NaNoWriMo Tips: What if I Need a Break?

Welcome to the third post of my NaNoWriMo tips series. For other tips in this series, as well as a schedule for future posts, take a look at the links below. Today’s tip and my discussion of it can be found immediately below the schedule.

Welcome to day 6 of your NaNoWriMo adventure. If you’ve been working on your story since day 1, you’ve almost reached a full week of writing a novel. That’s pretty exciting. Regardless of if you’ve written every single day or if you’ve only written here and there since the start of the month, there’s likely a question that’s crossed your mind.

When can I take a break?

There’s a short answer and a long answer to this question. The short answer can be summed up in a single sentence. Take a break when you need to, so long as you’re mindful of finishing your story1If that’s your goal, that is. Which I assume it is if you’re six days into NaNoWriMo..

The long answer is a bit more complex. First and foremost, life happens. There’s going to be things that come up that keep you from writing exactly when you want to every day that you want to. Maybe you have a doctor’s appointment, perhaps there’s a work engagement, or maybe there’s an extremely important election that you should totally go vote in if you’re in the USA2Hint. Hint.. There’s going to be things that cause you break your writing schedule whether you like it or not. This is part of why I wrote the post about the importance of using your weekends effectively before I wrote this post.

The deep, dark secret to writing, and in turn to winning NaNoWriMo, is that you must realize it’s a delicate balancing act. One on hand, you draw from experiences to help you write your book. Even if your book takes place in a fantasy world, little bits of you and people you know will work their way into characters in the book. It’s just what happens. Without that, books can become hollow and meaningless as you write them.

On the other hand, NaNoWriMo is likely not the most important thing in your life. Your mental and physical health should be your top priority, even if you really want to complete a project like NaNoWriMo. Taking a day or two off here or there isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the project. It may give you some time to develop a fresh perspective on a scene you’re stuck on, potentially helping to end a bout of writer’s block3I’ll talk more about writer’s block later in the month.. You might just need a break to get some much needed sleep or some real life responsibilities taken care of. It’s okay.

If you actively plan to build in rest or mental health days into NaNoWriMo, that’s fine. Just be sure to adjust your words per day pace accordingly. Every day you write zero words means that there’s 1,666 words that will need to be written at some other point in the month. Whether those are split up or all tackled in one day is up to you. Just don’t drive yourself crazy trying to write your story. Trust me. The story you’re telling may do that for you without your trying4We’ll talk about that too…Thursday..

Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.

Support my writing on Patreon by pledging at this link.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Taking Advantage of Your Weekends

Welcome to the second post of my NaNoWriMo tips series. For other tips in this series, as well as a schedule for future posts, take a look at the links below. Today’s tip and my discussion of it can be found immediately below the schedule.

Welcome to your first weekend of NaNoWriMo! I know it’s unexpected, considering the month just started, but that’s the way the calendar falls this year. I don’t make the rules. It’s just science5I mean, it’s kind of science. The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar and we do make adjustments like leap days to account for variance that occurs due to the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. With that said, calendars are not hard science. There have been a number of proposed reforms to the Gregorian calendar, not to mention some cultures that don’t use it. And don’t get me started on how weekends are actually a cultural creation, not a calendar driven one.. While the weekend is the time that most people kick back and relax after a long work week, weekends are a prime time for writers participating in NaNoWriMo to make some serious headway into their word count.

During my first NaNoWriMo, I was job hunting, so I didn’t utilize weekends all that differently than I did my weeks when it came to writing. That said, when I participated in 2015, I was working a full-time job that averaged 60-70 hours a week. Needless to say, having weekends to write became critical for me to finish on time. Here’s what my 2015 word count progression looked like.


As you can tell, I had quite a few writing bursts throughout the month, nearly all of which came on weekends. I averaged 1,142 words on work days in November of 2015 — which you may recognize as being well below the 1,666 word per day pace you need to hit 50,000. That said, my average weekend day word count was 2,854 words. If it wasn’t for utilizing my weekends effectively, I likely never would have finished my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel.

