NaNoWriMo survival guide

As the end of October draws near, I get unreasonably excited. This is in part because I love both autumn and Christmas, both of which feel very real in the end of October. But mostly, it’s because of NaNoWriMo.

Don’t know what NaNo is? It’s a mad mayhem of writers trying to write 50,000 words in a month. It’s a challenge you set for yourself to commit to writing for the month of November. And it’s hard and messy and glorious.

I have been participating in NaNo since 2014, and honestly, it has changed my (writing) life. It brought me from faffing around with writing sometimes, writing the beginning of a novel then stopping, having multiple drafts of ideas and random notes lying around, and into a life where I am actually, actively writing for most of the year.

I’m not saying it’s been easy. NaNo in itself is super hard and to keep on writing for the rest of the year is even harder. All I’m saying is that if you want to write, NaNo could be the perfect catalyst for you.

So, whether you’re a veteran WriMo (NaNoWriMo participants are called WriMos, nobody really knows why) or just starting out, here’s my main tips to survive:

  • Prepare

I know this might be a little too late for this year, but NaNo Prep is a Godsend for people like me who otherwise end up with really shitty, overly complicated stories. But try to at least have an idea of an outline, even if you’re a pantser (non-plotter). Know at least a character and a climax.

Prepare the logistics. Do laundry, clean and do a grocery run to stock up on easy meals. And try to get someone else to do the chores for the next month. Or just accept that your life will be a bit of a mess come December 1st.

If you didn’t get around to prepping, don’t panic. Just do some low-key planning in off moments during the month. When you don’t know what to write next, maybe brainstorm some storyline or try to come up with an ending. Every little helps.

  • Don’t panic

On the same note, don’t panic. Don’t panic if you’re woefully under-prepared, don’t panic if you’re behind on word count or have to go on a business trip or your writing muse has vanished. Just keep writing, trusting that it will work out in the end. And hey, even if things go totally awry and you “only” write 10,000 words, that’s still a lot more than you would have if you haven’t tried, right?

  • If that fails, panic and drop everything else

Sometimes, you just have to focus. And yes, this means if you’re 10,000 words behind and your mum just called, you officially have permission to tell her a white lie, turn off your phone and write all night. Or skip class. Call in sick. Live on coffee and ready meals. Just do whatever it takes. Sometimes, a little panic can be just what you need to actually get stuff done.

  • Remember to love it

Write about something that interests you. Write about characters you find compelling and write a plot that excites you. Don’t force yourself to write something just because it feels more ‘real’ or ‘fancy’. Trust me, at 25,000 words, only your deep wish to see the ninja hamster defeat the bad guys will get you to keep writing. So write about the freaking ninja hamster and not something you think will ‘sell’ or be showy. Write about the things you can’t help writing about.

  • Write crap

If you’re gonna try and write 50,000 words in a month you have to realise that some (or most) of them are going to be a bit crappy. Relax. Throw out your inner editor for the month. Just get the words down. Revisions are magic, trust me. Right now you just need to pound out those words so you can maybe rewrite it into something glorious, sometime in the future. It will probably end up as a vastly different story anyway, so don’t sweat it. Just write down what comes to mind right now, however clichéd and crappy, and be proud of your quantity, not quality this month. If you end up with just a vague outline of a story, you’re good. That’s the start. And that’s what we’re looking for.

Those are my best, tried-and-true tips for NaNo. As I’m going into my fourth year, I’ve definitely learned a lot since I started. Right now, I feel quite confident that I can win. Let’s hope it lasts. At the end of the month, I’m just happy if I can say that I’ve done my best.

So, here’s to NaNo! And to writing shitty first drafts.

5 ways to choose the writing life – today

1. Declare yourself a writer

To be a writer, you need to call yourself a writer. It doesn’t matter what age you are, if you’re published, if you’re a ‘good’ writer – if you write, you are a writer. Say it to yourself – come on, say it out loud:
‘I am a writer.’
There, doesn’t that feel good? Declare yourself a writer, share it on your website, tell your mum or your friend or your cat. Just start working on believing it yourself, because otherwise no-one else is going to believe it down the road.

2. Practice the craft

Do some writing exercises. Or just make a written sketch of a situation or a person. Go somewhere and people-watch and write stuff. Make up a story about the people on the bus on your morning commute. Just write, and be mindful of your writing so that you can improve on it and learn from it.

