Last Minute NaNoWriMo Survival Tips

nanowrimo

October 31st is a scary day, and it has nothing to do with Halloween. (Which I always forget about anyway.) No, this final day of October is frightening because November 1st is mere hours away… And with it comes National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, a.k.a. “The Month Writers Sacrifice Their Remaining Sanity and Neglect Basic Survival Skills.” Sounds fun, right?

Actually, it is. Sort of. Once you get past the lack of socialization and sleep, it really is pretty awesome. Last year, I wrote a post of 30 Reasons to do NaNoWriMo. If you’re on the fence about doing NaNoWriMo, maybe this list will push you onto the side of slightly insane writers taking the challenge. (You can read it here)

Let’s say you’ve already decided to get in on the action, though, but now you have no idea how November is already here and you still have NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING WITH YOUR NOVEL. (Deep breaths. Don’t hyperventilate.)

Should you drop out? There’s always next November, right? Surely you can’t wade into the trenches of NaNoWriMo without a detailed battle plan, can you? You’ll never survive now that you’ve waited until the stroke of midnight to take action.

Never fear, my writing comrade. I’m right there with you. Until this morning, I hadn’t even settled on a story to work on this month, and I’m still having doubts. I logged into my NaNoWriMo profile for the first time two hours ago. If anyone isn’t ready to take on this monster, it’s me. But ready or not, here it comes. Part of being a novelist is being adaptable, and that’s a skill I work in November more than any other month. No story is ever truly ready, and writing is never without surprises, no matter how much we outline. Even if you just decided five minutes ago to get involved with NaNoWriMo, you can make November work in your favor.

Here are my simple tips for surviving NaNoWriMo, despite being mostly unprepared.

  1. Pick a story and stick to it. It doesn’t need to be your most revolutionary idea ever, or have any publishing potential. You don’t even have to like it after the thirty days of November are up. Just pick one idea and give it one month to see what happens.
  2. Speaking of ideas, if you have no ideas whatsoever, consult a prompt generator. My two favorites are the Google Play apps, Story Plot Generator and Writing Prompts. For iOS, there’s a similar app called the Great Plot Generator. Even if you don’t go with the exact idea generated, it may spark something. If you have too many ideas and not a single one stands out, write a few down and randomly pull one. There you go! Your latest literary masterpiece!
    story generator prompts.webp prompt 200.webp
  3. Be unoriginal. You only have four weeks to write 50,000 words. Now is not the time to create detailed character diagrams, in-depth fantasy worlds, or your own language. It’s okay if your main character reminds you of the lead in your favorite show. If your world is suspiciously like the Shire, keep writing. As you go, your story will take on a life of its own. In the meantime, don’t get so hung up on originality that you write nothing at all, original or otherwise. Even if you’ll have to make changes later to avoid plagiarism, borrow the ideas you need to keep going.
  4. Forget (almost) every writing rule you’ve ever learned. Go ahead and write one chapter in first person and the next in third. Ignore commas entirely. Ramble on for two pages without pauses. This is November. This is the month of writing anarchy and dangling modifiers.
  5. Repeat after me: This draft is going to be bad, and that’s good. I have to remind myself of this every November. The sooner you accept the inevitable badness of this draft, the easier it is to adapt to it. Make a bad draft work for you, rather than trying to work against that bad draft.
  6. Get a cheap notebook and a fast pen. I don’t recall who first said that, but it’s some of the most effective writing advice I’ve ever heard. My best ideas tend to come from marking up a blank page rather than staring at a blank screen.
  7. Don’t be distracted by all the shiny new writing apps and platforms. There are so many to try, but November isn’t the month to experiment with them. Keep it simple. Stick to what works.
  8. Create a rough outline. I use the term “outline” loosely, because it doesn’t even need to be in order. Just jot down anything that seems relevant to the story. Scene ideas, even if you aren’t sure where they fit, can be super useful. Character names, facts about dragons, chapter titles… Anything you want to include, dump into a document. Nothing is too insignificant to be inspiration for NaNoWriMo.
  9. Consult your calendar. Hardly anyone has time for NaNoWriMo, but if you truly are overbooked and can’t cancel anything, consider making an adjustment. Either pick a different month to devote to writing, or set a smaller goal than 50k. If you can squeeze your novel into November, block out some writing appointments. Lighten up on other activities as you’re able so you don’t burn out.
  10. Establish boundaries. I learned the hard way that NaNoWriMo will take over your life if there are no boundaries set at the beginning. The first time I competed, I ended up exhausted to the point of illness. And since I refused to take any downtime, I was probably sick for longer than I needed to be. Noveling is important, to be sure, but there actually are more important things. Don’t sacrifice sleep, meals, or relationships for a few thousand words.
  11. Remember why you’re doing this. You’re a writer, and you have a story to tell. NaNoWriMo is just one way of carrying out this goal. Keep that in mind, and don’t stress.
  12. Just start. No matter how prepared you do or don’t feel, nothing can happen until you start. Take it one day at a time, word by word. You may end up with 50,000 words at the end of November! And if not? It’s still a grand noveling adventure.This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and I could always use some more tips on surviving National Novel Writing Month. Comment your own novel advice below.Happy NaNoWriMo!

