NaNoWriMo – Results

Did I finish National Novel Writing Month (November) with a 50,000 page manuscript, as challenged? No! Am I upset about that? No! Did I get a lot of writing done? Yes! Did I make a lot of progress on my novel this month? Yes! Did I write some awesome scenes? Yes! Am I going to finish this novel now that November is over? Yes! Can I finish the draft, as planned, by the end of 2015? Probably!

Thoughts:
I found NaNo to be very helpful in pushing through tough spots (like transitions, parts with unclear direction, etc.) in my manuscript. Trying to write 1,667 words per day means forcing your way through to the good stuff. And a lot of the time, if you just keep going, you can push through to getting on a roll. Sometimes not so much, but it’s worth trying.

fizzmywhiskersI found NaNo to be incredibly helpful in re-learning the art of prioritizing writing. Literally just keeping it in mind that you’re going to do some work on your novel every day makes a big difference – even if, like me, your schedule changes daily and you can’t set aside, say, from 9-10 pm each night or from 7-8 each morning to write (not that I’m ever voluntarily awake at 7 am). Aside from the time you actually spend sitting down and writing, knowing that it’s going to be part of your day kicks your brain in gear to think about it all day. What am I going to do next? you’ll wonder when you wake up in the morning. And What if I made this happen? you’ll think as you spill coffee all over your hand, distracted as visions of your characters dance in your head. It’s a beautiful feeling to take with you as you go about your daily life.

Since it isn’t always possible to sit down for five hours at a stretch and pump out 1,667 words every day, I was surprised to find how quickly I can sit down and knock out 500-700 words. Do that a few times a day, and you’re gold for a NaNo day. Do that a few times a day any day, and you’ve accomplished a lot. So maybe it’s good that I don’t have a set writing time. Maybe it works better to write a bit when I come home, then have din-din, then come back to my writing for a while, and then spend some quality time with my fella and my chinchilla. Got an hour between things? Don’t play Plants vs. Zombies II – write 500 words! Got 20 minutes before you’re meeting your friends for drinks? Don’t check Facebook another 12 times – write 250 words! DO IT, and don’t be intimidated by time constraints.

And breaks are good. Throwing myself at my book at a breakneck pace all month just didn’t turn out to be what I wanted. It felt really good, I got a lot done, but when it started feeling like writing a panicked term paper instead of creating a work of fiction, I didn’t feel bad about finding some balance. Getting away and doing something else gives you a chance to re-assess where you are and what you’re doing in the plot and in the characters. You see something or you have a conversation with someone or you just get some perspective, and you find a new level of inspiration, a new direction to take things, a new way to approach that boring, awkward transition scene. Taking a break also helps keep me excited about the book – I’m eager to get back to it if I take a day off, or if I get out and do something with other humans (gasp!) for a few hours.

My goal now is to finish this rough draft by the end of December. During NaNo, I generally felt the best at around 1,000 words per day, so I’m going for that to finish out the year. And yeah, I’ll take days off, probably, and I’ll write more some days. Will I do NaNoWriMo next year? Depends on what’s cookin’, but I think so, yeah! Whether I finish or not, it’s been worth it to participate.

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Week 3 of NaNoWriMo

I spent the first part of this week running just under National Novel Writing Month goals (1,667 words a day = 50,000 words during the month of November). As the week has gone on, I’ve fallen further and further below goal. Running under goal doesn’t sound like a good thing, but I couldn’t be happier. When I find myself feeling frustrated and thinking things like, “Crap. I’ve only written 1,000 words today?” I stop and smile to myself, because any other month of the year, I’d be thinking, “WOW!! I wrote 1,000 words today!!!” There’s also the fact that on days my word count is low, or I end up taking the day off of writing, it’s consistently resulted in me rethinking something that could be better, could move the story forward or in a new direction, or brings out something important that I might’ve missed if I’d shoved on through my word count just to get it out. Here’s my NaNo trajectory thus far (not including the few additions from Day 21)…it isn’t a perfect diagonal line, but check out those jumps up after my last couple days off!

week 3 stats

Day 15: 1,356 words added, but I worked through some sticky parts I wasn’t sure what to do with…which is awesome.

