Tag: nanowrimo

NaNoWriMo 2017: Aftermath

Apparently I’ve forgotten how to blog.

I am still alive, and I am still writing. The last six weeks or so have not been a barrel of laughs though. This was not my best NaNoWriMo year.

There was never any doubt in my mind that I would reach the nominal goal, and I did. I validated at about 61k, in fact, so in those terms it was a definitive win. I hadn’t finished the story, though, and I only wrote the last sentence on it three days ago. Final word count was 70,657.

However, and this is the disappointing thing, it wasn’t a great deal of fun.

Most years NaNoWriMo is a blast: a high energy frenzy of ideas, when words flow like water in a rainstorm. This year I have been sick with one variety of cold or another since the end of October. I think I have had about a week of not feeling utterly dreadful in all that time, and it has really knocked the wind out of me. There has also been a kerfuffle around the school my kids go to which has heaped stress upon stress.

The irony is that I posted just before November about writing a novel but still looking after yourself, and I feel like I effectively ignored every piece of my own advice: I didn’t exercise, I didn’t get enough sleep, and my eating was… uncontrolled. These were all more because I was sick than because it was NaNoWriMo, but the effect was much the same.

The good news is that I do have a story, and while that story has its problems it is out of my head now so I can go back to working on the things I really need to work on.

Back to the word mines.

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Surviving NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is almost upon us. It is a glorious thing to be celebrated, but it can also be gruelling. The nominal goal of 50,000 words is eminently doable but takes a significant investment of time and energy. This investment only increases if you are aiming for loftier heights: 100,000 words in the month takes three hours of fast writing every day.

You can do it, but you have to commit to it.

How do you make it through, though? How do you both succeed at NaNoWriMo and come out the other side with more than the merest shreds of your former life still intact?

Follow The Rules

I don’t mean the ground rules of the National Novel Writing Month challenge (ie no existing work, 50,000 word minimum, and ideally going in blind). Those are more in the way of guidelines, and there is a whole community of NaNoWriMo rebels who choose to flout them1.

The Rules I mean here are the ones I follow and come down to these points:

  1. never look back – don’t read anything until you’re done. Looking at yesterday’s work is a source of self-doubt and second-guessery. It also can trigger premature editing. If you must re-read, at least only do so after your word count quota is done for the day.
  2. don’t delete anything – you type it, you count it. If there are words that no longer please you then mark them as unwanted: use strike through formatting, or enclose in [square brackets].
  3. turn off the Internet – cat videos can wait, as can Wikipedia rat holes. If there is something that needs to be looked up than [enclose your question in square brackets]. That way you can both remember to check that detail later, and count the research note words!

The unofficial fourth rule is to back up your novel. You will be sad if you do not and it is lost. Trust me on this. Back up your files multiple times a day, preferably in multiple places.

Accept the Commitment

One of the best pieces of advice from the mother ship is to tell your friends and family that you are doing NaNoWriMo. This firstly tells your family why you are disappearing off at strange times to be by yourself for hours on end, but secondly it holds you accountable.

You also need to accept that this is what you are doing — set aside time to write, and then turn up at those times and make words. Even if the words come slowly, turn up.

Your typing speed isn’t that important2, as long as you’re not thinking about the typing so much as the story you are communicating. It only takes a typing speed of 17 words per minute to reach a pace of a thousand words in an hour, so touch typing is not essential3. But assuming that you can write at that speed then you will need to spend 90-120 minutes a day on average in front of the keyboard.

In other words, you will need to make time to do this. Set aside another hobby, or cut down on your TV. Take the bus rather than driving.

Your best path to victory is to write every day, but an occasional day off won’t hurt as long as you have built up a buffer (ie you are ahead of the pace you have set yourself). Buffers also help deal with unexpected events like a sudden change in employment status4 or illness.

Look After Yourself

The thing I would not cut is exercise5. If that is a routine you have then you already know the benefits of consistent exercise. If you are spending a couple of hours a day sitting down at the keyboard, then a daily burst of activity will be doubly beneficial. if you have access to a treadmill desk then that is a very good tool to mix the two.

Eating well helps your brain work. Try to eat sustaining meals with proteins and other long-chain polymers in them rather than sugar and fat. Too much caffeine may make your brain bounce around inside your skull but it won’t help you focus on the story.

Finally, get some sleep. Writing is tiring work, particularly if you’re not used to it. It is tempting to write instead of sleeping, but that is not a sustainable thing to do.

