NaNoWriMo Winner 2014!

Yes – I managed to complete a 50,000 plus word ‘novel’ in November and win NaNoWriMo 2014!


Lets get the stats out of the way first – as of yesterday, I topped 50,000 words. That’s not bad given that still left me a day to add a couple of thousand more. However, this month didn’t quite go to plan,  and it wasn’t actually until the 24th that I even hit the run rate, having trailed by a couple of days sometimes, whereas in 2011 I’d gotten up to speed almost a week earlier.

When I could sit down and write, I got words out – sometimes in an hour I could top 1,200 words. If there was a time in procrastinating, it was in the getting to the sitting down. Also, it was a much busier month than expected. That’s no bad thing.

I did most of my writing on the Thinkpad, in the Scrivener beta for Linux, and it worked really well as I expected.


So how did the story development go?
Quite well actually. As I might have expected, it went in unexpected directions, mainly since I’d done virtually no pre-planning or outline, and somehow, the main protagonist turns out to be a bit of a bad person. Or not. I suppose it depends on how you look at it.  As for the ending, I think it answered enough questions, without trying to close every single thread off.

What’s it about?
In a medium sized nutshell, its about a person who reincarnates and can remember certain amounts of his memory. By nature, it’s meant to be a thriller, and parallels the lives he/she leads, and those he/she is in contact with, the the things they are all trying to achieve. It broadly takes place in 17th century London, the 1930s China, 1990’s London, mid 21st Century Yokohama, and then mid 22nd century Nagano. Of course, when you have a protagonist who has lived for an undefined amount of time, you can place them any time really, but for now, that’s the kind of scope I’m keeping to.

So what’s next?
As Chuck Wendig would say, this is something of a draft zero, so I need to go back and re-draft it – likely several times over the next few years. I have a list of things I want or need to change, to fix some continuity, tweak the ending a little to make it a little more suspenseful. There’s also a lot of texture to add. In 2011 I tried to put the texture in as I went, meaning that at the end I was dropping major sub-plots to get over 50,000 words. This time I wrote more roughly, but got most of the plot points in, I think when I rework it, it’ll top 80,000 words, but it should explain character motivation a lot. I expect to revisit it around the New Year break.

Anything else?
Well, I can say if there was a soundtrack this time it was ‘Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys‘ and their album (rather ironically) ‘Soft Time Traveller’. I picked it up in October after hearing some tracks on a Rathole Radio show, and the tracks ‘Walls’ and ‘Pornival’ really captured a couple of chapters.

Oh yes, this year I actually managed to come up with a title too – “Times of Incarnation“.

NaNoWriMo 2014: Week 1

So I’ve completed day 8 of NaNoWriMo 2014, and the best way to describe it thus far is ‘not bad‘. I came into this year’s event completely unprepared – I just didn’t do much beyond decide a concept for the story. This was certainly no master stroke, it was a combination of being busy with personal commitments and really struggling with enthusiasm to be honest. A bit of a departure from my first & last attempt in 2011, but my story idea this year also didn’t delve so much into any particular history or other real factual stance.

That said, here I am. After 8 days, I’ve done about 9,000 words – that’s fewer than the run rate of 13,333, but similar my last attempt, where it wasn’t until day 16 that I hit the run rate, which was lucky as I knew I had to finish 2 days early due to a business trip, whereas this month I should have until the 30th.

Enough of that, let’s talk about what I have done. The story is unfolding fairly well I think – I’ve established a morally ambiguous protagonist, and since this person reincarnates, I’ve already got female and male ‘versions’ on the go. There is also the mysterious and obligatory megacorp out to do bad things. Or are they? One thing I’m trying to do this time is make the morality of the various parties a little less clean cut.

So far almost all of the writing has been done on my Lenovo laptop in the beta version of Scrivener for Linux, on Mint 17 though I did do a few hundred words in the ‘real’ Scrivener on the MacMini also. So where have I been writing? Here’s a sample:

– The dining table – away from other distractions, and with a bit more space.
– The coffee table – sat on the floor, with a different view.
– The computer desk – I only did this once, at the Mac Mini, it just doesn’t seem to work for me.
– In the Kua Aina Burger Emporium – they have wide tables, and acceptable tea and coffee. Burgers are a bit expensive though so I haven’t actually been eating them.
– JR Tokaido Green Car train – this actually went quite well, but it’s too pricey to make a habit of.


As far as a soundtrack, or playlist goes, I’ve been listening to the Rathole Radio podcast a little lately, and trying tracks from that  – mainly Creative Commons licensed works – specifically Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys with their “Soft Time Traveler” album.

As for a story title, I have a few in mind, which is amazing for me – I’m terrible with coming up with story titles. I’ll wait till next week to mention any, and see which ones are still with me. Right, back to the story.

