Nanowrimo like a loser: What I learned

By the official guidelines, I lost nanowrimo big time. I don’t have an accurate final count, but it’s about 36,000 words. Still, based on my own goals and expectations at the beginning of November, I won. You can read more about that in my last post.

I finished the first draft of my novel, the second book in a series, after about 29,000 words, which left me with the question, “What now?” This is why you’re supposed to start nano with a new story, but I knowingly broke the rules. With about two weeks left, I decided to work on my outline for the third book.

Launching straight into my outline had some advantages. Everything from Book 2 was fresh in my mind, and it’s helped me figure out what some of the changes I need to make to my draft are. The drawbacks? Writing 1,667 words of outline a day was not a doable task for me. Once I got the basic outline down, I decided that instead of trying to force out more words for the sake of my nano experiment, I should actually switch to editing. Editing, and by extension, deleting words, is not conducive to “winning” nanowrimo. After all, one of the rules of nanowrimo is that you don’t go back and edit. It’s also not conducive to tracking daily word counts, which is why I don’t have a completely accurate word count for the month.

Am I disappointed I didn’t hit 50,000 words? Yes, a little. But the truth is, I didn’t set myself up to succeed at that goal, and I have to remember that. I not only achieved my own goals, but exceeded them, which is all I can truly ask of myself. So, what did I actually learn?

Habits are crucial.

The biggest thing I gained from trying nanowrimo was writing everyday with a goal in mind. I know how many words I can reasonably write in my two hours before work. If I’m in the zone, I can hit 1400. If I’m working hard, but not in that writing flow, I can hit 1000. If I’m tired, distracted, or directionless, it’s less than that, so I try to prepare myself in such a way that I’m not going to fall into those traps. I moved up my bedtime, put my computer in airplane mode, and outlined my story so that I could hit the upper end of my productivity spectrum. I’m always looking for ways to get more writing from writing time, and trying nanowrimo, and applying the pressure of a deadline really helped me learn about myself.

I also started waking up and going straight to writing (after brewing some tea). Before, I got ready, then wrote. Now, I write, then get ready for work. It’s weird, but it’s made a big difference for me.

Outlines are gold.

Like many other outliners, I deviate from my outline, but the days when my outlined was detailed and the scenes had already been fully visualized went much more smoothly. In fact, outlining is on my list of skills to improve, because I really think that a lot of the issues I run into while writing could be solved by smarter outlining.

Finish a scene the same day it’s started.

This one surprised me a little, but on days I started a new scene and wrote it all, my writing flowed much more easily. If I tried to pick up a half-finished scene the next morning, I struggled to regain that momentum. Obviously, jobs and life will make this impossible to do sometimes, but when I can, I now know to aim for scene completion as an objective over word count.

Good lighting makes a difference.

This was an unexpected discovery. When the days got shorter, I struggled to wake up early. I got a sunrise simulation light, and it’s made a huge difference in helping me wake up when it’s pitch black outside. It gradually gets lighter in the 30 minutes before my alarm goes off, easing my brain into wake-up mode. I never thought I could wake up early to write, but it’s actually been the best thing to happen for my writing. I haven’t made the commitment to wake early on weekends, but I know I should, and committing to that is next on my list of habits to adopt.

I also got a new LED lamp for the room where I do my writing. The overhead lighting in the room was insufficient, so it always felt dark. Having a bright space has helped me feel awake and get straight into writing.

Love what you write.

I’m writing the story I want to read. Some mornings I would wake up dying to write the next scene because it was going to be awesome. I love my story. I love my characters. I love the world they’re in. This doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of editing in my future, because, oh man, there is. But I’m excited to do that editing. I’m excited to clean this draft up, share it with my beta readers, and grow as a writer.

What did you learn from nanowrimo? Anything you weren’t expecting to discover?

 

Nanowrimo like an object in motion: Momentum

Just keep swimming.

This was what I learned from Week 2+ of nanowrimo. What had been so easy the first week was a struggle the second week. Part of this was probably due to some changes in my outline that I foolishly didn’t take enough time to explore via brainstorming because I was too impatient.