Help Keep the Event Going

If you are doing NaNoWriMo and you can afford to do so, donate to the organisation; web sites don’t host themselves. Buy a T shirt or some other merch; give them a cash donation.

Settle In For The Long Haul

I’ve billed this as how to survive NaNoWriMo, but truly this is all good advice on how to transition into a longer term writing commitment:

  1. set aside regular time to write, and turn up to do the work
  2. talk to people about your writing to hold yourself accountable
  3. keep yourself healthy
  4. help others

Good luck in your new writing lifestyle!

[1] this community of rebels is one I have been a part of several times in my NaNoWriMo career.

[2] I focus on typing because this is generally the most efficient way to capture words. I deeply admire those who hand-write their novels; it is not something I could do for a month.

[3] I have not formally learned touch typing. Most of my early keyboard time was for code which doesn’t submit easily to touch typing techniques because it consists of (to quote the Pointy-Haired Boss) bad spelling and too much punctuation.

[4] this has happened to me twice during November, once when I suddenly had a job and once when I suddenly did not. It is stressful either way.

[5] this is as much a reminder to myself as advice to others. Having November be no-exercise month has been a consistent issue for me.

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The T-Shirts of NaNoWriMo: 2017 Edition

this year’s super T shirt!

This year’s shirt follows the splendid theme of writing superheroes. I’m delighted to say that I remembered to order the shirt far enough ahead that I had it to wear for the kick-off on Saturday.

I’m a little sad that I wrote last year’s story about superhumans rather than this year’s, but this year’s story will be great.

To the word mines!

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NaNoWriMo and Me

There is a reason I talk a lot about National Novel Writing Month: I wouldn’t be writing now without it.

The Time of Not Writing

I wanted to write since I was a teenager, although I didn’t articulate the ambition until I was in my early twenties. I didn’t know how to begin, I didn’t know how to do any of it, but I knew I wanted to tell stories. I also didn’t know what those stories were.

Most of the non-academic writing I did when I was at University was for roleplaying scenarios. After graduation I started writing some serial fiction for my co-workers at the first day job, and for a few years I was writing a fair bit. Most of the stuff I finished is on this web site but I can’t say I would recommend it.

Then I tried to change who I was.

There was a new girlfriend, and an attempt to take my day job more seriously, and some regrettable decisions about moving to a new town. There were good things that came out of that time, but writing was not one of them. I had a go at starting a new novel, but fell into the “perfect first chapter” trap. Then my computer crashed, and I lost all of it*.

I have many regrets from that time, but not writing any fiction for the best part of ten years is probably the greatest. I dallied with the abandoned novel from notes, but fell into the same trap of continually editing the first chapter to make it consistent with new words.

It was not until 2004 when the whispers of National Novel Writing Month finally reached my ears early enough for me to do something about them. That was when I took the plot of the abandoned novel and turned it into 50,000 words of story. That was when I started writing. I have not stopped.

The Time of Writing

The question that I am wrestling with at the moment is whether to do NaNoWriMo this year.

This would be my fourteenth year, potentially my fifteenth manuscript. I love the energy of it, the sheer raw power of word generation. It is exciting! Lots of my friends are doing it.

… but I have things that need to be revised. Is it possible that I could work on those alongside the NaNovel?

I do not quite do NaNoWriMo every month. There are people I know who do just that and who therefore don’t bother with the official event. I write year round now but November is still the most productive part of the year for me because it is The Month where my writing becomes a priority. And I have a story I would like to work on, a sequel to one of the part works I wrote for friends at my first day job, The Manx Connection. I am looking forward to working on the outline and the characters.

… but I don’t need another unfinished manuscript. I have a dozen of those already. Adding another one to the pile seems frivolous.

Well. I’m not sure, still, although I will have to decide in the next couple of days because if I don’t get some kind of outlining done then there won’t be a book at all.

What it comes down to is that NaNoWriMo is important to me and to who I am as a writer. If I participate this year it will be in celebration of that rather than out of any kind of effort to make a new publishable book.

But whatever I do, NaNoWriMo will be fun.

[*] back up your novel! In multiple ways, and check the backups work.

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NaNoWriMo 2015

The blog has been quiet because I have mostly been working, whether on day job stuff or the novel writing I actually need to do.

I will post a goals update tomorrow (or possibly Saturday – we’ll see) but I thought I should make an update about my NaNoWriMo plans for this year.


