NaNoWriMo-ish

November is the National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. During the month, many authors endeavor to write 50,000 words. While that won’t count as a complete novel for most publishers these days, it’s a large chunk of a novel. To reach 50,000 words in one month, you have to write about 1,667 words per day. You can even sign up to participate at nanowrimo.org and to find tools, structure, community, and encouragement to help you succeed. My daughter has signed up and participated for the last couple of years. Although I didn’t officially sign up to participate in NaNoWriMo, I wrote two novels as NaNoWriMo challenges when LBF Books was publishing my novels.

The Solar Sea

The first of my NaNoWriMo novels was The Solar Sea, which I wrote in 2004. This is a novel I’d tried to write twice before, but abandoned both times partway through. The first time I abandoned the novel, it was because I was a young writer who lacked the discipline to see the story through. The second time, I had a sense of the plot, but hadn’t really nailed down the themes I wanted to explore. Between that and not being really certain what I audience I was writing for, the novel bogged itself down. In 2004, I had two young daughters who I wanted to excite about math and science. That and the 50,000-word goal of NaNoWriMo encouraged me to write The Solar Sea as an adventure story primarily for a young adult audience. I calculated my daily word goal and set myself a time to write each day after my daughters went to bed. Once I got into the routine, I found I could meet my writing goals pretty well each day. It taught me the value of writing each day at a set schedule. You can learn more about the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

Dragon’s Fall:
Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires

I wrote my second NaNoWriMo novel in 2005. This was intended to be a prequel to my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order which had recently been published by LBF. In this case, I knew 50,000 words would only be a little more than half the novel. When I wrote The Solar Sea, I had a clear idea of the plot and I had been thinking about certain story elements for almost fifteen years before I started NaNoWriMo. When I wrote Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires, I had a one-page synopsis. So, my 50,000 words were much more stream-of-consciousness than The Solar Sea. At the end of the month, I really liked the beginning of what I wrote, but felt the stuff I wrote at the end of the month lacked focus. Still, this gave me a solid core that I could work on and develop. It took about two years, but the novel did take shape. I added a few chapters before the original opening and then tightened the latter sections and added a solid ending. This experience helped me see that I could be disciplined while writing by the seat of my pants, and I was ultimately happy with my tale of three vampires who come form a band of mercenaries. You can learn more about Dragon’s Fall at: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

This year, NaNoWriMo occurred right as Kitt Peak National Observatory reopened from being shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo this year. That said, I was given the assignment of writing a novella in early September. At the time, I knew Kitt Peak would likely reopen around mid-October to early November, so I wanted to get as much of the novella written as possible before work resumed and I had to settle into a regular work routine at the observatory again. To accomplish the task, I used the skills I had gained in NaNoWriMo. In this case, I wrote a detailed outline and I set myself a clear word-count goal for each day. Even though I had an outline, my characters did their own thing at parts of the story and I did have to re-outline, but I’m used to this. I managed to finish my novella by the time I returned to work at Kitt Peak. I have since turned it in to the publisher who assigned me the project. Just this past week, the publisher sent me the contract for the story. I’ll share more details about this novella soon.

Although I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo this month, I did assign myself the project of writing my first comic book script. In honor of being NaNoWriMo, it’s an adaptation of one of the scenes from Dragon’s Fall. I’m currently working with an artist to bring “Guinevere and the Stranger” to life and hope we’ll have something to show off by spring 2021.

6 comments on “NaNoWriMo-ish

  1. sftrails says:

    I’ve never done that challenge. I guess I’m too undisciplined. Congrats on your novella. I love novellas, both as a writer and as a reader. But they are tough to get published. I call them the unwanted bastard stepchild of literature. Good deal, selling a novella.

    • In this case, I had to propose an idea and get it approved before I started writing. That always helps when setting out on a novella-length work. While it’s not necessarily a guarantee of publication before the contract, you know you’re writing something the publisher at least wants to look at.

      • The book I’m currently writing under contract was that way; we agreed on the general length when the contract was signed. Now, the publisher is actually encouraging me to make it a little longer than the original contract. (The second draft is done; it’s awaiting peer review before the final draft).

        As for the writing so many words per day, that’s one of those things that if it works for you, it works for you. My first produced one-act play is about 3,750 words or so, and I wrote the first draft in 48 hours. But I didn’t have any “words per day” goal, nor did I plan to finish it that quickly. If I wrote at that speed all month, I would have met the 50,000 words, but I didn’t.

        I’ve never set a word goal for a month. Maybe I’ll try it some time.

      • I’m now waiting to see what changes, if any, the publisher wants in my story. I suspect there will be at least a few. The word count was a pretty hard limit, though, so I doubt that will change much.

        As always, when I relate an experience like this, I’m just relaying what worked for me under a given set of circumstances in hopes someone might find the approach useful. I never intend to imply that what worked for me this time is the only way another person should do the job. It’s probably not even the only way I will do the job from now on. A lot depends on specific circumstances of the project and the writer in question.

        I think my largest number of words per day was about 8000, but in my experience, it would be hard to sustain that. I feel pretty exhausted after writing that much in a single session.

      • I certainly understand that you weren’t implying that the same thing works for everyone. And I appreciate you sharing ideas. I have had things that I believed “won’t work for me” that, once I tried them, did work. So I purposely don’t always write the same way.

        I don’t tend to think in terms of word count, but think in terms of space (or, in the case of scripts, time). Most of my professional writing has been as a journalist where word count doesn’t matter; column inches matter. In fact, on the first book I sold with a friend to a publisher, I don’t think we even checked the word count until after it was published. We did the layout ourselves, and were looking at number of pages of a given size.

        For scripts, word count doesn’t matter; the length it will take the actors to speak the dialogue and to perform the specified actions matters. I might write a “30-minute play.” For broadcast commercials, again, word count generally doesn’t matter–but it had better fit the 30-second time frame!

    • In high school journalism class, I was given a word count to column inch formula. I don’t recall what it was, and it must depend on the column width and fonts used, but I do recall it worked well. In fact, that’s how I first learned to write by word count. Of course, in those days word count was a measure of spacing on the page based on how many “typical” words filled a column line rather than a literal count of the number of words like modern word processors use. That noted, unless your writing style is skewed toward using mostly very short or very long words, literal word counting actually does pretty good as a measure of how much of a page — or how many pages — a piece of writing will fill.

      For something completely different, another type of writing where word count hardly matters is poetry. There, line count is usually used rather than word count.

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