A Truant Disposition

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Post-NaNoWriMo 2014: What I learned this year

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Nov• 25•14
NaNoWriMo 2014 Winner!

NaNoWriMo 2014 Winner!

This year’s NaNoWriMo differed from the two previous years in a number of really great ways. Although I won previous years (and the second year was substantially easier than the first year), I’m still learning new things about how to write NaNo novels and how to integrate this lovable monster known as “NaNo” into my own process.

This year I’ve finally satisfied that one thing I was curious about which motivated me to do NaNo the first time. I’d heard of pulp writers in the olden days knocking out a novel in a month and I’ve always wondered how they did that (because I’m just soooo slooooow). Now I know. I’ve cracked it. The previous two years I won NaNoWriMo the manuscript wasn’t anywhere near complete at 50 K. That’s because the books were too complex for 50 K novels and I had too many things to juggle, figure out, work in, etc. The first year I hit 50 K on Nov. 21, last year on the 22nd. Both times I went back and added another 2 K before the end of the month, but even if I had kept up the pace that put me in the winners circle over a week early, the drafts wouldn’t have been done. This year I chose something completely different to write. The previous years I worked on two books in a series. The good thing about doing series fiction for NaNoWriMo is that after the first book, you’ve got a lot of things already established, so subsequent books are easier. But the books in my series were too long, too much going on in them. And I didn’t want to start another one until I got the first two in good shape. (Still working on that, at my usual snail’s pace.) So, this year I chose to write something simple, a really simple plot that practically wrote itself. That’s the secret to having a complete draft when you hit 50 K. Keep the plot simple, (or if it’s complex, try to get all the major stuff done and leave out details that can be added later).

NaNoWriMo 2014 "Mug Shot"

NaNoWriMo 2014 “Mug Shot”

For the first time, I really did complete a book in less than a month! I chose a cheesy action-adventure sci-fi plot worthy of those pulp writers of last century who could knock out a book in a month. Engine trouble forces a landing on a planet whose main life forms are giant carnivorous plants, which are presided over by a rich eccentric who doesn’t want her to escape the planet. Yeah, this is an updating of that hoary old trope and the main protagonist is female. This is what I think of as a self-writing plot: you have characters established in your mind, you drop them into a dire situation from which they have to extricate themselves. The story will unfold naturally from there. I brainstormed this far more than I probably needed to prior to NaNoWriMo, but that allowed me to make decisions about p.o.v (initially I had considered first person p.o.v. but after writing out how I thought the plot might unroll I realized that I’d need a secondary viewpoint and third person would work better), and also to fine tune some points that I hadn’t given much thought to when I spit them out on the page. I did character profiles, a rough outline, and then made corrections and adjustments. There are still a few things I need to smooth out in the draft but it turned out better than I expected, and also different than I expected in many ways. Fundamentally, I don’t think I was cut out to be a pulp writer. Given a action-adventure pulp plot, I turned it into a story about the characters. Which proves that it’s pretty much impossible for me not to write character-oriented fiction. LOL

NaNoWriMo 2014 Stats Screenshot.

NaNoWriMo 2014 Stats Screenshot.

This year’s NaNoWriMo was exhausting as it always is, but it wasn’t difficult in the sense of having trouble writing. This is what I do. I write. I’m working on something almost every day, usually editing and rewriting, but sometimes writing for hours. The hardest thing about NaNoWriMo is making yourself not go back and edit and rewrite because you can hurt your word count. This year, for the first time, I did go back and reread and rewrite a little bit, just looking for typos and sentences so badly mangled they were incoherent. I did this later the same day that I wrote and found that because I was writing so very thinly I sometimes ended up boosting my word count by adding a sentence or two, or adding a better word choice here and there. The reason I did this was because of one other thing that made this NaNoWriMo very different from any other writing experience, including non-NaNo novels: I had someone reading along, reading each day’s chapter or scene. I know some authors do this. Mary Robinette Kowal uses NaNo the same way I do: to make a fast start on the next novel and she has a flock of readers who read each chapter as it’s done. I never do this. But this time I did. As a result, this draft is more cohesive and coherent than previous years. I only wrote one scene out of order (and only jumped ahead by a day, so it was easy to catch the person up). It was less stream of consciousness. There were no bits where I just skipped and put placemarker text. “They discuss such and such.” It imposed a greater discipline on my process than NaNo did itself and this being my third year, it was probably time for me to challenge myself a bit more.

