NaNoWriMo 2018 Winner

I wrote over 55,000 words last month, which makes me a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Winner.

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This was my first year doing NaNoWriMo, which is odd, since I’ve known about it for many years. I guess I thought it wasn’t for me. I had several reasons for believing this, but all of those reasons turned out to be false assumptions. In this post, I’ll go over all those assumptions and debunk them.

Here were my initial assumptions:

Assumption 1- NaNoWriMo is for noobs, not something serious writers do.

Assumption 2- The quality of the hastily written manuscript will be poor.

Assumption 3- It’s impossible to find time for NaNoWriMo working a full-time job.

Assumption 4- It’s hard to be motivated to write when there’s no real prize for winning.

Assumption 5- You have to have a book completely plotted out before starting.

 

Now this is where I tell you how stupid I was to believe all that.

Debunking Assumption 1- It turns out NaNoWriMo isn’t just for newbies. Now that I’m on Twitter (@PhilipKramer9), I’ve noticed all kinds of NaNoWriMo-related posts from big-shot published authors, some of which have been participating for years. It didn’t even occur to me that these heavyweights sometimes needed a bit of motivation too.

A couple months ago, Dan Koboldt contacted me and other contributors from Putting the Science in Fiction, and asked if we could run a blog tour the month of October. He suggested we put together some writing prompts to help give writers inspiration for NaNoWriMo. But after a little bit of research, I realized just how many people were doing the same thing. It’s as if the entire world was preparing for NaNoWrimo. So I put together a post with some writing prompts and was surprised by the reception. A lot of people were planning to participate, indeed. The success of the blog tour and the book, which were targeted toward writers, really emphasized that.

Side-note: The book is going to become an audiobook, published by Tantor Media.

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It wasn’t until the end of the month, a day or two before NaNoWriMo was supposed to start, that I decided to join. Imagine my surprise when I saw there were 120 novelists just in my local area, with ten local forums, and a huge number of online and in-person events planned. I met several of these authors in person at some of the WriteIns over then next month, and many had already published several books and were full-time authors. Together, the region wrote over 2 million words in November. NaNoWriMo definitely isn’t for newbies.

Debunking Assumption 2- Let’s face it, the quality of any first draft is usually pretty terrible. That means a book written over the course of a month and one written over the course of a year, will both require large amounts of editing. I would argue that a book written in a shorter time will probably have fewer inconsistencies, since you are less likely to have forgotten the details of what you’ve just written. I experienced this personally. I was forced to write and think about the story so much, I rarely forgot even the smaller details I’d written just days before. The other advantage it that your writing style and voice is less likely to change over the course of the novel.

There is some truth to this assumption though. When you’re forced to write an average of 1,667 words a day, you’ll occasionally get ahead of yourself and your story, digging a plot hole too deep to crawl out of. That’s why pre-plotting is important, or if you are a pantser, regular brainstorming.

One of the most common pieces of advice I hear from people doing NaNoWriMo is to keep writing and don’t edit. In general, this is decent advice, as it keeps the forward momentum going, but don’t pass up the opportunity to highlight a section that needs work or leave yourself a note to add more detail to a specific sentence or paragraph. All too often writers say they’ll catch something later in editing, but it ends up getting overlooked or forgotten.

Debunking Assumption 3- It takes time to write a novel, and it’s not easy if you have no time to spare. Truth is, we all have a little time to spare in our schedules. If you enjoy  writing (which you should), it is relatively easy to cut down on other enjoyable things like reading or watching TV. Sometimes, if you aren’t in the mood to write, forcing yourself to sit down for twenty minutes is all that’s necessary to get you sucked back into the story. On multiple occasions, I ended up losing track of time and writing for several hours straight without any breaks.

I eventually decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, not because I thought it would work out, but because I really had nothing to lose. After several months of writing next to nothing, I decided the worst that could happen was I’d write a few thousand words before giving up. But hey, that’s a few thousand words I probably wouldn’t have written. So it’s a win-win. Not only did I find the time to complete the 50k words, I developed some good writing habits, and have already written another 10k more in the first couple weeks of December. It really gave me hope that one day I might actually have what it takes to be a successful full-time author, cranking out several books a year.

Debunking Assumption 4- Motivation is a tricky beast to tame. It’s hard to predict what will motivate me or give me the inspiration to write. Fortunately, I chose to write a book on a topic I was passionate about. Still, NaNoWriMo was asking me to write half of the book in a single month without giving me anything in return. What was there to compel me to write that much in such a short time?

It turns out there are multiple prizes for winning. You get a 50k word novel out of it, better writing habits, new writer friends, discounts on Writer’s resources, and even a nice little certificate.

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The NaNoWriMo website had a lot to offer to help you with motivation. It connects you with other people in you region, gives you access to forums, and a blog filled with writing tips. Check out one of my early posts on the Science of Motivation.

Their graphs and stats also really helped. It might not work for everyone, and maybe it’s just the scientist in me, but the ability to see how much I’ve written and how much is left in a line and column chart made all the difference. I really wanted to stay above that stupid gray line.

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Debunking Assumption 5- I’ve always been more of a plotter than a pantser, but NaNoWriMo changed where I fell on that scale. I already had a couple books lined up and plotted out, ready to be written, but things didn’t go exactly as planned. Because I was writing so much in such a short time, I started thinking about the story every waking moment of the day, and the more I did, the more I realized my plot was imperfect. After a few brainstorming sessions, I decided to restructure it, and am now much more satisfied with the story-line.

I hate to say it, but it’s impossible to pre-plot so well that you plug all the plot holes before they appear. When you write, you’ll have to fill in all the finer details, painting a picture of the setting for your readers, and give your characters life. Steering those now-living characters across your now-detailed world will inevitably result in some plot deviations. Humans are unpredictable, even fictional ones, and it’s hard to know what goes on in their heads until you’re right there with them, experiencing what they are experiencing. Those little overlooked details become even more complicated when you’re writing hard science fiction. As an example, trapping a person on Mars in their spacesuit for several days sounds like an interesting plot point, but the moment you realize they can’t go to the bathroom in their suit or lift their face-shield for a drink of water, you’ll have to either create a shelter for them, or shorten that timescale from three days to one. When writing during NaNoWriMo, you don’t have weeks or months to agonize and fret over how to fix things, you are forced to sit down and brainstorm until you figure it out. You don’t have time for writer’s block. Don’t get me wrong, if I hadn’t been thinking about this plot long in advance, I would probably have stuck with my first version of it, which was garbage. So it’s best to write a story you’ve been thinking about for a while, just be prepared for the story to change as you write.

 

Hopefully I’ve convinced at least a couple of people to give NaNoWriMo a try and dispelled some of your false assumptions about it. I suggest, however, that you don’t just take my word for it. This was my first NaNoWriMo after all. What works for me might not work for you. As always, Do Your Research!

Until next time, Write Well and Science Hard.

Enclosed Ecosystem Writing Prompts and More: PSIF and NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, which means all around the world, writers are scouring the internet for inspiring writing prompts. Many of them will bite off more than they can chew in an attempt to turn those prompts into realistic and scientifically-plausible stories.

Well you’ve come to the right place. I have prepared a few writing prompts with a list of scientific problems you might need to consider as you write. If you lack the scientific training, never fear, expert advice on writing with authenticity is available in the new book, Putting the Science in Fiction. My own article in the book will talk you through creating realistic Enclosed Ecosystems and Life-support systems, and the following prompts will have the same theme.

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Prompt 1: Gone Rogue

  • An object with a powerful gravitational attraction passes through our solar system. By all calculations, the perturbation will eject Earth from the solar system, making it a rogue planet, destined to drift through the emptiness of space for the foreseeable future. How much time does humanity have to prepare before the great freeze sets in? Would your characters hunker down and try to survive, or leave the Earth behind? Either way, you would need a habitat capable of sustaining human life indefinitely.

Considerations:

  • On a frozen planet far from the sun, the atmosphere would soon freeze and fall out of the sky, and all flowing water will solidify, making solar, wind, and hydroelectric power useless. About the only source of power and heat will be from natural gases and fuels, fission or fusion, and geothermal power.
  • With the freezing temperatures and plummeting atmospheric pressure, your enclosed ecosystem will need to be insulated and shielded from the cold vacuum by thick walls or built far underground.
  • The larger the enclosed ecosystem, the less likely it is to collapse. This will require a variety of animals, plants, and microorganisms to sustain the atmosphere, provide food and nutrition, and recycle wastes.
  • On the plus side, all of Earth’s resources have been cryogenically preserved. A scavenger in a hardy enough space suit might just be able to find edible food and usable supplies, assuming they aren’t all covered by meters of oxygen and nitrogen snow or rendered useless due to thermal stresses.

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Prompt 2: Lock Down

  • Your characters are stranded in a large fallout shelter as nuclear war rages outside. How many people can it support and for how long? What will they need to survive?

