Three Ways to Make NaNoWriMo Work for You

NaNoWriMo. One of the most talked-about months of the year for authors and casual writers alike, but few actually take on the challenge. Fewer still finish it.

I’m one of those people. I have never used November to write 50,000 words in one go. Instead, I’ve used it to build my writing career up in a much more constructive way. Why? More importantly, how?

Call me crazy, but I don’t see many benefits in writing 50,000 words in one month. It burns people out, downplays the importance of planning and plotting, and gets people focused on word count instead of storytelling. That’s not to say that NaNoWriMo doesn’t have it’s upsides, because it certainly does, but I find larger benefits elsewhere.

There are three primary ways to make this challenging month work for your own goals.

Asking someone to write a novel in a month is a lot. Asking yourself to do that and then beating yourself up after the fact is even worse.

NaNo Hopefuls see these metrics and think they have to accomplish them, not realizing that, hey, guess what, you don’t need to write anything at all.

Do you have something that needs editing? A series you have to plan? Research you need to do? Do that instead. Set your goal to ‘storyboarding 20 pages’, or ‘take notes on the 13 untouched research books you have’. You’re not a failure just because you’re not actively drafting a novel.

NaNoWriMo Blog Banner #2: "Change the scope of your project"

50,000 words is a huge chunk, and that amount sets some people up for disappointment right out the gate. November is the holiday season, family obligations begin to pile up, and finding time to spend on writing is difficult. But remember this: 50,000 is an arbitrary number.

Yes, it’s the minimum necessary to be considered a novel, but aside from that, it doesn’t mean anything. Completing 20,000 words (or whatever your magic number is) is just as meaningful. Or a collection of poems. A series outline. Maybe even a perfected synopsis.

Stop expecting yourself to put down the same number of words as everyone else when your goals are inherently different.

 

NaNoWriMo Blog Banner #3: "Make your project suit your needs"

At this very moment, what do you need to do? What have you been putting off? What would benefit your work most at this very point in time, even if you’ve been avoiding it? There’s more to a successful writing career than just drafting a book. One of the ways I’ve made NaNoWriMo work for me is by aiming to knock out a big chunk of whatever it is I need to get done– even if I don’t want to.

For instance, I’ve been dragging my feet with making meaningful edits on my novel Death of an Immortal (formerly The Immortal). So for NaNoWriMo, I’ve set out to edit the remaining 49,000 words of it. I’m taking a chance to look at the huge missed opportunities that I would have otherwise decided not to deal with, and am instead tackling them. It’s a grueling process. But, it suits the needs of my book.

I would much rather make a leap forward in my writing career than have yet another 50,000+ story I need to edit.

 

Have you ever used NaNoWriMo outside of writing the traditional 50k? How did you change it up, and how did it benefit you? Comment below!

 

If you’d like to stay up-to-date with my writings, sign up for my email list in the box below. 📚

 

Until next time!

 

 

 

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You Will Never Find Time to Write

You will never find time to write

So many people ask, how do you work a full time job, go to classes, run a house, and still manage to find time to read and write? There has to be some simple answer, they say. And there is.

The answer is that you don’t. You will never find time. You must make time. It’s a straightforward and easy answer, but acting on it is a whole different beast. And so, here are my top suggestions on making the time to write.

Tailor your morning or evening routine.

Morning and evening are some of the only times we’re able to break away from the rest of the day and do our own thing. If you have children or pets or any other number of responsibilities, this goes doubly so. My recommendation is to wake up 30 minutes earlier/stay up 30 minutes later, and go into a room where nothing else is happening, where nothing else will try to claim your attention. A ‘mental quarantine zone’, if you will. I’ve even gone to go write in closets or bathrooms before, because hey, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Take a pen and paper, or a laptop (with the wifi turned off), and get to writing. It doesn’t have to be about anything special, just something so that at the end of those 30 minutes, you can say ‘I wrote something’. Once you get into the habit, the words will begin flowing better and better.

 

Alter your lunch or break schedules.

I love to eat and I love to write. Admittedly, doing them together isn’t that relaxing, especially if I’m having a tough workday, but with an hour long lunch break I can knock out a lot of work. Bring a lunch so that you don’t have to spend precious time going to and fro, open up your laptop or journal, and get to working. The temptation to socialize with coworkers or scroll through social media might be strong, but the satisfaction of having knocked out a good chunk of writing far and above surpasses it.

 

If all else fails, schedule it.

‘Scheduling’ isn’t a word that excites most people, but it can be a boon if done right. Get out your calendar, mark down the time and place, and hold yourself accountable. Force yourself to go. Set a timer. I don’t care what you have to do to remember it, but go. (I for one like to go to Starbucks after work, so I can both avoid evening traffic and get some writing done.) Oftentimes we let our commitments to ourselves fall by the wayside, and I think it’s time we change that. Don’t you?

