26 December 2012

A sense of accomplishment

A sample task list from my home office
December has been a busy month, particularly for the kids being with Monty. There was a definite shift at the office, and being the holidays, there was a lot going on at home, too.

And now, the month is almost over. I still have a lot to do this week before I bring Puck and Tink home, but I've been able to look back over my task lists and calendars with a sense of accomplishment at all I've gotten done.

As you probably know, I'm big on lists, so at the beginning of December, I made a list of bigger projects I needed to get done before the kids came home. And every time I crossed off one of the tasks on my list, I felt productive, and got a sense of satisfaction from it. There's a lot to be said for drawing a black line through words on a piece of paper.

Sometimes it's the little things you have to hold on to.

I think that's why I let my task lists be messy. I make a list at the beginning of the month (or week), then add to it, cross things off, and change things around as time goes on. The messiness of my list speaks to my productivity for the month (or week). It reminds me that, even if it doesn't feel like it, I am making progress, task by task. And that keeps me motivated to keep moving forward.

What do you do to stay motivated to accomplish your tasks?

24 December 2012

Quiet holidays can be productive

Tomorrow is Christmas Day. I have the day off work, but Puck and Tink are at Monty's house, so I'm having a quiet Christmas at home this year.

My mom, sister and I are having Christmas Day dinner at my grandmother's house, and I'll be talking to the kids on Skype at some point. And I'm spending the rest of the day drinking nice, hot coffee, working on the coffee house book, and trying to enjoy a quiet day at home.

As much as I hate that I'll be away from the kids tomorrow, I'm trying to stay positive (whatever you send out into the world is sent back to you), so I'm determined to make the day a productive one. I can get a lot of writing done tomorrow.

And then, on New Year's Eve, the kids and I are going to have a "camp-over" at my sister's house so we can celebrate our family Christmas on New Year's Day.

Are you celebrating Christmas tomorrow? If so, how?

23 December 2012

Renew Your Spirit Sunday with light in the winter

Yesterday was the winter solstice. The longest night of the year. And today (which existed because the end of the Mayan calendar was not actually the end of anything except that particular calendar), marks the beginning of the return of light to the world. The days are starting to get longer again.

You know, that's something I love about winter holidays: the light.

In Christianity, Christmas marks the birth of Christ, bringing light and hope to the world. The Advent wreath (pictured to the right) is lit in preparation for the birth of Christ. The lights represent love, peace, joy and hope, which are brought by Christ's birth and ministry on Earth. Some Advent wreaths also have a white candle, which represents Christ, and is lit on Christmas Day.

According to the Bible, Christ's birth was marked by light in the form of a star guiding the shepherds and Magi to Bethlehem to welcome the little one.

In Judaism, Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrated with actual light in the form of the Menorah. In Jewish tradition, the story is told of the Maccabees who were to purify a Temple by burning ritual oil for eight days. There was only one day's worth of oil left in the Temple, but the menorah miraculously burned for eight days.

During Hanukkah, candles on a menorah are lit each day for eight days, representing the menorah that burned in the Temple. Hanukkah is really a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, but has gained popularity because of how close to Christmas it falls.

And in Earth-based spiritual traditions, Yule (the winter solstice) is the celebration of the turn of the seasons, and light beginning to return to the days as spring approaches. It, too, is a festival of light. Many people burn a Yule log in their homes to bring light back into them, just as the solstice itself brings light back to the Earth.

I've seen adaptations of the Yule log in which it is a candle holder (similar to an Advent wreath) for homes that don't have a fireplace, but the intention is the same: to bring light into our homes and lives.

I need light in my life, especially with the transitions I've been going through over the last year. So even though Puck and Tink won't be home until closer to New Year's, I'm excited to celebrate winter with them, to bring light into our lives together, as a family.

20 December 2012

Making writing a habit

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, how's your writing life going? Are you still writing? At all?

The lesson taught by NaNoWriMo is that you can make time to write a book. If you can manage 50,000 words in 30 days (or less), why can't you write the rest of the year? Right?

