I ‘won’ (I always put that word inside quotation marks, as it’s a strange word to use in the circumstances), but I was fairly confident of doing so, having set out a good plan and knowing I had the time to write it.
As it happens, I completed the 50k on the 12th of November, and by the 30th, I had written a total of 74,021 words. I forgot to update my onsite word count for the last day, so my count ‘over there’ shows 72,796. Pfft.
I completed one ‘novel’, “Meltdown”, at 47,290 words. I didn’t complete the second ‘novel’, “Shed No Tear”, but it currently stands at 20,938 words. I also began writing a Dark Christmas Collection, as yet unnamed, and at the time of writing (late on the 2nd of December), the word count for that collection is 10,334 words.
So, what have I learnt from NaNoWriMo2013? Not a lot, to be honest. This was my 10th NaNoWriMo, and my 9th ‘success’. I know I can write quickly enough to complete the challenge, and although the completed work is in a very rough, Draft Zero, form, it is a complete story. The second work is a tricky one, as it has a complicated time frame, which takes some time for my head to get around. But it’s getting there, and the two timelines are coming together nicely.
What else? I attended a few local Write-Ins, and met some of our local NaNoers. Very nice people they were, too. Our local Essex group on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/nanoessex/ with its website http://nanoessex.wordpress.com/ was a busy place, with a lively mix of NaNo Newbies, experienced NaNoers, and doddery old hands – that’ll be me then. It was great to be able to share information and support. As a group, Essex wrote 8,345,822 words, which smashed our previous total. We had a large number of finishers in the group, which was fantastic. Some of us appeared on a local radio programme, http://www.saintfm.co.uk/ on Sarah Banham’s “Writers’ Block” show. That was great fun, albeit a bit nerve-wracking for radio virgins like myself. I think the vast majority of our group enjoyed the experience.
I, like many others, have unfinished business with our writing. Yet more words need to be written and edited. And there is a generally local group feeling that we want to continue to support each other, which is awesome. And so, we shall.
For me, although I’m still writing now, I do love a challenge.
In January 2014, the 3rd episode of #100kwords100days begins. Initiated by the prolific **SALLY QUILFORD** (Amazon page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/SALLY-QUILFORD/e/B002BLQGBS ) it’s a challenge which requires writers to create one hundred thousand new words between January 1st and the 10th April. For those not quick at maths (or math), it’s 1,000 words per day. If you’ve been successful at NaNoWriMo, a smaller word count might seem easy. But over 100 days?
And, of course, there’s always the next challenge. A new thing hit my Facebook this week – “Milwordy”. A million words in a year. That sounds like a challenge. In a non-leap year, that’s nearly 2,740 words a day. During the winter, it’s doable. I’m not so sure about the summer, as there always seems more ‘active’ things to do in the summer – cycling, gardening, generally enjoying the outside.
But the wordcount is achievable, I think. On all but 5 days of NaNoWriMo, I wrote more than that. Is it possible to maintain that level of productivity over a while year, as well as edits and publishing some of the other things I have in the wings?
Do I want to produce another million words of first drafts? I already have 711,000 words of works in progress – 3 complete novels to first draft. Do I need any more?
So here’s my idea. I should take some of my earlier works, especially the NaNo stuff, and rewrite them. My writing back then was not as accomplished as it now is, I hope, and some of the stories deserve to see the light of day. I’ll use the existing stories as long plans, a bit like Karen Wiesner advocates in her “First Draft in 30 Days” http://www.angelfire.com/stars4/kswiesner/FD2.html
So that’s what I’ll plan. Whether I get there, I don’t know. But it must be worth a go, eh?
So where are we? The bald facts – after 7 days’ writing, I have 35,467 words to my name this month, and after 2 days of #50K5DAYS, I have written 18,282 words.
Edit: (update) Only managed 3,040 on day 3 of #50K5DAYS, so I’ve abandoned this attempt. Should be ready to try again on Monday morning.
One thing that had occurred to me – some people might be put off by my posting large word counts. NaNoWriMo is all about personal challenges and achievements. I write fast; 2,000 words an hour is the norm for me. I am an experienced writer – I have 22 works in progress, comprising over 660,000 words (a work in progress is something I’ve written but not edited, or something half-written and incomplete). I have ‘won’ 8 NaNoWriMo’s so far in the 10 years I’ve been doing them.
