New habits – It’s all about consistency

It’s hard to believe that we are almost halfway through January, and only a couple of weeks away from the boys going back to school. While Simon has been working long hours, I’ve fortunately been able to work flexibly and the boys and I have been taking things very slowly.

This has meant that most days, I’ve been able to focus on my 30-minute goals of writing, reading, moving and learning. In the first 13 days of the year, there have only been two days that I haven’t written. Given that becoming more consistent with my writing was the reason I initially decided to set these goals, I’m pretty happy.

Three of those writing sessions were spent working on blog posts, and one was writing notes and chapter outlines for my book (after a night of poor sleep thanks to ALL the ideas wanting to come out) but otherwise I have added more words and more depth to my current book. One of those sessions ended up being over an hour and I added 1500 words and took the plot in what I believe is a really strong direction. I learned that once I get into a writing groove, I really need to write every day otherwise I’m likely to be kept awake with ideas. It’s obviously much easier to pick up the thread of the story if I’m writing every day.

The other goal that I met most days was reading. Given we are in holiday mode, and it’s been too hot to do too much, it’s probably not surprising that I have only missed reading on one day. I’ve finished 2 novels and a short non-fiction – the fabulous Failed It!: How to turn mistakes into ideas and other advice for successfully screwing up. I’m two-thirds of the way through another book (Suitcase of Dreams by Tania Blanchard) which I have been looking forward since I read her debut novel The Girl from Munich in late 2017.

I also started listening to The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper yesterday on my morning walk. I put the call out for recommendations of ‘page turner’ audio books that would entice me to get out of bed for a walk – and walk longer. This was definitely a good one to start with, although given the heatwave forecast this week, hearing about bushfires and arsonists is probably not a great idea.

As I said in my post last week, 30 minutes of reading was almost a ‘free kick’ because in the last few years at least, I have been reading a lot, it meant that I didn’t forgo my reading just to meet my other goals. Last year I read 52 books. They were mainly commercial fiction with the odd literary work thrown in, but I decided that life was too short (and my to be read pile too tall) to trudge through books I wasn’t enjoying, just because they were award winners. I read quite a few books by authors who write the sort of novels I am trying to write –with dual historical timelines and with lots of family secrets and dramas. I’ll include a list of my favourite books of 2018 and some of the books on my list for 2019, below. and you can also follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading.

I had really hoped that my movement goal would work well, but late nights (reading or playing the new family favourite board game – Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle), hot weather and seven days of swimming lessons for the boys made that a bit tricker. I have done three parkruns (including on New Year’s Day) which I am excited about as I do have a goal to get quicker and run the whole 5km. A few of those sessions have been walks with the boys and even with the heat, I think we’ll do more walks together now they have been introduced to geocaching. Our Crossfit benchmark this month includes deadlifts which is my favourite lift and double-unders (skipping) which I can’t do but I’m excited to practice. The heatwave this week does mean I’ll need to be disciplined about getting up early and getting my workout done.

Sunday morning walk in the sunshine

I thought having a learning goal would be good but it has been the hardest to fulfil, in part because trying to listen to training videos when the boys are around has been hard. The only positive I will take from this is that I have been looking for learning opportunities each day which is a good mindset shift.

Keeping a record each day on the monthly page of my planner has been good, and I have made a point of leaving the things I don’t do blank, rather than making a cross because I want to focus on what I have done rather than what I haven’t done. Having an achievable, measurable, timed goal each day feels like a good way to cement some good habits, so I’ll definitely continue for the rest of month. I haven’t decided on my goals for February, but I may well continue to focus on these four things until they become a part of my daily routine.

We’re off to join some friends at a local caravan park and water park tonight (a local mini-break is better than nothing) and we’ll be trying to keep cool.

I’ll be back here on Thursday to share some of my favourite books about Hanoi and Vietnam.

I’d love to hear how you are going with your writing goals for 2019.

What’s on your reading wish list for the year ahead?