Day 16: 1,840 words, and a huge breakthrough – all because I decided to say screw the plot structure I had in mind and just write a funny confrontation scene between a set of characters. Completely changed my mind about what happens when in the book. Also had great difficulty going to sleep due to all the ideas that kept popping into my head after I’d already shut down the laptop for the night.

Day 17: 1,515 words, and another breakthrough about the logistics of the characters within the book.

youstabbedhimDay 18: Focused a good chunk of my writing time on moving things around based on my new ideas, to see if they worked. They did, except I need to go back and fill in a chapter later. Moving forward with the story, added 1,473 words.

Day 19: 440 words into the day, I felt like saying, “Screw NaNoWriMo! I’m writing, I’m moving forward, that’s good enough. Who cares if I get to 50,000 words by the end of the month?” So I went out and did stuff in the actual world for a while.

Day 20: Pretty sure I am not going to catch up and finish by the end of November. 3,400 words short and got nothing written today.

Day 21: About 250 words written.

Day 22: Woke up with ideas! Have only begun to implement them, but am glad I backed off and got some perspective, because I’m really excited about where the next section of the book is headed.stats1

So when I look at my stats page on the NaNo website, I haven’t been sweating it too much when my numbers aren’t up to par. After all, writing isn’t work. Just because you work at something does not make it work. In the end, NaNoWriMo is a writing exercise, something to challenge you and give you an excuse to prioritize your writing for a month (to help you remember how to do it the rest of the year!) It’s a kick in the pants, a spring-board, a launching point – not the grindstone. And for all you other Wrimers out there, I hope you’re having fun along the journey, whether you’re on par or not!

Week 2 of NaNoWriMo

After my fabulously victorious first week of National Novel Writing Month, during which I went from 10,000 words to 18,000 words, week 2 has been a struggle. There’s nothing unusual about week 2 being tough, especially since Real Life Happened and caused a hiccup in my new rhythm. But that’s okay, because – after only ONE WEEK, one little tiny week! – I’ve seen a big change in my mindset about writing. As in, I feel weird on they days I don’t write anything. As in, I think about my story in the shower, in the car, while I’m eating lunch, before I fall asleep, as soon as I wake up. As in, I’m getting my writer groove back. And that’s my prime directive this month, so hooray!!

Here’s the day-by-day low-down for week 2:

Day 7: After I posted about how I was starting to lose steam last week, I took a break from the manuscript. During my break, I realized what I wanted to do next, and wrote another 475 words.

Day 8: I took the day off intentionally to try and gain some perspective. Hung out with my brilliant partner-in-crime, cover artist, and may-as-well-be-husband (Zakary Kendall) and had fun discussing weird metaphysical and philosophical aspects of the manuscript. Very inspiring!

Erica Flynn cover by Zakary Kendall

Cover art for The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn. Oil on canvas, Zakary Kendall

Day 9: Real Life Happened. Only wrote about 200 words, but that’s something!

Day 10: 1,500 words, and had fun doing it.

Days 11 & 12: Real Life Ctd. No writing happened.

