Last Minute NaNoWriMo Survival Tips

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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!

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12 Days of Christmas {Prompts}

When I was ten or so, I decided to memorize the lyrics for the Twelve Days of Christmas carol. I wanted to know every single gift that “my true love gave to me.” Never mind that the true love was rather bad at selecting presents. (He gets points for creativity, though.) How many pipers were there…? Or was that fiddlers…? I did eventually figure it out, although I had to look up the lyrics again tonight to check…

Never mind how many pipers were piping; we’re officially into the Twelve Days of Christmas!

In honor of that, I’ve made a short list of Twelve Christmas Journal Prompts, very loosely inspired by the true love’s unique presents.

Twelve Days of Journal Prompts

Spread them out over a dozen days, or do a few at once. (Or, if you’re like me, wait until the end of twelve days, then do them at once.) Make up some of your own, too, if you like, and share them in the comments!

12. Which twelve Christmas songs are at the top of your playlist?

11. List eleven people you are thankful for. Say a prayer for them and send some kind words before Christmas!

10. Think of ten ways you can make someone’s heart leap for joy.

9. What are nine things that make your heart dance?

8. What eight chores or tasks are on your to-do list this week? Is milking one of them?

7. List seven ways you can unwind and find stillness this season.

6. Write about six of your fondest seasonal activities.

5. Make a list of five things that glitter with cheer.

4. Who are four people you need, or want, to call?

3. Which three countries would you most like to visit? What would you do there?

2. Write about two peaceful Christmas memories.

1. What is your one Christmas wish or prayer?

Merry Christmas, even if you aren’t given a partridge in a pear tree!

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10 Tips for Keeping Calm in Chaos

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Hello friends! Remember me? The girl who’s gone about a week and a half without a word?

When I launched the blog a month ago, I had a solid schedule, but alas, life isn’t always so tidy.

It’s a constant volley between stress and stillness, and usually, the ball stays on the stressed side of the court longer. We all have to juggle those times, when the schedules grow longer and the days shorter.

Although I like to consider myself mostly laid-back, there is an irritable, anxious side to me. When life tugs all my strings, I get wound up in tight knots. My mind races in ninety directions at a hundred miles per hour, leaving my head spinning and heart pounding. I feel like I’m trying to keep up in a marathon, which is really bad because I do not like to run.

The last word that applies to me in all the chaos is calm. How can I keep calm when there’s enough to fill my calendar until Easter? Yet the more I worry and work myself up, the harder it is to accomplish anything. The more I flail, the faster I sink.

I’m not writing this so you pity me or excuse my sporadic blogging habits. I don’t mean to vent or whine. In fact, I’m not trying to write this for me at all, even though it is sort of therapeutic. I’m sharing this because I think you understand. I think you’ve had those drowning times, when the tide keeps rising and your energy keeps waning; you know how it feels to fight the waves but lose sight of the shore.

I’m sharing it because I think we can reach the surface together.

I’m not the best qualified to offer advice on the subject; I still have trouble breathing from impending panic. But I have found ways that help me get a lungful of air, so I’d like to share those in case they can help you breathe again too. And if you have any other methods, please do share! Here are some of the things that help me keep my head above water:

