NaNoWriMo changed things, but it’s okay. Really.

Chances are good you know me from National Novel Writing Month, a writing challenge where participants write a 50,000-word novel from scratch.

Wait. Scratch that.

From the NaNo FAQ:

Do I have to start my novel from scratch on the first of the month? Can I use an outline?

We think NaNoWriMo works best when you start a brand-new project. However, what’s most important is being excited about what you’re writing. If you want to work on a pre-existing project, you have our full support!

Wait a minute, that’s not “from scratch”.

This change is a recent one that will start to take effect for NaNo 2014. You don’t HAVE to start your novel from scratch anymore, but it’s still encouraged.

And you know what? I’m okay with that. It’s not a rule change, it’s a rule adaptation, one that adapts to the needs of the community because people were already continuing works for NaNo. Even ten years ago returning Wrimos were invoking the completely unofficial Zokutou clause to win NaNo by completing a first draft. They were a small group, but over time more people started using NaNo and its inspirational community to get started on a project or heck, finish one. This is a wonderful thing. Not only are more people writing, but they’re writing more types of things, from novels to scripts to academic theses to poetry collections. And they’re sharing their knowledge and process with the NaNo community, cheering others on, and contributing to the overall camaraderie.

NaNoWriMo believes your story matters, and you’re the only one who can tell it. Not just the one you started on November first. Your story. That includes your existing story too. Neither one is better, though one may be more challenging depending on your writerly disposition. They’re both valid ways of finishing your tale.

All this said, I plan on continuing to start my NaNo novels from scratch, so those unfinished books will have to wait for camp. As for you? Start from scratch or pick up an existing novel. As long as you’re writing, that’s what matters.

Help me go to NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously!

Hi. Remember that Night of Writing Dangerously thing I wouldn’t shut up about over the past few years?

It’s back. And it’s better than ever.

Last year I got to wear the coveted flowerpot hat for winning a word sprint. That’s right, I beat 250 other people in a word war. I met people who were previously Twitter followers and fellow @NaNoWordSprints leaders. I visited NaNoWriMo HQ and rolled up all those posters in the NOWD tote bags and had lunch with Grant, NaNo’s Executive Director. I did research for Wikiwrimo and documented even more of NaNoWriMo culture.

This year several people I’ve befriended through NaNo are also attending. Among them are Debs and Errol, and I’m convinced that putting Errol and me in the same room will result in a NaNo enthusiasm explosion. Or we’ll fight to the death for the NaNoWriMo’s Biggest Fan title.

But for that to happen, I need to reach the $275 goal first. And for that I need your help.

So what’s in it for you? Good question.

Any amount: a handcrafted email from me thanking you. Pixels! Sent through the Internet!

$5 or more: a public thank you on Twitter

$10 or more: a character named after you (or the thing of your choice)

$20 or more: one of YOUR characters makes a cameo appearance

$40 or more: a pep talk just for you written by yours truly

The top donor: choose one of my NaNoWriMo 2014 novels for me. Tell me what to write!

Not only that, but every cent donated will go to improving NaNoWriMo’s writing programs for kids and adults all over the world. Wrimos have written novels in classrooms and on active military duty, in libraries and coffee shops. We’ve written on all seven continents (yes, even Antarctica).

The National Novel Writing Month community can get even more awesome, but as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it needs YOU to help with that.

Donate to NaNoWriMo today and help half a million kids and adults realize their creative potential.

24 hours until NaNo

Well, 24 and a half hours as of this writing, but that could be 24 hours when I hit Post on this. The NaNo site went down for awhile and I missed all the fun stuff.

I still have a lot to do tomorrow. Here’s that list:

* Get some proper work done
* Figure out ergonomics for my desk and desktop so I don’t hurt myself Friday (which means yes, I did fix my desktop)
* Cook a big pot of soup
* Do a load of dark clothes
* Take a shower
* Cut fingernails
* Run @NaNoWordSprints shift tomorrow morning from 9am to 11am

I figured out my first plot as well! Two words: Lego wars.

The short version: The Legos have gone to war, and only a seven-year-old middle child can defend the humans.