 

work smarter--and harder

First and foremost, I’d like to establish this: there is no dichotomy between working smarter or harder. It’s not a multiple choice. It’s an ‘all of the above’. So, how does this apply when writing? Let’s say that you’ve finally made time to write. Excellent! You are working smarter.

But what are you doing during that time? Is your phone near you? Do you have Buzzfeed quizzes open? You probably already know that you shouldn’t be doing that–but let’s take it a step further. Do you have a writing outline? Are you doing a word sprint? It’s hard enough to find time to write; why not really push yourself to perform during it?

 

A lot of people think they’re busy, and some of them actually are. For all of these busy people out there, we all make choices. Today I chose to watch a couple YouTube videos and do a crossword puzzle. Those are minutes I could have used to write instead, but I didn’t, and I’m okay with that. What we do with our time is truly up to us, and even with a million responsibilities and things to do, we can all find a few spare minutes to further our dreams.

 

If you’d like to stay up-to-date with my writings or be notified once my upcoming Mesopotamian fantasy novella comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. 📚

 

Comment below letting me know the last time you’ve been able to squeeze in some writing, and how much you got done.
Until next time!

 

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Works That Most Influenced My Own

Everyone has a few specific works that most influenced them growing up, and creators are no exception. For us, these influences find their way into our works. They leave their fingerprints not only on our hearts, but on what we make. To shed some light on which works have influenced my own, and how specifically they’ve done that, I’m going through my own biggest influences below. See which of them you’re familiar with!

 

Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings cover art

I was raised on this series since the age of 8, albeit originally just the movies. But as I got older and delved into the books, I was exposed to a world of fantasy unlike any I’d experienced before. Sure, I’d read fantasy before, but high fantasy was a different beast. This is where I first became enamored with the idea of creating a whole world’s mythology and its languages, along with the very pure battle between good and evil. In other works these themes can be sometimes murky, but I also appreciate the absoluteness, the surety of Good in the LotR.

 

Fullmetal Alchemist

Full Metal Alchemist promo art

I tell everyone to read or watch Fullmetal Alchemist (which if you’re going to do, watch Brotherhood; it’s far more loyal to the plot). I’m serious. Do it. This series combines so many different elements that no two chapters read the same, no two characters alike. This was one of my first fantasy reads where there was no monarchy (gasp!); it also has bone-chilling political conspiracies, and strong depictions of man toying with the universe’s natural order. There are a variety of character motivations and plot devices far outside the norm that propel the story forward. As it was my first encounter with something like this, it’s been my bar for success ever since.

 

Frankenstein

Frankenstein Cover

I’ve been handed a lot of classics in my school life, and I’ve often hated them. I expected the same with Frankenstein— but ended up loving it instead. Growing up with a lot of moral Black-and-White-ism, this book challenged me. I struggled with reading about a creator who had no ill intentions yet did foul things, with a character that tested the very idea of what it meant to be human, with seeing the innocence in things that were otherwise corrupted. These were monumental concepts to me at the time, and remain so today.

 

Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII Promo Banner

I cannot state this clearly enough: Final Fantasy VII was a definitive game-changer for me. (To be fair, all of the works on here are, but you get my point.) Its story had as much an impact on me as Harry Potter, introducing me to a whole new type of fantasy world in the process; one with a brutal depiction of class struggles and environmentalism and humans manipulating the natural world in a ploy to become gods. FFVII was a triumph of a story in so many ways and is widely hailed as one of the best video games of all time. A lot of that credit comes down to its plot, and rightly so. The breadth of this story is on par with any epic, and has inspired countless ideas and characters and themes in my work.

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender promo art

I distinctly remember seeing this show premiere when I was 9 years old, and I’ve loved it ever since. This was the first piece of media I’d ever consumed wherein no one was white, for one. It introduced me to the concept that there were other cultures to draw from than just northern European ones–which shouldn’t be revolutionary, but certainly was for 9-year-old me. Here is where I first saw the perfect example of a redemption arc, a favorite trope of mine to this day. I saw that you could balance a story that was equal parts lighthearted and intense. So many parts of this series have found their way into my own.

 

There are many great stories out there. Some of my all-time favorites aren’t even on here– but I’m not trying to share those. I want to share the most personally influential works that have impacted my own, the ones that you can find threads of in my writings. (And maybe introduce some folks to a new, awesome story. Who knows?)

What works have had the biggest impact on you? Comment below!

