Forging Weapons For The Penmonkey’s Pilgrimage

Some of you might be doing NaNoWriMo next month. Others of you are just writing novels because that’s what you do. It’s in your blood. Like flatworms and syphilis.

I’d like to offer myself to be your penmonkey sherpa. Let me guide you and your word-mules up the mountainous ascent, into the whorling flakes and keening winds, where we shall plant our manuscripts into the snow with a delightful crunch, probably only moments before we freeze to death and our frosted corpses are sexually violated by lonely Wampa creatures. At least our dead colonic flesh-stockings will serve as a place to incubate the Wampa’s squealing pups, and we may take some solace that the novels that grew out of this treacherous journey may one day go on to be bestsellers or, at least, help fix a crooked table.

All this month shall be geared toward the act of writing a novel in preparation for you crazy kids who are going to step into the breach and tango with the NaNoWriMo bear.

As such, the purpose of this post is tri-fold.

One: New Penmonkey Promotion

If you during the month of October you buy either CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY or its follow-up, REVENGE OF THE PENMONKEY, then I will toss you a free PDF copy of 250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING. All three books contain a squirming burlap sack of advice for those of you writing novels. The books cover everything from plot to characters to theme to query letters to drinking to self-despair to did I mention drinking? They will light firecrackers of inspiration and shove them elbow-deep into your your nether-hole. You will come out smelling like printer ink and bathtub bourbon.

If you buy the PDF of COAFPM or ROTPM, then you don’t need to do anything. You will receive your free PDF of 250 THINGS without you batting an additional eyelash.

If you buy COAFPM or ROTPM over Amazon or B&N, then you will need to contact me at terribleminds at gmail dot com and include proof-of-purchase. From there I’ll get you set up right.

Be advised also that there exists a secondary ongoing promotion for COAFPM — the “Penmonkey Incitement Program.” The more copies I sell, the more stuff I give away.

For every 50 copies, I send out a postcard with a unique piece of writing advice on it.

For every 100 copies, I give someone a PENMONKEY t-shirt.

For every 200 copies, I offer up a critique of the chosen’s writing.

For every 500 copies, I will buy someone a brand new Kindle.

We are at 385 copies sold out of the 1000.

Which means it’s time to give away a postcard, doesn’t it?

The random generator at has chosen:

Kerry Freeman!

Kerry, I’ll be contacting you.

Two: Recommended Posts

I’ll be posting a new NaNoWriMo post tomorrow (“25 Things You Should Know About NaNoWriMo”) but in the meantime, here’s ten posts at this site I think NaNoWriMo’ers could use:

25 Things You Should Know About Writing A Novel

25 Ways To Fuck With Your Characters

25 Ways To Defeat Writer’s Block

25 Ways To Make Exposition Your Bitch

Jumpstarting A Stalled Novel

Storytelling And The Art Of Sadness

Storytelling: The Foremost Fundamentals And Elemental Essentials

What Novelists Can Learn From Screenwriters

Why You Won’t Finish That Novel

And, of course — The Writer’s Prayer.

If you like ’em, feel free to spread them around to others.

Like flatforms and/or syphilis.

Three: What Do You Wanna Talk About?

So, those of you writing novels in or out of NaNoWrimo —

What do you want to talk about? Hit me up.

Let me know what troubles you’re having, what questions plague you in the darkest nadir of the night, what topics you think deserves attention from a mouthy fuck such as yours truly.

42 responses to “Forging Weapons For The Penmonkey’s Pilgrimage”

  1. Chuck:
    Seriously man your work has been endlessly helpful to me since last NaNo. I expect this place will be a permanent opened tab next month.

    As to what to talk about: I seem to have a two troubles in writing (in addition to procrastinating but you have covered that). First: I often fear that all of my protagonists are far to close to each other, far to similar. This is compounded by all of them turning into me at one point or another in their narratives. Not sure how to fix this, if it needs fixed.

    The second: fuck man I’m a mimic, I read Robert E Howard: I write a poor man’s pastiche of Conan and Solomon Kane. I read Novik and all I can think to write is the Napoleonic Wars and Dragons. Jim Butcher: urban fantasy noir. I get that influences are both good an inevitable, but how do I break free from copying them enough to let my own, odd voice out? (short of copious dosage of liquid courage)

    NaNo is coming. Clearly I will need so much vodka.

