Sunday, November 28, 2010

NaNo Update

Right now, I'm at a 46,672 words in my nanawrimo manuscript. I expect to clear the 50k mark by midday Monday, leaving Tuesday, the last day of the nano month, to travel to meet Alicia for a week-long work and wine fest.

This has been an interesting adventure, to put it mildly. I was apprehensive because I didn't think I could cram a single extra task into my already overpacked schedule, but I also know that I operate best when I have too much to do. It's like that old saying: If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. Those of us who live this way know how to make things happen, and this month has been a reminder to me that I can always find a way to do more.

So here's how I did it. I don't know that there's anything earth-shattering here, but it's what I did and it's worked so far.

* I used Dr. Wicked Write or Die. This might the second greatest tech invention ever for writers, the first being word processing software. Thanks to this nifty little software, I learned that I can write about 1800 words in an hour when the scene is pre-plotted, and about 1200 words in an hour when it is not. This means that I was able to hit my nano target in usually around an hour a day. Not always possible to block out an entire hour in one swallow, but with careful planning, I was usually able to do it at least 4 days a week.

* I carry small notebooks with me everywhere. I wrote notes and scene roughs when waiting for new tires to be installed, when waiting for my brand new and suddenly flat tire to be repaired, when waiting in the school parking lot for the kid to get sprung, when waiting for the teller at the bank drive-up, and so on. (Usually I knit during those stray moments. My knitting has really suffered this month!) Not all of these scribbled notes went into my nano draft. Some of them were pre-plotting for scenes -- my scenes come faster when I rough them out in advance, so this was important for time management, if not for actual word count.

* I didn't worry about secondaries. All my focus has been on the three main characters and their main conflicts. Some of the secondaries, I sketched out in advance. Of the rest, some bloomed as I typed, like a housekeeper who had been in the shadows of several scenes, but suddenly became real and developed a recognizable voice at around the 30k mark. Or they are acting as placeholders until I can think through the lesser parts, like the hero's many siblings who decorate several scenes but don't really participate in the action -- they're tagged as Sister Two or similar until I can figure out whether to develop or cut them.

* Some of the subplot scenes have been written, but only in those places where the subplot intersects with the main plot. By not getting sidetracked with subplots, I've been able to keep my page count climbing at a steady pace. No distractions. Once I get the entire main plot roughed out on paper, I can see how much room I have for subplot development and go from there. I'm thinking the main plot will settle around the 75-80k mark, leaving plenty of room for some extra subplot scenes. We'll see. I haven't written any of the sex scenes yet, and those can gobble words by the thousands.

* I've used the crap out of twitter for motivation. There are loads of nanoers over there, and they're very upbeat and encouraging. I could always find impromptu sprints when it was time to write, because there was always some other tweep ready to go. (Hey, Lisa! Hey, Leona! *mwah*) I've found better support there than at the nano site itself, but that's in part because the nano site kept crashing or locking in the beginning of the month. But I'm very grateful to all my tweeps, whether nanoing or not, for keeping me amused during the long hours at my desk this month. My other work hasn't mysteriously vanished just because I added nano, and some of these days would have felt endless if I couldn't talk turkey (and lizards and assorted other creatures) with my tweeps in the stray moments between tasks.

* I blocked out several afternoons to meet a local nano friend at a coffee shop. My productivity was lower during those blocks of time, but my enthusiasm was higher. (It must be said -- she reached the 50k mark on November 20. She is a goddess.) I think the trade-off was worth it. There were times I wanted to chuck it all and go back to a more plodding pace, but Amy kept me honest. I'm really grateful for that.

* When I felt stuck, I went back over the draft and "spackled" it. My first drafts tend to be little more than dialogue with a bit of stage blocking and similar action. When I go back over the scenes, my first goal is to check all the action-reaction dynamics, followed by a spot-check of all the emotional signifiers. Then I try to think deeply about the setting and how to leverage it in the context of the scene's emotions and conflicts. Adding these details -- filling in the chinks between the lines of dialogue and blocking -- reminds me of spackling a wall because it makes the scene nice and smooth and pretty. This also adds necessary words and makes the scenes feel more finished.

* And whenever I started to worry that the writing quality is subpar or that the process is flawed, I stepped back and reevaluated. First drafts are always full of suck, so I can't let that stop me. Bad sentences can be fixed as long as the plot, pacing, conflicts, and other bigger elements work. This fast-draft process has been an invaluable tool for seeing the large-scale structure of this book unfold scene by scene. I'm going to keep up the pace until the first draft is done and then rewrite it scene by scene to make it, you know, less crappy. Will I use this process for every book? Dunno. I think the process worked for this book mainly because I've been kicking around the idea for over a year, so it was plenty ripe for the writing. Not sure it would work as smoothly for something less ripe.

So, let's hear it. For those of you doing nano, will you make the goal? What have you learned from the process? What are your best tips, and what pitfalls did you encounter?

Theresa

9 comments:

Deb Salisbury said...

I'm up to 44,873, so I think I'll make it in time, if the creek don't rise. ;-)

My worst problem has been my internal editor, who's been screaming, "Dreck!" and "xxx doesn't mean what you're trying to say." Le sigh. I'm looking for a gag.