If you’d like to stay up-to-date with my writings or be notified once The Stolen Sun comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


Until next time!
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The Stolen Sun: Research Process

There’s a misconception that if you’re writing fantasy, you don’t need to do much research. I call bull.

Granted, a lot of the well-known fantasy stories are sourced from European culture, so people tend to copy what they’ve seen elsewhere and incorporate that into their own. Kingdoms, vaguely-British agricultural villages, dragons and elves and other fantastical races that look just like they do in all the other books, etc.

I wanted to do something different. I wanted to write a fantasy story unlike any I’d seen in the cultural zeitgeist. So I wrote a Mesopotamian fantasy story.

Mesopotamia, otherwise known as Sumer or ‘that strip of land between the Tigris and Euphrates‘ or where present-day Iraq is, has always been one of my favorite historical eras. It’s the birthplace of civilization, where so much knowledge and mysticism and science was born. Where the foundation the world we know today was lain.

Map of where Mesopotamia is.
In case you forgot your grade-school geography, this is where Mesopotamia is.

There was just one problem: I didn’t know enough about the area. Sure, I’ve been passionate about it since I was young; I’d read the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Descent of Inanna and the Enuma Elish, but there was so much more to learn and I wasn’t an expert by any means. (I’m still not.) I wanted to know about the day-to-day life, the architecture, the laws. So I dove right in.

Step 1: Go to the Local Library

I went to my local library and found a list of every book with the words “Mesopotamia” or “Sumer” in the title. After reading the descriptions and narrowing down my list, I left the library with eleven books of information to compile and take notes on. (Eleven books that took 3 people to carry out to the car, in case you were wondering how heavy some of these were.)

 

A stack of books from my local library.
Carrying these books out to the car was basically my gym session for the day.

Step 2: Take Notes and Compile Information

After that, I hit the most important books first. These were Architecture 101, Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, and The Art and Architecture of Mesopotamia. I scanned pages, I took pictures of diagrams, I read hundred upon hundreds of pages. I gathered information on the education system, what duties priests/priestesses oversaw, how crimes were punished, which regions produced which resources, etc. Then I took copious notes (maybe too much, even). After my many books worth of research, I ended up with 35 pages of single-spaced notes.

An image of the inside of an Assyriology book, depicting two lamassu.
A painting inside an Assyriology book, depicting two lamassu among the rocky landscape.

Step 3: Figure Out What’s Relevant

I had a blast poring over these books. I really did. But at the end of the day, is all of the information going to make it into my books? Do I really want to sift through notes on crop irrigation when I’m trying to find something more related to my novella’s content? No. Though I learned a lot, I’m not going to use all of it, and its best to separate the wheat from the chaff early on to avoid complications down the line. Out of those 35 pages, only about 3 pages were directly relevant to the plot of the book. The rest was merely for building a believable world, and so onto a separate note-taking document it went.

Image of me (Eli Hinze) reading a book at the library.
Me pretending not to pose.

Step 4: Incorporate Research into Your Work

This is usually the hardest step for writers, myself included. Research should inspire and inform your story, not show everyone how smart you are. So, I had to battle with myself to construct a world in line with what I’d learned about this region and period, as opposed to peppering the whole novella with factoids and trivia as if I was auditioning for Jeopardy. Readers don’t want a textbook, so instead I constructed the world in line with what I’d learned about the region.

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Bonus: Highlighted Facts from my Research

There’re so many things I learned that absolutely fascinated me. In order to share them as efficiently as possible, I’m going to simply list them in bullet-point format below. Comment below which of these you’re most fascinated by!

  • There was no concept of prisons or police in the region. 
  • Temples weren’t places of worship, but rather seen as the home of the deity. Public worship took place outside of the temple in a larger courtyard.
  • Priestesses were expected to remain celibate. However, they could marry and share their husbands estate, additionally acting as stepmother to any other children he’d fathered. 
  • Slaves were commonly used in temples and wealthy households. Some masters apprenticed their slaves to learn a trade or taught them in business. Some slaves could even save money, rent property, and have slaves of their own.
  • Men were often captured or killed in war. Thus, if a man left no provisions for his family or they ran out, his wife was free to live with another man for the sake of her and her children’s welfare. But if her husband returned, she had to return to him. 

There are a lot of other interesting facts I’ve collected– but those I’m saving for The Stolen Sun and future stories. ?

If you’d like to stay up to date with my writings or be notified once The Stolen Sun comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


I hope you enjoyed this peek into my research process, and I can’t wait to share the resulting story with you. Until next time!

 

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What I Want to See More of in Fantasy

I love fantasy stories. It’s the genre I was almost exclusively raised on, from The Chronicles of Narnia to Harry Potter and beyond.

