[originally posted on Flotsam and Jetsam, November 29th, 2015]
At around 7:30 PM last night, I wrote the final sentence of Undead. Then I pasted the text into the little validation box on the NaNoWriMo page so it could check my word count and declare me a winner. Then I ordered my “winner” t-shirt and printed out my certificate, then posed with it and promptly collapsed on the sofa to watch the rest of Jessica Jones.
Several people have asked me why I would do this? What do I win? Well, I “win” by accomplishing something: building in the habit of daily writing, and having a finished draft of a novel at the end of it.
What did I learn? I learned a few things… among them:
- it is possible for me to write daily, but it has to be a conscious choice
- while I gave myself daily goals, I didn’t worry too much if I didn’t meet them; the object was to write daily, not to write x number of words, and I did that.
- the physical reminder of candles burning nearby helps me to focus on the task
- one of the things I had to let go of was the habit of editing as I go
- an outline would have helped — writing the character arc backgrounds and other backstory information did help
- without an outline the writing goes of on so many tangents but every one of them can be fixed in the editing later.
- I need to find something smarter to snack on than my usual go-to junk food; I ate a lot of chocolate and Cheezies (not at the same time)
- I tend to tap out after two hours of focused writing, but two hours gives me between 1200 and 2000 words if I have a clue of where the plot is going.
- I would never attempt this again without taking that last week of November as vacation which allowed for multiple writing sprints per day.
- I am a person who responds well to the gamification of things; watching the little graph grow and earning badges along the way really did help to motivate me.
Some numbers. I started Undead in 2010/2011, and I came into this month with an unfinished manuscript of 24,357 words. I wrote 50,415 in November — my lowest day just 125 words, my highest day was the last day, just over 4400 words. When I used Google Docs to check, it counted 74,772 words; using the NaNoWriMo word count validation, it counted 75,035. Either way, it is around 75k completed.
At times, writing came easy and I cursed my slow typing (which isn’t very slow, I just couldn’t type as fast as my brain was thinking) and at times I felt like I was writing a lot but my word count only crept up by a few hundred. My average daily word count was around 1800 (the daily average above was calculated out of the total word count, which includes words written prior to Nov 2015).
To give you an idea of word counts (they really range) here are some familiar titles and approximate word counts (found on various pages listing these things):
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 30,644 words
- Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury – 46,118 words
- Lord of the Flies, by William Golding – 59,900 words
- Brave New World – 63,766 words
- The Fault in Our Stars – 65,752 words
- Harry Potter (Philosopher’s Stone) — 77,325 words
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children — 84,898 words
- Hunger Games (book 1) — 99,750 words
- Ender’s Game – 100,609 words
- A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens – 135,420 words
- Ulysses, by James Joyce — 265,222 words
- A Game of Thrones — 292,727 words
- War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy – 587,287 words
As YA Fiction, I think Undead will be fine in the 60-65K range where it will likely land after editing. A few have asked when they can read the book — in short, sometime next year. No one gets to read it before I do a first pass, after I have let it sit and “age” a bit, let the plot simmer in my subconscious a while. Likely January or February will get my first edit. There are about 140 pages single spaced and I will probably print it out so I can scribble on it. After that, I will decide whether I go the self-publish route and hire someone to make professional edits before I format the manuscript for that process, or whether I pitch it to publishers, old-school. Likely at that particular fork in the road, I will ask a few trusted readers for their opinions (if you’d like to be considered for that, please let me know).
Next up? Wow, do I have a lot to do in the next month or two. Writing wise though, I plan to continue writing every day. Blog posts count. I have short stories in progress that I’d like to finish, edit, collect, and publish, and a book of Urban Haiku to put together. I could also work on either of my other novels-in-progress but I think long form is going to wait a while.
I am going to blow the dust off my writing newsletter sometime in December (the sign up link is over there in the sidebar, or down below if you are on mobile) and I also have to build some new and move my existing websites, as we finally untangle the hosting of our digital assets.
This has been a huge hurdle for me, mentally, and the act of finishing the draft of this lingering manuscript has enabled me to adjust my self-talk to a more positive pattern. In fact, along the way, once I realized it was not “impossible” which is how I’ve always stared down NaNoWriMo in the past, I started to shift that self-talk, even in that third-week slump, I still knew mathematically it was do-able. But it really did help to have people cheering me on, too.
I’d like to thank everyone who supported me with encouraging words through the month, or liking my many Facebook status updates, and those who did so by simply not getting in my way or saying anything discouraging.
I’ve extinguished the candles on this part of the task (man I went through a LOT of candles…. ) but I will definitely be returning to that ritual/habit when I want to focus on writing again.