Final NaNoWriMo Preparations, otherwise known as ‘Don’t Panic’!

It’s almost here. Later this week is when we all start worrying about our word counts and comparing it to other people’s. In an effort to calm the impending storm that begins on November 1st, here are a selection of final tips that should help you ready yourself for the big challenge. 

First, let’s consider practicalities: 

Housekeeping
cleanDo as much as much of it as you can, now. Clean your room, stock the fridge and empty the wash basket. Cook extra as part of every meal so you can freeze the leftovers later. For whole month these are the things that will be left neglected as you strain to squeeze out as many words as you can per day. So, give yourself a head start and begin the month of November with a tidy house, fully stocked kitchen and a few emergency meals already prepared. 

Stock up on Snacks
Linked with the tip above, ensure that you have some (healthy) snacks to get you through some of the slumps you will encounter throughout November. Snacks that are edible whilst typing are the best kind. And, if you want something like chocolate M&M’s – make it a rule that you can only eat one for every sentence you type, If you’re not writing, you’re not allowed the treat. 

Get a Reward Buddy
If food is going to play a part in your rewards system (like earning that chocolate bar for when you hit 5,000 words) make sure you have someone onside who will only let you have it once you’ve actually reached that target. In other words, no cheating. This is important for any reward you might put in place. If it’s something you’ve earned there is nothing more satisfying that having someone else present it to you in an official mark of celebration. 

Once you’ve got these in place, here are a few things you can work on to help with the writing come Thursday:

Character Objective
Make sure you know what your main characters want more than anything in the world. Then spend the whole of November taking it away from them. If you understand your character’s main motivation (what they want and why they want it) it is much easier to create plot twists and, eventually, give them their happy ending. Even better, it can help you inject conflict into every scene – especially if you have an antagonist whose objective runs counter to your protagonist’s. 

Shape your first line
onceuponatimeWe all know how important first lines are in novels. Sometimes it can make the difference between whether I read a book or not. So, if you’re chomping at the bit to get started, work on crafting the best opening line you can. Where will you begin? Which character will appear immediately and what will they be doing? How will you hook a reader in just one sentence? Once Thursday begins, you’ll have the perfect start.

Figure out your ending
This can either be taken literally, or figuratively. You might need to know exactly how your novel is going to end in order to be able to work your way towards this from your very first line. If you know this, then you will automatically start placing things into the story to ensure that this ending is possible.

However, if you’re a pantster and have no idea where you might end up (which is part of the fun) think about how you might want a reader to feel at the end of your novel. Do you want a happy ending or would you prefer something more bitter-sweet? Do you want your readers to feel excited and pumped up by the end, or calm and contemplative? Hopefully, this will help you determine the mood of what you’re trying to achieve. 

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So those are my final few tips to prepare for the challenge of 50,000 words in just 30 days. If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo and want to buddy up – please add me on the site. My username is ankhofbastet.

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Good luck to everyone taking part. But, remember – whatever happens, you’re bound to end up with more words in November that you would have a written without the NaNoWriMo push: so be proud of any progress you make, even if you don’t manage the 50k goal.

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The long winding road of how to be a writer…

Squeezing in time to write can sometimes be the biggest barrier to actually getting anything written. Most of us have busy lives and a list of priorities that other people can often depend on. Fortunately, right now I am lucky enough to not be in such a category.

Over the past three years I’ve had to rearrange my responsibilities quite drastically thanks to contracting a virus in 2009 that left me with M.E. (more commonly recognised as ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’). Since then I have had to simplify my life. I was off sick for a number of months (and then off sick repeatedly over a number of weeks), and for a short time I could barely leave my apartment because I couldn’t be sure I’d have the energy to get back – even though I might only be considering a journey to the shop around the corner.

It was in this time I came to the realisation that I had always wanted to write, but never actually gotten around to do any real writing. I re-read some of my old journals, during which I digested pages and pages of promises to write, desire to create stories and even ideas that I planned to put down on paper…eventually. But, until 2011, nothing had come of it.

In 2011 I started to get better. Now, this disability isn’t one that has a typical course of treatment followed by a recovery time. M.E. can plague people for a lifetime, or it can slowly fade away only to reappear at another time. Here, again, I am one of the lucky ones. The methods I was advised to put in place to aid my body in the healing process worked for me. For others, this is not the case. As such, I was able to get back to work (and fortunately I had a workplace that had decent Occupational Health support and a Disability Office to advise me), and get my life back on track for the most part.

