NaNoWriMo Day 26: Happy Thanksgiving, and Victory!

A couple days ago I crossed the 50,000-word threshold for NaNoWriMo– yay! Tonight, after reaching 52,336 words, I uploaded my story to their word count program, and my progress bar on the NaNoWriMo site turned purple, so it’s official. I even got the nifty web badge for my blog. (Okay, so it’s not exactly riches, fame, and women throwing themselves at my feet, but hey, it’s a start.)

But it’s also very much a case of “you’ve won the battle, not the war.” The other goal of NaNoWriMo, to finish a draft of a novel, is far from done, and won’t be done until well after the tail end of November has passed by. I’m thinking the first draft will be somewhere between 100,000-150,000 words, probably more toward the large end of that estimate. I might be done with the first draft by the end of the year, but it’s a pretty big “might.”

This story is already the longest single work of fiction I’ve ever written. I wrote a couple pieces of fanfiction over the course of a year or two in college that are almost as long; now, in less than a month, I’ve written an original story that’s even longer. Before this, I wasn’t totally sure I had it in me. So just for that alone, NaNoWriMo has been great. But soon I won’t have NaNoWriMo to motivate me, just a desire to see this story through to the end, and to improve my writing skills as I do so.

I can sort of divide the overall structure of the plot into 6 parts. My goal is to be done with the first 2 parts (plus a 5,000-word prologue) by the end of this month, which looks pretty feasible, particularly with a long weekend here. Then I may take some time to edit that, and make sure I’m comfortable with how the story is shaping up before I embark on doing the rest. I don’t want to pause too long… it would be too easy to lose momentum, so even while I’m editing I’ll still probably try to keep up a 1,000 word a day pace for writing new stuff. In fact, that’s my long-term goal– to sustain 1,000 words of new material a day on whatever project(s) I happen to be working on at the time.

Come December, I’m also going to be re-submitting rejected short stories to other magazines (something I’ve neglected during NaNoWriMo), and also picking up work on the blog. So it’s gonna be busy. But NaNoWriMo has energized me, and I’m looking forward to it.

And, oh yeah, I almost forgot– Happy Turkey Day!

NaNoWriMo Day 17: Distractions

Internet surfing is by far my biggest distraction when I write. Whenever I get stuck, it’s really easy to pop open the ol’ web browser, go to Facebook or, and fart around for a little while until inspiration comes, or until I finally just flip back to the ol’ novel and try again. Unfortunately, inspiration rarely comes while I’m surfing the web, and once I’ve gotten in a habit of letting myself get distracted, it’s hard to stop. At times I feel like I have attention-deficit disorder. Darn you, Internet and TV for making me so oooh, what’s that, it’s shiny!


Oh yeah, I was writing a blog post. Moving on…

I’ve come up with a few tricks for avoiding distraction. The first is pretty basic: switch off the wireless Internet on my laptop. Unfortunately, the switch is really obvious and easy to flip, so that often doesn’t last. I could unplug the cable modem, but that feels a little over-the-top, so I’ve avoided it. Besides, I’d probably just end up plugging it back in.

Then, on Sunday this weekend, I found myself at 34,000 words with a goal to get to 40,000 by the end of the weekend. At the pace I had been setting, that 6,000 words could easily take me 10-12 hours, and I knew I didn’t have that much time. The only way I would make it would be to somehow avoid distraction for an entire 6,000 words (about 20 pages of double-spaced manuscript).

I found a trick that worked for me: when I hit a rough spot in my writing, or somewhere where I have to think about what comes next, which is usually where I get distracted, I clasp my hands together tightly and rest them on my elbows. It looks sort of like praying, but actually it’s me not letting myself touch the computer until I know what I’m writing next. Usually it only takes me thirty seconds, a couple minutes at most, then I’m on my way again. By writing like this, I was able to hit 6,000 words with only about 5 hours of dedicated writing time on Sunday. Earlier this evening I wrote 2,500 words in about 2 and a half hours. That’s a much better pace…. 1000 words in an hour instead of the 500 I was averaging. Now I just have to see if I can keep it up.

The last few thousand words have been pretty good, too (and believe me, I’m not just saying that– there’s stuff I’ve written this month that’s been total crap and will almost certainly get scrapped and rewritten in December). Then again, maybe I’ve just reached a part of the novel that interests me more. Next time I get to write a scene with my main character kicking ass, so I’m looking forward to that.

If I keep up my current pace, I should hit the magic 50K on the evening of Thursday the 19th. The story will be far from done by then, so I’ll keep writing… time will tell if I actually finish it by the end of the month.

NaNoWriMo Day 12: On Outlines and First Drafts

Last night I passed the 30,000 word mark. With November less than half over, I’m making pretty good progress.

Still, that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. My general goal has been to do 2500 words a day, and sometimes the words come easy, sometimes they don’t. I realize now that I actually didn’t outline nearly as much as I could have (or should have) for a story of the genre and the scope I’m trying to tell. In addition to having to keep the characters straight in my head, and guide the plot to make sure it goes in the general direction I want it to go, I’m also having to make up all the setting details as I go, and I quickly realized how much research I didn’t do.

