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.

Advertisements

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.

Writing Snippets

The shift in my schedule in the past two months has definitely shaken things up in my writing life.  Since I’d been in a rut for a month or two before I went back to school, I don’t actually mind that.  The down side to not having time every day to write is, I can’t do a daily word quota like I did with NaNoWriMo last November or, on a more reasonable schedule, like I did when I wrote Erica Flynn.  If I was already going on a long-term project, I honestly might be able to do my Erica Flynn quota of 250 words a day – I’d miss some days, but I know from that project that I tend to catch up and/or surpass my quota when it’s that low anyway.

But enough about the down side.  Only having time to write in snippets means that, when I do have a minute or when something occurs to me, I don’t question it.  I just write.  If I have sentences rattling around in my head that intrigue me, I don’t bother to wonder if they’re going to lead to anything or not, if they’ll be the best sentences to get across what I’m saying, if I’m aiming for a short story or a novel, if I should choose first or third person or male or female or whether I can figure out what this character does for a living (my least favorite decision about characters, by the way).  All that crap I piddle over when I have the leisure to do so goes out the window when I’m in the middle of a 14-hour stretch of school and work, and ten minutes between my jr. bacon cheeseburger and my next class is the only time I have to jot down my ideas.  Instead, I actually write, which means I’m actually exploring more ideas than I do when I have more time.  When I can sit down and think about what I want to write, I kill around 75% of what occurs to me before I’ve even explored its potential.  Now that I don’t have time to fully explore any ideas, I’m scribbling down about 50% of what pops into my head at random, and since I don’t have time to shut down what I don’t have time to write, the other 50% is still being processed while I go about my business.

Lesson one here is, self-censorship is an inspiration killer – give your ideas a chance!  Unless you’re in the middle of actively writing a novel, you should at least let your random ideas run around a little bit in the open air before you decide anything about them.  Lesson two is, you’re never too busy to be a writer.  You might be too busy to produce a polished, finished product at a given time in your life, but you’re never too busy to think like a writer, to watch and listen and pay attention to details and new information, to have ideas and to express those ideas as eloquently as time will allow.  Lesson three:  You can polish later.  You can put the pieces together later.  You can make it coherent later.  My hope is that by this summer, when leisure time goes up again, I’ll have let enough of my ideas run around in the sunshine that I’ll be itching to draft a novel out of some set of them, and I’ll have all summer to write the rough.  I’ll let you know how that works out.

Reflections on NaNoWriMo 2010

I have mixed reactions to my first year participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short, NaNo for shorter).  For those who are unfamiliar with it, the idea is to write 50,000 words or more in 30 days or fewer.  Generally, it’s advised to write at least 1667 words per day (which will get you to the 50,000 goal if you stick to it every day in November).

My preparations for NaNo were woefully inadequate for helping me get through the month’s word count.  I know there are some writers who wing it in November and do just fine, but, although I shy away from a strict outline process in favor of spontaneity, I have a lot of trouble holding the middle of a novel together during my first stab at it.  Without a clear sense of how things get from point A to point C, my brain goes into a death spiral of doubt, confusion, obstinacy, and just plain childish frustration.  Normally, I can take a step back and spend a few days working out the big picture before I have to force the story on toward a conclusion, giving me a chance to regroup, as it were, and find the logic of the next few steps – like looking at the whole chessboard before you make your move.

In the frenzy of NaNo, there was no way I was going to have the leisure to take such a tactical approach – the whole point, as I understand it, of NaNo is to push yourself and trust the process to produce its own results in the long haul of the month.  So, I pushed myself and watched to see what would happen.  I don’t feel I’ll know exactly how much or how little I got out of the NaNo approach until I start my rewrites (not anytime in the next two weeks, at least, I’ll tell you!) but I will list some of the pros and cons as I see them now, in the immediate aftermath:

  • + I have an entire rough draft of a novel that didn’t exist a month ago
  • – I have a great deal of housework, shopping, and errands to catch up on after neglecting all other aspects of my life for a month
  • + I discovered some character vulnerabilities and inner conflicts that I never would have thought of if I’d sat around trying to come up with them, but in desperation to find something to churn out words about, I essentially stream-of-consciousnessed them into existence
  • + I found unplanned and unexpected characters and subplots that will contribute a great deal to the main storyline, which if I hadn’t been in a hurry to get a word count out, I would’ve refused to add in out of fear of further complicating an already complicated novel
  • – I felt mostly like a crazy person through the better part of last month
  • – This is the worst rough draft I’ve ever written.  It’s not cohesive in the least, has almost no middle, and isn’t even in any kind of order.  I think I could’ve done a much better job on it if I’d had more time to think it out
  • + I have the basics of the entire plot laid out, and I feel like the middle will be much easier to fill in now that I know exactly how the book ends (I wrote the final scene on my last day of NaNo)
  • + I feel like a superhero for having accomplished this insane feat!

Looking over those, I think the pros far outweigh the cons, although I doubt I would’ve said that a week ago, in the throes of whiny inner-artiste agony and despair and with almost no food in the house because there wasn’t time to shop and do my word count.

All in all, it was worth a month of feeling sideways, living cooped up in my own head, being out of touch with almost everyone in the world, and never really being able to relax.  Yes, it was hard work, and yes, I felt stressed out and at times seriously questioned my sanity and adulthood because of how crappy I felt being stuck at home all the time.  But one month of suffering is well worth having a great starting point for a novel I’ve wanted to write for the past twelve years.  Not to mention the ego boost of finishing.  Ha!

Butting Heads

So far, what I’ve picked up from my first NaNoWriMo is this:  the hardest parts of any writing session are (a) getting started in the first place and (b) starting a new scene.  Once I get rolling on a given scene, it’s easy – provided I don’t worry about researching anything and just put brackets with reminders to myself about where I need to fill in details later.  Dialogue, especially involving any kind of disagreement, comes very easily, and inner turmoil fills out my word count faster than I even realize as I’m writing it.

Whether this says something about me as a person (confrontational, are we?) or whether it’s related to the fact that there is inherent conflict in those types of passages, I’m not sure.  😉

Another short post that’s more observation than anything else, but until the end of November, it seems this is all my brain is capable of blogging about.

Looking Ahead

I’m curious to see how awful the editing process will be after I get the rough draft of my NaNoWriMo novel finished.  Writing an entire draft in a single month sounded crazy to me at first, but (at least with a pre-plotted concept) it’s going surprisingly well for me.  If the second draft rewrites are Hell on Earth, maybe this won’t become a regular practise for me, but if I find that the rewriting is no worse than usual, this is going to become my novel-writing method from now on!

Granted, all I do other than write and work right now is sleep and eat (not at the same time, thankfully (yet)) but one month out of the year is well worth it if I come out of that month with a novel to show for it.

I’m not sure what the point of all of this is, since normally my posts center around some kind of observation on the process itself, a method that has worked for me, or a brainstorming method.  Troubleshooting, as it were, for the writing and editing processes.  I’ll try to keep that up, but most of my mental energy right now is going straight to the pages of my book, so the blog may suffer in November.

So, I’m sorry for the brain-dead post, but that’s all I’ve got right now.  I’m zapped!