Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

Pushing Through


Struggling now.

It was so easy last week. I just sat down and fired out words, characters, situations.

This week, even though I know where I want them all to go, it’s suddenly so much harder to get started.

I ended up not adding to the word count at all yesterday, even after being inspired in the morning. I struggled through this morning the same way, making notes about what I have so far, consulting earlier plans about what’s supposed to be happening in the story at this point, where I need to go in the next quarter of the wordcount. And then I failed to write.

In the end, I had to listen to an interview with Barbara Kingsolver, take some books back to the library, settle myself down at the coffee shop, drink a massive cappuccino, fire up Carmina Burana under the headphones, read the NaNoWriMo pep talk by Karen Russell and force myself to write dry, turgid prose for half a page, before I even got remotely started.

844 words later, I’m calling it a win and going home to get ready for the boys coming home. At least I have a partial scene started so that I can pick it up later on today.

Writing doesn’t sound hard, but sometimes it ridiculously difficult to get words on the page!

NaNoWriMo 2012 check in

I’m taking a moment this morning, on Day 8 of NaNoWriMo and 13000 words into my novel, to stop and go through what I have written, not to correct or revise it, but in an attempt to capture every character and fact that I have carelessly thrown into the great stew that is my manuscript.

It’s tempting to just push on to meet today’s wordcount goal 1, but I think that I will save myself a ton of time this way. I’ve written so much and introduced so many characters (the locations are taking on characteristics that I’ll need to keep track of too) that I need this. Rather than spending time scrolling back up the document to find out the names I hastily gave one of my main characters’ co-workers, I’m capturing that now and putting it all down on paper. The aim is to put it into a Scrivener document too, but I’m working with paper just now.

How I’m Working

I really do like Scrivener with all its clever tools for managing scenes and chapters and all that, but I think it’s really going to be most useful to me later, when I’m trying to wrangle this thing into some kind of proper shape.

For now, I’m trying to minimize the decision-making.

If I have the opportunity to decide whether to start a new ‘chapter’ file, or make a note of this character’s backstory, or play with a corkboard of scenes WHILE I’m trying to write the first draft, I’ll just end up doing all that stuff. I’m not disciplined enough to stop myself clicking on enticing little menu buttons every time I reach a knotty point in the narrative.

So I’m using IAWriter which is intentionally annoyingly bare as you work. It doesn’t have a search function, or much of anything really apart from a nice font, a ‘focus’ mode and the ability to see your word count (and how long it’d take to read what you have so far2. I just have one long, scrolling document. If things get out of order or if I don’t know how to get from one scene to the next I just plough on3.

But that does mean that things are getting quite unwieldy. In order to cause myself the east distraction possible I’m doing this kind of thing for each character.

Character Sheet for NaNoWriMo 2012

The notes at the top are about the character and the column down the side is full of names of the people in his orbit. Very basic stuff but it feels like the way to blast through this first draft. I feel speed is of the essence. Having recently gone back through my abandoned 2010 NaNoWriMo effort and realised it actually has some potential, I have decided that there is definitely something to this ‘writing with abandon’ model.

Anyway, onward!

  1. 2000 words a day, instead of 1667, in order to get ahead of the fact that I’ll have at least five days in the middle where it will be very hard to add any word count at all due to certain visits from certain siblings — woo-hoo!
  2. 71 minutes!
  3. Last night, for example, after spending hte whole day ignorning the book because I didn’t know how to get from this scene to the next thing tha needed to happen, I just skipped over it entirely and started writing a scene that wanted to happen, even though I wasn’t sure it was in the right place. And 3000 words later I went to bed.

Happy To Be Writing

(Not happy that my latest theme upgrade seems to have erased to cool header image on this page, but when I have time I’ll fix that).

My third NaNoWriMo has rolled around and — hallelujah! — I decided to check out one of my former NaNoNovels one more time before I decided I was doomed never to finish a novel properly or revise it and that I should just give up the whole idea.

And do you know what I found?

I found that I quite liked it.

It’s flawed and far from publishable but it might just make it there.

So I hesitated for about three seconds before deciding that yes, I would plunge back in this year and use all the stuff I have learned about writing (and myself) over the past couple of years to get another first draft written.

