NaNoWriMo Now; Tips for Success in November’s Novel Writing Month

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Ok guys, I know. It’s been too long.

Where have we been?

It’s been one of those months.

But, look around the corner. NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us!

“Hey there”

NaNoWri… What?!

Some of you know it, some of you don’t. For those unfamiliar with this wonderful portmanteau, it stands for

NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth.

It started out in the July of 1999 in the San Francisco Bay Area; a friendly challenge amongst 21 pals. By the following year, it had grown to be a (partially) international event, with its own website! It was during this second year that most of the current rules were formed, based largely on the editing experience of the founder, Chris Baty.

By the third year, those running the event had assumed it was going to draw a healthy 150 participants, when in reality around 5,000 showed up! You can read the account of events by one journalist, Kara Platoni of the East Bay Express, here.

After a bumpy year adjusting to increased site traffic and a new found popularity, the fourth year brought harmonious relief in the shape of a more automated and therefore swifter system ready to accommodate the ever increasing number of participants. Of course, that wouldn’t last for long…

Since then it has grown year on year into the mighty beast it is today; represented in nearly every part of the world, from Estonia to Australia, and Seattle to Beijing. It’s had its fair share of challenges, trials and tribulations, but the result is a wonderful annual event for the professional and amateur writer.

The journey from its humble beginnings is one worth a read if you have the time, and demonstrates the power of one man’s dream. See the story in the words of the founder here.

“Dreamy”

OK, but how does that help me?

Whether you’ve heard of it or not, it cannot be denied that an event such as this will:

  • help you focus your writing by forcing you to regularly sit down and knock out some wordthings
  • enable you to see from within what the writing process involves, both the euphoric and disastrous
  • give you a sense of achievement if you actually finish the damned thing

So what’s stopping you?

“You know, besides the obvious”

But I don’t have the time

Which is kind of the point. A lot of people say they’ve got a great novel inside them, but they just don’t have the time to knock one out. NaNoWriMo forces you to engage with your inner word beast, and wrestle the behemoth onto the page. Knowing you only have to keep it going for 30 days means you are much more likely to give it your all; if you really don’t like it, you can count down the days until it’s over. In the meantime, you’ll be writing and writing, and barely have a chance to think about anything else.

Consider how many stories were written in the early hours before work, or late at night after the kids had gone to sleep. So many authors have to juggle full time work, marriage, children and other commitments with their writing. NaNoWriMo is a chance to try out re-adjusting your scheduling, and also a chance to see what you’re capable of if you put your mind to it.

On that note, it doesn’t just have to be for writers. The challenge itself could be for anyone.

“Anyone, you say?”

Sounds great! How do I get started?

Let’s imagine the fundamental elements of a story:

  • An outline = A beginning, a middle, and an end, including the key event that sets up the journey, and the final destination the story is building towards (the climax)
  • Some characters = A hero and a villain (in the classic set up)
  • Setting = The Nile river? London? Palau? Basque Country? The Moon? Once you decide the what and who, start to think about the where
  • The other bits = These can come organically, or prepared, but what will really grab people’s interest into your story is the how (things are going to happen) and the why (should the reader care).
i.e. Make sure it doesn't suck

i.e. Make sure it doesn’t suck

Let’s do it

Grab a pen, sketch out some ideas, and run with it. The goal here isn’t to write the best story of all time, or even of your generation. It’s about finishing something and being able to say “I did it!”

Those who hit the target word count of around 50,000 words are known as ‘winners’, and there’s all kind of memorabilia you can get to symbolize your wonderful achievement, from t-shirts to mugs!

That aside, it’s the personal feeling of completion that rocks hardest. How cool would it be to say ‘I wrote a novel’!?

Visit the NaNoWriMo website today and take a look around. You can set up an account in minutes, find your local writing community, and make a go of it. And the best part is it’s all completely FREE OF CHARGE!!

“Wahoo!”

Tips for Success

  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
  • Think about it in terms of daily goals of around 1666 words, not as one big daunting mountain of 50,000 words, to keep from becoming demotivated.
  • Write first thing when your will power is at it’s highest and your brain hasn’t been depleted by a day of work and life.
  • Don’t lost sight of where you want to end up. The story can take a million twists and turns, so long as it ends up at an ending that satisfies the questions that were raised on the way.
  • Try and have fun!