    Blog Signature

Why Am I Doing This?

2

Why does this blog post feel so flat? I scanned the paragraph again. Nothing was wrong, exactly. It just wasn’t right, either.

It was like tasting the batter for pumpkin bread, and realizing something is missing. Maybe there’s not enough sugar, or there’s too much nutmeg, or the pumpkin has spoiled. But something is off, and the recipe isn’t quite reaching its potential.

As I scanned the bland paragraphs on my screen, it dawned on me what was missing from the recipe of that post. Or rather, what there was too much of. The entire post was about one thing: me. My life, my schedule, my insecurities. My blog, my writing, my goals. Me. Just reading it left a sour taste in my mouth.

A single question crossed my mind. Why am I doing this? It was like a whisper into my soul, and it repeated again. Why are you doing this, Sarah? 

Typing that plain question now makes me uncomfortable. Why? Why am I writing this blog? Sharing these words? Why am I doing any of this?

I’ll be honest: when I first started blogging, my unspoken agenda was to build an empire centered on myself. How shallow and vain is that? But I found ways to justify it, using words like “platform” and “portfolio.” Those are good terms, when they’re used with good intentions. My intentions, though, were more prideful and selfish than I wanted to admit. Purpose can’t exist alongside those things.

Realizing that rocked me. It was like construction came to an abrupt halt, leaving me to stare at the half-built projects surrounding me. I had been hammering away without blue prints; baking without a recipe. What was really the point? Fame wasn’t happening. And even if I could make it happen, it was such a one-dimensional dream. I needed a deeper answer to the question Why am I doing this?

Three years ago, as a freshman in college, I had to answer that question about life itself. Over the course of twelve weeks, I worked through sessions about calling, vision, talents, and other aspects of purpose. By the end of those modules, I had written twelve statements defining my values and life mission. As a collection, those statements were called my “compass.” They were intended to guide me through my decisions, both big and small. They were the essence of why I got up each morning.

Then real life happened and parts of my purpose plan seemed better suited to paper. Mistakenly, without meaning to, I replaced those carefully considered statements. In their place, I let in other influences, ones that weren’t intentional or helpful. Rather than nailing my purpose to the cross, I ended up pinning it on myself.

That’s where everything fell flat. In order to live meaningfully, my meaning has to extend beyond me. True purpose on earth is something that can only be rooted in heaven. My prayer now is to live as a reflection of God’s glory and grace. I’m only a smudged reflection, one that needs lots of polish. Even so, striving to more clearly reflect Him is worth more than any dim purpose I could invent.

However it plays out, that’s what I want at the core of my existence. That’s the compass I need. At the end of the day, living well is about loving and serving well.

3

From this point, that’s what I’m going to learn to do. When I sit down at my desk on a Monday morning, when I type up a blog post in my room on a Saturday night, when I step out of church on a Sunday afternoon… I want to live out that purpose. I want to be aware of the “why” behind every breath I take.

