Nano lesson #8: The Final Sprint

The good news is that we are now in that final stretch of NaNo. If you have been diligent, or did extra ahead of time to allow for Thanksgiving feasting and Black Friday madness, you should be in good shape.

I mean 1,667 words a day isn’t that much? I’ve seen plenty of comments on blogs from ethics to manners that roared past that number. I’ve seen run on sentences that sent on forever. How many of us finished that thirty page research project in three days for high school? Fiction can be way easier because you can make up shit. That’s why it’s called fiction.

NaNo whirlwind 2017, original neon whirlwind by Creativity103 without change, used under Creative Common 2.0

I easily average over a thousand words a day writing. I switch from project to project when one gets blocked or a plot bunny bites. Usually I do comments or blog entries, and write for two active fiction stories every week.

But doing nearly two thousand every day for NaNo lasts long enough that I have to prune my other activities just to get it done. The later in the month, the more has been has been pruned. TV and movies are much lower. Socializing too, but that’s been on a downward trend since college. Sleep has been hard hit, but that’s back to holding at six to seven hours. Some years, plot bunnies from EVERY other unfinished story attack to distract me, leaving fang and claw marks everywhere. Shopping for the holidays takes a big hit, even ordering online doesn’t help when the online system at Michaels told us they were out of stock three days in a row, but a friend walked right in and bought several from a flat. By the end of the month, family is a little better at not bothering you. A little, and only for humans. The four leggeds do not understand NaNo anymore than they get daylight saving time.

If you have made use of all this scavenged time, you should be over 40k words by today and hit 45k by tomorrow night. You may be tired and hate the story, but at this point you’re so close it would be stupid to stop.

And if you have fallen behind, you have only five days including today. Cut out more and write more. If you never really got rolling, write anyway. Write about the problems you had this year and how to avoid or lessen them for next time. Make it about a learning experience instead of about your lead.

Even after multiple successes, it is rarely any easier. The first draft is easy for a very, very inspiring idea that won’t let go. I think that has happened maybe twice in the last twelve NaNos for me. Twice were total wrecks and did not finish. The others were hard and sometimes brutal. But I made it through them. A majority of the stories were posted online as fanfic, or sit in a trunk hoping for effective editing and revision.

But there is always next year. There are also two Camp NaNo sessions where you can practice the pace or pick a different goal. Just keep at it. Someone will love your story, the tricks are to be clear in telling it and find your fans.

Get to it! And good luck!

Nano lesson #7: Burnout, aka Thanksgiving

Resting and adaptability sometimes just are not enough, the last few days are usually brutal. The various Thanksgiving hosting and food issues, plus even limited shopping for the holidays are not just distracting, but exhausting. This year Thanksgiving was early. You might think that a full week after the holiday means you have massive time, but no. It’s just that you only have three weeks for prime writing this time before the holiday, instead of closer to four.

There was a major illness in my immediate family this fall, so food and even cleanup had to be reconfigured. (Turkey breast in the slow cooker and dropping the stuffing) We also had a panic attack when sibling announced that all the leftover potatoes fell on the floor! But the bigger disaster was that a new helper eagerly rubbed pepper on the turkey, for a house where no one uses pepper at all and we only keep a little for guests at the table. The family attacked the turkey & gravy, mashed potatoes, and asparagus and took a communal nap. (forgot the fresh cranberry relish again!)

Holiday street light decorations shining along the river

image by Jack on flickr at [], under Creative Commons 2 []

Of course the culture seems to have decided to replace watching football with competitive shopping, in stores that barely close for the longest holiday travel weekend of the year. I have some shopping done, but will make cards after NaNo ends. One issue is that shopping for normal things is about five times as as slow and exhausting as normal, like for just plain soda out of stock on Tuesday. I’m not buying a TV or phone, so the door busting doesn’t even open my door let alone bust anything. I will be looking at laptops real soon now as my 3rd fan is very noisy. It seems to work fine, but apps to monitor heat add extra overhead. I’ve been watching it for heat and stress for over a year, but noise is the only issue and gives me a headache sometimes. Researching a new one will take time, time I can’t afford during NaNo. Even if prices will be very good. I don’t know how long I can nurse this one, as much as I love it. All things pass.

But later.

The holiday + Black/Cyber/Giving brouhahas make even normal business a challenge. And writing something intentionlly thoughtfull? Concentration and time are near impossible for a couple of days. A day and a half away doesn’t seem like that much, but it is.

