#NaNoWriMo Writing Soundtrack

I usually don’t listen to music when I write. Often I’m writing on the bus, so the ambient noise is enough on its own. But, during NaNo, I wrote at home a lot.


My family is a loud family. There are four adults and a toddler and two mouthy cats living in a three bedroom house. It’s a Situation. One of those adults loves to play a guitar. Another adult really just needs to listen to music whenever she’s doing chores (loudly). The kiddo likes to put on dance recitals. Or, you know, just practice his dang screaming (because that’s a thing, I guess, that kids need to practice). And the cats are just loud-ass cats.

So. Writing at home. I needed to break out the headphones.

Turns out each stage of the draft had its own mini-soundtrack. It evolved pretty organically.

Act I: The Setup

I ended up listening to the soundtrack of the film Moon pretty much non-stop as I wrote the first third of the book. It fit the tone of what I was writing: subtle, creepy, determined.


Throughout the whole first act, Iris (my main character) is basically on her own, isolated and playing detective–not unlike Sam Bell from the film. There’s something in the scoring of the soundtrack that taps into that perseverant loneliness.

Act 2: Captivity

There’s a section of the book where my main character, Iris, winds up locked down and at the mercy of her captors. For that part of the book I drifted to the Interstellar soundtrack.

The soundtrack moves between expansive and claustrophobic pieces. Iris, while trapped, does the same: she tries to mentally move beyond her four walls. Sometimes she can, sometimes she can’t.


Act 2: Freedom

Iris is broken out of captivity and escapes to the forest! Instrumental music was replaced for a while with meditative forest sounds.


Sometimes the forest sounds crept into the writing. The track featured rainfall? Alright, in this scene everyone’s trapped in the cabin due to a rainstorm. They’re all on top of each other in a too-small space. What do they do now?

Act 3: The Big Finale

Iris and her friends go Take Care of Business via an Elaborate Plan that Goes Wrong. It’s a finely wrought and intricate plan. It’s an art. It’s a dance. I ended up listening to instrumental tangos–the tension, the darkness, the quickness all mirrored what I was trying to do with the plotting.



#NaNoWriMo: Winner’s Circle!


Yes, it’s all true! With about four hours to go to the deadline, I finished The Analog System, validated it at the NaNoWriMo website, and the draft clocked in at 50,311 words.*

Good god, y’all, I can’t believe I pulled this off. I…don’t really know how I pulled this off, actually. But I did! And now I have a very very rough draft of something new to work with!

There are a monstrous amount of revisions to make. The plotting is uneven. The pacing is atrocious. Why did all the cool characters pop up in the last third of the book? Thanks for showing up late to the party, y’all. Cool. The ending needs more emotional heft.

But YOU KNOW WHAT ALL OF THAT IS FOR ANOTHER DAY. Today is just for basking in the glory of having written 50k-and-change words in 30 days.



*Scrivener says the draft is 50,733 words long but who’s counting? (I am. I am so counting.)

#NaNoWriMo: When Murphy’s Law Is Your Friend


current word count: 47, 061

I’ve written before about how I’m more of a character-driven writer than I am a plot-driven writer. I’ve also written before about how my NaNo project is great uncharted territory for me. Part of that is because it’s a plot-driven novel. Not to say characters aren’t core to the plot! They are! But it is definitely a book where characters go and Do Things. Thus, the outlining.


I am in the end zone. I am so close to winning NaNoWriMo I can taste it. And I am close to winning because of a two-step process:

  1. scope out my characters’ ideal end zone plan*
  2. break that plan (thereby introducing Compelling Complications)

Part 1: How The Plan Should Have Gone


In an ideal world, disarming the mad scientists should be a cakewalk.

So, I have to confess in the outline this part was…sketchy at best. I had a sense of where I was going, but it wasn’t that fully fleshed out. It was more like “and then the main character and some other people do some stuff to get rid of the bad dudes and voila! an ending.”


This meant I had to stop writing partway through the draft and figure my shit out. What did my characters want? Why did they want that? What would make sense in their context? If I was in their shoes, what kind of plan would I make?

I sketched it out, and that gave me a direction through the end of the book!

Or so I thought.

Part 2: Perfectly Executed Plans Are Boring


You have more questions now than you would have if she had just lifted it, right? Now you want to know if she’s ok, what happened to the shoe, etc.

Complications add conflict, and conflict is the lifeblood of any narrative. Yes, it would be satisfying for me if I just wrote my main character’s plan going exactly as she hoped–I like her and want her to succeed!


But it would be kind of boring to read, actually.

The thing that keeps me reading a book is when things don’t go according to plan. I want to see how characters will fix a broken plan, what they will do when thrust into situations they aren’t expecting. And also? How often of your mundane, everyday plans are executed exactly as you sketched them out? I was almost late for the movies this morning because my partner ran the gas tank down to E and the dang light was on and then the first pump I was at had a bum card reader, so then I had to go to another one, eating up more precious minutes of possible Hunger Games viewing time. And that was just going to see a movie! So in a life-or-death planning situation, even when you’re super-extra-careful, life still has a way of throwing you curveballs.

I added some curveballs. It’s making this last bit of the book much more satisfying to write.


*Many thanks to Shveta Thakrar for enduring gchat brainstorm sessions with me as I worked out this part. ❤ ❤ ❤

#NaNoWriMo: Hello, Evernote


Current word count: 41, 392

Worldbuilding while writing something, for me, is very much like building the plane while flying it. It’s terrifying, and ill-advised, and a situation where, at the very least, you really need to be keeping really excellent track of what you have or have not done lest you miss a Very Important Step and wind up crashing and burning.

For the world of Aerdh, where my other novels are set, worldbuild, and then I write. It’s a very clean, linear process. Tidy. Orderly. I have a separate Scivener file that is solely for Aerdh worldbuilding.

So. I’m drafting The Analog System in Scrivener, which looks like this:

Screenshot 2015-11-25 15.01.29

I started with the intent of worldbuilding in the same Scrivener file as I was writing in. That’s what I do for short stories; I just create a little research folder outside the main draft and stick ideas and outlines and other shit in there as needed. It works great!

But it didn’t work great for The Analog System. Maybe it was a matter of scale. It got unwieldy moving back and forth within the same big document like that around Chapter 4.

I realized I needed something quicker, something external, where I could keep my notes (in digital format), where I could pull them up and refer to them without losing my place in the current draft of the actual story. BUT it had to be a program that had a lot of organizational potential because I like to fiddle with my notes a lot when I’m stuck, categorizing them and recategorizing them and adding to them, etc., as a way to un-stick my mind. AND it had to have the capacity to work offline since I’d need to add to the notes and things while writing on the bus.

Evernote. Evernote totally fulfills all these criteria.

I am just barely off track word-count wise right now in NaNo, and I can pretty much credit Evernote and some awesome writing buddies to that fact. Without Evernote, I’d be searching through my draft for a bunch of names and descriptions. Evernote is totally the backend of my book right now and it is working so well. For me, it looks like this:

Screenshot 2015-11-25 14.55.04.png

I’ve got a bunch of Analog System – related notebooks stuck in a notebook stack: one for character sheets, one for plotting, one for research (yay, webclipper!), one for worldbuilding notes, and one for notes on revisions*.

A LOT of my backstory is in Evernote right now instead of the book’s draft, which is a good thing! There’s still way too much exposition in the book, but that means there’s even less to cut in the revisions.

As always, do what works for you, but the two-fer of Scrivener and Evernote is really working for me right now.


*Yeah, already planning for the revision.

#NaNoWriMo: I Made An Outline For This


Current word count:

I used to be very hardcore about outlining. In college, I outlined my papers on half-sheets of paper and then taped those outlines to the monitor of my computer to keep them in my field of vision as I worked. I first got into fiction writing by helping to outline someone else’s1 project. And when I first finally started writing fiction by myself, I outlined in minute detail–every beat, every breath, every break.

I still outline short stories, actually, roughing out the beats before I start the actual writing, but I haven’t outlined a novel in years. I didn’t outline Ariah or Resistance at all. But with my NaNoWriMo project, The Analog System, I don’t have the luxury of working in a universe I’ve defined yet. I did some worldbuilding, some basic foundation laying, in October, but I also actually outlined a plot. Start all the way to finish.


Potential spoilers in these cards, FYI

It was hard. I am rusty. I kept getting stuck, so then I’d do some more worldbuilding, or flag questions I needed to research about worldbuilding, or else-wise procrastinate. I ended up googling “novel three act structure” because, hell, I don’t need something fancy for a first draft, just something tried-and-true, something serviceable.

I came across a helpful post at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University and forced my way through it.

It felt weird defining the plot before I knew all the ins and outs of the universe. It felt even weirder making plot decisions before I knew who the cast of characters would be. But I didn’t want to sprint my way into a dead end with NaNoWriMo. I needed a road map for this one.

It felt very weird, but I did it. Now, let’s just see if I follow it.

1That project was my partner’s short story, which eventually turned into the world of Aerdh. The most direct descendant of that fateful initial short story is probably Cargo.

NaNoWriMo 2015!


I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year!

I’ve never done it before. It’s funny, because when I told my partner I was doing it she looked at me cock-eyed and said, “right, because you really need a special project to make you write more.”

But I do. Let me explain:

I’ve had this nugget of a piece of a cool sci-fi concept bouncing around my brain for a while now. Maybe a year and a half? Maybe almost two years? A while. But I haven”t found the time to develop it or the right way to do it. Meanwhile, I keep writing other stuff.

A few weeks ago I realized this kernel of an idea was actually sprouting into a novel. And I realized that though I’ve written…nine-ish novels (many of which are unpublished) all of those novels are set in Aerdh–the same universe as Ariah and Resistance.

I had myself half-convinced that I could not actually write a novel that was not set in my familiar, stalwart universe of Aerdh. It’s my safe space as a writer. But I don’t want to just hang out in my safe space forever; I want to stretch and grow, too. The nice thing about something like NaNoWriMo is that it’s a dedicated time and space to try something different. With NaNo, I’m more or less giving myself permission to step away from the current projects I have going and try this new, unfamiliar, exciting thing I’m afraid to fail at.

Worst case scenario is that I scrape some words out of my brain and throw them in Scrivener and they don’t make any sense.

Best case scenario is that I take a rough pass at something currently out of my comfort zone and eke out something revision-worthy.

Wish me luck! Ok, now for the big reveal. Here’s what I’m working on for NaNoWriMo:


This is a working title. I am so bad at titles, y’all. Anyway, you can follow my updates on twitter or over on the NaNo website!

Iris Volek is an analog serving Universe 3. Chosen for her prodigious memory, at sixteen Iris is one of the few people in the world who can enter a pocket universe and converse with people from parallel universes: her other selves born into worlds where history took different turns. But suddenly the other analogs around her start to disappear—taken into “containment” by the powers that be. And Iris knows that once an analog is “contained” they never come back. Iris must find out why the analogs are disappearing and stop it—because she might be “contained” next.