NaNoWriMo Prep

This is a post about my NaNoWriMo process, so feel free to skip it. I’m writing it mostly for myself to remind me what it is, so that I’ll be ready for November 1.

Typically I prepare a Scrivener project with 30 documents named “11-01” through “11-30,” each with a 1,667 word target goal. Each day, I open up the document with the appropriate date and start writing. I try not to read much of what I’ve written the previous days, other than maybe the last paragraph if I need to continue with a scene I didn’t finish.

That, in my opinion, is the most important thing to know about finishing large writing projects: Decoupling the writing process from the editing process.

To accomplish that, I make the text very large for two main reasons. For one, I’m getting old and have a harder time reading these tiny computer screens. I actually got some 1.25x reading glasses recently and it has improved my ability to read text on a computer screen and mobile phone by about 1000%.

Secondly, I make the text big because I don’t want to see very far back in my own writing. A very important thing that keeps me moving forward is not being able to see more than a couple paragraphs back at any given time. I highly recommend it if you find yourself slowed down by constant re-editing (something I am very susceptible to).

With this method, it’s true I often repeat myself in the writing, but that’s what the revision process is for.

This year I’ll be writing mainly on my MacBook Air, because I had to reformat my PC and don’t have Scrivener installed on it yet. I suppose it wouldn’t take very long to re-install it, so that might change over the course of the month. I store the document files on DropBox so, in the past, I could use the Air or PC interchangeably. (You can work on the same project from both Mac and PC.)

I try not to write all 1,667 words at once per day. I have a hard time staying focused on writing for long periods of time, and unless I’m on fire, it typically takes me a good two hours to write 1,667 words of fiction.

Instead I try to write in bursts of around twenty minutes or a half hour. Maybe longer if I feel particularly inspired, or less if I don’t.

Once I complete my writing time, be it ten minutes or a half hour, I do something else until the top of the next hour. (This assumes I have a lot of time to write, mind you. If I only have a half hour to write for the whole day, obviously the process changes to a more frantic word sprint.) Then I start another short session. I repeat this for as many hours as I have available.

This is the best method I have worked out for myself over the last eight years.

Your mileage may vary. One thing I’ve learned as a writer is that every writer works differently.

I write best in silence or with familiar instrumental music playing. Listening to anything “new” is likely to distract me. Classical music is best. I cannot write when I hear singing or talking. I don’t know if anyone else is like that, but if my ears hear words in a language I understand, I have a hard time concentrating on anything else. My brain goes into an odd emergency identification mode when I hear unfamiliar sounds, to the exclusion of anything else. (You can hear it a lot in my videos. I’ll just stop talking and get immediately derailed most likely because I heard something in the game, or even worse, in my house.)

I like to have nothing on my screen but the words of the current document and a second window showing a list of names I’ve used previously in the text. I never remember names so I have to keep them handy. (I read somewhere that’s how Stephen King writes.)

I typically don’t plot out my story in advance. I like to see where a story takes me, and how the characters develop over time. To me, it’s very boring to write a story when I know how it’s going to turn out.

This year, for example, I have a setting and a genre (“space opera”—never written before), and an opening scene which should propel a handful of unnamed characters into an exciting adventure. I hope. Otherwise I’ll be scrambling on day three or four to figure out what to do for the rest of the month.

This particular setting came about from some brainstorming I did back in May. I keep most of my “story ideas” in Evernote, and when NaNoWriMo rolls around I open up those notes and peruse them to find something that looks interesting.

If I get stuck in the writing, and I don’t know what to write next, very often I will start breaking the fourth wall and get the characters talk to each other about the story and what to do next. Sometimes it results in useful dialog that is appropriate to that particular place in the story, but most of the time it’s going to get cut out later. The point of it is to get me to continue writing something which invariably gets me back on track.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Happy NaNoWriMo’ing!

P. S. And in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I’m not even going to edit this text!

P. P. S. I should have said I haven’t written “space opera” since I was a kid, when that was pretty much all I wrote.

P. P. P. S. Okay I edited it a little bit.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Post-Mortem

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I like to write up a post-mortem about my writing projects after I’m done with them, so here are my thoughts on my NaNoWriMo 2016 draft. For reference, it’s an untitled historical fiction set in Belgium at the beginning of World War I. It’s about, you know, people, who like, do stuff.