I think there's another lesson, though, that is equally as important, and perhaps not as recognized as it should be. That is that you can make writing a habit. And participating in NaNoWriMo can help you do that.

Let me clarify that I don't necessarily mean you need to write every day. But I do think it should be--somehow--a part of your regular routine. Perhaps, for example, you write every week on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Or maybe for 15 minutes each morning. Whether it's daily, weekly, or some other schedule, it's still a habit, and that's the key.

When you wrote for NaNo, chances are that you wrote every day. You did it so you could hit your word count goals, but after a while, writing become part of the norm for your schedule, right? That's what you need to carry with you for the rest of the year. Yes, make time to write, then use that writing time so it becomes second-nature to write during it.

Habits are powerful. Let me give you an example.

My job requires that I work on-site twice a week (sometimes three times a week), and from home the rest of the week. When I started, there were several weeks I got gas on Monday mornings on my way out of town. Because it became my routine, I started getting gas every Monday morning on my way to work (or Tuesday, if that was my first day on-site that week). I've tried getting gas in the evening instead, but I always forget. And a few weeks ago, I didn't need gas, but I went to the gas station and pulled in to a pump anyway. It's a habit now.

Writing can be the same way. If you set yourself up to write on a regular basis and stick to it, you'll write on that schedule because it will just feel right to do it. It doesn't have to be every day, but if you write regularly, and with the passion of NaNo, you'll become addicted.

Is writing a habit for you yet?

18 December 2012

The collection in 2013

I've been working on the coffee house book background information lately. I have a lot of work done in my character files,* and I feel like I'm really making progress on the project.

To that end, I've been thinking about my editorial calendar for 2013, and how to incorporate the collection into it so that I can meet my writing goals for the year, and for each month. I know where I want the collection to be one year from now, so adding it to my editorial calendar will help me get there, one step at a time.

I've already put a lot of myself into this project. I've never been as excited and passionate about a project as I have been--and am--about the collection. There's just something about it that resonates with me, and makes me want to keep working, even on the tedious parts, until I've got a story to share. And when I'm not working on it, I can't seem to stop thinking about it. Dialogue shimmers into my head on the drive to work. Characters turn corners a few paces ahead of me. The collection won't leave me alone until it's done. I know it.

2013 is going to be a good year for me, and the collection is going to be just one aspect of that. The progress I'm making on the collection now will help carry me through the coming year. And before I know it, the coffee house book--and the funeral book, perhaps--will be done.

What is your main project for 2013?

*Because of the nature of this project, each character has an individual folder with the information I need for that character kept in it.

16 December 2012

Renew Your Spirit Sunday with Joy

For those who practice Christian traditions, today is Gaudete Sunday. It's the third week of Advent, and the Sunday in which we celebrate joy.

That's a difficult concept for me today, for many of us this week, especially for those affected by the tragedy that occurred in Connecticut.

I know that I could never ask others to find joy in the midst of what they're going through this week. But I must find joy this week, especially since my true joy--Puck and Tink--are with Monty for another couple of weeks.

I don't know how to really make sense of what has happened, and I can't even imagine what the people of Connecticut are going through. I haven't written about it here because I don't know what to say. I don't feel that any words are enough, so all I can do is pray, and find joy in my own life, to try desperately to cling to joy for those who are unable.

Today I found joy in music. I sang with the choir at morning worship, and I think the song was incredibly fitting for today. So I share the lyrics with you here.

Hope, Peace, Joy and Love
Words and music by Joseph M. Martin (BMI)

Hope is like a candle burning in the night.
Hope paints every shadow with its gentle light.
Glowing like a promise till our faith is sight.
Hope is like a candle in the night.

Peace is like sweet music sounding pure and strong,
Singing songs of comfort when the night is long.
Turning drums of hatred into heaven's song,
Peace is like sweet music pure and strong.

Joy is like a flower blooming in the soul,
Sending forth its fragrance to heal and make us whole.
And when bitter winds are blowing, when birds refuse to sing,
Joy can turn our winter into spring.

