NaNo Need-to-Knows: How to Maximize Your Chances to Win

Hey everyone! FINALLY, I have the vlog post uploaded and my internet connection back, so I’m going to have two vlog posts this week for the NaNo Need-to-Knows series. I’ll work the blog posts I had wanted to write in over this week and the next as well, because there’s a ton of information I want to share before and during NaNoWriMo.

Anyhow, here’s the video, with the script following below.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re almost on the eve of NaNoWriMo and we have no idea about who of us will succeed and who will fail at making it to 50,000 words. But I’m specially posting this on a Monday so you’ll have a bit more than a week to follow advice if you’re so inclined. Because this week is the week you prepare.

But you’ve planned your story as far as you’re going to plan it. What more can you possibly need to do?

For right now, forget your story. This week, you need to prepare yourself for NaNoWriMo, emotionally and physically.

Here are my best suggestions and the things I’m doing right now to get ready.

1) Set your strategy.

To win NaNo, you have to write 50,000 words in a month, or an average of 1,667 per day. But if you look at your calendar, you might realize that you actually have fewer days than 30 available. So how are you going to make up for that?

Make the decision now so you don’t worry about it later.

2) Clear your schedule as far as possible.

In a perfect world, you’d be able to make everything else in November go away, but alas, we’re in the real world with its millions of distractions and drains on your time. So what you want to do here is decrease those distractions as far as possible. If you have something due in the first week of November (like say next week’s vlog post), get it done now so you don’t have to worry about it.

If you need to set a date for something and it’s possible to do so, set that date in December.

Also, let go of your TV schedule. Make sure to record the things that are important to you, so you can watch it later, but don’t put yourself in the dilemma of “But XYZ is on…”

3) Tell your friends and family.

This way, you can say, “Can’t, I’m writing my novel in a month, remember?” Which makes it easier to stand firm if someone wants you to go out. (Obviously, don’t turn into a hermit, but if you have a day’s writing quota and winning is important to you, going out might have to wait until you do have time available.)

4) Decide on your priorities and block out an available time slot dedicated to writing every day. And make sure nothing else gets booked in that time.

It’ll be helpful if you knew how fast you write, but if you need to write 2,000 words a day and you take 2 hrs in order to do so, you need to make sure that you have an average of two non-negotiable writing hours a day. Note here: average. So if you really can only do an hour on week days, make sure you have a bigger chunk of time available on weekends.

Doing this ahead of time helps in two ways. First, having a dedicated writing time helps your brain switch over to creation mode faster than trying to steal time at random. Second, you can’t win NaNo if you don’t give yourself enough time. So scheduling writing time ahead can help you ensure that you theoretically gave yourself enough time to write your daily quota of words.

5) Sort Out Your Social Networking.

If it’s important that you post regularly to wherever, schedule as much as possible ahead. If not, go on hiatus.

Yeah I can hear the horrified gasps already. But that hour that just whizzes by every day as you scroll down your Facebook feed? You could have spent it writing. You need to spend it writing.

So pull the plug for a month. (I promise you, it’s actually really nice.) Just let everyone know that it’s what you’re doing so they don’t distract you with worried calls and emails because you “vanished.”

Those are my big tips to gear up for NaNoWriMo. Do you think I missed anything? Let me know in the comments.

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Unless the wheels have spectacularly come off my life in some way, people have a tendency to be amazed by how much I get done in a month. And every now and then, someone will ask me how I manage it.

After all, we writers have the same amount of hours in the day. So how do I stretch mine to get so much done?

Step 1: Set Goals and Break Them Into Smaller Chunks

How does that help a writer stretch time? you might ask. Well. One of my big secrets to getting stuff done is knowing what I want to do.

So I set myself some huge goals, and then I break them into progressively smaller chunks.

For example:

Goal 1: Make a living wage from writing books. 

  1. Write books.
    1. Write this one book.
      1. Write 1,000 words every day.
      2. Write 50,000 words.
    2. Write the next book.
      1. Write 1,000 words every day.
      2. Write 50,000 words.
  2. Edit books.
    1. Revisions
    2. Edits
    3. Proofread
  3. Publish books
    1. Format books.
    2. Upload them to retailers.

