Surviving NaNoWriMo: Week One

I finished my first week of NaNoWriMo 2015 and am now entering into Week #2.  No big deal, right?  I write for a living so it should be easy to be productive and meet word counts. But, truthfully, sticking to the commitment was tough. It probably didn’t help that NaNoWriMo started on the day I was out of town attending the Pitt Slovak Festival to give a talk. 

There were a few other challenges (I am trying hard to not turn them into excuses). I wasn’t in my usual work environment and had to schedule my writing session before I left for the festival. The following day (Day #2 of NaNoWriMo) I spent driving back to New York (a 7-hour trip) and then conducting an online meeting for a Writing Intensive I am teaching. But I still managed to write something.

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo you can add me as a buddy (I am registered under GenWriter) and learn more about my chosen project from my NaNoWriMo profile), but here are ten quick facts (the basics) about what I am writing in November.

1. It is a work of nonfiction (probably “true crime” but I’m not sure I like that category).

2. The setting is “somewhere” in Pennsylvania (mid-late 1930s).

3. The story includes revenge, murder, and plenty of other twists and turns.

4. I have been spent more than 10 years researching for this book (writing on/off for 6).

5. The focus is not on family history, but I did extensive genealogy research for it.

6. The book is NOT about my family or anyone related to me in any way.

7. I have a co-author who is not participating in NaNoWriMo.

8. Structure: Three parts; Approx.15 chapters, Preface, Epilogue Appendix, Notes.

9. The story truly sounds more like fiction than nonfiction (but it really happened).

10. The narrative is complex and I really have no idea where it is going.

To elaborate a bit on #10, I keep wavering about the best way to present the story (chronological, flashback, or some sort of “creative compilation”?  I only like about half of what we have written thus far. As I go through NaNoWriMo, I’ve considered tossing out most of it, salvaging some of the nuggets, and just starting over.

Week 1 NaNoWriMo Report Card 

My word counts per day have ranged from my lowest 367 (Day 1) to my highest 1678 (Day 5), for a grand total to this point of 8,290. 

For the record, I spent the first couple of days storyboarding my chapters. For the storyboarding process (as well as for writing) I am using Scrivener for Windows (desktop) and Scrivener for Mac (when I I am writing on my laptop). The Scrivener storyboard serves as my “bird’s eye view” of the project. The Dashboard on the NaNoWriMo site offers useful statistics.  It guilts tells you how you are doing and offers projections for completion, including:

  • Your Average Per Day __
  • Words Written Today __
  • Target Word Count (50,000)
  • Target Average Words Per Day(1,667)
  • Total Words Written __
  • Words Remaining __
  • Current Day __
  • Days Remaining __
  • At This Rate You Will Finish On ___
  • Words Per Day To Finish On Time  ___

In terms of the last two stats, I am not doing so well.  My projected finish date is December 19, 2015 (this is beyond the official completion date), and to finish by then I will need to write 1,814 words per day.  While this isn’t horrible, it isn’t great either.  The bottom line is I really need to step it up if I am to “win” NaNoWriMo this year. It is not often that I back down from challenges so I am “in it to win it.” What I need is some serious seat time—this means “rear in chair” and “fingers on keyboard.”  

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo 2015? How did you do during your first week in? I would be interested to hear about your successes, challenges and thoughts in the comments section. 

Onward to Week 2!

Copyright 2015, Lisa A. Alzo
All rights reserved


The Four Must-Have Items in My Writer’s Survival Kit

Here we are…it’s November! And I can’t wait to start writing. How about you?

Image credit: Pixabay

In order for me to keep my commitment to NaNoWriMo (and 50,000 words is definitely a commitment), I have identified four essential or must-have items for my personal writer’s survival kit.

1. MacBook Air. I like the portability of my MacBook Air. While I plan to do most of my writing in November in my home office, I may occasionally want a change of scenery and may choose to head to a library or coffee shop. 

