Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Post-NaNoWriMo 2009 Post

nano_09_winner_120x240 This is a lengthy self-analysis of my NaNoWriMo 2009 experience. There may or may not be anything in here of interest because I’m really just doing this for my own benefit to look at the next time I write a draft.
Quick history of Steam Palace (the current working title):
  • Monday, Sept 7, I post The Lover’s Journey, my take on the Hero’s Journey from a male romance point of view. I then try to write the female version, but I wind up with a compelling story idea.
  • Monday, Sept. 14. I officially put down Dawn’s Rise, and start working on Steam Palace, according to this post.
  • Sept. 14-Oct.31. I take my basic outline, expand it to a 10K word outline, a 3000 word character doc, a 2,500 word brainstorming doc, along with a couple ancillary docs about technology, a dictionary, and a to-do list.
  • November 1, 12:00 AM. I write the first line of Steam Palace.
  • November 25, 8:37 PM, I write The End.

The Facts

  • Original Word count goal: 90,000
  • Final word count: 79754 (By my count. The NaNoWriMo site counts 80730 but that includes some notes I made to myself in the docs, scene titles, etc.)
  • Days Writing: 25
  • Total days invested: ~75
  • Average words/day: 3,190
  • Highest word count day: Nov. 24th, 5597
  • Lowest word count day: Nov. 14th, 429 (went car shopping)
  • Number of chapters/scenes: 73 (avg. 2.92/day)
  • Days sticking strictly to outline: ~5
  • Number of main characters who died: 2
  • Title Changes during Writing: 3
  • Completely impossible inventions: 2+

I Grade My Original Goals

  • This is the novel that I will write, edit, and sell as my first novel.
    This is a great little story which I think people will find entertaining and fun, and I’m definitely not ready to throw it away.
  • Keep up the pace.
    B I think I did this pretty well. I kept the action going throughout. In fact, to keep with my word count per Act goal, I cut planned scenes of low importance which helped move things along.
  • Interesting use of low/hi tech. Something interesting on every page.
    I wasn’t able to hit the level of creativity I wanted, and I tended to focus on a few specific inventions. Definitely will be a goal of the re-write.
  • Modern anachronism, futuristic retro. Ask What If.
    I wanted to create Flintstones-like inventions, like cell-phones, GPS, internet etc in a Steampunk setting but it just didn’t happen like I’d hoped.
  • Singular character focus on goals.
    This I think I did to a fault. My main character stuck to her goals through thick and thin, until about 6 pages from the end of the novel. Other characters did as well.
  • Focus on the main theme of the story: A girls quest to find her heart. 
    Sort of. But the ending wasn’t really about her heart, it’s about discovering that names and titles and labels don’t mean anything, it’s what inside that counts. So it’s not as much about her heart as it is about the hearts of the people around her.
  • Slow reveal of backstory, keep the reader guessing.
    I think I did okay with this. I revealed things throughout the novel. My characters did not appreciate this.

Things I Did Well:

  • Outlining
    I would say that my first attempt at decent outline went pretty well. I started with a basic 12-step Hero’s Journey, and used the Snowflake Method to continually flesh it out over the next few weeks. I wound up with different variations of the same chapter, tons of scene ideas I never used, and a real wealth of ideas to draw from.
  • X-Act Structure
    I had identified my plot points very early, and I kept them intact throughout all the changes in outline. High points, low points, etc.
  • Hero’s Journey
    This proved extremely helpful in figuring out how characters change and grow during the novel. I started the outline as a basic HJ and expanded it from there.
  • Character-Driven
    Hopefully I did well with this. I tried to make the characters move the plot and act. From the very first scene, the characters are acting and moving forward. They drive the events.
  • Research
    I had a ready-made pile of maps, names, ideas, all ready to go. This cut down the amount of distracting research to do while writing. I even attended a Steampunk Convention to help with my research.
  • Conflict
    I tried to create conflict whenever I could. Inner, outer, obstacles, disagreements, etc.
  • Continually increased stakes
    She starts out as travelling to visit her aunt—Little Red Riding Hood through the woods stakes. She ends with having to save the lives of her family and the future of her entire country. That’s called Raising The Stakes.
  • Cut early and often
    As soon as I reached a certain word count for an area, I started cutting scenes, trimming scenes, and making the action move. Anything remotely boring had to go. I was so paranoid of overshooting my 90K mark that I might have cut too much, coming in under 80K in the end.

