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Tuesday, 1 November 2016

NANOWRIMO: A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

I see the internet awash with articles on how to handle the dreaded NaNoWriMo. One more piece can't hurt. Add this one to the pile.
   (World spins off axis.)


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National Novel Writing Month.
   Once that spread to the internet, it became more of an awkward intergalactic affair.
   Argue over the length of a novel as much as you like. The event's official word-count is 50,000. We'll label a narrative of that size as a very long short story.
   Month? As months go, November is in a leaner calendar bracket.
   That leaves writing.
   So. You want to participate in International Very Long Short Story Writing Thirty-Day-Stint.
   InVeLoShStWrThDaSt.
   It's in the Highlands.


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How should you prepare for the terror of writing 50,000 words in a month?
   Plot? Characterisation? Setting? Drama? Conflict? Genre? Perspective? And so on.
   I can't help you with those things. You write your story. Those plot choices are yours to make. That's a technical thing.
   But I can scribble about writing a set amount of words inside a time-limit with a starting-date and a finishing-date. So I will.


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I cleared a few hurdles, and gave myself the task of writing a vampire story by Hallowe'en. The earliest date I could manage this was on the 26th of October.
   Six days and nights.
   The story was in my FICTION FACTORY lineup. When I write one of those tales, I stick to a formula.
   There's a teaser of around 1,000 words. Then I write three chapters of 10,000 words apiece. (I'll follow up later with 1,000 words or so, in a section of notes on creating the tale.)
   The bare minimum for the story side of things is 30,000 words. And I had six days to write this vampire tale. I wanted to stay true to the timing of the piece...
   So I paid attention to sunrise and sunset at this time of year. This is important to the vampires, after all.
   That's the background to the creation of the tale. How did I do?


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With an eye on giving NaNoWriMo advice, I kept notes on the daily word-count.

October the 26th.

I began abysmally.
   Much of it stayed in my head on that first day. I worked out who the main characters were, how the setting played into the tale, and a few twists and turns I had in mind. The story existed. But the typing of it remained slow.
   I opened with the idea of a vampire having an adventure leading up to Hallowe'en.
   The story started with the vampire angry at her assistant for arranging a meeting to join a team of vampire hunters. Straight away, I had a character in trouble. She was forced to deal with this calamity.
   That first day, the goal was to write the teaser: at least 1,000 words. With that done, I'd start work on chapter one. I felt I'd barely made it, by day's end. But I exceeded the goal.
   Word-count: 1,877.

That felt grim. So slow. But I created a solid foundation for the rest of the story to stand on. There were six bullets in my revolver. I'd fired off day one, and hit the target.

October the 27th.

With the start set down, I moved into the minefield of the first chapter. This felt like another slow day, and I feared I'd not type enough each day to finish the story on Hallowe'en.
   I managed a bit of major scene-shifting, and kicked the story off the ground. The goal was to do a chapter in 10,000 words. Firing on all cylinders, I could do that in a day.
   The cylinders didn't fire. Anything under 5,000 words = a slow day. This was a slow day. I wrote a third of a chapter, and the story made its own supernatural kind of sense at the end of the session. At least I had that to go on.
   Word-count: 3,570.

October the 28th.

Crunch-time. I had to demolish chapter one, or I'd lose a lot of sleep extending my nights, burning the writing candle at three ends, living off coffee.
   Luckily, I demolished chapter one and carried a little bit of writing over into chapter two before I felt wrecked that day.
   Word-count: 8,011.

October the 29th.

With around 1,000 words of chapter two under my belt, I'd taken the sting off the challenge for this day. I wanted to write 10,000 words in a day, and kill off chapter two.
   The story still made its own crazy level of supernatural sense. I keeled over at the end of this day, finishing the chapter.
   Job done. I'd written just shy of 10,000 words. But, adding the 1,000 from the day before, I'd finished the chapter at the right length. Couldn't go any further.
   Word-count: 9,843.

October the 30th.

Just missing 10,000 the day before, bringing the writing to a definite conclusion with the last of chapter two, I was determined to write 10,000 words on this day.
   It was Sunday. Last Sunday in the month of October. According to the formula, the clocks went back an hour. Magically, I had an extra hour.
   Also, I woke far earlier than usual on a Sunday and just started writing away...
   The goal was to write 10,000 words and finish chapter three. End the story there. That night, I stopped writing just shy of the end. With one more scene to go, I was too tired to write it, and knew when to call a halt.
   Word-count: 10,656.

October the 31st.

I planned to write 1,000 words to lead through the finish. Maybe 2,000 words, at most. This felt like a slow day, as I just couldn't close in on the end of the story.
   It's not a jigsaw puzzle, at the very end, when you are close to the planned word-limit, with time against you. Puzzle pieces fall into place easily, when completing a jigsaw.
   This was surgery. Procedure after procedure, to get the job done AND keep the patient alive while doing all those final vital stitches.
   Word-count: 5,361.


