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

What I Learned in April

April

I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever feel ready to write one of these posts. Each one proves that another month has come to an end. Each time I sit down to type one, I feel like the calendar has played a trick on me. Because how in the world are we more than a third of the way through this year?! It’s really not possible, but here I am staring at the month of May. And here I am, wondering what I did with April… What did I learn?

Writing these monthly reflection posts helps me to pause and figure that out. I already covered the first portion of April, in a post earlier this month.

So here’s what I learned in the rest of April.

  • Independence isn’t everything. I think a lot of us take pride in being self-sufficient; that drive for independence even shaped an entire nation. For my own part, I can take this a little too far. While I’m good at working with a team to get a job done, I try to shoulder the entire burden when it comes to my own life. Shamefully, I haven’t even allowed myself to lean on God. I’ve clung instead to my independence; my stubborn, desperate need to be in control. Needing anyone has felt like a liability. It’s caused me to shy away from relationships; to keep a safe distance from being, heaven forbid, dependent. But you know something? Independence has a downside. Sometimes I can barely stand, let alone on my own. When God formed the first human life, He didn’t stop there. He made more life, and connected those lives to each other and to Him. We were never meant to exist in isolation… Not from each other, and surely not from Him.
  • Memories are complicated. The mind is amazing, and how our past is tucked away there fascinates me. It’s incredible how the slightest thing, be it a scent or a sound, can yank one of those memories from storage.
  • Emotions take a long time to heal. Even when they do, I don’t think they’re ever the same as before they were broken. I also think that’s okay. Life won’t ever be the same as before; it seems natural that I won’t be exactly as I was, either.
  • Everything cycles through seasons. Some seasons seem to stretch on and on; others speed by. Every season has a downside. Winter is too dark and cold; I’m allergic to spring; summer can be oppressively hot at times, and fall is another round of allergies. Yet they all have upsides, too. It depends where we look. Such are the seasons of life. No matter how long they last, they do eventually change, leaving us to face another new season, mixed with ups and downs. The trick is not to wish for what’s behind us, because eventually this will be behind us, too. (Most of this post is a list of reminders for me!)
  • I like metaphors a little too much at times. See above section about the seasons.
  • In the midst of my life changing, my writing life has changed too. I’ve developed different habits, some of which I’m going to need to reshape. As I shared in another post, I haven’t felt truly ready to write, because I haven’t had the energy for my story. Now I realize it’s not just about energy. Stories preserve pieces of us, especially when we are the ones telling those stories. Every time I open my document, I’m transported back several months. I see a different person in those pages, and I’m having trouble reconciling her with the girl I feel like now. It’s almost like trying to be a co-author, except I’m attempting to team up with my past self. I have a few solutions to try my hand at, even if they may seem like temporary setbacks.
  • Don’t despise small beginnings. Even mighty redwood trees sprout from tiny seeds, buried in dirt. My dreams, towering as I imagine them to be, are little more than sprouts right now. They’re still closer to the humble earth than the vast heavens. But they are growing. And so am I, even when it’s just a meager start.

Small Beginnings

And because I’ve been almost mainly serious on the blog for a while, here are a couple of random, fun things I also learned in April. 🙂

  • Loki and I could take over the world together. I know, we just talked about small beginnings. World domination doesn’t fit that description. But I found a random quiz, and apparently Loki is the villain I would work best with. I didn’t need a test to tell me that… Now I just need to figure out if I should be worried what this says about me.
  • Speaking of quizzes, I put one together for the Fangirl Initiative last week. It was to see “Which Avengers Man is Your True Love?” I didn’t expect such a response, but it became extremely popular! That was a pretty fantastic feeling, and I learned that I’m not the only one who likes quirky little quizzes! Though it’s possibly cheating to take my own quiz, I did and confirmed something. Captain America would be my match! It makes sense, given my love for vintage things… 😉Avengers Quiz
  • Wishes do come true! Ever since I first experienced the music of the Phantom of the Opera, I’ve wanted Josh Groban to sing it. Particularly the song, All I Ask of You. And this week it happened. Since his new album released, I’ve had that one track on loop. I make no apologies. If you haven’t heard it yet, listen to it and enjoy four angelic minutes. You’re welcome.