Between NaNoWriMo and the StoryADay challenge I started in 2010, I have made more of a concerted effort to improve my fiction writing than at any time since I first moved to PA in 1996 and before that, since I was at primary school, when I just assumed I would always (ALWAYS) bit sitting in a corner somewhere, scribbling in a jotter, giggling to myself, and then showing the stories to appreciative authority figures who would tell me what a great writer I wa

Well, thanks to my unflaggingly enthusiastic hubby and eldest son, I can still tap into that inner ten-year old and tell myself I am a good writer (the younger son is a bit too young yet to grok what this is really about). Thanks to my parents, I still have that ‘why not me?’ attitude.  Thanks to Carol and Beth I have people who fully expect me to get this  done. Thanks to Chris Baty, I have a deadline. Thanks to Terry Pratchett I have a map of  how this might be done (even if it’s not done perfectly at the start). Thanks to all my peeps at, I have a crew of writers who need me to take this business seriously and be better than I think I am on a bad day. And thanks to the lovely writers at the Main Line Writters Group, I have face-to-face people to read my stories to, who laugh in all the right places (and some unexpected ones) and whose collective brain I pick every time I go to one of those meetings. And thanks to every writer I’ve ever loved for keeping that irritating little fire alive in my soul.


So I’m 2 days and 5082 words into a new novel. I’ll lose my way and I’ll curse it and I’ll wonnder if it is anything other than a pile of steaming fertilizer. And I’ll struggle to write on days when we’re travelling or visiting or when  the house is full of people (even my little people) but I will reach 50,000 words this month. And then I will bury it in peat for an unsppecified amount of time and one day recycle it as firelighters. Or I’ll turn it into a real novel.


But i’ll tell you this for free: writing makes me happy.



What makes you happy? Are you doing it?

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

Things I learned from NaNoWriMo

Outlining doesn’t have to kill creativity

(In fact, it can free you to be more creative.)

I read a great article about a month before NaNoWriMo 1 in which a confirmed ‘Pantser’ 2 discovered the joys of partial outlining. She realised — and taught me — that you don’t have to outline everything. You get a partial outline down and then, when it starts to feel like a slog, start writing. Which is something Daniel Pinkwater told me he does, in an interview years ago, and he’s pretty successful. But somehow it took me until now to get the message. Plus she went on to say that she feels free to start outlining again, once she reaches a point in her novel when she’s slowing down.


So that’s what I did.

It occurred to me that this is exactly what I do with short stories, it’s just that with a short story it is entirely possible to hold all the outline in your head. Usually I have an idea, and a sense of where the story will end, then I start writing. Once I’ve written a few paragraphs I get a sense of what kind of story it’s going to be, the twists will occur along the way and exactly where it’s going. But there is only one plotline; there are only one or two characters that count; and only 1-2,ooo words to cram them into.

With a novel I knew I couldn’t hold everything in my head, and that thought intimidated me. Until my brilliant new friend pointed out that outlines don’t have to be complete, restrictive or done by anyone else’s method.

So I outlined my book, with lots of scenes that I knew would happen at the start and vague ‘this sort of thing happens here’ for the rest of it. Every time I got stuck, or my word count slackened, I would take a day to outline the next section. Inevitably, the next time I sat down I’d be at my day’s wordcount and beyond it, before I’d even been to the cookie jar. 3

Inspiration Comes Second

Sure, you can wander around the world looking for inspiration, but I have found 4 that it is only when I start writing that I,

  1. Start to write well 5;
  2. Become inspired;
  3. Find story ideas and bits of dialogue leaping out at me from all around.

There were days when sitting down and typing felt like — as they say in Scotland — pulling teeth. But because I was determined not to fall behind in my wordcount, I sat and wrote. Slowly. The first 300 words were torture. It took forever to reach 600. But once I was past about 750 words, things started to fly. If I could just get those first 600 words down, I knew I could reach 1667 6

I came across a great passage in Russell T. Davies’ book about writing for the new Doctor Who series. I’ll quote it again and again because it is true and simple and brilliant. He’s horrifically behind on a deadline. Everyone is waiting for him to deliver pages — the production crew, the cast, everyone — and so he’s panicking and smoking too much and going for long walks, trying to solve the problems he’s written his characters into 7

Finally at some ungodly hour, he types,

“…I couldn’t work out how to do it, where to do it, when. All day, gone. Pissed off. Then I sat down to write, with no solution, and … thought of it! Immediately. Obvious. Simple. If  I’d started sooner…ah, the only way to write is to write. For all my banging on about what to do if you’re really stuck on something, there’s nothing dumber than sitting there writing nothing at all.” 8

Get Away From The Desk

And once I had my story up and running, going out into the world was an excellent thing. Grocery shopping let me overhear how people talk to each other, or dream up solutions to plot problems. Working lunch duty at my children’s school gave my brain a break from thoughts of my characters. Walking around town gave me illustrations of buildings, cars, posters, people, smells, trees, memories.

