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5 Tips for First-time NaNoWriMo Writers

I first heard about NaNoWriMo a few years ago. I had to keep asking the person who told me about it to say the name of it – the word being so unfamiliar to my ear. Na-No-Wri-Mo; the abbreviated version of “National Novel Writing Month” where the goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November.

Fall is a very busy time for me in my job so it is usually mid-November before I realize that NaNoWriMo is happening and much too late to join. This year I made the decision to do the challenge a few days before it started. I had no outline when I started just the name and occupation of my main character.

I chose to write a mystery because I love reading them and wanted to try to write one. It is very difficult to write a mystery  without an outline which I found when I got to 25,000 words and didn’t know where to go with the story. I had to take time to figure out where to go with the plot before I could continue writing.

One of the reasons that I wanted to do this is that I have another book in progress that I have become stalled on. I thought by writing 50,000 words I would get my writing mojo back. The older we get the more critical we become of ourselves and I had convinced myself that I couldn’t write because I never studied writing in school; had not been paid for my writing; and many other versions of this same line of critical self-talk.

NaNoWriMo urges you to share your writing goal with others to receive encouragement  and solidify the writing commitment that you have  made for yourself.  You may encounter some resistance from friends who too have aspirations to write but who have not fallen through with the dream. When you boldly declare your participation in NaNo, they may make some limiting comments.  Luckily, your fellow NaNo writers will cheer you on as well as writing buddies that you find along the way.

NaNoWriMo also has volunteer MLs who coordinate write-ins and other community events to help keep you motivated during the month. I didn’t attend any of these because my greatest challenge was lack of time and couldn’t afford any additional time to go to these events.

As a first-time NaNoWriMo participant, I wanted to share with you some tips that I learned  along the way.

Time

I learned that you can make time for things that you want to do. I started off writing between 8:30 – 10:30 pm each night after I had finished making dinner and cleaning up. I couldn’t sustain this because it was cutting into my sleep. After writing for two-hour chunks to achieve my daily goal of 1,667 words/day (50,000 divided by 30), my mind would be too alert to fall asleep right away.

After the first week, I found I could make progress towards my daily writing  goal by writing for several 30-minutes writing sprees throughout the day. By limiting my time on social media and TV watching, I had no problem finding time most days.

Write every day even when you think it won’t make a difference because it does. Writing is like dieting, you don’t think that saying “no” to a cookie will make a difference when you are trying to lose 20 lbs but multiple times of saying ” no” will. Just do it.

Life

On the first Friday of NaNoWriMo and exhausted from my work week, I decided to give myself a break and didn’t write. This was a huge mistake because it was difficult to get caught up and make up the additional 1,667 words. It would have been wiser to shoot for a higher daily goal to build in a cushion for days when I had other things going on and had less available time for writing.

On the night of the US elections, I tried to write but only managed a couple of hundred words. I was so discouraged by the short sightedness of some Americans in voting in a narcissist, racist as their President  that I could not write. It took a few days to come out of this funk and I am sure the writing that I did during this time was not very good.

One night, we had friends over for dinner and we had two early Christmas parties in November which limited my writing time on those days. On the last Sunday of the challenge I had to get caught up by writing 5,000 words or I would not make the November 30th deadline.

I wrote 6,000 words which allowed me to get caught up and I finished strongly one day ahead.  I had never written 6,000 words at once and wasn’t sure that I could so I wanted to share with you how I did this. I would decide what I was going to write – like a scene in a movie and would write for one hour. Then, I would take a break for an hour and do something else like vacuum or do the dishes.  (Housework was a victim of NaNoWriMo.)  I continued this process of alternating one hour of writing with one hour of something else until I reached 6,000 words. By breaking it up like this, it did not seem too difficult.

Editing

Letting go of the desire to edit as I wrote and correct typos was one of the hardest things to do. It was freeing to simply let the words flow without self editing which slowed me down and interrupted the creative process.

I wrote a lot of dialogue in the novel which required me to step aside and let the characters reveal themselves. I loved this part and am looking forward to adding some more depth to the characters in my first edit of the draft.

