At Loose Ends.

I slept for more than 9 hours last night, and until this evening when we go out to a Christmas party, I have nothing clamoring for my attention. I’ve barely had a moment to breathe since December started, but for now all of the big projects are in a bit of a holiday lull. I’ve got dozens of smaller items on my to do list, both business and personal, but nothing that is looming over me, fangs dripping, like this.

I don’t have any idea what to do. I’d like to get back to Breezeway — I haven’t written a word since Dec. 2 or so — or hit the treadmill for a bit, but I’m still groggy from all the extra sleep. I’ve been running on 5-6 hours most nights for the last few weeks, even on weekends, because I’ve been traveling back and forth to California and my body clock is all screwed up, and after going to bed at a normal time and sleeping late I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

Maybe I need some cookies. And more coffee.

Post-NaNoWriMo Update: Lessons Learned.

What the hell just happened?  A few days ago I was cruising through November with steady work days and working on Breezeway Blows Town, generally making my word count and billable hours and not being completely absent from my family.  Then December 1 rolls around like a senior partner handing out assignments at 4:45 on Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend and I am crushed with work.  I started this post on Saturday morning, the first time since 11:59pm on November 30 that I’ve had a few minutes to breathe slowly and think about NaNoWriMo 2009.

I’m going to start with some statistics.

  • Word Count, NaNoWriMo 2009: 51,324.
  • Word Count for 2009 as of 10/31/2009 (fiction): 19,533.
  • Word Count for 2009 as of 10/31/2009 (fiction & nonfiction combined): 37,353.
  • Billable hours, 10/2009: 177.
  • Billable hours, 11/2009: 183.
  • Workouts recorded, 10/2009 (running, strength training, taekwondo): 15.
  • Workouts recorded, 11/2009 (running, strength training, taekwondo): 9.
  • Weight gain, 10/25/2009-12/1/2009: 3.2 pounds (apparently, the last time I weighed myself before NaNo was 10/25, but I don’t blame any of the weight gain on Halloween candy eaten before 11/1).

I believe I got less sleep in November than usual, but I stopped keeping track before the month started so I don’t actually know.  There are probably other stats I could try to measure, but these give the flavor.

We interrupt this post to swear quietly and kick the wall. WordPress just logged me out when I tried to save the draft, and I lost about two paragraphs. We now return you to your irregularly scheduled blog post.

The most important thing about NaNoWriMo is that I wrote. I wrote every damn day. Even when I worked 14-15 hours, I did at least a 15 minute Write or Die session and banged out 350-400 words.  Most days, I was anywhere from a few hundred words ahead of goal pace or even a full day’s worth; I think I was only behind on three or four days out of the month, and only once more than a few hundred words behind. I generally wrote about 2000 words a day, but I had several days of more than 3000 words, and on Nov. 28, the day I crossed the 50,000 word mark, I wrote 3900.

In other words, I was consistent. I wrote day in and day out, whether I was energetic or exhausted, inspired or out of sorts, excited, bored, happy, sad, up, down or sideways. I gave up television a couple of years ago; for November, I cut back on screwing around on Twitter and Facebook (I still posted; I just didn’t pay as much attention to your status), and while I managed to keep posting semi-regularly to this blog, you may have noticed that most of my updates were pretty short. I was saving my word count for NaNoWriMo and Breezeway. I also stopped noodling around on the new piano, which I don’t think anybody missed.

I wrote the way I imagine professional novelists write, like it was my job. I wrote like the mortgage depended on it. And it worked. The narrative progressed at a reasonable pace, and the rough outline I hashed out for the first two-thirds of the story in October helped.  Only three of the 36 scenes I’ve written so far match up with the outline, but they essentially run parallel to it, so I still have a good idea where I’m going without being locked into anything.