What did you take away from last month? If you write reflection posts like this, drop a link in the comments! Much as I enjoy sharing my learning, I like reading about yours even more. If you want to read some other Learning posts from April, take a look at the link-up on Chatting at the SkyAnd be sure to check out the rest of that inspiring blog- it’s one of my favorites.

May your May be marvelous!

Blog Signature

What I Learned in January

januaryJanuary is always the month of newness. It inspires resolutions, and then demands readjustment. By the end of thirty-one days of trying to improve everything, I’m usually ready to hibernate. Forget the New Year. I need a new bedtime.

With that first month behind us now, I’m pausing to wonder where it went. What I accomplished. What I learned.

I’ll be sincere: January did not go as I intended. I had high expectations in several areas, and I didn’t live up to them. I barely wrote a few chapters in the manuscript I planned to complete; I haven’t figured out my future yet; what I want changes at the slightest notice; when I evaluate my actions from the last month, some of them make me cringe. This year already feels like it’s off to a choppy start. Outwardly, nothing drastic has happened, but I can’t shake my inner sense of unsteadiness.

I’m tempted to delete that entire paragraph, but I’m going to leave it because I promised myself something for this year: I am going to be authentic. It’s too tempting to create a perfect persona. It’s too uncomfortable to be vulnerable and real. Yet I’m learning that I connect most truly and deeply with others when there’s a sense of sincerity. In a world of photo shop and plastic, I think we want to know what’s genuine. We want to know we aren’t the only ones who feel messy and uncertain. Every intimate detail doesn’t  need to be spread. We still need a sense of privacy. But that doesn’t mean we need to pretend we’re perfect.

So in the midst of others celebrating their life-changing resolutions, their unstoppable success, and how 2015 is the best year ever, I’m happy for those people. But I’m not going to claim I’m one of them. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

January was not the triumphant month I imagined. It had ups and downs, but I can honestly say I learned along the way. I am learning. Here is a scattering of my humble findings for last month:

  1. Even when I don’t get the results I want, there is no regret in being brave. Courage is a choice I have to make with trembling limbs and knots in my stomach, but once I do, I am free. I no longer have to wonder what would have happened if I had stepped out. Fear doesn’t deserve the final word. Faith and freedom do. It’s empowering to type those words, even though it’s a little harder to breathe seeing them.
    be brave quote birds
  2. Patience is a process. Every time I think I’ve got it mastered, I have to learn it over. And then over again.
  3. Even loners can’t always walk alone. I am an introvert through and through, and I lean towards working by myself. I’ve recently discovered the true value of teamwork, though. I used to talk a good game about it, but now I’ve played it. And on a great team, everybody really does win. I’ve been able to watch this happen in ministry, at work, and recently in writing when I joined the fantastic team of The Fangirl Initiative(Which is a super fun, nerdy blog! Here are a few posts I’ve had the pleasure of sharing there.)
  4. It’s important to make time for what makes me happy and whole. A couple of weeks ago, I stayed up reading until 4 AM, something I hadn’t done in years. It actually felt amazing. I need books to read like I need air to breathe; I need to journal and clear my head often. And I need to make that a priority, not a luxury. Rest should be a gift, not something I have to earn by doing enough work.
  5. Speaking of books, we can no longer say Harper Lee published only one! In a bizarre twist of fate, the novel she wrote before To Kill a Mockingbird is being released at last this summer. Decades later, the public will have something of a sequel to the beloved American classic… The beloved classic I have yet to read. Since To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, I kind of felt there was no rush. Now that the buzz is all about the sequel, Go Set a Watchman, I probably need to get a move on!
  6. Bookworms share a common problem: There are so many reasons to buy books! It’s impossibly hard not to give in to all of them! Dratted budgets. Thank you all for the brilliant response to my last bookish post- I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in my struggle. 😉
  7. Words have such power. In the last month, several people spoke encouragement to me, whether through texting, over Twitter or in person. They may never realize the light those words gave me, but I’ve clung to them. Speak kindly. Lift others. You never know how you’ll inspire them.
  8. Even the best intentions may go awry. I fully intended to have this post finished in time to participate in the link-up on one of my favorite blogs, Chatting at the SkySadly, I missed the deadline. I didn’t want to miss reflecting on January, though, so here it is. And if you’d like to see what other bloggers learned in January, here is the post I was *supposed* to add my link to. 

