A while back, I mentioned that I hoped to write a million words next year.
And then I started NaNoWriMo. It’s been an interesting test to see how that million word year might go.
And how’s it going so far?
It’s going pretty well. For reference, a million words a year requires just under three thousand words per day, and during NaNoWriMo I’ve been getting an average that’s well over that by the time you account for blog writing and non-NaNoWriMo work, like doing some extra scenes for my first novel as part of the revision process.
I’m writing this in the early afternoon. I wrote 2000 words on my revision plan for my novel just this morning, and about 500 on my novel today already. I would be well on track for my year of a million words.
NaNoWriMo Question 1: Can you craft a novel?
Here I take craft to mean “produce a coherent story and not total drivel, like putting the same word on the page fifty thousand times.”
Having dropped my necessary words per day well below my comfortable output, I should have 50,000 words by the end of November.
There are, of course, plenty of chances for life to throw a wrench in that.
I’m also flying by the seat of my pants. Combine that with a peculiar out-of-order writing style, and it’s nerve-wracking.
What I’m writing is a fairly simple cyberpunk story. It uses a setting I developed for one of my games, skipping the world-building step.
It’s set post-WW III, where the remains of the United States were split by a massive radioactive wasteland. Much of the action deals with this dead zone and the consequences of the partition. Although there is a unified federal government, the West Coast is still a militarized zone.
Putting Pieces Together
I went with a fairly simple structure and I’m filling in the dots as I go along:
- The protagonist, Smith, gets hired to get revenge for a murder in the middle of the desert.
- Smith makes a couple friends along the way.
- Smith finds out that an old rival was responsible and brings him to justice.
- One of the friends he made along the way has some difficulties thanks to having a rogue AI living on her cyberdeck.
- The old rival is involved in that too, and he has to be brought to justice again.
There’s a lack of staying dead in that outline, but it’s cyberpunk and nanomachines are a hell of a drug.
The secret is to think about a few major plot points and draw as many connections as possible.
For instance, in an early scene where we’re learning about Smith, he’s interviewed by a couple of federal agents. They ask him awkward questions about Fordham, the rival Smith fights several times in the book.
Smith thinks Fordham’s dead, but also says that he’d kill Fordham if Fordham were alive. Cheap foreshadowing.
This isn’t quite the whole plot, but it’s enough to frame up three acts in lieu of an outline.
NaNoWriMo Question 2: Is it good?
This is a harder question.
Obviously it’s rough, both from the rush and from being a rough draft.
I write primarily in a 8-9 PM window, though I get scattered bits in throughout the day.
This is not the prime time for my attention span or my brain.
However, I’d say it’s not bad. I need more details in some places. The minor characters feel more flavorful than the major characters, because I didn’t flesh out the major characters before writing. About half-way through writing the portion I have done, I got a breakthrough here.
Another problem is pacing. Between writing out of order and not always focusing, I have an odd balance of dialogue and action.
However, no quality concern is outside the realm of feasible revision.
NaNoWriMo Question 3: How did you write so much?
I joined a local NaNoWriMo group online. We do frequent sprints to get as many words as possible in fifteen, twenty, or thirty-minute increments.
Doing just a few of these a day can really add up. For reference, I think I’ve been averaging six or seven sprints a day. That adds up to more or less three hours of writing, if you account for a little settling-in time.
The sprints are great. I mentioned previously that I write four times a day, and sprints approximate a short writing session well.
Having people join you for a spontaneous writing session is a way to go beyond these habits.
Of course, there are limitations there. If nobody else is online, I only write when I’m doing so by habit. I don’t do every sprint that comes along, and there’s a need for balance.
Also helpful: I write outward. Because I have a couple big points, but they’re not set in stone, I can take every idea that pops into my head and stitch it together later.
The challenge is making sure not to develop along divergent paths. I haven’t had too many issues with that yet. There’s just one big problem I need to fix in revision so far.
A week (and two days) into NaNoWriMo, I feel pretty good about my prospects.
Sitting down and getting the work done really does get it done.