Nanowrimo Done

Did I win Nanowrimo? Yes, yesterday at about 10:30 am. I kept at it today just so I could get the badge for writing 30 days in a row. I am a sucker for gamification. Once I set out to collect badges, the completist in me keeps niggling away until I get as many as possible.

Badges

Do I have a novel written? No. Nothing like it. I have 50960 words in a collection of scenes arranged in a structure that bears some resemblance to that of a novel. It has a beginning and a middle, but as yet it has no end. It is certainly going to turn out to be longer than fifty thousand words which is the goal of Nanowrimo.

I think many of the individual scenes are great, and the order they are placed in suggests a narrative of sorts. But I have a long way to go before the first draft is finished, let alone the novel completed and edited.

Am I happy with what I have written? Strangely, yes. It is rough, but it is the core of a good book. It did not turn out quite as I expected it. What novel ever does? In this case, things deviated even further from my rough outline than usual, but that does not trouble me. I found answers to questions I did not know I had.

Enough of the question and answer format. I learned some things this Nanowrimo, as I usually do when I sit down to write, and as I all too often forget mere weeks after that writing is done.

The main thing is that sprints work for me. No matter how sick I was, and I was plenty sick this November, with vertigo and flu and RSI, I was never so sick that I could not set a timer for 10 minutes and write till the alarm sounded.

After the first sprint, it became easier to do the next one. Many a day, it would take me ages to set that timer. Once I did, I forced myself to write anywhere between 300 and 500 words.

Once it was done, I could talk myself into going for a second one. After that, I assured myself, I could give up for the day if I really wanted to.

But, by the end of the second timer, I was usually well on my way to a thousand words. I could probably achieve it in less than ten minutes, so let’s just set the timer again and start.

And I would hit one thousand words before the timer went, so why not keep on going until the end? At that point, it was only another four hundred words or so to hit the Nanowrimo daily goal of 1666 words, so why not just set that last timer and try for it?

Some mornings, once I hit the daily average, I was in spitting distance of two thousand words, which would give me a nice cushion against future failure. And so it went. On the worst days, there might be half an hour breaks between ten-minute sprints, but I still managed them in the end.

The main thing was simply showing up and doing the work. I think the structure of Nanowrimo, the daily badges, the charts that show your progress, the rewards for hitting milestones all helped motivate me on days when I otherwise might just have stayed in bed. There was also the social pressure of not wanting to admit failure having publically announced my participation.

To get all touchy-feely for a moment, even the fact that I knew I was participating in a once-a-year global event helped. People I know here in Prague were also involved in the project. I even attended a write-in. I am sure the fact that humans are social animals had something to do with my making progress.

In all of these ways Nanowrimo was useful and I cheerfully donated my money to the cause. (It did not hurt that I got another badge too, and a tasteful halo around my author picture on their site.)

Downsides? There were days when I was writing filler. I did the words just to boost my count, and I will most likely have to cut such scenes out when the edit comes. One or two will probably be distilled down into paragraphs. Others will go completely.

That said, there were days when I sat down to write scenes and I had no idea what was going to come out of them. Some of these scenes were pure gold. Characters would reveal their motivation. Huge plot points would be resolved in sentences of revelatory dialogue. Things that changed the direction of the whole book ambushed me. I would never have found these things if I had not just sat down and written.

In general, I tend to be an exploratory writer. Often things only become clear to me once the writing is under way. I often start with detailed outlines but still things mutate and change. Sometimes, I don’t know what I am really writing about until the book is well under way and something happens that brings everything into focus.

Scrivener helps. It makes it easy to write in scenes and shuffle those scenes into a new order with a drag and a drop.

Speech recognition helps when the RSI gets bad, but I ended up using it less than I expected. I am most comfortable at a keyboard I guess. The habits of more than thirty years are hard to change. Sometimes, for a change of pace, I used the Freewrite or speech recognition or Byword on the Mac. Shaking things up helps when you’re stuck or lacking motivation.

So here’s my formula for Nanowrimo. Use a timer. Work a little every day, usually in sprints. Use whatever text editor is at hand. Have a plan of sorts. Keep everything together in Scrivener. Cut and paste it in by the end of the day. Track your word count.

Oh and don’t trust the word counter in Scrivener, Byword, Ulysses or Microsoft Word. All of them came up long. I had a count that was over 50K in all of them. When I cut and pasted my text into Nanowrimo’s verifier, the total came up fourty-nine thousand and something words. Aim to write a few hundred words over 50000 in any of those text editors. Lesson learned. And that’s it, until next year.


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