Zoë Sharp

November may have been National Novel Writing Month, but for me it was one month out of a three-month novel writing push.

I’d love to be able to say that the 50,000-word NaNoWriMo goal was the bulk of a book for me. Sadly, when I look back at the last nine in the Charlie Fox series it’s barely half way there.

But having started on October 4th, I was hoping to be at 70,000 words by yesterday. I hadn’t counted on only actually getting a total of seven days out of the whole of November when I wasn’t either away attending events or festivals, or had Something Else on to get in the way of a clear writing day. By the time I counted up my month’s words at midnight, I had just scraped 65,000 words. By two whole words.

Not bad, but no cigar.


(Don’t ask, by the way – this was taken at an event at the Velma Teague Library in June last year. My fellow chocolate cigar ‘smokers’ are Jeanne Matthews, Sophie Littlefield, Juliet Blackwell, with über-librarian Lesa Holstine reclining.) 

OK, so I’ve also been prepping the five stories from FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection to go live individually, and as Christmas is coming up I thought I ought to have a new Charlie Fox short, too, which I’d written the bulk of a month or so ago, but you know how it is when you’ve put something aside and then you pick it up again. It really did need another fiddle. And a new title. And a cover.

(The cover is another belter by Jane Hudson at NuDesign that just captures some of the urgency and the flavour of the story for me. I know I keep singing her praises, but it’s not difficult when someone has as much talent as she does.)

Across The Broken Line – which has become the eventual title – was originally going to be part of the FOX FIVE e-thology. I wanted to have a go at a very broken-up timeline of catching Charlie in the middle of a job and then tracking back and forth through the various stages to show how things got to the point where it all goes bad. Sounds simple when you put it like that, huh? But I wasn’t happy with my early attempts so I put it aside in favour of Truth And Lies, which grew more into a novella than a short story. Whether I’ve got the broken timeline just right this time is another matter, though. I’ll wait for you to tell me!

But still, not making my 70k on DIE EASY rankles. I’m very good at beating myself up for not hitting a target so I’m still feeling a little disgruntled that I’m not as far forward with the new book as I would have liked. I’ve already dragged Charlie through a helicopter crash and the emotional trauma of coming face to face with someone from her past she never wanted to see again. And now she’s running round a hijacked sternwheel paddle steamer on the Mississippi river with bad guys abounding.

I even have a provisional cover – another from Jane at NuDesign:

But it makes me wonder about everyone who does manage to achieve their NaNo goal. I’ve seen/heard on Twitter about plenty of people who’ve done it, but how many fallers are there? How many achieved their 50k? How do you feel now it’s over – good or bad? And what do you think of what you’ve written – how much of it will you keep hold of? Are they finished words or just a starting point?

Was it your first attempt? Will you do it again? If you haven’t attempted it, would you ever consider it? Or have you ever put yourself through any kind of concerted effort for a relatively short period of time, like a month – whether it’s a diet or an exercise plan or whatever? Good experience or no?

Also, I can’t ignore that – if yesterday was the end of November – today is the first of December. I can officially say Christmas is coming. Today the tree will go up, the cards will start to be written, pressies will be wrapped.

And there’s now 40,000 words to be done by the end of the month …

This week’s Word of the Week is trepan, which not only means an obsolete cylindrical saw for perforating the skull (just in case anyone was stuck for a Christmas gift for that difficult relative) and to cut a cylindrical disc from something, but it’s also a decoy, a snare, or to ensnare or lure. Unlike a trepang which is a sea cucumber eaten by the Chinese.


30 thoughts on “MY-NoWriMo

  1. Sarah W

    I did Nano several years ago — it was a *rush*. It was also the first long piece of fiction I'd ever finished – it proved to me that I *could* get beyond chapter five and, with a little ingenuity, find the time to write. Good lessons!

    (if I could get this synopsis out of me with a trepan saw, I'd do it . . . but I don't think I'd eat a trepang even if it was guaranteed to help . . . )

  2. Alaina

    This year was my sixth win, and my first time continuing an already-started novel. It's at 112,000 words and unfinished, but it's in the climactic stages and I tend to remove 10-20% an edit.

    The glory of it for me is, starting the thing's the hardest part. In Nano, I'm not allowed to go back and tweak… so it gets done. There's also the rush that comes from working on it with a million billion other people. Not in the same room, but at the same time, at least. It all builds into an almost literally electric jolt.