  • Write it down. I can’t remember everything, although my friends tell me I have a knack for recollecting old, mostly pointless details. To handle more practical matters, I make a lot of lists. About a month ago, I finally bought a planner and it’s been the best $2 I ever spent. It allows me to see what’s happening each day, week and month, which helps me balance the big picture and the present. It’s also rewarding to cross off events and tasks as I accomplish them.
  • Simplify. This message is on plaques in every gift shop, but this year I’ve been truly learning the blessing of that little word. It’s okay to evaluate priorities and rearrange or remove some. Having less to do means less to stress over. Even having less clutter makes me feel more focused and in control. Simplicity = sanity.
  • Make time for personal care. It doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming; just the basics, such as a cool shower, sweet-smelling shampoo and smooth moisturizer are enough to make me feel better. It seems easier to face the world when I’ve taken care of my face first.
  • Don’t worry about keeping up appearances. While I do need time to take care of myself, I don’t like to exaggerate it. When I am pressured, I try to keep my routine simple and both comfortable and presentable. I have a few hairstyles I can do in under a minute, and some go-to outfits at the ready. Having limited options boosts my confidence under stress, because I still get to look nice but I don’t have to try too hard.
  • Healthiness helps happiness. When I’m stressed, it’s so easy to reach for the comfort food; when I feel like I’ve been running around all day, the last thing I want is to move more; when there’s so much to do, sleep is hardly a priority. However, when I do put a little effort into my health, my energy is boosted and I feel better. Just like personal care, I try not to expect too much of myself. I’ve missed plenty of workouts, I don’t always get to sleep on time, and sometimes a girl needs chocolate! But I have been better about drinking water, eating vegetables, sitting less and sleeping a bit more, and those little things make me feel a little better.
  • Schedule time to unwind. At least half the time, I don’t do this, but on the nights I do, I feel so much calmer. I’ll listen to soft music (Josh Groban’s voice is seriously the most soothing thing on Spotify), watch a happy movie, or do some reading. Although I generally prefer books with suspense, when I’m worrying about work, moving and deadlines, I don’t want to worry about a fictional murder investigation too, so I try to stick to lighter genres. As a side note, I’m always open to recommendations!
  • Be kind. When I’m pressured, I evolve into Grumpy Cat. As much as Grumpy Cat amuses me, being cynical does nothing for me or anyone around me. I need to work on it more, but I’m trying my best to be kind to others when my natural tendency is snappishness. And I’m trying to be gentle with myself, too. After all, it’s hard to be nice to others when I bully myself. Especially under stress, it’s important for me to cut myself some slack and find a smile.
  • Avoid isolation. Hibernation looks appealing sometimes. While I certainly do need time alone to recharge, I have to make sure I don’t avoid everyone I love when I feel low on energy. As much as I pride myself on independence, I need people. God has placed some of the best in my life, and difficult times become easier when I don’t face them alone.
  • Carve out quiet time. Can I be honest? I’ve barely had a devotional time lately, because I can’t seem to slow down and focus my mind long enough. Every time I look at my devotion app, with its dozen notifications, I feel a twinge. My soul is dry and I desperately need a drink of Living Water. I’m going to finish this post and do my best to quiet my mind before God tonight, even if only for a few minutes. In other stressful times, spending time with Jesus has been the best source of strength. Even when I don’t understand how it happens, He offers me peace in His presence. I desperately need that.
  • Remember it’s going to be okay. No matter how overwhelming and chaotic things are, it really is going to work out.

I could go on and on with this list, but I’m afraid I must stop there for tonight and take my own advice. I could use some quiet time and then a good long rest! Since I didn’t cover anything, please continue the discussion in the comments. Let me know what I missed, and what helps you keep calm in the chaos of life.

Chin up, buttercup!

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30 Reasons to do NaNoWriMo

Tomorrow is the start of NaNoWriMo, more formally known as National Novel Writing Month. It’s the challenge to write 50,000 words, or one draft of a novel, in a single month.

Shield-Nano-Banner

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Or as I like to explain it, thirty days and nights of caffeine, creativity and craziness, all written down for you to admire (or gasp at) come December.

Maybe you’ve been a NaNoWriMo-er before, maybe you’re considering it, or maybe you’ve never heard of it until now.

Whichever category applies to you, if you are a writer, I think you have a reason to become a National Novel Writing Month Writer. 30 reasons, in fact, and probably more. But since there are only 30 days of writing frenzy for November, and because I should really be working on my novel instead of making this list, I’ll just stick to 30 reasons.

If you’re on the fence about NaNoWriMo, maybe this list will help your decision. If you’re wondering why anyone would want to do NaNoWriMo, perhaps this can explain a bit. Or maybe when you’re deep in the heart of your story, shivering and scribbling through November, you can pull out this list and remember why you started in the first place.

Without further ado, I give you, 30 Reasons to do NaNoWriMo!

