NaNoWriMo Update #4–The End of the Challenge

NaNoWriMo Final Update

My final chart for NaNoWriMo 2013. I will definitely participate next year.

I know NaNoWriMo officially ended two days ago, but it was a holiday weekend here in the U.S. and I was busy celebrating Thanksgiving. Plus, it’s a tradition in my family to put up our Christmas decorations during Thanksgiving weekend.

You may have noticed my fancy-schmancy NaNoWriMo winners widget to the right over there. I finished four days early at 58,550 words. Pretty darn cool if I do say so myself. I even bought myself a winners t-shirt. When I get it I’ll take a “selfie” (apparently that’s a real word now) so everyone can see.

I’m glad I took the NaNoWriMo challenge for the first time. I had always thought that I needed a lot of time to work through a draft. “My brain doesn’t work that fast,” I’d say, or “Writing needs to happen in its own time.” Writing for NaNoWriMo showed me that I can complete a draft in 30 days and it doesn’t have to take three or four months. Sure, there was a Pavlov’s dog-type reward for adding my word count into the NaNoWriMo widget and watching the numbers go up (I won’t admit whether I salivated or not). I was able to achieve both tasks I set out for myself—first, to hit the 50,000 word mark and second, to write a complete draft from beginning to end. Done and done.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I wasn’t working with an idea off the top of my head as a lot of writers do when they begin NaNoWriMo. I had been kicking the idea for That You Are Here around for about a year, and I had a halfway decent outline to work with. True, the outline was better for the later chapters, but at least I had something to work with in the beginning when the writing is hardest (at least for me). I’m sure I wouldn’t have done nearly as well if I hadn’t started with a clear idea of the story I wanted to tell.

I also contribute my success, at least partially, to my OCD. I have never been officially diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but I’m sure I have it—not to such a debilitating degree as others, but I must have some minor form of it. I will check five times to see that the garage door is closed, you know, oddities like that. During November I was Rain Man wringing his hands in the airport: “I have to hit 50,000 words. I have to hit 50,000 words. That’s 1666 words per day. How many words did I do today? Not enough words? How many words do I have to do tomorrow? I have to hit 50,000 words…” I said in my first NaNoWriMo update that it didn’t matter if I hit the word count or not, and in theory I meant it. But I know me, and when I have something hanging over me like a due date, I will get it done or else Rain Man starts nagging again.

I’m glad I met my goals, and yet I’m glad November is over. The draft of the novel is complete—it has a beginning, a middle, and an end—but it still needs a lot of work. I’m going to do what I usually do when I finish a draft of a novel—set it aside for a couple of weeks so I can go back to it with fresh eyes. I need a brain break after pushing so hard for 30 days. Still, I learned something—I can work quickly and efficiently if I set my mind to it. For someone like me who has a lot of stories to tell, that’s an important lesson.

I think that if November is National Novel Writing Month, then December should be National Novel Editing Month. Just an idea.

I got an e-mail from the NaNoWriMo people talking about the December hangover, and I understand. But I still have a lot to do to make That You Are Here the novel I want it to be. So there’s plenty of work to keep me busy in December and beyond.

NaNoWriMo Update #3

nanowrimo update #3

My numbers went way up last week and I’m very nearly at the 50,000 word mark already. According to the chart, I’ll be finished by the 27th, but I’m going to keep adding my word count until the 30th. Winners t-shirt here I come!

This update should have gone up last week, but I was so busy writing I never got around to it.

Last week my writing exploded, and now I’m at 47,899 words with five more days to go, so I can see the light flashing at the end of the tunnel. Things just started to click, so I’ll definitely make the 50,000 word count and then some. Right now I’m on Chapter 17 of what looks to be a 22 chapter novel, and while the book will still need a lot of dusting and polishing, it’s fair to say that the structure of the novel will be complete as of November 30th.