Now, that’s not to say I resumed my old life and picked up where things had left off. It was my old life that had gotten me into the mess in the first place. I was a high achiever, a perfectionist, a people-pleaser. I rarely said ‘No’ to anything asked of me and I thrived on deadlines and challenges. As it was, I also enjoyed the pride of a job well done and the glow of recognition and congratulation it brought me. But I didn’t have time to write. What do you know – pride does come before a fall!

So, when I started to recover from the overwhelming tirade of symptoms that characterised M.E. (surprisingly, it’s not just being tired all the time, there are a whole host of other doozies that just serve to tire you out even more!), I promised myself that I wouldn’t repeat history. This time I would try; not for everyone else, not for the adulation, but for me. I consistently wrote that I wanted to write – well, that I would.

And so the blog was born! I threw myself into writing, even though I hated what I wrote. It was sloppy, it didn’t read well, it was full of clichés and stereotypes: but I was writing! Then I discovered NaNoWriMo and I set to the challenge with cautious gusto. I struggled through it and got my ‘win’ – and also one third of a first draft novel that it would take me a whole year to complete. But I had done it.

And you know how? By keeping that promise to myself and by putting into practice all the things I learned when I was recovering from my M.E.:

  1. Pace Yourself
  2. Plan Ahead
  3. Moderation
  4. Delegation
  5. Only give 80% (actually, this was 10% when I first started recovering – I had to work up to this slowly!)
  6. Maintain Hope
  7. Ask for Help

Advice for those with M.E. is to relinquish control. Stop doing all those things that people expect of you and just do the things that are important. For me, for a while, that meant being signed off sick rather than struggling into work. This also meant that I had to ask for help and share out what needed doing to other people. It was the same at home, I wasn’t capable of most of the household chores, so they were delegated to my partner. Even now I have only done the washing up a handful of times this year because it is one of the tasks I abhor and it used to set off my ME symptoms.

Number 5. also gave me a lot of trouble. I was used to throwing myself into things at 120% – in fact, that is what people expected of me, so it was even harder to give that up. But I discovered that I could still do much of what was needed without having to exhaust myself in the process. I held back. I stopped when I was tired. I started to say ‘No’ when I knew I couldn’t commit to something. I was forced to plan ahead and schedule my time wisely – not for other people, but for myself.

Hence, I created more time for my writing. I re-prioritised my entire life. I changed the way people reacted to me because I clearly stated what my boundaries were. I did what I knew I could, when I knew I could do it. And it’s the same with writing.

For those without M.E. who perhaps have better reserves of energy, writing might be something that they feel they have to fit in around their busy life. They might slot it in sometime between waking up and getting to work, or getting home and going to bed. They might start to question whether or not it’s worth it to write because they can’t give it their full attention, or because what they write doesn’t seem very good.

Well…if that’s the case: do what I did and change the way you approach it. I’m not advising that you should shrug off all your responsibilities and go wild with your word count, but it needs to be prioritised higher than some other things sometimes.

I know that every day I must write…not because I ‘should’ but because I want to dedicate some time to that which I love doing. To ensure that I get to do this I schedule my responsibilities around it. I give an hour to this task, twenty minutes to that task. I plan my days off as much as I would plan my work day – assigning time frames and task lists to ensure that I don’t go overboard and forget to accomplish my priorities and meet my targets. But I only do what I need to…because I also need to write.

I guess the point to my long rambling here is that I have learnt that writing is something to be taken seriously. In order to be a writer then I had to commit to it just like anything else. I had to practice and prioritise it. This doesn’t always mean giving more time to it – because time is a limiting factor that you can’t change – but it does mean that when you do give it time, you focus on writing and nothing else.

Don’t think of it as squeezing writing between waking up and getting to work; be proud that you are prioritising your writing time, and classify it as such. Label it your writing time – and don’t let anything get in the way of it. Don’t relegate it to the bottom of the list.

If it’s important to you, it’s important

If you want to be a writer. BE a writer. Don’t ever apologise for wanting to follow your dreams.