First Week of National Novel Writing Month

Written: 11/09/2016

Today – instead of a simple post update – I’m going to ramble about my ‘National Novel Writing Month’ project. I’m doing this because maybe it’ll help someone else if they ever decide to try a challenge like this one. Also – because I rediscovered .gif files – I may insert amusing links to animations around the world to entertain myself and perhaps you.

Let’s start on a point we can both probably agree with.


Writing a full book that makes sense (and is sane) isn’t easy. To help share some lessons learned from last year that I’m working on applying this year – a ramble of the following…

  • A point.
  • A preaching to about that point
  • A ‘too long didn’t read’ about that point
  • And what the hell I’m trying to do this year to fix what I screwed up last year


Here are a couple of tidbits before we assume anything that works for me will work for….anyone else in the universe.

  1. I write a lot to most people. The goal of 50K in a Month is well within my normal stretch of 10k a week of deleting, rewriting, and side projects in a folder. See the ramble for last year’s write month if you want an idea of what I did last time – which was an amazingly overloaded month.
  2. This year I have a newborn – she’s cute and loud and hates evenings for reasons. Most of my writing does not get done at home. This is in addition to the 5-year-old whom I love but only really do stuff with on the weekends. My time is limited.
  3. Add in the following…
    • Full-time job
    • 3 hours of mass transit commuting (Ferry and bus)
    • Low sleep
    • Trying to do reviews
    • Managing ongoing edits of CO / answering my wife’s legit questions…

Anyway, the point is that I went into this month excited, knowing that I couldn’t accomplish much for side projects if I want to hit goal, and prepared to feel overwhelmed juggling it all. The newborn (Point 2 above) is most murderous. The baby wasn’t unexpected and neither was Nov since it’s pretty regular – but the challenge remains the same; meet a goal while trying to survive the rest of life.



Point 1

Confession time: I didn’t start Nov 1st with a completely blank slate.

But you shouldn’t either. Here’s my first suggestion to anyone trying NaNoWrMo or whatever the abbreviation is (Or any project ever); Don’t immediately try to leap into writing down what you want to do – but think about it. Shove it in the back of your brain and pull the idea out once a week to see if it’s still attractive. Think about it ahead of time. If the worm still is in your ear after a month, or two months, or six then maybe there’s something to the idea. We’ll come back to the next step in a bit since this advice will blend Nov’s Novel Writing Month with my advice on writing a novel period.

Here’s a bit of why this whole ‘think about it’ thing matters. Your story (And mine) will probably have flaws at first glance. I learned this last year with First RE:Guards (And other stories besides, but that one came up for last Nov). Second to that, thinking about the story lets you add other elements ahead of time – making for a smoother story.

Take time to really, really, really consider the project and let it percolate in the back of your brain before starting to madly flail on the keyboard


What I’m trying this year;

Last year I dove in with an idea I’d put maybe a few hours of idle thought into. That was bad. The direction itself didn’t go terribly wrong but I had no long term aim or thoughts. That led me to build on stupid ideas – illogical stuff that with more thought would have clearly been exposed.

That will probably still happen but the current project I’m working on – Lawless Ink – is one I’ve been thinking about writing for almost eight months now. The idea hasn’t gone away, or done anything but grow on me as I start adding little details in my head. Now none of the actual story or world notes were written down ahead of time but I’ve certainly had time to let the vibe sink into my head.

This is a step in the right direction and illustrates why thinking about a project is useful. Plus it got me excited to start the story!



Point 2

Anyone trying to a project like this – writing completely freeform without any topic or idea is either insane, a trainwreck, gifted beyond compare – and possibly a max mixture of the three. That statement blends between point 1 and touches upon point 2.

Don’t be unrealistic with your self-expectations.If you’re using this month as a motivator to write – that’s great – but if you’re using it as the only motivator to write – you’re going to crash and burn. Do not let this be a writers version of a yo-yo diet.

For me; the greatest success I’ve felt is finishing a book or a full ‘series’ like Continue Online. (Which isn’t finished. But I think my plans for Wayward Online and Sacrifice Online will be revealed once I’m closer to starting those projects.) – but you may not finish an actual novel in a single month. You may only get half of it. Or like I did with RE:Guards; you may not realize the sheer size of what you’re taking on. In doing so it may become apparent that you’ll need to keep writing outside of the month of November.

So point one, planning, point 2 – writing continues outside of November. Anyone trying to take on this project (or any) needs to be aware that it’s a long haul sort of thing, unless you’re doing a 10k short story. In which case…it may still take a month or two. Short stories are harder in my opinion.

Continue Online was originally two books and a writing exercise. It did not stay that way.