And so on. Now I not only have this big goal, but I also see the steps to get to that goal. (The ones that are in my control, anyway.)

I often break even the steps into smaller steps, until I have hundreds of little things I need to do.

Which might sound terrifying, but what sounds easier:

Make a living from writing? Or write 1,000 words today?

So what I’m doing is to break all of my goals into smaller, bite-sized chunks. And then I move onto Step 2.

Step 2: Set Your Priorities.

Once I know what I want and how I’m planning to get there, I can sit down and decide what’s the most important to me.

But here’s the important thing: I decide what’s important to me right now.

This bit is a trick to my success, because a lot of those big goals I set are pretty much equal when it comes to how important they are in my life.

I don’t have kids, but if I had, I wouldn’t be able to say writing is more important than my children. But I wouldn’t ever be able to call writing unimportant either.

So the thing is, if you’re sitting down to get going, there will be things on that specific day that’s more important. If you know you want to focus on that, then focus on that. But also know when you’ve neglected some other aspect, so you can temporarily bump that thing up your priority list in order to even everything out.

Step 3: Create a To-Do List.

Once I know all the things that are really important, I can quickly write down the 10 things that are weighing on me the most. (I like 10 for being a nice, even number, but pick whatever works for you.)

Next thing I do is to number the order in which I’d like to do those 10 things.

Why?

Because if I decide upfront what I want to do after I’ve finished the task at hand, I don’t have to waste time later trying to decide what I should be doing.

How do I pick the order?

This depends. Some days, it’s in order of the shortest deadline to the longest. Other days, it’s Writing first and everything else next. Today I’m not feeling a bit lethargic, so I’m making up for it by starting with something easy, then something hard, then easy, then hard etc.

Step 4: Start Doing

Yeah I know. Obvious, right? But sometimes, people underestimate how important it is to just get going. There’s a reason why, when it comes to the setting of my to-do list, I keep things simple. I don’t try to schedule anything because I know it takes longer for me to schedule and re-schedule as my day shifts. Time that I could actually be using to tick stuff off my to-do list.

So once I have my 10 things and I know in which order I’d like to do things. I start. If something happens to prevent me from completing one task, I move onto the next. (Writing this blog is task number 4. Number 3 is postponed because I’m waiting for information.) I might get back to it later. I might postpone to tomorrow.

And no, there’s nothing wrong with postponing as long as it’s not going to break a deadline. Because unless you set the bar really low, there’s no way you’re going to finish all the tasks you set for yourself.

So move the stuff you didn’t get to. Just as long as you get it done.

And My Big Secret?

I don’t multitask.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?

Yeah, I know. People usually act like multitasking is the way to go. Especially if you have as many and as varied goals as I do.

But here’s the thing. No one actually multitasks.

You’re just rapidly switching your focus from one thing to the next thing.

As I’m sitting here, I’m writing this post without looking at my twitter. When I’m doing my social networking stuff, I don’t do it while watching T.V. When I am doing something to relax, I try to do so without bringing “work” along. Unless you count crafting as work. But that’s a whole other story.

Point is: If I’m at task number 1, I focus on that task until it’s done, or until I take a break.

And then I focus on the next thing.

And the next thing.

And the next.

Why?

Because when I’m focusing, I’m making fewer mistakes. And I actually speed up. Because I don’t even have the smallest moment of thinking “what did I want to do here again?”

And so, things get done one little step at a time. And then at the end of the month, I take stock and actually realize how much I have achieved.

What about you? Are you a multitasker? Do you have a system for getting everything done? What tips do you have? 

Insecure Writer’s Support Group

For those of you unfamiliar with the Insecure Writer’s Support Group… A couple of hundred writers from around the blogosphere have signed up to this bloghop, which is hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Then, on the first Wednesday of every month, we share our insecurities and/or encouragements.