 

We at IQ will be taking part, and we’ll be updating our progress on this blog. If you are also taking part, let us know in the comments. Come along and join us on the journey!

Useful Links

The NaNoWriMo website

Writer’s-World writing tips

Writer’s Digest tips for writing a book in 30 days

The Storyist NaNoWriMo preparation help

Special thanks to Ambro, David Castillo Dominici, marin, stockimages and Stuart Miles,  @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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Too busy to read? Here’s how to make more time for reading in your day.

reblog reading This is a re-blog. To celebrate 6 months of ItchyQuill.com, here is the first post we ever did! Enjoy 😀

Haven’t finished a book since you graduated? Keep making excuses about not enough time and being too tired? Reading has been shown to reduce stress levels by up to 68%, and it could lead to a significant reduction in your chances of developing dementia in later life, not to mention the advantages it gives you in terms of ability to communicate, understanding of new concepts and cultures, and countless other problem solving, intellectual and communicative advantages. Reading is an almost essential part of getting a higher wage and personal advancement, and yet nearly half of British and American adults no longer read for pleasure.

We’ve all been there. It could be that you are a lover of fiction, but every time you finish work you are too tired and would rather veg out in front of the TV/Netflix than get your nose in a novel. In the UK, nearly 4 million adults work 48 hours a week or more. Things such as this extended work schedule could be to blame, but reading is a fantastic use of your time, no matter who you are. If you are an up and coming exec, there are plenty of non-fiction tomes to rifle through for tips and information, and plenty of fiction to help you relate to other’s experiences or escape completely from the busy week. If you are a budding writer, there are tons of books to get you inspired. If you merely want to find another way to relax, fear not! There are myriad stories out there waiting for you to find them.

It’s ok world, itchy quill has your back!

1. Maximise your time (duh!)

The first thing to consider is all that micro time you have. By this I mean the time that you have between other activities; the gaps and cracks in your schedule where minutes are not used to their full potential. It might be the ten minute bus ride to work, it could be the five minutes while the kettle boils in the morning, or it could even be the fifteen minutes on the loo. Who knows. But making a rough list of how your time is used during the day can give you an idea of where you can utilise your time better. On average, most of us have about 1.5-2 hours of micro time a day. That’s crazy, right?! Imagine if you spent an hour of that a day reading your book? If we assume that your reading speed is equal to the average, then you could read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens in just over ten days using this method. Or, if you fancy something a little more contemporary, how about reading all three of the Hunger Games books in seventeen days? Using this otherwise redundant time is a great way to increase your reading. But trust me, it gets better.

But this is my thinking time

But when am I supposed to find time to wear my hats?

2. Leave yourself reminders

Some people are list people, some people are doers, some are just plain happy to wander through life confronting things as they arise. I am a bit of a memory jerking kind of person. This basically means I have to leave myself clues and visual prompts to remind me to do something. I like to leave a stack of unread books on my coffee table, so whenever I look at them they remind me that I should pick up my book and read. This works especially well with library books, as the challenge of trying to read them all before they are due back motivates me too. You could just as easily set a reminder on your phone, just like you would for a meeting or a doctor’s appointment. The biggest struggle for many of us is finding routine, and sometimes activities that are not habitual can be hard to make time for. To stop reading being another big plan that falls by the wayside, why not set goals, like finishing one book every fortnight (which translates to 24 books a year)? It’s easy, right?

Note to self: remember to write a reminder

Note to self: remember to write a reminder

3. Spread your interest

Scattiness can often be a problem for me. I have a mind that likes to race off on tangents, and my attention can be easily caught but, alas, easily lost also. I often keep two books or more on the go at once, normally of completely different style and genre so as to avoid confusing plotlines and characters. Some books, such as non-fiction, may be more suitable for the morning time, as they require a little more alertness to process, while a steady paced novel can be more suitable for pre-sleep reading. Don’t overload yourself though or you could lose track of what you have read. Speaking of which…

I really don't want to take these back tomorrow

Right, so Frodo killed Aslan with his horcrux. Got it.

