Nano 2012 Winner

Tadaa! I won my fourth Nanowrimo (out of five attempts) last night. I rushed to the finish line at the Last Ditch Write-In and ended up with 50,186 words.

I’m just a tiny bit shocked that I managed to write quite that much, but I should really have expected the feeling, as I get it every year.

So Stars Shine Brighter goes into the folder of unfinished Nanos to return to at a later date.

Next on the agenda is to take up work on the first draft of The Paradise Swarm again. And I’m very excited about that!


Nano Status Report

We are nearing the end of Nano and I am behind – so, so very behind.

I am about 10K behind on my word count, I am writing this blog post about a week late and I don’t even want to start on the state of my living room. Chores are for December.

So far, so unsurprising – this just happens to be how I do Nano.

Every year, I try to keep on top of my word count and every year, I end up with stats going up in a very gentle slope for the first three weeks, and shooting up madly in the last ten days or so.

Last year was the first time that I lost in four years, so my main goal for this year is to win and I think I’m definitely on track despite being behind. I’ve got some time off work and I’m at a really exciting part of the story, so it shouldn’t be too hard to catch up.

So despite the Nano stats telling me I need another 3,176 words a day to finish on time, I’m quite happy with how this year is going so far. There are several things I’m especially happy with:

There have only been two days this year when I didn’t write anything (the weekday Mid-Month and Thanksgiving). In previous years, I’ve have had a lot more days off than that and writing every day has always been one of my goals for Nanowrimo.

I’ve stuck to my story even when I thought it really wouldn’t work out. In previous Nanos, I have: gone back and forth between English and French, switched story mid-way through, killed off the MC to make up the last few thousand words, written about five different beginnings, etc… This year is actually the first time I’ll end up with a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end – I may not get to the end of the story in November, but I’ll be a damn sight closer to an actual first draft than I’ve ever been before.

I’ve also really enjoyed writing these blog posts, even though I’ve find it really challenging at times to fit writing them around writing my novel. The blog posts may not be much, but they’re a few more hundred words to get out that don’t count for my word count, and I don’t normally write any more than 50K in November (I’ve validated between 50,000 and 50,500 on November 30st all three of my winning years).

I’m so, so happy with how NanoRilla went! Some of the locations we stopped at this year (the Millenium Bridge, the Globe) were actually spots we had been hoping to use in the past few years and didn’t manage to. I also managed to write more than 2,000 words during the whole afternoon, which I was so impressed with – I write really slowly and NanoRilla usually means sacrificing words for the fun of traipsing around London with other awesome Wrimos and getting weird looks from tourists. No so this year! People were awesome, tourists were weirded out and I wrote lots.

Finally, if you were at the Lock-In on Saturday night, how crazy was it? I am so impressed with how many people we managed to fit inside of the Big Green Bookshop. Once I recovered from the state of panic induced by my first two coffees and the steady arrival of more and more Wrimos, I had the best time and wrote about 5,500 words. And according to the word tally we kept throughout the night, I was towards the low end of word counts for the evening. Collectively we wrote approximately 366,000 words. That’s almost two of Karl’s novel, people!!

So there are things that I will need to improve on next year, but I definitely feel like this year is an improvement not only on last year when I lost, but also on all of my other Nanos. And now I have to go and write another 2,000 words before the end of today.

Catching-up Claire,
34,121 words.
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Coping With NaNo: Writing Sprints

At the beginning of November, when I’m enthusiastic and inspired, I write in long bouts of 45 minutes or an hour.

A few days before the end, when I’m way behind & madly scrambling to the finish line, I won’t let myself stop for hours on end.

In the dreaded Weeks Two & Three, however, a powerful combo of procrastination-inducing thoughts takes over:

  • The usual snippy remarks from my inner editor ‘You’re using THAT word? Really?’
  • The story isn’t exciting enough yet to carry over the slump ‘They’ve not warped yet? Really?’
  • I can still tell myself that there is a lot of time left and I’ll be just fine ‘I’m ONLY 10K behind…’

It tends to leave me much less eager to write and when I try to put my head down and write for a full hour, I just end up checking Twitter on my phone half the time. So instead of a long slog, I go for short sprints.

Writing sprints are my November lifeline and are the only reason I won three Nanos. If I focus, ignore the distractions and type like the wind, I can get 300 words down in ten minutes. I know some people will think that’s not a lot and some people will think they couldn’t top that, and that’s okay. We all have different paces, what I love about knowing mine is that I can organise my writing sessions around it.

