NaNoWriMo 2017 Post-Mortem

Notes on what I did well and not-so-well after completing NaNoWriMo 2017.

Hi! I’m finally back with another writing update. I completed NaNoWriMo again this year, and here’s my assessment of my performance.

Summary

This year’s novel is code-named “Survey.”

It’s a science fiction/fantasy set many thousands of years in the future, in a time after a long war between humans and aliens has finally resulted in a treaty.

A human captain leads a ship on a mission to survey a planet, where a lost colony had once been established thousands of years before. They find a struggling pre-Industrial human society, and alien ships in orbit.

The captain’s ship is shot down, and an alien plot that leads to the brink of war unfolds.

What I Did Well

First I like to highlight what I did well, so I remember to do them in the future.

Workmanlike Effort

I’ll be perfectly honest. At no point during the writing of this draft did I feel particularly inspired or excited about this novel. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like it has potential, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.

What I’m trying to say is that I was never driven by a “muse” or “divine inspiration” or a “need to tell this story” or a “personal connection to the characters” or anything like that. Every day I had to force myself to continue writing, because I wanted to give up on it pretty much every single day.

This was a very valuable experience.

Minimal “filler words”

During the gamified NaNoWriMo event, where the focus is on quantity, not quality, there’s a very strong temptation to just put *anything* into your NaNoWriMo draft. This is a fairly well-known, joked-about phenomenon. I call them “filler words.” They might be ideas for another story you’re thinking of, the weather, “I don’t know what to write” over and over, the complete works of Monty Python, things like that.

My personal favorite filler material is breaking the fourth wall to have the characters talk about the story they are involved in, or brainstorming notes about what to write next.

This very blog post could conceivably be used as “filler words” for my draft. I am starting this post on Day 30 with 48,407 draft words completed, instead of writing words to finish up my draft.

But this year, I’ve added very few filler words. I counted only three days that included “filler” content, and I kept it relatively focused on brainstorming for this particular story. I didn’t ever venture into discussing the weather, for example. (The weather was chilly for most of November, incidentally.)

That means that for 27 out of the 30 days of the event, even though I never really felt like I quite knew what to write next, I buckled down and figured out what was appropriate to write for the story.

I finished the story

If you’ve done NaNoWriMo more than once, you probably know that you can’t write what would be considered a novel today in 50,000 words. My personal target for a debut novel is 90,000 words. I’ve read repeatedly that 80-90k words is roughly the point where publishers are willing to “take a chance” on a new writer. They aren’t likely to publish a debut author’s 200,000 epic fantasy, in other words. Get a few successful books out first, then we’ll talk.

(Incidentally, I still consider traditional publishing the best route for me to follow in my writing career. While it would be relatively easy to self-publish, and in fact I *have* self-published a book on Amazon, I just don’t have the mettle to deal with marketing.)

Getting back to the point, there’s a strong temptation to simply stop writing at 50,000 words on Day 30, even though one knows quite well the story isn’t over yet. For me in particular, once the month is over, I really don’t want to write any more. The “special event” is over, and there’s no more social motivation to continue writing. One has to go back to internal motivation and self-discipline, which is what we in the writing biz call “work.”

In the past, I have ended drafts unfinished. Last year, in fact, when I got to 50,000 words of my historical fiction, I felt like I had only completed perhaps one of three parts in the overall story.

But this year I determined that I would complete the story. I knew I could not write the 90,000 words required to tell it fully in November, but I knew that if I did not at least summarize the end of the story, I would never get back to it.

So over approximately the last five days, I stopped trying to “show, not tell” and reverted strictly to telling. This allowed me to dilate huge swaths of time down to paragraphs, and resolve most of the plot threads that I had started earlier. Later, I will be able to come back and expand those paragraphs out into chapters, instead of scratching my head wondering how to finish an unfinished manuscript.

What I Did Poorly

Of course it wouldn’t be much of a post-mortem unless I had criticisms of my performance.

Procrastination

I procrastinated a *lot* during November. I had plenty of time for writing, but I did not use it wisely. I could have easily written 100,000 words or more in November, if I had really set my mind to it. On good writing days it was easy to achieve 2,500 words. Pushing further to 3,000 or 3,500 would not have been difficult with some discipline.

