Thursday, October 27, 2011

What NaNoWriMo Has Taught Me

We are in Tokyo, and I am not sure whether or not I should up my word goal for November. My father would say a very emphatic "NO." Me? I'm not so sure. As some of you may know, I'm a chronic overachiever in the reading/writing realm... and sometimes that even translates to schoolwork.

The current word goal for The Blood Feud is 300,000. I want to see if I can focus on a story for 300,000 words... without adding filler, pointless discussions, or strange revelations in the middle of oatmeal.

It's three times as much as I have ever written for a novel before; the last novel (NaNo'09) I tried this on ended up being an exercise in 'how much crap can you put in before you hate it?' (Looking back on it, of course. As I was writing it, I think I only had a very dim idea that things would not work out in the revision phase. Of course, I didn't listen to that little voice.) That book continues to not have a title. Its working name is In Which There Is Edward or NaNo'09, which are terrible titles, but literally the only ones I could think of that didn't prompt a gag reflex or a tweaked eyebrow.

However, if I think about it... that book was written when I was 14. Not many 14-year-olds decide to write a hundred-thousand word novel in 30 days. Not many finish it in 28. Perhaps it's forgivable, then, that the plot was terrible, that most of the dialogue revolved around my two main characters, who bickered incessantly... and I'm getting off track.

The point is, every year in NaNoWriMo, I learn something.


Sabanoud Doeslayer : 50k
In this first year, I had known about NaNo for about a year and six months. I did not participate in 2007 because I'd found it in June, thought "Oh, cool!" and then promptly forgot about it until something like the 5th of November, when my 12 year old brain decided it was impossible to do with an eight thousand word debt. (I don't know what I was thinking either.)

So when I found the NaNo site again in October 2008, I signed up promptly... and spent most of the time leading up to NaNo waffling around and looking lost. I'm not sure if this is a common phenomenon for NaNo Newbies. But keep in mind: I was a 13 year old who had never actually written anything complete in her life... except for maybe three stories which have been buried in my mind as: "Never Talk About. Ever." And who signed up for the YWP site at the same time because she wasn't sure she could hit 50,000. (I think I had a 20k word goal there, which mid-week one was updated to 100,000, and abandoned when I reached Week 2).

I finished NaNo'08 on November 19th, at something like 10 am, with a 50,100ish manuscript.

The Lessons:

  • NaNoWriMo is achievable. 
  • I like writing.
  • I like writing even more when there is
    • a deadline
    • a large word goal
  • Writing a character playing Solitaire is harder than coming up with plot.
The Aftermath:
  • Sabanoud Doeslayer was hastily edited for typos and sent off to our family's Kindle, where I forced my father, my mother, and my sister to read it. My brother, too young to read (or so we thought), was exempt.
  • I tried editing it, but... it was a quest plot. One of the things I've learned since NaNo'08 is that I'm not good at writing quests. I need character dialogue.
  • It has been relegated to the "Proof That NaNo is Achievable" folder.


In Which There Is Edward: 100k

In the second year, I was ready and waiting for November with anticipation when October arrived.

However, after waiting around eagerly in Romania, waiting for a plot to come out... and ending up with... nothing, October 28th I sat down and patiently wrote down, on paper, lots of strange plot ideas (hero falls in love with villain... pink talking ship... Title? Note: Your True Love Is Ugly <- this title persisted until I had to tell people about the book, at which point I changed it to: I have no idea what the title is yet), until I had the basic premise.

The basic premise morphed from a simple story into something quite convoluted (mostly because my brain inserted a talking wind spirit who tried to kill my MC and a mirror-watching [think TV] witch that turned my MC into a frog when he tried to mess with her Plan... and should I mention the time-hopping and the fact that my MC somehow spawned... a baby?!), and when November was over... I couldn't set it down. I'd promised my family they would be able to read it.

In Which There Is Edward (a better working title, no?) was finished November 28th. At about 6 pm, with exactly 100,000 words on the NaNo counter. I was very proud.

The Lessons:

  • Brainstorming for a plot is a wonderful way to get one
  • 10k days ARE possible (I'm not sure how big my word count was on my best day, but it was above 10k, and perhaps something closer to 15k. And there were TWO of them)
  • Time travel is HARD to write
  • Perseverance:  I learned to push through the slumps of "Week 2"-- those terrible days that hit (and last) anywhere from Day 2 to Day 29-- when you don't understand why you started writing the story in the first place. When you start thinking that NaNoWriMo is a waste of time. (it's not!)
  • I discovered Scrivener and the Dvorak keyboard-- and have been using them both ever since. 

The Aftermath:

  • In Which There Is Edward was printed out at my dad's office printer and was edited half-heartedly manually, before being typed up on the computer. The beginning was fixed, the ending was fixed, and it was shared with my family.
    • My sister commented on the typos. My father fell asleep every 2 pages (it was not his fault-- he was exhausted). My mother critiqued it, saying that the bickering (and there WAS a large amount of bickering) was overdone. My brother? LOVED IT.
  • I'm trying to edit it... but the plot is so overworked and complicated that I have no idea how to start. It's going to be edited for 50 hours in January. If that doesn't work... well, there's always February to rewrite the whole thing.
  • It has been sent to the "To Edit" folder.


