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Interview with NaNoWriMo Author: Dawn Leslie Lenz

Interview with NaNoWriMo Author:  Dawn Leslie Lenz

Nanowrimo, the National Novel-Writing Month, is nearing an end, and as a final boost of inspiration I interviewed a Nanowrimo writer I know, the lovely and talented Dawn Leslie Lenz.

Dawn is a fiction author and MFA graduate from the University of New Orleans. She is active in the St. Louis literary community, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, The Missouri Writers’ Guild, and the (Un)Stable Writers Group. She is also an entrepreneur, designer and marketing executive at Eos Creative and founder of Mystic Salon, a community organization set to launch Mystic Illuminations, a new online literary journal in February 2015. You can purchase an ebook copy of Dawn’s short story, “The Zepher of the Ashes,” from Untreed Reads.


Why did you decide to do NaNoWriMo last year?

Because my friend, Autumn Rinaldi, asked me to, as a writing buddy support system. We stayed in close contact the entire month via text and email, checking in, encouraging and supporting one another.

I expanded a piece of micro-fiction that I wrote for my husband’s birthday into a novel. This was a thrilling exercise in plotting, structure, characterization, research and all the plethora of elements that combine to create a book length work of fiction.

Dawn reading from one of her 30-day novels at Cafe Royal in San Francisco.

Dawn reading from one of her 30-day novels at Cafe Royal in San Francisco.

But writing a book in 30 days isn’t new to you, is it? What do you like about this speed-writing method?

In January of 2010, I challenged myself to [write a novel in 30 days] and succeeded. I think what I especially enjoy is the commitment to a specific challenge that has an end date in the very near future. A 30-Day Challenge is ideal for me because that is definitely something I am willing and able to commit to, despite having an already hectic schedule.

For the first 30-day challenge in 2010, I didn’t have a full time job, so I had the freedom to write during the day. That particular novel required a great deal of research, and the extra time allowed me to write AND research. During NaNoWriMo 2013, less research was required, which helped me meet the challenge while I also worked a full-time job.


Were there days during NaNoWriMo when you got stuck or frustrated? What did you do?

I know that my success in achieving beyond the required 50K word count in NaNoWriMo 2013 rested upon my prior achievement in 2010. On those days when I struggled to put each word on the page, I remembered that despite those exact same days I experienced in my previous challenge, I ultimately succeeded.

I only had to look to the myriad of tools at my disposal, including the NaNoWriMo website, my friend Autumn, my uber-supportive husband—use them and keep moving, keep writing, stop the worried critic who kept telling me the words were no good. Because that didn’t matter.  What mattered was that I was creating the story, fleshing out the characters. I knew these first 50,000 words didn’t need to be my most brilliant work. I was crafting the solid bones of a project that I could then flesh out later.


You have always seemed to me to be a very dedicated and organized writer. Can you tell me a little about your process?

Writing is my passion. I’m inspired by images. I can take an image and see the story in that photograph. It’s almost as if the image speaks to me, in a way. My 2010 novel was born from an image I had in my mind of when I visited the Louvre and saw the Winged Nike of Samothrace statue:

winged nike and sky

My NaNoWriMo novel originated from an image of a woman in field surrounded by trees. The woman wore a hooded cloak that intrigued me, and I just had to answer the questions that erupted in my mind: who is she? why does she wear this cloak? what is the mystery here?



When I visited you in St. Louis your office had post-it notes and pictures all over the wall. Tell me about that.

In my office I have a magnetic board covered in black velvet with an ornate white frame. I use this board as a character map. Currently (and when you visited, Eva) the board shows the characters I’m working on for a future novel project.

Names are super important to my projects, and I always come up with names prior to beginning my work. I know some writers use placeholder names, but I cannot write this way. The reason I use my character’s true names from the very beginning is because my characters are alive as I write, and they match their names. My characters are with me even when I am not writing. They wake up with me each morning, go pick up a carton of milk with me, do all of my important and mundane tasks with me, and they lie down with me when I go to sleep each night. If I give them temporary names, they falter and are not fully formed during this process of creation where they speak to me about themselves, their lives and their story.

Dawn's board.

Dawn’s board.

So what happened to those two speed-written novels? Have you had a chance to revise them?

The novel that I wrote in 2010 is currently complete after extensive revisions and workshopping with my writing group, and I’m seeking a literary agent for it.

As of yet, I have not had the opportunity to go back to my 2013 project and do any revisions. Work has been very busy, but my goal for 2015 is to once again make my writing life my priority.


What is your advice for someone who is trying to write a novel in 30 days?

I highly recommend it! My first 30-day challenge was created using the book, or shall we call it a workbook, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt called Book in a Month: The Foolproof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days. It details the structure of the novel and lays out a plan for you to achieve the necessary goals for planning, researching and writing the novel in the intense time frame that you want, whether that be 30, 60 or 90 days, or longer. You decide your daily word count and go from there.

I also recommend, after doing my second 30-Day challenge, that you gather a support system. I always have my wonderful husband, Jason, during each of my endeavors, but during NaNoWriMo 2013, it was dramatically helpful to have the support of my friend Autumn, especially since I was working a full-time job and only able to write in the evenings and on the weekends. This is a challenge for most writers, I think. How do we reconcile our need to write with our busy lives? The benefit of a short-term writing challenge is that your other responsibilities (probably besides your paying job) can be put on hold or at least on the back burner while you focus intently on your writing (and become a stronger writer for that intense focus.)

Dawn and Eva at the Hands On Literary Festival in New Orleans.

Dawn and Eva at the Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball in New Orleans.  Being part of a writing community is important!

What is your favorite writing advice in general?

The best writing advice I have ever received was given to me by my graduate school thesis professor, Joseph Boyden. He told me, “Write every day.” For serious writers, this is the best advice that I can pass on. I would also say that in addition to your daily writing practice, have a daily reading ritual, within the genre that you write as well as the classics and great works of literature. You write what you read. If you learn from the masters, you will become skilled at the great techniques they used and therefore improve your own craft.


About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

One response »

  1. Reblogged this on Burlesque Press and commented:
    Burlesque Press Contributor Eva Langston interviews Dawn Leslie Lenz about NaNoWriMo, & her writing process. Check it out!


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