In a way, it seems that I wrote another blog post about myself after all. It’s hard to avoid, since I’m only an expert in the field of my own experience. If there’s only one thing to take from these imperfect words, though, I think it’s this: There is a reason why. Remember the answer to that little question. It makes a big difference. When we forget why we’re here, we struggle to figure out what to do, where to position ourselves or how to do this thing called life. When I lost sight of the “why,” I then lost my ability to figure out what to write, how to minister well, how to live well. Ignoring that question is part of the reason I’ve ignored blogging and writing for so many weeks. It’s why I’ve been struggling to connect in some way. I need to remember why I’m doing this in order to do it well.

Asking why matters. What’s your why? 

Blog Signature

Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

book review banner 2

I first came across the Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George on a list of must-read books for summer. The cover was stunning, and I adored the idea of a story set in a Parisian bookshop. I was about to order it, but then I had the chance to receive a review copy… So, here I am!

The story begins with an air of mystery, centered on the reserved Monsieur Perdu, proprietor of a little bookshop housed on a barge. The shop is called the Literary Apothecary, and Monsieur Perdu spends his days prescribing books for ailments of the heart. All the while, he holds his own heart shut, trying to forget how it was broken two decades ago.

Then a new neighbor, an unopened letter, and a best-selling author with writer’s block upset the bookseller’s predictable life. He hauls anchor on his bookshop barge and travels south, hoping to find the answers, peace and adventure that have so long evaded him.

The first thing I noticed about this book is the writing style. Each line is infused with poetry and soul. The pages are filled with poignant quotes, and I found myself wanting to read with a highlighter in hand. Monsieur Perdu describes one novel as “infused with enormous humanity,” and that seems the best summary of the Little Paris Bookshop as well.

At first glance, this is simply a story about books, but it delves so much deeper. This novel is a celebration of literature and life, of love and loss, and how each depends on the others for its true meaning. Perdu claims books are the only remedy for countless, undefined afflictions of the soul. As he diagnoses patrons and doles out paper cures, I found myself looking inward. I wondered which titles this bookseller might prescribe to me. While I read, I felt the profound words seeping into me… Tugging at my emotions, making my heart lift and dip. I expected this book to be one that changed me by the end.

Unfortunately, I didn’t reach the end. In order to explore the themes of love and loss, we’re taken on a tour of Perdu’s past… A past involving an affair that is fleshed out far too much for my taste. Initially, I skipped over these sections, but as the story progressed, they appeared with more frequency and detail. I started to dread picking up the book because I knew there’d be another indecent scene awaiting me. In the end, the beautiful writing, lovely setting, and deep characters weren’t enough to keep me. The story could have easily been told without those scenes. Instead, it was spoiled for me. And that right there is a tale of loss.

I give it 2 out of 5 stars, simply because of how well-written it was and because the concept was a good one. I would have dearly loved to rate it for more, but such is life and literature.

I received this book from the publisher for free, in exchange for my honest review. 

Adieu,

Blog Signature

Blog Launch & Interview with Annie Hawthorne of Curious Wren

Hello friends! Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to my sweet friend, Annie Hawthorne. Not only is she a lovely person, Annie is a wonderful writer. Her blog is launching today (and you should totally go check it out. Go on. I’ll wait here.) In celebration, she’s agreed to answer some interview questions here at On Another Note. This is the first interview I’ve conducted, and I’m so excited! Let’s get started!

Curious Wren

Welcome to On Another Note, Annie! It’s such a pleasure to have you here! In honor of your blog launching, and both of us being writers and bookworms, I thought it would be fun to have a bit of a Q & A. I absolutely love to ask questions, especially about bookish things, so here we go! (I warn you, I’m a little random and hyper around friends 😉 )

Hello, all you lovely people! *waves* I’m delighted I could be here, and thank you so much for hosting me, Sarah! ❤ Never fear, I’m a bit ridiculous around friends too. 😉

1. How / when did you realize you’re a writer?
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and at a very young age I started telling stories to my little sisters about mice and hedgehogs, and an anthropomorphic fanfiction of Star Wars. Telling bedtime stories morphed into writing bits and pieces of story here and there, and when I was about fourteen or fifteen I started to seriously write. I’ve always intended to be an authoress and, since I had it firmly fixed in my young mind that writers were rare creatures nowadays, I considered it a noble pursuit along the lines of reviving a lost art. As I grew older I realized how many of us there actually are, and I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong.

