I Didn’t Win at NaNoWriMo… or Did I?

NaNoWriMo 2016 Participant

Welcome to December 1st and the first day after National Novel Writing Month!

I hope if you participated, you achieved your big WIN and have the euphoric ambition to continue with your novel into December and beyond. Even if you didn’t get a NaNo-defined win, I hope you were able to make some solid forward progress and accomplish some personal goals.

Because that’s what NaNoWriMo is really about as far as I’m concerned–making us into more productive, more consistent, more successful writers.

I haven’t had much success at NaNoWriMo previously. Last year, I created an account, wrote one day, and then fell off the wagon. Then for Camp NaNoWriMo, I got through about half of the month before I burned out and spent the next several months not writing and in a state of self-loathing for not writing.

In October, I made myself join and participate in a few Facebook writing groups, namely Ninja Writers and Your Write Dream. I cannot stress how helpful these two groups were for me to get the kick in the butt I needed to start writing again. So much so that I got the bug to try NaNoWriMo again.

In fact, I wrote a post about it here.

1667 words per day sounded like a good way for me to reach the dreaded burnout followed by self-loathing. So I decided to up my normal word per day goal of 300 to 500. I knew going in this wouldn’t get me to 50,000 by November 30th, and I was okay with that.

I pre-planned. It was a truncated pre-plan, because I made the decision to participate in NaNoWriMo literally less than a week before November 1st. I had a solid idea of the beginning, middle, and ending. I wrote about half of the outline. I bought a new set of pens–I decided to try the Papermate Inkjoy pens and found an 8-pack of assorted colors. I bought a new full-size 5-subject notebook–I decided to write my entire first draft longhand. I bought a new half-size notebook–my standard for note-taking.

On November 1st, I started writing. I wrote every day for 30 days straight. A few days, I only managed a few sentences, but I still added to my word count. I aimed for 500 words per day and accomplished that all but three days. I participated in writing sprints with the Ninja Writers group every Sunday–several times during the day we would write as much as possible for thirty minutes and then report back. They were my most successful writing days in all the time I’ve been writing.

NaNoWriMo Ending

On November 30th, I had over 33,000 and a daily average over twice my goal. It wasn’t 50,000, but that hadn’t been my goal. My goal for November had been to write and write every day.

Goal accomplished.

I may not have won in the definition NaNoWriMo uses, but I feel I won because I made a writing habit and I didn’t burn myself out.

NaNoWriMo Writing Tracker

My goal for December is to continue writing every day and to finish my first draft. I’ll also be working through pre-planning another novel in the Plotting Workshop.

The premise for this novel?

A chivalrous knight has his black and white world turned upside down when his lord and lady are murdered and their daughter disappears.

Between that and writing a book for work (among other projects), I think I’ll have a fairly busy winter.

~ Effy

End Note: I’m not impressed with the Papermate Inkjoy pens. They write nice and even but I don’t think they lasted as long as they should. About 130 pages in and five of the eight are already dead, with two more close behind. Some quick math and I estimate each pen only wrote about 20 pages each.

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It Only Took Me 20 Years

finish-line

My May update is a little bit early, because…

Drumroll please…

I finished the first draft of my novel!

May Flowers Tally

May-Writing Tracking

The numbers:

  • Starting May 1st: 29,773 words
  • Ending May 19th: 41,496 words
  • April Total: 11,723 words
  • Average: 651 words/day

It’s pretty amazing to think that I wrote more words in the first three weeks of May then I did in all of April. But as hard as it was to get to the finish line—it sure seemed to go real, real slow at the end—I was sucked into the story at this point. Similar to when you get near the end of a book you’re reading, I kept at it and I kept coming back. I was able to sit down nearly every night and squeeze a few words out.

The end even took a slightly different turn than I expected it to, which was a pleasant surprise. Though, it will probably mean more editing in the second draft.

What This Means

As crazy as it is to think about, I started writing this novel in middle school. That means this novel is over 20 years in the making! It’s an incredible feeling to be at this point. I’m not finished, but this is the furthest I’ve ever been with anything more than a few thousand words.

To think that I’ve had these characters in my head for that long. To think I got the crazy idea in my head back in January—after months of looking at houses and going through a huge move—to pull out my old, original manuscript (hand-written by a pre-teen) and reread it. To think I started pre-writing with no idea what I was doing with a novel, because I’ve only ever finished short stories. To think I just started writing it in February. To think that now, in May, it’s a start-to-finish piece of writing—rough, but finished.

I’ve gone through a name change of my main character’s magical power—from Magefire to Jadeflare. This came about in large part because of the suggestion of Philip Athans, whose Worldbuilding class I took. He mentioned it seemed a little overused, and though I couldn’t find it used exactly anywhere, I knew it was a good suggestion if it even felt generic.

