NaNoWriMo – Final Update

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Yesterday, November 29th at around 11:20 AM EST, I closed my laptop and walked away from a word count of 50,250.  I DID IT!

Though my novel is nowhere near finished and will probably shrink dramatically in its second and third drafts, I’m still supremely proud of my accomplishment.

National Novel Writing Month was exactly what I needed to get out of my head and start writing.  Story elements that frustrated me in the plot outline stage became unnecessary or completely apparent in the rough draft.  Sometimes you gotta stop planning and start doing, and this month that is exactly what I did!

I will definitely need a to set some short term goals for December to provide stepping stones towards my longer term goal for 2013:  to finish the rough draft of this novel.  On a side note, that was a goal that I set for myself last December as a New Year’s Resolution and it wasn’t until November that I started actively pursuing it!  After such a fruitful November, I feel like I’ve made up for a lot of lost time.  If I can keep up this pace, I should have a rough draft ready to go by January 1, 2014.

Congratulations to my fellow NaNoWriMo finishers!

To those who didn’t quite make it this year, don’t sweat it.  The creative process can’t be viewed as a To Do List (believe me, I’ve tried!).  The important thing to take a way from this challenge is what you have learned about yourself:

  • Did you do your best writing in the morning, afternoon, evening, late at night?
  • Were you more productive writing in several short sessions or in one long session where you churn out multiple days’ worth of words?
  • Schedule-wise, what obstacles did you face in your personal life that obstructed your daily writing goals?  How did/could you work around them next time?
  • What pre-writing or planning steps did you take/should you have taken to limit road blocks in your narrative?

My answers:

  • I did my best writing in the morning over a couple cups of coffee shortly after waking up.  It helped me keep my mind clear of other responsibilities in front of me for the rest of the day.
  • I was most productive on the days when I was on a roll and churned out 3,000-5,000+ words in one sitting.  It wasn’t always possible to find enough time in my schedule for this and some days it just wasn’t flowing right, but getting ahead of my quota and finding out that I was capable of hitting 3 days worth of words in one sitting gave me the confidence to walk away from the laptop rather than trying to force it on days when it just wasn’t happening.  That being said, I also had days where I came in under word count and it was some of the tightest, most direct writing that I’ve ever done.
  • Working a “we will call you if we need you today” catering job was the biggest hassle in my personal life.  Moving forward, I’d like to be more disciplined and wake up earlier so that I can churn out a fair amount of words before something like this can arise and chew up a few hours smack dab in the middle of my day.
  • Magic the DogOther potential obstacles included my girlfriend and dog, both of which were perfect in being understanding of the challenge.  My girlfriend was my biggest cheerleader this month, and it really meant a lot to me that she understood the need to hole up in the office and leaving her on the couch some days.  We are on different schedules and don’t get to spend as much time together as we would like , so it was a really huge gesture for her to be understanding of this demanding writing challenge.  My dog was totally fine with NaNoWriMo, just so long as I threw the tennis ball for him as I wrote.  Believe it or not, it put me in a good rhythm where every throw allowed me to gather my thoughts a little bit before returning my attention to the word processor.  I’m thinking about giving him a writing credit – “By:  Brantley and Magic the Dog”
  • My girlfriend’s parents have been coming over every weekend to help us work on fixing up our house.  Unfortunately the only way to work around this time commitment was for me to duck out on them and hide in a coffee shop like a selfish, bad person rather than helping them.  Luckily, I only had to do that twice, and one day was on my birthday when they exempted me from house work anyways.
  • Our house isn’t as sparkly clean as I would like for it to be.  I won’t say that I was wishing for the procrastination bug to bite but I will say that when it does, I avoid working on things by working on other things (such as cleaning up my house) so a little of writer’s block would have helped me win the war of attrition that I’ve been fighting all month with my green pool.  It’s the constant presence of leafs, none of which are coming from my backyard (we don’t have any trees) which only makes it more frustrating.
  • In the future, I need a more balanced approach to scheduling writing into my personal life, rather than just avoiding other responsibilities.
  • It turned out to be a blessing how much I’ve pre-written this story to death.  I had solid plot and character outlines, as well as an adequate understanding of my setting and mythology.  That being said, I’ve learned so much more about my characters through the situations that I’ve put them through and it’s helping me to realize fictional beings aren’t just lists of personality traits.  They’re living, breathing people with strengths that lead them in the wrong direction and flaws that misinform their every perception.  The volume of notes accumulated by November 1st isn’t my complaint though, it’s the length of time over which I mapped everything out.  I became so frustrated with details that didn’t fall into place from a bird’s eye view that I never sat down to actually dig in and sort things out from the trenches.  From now on, I will be less of a perfectionist about pre-writing.
  • One exercise that I found to be extremely helpful in advance of longer writing sessions was to map out some plot points for each chapter.  I started off making around 20-30 points per chapter, totally planning out every beat and move to where I only needed to add some description to have a rough draft.  While this was successful in orchestrating action-packed conflicts, it was confining for chapters focusing on character development, internal struggles, and building chemistry between characters.  Now, I’m down to 5-10 bullet points for what I would like to accomplish in each chapter.  Most of the time, I don’t even use them all.  It’s liberating to stop planning so much and just GO!

