Monday Musings: NaNoWriMo Progress, Some Numbers, and New Shiny Syndrome

As most who read this know by now,  I am participating in National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org). The idea is to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. This the the fifth year I have done this. I have figured out some strategies to get me through the month  without either killing myself or putting a strain on the rest of my life. I have posted about those before. I have adjusted a few things every year, and I have made the 50K each year.

What you end up with on November 30 is hardly a finished product. At best, it is a fairly messy first draft. It will need much editing and revising to make a coherent, readable story out of it. The point is to get you writing that story, and to give you some sort of motivation to actually do it. It’s intense, in its way, and fun. There are all sorts of people and stories being written every year. The original idea was to write a novel in a month, but there are plenty of rebels, doing non-fiction, or other things that are not strictly novels.

My original idea was to be a rebel this year.  I was going to write a series of short stories, since I have been enjoying writing shorter forms lately. But I started outlining the plan for the first story and found it really wanted to be longer. So I’m going with that. It has been going pretty well. I will need to do a fair amount of research for this one after November, but that’s okay. My basic strategy for the month is to set a daily word count goal and try to get at least that much done every day. I don’t write hours and hours every day, I don’t ramp up on caffeine and junk food, I don’t really even participate in sprints and word wars. I get my best work done by the slow and steady strategy. It works for me. It may not work for others.  I am on track for where I wanted to be at this point in the month, using this plan.

Now for some specifics. I have a spreadsheet that was put together by another NaNo participant a few years ago that tracks your words, percentages, hours, and other statistics. I have used it every year, and it helps keep me on track. Here are some of the numbers for where I am as of Saturday, November 9:

Some General Statistics That Might Be Of Interest
Total Words Written So Far 20,174
Total Hours Spent Writing 14.57
Avg Words Written Per Day 2241
Avg Hours Writing Per Day 1.62
Avg Words Per Hour 1384
Number of Words Remaining 29,826
Number of Days Remaining 21
Number of Hours Remaining 21.00

The spreadsheet is predicting that , if I stay on pace, I will hit 50K on November 22.

It’s interesting to me to look at some of those numbers. It also helps to keep me on track. Friday was a bit of a tough day. I’d hit a slow point in the story, and was having trouble keeping the flow going. But knowing that I had a specific goal and seeing the actual numbers keeps me from just stopping and losing momentum.

And now, for one of the problems I encounter. I know it is a problem for others, too, as I see online comments about the same thing. I call it the New Shiny Syndrome. We are just over a week into this project, things have been going along well, and you have a decent handle on your story. But, wait- oh, what’s that? A new idea? A better idea? Oh, yeah, much better, right?

But is it really “better”? Probably not. What is happening, from my experience, is that the honeymoon with your original story is over, and now you have to get down to the nitty-gritty of making this thing work day to day. And that can start to seem like work. The first week or so is a lot of fun. Even if you outline or plan like I do, there is still a lot you are discovering about your characters, your plot, and the world you are working in. It’s exciting. There are many “Aha!” moments. And then, things start to settle down. You have the beginning figured out, probably a pretty good idea where the middle is going, and how it will end. There doesn’t seem to be anything fun, anymore. So, along comes this New Shiny, and you are drawn to the promise of fun and discovery again. Don’t do it. Don’t let it distract you. Put it away while you work on your current story. Otherwise, all you will end up with is a pile of starts, and no finishes.

Why do I bring this up? Because I have been the victim of New Shiny Syndrome this week. Yep, suddenly, there it was, dangling it’s shiny goodness in my mind where my NaNo novel should be. And this one is (*gasp* *horror* *choke*) fanfic! In case anyone doesn’t know, fanfic is when you take a known world or story, and write your own piece of it. An example would be taking the Harry Potter universe and writing about some vacation time that wasn’t in any of the books, and some adventure Harry had while he was home with the Dursley’s. There are a lot of people who deride fanfic. I like it. I have committed fanfic in multiple worlds for many years. Of course, you respect the original creator’s rights. Some don’t mind fanfic, as long as you don’t try to profit from it, which is perfectly understandable. I would never do something like that. My fanfic is for me, because I enjoy something, and writing is my way of expressing that.

So, what to do? I have 2,000 words  a day, four days a week, and 2,500 words, three days, planned for this NaNo. One of the things I do with an intruding idea like this is to write out the basic idea in a file I call “Ideas” (of all things! LOL). I tried that. No go. There was this one scene that kept playing out in my head, fully formed, over and over. Just jotting the idea did not make it go away. But I was not going to let it interfere with my daily NaNo goals. Shoo, little plot bunny!

I am a big believer in rewards. So I usually try to have some sort of small reward for making those daily goals. Mine usually involve good chocolate. Ah, ha! (See what I mean? Get a new idea- get more Ah has!) I can pick at the fanfic, but only after the NaNo goal is met or exceeded. So, doing something I want to do just for me becomes the reward for doing what I planned to do. So far, it is working. The other story doesn’t niggle at my brain while I am writing the novel, and I have a few scenes written out on the new story. Another plus for me is that after about 2000 words on one idea, my brain is pretty fried for that project. But switching gears to something else keeps it going a bit longer, without my feeling like I am dragging through the words.

Moral of the story? Don’t give in to New Shiny Syndrome. Make it work for you, somehow. As Neil Gaiman says: “Finish what you are writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.”

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