2. Scrivener. If you are a writer and not using Scrivener, go download it now!  You can choose Scrivener for Windows or Scrivener for Mac (There’s a very liberal 30-day free trial, if you want to try it out before purchasing it). This project management tool by Literature and Latte had changed the way I write.  I especially like the corkboard feature for creating virtual index cards to outline/storyboard articles, blog posts, books, courses, and ancestor profiles. Honestly, I can’t write without it.

3. Moleskine notebook. While I do my writing in Scrivener, there are instances when I may not be online or have my computer with me when inspiration strikes (in the middle of the night, for example), and I often find it difficult to type on my phone’s virtual keyboard. During these times having my Moleskine notebook comes in handy. I like the classic Pocket Plain notebook, but there are larger sized Professional Style books. I can then snap photos of the handwritten pages with my smartphone and save them to my Evernote (premium) account to retrieve, read, and transcribe later on.

4. Coffee. I am an early bird and do my best writing in the early morning AFTER a large mug of coffee.  My personal favorite is Revv (for my Keurig). But I also stock up on Starbuck’s Via packets for those times when I want a quick caffeine fix or for when I travel.

I will definitely add other items to my kit as the month progresses, but for now I am armed with these essentials and am looking forward to starting my writing journey.

What items will you stock in your writer’s survival kit?

Copyright 2015, Lisa A. Alzo
All Righst Reserved


Fiction, Nonfiction or Memoir…What Will You Write in November?

Do you have a family history project on the back burner? A novel inside your head you have always wanted to write? A half-written nonfiction manuscript stashed somewhere on your computer’s hard drive? November is the perfect time to tap into your creativity and finally get that first draft in place!

Image credit: Pixabay

If you are ready, here are three ways to stop dreaming and start writing.

1. Sign up for NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. The very first NaNoWriMo took place in July 1999 (see Yes, it is an ambitious goal, but could be the “kick in the pants” you need to overcome your fears and get serious about storytelling. If you are committed to cranking out 50,000 words by November 30, click here to create your official NaNoWriMo profile (it’s super easy, I promise. I signed up today).

2. Be a rebel. You may ask, “Do I have to write a novel?”  If a novel is not your thing, don’t despair. You can still participate in NaNoWriMo. See the “What Genres Can I Write In?” section on their website. There is even a special group called NaNo Rebels in the forums for those who works don’t qualify as lengthy fiction. While I have pondered the possibility of writing a novel someday, my own writing roots are planted firmly in the area of creative nonfiction, so for this year I plan to focus on a project for this genre.  I am looking forward to being a “NaNo Rebel.”  Perhaps you can join me?

3. At the very least—start a Blog. Not quite ready to commit to word counts, deadlines, or peer pressure?  Then aim for a smaller goal. Blogging is a great way to take those baby steps to complete a writing project of a bigger scope (sign up for a free account on sites such as Blogger,WordPress, or TypePad). Even if you just wrote 500-600 words once a week (one blog post), you would be making progress. Begin with a small time commitment such as 15 minutes per day (come on, we can all find 15 minutes!) and then work your way up to longer sessions. Schedule this time on your calendar, block out all other distractions (such as Facebook, or other time wasters, social media) and set an alarm or timer. Write until the alarm or timer sounds. You can even make your blog private if you are not ready to share your posts with the world. The goal is to write something—anything.  Remember: You can’t edit a blank page!

Speaking of blogging, during November I will be sharing writing tips and resources on this blog (articles, books, videos, etc.), as well as a number of my favorite writing tools (writing software, productivity apps, and more). If I see any discounts or deals on such products I will also share the information with you. I’ve even teamed up with my friend and colleague Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers—each week there will be a unique contest on the GeneaBloggers website, where you will be able to enter to win some great prizes (stay tuned or more information). 

In addition, after years of making the excuse that “I don’t have time for NaNoWriMo,” I have decided to take the plunge myself and make the commitment to write those 50,000 words. I am going to focus on a project that has been waiting in the wings for over 10 years, and it is time to finally finish this book. After so many stops and starts, I decided I just need to start with a clean slate. I will share with you here my adventures, progress, successes and frustrations. 