Love is like a diamond wrapped in purest gold.
Nothing is more precious, nothing bought or sold.
Pearl of heaven's glory, wondrous to behold,
Love is like a diamond wrapped in gold.

Joy is like a flower.
Peace is like sweet music.
Hope is like a candle in the night.

May the people of Connecticut find peace and hope so that they may find joy.

10 December 2012

Writing isn't always fun

I've been heavy into background work for the collection lately, working on character biographies and scene sheets and research.

I'm excited about the progress I'm making with the collection, even though I'm not doing a lot of actual writing yet. And, really, the excitement of knowing I'm making progress even if it doesn't look like it is what keeps me going on all this background work.

I love writing. And there's a lot of this background work that I enjoy. It means creating a world and populating it with people. It means crafting a story and reactions to what happens to the people. But that doesn't mean there's some tedium that comes along with all this background work. Research and outlining and scene sheets are not always exciting or fun or anything other than work, but they have to get done, particularly for this project.

All projects have aspects that aren't fun. Whether you dread background work or find the type of task that makes you want to rip your eyeballs out, writing can't always be flowing words and staring out windows. You have to put as much sweat on the page as you do heart. Often more.

But if you hang on and push through, you'll find that the story-telling parts will help get you through the eyeball-ripping parts. And all your readers will see is the heart.

Happy writing (or editing or researching)!

09 December 2012

Renew Your Spirit Sunday with Freedom, Beauty, Truth and Love

Those who know me know 2012 has been a difficult year. I've had personal and professional challenges, and while things are significantly better than they were (especially in comparison to this time last year), I know there are still a lot of challenges ahead of me.

And yet, I am in a better place than I have been in a long time.

Despite these challenges, I am doing well, I am happy, and am continuing to move forward to achieve my goals. 2013 is going to be a good year.

I didn't always feel this way. For a while I really felt I wasn't making any progress, and that anything that could go wrong did. It was frustrating, and the longer it went on, the more frustrating it was. And the more frustrating it got, the longer it seemed to last.

But, thankfully, things are different now. I know a lot of it has to do with changes I made in myself. I have a much better understanding of who I am now, what I want out of life, and where I'm going. I'm actively working to focus on the positive aspects of my life. Call it hippie-dippy if you will, but it's made an outstanding impact on my life. Sure, there are still days in which I struggle. Though I strive to be positive, I also look at the world realistically. There will always be bad days, but the way I react to those days is different.

Life is too short to waste my energy on anxiety and anger. So instead, I use my energy on things that matter.

There is a cliche that says "Attitude is everything." While I don't necessarily completely agree, I do think attitude makes a big difference. And I've noticed that, in my own life, if I take the effort to smile and laugh on bad days or when facing a particular challenge, eventually I forget about the negative feelings I had and I'm able to carry on with a good day.

Only I am in control of whether or not I have a good day. And if I'm going to have a good day, I won't let anyone take it from me.

I strive for freedom, beauty, truth and love. And in striving for those qualities, I managed to find myself full of peace, and in harmony with the world around me.

Viva la vie Boheme.

07 December 2012

Your writing prompt, should you choose to accept it....

Now that November is over, are you having trouble writing? Here's a little story to get your creativity flowing. (I don't know if the story is true; I found this image on Memebase.)

04 December 2012

Editorial calendars

As 2012 draws to a close, part of my day job involves creating an editorial calendar for the department for 2013. The calendar will outline the marketing team’s plan for the year, focusing on projects (and their deadlines) and messaging throughout the year.

As I’m working on this project at work, I’m also working on creating a personal editorial calendar for 2013, focusing on blogging and the collection. It will likely be more flexible than the one for work, but it will help me stay focused throughout the year and meet my goals.

There are different ways to use editorial calendars in writing. You may have one for a particular (large) project, or for blogging, or for whatever else you need to organize and track. Your calendar may be simple, outlining themes each month, or it may be more complicated, listing weekly (or daily) tasks and projects.

As is my advice with lots of things in the writing world, you have to find a method that works best for you.

