How I’m Preparing For Camp NaNoWriMo

If you follow me on Instagram, then you’ll know that I’ve signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo next month!

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – is a challenge where you need to write 50,000 words by the end of the month. The main event takes place throughout November, but two camps (smaller versions of this challenge) occur in April and July. The difference is that you get to choose what you write and how much – a short story collection, poetry, whichever you prefer.

For my Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve decided to set 40,000 words as my target. The reason for this is because I’m using this event to finish my novel, of which I’m already over halfway through, so I don’t think I need 50,000 words to finish it (fingers crossed).

Obviously, completing NaNoWriMo is going to be tough if you don’t prepare. So I’m prepping as much as I can, based on the advice I’ve been given from other NaNoWriMo’ers and what I’ve read online. I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt so far to help anyone else starting out on their journey.

Set a realistic target

As aforementioned, Camp NaNoWriMo allows you to set your own writing target.

It’s tempting to set a small goal that you know you’ll reach. For some, it can also be tempting to set yourself a larger target that’s more challenging, as it seems more impressive and the reward will be greater.

The issue with doing either of these is that they’re not realistic goals. Smaller targets that you find easy do not push you enough, but challenges that are too far-fetched are going to make you feel worse about your work; you’ll feel that they’re unattainable, so you’re more likely to give up.

Set a target that you know you can reach, as long as you put in the effort. You’ll achieve more and meet your word count in no time!

Schedule your time

To complete NaNoWriMo, you need to prioritise writing above pretty much everything else (aside from socialising, and general self-care, of course). It’s recommended that you create a schedule for the month so you can assign individual word counts for each day, based around how much time you’ll have.

I’ve made a calendar using Google Sheets, on which I’ve noted my writing targets, as well as space to fill in my total daily word count. It’s a quick and easy way to track my progress, and it saves automatically so I can access it at any time.

Research as much as you can beforehand

Picture this: you’re typing frantically, your fingers struggling to keep up with the speed of your brain, but then you need to stop. You’ve reached a point in the chapter where more research is required; you can’t continue until you’ve double-checked transport methods from the 1300s, or there’s some war going on but you can’t remember the date of one of the battles.

Research can be incredibly time-consuming, depending on the topic. As I’m writing historical fiction, I’ve made it my goal this month to research as many topics as needed. Earlier this month, I plotted my remaining chapters in more detail. Then, I added another tab in my Google sheet for crucial facts I’ll need when writing next month. This way, I won’t get caught up in finding the info I need to keep writing.

This is especially handy if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands – there’ll be nothing holding you back from getting those words down.

Get reading

As Stephen King said:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

The more we read, the better writers we become. Therefore, reading is one of the best ways you can prepare yourself for Camp NaNoWriMo.

Personally, my writing is 100x better when I’ve been reading a lot. The right words come to mind more swiftly and I spend less time imagining how long I need to bang my head against a wall to get my brain working.

Try and read a book that’s related to your writing project; it could be from the same genre, the same author, or it could have similar plot elements. Anything that will keep inspiring you throughout the month will be a huge help.

Check out NaNoWriMo’s site

The NaNoWriMo website is a web of resources for anyone participating at any point during the year. You’ll undoubtedly find something you need from the prepping ideas on their blog, and the forums and local groups.

NaNoWriMo is a community, something you’ll sense as soon as you start exploring their webpages. I personally love the various writing groups hosted by your local area rep. Obviously, we can’t all meet in person at the moment, but your rep will share resources to help you prepare, motivate you as you tackle your writing project, and keep you updated if need be.

You feel like you’re apart of something incredible when you join, meeting new people up and down the country, coming together to write.

Be kind to yourself

Last one, but certainly not the least.

Writing is hard; we all know that. No one will write a perfect chapter every single day next month – it’s impossible. What will happen is that some days we’ll write something we’re happy with, and then on other days, we’ll maybe write five words max, or 1000 words that we’ll want to delete.

I started writing in notebooks over my laptop when I realised that I spent more time editing on my computer than actually putting words down. It would take me half hour to write a paragraph because I kept deleting sentences, hoping I could come up with something better.

But NaNoWriMo isn’t like that. In fact, it doesn’t allow that to happen. This challenge is all about building a writing habit and getting as much down as possible, whether it’s perfect or not. And it won’t be, especially if, like me, you’re writing a first draft.

So don’t beat yourself up if you’re unimpressed with your work so far. Don’t worry if you’re struggling to come up with beautifully-crafted descriptions; just jot down some sentences, and you can work on them later. Nor does it matter if 10 words are all you can conjure one day. It happens.

Just relax, breathe, and remember why you’re doing this. I’ve made several motivational notes to stop me from criticising myself and take a break if I need to, which hopefully will help!

Remember, it doesn’t matter how many words you write in a day. You just need to hit your target by the end of the month.