All this means that, for me, my personal targets go a bit beyond the ‘standard’ NaNo, but they’re no less challenging. Maybe part of this ‘experience’ is understanding how, when and why I write.
There is no doubt that, for some, NaNoWriMo is an invigorating, enlightening time. Some will discover that, yes, they can write a novel. Some will discover the love of writing, and of creating something from nothing but ideas and thoughts. Some will begin great friendships and discover writing camaraderie. But there are some for whom NaNo is a dispiriting, depressing time. The sight of new-found friends disappearing into the distance with ever-burgeoning wordcounts can be upsetting, I’m sure.
So I’m wondering if NaNoWriMo should change, and allow people to set their own personal word count goals. If someone has physical difficulty writing anywhere near 1,667 words per day for 30 days, maybe they should be ‘allowed’ to set their own challenging target?
Then, if they do this, are these people not writers? Of course they are. They may not have the high volume output of others, but they may still enjoy writing. They may not have the stamina, or the desire, even, to create a novel, but there’s probably no reason why they can’t create a 10-minute play script, a 20-line poem, an article for a local newspaper, or a post on their blog. People who do this are writers, just as much as someone who can crank out 5,000 words in a day.
Why this? I have tapped a lot of words into Scrivener this November, and I intend to tap in a lot more. As part of our local support group, we cheerfully present our daily / total word counts with pride. But I wonder if there are some who view these figures with some sadness; I have felt awkward posting mine, worried in case any members of the group approach the challenge as a competition, and feel that they have ‘lost’ if they aren’t near the top word count generators.
But my message is: if you want to be a writer, write. Write what pleases you, write when you want to, write in whatever format gives you the best feelings. We are all writers, and we don’t need a word count chart to prove that.
NaNoWriMo 2013 is upon us, and at the time of writing (28th October), over 157,000 writers have signed up for the challenge. One of the hottest topics (as ever) is the subject of computer software – specifically, what do you use to write your novel?
For me, it’s always been about simplicity and light weight. Microsoft Word has become bloated and heavy (from a software point of view). It takes ages to load up (more than 2 seconds is ages in my book), and slows my computer down because it hogs so much memory.
Before now, I’ve used a simple word processor called “Bean” http://www.bean-osx.com/Bean.html (I’m on Mac). The crucial things are that it’s free, it doesn’t take up memory and is quick to load, it has a live word count, and does first line indents on paragraphs. What more do you need of a word processor? I’m sure there are others, probably just as good.
I had been reading about Scrivener for years, had downloaded a trial version, and last year used my NaNoWriMo winner’s token to take advantage of a very generous offer, and bought it for half price.
Then April happened. Here’s the story: http://geraldhornsby.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/scrivener-now-im-a-believer/
So now, I use Scrivener a lot for longer writing.
But Scrivener is a beast of a programme. It is hugely clever, and has a mass of features. It can be overwhelming for a new user. It was for me, before I simplified things. I now have a stripped-down template which allows me to concentrate on my planning and writing.
This is what it looks like:
There is no data in this Scrivener sheet yet. But you can see that I have 5 folders in my binder, each of which is completely empty.
1. Manuscript. This is where my actual writing will go. I tend to write in scenes – I’ll organise these into chapters later on, but for the moment, it’s easier for me to construct my story as a series of scenes, as in a film.
2. Characters. Here, I list each of my main characters, some short physical description, and character traits. Also, any relationships to other characters are listed here.
3. Places. Locations where my action takes place, with fictitious town and village names, and I list some of the buildings in these places, such as pub and shop names, with some brief descriptions.
4. Research. Any websites I have come across in my research, and reference material goes here.
5. Notes. This is where I put my initial story notes, and also any notes for future changes in the story. Often, I’ll have an idea for a change in the plot, or a new character, and instead of stopping my writing and changing it all around, I’ll just make a note and move on.
6. Trash. This is a Scrivener folder. When you delete any of your scenes, characters, or places, they are not absolutely deleted, but are sent instead to the trash folder within Scrivener. Just In Case!
Conclusions: I like starting a novel with Scrivener looking like this. It’s got the folders I need, and nothing more to get in the way.
Here are some techniques I use when actually writing my NaNo piece.
8. DO NOT DELETE
Ha! Of course you wouldn’t delete some of your magic words. Would you?