If it hadn’t been for NaNoWriMo, I would probably have finished 2009 feeling like it had been a nearly wasted year when it came to writing fiction. I got around 14,000 words into Project Hometown and started a short story that seemed like a good idea when I started but 5800 words in turned into a joyless timesuck, and spent my summer on a non-fiction project that was satisfying and and actually, you know, published, but it meant that I didn’t write any fiction at all for the entire season. Now, no matter what I get done in December (on Dec. 1, my goal was to get to 75,000 words in the Breezeway draft by New Year’s Eve, but that’s looking a little optimistic given my work schedule), I consider 2009 a success. I won’t have finished another novel draft, but I’ll have gotten damn close.

One more note on Breezeway: I like what I’ve done so far. It will need major revisions, but I’m not totally embarrassed by it, either. I only started to get the main character’s voice about 35,000 words in, so I’ll have to fix his early scenes and revise the story a bit to make his actions more consistent with what his personality is turning out to be. I may also want to reorder the scenes a bit to make some events happen earlier, which would changing the pacing, but I’m not sure about that.

I’ve also started thinking about how to rewrite last year’s novel, Meet the Larssons. I put it away three-quarters of the way through the second draft, because it had turned into a mess.  I’m thinking about starting to type in those edits but revising it further as I go, to see if I can salvage it. I feel like I’ve finally gotten the necessary distance to give it the rewrite it needs. I have also thought about rewriting it from scratch so that I won’t feel tied to the original version at all, but that may be too drastic.

The side effects of doing NaNoWriMo were different from what I expected.  I think it’s safe to say that NaNo did not have a very significant impact on my work. I billed a few more hours in November than in October; both months were about average.

The physical impact was considerably more noticeable; I worked out less often in November than the previous month, and the workouts I did were less intense (shorter long runs and no speed work, for example); I worked out less in October than usual because of the week off to recover from the Urbanathlon. I ate more junk than usual (especially while the leftover Halloween candy lasted) and went to bed even later than I ordinarily do, which was part of why I exercised so much less — I couldn’t get up in the morning to go for a run, and I was writing during lunch so I couldn’t go to the gym. The 3.2 pound weight gain was bad enough, but I think it understates the changes from unused muscles and so on. I feel much more out of shape than I did at the start of the month.

The Siren can speak to this if she likes, but I think I got a little better over the course of the month about not completely hiding from my family to write. At the beginning, I think I shut myself off more, but about halfway through I was confident enough that I was making good progress that I reengaged a little. Unfocused Girl kvetched a little on a couple of nice Saturdays that I spent the afternoon in the study instead of chasing her around the backyard, but, after November was over, I asked her if she thought I had ignored her and Junior and she said she didn’t. She might just have been telling me what I wanted to hear, but she seemed genuine enough.

For me, NaNoWriMo was an almost entirely positive experience. If I do it again in 2010 — and that isn’t a given, since I don’t know what I’ll be working on in 11 months — I’ll try to keep my running going a little better, at least, and maybe go to bed a little earlier (although I’m not sure why November would be any different from the other 11 months in that respect), but I wouldn’t change much else about the way I did it. My primary goal was to reboot my fiction writing habits and make a good start on Breezeway, and I did both. Word count aside, NaNo worked out exactly the way I’d hoped.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go for a run.

Just a reminder that every day through Christmas Eve, the Green Eyed Siren is making a new batch of cookies for NaCoBakMo, National Cookie Baking Month. Make a donation of $25 or more to the Irving Park Community Food Pantry and email her the receipt and she’ll send you a batch of mouth-wateringly delicious homemade cookies. As an added incentive, we’ll match the first $500 of donations. So donate today! Or don’t, and then there will be more cookies for me! Check out the Siren’s latest NaCoBakMo update here.

Final NaNoWriMo Update: 51,324 Words.

I uploaded and validated my final numbers to the NaNoWriMo site today, and the gnomes in Oakland tell me that the total is 51,324.  Here it is on a bar graph, just to drive the point home:

Breezeway Blows Town, Day 30:

51324 / 50000 words. 103% done!

