Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Obligatory Self-congratulation

I completed my NaNoWriMo 50,000 words in about 3 hours shy of 7 days. Finishing the novel (which topped out at about 63,500 words, first draft) took another week, but I polished that off on Monday.

Rather than dwell overlong on how awesome I am (which I do a lot of, I know...), I thought I'd share the secrets of how I did it. If nothing else, I want a record of them for next year, but I hope I can offer some help to people still struggling through this year's challenge too.

1: You've got to have the time.
Unfortunately, we writers can't control the real world the same way we can our fictional worlds. It doesn't matter if you can write at 5,000 words an hour; if you've only got a half-hour every day for writing, it's still going to take you twenty days to write your 50k.

I write at an average of about 800-900 words an hour (which is about average for human beings), so I need about 60 hours of focussed writing time to do my 50k. There are 168 hours in a week; I knew going into NaNo that I was going to need over a third of the available hours to meet my goal of completing in a week.

If you want to complete NaNo fast, this is the sum you have to do. Fortunately for me (or not, if you look at it from a bank manager's point of view), I've got very few hours at work at the moment - only 9 a week - and few other obligations that couldn't be put down for a week. Assuming I wanted to sleep 8 hours a night (in the end, I pulled an all-nighter on the Sunday night to enable me to finish in time), 60 hours' writing time leaves me with 43 hours in the week for doing everything else.

Everything else means obvious things like personal hygeine and shopping, but also plenty of activities linked to the writing. It might be 6 hours per day, but that vanishes pretty quickly.

2: Know Thyself
When picking music to write to, I don't look for music that suits the mood of what I'm writing. I pick the music I most want to listen to at the time. Why? Because that makes me more reluctant to turn it off to, for example, watch frivolous videos on YouTube.

I'm not making a recommendation for how to pick music to write to. My point is that I know I can fix my fingers to the keyboard more firmly by choosing music in a particular way (this NaNo, it ended up being 20-odd Blind Guardian tracks on endless repeat - I make no apologies). I also knew going in that I had to avoid any urban walk of longer than about 4 miles in one go, because the combination of mild dehydration and fatigue from that would leave my brain too frazzled to write for at least an hour. So, I got pretty much all my food shopping for the week out of the way on October 31st.

NaNoWriMo is not a time to fight these little foibles (however pathetic it might be to be turned into a useless lump by an hour's walking). Figure out what your quirks are and plan accordingly. Can't write without infusions of coffee at hourly intervals? Better make sure to buy an extra jar before November. Need to feel angsty, alienated, and disgusted by humanity in order to find your muse? Buy Snooki's autobiography... (Note: I've not read it, and she may be a literary genius. The nature of blogging just makes sniping at easy targets almost inevitable. No slander intended.)

3. Maintain Your Arsenal
You're trying to write a novel in a hurry. That means you can't afford to spend too much time sitting staring into space looking for inspiration. Whether you're an outline writer or strictly seat-of-the-pants, I'd recommend keeping at least a rough list of cool ideas that you might put in. Start noting stuff down sometime in September and keep the list to hand. Every time you find yourself staring off into space in November, the first thing you do is check the list.

It's not going to help every time. But sometimes 'wombat crashes through window, followed by bad guy' is exactly the twist you need. (There are no wombats in my NaNo novel. Unless you like wombats, in which case, buy my book, it's got wombats! ¬_¬)

4. Your Friends Will Not Understand
For one week, it's okay to ignore them. Sometime on November 6th (I think), I put a note on my Facebook about my progress, and someone responded with 'I don't think you quite understand the concept of a month.'

It's a fair comment and made me laugh, but it didn't make me stop writing. Nor did the housemate who, as the week went on, got steadily more worried by my apparent descent into insane obsession. You have to be crazy to want to do NaNo anyway; if people start looking at you like you're even crazier, just leave them be. You can convince them of your rationality later. All that matters right now is word count. Except...

5. None of it Really Matters
You're doing NaNo for your own benefit. To prove you can do it. To crack the block on that pesky back-burner project. For the thrill. For a holiday (which is how I described it to my PhD supervisor).

If you find yourself well short of whatever goal you've set yourself by day 5, don't beat yourself up over it. Always keep in mind that it's OK to fail, to fall short. You're not negotiating a Middle East peace treaty. You're not trying to develop a cure for AIDS. You're doing a completely frivolous, spurious writing contest where victory is the exclusive province of lunatics. You've then imposed on top of that an even more spurious target to put you in a crowd with lunatics even the lunatics think are lunatics.

The lunatic-lunatics like me have fun with it. We get a rush from the total immersion and the grueling drive. There is no shame in not being one of us. Above all, there's no reason to get stressed about joining our company.

NaNo is a competition without prizes. Do it your way.


I have no idea if any of that has been helpful at all. Maybe it's more about planning for next year than winning through this year. Good luck to y'all, and don't forget to throw a donation the way of the Office of Letters and Light to make sure there *is* a next year!

On an unrelated note, due to some tweaks to my plans for the rest of the Non-Agency trilogy, I've dropped the price of 'Heaven Can Wait' to 99c/75p. The changes have already gone through at Smashwords and should resolve at Amazon sometime tomorrow (Amazon have already bunged a big discount on it, for some reason). Buy it! I promise it's good!

(no wombats, mind)


  1. Ooh, fun stuff. Thanks for the tips! I'm not doing NaNo this year because I'm too busy, but I'm using the month as an excuse to improve my writing habits nonetheless. Getting better at writing every day.

    For music, I find that instrumentals are better, because lyrics tend to interfere with word creation. I recommend it for anyone who finds that music distracts them from writing. Definitely do not listen to new music you've never heard before.

  2. Sigh. Signed up for NaNo but just could not keep up. I hope it'll happen next year, some year.
    But anyway, the tips will help, surely. Thanks for that. Just stumbled upon your blog. Plan to come here more often now :)