NaNoWriMo Advice To Myself Next Year

Tips on how to win NaNoWriMo from a first time winner and new writer.

a.k.a. Questionable Advice from a First Time NaNoWriMo Winner

Since finishing my NaNoWriMo 2016 novel’s first draft a little over a week ago, I thought it would be a good idea to write what worked for this year, figuring it may help me again next year. To my future self, I’d say, “Give these approaches a try to make the upcoming crazy month a little bit easier on yourself.”

Focus

Write first thing in the morning if you can. It tells you that it’s important because you’re doing it before anything else. It is much easier to get the writing done and move on with your day than it is to dread reaching the daily word count goal. Before you know it, it’s 11 P.M. and you don’t have a single word written. Life might get in the way of writing first thing in the morning some days, but it’s a nice goal to aim for.

When you are writing, eliminate as many distractions as possible. Turn off your phone, seriously. Mute your computer’s notifications. Make the writing application fullscreen. Immerse yourself in what you are doing. It helps with maintaining focus, which is critical.

Don’t watch your word count as you write. It can be tempting, but it’s the path to madness, especially on days when there’s much else to do. If possible, in your text editor, hide the user interface element that shows the word count while writing. It’ll let you focus on the next word you need to write instead of how many you’ve written already.

What to Write

Write until you have to stop. Write what comes to mind; don’t filter yourself. Don’t worry about what you’re writing. It’s okay if it’s not clever or funny or emotional. No one else is reading it, not even you, yet. There’s no jury of people judging every word you write, so don’t sweat it.

See where what you write takes you. The words will, surprisingly, lead the way more often than not. If you get stuck, keep writing, even if it is nonsense. You can write yourself out of being stuck, and it’s a lot more fun than pacing around thinking about how stuck you are.

If you want to mark a sentence or section as something to revisit or expand upon something for a future day’s writing, use a unique and distinct marker like “TODO” in your text so you can easily search to find those spots and expand upon it. For example, here’s one I had in my manuscript at one point: [TODO: expand upon how this makes Milo feel]. When I was feeling like I needed a change of pace, I would search for “TODO” in my text editor, find that marker, and expand upon it. It’s a nice way to change up the pace and go back to a previous part of the story.

In the scenario where the plot of your novel wraps up before 50,000 words, write an epilogue at the end that shows what the characters are up to in the future. Heck, write two or three epilogues if you need to. You might find yourself starting a follow-up novel or a short story, and that is awesome.

When to Stop

Stop writing when you feel good with what you have written and know where things could go next—don’t write until you’re totally exhausted. Writing until every ounce of creativity is gone can leave you with pieces of plot that are difficult to pick back up.

As Ernest Hemingway said:

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck.

And, when you do stop writing, whether it’s for an hour to eat lunch or overnight, leave yourself a little note about where the story could potentially go when you return to it. This helps ease the transition of stopping and starting. You can get the ideas down without much detail and then jump right back in. For example: [Milo talks to Jordan about what happened over a cup of coffee]. That makes it much easier to return. Sometimes you may decide to go in a totally different direction, and that’s fine too. It’s just a reference. It’s not set in stone.

Finally

Be patient with yourself. You’re writing because you’re creating something awesome. It isn’t a 100-yard dash; it’s a marathon.

What I Enjoyed, November 2016

Thoughts on the books, films, and music I enjoyed in November 2016.

The first entry of a newly monthly round-up on various entertainment and art I enjoyed during the past month.

Books

November was a pretty good month of reading aside from being busy with NaNoWriMo. I finished reading one book and started a few others.

  • A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami — I finished A Wild Sheep Chase in the middle of the month, and I thought it was pretty good. The journey of the main character and his girlfriend was fun to go along with. I really liked the Sheep Man character. It felt like a fitting end to the Trilogy of the Rat (three loosely related stories featuring the same characters). I’ve been working my way through Murakami’s older works, which tend to have a smaller scope than his later works. I think A Wild Sheep Chase would be a good first Murakami book for someone new to his novels before diving into the denser books like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or 1Q84.
  • The Push Man and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi — I picked this up earlier in the year and read through most of it the month I got it. I decided to sit down and finish it, and I am happy that I did. It’s a collection of separate short manga stories that covers themes such as violence, sex, depression, and jealously. The stories are very adult oriented, which I enjoyed in contrast to the popularity of shonen (targeted at boys) manga. Each story is concise and covers a theme, which works really well. For stories set in the 1960s in Japan, they still resonate today. The detailed backgrounds contrast with the simple character art, which works to great effect. ‘Make-Up’ was my personal favorite story in the collection. It’s a good manga story collection worth reading for those who aren’t fans of manga in general.
  • A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — I started A Study in Scarlet because I watched a Sherlock clip and thought it would be fun to visit the source material. I really like the writing, and I think Dr. Watson makes for a compelling narrator. I’m not too far, but I am looking forward to reading more of it. What’s cool about A Study in Scarlet is that it is in public domain and freely available, so if you’re interested, you can read it for free.
  • Drive by James Sallis — I bought this book over a year ago, started it, but never finished it. I decided to start reading it last weekend from the beginning, and I am really into it. The short chapters, which tend shift throughout the timeline, keep the story moving along quickly through this short novel. The way the narrator is written has added a lot to the story so far. I remember watching the movie adaptation when it came out on instant streaming services years ago. It was the middle of the night, and I figured “what do I have to lose?” It ended up becoming one of my favorite films. I am enjoying revisiting it through the source material.

