NaNoWriMo 2013: 50K, 17 days, how & why

Last Sunday I passed the 50K mark for NaNoWriMo. The web site won't let me "win" yet, because that doesn't get enabled until the 25th, but it let me verify that the 50K is real. That works for me.

There's always a lot of discussions around NaNoWriMo as to what challenges people encounter when they're trying to complete it. My two biggest ones are:
  1. The first of November, besides being the start of NaNoWriMo, is also about six weeks from code freeze at my day job. That means any software projects that have to go into production before the end of the year have to be in very good shape, with no delays. This tends to lead to overtime. If it doesn't lead to overtime, it still leads to a lot of stress, because everyone is more stringent than normal about schedule slippage, and every little thing gets put under the microscope to see if it will affect the launch date.
  2. I get an earache, fever, cold, or sinus infection every freaking November. Most years I'm just getting over it when I get a new illness just in time for Christmas (a major reason I absolutely hate Christmas — I've spent way too much time running around baking cookies and driving to relatives' houses when I should have been in bed nursing a toddy). I've learned that it comes down to sugar intake: if I limit my Hallowe'en candy and Yuletide treats, I lessen the chances I'll come down with something. Lessen. Not eliminate.
Notice that neither of those challenges have anything to do with writing. But if I get flattened by a challenging work project, or knocked out by bacteria, NaNoWriMo becomes much more of a slog.

There was one additional challenge which was writing-related: the previous times I've won NaNo, what I was left with was 50K of unintelligible crap. For 2013, I wanted to come out with 50K of editable crap. Baby steps and all that. That's why I spent last spring and summer writing an outline. The outline has been amazing, because I just have to write up what it says happens. I've made some changes along the way, but even so, it's been much, much easier than straight pantsing.

If you divide 50,000 words over the 30 days of November, you get the infamous 1,667 words per day average. That's fine until you have something else come up (like a sinus infection) that you absolutely cannot avoid. It's necessary to build slack into the schedule.

So I figured it this way:
  • 1,667 is awfully close to the 2,000 words per day Stephen King says writers should do every day anyhow. So call it 2,000. 50,000 / 2,000 = 25 days, not 30. Presto! 5 days of slack without even trying.
  • 5 days of slack isn't enough if I get sick and/or have a super-busy week at work. So let's call it 2,000 words per session, not day, and let's put two sessions per day on days which don't include the day job. I took 1 November as a vacation day, and get 11 November as a holiday because I work in Canadian banking. That works out to 50,000 words by 17 November.
  • Honestly: 2,000 words on a weeknight is a lot for me. It used to be that 500 words was a lot for me on a weeknight, but Friday Flash has helped me get better about that. Let's say 1,000 words per weeknight as a minimum, 2,000 words as the goal. And let's add another 2,000 word session to the weekend and holiday days, for a goal total of 6,000 words per day on those days.
And that's why the bar graph on my NaNoWriMo profile looks like this:
You can see which days were weekdays (gradual increments) and which were weekends (steeper steps). I had three bad days:
  • The 2nd was bad because, ironically, I went to a local NaNo brunch event and had a lovely time talking to people — and then was completely wiped out afterwards. Being an introvert really sucks sometimes.
  • The 11th was bad because I felt like I was coming down with something. It took me almost two hours to get the 578 words completed that day done, not because I had writer's block, but because I kept spacing out and falling asleep. I finally gave up and had a "sick day", which turned out to be the right thing to do.
  • The 16th was bad because I had a flood in my washroom first thing in the morning, and had to have emergency plumbing done. It was all fixed by lunch-time, but spending the morning in a panic, trying to assess the damage and get hold of the plumbers, was not a good way to start a creative day.
Here's the actual spreadsheet if you want to see the hard numbers for each day.

I'm on Chapter 19 of approximately 33 chapters by the outline (there is a chapter or two extra that need to be added to the first third of the novel). The total will come to about 80K words. Since I'm already past 50K, I'm going to take it a bit easier.

Now the plan is 1,000 words per weeknight, with 2,500 words per day on weekends. That's still 10,000 words per week — a nice pace, I think — but not as busy as NaNoWriMo was. Having said that, I'm already 1,000 words behind because I didn't get home until 9pm tonight! Oh well, 3,500 words in one day after those 6,000 word days will be pretty easygoing. That should get my first draft finished the first week of December, and still gives me catchup time if I get ill or swamped.

