NaNoWriMo Endgame

At 16:50 yesterday I completed the first draft of my novel for NaNoWriMo. When it was validated it came to 50,039 words.

It was not all plain sailing. The last section was written while I suffered from a very bad flu. Just to complicate matters when I reached about 43,000 words I realised that my outline was going to be useless as a guide to completing the book. I originally thought that the murder mystery plot I was using was going to be a short introduction to the quest adventure. There I was 80% of the way through and the crime had just been solved and the villain had yet to be captured and punished.

Worse than that, last Saturday I found myself sitting staring at the screen, unable to come up with any way of making the plot move. I had run out of road. I thought I knew where I was going but I didn’t and it left me stumped. The flu didn’t help. I drummed my fingers and tried to make progress but it just was not happening. Eventually I asked myself what the problem was and realised that deviating from my outline had thrown me into a loop. Fortunately, there was an easy answer.

I remembered what Rachel Aaron said in her excellent book 2K to 10k and I realised that I needed a new outline. I wrote almost 3000 words telling me what was going to happen in the next 7000 words. I looked at all the plot strands that needed to be completed and I wrote a structure that closed all of the loops in a dramatically satisfying way.

Once that was done it was time to knock off for the day. I didn’t do anything for the next two days mainly because I wanted to give myself some time off from the keyboard and get over the flu. I sat down on Tuesday morning with my new outline, plugged in my microphone and started Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I started writing (or rather dictating) and it was easy as connecting the dots in a child’s puzzle. I raced through 7500 words and reached my desired word count. Done.

Do I have a complete novel? Of course not. I have a rough first draft but that’s all I expected to have. It’s going to need a thoroughgoing rewrite to make it readable. On the other hand I do have a book that surprised me. It turned out not to be at all what I expected. I thought I was going to be writing a cross-country adventure ending up in an alien fortress where mad gods were imprisoned. Turns out that’s the next book. This one deals with the hunt for a shape shifting assassin who has framed our hero for murder and who must be caught before he can unleash the aforementioned mad gods.

I’m really happy that I did this thing. I learned a lot about how to be productive. It was also a lot of fun to just let myself off the leash and improvise for a bit. I also learned that at the end of the day I am a writer who really needs the structure an outline gives.

What else did I learn?

WriteMonkey is awesome. It is stable, fast and light. It plays well with Dragon NaturallySpeaking – better than Microsoft Word in fact. I’d go so far as to say better than any word or text processor I have used. It has two huge benefits. It has an internal timer for when you’re doing sprints. It also has a partial word count feature similar to Scrivener which lets you see exactly how much you have written during those sprints. I’m not sure I would like to revise a novel in WriteMonkey but I am certain it is currently the best thing for me to write my first drafts in.

I started this month determined to write my novel in markdown. I was pretty certain that I was going to use Ulysses 3. I did for a while but I found that I preferred using WriteMonkey because of the timer and word count features. I also found that it was really excellent for one of the tricks that I learned from David Hewson’s (also excellent) Writing a Novel with Ulysses 3.

I left myself little notes in comments about would needed to be rewritten or changed. I also left little notes about upcoming plot points that needed to be foreshadowed. In WriteMonkey this is very easy you simply write a couple of frontslashes. There you have your comment. Your hands never need to leave the keyboard. Comments are ignored in the word count and when exported unless you tell WriteMonkey differently. Even better, in WriteMonkey’s document map it is very easy to find the comments so you can jump between them quickly.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking proved to be invaluable when I was suffering from RSI. It’s not something I like to use all the time but when I need it, it is excellent.

Writing sprints were the real discovery of this month for me. I never thought I could do them. The idea of writing in five minutes bursts always struck me as a bit silly. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to write 200 words in five minutes than nothing at all. There’s nothing silly about that.

Anyway, that was NaNoWriMo for me. Good luck to everyone out there who is still working away on their book!

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