NaNoWriMo 2014: In Which I Wrote Over 100K Words

Monday, December 01, 2014

It is almost 10 PM on the first of December and once again I find myself sitting in this desk chair with my Christmas lights plugged in behind me. It's writing time. It's time to get some words on the page, but tonight I'm not writing fiction. Since NaNoWriMo is over, I want to reflect on NaNoWriMo 2014.

This year my perspective of what was reasonable completely changed. I used to think that 50,000 words in a month was an insane goal, but now that I've written 100,462 words of fiction in a month without having to feed my husband spaghetti for every meal, I've come to realize that 50,000 words is perfectly reasonable if I write every day.

Which is exactly what I did this year. I started NaNo one day late (November 2nd), but then wrote every single day for the rest of the month. Every. Single. Day. I'd never done that before. That was a big accomplishment for me.

I started the month with a few scene ideas in mind and a general character arc for a few different characters, but I wasn't sure how it would all come together. Every time I went to write an outline for this book (starting in 2012!), it came out just seeming too fake, too contrived, too cliche. But this year I wrote it anyway, and after a few days of wandering around in the story world and hopping from scene to scene, I figured out how it would all fit together, or so I thought anyway.

As it turns out, I drafted more than one novel this month. I finished the first draft of the second book in my series and got a good chunk of the third done as well. The material I have now should be pretty easy to split since it has several different characters with converging story lines. They all start out in different places and eventually end up in the same location, but a couple of storylines converge before the others, and that's a good time for the split (and right now you're all like "I have no idea what she's talking about, but whatever").

I hit 50K on the 16th of November (my 15th day of writing) and aside from my July Camp NaNoWriMo this year, which was a third draft rewrite of the first book in the same series I'm working on now, that is the earliest I have ever won (though I guess "winning" doesn't officially begin until the 20th or something, but I don't really care---50K is 50K no matter what day you hit it on). This is the earliest I've ever won with a first draft for sure.

To tell you the truth, I wasn't even excited going into NaNo this year. Not even a little bit. In fact, I was kind of dreading it. I hadn't drafted a new book since November 2012 because the last couple of NaNo events I'd done were both rewrites of my 2011 novel, so I'd sort of built up this weird fear in my mind of writing from scratch or writing without a plan. That combined with my bizarre inability to create a satisfactory plot outline for the next book before beginning to write it kind of drove me a little bit bonkers. This sort of fear can be kind of hard to understand if you haven't experienced it recently, so I'm going to tell you a story to illustrate it.

When I was six years old, my mom took me to our family pediatrician to get my vaccinations done. My grandmother was a nurse there, but she wasn't the one who gave me my shots. Instead, this kind of scary-looking woman with long red fingernails did them. The doctor had my mom hold me in her lap backward so that the back of my arms were exposed and I couldn't move them. When scary fingernail lady went to sanitize my arm before giving the vaccinations, she accidentally scratched me with one of her long scary fingernails. That hurt. My muscles got tense, and the three shots were a total nightmare. By the time they were over, I was bawling. My brother was there with me, and at three and a half years old, he was about ready to punch the nurse in the face. Whenever this story gets told, someone always quotes him saying "Nobody hurts my sister but me!" We were well out of the doctor's office when I stopped crying. My grandma gave me some chewable grape-flavored children's Tylenol to make me feel better, and though I suspect that she knew that the pain would fade before the meds had a chance to take effect, she put another dose into the front pocket of my bib overalls. My brother was still mad at the doctor by the time we were back in our enormous red Ford van to go home. Eleven years passed before I went back to the doctor to get another vaccination. Eleven years. I was seventeen friggin' years old! But over the course of those eleven years, I'd built up this fear of needles. When I went to my new doctor's office to get my shots, I was terrified. I even asked the nurse for something to bite, and she laughed but gave me a tongue depressor to chew on. I didn't need it by the second shot. A quick poke and it was over. Well, seven quick pokes, since I was kind of behind on my vaccinations after eleven years, but you get the idea. What had I been so afraid of? Fear does that. The longer you go without doing something kind of uncomfortable, the scarier it gets in your mind, until you just about have a panic attack when you think that you might have to do it again. At least that's the way I am. It's even worse when after eleven years you're still looking at your fear through the eyes of a six-year-old.

Just like my fear of shots had grown over time, my fear of writing from scratch had grown over the course of those two years of rewrites. Could I really do this again? Was it all just a lucky fluke last time? Maybe, maybe not. I'd have to try again to find out. Even now I'm not so sure. I've reached that place in my third book where I'm starting to wonder again if I'm really a writer. But I won't quit. A writer is someone who writes, and I've certainly proven to myself that I can do that. Inspired or not inspired. Well-rested or tired. With a plan or without. Alone or with another person in the room. I can write. I will write. Admitting this fear has been one of the best things I've ever done for my writing.

Along with posting my progress on my social media sites. I'm not sure if anyone actually reads what I post, but I think it keeps me accountable to know that someone might be following along with what I'm doing. At some point in the month I decided to start posting how many words I'd written that day, how many words I'd written total, and then a few inspiring quotes from writers and other artists, or even personal thoughts from myself (like when I admitted my fear of writing).

