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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CampNaNoWriMo: 50k Words And Winning

For the first time ever, I’ve won National Novel Writing Month. Yes, it’s July, it’s really just camp, and yes, technically the only thing I beat out was myself and the only thing I got out of this is a 90+ page document that I’m both exhausted and enthralled by, but wouldn’t really appeal to anyone else, BUT I FUCKING DID IT.

Camp-2018-Winner-Twitter-Header

10K  /  20K  /  30K  /  40K

Let’s get the stats out of the way first:

50k

My writing times were all over the place the last week. My mom was visiting, so I wasn’t able to devote myself to sprints like I normally would and did a lot of my writing at night instead because she conks out early. I did get a bit nostalgic, though, writing late at night in my room instead of on the couch or in my office-turned-guest-room because that’s how I used to write as a teenager: between nine and midnight, typing furiously into the silence that was my room when I should have been asleep. But I had more energy then, and I thought I was good, so the words came a bit easier. Ha.

First 10K – 426 minutes or 7 hours and 6 minutes.
Second 10k – 352 minutes or 5 hours and 52 minutes
Third 10k – 287 minutes or 4 hours and 47 minutes
Fourth 10k – 295 minutes or 4 hours and 55 minutes
Fifth 10k – 308 minutes or 5 hours and 8 minutes

I gathered a bit of steam with words 1-20k, and then averaged out the rest of the novel. I think I would have continued to improve, if only a very small amount, had my plot been better fleshed out further into the story, but as it stood I knew very specifically what the first 10ish chapters would entail down to exact scenes, then from there had a more vague idea. You can see too the “part” I worked on for the last couple days was the antagonists’ story. I intend to pepper in scenes of the baddies as the story goes, but had skipped those in favor of writing out the main narrative from beginning to end. The problem came when that narrative got a little muddy and I panicked–I didn’t have time to stop and plot, but I did have a better idea of what I wanted to go on with my antagonists, so the last about 3500 words are just evil-doers up to no good, written out of order. Also lots of birds. I don’t know, but it’s a thing; dark elves love ravens, and I don’t know if that seems cliche or not.

I have a bit of a dilemma now, largely focusing on this: the story isn’t done, and I already missed my Vacancy Season 2 self-imposed deadline. I think the wisest thing is to finish the first draft of my Camp project (its working title is She’s All Thaumaturgy by the way, I don’t think I ever mentioned, not that that will be the end title because I’m terrible with titles, and while I actually love this title it’s very unlikely it would ultimately be accepted by a publisher) because I am on a bit of a roll, and I think it’s good advice to complete the first draft and then put it away for a while. I think it would be too risky to set aside y current work with plans to come back to it just to finish up another, say 20k words later, then again sit it aside: I’ll be too tempted to edit and perhaps too removed from the story to jump back in. I do want to get back to Lorelei and co., but working on the podcast, at least, keeps me connected to those characters and their stories.

What I’ll probably do is push Vacancy‘s return to the beginning of September (the 3rd, I think). My niece is coming to visit in August for two weeks, so I don’t know what my writing time will be like then, but in the interim I think I can devote a couple days to plotting out the end of the novel, then a week or two writing it up, then I can pull out the plot for the second season of Vacancy I have sitting around here in one notebook or another, dust it off, and get a few episodes down on paper–er, uh screen–and be set up to go with that. I think??

Regardless, getting these words out felt utterly magical. I’ve never been so confident or excited about an accomplishment. Most everything else in my life I knew I would do: graduating high school and college, nailing job interviews, bleaching my hair, but this was frightening in a different way. I thought, if I couldn’t do it this time when everything else in the universe was aligned perfectly for me to write, then maybe I could never do it. Maybe the only dream I’ve had my whole life would always be just that–a dream–and I needed to let it go and focus on something possible.

But now I know it is possible. Fuck yeah.

P.S. While I was making sure I spelled Thaumaturgy correctly, I came upon this video. You’re welcome.

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

Camp NaNoWriMo: 40K Words And The Finish Line Is In Sight

10K Post
20K Post
30K Post

As excited as I am about hitting this mark and having less than 10,000 words left to write to meet my NaNo goal, it’s become abundantly clear to me that this book will be well over 50k words. That’s pretty typical for fantasy quests, and I’m not surprised (in fact, I’m excited about just continuing on and churning out words) it just makes the potential of hitting 50k a little less of an achievement and more of a marker along the way.

