How to Write 50K Words During the NaNoWriMo Challenge.

This article was first posted on Writers Coop on Medium.com


NaNoWriMo is coming up in November and once again I feel the pull to participate. I am not affiliated to the organisation behind this global event but if you are thinking of joining this year, my experience may help you reach your goal.

I took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2017. To give you some idea of the excitement, this is what I posted on my blog and socials back then.

“Tonight is Halloween night and it’s also the last night before NaNoWrimo starts. Scary on both counts.
This is my first attempt at NaNo and I am super excited, but also terrified of the month ahead. Can I make it through the month and get to November 30 without going mental? Time will tell.”

So what is it all about?

By signing up you commit to a challenge to write 50K words during the month of November. Basically a small novel. A huge effort but it can be done.

This is how the NaNoWrimo website describes it:

“National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, empowering approach to creative writing. The challenge: draft an entire novel in just one month. Why do it? For 30 wild, exciting, surprising days, you get to silence your inner critic, let your imagination take over, and just create!”

Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

I finished the 50K words by the end November. It was tough, exhausting, and exhilarating. I enjoyed every moment and made lifelong writing friends.

I went from a novice writer to finishing the first draft of my novel. It was mind-blowing to me. I was on a high for all of December. As a newbie, I wrongly thought I had made it. The novel was done, right? No, we all know that is never the truth. Our first draft is us telling the story to ourselves. After that comes months, sometimes years, of editing.

But I accomplished the NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words in one month, and that was a tremendous leap for me as a writer.

How did I do it?

For me, it was a case of four key factors:

Commitment

For my whole life, I had wanted to write and finish a novel. I had started so many ideas. I had filled my notebooks and folders on my computer with half written stories but never followed through. Somehow, I always reached a stumbling block. Often wrote myself into a hole. Or life just took over and threw challenges at me that didn’t leave me time or creative space in my mind to continue. Divorcing and becoming a single mum left me little energy for anything else. My girls were my priority. At one stage when they were in primary school, I did an online course in ‘Writing Children’s Books’. I wrote at night when they were in bed and read my story to them the night after. ‘The Adventures of Wozzie Wombat.’ They loved it. Again, life took over, and we moved to Sydney where full-time work and motherhood left little space. Wozzie Wombat got put to sleep.

By 2017 when I again announced my dream to write a novel to my then much older girls, they both said to me ‘Mum, stop talking about it, just do it.’ That was the best writing advice I have ever received.

Combined with my stubbornness to do it this time, to prove to them I was more than just talk, I started writing.

The year flew and by September, I needed a miracle to finish. That miracle was NaNoWrimo.

I enrolled, determined to get over the finish line. There was no way I was letting myself or my girls down. I wanted them to be proud of their mum and to show them when you want something bad enough, you can do it.

Planning

My day job is planning. That means lots of analysis, spreadsheets, and a need to plan the weeks to ensure I execute the monthly workflow when needed.

As a writer I am a very much a pantzer. I love letting my imagination take me where the story needs to go. Very little planning. At least in the first draft.

But for NaNoWriMo I needed my planning skills. I had to device a solid plan that would get me there. The week before commencing the giant task, I sat down and devised my plan in a simple spreadsheet with five columns.

My Nano Tracker. Screenshot of Canva Image of Excel generated by Sal Gallaher

At the end of each session, I would update the word count to make sure I was tracking ok. If I fell behind, I made myself make it up over the weekend.

Writing

That’s an easy one, right? But when I say writing, I mean writing with no editing. That is hard for many writers, but you just do not have the time to go over your work and still get the words down. No time for perfection. At least not for me with a full-time job and only writing after hours and on weekends.

I would start each session by reading the last sentence. Nothing more. Then just go straight into writing the next scene. Never once did I allow myself to go back and check grammar or sentence structure.

The daily routine amazed me. Many a night I felt tired and would normally not have sat down to write. But I realised the mere act of sitting in front of my laptop somehow brought the muse to me every time.

Connecting

For me, it was essential to join other writers on the same NaNoWriMo journey. The organisers behind it made it so easy to join groups online and to chat to other writers. We would find writing buddies and after each session would upload our word count online after and cheer each other on. The little messages each day were so motivational and I looked forward to logging into the site after finishing my writing.

I also joined real live events at our local library once a week where we would spend part of the time speed writing and last part chatting about our struggles and accomplishments.

Both online and real live events made me feel part of something bigger and pushed me across the line.

Some of these people are still in my social groups online and we touch base from time to time and talk writing and bookish stuff.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

After NaNoWriMo

For me NaNoWriMo was a fundamental change. The draft I finished has been polished and changed since, and I am now querying with agents and hope to find a home for it. You can read the synopsis for my novel in this article.

