Last Minute Writing Tips

NaNoWriMo 2018 Winner BannerI think this is the first November since I started NaNoWriMo in 2013 in which I didn’t update my novel’s progress at some point between its start and validation. I was so behind on my word count for so long that I didn’t dare do any other writing project—even a short blog to update my (lack of) progress—for fear of stealing precious time from 2018’s novel.

Just to give you a literal picture of how sad this situation was, take a look at my stats graph from nanowrimo.org:

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 1.29.27 PM

I think the worst was the day when I only typed 298 words. And there were too many other days when I typed well under 1000. In case you’ve stumbled across my blog, and this is the first time you’ve ever heard of this NaNo business, to “win” at National Novel Writing Month, you need to write a 50,000-word novel that you don’t start until November 1st and that you finish on the 30th. (And by finish, I just mean write 50,000 words. I have not ever actually completed a novel in the month of November.) That means 1667 words per day, if you don’t want to drown in a sea of unwritten words.

I could point to plenty of reasons why I had a hard time keeping up. The day when I only wrote 298 words was a Monday, the day of the week when I have zero free time. After working a full day, I’m usually eating dinner while walking around the kitchen, making sure one kid does his homework and the other practices piano—and then I run out to a choir rehearsal that takes up the rest of the night, then straight to bed with my alarm set for 4:30 am. I’m the type of person who takes personal goals seriously, so unless I die, I’m not going to sign up for NaNoWriMo and then fizzle out. Fortunately, I knew that I would be off during Thanksgiving week, and guess what? That’s when my daily word count started to go up.

If you’re in the same boat, I’m sorry to say that you only have a couple days to catch up, but I do have three tips that I used this year that really helped me. (If I’d done these in previous years, maybe I would have finished sooner and with a lot less stress.)

1. Let it be messy.

Back during NaNoWriMo 2016, I was really excited about my novel because I’d had this story bouncing around my head since the previous NaNo (when I was already committed to writing the third book of a trilogy). I had scenes already planned and ready to pour from my fingers to the page. But then I got stuck on Day 1 because I didn’t know how to start the dang thing. I must have typed ten different beginnings, only to erase them (big mistake—see #3) and try again… and again… and…

Let’s get real for a minute. While publishing houses and marketing people care very much about the opening of your book—if it isn’t any good, the reader will just put it down and go for something else, right?—you’re nowhere near publication ready when you get done with NaNoWriMo. I mean, that would be like giving birth, changing a few diapers, saying, “I think he’s got this,” and shoving your newborn out into the world to fend for himself. Who does that? (Terrible people and bad writers, that’s who.)

There’s nothing wrong with a cold open. You can come back and make it Pulitzer-worthy later. (Say, after you have 50,000 words down.) Or maybe if you get stuck transitioning from one scene to another, just write a note in the manuscript (“Something amazing happens between flight school and when Jack saves Flight 132!”), and move on to the next part you do know. There’s this thing called the editing process, and I find that a lot of magic happens then. Which leads to point two…

2. Write everything, including the kitchen sink.

I’m a perfectionist. Point #1 is hard for me. And even harder is this one. I want my writing to be meaningful, certainly not fluff or garbage. But guess what, Mama ain’t got time to mess around with getting the story perfect when there are 10,000 words left to type, and the clock’s ticking!

I found myself writing absolute rubbish that I hope never sees the light of day just to keep the story moving—and to keep that word count moving up. Once I made the decision, sitting down to write became a whole lot less daunting because I knew that, come revision time, all this mess would be gone. And who knows? When you’re writing anything and everything semi-stream-of-consciousness style, something brilliant might just pop out, which might have been stifled if you’d been more careful, more discerning, with your output.

What do I mean by writing everything? Well, if your character is a baker, explain the entire process of baking a cake. Maybe tell about his favorite pans and where he bought them (on sale for 30% off). See all those extra words? They count! If you character is sick, explain every gory detail (you know, the ones your grandma tells you, and you wish you could be anywhere else). Explain the disgusting diaper, the allergic reaction, the thousand-step process to assembling the bed from IKEA. Do whatever you have to do to keep the story moving (and you might actually solve a transition scene problem while you’re at it).