Movies

I made it out to the theater once in November to see Doctor Strange, which I wasn’t crazy about. The special effects made me nauseous and the story didn’t really grip me, and I had trouble understanding Benedict Cumberbatch’s American-English accent.

At home, Abagail and I watched two films on Thanksgiving, and I watched a short on Vimeo that caught my eye.

  • Oh Lucy! — A clever and well shot short film about a Japanese woman who starts taking English lessons. The plot premise was, I thought, clever, and the ending was sweet. I watched it on Vimeo on Demand, and it is definitely worth the $0.99 rental.
  • The Royal Tenenbaums — This was the second time I watched this movie, and I think it was even better the second time around. It has great acting, solid humor, a clever plot, and spot on music. The set and costume design, like other earlier Wes Anderson films, feels more restrained (for the better). The colors, clothing, and set design are still elaborate and quirky, but it isn’t too extreme. I particularly liked Bill Murray’s character and the boy he was studying.
  • Inherent Vice — I had been wanting to watch this film for a few months, but for some reason it hadn’t yet happened. Abagail and I decided to go for it on Thanksgiving night, and we were glad we did. The plot is a bit difficult to follow, but the characters, especially Doc, were great. I think I’ll check out the book it is based on. My friend Paul told me the director’s other movies are good too, so I’ll have to give them a go.

Music

I bought and listened to quite a few new albums in November.

  • Blanco by David Bazan — I have been listening to David Bazan’s music for a few years now, and it has always been impactful. This album is no exception. The electronic motifs, reminiscent of his past project Headphones, feels refined and evolved. The lyrics are as deep and emotional as ever. The whole album fits together really well, but if I had to pick a favorite, I’d pick Trouble With Boys.
  • New Function by Gahlord Dewald — Gahlord is a friend and mentor of mine, and he released some music this year that is excellent to listen to while concentrating on something. The music gets out of the way, in the best way possible, and keeps the brain churning. My favorite track is Source.2 Extract.
  • Requiem For Hell by MONO — I accidentally stumbled across MONO on the day before Thanksgiving, and they’re incredible. It’s the kind of instrumental rock music that gives one goosebumps every few minutes. The title track, Requiem For Hell, which is just under 18 minutes, is my favorite song on the album.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Reflections

Reflections and statistics on finishing the first draft of my NaNoWriMo 2016 novel.

Four days ago, on November 24, 2016, I passed 50k words for my NaNoWriMo 2016 novel and officially “won” this year. My final word count was 50,002 words. I felt like the story that I wanted to tell reached its conclusion, so stopping after reaching 50k felt right.

I was able to write 24 days consecutively, mostly writing first thing in the morning. Some days I wrote in the evening when I had to focus on other projects in the morning.

Here are some statistics from the project:

  • It took me 24 days to reach the goal.
  • My average word count was 2,083 words per day.
  • My best day writing was on Sunday, November 6 with 3,347 words written.
  • I spent 42 hours total writing, averaging 1.75 hours per day.
  • The page count came to 246 pages.

I am going to let the novel sit until January, when I plan on revising and editing it. From there I will most likely self-publish it digitally and maybe make some print copies.

In the days since finishing the first draft, I have continued to write. Right now I am working on writing a script for a short film idea that I had, as well as experimenting with an interactive fiction story built with Twine.

I am very happy that I participated in NaNoWriMo and reached the goal. From the first day of writing to the last, I truly felt like I was doing something I enjoyed. I am looking forward to writing future drafts of the novel and attempting NaNoWriMo next year.

Dear Upstairs Neighbors

A simple plea for my upstairs neighbors.

Dear Upstairs Neighbors,

I know that you, up there, can’t hear me, down here. You, on the third floor of a three story apartment building, know little of the noises and vibrations that those below experience on a regular basis. I often find myself wondering if you rearrange your furniture on a daily basis or if you adopted a herd of baby elephants. Either are plausible.

