NaNo Lessons Learned #amwriting #NaNoWriMo2016

NaNoWriMo 2016 results

NaNoWriMo 2016 results

I have the traditional Good News and Bad News.

First, the Bad News:

  • I did not manage to write 50K words on my new manuscript.
  • I need to learn how to plan my novel before drafting. Seriously. I know that other people can plan without completely hosing their enthusiasm for a project. I still haven’t figured out how to work it for myself. OK, I commit to reading three more eye-rolling “how to plan a novel” books before March. Blech.

Next, the Good News:

  • I managed to write more than 43K words on my new manuscript. Better than 86% of goal—I’m not at all displeased, even if I don’t get NaNoWriMo Winner Goodies this year.
  • I confirmed my knowledge that a resentment is a major damper on my productivity. That tells me that if I find myself stuck in resentment quicksand I must take even more energetic steps to get back on track than I used this month.
  • I learned that planning recreational travel during NaNoWriMo is contraindicated. Yes, in the past I’ve managed to keep on track in Camp NaNoWriMo despite going to family funerals. But if I’m trying to have fun by traveling somewhere, I find that I can’t really enjoy my trip because my word count is suffering, and I can’t really focus on writing because I’m on a trip. All that really saved my word count on my San Jose trip was the fact that I traveled north by train. I can get a lot of words written on a nine-hour train ride.

For My Own Information:

  • It’s easier to focus in my dining room, even with the fridge and television handy, than it is in the nice office area I set up in my bedroom. This is counter-intuitive to me. I have a lovely standing desk, a beautiful large monitor, a chair if I want to sit down, reference books, supplies, etc. on hand in my bedroom. If I work in the dining room I have to go upstairs to get references, or a notebook to draw a plot or a map in, or a pen to draw the map or plot with, ad infinitum. Yet I clock more words in the dining room. Go figure.
  • It’s easier to focus in Starbucks than it is in a nice office I’ve rented for a day. Even if I have to tell the guy next to me in Starbucks that hockey is fun to talk about but I have to work now, I still get more done in Starbucks.
  • It’s almost impossible to focus when I’m in the same place as Hubby. OK, maybe not as surprising as the others, but still, he is a walking distraction… I suppose after many years of marriage, that’s a good thing.

Stopping to Invent a Map to Look At #amwriting

Looks together and organized, doesn't it? NOT.

Looks together and organized, doesn’t it? NOT.

THE PROBLEM WITH being neither a NaNoWriMo planner nor a pantser is that sometimes I run off the map.

Take yesterday, for example. I got no words written. Why? Because I know darn well that I need a new character. A real supporting character, not a bit part. I know how, in general, this person fits into the story, but not specifics. I’m going to have to back-write (him/her/it) in which means that I need a visual of how he fits into the overall novel.

That means I need to go back and revise my so-called plan. I really can’t make any progress that I feel good about until I do. So, I need another branch on that mind map you see in the upper left.

The map looks really organized and cool, doesn’t it? Almost as if the colors mean something, and events and people are lined up in neat stacks. It’s not—not really. I color it brightly to keep my attention; the colors themselves have no meaning. The stacks are plotlines involving a given person. Problem is, I’ve introduced new ones and abandoned others. The map needs… combing before I can get on with writing.

So I’m taking today to do that, as well as catch up on blogging and business stuff. If it means not finishing 50K for November, oh well—I’ve had plenty of experience with what happens when I keep drafting when my map means nothing. Mostly, a mess is what happens, which takes me months to untangle. Nope, better that I hit 50K mid-December than have something that I need months to make fit for other eyes to read.

Laters, dudes.

It’s Published! (The Only Marketing Post You’ll Ever See Here) #amwriting

I published "The Bully Trap"

I published “The Bully Trap”

OK, I CHANGED my mind.

I published The Bully Trap, episode one of Fraser and Spenser, Consulting, under the pen name of SF Lakin. Here’s my book website:

That’s the direct link to the book page. You can get free samples from most of the retailers on the list. If your favorite eBook retailer isn’t on the list, I’ll be very much surprised.