Things I Wish Went Gooder

  • Staying on target
    The novel followed the outline for about five days than meandered around, only crossing the original outline here and there. I think I over-planned the outline a bit, not allowing enough flexibility. I also didn’t plan enough for the middle.
  • Creative inventions
    I liked the things I came up with, but I don’t know how much was truly inventive. Airships, mechanical horses, it all was interesting but didn’t break ground like I’d like. I’ve done well with this before, so it’s just a matter of details and rethinking things.
  • Characterization
    Despite my self-props for being character-driven, It’s not there yet. I think to work on backgrounds more. I think I have a number of good characters, but not many great ones. I have a bunch that can be flesh out more. I just need more details. More faults, more history, etc.
  • Style
    I wanted to create a turn-of-the-20th century eloquent style. It worked for a few chapters, but I wore out after a while. However, I was surprised at the number of words I came up with that the spell-checker didn’t recognize. I think it was a lot of fun.
  • POV
    Who knows. I tried mixing it up a bit between a few characters. But I never achieved that real deep POV that I was shooting for. I just don’t naturally write that way.
  • Avoiding “banned” words
    That went out the window very quickly. Adverbs, adjectives, transitive verbs, interjections, all of it. And frankly, I don’t care. I’m beginning to see that I write the way I write, and adhering to “rules” doesn’t really serve me.
  • Passive
    Whatever. I was made to write passive sentences.
  • Showing vs Telling
    By compressing the outline as much as I did, I tended to start each scene with a description of what happened since the last scene…which probably will be cut or expanded in the re-write. Or maybe it will work.
  • Sub-plots
    These didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. Some of them just petered out, some never gained ground, so I’ll review them and see what I need to work on.
  • Romance Fail
    This was supposed to be a Romance. It’s not. It’s an adventure with a love sub-plot. Maybe I’m not cut out for Romance. Not that there isn’t a lot of suggestive content, and a love story. But there’s no sex (on-camera as it were), very little kissing, and the girl chooses the wrong guy at the end.
  • True Heroism Fail
    I wanted to her to be a true hero, I really did, but she isn’t. Yes, she has a Hero’s Journey. Yes, she transforms. But I feel there’s still something missing, some element of self-sacrifice for the greater good that’s I left on the table. This will be my #1 priority for the re-write.
  • Middle Sag
    The dreaded Middle. I kind of avoided the problem by not writing much of it. My Act II is 1/3 of the book, when it should be 1/2. It needs about 15K more words to balance it out. Or alternatively, I could chop down the beginning/end, or move scenes over to the middle. This I think is the main weakness of HJ. 
  • Wanted more betrayals, reversals
    I wanted my main characters to be betrayed at some point, to have friends turn against them. It didn’t really happen, but there should be opportunities to introduce this.
  • Write-By-Hand Fail
    Well, I don’t mean to say that it was terrible. All it did was make me write slower, and in the end, I saw no improvement in the result. No to mention that when I transcribed it, there were several words I couldn’t decipher. I will not be repeating this experiment. I’ve noveled by keyboard for 20+ years, I don’t think I’m going to change now.