Revenge and Grey China: 83k

By NaNo'10, I had learned of the amazingness of NaNoWriMo... and was stalking the NaNoWriMo forums from October 1st, looking through dares and 'adopt-a-lines' for inspiration.

October 4th, I had my premises: "A villain's fiancé breaks it off, so she decides to get revenge on him." and "Allegra conks a billionaire on the head with a teapot and is surprised to find he is desperately in love with her."

Those are not the original sentences, of course. This NaNo, I planned almost obsessively: taking a combination of the Snowflake Method and the Phase Outlining method (by Lazette Gilford, author of NaNo for the New and Insane).

But I soon found that planning was not always the best way... I faced many slumps throughout the month-- caused in part by large word count goals per phase which were unrealistic and much too strict: if I didn't hit the word goal, I would go back and add description and flesh out the scenes. In a way, this was good: I got a... 500 word bit to 3000 words (and improved it in the process), but I did not enjoy this NaNo as much as the others, with their highly wonderful pantsing.

I finished November at 66k, and continued writing into December.

The Lessons:

  • Being too strict about a phase's word goal is not conducive to motivation. It is, however, wonderful for description
  • Setting too high a word goal for a phase is not conducive to motivation.
  • The Snowflake Method is fantastic.
  • Planning is good.
  • Push through!
The Aftermath:
  • Revenge and Grey China spawned a sequel before I even started writing it. As such, I did not share it with anyone except my critque buddy on PonyIsland before sequestering it away to try and write the sequel. Secrets and Green Eyes was finished (ish) at 40k in October 2011, but it still needs many, many more words. 
  • Writing the sequel
  • In the "To Write" folder
July CaNaNo'11

Dashboard: 45k

With Camp NaNoWriMo, first edition, I could barely wait. I mean, this was NaNoWriMo we were talking about. In JULY.

 I had a story I'd started ages ago that I wanted to finish, with only 5k on it, and I figured... why not? It wasn't as if I had anything better to do, and I already had experienced the entire 'experience' of NaNo-- three times, I might add.

The story fell apart. This was not because I did not start a new story. Rather, it was because, as I began writing, the story started being less and less like a love story (which I like writing), and turned into more and more of a tragedy (which I don't like writing).

Okay, maybe it was because I didn't start a new story.

I did win July-- mostly because I hammered out a couple of short stories during the month and put them into the word count.

But Dashboard? Relegated to the 'don't think about' folder.

The Lessons:
  • Knowing when to give up: while this may not sound good, it is. You have to know when going on is pointless. I had been hating the story for about 10k when I simply decided it wasn't worth it. And this was on July 30th, too.
The Aftermath:
  • Immediate planning for AugCaNaNo'11
  • Immediate delegation to never look at again folder.
August CaNaNo'11

Princess Winnipeg: 60k

I'd had this idea... sporadically. It just showed up mid-July and demanded to be written. This has never happened before.

So, August 1st, I woke up early, and hammered out a large amount of words. Describing the dragon? We'll set down 1k for that. It turned into 5k. Riding off with the prince into the sunset? There's another 2k. Meeting the witch? Sure thing. Another 2k.

While these may not be the actual NUMBERS, the idea it conveys is the same: Princess Winnipeg was a lovely little story that grew quite easily. All I needed was to keep writing.

It morphed about halfway into something really strange, like most of my pantsed novels tend to do-- Winnipeg, the main character, died by a dragon's claw and was promptly sent off to Death, who is very nice and kills people by giving them a kiss on the forehead.

I finished Princess Winnipeg at 60k on August 21st, whereupon I went off promptly to a religious camp.

Came back with just 4 days left... and then sporadically decided, with the help of the Write Write & Write group, that I would get to 100,000 words in the month of August.

And DID.

The Lessons:
  • Planning is not necessary.
  • Dialogue is helpful. Do not overdo the bickering, but do it artfully. And things will grow around that.
The Aftermath:
  • Princess Winnipeg is waiting patiently on my computer for a full editing
  • Will be edited come March 2012. 50 hours. *gulp*
  • Sent to "to Edit" folder.


The Blood Feud: 90k during NaNo

This novel came about from my yearning to write something Romeo-Juliet-ish after reading Juliet, by Anne Fortier. I sat down and from my fingers spewed something rather unlike what I had been expecting. The book follows about eight people through their lives over almost two months as they battle with or against the blood feud that has been racking their families for nearly 200 years.

What they don't know is that their ancestors concocted the blood feud for fame and fortune... and that they shouldn't be at war in the first place!

Some of the words this year were painful-- excruciatingly. This year I slacked off a bit and quite enjoyed it, playing Civilization V in hours that might have definitely been better used... but when I simply didn't have the energy to literally tackle the words onto the page. On other days, I managed to get enough motivation up to write 8 to 12k... I never actually got past what I consider my record of 15,000 words in a day. Having written that in 2009... I wonder why I haven't hit it yet. One of these days... before next NaNo...

The Lessons:

  • Planning too far ahead causes slumps and annoyances. If I must plan next year, I'll plan my characters and settings, and only a small amount of plot.
The Aftermath:
  • The Blood Feud is awaiting completion in early December, and will be edited in May 2012
I'm waiting for next NaNo to figure out what I'm going to do... I'll be all over some random corner of the globe then.