Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo 2013 — Won!

So I’m writing a book. I can’t begin to describe the thrill it gives me to be able to say those words. I’ve known for years that I wanted to be a writer of speculative fiction. I’ve toyed and dabbled with my craft, honing it and shaping it to the point where I feel like I’m actually a pretty competent storyteller. I’ve penned quite a bit of short fiction, mostly micro-fiction and flash fiction that have shown up in various places around the internet. But I’ve yet to write a story to be sent to a publisher, I’ve yet to write anything that anyone has paid me actual money for, despite the fact that for the past few years, whenever someone asks me what I do, the first word that comes to my mind is always ‘writer.’ It’s who I am, and ultimately, it’s what I want to do for my primary occupation.

NaNoWriMo is one of those things I’ve always noted with passing, casual interest every year when it comes around. In October, something would come along in one of my news feeds to remind me that NaNo was coming up soon. I would think, “I should really participate one of these years,” and then find an excuse why I couldn’t. This year, I decided I was done with excuses, partly due to the gentle prodding of Mary Robinette Kowal, whom I had the privilege of meeting in person in early October when she came to Indianapolis to do a reading with three of our local authors. At one point in our conversation, she asked if I’d ever done NaNoWriMo. I said I hadn’t but that I had always wanted to. Her response, if I recall correctly, was to smile and say, “You should!”

And so I have. For the past two-and-a-half weeks, I’ve dedicated almost every free minute I’ve had to spare — and there aren’t a lot of them in my daily schedule, I assure you — to penning as many words a day as possible. Yesterday, I hit my 50,000 word goal for November, becoming a NaNoWriMo winner, on my first try, in just 19 days! Not too shabby for someone who hadn’t really planned to participate a few weeks ago.

screenshot.22 My goal for the month, aside from writing a minimum of 50,000 words, was to front-load as much of my writing at the beginning of the month as possible. I mentioned in a previous post that I started out using the Reverse Nano Reward System, which starts you out writing more than 3,000 words a day for the first couple of days followed by gradually decreasing numbers each day after that. The philosophy behind it is to hit the writing at a sprint, building up momentum early on so that the writing is less arduous and demanding a couple of weeks in when the writer’s fatigue hits. It works like a charm. By the end of the first week, I’d already cleared the halfway point at 25,312 words.

That was good because week two was a lot harder. By that point I’d been up until at least midnight every day for a week, and I was tired — and starting to realize just how weak and pathetic my plot and characters really were. I struggled through the next couple of days, ultimately deciding to rewrite the first couple of chapters — something every NaNo veteran tells you that you’re absolutely not supposed to do — in order to shore up some of the more critical problem areas. It was scary and terrifying, but it paid off in spades. The end result was stronger, more confident characters and a much better plot. And what I have now is a partial manuscript for a book I’ve been trying to write for nearly ten years and the self-confidence to keep pushing forward with it to the finish.

Now pardon me while I disappear again for a bit. There’s a book to be finished, and I still have a lot of work to do.

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Week One

Yesterday’s writing saw the end of the first week of this year’s NaNoWriMo for me. I’m actually really quite pleased with the numbers I’ve been able to put up in just the first week — when I went to bed last night, I’d written 25,312 words in seven days. Coming at this project using the Reverse Nano Reward System has been a boon to my productivity levels and has provided a huge incentive to keep putting up over 3,000 words every day, even when I don’t necessarily have to. As a result I’m much further ahead in my manuscript than I had expected and planned for, which is a very nice problem to have.

The NaNoWriMo website has a lot of really neat tools that writers can use to track their progress over the course of the month and to provide motivation to keep working at it. One of my favorite is the daily word count. When you’ve finished writing for the day, you can go to your profile and update your word count to reflect your book’s current status toward completion. Once you’ve done that, your profile redirects you to a Stats page that gives you all kinds of useful information, like average words written per day, total words to be written to “win”, likely day you will finish based on the current daily average, and the average number of words you’d need to write every day in order to finish exactly on November 30. My favorite, though, is probably the graph (shown below) that plots your progress on a scale and gives you a nice visual metric of your progress through the month. It shows each day of the month on the X-axis and your total word count on the Y-axis, and includes a baseline graph that shows what your progress should be each day so long as you write the minimum 1,667 words every day. As you can see, my numbers are well above that baseline. I’m pretty chuffed about that. My profile tells me that my current date of completion at this point will is November 14, so long as I can continue to churn out more than 3,000 words a day.


So what have I learned so far? First, that I really can write upwards of 3,000 words a day on a regular basis. This isn’t really news to me, mind you, but it’s confirmation to me that I somehow manage to squander an awful lot of time. In focusing on writing this book, I’ve had to ignore a lot of other, less important things that normally clamor for my attention — the Internet, video games, social media, etc. It’s amazing how much time I can waste on those things instead of doing the thing that I love. What’s more, it’s surprising to me how easy it’s been to give those things up so I can focus on my writing.

