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Writing a book in a month is too easy!

November has come to an end, and so has Nanowrimo.

If you're not familiar with Nanowrimo, it is a charity which tries to get people writing every November. They challenge you to write a book, or at least 50,000 words of a book, in the month of November. I participated for a number of years, and managed to complete a book a couple of times, and some years I failed. About two years ago I looked back at when I'd completed the challenge and when I didn't and discovered there were reasons why I succeeded or not. They weren't the same reasons, but they are related to each other.

The reason I succeed.

I "won" the Nanowrimo challenge just because I'd written down 50k words. But a review of these words showed me that even in the years which I'd won, I hadn't produced a book. I'd managed to get a lot of scenes with no coherent theme bolted together. I did go back and edit two of these horrible first drafts into a book. It took a lot of work, and a lot of rewriting, and I probably only managed to salvage about half the words I'd written during the challenge. So although I technically won the Nanowrimo challenge, I didn't have a book at the end of all that work.

The reason I won on word count was a simple single mindedness to write at least 1666 words every day of the month of November. I can type about 50 words a minute so this should only take me about 30 minutes to perform. But, it didn't just whip out 1666 words in 30 minutes, it would take me 3-4 hours to do this!

The reason it took so long, is one of the reasons I failed during the years when I didn't win the challenge.

The reason I failed.

The reason I failed some years, and the reason it took me 3-4 hours to accomplish what should have taken 30 minutes, was because I was staring into space trying to think of what happened next. In other words I didn't have an outline or a plot map for the novel.

There is a saying; Proper planning prevents poor performance. Also known as, the 5 P's.

With an outline you already know what is going to happen in that scene, because it is in your outline, so it is easy to sit down for 30 minutes and knockout the 1666 words you need.

Knowing what I know now…

I could complete the Nanowrimo challenge in the first week of November. In fact I figure I could write a book in a weekend if I wrote for 9 hours each day. 9 hours is 540 minutes. 540 multiplied by 50 wpm is 27,000 words, times 2 days, and you've won the Nanowrimo challenge.

At the end of it you'll also end up with a coherent first draft of a completed novel, because you've followed an outline. When I failed the Nanowrimo it was always because I started a novel with one scene, or one simple idea. One scene or idea will not get you to the end of 50k words, or the normal 75k words typically required for a full length novel.

To create the outline you'll need around 72 scenes of about 1500 words. Now a scene is roughly defined as where the action within a scene is ‘unbroken’ in the sense that it does not include a major time-lapse or a leap from one setting to another. So the characters might be moving from one place to another, but the action is unbroken.

If you did the maths earlier you'll know that 72 scenes of 1500 words would be well over the 75k for a novel, but some will be scenes short of 1500 words and some longer. Regardless a 100k novel is a good target to aim at.

So how to write the first draft of a novel in a weekend? Easy!

Outline 72 scenes in order, don't worry about chapter breaks. Write at least one paragraph describing the action of that scene. After you've got your outline, set a timer for the exact amount of time it should take you to type 1500 words. In my case that would be exactly 30 minutes. Then type like mad trying to complete the 1500 words, or the timer runs out. Take a couple of minutes to complete your target word count, or tidy up the scene. Take a 10 minute break. Repeat until complete.

I know that Stephen King doesn't use an outline, but he is Stephen King. I need the ticking of the timer to motivate me to write and to beat the clock. Also, don't worry about typos and grammar and other stuff, that is for later. Ernest Hemingway famously told a young writer named Arnold Samuelson; The first draft of anything is shit.

I know this method makes it sound easy, but actually it isn't. Writing is very hard work, but once you have a draft it becomes easier. It is much easier to polish something than to polish nothing.

Do I really use this method?

Yep! In fact, I'm currently writing a full length novel for my subscribers; only available to them. It will be a serialised novel delivered weekly, but I'll be using the outline method to make sure my first draft is smooth and conherent, then another 3-4 drafts to get it right for publication.

So if you want to see how this method works, then subscribe and see.

Plan for your unemployment now!

Who cares, I got a job.

You've got a good job, the company needs you, and everyone loves you. So no problem right? What are the chances of becoming unemployed?

Well in the UK, like most of the first world, your chances are about 1.5 in 100, on average. Which means about 1.5% of people who are in work right now will become unemployed every three months. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the UK calls this "the hazard of unemployment". This doesn't sound too bad right? After all, it is only 1 in every 66 people. But want to know the real kicker? The real problem is ONS calculate the chance of you getting back into work within three months is only 20-30%.

