I had a great NaNoWriMo, but I’m really busy so there’s only the one graph this year.

The NaNo Rules

The modifications I made to NaNoWriMo worked well for me last year, so I’ve largely stuck to them, the only change I made was that I stuck to my attempt to write at least something every day, which I added half-way through last year. The modified NaNo worked like this

  • I aimed for as many words as possible in the month of November, even though my ostensible goal was 50,000, realistically, I figured 25,000 was probably the most I could reasonably aim for.
  • I counted all blog posts, essays, fanfiction and original fiction, and I let myself work on as many different projects as I felt like, but I didn’t count any words written for work, on social media, or any long-hand journal entries.
  • I aimed to write at least something every single day.
  • No editing or deleting. Only writing.


I didn’t actually expect to do better this year, than last year, because I was a lot busier. I picked last year for my first attempt at NaNo because it was a quiet month after a high pressure October, even though I was combining it with my first attempt at sending out Christmas cards.

But this year, in addition to NaNo, and Christmas cards I was also attending the annual Society for Neuroscience conference. SfN is an absolutely huge conference, 5 days, 30,000 attendees and, for me, an international plane flight and 5 nights in a hotel with 3 other people, plus all the attendant preparations before and recovery after.


Last NaNo it became really obvious to me that I needed to figure out an outlining strategy that worked for me, I stalled on a lot of projects last year because I didn’t have an outline, so when I didn’t know what to write next I got stuck.

I’ve historically struggled with outlining, but I’ve finally figured out an outlining method that works for me, which I’ve been calling “leapfog outlining”. I’ll write a general outline for the story, usually only a few sentences summing up the general premise, the start of the story, and approximately where its supposed to end, and then I’ll do an outline of the first 1 to 3 chapters, write them, then outline the next few based on what I’ve written.

So, unlike last year, I did a lot of outlining and preparation in October so I had a lot of notes to work with. I also hoarded as many books as I could from my ongoing Criticising Harry Potter Criticism reading project, as a relatively easy source of word count, instead of just writing them up as I finished them.


I did much better than I expected to.

I did, actually write every single day in November. I also wrote a lot more (9800 words) than last year. This is in part because the Christmas Cards got the short end of the stick, they’re not done. But I’m still proud of myself. I don’t work well under pressure, so it means a lot to me to be able to say to myself, that despite the busy schedule, the travel, and the huge number of people, everywhere, all the time, I could still sit down and write, because I told myself I would.


The two middle lines show my cumulative word count from last year on the bottom in grey and my cumulative word count from this year on top in blue. The difference is pretty striking, or at least, I think it is. The top line, for reference is an “ideal” NaNoWriMo performance, hitting the exact target word count every day. The bottom line is my projection of my “typical” output. This is kind of a fiction, because I don’t write every day and I’m not remotely consistent, its something I made as a reference for the version of this graph I made last year. Given how much more I wrote this year, I thought seriously about adjusting it. But ultimately I still feel like 6000 words per month is a good representation of my typical writing output, so I’ve kept it.

Not only did I write more words this year, I wrote more consistently. You can see in the table below that my mean and median daily output are a lot closer together.

Mean Words/Day Median Words/Day Total Word Count
2016 730.7 595 21,922
2017 1,057.4 1,127 31,722

In terms of projects this works out to:

21 complete blog posts or essays, plus another 3 that aren’t complete yet.

9 chapters of various fanfics plus another 3 partial ones.

Part of 1 yearly Christmas letter I really need to get done now.

The start of one original novel.

NaNo, for some reason, is a great way for me to get unstuck on projects and I have no idea why. I typically do not write well under pressure. I go out of my way to not write in stressful conditions, because that typically doesn’t work. I’m also not very good at forcing my way through writing problems, although I’m working on that. Usually when I get stuck I usually just have to wait until my brain feels ready to go back to it because I’m literally incapable of forcing myself over writer’s block. But for some reason, during NaNo I gain the magical November specific ability to sit down and write all the sticky scenes I’ve accumulated during the year. This absolutely costs me word count, but I don’t care, it makes the whole of NaNo worthwhile.

The biggest, number one sticky project I was hoping to start this year was the original novel. And it worked. I wrote 685 entire words worth of original fiction. I hate most of them so much I have them flagged to be deleted now that November is over and I’m allowed to do that again, but I started it.

NaNo Follow-up

Last year I said that I was going to keep tracking my wordcount when NaNo ended. That was a horrible idea and I gave up on it after a week. Tracking words during NaNo worked well because it gave me a sense of progress and let me set micro-goals (ex. “I’m going to write at least 200 words of this before I switch projects”). Once NaNo ended and I stopped writing every day, the sheer number of zeroes in my spreadsheet got a little disheartening. Even more disheartening was that actually editing sometimes creates a negative word count. Which made me feel like I was going backwards, when what I was actually doing was creating more polished work. I started using a bullet journal to keep track of personal projects, and its working much better.

In other success news, despite writing more, and despite the exhausting conference (I’m still tired), I’m not having the same sort of post-NaNo slump that I did last year, where the thought of writing just filled me with despair and I had to spend three days doing statistics before I could face it again. The thought of all the non-critical chores I put off to have more writing time is certainly looming, but even though I definitely struggled with having ideas and turning them into words in the last five or six days, I still feel engaged and ready to write more.

I don’t have the same number of novel observations that I did last year about what’s working or not going forward.

The outlining technique I’ve figured out seems to be the one that works for me, so I’ll keep it up.

Keep multiple projects on the go at once seems to work well for me as well. During NaNo it’s a word count booster, because it reduces the amount of writing time I spend not producing words. But working on a totally different project is also a good way for me to have ideas about projects I’m stuck on for some reason.

What I really need to be doing now, is editing and finishing things. I was tremendously embarrassed to realize, when I was getting all my notes together for this year, that I still have written but unedited work from last November. So as much as I’m enjoying my newfound momentum, its time to add some organization to it.


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