NaNoWriMo 2016 Wrap Up

nanowrimo-winner-2016-badge

I had a hard enough time believing it was already November—and that was over a month ago. It’s always one of the busiest months of my year, thanks in part to NaNoWriMo. Now that we’re several days into December, I have to remind myself daily that I can relax—I no longer need to achieve a certain word count every day.

Still, even though I “won” a minute before midnight on November 23rd, that’s just a step on the path to finishing my novel. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo in 2012 (the year before I started participating), I wrote a post entitled “What Happens After NaNoWriMo?” I wanted to know if people called it quits after reaching 50,000 words or if they kept with their novels until the end (assuming their novels didn’t end at exactly 50,000 words).

As for me, I keep plugging away after 50,000 words (however long it takes). Otherwise, I would have quit after day 14 my first year. Winning to me isn’t just writing 50,000 words—it’s continuing until the story is finished telling itself. Last year, which was the most challenging so far, it took until day 27 to “win,” but it took months to finish the first draft. The experience made me tackle this year’s NaNoWriMo with more purpose.

I’ve slowed down since December first, though. Part of it is the pure craziness that is December. (Perhaps this is why no one was foolish enough to put it in December—who would have the time?) The first day of the month, when I was already up an hour later than usual, I sat down and typed 100 words, just so I wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving my novel hanging for a day.

Without November looming over me anymore, it’s a lot easier to procrastinate—even though I’m one story-day away from the scene I’ve been imagining for over a year. I’m getting hung up on things like voice. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m using four first person narrators this time. It’s what this story needs, but the problem is differentiating the narrators from one another. While this is really an issue for the editing stage, I can’t help but let the worry creep in that I should be doing a better job up front.

The other day, when writing the youngest of these characters, she said something that seemed particularly her, and I thought, This is it! But now, how to make “this” happen in every section she narrates? In a book I read over the summer, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, there are two narrators, twins (brother and sister). These characters are unique and a little peculiar, but their individual peculiarities shine through in such a way that it’s easy to pick out who is narrating without being told whose section it is.

I love how discovery happens through reading someone else’s story. I dream of inspiring someone with one of my own stories someday—but it’s not going to happen if I don’t go ahead and write—no matter how ragged the first draft is.

A Minor Miscalculation

I can’t believe we’re past the halfway point of November, and I’m just now blogging about NaNoWriMo. Some years, I’ve blogged about it on a weekly basis. This year, however, I’ve had even more obstacles than usual. (Seems like I always say that—but it’s true!)

November is a crazy-busy month in the Full-Time Writer Mom’s house. We have all the usual Thanksgiving stuff, plus my elder son’s birthday falls in this month. My husband was out of town all last week, and up until last night, my now-nine-year-old spent up to three nights a week and most Saturday mornings at the baseball field. Add to that the community chorus of which my husband and I are members and the children’s choir that my kids joined this fall, and my “life” has become something lived in five-minute spurts. By the time the kids are in bed at night, I’m wrung out and useless. Clean my house? What’s that? Write in my journal? It’s collecting dust. Oh, there’s one thing I have done: I’ve spent the last six weeks cramming for the final test I needed to complete my professional teacher certification. I took that test today, and—hallelujah!—I passed. So now, with fall ball over and the test behind me, I can finally devote more of my very divided attention to my novel—and even take a few minutes to blog about it. (Note that my house still isn’t clean, and we’re going to have a to cram a Christmas tree in here sometime soon.)

As for this year’s novel, I’m doing something I’ve never done before—I’m writing with multiple first person points of view. I assumed that I would write third person omniscient, but I kept reverting to first person present. The only way I could still tell the story I wanted was to expand beyond my usual one-narrator perspective. This is a challenge on a couple levels, the first of which is differentiating the character’s voices. Fortunately, this is something I should be able to address (for the most part) in the editing stage. The second challenge is simply remembering who the narrator is. Although I title each section with the narrator’s name, sometimes I get a few paragraphs in and forget—thus turning my poor character into a split personality (often turning into the very character he or she is talking about).

