10 Lessons I Learned From NaNoWriMo and Daily Vlogging

I’m not sure when I first heard of NaNoWriMo, but when I did, I knew at some point I would be participating in it. Additionally, when I started my YouTube channel, I knew that eventually, I would end up daily vlogging, if just for a short time. In classic Elliot Chan fashion, I decided to kill two birds and attack both marathon projects at the same time.

This is what happened:

 

Now that it’s over, I am both relieved and exhausted, but with what little energy I have at the moment, let’s reflect on the experience. Here are the 10 things I learned from doing NaNoWriMo and Daily Vlogging at the same time:

1. YouTube Gave My Videos A Chance… But Didn’t Change My Life

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My YouTube impressions

The first few days of my daily vlog, I thought I was going to go viral. I literally did! I thought my channel was going to explode. I got excited. After all, I got more subscribers in the first week of NaNoWriMo/daily vlog, than I got the past 5 months of producing my ultra niche experimental writing content. This was huge — except it wasn’t.

YouTube’s impression plummeted during the second week, then rose again during the weekend and then dropped again. More research is needed, but it was interesting seeing my content get a solid chance at the start… perhaps when the NaNoWriMo interest was at the highest.

2. Viewers Have Been SO Supportive

I was genuinely surprised by all the support I got from my viewers. As someone who is new to YouTube and the NaNoWriMo community, I thought I was going to get a lot of people correcting me or telling me how to write or that I’m not focusing on the right things by vlogging, and on and on. I got none of that.

Just a Movember request from my buddy Sean *sigh* you can’t please everyone:

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If you’re worried about trolls, I say don’t, in general most people are kind — or at least they mean no malice.

3. Outlining Was Helpful at the Beginning and End But Not in the Middle

I couldn’t imagine doing this tandem project without an outline. I tried to at first… but with limited time in my day, I couldn’t allow myself to sit there for even 5 minutes and get inspired.

I needed to attack the page and an outline helped me do that. However, once I got going, I veered away from my outline. Not too far, but enough that I dilly-dallied on a few scenes or on a plot point that I wasn’t anticipating.

As I rounded the corner on the last week, I realized the importance of finishing (at least knowing where I would finish). I created another outline, this time from the ¾ point of the novel. This gave me the direction and momentum to wrap up my novel (which to my chagrin, is still unfinished).

 

 

4. Something’s Gotta Give — Not Everything, Just Something

At first, I was like, “I’m going to drop everything to do NaNoWriMo and daily vlog.” Then I realized that that would be a) unrealistic b) make for a really boring vlog.

I strategically drop stuff that took away my time from writing and were not interesting to film. So watching sports and tv shows were the first to be dropped from my schedule. Nothing eats up more time in my life than simply sitting and watching tv.

The other thing I had to drop, unfortunately, was cooking food for myself. I had a lot of precooked Costco meals in November because cooking is time-consuming and I’m not great at it. It would be an uninteresting repetitive chore that I didn’t need in my life at this time.

What I didn’t drop was seeing my friends. As much as I wanted to hit my word count goal, I realized that my vlog is an opportunity to capture my time with the people in my life. I tried to say “Yes” to invites, knowing that this project was more than simply writing and video creation. It’s something nice for me to look back on.

5. People Will Make It Seem Harder Than It Is

Every time I bring up my tandem project, people will ask me why I’m doing it. There’s a tinge of “Do you really want attention that bad?” in their tone.

Why do people run marathons? It is a challenge. People who run marathons aren’t trying to impress everyone else. They are doing it for themselves. Many will constantly say things like, “I can NEVER do that!” As if what other people are doing is that hard. It isn’t. It’s committing to something for a month. I understand, what I’m doing is not for everyone, but I’m confident that anyone who wants to do it, CAN.

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6. It Feels So Good to Get It Done Each Day

Every morning this November I woke up with a goal: to write and to upload. If I do those two things, it was a great day!

I had 30 great days in November.

Sure, there were many shitty moments during the month, but the end goal was always achieved. If you want a reason to pat yourself on the back, be consistent with something every day. It doesn’t have to be a hard thing, it can be super easy.

Write a paragraph every day. That’s SOOO achievable. Not every day did I write 5,000 words. Few days I wrote less than 500 and was done. But there were days where I wrote over 5,000. It doesn’t matter how much I did, it evens out eventually, but what matters is that I keep doing it.

 

7. Waking Up Early Didn’t Work

This project was not all successes. Over the 30 days, I was hoping to develop the habit of waking up 1 hour earlier than usual. In theory, that hour would be spent writing or some other productive pursuit. This would be incredibly useful during the week, as I have 9.5 hour days at the office. 1 hour would make a huge difference. I had a few wins here and there, but consistent I was not. This was not the way I will get an extra hour to write so I will have to find that extra hour somewhere else… 

 

8. Developed A Daily Plan

Every day, I knew exactly where I was going to be, who I was going to meet up with, and when I was going to write and edit my video. In another word, my day was structured. This was not what daily vlogging was meant for, but it was the only way I could get through it. I used my daily vlog as a breakdown for my day. Then I went through my day and got b-roll footage. The b-rolls became the little snapshots of my life.