    Don't punish yourself over not meeting the goal. With only seven days to work with, you've done better than I would've; far better than lots of people anyway. The goal of Nano is to write. To write, and love writing; to write, and progress on manuscripts. You've done that, you've won.

    Though, the finishing the novel itself helps…

  3. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sarah

    Hey, five chapters in is still pretty good. Much of my early stuff didn’t make it beyond the opening paragraph, never mind as far as to chapter five.

    So much of this job seems to hinge of having faith in your own abilities, though, and the confidence of managing to complete NaNo must be a hell of a boost.

    I did rather like the dual meaning of trepan, I have to admit. There’s also trephine, which is a refined form of trepan, meaning to operate on, perforate, or removed a circular section from the skull or cornea …

  4. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alaina

    Wow, sixth win? I’d no idea that completely NaNo was called ‘winning’. Does that mean if you fall short of your target, you lose? Not sure about the effects of that one on a fledgling writer’s confidence. Still, this is a tough business and there will be plenty of knocks along the way.

    I tend to keep writing until I run out of story to tell, then trim it back if it’s gone too far over my upper word limit. I like to try to stick to 100-110k if I can. And going through afterwards to slice out any extraneous words is always a very good exercise, because then I’m concerned with losing words rather than adding them

    I should be used to writing in the cracks of other stuff, but I’m still a bit disappointed that I haven’t done those extra 5000 words. Just means I have to work over Christmas 🙂

  5. Barbie

    I really wish I could've done NaNo, but since I live in Brazil and we go to round the year Universities, November is the last month of the school year for me, and it's impossible to dedicate myself to anything but school :/ What I need is MOTIVATION. I'm a *very* fast writer, I write like the wind when I have a go. I'm the kind of person that if I'm in an 1k1h, I go almost up to 2k, because I'm motivated to do so, which makes me think NaNo would work wonderfully for me. But the only thing I wrote this month were academic articles, essays, summaries and tests 🙁

    I'm REALLY hoping to finish a book in the three months I have off. A rough draft, of course, that will probably get filed and forgotten, but I'll finally have finished something.

    And, Zoe, don't beat yourself up. 65K is a lot 🙂

  6. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks Barbie

    Completing all that academic work sounds like you have your hands full. But having a three month break is a useful – useable – chunk of time. And why file it and forget it afterwards? Go for it!

  7. Larry Gasper

    Zoe, I won Nano last year and found it a very useful exercise. I wrote a YA book and, while it came out better than expected, it still convinced me that YA isn't really a natural fit for me. Since it only took a month, I thought it was well worth the time to make the attempt.

  8. Jenni

    November is usually just a bad month for me. Seems like a lot of our litigated cases gear up for trial and attorneys everywhere are trying to get a lot of their caseload settled and off the books by the end of the year. So I've done mini-Nanos, breaking it down to get a short story in a month instead of a novel. Even that can be a challenge. But I've never had the time to attempt a full Nano. I started it this year, following Alex's excellent suggestions, but was asked to assist with trial preparation and a trial scheduled for week after next, so I had to stop. I have a pretty good outline of what I want to do though, so I can keep working on it.

    Can't wait to read the next Charlie Fox book!

  9. Sheri Hart

    Hi Zoe!

    This was my first year doing Nano and I LOVED it. I was part of a small group of 4 and we all "won." It was very motivating to have the friendly competition.

    I'm a classic non-finisher. I have stacks of partial books, their beginnings edited over and over and over again.

    I'm 43 now and it's time to shit or get off the pot. I took nano very seriously, prepared a solid synopsis with tips from pros like your own Alex and others. Thought I had a well-developed idea. Yeah, that didn't work.

    I sat there there first four days with a wicked cold and did not write a single word on my carefully crafted story. That got old on day 5 and I just started to write . . . an entirely new and unplanned story. And I love it.

    I just kept going and never looked back. Didn't read what I wrote the previous day. Didn't correct anything at all, just wrote notes in brackets to myself. When I couldn't write scenes I followed Tim Hallinan's advice to just write "about" the book so there are huge chunks of me just describing the book as if to a trusted friend.

    I'm sure at least half of it will get junked, but the story is there. The characters are there. The key turning points are there. The freaking END is there. Yahoo.