Day 13: Now officially behind on NaNo word count for the month. However, it was a productive day. I cleaned up my desk area (gasp!), hauled out multicolorful things (i.e., crayons, sharpies, etc.) and paper and arranged them neatly in the middle of the living room floor, and wrote out questions I want/need to explore in my manuscript – about the protagonists, antagonist, plot, world, conflicts, and turning points – as well as some helpful exercises from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction, which is an awesome book and every writer should own it and Donald Maass isn’t paying me to say that, I promise. Now I have a bunch of questions and prompts in multicolored sharpie taped up above my desk, and a crap-ton of art supplies and paper ranging from index cards to welcome-mat-sized conveniently located in the middle of the living room floor. Because shiny colors make me happy, and help me write, okay?!?!!!

hellonekoDay 14: 3,000 words. Whenever I felt stuck, I doodled for a while, answered one of my note card questions, or researched something and jotted down notes about it. At around 2,000 words, I took a couple hours’ break – dinner, 1960s Dark Shadows episodes, and chinchilla playtime. And then came back and wrote another 1,000…which brings me almost back up to the overall official word count goal for NaNo – and more importantly, moved my book forward!

 

Day 15: Geared up and ready to rock! …As soon as I finish this coffee.

Things I’ve remembered this week: 1. It’s not that hard to find enough time to write 250-500 words in a day. 2. Taking a break is sometimes more productive than working. 3. One type of creativity usually boosts another, which makes a nice little positive feedback loop. 4. You do not have to write everything in order. If you’re trying to get the story to move on to the next point, but you’re not sure how to do it, and you’re not that interested in the part you’re trying to write, chances are the reader won’t be either. You’re not experiencing writer’s block – you’re experiencing writer’s instinct! Run with it! Run with it to the next bit you think is going to be so cool you can’t wait to get there. 5. First drafts are for fun. Rewrites are for making everything tie together coherently.

Week 1 of NaNoWriMo

The National Novel Writing Month challenge: Write 1,667 words per day, every day in November – and at the end of the month, you’ll have a 50,000 word draft. This year, I’m spring-boarding off NaNoWriMo’s challenge to get a rough draft of my sequel to The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn written by the end of 2015.

Here’s how it’s going so far:

  • Nov. 1: I cheated! I already had about 10,000 words written. I posted on my blog instead of working on my book. But I did think about my book a lot! And any writer who claims that thinking time doesn’t count as writing time is not to be trusted. Yes, sometimes writing looks a lot like I’m playing a video game and eating popcorn. That does NOT mean I’m not writing!
  • Nov. 2: Wrote about 3,000 words, although admittedly roughly 1,000 of those were copied and pasted from my “parts” file – things I wrote and cut out of the first dozen times I tried to start the book, before I really knew how it started.
  • Nov. 3: Wrote about 1,200 words, which is under the daily word count, but was GOOD STUFF and really kicked things in the right direction with some momentum behind it on one of my two major story lines (my new character, Seth).boyscape quote
  • Nov. 4: About 1,000 words on the Erica story line, all of which I’ll probably cut, because it’s extraneous and I wrote myself into a corner. Still, knowing I’ve got to move forward tomorrow means I backed up and got the perspective to realize what needs to be done.
  • Nov. 5: About 1,200 words in what feels like the right direction for Erica.
  • Nov. 6: Was out of town on a 10-hour there-and-back research trip for my day job. Came home tired and had trouble concentrating. 291 words on the Erica story line, which is better than nothing, no matter how far below goal it is.
  • Nov. 7: At this moment, I’d rather punch myself in the face rather than write. I’m stuck on the Erica story line, and I’m not sure why. Obviously, I’m trying to do something that isn’t working, but I don’t know why it isn’t working. <sarcasm> My favorite! </sarcasm> So I’ve written around 300 words again (so far) today, and I’m going to take a chinchilla break to clear my head. My plan is to tackle this block when my frustration subsides, whether by sitting down and working on it some more directly or by freewriting or playing around with visual art to get my creative ass in gear. I’ll update about NaNo in another week to let you know how it works out!

 

Why I Decided to NaNo This Year

It’s November – National Novel Writing Month! This is the second (not consecutive) year I’ve participated. Given my experience the first year (2011) I wrote a NaNoWriMo draft, (I “won”, but the manuscript was a mess I haven’t been able to face cleaning up), I wasn’t sure how I felt about doing it again. And for four years, I was busy going back to college for a belated bachelor’s degree, so November was a lot less “novel” and a lot more “OMG, how am I going to write four papers and study for four tests in the next two weeks?!?!?!”

