NaNoWriMo Prep from a Pragmatist. Yep, that’d be me.

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NaNoWriMo starts on Sunday, and I’m using this week to prepare for it. The 50,000 word count for a singular work will be on top of my writing, which includes some editing and spec work this month as well. Knowing that my plate is going to be full (and then some) means that I have to plan in advance for an insanely busy next couple of weeks. I’ve been through this kind of writing crunch before, which means I know I can do it again.

Here’s some of the steps I take to plan for an insane month. Your mileage will vary, as your living arrangements and family life might be different than mine.

1.) Remove or reduce day-to-day decisions. What I wear, what I’m going to eat, when I need to pay bills, chores…these are some of the examples of day-to-day decisions that take up headspace. When I’m slammed, I do a lot of meal planning/crock pot recipes and set out my clothes the night before. Yes, this means I am wearing pants(1) this month. Though I work from home, these types of decisions can impact both my health and productivity, so planning these things ahead of time means I don’t have to think about it. Mind you, this includes household maintenance tasks like chores and laundry as well, which means I have to communicate and sort out responsibilities with my partner. I might use my Sunrise app as reminders, or program my alarm at the same time every day, too.

2.) Eliminate distractions(2). You’ll probably notice that I’ll either be on social media a lot less, or at certain times. I’ve got a dual monitor along with my phone, and I’ve been playing around with how and when I post. For this month, I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do, because maintaining it isn’t a huge priority for me for promotional purposes. However, there are other distractions that might occur. E-mails, phone calls, doorbells ringing… One of the digital solutions I use, is to schedule times when I respond and send out e-mails. I’ll sometimes be clear about when I expect to respond if a decision is required, too, because there is a tendency to expect one right away even when it’s not pressing. Of course, in some cases it is, but managing expectations for communication can go a long way to save time. I cannot stress the importance of sending clear e-mails enough, and I feel it is an art form. In addition to these tips, I’m shutting off my phone, wifi, as well as my second monitor.

3.) Plan downtime. This often gets missed, but it is hugely important. Often, I see people scheduling what they’re doing on the calendar. It is equally as important to schedule when you’re not doing anything, or when you need to take a break. This might include coffee and drinks with friends, or it might be to watch a movie or make dinner. I am also not going to sit for hours and hours at a time, because this isn’t healthy. Instead, I’m going to set up a schedule for the first week and then adjust from there. It also means, however, that I am planning for some flexibility and additional options for downtime than I might normally. Examples of mini-breaks range from origami to playing Tetris to taking a walk outside or stretching.

4.) Manage noise and song selections. Okay, so I’ve often mentioned how focused I am on sound. I have a pair of noise-canceling headphones, but I also have instrumental playlists set up on Pandora and my iTunes account. The other thing I do, when I’m in a heavy production month, is eliminate the amount of media that has words in them or, alternately, new words. I’ve listened to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radioplay a thousand times, for example, and it fades into the background for me. One app and browser that replicates coffee shop noise is Coffitivity, but honestly? Video game soundtracks are fantastic to listen to, because the compositions are interesting and I don’t visualize a scene

5.) Say No to Research. The story that I’m writing for this doesn’t require any research, other than a few questions that I’m clearing up ahead of time. Even if I did need to do some research… That rabbit hole can wait. It is a time sink to click on links and read more information, and while a normal (e.g. non-insane) work day might allow for a certain percentage of reading, a high word count month does not for me. Mind you, a high word count month is not sustainable all the time for obvious reasons, including the physical strain it can take on your hands and wrists, but cutting down on the time I’d normally spend reading means I’ll be a lot more focused on my manuscripts.

6.) Devise a Two-Month Business Plan. This is basic business planning 101 for me. By putting together a two month business plan, instead of a 30 day writing plan, I’m thinking above and beyond NaNoWriMo. Now, for me this is completely necessary. My plans incorporate smaller projects and larger initiatives that I am writing for other people and pursuing on spec. However, I am not just thinking about November, because if I focus solely on this month, then I’ll be completely unprepared for December. This technique circles back to eliminating distractions, and it means that I’ve got a foundation to work from the following month. I don’t expect to be married to next month’s business plan, mind you, but it removes any overlap so I don’t miss anything.

7.) Factor in Flexibility. Things are going to go wrong. I might run out of mac and cheese. I might get suckered into a doorstop novel. Brain might revolt and ooze out of my head. It could snow. Anyway, my point is that there a lot of things that might go wrong, and factoring in a disaster recovery plan for me helps keeps words flowing. However, there’s always that chance that I have to stop, and I need to know that’s okay. I got really sick one year, and that pretty much ended my ability to keep writing because I had medicine head for two weeks. I can still write, mind you, just not as much nor as good. I picked it back up after NaNoWriMo was over, so I still finished my initial goals, even if it took me a little longer.

8.) Outline, List, and Plot. When I know what I’m writing, I tend to write faster. Even if I don’t adhere to every aspect of an outline, coming up with a bucket of potential “up the stakes” possibilities, motivations, etc. and having that handy ahead of time is hugely useful for writing. Thus, I’ve explored possible options for this particular story by capturing them in a list of words I can leverage while I’m writing, or to further brainstorm and use those as a jumping off point. It’s a little bit like plotting, but it’s less tied to the specific story structure and more focused on aspects of a character or a scene. If I got REALLY crazy, I might put together word lists, but that sort of thing usually happens after for me, during the revision process as I refine.