  2. Right on, Chuck! I’m fi’na do the NaNoWriMo myself. Yes, I said “fi’na.” If you’ve ever lived in the hood, brother, you understand all the contractual obligations that go with it, both real and implied.
    I plan to use all the tools you have to offer. I won’t return most of them. Some I will sell, some I will break. The ones I return will be dirty and feel like they’ve been raped.
    I’ve already got CONFESSIONS on PDF, so I’ll have to get REVENGE this month.
    I appreciate the handy links you have here, all in one place. I really like the Writer’s Prayer-
    But I have a simpler version on my blog, more of an all-encompassing prayer. Short on detail, but long on practicality:
    My Prayer

  3. My questions:

    1) This is October, so National Novel Planning Month (in contrast to National Novel Re-writing Month, December). Any chance you could post up a link list compiling the various articles you’ve written on planning and structure? I’ve got most of them bookmarked, but I would appreciate a single page with them laid out.

    2) How do you deal with the fear of tackling a project that is beyond your current skill level? I understand that this is what NaNoWriMo helps you do, but right now, I’m staring down a dark tunnel wallpapered with the pages of an unwritten novel. The light at the end is no doubt hell-fire.

  4. Exciting stuff. I admit that Revenge of the Penmonkey is the only book of yours I don’t own, so I’m going to get on that now. Still haven’t decided if I’m doing NANOWRIMO this year or if I’m just going to pretend I’m doing NANOWRIMO to kickstart one of the many novels i’ve been chipping at in my brain.

  5. I will be either forging ahead finishing the shit that I’ve started, or taking a break to bash out a pulp lesbian paranormal romance novel. Obviously, option B is the more attractive one right now, which means I should probably stick with option A.

    My antagonist is currently a bit rubbish, seeking powerful macguffins just for the sake of having them (more specifically, for the sake of generating a plot for me). More tips on making her a better villain, without throwing all my macguffins out of the pram, would be helpful!

  6. Writer’s block is a bunch of malarkey and hooey, but I know there are places where a writer comes to a dead stop. Maybe it’s right after getting an outline put together if they’re a plotter, or just before the lead-up scene to the big near-future rock-off duel with guitar-swords that came outta nowhere if they’re a pantser. Both of them, though, ask themselves this question:

    Okay. Now what?

    Answer here or there or with stains of something questionable on the walls. But I’m curious. How do you proceed when you run up against that question?

    • @Josh:

      I figure you either:

      a) keep on writing, absurd as it may feel


      b) find that something in the lead-up isn’t working, and backtrack to fix it (as if to say, “I made a wrong turn somewhere”) — reverse in order to proceed, in other words.

      — c.

  7. Last year was my first time doing NaNoWriMo and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and actually “won”. It did show me that you can spew forth word broth, even when you don’t think you have anything in the gut. It actually is the front half of my next project.

    I’m not sure whether I’m going to do it this year, I’m trying to finish the revision on my novel and working on PME, which is a rediculous amount of reading. “Want to” may not be a good enough reason this year. I do have a kernel of an idea to work on though.

  8. Hey Chuck,

    I’m going to be doing NaNoWriMo for the first time next month so I’m delighted to see you’re going to be holding my hand in the run up. I’ve never written a novel before. I’ve completed a number of screenplays but never a novel. Not ever.

    Here’s one of the things what’s been troubling me;

    Do I write the “big idea” novel that’s been rolling around in my skull for a while and is full of feelings and subtext and relationships and complicated imagery and… stuff?


    Do I concentrate on finishing the damn thing and write a potentially unsellable, no-apologies, balls out, genre mashing, pulpy piece full of action and guts and fun?

    I’m currently leaning towards option two; let’s just finish a first draft novel and then think about getting clever.



  9. I want to know more about writing middles. Beginnings & ends, I enjoy. But this middle business….I need something to hang my hat on. A middle with rippling abs, for example, rather than a bloated beer-belly of a middle.

  10. Balancing multiple viewpoints – yanno, ensuring their voices are distinct and how to give them equally exciting “screen” time, how to weave them in and out of each other and whatnot.

