10 things to do if you want to win NaNoWriMo (and for writing on a deadline, anytime)

Friday, October 20, 2017
Maybe you're wondering why I'm still talking about that crazy NaNoWriMo thing. For those who missed me the first time, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. November is my favorite month of the year for 1,500 reasons, but one of those 1,500 is because it's NaNoWriMo. Even the years when I don't have the time to truly commit to NaNo, I at least try.

[my NaNoWriMo survival kit]

One thing that NaNoWriMo has done for me is give me the motivation and the skills to write whenever I have to write. The pressure to write 50,000 words in 30 days for a fiction novel does translate to several valuable skills – I am a very fast typer, I am a quick transcriber both of audio and handwritten notes (I would record voice memos for myself or write on the back of my school notes in high school) and I keep on pushing even when I don't have something to write.

So, even if you have no intentions of writing a book, NaNoWriMo is worth it for several reasons. Today, I wanted to share 10 things I learned over the past few years participating in NaNo. These tips that I've picked up or taught myself have made my life easier from writing political science papers to finishing a story on deadline for The Daily Tar Heel to writing a cover letter or essay for an internship application.

1. Get the words on the page.

This is the one thing Patrick and I argue about. I am adamant that the most important thing to do when you need to write – whether it's a novel for NaNoWriMo or a story about a football game – is to sit down and put your fingers on the keyboard and write what you want to say. Don't overthink it, don't panic, just write. And then... don't delete anything, not during the initial writing period. If you're just getting words on the page, you can edit out the useless stuff later.

2. Edit later.

Every single sentence doesn't have to be perfect. If you've used the word "happy" four times in one paragraph, you can find a synonym later. If you aren't sure if you're being grammatically correct, you can figure that out later. I don't advocate making stupid mistakes for the hell of it while you're writing, but you can edit later. I promise it will take less time than going off down a rabbit hole finding out if it's "sneaked" or "snuck."

3. You don't have to write in order if you don't want to.

If you have a lot of really passionate feelings and great ideas about one section of your political science paper, then start with that section. If you have the perfect line for the tenth chapter of your novel but you're only on Chapter 2, skip ahead and come back to fill in the gaps. I am notorious for writing the first chapter of setup, my climax and my resolution chapters, and then going back to fill in the gaps later.

4. Use placeholders.

Especially during NaNoWriMo, I am terribly guilty of this – but I also have found it to be a really useful way to focus on writing, not on researching, Googling or, inevitably, scrolling through my Facebook feed. If I need a specific fact, or need to come up with a name for a minor character (or a major character, because you never know during NaNoWriMo) or a statistic that I know will require some searching, I just throw in TKTK or XXX or THIS INFO HERE and keep going.

5. Break your writing sessions up.

It is way easier to write in 15 minute chunks than to marathon for four straight hours. Use a timer app on your phone, computer or Apple Watch. (I couldn't survive without @NaNoWordSprints, which is a Twitter account that hosts NaNo sprints all November long). Calculate how much time you have to spend writing and break it up into easily digestible chunks, with breaks in between. (Short breaks, like a walk into the kitchen for a glass of water, or a quick potty break with the dog, or call your mom.)

6. Do some math.

Just like you should break writing marathons into small chunks, do the math on how much writing you actually have to do and break that into small chunks. NaNoWriMo does it for you – if you need to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to write 1,667 words a day. If you know you need ten pages for your research paper for class, break that up into 20 half pages or 40 quarter pages. That's far more digestible and way less scary than 10 full 8x10 pages, I promise, and tackle each half page or quarter page or paragraph one at a time. You will feel so accomplished.

7. If you have writer's block, walk away.

Other NaNo-ers will tell you to keep writing even when you have writer's block – but I have found that stopping, getting up and walking away until I feel better about my skills or my idea or my work in general makes for better words later. I know it's hard to walk away when your paper is due at 9 a.m. and you're writing at 4 a.m., but take a break, clear your mind and then come back to it. Don't force yourself to stare at a blank screen if nothing is coming. (Although, hey, you might be overthinking it.)

8. Write when you feel the urge.

I do not advocate for scheduling time for yourself to write, although when you work from 9 to 5 or  have to handle kiddos after school, you can certainly feel the pressure to say you will always write from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. But some days, you may not want to write then, and you may instead want to write at 2 a.m. or on your lunch break or another time when you hadn't planned to be writing. Always be prepared to write. That's why I use cloud-based writing tools, Google Drive and Dabble, so I can write anywhere, on any device, and this allows me to get ahead. Because I tend to feel more motivated on Saturdays and Sundays than I do on Monday evenings after a draining day at work – during NaNo, I write twice or three times my daily goal on the weekends when I feel more motivated, so I can let myself slack a little during the week.

