Here’s a little bit of a bonus and post scriptum for NaNoWriMo. I didn’t just design a fallout shelter, I also sketched out a city.
Saint Brendan, so named after St. Brendan the Navigator, is a large city located in the US State of Acadia. The city rose to prominence as a trade port after the discovery of the Northwest Passage and benefited greatly from the increase in trade with East Asia after the World War. It is New England’s largest city, with over six million people living in the metropolitan area. This makes Saint Brendan the fifth-largest urban conglomeration in the United States, before the Delaware Valley but less populated than the Dallas-Fort-Worth Metroplex.
Major industries are transportation, financial, and high tech. A large military presence secures the strategic location.
Saint Brendan is an amalgamation of San Francisco, New York, and a few other cities. I decided to use a fictional city for several reasons:
I don’t know New York personally, having never been there, and certainly do not know any other major US city intimately either. Potential readers would likely be more familiar with the setting than I and that is a problem. Using a fictional city frees me from the risk of making gross errors when describing the location.
A fictional city gives me the freedom to arrange locations and other facts in a manner convenient to the story’s needs.
NaNoWriMo 2008 is – for all practical purposes – over, and I reached the goal: Write at least fifty thousand words by the end of November.
Back in September, when I first considered signing up for NaNoWriMo, I was really not sure whether I should. So was the effort worth it? Let’s review.
What went right
I was able to stick to the schedule. I wrote the required average of 1667 words per day, every day, and exceeded it on almost all days. Consequently, I reached the target ahead of schedule. I proved that I can produce text, that I can force myself to write even when I really, really do not feel like it.
I was able to shut off the “inner critic”. I did this by telling myself that editing comes later, and it worked. I edited the text a few times, once to remove a mistake I had made, and I back-tracked several times to add more text to support things I wrote about later in the story. I did not delete text, I did not get bogged down in permanent editing mode.
I liked my basic premise and characters. While quality was not a goal of NaNoWriMo, and I will not claim that what I wrote is worth reading, I certainly enjoyed working out the problems my characters faced.
I built the world. I created a map and various support material for the story. The map, especially, proved to be invaluable; without it I would never have noticed a show-stopped problem with my plot resolution.
* I had fun. Well, sort of – it got harder the further I progressed. But, yes, over all, it was fun.
What went wrong
I did not outline enough. I had a rough plan and ideas for the novel, and a fairly detailed outline for the first third or so. Based on my experience I will say that complete, proper outlining is absolutely essential for smooth writing.
I wrote too late at night. Sometimes this was by necessity, other times because I got distracted by other things. On some days I wrote until I literally fell asleep at the keyboard. Bad idea, don’t try this one kids.
I did not complete the novel. I was not able to complete the novel to “The End” so far, and while I am determined to finish it, it is highly unlikely that I will manage this in November.
Build characters and the world. Have a sound design for your characters and world, including the overarching conflict, the themes, thematic subjects, premises, and so on. Without conflict, you have no story. Without interesting characters, nobody will care. Without a consistent world, things will fall apart and you will run into contradictions.
Outline. Outline, outline, outline. “Just do it.” Writing a complete outline from start to finish needs to be done before you start on your first draft. The outline is not set in stone, but it needs to deal with all main questions, and, most importantly, bring the story to a resolution.
Write consistently. The temptation to take time off must be resisted. I know from previous experience that, if I set something aside for n days, I will almost certainly set it aside for n+1 days. Ad infinitum. Distractions, such as competing hobbies, should be put aside until after the daily writing session – consider it a reward for hard work.
I need sugar to work. This is an unfortunate discovery: I need sugar in some form, for example soda, or I will not be productive at all. I am not sure if anybody can relate to this, but when I had no sugar I was unable to write, or at least wrote very, very slowly. With enough “fuel”, I was able to write much faster. Part of this may be that the sugar offset my tiredness, but I am fairly convinced that this is also at least in part a body chemistry thing.
I have more respect for professional writers than ever. I always knew writing was hard work, but I now know first hand!
So I learned a lot, and had some fun – the experience was totally worth it!
Will I do NaNoWriMo again, say, next year? I honestly can’t say – I rarely can plan a year ahead. I think it would be interesting to see how following the lessons from this year might change the experience. We’ll have to wait and see.
What did you guys learn from NaNoWriMo? Did I miss any lessons, what is the most important thing you take with you after NaNoWriMo? Will you go for it in ’09? And… “Was it good for you?”
When I logged in to the NaNoWriMo website today to update my wordcount (only by a little, the evening is still young), I was greeted with a big logo:
I had expected to submit my story once more, to trigger winning manually, but that was not necessary.
