A Look Back at NaNoWriMo 2014

As November comes to a close, some of us are breathing sighs of relief, crying in anguish, or screaming at the top of our lungs (in either victory or defeat), and all for the same reason. NaNoWriMo is over for the year. This was my fifth year doing NaNo after discovering it in 2007, and it was my best NaNo yet. Before my readership drops back down to the 1-hit-per-week I’m used to, I would like to share some final thoughts. Considering how my last post like this turned out, I’ll warn you that this will probably be a long post.

1. From early on, I discovered how incredibly motivating and focusing word wars/sprints can be. For the record, I call when multiple people set a start and stop time and compare numbers directly afterwards “word wars.” “Word sprints,” to me, are when a person is setting a time to write without stopping on their own. Just so it’s clear where I’m coming from here.

This year was the first year I’ve ever participated in a word war. I joined a Skype group for my region at the beginning of the month, and joined in on a war in the first week. I loved the word count that came out of it, and the way it made me just write without thinking. At least one person in the Skype group started referring to me as “Speedy.” Oddly enough, she was one of the other two who did best during word wars. Many evenings, we’d run a number of word wars over the course of a few hours, and many of the people in that Skype group finished at least a week early, citing those word wars as a huge reason for that. Unfortunately, as more of our Skype group won, the group became less and less active. Though I had already reached 50k too, I wanted to keep going. That was where word sprints came in helpful.

During Camp NaNoWriMo earlier this year, I discovered @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter. I didn’t need it at the time, because I was revising instead of writing, but I was aware of it. During November, I remembered it maybe a week in. And it changed the course of my month. When no one was on in the Skype group, either because it was the wrong time of day, or later because half of them had won, I would turn to that Twitter feed. Most times of day, someone is on that account announcing sprints that last 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes. Sometimes they give an optional prompt, and usually they invite people to tweet their word counts for the sprints afterwards. It is an amazing resource, and was a huge part of me getting 10,000 words in one day. I realize sadly that it shouldn’t be so difficult to make myself focus on my writing that I need help like this, but what can I say? It is.

And on this same topic, I managed to join in on a virtual write-in held by the NaNo staff interns (and Grant Faulkner sitting in for an intern during the one I joined in on). They live stream for an hour, running sprints with suggested prompts, and then reading on the stream some of the comments in which people share their word counts and a line or two from the previous sprint. They read my comments twice, which was definitely fun.

2. Along the same lines, another new experience for me was being more socially active during November. I never did go to a write-in, but I did attend my region’s kick-off party (not the first time for that, though, as I went last year too). The main social activity I participated in was hanging out and chatting in my region’s Skype group. Word wars aside, it was a great place for mutual encouragement and general discussion.

There was also this blog. I posted every single day. I don’t know that every single post was read, but the last few weeks, having this blog led me to something else. Reading and commenting on other people’s blog posts. I am not really big in the blog scene. This blog, in fact, is normally just where I post my daily writing project work so I have somewhere to hold myself accountable. I read blogs by people I know, and that’s usually it. But I started reading other people’s posts about NaNoWriMo and enjoyed seeing it from others’ perspectives. I’ll be sad to see all of this go away.

3. I have found myself somewhat frustrated by the debate about pantsing and planning this year. And it’s not because I feel one is better than the other. It’s because I’m starting to feel that most people fall into the same middle ground, but still feel the need to claim otherwise. If I say I’m a planner, it doesn’t mean that I write out a detailed plot outline, list every character and everything about those characters, and know what will happen every hour of every day that the story covers. Some may work that way, but it’s an extreme. Just like I’ve noticed that pantsing doesn’t always mean literally sitting down on November 1 with not a single plan or thought and writing whatever comes. It sometimes means having a general plot in mind, with an ending to head toward. In some ways, that’s not far from what I have at the beginning of the month.

This year, I had a complete outline, because I needed to plan it out while revising last year’s novel. Last year’s (“Adventures in Pithea”, working title) and this year’s (“Pursuit of Power”) run parallel for a while, and some scenes overlap. So I had to plan “Pursuit of Power” fully. I probably owe a lot of my success to that. However, I veered off from the outline a lot, especially at the end (which was the one place I thought I knew exactly what would happen). And normally, I have a much sketchier outline, sometimes not even finished by Nov. 1, and un-fleshed-out characters. When people say, “I’m a little bit of a planner, but I have to give my writing a chance to move away from the outline if it wants to,” I say… “Yeah? And that makes you not a planner?” Having an outline by definition means you have planned. I feel like people think it’s cooler to be a pantser, so they have to explain why they’re not really a planner. And at the end of this paragraph, I realize that I have ranted a bit about something very silly, but I don’t care. This is about what I’ve gleaned from this year’s NaNo, and that is part of it.