How exactly then do you use your weekends effectively as a NaNoWriMo noveler? While it certainly does differ a bit person to person, I have a few tips I think will be of benefit to those of you who are trying the project for the first time.

Use Your First Weekend to Plan Your Novel’s Path

As I shared in the first post in this series, I had short stories that I used as the basis for both my 2011 and 2015 NaNoWriMo works. While those stories gave me some basis as to what I wanted to do with those novels, there was so much more that I needed to plan out. What would the main plot of the novel look like? Are there side characters that need to be directly involved with the main character to advance my novel? How much research do I actually need to do in order for my novel to make sense6It’s both more and less than you’d think. Less during the NaNoWriMo period, more in the post-NaNoWriMo editing period.?

In both cases, I took part of my first weekend and spent a few hours plotting out what would happen to my main characters, my main conflict, and how I would get from the beginning of the story to the end. I’ve found that doing this was incredibly helpful for my consistency within the story, even if I wasn’t perfect in that regard. If you’re someone that had no pre-planning time before starting NaNoWriMo, this is a great use of part of your first weekend.

Even if you did pre-plan and pre-write, you can certainly use this time to take stock of how you’re doing in comparison to that planning. How’s your outline shaping up at this point? Are there characters that have come more (or less) integral to the story as you’ve written? Though you may not need to do additional planning, it’s still a nice place to have a checkpoint against your own expectations.

Just Write Without Editing or Researching

In what may well become somewhat of a theme in some of these posts, one of the most important things you can do with the extended free time of a weekend is to just write. Don’t worry about your story being perfect at this point. You need to get words on paper7This is in no way a pep talk to myself about my own work in progress. I have no idea what you’re talking about..

There are a ton of distractions that can keep you from writing. Let’s assume for a moment though that you’re great at avoiding distractions on the internet8Like this blog post. Get back to work after you leave me a comment., from friends and family around you, or even from your pets9Please pet your cat. They deserve it. My cat kept me sane during my first NaNoWriMo adventure.. There’s still a pair of potential major distractions that’ll keep you from writing — editing and researching.

The editing sinkhole is easy to fall into. You reread your last paragraph or two to get back into the flow of your story after using the restroom. You realize that one of your sentences sounds awkward. Suddenly, you’ve rewritten seven pages of your story and you’ve actually cut 800 words from your word count. Editing can come later. Get the story out first, then make it pretty.

While I feel like researching is a necessary step to writing a good quality story, just be careful while you’re looking up things as you write. Hank Green recently did a great video about his process to writing “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” wherein he talked about the importance to adding placeholders in your work when you need to research something. I can speak from experience when I say that adding placeholders I the easiest way to avoid a two-hour long trip down the rabbit hole on Wikipedia or TV Tropes.

Set Different, Larger Goals for Your Weekends

The goal of a consistent, steady 1,666 words per day every day in November sounds great, but is rarely realistic. You’ll have days where you’ll have hours on end to write, along with others where you may only get a couple of hundred words written down. Use your free weekends to set larger word count goals for yourself.

Maybe you want to get 5,000 words done on Saturday because you know you’re going to have a hectic week. Set that goal and try to reach it. I’ve talked to a couple of NaNoWriMo winners who used their weekends as ‘double days’, wherein they set a goal of 3,333 words each day, that way if there’s some reason they couldn’t write at all one weekday, they’d have it covered. However you go about setting that larger goal, using a weekend day to achieve it is an effective use of that non-work week time.

Schedule Writing Sprints…If That’s Your Thing

This last suggestion is going to be completely dependent on how you go about writing. Someone gave me this suggestion during each of my three NaNoWriMo attempts and I found that it did not work well for me. I’ll get into why in a moment. But for others, this is an amazing tip that can be really successful.

Writing sprints are short periods of time — usually 30-90 minutes in length — where you just sit and write as many words as you possibly can. They often done in stream of consciousness style (though not totally, as you’re still telling a story), with the intent of getting as much of your manuscript on paper as quickly as possible. Don’t worry about fixing anything at all at this point, even typos10Unless they’re particularly egregious.. Just write.

