NaNoWriMo Talk 2020

Maybe I should have started a thread like this on November 1.

So who wrote words for NaNo and what did you write and did you make it?

@bort and @Shimmin


I am terrible at giving the elevator pitch for my stories. Probably because they aren’t as coherent as I would like them to be.

I made it to just barely over 50k words with about half of the story written.

I usually want to write scifi but decided I had to try for fantasy to find out if I get less hung up about magic systems instead of technologies and yes it seems that way.

So mine is an almost generic fantasy continent with a realm called Five Cities spread across it. I am really good with names. The center of the continent is dominated by the huge White Desert and my „factions“ are called Mountain People, City Dwellers and Desert Nomads. I experimented with a few names but I was already having a hard time with character and place names…

The idea I started with was „What if encrypting and decrypting messages were a type of magic?“ plus the general trope of magic being almost gone from the world and forbidden.

My protagonist is a Translator in a 12 year contract to an apple merchant at the backend of nowhere. She finds out that what she is doing is not just a Talent but magic. As soon as she finds out that there is still magic in the world so do others and she is the one to whom it falls to prevent a war for this legendary „resource“ by exposing those who caused the scarcity through their greed forcing people like herself so deep into hiding that they forgot about magic.

I am not trying to write something revolutionary, I just want to finish a novel with a plot and subplots, character arcs and a somewhat coherent structure. Starting with an outline to see if I could do it.


So I don’t do NaNoWriMo; the prospect of doing “the same thing as everyone else” never really excited me. But I did set a one month deadline on my current project, which was partly within November. (Deadline is December 12)

Currently only around 10k, but using an outline this time which has made it easier, so I should (hehe) make steady progress.

The story is about two bank tellers battling for world supremacy by summoning an immaterial relic called the Belt of Orion.

Much simpler story than my other project, that I’ve been working on for… 5 years now? Should finish that sometime too… But it’s only 2/3rds done, even at 85k. :thinking::no_mouth:


I only got a couple thousand in :frowning:
It was not a good month for me, and now it is over…
But I have a better idea of what I want to write now?
It’s really really hard for me not to just retool the same few paragraphs over and over.

@yashima I love alternate takes on magic systems, and new fantasy worlds. One thing I like to do with names and places is find long-extinct real languages to base them off of - maybe that would help you with your names? Are you going to keep up a similar pace to finish the second half?

@GabrielH Bank tellers always get the short straw in fiction as only existing to be robbed at gunpoint, it’s nice to see them striking back! What exactly is an immaterial relic??


re: magic system. It’s not that alternative of a magic system… The basic system is heavily inspired by 2 RPGs I’ve played, the first being Mage:tA although it is just a very tiny few pieces (I lifted several of the spheres to define what magic can do). The second–more or less accidentally–is the RPG I played for nearly 17 years “Das Schwarze Auge”… from this I took a lot of the “techniques” my characters use but even just writing about it above I had a totally neat idea for the current chapter I am writing, so that’s cool. But I totally underused the encryption magic and I am struggling with the instances I did put in…

re: pace. I am not sure that I am at exactly half wordcount. I am at the “midpoint” of the plot but it could very well be that what is coming needs less words than the buildup to here. On the other hand I already know that there are sections that will have to be expanded. I am not going to be able to keep that pace I think. I kind of told everyone around me that November was going to be happening without me… because I was busy. My hope is that I can go at about half the speed and finish the first draft sometime in late January. Maybe be declaring it here I am setting myself another deadline :slight_smile:

And anyway that is only the first draft. This is absolutely not readable by anyone other than my partner who serves as my re-read-victim every day and knows the ideas often better than I do.

re: Names. I did base some names on foreign languages: Hungarian for the cities and Mongolian-transliteration for the nomads (used Google translate for that) but I could not get a good name for my “Mountain People” which didn’t sound dumb in my ears. Kishim was my latest attempt. It basically means “small people”. I have a town named Olmoshkert which is a “misspelled” for an “apple orchard” in Hungarian. Another is Delivorosh which means “South City”. Some names I just made up.


