Tips For Completing NaNoWriMo During The Holidays

We’re heading into the final stretch of NaNoWriMo with just seven days left, and if you’re on track (unlike me) you’ll need 11,659 more words (or probably more, like me), but something scary is about to happen, something that threatens everything, something that could make the last three weeks of filling up every spare moment with writing all be for naught: American Thanksgiving.

*imagine an evil turkey gif here*

First of all, I don’t know why November is National Novel Writing Month. Well, okay, I do, it’s because of the “No,” and nothing anybody says is going to change my mind about that, but that was a STUPID reason because everything else about this month makes it tough: it’s 30 instead of 31 days, it’s a month into school for a lot of people, so they’re in full swing, and it’s the start to the HoLiDaY SeAsOn which makes people literally insane. It should be January, and here’s why:

Honestly, February would be pretty damn good too.

But alas, it is November, and we have all agreed to this misery, but if you’re in the U.S., there’s a pretty good chance you’ve been summoned to participate in ThE DiNnEr which is rarely just one meal or even one day. In my experience, it’s usually about a week filled with cooking, traveling, and–worst of all–socializing. Time is typically a hot commodity, and often we give the best of it away, leaving ourselves little to work with. So here are my top five tips to get some of that precious time back so you can complete your NaNo project this Thanksgiving.

(1) Get Up Early/Stay Up Late

This is my worst tip (hence why it’s first) because I’ve tried it and it rarely makes for good writing, but it does sometimes work. Set yourself aside some time before everyone else is awake or after everyone’s gone to sleep. If you’re AM-ing it, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT get out of bed to do this–I guarantee your mom is already up and on her second cup of coffee, balled up on the couch, just staring down the hall toward the bedrooms, watching, waiting, annihilating (any chance at sneaking down for some silent coffee by yourself). Throw a blanket over your head Harry-Potter style and write by the dimmest flashlight, for in the darkness your must remain, my little writing goblin. Conversely, you can go to bed early but actually write before drifting off. This might work unless you’re surrounded by drunk uncles who playing increasingly loud games of euchre after they get over being pissed at one another about something that happened when they were in their pre-teens. I suggest headphones and ambient-mixer.com to drown out the slurred swearing.

(2) Get Out Of The House

I’ve noticed something over the years: if you try to get half an hour alone around family members it just never happens UNLESS you say you’re going for a run. For some reason, going for a run is like a hall pass to solitude, no questions asked. And I am NOT convinced these people are actually running. I think they’re putting on running outfits, sprinting to the first corner, and flopping down on the sidewalk to say the ultimate thanks to the universe for some much-needed silence. So why not you too? Grab some leggings, a sweatband, stuff your notebook down your sweatshirt, and pass through the kitchen with a big smile and a “Be back in about half an hour!” On the off chance someone wants to join you, you’ve already got your sneakers on and are halfway out the door, so sorry, cuz!

(3) Invest In Your Future

Round up the children and play a game of hide-and-seek. I know, that sounds terrible, but hear me out, as this tip is not what it seems for you must be willing to make a deal with the devil, or at least one of them. Pick the most cunning child, one who is capable of keeping a secret, a little, sneaky son-of-a-bitch. (The less trustworthy to their own parents the better–this is important for later.) Tell them they must play the seeker and then bribe them to not find you for at least fifteen minutes during which you will be furiously typing from a closet. They will gain a crisp one dollar bill (leverage will of course depend on age and shrewdness of the child) if they purposefully avoid your hidey-hole, and if they keep the rest of the demonic spawn away as well until the time is up. This can possibly afford you a small goldmine of sprints interspersed with actual hide-and-seek which, admittedly, can be kind of fun. And if the little bastard rats you out? Well, you picked the shithead for a reason–gaslight them to the rest of the family. Just make sure to check your dinner roll later for any sign it was “accidentally” dropped on the ground.

