Thinking out loud about National Novel Writing Month

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Writing duel samples

A writing duel is a timed “competition” between two writers. At Ink & Blood events, there is a live audience and the anonymous writers have their words projected on screen as they draft.

When the time is up, both writers must stop writing immediately (even mid-sentence!) and each work is read aloud in its entirety. A winner is then voted on by the audience.

In the interest of spreading the fun, here are Jim and I’s pieces that we wrote for the writing duel that leads into episode 18. For the purposes of this duel, we simply set a timer for ten minutes and tossed out the prompt “orange”. Since we don’t allow writers to clean up spelling errors or grammar, they are presented as they were finished.

NanoWriPod Duel 10/7/14

"Orange" by Jim Markus

You close the tabs on the screen just as you hear the door to the office swing open. Jason always knocks, but he never waits for a response. You’re used to it.

"Hey Sharon," he says.

He always calls you Sharon. You don’t mind. It was his daughter’s name. He does it to everyone. You swivel in your seat, turning to face him directly.

"It’s the new case file," he nods to the orange folder on your desk. You haven’t opened it yet. "I know it just came in this morning, but we really need to make some progress before the end of the day."

He’s sweating.

"Any chance you’ll get through a few pages before the afternoon conference call?"

No, you think. Of course not. You hadn’t planned to touch the orange file until after the weekend. That was the plan even before you found out that Rose and Tim were planning a surprise party for Jason.

You hesitate to respond and Jason’s eyes widen in realization. “I didn’t mean,” he starts. Then, still staring directly into your eyes, he asks, “Did I call you Sharon when I walked in?”

He picks up the orange folder and flips through the first few pages. “I’m sorry. You know how it has been.”

You shift forward, ready to stand and take the file back, but he motions for you to stay seated. You really wish he’d leave. You had planned to spend more time browsing through articles before lunch.

"Listen," he holds the file in your direction. "Just do what you can before the meeting."

You take it and set it, unopened, on the desk where it had been when he walked in.

"I’m serious," Jason says. His eyes narrow with the last word. You see blackness spread across his eyes, starting from the corners and moving toward his nose until everything is covered and shining.

He is serious. He normally keeps his calm so well. You glance at the folder on the desk and, before you can stop him, he lunges forward, pinning you to your chair. His knees press on your wrists. His mouth opens wide. He is bearing his teeth now. You’ve never seen the fangs before.

Who is this monster?

Ben’s entry


The ending of a day is a solemn, quiet time. What I like the most, though is the promise. That sweet orange and pink as the sun recedes under the horizon. Then it is dark and I feel freer.

My buddy Tom calls me a little after dark. My phone trembles in my pocket and I accidentally answer before I have it to my ear. I fumble some more as I then accidentally swipe the screen with my palm and all I hear is, “-in a few minutes” before he hangs up.

I redial twice but he doesn’t answer. Oh well, I put my shoes and socks on and make my way to my front door. I quick goodbye to the parents watching the evening news. It’s Friday night, they know I’ll be home late.

Living out in the country without a lot of trees around makes dusk a surreal time. Shadows impossibly long. Little kids with giants chasing them before they have to head home in the twilight.

And of course that sun, gods spotlight now aimed squarely at your optic nerve if you’re heading westward. It shoots right down my street in the late summer. The sun’s beam hangs on my street until the last possible moment to finally douses itself.

Filed under writing duels draft fiction stories jim ben

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Episode 18: Nanopremo

Why yes, it is a “primo” episode, haha. In the third episode of the “preseason” for Nanowrimo, Jim and Ben duel it out and read their drafts aloud. Then we get into some of the planning and structure techniques that Brandon Sanderson teaches in his “Write About Dragons” classes.

Book’s we’re absorbing:

Jim’s challenge to our “ear readers”(listeners): Spend some time in the remaining month to re-read a piece (preferably a short story but it’s up to you) that you thoroughly enjoy and break down the story elements that make it work/not work/how you might change it.

Filed under structure story planning drafting word duel

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Don’t share work-in-progress with non-writers. Indeed, don’t even discuss it. Think of work-in-progress as an egg around which the shell has not yet hardened. I told my wonderful husband, a newspaper editor, my idea for a scene I wanted to write. ‘It sounds like a cliché to me,’ he said. I winced—but as an editor on a daily deadline, his job is to derail weak ideas before they waste anyone’s time. As a fiction writer, mine is to trust my ideas, follow them around dark corners and see what turns up. Thankfully, I wrote my scene. The story won a prize that took me to Russia, ran in a top literary magazine, and was published in my first book.

Dylan Landis (via mttbll)


(Source:, via meravisabeast)

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vanessajoseph asked: Seriously. WHY is it soooo damn difficult to finish writing things?!?


If it was easier we would be drowning in novelists. Probably better that it’s hard.

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Episode 17: The Ink and Blood Dueling Society

Your adventures in National Novel Writing Month.  This podcast covers the event where writers try to complete 50,000 words in 30 days… and more.

EPISODE 17: The Ink & Blood Dueling Society

This year, an incredible literary event emerged in Chicago. Masked writers, calling themselves The Ink & Blood Dueling Society, hold monthly writing duels in front of a lively audience. They craft full stories on screen while members of the public shout their thoughts. At the end of the duels, the audience decides on a winner. In this week’s episode, Ben and Jim talk about the origins of this crazy event.


NaNoWriPod Hosts:

  • Ben Alexander runs and is starting his second season of NaNoWrimo. He can be followed on Twitter @mistahben and on the NaNo site at mistahben.
  • Jim Markus, the creator of “Write with Lions”, runs  and is starting his sixth season of NaNoWriMo. Jim is on Twitter @jimmarkus and on the NaNo site at jim-markus.

Both can also be heard on the  Stuff Smart People Like Podcast.

This podcast is not affiliated with the Office of Letters and Light, but we encourage you to support their awesome efforts. NaNoWriMo accepts donations on their site.

Filed under nanowrimo ink and blood nanowripod writing national novel writing month season 3