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NaNo lessons

Discussion in 'NaNoWriMo' started by Prince of Spires, Dec 13, 2019.

  1. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    The dust has settled on November and I'm now curious what people's experiences with NaNo were.

    For myself, I had a lot of fun participating and I consider November a success for me. I didn't meet the 50k NaNo goal, but the 31k words I did write were the most I've ever managed in a month. Which is definitely a win for me. I also managed to write something each day:

    NaNo word count.PNG
    The bottom two days were 1 word and 10 words. Not a lot, and only written to count the day, but a word is a word ;)

    Things I learned:
    I'm more a planner than a pantser.
    This one surprised me. I started the month with a beginning, middle and end of my novel in mind and some ideas about what happened in the middle bits. But after getting the first three or so chapters down I hit an "and now what?" moment. It one of the reasons for the variable word counts at the beginning of the month.
    When I came to this point, I took some time to create a (very rough) outline, basically just two or three sentences per month. And I found this worked well for me. I enjoyed having the brief description to work with and it helped focus my writing.

    I like having a goal.
    Very early on in November I knew I wouldn't make 50k. So I made my goal 30k (for 1.000 words a day), and I managed that reasonably easily. I hit a flow halfway through the month and managed more then a thousand words each day until I got to 30k.
    As a lesson here, I decided to give myself a monthly word count goal to work towards. It's a lot less ambitious, since I like talking to my wife, having a semblance of a social life and the like. But I feel I can make 4200 words a week without sacrificing all that. This is an average of 600 words a day, but 4 days of 1.000 is more likely.
    I've started tracking it (I'm an IT nerd, so there's a spreadsheet....). And it does help keep things moving.
    This also helps in developing a habit, which is a powerful thing. I can't write a novel in a day (or a week for that matter), so I need a habit to get to the end. And since it's a marathon, I picked an achievable goal to form my habit around, which is where I got the 600 words a day.

    50k words is a lot.
    A lot of story goes into 50k words. And where I initially guessed my story would easily top that, I found I have to stretch to reach it. Of course, 50k is not really the goal of a story as such, a story is as long as it needs to be. But it's a good lesson that you need a lot of story to fill the 50k words. And also that you have some room to dive into smaller sub-plots and go off on related tangents.

    To win at NaNo I need to empty my calendar
    I decided to try NaNo at the last minute. Which meant that I had already planned a lot of other items during the month. Which didn't help at all with meeting the NaNo goal. The 3 big dips in my word-count were because I had other obligations which prevented me from writing. All my writing happens in the evening, and if I have friends over, play sports or visit my family then I can't write.
    If I wouldn't have had those big events then I could have 'easily' managed 7.000. This would have kept the NaNo goal in reach for a lot longer. I was already 8.000 words behind by the 10th. As such, I also stopped trying, since getting the 1.667 words a day was already tough, but managing over 2k a day was out of the question. If I would have been closer then I think I perhaps could have pushed myself to keep trying.

    Man, that's a lot of text. I should have done this as a blog post....
  2. Yora

    Yora Maester

    50k is half a Hobbit and almost a full Wind in the Willows, Lord of the Flies, or All Quiet on the Western Front.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Good observations, princeofspires. IMO, NaNo can be very helpful once or twice for a new writer in both establishing and learning about writing habits. After that, I'm less sure, though some people do it every year or even twice a year.
  4. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    The rough drafts for six of the eight books that comprise my two series were all NaNo projects. I never did 'win' the 50K version, though.
  5. That was the basis of the best lesson I learned the year I took part. NaNo immediately showed me what I needed to do if I wanted to add a long-term writing practice to my life. I eliminated a lot of the electives, the superfluous activities and dalliances, and found that I actually could find more than enough time for my full time creative job, my home life AND a writing practice as well. But it took work.

    It was a friend of mine who has five children and still manages to be a writer who gave me the best insight and advice. She said she liked to tell people she had SIX children and treated her writing as one that required time/feeding/nurturing each day like all the rest. It was not optional. She treated it as if it were a living breathing entity that would only thrive with daily attention. She said that friends and family never questioned when she couldn't make an engagement due to anything related to the five flesh and blood children, but took it personally when she begged off to stay home and write. Now that, in my opinion, is ridiculous. True friends and our families should embrace our pursuits and support them. Just as if they were our children.