    Siitting there and blurping it out like that taught me so much. The girls in the basement don't even wake up until I'm 1000 words in — they made me prove I was really working. The faster I got the words down, the more the ideas came to me. Answers to seemingly impossible plot hurdles became clear. Characters deepened.

    There truly was magic in the momentum. I'm going back now and reading sections I can't even remember writing that make me excited to read. There's a real story in there. The pacing is bang on and there are chunks that are easily on par with my most polished, edited-to-death work.

    This was the best thing I ever did for my writing and to understand myself as a writer. I think it has the truest voice of anything I've written in ages.

    Now I have to go back and rewrite it, maybe twice, who knows. But that's okay. I like revising, and I've got 300 pages to work with. 300 pages that I did not have on November 4. That is amazing to me.

    I'll never approach a book in the same way again.

    As you can tell from my rambling, I'm still riding the high.

  10. Reine

    Hi Zoë,

    Love the cover art for ACROSS THE BROKEN LINE!!!

    NaNo and I have tangled for two years in a row. I knew I didn't have much hope for winning, but I determined to give the best I had. I was "writing buddies" with my very best friend, Stephanie, and she – wonderful psychologist that she is, as well as fantastic friend – kept my spirits up when my hands gave out; when my Dragon Dictate gave out; when my new wheelchair broke, and I had to stay in bed; when my computer gave out. She was there on my iPhone messaging screen reminding me what was important.

    Then Santa came early, and I got the most wonderful new all blue-toothy computer that I can operate from bed or anywhere really. Yet it was not possible to finish on time.

    The good thing of it all is I have a clear vision — in writing, thank you — of my novel and a fair start on several chapters . . . with thanks also to Alex whose outline helped me sort the notes I had for the book into a sensible direction (my very first novel outline).

    Stephanie and I are celebrating her second NaNo and second win and my effort with what I accomplished, more perhaps in the area of establishing work pattern. Valuable nonetheless!

  11. Lisa Alber

    Hi Zoe,

    This was my first NaNoWriMo. I "only" made it to 31,000 words. I'm not disappointed with my word count. I figured I'd use NaNo to:
    1. See if I actually like a story idea that I'd developed in 2010.
    2. Wipe the slate clean from previous projects.
    3. Practise ignoring my inner editor, which has grown too loud the past couple of years.
    4. Let loose! Have fun with the process! Seems like I'd forgotten this.

    Did I succeed? Mostly. Could never really let go of the editor, but I figured out how to manage the beast: leave comments in the margins and move on. That way, the beast calms down. It likes to be acknowledged. 🙂

    For example, a comment might be: "This feels like filler. Where does this scene really start?" But, the key was to NOT STOP and figure it out right then.

    December is going to be hectic with the day-job (and holiday stuff), but since I'm now invested I'll keep going, even if I only write one page per day.

    Oh, another thing I found interesting. For awhile now, I've told myself that I'm a morning writer. That's it: mornings. I hadn't realized how rigid I'd become. For NaNo, I forced myself to write during afternoon coffeehouse jaunts and even late at night with laptop on lap, in bed. Lesson learned!

  12. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sheri

    Congratulations on completing your NaNo goal. And I hope the new story that emerged continues to grow and compel you, which it sounds like it is doing so far!

    I know what you mean about reading something you’ve written and almost not being able to remember writing it. I have a really bad memory for what I’ve written, so sometimes I come back to something and am surprised by the way it turns out.

    Your excitement comes leaping off the page just in your comment, so that bodes very well for the WIP novel you’ve achieved 🙂

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Reine

    Thank you – it looks great, doesn’t it? Jane does some superb work.

    Sounds like you’ve got an excellent handle on what you have to do with your novel. And it also sounds like events conspired against you this month. Glad you’ve got your new computer all sorted now! Hope you’ll let us know a little more about your work pattern and how that turns out for you?

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Lisa

    Congratulation on reaching 31k. That’s a very respectable total – and it’s 31,000 words more than you had at the beginning of November.

    I can’t let go of my inner editor, either. In fact, when I know I’ve missed something important I can’t go forwards until I’ve sorted it out. It’s been stopping me really getting on the last couple of days because I knew I laid in a thread in the new book that I should have picked up and haven’t. Now my summary is complete, I can see exactly where I should have weaved it in, and I’ll get to that before I move forwards again.

