NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is coming! For those who are new to NaNoWriMo, it's a month-long writing challenge. Participants aim to write 50,000 words during the month of November.

As I mentioned in last week's email, I will be participating in NaNoWriMo this year. My project is Young Adult historical fiction and in preparation, I've been researching the time period, plotting out the story, and reading books to get inspired. Which is good and important NaNoPrep, but I also wanted to do something fun... :)

Today, I'm going to show you how to create a cover for your NaNoWriMo project. It only takes a few minutes to create a cover in Canva (a simple graphics editing tool). As an added bonus? According to, adding a cover increases your chances of "winning" NaNoWriMo by 60%.

(See that naked novel cover spot? Doesn't it look sad? Let's fix it!)

How to Make your NaNoWriMo Novel Cover

1. Sign in to or create your free account.

I chose to use Canva because it's free and simple to use. You can quickly create beautiful images for everything from Pinterest to printed materials.

2. Under Create a Design, choose Custom Dimensions. Set your dimensions to 230 X 300 pixels.

Although Canva provides Book Cover and Kindle Cover design templates, those images are too large to upload to your NaNoWriMo account (sad face). We'll use the cover dimensions provided by NaNoWriMo (230X300px)

3. Change the Background of your design.

You can use a free image (type in the search field to find images in Canva), a color, or a free pattern. To keep this tutorial simple, I chose a color. I clicked Background in the left hand navigation, then used the color picker to choose a color.

4. Add your title.

Next, click Text in the left hand navigation to add a text field. Type in your title, or use multiple text boxes if you'd like to use more than one font. In each text field, you can edit the font (color, size, style). You can also move and rotate the text field.

5. Rename your file.

Canva uses the template name for files. To avoid confusion (or a desktop cluttered with unfamiliar file names), rename your file to something you'll recognize. Click on the file name in the top navigation, then type in your new file name.

6. Choose Download to save your file.

Save your file as a .jpg or .png.

7. Upload your cover image to your account.

Sign in to your NaNoWriMo account. On your NaNoWriMo dashboard, click the link in the empty cover image spot. Follow prompts to upload your cover image.

8. Share your cover!

I'd love to see the cover you made. Tweet me @bridgidlee, tag me on Instagram @bridgidgallagher or share a link to where you've posted it in the comments below. You can also add me as a buddy on (search for bridgid_gallagher).

I hope you found this tutorial helpful! If you'd like to stay in touch, you can now subscribe to get emails from me (see my last email here). I look forward to connecting with you!

P.S. New to NaNoWriMo? A few posts you might find helpful: how to plot your NaNoWriMo project, how to write faster first drafts, how to get in the writing zone, how to write a novel in a month.

P.P.S. More helpful links, from the YA Buccaneers blog: how to come up with story ideas, how to pick the idea you work on next, how to have a successful NaNoWriMo experience, and how to get unstuck when you hit the writing wall.

How to Write Faster First Drafts

Posted on September 30 2015 in writing & reading

Everyone wants to write faster. You want to make the most of your time to write. Life is short, and you have eleventy billion story ideas to share with the world.

Don't worry. You're not alone.

Today I'm going to share four tricks that have helped me write faster first drafts, plus my bonus tip that can change the way you write in a BIG way.

Tweet this: How to Write Faster First Drafts

1. Clear distractions

A messy workplace can ruin your focus. The fewer distractions, the easier it will be for you to focus and get into the writing zone. (Writing zone: the mental place where you find it easy to write all the words.)

Do it now:

Tidy up your work space. Clear up clutter from your physical workspace, but also take a moment to tidy your digital workspace. Close browser tabs, or quit your Internet browser entirely.

  • Try an Internet-blocking app like MacFreedom if your willpower is nil.

  • Turn off notifications for non-essential apps (do you need to know someone pinged you on Twitter or Facebook right now?).

  • Check out Write or Die, my favorite trick for writing fast when I'm struggling to focus.

In short: Clean up your workplace to make it easy to get into your writing zone.

2. Set small, reasonable goals for each workday

If you sit down at the computer thinking, "I have to write a novel," then good luck. For me, that would lead to staring at a blank screen for hours. What you want is to sit down at the computer with a specific goal, one that fits the amount of time you have to write and your to-do list. As in, "Today I have fifteen minutes to write 100 words while I'm waiting in the carpool lane," or "This morning I have one hour to write 2,000 words, then I'll get to my emails."

