A Decade of NaNo

This year will be my tenth time taking on the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a single month. I’ve won in my previous nine attempts, so I don’t feel worried about winning this year. Today I thought I would recap my last nine NaNo’s. This is mostly so I have all this information in one place, but who knows maybe someone will find it useful.

Before I started – 2006
I first heard about NaNoWriMo in November of 2006. I thought it was interesting, but it was already November 5th, and the idea of catching up was overwhelming. I decided I would put the concept aside and think about it again next year.

Year 1 – 2007
October of 2007 was rough. We got some bad news, and I wrapped up a health issue on Halloween. When November 1st hit, I decided I needed to do something to keep my mind off of everything. I completed my first NaNo on the 30th of the month. It was a YA. Basic plot: women can only have one child before they become infertile.

Year 2 – 2008
My second year I convinced my best friend to join me for the challenge. We spent a fair amount of time writing together. We wrote on her living room floor, in coffee shops, and at my dinning room table. I finished on the first day of validation, which at the time was the 25th. She finished on the 29-30th. My novel was a NA fantasy. Basic plot: woman leaves a society of vampire hunters when she discovers not all vamps are evil.

Year 3 – 2009
My son was six months old during my third NaNo. I thought this would make it harder, but in the end I wasn’t working and he had just discovered how much fun crawling and getting into stuff was. I would set up a bin of toys about ten feet away from him, then write for 30 minutes while he crawled to the bin, tipped it over, and played with everything he found. This year I was on my own for NaNo again. I had my fastest finish ever (the 11th). The novel was a YA (superhero). Basic plot: a high school filled with the kids of super heroes and super villains.

Year 4 – 2010
This year a bunch of people from my knitting group decided to give NaNo a go. I think there was only one other winner, but we had a few writing nights and I started getting to know some of my favourite writing people. I finished on the 14th with a NA alternate history. Basic plot: Women hold the titles. An unknown daughter claims her dutchess title when her mother dies.

Year 5 – 2011
For year five I decided to do something a little different. I made a goal of getting 75k instead of the usual 50k. I figured if I could finish in 14 days, then I would have 14 days at a regular NaNo pace to carry me through to the end of the month. In the end I made it was 80k on the 30th. This was the first year I really felt like I had a NaNo support network. My writing friends had become some of my best friends, and NaNo included weekly writing nights, online word wars, and a lot of laughs. The novel was a NA sci fi. Basic plot: an old earth colony requires mandatory military service. The colony is attacked and forced into war.

Year 6 – 2012
This was the year the group that had started as a bunch of writing knitters broke off and formed our own group. We wrote together online and in person regularly. It was so nice to have people to write with. I finished on the 24th and wrote the YA portal fantasy that went on to win the 2015 YA Atlantic Writers Competition. Basic plot: A girl opens a door and brings her friends to a new world.

Year 7 – 2013
I had the idea for this NaNo while walking to another writers house over the summer. Without that early flash of inspiration I’m not sure how this year would have gone. I was starting to tire of NaNo just a little bit. Not enough to stop. After all, I had a lot of friends that did NaNo together by this point, and that was half the fun. I finished on the 23rd with this NA fantasy. Basic plot: NA murder mystery, a female detective gets assigned to a full moon murder on pack land.

Year 8 – 2014
This was my hardest NaNo ever. I’d won NaNo seven times and wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue, or take a break. I decided to push through because I was so close to year ten. I figured if I won year eight, nine would be a breeze, and ten would be a great accomplishment. I finished on the 20th, thanks to a good friend and my competitive spirit. I wrote a YA Urban Fantasy. Basic plot: Time travel is possible by reincarnation if you have one of the swords.

Year 9 – 2015
This year was our first NaNo writing retreat! That experience alone made NaNo worth it. I won our first night at the cottage (the 20th). We had quiet hours, good food, and an amazing time. My novel didn’t inspire me, but it got to the job done. It was a YA Urban Fantasy. Basic plot: a girl is supposed to get the power to save the world. Something goes wrong and her friend gets the power instead.

This year is Year 10 and my novel is a YA space opera. Basic plot: a girl finds out she is on a prison colony, and if she doesn’t get back home soon she will lose her crown.

