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.

Snapshot #115 | 10 Things for 2 December 2018

Personal

Currently…

1. surviving… NaNoWriMo. (I’m tempted to just leave that as the entire post. That’s it. That’s all I did the past two weeks.)
2. making… my plans for 2019. (And December, to be honest—after I’ve had a couple of days to recover, it’s full steam ahead.)
3. missing… the dachshund that lived downstairs. She’s an absolute delight, but she and her person moved out this week, so now I won’t get to see what colour coat she’s wearing on her walks every day. (My favourite is the dapper green one.)
4. enduring… construction and power outages and terrible weather.
5. looking… forward to things getting back to normal. Or sort of normal. For a couple of weeks?
6. craving… coffee. (I mean… I’ve been drinking coffee. Obviously. But I just want to sit in a coffee shop and relax for a while.)
7. going… a bit overboard with Christmas prep. Still not decorating until the 15th, but… I may have bought some stuff.
8. feeling… tired.
9. collecting… enamel pins. It’s becoming a bit of an obsession.
10. wishing… the cat would stop waking me up at 4:30 in the morning. She still hasn’t quite adjusted to the time change.

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.

The 2018 Reboot | Week 11 Check-In

Personal, Productivity

I fell into a bit of a trap this week. It’s a familiar one for me, one I seem to stumble into every time I want to make a big change, whether it’s with writing, or photography, or getting organized, or (this time) setting goals.

I start to think that other people have the answers, and that if I just read enough books or articles or blog posts, I’ll eventually stumble onto the right one, the one that brings everything into focus.

It never happens.

Don’t get me wrong: advice is good. Learning from those who’ve gone before? Awesome. And if I’m dealing with a specific technical issue, like how to edit infrared photos or how to incorporate backstory in a way that doesn’t drag a story down… the research is worth it. But in general? There’s too much noise, too much useless information to wade through. (And, because it’s the internet, let’s be honest: too many people who call themselves experts without bringing any new insights.)

I don’t need to read another article on S.M.A.R.T. goals, or whether it’s more valuable to build habits than to set goals.

I just need to do the work and find my own path. I’ll get there eventually.

Frosted Window photo by Reghan Skerry

Snapshot #114 | 10 Things for 18 November 2018

Personal

Currently…

1. grumbling… about the cold and the snow. Actual snow. It’s too early.
2. reminding… myself that I spent most of NaNoWriMo behind ‘par’ last year, and I still did just fine in the end.
3. resisting… the temptation to blow my savings on a medium-format camera. (A friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend is selling their old kit. If I was willing to spend that much money on myself this close to Christmas….)
4. testing… a few things.
5. finalizing… my holiday baking plans. I’m scaling things back this year. (I mean it this time! Though I do think there’s going to be a batch of non-Christmas cookies sometime soon, too….)
6. running… just a little bit behind, with pretty much everything.
7. accepting… that it’s time to cut my hair. I keep trying to grow it out, but my frustration always outweighs my desire for a cute messy bun.
8. trying… to decide whether I love or hate the new WordPress.com post editor. Could go either way right now.
9. mourning… William Goldman and Stan Lee. This hasn’t been a great week.
10. remembering… my obsession with taking photos of frosted-over windows.

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.

Snapshot #113 | 10 Things for 4 November 2018

Personal

Currently…

1. starting… to panic. I haven’t settled on any of my Christmas baking plans. (Actually, I’m panicking a little bit at how close the holidays are in general.)
2. feeling… feverish. The most recent cold was very brief, but intense.
3. debating… the merits of various notebooks.
4. making… apple pie. And remembering why I don’t make fruit pies very often (they stress me out). It’s not pretty, but it tastes good.
5. craving… silence.
6. reminding… myself that I can still hit 50,000 words for NaNo, even though I’ve only had one good writing day so far.
7. enduring… construction on my building and fire alarm tests.
8. getting… annoyed with Pinterest again. It’s a cycle.
9. looking… forward to a normal week.
10. buying… post-its and highlighters. (So many post-its and highlighters!)

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.)