It’s all very well trying to pay attention to these things when you’re not working on a project (and if you’re a writer then you do, you must, you can’t help yourself), but they take on a shimmering urgency when you’re deep in a work. So get out into the world.

Ration Your Reading

Of course, the first thing any aspiring writing should be doing is reading, but it has to be the right kind of reading if you’re going to read and still have time to write.

I discovered that I was limiting the amount of links I followed to fascinating articles, even from people I respect and admire. I limited the magazine reading. I scanned Facebook, rather than plunging in. I didn’t check my ‘celebrity Twitter’ list for a month and we all got along fine. I did not read the back of cereal packets, the BBC news site, blogs or forums.

I did read a little on Wikipedia to help me out of a technical jam in my novel, but I resisted clicking on all the links in the article. And I stopped at the end. I did make time to read books by authors I admire and who inspire me to sit down and write. I did watch TV shows written by writers who make me gnaw the furniture with envy at their skill. Anything else, I deemed a waste of Time I Could Be Writing.

People Can Be Surprisingly Supportive

Tell people you’re writing a novel and they 9 get really excited for you. I have friends and family who were checking in and demanding to read the book when it’s finished. And I have to say I did not expect my wonderful husband to be so enthused about the project. It inevitably meant more work for him, as he gave me time away from the kids, took care of extra loads of dishes and laundry, tidied while I wrote. But he was genuinely excited about the project and didn’t seem to resent the extra work at all. (Actually I suspect he might have been glad to have me out from under his feet some of the time. He’s terribly organized). That’s not to say he wasn’t relieved when I took back some of the household duties at the end of November. But my point is, people can surprise you with their supportiveness if you’re doing something that makes your eyes light up.

There’s tons more that I learned, (I’ve made some notes for next time) but I’m stopping now. To get back to the novel.

Shouldn’t you be writing, too?

  1. So maybe this was the first thing I learned: if you’re going to write articles about writing, a great time to post/promote them is October!
  2. One who writes by the seat of their pants, eschewing outlines
  3. Another thing I learned: don’t worry about the diet toooo much while writing. The hours sat in front of the keyboard will eat up most of my snacking time, so when I do snack, it’s not disastrous anyway.
  4. Again and again and again
  5. Duh!
  6. The number of words you need to write every day to reach 50,000 in 30 days
  7. If he truly were the heir of Douglas Adams, no doubt he would have been taking long baths too.
  8. Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who, The Writer’s Tale – The Final Chapter, BBC Books 2010. My emphasis.
  9. The good ones, the ones that matter ;)

NaNoWriMo Lessons for Next Time

I crossed the finish line (50,000 words) of National Novel Writer’s Month after a marathon 5K word day on the Sunday before NaNo actually finished.

In the two weeks since then I’ve added less than 5K words to the novel, which is not finish. I left it in the midst of what I hope will be the climax, because I got stuck. Up until that point I had been free to write my characters into tricky situations with the thought that I’d deal with the solutions later. Turns out: dealing with the solutions takes time and thinking. That’s one lesson for next year’s NaNo. Here are some more notes.

  • Keep the wordcount a little ahead of the game to allow for the creative slow-down towards the end of the month. Maybe tweak the wordcount targets, to allow for more words in the middle two weeks and fewer in the last week.
  • Don’t get too far ahead because I’ll get lazy/ burned out.
  • Do outline.
  • Get main character interacting with other characters sooner.
  • “Make your bastards loveable and your heroes weak” (RTDavies)
  • Do take time during the challenge to outline the next section, flesh out character sketches. It’ll make the next writing block go faster.
  • Do consider warm-up writing in the morning even if it’s not novel-text. Don’t spend more than 30-45 mins on it.
  • Do have other commitments during the month. Preferably most days. At the same time.

NaNoWriMo – The Final Push

OK, it’s here: the final push. Eight days to go. Eight days and 16,300 words to go before I can declare myself a ‘winner’.

I was so pleased with myself — having so much fun — last Thursday. I had written well all month so far, in the face of some adversity. I was hooked. This was it. This was what I was destined to do: write silly novels about adventures and mystery in a parallell world.

Then Friday rolled around. I took A to a doctor’s check-up, came home and tidied up the dishes, but by then it was time for lunch duty. After lunch duty I wrote a few hundred words but realized I had to tidy up the house a bit and do some laundry and I really ought to rake the leaves that all fell down at once two days before. The boys came out and jumped around in the leaves too, which made it far too much fun and there was no way I could force them inside and sit them down in front of something electronic so that I could write. No way. Then, when it started to rain and the boys were in baths, I realised I still had to make a snack to bring for the Ladies Christmas Ornament Basket Bingo night I had somewhat tentatively added to my schedule for that night. Plus I had stayed up past midnight the night before and I was tired. Waah!