Second, I’m learning how to write long-form fiction. Up ’til now, pretty much everything I’ve written has been short stories and micro-fiction. Short fiction is great, and I still love writing it. It’s great for working on the mechanics of writing and world-building, but it’s a whole other ballgame when you start trying to expand that into a much longer work. Suddenly you find that your characters need a lot more development and the world they live in needs a lot more fleshing out. I actually ended up turning my whiteboard into a temporary map this week because I needed to take all the places that were in my head and put them into an objective, concrete space. It helped with visualizing where my characters were in the world and where they were headed.

I also discovered, much to my chagrin, just how flimsy my character development and world-building for this universe really were. This is a story I’ve been carrying around with me for a number of years. I knew the basic points of who my main character was, where she was going to start out, where she was going to end up, some of the important places she would have to get to in between, and a couple of major characters she would meet along the way. What I hadn’t counted on was getting stuck partway in.

The first several days of writing went pretty smoothly. I’d managed to rewrite my two false starts from years previous and get my character well on her way toward her quest. I even managed to write two new chapters, dump her into a couple of interesting challenges — and get her back out again! — and begin to develop her into a more well-rounded character. Then I hit Chapter 5 and things came to a screeching, grinding halt. The writing suddenly got much harder. I wasn’t sure of my characters and who they were, and the locations they were traveling through just didn’t feel right to me. I ended up skipping over Chapter 5 and started working on Chapter 6, because I had a better of where the characters would be at that point. My thinking was that it would be better to write the parts I was sure about rather than waste times on the ones I wasn’t. I could always come back and develop those later.

Big mistake. Chapter 6 was worse. Sure, I wrote 3,000+ words for that chapter, but I wasn’t happy with any of them. Everything about the chapter, from the characters to the setting to the events taking place around them, felt contrived. I went to bed afterward feeling discouraged and frustrated. Yesterday, I thought a lot about what had made the previous two days so difficult, and I was forced to come to the conclusion that I simply didn’t believe in my own characters. They were boring to me, and if I found them boring, there’s no way any of my readers wouldn’t also find them boring. I had set out to create a main character who had grown up sheltered and innocent and whose personality was timid and demure. I wanted to then toss her into a series of challenges and adversities that would force her to grow and develop rapidly and force her to call on a hidden inner strength she didn’t know she had.

Trouble was, I’d made her too timid and demure. She had no skills to speak of before setting out on her quest. By Chapter 5 I realized she was doing almost nothing else but looking to her traveling companion for answers and guidance — the traveling companion who, as it turned out, existed almost entirely for the sole purpose of providing my main character with answers and guidance. Yawn.

So I pulled out one of my brainstorming notebooks and starting scribbling notes and questions to myself. Who were these characters? What were their relationships, both to each other and to the important people in each of their lives? If I changed things about them, what would I change and what impact would it have on their actions and on the story?

I’m a very visual planner. I think best on paper with flow charts and diagrams, with little notes and drawings and sketches. By the time I was done brainstorming, I had a two pages of scribblings that suddenly made it very clear who my two main characters needed to be. My timid, sheltered girl was, in actuality, much stronger and more skilled than I had originally thought. She was no longer sheltered; rather, her parents had been teaching her and training her, knowing the day might come when she would have to leave and venture out into the world. And her parents, that was another change. Her father had originally been a quiet tradesman who essentially kept her away from the world, ostensibly trying to shield her and protect her from all the bad stuff that was out there. Her mother wasn’t even in the picture, either having died or disappeared (I hadn’t decided which yet) when my main character was much younger. Now both of her parents were very much present in her life and themselves strong personalities. Her traveling companion, who before had only had a first name and was basically a walking Encyclopedia Britannica of sometimes useful world-building knowledge who also happened to conveniently have mad skills as a fighter, now had a last name, new skills in wielding magic, and a background. Suddenly I had two strong, very interesting main characters that I could do a lot of interesting things with.

When I sat down to write last night, I went back to Chapter 1 and rewrote a large section of it. I didn’t toss the original text away since, after all, the point of NaNo is not necessarily to finish a book but to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Instead, I opened a new file and had my main character, previously timid and demure and likely to run away from even the sight of a mouse, fighting a bear with nothing more than her wits, her courage, and a very sharp dagger. It made for a much more interesting opening scene that better set the tone for the book and opened up a whole plethora of possibilities for character development that hadn’t existed with the previous version. I wrote almost 3,500 words after that, and I felt they were some of the best I’d written for this story yet. I was able to go to bed feeling more excited and satisfied about the book than ever before.