This NaNo I also connected up with my local region of wrimos. I only made it to one write-in (and that was the last one), but I did a lot of word wars and things with them on Facebook, and that helped a lot. I found out that I really like word wars/word sprints, and I even made a Twitter account so that I could participate in Katytastic's 10K Tuesday challenge (which I defeated gloriously) and follow the NaNoWordSprints Twitter so that I could do word sprints all month, even when none of my regional leaders were running them, because I found that they helped me to keep focused.

Have I mentioned yet that I wrote 10K in one day? It's totally possible. In fact, I did it twice this month. I broke my record for the most words I'd ever written in a day as well as in a month, so that was pretty cool. Obviously, if I had two 10K days, I wasn't writing 3,334 words every day, but I did write at least 1,667 every day, which I'm pretty proud of. I think that's a good number for me to continue with. It's not too crazy (unlike 10K), but it's not such a small amount of writing that I can't get into it before I have enough words to stop either. That's what I'd like to continue to write every night now that I've determined that it really isn't that big of a number. I mean, this blog post already has 1,461 words! Yes, I ran it through a counter. This is where my 1,667 for the evening is coming from, so expect a few hundred more yet.

Anyway, back to the local wrimos. The write-in I went to was pretty awesome. It was about what I figured. A bunch of people sitting around in a room with laptops or notebooks and writing, socializing (between word wars), and eating. There was even talk of creating/reviving a one a month writers' group to go on throughout the year so that we could sort of spur one another on toward the goal of writing well, learn new things about writing, and have chances to critique and have our work critiqued (constructively, of course). That's something I think I would really love to do. They're still trying to work out the dates we would meet, but that's definitely something I'm keeping my eye on. Part of what makes NaNo so awesome is the sort of peer pressure and accountability it brings, along with concrete deadlines, not to mention awesome graphs! Unfortunately, when NaNo is over and all of those things disappear, it can be really easy to stop writing. Support and accountability year-round would really help.

On Thanksgiving, I also had the privilege of meeting and talking for quite a long time with another writer, Mr. Steven Higgins, whose first book, which is self-published through Amazon's Create Space and Barnes & Noble's NOOK Press, can be found here and here. As he describes it, he writes fantasy adventure stories for 9 to 13-year-olds--a slightly lower age group than I'm aiming for (YA), but basically the same genre. He was really fun to talk to. I didn't learn a whole lot about the craft from him, but he was definitely excited about writing and about his characters. He started writing when he was 50 because he said he would write his son a letter every week when his son went into the armed forces (I forget which branch). He said that the first letter was three pages long, and the second one was three paragraphs, so he had to start making up stories. As I was getting ready to leave my aunt and uncle's house (where the Thanksgiving celebration was going on), he recommended that I check out Willamette Writers, which has a bunch of local chapters, workshops, and even a three-day conference once a year. So that's a definite possibility for finding a critique group if there isn't enough interest from the other wrimos. Out of curiosity, I asked him what program he writes his books in. He uses OpenOffice.

Complicated software is definitely not required to write books, but I got Scrivener for cheap after winning Camp NaNoWriMo this year (winners got a coupon code for 50% off), and I love how easy it is to move things around and keep the different story-lines organized. I'm also a big fan of the comments section in the Inspector. Heck, I don't even use a quarter of the features and I love it! I might use more features later, but for now I'm overjoyed that I don't have to scroll through pages and pages of writing to try to find what I'm looking for. I think that saved me a lot of time and frustration this month, which definitely helped in the word count department, especially since I started writing scenes in a pretty random order. I also bought Aeon Timeline for cheap after winning Camp NaNoWriMo (40% off), and I haven't used it that much yet, but when I go back and revise my series I think it'll help a lot with making everything that happens fit together logically in time. The only tool I really wish I had now is some sort of easy map-making software, but my posterboard has served me well thus far, so that's not a big deal.

Lots of exciting stuff happened this month. I met all three of my goals from the beginning of the month. I won--and pretty quickly at that. I wrote every day--I wanted to develop the habit of writing, and since habits are only supposed to take 21 days to form, I'd say that's probably done, though I do intend to keep it up, habit or no. And I finished the first draft of the second book of my series---or maybe it's the third...the order is chronological right now, but I think the series would flow better if I reversed them.

Just a few days before the end of the month, I decided to write twice as much as I ever had during NaNoWriMo before. Technically I did, if you overlook the Camp NaNoWriMo session I did in July where I got 53,978 words.  I totally forgot about it until like 10 PM on the last day, and by then the difference would have been impossible for me to make up...anyway, aside from that session, the most I'd ever gotten during the November  NaNo was 50,213 in 2011.

50,213 x 2 = 100,426

I wrote 100,462 words. Victory!

Basically, I just wanted to see if I could get much more than 50K. And I can. And I won't be doing that again any time soon. For now, I'm sticking with saner daily goals like 1-2K every night, because sleep is important.

And with that, I'm going to sign off for the night. Ever done NaNoWriMo? Ever won? Ever lost? Ever given up? Any tips for anyone attempting NaNoWriMo next year? Ever set an insane goal in some other creative area of your life? Leave a comment below or my hairless ghost lemur will haunt your dreams.

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