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NaNoWriMo 2017: Fin

Well, here we are again, another NaNoWriMo wrapped up. This year was my sweet sixteenth NaNo, and while I broke very few personal records this year, it was still the best NaNo so far.

First, the part people actually want to know: I finished November with 222,222 words and two completed novels, once again making up over 1% of my huge region’s total word count. I reached 50k on the fourth, my halfway point on the 16th, and the final 222,222 around 10:30 on the 30th. This makes 2017 my 5th-wordied NaNoWriMo to date. Considering my original goal was “eh, six digits”, I am happy with this result.

The first novel tells the tale of a roomba that lives in an office building and the adventures it gets into. The idea started out as a joke. I couldn’t think of any other plots by the last week of October so I started joking that my NaNo novel could always be about the roomba at my day job, which has a habit of getting caught on things. Fast forward to my region’s kickoff party. I scribbled that idea down for an activity, where we give ideas and prompts to others based on their plots. I got some really good ideas out of this and wound up using several of them in the story. I finished this book at 50,021 words written over the course of the first four days with no Week Two crash. Seriously, it was smooth sailing through almost the entire book, and I haven’t felt that while writing a book in awhile.

The weird part: people actually want to read this. It looks like I need to figure out a proper plot for this tale before rewriting it. Unless, of course, I want to write roomba litfic. Actually, that sounds like a great idea.

The second novel is much less exciting. It started as some kind of romance with some self-discovery involved, and then Mysterious Hot Guy and a bar that took people to parallel worlds happened. I spent a lot of that book figuring out what the plot of that book would be, and even when writing The End, I still wasn’t sure. With a last sentence of “We leaned into the wall and stumbled into a whole new world”, there’s a sequel ready to be written. Or at least a more polished version of the mystery bar and parallel worlds.

This year felt much less overwhelming than the last couple of years, even though I was working full-time job in an actual office and traveling for three of the four weekends. I attribute at least part of that to enjoying my stories more; I’ve found that even when the hard days are a slog, writing an interesting story made that slog I was also kinder to myself when it came to taking a night semi-off; I took breaks more often and didn’t beat myself up quite as much for not being able to write at top speed all the time. This is a lesson I hope to carry into future years.

I mentioned in last year’s NaNoWriMo summary post that my approach to writing had started to shift over the last few years, where lack of some semblance of an idea stressed me out even more. This year was different. I didn’t plan more (besides the 250ish words of jotting down roomba ideas), but I found myself stressing less, even when the writing was objectively terrible. I also found myself writing more slowly than the speeds often associated with me (though I can still bust out the words when needed). I’m not sure what caused the shift this year (writing less than those past two years, perhaps?), but I’m grateful for it.

Some NaNoWriMo 2017 highlights, in no particular order:

  • Tweeting from the official @NaNoWriMo Twitter. Yes, this happened. The NaNo staff gave me control of the official Twitter for an hour (noon EDT) on the Double Up Donation Day, and I had a blast with it.
  • All my time on the @NaNoWordSprints Twitter, even though I didn’t have as much time for that as I would have liked.
  • NaNoGiving in the same cabin with most of the same friends but a couple of new ones too.
  • Making the annual pilgrimage to the NaNoWriMo office on Friday and rolling up every single NOWD poster.
  • Meeting so many amazing Wrimos in person, meeting Wrimos I had known on Twitter or the forums for nearly a decade, and reconnecting with old friends (including a Wrimo who was in my region for her college years before moving away) over the course of the Night of Writing Dangerously weekend.
  • I got a sushi hat! No really, the SF Peninsula ML knitted me a hat shaped like a sushi roll and it is amazing.
  • I won a word sprint at Night of Writing Dangerously (2007 words in 15 minutes, a personal record, though I did not backspace at all), specifically the sprint that Chris Baty ran. Overall, I wrote 6334 words at NOWD, which is definitely not my least productive NOWD. (That honor would go to last year.)

Not a bad month, I’d say. So now we ask the real question. Is it NaNoWriMo now? What about now?

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NaNoWriMo 2016: In Summary

NaNoWriMo 2016 has come to a close, leaving me with feelings of simultaneous relief and scrambling to find something to do with all this time. You would think I’d be better prepared for this after fifteen NaNos, but no, I’m still figuring out post-NaNo life too.