This month, I’m co-hosting the IWSG Bloghop along with LK Hill, Juneta Key, Christy, and Joylene Butler.
Before I get into my post, though, I just have two more spots of admin to get through.
First, I’m also visiting Ronel Janesen van Vuuren today, sharing some of my thoughts on Patreon.
Then, if you’d rather read this exact same post on Blogger, please click here.
Right. Now that’s done, let’s get into it, shall we?
As you may or may not know, I’ve recently started taking this being-a-writer thing seriously. Like… really really seriously.
Like… I’m-being-a-writer-for-90%-of-my-time-and-using-my-writing-skills-to-earn-99%-of-my-income seriously.
And how’s it going?
Surprisingly well, money wise. I basically started from scratch in September. And in January, I’ve made my country’s minimum wage for the first time.
Which is AMAZE-BALLS. You guys can’t imagine how happy I am with that.
Except.
Most of that money’s coming from me freelancing as an editor/formatter/cover designer (which I totally see as writing skills, because all of the above are needed for me to make it as a writer.)
Not so much from selling books.
But that’s okay, because I always knew I should start of making money as I can and spending money on marketing etc for my books in order to grow my readership.
Here’s the thing, though… Growing my readership will actually happen when I have my next book out. Which I can’t get to when my freelance list fills up out of nowhere.
And I can’t market my old books until I have them updated. Which some of you might now be chortling about, because I’ve been saying I’ll update the books since May last year. And the cause of the delay?
Newsletters. Website. I have no money to pay someone to design either, and because people are hiring me for a ton of stuff they don’t have time for, I don’t have the time to do either of those two myself.
And I can’t link to them unless I have them set up. So I can’t update my books to include the links.
See? One giant bowl of I-really-have-no-time spaghetti.
So now, I’m trying to make writing time, which is making me feel bad, because the whole reason why I decided to go full-time was that I WANTED TO HAVE TIME TO WRITE!
*gasp gasp gasp*
How do you deal with everything trying to steal your writing time? Any advice for me? 

Changing Things…

As you ladies and gents might or might not have picked up, I’ve been struggling to write. With my life as it is, I just found it difficult to almost impossible to sit down and focus on what should be going into my stories.

I have to say that I’m relieved to say that this is changing. Not my life. That’s pretty much stuck in hurry-up-and-wait mode until next month at least. However, changing my perspective into being more proactive about my writing career has made a huge difference to my ability to write.

More than that, it’s changing the way I look at a lot of things. Yes, my priorities still largely focus on getting the next book finished. But at the same time, I’m having to do things right now that will bring in enough money for me to publish in the future.

Which means I’m doing a lot of different things. Trying new things. This includes, you know, being more active on social networks. And setting up a WordPress version of this blog. Right now, I don’t think I’ll leave Blogger entirely to go over to WordPress, but a lot of my WordPress blogging friends kept saying that blogger swallows their comments and I just can’t have that.

It means changing the way I’ve been approaching my writing sessions. Usually, I basically sit down and write until a scene is finished. The problems to this method have been twofold.

First: I haven’t been in the right headspace to sit down for two to three hours on end. So I’ve been waiting for that to right itself because I wanted to sit for two or three hours to churn out a chapter.
Second: My scenes have become longer than anticipated. See, with The Vanished Knight and The Heir’s Choice I had a lot of 2k long scenes that I ended up combining in order to create longer chapters. I think my longest chapter is 7k long, but the average is about 4k. Book 3 is different. Maybe it’s because my point-of-view characters are simply closer together so I don’t have to jump between them as much, but at the moment, the average chapter is about 5k long. So now it’s not a matter of writing for two hours and having a finished scene. Actually having a finished planned section would probably take me an entire working day.

Which I don’t have available. Oh, you thought “being a full-time writer” meant having more time to write? Nope. Not yet, anyway.

So lately, I’ve decided to follow Cherie Reich‘s example and setting a time goal for my writing. Instead of setting a word count goal, she decides how much time she wants to devote to writing and then she sets a timer, which she races to write as much as she can.

I’ve adapted her method a little. She did away with her word-count goals. I can’t. I want to finish Book 3 this year. Which means I have to write between 1 and 2 thousand words every day. I have found, though, that timing myself means that I take about 90 minutes to write 1800 words. (So far, I break my writing into 5 and 10 minute sessions which I add up later.)

In other words, timing myself is speeding me up, which is good, because I don’t have enough hours in a day.

How are you doing? Have you tried timing your writing sessions?