Monthly Archives: December 2011

30 Before 30 DONE: NaNoWriMo

I’ve been meaning to write a wrap-up on my NaNoWriMo effort for a while now but life has been pretty busy. In fact, I’ve since complete another 30 Before 30 goal, namely: seeing Singapore, a country I hadn’t visited before. But that post is for another time. Right now, I’m in Bangalore, India, recovering from the awesome Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing, and the slightly less awesome stomach bug I had. I have a few hours to kill before my flight home, so I’m going to try catching up on blog posts.

So, I “won” NaNoWriMo this year! I wrote 50,005 words, meeting the 50k goal. My novel wasn’t actually finished at 50,005 words, but all the major plot points were covered, and there was only some filler left to write. Will I finish it? Well, maybe. It was plenty of fun to write and I learned a lot in the process – but quite frankly, it’s an awful novel. And even if I fixed it up, I couldn’t publish it, since it’s a fan-fiction and would be in breach of copyright.

The fan-fiction aspect makes me feel a little guilty. As some commentators have said, it’s lazy! And I’m inclined to agree: I had most of my characters and the universe they live in planned out for me. I did create some original characters and an island on which to play out the story, but the rest of it was Eiichiro Oda‘s work for One Piece.

I’m excusing myself on this occasion primarily because of my 30 Before 30 goal. I hadn’t written any fiction since high school and  none of the other story ideas I had were as well formed as my fan-fiction plot. Plus, this was the first and last chance I had to win NaNoWriMo before I turned thirty. Fan-fiction was the easiest way for me to write 50,000 words in thirty days – and it worked. Only 14% of the the approximately 250k participants achieved this goal in 2011, so it’s fair to say the odds were against me. It’s a little embarrassing, but fanfiction is what got me over the line.

2011 NaNoWriMo Progress Chart

Completing NaNoWriMo is hard – no doubt about it! My progress chart shows that it was touch-and-go for a while. Most of the writing was done on weekends, in 3000-4000 word chunks. There were also a number of interruptions, mainly in the form of medical treatment, that meant some days had no output at all. I also feel that I maintained a fairly normal social life, going out at least one night a week – although I’ve since been told things like “It’s nice to go out with you without you running away to finish your novel!”, so perhaps my social life wasn’t as full as I thought…

I wrote almost all of the novel in Google Docs on my iPad. This may seem painfully difficult to some readers but the trick is to write one-handed – the iPad on-screen keyboard is just the right size for one-handed typing. The way it handles Google Docs is still lacking, though. Word count features were disabled in mobile mode and desktop mode crashed frequently. But since I was reminded countless times that I should backup my novel, and because I wanted the freedom to write anywhere, writing on an iPad to a document backed up on the cloud worked well for me.

I’ve since heard a lot about software for novel writing (with useful features such as noting certain plot points to re-use later) which I might explore for future NaNoWriMos.

The Stats

Novel Title: Nijima Story
Genre: Adventure. One Piece fanfiction.
Writing software: Google Docs
Writing device: iPad (primarily)
Final word count (according to the NaNoWriMo validator): 50,005 words
Final word count (according to Google Docs): 50,803 words
Final page count (according to Google Docs): 97 A4 pages


The word count differences there are interesting. I learned that not all word counts were created equal. I’m just glad I picked up on this 4 days out from the end of November and not when I was finally submitting – thanks for the “procrastination tip” of testing your word count, NaNoWriMo team! Making up those extra 800 words in the last few days was crazy. I think the discrepancy happened because quite a few of my characters addressed others in the Japanese style, that is, adding a “-san” suffix to their names. My guess is that Google treated the hyphenated honorifics as extra words, while NaNoWriMo considered the name and honorific to be one word. The lesson there is to validate your word count against the NaNoWriMo counter every day.

Tips For First-Time Wrimos

Since NaNoWriMo ended, I’ve been told that I’m a rarity – a first-time participant that actually met the 50,000 word goal. There seem to be a few blog posts around about how to tackle NaNoWriMo (especially by the Office of Letters and Light, the organisation that runs NaNoWriMo every year), so I thought I’d describe what I think helped me win in 2011.

Have a well-formed plot before November
This is probably the number one reason for my success. The NaNoWriMo site says that while the novel should be written from scratch in November, prepared outlines and plot points are encouraged and can be written months before the event begins. I didn’t actually get around to writing down my outline before November, but I had been thinking about my plot for about six months. So I more-or-less had the complete story in my head, and it was just a matter of typing it out in thirty days. In hindsight, I wish I had written down a basic outline and some plot points, because I’m sure I had forgotten some of what I dreamt up before NaNoWriMo started. It wouldn’t have mattered for the word count, but I think my novel would have been a better story for some preparation.

Write every day
To reach the 50,000 goal, the daily target is 1,667 words. I didn’t strictly follow this rule myself – two days had no output at all, while another three or four gave only about 200 words – but even those extra 200 words helped my word count, and perhaps more importantly, it kept me thinking about my novel and my goal. Finding myself thinking about fictional characters in almost all my spare time was an interesting experience. Usually, if a project is occupying my attention for a long period of time, it’s related to work or my studies, for example: preparing for an exam for several weeks. But that is the real world. In November, I was focused on pure creation and imagination. All my spare time was thinking about a story; fleshing out details, wondering what would happen next, searching for the best language to describe a building or an outfit and – because of the fanfiction nature of my novel – gaining a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the One Piece universe. It was amazingly fun and I want to make sure I spend much more time on creative efforts like this in the future.

Tell everyone you know about your goal
Like any other goal you might have, you’ll feel more motivated when those around you know what you’re trying to do. They can also encourage you, or try and take external pressures off you – my friends understood when I turned down invitations to parties, for example. With luck, you might have the added bonus of finding friends who’ll try NaNoWriMo themselves (and getting more people to try something creative like this is always a good thing). On the downside, now everyone knows that I’ve written a novel and they want to read it! Not going to happen, people! It’s too awful!

Quantity, not quality!
This is a pretty common message to Wrimos but for good reason – it’s true. Don’t get hung up on whether what you’ve written is any good. Don’t edit. Do not edit! It takes up far too much time and will more likely reduce than increase your word count. Just write, write, WRITE! Yes, your plot will have more holes than a busted colander but that’s what the rest of the year is for! I was pretty good at avoiding editing for a while but I was definitely guilty of spending hours reading and re-reading what I had written, rather than using that time to write more. As you can see on my chart – any more editing and it could have meant failing to meet the word count.

What next?

So, now that it’s all over, what’s next? Well, to be honest, I haven’t even read my novel since NaNoWriMo finished. I want to “forget” as much of it as possible before I read it again, so I can have fresh eyes. I will probably finish writing that remaining filler and tying up the loose ends eventually. But then it’ll be safely stored away on a backup drive somewhere and forgotten completely until I find it accidentally in a decade’s time and cringe while I read my terrible writing! 🙂

I plan to write a lot more. I’ve really enjoyed this chance to focus on pure creativity. I plan to take part in next year’s NaNoWriMo too – I actually thought up the basic plot for my next story just after I had “won” this year’s event, heh. And the good news is: it’s not fanfiction! Until then, I’m going to read more novels (I have been reading almost exclusively pop science and business books for the last few years) so I can learn how to be a better fiction writer. It’s weird to think of it, but thanks to NaNoWriMo, I am now a novellist. I’d like to get to the point where I become a published novellist one day.