Clever you ask!

Basically, it’s an idea, but with actual powers. It can take a “physical” form, but you don’t just find it laying around somewhere, because it only appears when someone believes in it. It can still be carried around, passed on, and invoked like any other mystic relic you find day to day.


You guys have more interesting stories than me…

Last time i did Nano, I managed about 8k words. I thought I had a reasonably good idea (an AI in an MMO becomes self aware), and I plan to go back to it sometime. I did think about taking it on again for this years Nano, but thought it would be cheating.

I did a few outines this year, but nothing really spoke to me. I ended up doing a generic fantasy, farm boy learns he can do magic, and is taught by a kindly stranger. He goes off to magic university, learns some more, and eventually joins the fight against another magic university. My outline lasted about half way through, and I pantsed it from there. Got to my 50k, which I’m proud of. Still have to finish the story.

I did enjoy the experience (maybe not that sinking feeling when I was a couple of thousand words behind).


Ha! I still have 32 placeholder names (characters, countries, even a sea). I think I should have named everything a bit sooner, its hard to get excited about prose when its “XX5 does this, and goes to XX20” etc.


I don’t “do” Nano any more. I write, and although I love deadlines,

What’s that old Douglas Adams quotation? “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they whiz by”? Something like that.

I have found that usually pressuring myself in November is somewhere between bad-to-awful since I work at a game store that is completely insane every holiday season. That stated, I wanted to get 4 novels written in 2020, and I’ve only managed 3, and one of those is cheating (a novel I wrote and edited back in 2018, revised into 1st person narrative in 2019, and am finally releasing).

That stated, I am hopeful to have another novel finished by mid-to-late January and sent off to my editor. Sci-fi, definitely, but I’m torn between something space opera (which I usually love writing), or something smaller scale. This is the best part… the planning of the major story beats, outlining the characters, deciding on the bare-bones of the universe they will be working in.

I have an idea for a woman who has a “magical ring” that lets her open any lock, except that there is a chance every time she uses it it might explode and destroy the closest star (or something like that). I don’t know if I’m going to go with that one, or something more space-explorationy (I have a great idea for a military sci-fi in which the good guys are secretly transporting a planet-buster nuke to the enemy homeworld without realizing it… sort of like “Enders Game” meets ST: Voyager).

So many ideas. So little time!


I needed something I could hold up in front of me and everyone else as “I need November to myself please excuse my antisocial retreat” and NaNo is just a really good excuse. Also, deadlines, external ones sometimes work better for me. I suppose I should do this at least twice a year if not more often. I tend to let small things keep me from the big things.

Also apparently, it gets me a thread to talk about writing here :wink: I had no idea there was anyone here besides @Marx who was writing fiction.

This is my first time that I started with an actual outline that went from start to finale. My partner kept telling me that I need to start with the ending. And I was like “but I like to start with an interesting premise and go from there” but that way my stories always meandered around. I just thought I couldn’t stick to an outline and it would take away my “freedom to find cool ideas along the way.” I was really wrong about that especially the second part.

I really enjoyed the outline process, I just wish I had more time and more experience because I can already see how I tried to put in too much in some places and too little in others and I lacked time to polish the outline or the mainplot before November. But it has definitely been a huge step forward.

I feel like now that I’ve written 50k words I know my world a little better and my ideas are starting to coalesce into something that makes more sense. I hope to smooth the wrinkles with those ideas in the first editing pass after the first draft.

It is going to be difficult not to get into copy-editing in those first editing rounds. I tend to stumble over my own grammar / word-choice mistakes. I write in English despite not being a native speaker and this is definitely noticable in the first draft. My active vocabulary is not always where I wish it was but I find it impossible to write SFF in German for various reasons.