Grammar

I don’t think the quality of this year’s writing is very good. It will require a lot of editing.

It’s not unusual for my first drafts to be poor, because I am more focused on getting down the ideas in my head before they fly away, but I think it was worse than usual this year.

Improving the quality of my first drafts is a point that I want to work on, because I don’t enjoy the revision process as much as the writing process. Once I know how the story is going to turn out, it’s less of a creative process and more of a crafting process. (Not to say that there isn’t a lot of art in grammar, it’s just that I am not particularly good at the more literary styles of writing.) I think of it like sculpting: Chiseling and filing away at the words and sentences until they look right.

If I can improve the quality of my first drafts, it will make the revision process that much faster. I don’t really know how to get better at it except to keep practicing.

Airworld Agenda

After two whole days without writing anything (where it felt like I had about 5 hours of spare time each day), I’m back on it! However, I’m going to take a short break from Naobi and Cheton and work on some scenes from Motiva that have been in the back of my mind for a while, which will hopefully become relevant toward the end of the story. I’m also going to wait a few days before I start posting again. Thanks!

Lute of the Sparrow Available Again

I have re-published my first novel Lute of the Sparrow on Amazon and CreateSpace.

I have re-published my first novel Lute of the Sparrow on Amazon and CreateSpace. I disabled it a while back because … well, I don’t actually remember why. Possibly because I thought it might hurt my “career” as an author (such as it is). Perhaps I thought that if I ever did submit that novel to a publisher, they might Google it, find it on Amazon, see that only four people have read it, and drop my manuscript in the trash. However the odds of me submitting that manuscript to a publisher without significant alterations is pretty slim.

Lute of the Sparrow for Kindle – 3.49

Lute of the Sparrow for Nook – 3.49

Lute of the Sparrow Paperback from CreateSpace – 9.95

In case you are wondering, no I don’t make any money from those, and no I would not recommend self-publishing unless you 1) hire someone to paint a cover for you and 2) super-dedicate yourself to obnoxious self-promotion 24/7. So don’t quit your day job. :)

Upcoming Schedule

Looking at my schedule, which is really a virtual schedule, in that there is nothing to physically look at, I see that October has just begun, and I’m currently a little over 15k into Airworld, and writing at what I estimate to be a slothful rate of 500 words a day. NaNoWriMo begins on November 1 and runs through November 30.

Naobi still has to have an adventure in Sarin Morn, some kind of discovery or adventure in Leavon, and, assuming nothing else happens, she still needs to deal with the Council. Which does not even consider events going on back in Motiva. Basically what I’m saying is that there is very little chance I’m going to be done with Airworld by the end of October, unless I miraculously begin writing closer to 2000 words a day.

So don’t be surprised if I have to set it aside during November. I’ll try to get to a somewhat logical stopping point, at least.

Slightly Belated April Update

April’s update, where I come up with a thoroughly disgusting and grisly metaphor.

I was scheduled to finish the first draft of Tel on April 30. I think I did pretty well on that, in that I was indeed finished Monday night. Until I thought of a tiny thing I needed to add to resolve one plot line. Then on Tuesday morning I thought of one other tiny little thing I needed to add to explain what happened to one of the characters.

It made me think of that old logic puzzle (Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, I believe), which I will now adapt to the writing process: Suppose that each day a writer sits down to write, he finishes exactly half of what is left to write. How long does it take him to finish? The answer is forever! That’s pretty much what writing a novel is like. You never “finish” per se, because there is always an infinite number of things you can do to improve it. In order to move on, you have to make a conscious decision to abandon it. I imagine it’s something like having a baby, except that instead of nature performing the normal birthing process, you have to do it yourself by tearing the child from your flesh, leaving behind a massive, bloody cavity of organs, meat, and bone fragments.

Hrm. Yeah, that sounds about right.

So anyway, after I write those two tiny scenes, which I will probably do after I finish writing this post, I will be ready to abandon Tel. (Update written before posting: Those two tiny scenes are done!)

