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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Revisiting NaNoWriMo 2015

Welcome back to Cogitations of a Semi-Pro Wordsmith. As many of you may know, I participated in NaNoWriMo 2015 and was successfully able to get more than 58,000 words written in a science fiction novel. I am in the process now of revising that work, but I wanted to take a moment and look back at my NaNoWriMo experience.

Starting Out

I vacillated between about three project ideas in the two months beforehand, until I finally settled on Universo Responsoriis. One of them I’m pretty sure will be my NaNoWriMo 2016 attempt, and so I’ve been working on the plot and outline of that idea ever since. I am definitely a “plotter” for NaNoWriMo projects!

Leading up to the 1st of November, I continued to tweak and rearrange the plot here and there, and I also assembled a small collection of motivational doodads. I found an awesome printable calendar by David Seah at (and I am looking forward to his 2016 version!), which I printed and put up on the wall in my office. I sat down with my calendar software, and set recurring events for my writing time (early morning and late evening, with occasional lunch-time endeavors), including alarms. I changed my wake-up alarm to make sure I had ample opportunity to start my Caffeine IV drip (kidding—it was a transdermal patch) and eat some breakfast before sitting down to write. I scheduled time for 27 of the 30 days, not including Thanksgiving nor two of the Sundays in November. For those days, I figured I’d be able to write a little more before and after, and still keep pace.

On Halloween, I stayed up late—as a night owl, this is not a problem for me—and started writing just after midnight. I stayed up through until pretty early, maybe 2 am MST (in Arizona, we don’t do DST*) and wrote a few words, and then did my two other scheduled writing times. First day’s total was 5,023 words. Yeah, that’s correct, more than 10% of the month’s scheduled output in the first day. Tip: this is easier at the beginning! Since I had a wide-open story, it was easy to pick a couple of critical scenes and go to town.

For NaNoWriMo 2016, I plan to do the same and get as much written after midnight on the 1st as I can. If you are an early riser, try it the other way and get up earlier. I found that writing that many words right out of the gate took the pressure off. While I did still get something like 2,500 words per day average for the next couple of weeks, it was still helpful to know that a big base was already present.

Also, I had a few Writing Buddies both on the site itself and on Twitter, and staying connected with them was a huge help. We communicated pretty much daily, cheering each other’s successes and helping alleviate any issues the others hit on the way. It was both inspiring to see other people crush their daily counts, as well as a challenge to keep up—especially since two of them had higher goals (75k was one? And 70k for another?), and both had to finish early due to other commitments. That posed a challenge, not to get too caught up in trying to keep up with writers who had more ambitious goals. It was still fun, though, and I recommend that anyone attempting this get some good Writing Buddies and communicate with them regularly (daily or more if possible).

Daily, Weekly Goals

I set higher goals for myself for daily and weekly writing compared to the NaNoWriMo recommendations. At first, I aimed for 1,750 words/day, and 13,500/week. I know they don’t equal each other added up, but I also knew that if I set a higher weekly goal, it would give me an incentive to keep writing when I wanted to give up. It worked. I think I’ll have the same goals next year.
For much of the first couple of weeks, I was keeping my average up around 2,500 words/day. That would be ideal for me, but I don’t know if I can keep up that kind of a pace for a whole month!


There were some days where I struggled to get even a few words, most of them unplanned activities that took up long parts of the day. Because I knew that might happen, I wanted to make sure I was as far ahead as I could get, so I didn’t have to worry too much about missing time here and there.

More significantly, I found it a struggle once I got past about 52,000 words, for the opposite reason I found it so easy at first. I was surprised to find that once I got that far in, my hands were kind of tied about how I proceeded, and I found myself having to go back and forth to make sure that I was still being consistent with the story and timelines. Now that I know that, however, I think I’ll be better able to work around that for 2016’s edition.

Some Strategies for 2016

Much of the initial structuring worked well, so I intend to repeat it again: having a strong outline, with the Scrivener project all set up long before hand. Preplanning the days of the month, and setting high goals worked, so I will repeat that. I think my next story (for NaNoWriMo, anyway) will probably support about 62K words, so I’m going to plan around that. That works out to about 2,000 words/day so I’ll have to aim a little higher than I did in 2015.

One thing I didn’t do and hadn’t planned to do was meet ups or write-ins (virtual or otherwise). I think next year I will look at doing a couple of these, maybe one virtual and one live. I know there were a few events nearby, I just hadn’t planned to go to them and so I didn’t really pay much attention.

One other thing I will do more completely for 2016 is to have a bunch of character names already selected! I did run into an issue where I needed another minor character and had to stop to get a name. That sometimes ate into my writing time and disrupted my flow.

In Conclusion

I found NaNoWriMo 2015 an enlightening and exciting experience, and I am already looking forward to NaNoWriMo 2016. With the experience I gained from this one, I feel like I will be even more successful at the next.

What NaNoWriMo experiences have you had? If you have ever won, what do you think contributed to your success? If you tried but didn’t win for whatever reason, what things would you do differently? Leave comments below, so we can all benefit from your wisdom!

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