4. Last year, I wrote 3/4 of my novel, coming in at the end of the month at 90k words. After I’d deleted the stuff I left in just for word count but didn’t want to keep, and then finished the novel, it sat around 105k. It took me until February to finish it. That made me very sad. Then since then, I’ve been revising and revising and…revising. I don’t hate it quite as much as I used to, but I still prefer the initial writing to the revising by miles. When NaNo started this year and I was writing new stuff again, I found myself in a very good mood most days, and I knew it was because I loved writing so much. Now I still have last year’s novel to be working on (it’s very slow going…I dislike revising), and now I have a second that I may or may not touch again until the first one is done. I am very bad at keeping myself going on the work I need to do, and it’s only partly because I dislike revising so much. This blog was initially started after a Camp NaNoWriMo session, in order to keep myself disciplined the rest of the time. Now I have a new plan:

500words-300w

There are actually three levels to choose from–250, 500, or 1000. For now, I’ll go with 500 and see how it goes. The “rules” for the challenge state you can use it however you want–writing for a first draft, how many words you’ve revised, or even writing a blog. As much as I’d like to say I’ll write 500 new words every day, though, I’m more likely to be using this to revise.

I want to suggest doing something like this to anyone out there (who has read this far) who didn’t win NaNo, or won but didn’t finish their story, who plans to keep going after November. If you’re like me and many other people, you will not do nearly as well as you hope to, once the drive and mutual encouragement of NaNo is over. Challenge yourself to a specific number of words every day, and keep at it. And the important thing here is that, unlike NaNo, there is no final goal. If you fall short one day, you do not have to make up for it later. Just try for 500 (or whatever you choose) again the next day.

Oh, and just to be clear, I’m starting that on Monday. I’m very tired. Church this morning, and then a Thanksgiving event all day after that. I am taking a planned break before starting back into revising with a fresh mind (hopefully) on Monday.

Please, share your own final thoughts on NaNo, how you did, and if you plan to challenge yourself to write/revise every day after November!

NaNoWriMo Day 29, “The End”

The Words: 5442 written today and finished my novel! I was on such a roll last night that I just had to keep going. I put the final words in just before 5 a.m. I started with @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter, but the closer I got to the end, the more I just wanted to write and didn’t need the push of the word sprints. I am exhausted in so many ways right now. (I am writing this at 5 am, though I won’t post it until later this evening.)

I’m planning to write one more NaNoWriMo post before going back to posting about my revision work. Tomorrow, on the last day of the month, I want to sum up my experiences with NaNo this month.

The Story: Lex decided to take matters into his own hands and try to stop the battle quickly. He succeeded, somewhat, but it wasn’t a clean end exactly. Still, the battle was over, and now Lex and Leahna have to deal with the aftermath. Then there was a muchly summarized epilogue in which Lex gets some clues to get him back on track to solving the mystery of his father’s death.

Final word count: 107,234

day 29

NaNoWriMo Day 28

The Words: 4462 written today and broke 100,000! After yesterday’s low number, and anticipating a very busy next two days (the last two days of NaNo), I made sure to really buckle down to write tonight. I did want to hit 100k, but I am still mostly intent on finishing the book. I am SO close. So close, in fact, that I didn’t realize that midnight had passed until it was 1 a.m. So I had to stop for a break and to write this up. Then I plan to get back to it tonight and maybe finish finally.

The Story: The battle in the desert is heating up. Two weeks have passed and the militia units that Lex and Leahna are helping are gaining a tiny bit of ground. Not literal ground, but they are systematically lowering the numbers of the enemy. When the second-in-command is taken prisoner, though, the leader demands immediate action. He knows that his second will be in grave danger if they don’t find him soon. So Lex decides to go inside the base himself and find a way to stop Rusalki, the leader of the mercenary organization.

Total word count: 101,792

day 28

NaNoWriMo Day 27

The Words: 577 written today. My extended family isn’t having our official Thanksgiving get-together until Sunday, but we had an unofficial game night tonight. I didn’t know for sure if we were going to that until around 4, so I had expected to have some writing time in the afternoon. In an effort to avoid a zero day, I did get some words written while sitting at the table where people were playing games. My laptop died and I’d forgotten my charger, so I ended up having to switch to pencil and paper for half of it. I got very little done. But at least it’s not a 0.

The Story: The battle in the desert has taken a turn, with Lex and Leahna there to help. But it still doesn’t show signs of ending soon.

Total word count: 97,330

day 27

NaNoWriMo Day 26

The Words: 2947 written today. I realized at the exact right time today that the weekly virtual write-in was starting. For the first few weeks, I was gone every Wednesday, and the weeks after that, I just kept forgetting. I got lucky today and joined in. I wrote 1900 during that, and the rest in the evening. I haven’t watched the videos for the other virtual write-ins, but I have to admit, the prompts weren’t the most helpful today. I know you don’t have to write with the prompts, but they intrigued me, so I did. Things like: What is your protaganist’s ideal ending? What would your antagonist be doing if they didn’t have anybody thwarting them, and if all their plans succeeded? I couldn’t help but want to explore those questions. But I’m close to the end of my novel, and just need to finish this battle scene!

The Story: I realized today that I forgot about the narrator this story is supposed to be have, and have written the entire book without him. Overall, that won’t make a huge difference, because the narrator is only in a small part of the book himself, so it will still mostly read as third-person. But this is still something I will have to remember during my early revising. And today’s writing is when he showed up in the story himself.

