Posts Tagged ‘nanowrimo’

Looking backwards and forwards

Monday, December 22nd, 2014
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I realized I never got around to updating you on how my November challenges went, in honor of NaNoWriMo. Friends, it was a bit of a mixed bag, but nothing terrible and I learned a few things.

Challenge #1: Hit 45,000 words by November 30th
I did not hit this stretch goal. I use the term stretch goal because almost from the first day of aiming for this number, I was struggling. It required me to double my daily output (which I had mostly been hitting comfortably) and every day I missed the accelerated word count, the next day’s challenge was higher.

That isn’t to say I didn’t get some mean writing done in November. But realistically I hit more like 35,000 words which included freewrites.

Challenge #2: Write three freewrites about the journey of the story
This was a mixed. I succeeded in doing several freewrites, but I’m not sure how successful they were for me. I did a lot of research; looking up different climate patterns and ecosystems, photos of countries I’ve never been to, trying to develop what sort of lands my characters would travel through physically. I’ve come to the conclusion that I may just need to put my characters on a mode of transportation and see where it goes.

Challenge #3: Social media addiction control
Mostly good, with some slippage. I find that if I’m out somewhere, say at a library or coffee shop, it’s much easier to tame the social media temptation. If I’m at home at the writing isn’t going well, my will power erodes.

Challenge #4: Read 1 – 2 books on thematically-appropriate topics
This was fun and I want to do more. I went to the Boston Public Library and checked a few books out of their permanent collection, books about grief practices in different cultures and something enticingly called Encyclopedia of Reincarnation and Karma (which was quite a long academic encyclopedia). I didn’t get to delve into them as deeply as I would like, but it’s really helpful to know those kind of resources are out there.

Challenge #5: Daily check-in
This was great. My writing buddy and I texted or emailed once or twice a day just to say what we had worked on, if we felt like we’d made progress, and asked each other supportive questions/gave encouragement. I would definitely recommend this to anyone trying to set some kind of a stretch goal for him or herself. It really helps to be held accountable and to take a few moments each day to reflect on one’s progress.


Ultimately, I made a decent amount of progress in the beginning of the month but then I hit a wall. That wall is still this journey/quest that my characters are embarking upon. The sense of the world beyond the area in which they live is slowly taking shape for me, but it’s just that: slow. So I keep circling on what I know and adding and tweaking a story that isn’t moving forward. That’s my next challenge.

So far in December, I haven’t done much writing. Visits with family plus the stalled story haven’t proved very conducive to storytelling. The rest of the month doesn’t look too good either, what with the holidays. I think I need to figure out how to make forward progress with smaller chunks of time available to me, so that I can write a little every day or so, even with childcare and family responsibilities. Anyone with advice, please let me know. Writing at night rarely works for me, but writing “first thing in the morning” would require me getting up at, er, 4:30 or 5am.

I do feel like I’m laying some mental brickwork at the moment; I came to some conclusions this weekend about character motivations, unlocking several new avenues of thought. And I’ve been filling out this plot sheet and this character questionnaire about my protagonist. The former has caused me to ask some tough questions about where my story is going and the latter is helping me get a clearer picture of who my narrator is. It feels very elementary, but she is the voice of my story and asking these questions and answering in her voice has been a useful tool.


And now we’re on to 2015! I don’t know what 2015 is going to look like. What I do know is two things: 1) I have set myself that arbitrary May 31st deadline which I have every intention of keeping and 2) I have signed up for a class with Grub Street that focuses on novel writing. I’m hoping the course will propel me through the cold, winter months and get me past this stalled place.

This experience has been really fascinating. I’ve been writing for years (most of my life really) but these past few months have made me feel like a novice. I’ve been reading up on story structure and character arcs and how to make a believable world. Things I thought I knew how to do already. But putting all of these tools in the context of 300 pages versus 13 pages is a complete game changer for me. It’s not a slice of the pie, it’s the whole damn pie. Mmm, pie.

I don’t like New Year’s resolutions for myself, because a) I have a terrible time keeping them and b) why limit your resolutions to January 1st? But I do like the idea of a fresh year, a fresh start. I want to get the first draft done by the end of the spring because I know that the first draft is, in reality, only the first chapter in the story of the life of a book. The first page, if I’m honest. I’m excited to see where this story takes me. 


Challenges for November

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
  • Shoot for 45,000 words (~1,700 words/per writing day) by the end of the month. This should roughly double the length of my current story.
  • Write three “freewrites” that explore where my characters might go on their journey. Because they go on a journey. It’s very daunting to me because I have to build not just the small world of the first 20,000 words of my story, but the ENTIRE world beyond that. Or significant pieces of it.
  • Control my social media addiction by not accessing social media in a significant way between the hours of 9am and 12pm on work days. These are my most productive writing hours but not when I am also checking Twitter, GChat, Facebook, WordPress, email, The Internet etc.
  • Read 1 – 2 books on ghosts/funereal practices/death mythology for inspiration. Wow, I’m making this project sound morbid.
  • Daily check-in with my writing buddy for accountability and affirmations.