I’ve spent the last year and a half or so reworking and improving the way my world’s past and present fit together, how magic works, and the magical creatures that roam there.

I’ve worked through the ups and downs of weaving a story that makes sense plot-wise and within the confines of my world’s perimeters—sometimes tearing my hair in frustration and sometimes squeeing in delight at my lightbulb moments.

What Now?

Everywhere I’ve read, it’s been suggested to set aside my manuscript for a few weeks before I start editing it. It is proving very difficult to stay away, I’m very invested in my story at this point, but I’m trying.

This weekend, I wanted to start pre-writing the second book in my series. I quickly realized that it was going to be difficult to pre-write book 2 when I’m not entirely set on how book 1 is going to end up when I’m all said and done. (I still have a lot of editing, including major structural and plot pieces, to do yet.) So I spent some time fiddling with maps and writing down as much as I know so far about books 2, 3, and 4.

If I can at least get down a good idea of what my final plot structure for book 1 will be, I think I can feel more confident about starting book 2.

I’ve thought about working on some short stories or other little ideas I have, but I can’t seem to pull myself away from Jadeflare. As much as I want to put together an ebook of short stories, origin stories, and dragons, I can’t seem to pull myself out of Lakeerae’s head.

So I guess I’m stuck, and you’re all stuck with me talking about my process some more. 🙂

~ Effy

April Showers Writing Update

writing-goal-success-april

I decided to continue on the heels of March’s success and continue to aim for 300 words per day in April.

The Tally

First the numbers:

  • Starting April 1st: 18,770 words
  • Ending April 30th: 29,773 words
  • April Total: 11,003 words
  • Average: 367 words/day

The numbers are pretty close to March’s, but that’s only because the beginning of April went great. The second week of April, I had my best writing week, over 4500 words, averaging more than twice my goal, 654 words/day.

Then, for almost two weeks, I found myself gripped tightly in the claws of the dreaded writer’s block. Writer’s block wasn’t the only issue either. It was a maddening combination of being tired, not feeling good, and lacking motivation. I have to wonder if it was also partly because I’d been pushing myself so hard and had written so much the week before. Or maybe it’s just because I’m getting so close to completing my first draft.

I tried to combat my writer’s block with other forms of self-motivation: reading, drawing maps, and playing with typography and calligraphy pens. In the end, the only thing that really worked was forcing myself to sit down and write.

Trying Out Scrivener

Early in the month, I decided to give in to writer peer pressure and try out Scrivener. I moved over fifteen or so chapters, including my notes, just those attached to specific scenes and lines and words that had been scattered throughout the Google Doc I was writing in originally.

I’m not completely sold yet, because I’m far too fond of having all my documents available in Google Drive for easy access from anywhere—work, my phone, my tablet. I’m the queen of multiple tabs, and I usually have two instances of Chrome (with my two Google accounts) open, both with 5+ tabs. So I only have my actual novel and its in-document notes in Scrivener.

However, if Scrivener makes it easier to turn my novel into an ebook, it will all be worth it.

Nearing the Finish Line

I surpassed 30k words, and I estimate I’m about 80% of the way through my first draft for Book 1. This worries me to a point, because it means my story will need some serious beefing up to make the epic fantasy goal of 90k+ words. Luckily, I found an article that helped me feel a little bit better about this, and it has fueled me with some ideas of what I can do to lengthen it already.

Now, the difficult part has become pushing myself forward to complete the first draft before I start editing what’s already there. I think this is slowing me down from getting to the finish line, as my notebook fills with these many little ideas.

In fact, brainstorming to finish book 1 led to trying to better flesh out books 2 and 3, which led to changing my mind about the titles for all three books, which led to changing how I originally thought book 1 would end, which led to changing this from a trilogy to a four book series. All of this is leading to more edits once I finish the first draft of book 1.

All good changes, changes that excite me because I know they’ll make the whole story more coherent and stronger, but still frustrate me because I keep feeling I’m slowing myself down. I really can’t fault ideas that will make it better in the long run though.

Closing Out April

I’ve had some stumbling points, but I met my goals for April.

I think May might be the month that I finish my first draft, if I can keep up my 300 words per day. I hope for that to be the update I give in a few more weeks.

~ Effy

March Madness Writing Update

writing-goal-success

My goal at the beginning of March was 300 words per day on my novel. Despite missing writing completely a few days and not reaching my goals on some others, I still surpassed my goal with the help of the writing I did on the weekends.

The Tally

033116-Writing Tracker

So here are the numbers:

  • Before March 1st: 7505 words
  • Ending March 31st: 18,770 words
  • March total: 11,265 words
  • Average: 376 words/day

Hooray!

So to continue this great success, my goal is to continue my average of 300 words per day through April.

