The Tools I Used To Win Camp NaNo

During Camp NaNo, I used a number of tools while I wrote. These aren’t necessarily the great works of art that inspire you to go forth and create your own prose, they’re more of the pen and paper variety, but you’re not writing anything without the utensils, okay?

Ambiance

I’m a pretty big fan of silence. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have misophonia, but there are times when even the AC coming on annoys the fuck out of me (and living in the southern US, it’s an unfortunate necessity). I’ve found that gentle, reliable background sounds, like the click of Husband’s mouse while he plays Rimworld or Bart snoring from under the bed, can be pretty soothing. So when I’m trying to block out something annoying like drunken toddler relay races thundering the length of the apartment upstairs, I turn to ambient noise machines. As a bonus, these can act as background to your scenes. If you’re writing something spooky, pull up a “dark and stormy night” track, or if your characters and traipsing through the jungle, get you some rain forest ambiance. I really like these sites for finding my audible zone:

Tracking and Sprints

As I discussed in my posts on Camp NaNoWriMo (10k | 20k | 30k | 40k | 50k), I tracked my writing very closely. I intend to continue to do this to hold myself accountable as it worked beautiful and provided me with that oh-so-delicious data (and you can’t know you’re improving–or getting worse–if you’re not tracking your progress!).

  • Google Sheets – Works very closely to Microsoft Excel and because it’s cloud-based, can be accessed anywhere, including offline once it’s been loaded. I used this to track all my numbers in a really clean way, and to help out with the math aspect.
  • Calculator App – Isn’t it funny how all the grownups in the 90s used to say we wouldn’t be carrying calculators around with us 24/7 when we were adults? Ringo-Wrongo!
  • Timer – I use the built-in timer on my computer because it gives me a handy popup and a pleasing sound when it goes off. I prefer it to my phone because that alarm is obnoxious, and I don’t want the distraction of even picking up that god-forsaken thing when I’m in writing mode.

Plotting

I’ve never properly plotted before this go round, so my process is still way developmental, but I like the programs I’m using to get the job done, and they’re simple:

  • Pinterest – Gods, I hate this site and all it stands for, but if all you’re trying to do is collect images for an idea board, this is where it’s at, and I’ve written about this before.
  • Google Docs – I do all my writing in Google Docs so hopefully that cloud never gets hacked and destroyed. Like Sheets (this is all in Google Drive, to be fair) it can be accessed anywhere, including offline. I like the ability to make different folders and view my work in the Drive, so I can treat it like a desktop with everything close at hand. I create different Docs for the outline, history, ancient history, mythology, etc., and of course for the story itself. It’s very close to Microsoft Word (the whole Google suite is) but for as close to free as you can get (meaning, you’re paying for the service with your info, but the minute you Google anything, you’re already doing that, so whatever!)
  • Google Keep – #NotSpons, obviously, but this is an application I used to use a while back then stopped. I pulled it up again out of curiosity in early June (I’d installed the extension and forgot about it), and the changes that have been made to it are phenomenal. It’s a post-it note app with a helpful labeling and color-coding system. You can keep little bits of information in here that don’t go anywhere else, or use it more permanently like I’ve been doing for characters. I used to create a Google Doc for characters, but I found that cumbersome. Now, I just make a note for each character, pasting in a character sketch and filling it out as needed. I label them all so I can filter down to the them by story and subject (right now I have both SAT and Vacancy stuff in there). Similarly, I create a note with names that I like, using the same label so I’ve got a ready-made pot to grab from when I’m at a loss.
  • NameBerry – I find naming people, things, and whole books to be a bitch and a half, and I get really hung up on leaving blanks or fill-in names for my characters. NameBerry has a nice “If you like X, you’ll like Y” concept, and you can search up any name and find similar names to get a good convention going.
  • Fantasy Name Generator – A classic, the fantasy name generator has about a bajillion different kinds of generators that make for awesome jumping off points for just about everything, and it makes up for what NameBerry lacks: you probably won’t find someone saving “Tlannatar Helekrana” for the future child.