Giving yourself permission to not have it perfect the first time is very liberating.

Technology

Once I started writing in half-hour chunks it became necessary to find a way to do this easily. I had been writing in Word on our desktop computer at home but this became limiting trying to work around my husband’s use of the computer. I also encountered a sticky keyboard three times. The first time it happened, the “w” key became stuck and  wrote line after line of “w’s” across my Word document.  It happened a second time with the letter “u”  a few days later so I bought  a can of pressurized duster spray to clean the keyboard.

The third and final incident happened when the “delete” key got stuck; this was the last straw. I lost an entire page before I could get it to stop. I decided to import my document into Google docs so I could work on it remotely.

I had not used Google docs much before so it took a little while to figure it out but it proved very easy to use and the best part was that it saved the document as I typed. Beautiful. It also had a word count feature which was very important for updating my word count in the NaNoWriMo dashboard.

The NaNoWriMo dashboard and stats were great motivators. It helped me churn out a few hundred more words when I was tired and wanted to stop.

NaNoWriMo Stats | www.holisticsailor.com
Final stats from #NaNoWriMo2016

Supporting Others

The NaNoWriMo community is wonderfully supportive. My treat after accomplishing my daily writing goal was to go on Twitter and seek out other NaNo writers to give them encouragement. I received the same support in return.

Volunteer writers provided useful tips in online forums and in articles making the experience educational as well.

I had a wonderful first-time experience participating in NanNoWriMo and am planning to participate again next year. it was the impetus that I needed to get writing again.   Here are my five tips for someone planning to participate in NaNoWriMo.

  1. Declare your intention to participate to those who will support you. Ignore the naysayers.
  2. Decide what you are going to write about an create an outline before November 1st.
  3. Google docs was a great writing tool for me and you can adjust the settings to access the document while offline.
  4. Write every day. Fifty thousand words seems like an impossible goal to achieve when you are writing 1,667 word a day but it all adds up. Habits are developed after 30 days so after you complete NaNoWriMo you can easily continue to work on your novel.
  5. And the best advice that I can give someone contemplating participating in NaNoWriMo is to just do it. We don’t have forever to achieve our goals, so get going. The satisfaction in achieving this challenge is very motivating.

 

The Loss of Critical Thinking

In the lobby of where we meet for a weekly meditation group were two flipcharts. In bright marker, one posed the question, “What on earth makes you give thanks?” and the other asked, “What on earth makes your heart cry?” Thoughts of cats and dogs and walks in nature came to mind for the happy flipchart and sure enough as I got closer, these answers were prominently written with a little happy face after the word, “dogs.”

I stepped closer to the sad flipchart and in the top left-hand corner were two words, “US elections” followed by “Trump” and then “Trump and Hillary”. How could an election make someone’s heart cry? A democratic election celebrates freedom and our ability to have a voice even if it is a small voice in voting in our political leaders.

The Loss of Critical Thinking | www.holisticsailor.com

Before going any further, I have to qualify that I live in Canada so these elections really shouldn’t concern me, but they do and they obviously are affecting others as evidenced on this flipchart. As our economies become increasing global and our lives intertwined through the ease of social media, the reality that we are all one is difficult to deny.

I am trying to understand how a democratic nation became so polarized.  I want to understand how in this day of freely available information available literally at your fingertips, that some people believe that a 69-year old woman cannot make rational decisions because of hormones.  I want to understand  how you can rationalize that it is alright for a famous person to sexually assault a woman. I want to know if that woman was your sister or mother or friend, would you feel differently about this. I want to understand this so we can avoid this happening in Canada.

Where is your critical thinking America?

Why are you not questioning what you are reading and watching on TV? How is it that you will believe the lies of a reality TV star over the reports of a journalist? Okay wait, some of them are reality TV stars too, but what about the ones who actually studied journalism in school and learned how to fact-check and present a balanced story? And if you don’t agree with their journalistic message, would you not take the time to research the facts for yourself instead of concluding that they are working for the other side or that it is rigged.  And please note, Facebook is a not a news agency with journalists and stuff.