    I used to be a morning writer, but now I’m an any-time-of-day writer. I’d love to get back to working hard in the mornings so I can have the rest of the day going at a bit more relaxed pace, though, rather than feeling I’m rushing to catch up late at night!

  15. Reine

    Hi Zoë,

    "Hope you’ll let us know a little more about your work pattern and how that turns out for you?"

    I write every day now, whether or not I feel inspired. I don't let the belief that I cannot think of anything to write get in the way of my writing. NaNo has proven to me that writing does happen when I just let go of trying to find the perfect thing to say. I used to do this in school but thought that only worked for nonfiction. Silly?

    My thinking there came from the idea that I'd already read and researched the topic for a school paper, so a starter question or two would get the essay or article on track. What I failed to realize, yet learned through NaNoWriMo, was I've already had the experiences and thoughts that will be called upon for story making. Research can happen later, but start writing now.

    Probably the best lesson I brought away from NaNo this year was having a fantastic experience of seeing the limited Ideas I started with, trigger many more in directions I'd never considered. They were so different from the direction I’d started on, it's difficult to imagine that they would have come to me through a deliberate process of jotting down thoughts – writing about ideas, that is – without the action of writing that seems to have connected them.

  16. Lynn in Texas

    Hi Zoe~

    I'm impressed by your output, so feel proud of what you've accomplished!

    This was my second NaNo and second win. I reached 51, 880 words just after 1 a.m. on the 26th, which was 1 day earlier than last year, and 573 more words, so I was thrilled, to say the least.

    It was especially rough going this time since we lost our 14 yr. old Siberian Husky right in the middle of NaNo, but after the first day of sadness, I found that having to write every day actually was a great distraction, and I really then poured myself into my story. I'm naturally a pantster, with notes, so that helped.

    As others have stated, it's a wonderful almost tangible feeling of collective energy to visit the NaNo forums and to give and receive encouragement and ideas from others. I made a few new writing buddies, and some will probably remain pals in the future.

    Because of NaNo, I also have gotten myself to stop the terrible self-editing habit that I'd struggled with overcoming for years. I can now do the "shitty first draft" easily, just making notations of what to add or correct when editing later, then moving on.

    I've always been a nightowl, but I've now found I can also write at various times of the day whenever I make the time and the mood strikes, I take advantage of it anywhere! (Don't have a laptop yet, but I always have pens and paper)

    November is a terrible month for lots of us doing NaNo, especially for Americans celebrating T-Day. I'd much prefer if it was in January or February, when it's really cold and we can hunker down during our winter and get to it without worrying about family holidays and travel. But, it CAN be done!

    Love your book covers. Thanks for the thoughtful post. Now, feel PROUD of yourself, as we are of you!

  17. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Reine

    Writing is a job as well as a compulsion for me, so inspiration is a bonus rather than a necessity. And when you start with a little perspiration, inspiration seems to follow.

    Interesting point you make about the freeform association of ideas that seems to have developed during your NaNo process. I love to outline, because knowing what comes next does not spoil the story for me, and I find it much less frustrating than staring at a blank screen wondering what happens now in the story.

    But at the same time I am always open to the suggestion of a new idea that comes floating by, so I don’t stick rigidly to my outline. As I keep mentioning with DIE EASY, what was originally going to be a bus hijack ended up as a helicopter crash, which just came about in the writing and worked much better than the bus would ever have done.

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Lynn

    Thank you! And congratulations on your achievement. Not just hitting your 50k inside the month, but fairly comprehensively knocking it out of the park. I’m hugely impressed.

    Desperately sad to lose a pet at any time, but sometimes writing can be quite cathartic, I’ve found, so it probably helped in all kinds of ways.

    I’m a neck-top fan, too – always working with pencil and paper anywhere an idea strikes. Lately I haven’t been making as many notes about what comes next, and I think this is not a good move for me. I need to get back to my note-taking in advance. Making mistakes and missteps in pencil seems so much less serious than doing it on screen.

    And why not have your own personal NoWriMo in Jan or Feb? Or Jan AND Feb?

    Thank you for the kind words – I shall step proudly into December’s word target 🙂

  19. Reine

    Hi Zoë,

    Writing is also a compulsion for me, but the story with the pull isn't always the one I need to be writing!