Do it now:

Figure out how much time you have to write each week - whether it's once a week or every day - and break down your big goal to fit your availability. Have a specific, reasonable goal in mind when you sit down to write. Here's more on how to set and reach reasonable writing goals.

3. Accountability

There are two parts to this tip, long term writing accountability and short term writing accountability.

Long term accountability

Sharing your big writing goals with someone -- anyone! -- can help motivate you to meet your goal. Tell your mom you want to write a novel. Call your best friend and tell her you want to start blogging. I went on Periscope and shared my writing goal for September via live-streaming video (extreme, but it worked for me!).

The point is to find someone who will (gently) help hold you accountable, simply because they know what you want to accomplish.

Do it now:

Tell a friend, family member, or stranger on the Internet about your current writing goal. It's that easy!

Short term accountability

Find other writers to write with in person or online. Writing with someone will give you a healthy dose of social pressure to help you focus.

Do it now:

Make a "writing only" date at a coffee shop or the library with a friend. Leave time to chat, but also commit to focused writing time. Or, start a Word Sprint. Jump on Twitter, tell people you're writing and ask if anyone wants to join you. Be specific about what you're looking for. Example: "Anyone up for a 30 minute word sprint starting at :30? #amwriting"

If you're new to Twitter, tag me @bridgidlee. Even if I can't join you, I'll cheer you on!

4. Plot and plan before you write

This is a biggie. If you want to write fast, then you have to have a plan. You don't need to go into detail, but having a general idea of what you are going to write will mean you spend less time thinking (i.e. staring into space) and more time tapping out words on your keyboard.

Tweet: "If you want to write fast, then you have to have a plan."

Do it now:

Start with my favorite plotting resources. You don't have to outline every single moment of your novel, just make sure you have a sketch of what you're going to write before you start drafting. Plot and plan, then write.

Bonus tip: Read 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron

Want to take your writing productivity to the next level? I can't recommend 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron enough. Rachel doesn't teach you to how to write more words faster, she teaches you how to assess your current writing strategy and improve upon it, so that you waste less time and spend more time creating what you love. Plus, it's $.99 right now. #win

I hope you've found this post helpful. If you have please share it!

Now it's your turn: What are your tricks for writing faster?

As writers, our goals our driven by self-motivation. Perhaps you have an agent or editor who gave you a deadline, but otherwise, you're on your own. And, speaking from experience, it can be easy to set unrealistic goals, then feel guilty when you fail to meet them.

So how do you make reasonable goals for yourself?

Below are five tricks I use to take my big (sometimes overwhelming) writing goals, and make them into realistic, achievable, reasonable writing goals. Goals that are a source of motivation, not guilt.

1. Set your goal.

First, determine what you want to accomplish, and be specific. Do you want to blog more? Great. How many blog posts do you want to write? Do you want to write a book? High-fives! How long will it be? Genre? Are you drafting, or will you start by plotting your project?

Pssst: Helpful links for plotting your novel.

For example, if I have a goal of writing a complete manuscript, I'll start by researching the recommended length for the genre. That word count will be my goal.

New to recommended word counts? Start with the Literary Rejections Word Count norms by genre.

2. Give yourself a deadline.

Set a reasonable deadline for yourself and write it down somewhere--a sticky note on your computer, or a reminder on a calendar--any place that will help give you a concrete date to keep in mind as you write.

If you have a family vacation, important event, or another deadline, keep those things in mind. Also remember that you can--and should!--change this deadline if things change.

3. Break your big goal into smaller, manageable goals.

How can you make your big goal more manageable? Give yourself a small, tangible goal for each day you work. Something to help you stay motivated, but also something you can use to gauge your progress.

If your goal is to complete a manuscript, break it into daily or weekly word counts. I tend to work in two to three hour blocks, five days a week. It wouldn't be reasonable for me to set a goal of writing 10,000 words a day, but writing 1500-3000 words a day would be a realistic goal I can accomplish.