 

My top reads of 2018 (in no particular order)

The Sister’s Song – Louise Allan

The Passengers – Eleanor Limprecht

The Opal Dragonfly – Julian Leatherdale

Three Gold Coins – Josephine Moon

The Paris Seamstress – Natasha Lester

The Jade Lily – Kirsty Manning

The Greater Good – Tim Ayliffe

The Last of the Bonegilla Girls – Victoria Purman

Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

The Peacock Summer – Hannah Richell

Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton

The Lost Peal – Emily Madden

Tilly Maguire and the Royal Wedding Mess – Emma Grey

The Lost Man – Jane Harper

My top non-fiction for 2018

A Certain Light – Cynthia Banham

Any Ordinary Day – Leigh Sales

One Hundred Years of Dirt – Rick Morton

And a couple of great audio books

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis -J.D Vance

Reckoning – Magda Szubanski

Bridge Burning and other hobbies – Kitty Flanagan

On my to be read pile for 2019

Unfettered and Alive – Anne Summers

Essentialism – Greg McKeown

Boys will be boys – Clementine Ford

Cedar Valley – Holly Throsby

Becoming – Michelle Obama

A snapshot of my work in progress – Daughter of Hanoi

After posting about my writing goals on Monday (thanks to everyone that has dropped by to read it), I wanted to start sharing some of the stories behind the book I am currently working on. Thew working title is Daughter of Hanoi, although I have no doubt that will change.

About halfway through last year, I had a great idea for another book. (I should say straight up that it feels a little fraudulent to talk about my second book when my first book is still only 90,000 draft words that haven’t even had the first edit.) This was quite exciting as one of the things that had stopped me from writing in the past was the belief that I didn’t have any good ideas. I was still trying to finish the book I had started during Nanowrimo 2017 but this new idea was so tempting. But I listened to the advice from many experienced writers about finishing my first draft first. I wrote down as much as I could about this new idea and then went back to finishing the first draft. I was actually a great motivator to get the first draft done and when Nanowrimo started on 1 November, I was excited to be let loose on my story.

Sarah is 35 and a political journalist in the Canberra press gallery. The book starts with Sarah coming home to Broken Hill after the break-up of her relationship with a married politician. She finds her father collapsed on the lounge clutching a photo of himself, with a young Vietnamese woman and a baby. Tony is actually being treated for cancer, which Sarah did not know. But this is not the biggest shock. Sarah learns that the woman in the picture is her mother and that she was born in Hanoi when Tony was a diplomat.

Sarah has been brought up by Tony in Broken Hill where he reinvented himself as an artist. Growing up as part of the artist community, Sarah has never really wondered about her mother but Tony explains her mother has recently been in contact and Sarah agrees to go to Hanoi to meet her while Tony finishes his treatment in Australia.

The idea for this story came from listening to a colleague in Hanoi talk about courting his wife during the 80s by cycling around Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi. He was one of the first foreigners to be allowed to marry in Hanoi at that time. I liked the idea of Sarah going to Hanoi to uncover more of her father’s story and also learning about Vietnam’s culture and history.

Hoan Kiem lake Hanoi

While my posting to Hanoi from 2011-2014 would ultimately mark the end of my diplomatic career, it was a fantastic opportunity and a very special place to live. I still wonder how we survived that first year though – we arrived with a two-year-old and a three and a half-month-old, and after a few weeks language training (to consolidate the year of training I had in Australia), started a job that often involved 10 hour days and lots of travel.

For me, setting a book in Hanoi is an opportunity to relive some of our 3.5 years there. As I write, I get to ‘visit’ my favourite cafes and restaurants. I hadn’t planned for Sarah to end up in Hoi An but I was struggling as to where the story would go once she realised the guy she was seeing was her half-brother – who is not happy learning about a secret half-sister and all but chases her out of Hanoi. Hoi An, with its beautiful beaches and old town, was our happy place in Vietnam and the place we would escape from the pollution of Hanoi and the stress of my job at the Australian Embassy.

