River’s NaNoWriMo 2016 Debrief, Part 1: All the Mistakes

Hi everyone! Happy December!

As NaNoWriMo comes to a close, it’s time to look back on all we’ve accomplished during this time. I hope everyone who challenged NaNoWriMo (or another challenge like Huevember!) had a great month & were able to build up your skills!

November was a fairly good month for me.  I was able to stretch my writing skills in a way I haven’t in a while, so regardless of actual word count, it was a success. ^_^  Still, I thought it would be nice to look back over everything, do a debrief, if you will, both to provide some closure for me and to share things I’ve learned with you.

As this post turned out fairly long, it’s split into two parts!  Today we’ll cover what I expected and what actually happened (including all the lovely little mistakes I made along the way), and on Friday we’ll cover stats (and why you should track stats) and what I’d do differently next year.

Aand, since even with splitting it in half this post still turned out very very long, here’s some eye candy first:

Rainy Day watermark version

“What should I write next. . . ?”

Okay, ready? Let’s go!

The Expectation

I wasn’t going into NaNoWriMo cold; this was my third time attempting the challenge, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect.  90,000 words in one month, right?*  That’s only 3000 words a day!  I can do this!**  However, it had been a couple of years since my last attempt, so I was a little nervous, haha.

*If you’ve read the NaNo rules, you know that’s not right!
**I didn’t think it would be easy, of course.  But doable?  Yes.  Ah, the confidence of the untested. . . .

The last two times, I “pantsed” it – basically, I had the premise for a story, but didn’t know much about the characters/events/motivations, so I stalled a lot.  Both times, I gave up partway through with less than 10k words because I simply did not know what happened next. So frustrating.

I was determined that this time would be different, so I committed to plotting the whole book in October (should we call it Plotober?  No?).  With a solid plot, knowledge about my characters, and determination, I was sure that I could see it through this year!

What Actually Happened

Spoiler alert: I didn’t actually make the 50k goal.  I made several mistakes, and that plus unavoidable circumstances (ie illness) made it a bit more challenging than I anticipated.

In the end, I revised my word goal from 50k down to 25k, and I finished at midnight on the 30th with just over 22k. While I am (very) disappointed that I didn’t reach either of my goals, I think I succeeded in all the ways that matter.  For example, my 22k this year is more words than my last two attempts combined!’

Mistake #1: Doing More Than One Challenge

I made my first mistake in October: I decided to challenge Inktober.  It was a lot of fun!  I produced 21 ink drawings and several sketches that month.

Now, this may not seem like a mistake, per se.  After all, NaNo hadn’t started yet.  However, October is an important part of the NaNoWriMo process: It’s a chance to explore one’s chosen project, to get to know one’s characters, to work out as many issues and problems as possible before the writing starts.  Which I didn’t really do, because my time was spent drawing!

So yeah, I produced 21 inked drawings, but I didn’t even finish the book outline.  Oops.

Speaking of Inktober, here’s one of the drawings I finished:

writers-block-inktoberSo accurate!

Also, since I was focusing most of my creative energy on drawing, it led to this ^.  Yes, yes, the drawing – but also the writer’s block. Not fun!

This is related to Mistake #2, so without further ado. . .

Mistake #2: Indecision

So when October started, I thought I knew what book I was going to write.  It was going to be a fun, budding-superhero novel. I had the basic plot and I loved the main character (she’s pretty spunky) so I was really looking forward to it.

And then.  Early in October, I had another idea.  A totally different idea, for a fantasy based in an Ancient Egypt-inspired world (so naturally it would require hours and hours of research, because my fantasy worlds must feel REAL, dangit).  I also loved the main character, even if (as an anxious and overworked servant) she is completely different from Ms. Superhero.

So then I had to sit down and think about it and decide which story to pursue.  Hey, I have a month, I thought, I’ll just write both outlines and then decide.  Of course, thanks to the aforementioned writer’s block, the outlines did not get written and I had to make my choice the day before NaNo began.

Which one do I choose to do?

The latter, naturally. Remember, this is the one that would require hours of research. Also, when I (finally) wrote the outline on Halloween, it had enough plot to fill three novellas.