Why did I decide to try NaNo again?

1. I already had a book in my head – the sequel to The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn – and I’d already started working on it…including a skeletal idea of the plot and structure.

2. I’d promised myself after I graduated in May that I’d throw myself into my writing projects and finish a rough draft of this book by the end of the year. Well, here it is November, and I wasn’t anywhere close to being done with a first draft.

3. Four years for undergrad is the longest I’ve gone without writing on a semi-regular or constant basis. Ever. In my life. It was never just a habit with me – it was a good chunk of what defined my life, my time, and my sense of myself. While it’s been nice to find out that I’m good at being things other than a writer, it’s also been hard to face a blank page again. Or even a half-written page. Since NaNoWriMo sets a goal (50,000 words written by the end of the month) and breaks it down into a daily, bite-size chunk for me (1,667 words per day), it seems like a good way to bring the habit back, especially since you HAVE to break through the second-guessing stage and just get on a roll to churn out that kind of word count every day.

I made this clock about 5 years ago. Acrylics, playing cards, and clock kitYes, it’ll be nice to “win” NaNo. But the important thing for me is to get back to being a writer – by actively writing, by consciously thinking about my story, and by being in the mindset of writing in my head all the time, even when I’m driving or doing the dishes or listening to people talk while I’m waiting in line. And although I’ll be thrilled to have 50,000 words toward a working draft down by the end of the month, I know the work doesn’t stop there. For one thing, I’ll probably need closer to 60,000 words to finish this story up – but I can do that by the end of December, if I keep up the good habits I pick back up from NaNo. For another, a first draft is the easy part, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. Knowing me, I’ll be another year on the rewrites, because I need time between drafts to get perspective before I look at my stories again. That’s my process, and it works for me.

Now, back to writing this draft……

What I’m Working On….

I’ve started work on a new novel – a second novel set in the Underworld established in my upcoming The Life and Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn.  It isn’t a sequel, per se, since it’s a new set of characters and is (mostly) set in a different part of the Underworld, so I guess that makes it a spinoff…?  Whatever it is, I’m having fun writing it and getting back into the rhythm of writing just about every day.  Figuring up what’s left of the summer, if I write 5,000 words per week, I can have a 60,000 word rough draft by the beginning of Fall semester.  This week, I only got in 2,000 words, but the beginning is always hard – when you’re in the habit of editing more than writing, it’s hard to switch gears and stop thinking your ideas to death.  The rough draft process, for me, requires letting go of 90 percent of my impulses to control the story…usually my subconscious seems to have a much clearer idea of what to do than the rest of my brain gives it credit for.  I can clean up any places where it got sloppy later.

Given that I’ll be out of the country for a month (and extremely busy) this summer, I’m not sure how likely I am to end up with a complete rough draft before school starts again, but I’ll give it a shot!  If I can churn out 54,000 words in 30 days (NaNoWriMo 2010), I don’t see why I can’t do this.

What Day is This? Saturday? Tuesday? Wednesday.

Having successfully completed another semester of school, and not having posted anything on my blog in that entire semester, on this first day of my summer break, it seems like a good idea to update.

My writing life has felt very much on hold for the past four months, but when I think about it, I did make some progress.  I got 5 rejections from agents for my Erica Flynn novel (3 of those in the same day, which is a first for me).  I converted my 50,000-word rough draft from NaNoWriMo 2010  into a reasonable working outline.

Now that I have all summer free (well, free aside from my job and my assistance in the archaeology lab on campus) my brain is turning to questions about new project options.  Should I finish outlining the unwritten 2/3 of the events of my NaNo 2010 project?  Should I draft something new?  And if I draft something new, which of my new ideas should I work on – or how can I combine all of them into one cohesive novel?  Should I outline first, and then write a draft of a new book?  Or should I wing it, NaNo style, but spread it out over 3 months instead of just one?

