Thursday, October 24, 2013

How To Make NaNoWriMo a Success

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming {the series about Cauley's Journey Into Midwifery, of course!} for our first post on the topic of writing for the glory of God. This blog exists for many purposes, one of which is to inspire ladies to harness their creativity for the advancement of God's Kingdom. While Cauley's creative skill-set is primarily of a handcrafting nature, my creative skill-set is primarily literary {though we're both pursuing proficiency in different mediums of visual artistry so as to complement our primary skill-sets}. Therefore, this post will be a DIY of the inky sort.

What is NaNoWriMo?
National Novel Writing Month {NaNoWriMo} is an annual challenge that spans the month of November. Starting November 1st, over 30,000 participants {a.k.a. WriMos} undertake the task of writing their own 50,000 word novel before the stroke of midnight on November 30th.

It's a crazy-fun adventure and has been a very useful exercise for me over the past seven years that I've participated. How so?
  • I can {and must} focus an entire month on a single creative goal. This keeps me from getting distracted with other ideas.
  • I can also prioritize my creative writing studies/practice above many of my other skill studies for an entire month.
  • Updating a word count keeps me motivated and having a deadline keeps me moving.
  • The deadline is helpful in talking myself back into the writing stage as opposed to the editing/design/marketing stages—keeps me from gettin' my cart before my horse!

But out of the seven years I've been a participant, I've only actually made the 50k word-count twice. Over the past several Novembers, I have learned a lot of lessons that I'd love to share with my fellow Christian WriMos. 

Why write a novel?
There are many answers to this question, but there's only one good reason for doing anything. Seeking first the Kingdom of God must be the sole direction of every single one of our pursuits. The "why" behind writing a novel should be because it would bring God glory and would be good for His people! 

Obviously this must shape my entire vision for the novel. This direction gives the project eternal value, bringing it under the Lordship of Christ. I desire for the pursuit to be more than just "fun"—I want writing the novel to be an act of obedience to the Great Commission. This gives my novel the beautiful context of God's Law and Gospel.

Tip #1: Write down {or verbalize to a fellow-Believer} your vision for your novel. How will it bring God glory? How will it bless His people? How will it advance His Kingdom?

Obtain Wisdom
I want to capture an audience that desires to obey God and then deliver to them content that will teach them a more correct view of God's reality using the enjoyable medium of storytelling. I must write fitting words that are beautiful, satisfying and valuable to them (Proverbs 25:11, 12). In order to do this, I must have wisdom. But there's a major problem: in an of myself, I lack this kind of wisdom.

James 1:5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him." These prayers must be prayed in faith, without doubt (James 1:6).

Tip #2: Determine the audience for your novel. What would you have to do to give your audience a more correct understanding of God's reality? 

Tip #3: Take time in your prayer closet, telling the Lord the desires of your heart for this project, explaining your natural weaknesses and asking in faith that the Holy Spirit would give you wisdom. Note: don't do this as some sort of a checklist thing. Do you really understand your own inadequacies for the task at hand?

Are you going AWOL?
Taking a month to focus on writing a novel can be a beautiful success—or it can cause miserable conflicts. You are an author, I get it, but you have real God-given relationships that take precedence over setting your characters free on paper. {I know they keep bugging you, but we have priorities gals!}

Think about the greater context of your relationships. You're a child of God, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a church member, a friend, perhaps a future wife and mother. Is writing this novel an investment in and an outworking of those covenantal relationships...or is it your method of escaping from any of them?

I don't know if I quite understood this in 2006, 2007, 2008 or 2009. {I know, I know. Slow learner.} Sometime in 2010, I remember saying something about not doing NaNoWriMo to my mother. She listened to my reasons, but then countered: "But, Shelby, you have to find some time to write down those stories! I want Gracey to grow up with them—I want them for my grandchildren!" Daddy agreed with her. So in November 2010, I participated with a sense of duty. It was at that point that my writing became a labor of love rather than an opportunity to shine. I finally met the word count for the first time in five years. My parents were not frustrated with the amount of time I invested into the project because they initially encouraged and blessed it. "Winning" became a cause for family support and celebration rather than the singular obsession of me, myself and I.