There are so many farm boy learns magic stories because it is just such a compelling plot.
For me the interesting parts are the details. A single subverted trope is often all it takes…

Ouch. I can’t. Well no, “Five Cities” is as much of a placeholder as is XX32. It is possible to replace a name that isn’t a code. For character names I use both the onomastikon (hosted here by @RogerBW :heart_eyes:) and for inspiration. Also, I used the abulafias to help with a names for cities.

Hmm, mystic relics in my house: Zero :wink:
Sounds neat and I can see how it would make for an interesting story. Does remind me a little bit of something Cat Valente would write (but I could be wrong of course, my reading has suffered this year along with my writing)


I’m sitting awkwardly on the side because I’m mostly writing RPG material. Some bits of that are very fiction-like and there’s a lot RPGers can learn from fiction. Other bits are technical writing.


Being a GM is what carried over my story-creation from highschool through university and up to the moment I decided I had to finally start writing those novels I had promised myself I would write…

You still create worlds, characters, plots… all those things that make up fiction are part of RPGs. It is just a slightly different mode.


It absolutely is. I did NaNo for… probably three, maybe four years before deciding that yes, in fact, I do love writing enough to pursue it in spite of the fact that I would probably never make more than a bare subsistence living (if that) from it. But I also realized that I don’t really like NaNo, in that it sorta has this core idea that absolutely anyone can write great fiction… and I don’t know if I agree with that.

Okay, look. Everyone can write (or everyone should be able to, at least). And absolutely everyone who takes joy in it should write. But by the same token, nobody goes around to recreational basketball games and tells people there that they should be playing in the NBA, or if you enjoy recreational jogging that you absolutely should be trying out for the Olympics. The “No” in “NaNoWriMo” implies that people are going to create marketable fiction. Novels. And this tells people two things:

  1. If you try for a month, you can create a ‘completed’ work of fiction that, with just a little polish, can be sold, and
  2. That professional authors are basically just people who do NaNoWriMo, and anyone can do that, so why bother with professionals when there is so much great fiction out there written by laypeople.

And that rubs me the wrong way. I really wish there was a huge push in December for National Novel Reading Month, because the market is already inundated with unpolished, awful, unedited crap, and it’s a nightmare to try and get people to notice your work over the sea of “Lookit what I can rite I dont knead no editor” that is pumped into Amazon and Kobo every day. A lot of publishers are really struggling (The Big Five just became the Big Four, I believe), and a lot of authors even more so.

But! That’s not to say that you (and I mean “you” in the global sense) shouldn’t write! You absolutely should! It’s fun! I just dislike the marketing around NaNo. Anyway. /ramble

Me either! This is nice! Thank you for starting the thread, Yashima!

Honestly, that’s usually what I do in a very rough way. I start with an idea about the characters and what kind of story I want to tell (almost always sci-fi, but occasionally fantasy). I then figure out what the climactic moment of the story is going to be… what are they working towards/against. I’ll then normally pick one or two critical points along the plot where, as Mary Robinette-Kowal says, “Yes But” and “No And” their problems, and then I just start writing.

My outlines usually also include a section of notes for significant technologies (FTL, communication, medicine, etc…) and sometimes a rough outline of governments or major organizations, but then I do my best not to spend too much time on those in the story itself. I’m not really interested in world-building, just story-telling.

I’m about 85% panster, 15% planner. A lot of the time I go into the major crisis not knowing how the heroes will solve it, and I “let” my characters tell me what they’re going to do and then retroactively seed those elements into the story so that there is an “surprising yet inevitable” element.

I used to GM as well (Robotech and Rifts from Palladium, great universes and artwork but ye gods the rules are awful), and I have a buddy who’s been published a few times in the old “Fading Suns” series. I love GMing… perhaps unsurprisingly… because it’s another way to tell stories with characters that you aren’t really sure what they’re going to do until they do it.

That stated, I don’t know if I could ever write an RPG myself. I would love to write supplemental stuff for established universes (and have done so very frequently for the “Infinity the Game” universe), but RPG writing itself requires a level of methodical approachedness that I don’t have. Good on you for doing it!