Lane 76 – our home for most of Hanoi posting

I have now been working on it for a bit over two months (although probably only about a month of solid writing) and I am about a third of the way through. Given things are likely to change significantly over the course of writing and editing this book, it is probably not too much of a spoiler to say Sarah travels to Hanoi, visits many of the places Tony and her mother Bich had taken her as a baby (Tony has kept a suitcase hidden of photos and things from Hanoi), meets her mother (who is now a senior government minister) and meets Hai, who she has a brief flirtation with until learning he is her half-brother and escapes Hanoi to Hoi An in the centre of Vietnam with Ben, the much younger son of her father’s old friend Tom. This is where the story is at the moment, with Sarah working at an orphanage, having decided to stay in Vietnam until Tony visits in a few months time.

Riverside in the old town in Hoi An

Unlike my first book, I did not have a plan for how this story would play out. I had an idea and in starting to write, I decided I would write in a more linear fashion (rather than dipping in and out of scenes as I had with my first draft) and I would see where the story went. I am not entirely sure where the story will end up, but I would like her to have a relationship with her mother, without trying to have too much of an ‘everyone lives happily ever after’ type ending.

In 2016, my first Nanowrimo attempt was a memoir of our time in Vietnam, drawing also on a diary I kept during my first visit there in 2003. In telling Sarah’s story, I am drawing on a lot of this information to explore some of the things about Vietnam that I find most interesting – from the role of women and the importance of the extended family unit to the way that Vietnam’s long and often turbulent history informs people’s behaviours. And of course, there is the amazing food, architecture, coffee and landscapes. We were last there for a 10-day visit in mid-2016 and as I write, I am finding myself becoming quite homesick. Of course, one of the key reasons for writing about Vietnam is knowing that if there is a chance of this story ever being published, I will need at least one research visit.

Iced egg coffee at the Hidden Cafe

In the coming weeks, I will update you on the story and I’ll also post about some of my favourite places in Vietnam, my favourite foods and places to shop, the history and holidays and my favourite books about Vietnam.

Have you been to Vietnam? Have you read any good books based in Vietnam?

New writing habits for 2019

This year I have decided not to get caught up in making any big resolutions. I am excited about 2019 but I know that resolutions and year-long plans are not the solution for me.

2018 was a frustrating year, to say the least. I didn’t make the progress I would have liked to in my writing and as a family, I felt like we were all on a treadmill of busy. The end of the year threw us some curveballs, with Simon’s surgeon deciding he would need to replace the prosthetic bone that had been fitted in March 2016 when a cancerous tumour was removed, and in November Simon’s Mum died after a long illness.

Throughout December, I read so many posts about setting goals and making resolutions. I could have gone with my standard get fit and healthy, write more and be more organised but I knew that wouldn’t work, even if I made them into SMART goals. I also knew from the experience of 2018 that life changes from month to month.

In 2018, I struggled to consistently set aside time to work on my novel and my copywriting. In late October, I eventually finished the first draft of the novel I started during Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2017. The novel tells the modern-day story of a young woman moving to the Barossa. As she re-creates a new life for her and her daughters, she uncovers her Aunt’s life story and the family’s history. It is now ‘sitting’ quietly and when I am ready, I’ll print all 90,000 words and start working on a second draft. The story definitely needs more fleshing out and I have a lot of historical research to do, but I am really happy with my first attempt at a first draft. If I can take anything out of 2018, it is the fact I now believe that I can write a book. I started a second book, based in Hanoi, in Nanowrimo 2018.

As I was being bombarded with posts about New Year’s Resolutions, I was trying to find the motivation to return to my writing.  I had lost both the enthusiasm and interest to write – and yet there was so much I wanted to work on – blog posts, my novel, and building up my copywriting work.

I put the call out in a few writing groups asking whether people preferred a word goal or a time goal. There were many different approaches and when I explained the reason behind my writing slump, I was surprised by how many people suggested I should just take it easy and perhaps let my writing go for a while. While there was no clear-cut solution to breaking my writing drought, the suggestions and the encouragement had just the right effect and I found myself deciding to go with a time goal of a 30 minutes a day of writing. I started then and there and ended up adding 800 words to my novel.

As New Year’s Day arrived and I started the year with a 5km parkrun, I decided to set a fitness goal for the month. Moving 30 minutes every day. And because I like a list, I decided that I should complement my 30 minutes of writing and moving with 30 minutes each of learning and reading. Two hours a day to start making some small steps towards some big goals. It is probably no surprise that reading for 30 minutes a day is almost a given but by adding it to my goals, I’m not feeling guilty about taking the time out to do it.