Main Takeaways

  • Outlining works up to a point
    If I hadn’t waited until Nov. 1 to start writing, I probably would have cut down the amount of time spent outlining with no loss of quality on the draft. As each chapter went on, I deviated more and more from the outline. After the 1/2 way point the story took over and I stopped consulting the outline at all; the story just wrote itself.
  • Hero’s Journey works up to a point
    It works and it doesn’t. It’s a great tool to identify the major phases of the character arc, but it falls flat in areas, especially the middle. Also, each character has his own HJ, and they experience different parts at different times. So the end project is a mish-mash. Heck, one character has literally 3 Resurrections. So I’m learning that it’s a basic guide, but a real story has many more twists and turns in it.
  • Pacing is hard
    I want to write and write about every little thing and expound on everything, reveal mounds of backstory, and explain every device, but there’s so little space in the book.
  • Progress
    3K/day is sustainable for a first draft, further drafts will probably be 1000K/day range
  • Getting the story done is more important than getting the story right
    I wrote an ending for the 1st time in 3 years. I’ve spent so much time working on story beginnings that I’ve neglected the endings. I literally learned more about my characters in the last 10-20 pages than I did in the first 280. When everything was on the line, I found out what was really important to them beyond everything else…and it’s not what I had intended. Do it. Finish whatever you start, even if it’s crap. It’s one thing to plan, it’s another to finish.
  • New stories are good
    I should write 2+ stories a year to keep fresh/excited.
  • Changing (sub) genres is fun
    I really enjoyed writing in a new genre. Romance, historical, I learned a lot from it. For some reason it got me writing the way I want to write.
  • Writing is always surprising
    For instance, first I wanted my FMC to sneak into the ball via a stolen invite. Then I wanted the ball to be a debutante dance. In the final version, she’s in the orchestra, which works out even better. She doesn’t play what the host wants—instant conflict, instant interaction. She’s not even a guest…she’s the help, so he’s more at ease with her.
  • My true style comes out, no matter what I write
    I’m not saying everything turns out the same. But somehow, things just sneak in, and even if I wrote a straight Romance, I’m sure it would be full of plot and action.

Next Steps

  1. Print Story (in case I never touch it again…it’s free from Create Space).
  2. Put on shelf for 4-8 weeks, work on another project (The Immortals).
  3. Review story with critical eye, revise outline to match current story.
  4. Brainstorm new ideas, conduct additional research.
  5. Create new outline, update character sheets.
  6. Create initial Query Letter—this will help figure out how to market this piece, and what I can change to make it sell. It’s not intended to be something I send out quite yet.
  7. Rewrite story from scratch, but with corrected POV, style, plot, characterization etc.
  8. Review, get feedback and critiques, etc
  9. Repeat from step 2 until published.
Is anyone still reading? I hope this helped a bit.


  1. PS: I'm a big fan of steampunk, so if you'll be wanting someone to do a read and critique once your 2nd or 3rd draft is ready, let me know and I'll gladly sign on.

  2. I'm still reading! Congrats on finishing your novel!

    I will not be finishing mine this month, although I'm optimistic to have a completed first draft before the middle of December. I'm at 64k now and probably have about 10-15k left to write. I might surprise myself though!

  3. This was very helpful to me. I've appreciated all of your thoughts about the HJ.

  4. I'm impressed by your fortitudes in reading this.

    I really miss cranking out that 3K a day, but the story ended when it ended.

  5. I edited the post to add one thing that didn't go so well: writing by hand.

  6. Wow!! Sounds like you had some really great goals and looks like you accomplished them. Great job :o)

  7. I love your NaNo breakdown. What a fun look at your month. BTW, I didn't know you NaNoed!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Now I have another great blogger to follow. One with a fresh and fun voice that I totally love!

  8. This is an awesome post. I'm sorry I'm reading it almost a month after the fact. Lol.

  9. Wow!! Thanks so much for sharing this.

    I admire your ability to maintain this level of focus. I've read all about the hero's journey, outlining, etc, etc, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I bought Dramatica and it overwhelms me.

    For my Nano book, I sat down on November 1 and said - 'Hm. I'm thinking a nurse in WWI?' - and I started writing - no plan. A mistake? I'm not sure. I'm wondering if outlining is right for me, but how can I truly judge it when I haven't given it an honest try?

    College straps my time, but it's no excuse. I need to exert myself as you do here. Inspiring and admirable!!

    By the way, I love that you stretch your comfort level by trying a genre you've never tried. And I have to say your book sounds fascinating! Turn-of-the-century love story? Good stuff!

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Andrew. I learned a lot.

    All the very best,

    from the desk of a writer

  10. My writing skills are evolving. I can't learn everything at once. Nothing wrong starting out by winging it. Every draft, every revision, ever critique I learn something new.

  11. Thanks for the shout-up but I'm pretty sure I published this way back in November :)

  12. This is an awesome post. I'm sorry I'm reading it almost a month after the fact. Lol.


Thank you for your contribution to this discussion.