The editorial calendar I’m creating right now is a month-by-month overview for blogging and fiction-ing. I’ll have specific goals for each month, and my blog will have a general theme for the month (that may not be the theme for every single post that month, but gives me a starting point as I work).

In addition to this overview, I will take time at the end of each month, beginning with December 2012, to create a more in-depth editorial calendar for the following month. The in-depth calendar will be a daily calendar, outlining the blog posts for each day, specific deadlines for writing, and what tasks for the collection I have each day.

I know this is a lot more involved than many of you need (or want!), but it’s what works for me. Because of the craziness of my life, I have to stay organized and keep meticulous lists to stay on top of everything. It’s worked well in 2012, so I’m continuing it in 2013.

There are a lot of advantages to using an editorial calendar. It can allow you to look ahead to and prepare for upcoming content (and events, such as NaNoWriMo), it can show you when your busy months and weeks are, and on the days you simply have no inspiration, you can use your editorial calendar as a sort of writing prompt to give you a starting place.

The difficulty in creating and implementing an editorial calendar really depends on how involved you want the process to be. If you simply come up with content themes for your blog each month (which is done for you if you participate in NaBloPoMo), it takes little time and effort. However, if you want to come up with blog post ideas and specific writing goals for each month/week/day, it’s going to be a bit more difficult. It’s up to you to determine the best way for you to proceed.

Will you be creating an editorial calendar for 2013?

25 November 2012

Renew Your Spirit Sunday with Discovery

My family and I are definitely renewing our spirits today! After church service this morning, we're spending the day full of discovery and childlike wonder. We've talked to Puck a little about what we're going to do, but he doesn't know what it is, so it's hard for him to really understand and get excited about it. No matter--I've been excited enough to cover his lack of excitement.

I've wanted to take the kids to this place, and it worked out well to be able to today. In fact, Nanny, EddaMae, and Bug are able to go, too! It's sure to be a great family day.

Puck and Tink will be spending the bulk of December (including Christmas) with Monty, so I'm thankful to be able to spend some time on an adventure* with them. Not only will this be a great opportunity for Puck and Tink to play and discover new things, but they'll be getting some quality time with Bug, too. Since I'm not Bug's daycare anymore, Puck and Tink don't get to spend as much time with her as they'd like, so days like today are precious for the cousins.

How are you renewing your spirit today?

*Anytime we do something fun, from going to the park to a big trip like today, Puck calls it an "adventure."

23 November 2012

NaNoWriMo pep talk: the final stretch

We're in the last week of NaNoWriMo, folks. I can hardly believe how quickly the month has gone (for a lot of reasons).

How's your word count looking these days? On target? Ahead? Behind? Keep pushing! There's still lots of time to hit your writing goal before the end of the month.

And, as I've been saying all month, even if you don't hit 50,000 words by the end of the month, whatever word count you have is that much higher than it was on October 31st. That's a success! So keep writing, word by word, until the very end!

While the focus of this month is to hit 50,000+ words in 30 days, I want you to remember that when December 1st arrives, writers don't just quit writing until November 2013. You are a writer. Keep writing. Sure, whatever you write may not "count" for NaNoWriMo anymore, but this month is just a tool to show you that you can make time to write. You may not be able to maintain the crazy hours writers tend to employ to write for NaNo, but even if you spend 15 minutes a day working on whatever active project you have, you'll make progress. The time exists, and November proves it.

The key is to carry the motivation to use your time differently through the rest of the year. Can you stay up just half an hour later? Can you get up half an hour before the rest of your family? Can you spend half of your lunch break with pen and paper?

The time to write already exists. You just have to remember to keep using it the way you have this month.

Keep making time for creativity. Keep telling stories. And happy scribbling.

22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Whether you're spending the day with family and friends, surrounded by food and football, or taking a quiet day to keep on keeping on, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving. May you find reasons to be thankful today and every day.

16 November 2012

NaNoWriMo pep talk: the second leg

I'm sorry I've been absent from the blog. Life has been busy. But whenever I've seen NaNo posts on my Facebook or Twitter feeds, I've thought of you, dear writers, and wished you luck.