The hook might still need some work.

I validated my (exactly, as it turned out) 50,000 words about 8 PM on November 30th.

nano_comeback30

This was definitely my greatest come-from-behind win. The previous record was 2013’s train wreck, which now looks like it was a walk in the park:

nano2013

And here’s 2014’s picture-perfect graph in case you think I’m always a slacker:

nano2014

And no, I haven’t finished editing any of these manuscripts. Some of them I haven’t even started editing.

So about the story. First of all, it’s not technically “finished” yet. I feel like I’ve only completed part one of three for this particular story, so I could easily see it growing to a total of 100k or more words before a complete first draft is done. There is no resolution of the story yet, and frankly I don’t know where or how it will end. (All I know is that it has to end before the end of the war, otherwise it’s about fifty books away from being done at the current pacing.) I just have an idea that there are three distinct “phases” of the overall story, which I think of as “Before Antwerp,” “During Antwerp,” and “After Antwerp.” Most of what I wrote is in the “Before Antwerp” section.

I suppose I could end it “During Antwerp” but it would probably be a bummer of an ending there. Sort of an Empire Strikes Back kind of ending, rather than a Star Wars kind of ending, if you know what I mean.

Early on I experimented with streaming my writing sessions on Twitch. I think it had some benefit, but overall I don’t think it helped enough to warrant continuing. (I think I gained a couple of followers though.) The main thing it did was force me to sit in one spot and think about the writing uninterrupted. That was probably a good thing for this particular project. If I hadn’t been streaming, I might have wandered off and gotten distracted with something else and never gotten anywhere.

I say that because this novel was really, really hard to start. I think it probably had something to do with the fact that I didn’t have any kind of plot or characters prepared ahead of time. (Duh!) But besides that I had a really hard time putting myself into the world of 1914 Belgium.

This was the first time I’d ever attempted to write a historical fiction. It’s really scary to write something when you know for sure everyone will be pouring over every word to verify the historical authenticity of it. I wrote out a timeline of historic events beforehand and I tried to follow the basics of things as I know them, but I’m sure there are tons of details that I got wrong. (Like maybe those tentacle monsters.)

In this first draft, I knew I would have to ignore things like language and culture and, you know, silly little things like facts, and that was hard. It grated on my nerves to not be sure whether people should be speaking French or German or Flemish or whatever other languages they had back in 1914.

I wasn’t quite sure if the average peasant walked into a room and turned on the lights, or lit an oil lamp, or both, or neither. I know there was electricity in the cities but what about way out in the country?

I spent a relatively large amount of time one day trying to figure out if flashlights had a) been invented in 1914 and b) were common in 1914. (Turns out yes they had been invented and soldiers carried them, but I’m still not sure if every Belgian village household had one.)

That kind of stuff bugs me when I’m writing and can really throw me off. The entire nature of a scene can change based on whether a person can shine a flashlight into a dark room or not, you know? In this case I tried to circumvent all issues entirely by avoiding too many descriptions.

And then there was the U.S. election, which was like a nuclear bomb going off in Washington, DC on November 8th. I’m fairly dispassionate about politics myself, but most of the Internet went into a deep depression, and that rubbed off on me too. The point is that I stopped writing for about a week.

But I’m rather proud of myself for picking it back up and clawing my way back into it. Amazingly enough, the writing actually got easier in the final two weeks. I think when I started my comeback, the nanowrimo.org page said I had to write 2500 words a day to finish on time, but at first I was content just to get to 1667. Then I slowly worked my way higher and toward the end I found it wasn’t that difficult to write 2500 or 3000 words in a day. (There was a fortuitously-timed holiday weekend in there too.) I think I got to 4000 on that last Saturday.

Here I should apologize to anyone who didn’t make their goal. I’ve been there too, and I know it’s annoying to hear people talk about how well they did in NaNoWriMo. I’ve had plenty of those days where you struggle to write 200 words and then you see somebody tweet out “I did 7000 words today!” and you just want to punch them right in their smug face. My only advice is keep trying.