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Does it? Maybe I havent read enough on Nano, but I didnt think they were saying “Everyone can create great fiction”. I thought it was “everyone can create fiction”, and just maybe some people will find they can actually write well enough to sell.

Personally, I dont think my story is marketable. But I’m still proud I finished it. And I want to keep writing.


An editor of my acquaintance explained the publishing business a while ago. He claimed (and probably still does) that the purpose of publishers isn’t to put stuff in print. Any one can do that. The purpose of publishers is to keep stuff out of print that doesn’t need to be printed. That’s much harder.


I’ll probably rename the thread to “What are you writing” which is more neutral and more in line what my personal purpose for this thread was… (I don’t always know what I want when I first write the words, but editing is part of writing, isn’t it?)

I always felt that the original idea behind NaNoWriMo was to get young people to write. In a couple of years, I will probably introduce our friends’ daughter to it. She’s on her third attempt to write a novel at 12 years old :slight_smile: And I read the first few pages she wrote for the last one: better than whatever I wrote at that age. I don’t remember the details but I was impressed.

Almost all of us have the basic skill and the basic tools for writing. And I agree that with the advent of the internet and in particular self-publishing, the lines between the professional and the amateur are blurring, the role of publishers as gatekeepers has diminished.

The Zeitgeist is propagating this mindset of “with the right idea, you’ll make it big and if not that is your failure”. And this is not confined to writing. Coupled with some highly visible uber-successful authors who did make it big, this gives people the idea that they can do it, too. That it is only an extremely small minority in every field who become that sucessful is rarely mentioned.

Here the bonus words... ;)

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who had three hobbies. She was in elementary school when she got her first camera, she liked math for the great puzzles and she liked reading so much she wanted to write her own stories. People always asked her what do she wanted to be when she grew up? She couldn’t be a princess–though that sounded tempting–so she said she wanted to be a math teacher because she had no idea one could be a photographer and she had already been told that writing was “brotlose Kunst” (aka a starving art). Eventually, she encountered computers and found out that it was possible to automate the finding of solutions to math puzzles and because she was a lazy girl, she was hooked. Because she thought that if she could only automate enough, she wouldn’t have to work at all (and could play boardgames all day instead).

In my day-job I am a software developer. Everyone can learn programming, you start with robo-ralleye (just kidding) move on to games like Opus Magnum (less kidding) and before you know it you have written your own javascript sorting algorithm…

But working as a software developer requires a little more than just knowing a programming language. I studied computer science for 7 years at university. What I learned there, I mostly forgot. Tons of math. But what stuck with me were tools and methods to work myself into problems to analyze them. And then I started working, found out I knew nothing of how to apply my knowledge and it took me another 7 years of working in the field to become someone I can confidently say knows software development. So from learning my first programming language around 1990 it took me around 20 years to learn the craft. And still I am ways and ways and ways off from the geniuses in this business. Also I completely stopped programming for fun once it became a profession. I do write code privately but very very rarely. And everyone can put up their code on github btw. It’s the kdp of programmers.

Long before I ever knew such a thing as programming existed, I had an interest in photography. And ever since I got my first digital camera I have been able to take that hobby to a new level. For many years, I uploaded a lot of my pictures to Flickr with a creative commons license and shared them in a variety of groups and a few of my pictures made it into wikipedia, into articles, album covers, books and whatnot and I am proud I was able to contribute these (especially wikipedia). And I have a friend who made this particular hobby into a job… I only very briefly entertained the idea because I like landscape photography not portraits and I am not a natgeo photographer. I like the pictures as visual memories more than I want to do this every day… but I can talk with my photographer friend about lenses, cameras, lighting and all these details because I know a bit or two about the craft. I’ll forever be an amateur with no ambition to go beyond that.

