Friday, November 30, 2012

How I Failed NaNoWriMo and Why I'm Okay With That

I entered NaNoWriMo with the rough beginning of a story in my head, but no real sense of who my characters were or how my plot would play out. I also had huge vacation plans for 10 days in November. Oh, and I'm not really a writer. I mean, I journal sometimes, and there's occasional clumsy attempts at poetry, but I've never actually written fiction. Not even short stories.

I learned a lot. I'm not sure I'll do this again any time soon, but maybe... If there's another piece of a story in me. Maybe I'll do a sequel.

I had taken Friday off work so I could finish it... but Thursday night, I did the math and realized that I had to write about 25,000 words in order to "win" by Friday at midnight. When I'm writing well, I'm at about 1,000 words per hour. 1,200 if I'm going a mile-a-minute and times are good. When I did the math, I realized I'd have to keep that 1,200 words per hour pace through Thursday night, all through Friday, miss the parent-teacher conferences I had scheduled for Friday, and not stop to eat longer than half an hour, working until almost midnight on Friday. That was never going to happen. So I got to sleep in, probably avoiding the cold I'm still fighting off.

That flat place is the day before vacation through a few days after vacation. The slow rise after that is where I listened to the voices.

What Went Wrong

  1. No plot, no problem, my butt. I know there's a movement out there full of people who believe in letting the story write itself (they're called "pantsers"), but that doesn't work for me. It rambles. And there are severe eddies, where it's pretty obvious there's no exit plan.
  2. There was this vacation thing... Vacations are great, and especially this one; I wouldn't have traded it for all the novels in the world. But, well, I could have done some writing on vacation. I mean really. Even 500 words a day might have been enough to let me win this one, if not also for number 1 above.
  3. No character development. Or characters. I tried "pantsing it," but, like with the plot, it's hard to develop characters you don't actually know. The character sketch templates included with Scrivener (see below, in What Went Right) really aren't very detailed, and I didn't really think much at all about my characters, even after having started writing them.
  4. Listening to the voices. The voices are like a little mini-form of depression, and depression lies. I don't mean to make light of depression here, or of novel writers. The same little voice that says, "You're already so far behind. Why fight the fail?" and, "Besides, this is crap and you know it." and, "Who are you, that you think anyone wants to read this drivel you're penning?" is the same voice that whispers things like, "You're not good enough" and, "You'll never be pretty. You never were." and, "No matter what you do, you know it's just going to fall apart." and all the other horrible things we tell ourselves in the darkness. Don't listen to any of the voices. They all lie. (We'll revisit this later in the post).

What Went Right

  1. I got this awesome software called Scrivener. If you write fiction, I highly, highly recommend it. I don't write plays (though, I guess one could argue that I don't write fiction, either), but I can't imagine writing a play without using Scrivener. If I were to write non-fiction, I can't imagine a tool more appropriate than Scrivener. It practically does the writing for you. It has a place for research, places for notes, a nifty cork-board thing, pre-made templates, a great tutorial (one of the best software tutorials I have ever seen, and I've seen a lot), and it's a quick download and not very expensive to begin with. It really helped me organize my thoughts, and write more coherently.
  2. I had a great beginning. Look at the first half of those numbers! I was ahead of schedule, and being really good about writing... up to a point, anyway.
  3. I had some concept. I knew just enough to get a framework down - where the story would take place and what the basic premises of the story were.
  4. The challenge words. This year was the 200th anniversary of the battle of 1812, and Maryland NaNos were challenged to use the names of the ships (Meteor, Devastation, Aetna, Terror, Volcano, and Erebus), the numbers 1812 and 200, and some of us opted to work "Sandy" into our works, too. This was super-fun, and solved the problem of coming up with quite a few names.
  5. Having a Pinterest board for NaNoWriMo. This was a source of motivation and a place to put tips and tricks I wanted to save for later. Wish I had started it sooner, though.

Different For Next Time

  1. I'll find my old AD&D character sheets and use those as a basis for coming up with characters. Or I'll find something like them online (actually, that website I linked to has some downloadable PDFs. And Scrivener supports PDFs. Hmm).
  2. I'll start coming up with characters and a plot in October. Or sooner. With an outline. Or at least a short list of basic plot elements.
  3. I'll attend more write-ins. But not with the Things. Those were great for silent, focused time, when I didn't have to get up to let cats in and out constantly, or break up fights between the Things, or answer questions about who's been on the computer longest and when is dinner.
  4. I'll shut those voices down by staying ahead of schedule (and not trying to do NaNoWriMo in years when there's a big vacation planned). I'll use the pep-talks and the things I posted to Pinterest to shut those voices up. I'll get better about recognizing those voices, so I know when I need to go get some motivation. 
  5. I'll take a creative writing class? Maybe go through the high-school version of the work-book from the Young Writers Program.

Way Forward

So, what do I do with 25,367 words of unfinished novel? Well, first thing, I'll do some thinking about this plot I don't have and the characters involved. If I stick with this, even just a little bit (not necessarily 1,667 words per day), I can finish it within the next few months and then start trimming out all those eddies, and firming up my characters and revising, revising, revising. 

If it ever gets published, you'll be the second to know. And in the mean-time, I'll do some guilt-free knitting and some guilt-free spinning and some guilt-free reading.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

NaNoWriMo Update - Wrote-In; Hung-Out; Got Stuck

I had a super-productive day.

I woke up late, but got me and the kids to the Howard County Library for the Saturday Write-In. I thought it'd be a lot more social, but it was pretty much "silent writing time." Which was awesome. For me. Next time, the kids can stay home. Maybe the one at BAM is more lively.

Between the library-time and the kids coming home and immediately leaving to make use of the sunshine, I got a ton of writing done. I wrote up to a senator's speech in the library, and chickened out for a bit. Then wrote the senator's speech. Then got myself stuck. Where to go from here? Focus on building a little romance? Or get the plot moving? It seems slow. I see a huge novel that gets cut down to a short story in my future. :(

I also finished my book, A Game of Thrones. Time to start book 2.

I just got done with my first-ever Google Hangout. It seemed like a pretty awesome GUI and when a bug was discovered, the support staff were great about sticking around to see it fixed. We had a lot of fun and I was able to get a good bit of writing done during the "sprints." Will definitely do that again!

Friday, November 2, 2012

NaNoWriMo Update - Having Gotten Started

Let me just start by saying, "Wow. This is harder than it looks." There are all these details about my characters and my story I have to keep track of (did my main character just start her thesis? Or just finish her thesis?) and I have to manage tense (when I'm speaking in general, past tense? Or present? Gut says past tense, but that might be work experience trying to take over) and 1667 words per day is a lot of words, and I'm trying to get a good bit over that, in case there's a day in which I can't find time to write. Eek! Stress!

But, at the same time, there's so much great support and encouragement from the community. This is pretty awesome. People are so nice! And I'm totally looking forward to my first-ever write-in tomorrow. I'll take the things, maybe try to wear something hip.

So far, so good. I have some doubts about the Things' ability/desire to complete their stories, but hopefully they'll prove me wrong. It would be so awesome to see them finish their stories, even if they don't meet their word-count goals.

The late-night writing sessions are really messing up my stats.
I'll have to make sure I validate WELL in advance of the deadline.
2am and bed! Well, maybe some A Game of Thrones, and then bed.