2. I’m so happy whenever I get to connect with other writers, too! If you could sit down to chat with a favorite author over a cup of coffee or tea, which writer would that be? (Living or gone before, either way is okay.)
Hmm… I’ll answer this with four authors: two, sadly, no longer with us, and two living. I think chatting with L.M. Montgomery about writing, and books, and people would be amazing. I have a feeling she’d have scads of helpful advice about how to write description and believable characters. And who wouldn’t jump at the chance to have a cuppa with Wodehouse or C.S. Lewis?

As for current authors, sitting down for a talk over tea and scones with Anne Elisabeth Stengl would be a dream come true. She is one very talented lady, and if her books aren’t classics someday I’ll be shocked. (If you haven’t read them yet, do so.) Eric Nylund writes brilliant, gripping, hardcore sci-fi and probably if I ever met him I’d be too tongue-tied to say a word, but, still, I’d have met him. (I read his Halo series and oh, my poor heart. Don’t get me started on how much I love these books, the charries (KURT) or the fandom. Word of caution, if you plan to read them, they are futuristic military books, so lots of swearing. My wonderful brother whited it out for me.)

And then, of course, there’s all my incredible online writing friends who I hope to meet someday! ❤

3. Are there any books you find yourself reading over and over again, or would currently like to reread?
The books that come instantly to mind as constant reads are The Hobbit, To Kill A Mockingbird, Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, A Christmas Carol, Starflower, Steal Like An Artist, The Borrowers, Jane of Lantern Hill, Rilla of Ingleside, Little Women, and Johnny Tremain. A few books I’m dying to re-read are Wives and Daughters, the entire Mistmantle Chronicles series, Halo: Ghosts of Onyx (which I actually have on holiday with me right now), Jane Eyre, Return of the King, Paddington, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

4. SO many good reads there! What are your top three childhood favorite books?
The Hobbit (*loves with all the love*). All the Beatrix Potter books. The Borrowers. If anybody needs a list of books for their children/future children, by all means ask me. I’ll be happy to oblige. ^_^

5. Do you have any habits to set the mood for storytelling? For example, I need to listen to music and wear something comfy.
We are twins. O.O I also like a glass of water nearby and, ideally, an open window with a breeze wafting in. Does wonders for the inspiration.

6. I always have water dangerously close to my laptop, too. Do you have a favorite pen?
I do indeed! It’s blue (naturally) and the ink flows like Anne’s legendary perfect pen in Anne of Windy Poplars. Sometimes I lose it, and then I became a mad, unrecognizable thing. In a nutshell: borrow it not, if you wish to live.

7. Besides your perfect pen, what inspires you to share your words with the world?
At first it was simply because I love reading with all my heart and I wanted to share my love for Story with those around me. That reason still holds true, but I want more than anything to inspire and encourage people with my words like I’ve experienced with so many books I’ve read. I want to show people hope, and challenge their hearts.

8. Speaking of sharing your words, how about a preview of your blog? What might readers find upon entering your lovely site?
Articles about writing, book reviews, character studies, Beautiful People posts, movie critiques, story excerpts… also, the occasional article with Deep Thoughts on Life. 😉 I’m hoping it will be a cheery, inspirational place with lots of discussion and ecstatic (or sedate depending on your personality) fangirling over everything bookish.

9. All of that content sounds fantastic, and your blog is already one of my favorites! When you’re not writing or reading (or thinking about those things), what are your favorite things to do?
I spend lots of time with my family being our usual, lively selves, but I’m also fond of knitting pretty, warm things; playing with my darling nieces; hanging out with my Enchanted Forest coloring book (#biggirlscolortoo); going on road trips; exploring bookstores; target-practicing; beach days (where, yes, I do read); researching interesting and unusual facts; watching movies in the evening; and pining for a Woods to roam about in. Among other things.

10. Funny you should mention roaming- If you could visit any fictional world, where would you go?
This is such a cruel question. o.o
Unoriginal as it may be, I would jump at the chance to roam Middle-earth in person. The Shire, Amon Hen, Gondor, Rohan, Lothlorien, Mirkwood…. can you imagine how amazing that would be? I’d probably never leave.
Of course, I wouldn’t mind visiting my own fantasy worlds in person. Preferably with weapons along. And maybe a bodyguard or several.