The Ladies’ Christmas Ornament Basket Bingo turned out to be a lot more fun than I would have expected – especially when a small faction decamped to Molly Maguires at the end of the night. I ended up chauffeuring some of them home. Me! But there was another late night and no more writing done.

On Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed and took A to his First Penance retreat at the church (it was a couple of hours of people talking and some candle-lighting and crafts, which kept the kids enthralled, along with a video of a guy telling a story about his kid which made all the grownups cry). Then home, lunch, an afternoon of sloth and an evening slumped in front of Doctor Who (Ah, DT how I love thee, but Russel T Davies didn’t half turn you into a wuss at the end, there).

I was starting to feel the pressure of two days with no significant word count by yesterday afternoon. Kevin very graciously suggested that I take the after-dinner portion of the day to plough ahead, so I cheerfully made said dinner (steak pie and chips, brussel sprouts and beans, thank you very much — molto bene!) and then scurried off and left the cleaning-up-and-boy-wrangling to him.

4000 words later, at 9PM, I emerged, blinking and victorious. OK, a few paltry hundred of those words were written over the previous days, but the bulk was last night. Woo-hoo.

So here we are, eight days from the end and, as planned I’m sitting at the foot of Mount Climax, looking up, nervously. Today, I have to take my characters and get them all in place for the final push. I have to gather them at the foot of the mountain and place ravenous dinosaurs behind them (not literally. No dinos in this book, sorry A.). Then I have to light a forest fire behind the dinosaurs. My characters must have nowhere to go but up – and quickly. I might hover a rescue helicopter (or maybe giant eagles. Giant eagles?! Honestly, Professor, was that the best you could do?!) over the summit, but it’ll be in the clouds, so they can’t see it. As they get closer they might hear it, but then the storm clouds must roll in so that they don’t know if it’ll even be there when they reach the summit or whether they’ll be stuck there waiting for the ravenous, scalded and pissed-off predators to arrive and devour them.

Sounds like fun. See you on the other side.

NaNoWriMo Half Time Report

Well, here we are at the half-way point of NaNoWriMo and I’m still writing.

I’m slightly under a day behind on the word count targets and that’s only because a, I spent the day being sociable yesterday b, I’ve been fighting off strep/tonsillitis and c, I spent some time on Friday not writing by trying to untangle all the threads I have been spinning.

Demons in Buddhist Hell, Haw Par Villa (Tiger Balm Theme Park), Singapore


In Week One the challenge was just sitting down and churning out that many words each day (must write an average of 1667 a day to meet the 50K word goal by Nov 30). I would write for three quarters of an hour and feel really proud of myself and then I’d check my wordcount and find out I’d written 358 words. Almost without fail. Getting to 600 words was torture. Then, somewhere around 750 words, things would start to flow and I would start to fly — and then I’d usually find I’d run out of time. A session later in the day pushed me well past my goal most days.

I am careful not to overshoot by too much because I know myself. If I ever sat down and wrote 5,000 words in one day I would feel so damn pleased with myself that I probably wouldn’t write anything meaningful for days afterwards (“Ah, I have a buffer. 358 words today will be fine!”)

In Week Two, which is apparently when a lot of people lose enthusiasm and drop out, I really started to feel like maybe I could do this. My characters and plot lines were coming together, I was starting to see how they interacted and what was going to happen to them. I was starting to find sitting down to write much easier, now that my mental muscles were warmed up.


This is now, officially Week Three. I’m not sure what other NaNo-ers say about it, but I’m kind of wishing now that I had boosted my wordcount a bit in the past two weeks. I sense that things are going to go a little slower now. I’ve spend the past two weeks starting stories, setting my characters in motion, letting them roll along and explore their world. Now I need to start intertwining their stories. I have to make sure that timelines make sense. I have to get everyone to where they need to be, at the right times, knowing what they are supposed to know NOW and not a moment sooner or later.  Hmmm.

The demons I wrestled with in the earlier weeks were more of the ‘aargh, this isn’t perfect, the pace is faltering, this could be better’ type. I subdued them with a quick “Yeah, you know what? Tell me about it after the first draft is done” to the solar plexus. They were pretty easily vanquished.

This week I suspect I’m going to be wrestling a different demon and I’m going to have to find a similar move. How do i defeat the ‘you’re getting it all wrong. This is  a big mess AND you’re running out of time!” Demon?

Watch this space!