Lessons from (PseuDo)NaNo

  1. 50,000 words is a lot.
  2. I can do it.
  3. It isn’t easy.
  4. 7.8 is a really big earthquake (big enough to have its own Wikipedia page).
  5. I can’t produce creative writing on three hours’ broken sleep.
  6. Strangely, I can write scene outlines and blog posts in those conditions.
  7. A supportive spouse is worth their weight in gold.
  8. Rewards are good.
  9. The right rules can help.
  10. Sometimes you’ve just got to stop bashing your head against the wall and read.

Yes or No
50,000 words is a lot. I don’t know why exactly the NaNo people picked that exact number, but I went along with it. My final word count – well, that depends. (Lesson #11: I am better at writing than maths.) I made a note at the end of each session of how much I had written, and at the end of each day I added them up and then added them to my running total.

So far, so good. But here’s where it gets weird. Adding those daily totals together in a spreadsheet produced a different total to the running total in the planning document. Thinking myself terribly clever, I cunningly checked them against the actual number of words in the text, only to discover that that was a different total again.

So, the final word count is somewhere between 51,244 and 51,445, neither of which is shown in the chart below. (Chart made with LibreOffice and technical helpdeskry from the Caped Gooseberry.)


Not exactly the steady progress of the professional writer, is it? Allow me to decode.
First week: all went well. Knitting-in-order-to-think is a lifesaver. That spike on day four is largely due to the fact that I was editing a scene I pulled from the first draft, rather than writing a new scene altogether. It helps.

Second week: lower totals, but hanging in there. By this time, the Caped Gooseberry’s bronchitis was in full swing, and the completely missing day mid-week may not have been totally unrelated to a certain large country’s election results coming in.

Third week: Well. You see that tiny little snibbin of a blue dash, just above the 15? That’s Monday the 14th. 61 words. In my defence, I was shelled out of my bed just after midnight by a 7.8 earthquake and didn’t manage to doze off again until after dawn (for an hour or two). Despite the ongoing aftershocks, I decided I had to get some work done. 61 words was all I managed.

In Case of Earthquake, Do Not Tweet [cartoon]You might charitably suppose that the total emptiness of the following two days was due to ongoing aftershocks, but not really. Tuesday I spent in preparation for Wednesday, when I drove the Caped Gooseberry down the recently-reopened motorway to have his wisdom teeth out. (OK, I spent part of Tuesday in preparation. The rest was spent keeping an eye on earthquake updates.)

By Thursday of week 3 I was about 7,000 words behind, and starting to panic. I managed to write a reasonable amount in between changing the ice-packs on my dearly beloved’s distorted face and bringing him soft things to eat. Mercifully, on Friday I was able to use another section of the first draft (suitably rewritten) which did a great deal for the health of the word count.

From there it was just a matter of steadily trudging on, scene after scene, one bite at a time. What happened on Monday 28th I don’t know. It was a beautiful day, I felt good about the story, it was gathering momentum – and I just couldn’t get going. I scraped through 761 words in the morning, had other commitments in the afternoon, and spent the evening in that unpleasant condition where you know you should be doing something but you’re too tired and the more you fret about it the more tired you get. (And then you go to bed and lie awake for hours.)

Rembrandt Saskia in BedOf course, I had a scheme of rewards planned out to boost the motivation: settling down with a book once I’d hit the word-count for the day (but not before); and three chocolate mint biscuits for each 10,000 word milestone. I also had three rules: make a pot of tea, commit the work to God, and think before writing. (I arranged for some plain knitting to facilitate this, resulting in approximately 4,737 stitches knit, though not all during thinking-time.)

Committing the work to God was a big one for me. I have been trying to make a habit of finishing what I start, and writing is an area where that wasn’t happening, despite my assurance that this is what God wants me to be doing. So for me, this was not just a test to see if I could do it, or a natty way of breaking the back of the second draft. It was an act of obedience. And as is so often the case with obedience, productivity results.