REGARDLESS, we are so damn close!

Even with me missing a few days while we had visitors (writing is a very solitary task and as hard as I’m working to turn writing into a skill it’s still emotionally draining), I sailed through 40k like it was nothing. Sprints are a godsend and treating writing like it’s a job is the way to go. Don’t wait for inspiration, wrap your hands around your muses’s neck and choke out the damn motivation!

I’m still not sure I’m getting particularly good prose, but I do know there are some gems on those 80 odd pages and the foundation for something pretty great. This isn’t to say I know this whole thing will be gold in the end, I just have quite a good feeling about it all. I’m not second guessing the plot or even getting bored of it, but discovering more about my characters and loving their journey.

Here’s what the last few days looked like:

nano 40

My sprints kind of fell apart today (also note I didn’t adjust for military time there at the end, oops!), but that’s because I kept having ideas that made me jump around the story. I’m not in favor of that in general (going back and adding feels too much like editing), but I’m at a place in the story where certain occurrences need to call back to other things, and I pop back to enter those details, even if only in a note.

For instance, in a very early chapter, my main character, Ellyson, looks out on a patch of trees and reminisces very briefly on her childhood. Later, in chapter 16ish, she tells a story about a specific tree, so I made sure to pop back up to that initial reminiscence and reference the specific tree so the call back is more meaningful. I don’t want the reader to hear about this very significant-to-Elly tree for the first time in chapter 16 because if there’s no basis to the tree existing for the reader, then it’s just a damn tree (and the emotions she attaches to her story feel fake). But if they saw her look at it longingly early on, even if they don’t know why she gave a shit about it then, the seed of significance was planted, so later it means more. Look at the fucking tree, Dear Reader. You can forget about it immediately, if you want, but you’ll fucking remember it when Elly tells you about climbing it.

First 10K – 426 minutes or 7 hours and 6 minutes.
Second 10k – 352 minutes or 5 hours and 52 minutes
Third 10k – 287 minutes or 4 hours and 47 minutes
Fourth 10k – 295 minutes or 4 hours and 55 minutes

So have I hit my stride? There is a part of me that likes to see some consistency, but of course I want progress. It should be noted that the further I go into the story the less specifics I know ahead of time. I know, for example, my heroes are about the head off to a bay city to look for some pirates, but I don’t know anything about the city except that it’s in a basin, and I don’t know anything about the pirates except that they’re not going to be exactly all they were cracked up to be (whatever the hell that is). This is hugely different to when I started out in chapter one when I knew right down to some of the dialogue how those scenes would pan out. I imagine if my plot were even tighter and better thought out this thing would be going by much more quickly. Plans for the future, my friends.

The next time I drop a camp update it should be about winning NaNo for the first time in my entire, ridiculous life, and I can hardly believe it. July’s been pretty good to me, so thanks, birthday month, you always bring surprises.

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

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

Camp NaNoWriMo Redux

I’ve been going back and forth on whether I should blog about this or not and came to the conclusion that…it really doesn’t matter, so I may as well. I’ll be taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo again in July (aka to-freaking-morrow). I tried camp out in April and failed miserably, so miserably that I didn’t even follow up my original posts about it, but I was winging it in April and juggling a lot of balls (ha). Now, I’ve put Vacancy on hold, I have a good grasp on what it takes to produce an episode of my podcast, and I’m set on working on a completely new project that is almost entirely fleshed out which means I should be able to create some real momentum word-wise in the beginning.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to take part in camp, something about filling in that word count is equally exhilarating and depressing, but the timing worked out perfectly. I’ve had the general idea for this story for a while, but it was literally just an overarching concept. I’d played with the characters in my head, but only wrote down a couple words about it in my note app on my old phone. I started seriously plotting it on May 31st (I know because that’s when Google Docs says I created the document), and I knew I wanted to limit myself here: if I plotted for too long I knew I’d just kind of work the idea to death, and similarly I knew I wanted to plot the majority of it before I started writing so I didn’t write myself into a huge “and then what happens?” hole. I also didn’t want to write the story over a large span of time because I knew my voice would change too drastically (you can see this pretty plainly in the first four episodes of Vacancy compared to everything else), so I planned to write the whole first draft in a condensed amount of time. Season one of Vacancy just ended at the perfect time for all this to come to fruition.