Yes. I’ve seen it done (or at least, I’ve been told about it on the forums). Someone deleted several chapters because they didn’t fit in with how the book was developing. Err … hello? This challenge is all about writing words, and is all about the word count at the end of the month. By all means, delete stuff on December 1st. Delete the whole damned novel if you wish. But for now, leave all those nice, and not-so-nice words where they are. You wrote ‘em, you should have ‘em counted.
9. Interact, but not too much
There’s writing, and then there’s writing about writing.
Don’t spend too much time on the forums, or in Facebook groups. The NaNoWriMo forums are a great place to find inspiration, discover great software, ask and answer questions, or just shoot the breeze. It’s lovely to talk to other people who are going through exactly what you are. But do that after you’ve completed your word count for the day. Don’t start by checking the forums, because half an hour (500 words) disappears in a flash. Write first, chat later. This is also a RULE.
There is, as with most rules, an exception. Which is: sprints / word wars / call them what you will. These abound on the forums and in Facebook groups. What will happen is that a number of NaNos will agree to start writing at, say, 20 past the hour for 15 minutes. So, at the agreed time, someone types “go”, and everyone disappears off the forum for the 15 minutes, and comes back and tells everyone how many words they typed. There’s no prizes, there’s no shame, it’s fun. No, really it is. And it really does work to get words into your manuscript.
10. Turn off the internet
This is a bit drastic. But try just closing the browser window for an hour. The world won’t end, the government will still be in power, and the earth will continue to spin while you’re not surfing the web. But it’s amazing just how much difference that simple act can make. As I write this, I have my browser open behind the document, and I can see Facebook updates happening, which is a terrible distraction. Fortunately, I’m loving doing what I’m doing, and I’ve already completed my wordcount for the day.
There are a number of dark screen programmes around, which will make the rest of your desktop disappear whilst you’re typing. Scrivener has this facility too, which I do find actually works. I make it all disappear, write write write, and by the time I come up for air, there’s another 350 words in the document.
We can’t all have writing studios to shut ourselves away, but try and get used to writing with distractions – TV on, kids playing, wife / husband / partner moaning about the lack of food in the house. Try to get used to writing in non-ideal situations.
10a. Back up your data
Oh yes. This is a favourite of mine. And yes, I do know we’ve already had 10 tips. I planned to write 10 tips, but my plans changed as I wrote (see what I did there?)
Please, please, please back up your data. You are going to spend at least (I’m guessing) 50 hours of your valuable time writing. Are you going to trust this cargo of words to that collection of metal, plastic and magnetic whirring disc platters, without having a copy somewhere?
Of course you’re not, because you’re a sensible writer.
Copy your data to yourself in an email, use Dropbox (other online storage options are available), copy the files to a thumb / stick drive, or a USB hard drive. Just do something to make sure that if the worst happens (and don’t forget, it doesn’t have to be a catastrophic failure – some nefarious scroat could come and nick your computer, or someone could inadvertently spill beer / coffee / wine / champagne / perfume / nasty stuff all over it. Back your wonderful words up once a day. That’s right, once per day. Without fail. I shall be checking.
10b. Don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself
And finally, my 10+2th tip (think of it like 20% extra for free), – enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be, at least a little bit, enjoyable. Write what you want to write. Write in first person, third person, second person, fifth person, whatever. Write in rhyming couplets, write without any punctuation, write stories about great fables and legends, about naughty nannies and creepy car mechanics, write about a writer who does this stupid writing challenge every November, write about the birds and the bees, the fruits and the trees, write about nice people, nasty people, friendly people, weird people, mad people, people who all look like Tim Jones, people who talk in stilted form and add a ‘hic’ to the end of every sentence, write about pilots, sailors, astronauts, drug dealers, cops, robbers, cowboys, lathe operators. WRITE WHAT THE HELL YOU LIKE. It’s your novel, it’s your NaNoWriMo, enjoy it
And that’s it! I hope you find these tips useful, and that they help propel you through November and come out at the end with a novel to show everyone!
WRITING DURING NANOWRIMO
4. Get off to a good start
Oh yes. This is probably THE most important tip. Get off to a good start (there, I repeated it for you). Work hard and get that first 2,000 words in on the first day. I know, I know, it’s more than the 1,667 that you need, but believe me, you will want those words in the bank. If you can, write more! Don’t stop.