I’ll have a nice synopsis up when I’m less frazzled.

24 hours! (Exclamation marks!)

To Do Before NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is less than two weeks away, and I still have to do just about everything on my to-do list. That was not part of the plan.

For full accountability, here’s that list.

* Come up with a plot. That’s right, I still have nothing. Well, nothing I’m excited about. And if I’m going for 250k I need at least two or three ideas. In the event that I do 50k day on the first I need something with enough possible directions that I can spill on it for 24 hours straight.

* Cook my meals for the first and for the days following when I won’t feel like cooking.

* Go to the grocery store on a huge trip, buy groceries, and plan aforementioned meals. Ideally I would buy enough to last until I leave for San Francisco.

* Pack and mail teas for the NaNo tea swap.

* Update Wikiwrimo.

* House cleaning: clean off countertops, do dishes (which will likely accumulate before then), do laundry, clean room, vacuum floors

* Fix my desktop. I messed up an update and now it won’t boot. Current plan is to install Fedora over Arch but this is turning out to be more complicated than planned.

* Write/schedule a couple of posts for this site in the hopes that I won’t go radio silent over NaNo yet again.

* Go to Neutral Milk Hotel show (the 26th, sadly the same time as my huge region’s sole kickoff party)

* Get wrist braces

* Get a flu shot

* Sign up for health insurance

Whew! So far the only thing I’ve crossed off the list so far is buying additional teas for the tea swap. Now to do more things today. Looks like today will be a “do all the things” day.

In writing, never have I ever…

NaNoWriMo starts in just under three weeks and I still have no idea what to write about. This would be less of a problem if I didn’t have a ridiculous goal.

Since NaNo is about challenging yourself, maybe it’s time to take on a type of novel I’ve never done before. I’ve written at least elements of every genre listed on the NaNo genre list.

* write a non-human protagonist. I’ve written non-human major characters before, but never a protagonist)
* write a epistolary novel. I’ve co-written part of a still-unfinished epistolary novel, but never written a full one myself.
* adapt a past non-novel work. This would technically be rebelling, but it’s a serious possibility and I have a script of my own in mind for it.
* write a novel taking place in 24 hours This one would just be fun.
* write a protagonist of color or of some other minority. Okay, this may be something I don’t think about much thanks to pantsing my way through the novel, and since I haven’t put much thought into this, that probably means they default to white, straight, middle-class characters. As a racial half-minority and someone who cares about human representation everywhere I find this problematic. I’ve included quite a few other major characters who are non-white, LGBTQIA, or some other minority, but that a main character isn’t of such a role yet is something I do find disturbing. This is something I certainly intend to fix this year.
* rewrite a past novel. Again, this would be rebelling, but I have a second draft of only one novel and I’m not that happy with it. And okay, I’ve done this before, but not for November NaNo, so this stays on the list.

There are certainly more (including “silly” challenges like not using a certain word or letter, or only using certain words), but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I intend to cross off at least one of these this year.

What are your “Never have I ever”s for writing?

Brace yourselves. NaNoWriMo is coming.

NaNoWriMo season has arrived, and with it, lots of new things: A mobile-friendly website that lets me feed my forum addiction on the go, a new name of National Novel Writing Month for the 501(c)(3) non-profit that runs NaNo, and a Beyond 50k forum.

That’s right. Previously crammed in one thread, those of us choosing to write beyond the 50,000 word goal now have a space to vent about writing “only” five thousand words in a day or being behind on our goal even though our word counter says we’re way past fifty thousand words. Or chasing each other to our own goals beyond 50k, just as Nano rebels can find folks who are working on already started novels or editing or writing that nonfiction book on turtles.

Another feature I love: watched threads. I thought I would despise this because it was change from My Comments, but watched threads turns out to be really awesome. It’s basically your own mini-forum of threads you’ve posted to, except mine is semi-useful at best because I’ve played a few of the game threads and now they’re always on top.

Writing Buddies are a mixed bag. On one hand, the buddies and buddy of are on different pages this year, where in years past they were on the same page. This caused page timeouts for my buddy list and probably others with very large buddy and buddy of lists. But now buddies and buddy of show up in paginated lists, ten per page. This makes my lists useless at the moment because wow, I didn’t realize I had added that many people.

