NaNoWriMo 2018 Diary | Post-Mortem

Writing

It’s been a week since NaNoWriMo ended, and I haven’t looked at—haven’t even thought about—my draft since then.

That’s a good thing.

I’m not abandoning the story. I’m going to get back to work on it first thing Monday morning. But I needed a break, needed to get myself out of the weird headspace that the end of the month (or the entire month) had put me in. If I’d tried to start writing again before I’d had a chance to recover, the story would have suffered. It wouldn’t even matter if it was any good (even for a first draft), I wouldn’t have been able to separate the story from the stress of writing it, and I probably would’ve wound up hating it.

This break was absolutely necessary, even if it’s left me feeling a bit adrift all week.

And it’s given me a chance to look at my experience of NaNo objectively, and really think about what it taught me this year.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Winner Header

NaNoWriMo 2018 Diary | Week 5

Writing

I was this close to giving up on NaNo yesterday.

I had just under six thousand words to go. No problem: I had two days, and I’ve been hitting over 3000 words/day for the past week.

… and then the power went out. Just as I was sitting down to start my first (and generally best) writing session of the day. The power company was estimating four p.m. before service was restored. That sort of thing is pretty much par for the course for me this month, but like I said last week: I was going to finish this thing. Connected the keyboard to the iPad, and got to work.

After an hour, I was pretty sure this whole thing was going to be a bust. The story’s been fighting me all month; I’ve spent more time figuring out how to make it work than I have writing, even though I started with a solid outline. All this work has been worth it (when I go back and make the changes I’m already planning, it’s going to be kind of amazing), but ugh. And the app I was using yesterday doesn’t have a word count, so I had no way of knowing how close I was to my target.

(By the way… I’ve asked this before, but since I’m still looking, I’ll put it out there again: if anyone knows of a good Dropbox-compatible text editor for iOS that doesn’t choke on novel-length files, I’d love to hear about it. Bonus points if it’s attractive and pleasant to use.)

Anyway, yeah: I got a solid hour in before I had to admit defeat. The power was out for another three hours, and that was more than enough time for me to start feeling like… this just wasn’t going to work. I didn’t know what was going to be worse: giving up with the finish line in sight, or making myself miserable trying to reach the finish line. (On the bright side: it wasn’t out all day! Or not quite.)

When I finally got everything synced up… it turns out that hour was one of my better ones this month: just shy of two thousand words.

This is all just a long-winded way of saying ugh, this month and this story. And that I’m exhausted, and I need to not think about this story—or writing at all—for a couple days.

And also: I did it.

I’ll be back with a more clear-eyed look at how the month went next Friday, and a full post-mortem of the draft… whenever I actually finish the thing. (Probably February or March.)

NaNoWriMo 2018 Diary | Week 4

Writing

The other day, Terry Rossio tweeted something, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since:

(If you’re on a reader that doesn’t show embedded tweets, here it is for posterity: “The key to writing productivity, maybe, is determine how many words can you do without feeling burned out? Better to do 200 words every day that seem easy, rather than 2000 words and need to recover, because you might not recover.”)

[EDIT: The day I posted this, Rossio went on to say some incredibly offensive and irresponsible things, also on Twitter. So: half-decent writer, but ignore everything else he has to say.]

That is the problem I’m having with NaNo this year, and the reason I’m thinking about maybe not doing it again next year: I’ve been writing at a pace that just isn’t sustainable for me. If I’d been able (or willing) to write every. single. day, I’d be fine, but… I can’t sustain that, either. I seem to be at my best writing around 2 hours or 2000 words a day—whichever comes first—and writing 4-5 days a week. More than that, and I start to risk burnout, and I don’t want to go down that road again.

If circumstances were perfect, 2000 words/5 days a week is enough to survive NaNo. They just haven’t been perfect this year. This is a me thing, rather than a NaNo thing. I’ve committed, so I will do everything in my power to see it through—even if it means pushing myself too hard, even though there are literally no consequences to not hitting 50,000 words.