For example: the first third of the book takes place in a fictional Emperor’s Court with an Eastern Asian motif (similar to the Japanese emperor’s court of feudal times). I knew that, and I knew generally how I wanted their time at court to go, but I didn’t think at all about the hundreds of little details that would also be needed: what they would wear, what the characters’ roles would be (I knew they would be servants, but didn’t think much beyond that), what kind of activities would take up their daily lives, what meetings and social events would be like, what the customs would be, what their living quarters would look like, so on and so forth ad nauseum. For the sake of NaNoWriMo, I’ve been winging it as far as filling in all the little setting details, but in December, once the rough draft is done, I’m going to have to go back and make sure all these details feel like they’re part of the same culture, and that the culture makes sense and “feels” real. Sure, it’s fantasy, and I have a huge amount of freedom in making things up, but if it doesn’t feel real to the reader, or if details conflict with each other, then it’s going to snap them out of the story and they’ll probably put the book down.

This is something I’ve been running into with pretty much every scene, and I’m having enough trouble just getting the character voices to sound right and getting the plot to go where I want it to. So my goal in this draft, I’ve decided, is to primarily focus on two things: character voices and plot framework. If I can do that, then I can go back in future drafts and improve the flow of the writing, get the setting details right, make sure the scenes are in the right order from a storytelling perspective, and a million other little things. I just have to get through this draft of the story first, and remind myself that it’s okay if some of it sucks, if I can just get a few things right.

In a previous blog entry I quoted Kevin J. Anderson for inspiration. Today’s inspirational (albeit somewhat more crass) writing quote comes from the great Ernest Hemingway, who said:

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

Or, to phrase it a little less crassly, you can revise a bad draft into a good draft. You can’t revise a blank page into anything but a blank page. Just gotta keep reminding myself of that.

NaNoWriMo Day 5: The Ups and Downs of Writing

Well, if the word count widget on the sidebar were working, it would show 13,173, over a quarter of the way to the 50,000 word goal of NaNoWriMo. The downside is, my story is nowhere near a quarter of the way done.

To be honest, I don’t really consider that a downside. I’m writing an epic fantasy, after all, and 50,000 words would be pretty short for this genre. Will I finish the whole story by the end of the month? I don’t know, but overall I’m very pleased with my progress.

My third evening of writing was bogged down with what I’m going to start calling the “Chapter 2 Blues.” I’ve encountered this on almost every multi-chapter story I’ve ever written. I write a really strong, cool intro, and then when it’s time for Chapter 2, I hit a serious case of writer’s block, like I just can’t figure out how to progress from the exciting intro of Chapter 1 into the more serious plot-advancing work of Chapter 2. Not that Chapter 1 doesn’t advance the plot; it certainly does, but since it’s the beginning, you naturally have a lot of freedom in deciding where and how you want to start. Chapter 2, on the other hand, you pretty much have to pick up where Chapter 1 left off. For some reason that’s always been difficult for me.

Nevertheless, on Day 3 I managed to power through the Chapter 2 Blues (although to make my word count goal, I had to switch to writing a separate scene that I had originally planned to leave out). On Day 4, the writing flowed much better, and I hit my word count goal in about three hours, rather than the five that Day 3 took me. (It didn’t help that on Day 3 I was also distracted by election news coverage.)

So four days gone, over a quarter of the way toward the 50,000 word goal, and well into Chapter 3. Things are definitely looking good.

Oh, and have a Happy Guy Fawkes Night. Remember, remember, the Fifth of November…

NaNoWriMo Day 3: So Far, So Good

After two days of writing (this post is only titled “Day 3” because I’m posting at 1:30 am), I stand at 7,557 words. There should be a widget on the right sidebar showing a little graph with my progress, but the NaNoWriMo server is apparently so busy that it’s not loading widgets. Oh well.

My first day was my most prolific. On Sunday, I started writing at noon and finished at about 1 am with a hair over 5,000 words. There were various distractions in there, like going to the gym and to Mom’s house for dinner, but by and large, it was writing. (Only one other time in my life have I been that prolific in a single day, and that was when I was writing Ranma 1/2 fanfiction, so it doesn’t really count.)

Today I started writing around 10 pm and finished after about 3 hours with my word count at 7,557. The words are not coming easy: by and large I type a paragraph or two at a time, get distracted, then five or ten minutes later come back and type another paragraph or two. Each paragraph is about 100 words, so all I have to do is repeat this cycle of distraction a couple dozen times and by then I’m sitting at 2500 words for the day, which is my own personal goal.

Maybe my own example is a little extreme, but by and large, this is a theme I hear from professional writers, at cons, in books, and on podcasts: sure, you occasionally get those organic moments where the story just flows out of you, but mostly, it’s staring at the computer screen and bleeding from your forehead. In cases where that happens to me, I wipe up the blood and remember what Kevin J. Anderson said during a panel at Dragon*Con:

If your muse doesn’t show up, start without her.

I should print that out and tape it to my wall, particularly during this month, where word count reigns supreme.

This does, of course, mean, that chunks of the novel will probably not be all that good, but that’s why it’s a first draft. I can always go back and revise in December. For now, though, I just have to keep writing. Get 50,000 words to win for NaNoWriMo, and get a reasonable first draft of a novel to win for myself.

So far, so good.


Because I’m a total geek, and also because it was an easy costume, for Halloween I went as my favorite author:

Anyone got it? Anyone?


Okay, it’s Neil Gaiman. The most amusing incorrect guesses were “John Travolta” and “The Fonz.” (In their defense, particularly the guy who guessed The Fonz, it was a very dark room, and I wasn’t wearing sunglasses in there. Also everybody was drunk.)