You are so immersed in this, perhaps you can’t see it but I have to tell you, we are wondering what you folks are smoking down there because it sure seems a bit delusional.

I had trouble sleeping after the second debate. The disrespect shown by Mr. Trump to Secretary Clinton was astonishing. On that fact alone, I don’t how a person could vote for him. If a candidate I was planning to vote for talked that disrespectfully to someone, they would lose my vote. What I hear is that you distrust the current administration so much that anything looks better. Shame on both parties for creating a political cesspool that makes a lying, misogynist look like a good candidate.

I remember watching the last elections and being so proud of you for voting in your first Black President only to see that his first task in office was dealing with the near collapse of Wall Street. What a heck of a way to start a new job. The guy that left the job must have been relieved that he got out just in time.

I am really trying to make sense of this lunacy that seems to be running through your country and am wondering if there is an epidemic of pre-Zombie craziness afoot because some of your are acting without reason.

The propaganda coming out of Mr. Trump’s mouth is so foul that I can’t help but think that this is a classic struggle between good and evil, darkness and light; Batgirl and the Joker. And then I realized that it is all energy. Passion converted into words and T-shirts and angry sides each convinced that they are right. But there is a difference. This is not reality TV; this is real life.

The “Good” tend to have a passive voice and perhaps thought that this would work itself out and Mr. Trump would never get this far. The “good” are now off their yoga mats and mustering their strong voices because you have picked at the loose thread hanging from the Statute of Liberty’s robe and can’t stop playing with it. You are going to unravel her completely if you keep this up!

Both candidates are in a place of influence and for Mr. Trump to use that influence to incite violence is reckless. Do you know, I was supposed to be in the US on a trip on November 8th but the trip has been postponed due to concerns over civil unrest? Civil unrest! In the United States of America! This is what others are thinking about you.  All of this bickering and manipulation of voters is not making America great; it is making you weak.

You have become desensitized to his crudeness but it is still shocking to my ears. Blindly following his calls for violence without pausing for a moment to check in with your own inner values to ask is this right? Is this true? Where is your critical thinking? When this is all over and you have some distance from the situation perhaps you will be embarrassed by the things that you have said and done. Perhaps not.

And I know that we gave you that Twitter pep talk but we would rather that you not came flooding our border if he gets in. The truth is that it has not always been easy being your neighbour. However, we share the same continent and are seriously worried about you.

So get off your butts – ask questions – think for your selves and make your vote count.

Good Enough

You’re moving along nicely in your life and out of the recesses of your mind comes this little voice that starts whispering terrible things about you. “Who do you think you are?” “You’re not smart enough” “Pretty enough.” “You’re not good enough.”

Where the hell does this voice come from?  It can’t be ego; it’s too busy walking around like a peacock in full feathers. Is there such a thing as the anti-ego who’s sole purpose is to destroy any sense of accomplishment that you have felt?

Is it perhaps a crueler version of imposter syndrome? It’ s one thing to think you are not as good as your colleagues and that someone is going to find you out, but it’s an entirely different game when your inner self – the self that you rely on to make big decisions – is telling you that you are a  loser.

Amy Poehler in her book, “Yes Please” refers to it as the “demon voice”. I don’t think we are born with it otherwise we would see toddlers running around wondering if their diapers made them look fat. They don’t seem to have a care in the world as long as their fed, loved and have warm, dry clothes on. And sleep. Those suckers need a lot of sleep. Hmmm, I could be speaking about my 55-year old self come to think of it. I like those things too but luckily – no diapers yet.

So it safe to assume that we learn this somewhere along the way because I am having a hard time believing that we are possessed by demonic voices. But Amy is correct in that it is a voice of some origin and it talks to you like a best friend but make no mistake, it is not your friend. This voice can turn your day around in an instant with self-doubt, fear and loathing even when you are not in Las Vegas.

