Last Minute NaNoWriMo Survival Tips


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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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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Maleficent’s Character Depth


It’s been a week since Maleficent released on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming services everywhere. Five minutes after turning it on, I had decided it was brilliant. Fifteen minutes in, I loved the character of Maleficent. Thirty minutes later, I was thinking about how much Maleficent could teach me about writing other characters. The film was too good to distract myself from, though, so I turned off the writer part of my brain as best I could and simply absorbed each scene.

Watching the entire film once was not enough, so the next night, I did it again. This time, I took notes.

For good measure, I watched it a third time a couple of days later and added a few more notes.

Before I share my take on Maleficent, let me explain one thing: I’ve never seen the original Disney animated Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent scared me as a child, and then I never got around to watching the movie in later years. So I went into the retelling of Maleficent with no comparisons or biases. Thus, I can only analyze her character as it was portrayed in the Angelina Jolie version.

Oh, one more aside: If you haven’t watched Maleficent yet, I urge you to go no farther. The sections below contain spoilers, and I certainly don’t want to be guilty of ruining your experience. So if you’re planning to watch it but haven’t yet, just come back here later. I promise, the post isn’t going anywhere.

All right, now that I have all the disclaimers out of the way, let’s discuss Maleficent and what her character taught me about writing characters with depth.

  1. Maleficent wasn’t truly a villain in this version, but she does have a darker side. However, she wasn’t born with it. Her younger self was all lightness and kindness. Bits of her childhood still show through later, even as her darker side develops over it. Whether hero, anti-hero, sidekick or villain, I think it’s important to learn a character’s history and how their present traits developed. Back story is so essential for well-rounded characters!
  2. She was a dynamic character. This follows along with point #1: Maleficent changes over the film. Things don’t just happen to her; they shape her. Her reactions make her real and relatable, and I found myself wondering what I would do in her situations. A well-written character doesn’t simply move through scenarios; they respond to them and make us consider how we would react, too. Like real people, characters change as their lives do.

  3. Maleficent longed for love. In some way, I think we all do. People (and apparently faeries) were created to love and be loved. Even after Maleficent was betrayed and no longer believed in true love, she couldn’t stop her heart from being touched again, this time by her adopted god-daughter. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I believe that even the coldest of characters has a heart in need of love.
  4. Even after she was broken and bitter, Maleficent had a soft spot. She rescues a crow, watches over little Aurora, and later tries to spare her enemy’s life. Granted, the most villainous characters are often devoid of all mercy; but for the rest, I find it highly important to infuse compassion into even the damaged ones. It gives us something to cheer for, and it also shows the character’s true strength.
  5. Loners need friends, too. Despite isolating herself in the Moors, Maleficent still needed companionship. Diaval is her faithful sidekick and servant, standing by Maleficent and growing to become her friend. Aurora also finds a place in Maleficent’s heart and life, so much that Maleficent is willing to go to any lengths to save her. Although Maleficent is undoubtedly independent, she needs help at times, too. Characters can be strong, even lone wolves, but just as we all desire love, on some level, we desire acceptance and understanding. There can be exceptions, but generally, I like to give characters at least one confidante.
  6. Brokenness isn’t weakness. Maleficent has her share of grief and heartbreak, and she doesn’t always deal with it in a healthy way. However, being damaged doesn’t turn her into a weak character. If anything, her trials eventually make her stronger than ever. I’m all for protagonists having flaws and sorrows, and for falling under their weight at times. In the end, though, I love seeing those characters rise above their hardships and come back stronger than ever.
  7. Her actions matter. Each choice Maleficent makes comes with consequences. To some extent, she decides her destiny. On the other had, her control only reaches so far. Maleficent cannot manage everything, and in some cases, her decisions don’t amount to as much as she would like. This is something I can fully relate to, and so it’s another important element for other characters. Their actions need to carry weight but no one can manipulate every outcome.
  8. Maleficent is intelligent. She plans her moves, considers her course, and acts based on what she knows. Never once did she seem slow-witted. Side characters don’t all need to be the brightest bulbs, but main characters should generally be smart enough to outshine them. After a while, cluelessness can become tiresome in protagonists.MALEFICENT
  9. She’s unique. No one else, faerie or human, has the same look, powers or backstory as Maleficent. Just as we are in real life, she is one of a kind. It sounds like an impossible task, but each character should be individual in their own way.
  10. Maleficent was never beyond hope. This is perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the story. In spite of all that went wrong, all she did wrong, and all that was lost, Maleficent had a chance to be restored. She took responsibility for her actions and did her best to amend them, and ultimately, she was redeemed. Regardless of my characters’ deeds, I believe they should have a chance to be redeemed. God lovingly teaches us that no one is too far gone to be forgiven. I try to extend this mercy to each character I write, even if they don’t all accept it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope you enjoyed my take on the depth of Maleficent’s character! Maybe it will be helpful for you in creating your own deep characters. Is there anything you would add to the list, either about Maleficent or characters in general? What did you think of the film?

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All Maleficent images are from Disney’s Official Maleficent Movie Site. I do not own them.