First, the thing you probably want to know: I wrote 250,025 words in two novels and made up over 1% of my huge region’s total word count. 250,000 words was my easy-to-remember goal for 2016 NaNoWriMo; this aided me in passing 500,000 words overall in 2016 as well as passing 2 million lifetime words across fifteen November NaNoWriMos. I reached my halfway point on day 19, then fell behind and needed to write 100,000 words in the last six days to finish. I hadn’t written 100k in six days since 2010, and for good reason–it may be even harder than completing a 50k day.

(Fun fact: The first million words took ten NaNos. The second million took five. No, I will not be doing the next million in three.)

NaNoWriMo teaches me something different every year. This year, that lesson is: You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. I did a lot this November. This year and last year in particular have tested my ability to keep going throughout the month, much like 2011, when I also ML’d on top of doing many of the things that happened this year (and with a similar word count to boot).

I spent a lot of time traveling in November. NaNoGiving was the second weekend of November, with a bunch of Wrimos (mostly overachievers) in a cabin in the woods, making food, playing games, exploring the farm, and occasionally writing. I got home on Sunday night, then spent Monday and Tuesday working before leaving for San Francisco on Wednesday morning, where I attended NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously.

While this year’s Night of Writing Dangerously was my least productive one to date, with less than three thousand words written, it (along with the overall trip to San Francisco) was my most fun one. I met so many Wrimos, including several I’ve known online for years (and two longtime fellow Wrimos from England and Japan!). I won a word sprint and drank some Cosmonoveltons. I visited NaNo’s office again and packed their tote bags for NOWD and met even more Wrimos and explored San Francisco and ran nearly 12 miles up and down the hills and didn’t die. And then I went home on Monday, worked on Tuesday, and set out again on Wednesday to see family for Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, all this travel and my mood due to unrelated things in November put a damper in my time leading the @NaNoWordSprints Twitter. I have a hard time leading sprints and multitasking as it is; combining these with my apparently inability to concentrate on writing meant the sprints I led usually consisted of goofing around on Twitter or the forums instead of writing. Since time was at a premium this month, this led to me leading fewer sprints, which made me feel guilty because sometimes I’d see an open spot for sprinting but really need a break from well, everything.

I also found it harder to concentrate on my writing. In the past, I’ve been able to concentrate for lots of word wars and sprints, netting at least a thousand words in fifteen minutes, maybe even ten minutes if I ignore all typos the entire time. This year, this rarely happens unless I leave the house specifically to write. I used to be less productive at write-ins than I would be at home, but this has changed over the last year or two, with write-ins (and generally leaving the house to write) providing with more consistent bursts of writing. This may be related to my shift in how I’ve approached writing over the past few NaNos.

In my earlier years, I would come up with an idea before NaNo, scratch down a little bit of character or plot development, then hit the page writing. This changed over the past two NaNos, when my ideas came at the last minute when panic started to set in, and I couldn’t motivate myself to figure out anything more about the plot or character besides “eh, I don’t know, this character does stuff”. While it worked for one of my novels last year and this year, both drafts of the same novel, it didn’t work so well with the other novels I wrote in 2015 and 2016. Because of having only the vaguest idea of what was happening, I found myself stressing out more, not less. And not having at least some idea of what’s happening makes sprinting more difficult. Maybe I’ll become a planner after all.

Despite (or maybe because of) everything happening this November, NaNoWriMo was still my best one yet, and I’m already counting down the days until Camp NaNo and NaNoWriMo 2017.

How was your NaNoWriMo 2016? Did you reach your goal? Come to an epiphany about your writing? Have a straight-up blast writing?

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Nanowrimo and social anxiety

As I’ve discussed in many past posts, I’m a pretty anxious person about things that don’t really matter at all, but oddly chill about big issues that affect not only me but society at large. This anxiety leaks into my social life in ways both big and small.

While a lot of my social life revolves around NaNoWriMo, it wasn’t always that way. I grew up as a socially awkward kid who was known at school for being smart but never popular, and didn’t have see too many friends outside of the confines of the school day. Outside of informal get-togethers with the friends I had roped into doing NaNo, I didn’t go to a single NaNoWriMo event until going to college in a large city–to be specific, a large city that I had chosen specifically because of its active NaNo region and the existence of a creative writing major that I would never end up pursuing. (Priorities, you know.)