As I’ve evolved as a writer, this tactic has worked less and less for me. Because of the amount of effort I’ve put towards story continuity, even within NaNoWriMo, I’ve found that writing sprints stress me out more than they help me, causing me to get less done than I otherwise would have. I find that I do best if I have longer, uninterrupted periods of time where I’m not trying to rush as many words on the page as I can. With that said, if you’re concerned about word count, or if you really want to get your story out of your mind and onto the page, writing sprints are an amazing tool tactic to achieve this.

Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.

Support my writing on Patreon by pledging at this link.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Choosing Your Topic and Starting Your Novel

Happy November! It’s time for aspiring novelists everywhere to begin writing for NaNoWriMo11Well, maybe. We’ll talk about that more in a minute.. While you might have heard about NaNoWriMo — short for National Novel Writing Month — from others who have completed the project before, you’re new to this game. You might have an idea what you’re looking to write about and might just be looking for some guidance. It’s certainly possible that you have no clue what you want to write about. You just know that you’re writing a novel and you’re going to get it done.

I’m here to help you with that, aspiring NaNoWriMo winner. I’ve officially taken on NaNoWriMo three times (2011, 2012, and 2015) and used it as a month to generate a massive multi-departmental professional development designing spree on a couple of occasions (2013 and 2016). I’ve completed NaNoWriMo twice in my three attempts. My 2011 novel was a mainstream fiction book that focused on domestic violence committed against teens, while my 2015 novel was a dystopian sci-fi novel that explored the dangers of religion and partisan politics12This novel wasn’t foreboding at all……. Even though I’ve only been part of NaNoWriMo three times myself, I’ve helped give advice and guidance to a handful of folks who have taken on this arduous writing task over the years.

Over the course of November, I’ll be posting new blog posts on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays13There will be at least one bonus post on not these days. aimed at helping first time NaNoWriMo participants complete their goal of writing a 50,000 word story in November. These posts will generally be 750-1250 words, though today’s post will run a little longer due to this introduction. For those looking for my normal content, new posts will go up on Mondays as usual. You can find a list of the NaNoWriMo topics — as well as links to specific posts if you want to jump around — below. Links will be posted as they’re written.

There’s a dirty little secret that many NaNoWriMo writers have that first timers don’t know about. It’s that for many, NaNoWriMo is not solely this 50,000 word writing marathon. It’s a culmination of weeks (or months) of pre-writing, storyboarding, and other planning leading up to a massive writing project.

I didn’t know this the first time I took on NaNoWriMo. I was unemployed and looking for something to kill a lot of the free time I had between job interviews and applying for jobs. I had written a handful of short stories and wanted to turn one of them into a novel. I chose arguably the darkest story I had written to that point — one about a girl who had died from domestic violence, with the only memory of her being the fact that her killer left a pair of shoes at her grave each year — as my starting point for my story.

Choosing such a dark piece of subject matter for my first NaNoWriMo attempt was ill-advised for various reasons. It was not a topic I was well versed in, nor was it the story I enjoyed the most. What it was, however, was the story I felt had the most potential to make for a good novel. What led up to the events detailed in the short story? What if she had survived? What went through the mind of this woman before she died? These were all questions that I wanted to explore — and was woefully unprepared to handle tactfully or thoroughly.

With that all said, my first piece of advice would be to pick a story topic that you both want to talk about and would be really excited to tell the story of. That’s not to say you have to pick an idea to talk about. Maybe you have a really awesome character in mind and want to tell her/his/their story. Awesome. Do that. Perhaps you have this awesome setting for a high fantasy novel and would love to see how the people and creatures in that world live. Great. Go for it. If you do have a really dark topic that you want to talk about and are passionate about, take that chance too.

When I look back on my two successful NaNoWriMo attempts, I found that I started them both the same way. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to write about, a short story to go off of, and that’s it. Hell, the one year I did to pre-writing in October is the only year I didn’t finish (though that had nothing to do with the pre-writing…life just came up). The most important thing when starting your NaNoWriMo project is just that. Start writing.