…and that’s it! Those are some of the things I am doing to prepare for NaNoWriMo. To the word mines! With a large, bloody axe!

(1) Not wearing pants is so overrated. I keep this regulated to casual Fridays or slothy Sundays.
(2) My agency will be doing a month long series of posts, including an article from me about your writing workspace. I’ll be sharing more information as we proceed.

    Mood: La la la!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Thar be coffee
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Um. Sorry, yo.
    In My Ears: Beats for Studying playlist on Pandora
    Game Last Played: Diablo III
    Book Last Read: Um… Well, I’m starting Howl’s Moving Castle.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Once Upon a Time
    Latest Artistic Project: STILL EDITING.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.

My Number One Distraction from Writing is the Internet

The internet. Filled with webcomics, social media and news, its plethora of mini-games and interactive tools can sometimes distract me from getting a large word count out the door.

I find that as part of “creating my workspace” to get a lot of writing done, I can’t shut it off completely because I really like the notification feature when I get an “important” email. Instead I go invisible when wi-fi is available and I close my browser.

I know that the internet is my number one distraction because getting an email is like feeling a little ray of sunshine, like you used to feel when you had a pen pal when you were a kid. Although I have to admit that pen pals are much cooler, because you get “stuff.” There’s nothing like getting a physical, non-spammy letter or care package in the mail. Kind of like that scene in Harry Potter when the mail shows up. [Insert diatribe about how the world of Harry Potter might have been changed by the internet.]

Anyway, so part of this idea of finding space to write has evolved into setting aside blocks or chunks of non-internet usage and figuring out exactly what I use the internet for in my non-work hours to boost productivity. On the surface, it sounds a bit lame to be “scheduling” social time on the internet but it’s like that analogy of “get your homework done so you can get out and play.”

My personal belief is that it’s important for me to stay on top of social media for the day job and beyond. Some of social media for me is experimenting and playing around with the tools to see what might work for what I need it to do. It also allows me stay on top of how the internet is evolving because you never know where a new rival to Facebook might pop up. Either way, I can’t ignore my social media channels or do away with them completely, but limiting them is probably a good idea.

So to get more writing done in November for Nanowrimo, I know I’ll also need to go through my 1,398 emails and my 74 unread emails in the one account — should probably check my other accounts, too. Good thing this heated election will be over early November, because that will be one less thing I’ll be following that closely.

The more I think about ways to get off the internet, the more I realize (Delete.) how dependent I’ve become on internet communication. (Delete.)

Make that 72 unread emails and counting.

Where is Your Ideal Place to Write? Your Big Distractions?

One thing that I’ve noticed about writing, is that I sometimes need a particular place to write to get in the “zone.” On a good day, if I’m writing for about 8 hours, I can average 2,500 words per hour. Unfortunately, there are a few, physical distractions which either slow me down or suck my attention span away from writing and decrease my productivity. Television and other people (aka residual noise from neighbor kids, etc.) are two of those “physical” distractions.

Even if I’ve watched a movie a 1,000 times or can quote every line of Firefly, sometimes I’ll get sucked into my favorite parts of the show and whoosh! a half an hour goes by and I lost my train of thought. Other people can be distracting when a) I’m not expecting a screaming kid to come flying past our window or b) someone is super excited and they “have to just tell me that one thing.” (Okay, yeah I’m guilty of that.)

I’ve found that the first thing I need to do when setting aside or picking a space for me to write in, is to have a somewhat “closed” environment. An “open” environment is way too distracting for me because of all that residual noise, interruptions, or tendency to interrupt other people when an idea hits me. A “closed” environment like a desk in a small office that we’re beginning to create upstairs, putting on headphones, finding a quiet coffee shop, etc. definitely helps me increase my productivity and sends a signal to my writer’s brain that “Hey, writer! This is the time to sit down, shut up and write!”

So the first step in achieving my NaNoWriMo goal this year will be to set aside spaces for me to write. As I mentioned earlier, we’re creating an office (aka creative space) upstairs that somehow has to coincide with the Halloween party we’re having. There are a few places in town that I enjoy writing at depending upon whether or not I “need” wi-fi service, but the internet can be its own distraction. More on that tomorrow.

What about you? Where do you enjoy writing and what are your big distractions?

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

Miss Remington for Remington Typewriter The past couple of weeks I have the opportunity to revisit my personal goals that range from learning the open source graphics program to getting back in shape and finishing Argentum.

Like a lot of people I know, fall is the season to reorganize before the big winter. From last-minute “around the house” projects to ensuring the house is prepped for the cold (to avoid those skyrocketing heating bills) there is lots and lots to be done.

In the middle of figuring out where I am on my “to do” list and my goals, I realized that in order to reach a goal — you have to be prepared to meet that goal by getting your proverbial house in order. The biggest barrier to completing any project for me is not time — but how that time is used. Many of my friends and I have been talking about finding that balance between work and play which is really challenging if you’re creative. Sometimes, you just can’t stop working on a project or other times — you just can’t stop having fun. We realized that a work-life balance is not an ideal, but something we can make a reality provided we clear out our closets and sweep our basements of all those pesky little tasks that have been piling up for months.

Over the course of October, in addition to my other blog posts I’d like to get a little more personal and share with you how I’m getting organized for National Novel Writing Month — the finish line (of course) would be a complete first draft of the first book in my Violet War series, Argentum.

I hope that you’ll join me in October, preparing your outlines and your schedule for NaNoWriMo in November. Let’s get to work!

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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