3. Connect with other writers

Writing friends are invaluable! Find yourself someone to talk writing with – whether that’s your kickass grandma or some Twitter teens from the other side of the world. In today’s world, it’s easier than ever to make connections – just hop onto twitter, pinterest, instagram, or all of the amazing writing blogs – and start to respond and interact with people. I guarantee you that your writing life will improve immensely in quality of writing as well as in happiness.

4. Read

Writers read. That’s really all there is to it. And yes, you can be extremely busy, and yes, it’s not always easy to get something read when you have a million other things to do, especially if you’re an English major like me and have a million other things to read as well. But just get it done. Even the busiest mom/student/full-time-three-job-hustler should be able to find time for 5 minutes every day. It really is the best way to get SO MUCH inspiration for your writing life, both the craft and the content part of it.

5. Write something

You knew it would be on here, right? Just sit down, butt in chair, and put words down on paper/your computer/iPad/phone/a napkin. Write something. That’s really the only way to be a writer! Just to write, and to struggle to write, and to write some more. Because, if you’re really going to be a writer, I assume it’s because you can’t help it, right? I hope you’re not trying to write for money or fame, because honey, there’s easier ways to get those than by writing.
Anyway… Just write. Just a sentence, something nonsensical, a really bad poem, whatever you can muster up the courage to do. Write. Today.

That’s it! You write, you read, you practice, you talk about writing with other writing people, and, of course, you call yourself a writer. It’s that easy – and that hard, as Neil Gaiman would say.

10 ways to unload after a stressful week

As we all know, the world we live in can be stressful. Most people are almost permanently overwhelmed and overworked. So after you’ve had ‘one of those weeks’, how do you unwind and treat yourself so you a) don’t burn out and b) feel good and ready for another week come Sunday evening?
I have a few suggestions for how to unload and reset on the weekend:

1. Get some sleep
Chances are, during a really stressful week you haven’t gotten your 8 hours a night. It’s said that you can’t compensate for lost sleep, but you can at least get enough tonight. When you go to bed on Friday, set your alarm for at least 8 hours later, if you need to set one at all.

2. Get some mental rest
Apart from sleep, you need to relax your mind as well. How to do this is different for everyone, but I would suggest doing something different than what you do all week – and preferably something that isn’t just watching crappy TV. Don’t mistake me, crappy TV is a great way to relax after a long week – but not exclusively. Maybe read, call your mum, lay a puzzle, knit – whatever you like doing that doesn’t take a lot of mental energy.

3. Get outdoors
Chances are you spend a lot of your work week inside. On the weekends, get out and get some fresh air. You could go for a run or out on your mountainbike, or you could go for a stroll down the street to get coffee. Whatever your inclination, get some air and some movement into your weekend – you’ll feel better and fresher for it!

4. Give yourself some TLC
A manicure? A long bath? A hot mug of tea? A glass of wine? A good book or movie? Whatever it takes, take care of yourself. Pamper yourself a little and preferably unplug while you do it so your bubbly and bubble bath isn’t interrupted by a work call.

5. Work on a passion project or do a hobby
Spend your time doing something you love, whether that’s painting, laying new tiles in the bathroom, gardening or something completely different.

6. See people who lift you up
Turn off the phone and shut down the computer and go to brunch with your girlfriends, SATC-style. Or take a long walk in the forest with your partner. Or go to dinner at your parent’s house. Whatever you do, connect with someone who makes you a better person and inspires you.

7. Once in a while, do nothing
I don’t recommend doing this every weekend, but sometimes, just take the weekend – or just a day of it – completely off. Get into your pyjamas and stay in bed until late in the afternoon, doing only what you want. Let completely go of deadlines, news channels and keeping up, and take time for yourself. Finish that book you’re reading, binge-watch a TV series, sketch all day or just nap for a bit. Revel in that lazy feeling to the point where, come Monday, you’re ready to get stuff done again.

These are my suggestions for totally unwinding on the weekend while still doing things that make you happy. Think about something that you love that you can do this weekend that will make you happier and more rested than when the weekend started.

On new beginnings

They’re hard. That’s it, basically.
But they’re also incredible in so many ways. They can be catalysts for change or a new way of seeing the world or yourself.
If you’re lucky, a new beginning offers you a clean slate – not that we ever, after birth, get a completely, absolutely clean slate, but still, as clean as it can be.
And if you’re smart, you acknowledge that without stressing out or trying to use this clean slate to reinvent your entire life – that’s not how the Force works.
If you’re smart, you know that this is just one single component of your life that is shiny and new and it has got to fit in with the rest of your messy life.
So: Use the clean slate. Savour it. Think carefully about what to put on it, how to present yourself , whether you’re the type of person who wears hats now – but don’t forget that it’s never really a clean slate, it just looks that way.
Take responsibility for the parts of your life that is not a clean slate. The ones that are overly full of different old stuff and relationships and hats you’ve never worn.