9. Have a plan.

I do recommend having some sort of plan. Again, I do say sit down and put the words on the page – but that's a lot easier to do with a plan and it makes the words better in the long run. I don't recommend analyzing your outline or plan so much that you spend more time on it than on writing, and I don't think you should be married to your plan. Let the writing process take you where it will, and let your characters tell their own story when they want to. And during NaNo, they will. I promise.

10. Reward yourself.

During NaNo, I reward myself with candy or snacks. (Yeah, I know, I'm an adult.) Every 100 words, I  can have a piece of clearance Halloween candy. Every 1,000 or 2,000 words, depending on what I'm trying to achieve that day, I let myself have a soda or a walk around the apartment complex with Theo. (Which isn't always a reward.) I know plenty of people who actually buy motivational gifts for themselves for NaNo – a new notebook or planner, a piece of clothing they'd been eyeing, a new pen to write with – that they can't have or use until they win or reach a specific NaNo goal. Find a system that works for you!


What are your best tips for writing when all the odds are against you? Anyone trying NaNo this year?

[review] how Hello Fresh made my kitchen a way happier place

Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Disclaimer: I paid, with my own money, for this week-long subscription of Hello Fresh. I only review products that I think my readers would really enjoy and want to learn more about. This post may include affiliate links or codes. 

I got a coupon in my last Graze box (which is a snack box service Pat and I are still subscribed to, for some reason) for 50 percent off an order from Hello Fresh, and I decided we should go ahead and check it out, since I have been trying to find new recipes and struggling to find things that were affordable, easy and tasty to both picky eaters in this house. It took me a few weeks to actually have three days in a week where I could cook dinner – I didn't want to let anything go to waste! – but we scheduled our box for delivery on Monday, October 9.

We tried Blue Apron in the past, and my parents have experience with Plated, which they loved. We hated Blue Apron. Sorry to them, but the food was too fancy for us and too difficult for my beginner-level skills.

The meal selections

Pat does not like pork or red meat, except for the occasional burger and maybe pulled pork or sausage, every once in a while. He also doesn't care for seafood. And I don't like a lot of vegetables – I'm working on it, I swear – or burgers. So, for a meal service to work for us, there needs to be at least three chicken recipes to choose from, because that's all we'll choose. 

Hello Fresh, for the most part, delivers on that! Most of their recipes are chicken-based, although not all – there is steak, ground beef or pork available on most menus, if you are less picky than us, but this is one of the main reasons we didn't subscribe to Blue Apron after one trial run. 

For our first box, we got jerk chicken thighs with a mango bell pepper salad and sweet potato wedges,  chicken sausage pizzas with broiled zucchini and fresh oregano and chicken parm salad with baby spinach and a creamy lemon dressing. 

The packaging

Hello Fresh had MUCH less packaging than Blue Apron, and most of the packaging (not all, but most!) was brown paper and could be recycled. Woo! I am not as observant of the waste that we create as I should be but I do hate to see an absurd amount of plastic and shrink wrap for one single meal. Other than the spices, cheeses and other dairy products and meat, everything was free willy in the box. 

The box arrived around 3 p.m. on Monday and everything that needed to be was nice and cold. I do not think I would've felt comfortable leaving it in the box for much longer, because some things at the top were feeling room temperature, but the ice packs still had a lot left in them.

The price

Hello Fresh ain't cheap. We had a coupon and still spent $30 on the three meals, and without a coupon it's $59.94 for a two-person box of three meals on the Classic Plan. I go to the grocery store and spend $50 to $75 on food for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week for us – which is still a lot, and honestly, we could do a better job budgeting at the grocery store, so it just doesn't make practical sense to subscribe to Hello Fresh as anything more than a treat every so often. 

The ingredient quality

My produce had some bumps and bruises, and the zucchini I received for my chicken sausage pizza looked a little worse for wear. But everything else was in great shape and good quality, too. They even use Daisy sour cream – which is, needless to say, my preferred brand. Everything held up great in the fridge and even the pizza worked out, even though we had to wait until the Monday after receiving the box to cook it. Shhhh.

The process

Hello Fresh was so easy. The hardest thing I experienced the entire time was cutting the mango – I bitched about not having any instructions for cutting a mango, but I actually overlooked the very handy and present instructions that were right on the recipe card. Whoops – and it was very easy to stay on pace and get everything done on time. My main issue with Blue Apron was because it expected me to work at the pace of a person who has intermediate cooking skills, my side dishes were always done before my entree, or vice versa.