How do you handle your schedule? It would be great to hear about different approaches in the comments.

    will november just start already?

    Confession: it really annoys me when I hear an author being interviewed and they talk about their characters as if they are real people. And not just real people, but people they know the complete past, present, and future of. It just sounds so lame somehow, at best eccentric and at worst delusional.

    What makes it even worse is that this annoyance makes me a self-hating hypocrite, because that's exactly what happens to me.

    Last year was my worst NaNoWriMo yet — 300 words for the month. There were excuses: overtime worked, Yule presents to knit, illness. That last excuse is especially weak since I'm always sick in November, but the others are weak too. The main reason, in the end, was writer's block.

    I was writing other things, like Friday Flash every week, and the Tuesday serial which was running at the time. But the novel characters just didn't want to talk.

    Now they are. Now they're talking so much they're telling me things that can't possibly be relevant to the story (or maybe it is?). Now they're even suggesting structural things, like how to name and organise the chapters.

    It's got to the point where instead of the "why did I sign up for this?" dread I usually get before NaNoWriMo starts, I can't wait to get going. It's weird.

    I'm going to try to stick to my original plan of getting some flash fiction done before November starts, and then sticking to the project plan I outlined as much as is reasonable.

    50,000 words month or no, it will be good to Finish All the Things.

    How are you doing with your writing plans? Or do you not use plans and just let the Muse arrive as she feels like?

    t-17 days: thinking about deadlines

    NaNoWriMo starts in seventeen days. That means I've been looking at the calendar, trying to figure out how exactly I can make word count in the shortest amount of time without ruining my health.

    In previous years, I've usually managed to finish a few days before 30 November, but that's not the whole story. When I look back on the days I wrote and how many words got set down, it's much more like a flood/drought situation: 9,000 words (or more) on the weekend, maybe 1,000 during the week.

    I seem to have deleted my old word count spreadsheets from previous years, but I did find a note from last year (where I got under 1,000 words done for the whole month, ouch!). The projected plan was if I wrote 2,500 words on Fridays, and 5,000 words each day of the weekend, and then another 5,000 on 11 November (because I work somewhere we get Remembrance Day off), then I'd just make it. That must have been a November which was heavy on overtime.

    Yeah. I just can't feel bad about missing that one.

    There's lots of sprints and other on-line events to get writers ready for November. For me, the best thing has been Friday Flash. Usually I wind up writing my story on Wednesday or Thursday nights. Often I don't have an idea for my story until Wednesday or Thursday night. To work out and write an entire short story, even a flash one, in that amount of time is a lot harder than sustaining a longer one. It also means that writing when I'm tired, sick, busy, etc. isn't as daunting as it used to be.

    This year I projected that if I write:
    • 2,000 words per block
    • 1 block each weeknight
    • 2 blocks on weekends, the vacation day I'm taking 1 November, and 11 November
    Then I'll be done by 17 November. I doubt that will actually be true, but it's an interesting thought. 2,000 words isn't that much more than the hard average of 1,667 words per day to reach the 50,000 goal, assuming you write every day for the entire month.

    All this play with numbers is a good reminder that in the end, it's not the word count, but the story that matters. The word count will get you a web badge and a certificate to print out. The story will get you most of the way through writing a book.

    t-31 days and counting!

    Last Saturday I participated in the 10K Day event that Fear of Writing held. My goal wasn't to actually write 10,000 words — just to get the outline for my current novel done. I didn't quite make it, but I'm a lot closer than I was before. The idea is to finish this week.