We're halfway through the month, if you can believe it! That means you should have about 25,000 words.

If you do, great! That's wonderful! Keep it up!

If you don't, don't worry! Keep writing! You can do it!

Remember that NaNoWriMo is about proving to yourself you can make the time to write. You don't have to prove to anyone else, and it's not a contest. Whether you end the month with 50,000 words or 50 words, you'll have more words on December 1st than you did on October 31st, and that's an accomplishment!

If you're finding yourself slowing down or getting stuck, there are lots of things you can do to jump-start your writing. The folks at NaNoWriMo have been posting prompts on Twitter frequently (for example, add a bottle of vodka to your story with bonus points if one of your characters drinks it). Or jump to another part of the story.

Whatever else you do, just keep writing, one word at a time. You're doing great! Keep it up!

Happy scribbling!

02 November 2012

NaNoWriMo pep talk: starting strong

It's the first weekend of NaNoWriMo, folks! Hooray!

Have you started writing yet? Have you met your word count goal for the first couple of days?

The beginning of the month is usually good, isn't it? We start strong out of excitement, ready to tackle a new, fun project.

I have a traditional job, so the majority of my NaNo-ing will be on the weekends before the kids are up in the mornings, during afternoon quiet time, or after they've gone to bed. This first weekend is key for me to set the stage for the rest of the month. I have to start strong. Not only for the momentum to carry me through the rest of the month, but I know that if I start next week behind, it'll be even harder to catch up as the month progresses.

The good thing is that the first weekend of the month is always exciting. Your story is just starting, the month is just starting, and your eyes and mind are full of nothing but the potential of the story. If you want to write ahead a bit, this first weekend is the one to do it. Take advantage of the motivation you feel (and the energy from caffeine and enough sleep) to push through 2,000+ words a day so you'll be able to start next week in a good place.

This is a fun part of the month for NaNo. Since you're just starting out, setting the scene allows for detailed descriptions. Introducing characters includes descriptions and (can include) lengthy conversations. There are no plot holes or writing yourself into a corner. There's no getting stuck on the next step or whether or not you've got enough story to make 50,000 words. None of that matters right now because it's the beginning of the month. All you have is the beginning of the story, and you can let that propel you forward.

Remember, no matter what happens for the rest of the month, whatever you write this weekend will be more than you had on October 31st. And if you start strong, you can use the momentum through the rest of the month.

Happy writing!

31 October 2012

NaNoWriMo: here we go!

It's the last day of preparation for NaNoWriMo, ladies and gentlemen. It's the last day to get organized, scribble notes, create characters, and come up with outlines before the crazy, creative adventure begins tomorrow morning (at midnight tonight, really)!

In addition to prepping your story, remember that today is also the last day to prep your life for NaNoWriMo. Make sure your toolkit is ready with the drinks, snacks, music, and supplies you need. Make sure your house is ready to be basically abandoned for a month.

If you still haven't committed to the adventure, I urge you to consider it. There's still time! You don't need anything other than the desire to write a book in a month. And less than 2,000 words a day will get you there.

I'll be right there along with you this month, writing the coffee house book. (Yes, I am aware that it technically breaks the rules to qualify as a NaNo novel, but I'm writing it nonetheless.) I've done NaNo in the past, and I've both hit and missed the 50,000-word count goal. This year, my focus is on finishing this draft of the coffee house book, regardless of the total word count. That is, after all, the spirit of National Novel Writing Month.

Open up a word document (or a new notebook and pick up your pen), brew a cup of really strong coffee, and watch the clock.

Good luck and happy scribbling!

30 October 2012

Conference calls when you work from home

Working an office job means, inevitably, meetings. However, since I work partially remotely, meeting in person in the office is not always an option. Conference calls and phone meetings have become the answer to that.

I like doing conference calls because it gives me more flexibility in scheduling meetings. I don't have to limit them to the two days each week I'm in the office. And since I have a home office completely separate from the rest of the house, I don't worry about not being able to hear the other person or getting distracted. Really, there have been a few instances in which meetings in the office have presented more challenges than phone meetings! Of course, the fact that I can refill my coffee and doodle without anyone seeing it is just a bonus.