4. Track your progress.

I've shared a few of my favorite ways to track your progress on the YA Buccaneers blog. Take a look, and pick one (or more) that suits you. Personally, I love the sticker method, but I've also enjoyed using MyWriteClub to track my progress (they had me at graphs).

5. Find accountability.

Find other writers to write with--or simply talk to--online or in person. There is nothing like the camaraderie of people who are experiencing the same challenges as you, and who are setting their own goals and working hard to meet them.

Twitter is a fantastic place to find other writers. Take a look at the #amwriting hashtag and you'll see people looking to meet other writers.

Pssst: are we Twitter friends? Follow me @bridgidlee!

Bonus tip:

Stay flexible with your goals. If your schedule changes, or if you need to change your deadline, or if your story is just not happening that's okay! Instead of feeling bad about what you didn't accomplish, focus on re-setting your goals. Perhaps you started drafting a story, but you discover you're not ready and need to go back to plotting. I've been there. Don't give up. Set new goals for yourself, and keep moving.

Do you have a trick for goal setting? I'd love to hear it. Jump in the comments below to share.

In Novel & a Nibble posts I pair my recent favorite reads with recipes. It's a new series, so if you want to see more jump in the comments & let me know!

Today, I'm talking about two recent reads I loved: MORE THAN FASHION, a New Adult romance, and UNDER THE LIGHTS, a contemporary YA.

Read on for my thoughts on the books, and the recipes I chose to pair with them. (They aren't technically "nibbles" recipes because both of these books inspired me to find drink recipes. I've almost convinced myself that it's okay.) ;)


MORE THAN FASHION by Elizabeth Briggs // Strawberry Martini

MORE THAN FASHION is the latest in Elizabeth Briggs' Chasing the Dream series (which I reviewed here), and it doesn't disappoint. This series just gets better and better!

Julie Hong is a pre-med student with a passion for fashion design who lands a spot on a competitive reality television show for aspiring designers. The night before the show starts, she has a steamy meeting with a guy she never expects to see again ... And guess who she runs into on the show?

Beyond being a fun and steamy (have I mentioned that it's steamy?) romance, it's also a compelling story about a girl trying to find her way. Will she be a doctor like her older sister, and follow her parents wishes? Or will she pursue her passion and face her fear of disappointing her family?

Elizabeth's books are such a great combination of fantastic writing, great banter, and hot romance, all with unique settings and the kind of heroines who feel like real people.

Since we meet Julie while she's sipping on a strawberry martini, I thought this Strawberry Martini recipe from Cooks with Cocktails would be a perfect fit. Yum!

UNDER THE LIGHTS by Dahlia Alder // Latté with Hazelnut Milk

I read the first book in Dahlia Adler's Daylight Falls series (my BEHIND THE SCENES review), and was so excited when I found out we'd get to read more about two of the side characters, Vanessa and Josh. (Psst: Check out my interview with Dahlia for the YA Buccaneers!.)

UNDER THE LIGHTS is told from both Vanessa's and Josh's perspectives:

Party boy Josh is unlovably lovable. He's full of himself, arrogant, and crass (and that's generous), but somehow I found myself ... liking him. How he went from being a character who made me snort laugh because of his over-the-top mean lines to a character who I was rooting for, I have no idea. I think it might be because Dahlia is amazing. (Dear Dahlia, please give us a sequel with Josh's story. I already can't wait to read it.)

Vanessa is a Korean-American actress on a teen television show, and can't afford to be unlikeable. When her best friend Ally (who we met in BEHIND THE SCENES) leaves for college, Vanessa finds herself without a confidant. She turns to her agent's daughter Brianna for friendship, which should be a great solution. Only, Vanessa discovers she has feelings for Brianna. Not only is she beyond confused, she's also terrified that her feelings for Brianna will mean the end of her career.

This book! So. Good. I devoured it.

Speaking of devouring, I chose this latté with hazlenut milk recipe from The Clean Dish because Vanessa sips on a hazlenut latté with Ally at the beginning of the story.

I hope you check out both of these books and the recipes!

P.S. Let me know in the comments if you'd like to see more Novel & a Nibble collections. I'd love your input!

A week or so ago I asked my Instagram friends if they wanted a recipe for peach upside-down cake, so you can thank them for this one!