Not smart, self.

While research (or rather, the lack thereof) left me frustrated at times throughout the month***, I think this mistake largely balanced out in the end.  By the end of October I was more enthusiastic about the Ancient Egyptian-inspired story than the superhero one and that enthusiasm kept me going when I hit road blocks.  (And boy, did I hit road blocks.)  And there’s a nice bonus:  I now have the outlines for two stories.

***I have a good six dozen “fix this” notes on my draft, and a good 2/3 of those are research related. *le sigh*

If there’s a takeaway from this, it’s know your story!  That’s what October is for, so use it!

Mistake #3: “I’m Not Actually A Temple Guard”

I always laugh when people tell me that authors can control their characters completely.  We may create them, but we definitely can’t tell them to do something they just wouldn’t do.

Sooooo, we’ve established that for various reasons, I didn’t have enough time to thoroughly plot the book.  I did have the main points (good) and the very biggest motivations for most of the characters (also good) and a pretty good idea of how the main character, Nakia, and two of the other major characters would fit within the world.  But I didn’t spend enough time with them before beginning the draft, and that led to some problems.

The biggest problem was Khayu, the third major side character.  See, I thought from the beginning that Khayu was a temple guard, and as such, his job was to, you know, guard the temple where he worked.  All well and good; something big goes down at that temple, and I needed someone who would be involved, and Khayu seemed like a good fit.

Khayu disagreed.

I was able to write a couple of scenes with Khayu in his role as a temple guard. But then it just. didn’t. work.  There he was, but there was nothing he could do (while staying in character), nothing he wanted to do.  Basically, he balked. (That was not a happy day.)

At this point, I had two options: Change Khayu’s character or put him in a different job.  Well, changing his character wouldn’t work; if I did that, he wouldn’t be Khayu.  So reassigning him seemed the only option.

In the end, I put him at the palace instead of the  temple.  Now he seems to be happy – or at least, he isn’t giving me major trouble of the “I won’t do it” variety. . . .

Mistake #4: Getting Sick

Okay, so I actually had no input or control over this one, but it still totally counts as the mistake part was how I dealt with it, not the actual getting sick part.

Around the end of the first week of NaNoWriMo, I fell ill with a bad head cold, which left me with the superability Scattered Thinking!  Which was not helpful in the slightest.  Every time I opened my document, I would end up staring at it for hours, and have less than 100 words to show for it.  Then I’d be stressed because I wasn’t writing (and it’s NaNo and I’ve committed to this!!), and that made my cold worse, which in turn made it harder to write. . . .


Look, if you’re sick or injured, cut yourself some slack!  You need to take the time and care you need to heal.  Pushing yourself further is likely to just make the problem worse, and then where will you be?  Not writing (or running or competing or drawing or anything fun at all), that’s for sure!

Eventually I took my own advice and declared some sick days, got over it, and found myself about 15k behind where I should have been.  But you know what?  If I hadn’t done that, I probably would have been 20k or 30k behind, so it worked out in the end.

Mistake #5: Being Daunted

I’m sure you can relate to this one. It’s that feeling whenever you fall behind the front runners, whenever you realize you might not reach your goal.  You think, “Maybe it’s not worth it.  Maybe I should give up.”

This describes my NaNo Week 3 perfectly.  I struggled with every single word I put down, each one feeling like another step in an endless marathon when you’re so tired and sweaty and weary and you’d really just like to lay down for a minute.

Long story short, it’s not worth it to give up!  Take the time you need to recover, then hit the road again.  It took me a full week to hit my stride again, but hit it I did, and the last week of November was probably my most productive.  Even when I had to revise my goal down from 50k to 25k, it felt good to know that I was still in the race, I was still running, I still had a chance.

I’m sure there are other mistakes I made, but those were the major ones.  If nothing else, I learned a lot this month!  And that in itself is a great reason to do NaNo.

* * *

And that brings my NaNoWriMo 2016 Debrief Part 1 to a close! Remember to check back on Friday for Part 2!

