MyNoWriMo Wrap-up

Back at the beginning of May, I decided to embark on MyNoWriMo, my own personal version of NaNoWriMo. My goal was to hit 150,000 words, or finish the first draft of my eighteen-months-in-progress novel, whichever came first. Well, as it turns out, I didn’t make it to either goal. Here are my final stats:

Starting Word Count: 91,484
Final Word Count: 122,118
Words Written: 30,634

Overall, I found it a lot harder to sustain 2,000-word-a-day momentum than I was expecting. Since my main goal was word count, I didn’t want to spend a great deal of time banging my head against individual scenes, planning and plotting and re-writing them. And even though this was probably a good attitude to have, it did mean I always pushed forward through rough points in the plot, rather than backing up for a moment and trying to find a better path. Maybe that’s the right mindset for the first draft; maybe it isn’t. I think I probably need more practice (as in, several more novels) before I figure out what works best for me.

At 122,118 words (411 double-spaced pages in Microsoft Word), the plot has developed a lot of threads, and I’m at the point where I have to figure out how to tie them all off– or, rather, that I have to guide the characters into figuring out how to tie them all off. So whereas in the first half of the novel (most of which was written in NaNoWriMo 2009) I was able to breeze my way along, the scenes now take a fair amount of planning, and have specific outcomes that I need to reach. If I don’t reach the specific outcome, I either need to re-write the scene, or figure out a new path that will still let me tie everything (or almost everything) off in the end. It’s actually a lot harder than I anticipated. (Funny how that works.) But if I can do it, I think it’ll set me up well for the revision, as well as for writing an even better second novel (which will probably not be a sequel to the first; I need a break from this world).

Despite having failed with my stated goal for MyNoWriMo, I actually succeeded with my larger goal, which was to get moving on the novel again. My even-larger-than-that goal– to finish the first draft of the novel by WorldCon in August– now looks much more feasible than it did at the beginning of the month. If I can continue to write 1,000 words a day on the novel, I’m almost positive that the draft will, indeed, be done by the start of WorldCon on August 17.

But there’s a slight hiccup in the plan: I have to shift my focus away from the novel for the next two weeks in order to write a short story that I can submit for the Q3 Writers of the Future contest at the end of June. I have a general idea of what the story will be; I just need to plan it out and write it, and do so within about 12 days so that I can submit it to my writers’ group in time to for them to critique it and me to revise it. I’m not sure how much progress on the novel I’ll be able to make during that time period; if I can’t, then I’ll have to pick it back up as soon as I finish the short story.

No time for slacking or Writer’s Block over the next few months. There’s stories to be told.

MyNoWriMo 20-Day Status Report

As of last night, here’s where my word count this month stood:

Starting Word Count: 91,484
Current Word Count: 116,936
Words Written: 25,452

Keen-eyed observers may note that in the past ten days, my word count has only clocked up by about 7,000 words, which is well below the 2000-a-day pace I was hoping to set. And it’s true; the last ten days of MyNoWriMo have not been nearly as productive as the first ten. To an extent, it’s felt like standing on the beach and taking a running start into the ocean: at first you’re skimming along easily, then the water gets deeper and you slow down, then you start to trip, barely keeping your balance, and finally you fall down face-first into the waves.

During NaNoWriMo last year, I stalled on the novel partly because I wasn’t sure how the two main protagonists would end up falling in love. When I began MyNoWriMo this month, one of the first things I did was confront that problem head-on, and I actually ended up writing a scene I really liked in which the protagonists were able to acknowledge their feelings for each other.

Now I’ve run into a similar situation in which I’m having difficulty setting up the reveal of information to allow the characters to proceed from Act 2 of the story into Act 3 and the Climax. I’ve written a few scenes which I’m pretty pleased with, but haven’t quite gotten where I need to get to– I think I just have to do what I didn’t do during NaNoWriMo, and power my way through it with discovery writing. Even if I what I end up with doesn’t work, hopefully I can revise it into something that DOES work in the second draft.

In the meantime, there have been other distractions as well. I went on a tear through the last five Dresden Files novels, getting through all of them in about two weeks. And there’s been a batch of sunny weather, which has led to long reading sessions lying outside in the grass, and sightseeing excursions during what is ostensibly supposed to be writing time. But for weather and views like this, it’s totally worth it.

MyNoWriMo 10-Day Status Report

It’s been 10 days since I started MyNoWriMo, my own personal mirror of National Novel Writing Month. Since then, here are the stats:

Starting Word Count: 91,484
Current Word Count: 110,007
Words Written: 18,523

I’m a little behind schedule if I want to hit 150K by the end of the month, particularly since I’ll be camping for three days over Memorial Day Weekend. But I’m so chuffed at having written something over 100,000 words long that I don’t really mind too much.

