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Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Accidental Writer: A NaNoWriMo Success Story

Part of a special month-long event featuring writing tips and NaNoWriMo strategies from guest writers and fellow NaNo participants.

I am not a writer!

Programmer, musician and a photographer but a writer I am not.

I wrote my last story, back in school around 1986.
In 2006, by accident, I stumbled upon the word Nanowrimo online and followed the link. Write a novel in a month. How hard could it be?

So I ordered Chris Baty's "No plot? No problem", added a task to sign up in October and almost forgot all about it. October came around so I signed up and joined my local forum and to get motivated, read Chris' Baty's book. 

Then my first problem hit. I was set to move to another town in the middle of November. There was no way I could pack up, move, unpack, do the day job and write a novel in a month. I'd leave it for a year, once I'd settled in. Disappointed, I posted to the forum, I was pulling out. Sorry.

A lady replied that she had successfully completed Nanowrimo, as well as giving birth the previous year. I felt a bit silly for quitting without even starting. Following the book's lead I told everyone I knew and posted on social networks, that I was writing a novel. Fear would get me through this.

Being a maths geek.  To me, writing a novel in a month, comes down to numbers. A story needs a beginning, middle and end. Let's say two chapters each. With a prologue and an epilogue that is eight chapters in total. So two chapters a week. Alternatively,  If I could do 2000 words a day, that would give me five days off to do the house move.

2000 words a day seems a lot. Split that into three sessions a day (morning, noon and night), means only 666 and a bit words a session.  Not many at all.
So at 22:00 on October 31st 2006, I started to plot, using a downloaded novel workbook some dice and a list of dares from the Fantasy forum. So my plot consisted of six set pieces for the six chapters, a prologue scene and the idea of an epilogue to tie up any loose ends.

Characters took ten minutes to create. Following the handbook, and using  a die to come up with their attributes for strength, intelligence, looks, curiosity, patience, aggression, skills and some other things. Then chose their names from an online list of old Cornish names. At midnight, I wrote the first scene then went to bed. Happy!

What followed was the systematic, three sessions a day routine. The five days I planned to take off to move, shrunk to three days, as once I followed the "write a scene", "unpack a box" and repeat routine.

At the start of each week, I read the relevant chapter in "No plot? No Problem".
I managed to make it to one local write ins, where I achieved over 3000 words during the session.

At the end of each day, I would brainstorm the next days scenes to get me to the outlined set pieces and write the first line of the next scene. By twenty four days I had moved house and also hit 50,000 words. rapping the book up two days later.

I had won. I had completed the challenge, amazed that I had time to spare and that I actually liked what I had written. "Lies, Damn lies and sadistics" was done. Sure, the grammar was bad, the descriptions lacking, scenes changing points of view in the middle and a plethora of other issues, but it didn't matter, I'd written a novel.

I never had any intention of writing another novel, or doing Nanowrimo again, but found myself writing little notes about possible future scenes. The characters just kept poking at me and pushing me to do something with them.
So in 2008 I relented and signed up again, to write the sequel, "The stealer of hearts".

I spent most of the October plotting the entire story. Same system as before, eight chapters, three sessions a day, but this time, I had a plot, I had a big list of scenes, I had sub plots, I read a book on writing! Nothing could go wrong.
And on November 1st at midnight, I started writing.

Two days in and I had to write a key scene. The death scene of two minor characters at the hands of the main villain. The problem was, one of the characters had other ideas and escaped. I tried to write the scene again, but no, she didn't want to die. She wanted to be the books main character. So I let her and threw about half my existing plot away. As it turns out, she was much more fun to write for than my original main character.

So much for planning.

In 2010 I set out to complete the trilogy. I had a title "Demon Twist" but I did no plotting at all this time, other than map out the opening scene. 5am starts to write before work at 7:30 (45 miles away) and writing during my lunch breaks. Plus I was packing to move house again, so the evenings were, "write a scene", "pack a box", repeat. Speed was of the essence with quantity over quality being key. I ended up with unfinished story arcs, scenes with no conflict nor resolution, but it didn't matter, a third win and the knowledge that I can always fix it later. So to 2013 and book four. Starting with no plot again.  But I have dice and a workbook. So anything is possible.

My tips.
1)     Even if you don't do any plotting. At least know what your first scene is.
2)    Go with the flow. If a character has other plans than what you thought they were going to do, go with it and see where you end up. You can always change things later.
3)    When you write your last scene of the day / session, write the first line of the next scene. That way you won't start the next day with an empty page and it gives your mind something to ponder over in the meantime.
4)    Aim for 2000 words a day. That will give you a cushion and some days off in the month.
5)    Have a set writing routine. I try to write first thing in the morning before breakfast, during my lunch hour and then in the early evening. 2000 words might seem a lot to do in one go, but less than 700 per session, doesn't seem much at all and the more you get down early on in the day, the less stressful the last session is.
6)    If you get stuck, do a chore and come back to it. (Write a scene / unpack a box / repeat) Most of my scenes are 300 to 1000 words, so that is two to four scenes per session.
7)    Weekends are your time to get ahead. Try to get ahead in the first weekend, so that 666 per session ends up around 500 per session.
8)   When you get stuck the dare section of the forums are a wonderful source of silliness and inspiration. Or a ninja fight. That works.
9)    If you can make a local write in, do so. The ones I've been to have been inspiring and my word count has rocketed.
10)    Treats are to be used only as a reward. No snacks until you a) you finish the scene or b) hit a word count set. That includes breakfast!
11) Don't worry about writing scenes in order. I will often, just writes scenes from a given character's point of view. Then go back and fill in the gaps later.
 

Good luck. Happy writings.

Chris Rollason
   
PS-a copy of the workbook mentioned in the post can be found here:

1 comment:

  1. Love this story! Just goes to show it's never too late to start plotting for NaNo--and that when the muse wills, it's tough for writers to say no! Thanks for stopping by to share this inspiration.

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