Getting started and back in the mindset is like an opening night. You have to ignore the butterfllies and all the little imps that remind you the slowcooker is stained with smudges of dried glaze at the top and you need to order and collect dogfood. They can wait a couple of hours.

Better yet, see what you can offload to other family members. But down on rec reading and even checking the news. Anything really big and family will tell you.

Use an idea you were doubtful of earlier. Add something lighter, as too much angst is a drag! Recast a favorite piece for your world if it doesn’t break the setting. I may look for a random plot or prompt list to do a scene. Write a tabloid reporter or newspaper like National Enquirer reporting of story events, even more fun, have the characters see the story and have them react big!

The first thing is to just start writing again.

That’s what editing is for later.

Just write! And let the devil take the hindmost.

Nano lesson #6

Well, the good NaNo news is that I am making slow progress against that deficit after that crash and burn. I should catch up by Saturday. You might be wondering if I got the ‘much better progress?’ I have. Instead of taking two or three sessions totaling about eight hours of struggle, I’m doing a trifle more than the 1667 quota in three of four hours in the evening. The extra hours immediately went to other things: A long-delayed roof repair became possible yesterday, an excellent idea as we are supposed to be getting five inches of snow today. Right now in fact. The other thing was that an invitational flash story for a collection is due today, so I chopped a fifth out, rewrote, and begged for some beta comments to do final tweaks. Twenty hours I really don’t have during NaNo.

I also think that teaching writing/inspirational people should not plan major seminars during NaNo, especially when they make great steps to make sure it won’t be available after NaNo is over and cannot be downloaded… It’s not like the dates for NaNo are unknown after this long.


Albert Anker's Eine Gotthelf-Leserin, 1884

Wolf G photo of Albert Anker’s Eine Gotthelf-Leserin, 1884, creative commons 2

It is important to not get so obsessed with writing that you stop reading, especially for pleasure. Research reading really should be put off for later, something quick and easy when sweating over revisions. Else you fall into the rabbit hole of research and you look up with your writing time is gone. [Describe what detail you want or need] and just keep going!

But reading for fun is important as a piece of pie is to your eating. It may not seem important compared to that word quota, but it does far more for your mental health. The first and most important thing is that it brings joy and humor after whatever frustration your NaNo project is feeding you. It reminds you of why you want to write, why you love the written word and good characters. And thirdly, there is usually some serendipity, something you read will trigger an idea for some problem area. Last night I realized I was missing an evil temple in my story when I was commenting on another’s posting. I hurried off to record the idea for my own chapter. Should get there about Monday!

A half hour off to read something else is a very valuable expenditure of time in NaNo, Just don’t go wild and avoid the writing. Make it 30 minutes or so and use a timer like your writing sprints if that helps.

Nano lesson #5


The worst thing about NaNo usually happens around the 17th. It’s not the sleep deprivation, though that contributes. It’s not the greater isolation, I’m already isolated because of many RL issues. It’s not when essential people and appointments fall through, those happen anytime. It’s not the cold and mystery thickener that left you sicker than a dog for days. It’s not even any one aspect: plotting, block, or incomplete worldbuilding reaching back to bite you.

It’s the depression when the story is coming to a screeching halt. And words are coming so slowly an hour of writing, a mere three hundred words, make you want to beat your head against something. You hate the scene, the characters, and the plot and you’d rather write an essay on muclear meltdowns than even look at your story you loved and were so optimistic about two weeks ago.

The story idea is good.

I did a draft about four years ago. It fell apart. The villain was a purposeless trope. A bunch of characters were bland and the climax just sort of petered out. Despite attempts to revise there just was too little to hang the good parts on.

So I put the great idea in a mental trunk until I was skillful enough to tackle it again. Now, I’m taking a class in novel writing and I thought I conld do both at once. After all, I already had the bones of a story I believed in.

No such luck. Despite some parts of the lesson showing me where I’d messed up the first time, another part was loathed by my muse.

Writing came to an utter stasis by Nov 2. Keeping the guidelines in mind seems to be enough to put my muse in a vise, a straightjacket. I even tried writing a separate prompt piece like the NaNo people suggest to clear the decks and resume the original novel. Almost 6500 words of that diversion and the original story’s air has cleared up.

I write a few thousand more if the original booj idea before I get to another crash and burn yesterday, bleeding every word.

swirlsof neon light

NaNo whirlwind 2017, original neon whirlwind by Creativity103 without change, used under Creative Common 2.0

Today I had to face that the new noveling techniques are derailing how I wrote before, but the writing of it painful and has no joy. That diversion, a pantser with loose demi-outline but no deep planning flowed as normal. With the speed needed for NaNo, I cannot afford to use any technique that slows me down. So I’m switching projects… to that diversion one.

