Hey everyone! Welcome back to my NaNo debrief series. Today I thought we’d do a little recap of the first two segments and talk about what I’d do differently next year. Then we’ll finish up with the big question: What to do now that NaNo’s over?!
Over the course of NaNoWriMo, I definitely learned a lot, both about what not to do and about my own habits by tracking my statistics. Even though I didn’t make the 50k word count goal – thus, I did not “win” NaNo – I did gain a sense of my current limits and worked on my discipline, so I consider it a success!
As a quick review, here were my mistakes:
- Focusing on two challenges: For October, when I should have been diligently plotting my NaNo project, I decided to do Inktober as well. The result was that I finished 20+ inked drawings and very little plot!
- Indecision: I had several projects that were possibilities for NaNo, and I didn’t make up my mind until Halloween day. (This also contributed to the lack of plot on Day 1.)
- Mis-Casting Characters: I had most of my characters’ personalities and roles pretty much figured out, but one character just was. not. happy until I reassigned him. Good news: I figured it out pretty early! Bad news: I still have to scrap like 5k words and start his story over. 😦
- Pushing Myself Too Hard: I fully intended to give 110% to NaNo this year, but that strategy doesn’t work out so well when you’re sick. Because then you get more sick. Not a happy cycle.
- Being Daunted: I fell way behind because of Mistake#4, and let that get to me in week 3, so naturally I fell further behind. (Also, lack of knowledge about the plot probably contributed as well.) It took me a week to recover from that, though recover I did and had a nice, productive week in Week 4.
I’m sure there were more mistakes I made or things that I could have done better, but those were the Big 5!
In Part 2, we discussed stats (aka metrics), and why I tracked my stats, and why maybe you should too. Long story short, if you know what you’re doing well and what you can improve on, then you can change your workflow/schedule/process and become more productive. I think it’s fun (because I think analyzing data is fun) but even if you don’t think it’s fun, it can be really helpful.
Here’s a screencap of my spreadsheet:
Stats are useful but beyond the scope of this post, so if you’re interested check out the full post!
So even if I didn’t meet the actual goal of NaNo – the 50k – and even if it was really frustrating and difficult at times, I’m really glad I attempted it! Challenges like these are a great help in honing your art and pushing your limits. I’m already looking forward to next year!
What I’d Do Differently in 2017
Speaking of next year, there are sooooo many things I’d do differently! I’d have a definite game plan for one – pantsing a story is fun, but not helpful on a stamina challenge – and I’d do more writing with friends, because accountability = productivity. Oh, and word sprints! So helpful (and fun)! And I would work hard to take better care of myself. That’s key, I think.
Let’s take a deeper look at all of them, hmm?
Taking Care of Myself
I’m putting this one first because I think it’s the most important, the key to everything. Yes, writing 50k – a novel’s first draft – in one month is awesome. But this year I had the experience of getting sick during NaNo, and making myself more sick by trying to power through it. It got me thinking: How awesome is it, really, to “win” NaNo if you end up depressed or with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or tendonitis or ill? Is it really worth it?
Some people would say yes, it is. On one level, I’d agree – reaching the finish line is worth some sacrifices. But writing a book is a long-term game. You have to put a lot more time and love in before it’s something you can proudly share with the world. If you sabotage yourself now, it will be that more difficult to complete in the long run.
So, first and foremost, I commit to taking better care of myself during NaNo 2017 and every challenge I take in the future, so that I can see every project through to completion.
I think it’s worth it.
Going into NaNo with a sparse outline is better than going in with no outline (not that I would know *cough cough*). But not taking Plotober seriously resulted in hours of staring at a blank piece of paper because I didn’t know what came next. It was a major hurdle for me this year – and worse, it was a hurdle that I put there myself.
I am terrible.
So next year, regardless of whether I do Inktober or not, I will give Plotober its due and know as much about my story and my characters as I possibly can before going in! Then maybe those hours I would have spent staring at a blank page will be spent writing.
Stay On Schedule
I kinda sorta had a schedule this year. Or rather, I had a daily word goal: 1,667 words a day. Which is the average everyone doing NaNo should aim for, and not much else.
Unfortunately, that schedule left a lot to be desired. What time of day would I write? When would I work on other projects? What about weekends? Relaxing? Anything?
