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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Guest Post by Simon Haynes: Why (and How) I NaNo.

Dan here: I'm excited to bring you this guest post. It's relevant to all who are participating in NaNoWriMo (especially first-timers), and I'm a huge fan of Simon's yWriter. It's the only writing software I use.

For those of you who may have fallen behind on your word count, let me offer you this advice: 2006 was my first attempt (and success) in NaNo, and I didn't sign up until Day 6. Even if you haven't yet written a word, you're still in it.

Now, on to Simon Haynes. 

Every year, come November, thousands of writers the world over sit down to apply themselves to a very special event. Yes, it's the annual 'bash all those deluded NaNoWriMo participants' blogfest.

Well I'm here to tell you NaNoWriMo does matter, and it is important.

First, a bit of background. I signed with a trade publisher in 2004, and over the next five years they released four novels in my Hal Spacejock series. The first three were already completed when I signed up, but required editing. The last was written from scratch.

Editing those first three novels was a lot of work, and it left me no time or desire to write new fiction. I knew I had to work on a new novel, else there would be nothing to publish when book three came out. So, in 2005 I participated in my first NaNoWriMo.

It was certainly an eye-opening experience. I'm a fair weather writer, dashing off scenes (vignettes, almost) when I feel like it and assembling them into some kind of plot framework when I get the chance. For much of the year I'm busy with work, family commitments and so on, just like everyone else, and writing takes a back seat.

November 2005 was the first time I'd pushed myself to write a minimum number of words per day over a sustained period. Quite a few days that month I ended up at 11pm, still desperately trying to reach my goal. (To avoid this, I recommend aiming for a minimum word count by noon. For example, make sure you write 250 words when you get up, then write another 250 in your mid-morning break, and 500 over lunch. Now you only have to do 700 in the evening to finish off.)

That became my annual schedule: edit a book for most of the year, write half the next novel in November. And it worked, except I kept ending up with unfinished drafts. In the end I took two of these drafts, cut out the extraneous subplots and excess characters, and blended the whole into my fourth novel: Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch.

I loved the way this novel turned out, but how would it go down with reviewers? Fortunately, they liked it. I admit I didn't ask the publisher to plaster 'NaNoWriMo effort' all over the cover, but although the development process was a little different it obviously worked. I proved to myself that NaNoWriMo was a workable strategy.

There was one thing I wanted to avoid in future: the unstructured 'what shall I write today' approach to NaNoWriMo. In later years I drafted a quick plot outline to try and keep myself on track, because producing a consistent first draft makes subsequent edits much easier. On the other hand I didn't want to stifle creativity and wild twists and turns.

yWriter5 is the software which keeps me on track during NaNoWriMo. It shows me a daily word count, which is essential, and at the end of the month it has a very handy 'export to Nano' features. This saves out my entire novel with all the vowels and consonants replaced with the letter 'n'. (This has no effect on the wordcount, which uses spaces between words ... whatever the words happen to be!)

By uploading this file I avoid any slight chance someone, somewhere, might capture an early draft of my work. It's not that I'm precious about it, but imagine if my unfinished 50,000 word Nano draft were shared on the internet? It would make finishing and polishing that novel seem a pointless chore.

The other thing yWriter does is to tell me when I've hit 50,000 words. In fact, if I tell yWriter I need to write 50k by November 30, it will tell me how many words to write per day. (1667). Go above or below this, and the daily total adjusts automatically. THIS is why I start Nano with 2000 words per day, because when the daily total drops to 1400, then 1300, then 1200 I know it's going to be easy to finish.

yWriter is another reason I don't fall behind. If the total starts creeping up (1800, then 1900, then 2000) I lock myself in the office with a laptop, switch off the internet and write until I've brought those totals down again.

Do I keep writing past 50k? In the past, no. I upload what I have, grab my winner's badge and go back to editing my previous novel. This year will be a little different, because my goal is to completely finish a first draft, not reach an arbitrary 50,000 words. If it takes 60,000 so be it.

I hope this brief post has given you a few pointers about surviving NaNoWriMo. It does get easier each time you do it, but it really helps to have the next piece of the plot puzzle ready before you sit down to write it. If you're making it up as you go along, I suggest setting aside a few minutes each night to outline two or three scenes. It's much easier to write when you know where you're going.

Simon Haynes was born in England and grew up in Spain, where he enjoyed an amazing childhood of camping, motorbikes, mateship, air rifles and paper planes. His family moved to Australia when he was 16.

   Simon has four Hal Spacejock novels, one Hal Junior novel and several short stories in print. Sleight of Hand won the Aurealis Award (short fiction) in 2001, and Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch was a finalist in both the Ditmar and Aurealis Awards for 2008.

   Simon divides his time between writing fiction and computer software, with frequent bike rides to blow away the cobwebs. His goal is to write fifteen Hal books (Spacejock OR Junior!) before someone takes his keyboard away.

Simon is also the programmer behind yWriter, the free novel-writing software for Windows PCs.


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