I rose to the challenge. Here are all the ways this year was different from previous years:

  • I chose a simple plot that could easily be completed in 50 K words
  • I wrote about a chapter a day
  • I set a 2 K words per day minimum
  • I proofread and did light rewrites
  • I had an alpha reader for my daily output
  • I finished earlier than ever: November 20th
  • I wrote more words than ever 53 K+ (in fewer days)
  • I completed the draft in 20 days/53 K words
  • I did no write-ins and only did two writing sessions on 1 day
  • I blogged my progress on the new microblog
  • I tweeted with friends who are doing NaNo
  • I knew more real life friends who were doing NaNoWriMo this year.

This is not my recipe for success. This is simply a list of all the ways this year differed from previous years. If you want to read about my adventures previous years, checkout the NaNoWriMo tag here. If you want to see the fun little posts I did during NaNo this year see: the NaNoWriMo tag on the microblog.

Secrets for NaNoWriMo Success (IMHO):

  • Write every day, no exceptions. (If you only write when there is no shit hitting the fan or you have nothing else you need to do, you’ll do damn little writing, ever. Shit happens. Real life is good. You must integrate writing into your own life, as it is, not as you ideally wish it to be. Most authors have lives not significantly different from yours. If you really want to write, make time. If you really want to win NaNoWriMo, make time. Write every day.)
  • Set a 2 K per day minimum. That 1667 number is a minimum. If you don’t hit it consistently, you’re screwed as far as winning is concerned.
  • Choose a story that can be told in 50 K words, and expanded beyond that in rewrites.
  • If you can, try to write in two sessions on some days, but still aim for the 2 K goal in the first session.
  • If you’re having trouble hitting your word count in the ubiquitous coffee shop setting, buy a pastry and go home. Public settings have their own distractions and the chairs are often uncomfortable for the long periods you need to write. Find the place that you are most comfortable writing.
  • When you get to a scene break, stand up and stretch. If you feel sluggish and stuck, take a break. Stretch your legs. Make a pot of tea, pour another cup of coffee. Take a walk. Walking has been proven to have a stimulating effect on creativity. It’s good for your cramped and hunched writer’s body, too.
  • Choose Writing Buddies that you have already connected with either in real life or online. Writing Buddies you know and regularly interact with are much more encouraging than strangers on a list that you just compare word counts with.
  • Make a running list of notes of things that you may want to edit or change later.
  • Either create your outline as you go (for those discovery writers who do no outlining) or make changes to your outline as you go, to help you keep track of changes in the way the book is developing.
  • If you fall behind on the word count, do not stop writing. The absolute worst that will happen is that you’ll have most of a rough draft of a novel done and since most novels are longer than 50 K, you basically end up in the same place as people who won. The more you write, the closer to the end of the book you are, so keep writing even if it looks like you can’t win. The book is the ultimate prize and the ultimate goal. You can always finish after NaNo is over (most people do). Every chapter you write puts you closer to having completed the novel. Most novels are not written in one month. Write as much as you can in November, then finish it after NaNo is over.
  • If you don’t win NaNoWriMo the first year, do it again. It gets easier because you learn what works best for you. Also, if you don’t usually write much except for NaNoWriMo, try to get into the habit of writing something every day in the year between one NaNo and the next. The established habit of sitting down and writing every day is probably the biggest thing that helps people when they do NaNoWriMo.

So…what am I going to do now? I’ve had some time to rest and now I’m working my way through the list of things that I let hang fire while I was pushing to finish the novel. Or I should say the draft of the novel. I had thought when I decided to write this story that it was just a little thing I wanted to write for me, and that if I didn’t do it as a NaNo novel it would probably never be written. Other ideas would take precedence in the writing queue. But it works pretty well for what it is and I’m pleased with it. With it needing both edits and rewrites I’m not sure if it will end up longer or shorter than 50 K. I’m thinking of doing a rewrite and then perhaps publishing it as a cheap ebook, with a sample from my other longer science fiction novel, In The Hands of Time, which is so old it doesn’t get the sales and attention it deserves. Rewrites begin in January! Now I’m off to tackle my post-NaNo, pre-Thanksgiving To Do list. 🙂

For those of you still working on your NaNoWriMo novel, keep writing!!!


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