I started attending write-ins and events in college, often at the coffee shop down the street from my alma mater. That was over ten years ago, and the only other students at those write-ins were other people I dragged along. Even though most of the attendees were adults, we still got along well, and many of us are still in touch to this day.

After finishing college, I stayed in the area, with one year moving back in with my parents. Unemployment and graduating in the worst of that great recession are the pits, yo. Eventually I moved back to this NaNo region, and it’s the same region I’m part of now (and even MLed for a year). That’s where my social life and NaNoWriMo started becoming more and more synonymous. More and more of us started hanging out in the then-new regional chat room, and a few of us stayed in the chat room after NaNo ended. This led to get-togethers outside of November, many of them having more to do with food and games than writing. Over time, the people attending many of these events (a lot of them at my house) grew closer, which became evident during events.

Just as with the NaNo forums, I was fortunate to be there when the group was young and not yet as established as it is now. This put me in a position to contribute to the underlying culture of this community and help build the group into a community I wanted myself and others to be welcome in. Did I succeed? I’m still not sure.

***

One of my major sources of anxiety is trying to fit into an established social group. The group can be for anything–board games, events, writers, even approaching a person(s) at an event and saying hi. If everyone else already knows each other and I’m the one new person, I find myself worrying about fitting in and saying something dumb and not sitting there sounding dumb when everyone else is talking and trying to befriend some of the people in the existing group and making myself appear as positive and wonderful as I see myself on my best days.

Surely I’m not the only person who feels this way at events that often include established social groups. Things like NaNo, for instance. Reaching out is hard, whether you’re the new person or an established member who has trouble reaching out to others. Even more fun, it’s not immediately obvious which people are feeling awkward or anxious when they’re the new person in a group, or who needs that extra nudge to feel welcome.

As one of those people who is bad at reaching out to new folks while also struggling with approaching the existing people, making new people feel welcome at events is hard. There’s a certain comfort zone associated with staying close to existing known people, yet events like NaNo attract lots of new people every year. Which is great! But it’s also easy to stay with those known people at the expense of introducing yourself to new people. Or if you’re the new person, it’s easy to stay off to the side by yourself and think everyone hates you when really, many of us are a bunch of awkward nerds who did the same thing in the past. And once you feel unwelcome at an event, it’s easy to think this is how everyone acts all the time and therefore never return. I’ve seen several people at NaNo events only once, and despite my trying to reach out to them (an effort in itself), they’ve never come back–at least to events I attend.

These exact circumstances that make large events like kickoff and TGIO super-awkward for awkward people are the same circumstances that make write-ins an ideal social situation, at least in my experience. At write-ins, it’s perfectly okay and even encouraged to ignore everyone while tapping away on your project. You can even go off to a corner by yourself and write if everyone else around you is talking. In fact, if you do so, you’ll probably be viewed as one of the more productive people there. All this social anxiety is one of the reasons I’m no longer an ML. Having to be socially “on” all the time during a write-in was too exhausting when all I wanted to do was ignore everyone and write. Hosting write-ins as a regular participant and not an ML means that I can still look around for people who look lost, but there’s no pressure to be the one in charge, making it perfectly fine to lose myself in the words.

So here’s a question: how do we make NaNoWriMo communities even more welcoming to those who aren’t super willing to jump into an established social group when some of us have the same quirks? From local in-person events to the forums (including the private ML forums), jumping in can be intimidating while existing members suck at reaching out. What can we do to make sure everyone who wants to play a part in the thriving NaNo community can do so?

This is something I’ve been struggling with for years. I don’t have any good answers to this question in part because I’m a tragic noob when it comes to social situations. What about you?

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The NaNoWriMo countdown is on

The end of July’s Camp NaNoWriMo means that the main November NaNoWriMo event is mere days away. Sure, it’s not October yet, but the countdown is already down to the double digits, which is exciting in itself. This time of year also means my mind goes directly to NaNoWriMo–well, even more than usual. There’s so much to be done before November arrives, and no matter how well I plan, not all of those things get done. Heck, not all of those things get done after NaNo is over.

There are Wikiwrimo updates to be done and Is It NaNo Yet? code to be fixed and meals to be cooked and books to read and runs to go on and shenanigans to get into and NaNo flyers to acquire and hang and on and on and on… Oh, and the weather is starting to cool down, which means festival season is upon us, not to mention training for that half marathon I’m running in December. Let’s say that training during NaNo will be interesting, with three of the four weekends already booked for out-of-town events.