(4) Turn The Tables

No one wants to hear about your book. They might ask, they might even pretend to be interested, but they’re really just waiting for the right moment to tell you, “You know, I had an idea for a book once!” so that they can then drone on about their Very Unique Idea™ about a dude who’s fed up with his life and just wants to drive, man. But this year? This year? It’s your turn, bitch. Interrupt them, “that’s nice, so–” them, tell them that Jack Kerouac is overrated, but you–you–are writing the next great American novel, and then YOU drone on about the symbolic nature of vampirism and how you’re going to take back the word “alpha” from the erotica authors. They will quickly try to escape you, and perhaps even leave you alone long enough to get a hundred or so words out. This could backfire, though, you could encounter the ever-elusive Sympathetic Grandma, but when I say backfire, I mean it just turns into you and her discussing something you really care about with someone who really cares about you, and, frankly, you’re fucking welcome, Dear Reader, because that shit is adorable. Get her a cup of tea with two splendas, okay?

(5) Time For Plan Number 2

When all else fails, you must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and embarrass yourself, knowing that for every Thanksgiving to come this moment will be recanted, and only you will know the truth. It will be worth it. Here is the scene: you are sitting in the most populated room of the house, you have tried to leave a number of times only to be asked where you are going, so now you’re firmly planted on the arm of the sofa, wondering if your heart ca handle the caffeine of a seventh Diet Coke. Then, you know what you must do. You jump up suddenly, gasping loudly. When heads have turned to you, you grab your stomach, doubling over, and then, Dear Writer, you must BOLT. Run to the most secluded bathroom you can find where you have already so shrewdly planted your laptop betwixt the decade-old Good Housekeeping magazines and volumes of compiled Garfield comics. If anyone knocks, put on your most sickening moan, pick the nastiest button from the flatulence soundboard, and insist you’ll be out as soon as possible, but maybe they should light a candle and grab some extra TP for when you’re done. Congrats, you’ve bought yourself at least 15 minutes for a full on sprint. Bonus points if there’s a fan in there for ambiance. And if you messed with the wrong kid earlier, you might not even need to fake it!

And those are my best tips for keeping on track this season. You’re welcome, Dear Reader/Writer, and godspeed.

Preparing for Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo will be upon us in four short days. Dear Reader, I am psyched! Here’s how I’m getting ready.

Packed My Tent – Since moving, we’ve turned one of our two bedrooms into an office. I’ve got my desk in the back of the room, looking out onto it (so no demons or ghosts can sneak up on me, of course), and I’ve got a table set to my side holding important notebooks, my world’s “bible,” and my big desk calendar. That’s where I’ll be camping out.

Prepared For My Badges – I know I can write 30k words, I’ve done it before, and in the last couple weeks I’ve been ramping up how much writing I can fit into a day. Past success really is the best motivation which is kinda a bummer when you think about it because it’s a circle you almost can’t break into.

Practiced Relay Races – I’ve been working out regularly and intend to continue throughout camp. I find the time on the treadmill to be good for zoning out and letting my mind wander in my character’s world. Plus a healthy body can often keep a mind healthy, and the crazies are all too easy to set in on this journey.

Packed My Bags – And they’re mostly full of snacks. Seriously. I ordered two of those sample boxes from Amazon filled with protein bars and healthy-ish foods. Not that writing is a real physical thing, but if I’m on a roll, I don’t want to stop to make something, I just want to grab 200 calories of whey powder and chocolate and go! Similarly, I’ve been writing down recipes and cataloging my thoughts on them as they’re made and consumed, so I’ll be more decisive about what to cook for dinner. No hour of scouring the web for a recipe, everything will be planned out and set!

Prepared My Letters Home – My NaNo novel will be far from the only thing I’ll be working on in April, but one thing that I don’t want to compromise is Vacancy, so I’m getting every post for April queued up ahead of time. Just a warning, it gets pretty silly in the next couple installments .

But here’s where I’m a little stumped: Do I write out my camp itinerary? That is to say, should I outline? I’ve tried writing outlines in the past but usually I outline as I write so I can go back later and make changes without having to scroll through the whole document and guess at what I did. I typically get certain scenes in my head and have a good idea of where I want things to end up, with all the middle bits to be made up on the spot and heavily edited later. But has that served me well in the past? Or has that just lent itself to procrastinating? I know I succeeded (well, 30k succeeded) with NaNo last November because I had many of the episodes planned out, at least in general, ahead of time.

So my question here: do you outline? And if so, what’s your favorite method?

 

The Liberation That Comes With Asking Questions

I suggested in my how to not fuck up 2018 post that if you want to make any kind of change in the new year, you shouldn’t be afraid of asking for help, and I think part of that is just in general asking questions.