So I won. I managed to write more than 50,000 words in under a month. Yay!
If you followed my NaNoWriMo diary, you know that my novel is still unfinished. I fully intend to complete it, but I think there is little point in posting about my updated word count for another five days. I’ll keep you guys posted on the progress, and on the eventual rewrite, but I think daily updates are no longer necessary.
I wrote a mere 929 words today, way below the NaNoWriMo “quota” of 1667 words. I know, I know – not only are 1667 words an average per day, I am also at 53397 words according to NaNoWriMo’s word counter. I can afford to slack off a little. I still wrote 929 words, which is, well, a whole lot better than the zero words I was tempted to write today. The energy and motivation was just not there, and again I feel it shows in the (lack of) quality of my writing.
The temptation to just stop is quite big at the moment. I really do want to complete the story, though. I keep telling myself that the NaNoWriMo “victory” means nothing if I don’t make it to “The End”.
From the plot perspective, I got the first step of the resolution in place now. Today’s 900 words were the foundation of part of the climactic action, so it was progress and not just increased word count.
Not much to talk about today. I had to force myself to actually write, and I think the quality of today’s section shows it. Never mind, that we can fix later. I really, really need to get this thing done in a kind of tour de force, I think, because it’s a real chore now and I want to work on other things again.
NaNoWriMo is over in a week, so an end is in sight. I think I will not do the rewrite / editing in December. I will not touch the story in at least a month. But first I need to get it done.
Good news everyone: I officially made the NaNoWriMo goal today. (Yesterday, as I have done lately I write this posting the next morning, on the 23rd.) The NaNoWriMo website gives me a corrected word count of 50781. Of course I am not nearly done with the story, and so this does not really feel like a victory, but rather like a major milestone.
I am still glad I made it, of course.
I had some trouble last night because the way I approached the resolution to my plot turned out to be impossible. It was fairly easy to change it, however. Nevertheless it required me to backtrack through a lot of what I had written over the past days, and correct it to match the new version of events. That took up way too much time, and I probably introduced inconsistencies.
Time to remember my mantra: December is for editing and rewriting.
I have started to use the “correct” word count on my NaNoWriMo profile page, so you’ll actually see a drop in the word count there. I am now tracking both counts in my own statistics, and I added it as an extra graph in the chart:
So there we go, including the Openoffice bug, I reache 50,000 words. It’s not quite the great achievement, because I know I am roughly two to three thousand words below it. But this weekend shall be my victory weekend. In fact, I will try my best to push ahead, because I am really, really tired of writing this thing.
Not much to say about the whole thing. My protagonists are on their way to the grand finale, but of course there’s still much ahead of them.
I am glad I am doing NaNoWriMo, but I will also be glad when it is over.
I made minimum progress today. Part of the reason was that I had to clean up yesterday’s writing quite a lot. I should have just called it a day instead of hammering out words when I was clearly too tired to do so. Ah, well, at least I tried. The other reason for my slightly low word count today is that I was at an awesome point to break, and so I took this opportunity.
While I am closing in on the 50,000 I am actually only at a little over 46,000 words currently. The difference is something to keep in mind – damned OpenOffice bug! Still, 4000 words is about three days of work, so that’s quite okay.
I am however still very far from actually completing the novel. My protagonists are about to tackle the main problem (and the additional obstacles I have in mind for them), but today was low on action. I did set a few things up for later – if only I can make them work.
Word count: 45012 (+2128 from day 17). (However, see below for a problem with this!)
Uneventful evening. Made the 45k milestone. There’s pretty much no way I will conclude the story by 50,000. Wrote a lot of dialog / exposition today. Now that they have the necessary information, my protagonists will soon set out on their quest to save the world™.
I did note that I work better when I have a certain minimum intake of sugars. Which is really not cool, but it is something I should keep in min for the future.
In more general NaNoWriMo news (ha, I thought I’d never include that again!), they brought their word count tool online for testing. Interestingly enough, it counts only 43678 words when I paste my work into it – 1334 words less than what OpenOffice counts. I am not too concerned over this (although it is good to know now rather than on the 30th…).
It was reported to be a bug with OpenOffice. I verified it, and indeed found the issue already filed at OpenOffice.org. That’s quite annoying, but since I used the “broken” word count, I’ll probably continue to do so as there is no way I can correct the counts of the previous days. Since NaNoWriMo verifies to the correct count anyway, I’ll just have to make sure to have a good many words more than I need. Considering how much I still need to write that should hardly be a problem.
If any of you do use OpenOffice you should definitely check if this problem affects you.