However, you can now sort buddies by recently added or alphabetically or by word count, which is an awesome feature.

(Sometimes I feel like I’m complaining about something silly when complaining about Nano site limits that are likely unique to me, like “my filet mignon isn’t cooked just right” or “the diamonds on my tiara are crooked”. But I’m good at pushing the Nano limits, at least?)

Oh, and Quix might have talked me into going for 250k words this year. Maybe. And by maybe, I mean she totally did. I’ve exceeded that only once before, when I was unemployed and had nothing else to do but write. That was 2010, the year I wrote 300,000 words. We’ll see what happens, especially since I currently have zero ideas I’m excited about.

But this is my twelfth NaNo and I’ll be in the Bay Area for ten days, including for Night of Writing Dangerously, and this NaNoWriMo is already shaping up to be awesome. I can’t believe it’s been eleven years since I discovered NaNo. That’s longer than many relationships and friendships and marriages last.

I’m getting more excited writing this post. Who else is in?

The NaNoWriMo Pre-Season

For many years my NaNoWriMo season started in October. Since the NaNo website relaunched in early October (and one year in late September), this was a normal thing to happen. I would get excited over the site relaunch a few weeks in advance, then pounce the forums when the site relaunches in its clean, sometimes redesigned glory. And then I’d take over the forums or lament the fact that I couldn’t immediately, as was the case a couple of years.

But as the years passed and I started running Wikiwrimo, I found myself getting excited for NaNo and getting ready for it much sooner. This is normal for some folks too; after all, they may come up with a great idea and start planning it. While I’ve come up with some great ideas months in advance, my pantsing ways have led to coming up with ideas closer and closer to NaNo.

Running Wikiwrimo has contributed the most to the pre-season sneaking up on me earlier and earlier. The site relaunch every October means a scramble to gather everything possible about previous NaNos during the months before the relaunch happens, lest that content get lost forever. “Forever” may be an exaggeration; after all, the Internet Archive is a great resource, and sometimes the NaNo website provides the official archives. But the archives aren’t currently available, and for some years (2004, I’m looking at you), they really are gone forever. Not to mention the Internet Archive simply doesn’t archive some pages, and some pages are hard to access.

This leads to the best solution I’ve found: archive all that content before it goes down. This usually means in August or September so I’m not overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done the week before. Wikiwrimo can easily become a second job this time of year if I let it. And let’s not forget all the new info that arrives come site relaunch: new forum moderators, new regions, other new site features that need Wikiwrimo mentions… If I’m going to do Wikiwrimo well and still get excited about NaNo, my NaNo season needs to start months in advance in order to avoid burnout. Luckily this excitement is an organic one, probably because my love of NaNo and desire to archive all the things tend to feed off each other.

Long-time MLs can probably relate; they’ve led their regions for long enough that they know the routine by now and start planning months in advance. They may plan by booking venues for events, getting items for goody bags, and getting prizes for their Wrimos. Starting to plan in October is a guarantee for burnout and stress; it’s why MLs now get accepted earlier. This is especially important for international MLs so they can order ML goodies from the store and get them in time for the kickoff party. (Trust me on this; I’m a former ML.) The planning can feed the excitement, which can then feed the desire to keep planning (or in my case, archiving).

And then there are the other features I keep coming up with, and there’s simply not enough time to implement everything, not to mention a few other NaNo-related archiving projects I have up my sleeve. I like my current job, but creating everything I have in mind for Wikiwrimo could easily become a second job (or at least a part-time job) for awhile.

This is why I start talking about NaNo so early… all year long, at times. If I don’t, none of this would get done.

Thoughts on the overachiever term

Some of the links in this article contain anti-high word count feelings. Click with caution, high word count Wrimos.