We got this.

4 Podcasts I Can’t Get Enough Of

If you follow me on Instagram, then you know that I’ve finally started listening to podcasts. I’ve become quite bored with music recently, and anyone who knows me knows that I really struggle with audiobooks, so podcasts didn’t generally seem like my thing.

But I decided to take the plunge. And now I can’t stop listening. I am picky with podcasts, though; they need to be good else I daydream and stop paying attention. It’s, therefore, because of this that this post covers only four podcasts – they’re the few that I’ve become absolutely addicted to.

So, these are the four that have captivated me so far:

Book Cheat

I LOVE this podcast – it’s my favourite one so far. Essentially, Dave Warneke, the host, reads a classic novel, so we don’t have to. In each episode, Dave invites two companions to sit down and listen to him tell the story of a classic, including themes and famous quotes. By the end of the episode, you can pretend you’ve read it (handy if you’re an English student trying to read 57548 books at once).

It’s such a simple podcast, yet it’s hilarious. We all know that classic novels are generally long-winded, dramatic, and many events could easily be avoided (cough, Frankenstein, cough). And on top of that, the sharp class and gender divisions just add to the circumstances. The three podcasters pick these out, mimicking their foolishness entirely, e.g., Anne (Persuasion)’s father disapproving of men with self-made wealth and preferring those born into money.

It’s a lighthearted podcast that takes a dive into the canon’s famous works and, in some cases, rips them to shreds while applauding them at the same time. And if that’s not enough, their Australian accents make everything sound fantastic.

FestCast

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’re likely aware of my love for the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Well, Cheltenham Festivals, the masterminds behind the lit, Jazz, Science, and Music festivals, started their own podcast last year, which showcases content from past festivals. There are episodes for readers and thinkers of all sorts, covering topics such as the idea of a gendered brain and the rise of extremism, as well as talks from famous faces like Hilary Clinton, David Mitchell, and J.K Rowling.

I have been inspired by so many talks from the lit festival, so having the ability to relive them brightens my day. As you can imagine, J.K’s talk is my favourite – she even mentions a few places from our home town!

The Guardian Books Podcast

This podcast takes a weekly dive into the world of the written word. Each episode explores the latest trends and movements, as well as recollective discussions of classic works.

Alongside this, authors regularly participate in interviews, focusing on their latest publications and writing routines. My personal favourites include the exploration of The Guardian’s top 100 books, which includes Harry Potter‘s influence on literature, and coverage of the Hay-On-Wye Lit Festival. That episode gave me the closest look at the festival that I’ve had yet.

Some of the discussions that take place on this podcast are so mind-boggling. I do recommend this series as it really makes you think of books in different ways, which you may have not considered before.

The Writing Life

This was the first podcast that I got into, and it’s the only one on this list solely dedicated to writing. Run by the National Centre for Writing, each week, we meet different authors and journalists of different specialisms and explore their writing journeys and techniques. If you lack writing motivation, look no further than this podcast.

My favourite episode is Sarah Perry’s Harriet Martineau lecture, where Perry discusses the ‘Essex girl.’ She looks at women from past and present, bringing forward those lesser-known who made a difference. It’s one of the most captivating and beautiful talks I’ve ever heard.

Following this, while I am not a fan of her novels, Margaret Atwood’s writing tips is a fascinating episode. She is interviewed by the Centre’s young ambassadors, and, as one of the bestselling authors to date, provides an insight into her writing life and encourages her interviewers, and listeners everywhere to get writing.

Episodes also include pitching to agents, becoming a productive writer, finishing your first book, and editing guides – there really isn’t anything this podcast hasn’t covered.

Six months on

It’s crazy to think that I started this blog six months ago. I haven’t posted on here half as regularly as what I intended, so I think that’s why I feel a bit strange writing this, as if it’s my baby and I haven’t been looking after it the way I should be. But I’m still happy with it so far, and I love writing for it.

I never really wanted to post so much personal stuff on my blog, simply because I’m not that soppy and just get on with things instead of reflecting on them. But recently, my lack of writing has become so frustrating that I’ve settled for writing whatever comes to my head, and my post Finding the time to write was born. Turns out, I loved writing it, and since then I’ve been more open to posting random thoughts that come to mind.

It’s weird to think that my bookstagram started as a portfolio, a way to show my skills in social media. But it’s turned into something that I love doing, that I love looking at again and again. My blog started as a follow of this, when I realised how annoying it was to have so many thoughts that wouldn’t fit in an Instagram caption. It took me a month to create it, as I was too picky with the designs, and wanted each post to be perfect.

While I still have that picky mindset about the website itself (especially since starting my job for an SEO agency), when it comes to the blogs however, I don’t really care about making sure they’re perfect. I just do what I want to do and if a lot of people read it, then that’s incredible. But, I’ve stopped living with the fear of my latest post not reaching high standards and a large number of traffic, because this blog is only six months old.

