How NaNoWriMo is like yoga.

This is not me. This is a photo by Oksana Trajan from Unsplash.

Today’s post is going to be short(ish) because it’s NaNoWriMo and I have words to write. For those of you who haven’t seen the acronym before, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, when writers of all levels all over the world set a goal for the month of November. Traditionally the goal is 50,000 words, which will give people who’ve always wanted to write a novel a good start on one.

It’s also fantastic for those of us who’ve written more than one book but just need a little (or a large) push to crank out the next one.

You can set any goal for the month, and there’s a bajillion ways to connect with other authors while you’re working to meet that goal. That’s the thing that makes NaNo fun! There are groups you can join through the NaNoWriMo website, or you can connect with people through the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on twitter and pretty much any other social media platform.

So how is all this like yoga?

For those of us who’ve committed to the 50k word goal, that works out to a little over 1600 words a day. Every day. All month long. I find that even when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about what I will be writing or what I’ve just written and how those pieces fit together. I find that the process of living and breathing the story forces me to get out of my own way.

And that’s how I connected it to yoga.

I took my first yoga class in about 1990, and have practiced off and on ever since. Since the pandemic started, though, I’ve been practicing much more regularly, mostly by streaming classes from Sun Yoga in Honolulu. In a recent class, the teacher said something that really resonated with me. She said that part of yoga was learning to breathe in uncomfortable positions. For me, that idea highlighted how, at its essence, yoga is about developing a connection to the breath. (Even when you’re curled in a ball trying to get your forehead to your knee.)

Yoga is about the process, and NaNoWriMo is about the process. Yoga connects you to your breath, and writing regularly is a way of developing a connection to the words (or to your creativity, or fill in whatever concept works for you.) And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a couple thousand words to write.

Hang on…as long as I’m here, I figure I’ll share the links to a couple of promos I’m involved with….

Over 40 great holiday romances by some of the best in the business! And they’re all ON SALE!

This one’s fun and FREE!!

Writer on a Deadline: Self Care

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

I have two books due by the end of the year. Well, actually one is due Dec. 3. I haven’t even started the second one yet. (Research is done, and I know I will get it done on time.) I have a full time job. Normally this would mean I am big ol’ stress puppy shedding cortisol like fur.

But today I woke up in a very “take my sweet time about everything” mood. This is totally not me. I live my life in fast forward. But I’m allowing myself to enjoy this dream-like state. Its what I imagine Luna Lovegood feels like all the time.

I think part of the reason for it is that we are at our peak fall color here in St. Louis. Normally that happens three weeks earlier, but the weather this year has been crazy warm. So now when I wake up and look out the window, I see beautiful orange-red trees; when I sit at this computer I see the gold trees out the front. Fall is my favorite time of year.

So despite being crazy busy, I’m leaning into the idea of self care where I can get it. I’m on a new medicine that my body is getting used to, so on the days it makes me sick, I try to be kind to myself and slow down however I have to while still getting work done. I’m listening to my body about what it wants to eat (or doesn’t, depending on the day).

But I’m also treating myself to a few special things in an effort to keep my sanity:

  • I have a tradition that every fall on the peak color weekend, I order Subway and go to a park to watch the leaves fall while I eat it. That came from my family always going “leaf watching,” and that is what we ate as part of our family picnic. This year I can’t take too much time away from writing and my appetite isn’t what it usually is, but I bought the sandwiches anyway. I’m cutting them into small sections and eating what I can once a day until they are gone to prolong the beauty of this tradition.
  • I’ve recently started journaling once or twice a day (usually when I wake up or before I go to bed) and that is providing some wonderful insights into my brain and my life. Plus, it is a peaceful way to start and end the day, regardless of what comes in between.
  • You better darn well believe that I am going to devour the new season of Selling Sunset when it comes out Nov. 21, deadline or no.
  • Instead of stressing myself over trying to be more active, I’m treating myself to daily stretching and listening to to audio version of A Discovery of Witches, one of my favorite books, when I can get out and walk around the neighborhood.
  • This one is a little odd, but I’m keeping my bathroom clean. I mean do clean it on a regular basis, but I’m doing it more frequently than usual. The idea came from an ad that said something about it being the first place you go in the morning and the last place you see at night (other than your bed, obviously). For some reason that really struck me. I want to begin and end my days in clean.

Before I know it, these books will be done and I’ll be into the new stressors of January, turning one of my books into an audio play and writing and recording a historical fiction master class. But after that, all I’m going to do is write fiction (and the non-fiction I’m under contract for) for the rest of the year.

Once this is all said and done, I’m going in for a big treat–the kind of thing most people think of when they think self-care. Next April I’m going to a conference in Bellingham, Washington. I’ve been to it before, so I’m going up a few days early to use the time for myself. I LOVE the hotel. There is a spa right by it at which I plan to get a massage and mani-pedi. Then I’m just going to write and enjoy myself.

I guess my point is to work little acts of self-care into your life. They can be as simple as going to bed earlier, drinking more water or saying no to a demand you don’t really want to do–anything that you can do for you. I know it is making my crazy time a little easier.

