What I learned from NaNoWriMo 2013

2 December 2013

This year, I did something different for NaNoWriMo. I realized on October 31st that I wasn’t going to have an idea for a story this year, and that I didn’t want to work on something that I’d already started. So I decided to do something completely different: 50,000 words of blog posts.

I love blogging, but I often drop off the face of the planet for months at a time due to other deadlines. Maybe a book is due, or maybe a deployment at work is taking up all of my brain space. What I need is a backlog of blogs to pull from.

Most of my blog posts are between 1000 and 3000 words, so doing NaNoBlogMo could net me around 25 blog posts that I could post in the upcoming year. Also, I had some teaching material that I needed to crank out, and what better time to crank it out than a month dedicated to getting words on the page?

So, how did I end up doing?

Not every blog post that I wrote ended up going onto my site. I blog on other sites, some for exposure, some for money, and some for community. But I got a good number up this month! Also, some are going to sit in my drafts folder for a while, so I have a nice backlog to fall back on.

I ended up selling a good number of blog posts. It turns out, when you can hand someone a list of posts you want to write that month, they happily start laying claims to the ones they like.

I also expanded beyond blog posts, outlining a few stories I’d had in my head for a while. I don’t plan on quitting my day job (like, ever) to write fiction, but it’s still a hobby I enjoy. I’d like to finish a longer piece one day.

The good times

Some of these blog posts have been rattling around in my head for over a year. I just never had the motivation to sit down and crank them out.

Sometimes I knew they would be emotionally difficult to write. Others, I knew that I’d have to structure carefully so that they didn’t come off as a me foaming at the mouth. Most of the time, though, I thought ‘eh, this won’t get that many hits’ and opted for not writing anything at all (which, of course, gets zero hits).

When you’re in a crunch, though, you’ll take whatever you can get. Emotionally harrowing? Good! Those rake in a ton of words! No hits? Who cares? That’s another 1000 words towards the daily goal! Feeling uninspired? Time for a rant! I know! Let’s come up with a regular feature that uses up a bunch of words!

Also, if you like to sell blog posts, nothing sells better than having another one lined up to go. “Oh, you liked that one about Kivy? Well… how about a primer for Python?!” “Say, you enjoyed that post about checklists? How about one about using your screen reader?!” I sold a pretty crazy number of posts this month, something I’d been meaning to do more.

The stuff that worked

I found skipping around worked quite well. There were few posts that I sat down and wrote all at once. In general, I would write a few hundred words on one blog post, then switch to a different one. Often, the themes would be completely different. I’d write for ten minutes on Python, then ten on knitting.

I also kept a list of blog ideas. I used the Google Keep widget on my phone for quick access and wrote down every idea that came to me.

Also, every idea got a chance, no matter how silly. If it didn’t work out, well fine. I gave it a chance. Many of them ended up working out quite well, though! A blog post I wrote about hating purse shopping got thirty-two comments! What the heck?

I wrote about everything, as well. I often meant to write up reviews for books I read, but usually stopped at giving it stars. I’ll write something up later! When you realize that a review could easily be a third of your word count for the day, though, you don’t wait. You barely put the book down before you start pounding out a review.

Switching techniques helped as well. Sometimes, I used the pomordoro method. Sometimes, though, I needed to just get a certain number of words down, so I’d write until I hit a goal, then watched a Let’s Play on YouTube (I wish I could tip Snapwave / Whycalibur and GetDaved. They saved my brain so many times).

Also, writing early is better than writing later. I fight for every word I write after 3pm. Coffee does not help. I just end up not writing faster. Then, I end up being awake until 11pm (shut up, I am an old, I have an early bedtime).

The dark times

It’s not NaNoWriMo without getting stuck. And I got stuck a few times.

Everything was going great until I hurt my thumb. Do you know how much you use your thumb when you type. You use it a bunch. Writing 500 words felt I like writing 5000 in one sitting.

I caught up, only to be hit by a bout of the blues. I knew I could catch up, but my energy levels had just taken a serious dive. I’d write a bit, think I’d written at least a quarter of the day’s total… and it would be less than 100.

But one of the great things about doing NaNoBlogMo was that it became incredibly meta at some points. I wrote about my depression, and about stupid things derailing my writing. It added words, and I was able to reach out to others in the same position.

Also, getting a dog in the middle of November? Totally distracting. But hey, at least he gave me new things to blog about.

The final tally

Posts finished: 34 Posts sold: 4
Posts started (but not yet finished!): 2
Posts abandoned: 0 (I’m proud of this! I actually managed to make something of everything I started!)
Longest post: Technically, not a post, but class material for a class on HTML5.
Shortest post: A post warning about not putting off your weekend writing until Saturday, which I totally ended up doing. Cue the sad trombones.
Outlines started: 2
Total words written: 50,048 (That’s right. As soon as I hit the finish line, I stopped and went out for drinks)

Next year: An idea

I had a ton of code in my posts. Because I wasn’t going to bother parsing them out (and because you count every word when you Nano), code ended up counting towards my final total. This actually inspired me to write more coding examples in my posts, rather than say “Trust me, it’ll work.”

This got me thinking about doing a 50,000 words exercise on a project. But Katie, I can hear you wailing, more code isn’t always better! You should have less code! You’ll just end up with copypasta!

I wouldn’t just be counting code, though. Ideally, code would make up the minority of my word count contributions. What would the rest be? Why, all the crap I always promise myself that I’d do, but never quite get around to!

For example, I can write blog posts about the project to hype it up a bit and gather feedback. I can write actual documentation to go with it. Hell, if I want more words, I can make sure the documentation covers Mac, Linux, and Windows!

Or maybe I’ll finally write that great American novel I’ve been meaning to churn out. I do have that outline for the Steampunk Cyber-dystopia coming of age young adult novel in my Google docs… I guess you’ll find out next year!

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