Last week while I was writing to push the narrative forward, I also spent a lot of time going back and filling in plot holes. I’m a big fan of foreshadowing (here’s my post about it here), and when I’m writing my narrative I like to leave a few bread crumbs so later events make sense. I don’t want to give away too much too soon because then there’s no reason to keep reading, but I’m not a fan of the ‘deus ex machina’ style of writing where all of a sudden something happens out of nowhere. True, that does happen in real life when things seem random, but that’s why I like fiction better than real life. In fiction, I like to make the events in the story logically connected. I want readers to have a sense something is going to happen, even if they’re not sure what, like that sneaky music in Jaws where you know the shark will pop up, you’re just not sure where. Usually, the way I write, I see later in the story what needs pointing to and then I go back earlier into the story and do the pointing.

I love that quote from Chekhov that says if you show a gun in the first act, you’d better use it by the third. I realized the other day that I had an interaction between characters in Chapter 2 that should be important to the story but then I had forgotten about it and never mentioned it again. Now I see that I need to show the result of the interaction later in the story, otherwise there’s no point to the interaction in the first place. I like to whittle away anything that’s not necessary to telling the story, so a lot of dialogue, descriptions, and events get deleted if they don’t serve any purpose in moving things forward.

Here's the cover for That You Are Here. I think it's pretty cool.

Here’s the cover for That You Are Here. I think it’s pretty cool.

I even have a handy-dandy cover for That You Are Here, courtesy of Fran Osborne from I happened to be browsing different websites with premade book covers and this one caught my eye. I think it fits the story perfectly. It’s abstract, which is how one of the main characters, Andrew, feels about his life—nothing is quite in alignment no matter how hard he tries. I love the bold red color, and the two figures could represent the two main characters. I like that it looks like a map, and you know those dots when you’re looking at a directory that say “You Are Here,” so that fits too. Bridges are an important theme in the story, and that thick black line could represent a bridge. It’s my first novel completely set in the present day, so I like that it has a modern look to it. Really, I like that it means what you think it means. It’s the first time I’ve used a premade book cover and I have to say I’m happy with this one.

I have some more writing to do today, and then it’s over the hump and into the 30th (although I will stop to have Thanksgiving dinner on the 28th). It’s all good from here.

NaNoWriMo Update #2

Here's my NaNoWriMo chart for 11/14. I wrote 1,788 words today, which is pretty cool. I managed to catch up with my word count in the last couple of days, and now I'm right on target.

Here’s my NaNoWriMo chart for 11/14. I wrote 1,788 words today, which is pretty cool. I managed to catch up with my word count in the last couple of days, and now I’m right on target.

Tomorrow is November 15, which is the middle of the month, which is also the halfway point for NaNoWriMo. And I’m almost exactly halfway through the challenge at 24,122 words. According to my chart, I’m right on time. Yippee!

I can see why people start giving up Week 2. It’s like going on a diet. The first week you have a lot of momentum because you’ve psyched yourself up for it and you’re raring to go. The second week it’s more like, “You mean I have to keep doing this?” I did write on Monday even though I didn’t feel like it, and a funny thing happened. The story started to click and I’ve made a lot of progress the last three days. Partially, I think I’m making more progress now because the outline I have is stronger in the middle to ending chapters so I have a better frame to work with. Partially, I think it’s because for the first two weeks I needed to spend some of my writing time looking at photographs and taking some Google Earth peeks at Portland, Oregon, the setting of the story. I was there in June, but only for a few days, so I needed some reminders. And I find the opening chapters of a novel to be the hardest to write because that’s where the important world building takes place. That’s not to say that world building doesn’t continue throughout the story, but those first chapters are crucial in introducing the characters and setting the scene so readers understand where they are and who they’re with. So it does take me longer to write those chapters.

I realized this week that I am very much Goldilocks when I’m writing fiction. The first draft is too short. The second draft is too long. The third (and forth and fifth) draft is closer to being just right. So this first draft will probably end up somewhere on the short side. Maybe the final version of the novel will end up being around 50,000 words after all. As of today, at 24,122 words I’m on Chapter 12 of what is currently a projected 22 chapter novel. I’m as curious as anyone about where the story will be on the 30th. But I’m making progress, which is really what NaNoWriMo is all about. Now it’s back to work!