This was a wildly successful month, and because I am a giant nerd who loves talking about the writing process almost as much I love writing, I’ve been thinking about why.
I’ve won NaNo since 2013 (though I messed up my stats in 2015, so the word count for that year isn’t accurate), but this was the first year that it felt…not easy, but pleasurable. Most nights, I wanted to be writing, no matter how tired or stressed out I felt. And even when I didn’t want to write, I still gave it a try, and found that on most of those nights, I hit a certain point and wanted to keep writing.
- Words written: 68,161 (this includes cut text and to-be-used text, as well as what’s “story” text)
- Most productive day: 11/04/17, 4,985 words
- Least productive day: 11/27/17, 57 words
- Average words per day: 2,272
- Chapters written: Nine
I didn’t include my character notes, but if I had, that would have pushed me up over 70,000 words, easily (I don’t count my morning pages toward my word count either, though I will sometimes count hand-written story notes — just not for this month).
And now — on to the ramble!
I started out on November 1 with a very different idea for what I would do during NaNo: I was going to write a FenHawke Cinderella AU, starring Rhyssa Hawke and Fenris, and then go on to write as much of ALID as possible (hopefully finishing that fic).
Using NaNo 2016 to finish Gates of Summer worked out really well, and I found that working on one story for a whole month was a really rich, rewarding experience (I may have taken a break here and there to work on other stories, but nothing large-scale). By narrowing my focus to just GoS, I got so much depth out of those last few chapters — which they really needed! — in terms of character development, plot resolution, and writing quality. I was a bit haphazard in my when and how of writing during NaNo 2016, though; part of that was because GoS, by its end, was such a heavy, emotionally-draining fic to write that there were nights I just…couldn’t. So I had a really erratic month, overall — some days I’d write 5,000 words, and then nothing for the next three. It made me feel extremely stressed out by the end, and I was more relieved than happy to finish the fic, and I think that’s what led me to rush the GoS epilogue the way I did.
This year, I wanted to avoid that stress. Writing is supposed to be pleasurable, on some level, and while it’s also bloody, back-breaking work, we should love what we’re doing even as it’s difficult. To avoid that, I did The Artist’s Way again over the summer, and also gave myself the month of October to recharge. I knew I’d be traveling and hanging out with friends, and I gave myself permission to not do morning pages, and to just play video games and read a ton of books and knit and bask in being present with people I loved very much. By the time November 1 rolled around, I was ready to write. Bursting with story, pretty much!
I had been playing with the FenHawke Cinderella AU for a little while, and had about 5,000 words written by the time NaNo arrived. A couple of days before, I got the idea to write an original novel, which was going to be a quick little romance that I planned to polish and self-publish — emphasis on quick.
(For someone who planned for TLS to be a standalone novel, and for Ghost to be seven chapters and 10,000 words long — you’d think I would have realized how doomed that idea was.)
But the more I thought about it, the more this romance took on its own life, and insisted on existing in its own world, and Fenris and Rhyssa became Owen the ex-assassin and Sirin the princess who really shouldn’t do karaoke, and their world blossomed around them.
It was about two days into NaNo this year that I knew I had A Problem, but it was the best kind of problem to have: the story exploded out of me.
My productivity for the past month is due to a few factors:
- I had a project I really loved
- I was dedicated to my writing routine
- I plotted out a large chunk of the story before I started writing
- I instituted a “no-thank-you helping” writing goal (more on that in a bit)
GoS represented a kind of leveling-up for me as a writer (I finished a complicated, multi-POV story that involved a lot of world-building, and finally felt confident in my ability to write individual voices for each POV character), and a lot of what I learned there has carried over into TVP. I have to admit that a lot of fandom stuff has been bumming me out lately, so my inspiration was running low, but TVP excites me, and it feels alive and vital when I’m writing it. So that made it really easy to sit down and write for two hours every night, and I usually ended up going over that time, because I wanted to finish a scene that badly (not a lot of sleep happened this month, believe me!).