Fun Stuff

  • A good drink – I’m talking a big glass of water, iced green tea, hot hazelnut latte, anything to keep my mouth busy so I’m not cramming popcorn or chips into it. Seriously, writing is incredibly sedentary, and unless you’ve mastered dictation and jogging simultaneously, you gotta find a way to counteract the possible pounds you’ll put on if you’re prone to bingeing like me. Just a note: I don’t advise “write drunk, edit sober.” Even with sober editing, you’re not a good enough anything when you’re drunk: you’re just obnoxious. Just like my phone alarm.
  • An easy to-do list – Between sprints I often got up to pee (see the above bullet point), and liked to complete a task when I did so. Something like throwing in laundry, emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the cat litter up in the bathroom. Knowing what these tasks were ahead of time helped me to not waste precious minutes thinking about what I needed to do or stressing about what I might be missing and would surely drown under as I whiled my time away typing out nonsense. A list made things manageable and helped me to balance my life and my book. The tasks were also pretty mindless, so my brain could go on a little jaunt while I did them and was refreshed for the next sprint.
  • A comfy spot and lots of blankies – Don’t let anything distract you, including the temperature. I always had a sweatshirt and a soft blanket handy when I was sprinting. Like I mentioned, writing is sedentary work, and I get cold really easily, but if I leave the AC off all day the apartment becomes sticky like the Amazon and Husband and all the cats get cranky in the evening. I don’t give myself the excuse of shivering to stop midway through a sprint.
  • A cat – Rutherford sat on me for about 88.3% of my writing sprints, and since it’s illegal to move when a cat has made you its bed, he basically chained me to my laptop. I owe him most of my success, if I’m being entirely honest. If you only take away one tip for this, I hope it’s this: “get you a cat.”
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Camp NaNoWriMo: Over The Hump And 30k Words

We’ve sailed past the halfway point of camp and I’m excited to report I hit 30k words yesterday. THIRTY THOUSAND. This is the farthest I’ve ever gotten during NaNo. This is monumental for me!

Check out my eval of 10k and 20k if you’re interested in how I got here.

I got to 30k faster than I expected, and I’ve got myself an almost 5000 word buffer with the official camp schedule, and yet when I look back at the last few days I’m a bit like “wow, you sucked for a bit there.” Take a look with me:

Nano3

I bumped up the sprint length to 20 minutes, but only for the last two days. I started off strong with a great day then the weekend came and I just kind of ran out of steam or something. I did one sprint on Saturday and then just a random little free write at 10:00pm just to say I did something that day, but…BUT Monday I came back strong with a solid 5000+ words, just like my day one! And I know what happened: I got excited about my story again.

To be clear, I was never really bored of the story, I was just a little stuck. My plot was murky around this section, generic questing was all I had in mind and it was just too vague. The characters were also getting a little lifeless, playing their roles, but not doing much more than existing. “Grow, damn you!” I screamed at them, but they just huffed and stomped and acted like they’d only been in existence for a few days which, to be fair, yeah that was kinda true. Then genius struck, and I paced around my living room and kitchen, asking the cats what they thought of throwing some trolls and dwarves into the mix. They didn’t really care, but I thought it was fantastic!

So 30k came up on me fast yesterday, and you can see in my “section” column that I broke away a little from my pre-written plot. At first I started adding in the ideas to the plot I had written, but that wasn’t working, so I opened a new sticky note in Google Keep (another really great application I’m integrating into my writing roundhouse) and just quickly plotting everything that needed to happen between where I was and the next major point.

I’ve also been keeping track of how much time is passing and a simple-to-skim list of what is happening in each chapter. This is going to help me immensely in editing, I can already tell, and I really recommend it, but I’ll go more in depth in the future when I see how it pans out.

I’m pretty much doubling my words when I double my sprint time, so thankfully I’m not going backward, but I’m bummed to not see progression. Then again, that progression is probably more likely to come with the completion of more books, not just more days writing. Patience is a virtue, they say, whoever they are.

First 10K – 426 minutes or 7 hours and 6 minutes.
Second 10k – 352 minutes or 5 hours and 52 minutes
Third 10k (words 20737 through 30319) – 287 minutes or 4 hours and 47 minutes, so I guess that actually is progress. I mean, I cut off about 2 hours total to produce 10k words, that’s pretty freaking good!

I’ll be sticking with 20 minute sprints going forward, I think, since I just started using them, and since I drink so much water, my bladder needs really frequent breaks. Speaking of, time to pee and start another sprint! Dwarven summit, here I come!

10k | 20k | 30k | 40k | 50k