If I can do 300 words in 10 minutes, I only need six ten minutes sprints to be over the daily word count goal. I could just write for an hour instead but I know for having tested the theory time and time again that it would be less productive for me.

For the people of the internet age who have ridiculously short attention spans, sprints are just perfect – it’s so much easier to set aside distractions (read ‘cat gifs’) for 10 minutes than it is to resist them for a full hour.

Approaching a mountain of words ten minutes at a time can also be a lot less daunting, especially when you’re quite a bit behind like I am.

Just set an alarm for 10, 15 or 20 minutes and write without pausing for anything. Switch off the wifi if you have to, or try writing full-screen (programs like Q10 or Write or Die let you do just that) and type until the clock ticks. You can alternate your short, concentrated bursts of pure noveling genius with getting a coffee, doing some plotting or interacting with the people you’ve been neglecting this November.

If you’re on Twitter, follow @NanoWordSprints, where MLs from around the world run regular sprints day and night, complete with mini pep-talks and optional writing prompts.

You can also hang out with fellow writers in the Nano London Chatroom: After you’ve registered here, you can log in to the chatroom here. Writing sprints, plot discussions and possible procrastination await.

10681 words

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Wise Wrimo’s Survival Kit: Writing Software

Welcome to this side of November, everyone!

If you’re like me, you’ll be eager for anything that can help make your life that little bit easier (read ‘less insane’) this month. And you’ll jump on any occasion to try out new gadgetry.

I haven’t found the software that’ll write my novel for me yet, but I have found many nifty programs, ranging from the simplest to the most elaborate word processors.

They’ll either encourage you or guilt you to the finish line, and better yet – most of them are very cheap, or very free.

I’ve put together a list of them for you, because that’s much easier than writing my novel. So pick and choose what sounds good to you and put together your own customised Software Survival Kit.

The Basics

The first piece of writing kit that springs to most people’s mind is probably MS Word. It comes pre-packaged on some computers, but if you don’t have it, there are plenty of other options. The popular shareware Open Office, available here, is ad-free and easy to use, but isn’t the best in terms of file extension compatibility. While it’s useful to have a basic word processor on hand, it’s often impractical to keep large word-counts in one single document, as you have to wade through dozens of pages to find any given scene.

The Swiss-Army Knives

You might want to consider a software designed for fiction-writing, especially if you’re writing in a non-linear way. My personal favourite is long-time Nano sponsor Scrivener, available for Mac and PC, it offers a conveniently-timed 30-day free trial and will give you a discount on the full product if you win your Nano. It might seem daunting to get your head around, but it’s actually very intuitive and you can read @LorelaiSquared‘s excellent tutorial here.

I have also heard good things about Storyist, but as it is Mac/iPad only, I do not have personal experience of this program. The Nano site calls it ‘a powerful novel writing environment’ with ‘some great self-publishing tools too!’. As it’s a Nano sponsor, it’s offering a special Nanowrimo free trial for November and a 25% discount with the code ‘NANOWRIMO12’.

The Catch-Uppers!

Despite our best intentions, most of us will end up missing a day or two of writing, or fall behind a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with that – I do it every year – but it helps to have strategies to get back ahead.

Mine is timed writing sprints, and particularly Dr Wicked’s infamous Write Or Die, which is tag-lined “Putting the ‘Prod’ in Productivity” with good reason. Instead of rewarding you for good behaviour, Write Or Die ‘punishes’ you for pausing in your writing by flashing red, giving you a reminder that you should be writing, playing an annoying song or slowly deleting your words. You can choose your pace, sprint-duration, grace period and even punishment. You can also go full screen or disable the backspace key to prevent on-the-fly editing. You should try it, it’s fun and it really works – I’m not sure I would have won any of my Nanos without Write Or Die. The web-based version is available for free, and the desktop version (for PC, Mac and Linux) is $10.

I also have a soft spot for Q10: a free full-screen text editor, small enough to fit on a USB drive (on which you back up your novel OFTEN), with customisable formatting, target counts, timer alarms and typewriter sound effects. Which you can swap for Supermario sound effects. Enough said.