In the NaNo community, the term “overachiever” has come to mean those who exceed the 50,000 word goal in November. Some people who identify with this term go on to write a few thousand more, while others write a few hundred thousand more (with one or two going for the elusive million). With people writing so much, there are those with lower word counts who feel bad because their counts are smaller or call these high word counters out for cheating or whine because it’s only day eight and how are some people at 50k already? Why, just this week I got my first ever cheating accusation [anti-high word count] from a poster who’s known for making attacking posts. Three people in that thread have seen me write in person, so I’m just gonna let that roll off my back like a Swiss duck.

But has the anti-overachiever attitude always existed? Yes, but not quite in the same way.

I’ve been around NaNo since 2002 (as long as the forums existed), and I struggled for the first few years, writing over half the book in the last week my first year to win. The (admittedly far fewer then, though the word counter did go up only to 200,000 words) people with high word counts astounded me, but they were motivating. Maybe I could write that much one day.

There wasn’t a dedicated thread (that I can find, anyway) for people intentionally aiming above the 50k goal, no matter what their end goal, until 2008. Yes, there were threads for specific word count goals above 50k such as for those aiming for 100k, but there was no unified thread where anyone shooting for a goal over 50k was welcome. The 2009 thread is lost to the land of deleted webpages, but considering the 2010 thread is called Overachievers III, there’s a 2008 thread for those increasing their word goal (both started by tiakall), and I remember posting in such a thread in the first year I wrote far over 50k, it’s a safe bet a thread existed in 2009 as well, and the term overachiever appears to be a self-identified term adopted by the overachievers.

I can’t dig through the 2008 thread since the Wayback Machine didn’t archive it, but we can now safely say the term “overachiever” dates back to at least 2009. [Update: At least 2005, actually as syaffolee pointed out--jonzzing refers to the folks going for over 50k as overachievers. Of course, this term might not have been a commonly used term until 2009.]

Okay, enough about the past. Let’s go to the present.

The overachiever thread still exists and has grown by leaps and bounds as more people decide to go for more than 50k or for 50k in less than thirty days. A Wrimo who chooses to overachieve may be inspired by us or have a book that’s going to be long or have two ideas. And of course the whining about high word counts has increased, but that’s partly (mostly?) because of more people showing up to do NaNo. Maybe I’m just fortunate to only associate with awesome people, but I haven’t gotten any flack about writing a lot until this year when someone called me out specifically, linked earlier. Some of my other overachieving friends–no, most of them–have. And that’s saying a lot.

Lately there’s been talk about changing the term overachiever to something friendlier. Words have meaning, after all, and the term overachiever might imply that those aiming for 50k or under are underachieving. This isn’t the case at all. I haven’t seen a single overachiever make someone with a lower word count feel bad; all word counts are worthy because those are words that weren’t there before. And a few folks aiming for far above 50k (Zette, for one, who has written far over 50k a year for years) have rejected the term overachiever because of what it implies. But here’s the thing: the flack isn’t necessarily against the term overachiever itself. Some of us who exceed 50,000 words and therefore have to start wtih a high word count do post elsewhere. I do, though I post less as the month thanks to being busy with writing and non-NaNo things.

So what about a new name, as @mattkinsi and @chomskyrabbit were discussing last night on Twitter? It’s a well-intentioned debate, and Tiakall and Cosmam and Raquelin and Chomsky and Quix [related links on the overachiever term] have already beaten me to the post. But no matter what we call ourselves, we as a group (and honestly, just about anyone ahead of quota) will get negative reactions outside the overachiever thread. Changing the name won’t make a significant difference because such changes take time to make their way through and that change won’t affect the reactions from Wrimos who are behind or who don’t like the high word counts.

One thing to remember in all this: NaNo is what YOU make of it, no matter your word count. Someone else’s word count doesn’t make your word count any less valid or any less of an accomplishment.

And now I figure out how to work these 800+ words into my novel.

On finishing NaNoWriMo’s 50k very quickly

This was a reply to a forum post discussing the possibility of finishing NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 words in 12 hours. Since I finished it in 24 hours last year and plan on trying again this year, I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, and as a result my reply got quite long.

I finished 50,000 words in the first 24 hours last year (23 hours 53 minutes if you want to be picky). It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I’ve done some hard things. Teach middle school, for one. :P

Here’s the stats spreadsheet, if you’re curious. [Added note: I forgot this thing existed until 7am, hence why my stats don't start until then.]