I tend to frequent /r/nanowrimo as a lurker and one of the things that’s struck me the most is how many people think they need a fancy story planning program like Ulysses or Scrivner to write their first NaNoWriMo story. And sure, if you’ve been writing for years — maybe you’ve even written a novel before — but this is your first time doing NaNoWriMo, writing software could absolutely be helpful. That said, you definitely don’t need that to start. My 2011 story was completely written as WordPress posts14This is by far my favorite method. I love when people blog their NaNoWriMo stories so that I can follow long daily.. Both my 2015 story and the 2012 project15When I did end up working on it in early 2013. were both written in Microsoft Word. I’m writing my current work in progress in Google Docs. The first draft of two of the stories I wrote for my book were handwritten. Just get your story down and start working on it. You’ll be glad you did.

So then. What should you be trying to do in your first 4,000 or so words16I’m using this as a cut off as to complete 50,000 words, you’ll need to average 1,666 words a day. Considering the next post will come out on Saturday, I’m going to assume an eager writer may exceed that number slightly.? I’d recommend the following items in some order.

  • Introduce your main character(s) – If you’re going to be focusing on someone (or multiple someones throughout your story), get them involved early. To get your reader caring about your characters by the time the climax of your book hits, you need time to build that relationship.
  • Give some context to the story’s setting – This is particularly critical in high fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian literature. But even if you’re just telling a love story in a small town, the people and places your main characters will interact with help to define who they are.
  • Start planting the seeds for your story’s main conflict – To do this, I’d recommend setting the stage for what is normal for your main characters. A good story usually comes out of change from the normalcy a main character lives in. If you can define what a normal day in the life of your main characters is like, it will help make the events they have to overcome more impactful down the line.

Finally, if I haven’t reiterated this point enough yet, don’t be afraid to write. You will make mistakes during NaNoWriMo. You’re not going to be happy with something you write. You may have inconsistencies in your story or you might even change how you feel about the story as you’re writing it. These are all okay — and we’ll address those items in time throughout the months. But if you don’t start writing, your story can’t become a reality and you cannot improve as a writer. NaNoWriMo is a long process. Every journey starts with a single step.

Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.

Support my writing on Patreon by pledging at this link.

A Slight Bend in the Road

We interrupt your regularly scheduled posts about nothing to have a post about something. A novel concept isn’t it? And no, this isn’t a work in progress update. I’ll likely have my next one of those sometime in November17That’s my hope at least. We’ll see if that happens..

Over the past few months, I’ve intermittently lamented on Twitter how things aren’t exactly taking off for me. It’s a phenomenon I’ve faced before with my first book, as well as one I’m facing now both with my Patreon, as well as the editing services I offer. It’s frustrating to say the least. I feel like I promote the work I do pretty frequently on the limited social media I have. It’s to the point where I feel like I’m doing self-promotion too frequently, which has to be annoying as all hell to those who follow me.

So I took to Twitter looking for advice. How could I better use my blog to show off what I do? I’m wasn’t necessarily looking to make drastic changes before receiving advice, though I wasn’t opposed to the idea if it made sense at the time. My main goal, however, was to find out if people I interact with — be they other bloggers, readers of this blog, writers, or just people who give me good advice — thought making drastic changes to push my freelancing/Patreon work made sense with my blog.

I was fortunate enough to receive some great feedback from this request. Leading this off (as well as spawning quite a bit of additional feedback from others) was a few tweets from David Carlson of Young Adult Money. I’ve watched David grow his side projects significantly in the time I’ve followed him and his blog, so if anyone has advice on this from personal experience, it’d be him.

If all I’m looking to do with my site is freelancing, I think what David is saying makes a lot of sense. I need a portfolio of works that I can clearly show on my site to highlight the work I’ve done. While I’m building a portfolio currently, aside from the resume writing I’ve done, I don’t have a particularly long portfolio at this point. Even beyond that, a couple of the projects I have worked on have been writers who are writing under pen names, meaning that they’ve also hesitant to tie testimonials to their work18While this hasn’t always been my experience with authors writing semi-anonymously, I have found it’s more frequent than not.. So, what other ideas would potentially help spread the word about what I do? Dem and Charles provided some insight that had crossed my mind, but that I didn’t think about too much.

