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  • Writer's pictureStuart Grant

NaNoWriMo 2018

I’m going to jump back in time a bit from my last post. As important as my first manuscript was, getting it published and making it available for the world would only accomplish the minimal goal for my experiment. A real indie author has many books and I found NaNoWriMo to be a great writing catalyst.

My outlining phase for manuscript #1 was long. Way too long. Looking back, I can’t believe I really spent months on it. In hindsight, it was as much procrastination as anything else. This is where having a commitment like NaNoWriMo was of huge benefit. November 1 guaranteed an end to outlining and a shift to writing.

The trick I learned was to limit the amount of time I allowed for outlining. I found outlining to be a task that could expand to take up as much time as you gave it. I had to learn how to give it less.

From an earlier post you’ll recall that I finished the first draft of manuscript #1 in the middle of August. At most, that left ~10 weeks before the start of NaNoWriMo. Some of that time was spent trying to figure out how to edit and some was spent on learning other elements of setting up an indie author business (e.g., websites, creating business legal entity, understanding approaches to marketing).

While the basic story concept for book two had been taking root for months, I didn’t formally start outlining until the second week of October. In those ~3 weeks before November 1, I laid out a draft of ~7k words, with the majority of detail on the first half of the story. When NaNoWriMo kicked off, so did I.

But it started kind of slow. Having a full time career is a real challenge to being creative in one’s free time. On the one hand, my official job came with real demands on my time, many of which were non-negotiable. One must pay the bills, after all. This left a finite but small amount of time for writing. An incremental challenge is that work can be draining. Both physically and mentally.

As I embarked on NaNoWriMo in 2018, my first few days put me behind schedule. In fact, by the end of day 4 I was already almost 2,000 words behind. I had to pick up the pace.

My slower than needed writing pace forced me to re-evaluate how I prioritized my time. And it wasn’t an easy task.

For most of my adult life, exercise has been a daily commitment. As I got older, I found that getting in my exercise early in the morning was the best way to make sure it got done. Whether my workout was a run, a bike ride or a CrossFit session, early morning was best. For the record, early for me means starting somewhere in the 5-5:30 window.

The implication of this healthy habit for my writing was obvious. There was a block of time that could potentially be perfect for writing. But it would mean messing with a major life habit.

It didn’t happen overnight or all at once, but I experimented with using my first block of daily time for writing. Not every day. At least not at first. But for a few days a week, I moved my exercise from the start of the day to some other time (or no other time as it sometimes happened…).

There was definite impact, but it wasn’t all positive. From a writing perspective it was a plus. I had specific writing time before the demands of work could interfere. The use of early morning time, plus usually some time in the evening, got the pacing of my writing on track. By the end of the first week of NaNoWriMo I was back on track.

But the downside was a decrease in exercise. This was, and still is, a tough balancing act. There were days when just couldn’t get in a workout. Days when, had I not altered my life schedule, I would have otherwise got in a workout. Other trade-offs came into play. If the only window to get in a workout was on a lunch break, I had to try and get in at least 30 minutes. It wasn’t my typical workout, but it was better than nothing.

Inadvertently I developed a mantra of sorts. It came from a view of exercise, but applies equally to writing.

Some is better than none.

I think it’s really my reflection on the fact that chasing perfection is an unforgiving goal. It is impossible and is guaranteed to lead to failure. And not the good kind of failure from which we learn some nugget of wisdom. It’s the kind of failure that never makes you feel good. The kind of failure that over time, can destroy purpose. So, better to be happy with some progress as opposed to what might be considered perfect.

Back to NaNoWriMo.

By the time the calendar hit November 30, I had written 55k words, an average almost 200 more than was necessary. It was a small improvement from the prior year. And like the prior year, I was at best only halfway through my novel. This is where I made a change.

Following my first go round with NaNo, I put my feet up and somewhat deprioritized writing. Not completely, but significantly. That directly led to needing almost nine more months to finish.

This time I decided to just keep going. While finishing a manuscript within a year was an important success, it wasn’t a pace that was likely to translate well to making writing a full time gig. I didn’t know what that would look like outside the sprint environment of NaNo, but I needed to try.

As I rolled into December, I did let up a bit. But I didn’t actually miss a day. I also hadn’t missed a day in November. Without planning to, I started a writing streak that lasted longer than the 30 days of NaNo.

This realization was perfect for me. You see, I’m someone for whom streaks are meaningful. Whether it was a running streak, a pushup streak, or a reading streak didn’t matter. Streaks inherently drive my behavior. So realizing I was on a writing streak was immensely motivating.

What does someone who likes streaks do in such a situation? Simple. He commits to the streak.

Now, I didn’t (and still haven’t) set a goal for my writing streak. My commitment was to simply keep it going. I was willing to count as few as 100 words, as long as they were a constructive addition to my work and not just me randomly typing to get 100 words.

I pushed through December and into 2019. December contributed 50k words. Basically another NaNo. My story had puffed out a bit (editing ended up being a beast) and I still had a ways to go to finish. This happened on January 11, with a total of 127k words. Almost for sure it was way too long. But the first draft was complete. And my streak had reached 72 days.

Kind of on the side (isn’t everything kind of on the side?) I had been mulling what to do for a reader magnet. One option could have been to use my first book for that purpose. I know lots of authors have done that. But to be completely honest, the thought of doing all that work and then giving it away for free was hard to take. I mean, give away the first book I wrote? After all the effort?

What my on-the-side mulling led to was the decision to write a prequel. The protagonist in my first story is a young reporter who had a couple of years under her belt. I could use a prequel to to tell how she got her job. So I devoted some brain capacity to developing prequel concepts.

By the time I wrote “THE END” on manuscript #2, I was ready to start outlining the prequel. So I did. The day after finishing #2. And I did the outline in four days. Not that the prequel required a ton of pre-work since it would be much shorter than a novel, but I felt that allowing only four days was pretty disciplined. I didn’t generate a lot of words, maybe 2,000, but it was constructive outlining.

The prequel took 46 days and came in at 44k words. Not NaNo pace, but totally acceptable. And my streak had stretched to about four months…122 days.

I hope by now you can see a pattern developing. If so, you can guess that while writing the prequel I let my brain occasionally wander to the next book. Being in the same series was a definite advantage. I had the same protagonist, the same or similar setting and some of the same supporting characters.

By the time I finished the prequel, I had done enough brainstorming and research to outline manuscript #3 (note that I count the prequel as manuscript 0). So on March 3, the day after finishing the prequel, I formally began to outline the next novel. I maintained my discipline, doing an 8K outline in 11 days. And the streak continued.

Manuscript #3 started while I prepped manuscript #1 for my developmental editor. But once that manuscript left my hands, all focus shifted to the new manuscript. Fifty-four days later, it was done. 110k words. Basically 2,000 per day. My best consistent pace up to that point. And the streak hit 187 days. The last ~15 days were challenging because I had my developmental edit in hand and it really needed attention. Plus, I had my copy editor locked in for a May 15 delivery. I made the decision to focus on completing manuscript #3 before seriously dealing with the developmental edit. Trying to do both at once seemed like a recipe to not make much progress. I did need a few days grace from my copy editor, but got her the manuscript on May 18, only three days off the plan.

So that covers most of the writing work I’ve done. But there’s a lot more than just writing to becoming an indie author.

Next time: What the hell is an author platform and where do I start?

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