Tools to Help You Succeed at NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is a week away and if you aren’t hyperventilating yet, please don’t start. You’ll be fine. Remember, you’re joining thousands of other writers across the globe embarking on the exact same journey. Connect with them. Lift each other up. Cheer each other on.

You’ve got this!

Since I’ll be participating this year, I thought I’d share some of my favorite resources. These are essential whenever I sit down to write.

Self Control

How many times have you said, “Ok, I’m going to write for an hour and not check Facebook or Instagram.” But then you remembered an awesome outfit or meal on your friend’s account and you want to use it in your story. You break your promise and go on social media. Next thing you know, your hour of writing is up and you’ve only written 100 words.

Mind you, it’s 100 words you didn’t have before, but you’d have a lot more if it wasn’t for social media. 

Self Control is a great, free, app you can use to block certain sites. You create a “blacklist” of sites, set the timer, and within that time frame, if you try and go to those listed sites, Self Control will block them.

It’s pretty ingenious. But what about your phone? How do you stop yourself from switching to your phone for a social media fix? 

The best and only option: put your phone in another room. Or invest in a kitchen safe. Put your phone in the jar, set the timer, and get to work. You won’t be able to remove the lid until the timer goes off. 

These may seem like extreme measures, but if you’re too easily distracted by your phone or social media, they’re actually pretty smart investments.

Be Focused

Bestselling author V.E. Schwab swears by timed writing sprints. She tracks these sprints monthly in her notebook which she shares via her social media. These sprints are usually 30 minutes each.

You may have heard of the Pomodoro Technique. A popular time management method, you work on whatever task you assign yourself for 25 straight minutes. Afterward, you get a five-minute break. Then you work for another 25 minutes and so on. Once you complete four sessions, you get a longer break.

Be Focused is an app that makes using the method easy.

This method has been a life-saver for me. I prefer timed goals rather than word count goals and this one makes me quite productive. Some days I only have time for two sessions instead of four. On really tight days, I can only do one session. But focusing on writing and nothing but writing for those 25 minutes sees a pretty impressive word count.

The app is free and there are a few variations. If you don’t want to use the app, the timer on your phone works just fine. 

Trello

Trello is a list-making website that is great for project management. My team at the non-profit I work at uses it to track our projects and now I use it for writing and personal projects.

You can make “boards” for each individual story and create lists for characters, scenes, playlists, etc. Within those lists can be tasks/notes and within those tasks are the nitty-gritty details like checklists, due dates, and resources. 

What I love about Trello are the functions. You can create labels and color code them. You can attach links, YouTube videos, images, Google docs/sheets, and more. I love making checklists because breaking large projects into smaller tasks makes it more manageable. And the deadline feature is a great accountability tool. 

You can share your board with other writers, especially if you’re collaborating. 

The program is free. The pro version gives you a bit more bells and whistles, but nothing you’d really need if all you’re using are the basics. You can download the free app on your phone to keep all of your notes and deadlines handy when you’re away from your computer. 

Alternatives include monday.com, Asana, and Wrike.

Notebook & Neo

A lot of my first drafts — especially my short stories and essays — are done longhand. Even with Self Control, I sometimes find myself too distracted by the computer to write on it. Basically, I have fear of the blank page.

But when I open a notebook and start handwriting, my thoughts flow. 

I can’t explain it. Writing my first drafts longhand guarantee they’ll get written. I also use my trusty Alphasmart Neo word processor. I can bring it outside and not worry about the sun’s glare. The sound of the keyboard is soothing and it only shows four lines of your current work. Perfect for those who go back and edit too much. 

I’ve noticed a lot of writers — published and unpublished — switching to word processors. With good reason. It’s amazing how much easier the words and thoughts come out when I’m not working off of a laptop. 

If you’re feeling stuck, switch it up. Try longhand writing in a notebook to unblock your thoughts. If you have a word processor, switch to that. 

One final piece of advice 

Be kind to yourself. 

This isn’t an easy thing you’re attempting. You’ll have good days and bad days. Don’t let the bad days discourage you. Write on. Celebrate no matter how much you write next month.

What resources do you swear by when writing? Are you looking for an accountability buddy this NaNoWriMo? Have you ever written a draft longhand?

Your Right to Vote and Why You Should

I recently had an essay published on The Big Smoke. I talk about the education I received in school about politics and voting. More accurately, I talk about how horrible it was. I also talk about how I finally started taking politics seriously in my 30s. My voice could very well be responsible for the future state of this country. Why wouldn’t I use it?

I’m sure by now you’re probably sick of hearing about the election. Believe me, there are days when I don’t want to hear another thing about it. But it’s fair to say the reason this election is literally everywhere is because of its importance.

It’s fair to say the current administration does not have everyone’s best interests in mind. They want to get rid of the Affordable Care Act during a time when thousands of people are out of work due to a global pandemic. Do they have a replacement plan ready to go? No.

I understand administrations wanting to change things they don’t agree with but at least have a plan in place. They need to stop putting their personal vendettas first. The safety and concern of the American people should always lead to their decisions. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.

I’m not here to get into a debate about administrations. Everyone has a right to vote for whatever person they believe will do the best job.

What I’m here to tell you is if you’re falling in the “I’m not sure I want to vote because I don’t like either candidate” hole, you need to vote.

Not voting just because you don’t like a candidate is not the answer. 

Believe me, I’m not thrilled with the choices. I’m still voting because not voting will make me feel like I didn’t give my voice a chance to be heard.

I vote because my vote is my voice and when I don’t vote I give up my power and the chance for change.

It’s our responsibility to teach younger generations that we’re not always going to have candidates we like on the ballot. But voting is still important because a non-vote can swing in the direction you don’t want to go. 

You’ve probably heard people say if you didn’t vote, you shouldn’t complain. I’m sorry to say I agree with that statement. If you want to see change, you have to use your voice. And our voices during an election are loudest on the ballot. I know there doesn’t seem to be a silver lining anytime soon, but if we don’t vote and steer our country in the right direction, there won’t be one for a really long time.

So please, get out there and vote. Vote early. Get involved. Make phone calls. Send letters. Text. Volunteer to work at the polls. Getting involved is one of the best ways to learn about the importance of elections. And if you’re still in school, don’t be afraid to ask your teacher harder questions. We won’t change the way we learn about politics unless we take the initiative to change it.