For all of you who have attempted a challenge (fellow Wrimos included), what was the biggest mistake you made?  What was the most memorable lesson you learned?  Let me know in the comments below!

November Catch-Up: NaNoWriMo

Hi everyone!

We’re entering the fourth week of NaNoWriMo!  If you’re challenging NaNo, how is it going for you?  For me it’s been crazy, especially as I fall behind my daily goals and write furiously to catch-up.  As I type, I’m about 19,000 words behind.  Whew!  Even though I fell behind during Sketchtember and Inktober as well, I feel like I didn’t have this much trouble, haha. >_<;;

I don’t mean to imply that art is easier than writing.  It’s not!  Actually, I consider myself more skilled at writing, as I’ve been practicing that for over a decade, and I’ve only seriously been drawing for a couple of years.  Rather than being “easier,” it’s more that during the art challenges, I was able to decide when each piece was finished.  I could spend more or less time on a piece, depending on how much time I had, or how quickly I finished it. During NaNo, there’s a hard goal of 50,000 words, or an average of 1,667 words/day.  If you don’t hit that, then you aren’t done, so it’s a little different.

Though, speaking of Inktober, lemme just pause a second here to add a piece of eye candy. . . .


This is a plug for the upcoming webcomic!  This is also appropriate advice for NaNo!

As we come up on the home stretch of NaNo, I feel like I’ve already learned a lot.  Like. . .

  1. I *can* write 1,667 words a day.  Not only that, I can write 2000+ words a day!  (3000 is still out of reach, though. Practice practice!)
  2. When you sit down and do something creative for a long time, you actually get more creative!  Crazy, huh?  I guess what they say about creativity being a muscle is true!
  3. It’s okay to deviate from your plot!  It just means that you know the story and your characters better.
  4. Watching the word count stack up feels amazing.  Even if you have to cut some later, each word takes you closer to a finished book.
  5. Even if you “fail” NaNo, you won’t have really failed.  Every word you write is a small victory.  Keep writing – then you’ll win the war!

For everyone who is currently doing a challenge of any sort – NaNoWriMo, or Huevember, or whatever – keep at it!  The finish line is closer than you think!

See y’all in December!


#Sketchtember Musings

Thought I’d emerge from my NaNoWriMo cave and post something!  Though I cheated a little, as this is a compilation of thoughts I had while doing #Sketchtember.  Even though it is a different style than my normal posts, I hope you will enjoy it anyway. ❤️

On Monthly Challenges

I actually decided to do the #Sketchtember challenge as a sort of warm-up for NaNoWriMo.  Yes, the two are different art forms, but the concept of a month-long stamina challenge was the same, so I thought it would help.  I think it’s safe to say, though, that I didn’t have any idea what I agreed to.

Even before #Sketchtember, I sketched pretty much every day or every other day, depending on my free time.  The opportunity to sketch every day, not just for “free time” but as a sort of job was really liberating because now I didn’t worry about taking time away from work. (Or at least, not as much.)

Kimono watermark version

On Sketching Daily

On the other hand, having to sketch and post every day quickly became a chore. . . until suddenly it wasn’t.  Somewhere in the fourth week, it went from being a chore to a habit – and an enjoyable habit at that!  I think that was what prompted me to challenge #Inktober as well.

Fox n Mouse Sketch Watermark version

On Pen & Paper vs Digital

Having switched over from traditional sketching to digital, I can say that they are very different experiences.  Pen and paper feels more organic. . . there’s only so many times you can erase before the paper shows it, of course, and there’s the texture of the paper as well.  If you draw lightly and build up, you don’t need to worry about drawing a ‘perfect’ line first try; the texture helps disguise the series of small lines.  And maybe it’s just that I’ve sketched more traditionally, but it comes more naturally to me than digital.  I can be happy with a sketch more quickly, anyhow.

I haven’t sketched digitally in a while, so I relearned a lot of things this month.  Like, digital sketching tends to take more time as layers and the eraser tool appeal to the perfectionist within me.  GIMP has no limit on layers (just what my computer can handle without slowing down, haha), so the “sketch” part itself may take 3-5 layers: skeletion/gesture, blocking out, adding detail, hair and clothing each have their own layer.