That's not to say that conference calls from home are easy. They require just as much preparation and attention as any meeting. Sometimes more so since listening to someone on the phone is not the same as sitting across from them at a conference table.

The key with conference calls from home is to treat them the same in your schedule as a face-to-face meeting. Take notes, don't try to multi-task on another project, and do what you need to in order to get everything from the meeting that you need to move forward with the project.

Do you have conference calls or phone meetings? Do you find them more or less effective than face-to-face meetings?

29 October 2012

Shifting gears for November

Puck and Tink will be back this weekend. (Squee with me, won't you?) It's been a long month, and I'll be so, so glad when they're here. In the meantime, I have some things to finish up to get ready.

My life shifts a bit when the kids are here. (That's how it should be.) I'm more protective of my evenings and weekends, and even my lunch breaks on the days I work from home. The time I have with the kids is my first priority except in a few rare instances and under very specific circumstances.

Because of that needed shift, I'm finishing up some projects for work and throughout November I'll be planning my task lists carefully. I would hate to have to work over a weekend instead of taking the kids on an adventure, so I'll do what I can to be done working when I log off my computer at the end of the day. (After all, we have some big adventures planned for November!) But as long as I stay organized and keep on top of my task lists, November will be a good month.

In addition to shifting gears to be ready for the munchkins to be home, November is when I start getting ready for the end of the year. December is always a busy month, so I want to start getting things organized early so I'm not scrambling in the last two weeks of the year to file and organize. Again: organization.

There's less than a week left in October, and then it'll be a footrace to the end of the year. Are you ready for November? For the holiday season? For 2013? What are you doing to prepare?

28 October 2012

Renew Your Spirit Sunday with quiet days

My calendar has been busy this month, both for work and my personal life. November is already looking just as busy. So today I'm taking advantage of being able to have a quiet day at home.

I like being busy, especially when Puck and Tink are visiting Monty. It helps that time pass more quickly, and I like feeling productive. That being said, everyone needs downtime. That's the point of having "Renew Your Spirit Sunday," after all. It gives you the chance to prepare your mind for the coming week.

I am singing in the choir at morning service, but when I get home, I may just put my pajamas back on and snuggle under an afghan to watch movies and drink coffee (or tea) all day. (Netflix is a wonderful thing for movie days!)

Next Sunday, Puck and Tink will be back, and while we may have a quiet day at home, it will be of a very different sort. But for today, afghans and hot drinks should be perfect.

27 October 2012

My weekends

Weekends have taken on a new meaning in the past few months. Since starting my shiny, new job at the beginning of August, I've actually had time in the evenings and on the weekends to be not working, and spend quality time with Puck and Tink, or with my family and friends. It's been wonderful. I didn't remember what I was missing!

Puck and Tink have been spending this month with their father, so I've been trying to use my weekends--since I have them now!--to get things done around the house. I made a list at the beginning of the month, and I've been slowly crossing things off as the month has progressed.

Now that I've been with the company for a few months, I'm sort of in a routine with my work schedule. I (usually) go into the office the same two days each week, work from home the same three days each week, and have the weekends to spend with the kids. And since my brain is finally fully adapted to this routine, I think weekends with the kids are going to be much more fun! (We already have a couple of trips planned!) I won't feel guilty about packing the kids in the car for an impromptu trip to Granny's house, or spending a lazy day at home with the kids' favorite snacks and a movie. Because I know that when I log off my computer at the end of the day on Friday, I don't have to look at it again until Monday morning.

As I've said before, I really did love freelancing. It was hard, but it was rewarding. However, knowing now that I have my two days a week to completely shut off the "office" side of myself and instead focus on the spontaneous excitement that comes from parenting two toddlers is a different and deeper kind of rewarding.

I cherish my weekends, and can't wait for what our family has planned throughout November!

24 October 2012

NaNoWriMo prep: your writing schedule

NaNoWriMo begins in about a week, and it’s time to start thinking about exactly how you will make time to write these 50,000 words that need to be written.