There’s a week left. Do I take the loss?

I’ll push through. Looking at my previous graphs, I’m almost exactly where I was last year, and I survived that. I’ll try to get some writing done over the weekend—even a few hundred words will ease the pressure next week. And I won’t say for sure that this is my last year doing NaNo, but… it might be. I’ll see how I feel about it next year.

… and you’re probably wondering how the actual story is going, too. Right.

So far, I’m really happy with it. I’ve been trying to make this particular story work since my first (recent) attempt at NaNo in 2016, and for the first time… I think I’m on the right track.

I did hit my first real snag this week: my ensemble cast has to be in the same place at the same time very soon, but I’m having a hard time actually making it happen. I know what the problem is—I didn’t spend enough time building up why they need to go, and some of my cast aren’t well enough developed yet—but right now it just feels like the characters would rather just sit around in their separate groups and talk about how awful everything is.

Anyway! I’m doing what any good NaNo-er would do: making a note in the text to fix it later, and skipping straight to the good part. There will be death and destruction. Probably not an explosion, but I’m tempted to see if I can fit one in. Either way, it’ll be fun to write.

That should be enough to shake me out of this funk and push me through the next week.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Diary | Week 3

Writing

So. I’m still about 4000 words below where I ‘should’ be with this story.

But considering my slow start to the month, and the fact that I’ve been taking weekends off, that’s not terrible. I’ve been averaging about 2500 words a day; if I added one more short writing session every day, I could push that up to 3000 with no difficulty, and still only have to write Monday through Friday.

I’d rather not. I’d rather keep going the way I have been, and I do have a few things I’d like to do with my time besides write, but I could.

We’ll see. 

Anyway. I’ve been thinking a lot about NaNo this past week, and my relationship with it.

I love it. I always have, and it’s had a profound impact on my writing—especially these past few years. Since 2016, NaNoWriMo has helped me start writing again, helped me find real writing friends for the first time ever, and taught me a lot about who I am as a writer. The public commitment and clear deadline are turning out to be essential to actually, you know, finishing a story.

But at the same time… I’m not sure it fits anymore. I feel like it places too much emphasis on churning out a first draft, quantity over quality, et cetera, and… I don’t think that works for me right now. I don’t like how much time I’ve spent thinking about my word count, when I could have been focussed on crafting my story. It’s not that the story isn’t working right now—I’m definitely on the right track—but there are parts of it that aren’t as solid as they could be, even in a first draft, and I’m just leaving them as they are because I’m so focussed on the word count graph. And that’s just going to mean more work later.

I’ve gone through this before. I stopped doing NaNo entirely sometime around 2007, because it didn’t fit with the writing routine I’d built. It turned out to be the right decision (even if that routine I’d built wasn’t sustainable). 

I’m not in that exact place now; it might just be that things aren’t quite clicking for me this year. (And I really do love the whole ‘deadline’ thing!) But I’m thinking about it.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep going. 

NaNoWriMo 2018 Diary | Week 2

Writing

… and I’m back on track!

I mean, I’m still behind the ‘official’ target for NaNo—after that one terrible day last week, I wound up taking the weekend off entirely—but the last five days have been really good. I’ve been meeting my personal goals, and today I closed out the first act.

So far, the story seems to be working. There are a couple of scenes that I already know are going to need a lot of work in revisions (it’s not that they’re bad, they just don’t quite feel like they’ve been earned), and I’m a little worried that my pacing is off, but I’ll deal with that later. (It might not even be an issue. The pacing always feels distorted during the writing process, when it sometimes feels like a scene drags on for days, because that’s how long it’s taken to get it on the page. I won’t know for sure how it reads until it’s done.)

