19 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013: 50K, 17 days, how & why

Last Sunday I passed the 50K mark for NaNoWriMo. The web site won't let me "win" yet, because that doesn't get enabled until the 25th, but it let me verify that the 50K is real. That works for me.

There's always a lot of discussions around NaNoWriMo as to what challenges people encounter when they're trying to complete it. My two biggest ones are:
  1. The first of November, besides being the start of NaNoWriMo, is also about six weeks from code freeze at my day job. That means any software projects that have to go into production before the end of the year have to be in very good shape, with no delays. This tends to lead to overtime. If it doesn't lead to overtime, it still leads to a lot of stress, because everyone is more stringent than normal about schedule slippage, and every little thing gets put under the microscope to see if it will affect the launch date.
  2. I get an earache, fever, cold, or sinus infection every freaking November. Most years I'm just getting over it when I get a new illness just in time for Christmas (a major reason I absolutely hate Christmas — I've spent way too much time running around baking cookies and driving to relatives' houses when I should have been in bed nursing a toddy). I've learned that it comes down to sugar intake: if I limit my Hallowe'en candy and Yuletide treats, I lessen the chances I'll come down with something. Lessen. Not eliminate.
Notice that neither of those challenges have anything to do with writing. But if I get flattened by a challenging work project, or knocked out by bacteria, NaNoWriMo becomes much more of a slog.

There was one additional challenge which was writing-related: the previous times I've won NaNo, what I was left with was 50K of unintelligible crap. For 2013, I wanted to come out with 50K of editable crap. Baby steps and all that. That's why I spent last spring and summer writing an outline. The outline has been amazing, because I just have to write up what it says happens. I've made some changes along the way, but even so, it's been much, much easier than straight pantsing.

If you divide 50,000 words over the 30 days of November, you get the infamous 1,667 words per day average. That's fine until you have something else come up (like a sinus infection) that you absolutely cannot avoid. It's necessary to build slack into the schedule.

So I figured it this way:
  • 1,667 is awfully close to the 2,000 words per day Stephen King says writers should do every day anyhow. So call it 2,000. 50,000 / 2,000 = 25 days, not 30. Presto! 5 days of slack without even trying.
  • 5 days of slack isn't enough if I get sick and/or have a super-busy week at work. So let's call it 2,000 words per session, not day, and let's put two sessions per day on days which don't include the day job. I took 1 November as a vacation day, and get 11 November as a holiday because I work in Canadian banking. That works out to 50,000 words by 17 November.
  • Honestly: 2,000 words on a weeknight is a lot for me. It used to be that 500 words was a lot for me on a weeknight, but Friday Flash has helped me get better about that. Let's say 1,000 words per weeknight as a minimum, 2,000 words as the goal. And let's add another 2,000 word session to the weekend and holiday days, for a goal total of 6,000 words per day on those days.
And that's why the bar graph on my NaNoWriMo profile looks like this:
You can see which days were weekdays (gradual increments) and which were weekends (steeper steps). I had three bad days:
  • The 2nd was bad because, ironically, I went to a local NaNo brunch event and had a lovely time talking to people — and then was completely wiped out afterwards. Being an introvert really sucks sometimes.
  • The 11th was bad because I felt like I was coming down with something. It took me almost two hours to get the 578 words completed that day done, not because I had writer's block, but because I kept spacing out and falling asleep. I finally gave up and had a "sick day", which turned out to be the right thing to do.
  • The 16th was bad because I had a flood in my washroom first thing in the morning, and had to have emergency plumbing done. It was all fixed by lunch-time, but spending the morning in a panic, trying to assess the damage and get hold of the plumbers, was not a good way to start a creative day.
Here's the actual spreadsheet if you want to see the hard numbers for each day.

I'm on Chapter 19 of approximately 33 chapters by the outline (there is a chapter or two extra that need to be added to the first third of the novel). The total will come to about 80K words. Since I'm already past 50K, I'm going to take it a bit easier.

Now the plan is 1,000 words per weeknight, with 2,500 words per day on weekends. That's still 10,000 words per week — a nice pace, I think — but not as busy as NaNoWriMo was. Having said that, I'm already 1,000 words behind because I didn't get home until 9pm tonight! Oh well, 3,500 words in one day after those 6,000 word days will be pretty easygoing. That should get my first draft finished the first week of December, and still gives me catchup time if I get ill or swamped.

How do you handle your schedule? It would be great to hear about different approaches in the comments.


    6 comments:

    1. That's a good plan, and it's nice seeing your chart. I don't do NaNo, but having a regular writing plan seems like a good idea. I also like to plan work to include the unexpected surprises; or expected interruptions. And finishing early is a bonus allowing for review and polishing.

      Great job at NaNoWriMo, Katherine.

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    2. First of all, major congrats on having a plan and making it work!

      I don't worry about wordcounts, under normal conditions. Between work, family obligations, and other stuff, 2000 words for me is a fantastic day. And then there's the matter of my natural pace. I'm no Stephen King, but I'm not George R.R. Martin, either. I'll settle for 500-1000 quality words, something I don't have to throw out or completely rewrite later. (Think about it: if you wrote 2000 words one day, then had to completely rewrite it the next, your average is closer to 1000 words, right?)

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      1. I completely agree with you about not worrying about word counts under normal conditions. In high school and university I would have argued that Beckett, Hemingway, and Camus would have been killed by something like NaNoWriMo, and they're all amongst my favourite writers.

        Right now I see this as being either my last or my second-last NaNoWriMo, at least until the situation changes again. I joined it to a) make writing a normal activity as it once was for me and b) to get used to thinking in terms of longer works than just short stories and personal essays. Friday Flash has been an immense help with (1), but isn't really able to help with (2) as much (although of course Tuesday Serial does).

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    3. Wow, nice schedule and good job sticking to it!

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    4. That is wild output, Katherine. I don't think I've ever composed that much fiction in seventeen days. Certainly none I was happy with! A massive congratulations to you.

      We've talked about my composition rituals in the past. If it's worth bringing them up again, when I'm on, I write six days a week, from Thursday to Tuesday, with Wednesday as a mandatory break. I start in the morning unless I'm too sick, and go for a minimum of 1,000 words, though since the end of my previous novel and in my recent screenplay, I've instead shot for plot-goals or scene-goals. On smaller projects I'll plug in extra time at night. I keep track in a single word document that keeps me honest across a project, much in the way I used to track my weight.

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      1. The outline changed things a lot, because I'm not so much composing add rendering. It's like doing 3d animation, or sewing/knitting where you have to draft your own pattern first.

        I'd say I'm happy-ish with things. Put it this way: I'm actually looking forward to editing.

        I like the idea of working to story goals instead of word counts. Word counts seem to matter more to publishers and agents than actual stories.

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