I am glad to find that I can be this productive, and I have every intention of carrying on with it. Not, perhaps, to the same extent (reaching 2,500 words per day involved a certain amount of robbing Peter to pay Paul) but something close. Maybe 1,800 words per day, or 2,000. The point is to be making steady progress (Exhibit A: Week 4, above).

hole-205448_640I would like to leave you with these words from Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

Status Report: Wobbly

As you may have already gathered (or felt) by now, New Zealand is in the grip of a major earthquake event, which started just after midnight with a magnitude 7.5 quake and has been presenting variations on the theme ever since.

I am happy to report that the Caped Gooseberry and I are unharmed, albeit rather lacking in sleep. For one thing, there’s the continuing aftershocks, and for another, there’s the tsunami siren which the authorities, in their wisdom, have caused to be housed just over our back fence.

I also note that if there’s one thing calculated to bring general chaos into your life, it’s deciding to do NaNoWriMo (PseuDo or otherwise); and if there’s one thing calculated to provoke an aftershock, it’s deciding to pay a visit to (cough) the smallest room in the house.

So far the only damage we’ve noted is one bookcase crashing down onto our bed, precisely in the place my legs would have been had I not been already cowering in the doorway and beseeching divine aid to secure the continued existence of a) our house and b) ourselves. (Thanks.)

Naturally, my thoughts today are with those who have not weathered the night so well – and with all those exerting themselves to help, whether professionally involved or friendly neighbours. Good on all of you.

If you’re in New Zealand yourself, do feel free to leave a comment so we all know you’re ok!

Preparing for an Uncertain Future

No, I’m not suggesting that we should all become preppers. It’s a good idea to be prepared for whatever kind of natural disaster your area is prone to, but I don’t think it pays to mortgage your present for a merely possible future.

I have, however, been preparing for a change this past month. At the beginning of February it seemed distinctly possible that by the time the month was out we would have moved to a house half the size of the one we currently live in. And while that didn’t happen, I still needed to prepare in case it did.

Bernkastel BW 1
Cue a major pruning. So major, in fact, that I gave up the idea of writing for the month (apart from keeping up with the blog, obviously) and didn’t bother with trying to keep a purge list, because it would have taken too long. The downside of that is that I have trouble remembering everything that has left our house (a sure sign that we had too much stuff).

There was a whole boxful of kitchen things, including the sole survivor of my first ever set of wineglasses (the other three leapt to a glittering end during the first Canterbury earthquake); there were more books, some cassette tapes and CDs, a variety of clothing (some so worn that it had to be binned), and half a recycling bin’s worth of stuff I’d been keeping in my desk. Also a whole bunch of what might be described as general stuff.

I’ve also been working on my stash of unfinished projects – important for peace of mind, freed-up space, and maintaining my Finishing-Person reputation. The crazy quilt was finished last year, it is true, but that still left me with the rose quilt (a project even older than the crazy quilt, if my memory serves me correctly at this distance), a pair of half-knitted gloves, a block quilt to be assembled, a cardigan to be knitted from recycled wool, and a large backlog of mending.

StateLibQld 1 92432 Interior view of a woman mending clothes, ca. 1910
During February I made progress on the rose quilt, finished the gloves, and did most of the mending – there’s just one more waistband to be done and it’ll be finished. I am pleased with my progress, but also horrified at how much work there still is to be done. The Grand Purge is now mostly finished, and I’m back to writing (or rather rewriting) in March, but chaos, as ever, still lurks on the horizon.

Chaos, you ask? In a post-purge household? Well, yes. While we didn’t end up moving into the half-the-size house, we may find ourselves three weeks from a move at any time. This is exciting, but also somewhat stressful, particularly since we have no idea what size house we’ll end up moving to, and therefore whether or not a further Grand Purge will be required to fit. Because as much as we’ve got rid of, there’s always more that could be pared away. Like the rest of life, our simplicity is a work in progress – but the progress is feeling good.