Improving My Efficiency

Late in March, I started tracking my words per hour. I realized that when I write in the living room, which usually means the TV is on in the background, I average about 300 words/hour. I manage about twice that if I “hide” in the bedroom to write, or anytime I’m only listening music instead of the TV.

I’m even more productive on the weekend. Is this because it’s first thing in the morning? Cuz I’m by myself? Cuz I’m not still focused on the work day and how exhausted I am? Or does it all come down to the distractions while I write? I think I’m far more productive to music than having the TV on, which isn’t that surprising.

I started tracking these extra things because of a great book I’m reading right now: 2,000 to 10,000 by Rachel Aaron. Her suggestions for increasing words are threefold:

  1. Knowledge: I’ve been spending 5+ minutes when I first sit down writing about what I’m going to write about. This both gets me into my writing mood and gives me a general skeleton of the upcoming scene.
  2. Time: I’ve been tracking my writing time on a spreadsheet—expanding this to include start time, end time, words, where I wrote, etc.
  3. Enthusiasm: I’ve been trying to get excited about what I’m writing—each and every scene needs to be exciting, because if I’m not excited, readers won’t be either.

When I’m not writing, I’ve been brainstorming in my notebook and reading whatever I can find on pre-writing, scheduling writing time, and maximizing my writing time. I recently read Writing Scary Scenes by Rayne Hall. It had some great suggestions for increasing tension, helpful to my novel because I’m leaning toward making it more of a dark fantasy blended with epic/high fantasy. I also found interesting article called Three Things to Do Before Before You Write a Book. It had some good information and led to an idea I’m still working at incorporating into my novel’s growing collection of documents—the Snowflake Method’s scene spreadsheet. I combined this with a suggestion about scenes from 2,000 to 10,000:

  • Break action down into scenes
  • Group the scenes into chapters
  • Make sure chapter breaks increase dramatic tense

Organizing My Writing

Currently, I’m doing all my writing on my Google Drive. I find it to be the best place to keep all of my writing and documents easily accessible from anywhere—be it my computer or my phone, home or work. It also allows me to write in a “no distractions” mode: CTRL+SHIFT+F to compact the doc controls and F11 to put my computer into Fullscreen mode.

I tend to over organize and I’m very particular. So my novel isn’t the only document I’m using. I have notes and spreadsheets galore:

  1. Novel doc
    • Confession: This is probably going to sound odd and even silly, but I realized that I write better on my novel with a page format that more closely resembles an actual mass media sized paperback page. On the Google Drive docs, I found a page size called “Statement” that is 5.5” x 8.5” and works perfect, rather than the standard 8.5” x 11”. It throws off my page counts and average words per page, but it seems to work better for me visually. I swear my word counts have improved since I did this.
  2. Dadreon World Notes doc
    • Jadeflare isn’t my only work in my fantasy world of Dadreon, and it’s a fantasy world I’ve been building since middle school. In recent years, it’s taken on more dimension and has started fitting together better. This doc includes gods, elements and magic, races and monsters, history, setting, etc.
  3. Theme & Outline doc
    • Part of my pre-writing, this doc includes my theme sentence, thematic words, genre info, target length, and a basic chapter outline.
  4. Scene List spreadsheet
    • This spreadsheet consists of one line for each scene, including scene number, chapter number, PoV, description, and estimated pages.
  5. Story Bible doc
    • This doc worked awesome for getting me started. It helped me ask questions that I would have missed. But now it seems too complicated to refer to regularly, and I’ve been mostly using the Theme & Outline and Scene List.
  6. Writing Tracker spreadsheet
    • This spreadsheet consists of one line for each day, including day of the week, date, start and end time, hours, writing location, words written, words/hour, writing project, and novel total.
  7. Paper Maps
    • I love maps. I love drawing maps. This is probably one of my favorite parts of worldbuilding. No, I don’t draw them in Google Drive, but I’ve started saving the majority of my files here too.
  8. Paper Sketches
    • Whenever I have an idea, I sketch it into my notebook. Sometimes it turns into a color drawing that ends up on the Google Drive.
  9. Pinterest board for Jadeflare
    • I recently read a great idea for organizing thoughts and themes—Pinterest. I wish I could remember where I got this great idea, because I’d love to give her the credit she deserves. I’ve had a Pinterest account for a while now, but this really gave me a great reason to use it. This is a collection of images that relate to my characters, settings, and plot and give me a nice visual reference.

Closing Out March

My birthday month was hugely successful. I’m making great progress in my novel. In fact, Saturday, I hit 20k words!

I think a combination of improving my writing habits and focusing on writing without constantly editing is really helping my progress. If I can stay focused on these things, I think this novel will actually get written!

Expect more updates from me soon.

~ Effy