What did you learn in January? Is there anything you’ll change for February, or do the same? How has this month started off for you?

All the best for February!

Blog Signature

Forward into ’15

Go forward: 2015

Eleven days into 2015, and zero posts until now. That was definitely not one of my resolutions. I have such high hopes for this year, and myself in it, but the truth is I’m having trouble shifting into this New Year at all.

I don’t mean that I’m still writing 2014 on all my checks and journal entries, although I actually just did that. I feel like I’m still living in 2014, repeating all the patterns I want to change in 2015. This first week and a half has been unstructured and rather sporadic, reminding me of last year.

2014 was filled with changes, most of them out of my control. So much shifted, from my priorities and responsibilities to my dreams and relationships. I spent much of the year split between fighting the wave of change and learning how to ride it. Last year tested my faith and forced me to trust God; to wait on Him. More often than not, it meant simply being still. Which, for me, meant waiting anxiously for something and going partly crazy because I felt like I was doing nothing. For a girl who likes being in control and keeping busy, it’s a hard lesson to learn.

It didn’t go perfectly, and I have a lot more growing to do. Eventually, though, I settled into the stillness. (For the most part, anyway; my family could tell you I still had my “moments.”) Overall, though, I had to accept that God was doing something in the seasons of nothing. I had to learn not to fight those times, and even to give thanks for nothing. Not all the answers in life are instant or permanent, and it’s a little easier to see that now. I stopped trying to figure everything out and gave up my “five-year plan.” (And also my ten, fifteen and twenty year plans.) I don’t know what’s happening next month, or even all that could happen in the next two weeks. Even so, I know God is truly in control, not just because my Pinterest quotes say so, but because I have seen Him arrange my life before. I have seen what happens when I finally get out of the way and give Him space. 2014 was the year of being still and seeing the salvation of the Lord. It was the year Exodus 14:13-14 came true for me.

“Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today…… 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”  

That was hard to accept initially, but it truly worked and now I’m rather comfortable where I am. There are still other things I want to accomplish, dreams for me to chase, yet the routine of 2014 has at last become familiar. I might not be completely satisfied, but I’m safe here in the waiting… In the stillness.

And now that I’ve found the faith to wait on God… I have a dilemma. He’s asking me to have the faith to go forward again.

In verse 15 of that same passage, in 2015 of this same girl’s life, the stillness has ended. To paraphrase that verse, the Lord says, “Why do you cry to me? … Go forward.” (emphasis mine.) 

Go forward? It’s what I was straining for last year, before I learned the importance of being still. In 2014, I didn’t need to go forward. I had been racing forward too long, and needed to slow down. To stop. Breathe. Rest. Wait.

Now? I’ve found that rhythm of silence. And I’m afraid to leave it. It’s puzzling, how last year, being still seemed like the worst thing. I was chomping at the bit for the command to go. It’s finally come, and suddenly I want to curl up and stay still.

It’s what I’ve done for the last several days, fighting the strain of going forward. If I go forward, I have to move into the unknown. This season of stillness has given me a chance to recover my faith and grow it gently. If I move ahead, it will be tested all over. It will be strained and shaken and forced to dig its roots deeper in the rough patches.