A Wealth of Web-Based Apps

If you have an office job, don’t miss an opportunity for some sneaky wordcount-padding at your desk! You could simply write an email to yourself, or use Google Drive to write up and save word files for free. I use Google Drive constantly when it comes to writing articles and sharing to-do lists and resources with friends, but I know concerns have been raised over Google’s privacy and copyright policies. I haven’t read Google Drive’s Terms & Conditions, so I don’t have an informed opinion to offer on the subject, but I do have a nifty alternative app.

750 words is a website designed to host writing privately and for free. Once you’ve created your account, you can type in near full-screen mode, and your writing will be saved – but only for your own eyes. I particularly like getting stats on my writing when I’m done, and collecting cute badges for various achievements.

Finally, every time you need cheering up, go and write a hundred words at Written? Kitten! It is exactly what it sounds like.
1202 words

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Outlining Nerdiness

I must confess, I’m a complete outlining nerd.

I scheme, plot, sketch and play around with my ideas pre-November, stopping just short of the ‘No prose before November’ rule.

When I tried discovery writing (Nano ’09 and ’10), I found myself wandering aimlessly from November 5th onwards. Though I enjoyed writing these novels, I know that’s really not what works best for me.

That’s not to say discovery writing isn’t a good way to go (in fact it might be the best way to go for you), but simply that there are about as many ways to get ready for Nano as there are Wrimos.

So if you’d like to do some plotting now, here are some resources and techniques I find useful:

Basic structure

In order to keep up with the pace of month-long noveling, I like to have a structure in place before I start. Not necessarily something extremely detailed, but a road map I can turn to when I don’t know what my characters should do next.

I swear by the first few steps of writer Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. The idea is to start with the most basic summary of your novel possible, then expand in stages (five sentences, then five paragraphs):

[box]A reconnaissance squad travels across the galaxy to investigate an unresponsive colony.

Setup – A Federation of Planets reconnaissance squad sets off on a mission to the other side of the galaxy.

Initial Problem – A freak storm badly damages the ship, forcing the Captain to take the mission off-course in search of affordable repairs.

Bigger problem – As soon as it resumes its course, the freshly-fixed ship is targeted from the inside by a saboteur, and from the outside by a massive, top-of-the-range rebel warship with a grudge.

Biggest problem – When the truth and horror of the Federation’s methods come out into the open, the crew turn onto one another, treason and murder afoot.

Resolution – Having gotten rid of the spy-turned-assassin, the crew land safely at the colony they were sent to investigate and part ways, escaping the Federation’s dictatorship.[/box]

A word of warning though, I never go past step four as the later steps are way too detailed even for me (it makes for an interesting read, but I would certainly not recommend it for Nano).

Arcs, arcs, arcs

I use the Seven-Point Structure, popularised by YA-author and podcaster Dan Wells to situate character arcs and subplots in relation to the main plot. My favourite way to do this is in a table where I can check things at a glance:


Structure Main storyline Comms Officer
Initial situation
Crew leaves home planet Works for Federation, has memory loss
Plot turn 1
Call to adventure
Mission is taken off-course Hears foreign language she can understand
Pinch 1
Added pressure
Discovery of broken component Realises she is being watched by Federation
From reaction to action
Attacked by rebel warship Hears reports of Federation modifying memories
Pinch 2
Take stand alone
Betrayed by one of their own Gets evidence of what the Federation did
Plot turn 2
Power is in you
Get rid of the saboteur Decides to trust rebel captain
End situation
Crew arrives at destination planet Breaks conditioning, recovers true identity


Have a listen to Episode 7.41 of Writing Excuses for a five-minutes explanation of the system, or if (like me) you’re a dork for in-depth structural analysis, check out Wells’ 5-part YouTube series on the subject.

Filling in the gaps

Once I’ve got a continuous thread to cling to, I start making some emergency bucket lists. Brainstorming for these is pretty simple: I set a timer for 10 minutes and jot down as many ideas as possible without pausing. A lot of what comes out never gets used, but the coolest ideas make it in my notebook.

Around week two, when I have absolutely no idea what should happen next, I’ll use these as custom prompts. For instance, here are some of the dangers I can incorporate if I need a space variant of the ‘Just have something blow up’ strategy:


  • Space pirates, smuggles, slavers
  • Ship boarded by rebels
  • Solar storm, meteor showers
  • Lose lights, power, access to controls
  • Break vital piece of equipment


If you’re of the insane Plot-A-Lot kind, share your Nano outlining tips and tricks below!

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