Well, it didn’t work too well. There are a couple of points I’d like to fix next time:
- Plan for Weekends: Any sort of stamina challenge is difficult, both on the creativity muscle and on the body. I think next year, I’d like to plan to take weekends and/or “vacation” days off to give myself the chance to rest and recharge.
- Word Goal Increase: If I’m taking weekends off, I’m going to need to increase my daily word goal from 1,667 to 2273 words a day. Since I average about 1k-2k a day now, that shouldn’t be too difficult a word count to maintain for five days a week, with two days of rest.
- Time of Day: When I tracked my stats, I learned that I tend to write more in the afternoon and evening than during the day, so I should probably arrange my schedule so that I write more in the evenings.
With proper scheduling, it’ll be easier to keep on track and be productive – and get me closer to a 2017 win!
Warm Up Time
They always say that you should warm up before you exercise, right? Writing is an exercise of the creativity muscle, so it totally counts here too! On days that I warmed up my writing brain, I was way more productive – like, doubled-word-count productive – than on the days I didn’t. So next year I’m definitely going to warm up every day!
The best way I know to warm up is to talk plot with Cloud. “And then he’d do this. . . ” “But wouldn’t she react like that?” Even if we’re just going over things we already know, these conversations remind us why we wanted to tell our stories in the first place, so we’re hyped when we sit down to write!
An additional bonus is that these conversations help us figure out what’s wrong when something isn’t working. (I can’t tell you how many times Cloud’s reminded me that some action is out-of-character.) So if you’re stuck, try talking to your writing friends!
Sometimes, though, your friends might be unavailable or you’re just short on time. Here are some other warm-ups that have worked for me:
- Freewriting: Just open a document and write about whatever is on your mind. If you’re having trouble getting started or feel a little blocked, this is a good way to get into the writing mood. You can change it up a bit by giving yourself a random prompt, or by setting a timer for five or ten minutes.
- A Vignette or Anecdote: Write about something that your character would do, or something that happened to them. It doesn’t have to be related to the story at all – in fact, it’s probably better if it isn’t! That way you won’t feel pressured to make it “fit.” The only goal is to write the whole anecdote from beginning to end. Think of it like you’re having a conversation with your character, and they’re telling you this story. (This works well if you want to get to know your character better.)
- The Nitpicker: I’m a bit of a compulsive editor, so this works for me, but it might not work for you! Go over yesterday’s work, re-read it with fresh eyes, and do some minor editing here and there if something bugs you. Major edits and re-writes are out! Even though NaNo frees you to write without editing, sometimes you’re just itching to fix a little something here or there, so this exercise will help scratch that itch and get you back in the mood of the scene. (Or you could drop the editing and just reread. Whatever works!)
- Write Something Totally Different: I wrote the lyrics for two-and-a-half songs during NaNo. This was during dead time, when I was just staring at a blank screen and feeling frustrated and useless. So while they didn’t count towards the word goal, I was productive and felt satisfied – and that was enough to break the block.
So if you’re feeling a little uninspired or a little blocked, try warming up! It might be just what you need to kick your writing brain into gear.
Something I learned this year was that I tend to write two or three scenes before I start to flag. I just run out of energy after that! So when I’m writing intensely, I should probably take a snack break to refuel before continuing.
Actually, other types of breaks would work too. Stretching (especially your wrists and forearms) and taking a walk is refreshing and helps to prevent repetitive stress injuries. Taking the time to find something inspiring – doing research or reading a great story or watching a quick video – can recharge your creative brain too.
The trick to this, I think, is to not take too long a break. Because then you have to warm up all over again. . . .
Accountability = Productivity (or, NaNo Parties FTW!)
Writing is often a very solitary art. It’s just you, some paper, and a pen (or keyboard) – just black-and-white words on paper. That’s the only tool you have to tell your story. (Unless you’re doing a picture book or an illustrated novel or a graphic novel. In that case, awesome! But the illustrations probably won’t be made during NaNo either way, right?)
When you’re so solitary – when it really is just you and the paper and the pen – and you’re having a stare-down with the paper because the words just won’t flow – at those times, it’s difficult to remember why you’re writing. It can be dull. Boring, even. Certainly frustrating. And who enjoys that?