What does your NaNo history look like?

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October Goals

In September my goals were:

  1. Pick a project to work on from now until NaNo and stick to it! 5k this month. – Nope.
  2. Finish my Shoo Fly quilt top. I mostly just have to sew the rows together. – DONE!
  3. Create three detailed characters for my NaNo Novel. – DONE!
  4. Write up a detailed outline for my NaNo Novel idea. – half done

For number one I picked my YA Urban Fantasy Project. It was the project that called to me for submission to my critique group, and I really didn’t need three projects on the go at the same time. I did get some of the novel polished up enough to submit it for critique group, but I didn’t get any new words written.

For number four I have about the first third of the novel outlined, a bunch of ideas for the middle, and a good handle on the end.

My goals for October are:

  1. Get a sewing/writing area set up in the Study.
  2. Finish my NaNo novel outline.
  3. Make my travellers notebook.
  4. Use my bullet journal for the entire month.

What are your goals for October? Did you get everything done you wanted to in September?

September Goals

I was very late recapping my July goals, and never set any goals for August. It was nice to have a month off, but I’m ready to get back to work.

This month my goals are:

  1. Pick a project to work on from now until NaNo and stick to it! 5k this month. (I picked my YA Urban Fantasy Project)
  2. Finish my Shoo Fly quilt top. I mostly just have to sew the rows together.
  3. Create three detailed characters for my NaNo Novel.
  4. Write up a detailed outline for my NaNo Novel idea.

September is a busy month with the kid going back to school. I’m still working part time this year, so I’ll be picking him up each day. We’ll probably keep up our reading work for at least the month of September as well since the school often takes a while to get up to speed in the new year.

What are your goals for September? Do you have big plans for the month?

Motivated to Write Again

Earlier this month I decided that I needed to pick a writing project and stick with it for the next two months until NaNoWriMo starts. I began rereading bits and pieces of my longest projects. I read a bit of my Murder Mystery and my MG Sci Fi, but they didn’t quite hit the spot. I still love them, they just aren’t what I want to be working on right now. I think the MG Sci Fi needs a bit more research, and the Murder Mystery needs a bit more experience.

Then, a few days ago, I started rereading bits of a YA Urban Fantasy I’d written for NaNo one year. It’s a fairly original concept, and I’ve always known how it would end. The story is interesting, I enjoy the characters, I already have names for everyone, and could easily spend some time expanding the characters (a weakness I’ve mentioned before).

Most importantly though, I’m excited to start working on it again. I can’t wait to dive into edits and start polishing things up. I can’t wait to write the last bit of the middle to match it up to the end. I’m going to let myself skip the beginning for now and work through the middle of the project first. I know how the story starts, I think, but I need time before I try and rewrite it.

The best part about settling on a project is that I should be able to submit to my critique group for the next two months. I’d been submitting only every second month for various reasons, but with my focus on a single project I can submit for the next two months in a row.

What project are you working on right now? Are you writing, editing, or both?

Summer is Coming

I’m sure for many of you summer has already arrived. Summer, where I live, is only two months. We are just starting to see some warm weather now. Summer hasn’t truly arrived yet, but we are getting warm days between the rainy ones.

With the nice weather arriving, I’ve been thinking about what I want to accomplish this summer. My schedule is about to change again as my son goes from school to summer mornings spent with my mother (afternoons with me). He and I have plans to focus on reading this summer. Nothing too crazy, just 30 minutes a day split between writing, spelling, and reading.

I’ve been using the PM readers lately and really like them. My son already has a grasp on phonics, but with so many words not following the predicted pattern, he struggles. With the PM readers I’m able to look ahead to the next level and start his spelling practice with the words he is going to see. He is enjoying reading again, he is focused on reading, and he is improving at a rate I didn’t dare hope for.

With his focus on reading, I’m even more motivated to write. I am going to split my time this summer on my MG Sci Fi novel and the Murder Mystery. One of the members of my critique group requested I submit something from the Murder Mystery as she knows the basic premise, but hasn’t read anything from the draft yet. The MG I’m going to work on, so I can continue reading it to my son who thinks I’m the best writer on the planet. I could use some of that praise right now.