The learning goal was something I decided to add when I looked at how many courses I had signed up to during 2018 and not completed. Writing them all down was a bit daunting and I wasn’t sure where to start. There were courses on copywriting, SEO (search engine optimisation) and feature writing that I knew I needed to work through to progress my copywriting and fiction writing and so far, dedicating 30 minutes a day to learning something new has felt good.

But a plan on its own doesn’t mean much and even recording it in my gorgeous Emma Kate Co planner isn’t going to help. As Timehop reminded me this week, I also started 2018 with the goal of writing and moving for 30 minutes a day. Given I had completely forgotten about those goals, it obviously didn’t last long.

So far, the enthusiasm is still there and I’m enjoying ticking each task off my list but when this starts to wane, I’ll be calling on friends and family to keep me honest. I already have some good fitness buddies and I’ve joined Running Mums Australia for some extra encouragement to get my running back on track. My network of writing and blogging friends is growing which I know will provide both encouragement and accountability.

When all else fails, I am also looking at this as a set of goals just for January. In February, we’ll be back at work and school, so I might need to set some different goals. But for now, I am hoping that spending 30 minutes on each of those activities with make them more of a daily habit rather than a chore.

When it comes to making the most of 3.5 hours of dedicated writing time a week, I won’t just be working on my novel. Thanks to some great discussions with Emma from A Simple Living Journey, I’m planning to blog more about my novel writing process and the inspirations for these stories.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of my writing during the year and I hope you enjoy it.

Do you have any resolutions or goals for this year? What are you writing in 2019?

How Nanowrimo made me a writer.

This time last year, I was eagerly awaiting the start of Nanowrimo 2017. For those not familiar with the acronym it starts for National Novel Writing Month and it was started in the United States by a group of 21 friends in 1999. The goal is to write 50,000 words of a new book during November.

I first heard about it from my friend, author Emma Grey and made my first attempt, on a memoir about our time in Vietnam, in 2016. My enthusiasm was short-lived (we’d just moved house) and so 8,000 words in, I gave up.

But in 2017, I decided that I did want to write a book and to do that, I would have to write the first draft, no matter how bad it was. I had an idea for a dual-timeline family saga set here in the Barossa. The modern story would be about a woman who moved here to start over after the death of her husband, taking up residence in the property left to her by her great-Aunt. In my original plan, the historical timeline spanned five generations, although I soon realised that was overly ambitious.

In the lead up to November 2017, I downloaded a trial of Scrivener (a fabulous writing platform that allows you to organise scenes, chapters, notes etc) and I plotted out my story. I printed out a calendar to record my daily word count and I even went along to a meet-up of other writers in Adelaide. I made some new writing buddies and I announced my plans over social media.

Throughout November, I wrote most days. Some days I wrote well above the targeted 1667 words required to meet the 50,000-word goal. Other days I hit a wall. My exercise regime went out the window and I ate too much chocolate. There were a few wine-fueled writing sessions, but by 30 November 2017, I could say I had ‘won’ Nanowrimo as I’d written 50,000 words. It was a huge confidence boost, especially realising that once I started writing, the ideas flowed. I held tight to the idea that the first draft is just about getting the story down (thanks again Emma Grey) and that you can’t edit a blank page.

Fast-forward to a few months ago and I still only had about 60,000 words. I’d reworked the opening 10 pages to enter a competition and I’d decided to focus the historical timeline on the Great-Aunt (and not five generations). Even when I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about the book, and it was great having friends ask me about my writing.

Then another idea came nipping at my heels and I was tempted to abandon my half-finished first draft and work on the new idea. Fortunately, some wise counsel from authors in several writing groups talked me out of this, explaining the importance of finishing the first draft. I took a couple of hours and wrote the new ideas down, hoping that when I did come back to it, the excitement would still be there.

