NaNo Vol. 1: What is NaNoWriMo?

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month which is in November. It started out as a national event when it was created by Chris Baty in 1999. Back then I think only twenty-one people participated so “national” may have been a bit of a stretch. Flash forward to 2016 and it has become international.

People from all over the world participate and they don’t just write novels. While it was originally developed for people trying to write a novel-length project, many use it to write short story collections, screenplays or even to tackle that thesis paper or dissertation.

Why 50k words?

The length of a novel is debatable. That goes along with other lengths of fiction as well, whether it be a short story, novella or even something as small as flash fiction and micro fiction. Genres may also play into length but to keep things simple, we will just talk about length right now.

Here is the breakdown from what I understand:

Short stories= <7500

Novelettes (I didn’t know they existed either)= 7500-15000

Novellas= 15000-40000

Novel= 50000<

That hazy area between 40k and 50k I never know where to place. I’ve seen some titles marked as ‘novels’ when they are very small. It’s possible that these fall into that gap. (Ex. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spears, or Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen.)

Also, most books that have a greater word count than 100k are often deemed ‘epics’ such as, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

This is part of why 50,000 words became the goal; it’s the smallest length of a novel that is widely agreed upon. It can also be easily broken down over the course of a month. Many professional authors state that they write anywhere upwards from 1500 words a day. 50,000 divided by 30 days equates to roughly 1667 words per day.

The Evolution of NaNoWriMo

As you can see from some of what was mentioned above, NaNoWriMo is an ever-evolving monster. The main point that its creator was trying to drive was forming a habit of writing every day. Even if you only write 500 words a day, progress is progress and a daily routine/habit will be established.

Sitting down to write a novel can be daunting. Even if you’re doing it for pleasure (which should always be at least one of the reasons). After all, 50k words is a lot! And to think that’s just a first draft. Most popular novels are 80,000 words+ and if you write like Stephen King, he cuts 10% of his novel out during editing…so 50,000 words won’t cut it for a final draft.

The object is not to write a polished, publishable novel in 30 days. It’s just to get that first draft out. That can be the hardest part or it can be the part that’s most fun. The real writing comes in the editing process and re-writes. That is what will end up making or breaking you as a writer.

How did I first hear about NaNoWriMo?

I first heard about NaNoWriMo when I was in college. I was a member of The Writer’s Digest Book Club and one of the books I was drawn to was Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! (Grab a copy here.)

Obviously, I purchased it and low and behold, he introduced me to his creation – NaNoWriMo. I’ve been participating ever since. That means that this November (2016), will be my 9th year participating. Have I hit the 50k word goal every year? No. I’ve only reached the goal five years out of the previous eight.

Why November?

November isn’t always the ideal time of year for people. In America, we are dealing with Thanksgiving and Winter Holidays, school, and travel. Whereas I have a friend in Australia who has Christmas during her summer break.

Chris explained in a YouTube video that November was the month his group of friends settled on due to family vacations. Now that NaNo has become so popular, two other annual month-long writ-a-thons were born under the name Camp NaNoWriMo. The camps take place during April and July.

My Goals for 2016 NaNo

This year, I’m trying to set myself up for success but I’m also crazy enough to shoot for a bigger challenge. There are several projects I want to work on this time around and I have no idea how long they will all be as I’m still in the brainstorming phase. However, this year I’ve told myself that I want to double the 50k word goal. I’m shooting for 100k. Yes, I’m insane but I believe it’s possible.

Rey (She is totally a Kenobi): Is that even possible?

Han Solo: I never ask that question ’till after I’ve done it.

If NaNoWriMo sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can sign up for free at their site. And if you need a writing buddy feel free to add me, Aljinon.

Photo Art © Weerapat Wattanapichayakul |

One Year of Minimalism: 1000 Item Challenge

Last September, I opened my heart and mind to the concept of minimalism. For years, I had cringed whenever I heard the word, not truly understanding what it meant. For some reason, September 2015 was a turning point and I decided to embrace it. I cursed myself for not trying it sooner.

This year, to celebrate a whole year of developing a minimalist mentality and paying off 30% of my debt, I have decided to celebrate by giving away more. I’m donating/throwing away 1,000 items.

The Minimalism Challenge

When I started this challenge a little over two weeks ago, I thought it would be tough. However, after the first weekend, I had already surpassed 700 items. By that point, I had fooled myself into thinking it was going to be easy. As you can see by my numbers below, I began to struggle.