    I think I wasn't clear in the posts above in that I probably made it sound like this NaNo was all free formy and full of subconscious plot moves suddenly revealing themselves. Really what I meant was when I made myself face the screen and start, the ideas came. And this year was way better than last year, because this year I used Alex's outline with my notes. This was my first attempt at novel writing with an outline. It made a huge difference in the quality of the story. I know for outliners this is possibly not a surprise, but I'd been a non-outliner until I saw Alex's outline here on Murderati and saw immediately how it could work for me with the notes I had already accumulated.

  20. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I'm very excited to announce that I hit 97,000 words and finished the first draft of my novel by the end of November! Of course, I started this book a year ago. So, basically, I just happened to be drudging along at my usual slow pace when November came around, and my final writing stretch just happened to coincide with the Nano thing, which wasn't really on my radar. So…I guess I should just shut up and bow-out now. Bye-bye….

  21. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Reine

    I make a lot of freeform notes about thoughts, ideas and scenes for a book before I begin, and building those into a workable outline is always hard work, but I think it does make the story better at the end of it. I probably wasn’t being clear in my reply to your comments 🙂

  22. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Stephen

    Well, congratulations on finishing your first draft, however long it took you. There are, after all, a hell of a lot of people out there who start and *never* finish a novel …

  23. Pari Noskin

    I like trepan. It's a great word. I'd never heard of it before . .

    I did NaNo one time and it was fun, but I've done nothing with the disjointed "novel" I wrote. So . . .

    Love the covers too. I really want to get some this work I've been producing e-published, but haven't found the time yet. Maybe over the holiday?

    Can you tell it's been a scattered day? I hope yours has been more focused so you can tackle those 40,000 . . . wow.

  24. Lisa Alber

    Oh, I hear you on the catching-up-at-the-end-of-the-day thing. I so wish I were a-rise-with-the-sun person, but, alas, I'm not. I've never been a morning person. When I had an office job I used to close my office door, and everyone knew to leave me alone until 10 a.m. 🙂 Given this, I'm not sure how I got the notion that I'm a morning writer only–truly nonsensical. I guess I was trying to train myself.

    I usually have to stop about 50-60 pages to read what I have and make adjustments. I'll probably do that with the NaNo project because I was writing so fast (for me), that I'm not sure what I have anymore. It's a blur!

  25. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks Pari

    Trepan is a lovely word, isn’t it? Another of the Post-It noted finds in my dictionary …

    Good luck with getting your own work out in e-format. It can be a frustrating business, and getting the formatting correct is really important. We’ve tried really hard to make sure everything is right, but I’ve had slightly disgruntled emails from readers who’ve bought the publisher-converted editions where a few errors have crept through. I’m taking steps to get them put right.

    As mentioned, I’m going to re-evaluate my work patterns to see if I can get rid of the 0-word scattered days. If it works, I’ll let you know!

  26. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Lisa

    It’s no fun having to be at your desk early if you’re naturally an owl rather than a lark. I do a lot of my writing late into the night, though. Take today, for instance. It’s 2:04am as I write this, and I’ve only just finished my day’s scribbling.

  27. KDJames

    Love the covers, Zoë! Looking forward to the new stories.

    I've never done NaNo because I've never been in that "spewing forth" stage in a ms when the time for NaNo rolled around. I'm not an every-single-day kind of writer and tend to write in huge bursts and then rest and ponder for a bit before doing it again, but I think it would be interesting to try that approach at the very beginning stages of a novel. Maybe next year…

    I would LOVE to be in a position where I had no day job to sap my physical and creative energy. I suspect I *would* become an every-single-day kind of writer.

    Huge congrats to everyone (even Stephen, that plodding slacker) (hi, Stephen, love you!) who produced ANY amount of words in November. People who don't write really have no idea of the amount of courage and faith it takes to form even one sentence, let alone a vast expanse of words, with the intention of sharing it with readers. I'm proud of everyone who took up that challenge. Keep at it.

  28. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks KD

    I’m not sure if any book goes through the ‘spewing forth’ stage for me, sadly. At the start I’m feeling my way into the story and constantly second-guessing whether I’ve got the right jumping-off point. Now I’m into the third quarter, which is always the hardest part for me, tying together all those strands to head towards the ending at just the right pace.

    Loved the final comment about courage and faith. You are SO right on that score!

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