4. Bookend your day

Make time to read when you wake up, and before bed. The benefits of reading before you sleep are well documented, the greatest in my opinion being the fact it forces you to put the day behind you and escape from cares or troubles, but it is what it stops you from doing that is more important. A lot of us are guilty of checking emails, Facebook and other social media and distraction apps like Buzzfeed and Instagram in the moments before sleep. Though it might seem fun to read these before we sleep, we are actually forcing ourselves to confront innate insecurities, worries and negative emotions in a time when we should be dumping the day’s detritus and preparing to reset. Reading forces your brain to train itself on a continuous narrative, not just a random assortment of scattered information, and this hypnotises us into a sleepy state, channelling all emotion and feeling into that of the characters we are reading about, and deflecting the minor antagonisms of the self.

There isn't a Playboy tucked behind this novel. This isn't Back to the Future

There isn’t a Playboy tucked behind this novel.

5. Arm yourself

Ok, not literally. By this I am of course saying that you should never been found wanting for something to read. I keep a book on me at all times, but I also have my kindle by my bed for am/pm reading, and a kindle reader on my phone in case I end up in some unforeseen circumstance where I cannot reach either of the former (such as a nuclear disaster or, more likely, a queue for a sandwich).

Say hello to my little friend

Say hello to my little friend

6. Join others

The internet is the greatest resource in the world for most things. One such area it exceeds in is uniting us with others of a similar mindset. There are countless websites dedicated to bringing together readers of a similar taste, where novels can be read at a pace everyone can follow and then reflected upon in open discussion. This gives you the polite pressure of needing to stay on pace so as not to fall behind, but also gives you the chance to discuss techniques and characters and really get to grips with the book you are reading. If you prefer to be a little less social, why not try an on line reading challenge? This gives you the deadline without the social aspect.

I can't even read but damn this whole book thing looks good on me

Chicks dig dudes who can read

7. Keep it interesting

I know we all wish we could finish the classics like War and Peace and Ulysses, but the truth is they aren’t fitting for everyone’s tastes. To really get into the habit of reading, and find the motivation to read at all, you need to be reading things that grab your attention. Make sure you seek out authors who write books that you are drawn to, or that you read non-fiction books about topics that actually mean something to you. I wish I could read up and become an expert in stocks to make a bit of money, but I have such little interest in how the system works that it would take me the best part of a century to finish the book.

Equally, you should stick to books that are of a length that won’t scare you off. Start small, and work your way up. Challenge yourself, sure, but be aware of your own attention span. You may discover a fantastic Russian author from the turn of the century, whose 1,000 page epic fully explores the state of humanity and the notion of the self, but will you be satisfied chipping away at it in fifteen minutes slots over the course of three months until you finish it?

John snow did whaaaat?

John Snow did whaaaat?

8. Practise speed reading

This is a much easier skill to pick up than many realise, and even a little practise can increase your reading speed significantly. Are you willing to put in the time to practise, however? When studying at college, speed reading was the only way to finish the tremendous amount of titles we were expected to read. In my first semester alone I read around 30 novels in six weeks. When I graduated, I made a promise to myself to relax more and take my time with reading to fully immerse myself in the text. For some, this is what reading is about. It is not the desire to finish as many books as possible, but to enjoy the escapism and journey of a story. It is important to remember this. It is also crucial to remember that even though it can be a lovely feeling to finish a hundred books a year, it is even more fun to be able to discuss them and remember them. Never sacrifice your understanding for speed, or they will merely become titles and summaries, and you will miss the very point of reading in the first place, and gain nothing. Over time, you will naturally get faster, so just stick to a pace that you are comfortable with.

It's supposed to go blurry at this speed, right?

It’s supposed to go blurry at this speed, right?

That said, there are currently apps in development that could increase the world’s reading speed by as much as 600%! In theory this should increase our ability to fully digest books and by extension, information. Whatever happens, starting reading today can greatly enrich your life. Words, and their use in the hands of authors, can be powerful in many ways. Don’t let yourself miss out on these experiences.

Now, no more excuses. It’s time to get yourself a book, figure out what works for you, and get reading. Enjoy!

Special thanks to adamr, Goldy, marin, duron123, photostock  and imagerymajestic @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015