Also – I burnt every single meal I made with Blue Apron. Yep. I don't even know how, but I did. It was horrible. Both times we ended up at Chick-fil-a.

The end result

Our meals were delicious! The flavors were excellent and nothing was too salty – another issue I had with my Blue Apron meals. Everything was WAY too salty by the end.

Pat really loved the chicken parm salad and I loved the mango and bell pepper salad with the jerk chicken thighs. We were both full and there was plenty to go around. Nothing kept very good for leftovers – the greens wilted and got kind of icky on the second day, so I ended up tossing everything we had left the next day. 

The conclusion

I really enjoyed Hello Fresh and it was totally worth it at $30 for one box. The ingredients were great and the meals were absolutely delicious, and I really appreciated the versatile meal selection. Unfortunately, the $60 price tag for three meals is not going to work for our budget, except maybe for a treat every now and then. 


Have you ever tried Hello Fresh or another meal service? What did you think?

how to find a side hustle that is actually right for you

Monday, October 16, 2017

I am all about side hustles. At any given time, I probably have two or three side projects (or am attempting to make a fourth or even a fifth work out for me). If you were wondering, on top of my full-time job with McClatchy, I also sell Lularoe with my mom and run this blog and my accompanying Instagram. Lularoe consistently makes me a small amount of money each month, and my blog is more inconsistent but it is still some income and some free products – all of which I'm happy with, because I enjoy blogging as a hobby, too.

As we read more and more about how millennials are crippled by student loan debt, forced to work for very little (or even no) pay for internships or entry level jobs to break into their desired field and struggling with rising rent costs, healthcare and, you know, feeding themselves. I know that as far as millennials go, I am lucky – I live in a more affordable city and have a job and no debt to worry about – and I am thankful for it. But I push myself to increase my income however and wherever I can and save that money, so if I ever lose my job or have to take on debt, I am prepared to handle it.

A quick note as we begin: I do not have a bad taste in my mouth for companies like Lipsense, Lularoe, Stella & Dot and other multi-level marketing companies like that. If you do, that's fine, but I've sold Lularoe for more than a year and I can truly tell you that if you look at it like a business,

When I say side hustle, I mean things like...

• Dog-walking or sitting services, like Wag or Rover.
• Blogging and using affiliate programs.
• Drive for Uber or Lyft.
• Deliver food for Postmates or DoorDash (depending on where you live).
• Offer your various services on Fiverr or Upwork.
• Transcribe audio files and videos for companies using websites like TranscribeMe.
• Open up an Etsy shop to sell your wares. 
• Sign up to sell a product with a company like Lularoe or DoTerra or Lipsense.

There are so many options out there!

Question #1: What are you interested in? What do you absolutely hate?

Do you love dogs – or hate dogs? Do you love to write, are you a fast typer, do you do excellent design work? Or are computers the bane of your existence? Do you spend a lot of time in the car or like to drive? Or are you a terrible driver? Do you love grocery shopping? There's a service for that!

Question #2: What is your ideal investment, of both time and money?

Ask yourself if you need a flexible schedule or if you can dedicate a specific amount of time each day. Do you want to make money consistently or as you need it?

As far as time goes, you'll spend far more time each day going to someone's home to watch or walk their pet than you might writing a blog from your computer or transcribing, and some side hustles are more flexible – you can drive for Uber or Lyft whenever it works for you, but it's less flexible than opening up an Etsy shop where you work on your own schedule, whenever you can.

And as far as money goes, there are certain side hustles that require more time investment than others. Lularoe, for example, is a $10,000 investment. Dog-sitting might not require an investment at all, other than time. Blogging might require you to pay $20 for a domain. Every side hustle does have a very different time and money investment, and be aware of what your limits are.

Question #3: How much income do you want to bring in?

When I was selling Stella & Dot, a multi-level marketing company that sells truly adorable jewelry (by the way, I stopped because of my own time commitment to selling, not because of any issues with the company; it's really great) my sponsor told me to visualize how much money I wanted to make each month and then do the work to get there. So, be aware of how much money you want to make and how much work/time it will require to make it. Do some math.

And be aware that you may have to wait. Although I make a little bit of money each week from affiliate programs like ShopStyle and the Google Adsense ads that I run on my blog, I only get paid when those accounts reach $100 – so it can take a while. If you need more instant gratification/payment, look towards avenues that pay out more quickly. If you're not OK with paying fees or only earning a percentage of what you actually make, be aware of what you're getting into.