1800/day for the rest of the month will be challenge enough because of intractable RL issues. All this for these lessons: a) Even crashes and burns can be redeemed, that stories you are starting to hate can be set ashore before it’s too late. And b) Pay attention when your muse is not happy. You cannot force it to do what your logical side, your ego want it to do.

Tomorrow I anticipate much more progress…

NaNo Lesson #4

What is this thing, timing?

Really these lessons aren’t new. I follow them most of the year. But then the looming holidays make November almost the worst month to hold a worldwide writing challenge. The only month that might be worse is February, but unless you are really caught up in groundhog day / candlemas or have delusions that Valentines will cure your romantic woes, the second month with thenty-eight days isn’t too bad. Here in the northern hemisphere in February, it is the depths of winter and pounding away at a keyboard during long winter nights is pretty good.

But you can timeshift your challenge! Camp NaNo answers for challenges two other times a year. You can commit to the novel in thirty days, or some other challenge. There’s a wider list of challenges. I’d participated once earlier this year. I commited to a major rewrite of a 12k story to clean it up for publication, and it almost doubled in length when I filled in with more character balance. (alas, major family illness and shortage of 2nd opinions meant I lost momentuum and I didn’t find a pub or haven’t self-pubbed yet)

Now if a mass of personal friends participating or hometown pride helps keep you motivated, the NaNo in November is better, much better.

Also coupons and offers are much better in November than for Camp NaNo, probably because of the higher visibility. The Autocrit automated editing service is offering a sweepstakes for their service during NaNo this year, Createspace used to have discounts on paperback copies if you pubbed through them, when they existed autonomously. There’s bunches of tools and offers, only slightly better for people who succeeded. (note: I’m listing these as a NaNo veteran, not from some kind of compensation. I use only free tools these days as my wallet is empty) But the benefits of the Camps will probably keep growing, and the offers from November have dropped. If prizes and discounts matter, participate in November.

If a few extre vacation days late in the month help, Thanksgiving’s your time. There is much more moral support with local writing groups and writing ins in November. College ones can get a little rowdy, but in my area they are often hosted in coffeeshops or libraries. Usually a handful of published authors, sometimes name authors write pep talks in November.

In Camp NaNo, the only real organized support are virtual tents of writers which seem as successful as random roomates in college. They’re hit or miss and mine was mostly miss. The different writing goals in Camp didn’t help, because we were at different stages of writing, They were trying to just get a draft down on paper and dropped out like flies. I was revising a problematic story. November is mostly to prime the pump, to build a new habit for writing discipline. Everyone is in some stage of that cycle. Revision has little to do with that, so we were speaking different languages.

You have three opportunities for a novel sprint under the official NaNo umbrella each year. Camp NaNo is more useful if you already have a writing group, or are just writing for yourself. If you want or like the extra support and goodies for your first draft sprint, do it in November.

But just do it. So many people say they want to write, have an really good idea. But you have to sit down and write steadily. Do it alone, or find solidarity in November.

Nano lesson #3

Sleep! Sleep is not for wimps, no matter how much people talk about pushing through. A dream can also give you a present to get out of block or a story problem.

grains falling through hourglass

In Search of Lost Time by Alexander Boden on flickr, without changes, per Creative Commons.

Going short on sleep even a few days is an open invitation to any cold virus or other bug to come for a long stay. When sick, writing will be twice as bad and often be pure junk. Four hours in early November cost more like fifteen when the deadline is looming.

Don’t do it! Sleep at least an hour less than your usual. But I’m beginning to think even that is counterptoductive.

My NaNo cold came early this year.

NaNo Lesson #2

If at all possible try to clear all the recurring tasks in the last days of October.  Yes, yes, Halloween dressup and candy are fun, but a late party just drains time and energy. (And really, Target, what is the point of sending me an email about featuring boy’s halloween costumes on November 3rd late in the day?  So many things have already switched over to Christmas bazaars and craft fairs in the next week. Let’s focus on no Christmas movie marathons before Halloween!) Get the groceries early. Do that laundry.  Cook down that pumpkin.