I loved being part of the NaNoWriMo challenge and would highly recommend it to anyone needing a bit of motivation and a solid push to get to ‘THE END’.

With my 2nd manuscript at its early stages, a small part of me wants to join this year’s event. Maybe I will. It is a big commitment and I’m still weighing up whether I have the time and can prioritise a full month to it.

I hope you find my tips useful.

Would love to hear from other writers who have been part of NaNoWriMo or maybe you are joining this year?

Thanks for reading till the end.

Please support my writing by donating towards my coffee expense here

New short story – Deadly Destination

Photo by Baskin Creative Studios on Pexels.com

I’m super thrilled to be part of another FAW anthology. My third so far. The first two are available via the FAW festival website, https://www.writersunleashed.com.au/store.

I again teamed up with a writing buddy and we have both worked on our short stories over the last couple of months.

Deadly Destination, started as a short 500 word story a couple of years ago and has now expanded into 2100 word.

It’s currently with the editor for a structural edit before the final copy edit.

This is always an exciting process to be part of; to see the book of stories take shape and to work with other writers on the project.

Here is a snippet of the first section to whet your appetite.

‘For a very long time, it lay silent, frozen in time and in structure. Hidden from civilisation beneath the cold ice, covered in layers of bone chilling snow. Its weapon was harmless. Unable to kill. A frozen assassin.

    Years of changing weather patterns altered the killer. Like a hibernating bear, the deadly bacteria stretched and yawned back to life. Sneaking out. Leaking to the surface, looking for sustenance. A pale green living mass slithering across the icy surface, seeking, hunting, devouring any living being in exchange of energy. It’s simple brain realising with deadly clarity it could no longer stay frozen. To continue living, it needed to thaw and live above the surface. Global climate changes were its saviour.

    Deep in the Canadian glacial mountains, where only few humans would venture, it started its roar, building strength from every tiny frozen bacterial cell and slowly morphing into a living, multiplying green surface slime. A killer of all life on earth.’

I can’t wait to see the final result when this anthology is launched. One of the many benefits of being part of a writers’ group.

HOW TO LIVE WITH FEAR AND BE OK

Do you experience that gripping feeling of fear that you can’t explain? Do you feel that heaviness and need to cry for no reason in the early hours of the morning when many of us are often alone. The world and the day’s business not yet distracting our thoughts and our fears.

I think many of us have experienced it, especially over the last 18 months.

It’s hard to block out the daily news of another lockdown, another virus strain, the tally of cases and deaths on top of the rest of the ‘normal’ bad news from around the world.
I have heard so many utter ‘will it ever end’, and understand how hard it can be to stay positive when there is so much uncertainty surrounding us all. In addition, the normal support and human contact with our family and friends taken away from us just adds the to enormity of the problems in our troubled minds.

But one thing will always be there. 

We always control our reaction. We can choose to curl up and give up, or we can choose to accept and make the most of what life throws at us.

I know, not always easy. 

Keep reading for some things that I do to help me stay calm and be in control of my reaction. 

JOURNALLING

Writing your thoughts and feelings down gets them out of your head and frees your mind up to be still and see any issue in a new light. Writing doesn’t give us a solution, but it helps. The old ‘problem shared problem halved’ is so true. Keep a notebook handy next to your bed for those mornings or nights when you feel anxious.

CONNECTING

Staying in regular contact with family and friends either via online, phone calls or in person if allowed. This is important for anybody living by themselves like me. You also may never know when your call may be just what the other person needs that day. Reach out. We all need to feel connected. It’s a human basic need, not a sign of weakness.

EXERCISE

Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins and triggers a happy feeling. Get yourself moving!

If you can’t get outside or to a gym, just do what you can inside. Put the music up high and dance. Do a yoga session. Get some cans out and do weights. Walk around your place. There is so much inspiration available online, just tap into it and get moving. 

If you can get outside, go for a daily walk or a bike ride. If you’re lucky enough to live near a beach, even better. The fresh air and sunshine will do your body and mind wonders. 

When Covid first hit and I had to work from home, I started a regular daily yoga routine. I have had no back issues since. I feel strong and it soothes my mind.

HOBBIES

Take time out for your existing hobbies or start new ones. Spending time on what you love doing is the best mood enhancer. 

I love being creative. My passions are writing and taking photos. 

Emerging myself in a fiction story is a wonderful way to escape the real world for just a few hours. I can bring characters and events to life with my imagination. 

Taking photos requires me to look at everything around me. My lens acts like a child’s eye, taking delight in the smallest details; a bright flower, rain drops on a branch, reflections in a rock pool, the shape of a cloud. 

HEALTHY EATING

What we put into our bodies affects both our physical and mental being. We all indulge, but I know if I eat too much chocolate or drink too much coffee, my brain gets that fuzzy feeling. It slows down and my body feels sluggish. But when I eat well, not only do I feel good about myself, my body also responds with additional energy. My problems and daily tasks no longer enormous obstacles. 

