NaNoWriMo 2014.

NaNoWriMo is over. It was my first NaNo and I can’t believe that I won!!
(If you care to follow, I’m FalcoVega at the NaNo forums.)

I was planning to keep an ongoing blog about my experience throughout November… but I was too busy writing my novel to post it here. =P I did jot down notes, though! So here is Vega’s NaNoWriMo journal, if you care to read it.

As of writing this, the novel writing adventure is still going. It was a fantastic experience and I learned so much from it. It was both a challenging stretch, and proof to myself that I’m still able to write. Sometimes decently, sometimes excellently, sometimes… well, stumbling and bumbling. But I can write. I think that NaNo is going to be a fixture in my life for a while now.

So here we go, let me get my blogging notes in order… settle in for a long read.

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NaNo Prep

The NaNo story is Dragon Within (DW) — a prettier title for “Killing the Dragon”. A bit contrived, perhaps, but I rather like it since it’s relevant to both main characters and has a double meaning. So it’ll stick for now.

It’s a science fantasy story (because I like to mash up genres). The two main characters are Nonide and Zuhal, the teenage girl and the man from my dream. Their storylines begin separately, and then converge towards the climax. And yes, I’m still going to write that exact scene that I dreamt into the story.

On the lead up to NaNo I did quite a lot of prep. Apart from the world-building, which has turned into a monster of its own right (I won’t be surprised if I clocked over 50k words in the Codex Savi alone), I did quite a lot of character development, and storyboarded the scenes on post-it notes and then into WriteMonkey. By the time NaNo began I had planned at least 50 scenes over a main plot and several subplots, and that was only up to the convergence of N and Z’s stories, and I hadn’t gotten to the climax yet. (Granted, some scenes are small and some are large… but if I wrote a thousand words per scene, I would’ve finished a good portion of the story and won NaNo.)

Of course, no plan survives the enemy, but it’s still good to have a plan. But I’d learn a lot concerning this later.

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Week One

NaNoWriMo has started and I’m well on my way.

It’s early days, and I’ve settled into the rhythm of writing every day. I’ve currently written some 8000 words for Zuhal’s storyline, and I’m only four scenes into the 15-some I’ve planned for him. DW is probably going to be well over 50k words, and I’ll be writing well into December…

Performance: So far, so good. Nothing stellar, but no struggle yet. It is surprisingly easy to slot in intensive writing into my daily schedule. I attribute it to the part-time studies that I took up this year — the discipline I needed to stay on task and on time for my Master degree translates very well to NaNo! It’s the same thing. One unexpected and pleasant collateral benefit of studying. ^_^

Pace: I’m just standing ahead of the curve, but at this stage of Day 5, 1700 words/day, with a burst up to 2000/day if I can muster it, is about the fastest I can think up words to put down one in front of the other. But I think practice will enable me to get into things a lot faster.

I am writing Zuhal’s story first, being the harder storyline — more introspective, Man vs Self conflict, with a less fleshed out supporting cast — so maybe that’s why it’s a little slow going now. But I think it’s good to get a good chunk of Z’s story out of the way in these early days. I think Nonide’s story will be more fun, and easier. We’ll see.

Writing: pedestrian and serviceable at this stage. To be honest, it’s a bit of a wasteland currently: kind of sparse and barebones, and not my usual atmospheric, descriptive style. Yes, Zuhal does have a very terse, stark state of mind, but I’m just describing what I see in my mind’s eye — and there’s not a terrible lot there. No inspired paeans, no flights of the muse yet. I’m a little surprised by this, and wonder if I’m conveying too little, too sparingly. But I think the bones are being put together. Building foundation is all hard work, and you don’t see much of it anyway. But I’m hoping that once the story skeleton is in, I’ll be able to embellish a bit more.

Still, I have a sneaking feeling that I’ll finish writing, come back to read the first few scenes of Z’s story, and be totally lost and not understand anything because I’ve written too little. I did notice a bit of that when I recently reread Strange Music (SM, my Camp NaNo novella), so I might have to pad out my writing a bit.

But not now. Can’t stop to polish, unless it’s to add words that will help to understand later, or to loop back and add a foreshadowing to an earlier bit of writing in order to refer to the current spot. Must keep moving forward.