The month is about proving to yourself that you can write a novel. And that’s wonderful! The coffee house book idea began as a poorly developed and badly written NaNo novel. But with all the time spent gearing up, planning, organizing, and outlining in October, we may forget that, come November 1st, you have to actually sit down and write the thing! For many of you—particularly if you have adventures outside of your home known as a “traditional job”—creating a writing schedule can help keep things organized and make sure you have enough time to write your novel while not being at risk for getting fired or having small ones rise up in protest due to lack of sustenance.

This is the first year since 2007 that I’m participating in NaNo and have a traditional job. So this year is going to be a bit of an adjustment for me. That’s why I’m making a schedule. Not only do I have the responsibilities of taking care of Puck and Tink and helping my sister host Thanksgiving dinner, but I have to do it while the hours of 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. are blocked off.

This year I’m faced with the challenge of making time to write 1,667+ words every day in the month of November without having the flexibility to write for NaNo first and write for work afterward.

Remember that life comes first. Always. It’s important for writers to set aside time to write. It’s important for the family and friends of writers to understand that writing time is needed. But it’s more important for you to be a present and important part of your family. Don’t neglect your life to write this story. If something comes up, it comes up. Address it, then get back to writing when you can. Life happens. And without it, we wouldn’t have anything to draw from for our stories. So if life needs to get in the way during NaNoWriMo, so be it. The story will be there when you get back.

Think about when you’re most productive. Since you’re likely going to have to sacrifice sleep, decide where you want that sacrifice to occur. Are you the type that gets up before everyone else in your house to have a quiet cup of coffee? Get up an hour earlier (even a half-hour would be great) and use that time to write. Conversely, if you’re the type that stays up long past everyone else, write once the family has gone to bed. Or both! Find a time of the day that works for you and stick with it. You know your writing style best.

Think about how long it will take you to write 50,000 words. How fast do you write? How well does your story lend itself to quick writing? If you’re able to churn out 1,000 words in half an hour, you’ll only need about an hour and a half a day of writing time to hit the goal. But if you’re a slower writer, you’ll need to set aside more time each day. Don’t short-change yourself out of writing time in your schedule.

 Be flexible. Remember: this is meant to be fun, and to figure out what works best for you. It’s great to set aside two hours in the morning to write every day, but if you’re finding that you struggle to get going, consider trying to write at a different time of day to get your NaNo novel done. Don’t lock yourself into anything. (No one will know, anyway!)

There’s no need to write out a formal writing schedule (unless you feel the need, I suppose), but know when you’re going to write. And when you decide be sure to tell your family. If they know you have specific times set aside to write (and to not write), they’ll know to leave you alone during those times. (Having a silly “writing hat” works well to let little ones know you’re busy!)

The time to write exists. You just have to carve it out within your schedule and just get yourself in the chair to write when it’s time.

Happy scribbling!

17 October 2012

NaNoWriMo prep: creating the characters

Do you know who the characters in your NaNo novel are going to be yet? Do you know who they are? What they look like? Their careers? Their hobbies? Do you know how they interact with other characters?

Knowing who is going to be in your story can be an important part of your preparation for NaNoWriMo. After all, it's the characters who populate the world you create. And the more you know about them, the more real they will seem to the reader.

I'm a big fan of using Robert Atkinson's life story interview from A Gift of Stories, which I've mentioned before. This interview template has been incredibly valuable to me as I'm doing background work for the collection, but may be a bit too in-depth for some people to use in preparation for NaNoWriMo.

Whether you use an in-depth biography or just a few bullet points about who the character is and his or her physical appearance, knowing something about the characters before you start writing will give you a starting place for the characters' personalities, as well as help you keep things consistent as you write and develop your story.

Do you have a method for creating your characters? If so, what is it? If not, why don't you use anything?

16 October 2012

How I use my calendar

Not my calendar, but very similar
I've written about my organizational methods before. I've talked about my task lists and my day planners. But that was when I was a freelance writer. Now that I have a traditional job as a marketing writer, my methods have changed.

