At the end of last month, I posted that I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, an annual writing challenge that started in one corner of the States but, as is the way of Web-based things, spread around the globe. The aim of the challenge is to write fifty thousand words of the first draft of a novel with, at the most, only an outline to work from. You can’t continue a project that you’ve already started drafting; the most you can have done in terms of preparation is an outline.
So, with no idea whether I was capable of succeeding and with little forethought, I signed on to the NaNoWriMo website a few days before the end of October and built a chapter outline for a sequel to H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. On the morning of November the 1st, I got up at 5:30 in the morning and started writing.
Today, November the 26th, I achieved the 50,000-word goal of the project.
You know what? It’s bloody great. I don’t think I’ve ever written so much for one project before, let alone in such a short space of time. I’m glad I went in for it!
And the fun bit is? I reckon I still have somewhere between four and six more chapters to write. In fact, I’ve left off in the middle of one chapter.
Points of note:
- Don’t assume the region the NaNoWriMo website assigns you to is the right one for you. I languished in the Brisbane region forum for over a week before I discovered a Far North Queensland forum.
- Two programs came in extremely handy during NaNoWriMo. The first was the public beta of Scrivener for Windows. I mentioned it in the original NaNoWriMo post here, and it’s pretty darned handy. I will confess, outside of the outlining process I’ve been basically using it as a word processor, but I’m keen to get the full version when it becomes available for Windows next year and use it to centralise and organise all the notes and points I’ve put together for Slamdance; fiddling with the chapter cards in Scrivener’s corkboard made the outlining process easier, and I’d like to see what it does for a novel I’m trying to develop rather than just crank out in a short space of time, especially as I’ll be eligible to purchase it at 50% off as a NaNo winner.
- Speaking of cranking the words out: The second program of utility during November is Write or Die. Unlike Scrivener, I picked this up after I was at least a week into NaNo. It’s $10 US, and with the current exchange rate it barely cost me more than that. Mur Lafferty had been talking about it for a while and some other folks on the NaNo forums enthused about it, and I’m definitely glad I got it. It’s best used when you want to just concentrate on putting words down on paper; if you stop writing for a few seconds, the screen turns red; a few more seconds and it plays an aggravating noise and only stops once fingers are striking keys again. It also has a few other features, like stats management and tweeting your bouts of writing for you, not to mention Kamikaze mode, where it starts to swallow what you’ve written after long enough. Though I never dared to use measures that extreme, Write or Die was great for putting one thousand, six hundred and sixty-seven words per day down.
- That pace, that cranking out of words, was what I needed to get me past the dreaded “this stuff is crap, why the hell am I bothering, I’ll never be any good at this shit” state of mind and just get down to writing. I’m curious to see how I’ll maintain the pace now that pressure of hitting 50K by the end of November is gone, but knowing that I can actually write a draft is bloody reassuring. Now I know I can be okay with it being crap, I can concentrate on just writing down What Happens Next, reassured that the challenge of Making It Good comes later, with revisions and redrafts.
- It’s also been nice having some folks read what I’ve been doing as I go, and while I’ve had the odd dose of “Jesus, why am I showing people this now? It’s crap!” having the pressure on to do a daily serial for an audience has been another big thing that’s kept me putting the words down on paper. I don’t think I’ll do it that way with something I really want to develop, but it’s been a bit of fun doing it with this.
- On the podcasts I listen to nowadays I’ve heard writers talk about making time for writing, and a couple, L. E. Modessit, Jr. being one of them, have mentioned getting up at around 5AM every day and putting an hour or two of writing in before they get to their nine-to-five commitments. I gave this a whirl myself, and while I definitely didn’t have a perfect record, I think I managed to get away with re-jigging my clock and getting some words down before heading out the door. That said, the fact that the sun is usually up by 5:30AM this time of year was a big help; I’m not sure how well I’d do come autumn and winter.
Anyway, while I’ll be glad to have my mornings and lunchtimes back for a bit, it’s good to know that I can muster the discipline to meet a goal and get a big project done. It’s boosted my confidence!
Right now, I’m trying to work out what reward to get myself:
- The Noble Map Pack for Halo: Reach becomes available on Tuesday. It’ll be fun getting back into a bit more Reach after (largely) keeping away from it for a month, and the new maps do look pretty sweet.
- I’ve been talking about the roleplaying game FreeMarket for a little while, and it’s about time I put my money where my mouth is. While I won’t be getting the full boxed set – at least, not yet – I want to get my mitts on the PDF manual.
I’d like to finish by thanking all my readers for putting up with the odd typo, undeveloped plot point or sudden change in order to keep me honest. Ladies and gents, crises of confidence aside it’s been fun writing for you. Know that I’m not going to leave you in the lurch; I’ll put a new chunk of text up on the usual places every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until I wrap this novel. Can I ask one thing: That you chuck some cash, if you haven’t already, either at the Office of Letters and Light, who run NaNoWriMo and the Young Writers Program, or Seeing Eye Dogs Australia. Either and both are good causes.