11. Which two real places would you most like to travel?
Great Britain — I’m a staunch Anglophile (it’s all Dickens’ fault). I also think Italy would be utterly amazing, particularly Venice. And we mustn’t forget Australia. I know nice humans there. ^_^

12. If you could own any mythical creature as a pet, what would it be? Why?
A dragon. A baby dragon. A baby dragon of glorious color and sporadic flame. And we will roast marshmallows and towns together (I kid. I kid).

A griffin would be epic too.

13. What would you do if you stumbled across a sleeping dragon?
If there are eggs, I’ll steal one while it’s asleep a la Bilbo Baggins.

14. (I actually stole this from a career website. I’m not kidding.) A penguin wearing a sombrero walks through the door. What does he say?
“This is not a dream.” (I am laughing so hard over here, Sarah. xD)

15. I’m sure I forgot to ask you something! Is there anything you’d like to mention or add? The floor is yours!
And here we have a moment of Wise and Solemn Advice from Annie. *cough* Never stop reading, and read the type of books that you want to write. In the words of Austin Kleon, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Live every moment fully, and don’t forget to enjoy the little things. It makes a tremendous difference in how much of life you experience. ^_^

Free free to ask me any questions you want, everybody! *hands around chocolate chip icecream*

Thank you so much for being here and letting us get to know you a bit more, Annie! And also for bringing chocolate chip ice cream. 😉
And thank you, friends, for joining us! Be sure to check out Annie’s amazing blog, Curious Wren, before you go. There’s a party going on all week long, with more interviews, a giveaway, and perhaps some extra chocolate chip ice cream. It’s going to be a grand time, and you certainly don’t want to miss. Here’s a link, so you can follow and join in on all the fun. 


IMG_7881Annie Hawthorne is a twenty-something writer who tends to be guilty of either hyperbole or crafting scenes that make her beta-readers cry. If she’s not scribbling YA fantasy and speculative fiction, then she can be found interacting with her family as one of its more lively members or attempting to shorten her TBR stack (it never works). She practices piano badly, and photography even worse. People-watching, long road-trips, dissecting movies, Doctor Who and LOTR marathons, wearing red heels, and collecting mugs are always on her To-Do list. She chases beauty, and is a child of God. Annie talks books, writing, and life at https://anniehawthorne.wordpress.com.
You can find her Twitter account at https://twitter.com/annie_hawthorne

Dear Thirteen Year Old Me

dear thirteen year old me

Last week, I celebrated my last teenage birthday. Realizing I only have year left of being a teenager made me stop and think about the year I started being one. I remember wanting to avoid it, but at the same time savoring the new world of adolescence opening up to me.

Six years later, on the other side of teenage-hood, I’m very much different than when I first entered this territory. Yet underneath, I still see that thirteen year old. I still am that girl, in so many ways.

Looking back, there’s so much I wish I could tell my thirteen year old self. I wish I could take that eighth grade girl out for a hot fudge sundae and a heart to heart.

I haven’t perfected the art of time travel (yet), but some things still deserve to be said. This is what I would tell my thirteen year old self.


Dear Thirteen Year Old Me,

Being a teenager is scary, isn’t it? It means that you’re getting closer and closer to adulthood… Which seems even scarier. Right now, in eighth grade, you’re already stressing over figuring out college and a career. Please don’t. Those things will come soon enough, sooner than you’ve even factored into your plans. When the time is right, they’ll fall into place. Until then, enjoy your now. Celebrate every second of your life and don’t try to be a grown up too soon! Those moments tick by faster than you expect. Even though you feel stuck right now, and scared you’ll be that way forever, I promise you won’t be.

freely-10108You know those Scriptures you’ve read, about how God has a plan for you? Those words aren’t just pretty quotes. They are life, and they are truth. You have a future, outside of and in spite of all the details you’re trying so desperately to hold down.

You don’t have to figure everything out. You can’t figure it all out, and that’s perfectly okay. Do the best with what you have, where you are. Take the time to explore and try new things. Let yourself make mistakes. Messing up might be embarrassing or even painful, but the lessons you learn will outweigh all that. Finding yourself is a process of trial and error. And as far as I can tell, it’s one that lasts a long time- maybe even a lifetime.