In addition to helping me get re-started on the novel, MyNoWriMo has been supremely valuable because it’s helped me find a schedule that works. For the past six months, I’ve been trying to balance writing and my 20-hours-a-week contract work, and it’s never really been smooth. I try to do 4 hours of solid work each weekday during the day, so I’m free to write in the evenings, but what often happens is that I spend most of the day procrastinating, or trying to get started with the day job, and often failing, so that when the evening comes I can’t really focus on writing, because an inner voice says “you really should work on the day job.”

I know, right? Most people (especially writers) would probably kill to be in a situation like I’m in, where the part-time job earns you a living wage, but here I was, with even less time to write because I was having so much difficulty mastering that whole “working from home” thing.

At the start of MyNoWriMo, I decided that the term “day job” no longer needed to apply literally, and gave myself permission to be a writer during the day. Now I go to the library each day to write, then come home and work on the day job in the evening, with a rule that I have to do 4 hours of work before I go to bed. This has actually worked much better– I’m more productive at both writing, and the day job.

In addition, by treating writing as a day job in and of itself (which I had thus far failed to do), I’m in essence already living the dream! I’m spending my days as a professional writer. Admittedly, it’s a job that pays downright crap (given what I’ve made so far on short stories, a fraction of a cent per hour), but hey, no one goes into fiction writing for the money.

MyNoWriMo has also been supremely valuable practice for prioritizing: previously, when I had writing time, I would often let myself get distracted by other things: paying bills, planning my social life and my schedule, and various other little tasks that accumulate as part of day-to-day life. Now, when I have writing time, the writing is always the number one priority. I don’t let myself work on anything else.

On top of that, I’m staying focused on one project. Right now, it’s the novel. After MyNoWriMo, it’ll be a short story. But by focusing on one thing, and not spending my writing time worrying about which writing project I should be working on, I’ve also been more productive. Let’s face it, focusing on writing is hard enough without letting distractions get to you.

I haven’t even touched on the actual writing yet. There have been plenty of instances of writer’s block, and entire multi-hour sessions just spent tweaking the story outline. I’ve had some scenes flow smoothly, and others make me feel like I’m bleeding from my forehead. I’ve got a fairly comprehensive story outline, but I’m discovery writing an entire subplot, with only a vague idea how it’s going to resolve. Plus, I have to set up an informational reveal at the climax of the subplot that I need to proceed to the climax of the main story, and I really don’t have any idea how that’s going to happen. But slowly, steadily, despite the hardships, the first draft is materializing on the page.

And it will continue to do so, because MyNoWriMo demands 2,000 words a day. Good times.

MyNoWriMo

Since Norwescon, I’ve been thinking a lot about my novel, which has been sitting, stalled, for over six months. In that time I’ve embarked on a few other projects (like writing a short story every quarter for Writers of the Future), and my novel has taken a back seat. Part of this is because I’ve felt like I need to redo the outline– it’s a large and complicated plot, with five viewpoint characters (four major ones), and I’ve sort of lost my way amongst the intricacies of the different character arcs, and the various setting details and plot reveals that need to be unfolded in just the right way… basically I’ve been intimidated.

However, I’m also 95,000 words into it. Even though in retrospect I think this novel was probably too complicated for my skill level, it’d be a shame to give up on it. Yet at the same time it would be a shame to let other projects and ideas stagnate because I’m possessed by a bull-headed desire to finish this one. What is an author to do?

I reached the decision a while ago that I would give myself until WorldCon (August 17-21) to finish the first draft, and if I didn’t finish it by then, it would be time to set this novel aside and work on the next. But while it’s all well and good to give myself a deadline, that still hasn’t helped me get around what’s blocking me. In addition to a deadline, I needed a new strategy.

At Norwescon, I attended a panel on novel outlining, which was sort of useful– if nothing else, it got me thinking about the novel again, about the motivations of the protagonist and the trials she endures, and perhaps most of all about why I want to write it. Add to that some words of encouragement from Mary Robinette Kowal, and when I got home I opened the outline I had been working on and moved it into Microsoft Excel. From there I was able to identify the point-of-view character for each scene and get a better grip of what order the scenes needed to go into, as well as filter the POV characters in order to get a quick glimpse of the story arc for each one. It’s been extraordinarily helpful as far as wrapping my brain around the plot, and for the time in a while, my goal of finishing by WorldCon is looking doable.

So I’ve decided to give myself a little extra motivation. Next month is May, which lays six months opposite on the calendar from November. November happens to be National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, so given that May mirrors November on the calendar I decided to hold my own personal NaNoWriMo next month. MyNoWriMo, if you will, with my own goal, of reaching 150,000 words (or the end, whichever comes first) by the end of the month. It’s a tall order, but May is looking to be less hectic than April– which was interrupted by a weeklong visit back home to North Carolina, among other things– so I think I might actually be able to pull it off. So in May, the novel is back on the front burner, and other projects (including my Q3 Writers of the Future short story) will just have to wait. Starting Sunday, it’s MyNoWriMo time. I’ll let you know how it goes.

(If you’re interested in reading part of the novel, check out the excerpt I posted for the Valentine’s Day blogfest this year.)