I’ve always had a plan about my life, where I want to be and how I’m going to get there. I set myself high standards, and beat myself up when I don’t achieve them. I think that’s why my novel has been taking so long; I’d write three sentences then spend a good fifteen minutes at least trying to think of better wording and check I’ve properly built up whatever it is that I’m writing about.

But now, I write in my notebook before my laptop, so I can just scribble words down and edit them later. I’ve got so much more done in the past couple months than I did last year, and that was when it was my dissertation. I’ve still set myself a deadline, but I’m not worrying too much about it being perfect. And that’s also how I feel about my blog.

So, who knows what it’s going to look like six months from now? It might be the same, or I might have changed it all completely. That’s what I find exciting about all this – watching my blog grow and grow.

An ode to the creative person

Want to know something awesome?

You can lift yourself into a whole new world, just by putting words down on a piece of paper. Write one word, then another, and then another, and soon you will find yourself transported into a different world that is built entirely by your imagination.

Creative people are the best kind of people, not that I’m biased or anything ha. Creatives are curious, excited, passionate, always noticing the little things about their world and channeling their discoveries and ideas into their work, no matter what form it takes.

Curious about everything and anything, wanting to play around and explore, experimenting with what you love. It’s all about that moment when a thought hits you hard enough to ignite a spark that’s so strong it consumes you; it’s suddenly all you can think about. If you’re doing something small and mundane like washing up or sat at your desk in the office trying to concentrate on the task at hand, but instead you sit there dreaming about this idea and the impact it could have. Because, in one way or another, every project you take on will have some sort of influence somewhere, even if it is only on yourself.

Creative people never stop working, you see. Even if it’s only thinking about the next stage of their work, preparing themselves for when they can get to their desired workspace and start putting pen to paper (or paintbrush to canvas, or fingers to keyboard or guitar strings, or fingers to camera – that last one was so poorly written, but you get what I mean ha). When you look at successful creatives, there is one common thread between every single one of them: they never gave up. They kept on working for as long as they could on a daily basis. Any moment of time that they suddenly have, they used it for their pursuits. Creative people are some of the most hardworking people you will ever meet. And they are like this for many reasons.

One is that they literally cannot escape their ideas. Ideas loom over you, taking over your life. They can stay with you for days, months, years. They sit with you when you’re drinking your morning coffee, walking alongside you on your morning commute, sleeping next to you every night. Ideas attach themselves to you, and consumes you, the basis of your motivation.

Another reason is the fight. I think what’s amazing about creatives is that they fight against the time they have and their struggles, with no guarantee that it will ever amount to anything. Emily Dickinson wrote against the lack of encouragement she received, the lack of response from those who read her work, continuously scribbling away in isolation and her loneliness. Charles Dickens fought against his lack of education and his poor working conditions by writing fifteen novels and hundreds of short stories, campaigning for social reforms like children’s rights and education. Nothing stops a creative person, because they refuse to let it.

To put it simply, creative people are amazing.

Creativity is a raw expression of oneself – no one creates work from nothing (I hope I got that saying right). Creatives are motivated by what they see, feel, hear, think. They then take all of that and put it on display for everyone to see. I don’t think there’s anything braver.

Just think. That book you read that you can’t stop thinking about? That song that you listen to on repeat without interruption? That film that you keep telling people to watch? That photograph or artwork that was so captivating you almost cried? That musical that had you on the edge of your seat? Creative people did that. They’ve had an impact on your life, by expressing something from their own.

To summarise, I love being a creative person. Also, more importantly, I love writing.

review: The Familiars

SPOILERS AHEAD

If you’re following me on Insta, you probably know by now that I’m writing a novel. What I am yet to mention (I think?) is that it’s set on the witch trials. So when I first heard of The Familiars by Stacey Hall, I knew I had to get it.

A few months later, after being distracted by Christmas book stack, it’s now sitting closed on my bookshelf after spending a few days travelling everywhere with me. I couldn’t put it down.

The plot, characters and basically every aspect of this novel has been thoroughly researched (bar a few fictional embroideries), but none of that bogged down the story. Something happened in every chapter, the pacing was perfect, and I fell in love with two main characters, Fleetwood and Alice.

Fleetwood was my favourite character. I loved how determined she was, and that she was outspoken and didn’t hesitate to speak unless she needed to. There were many scenes throughout the book that occurred around the dining table – where Fleetwood would hear most of the news concerning the Pendle witches – and she always asked lots of questions and dug for information, even though this would not have been within her wifely role.

Even though I liked the character of Alice, I personally felt that there wasn’t much revealed about her. By the end of the novel, we know about her home and family, her previous job, little info on her mother, and the fact she can’t read, but nothing about her personality itself. She serves as a shadow throughout the book, popping in and out fairly quickly for such an important character.