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Week Two

I got stuck in a rut with Zuhal’s story, so am switching over to Nonide’s. That’s a benefit of having two concurrent storylines to switch between: it helps with reenergizing and a change of pace/scenery. I’m sure that by the time I tire of N’s, I’m ready to return to Z’s.

Writing pace is settling into a rhythm, a mix of 1-2 hour stretches of sustained, uninterrupted focus, and short snatches (10-30 minutes) in the interstices of activity.

The quality remains very pedestrian. It’s become something of a long distance run: the goal is just to get to the next milestone, no matter what, without any thought of quality. I guess that’s the purpose of NaNo — to hit milestones!

So I’m glad that I have an outline to follow, since I definitely don’t have brainpower to think of where to go next. But I’m wondering if that is stifling creativity somewhat. SM was pantsed and the writing process felt more dynamic and vibrant. But it is also a different beast: a substantially shorter story with one subplot that was tightly woven to the main plot, with a much smaller cast and scope. DW is a much larger story in every way, so I can’t compare the two. But this is average, very average.

Nevertheless, keep writing: just get the words down, and worry about polishing later. I know I’ll have my work cut out for me during revision!

Later in the week…
Still no wonderful flights of the muse or flashes of inspiration, just slogging through. It’s been like that from the start. Nonide’s story is turning out to be harder and less fun to write than Zuhal’s, and indeed more inferior in quality — this was unexpected. I wonder why. Maybe pantsing it would’ve been a better way?

Some days I can write almost 2000 words/day but other days are low, but I’m still making good time. I definitely hit the first “marathon wall” at about Day 8: I only wrote half the wordcount by early afternoon and decided to break for the rest of the day. That turned out to be worthwhile: I’ve gotten my second wind back, and am settling in for the long haul.

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Week Three

I’ve discovered that while I can type very fast, I’m quite a slow writer. It takes time for me to come up with words that make sense in my mind. It might be that everything is being filtered through the inner editor even in the very act of writing, but it seems to be the way my mind works. I’m not capable of word-vomiting or stream-of-consciousness writing. It’s all a very conscious, deliberate process, and that’s just the way it is. I also take a while to warm up and get going. So thank goodness that work has been rather quiet this month, so I’ve been able to do quite a bit of writing while at work.

It’s good to know that if I want to maintain a writing schedule in future, which I think will be the case.

I hit a wall and recovered over the Week 1-2 transition, but the Week 2-3 transition is the real struggle. I’m seeing everything in a negative light. The story is lousy. The words aren’t flowing well. I’m making all the telling-not-showing mistakes, and plot holes are starting to appear. I’m writing the story like writing an essay for my studies: it has to be done, so I do it, but it’s not enjoyable, just another box to tick for the day.

I’m a little unnerved to discover that writing Dragon Within is a totally different experience to writing Strange Music. The latter flowed easily, there were clear flashes of inspiration and flights of genius, and I maintained energy and inspiration throughout the writing process. Maybe I could move from interesting scene to the next interesting scene easily because I didn’t have a plan to follow.

In contrast, DW has been a big meh so far. But I have to remember that it’s a much bigger story: two MCs in their own storylines, a cast of about 15 named characters, at least four subplots, and complex multilayered themes. (Whereas SM was a novella with one storyline, three main characters and two offscreen supporting characters.) Perhaps I bit off more than I could chew for a first novel?

Moving forward… I wonder whether I should ditch the plan and just free-write. Perhaps throw some ninjas in, as is the NaNo custom. Or skip to a later scene. I’ve been quite committed to writing in sequential, chronological order based on the outline… but maybe I should ditch this stance and try something new?

I’m wondering whether the storyboarded outline is more of a constraint than a benefit, although it has been helpful so far. It might have put a subconscious constraint on my ability to problem-solve plot holes. Solving the (few) plot holes of Strange Music was an inspired and intuitive process; now, I can’t think my way out of DW’s problems.

Later in the week…
Week 3 is ending on a better note: I switched back to Z’s story from N’s, and got out of the morass. Again, thankful for two storylines that I can alternate between. Z’s story is actually progressing much better than N’s and is turning out to be the foundation of the novel. N’s story is fraught with problems and plot holes. That’s why I’m less motivated to write her scenes. But her storyline is the main plot driver, so I have to figure out those plot holes!