Still the biggest challenge I faced in Week 2 was momentum. Week 1 (7 days) was 14,741 words, and Week 2+ (9 days) was 14,742. In 16 days, I wrote 29,483 words. This is awesome, and I am impressed with myself. It’s still more words than I’m supposed to have at this point, but now I’m in a tough spot. I’ll explain why later in this post.

nano wk 2 (2)

Pulling the emergency brake on your train of thought kills flow.

This is the downside to writing in the morning when you have to go to work. Sometimes, I’d be right in the middle of a scene, and I’d know where I wanted to go, it was all in my head then, bam. Time to go to work. I’d have enough time to scribble a few notes down about where I was going with it, but by the time I got home, my brain was too exhausted to find that magical place again.

This meant that each morning I was starting in the middle of a scene, not the beginning of one, and this had a big impact on my productivity. I had to write longer in the evenings to approach my word count goal and a few days I didn’t hit those 1,667 words I was aiming for. I had enough cushion from previous days to keep me on track, but it was a frustrating experience. In an ideal world, I’d be able to write until I was ready stop each morning. On the other side of that, writing on weekday mornings gives me a focus and urgency I lack (and desperately need to cultivate) on weekends, precisely because I have a deadline.

So how do I combat this momentum issue? There’s nothing I can do about having to leave for work in the morning. Switching to the evening is out of the question for me because I tried that for a long time and I’ve learned that I get a lot more done in the mornings. I think that taking a few minutes to write notes in my outline before starting a scene would have helped me write faster, reducing the amount of scene left unwritten at the end of a session. I also wish I had reread the whole scene before jumping back in, not just the last few paragraphs and my notes. I don’t care if I wrote those words a few hours ago, I need to get back into the feel of the scene, not just the action. I think I need to do more research on the topic. How do you keep up momentum?

When it comes to writing, even during the whirlwind of nanowrimo, patience and time spent preparing will pay for itself.

Most importantly, I’m a winner.

Yeah, that’s right. Since I’m doing nanowrimo “all wrong,” I even get to win “all wrong,” too. As of November 16th (Okay, full disclosure, I wrote 83 more words of it on November 17th), I’ve finished the first draft of The Ven Hypothesis. Sure it’s only at 72,700 words, but it’s YA, which runs shorter, and it’s a first draft. I tend to write short for my first drafts, based on my extensive past experience: the only other book I’ve finished clocked in around 71, 000 for its first draft. I know that I’ll be rewriting a few scenes, maybe adding some in, and definitely adding in setting descriptions. Setting is one of my first draft weaknesses. I’m not worried that it’s short.

My primary goal for nano was to finish this draft. As far as I’m concerned, this is a win. Without nano dragging me up that Week 2 hill, I probably would have rolled back down (momentum in the wrong direction). I hoped I’d be able to write 40,000 nano words by finishing my draft, but I knew that 50,000 was a long shot, based on what I knew about myself and what was left in my outline. Instead, I didn’t quite hit 30,000. I could stop here, do a victory dance, and let the nano pressure drop. But I’m not going to do that. Except for the victory dance part. That stays.

What will I do for the rest of nanowrimo?

I’m working on the outline for Book 3. Its events immediately follow those of Book 2, so taking my vague ideas and giving them structure and details will be the task of the remaining weeks. Book 2 still needs a lot of work, but Book 3’s outline will give me direction, especially as I go back and give the ending the fixes it desperately needs. The question I’m left with is, can I really get 20,000 more words written this month when I’m outlining? Is this a stupid thing to try? Does it really matter? More on this soon.

Nanowrimo like a Cylon: Have a Plan

Wow. It’s already been one week, and I am ahead of schedule. I began on a palindrome, 43,134 words into my draft, and completely by chance (I swear!), I ended the week on one, too: 57,875. The daily counts are in the photo, but it comes to a total of 14,741, which is another palindrome. (As a side note here, I’m getting a little freaked out, because I am honestly not making this up or planning it. I feel like I’m in that Nick Cage movie.) I honestly never thought I could sustain the momentum of 1,667 words a day, but here I am averaging over 2k. Still, it doesn’t quite feel sustainable for me, and I’ll talk about why.

nano wk 1 (2)

Your writing time is the One Ring, and you are Gollum.