Add to this a new obstacle that I created out of thin air this year—a totally (unintentionally) fabricated word count. Let me first explain with this graphic:

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Okay, actually, I’m not bad at math. (Mind you, we’re not talking about calculus.) I’m a treasurer for a non-profit as well as a part-time bookkeeper for my family’s small business, so it’s very important that I’m competent in the basics and then some.

I’ve always prided myself in equal use of both sides of my brain: I’m creative and OCD; I can have conversations with my characters and format Excel spreadsheets; I’m a writer with a fairly good head for arithmetic. I’m generally a walking, talking contradiction, but, boy, did I live up to the assumption that writers can’t add earlier this month.

I’m going to chalk this one up to all that busyness that I wrote about at the beginning of this post. Why tack NaNoWriMo onto a schedule that already keeps me out late every weeknight? Well, because I can’t imagine not participating in NaNoWriMo. Believe me, I once thought it was crazy. (See my first NaNoWriMo post from 2012.) As I pointed out to my husband at the beginning of the month, I get a week-long break at Thanksgiving, so even if I’m abysmally behind, that’s a great time to catch up.

On the evening of November 1st, I got to around 1180 words, and I felt pretty good about myself—I’d just typed 1100 words more than I thought I would. I then told Thomas that I would need to type about 2700 words a day in order to finish by the November 30th deadline. If I’d paused to think for even half a second, I would have realized that 2700 words per day for 30 days was even more insane than the idea of starting and finishing a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. Something did strike me as kind of funny—2700 didn’t seem to be the right number—but I just figured I was rounding up from 2667, and that’s why it seemed off.

It wasn’t until day two that I remembered that if I type my word count into NaNoWriMo.org, it’ll give me all kinds of cool stats, like how far behind I am, how many words a day I need to finish, etc. So I plugged in my word count for the first two days and then looked at their cool little chart. Imagine my surprise when I saw that I was actually ahead. I was only off by…oh… a thousand when it comes to the word count. Can you imagine making a similar mistake on something actually important—like a mortgage? Sheesh. Thank goodness the mistake was in my favor.

The good news is that I now know I only have to type around 1700 words per day, and 18 days in, I’m averaging about 1800. While it’s less per day than the last three years, I’m still sticking to the hope that the week ahead will prove productive. Even with all the new challenges of NaNoWriMo 2016, I already feel like a winner.

Why Not Sign Up for Camp NaNoWriMo?

Fiction Fix Typewriter

For those who may be learning about Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time, it’s offered twice a year – the months of April and July – as a kind of warm up for the biggie, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), in November.

Last year, I finished editing my previous NaNoWriMo novel at the end of June and signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in July to work on an old, unfinished manuscript. This past April, I signed up again to work on a different novel that I’d started in December.

So why am I writing this when it’s almost halfway through July? To be honest, I almost gave up on the idea of participating this time. No, I haven’t finished the novel I worked on in April (although I did achieve the word count goal I set for myself). What happened is that I came up against a writer’s roadblock that I’ve written about numerous times: the mid-novel slump.

There is little more frustrating for a writer than knowing how your novel will end but then getting lost on the way. It reminds me of the family vacation we recently took, in which my GPS simply wouldn’t believe that our destination was on Sugarloaf Road. It was glad to take us to an empty field on Sugarloaf Mountain Road. While it’s a little misadventure we can laugh about now (and others who have been mislead by GPS can commiserate), at the time, it was aggravating because we knew where we wanted to be, just not how to get there.

Of course, with my novel, I can’t blame GPS. I was cruising along just fine and decided on the perfect twist to give my story more tension. The only problem was that I wrote myself into a hole in which I couldn’t write myself out.

Not knowing what else to do, I committed a big no-no: I went back to the beginning and started editing. Although it’s cost me a lot of time, I’m glad that I did. I’d written quite a few things that I’d forgotten, so I took notes along the way. I also trimmed a lot of extraneous words. And as I went, I realized what I would have to do when I got to that problematic scene that had effectively stopped my forward momentum: I would have to cut it.