What are you planning to read or write this summer? Will your schedule change with school out for the summer?

How (not) to Begin a Story

There is a lot of advice on how not to begin a story. Don’t start with your main character waking up and getting out of bed. Don’t start with a slow scene. Don’t open with dialogue. Don’t be vague.

For me writing the opening scene of a novel is probably the hardest part. It isn’t because I don’t know the story. It’s because I get caught up in all those don’ts. For me there is an easy fix. I don’t stress about it … at least not in the first draft. If the only way I can think of to start my story is to have an alarm clock wake up my character, then I do it. If I need to write a few pages (or more) of filler to get in the groove, then I go for it.

When it comes to the first draft, the most important thing you can do is write it. Make all the mistakes you want. It might mean more editing later, but at least you’ll have something to edit. In my experience the first scene always needs to be rewritten anyway. It often has the wrong tone, is in the wrong place, or gives away too much of the story or background.

In the first draft of my YA Portal Fantasy the novel stars with my main character waking up and doing some morning push ups. In that original draft it took 11,000 words to get to the other world. In the most recent draft it takes 6,000 words to get to the other world, and the story starts as the characters walk into the school. I didn’t have to just rewrite the first scene to make the beginning work, I had to rewrite the first four chapters.

My advice on how to start a story is simple: Start typing.  If it is a first draft, and you are a linear writer: start it however you want. Use the first few scenes to get a feel for the story and your characters. Find your voice and play around a little bit. If you’re anything like me, getting the writing time is far more important than anything else you can do right now.

Do you usually have to rewrite your opening scene? Are you a linear writer or do you jump around?

May Goals

How is it May already? Time to recap my goals for the last month, and set some for the new month.

My Goals for April were:

  1. Write 18,000 words. (15k on the Steampunk Novel, 3k on whatever I want) DONE! and I tried
  2. Use my NaNo style spreadsheet for any writing or editing I accomplish. DONE!
  3. Find at least two nights to sew. DONE!

I won Camp on the 25th. I had enough time to get another 3k, but I other things kept cropping up. My son’s birthday is tomorrow and things for that had to take precedence over my own writing.

I had forgotten my goal to sew at least two nights. Lucky for me I made a quilting update post in the middle of the month. I am further along on my Shoo Fly quilt which means I must have found at least one night to sew after that, and I know I did some sewing on at least one night before that.

My goals for May are:

  1. Write 8 times.
  2. Continue to use my spreadsheet.
  3. Read at least one book.
  4. Finish (100%, REALLY finish) the digger quilt.

I prefer to have a goal related to number of words rather than number of writing sessions, but I have no idea what I’m working on right now. The book is beause I haven’t been reading much. Time to get back to reading a book before bed instead of playing Sudoku. My son really wants his digger quilt, and this month is his birthday so I think he is right and it’s time to finish that thing.

Did you accomplish everything you wanted to in April? Have you set any big goals for May?

Camp NaNoWriMo vs Regular NaNoWriMo

I’ve won NaNo in November nine times. This year I won Camp NaNo for the first time. About halfway through the month I found myself thinking about the differences between the two versions of NaNo and what I liked about each one. Now that I’ve won both, I thought it was time to put some of my thoughts into somewhat readable words.

50,000 vs Pick your own
50,000 words is a lot to write in one month. I’ve gotten better at it over time, but it’s still a LOT of words. It’s the number of a words a lot of professional authors aim for in the course of a writing month. Most of us have families, jobs, friends, other commitments. Getting to pick your own word count during camp lets you have complete control. It can let you set a daily writing habit, or force you to stretch your current writing commitment. However when everyone has a different word count winning can feel a bit anticlimactic. This year I wrote 15,000 words. It was a lot for me with everything else going on in my life right now, but many people in my cabin went for higher word counts which left me feeling a little insignificant.
Winner – Tie