I'm the type of person who has to write things down. That's why I make lists (almost) compulsively. And now that I work part of the week in the office and part of the week from home, it's even more important for me to keep track of my projects and deadlines. So my calendar has become a task list and planner in one.

The planner I use has monthly and weekly pages. I use the weekly pages for everything from appointments and birthdays to my tasks and deadlines for the day. I use the monthly pages as an overview of deadlines, appointments, meetings, and events.

It looks messy, but it helps keep me on top of everything. It also helps me see what days I have time to do other things (coffee with friends, for example). Days that aren't completely full of scribbles might have room for something.

Of course, there are things that need to stand out (like Tink's doctors' appointments), so anything that's important and personal gets highlighted in yellow, and anything that's important and work-related (like a conference or retreat) gets highlighted in pink. That's just enough to allow those items to stand out on my calendar.

Examples of my task lists
I still make weekly task lists, and then use those lists to create my daily lists within the planner. I've started keeping my weekly task lists in my planner with a paperclip so everything is together.

It may not be the most effective organizational method, but it works really well for me. I'm able to keep everything together, stay on top of my projects and deadlines, and have it in a format that can come with me everywhere I go.

How do you stay organized?

15 October 2012

Why I need a whiteboard in my home office

There's a whiteboard in my on-site office for work. I love it because I can write notes to myself, keep track of upcoming deadlines, and do brainstorming for ad copy.

Unfortunately, I work from home three days a week, and there's no whiteboard in my home office. It's not really been a problem, just an inconvenience. I got used to having one at work.

The good news is that I do own a whiteboard. It's currently taking up space in my sister's basement, so the next time I'm at my sister's house, I'm going to get it, toss it in the back of my car, and bring it home to hang next to my big calendar. (Of course, after that, the challenge will be having two different whiteboards in two different offices, and keeping them coordinated.)

Do you use a whiteboard in your office? Why or why not?

14 October 2012

Renew Your Spirit Sunday with Music

This morning, my church celebrated our music minister's 25th anniversary serving as choir director. I'm in the choir at church, and since joining the choir, I've been reminded of how important music is to my spiritual life.

I was told once that music is a form of prayer, and that has always stuck with me. And I've found that, when I feel the need to pray but I don't have the words, my mind turns to familiar hymns I know by heart.

Music can encourage, inspire, uplift, and let you escape--even briefly--from whatever has been bearing down on you throughout the week. Generally, you can find music to fit any mood, or to speak to you in exactly the way you need, regardless of what you're going through. So I encourage you to turn to music if you need to renew your spirit. Turn on Pandora or set your iPod to shuffle or pick a favorite song. Whether you like to listen to hymns or classical or trance or country, let music touch you today.

10 October 2012

NaNoWriMo prep: finding a story

It’s still early in October, so there’s still lots of time to get ready for NaNoWriMo. One good way to help prepare is to, you know, come up with a story. Some people do just start writing on November 1st without a plan or even an idea, but having a story before you start will give you a direction.

I’m writing LitFic this year, so my story is sort of...complicated. It’s one of those “Do you want to know what happens or what it’s about?” kind of stories. But I do have a story to get me started.

As you think about how to approach NaNoWriMo, the important thing to remember is that the goal is simply to get you writing. You don’t have to have the plot for the next great American novel. You just need a story to tell. It might be serious or funny or silly or full of plot holes. All you need is a story.

I’m a big advocate for outlines, but I know it’s not everyone’s favorite background work. So instead of an outline, think about Freytag’s Pyramid. The elements are: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement (resolution). If you fill in basic events for each of those elements of Freytag’s Pyramid, you’ll have a basic story for NaNoWriMo. It can be as simple as that.

You may decide you want to sit down on November 1st and just start writing whatever comes to mind. If you do, great. I admire that; I can’t do that. But if you need a starting point, the best place to start is a basic story arc. If you know where you’re starting and where your story is supposed to go, filling in the rest will be easy.

Do you have a story idea for NaNoWriMo already? If so, what is it?