The other thing I’m proud of is that I stuck, mostly, to the story. In my 2013 train-wreck, I wrote a lot of “filler” words, basically rambling about nothing related to anything. I had characters talking to each other about the story they were in, new characters popping in from totally different genres, stuff like that. It was mostly a waste of writing effort. This time I tried to stay in the right setting with the right characters. (Okay, except for that tentacle monster. And maybe a couple other off-topic sections. Let’s say I stayed on topic for 95% of it.)

Here’s what I’ve learned about writing a lot of words quickly: It’s very difficult for me to sit down and write, say, 4000 words in one sitting. I work much better when I sit down and write 500 words, then do something else for a while, then come back and write another 500 words, then do something else for a while, come back and write another 500, and so on. If I keep doing that throughout the day, I end up with a bunch of words and it doesn’t feel like an exhausting slog the way it would have if I’d written them all at once.

I discovered that a few years ago, but I mention it again in case it helps anyone else, and also to reinforce it in my own mind because sometimes I forget how I work best. (It’s kind of dumb but every time I start a large writing project like this it feels like I’m always starting from scratch.)

Speaking of which, I’ve grown to like my document structure for writing a first draft. I use Scrivener and make one blank document for each day. So every day I’m looking at a blank page, and most of the time I don’t even look back at what I’ve written before. That structure gently forces me to keep going forward instead of looking back. (The down side is that I probably repeat myself a fair amount.) (And it’s harder to edit later.)

scrivenerlayout

I wrote this draft entirely in Markdown format. One blank line between every paragraph, _underscores for italics_. I actually didn’t do much italics, now that I think about it. The quotes are sometimes smart and sometimes not, depending on where I pasted in some text I’d written at work.

I had a much easier time typing on my MacBook Air than I did on my PC keyboard. I don’t have to move my fingers as much. Toward the beginning of the month I wrote on my PC but toward the end of the month I did all my writing on the MacBook Air. (One of the great things about Scrivener is that you can work on your project from a Mac or a PC interchangeably.)

On weekends, I found it very difficult to make myself write early in the day. It doesn’t feel very natural to write when the sun is out. Presumably this is a side-effect of having to write when I get home from work.

It was always hardest to write the first words of the day. After I’d written something, it was much easier to continue from where I’d started.

As for whether I would write more historical fiction, I could see myself doing that. There’s a certain freedom in not having to worry about “world-building.” I wrote a thriller once and had the same feeling about it.

Starting Ashes of Ariandel DLC

Over the weekend I tapered off of Civ 6 to push through to the end of my umpteenth Dark Souls 3 playthrough so I would finally have a character ready for the Ashes of Ariandel DLC. It took a total of about 18 hours to go through all the bosses and all the areas (over the course of a couple weeks, not two days :).

I had to make a new character because, if you didn’t know, you can’t transfer DS2 or DS3 characters from one PC to another. That’s really annoying, From Software. All those high-level characters I have on my old PC are now worthless unless I want to play the DLC on that old PC, which I don’t, because old PC is old.

The aptly-named Snowfield
The aptly-named Snowfield

The point is that I finally got into the Ashes DLC for the first time Sunday night, and soon I will be uploading a blind playthrough to YouTube. I’ll probably hold off on uploading for a few days so I don’t get influenced by any comments telling me I’m doing everything wrong. (Not that anybody ever watches my videos anyway heh.)

It’ll be interesting because starting tomorrow, I’ll have to juggle playing the DLC and writing for NaNoWriMo.

A Writing Stream?

Speaking of writing, many weeks ago, I saw on Twitch that there were “creative” channels dedicated to writing. At first I thought the idea was laughable, because how is a slowly expanding text document fun to watch? In fact, the only two people streaming were basically just sitting around with an open document staring at the Twitch chat and not writing.

Anyway, for weeks now, I’ve been thinking about what a “good” writing stream would look like, and how it might actually be more useful to me as the writer than to the viewer. So I might do a writing stream in November, say from 7-9 on weeknights. The only thing stopping me is that I don’t want to monitor a chat channel, because that would be incredibly distracting and defeat the whole purpose of it for me.

P. S. Eventually I’m going to finish a post about Battlefield 1’s historical accuracy. TL;DR – It’s not very accurate.