It’s this way: If nothing is really a perfectly clean slate, then everything can be a clean slate. You just have to decide that this is a new beginning.

10 ways to create better balance in your life

You probably have a lot of stuff to do in your day to day life. We’re all cramming our lives with more and more stuff, more and more things to do and to be and tasks to cross off our to-do-lists. Sometimes, things can get overwhelming, and it feels like all the things you have to get done are taking over your life.

So, how do we battle this feeling of never having enough time and rushing from task to task? Here are my ten suggestions:

  1. Prioritise

It’s an oldie but goodie: You have to know what your most important things are. And yes, you have to choose. The easiest way to do this is to write down all the areas you have to get stuff done in. You can divide your life into categories, i.e. writing/school/family/fitness etc. or you can divide it into the roles you have to play, i.e. writer/student/daughter/runner etc. This is up to you, whatever suits you best. And you can have as many categories/roles as you want (although obviously, the fewer the easier), but you HAVE TO number them. Yes, that’s right, HAVE TO. There’s only one thing that can be your number one priority! Your priorities can shift over time, but if you have them listed by number, it will be easier to know what choices to make to advance your top priorities. For example, if you have written ‘writer’ as your number 1 role, you know that you must choose writing over number 2, daughter, if you have to choose between writing and family time.

 

  1. Plan, plan and plan some more

Get a calendar or any kind of system that works for you, and then use it! Make sure to write things down in a way that makes it easy for you to keep the big picture in mind while still getting the little things done from day to day.

  1. Determine time

You need to know how much time you will spend on your different roles every day. Go back to your prioritised list of roles from #1 and then determine the amount of time you want to spend on that role every day. I.e. if ‘writing’ is your top priority, and you want to spend 2 hours on that, you might need to take some time from #7, working out, for it to work. However, when making your time plan, make sure to leave time for transport, meals and some downtime as well.

  1. Tackle “Personal Assistant” tasks every day

Make it a habit to tackle all the little tasks – what I call “Personal Assistant” tasks – every day, so they don’t sneak up on you and become a huge, overwhelming pile. This can be things like calling your dentist, answering e-mails, grocery shopping or cleaning. If you do just a few of these tasks each day, you’ll not be caught on Saturday with a messy house and a lot of small things you have to spend all day doing.

 

  1. Delegate

Find out if there are some of your tasks that you might be able to delegate. This can be to an assistant or a colleague, but also the little things like asking your roommate to do the dishes if you’re pressed for time or your friend to buy a book for you when they’re at the bookstore – anything that can save you time, really. Remember, though, to be nice to people! And that every little thing counts – you might be able to write a blog post in the time that you would have spent at the library!

 

  1. Say ‘no’ to non-essentials

If it’s not on your priorities list, it probably shouldn’t take up space in your life. It’s as simple as that, really. If you’re spending an hour a day scrolling through Facebook or watching “Say Yes to the Dress”, yet your top three priorities are writing a bestseller, becoming a top lawyer and spending time with your kids, you could probably do without the distractions until your work is done for the day. Along the same lines, if you’re prioritising your family and work, you will have to say ‘no’ if your friend wants you to go out on Wednesday night and you have family time and/or work planned. It’s that simple, and that hard.

 

  1. Schedule fun

When that’s said, however, make time for some fun in your schedule. If you work all the time, even on fun things, you’re going to burn out at some point. To avoid this, put something fun into your schedule as well. This can be all sorts of things, whatever makes you happy and gets you away from your work, whether that is fishing with a friend, a day at the museum with your family, or a night under the covers with Netflix.

 

  1. Schedule inspiration

Along the same lines, you need to keep yourself inspired. This is best done in small doses every day, like the practical things, so that your lack of inspiration doesn’t pile up until you feel all uninspired and can’t remember why you do what you do. The best way to keep yourself inspired is to find out what inspires you and then set a reminder every day to seek it out. This can be whatever you like, whether that is fifteen minutes of Pinterest, a walk in nature or a Ted talk.

