It has been three years since my first (and last) attempt at National Novel Writing Month in 2011, and though I enjoyed it, and was successful, I just didn’t get to do it in either 2012 or 2013. However, that was then, and this is now, and I’m ready to do it again. I even have a story in mind, and potentially, just potentially, a title. I’m terrible at coming up with story titles. Also, I use too many commas.
If you have no idea what NaNoWriMo is, check out their FAQ, and by all means give it a try – it doesn’t start till November 1st., so there still the option to create an account.
This year again, I’ll be using Scrivener (also a sponsor of the event) but this time, it’ll be mostly written on my GNU Linux based laptop in the beta version of Scrivener.
Well, after 28 days of solid writing, thinking, more writing, less thinking and then more writing, I was able to submit my novel to the NaNoWriMo servers, and just as Scrivener had told me, I was clocked in just under 51,000 words, so I’m a winner!
The Last Week
As you can see from the last week stats below, taken from the NaNoWriMo site I was [finally] getting ahead of the game on word count and really it was because the story was just flowing out and everything seemed to be falling into place. I added a few more secondary characters which I think added a bit more texture to some of parts of the story and helped the plot line, but still, the issue was getting to the end of the story, and so I had to simplify some of the subplots, and one arc which I’d decided in week two I was going to have to miss out never made it back in.
I’ve been really pleased actually with the writing rate and that I was having to decide what to take out, rather than trying to come up with new things to put in to fill space, though paradoxically, new things were creeping in just because they seemed to fit what was going on.
So what did it end up being about? Set in an alternate steam technology based version of Japan’s opening up to more external influence and trade in the mid nineteenth century, there is a stand-off between the three regions left from the recent civil war, and it tells the story of how various groups are attempting to gain technology and power in order to take on the others.
The narrative is driven by three main protagonists trying to find out who or what is is pushing events forwards following the murder of a trader outside Yokohama, but draws on rogue British delegates, Royal Societies, a splintered Japanese samurai class and just normal Japanese people trying to decide what they want now that there seems to be so many new opportunities.
One interesting thing which happened which I wasn’t expecting or intending, is that the story, characters and scenario actually lend themselves to a second story which would largely need to take place in Britain (though not in London like many steampunk novels) and Hong Kong instead of Japan.
I have to say I felt a real sense of accomplishment upon seeing that I’d topped 50,000 words, after what had become a habit, and almost a compulsion over the last four weeks, going from feeling like it was a grind, through to a feeling of obligation, and then in the second half of the month of actually being keen to sit down and get on with writing. As you can see from some of the posts, word count does become a obsession at the beginning, I suppose because you’re left with the impression that you’re behind schedule, and then that disappears when 2,000 words a day just flow out. I’ll admit that since ‘winning’ I’ve had that sense of ‘what now’?
Broadly speaking, the vast majority of my writing was done in one of two scenarios – either on my MacMini, at the desk on a full size keyboard, or on my aging MacBook at the dinner table, and it all seemed to work well. I definitely recommend Scrivener - even though I’ve used it for a few years for short stories and such, I really found why it’s such a good writing tool this last month, making it simple and quick to jump between writing, character info, story research all within the one app and quickly able to find things, without interrupting the flow.
That concept of flow was essential – as I learned early on, to stop to check and correct grammar and sometimes even spelling is a massive mistake and to just keep going as NaNoWriMo is about getting a novel first draft done, not the finished article.
Somehow I thought I’d have developed a ‘soundtrack’ during the writing, but it never really happened; as I look through the list of recently played tracks in iTunes it’s a selection of certain songs, and I think by hour I probably wrote mostly without music. The tracks I did listen to though were quite interesting – some were tracks I hadn’t listened to in years – and seemed to fit certain chapters of the book – I listened to Jean Michel Jarre’s “Revolutions”  which fit some of the steam punk parts, and also the soundtrack to the classic “Akira” by Geinoh Yamashirogumi which has a mix of more traditional elements and modern styles.
One rather sad thing is that I still don’t have a title with my NaNoWriMo dashboard recording it as “Japan Steampunk Novel”.
So What’s Next?
My plan right now for the novel is to let it sit for a few weeks, and then start a second draft. Yes, I’m going to see this one through to some kind of ‘finished’ version, something I struggled with on my only previous attempt at a full length novel. I’m keen to add in a couple of story arcs in which never made it into this initial draft – the main one being the arms dealers supplying one of the main factions which was to be set in my home town in the UK (Grimsby) which in the timeframe of the story was ramping up as a major port. This makes one subplot (the factions within the British Government and Royal Societies) a bit clearer and shows that the main story is just another part of a larger political policy being executed.
As for NaNoWriMo, will I be doing it again next year? I honestly don’t know. It required a lot of time and and patience from the family, and November is quite a busy time of the year for us with other events, so I really don’t know, though certainly the next time I do NaNoWriMo, I wont be as worried about word count.
That said, it has been a lot of fun, and I would definitely encourage people to give it a try next year – or any month really – and just crank out 50,000 words.