This won’t save you from emergencies, like a prepaid grocery pickup losing the prepaid part and will not accept the numbers over the phoneThen there;s unexpected issues with understanding: when the shopper is requested to get red gelatin with sugar, but that was out of stock and wegot the disliked low calorie. old cable line with the central needle gave up the ghost so new shows  and old DVR recordings were inaccessible. Those were bad enough, but needed blankets are still stuck in the drier and tonight’s eat out treat became leftover pasta.

Crane Gears by Kevin Utting, attributed under Creative Commons 2.0

Today would have been much less stressful if some tasks were frontloaded. My muse wilted again from the stress.

NaNo Lesson #1

I have taken a number of classes and seminars, read articles and blogs in hopes of improving my writing. I’m reasonably satisfied after ten years of fanfic with: most mechanics, pacing, dialogue, characterization and plotting. including a very important lesson: how to do reasonable closure even for a series so readers are eager for continuation and not feeling cheated.

I’ve been looking at many ideas and approaches, as my usual produced some very poor skeletons for two previous novels.  I discovered in 2010 that I am a pantser, if I do character studies and outlines with any detail, my muse will not show up. I failed NaNo badly that year as my muse went on strike being totally unwilling to start filling in the outline.

Oshkosh Public Library NaNo logo

So I went back to pantsing with a paragraphs’ worth of summary to plan my stories. That works fine for shorter projects, or ongoing serials where you can meander until you get to your ending.  But it made for trainwrecks of NaNo original novels. Several teachers go on about plannign stories around scenes. And I spent the last week studying one method of designing scenes.

So for my first day of NaNo I’ve produced only about 600 words after hours. I have much of the section clear in intention but working about that framework I was so excited about yesterday had the ease of pulling your dog’s teeth.

I’ve been thinking about it for a little while (dinner’s in the oven) and the problen seems to be I think about my stories more like a piece of weaving. One scene may have several plot threads in play and include nudges on multiple character arcs. Focusing on only one conflict thread is like trying  to talk with a scold’s bridle. There may be a few scenes that can be that focussed, but it ain’t the first one for this novel.

(I am hitting a lot of the recommended things for a start. My primary lead is front and center, there will be a small bit of danger and action, my big bad is audience and doing background tactics, I’m introducing bits about the setting and situation, and my lead is havng a terrible day.)

But the writing feels lifeless and I have NO enthusiasm in working to the framework.

That is a bad sign. It usually takes until about  Nov 20 for me to start getting dissatisfied.  I do not want to chase pyrite and lose what speed and skill I have. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and all that. So I’m going to rip that scene method out and keep other parts that have helped. If I cannot pull out on my NaNo I may work on something else to break the logjam.

So the lesson is: don’t forget that classes are not a recipe that will work for everyone.  Sometimes you have to strike out on your own when your muse demands it. Good luck to all.

Looming deadlines

As usual, something came up when I have three deadlines too close together. a) NaNo 2018 starts in less than 48 hours.  I’m combining the NaNo challenge of a 50k novel draft in one month with part of b) Holly Lisle’s HTWAN class. (only part as the class in only about five weeks in, out of like thirty weeks of class) I also planned to get c) one last chapter of a fanfic done before my December crash. Then there’s RL issues like a missing aide to help my mother and someone scamming over a hundred dollars of Lyfts from a card of someone still in recovery from surgery.

I should surface again in December.

I really don’t want my sniffle to be a cold.

Whoosh! Was That Another 24 hours?

black whirlpool in the water

Whirlpool by David O’Hare. Attribution under Creative Commons 2.0

Wait, no.  Was that another week, another month?  I opened the month with a mostly setup laptop for my mother.  Then my new laptop arrived.  This one, unlike the last three I ordered, arrived and worked as expected.  But as I had been using a borrowed computer since almost New Years, I had work files, references, and even my business journal still stranded on the old computer.  The holiday, dead water heater, and a HMO issue also did their part in distracting my time and energy.

Both are installed and set up, and an MMO booting verified that the computers could handle graphics and load issues,  Three cheers!  … But the bad thing is that the MMO is soooo pretty now with a very recent release to suck my free time.

I almost feel like I’m in recovery. ‘Hi, my name is Marie, and I play a MMO.”  I like the extra social interaction with adults, especially after small child and many dogs visiting of late.  Despite that I decided to give an old style isometic Pillars of Eternity a try.  (I like it a lot, and there’s many, many life stories tucked away in souls inside the main and side stories. And I’ve missed the more vivid sidekicks you get outside MMOs. This POE is actually helping wean me from the MMO.

Next I gotta write more fiction, I know I had a story idea yesterday but forgot it in the rush of game events, Than burns more than getting smacked in game.