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?

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?

Monsters with Easy Clean Up

A lot of TV shows feature monsters with easy clean up. For example in Buffy when the vampires are staked they disappear in a cloud of dust. In Sailor Moon disbanded monsters turn into a cloud of dust that is taken away on the wind. People shot with a phaser in Star Trek often disappear in a flash of orange.

In Sailor Moon, for example, I am sure the tactic is used to keep the violence less in your face. A bloody corpse isn’t going to encourage parents to let their kids watch the show. For the most part though I’m sure it’s a convenience thing. If the enemy disappears it saves a lot of clean up time and explanation.

I never truly appreciated this trope until I was writing my NaNo novel this November. It was the first time I had bodies in the story that the characters had to deal with. In my Murder Mystery the body needs to stick around. Without it the story never gets off the ground. In my YA Portal Fantasy the few bodies are left in an abandoned motel or swept down a river before the characters can do anything about them.

This November my characters killed several demon like creatures and had to deal with the corpses left behind. It was different and exciting to write about handling the first body or two. After that I realized why so many TV shows take the easy (and often dusty) way out.

How do you handle monsters in your stories? Do the corpses stick around or do they turn to dust?

Camp NaNoWriMo Supplies List

I can’t believe it is almost April already. Only two sleeps (or one if you plan to stay up late March 31st) until Camp NaNoWriMo begins! I’ve done NaNo several times so I feel prepared for this new to me April adventure. I admit that getting to select my own word count is a big draw for me. My top word count in NaNo is 80k, but this April I am going low. Something in the 25-30k range. Still a respectable amount to get in a single month I think.

Tonight I am going to put together my NaNo supplies. Below are my must have NaNo tools for success:
1. My netbook: I actually need to replace this before it dies on me, but I am the type who needs to do a ton of research first.
2. Scrivener: Since I started using this program in 2008 I haven’t been able to write in anything else. They have a 30 day free trial if anyone is interested in trying it out over Camp NaNoWriMo.
3. Notebooks and more notebooks: I got a lovely journal cover for my birthday last year which is all my random story bits. For this particular story I also have a binder started when I wrote the first half during NaNo a few years ago. Time to pull them out so they are at the ready!
4. BIC 4 Colour Pen: The four colours help me keep track of my tangled notes. Also colour coding is fun.
5. Work space: I usually work on the couch, but this April I have decided that two of my writing nights need to take place at a proper table. Being a numbers person I will of course chart my output based on location for future planning.
6. Writing Schedule: Usually for NaNo I write every day so I don’t have much of a schedule. This year I am only planning to write three days per week (hence the lower goal). I need to figure out which three days I am going to write so I stick to it once April starts.
7. Chocolate: Perhaps the most important supply of all. I am going to need lots and lots of chocolate.

What does your writing work space look like? What items are on your must have list for Camp NaNoWriMo?

Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo Participant badge

I have participated in, and won, NaNoWriMo every year since 2007, but have never been in a good place to try Camp NaNoWriMo. This year a friend decided to do Camp NaNo this April. Jump forward a few hours and we have six seven people from my local writing club (I say club because we are more a group who writes together than a group who critiques) signed up to participate. I think this whole Camp NaNo idea might be just what the doctor ordered to force me to write.

One of the things I like about Camp NaNo is how open it is. Instead of writing 50k, I am aiming for 30k. Instead of trying to write everyday, I will write 3-4 days per week. Instead of working on a new novel, I am going to finish a current project. My Murder Mystery will finally have a beginning, middle, and end! I now have just under 20 days to get everything in order for a somewhat crazy writing filled April.

The biggest thing I need to do is research. I’m currently reading an RCMP officer’s autobiography. It’s interesting but the person who wrote it is older and started in the force so long ago I fear much of it won’t be useful. I have another autobiography coming into the library which is from a more recent female RCMP member. I’m also reading Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland. It has been very helpful for general knowledge.

Now I just need to figure out how I am going to find time for some character development in all my reading.

Are you doing Camp NaNo this year? If so what are you doing to get ready for next month?

It’s Time to Write that Rough Draft

I was trying to figure out why it is so easy for me to knock out 2,000 words (or more) a day during NaNoWriMo in November, yet the rest of the year I struggle to get 1,000 words a night. The answer is so simple I can’t believe I didn’t realize it much sooner. During NaNo I only think about quantity. I ignore the quality of what I am writing in favour of getting words on the page. This might sound like a bad thing but it can be a blessing. After all you can’t edit what you haven’t written. You might argue that the editing will take too long if you haven’t taken your time on the rough draft. For me, this hasn’t been the case. Whether I have agonized over every word, cruised through at my normal pace, or managed a light speed word war, the amount of editing is about the same. The grammar and punctuation police would cringe at any rough draft of mine, and the plot holes tend to show up in all sizes no matter my speed. The only difference between agonizingly slow and light speed are the spelling errors. At light speed they crop up more frequently because I don’t allow myself to go back and fix them.

This month and next, while I write my Murder Mystery, I’m going to take a page from my NaNo self. I’m going to write for speed and quantity instead of quality. I will still have plot holes of all sizes to fix, and I will still have to beg grammar help from a friend (or five). I will make one minor adjustment to my NaNo routine to help combat those pesky spelling errors though. At the beginning of each writing session I will allow ten minutes to edit the previous session’s work. I’m setting a timer though because if I let myself I could easily do nothing but edit. If all I do is edit, then I will never make any forward movement on my rough draft. I also can’t dedicate the same amount of time to writing as I do each November. My goal for the next two months is 2-3 solid nights of writing a week plus a few lunch hours when I can manage it. Hopefully it will be enough to finish the rough draft of my Murder Mystery.

Are you in the middle of a rough draft? Do you write through the end, or do you allow yourself to edit as you go?

Writing Contest and Character Development

I took a big leap this week and submitted my YA portal fantasy to a writing competition. Submitting wasn’t an easy decision but in the end the entry fee was a small price to pay to get some comments from strangers who are in the industry. I spent a few weeks doing a deep edit of the entire novel. Then I was lucky enough to have a friend volunteer to read the first 20k (the part the judges will read) for grammar/punctuation (not my strong suit, but I’m working on it). I made many of those changes, and now I wait. Assuming I didn’t mess up my file in some way,  I shouldn’t hear anything back until late June when they announce the short list. In the end I hope to get a few useful comments, and I’ve come out of the experience with a solid second draft I can return to later.

One of the things that bothers me about the submitted novel is how shallow the characters are. They feel more real in my head than they are on the page. Since I have dedicated February and March to working on my NA Murder Mystery, now is a great time to work on character development for that novel. I have a feeling most of February will be spent doing research for the detective aspects of the novel while working to flesh out the main characters. It’s time to pull out trait lists, questionnaires, and do some sample scenes.

If you have a unique way of getting to know your stories’ characters, I would love to hear it.