Then what? An excellent question. I am not scheduled to start my next project until June 1. I’ll have four full months to complete that one, so I expect I’m going to set an unprecedented word count goal of 150,000 for it. I used to think that my first novel submission needed to be 90k-100k, but even a 150k book is pretty short in the fantasy field. If I spend a few weeks planning, then the rest of the time writing, I should be able to meet that easily. Assuming there is enough story to fill 150,000 words, which is always a challenge.

In the intervening month of May I could do a number of things. 1) I could do nothing, which would obviously be the easiest thing, but not writing after months of writing would leave a hole in my life akin to the death of a loved one, which would leave me pretty depressed and likely to spend most of my off time playing uselessly unproductive MMOs, and then when June rolls around I won’t feel like writing and I’ll be out of practice to boot. So I’m not sure I like that path.

I could 2) continue working on the Tel draft because of the aforementioned infinite number of things I can do to improve it. However, that doesn’t seem like a productive thing to do either. It feels like this draft is at the point where it needs to be set aside to “simmer” so I can come back to it later. If I had alpha readers, this would be the point where I would send them some chapters to get some feedback.

Or I could 3) do some revisions on a previous draft. This is probably what I’m going to do. I’ll pull out Kubak Outpost, import it into Scrivener, and start revising it to fix all of the known problems in it. I was quite fond of that story but I know it has too many problems to submit it anywhere. If I spend a month correcting those problems (mainly rearranging the order of things, as I recall), I could possibly start sending out query letters for it in June, so I can start building my collection of rejection letters!

The Sovereign of Tel Draft Completed

I have finished what could loosely be defined as a “first draft” of The Sovereign of Tel. Now what??

Okay, here’s the sitch. I have finished what could loosely be defined as a “first draft” of The Sovereign of Tel. (Although, technically, it is the third draft of the March project. It’s hard to define these things. The first revision might not count since it was a totally different story and world.)

Now I face the same dilemma I had after I finished a draft of Kubak Outpost. I’ve imported everything into Scrivener for Windows, which, sadly, is the best thing out there for novel management on Windows, as far as I can tell. So now I can look at the draft from a very high level for the first time. (I used WriteMonkey during the actual writing.)

Wow, it needs work. I can clearly see that I wasn’t really into it through the entire first half of the draft. Almost all of it would need to be redone before I would feel comfortable with it. Also, the focus of the novel changed over time. Also, some sub-plots were started but I could never work them back in later. Also, it doesn’t really have a beginning.

So here’s my question. (If any of the Writing Excuses folk happen to see this, it would be an awesome topic for a podcast.) I’ve written this draft, but I know it needs work. Should I a) shelve it and go to my next project, and try not to repeat the same mistakes, or b) take some time to fix it up now while it’s still fresh in my mind?

Decision, decisions.

March Writing Update

At the end of this weekend, I should be around 50,000 words into The Sovereign of Tel. I hope to be finished with a decent first draft by the end of April. I am not completely happy with it right now, but I’m soldiering on anyway in the hope that I can patch it up in a rewrite.

My coolest achievement for the month is this nifty spreadsheet to keep track of my word totals. It does nifty gradients and everything. I set a 7,500 word goal for Monday through Friday, and originally I set a 5,000 word goal for the weekend, thinking I would obviously have more time to write. Well, perhaps counter-intuitively, it turns out, after a week of a day job and writing, I don’t seem to have the energy to write a lot on the weekend. So now I’ve shifted it back down to the regular 3,000 words. (I can’t remember where I read it, so I can’t give credit, but somewhere I read that setting a weekly word count goal might work better than a daily word count goal. So far it’s working for me.)

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I have also planned out my writing schedule for the rest of the year, and hopefully every subsequent year. I will write a novel from January-April, take May off, then write a novel from June through September, then take October off, then do NaNoWriMo in November, and take December off. The idea is to write as many novel drafts as I can.

With this Tel book, I tried to outline everything in the book from beginning to end, so I wouldn’t get to the end and find myself struggling to figure out how to tie everything together like I usually do. Well, it didn’t work. My outline wasn’t detailed enough, and I still don’t know how to tie everything together. So lesson learned: Either a) Spend more time outlining the ending, or b) Just plan on “discovering” the ending no matter what.