After the thrill of winning in 2010, I geared up for another November of writing in 2011. I cannot recall the details of the conflict, but I remember clearly feeling very torn between my writing and my family—and it was only November 1st. I brought the matter before God in prayer and the verse echoed in my heart: "...if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out..." {Matthew 5:29}. If it would be better to lose an eye than to follow its lusts and sin, then how much more should I be willing to lose a writing contest rather than to follow my lusts at the expense of my familial duties? 

Even though I was participating with a group of online friends {I'd had the same writing buddies since '06} and had announced to all of my family members that I'd be doing NaNoWriMo again, I decided then and there to drop out. My attitude towards my writing as a whole began to change over the next few months. There just were not very many family projects that required my literary skill-set. So I stopped trying to force it. If the Lord was calling the family into farming, shepherding {literally, as in, keeping white sheep that go baa} mechanics—whatever!—I wanted to be fully involved. If that meant that I didn't have time to write, so be it. That simply meant the Lord had something more important for me to do. In February 2012, I surrendered my writing to the Lord. 

Later that summer, Daddy and I were talking vision. He made it clear to me that he wanted me to become serious about my writing again. At first, I was resistant. I explained to him my desire to invest the majority of my time in my family for God's glory. He agreed, and then reminded me that if I was writing for the correct reasons, I would still be investing in my family. He also reminded me that Scripture described me as one of his arrows. He was "shooting" me into this field of writing for the advancement of the Kingdom. The Lord was obviously leading.

In November 2013, I signed up for NaNoWriMo again and made the word count. There was no conflict of interests with the family: my parents, siblings, grandparents, uncle, aunt and so many others were all supportive. I was learning about developing my craft within the context of relationships—and that lesson has borne so much fruit.

Tip #4: Examine your covenantal relationships and duties. Will writing this novel be a long term investment in your family, church, community? Or is this an individualistic obsession that causes you to be more of an island unto yourself? Do you have the support and blessing of your authorities? If you're unsure on any of these points, talk to your parents {or whomever your primary spiritual leaders are}.  

Make a Plan
I start working on my November writing project as soon as the season changes from summer to glorious fall. I begin discussions with my parents in September and start in on plotting in October.

One thing that has been a blessing to family has been for me to "buy" the extra time needed for NaNoWriMo by sacrificing blogging and social-networking time in October. The discussions I have with my parents in September often take the form of "negotiations"—but the good kind, 'cos we're on the same team! ;) I am able pour tons of "overtime" into the household and steward all of my excess time toward praying and planning. {It's also great to take a month-long break from spending so much time on the computer before being glued to it in November!}

Tip #5: Consider taking a month off of the computer "in exchange" for NaNoWriMo. 

Tip #6: When planning your novel, scribble down the goal of your project, make a mind-map, pencil out an outline {even having rough chapter ideas is super helpful} and write some character sketches. This little collection will get your juices flowing and will be a tremendously helpful reference whilst hammering out pages like a mad-woman. 

Keep the Sabbath
In addition to writing for God and others rather than myself, in 2010 I made the commitment not to write on the Lord's Day. One might worry that the "loss" of four days would set them back way too far—I was tempted to think the same! But whenever I'd get to worrying, I'd remind myself that the Sabbath is to be kept holy. I'd worked {writing is work—especially when one plans to sell the material} for six days, so on the seventh, I was determined to rest and trust in the Lord. This practice was extremely helpful for reminding me Who I work for, and that's God {not myself}.

Refraining from writing on the Sabbath never did set me back, but instead, it was as if the Lord had multiplied my time! He always knows what is best for His people.

Tip #7: Keep the Sabbath day holy. Save and back-up your story at the close of Saturday {we start the Sabbath on Saturday evening} and purpose not to write another word until the beginning of Monday {which begins Sunday evening for us}. Focus on prayer, Scripture and meeting with other Christians. Truly take the time to rest. You're not producing this novel on your own strength or time-table anyway: relax. 

Friends Don't Let Friends Write Dangerously—Alone
There's a great feature on NaNoWriMo. It allows you to have a collection of "writing buddies" and keep up with their word counts all in one place. This allows us to both compete with each other and know when a friend needs some encouragement and motivation. 

WriMos often participate in "write-ins" together. It's basically like a sleepover when everyone stays up reaaaaally late to hit some outrageous word-count goal. Because everyone else is awake, one is more motivated to keep going. We'll have word sprints and race to write the most words in a short period of time. We'll take a break, chat, and then scold each other playfully until everyone is back to being productive.

