The Tools I Used To Win Camp NaNo

During Camp NaNo, I used a number of tools while I wrote. These aren’t necessarily the great works of art that inspire you to go forth and create your own prose, they’re more of the pen and paper variety, but you’re not writing anything without the utensils, okay?

Ambiance

I’m a pretty big fan of silence. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have misophonia, but there are times when even the AC coming on annoys the fuck out of me (and living in the southern US, it’s an unfortunate necessity). I’ve found that gentle, reliable background sounds, like the click of Husband’s mouse while he plays Rimworld or Bart snoring from under the bed, can be pretty soothing. So when I’m trying to block out something annoying like drunken toddler relay races thundering the length of the apartment upstairs, I turn to ambient noise machines. As a bonus, these can act as background to your scenes. If you’re writing something spooky, pull up a “dark and stormy night” track, or if your characters and traipsing through the jungle, get you some rain forest ambiance. I really like these sites for finding my audible zone:

Tracking and Sprints

As I discussed in my posts on Camp NaNoWriMo (10k | 20k | 30k | 40k | 50k), I tracked my writing very closely. I intend to continue to do this to hold myself accountable as it worked beautiful and provided me with that oh-so-delicious data (and you can’t know you’re improving–or getting worse–if you’re not tracking your progress!).

  • Google Sheets – Works very closely to Microsoft Excel and because it’s cloud-based, can be accessed anywhere, including offline once it’s been loaded. I used this to track all my numbers in a really clean way, and to help out with the math aspect.
  • Calculator App – Isn’t it funny how all the grownups in the 90s used to say we wouldn’t be carrying calculators around with us 24/7 when we were adults? Ringo-Wrongo!
  • Timer – I use the built-in timer on my computer because it gives me a handy popup and a pleasing sound when it goes off. I prefer it to my phone because that alarm is obnoxious, and I don’t want the distraction of even picking up that god-forsaken thing when I’m in writing mode.

Plotting

I’ve never properly plotted before this go round, so my process is still way developmental, but I like the programs I’m using to get the job done, and they’re simple:

  • Pinterest – Gods, I hate this site and all it stands for, but if all you’re trying to do is collect images for an idea board, this is where it’s at, and I’ve written about this before.
  • Google Docs – I do all my writing in Google Docs so hopefully that cloud never gets hacked and destroyed. Like Sheets (this is all in Google Drive, to be fair) it can be accessed anywhere, including offline. I like the ability to make different folders and view my work in the Drive, so I can treat it like a desktop with everything close at hand. I create different Docs for the outline, history, ancient history, mythology, etc., and of course for the story itself. It’s very close to Microsoft Word (the whole Google suite is) but for as close to free as you can get (meaning, you’re paying for the service with your info, but the minute you Google anything, you’re already doing that, so whatever!)
  • Google Keep – #NotSpons, obviously, but this is an application I used to use a while back then stopped. I pulled it up again out of curiosity in early June (I’d installed the extension and forgot about it), and the changes that have been made to it are phenomenal. It’s a post-it note app with a helpful labeling and color-coding system. You can keep little bits of information in here that don’t go anywhere else, or use it more permanently like I’ve been doing for characters. I used to create a Google Doc for characters, but I found that cumbersome. Now, I just make a note for each character, pasting in a character sketch and filling it out as needed. I label them all so I can filter down to the them by story and subject (right now I have both SAT and Vacancy stuff in there). Similarly, I create a note with names that I like, using the same label so I’ve got a ready-made pot to grab from when I’m at a loss.
  • NameBerry – I find naming people, things, and whole books to be a bitch and a half, and I get really hung up on leaving blanks or fill-in names for my characters. NameBerry has a nice “If you like X, you’ll like Y” concept, and you can search up any name and find similar names to get a good convention going.
  • Fantasy Name Generator – A classic, the fantasy name generator has about a bajillion different kinds of generators that make for awesome jumping off points for just about everything, and it makes up for what NameBerry lacks: you probably won’t find someone saving “Tlannatar Helekrana” for the future child.