There’s still tension, just not nearly as much. Although my scene isn’t the shocker that I originally planned, it’s no longer stalling the manuscript. It meant cutting 20 pages out that I spent days writing, but sometimes that’s what you have to do. I’m just glad that I’m moving forward again.

So now that I know what I’m doing, even though it’s 13 days in, I’m signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo. I am giving myself a low word count goal (12,000 words) because I hope that’s all it takes to finish this novel. Knowing my propensity for verboseness, it’ll likely be longer, but that’s okay. It’s often the scenic route that is most memorable.

 

Camp NaNoWriMo April 2016 Recap

Camp NaNoWriMo Apr 2016 Winner

I will have to say, compared to NaNoWriMo 2015, Camp NaNoWriMo in April was a cakewalk. Of course, part of that might be that you get to choose your word count goal. The minimum is 10,000, and although I was tempted to let that be it, I decided to do double. Twenty thousand words is nothing compared to the 50,000 in November, but after the struggle to finish the first draft of my 2015 novel, I wanted to take it easy (comparatively).

What I love about both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo is that you can update your word count every day, and then they create a graph to show how well (or poorly) you’re doing. This can be depressing if you’re coming in under. Considering that I didn’t even sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo until April 4th, my graph looked pretty pathetic at first. A bunch of nothing until day four, and then it was just a tiny little line. My total word count on the first day? Thirty-three words. But I’m happy to say that the line started to creep up, day by day. Being able to view my progress on that graph was encouraging.

The project I picked for Camp NaNoWriMo was a novel that I started in December (unexpectedly inspired to write by some good teen fiction). While concentrating on finishing the NaNoWriMo novel, I put this other one on the back burner, and when I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo, I had to read through all 20,000 words of what I’d written so far to figure out what to write next. During that read-through, I ended up cutting some (yes, a big NaNoWriMo no-no) and adding more, for a net gain of 33.

Another fun thing about both of these websites is that they calculate, based on your current rate of words per day, how long it will take to finish. I was supposed to write 20,000 words by the end of April, but for the first week or so, the calculation had me finishing in September. Yeesh. But as the days passed and the number of words I wrote per day went up, the gap closed. I would hit 20,000 by August, then July. Finally, I was on target to finish during the month of April. Typing like crazy, I hit my goal on the 20th.

As of April 30th, I had typed almost 31,000 words during Camp NaNoWriMo. The story still isn’t complete (it never is after just one month), but it’s a lot closer than it was a few weeks ago. Rather than interrupting it to edit my NaNoWriMo 2013, 2014, and 2015 books (because they’re a trilogy and need a lot of work), I’m going to keep going until I finish this one. It might be a long summer (with one more Camp NaNoWriMo opportunity in July), but I’m going to enjoy the process.

And if you’re a regular reader, you know that a big part of that process is reading. Right now I am devouring and being inspired by a lot of great teen fiction. But that’s a topic for another post.

Borrowed Books 2016

Stack of incredible teen books (and The Martian – also incredible)

NaNoWriMo 2015: The Saga Continues

Keep Calm and Write On

Yeah, I’m still writing my 2015 NaNoWriMo book. Will I ever finish?  I had high hopes that I would be done this month, so I could focus on something different for Camp NaNoWriMo in April. But I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself (the pressure to write 50,000 words in November was enough), so I’m not going to go so far as to call this an actual goal.

My writing over the past week had started picking up, and I thought I was seeing light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. But as Metallica says, it’s just a freight train coming my way. Maybe the light is right behind the freight train, but I just don’t know yet.

See, here’s what happened: my novel is the third of a trilogy, and I realized that I’d made some discoveries about at least one of characters that would necessitate going back and making changes to the first two books. No big deal. The point right now is just to finish the first draft of this book. I can edit the earlier manuscripts to my heart’s content later. Like after I take a month-long breather.