Writing in November?

November is almost upon us once more, and as many know, that’s the time for National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. The goal: write a 50,000 word novel from scratch in the month of November. I did it last year for the first time, and ‘won’, in that I completed the 50,000 words, and I outlined my progress over each week in a blog post, which got my brain out of the storyline for half an hour.

Writing that novel, even just a first draft, felt like a real achievement, but I learned a lot more about writing during the month, and a few other things, like making sure to exercise, or you end the month feeling like a block of lard. So am I getting ready to assault NaNoWriMo one more time?


I’ve decided to do it every other year, but I will be doing a lot more writing in November than I usually do – I’m aiming to finish first drafts of four short story ideas, and if possible an edit of the novel I started in NaNoWriMo last year, which amazingly still lacks a title.

So November will be a big push on the writing front, but on a few projects I want to close out, not on one behemoth, if only because I currently have two novels needing pushing out now!

Anyway, if you fancy even trying to write a novel, check it out, as there’s a lot of good information, tips, support and community on there to help you out.

NaNoWriMo 2011: Winner!

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.

Writing Stats
Writing Stats

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.

On Winning

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’?

Working Method

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” [1988] 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.

NaNoWriMo 2011 Winner
NaNoWriMo 2011 Winner

NaNoWriMo 2011: Week 2

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.

NaNoWriMo 2011: Week 1

So I’ve been working on my novel for NaNoWriMo for a week now. It’s been hard work. A problem for me is that this time of year involves a lot of family commitments, and I now know I’ll be away on business at the end of the month, so I’m a bit concerned about running out of time.

I’m already behind the curve. As of last night I’ve written 8,313 words, when on a straight progression curve, I should be up to 11,666 words.

That all said, let’s not look at the negative – let’s look at the upsides, or which there are many.

What I’ve written I’m actually OK with, and I’m heeding what I thought might have been some good advice and which it is indeed turning out to be:

“If you want to hit the word count, don’t edit as you go”

Indeed, this is to get the first draft of a novel out, not a final edit ready for publication.  So far then I’ve laid out the characters I need so far; I’m also happy to have had an opening chapter with a decent body count. What I’m wrestling with right now is the technology vs. intrigue as it’s a sort of steampunk set in mid 19th century Japan. I think I need to move the story on to the next milestone, which is a meeting of some of the main protagonists on neutral ground (a Japanese version of London’s Great Exhibition of 1851), so we can see how they contrast, and then by this time next week many of the characters will go their separate ways to find out new things, before coming back again amidst the chaos as it moves to a finale I havent even thought of yet!

I feel like I’ve got a decent workflow going, writing between 10.30pm to around 12.30am when I can – often this week I’ve only managed an hour between those times, but they’ve been good hours as I’m more of a night person. I tend to stop when I realise I’m treading water and not moving things forwards. Considering I’ve written in a week what I would normally call a short story, I’m pretty pleased.

As expected, all work is being done on my Mac in Scrivener, which is great for dropping in new character tidbits as needs and keeping going. I saw this morning the Windows version is out too! If I can ‘win’ NaNoWriMo I might take advantage of the 50%  discount on that! I’m saving into Dropbox and then re-reading what I wrote on the train in the morning and making notes as Scrivener saves into several .rtf files.

OK, why pour words out here when I could be adding to the novel!

Also, still no title decided.

NaNoWriMo Preparation

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.

NaNoWriMo 2011I’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!

NaNoWriMo 2011

As a bit of a hobby for the last few years I’ve written a few short stories – I even almost finished a full length story (60,000+ words and counting). It’s just mental exercise, a stab at creativity, writing something down.  In 2006 I first read about the National Novel Writing Month initiative, where people are invited to write a novel of 50,000 words within the month of November – not to a polished conclusion, but really to get at least that first draft in, and thought that some year I should give it a try.

You can have outlines and such prepared beforehand, but the novel must be something new and original, started on November 1st, and ‘finished’ by November 30th, midnight local time. It’s not deathly serious as you can tell from the site; you become a ‘winner’ simply by uploading your text to their servers in the last week of November to see if you’re over than magical 50,000 word count – it’s largely honour based to get people to actually get something into their PC.

Anyway, after 5 years of watching NaNoWriMo come and go, I decided to give it a go this year, so blog posts to this site might slow or stop next month as the small amount of my personal keyboard time flows into writing some epic work of fiction. How bad can it be? I don’t have anything else on apart from studying for my Japanese test in December, family and work commitments!

All I know so far is that I’ll mostly be writing it on my Mac in Scrivener, and that it’ll most likely be set in some kind of steampunk world, a genre I’ve always kind of liked. More updates on this in a couple of weeks.