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Week Four

This week started off badly: I took a full day off on Day 16 and wrote no words. VERY, VERY BAD IDEA. The only good thing I got out of this is an experience I can look back on, and say, I will never do that again!! Writing something, even if it’s a hundred words, is better than writing zero!

So the start of week 4 was the lowest of low, and I nearly threw in the towel and gave up on NaNo. But thankfully, I psyched myself out of this slump — I’m still largely on track, and so close to the end! Why not push on and finish instead of stopping 3/4ths of the way!

So the home stretch is going much better than it began. I’m on target to win NaNo for the first time on my first go, which is exciting! Almost up to 50k. But the much harder target is actually finishing the draft.

And a hesitant positive: my writing is getting better. It’s becoming easier to write good stuff on the lam.

Later in the week…
I passed the 50,000 milestone on Day 28! Took the next day completely off, and got straight back in on Day 30 — pretty difficult, but I have to maintain the momentum. The first draft is not finished yet!

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NaNo Post-Mortem

NaNoWriMo is over, but I’m still writing Dragon Within. I’m still keeping notes on my writing experience and will blog here. But a pause to take stock of things.

Some numbers… I officially clocked up 50,625 words in November, winning on Day 28. Highest wordcount was 3355 words (Day 24), lowest non-zero wordcount was 624 words (Day 18), averaging 1687 words/day. Apart from one day, I wrote continuously, every day. (It helped that November is a very quiet month for me.)

When I wrote Strange Music for Camp NaNo in July, my target was 20,000 words, and I was able to write over 700 words/day, breaking the record quite well. But I didn’t know if I could effectively double my writing stamina for November. So being able to stay on par with the daily word goal throughout all November is a huge encouragement. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did! So I can!

What have I learnt so far? TONS. Let’s see.

  • As said in Week One, I attribute my staying power to my part-time studies. Being able to start AND finish NaNoWriMo was a big proof to myself that I could start difficult projects and see them through to the end. Well — I’ve yet to finish the manuscript (or my studies), but this is a big boost to my confidence. Furthermore, it wasn’t as hard as I thought. Yes, it was hard, but it was achievable. Big win!
  • A progress bar is a HUGE motivator. Yep. I’ll have to adopt many of NaNo’s motivational strategies to my own life planning — now how to add progress bars to everything…
  • All the world-building I did for Codex Savi? Most of it didn’t get used directly in the story. That was expected: I world-build for the joy, and of course lots of it is “superfluous” to the story. However, the world-building is a necessary backdrop which I can dip into as I please. On the other hand, I should have world-built more for certain parts that were directly pertinent to the plot. I attribute many of the plot holes and structural problems to incompletely realized world-building.
  • I’m glad I spent a lot of time during NaNo prep fleshing out Nonide, Zuhal, and many of the secondary characters’ motivations and backgrounds, because this was one less thing to worry about amidst all the challenges of writing. I’m still a bit weak on characterization, however: establishing different voice, mood and all the little details that not just bring a character to full-fledged life, but distinguishes one POV from another. I noticed this issue with SM, and it’s apparent again in DW: my characters all ‘look’ and ‘sound’ like each other. I’ve been working on this while drafting DW, but it will be an ongoing focus for revision, and future stories.
  • I still don’t know why Zuhal is easy to write while Nonide is hard, when I was expecting the reverse. I think many things are contributing to this, but I’ve yet to tease out what they are. I do think that over-planning N’s story restricted creativity and latitude for my intuition to work while writing. Another possibility is that it’s easier for me to write certain traits/demeanours than others, and Z may fall squarely in the ‘easy’ category. Not sure about this though, because N seems to have easy traits as well. So I think my problems with N are mostly structural plot problems.
  • On that note, my extensive outlining/storyboarding may have been a hindrance instead of help. I’ll have to work out what extent of outlining/planning serves me best without losing structure or intuition/spontaneity. Next NaNo (or Camp) I will try to pants it completely and see how it goes.
  • I still have stories in me, and I’m capable of writing them, even if they’re still ghostly reflections of the full-colour visions in my mind. Strange Music and Dragon Within are proof of that. I’m going to try and take them to the next step: editing, and publishing!

Well, that was a fun adventure for this year. And I hope it will be the first of many years of NaNoWriMo, and the first step towards writing!

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