Through competition we learn that in order for someone to win, someone else must lose.  I am not an overly competitive person.  I was never interested in board games where there was a winner and several losers. I was much more interested in games or activities where everyone was able to participate equally. I like to compete with myself and have expectations that with practice I will improve. I think this is confusing to people because when they see a person going after something with focus, they automatically assume that they are competitive.

So we still haven’t answered the question. Who is telling us that we are not good enough? Could it be from our desire to be liked and to fit in? Do we learn that it is safer to keep our thoughts to ourselves in order to avoid ridicule or exclusion from a group? Does this stifling of our true voice allow the negative voice to speak louder?

How can we stop the bully within? I know my internal bully can say some really nasty stuff sometimes. Does everyone have an internal bully that makes them question everything? If this is true, are we all just playing a part in an imaginary script? That seems pretty pointless and definitely not original. Should I get all bent out of shape worrying about what you may or may not think of me?

Where do I find balance between sensitivity to your feelings and the self confidence to not be influenced by your judgements of me? I know, you’re saying, “So many questions Tara, but where are the answers?”

Henri Nouwen quote | www.holisticsailor.comI think it comes down to self reflection and recognizing the spark of divine that lives inside. I like to think of it as a God spark: a little sprinkling of fairy dust if you will. When I become aware of the God spark in me, then I also have to recognize the God spark in you.

How do we get so numb and far away from this truth: anesthetized from our very existence? At some level, we know that we are missing something and try to fill this void with external things. They only leave us feeling more lost and mask the bright light within.

The way out of this cave is to find your own inner light and shine it like a big flashlight on others so that they too, might see the light within. Do not underestimate the power of your inner light in the middle of a dark room.

Facing Fear

I am standing on the side of Mount Fairview in Lake Louise, Alberta where I am working for the summer and am approximately half an hour from the summit. I am alone. The loose scree slides from underneath my hiking boot and tumbles down the steep slope that I have just climbed. My mind starts to race in continuing tighter circles until it strangles all reasoning. My legs start to tremble and tears stream down my sweaty face. I crumble, my legs no longer able to support my weight and I make myself as small as possible sobbing uncontrollably.

I stay like this for awhile until the adrenalin burns itself out of my system. Weakened by the experience, my rational mind slowly starts to take control of the space vacated by my fear and I assess my situation. I am by myself at 8,000 feet on the side of a mountain and I have just experienced debilitating fear. The sound of my own voice in the clear mountain air helps to calm me. “Breathe. You can do this.”

I am so close to the summit but the desire to reach the top has left me and all I want to do is be in the comfort of my dorm room at the resort. I told my co-workers where I was hiking today but this won’t help me in my current predicament. I will be embarrassed to tell them that I didn’t make it to the top; that I chickened out. Anger replaces my fear when I see the coward that lives inside me. Why can’t I be more brave like other people? “Breathe,” I say out loud again to the crisp mountain air. Anger is not helping.

My legs are still shaking and the thought of standing up on the steep trail is scaring the sh*t out of me. If I thought it was steep looking up the mountain, turning around to hike down is terrorizing. I start to slide down the scree trail from my crouched position. Less distance to fall I reason but from this crouched position, I have even less control of my movement. You can’t control scree; it is like walking on tiny marbles and it is best to not resist its motion.

I slowly bring myself to stand and when my legs have stopped shaking, I take a tentative step forward. See not so bad. I continue this way slowly back down the mountain until I reach the treeline. Once back on the regular trail my step is strong and I continue hiking the two hours back to the trailhead.

Fear – fear of falling, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of being alone, fear of speaking in public, fear of rejection. The list goes on. It seems there are just as many versions of fear as there are ways of being in the world. Fear can be all consuming as mine was on the side of Mount Fairview. It can paralyze you from doing things that you want to do. But where does it come from?

My Mom told me that when I was learning to walk, I didn’t want to let go of the coffee table. Was there an inherent tendency towards fear of trying something new or did I learn this along the way? When we are little, our families teach us about the things that we must be fearful of – don’t touch the stove, the strange dog, the stranger. We quickly learn that our environment is not safe. As we grow and gain more life experiences, our list of fears grows with us.