However, as I’ve gotten older and read more widely, I’ve developed a problem with the fantasy genre. No, it’s not the ever-present tropes or the derivative material, though that’s certainly made many stories stale. No, my biggest issue is with something else.

It’s the world-building itself.

This isn’t a list of what not to do in world-building, because I feel like conversations in that vein leave so much out of the broader picture. If I just say “don’t make a derivative European fantasy world”, that does nothing to point you in the right direction.

Here is what I want to see more of in fantasy:
Varied Medical Systems

Is it just potions? A wave of a magic wand and, bam, you’re cured? If so, I would advise taking a deeper look into developing your medical system. Is it tied to religion or purely science based? What is the basis of the medical system, and why? How did people gather their medical knowledge, or is it completely disorganized? Who gets medical care at all?

Significant Religious Systems

Religion plays a big part in our world, impacting politics, culture, and so on. However, this is rarely something I see in fantasy stories. If religion is acknowledged at all, it’s a relatively universal system with little diversity between nations. That would be akin to pretending only one religion (let’s say Christianity, for example) existed out in the world, and that there was only one sect of it, no less. Think of how different our world would look without that one religion.

Unless you want a neat and tidy and bland world, do something different. Create disagreements, create schisms and religious texts for followers to dispute over, create opposing beliefs, and so on.

Monotheism, polytheism, dualism, deism, pantheism, etc. The list goes on and on.
Different Governmental Structures

Look, I get it. Monarchies are cool. I certainly use them a lot in my stories, but there is SO much more out there, especially if you’re building an entire fantasy world from the ground up. There are democracies, oligarchies, stratocracies, crowned republics, and so forth. Is it realistic for a world to only have monarchs? How would different countries interact with each other, like for instance a parliamentary system engaging with a despot nation?

Mixed Gender Dynamics

While biological sexes are distinct, gender is very different. It’s a social construct. The roles and rules our society has made up surrounding them are just that. Made up. That’s not to say that they’re useless (which is a whole different discussion outside the scope of this blog), but it does mean that they’re mutable. And why should every society have the same way of looking at men and women, especially in fantasy?

Show me societies where childrearing is of prime importance, where men are the primary healers and teachers, where women have roles in governance and business. There are examples of these things in our own world, so why not in fantasy?

Above is a Mosuo woman of Yunnan, China, one of the world’s few remaining matriarchal societies.
Diverse Source Cultures

Look, there’s a lot more inspiration out there than just Medieval Europe. I promise. Many people draw inspiration from other pre-existing cultures for their works, and there’s more than enough material out there. Ancient Sumer (where my upcoming novella The Stolen Sun takes place), Korea’s Chosun dynasty, Mesoamerican Aztecs, Gupta period India, Ethopia’s Axumite empire, and so on. Spin the globe, pick a spot, and research that area. It’s a big world out there.

Our world isn’t a bland monolith. Don’t let your story be one.

 

Some people may feel bogged down with all of these questions, or that these details are boring. Thinking that way is missing the point.

Thinking about these things when world-building can generate a wealth of story ideas, add flavor and richness to your plots, and set it apart from other stories. It will only serve to distinguish and enrich your creation. I can’t tell you how few stories I’ve read that have variety in any of these aspects.

And wouldn’t it be nice to be original?

If you’d like to stay up to date with my writings or be notified once The Stolen Sun comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


 

Until next time!

 

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Why I Tried to Stop Writing

It’s true. I tried to stop writing.

This might come as a shock to some, as it well should. I’ve been writing consistently for over a decade and a half, so why would I try to sabotage myself? Why would I derail myself from something I’ve so long considered a dream? Simple. I was tired of trying to find balance.

When I initially graduated from college, I decided I was going to stop writing.

Not forever, but the plan was to stop writing for one year as I pursued different passions, traveled, and ‘discovered’ myself (whatever that means). Because writing hurt. Writing was difficult. It required getting up early or staying up late, it meant forgoing social events and spending whatever free-time I found outside of work/school to research and outline, it meant tearing your work apart for the thousandth time in pursuit of something better. It’s hard work, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it anymore. At first I was in high school, then college, then in the working world, always caught up as I tried to balance my academic/work life and my literary aspirations.

So I swore off the balancing act. It required too much time, too large a part of myself, and, to be entirely honest, it stung to be confronted with the very realistic thought that this would likely never be my career.

So I tried to give up. With the amount of time I invested into writing, surely I could invest that time into something else I’d more realistically attain, right?

At the time, I was set to move to China, where I’d no doubt be as busy as ever working and studying and exploring, so it would be a good time to leave my writing days behind. Or so I thought.