It popped into my head this morning that it would be sort of fun to do a complete outline of a book every day for a week, no holds barred on going over the top with the plot or being silly about it.  As a rule, I get a lot more out of nonsense than I do over-planning and being too serious with my work.  It might be a good way to loosen up and shake some inspiration loose!  Maybe I’ll do one tomorrow and my next post will be about how it turns out.

Lament for NaNo and How to Raise a Story Once it Hatches

It’s NaNoWriMo starting today – the marathon of National Novel Writing Month – and I can’t reasonably participate this year due to school.  I’m sad about that, in spite of the fact that last year, my first NaNo, I felt half-crazy by the end of November from trying to churn out 2000 words per day.  If I hadn’t gone back to college, the plan was that this year I’d write Book Two of the trilogy I drafted the first book of last NaNo, and next year I’d do Book Three.

As it is, I will go half-crazy by the end of November due to schoolwork combined with trying to make ends meet to pay my December rent and bills, so writing needs to be my pressure valve, not an additional stressor.  I am writing, here and there, in bits and pieces, as I mentioned a few posts back.  More, actually, than I was writing over the summer, when I was trying to figure everything out ahead of time instead of just writing what occurred to me and letting it take me on a tour to see if I wanted to buy the property and fix it up.

One of my favorite things about writing, I realized yesterday, is just finding a new voice, a tone that interests me.  I love when I start writing something and it starts to sound like someone else, when it starts to evoke a feeling and a style and images that aren’t stated outright, but are clearly present.  For me, that’s always been the point where I know I have a character I can work with, a setting I can stroll around in and watch the events of the plot unfold.  If I feel like I’m tuning into a frequency that’s channeled through me, instead of like I’m forcing words to act like blocks I can build into something, then I feel at home in a story.  I want to write more.  I want to go there when I’m sad, when I’m frustrated, when I’m lonely, when I need to unwind, and, yes, when I want to celebrate, too.

And I don’t know exactly what gets me there.  Partly, it’s just a matter of, as I said, giving the piece a chance.  Starting to put it to paper, allowing it to stretch and breathe and move around without trying to shape it too much.  Then starting to see potential, introducing new elements, or figuring out what causes and effects are playing around the moment.  Once you start finding threads of cause and effect, if the voice has kicked in, you’re gold.  You can play around and find what connects to what or whom, find infinite possibilities, and then start picking the best and most interesting ones to work with.

The worst mistake I think you can make on a rough draft that’s starting to have its fledgling voice, that’s starting to take off in this way, is to worry about the grammar.  Grammar is for later.  It is the killer of baby stories that can’t fly on their own yet.  Nobody likes things that kill baby animals.  If you find your inner grammarian slavering for a feast of sweet downy feathers of fledgling story, shush it and promise it that when that nest of darling possibilities grows up big and strong, it will make a much better meal.  Then lock your inner grammarian in its kennel and go back to work.  Let the voice be what it is, especially if you’re using first person or an intimate third person perspective.  How much grammar needs to be fixed and how much is acceptably artistic choice for setting a tone is not something you need to work out on the first draft.  In general, my advice for rough drafts is:  Don’t complicate it.  Don’t make anything harder on yourself than it needs to be.  Have FUN with your first draft.  Writing is fun.  Editing is work (sometimes fun, sometimes not), but writing is fun.

A History of Writing, Part II

Last fall, I wrote a post about the beginnings of my writing life, https://saradeurell.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/a-history-of-writing/, in which I said that someday I’d write a Part II about my adolescent writing projects.  So here it is.

I finished a 100-page book when I was about ten (it was a pretty trite fantasy about a unicorn slaying a dragon, and the only good thing to come out of it was a weasel of a character who played both sides against one another through the whole story).  Wrote a badly-researched ghost novel of about 120 pages, finishing when I was 12.  Then I went through a phase of writing completely ridiculous horror stories (probably because that’s what I was reading).

