NaNoWrimo 2016

4 More Lessons I Learned From NaNoWriMo in 2016

When I completed NaNoWriMo in 2014, I wrote a great post about lessons I learned. Reading through that list, I still identify with everything I wrote previously. It's funny, at the end, to see how excited I am for the next year--without knowing that in 3 months, I would be pregnant. It's weird looking back on statements like that and laughing at how much your life can change in a few months (isn't that what blogs are great for, though?). 

I thought I would revisit this post and share a few more lessons I've learned from NaNoWriMo--especially my first successful November as a parent! 

1. I have to prioritize where I put my energy.

I say this frequently, but when I get overwhelmed, I tend to shut down. In November, I often find myself pulled in a hundred different directions: I do NaNoWriMo; I'm working; I have Forrest; and I have an entire house to take care of. Personally, I find it very easy to just shut down and not really achieve anything in that time frame! 

However, I find that if I prioritize, I can get everything done without getting overwhelmed. But that also means, I have to let some things fall to the side. Notice how I barely blogged in November? Yeah, it was because I was trying to do NaNoWriMo, work my day job, and keep myself and a toddler alive. These things happen. C'est la vie! 

2. Get ahead while you can.

In previous NaNoWriMos, I've kept myself to a strict daily word count. I usually didn't write ahead more than 500 words or so. And each year, I've gotten behind and had to spend weekends catching up, which meant I got very quickly exhausted.  

I feel like this lesson is true of everything in life--not just NaNoWriMo. When you can, work ahead. For example, I have a cleaning schedule I try to keep: on Fridays, I tidy the entryway; on Saturdays, I clean the bathrooms, etc. However, if I'm feeling motivated, I'll clean the entryway and clean the bathrooms on the very same day. I know, living on the edge there! 

This year, I ended up writing my first 10,000 words for NaNoWriMo in the first few days. By November 15, I was 15,000 words from winning. I wrote ahead--I let myself write as often as I could without falling behind on my other responsibilities and it paid off. It helped that I was writing a story that I'd been thinking of for months, but having a buffer really made me more comfortable and I was able to write with joy, rather than stressing to stay on deadline. 

3. It's ok to think NaNoWriMo is stifling. 

As much as I love NaNoWriMo (and this being my 5th year completing, I do love it), I also inevitably start to wonder how, as a practice, it inhibits or improves my creativity. 

Ultimately, what we take away from NaNoWriMo is up to us--and it's ok to love it as an idea, but also ultimately believe it to be stifling. You don't have to follow the rules of NaNoWriMo to the letter; it's your novel and your life. Do what you want! 

However, you often see NaNoWriMo critics emerging in early November, talking about how NaNoWriMo is a time for "writer-wannabes" (ok) to emerge and dedicate one month of the year to writing. Not only is this a totally unfair statement which I've seen way too many supposedly professional writers state, it also ignores the point of NaNoWriMo. 

The point of NaNoWriMo isn't to be a professional writer and write your perfect dream novel in a month. NaNoWriMo is about empowering more people to write, to make time for writing and creativity, and to enjoy their lives. 

That's it! That's all that NaNoWriMo is about. 

It's ok to think it's stifling. It's ok to get to November 30 and think, "Well, that sucked." It's ok to feel like you wrote a crapper of a novel. (I have had that feeling many times myself.) But the most important thing is, if you completed a novel, you proved that you can write every day. Enough to pile up the words. And that's pretty monumental. 

4. When I read more, I write more. 

At the end of October, I signed up for Kindle Unlimited. Since then, I have read 46 books.

46 books

I know. It's actually kind of embarrassing. In that time, I have written more, and felt more creative, than ever before. I have started to realize that if I want to write--and I mean, really write in a way that is productive and meaningful--I have to keep my reading habit. Which, thanks to Kindle Unlimited, is totally possible. Even if I'm reading the most embarrassing, sappy romance novels of all time. 

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? What did you learn about yourself, about creativity, or about life in general?

Writing with a Toddler: How to Win NaNoWriMo & More

As another NaNoWriMo check in: I officially won NaNoWriMo on Thanksgiving Day!

I hit a small snag when I copied & pasted my 50,100 word novel into the NaNoWriMo validator and was told I'd only written 49,600 words. I copied and pasted again and, again, was told I'd written 49,800 words. Ok, so at least it went up. 

The word count validator was broken, didn't believe me on Twitter, and it was a huge pain. I wrote an additional 600 word scene, while screeching at my husband and homph-gomphing some extra coffee, and got validated, but I'm still mad. 

Why am I still mad? 

Because writing with a toddler is really, really hard. 

Writing 1600 extra words per day with a toddler is a challenge that I'm not entirely sure why I took on, but I did it. 

And I did it exactly 5 days before the deadline. 

I'm sorry, but I'm very impressed with myself right now. 

I'm somewhat less than impressed that I've blogged what? Five times in November alongside NaNoWriMo? That's a big oops, but in my defense, November has been quite the month, personally and socially, so it's to be expected. 

When it comes to writing with a toddler, I find myself constantly challenged. I'm creative all day at my day job and when I get home, I'm pretty much moving nonstop. I'm playing with Forrest; I'm making dinner; I'm cleaning as I go. It's hard to be creative when you're mentally and emotionally wiped out, that's for sure.