Next week… will probably be ok. Not great. I’m probably not going to be able to get much writing done over the long weekend, which means I definitely won’t be catching up to the targets anytime soon, but I won’t fall much further behind. And, assuming the rest of my writing days go as smoothly as this week (which they should… my outline seems solid enough to carry me through), I’m still hopeful about the rest of the month.

NaNoWriMo - 1 Day Streak Badge

NaNoWriMo 2018 Diary | Week 1

Writing

NaNoWriMo - 1 Day Streak Badge So… this hasn’t been the best week.

They were supposed to test the fire alarms in my building on Monday, which meant that I couldn’t try to sleep off the cold that was dragging me down. (The last thing I needed when I was running a bit of a fever was to wake up to a fire alarm.)

They didn’t test the alarms on Monday.

I did manage to get some rest on Tuesday, and by Wednesday night I was finally feeling like I might be past the worst of my cold.

The first day of NaNoWriMo was good! The writing took a little longer than I’d hoped, but exactly as long as I’d planned, and everything was working beautifully.

This morning, of course, they’ve been testing the fire alarms. Except they’ve been really unclear on the actual schedule, so I’ve got to be prepared for the fire alarm to go off at random times throughout the day. And they forgot to tell the fire department about the tests being moved from Monday, so… there was a fire truck, too. Lights and everything. (I’ve got a love/hate relationship with the NaNo streak badges right now.)

This hasn’t been a very good writing day.

I got a few hundred words in. I’m going to try to get a few hundred more in at some point today, but I’m really not feeling it. I’m not even sure if they’ve finished the tests—the truck from the alarm company is still outside, and I won’t know for sure until it leaves.

Still. A few bad days won’t derail the month, and everything should be back to normal by tomorrow. (Except for the work they’re doing on the balconies.)

NaNoWriMo 2018 Diary | Prep Week 4

Writing

There’s a little less than a week left before NaNo officially starts, and I’m feeling really good about my story.

If you’re just tuning in, I’m rebelling this year. I’m still aiming for 50,000 words during November, and I’m not counting the words I write before then (obviously), but this year it was much more important that I strike while the iron was hot and start writing my story as soon as I was ready.

That turned out to be Tuesday.

So far, I’m thrilled with the story. The writing itself is still a bit slow—I’m always a bit slow until I find the rhythm—but I’m just about finished the opening scene. And that scene is completely different from the one I’d originally planned, but it’s also a million times better: it’s darker, more atmospheric, and my main character has an unexpected sassy streak that she didn’t demonstrate in either of my previous attempts to write this story. (I also expect it’ll impact this draft in ways I’m not expecting, which should be fun.)

That said, I haven’t made as much progress with my advance writing as I’d hoped. Working out those details, the ones that improved my opening scene so much, took time, and I haven’t had much opportunity to write this week. But that’s fine—this is bonus time, anyway, and it still means I’m not starting November trying to overcome the inertia of starting a draft. And I know that, if I’d waited until next week, I would have just barrelled through, and written the opening scene as I’d originally outlined, and it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good as it is now. (And I’m not sure I ever would’ve hit on this particular scene, even in rewrites.)

So. About five days to go.

I still haven’t written my synopsis, and I’d like to get that done before I get too far into the story—I mentioned it last year, but it really is remarkable how much that one little step clarified the story for me. I’ve got vague plans to make some kind of moodboard for the story, just as an experiment (usually I just throw things on a private Pinterest board that I never look at again. I’d like to see if having something that’s both more concentrated and more tangible helps).

And, of course, I want to find the flow of the writing itself. That’s the important bit.

How is your NaNo prep going? Are you ready for next week? (And… have you ever made a moodboard/aesthetic for a story? If you have any advice, I’d love to hear it. I have no idea what I’m doing.)

(Don’t forget: I’m always looking for writing buddies! Feel free to add me, and, if you’d like, say ‘hi!’ via NaNo mail. I’m usually available for motivation or commiseration.)

