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 three parts!  Today we’ll cover what I expected and what actually happened (including all the lovely little mistakes I made along the way); on Friday we’ll cover stats (and why you should track stats); and next week we’ll cover what I’d do differently next year and where I’m headed now that NaNo is done.

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!

9 thoughts on “River’s NaNoWriMo 2016 Debrief, Part 1: All the Mistakes

  1. I laughed so hard at you Plotober xD I love it!
    But good work – well done! I think the most challenging thing on these projects, is to stay motivated, to learn from mistakes and to not give up! And that you all achieved. I don’t think the main goal should be to push yourself to finish perfectly. I feel that you learned a lot for yourself on the road and that you can be poud for every singel word you accomplished. I am really tempted now to join next year – inclusive Plotober 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, thank you! I completely agree. Even though I’m disappointed I didn’t make the 50k goal, I learned so much about plotting, writing, motivation, and myself these past couple of months. So, mission accomplished. 🙂
      Let me know if you decide to do NaNo (and Plotober! 😉 ) next year! We can help keep each other motivated. XD

      Liked by 1 person

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