Now writing. It’s a long held dream of mine to be a writer not of code but words (it’s been up there in my bio since day one but the dream is far older). I’ve spent years now trying to learn to be better at that and I am with those who say to become a writer you need to write a million words. I started writing fiction around 2013 again. Since then I have written something between 350.000 and 400.000 words. So there is still some ways to go. My goal is to reach beyond the amateur level, which doesn’t mean I’ll make it there–in fact I think it is highly unrealistic. But every time I notice that I have taken a step forward in my writing (this time the outline) it gives me a little jolt of happiness at seeing that I am making progress. And maybe one day I’ll write something that people will think worth reading.

TL;DR: So many words… to say: there is a difference between doing something professionally and at amateur level and yet both are valid and one can go from amateur to professional with enough dedication and maybe an ounce of talent or two. But as said above, I dislike when people come to have unrealistic expectations through the influence of those who should know better.


Sounds like you’re doing well.

a realm called Five Cities spread across it. I am really good with names. The center of the continent is dominated by the huge White Desert and my „factions“ are called Mountain People, City Dwellers and Desert Nomads.

I wouldn’t be hard on yourself about names. I mean, what are most of our real-world placenames but generic descriptions in archaic terminology? And so many of us are either called “The People” or “The Foreigners”, depending which language won out.

The story is about two bank tellers battling for world supremacy by summoning an immaterial relic called the Belt of Orion.

I mean, I’m sold already.

I’m sitting awkwardly on the side because I’m mostly writing RPG material.

I spring wildly from one to another, like a grasshopper with a particularly short attention span and restless leg syndrome. Although I did actually finish something, which is now in the caring arms of The Path of Cunning editorial squad.

I tend to stumble over my own grammar / word-choice mistakes. I write in English despite not being a native speaker and this is definitely noticable in the first draft. My active vocabulary is not always where I wish it was but I find it impossible to write SFF in German for various reasons.

I do proofreading on the side, if you ever happen to want it. Your English is superb though, as I’m sure you know already.

Okay, my turn. My current fiction project is a generic dungeon fantasy isekai, almost. Instead of plunging a hapless Japanese gamer into a world of levels and XP, due to a bureaucratic error by the gods, I decided to plunge a hapless generic dungeon monster into suburban Merseyside due to a bureaucratic error by the gods. Former lizard-monster Sam is now faced with a bizarre mammalian body, trying to navigate life in a world without challenge ratings, with peculiar features like “skies”, “weather” and “paid employment”, and where eating humans is very much frowned upon.


On the other hand when I’m preparing game material I find I can’t build an NPC’s personality until I have a name for them. Up to that point they’re just “need to do this thing for the plot to work” and “motivation”; once I can name them they start to become people.


Sounds like you could lift some inspiration from r/outside…
It’s already giving me ideas of my own :slight_smile:

TYSM. I’ve had a bit of practice over the years. The only writing class I ever took was in English as well. I spent a year of highschool in Michigan maybe that is the reason when my mind goes into writing mode it chooses English over my native language. Also, SFF is so full with genre specific terminology that fares ill in translation…

However, I can see my own German accent in the writing. There are a few classics mistakes I make regarding word order, hyphenating vs concatenating words and mispellings due to similar sounding words. Those are mistakes a native speaker wouldn’t make as often… On the other hand, because I am not a native speaker certain clichéd terms do not appear as frequently in my writing.

Absolutely. Naming things is important. Sometimes I have an idea first but the next thing is definitely a name. And I am considering leaving the White Desert in it. Also Five Cities is kind of fun because they have a very important number in their culture which is the six. Everything is six. Except the cities. Maybe I am griping about names because I started reading Rhythm of War the other day and I have naming envy whenever I read Brandon Sanderson (and a lot of other writer’s envy).


Since we’re talking writing and all, what do people use? It seems Scrivener is fairly popular. I used the trial, but it just seemed a bit convoluted. After looking at a few apps, I decided on Ulysses (which is only on Mac). Everything is held as plain text, so searching is lightning fast. It uses markup language for headings, comments etc (headings and comments are the only ones I used). Like Scrivener, it has a distraction free mode.

And, talking about distraction free writing, I have used this a few times.