And then, at 14, I decided I wanted to be A Very Serious Writer.  I wanted to write sweeping, epic, heartbreaking novels that teachers would someday force their high school students to read.  So I started planning and building a world for the most complicated fantasy novel ever conceived of in the history of mankind.  (Incidentally, I tried to write that same novel again during NaNoWriMo last year, and it’s still too complicated for me to get my head around.)  I was 17 when I admitted to myself that I just wasn’t ready to write anything that BIG and decided to try my hand at a literary novel with only a few major characters instead.

My main hangups as a teenage writer were that (a) I spent too long trying to write a perfect first draft and skewed the focus of the plot as a result and (b) I took everything far too seriously.  I didn’t want to be funny, and I didn’t want to be fun.  I wanted to be profound – which is a problem if you’re only 17 and don’t have enough life experience to be profound, and also usually makes your writing (or at least your narrator) sound pretentious, which is, ironically, one of my own pet peeves with what I read.

I finished the rough draft after a grueling 4-year wrestling match against a main character who dragged his heels every step of the way, reread it, and realized with horror that “flawless” was exactly what my book wasn’t.  I wrote exclusively poetry and short stories for years afterward.

It wasn’t until I started working on The Life & Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn that I hit my stride and my modus operandi as a writer.  Everything clicked with the writing of that book.  Self-discipline, setting goals for myself and surpassing them, knocking out a draft in a reasonable amount of time, taking time to get perspective between rewrites, and rewriting ruthlessly…all that came with the process of writing Erica Flynn.

The moral of the post, I guess, is that writing is something you can really only learn by doing it.  And you aren’t wasting time by making mistakes, even if an entire manuscript is just one big tangle of mistakes.  Like anything in life, it’s only a waste if you don’t learn from it, if you ignore the lessons available to you within an experience, if you keep repeating the same mistakes over and over.  Keep trying new things.  Keep experimenting.  Try new methods.  Branch out.  Keep trying.

And don’t take yourself or your writing so seriously that it isn’t any FUN!  It’s a rare reader that dislikes fun, but there are plenty of readers looking for it.

Keep Working

If you’re in the process of marketing a book, I wholeheartedly recommend that you get well into another project prior to sending out your completed manuscript.

I got lucky with timing, finishing the final draft of my novel in early October, which meant that when I participated in NaNoWriMo in November, I ended the year with one finished novel and one rough draft under my belt.  Once I recovered from NaNo, I started researching agents.  All of the times which would’ve been empty spots in my writing life (the month or two break most of us take between finishing a draft and starting the rewrites, the waiting game with the agencies, etc.) were filled up, because I could switch back and forth between tasks for one manuscript and tasks for the other.

Now that I’m well into the querying process and doing a lot of waiting and not much else for my finished novel, I’m so grateful that I have another book ready to be worked on.  As antsy as I am with a project to work on, I can just imagine how much worse it would be if my writing life, right now, consisted purely of sending out letters and samples and then waiting for replies.

Aside from providing a welcome distraction and being an efficient use of time which would otherwise be spent chewing your own face off from the inside, having something else to work on is also a good mood booster when you get a rejection.  At least, it works that way for me.  If I work out a problem with my rough draft, write a new scene I really like, or come across something awesome when I’m fact checking my details, it takes a little of the sting out of getting a rejection.  Even if it’s a bad writing day and I get a rejection, I can tell myself, “But see, you’re a real, professional writer.  You’re already working on a new book, the way professional writers are supposed to.  You’re just waiting for your break, and getting work done in the meantime.  See how awesome you are?”

Anything that boosts your confidence and makes you feel good about yourself, that’s what you want to do while you’re marketing your book.  So write, write well, and write something that makes you happy.