But then I realized that I’d forgotten something crucial that affects the book I’m writing right now. Say, for instance, that there’s a character who loses a leg. This character can’t run a marathon the week after losing said leg. But I was so mired in the slow forward plod of my plot that I forgot this important detail (which isn’t a missing leg, by the way). Once I realized it, I had a brainwave about how to fix it – and how to use it to move the story forward in a new way – but I still have to go back over a bunch of scenes that I thought were (at least temporarily) behind me. For all of you hardcore WriMos, no, this is not editing but merely adding. If I were still worried about a word count, it would be great. But I’m not; I just want to finish.

What does this mean for finishing? Well, it means I’ll have to spend a lot of time reading over pages that I’ll desperately want to edit, just so I can figure out where to splice in the stuff I forgot. I’ll have to finesse it all later. It’s gonna be ugly, but it’s gotta happen.

So that’s where I am. It’s my spring break, so I’m going to try to dedicate my spare time to writing. And not forgetting about any more… ahem… absent body parts.

Slow-Mo WriMo

It’s been one of those kinds of months – you know the kind. I’ve had mornings in which I almost put apple juice in my coffee. The day before Veteran’s Day (a holiday for everyone in the family), I was in a near panic about my son’s baseball game that night and getting the kids to bed on time afterward – and my husband just stood there and listened to me stress about this – before I realized that because we had Veteran’s Day off, we could all sleep late the next morning. Problem solved. Duh.

This November has been exactly as crazy-busy as I feared November would be back when I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2013. I had every excuse to not participate this year.

But I’m not here to give excuses. According to nanowrimo.org, I’m on schedule to finish my 50,000 words by November 29th. I would have been appalled by this last year, but I’m just happy that I’m still on track to finish this year.

So far, 2015 has been a very different experience than 2013 and 2014. Rather like trying to run in a dream, I can see exactly where I want to go and am trying desperately to get there, but my legs seem to be pumping in slow motion. Some nights, I don’t get to sit down and write until 9:30 (and I’m supposed to be asleep by then during the week). Sometimes I’m so tired that all I can do is stare at a blinking cursor, at a total loss for what to write. Other nights, I’ve written under 1000 words, happy that I was able to increase my word count at all. In fact, I told myself I would not write this blog until I had my word count met for the day, and this is the first day in two weeks that I’ve been able to do that before the kids were in bed.

This year’s novel is the third in a trilogy, the first of which I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2013, the second of which I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2014. Last year, it helped to edit the 2013 book right before I started on 2014, so I figured that this year, I would go back and edit 2013 and 2014. The only problem is that I only gave myself a month to do this (I was having too much fun writing my Camp NaNoWriMo book before that).

I got to the halfway point of the first book by mid-October and switched to the second book, which I wasn’t nearly finished with by October 31st. And at that point, I realized that 1) I needed to finish editing it anyway, to avoid terrible inconsistencies in this year’s novel, and 2) I had no idea how I was going to open the third book. Whereas with the previous years, I was brimming with words and could hardly stop them from flowing from my brain to my fingers/keyboard on November first, this year, I spent half the day editing, praying for a brainwave. None came. Sure, I knew lots of things that would happen later in the book, but I didn’t know how to start the confounded thing.

After three false starts, I got going and was able to limp forward for 2000 words. Now, 2000 words is a great daily goal. That means finishing on the 25th of the month, with plenty of time to spare. But my first year, I wrote  4700 words on the first day alone and had reached 10,000 by day three, 20,000 by day six. Last year was tougher, but I still managed 4100 words on November first and 10,000 by the 4th. I wrote well more than my personal minimum of 2000 per day, despite feeling like it was a slower start. It was a struggle the whole time, so I never imagined that this year would prove even more difficult.

Aside from dividing my writing time between two books for two-thirds of the month (I just finished editing last year’s book two days ago), being in editor mode – cutting, polishing, perfecting – is not the right mindset for NaNoWriMo, when the goal is to build, build, build.

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So I’m dumping mounds of sand right now, trying hard not to judge, trying to just get the job done so I can go back and make it the way I like it later. This dumping is ugly. Sometimes I’ll write a scene that’s not in chronological order because it just won’t let me go. Although these are fun to write, when I fill in the scenes in between, I often discover that I have to make so many changes that the fun-to-write scene barely resembles what I originally wrote. Oh well. It’s all a part of the process, I suppose.

