Here Be Monsters: 90 days to write the draft and meet your wild dark by Sarah Smith

Not bad, right?

I mean, let's be real: that is exceptional. (So thrilled for you all!) Some of those folks wrote every damn day, but about half of them took a brief break when life intervened ... but they got right back to business. If you've ever had the discouraging experience of starting a novel and losing steam, take heart: getting an encouraging nudge in your inbox (which you're already checking dozens of times a day) makes it so much easier to get back to the page.

Writing the first draft of a novel is hard.

I should know, because even after getting two (! lol I’m a maniac) writing MFAs, I still had a hard time sitting down and getting the words on the page. I understood rationally that the only way to it was through it, but self-criticism and perfectionism managed to throw me off every time. The only way I could stay the course was by breaking it down into a simple daily goal: 1,000 words a day, every day, no sick days or exceptions, for 90 days. Even so, it was a real leap of faith to stay with it, because a lot of those words were sheer garbaggio. (Trust me.) I had to learn and employ all kinds of tricks to calm my howling anxiety, and I discovered many subtle ways to adjust my perspective so I could keep going. 

A beautiful side effect of this process, and one I could have never anticipated, is that by surrendering to uncertainty in this way, I discovered a story that was so much richer, stranger, and more satisfying than I could have ever planned. My fiction before was kind of head-centric: brainy, ironic, funny, but hard to connect with. I wanted to write something that could reach another person’s feelings. My first draft was messy, bad, boring, overwritten, trite, and cloying … but, right there in the middle were 30 pages of pure gold. Characters who I loved and worried for, a weird and glimmering world, and a story I couldn’t wait to dive into telling. Here’s the wildest thing: I didn’t even remember writing it. I ended up throwing out most of that draft, but it was worth it, because I found the hidden thing that I really needed to write about. It just happened that I had to sort of trick myself to get there.

HERE BE MONSTERS is a collection of those tricks and perspective adjustments, along with pep talks, mini craft lectures, and other tools to help you write the first draft of a novel, distributed in a series of 90 emails, one per day. It’s not a conventional online writing workshop or video-lecture course, because I want you to actually do it every day

At the end of the 90-day course, I’ll send you an ebook compilation of every single email, so you’ll have them for convenient future reference. But first, we’ll do it together, day by day by day.


Here Be Monsters is life-changing! I was (finally) feeling disciplined enough to commit to a regular writing practice when I signed up, and it was so gratifying to find myself finally doing it. HBM held me accountable, kept me motivated, and actually changed the way I approach writing in general. I’m shocked I was able to complete the first draft of a novel in less than four months, but there you go!
Marti Trogovich
Here Be Monsters yanked a weird, surprising first novel draft out of me when I was a new parent with no time—and in despair over finishing any writing ever again.  This is a brilliant course and a life-changing experience.
Mimi Chubb
Class with Sarah was as wonderfully strange as she is. The conversations and materials were fresh, surprising, and productive, whether that meant discussing a short story or receiving a tarot reading for your characters. Without Sarah's encouragement, I would not have taken many of the risks in writing and in life that helped me to where I am as an artist, and I will continue thinking about her kind words moving forward. Sarah is so smart and talented--I am seriously jealous of anyone who gets to take a class with her.
Sophie Paquette

Here Be Monsters: 90 days to write the draft and meet your wild dark



If you’ve always wanted to be a writer but you haven’t studied it in school, HERE BE MONSTERS is for you.
If you just graduated from a writing program but struggle to keep going without the structure of workshops, HERE BE MONSTERS is for you.
If you’ve started and abandoned NaNoWriMo (I don’t know her, hair flip), HERE BE MONSTERS is for you.
If you suspect that there’s a deeper, richer vein of material that you haven’t yet discovered in your work and you are ready to find it, HERE BE MONSTERS is for you.
If you want to explore the ways that writing can be a spiritual practice, HERE BE MONSTERS is for you.
If you want to write mystery, sci-fi, thriller, fantasy, multi-generational family saga, sad girl, Scandi bleakness, I Love Dick-esque mindfuq, literary opulence with absolutely no paragraph breaks and a monograph on mourning doves, a blazing page-turner, a meditation on snow through the eyes of a one-road town in the Urals, autofiction which deliciously subtweets your Instagram-famous ex, the story of how you survived in a world that wanted to keep you quiet and afraid, a heartwarming story where people learn to live with each others’ beautiful strangeness: YES. Yes, yes, yes, yes across the board. HERE BE MONSTERS is for you.
If you want to write a story that surprises you and unfolds in ways you could have never imagined, HERE BE MONSTERS is for you.
If you want to see for yourself how surrendering to the unknown opens up a realm of strange beauty in your writing, or in your world, HERE BE MONSTERS is for you.