Although, saying that, the scene where Fleetwood teaches Alice to write her name was one of my favourites. It was so well thought out, like how Alice questioned why Fleetwood’s name is longer even though it has the same amount of syllables as her own. ‘She smiled and took it from me’ was one of the few times that I could remember where Alice smiled in this book, so it was nice to see her doing something for herself, not being a midwife or working to provide for her drunken father. A moment of pure happiness.

It was also nice to see Fleetwood fulfilling the motherly role that she desperately wants. At this point, we’re unsure if she will survive the birth of her child, so this scene at least provided her with a small chance to have an impact on someone’s life.

One thing that I was disappointed about was that we didn’t get to see the trial of the Pendle witches. While witches are mentioned over and over, and we see the Devizes child who is alluded to be one, as is Alice, we don’t really witness any hangings or anything. We see the prison in which they are kept – which Hall described amazingly well, I remember feeling a chill when reading that section – but I would have liked to see the trial itself, especially as it’s such a significant historical event. Fleetwood was unconscious during childbirth so missed it, but Richard travelled there to rescue Alice for her, maybe we could have switched to his POV for a chapter and witnessed this ourselves?

This is only a small criticism though, as I still loved the novel and would definitely pick it up again. Books based on the witch trials are my favourites, so if there are any you recommend, please let me know!

Finding The Time To Write

Notebook

For as long as I can remember, everyone has told me that the key to becoming a great writer is to write something every day. It’s true, and I’ve always known that; my writing is usually better quality when I’m doing it consistently. It’s also easier to come up with ideas for both my book blog and novel after frequent reading sessions.

Recently though, my writing routine has been fading into oblivion. Being hit by a spark of creativity is rare, and it’s been frustrating me for a while.

I’ve been thinking about my writing a lot the past few weeks or so. Last month, I went full time in my marketing job as I began to take on more responsibilities, an exciting step in the right direction for me. Plus, it’s nice to have a job that I actually enjoy (pretty sure that this is the first time ever?)

‘an exciting step in the right direction.’ I’m looking at these words as if they shouldn’t be there like they’re wrong, and I’m telling lies.

This is all that I’ve been doing of late – questioning everything, doubting my decisions. My number one ambition in life is to become an author and a freelance writer alongside, but how can I do that if I’m not writing?

This very post that you’re reading is the most that I’ve written, in one go, in a while. Before, I found it so easy to write, even on a train at 7.30 in the morning that’s filled with bleary-eyed commuters who have taken all the seats. However, for the past few weeks, all I’ve been doing is getting my notebook out, and that’s it. Either no words come to mind and I struggle to put pen to paper, or I force myself to jot down random things that come out as dry, bland and, frankly, crap. I hated it, the thought of a blank page or horrid sentences that meant absolutely nothing.

Every writer I know has gone through either a burnout or writer’s block. A few weeks ago, this is what I thought my problem was; It was a week where I had a lot to do, I was tired every day and had recently finished writing a piece for another site. Once I had written that that was it. I stopped writing, my reading slowed down, and I was falling asleep almost as soon as I got home. Nothing was being done. I kept telling myself that I had done quite a lot recently, and so a few days off wasn’t hurting anyone. But now I fear that this is becoming my routine, and I can’t let that happen.

My lack of reading and writing is reflected clearly through my content on not only this blog but my bookstagram as well. The last time I had a serious photo session was before I went full time, well over a month ago now. That’s pretty obvious if you look at my feed – my recent photos were either taken within five minutes featuring books that have already appeared on my account multiple times, or unused images that were taken months ago.

This weekend I have more time, so I WILL get outside and take better photos.

Even though I have more time right now, I don’t necessarily mean that I have less work to do or anything. My weekends are usually spent with my boyfriend, friends or family, as I don’t really get to see them during the week. But I also have my novel, blog, and freelance work, and that’s a lot to squeeze into a weekend. Maybe that’s why it goes so quickly.

Maybe I need to take a step back and consider different ways to do this. My freelance work has high priority, obviously, but I’m determined to make more time for my novel. This could mean neglecting my blog (not that I post regularly enough on here anyway, whoops) which makes me feel somewhat sad because I like writing on here. But, for now, it might have to become my random, sporadic-moments-of-creativity thing and my novel the essential, instead of the other way round.

I’m not saying I hate my job because I don’t. I enjoy it. It’s the changes in my routine that I’m not so fussed about. I just want to feel motivated again, have a longing to write all day, every day, even when I genuinely can’t at times. I want to get excited when I have an idea, and I want that to happen often. I always used to, and I miss it.

My goal this year was to finish my first draft, and I’m going to stick to that goal. I’m determined to be a writer again.