It’s been a wonderful, enlightening month for me.  Whether you made your word count or not, I hope that you had a rewarding experience that taught you much about storytelling and a little bit about yourself as well.

Happy NaNoWriMo and Happy Holidays!

50,250 words

99 single-spaced pages

and counting!

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13 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo – Final Update

  1. Congrats, Brantley! I have to say, you’re echoing my thoughts in so many ways. I finished yesterday as well! Definitely couldn’t have done it without the support and understanding of my boyfriend. I found the same sort of thing–where I could churn out a 3000 word day, or a 5000 word day, after not being able to get anything out properly for a week. On day 22, I was still 20,000 words short, and so I’ve written the last 20,000 over the course of one insane week. I totally agree about needing to figure out how to balance things–there’s a pile of laundry waiting to get put away, and I’m literature-starved from not reading all month. Anyway, congratulations!

  2. What else can I say, but congratulations! It is a task I have tried three times now, never coming farther than 1/2 there. I just couldn’t find the time, and cannot sacrifice my sleep. I let myself get distracted by all the chores that needed doing. I’ll try again. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love to, right?

    • You’re absolutely right and I love your positive attitude! I read so many posts about NaNoWriMo last month by discouraged people. It’s just an arbitrary challenge and it isn’t a competition. If you have a productive month because of it, or find yourself accomplishing something you never have before then it was worth while whether your word count topped out at 100k or 2k.

  3. Hi Brantley, this is my first but not last visit to your blog. I loved this post; I think I am just not finished thinking and writing about NaNo! My answers to the questions: I did my writing at all times of the day. I did better when I did not feel pressured, which means when I knew I had several uninterrupted hours to write. Like you, once I learned I could make up for missed days I felt more confident. I am a married empty nester. My husband and children and pretty much everyone I told was extremely supportive. I work three days a week and often on those days I had no chance to write at all. Sadly, my oldest friend was diagnosed with a serious illness right before Thanksgiving, which caused me to throw my schedule right out the window, and I don’t regret it. To amuse her in the hospital I started telling her about my book blow by blow, and noticed after a while that her eyelids were drooping; I had put her to sleep which she sorely needed. Somehow though I was able to finish. Re my planning: I did no planning, and that si not a good idea. I had only a brief idea of what i was going to write so I had the worry of keeping a deadline and making up the story as I went! Next time I’m going to do that planning thing!

    • Telling people about the process of crafting a story seems too abstract for them to comprehend. My girlfriend is the smartest person I know and LOVES books and stories in general, and yet when I tell her about my book she doesn’t get extremely excited about it. I started getting discouraged by her lax reactions, but then I realized that I was telling her vague stuff about characters that I hadn’t named for her. I was spewing thoughts about the overall premise of the book without giving her any juicy details. No wonder she was bored!

      I would absolutely be able to relate to you putting your friend to sleep if it weren’t for the half-marathon my girlfriend is training for. It’s her first and I’m training for my second full marathon right now, so I’ve been doing her long runs with her. That’s when I hit her with all of this stuff, because I can chatter away relentlessly while running at her pace and she can’t run fast enough to get away from me!

      • It’s nice to know that others get so wrapped up in their stories, because if the author is not excited, how could the reader be? I suspect it is best to just let others read what we write, because sometimes you just have to be there.

  4. Really good, thoughtful post.
    I love the thought of you squeezing in some typing while your dog retrieves the tennis ball. What an interesting way to write! I can see how the rhythm of it might actually become beneficial.

  5. Hey man…catching up on your blog posts. CONGRATS on NaNo. Man, it’s crazy how similar our writing patterns are. Completing NaNo is such a HUGE accomplishment! Always love hearing about writing patterns. If you ever need a critique buddy, let me know!

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