DNF Beta Reader Edition

Your friend wrote a book. Or maybe your sister or cousin. Someone you know and maybe love wrote a book and that’s amazing! You’re so excited for them and proud they accomplished this Big Thing. So many people talk about writing or say they’re a writer but never seem to have any concrete proof of it. But this person does! Amazing!

And they want you to read it.

Or maybe you got a little too excited and offered to read it for them. You love them and want to support them, so why wouldn’t you offer or agree? Here’s the thing. Maybe you shouldn’t offer. Just because you’re related or friends and you may have things in common, enjoy a lot of the same stuff, you might not enjoy their writing. Hopefully it’s just a matter of taste and not a comment on their talent, but there’s nothing so awkward as getting your hands on a loved-one’s book only to realize you’ve made a mistake.

It’s one thing to wait until said book is published and you’ve bought it–buying a book is definitely supporting it and you never have to get around to reading it to show that support. Sales are very important. But so are reviews, so you could just quickly spit out a general, “It was an amazing book! I read it in one sitting. You should buy it too!” review and look like the best friend ever.

But no, you offered to read it in a raw, rough draft form. Now you have to tell your loved one what you thought. But what if you couldn’t get through it? What if it wasn’t your cuppa? I’m not going to address if the work is “bad” because that’s a whole different issue. This is about struggling with a book you’re not enjoying.

The book I’ve been working on over the past year is a fairly dark book. I meant for it to be. I decided to have an MC with a skewed center of morality, who made choices based on what she wanted, not what she was expected to do. She is angry, betrayed, and ready for vengeance. It’s heavy in a lot of places. But it’s still fantasy with magic and mystery. So, if you’re a fantasy fan and enjoy witches and magic, you might think it’s right up your alley.

My mom thought so.

My mom is a big fan of mine and not just in the way moms are supposed to be, she has actually read every book I’ve published. But I don’t usually give her rough drafts. Like most moms she just wants to tell me that she liked it and maybe proof read a little bit. But when you’re a writer and you let your beta readers read your rough drafts, you’re not looking for that kind of feedback. You need details, what worked, what didn’t, why on both counts. What they thought about characters–did they hate a protagonist or love interest? Was the plot too confusing or too easy? Things like this. Yeah, we want to hear “I liked it!” but then we need the meat.

My mom is a fast reader. She’s one of those readers authors love and hate. We spend six months to two years on a book only to have her read it in a day or two. It’s awesome that reader can love and enjoy something so much they can’t help but consume it, but also… slow down? I can’t write that fast?

Well. A month had passed and she hadn’t said one word. I don’t like to nudge people. I tell friends and family not to tell me if they’ve bought one of my books because I don’t want to wonder if they’ve read it and hated it and that’s why I haven’t heard from them. I’d rather think they’re like me and yes, they bought the book, but like so many other titles, I was excited to buy it but it’s been added to my very tall TBR pile. A very prestigious place to be.

But I finally asked her if she’d read it. Turns out, she’d gotten to about the half-way mark and stopped.

“It’s too dark for me.” She hadn’t said anything because she thought that comment would hurt my feelings. When, really, since I tried to write a dark book (which I felt like I could push it farther), that was a compliment. It was a good note. It means I did accomplish what I was going for.

“The writing is good, but I don’t think I’m in the right headspace for it.”

Now, obviously it’s a bummer she couldn’t finish it, but that’s okay. I have a book by an author I like and I’ve been reading it for over a year. A few pages here and there. It’s a heavy book and it was too close to the current world-affairs so I had to put it down for a while. It doesn’t mean the book is bad.

So your friend wrote a book and it didn’t work for you but you gotta tell them something. You have to not be afraid to tell them the truth. So long as what you have to say is constructive, it shouldn’t crush them. And if your friend can’t take a note like their dark book is too dark for them to finish, then they’re not ready for real-world publishing criticism.

Do not offer to read for a loved one if you’re worried their ego is too fragile for real feedback, but also be ready with something substantial that they can take away.

I didn’t think my book was too dark, one of my readers didn’t either, one thought it was fairly dark and I was in a dark place when I wrote it (I wasn’t), one enjoyed it but said they hoped teenagers weren’t that dark, and one couldn’t finish it because it was too dark. All different readers, all different takeaways on the same theme.

So your friend wrote a book and they want you to beta read it. Ask them what it’s about, get some real details from them and decide if it’s the kind of book you would have bought on your own even if you didn’t know them. I offer professional manuscript critique services, but on my website I say that I won’t take on genres I don’t enjoy as a reader because I don’t think I could judge them appropriately. You can say the same thing to your friend. “I think it’s awesome you wrote a novel, and Space Opera?! That sounds great! But I’m not generally a fan of sci-fi so I don’t think I’d be a good fit to read it for you.”

Or, if you didn’t know you wouldn’t be into it, like my mom, until you got into it, just be kind and honest. Believe it or not, even explaining why you couldn’t get through something can be very helpful.