As for my routine, I stuck to writing from 8pm-10pm (officially; usually that time ran more from 7:30pm-10:30pm, with my chapter/scene plotting and wind-down editing factored in) every week night (though I gave myself the option to take Friday nights off, so I wouldn’t burn out — I ended up wanting to write more often than not), and from 8:30am-12:30pm on weekend mornings, with an optional 8pm-10pm sprint on weekend nights. I found I averaged about 1300 words per hour, which got bumped up to about 1600 when I was at peak flow (for me), but I’d hit a wall at the four-hour mark, and not be able to get much done after that.
I’m usually a pantser — I’ll have an idea for an overarching plot, along with plot-goals to hit along the way, but that’s all I have for a shape. With TVP, I did a lot of plotting ahead of time, and gave the story a basic three-act structure:
- Establishing characters/culture/plot threads, bringing the two main characters together and establishing their relationship.
- The Worst Road Trip of All Time, which slowly becomes Oh No We Have To Pretend To Be Married and Other Disasters We Really Don’t Mind, Even Though Things Are Still Horrible.
- We’ve Got Our Act Together But We Still Have To Save Everybody Else, and We Might Not Make It In Time
I’m about two-thirds of the way through Act One (which is getting to the good parts, like UST, a heist gone way too right, and political intrigue). I’ve resisted doing large-scale editing so far, though if I feel like a scene isn’t working, I’ve cut it and started fresh. I’m a really extravagantly wasteful writer, so I have no scruples about throwing out 2,000+ words and writing a new version, as long as that new version is what the story needs. I haven’t had to do that too often (about half of my chapters so far exist in essentially their first-draft form, without anything cut), because in addition to my overall plotting, I took five minutes before I started writing to do a bare-bones summation of what needs to happen in each scene/chapter (something I picked up from Rachel Aaron, who has excellent writing advice). Even if my plan for a chapter changed, I still had a springboard, and all I was doing was finding a new way to the desired endpoint.
The “no-thank-you helping” comes from my childhood, when my parents would make us eat a smaller helping of a food we didn’t want. My siblings and I all had food we detested, but that was good for us, so Mom and Dad would give us the no-thank-you helping, and if we ate that without complaining, we could still have dessert. On the nights when I was really dragging and didn’t feel like writing, I’d set myself 45 minutes, and just try to write for that long. Usually I broke through within 20 minutes, and ended up doing my full 2+ hour sprint, but on the nights when I hit the end of the 45 minutes and I was still dragging, I stopped, no harm no foul, and did something fun. The only day this didn’t really work was this past Monday, but I was sick and super-tired, so I’m not bummed I only wrote 57 words the whole day.
I set myself a basic goal of 1,700 words per day, which would get me to 50,000 by the end of the month. My plan, if I fell behind on my word count, was not to add the previous day’s deficit to the 1,700 for the next, because that’s the quickest way for me to burn out. No matter how many words I wrote on a given day, I told myself (over and over and over), my goal was always going to be 1,700 words. The words didn’t matter, just the story.
It’s been hard, though, to write original fiction after focusing on fic for a couple years. I’ve been working on TLS since I went back to writing fic, but I’ve been lucky enough to get a wonderful amount of feedback on my fic writing — and now that I spent a month essentially writing in a vacuum, I’ve had to wrestle with a lot of insecurities. Is this story good? Is it painfully over-written? Is anyone going to like my heroine, except me? Basically, all the worries I have when I write fic got ramped up to 11, and it took a lot of effort not to be like HELLO FRIENDS PLEASE READ MY THING AND TELL ME IT’S OKAY, PLEASE TELL ME I SHOULD KEEP GOING.
…I did end up sending the first couple chapters to my parents, who liked them — but they’re my parents, so. 😛
This has gotten a lot longer than I expected, so I will wrap up with my new goals.
- Write 31,000 words
- Do my morning pages every day
- Finish part one
- Refine plot outline for part two
- Begin writing part two
My pie-in-the-sky goal is to have a finished first draft by the end of February. I think I may go back to writing some fic soon, but I really want to keep my momentum for TVP going as long as possible. I’ve been feeling pulled toward original fiction more and more lately, which is probably the underlying push for my success in NaNo — I’m in my own sandbox, and it is fantastic.