And since there is no physical limit on erasing (digital paper doesn’t pill or fray), I tend to redraw the same line over and over until it looks perfect. This is why some of my digital #Sketchtember posts are more like inked drawings than sketches!

Rainy Day watermark version

On Style(s)

I think I mentioned this before, but it feels like my style changes when I sketch digitally.  I don’t know why. . . .  No, that’s not true.  It’s at least partially because of the tool.  With smoothing pen options and  the pixelation, the lines don’t always come out the way they would on paper.  (Maybe I need to look up some more pen sets.)

It’s also partly because I’m more likely to have reference pics when I’m working digitally.  When I’m already at the computer, it’s easy to pop open the browser and look up a reference. . . but when I’m drawing traditionally, I draw mostly from imagination. (That’s another way of saying that I’m too lazy to get up and go to the computer, haha.)  So maybe my poses are more realistic digitally.

Though, this isn’t limited to purely digital sketches.  When I scan a paper sketch in and work on it digitally, the style tends to change then, too.  So maybe we should just call it the inking effect.


On Improvement

It seems that every time I sketch something, I think, “Oh, this part or that part was hard!”  Especially when I need to sketch hands.  It’s a little discouraging to feel my shortcomings so often. TT_TT  But in truth, the times that I think that are occurring gradually less frequently, and it feels like I’m getting a little better at sketching each day.  While I’d love to have amazing art abilities overnight, this steady improvement is good too.


Do you have any interesting “musings” while you do challenges?  Please share in the comments below!

Inktober Day 30: Alice’s “Drink Me” Bottles & Chess Pawns

Whew, I’m almost done catching up with my weekend’s work!  Here’s the next batch:

drink-me-inktoberFirst up, we have the Drink Me bottles and the Eat Me chest from Alice in Wonderland!

Alice was one of my favorite stories as a child.  Still is, in fact.  What’s surprising is that it took me this long to draw something inspired by the book!

And this card wasn’t all. Next up we have. . .

chess-pawns-inktober. . . Chess Pawns from Through the Looking Glass!

The two pawns are modeled after my dolls, Japan Ai Clover and Matricaria.  Having a tiny model made them really easy to draw!  The biggest problem was the eyes; making them too realistic resulted in creepy doll eyes, so I had to simplify them a bit.

It seems there are many artworks of Alice in Wonderland, but not so many of Through the Looking Glass. . . or at least not many I’ve seen.  I’d like to see more – do you have any suggestions?

Inktober Day 29: Beta Fish


This weekend was very busy, but I still managed to do a few art cards for Inktober!  These two little betas were fairly quick – and I’m quite pleased with how their fins and tails came out.

I’m also going to count this little guy for Inktober:

beta-sketch-inktoberA quick sketch I made first, to make sure I remembered what a beta looks like!  Even though it was quickly done on my scrap napkin, I’m also pleased with it.  Just goes to show, even quick sketches on a napkin can look wonderful!

Inktober Catch-Up: Nature Art Cards

nature-art-cards-inktoberHere’s a few more art cards for Inktober!

For these, I used my Tombow markers to “paint” the image.  A wash of light gray to block out the image, with darker shading added. . . almost like a watercolor painting!  Since I didn’t sketch the image first, these were very loose and quick – they took between 2-3 hours for the whole lot, drying time included.

This time I used kraft paper art cards.  They stood up to the water-based markers very well, even with blending and layering!  The manila card I used the next day didn’t stand up so well; I’ll post that card later.

My favorite part was adding the fairy-dust-like white sparkles and wind with the Sakura Gelly Roll pen.  Somehow my cards don’t seem finished without a little sprinkle of white!

And with this batch, my Inktober count is up to 17 / 31.  We’re getting there!

Inktober Day 28: Cloud Bakes

cloud-art-card-inktoberFor Day 28 of Inktober, I continued with the art cards!  The first was Cloud, with a cake.  This is a common scene in the webcomic.  She loves to bake. ❤️

Somehow, Cloud’s hair ended up very wavy! It’s a cute look, but not quite canon.  Maybe she slept with braids in?