At the very beginning of the project, I said that this will not be a writing project or a video creation project, but rather a time management project. This is how I approached it. If I wanted to have a video uploaded at the end of the day, I need to know where I will be having dinner that night. If at a restaurant, I’ll need to edit beforehand. If at home, I’ll edit while my Costco food heated up in the oven. Thrilling behind the scenes details here.

 

9. Don’t Overthink It, But Don’t Ramble

My least favourite part of this whole project was pointing the camera on myself and speaking. I hate it because, I feel that I’m bad at it, so I get in my head and psych myself out. This happens every day. I continuously psych myself out until I do it… then I feel relieved for about 24 hours.

I also wanted to challenge myself and do at least one episode a week in public. I did 8 out of 30 in public with strange normal people around. This increased my nervousness by another 30-40%.

The more I practiced the less I psyched myself out. It became routine. I didn’t overthink it the same way I don’t overthink speaking up at a meeting at work when I had something to say. I’m am just myself talking.

However, I learned that it’s better to pause and say nothing and to think at times, even when the camera is rolling. A common annoying habit I noticed was that I kept repeating myself just so I can keep talking, keeping the action going. I rambled when I can just take a moment to breathe, refocus and continue with a new thought.

 

 

10. Vancouver’s Weather Is Weird (I knew this all along)

I always knew Vancouver is a city where it can be raining in the morning, sunny in the afternoon and storming at night.

I didn’t know that in addition to documenting my writing and day-to-day life, I was also documenting the city I live in. I love that. I didn’t want to display the city I lived in, because I was initially wary about privacy, but over time I realized that the city was as much a part of my life as the people and the story I was writing. Seeing my mood coincided with the weather was either a juxtaposition or representation of what was happening. It brought an element to my life I wasn’t expecting to capture.

 

Now, I’m certain I learned more than 10 things from this project, and over time, I’m sure the lessons will materialize. While many things can be taught, commitment cannot. You cannot learn to commit to something from reading a book or watching someone else. Commitment is something you need to practice. That is what this project allowed me to do — practice.

 

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo, now what do you do with your draft? Click here to find out. 

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My favourite album of 2018: Kyle Craft “Full Circle Nightmare”

How a poignant album made me smile

Giving music recommendations is tricky. You’re selling someone on an experience, but it’s a challenge expressing how a song or an album resonates with you personally. So often when sharing music, all we can do is offer names of songs or artists, but fail to share what matters most: the place the listening experience took you emotionally. This is my attempt at taking you there.

Here’s an unverified stat: 80% of the music I listen to is from the same library I listened to 10 years ago. It’s harder to make it onto my rotation than it is to get airplay on the radio. Music used to be a bigger part of my life, but now, it’s simply the backdrop to my working hours. However, every now and then a song will come on and I would have to stop what I’m doing to listen — actually, listen — to it. Those little moments in a person’s life are special, and I’m glad, even in the hurly-burly, I can still have those.

 

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Listen to the album. 

In the same year that Eminem, Kanye West, and Arctic Monkeys dropped new albums, it’s, in fact, a newcomer into my musical lexicon that shook me. And that’s Kyle Craft’s Full Circle Nightmare, which came out in February 2018.

Said to be inspired by Bob Dylan, Craft’s lyrics unfold a complex story of pleasure and desperation: two apt descriptors for myself lol

Before we go further, I’d like to thanks my unpaid Spotify subscription for this discovery. This alone makes me want to subscribe for $10/month, but as a marketer, I feel I need to support the platform’s advertising business model.

Okay, what is it that I like about Full Circle Nightmare?

On The Consequences of Saving Time

The song that introduced me to Kyle Craft was actually from his debut album: Dolls of Highland. The song: Lady of the Ark.

Note: I recommend listening to the music embedded below before reading on 🙂

Craft’s abrasive sound woke me. The lyrics telling a tragic tale of a relationship and the aftermath. The heavy guitar strumming in the background, making me shake my head to all the repulsive things I’ve done to get what I want… to only have the luster fade soon after.

Lady of the ark I think you were the start

I think you were the key with which his heart was closed

Not his only secret, not his only weakness

I found him at the party feeling through her clothes

And he cried, cried, “I’m wasted”

And he could look you straight in the mouth

But all that time he’d take it

Even though he didn’t watch the words come out   

Oh why, why did you leave me

Craft singing in an almost scream “We’ll try… TRY…” makes me ache. We all try so valiantly to get and then to keep. All the while, we ponder how to apply sin to the effort, and debate whether the time we saved in the short term will end up being spent in the long-term, questioning what we’ve done.

This song got me hooked and I quickly went through Craft’s whole discography without looking back.

 

On Making a Living

Full Circle Nightmare and Kyle Craft found me at a particular time in my life. I felt as though I have finally reached adulthood. An adulthood that 15 years ago, I thought I’d never find: I’m heading home to my wife for a night in and planning on rising early to head to work tomorrow. The days where I could give up on things simply because they were hard is over. I’m responsible now.

