How I Prepared for NaNoWriMo 2014

Saturday, December 27, 2014

I kept meaning to make a post about this stuff, but lately I've been busy writing my books instead of blog posts...

On Christmas Eve, I finished drafting my NaNo project(s) from this November, which ended up being almost 140K. The last few days I've been sorting out my notes and getting ready to rewrite the first book in the series yet again (this will be drastic rewrite #4), but I thought I should take a break tonight and finish this post as part of the 55th day of my writing productivity streak.

I've managed to carve out time in my life for the things that are important to me, and I want to share some of my methods. I use the time for writing and a few other things, but you could use it for whatever you want.

**I should include a disclaimer here that this may be exponentially easier for those of you who, like me, don't have any kids. I also only "work" outside of my home less than ten hours a week as a custodian, so I am able to carve out a lot more time than most people with full-time jobs will ever be able to.**

Way back in August I wrote a blog post briefly explaining how I cleaned out my stuff and, more importantly, my activities. The first thing I did was take a step back from everything I did in a day or in a week and think about what I really wanted, what was important to me. I found out that most things I do and that are important to me revolve around three things: health, expression, and spirituality.

Next, I tried to look at my tasks and see if there was anything that I really didn't care about anymore was or that more trouble than it was worth time-wise, finance-wise or both. I opted for getting rid of my patio garden (which I never remembered to water anyway) and unsubscribing from tons of people on Facebook, Youtube, and so on--because if there are few to no new updates or emails when I come back to check, I won't linger on the Internet longer than I should. I also haven't crocheted or knitted for a long time and I don't plan to ever get back into it, so if you know of anyone who needs any knitting needles, crochet hooks, or yarn, I have a lot to give away.

These preps happened over the course of several months as I tried to work out how much of what I did was genuinely important to who I am and how much is just crap that I'd taken upon myself because I felt like I should do (or try) whatever activity. It has been a process.

Now on to the BIG time saver:

Back in May, I wrote a blog post about the mega-organizer thing that I made. At the time, I was meal planning for one week at a time, which was fine, but generally resulted in tons of leftovers...and then I didn't need to make another meal plan for the next week because we were still eating leftovers, which got boring pretty quickly because we'd eat the same thing for several days/meals in a row.

One of the major things I did to prepare for NaNoWriMo was to meal plan and, as much as possible, to cook for the entire month. I bought a bunch of square freezer containers (and wet-erase markers to make temporary labels) and tested the idea out in October. Though initially exhausting, I found that I had so much "extra" time every day after the cooking was done that I was almost getting bored! That doesn't happen to me too often...I mean, seriously, I'm vegan and gluten intolerant; I cook almost every meal that I eat. We eat out once a month, maybe twice if someone else treats us. To be able to pull something out of the freezer in the morning, let it thaw on the counter and just pop it in a casserole dish in the oven and sometimes cook vegetables to go with it--that is friggin' luxurious to me. I totally understand the appeal of convenience food now, but I think I'll keep with the best of both worlds and make my own from scratch (especially since I can't eat or afford most convenience foods anyway).

Initially, I was doing all of my cooking for the month over the course of 2-3 days, but when December rolled around (post-NaNo), I kind of decided that was a bit on the exhausting side and determined that cooking one week out of the month isn't the worst thing in the world. I mean, with 3-4 weeks of dinners in the freezer after that, I really can't complain. We don't eat the same thing every week, but there are some repeats. Basically, my meal plan looks like a bi-weekly plan that's doubled up to cover the whole month. So the first week, I basically cook 2 different dinners every night and then pack the extras up into the containers to freeze for later.

Some dishes or components can't be frozen or aren't much more convenient that way. For instance, I have only 2 bread pans. Baking 8 loaves of bread at the beginning of the month isn't going to happen, but I can make mixes for that bread and stick it in jars and save myself a lot of time getting all of the gluten-free flours out of the cupboard and putting them away every time. For other things like spaghetti, I usually make a big batch of sauce, then portion it out and freeze it, leaving the dry spaghetti in the cupboard until I'm ready to cook it.

