Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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NaNoWriMo – A Kick in the Shorts in the Right Direction?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 28, 2016

nanowrimoI started hearing about NaNoWriMo about ten years ago, and I thought it was a weird and kinda dumb idea. But I knew little about it and very little about professional writing, and I was more focused on game development. Now that I’m dividing my attention like I am (partly to preserve my sanity), and that I am actively involved in the local writing community, it’s a little bit more of a potential thing to consider.

I have three good reasons (IMO) for not “really” participating this year. #1 – I’m in crunch mode at the day job until the last week of November. It’s a serious impact on all after-hours activities, not just game development (which takes a bigger hit than the writing, but it’s still ugly all around). #2 – Frayed Knights 2.  I can’t neglect it in November. #3 – November as a month generally SUCKS for getting stuff done for many of us, because Thanksgiving Weekend is really, really busy. A lot of people travel that week to spend time with family. Depending on how your family is, it may or may not be a good time to hole up inside a closet and write.

That’s my general excuse for game jams, too. They are just excuses. I’m signing up for it anyway, even though I will have little time to devote to it. I’ve learned a few things over the last three years that really raises my assessment of the idea, in spite of my excuses.

First of all, if you set no goals, you are never going to get anywhere you want to go.  This gives you an excuse. Just like New Years Resolutions. The nice thing is that this one is over in a month. Kinda.

Secondly, there’s a huge advantage to having a community and a deadline to help with motivation. As much as I love going at it alone, having other people working towards similar goals and comparing notes really makes a difference.

Third – in the elimination of excuses category:  Writing is a learned skill, like everything else. We tend to be confused on this point because all of us use language, and most of the western world is literate. We think of crafting a story as simply a utilization of skills we have already mastered, but that’s really not the case. The oft-quoted rule-of-thumb in the writing community is the “first million words” – in that, the first million words are practice, and THEN you start producing quality work. That’s about ten full-length modern novels’ worth of “practice,” and twenty NaNoWriMos (of 50k words each). While there’s nothing magic about that number, and there’s a lot more to it than that, it’s still a reasonable approximation. If you write an average of 500 words per hour, that represents about 2000 hours of practice. That doesn’t include time spent editing, soliciting feedback, and actively training.

Interestingly enough, I saw a video by a guitar instructor who explained that the average amount of time it took for a guitarist to get “competent” – not expert, just good enough to maybe take things professional – was about 3000 hours. Pretty close. I think you’ll find that this time count is pretty much the difference between beginners and professionals across the board.

Yeah, that’s pretty daunting, but the longest journey begins with a single step. I think NaNoWriMo is a good motivator for aspiring writers to roll up their sleeves and get started. Produce that first 50,000 words!  They may be utter crap, but you’ll do much better next time, and you have made significant progress along that path!

Fourth: Even for the pros, the first draft is often crap. The magic comes with the editing. An editor I know uses the expression, “the only thing I can’t edit is a blank page.” While getting the first draft done might only be part of the job (and maybe not the biggest part of the job), it’s what has to happen before anything else.

Fifth: There isn’t a lot in the writing process that is quantifiable until after the book goes into print. Word count is one of the few things that are, and it’s a biggie for that first stage. Emphasizing that one measurable piece can help it improve. So maybe you start out writing only 300 words per hour, and trying to complete NaNoWriMo seems hopelessly out of your reach if you need to devote 6 hours a day to it. I dunno about you, but I really don’t have that kind of time with a full-time job, family, and… oh, yeah, a game development business AND other writing projects that are not in the first-draft stage. Ain’t gonna happen. But I can focus on writing on writing speed, and that is something that can be improved. I recommend Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K, and Chris Fox’s 5000 Words Per Hour.  Here’s a chance to practice!

Finally, I never like waiting to start a project until a particular day. The rules for NaNoWriMo are pretty fuzzy and open-ended. The real point it to focus on cranking out 50k words of draft of fiction. Or poetry. Or… whatever. Just get ‘er done. I know of people who have used the “contest” as a chance to produce an anthology’s worth of short stories. This is awesome. So… there’s no need to “save up words” for November 1.

One other possible motivator: Scrivener is a pretty cool all-in-one tool for writers. I was pretty much just a Microsoft Word and Google Drive / Docs kind of guy until recently.  I picked this up during one special sale “just in case” and then decided to take the pain to watch an hour’s worth of tutorial videos and then actually practice using it. I’ll have more to say about it in a future blog post, but they are offering a special demo version for the purpose of NaNoWriMo, and a big discount on the full version (which is already pretty cheap) for NaNoWriMo “winners.” They offer a decent discount for anyone who even participates. You can get the details here.

Anyway – for all those who choose to participate… good luck and have fun!

For those who don’t… have fun anyway. 🙂

Filed Under: Writing - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Samrobb said,

    I started seriously trying to bang out the first draft of a novel a few months ago. I can’t recommend Scrivener highly enough, though you *will* want enough lead time that you can get comfortable with it.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, I wanted to mention it here so someone could spend some time familiarizing themselves with it over the weekend before the competition starts.

    If I were just learning about it today, I’d probably use whatever tool I’m most familiar with during the competition, and then grab Scrivener at a discount afterwards so I’d have it for NEXT year. There *IS* a learning curve, but it’s not nearly as bad as many people make it out to be. They just forget how complicated Word is, and how they gradually picked up proficiency.

  • Anon said,

    “They offer a decent discount for anyone who even participates.”

    Not quite correct:

    “20% Discount for Everyone Else
    Even if you don’t reach your target this year, you can still get 20% off the regular price of Scrivener by entering the discount code NANOWRIMO into the coupon code text field of our online web store.”

    Here are my impressions about Scrivener (I don’t use this software, yet):

    What I like:
    – Price seems fair for the functionality, although the MacOS version costs $5 more (because it’s the newer version?)
    – Seems to be one of the few apps in that genre that is still being actively developed (and priced fairly)

    What I don’t like:
    – The Windows version seems to be an older port
    – No Linux version (I’m considering switching, perhaps Wine-compatible?)

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