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So you did NaNoWriMo in November... now what?

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Advice from the NaNoWriMo blog...

3 Writing Tips I Actually Use


We all hear tons of advice, but how much is used by the advisor? In this blog post, middle grade author, teacher, and NaNo Camp Counselor Lisa Stringfellow offers 3 pieces of advice that she gives to her students...and actually uses.

Kids sometimes have the attitude that adults tend to give advice that they don’t follow themselves, and they're often right. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a saying that too often rings true. As a classroom teacher who is now an author, it was only a matter of time before one of my students asked me that all-important question: “Do you use any of the tips that we’ve talked about in class in your own writing?”

During the virtual launch of my debut middle grade fantasy A Comb of Wishes, dozens of my students joined me on Zoom and this question floated up through the chat like a challenge. They knew that I had started my novel as a NaNoWriMo project way back in 2013, and that I had written and revised the manuscript over several years. But in that public forum, they wanted to know the truth–and I was ready with an answer!

Here are three tips that I give with my middle school students AND actually use myself in my writing:

Take Risks…Don’t Judge

I share these words from author Julie Danneberg every year with my students before NaNoWriMo begins: “If you believe that everything you write must be good, you won’t be willing to write something bad. And if you aren’t willing to write something bad, then you won’t risk experimenting with something new, or playing around in a new way with something old.” Writers can be perfectionists and we are often our harshest critics. The problem is that ideas don’t flow from our brains, out our fingers, and onto the page polished and ready for publication. Nothing inhibits creativity, divergent thinking, and risk-taking more than premature self-judgment. There’s a reason “ban the inner editor” is a hallmark of NaNoWriMo. Let the words flow and be kind to yourself. Everyone’s first draft is…well, bad!

Finish First!

There is a time for revision, but that time is not until the writing is done. Even the most experienced writer has to put aside the urge to polish until they get all the words out. Otherwise, you can wind up in an endless cycle of revising and never get to the end of the draft. Sometimes, revision can be a form of procrastination. You don’t know what to write next, so you go back over what you’ve already written. A better plan–skip to the next part where you DO know what to write. No one said we have to write in order. Leave a comment or note about what needs to be added later, and keep plugging away.

Give Yourself Time

When we finish a piece of writing, our first instinct might be to go back to the beginning and start revising immediately. STOP! A better strategy is to put the piece aside. Depending on any deadlines or due dates, it might be for just a day, but if possible, a week or more is ideal. When working on something intently, time and mental distance can be our biggest ally in making revisions that matter. I often put aside my work for two weeks or more before coming back to it. What that gives me is the ability to look at it as a reader, and not the writer. Fresh eyes allow me to think about structure, language, and other elements of my work more critically.

Wrap Up

Moving from English teacher to author has shifted my perspective on writing and the creative process. If writing is a sport, I am no longer the fan trying to ref the game from the stands; I’m an athlete on the field. My students? They’re playing right beside me. Read your work aloud, Find other writers with whom to share your work. We can share with each other pieces of writing advice that come from trial and error and the process of creating something we’re proud of.


Lisa Stringfellow writes middle grade fiction and has a not-so-secret fondness for fantasy with a dark twist. Her debut fantasy A Comb of Wishes was selected as an ABA Indie Introduce Kids and Indie Next Kids title and is a 2022 Horn Book and Today Read With Jenna Jr. summer reading selection. A middle school teacher for over 28 years, she is passionate about engaging students in their learning through authentic writing experiences, such as the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. Lisa lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with her children and two bossy cats.

My Social Media

Both Twitter and IG: @EngageReaders

HarperCollins/Quill Tree Books

Twitter: @HarperChildrens and @QuillTreeBooks

IG: @HarperKids

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