Before all of the cooking happens, I have to plan it, figure out how much of each ingredient we need, compare that list with our cupboards, and then go shop for whatever I don't have. I've been getting into a lot of interesting conversations in the grocery store over my crazy cart with the 7-9 bunches of bananas in the child seat and have explained to multiple strangers that we freeze them and make vegan chocolate banana ice cream throughout the month.

We only go to the supermarket in "town" to buy groceries once a month (which is probably more than what we were averaging before), but we restock our kitchen with certain things like greens from stores closer to our home throughout the month as needed, because greens don't last more than a week or two, and that might be pushing it.

When I get back from grocery shopping, I try to chop most of my veggies right away so that I have fewer prep tasks to do when it's actually time to start cooking. I also find that I don't have to wash quite as many dishes if I get all of the chopping done at once, rather than pulling out the food processor or a knife and cutting board each time I need to cook that first week.

If you want any additional info on my meal planning craziness, the Once A Month Meals series will get the point across more intelligently than all of my rambling. I also keep track of any non-cookbook recipes for the month a Pinterest board until I can copy them down onto 3"x5" cards for my recipe box.

With all of the extra time I had on my hands in October, I got a bunch of stuff done that had been on my to-do list forever. By the time November arrived, I didn't have much left to do beyond the ordinary and had little difficulty focusing on NaNoWriMo, hence the 100K word count at the end of the month.

I did a few other things to prepare for NaNo:

  • Cleaned up my desktop icons so that I wouldn't get distracted by all of the icons for programs I don't use, or would only use if I was seriously searching for ways to procrastinate.
  • Rearranged and redecorated my office space
  • Got Scrivener for cheap after winning Camp NaNoWriMo July. I LOVE Scrivener, and that's not something I say often about inanimate objects/software. It's so much easier to navigate than a Word document and has a bunch of handy features that I feel really helped me this year.
  • Read a bunch of books on writing craft.
  • Connected with my local WriMos via Facebook.
  • Chose my beverages for the month. I picked banana nog and teas this year, since hot chocolate takes awhile to prepare and is usually full of sugar and whatnot--not something I wanted on my thighs, er, conscience this time around
  •  Warned my family that they would see very little of me until know, normal routine NaNo stuff.
Time-wise, I think that my social media clean-outs and meal planning helped the most. All of the ideas I collected for my story also seemed to help rack up the words, since I had an idea of where I was going, even though I didn't have an outline, per se, until the tenth of November when it just  all just sort of came to me and sorted itself out in a logical order.

I'm still assessing, still planning for time efficiency, still prioritizing the things that are important to me. During November I made a point to establish the habit of writing and reading every day, and now that those are established, I'm working on other habits, like practicing my instruments every day and exercising.

It's probably best to only implement one new habit every month since most habits take about 3 weeks to take hold and really difficult ones take longer, but I seem to pair a moderately difficult activity with an easier or more enjoyable activity, so it's not that big of a deal. The easiest habit I've established so far has been remembering to take my vitamins--I just put them in the drawer with my toothbrush where I see them every morning. Bingo! Problem solved.

I'm thinking of this habit building thing as a sort of early set of New Years' resolutions, only  I have a whole list of habits to establish throughout the next year instead of trying to start tons of things at once, which has invariably led me to fail in the past.

I don't know about you, but for me, it's empowering to realize that I don't have to watch my life slip away while I struggle to keep up with things that aren't even that important to me. Okay, maybe that's a little over-dramatic, but you get the idea. I can choose what will take priority over what and I can choose what to drop entirely.

Obviously some things like cooking and cleaning and brushing my teeth will never be cut from my list, but with other things, the sort of silly stupid things that can easily take over and leave me with no time to write or read or play my instruments or exercise or whatever--those things I can eliminate, or at least cut back on, and even the non-negotiable things like healthy cooking can be done with efficiency so that I have more time for the things and the people that really matter to me.

I am not a victim of my circumstances. I now think of myself as a subject, not a direct object. I make things happen, they don't just happen to me. (Sorry, I couldn't resist throwing in a bit of language nerdery there).

What do you think? Any particular way you like to save time? Any tips and tricks for prioritizing? Any habits you plan to establish, perhaps in the new year? Do you have any questions about anything I said in this post? Leave a comment below or my hairless ghost lemur will haunt your dreams.

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