Point, a.k.a. The Point. This small, treed peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan on Chicago’s South Side is a wonderful place to walk, bike, barbecue, and swim all summer long. In winter, it transforms into a stunning landscape of snow and ice. With views stretching from the city’s downtown skyline to the Indiana border, it’s the perfect spot to sit and watch the waves and contemplate your place in this big, crazy, beautiful world of ours.

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Author Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Kat Cho

This post is one in a series introducing the contributors. We hope you’ll stick around to learn more about us and to follow our writing adventures in and around Chicago!

Hey guys! Kat here, hope you don’t mind while I ramble for awhile about a few things that inspire me as a writer and a person. (Also, there will be lots of GIFs)

Who is your fictional hero?

Mulan, because of what she represented to me as a kid. She was strong and brave and she made choices because of her love for others over her fear for her own safety. I mean, war is terrifying! But she preferred taking her father’s place because of her love for him and her family. I think it was also because she sought to find some honor in her own way since she didn’t seem to fit in. And as an Asian kid growing up in 1990s central Florida I always felt like I didn’t belong (yes, I AM Fresh Off the Boat the TV show).


My other answer is Ponyo because she’s amazing and she can be a fish or a girl and she has maaaagic!


Who is your real-life hero?

I can only pick one? I mean, my sister is my hero because she’s so smart and able to adapt to any situation. I idolize my cousin because she pushed me to actually pursue writing and she has such a huge heart. I’m a big fan of the Obamas because who wouldn’t look up to them? (#couplegoals)

I also really love Lin-Manuel Miranda. I think everyone loves him. However, I loved him since In The Heights was a struggling play on Broadway. I knew about him through my alumni grapevine and I think people already knew he’d be big. But, just to look at how he’s stayed so true to himself with his work and STILL made it. I mean, if someone had told you they were going to write a hip hop musical about a founding father of the United States, you’d probably have HARD side-eyed them. Which actually kiiind of happened. I was at the commencement at my aforementioned alma mater (Go Wes!) and Lin-Manuel was the speaker and he hadn’t yet finished writing Hamilton, but he rapped My Shot at the podium and I think people were a little shocked and surprised (and delighted) by it all. It was amazing and cool to see when it wasn’t even a full play. Then to witness the huge success later on was awesome.

So, long story just a tad longer, LMM is my hero because I am inspired by who he is and how he has stayed true to his roots through thick and thin and beyond. I hope to be that kind of creator one day.

If you were a fictional character, who would you be?

I’d be anyone who gets to kiss Song Joongki. But if I had to pick just one character, I’d be San from Princess Mononoke. She’s fierce and bold and knows who she is. She also gets to hang out with wolves and I’m fairly certain she’s going to marry Ashitaka and he’s my anime boyfriend.


If I was going with book character I would be Zuzanna from Daughter of Smoke and Bone hands down. She’s so bright and funny and bold. And she has a great creative streak. You can also tell her mind is wide open to possibilities. She’s also a loyal friend and I strive to be that myself.

What is happiness to you?


What inspires you to write?

All of the voices in my head…[awkward crickets]. No, seriously, I do have a lot of random daydreams and I am lucky enough to remember a lot of my dreams. So I used to keep a dream journal. It’s a strange mix of fantasy and weird.

When I was younger I used to lie awake in bed and act out my favorite scenes from books but I’d change them to play out how I wanted. I never realized it was a weird version of fan fic. Then I would actually write those scenes down (in legit fan fiction). I always knew where I wanted my characters to go, I just never thought that others would want to see it too. (Until now!)

If you could give three books to every young adult, what would they be? 

Redwall (fantasy and food and the little guys win!)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (because I adore the characters and the world and imagination that built that world)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (I honestly adore this book. While I think the other books are solid, I consider this the book where HP started to transition from MG to YA. It also has great themes of “what is family?”)

What’s your favorite work of art (book/movie/song/sculpture/etc.) with a Chicago connection?

Transformers 3! Hahaha, Just kidding. I actually loved Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and will always love it as a classic part of my childhood. It uses Chicago as such a fun playground and shows off some of the best parts of the city!


What’s your favorite hidden gem in Chicago?

I have two places I love.

Soho House lounge/Allis. It’s a great space for brunch or an afternoon drink and during the day it’s a great space to write!

Speaking of places to write, my amazing ChiYA ladies introduced me to Chicago Athletic Club which has a wonderful space for writing with great architecture and ambiance. PLUS, it doubles as a bar later in the day!

Thanks for sticking through my looong answers and if you want to connect on Twitter I’m @KatCho


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