You’re going to set out on ventures and realize they aren’t for you. You’re going to put your heart out there and have it come back broken. You’ll have days when you feel like you cannot do this, and you’d really like to run away. It’s okay. It’s life, and it’s not perfect. It wouldn’t be truly living otherwise. Embrace that mess, but more importantly, remember that you are not a messSure, you’ll have messy days and weeks, even months. But you are not defined by that.

You are not the incomplete math assignments, the fragile dreams, the missed devotions, the overslept mornings. You are not the image you criticize in the mirror, the acne you can’t get rid of, the skirt you can’t zip, the people who ignore you or the emotions that feel out of control. You are not the lies the world has told you or the ones you have told yourself.

You are smart, even if you have trouble focusing at times. In fact, you have trouble focusing because there’s so much going on in your brain. Your creativity is what causes you to dream big. Don’t ever stop.

Consistency will be a virtue you have to fight for. Even at nineteen, you’ll miss devotions some days. But God will not shut you out, even when you don’t make time for Him. His love is deeper and stronger than anything you’ve imagined. He will carry you when you can barely crawl to Him; He will understand the language of your tears and rejoice in your songs. You know those Narnia books you love so much? Aslan the Lion is still one of the best representations of Jesus’ character. He is not tame- you’ll never be able to box Him in- but He is good. So truly good. Hold onto that. His grace is about the great gift of salvation, but also about daily strength. It covers every flaw; it’s strongest when you’re weakest. There is nothing you must do to earn it, even though you try to do exactly that; there is no place it will not reach you. No day is too bad to be touched by it, and no situation is too insignificant. All of God’s grace is for all of your life.

freely-10019Speaking of grace, give yourself some. Stop standing in front of the mirror and focusing on everything you need to “fix.” You are beautiful. The family and friends who compliment you aren’t lying or just being nice. Don’t brush off what they tell you.

It isn’t vain to be confident. Insecurity is what’s trying to turn you vain, by pinning all of your attention to your appearance. Love your skin, red spots and all. Stop letting the number on the scale weigh your happiness. You wouldn’t believe it, but in six years, you’re going to weigh more than what you currently consider “too much”. And you’re going to be happy. So embrace what God has created you with now. Take care of yourself; be healthy, strong and confident. Live like you are beautiful, from the inside out- because you are. More importantly, live like you are loved, because more than anything, you are.

As you’re already discovering, there will be people who try to make you forget that. Not everyone will understand or even like you. Some of them won’t even bother to be polite. Be nice anyway. Pray for them. But don’t give them any space in your head. Their actions and opinions are on their shoulders. They have no bearing on you. I know it’s difficult, because you have a sensitive heart and wonder if you’ve done something to make them behave this way; if somehow, you deserve this. Keep that soft heart, but get rid of the idea that you’re to blame. Jesus dealt with more rejection and hate than any other person on the planet; none of us can be 100% popular in this world. Try not to take everything personally. A lot of the time, it actually isn’t personal, even if that’s the way it feels.

You’ve always been the shy girl, so you fret about making friends and being alone.
You don’t need to worry about that, though. Concert crowdLook at all the people in your life who already love you so dearly! Cherish them. Life’s meaning is love. As the years go on, you’ll meet many other incredible individuals. Some will stay only for a season; others will mean more than you ever expected. Both ways are part of this journey. Not everyone or everything is meant to last forever, even though goodbye is always hard. When you do find something lasting, don’t let fear keep you from giving the love you have to offer.

In fact, don’t let fear keep you from anything. It’s a daily lesson, but choose courage. Don’t let fear have the final say; that belongs to faith.

Don’t be afraid to grow up, dear girl. Yes, it’s scary. Even at nineteen, sometimes I’d like to just hide in a blanket fort. But if there’s one thing I wish I could tell you at thirteen, it’s simply this: It’s going to be okay; you’re going to be okay. Better than okay, even.

All my love,

Your nineteen year old self.

P.S. Mom told you most of this when you were thirteen, remember? You should have listened. 😉

Blog Signature


What would you tell yourself at 13 (or any specific age), if you could??