This means you've got a 1-in-66 chance of being unemployed, and you're not likely to get a job within three months time. People who are out of work for more than six months are considered the long-term unemployed, and they make up over 40% of the unemployed. The good news is if you have reusable skills in an industry with isn't downsizing, you'll probably get a new job between 1-6 months.

But can you last 3-6 months with no income?

If your answer to that question is; Hell no! Then you need to plan for your unemployment and start right now, today. Don't wait, you need to worry about this now, before you lose your job. So what do you need to do to plan for your unemployment? Well to start with you need savings. You need something to live on for the 3-6 months with no income, and you need a plan to get back into employment.

The Plan

[1] Determine how much you earn.

The first thing you need to do is to sit down and check your finances. Look at your payslip and determine how much money you are paid net. Gross income is the amount you earn before taxes and other payroll deductions. Net income is your take-home pay after taxes and other payroll deductions. You need to use the net figure. This is the amount of money you need save. Multiply that amount by three to get the minimum about you need to save, and double that to get the ideal amount. Remember you're only 20-30% likely to get a new job in the first three months, so six months money is better.

[2] Determine how much you spend.

Calculate the amount of money you spend each month, and write down what the money goes toward. If this is starting to sound like budgeting, you're right, it is. After you have a list of your monthly outgoings, and if you're like most people there is more month than money, you need to start making some cuts.

[3] Cutting back and saving. Emergency Measures.

The next step is the critical one. You need to go into emergency lock down on spending until you can get your emergency fund full. You need to involve your family, if you're not living alone, and explain that you're trying to get three months emergency funding in the bank. Then review your spending habits.

  • First cut out anything which is a luxury item. Gym memberships, sky sports TV, play groups, magazine subscriptions, morning Starbucks or anything which you can live without for a few months and isn't required.
  • Put at least 10% of your monthly income into a savings account. Every month, without fail. This is building your emergency fund, it isn't optional. Pay yourself first. It is easier to just have the money put straight in the account. If you consider it already spent, you'll manage. If you can't put in 10% then put in as much as you can, but ask yourself what you can cut back on to get that 10% next month.
  • Get control of personal debit. If you have credit cards with balances due on them, switch them to interest free for 12 month cards. Pick the debit with the largest interest rate, credit cards, store cards, personal loans, and pay that one off first. Make extra payments on the one which is costing the most, and minimum payments on the others. As soon as that one is paid off pick the next highest, put the money you were paying on the first debit toward the second and pay it off. If you follow this strategy you'll eventually pay them all off and can put more money into your emergency fund.
  • This should go without saying, but don't take on any more debit until you've got your emergency fund full.
  • Start a "side hustle". This is second income stream from something which isn't connected to your primary employment. Washing cars at the weekend, or refurbishing and selling toasters, selling crafts, babysitting. It doesn't matter what it is, there is surely something you know how to do, which someone will pay you for. Find it, and do it. Put that money into your emergency fund.

    Side hustles work best when they are mature. Don't wait until you're unemployed to try to build a side hustle business, do it while you can. Dig your well before you're thirsty!

[4] I have 3-6 months income saved, now what?

After you've managed to get your emergency fund full, then you can relax a little. But you should still keep saving, so that when life's emergencies come up, you have a savings buffer which you can pay with. So the car breaks down, you have some money saved. Never take your emergency fund below what you've determined you need. You might want two savings accounts in order to make this work.

The worst happens, you're unemployed.

You've lost your job. How doesn't actually matter, what matters is getting back on your feet. You need to get back into employment before your money runs out, and before you become long-term unemployed. It is much harder for someone who has a long break from employment to get a job.

You have a new job now, that job is finding another job.

[1] Sign up!

You need to get down to the job centre to sign on, or sign up for unemployment benefits. Whatever help is available in the country you're in, go and get it. You might think it is a stigma, or you are embarrassed, but get over it. It is money out of the system you've paid for and deserve. It will also slow the leakage from your emergency funding.

[2] Set a application target.

Don't putter about working in the garden. Don't watch TV. Don't sit around moaning about the last job. Like sales people you need a target, and finding a new job is a numbers game. Set a target for the number of applications you can make in a work day. Get up in the morning and work for 8 hours applying for jobs. In person, on the Internet, over the phone, doesn't matter how you apply, but do it.

