Thursday, 8 November 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 8: the three pillars of productive writing (and how I was not the first to come up with something like this)

Today I write about how I have acheived NaNoWriMo success (thus far), and review how I've been approaching my writing this year for NaNoWriMo, and how it's made a positive difference.
It's been a tough old week, but it's been going surprisingly well. If previous attempts at NaNoWriMo are anything to go by, by now, I would be several thousand words behind and be well in danger of throwing in the towel already. This year, things are going differently. I'm going to look back over the past week to analyse where things have been going right/write.

So let's check out how I've been writing and my writing tactics. Firstly, I took a good long hard look at how I've been working in previous years for NaNoWriMo and consistently failing, and I decided something has to change if I am to win this year and get 50,000 words written in less than a month.

So the first thing I did was set myself a routine. Most days, I've been writing from 10pm to midnight, after everyone has retired for the evening. I have also enjoyed the occasional burst of writing when I have downed tools during my workplace lunch break. In my evening sessions at home, I get a cup of tea or some fruit juice, maybe some snacks such as crisps or bananas, put a bit of music on, and get typing.

So let's look at the statistics as I have been doing each day. I had the goal of 14,000 words in mind today. If I had succeeded with goals yesterday, I would have shot for 15,000, but as I mentioned, Romney and Obama stopped me. As Day 7 closed, I reached 14,098 total words, just above my declared Day 7 target of 14,000. The ideal targets listed below are based on doing the minimum of 1667 words per day:

T Day 1 (ideal target: 1667): 2008 (2008 words written today)
F Day 2 (ideal target: 3334): 4393 (2385 words written today)
S Day 3 (ideal target: 5001): 6211 (1818 words written today)
S Day 4 (ideal target: 6668): 8102 (1891 words written today)
M Day 5 (ideal target: 8335): 10,377 (2275 words written today)
T Day 6 (ideal target:10,002): 11,993 (1616 words written today)
W Day 7 (ideal target:11,669): 14,098 (2105 words written today)
T Day 8 (ideal target:13,336): to be continued!
F Day 9 (ideal target:15,003): to be continued!
S Day 10 (ideal target:16,670): to be continued!

I have added in initials of the days before the days to assist better analysis of the statistics, and put the Ss for the weekends in bold. Ignoring the American election distracting me and my evening meeting the same evening on Tuesday, Day 6, as a statistical anomaly, I can see that the best days for working on my writing are weekdays. I feel this is because I perhaps feel I can ease off the pressure with my writing on the weekends, because spare time for writing is more plentiful, and thus conversely wasted more. With time restricted on the weekdays, I perhaps feel greater pressure, leading to a more productive writing session.

In terms of pressure, I have also found that I am sometimes most productive in the final quarter of an hour before midnight, perhaps because I know I am really against the clock then, and have to beat my goals before the stroke of midnight.

Another thing that has aided me with my writing has been good music. I have prepared two playlists of favourite songs and pieces of music, each precisely thirty minutes long. This is to aid me in knowing how long I've got left. I also try to write in set blocks of time. FOr example, I'll say: "it's 10:20pm now, I'll go for thirty minutes, get as much written as possible in 30 minutes, then make a cup of team and back into the hotseat at 11pm for the final hour." I'll hear the last song starting of the thirty minutes, and know I have to get cracking. I set arbitary but doable targets for these sessions, such as get to the next thousand word hurdle by the the end of the half hour, or, if I am doing a hour's session, both playlists will get played, particularly when I am into the final hour of the day, I'll be aiming get to a previously set total target. So I've been having fun, trying to beat the clock/write so much before the last song finishes.

I also look at a scene and if I know I'm going to struggle with writing it, I either skip it (and the work doesn't suffer for it, because the necessary information can be slotted in elsewhere) or I'll rethink how I'll approach it to make it more fun. I have to make a character walk through a door, for example. Dull, boring, yawn, is probably what you're thinking. But what if there was an urgency to get through the door? And the door, once opened, encounters a problem and it can't be closed? It has to be closed, to be safe, because if the door won't close, then something bad will happen! Job done, I've livened things up there, and made it more enjoyable so I can have fun with it.