In order to write all these words each morning (and finish up in the evenings), it takes a lot of planning. I have to prepare everything the night before so that there’s nothing in between me and my story except making some tea (earl grey, hot). If I forget to shower or pack my lunch, that’s 15-20 minutes that I lose of my precious 90-120 minutes in the morning. It seems silly to worry about 20 minutes, but if you look at the percentage, that’s 15-20% of my writing time lost forever. In theory, if not in practice, that’s 20% of my words for the day. I’d never though about it like that before. I realized I have not been protecting my writing time like the sacred commodity it is, and doing this takes purposeful action from me every night. It’s exhausting for now, and I don’t think I could do this every day if I didn’t have a finish line I was aiming for. My one hope is that it becomes habit, and that somehow, it actually is sustainable.

Plot like you’re a villain.

Aside from planning in real life, my outline is basically my caged muse. I’m not a slave to it, but it always does my bidding.  People seem to think that extremely detailed outlines take all the fun out of writing. Recently I heard a comparison of outlines to paint-by-numbers, but this doesn’t really make sense to me. Is your creativity stifled if you’re the one who wrote in the numbers and you can change them whenever you want? People don’t seem to realize that you can tap into that same spontaneous creativity while outlining that you do when writing a scene. I’ve already made several changes to the outline I started with, but it’s a beautiful beacon directing my sleepy mind where to go next each morning.

Having a few specific details or lines of dialogue that I want to include in a scene has helped give me direction when I start writing each day. If I’ve got purpose and direction, the writing flows much more easily than it otherwise would. I attribute a good portion of this to the additions I made to my outline before I started.

I began nanowrimo hoping to power through this draft, but I’m learning a lot about what helps me put words on the page. Even if I don’t make it to 50,000, I think I’ll still get a lot out of the experience, but for now, I’m still in the game.

 

 

 

How to do Nanowrimo all wrong

Halloween vs. Nanowrimo

Normally this time of year, I’d be pulling together a last minute Halloween costume inspired by my current sci-fi obsession, like Chell from Portal or Sam Winchester from Supernatural. But not this time. No, I’m spending the dregs of October fleshing out my outline for nanowrimo and getting my submission to my writing group’s anthology ready to go for its November 1st deadline.

 

portal costume
My coworkers didn’t get it. They kept guessing escaped prisoner. They weren’t really in Portal’s target demographic, so I don’t blame them.

 

This is my first attempt at nano, and I’m still not really doing it properly. You’re supposed to start a new work, something fresh and specially crafted for November and write 50,000 words of it. No stopping, no editing, no rewriting. This is not my plan. If you’re a nanowrimo purist, you should probably stop reading here.

 

So why am I bothering?

I have other goals, though, and I’m just going to leverage the nano word count hype to complete my current WIP, The Ven Hypothesis, Book 2 of The Kepos Chronicles. (Before you go googling that, I’m holding them until I’ve got two, hopefully three, to publish in quick succession). I’m 43,134 words in, which I just realized is amazing because it’s a palindrome. That’s a good auspice for the coming month, right? I’ve been developing my daily writing habit, and while I do write almost every day (No matter what you do, life finds a way, right?), I’m not hitting consistently high word counts. Most days, it’s 300-500 words in my hour before work. I have serious doubts about my ability to pull this off. I write heckin’ slow, and 1500 words in a day means at least 3 hours of work at my current pace.

 

Setting myself up for success

I’ve been working on my routine, trying to identify and eliminate my distractions, and it’s helping. I now write in the morning when I’m fresh. I realized I have to shower the night before and prepare my breakfast and lunch for the next day, otherwise, I lose valuable writing time to these tasks each morning. Now that winter is coming, I got one of those daylight alarm clocks that gradually get brighter before the alarm. I’ve reorganized my workspace and gotten a better lamp in my writing room so it’s not too dark. Before I start writing, I put my computer in airplane mode, and leave my phone in the other room.
Now that I’ve taken some steps to improve my writing environment, I’m hoping I can use nanowrimo to figure out what works for increasing my daily word count without significantly increasing my time. This might be a spectacular failure, but if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.

The Goal: Finish Things!

My nano goal is to finish this draft of The Ven Hypothesis. If it takes 50,000 words, awesome. If it doesn’t, well, I’ll start the outline for Book 3. There’s always something to write! If you have any productivity tips, let me know in the comments. If you’re looking for the advice of someone who really worked out how to increase her word count, I recommend Rachel Aaron’s blog post on the subject. Happy writing!