I’ve already talked on this some, but my time in China was not what I thought it’d be. When I felt isolated and insignificant, I gave in and let myself write a bit. When I had a toiling day at work or an encounter with yet another harassing or ogling person, I set aside some time to write. And when I was laid up in bed, unable to go much of anywhere or do much of anything, you know what I could do? I could still write.

I had tried to be done with writing, but clearly it wasn’t done with me. Even when my health left me, even when my wanderlust and verve left me, my stories were still by my side.

And so I fell back into my love of all things literary. Even on the days that I was feeling fine and could walk about and explore, I still set aside time in the wee hours of the night to write and edit and outline. It started with those small bits at first, until I was writing and editing more per week than I had been the whole month before that, on and on. Sometimes writers joke that they didn’t chose to write, but rather that they simply can’t stop. I understand that on a whole new level now.

Over this past year, my attitude around writing has experienced a dramatic shift. At the beginning of it, I’d actively stopped myself from writing. I didn’t post about it much, if at all. I tried to put my current projects on the back-burner. Jump forward to now, and I’m editing nearly 900 words a day, reading daily, and so forth. I’m on track to be well into my fourth book’s, THE IMMORTAL, second round of edits by the end of this year, and have outlined about 2 and a half books this year thus far.

Yes, finding balance and sacrificing time outside of work to write is hard. But as I’ve found, it is so, so worth it. And I’ll never make the mistake of thinking it isn’t ever again.

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand." -- George Orwell

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100 Days of Productivity Challenge: What I Learned

I’m an avid bullet journaler, and am pretty involved in the “studyspo” community online (studying/productivity inspiration). Lately a challenge has been circulating called The 100 Days of Productivity Challenge, which I’d decided to take a swing at. Boy, am I ever glad I did.

Before I’d started this challenge, my edits on The Final Advent were slow, and my progress on other projects was nonexistent. I hardly found time to write at all. I figured I’d get around to everything eventually, but my studies were simply gobbling up too much of my time.

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Me.

Let’s flash forward to now, where I have completed editing (and have released!) The Final Advent, and have completed 11k of a different novel and a substantial portion of a short story. Both which I work on now almost every day.

Why the change? What about this challenge, something external and arbitrary, so changed my habits? It all boils down to one thing: momentum.

When I started the challenge, I knew to set realistic expectations. What with 6 hours of homework a night, I didn’t want to set myself on fire just to complete everything that needed tending. Whatever I did, it had to be small. I wasn’t sure it would even make much of a difference. I definitely didn’t believe I’d make it to day 100, thinking the effort would prove fruitless.

My first week went by. Those mere 15 minutes a day had given me a pretty nice chunk of completed work, and hence the more I wrote the easier it became. Plus it offered me a productive bit of respite from schoolwork.

As the time went on, my small fifteen minutes a day started racking up some serious word counts, and the momentum just kept firing me up and the ball kept rolling. Something started to happen. I wasn’t feeling guilty that “oh I hadn’t gotten around to what I needed/wanted to do today, guess I’ll get around to it some other time”; I wasn’t pulling my hair out in stress either. I was getting stuff done, with minimal pressure and a boost of encouragement.

baby-gifconfused-gifidkgood-luck-charlie
“This is. . . working?”

That trend continued, and to this day (long after the challenge) I still work on my writings almost every day. This challenge inspired me to kick my butt in gear, because there is quite literally no time like the present. (Pardon the cliche.)

Heck, I’ve even gotten a new weekly ritual out of it! Once a week I now take myself to a coffeeshop or bookstore, order a nice snack or drink (usually those ridiculously priced, diabetes-in-a-cup Starbucks concoctions), and sit down to write for a few hours. Productive, pressure free, and delicious. Plus oh-so-writerly.

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Ultimately, here is what I’ve learned from the 100 Days of Productivity Challenge:

  • Set realistic expectations. Don’t pretend you’re going to write 1,000 words in a day, because you won’t. Not if you’re already struggling to sit down and write as is.
  • Force yourself to do it, and do it early. The sooner in the day you complete your task, the more you’ll get done.
  • Make it fun. If you hate what you’re doing, you’re not gonna do it. Find someplace comfy. Eat something nice, and stay hydrated. Don’t hunch over and strain your shoulders, for god’s sakes. Make it as painless as possible.
  • Keep track of what you’ve already done. For me, that was word counts. If you’re studying something for instance, keep track of how much you’ve reviewed or your (hopefully) improving grades. Seeing what I’d accomplished was a huge visual payoff for me.

Have you ever done a challenge like this before? If so, how did it go? What did you learn?

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