Thursday, November 25, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021: In Review


Another NaNoWriMo has come and gone, and this time I joined in on the fun. I last attempted NaNoWriMo in 2016, when I stopped writing after eight days and only thirteen thousand words. Five years later, I've notched my second all-time NaNoWriMo win with Outside the Perimeter, a science fiction story that tackles themes of isolation and constant threats from without and within. I'm not going to talk much about the book itself, though, for reasons that should be clear quickly. I will, however, share my process and my experience.

I wrote Outside the Perimeter with one guiding principle: I didn't care if what I wrote was trash, because the novel isn't the goal. Writing fifty thousands words is the goal. I'm never going to edit, and nobody else is going to read this story. I finished NaNoWriMo, and that's the end of the road for my novel. Maybe next November, I'll write a sequel, but for now, it's over.

Being free of the need to be perfect or even good was key to my success this year. A lot of the NaNoWriMo advice I found in preparation for this month focused on how to write good novels, and I did hear a lot of good advice. However, that wasn't what I was aiming for this year. I did no planning, made no attempt at a character arc (although one snuck in anyways), and thought very little about continuity or smooth transitions. This book is a collection of scenes I wanted to write, in the order I wanted to write them. But of course, the goal wasn't to have a book people want to read, but to write fifty thousand words in a month. I wanted to enjoy writing, secure in the knowledge that it didn't matter whether people would enjoy reading it or not. This isn't a mindset for successful authors, because that's not my goal. I want writing to be a hobby that's fun for me to do, so I'm only doing the things that I find fun. Maybe one day I'll put effort into writing something good again, but until that day comes, there's no harm in churning out fifty thousand words of garbage.

My focus this year was on writing as a process, and winning. Mostly winning, actually. I wanted to produce words in bulk, whether they were good or not, and I met my goal. I actually finished a whole week early, which is great because I can focus on my final exams coming soon.

Every day, I wrote as many words as I could, so that I could take a day off occasionally without feeling guilty. I missed a few days, and wrote significantly less than my daily goal on a few occasions. But when the words were flowing, which was often, I managed to get far enough ahead that I could take breaks.

Unlike in the past, where I would try to get all of my writing for the day done in one session, I tried to take frequent breaks this year. Usually I would only write for an hour at a time, with the goal of a thousand words. Then I'd go do something else, and come back later for another hour. I'd only continue after that if I felt like I had something to say. My last day of writing, November 24th, was my biggest day: 5,045 words. My lowest non-zero day was 1,000 exactly, on the 18th.

My word count, as of 11/25/21.

As my graph shows, I started out by aiming for 1,667 words every day, just as recommended. However, I missed a day early on because I had a concert that night, and I was quickly playing catch up. That's when I came up with my method of 2,000 words per day, in two sessions of an hour each. This worked well for me, so I kept it up until the 13th, when I took another day off to focus on spending time with my girlfriend. After that weekend, my writing became much more sporadic, but because I stayed ahead of schedule, I was able to keep progress going by focusing on staying above the grey line.

In the final stretch, I took advantage of Thanksgiving break to write as much as I could. Because I didn't have to pace myself anymore, it was easy to push through to the end. And when I hit 50k, I saved my work, closed the document, and enjoyed the moment. I finished my story, and there was nothing left to do.

Although this was my first NaNo since 2016, I have participated in Camp NaNoWriMo three times since then, with just shy of 400 words to show for it. I may attempt another Camp NaNo this summer, perhaps with a smaller goal or a longer writing period. I enjoyed the process, and that's what I want to take with me into the future. I'm happy to be finished, so I can take a break, but I'm most happy about the weeks where I was able to write 2k every day, completely sustainably. Now the question is whether I can keep that habit going into the future. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021


For the past few years, Piano Phase has been my favorite music to fall asleep to. It's also been the piece that I play for myself to help calm down my mind when I need to. It's amazing to me how much complexity can come from such a simple process and a single phrase of music.

So of course, I had to write a piece with a similar vibe while also using a completely different process that's more well suited to my style. Even so, I had to bust out quite a few new production tricks to get Infix sounding the way it does. This piece is a prototype; it's the result of me dipping my toes into the water of minimalism and ambient music without really committing to the process. I wanted to know if this is a style of music I could put more work into, and I think I can.

For Infix, I created a few different phrases roughly in the key of C, with varying speeds and lengths. I showed particular preference to odd numbered groupings, to make sure nothing would quite line up perfectly. Occasionally I threw in a drone, usually playing a not other than the root to provide a little bit of a different color. The point isn't to bombard the listener with C major the whole time, but rather to explore the ways different notes behave together without functional harmony there to set the rules.

Infix was written in LMMS using a lot of automation tracks.