So, HERE BE MONSTERS is for everyone?

Essentially, yes.

Why is it called HERE BE MONSTERS?

It was a common practice in medieval mapmaking to mark uncharted and potentially dangerous territories HC SVNT DRACONES: “Here be dragons.” Often, this legend would be accompanied by illustrations of dragons, serpents, lions, and beasts of all kinds. How very like us humans: Instead of exploring the unknown, we’d rather declare it dangerous and stay away. 

Facing the unknown, I realized, was the underlying difficulty in writing the first draft of a novel. Where was this going? Was it going to be any good? Would I fail, embarrass myself, be revealed as a hack? Would the novel I wrote unwittingly demonstrate some crucial, horrible flaw of mine? These are real problems, they are really hard, and they don’t just exist in my writing life, either.

But inside the unknown, I discovered something: Those possibly monstrous and beastly places were actually the source of the greatest riches. The stuff I was afraid of writing about turned out to be the very same material that made it possible for people to finally connect with my characters. It takes courage to go there, but that’s where the magic is. So let’s go where the magic is. 

What's included?

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Thanks for coming with me!
Tools of the Trade
What you need before we begin
A few helpful tools
You've been wondering ...
Here Be Monsters: Days 1-30
Day 1: Laws of the Land
Day 2: To remain silent
Day 3: Knock once for yes
Day 4: Don't go camping
Day 5: Quality doesn't matter, but quantity does
Day 6: Donald Duck Orange Juice
Day 7: Why can't we be friends?
Day 8: The mallard becomes the shark
Day 9: The mallard becomes the shark, pte. deux
Day 10: Joan Didion wuz wrong
Day 11: Art & Fear
Day 12: Janet Evanovich
Day 13: Surrender
Day 14: Surrender II
Day 15: This sucks
Day 16: Puzzles and doves
Day 17: Eine kleine craft talk
Day 18: Some of my best friends just sit in the dirt
Day 19: Patron Saint of Shitty First Drafts
Day 20: The playlist tool
Day 21: The headline tool
Day 22: O'dark thirty
Day 23: Jamaica Kincaid
Day 24: Happy hundo day
Day 25: "Looking at Facebook is more important than writing my novel"
Day 26: The Quit Facebook tool
Day 27: The human being is a meaning-making machine
Day 28: De-tune the violin
Day 29: Making the clay
Day 30: Just a reminder
Here Be Monsters Day 31-60
Day 31: Shut up, Brenda Debbie
Day 32: Dress for the job you want
Day 33: The oracle
Day 34: E.L. Doctorow
Day 35: The list of scenes
Day 36: No wrong steps
Day 37: What the world needs now
Day 38: What the world needs now pte. deux
Day 39: Uncanny singing from certain husks
Day 40: Trajectory
Day 41: Flannery o'clock and all is well
Day 42: Stay frosty
Day 43: Octavia Butler
Day 44: Field trip
Day 45: Continental Divide
Day 46: Some people would never
Day 47: Research is for dorks
Day 48: Surrender III
Day 49: The Gospel of Thomas
Day 50: The Gospel of Thomas pte. deux
Day 51: Break it
Day 52: Slam type
Day 53: Begin
Day 54: I don't know her
Day 55: The tempest
Day 56: Water in the well
Day 57: Borrowed and blue
Day 58: Fuck writing
Day 59: In spite of everything
Day 60: How it ends
Here Be Monsters: Day 61-90
Day 61: Bibliomancy
Day 62: Look out for luck
Day 63: It's OK to cry
Day 64: The permission slip tool
Day 65: Why do you love books?
Day 66: You're reading a book from an impossible library
Day 67: 1-star reviews
Day 68: Nonsense parade
Day 69: Why did I make this course?
Day 70: Trust me
Day 71: This time
Day 72: Efficiency
Day 73: Fuck your fears
Day 74: Negative capability
Day 75: Childishness
Day 76: A question
Day 77: Another question
Day 78: Make us fall in love
Day 79: Change
Day 80: The only law
Day 81: Two roads
Day 82: Neuroplasticity
Day 83: A question, again
Day 84: Yet another question
Day 85: The theater of you
Day 86: The heart, the whole thing
Day 87: The brain wants a song
Day 88: It doesn't matter
Day 89: The mountain
Day 90: The end