I am the first to admit I suffer from ‘shiny new object’ syndrome and I love trying new things – a new magazine, a new cookbook, a new training course. In mid-August, with only 58,326 words written, I realised that this couldn’t be the case here and I set my goal to get to 100,000 words by 31 October. I would finish my first draft, then put it away while I played with my new idea during Nanowrimo 2018. I would come back to it, probably over the summer, and start the second draft.

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After a huge writing session on Saturday afternoon, my word count was at 91,263. Since then I have been thinking about whether I will add the 8737 words to hit my magic 100,000 word count but with two days left, I have decided to call time on the first draft.

In part, this is because I now feel like any words I add will be just for the sake of adding words. As I wrote on Facebook on Sunday night, I am confident that I have a fairly complete first draft. The story is there – although I keep changing how it ends. I think what is missing is the description, some dialogue and character development. I feel like now is the right time to put it away. I’ll come back to it in the summer and we’ll see where it goes.

Will the second draft bear any resemblance to the first?

Probably not.

Does that mean the last year of writing has been a waste?

Definitely not.

Every word I have written in the last 11 months is proof that I can write, that I can come up with creative story ideas and most importantly, that I want to write.

So, if you’re sitting on the fence about doing Nanowrimo, my advice is – just do it!

You can sign up here and if like me, you also need a calendar on the wall to cross off, I highly recommend this one.

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Nanowrimo 2018 calendar from David Seah

All the best and happy writing! See you in December.

Finding my writing mojo with a road trip and a pen

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Editing on the beach – I could get use to that

Despite my good intentions at the start of the year, I haven’t had nearly enough time to write and when I have sat down, I’ve struggled with writer’s block. I’ve only added 5000 words to the 50,000 I wrote during Nanowrimo and for once, the strategy to just write and let the words flow hasn’t worked.

I was feeling frustrated that I had lost my novel writing mojo. Part of the problem was the fact I just didn’t know where my novel was up to. I’d half plotted the novel out in Scrivener, and then during Nanowrimo worked on particular scenes, so when I came back to it months later, I wasn’t sure where to start.

I might have continued to flounder had it not been for the push to enter a couple of really exciting writing competitions for beginners. This was just the incentive I needed to re-focus on my writing – but I wasn’t sure how to do it.

As we were packing for a two-week, 5000km road trip last month, I decided to print out the 190 pages of my manuscript and start editing. Now, I should say now, as someone who 12 months ago didn’t think she could write a novel, I feel like a fraud describing what I have written as a manuscript – but, that is what it is – even if it is a work in progress.

Turns out that printing out these pages, and picking up a pen has had a really positive effect. Editing the words I’d written, I rediscovered my writing mojo and I rediscovered my enthusiasm and excitement for the story I am trying to tell. There were definitely moments of “this is rubbish” but these were outweighed by moments of “I love this story and I want to finish it”.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that is was easier to edit this way because I have always been a “pen to paper” editor. But the other thing I found was having the pile of papers that make up this very rough first draft sitting beside me in the car or beside my bed, has prompted me to pick it up to read, edit and write – even if I only had 5 or 10 minutes to focus on it.

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Gertrude the cat is making sure I edit a few pages before picking up my book

I might have deleted more words than I have added but I have realised that is not a problem. While Nanowrimo is great for setting up a good writing discipline and for getting the bones of a story down, it does set up some slightly unrealistic expectations about how much you can write. I’ve learned in the last few weeks that it is just as important to delete the words that don’t add to your story as it is to add words.

While I only got through about 50 or 60 pages, just having those physical pages around has helped me think more about my book in the last few weeks than I have since Nanowrimo. I have had more ideas about how to structure my story better, and I’ve plotted out the story. I feel like I have become engaged in my story all over again, I know where I can take it and it’s so exciting.

Early on in the year, I’d set some lofty goals to enter a couple of competitions that required a completed manuscript, and that certainly did help with the feeling of being overwhelmed. So I have dialled things back and am now working on refining just the first few chapters for a couple of competitions really aimed at beginners. This is just the push I needed, and it’s been great to realise that sometimes, going back to the basics is really all you need.