And another part of this process, one that I just realized a week or so ago, when I was thinking that surely I should be on a roll by now, is that the middle is always the most difficult for me to write. It’s the in-between stuff that’s necessary but not exactly glamorous. And since this is a trilogy, much of this third book is still actually the middle of the story.

Plenty of exciting things are going to happen, but I just have to plow through and get to those things. Then maybe (please!) my story will take over and start telling itself. But even if it doesn’t, this girl isn’t about to quit.

Camp NaNoWriMo Recap

Camp NaNoWriMo 2015 Winner

This time last year, I never would have thought of participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. I was too concerned with having enough material for NaNoWriMo in November to use up all of my creativity in July. But of course, a year before that, I never would have thought I would participate in National Novel Writing Month to begin with. Write 50,000 words in one month? It seemed like the kind of thing that crazy people with no life would do.

So I guess I’m a crazy person with no life.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I participated in NaNoWriMo 2013. I didn’t even decide to do it until the weekend before November 1st. I never expected to actually write 50,000 words, but I wrote much more than that. In 2014, I signed up for NaNoWriMo again, and although it wasn’t nearly as easy the second time, I wrote the sequel to the 2013 novel, and I plan to write the third book of the trilogy this November.

Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a more laidback version of NaNoWriMo, takes place in both April and July. Instead of writing a 50,000-word novel from scratch, you simply declare your writing project goal for the month and then try to complete it. The minimum word count is 10,000, and you can even work on something that’s not a novel. April was a no for me both times because I was in the middle of editing the previous Novembers’ novels. But if you read my recent summer writing post, you already know that things changed for me this summer.

After finishing the latest revision of my 2014 novel, I gave my Muse a few days’ rest, but then she came back, apparently ready to get to work on a manuscript that’s been kicking around since 2009. It’s a story that I would add a scene to every once in a while, but I probably hadn’t opened the document in two to three years. After reading through everything I had – a little under 17,000 words at the time – I realized that I was ready to fill in the missing scenes, maybe even finish it.

I started writing, and much like my NaNoWriMo 2013 experience, it was like to direct the wall of water after the dam has broken. Then I realized that it was July, and if I was going to be writing anyway, I might as well declare my intentions officially by participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. When I signed up on July 9th, I was already at 20,000 words. Just in case the ideas petered out, I gave myself what seemed a pretty easy goal of 35,000 words total. That meant I only had to write 15,000 more in order to succeed. There were a couple days when it felt like I might be pushing it, but for the most part, inspiration was on my side.

I was at almost 54,000 words – well past my goal of 35,000 – when I began to slow down. I still had a week left, but I was already feeling the itch to edit. This is a no-no in NaNoWriMo because it can compromise your word count and keep you from finishing. But for Camp NaNoWriMo, I had more flexibility, and I really needed to go back and fix a big problem. I realized that I had too many main characters, one of whom was only the shell of a character. In my own mind, I considered him a throw-away – what would readers think? So I decided to cut him, but doing that meant going all the way back to the first page.

I also happened to have several unwritten scenes floating around in my head that I wanted to add to earlier parts of the book. Going back through it from the beginning helped me do this, and my word count slowly went up again. By July 31st, I recorded my word count at 55,652, and I have no intention of stopping, even though July is now behind me.

While I can’t say that Camp NaNoWriMo is the reason I’m working on an unexpected project in the middle of the summer, I am thankful that it lit a little bit of a fire under me, at least as far as making a writing goal is concerned. If you’re the type of person who has to be accountable to someone (or something) else in order to finish a writing project, I highly recommend it. You also have access to a community full of fellow campers who will give you support when you need it.

Not to mention that, if you’re unsure of if you should try the full NaNoWriMo experience, it’s a great way to practice. I know that I’m ready. Any experience that encourages me to write my heart out is a welcome one.