But when it comes to writing, I set a few rules for myself. 

1. I try to set aside 30-60 minutes every evening to write.

This might be when Forrest is spending time with Danny, post-dinner but pre-bedtime. Or this might be when Forrest is already asleep. If I have important chores to do (like vacuuming, laundry, or deep cleaning the kitchen), I put them off until later in the evening. I make myself write--whether it's for NaNoWriMo or work, my blog or in my journal--for at least 30 minutes. It just has to be done. 

During NaNoWriMo, by keeping this schedule, I really improved my word count. I also found that if I got Forrest to nap while I wore him in our Ergo, I could get a solid 45 minute (or more!) writing time in. It all adds up. 

2. Don't worry about writing when your toddler awake. 

Maybe it's just me, but I know myself and I know my child. I cannot get anything done with him during the day. I can lightly clean the kitchen, keep him fed and clean, and work on organizing downstairs. But the minute I try to sit down, he's all over me. If I'm on the couch with my laptop, he wants the laptop. If I'm at the kitchen counter with my laptop, he's standing at the gate crying because I'm not with him. If I try to write while I'm feeding him lunch, he's yelling because he needs all of my attention. That's how it is with toddlers. And really, I'd rather get him to repeat "all done" or play pattycake than write anyway. 

3. Give yourself a break.

You know what? There are some days where I just can't write. Where I'm just so tired (Forrest is teething or he refused to eat all day, or we had doctor's appointments, or whatever) that I can't do anything else. On those days, I curl up on the couch and watch the Simpsons, or I run a nice bath, grab my Kindle, and turn on my favorite podcast. And you know what? I don't beat myself up. It's ok! You can't get everything done! That's fine. Forgive yourself. 

Want more NaNoWriMo and daily life updates? Follow me on Instagram!

My Top 5 Writing Tips

Yesterday, I shared my NaNoWriMo prep process. Today, I thought I'd share some tips I have for writing in general--that is, everything from beating writer's block to staying focused. 

I have a typical writing output of about 2,000+ words per day, including tweets, emails, blog posts, and all my day job writing. When I look at it purely as numbers, it feels so incredibly huge: I remember struggling through 2,000 word papers in college and now I consistently write that much in a day... and then I repeat it the next day. 

I have a very specific way I like to write and very rarely does that actually align with what I would consider the "romantic view" of writing. I'm not cuddled up on a rainy evening with a perfect cup of coffee and a lit candle; I'm usually wearing Forrest, who is asleep, listening to his white noise play for the 901st time OR I'm hurriedly trying to get everything done in the one hour my husband has to watch Forrest after work. 

What I'm saying is: I've gotten a lot of writing done in the last two years. Here are my tips for writing more, writing better, and writing in a way that's enjoyable. 

1. Write in the same place(s). 

A long time ago, I used to write wherever: in the library, on my couch, at my desk, in bed, in the kitchen. Wherever! No more. That's just not possible now. I have too many distractions if I'm anywhere other than where I write. Unless I'm on vacation, I write in one of two places: at my desk at home or at my desk at work. That's it. For my best work, I have to write in one of those two places. 

2. Change something, sometime. 

As much as my first tip stands, I also should say: sometimes, if you're in a rut, you need to change something. For example, this past weekend, I was getting my desk cleaned up and ready for NaNoWriMo and I decided, "it's time for a change." I moved my computer to face a different direction, rearranged my notebooks and pens, and basically changed how I look at my computer, desk, and window. Sometimes, to get inspired, you just need to have a slightly different view, so don't be afraid to change things up--whether that means rearranging your desk, drinking a different kind of "writing drink" (tea instead of coffee? water instead of soda?), or just finding a new desk chair. 

3. Comfort yourself. 

I'm a big baby and sometimes writing, especially during NaNoWriMo when I may be writing emotionally difficult scenes, can make me really anxious and upset. That means I need to take a lot of care to make sure I'm physically comfortable, should I start getting anxious during my writing process. I keep a heating pad and a heater next to my desk, as well as candles and aromatherapy oils. I also make sure to take lots of breaks, especially when I'm feeling stressed out about writing. 

4. Know everything (within reason).

When I was in college, I took a writing workshop where my professor suggested a writing exercise where you list the contents of your main character's trash can. I loved doing it because I love list making and it's something I still do for every NaNoWriMo novel character I write: I make a list of what's in their kitchen trash can. It sounds weird, right? It kind of is. But it goes with the idea that you should know everything about your character, even if you aren't going to include it in your writing. You should know 100 little facts about your main character, but you don't have to include all of those little facts. I keep a list of character writing exercises handy during NaNoWriMo to help me get through any bumps in the road when it comes to characterization.   

5. Take notes.

In this increasingly digital age, I still find a lot of value in taking notes. As in, really taking notes: picking a notebook and writing things down with a pen on paper. I know, it's crazy talk. I handwrite most of my notes and outlines for all my writing--from NaNoWriMo to social media and blog posts. I keep bullet journals for all these notes. I find that writing things down, as they happen, as I think of them, helps me to better remember them and stay on track. Give it a try!