Heartbreak Junky, to me, is a song about self-destruction. Thinking you’re undeserving. Feeling like an imposter. In that state, it’s easy to implode upon yourself. Throw up your arms and come clean. I AM not good enough. This can happen in a career, a relationship, and most certainly a dream. You say, “I’m not good enough,” and then you wake up.

 

You were a charmer, I was a heartbreak junky

You were a diamond, I was the heap of fool’s gold

You were the jet plane, I was a parachute failing

I was the cheap ad, when you were the centerfold

 

I’ve worked more per hour per week this year than any other in my entire life. I say this with pride and dismay. At times I felt like giving up. All of it. Everything.

All that work and this is all I have to show for it?

Some people have jobs, but I have callings. How I make a living is so much a part of me, it becomes my identity. It is my life. Over the years, I accepted that there are two types of people in the world, those who work to live (the weekend warriors) and those who live to work (where what they do goes beyond a paycheck). I categorize myself in the latter.

This year would have been hard — much harder — if I didn’t have Sharon, my wife beside me. I owe all my achievements (the tiny upward trend) over the past 4 years to her. She had become the foundation. Even if the sky was falling, I knew I had something solid to stand on while I carry the world on my shoulder.

I’m a worker. I can wind myself up and go, but Sharon is the one that sets me in the right direction. Divorced from my old job was traumatic and frustrating. The comfortable sheet was pulled from me. Exposed, it would have been natural for me to fall in despair. I tended to. I didn’t for one reason: having someone reminding me that I’m not the imposter, I often convinced myself of being.

For that, I feel lucky, so I trudge onwards.

On Our Past Self

Then there is a song that gave a strange tingly sensation. I smile, like remembering an old joke from a friend.

While this is the year that I worked the most hours, it’s also the year where I was invited to the most weddings. In addition, it was the year where the number of children in my friend circle increased significantly. Like… what just happened to us?

Each time I see them, I realized that we were all battling a unique war. I wasn’t the only one facing responsibilities, nor was I the only one squeezing the lemons that life was flinging in my direction. We were all being challenged every day. We are all on the verge of giving up… but to do what though? What’s the alternative?

We can’t go back in time now. We can’t undo what is done. Not unless we all agree to do it together.

This leads me to my favourite song on the album, The Rager:

 

And your head never hurt so bad

Thinking ’bout the fun you had

What on earth did we do last night?

Why’s there blood on the shower wall?

Who’s that sleeping on the hardwood floor

And what’s the number written on my palm?

Yeah, my keys are somewhere in my pants

But I ain’t trying to get back home

Then she wakes up, and she quietly laughs

“There’s a party tonight if you wanna go”

The lyrics encapsulate the slippery slope that I remembered walking on so well. I missed those days as dark as they may have been. In my mind, they were always illuminated, as if the memories were drenched in glow stick liquid.

Craft, in his somewhat autobiographical album, summed up the youthful naivete and how in our current lives we’re going to be charmed and misdirected by lives that could have been ours. We gotta remember the times as good and have confidence that we’re heading in the right way. We must abandon the feelings that we’ve let our younger, wilder self down. But know, that this — right here, where you are — is where your younger self had wanted to be. And if the young me could travel to the future and see what I get to return home to, he’d trade his spot with mine.  

In Gold Calf Moan, the last song of the album, in the last verse, Craft sums it all up.

 

But when the party’s over honey and your key to the kingdom

Don’t fit the new lock

And everybody’s shoving camels through the eye of a needle

And you’re punching the clock

Yeah when your new squeeze talks both your ears off baby

You’ve got that open-road feeling

You send your regards when your heart is ripe for the stealing

 

This, like everything else, is just a phase and in 10 years, I’ll be looking back and hope I still have that little tingle, like remembering a joke from an old friend. I’ll see how far I’ve gone and how far I have left to go. The funny thing about having success in your 20s and 30s is that you have another 40 to 50 years to mess it up. Hopefully, I’m still building upwards and not tempted to break it all down.

Full Circle Nightmare is a tragedy, but it reminds me that my life is not. And in moments of stress and frustration, I’m thankful for that clarity. That’s why it’s my favourite album this crazy year.

 

Buy me a cup of coffee, it helps to keep me writing.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari: Read it if you’re world building

Earlier this year, I downloaded an audiobook: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind — thinking it’ll be an educational listen and nothing more. Yet, as I started to get through it, I realized that there was a connection between what I was hearing and what I was creating.

While working on my novel, I’m creating culture, religion, laws, languages, etc. just like humanity at the dawn of time. Sitting there on the couch one night, I had an epiphany.

When world building there is no better template than the place we are already residing in. The number one take away I got from the book by Yuval Noah Harari is that so much of human society is through imagined constructs and stories.

From religion, culture, currency, government, social hierarchy, gender equality, and so on, all these are examples of life we consider to be tangible, but it isn’t… it’s a set of beliefs and it can be modified. And while you can certainly set off to change these aspects in real life, I first encourage you to take those elements and use them as a springboard to invent your own world.

If you are interested in reading Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, here is an affiliate link to Audible: https://amzn.to/2yJxUBo