As long as I eat healthy most of the time, I can have the odd indulge. My body and mind are strong enough to accept that sometimes I just feel like chocolate and that is ok.

ACCEPTANCE

So much in life we have no control over. Especially now. 

But we can choose to accept our situation and we can control our reaction to it. 

I am a firm believer that we are all where we need to be at any moment in life. 

That does not mean we have to always just accept like a doormat. If we want change, then we can choose to change our lives. But if we do not have that control, we can accept and choose to be ok with our current situation. To still feel joy in some part of our lives. Maybe as simple as watching the rain outside dropping on the plants still living. Maybe it’s watching a good movie on Netflix, reading a brilliant book, preparing an enjoyable meal. So many simple things in life can bring us happiness. We just have to focus a little harder sometimes.

I hope, wherever you are and whatever your situation, this post has given you some helpful tips.

Stay safe and keep yourself well in body and mind. 

The Xmas Card

Photo by Danish photographer Rene Asmussen – https://www.pexels.com/@reneasmussen

Anna sat down to write on the multi coloured Christmas card she had spent over an hour selecting in the David Jones Xmas section. Baby animals jumping around the well known portly man in his red suit filled the front of the card. Anna was sure her new grandson would love it. Her first grandchild.

‘Dear Jacob’, Anna started, imagining her daughter reading out the words to the young baby who’s age was still being counted in weeks and days.

Anna wanted the card to be special. It was going to be Jacob’s first Christmas. She would much prefer to be there, to hold him tight and whisper ‘Merry Christmas my little one’ into his ear, but it was not to be this time.

She stared at the blank inside of the card. The words did not flow. Instead, wet giant silent tears formed and trickled down her cheek. Images of Jacob from the many photos and videos her daughter Lilly had sent rolled in front of her eyes. This tiny human that she had yet to meet in person had already taken up a massive chunk of her heart. He was not her own baby, but the feelings she felt for him seemed as strong as her feelings were for Lilly. It had taken Anna by surprise, and memories of holding her own babies had come flooding back. She longed to hold this baby, but it was too dangerous to travel just yet with the pandemic still raging.

She wiped her cheek and pushed the chair back, making it almost fall over. The heat in her chest spread like wildfire across her body, causing knots in her throat and redness in her cheeks. 

Damn flushes. Not now!!

Anna couldn’t control the tears or the hot flush, and raced to the bathroom, stripped down naked into the shower of welcoming cool water. While the tears flowed down her cheeks the tightness in her chest and throat eased. The roughness of the towel drying her body felt comforting.

She walked back into the kitchen and made herself a cool drink from the fresh mint leaves and soda, then pulled out the old family photo album.

Pictures of happy faces over the years, sleeping babies, birthday parties and picnics. And many Christmas’s; silver and gold adorned trees, tables laded with turkey and glazed ham, steaming pudding full of rich marinated fruit and warm creamy custard. 

Christmas in so many locations, most years in their old red brick home. But also the occasional Christmas spent abroad in the cold northern winter with snow and darkness outside, and smells of vanilla cookies, roast pork and pine needles inside. Other times with friends up north in the blistering heat, everyone in swimmers in the backyard under the tarp thrown over the Hills-hoist, and the kids playing with their water guns soaking wet and laughing.

So many memories in the photo album, but also in Anna’s heart and she knew in her children’s heart. No Christmas had ever been a sad event for the little ones, even if the adults had had their own problems to deal with. For the kids, every Christmas had always meant good times and lots of presents. 

Jacob would have many more Christmas days, and Anna knew she would celebrate with him one day. His parents would be with him this year. It would be their new little family Christmas. Their time to start their very own mesh of old and new family traditions filling albums of happy memories.

Anna sat down to write.

Dear Jacob,

You don’t know me yet, but you will soon. I am your Grandma from Sydney, where our Christmas is in summer, and the sun shines almost every day. We will meet one day, and I will read Australian books to you, and show you pictures from your mum’s homeland. Maybe one day you can visit me, and I can take you to places I am sure you will love; giant beaches and bays, shady bush lands with enormous trees reaching right up to the clouds, and so many wonderful animals that will make you squeal with delight.

Till we meet my love, I welcome you to life, and hope you have a wonderful blessed Christmas with your very own mum and dad.

Love Grandma xxx

Thoughts and Ramblings on Covid-19 -Anzac Day

 

Today is Anzac day in Australia.

People normally gather in the suburbs, in parks or near beaches to honour the many soldiers that have fought for our freedom, and there is an official parade in the city.

Not this year. Due to the restrictions we could not do this. Instead, the government urged people to honour a minute’s silence at dawn by lighting a candle and stand in their driveway or on their balconies.