  11. I recently had to shelve a project because I just couldn’t get it to come out no matter how hard I tried. I had an outline that I liked, I knew what came next, but I just couldn’t get it to come out the way it needed to. Any advice on how to get through that (above and beyond writing and rewriting?) I’m still looking over what I have for it and trying to find what is missing…

  12. I’m so excited about getting my very own COAFPM postcard! Thanks Chuck!

    Last year was the first year I really accomplished anything during NaNo. I finished my book a week late and 5K short, but I did finish it. After a few rounds of editing, I submitted it, and it’s being published by Loose Id on October 25th.

    I’m absolutely doing NaNo again this year! My friend and I had weekly planning meetings last October, and we had our first one for this year yesterday. Our first discussions are always outlining vs. pantsing. I outlined like crazy last year, only to have my character mutiny on me after 4 chapters. I’m trying a hybrid approach this time.

  13. Will definitely be doing NaNoWriMo again, it’s just way too much fun not to. Still trying to decide which of the various proto-novels that have yelled ‘I’m your nano novel’ at me in the last year is going to get listened to and written, though. There are three still in the running and currently the only plan I have for deciding is to wait and see which one yells hardest on November 1st. Alternate plans would be appreciated as that way I can at least vaguely plan out plot and stuff.

  14. This sounds great, Chuck! I’ll be linking up to this on my site because it looks useful as hell. As for me… I’m just starting to prepare for my NaNo novel (two ideas are still battling) and doing my own little NaNo project site. I guess people wonder what the appeal of making youself crazy is… to which I tell them it’s a thrill and a community thing above all. I don’t know if it’s like this for others, but the being a part of the NaNo loonybin for a whole month is addictive. Couldn’t stop it after I tried 4 years ago. ๐Ÿ™‚ Looking forward to next post!

  15. I just bought REVENGE OF THE PENMONKEY. I have all your other books, so you don’t have to send me anything. I might jump into a contest for free criticism at some time; snarky abuse is alway appreciated.

    OT, but I’m reading CROSSING THE STATELINE by Allan Ansorge. I think you recommended it. Laughing my ass off (Cluster… inside joke.. no spoiler).

    Not doing NaNoWriMo, but am very interested in the results.

  16. I used nano to kickstart a particularly mental project last year. Having now finished the WIP I interrupted in order to achieve that, I am seeking simply to take the 55k of madness I wrote during nano, re-haul the sucker and then finish it. It’ll probably clock in at 110k. In other words – no nano for me this year.

    God knows it was fun but it was also a particularly devilish torture. I know we’re supposed to vomit it all out etc blah blah but I can’t. I am forced by imperatives ingrained at the molecular level to edit as I go or suffer extreme cranial torment. The metaphorical equivalent of a Scanners firework-display-cranium moment. This made nano… interesting.

    Certain parts of my brain have only just put me back on their christmas card list. I’m not risking that and, besides, I’ve been eyeing this 55k like a Deacon at a titty bar. It wants me, I know it does.

  17. How to combat writing slooowwwnesss. I am such a freaking slow fiction writer it isn’t funny. And please don’t tell me everyone writes at their own pace. That’s like saying everyone learns at their own pace, which totally gives me permission to stare at the wall, make paper airplanes, or throw spitballs at the snooty chick in the front row.

  18. I’m still weighing the prospect of embarking upon that kamikaze rocket that is NaNo. Part of me wants to kick my WiP off the nearest and highest and most cliffiest of cliffs, but the more wily part of me wants to continue hammering away until it’s nice and pointy and suited for the skulls of my enemies.

    But if I was to climb a mountain to meet a wizened old guru of penmonkeyism, after catching my breath I’d love to hear about character emotions and striking the balance between flat and cardboard characters and whirling schizophrenia.

  19. For me, pacing is an issue at the moment. I’m more of a ‘by ear’ kind of writer, or pantster is we’re so inclined to use that common word. I have a general outline, but often I find myself wondering how to keep the road going until we get to the next part. It’s like ‘dead air’ on the radio, nobody likes the silent bits in the middle where some quality content is expected.

  20. I for one would relish reading a post devoted to antagonists and other assorted near-do-wells. I’d also welcome our new insect overlords, but that’s a topic for another day.

  21. I’ve been a corporate butt-monkey for 10 years and now figured I’d swap my butt for a pen (Not literally of course, well not yet anyway. It’s best not to ass-write before you can walk)

    Anyway, I’m going to do NANOWRIMO this year and all this stuff is exactly what I need. Thanks

    I now have two new e-books to read.

