NaNoWriMo 2018 has been extremely successful for me. My record for words written in a month stood at 60,000. In November, I shattered that and wrote 143,770 words. That’s an entire fantasy novel. I’m thrilled, shocked and every other word that means unbelievably amazed. I never knew I could do it. There are two reasons for that:
- I’ve never done it before.
- Others said it couldn’t be done.
So, how did I do it? I’m not exactly sure, but here’s what I think I did right.
The Writing Stage
The stars aligned in 2018 and after completing several assignments and miscellaneous projects, I was left in the middle of October to complete the draft for Revelation Stones, the 3rd book in the Castle Keepers series. I had also started a small assignment from my writers’ group, one I thought would be a short story. However, it turned out to be a full-blown novel, one that ties in to the Castle Keepers series. I predict it will be 100,000 words. I called it Beyond the Myst.
As of today:
- Revelation Stones was completed on December 3rd; draft sits at 164,256 words
- Beyond the Myst contains 58,679 words; I write 1,000 words minimum on it each day
Cleared My Schedule and Cleaned My Desk
Knowing I’d want to spend much of my computer time writing NaNoWriMo in November, I cleared everything I could from my schedule. That meant I didn’t write blog posts (except for the Saturday NaNoWriMo updates) and I spent less time on social media. I did almost no marketing, and I visited few blogs.
Sometimes I’d read a blog post, but I wouldn’t leave a comment. Commenting takes time, and I often find I spent 15 minutes writing them. Four comments equals an hour of computer time. Time yourself the next time you make a comment on a blog post or a social media platform. You may be surprised how much time it takes. Writing comments do not count towards NaNoWriMo.
I still had a weekly genealogy column to write, so set aside hours to complete that task.
I cleaned my desk. It sounds silly, but I’m distracted by a messy work surface. All my pens, pencils and coloured pencils were in order, so I could grab what I needed when I needed it. My scrap paper pile (for notes) and sticky notes were replenished and in easy reach.
A Clear Vision
During the summer of 2018, I saw the path I should have stayed on when I began this writing journey: the fantasy trail. I no longer clutter my time with projects that do not help me reach my ultimate goal: full-time fantasy author who supports herself financially.
This vision allowed me to see what was important and finishing Revelation Stones was part of that.
Make a Schedule and Keep to It – Priorities
I began a journal-style schedule in September, so I had already been in the habit of making a to-do list for the week and crossing off items as they were done. To this coil notebook, I added at the top of every day my word count goal.
Since I was challenged by another writer to write 102,000 words, my goal for each day was 3,500. This broke down to 1,500 words for Beyond the Myst and 2,000 for Revelation Stones each day.
When I reached my word count for the day, I’d shade in the box and record the words at the bottom of the page and a few other places.
As the month progressed and I watched my totals rise, it sparked the writer in me to meet and exceed the challenge. Or was it my OCD? Either way, I knew I had to reach this goal.
The key was to make it a priority. It was the first thing I wanted to accomplish each day. I didn’t do it ‘after the dishes were washed, after I called a friend, after I watched a TV show, after I swept the floor, after…fill in the blank’. I did it first, and everything else came after.
Energy, Tea, Sugar, Fat and Salads
For the past 18 years, I’ve been living on 1/8 of a tank (see the next section). Living with chronic exhaustion built a tolerance and put me in survival mode for way to long. Getting eight hours sleep a night took the edge off, but I learned to live with exhaustion and continued to do what needed to be done. The brain told the body what to do, and for the most part, it obeyed. It’s what the family calls being Tibert Tough.
Our survival mode got us through the Highland Clearance, multiple wars along the Rhine River, crossing the Atlantic in disease-infested boats, saw us through countless wars (American War of Independence, First World War, Second World War, Korean War) where those who participated survived (including my father who lay on the battlefield in Italy for 12 hours with a chest wound, first counted as dead, then found alive), the Spanish Influenza (not one recorded death), the Depression and countless other challenges.
The foggy brain was another matter. It was difficult to overcome and most days, it won. Sugar made it worse. All those writers bragging about the bags of candy and chocolate bars they were prepared to consume to keep them writing into the wee hours of the morning were actually setting up road blocks. Sugar lifts the energy suddenly, then it crashes hard, leaving a fog that lasts for hours.
The fog plays havoc on memory. Since changing my diet in July, my memory has become excellent, and I remember story details without having to check multiple times while writing. I remember names, spellings of unique places, character details and the vital components to a scene without referring to notes.
The only sugar I consume most days is the honey in my tea. Caffeine doesn’t have the same affect on me as it does others. The reason I drink tea is because I love the taste and its warm. It doesn’t give me a boost of energy.