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Observations.
   Drawn as a daily graph, my word-count starts small, shoots up like a rocket, then tails off as I reach the final goal. The story was written by Hallowe'en, with a guaranteed minimum of 30,000 words. Success.
   If you add those numbers, you tally to 37,441. But the final story was 40,000 long. After I recorded the daily figures at night, I'd start each day with a refresher - going over the last thing I'd written.
   And, from notes, I'd remember a thing I had to throw in. So I'd bolt a paragraph or two on, in a scene. (Hence the discrepancy.)
   What's important here?
   That you write. Doesn't matter if the day felt slow and you didn't get much done. That small piece of writing could be the vital part that allows you to rattle ahead next day.
   Aside from a refresher next morning, I didn't look back in any great way. Word-count meets deadline. You'll have time to read it later LATER.
   Don't tangle yourself in story problems. Get typing. With the story fresh in my head each day, I remembered the big picture and plenty of minor details to see me through the new chapters.
   If I genuinely had to trudge back to a scene, really had no other choice, I recalled a word I'd used there. Then I searched the document for that word. Zap. There I was, taken back by the technology. A glance at the text, ideas bubbling, and I was instantly back at the blank page typing away again.
   Don't stop to read the whole thing.
   But do stop for coffee.


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Prepare. You are at a cabin in the woods, and supplies are sitting handy. Household duties are clustered together for convenience. Avoid exhausting yourself at the typeface - take breaks.
   Make coffee and put the bins out in the street. Come indoors and drink the coffee. Never leave the computer without saving the file. But do leave the computer.
   For those of you faced with interruptions, interrupt the interruptions and tell the frivolous, the inconvenient, the distracting, well in advance, to fuck the fuck off and leave you to your writing.
   Deal with essential e-mails only. Do that by banning the concept of e-mails.
   When I returned to Twitter and answered ancient Tweets, one Tweep deduced that I'd either finished a writing project or gulped too much coffee.
   You can't drink too much coffee. Ancient Tweets are Tweets from more than three days ago.
   Yes. Prepare. I don't mean in a writerly way. Domestically. There are no other projects to deal with. If a shelf needs putting up, it can wait. There's space on the floor for the things on that shelf.


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Don't obsess over the word-count. As long as I averaged 5,000 words a day, I'd make the deadline. I didn't fuss about that average, though. After two slow days, the pace picked up.
   I thought about chapter one making sense. It did make vampiric sense. And I thought the same about chapter two. With those two milestones doing okay, it was difficult to mess up chapter three.
   Yes, thinking about the word-count is part of the deal. Thinking about how the plot is going - that's important, too. But don't stop typing. Keep typing.
   You can stop for research. But not for long. I couldn't remember the name of a chemical. It had a specific purpose, and a very precise role in the story.
   I stopped to search the internet for a few terms, and looked for a video on the main subject. Within minutes, I'd found a video that named the chemical.
   The video showed the process. I sped through the video, found it informative, took what I needed from that, and moved the fuck on. Back to it.
   Always back to it. I left Twitter dangling over a cliff, cancelled meetings with people, earmarked documentaries for later viewing, rose earlier, stayed up later, and arranged meals in the least time possible.
   Ow. I ached from typing. That was with frequent mini-breaks. I'd rest, walk away, get back to it, stop for food, type some more, remember to leave the room to empty my bladder...
   At day's end, I'd decide when the day ended. Could I go on, and push a bit more? Yes. Or no. Know when to quit in the short-term. Sleep is important, so I hear.
   But in the long-term, no, don't quit. If you are watching your words, you must write 1,666 a day, every day, for the whole of November.
   Save yourself some grief. Write 2,000 a day. Allow yourself a sedate typing-speed of 30 words per minute, giving you time to think over what you are writing, and write for half an hour. Now you've done 900 words.
   Grab a coffee and write for another half an hour. You are up to 1,800 words. Go for another ten minutes and knock out 300 more. You've done your 2,000 that day, and you are a little bit over.
   What did you spend? You toiled for 90 minutes - including computer set-up time, coffee, a toilet-break, setting up the next meal, and putting the bins out in the street.
   Can't devote that amount of time each day? Wake earlier. Catch up on your TV shows another time.


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Life gets in the way.
   Deal with emergencies first. I had a quiet old time of it when I wrote for six days. You might not be so lucky.
   If you don't make your 50,000 in November, finish what you started by scribbling more in December. I wrote 40,000 in six days. You can manage 50,000 in a month. And if you can't, you can manage 50,000 in a month and a little bit over.
   My FICTION FACTORY stories have a lower threshold of 30,000 and an upper barrier of 50,000. If I'd wanted to take that story from 40,000 to 50,000, I could have written like a maniac for another day and done the whole 50,000 in a week...
   That's encouragement, not discouragement.


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Have I rambled? Yes. I had a deadline. Write at least 1,500 words for this blog, on the 1st of November. Job done. Editing is an entirely different job. It's not your job to do that entirely different job while you're writing like a maniac.
   If you found the time to read this in November, any November, you can make the time to type. Stop reading. Start typing.


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I blogged 2,000 words today. What was your word-count?

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