This may only apply to me because I’m a god damned weirdo, or more broadly to people with anxiety, and probably also people who were praised a lot as a kid for being smart, but hopefully some of you will be able to identify with this sentiment: I used to be terrified of asking questions. Like legit sweat dripping, red-faced, fluttering heartbeat, all that bullshit at just the thought of asking someone what something meant or how to do something. With the ability to look back now, I know I was afraid of looking stupid or being a nuisance, not to mention my underlying fear of just speaking up in general, so the thought of doing any of that threw me into an almost instant panic attack.

Thankfully, I didn’t need to ask questions very frequently because I was very well rounded as a kid and inquisitive on my own. I watched a lot of (adult) television so I was exposed to many things that I was lucky enough to retain, and I had access to the internet from the time I was about eight-ish, so I could easily look just about anything up (granted it was significantly harder 20 plus years ago!) From doing my own research and basically never taking anything at face value, I quickly learned that people believe in a lot of things that just aren’t true, and since I was privileged enough to be exposed to so much, I was super judgey as a kid when other kids asked questions that I already knew the answer to, so I had a very “damn, I don’t want people to feel that way about me!” mentality.

That changed when I was in college and tutoring English and writing. I worked with so many different students, kids fresh out of high school, people in their fifties coming back to school, English as a second language students, and students who had a really great grasp on writing but knew a second set of eyes on their work could only help. Sometimes, especially early on in my tutoring career, I’d use words or phrases with students that they didn’t understand, and they would sheepishly ask my to clarify. Almost every single time they would then apologize for not knowing. This kind of knocked me for a loop because while I felt the same way these people did, embarrassed to not know and apologetic to bother someone for an answer, when I was being asked–when I was on the other side of that experience–I very passionately believed they should not be embarrassed or apologetic. See, I knew these people, I knew they were intelligent, and I knew their stories, and for the most part they didn’t know certain things because they never got the chance to know them. I quickly adopted a “no stupid questions” policy, and was always quick to admit to them when I didn’t know something, but we always had a laptop handy to look anything up together.

It still took me some time to cultivate my own ability to ask questions because you cannot reason anxiety away, you just have to fight through it, so while I knew it was okay to not know something, I couldn’t get over that sweaty, scared feeling. I flopped like a fish on dry land over that hump one day when the tutoring lab supervisor, my boss, called me “reticent.” I didn’t know what that word meant, and even though I was in front of him and a number of my tutoring peers, I decided that was the best time to break myself, so I asked. And you know what happened? Nothing.

He thought for a second, defined the word, then we all moved on. I didn’t feel like a moron, and no one tried to make me feel stupid either. Of course, this isn’t everyone’s experience, and since then I have had literally dozens, maybe hundreds of times where I’ve asked “what does that mean?” or “what’s that?” and been met with the dreaded and incredibly unhelpful, “You don’t know what X is???” But let me tell you something: if someone says that to you, you look them right in the eyes and say “No, I fucking don’t.” Chances are they are just being a self-centered prick and are reveling in the fact they’re a gatekeeper to some kind of knowledge and are superior. They probably don’t get to feel that way very often, so just pity them and then google your answer, showing them they really are as useless as they just proved themselves to be.

I find myself now asking “what does that word mean?” most often because I love words and want to collect as many as possible in my tiny brain. I rarely feel stupid asking questions, and I rarely judge other people for asking “dumb” questions. And even if I do think a question is stupid, I work really hard to not let it show on my face and to explain everything. I think I’ve kind of perfected this after working in IT for the last almost two years. And to those of you with anxiety that I just made this worse for: don’t worry. I don’t associate that once time Susan in accounting asked me how to copy and paste with Susan’s intelligence forever especially not if she retains it and uses it going forward. There’s hope for us all!

And now I realize: I CAN KNOW SO MUCH MORE. WHY WAS I SO DUMB BEFORE? The thing I was afraid of being I actually made myself into being by not just asking questions when I should have! And I feel so fucking free.

So ask questions. Don’t be afraid. If someone acts like you’re dumb for not knowing something then chances are they’re actually pretty stupid, or at least mean, and in either case unworthy of you caring what they think about you. Free yourself and learn some shit.