My best tip is just ignore the feeling that it's all dreck and keep writing. We can't fix it until it's on paper.

Crittias said...

Your description of your NaNo experience is virtually identical to my process every year, especially the "spackling" part (I'm totally stealing that term). NaNo is a great way to force the first rough draft out of your head and onto the page/screen. Everything else can be fixed afterwards.

Glad you had a good first experience!

Leona said...

Hey Theresa *waves enthusiastically!

This Nano was, by far, harder for me. I think there were a lot of reasons for this. Note: if you read my Sept. 30th blog about last years Nano, you may find this hard to believe, but it is true. I had a much harder time this year.

One, I was dealing with a plot that I have tried to write several times, but never seemed to get out right. It's a bit complicated, although the premise is awesome. So I could not turn my inner editor off on this one.

Two, I have a two year who doesn't stop, even to sleep. I thought the 1 year old was a challenge! lol

Three, things kept happening, from my freezer getting stolen (I kid you not!) to my pipes freezing, to kid stuff, to technical difficulties, it never seemed to end. I have glossed over it on my blog because I did not want to discourage others who were writing. I will probably do a full accounting over next couple of weeks.

Four, I have been out of my thyroid meds for most of this month. Thyroid helps greatly with memory issues so have done a lot of back tracking on this one.

However, I have had awesome support, also from twitter, to help me get through this. I think it helps to see others struggling thru life issues, such as lizards, and flat tires, and to know you're not alone. One nano friend had her dryer break down.

I am at 46,888 official word count and I've written more on other WIP despite 8 days that I either didn't get to write at all or didn't get over 500 words. However, I will probably break 50k today! :D

The story is finally meshing like I want--the love story and action not being too jarring. Plus, the secondary characters are starting to come alive.

Thank you all my twitter friends (Theresa, Jami, Murphy, etc.) for helping the life issues be bearable through all the support you give! You guys rock!

PS Theresa is so right about the love scenes. I wrote one and it ended up over 2k words. YIKES.

Go Nano, Go Nano, Go!

green_knight said...

I'll come in at around 25K by Tuesday, and I am happy with that number. I'm kind of doing the opposite from you: I'm trying to wean myself away from laying down dialogue and action and glossing over things; and yes, that eats up a lot of time, but I'm happier with the result.

Still needs more description, though. Still needs better description, too, but the complex subplos are starting to fall in line.

(my word verification is 'restings' - I just had to share that one...)

Jessica Lei said...

Congratulations for getting to 46k :) and another congrats will be deserved when you reach the 50k!

I didn't do NaNo this year (and I haven't done it previously). I have no real problems hammering out 50k or plotting enough material to fill it. I just thought it'd be counterproductive at this point to start a whole new project when I'm working on one already. I focused a lot on my creative writing course (which I've written 16k for) and editing what I did have (so I can be at least somewhat happy with the beginning and feel comfortable moving on).

The sad part is that the more I edit, the more I realize that there's no way to focus on everything at once! It's frustrating. I wish I could edit three times and cover everything I possibly could, but I can't check every sentence for grammar, punctuation, structure, plot, characterization... There are just too many layers in which improvement can be made. AND I haven't conquered them all yet :(

I've definitely noticed that I write a lot faster when I have the entire scene (even pieces of dialogue) in my head already. When I have a scene where I know only the beginning and end, I go a lot faster trying to come up with points B through Y.

The small notebook is a good idea. Sometimes I'll write my ideas in the margins of the notes I write during lectures. I usually never use them :) But it keeps me awake!

All in all, I'm a bit afraid I'll never finish the first draft because I won't be happy until everything is perfect... This is something I need to work on!

Anne R. Allen said...

You guys are all awesome! Congrats and thanks for the tips.

Amy Henry said...

I have loved doing Nano this year. For some reason the words just kept flowing out of me. I did it last year and won as well but this years experience was far more enjoyable. I think it was in part the fact that I have some idea what I am doing this year.

I have begun to surround myself with people who find value in writing and do not think I am crazy. I do not feel so isolated.

I have also begun to take writing more seriously and have been setting aside time every day to write anything, or read about writing well. I have found that all of this helps.

I am a bit worried that now that I have reached the 50,000 word mark (Yes I am the Goddess Theresa referenced. Thanks by the way) I am scared that I might lose the drive to continue. I will have to start imposing deadlines on myself and force myself to be honest.

Theresa and Alicia have fun on your trip and dont work too hard.

Amy

Coolkayaker1 said...

I didn't make my Nano goals for this, my first try. Chris Baty says, No Plot, No Problem. I say, No Plot, Gigantic Problem.

I look forward to your online Sentences Course Dec 1-14 to get me up and going for my new writing goals in 2011.

carrie said...

I made my nano count last Thursday, and finished the book on Saturday....random characters started appearing toward the end, but I slipped them in, let them play around a bit then promptly forgot about them. Oh, and the location seemed to vary from Italy to Hawaii...=) We'll see what all happens with the rewrite.