NaNoWriMo 2018 Diary | Prep Week 3

Writing

The plan was to start writing this week.

That… didn’t happen.

I did finish the character work I had planned; I know who the core group of characters are, and what roles they play in the story. In theory, I could have started writing on Thursday… and I sat down to do just that, but then I realized that I was missing a massive part of my opening scene. It’s not exactly the inciting incident (though I’m not a fan of that term), but it is the thing that triggers that incident.

If that makes any sense.

Anyway, I started brainstorming that thing, which turned into brainstorming some of the backstory that I hadn’t quite figured out yet (specifically, the reason why one of my characters decides to do a thing, even though she knows that it’s going to put her and everyone she cares about in danger). And that very nearly led to revising the entire timeline of the story, but then certain important details (like most of my secondary characters) didn’t make any sense, and… yeah.

I didn’t start writing this week.

However. I did figure out that tricky bit of backstory, in a way that doesn’t break the rest of the story. I figured out how to make the timeline work. And I’ve started to figure out the thing that kicks off the story. I’m not quite there yet, but… I’ve got enough. Not enough to start writing, but enough that, if I let it simmer over the weekend, I should know what’s going on come Monday.

Hopefully.

(Don’t forget: I’m always looking for writing buddies! Feel free to add me, and, if you’d like, say ‘hi!’ via NaNo mail. I’m usually available for motivation or commiseration.)

NaNoWriMo 2018 Diary | Prep Week 2

Writing

(Two updates in one week! Madness! Technically, Monday’s update was for last week. From here out, my NaNo updates will happen on Fridays.)

Over the past few days, “almost definitely” has turned into “definitely”—I’m going to be working on Violet Lane this November. I’m not going to wait until the first of the month to start writing, but I am going to aim for 50,000 words during NaNo itself.

My prepwork is moving along nicely again. I’ve spent this week on character work, figuring out exactly who these people are and why they exist in the story. It’s been incredibly helpful; developing original characters with unique voices has always been a challenge for me, and it’s only something I really started to feel confident about when I was preparing for last year’s NaNo. (Which means, of course, that I had no idea what I was doing the first time I tried writing this particular group of people.)

And it’s especially important in this story. It’s an ensemble piece, with multiple POV characters, one of whom is… let’s call her ‘unreliable,’ to be polite. I need to know who these people are, and I need to know them well.

In retrospect, that’s why the first two attempts at telling this story didn’t quite work. In both cases, I knew the plot, and I knew my main character, but the rest of it—all the other characters, the world—was a mystery. And so, the first time, I wound up with a finished draft that was… ok, but it needed far too much work to turn it into something good. The second time, I barely made it through the first chapter before I realized it wasn’t working.

This time, I know the plot. I know my main character. I know what everyone’s trying to accomplish. Hell, I know the theme, and that’s not something I bother with in a first draft, ever.

I still have a few characters to flesh out (like I said: ensemble), but I’m getting there. If everything goes according to plan, I should be able to start writing by the end of next week.

(Don’t forget: I’m always looking for writing buddies! Feel free to add me, and, if you’d like, say ‘hi!’ via NaNo mail. I’m usually available for motivation or commiseration.)

NaNoWriMo 2018 Writer

NaNoWriMo 2018 Diary | Prep Week 1

Writing

I know we’re only a week in, but it feels like October is halfway over already. In the last few days, I’ve gone from feeling like NaNoWriMo is still an abstract concept, something happening sometime in the future, to freaking out because NaNoWriMo is right around the corner.

I might be freaking out, but the timing is actually really good. I’ve spent the last few months revising and outlining, and I’m getting a bit desperate to get back to writing. I’m feeling motivated, and, with the 2018 reboot, I’m intentionally trying to get my creative life in order. (And I find it so much easier to structure my writing time when I’m sitting down and writing, rather than working on edits or outlines.)

So that’s good.

It just leaves the question of what I’m going to work on.