    (OK, in truth it was a combination of her example AND the haunting Charles Bukowski poem, "Air and Light and Time and Space" that hammered the point home to me. )

    I took that and ran with it and it's now the advice I give to anyone who wants to have a creative practice and who hopes to make a living from it one day. Treat your art as if it IS a child. It can't survive without you. It won't be able to survive on it's own.

    Family and friends were the hardest beast to tame. I have been making a living working creatively and at home for ten years and it took several of those for others to realize that "working from home" does not equate to being available all the time or returning calls and texts as soon as I get them. I treat the creative work day as I would at any job, no personal calls or internet play during work hours, no going off whenever I feel like it to meet up etc.

    Now, all the these years later, family and those friends who remain, have all been trained, so to speak. Even my mother, when I visit, now respects my two hours of writing every morning and does not try to interrupt me or tell me to, "take a day off from it and just relax". That's progress! :)

    That one lesson, I believe, can take so many people so much further in pursuing a creative life. It's working in a routine, or having the discipline to sit down anytime it's possible to make the time investment, that allows any practice to become something more.
  6. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    I definitely agree that NaNo helps with the writing habit part. You need to get in to a habit of writing daily and writing a lot to have a chance at NaNo, unless you're a fast writer who can get 50k words written over a weekend of course.

    And then there's the other side of the medal as well, which I forgot to mention. Doing NaNo proved to me I could actually get a novel written (or at least a novella...). There's a difference between knowing on a theoretical level how to do something and actually sitting down and writing. At the start of the month it felt like a huge mountain of words, but doing a bit each day chips away at the mountain. It shows the power of the habit I formed by writing each day. For me it helped to visualize the process. Having a simple graph that shows how much you have written vs how much you want to write is a great tool.

    I completely agree. It's not a matter of time, it's a matter of priority. There's a lot of hours in a day and it's worth seeing where all those hours go to. I would love to be able to write full time, but as it is, it's a hobby that competes with other things that go in the few hours a day left over for hobby time. Which is a space filled with TV, sports, random internet browsing... It's very easy to spend an evening changing channels, watching some mildly interesting tv show, and at the end of the evening wonder where all the time went. It's making a conscious choice to use that time for something other than easy entertainment.

    Of course, if it's your full time job, then it becomes even more important to protect this time.
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    As a person who has been retired for six years, I can tell you that writing "full time" is a bit misleading, in two respects. One, life still manages to chew up a surprising number of hours. Two, it's physically pretty difficult to write for a full working day. Figure an hour commute, an hour lunch, and eight hours of work, that's ten hours. Think you can write for ten hours?

    Where I've been able to find a "full-time" writer's workday described, it comes in more like six hours. It varies wildly, of course, but for those who can manage only two or four hours--or let's say ten to twenty hours a week--you're actually already well on your way.
  8. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    You must have had a very productive work life. For me, if on a typical work day I get 4 actually productive hours of work done then I consider that a success. A lot of time goes to all sorts of things, from various meetings (team meetings, performance review, project stuff and so on), water-cooler chat, responding to emails to general knowledge building and so on. The list of office distractions is pretty endless.

    If I would be writing full time, I'm not sure I could get a lot more written in a day then I do now. Perhaps a bit. But the main thing for me would probably be to have time for editing, plotting and world building not take time away from actual writing.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    >If I would be writing full time, I'm not sure I could get a lot more written in a day then I do now
    Yeah, that was the point I was trying to make. I often think that "full time writer" calls up a false image, and that some people imagine they would get more done if only they could write full time.

    I would never claim I was all that productive. Just because we're at our job doesn't mean we're working! That applies to writing as much as to a day job, right?

    I take your point about world building, etc. I started writing seriously two or three years before I retired. As I remember it, most of my time was spent just in writing. I dove in, spent a lot of time writing scenes that never got used. It wasn't really a waste; I was learning. Now I'm retired, I do see myself spending more time in research and planning that, were I still working, I'd probably have shoved to the back burner.

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