That’s right, baby, I gave it 103 percent!  As promised, I sent the draft so far (minus the spoilerrific notes at the end) to the Siren — I actually loaded it onto her Kindle for ease of use.  Let me say that again: my novel (so far) is on a Kindle, just like Stephen King!

Yeah, yeah, I know. Let me have my moment, OK?

I’m already sad NaNo is over, but I’m getting slammed at work so it’s just as well.  I’ll try to recap later in the week.  Meanwhile, go check out what the Siren’s cooking up for NaCoBakMo today.

NaNoWriMo Day 29, 50,570 Words and Post-NaNoWrimo Victory Update.

The first thing I did this morning was 15 minutes of Write or Die Desktop Edition, and quickly knocked out 448 words for the novel.  I added a sentence here or there later in the morning, for a total of 535 more words for the novel.  Since I WON NANOWRIMO YESTERDAY, the pressure is off, and I had a bunch of other things I wanted/needed to do today.  Here, in no particular order, are some of the things that occupied my time today besides working on my novel:

  • Ran 6.39 miles very slowly (1:04:04).  It was my first run since Nov. 17, and my longest since Oct. 25. I lost a lot of speed (and muscle) in the month spent in front of the computer every waking moment, and it will take a little while to get it back.
  • Read a little of the Sunday New York Times for the first time in mumble mumble.
  • Worked. I’ve got a lot going on at the office (and out of town) between now and Christmas.
  • Went to lunch with the Siren and the kids at the diner for the first time in weeks.
  • Played Sorry with the kids while the Siren went to the supermarket to buy more butter, flour, and sugar for NaCoBakMo.
  • Went to the supermarket after the Sorry game to pick up the dishwasher detergent that the Siren forgot so she could focus on baking cookies.
  • Worked some more.
  • Listened to Christmas music. The Hanukkah music comes later, closer to the holiday itself, because there isn’t as much of it that I like.
  • Ate some cookies before dinner.
  • Listened to the first episode of The Cinnamon Bear with the family during dinner.
  • Ate some more cookies for dessert.
  • Got the kids to bed.
  • Worked more.
  • Had one last cookie.
  • Paid our property taxes.
  • Told the kids to go back to bed.

As much as I enjoyed NaNoWriMo, and I did, it’s good to be able to do a few other things, too.

IMPORTANT: You may have noticed my references to NaCoBakMo and eating cookies, lots of delicious cookies.  The love of my life, the Green-Eyed Siren, has started the first ever National Cookie Baking Month to raise money for our neighborhood anti-hunger charity, the Irving Park Community Food Pantry.  You can read about Day 1 here, and Day 2 here.  She’s baking cookies every day from now through Christmas Eve, and will send a batch to everyone who donates $25 to the IPCFP before then and emails her the receipt. Please participate so that I don’t end up eating all of these cookies myself.  To encourage you further (although if you’ve ever tasted the Siren’s cooking, you would need no further incentive), we’ll match the first $500 in donations.  Get off my blog and over to hers to read the details and see pictures of the delectable dainties as she makes them.

FINALLY, I leave you with The NaNoWriMo Song, because it’s awesome:

NaNoWriMo Update: In Which I Totally Kick Ass.

I win! My winning word count, as verified by the word-counting gnomes at NaNoWriMo headquarters in Oakland, California is 50,073.  Here it is in bar graph form:

Breezeway Blows Town, Day 28:

50073 / 50000 words. 100% done!

So, to be clear: Me. Winner.  I have already performed the butt-shaking victory dance for the children, so you know it’s official.

I’m going to get more written tomorrow and Monday before the deadline, so this is not my final total word count, but the pressure is off, and I have more real work to do.  I’m already thinking about my goals for December, with the ultimate goal of finishing the first draft (which I expect to be around 80-90,000 words) by the end of January.  Sometime next week I’ll try to post my thoughts on the whole experience while they’re still fresh, but as my podcasting Canadian writing buddy John Mierau tweeted the other day, the best part of NaNoWriMo has been writing like the professionals do, planting our butts in our seats in front of our keyboards, day in, day out, whether we felt like it or not, and getting the story written.