A friend and former ML Kim Switzer runs a writing coaching business called MuseCraft and she wanted to try out a curriculum for NaNoWriMo prep. I signed up, and I’ve found the exercises very helpful in developing my concepts this year.

Thank you Kim!

Plan B: The First Idea

I have two novels I am actively working on but both of them are in advanced enough stages of preparation that they are not really suitable to work on for NaNoWriMo – one of them was my 100k draft from 2013, while the other I wrote another 50k on last year to complete its second draft. So, I was sure I wanted to work on something new.

There’s a Greg Egan short story called Axiomatic which has rattled around in my brain ever since I read it. It’s about rewiring your brain to change the core properties of your personality. It’s a cool concept and a fascinating story, but I wanted to take a variation on that idea and go a different direction with it.

This story is called (at the moment) Perscon.

The technological conceit is something I am calling personality overlay – your core personality doesn’t change, but you download someone else’s ideoplex into your brain to act as a filter on your perceptions. The thought is that people (particularly the jaded wealthy) would use this technology to see their lives and experiences from a different angle for entertainment purposes.

Here’s the logline I developed with Kim’s help:

“Dack Sudo, a charismatic street tough, has a way out – recording his personality for others to experience – but then he’s banned when his mind proves too dangerous. When he is marked for death, he must find the truth about hidden mind control technology before the conspiracy takes over completely.”

So if that story is plan B, what’s plan A?

Plan A: The Wisdom of a Crowd

A while ago I took a presentation skills class at the day job. The five minute talk I prepared for that class was about “How To Write A Novel in 30 Days”.

Then earlier this year I thought it might be a good idea to expand that five minute talk into a full blown lunch presentation*. One of the gimmicks I came up with was to have the audience provide me with some ideas to write about in November.

I gave that talk last Friday, and we decided to have a story set in a steampunk Roman Empire.

Crikey – this one has been fertile ground.

I’ve been trying to stick to the plot cues from my colleagues which means I haven’t explored all of the potential conflicts (if an industrial European civilisation emerges a thousand years earlier, what of the other empires around at the time?) but this story (which I am calling Steampunk Rome at the moment) has been hugely inspiring. Here’s the logline for this one:

“Five centuries after Rome abolished slavery, ushering in an era of technological enlightenment, two friends, each with their own secrets, learn of a conspiracy to keep the true nature of this golden age hidden from the masses, and both must make choices that will change their lives forever.”

Plan C: Why Not Both?

So I have two stories I really like, both of which have potential for fitting into larger universes or even being series.

How do I choose?

Why should I choose?

I’ve written 100k in a month before, and writing two 50k novels simultaneously should be doable from a word count point of view.

And so that is my plan: two novels enter, two leave.

I may regret it, but it should at least be interesting.

Stay tuned here for updates on progress, emotional state, and sleep quality.

[*] my day job provides lunch on Fridays along with a speaker. It’s a great way of maintaining company cohesion, even as the company continues to expand.

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The T-Shirts of NaNoWriMo: 2015 Edition

the 2015 NaNoWriMo T-shirt!

the 2015 NaNoWriMo T-shirt!

Here we have the very splendid 2015 NaNoWriMo T shirt. Like last year’s, the logo and typography are joyous. Not so pleased withe the shirt quality itself, but the price hasn’t changed so something probably had to give.

I’m glad to say that I have the shirt in plenty of time for the kick-off this year, but I won’t be able to go to this year’s kick-off – the timing of the events just don’t permit to attend. I will certainly be donning this T shirt for the NaNoWriMo talk at the day job, though, so it will get a good public outing (apart from wearing it several times during the month).

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NaNoWriMo Proselytism

November is coming.

While I’m still trying to finish the second daft of Shapes, I am also beginning planning for NaNoWriMo. This will be my twelfth year, and hopefully my twelfth win.

Part of my prep this year is that I am doing a lunchtime presentation at the day job talking about writing a novel in thirty days. There’s a lot to cover in what will be a 35-40 minute presentation, and I’ve been thinking hard about what it is about NaNoWriMo that I most want to convey to my colleagues.

The biggest things I think I want to put across include:

  • fun
  • community
  • creative outlet
  • the power of crushing deadlines

I am also going to be asking my colleagues to help me decide what it is I am going to write this year. I have some ideas but they are so far poorly developed – I am hoping to harness the wisdom of the crowd to shape the bones of a story which I will be able to spend a month writing.