Cabins vs Writing Buddies
During Camp you can assign yourself a random cabin, or make a cabin with friends. This year I did a random cabin assignment. During November you can link up with friends by being Writing Buddies. Meeting new people in my writing cabin was fun, but overall the motivation was low. Roughly half my cabinmates met their goals for the month, and because I didn’t know these people I wasn’t sure how to help motivate the others. Many cabin members disappeared after a few days or weeks. With Writing Buddies you can have as many as you want, while cabins are limited to 12. In cabins you see stats for yourself, as well as you entire cabin. I found it disheartening as other members of the cabin stopped writing. My cabin is only going to reach about 75% of its total goal for the month.
Winner – Regular NaNoWriMo

What to write
Unless you want to be a rebel, the rules for NaNoWriMo are clear. You must start a new novel(la) and write for 50,000 words on that project. Camp is more flexible. You can write a collection of short stories, or write a script (script frenzy no longer exists). When it comes right down to it a lot of people bend the NaNo rules. People write on existing projects but only include the words written during NaNo, write a collection of short stories, or just count the words they write on multiple projects over the course of the month. I have always done NaNo as intended. Overall I think Camp feels a bit less ridged than Nano, possibly because you are already picking your own word count. Writing 50k on an existing project you care about is really intimidating, but getting 20k on something you care about seems easier.
Winner – Camp

Overall I enjoyed Camp. I prefer NaNo in part because it has become such an important part of my yearly writing cycle. Writing 50,000 words with a group of people who have the same goal is much more motivating for me than writing however many words I want while everyone else does the same. Isn’t that just like every other month?

Have you done NaNo or Camp? Which did you prefer?

Back on Track for Camp NaNoWriMo

campnanostatsGetting back on track this month took longer then I expected. On the 11th, when I gave my last update, I was still four days behind. I managed a double day that night, the 12th, and the 13th. I was in great shape to catch up on the 14th. Except that isn’t what happened.

I didn’t actually manage to catch up until the 16th. Not writing on the 15th certainly didn’t help, but I had other things that needed to get done. The whole point of setting a low goal this month was that I wouldn’t have to write everyday. The story is slower going than I expected though, and writing even a thousand words often takes twice as long as it usually does during NaNoWriMo. Once I get going, I sometimes manage to zoom through an extra 500 hundred words in the blink of an eye.

On the 17th I prove that point by writing triple my one day word count. That sounds amazing right? Except that I took the next two nights off. It didn’t put me behind, but it took away that great buffer of words I had. When I started writing yesterday I was on track, but needed a solid day of writing to stay there. I manage to get a day and a half of words. If I can do that again today, I’ll be happy. It would be nice to have a bit of a buffer again.

At this point I know I can win. As long as I keep hitting the keyboard, and don’t give up, I WILL win Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s exciting since it’s my first Camp win, but I feel like I’ve worked harder for it than I have my last several NaNos even though the word count is so much lower. At this point I just need to get through the words and win, so I can figure out what I’m submitting to my critique group in far too short a time.

How is your Camp NaNoWriMo going this year? Will you be joining me in crossing that finish line?

First Camp Update

The month started slowly… very slowly. I didn’t write my first word for Camp until the 6th. The plan was to write three times a week, but the first week of camp turned out to be very busy, and things didn’t pan out the way I expected. Between an anniversary, having some friends over, and other life craziness I was sinking fast.

On the 6th and 7th things were looking up. I wrote 2,500 words over those two days. I went from being 6 days behind to only 2. I had big plans to be completely caught up by the end of the weekend. Something that should have been easily obtained …

Then the weekend hit. Saturday afternoon I picked my mother up from the airport. That night I had a great night out with my critique group. We barely talked about writing, but had a great time. Well worth the missed words. Last night I had plans with the husband. I tried to write during the day, but my son was extra clingy and wanted to spend time as a family. My dreams of being caught up by last night were dashed.

I’m 2,500 words behind where I should be when I go to bed tonight. Lucky for me Monday is a writing night. I don’t plan to get caught up all in one shot, but I should be able to write 1,500 words without too much trouble as long as I log the butt in chair time. At this point I’m confident I can meet my camp nanowrimo goal by the end of the month. The faster I get caught up the better, but if I don’t fall any further behind I’ll make it.

How is your writing going this month? If you’re doing camp NaNo, are you behind?