Last NaNoWriMo 2018 Status

I guess I’ll just put this here:

Yay! I did it!

It’s actually been about a week since I crossed the 50,000 word milestone with the novel Synthetic Dreams.  I was hoping I’d finish the entire first draft before the end of the month, but I petered out last week.  By Thanksgiving, I needed to basically stop doing anything for a while.  This whole long weekend, I didn’t write, program, leave the house, or do anything that could in any way be described as “constructive.” I did laundry yesterday.  That was the extent of my productivity.

We need to take breaks every once in a while, and my need crept up out of nowhere.  Now it’s Monday.  I’m writing this post during my lunch break at work.  A few minutes ago, JPL landed a drill-bot on Mars and at the moment, I’m more excited about that little victory than anything else.

This is my last check-in for NaNo and I’m glad to report I now have a non-losing record.  3 out of 6 of my NaNo attempts have ended in a success.  Not too shabby.

I have a lot of friends that set out on this NaNoWriMo journey with me, and they aren’t going to hit 50,000 words by the month’s end.  For them, and for my future self, I want to take a moment to talk about what it really means to succeed at NaNoWriMo.

First of all, let’s keep it real.  I’m not going to try and cheer you up with a “participation is the REAL winning” kind of speech.  That’s not what this is about.

NaNoWriMo is purely about adding one more motivator to your writing engine.  That’s all it is.  You’re a writer 12 months out of the year and not just November.  50,000 words is an arbitrary goal during an arbitrary month.  It isn’t real and it doesn’t mean you’re not a real writer if you’re not hitting the 50k goal.

Necessity breeds creativity, and deadlines create both necessity and motivation.  When November started, we set for ourselves a deadline.  Write so many words in 30 days.  By framing the writing journey in such a way, we’re activating parts of our brain that we may not otherwise employ when sitting down to write a story.

There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s a good way to boost productivity.

Then there’s the competitive part of the experience.  When you’re comparing your word counts to those of your writing buddies, there is a part of you that is cheering them on.  There is also a part of you that really wants to win.  To get to 50,000 words first.  That’s another part of your brain that isn’t usually used during the writing process. While “winning” may not be the most noble of motivators, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.  It’s all about digging deep and getting creative.  The more of your brain you bring to the keyboard, the better.

If you wrote this month, you won.  The prize is your collection of words, which hopefully resembles a story.  The quality of the prize is directly proportional to the length and readability of the story you’ve created.  If you vomited 100,000 words into Word and it’s incomprehensible… well, that’s your prize.  If you crafted 10,000 words over the course of thirty days, but it’s exemplary writing… that’s your prize, too.

I reached 50,000 words in Synthetic Dreams and I felt great about it for a few minutes, but I’m not really ready to celebrate because the story isn’t finished.  I’m in the middle and that’s a treacherous place where slumps happen and plot threads unravel.  I love my characters, the premise, the world building, the ideas of the story… but what I’ve written is going to need a lot of editing.  There’s a great story here, but it’s not leaping from my head fully formed like Athena.  My story is an ugly duckling that’s going to need a lot of time and effort.

I’m going to keep going on this story.  I’m going to try and get the first draft finished before the end of the year, but there’s no guarantee that will happen.  Looking at my outline, I can safely say the end is still another 40,000 words away.  Once I get the first draft finished, I’ll check what’s next in my queue.

Tying back to NaNoWrMo, the next novel I’m probably going to write is a fantasy.  It’s basically The Bourne Identity meets Game of Thrones.  It was the novel I attempted my very first NaNoWriMo.  I wrote about 10,000 words that November, then another 20,000 words before I abandoned it to work on The Repossessed Ghost.  I still like the concept and the characters I created.  I haven’t given up on the idea.  I just needed to grow as a writer before I could do that story justice.  So, taking what I’ve learned over the last 3 or 4 stories, I’m going to write A Clean Slate and it’s going to be great.  It won’t be an official NaNoWriMo winner, but it will be a winner to me.

Whether you wrote 50,000 words or not this month, you still have a prize.  Enjoy it!  But also remember that it’s not done.  No one wants to read your unedited first draft.  The first draft is like a pencil sketch.  You still need to go through and do the inking and coloring, shading and texturing.

A first draft is an important beginning and worthy of being celebrated, but switching from art metaphors to cooking, it’s not done yet.  It needs to cook more.  Don’t serve your guests something raw.

If you’re a writer, I hope you’ve had tremendous success this month!  And if you’re not a writer, I hope you’ve at least done something creative that’s made you happy.


NaNoWriMo Check-in

It’s November 5th.  Tomorrow morning, I’m going to get up early and go vote.  Bryanna may be coming with me if we get up and go early enough.  Then it’s back to the grindstone at work, which has been as intense as expected.

I try NaNoWriMo most years.  Going into this year, I had very low expectations.  The story I’m writing is complicated in every conceivable way, from its lack of gender pronouns to its post-apocalyptic world building, from its complex character dynamics to its layered plot structure.  I knew this story would challenge me.

The previous years where I made the 50,000 word goal, the stories were written in first person.  Since I spent the entire preceding month writing blog posts which are naturally in first person, I entered November with applicable practice.  I always assumed that if I was ever going to succeed at a NaNoWriMo, I would have to write it in first person.   Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to generate the story fast enough.