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On the road from Cobar to Bourke – I fell in love with the colours of the outback

New year, new approach

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Beach walks in my hometown Wollongong

2017 was the year I started to write more. I started the Australian Writers Centre Make Time to Write course which I’d discovered during our visit to Vietnam in July 2016 when I decided to write a book about our time there. The 30 day boot-camp was a great kick start, and helped me add about 12,000 words to the 8000 I’d written during Nanowrimo 2016. I got back into a routine with my blog, especially when the post I wrote about a photo-shopped school photo went viral. Once I decided to wind up my consulting business, I started a 5 week online course with the Australian Writers Centre, joining the Freelance Masterclass program when I finished. I did Nanowrimo for third time and finally succeeded in writing for the whole month of November, putting down 50,000 words and making a good start on a book I’m looking at returning to in 2018.

But as I focused on my writing, my fitness went downhill and as we emerged from the long winter, I could no longer ignore that too much chocolate and wine as rewards for writing had resulted in me feeling unfit, fat and unmotivated. I needed to commit to moving every day – even if just for a 30 minute walk.

So while the idea of making New Year’s resolutions doesn’t really appeal to me, I decided that commiting to 30 minutes of exercise – alongside 30 minutes of writing every day seemed like a reasonable goal. I also know that its long enough to be of benefit but short enough to fit it in around everything else I need to do. I know that putting on my exercise gear or sitting down to write is half the battle. I never regret a walk or a workout and some of my best writing sessions have been when I have told myself I’ll just write for 10-15 minutes before school pick-up. Often I’ve had to leave with ideas still flowing which might once have been frustrating but I now know means I’m much more likely to be excited and inspired the next time I sit down to write.

While 30 minutes of exercise or writing in and of itself is worthwhile, I do have some goals in mind. I want to lose about 15-20 kilos (which I did 6 years ago when we were first in Hanoi) and run a half-marathon non-stop. I’d also like to conquer some fears and reach some goals in the gym. When it comes to writing, the goals are simple – get my first freelance piece published, build a successful side-career (1-2 articles a fortnight) and finish my manuscript.

In 2014 I left a career, in 2015 I started a business and wound it up in 2017. 2016 was about starting a new job and then dealing with my husband’s cancer diagnosis and recovery – and buying a house. So many big changes and challenges.

A great quote from surfer Layne Beachley at the Australian Museum’s 200 Treasures exhibition

2018 is about taking the resources and tools I already have to achieve the goals I have set. I have a couple of great writing communities including the support and advice offered through the Freelance Masterclass program. I have a great gym, trainer and community. I know how to eat well. 2018 is not about finding “shiny new things”. Instead it is about commiting – on a daily basis – to doing what I know works and applying the skills and knowledge I already have.

As a mother and wife, I know that I’ll never be able to carve out all the time I want to do “my” things. The mental load is real and the reality is, we all have the same 24 hours. Sure I’d love to not get up before 6am, but I know I need to if I want to get healthy again and have the energy I need to reach the goals I have set. I’d love a whole uninterrupted day to write, but that is probably not going to happen this year, so I just need to make the most of the snippets of time I have. Nanowrimo taught me this and I’ve also been loving Nat Newman’s messenger bot that sends me a message at an allocated time reminding me to write – which then lets me set a timer for however long I have.

The focus of this post might have been my writing and fitness but I’d remiss if I forgot to mention my reading goals. I have no doubt my enthusiasm for writing has been improved by the goal I set to read more in 2017. Using Goodreads, I set a challenge to read 25 books, that I kept increasing until it reached 40.  I read 38 books – which is probably the total of all the books I’d read in the 2-3 years previously. So this year, I’ve upped the ante and I’m aiming to read 45 books and because I like to make life “interesting”, I’ve also decided to cook at least one new recipe a week from one of my many cookbooks!

It has taken me a few years to get into the groove of part-time work, a side-gig and school pick-ups and after-school activities, I really feel like this might just be the year that it all comes together.

5 lessons from my Nanowrimo win

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My first attempt at Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2014 lasted one day. I had a vague story idea, met the estimated daily word count of 1667 and gave in.

During our visit to Vietnam in July 2016, I had the urge to write a book about our posting. I wrote about 8000 words during Nanowrimo but decided moving and writing was too hard.