The object is to only have things in your home that serve a purpose or you bring joy.


  1. 265
  2. 226
  3. 283
  4. 5
  5. 80
  6. 97= total of 956.
  7. 12
  8. 0
  9. 2
  10. 22
  11. 0
  12. 0
  13. 0
  14. 1
  15. 4
  16. 3

I feel like I’ve donated or thrown away everything that I can at this point without letting go of something I need or cherish. There may be things that I don’t wish to give up now that I’ll be fine parting with a year later.

Starting out, it didn’t feel like a minimalist challenge. In the course of one year, I hadn’t acquired a lot of things but I had learned to let go of things that didn’t matter; things that mattered to me last year that I wasn’t willing to part with but this year, I could. It shows personal growth. It shows a lack of need for a life filled with material things.

Keep donating!

What are some of the things I was willing to part with this year that I couldn’t last year? Here was where I got the largest amount of “stuff” from.

  1. Craft supplies. Old paint, beads, soap-making dyes and molds, candle making molds. Every craft had become a distraction from the real craft I wanted to pursue- writing.
    I use to make candles, soaps and essential oils. In this box, you can see some of the old bottles I used.

    Here, you can see old stencils, paints and materials for craft projects – some of which I never even started.
  2. Clothes and Jewelry. There are always clothes to donate, old bed sheets, a blanket. Jewelry that I don’t wear.
    I’ve never been a huge jewelry person yet I had tons of it! Most of them had been gifts from people who didn’t know me too well…

    Believe it or not, clothing and kitchenware were my two biggest culprits next to books and half-used craft supplies.
  3. Kitchenware. Bake ware that is unused. Extra handfuls of silverware, baking trays, Tupperware that is missing lids.
    A box full of unnecessary kitchen items.
    Not just these but all the junk behind them too!

    Old mixing bowls from a deceased relative…

Some of these items are more geared towards females but where I had too many craft supplies, you may have too many old car parts that need to be fixed…that you know you haven’t repaired in five years and you’re not going to. I know a number of guys who have more pairs of shoes than I do writing utensils…

…A Caveat

By default, females are going to have more things. Think about it, a man’s underwear consists of one garment. A woman’s consists of two. In addition, women have more styles of clothing and it’s socially acceptable for us to have more jewelry, make-up, hair products because society pressures us more about our appearance. These societal “norms” have been (thankfully) crumbling within the last few decades. Men and women are slowly but surely becoming more and more equal. It’s possible I’m being biased. Do you have old action figures that have been taken out of the box and aren’t worth anything? Golf clubs that never get used and can be sold for spare change?

Keep Letting Go!

As we enter the “giving” season, the season of sharing and being thankful, I challenge all of you to purge the clutter. It doesn’t have to be 1,000 items. Donate five shirts to charity, or two spare blankets as the weather begins to chill. If there are only two people living in your household, do you really need 3 different sets of plates (each a set of 8+)?? How many coffee mugs get used at one time? Drinking glasses? Spatulas? Soup Ladles?

Do not be afraid to let go. You don’t have to become a minimalist. I’m not asking you to join a cult.

If you’re not sure where to start, Marie Kondo makes a living by helping people “tidy-up” their homes. On the contrary, the “KonMari Method” (as she calls it) is not as extreme as minimalism but the concepts are the same. If you need help getting started, I highly recommend her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Note: We can sometimes inherit a lot of junk from deceased relatives. I’d love to share my story about that with you. Please check out my post: Minimalism and the Death of a Loved One.

Photo Art © Hemul |

5 Reasons to Get a Pen Name and How I Chose Mine

When I first started writing, I typed my name into Google Search to see what would appear. To my dismay, my birth name was a lot more popular than I had realized. After all, I had met tons of people with my first name but no one with my last name who wasn’t family. I found a music artist, a discographer, a “professional spanking model” …yea. Needless to say, I wasn’t any of those and most certainly did not want to be associated with one. After typing my name into the search bar, I saw results for an author with my name. I made the decision then and there that a pen name was required.

Even though the other author only had two books out and she hadn’t published anything since 1999, I had seen enough. I did not want my future audience to be confused. So what did I do? I started researching pen names and began the overwhelming task of giving myself a new identity- one that I could live with should this whole writing thing work. Here are some of the reasons you may be considering a pen name.