This morning I woke at 5.50am with no alarm. My spirit wanted to join in and feel the connection in spite of us all being apart.

I put on my gym jacket over my pjs and made my way out on my balcony. It was still dark outside but I noticed quite a few lights out on the street and on balconies across from me.

As 6 o’clock ticked over the distant sound of the bugle playing announced the time to remember and take a moment of silence. It was both eerie and very special. I felt proud to call Australia home.

As the sun rose the only sound I could hear was the birds chirping. I breathed in the fresh air and decided now would be an excellent time to follow with a Yin yoga session. To breathe, to reflect and to look inwards.

After 30 minutes of stretching and holding poses I never thought I could do just 5 weeks ago, I watched the sky turn a bright blue. It was a beautiful autumn day, and today yoga was not enough. A brisk walk was what I needed after a week working from home, and I put on my shoes and cap and ventured out.

A walk in my neighbourhood full of bright sunshine, blue sky and trees adorned with amazing autumn colours.

What a special way to celebrate Anzac Day.

Wishing you a wonderful day wherever you are.

Stay safe and keep washing your hands.

The Tale of Old Silverback

🔥🔥 HOT OFF THE PRESS 🔥🔥

“King of the forest, old Silverback, fell down with a thump on the soft mulch-littered ground, and the whole forest held their breath. They realised something was wrong.”

A teaser for my children’s short story which I am SUPER excited to announce is now finally available in print as part of the Sutherland FAW anthology Webs of Life; a collection of short stories written by the many talented writers in the group.

It has taken several months of planning and organizing, and we can’t wait to officially launch the book at our Writers Unleashed festival on Saturday 17th August at Gymea Tradies in Sydney.

Also had my first taste of a writer’s reading yesterday. My workplace organised a BBQ and had me read the story. Was nerve racking and exciting at the same time. Happy to say the story was well received with lots of laughter and congratulations from everyone.

Enjoyed sharing that part of my life with my colleagues. To work at a place that encourages and supports employees in a life outside of work is heart-warming.

I’m feeling a bit more like a real writer today and it feels damn good.

If you would like a copy please DM me. Pre-orders before the festival at a discounted rate of $12 plus postage.

Deadly Destination

 

train into fog

For centuries it had been frozen in time and in structure. Hidden from civilisation beneath the cold ice; covered in layers of bone chilling snow. Its weapon harmless. Unable to kill. A frozen assassin.

Global warming slowly changed the killer.  Like a hibernating bear, the deadly bacteria stretched and yawned back to life. Slowly leaking out. Coming to the surface. Hungry. Deep in the Canadian mountains it started its roar.

~~~

The train left the station every carriage filled with hundreds of tourists dressed in hiking gear, expensive camera’s adorning their necks and carrying heavy backpacks. The buzz and excitement permeated every part of the train. Strangers connecting over maps and old travel stories.

It was Linda and Paul’s first hiking trip. They kept to themselves; cocooned in their bubble of young passion and excited about their future life together. Paul touched his shirt pocket for the hundredth time. The tiny box still there containing a dainty ring with the most expensive pink diamond he could afford on his meagre intern salary.

Linda looked pale. Paler than usual. Her long dark hair contrasting her porcelain skin. She had wanted to stay in bed that morning, but she couldn’t disappoint Paul.

The train slowed down, stopping at the last station before the climb up the steep mountain covered in an eery fog making it impossible to see to the top. Like it had disappeared. Hiding something.

‘Last stop. A ten minute break for anyone who wants to stretch or grab a snack at the station cafe,’ the voice came over the loudspeaker.

‘Let’s hop off. I need to pee’ Linda urged, feeling the wave of nausea that had plagued her for the last few days.

They jumped off holding hands and made their way to the far end of the platform. Paul noticed Linda shaking.

‘You don’t look well, Linda?’ concern written all over his young face. She just made it into the cubicle, head spinning when her insides rushed up her throat into the rust coloured toilet bowl.

‘Are you ok?’ she heard Paul’s voice outside.

When she didn’t answer he barged into the cubicle.

She looked up at him. The realisation hit. Late period!

Paul took off his neck tie, wet it under the tap and wiped her face covered in perspiration.

‘I think I might be pregnant Paul,’ Linda said quietly.

‘Oh My God! Yes!’ Paul hugged her as they sat huddled on the grimy bathroom tiles oblivious to the ear piercing sound of the train whistle.

~~~

‘A trip of a lifetime missed by 1 second, but two lives saved ‘ according to the evening news read by a grim faced reporter.

‘A tourist train met with a deadly destination today. SOS signals from the driver at 11am sent rescue teams to investigate. No survivors except a young couple who missed re-boarding at Trinytie. All carriages covered in unidentified pus. Cause of death unknown.’

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