Do you have a side hustle? What tips do you have for others who are seeking some extra income?

I'm the kind of person who...

Friday, October 13, 2017
This post was inspired by one of my favorite bloggers to follow along with, Stephanie at Not Entirely Perfect. Her post is here. I thought this post would be a blast – and it was.

... would rather spend money on my dog than myself.

... pays every bill the minute I get it.

... watches the same shows over and over again instead of trying a new one.

... buys more books than I'm ever capable of reading.

... hates taking time out of my day to shower, dress up or do my hair. but...

.... loves dressing up.

... doesn't need an excuse to drop $50 at Target or HomeGoods.

... can't say no to a piece of candy... or a second... or a third...

... loves to tell stories and make people laugh.

... loves to laugh.

... writes the same word over and over on a piece of paper instead of doodling.

... listens to Disney movie and musical soundtracks while she works, cooks and drives.

... doesn't like any music she can't sing to.

... always wants to fix things.

... loves weddings.

... thinks dogs are ultimately superior to cats – not to mention humans.

... doesn't answer phone calls from unknown numbers.

... does a load of laundry every single day instead of doing it all at once.

... used to call soda pop but now exclusively says coke (because that's all she will drink).

... thinks there's nothing better in life than drinking a fountain soda with a straw.

... talks to her dog when there is no one else around.

... answers herself... as her dog.

... hates to exercise because she can't handle breathing heavy or getting hot.

... loves to be warm, and would do anything to avoid being cold.

... lacks most practical cooking skills and is learning on her own – which means she does stupid things like wash tomatoes with dish soap.

... wants to be the girl who keeps fresh flowers in her home but knows she'll never keep up with that.

... never, ever, ever washes her car.

... loves to vacuum and see how much dirt the vacuum she picked up.

... gets emotionally attached to characters in TV shows, movies and books.

... loves the smell of bookstores.

... wishes it rained more often so she could wear rain boots more often.

... loves the snow, as long as she doesn't have to be outside in it for more than a minute or two.

... writes things she's already done on a list, just to see them crossed off.

... can't stand the idea of being bored but loves to lounge on the couch and be lazy.


What do we have in common? What kind of person are you?

my NaNoWriMo survival kit

Wednesday, October 11, 2017
I am ahead of myself, probably, but I am way too excited to make time for NaNoWriMo this year. Last year, November was a really crazy month and October before it was no better, so even if I wanted to prepare for NaNoWriMo and then kill it during the month of November, I barely stood a chance. I know that I tried, at least – I think I made it to something like 10,000 words, maybe, by the end of the month. But this will be the seventh year in a row that I've participated – and I haven't won since 2012.

This year is the year! Darn it!

If you've never heard of National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo, it's one of my favorite things I've ever been involved in. The premise: Write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. 50,000 words is actually short for a novel, but most authors don't write their novels in 30 days, either. The target is 1,667 words per day. When I won in high school, I wrote on paper during the school day and then came home, quickly typed up my work and started writing again; on the weekends, I would write double the daily goal so I had some wiggle room. And I actually wrote two novels my senior year, 2012, when I won; both made it to 50,000 words, so I ended up writing 100,000 words in November. One was a fun novel and one was my senior project product. (Let's be clear: I've never underachieved. Not really my thing.)

But now that I'm a grownup, with a grownup life and a grownup job and an attention-starved dog, I know I will need more to get me through November – considering I won't have the same blind teenage ambition and affinity for late nights.

• Google Docs. Lots, and lots, and lots of Google Docs.
• An actual plan and a character outline. (For once.)
• NaNoWordSprints. (Which is just the best Twitter account on the planet.)
• A specific notebook just for NaNo, along with pens and sticky notes.
• Caffeinated beverages. (I'm not picky.)
• A very long, very diverse playlist. Maybe several, divided by mood.
• Plenty of bones, treats and chews for Theo.
• Candy and Lays Poppables.
• My Apple Watch for standing up reminders and lots of timers.
• The perfect cup.
• Money already loaded to my Dunkin Donuts card.
• A blanket and a fan, for varying temperatures in my writing spot.
• Endless supply of pens and markers for outlining, brainstorming and bubble mapping.
• Books to read when I feel uninspired and awful.

I am really, really, really excited about NaNoWriMo this year, so I hope I can make the most of it and dedicate some time to it, unlike the last few years. Writing every day is such a great habit to get into, and I love to write with a goal in front of me. Imagine me as the horse with the carrot dangling in front of my nose. That's me when I have a goal to achieve. Happily chasing the carrot all day long. Let's hope I'm that persistent in November!