We've been buying Colorado peaches by the box (I love peach season!!), which I've used as an excuse to add peaches to everything. Peach scones, peach salsa, peaches on pancakes, and just ... peaches. Fresh and oh-so juicy, straight out of the box. YUM.

Then I came across a recipe for peach upside-down cake from Alton Brown. Anyone else love his cooking show? One of my sisters introduced me years ago, but I just rediscovered it thanks to Netflix. I love that he breaks down the reasoning behind why recipes work. So nerdy (in the best way).

But back to the cake.

Alton shared a recipe for his peach upside-down cake, and I was thrilled by the idea of baking INDIVIDUAL-SIZED CAKES IN RAMEKINS.

(I'm sorry about the caps, but it feels necessary. The excitement I felt was definitely caps-worthy.)

Ramekins - those hand-sized little baking dishes - have a special place in my baker's heart. We own a set of four - a hand-me-down gift - but until now I hadn't baked in them. I was waiting for the right recipe. [cue angels singing about peach cake]

There's just something about cake made in a tiny dish for one person. It's like a limited edition book cover or a pop up shop: ephemeral and delicious (because, cake!).

Alton's recipe looked like a good place to start, but there were a few things I wanted to play with. I wanted to use oat flour because it works best for me, and skip the butter. I also wanted to reduce the sweetener, and see if I could use curdled non-dairy milk instead of buttermilk.

So I baked and ate (oh, how I suffer in the name of research) and I baked some more until I had the magic combination. I found that coconut oil worked not only as a substitute, but an improvement. Beyond adding that coconut oil richness, it caramelized the coconut palm sugar to perfection.

But the absolute best improvement is the fresh-grated ginger, which makes each cake explode with flavor.

Please don't skip the ginger. It. Is. Amazing.

All of my experimenting paid off. Not only is this cake gluten-free and vegan, it is also DELICIOUS. It tastes like summer.

Juicy peaches with rich coconut sugar. Dense oat-flour cake with just the right amount of sweetness. Pure YUM.

And then I put ice cream on it. [that sound you hear? that's me cackling]


Vanilla ice cream (vegan if needed), coconut cream or whipped cream - anything creamy - will take this recipe from amazing to insane. (You've been warned.)

I hope you try it.

Peach upside-down cake { vegan, gluten-free }

Makes 4 cakes (6-oz ramekins)

Adapted from Alton Brown

  • 3 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 4 tsp coconut palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 2 peaches, peeled
  • 1" fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 1/2 ounces oat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or non-dairy milk of choice)
  • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350ºF.

Prepare the peaches: First, peel them. Put each peach in boiling water for 20 seconds, then move to an ice bath for 20 seconds. The peel will rub off. Next, cut the peaches in half and remove the pit. Slice each half into even pieces (about 6). Set aside.

Place ramekins on a baking sheet. Divide 2 Tbsp of coconut oil between the four ramekins (about 1 1/2 tsp per ramekin). Sprinkle 1 tsp of coconut palm sugar (or brown sugar) in each ramekin, coating the bottom of each dish. Place the peach slices on top of the sugar (each ramekin will get about a half peach). Grate ginger onto the peaches, dividing evenly among the ramekins.

Prepare vegan buttermilk (curdled non-dairy milk) by mixing non-dairy milk with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Set aside for 1-2 minutes, or until milk is curdled. Once curdled, add vanilla extract and granulated sugar. Mix well, then add remaining 1 Tbsp of coconut oil.

In a separate bowl, whisk together oat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add wet mixture to dry and stir only until combined (you don't want to over mix - lumps are okay).

Pour batter over the peaches, dividing evenly among the four ramekins.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for five minutes. Run a knife along the edge of each ramekin, then overturn each cake onto a plate. It will be hot, so use a towel or oven mitt. Serve warm, and add coconut cream, whipped cream, or your favorite vanilla ice cream for complete deliciousness.


View as Google Doc

If you try this recipe (which would make my day), tell me about it! Tag me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and include my shiny new hashtag: #bridgideats. I would love, love, love to see your photos and hear what you think!

Now it's your turn: Have you been baking with seasonal produce? What's in season where you live?

P.S. See all of my recipes.