Human interaction. Cool. I can do that. I already do it in a lot of cases. I make an effort to personally reply to every person who leaves a comment on my blog19Except for that one guy who left comments on my Fire Emblem posts in Portuguese. The extent of my knowledge of Portuguese was a few words I learned to flirt with a girl from Sao Paulo in one of my college classes. I don’t think that’ll help.. I do my best to interact with people I know who read my blog, be that on Twitter, by sharing their content, or by being a consumer of their work myself. I feel like I do this a good bit now.

With that said, I also feel like this runs the risk of becoming super annoying, as I mentioned earlier in the post. It can feel disingenuous to constantly be trying to promote your work. I did that very early on with my college radio show on my Facebook, only to get feedback from quite a few people that I was talking about my show way too much. I’m not sure if that stuck with me more than it should of or if I really was that annoying20And since my Facebook is long deleted, I have no way of checking., however I do worry about being that annoying guy on social media who doesn’t shut up about the work I do.

One of my regular reads, Todd, shared this sentiment in his feedback.

I do get a lot of traffic to the regular blog content I write. I reached my entire 2017 blog traffic volume before mid-August of this year. The past four months have been four of the five best months my blog has ever had traffic wise (though comments are lagging recently). And in order to get eyes on my site, I need traffic. So I do think keeping the blog itself is great, both short and long term. Plus there’s always the idea that Victoria presented about trying to keep the current blog format and just better highlight my technical knowledge, either on the blog or in stories I write.

With all that feedback in mind, I’ve decided to make some modest changes to my site in order to better emphasize the work I do, along with keeping my blog active. You might have noticed the new home page21This went up September 15 for those wondering. Thanks to Stephanie, Tabitha, and my wife for their feedback on the layout. when you came here. This page now features a slider with some of my commonly accessed content, as well as a quick link to my freelancing work. Just below that, you’ll find other links, which include my Patreon and more info about the other media I have (including my book). I’ve also added testimonials to the home page (which is still being worked on as we speak).

While much of what I mentioned above is still being built out or is a work in progress in some capacity, I have transitioned the site to a new color scheme. While I’m not 100% sure exactly how I want the color scheme to fully be used on the site yet — especially with the slider — I did decide that it was time to go away from my previous scheme. Keeping the charcoal gray and Volunteer orange theme was something I seriously considered, as I do love that color pairing. That said, you’ll start to see some greens, teals, and beige/golds on the site in the near future. A new logo is coming soon too, as I really haven’t had a good one of those to speak of22This is because I’m garbage at Photoshop/Canva..

Although this is still a work in progress, I do very much feel like I’ve taken some steps in the right direction. I appreciate the feedback everyone gave to me as part of my desperate search for inspiration. If you have additional feedback about my quandary as to how to market my work better, or you just want to talk about the site redesign, feel free to throw some of your thoughts in the comments.

Mid Month Short Story Challenge #13

Welcome to August — objectively the worst month of the year for anyone who likes holidays, cold weather, or nighttime23In the northern hemisphere, at least.. August is always the month of the year that I like the least and that feels (to me) like the hardest to get through. I don’t like to do much of anything in August24I say this despite having a ton of posts written for this month., not to mention it always seems like the month where I’m the most creatively stagnant25Which is in no way convenient to the fact that this is the first month I have Patreon rewards going out..

I’ve been told that some of you out there feel the same way, so I figured, why not build off of last month’s music based theme? However, instead of you having to pick your own song and coming up with a post based off of that, I’ve given you three song options to choose from directly in this post. Two of the songs are peppy, upbeat, new songs, while the third is a song I was saving for last month’s prompt for myself…only to forget that I wanted to use it after the fact.

Your prompt is for this month below. Your story should be posted on September 1, 2018. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story and share.