  1. You like to write. If you don’t, I’m pretty sure you won’t enjoy NaNoWriMo. Why not dedicate this month to something else you enjoy? If, however, you do enjoy writing, then there’s a solid chance you will enjoy NaNoWriMo.
  2. You have a story to tell. Even if you haven’t worked out the specifics, if you have a spark, NaNoWriMo will fan the flames into a wildfire.
  3. It’s a challenge. The goal is to write an entire first draft of 50,000 words in 30 days (and nights. You will be writing at odd hours, I guarantee it.) If you like the thrill of a challenge, what could be better than scaling Mount WriMo?
  4. You will have stories to tell. This isn’t the same as #2. No, what I mean is, after 30 days of crazed writing, you will have some interesting stories about the experience. Like the time you had a packed schedule, exams to study for, and not enough sleep, but still kept writing, thus getting sick and being out of commission for two days. Not like I did that last year or anything… But it does make an interesting story, and it sounds almost noble. Or insane. 
  5. It’s competitive. Even if you’re just competing with yourself, entering that word count is motivating. On the days I fall behind, the feeling of competition gets me writing enough to get ahead.
  6. It’s inspiring. Just logging on to the NaNoWriMo site makes me want to write an entire book in an hour. It makes me feel like I am a writer, despite doubts, and I can tell this story. (Maybe not in a hour, but it’s empowering all the same.) I especially love the pep talks they share. They’re often witty and amusing, and they offer practical advice on how to succeed with both the challenge and writing in general.
  7. It’s global. Writing can be lonely, but NaNoWriMo provides a community. You connect with so many people, and even if you don’t converse, you know they’re in your corner. It can be inspiring just to read other writers’ profiles and see their novel progress (and then compete with them, as mentioned in #5)
  8. You can blog about it. I certainly plan to!
  9. You can do it with friends. NaNoWriMo doesn’t just let you meet other writers. You can share it with the writers you already know! Last year, one of my best friends took the challenge with me, and it’s become one of my favorite memories with her. We spent November sharing progress updates, complaining about stubborn characters, drinking coffee and plotting our next moves. In fact, we got so into the challenge, we invented our own in January to do it all again. If you have any friends who are also writers, or want to be writers, invite them to try NaNoWriMo with you.
  10. It’s an excuse to drink extra coffee, or tea, or both.
  11. It’s also an excellent excuse for getting out of things. If someone invites you somewhere you don’t want to go, you can simply smile and offer an apology, with the words, “I have a novel to write.” (That said, even NaNoWriMo can’t be used as an excuse for everything. Sorry, fellow introverts.)
  12. It’s a great topic of conversation. I love telling people about NaNoWriMo! If they don’t get why you’re taking part in this somewhat crazy event, feel free to refer them back here.
  13. November brings the perfect novel-writing weather. Hot chocolate + knitted blanket = noveling essentials
  14. Writing becomes a priority. This is one of the biggest reasons I love NaNoWriMo. Dedicating the month to my novel means I actually have to write it. It become a real, tangible goal rather than something I’ll do “later.” Even if I don’t feel ready, I have to sit down and write my story.
  15. It shuts down the inner editor. A lot of the time, perfection stops progress. NaNoWriMo forces participants to write fast to keep up. When you’re going at that speed, you have to step out of your own way or get steamrolled by your own story. A novel is never perfect the first time, but it can’t be improved unless it’s written. NaNoWriMo helps get that messy first draft out.
  16. You know how if you talk too much, you lose your voice? It’s the opposite in writing. The more you say, the more you get written down, the clearer and stronger your voice becomes. NaNoWriMo is a month long conversation between you and your characters and story. When I took the challenge, it helped me find my voice because I wasn’t stopping to censor it.
  17. You will become a stronger writer. NaNoWriMo is like a month-long fitness program for writing muscles. There is strain, and sometimes pain, but it builds writing power and endurance that will stretch beyond the month.
  18. It establishes writing habits. Often by the first week, you’ve figured out which writing habits work for you. Do you like to write in the morning, at lunchtime, in the evening? Do you need silence, music or the sound of thunderstorms? Do you prefer to write at a desk or on your bed? Do you need pajamas and messy hair, or do you make yourself presentable first? There’s no single method for writing, and NaNoWriMo encourages you to find the ones that work for you.
  19. After spending a solid month with them, you’ll really get to know your characters. They become real. And they hang out even after the month ends.
  20. It becomes easier and easier to enter your fictional world. Your story’s setting becomes a real place, and the more time you spend in it, the more you learn about it.
  21. You must write. So many times, we wait for inspiration, for the right words, the right moment. NaNoWriMo takes no excuses. Because writing is a priority, (see #14) you have to show up everyday, sit down and do it. NaNoWriMo is a tool for making me stick to that.
  22. Writer’s block gets smashed. That’s not to say writer’s block doesn’t happen during November. I’ve definitely had writer’s block during NaNoWriMo. But because I had a word count to reach, I couldn’t stop writing. NaNoWriMo forced me to write around that block, to push through it. It kept me going even when stopping seemed easier. It taught me the only way to beat writer’s block is to attack it head-on.
  23. You’ll never feel more like a writer. 
  24. It’s exciting. There’s something thrilling about watching your story grow in a month, and seeing your word count skyrocket.
  25. It’s rewarding. In the same way it’s exciting, this challenge really pays off. Your reward at the end is 50,000 of your own words- the first draft of your story. What better prize is there? To celebrate, NaNoWriMo also offers some awesome winner’s goodies, but I won’t spoil that 😉
  26. It gives you confidence. NaNoWriMo proved to me that I can write more than 1,000 words in a day. It boosted my confidence as a writer, and also as a person. Doing NaNoWriMo is like getting author super powers.
  27. You will learn a lot about writing in a short time. By the end of November, I could already tell I had improved as a writer. There’s so much to take in, and packing it into one month avoids gaps.
  28. Your novel needs you. It deserves to be told, and only you can tell it. NaNoWriMo helps.
  29. Someone needs your novel. No one else can tell your story, and if you don’t, no one else can read it. Someone out there needs your words. It could be your best friend, a stranger, or simply yourself. NaNoWriMo will help you write and share those words.
  30. Why not? Just give it a try. If you happen to decide NaNoWriMo isn’t your thing, it’s okay. But it could also be just what you need to get your novel out there. You’ll never know until you try.

Are you going to be part of NaNoWriMo this November? Is there anything you would add to the list? Happy Novel Writing Month!

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