Royal Scales was originally a remix of standard urban fantasy tropes and three books. It did not stay that way.

First RE:Guards was going to be another joke series that was never meant to be serious. I wrote it – didn’t finish it in Nov and tried to push through – failed more, and now have started jotting down notes for a serious follow up that will be far better.

None of these projects could be finished in a single month. Do not expect yours to be finished in a month either. As others around me have said; write month is every month – and it stops being write month when you quit.


What I’m trying this year;

At the least, I’ve managed two major expectation changes. First, the new project won’t be done or completely finished by the end of November. Instead, I set specific story arcs to my plotline – I’m not going for total content, but a point in story-line. Last year I made the mistake of going for content and assuming the rest could be solved afterward.

The goal is to reach 4 out of 22 in the month – if not 5 out of 22. That may sound insane. Lawless Ink is actually intended to be a literally episodic story line – so about 20k words to an episode. Episode 1 is done and was completed in one week. Episode 2 is vaguely on track.

First, the new project won’t be done or completely finished by the end of November. Instead, I set specific story arcs to my plotline. The goal is to reach 4 out of 22 in the month – if not 5 out of 22. That may sound insane. Lawless Ink is actually intended to be a literally episodic story line – so about 20k words to an episode. Episode 1 is done and was completed in one week. Episode 2 is vaguely on track.

Secondly, I didn’t pick a project I don’t know the ending of – and I know how long it’ll take me to reach it if I did nothing but write. First RE:Guards had no clear stopping point as I was essentially trying to create plot a few seconds ahead of my writing goal. Unlike First RE:Guards – this time I spent the entire first day jotting about six pages of stream of consciousness notes / babble for the first 11 episodes – the halfway point of my series. The next 11 were vaguely named and a few ‘feels’ were put in as well.

I didn’t start early, but all those thoughts that percolated from point 1 were finally almost committed to. But things change…which brings me to point 3.



Point 3

You will find things that change from where you want it to go and where it ends up. I do that ALL. THE. DAMN. TIME. I mean FFS – check out the ramble for Continue Online Book 3. That entire novel wasn’t in the original game plan – AT. ALL.

For anyone who is not a heavy writer in any form – or is starting a project they’re unsure about – be aware that shit will change. I would repeat this over and over – but the fact is you probably can’t plan for everything. Characters will interact in ways that feel wrong, or too right, or ideas will pop up that you giggle about and need to do somehow. Logic may hit you halfway through a scene as you go ‘oh shit, I forgot about gravity’.

Don’t freak out if the book goes left. If this happens to me, I generally back up – reread the story through and see if it really bent that way or I’m following a false lead. More often than not – the story turned for a reason.


What I’m trying this year;

Last year I wrote out a chapter. The first chapter of First RE:Guards. I wrote that and went ‘well what’s next’ – which isn’t bad if the goal is simply to write. Only stuff kept popping up, I kept trying to build on it, and the end goal / direction didn’t really exist. I had no guiding light and a bunch of squirrel like chapters. For anyone familiar with RRL standard fare – I was pretty much doing that fly by night destined to burn out fiction.

This year I didn’t want to simply write – I wanted to have usable content of great value by the end of the month. To solve my issue (and I’ll mention it again below) the first day of this month I wrote a ton of plot outline. However, things change. I’ve already ignored four scenes and slotted them in for later because they didn’t fit. I’ve already added a number of elements that weren’t in there – characters – names – actions – etc. The overall vibe and direction are still the same but these little things that I discovered while writing fit great and were utter surprises.

I discovered this on all of my projects. So far I’ve only finished Continue Online – but if future series finish in the same manner – then it’s a good thing to trust my gut and let those changes and details keep popping into the story.




Point 4

This is my last point – because anything more and my head will hurt. Point 1 was thinking about the story ahead of time. Point 2 was intended to be realistic with expectations and being prepared for longer hauls. Point 3 is things change.

Point 4 is this; write. Write goddammit. Write right now. (Heh…hehehe…)

Let’s assume at this point that you’re thinking about doing National Novel Writing Month next year. Or hell, you just want to write a book like I finally decided to do. Sure, you’ve read a million and one-fourth books. You think you can do better than Mary Sue the 4th by far and that writer is rich. I don’t think I can better than Mary Sue – but I can probably do better than one person. I’m secure enough to believe that. Two people is a stretch.

This point matters all year long. This point matters if you’ve thought about writing a novel but haven’t. This point matters if you’re stuck trying to figure out what’s next.


Right now.

The benefit to Nov’s challenge is a visible milestone to reach. That milestone is there every time you or I decide to set it. A month or day or year don’t change the fact that you can set a goal. Dec can be write month. Jan can be write month..Feb…is a dead horse being beaten.