Noveling into November

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
My new office set-up

My new office set-up

Though I haven’t written anything here in a long while, that thankfully does not mean I haven’t been writing. In fact, just the opposite. After several busy weeks with family and events in late September/early October, I was itching to get back to writing fiction. And blogging, well, it seemed distracting and less fun. So I didn’t do it. I apologize to those who have been waiting impatiently for my lustrous words to grace your screen again. In the words of my daughter, “WALA!” I have returned.

In the meantime, I have been attempting to stick to the schedule I set for myself (write, lunch, writing-related-activity) which has met with mixed results. I’ve discovered several things:

  1. I generally require a warm-up period to get into a writing zone; this usually consists of an hour (though sometimes two) of re-reading previous sections, brainstorming, thinking, research, and… a lot of checking social media and reading inane internet articles about gluten or Sweet Valley Twins or parenting. Grah.
  2. I am blessed to have friends that I can meet for lunch to get me out of the house. However, if I don’t do a significant portion of my writing before I meet with said friends and/or strictly limit my time with them, little to no writing gets done that day because see point #1. There usually isn’t time for point #1 after lunch because I need to pick up my daughter from daycare.
  3. I need to plan at-home lunches as well as at-home dinners. Otherwise I eat popcorn and applesauce and cheese and crackers. Grrreeat. (Note to self: stock healthy snacks)
  4. I generally haven’t gotten around to writing-related-activities in the afternoon… I’ve found I try to use it for continuing the morning’s writing (or finally getting started). Otherwise it gets eaten up by non-writing related activities (extra long lunches, errands, appointments, internet, prepping dinner).
  5. Word sprints (saying to myself “I will write X number of words in the next 20 minutes. No distractions. Go!”) actually works really well, peppered with other tactics.
  6. Scrivener is a delight and jives well with my haphazard writing style.
  7. Giving myself the time to write is the key to actually writing. So much of the pressure of the past has been removed and it is such a relief. I feel the pressure on days when I let my warm-up period turn into a warm-up morning and barely get anything done. Or just those days everyone has when nothing feels quite good enough. But most days I am excited to sit down and figure out what happens next.

Now for the numbers…

Scrivener has a feature where you can set project goals and session word count targets. Meaning that you can say you want a project to be so many words and it will calculate how many words you need to write per writing day to get there by the deadline you set. So to use this feature I settled on a deadline of May 31, 2015 to have the first draft of the Ghost Story project completed, entertaining the idea, for now, that this will be a novel. I chose May 31st with the thought that it gives me 8 months to write, at which point I can take the summer to not think about it, and then tackle revisions in the fall. Or sooner if I feel inclined, but it seems like a good, symbolic dividing line.

As for total word count, I decided on aiming for 100,000 words, which is something like 250 – 300 paperback pages. According to this website, that’s the high end for literary fiction and young adult, but on the low end of genre fiction. Sweet. I am still discovering where this story will be shelved and marketed as I’m writing it. I try not to think too hard about the marketing side because that’s the cart before the horse but I do want to keep in mind the marketability of what I’m writing. What is the story about? How can I tell you what it’s about in less than three sentences? How would I pitch this to a literary agent/editor/reader? I’m not quite there yet, but it’s taking shape.

When I started this new gig on Sept. 1, my Ghost Story project was sitting at something like 9,100 words. It has now blossomed to 24,000+ words, making it close to a quarter of the way done. Scrivener calculates that, what with three writing days a week, I need to write at least 850 words per writing day to finish by the end of May. I have found that a very reasonable goal to hit, certainly on average (sometimes I double it, other days barely reach half). Heck, this blog post exceeds that word count. I’ve found it doable.

I want to slowly ramp that number up, if I can. This month, the month of November, is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Traditionally writers of all stripes will use this month to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days to prove it can be done and allow themselves the freedom of “quantity over quality.” I’ve attempted NaNo in the past, though never completed it. I’m not sure it’s the right fit for me just yet. But I find it inspirational to try to set a high goal for the month. So I am going to try to roughly double my current word count. I want to try to hit 45,000 words by the end of November (bonus points if I hit 50!) This means doubling my daily word count. I think it will be a challenge, but a good one.

I didn’t think word counts would work for me, but it is a good motivator so far and a good benchmark. If I don’t hit my word count but still feel satisfied by the work, it generally doesn’t bother me.

I’ve been reading too, but I haven’t written a single review. I haven’t updated my Goodreads page or pursued any other writing projects/contests/submissions. I’m all in with this one project right now, which is a nice feeling. Now if only I could figure out a strategy to keep me away from the internet wormhole…

Anyone else out there tackling NaNoWriMo or setting yourself a creative challenge this fall? What keeps you motivated?