What did I eat? Five strips of bacon and 3 eggs to break the fast; 6 cups of salad and a piece of meat or fish for lunch. Sometimes I had 1/2 cup of homemade applesauce or Greek yoghurt and grapes for desert. For a five-day span, I had Kefir with blueberries for the gut flora. And I had a piece of birthday cake (not mine).
The brain needs fat (not to be confused with grease), and I provided the fuel it needed to operate efficiently. I had my bloodwork done in November, and after eating this way for almost four months, my cholesterol went down, and all my other numbers improved as well (for those worried about my arteries).
The Ironman Hidden Inside
Why am I talking about energy and brain fog in the past tense? Because my body has changed since July, after reducing sugar in my diet to almost nil.
As I mentioned, I’ve been living with chronic exhaustion for about 18 years. I had tried many things to correct this, but nothing helped until my friend, who suffered with the same, told me what she learned about iron stores, the other measurement doctor’s seldom test.
In short, the iron in my warehouse was drastically low. When I finally had it (not hemoglobin) tested in 2016, it was 9. It should have been around 130. This was why sleep would try to overtake me after five minutes of driving even though I was ‘well rested’. If I had dropped another 5 points, I’d be making weekly trips to the hospital for blood like my niece was doing.
My blood tests in November revealed I had raised my level to 30, an outstanding amount from what it used to be, and I felt it in my feet. I had energy to jump up, dance around, move with ease. Driving was no problem; I was awake and singing along with my favourite songs. The brain fog disappeared.
I felt – I feel – like I’m living my early 30s, and I know if I continue with the diet I’m on and increase the iron in my warehouse, I’ll have the energy of my 20s. The other side effect was I lost 30 pounds.
This renewed energy and sharp mind meant I could write easier and better. The story came to me, and I didn’t waste a lot of time checking details or wondering what would happen next. I just knew them.
My Characters and the World They Live In
Another reason I didn’t have to constantly check details for characters and the world they lived in was because I knew them; I knew it. I’ve been writing this series for more than ten years. Some of the characters are like kin, and the places they go, I feel I’ve walked. This is the advantage of writing a series.
New characters and new places blended in quickly and with my sharper mind, they left an impression.
Notes and Non-computer Time
Although I don’t refer to many details, I do scribble notes, hence the need for scrap paper. I’ll make notes on dialogue I want to use or a name or a detail I want to add. When it’s used, I throw out the paper.
When I’m not on the computer, I’ll make a bullet list of things I want to happen in a scene. I don’t do this for every scene but when I do, the story comes faster and I don’t forget anything.
I understand some can’t write with sounds distracting them. I’m the opposite. Music puts a beat into fingertips. It sets a mood. It blocks out distracting sounds. Sometimes when I’m thinking about what a character might say or do, my feet will get to moving, and I dance for a minute, then the words come, and I’m back to the computer to frantically record them.
The music keeps my body moving; I never get stiff in the chair.
I love what I do. I love writing. It energizes me. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing as a career. It does not bring me pain like some writers brag about. It gives me positive vibes, wonderful places and people to explore, and it gives me hope. It teaches me things, hard lessons at times, and it allows me to cheer for the hero and take down the villain.
I love my characters and cry when they are in pain, rejoice when they are happy and laugh when they make a joke. I love the world I’m building; it makes me want to live there.
I love the story and as the layers peel off, I can’t wait to read it. I am writing the books I’ve always wanted to read; I can’t get enough of them.
This love keeps me up late at night when I should be resting, makes me hurry to finish the laundry and makes me forget to eat. If this love for my stories didn’t exist and I was an author plotting every painful move, I wouldn’t do it. But my connection with the characters is so great, I feel I am recording a story, not writing it.
All of these things helped me exceed my goal for NaNoWriMo 2018. I set the challenge, focussed on it and created an atmosphere in which enhanced my ability to meet it. That’s not to say I didn’t have outside forces against me. I just didn’t let them knock me off track. I’ve learned I can easily write 1,000 words in an hour, which means in 3.5 hours, my writing was done for the day. This left plenty of time to take care of everything else.
I have three kids, two donkeys, eight goats, five chickens, two rabbits, one fish, one cat and one house to take care of. My 90-year-old mother is in the second stage of Alzheimer’s Disease, and if anything drains me, it is this, but I’ve learned how to dismiss stress. It does no one any good.
During November, we had a cold snap, a few storms, a day without power, the furnace broke and the vehicle broke down. I also attended a three-day craft show as a vendor. I could look back and see what else happened, but I don’t dwell in the past. I live in the present, and right now, all is well…except for my son who is home from school with the flu.
NEXT WEEK: What I learned about writing two stories at the same time. Would I do it again? What were the benefits and drawbacks?