NaNoWriMo 2013: After-Thoughts

book001The month has come and gone with surprising speed.  To be fair, though, that’s the nature of time.

As you’ll know if you read my previous post on the matter I’m a big fan of the (inter)National Novel Writing Month.  It’s a hard slog at times and serves to illustrate exactly how much life can get in the way of writing but it’s almost always a rewarding experience.  The benefits definitely, in my opinion, outweigh the disadvantages.

I can’t quite remember when I determined to go through with NaNoWriMo this year but I did, a fact that I’m glad of.

Here are my thoughts on this year’s effort.


While it’s difficult to justify calling what I did pre-NaNoWriMo to be ‘preparation’ it served roughly the same purpose.  What I did was the same thing I always do at the start of a NaNo.

I had no idea – at all – what to write.

I fretted.  I was concerned.  I thought about throwing the idea of participating right out the window.  Why bother trying to write 50,000 words in one month if you can’t even determine what to write about?  I tossed ideas around, I rejected some, decided on something, changed my mind.

The few things that I did which were in any way productive were simple things like making a new Scrivener project (which I rather boringly called ‘NaNoWriMo2013’) and made sure all the links between Scrivener and Dropbox were functioning correctly (a redundant step, perhaps, but one that focused my mind on the fact that, yes indeedy, NaNoWriMo was going to happen).

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being at a loss as to what to write.  No doubt plenty of writers out there were staring down the barrel of a NaNo shotgun and felt like they’d spend the first week with no clue what to do.  If you happen to be one of them then don’t worry.  It happens.

Just make sure you actually start writing.

When NaNoWriMo started and Preparation Time was done there was no bolt of inspiration.  I just started writing.



But I didn’t start writing a novel.  I started writing notes.

Scrivener is my friend.  You see, I have far, far more ideas than I do time or energy to make those ideas happen (which is, I think, a pretty common curse of the creative mind – we’re never going to have the time in one mortal life to create all the art we have ideas for).  In my Dropbox account there’s a project that I call, very simply (and somewhat erroneously), ‘Novel Ideas’.  It holds – you guessed it – ideas for novels.  It also serves as the dumping ground for concepts about short stories, television program scripts, even poetry.  As nobody but myself actually sees it there’s no harm in me writing down some of the outright silliest ideas – and who knows?  They might come in handy later.

The cost for a Scrivener license is US$45 for the Mac OSX version and US$40 for the Windows version.  If you buy it using the coupon code NANOWRIMO you’ll get 20% off; if you’re a NaNoWriMo winner this year you’ll get a special coupon code to get it for 50% off on your winners page around the 5th of December.  Check out their NaNoWriMo Offers page for more details.

At the start of the month I started going through my spare story ideas making notes.  One of them I noticed I was making a lot of notes on and before I knew it the story had sort of decided itself.  With perhaps 2,500 words in notes alone I had my project.  It wasn’t a predetermined decision.  I hadn’t a clue before November began which project I was going to pursue.  The whole thing just sort of… happened.

So I transferred the notes to my blank NaNoWriMo2013 project and got writing.

My own personal NaNoWriMo 2013 journey had begun in earnest.


The NaNoWriMo Graph

NaNoGraph 2013On the right you’ll see my NaNoWriMo 2013 graph.

If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, here’s the deal: when you start the month you get a blank graph.  Each time you update your word count the graph automatically changes to reflect the number of words you’ve done, and a friendly bunch of bars to the left of the graph tell you how you’re going according to par.  The par-line on the graph is static and reflects how many words you have to have written on any given day in order to avoid falling behind.

The concept is simple: if you’ve written 1,666 words or more each day then you’re on target or ahead.  If you’ve written less, you’re behind.

Hovering over the dots on the par line will show you the required total word count to meet par for that day; hovering over one of the vertical bars shows you how many words you’ve written to date.  Easy, right?

This tool is one of the things I love about NaNoWriMo.  The goals are clearly laid out; there’s no ambiguity or lack of clarity as to how far in front or behind you are; the information is set out in a clear graphical manner that you can understand at a glance.  Is the top of the bar above the diagonal line?  No?  You’re behind.  Simple as that.


Week One – A Slow Start

If you have a look at my graph you’ll notice that on Day 1 I wrote a staggering 0 words.  That’s right; not one.  I hadn’t even written the title down.  I was still writing notes at that point.

Day 2 saw me jot down the start of the story, a vague idea I had for the commencement, but little more.  While I’d probably passed 600 words in notes I had only written 346 words – 1,320 below par for the day and 2,986 words behind par to date.

The next two days were even worse.  I was still writing notes but I didn’t touch my story.  The par for Day 4 was at 6,666 and I hadn’t budged – and while I did start writing parts of my story again after that I finished off the week with a word count of 2,370 – well behind the par of 11,666.


Week Two – The Hard Week

It’s well accepted in NaNoWriMo circles that Week Two is perhaps the hardest week of the month.  That varies from person to person, of course, but for the most part people have the feeling that their writing isn’t going anywhere.  This is not unique to you.  It’s universal.

Funnily enough, while Week Two had been difficult for me in 2010 and 2011, this year it proved far less troublesome.

Even so, it wasn’t until Day 10 that I really started cutting the gap between word count and par down to size.  Days 11 to 14 were more about maintaining par so that I didn’t fall behind again; Day 14 saw a larger push and I ended with 16,103 words (against a par of 23,333).  I’d narrowed the gap from 9,296 under par at the end of Week One to a gap of 7,230 under par – a positive par-gain of 2,066.

It took a week to make back a little more than a day’s worth of words.  At this rate I wasn’t going to finish in 2013, let alone by the end of November.