While these write-ins are a blast with online friends, they're ah-mazing in person. That's when everyone can share a few pots of coffee and way too much chocolate for our own good. It's wonderfully productive fun. 

Tip #8: Do you have any siblings, cousins or friends who like to write? If it would be a blessing to them and their families, perhaps y'all can do NaNoWriMo together. If you don't think you have any friends participating in the event, put a shout-out to your friends on Facebook, Google Plus or to your email contact list: you might be surprised! 

Tip #9: You're always welcome to add me to your writing buddies list, too. Click here to view my profile. {Make sure you have your parents' blessing to make these connections, though.}

Eliminate Distractions

This does not include little brothers {remember, priorities!} This does include a lot of unnecessary electronic-based social interactions. We often invite many more distractions to our work than we'd like to admit. If you allow yourself a little breather to scroll through the Facebook feed "just real quick", you will waste a lot of precious time. Rather than keeping Facebook open on a side tab, I keep my knitting on my desk. When I sit back to muse over something, I pick up my knitting to give my hands something to do while my mind works on the problem. If I let my hands go free, I'll inevitably click over and read something that breaks my train of thought.

Another sure-fire way of working through a problem without getting distracted with social media is to wash a load of dishes! Your family will be glad to see that you've emerged alive and well from your little writing hovel and your body will be thankful for the change of scenery and posture. {Soapy hot water sure has a way of clearing my head so as to come up with new ideas and work through plot-knots!} And if you're just sick of writing, take a sibling for a walk. Trust me, you'll need the fresh air. Plus, you need to keep investing in your relationships throughout November.

Tip #10: If you want to listen to music while you write, try music that doesn't have lyrics. Go to Pandora and type in your favorite composer {Hans Zimmer is great for action scenes while Jon Schmidt really sets the tone for sweeter interactions} You can take a listen at my Writing Pandora Station or Be Still Station if you want. 

Tip #11: Put your phone on silent and only check the messages periodically {if necessary—if you can put your phone in another room that's a better idea}. 

Tip #12: Sign out of Facebook and Google Plus for the month or only allow yourself to check them after you've made the day's word-count goal {but, really, if you've done that, your family probably misses you}. 

Tip #13: If you have some fun thing you'd rather do with your free time than write, make it a reward for finishing your word-count goal for the day. Challenges like this take a lot of self-discipline. Exercise that willpower! If it starts getting stressful, though, reevaluate things with your parents.

Be Careful

NaNoWriMo is not an exclusively Christian event. The "pep-talks" they send out push a lot of foolish ideas and sometimes contain cursing {and even blasphemy}. Read with caution or skip them all together.

Also, NaNoWriMo has forums. I have ventured on there a few times, but have largely found it to be a waste of time. Once or twice I discussed some things with Christians, and that was profitable, but I would advise extreme caution with those forums. There are a lot of non-Christians who participate and their conversation is often not very edifying {and sometimes down-right shameful}!

Tip #14: For more time and less fluff, skip the "pep-talks." They can be fun, but they can also be very, very foolish. I think we should write a better series of "pep-talks" to encourage Christian authoresses. 

Tip #15: Show the forums to your parents and ask whether or not it would be profitable for you to join the discussions. It is not a requirement to do so in order to participate in this event. 

Focus On Writing

The #1 tip for producing a novel ready?........WRITE! Don't get distracted by trying to follow some method, or trying to make your words come out perfectly the first time. Just pray and write. Write, write, write, write. Write knowing that you're practicing a useful skill and disciplining yourself to get thoughts out of your head and onto paper. That's a huge thing. 

Tip #16: Turn off spell-check. It doesn't matter if your words are spelled write in the first draft. Just focus on getting your thoughts out. You can proofread later {and practice perfect spelling when penning a letter to a friend}. Focus!

Tip #17: Did you just write a sentence that came out all funky? If you have a better way of wording the sentence, go ahead and change it. But if reworking the sentence is going to be a struggle, just leave it. If your thought came through coherently enough, you can rework it in December. If your thought didn't, just explain your thought in rough terms in parentheses just after the sentence.

Tip #18: Sometimes we write plots right off the edge of a cliff. If you do that, or get lost, or realize that everything you wrote is completely irrelevant to the story, don't scrap it! Just highlight the text, turn it a light grey and keep going {or move it to the bottom of the document}. In writing that section, believe it or not, you were being productive. You learned one way not to develop the plot. I urge you not to delete those sections because, 1) you'll be taking away from a word-count you earned, and, 2) you might surprise yourself and need to reference that "deleted scene" later!