I did a more detailed outline because I wanted to find out if I work better as an “outliner” than as a “discovery writer.” Outline writers plan everything out beforehand and work from that. Discovery writers basically make it up as they go, and fix continuity problems in a rewrite. Thus far I’ve been more of a discovery writer, but I wanted to try outlining.

As it turned out, I still deviated from the outline. So I guess even with an outline, I still want to “discover” things. On the other hand, an outline is very useful for giving me at least a framework of what’s going on, and at least a fuzzy idea of where things are going. When you’re staring at a blank page, it’s really helpful to bring up the outline and re-remember what’s supposed to be happening.

So I guess I’m sort of a half-outline, half-discovery writer. It seems like I outline to the point in the story where things need to start getting resolved, and then I start discovering. It’s kind of a frustrating way to work, actually.

February Update

Time for another fan update. Because real writers do that, or so I’ve read.

Last time I mentioned a short story about a magic sword with a bad personality. Well, I got bored with that. I was trying to write it from the perspective of the sword, which sounded very cool in my head, but, well, it didn’t work out.

I did, in fact, write a short story called Lucas the Jewish Vampire, which I thought was hilarious, but it will probably not be as funny when I go back to revise it. (In it, I learned that vampires are afraid of rabbis… who knew?)

I also wrote a very short story about a harpy named Margway, who was a side character in my NaNoWriMo novel Kubak Outpost. The short story is the chapter I had envisioned to introduce her character long before I had decided on the Kubak story. In it, we find out she had lost her son in a tragic accident, and her husband died in battle (mainly from grief over losing their son), and then she was driven out of her home eyrie, so now she wanders the land, bitter and alone, looking for her true purpose in life. As it turned out, none of that was relevant to the Kubak story. But I thought the harpy race has been sorely under-represented in fantasy literature.

Speaking of Kubak Outpost, I think I have decided that instead of splitting it into two different novellas, I will attempt (later) to patch it all up into one novel. I think I just need to move some of the elements from the second half up closer to the beginning.

Before revisiting Kubak, though, I began a new fantasy novel, part of my finish-two-more-novels-before-November master plan. It was going to be set in a world with big floating creatures that served as transportation between mountain cities, but as I outlined and re-outlined and re-re-outlined the story (something I don’t normally do, incidentally), the flying stuff didn’t come into play at all, so now it’s just set in a regular old medieval city, where the Elahi aristocracy breed and train their Buhite servants, sort of like dog breeders. What could possibly be more uplifting than a story about the human capacity to fully degrade and de-humanize another species?

Oh, and I installed WordPress on my site, so I won’t be using Tumblr anymore. Now you can see my witty Twitter updates and my witty blog posts in the same place!

Update

I like to keep both of my fans informed of my work, so here’s what I’m doing.

This month I have been working on revising my NaNoWriMo 2011 novel, and it hasn’t been going very well. I finished close to half of a second draft, wherein I rewrote a lot from scratch, but I had to stop when I sensed a rather major flaw. I like the characters and I particularly like the character relationships, but there is unfortunately a startling lack of plot around them. In fact, the plot that I had intended to be the main focus of the novel back in November doesn’t start until about the halfway point, which I’m pretty sure is not the way these things are supposed to work. Breaking it up into two different novellas is the only way I can imagine rescuing it. I have patched together the first one as a third draft, but it still needs considerable work before it turns into a Three Act Story.

In the meantime I am going to start a new project: A short story about a magic sword.

After that, well, I’m not sure. I just finished watching all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I’m pretty sure is the quintessential template for urban/paranormal fantasy, so I have a few ideas in that area. I want to write something that undermines all modern vampire tropes. For example, one of the vampires might be sort of a Jewish hypochondriac, like Woody Allen, with one of the super old school vampire “powers” like severe OCD. Unfortunately, given the absolute glut of vampires, werewolves, and zombies in urban fantasy right now, it’s impossible for me to believe that such a concept could be sold. But it would still be fun to write.