In the nothingness, I could dream safely about the someday’s filled with something’s. If I go forward into that someday, and start doing that something, I’m afraid those daydreams will be shattered. What if I fail at everything I’ve been waiting to accomplish? What if I somehow mistake where God is leading me, and derail onto the wrong road entirely?

Forward is frightening. Moving forward might mean falling or failing.

But the time has come. If I want to live my life as a symphony of God’s grace, it’s time to start playing the song. I can no longer be silent, even if it means I’ll be missing beats and playing plenty of wrong notes.

The faith I learned through stillness has to carry me forward now. It’s time.

What are you going forward into this year? 

Forward into 2015!

Blog Signature

New Year’s Symphony

My final post for the year. Already, it has come to this. In a matter of minutes, everything will bear the date of 2015. That’s hard to believe, especially considering I wrote 2013 on something just last month. I was finally getting used to writing 2014, and now I have to readjust again.

I didn’t accomplish everything I planned to in 2014. In fact, most of my plans were turned upside down or torn up completely. Most of my accomplishments were entirely unplanned. In some ways, I’ve changed dramatically, and in others I still have a great deal of growing to do. Still, I don’t feel totally like the girl who crossed from 2013 into 2014, and I know I have the chance to change entering 2015. No matter how many resolutions I failed in the past, something about a brand new year fills me with hope: Hope to do more, see more, be more. To change more and make more.

For a girl who typically resists change, I tend to stack too much of it on the brink of each New Year.  I once made a dozen resolutions, only to forget them all by Valentine’s Day.

So this year, even though I have goals, I don’t want to make them the center of my plans. After all, if there’s one thing I have learned this year, it’s that plans change. I’m tired of making long lists where I either quit and feel like a failure, or succeed yet still feel empty. My desire is for 2015 to be a deeper year, one of true growth. I don’t want to measure my success this year by how much I produce or earn, but by the person I become.

Yes, I’m still going to try the usual things, like getting healthier and becoming more organized. What I really want, though, is to change my way of living. I don’t want this to be another year where I miss the miracles around me, where I go through each day and forget about the One who gave me those days.

I found these beautiful words from William Ellery Channing a while ago, but I’ve adopted them as my mantra for 2015.

 To live content with small means, 
To seek elegance rather than luxury, 
    and refinement rather than fashion. 
To be worthy not respectable, and wealthy not rich. 
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly,
to listen to stars, birds, babes, and sages with open heart,
to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. 
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, 
    grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony. 

– William Ellery Channing, “My Symphony”

To remind me of this each day, I made some simple quote prints. Each time I see them, I hope I’ll remember that life is a miraculous gift. 2014 was a gift, despite coming in an assorted box of good and bad, and 2015 will be the same way.

Symphony bird printSymphony tree print

If you would like to share that reminder, you can download the free prints in 8×10 size here, or in postcard format here. For the 8×10 size, there is a design with birds, a text-only one, and one featuring trees. The postcards are printed with either birds or trees. 

As the final notes of this year fade into silence, and the symphony begins to play for 2015, I hope our new songs will be beautiful. No matter what changes come- both in our control and out of it- I pray we will have courage and strength. I pray that when we don’t, we will allow ourselves to be carried and comforted by God’s unfailing love, and covered in His grace.

Most of all, I pray we will make the most of every new beginning. Of our fresh year, and each fresh day in it.

Happy New Year, dears! May your days in 2015 be filled with unsinkable joy, unshakable peace, and unwavering hope.

I’m looking forward to sharing another year with you.

Blog SignatureP. S. Be sure to check out these inspiring New Years Posts from a couple of my favorite bloggers, as well. 🙂

2014 Going on 2015 from Rana at the Villain Authoress 

Turn to Face the New Year from Miriam at Wishful Thinking