Tip #19: Don't get too crazy about updating your word-count. If you find yourself getting distracted by the need to update it, try to set a limit for yourself. "I will only update if I write 100 more words" or 500 or 1k—whatever will work best for you.

Get a Head Start
Catching up is always much harder than staying ahead. If you get into word-count debt at the beginning of the month, you're most likely to be drowned in it by the end. Try to work your schedule around so that you have the most time in the month to devote to writing right at first. You'll tend to be most zealous about reaching your goal right at the beginning of the venture. Reigning in a substantial word-count right at the beginning does a lot to keep on motivated to persevere and is huge blessing once Thanksgiving nears.

Tip #20: Ask your parents if you can invest the majority of your writing time at the beginning of the month. 

Tip #21: Plan to stay up all night on October 31st–November 1st. Set a high but realistic word-count goal for your first writing marathon. Start writing at midnight and don't stop until you drop {or hit the goal, which is always awesome}. It's thrilling to update your word-count by a few thousand in the wee hours of the morning on November 1st. By doing this, I was able to write a 5,220 words—that's over 1/5th of the entire month's goal in one day!

Tip #22: Keep the momentum going the first week. I set the goal of 10k on day two and almost made it with 9,225. I may have kept writing past midnight—I can't remember. I tried to keep up the pace and broke 20k by the end of the first week {taking the Sabbath off, of course}.

Take Thanksgiving Week Off
I know this sounds crazy. Not only are we taking off four Sundays, but a whole week?! Thanksgiving is a big deal in our family. My great-grandparents travel down from East Texas {or we go up} and it's a wonderful opportunity to invest in family unity. In 2012, I took seven days off to prepare and celebrate a Thanksgiving feast with family and friends. 

In order to do this, I made a word-count goal. I decided to get to 40,000 words before Thanksgiving week. I had to adjust my daily goals accordingly. I was able to accomplish that, relax and enjoy Thanksgiving, and then wrap up that last 10k over the remaining week whilst eating Thomas Jefferson sandwiches to my heart's content {I'm telling you—best way to eat Thanksgiving leftovers}.

Tip #23: Remember your priorities! Don't sacrifice family unity and family traditions for a personal goal. NaNoWriMo is a fun challenge...but that's all it is. If your uncle asks you to come outside and run around on crunchy leaves and catch footballs, don't give your word-count a second thought—GO!

Tip #24: Try to get 40k by Thanksgiving week. If you do that, you'll be able to totally relax when you take a whole week off to help prepare the feast and fellowship with your family. 

Priorities, Priorities, Priorities
Have I stressed this issue enough? Heh. This is so important to remember, sister. Check out Psalms 127. Unless the Lord builds a house, they labor in vain that build it. How much more can that be said of your little novel? If you're writing in the Spirit, rather than in the flesh, your project will have eternal value. However, if you are stubborn about doing what you want, you will slip into idolatry and the Lord will chastise you for that. Don't sacrifice your duties in covenantal relationships for a personal goal.

I promise you, I can say this from a knowledge of Scripture and from experience: as soon as something ceases to be dedicated to God's plan for history and the good of His people, He will firmly and lovingly take it from you. 

Tip #25: Hold your writing project with loose hands. If the Lord leads through your authorities and they encourage you to pull out of NaNoWriMo, listen to them. The Lord put them in that position to shepherd you. If you have to neglect sibling relationships in order to get your word-count goal, question whether it is worth it. Perhaps you could just write your book over a longer length of time so you don't have to go missing from the home. You could always set your word-count goal lower. There's nothing wrong with that. If you see your mother half-asleep and yet dragging herself to the kitchen sink, forget your word-count. Go relieve her. If the Lord sees fit to take something away from His child, He always has a greater plan. Trust Him, rest in His Sovereignty and keep your priorities straight!!!

Do you have any tips for making NaNoWriMo a success?
Feel free to share your ideas and NaNoWriMo profiles in the comments below.
I'll be sure to check them out!

Happy writing, sisters!


  1. What a beautiful and inspirational post for me to find on the Eve of NaNoWriMo. Printing it out so I can read it often as I write. Praying God will direct your writing during the next month.

    1. I'm so thankful it is a blessing to you, Mrs. Christiansen! Your comment made my night.

      Christ's richest blessings,