This year, I have focused on my writing, doing a couple of Australian Writer’s Centre courses, blogging more, listening to writing podcasts, and joining writing groups on Facebook. I have also read more – 35 books, and with 2 weeks left in the year, I’m fairly confident of hitting my target of 40 books.

All of these things meant that when Nanowrimo discussions started to ramp up, I was determined to win. After abandoning (for now) the idea to write a book about my Dad, I decided to write a romantic historical fiction based here in the Barossa. I set my novel up on my Nanowrimo page and announced it to the world. I even went along to the launch party with a group of other Adelaide writers.

I won, writing 50,000 words in November. I learned a lot about writing, my writing style and routines and the things you need to be a successful writer.

Here are my 5 top lessons

 1. Find your writing tribe

I think this was probably the most important thing for me. I joined the So you want to be a writer podcast Facebook group and the Nanowrimo Adelaide Facebook group and connected with people on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I shared updates on my word counts, encouraged others and was inspired as others shared their success. The encouragement from so many strangers was amazing, and in these groups, I actually felt like I was really a writer.

I also shared updates on my own Facebook page and social media, which was great for accountability. Friends understood it when I said I needed to write and I also appreciated the encouragement.

 2. Just start writing

Even on the days I couldn’t be bothered or thought I didn’t have time, I knew I just needed to start. I would tell myself I would just write 200 words or write for 15 minutes. These were strategies I had learned doing Alison Tait’s Make Time to Write course and they really work. It’s the strategy I’m using as I write this post, which I’ve been meaning to write for almost 3 weeks.

Once I started writing, the ideas started flowing and I would find myself getting completely caught up in the story. While it was annoying to be interrupted to go to work, or take the boys to sport, it meant that the next time I sat down to write, I wasn’t stuck for ideas.

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3. Get the story down

This advice was from my friend Emma Grey. Seeing Emma’s success with her young adult novel Unrequited, which she wrote during Nanowrimo a couple of years ago has been a huge inspiration. One day when I was feeling stuck writing dialogue and descriptions about the characters and landscape, Emma told me to just get the story down because once I had that, I could go back and fill in the gaps. It was great advice and I would find myself getting completely carried away with the story, coming up with ideas and angles I hadn’t expected. Writing a novel that covers a period from the 1840s until now, I will have to fill in some historical gaps, but I knew I couldn’t get caught up in researching or I wouldn’t get 50,000 words written. And if I had started editing my work, I would no doubt have started doubting my ideas and writing ability.

4. Scrivener is amazing

Scrivener is an amazing software program that organises a novel by chapter and scenes. It is very visual, allowing you to see which scenes are finished and which need more work. There are options to tag each scene with things like the year, characters, point of view etc.  I was a bit worried that learning a new software program would distract me from writing but Nanowrimo participants get an extended trial period and I signed up to the Australian Writer’s Centre 2 hour online course with Natasha Lester in October. The course provided loads of great tips on using Scrivener and working through the modules, I was able to plot out my novel ready to start writing on 1 November. I loved the option of being able to set a daily word target and watch my progress.

I was excited that Scrivener 3 was released just as Nanowrimo finished and I was able to  take advantage of the 50 per cent discount for winners. I am definitely a convert and look forward to going back to my Vietnam memoir now I have an easy way to organise that parts I have written.

 

 5. Try to stick to a regular routine

I suspended my gym membership for November because I’d been struggling with injury and illness and I just wanted to give myself a month to get well. It is probably lucky I did, because my strategy to write every day, even for 15 minutes before bed would often result in me getting completely caught up in my story, and going to bed after midnight, where I often couldn’t sleep because my mind was so full of my story and characters. It took me the first week of December to re-set my sleeping habits and get back to the gym. I also ate way more chocolate that I should have. I don’t recommend this strategy and next year, I’ll be fitting my writing in around exercise and sleep.

While I know I could not write at that pace long-term, Nanowrimo was definitely a great opportunity to focus on getting a story written and reaching 50,000 words has given me the confidence to believe that I might one day finish writing a novel (hopefully this one).

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