When you first think of a target number of applications, then double it and add 10%. If you think you can only apply for 10 jobs a day, then double that number to 20, add 2 and your target is 22 applications per day. Don't stop until you've applied for 22 jobs or the 8 hours is up. If you consistently hit your target every day before the 8 hours is up, then double your target again.

Thomas J. Watson, CEO of IBM famously said: "If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate." In other words, if your not getting enough responses to your applications, then apply for more jobs.

[3] Work the side hustle!

You've got a second line of income, work it harder than you've every done before. If you didn't take the time to do a side hustle before, now is the time to start. If you did wait until now, you're not going to get as much money as you would if it was a mature hustle, but every little bit of income helps now.

You might find that your side hustle begins to make you as much or more money as the job you previously had. If that happens, then welcome to your new job. You can stop applying for jobs and start owning a business.

[4] Network

Networking with people you know, and telling them you're looking for work is one of the things everyone will tell you that you need to do. Personally, I don't think much of this plan of action. It might help, but I wouldn't depend on it. Applying for open, known positions is much easier and faster. In my experience networking is more useful for people who have a job and are looking to change.

If you have a job, then you're in a position to network more. Networking really is helping other people, meeting with them, listening to them. Not just handing them your card and hoping they have a job. Networking, like a side hustle needs to be done before you need it. You need to know a lot of people who would like to help you, before your unemployed.

I have a job and I have savings, I'm good right?

Well …

Another thing to remember is retirement is just another form of unemployment. If you want to have money in your retirement, then you'll need to save money for it now.

Retirement is just long-term unemployment without any intention of going back to work. However, in this day and age having money through your retirement can be a struggle. You need to plan for this type of unemployment too. The best thing to do is talk to an Independent Finacial Advisor, someone who can show you how to invest your money wisely.

But some measures I would recommend are:

  • Try to pay off your mortgage in advance. This is just like the strategy for paying off your debit, and this is likely to be your largest debt.
  • Try to invest in something which pays higher rates of returns.
  • Spread your investments around.
  • Pay into a retirement fund.

Good Luck!

I hope this brief post will help you to start thinking about the possibility of becoming unemployed and taking measures to prevent it from becoming a catastrophe for you and your family. If you liked what you read, please click-to-tweet this post.

Tweet: Plan for your unemployment! 1-66 people will be unemployed in the next 3 months. It could be you.

Price reduction on books to $0.99

I have reduced the prices on three of my books in order to gather some additional reviews of them. They are now down to $0.99 for the remainder of 2018, and after that we'll see. Below are the links.

Ignition, Book One of the Librarian Series

Wild Justice, Book One of the Frontiersman

African Extrication, Book One of Les Retraites

I've setup some quick Click-to-Tweet links below to share with your followers the reduced prices! Thanks for your help in spreading the message.

TWEET: Ignition is on sale now for $0.99, limited time offer! https://goo.gl/iCFwM
TWEET: Wild Justice, on sale for only $0.99 , limited time offer! https://ctt.ec/b1f81+
TWEET: African Extrication, on sale for $0.99, for a limited time! https://goo.gl/sr6K66

Updated the RSS system

I've spent a lot of time updating the system to give RSS notifications when there is a new blog entry. It is difficult to remember to come back to visit sites to see if there is a new entry or more information, so it is always useful to have the website "ping" you when there is an update.

Personally I prefer a free and opensource system called Tiny Tiny RRS for my own subscriptions, but there are many other. Now that I've managed to get the system configured I'll be sure to start giving better and more interesting content.

I'm also planning a lot more videos showing software and systems I use for language leanring or for just learning new things in general. I hope you'll have a look at the courses section of the website where I post my YouTube videos, or you can subscribe directly to the YouTube Channel.

First post on new blog.

This is my first blog post after my site was hacked a few months ago. I've decided to take the time to organise the site so that it is a static site with only html pages and no dynamic database driven content engine. If you're wondering what happened, it seems the hosting platform was compromised and some malware was attached to the top of the php pages.

With this iteration of my blog, I've turned off dynammic pages and done everything with a straight html, written in the emacs text editor with org-mode.

In addition to reworking the website, I've published my new book, African Extrication and I'm putting the finishing touches on the sequel Italian Detente.

I'll keep this short and sweet, since it is just an update on why the blog hasn't been available for a long time. I'm reserving the space to dig all the old posts out of the database and repost as static blog pages. This should be done in a couple of weeks.