After twenty one days of writing, of hammering out words at a keyboard, do we really need to talk about the mere number of words? So what have I learned this week in NaNoWriMo? Well, I’ve been in the situation this week where I’m actually less worried about my word count, and more about the story progression.
For one, writing every day is not always that good for your story, or for you. Especially if you work, and probably even if you don’t, sometimes you need to let the story sit in the corner for a while. A couple of times this week I went to the trusty (but not really amazing) Mac keyboard, and started to type, and it wasn’t that I had writer’s block – I knew where I wanted to go – but there was this kind of fatigue about the actual act of writing.
I’m concerned that in my story whilst I’m moving the plot along, it doesn’t feel fleshed out, and more and more I’m leaving bookmarks with comments to say ‘insert scene here about so-and-so’. I probably have a few thousand words of snippets in my character profiles to add in. So the take away from this week has been that you need to take days off from the writing itself, even if you can’t get the story out of your thoughts – just write the ideas down, dictate them into your phone or whatever system works for you, and type them type them up later.
I’m taking this as a good sign – more bits to add in a second draft. In that light one thing I always knew, but at this seeming crunch phase I need to remember, is that NaNoWriMo is about turning out 50,000 words, not a truly finished novel. It’s a first draft, not something you stand outside of publisher’s offices with, pimping it to important looking people as they look to leave for the weekend.
My writing locations are still essentially split between the Mac Mini at my desk in the computer cupboard, and my old Macbook, where the latter is usually on the dining table. At night I kind of like the emptiness of the living room.
I did try a nearby family restaurant, with it’s 180yen drink bar, and that worked, but after a couple of hours, I had to get out, so as to not hear any more Rocky soundtrack, and so I didn’t have to listen to old ladies saying why Italian women weren’t as good at cooking as Japanese women (no, really).
So now I ease into the last week – and for me NaNoWriMo finishes on the 28th, as I will be on a business trip after that, so I have quite a few words to go, but so far, I’m hoping, still, to join the ranks of the ~18% of people who finish each year, and at my first attempt. Will I be doing it next year? No, I think I’ll give Movember a chance!
However, if you must know I am for once, ahead of the game today – 36,050 words against the par of 35,000!
So we’re now 14 days in to National Novel Writing Month! According to the schedule of writing rates, I should be up to 23,333 words, but as expected, I’m a little behind, currently weighing in at 22,554 words, which I don’t think is too bad, given that my daily work rate has increased. One thing that I’m learning quickly about this, as that previous sentence suggests, is that word count begins to become something of an obsession. Really.
That said, I’ve gotten a bit better this past week in how I approach the act of sitting down and writing, staying more focused, and getting more writing done per sitting, which is vital for me, as like many, I’m squeezing this in behind family and work requirements.
I try to set out a block of at least one hour to focus on the writing, and it seems to be working, and sometimes it spills over to 90mins or even two hours, but I know when I’m done as I start writing sections that move nothing forwards, and that’s the time to stop.
When I am writing, I only write in full screen mode with Scrivener, with the only other app open being Firefox, for those ad hoc fact checks. I also make sure I start with a drink, a cup of tea or coffee, so there are no reasons to get up during that hour. I’ve also tidied my desk up, or when I’m writing on my old MacBook on the dining table, I try to clear everything off it – minimise distractions of any kind!
Perhaps one question I have been asked this month has been ‘do you think you can fill 50,000 words?’. Right now, I’m not worried about that. As far as content goes, I think this story would need 80-100,000 words to tell it, so for this month, and against the clock, I’m more interested in getting the bare plotline down.
Two things I was expecting after two weeks though were i) a soundtrack to have made itself known, and ii) to have a title!
Indeed, I still don’t have a name for the work, and for some reason I haven’t been listening to anything consistently enough to call it a writing sound track. Maybe we’ll get to that next week.
So per my previous post on the subject, I’ve decided to have a crack at NaNoWriMo this year – writing a 50,000 word novel during November.
I’ve been doing a bit of research into the basic premise of my story (you can prepare, but you can’t write anything of the novel itself outside of November). Essentially it’s a steampunk based story set in an alternate mid 19th century Japan, where the real life Meiji restoration has happened a slightly different way, allowing for rival states within the Japanese archipelago. I’ve also decided to include real historical figures in there, in adapted versions of their real roles.
It’s been interesting to read into this period of history again, which was a time of real direction change for Japan, and spent some time reading more about such things as the Ezo Republic (Japan’s only republican entity in it’s history), and some of the women warriors of Japan, many of whom aren’t well known outside of their areas nowadays, such as Nakano Takeko from Aizu who will feature as head of the independent city state of Aizu.
As far as the writing itself goes, I suspect most will be done on my Mac Mini and my old MacBook from 2006 in Scrivener, with the file saved into Dropbox, so I can switch between the two machines. I also have two weeks now to re-read “The Elements of Style“.
The next update will probably be just as we kick off, so good luck to fellow NaNoWriMo-ers!