I’m coming up on the end of Day 5.  According to the official web site, to be on track and make goal on November 30th, I should have 8,333 words written.

As I go to bed tonight, I’ll have completed 16,542.

At some point along the line, I went up a level.  Or maybe several levels.  Just last month, I didn’t think I was capable of producing quality writing at this speed.

Granted, this whole thing is going to need a ton of editing.  The lack of gender pronouns is making for some very clunky prose.  My descriptions of these synthetic humans can probably use some boosting, too.  Once I’ve finished the first draft, I’m going to have my work cut out for me when I hit the second draft.

But it’s not all bad!  In fact, quite a bit of the story is really good!  I’ve found inspiration in a number of places, and I think the story already hits some of the emotional depth I was aiming for.

Sunday morning, Michael Gallowglas asked me what my goals were with this story.  He said that I’ve already proven in past Novembers that I have the ability to produce.  So what am I doing this month?  Is it just about writing 50,000 words, or am I trying to make a great story?

As I explained to Michael, those two goals aren’t mutually exclusive.  I believe I am crafting a great story.  I’m just crafting it way faster than I thought I was capable.  Thinking about it today, I think I know why.

First, my inner editor has been remarkably silent as I’ve worked.  Some of it is due to the clunky prose I already mentioned.  My inner editor just doesn’t know what to do with it.  Some of it is because I’m experienced enough with NaNoWriMo that I’ve become better at ignoring the inner editor while drafting.  Practice pays off, my friends.  If it can work for me, it can work for you, too.

Another reason I’m blazing along is that I’m writing from the most complete outline I’ve ever produced.  It doesn’t go to the level that true plotters enjoy.  Jennifer Brozek, for example, would have a much more complete and detailed outline.  But what I have is doing what I need it to do, which is keep me focused and on track.

Here’s an example from the beginning of my outline:

Act I
Goal — Establish the world, the characters, set the tone for the story, and start each of the three cases which will act as the backdrop to the real story, which is the relationship between Dee-ehn and Jayvee

Scene — Dee-ehn and Jayvee investigate scene of an extremely violent and graphic murder
Scene — Dee-ehn and Jayvee interview victim’s neighbors
— We learn the victim kept to themselves
— First view of someone suffering from the virus
— Introduction to another character which may be important later
— We see how interacting with other synths is stressful for Dee-ehn
— We see how interacting with other synths is Jayvee’s strength
Scene — On the way to the bar
— We get our first view of Humanists. Maybe they’re protesting
— We’ll get some explanation of Humanists and Singulars as Dee-ehn and Jayvee argue about the two sects
Scene — At the bar
— This scene establishes the status quo and again demonstrates Dee-ehn’s shyness and Jayvee’s outgoing nature
— Jayvee might play some music. Something that lets Dee-ehn and Jayvee talk about their progenitors
— It’s in this scene we should hint that Dee-ehn’s progenitor is late stage viral

I’ve edited this a little bit to remove spoilers.  Also, I wound up cutting the “On the way to the bar” scene.

My outline is giving me a very basic road map of the story.  It details my goals, the location, and tells me where things are going.  It gives me an idea of what I’m trying to accomplish with each scene without going into too much detail.

I’m the first reader of this story as I’m writing it, so I don’t want too many details.  I may have spoiled the over-all plot for myself, but I can still discover some interesting things as I get down to drafting each scene.

The third thing going in my favor this year is my time management.  Instead of leaving for lunch during the work week, I’ve been mixing a glass of Soylent and heading to a secluded conference room where I can hide for an hour and write.  Each lunch, I’ve managed to write around 1000 words.

When I get home, I go right to the computer, hook up with my friends on twitter, and participate in sprints.  It’s incredibly liberating working to a timer.  I know that for as long as the clock is running, there isn’t anything else I need to do.  I can just focus on the story, craft the prose, learn more about the characters by revealing details, and do the work.  When the timer beeps, I stop writing and screw off for a little bit.  Rinse and repeat to victory.

There may be a fourth contributor to my success thus far, and it’s that I’m writing with two point-of-view characters.  It’s third person limited, and each chapter either follows Dee-ehn or Jayvee.  I’m working hard to keep it clear.  I avoid head-hopping in the middle of the scenes.  The transitions should be clear, and I don’t believe the reader will be confused.

Up until The Exorcism of Jack Evans, I always kept to a single point of view.  For this story, it felt very natural to alternate.  I think both characters are compelling, and it’s fun exploring their competing views.

I’m not going to have any problem reaching 50,000 words this month.  In fact, if I maintain this pace throughout the month, I might be able to finish the entire first draft before December.  If I manage that, it will be amazing, and a real milestone for how far I’ve come.

I’ll try to check in from time to time throughout the month.  I don’t want to spend too much time blogging because time spent writing a blog post is time I’m not writing Synthetic Dreams.  But, I do miss posting here.  I think Blog-tober went really well this year, and I’m humbled and glad that so many people stopped by to read what I have to say.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, let me know how you’re doing!  I’d love to cheer you on and offer  encouragement.

If you’re not participating… you should give it a try some time!  You still have time to jump in this year.  There’s no financial commitment involved, and the exercise is valuable even if you fall short of the 50,000 word goal.