Onward to November!  Let’s start writing!

Copyright 2015, Lisa A. Alzo

All Rights Reserved

Free Video for The Write Stuff: Using Nonfiction Writing Techniques to Write a Better Family History

Life is full of anniversaries, and 25 years ago, I began my journey as both a genealogist and a nonfiction writer. I was enrolled in the graduate program in creative nonfiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh and decided to write my thesis about my grandmother and tell the story of her immigration to America from Slovakia. This final manuscript project evolved into my first published book, Three Slovak Women. To mark this 25-year milestone, I am offering a free video of one of my most popular genealogy talks: “The Write Stuff: Using Nonfiction Writing Techniques to Write a Better Family History.”

Image by Lisa A. Alzo
Presentation Description

As genealogists we often focus on facts and uncover so much information that our research can have a tendency to produce nothing but boring lists. But do you really know what happened during the course of your ancestors’ lives? How can you share that information in a compelling and interesting way? An all-encompassing family history is so much more than just charts and graphs, boxes and lines, or a list of references. Writing about our ancestors and our heritage gives context, meaning, and purpose to all of the facts we have collected. This video discusses how to use nonfiction writing techniques to produce a “must read” family history that will keep the pages turning for generations to come. 

Since I chose to write about my grandmother for my first nonfiction book, I am happy to share this video in honor of her and to celebrate National Women’s History Month. 

Be sure to also download the FREE 4-page handout packed with my favorite writing tips and resources.

As a genealogy writer and educator I strive to teach others how to lose the intimidation and let go of their fears about writing to dig deeper into their family stories. I have published nine books have written hundreds of magazine articles. In addition, I currently teach family history writing and memoir writing at local colleges, and online through webinars, Boot Camps and writing intensives. Here is a representative (but not intended to be exhaustive) list:

Legacy Family Tree Webinars 

Available to watch at Family Tree Webinars (membership required)

  • Crafting Ancestor Profiles from Start to Finish
  • 10 Ways to Jumpstart Your Family History Narrative
  • Digital Writing Tools for Genealogists
  • Ready, Set, Write! Share Your Family’s Story

Click here to read detailed descriptions of each webinar and for information on how to view them.

HackGenealogy Boot Camps and Intensives (with Thomas MacEntee)
  • Genealogy Writing Boot Camp
  • Scrivener Mini-Boot Camp: Getting Started with Scrivener – To Go!
  • Self-Publishing Boot Camp
  • Evernote Boot Camp
  • Blogger Boot Camp
  • The “Write Stuff” Genealogy Writing Intensive (watch HackGenealogy for an announcement about the next session).

Detailed information on purchasing the “Boot Camp To-Go” versions can be found on the Hack Genealogy Store.


In addition, you may wish to check out my other publications:

This guide contains useful information including the tips, tools, and tricks you’ll need to get beyond the names, dates and places to bring your family tree to life. Also included are writing exercises, links to handy apps, and self-publishing resources, to help you craft and publish a “can’t put down” narrative. 

Scrivener for Genealogists (laminated QuickSheet for Mac or Windows) 

Scrivener for Genealogists (PDF QuickSheet for Mac or Windows) – available from

This guide gives you all of the basics you need to know to get up and running with Scrivener—a popular combination word processor and project management tool produced by Literature and Latte

Writing Your Family History Book (Heritage Productions): Every family has a great story-or two, or twenty-two! Put it on paper… This book will help you from beginning to end in simple, manageable steps. You can do it!

While studying in the University of Pittsburgh’s highly acclaimed Creative Nonfiction Writing program, I learned from many of the best writers in the business. I am pleased to share some of the key principles of creative nonfiction writing with you through this short presentation.  

Don’t miss this free chance to learn the tips, tools, and techniques that will help take your family history writing to the next level.  

Sign up for my free newsletter to receive announcements about future learning opportunities with me in 2015.

Image Credit: © kaktus2536 –

Copyright 2015, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved