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Dark Days: The Monster Within, A Post-Mortem: NaNoWriMo

When a software project is finished, often small companies and teams will release a post-mortem. This is a report on what in the project went right, what went wrong, and lessons that can (hopefully) carried by others without the pain of making the same mistakes. As Dark Days: The Monster Within has been unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace like a giant lizard-beast, I’ve decided to do a post-mortem of my own, detailing the creation, editing and publishing process for any authors thinking of taking the self-publishing route.

Quick Disclaimer: I followed a lot of advice from Chris Kennedy’s Self-Publishing for Profit, which is a pretty comprehensive guide from an author who famously not only launched some very successful series, but actually runs his own small publishing house:

The First Draft: NaNoWriMo

Shield Logo of NaNoWriMo organization

It is hard to write a novel. Doubly so to keep at it when you are 20,000 words in with no end in sight and no idea of what you are writing will ever see the light of day. Like a lot of recent writers, I’ve taken to leveraging the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge to complete drafts. The challenge itself is straightforward, you commit to writing as much as you can in each day of November with a goal of writing 50,000 words. The web site provides forums, a word counter and even some cute little graphs to encourage you to meet the goal even if you miss a day or two. What would become Dark Days: The Monster Within has actually been through the competition twice, once as a completed 35,000 initial draft that had the same main plot but completely different characters, and again as a 52,000 word draft that contained Marcus Ward and Olivia Baer as we know them today. 

How to get started with NaNoWriMo?

Good News! There are simply no actual requirements to nanowrimo other than to try your best. I started with a rough outline and a design document, but many of my fellow nanowrimo authors have started (and succeeded) on nothing more than a couple character names in a jumbled sentence sitting on a cocktail napkin. Ideally, you would have a general idea of your book, but I’ve seen the following successful patterns also used:

  • Writing one novel, stopping, than writing another halfway through (for a grand total of 50,000 words)

  • Writing a series of short stories equaling up to 50,000 words

  • Writing half a long novel for 50,000 words

  • Writing a short novel (35,000) words, and then writing short stories to bring the count up to 50,000

There really doesn’t seem to be a wrong way to do the competition. I’ve participated in the event for four years now, (succeeded in three) and I’ve found a few things that help:

When in doubt, write. I’ve had scenes that felt like absolute crap turn out pretty good after pushing through and dropping them on paper:

  • Don’t stop for grammar or spelling. I’m still working on this, but you have a whole 11 other months to fix all your uses of sight words, misspelled common words, and various misspellings of the word ‘firearm’. The only focus for NaNoWriMo is to get the words themselves down. 

  • Let plot holes happen. Again, you can easily go back at the end and resolve troubling plot issues or fix problematic scenes, but its much easier to do these things once the draft is finished than in the middle of the draft as you are writing it

  • Use the Word Counter! It sounds like a bad way to put pressure on yourself, but after a few days, what the word counter will show is that you don’t need to beat yourself up for that one day in the middle where you couldn’t write. It’s very helpful to know that there is breathing room as life gets complicated near the end of November. 

As mentioned, the second complete write of The Monster Within completed at 52,000(ish) words. There was a lot of rough spots, but what I did have was that critical beginning, middle and end that would guide me as I polished and edited the final piece. Even if The Monster Within never published, it was still a complete manuscript. There is a great personal power in that. Perhaps even more than in publishing a manuscript. 

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