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: An Evaluation of 10k Words

Today is day six of Camp NaNoWriMo. I haven’t written yet today, but I have completed 10,079 words so far, so I’ve already surpassed how many words I’d need by the end of today (9677) to stay on track for 50k by month’s end (I think this book will end up a fair bit over 50k though). I’m not saying these are great words, and some of them probably aren’t even good, but they’re words nonetheless, and they’ve felt pretty flipping good coming out.

So I wanted to do a quick rundown of what I’ve done to get here and try to evaluate how I can improve. First, I need to throw a huge shout out to Chris Fox whose book (which you can get for free at that link if you sign up for his mailing list AND YOU SHOULD) and videos have been inspiring the fuck out of me. I haven’t actually read any of his fiction yet, so for all I know it’s crap and I’m going to produce crap by following his method, but I highly doubt it because I’ve been listening to him speak and reading 5000 Words Per Hour and he’s no dummy. Additional disclaimer: I haven’t finished the book yet either, but I’ve put into play a lot of the things he suggests by listening to his videos and watching interviews and podcasts with him as a guest.

Sidenote: I watched most of his 21 Day Novel Writing Challenge series while I cooked dinner and played video games throughout June. Chris’s voice is really pleasant to listen to, and I think regardless of if you enjoy his work, you can benefit from listening to him or reading his nonfiction. He knows what he’s talking about.

So I don’t follow his guidelines exactly, but pretty freaking close. I think the single most important thing that has lent itself to my success this week is having a well-structured and thought out plot ahead of time, and I’ll do a separate post on that once I finish writing the first draft of this book. The second most important thing is utilizing writing sprints, which is something Chris advocates for a lot, to knock out a bunch of words. I decided to keep specific records during these sprints, utilizing a spreadsheet. Chris created an app for this, but it only works with Apple products. That’s fine because I prefer to manually write this stuff down anyway as it gives me a weird sense of accomplishment. He also has created a spreadsheet you can use, but I have my own. Here is what the last five days have looked like for me (note, I didn’t write at all on July 4th because it’s particularly unAmerican to use your brain):

2018 Sprint

I use Google Sheets for tracking because it’s free, easy, and I can access it anywhere I have an internet connection OR offline if I preload it #GoogleBless

I’ve got some weird columns here, so let me explain them all right off the bat:

A: Day – Just the dang date.
B: Time – This is when I’m starting all my pre-writing bullshit, but you can see I don’t record something everyday here.
C: Yoga – I had a lofty idea that I’d do yoga and/or meditate before every writing session, but I was TOO EXCITED to do this after day one!
D: Drink – I’m using caffeine as a stimulant to get my brain to focus during these sessions, so I’m recording what I’m drinking. To be fair, I’m mostly drinking green tea which is pretty low in caffeine, but I usually don’t drink any caffeine, so even a little has a big affect on me (*key at the bottom of this post for the drink acronyms if you care, but it’s bonkers).
E: Ambiance – Sometimes I like white noise to clear my mind, sometimes nothing, sometimes I can’t help the background noises (like the washing machine on 7/2). I really like Noisli for background sounds. The “Day 1” denotation is a sound I “crafted” out of Noisli’s sliders of a happy spring morning.
F: Place – From where was I working. This is in conflict to Chris’s suggestion that you need to carve yourself out a specific place to write so you can get your brain in the habit of writing when you’re physically in that place. I think there’s a lot of merit to that idea, I just feel good when I move around a lot.
G: Section – I have my plot numbered out in a very specific way, and I’m keeping track of the part I’m writing here. I’ll talk more about this in that future plot post.
H: Review – When I start reading over the plot points for the section I’m about to write. Sometimes this involves reading back a bit of what I’ve actually written as well and working very hard to NOT EDIT that stuff.
I: Sprint Start – When I click start on my timer (I use the one built into Windows, your phone or a watch would work just fine too).
J: Length – So far I have focused only on 10 minute sprints, many back-to-back, with row 24 being the exception (more on that later).
K: Words – How many words produced that sprint.
L: Total Words – In the document.
M: Sprint Avg – How many words on average during that day’s sprints.

I was thorough because you can only evaluate data if you HAVE THE DATA.

So far I’ve only used 10 minute sprints for a couple reasons. In the past I have done writing sprints (without a solid plot in mind) and around the 5 to 10 minute mark my mind would wander too much, so I didn’t want to give myself that opportunity. I also wanted to keep my sprints consistent for a few days so I could evaluate how I was doing. That last sprint I did on day one where I noted “WTF” stands for “write til failure” (and it makes me chuckle). I got the idea from working out with weights where you “lift to failure.” That means I wanted to finish the section I was in before I stopped for the day, but I didn’t want to constrain the time, so I just wrote until I was done. This ended up being 26 minutes long. I didn’t include these results in any of my sprint averages, it’s just there.

I wrote a shit-load on day one, half of my total words so far. That was a great boost to my confidence and to the story in general, but you can see on average I was getting ~200 words every 10 minutes, so I had some trouble getting back into the swing of writing. The next three days that I wrote, I averaged much closer to 300 words per every 10 minutes, but I did fewer sprints on those days as well. It’s also interesting to note how long each section denoted by column G took and what they produced.

Section 1.1.1 – 120 minutes, 2433 words
Section 1.1.2 – 126 minutes, 2568 words
Section 1.1.3 – 80 minutes, 2378 words
Section 1.2.4 – 80 minutes, 2372 words

So I can see over just four days that I’m improving at least a little bit, or I’m just getting into a groove. More data is needed to evaluate that really, but it’s encouraging to see this so far!

Today I’m bumping my sprints up to 15 minutes and going to stay at that length until I hit 20k words and I’ll drop another post with some comparisons. Wish me luck!

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

*Drink Acronyms:

I = Iced
H = Hot
GT = Greet Tea
HL = Hazelnut Latte (yes I have two Hs it ain’t perfect!)
MS = Maple Syrup
RaspPom = Raspberry Pomegranate flavor
ProB = This weird probiotic drink I had once because I was not feeling good

Extra sidenote: Everything was homemade except the Diet coke, obviously. You can make cheap, delicious lattes at home and control the calories #CaffeineBless