Uncle Josh Autopsies NaNoWriMo 2018

I “lost” 2018. Am I upset? Kind of. Did I have “unusual circumstances”? No more so than usual. My wife having a trip to the Emergency Room and then surgery the Monday before Thanksgiving were tough things to bear at the time, but in the end they shouldn’t have affected my writing schedule all that much, or my energy. That sounds callous, but there are times when writing is all I can do to make things better, and waiting for a surgery to happen is prime writing-as-distraction time. I had to work remotely instead, which served just as well for the distraction but it didn’t do a whole lot to get my novel moving.

There are a few things about this failure I need to point out:

  1. I didn’t schedule a writing time and stick with it. In past years I was successful because I was up at 6 AM making coffee stretching and then writing for about an hour, which usually meant 1,000 – 2,000 words an hour. I had some damn good hours last year.
  2. I had those damn good hours because I also had a plan. Almost every scene was mapped out, or at least had a goal or a purpose. I knew what I was writing every day and where I needed to go.
  3. I tried a conceited novel this year. The conceit of this project is to tell a biography of a single character through five or six stories (I never really decided and realized on the 28th that another story I had been trying to write for the past few years could have fit perfectly) where the project’s protagonist was a secondary character in a other people’s stories, so the whole thing was more like connected short stories with interludes that filled in the protagonist’s story. These individual stories were not well mapped out and I frequently fell into my most common plotting problem: How to get the characters from where they were to where I needed them to be. Being a plot-first kind of writer, this is fine. So I don’t need anyone telling me the characters are bad or wrong for the story. Some of the tertiary characters might be, but the major players I used were the right characters for their stories.
  4. I didn’t have the world built out so I had to spend a couple of days writing what I called “The Whole Story of Creation as Told to A Mad Writer in Desperation”. I needed a mythology and backstory and gods and ur-gods and all sorts of things I never successfully named. Writing [GOD OF THE HARVEST] may help the word count but it does slow things down just a bit. I don’t think all the bracketing slowed things down, but not having names killed a little momentum. The world as it is never got past the generic European backdrop which is kind of where I need this story to be, but it also required a lot more research than I put into it in the months leading up to NaNoWriMo.

It was not all bad as experiences go. One good thing I figured out was managing the document. Last year I wrote everything in the Focus Writer desktop application (which is freaking great when it’s set up with green text on a black background) but I always wrote at the end of the file, and I deliberately decided to write the story out of order. I did a lot of pre-writing last year by mashing up James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From the Middle and Mark Teppo’s Jumpstart Your Novel. Both great books, by the way.

The idea of Bell’s book comes down to key scenes that you have firmly in place and everything else can be built around them. It worked, for the most part, but it meant I had the middle, end, and beginning in the very start of the file. I added other versions of Chapter One later in the month so piecing the thing together and finding gaps has proven difficult. I’ve tried two different pieces of software to do it and neither one worked out well, which I attribute to not being as familiar with those pieces of software as I should.

This year I did everything in Google Docs with the idea that I would write at work, write on my phone, write at home, wherever. Real-time syncing worked great for me here. The real pleasure was using Docs’ Document Outline feature. I first set up a bunch of headings. Heading 1 for the individual stories and interludes, Heading 2 for the scenes in the stories. I could plot them out ahead of time and then jump to the section I was interested in writing. That gave me the flexibility to write what I was really thinking about and the bits I do have written are in the order they would be in the final product. If I didn’t throw up in my own mouth a little every time I heard the phrase “win-win” I would call it a “win-win” situation.

Excuse me, I don’t feel very good at the moment.

Using a Distraction-Free plugin and going full screen was almost as good as using Focus Writer. I would love to not be so enmeshed in the Google infrastructure, but chances are if I move on Google or Microsoft or Amazon will just buy the damn thing anyway. If I recall, Google Docs was a different product by a different company that got sucked in (a quick search tells me this was Writely in 2005 and the got absorbed in 2006; I was a Writely user first).

I will continue to work on this project, but I also think I may need to focus more on my short fiction, get back into submitting, and maybe actually practice again. I haven’t been writing on any set schedule. I am falling into old habits of thinking it has to be perfect out of the fingers instead of a first draft that can be edited later.

There are other stories in my head that want to be told. I hope that one day they’ll find a writer.