3. DON’T DELETE!

Okay, if you see a typo that’s bugging you, fix it. What I’m talking about here is the big stuff, such as an entire scene that you realize, after it’s had time to marinate, is actually not at all the direction your story needs to take. So move on; start a new paragraph, and rewrite it.

That’s exactly what happened to me a few days ago. I realized that if I deleted the scene I’d been so careful to write (kitchen sink and all), I would lose about 1000 words that I desperately needed. I thought about ways I could salvage the scene. Maybe the character would start to do this but then change her mind… and when I tried that, I was able to save about a third of it. Still, that was too much writing to sacrifice. So I highlighted the paragraphs I no longer wanted, changed the font to red so that I would know this is the bad section, and I continued the scene down the new path. I never lost a single word, and now my story is going in the right direction again. I wish I’d thought of this back in 2016!

Bonus tip: don’t give up! You still have time (and the 30th is on a Friday this year, which I think will help a lot of people). Good luck, friends who are still in the trenches. I’ll see you after you’ve won your battle.

It Feels Like a Good Day to Write 50,000 Words

NaNoWriMo 2017 Badge

Okay, first off, I didn’t write 50,000 words today. As of this moment, I’ve written 2650 words today, but right around word 2550, I had 50,000 in my word bank, which means that I won NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2017!

If you read my last post (click here), you know that I was really taking a giant leap this year, working with little more than an idea I’d gotten from a dream. (And my husband can attest that some of my dreams are really strange and don’t necessarily lend themselves to coherent narratives.)

NaNoWriMo 2017 graph

NaNoWriMo 2017 Word Count Graph

Add to that the challenge of this November’s brutal lack of free time, and I was lucky to keep up with the requisite 1667 words per day. In fact, I only kept up through day 15, as you can see in the 2017 graph. That nice diagonal line that’s going up? The bar for every day needs to reach that diagonal line in order to keep up with the word count. As you can see, I took a little dip for a few days. There was even one day when I only typed 201 words. Yikes.

And this was uncharted territory for me. Never before have I fallen behind. Usually I’m just ahead (see my 2016 graph below—and I thought that novel was hard to write), but sometimes I’m way ahead. (See 2013—doesn’t that make you sick? I don’t know how I managed that except to say that I had inspiration strike just about every day.)

NaNoWriMo 2016 graph

NaNoWriMo 2016 Word Count Graph

NaNoWriMo 2013 graph

NaNoWriMo 2013 Word Count Graph

On Thanksgiving evening, my dad asked me what my word count was, and at the time, it was only about 33,500 (which I admitted with a cringe). Already, I had a plan to write 2500 that night and the following three nights, which would put me at 43,500 before I had to go back to work and reality on Monday. That would allow me to breathe a little, and I would only have to write a little over 2000 words for the next three days, thus giving me a tiny bit of cushion, and I would validate on the 29th.

Now it’s time to admit to why I had fallen so far behind, something that’s a huge NaNoWriMo no-no. About 25,000 words in, I realized I had a major flaw in my (half-written) novel and decided that, instead of tackling it in the editing stage, I would go ahead and fix it. Yep. That’s the OCD at work. Of course, I used the opportunity, while going back, to add scenes and fluff when- and wherever I could, but a lot of it was just reading, looking for the flaw, and fixing it.

Thanksgiving night, I decided I couldn’t afford to edit anymore, fast-forwarded to the end of my story, and just started typing thousands of words of info-dump back story. Yes, much of it will be woven into the larger story, so it won’t seem as dump-y in the end (I hope), but for now, I just need the words. (I even left in an entire scene that really needs to go, but I’m being a good girl and ignoring it for now.)

By Friday, I felt like I had enough words down that I went back and finished the edit, then started moving forward again. Yesterday, the epiphanies started to hit—finally! it only took 40,000 word to get there—and I wrote over 7000 words in one day. Whew. I can’t tell you the relief I feel. Meeting today’s word count was a breeze, and now the rest of my writing won’t feel as much “have to” as “want to.”

So if you’re stuck, if you can’t see the light at the end of your tunnel, stick with it! I promise you’ll be glad you ventured into the scary, dark unknown of your novel-in-progress. It’s Rainbow-Unicornland on the other side.

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:

english-major-shirt

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.