If you’d like to subscribe to my book email list, it’s here:

Special offers and news will go to email subscribers before they go anywhere else, be that else Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or my website.

What’s it about? It’s an origin story for a pair of detectives in Victorian London, one of whom is magical. Episode one could be classed as a thriller, but Episode Two (my NaNoWriMo project this year) will be a mystery.

No, not those detectives. These are entirely different chaps. Honest.

Enough with the marketing—right now, I’m sitting here in a swamp that’s a mixture of ecstatic joy and abject terror. I’m scared of audiences to the point of tears. And yet, I promised myself that this would be the year I published—and it has been.

Thank Heavens that the technical side of publishing is comparatively easy for me. In fact, tweaking my website, my distribution, my cover—et freaking cetera—threatens to become an even more attractive distraction from new writing than video games. After all, I can convince myself that I’m being “productive.”

This blog post falls into that category as well. NaNoWrimo is calling, and I need to write about 1800 words today. Ta, folks.

Camp Nano Won. Steer Roasting. Life is Good. #CampNaNoWinner2016 #amwriting

The Editing Is Done

The Editing Is Done

The Fire Is Lit

The Fire Is Lit

Fifty-plus hours of editing in April — I did it.

I am in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at my alma mater, MIT. Technology is still a Mother. If you didn’t attend as an undergrad, you probably don’t know about The Senior House (or Haus, as it is now called.) From the late sixties on (so far as we can tell from the alumni verbal histories) it has been the home of nonconformists on campus.

Yet, when I walked into the courtyard after forty-one years away, I had come home. The Haus was the first home I ever knew in which I found unconditional acceptance, along with gentle instruction in socially acceptable behavior (not a very high bar, in the Haus.)

Yesterday, the Lighting of the Fire ritual (opening the two-day long Steer Roast party) was not so much an exercise in nostalgia as a connection to something that started before I arrived and will continue when I am no longer here to return. Students will still celebrate spring and the coming end of the semester. The Haus will still shelter the . . . different (but still nerdly) with its unique anarchy. The Suits in the Chancellor’s office Shall Not Pass (er, prevail.)

Long live the Haus!

Camp NaNoWriMo progress #amwriting

Screenshot 2016-04-12 16.48.35I’m not doing badly at all in terms of getting editing hours in — though they are interrupted by beta testing, in the sense that when I encounter an “unexpected result” (hey, it’s in beta. That’s what it’s FOR) in the beta build of Scrivener I need to go post on their bug board.

But still — writing, testing, writing. Get up and walk. Record my food. Record my weight. The days have been pretty routine.

Routine will be broken on April 27, though. That’s the date when Hubby and I will travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts for a week. (Our thirty-one year old son, who works out and is built like a linebacker, will be house-sitting for us.) We’ll be attending our college dormitory’s annual bacchanalia, Steer Roast.

Yes, they roast a steer — well, four quarters of beef. It’s a weekend long party. The President of the Institute lives in the building next door — and understandably leaves for the weekend.

I look forward to reconnecting to my nerdly roots.

Camp NaNoWriMo, April 2016 #amwriting

CNW_Participant_TwitterScreenshot 2016-04-05 14.05.56Yes, I’m doing a Camp NaNoWriMo project in April this year — though I usually wait until July. I’m doing an editing project — Camp suggests that an hour of editing translate to 1000 words. I’m therefore committing to 50 hours of active editing this month. So far, I’m not doing too badly, and I hope to be able to finish early. I credit Beeminder for this optimism — this is the first time I’ve tackled a NaNoWriMo while using this tool.

I’m still working on that strange beast that my November novel turned into — it’s hard to shoehorn into any genre, but I suppose you could call it a fantasy mystery. I’ve incorporated the changes my beta reader suggested — solid, all of them — but there are many more chapters to go…

OMG, I Might Actually Publish #amwriting

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

For you Star Trek Original Series fans: Do you remember the scene where the Enterprise was fighting the Giant Cornucopia of Death, and Kirk says, “I distracted it! That’s good! . . . I think it’s good . . . Scotty, get me out of here . . .”