  1. Review regularly

Make sure you regularly (once a month is what I prefer) look back on how your time management is working, whether you feel balanced or frazzled and determine what you need to change as well as what is working. Reviewing is the only way that you can know if what you’re doing is working! So look back, take stock, and adjust accordingly.

 

  1. Self-care

Last but not least, you need to take care of yourself. As they say in the flight security instructions, you have to help yourself before you help others. It’s literally impossible in the long term to be a good mom/employee/boss/writer if you don’t feel good yourself. So make time in your schedule EVERY DAY to do something for yourself, whether that is using a great shower gel in your morning shower or taking the night off to watch a movie at home. Make a conscious effort to do something good for yourself every day, and promise me not to feel guilty about it – just look on it as necessary maintenance to keep your life running smoothly.

 

These are just ten ways to create a little more balance in your life. There are a lot of things out there for you to try, but I think that the most important thing to do is to be aware of the way you balance your time and take time to prioritise and adjust as needed.

5 reasons to take a walk

I love walking. It’s relaxing, inspiring, rejuvenating and meditative, all at one time. And I think that taking a walk might be one of the most productive non-productive things you can do for your writing life. You might not think you have time to walk, but let me tell you: you don’t have time not to. Here are five reasons why:

  1. It helps with writer’s block

On those days where you just can’t seem to get anything written down, the ideas keep swimming around in your head, just out of your grasp, and you overall just feel like flipping the table and burning your work, a walk might be the answer. A walk will move you out of the situation (literally) and can clear some mental space to think. And when you get back from your walk, you just might feel like writing.

  1. It gets your body – and your brain – moving

Does anyone else have those mornings where it’s just not happening? You know, when you have your butt-in-chair down pat, all of your supplies and some good tea, music, candles, anything that sets the stage for writing – and it just doesn’t happen. This happens to me a lot, especially when I have taken a few days (or weeks) off from my writing. Then I sit there, staring blankly at the screen or paper, sometimes for hours, while nothing happens. When this happens, I always try to make myself take a walk because I know that whenever I do I come back feeling more ready to work – or at least like I have a ‘fresh start’ to try again.

 

  1. It takes your mind off your story

As a writer, it’s easy to go a little stir-crazy sometimes. Especially if you’re a full time writer, spending your days and weeks holed up in your little office, scribbling (sounds wonderful, by the way – go you!), you might sometimes feel like there’s nothing in your brain but bits and pieces of stories and plot and characters and settings and clever lines and covers and publishing and… No wonder we go a little crazy sometimes. When my writing life becomes overwhelming, I take a walk. It helps to have a change of scenery because this usually creates a change of my thought pattern as well – and sometimes, it’s a big relief to ‘get away’ from your story for a while.

 

  1. It lets you think about your story

Yes, I know I just said that walking lets you get away from your story when you’re overwhelmed. But walking can also help you get back into your story when it feels far away or hard to grasp. Just take a walk, think about your story. Maybe say a few lines of dialogue out loud or try to ‘cast’ people passing by as minor (or major) characters. Or just take a walk (in a familiar place, so you don’t get lost) and think your story through, see the scenes. More often than not, I come back with new ideas for my story.

 

  1. It’s input

When you’re a writer, everything you do can actually be considered input for your writing. People you meet, food you eat, places you go – everything can inspire something, and everything you experience will be a part of shaping you as a writer (scary and brilliant, right?). Sometimes, though, our lives are uninspiring. In those cases, I find a walk to be a great solution. Not just any walk, though: This has to be a ramble, an adventure – go somewhere you have never been, walk in the opposite direction of your usual route, really take time to look at the trees, the houses, everything around you. If you do this, I can almost guarantee that some detail will inspire you.

 

So if you’re at all stuck in your writing life, tired of writing, or overwhelmed by it, take a walk. Take a long walk, a short walk, a fast walk, a dawdling walk, an introspective walk, an exploring walk – just walk. And don’t forget to bring pen and paper to scribble down any insights about life or writing you get along the way!

Choose to be that amazing

Just the other day, I was swooning over some photos of Dita Von Teese, whom I adore, on the internet. She was wearing a giant dress and just generally being #flawless in her own, perfect way. Then I saw that someone had commented, asking ‘why does she get to be that amazing?’

That set me thinking. Dita (or whoever you adore for their amazing style or life or achievements or just general attitude) don’t get to be that amazing. They choose to be that amazing. In Dita’s case, she chooses it every day when she takes the time to dress and wear makeup and have perfect nails and carry herself as she does. Someone else, say, Anthony Robbins, chooses to be that amazing by being invested in his clients and his own development, striving to be better every day.