What about y'all? Is anyone else participating in NaNoWriMo? Have you even heard of it before?

here's my typical weekly grocery list + meal plan

Monday, October 09, 2017
One of my favorite blog posts to read from other bloggers is what they have on their grocery list from week to week. I wanted to share what is almost always on our grocery list. (We don't buy all of these things every single week but this is what we keep on hand from week to week, this is what you will always find in our fridge/freezer/pantry.)

I posted last week about my favorite quick, easy and affordable recipes, so now I give you my not quick, but easy and affordable grocery list. (I like to spend a minimum of one hour in the grocery store to really enjoy myself!)

• 1/2 pound of sliced deli turkey
• 1/2 pound of sliced Colby jack cheese

• 2 red bell peppers
• 1/2 lb. of fresh green beans
• 2 small zucchini

• 1 pack of Kings Hawaiian rolls
• 1 package of soft flour tortillas

• Enchilada sauce OR taco seasoning
• Muffin mix
• Pasta sauce
• 1 lb pasta
• Boxed Mexican rice

• 1 bag of frozen chicken breasts
• 1-3 lb. lean ground beef (if it's on sale, I will buy extra and freeze it.)
• Frozen Butterball turkey burgers (I don't like burgers unless they're chicken or turkey, and Pat is very picky about red meat, so we go with turkey burgers most of the time.)
• 1 lb. Smithfield's breakfast sausage

• 1 gallon skim milk
• 5 individual containers of Chobani yogurt (for Pat)
• 3 individual containers of Yoplait Oui yogurt (for Paige)
• 1 gallon of cold brew coffee
• 1 package of shredded cheese for tacos
• 1 package of mozzarella cheese
• 1 dozen eggs
• 1 package of sour cream

• Frozen onion rings
• Frozen French fries

• Kind breakfast bars
• Lays Poppables
• Brownie Brittle
• Trail mix
• Pretzels

Because we don't buy all of this every single week, our groceries range between $50 and $75 each week, depending on how long it's been since we last shopped (lately, we've been going every two weeks instead of weekly, so the bill has been higher). Consider these our staples. Then, I will buy additional ingredients necessary for the recipes that we're making that week – but I rarely, if ever, buy anything that can't be used in more than one recipe.


Breakfast - Muffins + yogurt
Lunch - Pasta salad
Dinner - Pesto chicken bake over pasta

Breakfast - Cereal
Lunch - Pasta salad
Dinner - Enchiladas with rice and chips with queso

Breakfast - Scrambled eggs + Yogurt
Lunch - Cheese quesadilla with salsa and sour cream
Dinner - Turkey burgers and baked zucchini fries

Breakfast - Scrambled eggs + Yogurt
Lunch - Pasta salad
Dinner - Sausage ranch quiche

Breakfast - Cereal
Lunch - Leftover quiche
Dinner - Baked chicken with roasted green beans


What is always on your grocery list?

my October reading list

Friday, October 06, 2017
Happy Friday! It's time for another reading list! I read three books in September and I'm going for five books in October. 

I also re-signed up for Book of the Month (because if you sign up now, you can get Turtles All The Way Down by John Green as an additional FREE book in your October box! Yes!) and I can't wait to get my selections for this month. I picked After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry, a true crime memoir

I picked up Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic at Barnes and Noble more than a month ago, but it's been on my list of books I had to read since the spring. I love to track young adult releases (I use Goodreads to do that, they have tons of lists for monthly releases) ahead of time and decide what I want to read before the book is even released, and Wicked Like a Wildfire was high up on my list. Not only is the cover gorgeous, but the storyline sounds totally unique and beautifully told to boot.

And of course I can't live without reading Turtles All the Way Down by John Green! When I saw I could get John Green's newest book for free by signing back up for Book of the Month, I was so there. I don't even know what it's about – but it doesn't matter.

I started listening to What Happened by HRC on audiobook this week, and I have the hardback as well in case I want to reread or reference anything. Without getting political, this is a truly excellent book. I have laughed, cried and cheered with Hillary, and I'm only a few hours into the 15 hours of audio. It is really worth it just to hear her talk about her favorite snacks. 

And then I saw All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis pop up on a monthly release list a while back and was immediately and instantly fascinated. When I ordered a load of books from Barnes and Noble recently, it was the first one in my cart. The book is set in a world where words, phrases and even actions like kisses and hugs are trademarked. Using any of them costs you. It sounds fascinating


What are you reading in October? What should I read next?

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