Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Lets go Camping: NaNoWriMo April 2015

I have never been particularly known for being a sensible person. Case in point: I decided to do a PhD despite several people helpfully pointing out that PhDs are terrible and difficult and will eat your soul before you are done. I did it anyway and, lo and behold, it has been occasionally awful, definitely difficult and has probably consumed some vital part of my soul.

So, yeah. Not really a sensible person.

Which is probably why I ended up doing Camp NaNo this April. In the fourth year of my PhD. While writing my thesis. Told you I was a sensible person.

Camp NaNo is a lot like its bigger, better known sibling. You have a word count, and thirty days to hit it. There's a lot of advice and tips and support along the way, but ultimately its up to you. The main difference being that for Camp NaNo, you choose your word count. Anything from 10,000 to 999,999 words is accepted. (Though seriously, who the fuck decides that trying to write a million words in a month is a good idea?)

I've had a couple of novella length fanfic ideas in my brain for a while, and thought that April was a reasonable (ish) time to attempt a large, non-thesis writing project. So I set myself a target of 30,000 words—1000 words a day is pretty reasonable—and away I went. And as you can see by the shiny badge on the left right hand side of this post, I made it. I wrote 30k words in thirty days (26 actually, but close enough), making this the second longest fiction project I've ever written, by quite a large margin.

But I'm a scientist. It wasn't enough that I get a badge declaring my success, oh no. I had to graph it.

Because science!

Figure 1: It's definitely science if you make a graph out of it.

The black line up there on (lets call it figure 1, because dammit writing my thesis is getting to me) is the 1000 words a day mark, which is what I had to average to succeed. You can see by figure 1 that I started off well, sagged in the middle, had an impressive burst of productivity as I approached the word count goal (and the climax of the story) and then kind of went "ah, fuck it" after I'd won. Only once did I not make par, and I'm pretty sure that day was my first roller derby session, after which I was pretty justifiably knackered.


I like this graph, even though it shows 90% of the same information as figure 1, because it helped me keep track of how many words I had left to slog through. Which at times was a critical piece of information, let me tell you. It also makes it obvious that I passed the halfway mark on day 15, exactly on schedule, and then accelerated to the finish. The last couple of chapters simply flew out of my fingers, let me tell you.

These graphs are a little misleading, because they make it look like I wrote nice and steadily throughout the month. Let me tell you now that getting off to a good start really made a difference. I ended up a couple of days ahead pretty quickly, meaning I had to write less to stay on target. So, how many days out of the thirty did I write 1000 words or more?

Figure 3: This many.

Eighteen out of the thirty days did I manage to hit my daily target. Most of the time when I hit the target I exceeded it by quite a way. Those days when I didn't hit the target? Those were basically how many words I needed to maintain par. And then there's day 22, where I somehow managed to knock it out of the park. I wrote 2222 words that day, and that was the beginning of the end. I knew I'd won at that point. I kinda feel justified in taking a few days off at the end, especially since on top of all this writing I was doing my regular work, writing my thesis and falling over a lot on skates. Go me.

The story is currently at 31,210 words and is not quite finished. There's just the epilogue to finish, but I'm happy to leave it for a little while. I did it; I succeeded at a NaNo, which I've been wanting to do since forever, and I proved to myself that I can fit a decent amount of writing into an already hectic schedule. This story isn't quite finished, and already my brain is bursting with new ideas for stories.

This was mostly about proving something to myself; that I can write, and I can write fairly consistently. Thesis writing isn't forever, and though I don't know what's going to happen afterwards, I do know that I want to write, no matter what my day job. This has helped show me that in the long term, writing on top of a day job is something I can do.

In the short term, it was a lot of fun and I am super proud of myself. I am also super proud of the spousal unit, who did this camp NaNo along with me and wrote his first feature length script. Like any NaNo project, its not polished (goodness knows my novella needs work) but there are some real laugh out moments in that script. And it was good to have someone else along for the ride.

Sadly, I probably won't be able to do camp NaNo again in July, nor the main NaNoWriMo in November. I expect to be flailing about impending viva for the duration of November. But NaNo is definitely something I plan to do again in the future.

Just have to get this pesky thesis out of the way first.