1. Your name is already taken by another author, celebrity or popular figure. 

Just like mine. Letter for letter. Word for word. Spelled and pronounced exactly the same. It can be confusing to an audience. Don’t confuse your readers. They are your friends.

I’ve included celebrities and other popular figures in this group. If your birth name is Mick Jagger or Tom Hanks, it may increase your initial sales but I fear what sort of backlashes may come. Will you always be in their shadow? Will their agencies retaliate (even though it’s your real name and you should have a right to it)? Don’t you want your own identity?

2. Your name is very similar to another author. 

This goes hand in hand with the first one, with a twist. If your name is Stephen Kinn or Susan Collins (I believe there are two authors named Suzanne Collins), it may initially boost your sales but what kind of repercussions might there be? Would your work be constantly compared to the other author’s because readers originally thought you were someone else? It’d be heartbreaking to have a bunch of two-star reviews because your style or genre was completely different to what people expected. Yes, it’s their fault for assuming who you were but do you really want to deal with that kind of drama?

3. Your name is hard to pronounce.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Perhaps you’re writing for an English speaking nation but you’re not from one and so your names, alphabet characters, and pronunciations are vastly different. Might be wise to switch it up if you hope to become a household name. How many times have you heard M. Night Shyamalan’s name slaughtered? And that IS his pen name! Have you tried pronouncing his full real name?

4. You’re writing across multiple genres.

If you’re writing fantasy, science-fiction, and horror, fine. They often cross one another’s lines and can be commonly grouped as “weird fiction.” However, if you’d like to write erotica, dabble in science-fiction, write a historical western and a non-fiction book on the proper care of chinchillas…consider multiple pen names.

When J.K. Rowling stepped away from Harry Potter and started writing more adult novels, it backfired. Sure, she was still raking in the money but if you’re writing novels for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. (We’ll cover that in a different post). From then on, when she published a non-Harry Potter book, she published under the name Robert Galbraith. We still knew it was her. However, it allowed her to create a new identity without the pressure of expectation.

5. Your name is associated with something not-so-great.

This is for those of you out there with last names like Hitler, Mengele, Stalin… or if your name is really Pol Pot. Granted, the last name I picked is very similar to Bathory so I’m being a bit of a hypocrite with this one. I thought it was fitting since I prefer to write about darker things. And I really didn’t want people to think I was a “professional spanking model.” I didn’t even know that was a thing!?!

How I Chose My Pen Name

That brings us to how to come up with a pen name and how I came up with mine. At first, I browsed baby name websites. It’s something I do when naming characters. I thought about all the names I liked. I originally published under Elizabeth Tesla which quickly became S.J. Tesla in an attempt to hide my gender/identity. I don’t recall my reasoning.

But there I was, not following my own advice. As a fan of Nikola Tesla, I wanted to somehow pay tribute to him. Should I start writing heavy science-fiction, maybe I’ll go back? In the end, the name didn’t fit me. It wasn’t personal enough. Next, I took a long hard look at my own name and pondered how I could rearrange it. I ended up combining my middle and last names to make Bethory.

Bethory. I’m happy with that. It’s not a real surname so no one else has it, yet it sounds a lot like Bathory which points towards my genres of horror and dark fantasy. Perfect.

Coming up with the first name was a lot simpler. My birth name means “Princess” and Regina means “Queen.” Essentially I just gave myself a promotion. But Regina means more than that. It was the perfect fit. It was the character I most identified with in ABC’s Once Upon a Time and my mother has an aunt named Regina, who (to make a long story short) made some very bold and independent choices in her life which I greatly respect.

Problems You May Encounter With a Pen Name

Now, I had a pen name that actually meant something to me. The only trouble I ran across was from people who knew me in person. When I changed all of my social media accounts to my pen name, I lost a few friends. But hey, if they didn’t know I was an aspiring writer at the time then I guess we weren’t that close of friends.

The other problem you may encounter is when people you know in person find out that you’re a writer and express interest in your work. Then you have to tell them that it’s under a pen name. I once had a co-worker ask me, “What’s the point of having a pen name if you tell everyone who you are?” Well, that’s just it. If you don’t tell them and they know you by your real name…they aren’t going to find your work. DUH. Engineers are supposed to be smart

Hopefully, if you’re debating on taking on a pen name, this has given you enough food for thought. Take your time and don’t expect to settle on something overnight. If you’re successful (and you will be should you stick with it!) you will go down in history with your new identity. Make sure you love it! After all, as an author your name is your brand.

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