No one ‘gets’ to be that amazing. They have to choose it, strive for it and work for it. And so do you.

However you define that amazing, there are ways to reach it. But you have to want it and be willing to work for it.

Think about it for a minute:

  1. What signifies being that amazing to you?

What are the traits or behaviour you admire? Try to find a couple of role models that you love, whether for their style, their work or their general attitude. Then think about the things that make you admire them – is it dedication, getting up at 5 AM, wearing colourful dresses or something completely different?

  1. How can you achieve this?

Think about how you can emulate this in your own life. Can you get up at 5 AM, wear more dresses, show up like a rockstar at work? Can you do what you admire today, or can you make an action plan to get there – i.e. buy some dresses, start getting up a little earlier.

  1. What can you do today to work towards being ‘that amazing’?

What is something you can do today? Either emulating someone you admire, do the thing you want to do, or just start with a small step in the right direction.  Whatever you do, do something!

We don’t all have to be like Dita von Teese or Anthony Robbins. But we do all have to strive and work to get to a place where we feel that amazing. So start noticing what you admire and who you think are that amazing. And try to ask yourself what it is, exactly, that you admire and think about how to incorporate it into your own life.

Now, go out and feel that amazing!

The 3 best purchases of 2016 and the power of red lipstick

I recently had someone ask me what my 3 best purchases of last year were. First, of course, I got to thinking about how a lot of things really don’t mean that much, and, you know, all that “I shouldn’t be buying so much stuff I don’t need, I can’t even remember it anyway” etc etc.
But then, I thought about it on my walk home and I realised that there were actually a few things that I really remembered buying in 2016, things that meant something to me.

1. The first thing was a new desk. I looooove my desk. It’s a pretty standard IKEA desk, but I had had my eyes on it for a long time, and as a writer and student, I feel like a great desk is really important to me. It’s big enough, it’s something I enjoy looking at, and it’s got a drawer for all of my little bits and bobs. What more can you wish for?

2. The second thing I thought of was a ring that I bought myself on my birthday. It’s, again, nothing extreme, but it’s a silver ring with garnets that I bought in Prague and it’s – again – pretty, and it makes me happy to look at every time I wear it.

3. The third item that I really remembered buying? A tube of red lipstick. I bought my first MAC Ruby Woo lipstick last summer, and I’ve basically worn it every day since. I’ve recently switched to a cruelty-free brand of lipstick, but the impact that wearing red lipstick has had on my everyday life is quite extreme. I basically feel like superwoman with red lipstick. So yeah, a great purchase.

And it got me thinking. Minimalism is somethig I aspire to, and it’s definitely a worthwhile answer to stress, over-consumption and constant clutter. But there are also some things that we buy that really matter, and it’s not always what we expect.

The never-ending TBR list and why I’m re-reading Harry Potter

Like many book lovers, I’ve got a to be read-list that stretches to infinity. One of the things that can make me all melancholy is to think about how many books I will never have the time to read in this life, however much I read.
Yet, even with this knowledge I still choose to re-read my favourite books from time to time. As you can see from my previous post on re-reading, I believe there are benefits to re-reading.

One series I return to in particular is Harry Potter, because these books are so big, so multifaceted that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of reading them.
Last year, though, I did something special: I speed-read the Harry Potter books in a week. Yes, it was on a dare, because one of my friends didn’t believe that I could. But boy, did I enjoy it. The sheer magic of being sucked into the world like that was exhilirating and exciting.
And so, this year, Harry Potter 1-7 is what I’m bringing on my summer vacation. 2 weeks, 7 books, and hopefully some very happy hours spent reading in new locations.

On rereading

Sometimes, it’s necessary to return to a book in order to understand it or really get into it. It took me, as I remember it, 3 tries before I got into The Fellowship of the Ring, which has later become a favourite.
So that’s one thing. Sometimes, you’re just not ready for the book – either because you’re not in the mood for that kind of story or because you’re not at the right place or age to appreciate it.

Other times, however, it’s more about rereading it to re-experience it – and that’s fine – but sometimes it allows you to discover all new aspects of the book. Perhaps because you’re now closer to or farther away from the plot, but I think it is more likely that it’s because you’ve changed.
That’s why you should take the chance of re-reading some of your old favourites. They might not be what you remembered, but they might be much more.