You see, I dealt with the loud slamming of the apartment building door below my bedroom. It took me six months, but I managed to work up the courage to send an email to property management. It was a big day for me, and no one in this building had the common courtesy to say thank you or slip a bar of dark chocolate under the door with a sticky note attached to it that said “You saved my life.”

Now, look, I said I was sorry the day after when you had that party when your friends from Montreal visited, who you said you hadn’t seen in years, and I walked up to your apartment in my sweatpants and ratty t-shirt and said, “It’s too loud” and then proceeded to exclusively use my hands to answer all of your questions. As I laid in bed, heart racing and unable to fall back asleep, I worried I gave your friends from Montreal a bad impression of the people of Portland.

I felt even worse when I was awoken in the middle of the night by loud music and hard-bottomed shoes a couple of weeks later. Remember when I walked upstairs, knocked on your door four times, and was greeted by you both wearing your wedding attire? “We meant to invite you,” you said. “Well, you’re welcome to come in and have a drink,” you said. I politely declined for two reasons: 1. I am wearing sweatpants and an oversized white t-shirt I bought for my cousin’s wedding and refuse to wear anywhere other than bed and 2. I don’t drink. As I sat awake in bed for the second time that month, I appreciated the drink offer and felt like I had ruined your wedding after-party.

And look, I get it, couples have sex right? That’s pretty normal human couple behavior. But when you wake up at 2 P.M. in the afternoon and proceed to moan, groan, and keep your bed close enough to the wall so that with every thrust I feel the wall shake while I am trying to write in the office (a.k.a. my bedroom closet), my patience wears thin.

I know what you’re thinking. I can tell by the sounds of your footsteps. “Brett, you work at home all day. You need to get out and experience the world. Get some perspective on what matters.” Well, let me tell you, you are 100% right.

All I ask, no, all I plea is that you treat your home like a library, adopt the same sleep schedule as me, and, for the love of god, move your bed six inches away from the wall.

Sincerely,
Your Downstairs Neighbor

P.S. If you know anyone looking to sell their house, I’m in the market.

NaNoWriMo 2016, Three Weeks In

Thoughts and feelings on how NaNoWriMo 2016 is going three weeks in.

Right now, as I write this, my NaNoWriMo 2016 novel sits on my hard drive at 45,061 words long. I can see the finish line. At my current pace, 50,000 is only a few days away. It has been going well.

I intended to participate in NaNoWriMo 2015, but it took place the month I moved to Portland, which was a busier month than I expected. In September, I made a commitment to myself to participate this year. I wrote a few short stories in October to prepare myself. In the middle of October, when I was eating lunch one day, I came across the idea that I wanted to use as the base of the novel. I captured the idea and then ignored it for the rest of October. I didn’t want to overthink the idea before I could start writing.

On the first of November I started the novel, and I have exceeded the daily word count goal of 1,667 words every day. Getting out ahead of the daily word count goal relieved the pressure of having to catch up after falling behind. For the most part, I have been writing first thing in the morning before starting any other work. Getting the writing done freed up my thoughts for the rest of the day.

A great joy of writing the novel without having the plot outlined are the surprises that I came across. Ideas would come to mind, and I would follow the path they brought me down. Most of the time, the paths I went down progressed the plot in ways that I enjoyed. Other times I had to turn around take a different path. At first, turning around and taking a different path felt like I made a mistake, but as that continued to happened I realized that it was not a mistake but a discovery. I learned more about the characters, the setting, and the plot which helped tell the story.

I have one chapter and the epilogue left to write, and then the first draft of the novel will be done. I’m looking forward to waking up tomorrow and getting a few pages closer to the end.

About Ideas

Thoughts on ideas and how one stumbles across them.

Two days ago I spent my free time—walking, doing the dishes, prepping food—trying my damnedest to conjure up an idea for a short film. The thought of “I want to make a short film one day” crept into my mind, but without a concept, I couldn’t visualize what it would look like.

I looked for an idea in the leaves on the sidewalk, the houses that lined the streets, and the minutiae around my apartment. Nothing. That same night, I brushed my teeth and stepped into the shower. In that instant an idea popped right into my head. It wasn’t a concept that would make sense as a short film, but it was an interesting and inspiring idea. An idea worth exploring.

That’s how ideas work: when you try to conjure one up, they’re elusive. When you least expect it, they show up out of nowhere. It’s a special feeling, and it’s exhilarating when one shows up.

An idea has no inherit value though. Ideas don’t get you very far. Ideas are sparks that need to be used to light larger flames that can burn for more than just an instant. Taking an idea and fleshing it out is a wonderful feeling, but for the times when all you want is a new idea, it’s best to think about anything but.