Fun Stuff

  • A good drink – I’m talking a big glass of water, iced green tea, hot hazelnut latte, anything to keep my mouth busy so I’m not cramming popcorn or chips into it. Seriously, writing is incredibly sedentary, and unless you’ve mastered dictation and jogging simultaneously, you gotta find a way to counteract the possible pounds you’ll put on if you’re prone to bingeing like me. Just a note: I don’t advise “write drunk, edit sober.” Even with sober editing, you’re not a good enough anything when you’re drunk: you’re just obnoxious. Just like my phone alarm.
  • An easy to-do list – Between sprints I often got up to pee (see the above bullet point), and liked to complete a task when I did so. Something like throwing in laundry, emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the cat litter up in the bathroom. Knowing what these tasks were ahead of time helped me to not waste precious minutes thinking about what I needed to do or stressing about what I might be missing and would surely drown under as I whiled my time away typing out nonsense. A list made things manageable and helped me to balance my life and my book. The tasks were also pretty mindless, so my brain could go on a little jaunt while I did them and was refreshed for the next sprint.
  • A comfy spot and lots of blankies – Don’t let anything distract you, including the temperature. I always had a sweatshirt and a soft blanket handy when I was sprinting. Like I mentioned, writing is sedentary work, and I get cold really easily, but if I leave the AC off all day the apartment becomes sticky like the Amazon and Husband and all the cats get cranky in the evening. I don’t give myself the excuse of shivering to stop midway through a sprint.
  • A cat – Rutherford sat on me for about 88.3% of my writing sprints, and since it’s illegal to move when a cat has made you its bed, he basically chained me to my laptop. I owe him most of my success, if I’m being entirely honest. If you only take away one tip for this, I hope it’s this: “get you a cat.”
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This OnE WeIrD TrIcK Got My Motivation Back

Ew. I am SO SORRY about that title. That’s awful. But it’s true, there is one kinda odd thing I started doing maybe a week and a half ago that got me motivated to write more, and I’m going to share that with you now. But seriously, sorry.

So I have been on a slow but steady recovery from a bout of sorrow and grief, and it was super unfortunate that the place I was at in every word-related project I was working on at the time (my serial, my novel, and the book I was reading (A Casual Vacancy, lol I have a theme)) were all quite death heavy, but I knew I needed to push through on at least one of them, and Vacancy seemed the most pressing (Vacancy, my serial, not Rowling’s book which is, by the way, amazing). I needed motivation and inspiration, but from where?

I’m not proud of this, but I have a Pinterest. Hear me out. I both love and hate Pinterest. A link to a Pin should never come up in a Google search (Pins are the worst, almost never have any helpful info, and sometimes don’t even link to the actual image they’re showing!); however, the search feature on the site itself is pretty damn sweet. If you’re looking for actual how-tos or explanations, it’s a fucking crapshoot, but if you want images to create what the hipsters might call a “mood board,” this is where it’s at.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but I realized I could use this to my advantage with writing. I even had a “Writing” board already, but didn’t put this together til now. I was stuck on Part 1.10, afraid to push Lorelei into the seance, so I was floundering over the basement description and just wanted to look at photos of caves and lakes. As I mentioned, Pinterest’s search is surprisingly adequate at returning what you’re looking for (the catch is that you need to have an account to really utilize the site correctly), so I searched “lake underground” and I got what I needed.

So you’re wondering how this is different from Google image search, eh? Well, you can “save” Pins to your own “boards” for quick access later. I believe the original intention of this was to save links with eye-catching images, but somewhere along the way the users of Pinterest ruined it by adding and not maintaining links to actual sites, so there are a lot of pictures of cool crafts with no explanation how they’re done. But still you can save as many images as you want to a board serving some greater purpose. And you can modify the description of that image/link to whatever you want. It’s usually already a description of whatever’s there (or supposed to be there), but if I’m brainstorming or looking for inspiration, I replace the description with what the image inspires for me.

Pintrest save

You can do this for specific places, of course, but it would work equally well for characters, atmosphere, and of course writing in general to save non-image based links (there’s functionality to save anything as a Pin, so you could take, say, this post and Pin it, and if you’re a responsible user, you’ll get the link right).

Once you’ve saved some Pins, you can go back to that board for inspiration when needed. Here’s a quick example of something I might throw together for a character:

Kimber Board

Since you’re using this for personal reference, I don’t object to losing the written attributions for images by writing over the descriptions, and if the images actually link out properly, you will still have the sources, which is nice.

Anyway, that’s my quick and dirty one weird trick that’s been quite helpful to me these last few days. Maybe you all already do this? Maybe there’s a better site for it? Pinetrest sure isn’t paying me to do this while simultaneously dragging them, so any suggestions you have, I’d love to hear!