That’s how I felt yesterday when my wonderful Beta Reader, Cynthia, sent back her comments on my first chapter. She spotted typography errors, continuity errors, characterization errors… all of which I can fix, I’m sure. The scary thing was — the things she wanted to find out about, the questions she was left with after reading the chapter — those are exactly the things that I wanted readers to be wondering about and anticipating after the first chapter.

In other words, for a first draft, it rocks.

Damn. I haven’t felt like this since I won first division in the Tri-State Music Festival. There’s elation, sure — and there’s also terror. There’s a certain amount of grief — when it’s rolling, when the words are coming, when I look at my “Beeminder Writing Time” graph (that’s automatically generated from RescueTime) and see it curving upwards almost without volition on my part — why did I spend so many years doing anything else?

Then another wave of terror hits, and I know why.

This means audience. Big time, really putting my fiction out in front of strangers, asking them to pay for reading it, and accepting their praise, their disapproval, or their indifference, as the case may be. (If they pay for it, I think I will at least take their comments at face value instead of trying to find hidden negative meanings.)

This has really kicked the crap out of my writing time for the last few days, while I’ve alternately cowered and then fantasized about the Oprah Show. Neither of those gets words written, characterizations corrected, continuity errors fixed, or anything else. I will be dedicating April to editing in Camp NaNoWriMo. I need to get out of the house, today, though, and get some momentum going, before I need to pay the nice folks at Beeminder $5. Again.

The Bottom Line: Writing Output Improved

Screenshot 2016-01-26 15.33.55My last few posts have all related to productivity in various aspects of my life — quantifying it and improving it. How’s that working for me?

So far, in January, I’ve written 21,465 words. That’s as opposed to my total word count for NaNoWriMo in November, which was 18,771 words. On the 25th of November, I had only written 14,327 words. That’s a 31% increase. I’m doing something right.

One thing I’ve found, is that when I have material consequences, such as having to pay Beeminder, I’m more motivated to find some way to continue writing even when I’ve “hit a wall.” I’ll find some other portion of the story to work on, or write on another story, or even stop and do some story structure work and then go back to typing out words.

Not that I’ve transformed into a writing machine! No, you can see that I derailed on January 19, and I’ve had a tough couple of days. I may not make my 30K in January goal. But — not only will I have written more in a month than I have in a long time, but I will also have learned a lot about what I need in order to be productive.

Days when I’m in pain from arthritis — well, it’s hard to want to sit at a keyboard when my neck and shoulders feel like they’re being squeezed in a vise. It’s a steady dull ache that gets worse until I’m in tears. The same applies to my knees. Days when the pain is out of control — they lead to derailment.

Equally devastating are days when I have too many other things to do scheduled, and put them as a priority over writing. If I don’t get out of the house to write before about four in the afternoon, my word count for the day is probably zero.

So. Keeping my pain in control, means keeping my food and exercise in control. It’s no accident that my derailment on the 19th happened when it did. I had a re-injury of an old knee problem on about the 12th. I stayed in denial until I was in agony. I admitted my problem on the 16th, got some mercy from the good folks at Beeminder on a goal (Misfit points) that had become unrealistic, but the knee responded to rest slowly for a while. I note that I had a superbly bad sleep week between the 12th and the 19th. Small wonder; it’s hard to sleep with that kind of pain. I’m pleased to see that I didn’t overeat or make poor food choices that week — it would have been easy to use the pain as an excuse.

I don’t yet have this kind of insight into why I don’t get out the door to go writing, other than if I haven’t gotten to bed at a decent hour, why then I don’t wake up until later, and by the time I’m ready to depart — it’s easy to use the excuse that the schoolkids will have mobbed Starbucks, it will be loud and I won’t be able to find a comfortable chair, so why bother?

Not a good enough excuse. I’ll have to see what improvements I can make here.