I’m thinking of getting three things:

  1. setting – where should the story be set? When?
  2. characters – use the Fiasco method for this
  3. basic plot – inciting incident, two or three crises, a dénouement

Well, we’ll see how well that goes, eh?

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NaNoWriMo 2014: The Hangover

Words Written: 50,346
Scenes Scribed: 31/31
Fragments Fixed: 35/35

I didn’t end up adding quite as much as I expected from the fragments left to address, but still – I wrote “THE END” because I completed the story. The final manuscript is 108,604 words long.

a large slab of paper

a large slab of paper

I have printed the manuscript out and it is now resting in a drawer, waiting for the regulation six weeks until I can read it with some kind of distance.

108k printed double-spaced at 12 point Courier is 568 pages, and the practical details of the printout are that I ran out of toner (it was an old cartridge, replaced by a much cheaper but still perfectly functional cartridge from Monoprice) and then I ran out of paper (I use pre-drilled because punching holes in 259 sheets of paper is onerous). Of course, I ran out just at the time when the shops were closing on Friday, so finishing the printout had to wait until Saturday morning.

Things I have learned from this year’s effort:

  • I need to make my outlines more detailed, which really translates to mapping out action scenes and even dialogue in much more detail before I sit down to write. Someone posted a link to a blog about increasing writing efficiency and although I don’t especially want to be writing 10k a day as a normal thing, I do want to avoid the occasional wallow as the plot deserts me. The trick, as ever, will be finding the time to write those outlines because I struggle to work at that level of creativity at my most available writing times.
  • Evernote can’t be trusted. Almost losing my novel notes was distressing, to put it mildly. I am still working on the replacement, but it will probably bear a lot of similarities to existing workflows.
  • I need to calibrate my maze tracker more carefully. The one I used this year had a shortest route of 53 squares, which since I was aiming for 50k was setting myself up to fail from the start. I compounded this by actually filling in one of the side paths first, so I ended up with 23 unfilled squares on the way to the exit. I am choosing to take this as a metaphor for the amount of work still remaining on the story, but really I do prefer to put the last thousand in the last square of the maze.

And now, on to the next thing, which is editing Shapes of Chance, my 2013 NaNovel.

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NaNoWriMo 2014: Day 27

Words Written: 50,237
Scenes Scribed: 31/31
Fragments Fixed: 28/35

I reached the nominal goal of 50,000 words on Wednesday during an unusually productive lunchtime session, with a satisfactory conclusion unsatisfactorily rendered. I also validated at the NaNoWriMo web site, although not with the actual words written because those are smeared all across the manuscript: I just copied about the right amount and validated with that.

It’s been a strange month of writing this year. It’s not the first time that I have been writing in-fill (that was my effort in 2012 to add plot to Bluehammer) but it’s the first time I’ve been trying to write that at the same time as adding new material. It’s a bit of a brain wrench to switch from one mode to the other, but it also means I have always had something fall back on if writing the new stuff has been going poorly.

There are still a lot of twiddly bits to fix (seven fragments remaining? Really?) but the manuscript is nearly ready to put down for its rest – it currently stands at 108,495 words, and it seems quite likely that it will hit 110k before it’s done.

So, congratulations to everyone who has participated whether they have reached the nominal goal or not – you’re all winners!


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NaNoWriMo 2014: Day 15

Words Written: 28189
Scenes Scribed: 16/28
Fragments Fixed: 17/32

I’m obviously ahead of the curve on the nominal November goal, but I’m in danger of running out of both story and momentum.

You’ll note that the number of scenes in the outline has gone up by one. This is a pretty common thing for me, where I end up writing so much on one scene that it needs to be split into another. However, in preparing this post I’ve realised that I’ve already addressed a couple of scenes which appear later in the outline so there should probably only be 26 scenes in the outline.

This is what I mean about running out of story: with about 22k left to be written in the month, I may have only ten scenes of plot. This is where the fragments should come in of course, since I do still have a fair number of those to write, but they are also slower because I have to find the right place in the text to insert them.

So, that is one part of my momentum loss. The other is just not spending enough time writing.

I’ve complained before about weekends, and how I find the change in routine disrupts my writing, but I’ve had two days working at home this week which threw me off even more.

Anyway, progress is still being made, but I may be casting around at the end of the month for places to add more words.

The good news is that even if I don’t manage 50,000 new words this month, I will still have a completed novel draft of something more than 100k in length. There’s going to need to be some serious editing, but it will be a complete story.

That’s something worth continuing.

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