Week Three – Over the Hump

The third week of NaNoWriMo is, much like the second week, difficult.  By Day 15 you’ve breached the halfway point in your allotted time but it’s not yet the final slide to the finish line.  Worse, if you’re behind par (as I was) you’re probably painfully aware, at this point, that you should have passed the 25,000 word mark and you haven’t.  It’s like a miniature failure.

Where the par for Day 15 was 25,000 I’d only reached a word count of 17,849.  That’s a little over 71% of the word count par; I wasn’t even three quarters of the way to where I should have been.

A bit depressing, right?  This is why NaNoWriMo can be hard.  The goal points are clearly set out which is a blessing, really, because it means you always know where you should be – but it’s a mixed blessing because you always know where you’re not.

The week was a good one, though, on the whole.  I narrowed the gap marginally the first few days and then pushed hard on Day 19, jumping from 25,267 words to 28,643.  It’s easy to forget how gratifying it is to see your daily word count bar go from blue to green (indicating you’ve beaten the day’s par of 1,666).

At the week’s end I was at 32,471 words – still under the par of 35,000 but at a far more respectable 92.7%.  My expected finish date at this point was mid-December.


Week Four – Distraction and Par

The second half of Week Four – Day 25 – saw a pretty good total of 38,681 words.  The next day, however, my partner and I went to see Thor 2 (in 3D; if you haven’t seen it the movie is very good and Christopher Eccleston’s performance, in particular, is fantastic).  When we got home I managed a breathtaking 31 words – my lowest word count since Days 3 and 4.

I was doing so well, too!

While a bit of distraction is good I was, frankly, angry at myself.  I have a habit of writing late at night – usually 9pm to midnight – and as the movie was showing at 9:30pm I knew I wasn’t going to get back in time to do much of anything before the day ticked over.  I should have written during the day more, I should have put more effort into writing in the morning, I should have –

But all of those ‘shoulds’ don’t really do anything, do they?  So I stayed up late, well past midnight, and got a day’s worth of writing in.  I added a day’s worth in the evening, too, so after the disappointing Day 26 I managed to get in 5,135 words on Day 27 – my biggest single effort to date and, as it turned out, my biggest single day’s word count for the event.  I finished Day 27 on 43,857 – only marginally behind the par of 45,000.

The combination of self-rebuke and major push did a lot for my confidence.  I’d managed a little over three days’ worth in one – and directly following a major distraction.  That was seriously positive stuff.  The week ended on a particularly high note: on Day 28 I was at 47,133 words against a par of 46,666.

I’d finally broken par.  I was going to make it.


Final Days – Victory

There are 30 days in November, not 28, so after the desperate scramble toward par that Week Four represents there is a pair of miscellaneous days that serve as the last ditch effort to make the goal point.

From experience and discussion the single biggest threat to winning NaNoWriMo seems to be, at this point, becoming complacent on Day 29 and then having something erupt into your world on Day 30, preventing you from writing and, thus, causing you to miss the finish line.  I was determined not to let that happen.

Luckily I’d reached a point in the story that I found particularly interesting so the final push didn’t prove difficult.  On Day 29 I finished at 50,009 words.  I pasted the story as it stood into the NaNoWriMo validator and found myself on the winner’s page – with one day to spare.

That’d never happened before.  Finishing before the deadline?  Weird.



2013-Winner-Vertical-BannerAnd so it came to pass that I, Scott, finished NaNoWriMo 2013 as a winner.

Is it really that big a deal?  Probably not, but it made me feel good and it’s left me with 50,009 words more than I had.  The NaNo site thinks I’ve written 50,608 words because I separate scenes and chapters with asterisks and it’s counted those as separate words, but I know I’m a winner nonetheless.  Scrivener doesn’t count those and I know its word count function is accurate.

You don’t get much.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that NaNoWriMo results in a publishing deal or a cash reward.  What you get is the experience gained from writing 50,000 words, along with a pdf of a certificate, a special link to a winners t-shirt (which I haven’t bought because I don’t particularly like the design; I find it a bit self-aggrandising) and some graphics to flout your excellence.  Some corporate sponsors, such as Literature and Latte (creators of Scrivener) and ScribbleCode (creators of Aeon Timeline, a very handy program that lets you construct a timeline and track events with an easy-to-use interface), also provide codes to give winners discounts on their software; that happens on the 5th of December so I’m looking forward to that.

But you also get a really good feeling of accomplishment – or, at least, I do.

My novel isn’t finished.  It’s probably barely started.  I’ve waffled on terribly describing the main character’s early life and I’m still trying to work out whether I want to leave all that in or trim it down to make the first portion of the story much more streamlined.  There’s a culmination of drama part way through and I don’t have a clear view on what happens next.  I have a starting point but not a finished story.  It’s so disjointed that I doubt I’d be comfortable showing it to anyone without a huge disclaimer that it’s ‘as rough as guts,’ as the rather odd saying goes.  I have a religion but I don’t have it fully fleshed out; I have rumours of magic and monsters but haven’t decided if the rumours are true or just folk tales.  I haven’t even decided how high I want this fantasy to go – magical wondrous weird stuff, high Tolkienesque fantasy, or simply a world very much like our own where people are bound to the same laws of physics and sociology that we are?

But (and this is the really important bit) these are all questions I wouldn’t be asking myself if I hadn’t done NaNoWriMo this year.

I have a start.  I have a map.  I have a calendar to set events on.  I even have the beginnings of a conlang (constructed language) to try and make the world feel more ‘authentic’.

Let’s see where things go from here.

— Scott Thornby, 30th November, 2013