For now, though, there’s a turkey on the grill and a bottle of good champagne we scored at a silent auction years ago in the fridge.  Not to mention a new batch of cookies fresh out of the oven.

NaNoWriMo Update: T-910 Words!

Way too pumped to write much of a post here, but my total NaNoWriMo word count is now at a massive, artery-clogging 49,090.  Let’s see how this looks on a bar graph, shall we:

Breezeway Blows Town, Day 28:

49090 / 50000 words. 98% done!

Yes, that’s 98% done! Despite the occasional tickle fight, shouts of “Figgy pudding!” (the funniest phrase in the English language), helping Junior a little with his train set, and helping Unfocused Girl clean up her box of beads after I accidentally walked into it (oops), I knocked out just under 3,000 words today — for a total of 49,090, did I mention that? — and now have less than 1,000 words to go before I can declare myself a winner and do the dance of TOTAL VICTORY!

Excuse me, I need a moment.

Thank you.  I have also started considering the possibility of post-NaNoWriMo let down.  What will I do when I no longer have my time filled by generating 2000-3000 words of fiction almost single day?  How will I deal with the adrenaline crash?  I suspect everyone has their own way of coping after NaNo ends.  Me, I suspect I will handle it by eating cookies.

As if our December wasn’t going to be crazy enough, the Siren is back to her blog with a plan that makes NaNoWriMo look positively sedate.  Mmm, tasty, tasty insanity.

NaNoWriMo and Word Count Update: 46,119.

A productive day: 3300 words, plus a work call and a nap. I’m rounding third and heading for home:

Breezeway Blows Town, Day 27:

46119 / 50000 words. 92% done!

NaNoWriMo Update & Word Count, Day 26: 42,760.

We were invited to the home of some good friends for a merging of the families for Thanksgiving dinner, and thus had very little to do in advance.  Despite minor distractions from the Macy’s parade on TV and changing batteries in Junior’s Geotrax train set, I managed 2000 words, to get me to a very respectable total, just a few hundred words behind pace:

Breezeway Blows Town, Day 26:

42760 / 50000 words. 86% done!

Careening towards 50,000 words and the end of NaNoWriMo, although nowhere near done with the first draft, which I figure will come out to 80-90K in the end.

We had a very relaxed Thanksgiving, in pajamas until 1pm then got dressed and joined our friends for a ridiculously immoderate feast.  We finally left around 11pm because the kids cracked and admitted they were tired.

Hope your Thanksgiving was as good, or for those outside the U.S., hope you had a wonderful Thursday.

NaNoWriMo Update and Word Count, Day 20: 31,148.

On Thursday, while I was out of town, the Siren was called to Unfocused Girl’s school to pick her up; she had a fever and chills.  The pediatrician finally diagnosed H1N1 over the phone at 2:15 Friday morning based on her symptoms. She was a little better on Friday — at least the vomiting had stopped and the fever was under some kind of control — but when I got home Friday evening with a stack of comic books I’d picked up from a store near the Des Moines airport, she was too wiped out to read them.  She slept through the night, though, and this morning came downstairs for breakfast and asked to go to taekwondo (the answer was no, BTW). I think she’s already read all the comics.

National Novel Writing Month is two-thirds over, and for the first time all month, I’m significantly behind.  I started Week Three with a sizable margin; I was 2,000 words ahead of pace by Monday night.  I did manage to get around 1,300 words written on Tuesday, but it was a 14-hour day and completely wiped me out.  Wednesday morning I was up early and hit the road, driving a hundred miles west for a hearing, then back straight to O’Hare to fly to Iowa for depositions.