Many people falsely assume that I am a brave person from my experience of living aboard a sailboat for 10 1/2 years, but if I could take you back in time to the many scary experiences that I have had, you would see that I am capable of tremendous fear. Sailing has taught me a lot about facing fears.

The first step is to not resist the feeling. Fear is an emotion like any other except that it is hard-wired to the reptilian part of our brain that puts us into fight or flight mode. It is meant to save our life. Powerful stuff and no wonder that fear can leave us cowering in its presence, but it is an emotion with a beginning, a middle and an end. Accepting fear is the first step. The more you resist the feeling, the more it grows. Fear feeds fear.

Fear feeds fear | www.holisticsailor.com

When we first moved aboard our sailboat, I was fearful of everything. Wallowing deep in self pity, I envied other women who handled themselves with so much confidence wishing that I could be like them. This self berating did nothing to improve my confidence and despite my best efforts, I could not bully myself into feeling less fearful.   Finally, I recognized that the thing separating my fearful self from my confident self was knowledge and experience. I had to learn more about the boat – about sailing. The only way to do this was read, take courses and put some nautical miles under me.

In spite of doing all of these things, I still get scared – real scared, but the experience is different now. I can pull myself out of it quicker by knowing what to do. I no longer am ashamed of the feeling and instead tell my husband and fellow sailor when I am frightened so that he knows that my logical mind might not be functioning at full efficiency. The second step is to let it move through me. Fear is an emotion that is simply visiting. It will pass if I step out of its way and let it run its course.

Fear is an emotion that is simply visiting | www.holisticsailor.com

That experience on the side of Mount Fairview taught me a few things about helping fear move through my mind. The following questions helped me face my fears head on.

What is happening?

I’m scared. I am on the side of a mountain by myself and I am so scared that I can’t walk .

Is it real?

Yes.

Why do you feel this way?

I have never done this before. I could fall and kill myself.

What is the worst that can happen?

I am ahead of you on this one. See above.

What do you know to be true?

I am safe. I have strong legs and experience conditioned by kilometres of hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

What can you do to help yourself?

I can calm myself down and start working my way down the mountain.

Can you ask for help?

No. I am alone.

I am scared again. Okay mind ; BE QUIET! You are not helping here!

I am safe. I am strong. I can do this! I will do this.

 

Fear is uncomfortable but its avoidance can keep you from living a full life. Do we use fear as a crutch to not have to take responsibility for certain aspects of our lives? Or is it simply a result of wanting to control our environment and the people in it so that we are not faced with any unexpected situations?

Fear has no intelligence. - Lolly Daskal

Where does fear begin? I believe that fear begins in our mind. That day on Mount Fairview, I had hiked for hours without being frightened. What changed? My thoughts about what I was doing changed. Who controlled my thoughts? I did. There was no one shouting at me, “Hey, aren’t you scared?”

Our bodies undergo a physical response to the state of fear. Blood shunts away from our internal organs to our muscles to allow us to engage in either a fight or run away from danger. Even thinking about a fearful situation from our past can result in changes to our physiology. Living in a continuous state of fear is not good for our health. If you must revisit a scary situation, visualize it as an item stored in a suitcase, not a backpack. With the suitcase, every once in awhile you open it and observe the contents vs. a backpack which you carry on your back all day.

Becoming fearless isn't the point. That's impossible. It's learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it. - Veronica Roth

Well, I did revisit my fear of Mount Fairview – the very next day. And I was carrying a backpack full of a whole bunch of determination. The determination was to conquer my fear, not the mountain. When I reached the spot where I broke down in fear the day before, I said a little blessing and continued to the summit. The view was breathtaking. I was able to completely enjoy the moment and my accomplishment because I had conquered my fear.

Rock cairn, Mount Fairview | www.holisticsailor.com
Rock cairn, Mount Fairview, Lake Louise, Alberta

Please join us on Twitter on Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 9:00 am EST/6:00 am PST as we explore fear. Follow the hashtag #spiritchat to join the conversation.