And then there are the repeated tasks that I can’t do in August and then declare done through November: making sure my house isn’t more of a mess than usual, for instance. Timing my laundry for minimal actual laundry-doing in November.

I’m already planning easily freezable meals for November, taking into account that I won’t actually be at home for nearly half the month. This also means I need to acquire more plastic storage containers soon; living with people means that my current collection, which I used most of last November, won’t cut it for freezing all these NaNo meals.

While “I sold my soul to NaNo” mode won’t come into full swing until Wikiwrimo becomes a part-time job in September, NaNo planning mode is already gearing up for everything except my novel (or novels, as it seems to be these days). With a goal of reaching 2 million lifetime NaNo November words, I’ve got a lot to write–about 250k words, to be exact, which makes up half my 2016 writing goal. So no pressure, self. None at all. (Fortunately, I’m on track for my overall 2016 goal once my very wordy November is taken into account.)

I haven’t figured out when or where to host my usual intown write-in for NaNo yet. This year will be particularly challenging due to all the travel in November, but I’ll figure out something, even if it means doing regular client work while hosting a write-in.

So… is it November yet? What about now?

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NaNoWriMo 2015 Wrapup

Hello, December. Missed me?

Let’s get the thing most of you want to know out of the way: my total NaNoWriMo 2015 word count was 302,203 words. This is a personal record that I won’t be topping anytime soon.

And I don’t want to top that record anytime soon, either. Writing that much in a month is HARD. I worked full-time this November, and my only days off were weekends, Thanksgiving, and Black Friday. This meant that I was barely on track for a lot of the month and played epic catchup on the weekends and over Thanksgiving. Even my other 300k year, when I didn’t have a job, sitting down to write that much every day was a challenge. Completing 300k with a job meant almost giving up the NaNo forums entirely and completely giving up reading and non-novel writing (hence why this blog went so neglected during the one month of the year when people are actually paying attention to me). I set a minimum of 5k per work night and devoted the weekends to writing as much as possible. This isn’t sustainable throughout the rest of the year, but that’s okay–the creative freedom and inspiration NaNo provides more than makes up for whatever I’m cutting out (including lots of silly phone games, let’s be honest here).

To add to the challenge, I had trouble coming up with a plot for NaNoWriMo. You may remember my confession back in October about not having any ideas for NaNo. I wound up writing three novels, so I bet you’re wondering: what happened?

My first novel was about a 20-something who feels like she’s wasting her life, so she moves to a new city and gets into shenanigans. This is eerily similar to the huge NaNoWriMo 2010 novel that put me over 300k the first time.

My second novel starred a high school high achiever whose life goes to hell during junior year: her best friend moved across the country, her dad is never home, she doesn’t have any other friends… and then what? This premise started out a lot like my very first NaNoWriMo novel, but I like this version a lot better. In fact, that I’m thinking of editing this novel. Not bad for a novel I started at a write-in and came up with on the way to that write-in.

I started writing the third novel on a road trip back home. It was supposed to be a third draft of 2009’s pumpkin novel. That lasted all of a thousand words. The rest of the novel told the hippie art teacher’s story and doesn’t really have a plot; it just bumbled through this person’s life as things happened.

Even though I don’t plan on touching the first and third novels again, they served as learning experiences: while I’m a pantser, I need more than a super-vague premise to succeed at writing a story. This goes back to my fear that I am in fact out of ideas, despite doing so much to gather ideas and inspiration.

Two more things of note:

I wrote at least 2,000 words every single day in November. I am damn proud of this. This is the first NaNoWriMo that I recall writing every single day in the month, and I plan to continue writing my many other things–this blog, more personal essays, a paper journal, editing my fiction… Stay tuned for another post on this topic.

And second, I’ve written 300,000 words for two of my 14 NaNoWriMos. I didn’t complete a single 50k day during either of those years, and I think this contributed to my consistency throughout the month. The 50k days burned me out for about a week after each one. Even though I hated everything at the beginning of the second day, I still managed to crank out nearly 5,000 words that evening after work. Consistency is much more valuable than pure volume, something I’m keeping in mind in December.

How was your NaNoWriMo? Did you reach your goal?