Another thing I do is to write approximately fifty words, or three or four sentences, at the beginning of each day, setting out where I am going with the writing today. Knowing where I am going helps, because when I get stuck, I just refer to the notes to guide me forward.

So why do I mention this? It's because these three pillars, or fundamental elements, have become the foundation of my writing this year. I sat down and gave some thought to what I should be doing to try and get the best result out of NaNoWriMo back in October, because of my lack of success in previous years, I thought about where I'd gone wrong in previous years.

So to recap, here are my three pillars of productive writing:

1. DISCIPLINE: I found that my writing schedule was all over the place in previous years; it lacked discipline. I now have discipline and have at least two set dedicated hours per night for writing. I also keep an eye on how and when I write best. That's good time management.

2. ENJOYMENT: I also was writing dull and dreary scenes with characters that I hated in previous years. I have turned this round with the goal of seeking maximum enjoyment whilst writing, and skipping over or ditching the stuff that drags. If I don't enjoy writing something, sure as hell a reader won't enjoy reading it either. Enjoyment means not only loving the writing, characters and scenes, but also making sure there's fun along the way in the real world, with a good cup of tea and snacks to hand as necessary.

3. SHORT-TERM PLANNING: I also often used to set off into a scene, not knowing quite where I would go next, causing heavy delays whilst I thought about where a character was going, and why, for example. With a little short-term planning for the day's writing ahead, I know what I'll be writing about and won't get bogged down working things out or world-building. Plans change of course, particularly if a character is feisty enough to breathe life into a scene, but if that happens, that's all the better, because the work is really coming to life.

After much deliberation, I decided back in mid October that these three pillars would be my plan. By following this plan, I have been able to double my average daily NaNoWRiMo output over the last seven days from struggling to reach 1000 words a day (as per previous years) to easily getting 2000 words, and for the first time in doing NaNoWriMo since 2007, I am actually consistently ahead of target.

Having come up with a scheme, plan, pillars, call it what you will, I was filled with self-doubt. After all, I asked myself, who am I to be giving advice on writing, even to myself, or even taking advice? I couldn't even reach a thousand words a day previously, so how would small changes like this affect my writing? Filled with self-doubt, I sought other alternative advice, and Google turned out to be my friend.

Great minds think alike. I was prepared, ready to go, unsure whether to stick to my "three pillars of productive writing" plan. About a week ago, just before NaNoWriMo was about to begin, I did a Google search on writing advice for NaNoWriMo. I discovered that I'm not the only one to come up with these ideas. I came across the following webpage "How I went from writing 2,000 words a day to 10,000 words a day", and the author of that site and numerous books too, Rachel Aaron, sets it all out in a much better way than I can. I call them the three pillars of productive writing, whilst she calls it "the triangle of writing metrics" and even has a lovely diagram, calling them the triangle sides of Knowledge, Time, and Enthusiasm. These roughly equate to my pillars Planning, Discipline, and Enjoyment. She approaches it differently to me and labels it differently, but the fundamentals are there. She has a lot of good advice on that page, and I sincerely encourage you to go spend time reading her site. I found she had a book published on the Amazon Kindle called "2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love" (UK Kindle link) and I immediately bought it. Because I am busy writing, I don't have much time for reading, but from what I have read (I'm about halfway through) I am truly thankful to her for confirming I am on the right path, and the best thing for anyone wanting great advice on writing is to buy her book and follow her far superior advice!

Thank you Rachel Aaron for confirming the way through NaNoWriMo! Now listen up everyone, go buy her book via the link above!

So returning to the topic of progress for me, where do I see myself in seven days' time? I'm going to go out on a limb here, but shall we see if I can up the progress a little from approximately 2000 words a day, to reach 30,000 words by Day 14? That's 16,000 words in the next seven days, or roughly 2300 words per day. If not, then we'll stick to the generally sustainable goal of at least 2000 words per day.

In the meantime, I'm aiming for 2300 words. If I don't get it, 2000 is acceptable. Onwards!