    Besides the obvious part about needing to get it done simply because it needs to, there's the issue that this is the project I want to do for NaNoWriMo this year. In the meantime, there's the getting ready for NaNoWriMo to do:
    • write five Friday Flash stories ahead so I can post them during the month and not take time from NaNoWriMo activities
    • get some soup and stew meals lined up so I don't have to spend a lot of time cooking when I could be writing
    • do some more baking and get it in the freezer. I try to make my own (whole grain, spelt, low sugar) breakfasts, and scones/malt loaf are nice and portable for the office. Greek yogurt and fresh fruit is even better, but I'm just not that organised.
    • knit five socks so I won't be behind on Yule knitting. That's five socks, not five pairs of socks. There are three pairs (ie: six socks) in total, but I'm not crazy enough to think I'll get all of them done before October ends, given that none of them are even cast on yet. That's one sock done every six days in October. That's not too bad. Really. Um...
    • finish at least one of the two jackets I'm sewing. I'll be needing them when it gets colder.
    Those are the major things. I don't count housecleaning because:
    • it's an ongoing thing
    • in this apartment it's mostly automated
    • it gives me time to plan my next writing move
    Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Do you have any "make-ahead" tips and tricks for getting through November (or any writing marathon)?

    getting ready for NaNoWriMo

    National Novel-Writing Month is coming up fast, and lots of people are blogging about getting ready. You can join your local NaNo support group, brainstorm ideas, learn about productivity tools, and practise telling your friends that you're busy when what you specifically mean is that you're busy writing*. Some people have also started to talk about outlining (I'm outlining for NaNoWriMo for the first time this year — we'll see how it goes), and about strategies for getting the requisite 50,000 words done in 30 days.

    All of those things are important — for the writing part. But there's more to consider.

    Housecleaning: This is the last week for the next month that most NaNoWriMo participants will have to do a thorough housecleaning. If you are a writer who can't write in clutter (erm, like me), this is very important. I do not think it's a coincidence that I've been getting more done since I moved to an apartment with a dishwashing machine and ensuite washer and dryer.

    Food: For my first NaNoWriMo, I lived on takeout from the local Chinese/Canadian diner. They're a wonderful diner, but I don't think they're meant to be the main source of sustenance for an entire month. Now I have a slow cooker and a collection of casserole recipes that can be made quickly. Real food made from real ingredients is important if you're going to avoid getting sick around the 30,000 word mark. I know if you're half of a couple you can always bribe/cajole/negotiate with your significant other, but the rest of us have to think of these things.

    Locations: Working from your usual spot at home isn't always the best. Scout out libraries, cafés, and anywhere else you might be able to write. I just found out that my local library has comfy seating areas with easily accessible electrical outlets. That means I can keep writing there after my laptop batter runs out.

    Exercise: If your day job is a desk job, NaNoWriMo can be a drag because you're basically making yourself go home and do what you do at work (even if the output is very different). Taking half an hour to do some exercise is what you should be doing anyhow, plus it lets you take a better break between computer sessions. Which brings me to:

    Decide what to do about your commute: Are you going to NaNoWriMo during it or not? I have chosen not to; instead, I'm going to use it for battery recharging and read or knit. Then again, I have heard enough stories of people who have written entire novels on the subway to know that for some people, their commute is their writing time. Something to consider.

    * Actually, that's a good thing to learn how to do year-round.

    Off to the races

    Today was the first day of NaNoWriMo, and I've already written more than I did in the first three days last year. This is actually a pretty busy November for me (clients visiting from out-of-country, family events, friends-wh0-don't-do-NaNoWriMo events), so I've been trying to get a bit ahead of the game. So far, I am, although not as much as some people on the site!

    I'm continuing with the idea that there is "time to write." It's just you just have to plan for it, the same as you plan in shopping for groceries, doing the laundry, and everything else. In practical terms:
    • I made a big enough meal for four people tonight (Spanish rice, steamed broccoli, grilled chicken, organic spinach sausages) and tucked the leftovers into the fridge. With judicious packaging and freezing, and assuming I keep up my cooking schedule, I should be able to get away with no cooking at all the middle two weeks of the month, which is the NaNoWriMo stress time. Tomorrow I'm making chicken soup.

      The food thing is important to me because last year when I did this I wound up living almost exclusively on take-away from the local Chinese Canadian diner. They make lovely diner food, but no-one's supposed to live on it morning, noon, and night for days on end. Seriously.
    • So far I've managed to stay off the internet long enough to actually get work done. This is a lot harder than last year, where I had the excuse of not having bothered to set up a wireless connection on my router. This year is something else again.
    At any rate, it's all so far, so good. I'm not following the outline I wrote that well, but I'm still glad I wrote it, because it made me think through the world I was creating. It will be interesting to see what state things are in at the end of the month.