Wednesday and Thursday were also 14-15 hour days.  I managed a 15-minute word sprint each day, 300-400 words, so that I wouldn’t lose all of my momentum, but that was all the time I could steal.  Friday wasn’t quite as long, but I was so wiped out that I fell asleep on the plane after about 200 words, the last of which was the letter r typed 699 times.  When I got home and we got the kids to bed, I faceplanted onto the kitchen counter in front of the open laptop, and finally the Siren was able to convince me to go to bed.

At the end of Friday night, I was 2,148 words behind; the furthest behind I’ve been before this was just a few hundred words at the end of week two, and I was totally caught up, even a little ahead, by the end of Saturday.  Since I would have to write 3,852 words today to be caught up at the end of the day today, I don’t think that’s going to happen.  If I can catch up by Sunday night I’ll be delighted but very surprised.  My guess it that it will be Monday or Tuesday before I’m all the way back on pace.  If you’re interested in a word war, either using Write or Die Desktop Edition or just on Twitter, email or DM me on Twitter and we’ll set it up; I could use the help.

Breezeway Blows Town, Day 20:

31148 / 50000 words. 62% done!

If you’re in the area of the Des Moines airport and you have time or need for a comfortable internet cafe and/or comic book store, I enthusiastically recommend Cup o’ Kryptonite. Comfy couches, wifi, some connected desktop computers, a decent comic selection and helpful, friendly staff.

NaNoWriMo Update, Day 15: 26,755 Words.

I hit the 25,000-word halfway point for Breezeway Blows Town today.  I hit the 25K mark, rolled right over it, and kept going for another full day’s worth of words.  I’m going to need that cushion this week; things are going to be busy at work.

My total word count for the weekend was 5,300.  I made up my deficit and got just a little ahead on Saturday, calling it quits for the evening at 23,733.  Today I wrote just over 3000 words, my highest single-day word count for the month, and probably my highest fiction word count for 2009.

I am definitely starting to feel the lack of physical activity.  Between my lunchtime writing and staying up too late writing to have the energy to get up in time for a pre-work run, I haven’t been exercising nearly as much as I’m used to, or as I’d like.  I’ve been going with the kids to taekwondo on Saturday mornings, and this week I managed one short morning run on Wednesday and a slow 5.64 mile run — ok, jog — this morning, but that just isn’t enough.  A few weeks ago a bought a couple different decks of FitDeck cards, and brought the set for bodyweight exercises down into the study. Each card has a different exercise you can do, pretty much on the floor wherever you are, for about a minute without any equipment.  I flipped over a new card every 500-1000 words and did whatever exercise turned up (except for any that required more room than I have available in the study). It kept me a little sharper and got me up from the keyboard and moving. It seems silly to even comment about 3-4 minutes of extra exercise each day, but during NaNoWriMo, with all of the extra time spent in front of the computer, I think it makes a difference.  At least, I’m pretending it does.

I also abandoned the Siren to the kids — both of them cranky and not feeling so hot — more than I should have.  She’s been incredibly supportive the last two weeks, and probably deserved better than for me to spend most of the afternoon in the study with the door closed and noise cancelling headphones on.  I should bring her some chocolate.

But before I do, here’s the word count widget showing my kickass word count:

Breezeway Blows Town, Day 15:

26755 / 50000 words. 54% done!

NaNoWriMo inspiration: I’ve been listening to a lot of Dead Robots’ Society lately, catching up on back episodes.  DRS is a podcast by three (usually) writers who are farther along than I am — they’ve each completed multiple novels, at least one has podcast it, they’ve had short stories published — but have not been published commercially yet.  They’re an interesting group, and while I haven’t been interested in every episode I’ve started, I finish far more of them than I drop.  I don’t know if any of the hosts are specifically doing NaNoWriMo, but they talk about the same issues all of us WriMos struggle with every day in November (and hopefully most of the rest of the year).  They don’t always make it, but these guys are shooting to accomplish something approaching NaNo every month.  Well worth a listen.