I plan to attempt repeating this on Thursday. A few things:

This really did take the full 24 hours. I lost my max writing speed the first three hours thanks to an in-person kickoff party and for a few hours in the afternoon thanks to tutoring a student. The latter will occur again this year. If I didn’t write about 800 words on Dropbox on the bus that afternoon I wouldn’t have finished.

The hard part is, as people have pointed out, writing nonstop. It’s exhausting, both physically and mentally. It’s a bit emotionally exhausting as well, but that didn’t kick in until the second for me. If I really push myself and write nonstop, I can write 4k an hour–but then I need a break at the end of that hour to relax my body and mind. Now imagine doing that for 24 hours straight. Imagine doing that with little to no sleep (did I mention I slept half an hour–two fifteen-minute naps–during the whole first day?). You’re probably going to be drinking a lot of caffeine as well if you partake. You’ll need to stop for food unless you’re really good at suppressing your stomach growling. You’ll need to get up to go to the bathroom. You may have to get up to take of other incidental things–or if you’re like me and you schedule small things on the first day, you’ll have to take care of those.

All that said, your consistent writing pace is going to be significantly lower than what’s needed to write 50k in 12 hours–4167 words/hour if you’re curious, meaning I could theoretically do it if the nonstop issue weren’t a factor. I can consistently write 3k-3500 words per full writing hour if going for something ridiculous like 50k in a day. (There’s an excerpt of last year’s 50k day novel on my profile under last year’s novel if you’re curious of what such a thing looks like for me.) The 4k hours are usually one-offs. And 5k hours are rare even outside 50k day/weekend attempts.

So that brings up the big question: Why do this in the first place? Everyone’s reasons are different, but I look at it this way: why do some folks climb Mount Everest or hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one go? The answer is often “Because it’s there”. There’s a certain thrill that comes out of these things as well, opening one’s mind to new adventures. There’s a saying some of us who go far beyond the traditional 50k go by: Once you overachieve, you don’t go back. There’s a thrill that comes out of the deadline and creating more and more story more and more quickly that makes the writing and community even more enjoyable. Some of us desire that thrill and seize the feeling that comes out of creating lots of story quickly, which drives us to write more.

But if that’s not what makes NaNo enjoyable for you, figure out what does, and hold on to that feeling. And most of all, keep on writing.

NaNo fame is apparently a thing I have now.

I went to Atlanta Streets Alive with a friend from Reddit today. It was a lot of fun, but the event itself isn’t what I’m writing about here.

I spotted a poetry on demand table at some point on North Highland Avenue, and won’t lie–this was what I was looking forward to for the past day. These were the folks from Free Poems on Demand, and indeed, they would write a poem on the topic of your choice. So I went up to them and after struggling to come with a good topic, requested a poem on what it’s like to be a food.

One of the poets noticed my NaNoWriMo messenger bag and we started talking about NaNo. I mentioned that I had done and won NaNo for the past ten years, and he asked what my username on the site was. I told him.

“Sushimustwrite,” he said. “I’ve heard of you.”


Yep, pretty much my reaction right there.

I got used to being recognized in my region and even at Night of Writing Dangerously, but out in the general public? Whoa, dude. I honestly don’t know what to think.

The rest of the day passed. We wandered around, found the park in my neighborhood, wandered around more, and went to our respective homes. I came home, ate, and checked my email, Twitter feed, and NaNoMail. And found multiple messages in my NaNoMail that are best classified as fanmail.

So hi, apparently NaNo fame is apparently a thing I have now.

And by the way, here’s the poem.
What It's Like To Be A Food poem

By Jimmy Lo
I see you eying
the fresh peel of my package.
In the language of modern consumption
I’m consumed with the possibilities
of the many ways to snap into a Slim Jim
Or break me off a piece of that
Kit Kat bar–or
the melt in yr mouth not in yr hand variety
of sexual innuendo that fills
my mind with the vaguest wish
to die inside the stomach of a whale
like some martyrannical version
of slowly wasting away,…