I have seen the heartbreak posts so many times now. “I’m 1,000 words behind, but I’ll catch up at the weekend”. No you won’t. “I’ve had a slow start, but I reckon I’ll be able to write double tomorrow”. No you won’t. “I’ve not actually started yet, and I know it’s the end of the first week, but things have been so busy for me, and I know I’ll have some time during the second week, so I’ll catch up then”. NO. YOU. WON’T.
You might, though. I would say, 1 in 10, or maybe fewer than that, actually catch up. Writing is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, it withers away and dies. You have to exercise it every day in order to keep it in top trim. So, during all the hype and excitement of November 1st, write 2,000 words. Next day, write 2,000 words. Next day, the same. After that, you’ll breeze through the challenge. Your writing muscle will be fully developed, and it’ll be itching to get working as soon as you open your eyes in the morning.
5. Short bursts
This is a technique I’ve used in the past couple of years. I write in short bursts. Or rather, I develop the ability to write in short bursts. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. Maybe half an hour.
We all have busy lives, and many, many distractions from our writing. Finding that two-hour golden writing time ain’t gonna happen if you work, have families, or friends, or strange habits. How many times have you said: “It’s not worth starting to write now, I’ve only got twenty minutes before …”
Poppycock. I would guess that most people use laptops. Keep your work open, and just put the laptop into sleep or whatever mode it goes into. When the advert breaks come during your favourite, can’t-miss programme, pick up your laptop, and write a bit. When you’re not writing, think about your novel. Plan what you’re going to write next. As soon as you open the computer, start typing. Don’t think, or look up to the ceiling in your best Hemingway pose. Write. I can write 1,000 words an hour. In 5 minutes, I can 80 words. During an evening’s TV watching, I can write half my NaNo words for the day, without finding any writing time, per se.
Or – spend a month not watching your normal soap operas. Two soaps an evening, half an hour each, makes 1,000 words. Over half my daily requirement.
Or – write in your lunch hour. 1,000 words, right there.
Or – get up half an hour early. A third of your words done before everyone else gets up.
Don’t expect to find two hour slots for writing. It ain’t gonna happen.
You might also look up the Pomodoro technique. Here’s a link to get you started: http://pomodorotechnique.com/ It’s doing stuff in short, but prescribed, amounts of time. Makes the task less onerous, and is surprisingly effective. Also, in the NaNoWriMo forums, people have ‘Word Wars’ or something similar. One person will ask “anyone up for a word war?” (other phrases like “word sprints” are sometimes used), and a group of you will write solidly for 10 minutes or half an hour. At the end, you compare amount of words written, no prizes, no boasting, and you’ve added to your word count. Get used to writing in small chunks.
6. Write every day
Don’t take a day off. Don’t think because you’ve worked hard all week, you deserve a day off writing. Writing is fun! Writing is inspiring! Writing might be financially beneficial – how are you going to know unless you write, eh?
If you’re fully engaged with your story, you’ll want to write. If you love your characters, and can’t wait until that next kink in the plotline, you need to keep writing! If you’ve had a really rubbish day, retreat into the make-believe word of your novel. Writing isn’t something you squeeze in when you’ve got nothing else to do. This is one month in a year, when your writing should take priority over many other leisure activities. Say: “I’d love to come to the pub, but I can’t come right away, BECAUSE I’M WRITING!” Say: “I’ll do the washing up in an hour, because right now, I’M WRITING!”
If you write every day, force yourself to put your novel first for a change, then you’ll notice something different by around the 10th day. You will really *want* to write your novel. It will start to rise up the list of “things to do”.
So – write every day. This is not a tip – this is a RULE.
7. Plough through
Yes, I’ve been in those situations. Where your characters are doing nothing, or you’ve done the writing equivalent of painting yourself into a corner, or you’ve got a dead body, but no idea who it is, how they got dead, or who did it.
Plough through. Just keep writing. Don’t put your head in your hands, telling yourself that you suck at writing, telling yourself this was all a stupid idea, telling yourself you’ll never be a writer.
Invent a new character. A space alien with a fine taste in ladies’ shoes. A mean down-and-out who just happens to be your hero’s twin sister. Or father. Or have a building suddenly collapse. Or have lightning strike something important. Or (as I often do), have a character suddenly die on you. Even better, have the main character die. That’ll get the creative juices flowing again. But don’t, whatever you do, stop writing to analyse what you’ve written so far. Plough on through.
Next time – tips 8-10 (plus a couple of extra ones for free)