Total word count: 96,753

day 26

NaNoWriMo Day 25

The Words: 2045 written today. I had to squeeze some in during the afternoon and then a bit more before we had another Skype meeting of the TCSTB (revising a novel I finished earlier this year). And I wanted to share this picture from the marathon meeting we had at the house of one of the TCSTB members on Saturday.

reptile Mikayla

We acted out some fighting scenes to make sure they made sense in the text. The bear represents a large reptilian creature. The blanket on the floor is its victim, and the red is a sweatshirt that has been laid across the body to symbolize blood. This is before we rushed in to attack the reptile.

The Story: Lex and Leahna are continuing to help with the battle in the desert, and so much is happening, but I can’t really go into detail.

Total word count: 93,806

NaNoWriMo Day 24

The Words: 2063 written today. Today’s writing put me past my total from last year, which was 90,228. Before that, I’d always written 50k within a few days from the end and that was it.

The Story: I have now decided that the decision I made yesterday about being done with the novel was wrong. I did glance at the beginning of this big battle scene from the original version and realized that the main characters are not doing the right thing yet to merge with that original version. So I do need to write a bit more to get my current story to a place where it matches up with that scene. (And for all I know, it will never actually flow into the other version, and I’ll rewrite it all anyway.) I thought it would be quick, but I should have known better.

Total word count: 91,761

day 24

NaNoWriMo Day 23

The Words: 1957 written today. I have a feeling the rest of the month will be smaller numbers like this, or at least most of it. That is partly due to the fact that a lot of the excitement of the month has worn off, partly because I’ve been having a lot less chances to find writing time outside of the few hours in the evening, and partly because I have run out of anything to write. A friend of mine told me recently that that shouldn’t matter. He said, “Think stuff up. That’s what authors do.” He has a point, but I’m terrible at pantsing. Even if I found something to write through the end of the month, I doubt I’d be able to get nearly as many words per day as I was getting before.

The Story: I have officially decided to stop the story at the part where Lex and Leahna show up to help with the fighting in the desert. I think. I have written that whole battle scene before. See, technically, Pursuit of Power is a rewrite. I wrote a story set in what I would call a stepping-stone world I created with a friend, before I created the one my stories take place in now. I like the new one loads better. But enough of it was different that I had to do a complete rewrite on Lex’s story. The same basic elements are there–Lex and Leahna working together and becoming friends, Lex’s dad’s mysterious death that Lex has been seeking answers to, and the band of mercenaries in the desert causing trouble for Lex. So this scene was written, and I thought it came out very well. Only minor elements that are different from one world to the next would need to be changed, and I’m not sure it’s worth a rewrite. So I feel that writing it again now will be difficult, frustrating, and simply unnecessary. When I go back and read through the already-written scene after the month is over (I won’t let myself do it now, I think it will only slow me down), I may realize I’m wrong, and if so, I’ll rewrite it then. For now, though, I’m moving on. So today’s writing largely consisted of writing some more personal bits of Leahna’s life–her family, her work, etc., in order to flesh her character out. It won’t be directly included as-is, but I will hopefully find places to insert tidbits about her, or use it to know what kind of things are going on in her life while Lex is going through his ordeal. And now I would say I am officially done writing this book. My tentative plan for the rest of the month is to start writing what comes after the battle at the end of this story. Because really, Lex’s story is not over yet. He hasn’t solved the mystery of his dad’s death or uncovered the secrets about the Power that were hinted at in the letter he found. Or figured out who the mysterious people are that were mentioned in the letter. And I have no idea how any of that will come to be. But I know what will happen directly after this book ends, so I’ll start there.

Total word count: 89,698

day 23

NaNoWriMo Day 22

The Words: 1919 written today, in the wee hours of the morning before I went to bed. I spent the rest of the day at my sister’s house, having a marathon meeting of the TCSTB (revising last year’s novel). Memorable quote from tonight’s meeting: “How are we supposed to help you stab a bear if we don’t know how power works?”

The Story: Lex and Leahna are traveling back to the desert to help the militias who have already been there for months, fighting what has turned out to be a large force of mercenaries. Rusalki, the leader, is not above using very unethical, illegal, and unnatural means to win the battle. Thus Lex and Leahna felt that their advanced abilities would be very helpful and even necessary, despite both being sought after by the authorities.

Total word count: 87,741

day 22

NaNoWriMo Day 21

The Words: 2414 written today, over the course of a 30-minute and a 15-minute sprint. My writing time has really been limited lately. I’ll be gone literally all day tomorrow, so I plan to write 1500-2000 words for tomorrow before I go to bed here.

The Story: Lex, Leahna, and Glyn discussed the best way for them to be involved in the official operation to go and shut down the band of mercenaries that has attacked Lex and his loved ones multiple times now. Lex and Leahna are both now under suspicion of breaking some very important rules in their country, so they can’t being involved in the mission. That leaves only Glyn to help. And now Lex is taking a step back to look at everything that has happened, and feels the need to apologize to Leahna for dragging her into all of this so long ago, and basically ruining her life.

Total word count: 85,822

day 21