  22. @Chuck

    It depends. On a good day, I can get 1000 words in 2-3 hours. On a bad day (week), it takes me all week to write 500 words. It has to do with the obnoxious editor in my brain. My brain editor is very handy when I’m writing technical documents, because I can edit as I go. If I edit as I write fiction though, it slows me way the heck down and adds no value (in fact, the writing is often stilted).

  23. Just started my novel the other day. I sorta decided that I was going to start it now, for fear of being chased off. Problem is, now i don’t know if I should do NaNo or not . . . I WANT to, I just don’t know if I’d be biting off more than I can chew. I guess time will tell. Maybe I’ll just shove-ho this project off to November and cheat a little (nobody said I couldn’t! Nobody said I couldn’t!)

    My problem right now seems to be that I can’t pace myself! I’m three scenes into my novel, and I only have about 1,600 words. That’s not allowed, isn’t it?! The beginning is making me so loopy, you would think I’m drinking booze on a roller coaster (and I’m not even drinking age). The worst part is that I know so much of it is self-doubt. DX

    So, O Wise and Old Penmonkey: what do I do?!?!?

    • @TJ:

      Just write till the end, and however long or short it ends up is however long or short it ends up. You can always adjust after — this is merely your first pass. ๐Ÿ™‚

      — c.

  24. Oh hell, I bit on NaNoWriMo the other day after four utter failures and three years of resisting after that – why not? I bought CONFESSIONS just now so throw my name in the ring for the PDF and whatever else comes raining down…

  25. Hey sparky, when I was in high school on of the subjects I took was an advanced English class, the teacher made us write a new short story every week (the term flash fiction wasn’t invented yet) in a different voice, copying the “masters”. For a long time I thought that was what writing was about, but having done that I think I am a better writer.

  26. I hope to get my ass in gear and do NaNoWriMo next month… but the “get ass in gear” part is my problem. I sit down at my computer and say “Ok! Imma write!” Then I find I need to look up something online… I look it up and I’m just about to get back to writing when…
    aw-hell-nah, facebook.
    I’ve ended up writing EVERYTHING long hand and I’d really prefer an alternative that wouldn’t allow me to go ADD.

    But perhaps I should just get some freaking self control.

  27. @Angela – I read your first comment and thought “I can relate” until I read your second. You’re flying! I write only 300 words a day unless I’m editing, and then I work for 30 minutes. Its my “me” time, and with a busy family, I’m happy to squeeze that out of a day. Of course, this is just a hobby for me. If I were paying the bills at 300 words/day, I’d be in serious trouble!

    • @Angela:

      I think the key is to turn off that internal as-you-go editor. He has his place, but now is not the time to come out and play. ๐Ÿ˜€

      1000 words a day is, all told, pretty solid.

      — c.

  28. @Sparky: if you live in the US, little-known tip: Costco cannot require you to be a member to purchase alcohol. And they sell vodka in the Super Grownup Sippy Cup Size.

    @Rob: I’d go for the second, because it’s easier. Grinding huge wordcount every day is easier when it’s fun and when it’s, well, easy. Last year I opted for the Shamelessly Cheesy Swashbuckling Novel because whenever I got stuck or bored it was trivial to say “okay, fuck it, we’re having a carriage chase scene with witty repartee” or “things are lagging, so clearly it’s time for two guys to burst in the door waving rapiers”. It’s harder to do that if your fiction is complicated and dialogue-relationship-y.

    Not sure I’ll be doing in this year because October is NaNoAlWriFinMo (National Novel you’re Already Writing Finishing Month) and not sure I want to drop it by November.

  29. Just PP’d a copy of your Confessions book, Chuck. I like your style – a no frills, get-to-the-point and move on kinda blog. I’ve been a Wrimo since 2006 and find it most invigorating although my friends would say I’m batshit crazy but they say that whether or not I’m playing the Wrimo game. Looking forward to reading more of your black pearls of wisdom.

  30. Blast it!!!
    I bought 250 things first, then I bought Confessions… both through Amazon.
    My best friend doesn’t have an ereader, is it still possible for me to get 250 as a .pdf for her? I’ll be forever in your debt…


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