My goal for writing over the next several days now is to go through the chapters I’ve already written and rework them to fit my stronger characters. I expect certain scenes will require drastic revisions. Some will probably end up getting dropped entirely. Others will require only minor tweaks. I feel like now, in order to move the story forward, I need to rework the story of where my characters have been because the choices they make in the future are going to depend heavily on the ones they make early on. They’re different people than I had imagined, but I think I like this version of them much better.

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Day One

So November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’ve wanted to participate for several years now, but November is the time of year when things usually start to get really crazy in our family’s schedule, especially as the holiday season approaches. Previous years have also seen me dealing with numerous health issues, including depression and chronic back pain, along with the challenges of juggling a full-time job, a farm, a family, and additional education. I’ve always wanted to start taking my writing more seriously, and NaNoWriMo is this really enticing way of jumping in with both feet. Trouble is, NaNoWriMo is also really intimidating. It’s writing 50,000 words in just 30 days. Granted, that number amounts to a small novel, but it’s also a significantly larger block of fiction in a relatively small span of time than I’ve ever written before. In previous years I managed to justify my non-participation, at least to myself.

One of my goals for 2013 was to try to write more fiction and to complete at least one short story to submit to a magazine somewhere. Not the loftiest of goals, I’ll grant you, but it’s one I still haven’t managed to achieve. It’s amazing how quickly little things can eat at your time — and how easy it is to allow those things to eat your time. Rationalization is a writer’s bane, and I’m particularly skilled at it.

So when I received the reminder in my news feed about three weeks ago that NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, I decided to just take the bull by the horns. The thing about writing is that if you never get started, you never get anything written. Pretty simple concept, right? And yet, I never seem to get myself started. Once I do get started writing, I usually don’t have a problem keeping it going. Writer’s block is rarely ever a problem for me. I just have a hard getting started. I’m not the greatest self-motivator. To make matters worse, I’m excellent with the self-inflicted guilt trip. I find it very easy to make myself feel bad about not writing, which makes it harder to start writing, which makes me feel bad, which…

See the pattern here?

But I really want to write. What I want more is to be a writer, to make a living by putting words together. I know my weaknesses, I know my hang-ups, so I decided in mid-October that I just need to suck it up and motivate myself to get writing. NaNoWriMo seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that.

I even had the perfect project for this year. Shortly after my wife and I were married, I got the idea into my head to start writing a fantasy novel for her. I’d write the book a chapter at a time and give her each chapter to read as I completed it. Great idea in theory — except I’ve never made it past the first two chapters. The second attempt to pick up the project involved fairly extensive re-writes, which annoyed my wife greatly. I didn’t have the heart to pick it up again after that, and so the story has languished in my mind for several years since. Liz reminds me of it periodically, and I always feel guilty about not completing it, which…

My goal for NaNoWriMo 2013 is to finally complete this novel, despite the job, despite the farm, despite the family, despite the classes I’m currently enrolled in. There’s never going to be a perfect opportunity to start writing — I’ve known and understood this for years — so I just need to make the time to do what I love if I ever hope to be successful at it.

I’ve opted to use the Reverse Nano Reward System, since it front-loads NaNo with the bulk of the writing, starting with 3,346 words on Day 1 followed by steadily declining numbers every day thereafter until you only have to write one word on the last day of the month. To give some perspective, the normal word count per day, evenly divided, is 1,667 words a day. So Reverse NaNo is particularly appealing to me on two fronts. The first is because I tend to poop out on projects easily. I approach them with all the gusto and enthusiasm necessary to carry me through — and then lose focus and energy partway through and never get the project completed. The second is because of the Thanksgiving holiday near the end of the month. I’d prefer to sacrifice a little more time up front in order to have more time with family near the end.

NaNoWriMo2013-Day1 Today was the first day, and I prepared by making sure I had a little bit of outlining done beforehand and by making sure I had all my homework done last night so I don’t have to see it again for the next ten days. I’m both pleased and surprised by how easy it was to hit my word count for the day. Granted, I’ve had this story banging around in my head for years, so the first part of the story I’m particularly familiar with. And as you can see by the word count, I already had about 1,000 words in the manuscript — which I refused to count toward my daily quota. (The place they’ll pay off is in the final count for the month, but even then, I have a feeling I won’t count them toward my 50,000-word total.) I wrote 3,352 new words for the novel today, fleshing out and completing the first chapter of the story, and I don’t think I’m done for the day yet. Granted, it’s pretty rough, and I already know one scene is going to need a pretty severe rewrite, but everything I’ve read about doing NaNo is that quality isn’t what matters, just output. The draft can be revised later. At this point, I’m looking at this project as the framework for something bigger and better, because I can already think of twenty different things from today’s output alone that can be made better. This is my first foray into long fiction, and it’s a bit of a different beast than short fiction.

See? Once I get on a tear and get that momentum rolling, it’s a lot easier for me to keep it going. It’s just the getting started that’s hard.