Considerations:

  • The facility will need some way to remove the radioactive fallout from the air if it is vented in from outside, or a means to recycle the carbon dioxide within the facility and replenish oxygen. Plants under grow lights can help with this.
  • Water vapor might quickly wick away into the porous concrete of the shelter. Putting up plastic sheeting and having a condenser of some kind will keep this valuable resource from being lost. Alternatively, people in radiation suits can go in search of food and water, but only sealed containers can be trusted not to have been contaminated by nuclear fallout. Read my previous post “The Science of Killing your Characters,” for some background on radiation poisoning.
  • The power source will need to be self-sustaining, but the sun might not reliably penetrate the now-pervasive clouds of ash. Wind, hydroelectric, or nuclear power may be your only viable sources or electricity. Gasoline for generators would need to be scavenged on a regular basis.
  • People forced into close quarters can do unexpected and terrible things, especially after the trauma of the apocalypse. An established leadership, laws, and consequences will help limit keep chaos at bay. Conversely, love and relationships will blossom in time, but they can bring their own complications.

Mass Balance

Prompt 3: Mass Balance

  • Rather than a costly endeavor of launching building materials into space, your characters plan to build a space station by send a single, small rocket with a few crew to intercept an asteroid. There, your character will mine the raw materials to build a much larger and sustainable space station. What type of asteroid will they need, and what can they build with its components. How will they convert it to a usable form? What is their overall goal?

Considerations:

  • To sustain a large space station, mass balance needs to be preserved, meaning your characters can’t just throw things out the airlock without a means of replacing it. Otherwise they will run out of materials quickly. Luckily, they have an asteroid to pick apart, supplying water and thus liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel, as well as all kinds of common and rare metals. Things like plastics and some specialized components must be strictly recycled.
  • The type of asteroid is important. A C-type asteroid has a relative abundance of water and carbonaceous minerals, but has a scarcity of metals. Carbonaceous minerals aren’t all bad, especially if it can be used to synthesize carbon nanotubes, graphene sheets, or used as a component of soil or fertilizer. S and M-type asteroids have more stone and metals, respectively, but less water.
  • An enterprise like this one will require a lot of power, especially if there is smelting to be done, water to convert to fuel, or high-tech computers to manage it all. For a power source, they will need something sustainable and replaceable. Solar arrays are a likely candidate, but it will provide less power the further away from the sun the space-station gets.
  • Heat can accumulate in an enclosed ecosystem, even in the cold of space, especially if there are all kinds of heat generating people and equipment around. A radiator system can help collect the heat inside the station and release it as thermal radiation out into space.
  • Air circulation and filtration will be required to filter out floating debris and contaminates, capture water vapor, and prevent stagnation in micro-gravity.
  • Lastly, some type of artificial gravity may be required to prevent the long-term health effects of micro-gravity. See fellow PSIF contributor, Jamie Krakover’s post, as well as my previous post on “The Science of Gravity.”

Putting the Science in Fiction

Science and technology have starring roles in a wide range of genres–science fiction, fantasy, thriller, mystery, and more. Unfortunately, many depictions of technical subjects in literature, film, and television are pure fiction. A basic understanding of biology, physics, engineering, and medicine will help you create more realistic stories that satisfy discerning readers.

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Putting the Science in Fiction brings together scientists, physicians, engineers, and other experts to help you:

  • Understand the basic principles of science, technology, and medicine that are frequently featured in fiction.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and misconceptions to ensure technical accuracy.
  • Write realistic and compelling scientific elements that will captivate readers.
  • Brainstorm and develop new science- and technology-based story ideas.
  • Whether writing about mutant monsters, rogue viruses, giant spaceships, or even murders and espionage, PSIF will have something to help every writer craft better fiction.

Putting the Science in Fiction collects articles from “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy,” Dan Koboldt’s popular blog series for authors and fans of speculative fiction. Each article discusses an element of sci-fi or fantasy with an expert in that field. Scientists, engineers, medical professionals, and others share their insights in order to debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right.

Much of these scientific considerations in this post apply to all sorts of unique and interesting scenarios, like a sudden ice age, a super volcano eruption, an expanding sun, or settings like Arctic research facilities, Mars, or the rings of Saturn, to name a few. I encourage you to come up with your own and share it with the rest of us. Leave comments, ask questions, and let us know of some scientific considerations I may have missed. If these prompts weren’t quite what you were looking for, check out #PSIF on Twitter or click here throughout the month for more prompts by PSIF contributors.

Additionally, you can now enter to win a copy of Putting the Science in Fiction from Writers Digest. Enter the giveaway below!

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While it’s easy enough to write a compelling story without doing your research, it will always lack something. Hard science fiction adds an element of awe, the knowledge that such astounding, beautiful, and seemingly magical things might actually be possible. It inspires scientists and readers alike to put their imaginations to use in the real world, to bring what was once science fiction one step closer to reality.

So until next time, Write Well and Science Hard.