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.

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.”