I’ve also been researching writing methods recently, and I wanted to put some of the theories to the test, but with a totally new project and my most recent voice. I tend to pick up old projects because I truly love those old ideas, but I don’t want to abandon what I’ve already written, and I get stuck trying to mimic my old self. Per Stephen King:

The first draft of a book–even a long one–should take no more than three months, the length of a season.

Even without even accomplishing this, I know it’s true. Humans change a lot in a short amount of time, and even if your interests don’t wane, your environment sure does. I find it a lot easier to write happy stories in the sunshine and gloomy creepy stuff in the dark, and that’s probably pretty universal, and while you can fake your environment and you can argue that if you’re a good writer you can put yourself in whatever headspace you need to be in at the drop of a hat, that’s fine, but why force it?

But speaking of headspace…more so that cranking out words, I want to train my brain to get into the flow needed to write quality words. There’s a truth to my writing (and I bet a lot of other writers too): my fastest words are my best. That isn’t to say when I’m writing stream of consciousness, just word vomiting, race-against-the-clock type bullshit that that is my best work. No, no, that’s the warm up, the get-into-the-groove stuff. My actual best work is the work that comes quickly and needs to get out of my brain. Those are the words that feel truly inspired. And that headspace? It’s not divine, but it’s one you can train yourself to be in. At least, so they say. Those hours where you drop a couple words, google something, meticulously craft a sentence, edit it, delete it, rewrite it, then finish up a paragraph? That writing usually sucks. You might get a couple good phrases here and there or you might have a break though plot-wise, but you’re not producing much that’s worth the time put into it. So I’m going to try and train my brain into the “flow state.” And I guess we’ll see how it goes!

Plotting v Pantsing

I’ve got a project that I’ll be working on in July (maybe for NaNo???), and for the first time possibly ever I’m sitting down and really, truly, honest-to-goodness-ly plotting my ass off. Now, Dear Reader, usually I’m the kind of writer who flies by the seat of her pants. A pantser, if you will. I know generally what the story is about, who the characters are, where they begin, and where I want them to end up, and I just figure out the middle bits (read: the actual freaking story) as I go. This works…okay. Well, if I’m being totally honest, I think I’m pretty lucky that it works at all, but it was something that appeared to work when I had lots of distractions in my life (i.e. a full-time job). But now that I can actually focus on my writing, I’m finding that pantsing is for the birds (and for those of you who say it works: I trust you to know yourself much better than I ever have or ever will know myself).

Here’s my theory of why I thought pantsing worked for me: When I was drained (physically, emotionally, spiritually, all the allys) and I didn’t write for a couple days (weeks, months, whatevers) I would eventually reach critical-writing-withdrawal and get an idea that I had to put on paper. I thought this was divine inspiration (and consequently all the stuff in between was writer’s block), and I’d go on a kick where I could bang out a few pages whenever I got a chance. I’d have a day off, devote it to writing, and then when I’d get stuck I could throw up my hands and say I just had to get back to adulting.

What I didn’t realize was that I was kinda sorta already doing all the plotting stuff that a plotter would do only I did it very, very poorly and only in my head while I was occupied doing other things like taking phone calls or doing laundry. So it was with my vague and disorganized plot that existed in pictures and random bits of dialogue being shouted by disembodied voices from one end of my brain to the other that I would sit down to work and inevitably get stuck trying to get my characters from their meet-cutes to their happy endings.

Sometimes I could work these things out. The scenes would come to me, problems would get solved (more often than not while I was sitting on the toilet), and stories would be kinda completed, but the work it took to get there wasn’t as enjoyable and certainly not as quick as it could have been. (I’m not saying writing doesn’t take a lot of time, but I do think a first draft should be completed in a short-ish time so your voice is consistent.) And if all the half-finished stories on my Google Drive tell you anything, it’s that your blogger does not always get her own happy ending.

So this time, Dear Reader, I am plotting. And hardcore too. Like three act structure, planning each scene, total character bios, world built enough to live in PLOTTING. I’m not under the impression that this plot can’t and won’t change–at the heart of it, writing is still writing and a story is alive and evolving until it’s published–but I am going into combat with the blank page pre-fucking-pared. I’m basically unwilling to let myself down, because really, that’s what all those drafts are: a little graveyard for all the characters I let down, and what are characters if not just a tiny piece of you?

Will it work? Who knows! But I’d sure like it to especially since I’ve got about five other projects I’d really like to actually complete and it’d be rad if I could nail down a good way to do it.

If you have a working method or have tried both plotting and pantsing I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! At this point, I will take all the advice I can get!