I don’t. That’s part of the reason why discussing things with Cloud is such an important part of my writing process, even if it’s my story, not our story. I have to remember why I’m writing.
But there’s another good thing about this as well. When you’re talking things over with a writing partner, you’re not just reminding yourself why you’re writing this story. You’re also telling your partner, “Hey, I’m going to write this story and it’s going to be awesome.” You’re setting up expectations. Now there are two (or more) people expecting this story – and that it’s going to be awesome.
Is that daunting? Maybe. But talking about it forces you to be accountable, and so is very good for productivity.
And it’s not all bad. If your friend is writing too, you also have something to hold over them. *eyebrow wiggles*
If you don’t have any friends who write, there are other options as well. Join a local writing group or an online forum. Join a local NaNoWriMo Write-In. Arrange your own.
Just do it.
And then write.
Word Sprints are Awesome
So I learned about word sprints in the middle of November, but I only actually tried them near the end, when I was desperate. Boy, do I wish I’d tried it sooner!
A word sprint is when you set a timer and write as quickly and furiously as you can, then see how you did. Sometimes a word goal or prompt is attached. Sometimes not. Regardless, when you’re racing against the clock, you really focus and get into it! Some of my best word counts occurred during word sprints, like 620 words in 15 minutes. They really work!
If you’re on Twitter, you can follow @NaNoWordSprints for community word sprints pretty much every day during NaNo. They have some great prompts and an encouraging community! (Though this year, I tended to sprint more whenever I felt like it rather than on their schedule. Probably because I kept forgetting to check Twitter until I was almost done writing for the day. . . .)
I didn’t mention this on my Mistakes post but. . . I spent a lot of useless time feeling useless and lazy and no-good during NaNo this year because I wasn’t making my daily word goals. Or even if I made my word goal, I was still way behind so it felt like it didn’t count. This led to a lot of that ol’ daunted feeling that pervaded Week 3.
Next year, I’d like to celebrate my successes – small though they may be – rather than dwell on my failures. I’m going to assign little milestones and reward myself for reaching them! Like, after 1,000 words I can have some chocolate, and after meeting my daily word goal I can read that book I’m itching to read. Something to let me know that I’m doing good, and it’s great, and it’s going to continue to be great.
. . . I’m already excited for that chocolate. Maybe I should start this one sooner. . . 😉
NaNo’s Over, Now What?
When NaNo ended, I was dazed. I didn’t know what to do. It took me a while to remember that I could do other things now, and that I could change the focus of my work. That’s probably a normal response to the end of a challenge, right? But it was still weird; I don’t remember anything like that when I finished Sketchtember and Inktober, though that may have been because I had a new challenge to throw myself into right away.
These past couple of weeks, I’ve processed my NaNo data and put a lot of thought into where to go from here. And talking about the mistakes I’ve made and the things I’ve learned and what I’d do differently has given me a direction. Basically, I’m going to start following my own advice. . . now.
The holidays are busy to begin with and I have some other projects to work on, but I also don’t want to abandon my book project. I’ve become very attached to it over the last two months! So I’m not going to put it away, but I am going to take it easy.
I noticed during the second half of NaNo that there are some issues with the plot as-is. I don’t have to scrap everything I’ve written, thank goodness! But a good portion has to go as things just don’t make sense. So I’m going to take good hard look at the plot this month, before I get into the process of continuing the first draft next year.
Of course, I’m going to continue with my other projects – like the webcomic – as well. I mentioned earlier that the words flow more easily in the afternoon; but my art, I’ve found, I can do any time of day. So I’ll arrange my schedule so that I can work on art in the mornings, and writing in the afternoon. We’ll see how that works out!
I’ll do my best to continue to push my limits and write often; daily if I can. In November I started making it a habit, so I don’t want it to fade away! I’ll do my best to finish this story in the next year, so that for NaNo 2017 I can begin a new story project. And so the cycle continues. . . .
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And we’ve come to the end of my NaNoWriMo 2016 debrief! I hope you enjoyed it, and that I was able to share something of value with you. I personally feel pumped to continue my project after having a chance to review it all.
Thank you for accompanying me on this journey! So until next year, let’s close the book on NaNo and ready ourselves for new adventures.