Anyway, the twist on the classic vibe of ‘Just Write’ shall be geared toward my own challenges learned from last year and this year- plus feedback from the wife. When working on a project, write only that work. If you’re not focused on that work, write the other work that’s in your head. That makes it easier to keep writing. A month like November may ask you to write one cohesive piece – but you’ve won if you can manage to keep writing the entire month.

I’m not saying you can’t ADD across multiple works in a week. I am saying there will be a loss of unique voice if you shift too fast. The people who can avoid that loss of voice may be writing 3rd person (which is easier to keep perspective on but less emotionally connectable) – or savants. I have no advice for savants. You keep being awesome and know I stew with ire.


What I’m trying this year;

Last year I wrote the bulk of First RE:Guards – a halfway completed storyline in the Continue Online universe that will not be cannon once I start the follow-up. It has almost the exact same vibe as Continue Online – and since I write in 1st person this can be bad. It’s not the same characters. Working on multiple projects hurt me in that regard.

This year I’ve paused all other projects so I don’t confuse myself. The story will not be released in normal serial format until I decide at the end of write month if I like it or not. It may get thrown into a trash can. But I have a goal – I have a vibe that’s unique to the character. There’s a voice in my head that matches well.

Lawless Ink – my project in the works – is super fun to write. I’m mixing Western, Mining Towns, A bit of Dragon Age Deep Roads, and Tattoo Magic with colors tied to emotions. Some of it’s been done, but I feel happy with the vibe. Dropping my other projects to focus – and just writing has gotten me to 24k out of the 50k ‘goal’ – by 9 days in.



The other too long didn’t read at the end of it all.

I’ve learned stuff. I’ll keep screwing up stuff, but I want to make sure the vibe and voice I thought of during Point 1 all help me build to the proper ending. This will take time as mentioned in Point 4. Things will pop up that need to be changed as discussed in 3. I write every month regardless of it being ‘national novel write month’ – to me this is simply a chance to pause all my other projects and focus on something new to see if I fall in love.

And as for the status of my project – so far, Lawless Ink is a lot of fun.



For those playing the home game:

Is anyone out there participating this year?

What sort of feedback have you had from prior years?

Do you write the rest of the year?

Feel free to share your thoughts.







  1. Amazing, amazing advice! I do enjoy writing as a hobby, but I never really take part in challenges like Nanowrimo. This year, I thought about trying it but so far, I haven’t actually written anything hahaha. A 24 hour day is just ridiculous for the amount of stuff I want to try! But oh well, I’ll be better prepared next time 🙂
    Good luck!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is only my second year, and some of the advice is a combination of my own personal experience – and traps others I talk to fall into. (The failure to see beyond Nov point is one of them)

      There’s nothing wrong with trying though! And there’s nothin wrong with waiting to start. Remember, you set the goals, not the calendar. Start when ever you want to start.

      But god do I understand not having enough time in the day…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I try to tell myself that but there’s always that nagging feeling in the back of my mind telling me to stop wasting time and just be productive! It can get annoying but at least it helps me keep on track.

        I don’t deal well with boredom or routine and I guess that’s what happens sometimes. Also, when I do get free time I just don’t know what to do with it… Even if I had been waiting for it all week! It’s infuriating hahaha
        Don’t know if it happens to you too?

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Sort of. There’s always something that needs to be done. Even more so now that I’m doing all the writing I am (the list never ends…thankfully my wife awesome and handles a lot of little issues)

        So, when I do finally get to a place where nothing is urgent or needs to be resolved – I feel squirmy like something bit will hit me later if I don’t start solving it now…whatever that unknown problem may be.

        Writing can be productive (More so than I expected).

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Exactly, it feels very strange to be so free of responsibilities. It’s also great to have someone to share your troubles with 🙂 I feel it relieves a lot of unecessary stress.
        And yes, definitely! Writing is productive, but I haven’t done much of it lately… Which bothers me. But I will get there!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow, Stephan, that is by far the best writing advice I’ve ever read! I am a firm believer in Point 1, and I love that now someone else agrees with me, lol. Usually, people always say to write immediately as soon as you have an idea, but I find it is most beneficial to let things marinate for a while. I even do that with life decisions and purchases, lol. Best of luck to you and hope you have a very productive month!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I tried to write useful stuff – I’m glad some of it resonated with you. I get the impression a lot of people get half an idea (At least in the Royal Road crowd) then rush off to write it…and crash after a month or two.


  3. You’re learning. You’re taking! the time to look back and put into words, the things that you’ve learned. This is good, and as a reader, I find it encouraging that your writing will continue to improve. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to what RE:Guards morphs into.

    Liked by 2 people

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