Month: November 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017: Halfway

It is the middle of November, halfway through National Novel Writing Month. Time for an update on where things stand with this act of narrative exorcism.


When November started (or at least during the first day!) I had 25 chapter outlines for the new story, aiming for 50,000 words with roughly 2k in each chapter. I also was aiming to spend an hour a day on revision of the WIP.


The numbers are interesting. As I write this, I have:

  • used fifteen days (50%)
  • generated 30,000 words (60%)
  • completed 11/28 chapters (40%)
  • spent about an hour on Song revision

Obviously the Song revision has suffered here. Unfortunately, I think I was wrong about being able to revise one thing while generating words on another. The impedance mismatch between the two activities is too great, and although I successfully wrote two books a couple of years ago I was generating words on both of them. Switching to editing my other book has been hard to make my brain want to do.

It might have gone better if I had switched from one activity to the other day by day, as I did during the year of two books when I was alternating chapters, rather than trying to do the revision work after the generative word count was done. Slicing time too finely is a really good recipe for getting nothing done, at least for me.

Another major factor is that this is only the second day in November when I have felt creative, and even that feeling was evanescent. I’ve had a couple of colds which have destroyed my ability to apply creative processes to non-paying work. That’s really killed anything outside of core stream-of-consciousness word mining.

The good new is I do feel better, so maybe I can get to some revision in earnest soon.

The chapter completion rate is also troubling, both because I’ve added chapters and because I’ve covered only 40% of the plot.

So where will I be when I finish the story?

What’s Left

I’m going to ignore the Song revision for these purposes. If I get back to it I will be happy, but I don’t expect to make significant progress until December now.

The story, though:

  • if I write at my current rate, I will have 60k by the end of the month
  • my current average words per chapter is about 2.5k, so if I keep packing the words in at that pace the book would be about 72k in length (assuming I don’t add any more amoeba chapters in)

In other words, the book I apparently want to write is at least 20% longer than my current November pace would support. What this tells me is that I need to do one of three things:

  1. keep the word mines open for a week in December
  2. write faster (basically up to about 3k a day)
  3. write less (ie trim the plot to fit the time, so cut six chapters)

I don’t think writing much faster is in the cards this year, not with still being drained from illness, and although the traditional NaNoWriMo advice is to finish a story in the month I think I am going to try and keep the word mines open into December. We’ll see how that goes.

Still, I should be well on my way to my fourteenth win.

Back to the word mines!

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Chapter Outlines

NaNoWriMo confession time: I have never been a pantser*. I need an outline before I start to write a novel, and although a zeroth draft is a discovery process for me that discovery does not extend to the plot. I need to have an end in mind or things go badly.

The kind of outline I use is tuned to NaNoWriMo itself. I start off with 25 chapter summaries, and aim to put 2000 words into each chapter**. The chapter summaries themselves have evolved over time, but the form I use now is very strongly influenced by my software career: they look like use cases.

A use case captures a particular mode of use of a system and will include the initial conditions, the user inputs, the actions the system takes, the resulting conditions, and any error or alternative flows. A set of use cases will have precursor and successor use cases for each one.

To use a non-software example such as a hammer, you might have a couple of modes: one for putting nails in, and another for taking nails out. The nail insertion use case has initial conditions of the material to be nailed being firmly held, a nail being available, and the hammer being in close proximity to the user. User inputs would be siting the nail and grasping the hammer the right way around. System actions would be striking the nail with the hammer repeatedly until the nail was flush with the target surface. Final state would be that the nail is installed in the material, and the joint is solid. I will leave alternative flows and error conditions to your imagination.

I try to build my chapter summaries in a similar way:

  • initial conditions – location, things that are around.
  • characters involved – just the primary characters. Inventing other characters in the writing is allowed, even encouraged.
  • plot points that need to be hit – questions that need to be asked or answered, character interactions that should happen.
  • end point – the target I am trying to hit with the chapter: where the characters need to be, what they know now, and so on.

The point of this is that, like use cases, you can string these chapters and scenes together. As long as you connect the beginning and ending conditions, you could reorder the scenes. It’s not quite to the rigour of contract-based programming, but it sets the stage for the action to happen in a way that pulls the reader through the story.

Do you have a preferred outline style? Are you a pantser instead?

[*] I have written pantsed fiction, but I have never pantsed to a NaNoWriMo victory.

[**] although more than 2k is common.

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November Things, 2017

October felt like a month of retrenchment, trying to reestablish habits disrupted by illness and loss.

Three Things for October

  1. revise Song – last month I felt I was close on the prologue, and I received good feedback on it, but it is still far too long. I need to try and tighten things up quite a lot.
  2. short fiction – I wanted to complete 2-4 stories, writing at least 500 words a day. I certainly wrote 500 words a day (my average was 690 a day, in fact) and I got to the end of one story, but the second one is only half way done. I have a complete outline, though, so that’s something. I will finish that in December.
  3. NaNoWriMo planning – I decided to work on a new story project for NaNoWriMo, but to limit my daily word count to only the nominal target. I intend to spend the other hour a day I would usually put into word generation on revising Song. This doesn’t feel intrinsically any more difficult than writing two novels at a time as I did the other year.
    Turns out that NaNoWriMo is a hard thing to give up.Unfortunately, I was ill on the last day of October so the prep I wanted to do for NaNoWriMo was not quite completed. Fortunately, I know that if I spend the first day on chapter outlines (which is all that remains) then I will have no trouble getting the chapters written.

I’m going to call that two out of three. Only the Song revision really stalled, so that’s something I need to refocus on.

And that, basically, is what I am going to use the November energy to do.

Three Things for 2017

Two months left of the year. How close am I on any of this?

  1. finish A Turquoise Song – ideally I would be done with the third draft, but progress is being made and I am quite pleased with what I have. So, just need to get it done.
  2. talk to some agents, aiming to obtain representation – further work pending manuscript completion.
  3. investigate producing Livia as an audiobook – no further work. This might end up being something I work on over Christmas, or I will just have to push it back to next year.

What of November?

Three Things for November

  1. NaNoWriMo – 50,000 words, rapid.The story is called Disconnected. It is a sequel to The Manx Connection, and follows the same MC (albeit with a better name) after he has lost his magic and his memory. As I noted above, I intend to stick to the nominal target over the month — my daily word count target is still 2,000 words, but I only plan on writing for 25 days.
  2. revise Song – continue revising the third draft. This seems lunatic in November, but since I usually write about 75k in a typical November and only plan on writing 50k or so this year, I intend the other 25k’s worth of time will be devoted to this revision process.

November is about finishing my shit, which means there are only two things on the list.

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